Summary: Beautiful suburban lake which is fantastic for bird photography
Dates of visits: Apr 8 2021, Feb 10 2022, Mar 8 2022, Jun 8 2022
Forest Lake is the man-made lake (completed in 1994) upon which the surrounding suburb is named, and is located in the south-west of Brisbane, reasonably easily reached via the Centenary Highway or Logan Motorway. On my first visit to here in April 2021 I was very impressed by the birdlife; and although my species count was a modest 29, that was made up from over 200 birds seen. Even more gratifying were the many high-quality photos I was able to take on this and subsequent visits.
There is a 2.7km circuit track that runs around the lake perimeter, which is paved and flat, with many spots to rest or relax. The best access is probably on The Esplanade shortly after the turnoff from Forest Lake Boulevard, where there is a car park with about 25 spaces, though there are also car parking bays along Forest Lake Boulevard and, failing all that, you could park at any of the suburban side streets surrounding the lake. Then it’s straight into the birding!
The Forest Lake Stage is at the very north-east corner of the lake and on my first visit when I started birding quite early (6:35am), I managed to capture a couple of Welcome Swallow close ups within the covered structure over the Stage. They were no doubt gearing up for a hectic day of swooping for insects above the lake, but it was nice to see them so restful.
This first circuit I walked counter-clockwise, spotting Magpie-Larks, Spotted Dove and Dusky Moorhen before reaching “the island” (see map) which hosted a Great Egret in the surrounding reeds snacking on a decent-sized fish, and some Cattle Egrets. The island is worth a thorough scan as this is the primary safe spot where many of the water birds roost.
A Little Pied Cormorant was shaking water off itself in the sun, then I saw some Striated Pardalotes high in the gum trees on the edge of the water.
Just north of the island is a little bridge offering a shortcut across one of the arms of the lake, and this and nearby is an awesome spot to photograph some of the resident water birds – Pacific Black Ducks, Swamphens, Dusky Moorhens and whatever else might be around. The sunlit boulders and various reeds and patches of water make for great backgrounds to showcase these birds exploring and foraging.
Being a suburban lake and very busy with people, most of the birds here are very habituated to human presence; their FID (Flight Initiation Distance, the proximity you can achieve before a bird spooks and flies off) is much smaller than in regular forests or more wild areas. That allows for great close-up photographs, like this Scaly-Breasted Lorikeet (who did actually fly off soon after), and in the eastern arm of the lake, a Rainbow Lorikeet.
Around the lake track there are many different structures to discover, like a pavilion, fitness equipment and playgrounds, viewing platforms, and some with more inscrutable art/decoration purpose, including a large colourful metal dragon rising out of the water.
A few Water Dragons and some Superb Fairywrens later, I had a most wonderful encounter with a very cheeky Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, who was pulling at tree bark and generally being as playfully destructive as possible.
Down in the southern arm of the lake (where Catalina Court starts) always seems to have plenty of Rock Doves as well as a few feral birds (mallard/muscovies) – these birds were reliably found here on all four of my visits to Forest Lake.
Little Corellas and more Welcome Swallows rounded out this first visit, and I also gained a satisfyingly close view of a Little Friarbird. It was an amazing first visit and I was very satisfied with the photo souvenirs I obtained and – even better – discovering what has become one of my favourite birding hotspots in Brisbane.
I don’t know how it took so long to return to Forest Lake (so many other good locations in South-East Queensland also beckoned…), but the second visit on Feb 10 2022 was also a cracker. As was becoming tradition (!), it started with stunning Welcome Swallow close-ups.
This was an afternoon visit (beginning at 4:30pm) and the light and conditions for photography were just as good – if not better – than in the morning. Obviously the light falls in a different direction but that makes other sections of the lake circuit track that lie in morning shade suddenly more appealing. This time I walked a clockwise circuit starting from the pavilion on the eastern edge of the lake, and by this stage I had upgraded from a Nikon D500 camera to a Nikon D850 (with twice the resolution), so I was keen to see if I could capture even better shots than the first visit.
Rainbow and Scaly-Breasted Lorikeets were again seen, the former feeding in the grevilleas, while Dusky Moorhens allowed for portrait-style close-ups and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos and Grey Butcherbirds were also present.
The heart-melting moment of the visit came when we spotted a juvenile Swamphen, and then near it, three baby Swamphens, closely watched by the adult birds.
A video from the encounter shows the chicks adorably waddling around. Forest Lake has to be the best site in Brisbane for getting up close and personal with Swamphens.
