Deniliquin & District Birding News

December 2000 - early March 2001


Posted on 9 March 2001

Deniliquin has experienced a long, very hot and mainly dry summer. Hardly a drop of rain fell in the district from mid November to late December but we had some good thunderstorm rainfalls from January to early February. As is usually the case over the summer months, the heaviest falls were out on the plains, north of the Billabong Creek .

Despite the heatwaves and high humidity, the birding has been excellent with Plains-wanderer Weekends resulting in the highest tallies in years.

Around town
The Island Sanctuary, a magnificent area of ancient river redgums in the centre of town, had just over 100 pairs of Great Egret nesting there — remarkable given that the colony was about 300 m from the town hall. The colony has been successful, raising about two young per nest with most of the young dispersing in the last couple of weeks. Waterbird colonies always attract scavengers and this one had two pairs of Whistling Kites nesting nearby — good to see as Whistling Kites experienced a major decline in the district in the 1980s and 1990s. About 10 pairs of Nankeen Night-Heron bred successfully alongside the egrets.

Also breeding in the Sanctuary: a pair of Crested Shrike-tits raised two young as did Tawny Frogmouths.

Azure Kingfisher, a species that all but disappeared from the Edward River after the arrival of European Carp in the mid-1970s, is still seen quite regularly around the willows.

Red Wattlebird, a stranger in the district let alone redgum habitat, was recently seen in the Sanctuary. The Little Friarbirds were none to happy about the visitor but their vigorous protest seemed to have little effect. Actually, there has been one or two pairs of Red Wattlebirds around the town for the past 12 months; it remains to be seen if the species becomes a permanent resident.

This summer has been the best for Japanese Snipe for at least a decade. Up to seven were recorded on a small rainwater swamp near the railway line, the most recent sighting on the 20th February.

While not seeing any myself, there have been sightings of Fork-tailed Swift during February. They were seen around town, on the Murray River near Tocumwal and out on the plains north of Wanganella.

A male Black Honeyeater visited an eremophila in my garden in late January and stayed a couple of days — much to my delight. This is only the second record I have of Black Honeyeaters in town.

Box/Pine Country East of Deniliquin
This area is mostly under irrigation and is becoming very degraded; however, a few good patches of woodland remain.

Superb Parrots vacated Gulpa Island State Forest in mid December and turned up in good numbers in the yellow box woodland (Eucalyptus mellidora) near Tuppal Creek. At least 50 adults and juveniles were feeding on the heavy infestation of lerp on the yellow box. Most departed after three weeks and dispersed widely; some were seen near town and I had a few in boree country south of Wanganella on the 26 January. Recently (24 February) I located about ten, mainly adults, in an area of black box (Eucalyptus largiflorens) south-east of Deniliquin. As to the whereabouts of the rest ... that’s a mystery.

There was an adult Black-eared Cuckoo in black box/boree woodland near Tuppal Creek on the 20 February. Primarily, in this distict, the species is an uncommon passage migrant in the spring. This is just the second time in twenty years that I have recorded Black-eared Cuckoo at this spot.

Quite a few Australasian Bitterns were breeding or attempting to breed in rice crops east of Deniliquin. Two pairs at one locality, I suspect, were nesting in a cumbungi filled dam and feeding in nearby rice crops. A few Little Bitterns were also calling at the same place in December and January but I don’t think they bred.

Spotless Crakes were active in at least one water-filled gravel pit over summer and probably bred there. About 15 Plumed Whistle-ducks have been recorded there lately; the species has become scarce in the district in recent years.

Spotted Crake and Red-kneed Dotterel continue to be scarce with just a few seen over summer in a brackish water-filled gravel pit north-east of town. Their scarcity in the area is, no doubt, due to the flooding further north in NSW.

The Redgum Forests
The forest has been excellent all summer (see Spring and Early Summer’s Latest News). I located two more pairs of Gilbert’s Whistler so I think there are six pairs in Gulpa at present — up from four last summer. Groups of Painted Button-quail continue to be seen in good numbers in Gulpa.

As mentioned earlier Superb Parrots departed the forest in mid-December. During December Owlet Nightjars were seen quite regularly in Gulpa. Although the species is probably quite common here, it is difficult to flush due to the height of the trees.

I witnessed a male Collared Sparrowhawk carrying, with ease, a freshly killed Yellow Rosella almost as big as itself (Gulpa 22 Feb).

