NEWSLETTER No. 79
Edited by Stein Boddington. newsletter AT absa DOT asn DOT au
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This Newsletter was posted with the Corella of June 2005
We welcome the following new member to the association:
Mr Greg Lollback, of University of New England, NSW
Dr Ian Fraser, of Castlecrag, NSW
Mr David Parker, of Deniliquin, NSW
o Members' attention is drawn to the leaflet enclosed with this issue advertising the Ageing and Sexing Workshop to be held over two weekends in October 2005 and February 2006. These weekends will be a valuable experience for the participants, and will certainly enhance their ability to age and sex birds using a variety of techniques.
o There was a query at the AGM about the reduction in postage costs for mailing Corella. Unfortunately, this does not reflect good news on postage, rather a late account being paid in the following financial year.
o There has been recent correspondence in American banding circles concerning duplicated and / or missing numbers in band strings. Although no examples have been reported in Australia, banders are reminded to check the sequences on their strings.
This two-day workshop provides a great opportunity for natural resource managers, birdwatchers, ecologists and field technicians to learn how to identify, monitor and manage waterbirds and their habitats. During day one, expert ecologists will share with you how to identify waterbirds through a combination of classroom lectures and site visits to wetlands. Also, counting and monitoring techniques will be elaborated. On day two participants will learn how to restore waterbird habitats, with special emphasis on shorebirds.
This workshop is essential for those who need to know more about identification of waterbirds and for those who need to gain an understanding of how best to determine the species and numbers of birds visiting wetland habitats. Learning Outcomes The workshop is based on a hands-on experiential, learning approach and training is focused on building skills in systematic identification of waterbirds and the assessment and management of bird habitats.
Examples will be taken from both natural and manmade wetlands and a variety of wetland creation and restoration sites will be visited and studied. Highly skilled experts and practising ecologists will deliver tutorials and field studies lessons. Be a part of this exciting learning experience!
Case Study: Estuarine habitat restoration
Requirements: Participants will be expected to have some preliminary knowledge of waterbirds. Please bring a pair of binoculars, if you have them.
Email: <wetworkshop AT sopa DOT nsw DOT gov DOT au>
Ph: 02 9714 7888 For more information visit <www.sydneyolympicpark.com.au>
The Wetlands Centre Australia website at <http://www.wetlands.org.au/index.htm> has information and links relevant to wetland management and rehabilitation. Themes on the website include activities and workshops, the Ramsar convention, education, wetland ecology and links to other groups.
A one-year project highlighted on the website is The NSW Ramsar Wetlands Communications Program (NSW RWCP), an Natural Heritage Trust funded initiative of the NSW Ramsar Managers Network (coordinated by the Department of Environment and Conservation, Dubbo). This Network identified that there was a need to increase the awareness, appreciation and value of the Ramsar Convention as a key tool for the conservation and wise use of wetlands among government and the broader community.
(Newsletter of the NSW Biodiversity Research Network Issue No. 16 June 2005)
Earlier this month I was birding with Lorna Bloom of Sydney in elevated rainforest south of Mossman and at one stop we heard a Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo calling nearby. We were fortunate that the bird moved closer and once under observation realised that it appeared to be more actively foraging for food than usual. It was calling more than usual and initially was mobbed by smaller species.
The cuckoo flew into the head of a regrowth wattle in clear view. After a couple of minutes an immature landed on a branch some two metres distant and adjacent to the adult. The adult immediately fed the younger bird and flew off. After about two minutes the immature followed the adult into the forest.
This scenario poses some questions. I initially heard an adult calling close by on 10/01/05. On 18/03/02(sic) we sighted an adult about 200 metres away (through calling). Considering the fact that the hosts to this species would most likely be Scrub-wrens or Fairy-wrens I can well imagine that their size differentiation may well mean that the foster parents run out of energy and resources. To me that makes sense.
Another consideration is that these cuckoos forage at higher levels in the forest than their hosts and perhaps this behaviour needs to be reinforced by an adult.
On the Daintree River in 2002 I observed a male Gould's Bronze-cuckoo feeding an immature. It was obvious that the young was following the adult and we saw the adult back track along the riverbank to offer food on two occasions. It appears that cuckoos may be more family oriented than we appreciate.
Del Richards, Fine Feather Tours, Mossman, NQ.
