Vol. 24 No. 2-text

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Journal of the
Volume 24, Number 2. December 1990
President P. Davie
Vice -President S. Fairbairn
Secretary R. Hill
Treasurer T. Florin
Minutes Secretary M. Sach
Activities Officer A.O. Richards
Conservation Officers E. Karplus
J. Melville
Journal Editor A.K. Morris
Newsletter Editor T. Karplus
Records Officer R. Cooper
Other Committee Members H. Biddle
D. Seims
H. Jones
The object of the club is to promote the study and conservation of Australian
birds and the habitats they occupy.
Annual subscription rates of the Club (due October each year) are:
Adult Member $25.00
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All members recieve a newsletter and a copy of the quarterly journal ‘Australian
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All correspondence should be addressed to the Hon. Secretary and all member-
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Sydney NSW 2000.
Manuscripts should be sent to the Editor at: Wombat St, Berkeley Vale NSW
Volume 24, (2) December 1990
A NOTE ON THE MASKED OWL Tyto novaehollandiae
The mainland Australian Masked Owl Tyto novaehollandiae is one of the least known
Australian owls, in coastal New South Wales recorded less frequently than other large forest
owls (O’Brien 1990). Several casual observations of individuals in eastern New South
Wales since 1986, and the commencement of a survey of large forest owls in north-eastern
NSW in 1990 (World Wildlife Fund Australia Project no. 142),enable some details to be
recorded on field identification, habitat, hunting and breeding. With the co-operation of R.
Kavanagh and B. Kubbere, I was able to see breeding Masked Owls on videotape and in
the field in southern NSW, and captive Masked Owls (mainland and Tasmanian) at
Featherdale Wildlife Park in Sydney, and to obtain tape recordings of wild and captive birds.
The significance of these observations in relation to the owl’s biology will be discussed
elsewhere (Debus in prep., Kavanagh in prep.). They are presented here in order to assist
field identification and to encourage the reporting of sightings to the WWF project which will
continue in 1991-92.
In March and May 1986 and January 1989 I observed a pair of Masked Owls in
Werrikimbe National Park, on the forested escarpment between Walcha and Wauchope in
north-east New South Wales. This confirms the species’ occurrence in the Park (cf. Cooper
1986). Observations were obtained within the first hour of darkness on five different
evenings. The habitat consists of a cleared valley surrounded by eucalypt open forest and
tall open forest on hillsides and ridges, with a ground cover of tussocky grass.
In November 19871 observed a fledgling Masked Owl in Yambulla State Forest near
Eden on the south coast of New South Wales. The habitat is described below under the
account of breeding.
In 1990 heard several Masked Owls in national parks and state forests in the far
north-east corner of New South Wales. Apart from discussion of voice in relation to field
identification (below), details will be left to a report of the WWF project upon its completion.
Similarly, details of Masked Owls in the Eden region in 1990, shown to me by R. Kavanagh,
are only discussed here in relation to field identification (further details: Kavanagh in prep.).
The Masked Owl is polymorphic (see Schodde & Mason 1980), with the pale morph
similar in colour to the Barn Owl Tyto a/ba and potentially easily confused with it. When
first encountered, the male Masked Owl (intermediate or pale morph) at Werrikimbe was
perched low (5-10 m) in a roadside tree in eucalypt open forest. In a bright spotlight beam
at c.50m he resembled a Barn Owl, but at close range (10m) differed in several respects:
he was somewhat larger and more robust; the facial disc was rounder, with more prominent
dark border and a dark zone around the eyes; the upperparts were darker and more boldly
marked; the underparts had larger and more profuse spots; the tarsi were feathered, and
the feet and claws were heavier. He resembled the photograph of a male mainland Masked
Owl (intermediate or pale form) in Fleay (1981). The female at Werrikimbe, presumably an
intermediate morph, also had white facial disc and underparts (in a bright spotlight beam)
but was clearly much larger than a Barn Owl. The bird at Yambulla State Forest was
disturbed in daylight, and was large (i.e. female) with buff face and underparts, feathered
tarsi and large feet.
Two breeding Masked Owls near Eden were probably both intermediate morphs,
with white faces and underparts. In a bright spotlight beam, the male differed from a Barn
Owl mainly in his heavy dark borderto the facial disc, much darker upperparts and feathered
tarsi. Videotape of the female in daylight shows a large and robust bird with very heavy dark
border to the rounded facial disc, and feathered tarsi with massive feet and claws.
Page 30 Australian Birds Vol 24 No.2Captive mainland Masked Owls photographed at Featherdale Wildlife Park showed
considerable variation in plumage, some almost as pale as a Barn Owl and one female
almost as dark as the Tasmanian Masked Owl females housed in adjacent cages. On the
pale birds, the feathered tarsi and heavy feet are evident, and the dark birds are much
browner than the Sooty Owl Tyto tenebricosa which is dark grey. A colour photograph of
a light-coloured Masked Owl appears in Trounson & Trounson (1987), and clearly shows
the feathered legs with heavy feet and claws. Hollands (1991), due for publication in August,
should provide helpful information and colour photographs on the mainland Masked Owl.
Brief observations suggest some differences between Masked and Barn Owl in flight
characteristics. The male Masked Owl at Werrikimbe was seen in flight over the treetops
at dusk, when he flew swiftly and strongly with direct, purposeful flight unlike the delicate,
buoyant flight of the Barn Owl (pers. obs.). The female was also seen in flight in darkness,
when she flew directly and rather more heavily than a Barn Owl. In flight the Masked Owl’s
greater size and wingspan are apparent.
Both Masked Owls at Werrikimbe were confiding and approachable when hunting.
Masked Owls on low perches at night seem more tolerant of a close approach by humans
than the more wary Barn Owl. D.O’Brien (pers. comm.) also remarked that a captive
(formerly wild) Masked Owl was placid and allowed a close approach, in contrast to the more
wary Barn Owls that shared its enclosure. Although not an infallible character or sufficient
reason by itself to identify a bird as a Masked Owl, it at least allows a sufficiently close
approach to confirm identity by other field marks. I suggest that “Barn Owls” on roadside
fenceposts in wooded farmland, as well as in forest, should be critically examined primarily
for the feathered legs and large feet.
