Belliss Rd, Nerang, Dec 2020-Aug 2021

Summary: A delightful patch of creekside rainforest with good birds

Dates of visits: Dec 28 2020 and Aug 17 2021

Most birders associate rainforest near the Gold Coast with the hinterland, being Lamington National Park, Springbrook and the like, which require long and winding roads to travel to. But there is also a worthwhile little patch of subtropical rainforest along the Clagiraba Creek Trail, which starts at the end of Belliss Road in Nerang, barely 10 minutes from the Pacific Highway.

Getting there is easy – just follow Clagiraba Road and turn onto Belliss Road and follow it until the end, where there is a gate and an open area for parking. A handy sign shows the tracks here, in what is officially known as the Lower Beechmont Conservation Area. Apart from the sign, there aren’t any other facilities here.

On my Dec 28 2020 visit, the first bird of interest was a White-Throated Treecreeper in the dry forest near the start of the trail, behaving very typically by spiralling up a tree. Spangled Drongos were heard and glimpsed, as were Brown Thornbill and Grey Shrikethrush. The track descends quickly until it parallels Clagiraba Creek, then crosses it along a picturesque little concrete causeway. The trail is wide enough to be a road along most of its length.

As the trail lies on the western side of a large ridge, morning sun doesn’t penetrate down to ground level until the day is well advanced, so there is a lot of shade to start with.

Along the creekside I saw (poorly) a Wompoo Fruit Dove, Red-Browed Finch, and a female King Parrot. It was proving to be an intriguing mixture of dry forest birds with denser/rainforest birds.

With the sun starting to shine through the canopy, there were plenty of bird calls around, though it was proving difficult to spot – and therefore photograph – what was making all the noise. There were at least a couple of obvious Whipbird cracks. A pair of Brown Cuckoo-Doves weren’t too elusive, and a White-Browed Scrubwren sat still – just – long enough for a snap too. I had to be patient (and lucky) to get any sort of shot of one of the Brown Thornbills, as they foraged quickly through the denser bushes.

As is often the case, the bright yellow plumage and obliging nature of Eastern Yellow Robins made for delightful encounters.

After another similar creek crossing, within less than a kilometre from the start of the track, the path dumped me out at a large grassy field, where a small group of kangaroos bounded away. The grass was long and wet in places but the trail remained easy enough to follow.

Other bird sightings included a Lewin’s Honeyeater, a Flycatcher (probably Leaden), some Figbirds and three Magpies. Again, there were some intriguing bird calls around that proved impossible to pinpoint.

After meandering through the pleasant grassy field section ringed with its appealing sunlit forest, the track plunged back into bush again and here I saw my first Spectacled Monarch of the visit.

The challenge of photographing small birds in the rainforest can be devilish indeed, with low light, dense foliage and fast-moving subjects to contend with. Patience and luck is required, and I needed both to capture a Large-Billed Scrubwren nabbing its morning meal.

A wonderful bonus on returning to the Belliss Rd gate was a pair of Glossy Black Cockatoos munching away happily on casuarina seed pods. It was the first time I’d seen these birds after a five-month string of sightings in Toohey Forest – so it was good to see them somewhere else!

On the Aug 17 2021 visit I was keen to see if Belliss Road would provide a similar experience to my early summer visit of the year before. Well, a pair of Glossy Black Cockatoos flew overhead soon after I parked, so that provided some consistency straight away.

Aside from that, the sounds of Fan-Tailed Cuckoo were ringing through the forest, so I knew there would be at least one new bird, and I presumed honeyeaters would be more prevalent; however I was also pleased to see several Grey Fantails, Golden Whistlers and a couple of Rufous Whistlers too. Eastern Yellow Robins were again in attendance, and I obtained a better shot of a Brown Thornbill.

I hiked further up the trail than previously, where Yellow-Faced and Lewin’s Honeyeaters, and a Rufous Shrikethrush were found. I also saw the first of what would be several Spectacled Monarchs.

A Magpie and a few Kookas were seen in the open grassy area; for one of the Kookas I had mentally dared it to stay on its perfectly-lit branch while I crept closer for a photo opp, and it fortunately obliged. Thanks, Kooka!

I saw more Spectacled Monarchs on the way back along one of the creek crossings, making me wonder just how many of these birds actually lived in this forest.

Finally I got a good look at one of the Fan-Tailed Cuckoos I had been hearing, though I had to awkwardly clamber along some rocks to get close to it. A White-Throated Honeyeater rounded out what was a pretty decent set of birds for the morning (38 species!).

The Calgiraba Creek Track starting at Belliss Road is a nice little slice of subtropical rainforest that is much quicker to access than the larger rainforest areas of the Gold Coast hinterland, so makes a good alternative to experience the serenity and birds of this environment if you don’t have a lot of time. The creekside track isn’t hugely long, but there are other tracks that branch off it for those looking for extra walking. From what little I have seen of these, they look like eucalypt/dry forest trails as they grow more distant from the creek (note to self: explore these some day…).

There isn’t too much to complain about with the birds to be found here. Sure there aren’t the higher altitude rainforest birds like Thrushes, Catbirds or Pale Yellow Robins (the latter two only very rarely, according to eBird), but there are Whipbirds, Eastern Yellow Robins, Shrikethrushes, Scrubwrens, Spectacled Monarchs and many more in good abundance. As with many rainforest habitats, though, photographing them can be difficult. Best to enjoy the bird calls in the tranquillity of this patch of nature and treat any photo souvenirs as a bonus.

Hotspot: Lower Beechmont Conservation Area–Belliss Rd (143 species)
Checklists for these visits: Dec 28 2020 (27 species), Aug 17 2021 (38 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Picturesque pocket of creekside rainforest close to the Gold Coast
+ Good rainforest/dense forest birds to be found
+ Larger network of trails available for those looking for a longer hike
– Main creekside rainforest part isn’t very long
– Creekside stays very shaded from early morning sun due to hillside
– Can be photographically challenging

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