last twelve months have been extraordinary with so many unusual movements
of birds brought about by two years of drought. In what seems like a
running theme with these Latest News updates, the district is probably
the driest it has been since 1967. We would need to go back to the early
1940s to find two similar dry years over such a large part of Australia.
Possibly we've seen a one in fifty year occurrence, assuming that it
will rain this year. Although we have recently had one good fall of
rain, the drought is far from over in the Riverina.
suspect the reason for so many unusual records is simply that this is
the first major drought since European settlement when there's been
a large numbers of birders scattered around Australia observing movements.
Nectar feeders were well and truly on the move in 2002 with no flowering
in the foothill forests or the inland. Evidence of this was an unprecedented
influx of musk lorikeets into the district during the autumn
and winter of that year. They were mostly feeding on exotic eucalypts
in town, with lesser numbers scattered around the district in eucalypt
plantations and farmhouses. They stayed about town in flocks of thirty
or so until October since then not one single bird has been seen.
A little lorikeet was also recorded with the musks during that
period. So all three species of small lorikeets were recorded during
2002. (There was a purple-crowned lorikeet seen earlier in the
year, see previous Update)
On 12 June 2002, a single adult rainbow lorikeet was seen feeding,
expertly, on the flowers of Eremophilia longifolia in my garden
and chasing away noisy friarbirds. Its behaviour gave me no reason
to think it other than a wild bird. This is the first definite record
of the species in the district.
white-fronted and yellow-plumed honeyeaters started showing
up in May and June from the foothill forests and further inland. The
fuscous and yellow-plumed hung around town til about September while
the white-fronteds were present in the district for most of winter,
spring and summer. The white-fronteds at first were feeding in exotic
eucalypt plantations and in flowering grey mistletoe Amyema quandong,
and then in January and February were feeding on slender-leaf mistletoe
Amyema linophyllum growing on bulloak Casuarina luehmannii
north-east of Deniliquin, and in the Boorooban area.
exceptional record in early January was a single male scarlet honeyeater,
again feeding in slender-leaf mistletoe north-east of Deniliquin. It
was seen on one occasion by Tom Wheller and Mark Sanders and Mark's
partner Alison. This is only the second record of which I'm aware, the
previous being a single bird recorded at Ulupna Island on the Murray
River (near Tocumwal) by Bill Labbitt at a similar time of year about
five years ago.
honeyeaters started showing up in late September and were recorded
regularly at various locations up until early January. My last record
was a single female in an Eremophilia longifolia in my garden,
staying three days in early February. Mostly the black honeyeaters fed
on E. longifolia in the district, although being so dry the eremophilias
didn't flower well. At times they also fed in exotic eucalypts, flowering
grey mistletoe and narrow leaf mistletoe. The males were doing their
breeding song in a paddock of bulloak for some weeks but breeding was
never confirmed. There have only been a couple of years in the last
twenty-five when they have bred in the district.
numbers of pied honeyeaters were also present in the district
over summer. The first birds started showing up mid to late September
in planted Eremophilia spp. in a homestead garden on the plains
north of Wanganella. By early November they were in significant numbers,
peaking at 20 birds in mid December in a small clump of E. longifolia
east of Deniliquin. Most had departed the district by late December.
When they first arrived in this clump they were feeding with the black
honeyeaters but as the pied honeyeaters' numbers increased, the
tiny black honeyeaters were relegated to the lower end of the honeyeater
pecking order. My last record of pied honeyeater was a flock of 10 birds
feeding on Ragodia spinescens berries in boree country south
of Wanganella on 21 February 2003. I suspect that these latter birds
were migrating back from whence they came as there had been some rain
in the inland about that time. Only a few pied honeyeaters had ever
been recorded in this district in the last twenty-five years and those
records also coincided with drought inland. Given the magnitude of the
present drought, I doubt that I will see pied honeyeaters in these numbers
in this district again in my lifetime.
first painted honeyeater for the season was recorded on 29 October
in boree Acacia pendula country east of town, a location I had
not recorded them previously. A few more turned up at two localities
east and north of town in late November and early December. The pair
north of town were incubating eggs on 9 December and successfully raised
young; however, this is the only pair that I'm aware of that actually
bred. More birds tuned up at the same spot, north of town, in January
but many of these were immatures, which presumedly had been bred further
north. About three or four pairs were present in roadside boree east
of town and although they were calling and chasing each other around
during December, I don't believe they bred here. They departed in early
February 2003 and the last sighting for the season was about six immatures
north of town on 24 March 2003. Overall, these are the highest numbers
of painted honeyeaters seen in the vicinity of Deniliquin for many years.
wattlebirds were also about the town in unprecedented numbers over
summer and autumn with 1520 seen around from December to March.
whistler were also on the move with an immature recorded in a roadside
plantation on the Conargo Road, 7 September 2002 my first record
for this side of town. Despite the drought at least two pairs managed
to breed successfully in Gulpa Island State Forest in October and November.