The Masked Owl has a variety of calls (Hyem 1979, Schodde & Mason 1980). The
main problem in the field is to distinguish the “tearing calico” screech given by the various
Tyto species Masked, Barn and juvenile Sooty Owls and similar noises made by the
Trichosurus possums (Common Bushtail T.vulpecula and Bobuck T. caninus).
As noted by Roberts (1983) and Conole (1986), some calls of the Masked Owl are
distinctive. One call I heard at Werrikimbe in May was a very loud, shrill scream of one
second duration, uttered soon after dusk by a bird apparently in flight. This is the call Roberts
(1983) described as more musical than that of the Barn Owl, and presumably the call that
Beruldsen (1986) noted as similar to the scream of the Sooty Owl. However, this call was
shorter and did not descend like the “falling bomb” scream of the Sooty Owl. It was also
different in quality from the human -like scream of the Barking Owl Ninox connivens. Calls
heard from the Masked Owls at Werrikimbe on other occasions were described by H .A. Ford
December 1990 Page 31(pers.comm.) as “yelping”, and were presumably the shrill call. Dove (1939) and Cayley
(1965) attributed a screaming call to the Tasmanian Masked Owl. Other calls I heard at
Werrikimbe were a guttural cackling in greeting or courtship near a presumed nest site (tall
open forest on hillside) in May, and an alarm call from the female (when flushed from a perch)
that was indistinguishable from the hissing rasp of a Barn Owl.
Masked Owl calls heard during forest owl surveys in 1990 were harsh screeches.
One call was a prolonged (two sec) screech of tenor quality, richer, louder and deeper than
that of a Barn Owl, and with a pulsating effect. It was uttered once, spontaneously, by a bird
apparently on emerging from its roost hollow at dusk in March. It matched exactly a tape
recording obtained by R. Kavanagh of a known Masked Owl in the wild. Another call heard
about three hours later on the same evening, from a different individual, was a single
screech reminiscent of the call of a male Paradise Riflebird Ptiloris paradiseus, again richer
than a Barn Owl’s call. Similar (though not pulsating) screeches were heard in April -May
and August, typically a single call at dusk but also one and three-four hours after dusk. In
pitch, quality and inflexion, these calls matched those of captive Masked Owls tape-
recorded at Featherdale Wildlife Park: males higher pitched and slightly ascending; females
deeper, harsher and slightly descending at the end. These calls are richer and louder than
the more “tinny” screech of the Barn Owl (sometimes much louder, cf. Conole 1986); female
Masked is reminiscent of the screech of a Sulphur -crested Cockatoo Cacatua galerita. The
pulsating effect in some (female) Masked Owl calls is apparently not a characteristic of Barn
Owl calls, but this requires investigation. Juvenile Sooty Owls give a long, wheezing,
descending screech (pers. obs.), distinguishable with practice from the Masked Owl;
screeching or rasping calls of adult Sooty Owls are usually associated with typical trilling
calls. The hissing screeches of the Trichosurus possums are often short and sharp, quickly
repeated, or interspersed with “coughing” and other sounds, but visual confirmation by
spotlight is sometimes required.
As noted by Hill (1955), Tasmanian Masked Owls sometimes perch and call
continuously for long periods. Experiences reported to me by H. Hines and J. Skinner
suggest similar behaviour in mainland birds. In one case a perched bird was screeching
repeatedly for some minutes at least (D. Pugh per H. Hines), sufficiently long for the bird to
be examined closely and identified as a Masked Owl before and after detailed reference to
a field guide. Adult birds tape-recorded byJ. Skinner were giving short (one sec.) screeches
at half -second intervals continuously, from a perch but also in flight between perches (J.
Skinner pers.comm.). One also gave the short, shrill scream once, which would suggest
Masked Owl, but this awaits confirmation. The calls on the tape sound similar in quality to
tapes of single (longer) screeches of captive Masked Owls, but this type of behaviour and
calling in mainland Masked Owls requires further investigation. In my limited experience
Barn Owls give single, infrequent screeches while perched or in flight; however, they also
give repeated and sometimes shrill screeches, yelps and nasal whistles at the nest (Fleay
Page 32 Australian Birds Vol 24 No.21968, Schodde & Mason 1980).
Begging calls of juvenile Masked Owls shown to me by R. Kavanagh were short,
hissing rasps, very similar to some calls of the Barn Owl. In such circumstances, visual
confirmation of identity would be required unless the adults reveal themselves as Masked
used playback of taped Masked Owl calls in an attempt to locate Masked Owls
during the surveys, but all Masked Owl calls were heard before playback and none
responded to the tape during eight field trips in March -August 1990. However in November,
in company with R. Kavanagh, playback was attempted with success: broadcast of one
male call produced an immediate reply from a male Masked Owl, which occasionally
answered further broadcasts as it receded into the distance. Playback at another of
Kavanagh’s sites had no effect except possibly to stimulate dependent juvenile Masked
Owls to beg; however, the adult male arrived silently. In May, playback at the active nest
site had produced an immediate and vocal response from the male, which gave a variety
of calls (R. Kavanagh pers. comm.).
When first encountered about half an hour after dusk (c.2000 hrs) in March, the male
Masked Owl at Werrikimbe was perched in a slightly hunched posture <10 m up on the low
limb of a eucalypt, overlooking a gravel road through open forest. His perching site was at
least 200m from the boundary between the forest and the cleared valley. He was not
disturbed by human presence, and continued to perch there. Less than an hour later, the
owl had gone but a Swamp Rat Rattus lutreolus ran across the road near his perch. Swamp
Rat runways were prevalent in the tussocky grass of the valley. On a subsequent occasion
(January 1989) just on dark, the male owl was perching on a fallen log or low limb <1 m from
the ground, on the edge of the forest adjoining the cleared valley.
