Vol. 26 No. 1-text

Vol. 26 No. 1
Journal of the
Volume 26, Number 1. September 1992
President P. Davie
Vice -President S. Fairbairn
Secretary R. Hill
Treasurer B. Powell
Minutes Secretary H. Biddle
Activities Officer A.O. Richards
Conservation Officer P. Mackey
Journal Editor A.K. Morris
Newsletter Editor T. Karplus
Records Officer R.M. Cooper
Other Committee Members A. Burton
H. Jones
T. Iverson
The object of the club is to promote the study and conservation of Australian
birds and the habitats they occupy.
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Vol 26, (1) September 1992
An active nest of the Square -tailed Kite Lophoictinia isura, on the North-west Slopes of New
South Wales, was observed during the downy chick stage from 3 to 17 November 1991. The
nest was beside a highway, in a small (25 ha) patch of eucalypt woodland in farmland. The
attempt failed: the nest fell down during a period of strong winds, but the chick may have
died earlier through food shortage. Parental roles, voice and behaviour are described. The
male took a more active role in nest attendance than in most previous accounts. The
continued existence of the pair’s nesting patch, a traditional breeding site, is in some doubt
through the possibility of clearing.
The breeding behaviour of the Square -tailed Kite Lophoictinia isura has been
described previously (A.C. Cameron 1976, Cupper & Cupper 1981, Johnston 1983, Schulz
1983, Hollands 1984, Ferguson & Bonnin 1987, Morcombe 1990, C.A.C. Cameron 1992).
Page 1 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No. 1Several of these accounts concern a single pair in Queensland watched by different
observers, mainly in the later stages of the nestling period. This may have resulted in a
somewhat biased and misleading view of the role of the male in parental care, reinforced
by recent summaries of the species’ biology (Schodde & Tidemann 1986, Debus &
Czechura 1989). A relevant aspect of the Kite’s ecology is its almost total dependence on
nestling and fledgling passerines as a food source during its own breeding cycle: it preys
particularly on friarbirds Philemon spp., miners Manorina spp. and other honeyeaters that
build suspended nests in the foliage of eucalypt open forest and woodland (see Debus &
Czechura 1989).
In November 1991 we observed an active Square -tailed Kite nest for 20 hours over
eight days, during the downy chick stage, in the North-west Slopes region of New South
Wales (exact locality withheld). As the nest failed, and as the male’s behaviour differed from
that described in some other accounts, we present the observations in full. Some of our
behavioural observations represent new information, previously undescribed for this
Observations were made from the ground or a parked vehicle (with doors and
windows open), about 30-50 m from the nest, with the aid of binoculars. The nest was
watched for four, five and six hours on 3, 6 and 7 November respectively, in the middle of
the day (09:30-16:30 hrs), by SJSD. Thereafter it was watched for 30-90 minutes per day
on five days, twice in early -mid morning (07:45-11:00 hrs) and three times in mid -late
afternoon (15:00-17:50 hrs), by RDE (9, 12, 15, 17 November) and GJM & CRP (10
November). All times are given as Eastern Standard Time.
The Kites’ nest site was on the western boundary of the Northern Tableland region
as defined by Morris et al. (1981), and in the North-west Slopes region defined by McAllan
& Bruce (1989); it was in vegetation typical of the slopes rather than the tablelands. The
Kites’ 1991 nest was about 10 m above ground, on a fork on the sloping branch of a mature,
live White Box Eucalyptus albens. The nest was on the exposed north-west side of the tree,
and took the full force of strong westerly winds on 7 November. The tree was beside a major
highway, the trunk only 10 m from the edge of the bitumen, but the nest was on the far side
of the tree (c. 20 m) from the road. There was only intermittent traffic noise. The tree was
in a 25 ha block of vacant Crown land, about 2 km from a major town and within a zone of
high -density rural holdings. The block was mostly covered in mature White Box woodland,
but was disturbed and rather open, with several patches of sapling regrowth in formerly
cleared areas.
Two older nests were in almost identical situations, within 200 m of the active nest,
and across the highway in a 5 ha patch of White Box woodland surrounded by cleared land.
Both nests were surrounded by tree crowns on most sides, in a denser patch of mostly old
September 1992 Page 2trees, and were less exposed to westerly winds. They were characteristically flat platforms
c. 10 m above ground on sloping forks of mature, living White Boxes, and had evidently been
built by Square -tailed Kites (i.e. typical Lophoictinia site and construction; raptor nests are
readily referable to the respective genus). Local residents considered that the Kites had
been nesting annually in the area for some years. One nest was about 30 m from the
highway, and the other was somewhat deeper into the woodland patch, c. 100 m from the
neighbouring nest and 50 m from the road. The airspace between the closer nest and the
road was partly occupied by a dense, multi -layered belt of telegraph lines. In 1991, Little
Eagles Hieraaetus morphnoides were using the old nest farther from the highway.
The 1991 nest was difficult to see. Initially, SJSD drove slowly past it without seeing
it (with both adults on it) while searching, and GJM and CRP had difficulty finding it, in both
cases with explicit directions. The nest was originally found, by J. E. Courtney, only because
one bird flew across the road in front of him and landed on it. Cameron (1976) remarked
that nests were difficult to find because of the adults’ cryptic behaviour.
The male Kite appeared to do most of his hunting well away (>1 km) from the nest,
in some instances soaring up to a high pitch and gliding out of sight in a southerly or south-
westerly direction. There were some thousands of hectares of eucalypt and Callitris open
forest and woodland along and beyond a river, 1.5 km to the south.
The nest was located on 21 October at about 09:00 hrs, when J.E. Courtney saw an
adult fly to the nest and stand on it, beside the other adult which was sitting flat in the nest
in the incubating posture (as opposed to the often more alert, restless posture, higher on
the nest, of raptors brooding chicks, e.g. Brown & Amadon 1968; SJSD pers. obs.). Both
adults remained on the nest during the few minutes that Courtney observed them.
From 3-10 November, the adults’ behaviour (feeding, guarding, shading: see below)
strongly indicated that there was a small chick in the nest, presumably hatched since 21
October and therefore not more than two weeks old at the start of observations. On three
days the female tore small pieces of prey and offered them in her bill to the chick, which took
each piece before the next was offered. The chick was not visible or audible at feeding times,
and must therefore have been newly hatched. An older (larger) chick would have been
visible in the shallow nest, and audible at feeding times (cf. Johnston 1983, Schulz 1983,
Hollands 1984); other sounds from the nest were audible 30 m away, and were not masked
by the infrequent traffic noise.
