Summary: Scenic birding with good chances of Gannets and raptors on the shores of Moreton Bay
Dates of visit: Jun 21 2021, Mar 6 & Nov 8 2022
Well, there are definitely worse places to go birding. If you like the ocean, the sun shining on the bay, some diving seabirds and a sprinkling of raptors, then maybe give Shorncliffe Pier a shot.
The pier is 350 metres long and marks the start of the Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht race, and is popular for fishing and general recreation. There are a couple of dedicated parking areas (see map), the most desirable being right down near the start of the pier (accessed via driving down off Eagle Terrace on the one-way access road) – there are 50 car spots here, and a similar number in the car park up near Swan Street. Public transport alternatives include buses and the Shorncliffe train station, about 700 metres away. There are plenty of facilities too: toilets, barbeques, playgrounds and more.
The most exciting possibilities in birding this hotspot are the chances of seeing a Jaeger, a Shearwater or a Booby. Typically these will be far off, however. A more likely closer seabird (at least in the winter) is the Australasian Gannet, which sometimes engage in spectacular dives for fish not far from the pier. Fast shutter speeds are needed to capture shots of this bird in action.
There are good possibilities for gulls and terns: Silver Gulls (ubiquitous), Crested Terns (very likely), Little Terns (only in summer), and Caspian, Common and Gull-billed Terns.
The stumps on the eastern side of the pier are relics of enclosed swimming baths, and now serve as resting points for terns, Pied Cormorants and Little Pied Cormorants, the occasional Darter, and sometimes an Osprey. Most times there will be a bird on each stump, testament to how fish-rich these waters are. On more than one visit I have looked over the side of the pier down into the water and have seen it positively teeming with small fish.
Occasionally I have seen some bullying as a bird flies in to usurp a stump from another bird.
On the pier itself you can be guaranteed to see plenty of Rock Doves (feral pigeons), and such is their lack of fear of humans that you can get extremely close-up photos if you wish. Their low cooing can often be heard along the pier when you’re looking for other birds.
The other standard pier bird is the Welcome Swallow; they likely nest underneath the pier’s boardwalk, and often rest on the wooden struts that jut out from the sides of the pier (just look over the railings!)
The pier is also a pretty good spot for raptors. On my Jun 2021 visit I witnessed a Whistling Kite successfully pulling two fish (at once!) from the water and flying off with them.
White-Bellied Sea-Eagles are also reasonably likely, as are Brahminy Kites. I have even seen a Whistling Kite and Brahminy Kite get into an aerial battle while a swathe of cormorants watched on; the Brahminy Kite seemed to be getting the worst of it and the photo below shows where the Whistling Kite had relentlessly driven its foe almost down into the water.
If you linger long enough near the pier or wander some way along the headland you’re almost certain to spy an Osprey. The seas in this area must be a rather happy hunting ground for them. On my Mar 2022 visit, where I walked a little way northward along the foreshore, I saw an Osprey intently tucking into its fish prey on a tree not far from the busy pedestrians ambling below. These impressive raptors will really take their time eating, seemingly often without much consideration of their surroundings.
Along this stretch (ie. the walking paths north of the pier that follow the coastline) there are plenty of casuarina trees (she-oaks) and these can attract Rainbow Lorikeets in easier-to-photograph surrounds than high up in the flowering gum trees. There are often Figbirds, Butcherbirds and Magpies in the area too.
To the south of the pier is the Shorncliffe headland. You can follow the headland right around at sea level, or by road up on the hilltop (Shorncliffe Parade). The sea level trail allows for a little more exploration around rocks and tidal areas.
I saw a House Sparrow on my Jun 2021 walk around the headland, which would be unremarkable except that they are fairly uncommon within Brisbane.
Other than a roving Osprey, a Black-Faced Cuckooshrike or two, and a couple of gulls and terns, I haven’t seen many birds at all on the headland walk. Things tend to pick up once rounding the southern tip into Frank Doyle Park – this is where Cabbage Tree Creek and Nundah Creek empty out and you can see across to Nudgee Beach.
There are better chances of cormorants and terns here, and as many Silver Gulls as you care to count!
On my Nov 2022 visit, I also wandered randomly back along various of the streets of suburban Shorncliffe and had some nice encounters with Spotted Doves and Blue-Faced Honeyeaters – the latter were feeding in the flowering Jacaranda trees that feature along the roads there. Other birds seen in this area included Noisy Miners, Common Mynas, Rainbow Lorikeets and various magpies, crows and butcherbirds.
Shorncliffe Pier and the immediate surrounding areas make for a reasonably pleasant time birding. The most unique selling point is the possibilities for seabirds including diving gannets and terns at close quarters, but you are likely to see something interesting – perhaps a raptor or several hunting cormorants – if you explore the area.
Hotspot: Shorncliffe Pier (83 species), Shorncliffe Headland (66 species)
Checklists for these visits: Jun 21 2021 (12 species), Mar 6 2022 (8 species), Mar 22 2022 (9 species), Nov 2 2022 (13 species)
Pluses and minuses:
+ Chance of seeing diving seabirds up close
+ Good site for raptors, cormorants, gulls and terns
+ Fun to wander along the long timber pier – unique in the Brisbane area
– Some seabirds may only be seen seasonally
– Patchy birding around the headland
– You won’t get big species counts here
AUTHOR: ANDY GEE
BIRDERS: ANDY GEE, LUKE S, K-A