Mookin-Bah Reserve, Dec 2020-May 2021

Summary: Strange mix of trails and features, but pretty decent birds

Dates of visit: Dec 10, 2020 and 17 May, 2021

Mookin-bah Reserve in the suburb of Ransome, east of Brisbane, has apparently been reclaimed from old housing estates and despite all the plantings and reinvigoration it still retains a bit of a strange flavour. There’s some great paved paths and excellent signage in some parts, and a “wild-west, where am I” flavour in others. Most importantly, though, it has some pretty great birds.

Continuing the “weird” theme, access to the reserve is a little problematic: there are three main entry points by my reckoning (see map); the one I used was a little 4-car capacity car park just off the busy Green Camp Road, which is only accessible if travelling southward as the road is divided. Both times I visited I made the mistake of turning right off Tilley Road only to find that this over-shoots the little car park, and given the many busy roads during the morning commute time, this proved an expensive mistake to make (road works along Rickertt Road meant I couldn’t park there, so had to backtrack mightily). It’s enough to drive one a bit nuts.

Still, once within the reserve (on my Dec 10 visit), I was immediately soothed by the natural surroundings and keen to listen for bird calls over the hum of the nearby traffic. I wandered up the Lorikeet Track first, where there is a fenced-off area containing a little pond – and an obliging Pacific Black Duck on the edge who provided my first photographic opportunity of the morning. Close by a couple of Rainbow Lorikeets lurked in the flowering bushes.

I then headed deeper into the reserve along the Honeyeater Track, which is paved, has a wooden seat part way along, and mainly features dry forest and paperbarks. Curiously, I still hadn’t seen anybody else yet; indeed the whole morning I only saw the very occasional walker pass through.

In this part of the reserve I saw typical eucalypt forest birds: Kookaburras, Crows, and Pied Butcherbirds. Maybe the sound of a Rufous Whistler. So far, so meh.

The Honeyeater Track continues into a large grassed area, with the paved path continuing to the east. In the grasses and the branches of the lower canopy I found Red-Backed Fairywrens eagerly foraging for worms and insects.

I decided to explore the around the grassed area and also see what was further south of it. On the provided map it shows defined tracks through here, but really they are a mix of poorly-defined grassy trails, dirt trails and gravel road, with a small section of sealed path in there too. It is all a bit weird, and sometimes soft or swampy underfoot, especially if you stray a little to get closer to a bird.

The trails and paths, such as they are, eventually took me to a couple of oblong lagoons, with a bevy of ducks in and around them. More interestingly, there is a lot of fringing vegetation here, especially between the lagoons and the creek to its south, and here I found a Tawny Grassbird (confusingly hopping about within a large bushy tree), a Figbird pair, several Blue-Faced Honeyeaters, a Black-Faced Cuckooshrike and even a Dollarbird. The place was “going off”, as the kids say these days.

A Swamphen, some Wood Ducks and an Australasian Darter were also present. The Darter was perched up on a remnant iron structure about 10 feet above the water; I saw a few old iron and concrete things around here.

The number of birds in this “Oblong Lagoons” area is no doubt due to the density of vegetation and the abundance of fresh water, both in the lagoon and the creek. It all feels a bit un-tamed for a suburban reserve, and that’s a good thing.

I then decided to follow the creekline to the east, discovering a mown grassy path but here it got quite boggy and squelchy underfoot. On one side it was brimming with vine-covered vegetation, while the creek itself had plenty of interesting habitat going on with reeds and grasses. Though I only saw a Great Egret in the grasses, I felt like there were possibilities for more (others have photographed Lewin’s Rail in the open within this reserve, and it may well have been in this part).

The creekside path joins back up to the paved Honeyeater Track and a handy bridge. In fact this bridge seems like the only way to cross the creek that splits Mookin-Bah Reserve into its western and eastern halves.

Not far past the bridge, to the south, the path then runs alongside a huge reed-filled lagoon (which I’ve dubbed “Reed Lagoon” on the map). Here I saw Silvereye and Yellow-Faced Honeyeater, but didn’t linger too long in my now-wet shoes, resolving to re-visit more thoroughly another time.

