Saturday, August 23, 2014


There was a bit of excitement within the birding community last month, with the identification of a very rare vagrant from Asia. The bird, previously mistaken for a female Little Bittern, was actually a Yellow Bittern and seen at a suburban wetland in the suburb of North Lakes, half way between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. A friend and I went down to check the site and were rewarded with excellent and prolonged views of this mega-rarity as it clambered through the reeds searching for prey.

Yellow Bittern - photo by Vince Lee

This particular individual probably overshot the destination of Papua New Guinea or Indonesia on its summer migration from further north in Asia. Thanks to the sharp eyes of some local birders it was spotted recently in this quiet location and may have been here for quite some time.

Yellow Bittern

It is possibly only the second record of a Yellow Bittern on Australia's mainland, along with a few unconfirmed sightings since the late 1960's. It always pays to be on the lookout for anything different when birding, you never know what may turn up!

Yellow Bittern

This wetland is also the hangout for a Little Bittern, an uncommon species, with a patchy distribution in the wetter areas of Australia. This male was showing well too, contrary to it's normal skulking behavior and like it's close relative above, seemed oblivious to the fascinated observers along the edges of the lake.

Little Bittern - photo by Vince Lee

North Lakes wetland

Also reported, earlier this month at a bush land suburban park south of Brisbane, were around a dozen Swift Parrots. An endangered species that breeds in Tasmania, it migrates to the mainland for winter, seeking the flowering gums for sustenance and coming as far north as southern Queensland. It is thought there are only around a thousand pairs left, and the population may be declining.

Swift Parrot

I had the opportunity to visit Gould Adams Park at Kingston and was thrilled to observe these rare visitors in my home state. After half an hour of neck straining searching, with Rainbow, Scaly-breasted and Little Lorikeets all vying for my attention, I latched on to a couple of birds feeding about twenty metres up in a blossoming gum. Others were heard nearby and most likely they will hang around here till early September before heading south. Long may they continue their annual pilgrimage!

Swift Parrot

A much better image of a swiftie below, taken at Bruny Island Tasmania.

Photo by J J Harrison (Wikimedia Commons)

Another bird not often seen in these parts is the Asian Dowitcher. This particular wader, possibly a young bird and not yet ready to head back to the breeding grounds in Siberia, has been overwintering in Moreton Bay. It has been seen by many observers since about mid June, at a man made, high tide wader roost at Toorbul, just south of the Sunshine Coast. I have only observed this species once before at Broome in Western Australia where it is a regular visitor, albeit in small numbers only.

Asian Dowitcher - photo by Vince Lee

My friend Vince and I snaffled this rarity on our way back from the successful twitch of the aforementioned Yellow Bittern. By the way, the word dowitcher comes from the English translation of the Iroquoian (North American Indian) name for this rare long distance traveller.

Asian Dowitcher - photo by Vince Lee

Cheers & Happy Birding


  1. Congrats on your lifer, John. Well done! The Yellow Bittern is a regular winter visitor here in Malaysia.

  2. Thanks Wai Mun. Australia is so big, with relatively few birders, that this species along with other from Asia may visit more often than we know.

  3. Hello John,
    The State Library of Queensland would like to archive your blog in the National Library of Australia's web archive PANDORA:
    Could you please contact me so that I can send you a formal request for permission to archive?
    Kind regards
    Gina Tom
    Digital Content Librarian
    Queensland Memory
    State Library of Queensland
    Ph: 07 38407826