Lake Coolmunda, Jan 2021

Summary: Large lake that draws plenty of birds

Dates of visit: Dec 31, 2020 to Jan 2, 2021, with re-visit Jan 2022

Lake Coolmunda is a sizeable lake about 3 hours west of Brisbane easily accessible from the Cunningham Highway. Along with Mosquito Creek Road immediately to its north, it is worth a stop for birding, particularly if you crave to see some water birds in all the dry country out west. Part of your experience here may well hinge on how full the dam is: at the end of 2019, the level was under 2%, while plentiful rains filled the dam completely again by the start of 2022.

In this post I cover the area around the caravan park, boat ramp and dam wall, as well as Coolmunda Conservation Park. There is a separate post for Greenup Meeting Place, which lies on the south-east of the lake along the shores of Bracker Creek and is definitely worth birding (more so, in my experience, than any other single spot around the lake).

Around the boat ramp, dam and caravan park

Lake Coolmunda Caravan Park is split into two sections: the main park with camping and cabins and reception area which lies almost immediately after turning off the highway, and a separate camping area further down the access road, right on the shore of the lake by the boat ramp. Both areas are administered by the same people. I stayed in a cabin in the main part, which was comfortable but basic.

The best thing about the caravan park was the birds: Apostlebirds pottered through the campground, as did Red-Rumped Parrots; Bluebonnets were seen on nearby powerlines; flocks of Galahs and Little Corellas streamed through at dawn and dusk; and, most amusingly, I spotted a Common Myna riding a horse on the adjoining paddock, in what I anthropomorphically interpret as a comical display of dominance by that bird. Who knows?!

The access road down to the dam is around 2km but bears driving (or walking) slowly along, as lots of birds can be seen along here, including Zebra and Plum-Headed Finches and Pipits on the fenceline, as well as Red-Rumped Parrots and others.

The boat ramp/day use area (which has its own eBird hotspot) was cloudy on the days that I visited, and the water was very low, but there were still a few water birds about: Pelican, Caspian Terns with their large red bills, a Darter with its wings spread hanging out by a group of Silver Gulls, and Grey Teals. Although I did not see them this trip, Whiskered Terns were frequently recorded at the lake around this time too.

The manager at the caravan park had told me that even though the sign prohibited walking along the dam wall, “all the locals do it”, so I sauntered along there too (the start point is by the boat ramp), seeing Grey-Crowned Babblers, Superb Fairywrens, Kookaburras, Pied Butcherbirds, Magpies and many Magpie-Larks.

Whistling Kites were the only raptors I saw, negotiating the strong winds over the water.

It is worth noting that the northern end of the lake has its own eBird hotspot and access appears possible from looking at Google Maps, but I did not go exploring up there.

Coolmunda Conservation Park

There is a square of conservation reserve on Tobacco Road, to the south-west of Lake Coolmunda. I took a look here one afternoon, intrigued that no eBirders had visited since 2017, but I didn’t see much – the park was clearly bushfire-affected, so I walked along the fenceline along the northern edge rather than plunging into the path-less bush. It took a while before I saw any birds.

A male and female Rufous Whistler were eventually seen in the dry trees, before a most interesting sight: a group of White-Winged Choughs hopping along the ground. I hadn’t seen these birds much up until now – a brief encounter at Girraween National Park came to mind – so it was a real pleasure to witness their sociable foraging antics again.

Trudging back along the sandy fence line, Noisy Friarbirds, a couple of Kookaburras, an Eastern Yellow Robin and a Pied Currawong were seen and heard, and apart from the Choughs I was starting to think my visit here was a waste of time, until I heard a lovely peeping I didn’t recognise. It turned out to be a pair of Weebills, which made my day! They are Australia’s smallest bird, and as the name suggests, they have a very short bill. One could mistake them for Buff-Rumped Thornbills, I suppose.

The conservation park is a bit of a no-frills parcel of bushland without lake frontage, which might come into its own a bit more once it regenerates from bush fires. Tobacco Road itself, which links up to Inglewood further west, is also sometimes visited by birders (it has its own eBird hotspot) and has something of the “long country road” feel to it similar to Mosquito Creek Road.

Returning a year later

When I returned to the area in Jan 2022, much had changed. The La Nina weather event had produced huge rains over eastern Australia and had well and truly broken the drought. Lake Coolmunda was full.

I only did a quick look around the boat ramp area and Coolmunda Conservation Park; the latter was again very quiet, while the boat ramp area had plenty of bush birds (Apostlebirds, Zebra Finch, Magpies, Pipits, Common Mynas, Red-Rumped Parrots) but only a few silver gulls on the water – possibly due to the high amount of boating activity that was going on.

A small group of Grey-Crowned Babblers were a highlight, foraging jauntily right on the fence line near the top end of the dam wall.

Final thoughts

The accommodation options at Lake Coolmunda – being principally the Caravan Park and Greenup Meeting Place to the south, provide convenient access for birding the area. As well as various forest birds around the place, you’ll also have a chance for Pink-Eared Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Whiskered Tern, Pelican and various Cormorants, which are all commonly seen but much depends on the water level and to what extent you’re keen on finding all these birds (a boat would be handiest for this!) If you don’t care about the water birds and have limited time, you might be better off just concentrating on Mosquito Creek Road or Greenup Meeting Place (Bracker Creek).

Hotspots: Lake Coolmunda (184 species), Lake Coolmunda boat ramp area (140 species), Coolmunda Conservation Park (101 species)
Nearby: Mosquito Creek Road (209 species), Bracker Creek (141 species)
Checklists for Conservation Park visit: Coolmunda Conservation Park (10 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Large lake with a variety of water birds and other birds drawn to it
+ Good fishing and boating, if that’s your bag
+ Convenient accommodation options
– Lake levels can vary enormously depending on drought conditions
– No single best spot to see birds
– Coolmunda Conservation Park disappointing

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