In May, within an hour after dusk (c.1900 hrs), the female Masked Owl at Werrikimbe
was perched on old stock -yards in the middle of the cleared valley. There were many
Rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus feeding around the yards and sheltering under brambles.
Numerous tufts of fur on the ground below the posts suggested regular predation on the
rabbits, but no other nocturnal or diurnal birds of prey were seen in the vicinity of the yards
over several days and nights at the time of the observation. No juvenile rabbits were seen
in May, and the smallest of a sample of c. 10 examined at the time was 1300 g, i.e. subadult
(adult c. 1500 g: Strahan 1983). The absence of rabbit kittens in May is consistent with a
late summer -autumn anoestrus in female rabbits in south-eastern Australia (Hughes &
Rowley 1966), and with surveys of rabbit breeding condition at Armidale (pers. obs.). On
a subsequent evening in May, the female owl was seen flying directly and purposefully past
December 1990 Page 33the yards at a height of 10-15m. did not have the impression that she was hunting on the
Although these observations are sketchy, they suggest possible partitioning of prey
size and hunting habitat between the sexes in Masked Owls: the male perch hunting inside
and near the edge of forest for terrestrial rat -sized prey, and the female perch hunting in the
open for larger terrestrial prey of subadult or perhaps adult rabbit size (terminology follows
Baker-Gabb 1980).
The Masked Owl in Yambulla State Forest in November 1987 was a fledgling, with
wisps of down remaining. In daylight, it flushed from or near a large hollow 11m up in a
mature (20m) Monkey Gum Eucalyptus cypellocarpa in a gully. Judging from the owl’s
ineptitude at landing, its amount of down and data on fledglings in Schodde & Mason (1980),
it was about three months old. Projecting back from a nestling period of 10-12 weeks and
an incubation period of 5 weeks, laying would have been around late June.
The gullies in Yambulla State Forest contain eucalypt tall open forest dominated
mainly by Monkey Gum, and the ridges support eucalypt open forest dominated mainly by
Silvertop Ash Eucalyptus sieberi and Yertchuk E. consideniana. The owl’s presumed nest
site was within 200 m of a gravel forestry road, and within 2km of a major (sealed) road. At
the time, there was no logging or clearing within a radius of several kilometres of the site,
but the area (to within 100m of the nest) was subsequently logged at 20-30% canopy
retention in alternate coupes (30-50 ha) although the nest tree and gully forest were
retained; about half of the logged coupes were also burnt. In 2-3 weeks in October –
November 1988 and 1989, after logging, there was no sign of Masked Owls in the area but
it would be premature to place any significance on this because little specific searching at
night was done. A Powerful Owl Ninox strenua was heard calling in the area in November
1987 (pre -logging) but not in 1988 or 1989 (post -logging).
As noted by Conole (1986), the mainland Masked Owl may be little-known and
under -recorded because its calls are often unrecognised, and pale birds may be overlooked
as “Barn Owls”. Further work is required, but my limited experience agrees with that of
Roberts (1983) and Conole (1986), i.e. that once learned, the loud territorial call of the
Masked Owl (particularly the shrill scream) is a useful field character enabling it to be
detected and identified. Playback of taped territorial calls may be of use in surveying
Masked Owls, but perhaps only near active nests, and it may not be as successful as for
the Sooty Owl or Ninox species (P. Peak pers.comm.). Imitations (e.g. Roberts 1983), or
Page 34 Australian Birds Vol 24 No.2the skilled use of a rabbit whistle (to simulate the shrill scream), may provoke a response
from breeding birds.
Limited observations of captive birds calling, and calls heard in the field, suggest that
there are sexual differences in Masked Owl calls as in the Sooty Owl, i.e. male higher pitched
(cf. Beruldsen 1986). As noted by Conole (1986), some calls of the Masked Owl are also
extraordinarily loud. This is consistent with the need to maintain contact and advertise
ownership over a large territory (cf. Schodde & Mason 1980); hunting areas of male and
female at Werrikimbe were over km apart.
Although sketchy, the observations of hunting Masked Owls at Werrikimbe suggest
that female mainland Masked Owls can indeed take adult or subadult rabbits (cf. Schodde
& Mason 1980); a large white Tyto owl was seen to swoop unsuccessfully at a Rufous
Bettong Aepyprymnus rulescens in north-east New South Wales (R. Southgate pers. comm.).
The Masked Owl is said to do most of its hunting on the wing, in quartering flight (Schodde
& Mason 1980), but its large size and the above hunting observations suggest that it may
be predominantly a perch hunter.
Limited data on the Masked Owl’s breeding and habitat requirements in mainland
south-eastern Australia suggest that it occurs at low density and may be partly dependent
on old -growth forests. It requires large hollows in tall eucalypts for roosting and nesting, and
some of its prey animals (native arboreal mammals) also require tree hollows (Schodde &
Mason 1980). With the prospect of intensified forestry activity producing young, even -aged
stands lacking hollows, a possible woodchip industry in northern New South Wales, and the
clearing of former Crown leases now convertible to freehold, it will be important to study the
Masked Owl’s requirements in detail. Any information on its detectability (survey technique,
response to playback), hunting habitat, diet, nest -site characteristics and nesting chronology
in New South Wales and elsewhere is valuable and should be published, as such
information will assist in appropriate forest management. Large forest owls like the Masked
Owl may be useful indicators of the health of ecosystems because they are high -order
predators; effectively conserving them will have benefits for the other species sharing their
environment. Although the Masked Owl is the subject of studies in north-east and south-
east New South Wales, any observations on it by others from those regions or elsewhere
would be of value.
appeal to observers to report details of Masked Owl and other forest owl sightings
to me, for use in the WWF Project. also appeal to observers who have had Masked Owl
sightings listed in the FOC annual bird reports, 1970-1984, to send copies of supporting field
notes to me. This is necessary because am quoting the records in a forthcoming review
paper on the Masked Owl’s biology. should particularly like to obtain the details of inland
and breeding records.
