Vol. 13 No. 3-text

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Journal of the
Volume 13, No.3 March, 1979

ISSN 0311-8150

Registered for Posting as a Periodical Category BTHE N.S.W. FIELD ORNITHOLOGISTS CLUB
COMMITTEE J. Strudwick
E. Hoskin
The object of the Club is to promote the study and conservation of Australian birds and the
habitats they occupy.
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P.O. Box 39, Coonabarabran. 2857Volume 13, No. 3 March, 1979
During the period 19-26 November, 1978, a rockclimbing party visited Ball’s Pyramid,
some 17 km south-east of Lord Howe Island. The party consisted of Ross Vining, William
Blunt, Ian Brown and Don Fletcher. Approximately four days were spent above base level,
climbing to the summit and back via the south-east ridge. The rest of the time was spent at
sea level, on the south-east end and below the east face. The following observations by the
party were made on these sections of the Pyramid, but information from the west and east
faces, and the north-west end is limited. However, the west face showed virtually no bird
activity, probably due to its vertical and featureless nature. Photographs of most of the
sea -birds found breeding on the Pyramid were taken, and it is from these that positive
identification of the Kermadec Petrel was made. Alan Morris of Coonabarabran confirmed
the identification of the seabirds from my photographs.
Kermadec Petrel Pterodroma neglecta
Common at higher levels above 400 metres altitude, up to the flanks of the summit
pinnacle. A minimum of 100 birds was seen, nesting and in flight. Their nests were located in
shallow holes and tussock ledges on steep faces, sometimes grouped into discreet zones.
The development of young ranged from eggs to large downy chicks. Contrary to what is
generally stated, i.e. that the Lord Howe Island population has the highest proportion of pale
phase examples, the majority of birds observed were of dark to medium colour phase.
Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus
A burrowing shearwater of dark, uniform colour, dark narrow bill, pale feet, and small
size present on the Pyramid was almost certainly this species. It was common at lower
levels, wherever burrowing was possible.
Masked Booby Sula dactylatra
Numerous on all ledges and terraces, right to the summit at c. 560+ metres, where two
pairs were breeding. At least 45 pairs were seen along the south-east ridge, about 30 of
these on a large terrace on the ridge at c. 150 metres altitude. Most boobies were nesting,
from eggs to adult -sized chicks with some juvenile plumage.42 AUSTRALIAN BIRDS (13) 3
Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda
Only two birds were actually observed nesting, both at egg stage. Many more were
seen in flight, especially around the east face, 30 to 40 birds at a time. The terraced east
face of the Pyramid seems to be the stronghold of the species, as none were seen around
the west face.
Turnstone Arenaria interpres
A single flock of about ten birds was seen at sea level.
Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata
Abundant at all levels except the top 100 metres or so, but concentrated on the lower
terraces with at least 1000+ pairs present on the Pyramid. All stages of breeding, from
unhatched eggs to chicks with the beginnings of juvenile plumage were observed. These
terns preferred nest sites on ledges and terraces, with or without vegetation, and were not
seen on the steep faces.
Common Noddy Anous stolidus
Flocks were seen frequently around sea level. Only one breeding bird was observed, at
about 50 metres altitude -a single egg on a Melaleuca howeana bush, without nest.
Grey Ternlet Procelstema albivittata
Fairly common on the lower half of the Pyramid, with fewer towards the top. They were
nesting on small ledges and in holes on steep rock faces. Only young chicks were seen,
about ten. The number of adults observed was at least 50 pairs.
These were the species identified on the sections of Ball’s Pyramid which were
traversed. Other species and populations may have been present elsewhere.
Close observation of the birds on Ball’s Pyramid without using climbing techniques
would generally be limited to the base of the island. However, a slanting terrace on the east
side of the south-east ridge would provide relatively easy access to nesting Sooty Terns,
boobies, shearwaters and tropicbirds, up to an altitude of about 70 metres.
The status of birds on Lord Howe Island including Ball’s Pyramid was summarised by
Fullagar et al (in Recher (Ed.) 1974 Environmental Survey of Lord Howe Island, Appendix F).
The information gained from our visit has confirmed that Kermadec Petrels and Wedge-
tailed Shearwaters breed in significant numbers on Ball’s Pyramid. Additional information on
the breeding status of the Grey Ternlet is provided. The observed population of Masked
Boobies (45+ pairs) was far in excess of the 12+ pairs stated by Fullagar et al (Recher loc.
cit. ).
IAN BROWN, 22 Berowra Road, Mount Colah, 2079.March, 1979 43
Between 1972 and 1974 an intensive study of the Grey Butcherbird Cracticus torquatus
was made in bushland adjoining my garden at Turramurra, New South Wales. The species
was also studied in other locations on a more casual basis, one of the secondary areas
being a Hoxton Park garden, west of Sydney.
During breeding seasons, observations began at first light and lasted about two hours;
further observations were made during the early afternoon and again about sunset. When
broods fledged, study was less intensive and at more convenient times. In late autumn and
winter the birds were very cryptic and more time was then given to checking literature.
