Saturday, January 25, 2014

Fitzgerald – do Western Ground Parrots actually live there..

...or were they just passing through?

Late in 1982, the threat of opening up land north of the then Fitzgerald River National Park became clear: the minister for lands was very determined to go ahead with the plan (see posting of  2 January). Ken and Brenda Newbey had by then realized that Ground Parrots were very scarce in WA and that the population in the proposed farmland could be very important for survival of the species. Brenda was a member of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists’ Union (RAOU). She approached the Chairman, Dr Stephen Davies to voice concern about the imminent loss of this habitat. Dr Davies was more familiar with the habitat of the Eastern Ground Parrot, which in Victoria was swampy sedgelands. In fact, at that time, a very common name for the Ground Parrot was Swamp Parrot. This fitted too with the flat swampy country where Whitlock had found two nests back in 1912 and 1913. Dr Davies questioned whether the birds actually lived in the harsher, drier, and further inland north Fitzgerald – perhaps they just came there seasonally. There were few records but they had been in July, October and December (winter, spring and summer) (see posting of 8 January). If birds could be found there in autumn then it was very likely that they were resident.

Finding the birds was the next challenge.

Brenda and Ken had read that Ground Parrots could be detected by their call. Neither of them had heard the call but they found out that Richard and Pat Jordan were surveying Ground Parrots at Barren Grounds Observatory in New South Wales. Richard described the predawn and sunset calling period.  He sent a short tape with calls of both adult birds (distant and with wind interference) and chicks and he said to listen from sundown to half an hour afterwards. Invaluable. The tape with long ascending calls was played many times.

The Newbeys made attempts in December 1982 and 21 February 1983 to hear Ground Parrots in the north Fitzgerald but with no certain success. It did become clear that the call of the Tawny-crowned Honeyeater would be a hazard in aural survey of Ground Parrots.

The feeding record of 26 February 1983  (see posting of 17 January) provided two valuable clues: where to conduct a listening survey, and one type of feeding sign that may help find other sites.

On 12 May 1983, as autumn only had a couple of weeks to run, Brenda took an opportunity to make the 1.5 hour drive out from the Ongerup farm, prepared to spend the night alone close to the site where the feeding record had been made. That evening there was a cold strong wind and she heard very few bird calls at all as she listened from sunset for 33 minutes. She got into the vehicle, disappointed, but very relieved to get out of the bitter wind. She remembered the bar of chocolate she had brought, and reached for it and broke a piece off. Her cold fingers weren’t up to the task, and the piece fell on the floor. To find it she got out of the sheltering car – and that was when she heard a very clear Ground Parrot call. It was almost dark, two or three stars were out, and it was around 40 minutes after sunset.

Next morning, three clear ascending calls were heard from a similar direction – at 6.05, 6.10 and 6.13. There were intermittent showers and it was too cloudy to see exactly when sunrise occurred but it was about 6.45.

Now the Newbeys were able to alert the RAOU that Ground Parrots were resident in the north Fitzgerald.

Below are two photos taken in 1983 by B. Newbey.

A boundary marker for one of the proposed farms in the north Fitzgerald.

National Park sign - looking south into the Park. The successful survey described above was on the same track, a few hundred metres to the north.

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