Vol. 11 No. 1-text

PDF version available here: Vol. 11 No. 1

Journal of the
Volume 11 No. 1 September 1976
Registered for Posting as a Periodical, Category B ‘-ice $1.00.THE N.S.W. FIELD ORNITHOLOGISTS CLUB
PATRON A. H. Chisholm. O.B.E.
W. Longmore
The object of the Club is promote the study and conservation of Australian birds and the
habitats they occupy.
Annual subscription rates of the Club (due 1st July each year) are:
Single Member (within Co. of Cumberland) $6.00
Single Member (Country and overseas) $5.00
Family Member $7.00
Junior Member $3.00
All members receive a quarterly newsletter and a copy of the quarterly journal “Australian
Birds”. The price of the journal is $1.50 plus postage per issue to non-members. Club badges
are available to club members at $1.30 or $1.50 if posted. The Club holds a meeting and a
field excursion each month.
All correspondence should be addressed to the Hon. Secretary at:
90 Picnic Point Road, Picnic Point. 2213.
All membership fees should be sent to the Hon. Treasurer at:
18 Russell Street, Oatley. 2223.
Manuscripts should be sent to the Editor at:
P.O. Box 39, Coonabarabran. 2857.Vol. 11, No. September, 1976
This paper deals with the breeding of the Welcome Swallow Ilirundo neoxena in an
underground tank in two above average rainfall years (1973 and 1974) at Ivanhoe in western
New South Wales. During 1974 the highest rainfall ever in the western part of the State was
recorded at Ivanhoe (see Table I). For two years all contents of nests were counted and all nest
sites numbered. Visits were made as often as possible both day and night.
The underground tank where the study took place holds approximately 18,000 litres and
is sunken 1.8 m into the ground and covered by a wooden and tin roof. On one side a long
trough is placed for the tank to be filled from rail vehicles. The swallows entered the tank from
the sides and roof where sheets of tin were missing. In 1975 the roof was repaired and the sides
enclosed, causing the desertion of the colony.
In Ivanhoe the Welcome Swallow is a partial migrant with only some staying permanently
through the winter and if conditions suitable, breeding. In December 1972 there were 40 birds
present in the tank, some of which would have been young from the season just completed. By
April this number had dropped to 20 birds with two breeding; in late July the number had
risen to 30; and by the time the main breeding season had begun in late -September the number
had dropped slightly to 26 birds. In February 1974 a large flock of 400 + birds stayed in a
swamp south of Ivanhoe up until late March, and then moved on. Local birds could no doubt2 AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (1)
be caught up in such a movement. After January 1975 all birds departed from the tank, not
returning until late April; by late June the number of roosting birds in the tank numbered 30.
The colony deserted in August when the roof was repaired. Therefore, from December 1972
until January 1975, the tank was occupied permanently by no less than 20 birds.
The nest is a bowl or half -cup shape depending on the location. It is constructed from
mud and grass, and horse -hair when available. The interior is lined with a variety of material,
including feathers, grass, wool, tissue paper, cotton, plant down and animal fur. Although all
these materials were used in the two years of the study, feathers appeared to be the most
favoured for the lining. At the beginning of each season old nests are repaired and renewed
if they had collapsed; repaired walls were usually higher than those on new nests. New lining is
added after each clutch. All material used in the construction of the nests was carried to the site
in the beaks of both parents.
Most of the nests were built on the side of the wooden roof beams, only two being on
top of the beams and one placed on a steel support in the tank. Nests built on the side of the
timber beams were most prone to collapse having a life of one or two clutches, but rarely three.
The two built on top of the beams never collapsed in the three years and the one located on the
support did not collapse until a third nest was constructed on the top of the first two. In the
winter months a few nests collapsed but in the breeding season most nests collapsed in the
months of September and October, coinciding with the second and third clutches for the
season. The three main causes of nest collapse are as follows:- young and parents roosting in the
nest during the breeding seasons; wet weather conditions; and in the winter months, family
groups using the nest for roosting.
The number of days taken to construct a nest varied considerably but I found that
according to availability of material, it generally took from five to eight days to build and from
two to four days to line. This compares with Campbell (1900) who says from five to build and
three to line. However, one nest which was constructed in April 1974 was not lined until
August 1974.
It appears that adults become attached to the one nest site; this I believe is proven by the
fact that nests w -e re always rebuilt on the same spot. In one year a nest was rebuilt on the same
spot five times most pairs rebuilt at least once each season. In 1973, 21 nest sites were used
and eight nests required re -building. By the end of the season, 11 nests had to be rebuilt and
two repaired. In 1974. 13 nest sites were used, seven from the year before. All nests required
major construction excepting for three which only needed relining. Hayward (1972) found
that a marked pair of II. neoxena in five years only built two nests with the second nest being
used for the last four years. In the British Isles capture of marked H. rustica proved that they
returned year after year to the same nest and patched up the old cracked mud (Coward 1920).September, 1976. 3.
Standard reference books give the clutch size as four or five eggs. In 1973, 52% of the
clutches had a C/4 and 35% had C/5; in 1974, 56% had C/4 and 35% had C/5 (see Table II). It
is of interest to note that the greatest number of C/5 was in the second nesting attempts in both
years whereas C/4 was highest in the first clutches laid. In the third clutches of 1973 one nest
had a C/4 and the other C/5 while in 1974, of six clutches, five had C/4. In the fourth nesting
attempt for the 1973/74 seasons two clutches were laid, both C/4 whilst the only fifth attempt
was C/3. An example is given below of the variation in clutch size over the two years at one
nest site. In each year this nest site fledged only four young, both being in the second nesting
1973 C/4 C/4 C/5 C/4 C/3
1974 C/3 C/5
Of the three C/2 in the two years, two were deserted before the clutches were complete
and the other two fledged two young. Only three nests were recorded with C/3, with only one
clutch being raised successfully. Hayward’s floc. cit.) pair laid twice in 1971 and reared young
from both clutches, both were C/4.
Since carried out no banding or marking of individual birds, it cannot be proved that the
one pair of swallows used the same nest site for the two years of the survey, though Hayward’s
marked pair has used the one site for the last four years and laid twice in 1971. Minton (in
Gooders Ed. 1969) has shown that with the closely related H. rustica the chances of both
individuals of a pair surviving to the following year are less than one in five and that statistically
only about one in ten pairs that were paired in the previous season, may be paired together in
consecutive seasons. It is of interest to note that the ratio of re -use of nest sites for the two
years in the tank was one in three which compares favourably with Minton’s one in five, su-