However, some of the other pairs in this area went missing and as the
summer became hotter and drier in January and February, the two pairs
that had bred became difficult to locate and at the time of writing
(8 May), they seem to have disappeared completely. Hopefully they will
return to their old haunts when the rains come.
of the things that amazed me most about the drought was the number of
species that successfully bred. Nearly all the passerines in the district
appeared to successfully raise young, although whether the young survived
the summer is another matter. And they probably only raised one brood
rather than the usual multiple clutches. Waterbirds were a complete
write-off with virtually nothing breeding anywhere in the Murray/Darling
system for the second year in a row.
Other species that did not breed included stubble quail, brown
songlark, singing bushlark, white-winged triller and
rufous songlark, with only a handful of the latter seen all summer.
Cuckoos have been scarce with just a few pallid and Horsfield's
bronze cuckoos seen over spring and summer; while a few black-eared
cuckoos moved through the district in September and January.
superb parrots bred quite well in Gulpa Island this season. On
21 December at least 100 adults and juveniles were feeding on lerp in
yellow box on a travelling stock route (TSR) south-east of Deniliquin.
The importance of remnant vegetation on the TSRs was highlighted yet
again with the Hill Plain TSR near Gulpa sustaining a good proportion
of the breeding population of superbs through the spring. The birds
were feeding on the seeds of bottle fissure weed Mairearna excavata
growing in an area of open plain. After breeding, at least some of the
superbs headed for the boree country north of Pretty Pine (again a TSR)
where they fed on grey mistletoe fruits, Ragodia spinescens fruits
and buckbush Salsola kali seeds and creeping saltbush Atriplex
semibaccata fruits. It was gratifying to see superbs feeding on
green Acacia acinacea seed pods late November in an area of State
Forest (SF) that has been replanted (since 1996) with local native plants
to the hot, dry conditions, about fifty adult and juvenile superbs came
to drink at a water trough at a farm gate south-east of town in early
January. This species rarely drinks as it usually obtains its moisture
requirements from its food supply.
parrots were late heading south last spring with pairs sighted east
of town in late October. There were quite a few sightings on their return
to the Wanganella plains during March, April and May this year.
first sighting of swift parrot in this district for many years
was on 20 September with a flock of about 15 in a plantation of exotic
eucalypts east of town, however they only stayed a couple of days.
in September, I had my first sighting of mallee ringneck south
of Billabong Creek a single bird seen in yellow box Eucalytus
melliodora country on the Conargo Road. A population once existed
in the Mayrung, Blighty and Tuppal areas but these have died out with
the last sighting in the Tuppal area in the 1980s. The closest surviving
population to Deniliquin is north of Billabong Creek in the pine ridges
and boree country between Boorooban and Steam Plains.
drought produced some huge feeding congregations of long-billed corellas
with an estimated 10,000 birds feeding on small-flowered onion gass
Romulea minutiflora north of Pretty Pine on 14 September.
They were spread over several kilometres and looked like milk spilt
across the plains.
first sighting of square-tailed kite in the district for over
10 years occurred 28 October in the Gulpa Island SF; it was only seen
on the one occasion.
With the drought forcing them in off the plains, black falcons
have been prevalent over summer at the rubbish tip and around the town
and the irrigation country east of town. On two occasions in August
and September they were seen pirating mice from little ravens and black
kites. The ravens and kites were catching mice from around farm machinery
have been scarce over spring and summer with the first two Australasians
seen on 13 August. A few were seen sporadically over the next few months
but with all the swamps dry and virtually no rice crops they had no
where to feed. After doing it so tough over last summer, it will be
interesting to see what sort of numbers are around next season. Little
bitterns were also scarce with a couple recorded east of town on
28 November. At least one of these birds, an immature, hung around most
of the summer, being last recorded on 9 February.
ducks were about in good numbers over spring/summer with up to 18
on a pond in the Blighty area from August until November when the pond
dried up. A maximum of 25 was present on the Deniliquin sewage treatment
works (STW) on 14 January, the highest ever recorded at that locality.
and February saw my first records in over 20 years of red-necked
avocet in the Wanganella area and in a couple of irrigation swamps
east of town, again testament to the impact of the drought.
wood sandpipers seen east of Deniliquin on 7 March were my first
records for several years, while a curlew sandpiper was recorded
at the same locality on 15 February and was my first record of this
species east of Deniliquin.
whistle-ducks continue to be scarce, with just two records over
summer a single bird seen at the Finley lake on 1 October and
four birds on a water storage east of Deniliquin on 15 February.
5 May this year 20 brolgas were recorded near 8 Mile Creek in
the Wanganella area. This great sighting was by far the most I have
ever seen in the district. Presumedly these birds came from the north
as there's been over 100 seen near Leeton recently. Usually there is
just a pair that hangs out near Wanganella during the winter months,
sometimes staying around to make an attempt to nest in the spring.
swamp at Wanganella also produced a few waders over summer with a pectoral
and a curlew sandpiper on 18 December and a red-capped plover
on 21 January again all first records for the area in 20 years.
on the move over summer were white-breasted sea-eagles, which
were seen on several occasions around Deniliquin; an immature seen regularly
at Wanganella swamps; and another seen near Boorooban on the Hay Plain.
large area of box woodland west of Pretty Pine sustained a good population
of painted button-quail through the drought. At least two adult
males with chicks were seen in December and January. This area, as far
as I know, had the only colony of white-browed woodswallows that
bred in the district over summer. A memorable sighting in this area
was 21 white-backed swallows coming in to roost in their nest
holes in a disused gravel pit at dusk on 29 January.