Results of the study will be prepared in a series of papers of which this is the first. All times
quoted are adjusted to Eastern Standard Time.
On 24 August 1972, a Grey Butcherbird with a tuft of feathers protruding from the right
flank visited the barbecue in my garden at South Turramurra looking for meat scraps. Later
observations of this bird during courtship identified it as a male bird. The tuft survived
successive moults and this bird still held the study territory at the end of the 1977 breeding
On 16 September, 1972, a nest was located by following the territorial advertising of
the tufted Grey Butcherbird and its mate. At this stage the nest comprised only a few twigs,
and was sited in the first crotch of a sapling Bloodwood Eucalyptus gummifera at
approximately 8 metres.
The habitat was dry sclerophyll forest dominated by mature and sapling Eucalyptus sp.
which provided good shade, although the canopy was not complete. This forest had
regenerated well after a fire in November 1968, when some saplings were killed by crown
The tufted male bird was easy to identify in the field, even from a distance. Only females
brood (Hindwood 1967), and on 26 October this female’s restless behaviour suggested
youg were hatching. First feeding of brood was observed on 27 October. However on 25
September, probably ten days after the nest under study was commenced, a second nest
was found in the same territory, with a dead bird in the brooding position. No eggs were
found in the failed nest. It was concluded that after the death of his previous mate, the tufted
male soon found a new partner and with her began the territorial posting by which the
second nest was located. This delay in raising a brood probably lessened the chances of its
On 6 November, two nestlings showed strong head lift and beak gape when adults
brought food to the nest. The female brooded very high on the nest that day. At 13.32 with
cloud cover one eighth, she sat on the nest edge with slightly raised wings, then stood right
in the cup with the sun directly behind her, shading nestlings with her raised wings. At this
stage the young were gaping widely. Only their heads were visible and the down was short
and sparse. Later the female sat in the nest.44 AUSTRALIAN BIRDS (13) 3
On 7 November, the nestlings were gaping vigorously for food. They received skinks,
moths, lacewings and larvae. This day was cooler with almost total cloud cover; with no
shading recorded the longest period of brooding was eight minutes. On 8 November only
one head appeared above the nest at a time which was unusual. The adults were not in the
nest vicinity at 13.12 but attacked an Australian Raven Corvus coronoides in the territory.
The sun was not directly on the nest and there was no cloud cover. At 13.32 the female
attended, standing in the nest with back to the sun which was now directly on the cup.
During sun sheltering behind slightly elevated wings, the nestling visible held a wide gape.
The function of this did not appear to be food begging as no calls were made, and the adult
female did not respond to the gaping by bringing food to the nest. The shading bird also
gaped wide during the sheltering period of 32 minutes. Shade temperature was 24’C.
The male brought food unsolicited by begging calls from young during the shading
period. The female shaded until the canopy again sheltered the nest. After six minutes’
absence she returned to feed the brood and then recommenced shading with her back to
dappled light. After leaving to feed, she sheltered by standing in the cup, wings slightly
elevated, adjusting position so that the sun, now striking from a different angle, was still
behing her.
No observations were made on 9 November. On 10 November the female did not brood
overnight. Both adults brought food to the nest on 11 November, but there was no sign of
nestling activity, and by the following day both dead nestling had been taken by the adults to
hang in forked twigs nearby. Removal of one young was witnessed, and the second was
later located and from its condition appeared to have been the first to die. The brood was
probably lost on 8-9 November. The bodies were sparsely downed and some primary quills
were appearing.
Shading was again observed in the same territory on 3 December 1976, when the
shade temperature was 32°C at 14.15. A disastrous fire fanned by gale force winds swept
down the Lane Cove River Valley about an hour later and was controlled only about 400
metres from this nest. This observation was not followed up, but no young birds were seen
or heard in the study territory later that season.
On 29 July 1973, at 15.30 a Grey Butcherbird in mature plumage perched on a Bunya
Pine Araucaria bidwillii branch at Hoxton Park, New South Wales. The site was an open
position at about 15 metres. The bird’s back was to the sun, with the left wing held low and
partly open. From this position it flew to take food casually from the branches before
adopting a new perch, again with back to the sun. The right wing was now extended, primary
feathers exposed to the sunlight as before. It was not convenient to stay for the whole
sunning period but the bird did not groom while under observation.
Although H. J. Frith (in litt.) considers the habit of shading Australian birds is reasonably
widespread, have not found references to either shading or sunning by Grey Butcherbirds.
In fact, refereI nces dealing with sunning appear restricted to short notes under titles not
directly related to the habit, and this may also apply to observations of shading behaviour in
Some interesting accounts of shading are found in overseas sources. Morse Nice
(1943) considered it “an important function of the parent” and includes descriptions of the
habit as practised by various species. An observation by Charles (1909) led her to think
that shading behaviour was not necessarily released by signs of distress in the young, but
may have been a direct response to the sun.March, 1979 45
Nelson (1969) describes the effect of rising temperature when direct sunshine causes
distress to birds of prey just out of down into feathers, when exposure can kill in less than
half an hour at a temperature around 32’C. He comments on the late nesting of Peregrine
Falcons Falco peregrinus in the north-west U.S.A. making them “doomed to nesting
failure … if exposed to direct rays of the sun”.