vival of individuals. However, Minton did demonstrate that H. rustica in the United Kingdom
laid two clutches of four to six eggs in a season with an occasional pair raising three clutches, so
it would be reasonable to assume that a pair of neoxema could occupy the same nest through-
out a season.
Detailed notes on six nesting attempts allowed an accurate assessment of the incubation
period and are as follows: –
1st clutch 18 + 2 days 2nd clutch 17 + day
2nd clutch 17 + day 2nd clutch 16 + day
1 1
2nd clutch 18 + 1 day 3rd clutch 19 + 1 day
The normal incubation period would probably be from 16 to 18 days, although one
clutch was incubated for 24 days before desertion took place.
Eggs were laid at approximately 24 hour intervals with incubation commencing after
the laying of the last egg. As the male and female are similar in appearance was not able to
ascertain whether both parents took turns in incubating. However, on several occasions one
parent was observed to feed the brooding bird away from the nest. This suggests that the female
does the incubating and the male feeds her, although the feeding witnessed could have been
part of the courtship towards preserving the pair bond. The bird not incubating roosts about
60 cm from the nest. Under this site there forms an accumulation of droppings, indicating that
the site is used permanently for roosting whilst incubation is taking place. Incubating birds
usually brood facing either away from or sideways to the beam. On extremely hot days, birds
usually left the nest unattended in the heat of the day.
The nestling period could not be accurately ascertained due to the habit of the young of
leaving the nest when fully feathered and returning to the nest at night to roost. One clutch of
four young left the nest when 16 days old, only coming back to roost at night. Rowley (in
Frith, Ed. 1969) gives the nestling period as 19 days, and up to three weeks before the young
become independent of their parents. Young were found to still return to roost in the nest of a
night up to four weeks after the nests were recorded as empty on day visits. This roosting in the
nest by the young is one of the major causes of nest collapse. After the adults discourage the
young from roosting in the nest they usually were found roosting about 120 cm away in a
huddled group. Young were observed to still roost in this position up to eight weeks after
leaving the nest.
On hot days adults were observed to plunge into the water in the tank and return and
perch on the rim of the nest over the young. When handled the young were found to be wet.
Young in the nest were found to continually pant on hot days, no doubt the soaking by the
adult birds would afford some relief from the heat.
When adults flew into the tank all the young would start calling with necks outstretched.
This continual calling appeared to assist the parents to locate the young in the tank and stimul-
ate the feeding by the adults.
When first hatched the droppings were removed from the nest site but when the young
were fully feathered the nest site became soiled.
In the two years a total of 190 eggs were laid of which 70 failed to hatch; 46 young
died or disappeared; and 74 young fledged successfully (see data in Table III). The reasons for
the eggs failing to hatch are as follows:- In five nests the eggs disappeared; eight nests were
deserted, four of these in September 1974 during a cold snap; two nests had an egg broken and
the contents cleaned out, possibly the work of Geckos Diplodactylus sp which were observed in
the tank at night and could explain the disappearance of the other clutches; two nests collapsed;
and two nests had their lining pulled out and their walls partially destroyed. Only one egg in a
C/4 failed to hatch whereas in a C/5, one egg in each of five clutches failed, and when examinedSeptember, 1976 5.
these eggs proved to be addled.
Young fledged from 23 nests of which seven were full clutches but only one clutch of
C/5 successfully fledged. In 1973, local children raided the tank and took the young from two
nests. In 1974 young were found dead in three nests, which upon examination were found to
be full of water apparently as a result of heavy rain one night. The water dripped off the roof
into the nests causing the nestlings to die and also the desertion of four other nests mentioned
above. In five nests either one or more young died or disappeared, the cause of which is
unknown. Four young drowned when their nests collapsed, and ten other young were found
drowned in the tank after leaving the nest, over the two year period. The time when collapsing
occured was in the period between clutches and this could explain the reason for the young
drowning since they return to the nest to roost at night.
Success does not appear to differ in regard to clutch size although C/5 had a higher rate
of breeding success than C/4. This could be explained by the fact that the majority of C/5 were
in the second clutches. These clutches would be laid during better climatic conditions and in
longer daylight periods thus allowing greater feeding time (see Table IV).
Second clutches had a higher total success (52%) than either the first or third clutches
laid. Even though the third clutches had a lower (26%) total success, they had a higher fledging
rate (60%) than the first clutch laid, although not as high as the second clutch laid (70%) – (see
Table V). In the two years an average of 3.17 young was fledged from each nest site.
Hobbs (1961) recorded the species in south-western New South Wales as nesting from
August to November and sporadically in April. In 1973 nesting activity was noted in April with
a break during May and June, commencing again in July and continuing until May 1974. The
three peaks of nesting being July, September and April. Nesting activity in 1974 commenced in
August and continued through to November, the peaks being in the months of August and
November. The colony deserted in November after heavy rains.
The major factor that determines when breeding commences is the climatic conditions
since one of its elements (rain) provides the necessary effects for nest building to commence.
The rain also provides the conditions for the breeding of insect life on which swallows feed,
although in the two years that the study was undertaken, the effects of too much rain can be
seen to have the opposite effect. At Ivanhoe the availability of mud is limited for nest con-
struction since there are no streams and few permanent mud sources. Mud is only available
for building after rain and this would have to be sufficient to provide it for up to five days.
Since nesting takes place in the summer months, this rain would have to be substantial.
It does appear that when conditions are suitable, the Welcome Swallow has the ability
to extend its breeding over most of the year, even through the winter when many swallows
are migrating or undertaking nomadic wanderings. Counts indicate that the surplus birds move
away from the tank after breeding has finished. Since this species does not object to crowded
conditions, the controlling factor must be the availability of food through the winter months.6. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS (11) 1
The increased rain in 1974 had a deleterious effect on the nesting swallows as can be
seen from the average number of young fledged per nesting site. In 1973 the average number of
young fledged per nesting site was 4.6 but during the very wet conditions of the 1974 breeding
season the figure was 2.10 per nesting site. On days when it continually rained, swallows were