December 1990 Page 35ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
am most grateful to Rod Kavanagh (NSW Forestry Comm ission)for supplying tape-
recorded owl calls, for the opportunity to visit his study sites and for permission to use the
information so gained (videotape supplied by Graeme Dyson, Southern Television
Productions). Bruce Kubbere, Rick Webb and other Featherdale Wildlife Park staff were
most helpful in facilitating after-hours access to owls in their care. Jean Skinner and Harry
Hines also provided tapes of owl calls and helpful discussion. gratefully acknowledge that
the data from Yambulla State Forest were gained while was conducting bird surveys for
the NSW Forestry Commission, and the field work in 1990 was supported by World Wildlife
Fund Australia (project 142) and the Australian National Parks & Wildlife Service Endangered
Species Program (project 41). thank Lawrie Conole, Rod Kavanagh and Paul Peake for
helpful comments on a draft of this paper, and Danny O’Brien for additional information.
Baker-Gabb, D. 1980. Raptor Prey Record Scheme -an ARA project proposal. Australian RaptorA ssoc.
News 1(4), 9-12.
Beruldsen, G. 1986. Observations on the Sooty Owl Tyto tenebricosa in south-east Queensland. Aust.
Bird Watcher 11,230-236.
Cayley, N.W. 1965. What Bird is That? Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
Conole, L. 1986. Records of the Masked Owl Tyto novaehollandiae from the Geelong area, Victoria.
Geelong Nat. 23, 20-28.
Cooper, R.M. 1986. A preliminary list of the birds of Werrikimbe National Park, New South Wales. Aust.
Birds 20, 40-44.
Dove, H.S. 1939. Migrants in the Mersey district, Tasmania. Emu 38,376-377.
Fleay, D. 1968. Nightwatchmen of Bush and Plain. Brisbane: Jacaranda Press.
Fleay, D. 1981. Looking at Animals. Brisbane: Boolarong Publications.
Hill,L. H. 1955. Notes on the habits and breeding of the Tasmanian Masked Owl. Emu 55,203-210.
Hollands, D. 1991. Birds of the Night. Sydney: Reed.
Hughes ,R.L.& I. Rowley. 1966. Breeding season of female wild rabbits in natural populations in the
Riverina and Southern Tablelands districts of New South Wales. CSIRO Wild!. Res.11, 1-10.
Hyem, E.L. 1979. Observations on owls in the upper Manning River district, N.S.W. Corella 3,17-25.
O’Brien, D. 1990. Owls and nightjars on the Central Coast. Aust Birds 24, 9-19.
Roberts, G.J. 1983. Observations of Masked Owls in the Gloucester area, New South Wales. Aust.
Birds 18, 13-14.
Schodde, R. & I.J. Mason. 1980. Nocturnal Birds of Australia. Melbourne: Lansdowne.
Strahan, R.(Ed.). The Australian Museum Complete Book of Australian Mammals. Sydney: Angus &
Trounson, D.& M. Trounson. 1987. Australia, Land of Birds. Sydney: Collins.
S.J.S.Debus, Zoology Department, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351
On 18 November 1990, a pair of Leaden Flycatchers Myiagra rubecula were observed in
the Narrabeen area involved in a mating display. This progressed to nesting material
collection and by 26 November 1990, the nest was well advanced and located in a She -Oak
Casuarina distyla.
The site was unusual in that it lacked the usual overhanging branch which provides
protection (H.J. Frith 1969 Birds of the Australian High Country) and the selected base
branch for the nest was over the water but well below the level of the adjacent creek bank.
This simplified the usual problems encountered when photographing nesting sites of this
Observations were carried out between 0830hrs and 1100hrs but not at a set
frequency. The female only was observed on or near the nest during visits on 5 and 9
December 1990. As the nest was deep it was impossible to count eggs or even check
whether hatching had occurred without the risk of disturbing the birds.
The female was observed for the first time on the nest on 11 December 1990 but
shortly after my arrival, change -over took place. The male left the nest about 30 seconds
before the female arrived and it was assumed that she had been perched somewhere
nearby. The female, carrying a dead pine needle, flew straight to the nest then placed the
pine needle on the top of the nest without any attempt to bind it into the structure. Within a
few minutes the piece had fallen into the creek below. Exactly the same sequence of events
occurred at the next observation on 13 December but on the following day movement was
observed in the bottom of the nest.
I next visited on 19 December 1990. The parents were feeding three young and
collecting faeces from the bottom of the nest. The faeces were swallowed by the adult before
leaving the nest site. The parents took short shifts of five to six minutes on the nest while
the other hunted. The food supplied included a fairly high proportion of small Long -horned
Grass -Hoppers Caedicia olivacea, green form, Leaf Hoppers Amorbus spp. probably
rhombifer and other insects including Crane -fly Family Tipulidar plus sundry other genus
and species which were too distorted to identify. The adult birds invariably perched close
to the nest before feeding and this provided the opportunity to identify the food. In some
cases photographs permitted identification. Small moths were also included in the diet but
was unable to identify these.
The 23 December was extremely hot and humid with the suburban coastal
December 1990 Page 37temperature recorded as 40°C plus and did not visit the area. The following day one juvenile
was dead in the nest with its head over the side,’ was unable to locate the second juvenile
and presumed it was dead. The third was sitting on the rim of the nest being fed by both
believe that the two birds died of heat exhaustion. The temperature in the nest, with
three birds occupying a very confined area and the sun shining directly into the nest would
have created unbearable conditions. This may have been avoided if the parents had nested
with the protection of the overhanging branch.
Observation on 26 December 1990 showed that the carcase had been removed and
the following day the remaining bird was using the familiar wing fluttering for the first time
when demanding food. In between feedings it would stand dangerously on the rim of the nest
over the water.
The finale came when the juvenile was seen on the 28 December 1990, being fed
amongst the foliage of a Port Jackson Pine Callitris rhomboidea, well back from the water’s
R.J. Angus, 55 Campbell Ave., Dee Why, 2099.
