Vol. 11 No. 2-text

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Journal of the

Volume 11 No. 2 December 1976

Registered for Posting as a Periodical, Category B Price $1.50THE 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
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All correspondence should be addressed to the Hon. Secretary at:
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Manuscripts should be sent to the Editor at:
P.O. Box 39, Coonabarabran. 2857.Vol. 11, No. 2 December, 1976
The Bush -hen Gallinula olivacea was first described by A. R. Wallace (1865) from
specimens collected from the Moluccas in 1861. A bird taken in 1869 on the Cape River,
Queensland by Mr. Rainbird and sent by Mr. F. G. Waterhouse to J. Gould who described
it (Gould 1869) was the first known record for Australia. Since that time, specimens and
observations have been reported from Cape York south along the Queensland coast to the
vicinity of Brisbane (see Morgan and Morgan 1968, Beru’dsen 1975, Clarke 1975) with
several unsubstantiated records from coastal Northern Territory (Condon 1975). Recently,
the occurrence of G. olivacea in New South Wales has been confirmed by specimens and
sightings (Rogers 1974, 1975; Fraser and Mendel 1976). During an inventory of The Aust-
ralian Museum egg collection, the author “rediscovered” a breeding record of this species
from 1864, which due to repeated misidentification, remained virtually hidden until this
time. The record consists of a clutch of four eggs (Australian Museum registration numb-
ers 0.19703, 0.19704, 0.19707 and 0.19708) contained in the Dobroyde Collection of
Mr. E. P. Ramsay.
The identity of the bird responsible for the eggs was a subject of debate for some
years. There is an interesting history surrounding the controversy and misidentification of
the eggs.

Ramsay’s description (1882) of these eggs, which he attributed to the Dusky Moor-

hen G tenebrosa, read22. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (2)
“Eggs white or cream colour rather rounded in form, spotted with light reddish spots
thicker on the larger end sparingly dispersed over the rest of the surface.
1.55 to 16 (sic) X 1.2 (inches) ” (p.56).
A J. North (1889) later provided a more detailed account in his Australian Museum
“This bird G. tenebrosa frequents the weedy margins of rivers and creeks and is part-
icularly plentiful on the Richmond and Clarence Rivers. Mr. J. Macgillivray found a
nest of this species in a bush on the edge of the latter river on 11th January 1864;
it was composed of rushes and other aquatic herbage, and contained four fresh eggs,
rather rounded in form, of a pale creamy -white ground colour, freckled and blotched
all over with reddish -chestnut and lilac spots, the former colour greatly predominating
and becoming larger and more thickly disposed towards the thicker end of the egg.
Length (A) 1.55 X 1.15 inch; (B) 1.53 X 1.18 inch; (C) 1.37 X 1.2 inch; (D) 1.55
X 1.2 inch.
Upon comparing these eggs with those of Gallinula ruficrissa, (Gould) from Northern
Australia, and with those of Amaurornis moluccarza, (Wallace), from New Britain, (the
two latter of which are declared to be identical by some ornithologists) it will be
seen that there is little or no variation in either their colour or measurements.” (p.325).
The identification of the eggs as those of G. tenebrosa by both men was disp -u ted by
A. J. Campbell. In a review of North’s Catagogue, he stated (Campbell 1893: 74)
“The description particularly take exception to is the Gallinule (Gallinula tenebrosa,
Gould). Mr. North has evidently re -described the same set of eggs that Dr. Ramsay
used in the “Proceedings Linnaean Society N.S.W.,” Vol. vii., p.56 (1882), and I
informed Dr. Ramsay was of the opinion he had described Rail’s eggs instead. And
so sure was I of it that I took the opportunity of personally collecting the eggs of
the Gallinula in an arm of Lake King, Gippsland, where the birds were numerous. I
also shot a pair of birds which, together with the eggs, I presented to Dr. Ramsay, at
The Australian Museum, in order that he might have an opportunity of correcting his
own error. He has not, however, seen fit to do so. They have probably described the
eggs of the Red -necked Rail Rallina tricolor, Gray, instead of the Gallinule, which is
a larger bird. Here are the cardinal points of their two descriptions of the eggs, given
in parallel columns, which it will be seen are almost identical:-
Gallinule (page 325). — Red -necked Rail (330). —
Pale creamy white — Pale cream —
blotched with reddish spots reddish chestnut,
chestnut and lilac spots and a few of lilac tinge.
First egg measured 1.53 X 1.15 inches First egg measured 1.55 X 1.1 inches.”
In his own work on nests and eggs, Campbell (1900) elaborated further on the
“Dr. Ramsay was good enough to show me the eggs referred to and collected in the
Richmond and Clarence River districts by Mr Macgillivray, 11th January, 1864, whichDecember, 1976 23.
(1.58 X 1.15) are much too small for the Gallinule, resembling those of a Rail and
being exactly like those of Railina tricolor. During a visit to Sydney, 1885, I presented
Dr. Ramsay, then the Curator of the Australian Museum, with the birds shot in Gipp-
sland, together with a pair of the eggs I collected there. When the “Descriptive Catalogue
of Nests and Eggs” issued by that institution appeared, it was natural that expected
to see these specimens, the eggs at any events, referred to, more especially as there had
been a dispute about the species. But nothing was mentioned, except again to redescribe
the wrong eggs for this species.” (pp.755-756).
In the second volume of “Nests and Eggs”, North (1909) illustrated two eggs of &tricolor
and two of the Chestnut -bellied Rail Eulabeornis castaneoventris (plate B.XII. figures 3-4 and
5-6 respectively). When the accompanying text appeared in volume four (North 1913), he
stated under the discussion of Amaurornis moluccana (=G. olivacea) that all four illustrations
were attributable to this bird. He also gave a valid description of the eggs of G. tenebrosa,
but made no mention of the eggs in question or the surrounding controversy. It is possible
that this was due to North’s intense dislike of Campbell. Throughout his work, no reference
was made of Campbell or any of his findings (Serventy 1972).