Landsborough Thomson (1964) quotes the body temperature of all birds as 41 °C when
awake and inactive. In both precocial and altricial young the temperaure is a few degrees
below this for the first few weeks of life. Heat stess sets in when environmental temperature
is close to body temperature, resulting in rapid panting.
Between 1972-76 shading was observed in the study area only three times. Both
broods concerned were raised late in the season, birds in this territory and at nearby
Thornleigh (B. Howie, in lift.) not re -nesting after failure in November or early December. The
male breeding song in the study area ceased in November. As sunlight may strike the nest
at any time during the July -December breeding season, the shading response appears to be
triggered by a factor other than sunlight itself. It would be difficult to gather evidence
sufficient to suggest at what temperature shading begins. Other factors such as light
intensity or angle of the sun may be involved. Humidity could well be a factor influencing the
Sunning, or sunbathing, is dealt with by Landsborough Thomson (/oc cit) in Feather
Maintenance. A number of sunning postures of varying intensity are described. Gifford
(1941) refers to doves and pigeons as “ardent sun-bathers”, and perhaps this is why
instances of sunning by them are more frequently documented than observations of the
habit in other species. Morse Nice (/oc cit) describes the posture adopted by Song
Sparrows Melospiza melodia and other North American and European species.
In Australian literature a reference to sunning by Humphries (1963) under the title
“Camouflage by Partridge Pigeons” describes the posture, which he may have mistaken for
a camouflage position. Tubb (1964) then pointed out this was an attempt to “warm … areas
otherwise covered”. He listed six species of pigeons and doves in which he had observed
the habit. Johnston (1965) then commented that instances of sunbaking were not well
known, and cited overseas summary papers on the behaviour.
More recently D. and R. Keller (1977) described attempts to photograph a Plumed
Pigeon Lophophaps p. plumifera. Like Humphries (/oc cit) they were impressed by the
camouflageof the bird under observation. Their description is of a variation of shading
behaviour, the bird protecting itself by sheltering its face in the shadow cast by its own body
when brooding in an exposed position.
A search has been made for references to shading and sunning in the Australian
literature. My lack of success leads to the question of whether these aspects of behaviour
have been overlooked or not documented. References may be contained in articles dealing
primarily with other aspects of behaviour. In any case, it would appear that Johnston (/oc cit)
was correct in saying that summary articles on sunbathing were not well known.
It could not be positively determined what caused the loss of the late Grey Butcherbird
brood in 1972. In 1973-74 the early broods fledged. However, as food was brought to the
nest consistently, even for two days after nestlings died, starvation can be discounted, and
the loss was probably due to heat stress. therefore suggest that late broods of Grey
Butcherbirds are subject of high losses because of climatic factors.46 AUSTRALIAN BIRDS (13) 3
Alan Morris encouraged me to begin and continue this study of the Grey Butcherbird,
and David Purchase sent a reading list as guidance. H. J. Disney, E. S. Hoskin, A. R. McGill,
and J. Worthington of the National Parks and Wildlife Library helped to locate references. M.
Dibley, J. H. Frith and B. Howie were among those who offered suggestions in answer to my
enquiries. Throughout the study my family overlooked many long absences in the field and
their co-operation allowed me to complete the work. In this initial paper thank all these
people for their generous help.
Charles, F. L., 1909. Some Observations on Robin Nests. Trans. III. State Academy Sc.,
Gifford, E.W., 1941. Taxonomy and Habits of Pigeons. Auk 58:239-245.
Hindwood, K. A., 1967. Notes on the Grey Butcherbird. Aust. Birdwatcher 3:40-42.
Humphries, C. P., 1963. Camouflage by Partridge Pigeons. Emu 63:72.
Johnston, R. F., 1965. Sunbathing by birds. Emu 64:325-6.
Keller, D. & R., 1977. A nesting Plumed Pigeon photographed at Mt. Isa, Old. Aust. Bird-
watcher 7:62.
Landsborough-Thomson, A., 1964. Ed. A New Dictionary of Birds. London: B.O.U.
Morse Nice, M., 1943. Transactions of the Linnean Soc. of New York VI: Studies in the Life
History of the Song Sparrow II.
Nelson, M., 1969. The Status of the Peregrine Falcon in the Northwest. 1961-72. In J. J.
Hickey (Ed.) Peregrine Falcon Populations, Their Biology and Decline.
Tubb, J. A., 1964. “Camouflage” by Pigeons. Emu 63:418-9.
DARIEL LARKINS, 225 Kissing Point Road, Turramurra, N.S.W. 2074.
Fullagar et al (1974 Environ. Survey of Lord Howe Is.) lists the Black -capped Petrel
Pterodroma externa cervicalis, as a rare visitor to Lord Howe Island. It seems desirable to
document this record of a species which otherwise has not been reliably reported from
Australian waters.
