Summary: Awesome granite landscapes with terrific bird life
Dates of visit: Oct 16 to 18, 2020
Girraween National Park, 260km south-west of Brisbane near the NSW border, is renowned for its wildflowers in spring and its massive granite outcrops (er, all year round), but it’s also a fantastic place to go birding!
There are two campgrounds: Castle Rock campground and Bald Rock Creek campground. I stayed at Castle Rock campground, but this was probably the wrong choice: the Bald Rock Creek campground puts you closer to the main birding tracks and looked a bit nicer too; but they are only five minutes walk apart, so it was not a big deal. And there were birds at Castle Rock campground, in any case.
There are a few different areas within the National Park, all accessible on foot from the campgrounds and nearby Day Use car park (except for Dr Roberts Waterhole/Underground Creek which requires a short drive). I will cover my experience of these areas in separate sections. Here goes!
Bald Rock Creek circuit / start of Pyramid Trail / Granite Arch area / Day Use area
There is a network of tracks and paths starting from the Day Use area which is well worth thoroughly exploring. Even right at the day use area (across the 3 days I was there) I saw Satin Bowerbirds, King Parrots, Common Bronzewing, Red Wattlebird, Crimson Rosella and Superb Fairywrens – all basically next to the car park and toilet facilities!
Going slightly further afield (in the Bald Rock Creek circuit area), there are lots of wonderful rocky slabs and running watercourses to explore. You can almost pick any direction and have a great time.
The first bird you might encounter in this area is the park’s most common – the Yellow-Tufted Honeyeater. Their striking-looking faces with the vivid splash of black (and the eponymous yellow tuft) makes them wonderful photography subjects. I managed a number of good photos of these birds though it was sometimes a challenge to wait for them to stay still long enough! But there are so many that another would soon come along; I notice they sometimes also traveled in groups, and I occasionally witnessed such a group harassing a bird of another species.
Other honeyeaters in this area that I saw included White-Eared and Yellow-Faced Honeyeaters; both seemed reasonably common.
Another bird readily found in this area is the uber-cute Dusky Woodswallow, which I saw several times in groups, particularly perched on the branches of dead trees – allowing for good photos as long as you can get close enough.
Superb Fairywrens were the most abundant fairywren which I found not only in the scrub but also near the pools of water. Further into the drier, denser areas there were also many Rufous Whistlers – so many that I became very familiar with their call.
Special mention must be made here of the tracks near Granite Arch and the start of the trail to the Pyramid. I saw birds here which I didn’t see elsewhere in the park: a White-Throated Gerygone – my first proper photo of this elusive bird with its distinctive long-descending call, as well as a Fan-Tailed Cuckoo and a Brush Cuckoo.
I had a great time as well with a couple of White-Naped Honeyeaters who were hanging around the creek area for a drink – there’s a little bridge here which seemed worth lingering at. Sure enough, a White-Eared Honeyeater also showed up (this was also where I saw the Brush Cuckoo). And I saw a Brown Goshawk soaring high above, too.
Australian Ravens and Torresian Crows are both present with approximately the same frequency at Girraween, and they can be difficult to tell apart. The Raven supposedly has longer throat hackles and a drawn-out wail at the end of its call.
There is a little waterhole near the road that goes up to Castle Rock campground (on the left as you go up it), and at times I saw a few birds drinking here: Red Wattlebird, Pied Currawong, Wood Ducks and a Common Bronzewing.
Near or around the campsite itself was Striated Thornbill, King Parrot, and a once-only sighting of a group of White-Winged Choughs foraging along the ground – the end-of-day light was poor so I couldn’t get good photos. A Channel-Billed Cuckoo was a flyover treat one morning, and an alternative track back to our campground on another day had us meeting a Wonga Pigeon (and a White-Browed Scrubwren). Truly there is a compelling variety of birds to be found in this National Park!
On the mornings of Oct 16 & 18 myself and my birding companions walked the Junction Track, which is probably the #1 birding trail within the National Park (“if you only do one birding track…”). We started by heading (anti-clockwise) on the Bald Rock Creek circuit, soon encountering a female Golden Whistler, and a hunting Sacred Kingfisher. Further into the track was an awesome surprise – a Crested Shrike-tit – only the second time I had seen this bird! Not a good photo, but an amazing bird. Better photos were had of a fluffy Dusky Woodswallow, and we saw Grey Shrikethrush, Eastern Yellow Robin, more of the ubiquitous Yellow-Tufted Honeyeaters (some of which were dipping in a small pool of water), and then – not very close, but oh well – a White-Cheeked Honeyeater.
So far, so good. At the intersection with the trail that leads back to Bald Rock Creek campground, where there is a large and flat rocky area, we encountered a couple of Eastern Rosellas in a dead tree in bright sunshine – perfect for photographing, not to mention appreciating their brilliant colours!
