Oxenford Weir, 2021-2022

Summary: Unique site to watch birds (including Osprey) hunting for fish at close quarters

Dates of visit: Apr 3, 2021 to present

Oxenford Weir, also known as Old Tamborine Rd Weir and Coomera River Weir, is easy to reach, being just 3km from the Pacific Motorway (just go to the end of Old Tamborine Rd) and makes an ideal short or long birding stop if you’re traveling between Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

The Coomera River starts in Lamington National Park (where it descends over Coomera Falls in Coomera Gorge, a stunning bushwalking location near the Binna Burra section of the National Park), winds its way through rural properties then widens considerably at the area of the weir. The weir itself is a concrete causeway around 40 metres wide, and the waters of the river rush across it, dropping around two or three feet in height. Most often the causeway is covered in water, though in drier times the first 35 metres can be dry or damp, allowing you to walk part-way across it.

The chief attraction of the site are the many water birds that hunt for fish in and near the rushing water, allowing incredible close-up views of these behaviours. I am forever indebted to the Brisbane Birds Facebook group for switching me on to this place, which otherwise appears as a rather nondescript eBird hotspot dot on the map with nothing to indicate how unique it is.

Adjoining the weir is a little park with a picnic table and small playground, with sweeping views of the river as it widens.

There are two good spots to plonk yourself down and watch the action, these being right on the edge of the causeway, or on the boat ramp-like concrete slab a few metres nearby. These spots will have you looking roughly south-east which isn’t ideal in terms of the morning light coming from the east, so a late morning or afternoon visit might be preferred if you want the light above or behind you.

Because I have now visited this location over a dozen times, I’ll structure this post around the bird species I’ve found and their respective behaviours, along with a special mention of my experience on “the other side” of the Weir.

Osprey and raptors

Osprey is one of the marquee species here and is seen quite frequently – there appears to be a regular male/female pair, with the male heavily banded on its feet. One or both birds will patiently perch on the power pole on the other side of the weir (and less commonly, on the powerline crossing the weir, or on a perch on the near side).

You may wait for a long time before the sudden burst of action as the Osprey dives feet-first into the water. Trying to capture that moment when the Osprey seizes its prey and leaves the water can be quite a challenge, as it all happens so quickly. Their success rate can be a bit patchy; I have seen them come up short several times. Still, I guess you only have to succeed a couple of times a day to be well fed (Osprey exclusively persist on a diet of only fish).

Even gaining images of the bird in flight (with or without a fish) can be very satisfying.

Sometimes the Osprey devours its fish back up on the power pole, but most times I’ve seen it take the fish a fair distance away.

Other raptors I have seen here are Whistling Kite, and less commonly, White-Bellied Sea-Eagle and Brahminy Kite. The latter generally seem to fly over and maybe circle a few times but I haven’t witnessed them actively hunting in the water.

Egrets

Little Egrets are common at Oxenford Weir, usually patrolling quietly on the far side though sometimes coming to the near side and trying their luck from one of the many partly-submerged rocks near the rushing water.

There is also a resident Great Egret – nicknamed Eddie the Egret – who is also usually seen here. You can really tell the size difference when it stands near one of the Little Egrets. On my June 15 2022 visit I was amused to see it crouch right over the water and even plunge in to try and catch its prey.

The Great Egret catches its fair share of fish, though I haven’t seen it pull in a really big one yet.

Cormorants and Darters

Little Black Cormorants are one of the mainstay birds here and numbers can vary between four and a dozen. Like Darters, their feathers lack waterproofing so they will sit idly, sometimes with wings outstretched, in between bouts of group hunting.

The Little Blacks seem quite successful at hunting from what I have observed. They dive down into the water and seem to come up with some kind of fish quite frequently. (I have seen the egrets jealously look at the cormorants’ haul, perhaps wishing they were able to hunt in this fashion, rather than their method of daintily plucking from the sidelines…)

As well as chewing down little fish, the Little Blacks also will take on fish that seem far too big for them to properly subdue, let alone swallow.