The label on the eggs reads: Name Gallinula tenebrosa; Loc. Grafton, N.S.W.; Date

  1. This has been annotated (ca. 1912) by Mr. Roy Kinghorn, former Curator of Birds
    at the Australian Museum, to read “Amaurornis ruficrissa”. Although he appears to have b3en
    the first to correctly determine the eggs’ identity, he regrettably did not pursue the matter
    further and thus did not realise the significance of the record. It was the annotation, an
    earlier name for the Bush -hen, that caught the author’s attention.
    A comparison of the Grafton eggs with G. olivacea eggs from northern Queensland,
    New Guinea and Solomon Islands and those of G. tenebrosa and R. tricolor easily resohies
    the controversy. The eggs of G. tenebrosa have a much darker background colour and

darker spots and are considerably larger. “A set of five eggs of G. tenebrosa, taken at

Gordonbrook, on the Upper Clarence River, measures Length (A) 2.05 X 1.42 inches;
(North 1913: 227-228). Oological specimens of R. tricolor,although slightly smaller than
eggs of G. olivacea, differ markedly in colour. The white eggs are unique among Australian
rallids. Eggs of other species with which confusion could develop are also noticeably different
in size, colour and/or shape. Alternatively, there is close agreement between the 1864 eggs
and those of G. olivacea from other localities. There is little doubt that the eggs in question
belong to G. olivacea.
The misidentification as G. tenebrosa by Ramsay and the perpetuation of this error by
North are difficult to understand considering the relative size of the eggs and the abundance
of the Dusky Moorhen in the area of collection (see North’s (1889) statement above). Admitt-
edly, Ramsay’s oological description was the first for “G. tenebrosa” in Australia, but undoubt-
edly valid eggs of this species had been found by the time of North’s Catalogue seven years
later. Eggs of G. olivacea were known from other localities and were available for comparison;
one was described by North (1889: 326).
Campbell’s assertion that the species involved was R. tricolor is also unusual. At the time
of the controversy, this species was not known further south than northern Queensland24. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (2)
(Campbell 1900: 742). Although the collecting site of the 1864 eggs was not given in Ramsay’s
original description, it was listed by North (1889). There is a consistent size difference between
the eggs of both species, while a comparison of the colours should have been diagnostic. Un-
fortunately, the authorities were also having disagreements over the true colour of R tricolor
eggs (see the description by North (1889) quoted by Campbell (1900) ). The arguments con-
cerning the egg colour have been summarised by Boles (1976). Locality, colour and size would
deny Campbell’s claim that R. tricolor produced the Grafton eggs.
Eggs of both G. tenebrosa and R. tricolor,as well as all other Australian rallids, except
G. olivacea, differ significantly from the Grafton specimens. This record of G. olivacea pre-
dates Wallace’s (1865) original description which did not appear until the following year so
it is understandable that the early authorities encountered difficulties in dealing with it. As
the collection of these eggs occurred five years prior to the record reported by Gould (1869),
it is the earliest known record of G. olivacea in Australia.
Beruldsen, G. R. 1975 The Bush -hen in south-eastern Queensland. Aust. Bird
Watcher 6: 75-76.
Boles, W. E. 1976 The Colour of Red -necked Rail Eggs: A Historical Debate.
Aust. Birds 11:28
Campbell, A. J. 1893 A Decade of Australian Oology. Vict. Nat. 10: 71-77.
Campbell, A. J. 1900 Nests and Eggs of Australian Birds. Sheffield: Pawson and
Clarke, J. H. 1975 Observations of the Bush -hen at Camp Mountain, south-
east Queensland. Sunbird 6: 15-21.
Condon, H. T. 1975 Checklist of Birds of Australia, I. Non -passerines. Melb-
ourne: RAOU.
Fraser, G. C. The Bush -hen in New South Wales. Aust. Birds 11:25
and Mendel, G. J. 1976
Gould, J. 1869 Descriptions of Five New Species of Birds from Queensland,
Australia; a new hummingbird from the Bahamas. Ann. and
Mag. Nat Hist. 4th, series, Vol. 4: 108-112.
Morgan, B. 1968 The Bush -hen in south-eastern Queensland. Emu 68: 150 (four
and Morgan, J. Plates).
North, A. J. 1 889 Descriptive Catalogue of the Nests and Eggs of Birds Found
Breeding in Australia and Tasmania. Sydney: The Australian
North, A. J. 1909 Nests and Eggs of Birds Found Breeding in Australia and
Tasmania, Vol. 2. Sydney: The Australian Museum.
North, A. J. 1913 Nests and Eggs of Birds Found Breeding in Australia and
Tasmania, Vol. 4. Sydney: The Australian Museum.
Rantsay, E. P. 1882 Contributions to Australian Oology, Part 1. Proc. Linn.
Soc. N.S.W., Vol. 7: 45-59.December, 1976 25.
Rogers, A. E. F. 1974 N.S.W. Bird Report for 1973. Aust. Birds 8: 99-119.
Rogers, A. E. F. 1975 N.S.W. Bird Report for 1974. Aust. Birds 9: 79-99.
Serventy, D. L. 1972 A historical background of ornithology with special
reference to Australia. Emu 72: 41-50.
Wallace, A. R. 1865 Descriptions of New Birds from the Malayan Archipelago.
Proc. Zool. Soc. London 1865: 474-481.
WALTER G. BOLES, Australian Museum, Sydney, NS.W. 2000.

The Bush -hen Gallinula olivacea was only known from the Northern Territory and
Northern Queensland until 1964 when Morgan and Morgan (1968) observed the species bread-
ing at Gold Creek, a Brisbane suburb. The Bush -hen has subsequently been reported in So ith
Eastern Queensland on several occasions (Beruldsen 1975, Clarke 1975) and in 1973 a speci-
men was found at Wardell on the Richmond River in North-eastern New South Wales (in
Rogers 1973). This report describes that specimen and records some recent observations in
the Tweed -Richmond Region.
The first specimen was collected (GCF) as a roadside casualty 5 km north of Wardell
on 13 January 1973. The bird was photographed but the specimen has since been lost. The
plumage was in good condition although the right wing was missing. The upperparts were a
warm olive brown, grading to a steel grey on the breast, throat and head. The undertail
coverts were rufous and this shaded into greyer tones on the thighs and abdomen. The bill
was dark olive green except for a small basal orange area on the upper mandible. The legs
and feet were olive brown.
Two more road casualties were subsequently collected (GJM). A badly damaged speci-
men was found on 13 December 1973 at the Wardell locality and a second 3 km west of
Alstonville on 23 February 1976. This specimen was forwarded to the Australian Museum
and the following information was kindly supplied by Mr. W. E. Boles: –
Registration Number: 045372 Data Sheet Number DSN 5419, Weight 175 g, Total
length 285 mm, Wing 155 mm, Tail 65 mm, Wing spread 485 mm, Culmen 33 mm,
Tarsus 55 mm, Skull: hard but not pneumatized; Moult: no wing, tail or body moult;

