Summary: Nice lake area in suburbia with three birds hides and some fringing bush
Dates of visits: Oct 8 2020, Jun 21 2021, Nov 8 2022
With over 2,700 eBird checklists and a whopping 207 species recorded for all time, Dowse Lagoon in Sandgate might seem to be a star attraction birding site on Brisbane’s northside. Incongruously sitting in the middle of long established suburban housing, it features a decent-sized lake fringed with light bushland, and three bird hides.
There is a paved 1.5km walking loop that circumnavigates the lagoon, and you can access this path from pretty much anywhere in the surrounding streets. Apart from street parking, there is some dedicated car parking at the south end (“Rotary Park car park” on Google Maps), and a small car park by the Scout Hall on the eastern side, where there is also a public toilet – see map. Both of these car parks give good access to (two of the) bird hides. Note the hides are not fully enclosed and tend to be more of the “viewing platform” style.
Being a lagoon, one is naturally curious about the water birds one might find. The Illustrated Checklist on eBird shows an impressive frequency of many types of water birds including various whistling ducks, Freckled Ducks in winter, Pink-Eared and Musk Duck, Cotton Pygmy-Geese, Glossy Ibis and more.
But here’s the rub – I’ve personally not seen any of those rarer birds at Dowse Lagoon, and the “Last Seen” date for them ranges from 6 months to a year ago, to 3 years (Musk Duck) or even 10 years (Freckled Duck). So unless you get very lucky you’re probably only going to see the more common species.
Those common water birds include standards like Pacific Black Ducks, Wood Ducks and White Ibis, various cormorants and egrets. The majority of these birds tend to stay in the shelter of the island on the east side of the lagoon.
However, there is also a long wooden border through the water along the east side of the lagoon which encloses a smaller water/swamp area, and I have seen quite a few different birds foraging in here.
Egrets are just such foragers and their elegant postures are always a pleasant sight when birding.
The eastern bird hide (which is more of a “wall with viewing gaps in it”) is a good spot for getting a look at the top end of this smaller enclosed area. On my Oct 8 2020 visit I saw a Wood Duck family here.
I’m not sure why nature decided to bless us with so many black and white birds – Magpies, Magpie-Larks, Willie Wagtails instantly come to mind – but there’s a decent roster of similarly attired water birds too: Pied Stilt, Magpie Geese, and Little Pied Cormorant, for example. The enclosed water/swamp area is probably your best bet to see these birds close.
There are a couple of short (generally unofficial) side tracks off the main concrete path which take you nearer the lagoon, so you can get a sense of what’s along the water’s edge – I found Superb Fairywrens and resting Welcome Swallows this way.
A common bird found in the many gum trees right around the lagoon are Rainbow Lorikeets. Although they are a staple bird found in high numbers all over Brisbane, for some reason I have had a pretty good time with them at Dowse Lagoon. On my Jun 21 2021 visit I came across a pair (near the bowls club section of the path) which were checking out a tree hollow. When subsequently looking at the photos I saw some broken glass wedged into the base of this hollow, which was a worrisome find!
On my Nov 8 2022 visit a pair sat on a branch in a tree at the very north end of the lagoon for several minutes, preening and cleaning, and by moving around the tree (the birds were totally unbothered) I was able to get shots and video from all different angles of these gorgeously-coloured creatures.
Also on the Nov 8 visit, a mob of Noisy Miners gathered along one of the fence lines and it transpired they were yelling at a baby possum on the ground below a large fig tree.
Other common birds around the lagoon include Magpies and Magpie-Larks, Pied Currawongs, Pied and Grey Butcherbirds, and Willie Wagtails. eBird shows good chances of Fairy and Tree Martins, too.
On my June 2021 visit a snake – probably a Green Tree Snake – crossed the path and slithered up a nearby tree, a reminder that reptiles and other slithery animals also call this area home.
Dowse Lagoon has some good pedigree as a birding hotspot. However, in a few different visits I personally haven’t seen anything particularly remarkable, which makes it hard for me to recommend it as a prime Brisbane northside location. I don’t see that it has anything over and above any other wetland, except that three bird hides is a bit unusual (and very welcome – so many sites in south-east Queensland have no hides or viewing platforms at all… Kedron Brook Wetlands, for example). Dowse Lagoon does have proximity to the ocean (less than half a kilometer away), which might explain the occurrences of Gull-Billed and Caspian Terns, Silver Gulls, and the scattering of shorebird sightings (Godwits, Stints, Sandpipers etc) listed – again, these are birds I haven’t seen there! But which add to the high all-time species count in eBird.
There are other locations in Brisbane providing far better photographic opportunities for the types of birds commonly found at Dowse Lagoon (Forest Lake, Sandy Camp Wetlands, Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens, etc), which I find myself more drawn to. However, if you live locally and want a quick fix of birding (or want to combine it with nearby sites like Shorncliffe Pier and Peace Park/Third Lagoon), with a paved loop path to walk or a bird viewing platform to relax at, perhaps Dowse Lagoon will fit the bill.
Hotspot: Dowse Lagoon (208 species)
Checklists: Jun 21 2021 (18 species), Nov 8 2022 (32 species)
Bird Spots videos from this site: Rainbow Lorikeets, Blue-Faced Honeyeaters
Pluses and minuses:
+ Three bird hides/platforms
+ Can walk right around the lagoon on paved paths
+ Very decent all-time species count
+ Some good encounters possible
– Surrounded by a busy, noisy suburb
– Sometimes hard to get decent views esp. of birds on the island
– Not as large area to explore as you might want
AUTHOR: ANDY GEE
BIRDERS: ANDY GEE, LUKE S, K-A