Summary: Superlatively wonderful area for birding, but note access limitations
Date of visit: Oct 11, 2020
Golds Scrub Lane! Aficionados of eBird hotspots will know it as “that intriguing dark orange icon north of Brisbane”, while experienced birders speak of it in hushed reverent tones (probably). It is the #8 hotspot in Queensland, and surely the premier location in South-East Queensland in terms of bird diversity. Expect to see anything here!
Because it is on the shore of Lake Samsonvale, which is managed by SEQ Water, access to the whole area is possible but only if pre-arranged with the Ranger. The best way to do this is to gain Birds Queensland membership, which has an agreement for “overall access” rights to the site for members; you will still however need to request permission to visit from the Ranger in advance by SMS (48 hours), and “check in” (by SMS) when you arrive, and check out when you leave. The alternative to this (as I found out) is to go through the permit process with SEQWater directly, and it is much more involved (think: annoying amount of paperwork).
For the birding map I’ve made, I’ve tried to mark the trails in as I remember them – there is a bit of a network of them, and I have certainly either forgotten or not explored a few, so use this as a rough guide only. But note that there are certainly more trails here than bushwalking or street/satellite map websites show!
Right, so let’s put the place to the test. Our group of three birders arrived at the Samsonvale Cemetery car park (basically you just turn into Golds Scrub Lane from Mt Samson Rd, and drive to the end, easy as pie) at 5:40am. The first thing we noticed were the crazy-looking peacock-style birds casually roaming around the headstones – these are the resident Helmeted Guinea-Fowl, apparently native to the West Coast of Africa and often kept as pets. These aren’t birds you usually see in the wild!
We found that around the cemetery and car park area some pretty decent birding is to be had – particularly relevant if you don’t have full access to the site or are just popping in for a “quick birding fix” style of visit. Pied Butcherbird, Silvereye, Figbird, Noisy and Little Friarbird, Peaceful Dove, and Black-Faced Cuckooshrike were all present, and – spoiler alert – we also spotted some Striped Honeyeaters when we returned to the car park at the end of our visit.
We walked down (alongside the cemetery boundary) to the lake shore, seeing Egrets, Cormorants, Pied Stilts, Magpie-Larks, and, in the distance, some White Ibis hanging out with a large raptor – almost certainly a Whistling Kite.
It was very early and the rays of morning were lancing across the lake; wispy scraps of fog were still rising off the water so it was all rather atmospheric. However, there are no tracks in this area, and traipsing about on the mud scaring off the local birds seemed like an abuse of our access rights, so we hiked it back up to the cemetery area – noting a lot of grass habitat to left and right (apparently quail – including King Quail – are flushed/seen here).
From here we headed west of the car park, into the Authorised Access Only area (ie. accessible with permission only!) And here is where we found we were really into some special birding: a female Flycatcher – presumed Leaden – was spotted on its nest, male Rufous Whistlers were calling, and as we made our way around the trails here, White-Throated Treecreeper, Bown Cuckoo-Dove, Bar-Shouldered Dove, Lewin’s Honeyeater and plenty of Figbirds were seen in quick succession.
The variety of bushy habitats gave us the feeling that truly anything could happen. On the north side of the track (marked “views” on the map), sections of the lake also can be seen (I spotted some Pelicans from here).
High up in a Hoop Pine in the “dense middle section” we spotted what was probably the Whistling Kite’s nest, as it returned to this tree while we were there. More birds near the middle section then included Yellow-Faced Honeyeater, a glimpse of a Whipbird, Brown Thornbill, then more Silvereyes and another White-Throated Treecreeper.
Following the trail just to the south-west of the Dense Middle Section, there were more birds: Noisy Friarbird, Little Shrikethrush, Willie Wagtail, and female Rufous Whistler.
Arriving back at the road we decided to have a look at the larger area south of the road. This was drier (tracks tending towards sand) and less promising, though the morning was well and truly drawing on by that point (9:30am), which often means less bird activity. In fact it was getting rather hot. A Grey Fantail was observed but the big excitement was a flock of Varied Sittella that flew in and methodically foraged along the branches of a couple of trees right next to the path. These birds were Lifers for all three of us (so much so that we didn’t know what they even were at the time!) and we watched entranced as they worked their way as a group across the foliage. Very cool!
Finally on the way back we were lucky enough to have another high quality encounter, this time with a Brown Cuckoo-Dove posing in the sunlight. It seemed unbothered by us and proceeded to pick and eat the fruit of the bush it was sitting on.
Being October, the trails and grassed verges alongside them were pretty dry and easy to navigate. I presume they’re kept maintained for SEQWater access, but we birders gain the benefit of a lovely little network of pathways with which to indulge in our pursuit. Note that I’ve since visited in January and the grass was much longer and greener – the longer wet grass on some trails proved a little annoying, and the grass on the lake shore was near head height!
The tracks at Golds Scrub Lane are generally only visited by birders, and even then in low numbers due to the permissions required, so there’s no worries about people or dogs or bike-riders here. For our visit we had the place entirely to ourselves, which was awesome, and part of what makes this site very special. Despite the lack of proper access to the lake (it would be great to be able to observe all the water birds from some water-side trails, for example), it is still a great place to go birding; its mystique, in my opinion, is very well-deserved indeed.
Pluses and minuses:
+ Incredible bird diversity
+ Excellent, quiet trails
+ Generally a very pleasant place to go birding
– Requires permission from SEQWater to access (beyond the car park and cemetery)
– No proper access to lake shore
– Grass gets very long in the wet season