not observed to leave the tank, and if they did it was only for short periods. During heavy
showers the swallows were observed to seek the shelter of the tank as soon as the rain
commenced, although they continued to feed during light showers. It would appear that during
the very wet conditions of the 1974 breeding season this reduction in feeding time was a major
factor in the poor survival rate of the fledglings.
Between December 1972 and January 1975 a study was made of a small colony of
Welcome Swallows that nested in a large water tank at Ivanhoe in western New South Wales.
Nests were located on the wooden roof beams and details of the contents of 21 nest sites in
1973 and 13 nest sites in 1974 were recorded. Nests were constructed of mud, grass and horse-
hair and lined mainly with feathers. 54% of clutches were C/4 and 35% were C/5, some nest
sites being used for five clutches in a season. The incubation period was from 16 to 18 days,
and fledgling period for one clutch was found to be 16 days, although the young returned to
roost on the nest at night. Adult swallows were observed to wet the young on hot days as a
cooling measure. 63% of all eggs laid hatched and 39% fledged successfully; however, the wet
conditions of the 1974 breeding season caused a reduction in fledgling success. Fledgling
success did not appear to differ in regard to clutch size. During good climatic conditions breed-
ing was extended throughout the year but very wet conditions were detrimental to breeding
The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of J. N. Hobbs and A. K. Morris who
read the draft and made helpful comments, and Mrs. B. Marchant who typed the manuscript.
Campbell, A. J. 1900 Nest and Eggs of Australian Birds. Sheffield: privately.
Coward, T. A. 1920 The Birds of the British Isles and Their Eggs. London:
Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd.
Frith, H. J. (Ed) 1969 Birds in the Australian High Country. Sydney: A.H. & A.W.
Gooders, J. (Ed) 1969 Birds of the World VI: 1819 – 1827. London: IPC Mag-
azines Ltd.
Hayward, J. L. 1972 Further Notes about Hirundo V Report: 24 Swan Hill:
The Mid-murray Field Naturist Trust.
Hobbs, J. N. 1961 Birds of South-western New South Wales. Emu 61:42.
N. W. SCHRADER, 28 Best Street, Parkes, N.S.W. 2870.September, 1976 7.
Rainfall in mm at Ivanhoe
Average J F M A M J J A S 0
Over 10 years 26 18 22 22 15 11 14 19 18 19 15 16
1973 43 60 37 45 12 31 29 40 3 96 14 49
1974 192 121 26 204 82 10 23 63 49 76 40 40
Clutch Size of Welcome Swallow at Ivanhoe
Year C/2 C/3 C/4 C/5 Total
1973 2 1 11 7 21
1974 1 2 14 8 25
3 3 25 15 46
Breeding Success of Welcome Swallow at Ivanhoe
Year Eggs Hatched Young Total
laid fledged Success
1973 86 57 66 38 67 44
1974 104 63 61 36 57 35
190 120 63 74 61 39
Breeding Success of Welcome Swallow by Clutch Size
E lag ig ds Hatched % fY leo du gn eg d ST uo ccta el s s
C/2 6 2 2
C/3 9 3 3
C/4 100 65 65 35 54 35
C/5 75 50 66 34 68 45
190 120 74
Breeding Success of Welcome Swallow by Re -nesting
re N -no e. s to inf g E lag ig ds Hatched % fY leo du gn eg d SuT co ct ea sl s
1st 81 58 71 32 55 39
2nd 64 47 73 33 70 52
3rd 34 15 44 9 60 26
4th 8
5th 3
190 120 748. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (1)
The Nutmeg Mannikin (Spice Finch) Lonchura punctulata was first reported in New
South Wales from Sydney about 1950 (Frith 1973). McGill (1960) gave its status as “Rather
rare . . . . Introduced into N.S.W. and noticeably increasing its range, although as yet not
spread far beyond the County of Cumberland boundaries.” In the 15 years since the public-
ation of McGill’s Handlist there have been few references in the literature to the species
occurrence in this State. Although it has now become established in many areas around Sydney
and can be regularly recorded (A. R. McGill in litt.) its occurrence outside that district appears
to be little known or at least not well documented. Published evidence of its spread appears to
be limited to comparatively recent reports from near Moruya on the South Coast (A. K. Morris
in Rogers 1974) and its listing for the Myall Lakes area (Recher 1975).
In this paper records of the Nutmeg Mannikin from the North Coast of N.S.W., dating
back to the early 1960’s, are summarised, establishing its presence in parts of the region at least
from 1962. Data are based on my own observations during two periods of residence in the
region (prior to 1965 and since 1973), the records of other, mostly resident observers and
published accounts of the past 20 years. Information was not available for all districts, and
there are gaps in the coverage provided by this paper.
Newcastle: Not listed for the Gosford, Wyong and Newcastle areas (Morris 1975).
Forster: Included without elaboration in a checklist of birds recorded near Myall Lakes and
Forster (Recher 1975).
Taree: Recorded at Taree on 31 December 1962 by Mr. A. R. McGill. Although the area has
been visited regularly since the species has been seen only a few times and then only in small
numbers (McGill in litt.).
Coffs Harbour: Not observed in or around Coffs Harbour during five years (1971-75) residence
(P. E. Roberts in litt. ).
Grafton: Probably first appeared in the Grafton district about 1960. Mr. R. Grieves (pers.
comm. and in lilt.) states that he photographed the Nutmeg Mannikin at his home in Grafton
sometime in 1962 but had noted it some years previously. It was not included in the Checklist
of the Birds of the Clarence Valley (Anon. 1961) nor in a supplement issued following the
R.A.O.U. Campout in Grafton in October 1961.
The first dated record appears to be 27 April 1962 when observed the species close to
my then home near Southgate, about 9 km north-east of Grafton. Being familiar with the
species through experience with caged birds I had no doubt as to the identity of the finches
observed. Nutmeg Mannikin were subsequently seen in the same vicinity in May, August andSeptember, 1976. 9.
October of that year and during 1963 from April to July inclusive, generally in small flocks
frequenting roadside herbage bordering the river bank and croplands.
The following account of its present status in the Grafton district is abbreviated from
information provided by Mr. Grieves and Mr. E. Wheeler (resident in Grafton since 1971):
“Common within the township where it is now the most commonly encountered species
of grassfinch; frequents river and creek bank herbage, vacant allotments, also urban backyards
where it feeds on lawns (winter) and bathes and drinks at bird baths; flocks also frequently
seen in coarse grain crops in the racecourse; nests in street and parkland trees including crepe
myrtles, poplars and palms.”
Mr. Grieves considers that the species is definitely increasing in numbers, though it
apparently has not established itself outside the town area. Some movement presumably takes
place in winter when birds are regularly seen about contiguous river bank farmlands at South-
gate (D. Kirby per E. Wheeler). A small flock seen near Lawrence in May 1975 by Mr. P. E.
Roberts seems to be the only record from elsewhere on the Clarence.
Casino: Mr. R. Fatt (pers. comm.) observed a flock of 15 birds on one occasion in the yard of
his home on the bank of the Richmond River in Casino about 1972.
Since taking up residence in Casino in mid 1973 have found, through incidental ob-
servation mainly, the Nutmeg Mannikin to be present in small numbers in the township, chiefly
in the vicinity of the river but also occasionally in neglected parks and roadsides on the edge
of town. first detected it on 29 May 1974 when five birds were seen along the river bank
behind my home and up to 11 were seen there during June. Between 2 May and 6 July 1975

