Latest News

from the Denililquin area

June 2001 - June 2002

Unusual climatic conditions over the past twelve months had a major influence over bird movements in the Deniliquin district and much of the inland. Last year was very dry – probably for some areas at least the driest since 1982. So far this year the drought has continued with no relief in sight. The summer was the coolest I can remember, again, having unexpected effects on the birdlife.


Over the past spring and summer waterbirds were desperate to find feeding areas, let alone breed. The first waterbirds to show up were Black-tailed Native-hens which started to appear in large flocks of several hundred in September—October 2001. There was some dispersal after a few local thunderstorms in February/March 2002 but they have again congregated, waiting for a big rainfall somewhere in the interior. Red-kneed Dotterels have also been around in numbers, hanging out on any suitable patch of water.

There were exceptional numbers of herons, egrets and spoonbills feeding in flooded rice fields in the spring and summer. On several occasions flocks of 30–40 Royal Spoonbills were encountered, with similar size flocks of Yellow-billed around as well. There were also big numbers of White-necked Herons and Great Egrets feeding in rice fields, and exceptional numbers of Intermediate Egrets, with up to 20 birds seen feeding in crops on two occasions. Quite a few solitary Little Egrets were seen feeding in rice fields, probably the most I can recall in the district.

In wet years the waterbirds pretty much ignore the rice fields and in drier years will feed on them for a few weeks until the rice starts to grow and covers the open water. However, they stayed in them through most of the summer, feeding in the drains around the edges or nearby channels, illustrating how desperate they were for food.

There were also big flocks of Straw-necked Ibis around in the autumn, feeding on crickets flooded out of irrigated fields. On one occasion I saw a Black and a Peregrine Falcon hanging around the same field – the Black, and possibly also the Peregrine, seemed to be catching crickets. Many of the waterbirds appear to have now dispersed, presumedly back to northern Australia, having failed to breed in the south.

The dry conditions and cool summer also had a major effect on the Australasian Bitterns. They turned up in good numbers quite early, arriving in late winter 2001 – eight birds were flushed from a refuge area on 17 August. They continued to hang out there in varying numbers right through to mid-November. Normally they would move out to the rice fields to breed sooner than that but because it had been so cool the rice had not grown tall enough to give them some cover. A few pairs were seen in rice crops in December and January but little booming was heard other than on the odd hot day – another cool front would come through and they’d go quiet again. Because there was so little calling, I suspect they failed to breed this past summer. The water temperature needs to be high to stimulate breeding and for this species to successfully rear young.

The past summer was dismal for Black-backed (Little) Bitterns in the district with only one bird seen on 14 November at a water storage dam east of town. Not one call was heard all summer. Also subject to the inordinately dry and cool conditions, this species completely failed to breed in the district. The records around Sydney and elsewhere along the coast over summer would indicate that few came inland this season.

A colony of about 20 pairs of Great Egrets, feeding primarily in rice fields, started nesting at their colony site in Deniliquin over summer. However, they too abandoned their nests part way through the breeding cycle, most likely because their food supply was inadequate.

On a more positive note, droughts have their upside, at least for visiting birders. Crakes were easy to see over summer with the drought confining them to small refuge areas in old water-filled quarries. Aust. Spotted, Spotless and Baillon’s were on tap for most of the summer, often all in the one area. The Baillon’s came in quite early with the first seen on 25 August. They were then seen continuously at several localities up until early January when they disappeared, possibly into the rice crops or perhaps even further afield towards the coast.

Some crakes managed to breed despite the dry conditions. On the 23 December, a pair of Spotless Crakes with one well-grown young was recorded at Forest Creek, Wanganella. While I have long known that the species breeds in the area, this was, I think, the first time I have seen young – such is the secretive nature of this species.

Freckled Duck were in good supply over summer with the first three seen in early December at a small freshwater swamp east of Deniliquin. Numbers built up to 21 by 21 January and 10 birds were still present on 18 March – marking the longest period this species has stayed at this locality in more than twenty years. Some of the males were quite red at the base of the bill (indicating breeding condition) during this period even though the swamp was probably not suitable for breeding and as far as I know none occurred. Low numbers of this species were also recorded at the Tullakool Evaporative Basin during December and a few at the Deniliquin STW.