Sex: no gonads found due to internal damage; Soft parts: iris dark brown; bill

green; legs dark olive green; Stomach contents: reddish seeds.
A fourth specimen was given to us by Mr. R. Smith who found it under the trans-
mission tower on Mount Nardi near Nimbin on 9 March 1974. This find followed heavy26. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (2)
rain and flooding associated with cyclonic conditions in the area. This specimen was smaller
than the other three and lacked the orange patch at the base of the upper mandible.
We have observed the Bush -hen at two different localities. On 9 January 1974 one of
us (GJM) obtained excellent sightings of a pair of adults and three juveniles at a pond on
the Ballina Golf Course. The adults were similar to the dead birds but their legs were
yellowish -b own. The juveniles were predominatly grey and the most striking features were
the tuft of sprouting tail feathers and the well developed legs and feet. While the birds were
exposed on a track beside the pond the adult birds called frequently. The call could best be
described a “click -click”. Single adult birds were subsequently seen at this location by our-
selves and other observers (in Rogers 1975).
On 14 February 1976 at Alstonville only 1.5 km from the site where our third speci-
men was obtained one of us (GCF) saw a pair with a single young crossing a road. As the
observer’s vehicle approached, one adult and the juvenile rushed into dense grass while the
remaining bird moved slowly backward and forwards flicking its wings repeatedly. This bird
remained on the road approximately 5 metres from the car for about 30 seconds before
finally disappearing with its mate.
The location at Wardell is near the source of a natural drain. The vegetation is dom-
inated in the wetter areas by the Broad -leafed Paperbark Melaleuca quinquenervia while in
the drier areas, species typical of marginal rainforest are found. These include Black Wattle
Callicoma serratifolia, Brown Kurrajong Contmersonia bartramia, Bangalow Palm Archontoph-
oenix cunninghamiana and Euodia ellergona. The ground cover is a variable mixture of
grasses, ferns and sedges and there are thickets of Lantana Lantana comara between the
trees. The area is surrounded by land which has been cleared for grazing and the cultivation
of sugar cane. At the pond at Ballina the wetter areas are again dominated by Broad -leafed
Paperbark while the rainforest species include Corkwood Duboisia myoporoides, Blackwood
Acacia melanoxylon and a Bleeding Heart Omalanthus sp. There is a dense thicket of Lan-
tana on the drier margin of the pond. The sites at Alstonville are at the sources of tribut-
aries of two creeks. They are surrounded by cleared grazing country with very few rain-
forest trees left standing. Both sites are overgrown by Lantana. Mount Nardi is surrounded
by dense sub -tropical rainforest but there are several creeks nearby which would provide
suitable habitat.
Several other observers have seen the Bush -hen in North-eastern New South Wales.
In the early 1960’s, Mr. N. Jackson of Teven saw the bird and his observations were resp-
onsible for the species’ inclusion in a list published by the Richmond Valley Naturalists
Club. The sightings made by J. lzzard on 7 May 1973 and on 4 May 1974 at Ballina are
notable as they are the only records falling outside the December to February period and
coincide with the latest records of Clarke. The report by Pratt (1976) of a breeding record
of the Bush -hen near Murwillumbah confirms previous sightings (in litt.) on 26 December
1960 and 28 December 1971 by the same observer. In 1960 a nest containing six eggs was
observed and in 1971 one adult was seen giving a broken wing distration display. Miss Pratt’s
most recent observation here was on 15 January 1976 when a pair with young chicks was
seen.December, 1976 27.
The discovery of a clutch of eggs of. the Bush -hen in the Australian Museum by W. E.
Boles (1976) has proved that this species was present in New South Wales in 1864.
At the present time the Bush -hen is an uncommon breeding resident on the Richmond
River. Most observations have been made in mid -summer when the bird is breeding and the
behaviour of the adult birds makes them more likely to be seen. At this time the habits of
the Bush -hen make it no more difficult to see than other Rallidae such as Land Rail Rallus
philippensis and Spotted Crake Porzana fluminea and it seems improbable that it could have
been overlooked in south-east Queensland and north-east New South Wales since MacGillivray
collected the clutch on the Clarence. Perhaps the species has undergone periodic expansion
and retraction of its range during this interval. The lack of records from May until December
may indicate that the species is migrating as discussed by Clarke and Beraldsen (loc. cit.).
Anon. 1973 Birds of the Richmond Valley. Lismore: Richmond
Valley Naturalist’s Club.
Beruldsen G. R. 1975 The Bush -hen in south-eastern Queensland. Aus. Bird
Watcher 6: 75.
Boles W. E. 1976 The Re -discovery of the First Record of the Bush -hen
for Australia. Aust. Birds 11: 21.
Clarke J. H. 1975 Observations on the Bush -hen at Camp Mountain
South-east Queensland. Sunbird 6: 15.
Morgan B. and The Bush -hen in south-eastern Queensland. Emu
and Morgan J. 1968 68: 150.