By Penelope Debelle
FROM "THE AGE", May 30, 2005
Another drought in southern Australia may further threaten the endangered subspecies of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos - the mascot for the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
Recorded numbers of the brilliantly coloured birds, selected as the Games mascot for their striking looks and gregarious nature, marginally improved after a count by Birds Australia identified a record 929 birds in south-east South Australia and south-west Victoria, north of Edenhope.
While the annual bird count by volunteers this year was a record, this was partly because counting methods had improved. The group also was able to gain information from many sightings as the birds congregated in flocks of up to 400 or 500 in the friendly spirit that endeared itself to Commonwealth Games organisers.
But Birds Australia believes the signs for future growth of the population are worrying. "People assume that because it was a good year for sightings, it means the population has increased," said Birds Australia officer Tania Rajic. "But we are conducting flock counts looking at the percentage of males in the population. They seem to have increased quite considerably, which will have a large impact on future population.
The problem for the birds is that they are specialised seed eaters that eat the fruit of only three trees; two kinds of stringybarks and the buloke tree, which is itself endangered. Ms Rajic said concern with the looming drought was that the remaining bulokes would decline, causing them to produce less or none of the seeds vital for the birds early in the year.
My Asian birding began back in 1968. I first envisaged it as a series of breaks in the then very long flight to Europe, "with a bit of birding". A few days in Hong Kong changed all that! Advised by a local birdwatcher, I visited Victoria Peak and was soon seeing Eurasian species familiar from reading, such as the (Eurasian = Black-billed) Magpie, the related spectacular Red-billed Blue Magpie, and representatives of entirely new families of tropical Asia, such as the Great Barbet. We stayed with friends in humid Bangkok for a delightful week (Magpie Robins nesting in the garden), then in the entirely dissimilar dry climate of New Delhi.
After arriving late at night, I awoke to a White-backed Vulture sailing past the window and a male of the pretty Indian native subspecies of House Sparrow on the sill. In the garden I found Common Babblers, and nearby my first Hoopoe not to mention Rhesus Macaque, Hanuman Langur and Five-lined Palm-Squirrel. We went touring to Agra (of course) and the interesting ruins of Fatapur Sikri, seeing Sarus Crane and many other species en route. But I was thoroughly hooked on Asian birding by a four-hour visit to Bharatpur, specifically Keoladeo Ghana National Park, which I have since regarded as the best birding I ever enjoyed : I logged 96 bird species in that time (most of them of course new), as well as 3 mammals (including Nilgai, 'Blue Bull', my first antelope). Four months in Europe was really quite anticlimactic, although I did see a lot of buildings and works of art.
So I was agog to get back to North-West India, with Bharatpur, coupled with the lure of Ranthambore and Corbett Parks, both known for Tiger, and the foothills of the winter Himalayas thrown in. I decided that I should visit Sri Lanka on the way home, and was delighted to find that the same expert, Paul Holt, was to lead a tour there immediately after the Indian one. More of Ceylon anon.
Flew to Singapore & on to Colombo (House Crow) & New Delhi. From the hotel roof I saw Black Kite, the usual Sparrow, Pigeon, Myna melange, Red-vented Bulbul, and long looks at Rose-ringed Parakeet (by far the commonest parrot in India-Ceylon). Then on to another hotel where I was to join the group and outside which I found my first new species, which after considerable reference to my two field guides I decided must be Hume's Leaf Warbler.
The group arrived late that night, and all were keen-to-obsessed birders &endash; one couple each "got" their 4000th bird on the trip. Our leader, originally from north of England (whence so many brilliant birders), specifically Lancashire, is a long-time lover of Asia. Great eyes and ears, good at ensuring that as many of his clients as possible see as much as possible, droll sense of humour.
Off to Ranthambore! Two afternoons and mornings in an open bus seeking the elusive tigers and stopping very often for birds and game. Besides many water birds, we caught up with plenty of bush birds including wonderful views of a covey of Jungle Bush-Quail* (* = new for me). Although my eyes aren't what they were, I managed to spot a Eurasian Thickknee* (very like our Bush Curlew) as we drove past. Our Hotel Tiger's Den was set in desert scrub, in which we found several species of Wheatears, Larks, Pipits and Shrikes. Overhead soared vultures of many kinds from small Egyptian to mighty Red-headed, but of the White-rumped, once by far the commonest in India, only one was seen &endash; a hormone fed to cattle is toxic apparently only to it; an estimated 95% of the population is gone.