parties of up to 18 were again noted in the same location. Since October 1975 (to the time of

writing April 1976) the species has been observed continuously in the town.
Birds in juvenile plumage and with conspicuous yellow gape flanges were present in
flocks seen in May 1974-75 and in February 1976. Nest building was observed in December
1975 and February and April 1976, on each occasion in the same Bunya Pine.
Lismore: Mrs. M. Thomas (in litt. per H. Smith) states “Between 1968 and 1970, on one
occasion, I saw five birds in a bushnut (Macadamia) tree in the backyard of my parents’ home
in Wyrallah Road, Lismore”. The Nutmeg Mannikin was not listed in Birds of the Richmond
Valley (Anon. 1973).
Since 1973 there have been a number of apparent reports from Lismore. Mrs. H. Pope
(pers. comm.) observed parties of up to seven in the town area about March 1973, in May and
September 1974 and August 1975. In November 1974, following reports of birds fitting the
description of the Nutmeg Mannikin, Mr. M. Trudgeon (in litt) visited a locality in the town and
saw two finches he considered to be of this species.
The Nutmeg Mannikin does not appear to be present in Ballina and the surrounding
Lower Richmond district (W. Watson, G. Frazer, pc’rs. comm.).10. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (1)
Murwillumbah: Apparently not known from the Tweed area (E. K. Pratt, M. Trudgeon,
in lilt.).
The Nutmeg Mannikin was apparently first detected on the North Coast of N.S.W. during
1962 when it was reported independently from the towns of Grafton and Taree. There is some
evidence to suggest that it was fairly well established, at least at Grafton, by this time and that
its earlier presence had probably been overlooked.
From the information compiled it would appear that its present distribution is very
localized, being confined to closely settled centres in only a few widely separated districts. It
does not seem to have spread noticeably into contiguous agricultural lands. Frith (1973),
although apparently unaware of wild populations in some towns in the region, drew attention
to its absence from the canefields and extensive swampy grasslands of the coastal strip between
Brisbane and Sydney, despite what seems very suitable habitat. In comparison with its spectac-
ular (and relatively well documented) dispersal in tropical Queensland in the 1950’s and 1960’s
(summarised by Storr 1973) the species has expanded its range relatively slowly in northern
N.S.W. Immelmann (1965) suggests that climate in these parts may be suboptimal for this
tropical species inhibiting its spread by allowing breeding only in the summer months and so
preventing a rapid increase in numbers.
The origin of Nutmeg Mannikin populations on the North Coast is unclear. It may be that
the species has spread from around Brisbane, where it was established by 1940 or from Sydney
(or both). It is also possible that it may have become established in some towns through the
release of caged birds. Certainly it was being kept as an aviary bird in Grafton at the time feral
populations were first noted, and probably had been for some years. Although Immelmann
(op. cit) states that there seems to be no geographic variation in the species within Australia
(the introduced population being attributed to the race L. p. topela) some clarification may
result from the comparison of specimens from this area and populations from other parts,
particularly about Brisbane and Sydney.
It is notable that in descriptions given by McDonald (1973) and Slater (1974) the Nutmeg
Mannikin is said to have a golden -yellow rump (i.e. upper tail coverts, edges of tail feathers),
both authorities considering this to be a key diagnostic character in field identification.
Immelmann gives these parts as greyish -yellow. In populations at Casino, and also apparently
at Grafton (E. Wheeler pers. comm.), the rump and tail are not distinctly yellow, but appear
brownish (a yellowish tinge has been detected at close quarters in early morning sunlight) in the
field, merging rather than contrasting, with the overall colouration of the upper parts.September, 1976 11.
The writer gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the following for information
generously provided in response to enquiries made during the preparation of this paper:
R. Grieves, S. G. Lane, A. R. McGill, Mrs. H. Pope, Miss E. K. Pratt, Heather Smith, Mrs. M.
Thomas, M. Trudgeon and E. Wheeler. In addition, P. E. Roberts and A. K. Morris also read an
earlier draft of the manuscript.
Anon. 1961 Checklist of the Birds of the Clarence Valley. Grafton:
C.V. F.N.C.
Anon. 1973 Birds of the Richmond Valley. Lismore: R.V.N.C.
Frith, H. J. 1973 Wildlife Conservation. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.
Immelmann, K. 1965 Australian Finches in Bush and Aviary. Sydney: Angus and
McDonald, J. D. 1973 Birds of Australia. Sydney: Reed.
McGill, A. R. 1960 A Handlist of the Birds of New South Wales. Sydney:
Fauna Protection Panel.
Morris, A. K. 1975 The Birds of Gosford, Wyong and Newcastle (County of
Northumberland). Aust. Birds 9:37-76.
Recher, H. F. 1975 Survey of the Avifauna of Myall Lakes, N.S.W. Report of