On April 22 2022 a Little Black Cormorant had definitely taken on more than it could handle and ended up losing control of this huge fish.

Little Pied Cormorants are sometimes seen as well, and less commonly, the larger Pied Cormorants.

Pelicans and Ducks

The Pelicans’ hunting technique isn’t very subtle, but it is effective. They will turn their heads sideways and simply scoop up a heap of water, and in so doing scoop up a few fish. (They also bully other birds to steal their catch too, see below…)

Australian Pelicans are one of eight pelican species and really are impressively big birds. They belong to the order Pelecaniformes which also includes Ibises, Herons and Spoonbills, though it is hard to see much commonality with herons and ibis at least.

They’re quite active birds and will happily paddle around or take to the skies, where they can soar for up to 24 hours.

There is a resident pure-white domestic mallard here as well as a few Pacific Black Ducks and various numbers of Wood Ducks, and most often one or two Dusky Moorhens too.

The ducks and moorhen aren’t super shy about coming relatively close to the causeway if you stay still and appear non-threatening (ie. no sudden movements).

It is a decent roster having all these water birds in a relatively small space; in my highest-count checklist of July 7 2022 where I counted 39 species in total, 15 of these were water birds (including ibis, egrets and herons as water birds).

Striated and other Herons

The Striated Heron is virtually a guaranteed sight at Oxenford Weir, with sometimes up to four of these birds present. (Look carefully if you don’t think they’re here – you’ll most likely see one skulking among the rocks on the other side of the water). Fantastic subjects they are too; they will stay in one spot very still and intently for a long time before finally striking. The juveniles are quite heavily streaked, while the adults are more smoothly buff-coloured with a dark cap.

They will creep ninja-style to the edge of the water and then wait there for as long as it takes to spot a fish.

They sometimes come to the near side of the weir and that’s when you can nab much closer shots including the head-shot above where the bird was right at my lens’ minimum focal distance.

I could happily take photos of Striated Herons all day!

A few times I have seen White-Faced Herons at the Weir and once when it was on the rocks on the near side (very close!) I watched it pluck out a hapless prawn from the water.

Just once I saw a White-Necked Heron though it didn’t stay around long.

The old argy-bargy

Even when it seems there’s plenty of fish prey to go around, the birds here will still bully each other for the best hunting spots or, you know, just because. I have commonly seen a Striated Heron chase off another, sometimes repeatedly, giving chase for rather longer than seemed necessary.

Similarly a Little Egret will not-very-subtly move a Striated Heron on from its hunting position and take it up itself. Then when the Great Egret gets involved it will shove the Little Egrets out of the way in no uncertain terms. Cormorants sometimes do this too – below is a Little Black Cormorant moving along a Little Pied Cormorant from its favourite rock.

Pelicans, with their huge size, are also big bullies. Though sometimes they seem to happily cooperatively hunt with the Little Black Cormorants, on one memorable occasion a Little Black had seized a fish from the water and a Pelican threw itself at the cormorant in a flagrant attempt to steal it; cue much indignity from the cormorant.

These interactions can be fascinating to watch, though you need to stay alert because periods of relative quiet can turn into a flurry of action at the drop of a dime.

Dotterels, Willie Wagtails, Magpie-Larks

I group these smaller birds together because they sometimes can be found foraging on or next to the rushing waters of the weir. Black-Fronted Dotterels are the cutest and tiniest of these smaller birds and for several months a pair were were reliably present along the causeway in or near the shallow running water.

A Willie Wagtail or two can often be seen, and occasionally water dragons pop up around the rocks too.

Magpie-Larks are quite common here and are very mobile, foraging along the rocks and grasses as well as sometimes right on the causeway itself. On one visit I photographed one pulling fish out of the rushing water just like an egret or heron; someone on Facebook speculated that this was learned behaviour rather than instinctual – it is certainly not something I have ever seen before.