On March 1971, whilst travelling by launch between Ball’s Pyramid and the main
Island, a medium-sized petrel with a conspicuous black cap, grey black above, white below,
passed close by the boat. It was closely followed by a Black -winged Petrel Pterodroma
nigripennis which was noticeably smaller. The following identification points were noted at
the time; short black bill with elevated tubular nostrils typical of the genus Pterodroma;
black -capped head; white -neck collar; and white underwing with thin black leading edge.
Observers present included J. and M. Foster, H. J. de S. Disney, G. F. van Tets, H. F.
Recher, J. H. Lewis, D. A. Stewart and the writer.
JOHN L. McKEAN, P.O. Box 84, Lyneham, A.C.T. 2602.March, 1979
Rogers (1977 Aust. Birds 11-81), in his annual bird report for New South Wales gives
details of some interesting records of the Superb Parrot Polytelis swainsonii in the central
west of N.S.W. As I was resident from 1965 to 1969 at Albert, 15 km east of Tottenham, my
records and observations of the Superb Parrot in that area may be of interest, particularl,,,
because, for the years 1966 to 1969 inclusive, recorded an apparent southward movement
of Superb Parrots during the month of June.
In 1966 the movement was first recorded on 26 June. was birding, during the late
afternoon in woodland, four kilometres east of Albert and observed small parties of between
10 and 15 birds flying south-south-east. On a few occasions flocks alighted in the taller
Bimble-boxes Eucalyptus populnea for two to three minutes before again heading off. In all
70 birds passed over in the space of 30 minutes. For the next two days small flocks were
seen flying south over Albert.
In 1967 the southward movement was again evident when on 20 June, 200 birds were
recorded passing over Albert in small flocks throughout the day.
In 1968, birds were first reported to me on 13 June from Tottenham by Constable John
Clark. On the 20 June at Albert, small numbers were seen flying south and parties were
recorded around Albert each day until 2 July. The pattern of movement was similar in 1969
with the birds first appearing on 15 June and last recorded on 17 June.
From these records it would appear that there is an annual southward movement of
Superb Parrots in the Tottenham -Albert area. It is also noteworthy, that the 1976 records
were for winter months. While the movement and direction was quite definite each year
there was some variation in the apparent rate of movement. In all years, with the exception
of 1968, the flocks were compact and their flight direct. They were not seen to feed but kept
moving through. In 1968, however, the movement appeared to be much slower, with flocks
alighting on the ground to feed. one female, banded at Albert, was retrapped two days later
at the same spot. (On each occasion the trap was baited with wheat.)
During my stay at Albert no northward movement was observed. In view of the currently
held view that the alleged “northern” population as mentioned by H. T. Condon (1975
Checklist of the Birds of Aust. Part 1) is in fact winter migrants from southern New South
Wales, my observations give additional information on the status of these birds in the
“middle” region.
M. T. KAVENEY, Eureka Road, Rosebank, N.S.W. 2480.48 AUSTRALIAN BIRDS (13) 3
On 26-27 November 1977, with my wife and a group organised by the Hunter River
Naturalists’ Club, again visited Broughton Island, N.S.W. Almost four years had elapsed
since my previous visit and there were some obvious changes.
Two of the “weekender” huts had disappeared; one of these, illegally constructed
about the time the island was included in the Myall Lakes National Park, had been removed.
The other, one of the older huts, had been demolished by waves during a severe storm. A
toilet structure, recently constructed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service is situated
to the north behind Esmeralda Cove. A second similar structure, erected near North Beach,
had blown down in a gale.
The regeneration of vegetation on the island was noticeable. Three Coral Trees
Erythryna sp. near the swamp in the centre of the island were now about 4 metres high;
Prickly Pear Opuntia stricta had spread considerably in the south-eastern corner and at the
north-western end.
About 80 pairs of Silver Gulls Larus novaehollandiae and some 40 to 50 pairs of Crested
Terns Sterna bergii were nesting on Snapper Rock. The gull nesting was at all stages from
fresh eggs to flying young, though most were at the “runner” stage. A few of the terns were
on eggs but of about 100 “runners”, most were well developed. The only previous breeding
recorded for these species on the island was in 1959 (Hindwood and D’Ombrain, 1960)
when “small numbers apparently nested”, and a few gulls nests with eggs were found in
1972 (Lane, 1976).
This visit was my sixth to Broughton Island, the first being from 18-20 December, 1959
(Hindwood and D’Ombrain, loc. cit.). No estimate of the number of breeding shearwaters
(Puffinus spp.) was made at that time. In fact, the first such estimate was made during this
recent visit. F. W. C. van Gessel (1978) with other members of the group conducted a
survey of the shearwater colonies and estimated that about 22 000 pairs probably were
breeding on the island. During the visit 47 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus pacificus and
11 Short -tailed Shearwaters P. tenuirostris were banded. However, the ratio is not indicative
of the overall situation as particular efforts were made to check the known tenuirostris
locations. Also, 29 of the pacificus were captured on the surface at night.