The daily pattern of behaviour was somewhat different over the three days of
Page 3 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
1intensive observations, 3-7 November. The sexes were distinguished by size, plumage and
copulatory behaviour (see below).
3.11.91. 12:35-16:35 hrs. The female stood on the nest for 3.5 hours, then moved to a
branch below the nest for 20 minutes, and to a dead tree across the road for the final 10
minutes where she remained at the end of the session. While on the nest, she shaded the
chick once for about 5 minutes at 13:10 hrs, the hottest part of the day (calm and sunny, max.
29°C). She crouched back -to -sun, on the north side of the nest, and spread her wings. The
male visited the nest twice without food (12:52 and 13:10 hrs), on the second visit staying
for 45 minutes. He stood beside the female, squatted on the nest, and shaded the chick for
a few minutes at 13:30 hrs. it was apparent from their behaviour, e.g. peering down and
gently manoeuvring on the nest, that the adults were deliberately shading the chick beneath
them. At one point the male had a wing spread over the female. Later, he visited the nest
twice with food (15:11 and 15:54 hrs), on the second visit staying for 5 minutes. The female
ate the first food item, and fed the chick on small pieces of the second item. Finally, the male
returned (without food) at 16:00 hrs and copulated twice before departing at 16:05 hrs.
6.11.91. 09:25-14:25 hrs. Both adults were absent for the first hour, then the female arrived
alone with prey. She fed herself then the chick, and stood on the nest for the rest of the
session, shading the chick at 12:36 and 13:00 hrs for a few minutes (calm and sunny, max.
32°C). The male visited the nest twice (10:51 and 12:53 hrs) without food, staying for 10
and 25 minutes and copulating twice on the second visit.
7.11.91. 09:30-15:30 hrs. Both adults were absent for the first half-hour, then they soared
over and the female perched in a dead tree across the road for 50 minutes. She then
perched in alive tree next to the nest tree for 95 minutes, eventually going to the nest at 12:25
hrs where she stood for the rest of the session (but did not shade the chick, despite a
maximum of 33°C; however, the weather was mainly overcast with a strong wind). The male
visited the nest, without food, at about 12:40 hrs for 15 minutes during which they mated
once. Neither adult brought food, nor was the chick fed, during the entire six hours.
9.11.91. 16:50-17:50 hrs. Both adults perched in the nest tree, preening, for the hour.
10.11.91. 07:45-08:15 hrs. Both adults arrived at the nest together at 07:45 hrs, one with
prey. One immediately departed, and the other fed the chick for a few minutes then perched
beside the nest for the remaining half-hour. This was the last day on which there was firm
evidence of a chick.
12.11.91. 15:30-16:00 hrs. The female perched in the nest tree, preening, for the half-hour.
The male was absent.
15.11.91. 15:00-16:30 hrs. Both adults perched beside the nest, the female for the entire
90 minutes. At 15:35 hrs the male left.
16.11.91. The nest was checked briefly in the morning during rain. Neither adult was visible.
September 1992 Page 417.11.91. 09:45-11:00 hrs. Both adults were in a tree next to the nest tree. They flushed
when a semi -trailer parked beside the tree, and did not return.
Only four prey deliveries were seen in 20 hours (0.2 per hour or one every 5 hours
on average), all small items. The chick was fed on three of these, on average one feed every
6.7 hours. The chick’s meals lasted 4-8 minutes.
Excluding the time she was disturbed on 17 November, the female spent 55% of 18.5
hours’ observation time standing on the nest and 22% perched in the nest tree. She spent
14% of time perched in other trees within sight (100 m) of the nest, and 2%feeding the chick.
She was absent, and the nest unattended, for 7% of the time. Her attendance at the nest,
either on or beside it, declined from 85% (plus 11% in the nest tree) on 3 November to 49%
(plus 3% in the nest tree) on 7 November. However, on 7 November she was in trees within
sight of the nest, and thus guarding it, for a further 41% of time.
The male was not present in the female’s absence. He was mostly absent (70% of
time), but he spent some time standing on the nest (13%) or in the nest tree (13%). He
sometimes perched in trees within sight of the nest or circled overhead (4%). He did not feed
the chick. On two occasions (3 and 6 November) when he visited the nest without prey he
had a full crop, indicating that he had fed himself during his absence but caught no surplus
to bring to the nest.
Except for the semi -trailer, which the Kites apparently perceived as threatening, the
behaviour of the birds was not visibly influenced by the presence of observers or vehicles.
They ignored people and road traffic within 30 m, and when the female was on the nest or
in the trees her only reaction to a person directly below was to peer intently downward. She
did not flush from the nest, and when she approached the nest in the presence of observers
she landed without hesitation or apparent alarm. Other observers have also noted the quiet
and confiding nature of this species at the nest, in the presence of humans and vehicles (e.g.
Cameron 1976, Cupper & Cupper 1981, Johnston 1983, Hollands 1984).
Five food items were seen delivered to the nest:
(1) two unidentified fledgling or advanced nestling birds, brought simultaneously by the
male, species’ adult weight about 20 g (both swallowed whole by the female);
(2) an unidentified free -flying 20 g passerine, apparently caught by the female because she
brought it to the nest, in the male’s absence, after being absent herself for an hour;
(3) a small (<20 g), unidentifiable but fleshy (i.e. vertebrate) item, brought by the male, and
fed piecemeal to the chick by the female;
(4) an unidentified small item, brought by one adult when both arrived together, and fed
Page 5 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
1piecemeal to the chick.
Only one pellet, presumably cast by the female, was found below the nest on 6
November. It was mucus -coated, tapered and slightly flattened, measuring 44 x 21 mm. It
consisted of small, grey -brown passerine feathers and a trace of beetle fragments. A few
feathers tinged olive -yellow suggested Fuscous Honeyeater Lichenostomus fuscus, the
common local honeyeater of woodland. Elsewhere in the region, attempted predation on
a fledgling Fuscous Honeyeater by a different adult Kite has been observed (Debus 1990a).
No captures were observed, but the male was seen setting off on hunting flights
several times. It appeared that he sometimes explored his territory, within 200 m of the nest,
for food before departing for more distant hunting grounds. At 13:57 hrs on the first day he
flew south across the road, circled then dipped suddenly to the tree canopy, with his wings
in a steep dihedral, before disappearing over the treetops. This may have been an abortive
attack or an exploratory swoop. At 15:19 hrs he left the nest and soared high, gliding south-
west out of sight. On the second day at 14:17 hrs he combined both these manoeuvres: at
first circling low over the trees south-east across the road, quartering the canopy, then
circling high and drifting south then south-west in a long glide out of sight. On the third day
he left at 12:52 hrs in a south-westerly direction, low over sparsely treed grassland which
he quartered in direct flap -and -glide flight like a harrier Circus sp. On this, a day of strong
wind, no food was brought in six hours and he did not have any crop distension indicating
a meal; it seemed that strong wind depressed his hunting success. On 15 November at
17:35 hrs he flew directly at treetop height in an easterly direction. When he returned from
one absence, he demonstrated his agility by gliding slowly and buoyantly through the crown
of the nest tree, between the main branches, to land on the far side of the tree. Hunting
behaviour of a different Kite in the region was described elsewhere (Debus 1990a).
