Summary: Fairly typical Gold Coast suburban lake with some interesting bird life
Dates of visit: Various from April 2021 to April 2023
I’m covering West Lake Robina on the Gold Coast in Queensland here not because it’s a stand-out birding location, but more as a case study in observing a “local patch” over an extended period of time. The observations are based on twelve eBird checklists I’ve made from between April 2021 and April 2023 – a summary of this data is at the end of this post.
I’ve been able to take both a kayak and a pedal boat out on the lake many times over the course of a few years, and – unlike a site which you might visit only a few times a year – have been able to gain a finer appreciation for how the mix of bird species on and around the lake changes and fluctuates. I’ve found that while there are definitely some resident birds, over this two year period there was a good dose of variety from brief or sustained influxes of various species (Spangled Drongo!) as well as one-off sightings (e.g. Peregrine Falcon!). It’s fascinating to observe and shows how even a pretty standard suburban location (one that didn’t even have an eBird hotspot until I requested one) can change over time. This post is also indicative of the type of birds that can be found in these canal and lake environments on the Gold Coast (of which there are many).
The lake is mostly ringed with houses. Some have floating pontoons and kayaks or other water craft. Motorised vessels are not allowed on the lake. There are only a couple of small public areas where you can get down to the lake shore, except at the northern end, where Robina Common (consisting of sports fields, a dog exercise park and general public areas) abuts the water. So to get the most out of this site, you do need to be able to get out on a vessel of some kind.
The Gold Coast City Council lists invasive plants and animals in these lakes as Alligator weed, Cabomba, Kang kong, Mexican water lily, Salvinia, Senegal tea, Tilapia, and Water hyacinth. Council workers periodically come round in vessels to clear excess lilies and vegetation, and have also put out traps for Red-eared Slider (a type of invasive turtle).
Being a lake, there are plenty of water birds. Black Swans, Swamphens, and Dusky Moorhens are the most reliable of these, while Australasian Darters were also standard for the entire period. Black Swans were seen on all dozen checklists, with numbers peaking at around 30 over the summer of 2021/2022.
Another bird to appear on every checklist are Welcome Swallows, which can be seen swooping and darting low over the lake in between resting on pontoons (and their restraining chains), and on moored boats and the like.
The diminutive Australasian Grebe was seen four times; in my experience there are not many sites where these birds are ultra-reliable (the Gold Coast Botanic Gardens being a notable exception).
I found Pacific Black Ducks on just over half my checklists, including very memorably one morning when a family of ducklings swam around the boat, seemingly quite curious. The mother duck was keeping a close watch nearby.
Australasian Darters are an unmistakable bird on the lake with their large size and raucous calls and are no doubt resident birds, being seen on nine of the twelve checklists, and often one of the first heard in the early morning.
Little Pied Cormorants are also a regular fixture, being seen on 10 occasions, though never in large numbers (my high count is five).
However, Pied Cormorants – recognisable by their larger size, ivory bill and black “trousers” – did not appear until very late in 2021, and at least two or three were reliably found all through 2022 and into 2023. Like the darters and other cormorants, they use fences and railings, and pontoons and any boats tethered to them as drying-off stations.
Little Black Cormorants are another interesting case, being present on eight checklists but with a long absence between June 2022 and early 2023. Perhaps there was better fish hunting on other waterways during that time.
I find Eurasian Coots to be a little cryptic in their movements. One day you’ll see dozens and a few weeks later wonder where they all are – places like Sandy Camp Rd Wetlands and others come to mind here. At one point (mid-2021), Coots were the most numerous bird on Robina West Lake, where I counted 40 birds, but most checklists through 2022 only contained a couple. This changed again in 2023 when numbers increased significantly again – and once more, to around 40 birds.
Patient and conscientous (and perhaps lucky) observation can also show up some more “skulky” birds, like Striated Heron of which a couple were seen twice in the case study time period.
There are two reed-bed islands on the lake, where various birds find refuge and (probably) breed.
Magpie Geese are one species that can often be found roosting on the reed islands, though they seem to spend most of their foraging time at other sites than this lake.
Swamphens are most numerous at the southern end of the lake, where there are ample grassy stretches by the water. Some slightly thicker trees and bush here also notably provide habitat for Little Wattlebirds.
In my experience Blue-Faced Honeyeaters were more common in the northern half of the lake.
Superb Fairywrens skip happily between the backyards that face onto the lake, and can sometimes be seen on pool fences and other artificial structures.
Spotted Doves and Common Mynas are the two main introduced species here and are regulars on the checklists, sometimes with a dozen birds seen in one outing.
Noisy Miners have a stronghold at the north-east end of the lake where Robina Common lies (lots of fields fringed with gum trees), but are far less common at the very south-west (as there is less of that compatible habitat).
Being very much a suburban location you would expect not to see too many raptors here. I have seen three: a Whistling Kite in May 2022, a Peregrine Falcon in December 2021 (very exciting), and perhaps even more unexpectedly, in April 2023 a Brown Goshawk, who flew into someone’s lakeside back yard at the end of the day and hid for several minutes. Once it reappeared, it was set upon by a few smaller birds and summarily chased off.
Another example of an unusual bird sighting was in May 2023, when the flocks of Little Corellas that occasionally fly over the lake happened to include some Long-Billed Corellas. They made a pitstop in a large pine on the edge of the south side of the lake on the way through – the noise was quite something! And it marked my 50th species observed at this site.
Incidentally this same pine tree was used as a launching pad for a Spangled Drongo in August 2022. The bird made several acrobatic forays (I assume trying to capture insects on the wing). This was the only time I have seen a Spangled Drongo on the lake.
It may be old news to veteran birders that the list of birds frequenting a “local patch” site can grow quite long given enough observation time, but it’s nevertheless interesting to see what turns up and to speculate upon why the species fluctuate as they do. Most checklists at Robina West Lake will feature 20 to 25 birds, while my total count over this study period is 50 – i.e. double what you might see on a single outing. It underlines that you don’t always have to travel far to a prestige birding hotspot to see something interesting; you might get lucky locally if you look long and carefully enough.
Hotspot: West Lake, Robina (50 species)
Example checklists: 12 Jun 2021 (24 species), 26 Dec 2021 (28 species), 14 Mar 2022 (21 species), 18 Nov 2022 (22 species)
BirdSpots videos from this location: Australasian Darter, Pied Cormorant, Welcome Swallow
Pluses and minuses:
+ Lovely suburban lake with decent water birds
+ Great spot for photography if you can get out onto the water
+ Some unexpected avian visitors possible if you observe for long enough
– Need a boat or vessel of some kind to explore the lake fully
– Usually nothing too special to see, unless you get lucky
“Checklist Count” is the number of checklists each species appeared in; the “High Count” is the maximum number of birds seen in any one outing.
|Species||Checklist Count||High Count|
|Little Pied Cormorant||10||5|
|Australian White Ibis||5||7|
|Pacific Black Duck||7||15|
|Little Black Cormorant||8||7|
|Australian Wood Duck||2||3|
|Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon)||1||2|
AUTHOR: ANDY GEE
BIRDERS: ANDY GEE, K-A, LUKE S