December 2000

Philip N Maher

In contrast to the country only a few hundred kilometres to the north, Deniliquin experienced dry conditions for most of the winter and early spring. However, things changed in late October when the skies opened and six to eight inches of rain fell over a period of four weeks. I was in New Zealand for that whole period and since returning barely a drop of rain has fallen. Perhaps I need to go away again!

The Redgum Forests

The rain had a dramatic effect on the birds — it is as though we have had two springs! Everything is breeding like crazy with many of the smaller passerines nesting two and possibly three times. The Gulpa Island Forest is alive, species such as Red-capped Robins and Rufous Whistlers are breeding in numbers not seen for more than ten years. At least two pairs of Hooded Robins have successfully raised young. There are four pairs of Gilbert’s Whistlers in the Gulpa and at least two pairs are feeding young at present. Crested Shrike-tits are calling everywhere and a female Painted Button-quail was calling there on the 24th November. A group of Painted Button-quail has been seen at the same locality on several occasions since that date.

Cuckoos are in good numbers in the Gulpa: Pallid, Fantail and Shining-Bronze are probably breeding, which, if they are, is rare — mostly they just pass through in the spring and autumn. Only on a handful of occasions (over a period of twenty years) have I recorded these species breeding in the district, with the Pallid less likely than the other two cuckoos to breed here. Note: since writing the above I have seen a juvenile Pallid Cuckoo being fed by a Jacky Winter (29 Dec 00).

Tawny Frogmouths are also breeding in the district with three active nests located this year.

Musk Lorikeets are about the town, as they often are around Christmas, and I have seen smaller lorikeets around Gulpa that I suspect are Purple-crowned.

Diamond Firetails are breeding well in Gulpa. Clutches of juveniles have been seen, as well as adult males doing their delightful breeding dance with a large spray of grass seed head in their bills.

Superb Parrots experienced a bad start to the breeding season and it seemed for a while that they were not going to breed at all. In early October I started to see a few flocks of males and a few flocks of immature non-breeding males with them. So far, I have seen one clutch of flying young in Gulpa. For the second consecutive year the adults have changed their usual feeding pattern and left the forest immediately after breeding. This may be because the Exocarpus has not fruited well over the last two summers. The fruit of this species is an important food source for the recently fledged young.
Note: since writing the above I have located (28 Dec 00) good numbers of Superb Parrots (including juveniles) feeding on lerp, to the east of Gulpa forest — lerp is thick on Yellow Box in that area.

Perhaps the most exciting occurrence in the redgum forests this year are the colonies of waterbirds returning to breed after a long absence. We have had a couple of fairly late floods through the forests; they were not particularly high floods but came at just the right time to stimulate breeding. The forests have been pretty much dry since 1996 and all the swamps have had a good dry out; consequently, the forests have exploded with waterbirds with the arrival of fresh floodwater.

In Moira Forest alone, there are over 1500 pairs of Nankeen Night-herons nesting, over 300 pairs of Great Egrets, and fantastically, over 100 pairs of Intermediate Egrets. This latter species was formerly the most numerous breeding egret species in the forests with colonies of several thousand pairs breeding up to the 1970s in the Barmah/Millawa forests. This year’s breeding has been the first since the late 1980s. Also in their hundreds are Great, Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants, smaller colonies of Darters, and over a hundred pairs of Royal Spoonbills and White-necked Herons.

Across the Murray River in Barmah Forest, more than 5000 pairs of Straw-necked Ibis are nesting. Australasian Bitterns have also been heard booming in swamps on both sides of the river — possibly the best numbers since the 70s or 80s. Time will tell if the water will stay up long enough for the birds to breed successfully. Also Little Bitterns have bred successfully, juvenile young seen on 30 December.