The calls of the Square -tailed Kite are poorly described. The adults under
observation uttered a range of calls, as follows.
(1) An incessant begging call by the female whenever the male was on the nest with her,
without food: a falsetto, slightly hoarse or wheezing squeal ee-ee-ee… of two syllables per
second. This call was uttered softly, barely audible from 50 m.
(2) A brief, shrill chitter or trill, one second in duration, recalling the chittering of a begging
female Little Eagle though not interspersed with piping notes (cf. Debus 1983). It was similar
to the rapid, shrill chitter of a Collared Sparrowhawk Accipiter cirrhocephalus (cf. Debus et
al. in press), though richer and of shorter duration. It was uttered softly by the female on the
nest, once after she arrived with prey and once when the male arrived without prey.
September 1992 Page 6(3) A clear, musical and plaintive yelp, half a second in duration, uttered singly but repeated
at about two -second intervals. This was given rather softly by the female as she approached
the nest with prey, and by the soaring male during a territorial encounter with a Little Eagle.
This is the yelp described by Morcombe (1990), and the keaw-keaw described by Garnett
(in Debus & Czechura 1989).
(4) A high-pitched, short and hoarse or wheezing yelp, yip -yip -yip…, one syllable per
second. It was uttered by the female as she peered around after arriving on the nest with
prey; she then broke into longer yelps eep-eep-eep, in quality recalling the falsetto,
wheezing shrieks of squabbling Galahs Cacatua roseicapilla. The short, hoarse yelps were
uttered in several other contexts:
(a) softly on the nest after the male arrived without food (apparently by the female);
(b) by the female as she landed in a dead tree across the highway, after soaring with the
(c) by both adults as they soared together after the male interacted with a Little Eagle, and
then by the female as she returned to the nest and as she displaced the male from the
This is presumably the “hoarse contralto yelp” described by Hollands (1984).
(5) A short, hoarse yelp with a rattle at the end, eek-k-k…eek-k-k…eek-k-k, repeated at one –
second intervals, and recalling the rapid cackle of a Brown Falcon Falco berigora. It was
uttered by the female as she peered up at an intruding adult Square -tailed Kite overhead
(while the male was also on the nest), and appeared to be a territorial call. A loud version
of this is given in undulating display flight (Garnett in Debus & Czechura 1989).
(6) A mating call, given by the male while he copulated: a slower and slightly hoarser version
of the female’s begging ee-ee… squeal, one syllable per second.
Most calls were soft and uttered infrequently. The male was usually silent, and did
not give a food -call when approaching the nest with prey.
The adults defended their nesting territory against other predatory birds, and an
intruding conspecific. The female flew purposefully and directly from the nest tree, across
the highway to displace a corvid Corvus sp. from a dead tree. When two Australian Magpies
Gymnorhina tibicen landed in the top of the nest tree, the female Kite became agitated and
moved to a higher branch, whereupon the Magpies left. On two days a Little Eagle soared
over its own nest site (the Kites’ old nest site), 200 m from the Kites’ active nest, without
eliciting a response. However, on the third day the male Kite and Little Eagle engaged in
an aggressive interaction in the airspace between their respective nests. Both were soaring
and made alternate short, shallow swoops at each other. The Kite was yelping, and was
the more aggressive of the two. Both Kites then soared together, yelping. The female twice
displaced the male from the nest when he attempted to land there, perhaps to induce him
to repel the Little Eagle. Both Kites soared again, and the female returned to the nest with
Page 7 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
1short, stiff wing -beats, yelping as she arrived. In a strong head -wind she was quite bow –
winged when gliding, unlike the usual shallow to moderate dihedral of this species.
On 6 November at around 11:00 hrs when both Kites were on the nest, the female
peered up and called in an agitated manner at a third adult Square -tailed Kite soaring high
overhead. She then lunged at the male, who had been loafing with a full crop and seemed
reluctant to move. She lunged again with open bill and wings, and forced him off the nest
by stepping forward and pushing his breast with an open foot. This may have been to induce
him to repel the intruder. He soared in several low circles with his legs lowered, then
climbed, circling high and flapping, and chased the intruder. The intruder avoided him by
a sharp turn at each pass. The pursuit was slow and leisurely, and after 10 minutes both
were lost to view at a great height, heading about 1 km south-west.
The adults allopreened on two occasions over three days while the male was
standing on the nest with the female. One preened the other’s head and neck feathers. On
a third occasion, the pair engaged in reciprocal allopreening while copulating.
The pair copulated five times over three days when there was a chick in the nest. On
the first day, the pair mated twice in five minutes while perched below the nest. The male
flew in and alighted on the female’s back, then perched beside her between mountings. On
the second day they mated twice in 24 minutes, on the nest, while the male was standing
the female. They allopreened between mountings. On the third day they
also mated on the nest once, during the male’s 15 -minute visit. On no occasion was mating
preceded by food -presentation or other preliminaries: the male mounted spontaneously,
and the female then crouched slightly. Mating was prolonged and unhurried, in one case
lasting over a minute, and the male stood on the female’s back for a further few seconds
before dismounting. After mating, the pair stood side -by -side and preened.
Both Kites were in full adult plumage, not immature or subadult (i.e. second -year)
plumage, in which the species sometimes breeds (cf. Bonhote 1906, Serventy & Whitten
1976). There was little size difference between the adult Kites. Side -by -side on the nest,
the male looked neater than the female, which was slightly (perhaps 5%) larger and more
robust. The male had a greyer face, particularly the ear coverts, a tendency noted by SJSD
in male museum specimens. It is not known if this is a general or consistent character in
The female Kite was moulting her inner primaries. The male was not moulting,
except possibly a central rectrix. The intruding, presumably non -breeding adult was
moulting its primaries heavily. In another pair, observed elswhere in the region in December
1989, one (presumably the female) was moulting its inner primaries (Williams 1992). ft thus
September 1992 Page 8appears that, as in other raptors, moult in the sexes in a breeding pair is out of phase: the
female moults while inactive and tied to the nest, and the male moults later when the female
is free to hunt (e.g. Cramp & Simmons 1980).