At 1000hrs on 3 April 1988, visited the Tullakool Salt Evaporation Ponds in south-west New
South Wales to look at waders with Pat Bingham, David White, David Ap-Thomas, David
Kinloch and Mick Doyle, all members of the Bird Observers Club and all are experienced
bird -watchers. The area we were investigating was an open pond of water having no
Amongst a group of waders, mostly Red -necked Stints Calidris ruficollis, Sharp -tailed
Sandpipers C. acuminata, Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnitalis and Banded Stilts
Cladorhynchusk leucocephalus, was a small pale wader swimming near, but apart from the
rest. This bird was seen to spin in close circles feeding in the water, a number of times, in
the manner of a phalarope. The bird was identified as a Wilson’s Phalarope Phalaropus
tricolor in winter (=non -breeding) plumage, based upon the experience of the observers. In
Page 38 Australian Birds Vol 24 No.2particular, have previously seen Wilson’s Phalaropes at Woorinen and Swan Hill STW,
Victoria in late 1980.
A small but longish looking wader, the size of a Marsh Sandpiper which was present
nearby; being dark grey above and white below; longish neck, small head and long thin black
straight bill. When the bird flew it showed a white rump and tail, grey wings without a wing
bar. The colour of the legs could not be determined.
The time was 1000hrs, weather calm, light good, with viewing conditions clear and
sunny. The bird was under observation for between five to ten minutes, and then flew off and
out of sight, It was observed from a distance of 50m, using 10X40 binoculars. No
photographs were taken.
returned to the saltworks two days later and looked for the phalarope. At first it could
not be found but about mid -morning two Wilson’s Phalaropes flew over. I observed them
from a distance of 80m and the birds were seen in flight for a distance of 400m and then lost
to view as they flew into the rising sun. Again the weather was sunny and clear, and this time
one of the birds was seen to have a wash of reddish -brown colouration extending from the
shoulder to the flanks. This would indicate that the bird was possibly a female changing to
breeding plumage.
have now seen in the field all three species of phalaropes in Australia in winter
plumage. The Wilson’s Phalarope differs from the Red Phalarope P. fulicarius and the Red –
necked Phalarope P. lobatus in winter plumage, by having no prominent black eye -stripe,
no wing bars and no black rump line and black tail. The bill of the Wilson’s Phalarope is longer
and narrower than the other two species.
Wilson’s Phalarope has not previously been recorded in NSW (Morris et al. 1981
Handlist of Birds in New South Wales) but there are five records for Australia, all in Victoria
(B. Lane 1987 Shorebirds in Australia). Unlike the other two phalaropes, Wilson’s Phalarope
is not pelagic, preferring coastal freshwater wetlands and inland fresh and saline marshes.
They breed in western and central Canada and northern United States of America, migrating
through western USA, Mexico and Central America to western South America from Peru to
Argentina. Their occurrence in Australia is accidental. Copies of my “Unusual Sight Record”
forms have been lodged with the Bird Observers Club on which notes were written at the
Peter A. Disher, P.O.Box 157, Barham, NSW, 2732.
B.T. Traill (1988 Aust. Bird Watcher 12:267-268) provided details of Turquoise Parrots
Neophema pulchella in East Gippsland, indicating that they are more common than
previously thought. He also queried whether some records for Blue -winged Parrots N.
chrysostoma were in fact mis-identifications. subsequently responded to this article
(Morris 1989 Aust. Bird Watcher 13:124-5) and gave details of both Turquoise Parrots and
Blue -winged Parrots recorded in Nadgee Nature Reserve which is located on the border of
Victoria and adjacent to the East Gippsland Region. The most recent Blue -winged Parrot
observed for Nadgee was 27th April 1972, when 20 birds were seen at the Merrica River
ranger station (loc. cit.).
I am now able to record that together with a companion, Geoff MacDonald, we
flushed a pair of Blue -winged Parrots on Nadgee Moor, between Nadgee Beach and Salt
Lake (37°27’S, 149°58’E) on October 1989, within Nadgee Nature Reserve. This location
would not be far from where D. Vleck saw a single bird on 15th October 1970 (loc. cit.). The
heathland at this point is no more than 0.3m high due to wind where on the exposed moor.
The vegetation is dominated by sedges, button grass, dasies, Dwarf Common Heath
Epacris mpressa, Woolly Grevillea Grevillea lanigera, Bushy Needlewood Hakea sericea,
and Drooping She -oak Casuarina stricta. The two birds were flushed as we walked through
the heath and they flew about 20m forward and landed in a slightly taller Drooping She -oak
about 0.6m high. The birds were positively identified as Blue -winged Parrots because of the
male’s blue forehead, blue wing coverts and yellow belly. The other bird was a typical female
neophema. The day was sunny, the lighting was excellent and we did not need our
binoculars to identify the birds as they were so close. After about two minutes the birds took
off and alighted in the heath about 400m away. am familiar with Blue -winged Parrots having
observed them in Tasmania, Werribee and inland NSW. No other Blue -winged Parrots were
subsequently flushed on the walk, but three Ground Parrots Pesoporus wallicus were seen.
All observations of Blue -winged Parrots in Nadgee Nature Reserve have been made
between October -April with singles and pairs being seen October -November and small
flocks in April. The dates are suggestive that the birds are there to breed rather than on
passage to Tasmania. Certainly the coastal environs of Nadgee are similar to its breeding
environs in Tasmania and Western Victoria. Further investigation into the status of Blue –
winged Parrots in Nadgee-Croadijalong (Vic.) is warranted.
Alan K. Morris, 1 Wombat Street, Berkeley Vale, NSW, 2259.
Keith Egan
At 0830hrs on 26 November 1990 while monitoring the Little Tern Sterna albifrons breeding
colony at Botany Bay NSW, a Silver Gull Larus novaehollandiae was observed to approach
a brooding Little Tern and pull it from its nest by the wing. Immediately eight more Silver Gulls
converged on the site and attempts by the parent terns to drive them away were to no avail.