From my own recollections, it appears that the shearwater breeding colonies on
Broughton Island have slowly but steadily increased in area during the 18 years since my
first visit.
Hindwood, K. A. and A. F. D’Ombrain, 1960. “Breeding of the Short -tailed Shearwater
(Puffinus tenuirostris) and other Seabirds on Broughton Island, N.S.W.”, Emu
Lane, S. G., 1976. “Seabird Islands No. 18: Broughton Island, New South Wales”, Aust.
Bird Bander 14:10-13.
van Gessel, F. W. C., 1978. “An Estimation of the Population Density of Shearwaters
Breeding on Broughton Island, New South Wales”, Corella 2:52-53.
S. G. LANE, 65 Wood Street, Lane Cove, N.S.W. 2066.March, 1979
found the observations made by G. R. Beruldsen (1976 Aust. Birds 10:58) of the
utmost interest. It would most certainly appear that variation in ground colour within
clutches of Australian Reed -warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus australis (Gould) is not
uncommon, despite the fact that have only ever found one such clutch (1975 Aust. Birds
must make it quite clear at this point, that by variation in ground colour mean, a
ground colour of a different tint, not just a lessening of the same tint, this does not count.
Beruldsen considers the statement quoted from the section dealing with colour in
birds- eggs in G. M. F. Prynne (1963 Egg Shells: Barrie and Rocklift) as applying to the
texture and composition of the eggshell, and not as thought by me to the ground colour.
However, a few pages further on in his book and after having discussed colour generally and
at some length, Colonel Prynne writes – “The following theoretical axiom is therefore
postulated;” – and then ip italics, – “The colour of egg shell is dependent upon the blood
type of a bird, the pattern upon the pigmentary gland formation”. Continuing in normal
letterpress, the author then enlarges upon the pigmentary cover marks.
If indeed the ground colour of an egg is dependent upon the blood type of the hen, it
would therefore seem necessary that for variation in ground colour to occur within an
individual clutch, a variation would also be demanded in a hen’s blood type during the period
when she was depositing her clutch.
It might be asked, is the variation in a clutch the result of the laying of one hen or of two
hens in the one nest? Mr. Beruldsen believes that the former is the case and his view is
undoubtedly strengthened by the fact, that Reed -warblers inhabiting Eastern Australia, with
few exceptions, are C/3 layers. If two hens laid in the same nest, one would expect to find
clutches in excess of the normal C/3, unless, of course, the brooding hen and true owner of
the nest cast out the surplus egg or eggs, and in doing so dispensed with her own and not
that or those of the intruder. If this merely suggested explanation were true, it would account
for nests containing the usual C/3, of which the ground colour tint of one egg differs
noticeably from that of the other two.
As was interested to know whether a similar trait occurred within clutches of British
acrocephali, appealed within the pages of “The Bulletin of the Jourdain Society”, for
information dealing with this most intriguing subject, and in due course received from the
well-known oologist, Mr. Gordon Douglas, of Surrey, England, a most interesting letter
containing the following information. Before quoting direct from his letter, must mention
that my correspondent’s warbler cabinet contains good series of clutches of Sedge -warbler
A. schoenobaenus, 20 clutches of Marsh -warbler A. palustris and 24 clutches of
Reed -warbler A. scirpaceus.
Mr. Douglas writes: “Sedge -warbler, the eggs show very little variation at all and the
ground colour is rarely seen. have only one such clutch, and the ground is constant. have
seen a pure white set once. Marsh -warbler, there is no variation in ground colour, and very
little in the markings within the sets, although different clutches vary considerably in both
respects. Reed -warbler, there is only one clutch which shows any real difference in ground50
colour. Three eggs have deep brown blotches and caps on a yellowish ground, the fourth
egg has deep bluish green marks on a green ground. This egg is most noticeably different
and shows up in sharp contrast in the clutch. It is the only example remember seeing,
although there is a great variation from clutch to clutch in this species.
The area where I took this clutch, had many pairs of Reed -warbler breeding quite close
together, as is normally the case; they are semi -colonial as you will know. Although took
the set in all good faith, it could possibly be a case of a bird laying in its neighbour’s nest,
which is always possible with many species, especially if its own nest has been destroyed.
Looking through the rest of my collection I would say that variation in ground is nil,
except in a very few species. It is true that some show a difference in depth of colour. For
instance, Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca which usually lays one egg, believe the last
laid, a much paler blue than the rest. This difference tends to disappear as the clutch ages.”
It will be noted that Mr. Douglas also suggest the possibility of community nesting birds
like reed -warblers at times depositing an egg in a nest other than their own.
a clutch in which ground colour varies, refrain from asking for any such clutches being sent
to me, lest cause offence; however, a coloured photograph would be more than welcome.
Mr. Beruldsen may rest assured, that any information sent to me will be properly
acknowledge in my forthcoming monograph.
My sincere thanks to Mr. Gordon Douglas for kindly sending me details regarding
ground colour of acrocephaline warblers’ eggs in his collection. would also like to thank
Cpt. A. L. Mansfield, Hon. editor of “The Bulletin of the Jourdain Society”, for publishing my
appeal for information in his magazine.
