Summary: Sandy coastal trail with some good bird encounters possible
Dates of visit: Jan 23 2021 and Jun 13 2021
Federation Walk is a 3.5km track (plus side-trails) on The Spit at the Gold Coast. It comprises 93 hectares of rolling sand dune and coastal vegetation lying between the Southport Broadwater area and the Pacific Ocean. It was opened in March 2000 (part of the celebration of the Centenary of the Federation of Australia in 2001) and is maintained as a community project through the efforts of the Main Beach Progress Association and the Friends of Federation Walk.
Disclaimer: I’ve only birded the northern half of Federation Walk, so that’s what this post covers.
You can park at many different points along the length of Seaworld Drive, the main road that forms the western border of the walk. In both my visits I parked at the very northern end, where there is a decent café and a sand-pumping jetty. There is a lot of car parking space here, but also a lot of people parking, especially with their dogs, due to the dog beach nearby. Arrive early!
Jan 23 visit
I started off just before 6am and almost the first birds I saw, near the edge of the car park, were seven Brown Quail. Also in the grass were a similar number of Pacific Black Ducks. Two very different species to begin the morning’s birding!
The main stretch of walk bisects the ocean and the main road, meandering north-south through mostly sandy terrain – typically harder sand/grit on the main path, and softer sand on the various side-paths. The beach is never too far away, and on the day I visited the early morning swell was quite atmospheric when I pottered over to take a peek.
A bevy of Crested Terns kept dominion on the sand-pumping jetty, and throughout the next few hours terns and gulls passing overhead between the broadwater and the ocean were a regular fixture.
In the trees I found a pair of Pheasant Coucals, and in the grasses a trio of Double-Barred Finches, at least one of which was sporting a metal leg band (hmmm… interesting).
Speaking of grasses, this seemed to be the type of dune grass that supported Golden-Headed Cisticola, because I found half a dozen of them over the course of the walk. The first one was a terrific encounter, with the bird calling stridently and fearlessly from an exposed perch.
At various points along the walk – and from the beach – you can see the Surfers Paradise skyline, offering a reminder of where you’re birding in case you forget…
A few Noisy Friarbirds were about, unsurprising as I do associate them with coastal habitats (North Stradbroke Island, I’m looking at you…); less so perhaps Leaden Flycatcher. There are only scatterings of larger trees here, you could hardly call it a full-on forest, but it seemed to be populated by plenty of forest-style birds.
Next encounter was with a very vocal Willie Wagtail. In fact, vocal doesn’t even begin to describe this bird – this was a Willie Wagtail that was absolutely going for it, throwing its head back and calling as loudly as possible. Quite a spectacle.
I spotted a few Brown Honeyeaters as well as a few Dollarbirds, and I went a little off-track to get closer to one of the Dollarbirds. I don’t often go off-track like this, as I don’t want to disturb natural environments with my birding activity; but here there are networks of bare sand by-ways which I judged pretty robust to a little human foot traffic.
Dollarbirds – part of the Roller family – are summer migrants to this part of the world, typically seen here only between December and March/April. Their large squarish heads give them something of a unique look, and it’s nice to capture their bluish-green feather sheen when possible – that is, when the sun’s shining on them!
I had wondered whether I’d see a raptor on this outing (White-Bellied Sea-Eagle or Osprey came to mind), and it was a Brahminy Kite that stole that show. I glimpsed it from quite far away sitting on a broken tree trunk, and eventually was able to get closer as the track curved nearer, and I climbed a short dune. The bird stayed perched and still the entire time I watched it.
The main track is far enough from the beach area that ocean breezes don’t always reach, and it can get quite warm here in summer. I had probably covered only half of the 3.5km of main track, but decided to turn back.
Birds seen on the way back to the car park included Bar-Shouldered Dove, Tawny Grassbird, and a Golden-Headed Cisticola with a leg band clearly visible. It made me wonder who is banding these birds.
Back by the cafe and car park were a couple of Figbirds, and I stopped to look out across the sandbanks of the broadwater on the way out which were covered in Silver Gulls, Crested Terns and Pelicans, with a couple of Pied Oystercatchers for good measure.
June 23 visit
My June visit was similar in that I parked at the north end and walked half way down the trail. Once again plenty of birds were flying overhead between the surrounding bodies of water.
This time, however, honeyeaters were more dominant, especially Brown Honeyeaters, whose calls resonated most of the time I was there. Brash little birds, they are.
A Spangled Drongo was also getting into the nectar action, ending up with a thorough yellow dusting around its beak.
There were plenty of Rainbow Lorikeets, a couple of Blue-Faced Honeyeaters, and a smattering of other single birds of species like Pied Currawong, Olive-Backed Oriole, White Ibis, Little Wattlebird and a Sacred Kingfisher. I was able to see another (the same?) Golden-Headed Cisticola with a leg band.
I managed to spot Brown Quail again, though only by sheer luck in dense grasses. Overall I picked up 28 species, 3 more than the January visit, but this time seemed lacking a little of the previous allure for some reason. The Spangled Drongo was a highlight, but otherwise there was a lack of surprise birds (like Pheasant Coucal, Brahminy Kite or Dollarbird from the previous time). Oh well, sometimes birding is like that…
In general, Federation Walk pleasantly surprised me. It isn’t one of the top tier birding hot spots on the Gold Coast – it gets eBirded roughly once or twice a month and only has about 120 total species count. You might go here and combine it with some bird- or boat-watching from the spit, or a visit to SeaWorld or one of the parks. It’s definitely a location with a unique feel, comprising mostly low-growth coastal vegetation surrounded by beach and ocean, with the shimmering high-rises of the Gold Coast as a backdrop. And though it can get quite warm and there are no facilities along the main trail (seats in the shade, for example), I found some good bird encounters here.
Hotspot: Federation Walk (112 species), The Spit Southport (122 species)
Checklists for these visits: Jan 23 (25 species), June 13 (28 species)
Pluses and minuses:
+ Better bird encounters than you might expect
+ Pleasant sea-side vibe with interesting surrounding attractions
– Can get hot and sandy
– Can be annoying to travel to through Gold Coast traffic