Summary: Large forest that is a cut above many similar reserves in Brisbane for birding
Dates of visit: 6 visits from July 2020 to March 2023
More heavily birded than Toohey Forest, Karawatha Forest, Bunyaville and possibly even Mt Coot-tha, Whites Hill Reserve in Camp Hill is one of the best dry forest birding locations in Brisbane. It has an all-time eBird species count of 162 and encompasses an impressive 420 acres.
There are a bunch of entry points (at least half a dozen) to the reserve. All but the main Boundary Road entrance are pedestrian entries from local streets.
The Boundary Road entrance allows car access into the parking zones which surround the three main sporting fields (soccer, touch football and cricket). To the north of the touch football fields is a playgound and “common” area, which is reasonably centrally located for forest access but you’ll need to watch out for major sporting events or weekend families using the parks.
Through 2022 the circular road within the reserve was completed as part of some sweeping upgrades and this became a one way ring road (driving clockwise), with car parking along nearly all of its length – see the example photo. This means that most times you should be able to find parking close to where you want to start birding from.
In this blog post we’re going to describe the reserve starting from the playground/touch football fields and the northern half of the forest, then swinging around to the north-east, the eastern side, and across “the Ridge” and down to the pond area. There are 13 distinctly named trails and believe it or not you can get quite disoriented – bring a map or photo of a map with the named trails, as all the official signage within the forest refers to these names.
Let’s get the regulars out of the way – you are definitely going to see Magpies, Torresian Crows, Pied Currawongs, Pied and Grey Butcherbirds here, and probably several Laughing Kookaburras. In fact, you’ll likely find quite a few of these birds without looking too hard. (Note also the indigenous name for the area was Boolimba meaning place of magpie larks, which might tell you something about whether you’ll see those birds!)
The reserve is something of a haven for Kookaburras in particular, who – like the other open forest species – love hanging out around the edges of the sporting fields. They were remarkably tame on one memorable day when I was there without a birding camera, and I managed a phone photo of a Kooka on a wheelie bin on the touch footy fields; I was probably within 3 metres of the bird.
On my Mar 24 2023 visit I saw a group of four Straw-Necked Ibis foraging in the grass right near the playground car park. I’ve long given up trying to predict where and when to find this species in Brisbane, so I take seeing them in a suburban context as a nice surprise (and a welcome break from the vastly more abundant White Ibis…)
Entering the forest from the playground area is possible via either the Tallowwood or Bloodwood Tracks, which puts you into what I think of as “standard dry gum forest” – Wikipedia lists the dominant vegetation as tallowwood, Grey Gum, Brush Box, Queensland Blue Gum and White Mahogany.
In this northern half of the forest there are the aforementioned Crows, Magpies and Kookas, both Grey and Pied Butcherbirds and the ubiquitous Noisy Miners, but with a slice of luck you may see a Spangled Drongo, Grey Shrikethrush or a pair of Pale-Headed Rosellas.
The track up to the “summit” (where the eponymous White family once had their grand house) isn’t particularly difficult in terms of steepness, and it’s paved as well. There are a couple of gaps with city views but nothing like the panoramas you get from the nearby Mt Gravatt summit.
Pretty much all the tracks in the northern half of the reserve have the same general flavour, though not all are paved. Here and there are bench seats to rest at.
Across on the eastern side (near the Jones Rd entry/Stringybark Track/Shirleyana Track) there are some pockets of denser vegetation due to more extensive creek lines. There is one section where (in March 2023, at least) there is a lot of lush grass in the understorey.
You can actually find all three species of Brisbane fairywrens (Superb, Red-Backed and Variegated) at Whites Hill, and this section of the track is where I found a small group of Variegated Fairywrens along with a Golden Whistler and Rufous Fantail.
At the lowest elevation of the Shirleyana Track there are some other small pockets of bush which aren’t your typical eucalypt forest.
The forest at Whites Hill Reserve rings out with the cries of lorikeets, both Rainbow and Scaly-Breasted, but they’re often high up in the canopy so good photos can be elusive. There are usually enough birds here though that with enough persistence you might get a lucky photo or two.