L. COURTNEY-HAINES, “Viney Cottage,” 10 Loquat Valley Road, Bayview, N.S.W. 2104.March, 1979 51
Both the Red-tailed Tropic -bird Phaethon rubricaudus and the White-tailed Tropic -bird P.
lepturus are rarely recorded in New South \Nnles, generally occurring as storm -driven strays
(Serventy et al 1971 The handbook of Australian Seabirds). The Red-tailed Tropic -bird up to
December, 1977 was recorded in N.S.W. on 15 occasions (1898-1976) during the period
November -July, the majority during summer. Over half of the observations relate to birds
seen at sea in inshore waters and most records were for adult birds. The birds were found
along the whole length of the coast except for one particular specimen which was picked up
alive after a storm near Tamworth in June, 1945 (Emu 47: 57).
The White-tailed Tropic -bird has also been recorded on 15 occasions (1890-1976)
during the period December to July with most records for the period January -April. Localities
range form Murramurrang near Ul:adulla, north to the Queensland border with one specimen
found alive at Bulandelah after a storm in February, 1956 (McGill 1960 Handlict of the Birds
of N.S.W.). In contrast to the Red-tailed Tropic -bird, the majority of observations :elate to
juvenile birds washed up dead on the beaches following storms at sea.
On 19 March, 1978, a large rain depression, relict of a tropical cyclone, moved inland
from the N.S.W. north coast apparently bringing with it numerous tropic -birds. These were
blown inland by the strong gale -force easterly winds that had prevailE- for the previous
three days, carrying the birds beyond the extreme inland localities where previous tropic –
birds had been deposited (Tamworth and Bulandelah approx. 190 km and 18 km respec-
tively from the coast). This tropical low depression brought rain to much of the State on 20
March 1978 with heavy falls about the south and central coast and adjacent ranges
contracting slowly south, leaving some showers and thunderstorms in the north. North-east
to south-east winds were gale force on the South Coast but easing slowly, with winds
becoming variable in the west. Seas were very rough with a heavy swell in the south,
grading to slight to moderate seas with moderate seas in the north. The synoptic weather
chart for the 20 March 1978 is shown as Figure and demonstrates the abnormal climatic
situation that brought about the unusual fall of tropic -birds to inland N.S.W. Figure II is a map
showing the localities where the birds were found.
Details of tropic -birds that were recovered after the tropical low depression moved into
N.S.W. are set out below.
Red-tailed Tropic -bird
20.3.78 Adult found alive in a paddock at “Biambil”, Baradine but whilst being
photographed flew away and has not since been found (D. Johnston pers.
20.3.78 Immature male found alive in Warrumbungle National Park, 36 km west of
Coonabarabran, now AM 0. 46743.
20.3.78 Adult male found washed up on Avoca Beach near Gosford AM 0. 46745.
21.3.78 Adult female found alive in the main street of Barraba, now AM 0. 47063.
21.3.78 Two birds, sex and age not known, found near Dubbo, and taken to the Western
Plains Zoo, where they subsequently died and were buried (Anon. pers. comm.).
22.3.78 Adult female found at Silverwater, a suburb on the Parramatta River near
Parramatta. now AM 0. 46842.52 AUSTRALIAN BIRDS (13) 3
21.2.78 Adult found alive at Bourke, fed for two days, and later released. The bird flew
away to the west along the Darling River (J. Disney, pers. comm.).
21.3.78 Adult found alive at Armidale, where it was fed for seven days and subsequently
released at Sawtell near Coff’s Harbour, the bird flying strongly out to sea.
21.3.78 Adult male found 12 km northwest of Tamworth, now a study skin on display with
the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
White-tailed Tropic -bird
20.3.78 Immature male found alive in Warrumbungle National Park, 36 km west of
Coonabarabran, now AM 0. 467843.
21.3.78 Five found in Tamworth, one which was killed by a car, another an immature, was
photographed and illustrated in the “Tamworth Daily Leader” newspaper, on 22
March 1978. Another, an adult male, found dead has been used in a NPWS
display. The age and sex of the other two birds that were fed and released by a
Tamworth resident is not known (R. Payne pers. comm.).
21.3.78 Immature female found 23 km north of Griffith now AM 0. 46744.
21.3.78 Immature found dead beside access track to Widden Valley, location of
specimen not known (NSW FOC Newsletter, June, 1978).
25.3.78 Immature, sex unknown, found dead on Garie Beach, Royal National Park, now

AM 0. 46727.

The nearest breeding place of Red-tailed Tropic -birds to New South Wales is Lord
Howe Island and Norfolk Island and their associate outliers. The breeding population on
Lord Howe Island has been estimated at 250+ pairs, P. Fullagar et al (in 1974 Envirn. Survey.
