Conondale National Park

After an unremarkable overnight stopover in the little town of Cooyar, we replaced dry sparse outback with lush rainforest. Well not exactly lush, because like the rest of the country, even the east coast rainforests are looking desperately dry.  The normally lush ginger and lomandra plants have curled up their leaves in self defense and so called perennial streams and waterfalls have been reduced to a few scattered pools.

However, the lack of water brought two benefits: no mozzies and no leeches.  The forests were still magnificent and the birds – wow, the birds!   We based ourselves at Conondale National Park and after setting up camp I went for a brief walk in the last remaining light and already saw a new species for the list: spectacled monarch in the riverside scrub.

spectacled monarch 2
Spectacled monarch

However the real treat was in store for the next day when I saw two new birds within the first few minutes of my 4:30am bird walk including number 350 for the list: the beautiful wompoo fruit dove. I picked up another 4 in the next 90 minutes and another 6 during other walks that day bringing the total for the day to 12

Wompoo fruit dove.  I guess the name “wompoo” reflects the sound it makes.

Russet tailed thrush, yellow-throated scrubwren and logrunner (if you can spot them).

Emerald dove and little shrike-thrush, also seen on my early morning walk in the forest near our camp.

dry booloumba river
Looking down the sad dry river bed near our camp.  However the water still runs beneath the rocks and emerges in a crystal clear swimming hole just around the corner …
nipper swimming hole
… however there was something that gave your feet a sharp nip if you swam into that deep blue area and it kept biting until you left.  So best to stay in the waist deep areas.   We never figured out what it was and although we saw catfish, eels and a turtle on other occasions, they all scattered when we approached them rather than aggressively biting like the mysterious creature of the deep.

Despite the dry weather, access to Conondale did require getting Keddie’s feet wet – nothing too impressive however.

Later that morning we did a 3km walk to Booloumba falls, or rather the Booloumba trickle.

White-browed scrubwren and brown gerygone near the Booloumba falls walk car park

Lewin’s honeyeater, Variegated fairy-wren and golden whistler, seen on the falls walk.

More birds seen later that afternoon near the camp.  Wonga pigeon, azure kingfisher, red-backed fairy-wren, eastern whip bird and eastern yellow robin.

 I failed to find any owls on my night walk, but did bump into this great barred frog and what I suspect was a large group of male yellow-greenish stony creek frogs (yes they were all on a stony creek).  As for the little mouse like animal, I am not sure where to start to identify Australian mammal LBJ*s so I have no idea what it is.

*LBJ, or little brown job is a term birdwatchers use to describe small plain birds that are difficult to identify.  In Australia I think that this term is better applied to the mammals. Firstly because the birds here are mostly quite colourful and there are comparatively few actual LBJs.  Secondly, apart from the big 5** (Big red kangaroo, common wombat, platypus, koala and echidna) I think it’s the other mammals that are rather hard to identify as there seems to be a continuum of hundreds of species from grey kangaroos down to marsupial mice that each look rather similar to their immediate neighbour.

**Although more commonly used to promote the big African mammals in game parks and tourist brochures, I don’t see why Australia can’t have a big 5 too.

The next day we left the caravan at Conondale and drove out to Kondolilla Falls near Maleny on the Sunshine Coast hinterland, but before going I encountered a noisy pitta, another mammalian LBJ and got some good pictures of a male and female riflebird on an early morning bird walk.  By early I mean really early – so early that I needed to use my torch to photograph the pitta and wallaby.

Being only about 1 hour from Brisbane, we got our first taste of city crowds. After passing half a dozen eco-lodges on the 3km drive in to the falls we encountered a nearly full car park – despite the fact it was a weekday.  Ah, remember the days of the deserted outback…  After resigning ourselves to not having the rock pool to ourselves, we set off, but were soon rewarded with some close up views of a cute pale yellow robin.

The falls themselves reflected the dire state of the drought and were not living up to their aboriginal name, but a photograph at the start of the walk showed what one can normally expect.

There was still a trickle of water and some lovely rain forest vegetation and in addition to the pale yellow robin, I also spotted some large-billed scrubwren.

scaly breasted lorikeet
Passing through the little town of Kenilworth on the drive back to Conondale, I heard a slightly unusual sounding lorikeet screech.  After turning back, I initially saw a tree full of the common, garishly coloured rainbow lorikeets and almost drove on again.  However after a more thorough search, I eventually found this rather camouflaged scaly-breasted lorikeet among them, bringing the total number of new birds for the day to four.  Moral of the story: sometimes hearing is believing and seeing is (initially) deceiving.

Our final day at Conondale, was relaxing with no driving, but yielded only one new bird: a top-knot pigeon, perhaps it was time to move on.   However, I was treated to an awesome sighting of a carpet python as well as some nice photo opportunities of previously seen birds including a spectacular mature male satin bowerbird

top knot pigeon
Top-knot pigeon

The male satin bowerbird makes this brown cuckoo-dove look rather, well – brown.

rainforest tree
It is always impressive to look up in a rainforest, even if there are no birds to see.
strangler cairn
For our last walk in Conondale we set out to this intriguing art installation – the Strangler Cairn©.   The idea is that over time the strangler fig sapling on top of the sculpture will grow over it and create a gradually evolving piece of art.  With a cost of $700,000, being so remote and requiring a 3km walk to access, it is rather controversial.   However (in addition to the birds) I guess it will give us an incremental urge to revisit this area in 10 or 20 years time to see how it has evolved.  Whether or not the recurrent future spending of people like us will make the investment made on behalf of Queensland taxpayers worthwhile is debatable – I suspect it won’t.  However, having paid many thousands in stamp duties on Queensland investment properties ourselves, it felt good to head out and enjoy something for which we had helped pay.

Link to a video about this artwork by the artist

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