Moving to mammals for a moment: an albino Grey Kangaroo was seen in Gulpa in December; I think that is a first for me.

The waterbird-breeding extravaganza in Moira Forest, south of Mathoura, has been highly successful. Numbers breeding were much greater than originally estimated. I have been employed over the summer, by NSW State Forests, to monitor breeding activity and water levels (someone’s got to do it!).

In the main colony near Moira Lake it is now estimated that around 3,000 pairs of Nankeen Night-Herons, 400 pairs of Intermediate Egret and 300 pairs of Great Egrets have bred successfully. The night-heron colony was spread over two or three kilometres with up to ten nests in the tops of large spreading redgums. It was interesting to find that night-herons have a much shorter fledging period than egrets; they are also ruffians compared to the well-mannered egrets. The young night-herons in the nest continually fight with each other over food. The adult night-herons do not look after their young for anywhere near as long or as well as the egrets; and the young night-herons are out of their nests before they can barely fly and are out foraging in the swamp for themselves. As to be expected the night-heron mortality rate is greater than that of the egrets. The night-herons raised only one or two young per nest, whereas the Intermediate Egrets raised three to four per nest and the Great Egrets, two to three.

All of the adult night-herons and most of the juveniles had dispersed from the colony by the end of February, whereas most of the egrets (both species) were still present. I expect the last of the Great Egrets to leave the colony by mid-March. Two pairs of Cattle Egrets and two pairs of Little Egret nested with the Great and Intermediate Egrets. Cattle and Little Egrets have not nested here since the ’80s.

Hanging around the egret colonies have been several sub-adult White-breasted Sea-Eagles and on one occasion a couple of adults. Two Wedge-tailed Eagles and about six Whistling Kites have also been in regular attendance.

Large colonies of Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants have also bred successfully. Recently there have been over 1000 Little Black and 300 Little Pied Cormorants feeding, en masse, on Moira Lake. Over 150 pairs of Royal Spoonbills have also bred successfully on the Gulpa Creek reed- beds (Phragmites and Giant Rush), as have Australasian and Little Bitterns. A juvenile Little Bittern was heard calling on the 12th January and a nest with two small, ginger young and one egg was located in thick Phragmites on the 2 February. Spotless Crakes were also calling well in this area in early January. Good numbers of Buff-banded Rails were also present.

Good numbers of Great Crested Grebe have also bred in the Gulpa Creek and Moira Lake wetlands; the latter locality has at least 20 pairs with large juvenile young at present — the greatest nesting of this species in the district since the 1970s.

There have been a few reports of Brown Quail around the district lately and I heard one calling in thick common spike-rush (Elecharis acuta) near Moira Lakes wetlands — my first record for years in the forest area.

Black-chinned Honeyeaters, feeding high up in the redgums, have also been calling lately in the Moira Lake area. This species seems to be more common in the district over the summer months. About 15 White-throated Needletails flew over the Moira wetlands on the 30th January, my only record for this summer.

All the so called ‘environment flow’ for the Murray River was used this summer to keep the water levels up in the swamps to enable the waterbirds to breed successfully. NSW State Forests even borrowed next year’s ‘environmental flow’ to see the birds through the breeding season. The allocated ‘environmental flow’ is a mere fraction of what is really required. It has not been difficult this summer to see how much the whole eco-system of the river redgum forest depends on water.

The Plains
Bird life out on the plains continued through the summer to be excellent, with good thunderstorms keeping it on the boil. In the boree country south of Wanganella the adult male Painted Honeyeater that turned up on the 4th December, sung forlornly for over a month It was not until the 26th January that I finally saw him with a female and nesting seemed imminent. When I returned on the 11th February I was surprised to find the adults had gone and had been replaced by four immature birds. Since then I have seen at least six immature birds at various localities in the same general area including one in a stand of black box on the 24th February. I suspect none of these birds were bred in the district but probably came down from the north. Perhaps the pair of adults didn’t nest because it had taken the male so long to find a mate and it just got too late in the season. They were certainly looking for a nest site on the 26th January. Only immatures remain in the area at present.

Also in the boree have been good numbers of Striped, Spiny-cheeked and Singing Honeyeaters. Still the occasional immature Pallid and Horsefield Bronze-cuckoo in the boree that probably bred in the area; all adult Cuckoos having cleared out. The summer migrants have gone back to the inland; I’ve not seen any White-winged Trillers or Rufous Songlarks for weeks.