the 1972 R.A.O.U. Field Outing. Emu 75: 213-225.
Rogers, A. E. F. 1974 N.S.W. Bird Report for 1973. Birds 8: 97-118.
Slater, P. 1974 A Field Guide to Australian Birds: Passerines. Adelaide:
Storr, G. M. 1973 List of Queensland Birds. Spec. Pubis. W. Aust. Mus. (5).
D. G. GOSPER, 15 Arthur Street, Casino, N.S. W. 247012. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (1)
The observation by M. Baldwin (1975 The Emu 75:113) of Black -throated Finches
Poephila cmcta near Inverell in 1965 and 1966 and the fact that A. R. McGill (1960 A Hand –
list of the Birds of New South Wales) records that they are now confined to grasslands immed-
iately south of the McIntyre and Dumaresq Rivers has prompted me to record the following
These Finches were observed on the property “Berida”, 22 km west of Gilgandra, on
the Marthaguy Creek around 1968. There was a severe drought in Southern Queensland and
northern New South Wales at the time, but the Gilgandra district was in much better shape
and there was an influx of hungry birds.
The finches, 30 in number, were first observed watering at a pool caused by an over-
flowing bore tank, and their black -throats and red -legs caught my eye and knew that here
was a new record for the area. The Finches were present for some weeks before moving else-
where, and none have been observed since that time. Unfortunately the exact date that the
birds were present at my property was not recorded at the time.
A. 0. McCUTCHEON, “Berida”, Gilgandra, N.S. W. 2827September, 1976. 13.
There seems to be a great deal of confusion in the literature about the range of the
southern race of the Black -throated Finch Poephila cincta. This species is shown in the range
map of Macdonald (1973) as occupying the Northern Tablelands and North-western Slopes of
New South Wales as well as the eastern half of Queensland. Slater (1974) however states that
the Black -throated Finch occurs north from about Tenterfield yet his range map is similar to
that of Macdonald, but excludes the south-eastern corner of Queensland where Robin Elks, in a
list compiled since 1950, found this finch rare but present in fresh water habitats, in woodland,
towns and cities. Elks’ statement conflicts with that of lmmelmann (1970) who wrote that the
Black -throated Finch “…. seems to avoid the close vicinity of human settlements, usually not
penetrating into villages or closely settled areas.” Storr (1974) regards the southern race as rare
in Queensland but Lavery (1969) shows its occurrence throughout that State in open forest and
woodland which implies that the Black -throated Finch should be found along most of the New
South Wales/Queensland border. found the Black -throated Finch along two streams near
Inverell but only between May 1965 and October 1967 although excursions were made in both
areas up to spring 1974. This adds weight to the suggestion by McCutcheon (1976) that finches
seen by him near Gilgandra about 1968 had moved south to escape the drought in the north of
the State: certainly the Inverell district was drought -stricken between October 1967 and May
My first record for the Black -throated Finch was made on May 1965 at the junction of
Ponds and Middle Creek 9.5 km south-east of Inverell, where four birds were present in a
common tea -tree Leptospermum flavescens thicket. This is scrubby eucalyptus/tea-tree country
strewn with granite boulders between which seeding grasses grow sparsely. Odd sightings
indicate a spread of about 5 km up and down Middle Creek from the Ponds Creek junction,
but I was surprised to find no finches in the quiet shrubby reaches of either creek further
On 19 May 1966 several Black -throated Finches were seen at the Wean Crossing on
Frazer Creek 30 km north-north-east of Inverell. They have been seen in this area since but a
count of the population was impossible, the birds moving too quickly through the dense
growth of River Oak Casuarina cunninghamiana.;
On 12 September 1966 nine finches were recorded 10 km upstream of Wean Crossing and
on 16 October 1967 about 15 were seen in the same place. Along the creek banks dense Melaleuca
hedges provided shelter but most of these trees have been removed now by sapphire miners. The
finches may have stayed on in woodland and scrub bordering the stream where seeding grass is
plentiful, but have been unable to check recently.
The Black -throated Finch was sighted in the 10 km stretch of Frazer Creek between the
points mentioned, but in selected places (road crossings) north and south of these points the14. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (1)
results of my investigations were negative but not conclusive for Mr. C. A. Hunt (one time
resident of the area) could always find these finches in a gully near Bukkulla a few kilometres
north of Wean Crossing (J. E. Courtney pers comm.)
Mr. Courtney, himself a keen observer, has not recorded these finches at Swan Vale
35 km east of Inverell where he resides, nor has he seen them elsewhere in the Inverell district.
Mr. M. G. Goddard (pers. comm.) writes that the Black -throated Finch is rare in the
Tenterfield district where twenty-three years ago it was possible to record the species in