The nest was found upside-down on the ground on the morning of 20 November, with
no sign of the chick under or near it (J. Courtney pers. comm.). The nest and supporting
branch had been tossed around violently by strong winds during the observation period,
when another observer (K. Holdsworth) remarked that the nest looked “precarious”. An
interested and sympathetic local resident, whose house was in full view of the nest, also
reported the nest on the ground. There were no suspicious circumstances and no evidence
that the nest had been interfered with by humans. On 23 November the nest and site were
re-examined by SJSD. There were no traces of a chick or other nest contents (e.g. prey
remains, eggshells) nearby, and no sign of the adults between 13:00 and 14:00 hrs. The
chick was too small on 6-9 November to have fledged by 20 November, and the nest
therefore failed.
The 1991 nest was on land that may be sold to private interests, under the present
State Government’s policy of disposal of vacant Crown land. According to local sources,
the Department of Conservation and Land Management has received offers to buy the block
by an influential neighbour who wishes to clear it. These offers have been refused to date
and, according to CALM staff, the block is not due for consideration for a further four years.
A land assessment, as yet not carried out, is required before the block can be considered
for disposal and such land assessments by the Department include fauna conservation
values. Any such fauna assessment should be carried out in the appropriate season
(spring -summer) when migratory species such as the Square -tailed Kite are present.
The area is a traditional breeding site for a species classified as threatened in New
South Wales (National Parks and Wildlife Act), and nationally (Brouwer & Garnett 1990).
The presence of such a species is one reason for retaining the block’s natural tree cover,
under protective, Crown ownership. Local sources described the block as the only piece
of natural bushland in the immediate vicinity, with subdivision of bushland to the north
imminent. The Kites’ patch was the only one known to be used by them for nesting, and the
only apparently suitable one, in the immediate area.
The Square -tailed Kites’ nest site suggested that the species can breed in a small
patch of habitat near houses, farms and road traffic. A cluster of nests in atraditional territory
is typical for the species (see Debus & Czechura 1989), and the three nests were
characteristic of Lophoictinia. From the presence of old nests and local reports, a pair has
Page 9 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
1probably nested at the site for years, largely unnoticed, as the adults and nests were
inconspicuous. An important requirement would appear to be a large area (several square
kilometres) of suitable hunting habitat within commuting distance: eucalypt open forest and
woodland rich in nesting passerines, particularly honeyeaters, on which the Kite depends
for food (see Debus & Czechura 1989).
From ecological theory and research on soil and foliage nutrients and bird abundance
(e.g. Recher 1985), the Square -tailed Kite’s richest hunting habitat would have been on
fertile soils. In New South Wales these are now largely cleared for agriculture, particularly
the richer sites such as river valleys. The remaining box-ironbark forests and woodlands
on the North-west Slopes probably support a significant, if sparse, breeding population of
Square -tailed Kites, our breeding record being one of the few from New South Wales. The
North-west Slopes may be a stronghold for the Kite in New South Wales, as for the Regent
Honeyeater Xanthomyza phrygia.
The appearance of a third adult Kite (not a yearling, i.e. not the previous year’s
offspring) in the pair’s territory is a remarkable occurrence for a supposedly rare bird.
Furthermore, there was a second active nest about 80 km to the north-east, on the
tablelands, in November 1991 (M. Stanton pers. comm.). These records provide additional
support for a revised view of the species’ distribution and status. Contrary to popular belief
that the Kite is an inland species, in south-eastern Australia it is primarily a bird of forests
and woodlands from the coast to the inland slopes of the Dividing Range (see also Debus
1991, Debus & Silveira 1989). The occurrence of breeding birds should be expected on the
coast, tablelands and slopes on both sides of the Great Dividing Range in dry forests and
The ultimate failure of the Kites’ breeding attempt was caused by nest collapse,
apparently a hazard for this species: Cameron (1992) noted that some nests were frail and
blew down before the next season. However, the pattern of events at the nest 3-17
November suggested that the chick may have died before the nest fell down. The parental
feeding rate was much lower than recorded at successful nests, in frequency and in the size
and number of items delivered per visit (cf. Cameron 1976, Hollands 1984). The female’s
presence on the nest declined, she participated in hunting and she apparently did not brood
in rainy weather. This was at a stage of the cycle when, by all other accounts, she should
have been in constant attendance at the nest (i.e. on or beside it, e.g. Cameron 1976,
Cupper & Cupper 1981, Hollands 1984, Jolly 1989). Raptor prey delivery rates, maternal
participation in hunting and chick survival are related to food supply (e.g. Newton 1979).
Parental inexperience is unlikely to have been a factor at the Kites’ nest, because both
parents were fully adult. Furthermore, parental behaviour in raptors is instinctive, triggered
(“released”) by stimuli from the young (e.g. Brown & Amadon 1968); i.e. maternal care is
not learned. The apparent decline in maternal care can be explained by a lack of appropriate
behaviour from a weakening chick.
The evidence, together with the dry conditions and poor breeding season for local
passerines, points to death of the chick through food shortage (either by starvation or by
September 1992 Page 10exposure to weather or predators in the female’s absence). For instance at Armidale, Noisy
Friarbird Philemon corniculatus breeding activity was much lower in 1991 than 1990: 21
nests, 14 successful and 32 fledglings in 1990 versus eight nests and none successful in
1991 (H.A. Ford unpubl. data). 1991 was also a year of poor ironbark flowering on the North-
west Slopes. It is possible that our observations on the Kites coincided with times of low
hunting activity, but other observers have recorded feeding visits throughout the day at other
nests (e.g. Cameron 1976, Hollands 1984). Furthermore, a family of raptors of around 500-
650 g adult weight, preying on 20 g birds, would need to eat 3-5 such items per day each,
assuming daily food consumption of 10-15% of body weight as in other similar -sized raptors
(e.g. Little Eagle: Debus 1990b). We suggest that dietary specialisation and shortage of the
Kites’ major prey (nestling/fledgling honeyeaters) were the primary reason for their failed
breeding attempt.