Although large numbers of waders were present on the basin over summer
and into autumn, no rarities were recorded. Notable were the large concentrations
of red-necked avocets with over 1000 present for most of the
summer. Adding to the spectacle were several hundred banded stilts,
sometimes feeding with the avocets. In early March a few double-banded
dotterels began to arrive, which is a regular occurrence most years.
Over a 1000 red-necked stints were also present in early March.
country north of Wanganella
This past spring ad summer produced the largest influx of orange
chats to have occurred for at least 25 years. They started showing
up in good numbers in late September with flocks of 20 to 30 birds being
encountered in paddocks containing good stands of cottonbush Maireana
aphylla or similar vegetation. At least some of these birds bred
in the area. They stayed around well into summer although there was
considerable movement within the district. In the heatwave conditions
in January, many took refuge around the swamps, south of Wanganella.
During February they really started moving and a small flock was seen
east of Deniliquin, my first ever on that side of town. There was some
thunderstorm activity in the inland during February and they appear
to have departed the area at that time; my last record being 16 February.
At the peak of the irruption birds were recorded at Jerilderie, Tullakool
and Noorong indicating how widespread they were in the district.
dotterels have now been in the Wanganella district for at least
three years without a break an unprecedented occurrence in my
experience. They reached the peak of their numbers this season in the
Wanganella area in August with around 50 birds seen in two paddocks.
After that they were widespread in smaller numbers and moved about quite
a bit as the plains became barer and more suitable for them. They bred
early due to the dry conditions with birds on eggs in early August and
continued breeding through September and October and into November with
nests or young seen on several occasions.
the banded lapwings bred early as is their way, with around 10
nests seen on 18 August. Thereafter, they were around in big flocks
all through summer until thunderstorm rains to the north dispersed them
in late February. Since then they have become scarce with just a few
pairs remaining in the district. Because they had so much bare country
in which to disperse, the huge flocks seen over the previous two summers
pratincoles were on the plains in good numbers. The first birds
returned in late September and they nested almost immediately with eggs
seen early October. At least six pairs bred successfully. For the same
reason as given for the banded lapwings, the pratincoles' numbers, were
down on the previous two years. They departed much earlier than usual,
presumedly because they nested much earlier. The last birds were seen
on 3 January when usually they stay well into February.
plains-wanderers have been doing it tough over summer with large
areas of the riverine plain becoming too bare for them. Still, they
are resilient and some at least have moved to paddocks that have some
grass cover paddocks that normally are a bit dense for them.
They also managed to breed in some of these paddocks that had slightly
more rain. A mating pair was seen during the day in cottonbush country
on 4 October. It is a rare event to actually see this species during
the day even though it is diurnal. They are a little less wary at mating
time. An adult male with one large chick was seen on 9 December and
quite a few immatures were seen around this time. These were probably
the result of breeding events back in August/September. Surprisingly,
an adult male was found with small chicks on 12 April, which must have
nested after rain in mid March. They had become scarce in March and
April so it was good to find one breeding. It will be interesting to
see how quickly they can build up their numbers and recolonise old haunts,
which at present are way too bare for them. It is pure conjecture but
I imagine that numbers are probably as low at the moment as they have
been since the 1967 drought and perhaps even the great droughts of the
early 1940s. I can see some long nights coming up in the next 12 months!
sighting of spotted nightjar at dusk on 9 December was the first
I have seen personally on the riverine plain for around 20 years. There
was at least one other sighting in the Boorooban area over summer and
I located a few feathers of what must have been this species on a sandhill
on the Conargo Rd in late summer.
least one group of ground cuckoo-shrike frequented the plains
north of Wanganella over summer. However, as far as we know they did
not breed. As they were very mobile and covered a huge area it made
it difficult to pin them down. A couple of groups were seen in irrigation
country east of town in the autumn but they did not stay long.
arrival of six or so letter-wing kites in November was a welcome
addition to the local avifauna. They stayed for most of November but
started moving about in December and January with one reappearing occasionally.
Then in late February we relocated a pair that seemed to have settled
in. They have since been joined by a third bird and were still present
on 5 May. As there is very few house mice in the area at the moment,
it is presumed that they are living mainly on fat-tailed dunnarts
Sminthopsis crassicaudata of which there is a good population
on the plains at present. Apart from a single bird seen in 2000, these
are the first letter-wings to frequent the riverine plain since the
19931994 mouse plague.
With the plains being so bare and long hours spent spotlighting for
plains-wanderers, it was on the cards that one of our tiniest marsupials
would be recorded. A planigale was seen on two occasions
in March and April, most probably narrow-nosed planigale Planigale tenuirostris.
aforementioned fat-tailed dunnarts were about in good numbers
over summer with 1015 seen in a night on several occasions.
snakes Suta suta were also seen on quite a few occasions,
again due to the bare nature of the plains over summer.
Latest News 2001-2002