Summary: Excellent compact site with bird hides for uncommon duck and water bird species
Dates of visit: Jun 27 2021, Oct 17 2021, Mar 20 2022, Jul 17 2022, Aug 23 2022, Oct 30 2022
Lake Galletly, within the grounds of the UQ Gatton Campus, is a well-known birding site (at least to seasoned birders) just off the Warrego Highway, about 80 minutes drive west of the Brisbane CBD. It’s a terrific site for uncommon ducks and wading birds but also generally makes for a pleasant stop.
One of the nice things about this site is how easily accessible it is from the nearby highway (only 1km away), making it a convenient stop if you happen to be in the area. Parking is a bit strange, with no dedicated parking bays near the lake; I’ve always simply parked along Galletly Road and haven’t had any trouble, but I don’t know if there’s a more official place you’re supposed to park.
There are two lakes on opposite sides of Galletly Road – the bigger one is Lake Galletly, while the smaller is Lake Lenor. The latter has a boardwalk path round it, though it is a little hard to see the entrance. Both lakes have good bird hides that are apparently constructed out of recycled Angora goat boxes.
The larger Lake Galletly is where most of the water bird action happens. A short boardwalk leads you to an excellent bird hide which looks out across to “the island” where there is often a lot of nesting happening. The hide faces roughly south-east and has several viewing openings meaning that sunlight direction (especially in the morning) isn’t too much of an issue. There isn’t any seating inside the hide.
Blue-Billed Duck – also known as Blue Bill, Stiff Tail, Spinetail and Little Musk Duck – is one of the star attractions of Lake Galletly, which has been reliable for them for at least a year as of the time of writing. They are very rarely found in Brisbane (they are actually much more of a southern state bird), but they appear to be breeding in Gatton both at this site and (as of late October 2022) at other sites around Gatton (ponds on Lowes Rd, for example).
On June 27 2021 I spotted three Australasian Shovelers here, which are not very common in South-East Queensland.
Pink-Eared Ducks are yet another unusual duck species that are easily found at Lake Galletly, though in my experience they tend to be more standoff-ish than the Blue-Billeds (who will sometimes swim along straight in front of the bird hide). In late October 2022 I saw some babies with the Pink-Eared Duck parents. If you can get a good look at the adult birds you can see how unusual they are with their fang-like bills (used for filtering tiny invertebrates by sucking water in through the bill-tip, expelling it out via fine grooves along the bill), the zebra striping (they are sometimes called Zebra Teals), and the tiny pink spot behind the eye which gives them their name.
Plumed Whistling-Duck is another bird whose numbers fluctuate wildly here – I counted 115 in March 2022, and those numbers exploded to over 800 by July. The amount of whistling going on with this many of these ducks was quite something! They are ducks with a lot of character.
Numbers of Magpie Geese fluctuate here too, with a few dozen seen on most of my visits, but around 300 flew in to the lake on July 17 2022 – it was a case of squadron after squadron!
With all the exciting rarer water birds it can be easy to overlook the common species here: Pacific Black Duck, Grey Teal, Australasian Grebe, Wood Ducks, Hardhead, Coot, Moorhens and Swamphens. In fact, on my most thorough visit to Lake Galletly (in Jul 17 2022) where I spent three hours, I counted a whopping 51 species. Not bad for such a confined area and testament to the rich habitat here that attracts so many birds.
Cattle Egret sometimes come here to breed – in late October 2022 there were around 100 birds, most in striking breeding plumage. They compete with White Ibis for tree space on “the island”, though actually they also lay claim to most of the trees anywhere near the water.
The small amount of bushland area around the main bird hide is surprisingly bird-rich. Double-Barred Finch, Brown Honeyeater, Striated Pardalote, Superb and Red-Backed Fairywren are all likely; on the Mar 20 2022 visit I spent a good deal of time photographing a Shining Bronze-Cuckoo whose feathers were gleaming incredibly in the morning sun. It was far and away the most prolonged encounter with this bird I’ve had – a real treat.
Slightly further from the bird hide there is a good chance of Tawny Grassbird and Golden-Headed Cisticola in the grasses around the main lake. You can walk behind the bird hide and northwards (clockwise) to the top end of the lake, but that’s as far as you can go. Such a stroll might yield better looks at the rarer ducks hiding out shyly at this end of the lagoon if you don’t find them nearer the bird hide.
Reed Warblers can be found in the reedier fringes; Welcome Swallows and Fairy Martins are likely to be seen too. Once or twice I saw Striped Honeyeaters in the casuarinas right by the road, which was a lovely moment.
Lake Lenor on the other side of the road has something of a different feel and in 2022 was quite choked up with weed and there wasn’t a lot of open water to be seen. This made it optimal territory for Dusky Moorhens who could be seen in high numbers.
There is a hide on the western side of Lake Lenor – more of a wall-with-holes-in-it – which is east-facing. It was “The Dusky Moorhen Show” from here as far as I could tell at the time!
The UQ Gatton campus in general seems to be a reliable site for Red-Rumped Parrots, especially the middle of the three fields to the south of Lake Galletly, so check there if that’s a target bird you’d like to see.
Lake Galletly is without doubt the best and most reliable site for uncommon duck and water bird species in South-East Queensland. Even though numbers of some species fluctuate a lot, it’s likely that you’ll find something of interest. The excellent bird hide lets you observe the action in relative comfort without disturbing the wildlife, and the surrounding bush is surprisingly fertile for birding, even though there isn’t a whole lot of it (various tracks to the south of Lake Lenor notwithstanding). This is a premium birding hotspot that warrants a stop whenever you’re passing by on the Warrego Highway, or as a key site if you’re doing a birding circuit of some kind in the area (such as Lake Atkinson – Lake Clarendon – Gatton).
Hotspot: Lake Galletly – UQ Gatton Campus (181 species)
Checklists for these visits: Jun 27 2021 (23 species), Oct 17 2021 (29 species), Mar 20 2022 (20 species), Jul 17 2022 (51 species), Aug 23 2022 (25 species), Oct 30 2022 (17 species)
Pluses and minuses:
+ Terrific water birds including rarer duck species
+ Excellent bird hide
+ Convenient and productive stop when passing through on the Warrego Highway
– Not much surrounding terrain to explore
– Feels weird parking on a road in the campus
AUTHOR: Andy Gee
BIRDERS: Andy Gee, K-A, Luke S