The Silver Gulls consumed the two eggs known to have been in the nest and then left the
area pursued by the Little Terns. Although Silver Gulls are known to be predators of Little
Terns this is the first occassion that have witnessed such predation.
Subsequently while observing waders near the boat ramp, Penrhyn Road, North
Botany Bay at 1640hrs on 8 February 1 991 , Silver Gulls were observed pursuing a school
of small fish in shallow water on a rising tide in the manner of Skimmers Rhychops spp.
The Silver Gulls were running through shallow water with their mandibles open and
the lower mandible immersed in the water. They would pursue the small fish at a running
gait for approximately one and a half metres, before desisting. Five Silver Gulls were
observed acting in this manner though none were seen to capture any prey in any of their
All observations were made with the use of 10X40 binoculars at a distance of
approximately 50 metres.
Keith Egan, 1 Bowman St, Mortdale, NSW, 2223.
Long Swamp is 2.5km north of Bermagui at Lat. 36°24’S, Long.150°04’E. The swamp runs
parallel with the Pacific Ocean, about 100m inland, and is seperated from the ocean by a
line of sand dunes. To the north and south of the swamp is pasture, and to the west is pasture
that rises to forest. The swamp is about 1500m long, and varies in width from about 200m
to 1000m. The swamp has areas of open water and areas covered with vegetation
consisting of lily type plants with surface floating leaves and rush like growth rising about
600mm above the water.
At about 0700hrs on the morning of 4 January 1991, we set out to walk the length
of the east side of the swamp from south to north. During the walk we identified 15 species,
all being species sighted on our visit to Long Swamp twelve months previous. As we
approached the north east corner of the swamp, vegetation cover was generally more
predominant and there was less open water.
It was there that we sighted a small bird, about 250mm long, with brown back, black
breast, white throat with a tinge of yellow at the interface of breast and throat, black crown
and red comb, walking on the floating vegetation. We both recognised the bird as a Comb –
crested Jacanda lrediparra gallinacea and referred to our field guide (P. Slater et al. 1986
Field Guide to Australian Birds) for confirmation. We noted that the Jacana was further
south of its normal range, but all identifying features and behaviour confirmed our initial
identification. We were standing on the edge of the swamp with the bird about 50m from us.
II was walking along the surface of the water, at times partly obstructed from view by rushes.
After about 2 minutes the bird took flight, flying about lm above water level for a distance
of about 20m, flying further into the swamp. During flight, long feet trailed behind. We stayed
in the area for about 15 minutes, waiting for the bird to reappear, but without success, as
it was well hidden in the vegetation.
We both had binoculars and managed to have a good sighting in fine sunny weather
with good visibility. In spite of the bird being much further south than indicated in the field
guide, we were both confident of our identification. We both had numerous sightings of
Comb -crested Jacanas at Fogg Dam and Yellow Waters, Northern Territory in July 1990,
where the bird was seen ‘walking on water’ and in flight.
We returned to the site on five occasions (7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 January 1991) at different
times between 0900hrs and 1800hrs, always in fine weather, but sometimes overcast. On
each occasion we managed to spot the bird within about 20m of the location of the first
Page 42 Australian Birds Vol 24 No.2sighting. We managed to observe the bird for up to 15 minutes on the later sightings, the
bird taking flight only once more. At all times it was possible to postively identify the bird.
Unfortunately we did not have a suitable camera to photograph it. On the last two sightings
we took our two teenage daughters to confirm our identification, as they also had seen
Comb -crested Jacanas at Fogg Dam and Yellow Waters.
On our return from Bermagui, we consulted Blakers et a/.1984 TheAtlas of Australian
Birds and noted that the previous most southerly sighting of a Comb -crested Jacana was
at Bilpin. However, it has subsequently been brought to our attention that one immature bird
was recorded at Killalea Lagoon and Dunmore, near Minnamurra from 7 July to 16 August
1984, 250km to the north of Bermagui (J.D. Gibson 1989 The Birds of the County of Camden).
Shirley & Bill Ramsay, 8 Franklin Crt, Glen Waverley, Vic,3150.
Bruce, Biocon Research Group, Sydney, 1989, 21X30cm, paperback. Available from
Biocon Research Group, PO Box 180 Turramurra, NSW, 2074. Price $14.00 plus $3 p&p.
This book is dedicated to Arnold McGill and starts with a one page tribute to Arnold’s
contribution to ornithology. There then follows nine pages of discussion on issues relating
to the birds of New Soth Wales, 82 pages of the Working List itself, 15 pages of references
and six pages of a map and gazzeteer of place names mentioned. In addition there is a full
page of typing entitled “Errata” loosely inserted in the book.
The major part of the publication is the Working List itself. This consists of an
annotated list of the species and, if described, sub -species occurring in NSW. The basic
annotation for each entry includes the author and date of description for each species and
sub -species in addition to page references for Morris, McGill and Holmes 1981 Handlist of
the Birds of NSW and the field guides of Pizzey and Doyle (1980) and the Slaters (1986).
For the majority of species further notes are included covering status and distribution,
indications of rare and endangered species and reasons for the author’s usage of scientific
and common names. There is also a Supplementary List covering those species which the
authors feel are not proven beyond doubt to have established breeding populations in NSW
December 1990 Page 43or feel they have been wrongfully recorded.
The list of references cited covers 15 pages and is a comprehensive one. It even
includes a reference to a novel about the Night Parrot as well as several newspaper articles.
The authors have obviously put a lot of effort into developing this bibliography and they
deserve our commendation and thanks. Further work will be made much easier as a result
of their efforts.
An area where I believe the book could have been improved was by a more rigorous
proof reading and checking. Surely a full page of Errata could have been avoided? Another
example of this is that there are records of Tasmanian Silver Gull recoveries in NSW
contrary to the statement on page 35 of the List (see Murray, M.D. and Carrick, R. (1964)
CSIRO Wildlife Research 160-188 as well as various Corella Bird Recovery Reports).