The Plains
Conditions out on the plains, north of town, are excellent as well. Pied Honeyeater is probably the most unusual species recorded. An immature bird was present for several weeks in late November - early December on an Eremophila-covered sandhill near Wanganella. An adult male, on a nearby sandhill, was reported in the same timeframe. These are my second records of this species in over twenty years birding in the district. The first record was in the drought year of 1982. Oddly enough, there have been no records of Black Honeyeaters in the district this year; perhaps conditions are too good further north.

The first Painted Honeyeater turned up at the boree country south of Wanganella on the 4th December. So far, I have only seen a very restless male. This species disappeared from this area in the early 1990s and was recorded back here for the first time last year, albeit, only a couple of pairs and at different localities than the species had inhabited previously. Why they disappeared is unclear as the habitat seemed in reasonable condition; however, there had been an increase in the number of Noisy Miners which may account for it..

Over fifty pairs of Glossy Ibis are nesting in a colony of around 5000 pairs of Straw-necked Ibis in the swamps south of Wanganella. How successful they will be is anyone’s guess. The water authority have dropped the water levels dramatically in the last few weeks. More water is being sent (after I complained) but it will take time to get to Wanganella. This is the first nesting of Glossies here since 1990. Australasian Bitterns were booming at this locality in early December, the first I have heard since the early 1990s; however, they have departed since the water level dropped. An interesting observation was an obvious White/Straw-necked Ibis hybrid. The top of the wing was black and white, giving it the appearance of a Magpie Goose in flight. While this is the first hybrid I have seen, there have been a couple of other reported sightings in the district.

The bird life out on the open plains, north of Wanganella has been brilliant. Good rainfall (about 4-6 inches) in October and November generated a nice growth of native grasses, but not too thick for the ground dwellers. Amazing numbers of Banded Lapwings have been recorded for the second consecutive summer, with flocks of 200-300 birds present over November and December. In what represents a relatively small area, there appears to be 1000+ B. Lapwings. The bulk of these birds must have come in from the back country as only scattered breeding pairs had been in the area in August and September. Since the arrival of these huge flocks, there has not been any sign of breeding despite the good conditions.

Up to 30 Inland Dotterels have been present continually for 12 months — the longest period I have known this species to be in the area. The flock commenced dispersing in October and I think some breeding has occurred since then as several immature birds have been seen lately,

We have at least three pairs of Australian Pratincoles on eggs. They have chosen a new home in an adjacent paddock to their usual haunt. Note: since writing the above, juveniles were seen on the 20 December 2000.

Plains-wanderers have been nesting almost continuously since August. In mid-December we were seeing a few juveniles, nearly fully coloured, which would indicate that they hatched in mid-September. They are full coloured at three months and I suspect they breed soon after. An adult male with three small chicks (about one week old) was also seen in mid-December. Obvious mating pairs were seen in early December, indicating that breeding will continue for some time yet. Probably, the Plains-wanderer population is still down after several dry years but they do have the ability to build their numbers up quite quickly in a good season.

Also responding to the excellent conditions are Little Button-quails; many more have bred than in the previous year. There are a few Red-chested Button-quails about, more so than anytime since 1993. I suspect they have also bred or are currently breeding. There were a few Stubble Quails about in the spring, but living up to their nomadic nature they seem to have deserted the area. Note: since writing the above, Stubble Quail have returned and are feeding on the ripened seedheads of native millet (Panicum decompositum)

Black Falcons and Spotted Harriers have been scarce around Deniliquin this season with only the odd Black Falcon seen in November and December. One pair of Black Falcons nested north of Wanganella in the spring, and as far as I know, no Spotted Harriers bred in the district. Conditions were probably too good to the north. Note: since writing the above, there has been a total of four sightings of Spotted Harriers north and south of town on the 25th and 26th December; and four Black Falcons seen on the 28 December including a pair stalking a flock of 200-300 Banded Lapwings, north of Wanganella.

This season also saw a trio of Ground Cuckoo-shrikes out on the plains, north of Wanganella. They raised a couple of young; the first breeding records for this species, at this locality, in 20 years.


summer-early March 2001 local news | | main page