Being winter, local species were augmented with numerous Palaearctic birds from the old Soviet States, China, and the high Himalayas. We also had lovely views of a Sloth Bear* (Barloo to old Jungle Book lovers) and a Leopard, besides Sambar, Spotted Deer, Black-faced Langur (Hanuman) and Rhesus Macaque (Bandar), Indian Gazelle* and Golden Jackal*, even Marsh Crocodile* (Mugger) but no Tigers.
Picture &endash; Peafowl Reflections: see <www.absa.asn.au/images/peafowl.jpg>
Back to Bharatpur and a wonderful new hotel catering especially to eco-tourists. A large, nearly-dry canal nearby yielded a eye-feast of ducks, waders, and storks, plus wagtails & others, a foretaste of Keoladeo next day. Motor vehicles are now forbidden inside, so we were taken to the core area by pedal-rickshaws. The great expanses of pond I recall are now seldom filled because of agricultural demands which must increase as the population of India grows, already surpassing China's. Many conservationists fear that Keoladeo is finished, but meanwhile the shallow waters, muddy edges and dry grassland support many species. We saw 7 species of Lapwings in one morning (Red-wattled, Yellow-wattled, Social, White-tailed*, River, Grey-headed, and visiting Northern), besides Indian Courser* (super bird!), along with several raptors (4 Aquila species for a start), pipits, & lots more. Bar-headed Geese* were plentiful, famous for flying >30,000' in transit over the Himalayas twice a year, along with the red-beaked eastern race of the Greylag (ancestor of most domestic stock). Common and Sarus Crane were there, but the magnificent Great White Siberian Crane come no more to Bharatpur, where in 1968 I counted 14 pairs, many with a young one. We fitted in a visit to a deepwater dam, where many species missing from Bharatpur were seen, including one of my all-time favourites, Red-headed Pochard (like a Hardhead by Ken Done), but were back at Keoladeo for the third day.
A mandatory visit to Agra and the Taj Mahal, still as splendid as I recall but thronged by vastly more visitors. Birds on the busy Jumana River behind it, included a male Ruff in almost full breeding dress, the first I've ever seen of many hundreds "undressed". A long bus-ride to the railway station for a novel (not entirely comfortable) overnight sleeper northwards, & another bus to the outskirts of Corbett Park, with its (entirely comfortable) Quality Inn. En route we spotted such gorgeous riverside birds as Plumbeous Water Restart (in which the males bright-rufous tail-flash is answered by the female's white) and White-capped Ditto. In the hotel grounds we found Grey-winged Blackbird* and an unexpected pair of clamorous Rufous Sivas*, refugees from heavy snow on the Himalayas. In the river below there were Brown Dipper*s (obligingly dipping), Spotted* and Little Forktails, and the hard-to-get Wallcreeper*, a male actively dealing with a large caterpillar and often showing his brilliant crimson wingflash.
Finally we got into Corbett NP, which yielded good mammals including Asiatic Elephant* (Hatthi) including a mighty tusker showing must-marks and checking out the dozen or so cows in our first herd. The accommodation was poor by standards elsewhere, but our only hope for Sheer Khan was to overnight inside the park and go out before sunup on elephant back. This we did, and success! Nice looks at a young male Tiger* who ran off but circled back to where we found him, so we found his breakfast, fresh wild boar. We left him to it, but just after sunrise saw a large female cross the river as we did, tracked her down in heavy bush &endash; I was within 10 metres of her at one point, glaring out at me from interlaced branches. Great stuff!
Picture: The team that showed us Tigers: see <www.absa.asn.au/images/tigerteam.jpg>
Of course there were many birds there as well, and I caught up at long last with Porcupine, & Muntjac as well. But it was then up into the Himalayan foothills, the crowded tourist city of Nainital. A short busride away we emerged onto a ridge at 2000m called Snow View, from which the Western Himalayas spread across the whole northern horizon, snow-capped and splendid, the Far Pavilions of romantic novel. In the centre Nanda Devi 7800m, the highest peak in India and in the former British Empire, although there are half a dozen taller in the Nepalese chain, and a couple more in the Karakorams to the west. The Nainital area was as kind to us as our others, amongst many others we found Lammergeir* 'Lamb-eagle' whose Latin name Ossifraga means 'bone-breaker', a more accurate description. Also Chestnut Thrush*, three Accentors*** (related to the English Hedge Sparrow, Altai, Rufous-breasted and Black-throated), two Rosefinches** (Common and Pink-Browed), Yellow-breasted Greenfinch*, and still more Woodpeckers (bringing my trip total to 13 NEW Picidae!)
