Summary: Excellent creek-side birding trail with grass tree side-track
Date of visits: Oct 29&30 2021, Nov 4&5 2022
How good does a birding site have to be for you to excitedly return the day after discovering it? Pretty good, I’d say, and Stumers Creek in Coolum on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland is just such a place.
The area I’m referring to is not where Stumers Creek empties out to the sea, where there is a beach and dog off-leash area (and the titular Stumers Creek Rd). It’s much further upstream, in fact nearer to where Yandina Coolum Rd meets the Sunshine Motorway. Here you can enter via a school-related parking lot at School Rd (the school in question being Coolum State School) or, equally well, along Park Crescent – see the map above.
Entry Area and Bridge
Once you’ve parked it’s straight into the creek-side birding. A concrete path and bridge provide vantage points to look for forest and water birds; on the school side of the bridge there are also some power lines good for Sacred Kingfisher, Spangled Drongo, and others.
I saw a pair of Spotted Doves around the bridge area on my Oct 29 2021 visit.
From the bridge I saw Royal Spoonbill on my Nov 4 2022 visit. This bird was in breeding mode, with long white plumes on the back of its head. Quite impressive!
Speaking of breeding, I found Noisy Friarbirds build nests in high branches above the creek here, and I would not be surprised if other birds did so as well.
Following The Creek Line
There is a metal fence marking where the creekside path starts. The path is basically soft dirt with grassy verge pretty much the entire way – and the track goes a long way! There are some great forest birds to see straight away, surprisingly near the school actually – Rufous Shrikethrush and Eastern Yellow Robins, for example. My Nov 5 2022 visit was especially memorable as I witnessed a juvenile Eastern Yellow Robin hunting with its parent. The juveniles have much browner colouring and almost look like a different bird. (See also the video here, which shows the dynamics of these birds better than photos can).
The vegetation on either side of the path is dense enough to attract thicker bush specialists like Variegated Fairywrens and Rufous Fantails, but the canopy lets plenty of light through so you can generally see the birds pretty well and hence photograph them – this is a combination you don’t always find!
Of course you get plenty of common birds like Kookaburras, Magpie Larks and Rufous Whistlers and so forth as well.
A few gum trees, some quite tall, attract the honeyeaters especially White-Cheeked, though I have also seen a Dusky Honeyeater, some Brown Honeyeaters, and a few Lewins’ as well. The birds obviously all use the creek for water, and at one point I observed no less than twelve White-Cheeked Honeyeaters using the low creek-side bush as cover to grab a drink.
There aren’t actually that many birds on the water of the creek itself. In fact I’ve only seen a few ducks.
Mind you, it could have been that I was having too good a time finding forest birds to thoroughly scan the creek… when you’ve got Leaden Flycatchers, White-Throated Treecreepers and Cicadabirds to see in the trees, you might not have attention for much else!
Power Line and Grass Trees Section
About 700m into the walk there is a set of powerlines traversing the creek. As is customary, the land is cleared of trees below the lines, and in this case a range of interesting low vegetation has grown up over time – and especially here we have quite a remarkable thicket of grass trees (genus Xanthorrhoea). It is really hard to understate just how many grass tree spikes were throwing out flowers in late October of 2021 – see the photos below. If you visit this area in spring and there is anything like this profusion, my advice is make the most of it!
On my Oct 2021 visits these flowering grass trees were understandably attracting several variety of honeyeaters – most notably, White-Cheeked and White-Throated Honeyeaters, interspersed with Brown Honeyeaters and Little Wattlebirds.
Bigger Noisy Friarbirds occasionally came by and bullied the smaller birds off the spikes, and a couple of Rainbow Lorikeets landed on the spikes too. The whole thing was hectic with bird activity.
It was after 10am at this point so I vowed to return earlier the next day with hopefully some softer morning light. The light direction for photography here is exactly what you’d hope for: shining over the fringing trees onto the grass trees with plenty of space to sit on the sandy ground quietly photographing the action. If there is such a thing as bird photography heaven, then it is something like this!