As is normal for any Australian bird list these days, the authors have introduced their
own changes for Common or Vernacular names (eg. Common Pipit for Richard’s Pipit) and
scientific names (eg. leracidea berigora for Brown Falcon). My personal feeling is that name
changes for species should be restricted to checklists or handlists sponsored by ornithological
associations. However, some of my best friends thrive on the arguments engendered by
name changes!
The taxonomic order of the families in the Working List may differ from that most
readers are used to. It appears to be a blend of the old ‘traditional’ order for the non –
passerines together with the new ‘DNA based’ order made popular by Sibley for the
passerines. The authors are aware of the coming possibilities further change in this area and
state “there will be future variations from the sequence as published in the list….- the latest
results of Sibley’s work is due to be published soon.” To help the tyro the authors have
included an index to the family sequence in the front of the book.
The intriguing part of this “working” list is the fact that it has ventured into the realms
of taxonomy and checklists by including five recently described sub -species of which three
do not occur within NSW. Relating to this aspect there is an Important Notice inside the back
cover of this book which discusses the description and naming of some of these sub-
species. The interested reader may wish to know that Dr Schodde’s views on the same topic
were published in Canberra Bird Notes 14,90-91.
In summary, the authors set their own purpose on defining “specific parameters” in
order to monitor the birds of NSW. They have succeeded in meeting this objective and as
a bonus have provided a very useful bibliography.
Graham Clark.
Page 44 Australian Birds Vol 24 No.2BOOK REVIEW
and Stephen Garnett, May 1990. Published jointly by the R.A.O.U. and the Aust. National
Parks and Wildlife Service. R.A.O.U. Report No. 68, 178 pages, $8.50 from R.A.O.U. and
This book, printed on recycled paper, has as its cover an illustration of the Regent
Honeyeater, one of the species considered in the text. The report details for Australia and
its Territories seven species of birds that are now believed to be extinct and 52 species
considered to be “Threatened”, classified as either endangered, vulnerable, rare or
insufficiently known. The list was prepared in 1987 as a result of a review of the Atlas of
Australian Birds (Blakers et al. 1984) and includes all species recorded less than 100 times
and/or in less than ten one degree blocks during 1977-81. This list was sent for comment
to over 40 individual ornithologists and government bodies to review and to classify all
species in accordance with the IUNC/ICBP criteria. Following general agreement on which
species are threatened, both amateur and professional ornithologists, who were experts in
the biology and conservation status of the chosen species, were approached to provide
information on each species in a standard format. The editors point out that out of the 650
species that regularly occur in Australia and its Territories, 8% are threatened. While this
is a little better than the 11% of bird species threatened worldwide, it also shows that there
is no room for complacency.
The List is slightly at variance with the list of Australian Endangered Vertebrate
Fauna prepared by the Australia Council of Nature Conservation Ministers (CONCOM; April
1988). Fifteen species of the CONCOM list are not included in this account. Appendix 2
outlines the discrepancies and gives details and reasons for non -inclusion. Appendix 3
gives details of sub -species of various endemic species which are considered to be
For each species dealt with there is a summary, followed by information on
distribution, population, habitat and threats, conservation measures already taken and
those proposed. Generally speaking concur with the species that have been placed on the
list but one has to bear in mind that the list includes a number of extinct or threatened island
species viz Flinders and Kangaroo Island Emus, Heard and Macquarie Island Shags, Lord
Howe Island Woodhen etc. Generally speaking there are 43 mainland species dealt with
and 18 that currently occur with some regularity in NSW. These include Freckled Duck,
Square -tailed Kite, Red Goshawk, Grey Falcon, Mallee Fowl, Black -breasted Button -quail,
Plains Wanderer, Hooded Plover, Eastern Curlew, Glossy Black Cockatoo,Swift Parrot,
Powerful Owl, Albert’s Lyrebird, Rufous Scrub -bird, Red-lored Whistler, Grey Grass -wren,
Eastern Bristlebird and Regent Honeyeater. consider that from a NSW perspective each
December 1990 Page 45of these species definitely belongs on a list of Threatened Fauna.
However, am suprised that the Powerful Owl is included on the basis that its status
in “insufficiently known”, and yet the Barking Owl and Masked Owl whose populations must
be equally “insufficiently known” are not included. The Powerful Owl we are told is included
because of the possible effect that woodchipping is having on the old growth native forests.
However, my gut feeling is that the clearing of forests on the tablelands and slopes for
agricultural and pastoral purposes must surely equally threaten the populations of the
Barking and Masked Owls, and the latter suspect is the least common and most threatened
of all the Australian owls.
An additional four species were investigated but considered secure. These are listed
in Appendix 1 and are the Black Grasswren, White -throated Grasswren,Rufous Bristlebird
and Eungella Honeyeater. Much of their habitat is reserved in National Parks or similar
places and the birds are considered safe at this stage.
There are a number of species that consider should be included on the List. The
Australian breeding population of the Little Tern is put at 500 pairs, and in the United
Kingdom and United States of America it is listed as “Endangered”, yet on the basis that it
has “an almost cosmopolitan distribution and at least 3000 visit Australian waters from
south-east Asia” it is omitted from the List. I would recommend that it be listed as
“Threatened” because its status world-wide is insufficiently known! Similarly, Gould’s Petrel
should remain on the List until we have more information on the conservation status of the
race P. I. caledonica. I find it hard to believe that such a small petrel can still occur in good
numbers in a country that is not known for its conservation activities. It is also hard to believe
that in the case of the Ground Parrot, because the Tasmanian sub -species is considered
safe, it is not considered ‘Threatened” even though the mainland sub- species are declining
or as in the case of Western Australian populations, almost extinct!
Overall it is a timely publication, giving all ornithologists cause for concern. It will be
a useful tool to stir both government and voluntary conservation groups into activity to
ensure that the ‘Threatened” list is reduced rather than expanded. Readers were asked to
review the list and forward their comments to the editor before 15th January 1991.
recommend the book’s purchase.