The ascending ridge line on the eastern side of the Bloodwood Track (from the Shirleyana Track intersection up to “the Ridge” – highlighted in yellow on the map) is where I have had the most success in terms of both interesting species and photographic satisfaction. I am not sure why this is – perhaps there is a little more variation in vegetation here, though at first glance it still looks like your typical dry forest.
My April 2021 visit at this section was very memorable for a close-up King Parrot pair, and an Olive-Backed Oriole who was singing its heart away. In general Whites Hill Reserve is a terrific spot (at least in terms of reliability) for King Parrots and also for Pale-Headed Rosellas.
My March 2023 visit was a long bushwalk (nearly 3 hours) covering quite a few of the tracks, but again it was this section of the Bloodwood Track that delivered most – in this case, a leucistic (all-white) Kookaburra!
I had seen other birders find such Kookas before and only ever dreamed of seeing one myself, and in person the bird was magnificent to behold. (There are also very rare sightings of all-black Kookas, if you need an even more difficult target!) The white Kooka behaved like any other Kooka, sitting relatively still and quiet with its tail bobbing slowly up and down as it scanned for food, occasionally flying to a different branch. It was awesome to watch it and even take a couple of videos.
Along the northern edge of the (inaccessible) quarry area, the Bloodwood Track opens out into a grassy hill which is dubbed “the Ridge” on the map.
This can be a neat place to scan the mid-canopy of the trees that grow on the hillsides that drop away from the ridge; early in my birding career I had good encounters (and terrible photos) in this area with Grey Shrikethrush, Leaden Flycatcher and Fan-Tailed Cuckoo. I spotted a Brown Goshawk cruising above this area in March 2022 – interestingly, this raptor (along with the Pacific Baza) is the most frequently seen bird of prey at Whites Hill according to eBird. Hearing – if not seeing – Rainbow Bee-Eaters is quite likely in this section too.
All along here is also excellent for spotting one of Whites Hill’s resident koalas (the assumed activity if curious locals see someone with a big camera!) I have spotted koalas three times in the six or seven journeys I’ve made around the reserve.
Down from the Ridge via the She-oak Track and unnamed paths heading east is an attractive pond. I went for at least a year before even knowing this was here, as it isn’t marked on any maps. You can just see it from the bottom of the circular road.
The pond itself is okay for Dusky Moorhen and a few duck species and occasionally a cormorant…
…but the fringes around it (including the unnamed tracks) are a magnet for other bird species – Silvereyes, various honeyeaters (notably Scarlets in winter), fairywrens, Red-Browed Finches and fantails.
I had a couple of visits to Whites Hill where I only birded within a hundred metres or so of the pond, and still came away very fulfilled. At times the bird action in various spots near the water was intense – both in the understorey (fairywrens, Red-Browed Finches, White-Browed Scrubwrens) and the mid-canopy (Grey Shrikethrushes, Golden Whistlers, honeyeaters).
Special mention also needs to be made of the cuckoos that can be found at this site. I’ve seen Fan-Tailed Cuckoo and Shining Bronze-Cuckoo but there are definitely other cuckoo species possible including a handful of records of the uncommon Oriental Cuckoo. Not something that can be said for every patch of forest in Brisbane.
Despite Whites Hill Reserve being quite near to where I live, I haven’t birded there as much as the place deserves. You would expect to see 25 to 30 species there, which is around half of a decent outing at Oxley Creek Common or Sandy Camp Rd Wetlands, both of which are only 20 minutes drive away. It is quite hilly and in the early mornings there are lots of joggers, walkers and dog-walkers there, but the birdlife at Whites Hill is definitely a cut above your standard Brisbane dry gum forest.
Hotspot: Whites Hill Reserve (162 species)
Some of the checklists for these visits: Aug 20 2021 (34 species), Mar 1 2022 (24 species), Mar 24 2023 (25 species)
Brisbane City Council Whites Hill Reserve info and track map brochure (PDF or Word doc)
Pluses and minuses:
+ Large forest with plenty of tracks to explore
+ Good variety and reliability of bird life
+ A fruitful pond area
+ Good parking, facilities and signage
– A few unavoidable hills to climb
– Can be a little hit-and-miss
AUTHOR: ANDY GEE
BIRDERS: ANDY GEE, K-A