Vol. 14 No. 2-text

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Journal of the
Vol. 14, No. 2 December, 1979

ISSN 0311-8150

Registered for Posting as a Periodical Category BTHE N.S.W. FIELD ORNITHOLOGISTS CLUB
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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Manuscripts should be sent to the Editor at:
P.O. Box 39, Coonabarabran. 2857Vol. 14, No. 2 December, 1979
In 1960, McGill (1960) wrote of the New South Wales distribution of the Golden -headed
Cisticola Cisticola excilis resident in coastal swampland …, extending rarely west of the
. .
Divide”. By 1970 (McGill 1970), he had amended this to “extending in parts some 300 miles
inland; the Murray River Valley west to Swan Hill”. These few words illustrate the remarkable
and rapid extension of range of this small bird generally considered to be sedentary and not
subject to much movement (Frith 1969).
From 1954 to 1959 thoroughly surveyed the south-western corner of New South Wales
from Urana in the western Riverina to the South Australian border (Hobbs 1961). saw no
Cisticolas and am reasonably confident that none were in the surveyed area.
In 1962, on directions from P.A. Disher, visited a paddock just east of Barham, where in
February, Disher had seen the nest and eggs of Cisticola, and saw my first Riverina
Cisticola. The paddock was one had visited on occasions before, while briefly resident in
Barham, but had seen no Cisticolas there. Disher, a longtime resident of Barham, confirmed
the presence of Cisticola in the area on 1 January, 1962 after having first indication of its
presence in 1960 by way of a report from a ricegrower at Wakool and a personal hearing of a
(then) unidentified call.
J. Izzard, who took up residence in Berrigan in 1958, at the time was leaving nearby
Finley, recorded his first Cisticola on January 1962 a few kilometres south of Finley, again
in a paddock which had worked in earlier years without seeing the species.
There can be little doubt that the Cisticola was a recent arrival to both Finley and
Barham. The late K.A. Hindwood made available to me correspondence from J.C. LeSouef
that showed Cisticola to be common in the irrigation areas round Kyabram, Numurkah,
Nathalia and Rushworth in Victoria. A specimen obtained at Kyabram on 2 August 1952 was
deposited in the Australian Museum, Sydney. Numurkah is only 60 km south of Finley and it
is possible the Riverina birds spread from that general area after crossing the Murray River
with its unsuitable habitat barrier of Red Gums.
The arrival of the species in the western Riverina of New South Wales received scant
attention in the literature, possibly because the area is mostly visited by Victorian observers
who may not have appreciated the significance of their sightings, but its name did appear26 Australian Birds (14) 2
once or twice in campout lists in the newsletter of the Bird Observer’s Club. Nevertheless it
is apparent that having crossed the Murray River, Cisticola quickly established itself in the
irrigation areas centred upon Deniliquin, known as Berriquin, Denimein and Deniboota.
Westwards it reached to Mystic Park, Victoria (V & T Lowe 1972), Swan Hill, Victoria
(Hayward 1975) and Tooleybuc (per N. MacFarlane). Northwards it extended to six
kilometres south of Wanganella by January 1970 (per J. Izzard) and by January 1976 was a
further 75 km north-west at Windouran Swamp (Rogers 1977). In 1974 it was in the rice
crops at Coleambally, south of Darlington Point (per J. Izzard) and in the same year the first
birds for the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area were sighted by Bob Miller in rice crops east of
Griffith (Rogers 1975). It is just possible these Griffith birds had spread from the east, not the
south, as McGill saw the species at Marsden, some 140 kilometres away in 1974 too
(Rogers 1975).
From 1971 to 1976 resided at Ivanhoe and, assisted by N. Schrader, covered most of
the surrounding country quite thoroughly without sighting a Cisticola until 5 May 1976. On
that date saw nine Cisticolas at a swamp on The Retreat Station 50 kilometres south-west
of Ivanhoe and 190 km north of Windouran Swamp. They were in a small patch of Pale
Knotweed Polygonum lapathifolium and were recent arrivals as had frequently worked that
area, the last occasion being on 11 April 1976. I suspected they had reached the swamp
along the nearby Willandra Creek rather than across the dry saltbush plain southwards so I
spent the next two days searching the creek east to Mossgiel but did not see any Cisticolas.
On 10 May, while walking through a dry canegrass swamp on Whyba Station between
Ivanhoe and Conoble flushed three Cisticolas. then drove to Ticehurst Swamp, 10 km
north-east of Ivanhoe, I a huge canegrass swamp I which I knew intimately having visited it
weekly for the past two years. As soon as stopped my car Cisticolas flushed from the
canegrass alongside the road. Like the birds at The Retreat there could be no doubt these
Cisticolas were recent arrivals at the swamp, a misnomer as it was completely dry. In the
next few days searched every known canegrass swamp in the district and found Cisticolas
in most of them. Numbers continued to rise at all canegrass areas. They were numerous at
Willandra Creek, Mossgiel on 5 June where none had been seen exactly a month earlier and
on 25 June there were 25 at The Retreat. On 13 June they were common in swamp
vegetation on Irish Lords Station near Trida.
Southwards from Ivanhoe to the Deniliquin and Finley areas the country is of open
saltbush or treeless grassland with thin strips of timber along the watercourses. Ticehurst
Swamp is at the northernmost end of this plain. Northwards towards Cobar the vegetation
changes to unbroken Belah, Mulga and Mallee scrub, a habitat totally unsuitable for
Cisticola. There is a small break in the scrub at Kajuligah Station, 55 km north-east of
Ivanhoe, now a little known Nature Reserve, where there is a canegrass swamp. Visited on
12 May there were no Cisticolas present although the swamp contained water and was alive
with crakes. On 11 June the swamp was equally alive with Cisticolas.
This is possibly as far north as the Cisticola irrupted. Schmidt did not record the species
in the Cobar region in his survey of 1968-1978 (Schmidt 1978). I failed to find it in
canegrass swamps south of Wilcannia in early July. In June spent a few days in Sunraysia
irrigation areas centred upon Mildura, Victoria and visited numerous swamps and tracts of
vegetation suitable for Cisticola on both sides of the Murray River but saw no Cisticolas. On
my way to Mildura examined the many canegrass swamps near Hatfield, midway between
Ivanhoe and Balranald, but again found no Cisticolas. However A. Preston saw a pair on the
western edge of Balranald (pers. comm. 30.10.76).
On 24 May, a cold day with a strong south-west wind blowing, I was watching two
Cisticolas at Ticehurst Swamp. Both rose from the canegrass, calling excitedly, andDecember, 1979
wiLcAntu COBA R
Map of Cisticola’s range at 1974 and area of irruption in 1976. Location names appear in text.
Drawn by A. R. McGill.28 Australian Birds (14) 2
mounted into the air with their typical fluttering flight. They attained a height of about 60
metres, and then, with rapidly beating wings attempted to head north. The wind drifted them
easterly and although their bills were pointing north their line of travel was north-east. I
watched them through binoculars until, as tiny specks only, they drifted into a flock of
martins and lost them in the confusion. It was an interesting demonstration of their method
of travel, not I as would be anticipated, hugging close to the ground or even slipping through
the vegetation, but a deliberate, purposeful, high-level flight capable of taking them well
above timbered country and obviously intended as a long-distance movement. It is perhaps
worthy of comment that their north-easterly drift would have taken them direct to Kajuligah.
