Swan Lake, 2021-2022

Summary: Small lake by the ocean worth a quick visit if you’re birding in the area

Dates of visit: Oct 3 2021, Sep 11 2022, Oct 25 2022

Swan Lake is a man-made lake that is wedged uneasily between some busy roads and commercial areas in the Port of Brisbane precinct. In 2013 it was saved from being paved over and turned into a parking lot for imported cars to generate more revenue for the Port of Brisbane, and this is where the name “Swan Lake” stuck. It’s a compact site unusually close to the ocean, and is worth a quick stop if you’re in the area. I’ve popped in twice when on Birds Queensland Twitchathons (where the Port of Brisbane Shorebird Roost has been the main focus), plus a couple of other times.

There’s a single entry spot and decent-sized car park and you’ll likely find not too many others around (perhaps workers from the Port of Brisbane area on their breaks!)

Being mainly a big lake, the main focus here is on water birds. You should be able to see the eponymous swans and at various times (because water birds breed here) might find some baby birds.

Magpie Geese fluctuate in numbers, sometimes reaching nearly 90 birds (in Oct 2022). Like the Spoonbills and Egrets, they tend to prefer the “other side” of the lake – that is, opposite the car park side.

Royal Spoonbills were present in large numbers in Sep/Oct 2022 (up to 75 birds), often mixed in with other birds like Pelicans, Magpie Geese and Egrets, which can make for a charming water bird panorama.

There are usually plenty of Dusky Moorhens, one of the most common water birds you will find anywhere in Australia, though I find I haven’t taken any photos of these birds at Swan Lake – places like Sandy Camp Rd Wetlands, Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens and Forest Lake tend to provide closer and better photographic opportunities for these birds. Eurasian Coots, by contrast, though relatively common across Australia, are definitely not guaranteed to be seen at all wetland ponds; I have seen adults and young ones here at Swan Lake and had some nice close encounters with them.

The track (more of a dirt road) that runs along the south side of the lake gives you the most extensive view of the water and fringing vegetation, but it ends in a locked gate, preventing you from being able to walk a full circuit. The north-east corner of Swan Lake (north of the car park) provides a short unofficial walking track which winds through the only forested section of the site, but again ends quite quickly, preventing further exploration. I have seen a Buff-Banded Rail scurrying about in this area, and it can provide slightly better access to the water (including the little island made of bamboo pylons); but here you need to make sure you don’t get too close to nests or birds in breeding mode.

Australasian Grebes are semi-reliable here though again this is not necessarily the best place in Brisbane to find or photograph them. It really depends on whether you’re in the area anyway. On the Oct 25 2022 visit, I found what looked like a juvenile lighter-coloured Grebe floating aimlessly by itself; not sure what was going on there.

Other ducks you might find here are Pacific Black Ducks (no surprises there!), Hardheads and Chestnut Teals, while other birds on or around the water could include Pelican, White Ibis, Little Black and Little Pied Cormorant, Great Egret and White-Faced Heron. None of these would usually be in significant numbers – again, other larger wetland sites are likely better if you’re after bigger numbers of these sorts of birds.

Being a fairly open site and just a stone’s throw from the ocean, I’ve seen a surprising number of raptors fly over, including White-Bellied Sea-Eagle, Osprey, Whistling Kite, Brown Goshawk and others. Even more surprising is that for a period the location seemed like a good place to find Striped Honeyeaters, and I followed one on the ground for quite a while as it foraged through the bark and grasses along the path – most un-honeyeater-like behaviour!

The fringes are mainly only good for common birds, like Crested Pigeon, Figbird, Cuckooshrikes, Magpies and Magpie-Larks, etc. There just isn’t enough bushland here to support lots of less common forest birds.

Swan Lake is a small site so is best visited as part of a bigger birding exploration of the area. Port of Brisbane Shorebird Roost, Lytton Claypan, Port of Brisbane Boat Ramp, Wynnum Mangrove Boardwalk, and of course the mighty Sandy Camp Rd Wetlands are all very close, making for a veritable smorgasbord of birding should you have the time and inclination.

Hotspot: Swan Lake (Port of Brisbane) (172 species)
Checklists for these visits: Oct 3 2021 (12 species), Sep 11 2022 (34 species), Oct 25 2022 (28 species)
Bird Spots videos from this site: Magpie Geese, Crested Pigeon, Figbird

Pluses and minuses:
+ Compact site which makes for an easy stop
+ Sometimes throws up interesting birds
+ Many other great birding hotspots in the area
– Noisy with busy nearby roads and major port
– Not much fringing forest or bushland – focus is mainly on the lake
– Can’t do a loop walk around the entire lake


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