Lake Manchester and Shelley Road Park, 2020-2021

Summary: Vast area to explore with a few bird-rich habitats mainly along the creeks

Dates of visit: Nov 22 2020, Dec 20 2020, June 1 2021

I cover Lake Manchester and Shelley Road Park together here because they are basically across from the road from each other and birders might well cover both areas – or cherry-pick parts of both sites – in one visit.

Getting there is pretty straightforward – the approach is usually from Kholo Road or Lake Manchester Road. However, from where those two roads intersect it is still around 2km to the Lake Manchester Day Use Area, and that 2km stretch is unsealed and a little rough in places – perfectly doable with a 2WD in decent weather, just use caution.

The best car parking for the two sites is within a stone’s throw, so you might want to park at just one site if intending to cover both areas. Be warned though: these are large locations!

Shelley Road Park, Nov 22 2020

Myself and two other birders visited Shelley Road Park in November 2020. We had intended to go to Lake Manchester, but it was closed due to bushfire smoke in the area – we should have checked the SEQWater website first, lesson learned! Fortunately Shelley Road Park provided a backup location for birding.

You can park at the entrance to the park and will then be greeted by a very large expanse of grassy field and wonder what to do next. Okay, it’s a park, of sorts, but where are all the birds?

It turns out the area is very large: the grassy field is just at the northern end, and the rest is various terrain criss-crossed by trails. At nearly all of the trail intersections there is a simple map on a low green post which marks each intersection with a handy number. This proved quite useful as we found it easy to get disoriented once roaming the hills and dells.

We started off at the southern end of the grassy field (intersection 24), where there is a flat patch of wire-fenced bush that seems to be subject to bush rehabilitation (read: most trees aren’t too tall!). Here we saw half a dozen Figbirds, and shortly after that, a Pheasant Coucal. It was early morning at that point (6:20am) so there was still a little “golden glow” about to light up the Coucal – and it was calling now and again too, which was a treat to hear up close.

After the promising start, we headed up into the hills, following the mostly straight dirt road trails as they rose and fell. It was a bit of a slog after a while.

As with many other reserves, there is an impressive set of power lines that runs through, with the concomitant land clearing beneath. The bush was mostly pretty dry and not many birds were around – the odd Kookaburra, a pair of White-Throated Honeyeaters, a Red-Backed Finch and a Dollarbird, with a pair of Double-Barred Finches providing the closest bird encounter so far.

The intersections with their handy numbering kept coming, (19, 17, 16, 15, 14…) and glimpses of forested hills in the distance and the promise of waterways kept us walking until we hit a long downhill that took us to the riverside area (roughly along the area of intersections 6 and 7). This is a stretch of the upper reaches of the Brisbane River, barely 50 metres wide.

It is quite a nice area here, no people around or any signs of habitation, and fortunately plenty more birds than we had seen so far. Two gorgeous Peaceful Doves were a highlight, perching on dead branches close by the water; a couple of Brown Honeyeaters and a Scarlet and a Lewin’s Honeyeater or two were also in the area. Then I saw a small spindly shrub with no less than four Red-Backed Fairywren males in it (and a female for good measure). That was rather freaky.

We wandered around this section for a bit then followed the creek line to the north with its lush vegetation, hearing quite a few interesting bird noises within but not gaining any sightings except for Masked Lapwings and Pacific Black Ducks.

We headed back to the grassy field (intersections 6, 4, 3, 2…), taking the time to compare a Golden-Headed Cisticola with a Tawny Grassbird, both in the same area around intersection 3.

The final exciting sighting of the morning as a Pipit, roaming the grassy field and the surrounding low brush. It looked warm, possibly keeping its beak open to dissipate heat.

Lake Manchester, Dec 20 2020

The intrepid birding trio returned to Lake Manchester a month later, making sure to check the SEQWater website first. We parked in the gravel car park of the Day Use Area and, not really knowing quite where to go, headed down the main trail towards the dam wall. This “main trail” is a whopping 17km long and goes right around the entire lake – we saw a couple of runners and walkers setting off on it, but we knew that wasn’t going to be us!

The main trail descends from the car park and crosses Cabbage Tree Creek (whose other end meets the Brisbane River at the western edge of Shelley Road Park), and we saw a Spangled Drongo amongst the lush vegeration here. After the creek the trail – more of a road, actually – climbs upwards and there were a few interesting bird noises around, but the only photo opp was a Noisy Miner trying to devour a stick insect.

A Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo flew overhead as we passed the dam wall and gained our first look at the lake in the morning sun.

If we expected the reservoir to be teeming with birds, we were sorely mistaken. A Pelican and a few Welcome Swallows were all we could see. Trooping ahead along the wide dirt trail with the lake on our right, we glimpsed a Pale-Headed Rosella, then later a Little Black Cormorant and a Darter sat by the water, and a Grebe floated slowly along by the bank. In the bush a Pheasant Coucal flushed up into a tree; it was but one of four we would see that morning.