Similar high flight departure is graphically described for the Bearded Tit Panurus
biarmicus in Britain (AxeII 1966), a species that nests in reedbeds, somewhat like the
Cisticola, and is subject to mass eruptive movements following upon successful breeding
In the western Riverina irrigation areas, Cisticolas frequented wheat and other cereal
crops, rice paddocks, paspalum, lucerne, rank vegetation along roadsides and around
drainage areas, and stands of Cumbungi Typha sp. Undoubtedly it was the establishment of
irrigation that allowed Cisticola to colonise the area so successfully. This colonisation
seems to be proceeding with equal success in the Coleambally and Murrumbidgee Irrigation
Areas where in 1976 Moffatt recorded it throughout the year and apparently increasing
(Rogers 1977). At Ivanhoe, where there is no irrigation and no cultivated crops, the birds
frequented Canegrass Glyceria ramigera growing in standing water or dry; a stand of Pale
Knotweed on swampy ground and adjacent to cumbungi; and along the Willandra Creek, in
mixed cumbungi, Lignum Muehlenbeckia cunninghamii and various rank weeds. At Balranald
the one pair was in a disused market garden covered in rank weeds, but increasing wheat
crops in the district may allow its establishment and spread.
It is questionable whether a colonisation of the Ivanhoe district is feasible. Rainfall is
erratic, averaging only 284 mm annually. The canegrass swamps are more often dry than
filled with water and the Willandra Creek flows intermittently, is often dry and seldom floods,
so that dense vegetation along its course is usually absent. I left Ivanhoe in July 1976 so
the story of success or failure will require another author, but in a two day return in
September 1976 found Cisticolas breeding in a dry canegrass swamp on Yelty Station just
south of Ivanoe.
The years 1973 and 1974 were years of high rainfall in much of inland Australia. Rainfall
for those years at Deniliquin and Ivanhoe, rainfall for 1975 and 1976 (up to and including
April, ie. prior to the irruption) and the annual average rainfall for both towns, is shown on
Table 1.
The 1973 reading at Ivanhoe was just under twice the average and in 1974 over three
times the average fell, the highest rainfall ever recorded. The whole countryside became
swathed in metre -high grass, lush, green, and often swampy; ideal Cisticola habitat
throughout. But no Cisticolas were seen in the Ivanhoe area.
At Deniliquin, the rainfall in 1973 approached twice the average and this was followed in
1974 by the highest rainfall recorded in 115 years, a rainfall barely under twice the average.
It is reasonable to assume, that added to the irrigation, this high rainfall would have led to two
very successful breeding seasons for Cisticola, a species naturally adapted to lush, moist
conditions and vegetation, and that there was a big rise in the bird’s population. I have no
quantitative proof of this other than a count by J. Izzard of 30 birds in a small refuge of
swampy vegetation left after the harvesting of a 100 acres wheat paddock near Finley in
January 1975. The 1975 rainfall at Deniliquin was again well above average and nearly half
of it (229 mm) fell during Spring, September and October, again enhancing breeding
prospects for Cisticola. In 1976 came a sudden cessation of the bountiful rain and atDecember, 1979
Deniliquin only 54 mm had fallen to the end of April. At Ivanhoe 150 mm fell in the same
period but 103 mm of this was in January when evaporation is at its highest. The progeny of
three very favourable breeding seasons were suddenly confronted with a drying -off of their
habitat. An abnormally high population density was drawing upon a dwindling food supply.
Inevitably the excess birds erupted and sought more congenial conditions.
This explanation of the Ivanhoe irruption is speculative. Certainly, Ivanhoe, itself rapidly
reverting to its normal aridity, was not able to provide, other than on a limited scale, the
conditions required by Cisticola.
I have no quantitative data on the results of the dryness in the western Riverina. By
hearsay, it is understood there was dramatic failure of the grasslands. The reader may recall
the mass slaughterings of starving cattle throughout the Riverina and northern Victoria that
occasioned so much comment in the media and cries for Government aid from the farmers.
For the first time in two decades large mobs of cattle, each several hundreds strong, were
walked along the stock route through Ivanhoe heading for agistment along the Darling River
and the Paroo Channel where feed still held on after the big floods of the previous years.
These mobs originated in Jerilderie, Berrigan, Deniliquin and other adjoining areas, as no
doubt did the Cisticolas moving northwards at the same time.
The ability of Cisticolas to cover long distances and colonise distant areas is further
demonstrated by the dramatic spread of another member of the family, Cisticola juncidis,
known in Australia as Zitting Cisticola, in Europe, where within the last decade it has spread
from its previous confines around the Mediterranean Sea to most of Europe including the
crossing of the English Channel into Britain (Ferguson -Lees & Sharrock 1977). This spread
is credited to a long succession of mild winters enabling breeding stocks to remain at a high
level. In the more congenial climate of Australia, rainfall would be a more important factor
than temperature in regulating numbers.
My indebtedness to the correspondents named is obvious. Arn McGill came out of
‘cartographic retirement’ to complete the map for me. The Bureau of Meteorology, Sydney
supplied the rainfall figures, with commendable alacrity, during a telephone call. Neil
MacFarlane identified the Pale Knotweed and supplied much other information.
Axell, H. E., 1966. Eruptions of Bearded Tits during 1959-65. Brit. Birds 59,513-543.
Ferguson -Lees, I. J., & Sharrock, J. T. R., 1977. When will the Fan -tailed Warbler colonise Britain? Brit.
Birds 70,152-159
Frith, H. J. (Ed), 1969. Birds in the Australian High Country. Sydney: Reed.
Hayward, J. L. 1975. Bird List.
Mid Murray Field Naturalist Research Trust: Swan Hill.
Hobbs, J. N., 1961. The Birds of South-west New South Wales. Emu 61,21-55
Lowe, V. & T., 1972. A Bird List of the Mystic Park Area. Mid Murray Field Naturalist, 5th Report:30-42.
McGill, A. R., 1960. A Handlist of The Birds of New South Wales. Fauna Protection Panel: Sydney.
McGill, A. R., 1970. Australian Warblers. Bird Observer’s Club: Melbourne.
Rogers, A. E. F. (Ed), 1975. N.S.W. Bird Report for 1974. Aust. Birds 9,92.
Rogers, A. E. F. (Ed), 1977. N.S.W. Bird Report for 1976. Aust. Birds 11,98.
Schmidt, B. L., 1978. Birds of the Cobar Region, New South Wales. Aust. Birds 12,61-86.
J. N. HOBBS, 87 Plunkett Street, Nowra. N.S.W. 2540.
Mean 1973 1974 1975 1976*
Ivanhoe 284 463 904 356 150
Deniliquin 410 713 802 584 54
‘January to April only.30 Australian Birds (14) 2
On 22 November 1978 a very small sandpiper was observed by Alan Dampney and
Pegler at Homebush Bay, Sydney, on the edge of the large tidal pond there. It was high tide,
and the bird had obviously been roosting in the samphire, under one of the small mangroves.
As the bird was very tame, and indeed later proved very reluctant to be put up at all, we were
able to closely examine it from a distance of five metres for at least 15 minutes. Having noted
its observable field characteristics, and being familiar with the other small sandpipers which
frequent the Sydney district, in particular the Red -necked Stint Calidris ruficollis, but also
Sanderling C. alba, Long -toed Stint C. subminuta, and Broad -billed Sandpiper Limicola
falcinellus, Pegler decided that this was a wader with which she was unfamiliar. That evening
Pegler contacted McGill by telephone, giving a full description of the bird, and he considered
that it could be a Western Sandpiper C. mauri. After an extended observation of it the
following day, again with Pegler and Dampney, he confirmed this original opinion, basing
much of it on his prior experience with the species in North America.
