Survey Reports

Here are a few brief reports from some surveys taken in 1995/6. These reports are copies of messages posted to the Australian birding mailing list birding-aus.

Sturt's Stony Desert (May 95)

I am just back from two weeks in Sturt's Stony Desert to the east of Lake Eyre as part of a general flora and fauna survey of the stony deserts of the Lake Eyre Basin. This is an on going three year project co-ordinated by the South Australian Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Three teams of six personnel surveyed eight sites in each week and I conducted the ornithological work for one of these teams. As this is a part of Australia that not all birders get to, I thought that a quick summary of what was found would be of interest.

WEEK ONE - Mount Gasen (70km north of Mungarannie on the Birdsville Track)

Conditions were dreadful for birds!! The country was dry as a bone and north winds screamed over the gibber plains while the sun fried us by day. I managed to scratch up a bird list of 35 which matched the other groups' efforts. These included...

Australian Pratincole, Blue Bonnet, Blue-winged Parrot, White-backed Swallow, Banded Whiteface, Red-browed Pardalote, Gibberbird, Inland Dotterel, Orange Chat.

Abundant species (relatively!) were Cinnamon Quail Thrush, Zebra Finch, White-winged Fairy-wren, Little Crow, Australian Raven. The other two groups both succeeded in finding Eyrean Grass-wrens on their nice canegrass covered sand dunes...

WEEK TWO - SW of Betoota(QLD) in the NE corner of SA

It rained!! And it had rained several months beforehand so we had carpets of flowers on the dunes and pools of water on the gibber - quite stunning. The bird list soared to over 75...

Abundant species were now as before plus Brown Falcon, Kestrel, Budgerigar, Willie Wagtail, BF W'swallow. Interesting birds seen around our sites included..

Straw-necked Ibis, Hobby, Little Button-quail, Nankeen Night Heron, Bustard, Red-capped Plover (on gibber!), Australian Pratincole, Gull-billed Tern, Diamond Dove, Cockatiel, Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoo, Red-capped Robin, Brown Songlark, Pied Honeyeater, Orange Chat, Crimson Chat, Mistletoebird, White-breasted Woodswallow, Masked Woodswallow.

Of note was a number of species that seemed to sweep into the area with the rains and then vanish for the rest of the week. These included Swamp Harrier and Flock Bronzewing. I was surprised by the very low numbers of Richards Pipits and lack of nightbirds (excluding the ever active Inland Dotterels).

Bird data was collected by 30 minute 1km transects and opportunistic observations.

For those of you who appreciate wildlife with more than two feet :) our mammal list included Stripe-faced Dunnart, Fat-tailed Dunnart, Plague Rat, Sandy Inland Mouse, two species of Planigale, Echidna, Red Kangaroo (rare!) and outstandingly Fawn Hopping Mouse, Kultar and Kowari.

And now it's back to the office... :(

Gum Lagoon Conservation Park (September 95)

The Nature Conservation Society of South Australia has just completed its main week of fieldwork for the survey of GUM LAGOON Conservation Park, 36km south-west of Keith. Extensive areas of the park were under water and the remaining areas were mainly mallee heath. A brief summary of the birds:

Common Water Birds - Hoary-headed Grebe, Mountain Duck, Black Duck, Hardhead, Grey and Chestnut Teal, Shoveler, Coot, Black Swan. Black-winged Stilt, Masked Lapwing.

Also - Pink-eared Duck, Musk Duck, White-faced Heron, Baillons Crake, Black- fronted and Red-kneed Dotterel, Little Grassbird, Reed-warbler.

Strangely Absent - Ibis, Spoonbills, Cormorants, Moorhens.

Common Bush birds - Common and Brush Bronzewing, Brown Thornbill, Wattlebirds, New Holland Honeyeater (heaps!), Eastern Rosella, Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Horsfields B. Cuckoo, Tree Martin. Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, Silvereye, Grey Currawong.

Also - Black Falcon, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Swamp Harrier, Malleefowl, Blue-winged Parrot, Fantailed Cuckoo, Shining B. Cuckoo, S. Emu-wren, Shy Hylacola (plentiful), Beautiful Firetail, White-browed, Masked and Dusky Woodswallow, White-fronted, White-eared, White-plumed, Spiny-cheeked, Brown-headed Honeyeater, Little and Musk Lorikeet.