Pratt E. 1976 Queensland Ornitholigical Newsletter. 7: 5.
Rogers A. E. F. 1974 N.S.W. Bird Report for 1973. Birds 8: 105.
Rogers A. E. F. 1975 N.S.W. Bird Report for 1974. Birds 9: 84.
G. C FRA SE R, Wardell Road, Alstonville. N S. W. 2480
G. J. MENDE L, “Songspur”, Coolgardie Road, Wardell. N S. W. 2480.28. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (2)
In the initial stages of Australian ornithology, considerable knowledge was accumulated
through the efforts of naturalists such as E. P. Ramsay, A. J. North and A. J. Campbell.
Yet much of these pioneers’ energies were not directed to objective pursuits but expended
in heated debates developing from the intense rivalries among them. For common species,
few areas of controversy arose, but for those in remote sections of Australia or with secretive
habits, difficulties were occasionally encountered.
One of these controversies involved the question of the true egg colour of the Redneck-
ed Rail Rallina tricolor. Unless the parent was collected while actually incubating, the sulk-
ing habits of this bird made it difficult to obtain positively identified oological specimens.
The problem was compounded by its restricted occurrence to Cape York. The controversy
began when J. Gould (1869) provided the first description of R. tricolor from Australia.
In it he said:
“Mr. Cockerell states….he once found the nest and eggs, which he says were white;
if this be the case it is the only instance known to me of the eggs of a Rail being
destitute of colour”. (facing plate 78).
E. P. Ramsay (1875) took issue with this description and related,
“I received a fine set of these eggs from Inspector Robert Johnstone, to whom the
bird is well known, and who assures me that after finding the nest and eggs he left
it until he had twice seen the bird sitting thereon, that he might be perfectly sure
there could be no mistake as to their identity. I had informed Mr. Johnstone of my
doubts as to the authenticity of the eggs mentioned by Mr. Gould, on the authority
of Mr. Cockerell, who, have been informed, did not actually take them himself the
eggs in question having been brought to his companion, Mr. J. Thorpe, by a black
fellow. have before me one of these white and so-called Rail’s eggs, which obtain-
ed from Mr. Thorpe on his return with Cockerell from Cape York, and can only say
that it is remarkably like that of a Pigeon (!) in every respect. The eggs forwarded
by Inspector Johnstone, of the authenticity of which have not the slightest doubt,
have pale cream or whitish ground -colour, sprinkled all over, but more thickly at the
larger end of some, with irregular -shaped spots light reddish chestnut, and a few of a
lilac tinge appearing as if beneath the surface of the shell, having the characteristic
form, marking and colour of all true Rail’s eggs. They are fc it in number, in length
1.5 to 1.6 inch, in breadth 1.07 to 1.1 inch”. (p.604).
A. J. North (1889) presented Ramsay’s description verbatim in his Descriptive Catalogue
and illustrated a spotted egg for R. tricolor (plate 17). This description was later quoted by
A. J. Campbell (1893) in a dispute with North over the identity of a clutch of rail eggs
from Grafton, N.S.W. (see Boles 1976).December, 1976 29.
In his “Nest and Eggs of Australian Birds”, Campbell (1900) regarded the eggs of
R. tricolor to be “fairly blotched and spotted, particularly about the larger end with rufous
or reddish -brown and purple” (p. 743), but he described other clutches that he had seen
including eggs:
“taken in the Cooktown district….also white….as mentioned by Mr. Cockerell, attributed
to a Rail, whether this Rail or some other bird has yet to be proved. A set of three
of these white eggs may be seen in the collection of Mr. D. Le Souef. They resemble
in shape and size those of the Red -necked Rail, minus the markings, but apparently
stouter in the shell and have more gloss on the surface”. (p. 743-744).
Campbell mentioned that Kendall Broadbent felt “from very strong circumstantial evid-
ence …. the white eggs are Red -necked Rail’s” and quoted from Broadbent’s field notes:
“…. one morning, when crawling as usual in the ferns, I nearly broke two beautiful
eggs laid on the ground amongst the ferns in a little circular basin lined with a few
bits of leaves and small pieces of dead sticks, just scrub rubbish. The eggs were quite
warm. I shot the female (Red -necked Rail) just as she was beginning to sit, judging
by her breast feathers”. (p. 744).
Both G. M. Mathews (1910) and A. H. S. Lucas and W. H. D. Le Souef (1911)
attributed spotted eggs to R. tricolor but the latter authorities qualified this by adding
“occasionally pure white”.
When the second volume of North’s (1909) “Nests and Eggs” appeared, it illustrated
two spotted eggs for R. tricolor (plate B.X11. figures 3 and 4). Four years later, however,
he referred both these figures, as well as numbers 5 and 6, originally labelled ‘Chestnut –
bellied Rail Eulabeornis castaneoventris’, to the Bush -hen Gallinula olivacea. The description
for R. tricolor has changed significantly:
‘The eggs are five in number for a sitting, oval in form, dull white, the shell being
close -grained, smooth and lustrous. An egg of a set of four taken by Mr. B. Jardine,
in January, 1901, meausres:- Length (A) 1.45 X 1.03 inches. A set of five in Dr. W.

