Durikai State Forest, Dec 2020-Jan 2021

Summary: Roadside stops at creeks and waterholes, especially great for honeyeaters

Dates of visits: Dec 31, 2020, Jan 2 2021

Disclaimer – This post doesn’t cover all of Durikai Forest, only the most accessible roadside locations.

Just 2.5 hours west of Brisbane on the Cunningham Highway you’ll find Durikai State Forest, which I like to think of as Honeyeater Heaven. There are a lot of honeyeaters here!

The first time I passed through was Dec 31, 2020, and I was travelling from east to west. The Scientific Area at Reedy Creek was my first stop, which is on the right of the highway. Unlike the other hotspots here, this one has a (albeit small) sign; you might easily miss it. There’s no parking as such, just pull off the road and find somewhere on the verge.

The track here is basically a dirt road which meanders into the forest. Fuscous and Scarlet Honeyeaters were the first birds I saw, then I spied three Little Lorikeets (and a couple of Rainbows) foraging in the flowering gums. The Little Lorikeets were a bit of a treat with their bright red faces.

Noisy Miner and Noisy Friarbird were also around, and both male and female Scarlet Honeyeaters in the creek bed (where there was a little water).

After only a few hundered metres, the road curves to follow the rail line that parallels the highway. I didn’t explore any further, feeling that the dry forest was a bit on the “ho-hum” side.

Further along the highway, on the left, is the first of the waterholes, the “Dam”. The entrance to this spot is unmarked and is almost impossible to find unless you know what you’re looking for, or are cross-referencing your position against the Dam’s eBird hotspot. (Or, using the map above…!) But rest assured you can definitely pull off the road and park on the gravelly surface and be quite close to the water here.

One trick you can use to locate both the Dam and the Waterhole is that they are both located immediately after creek crossings, just after where highway side railings finish. Most of the time there isn’t much water in the creeks, and the only way you’ll know you’ve crossed them is that the road dips somewhat.

The Dam is filled with reeds, and honestly the water doesn’t look too appetising, but on a hot day it is a magnet for birds, particularly honeyeaters. The birds land on branches near the water, scout around for a bit, then angle down for a drink – the perfect time to grab a close-up photograph!

Yellow-Tufted Honeyeaters were the most numerous in the mere quarter of an hour I was there, though there were excellent encounters with Yellow-Faced and Fuscous Honeyeaters too.

Good photo opps are also possible right on the water’s edge, where birds will generally use whatever cover is around to protect them from possible predators when nipping in to drink. By being still and unthreatening and gaining a little of their trust, it’s possible to quietly watch them at very close quarters.

A good challenge here was to try and get a couple of different species in one frame, which I managed once at least.

Slightly further along the highway, after the Fossicking Area turn-off, again totally unsigned and unmarked, is the “Waterhole”. A similar situation exists here where you turn in and park on the gravel close to the water.

The waterhole really is just a big square pond of water, but again birds are keen to use this spot to slake their thirst. On this short visit I saw White-Plumed Honeyeaters and a few Rainbow Bee-Eaters rather than the Fuscous and Yellow-Tufteds.

When passing back through Durikai State Forest on Jan 2 (after a few days at Coolmunda Dam), I stopped at both the Dam and Waterhole again, and had an even better time. This could have been because it was earlier in the morning (a bit after 8am), rather than in mid-afternoon as previously.

At the Waterhole, pretty much the first bird I saw was a Spiny-Cheeked Honeyeater, a common bird in drier areas out west (that is to say, nearly everywhere!) but one that had somehow eluded me thus far. It instantly rocketed to the top of my list of favourite honeyeaters.

A White-Plumed and Blue-Faced Honeyeater were around, but the bird of the moment was Fuscous Honeyeater, which I found drinking from a small pool of water in a little earthy hollow on one side of the waterhole.

At the Dam, there was even more bird action, with Double-Barred Finches coming down to drink and bathe, and Yellow-Faced and Yellow-Tufted Honeyeaters following close behind.

Four Noisy Friarbirds were also heading to the water, and a couple of White-Naped Honeyeaters.

The number of birds was getting hard to keep track of, when I noticed a new honeyeater waiting in the wings – a lifer bird for me, the Brown-Headed Honeyeater. I am not sure how common this species is; it has a large range, but judging by the number of photos on eBird, is perhaps one of the less commonly seen honeyeaters. I haven’t seen it again since this visit to Durikai waterhole (that’s a year… and counting…).

You can explore more within Durikai State Forest along the dirt tracks, either driving or walking, which I’ve done a little of. Some of these tracks are pretty dodgy for cars and there are many side-tracks so you could easily become disoriented. I didn’t see many birds at all away from the water.

Another stop in the area is the East Branch Reedy Creek waterhole in the north-east of the forest. Again this is close to the road but the waterhole in this case – at least when I visited – was smaller and muddier, and didn’t have much tree cover around. My theory is that this was why I saw very few birds there.

The Durikai State Forest roadside stops are well worth taking short stops at if you happen to be passing through. Photography isn’t too hard if one remains patient and unthreatening as the birds come down to the water. I suspect bird numbers might fluctuate depending on how hot the day is and thus how many birds need to drink or bathe, but judging from my experience, on the warmer summer days (both morning and afternoon), there were plenty of birds – especially of the honeyeater variety. It is an excellent spot too for Little Lorikeet, and there is also potential to see less common birds here: Swift and Turquoise Parrots have both been seen, and Squatter Pigeon, Speckled Warbler, Weebill, and Crested Shriketit are all quite possible if one has the time to spend here.

Hotspots: Scientific Area Reedy Creek (85 species), Dam (151 species), Waterhole (160 species)
Checklists for these visits: Dec 31 Scientific Area Reedy Creek (7 species), Dec 31 Dam (5 species), Dec 31 Waterhole (5 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Superlative spots just off-road to observe an amazing variety of honeyeaters
+ Easy to make short, productive birding stops
– Much less happening away from the waterholes and creeks
– The Dam and Waterhole stops are unsigned and can be hard to find
– Waterholes don’t always provide lots of birds – may depend on weather etc

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