Birds, Banksias, Burrum

Story by Judith Gregory-Smith

Copyright © On The Road Magazine 2002. Any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.

Enjoy the peace of the bush with the companionship of birds in this Queensland national park

You like bird watching and bushwalking? You need a break from Down South, but haven’t time to drive to the Top End? Then zip up to Burrum Coast National Park, Woodgate Section, four hours’ drive north of Brisbane. It’s at the mouth of the Burrum River, opposite the central section of Fraser Island. And it’s home to the wildlife of the coastal lowlands.

With a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you can camp in the park at Burrum Point beside the beach. There are bush showers here, or a pulley system for solar. A softer option is Barkala Caravan Park on Woodgate Esplanade. It’s beside the sea and abuts the national park.

Whichever camp you choose, you can bushwalk and bird watch on the Banksia Track. It’s 5.2 kilometres return and will get you in training for the Melaleuca Circuit. That one is 10.7 kilometres return.

Just because the Banksia Track is short, it doesn’t mean you should slack off on safety. You need plenty of insect repellent as there are plenty of mozzies. Wear a hat, sunscreen and walking boots. It’s unlikely you’ll meet a snake, but stepping on one wearing thongs (you, not the snake), would not be nice. Take binoculars for the more than 200 birds you may see and your camera for the fabulous banksias (or 450 other species of plants).

On the way, you’ll pass a mob of eastern grey kangaroos. They’re so fearless, they’ll give you a full-frame photo opportunity. “But beware,” warns the ranger. “Don’t get between a male and his female, or between mum and her joey. If they get rattled, they can cause serious injury.”

The Banksia Track starts with a boardwalk, giving wheelchair access to a forest of paperbarks but soon you’ll see why the walk is so named: there are banksias everywhere. In the swamp between the melaleucas are groves of (surprise) the swamp banksia. When young, the 15-centimetre inflorescences are greenish and prickly. When their flowers open, they soften and turn lemon yellow. In old age, they turn squirrel-brown and whiskery (don’t we all?).

As the vegetation along the trail changes through coast banksia, lilly pillies, weeping cabbage palm and white cypress pine, so the birds change, too. Little wattlebirds and noisy friar-birds frequent the banksias, holding competitions to see which can make the best crone-like cackle. King parrots streak out of the palms in a flash of scarlet and green. Butcherbirds stride the cypresses as on the bridge of a pirate ship. They survey the horizon for easy prey. And figbirds decide they like lilly pilly berries as much as they like figs.

If the plant star of the walk is the wallum banksia, the bird highlight is the scarlet honeyeater. It glitters fire engine red in the sun. Excited by the banksia’s nectar it thrusts in its long bill, and then emerges with a trill of delight. Dusky and brown honeyeaters dash around feeding on nectar too; the brown clinks a metallic “wink-wink-wink”.

The dominant eucalyptus here is the Moreton Bay ash – recently moved to another family and renamed Corymbia tesellaris. Why do biologists do this to us, just when we have learned the original name? C. tesellaris is a demure-looking tree with a thick stocking round the base of its smooth grey trunk and fine pendent leaves. Angophoras (that also look like eucalyptus, but aren’t) are not a bit demure. They throw their branches exuberantly all over the place.

If birdcalls you know at home sound different here, it’s not your imagination. Birds do have regional accents. The grey shrikethrush (not to be confused with the little shrikethrush that also occurs in this area) has a very different call to its relative down south. The eastern whipbird, however, sounds the same wherever it lives. It travels with its mate and the distinctive call you hear is their antiphonal duet. He starts with an upward whoop. She finishes with a downward crack-crack.

A short walk to see some birds is the Bird Hide Walk – 3.4kilometres return. It depends on the time of year whether you see many birds from the hide. In winter you’ll see a few Australian residents: white-faced heron, white ibis, purple gallinule. In summer you’ll see migrants from the northern hemisphere coming to avoid the cold of their winter. A drive and a short walk leads to Hoppy Larks Creek. Here it’s fish, not birds, that catch your attention. From the immaculate new picnic table, you look down a stretch of the Gregory River and watch some real whoppers rise from the deep.

You can start the Melaleuca Circuit from Burrum Point camping area. The track in, off Walkers Point Road, is thick sand; so you need a 4WD. You cannot get a caravan or camper trailer in, unless it has high ground clearance. The campground is idyllic. Each site has its own forest niche. Beyond a further fringe of trees, rolls the sea and 16 kilometres of unfrequented golden sand.

Fisherpersons often spend weeks here because the catch is so good. “But you have to watch other creatures don’t catch you,” they laugh. “Brush turkeys know that campers are meals-on-wheels and they call by every morning. And if you are careless and don’t zip the tent, goannas will be in after your fruit and vegetables. They’ll love your eggs too. And if you have a steak for dinner, don’t get up and leave it: a kookaburra will fly down and grab it.”

The Melaleuca circuit is 8.8 kilometres from Burrum campground and runs parallel to the beach for the first kilometre or two. There is no thunder of surf here, as Fraser Island shelters this part of the coast. There’s just a soothing swish as small waves slide up the sand.

As you move away from the sea, look out for red-backed fairy wrens in low shrubs. The males are spectacular in black velvet with a scarlet velvet saddle on their backs. If you see brown wrens with blue tails, these are the female variegated fairy wrens or males in eclipse plumage. Keep quiet and stand still until a breeding male appears. He is as handsome as the superb fairy wren with similar blue plumage. But, in addition, he has a rufous back. When you get to the salt flats between the trail and the sea, walk quietly and you are likely to see brolgas and black-necked storks, also known as jabiru.

Back on the track, bury your nose in the wattle blossoms (but not if you get hay fever). Acacia flavescens is in full flower and the pale yellow powdery perfume drifts along beside you. Rufous whistlers like this stretch, as does the shining bronze cuckoo. You can distinguish this emerald-backed bird from Horsfield’s cuckoo, because the black stripes on its white breast and belly are continuous.

The end of the walk, after you cross the main track, is where you’ll find the melaleucas. Some gnarled ancients have wads of paper on their trunk, enough to furnish a hundred scribes. In sunny clearings you’ll see dozens of birds. White-browed scrubwrens skulk in the underbrush. Variegated fairy wrens argue in the bushes, golden whistlers preen and noisy friar-birds chortle. There is a sudden hush. We look round. Smooth as spaghetti, quiet and confident, a snake glides in.

The patterns on its back proclaim this to be a carpet python. But, remembering the words of the ranger: don’t get too close. Pythons are constrictors, so this snake is unlikely to bite you. But a thorough hugging might do you no good, either.

Burrum Fact File

Location: 
From Childers, drive two kilometres east on the Bruce Highway. Take the turning to Goodwood. Drive 45 kilometres to Woodgate township where signs lead to the park.

Camping and supplies: 
The campground at Burrum Point is 4WD only. Facilities include water, cold showers, toilets. Visitors must bring a fuel stove for cooking as no fires are permitted. Petrol, diesel and general supplies are available in Woodgate township. Barkala Caravan Park, Le Patourel Family, 88 Esplanade, Woodgate, Qld 4660, phone (07) 4126 8802 (email barkala@isisol.com.au).

Contact: 
Ranger, Woodgate Section, Burrum River National Park, PO Box 167, Woodgate, Qld 4660, (07) 4126 8810. Fraser Coast Tourism, (07) 4122 3444 (or visit www.frasercoast.org.au).

Maps: 
Ours is from Hema’s Road Atlas, contact (07) 3340 0000.