Macgillivray’s collection, taken at Cape York on the 27th February, 1913, measures:

Length (A) 1.42 X 1.03 inches; (B) 1.43 X 1.02 inches; (C 1.43 X 1.02 inches;
(D) 1.39 X 1.01 inches; (E) 1.38 X 1.01 inches”. (p. 208).
This change was in response to evidence provided by several other notable collectors.
Both J. A. Thorpe and K. Broadbent have assured North that R. tricolor laid white eggs
while H. G. Barnard provided the following notes, quoted by the author:
“One nest, containing four pure white eggs, was found by the bird dashing from it
as I walked past. The nest, or what there was of it, was placed at the foot of a
tree, and merely consisted of a hole scooped in the ground, in which a few dead
leaves were placed. Being very anxious to secure this bird from the nest, and know-
ing my only hope of doing so was to shoot her while sitting on it, took the Rail’s
eggs out and placed in their stead four eggs of Tanysiptera sylvia, which had in my
collecting bag, and retired a short distance and lay beside a tree from where I comm-
anded a view of the nest. It was ten o’clock in the morning when took my position,
but it was four o’clock in the afternoon before the bird crept quietly on to the nest
and sad down. I at once fired, with the result that I killed the bird, and smashed the
Kingfisher’s eggs to atoms”. (p. 208).
Dr. W. Macgillivray also related to North several experiences with white R. tricolor
eggs, prompting North to conclude “It is not safe always to reason by analogy that the
eggs of a certain group of birds bear a resemblance to one another”.
From the descriptions by the various authorities and in recent reference works (e.g.
Macdonald 1973), it appears that white is indeed the predominant, if not the only, egg
colour for this species. One cannot be certain whether the eggs described by Ramsay (1885)
were truly those of R. tricolor. The illustration in North (1889) is very similar to the eggs
of the Bush -hen G. oliyacea which is found in the same habitat in Cape York. Additionally,
the measurements of the spotted eggs given by North (1889) and Campbell (1900) are very
similar to those of G. olivacea (23 specimens cited by North (1913) average 1.55 X 1.10
inches), while the measurements of the white eggs presented by North (1913) in his later
work are consistently smaller (average of five specimens is 1.41 X 1.02 inches).
The resolution of a concurrent debate among these authorities, involving spotted rail
eggs misidentified as those of R. tricolor, was delayed for some years as a result of this
controversy (see Boles 1976).
Boles, W. E. 1976 The “Rediscovery” of the First Record of the
Bush -hen for Australia. Aust. Birds 11:21.
Campbell, A J. 1893 A Decade of Australian Oology. Vict. Nat. 10: 71-77.
Campbell, A. J. 1900 Nests and Eggs of Australian Birds. Sheffield:
Pawson and Brailsford.
Gould, J. 1869 The Birds of Australia. supp. London.
Lucas, A. H. S, 1911 The Birds of Australia. Melbourne: Whitcombe
and W. H. D. LeSouef and Tombs Ltd.
Macdonald, J. D. 1973 Birds of Australia. Sydney. A. H. & A. W. Reed.
Mathews, G. M. 1910 The Birds of Australia. London: H. F. and
G. Witherby.
North, A. J. 1889 Descriptive Catalogue of the Nests and Eggs of
Birds. Found Breeding in Australia and Tasmania.
Sydney: The Australian Museum.
North, A. J. 1909 Nests and Eggs of Birds Found Breeding in Australia
and Tasmania, Vol. 2. Sydney: The Australian Museum.
North, A. J. 1913 Nests and Eggs of Birds Found Breeding in Australia
and Tasmania, Vol. 4. Sydney: The Australian Museum.
Ramsay, E. P. 1882 Description of the Eggs and Young of Rallina tricolor
from Rockingham Bay, Queensland. Proc. Zool. Soc.
London 1875: 603-604.
WALTER E BOLES, Department of Ornithology, Australian Museum, Sydney, N.S.W. 2000.December, 1976 31.
During 1975 members and friends of the Field Ornithologists Club travelled 2329 km
of the New South Wales coastline and found 4228 dead or stranded seabirds. Large mortal-
ities were observed in late summer, which mostly involved Short -tailed and Fluttering Shear –
waters, and in June -July, which consisted mainly of Little Penguins, Fairy Prions and Flutt-
ering Shearwaters. The mortality for October -December was unusually low but it contained
a relatively large mortality of Sooty Shearwaters in November in the Coffs Harbour zone.
Other relatively large mortalities included juvenile Short -tailed Shearwaters in the Coffs
Harbour zone in May, White -headed Petrels and Sooty Albatrosses in the Wollongong zone
in June and Australian Gannets in the northern zones in spring. Species rarely found beach –
washed in New South Wales included two Grey -headed Albatrosses, a Yellow -nosed Alba-
tross, nine sooty albatrosses, an Antarctic Fulmar, two Kerguelen Petrels and two Grey
This paper presents the results of the NSWFOC beach patrol scheme for 1975. The
zonal divisions of the NSW coastline (Morris, 1972) have been modified slightly with respect
to local geography. The ten zones from north to south are now defined by the following
Queensland border; Evans River; Red Rock; Hat Head; Khappinghat Creek; Red Head;
Georges River; Beecroft Head; Mullimburra Point; Pambula River; Victorian border. Within
the 2329 km travelled 4228 dead or stranded seabirds of 41 species were found, giving the
low mean mortality of 1.8 birds per km. A good coverage was obtained in the Maclean-
Coffs Harbour -Hastings zones where Glenn Holmes travelled 1895 km using a motorcycle.
In the Newcastle, Bega and Mallacoota zones coverage was poor or absent.
Table 1 shows the monthly rates of seabird mortality in birds per km. Tables 11
and 111 give the monthly and zonal distribution of seabird mortality for each species.
Previous seabird reports for 1970 to 1973 were cited in the 1974 report (Holmes &
Morris, 1975). These are the basis for any comparisons with species discussed in this report.
When the 1975 records of a species are consistent with previous observations or do not add
substantially to its known status in NSW it is not discussed in the following section.
The nomenclature follows Condon (1975).
An exceptional mortality of Little Penguins Eudyptula minor occurred. Most of the
64 were found in June and July well after the fledging period. The most northerly record
was of one at Port Macquarie on 28 July.32. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (2)
Two adult Grey -headed Albatrosses Diomedea chrysostoma were found, at Austinmer
Beach on 21 June and at Woody Head on 23 September. These were the sixth and eighth
NSW records (Rogers, 1976). An adult Yellow -nosed Albatross D. chlororhynchos was found
near Woody Head on 30 July. Although present at sea in small numbers from May to Sept-
ember (pers. obs.) this species is seldom beach -washed in NSW. The nine sooty albatrosses
Phoebetria spp. found in the Wollongong and Ulladulla zones were exceptional. In addition
to the seven given by Rogers (1976), unidentified sooty albatrosses were found at Steamer
Beach on 15 June and at Mary Bay on 27 October, both near Jervis Bay.
Two Antarctic Fulmars FuInutrus glacialoides were the eighth and ninth found beach –
washed in NSW; at Caves Beach near Jervis Bay on 5 September (Rogers, 1976) and at
Ballina on 21 September. One one Cape Petrel Daption capense was found, giving a second
year of low mortality following the high mortalities of 1972 and 1973.
Of the 11 Great -winged Petrels Pterodroma macroptera, six were found in the Wollon-
gong zone in June, which is a large number for this month. A freshly dead individual near
Crowdy Head on 28 September was an unusual date. Holmes and Morris (1975) stated that
the regular mortality of this species despite the low and irregular numbers observed on the
continental shelf, especially in northern NSW, suggested a pelagic distribution. This supports
the previous conclusions of Norris (1967) which were based on limited observation. The 13
White -headed Petrels P. lessonii were exceptional, especially the 11 in the Wollongong zone
