Gold Creek Reservoir, Nov 2020

Summary: Exceptional birds on a loop track, though sometimes frustrating

Dates of visit: Aug 9 / Nov 2 / Dec 29, 2020

I have developed something of a love/hate relationship with Gold Creek Reservoir as a birding hotspot. On the one hand, it is Brisbane’s #5 location by species, according to eBird. On the other hand, in my experience it can be frustratingly hit-or-miss.

Getting there is fairly simple: you drive to Brookfield then follow Gold Creek Road to the end. The road is sealed all the way but is a little narrow in the last couple of kilometres. The car park holds a couple of dozen cars, but isn’t usually full.

My first visit in August 2020 was more of a bushwalk-with-the-camera, where I did the entire loop around the reservoir. The bird highlights of that trip were mainly a Pheasant Coucal and a Crested Shrike-tit, and finally getting a good look at one of the small birds making all that sonar beeping sounds on the northern side of the water (spoiler alert: Bell Miners!)

I returned for a “proper” birding session with a better lens on November 2, arriving at 5:45am. Hopes were high when I was assaulted by bird noise when stepping out of the car. I found that the area in and around the end of the road, and the creek (called “Gold Creek”) can be very good for birds; I know that some people that go birding at Gold Creek Reservoir don’t even do the loop track at all, they just wander around the dam wall/car park/creek area.

I set off across the creek (via the “concrete causeway”) and up the grassy reservoir wall. This dam was built in the 1880’s, making it the second oldest large dam in Queensland. From the top of the dam you can see across the entire reservoir.

The walking track is a 5.5km loop around the reservoir, though it can feel like longer. There are some side tracks that connect to other trail networks in Brisbane Forest Park – in theory you could go all the way to Enoggera Reservoir – though these trails aren’t signposted and you’d be tackling some long distance, possibly quite confusing terrain. The general rule of thumb when walking the loop is just to keep hugging the trail that most closely follows the edge of the water – though you will need to be careful in some areas; see the north-west of the map, as this section can get confusing.

I chose to do the loop clockwise, and saw Spangled Drongo, Grey Shrikethrush and a Figbird in the dry forest area in what I’ve labelled the “First inlet”. The track follows these inlets away from the main reservoir and back to it again; it traverses along bit of a steep hillside here where if you’re lucky you might get a bird near eye level on a tree.

On the “side spur” I saw a Bar-Shouldered Dove in good morning light, and a Brown Honeyeater, then a Bell Miner. Fortunately there are only a couple of Bell Miners on this side of the water – their stronghold is on the north side.

The track feels like a slog for a while after this, following it around the second inlet with sparse dry forest around and not many good photography opportunities. At least you can see the reservoir easily and enjoy the morning sun streaming in.

When I started turning the corner into the “Third inlet” area, things started to get a lot more interesting. The bush on both sides became darker and denser and the path descended into a gully area. Here I saw my second sighting ever of a Spectacled Monarch, hopping about in the branches and showing well. This was very exciting – they are such great birds.

Other “dense bush” birds I found here were Brown Thornbill, White-Browed Scrubwren, Eastern Yellow Robin, and even a Little Shrikethrush. The time was about 7:15am by this point.

Through a gap in the canopy I also got a shot of a huge White-Bellied Sea-Eagle.

I’m not sure if it’s an exaggeration to say that the 100-or-so metre stretch around Third Inlet is one of the best birding micro-spots in Brisbane. I’ve seen a ton of fantastic birds here on several occasions (see also later in this post).

Continuing along past the Third Inlet area, there are longer straighter stretches of track with dry Lantana and Tobacco Weed but the birding is still pretty good, as is the ambience of the track; I lingered for a long time all around this north-western part of the reservoir track, and I decided to backtrack the way I’d come rather than slogging through the Bell Miner Stronghold to complete the loop. That stronghold does have other birds aside from Bell Miners, but the miners are very much dominant, and the track is also steeper and more undulating than on the southern side.

Anyway, in this area I saw Lewin’s Honeyeater and Spangled Drongo, another Eastern Yellow Robin and a close-up Large-Billed Scrubwren.

I was enjoying the morning and taking my time, which is always a good thing when birding. It meant I had the time and patience to snap a very happy-making photo of the Large-Billed Scrubwren, for example; and then while I was daydreaming I heard a noise in the branches right above the path that turned out to be a pair of foraging King Parrots. I stayed a while pointing my camera up to try to get as unobstructed shots of them as I could.

I also got even better looks at the Spangled Drongo, perching imperiously in sparser branches than usual and roughly at eye level. Kind of makes for a dramatic photo, actually.

I walked very slowly back through the Third inlet area, hoping again for a superlative bird encounter… and saw almost nothing. Yes, it was a couple of hours later by then, but still… this is what I mean by hit-and-miss: I could tell you this spot was amazing, the best in Brisbane, and you might go there and see nothing at all.

On the way back to the dam wall and car park I really only saw a Noisy Miner or two, an Olive-Backed Oriole, and a fleet of Welcome Swallows launching themselves from the tower structure near the dam wall. However, I came down the dam wall and crossed the creek via the “Concrete bridge” side, and here saw an incredibly vivid Azure Kingfisher – a lifer bird, my 208th species (I had flown past the 200 species mark in Girraween).

The bird dipped down into the water to nab a little fish and I took a few snaps of the fish being gobbled down. It would have been nice if the bird was a little closer (ain’t that always the truth, though?), but it provided a wonderful bonus at the end of my walk, and I definitely looked forward to seeing this species again.

I returned to Gold Creek Reservoir on Dec 29 to try and find a White-Eared Monarch. I had seen other birders on eBird checklisting these and Gold Creek Reservoir came up as a likely spot. On this trip I saw a small flock of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos near the dam wall and a Varied Triller in the drier forest section.

Having started early (5:30am, as it was summer), I arrived at the Third inlet area by 6:45. Luck was with me, for it was in this area that I saw not only a Spectacled Monarch, but got a brief but captivating look at a White-Eared Monarch!

More fairywrens were in attendance on this visit, foraging low in the lantana with Red-Browed Finches, as I have seen them do elsewhere. I also managed further good shots of a Brown Thornbill, and even took a photo of two White-Bellied Sea-Eagles that were resting on a tree right across the other side of the reservoir.

It might be that I expect a little too much from Gold Creek Reservoir. There are often many birds here – you can hear them! – but they’re not always easy to see or to photograph. Plenty of birders get 50 species here, but there are less numerous water birds than you might expect for a reservoir habitat, and the only raptor I’ve ever seen is a White-Bellied Sea-Eagle.

On weekends the area can get relatively busy – especially watch out for days when there is an event such as a trail run taking place – and because there’s only one main loop track, you’ll be sharing it with others. (I have seen people walking their dogs here despite the fact that you’re not allowed to!) Another thing to note is that there’s no facilities much; don’t expect a bench seat to rest on anywhere.

Still, for all the minor faults of this location, in terms of quality birds, I’d have to say Gold Creek Reservoir definitely has the potential to deliver.

Checklists for these visits: Nov 2 (34 species), Dec 29 ( species)
Hotspot: Gold Creek Reservoir (211 species)
Nearby: No hotspots nearby.

Pluses and minuses:
+ Exceptional spot for birds (though less water birds than you might expect)
+ Good loop for bushwalking, with continuous water views
– Hit and miss
– Only one path, and some parts a little boring
– Photography can be frustrating at times

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