small numbers as close as 20 miles (32 km) west of the town nesting upon a number of
occasions. Over the following ten years this finch gradually became scarcer and finally dis-
appeared from areas close to Tenterfield. Today if one is fortunate the Black -throated Finch

can be found in isolated small flocks in the Reedy Creek area 43 miles (69 km) west of Tenter

field where have recorded it nesting on one occasion only. The usual nesting sites here were
within hollow branches of small dead eucalypts. My last record was for four pairs which had
constructed their nests inside old tenements of the Spotted -sided Finch Emblema guttata.”
Since 1965 have travelled on most of the roads within 80 km of Inverell noting the birds
in various habitats but the Black -throated Finch was found only in those areas already des-
cribed. This does not preclude the possibility of this species being found in places too difficult
to reach by car. It would be necessary to traverse the numerous wooded creeks on foot to
ascertain the true range of the Black -throated Finch but feel that if the species were at all
numerous a few birds would have been discovered when in all seasons suitable habitats were
inspected along the many minor roads.
was somewhat puzzled to see that the finches observed at Middle Creek in May were
richly coloured on breast and belly in a bright “new -penny” -copper shade, while those seen at
Wean Crossing also in May, were dull cinnamon under.
Elks, R. 1967 Field List of Birds of Queensland’s South-east Corner.
Valley: Kevin Burns.
Immelmann, K. 1970 Australian Finches. Sydney: Angus & Robertson Ltd.
Lavery, H. J. 1969 List of Birds in Queensland. Canberra: Churchill Memorial
Macdonald, J. D. 1973 Birds of Australia. Sydney: A. H. & A. W. Reed.
McCutcheon, A. 0. 1976 A Record of the Black -throated Finch at “Berida”

Gilgandra. Australian Birds 11: 12.