The male’s parental behaviour and long stays at the nest contrasted with most other
accounts, although Schulz (1983) noted that both sexes shared the brooding and feeding
of small chicks at one nest, and Hollands (1984) noted that the male sometimes stayed for
a few minutes at another nest with a chick. The female in this study was tolerant of the male
on the nest, they allopreened and they copulated frequently and unhurriedly when they had
a chick, all of which suggest a close pair -bond in this species. In these respects, and in its
voice, displays and territorial defence, the Square -tailed Kite closely resembles the Black –
breasted Buzzard Hamirostra melanosternon (see Baker-Gabb 1990). This provides
further evidence for a close relationship between the two species (see Debus & Czechura
The Square -tailed Kite is a unique raptor, not at all like the Black Kite Milvus migrans
in character and ecology, and not closely related to it. An endemic species in a monotypic
genus, the Square -tailed Kite is a member of the “old endemic” Australasian raptor fauna
(Debus & Czechura 1989, Olsen & Olsen 1989, Schodde in press). It is uncommon probably
because of its specialised feeding behaviour and diet, which dictate a low breeding density;
it has also probably declined through habitat loss (see Debus & Czechura 1989). It warrants
detailed study and survey, to elucidate its true distribution and status and its ecological
requirements. However, sufficient is known for appropriate action to be taken on the pair
in this study, and on the species in general in New South Wales: breeding areas and
adjacent hunting habitat should be identified and adequately protected against clearing and
other disturbance.
We thank John Courtney for his interest and enthusiasm, and for reporting the nest:
without his recognising and seizing a valuable opportunity, the study would not have
commenced. SJSD gratefully acknowledges that the observations on 6-7 November were
made under the auspices of the NSW Forestry Commission; thanks are due to Rod
Kavanagh for facilitating visits to the nest. We also thank Dr Hugh Ford, Rod Kavanagh,
Ian McAllan and a referee for comments on a draft, and Ian McAllan for obtaining the daily
temperatures, supplied by the Bureau of Meteorology.
Page 11 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No. 1REFERENCES
Baker-Gabb, D.J. 1990. Breeding and other behaviour of the Black -breasted Buzzard
Hamirostra melanosternon. Aust. Bird Watcher 13, 231-235.
Bonhote, J.L. 1906. The Square -tailed Kite Lophoictinia isura. Avicult. Mag. 4, 195-196.
Brown, L & D. Amadon. 1968. Eagles, Hawks and Falcons of the World. London: Country
Brouwer, J. & S. Garnett. 1990. Threatened birds of Australia, an annotated list. RAOU
Report 68.
Cameron, A.C. 1976. Nesting of the Square -tailed Kite. Sunbird 7, 42-47.
Cameron, C.A.C. 1992. Further notes on Square -tailed Kites nesting in south-east
Queensland. Sunbird 22, in press.
Cramp, S. & K.E.L. Simmons (Eds). 1980. The Birds of the Western Palaearctic, vol. 2.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cupper, J. & L. Cupper. 1981. Hawks in Focus. Mildura: Jaclin.
Debus, S.J.S. 1983. Behaviour and vocalisations of nesting Little Eagles. Aust. Bird
Watcher 10, 73-78.
Debus, S.J.S. 1990a. Square -tailed Kite hunting behaviour. Australasian Raptor Assoc.
News 11, 8.
Debus, S.J.S. 1990b. Daily food consumption of two captive Little Eagles. Corella 14, 169-
Debus, S.J.S. 1991. The Square -tailed Kite Lophoictinia isura in South Australia. S. Aust.
Ornithol. 31, 57-71.
Debus, S.J.S. & G.V. Czech u ra. 1989. The Square -tailed Kite Lophoictinia isura: a review.
Aust. Bird Watcher 13, 81-97.
Debus, S.J.S. & C.E. Silveira. 1989. The Square -tailed Kite Lophoictinia isura in Victoria.
Aust. Bird Watcher 13, 118-123.
Debus, S.J.S., A.J. Ley, S.M. Tremont, R.M. Tremont & J.L. Collins. In press. Breeding
behaviour and diet of the Collared Sparrowhawk Accipitercirrhocephalus in northern
New South Wales. Aust. Bird Watcher.
Ferguson, S. & J.M. Bonnin. 1987. Square -tailed Kite nesting at Kojonup. West. Aust. Bird
Notes 43, 5-6.
Hollands, D. 1984. Eagles, Hawks and Falcons of Australia Melbourne: Nelson.
Johnston, D. 1983. Nesting of the Square -tailed Kite in the Baradine area. Aust. Birds 17,
Jolly, J. 1989. Square -tailed Kites breeding in South Australia. S. Aust. Ornithol. 30, 213-
McAllan, I.A.W. & M.D. Bruce. 1989. The Birds of New South Wales, A Working List.
Sydney: Biocon Research Group.
Morcombe, M. 1990. Australian Birds in the Wilderness. Sydney: Child & Assoc.
Morris, A.K., A.R. McGill & G. Holmes. 1981. Handlist of Birds in New South Wales.
Sydney: NSW Field Ornithologists Club.
Newton, I. 1979. Population Ecology of Raptors. Berkhamsted: Poyser.
Olsen, P. & J. Olsen. 1989. Aussie raptors are Aussie raptors: a call for a regional raptor
September 1992 Page 12identity! Australasian Raptor Assoc. News 10, 21.
Recher, H.F. 1985. Synthesis: a model of forest and woodland bird communities. In Keast,
A., H.F. Recher, H.A. Ford & D.A. Saunders (Eds), Birds of Eucalypt Forests and
Woodlands: Ecology, Conservation, Management. Sydney: Surrey Beatty.
Schodde, R. In press. Origins and evolutionary radiations of Australia’s birds of prey. In
Olsen, P.D. & J. Olsen (Eds), Proc. Australasian Raptor Assoc. 10th Anniv.
Conference, Canberra 1989.
Schodde, R. & S.C. Tidemann (Eds). 1986. Reader’s Digest Complete Book of Australian
Birds, 2nd edn. Sydney: Reader’s Digest Services.
Schulz, M. 1983. Nesting of the Square -tailed Kite in south-eastern New South Wales.
Aust. Birds 18, 6-8.
Serventy, D.L. & H.M. Whittell. 1976. Birds of Western Australia. Perth: University of
Western Australia Press.
Williams, B. 1992. From the BOPWatchers. Australasian Raptor Assoc. News 13, 10-11.