We were now into the Junction Track proper, and along this stretch we stopped for a short chat with a woman who was sitting patiently awaiting one of the prestige birds that can be reliably found in this area: the Chestnut-rumped Heathwren. We never saw that bird, but the next bird we saw was one of our target species – the Purple-Backed Fairywren. It was a female, but we were lucky enough to spot the male later on too, both with their long purply-blue tails.
At this point we felt like anything could turn up. In fact the next bird was a New Holland Honeyeater, which was – after just seeing the similar White-Cheeked Honeyeater – a little confusing! But according to eBird is actually more common here than the White-Cheeked. Both wonderful birds.
A White-Throated Treecreeper was the only other bird of note before reaching “the junction”, so named as it is where two creeks meet. There is a lot of rock here and not much water during October, really just a trickle, and not many birds either – but a good place to linger and have a bite to eat.
A second jaunt down Junction Track on the 18th didn’t yield quite as superlative experience, with one big exception when two Painted Buttonquail rushed across the path in front of us. This was rather exciting (any quail sighting that isn’t the more common Brown Quail is cause for delight!) Yet another lifer for all of us. We had sightings of another male Purple-Backed Fairywren, then a Rainbow Bee-Eater and a few more honeyeaters.
Dr Roberts Waterhole and Underground Creek
These two locations are in the east of the National Park and require a short drive from the campground/day use area (unless you fancy an extra 90 minutes of walking, I suppose!)
We arrived nice and early, about 6:20am, and spotted Noisy Friarbird, Rufous Whistler, and some calling White-Throated Treecreepers all around the spot where the tracks split off – one goes to Dr Roberts Waterhole, the other to Underground Creek.
We opted for investigating Dr Roberts Waterhole first, and near the waterhole saw a couple of Sacred Kingfishers and Brown Thornbills, but there wasn’t much bird action apart from that (mind you, this is only a short section of trail).
We then started down the longer track to Underground Creek, and although it wasn’t exactly teeming with birds, it was actually dominated by Treecreepers, with a total of 5 White-throated Treecreepers and 2 Red-browed Treecreepers. A colourful Eastern Rosella was a welcome sight, then we had a good (as in, pretty close) encounter with a Striated Thornbill.
Once we were at the Underground Creek area, there weren’t many birds – dry forest birds like Kookaburra and Pied Currawong were apparent – but by this point the huge jumbles of rock took more of our attention; we walked all the way around the main “underground creek” section, finding an almost lunar landscape punctuated with boulder-filled ravines and cool-looking lizards.
These two trails were a little disappointing in terms of birds, but they offered a different profile of species than in the other sections of the park, and the Underground Creek area was great fun to explore and do some rock hopping.
We tackled Castle Rock as a bushwalk-but-take-the-cameras-just-in-case on the afternoon of the 17th. Much of the track had been affected by bushfire, and few birds were present. There was a snake though.
The main birds we saw were Thornbills: Brown and Striated, but the more exciting one was a Buff-Rumped – another lifer bird. Close after that was a great encounter with a Spotted Pardalote who also allowed for some nice photos. A White-Throated Treecreeper, a Silvereye and a slightly unexpected Eastern Spinebill rounded out the 7 species we saw in that 2 hour walk.
The climb up the top part of Castle Rock – and the view from the top – were definitely worth it even without much bird life around. I advise packing the camera into a backpack for the summit area, as it can get a little steep.
Three days gave me plenty of time to explore Girraween National Park, and I was incredibly impressed. I picked up an astounding 15 lifer birds, but more importantly, it is just a great place to be. October was a good shoulder season: not too hot with all that rock around as it would be in the summer, and not near-freezing as it is in the winter (yes, really). The main areas near the campgrounds have rock, paths, trees/bushes in spacious terrain which gives great photography potential for all the birds that are found there.
Overall hotspot: Girraween National Park (191 species)
Junction Track (126 species)
Dr Roberts Waterhole (99 species)
Underground Creek (94 species)
Castle Rock trail (44 species)
Notable Hotspots Nearby: Old Wallangarra Road (177 species)
Checklists for these visits:
Junction Track Oct 16 (29 species), Junction Track Oct 18 (18 species), general area Oct 16, Oct 17, Oct 18.
Dr Roberts Waterhole (7 species), Underground Creek (11 species), Castle Rock (7 species)
This website dedicated to all things Girraween is pretty awesome.
Queensland parks and forests site for Girraween.
Pluses and minuses:
+ Lots of great trails
+ Interesting landscapes and terrain
+ Varied and abundant bird life
– Some trails less bird-plentiful and/or bushfire-affected
– Can get busy with people (especially near Day Use area on weekends/holidays)
– Hundreds of kilometres to get to 😦