Plumed Whistle-ducks appear to have been lost from the district in the last couple of years; certainly none were seen over the last summer, In the late 70s and early 80s there were flocks of up to 2000 present east of Deniliquin. This species, being slow flying, is vulnerable to being shot on rice crops.

A pair of Great-crested Grebes on the lake at Finley on 28 January was my first record of that species at that locality. This is also a good spot to see the native water rat.

Further east near Savernake, over 50 Superb Parrots were feeding near the roadside on 28 January. The remnant box/pine woodland on Savernake Station is an important feeding area for Superb Parrots in the non-breeding season. Just how important was brought home to me recently when I had a birdseye view of the area from 30,000 feet – the woodland was clearly visible as an island in a sea of cleared wheatfields.

With the plains country being so dry Black Falcons have been sighted over spring/summer in the irrigation country where there are a few more ground birds, such as Stubble Quail. Up to six Black Falcons were seen at some stubble fires in September and October.

Dry conditions have made cuckoos scarce over the past season. There has only been an odd immature Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo and a few Pallid around over summer with more Pallids turning up in the late summer and autumn.

As evidence of how dry it is inland, small flocks of Budgerigars started turning up in mid-April; this species is normally a spring/summer migrant. Most have now moved further south but there are still a few about out on the plains. Flocks of Cockatiels also turned up at the same time. At the time of writing there were large numbers still present north of Jerilderie where there had been good thunderstorms over summer.

Red-backed Kingfishers have again been scarce throughout the district. Even in the Victorian mallee their numbers were very low.

Painted Honeyeaters made a welcome appearance in a strip of roadside boree in the irrigation country this season. They were first recorded on 28 December, with a maximum of four on 6 January. They were not seen after 12 January so it’s doubtful that they bred. This is my first record on the east side of Deniliquin.

A White-fronted Honeyeater also made a brief appearance in the same patch of boree on 16 April feeding on flowering mistletoe. This is the first record for this species near Deniliquin for about 15 years.

Black Honeyeaters were also quite scarce this past season. An adult male was seen in a plantation of flowering eucalypts on 20 September and again on 2 October. Another small group turned up at a patch of flowering emu-bush in November and stayed for about a month.

The dry conditions attracted quite a few Ground Cuckoo-shrikes. This species likes the ground bare and thrives in droughts. More were seen in the past season than anytime in the last 15 years. There was even a pair nesting on the Hay Road TSR in the same area the species last nested in the 1980s. It was pleasing to see three adults successfully raise two young. Witnessed a confrontation between two groups of Ground Cuckoo-shrikes on 12 March when quite a spectacular dogfight ensued. Quite a few still about on 23 May.

Summer migrants such as White-winged Triller, Rufous Songlark and Masked and White-browed Woodswallows were also fairly scarce this season. Surprisingly a few trillers and songlarks bred, primarily along roadsides out on the eastern side of town. Large migrating flocks of woodswallows were moving through the area in late October. A small group of White-browed, and the odd Masked, settled down to breed in the river redgum forest south of Deniliquin in December — and were successful. This is the only breeding locality that I know of in the district.


Conditions in the Gulpa Island State Forest weren’t too bad in the spring and early summer with most passerines successfully rearing young – which illustrates how well adapted our birds are to dry conditions.

Hooded Robins and Gilbert’s Whistlers both successfully bred in October and November (three pairs of Hooded and two pairs of Gilbert's). After the Gilbert’s had finished breeding towards the end of December, and with conditions very dry, they dispersed and became difficult to find.

The first Rainbow Bee-eaters were seen on 21 September. Although numbers of this species were down in the district, quite a few pairs managed to breed in the Gulpa sandhills.

The already mentioned White-browed Woodswallows were a welcome addition to the forest in November/December with several groups successfully breeding in December.

All the regulars like Diamond Firetail and Red-capped Robins successfully bred in October / November. Superb Parrots, however, did not fare so well; quite a few pairs attempted to breed but very few young were raised. I suspect the food supply was not adequate for them to raise young, which is worrying given they have failed to breed on several occasions in the last five years. On 18 October three adult males were seen drinking from a puddle – unusual as they rarely drink. It is likely that there was not enough moisture in their food source this year to satisfy their moisture requirements.