S.J.S. Debus, Zoology Department, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351
R.D. Earle, “Fernleigh”, Tingha, NSW 2369
G.J. Millard, 36 Clive Street, Inverell, NSW 2360
C.R. Parker, “Inalinga”, Oakwood, NSW 2360
The breeding behaviour of the Black -breasted Buzzard Hamirostra melanosternon has
been described by Cupper & Cupper (1981), Hollands (1984) and Baker-Gabb (1990), and
most aspects of its behaviour have been reviewed by Debus & Czechura (1992). On 19-
21 November 1990, I spent three days photographing and observing the Buzzard and other
raptor species nesting in Sturt National Park, in the far north-west corner of New South
Wales. This paper describes the behaviour of the Buzzards, which had at least one downy
The temperature in the little shade available was above 40°C, and there was no
surface water in the immediate vicinity. The area was a dry, clay and mud flood -plain with
Page 13 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No. 1a bank of encircling sandhills. The banks had at some time confined water, which had long
since sunk and/or evaporated, leaving a broken surface with large, open cracks. A group
of long -dead, standing eucalypts supported raptor nests, some of which were in use and
others appeared deserted. The surrounding area was an open plain with low sand -dunes
covered in Casuarina sp. and Eremophila sp.
On a visit two months previously, had noted large numbers of rabbits and
kangaroos. In November those animals were spread more sparsely, but still in the general
area. Non -raptors were plentiful and included Little Corella Cacatua sanguinea, Galah C.
roseicapilla, Tree Martin Cecropis nigricans, Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys, White –
winged Fairy -wren Malurus leucopterus, Yellow -throated Miner Manorina flavigula, Orange
Chat Ephthianura aurifrons, Australian Magpie -lark Grallina cyano/euca and Australian
Magpie Gymnorhina tibicen. Some reptiles, especially lizards, were common.
Large numbers of Wedge-tailed Eagles Aquila audax were present, including a
group of five which appeared to be a family party. Also present were Black Kites Milvus
migrans, Whistling Kites Haliastur sphenurus, Brown Falcons Falco berigora in light and
dark morphs, and a pair of Black Falcons Falco subniger. On the earlier visit I had also seen
a Little Eagle Hieraaetus morphnoides, but this did not appear during the November visit.
visited the nest sites each morning at about 08:00 hrs, staying until about midday,
and again walked out to the site at about 15:00 hrs and stayed until 17:00 hrs. The Buzzards
did not appear to be concerned by human presence unless an approach was made within
5 m of the base of the nest tree. The adult looked down from the edge of the nest but did
not leave. No attempt was made to climb the nest tree or any other tree in the area, so
although I knew that one chick was present, I could not be sure whether a second was in
the nest. The Buzzards’ nest was observed from an unconcealed position on the ground
15 m away. The Whistling and Black Kites, also nesting, left their nests if an approach was
made within 50 m of their nest trees.
There were five active raptor nests within a 100 m radius: one each of Black -breasted
Buzzard, Black Kite and Black Falcon, and two Whistling Kite. The estimated distances,
respectively, of these from the Buzzard nest were: Black Falcon 35 m north-east; Whistling
Kite 100 and 120 m south-east (and 40 m from each other); Black Kite 200 m south-east (and
100 m from the closer Whistling Kite nest). There were three disused kite nests scattered
up to 100 m west and south of the Buzzard nest, and a disused Wedge-tailed Eagle nest
km east -north-east.
Black -breasted Buzzard
Each day during the first hour of observation on the Buzzards, one adult (the larger,
presumed female) either sat on the nest or stood on the rim of the nest while the other adult
September 1992 Page 14(smaller, presumed male) roosted in a dead tree about 50 m south-east. During the whole
time there was no interchange of positions or roles. Usually about an hour after my arrival,
and again late in the afternoon, the male left his perch and circled the nest several times but
on these occasions could not detect any calling by either bird. The femalethen left the nest,
circled the nest area and the pair disappeared in a north-westerly direction.
Well after the Buzzards had departed, either the Whistling or Black Kites nesting
nearby left their own nest and circled high overthe Buzzards’ nest, then flewgradually lower,
apparently interested in the contents. Immediately a Buzzard appeared directly above the
intruding kite and spiralled down, shepherding the intruder away. At no time did the Buzzard
attack the bird investigating the nest, nor was aware of any threatening call. At no time did
I seethe defending bird approach: it suddenly appeared high in the sky above its nest. Once
the intruding bird had been shepherded away, the defending bird flew off in the original
The Buzzards’ time away from the nest on these sorties varied between 40 and 70
minutes, and when they returned it was invariably with what appeared to be a kitten rabbit.
The female brought the prey back, tore it into pieces and fed the chick(s), while the male
returned to the roost tree. Neither adult was seen to feed itself. At no time did observe both
parents on the nest at the same time; in fact the male was not seen on the nest. After the
morning feed the female stood for some hours on the rim of the nest, sometimes with her
wings partly spread, apparently shading the nestling(s).
On one occasion I noticed the female bird on the nest rim cock her head and look
upwards. Very high above was a third Buzzard circling the area, but other than to watch it
until it disappeared, neither adult appeared concerned.
Black Falcon
There is virtually no published information on incubation behaviour of the Black
Falcon. During one of the periods of inactivity at the Buzzards’ nest, I saw movement in a
deserted kite’s nest in a tree, 20 m north-east of my position. approached the foot of the
tree and could see an eye watching through the loose sticks near the top of the nest.
therefore kept a watch from my original position near the Buzzards’ nest. Eventually the
sitting bird stretched, climbed to the nest rim and faced the opposite direction before
disappearing down into the nest once more. It revealed itself as a Black Falcon, apparently
incubating in the disused kite’s nest. The change of position occurred about once per hour.
However, I saw the sitting bird’s mate on only one occasion: late in the afternoon it flew in
to the nest, and within a few minutes one or the other adult flew off. The incoming bird
perched briefly on a tree 10 m north-west of the nest; it apparently did not have food, and
there was no calling or behaviour to suggest a food transfer. I had a brief view of one bird
sitting higher in the nest than the other (which as partly out of sight being obscured by the
rin), and I therefore could not tell the sexes apart nor determine which bird left. It is likely
that this was an incubation change -over, the male possibly relieving the female while she
left to hunt for herself.
Page 15 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
Most aspects of the Buzzards’ behaviour were similar to that previously described,
particularly for the nestling period (Cupper & Cupper 1981; Hollands 1984; Baker-Gabb
1990). However, only one adult (female only) was on the nest at a time, the pair did not
alternate roles, and the female on the nest was more confiding in the presence of humans
than in previous accounts. The pair’s aerial behaviour suggested that the female was both
monitoring the male’s hunting, and guarding the nest, from a high soaring position between
the respective areas; perhaps she shared the male’s kill before bringing it back to the nest.
was not able to ascertain the outcome of any of the nests. As noted by the above
authors, nests of different raptor species are often clumped along watercourses in the arid
zone, with little interspecif ic conflict. However, I felt thatthe approach by Whistling and Black
Kites in the Buzzards’ absence was with more than casual interest in the nest. Some
nestling predation occurs: the Buzzard takes Black Kite and other raptor nestlings (Cupper
& Cupper 1981; Hollands 1984), therefore Buzzard nestlings may be similarly vulnerable
to predation in the adults’ absence.