The long bustrip back to New Delhi was enlivened by a guessing competition as to how many species we would see en route. I reckoned 92, and might have won had we not taken an unscheduled wetland stop where we added 11 species; in fact, with a second stop at the Ganges River (where active burning ghats lined the south bank), we logged 103 birds for the day, exactly as Paul had predicted.
That was officially the end of the tour, but the senior client, Arnie Weinberger MD, had booked an extra R&R day in Delhi, & Paul tried to organise a trip (which we intended to shout him) for the three of us to see the Sind Sparrow, a lifer for him. Unfortunately this plan failed, but Paul generously took us instead to Okla (RAMSAR site) on the Yumana River, another feast of birds. Of course we had seen most of them, but they were in numbers and often close, and with only 3 to use the scope Arnie and I had some memorable laid back birding, capped off with two extra lifers for me (White-tailed Stonechat* and a lovely male Red-headed Bunting*) and a third for Arnie (Streaked Grassbird &endash; I'd seen it in SE Asia, a relative of our Tawny and Little Dittoes).
That night Paul and I flew to Sri Lanka!!!
The American email network "BIRDBAND" prompted the following series of reports when someone wrote that:
"I saw something hanging from the net which did not appear to be a bird. As I got nearer, I found it to be a Bull Frog, about 25 cm in length (nose to end of feet). As we were conducting a field day for primary school students which included fish, mammals and birds, I thought our fish man might be able to use a frog in his demonstrations for the day. As I grabbed the frog, which did not appear to be tangled, it opened its mouth wide and dropped down revealing a Common Yellowthroat which it had completely hidden in its mouth. The frog had to have jumped at least 3 feet above the water level to grab the bird in the net."
"A (very small and light) boy scout on a night run to the head … screaming, but released shaken and unharmed, with minimal data taken."
"A horse (and rider)"
"I've had a dead Swainson's Thrush next to the Sharp-shinned (Hawk) that killed it, the hindquarters of a Chestnut-sided Warbler in the talons of the Sharp-shinned Hawk that was eating it, and a headless Blue Jay near the Sharp-shinned Hawk that killed it. The Blue Jay was banded at our station several weeks earlier as a presumed migrant."
"a black bear"
"A whole family of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers but they all got out!!
"A 5-foot timber rattlesnake at midnight, while checking Saw-whet Owl nets in the Pennsylvania mountains (a recent meal in the middle of its body prevented its from getting out), and a 4-foot-long Cottonmouth snagged across the head in a net on the Gulf Coast in Alabama."
"Also, a low-flying turkey vulture that slammed into my hawk nets on the Kittatinny Ridge in Pennsylvania, but ripped itself out before I had to remove it and risk the infamous projectile vomiting defense."
"Sealion, Zalophus californianus wollebacki (Isla Genovesa, Galápagos, while attempting to net mockingbirds and finches)"
"on several occasions I found crayfish in nets in Big Sur (presumably dropped by bewildered Red-shouldered Hawks), and once I came upon a neatly de-fleshed European Starling in a top trammel (perhaps discarded by a Sharp-shinned Hawk)."
"Reconstructed from circumstantial evidence, I had a Cooper's Hawk hit the net while bringing food to the nest. The hawk escaped and left the food so that when I checked the net all I found was a dead, plucked, decapitated Gambel's Quail in the net, looking like someone threw a Cornish Game Hen. No feathers in the area, just a dead plucked bird. Kinda creepy."
"I have had Bullfrog trying to eat Common Yellowthroat here in southern Michigan."
"I caught a southern leopard frog in the lower trammel while netting bats over a small creek."
"I discovered a 5-foot American Alligator tangled in the net. Upon removing the alligator from the net (very carefully...), I found that it had a grackle in its mouth."
"Once came up on a box turtle, with outstretched neck and cocked head, about to take a bite out of a black-throated blue warbler in the bottom trammel."
Barry Hutchins' booklet, "A Study of the Birds of Sandy Creek Conservation Park & the Old Barossa Gold-fields from 1966 to 1993" is now available. Barry, a well-regarded ornithologist, and co-author of "Australian Parrots a Field Guide and Aviary Study", has collated his many years of scientific observations and banding of birds in the area and the results provide a benchmark for monitoring and studying the birds of the region.
