Anstead SES Depot, Oct 2020

Summary: Excellent birding location right near Anstead Bushland Reserve.

Dates of visit: Oct 20, Dec 6 2020

Anstead SES Depot is a strange spot that doesn’t seem to be shown as bush- or park-land on any maps. In fact, there isn’t much general information about this place anywhere. But it’s definitely there, and it’s a beaut hotspot for birding!

I discovered this location via eBird, and was intrigued to visit as I recognised it was further down Hawkesbury Road from the excellent Anstead Bushland Reserve. I’m guessing it’s lesser-known, as there’s only about a quarter the number of eBird checklists for SES Depot. The car park is basically a little patch of gravel just near the SES building, and is a good place to start exploration.

The first thing I noticed after pulling up was how many small birds were swooping around. And they weren’t Welcome Swallows – these were actually Fairy Martins, and I tried to count them as best I could, coming up with an estimate of 55. Peering through the chainlink fence by the depot I could see they were making hunting forays from their mud nests under the eaves of the building. Very cool!

Being late October, things were pretty dry out west of Brisbane. This hotspot was no different: big swathes of straw-like grass and sizable patches of bush divided by long straight mown stretches.

Within the long grass areas I found a couple of Chestnut-Breasted Mannikin, and a Tawny Grassbird. A Pacific Baza also flew across above. So far, so good!

Nearer to the “creek line” – which isn’t very apparent due to overgrowth and general dryness – I found some Silvereyes and a few Double-Barred Finches foraged on the ground. I then chased a couple of fairywrens, which is always a risk when you go birding in Brisbane – they’re like the glitter of the bird world: they pop up everywhere and tend to catch your eye. When you’re checklisting, too, you need to get a good look to determine what type of fairywrens you’re looking at. These turned out to be Superbs and Red-Backeds.

Still, chasing the fairywrens drew me further into the lower-lying “creek” area, where there is actually a small waterhole (mostly obscured by fringing vegetation), and it was here I met the Double-Barred Finches again. This was a closer, more prolonged encounter and I was able to get great shots of them playing on the ground and then perching on the dry branches to the side of the path. Shot of the day had a pair that looked like they were kissing!

Having a really good encounter and bagging a terrific photo from it does take the pressure off the rest of the visit. It means that spending the time and effort to get to the place (it is a 40 minute drive each way for me…) was worth it, and any further birding moments become like a bonus.

I wandered further down towards the Brisbane River. Here you’re maybe 10 or 15 metres above the river, and the narrow trail parallels along it.

There are some very tall gum trees right by the water and here I heard some very strange bird calls. The first sight I gained had me reaching for the Merlin app on my phone to find out they were Apostlebirds, which I had never seen before!

They are really cool looking birds and I was lucky enough to see them once more where they were at ground level on one of the long straight stretches between the sections of bush.

The day wasn’t over yet, though: on these straight stretches I spotted an Olive-Backed Oriole, one of my all-time favourite birds, close enough for decent photos. Then it flew across to the other side of the track into a Silky Oak, and I was able to take more photos of the bird against the vivid yellowy-orange foliage. Splendid stuff. In those same trees some more Silvereyes played about, too.

Further exploration of the area showed another, much rougher path leading down towards the riverside, which seemed promising for birds. Here there was a huge, flowering Jacaranda tree and I spotted a Brown Honeyeater and a Figbird, then a Brushturkey, looking pretty goofy on the branches. I tried to get an awesome shot of the Brown Honeyeater amongst the purple but was not super successful.

Nearby was a male Scarlet Honeyeater, which I was able to get a couple of decent shots of – I have been spoiled by these at Oxley Creek Common and on the grass tree spikes of Toohey Forest, so I probably was a bit blasé about being able to get good photos of these tiny, red-coloured birds.

A Pied Butcherbird, looking tuxedo-smart, plus some warbling Magpies, rounded out the day as I scoped out the “short grass area” (see map), which is really a huge field with some small pockets of bush in and around it. The Double-Barred Finch, Apostlebird and Olive-Backed Oriole encounters were definitely the big highlights of this first visit.

I made a second visit on Dec 6 with a friend who’d never been to this location before. Silvereyes and fairywrens were present in the same place as previously (creekline area near the waterhole), and we managed to glimpse some quail there too (and a rabbit, while I was tracking a quail’s movements!) Down near the river was a stately Dollarbird, and we also spotted Pale-Headed Rosella and a Mistletoebird. No particularly stand-out encounters this time, but we both agreed it was an enjoyable place to stroll around looking for birds.

Anstead SES Depot is a decent spot for birding. It feels like one of those places where anything could turn up. There aren’t any facilities there, or lagoons or lakes, but the wide avenues make for some pleasant bird-spotting, and lots of other gold-star hotspots are also nearby: Anstead Bushland Reserve, Colleges Crossing, and Priors Pocket to name a few.

eBird
Hotspot: Anstead SES Depot (Hawkesbury Rd) – 170 species
Nearby: Anstead Bushland Reserve (197 species)

Checklists for these visits: Oct 20 (29 species), Dec 6 (27 species).

Pluses and minuses:
+ Excellent birds
+ Mostly easy area to explore, with a couple of interesting side paths
+ Other very good hotspots nearby
– No lakes or lagoons; kinda same-ish
– No facilities
– Could be a bit hit-and-miss

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