The importance of native groundflora in their diet in a dry year was reinforced on 10 December when about 15 Superb Parrots were feeding on ruby saltbush Enchylaena tomentosa berries at Gulpa TSR and on 18 March about 20 were feeding on Einadia nutans berries in the Tuppal Creek area. They left the forest immediately after breeding as they have done the last couple of years and started to show up in the boree country north of Pretty Pine. The first group was seen there on 18 December, the earliest I have seen them in that area. They were feeding mostly in the grey mistletoe Amyema guandong in the boree, although on one memorable occasion 25 mainly adult males were seen feeding on the berries of a single dillon bush Nitraria billardiera. I have not ever seen Superb Parrots feeding on this species before although I have seen Major Mitchells feeding on dillon bush berries north of Moulamein. It is also popular with Emus. The Superb Parrots stayed in that general area all of summer and autumn and were still out there on 23 May.

In March, my sister, Susan, had a lone male adult Superb Parrot turn up at her homestead not far from the boree country. It was in poor condition and I expected the bird to die. However, after feeding on ruby saltbush berries, which there is a plentiful supply around Susan’s house, the bird recovered and stayed for about a month. It departed when a small group of Superb Parrots came through towards the end of March. This is the second record for Susan's farm in 15 years.

However, I digress – back to the river redgum forest!

An immature male Golden Whistler appeared to be trying to set up a breeding territory in thick dwarf cherry in Gulpa Island on 26 October; however, it had disappeared by my next visit. This species is only a winter visitor to the district with most gone back to the mountain forests by late September. Possibly the unusual conditions threw its internal clock out of kilter.

A few Brown Quail were still about (at the time of writing) with records over summer east of town; in the Wanganella area; and in the redgum forest. I saw my first ever nest on 10 December – a nest under a clump of horehound I had bent down to pull out! I was going to pull out another horehound plant (one of my least favourite weeds) about 10 metres away from the nest when a large Eastern Brown Snake was noted underneath it. So I’m not sure if the nest was successful. The horehound flourishes. The nest site was in grey box woodland on the Gulpa TSR, a fairly unlikely locality although not too far from river redgum.

A few winter migrants have been on the move lately with Olive-backed Oriole seen in May and a flock of 14 Flame Robins on 9 May, both on the edge of the redgum forest.

A pair of Little Eagles was back on the Gulpa sandhills over summer. The species has become quite scarce in the district since the demise of rabbits following the introduction of the calicivirus.


There has been a huge irruption of Black Kites in the district, probably originating from the inland. In excess of 200 birds were present at the Deniliquin tip on 24 May – the largest number I’ve ever recorded in the district.

Peregrine Falcons continue to make a comeback in the district with regular sightings around town and elsewhere. There are quite a few pairs nesting along the Edward River each year. Given that they had almost completely disappeared from the entire district in the 1980s, their resurgence is extraordinary.

A Pectoral Sandpiper at the Deniliquin truck wash on 22 March was the first record for the town area.

Major invasions of Musk Lorikeets have been occurring in the district since March with regular sightings around town and also well out to the north around Billabong Creek and beyond – and showing no signs of departing yet. There are also a few smaller lorikeets with these flocks and a pair of Purple-crowned Lorikeets was recorded, perched, in town on 19 May – I think this is the first confirmed record for the town area. The ironbark country in Victoria is very dry at present which will be the reason for the Purple-crowns’ presence in our area. Musk Lorikeets usually occur for a week or two during the summer.

A sighting on 31 December in the Deniliquin State Forest of an adult male Painted Button-quail with four chicks was a first confirmed breeding record for the town.

Diamond Doves have been particularly scarce in the summer and autumn with none seen in the regular breeding areas on the Gulpa sandhills. The only pair seen in the district over summer was a pair in black box and redgum in the Deniliquin forest – the first record for this locality to my knowledge. The pair did not appear to breed successfully.

Swifts have been few this season with just a couple of sightings of Folk-tailed Swifts over the town in March.

Aust. Spotted Crakes were also seen at the truck wash in April, the first seen here for many years.

During April and May there has also been an invasion of Red Wattlebirds into the town with sightings of up to five birds. A pair or two have been in the town continuously for about three years.

Fuscous Honeyeaters have also been about town, with the first sighting on 28 April and a few sightings since including one along Billabong Creek at Wanganella on 5 May.