Other birds to be found

A Crested Tern or two will sometimes visit the weir and hover above the water before plunging down. Their success rate in my experience is less than stellar.

Crested Pigeon and Silver Gull are commonly seen.

Keep a look out for Blue-Faced Honeyeaters in the surrounding trees as well as Butcherbirds and Pied Currawongs, and on the other side Rainbow Bee-Eaters, Welcome Swallows, and White-Breasted Woodswallows.

The Other Side of the Weir

One very memorable sunny morning (April 3 2022, to be precise) a birding friend and I decided to explore the other side of the weir. We weren’t sure how to access it but ended up parking near the intersection of Tamborine-Oxenford Rd and Charlie’s Crossing Road North; from there it is just a short walk down to where you can gain access to the large mown fields (see map for the access point). On this visit we spotted Chestnut-Breasted Mannikin and Red-Browed Finch in the longer fringing grasses and not far from there, a white-morph Grey Goshawk sharing a tree branch with a Darter.

Grey Goshawks aren’t very common in my experience and I was thankful to have my 600mm lens (with Canon R5) to grab some shots before the bird flew off, harassed by some Noisy Miners. The below photo ended up on the eBird global front page (in rotation with other photos), something I never thought one of my photos would achieve!

As we walked further towards the causeway, we saw Red-Browed Finch and some Red-Backed Fairywrens. There were also a couple of birds in the casuarina trees right at the northernmost point of “the other side”, these being Rufous Whistler, Noisy Friarbird, Olive-Backed Oriole and the like.

Unfortunately one cannot get too close to the weir from the other side, as there are large jumbles of rocks that prohibit any scrambling across. It’s still possible to get some good shots across these rocks though, and it is amusing to see the Osprey looking straight down at you from its power pole vantage point.

Experimenting with different types of shots

With reliable and relatively obliging birds around, one can be tempted to try some different types of photography than the standard point-and-click. For me this includes using the higher level of the water above the causeway as a way to shoot birds at eye level or as if they’re almost walking on water; this can be combined with using the morning sun to back-light the bird.

Another technique myself (and a few others) have used is to crank down the camera’s shutter speed to something quite slow like 1/10th of a second, and capture some shots with the rushing white water smoothed out. Striated Herons are great foreground birds for this as they sit so still.

Of course you can also practice bird-in-flight (BIF) shots where the shutter speed should instead be as fast as possible, or try to grab the dynamic look as a bird comes to land on the water.

Summary

Oxenford Weir is one of the hidden gems of South-East Queensland’s many birding hotspots. I know of no other place where you can reliably watch so many birds hunting for fish at such close quarters. Although sometimes it can be quite quiet (and sometimes there are people fishing either right on the weir or along the river-side rock path, and this tends to keep the hunting birds away), if you spend long enough here you’ll eventually see something interesting happen; and if you’re lucky even a brief visit might yield an Osprey dive or an Egret victoriously seizing a fish from the water.

eBird:
Hotspot: Old Tamborine Rd Weir, Oxenford (126 species)
Example checklists for these visits: Sept 23 2021 (18 species), April 3 2022 (37 species), July 7 2022 (38 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Unique spot to observe birds hunting for fish at close quarters
+ Pleasant spot to meditatively while away an hour or two
+ Easy to reach from the Pacific Motorway
– Can be quiet at times
– People fishing can deter birds
– Not much expanse to explore

2 thoughts on “Oxenford Weir, 2021-2022

  1. Thanks so much for posting this. I own a house not far from Oxenford Weir but never knew this amount of bird life existed there. I have been overseas for some time and saw Osprey about 2 years ago in Canary IslandsSpain but didn’t realise they also lived so close to home. Will certainly be visiting this place next time I am in Oxenford as it seems not only Osprey but significant other species there worth seeing. Cheers

    Like

  2. Thanks for sharing this. The weir is one of my regular haunts and I can relate to what is written here when I compare it to my experiences.

    Like

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