Slater, P. 1974 A Field Guide to Australian Birds Passerines. Adelaide:
Rigby Ltd.
Storr, G. M. 1974 List of Queensland Birds. Perth: Spec. Publ. West. Aust.
Museum No. 5.
MERLE B,4LD WIN, Gilgai, Via Inverell, N.S.W. 2360.September, 1976. 15.
Morris (1976 Aust. Birds 10:54) queried a record of the Powerful Owl Ninox strenua
in the Pilliga Scrub as being too far west of its normal range. Whilst agreeing with his reasons for
doubting the Pilliga record would like to record that one was secured at “Berida” property
22 km west of Gilgandra on the Marthaguy Creek.
I have been a resident of this area for over 60 years and a bird watcher for 50 years and
have seen large owls during that period but have had no cause to shoot them. This Powerful
Owl, the only one ever recorded on the property, was shot around 1935. It’s roosting tree
was a large River Red Gum Eucalyptus camalulensis and it frequently had a half eaten bird or
mammal held on the roosting limb by one talon.
My reference books give the Powerful Owl a 61 cm measurement, and the Winking Owl
N. connivers as 40 cm with females larger. It would be difficult to make a mistake with the
bird as 21 cm is too large a margin. In addition the shot specimen was readily identified as a
Powerful Owl when held in the hand.
P. Wade (1975 Every Australian Bird Illustrated: Rigby Ltd.) depicts the Powerful
Owl holding a half -eaten Eastern Water Rat Hydromys chrysogaster whilst Hindwood and
Cooper (1965 Portfolio of Australian Birds) also illustrated the bird with the same mammal.
However, the Berida bird frequently held a White -winged Chough Corcorax melanorhamphus
and once a half-grown Brush -tailed Possum Trichosurus vulpecula.
The bird was shot as its perch was 200m from an open fowl run and it was thought
at the time that half-grown poultry would be easy prey for such a large bird.
A. 0. McCUTCHEON, “Berida”, Gilgandra. N.S.W. 282716. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (1)
Whilst droving a flock of sheep for seven kilometres through well grassed paddocks
on the property “North Woodside” near Warren on 20 May 1976 was able to observe the
feeding habits of both Black Falcons Falco subniger and a Brown Falcon F. berigora as they
fed ahead of the moving flock. The Black Falcons were feeding on grasshoppers, mainly the
Plague Locust Chortoicetes terininijera, and quail that were being flushed by the movement of
the sheep. Three species of quail were present, Stubble Quail Coturnix pectoralis were the most
abundant, with Red -chested Button -quail Turnix pyrrhothorax and Little Button -quail T.velox
in lesser numbers, possibly in the order of 10 : 2: 1.
On the first day the numbers of Black Falcons built up until there were seven active
overhead. Identification was made very easy because they completely ignored my presence
and passed within two metres of me when making their long gliding dives after prey. During
these attacks the wings were used to manoeuvre and some quite spectacular wing over -turns
were made.
The attack procedure used by each bird was as follows. First each falcon would rise to
10 – 15 m using rapidly flapping wings, and then glide slowly over the flock. On sighting the
prey, the falcon tightened all feathers and dived, the descent rate and angle of the dive being
adjusted by varying the wing area. Directional control was achieved by varying the angle of
incidence of the wings, the tail being tightly closed to assist streamlining. The penetration of
the dive was such that some very spectacular turns to correct attack path direction could be
made without having to flap the wings. In some instances the falcons were able to level out
at sheep height and make a rapid gliding pass for some ten metres. Grasshoppers were caught by
throwing the talons forward, grabbing them as the falcon rose to observation height of 10-15 m
using rapidly flapping wings. In some instances these climbs were nearly vertical. The falcons
ate the grasshoppers whilst still in the air, cruising above the flock.
This same procedure was used when pursuing quail, although none of these were caught.
The quail appeared to be aware of the presence of the falcons and went to ground very quickly,
sometimes right amongst the flock of sheep. A somewhat similar method of hunting quail by
Black Falcons is given by Morris (1970 Birds 5:13).
On the following day when the sheep were being returned to their paddock an excellent
comparison of hunting methods between the two species of falcon was made. On the return
trip a Brown Falcon became interested in the quail being disturbed by the flock. It was underSeptember, 1976 17.
observation for 30 minutes as it pursued the quail and made several low close passes, ignoring
my presence.
The attack procedure used by the Brown Falcon was completely different from that used
by the Black Falcons. It flew after any of the quail flushed and showed no interest in the
grasshoppers. The quail did not appear to be aware of the Brown Falcon’s presence as the only
time it spent in the air was when it was in pursuit of a quail. The attack was made by flying at
low level directly behind the victim, using powerful wing beats. Eventually after eight attempts
the Brown Falcon succeeded in catching a Stubble Quail. It then dropped to the ground to eat
the quail and was soon left well behind. About one kilometre further on the Black Falcons of
the previous day appeared and followed until the flock was paddocked. At no time was the
Brown Falcon in the air over the flock when the Black Falcons were present too.
The Brown Falcon was identified and separated from the Black Falcons in the following
points:- The Brown Falcon was in the dark phase and the lighter underside wing markings
were easily seen. The Black Falcon’s underwing patterns were similar to the Brown Falcon;
however, the lighter portions of the pattern were only evident if viewed from directly under-
neath and were dark brown in colour. The lighter chin patch was more conspicuous and much
larger in area; when gliding the Brown Falcon used upswept wings whilst the Black Falcon used
a flat wing configuration, the wing beats of the former being much slower except when just
about to take the prey. Finally when perched, the Brown Falcon’s folded wing tips extended
past the tip of the tail, whilst the tip of the Black Falcon’s tail extended beyond the tips of its
folder wings.
A sequel to the above occasion took place some three weeks later. Whilst moving another
flock of sheep along the same route as before, the Black Falcons followed right into the
Brown Falcon’s territory. After ten minutes of sharing the same section of air space, the largest
Black Falcon attacked the larger of the two Brown Falcons present. The attack occurred in
mid-air, and then they fell to the ground with their talons locked together, whilst striking at
each other with their beaks. It was one of the most determined fights have seen between
birds. After two minutes the Black Falcon was seen to rise and resume soaring. Although
watched the area intently for a further five minutes I did not see the Brown Falcon rise.
Unfortunately I could not leave the sheep to carry out a thorough search of the area.
GEOFF. IIADDON, “Royona Downs-, Quamhone. N.S. W. 281618. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (1)
At 0700 hours on Saturday 25 April 1975, was driving westwards past the Back Creek
State Forest near West Wyalong when I noticed a pigeon feeding one metre from the edge of
the bitumened highway. As it had its back facing me, my first impression was that was ob-
serving a Common Bronzewing Phaps chalcoptera. I was surprised to see the white breast
marking and patterned facial area of a Squatter Pigeon I’etropha.ssa scripta when it turned
towards the vehicle. In normal Squatter Pigeon manner it quite casually moved off the road
area into bordering grasses.
The unusualness of this sighting was at first overlooked as I knew that the range of
this species, had at time, extended southwards into central -northern New South Wales, but
failed to realise at first just how much further south this bird was. As far as is known and
stated the bird is infrequently encountered in the vicinity of the Dumaresq and Macintyre
Rivers (McGill 1960 Handlist of the Birds of New South Wales). In that locality it undoubtedly
occurs as a rare overshoot from areas in neighbouring Queensland.
Why the bird was in the Back Creek area can only be guessed. Weather conditions were
normal for the period and there were no other reasons such as food shortages to make it move
south. Also there have been no other published reports of abnormal movements of the species
from other areas for the same period. My previous experience, mainly with birds about
Rockhampton, Queensland, indicated to me that local movements were not unusual but
know of no great movements to equal this southern record.