The above lists are not complete! For the migrant record, Lathams Snipe was seem just outside the study area.

If anyone is interested in visiting Gum Lagoon, we may do some further work down there later in the year.

Mount Brown Conservation Park

This past weekend (11th-13th Nov 95) a few of us visited Mount Brown C.P. in the southern Flinders Ranges, 15km south of Quorn. We did an amount of active searching for birds as well as a considerable amount of inactive sitting around waiting for birds to find us(!)... A quick report:

Mount Brown is a distinctive peak south of Quorn and the park follows the ridge line around in a shape vaguely resembling a letter G. Habitats include sparse mallee on slopes, casuarina/yacca high country, open eucalypt woodland, acacia scrub, grassland and red gum lined creeks.

We saw 62 species. A numer of summer migrants were present including BUDGIE, WHITE-WINGED TRILLER, RAINBOW BIRD and WHITE-BROWED + MASKED WOODSWALLOW. Plenty of evidence of breeding with young RUFOUS SONG-LARK and DIAMOND FIRETAIL among others. Honeyeaters were poor, but the honeyeater of the creek beds was notably YELLOW-FACED and not the more usual WHITE-PLUMED, which seemed to be confined to the acacia country. This leaning towards Adelaide Hills birds rather than Flinders birds was also echoed by the large numbers of ADELAIDE ROSELLA and RED-RUMPED PARROT and the low numbers of MALLEE RINGNECK. The most common bird or prey was COLLARED SPARROWHAWK. The most common corvid was LITTLE RAVEN, surely getting towards the northern edge of their "dominant corvid" range. We saw three species of quail - STUBBLE (in the stubble!), LITTLE BUTTON in the grassland and notably a PAINTED BUTTON on a high ridge-top.

Mount Brown is a very interesting park because of its slightly unexpected mix of Adelaide Hills/plains birds and yet the mountainous scenery. From memory, this blend is not so evident in the ranges to the north of Quorn.

Finally, I would be very interested in any past or future bird lists from other visits to Mount Brown.. so if you're looking for an excuse for a weekend in the Flinders...

Ground Parrot Survey: Barren Grounds

As a temporary resident of Wollongong I decided to head up the escarpment on the weekend to participate in one of the biggest days of Wollongong's entertainment calendar. Nope - not the Open Day at the Steelworks or late night shopping at Safeways - I speak of the Barren Grounds annual Ground Parrot Census!

Sunday (6th Aug) at 9am saw a string of 50 souls spread out across the heath at 10m apart to perform one of the Illawarra's strangest annual rituals. At a little after 9.15 the line started to proceed forward and very quickly became a bit on the squiggly side as the various sections fought their way through the native vegetation. Some (including me) were nearly lost in the first 50m as they disappeared into chin high hakea. Within minutes the first scream of "Ground Parrot" sounded in the air as a light green blob hurtled away from the approaching army. From then on the silence of the crisp winter morning echoed to the cries of "parrot" and "parrot - recount". Crossing the creek was more fun than a bouncy castle as occasionally people vanished completely as they descended into 2 metre high sedge only to reappear on all fours on top of a clump before vanishing once again.. I came across several sets of bones complete with binoculars which I presume were the remains of some of last years missing participants... The objects of the exercise were rather thin on the ground at my extremity of the line and the only birds I succeeded in flushing looked suspiciously like a pair of Black Ducks.

Then suddenly the head high heathland cleared to reveal a track and it was all over for another year. The final count was 33 "parrot"s and 33 "parrot- recount"s, which makes it another record tally (last year the total was 61 with 31 individuals I think...) This all has interesting implications as the particicular survey site is unburnt since 1983 and the numbers have been generally increasing since then. So the unofficial management result for the census site is "no fires please... yet!"

I must also take the chance to thank the Observatory and its enthusiastic "new" wardens Raoul Boughton and Christine McNamara. Pop up for a visit or check out their excellent course program.. and if you get the chance to savour some of the home cooking....