White-browed and Masked Woodswallows were scarce in the district, as were Budgerigars. A few White-browed Woodswallows flying over, up high, was my only record for the summer and I received a report of a small group of White-browed Woodswallows breeding in thick black box near Boorooban. My only personal record of Budgerigars was a small flock in the boree in late spring although there were a few reports of small flocks out on on the plains.

North of Wanganella, on the plains proper, the huge flocks of Banded Lapwings started dispersing in January and February, coinciding with the big rains on the plains north of the Lachlan. There remains only a few small groups. Three or four pairs of Australian Pratincole bred successfully and departed the area in late January; my last sighting of adults and juveniles was the 18th January.

Inland Dotterel still inhabit the area. After dispersing a bit over the summer (probably breeding) they are now flocking up again, with a flock of about 20 seen on the 3 March. Interestingly, they appear more resident than the Banded Lapwings.

Plains-wanderers continue to thrive with good numbers of adults and immatures seen over summer. On two PW excursions, seven and ten birds were seen respectively. An adult male with three chicks was seen on the 16th December and a male with two chicks was seen on the 6th January. They have also been seen feeding in the late afternoon. Such a sighting occurs rarely because of their camouflage and secretive nature. Of late, the adults and some immatures have been in pairs again and a mating pair was seen on the 3rd March; it seems that they will continue to breed for some time yet. Except for a break in February they have been breeding since August 2000.

Over February, Little Button-quail dispersed, although there is still the odd immature about (one on the 3rd March). They bred in reasonable numbers over summer.

Red-chested Button-quail also bred in the area in low numbers over summer. An adult male with two large young was seen on the 6th January. The last seen was an adult pair in heavy native millet on the 18th January. The female of this species is a stunning bird, one of the most attractive of the genus. A few immature Stubble Quail are still about in heavy grass areas, but generally they have been scarce in the area over summer.

Black Falcons have been rather elusive lately but my sister, Susan, had four over a burning stubble paddock last week. They do love a fire and will travel a long distance for one. Spotted Harriers are also scarce with one bird seen on the 3rd March near Deniliquin airport — the first I’ve seen since late December. There have been reports of several birds around Jerilderie where some big thunderstorms have occurred.

The group of Ground Cuckoo-shrikes that bred north of Wanganella are still about, if somewhat elusive at times. Two more groups were seen on the plains between Deniliquin and Wakool, one each in December and January. The January (13th) group comprised two adults and three juveniles.

Tullakool Evaporation Basins
Good numbers of waterbirds have been on the evaporation basins over the summer — probably the best since the late 1980s when 10,000 migrating waders were present. At times this summer there have been about 1000 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and roughly the same of Curlew Sandpiper and Red-necked Stint. There were about 500 Red-necked Avocets and Banded Stilts.

With all these waders about, there had to be a few rarities. At least two Pectoral Sandpipers have been present from December and a single Long-toed Stint was seen on the 28th and 31st of January. Ruffs made a welcome reappearance after an absence of many years — a single bird being located on the 17th December (probably a reeve). This bird disappeared and then two male birds appeared on 28 January; however, these birds also disappeared and were not seen again.

Pacific Golden Plovers, which have returned to the same locality for about the last five years, turned up on the 23rd December, staying until the 4th January.

The largest flock of White-winged Black Terns, recorded in living memory in the district, were seen on the 23rd December when 28 birds were recorded. They have been present in varying numbers over the summer; eight birds on the 10th of February being the last record. Flocks of up to several hundred Whiskered Terns were also at Tullakool over summer; a flock of 20 was the last record on the 20th February. The only Gull-billed Terns seen during the summer were three immature birds on the 3rd January.

Wave after wave of Glossy Ibis, coming in from the south to roost at the ponds, was an air show spectacular seen on the 10th February. About 700 birds came in.

Up to 100 Marsh Sandpipers have also been present over summer. The first Double-banded Plover and the first Freckled Duck of the season were located on the 20 February. Seven Freckled Ducks were seen on the 9th March including at least one adult male still with some red on the base of the bill. The birds probably came from breeding grounds to the north.

Australian Hobby and Peregrine Falcon are regulars at the ponds, as are occasionally Sea-Eagles. The first Black Falcon recorded for years at Tullakool was seen on the 9th March.

In addition to all these species, there were thousands of Grey Teal, Australian Shelduck and Black Swan and lesser numbers of Australasian Shoveler, Chestnut Teal, Pink-eared Duck and a few Hardheads and Black Duck.

Philip N Maher

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