In the absence of comparative data on other pairs, it is difficult to interpret the Black
Falcons’ behaviour. From what is known of incubation in other falcons (e.g. Cade 1982),
it is likely that male and female Black Falcon share incubation.
Baker-Gabb, D.J. 1990. Breeding and other behaviour of the Black -breasted Buzzard
Hamirostra melanosternon. Aust. Bird Watcher 13, 231-235.
Cade, T.J. 1982. The Falcons of the World. London: Collins.
Cupper, J. & L. Cupper. 1981. Hawks in Focus. Mildura: Jaclin.
Debus, S.J.S. & G.V. Czechura. 1992. The Black -breasted Buzzard Hamirostra
melanosternon: a review. Aust. Bird Watcher 14(7), in press.
Hollands, D. 1984. Eagles, Hawks and Falcons of Australia Melbourne: Nelson.
R.J. Angus, 55 Campbell Avenue, Dee Why, NSW 2099
Birds feature prominently in several dreaming stories of Aboriginal people who traditionally
lived in the Sydney area. Of the five linguistic tribes living within 100 km of Sydney, at least
three, the Darug, the Dharawal and the Gundungurra, retain oral history of a bird or bird -spirit
known variously as the duwan, dthuwangong, or twan. The Darug, including the Eora
people, extended from the coast at Sydney west into the Blue Mountains. The Dharawal
lived on the south coast between Botany Bay and Nowra, extending west as far as the
Georges River. The Gundungurra occupied the southern parts of the Blue Mountains,
including the Burragorang and Megalong Valleys, and along the Nattai, Wollondilly and
Cox’s Rivers.
One account of the duwan was recorded by Bernard Carton, an early settler in the
Burragorang Valley. Among his reminiscences about the Burragorang Valley in the 1840s
was a reference to “Princess Queahgang” (probably gweagang), daughter of Moyengully,
the “chief’ of the Burragorang clan of the Gundungurra (cited in Meredith 1989). Carlon told
of an incident when she was sick:
Then came another report that Queahgang was bewitched by a spirit,
that came in the form of a bird called Twan and had to be carried about.
This is almost certainly the same spirit -bird as a creature called the dthuwangong
by Matthew Feld, who obtained his information from Gundungurra people living near Picton
around the turn of the century. Feld (1900) states:
They (the burragorang band of the Gundungurra tribe) had another
superstition about a spirit they called dthuwan-gong, who lived among
the rocks, and had enormous wings, with which he extinguished their
camp fires, killed them and then eat (sic) their livers.
The Darug people shared this belief. An early French expedition to Australia,
under the leadership of de Freycinet, crossed the Blue Mountains in 1819 (Freycinet 1824).
One of the drawings of this expedition shows three figures representing Aboriginal rock
engravings, and titled “Gods of the Blue Mountains”. One of these is clearly a bird -like spirit,
with distinct wings and a beak. It seems likely that this is an engraving of a duwan.
The belief in the malevolent nature of the duwan is also recorded for the Dharawal
people. Eades (1976) includes theterm duwan in her vocabulary of the Dharawal language,
and defines it as an “enemy messenger bird”.
Page 17 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
1The most interesting oral history of the duwan was passed on to me by two ladies
of Darug descent. One was in her seventies, and her daughter was in her fifties. Their
ancestry has been traced back to Yarramundi, the “Chief of the Richmond tribes”, and his
daughter Maria, who married a convict and lived near the original Black Town settlement
(Brook and Kohen 1991). Both ladies had lived in various Aboriginal communities around
Sydney, including the Katoomba settlement and at La Perouse.
They told me that the duwan was an indicator of bad news. One told me she had
been visited by the duwan immediately before her husband died, and the other when her
father died. They were able to provide a very good description of the duwan. They described
it as a “medium size black bird, with big feet, and blood red eyes, which screamed out” to
warn of impending disaster. Their description was so clear, that I was able to identify the
bird with little difficulty. The duwan, in its animal form, was the White -winged Chough,
Corcorax melanorhamphus. According to one description (Readers Digest 1977), it can be
identified from the following:
sooty black all over…. eye red with an orange inner ring …. extreme
alarm call an ear -shattering scream.
It is distributed throughout open woodlands and scrub in eastern and southern
Australia. ft was formerly common in the Blacktown area (J. Lawson, pers. comm.), and is
still seasonally common near the Hawkesbury River.
The duwan is an interesting example of a dreaming bird with both a spiritual and
a physical manifestation in the world of the Aboriginal people of the Sydney region.
Brook, J. and J.L. Kohen. 1991. The Parramatta Native Institution and the Black Town: a
history. Kensington: New South Wales University Press.
Eades, D.K. 1976. The Dharawal and Dhurga Languages of the New South Wales South
Coast. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, p.78.
Feld, M. 1900. Myths of Burra-gorang Tribe. Science, 23 July 1900, p.99.
Freycinet, L. de. 1824. Paris: Voyage autour du monde.
Meredith, J. 1989. The Last Kooradgie. Moyengully, Chief Man of the Gundungurra People.
Kenthurst: Kangaroo Press, p.37.
Readers Digest. 1977. Readers Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds. Sydney:
Readers Digest Services Pty. Ltd.
J.L. Kohen, School of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, NSW 2109
Pacific Bazas Aviceda subcristata were found nesting on my property at Mardi near
Tuggerah approximately 33°18’20” south 151°23’30” east on 16 January 1992. The nesting
tree is a Spotted Gum Eucalyptus maculata 35m high, 60cm diameter at base and growing
within 3m of a well used farm access road. The tree is growing on the 30m contour line at
the base of a 150m timbered hill. It is in a group of trees with open grassed grazing areas
to the east and west.
Just below the nest the main trunk forms three branches each about 10° from
vertical. On one of these, small branches grow towards the other two and it is on these small
suckers that the nest is formed. The nest appears to sit centrally between the three
branches about 30m above the ground. The nest is about 40cm x 15cm and seems to be
constructed of leafy branches rather than sticks. It looks more like a squashed Ring-tailed
Possum Pseudocheirus peregrinus nest than the usual raptor’s nest.
Unfortunately the birds and nest were not found until the two young were almost
ready to leave the nest. By the 20 January the young were seen away from the nest being
fed by the parent birds. The parent birds were seen chasing after cicadas, the common one
in the vicinity of the nest being the Flourery Baker Abricta curvicosta. Items of food fed to
the young included large green caterpillars similar to a large Hawk Moth caterpillar
Sphingidae, a skink type lizard and leaf insects Phasmatidae.