The power line area is also reliable for Rainbow Bee-Eaters and Sacred Kingfishers. The Bee-Eaters use the power lines and nearby dead branches from which to launch their insect-hunting forays.
On my Nov 2022 visit the grass trees weren’t flowering (or were past flowering, I’m not sure), so I ventured much further down the unofficial trail underneath the power lines. It opens out into large grassy fields where there are more grass trees (a couple of which held flowering spikes) and lots of waist-high scrub. This was good for fairywrens. There was also a standing puddle of water here where I saw some Welcome Swallows dip into, and some Brown Quail emerged from the surrounding grasses to grab a quick drink there too. You can’t go very far though as the track basically disappears.
Meanwhile on the power lines above a couple of White-Breasted Woodswallows seemed interested in the water but were probably also looking out for insects too. This is also a good area for Red-Backed Fairywren and Red-Browed Finch. But it is hard to look past the White-Cheeked Honeyeaters, with their wonderful striking looks and classic honeyeater vibes.
Further Up The Creek
A big highlight of my Nov 5 2022 visit were a couple of Fan-Tailed Cuckoos. The first one I saw was sitting placidly on a branch that crossed over the path, maybe a hundred metres past the power line area. I stayed quiet and kept my movements slow so as not to spook it, and it happily called and cleaned itself and looked around for several minutes while I took some photos and videos. Soon after I found another one which had just nabbed a caterpillar. It is a special treat to spend so much time with a bird, and gaining its trust through non-threatening behaviour sometimes pays off in spades.
On my Oct 30 2021 visit I walked a long, long way along the creek line. It is about 2.2km to where the track runs by a series of sports fields, and not much changes with the mix of bird species, except that if you explore near the fields you find more open country birds like Butcherbirds. You could perhaps walk all the way to where you can cross the creek (and so form a giant loop) but I believe the only possibility there is the main road, David Low Way, which is several hundred metres further, and half the walk back would be suburban streets. Go figure.
The walk along Stumers Creek was very rewarding the four times I have done it – noting that it was late spring all four times. This site only has 91 checklists on eBird at the time of writing; it really does feel like a hidden gem. It is a terrific spot for Olive-Backed Orioles, Spangled Drongos and Eastern Yellow Robins, and if the grass trees are flowering that will concentrate the honeyeaters into a small area that is fantastic for morning bird photography (“Birds on spikes”). Then there are also good chances of various cuckoos, flycatchers, kingfishers (including Azure), fairywrens, fantails, finches, maybe even a Cicadabird or something more exotic. The trail is wide and flat and excellent for wandering happily along, though it would be nice if there were more side trails or a circuit possibility. I suppose it is no different to the mighty Oxley Creek Common track in that way, anyway.
On a side-note, a couple of kilometres to the north-west of this site is a cluster of eBird hotspots, being Coolum Industrial Park, Coolum Industrial Eco-Wetlands, and Coolum Experimental Farm Wetlands. These are pockets of nature within a vast light industrial area and don’t have the size to get too excited about (I did at one point visit them all); you might find them worthy of a quick stop if you’re in the area, for a more traditional wetland birding experience.
Hotspot: Coolum Beach–Stumers Creek streamside walk (124 species)
Checklists for these visits: Oct 29 2021 (33 species), Oct 30 2021 (40 species), Nov 4 2022 (22 species), Nov 5 (32 species)
Bird Spots videos from this site: Eastern Yellow Robins, Olive-Backed Oriole, White-Cheeked Honeyeater, Fan-Tailed Cuckoo
Pluses and minuses:
+ Terrific forest birding with lots of activity
+ Big bonus for honeyeater spotting and photography when grass trees are flowering
+ Usually not many other people around
+ Good, wide track
– Not as many water birds as you might want; mainly only forest birds
– Only one side track, no other creek crossings, can’t make a walking circuit
– No facilities
AUTHOR: ANDY GEE
BIRDERS: ANDY GEE, K-A