A flock of about 20 Apostlebirds at the Deniliquin saleyards on 22 March was an unexpected sight. I’ve never seen a flock of this size in the district and I suspect these birds came from much further afield – possibly along the Edward River – somewhere from the west. Regrettably, they had disappeared the next day.

Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters have also been on the move with a sighting in town in river redgum on 19 May. This was followed by another sighting in boree country on my sister’s farm on 2 June. This one was feeding in flowering grey mistletoe on boree Acacia pendula.


Nothing too exciting to report at the evaporative basin last season. In early October there were big flocks of Whiskered Terns moving about with about 1000 feeding over one rice crop near the evaporative basin on 7 October. On 26 October there were about 2000 on the evaporative basin. During October there were also about 20 Gull-billed Terns hanging around; however, they made no attempt at breeding.

Also on 26 October, an adult Double-banded Dotterel in full breeding plumage with one foot missing was seen. This is the first time I have seen this species at this locality in October – even with a full complement of feet.

Large numbers of Banded Stilts and Red-necked Avocets were in attendance over summer with about 1000 of each present in December and January. About 800 Marsh Sandpipers were also there in December.

An adult Peregrine Falcon was seen to take a Grey Teal on 22 December – always a spectacular sight.

I believe a Long-toed Stint was also seen at the basin in late summer, a species often seen there at that time of year.

Up to 10 Freckled Ducks were seen in December and January.

A few Aust. Spotted Crakes were also feeding around the evaporative basin in spring/summer. Rarely have I seen them there previously.


The plains north of Wanganella are probably the barest they have been since 1982—1983. This has favoured some species and not others.

Emus raised few, if any, young last year. Near the end of summer they came together and flocks of 30–40 birds were seen.

Towards the end of last winter large numbers of Stubble Quails were present, even though there wasn’t much cover around. However, with dry conditions prevailing, most had vacated the plain by late October. This remained the case right through the summer and into autumn. It is only in the last month or so (May 02) that low numbers have started to appear on the plains again.

Black Falcons have been fairly scarce out on the plains this past season, no doubt due to the lack of ground birds such as Brown Songlark and Stubble Quail. Despite the lack of prey at least one pair of Black Falcons raised young north of Wanganella in September.

Little and Red-chested Button-quail have been scarce over summer with just a few Little Button-quail seen, mainly in paddocks with some cover of cottonbush. A couple of Red-chested were seen, which is surprisingly given the dryness of the area. Both species managed to successfully breed with juvenile young of both recorded.

Plains-wanderers have also been fairly scarce this past season, due again to the bare condition of the plains. However, despite this they managed to breed successfully and four nests were seen – which is a record. Also, two clutches of small young were seen and several immatures. September and early October were bleak and there was no breeding success during that period. A fall of 25 mm of rain on 14 October was timely and they were mating a week later. Young were successfully raised from this rainfall event and a few adults also bred in January. Things went quiet for a while until another thunderstorm in late February really got them going. Three nests were seen in one paddock over an eight-day period and I suspect they all went down on eggs within days of each other —which demonstrates their ability to take advantage of opportune rainfall in dry years. There have been more thunderstorms since then, so Plains-wanderers have finished the season on a brighter note than they started on.

The dry conditions have suited Inland Dotterels just fine and they bred in at least three paddocks. They started breeding in early August and bred right through to April (adult on nest 15 April): in total, two nests and six clutches of young of varying size were seen during that period. They were more spread out this season because they had more suitable habitat from which to choose. The largest flock was 15 birds in March. On 23 April five dotterels were seen eating the fresh tips of bush minuria Minuria cunninghamii that had sprung up after thunderstorm rains.

A pair of Bush Stone-Curlew was seen in black box woodland near Booroorban in December and again in January. These were my first records for the district for three or four years. This species is seldom successful in raising young due to predation by foxes and is gradually being extirpated from the district.

Banded Lapwings were also about in good numbers with flocks of many hundreds present from October through to February; then numbers were variable during the autumn. Some breeding took place in September and the odd nest was seen in November but generally the conditions were a bit dry for this species and it did not breed well. Unlike the Dotterel and Plains-wanderer, this species seldom breeds outside the early spring period and rarely breeds after summer thunderstorms. Most of the big flocks came in from outside the area, probably from the plains north of the Murrumbidgee.

