Mt Gravatt Summit Trail, Jul 2020-Aug 2021

Summary: Scenic views and a couple of tasty spots for birds

Dates of visits: July 29 2020, Dec 21 2020, May 31 2021, Aug 14 2021

Mt Gravatt is not a particularly high “mountain”, but it does command sweeping panoramic views over some of the southern suburbs of Brisbane. There is a decent network of mostly dirt trails here, and, as I found out, one or two of these are quite good for birds.

It should be noted that there is a little network of trails around the Mt Gravatt summit proper. The “Mt Gravatt Summit Trail” on various bushwalking and hiking websites refers to a specific track that takes you to the summit from the northern side, starting at Gertrude Petty Place, where there are a handful of car parks (see map); while this blog post concentrates on the tracks on the summit’s western side, as that is where I contend the interesting birds are.

My first visit was the end of July 2020, where the main attraction was a Square-Tailed Kite nest and two of the attendant kites. The nest was at the intersection of the Goodenia Track and Acacia Track.

The kites were being hassled now and again, mainly by Crows, and I felt for them a little… they are, after all, just raptors trying to live their lives. Further up the Acacia Track I found Pale-Headed Rosella, Rufous Whistler, and plenty of Rainbow Lorikeets and Galahs. Slightly higher up were Striated Pardalotes, which I was to learn would be a standard feature of this section of track, and amusingly are most reliably located where there is a little interpretive panel about Pardalotes on the side of the trail.

I walked down the length of the Goodenia Track, which is basically very dry eucalypt forest, and passed by the little pond on the edge of Residential Road, where I found Magpie-Lark, Noisy Miner, Grey Butcherbird, a Kookaburra, an Australasian Grebe, Dusky Moorhen, Pacific Black Duck, and a couple of Welcome Swallows swooping over the pond surface.

On my second visit in December 21, 2020, the Square-Tailed Kites seemed to have moved on. I was walking the same route as before, starting at the eastern edge of the Griffith University Campus (on Circular Drive) where the Acacia Track begins. Again I found plenty of interesting birds along the Acacia Track, including three Pale-Headed Rosella, a lovely and very vocal Olive-Backed Oriole, a Spangled Drongo, a Dollarbird, and a male-female pair of Scarlet Honeyeaters.

The track was alive with Rainbow Lorikeets – I counted at least a dozen – as well as Scaly-Breasted Lorikeets and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos It is quite a difference from nearby Toohey Forest just over the highway, where these birds are much less prevalent in comparison.

As sometimes happens when one is birding with a big camera and looking up into the trees, passers-by will assume you’re looking for koalas, and one person gave me a tip-off of where to find one, near the water tank at the top of the Acacia Track. I shrugged and found the koala, and a photogenic one it was too.

While I was near the water tank, five White-Throated Needletails zoomed by high overhead; I had been on the lookout for these summer visitors to Australia for a while and knew I was seeing something different when I spotted their bullet-shaped bodies and their sheer speed. They are almost always seen flying – indeed according to BirdLife, it was once commonly believed they did not even land while on their Australian sojourns… and they are believed to copulate while in flight too. Amazing!

At the summit, one is rewarded for one’s efforts climbing uphill with a splendid panoramic view including right across to the Brisbane CBD. Of course, you can actually drive up here too, if you don’t fancy the walk. There is parking space for maybe three dozen vehicles. There are a few picnic tables and a café as well.

Birds I have seen at the summit over these visits tend to be Pied Butcherbird, Rainbow Lorikeet, Noisy Miner and other quite common species that are well habituated to humans. I do find Pied Butcherbirds quite handsome and will happily take a photo of their tuxedo colours if they come close.

On this Dec 21 visit I again passed by the Residential Road pond on the way back down, and saw a couple of Australian Wood Ducks, a young Dusky Moorhen, and a cheeky little Water Dragon.

There were also a large number of tiny dark-coloured frogs, possibly cane toadlets, some of which had spilled onto the road.

On May 31, 2021 I had a superlative time again at the Acacia Track. The Rainbow Lorikeets were out in force and their antics impossible to resist, with at least one Scaly-Breasted Lorikeet present for good measure.

A Rufous Whistler nabbed a bug right in front of me, while Yellow-Faced Honeyeaters and Striated Pardalotes cavorted in the branches.

The Striated Pardalote stole the show for a while. There is just something amazingly “rock star” about seeing these vivid little birds so incredibly close.

I could also hear the distinctive “referee’s whistle” of at least a couple of Fan-Tailed Cuckoos, quite close, and tracked one down and was able to watch it calling from an exposed branch. A nice-looking bird with its orangey-brown breast and distinctive yellow eye-ring.

Right nearby the Pardalote information panel some Variegated Fairywrens foraged, and a female Golden Whistler alighted for an amazing close encounter. Black-Faced Cuckooshrike, Grey Fantail, Scarlet Honeyeaters and four Silvereyes rounded out the roster of birds in this area.

It was an impressive sequence of bird activity, and it was about 10 in the morning, well after the initial rush of post-dawn bird action, and cemented my high opinion of the Acacia Track once again.

After summiting once again and heading back down, I happened upon a trio of Rainbow Bee-Eaters on the westernmost end of the Acacia Track, not very far from where it hits Circular Drive at the university.

On my visit on August 14, 2021 I saw most of these birds again, in the same area of the Acacia Track, and this time was able to get an incredible photo of the male Rufous Whistler.

Striated Pardalotes were again very close and I could see where they were flying into the nesting tunnel they had made in the mud bank.

A final trip on September 19, 2021 proved to be disappointing, though I had rushed through the Acacia Track section in order to more thoroughly explore the Federation Track section on the south-eastern side of the reserve. Here the track is a pleasant walk through pretty dry forest, with Noisy Miners, Kookas and Spangled Drongos in the most abundance, and quite a few people (it was a weekend, after all).

I rate Mt Gravatt pretty highly for a busy-ish, close-to-the-city nature location, but really only for the Acacia Track which can throw up some great birding. The species count of the eBird hotspot – and my own checklist species counts – are not very high, but here it is about quality of encounters rather than quantity. The scenic view from the summit (which might take a bit of effort to get to), is well worth it, and there is the bonus of other eucalypt forest wildlife like koala to look out for as well.

Hotspot: Mt Gravatt Summit Trail (85 species)
Checklists for these visits: Jul 29 2020 (19 species), Dec 21 2020 (20 species), May 31 2021 (16 species), Aug 14 2021 (21 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Amazing view from the top
+ Some decent birds to be found
+ Especially great for lorikeets and pardalotes
– Can get very busy
– Only a small section is of most interest to birders
+/- Some steep walking, good for fitness but may test some people

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