Size, small, approximately the same as a Red -necked Stint. As the bird remained
solitary, no exact comparison could be made; crown, mantle to lower back, brownish -grey
with very fine streaks of a darker colour; wings, a little darker than the back. The median
coverts were also slightly streaked; face very pale, both above the eye up to the darker
crown, and on the cheeks to the throat and neck. The eye was very obvious, and seemed
large in the pale face. A dark line went from the eye almost to the bill. It was considered that
the size of the eye was enhanced by an encircular of darker plumage; bill, black, definitely
longer than the same line continued through the head. It was also very broad at the base. We
could detect no obvious downturn at the tip; throat and neck, pale; breast, greyish
wash; belly, pale; legs, black; flight pattern, dark band down pale rump, and a faint
wing bar; stance, very erect. The bird tended to stand still near the water’s edge for quite
long periods, and was very tame.
Whilst feeding, in contrast to the above behaviour, although still maintaining the erect
posture, it waded rapidly in the water, on occasions even up to the belly feathers, and
seemed to make quick jabs at the water surface. At no time did we observe it probing the
mud at the water line, the usual feeding zone for the Red -necked Stint. There was a
definite preference for feeding from the water’s edge down to a depth of approximately 4 cm.
Because of the shallowness of the Homebush Bay pond, and the accompanying gentle slope
of the intertidal zone, this meant that during our viewing period the bird occasionally fed 1.5
metres out in the water.
In the months following the sighting of the sandpiper, some controversy arose as to its
identification. To clarify the matter, with the co-operation of the Ornithological Staff of the
Australian Museum, one of us (Pegler) examined their collection of the small calidrids,
concentrating on three aspects: leg colour, plumage (particularly eclipse), length and shape
of bill. Although the Least Sandpiper C. minutilla is described as having yellow legs, on theDecember,1979
advice of T. Lindsey and A. Rogers, both of whom considered that the legs of this species
could appear dark in the field, it was included in the investigation. In fact the leg colour of the
ten Least Sandpipers in the collection did vary from yellow -brown, brown to black, with
brown the most common. Altogether five species were examined, the four small
black -legged calidrids: Semi -palmated Sandpiper C. pusilla (9), Western Sandpiper (9),
Red -necked Stint (15), Little Stint C. minuta (4), as well as the Least Sandpiper (1). The
figures bracketed refer to the numbers of individuals examined per species.
Species Crown and Back Breast
Semi -palmated Sandpiper (4) Both grey -brown, slightly Very pale grey clouding.
streaked darker.
Western Sandpiper (4) Both grey -brown, slightly Darker than above, sometimes
streaked darker. slightly streaked.
Red -necked Stint (15) Both grey -brown, slightly Slight clouding on sides of breast.
streaked darker.
Little Stint (1) Rufous tips to scapulars and Uniform pale brownish grey.
Least Sandpiper (3) Scapulars dark brown with pale Brown streaks almost as dark as
tips. Crown dark. back, from chin to definite cut-off
point at lower breast.
Upon comparing these birds in eclipse plumage with the description of the species in the
B.T.O. Guide (Prater et al, 1977), it was decided that the specimens
Western Sandpipers and Red -necked Stints probably corresponded to adult winter plumage
for those species. This was very similar to the bird at Homebush Bay. Two of the three Least
Sandpipers also seemed to agree with adult plumage, and the other with first winter
plumage. But as can be seen from Table 1, the latter species appears quite distinct from the
first three calidrids. The colouration of the Little Stint also seemed to indicate first winter
plumage. The adult bird is described in the B.T.O. Guide as being similar to the Red -necked
Stint and because of this it was not eliminated from further consideration.
As the bill of the observed bird was quite definitely longer than the same line continued
through the head, a comparison, namely bill/head ratio, was made on the museum
specimens with the aid of measuring calipers. Size of the base of the bill, whilst not
measured, was also noted.
Average Bill Bill Similar Bill
Species Length (mm) Longer Ratio Shorter Base
Semi -palmated Sandpiper (9) 19 Nil 5 4 All broad
Western Sandpiper (9) 23.5 2 Slight Nil Nil All broad
7 Very
Red -necked Stint (15) 17.5 Nil Nil 15 Variable
Little Stint (4) 18.5 Nil Nil Slight All- th in
Least Sandpiper (10) 17.5 2 4 4
The measurements seemed also to indicate a proportional relationship between
increase in bill length and subsequent increase in bill to head ratio. With regard to
Semi -palmated and Western Sandpipers, this would mean that there would be an overlap
with longer -billed specimens of the former and short -billed specimens of the latter. In these
circumstances, the bills of either species would probably tend to look very similar to the
line through the head.32 Australian Birds (14) 2
Thomas and Dartnall (1971) determined the feeding distribution of Red -necked Stints
on a tidal flat and their findings depict the habit of this bird in Sydney. When in a
sand or mudflat environment as distinct from a rocky reef, the Red -necked Stint prefers to
feed on a substrate still covered with a film of water, or at the waters edge. As recorded by
Bengtson and Svensson (1968), the Little Stint follows a similar pattern. Seldom does
either species enter the water to feed. In North America, the Western Sandpiper also has a
preference for substrate covered with a film of water, whereas the Least and
Semi -palmated Sandpipers tend to feed on drier ground (Recher 1966).
Whilst the bird at Homebush Bay was feeding below the water’s edge, an explanation
may be found in the dense growth of samphire at the high tide mark preventing feeding
above that level. However other nearby areas free of intertidal vegetation were ignored by
this bird. In other words, if it preferred to feed on dry mud above the water line, this habitat
was available.
By the above series of eliminations, it seems most probable that the sandpiper
observed at Homebush was a Western Sandpiper. Of the five species compared, this is the
only one which has all of the Homebush Bay bird’s characteristics: black legs, in
non -breeding plumage a grey -brown slightly streaked crown and back, as well as grey
breast; and most importantly, a bill broad at the base and obviously longer than the head.
The unusual feeding behaviour to which that of the Western Sandpiper bears the closest
resemblance gives further corroboration for this opinion.
Bengtson, S. A. & B. Svensson, 1968. “Feeding habits of Calidris alpina and C. minuta in relation to the
Distribution of Marine Shore Invertebrates”. Oikos 19, 152-157.
Prater, A. J., J. H. Marchant, and J. Vuorinen, 1977.”Guide to the Identification and Ageing of Holarctic
Waders”, British Trust Ornithology. Guide 17.
Recher, H. F., 1966. “Some aspects of the Ecology of Migrant Shorebirds”. Ecology 47, 393-407.
Thomas, D. G. and A. J. Dartnall, 1971. “Ecological aspects of the feeding behaviour of two Caldritine
Sandpipers wintering in south-eastern Tasmania”. Emu 71, 20-26.
JOY M. PEGLER, 90 Picnic Point Road, Picnic Point, N.S.W. 2213.
A. R. McGILL, 95 Nuwarra Road, Moorebank, N.S.W. 2170.December, 1979
F. W. C. van GESSEL and W. P. BARDEN
The Buff -breasted Sandpiper Tryngites subruficollis was first recorded in New South
Wales at Botany Bay on two occasions in 1965 (Condon & McGill, 1965). No subsequent
sightings have been recorded for N.S.W., although the species has been recorded in Victoria
on several occasions (see also Condon, 1975).
The following is an account of a Buff -breasted Sandpiper caught in a mist -net, whilst
attempting to trap waders on Kooragang Island on 10 March 1979, as part of a wader
banding programme.
