Colleges Crossing, Sep-Oct 2020

Summary: Beautiful little spot in an inlet off the Brisbane River with wonderful bird encounters possible

Dates of visit: Sep 30, Oct 9 & 20, 2020

Colleges Crossing is one of the nicest birding hotspots between Brisbane and Ipswich. It has a lot going for it: water birds, bush birds and raptors are all present, and there are some great vistas and an old concrete bridge structure; a shaded area overlooking the water (more or less a bird hide) and an extensive playground all feature. The facilities are all relatively new, as they were rebuilt after the reserve was wrecked by the 2011 floods. Of course, all the great features also means plenty of people frequent this spot, so come early before the crowds, and avoid weekends if you can.

Getting there is a piece of cake, just get onto the Warrego Highway and exit onto Mount Crosby Road.

On my first visit here I was immediately struck by the variety of water birds, basically as soon as I got out of the car. Swans and baby cygnets, Pelicans, Darter, Pacific Black Duck and Swamphen were all active; near the “lower” car park even the birds on the other side of the lagoon (like the Darter) weren’t too far away to get decent photos either. It really did seem like this place was a haven for water birds.

Walking around the edge of the water passes through a section of bush and reeds which – over the course of the three visits I made – were almost a dead cert for Superb Fairywrens and Chestnut-Breasted Mannikin.

On the first visit I was lucky (!) enough to witness a couple of Dusky Moorhens getting into a fight with an Australasian Darter. I wasn’t sure what prompted it. A Pelican watched on as it got increasingly heated, but all the birds seemed to paddle away without any real injury.

Skirting the water further saw a Little Pied Cormorant sitting in a tree and a couple of Little Corellas too, and yet more Superb Fairywrens. On the water, a Great Cormorant cruised along as well as Little Black Cormorants.

I was at the bridge area by then where there was an Intermediate Egret and another Little Pied Cormorant and a Pelican. After this bridge is an interesting little section with a “crazy paving” pathway, and this seems to be a good spot for smaller birds – Double-Barred Finch, Brown Honeyeater and Red-Backed Fairywren.

Further around I found myself on the “tongue” of land that goes out (to a dead-end) – the track is grassy here and there is water on both sides, but I didn’t see many birds along this stretch – Dusky Moorhen, Little Pied Cormorant (again!), and a Magpie-Lark, in the creek-like water behind the “tongue”.

Walking back towards the car park I saw a Figbird, more Little Corellas, a curious Magpie, and right at the end, I heard some interesting calls which turned out to be emanating from a Little Friarbird in a tree right on the shoreline, where there were several people about.

Although I saw no raptors on this first visit, the variety of birds was impressive and many of the encounters were close-up and of high quality. I immediately added Colleges Crossing to my mental list of “best birding spots in South-East Queensland”.

I saw many of the same birds on the second trip on Oct 9, but this time there was a Brahminy Kite flying high over, and soon after, an Osprey! I didn’t realise until I went through my photos afterwards, but in one of them it was holding a fish in its claws. Later it also alighted on an exposed branch on this trip which made for even more tasty Osprey photos.

It might be the case that the raptors – especially the Osprey – are more active at low tide, when the fish literally jump out of the water. This at least was claimed to be the case from talking to a local there.

The Double-Barred Finches and Red-Backed Fairywrens were in the same place on the crazy pathway, this time with some Red-Browed Finches for company. As before, the long “tongue” area didn’t offer much; surprisingly, the areas closer to the car park and facilities have more birds.

The big highlight was returning back across the concrete causeway, which revealed a Buff-Banded Rail right out in the open in the sunshine. I’d only seen this bird once, from far away at Oxely Creek Common, so this was an excellent near encounter and it looked amazing in the viewfinder – I couldn’t stop taking snaps as it explored (foraged?) along the wet reed beds. What a distinctive, handsome looking bird.

The third visit on Oct 20 gave a look at a fish-catching Osprey again, the very first bird seen super early at 5:20am (according to the Ipswich council’s flyer, the reserve was not even supposed to be open until 6am, but I seemed to be able to drive straight in…). Cockatoos buzz-squawked above and some domesticated ducks stood placidly along the water’s edge. Out on the island could just be seen a little Black-Fronted Dotterel – this was a first for me.

Superb Fairywrens again abounded, as did Little Corellas, and this time I had a more substantial meeting with some Chestnut-Breasted Mannikin, which pretty much stole the show, photography-wise!

Another squabble too with a Great Egret having an aggressive display at a Dusky Moorhen, while there were also some Brown Honeyeaters as before, and this time two Dollarbirds sitting on a branch. A Comb-Crested Jacana and a Channel-Billed Cuckoo (flying over) were also present, and I finished the morning with some striking close-up shots of Black Swan. Another very memorable visit with some really excellent photos as souvenirs.

Colleges Crossing is one of my favourite places to go birding. It’s very easy to get to – just turn off the highway and 5 minutes you’re parked and birding straight away. There isn’t a large area to explore, compared to some other birding sites, but the setting that is there is excellent and quite beautiful, with something of a “panoramic theatre” feel. There are reliable high quality close bird encounters with not just the water birds present, but raptors and many other birds too. As mentioned, it can get quite busy, with walkers, dog walkers, families and even kayakers. But then, everyone has a right to enjoy this wonderfully unique location, not just birders.

Ipswich council flyer.


Checklists for these visits: Sep 30 (31 species), Oct 9 (22 species), Oct 20 (39 species)
Hotspot: Colleges Crossing (154 species)
Nearby: Anstead Bushland (197 species) and SES Depot (169 species), Kholo Gardens (168 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Reliable water birds, bush birds and raptors present
+ Lovely setting and great facilities
+ Easy to get to
– Can get very busy
– Not a big area to explore

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