Exceptional numbers of Australian Pratincoles were also recorded this past summer; the most I have seen in over 20 years of observations. The first birds appeared in early October with at least 14 birds seen on 25 October. The first nest was seen on that date and up until they departed the area in March, a total of three nests were seen and four clutches of young in four different paddocks. Most of the breeding took place in November and December with one clutch of eggs seen on 1 January. They appeared to breed very successfully. About 30 mainly immature birds were seen on 13 January and the last sighting was of 15 immatures on 23 February.

The most exciting find out on the plains was a pair of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos that turned up at a box clump north of Wanganella on 22 April. They only stayed for a day but have been sighted since in the Booroorban area. As far as I know this is the first confirmed record for the Riverine Plain. However, just very recently (31 May) I’ve heard of another record of a single bird south of Carrathool in a similar situation. Presumedly they are coming in from the Darling River area, where it must be very dry.

A few Major Mitchell Cockatoos were seen in April and May at a sandhill near Wanganella where there is a small resident population. About 15 birds were seen on 3 January feeding on dillon bush berries and hopbush seed north of Moulamein.

A few Blue-winged Parrots started coming through in April. During May a flock of 50 was seen feeding around a rice crop; that is the largest flock I’ve ever heard of in this district; and on 23 May another six were seen flying over south of Wanganella.

A flock of Buff-rumped Thornbills was seen along the Billabong Creek at Wanganella on 5 May, which is the furthest west I have recorded this species on the Billabong — previously only having recorded them in the Conargo area. On the same day both the Yellow-rumped and Spotted forms of Spotted Pardalote were recorded.

A natural hybrid Mallee Ringneck/Yellow Rosella cross was seen along the Outfall drain at Booroorban in December. Yellow Rosellas did not occur in this area prior to the creek having permanent water in it (1970s +). The two species would not have come into contact with each other until recent years. This is the second natural hybrid I have seen of these two species; the other was north of Jerilderie.

Painted Honeyeaters returned to the boree country south of Wanganella. The first call was heard on 23 December and a pair was nest-building on 30 December. Another nest with eggs was seen on 31 January. By March all the adults appeared to have departed and the last immatures were seen in late March.

A small colony of Orange Chats bred out on the plains over summer. When first located in early October a pair was feeding young in a nest. They resided in a large paddock (about 2000 hectares) of quite dense cottonbush Maireana aphylla, and at times up to 15 birds were present. I think that at least three pairs nested in this area. The species has become scarce south of the Murrumbidgee in the last 20 years — since the big dieback of bladder saltbush in the early 1980s. It is not clear if these birds are a transient or resident population. They were seen regularly through the summer but became hard to find after breeding had finished in March. There was some movement of Orange Chats over summer, illustrated by a record near Swan Hill where I have not recorded them for some years.

With no apparent effort a Wedge-tailed Eagle was seen to catch a small kangaroo on the plains on 6 November. This is the second occasion I have seen Wedgies take kangaroos — both since the introduction of the rabbit calicivirus. On the previous occasion two Wedge-tails killed quite a large kangaroo. On another occasion over summer two Wedge-tails were seen in hot pursuit of a White-necked Heron — which only just managed to elude them.

Spotted Harrier records have been scant over summer with only a handful of sightings. Strangely, a few turned up in April and May when they usually depart the area — such is the strange nature of the seasons at present.


With the ground being so bare out on the plains Fat-tailed Dunnarts Sminthopsis crassicaudata have been obvious; about 15 were seen on 7 November and about the same number on 15 April. On the latter occasion they had been flooded out of the ground by a heavy thunderstorm and a European Fox was using that happening to his advantage.

A Narrow-nosed Planigale Planigale tenuirostris was also seen on 7 November. This is only the second time I have observed this species in the wild in 20 years of spotlighting. On both occasions it’s been during drought when the plains were very bare. It would be nearly impossible to see this tiny creature at other times.


On two occasions after thunderstorms over summer and autumn the burrowing frogs have appeared briefly. On 21 January a few of the extremely cute spadefoot frog Neobatrachus sudelli and some giant banjo frogs Limnodynastes interioris – a very impressive beast – came to the surface. After a heavier storm on 15 April at least 15 spadefoot were seen and six or so giant banjos. However, the water disappeared within days so there was no opportunity for these species to successfully breed.

June 03 - January 04

2002-2003 Summer 2000-2001 | Spring 2000