Highfields Falls, 2021-2023

Summary: A pleasant area for a variety of forest birds near Toowoomba

Dates of visits: May 21 & Dec 31 2021, Jan 28 2023

Highfields Falls is about 12km north of Toowoomba in south-east Queensland and provides a great little stop for a variety of birds and some enjoyable (if sometimes hilly) walking.

We’ve always parked at the Dau Road entry where there is a wide verge for visiting cars. There are a couple of other entries to the area from James Byrne Road and Barber Road, which are regular streets you could park anywhere along. A sign at the Dau Road entry orients you to the various circuits, which are helpfully named after different birds that you can see in the park, although the bowerbird has escaped our attention so far. The trails are mostly wide dirt/gravel and easy to walk apart from some steeper areas.

On our first visit of May 21 2021 we were greeted by many pleasant bird sounds as we exited the car. You’ve got to love a location where you’ve barely gotten started and you’re seeing White-Bellied Cuckooshrikes, Eastern Spinebills, and even Varied Sitella.

Our initial destination was the waterfall, but it was a very slow walk down the zig-zagging track as we came across a Brown Cuckoo-Dove, White-Browed Scrubwrens and more. The vegetation near the waterfall and creek has a dense rainforest feel to it and it can be tricky to see birds hiding in these bushes.

There’s some more downhill and a narrow path that provides the view of the eponymous falls. The circuits are all very clearly marked so it’s easy to find your way around.

We exited via the south end of the Yellow Robin walking circuit and soon came across a small clearing that seemed like a lovely spot for a break. While sitting there we were visited by Golden Whistler, Lewin’s Honeyeater, and an Eastern Yellow Robin decided to pop in and say hello as well.

Continuing to our left when we reached the next intersection, we slowly headed uphill again. We were accompanied by many Fairywrens and Finches in the bushes alongside the path, and we flushed a couple of Brown Quail on the way up as well. There is a lot of lantana here providing cover for the smaller birds.

Towards the Golden Whistler circuit, it was a delight to have a prolonged encounter with a Crested Shriketit (now known as Eastern Shriketit). This arresting-looking little bird was methodically stripping the bark from the trees – presumably in the process of hunting for insects rather than collecting the material for nesting, as we didn’t notice the bird carrying any bark off. Some Brown Thornbills were also foraging nearby.

The intersection then delivered its next surprise, as a family of Speckled Warblers hopped around on the path. Highfields Falls has been a consistent location for spotting these birds; in all three of our visits they have been somewhere around the Golden Whistler or Kingfisher walking circuits.

Around the back of the Kingfisher walking circuit the vegetation is less dense and the path takes you through some grassy country interspersed with tall trees. It is here that a Common Bronzewing showed itself for a tiny bit longer than usual.

The paths are generally shady and it is a pleasant place to spend time in summer as well.

We eventually made our way back toward the car, but were diverted again by some Red-Browed finches having a small and very adorable snooze in the afternoon sun.

Given how successful our previous afternoon visit had been, next time we were in the area (December 31 2021) we went back for an early morning trip. This time we headed straight for the intersection where we had seen the Crested Shriketit, however we weren’t lucky enough to see one a second time. We did come across more Speckled Warblers though – almost in the same location as last time!

It was a little quieter exploring the Golden Whistler circuit than the first time, but we did come across some denser scrub areas that housed smaller birds like the Double-Barred Finch feeding on the grass seeds. Further around we found a female Cicadabird and had the novelty of seeing a flock (murder?) of Torresian Crows – at least seven of them – making a slow sweep of the forest, calling to each other in a manner that was reminiscent of a human group searching for something. An interesting aspect of this visit was the variety of honeyeaters observed – White-Naped, White-Throated, Yellow-Faced and of course Lewin’s.

In January a year later we checked out Highfields Falls once again. Some clearing and re-planting had taken place since our last visit, which allowed the Spotted Pardalotes to be more clearly seen in the canopy. We saw an Olive-backed Oriole for the first time at this site, and a couple of the resident Eastern Yellow Robins, but for a while that seemed like it was going to be the only highlights.

The reason for the lack of activity became clear soon enough – four Pacific Baza were patrolling the area – the most we’d seen together in one spot before! They were eventually moved on by some very loud Sulphur-Crested cockatoos who protested the invasion into their territory, but not before plucking at some big bugs for breakfast.

After the Pacific Baza moved on, an Eastern Whipbird and tons of other birds decided to come out of hiding.

The far edge of the Rosella Circuit (in the far south-west of the reserve) became a hive of activity, with Fairywrens and Silvereyes foraging near to Figbirds, and this is where the Speckled Warblers showed themselves for the third time in three visits!

Overall Highfields falls has established itself as a must-visit for us when in the Toowoomba area, with a minimum of 30 species seen there even in the middle of the day. For its relatively small size and proximity to suburbia, it actually feels a bit off the beaten track, and packs quite a punch in terms of bird activity. You can pick and choose whether to scour the denser bush for Whipbirds, Bowerbirds or Monarchs, wander the wider paths looking for honeyeaters, finches, rosellas and parrots, or try your luck searching for Speckled Warblers and Crested Shriketits!

Hotspot: Highfields Falls (164 species)
Checklists for these visits: May 21 2021 (30 species), Dec 31 2021 (30 species), Jan 28 2023 (37 species)

Pluses and minuses:
+ Compact area with several different forest sections
+ Much broader variety of bird species to see than a regular suburban park
+ Well signed and mostly well maintained paths
– Trails can be steep in places
– Some pockets of very dense vegetation (and invasive lantana)
– No facilities


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