in late June, as only nine had been found in the preceding five years. The Providence Petrel
P solandri again occurred in reasonable numbers but only in the northern zones. As Norris
(1967) observed only one in the Tasman Sea, 30 km south-east of Newcastle on 17 Sept-
ember 1962, this supports the contention of Holmes and Morris (1975) that the continental
margin in northern NSW is an important feeding area. Once again the Kerguelen Petrels
P brevirostris found in NSW occurred within a limited time interval. Two were found in
the Tweed Heads zone, on 9 and 14 September. A third individual was found nearby at
Mermaid Beach in Queensland on 13 September (Vernon & Fleay, 1975). A Gould Petrel
P leucoptera found at Cronulla on 27 May was an unusually late date and an immature
in worn plumage found near Woolgoolga on 15 November was early.
The mortality of prions Pachyptila spp. was greater than the previous maximum of
1973 which was dominated by the Antarctic Prion P. desolata. The 1975 mortality consisted
mainly of Fairy Prions P. turtur. There was an interesting occurrence of three Slender -billed
Prions P. belcheri on northern Sydney beaches in early July; on 5 July one was also found
dead about 8 km off Sydney Heads (A. Rogers pers. comm.)
The low mortality of Short -tailed Shearwaters Puffinus tenuirostris was comparable to
that of 1973, which was a “below average” year (Holmes & Morris, 1975). In contrast the
closely related Sooty Shearwater P griseus suffered a relatively large mortality in November,
mainly in the Coffs Harbour zone. The Grey -backed Shearwater P. bulleri was found near
Ballina on 22 October. This species is a regular visitor to south-eastern Australia in small
numbers (Holmes 1975) and is now recorded in three of the six seabird reports. The 120December, 1976 33.
Fluttering Shearwaters P. gavia greatly exceeded the maximum of 44 in 1974. The February
mortality was again large but this year 72 were found in June and July.
As in 1974 a large number of Australian Gannets Sula senator were found but in
1975 they were confined to the northern zones. The maximum mortality occurred in September
October, whereas in 1974 it was in March -April. The 17 in this period consisted of 13 immat-
ures and four adults. For the first time the Black Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo was not the
most abundant cormorant, being displaced by the Little Pied Cormorant P. melanoleucos. An
immature White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus was found near Coffs Harbour on 5 May.
This was the first year when skuas Sterocorarius spp. were not found. The proportion of
Silver Gulls Larus novaehollandiae to Crested Terns Sterna bergii was smaller than in previous
years, being less than two to one. The adult Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata found near Dee Why
on 4 July may have been an early returning bird for this date is unusual in NSW. The number
of White -fronted Terns S. striata was related to their abundance, for in 1975 they were observ-
ed in numbers north to south-eastern Queensland (C. Corben, pers. comm.). In 1974 they were
completely absent from northern NSW (pers. obs.) and none was found dead anywhere in
NSW. The two dead Grey Ternlets Procelsterna cerulea, at Windang on 19 January and near
Sawtell on 2 February, occurred in a year exceptional for records of this species (Holmes 1976).
A juvenile Common Noddy Anous stolidus found alive at Ballina on 20 December later died
(Rogers 1976).
The broad pattern of mortality in 1975 was rather unusual as the maxima occurred
in late summer and in June -July. In late summer only two species were well represented, the
Short -tailed and Fluttering Shearwaters. Most individuals were found in the Ulladulla zone in
February. The Fluttering Shearwaters were fresh but the Short -tailed Shearwaters were thought
to have mostly died in early January. No gales occurred in January and February, although
strong winds on the southern coast during 2-4 January (anon, 1975) may have contributed
to the Short -tailed Shearwater mortality.
Despite the occurrence of gales and strong winds in March and April (Anon, 1975)
mortality was very low.
In May 41 Short -tailed Shearwaters were found in the Coffs Harbour zone; 30 of these
were found freshly dead up to 8 May between Sawtell and Woolgoolga. These birds were
juveniles as all had fresh plumage. Most were so emaciated that seven had a mean weight
of only 269 g (pers. obs.). They were obviously part of the northward post -fledging mig-
ration that has been observed off Coffs Harbour from April to July, with a maximum in
May (pers. obs.). This movement is probably not very extensive and most likely involves
only the northern part of the breeding distribution. Weather did not contribute to this
mortality, for strong winds did not occur before 14 May.34. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (2)
The greatest and most diverse mortality occurred in the Sydney-Wollongong-Ulladulla
zones in June and July. Ocean gales and strong southerly winds in coastal waters during 12-15
June (Anon 1975) were apparently responsible for a large mortality in the Ulladulla zone, where
4 km were patrolled on 15 June. This included 429 Fairy Prions and 24 Fluttering Shearwaters.
Easterly gales on the central and southern coasts followed during 21-22 June, with a maximum
wind gust of 77 knots recorded at Newcastle (Anon, 1975). A large mortality in the Wollon-
gong zone included 34 Little Penguins, six sooty albatrosses, 11 White -headed Petrels, 289 Fairy
Prions and 21 Fluttering Shearwaters. In early July, following easterly gales in ocean waters
and strong southerly winds on the coast (Anon 1975), 11 Little Penguins and 287 Fairy Prions
were found in the Sydney zone and 97 prions and 16 Fluttering Shearwaters in the Ulladulla
The occurrence of gales and strong winds in all months from August to December (Anon
1975) resulted in very little mortality. The only species that suffered relatively large mortalities
in this period were the Australian Gannet, mainly in September and October in the northern
zones, and the Sooty Shearwater in November in the Coffs Harbour zone. It is remarkable
that of 29 gannets found in 1975 none occurred in the Sydney-Wollongong-Ulladulla zones.
The high mortality of Sooty Shearwaters when compared to the low mortality of the closely
related Short -tailed Shearwater suggests that these species have a marked food difference. A
similar proportion was found near Newcastle in the 1970-1971 season. This possible difference
is supported also by the 1968-1969 season, when the proportional relationship was reversed
(pers. obs.). Perhaps the Sooty Shearwater is less dependent on plankton than the Short -tailed
It is interesting to indicate here the aspects of the 1975 mortality in New Zealand
(Veitch 1976) that correspond to those in NSW. In July there were large numbers of Little
Penguins, prions and Fluttering Shearwaters and in October -November large numbers of Sooty
Shearwaters. David Crockett (pers. comm.) reported that on the Aukland west coast there
were 299 White -headed Petrels found between July and December and 384 Antarctic Fulmars
in September.
The northward decrease in density shown in the 1974 mortality was repeated in 1975.
From Table there were 3347 birds found in the Sydney-Wollongong-Ulladulla zones and
only 774 in the much better covered Maclean- Coffs Harbour -Hastings zones. The southward
increase in density continued to New Zealand where 21130 birds were found in 3583 km
(Veitch 1976).
The following people contributed data to the beach patrol scheme for 1975: C. Beckett,
W. Carwardine, C. Corben, K. Cox, J. Ennik, G. Fraser, D. Gibson, G. Holmes, E. Hoskin,
F. Johnston, W. Longmore, B. McDonald, R. McDonald, A. McGill, A. Morris, A. Mothersdill,
P. Roberts, N. Robinson, D. Sawyer, A. Sefton, P. Sefton, J. Silburn, C. Sonter, B. Thomson,
W. Watson, R. Yuswak.December, 1976 35.