Lord Howe Island, Appendix F), whilst the population at Norfolk Island would be much
greater. By March, most of the young birds would have fledged, so that birds of all age
groups could be caught up in the cyclone and carried through into inland N.S.W. This could
explain why both adults and immature Red-tailed Tropic -birds occurred in equal proportion
during this seabird “fall” in contrast to mostly immature White-tailedTropic-birds. The
nearest breeding island of the latter bird to eastern Australia, is Walpole Island, a coral islet
about 240 km south-east of New Caledonia and about 1280 km from coastal N.S.W.
(Serventy loc. cit.). Apparently, adult birds are recorded at most seasons in the Coral Sea
but it would appear that possibly immatures have a post -breeding dispersal southwards to
more temperate waters.54 AUSTRALIAN BIRDS (13) 3
Other possible sightings of tropic -birds were reported to me following an article wrote
for the Gilgandra, Coonamble and Coonabarabran Newspapers when the first birdsI were
found. Some of these reports (near Mullaley and Gilgandra) were most certainly tropic -birds
but the observers were not aware at the time of the importance of the observation and did
not record full details. The fact that 18 tropic -birds were found throughout N.S.W. during a
three-day period, the largest fall of tropic -birds ever recorded in Australia, is of particular
interest. One Wonders just how many other tropic -birds were also caught up in the rain
depression but remained undetected. It is interesting to note that even though some other
tropical seabirds were also blown ashore during this cyclone, none were reported at inland
The assistance of Mr. ‘J. De S. Disney, Curator of Birds, Australian Museum; staff of the
Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo; R. Payne NPWS Grafton; and I. Archibald, Curator of
Specimens, University of New England; in providing information about the specimens was
greatly appreciated. E. Edmondson prepared the maps.
A. K. MORRIS, P.O. Box 39, Post Office, Coonabarabran, 2857.
During drafting of the Manuscript on derelict seabirds found on the Bherewerre
Peninsula, A.C.T. (Sonter 1978), the validity of the Arctic Jaeger Stercorarius parasiticus
was challenged and the possibility of it being the much rarer Long-tailed Jaeger Stercorarius
longicauda was proposed. A close re-examination of the specimen, still in my possession at
the time, was made. Having no reason to doubt the identification by J. D. Gibson or A. R.
Sefton, and being satisfied myself, it was decided to adhere to it being parasiticus. However,
the “blue” colour of the tarsus did present something of a contradiction to the descriptions
cited in most literature. In discussing the problem with N. J. Favaloro a decision was made to
have it compared with other specimens in the sub -genus in order to obtain a definitive
identification. The specimen was then sent to the Victorian National Museum where it was
examined. Doubt still persisted and, through the Curator of Birds,permission was then
obtained to send the specimen to the British Musuem (National History). A comparison with
those in the Museum’s collection confirmed it as being parasiticus. After collating the
various comments gathered, and still being undecided over one or two aspects including the
“blue” tarsus, a further opinion was sought through Dr. A. Wetmore of the National Museum
(Washington D.C.) from Dr. G. E. Watson. After receiving, examining and comparing the
specimen he (Dr. Watson) had no hesitation in describing it as a Long-tailed Jaeger S.
longicauda, his judgement being based on the parti-coloured legs and feet. These, he stated,
only occur in this species (even in sub -adults) but he did warn that sub -adult Jaegers are
notoriously difficult to identify.
While the specimen was in transit between museums made another review of the
literature with the assistance of J. D. Gibson. Several authors variously describe the tail of
longicauda as “pliant”, “finely pointed”, “long and thin” and “very flexible” and there are
many fine drawings and photographs confirming these descriptions. However, the emerging
central tail feathers on the specimen in question were broad and dissimilar to those of
longicauda. As a feather grows from the base it develops and pushes the old one out but
does not alter its shape as it grows longer (Heinroth 1959). On the other hand there could
be close similarity between immature feathers in both species.March, 1979
Colour variability in the longicauda tarsus may yet be shown to occur in some
populations. Also it should be noted that some authors have borrowed from previously
published descriptions and possibly others have not given due consideration to the change
in colours of soft parts which often take place after death. Sibson (1967) states the “tarsus
pale flesh” while Fisher (1947) says “legs grey, feet black”. Both Murphy (1936) and
Alexander (1954) give good details which serve to indicate that there is a variation in leg
colour and colour distribution in longicauda. The specimen in question has the entire foot
black and also the proximal and distal tarsal joints. There is also a small section of black
mottling half way along the left tarsus. A curious comment regarding leg colour comes from
Mathews and Iredale (1921) who describe parasiticus (not longicauda) as having “tarsus
pale blue, toes and webs black”.
Another seemingly important aid to identification is that of the “breast band”.
Thompson (1978) when describing a bird he believed to be an Arctic Jaeger near Lee Point,
N.T., indicated the bird as having “a diffuse but obvious brown pectoral band”. In the Jervis
Bay specimen a dark smudgy band was found to be present when the loose but adhering
feathers were replaced in position (this section of the specimen is now missing having
become detached and lost during museum examinations). Godfrey (1976) says that in
longicauda this band is absent (some Arctic and Pomarine Jaeger also lack a breast band).
