Carbean Camping and Farmstay, Jan 2021

Summary: Large farm property near Durikai State Forest with good “dry country” birds

Dates of visit: Jan 8 to 10, 2021

Carbean Camping and Farmstay is – as the name suggests – a working cattle property which was established in 1897, where the friendly owners have accommodation options for visitors. Myself and a birding friend stayed using the “farmstay cottage” option for two nights, which proved to be a small elevated house, a very comfortable and civilised base from which to explore their large property.

The location requires a little effort to get to: Carbean Road is off Cunningham’s Highway just south of Karara (itself about 2 hours 40 minutes west of Brisbane) and it then takes 16km of driving on dirt road to reach. A bird we saw near the gate on our arrival – a welcoming committee of one – was a Rufous Songlark, showing a bit of attitude!

For our main day at Carbean, we rose early and headed up to the little farm dam, seeing a few of the dry country birds you might expect out west along the way: a Brown Treecreeper, a Welcome Swallow, a Jacky Winter sitting (as is often typical) on a fencepost, and some Plum-Headed Finches and White-Plumed Honeyeaters. The post-dawn light was still a little grey-ish to get good photos of these birds.

At the farm dam there were Black-Fronted Dotterel and Australasian Grebe with babies, while a couple of Galahs hung around the trees. There was actually a little network of water holes at slightly different levels to explore.

A Latham’s Snipe was then spotted in the grasses on the other side of the main water hole, so we cautiously approached, but it spooked very quickly and did a few circles of the dam, its wings scything through the air, and landed in obscuring grass once again on the opposite side. Another approach yielded the same result so we left the bird in peace and told ourselves we’d make do with the photo we had.

A stand of trees nearby hosted some Blue-Faced Honeyeaters which we watched while a small herd of cows watched us. The owners had said we could roam pretty much anywhere in the property, so we did just that, occasionally startling a Swamp Wallaby.

A mystery bird hopping around logs that we followed for a while turned out to be a Brown Treecreeper, while we also chased a couple of Superb Fairywrens before being distracted by a Spiny-Cheeked Honeyeater and a White-Bellied Cuckooshrike. If that makes it sound like there was a lot of birds around, that wasn’t the case: these four species were seen over the course of an entire hour. That’s dry country for you…

By 9am it was starting to get quite warm and little forays into creek edges and suchlike weren’t yielding much. On top of that we weren’t 100% sure where we were (roughly somewhere north-east of the dam), and we were following one of the farm roads and assuming it would come round in a big loop at some point.

About then the birding inexplicably picked up, maybe because of a few more trees around which played host to Yellow-Rumped Thornbill, Dusky Woodswallow, Grey Shrikethrush, White-Plumed Honeyeater, Rufous Songlark and more White-Bellied Cuckooshrikes. You go for ages seeing nothing, then suddenly birds are everywhere…

We particularly enjoyed watching a Dusky Woodswallow sit imperiously on a dead tree, no doubt keeping vigil for insects it could swoop on.

At about the same time we observed a Brown Goshawk being pursued by a Noisy Friarbird; such is the life of a raptor, to be endlessly harassed by other birds.

A Brown Honeyeater, a Pipit and another Plum-Headed Finch were recorded over the next hour as we slowly made our way around our self-created walking loop.

We then discovered a delightful creek area with some water in it – a real change from the dry conditions we had seen for hours – and nearby in a high flowering gum tree a group of five birds that – we hurriedly checked against the Merlin bird app on our phones – turned out to be Musk Lorikeet!

It was the first time for both of us seeing Musk Lorikeets – a bird whose range tends to be in the southern states (indeed, my only other sighting to date was in Tasmania, about a month later!) Even though the birds were high up and didn’t afford stellar photos, they were so endearing as they clambered about foraging that they totally stole the show, becoming the day’s birding highlight.

We found our way back to Carbean Road and on the windy, hot last few hundred metres back to the farm area spotted another Jacky Winter, and a couple of Striated Pardalotes holding their wings open into the breeze. It had been about 6 hours of solid birding by then.

Later in the afternoon we wandered down to the larger lake where several water birds were to be found: White-Necked Heron, Eurasian Coots, Wood Ducks, Pacific Black Ducks, Plumed Whistling Ducks, Hardheads, and more Dotterels. Quite a decent roster and gives more truth to the adage that when out west, birds are to be found near water.

A final quick look back up at the dam at dusk yielded a Black-Faced Cuckooshrike and a Little Pied Cormorant, proof that there were more species around to be seen than we’d seen that morning. We had picked up 47 species in total for the day.

On the morning we left as we were packing the car we spotted a new bird, in a tree right next to the cottage – a Red-Winged Parrot, an unexpected lifer for us. A Black-Fronted Dotterel and a Sacred Kingfisher were also seen down by the creek (MacIntyre Brook).

The morning light out west can be really lovely, especially when it illuminates an interesting bird… such was the case with a Little Lorikeet we saw foraging in a flowering gum tree on the edge of the road on the way out.

A bit more slow car-birding revealed a Bar-Shouldered Dove in similarly beautiful light, before we called it quits and headed home at a more regular speed.

Carbean Camping and Farmstay delivered a satisfying experience for us. The cottage was very comfortable and the hosts friendly and generous. They provided a bird checklist from a recent survey on their property which gave us an idea of what we might find. Staying for two nights let us take our time, make little forays to the main creek and nearby waterholes, as well as a more wide-ranging exploration of the property. We couldn’t fault the range of birds we found, though it would have been nice to see more raptors, and there were definitely long stretches where we didn’t see a lot – but that doesn’t matter so much as long as there are interesting birds to be found (like Musk Lorikeet!) if one has the time to roam.

Hotspot: Carbean Camping and Farmstay (100 species)
Nearby: Various Durikai State Forest hotspots
Checklist for our main day: 9 Jan (47 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ A decent number of dry country birds to be found in a large property
+ Waterholes and lake for water birds
+ Good accommodation options on site
– A little off the beaten track
– Can go a long time without seeing much in some parts of the farm
– Was quite hot in January 🙂

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