Fifth Stony Desert Survey (26 Feb - 8 Mar 96)

The Fifth of the South Australian Dept Environment and Natural Resources surveys of the Stony Deserts of South Australia has just taken place. As the birdo for one of the two teams I thought I would once again let you know what birdlife we found in the dirt and dust of a South Australian summer..

Week One - Davenport Ranges (70km NW of William Creek, 120km SE of Oodnadatta)

We camped in a small creek and surveyed eight sites, mainly gibber plains but also two narrow creek lines and a rocky foothill. Not many birds, but the highlight was BOURKES PARROT, which were plentiful in the creek (the common parrot in fact - also PORT LINCOLN RINGNECK and BUDGIE). The gibber was full of CINNAMON QUAIL-THRUSH and what little cover there was supported WHITE-WINGED FAIRY-WREN and CALAMANTHUS. Several birds were present in very small numbers in the creek, including CRESTED BELLBIRD, HOODED and RED-CAPPED ROBIN, WHITE- BROWED BABBLER. Common birds throughout were ZEBRA FINCH, BLACK-FACED W'SWALLOW, KESTREL, RICHARD'S PIPIT and GALAH. Surprisingly low numbers of corvids.

Week Two - Skylark Dam (50km NE of William Creek, 15km W of Lake Eyre North)

Much flatter terrain with more saltbush and a few dunes. No Skylarks! Instead a much richer coverage of typical stony desert birds. Lots of GIBBER and ORANGE CHATS, INLAND DOTTERELS and CINNAMON QUAIL THRUSH. Plenty CALAMANTHUS and in the taller saltbush several THICK-BILLED GRASSWRENS. Skylark Dam had water and was a true desert oasis. Each lunchtime I sat for a few minutes and watched hundreds of ZEBRA FINCH queue up for water. Several water birds were present - some for a few days, others for just a few hours. These included PINK-EARED DUCK (8), GREY TEAL (12), WHITE-FACED HERON (1), WOOD SANDPIPER (1), RED-NECKED AVOCET (2), MARSH SANDPIPER (1), GULL-BILLED TERN (1), AUSTRALIAN GREBE (1) and HOARY-HEADED GREBE (7). The saltbush areas also supported a large number of PIED HONEYEATERS. We had a wonderful evening watching three SPOTTED NIGHTJARS on the dam. Birds of prey other than KESTREL, BROWN FALCON and WEDGIE were sparse, but single birds seen were BLACK KITE, COLLARED SPARROWHAWK and LITTLE EAGLE (dark phase).

Took a trip out to Lake Eyre, but at 50 degrees in the shade we didn't spend too long out there. Put it this way.. there weren't any pelicans!!

Kangaroo Island

I am just recently back from Kangaroo Island where I was assisting on the Kangaroo Island Glossy Black Cockatoo recovery program. For those that are unfamiliar with the geography, Kangaroo Island is Australia's third largest island, just off the South Australian coast, and is proud to be a fox and rabbit free zone (alas not a koala free zone.. but that's another story...) K.I. has a small isolated population of Glossy Black Cockatoos, around 150-180 birds, and work is underway to try to secure the existing population.

The main issue is to determine what the main threats are to the Glossies, and in particular what factors are affecting the birds' breeding success on the island. Previous studies suggested that lack of breeding hollows were the main restriction, however the current work seems to be suggesting that predation by possums may be more significant.

We saw plenty evidence that the Glossies are attempting to breed again this season, but full results will not be known for a few months yet. Most positively there seems to have been a good deal of support and interest in the project from the local islanders. Many are taking part in the project by filling in report forms and some are monitoring local nest sites. Although it is always easier to drum up public support for big, bright, noticeable birds like Glossy Black Cockatoos, I was pleased to see locals enthusing over the fact that the cockatoos choose to munch the casuarina cones in their backyards. A local artist Bryon Buick has also produced a poster and notepaper, proceeds of which partly go to the Glossy Black project fund (I can take orders... !!)

If anyone wishes more details of the project or wishes to assist by means of volunteer work or donation then I can provide (contact) details. It's probably out of order to suggest that you combine your trip with a spot of koala bagging, so I won't say it...

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