On this occasion, whilst positioning the nets during the day -time in a dead mangrove
swamp, we disturbed a group of waders which appeared to consist of Sharp -tailed
Sandpipers Calidris acuminata. This flock was again disturbed in an attempt to drive these
birds into the nets.
Three birds were subsequently caught in a net, two of which were identified as C.
acuminate. The third bird was tentatively identified as T. subruficollis because of the distinct
buff colouration of the upper and lower parts.
The bird was tagged with a C.S.I.R.O. band No. 050-80763, and a series of colour slides
were taken showing the bird in various situations, some of these together with C. acuminate.
The following is a complete description of the bird in the hand, together with some field
notes substantiating our earlier identification. The terminology of feather types follows that
as described by Prater et al (1977).
Crown and nape: buff with black mottling, not russet like C. acuminata.
Cheeks and ear coverts: darker buff with little or no mottling and reminiscent of an immature
Lesser Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica.
Eye: lighter brown in colour than C. acuminata, with pale area surrounding the eye. Kist
(1960) draws attention to a “distinct white eyering”, Slater (1970) describes a “pale ring
around the eye” and Macdonald (1973) describes a “thin white eyering”; however, Hollom
(1965), Condon & McGill (1965), Dement’ev et al (1969) and Prater (1977) do not describe
the white colouration of eyering.
Although not immediately apparent as an eyering, the photographs show a distinct pale
area surrounding the eye in comparison to the colouration of face and head. By contrast, C.
acuminata has a clearly defined and distinct white eyering, and in addition, shows an obvious
creamish coloured eyebrow in nuptial plumage.
Bill: dark brown, similar in colour to C. acuminata but much shorter in length with larger
nasal grooves. Bill is feathered from nostrils on the upper mandible, whereas the feathering
extends further past the nostrils on the lower mandible, giving the base of the bill a paler look
and an unusual effect in profile.
Breast, belly and flanks: buff with white, some black scattered throughout, The bird
appeared to be moulting into nuptial plumage.
Mantle, back and rump: feathers dark brown with green sheen, fringed buff.
Remiges: the most striking features in the wing are the primaries and secondaries, of
which, the underparts are particularly striking.34 Australian Birds (14) 2
Primaries: upper parts brown, mottled black on inner webs of vane. All primaries are
white tipped and are distinct when wing is folded.
Under -primaries: the mottling forming a distinct band.
Secondaries: are markedly banded and are also white tipped.
Underwing: mostly white with the mottling effect described for the upper primaries and
secondaries forming a distinct band on the outer edge of the underwing.
Greater wing coverts: mostly buff with black subterminal band. In addition, the innermost
greater wing coverts are banded with black.
Lesser wing coverts: buff with black centres and green sheen.
Median coverts: similar to greater wing coverts but with broad black subterminal band.
Scapulars: black, fringed buff.
Tertials: mostly black, fringed buff.
Underwing tertials: buff -brown colouration with a thin black band.
Legs: bright yellow similar to colour of legs of the Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris
Rectrices: outer tail feathers buff with black banks tipped white. Centre tail feathers are
dark in colour fringed with buff. Rectrices were also moulting.
Other details: on release, the bird walked away in similar manner to P. dominica, the head
and neck held in an upright fashion, then flew rapidly away. In flight it resembled a typical
calidrid. When in a flock of waders, particularly C. acuminate, T. subruficollis may be identified
by its more upright stance.
The Buff -breasted Sandpiper which prefers grasslands (in lit.), breeds in Aiaska, on
islands in the East Siberian Sea and Western Arctic Canada, migrates mainly to Argentina,
South America, where it normally winters, on dry open ground.
During migration this species may be found frequenting borders of lakes etc., (Hollom
loc. cit). This appears to be the case with the bird described, as at the time of capture, it had
obviously been foraging amongst the debris of dead mangrove swamp which was in the
process of drying out.
The statement by Hollom that the Buff -breasted Sandpiper is “the only small wader
which has the whole of the underparts, including throat and sides of face, coloured buff”,
together with the distinctive patterning of the underwing (Hollom loc. cit. and Prater et al, loc.
cit) agrees with our description herein. It is therefore concluded that our identification of
Buff -breasted Sandpiper concurs with available literature.
Condon, H. T. 1975 Checklist of the Birds of Australia, 1 Non -Passerines. Melbourne: R.A.O.U.
Condon, H. T. & A. R. McGill 1965 Field Guide to the Waders, 3rd Edit. Melbourne: B.O.C.
Dement’ev, G. P., Gladkov, N. A. and E. P. Spangenberg 1951 Birds of the Soviet Union, Vol III,
Translation: Jerusalem 1969.
Hollom, P. A. D. 1965 The Popular Handbook of British Birds. London: Witherby Ltd.
Kist, J. 1960 Vogelgids, 5th Edit. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Macdonald, J. D. 1973 Birds of Australia. Sydney: A. H. & A. W. Reed.
Prater, A. J., Marchant, J. H., and J. Vuorinen 1977 Guide to the Identification & Ageing of Holarctic
Waders. Tring: B.T.O.
Slater, P. 1970 A Field Guide to Australian Birds. Non -Passerines. Adelaide: Rigby Ltd.
F. W. C. van GESSEL, 15/172 Brunker Road, Adamstown, N.S.W. 2289.
W. P. BARDEN, 19 Carisbrooke Avenue, Kotara, N.S.W. 2288.December, 1979
On Sunday 29 April 1979, G. Blackwell and N. Yates were counting waterfowl at Baker’s
Lagoon in the Hawkesbury District. This particular wetland is a shallow freshwater lagoon
surrounded by agricultural land, cow pasture and extensive muddy margins, with fringing
rushes, bullrushes and a rank growth of polygonum. At approximately 12.30 hrs we
approached an area of mud to photograph a Red -kneed Dotterel Erythrogonys cinctus when
N. Yates heard the call of a flava wagtail and caught a brief view of it in flight.
The bird landed on.the mud at a range of 20 m and we were able to confirm that it was a male
flava wagtail in full breeding plumage. The bird flew off almost immediately and circled high
before dropping into the adjacent bay. It had the typical dipping flight of a Yellow Wagtail
Motacilla flava and called several times, a characteristic monosyllabic note “sweep”.
During the subsequent one hour and forty-five minutes the bird was flushed several
times and on each occasion behaved in a similar fashion i.e. calling and flying in a large circle
and always re -alighting on muddy margins. On the ground the tail was in almost constant
vertical motion. The bird fed spasmodically, making short runs, picking food off the surface.
On two occasions it was seen to perch on bullrush stems approximately one metre from the
ground before flitting down to resume feeding.
Excellent views were obtained down to a distance of 20 m and the following description
taken: shape and size similar to a Richard’s Pipit Anthus novaeseelandiae but with a relatively
slimmer body and a longer tail. The most striking feature was the bright yellow colour of the
entire underparts, including throat, breast, belly and undertail coverts, in contrast with the
dark yellow -green mantle and rump, shading to brown on the flight feathers. Pale edges on
the tertial and secondary wing coverts producing a short double wingbar. Pale edgings to the
brown primaries produced longitudinal white lines in the closed wings. The tail was brown
with distinctive white outer tail feathers and took over one third of the total length of the bird.
The forehead, crown and nape were uniformly grey -blue, and merged into the black lores and
ear coverts. The lores extended as a black line through the eye onto the ear coverts with no
trace of any superciliary stripe. All soft parts blackish.