Superb Fairywrens and Magpie-Larks were resplendent in the afternoon sunshine. The fairywren was particularly close (again, very habituated to humans); there are few things in suburban birding more exciting than having a male fairywren filling up your viewfinder!
More water bird family action followed with another Swamphen group with older youngsters. Apparently Swamphens live in groups of 3 to 12 individuals, and are also reputedly egg-stealers, though their main diet consists of soft shoots of reeds and rushes and small animals like frogs and snails.
I was also surprised to see a group of 25 Common Starlings come to roost in the largest tree on the island. They are a bird I have only seen in South-East Queensland a couple of times, and never in large numbers like this.
My third visit in March 2022 was a quick morning walk around the lake and this time I had a new Canon R5 with 600mm f/4.0 prime lens (with tripod) along for the ride. The stars of the show were once again water birds – Swamphens, Dusky Moorhens, Eurasian Coots and a Little Pied Cormorant or two.
Welcome Swallows were again photogenic, far easier to capture when perching than when engaged in aerial acrobatics.
A young Australasian Darter in the morning sun was a highlight – again those boulders providing a lovely photo-friendly perch – and this bird seemed to be picking at the vegetation around the rock. Strange.
On the south side of the lake the grevilleas were in flower, which attracted a Blue-Faced Honeyeater. I have struggled to capture shots of this bird that I am satisfied with, but I was very pleased to get a sharp close-up of this bird in amongst the flowers. They’re just so intense-looking…
On my Jun 8 2022 mid-afternoon visit I again had the Canon R5/600mm combo, as my intentions were largely concentrated on photography, and I again parked near the pavilion and proceeded counter-clockwise. I hadn’t got far when some Comb-Crested Jacanas were spotted right on the edge of the lake, and many minutes were spent meditatively watching them through the viewfinder. Although the sun was slightly behind these birds, I still found I was happy with the images obtained.
Superb Fairywrens and Willie Wagtails were reliably present again around the north-east edge of the lake. Further round (on the north side), the most memorable encounter of this visit were two Little Corellas who seemed peacefully perched together until getting tangled up in each other’s wings and the situation escalated quickly into what I assumed was a playfight, but who knows! It was astonishing to watch, that’s for sure.
Apart from the (estimated) 50 Little Corellas, Dusky Moorhens, Swamphens and White Ibis all competed for the title of Second Most Numerous Bird, with 33, 32 and 35 of each respectively. Decent numbers!
The area around the island once again yielded plenty of water bird highlights, with a single Hardhead being a new species I hadn’t seen here before, though now that I check my eBird lists, the Jacana and a Royal Spoonbill and a couple of Black Swans I saw this time were also new.
A Cattle Egret skulked in one of the large trees on the island, and the sunlit boulders momentarily hosted a young White Ibis – as evidenced by the shorter bill and black feathering (rather than bare skin) on the head. As any seasoned Brisbanite will tell you, there are a lot of White Ibis around our fair town, but I feel like I rarely see the young ones, so this was a bit special.
The afternoon sun cast a gorgeous glow on some Australian Grebes, and a Willie Wagtail who must have thought it was also a water bird as it hopped about the lily pads.
A Great Egret – witnessed patiently hunting right on the water’s edge – was a final remarkable encounter. I could barely fit the bird in my viewfinder, it was so close.
A special mention must also be made of the Water Dragons which can be found around the lake circuit. They’re terrifically photogenic, of course, but don’t be like the guy I saw who picked one up by the tail and presented it to his son to play with… that’s not a good way to treat the local wildlife if you ask me.
This visit yielded 35 bird species, a high count for me and another reminder that this location is equally fantastic in the afternoon as it is in the early morning, not something that can be said about every birding destination. Moreover, the birding is equally good all around the lake walk, with barely a dud spot to be found.
Forest Lake is an excellent birding site especially if your chief purpose in birding is either an easy walk with effortless views of birds, or you are wanting to take great photos of mostly common birds or water birds. The circuit walk is about the right length to have a decently substantial outing, and even though it can get busy with other people, they will rarely impact your enjoyment of the many wonderful birds you can find here.
Hotspot: Forest Lake (114 species)
Checklists for these visits: Apr 8 2021 (29 species), Feb 10 2022 ( species), Mar 8 2022 ( species), Jun 8 2022 ( species)
Pluses and minuses:
+ Pleasant location good for morning and afternoon birding
+ Excellent photographic opportunities of mostly common birds
+ Very good paved paths offering great access to the water side
– Popular suburban location, so many people on the paths around the lake
– Unlikely to find any rare or exotic species