Sandy Camp Road Wetlands, 2020-2021

Summary: Excellent birding site where water birds and bush birds are both in wonderful abundance.

Dates of visit: Nov 21 2020 and Jan 15, Mar 4, Jun 28 2021

Having visited Sandy Camp Wetlands several times now, I think of it in the same vein as Oxley Creek Common – that is, an excellent place to go birding in Brisbane! And while it doesn’t quite have the species count nor the extensive adjoining grassland areas, it still has a few advantages of its own.

As I’ve visited this site many times now, this post will be a conglomeration of several experiences there, with appropriate generalisations.

When you enter – presuming you’ve parked at the main car park opposite Iona College – you’ll find a very large field and a very tall nesting tower right in the middle – which has been the residence of Osprey for quite a few years. It is usual to see at least one Osprey on the tower; there was one time I saw four. Many common “open terrain” birds can also be seen in the field including Pied Butcherbird, Magpie-Lark, Willie Wagtails, etc, and once I saw dozens of Welcome Swallows swooping over the grass in the early morning.

Being a suburban nature site, there are – of course – a set of powerlines running right through the middle. At least they can serve as a landmark for navigation, if you need it – and can be used for birds to perch on too. The powerlines run roughly east-west.

On most (all?) of my visits, I do what I call the “classic circuit” – enter via the car park, skirt the left side of the large field, then head into the lily pad-strewn ponds (“Lily Pad Lagoon” on the map); then explore the west edge a little, head into the path that runs along Large Lagoon, explore the messy area a bit, then walk back to the car park. This circuit is highlighted orange on the map, and is referred to here in a clockwise direction.

Lily Pad Lagoon is particularly great in the early morning, with the light behind you as you walk along the causeway that splits the lagoon into two. On my November 21 visit I saw Magpie Geese flying in, Pacific Black Ducks, Dusky Moorhens, Comb-Crested Jacana and Purple Swamphen all lit up against beautiful olive-green and pinkish-brown backgrounds by the sun.

Dusky Moorhen is probably the most numerous of the water birds in Lily Pad Lagoon, and it is easy to count 20 or more of these birds here.

There are a few gaps in the edging reeds, and by crouching and waiting for a while you can get very good shots of Comb-Crested Jacana when one comes close enough. In fact with such patience the causeway lets you get close to many of the birds; it is reminiscent of the pathway that divides the two main ponds at Sherwood Arboretum in that way.

Keep a look out for baby birds in these ponds, they can be fun to photograph too. Also, on the dead branches I’ve often found kingfishers – Sacred and more rarely, Forest Kingfishers.

On the trees along the causeway and on the powerlines, especially in the very early morning, I’ve found White-Breasted Woodswallows. Sometimes you can get quite close to them (again, such is the beauty of the Lily Pad Lagoon!), and on a few occasions when I arrived early enough, I was lucky enough to capture photos of them still cuddling up together. Later in the morning they tend to land on the powerlines around the place, when they’re not gliding looking for insects around higher up.

Along the reed beds there’s a little population of Australian Reed Warblers, which I’ve managed to photograph a few times (again, some patience required here). When they are singing (warbling, I suppose…), it is a most wonderful sound, with much variety to their calls.

Brown Honeyeaters are very common here but White-Throated, Scarlet, Yellow-Faced and even Striped Honeyeaters also make an appearance. Little Friarbirds seem to be more commonly found than Noisy Friarbirds in my experience, and there’s almost always the sound of an Olive-Backed Oriole calling.

Just beyond Lily Pad Lagoon, there is a four-way intersection. Turning left leads to a viewing platform with seating, though it’s oriented completely the wrong way for the early morning sun – ie., pointing straight into it. (There are a couple of other bench seats to plonk down on too, which are handy as you may be inclined to spend quite a bit of time at these wetlands.)

The gravel pathway that goes straight on for quite a way underneath the powerlines is worth a walk – I’ve found Chestnut-Breasted Mannikin in the long dry grasses here a few times; they sometimes fly down to the path and forage along its edge too. Red-Backed Fairywrens and Tawny Grassbirds also frequent here.

Another birder told me of a Lewin’s Rail that lives deeper in this area where it is more swampy, and I’ve probably heard it but have certainly never seen it, so secretive is that bird. Along the casuarinas to the left (as you’re walking west) there can be Variegated Fairywrens, Rainbow Bee-Eaters, and I once saw a Dollarbird and a Mistletoebird here too.

At the west of the wetlands the powerlines curve away to the south. There are still good birds in this area, and one of the trails crosses a wooden bridge and continues west all the way until it hits the nearby Port of Brisbane Motorway, if you’re inclined to go that far.

The paths that pass under the trees to the north (of the west half of the wetlands) are pretty weird. They are very long and straight and there are ditches of distasteful-looking water all along. And there tend to be midges and mosquitoes here.