We observed the bird again on Tuesday, 1 May 1979 in pouring rain. After this date the
water level rose to engulf the muddy margins and as far as we are aware the bird has not
been sighted since. The bird was observed through Zeiss and Leitz 10 x 40 binoculars and
Nickel Supra 15-60 telescope. We have both had extensive experience of Motacilla flava in
the United Kingdom and Europe including the following subspecies: M.f. flava, flavissima,
iberiae, cinereocapilla, thunbergi and feldegg.
M.f. thunbergi has been seen and photographed on its breeding grounds in Swedish
Lapland, Finland and Northern Norway by NY. His photograph of a full male shows the bird to
have a completely yellow throat, just like the one seen at Baker’s Lagoon. In addition, NY has
seen M.f. flava in Spain and France, also on breeding territory, and M.f. iberiae in the Malaga
province of Spain. In eastern Europe, he has seen M.f. cinereocapilla in Montenegro
(Yugoslavia) and the black -headed M.f. Feldegg here and in the lowlands of Austria.
All these races are distinct in breeding plumage, regardless of distribution. However,
juveniles, females and winter plumaged males are another story! None of the eastern
palearctic races seem to have the combination of characters of M.f. thunbergi, as far as can
be judged from the literature, and the nearest wintering grounds of this race is in Burma,
where it is said to be common. We suspect our bird to be a case of “reverse migration” –
flying precisely 180 degrees out of its spring migration, an aberration which is known to
occur from time to time in some European passerines, usually in their autumn flight.36 Australian Birds (14) 2
For these reasons we consider our bird to show the characteristics of an adult male of
the subspecies thunbergi (“Grey -headed Wagtail”). This is the first recorded observation of
a Yellow Wagtail for New South Wales. However, other observations have been made and
specimens taken in Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia (H. J. Frith Ed. 1976
Complete Book of Australian Birds, and H. A. F. Thompson 1979 Sunbird 9, 54-59).
G. BLACKWELL, 60 Backhouse Street, Wentworth Falls, N.S.W. 2782.
Dr. J. N. YATES, Merston Clinic, Bulcock Street, Caloundra, Old. 4551.
The following notes on the decline in the numbers and the favoured food items of the
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus magnificus, at Reserve Creek, north-eastern
N.S.W., are taken from my field notes and from observations by my brothers and sister. Our
father, who was the original selector of the family property at Reserve Creek, often spoke of
the large flocks (60+) of the big “Black Cockatoos”, which used to come every year, when
the area was first being cleared. In Llewellyn (1974 Emu 74, 294) specimen records from
north-eastern N.S.W. are given as an indication of their widespread status prior to 1900.
The decline in their numbers started to become apparent by the 1940’s when it was
possible to see from 25 to 30 of them in a flock. By the mid -forties they were down to 19,
after this less birds came each year. For a period their numbers stabilised at nine birds, then
from 1958 to 1964 their numbers fluctuated from three to five. On two occasions in 1958 and
1964 there was one young bird with them, these young ones would beg for food and usually
an adult would feed them; they also had shorter tails than the adults. From 1965 to 1975 the
number of birds recorded was two each season, with no birds recorded for 1969-70,
1971-72 and 1973-74. It would now seem that the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo has almost
disappeared from this north-eastern section of N.S.W. as the last recording here at Reserve
Creek, was of two birds on the 3 February 1975.
The following trees and vines are ones in which the Cockatoos were known to eat the
fruits or berries;
Bangalow Palm Archontophoenix cunninghamiana, White Beech Gmelina leichardtii,
Coprosma-leaved Coffee Canthium coprosmoides, Climbing Aroid Pothos pothos longipes,
Wild Grape Vitis baudinianis. The Cockatoos also nibbled at the seeds of the Hoop Pines
Araucaria cunninghamii, Brush Box Tristiania conferta, and they sometimes stripped bark from
the Tallow -woods Eucalyptus microerys, in search of grubs.
During the late afternoons they could be observed drinking or bathing in some water –
holes, they would descend to the water along a low vine or branch to drink or bathe. Drinking
was in the normal parrot fashion of dip and swallow, bathing was to cling with the bill and
back into the water, with much wing -flapping. They would also cling on with their feet
and bill and lower themselves sideways into the water, and when they were sufficiently wet,
they would fly into the trees and preen and shuffle their feathers until comfortable.
The time of the year when the cockatoos visited was during the months of November to
March. The length of stay varied from year to year, being influenced by the fruiting of their
favoured food trees and vines. The earliest arrival date recorded was 6 November 1972 and
latest, 20 March 1965. The cockatoos mostly came between early December to late
January but in some years they only came for one day, suggesting that the food supply in the
district was poor that year.December, 1979 37
The other species of Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, the Glossy Black Calyptorhynchus
lathami, also occurs in this area. They visit here at any time of the year, and have been
recorded at the same period as the Red-tailed Black. Their numbers have remained constant
at from two to ten birds. This species frequents the small patches of Forest Oak Casuarina
tortulosa trees and feeds on the acorns.
The main difference between these two Red-tailed Cockatoos (magnificus and lathami),
is that the Red-tailed Black is a larger bird all over, its call is harsh and loud. To anyone
familiar with both species the calls are diagnostic, the Glossy Black’s call is a subdued type
of call and could not be confused with that of the Red-tailed Black.
Other general field markings are: the Red-tailed Black has a prominent crest, the
females have yellow or yellowish white spots on their heads, necks and wings. The female
Glossy Black has yellow patches on the head and neck. Both species have conspicuous red
tail patches, this is where observers tend to confuse the two species.
When feeding the Glossy Black is easy to approach and the observer can stand under
the trees they are feeding in, without them being disturbed. The Red-tailed Black will not
allow such a close approach, and the observer has to rely on very keen eye -sight or
binoculars to get a close view of them.
ELLA PRATT, Reserve Creek, Murwillumbah, N.S.W. 2484.
Morris (1976 Aust. Birds 10, 54-56) when examining the records of Cleland (1919 Emu
18, 272) and Chisholm (1936 Emu 36, 32) for the Pilliga Scrub found a number of bird
species that he considered to be doubtful or erroneous in the light of present knowledge of
the region.
In researching material for my forthcoming book on the Pilliga Scrub to be published by
Thomas Nelson Aust. Pty. Ltd. in 1980, have come across further information on some of
the species that Morris discussed. It is pertinent therefore to place on record this information
to throw additional light on the distribution of some of these less common species.
Coturnix chinensis King Quail.
Contact was made with Mervin Goodwin, an alert Gunnedah beekeeper, who told me that
there were King Quail in the forest. Goodwin knows his quail well and in fact assisted Morris
in his work in the Narrabri District in collecting quail for a biological survey (c.f. Frith et al
1977 CSIRO Wild. Res Tech. Paper No. 32). Goodwin says (in lit):
“I am fairly sure that there were some King Quail on the Delwood Road in Pilliga on
eastern end of Delwood Road and in Jack Taylor’s farm adjoining Pilliga where Delwood
Road enters Taylor’s farm. The bird shot had some white under the beak and was slatey
blue on the sides meeting brown of body from legs back. This bird was shot about 3 or 4
years (1976) ago when shooting Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora) on Taylor’s.”
There is no doubt that King Quail are rare in the Scrub and whilst the other button -quail
mentioned by Morris do occur on my property “Cumberdeen” in the Pilliga, have not seen
any King Quail. It may well be that Goodwin’s bird was seen during those same wet seasons
when Kurtz (in Rogers 1975 Aust. Birds 9, 83) recorded one at Mudgee for the first time.38 Australian Birds (14) 2
Calyptorhynchus magnificus Red-tailed Black Cockatoo.