That wasn’t until May 27 the following year, where I did indeed spend much extra time by the reed lagoon – more on that in a minute. First, I need to note that this visit was a decidedly sunnier affair, with no sign of the humdrum clouds from my previous visit. That seemed to translate into more bird activity, with a Pheasant Coucal stealing the show in perfect morning light on a tree on the edge of the grassy area. I also saw Superb Fairywren and a few other small birds there too. But it was the Coucal encounter that really put a big smile on my face – they are large and interesting-looking birds and I don’t often seem to see them so unobscured. Awesome!

The fringing trees on the eastern edge of the oblong lagoons were alive with honeyeaters – Brown and Scarlet predominantly – no doubt due to it being late autumn (a lot of honeyeaters migrate south in the Brisbane summer, which is likely why I saw fewer in December).

Between the oblong lagoons and the creekline was again a hive of activity, with Spangled Drongo and Black-Faced Cuckooshrike alighting for lovely photos. Bright sun really does make a difference not just to one’s mood, but for the ability to capture the feathers of darker birds properly, and this was a case in point, showcasing the luminescence of the Drongo, and providing clarity on the Cuckooshrike’s black face. In fact, I think this has proved to be my best Black-Faced Cuckooshrike photo ever.

On the way down to Reed Lagoon I spotted a Brahminy Kite flying over. Now there’s a raptor which no-one has ever had a problem identifying!

On the eastern half of the reserve there is a track called the Fairywren Track which not only connects around to Chelsea Road, but also (at least on the map) circumnavigates Reed Lagoon. In practice, on the west and south side of the lagoon it is less a track and more a long straight ridge covered in conifer needles, and it feels very… unofficial. Well, at least there’s no sign saying you can’t go down there, so…

Reed Lagoon really is quite large, but it’s next to impossible to get near the reeds – there is too much fringing tree foliage. I’m pretty sure I heard Reed Warblers calling from in there, but who knows what else skulks further in.

In any case, the edges of the lagoon provide pretty good birding, with plenty of Grey and Rufous Fantails, an Eastern Yellow Robin or two, Grey Shrikethrush, and the odd honeyeater (Yellow-Faced, for example). Silvereyes also passed through fairly quickly in a flock. I spent quite a while along here getting shots of the fantails and the robin.

I explored a little more of the north side of Fairywren Track and was impressed with the creekside vibe, with a few water birds like Pacific Black Duck and Dusky Moorhen around, as well as more Grey Fantails. Like the previous visit, I only saw a couple of other people (a couple of dog-walkers) in the four hours I was there.

To the east, across Chelsea Road from Mookin-Bah is Ransome Reserve, also quite a large patch of mostly eucalypt forest, which I explored for about an hour on a different day in the late morning. I didn’t see many birds at all that day, even along Tingalpa Creek, but if you have time and enthusiasm to fully explore this whole area, you could conceivably extend a trip to Mookin-Bah with a wander around there too; I’ve included the area in the Mookin-Bah map.

Mook-in Bah Reserve is a lesser-known, decent-sized patch of bushland that is worth the time to explore. The paved, named paths are nice enough, but the other trails provide more birding interest if you can overlook the remnants of the land’s previous usage and don’t mind the variation underfoot. It is largely flat with nary a hill in sight, so it’s only the bogginess here and there that causes any real problem. In my two visits I had some excellent encounters with a variety of cool bird species, and I find myself keen to get out there again some time.

Hotspot: Mookin-bah Reserve (156 species)
Nearby: Ransome Reserve (135 species)
Checklists for these visits: 10 Dec 2020 (34 species), 17 May 2021 (34 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Pretty good mix of interesting birds
+ Decent size with a variety of different areas to explore
+ Tranquil feeling of seclusion from surrounding suburbs
– Can get boggy and wet off the paved paths
– Weird layout and mix of trails

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