• Volunteers are wanted for the (re-scheduled) tree planting weekend in Cowra on September 17/18. At last, good rains in Cowra and the Cowra Woodland Birds Project's postponed tree planting is on!.
Please leave your name and contact details at BASNA Office.
Ph: (02) 9436 0388 Fax: (02) 9436 0466 Email: <rosella63 AT bigpond DOT com>
• Wanted: Two assistants for research on sex roles in Pheasant Coucal
I am looking for two experienced biologists to help with a study on the sex-roles of Pheasant Coucals, from Nov 2005 to Mar 2006 near Darwin. Food and accommodation with pool and air/con are provided, but unfortunately no stipend can be paid.
Successful applicants enjoy taking responsibility for their part of the project. Enthusiasm for field work is critical since even at 4:30 am the temperature is 320C with 95% humidity. Also you should not be more afraid than necessary of snakes, crocs and deadly spiders. The study area is close to some of the most amazing National Parks of Northern Australia (Kakadu, Litchfield) to visit on your days off. Applicants should have experience in finding nests and with mistnetting.
Only applications for a minimum of 2 months will be considered but assistants who can stay for the entire period are preferred. Please e-mail me why you want to volunteer in the project and include a short CV as well as the e-mails of 2 referees:
<golo DOT maurer AT anu DOT edu DOT au>
The Bird Banders of North East NSW have their web page back up and running, although there is a lot more to go onto it yet. One of the new projects is our undergraduate assistance program. We have been helping a number of students both in Australia and overseas.
Ever since my encounter with the rogue steer I have been keeping a weather eye on the local cattle. As over 90% of stork nests that I have documented are situated in areas where cattle grazing is the main land use it is only natural that I will come into contact with these animals regularly.
When checking out a stork nest site near Kempsey I was slushing through a muddy wetland, weighted down with spotting scope, binoculars, camera, tape measure, height meter and dictaphone, having just tiptoed around a very large Brahman bull in one paddock and a ver y solid Charolais bull in another, when we came face to face (almost!) with a cow and calf. Having visions of attempting to jump the fence with all of the valuable and delicate gear and being with someone whose fear of cattle was greater than mine we decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and retreated. She was probably only curious but the one thing worse than a charging bull is a charging protective mother cow.
At a banding weekend at Tullymorgan recently I was told that I could erect some mist nets over the fence in the next paddock. "Oh by the way there is a bull in there but he shouldn't be any problem". This was despite the fact that the bull had just put its owner in hospital with a few broken ribs. My nets stayed on the 'bull free' side of the fence.
A visit to the Gorge, on the Clarence River, where we were checking out a large dam where Black-necked Storks have been seen, brought us into contact with another large bull. We had made our way around the edge of the wetland when suddenly the bull decided to stake his claim on the paddock. Down went the head, up came the dust and we were in no doubt that he resented our intrusion. I didn't mind this display, but because I have a vivid imagination, and a good memory of the rogue steer, I didn't want to hang around to see what the next act entailed. I had visions of swimming fully clothed in the dam with my spotting scope!
What really worried me was that my companion, who had walked around Africa alone and seems to have no fear of animals said that he thought that, maybe, we should head back to the vehicle.
Members are reminded that we will only publish the Mist Net Service price List once a year, but it can be found in the last newsletter (No. 78), or on the web at <www.absa.asn.au> and click on Mist Net Service.
Remember that the Mist Net Service is now managed by Don and Jude Ripper. Contact details are:
C/- PO Box 36, Sale, Vic. 3850 <mistnets AT absa DOT asn DOT au> Ph. 03 5149 8385
Forest owl populations (in NSW) have suffered considerably due to extensive forest clearing and loss of old growth trees which provide hollows for them and their main prey species. Today, it is estimated that there are only 2000 pairs of Powerful Owls, 2000 pairs of Sooty Owls and 1500 pairs of Masked Owls in the state. Concern over the fate of these magnificent animals has lead to a draft recovery plan prepared by the NSW Department of Environment and Conservation. The focus of the recovery planning process is to improve the management and protection of forest owl habitat, produce maps of owl habitat, monitor their populations, and increase community awareness and support for the different species. To view the plan go to DEC's website at:
(Newsletter of the NSW Biodiversity Research Network Issue No. 16 June 2005)