Alan K. Morris
Page 46 Australian Birds Vol 24 No.2OBITUARY
JOHN HOBBS died on 31 October 1990, following a heart attack. He was born in London
on 7 June 1920, and became a dedicated ornithologist at an early age. After serving in the
Atlantic during the war, he was a Sergeant of Police in London until the age of 32 when he
came to Australia to join the NSW Police Force, lured by the prospect of studying the rich
and diversified Australian avifauna. Successive appointments took him to Dareton, in
southwestern NSW, when he met and married his wife Shirley, Finley, Dungog, Kyogle,
Katoomba, Ivanhoe, Nowra and Narrandera where he retired with the rank of Crown
Sergeant. Subsequently he and Shirley retired to Dareton.
John was one of those rare people who was a dedicated ornithologist from boyhood.
To be with him in the field was a unique experience. His enthusiasm knew no bounds. He
was very widely read and knowledgeable on all phases of Australian ornithology. Wherever
he lived he rapidly became an authority on the birds of that region, systematically scouting
out the different habitats. He enjoyed a considerable exchange of correspondence with
ornithologists in different parts of Australia and Great Britain, much of it satisfying requests
for information. I can personally testify to his helpfulness in this regard.
John had the unique capacity to put bird ecology and behaviour into the wider
perspective. His comprehensive field notes always related to climatic conditions and flora.
Plants relevant to the birds he was studying were sent away for identification. His
perceptiveness and thoroughness, and focus on explaining rather than just recording
phenomena made him the most stimulating discussant; one never ceased to learn new
things from him.
This writer had the privilege of doing a transect of western NSW with John shortly
before his death, and of spending some days at his study site. This was a 10ha tract of Black
Box, Belah, and (at the time) flowering Eremorphila of four different species. For the last five
years John had spent sometimes up to ten hours a day at this site. He was documenting
breeding habits, success, and survival in Red -capped Robins. Every nest of all the local
species was systematically tracked down and its subsequent history recorded. He had
recently explored the habit of Weebills building beside spiders’ nests and has a paper in
press on the subject. He was developing an extensive data base on passage migration
times of bird species passing through the area between south and north. He was also paying
special attention to the varying occurrence, from year to year of such nomadic species as
the White -fronted Honeyeater, Crimson Chat, and migratory wood -swallows. The
comprehensive data base on breeding being assembled was forwarded weekly to the
Australian nest -records scheme. Despite his tragic loss this data, at least, is now widely
December 1990 Page 47John joined the NSW Field Ornithologists Club in 1971 and during the next 19 years
wrote regularly for the “newsletter” as an area correspondent and for the journal. He
published 16 articles in Australian Birds (a summary of which is published below), as well
as contributing to the Australian bird Watcher, The Emu, CoreIla and British Birds.
At Dareton and Mildura John was very active in civic activities, including being a
leading member of the Lions Clubs and Natural History Societies. He was a very active
conservationist and the enormous prestige he enjoyed locally has been a potent force for
good in this area. His death is hence a great loss in many areas. John is survived by his wife
Shirley, and four sons Peter, Michael, Bruce and Greg. Our deep sympathy is extended to
Vol p.p.
9 21-24 A Western Sandpiper in New South Wales
10 10-11 The Wanaaring Black Tern
14 25-30 An irruptive extension of the range of the Golden -headed Cisticola
14 39-40 Comments on the use of the nest of the Chestnut -crowned Babbler by the
Australian Kestrel and other Birds
14 43 Australasian Bittern takes a Black Snake
14 56 Australian Magpie -lark taking a Bat
15 27-28 Frogs as a deterent to breeding success in Reedwarblers and Grassbirds
15 55 Little Egrets feeding in association with Spoonbills
16 31 Grey Butcherbird taking a Painted Button -quail
20 85-87 Birds feeding on fruits of Leafless Cherry
20 87-89 Black Kites and other raptores feeding on cicadas
21 104 Cockatoos feeding on the seeds of the Aleppo Pine
23 66-67 Interactions of juvenile Pallid Cuckoos with Red -capped Robins and other
24 25-26 Nest predation by two species of honeyeaters
Allen Keast.
Page 48 Australian Birds Vol 24 No.2NOTICE TO CONTRIBUTORS
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 “Handlist
    of Birds in New South Wales”. A.K. Morris, A.R. McGill and G. Holmes 1981 Dubbo:
  2. Articles or notes should be type written 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, CommonwealthGovernment 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 1990” except in tables and figures where they may be
  9. The 24 hour clock will be used, times being written 06:30, 18:30 for 6:30am and 6:30pm
  10. Mr, Mrs, Dr are not to be followed by a full stop.
  11. In text, numbers one to ten are spelt; numbers of five f igures or more should be grouped
    in threes and spaced by a thin gap. Commas should not be used as thousands markers.
  12. References to other articles should be shown in the text -‘…B.W. Finch and M.D. Bruce
    (1974) stated…’ 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.Volume 24, No. 2 December 1990
    S.J.S. Debus A note on the Masked Owl Tylo novaehollandae 29
    R.J. Angus Nesting of Leaden Flycatchers at Narrabeen 37
    Peter Disher A Wilson’s Phalarope at Tullakool new for NSW 38
    Alan K. Morris A Blue -winged Parrot observation at Nadgee
    Nature Reserve, NSW 40
    Keith Egan Predation of eggs of Little Terns by Silver Gulls
    & other feeding behaviour 41
    S. & B. Ramsay Sighting of Comb -crested Jacana at Long Swamp,
    Bermagui, NSW 42
    Graham Clark Book Review, Birds of NSW, A Working List 43
    Allan K. Morris Book Review, Threatened Birds of Australia:
    An annoted list 45
    Allan Keast Obituary, John Hobbs 47
    Registered by Australia Post – Publication No. NBH0790
    Printed by Drummoyne Printing, 56 Thompson Street, Drummoyne. 811888