Anon 1975 Monthly Weather Reviews January December 1975
N.S.W., Dept of Science, Bureau of Meteorology.
Condon, H. T. 1975 A Checklist of the Birds of Australia, 1. Non -passerines.
Melbourne RAOU.
Holmes, G. 1975 The Australian Status of the Grey -backed Shearwater.
Aust. Birds 9 98-99.
Holmes, G. 1976 Post -breeding Dispersal of the Grey Noddy. Aust. Birds
10 50-53.
Holmes, G. 1975 Seabirds Found De6d in New South Wales in 1974.
and A. K. Morris Aust. Birds 10 21-31.
Morris, A. K. 1972 Sea Birds Found Dead in New South Wales in 1970.
Birds 7 : 33-41.
Norris, A Y. 1967 Seabird Observations from the South-west Pacific in
the Southern Winter. Emu 67: 33-35
Rogers, A E. F. 1976 N.S.W. Bird Report for 1975. Aust. Birds 10: 61-84.
Veitch, C. R. 1976 Beach Patrol 1975 – Interim Report. Notornis 23 : 194-195.
Vernon, D. P. 1975 One Queensland and Two Northern New South Wales
and D. H. Fleay Specimen Records of the Kerguelen Petrel. Sunbird 6 90-92.
GLENN HOLMES, P.O. Box 795, Coffs Harbour, N.S.W. 2450.
Monthly rates of seabird mortality (hinds/km) in N.S.W. during 1975.
ZONE Jan Feb. Mar. Apr. May. June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec. TOTALS
Tweed Heads BirK dsm 2 42 2 1 0 10 0 2 154 11 2 4 14 2 83 1 1 165 96
Maclean BiK rdm s 23 20 3 110 30 1 26 3y 3p 30 238 30R 3 iR 110
Coffs Harbour Km 67 67 69 61 97 8, 83 54 70 71 83 54
Birds 105 55 14 4 48 55 22 2 10 27 143 14 499
Hastings Km 37 27 24 37 37 37 37 28 37 24 31 37
Birds 48 18 2 1 2 12 2 1 7 18 14 40 165
Newcastle Km 112 68
Birds 11
Sydney BiK rdm s 4 7 1 10 0 3 1 2 53 5 302 67 11 30 0 282 296 566
Wollongong BiK rdm s 7 1 8 7 2 43 50 4 1 45 4 8 9 02 1498 101 10 271 01 1063
Ulladulla Km 9 4 7 3 3 2
Birds 942 510 121 7 106 32 1718
Bega Km
Mallacoota Km
Total Km patrolled 157 168 134 132 176 232 199 124 186 149 157 145
Total Km travelled (not listed 191 182 146 153 236 296 216 142 198 193 203 173 2329
Total Birds 209 1079 19 15 59 1048 514 14 38 442 373 418 4228
Birds/km patrolled 1.3 6.4 0.1 0.1 0.3 4.5 2.6 0.1 0.2 3.0 2.4 2.9
Birds km travelled 1.1 5.9 0.1 0.1 0.3 3.5 2.4 0.1 0.2 2.3 1.8 2.4 1.836. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (2)
Little Penguin 2 2 37 17 3 3 64
Wandering Albatross 2 I 3
Black-browed Albatross 2 I I 4
Grey -headed Albatross I I 2
Yellow -nosed Albatross I I
White -capped Albatross 2 I I 4
Albatross species I I
Sooty Albatross 6 6
Light -mantled Albatross I I
Sooty Albatross species I I 2
Southern Giant -petrel I I 2
Giant -petrel species I I
Antarctic Fulmar I I
Cape Petrel I I
Great -winged Petrel I 6 I 2 II
White -headed Petrel 12 I 13
Providence Petrel I I I 2 5
Kerguelen Petrel 2 2
Gould Petrel I I I 3
Medium -billed Prion 2 2
Antarctic Prion 26 4 I 31
Slender -billed Prion 3 3
Fairy Prion 818 371 4 3 2 1198
Prion species 2 46 81 2 I 133
Flesh -footed Shearwater 2 3 I I 3 I II
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 7 6 2 3 6 3 2 18 IC) 57
Grey -backed Shearwater I I
Sooty Shearwater I I I 2 43 1 49
Short -tailed Shearwater 187 1018 8 7 48 6 2 401 290 386 2353
Fluttering Shearwater 6 31 I 52 20 3 I 3 2 1 120
Hutton’s Shearwater I I
Little Shearwater I 4 5
Shearwater species 5 2 12 19
White-faced Storm- petrel I I 2
Australian Gannet I 2 4 2 II 6 3 29
Pied Cormorant I I I 3
Little Pied Cormorant I I I 3 6
Black Cormorant I 2 I 4
Little Black Cormorant I I I 3
White-tailed Tropicbird I I
Silver Gull 2 I 2 2 I 4 3 9 24
Sooty Tern I I I 3
Crested Tern I 4 I I 2 I 3 3 2 18
White -fronted Tern 15 3 1 2 21
Tern species I I
Common Noddy I I
Grey Ternlet I I I
TOTAL 209 1079 19 15 59 1048 514 14 38 442 373 418 4228December, 1976
Little Penguin 2 13 41 8 64
Wandering Albatross 1 2 3
31ack-browed Albatross 3 I 4
Grey -headed Albatross I I 2
Yellow -nosed Albatross I I
white -capped Albatross I 3 4
Albatross species I I
Sooty Albatross 5 I 6
Light -mantled Albatross I I
Sooty Albatross species
1 1 2
Southern Giant -petrel I I
Giant -petrel species I I
Antarctic Fulmar I I
Cape Petrel I I
Great -winged Petrel 2 I 2 6 II
‘,Mite -headed Petrel 1 I II 13
Providence Petrel 2 2 I
Kerguelen Petrel 2 5
Gould Petrel I I I
Medium -billed Prion 1 I 3 2
Antarctic Prion 2 1 2 19 7 31
Slender -billed Prion
Fairy Prion 9 3 65 5 3273 345 444 11983
Prion species I I 131 133
Flesh -footed Shearwater I 4 3 2 1 II
‘edge -tailed Shearwater 2 9 30 12 2 I I 57
Grey -backed Shearwater I
Sooty Shearwater 6 35 3 2 2 I 49
Short -tailed Shearwater 51 66 309 113 II 194 564 1045 2353
Fluttering Shearwater 5 13 9 5 31 57 120
Button’s Shearwater I
Little Shearwater 1 1 3 5
Shearwater species 5 14 19
White-faced Storm- petrel 1 I
Australian Gannet I 5 17 6 22 9
Pied Cormorant 1 2
Little Pied Cormorant 2 3 1 3
Black Cormorant I 2 I 6
Little Black Cormorant 2 I 4
White-tailed Tropicbird 1 I
Silver Gull 3 2 2 17 24
Sooty Tern 1 I I
Crested Tern 4 9 2 2 I 18
White -fronted Tern 5 I 3 3 7 1 1 21
Tern species
1 1
Common Noddy I
Grey Ternlet I I
TOTAL 96 II0 499 165 II 566 1063 1718 0 0 422838. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (2)
was driving along the beach at Point Plomer near Port Macquarie N.S.W. on 20 Sept-
ember 1976 when a Pied Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus wandered down from the debris