Undoubtedly in the past like many other people have misidentified the black cockatoos
with red -tails that occur in the forest, and now consider that the majority of birds seen were
Glossy Black Cockatoos C. lathami. However, on 4 June 1975 observed a flock of ten large
black cockatoos feeding on Casuarina diminuta near the junction of Scratch Road and
Chromite Road in the north-east of Jack’s Creek State Forest, 18 km south east of Narrabri.
Good views were obtained of these birds and the females were heavily spotted with yellow
and had barred breasts, typical of C. magnificus. Mrs. A. Kent of Baan Baa has also advised
me (pers. comm.) that three different species of black cockatoos water at the big ground tank
on her property near the Pilliga State Forest.
In addition, in late 1977 Senior Ranger Paul Davies of Narrabri recorded a flock of three
C. magnificus in Jack’s Creek State Forest.
All these localities are within ten kilometres of the Namoi River and may indicate that at
times, small numbers of C. magnificus may move up the Namoi to visit both the redgum
forests and northern edge of the Pilliga Scrub.
Ninox strenua Powerful Owl.
Mr. Wilf Taylor, the well-known photographer of Bugaldie, advises me (in lit.) that he has
seen the Powerful Owl “just one pair of them, in the daytime, many times in the one spot
perched high up in leafy trees around 1968-70. did not get a picture that was any good.”
“I often heard the calls, a lot of muttering, bleating, difficult to describe (in the daytime)
then after sundown the loud who-whoos would start. Other birds were often chasing them.
Sometimes the owls would fly off to another tree. They are huge birds.”
“The place where they used to be is near the Gap on the road going to Coonabarabran.
You go over the hump level crossing and about 300 yards further on, then the spot roughly
due south (on the right) half a mile or so off the road in a hollow with big trees. There three big
old apple trees in a line south where the owls were. haven’t been there for years, they could
still be there.”
The word “bleating” used by Wilf Taylor identifies them as Powerful Owls. Whilst have
neither heard nor seen them David Fleay of the Fleay’s Sanctuary refers to their “harsh
sheep -like rumbles.”
Alan Morris (pers. comm.) advises that a road kill Powerful Owl was found about 45 km
north of Coonabarabran on the Newell Highway in January 1977 by M. Schultz. These are
the only two records that am aware of in all my years in the Pilliga Scrub. As Morris (loc. cit)
has said, the Barking Owl N. connivens is more likely to be the common large owl of the
Hamirostra melanosterna Black -breasted Kite.
As the Black -breasted Kite has not been recorded in the Pilliga it is worthwhile recording
that one was observed at my property, located north west of Baradine on 30 April 1977. The
bird presumed to be a female because of its great size, stayed on the property for 15 days.
observed her every day, sometimes overhead, usually perched in scattered Kurrajongs or
White Cypress Pines. Her perch always allowed her a clear view in all directions. This was a
massively built hawk, unmistakable as it flew over because of the large white oval patch on
each wing at the base of the flight feathers, much like the white circles on the wing of the
Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis.
ERIC ROLLS, “Cumberdeen”, Baradine, N.S.W. 2858.December,1979 39
On 4 September 1977 at 1300 hours, whilst atlassing, 12km west of Peak Hill, on the Bogan River (32′ 45
S 148′ 05 E), I flushed a small flock of Yellow Rosellas Platycercus elegans flaveolus from the edge of the road.
Two of the birds flew into a Cypress Pine Callitris co/umellaris and the other three landed on a stock fence.
Good observations were obtained of the three on the fence, with 10 x 50 binoculars, and a description
was taken, mainly for the purpose of filling out an unusual record Report form for the R.A.O.U. Atlas Scheme.
The size of the three birds was a little smaller than the Ringneck Parrot Bamardius barnardi, but bigger
(slightly) than the Cockateil Nymphicus ho/landicus both of which were also present. The underparts were pale
yellow, though this appeared to vary in the three birds, at least two had a small wash of pale red around the
breast and throat, cheek -patch blue, forehead red, back and wings mottled black and yellow, rump and vent
yellow, tail blueish green, outer wing blue.
The flock was kept under observation for at least a half hour and was not again flushed until I attempted
to get closer to the two in the Cypress Pine. These two were followed by the other three across the river into
a stand of Red Gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis. By the time I had walked over to the tree, I was unable to again
locate them.
The Yellow Rosella stronghold appears to be the Darling, Lachlan and Murrumbidgee Rivers and H. T.
Condon (1975 Checkl. Birds Aust. 1) referred to Pooncarie as the most northerly limit of its range. J. M.
Forshaw (1969 Australian Parrots) gives Menindee as the most northerly limit where I also have observed them.
D. Twait (1976 The Bird Observer No. 534 and 537) found the species on the Darling River as far north as Till.:
H. T. Condon floc. cit.) gives the easterly range as Yass and Gundagai on the Murrumbidgee River. At Oxley
on the Lachlan River, I found the species quite common along the river flats in the Red Gums. A. H. Lendor.
(1973 Aust. Parrots in Field and Aviary) states that the species reaches as far as Booligal on this river. I had
some time ago been informed by a long-time resident of Eubalong that he had observed the species a few times
at Eubalong on the Lachlan River, unfortunatly I never enquired as to how many years ago the observation
occurred or how many times or years he had seen them. From the description he gave me I have no doubt
that it was the Yellow Rosella he observed. W. R. Wheeler (1976 Birds and Where to Find them in N.S.W.)
lists the species also for Cowra, it appears, the species occurs right to the Headwaters of the Lachlan River
or at least until it contacts the Crimson Rosella Platycerus elegans elegans.
J. M. Forshaw floc. cit) regards the species as sedentary in nearly all its range but also states that the
species may have at one time been nomadic, which would have allowed the species to move into fringe areas.
The flock observed on the headwaters of the Bogan River was well outside the accepted distribution of this
species, and it appears as if this species could be more nomadic than previously thought.
N. W. SCHRADER, 28 Best Street, Parkes N.S.W. 2870.;
Johnston (Aust. Birds 13, 22-23) recorded the Australian Kestrel Fa/co cenchroides nesting in an old
nest of the Chestnut -crowned Babbler Pomatostomus ruficeps. This prompted me to check my records of
nests of the Kestrel found in south-western New South Wales between 1967 and 1976. Only those nests, 38 in
all, in which eggs or young were seen, have been considered and Kestrels seen at probably nests have been
excluded. Listed next page is a summary of the nest sites. It should be remembered that in the subject area few
trees have holes large enough to suit a Kestrel but such sites would probably be more used in better timbered
Australian Birds (14) 2
Tree holes 2
Corvid nests 26
White -winged Chough Corcorax melanorhamphos nests 5
Chestnut -crowned Babbler nests 3
Australian Magpie Gymnorhina tibicen nests
Whistling Kite Haliastur sphenurus nests
Corvid nests were those of the Little Raven Corvus mellori and the Little Crow C. bennetti and include
three nests of the Little Raven on windmills. One kestrel nesting on a Little Raven’s nest had a pair each of
Zebra Finches Poephila guttata and Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris as companions.