There seems as much support for the specimen being parasiticus as longicauda but if no
positive identification has been achieved certainly a lot of interest has been generated. For
two eminent institutions, each presumably with extensive reference collections, to arrive at
different identifications, shows the difficulties that can sometimes arise in identifying a
Jaeger specimen in the hand. In the field, according to Godfrey (loc. cit.) “first year birds
impossible to distinguish … from young of other . J ae. gers”.
Some further data on the Jervis Bay bird are as follows: Bill dark brown overall, culmen
26.4; tarsus 42, sky blue when fresh (not dull blue -grey); middle toe and claw 36.4; tail (in
moult) 133. The specimen was of the light phase and is now in the Gibson/Sefton Collection
No. G/S 1.344.
To those associated with this exercise extend my sincere thanks and trust the
prolonged lapse of time since the identification was first challenged and the publication of
these additional notes will merit their indulgence.
Alexander, W. B., 1954. Birds of the Ocean, pp 144-145. Putnam. New York.
Fisher, J., 1947. Bird Recognition 1, p. 160. Penguin Books.
Godfrey, W. Earl, 1976. The Birds of Canada, pp 171, 173. N.M.C. Bulletin 203.
Heinroth, 0. & K., 1959. The Birds, pp. 89-96. Faber. London.
Mathews, G. M. & T. Iredale, 1921. Manual of the Birds of Australia Vol. 1, p 113.
Murphy, R. C., 1936. Oceanic Birds of South America Vol 2, p 1038.
Sibson, R. B., 1967. Long-tailed Skua Ashore at Muriwai. Notornis 14: 79.
Sonter, C., 1978. Seabirds Found Dead on Beaches of the Oceanic Shoreline of the
Bhewerre Peninsula, Jervis Bay, A.C.T. Aust. Birds 12: 41-53.
Thompson, H. A. F., 1978. First Northern Territory Record of Arctic Skua. Sunbird 1:9 and
CHRIS SONTER, 72 San Mateo Avenue, Mildura, Vic. 3500.56 AUSTRALIAN BIRDS (13) 3
Nearly all bird observers are familiar with the hoarse, raucous, and somewhat unattrac-
tive call “tobacco box tobacco box” of the Red Wattlebird Anthochaera carunculata.
wonder how many people know that the bird is also capable of another, more musical call?I
Certainly was not aware of this fact, until recently.
At Epping, New South Wales, on 30 March 1978, I heard a loud, unfamiliar bird call
above the noise of the morning peak hour traffic. At first thought it was the first notes of the
call of the Brown Goshawk Accipiter fasciatus, but the call was infinitely more melodious and
pleasant. The call, or sound, consisted of five short quick “round” notes ascending about
three notes on the scale. The only bird in clear view was a Red Wattlebird and fortunately it
repeated the call a few seconds later. The bird stretched almost upright on its perch and
called with beak open and throat throbbing with each note. It repeated the call once again
before flying off.
It was extraordinary to hear such a call from the throat of a bird with a reputation for
harsh notes. However, it is not unknown, for Officer (1964 Australian Honeyeaters), has
stated that “on rare occasions, listeners have claimed to have heard a musical song”.
D. I. SMEDLEY, 21 Ula Crescent, Baulkham Hills, N.S.W. 2153.
On 16 September 1978, J. Strudwick, B. Mannes, J. Wilson, G. and M. Dibley were
south of Sydney, in the Royal National Park overlooking Heathcote Brook. A Grey
Currawong Strepera versicolor was seen to alight on the flowerhead of a Giant Lily
Doryanthes excelsa about 20 metres away from us and at eye level. The flowerheads are
about 30 cm across on stalks 2.5 metres to 6 metres tall. On several occasions the
Currawong was observed to plunge its bill into the flowers and then tilt its head back
vertically. It appeared that the bird was swallowing nectar which is abundant in these
After this bird departed, a Pied Currawong S. graculina, alighted on the same
flowerhead, crouched and fluttered its wings. Whereupon another Pied Currawong alighted
alongside it and plunged its bill among the flowers and fed the crouching bird, large dribbles
of nectar being observed to fall from their bills.
During this time an Australian Raven Corvus coronoides on another flowerhead about 35
metres to the right, was busily tearing at the flowers and flinging fragments in all directions.
A subsequent search of a large number of flowerheads revealed no sigh of insects and
around the bases of practically all plants were fragments of flowers.
M. DIBLEY, 18 Russell Street, Oatley, 2223.:fun:.
Brown, I. Bird’s of Ball’s Pyramid, Lord Howe Island 41
Larkins, D. Shading and Sunning in the Grey Butcherbird 43
McKean, J. L. A Black -capped Petrel off Lord Howe Island 46
Kaveney, M. The Superb Parrot in the central -west of New South
Wales 47
Lane, S. G. A further visit to Broughton Island, New South Wales 48
Courtney –
Haines, L. M. Colouration of Reed -warbler’s Eggs 49
Morris, A. K. The inland occurrence of Tropic -birds in New South
Wales during March 1978 51
Sonter, C. Unusual Jaeger Specimen 54
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