I don’t explore this area too much, though I always note the large termite mound where Sacred Kingfishers nest within, instead heading to the path that skirts the southern side of Large Lagoon. Before arriving at the lagoon edge there is a mess of bush that can be good for Rainbow Bee-Eaters, White-Browed Scrubwren, various flavours of fairywren, and Rufous Fantail (yes, really!) Here you’ll also start to see a few of the many Willie Wagtails that dominate the eastern half of Sandy Camp. You may also hear a bit of noise from the large neighbouring warehouses too. It occasionally gets a little muddy on this part of the path, as it is dirt without a layer of gravel.

Once Large Lagoon comes into view, it’s time to start scanning for the water birds again. If you’re eBird checklisting, this can get challenging, both because there are a lot of water birds, and they are sometimes hard to see, what with the trees and bushes along the lagoon edge, and the tangle of branches in the water itself.

Darters, Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants and White Ibis are all guaranteed, and I have also seen Wood Ducks in this lagoon.

There is usually plenty of nesting going on too.

On my March 5 2021 visit, I was lucky enough to startle a Striated Heron skulking on the lagoon edge, who wasn’t too bothered by me even though I was quite near to it.

The pathway on the eastern side of Large Lagoon also doubles as the western side of Messy Lagoon, and there are quite a few trees and bushes between these two bodies of water that can be very productive for birding. White-Breasted Woodswallows, Brown Honeyeaters, and Willie Wagtails come to mind, though I have also seen Little Friarbird and even a White-Winged Triller here.

Rainbow Bee-Eaters might also be about, and if the bushes along Messy Lagoon are in fruit, Mistletoebirds could be present too. (If you can get a shot of Mistletoebirds with big plump red fruits in their beaks, that’s gold!!) Fairywrens and Willie Wagtail are common here too, and on my Jan 13 visit I happened upon some Double-Barred Finches here, though that was about 6pm and I think they were passing through on their way to find somewhere safe to roost for the night. Superb Fairywrens are not uncommon either (matching Oxley Creek Common with the triumvirate of typical Brisbane Fairywren species).

There is a path all the way around Messy Lagoon, but it can get very boggy – even impassable – depending on the season and recent rain. That makes the moniker “Messy” appropriate, though to my mind the lagoon water itself is pretty messy too, with lots of brackish areas, tangles of melaleuca (stringy barks) in the water and on the water’s edge. This lagoon is also known as Bittern Pond due to sightings of bitterns within it. My most memorable circumnavigation of this area was on my March 5 visit, where I saw a Darter parent feeding four hungry Darter youngsters still on the nest. The little ones were getting their heads right down the parent’s throat… and one was struggling to stay in the nest at all.

Along these paths there are Variegated Fairywren, Olive-Backed Oriole, Lewin’s and Brown Honeyeaters, Kookaburras and Bar-Shouldered Dove, to name a few.

White-Throated Gerygone is a definite possibility too, though it is much more often heard than seen. At the end of these paths, on the extreme eastern edge of the wetlands, is a wire fence and a railway line that goes up to the Port of Brisbane area.

Sandy Camp isn’t a location where I’ve seen too many raptors. I have seen a Little Eagle there, and once a pair of Brahminy Kites, too. Most likely these birds are passing through rather than doing a lot of hunting; though the resident Ospreys will hunt in the lagoons (for fish, as that’s all they eat – true story).

Over time various South East Queensland rarities have shown up here, including Diamond Dove, Black Bittern, Musk Lorikeet, Pink-Eared Duck, Oriental Cuckoo and many more. That is partly a function of how many birders go here (over 3,200 eBird checklists at the time of this writing, that’s a lot of eyeballs to be finding birds), but is also testament to its quality as a bird-rich location. Spend a couple of hours and it is likely you’ll see a few hundred birds here, comprising 40 or more species, as I did on most of my morning visits. Also of note is that there are a number of other great birding sites relatively near to Sandy Camp Wetlands, including Wynnum foreshore sites, Port of Brisbane (high tide roost, for example), and others.

Sandy Camp Wetlands is that rare location where the bush birds and water birds compete equally for your attention, and I can easily while away several hours here enraptured by both.

Checklists for these visits: 21 Nov 2020 (39 species), 13 Jan 2021 (22 species), 5 March 2021 (34 species), May 4 2021 (43 species), 28 June 2021 (39 species)
Hotspot: Sandy Camp Road Wetlands (220 species)
Nearby: Kianawah Road Wetland (171 species), Lytton Wader Roost and Wynnum Mangrove Boardwalk (202 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Reliable, excellent bird life
+ Great morning light
+ Plenty of tracks to wander, with some variety
– Sandwiched between logistics warehouses, a railway line, a motorway and school grounds
– A few parts can get quite boggy

One thought on “Sandy Camp Road Wetlands, 2020-2021

  1. Great report – sounds like a great spot, easy to read report and lots of practical information. I’ll save it in my “places to go birding” file for future reference. Thanks


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