N. W. LONGMORE, 6 Daniel Ace., Baulkhani Hills, N.S.W. 2153.September, 1976 19.

John Debert, who made a very real contribution to the success of the Field -outing to
Myall Lakes in 1972 and who helped many members visiting his area, died suddenly at
Forster (NSW) on 13 April 1976.
He was born at Liverpool (England) on 26 January 1900 and, after serving in the
Royal Flying Corps towards the end of World War 1, migrated to Africa where he spent
several years in the then Gold Coast before settling in Australia about 1924. His reason
for coming here, so he asserted, was to ensure that he’d always have a holiday to celebrate
his birthday. While managing a newspaper at Penrith he became foundation President of the
Sydney Bushwalkers’ Club and, with Miles Dunphy and other early members, was respon-
sible for the setting aside of various park areas just south of Sydney. At this time he became
friendly with Keith Hindwood and the two maintained very close contact over the years.
About 1960 he moved to Forster where he became manager of the “Cape Hawke
Advocate” until his retirement two years ago. For more than ten years he contributed a
weekly column, “By the Wayside with Spurwing”, in which he expressed his love of the
bush and its inhabitants. These sincere, lucid and well -documented articles aroused a great
deal of interest and activity amongst thousands of readers. He was constantly in demand to
lecture or lead district groups or visitors on bird discovery outings. Recently he had been
very active in efforts to preserve Kooragang Island and Myall Lakes.
“Jack” Debert was an amazingly energetic community worker whose enthusiasm was
infectious. He served with the R.A.A.F. in World War 11 and at the time of his death was
vice-preseident of the local RSL Sub -branch. He was also president, or on the executive, of
a number of local organisations. To cope with his many interests — of which bird -observing
was foremost — his working day normally extended from 0400 hours until midnight and he
was attending a meeting when he collapsed and died.
Although he published little apart from three articles in “Australian Birds” and his
newspaper articles, which are full of birdlore, he kept copious field notes in a well -organised
system. It is hoped that these will be made more generally available later. For instance, at
the time of his death he was working on a paper dealing with records of the White Tern in
New South Wales.
Our sympathy is extended to his wife, Marjorie and their son, Ian.20. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (1)
Contributors are requested to observe the following points when submitting articles and notes
for publication.

  1. Species, names and the order in which they occur are to be in accordance with “A Check-
    list of the Birds of Australia, 1. Non -passerines”. H. T. Condon (1975) Melbourne: RAOU,
    and “Interim list of Australian Songbirds” Melbourne: RAOU.
  2. Articles or notes should be typewritten if possible and submitted in duplicate. Double
    spacing is required.
  3. Margins of not less than 25mm width at the left hand side and top, with similar or
    slightly smaller at the right hand side of pages.
  4. No underlinings and no abbreviations except as shown in the examples.
  5. Photographs should be glossy finish and not too small.
  6. The Style Manual, Commonwealth Government Printing Office, Canberra (1966) and
    subsequent editions will be the guide for this Journal.
  7. Diagrams should be on plain white paper drawn with india ink. Any lettering is to be
    ‘professional style’ or lightly pencilled.
  8. Dates must be written “1 January 1975” except in tables and figures where they may
    be abbreviated.
  9. The 24-hour clock will be used, times being written 06:30, 18:30 for 6.30 a.m. and
    6.30 p.m. respectively.
  10. Mr, Mrs, Dr are not followed by a full stop.
  11. In text, numbers one to ten are spelt; numbers of five figures or more should be grouped
    in threes and spaced by a thin gap. Commas should not be used as thousand markers.
  12. Reference to other articles should be shown in the text- ‘….B. W. Finch and M. D. Bruce
    (1974) stated that….’ and under heading
    Finch, B. W. and M. D. Bruce 1974 The Status of the Blue Petrel in Australian Waters.
    Aust. Birds 9:32-35

13. Acknowledgements to other individuals should include Christian names or initials.=

N. W. Schrader Breeding of the Welcome Swallow at Ivanhoe
in Western New South Wales 1
D. G. Gosper The Nutmeg Mannikin on the North Coast of
New South Wales 8
A. 0. McCutcheon A Record of the Black -throated Finch at
“Berida”, Gilgandra 12
Merle Baldwin Distribution of the Black- throated Finch 13
A. 0. McCutcheon A Powerful Owl at Gilgandra 15
G. Haddon Black and Brown Falcons feeding ahead of
moving sheep near Warren 16

N. W. Longmore Squatter Pigeon near West Wyalong 18

P. A. Bourke Obituary Jack Debert 19
Notice to Contributors 20

Registered for Posting as a Periodical – Category B

Orana Press, Lakemba 759-2782