at the base of the dune near the top of the beach.
Thinking the bird may have a nest nearby I decided to reverse and await developments.
Nothing further occurred and the bird, after a short while, moved further down the beach
and commenced feeding along the waterline with its mate. I then approached the area on
foot. As the sand has been smoothed by the previous night’s rain, I was able to retrace the
birds ‘footprints to a large driftwood log, 0.6 metres in diameter, that had been left by the
ebb tide.
By the number of disturbed footprints and the small handful of wood -chips at the base,
the bird must have paid the log considerable attention. As there were no barnacles or other
crustacea on the log can only assume that the bird dug into the broken base of the log
(evidenced by the wood -chips) to obtain some other sort of food; perhaps one of the wood
boring marine molluscs.
As could find no other reference to this method of feeding and had not previously
observed it myself, the driftwood must have provided an opportunist food source which,
because of its irregular occurrence on beaches, would not form part of the regular food
D. 1. SMEDLEY, 4 Trevone Street, Padstow. NS. W. 2211December, 1976 39.
On 2 February 1975 I located a single Green Pygmy -goose Nettapus pulchellus on Swan
Bay, a billabong of the Richmond River, near Woodburn in north-eastern New South Wales.
About 13:30 hrs a pygmy -goose was noticed amongst a large concentration of waterfowl,
mainly Black Duck Anas superciliosa and Black Swan Cygnus atratus, along the western arm
of the billabong. The bird was feeding on open water about 25m from the opposite bank.
For the next two hours it was kept under constant observation from the western bank. How-
ever it remained well out and at no stage was I able to view it from closer than about 50m.
Throughout this period it fed busily, apparently grazing the abundant sub -emergent vegetation
mainly Potamogeton, Vallisneria and Elodea visible at and close to the surface. It flushed only
once when disturbed by a passing boat, whereupon it flew low along the billabong for about
40m before settling again.
Conditions were fine and sunny and using 10 x 50 binoculars was able to distinguish
the general pattern of the head and dark greenish colouration of the upper parts. When it
flew the back was seen to be glossy green and prominent white areas in the wings were noted.
On the basis of their markings the bird was thought probably to be a female Green Pygmy –
Next morning I returned to Swan Bay and positive identification was obtained. I took
up a position on the eastern bank about sunrise (05:15) and soon located the pygmy -goose
resting quietly about 20m from the shore near the previous afternoon’s sighting.
It was watched closely for 55 minutes, at first in dull, even light and later in sunlight,
the bird remaining inactive for most of the time. Twice it stretched its body and wings
enabling the wing pattern and underparts to be clearly seen on both occasions.
The following description is compiled from notes made during the two periods of
A pygmy -goose with crown, hind neck, back and tail dark greenish; face below eye
back to hind neck, cheeks and chin white; rest of neck and flanks whitish marked darker
with grey, brown or green and contrasting with white of face; in flight, back seen to be
bright glossy green; belly white; large white patches in inner wings conspicuous in flight and
when wings extended while at rest.
The bird remained on Swan Bay for at least 12 days, being last seen on 12 February
by W. Watson. Both Watson and G. Frazer (pers. comm.) who also saw the bird during this
period, had previous field experience with the White -quilled Pygmy -goose N coromandelianus.
At the time of the occurrence the district was very dry. Following a normally dry
spring conditions had intensified during summer and were not broken until the last week of40. AUSTRALIAN BIRDS 11 (2)
February. Seasonal swamps had dried up and waterfowl had become concentrated locally on
semi -permanent and permanent swamps, notably Swan Bay.
Frith (1967 Waterfowl in Australia: 277) considered the Green Pygmy -goose to be more
sedentary and restricted to the tropics than any other Australian duck. It apparently occurs
only as a rare vagrant in New South Wales, there being only two previous published records
for this state. Both were also from the Richmond River area and were of a bird shot at
Tucki near Lismore in 1956 (Frith loc. cit) and a female seen at Leeville, near Casino in
1967 (Spinaze 1970 Emu 70:35).
D. G. GOSPER, 15 Arthur Street, Casino, NS. W. 2470.71
Boles, Walter E. The “Rediscovery” of the first record of the Bush -hen for
Australia … … 21
Fraser G. C. and
G. J. Mendel The Bush -hen in New South Wales … 25
Boles Walter E. The Colour of Red -necked Rail eggs:
A Historic.31 debate 28
Holmes Glenn Seabird Mortality in New South Wales in 1975 … 31
Smedley D. I. Unusual feeding method of the Pied Oystercatcher 38
Gosper D. G. A Third occurrence of the Green Pygmy -goose
in New South Wales 39

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