The large stick nests of the Chestnut -crowned Babbler are frequently used by other species as a site for
their own nest. I have noted the following:
Little Eagle Hieraaetus morphnoides, Australian Hobby Fa/co longipennis, Brown
Falcon F. berigora, Common Bronzewing Phaps cha/coptera, Crested Pigeon
Ocyphaps lophotes, Blue Bonnet Northie/la haematogaster, Inland Thornbill
Acanthiza apica/is, Yellow-rumped Thornbill A chrysorrhoa, Southern Whiteface
Aphelocephala leucopsis, House Sparrow Passer domesticus, Diamond Firetail
Emblema guttata, Zebra Finch, Australian Magpie.
Both the Southern Boobook Ninox novaeseelandiae, and Australian Owlet -nightjar Aegothe/es cristatus
have been flushed from nests, but nesting, although strongly suspected was not confirmed. The Kestrel nests in
the intact or partially collapsed upper cavity of the Babbler’s nest. It should be mentioned, as it is not generally
known, that most Chestnut- crowned Babbler’s nests have two chambers. The smaller upper one is probably used
for roosting and the lower one is used as the egg chamber. A constriction of the inner walls makes a short tunnel
between the two chambers. The Little Eagles’ soon lost their egg from a nest at the extreme end of a mallee
branch when a gale caused the branch to toss wildly. The hawks, pigeons and magpie used the flattened top of
the nest and the passerines built in the sticks of the outer walls. The Blue Bonnet made its own entrance into the
lower chamber by pulling out sticks from the wall.
J. N. HOBBS, 87 Plunkett Street, Nowra. 2540.
The black -backed form of the Australian Magpie Gymnorhina tibicen is common on the Northern Table-
lands of New South Wales where the main breeding season extends from July to October inclusive. Two broods
may be reared and later nesting may occur in summer if there is sufficient food for nestlings. Nests are often
abandoned in hot dry weather when there is a food shortage.
The nest of the Magpie is not, as is popularly supposed, a confusion of sticks, but is built according to
a plan which takes into account not only the construction of the nest but also the site for it. The latter is most
toe with its rigid arched branches, is favoured.
I have noticed that young birds tend to choose unsuitable nest- sites, suggesting that the value of a stable
site is leaned through trial and error. On the other hand nest -fabrication seems to be an innate skill for the nestsDecember, 1979 41
of young birds are as carefully contrived as those of adults. Misadventure with early nests could effectively delay
the breeding of sub -adults.
One nest built in a new magpie territory, which encroached between two long-established territories, was
an example of the choice of an inferior nest -site. It was built on the north-west side of a tall Yellow -box Eucal-
yptus meliodora at a height of 4.5 metres and 2.5 metres from the trunk of the tree on a limb only 25mm in
diameter. The nest rested across a horizontal fork 150 mm wide and 1.5 metres from the end of the limb. A few
leafy branches grew about the fork but they were too flimsy for a stable nest -base. Several slender limbs, the
result of lopping, swayed just above the nest.
On 13 August 1978 a severe wind and rain storm from the south-west lifted the nest from its unstable
position and flung it upside down to the ground four metres to the south-west. A small bundle of sticks loosened
by the impact lay to the lee of the nest. The position of the nest was compatible with the theory of limb recoil,
after a strong wind gust, ejected the insecurely fixed nest. The unlucky pair of magpies visited the nest tree,
looked about and called softly “Awk” a note which to human ears both questioning and distressed.
It would seem that the female magpie who, according to Dr. R. Carrick (in H. Frith 1969 Birds of the
Australian High Country) selects the site and builds the nest, was a young and therefore inexperienced bird or
she would have chosen a safer nest -site. Certainly the male was in his first breeding season and could be identi-
fied by his distinctive mimicry. He was raised in one of the established territories where he became imprinted
with the sounds associated with a riding school and therefore used the neigh and whinny of horses, the bark of
dogs, and the Scottish brogue of the proprietor to enrich his pastoral.
picked up the nest and loose sticks from beneath the tree and left them to dry out before examining
them inI detail. As sticks used in the nest had become curved and had roughly fractured ends, they were easily
distinguished from those naturally fallen from the Yellow -box and which were either straight with age -grey frac-
tures or freshly green. After the nest dried it was weighed and carefully taken to pieces to make clear the nature
of its construction.
Although there were various kinds of trees and shrubs closer, most of the material used in the nest came
from blackberry vines 150 metres south and from an Angophora 50 metres north. Kunzea used for lacing the
stiffer sticks together, came from a garden 50 metres east. Sticks used were still pliant implying green gathering
or careful selection of dead material. Newly shed Angophora twigs and severed blackberry vines remain supple
for some time. Sticks were not chosen on an arbitrary manner for each had several laterals almost as long as the
main stem and each was pliant enough to weave.
Most of the twigs were pulled from or nibbled off a parent tree or vine. Only a few sticks and blackberry
runners were gathered dead, but were still flexible, and judging by the fractured ends, could have been dropped
by birds on previous trips. The magpies carefully selected each twig before pulling it off, by scanning the branch-
es from ground or limb before fastening the bill on a twig. If prolonged chewing, twisting and tugging failed to
remove the twig, the magpie swung on to it, gently rotating its wings then closing them with an abrupt down-
ward jerk.
with multi -stemmed brambles three times the length of the bird. Carrick (loc. cit./ states that the female selects
the site and builds the nest, but both male and female participate in the collection and transportation of
Only a few observations were made at the nest but they showed that the bird began to build by grasping
the larger end of a stick and poking it under the branches growing about the nest -fork. The tip of the stick and
some of the laterals were curved around and similarly anchored. Thorns on the blackberry runners caught
against the angular Angophora twigs and held them in place. More sticks were pushed through the foundation
ones at angles which filled in the gaps, and the flexible laterals woven about to make a shallow cup. The rigid
proximal ends of the sticks projected up to 300mm from the cup. This method of building ensured that the cup
was level inside and of uniform thickness, although somewhat untidy outside. The cup appeared to be re-
inforced by a few verticle yellow -box twigs, their distal ends made fast about the rim.42 Australian Birds (14) 2
An inner nest, fitting within and above this shallow cup, was built mainly of blackberry runners. Again
the stiff proximal ends stuck out while the laterals were woven round horizontally and held in place by pieces of
thin but strong Kunzea. Finer twigs were placed in the inside of the cup. There was some lining in the nest but
it did not seem to be complete.


Outer nest cup
109 blackberry runners 1-5mm thick 9-119cm long
11 Yellow -box twigs 4mm 9-55cm “
30 Angophora twigs 2-5mm 19-44cm “
8 unidentified twigs 2mm 21-52cm “
1 creeper 4mm 67cm “
Inner nest cup
30 blackberry runners 2-5mm 14-120cm “
16 Angophora twigs 2-5mm 16-55cm “
8 Kunzea 1mm 23-49cm “
2 ? Crepe Myrtle 1-2mm 19-24cm “
17 thistle stalks
A few broken twigs.
1 piece dry grass 57cm “
8 dry grass 20cm “
1 fan stiff grass stems 28cm longest
2 green yellow- box leaves, possible accidental
10 pieces fibrous bark ? yellow -box inner bark 12-28cm “
60 pieces herbaceous plants 11-32cm “
Scraps of plants and bark.
Weight: 2 kilogrammes
Main body of nest 45cm across, 23cm deep; nest cavity 14cm across 13cm deep.