So far, so good, I suppose; we’d walked a solid kilometre, the vibe was nice (with almost a remote-country feel to it), but not many birds were to be seen.

There are a few “mini-headlands” poking out into Lake Manchester, and the first couple are grassed and let you get close to the water. It was on one of these that the bird of the day was then seen, shortly after getting a look at a Comb-Crested Jacana daintily treading the fringing lilypads. It was a Great Crested Grebe – a lifer bird for all of us!

The Great Crested Grebe swam around for a while and came parallel to our little headland for a bit, letting us get a slightly closer look (and avoiding having the bird directly in front of the sun, which was proving to be a problem for photography). Such an elegant bird! A Pelican was also hunting around in the silvery water, accompanied very closely by a Little Black Cormorant – a pairing I have seen elsewhere (Oxenford Weir comes to mind…)

A lot more walking ensued, with a short snack break, and not many birds – some Red-Backed Fairywrens, the scantest glimpses of Red-Browed Finches, a Pacific Black Duck and a Grey Butcherbird were pretty much all we had to show for the next hour, so we decided to turn around and explore nearer the car park. It was 8am by this point and starting to get quite warm.

Back near the car park there were a couple of Figbirds and such, but more exciting than that, a Pacific Baza rocked up with its trademark “buff-pigeon-but-I’m-actually-a-raptor” look. It had a tiny caterpillar in its beak, at any rate, so it wasn’t exactly exuding “master hunter” vibes.

We wandered along the track that runs parallel to Cabbage Tree Creek (on the eastern side of the Day Ue Area), and it soon became apparent that this was much more bird-rich than the lakeside, with Grey Shrikethrush, Lewin’s Honeyeater, and a host of other intriguing bird sounds. The vegetation here is very lush, making it a good habitat – but sometimes hard to spot birds.

In one area we saw a cuckoo which we later identified as an Oriental Cuckoo, another lifer bird. It was far away and only seen for a moment (long enough for a photo, luckily).

We then spotted a Brown Falcon and two Wedge-Tailed Eagles very high up. With a few cool birds in rapid succession the morning thus ended on a bit of a high.

Lake Manchester and Shelley Road Park combo, June 1 2021

It took me a good six months to get back to Lake Manchester, but when I did, I ended up spending the whole day there. That was unintentional, but it was a gloriously sunny day and I wanted to give the site a really red hot go – I was also sporting a Nikon D850 by then, so hoped to take some sharper images this time.

I started with the creek area on the Lake Manchester side at about 8am, where it was still a little dark to see properly with the winter sun behind the tree line. But I did spot a Rose Robin and a female Scarlet Honeyeater.

On the climb up to near the dam wall there was a fair bit of action, in particular with Yellow-Faced Honeyeater, and a male Rufous Whistler taking on a rather large caterpillar.

I spent an hour wandering by the lakeside and up one of the side trails, the only notable sighting being a Pale-Headed Rosella. There wasn’t much on the water at all. Then back to creek area where the light was much better, spotting a Golden Whistler, Grey Fantail, and a Rufous Shrikethrush with its highly methodical scouring of the tree branches in search of food.

With nothing too unusual to be seen, I headed across to Shelley Road Park, crossing the grassy field and seeing not a lot until nearing closer to the creekline, where I followed an interesting bird sound to finally identify it as a White-Browed Scrubwren higher up in a tree than they’re usually found. Tricky little bird!

A few Rainbow Bee-Eaters were about, and as I arrived at the patch where the creek intersects with the Brisbane River, I got a good look at Brown and Yellow-Faced Honeyeaters, and a small group of Silvereyes. The vibe here was as I remembered from the previous November – quite a pretty spot, decent birds around, and no other humans to be seen.

I braved the long way back to the car park, up and over the dirt roads and under the powerlines, as the sun started to descend.

The final notable bird sighting for the day happened on a nondescript stretch of track where a Fan-Tailed Cuckoo landed quite close, watching me for a few minutes. That proved to be the encounter of the day, and left me wondering why all bird sightings couldn’t be like this.


Lake Manchester and Shelley Road Park offers a ridiculously large area of natural environment with an enormous lake, grassy fields, serene creeks and plenty of bushland and trails. Based on my experience, only a small fraction of it I would describe as “bird rich” (that being the creekside section on the edge of the Lake Manchester Day Use Area, and the patch near the Brisbane River on the south-western edge of Shelley Road Park). If you want to do a lot (like, a lot) of bushwalking in a less-trafficked location, these two sites are definitely up there, and the species count for both locations is very respectable, though it might take some patient exploration to uncover the more interesting birds.

Hotspot: Shelley Road Park (192 species), Lake Manchester (211 species)
Nearby: Corner of Kholo Rd and Lake Manchester Rd (142 species)
Checklists for these visits: Shelley Road Park Nov 22 (23 species), Lake Manchester Dec 20 (31 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Remote-ish feel
+ Vast area to explore
+ Some good birds to be found
– Only small patches of highly bird-rich habitat
– Dirt road trails with some steep sections
+/- Longest loop is 17km!

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