Though few these observations show that the Australian Magpie is capable of deciding which material will
best suit its nest. Though one can understand the hormonal breeding urge to a point where sticks are gathered
for a nest, it is the exercising of choice that suggest a degree of thought. Can preference be triggered by external
or internal stimuli? Or can thought be given to the problem of suitability? Perhaps the answers lie in that neb-
ulous area between instinct and reason
MERLE BALDWIN, Gilgai via Inverell N.S.W. 2360December,1979 43
ralasianO n B it1t eF rne b Bru oa tar uv1 ru9 s7 8 p ow ich ii ll oe p w tila ud si n fa ro t mhr o au gg rh a ssB yr u hn ud mee m oS cw ka m sup r, r oN uo nw dera d, bN ye w hi gS ho u rt uh s hW esa . le As s, I t hf elu s bh ire dd fla en w A au wst a- y
I saw at had a snake held in its bill. The snake was held just behind its head, its body looping low below the
Bittern’s neck and then curling round the birds body near the base of its neck. The tail trailed below the bird
like the streamer of a kite. I estimated the length of the snake as about 90cm. The snake was black with red
underparts and was confidently recognised as a Red -bellied Black Snake Pseudechis porphyriacus, a venomous
After the bird had flown I saw another snake of the same species on the grass. Apparently unaware of
my presence it was twisting and coiling its body. These movements were identical with those used by this species
in copulation or in fighting between males. I waited a few moments and then touched the snake with a stick
when it stopped its writhing, straightened out to an estimated 100cm., slithered into the water and swam along
the surface into the rushes.
It is probable the Bittern had surprised the snakes in copulation or during a fight; as copulation usually
occurs in September or October the latter is the more likely.
I have been unable to find any reference in the literature to the Australasian Bittern feeding upon snakes
but B. ste//aris is recorded as feeding upon a 73cm long Grass Snake Natrix natrix (S. Cramp and K.E.L.
Simmons Eds. 1977 The Birds of the Western Pa/earctic 1, 2501. The Grass Snake is non -venomous.
J. N. HOBBS, 87 Plunkett Street, Nowra, N.S.W. 2540.
On 13 June 1978 a Noisy Pitta Pitta versicolor was caught in a mist net at Flat Rock, 3.5 km NE of
Ballina Lighthouse, New South Wales. The net was erected in a dense thicket of Banksia integrifolia. The
area is immediately behind the frontal dune, about 150 m from high tide level, and 400 m east of the
coast road between Ballina and Lennox Head.
Prior to sand mining operations which took place some years ago it was a typical sand dune
country, but has been re -vegetated and the vegetation now consists of dense stands of Banksia
integrifolia, Melaleuca quinquinerva, Acacia longifolia, with Lantana camera, Kennedia rubicunda,
Convolvulus sp., and Chrysanthemoides moniliferum. Maximum height of trees does not exceed 4 m. The
ground is swampy and is thickly covered with Azanopus assinus, Hibbertia scandens and various ferns,
reeds and sedges.
The site has been visited at regular monthly intervals since October 1977 with no previous
indication of the presence of pittas. There are no stones or logs which could serve as anvils for the
breaking of snail shells, and no snails have been observed in the area. No known areas of rain forest
exist within 10 km. However, occasionally pittas are recorded from unusual locations, apparently during
It is intended to continue the netting programme for some time and it may be possible to ascertain if
the area is regularly used by these birds during “migration”.
T. H. ALLEY, 32 Parkland Drive, Alstonyille, N.S.W. 2477.44 Australian Birds (14) 2
CROWS, JAYS, RAVENS AND THEIR RELATIVES by Sylvia Bruce Wilmore, 1977.
Newton Abbot: David & Charles (per A.N.Z. Book Co.). Pp 208, 52 Figs and b & w. pll. $17.50
There has been a marked increase in recent years in the number of new books devoted to the birds of a
single family. Many of these have tended to be of large format, lavishly illustrated and high in price. By contrast,
the present work is attractively compact, being no bigger than the average field guide, lacks colour plates and
carries a proportionately lower price tag. This is not to suggest that the subject has been treated lightly, more
the converse, since the author goes into considerable detail at subspecific level.
There is an opening chapter covering a wide range of general topics including behaviour, breeding,
plumage, anatomy, taxonomy and the fortunes of the family on a historical basis. The species accounts are
treated in narrative form rather than individually with seperate chapters on Jays, Magpies, some unusual
Corvidae, Nutcrackers, Choughs, Crows, Ravens, Jackdaws and Rooks. The treatment is uneven with European
species receiving disproportionately high coverage, however, in many, cases this may simply reflect the extent
of present knowledge. The five Australian species are well summarised, mainly with material drawn from the
standard work by Rowley (CSIRO Wildlife Reserch, Vol. 14). Despite their close affiliation, they are not con-
sidered together since Crows and Ravens have been split into seperate chapters, mainly, it seems, on the basis
of their common names. Two species, the New Caledonian Crow C. moneduloides and the Brown -headed Crow
C. fuscicapillus have been omitted completely.
Several errors and inconsistencies run throughout the species chapters and while these are seldom of a
serious nature they are repeatedly irritating. There is considerable misuse of the terms species and subspecies,
the most common being the referral to forms described in trinomial terms as species. This is further vexed by
trying to assign common names to subspecies whenever possible and leads to such mouthfuls as the Eastern
Yellow -billed Blue Magpie and the West Himalayan Red -billed Chough. Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax is referred to
as the Common Chough on some pages and the Red -billed Chough on others and merits two seperate full page
,.!istribution maps which conflict in several details.
Zavattariornis stresemanni is said to be about the size of a large Starling in one paragraph and “only about
5’/ inches long” in the next, the former being correct. Many of the maps have misleading titles, e.g. figure 33
is titled “Distribution of the Jungle Crow” but shows the range of only the subspecies in and around the
Indian subcontinent. One must consult the text to learn that the species has a much wider range in Japan,
Malaya, Indo China etc. Figure 43 titled “Distribution of the White -necked Raven and subspecies” actually
shows the range of C. albicollis and two other species C. crassirostris and C. rhipidurus. One can only guess that
proof reading and checking suffered at the hands of a pressing publication date.
The proximity of publication between this volume and another devoted solely to the Corvidae
(Goodwin’s Crows of the World) invites some comparison. The latter is larger, much more comprehensive and
could be classed as a handbook. Species are treated individually under the headings Description, Field
Characters, Distribution and habitat, Feeding and General Habits, Nesting, Voice and Display and Social behav-
iour; almost all are accompanied by a distribution map. It is easy to use and the increased information provided
amply justifies the greater cost. The present work provides a good general summary of the family with sufficient
detail to whet the appetite for further study. It can be recommended as an introductory work for the serious
amateur ornithologist.
A. E. F. ROGERS.01
AU- – _ am.Vol. 14, No. 2 December, 1979
Hobbs. J. N. An irruptive extension of the range of the Golden -headed
Cisticola 25
Pegler, J. & Identification of a Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri and a
A. R. McGill comparison of this species with other small Calidrids 30
Van Gessel, F. W. C. & A Buff -breasted Sandpiper at Kooragang Island 33
W. P. Barden
Blackwell, G. & A Yellow Wagtail near Richmond 35
N. Yates
Pratt, E. The Red-tailed Black Cockatoo in north-eastern New South
Wales 36
Rolls, E. Further information on the birds of the Pilliga Scrub 37
Schrader, N. W. Occurrence of the Yellow Roselle near Peak Hill, New South
Wales 39
Hobbs, J. N. Comments on the use of the nest of the Chestnut -crowned
Babbler by the Australian Kestrel Birds 39
Baldwin, M. Nest of the Australian Magpie 40
Hobbs, J. N. Australasian Bittern Taking a Black Snake 43
Alley, T. H. Unusual habitat for a Noisy Pitta 43
Book Review A. E. F. Rogers 44
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