Nesting must have begun in November 1991. The fact that they were not seen
earlier testifies to their unobtrusive behaviour. Before leaving for a Christmas bird camp
had been watching a pair of Leaden Flycatchers Myiagra rubecula, with a nest in the same
tree and within 9m of the hawks’ nest. During this time the hawks must have had eggs and
hatchlings without being observed. The Pacific Baza were last seen on February 1992.
J. W. Carpenter, RMB 362, Cobbs Road, Tuggerah, NSW 2259
Page 19 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
Long -toed Stints Calidris subminuta are uncommon and irregular visitors to New South
Wales in the non -breeding season. The following notes refer to 17 observations of Long –
toed Stints over an extended period at a permanent inland swamp in the Murrumbidgee
Irrigation Area of New South Wales. Plumages, calls and behaviour are discussed in some
detail and comparisons with other wader species and habitat preferences are considered
where they may offer some help in identification and location of this elusive species. In
Australia Long -toed Stints are easily overlooked but once located are easy to identify. The
potential problem of confusion with Least Sandpiper C. minutella which has not yet been
recorded in Australia has been considered. As a consequence of these observations and
some anomalies and uncertainties discussed, it is recommended that detailed written
descriptions, including calls, of all pale -legged stints seen in Australia should be made and
that photographs would be invaluable for subsequent perusal and records appraisal.
The Long -toed Stint is an Eastern Palaearctic species which nests in a wide variety
of arctic and boreal habitats regularly south to 50° N. The breeding range is incompletely
known. Outside the breeding season Long -toed Stints are found mainly around fresh waters
but may also venture on to tidal mud flats. They generally feed singly or in small flocks often
among vegetation at the water’s edge or on floating weed or algae (Hayman et al. 1986).
Like all small calidrids Long -toed Stints are highly migratory, but their migration routes are
poorly known. Most winter in SE Asia and the Philippines, but a few hundred reach Australia
each year and small numbers occur in the Middle East on passage which suggest a few may
winter regularly in East Africa.
In Australia the Long -toed Stint is a regular summer visitor and has been recorded
throughout the country. The species is most abundant in Western Australia where it usually
occurs in small parties with exceptional groups of 80 and 92 having been reported. In
Eastern Australia reports are generally of one to two birds (Blakers et al. 1984). In his recent
review of shorebirds in Australia Lane (1987) made no reference to records from New South
Wales. However, Long -toed Stints have been recorded in New South Wales since 1969
when one was seen by John Hobbs at Dareton (Morris et al. 1981). Long -toed Stints have
been recorded irregularly and infrequently at widely separated localities in New South
Wales since then. The following notes refer to several observations of Long -toed Stints at
Fivebough Swamp.
September 1992 Page 20STUDY AREA AND METHODS
Fivebough Swamp, near Leeton, is a natural inland fresh water marsh located on
the Eastern margins of the Riverine Plain of New South Wales. Summers are typically hot
with temperatures reaching in excess of 40 C, and winters are cool with overnight frosts.
Rainfall is low but is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year with October the wettest
month and December the driest.
In summer evaporation greatly exceeds precipitation. Net evaporation for the period
October to March inclusive is approximately 800mm. Between April and September net
evaporation is only 65mm. These figures are averages, in practice there are very large
annual variations in temperature, precipitation and evaporation rates which result in
problems associated with severe drought in some years and severe flooding in others.
Notwithstanding this the strongly seasonal pattern of evaporation has a dominant effect on
the conditions of the wetland area. Mud flats are a feature most of the year with brackish
pools in summer. The site has been modified for waste water disposal from sewage
treatment works, irrigation overflows and local drainage. Fivebough never dries out
completely even in times of severe drought.
The swamp basin is intensively grazed by cattle and horses and the environment of
the area has been severely affected by this over the years, and by ploughing and seeding
with improved pasture species, fertiliser treatments, complete elimination of trees and
“topping” of weedy pastures. Hay feeding of drought affected stock and irrigation run-off
have resulted in a wide variety of weed species being introduced into the area.
Over a period of ten years from 1982 Fivebough Swamp has been visited regularly,
on a weekly basis where practical, for the purpose of recording shorebird movements.
Optical equipment used for most observations were a combination of Zeiss (West)
8x20X binoculars and a 20-60x77mm Kowa TSN2 telescope mounted on a Slik SL -67
tripod; this combination was upgraded to Optolyth Alpin 8×30 binoculars and a 20-60x77mm
Kowa TSN4 telescope from November 1991.
My first observation of a Long -toed Stint was on 26 October 1985. It was 07.50
(Eastern Australian Standard Time), on a clear, almost cloudless morning with a strong SE
breeze. The water level in the swamp was very high following the wet winter. Wader species
present included Sharp -tailed C. acuminata, Marsh Tringa stagnatilis and Wood T. glareola
Sandpipers, Greenshank T. nebularia, Black -winged Stilts Himantopus himantopus, Red –
necked Avocets Recurvirostra novaehollandiae, Red -capped Charadrius ruficapillus and
Page 21 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
1Black -fronted Plovers C. melanops , Red -kneed Dotterels Erythrogonys cinctus and a
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres. Observation was down to within 15 metres. The first
impression was of an immaculate, lightly built small stint of neat and tidy appearance with
brown upperparts and white below. The breast was lightly streaked, the legs were olive
green and the bill was slightly decurved and dark in colour. The bird was creeping about on
bent legs and running, mouse -like, into grass tussocks for cover when alarmed by
accompanying Sharp -tailed Sandpipers. It showed a white chin and throat and obvious
supercilium. Long -toed Stint was immediately suspected and it was later confirmed as an
adult in non -breeding plumage after consulting Cramp & Simmons (1982) and Jonssbn &
Grant (1984).
The following day was again clear and cloudless but with a very strong cold east wind
and gale force gusts which made watching very difficult. The Long -toed Stint was seen again
at 08.00 (Eastern Australian Standard Time) when it was described in field notes as tiny and
mouse -like with yellow green legs. When feeding its walk was described as “sneaking” and
it had to lift its feet deliberately to walk in the soft mud on account of its long legs and toes.
However it did run fast when alarmed by Sharp -tailed Sandpipers with which it was easy to
compare its very small size. The usual method of feeding was by picking daintily from the
surface of wet mud and water, but it did stick its bill into mud from time to time and once turned
its head sideways to flick over a piece of debris with its bill. The supercilium was very long
and the throat, chin and under parts were a bright, clean white with no streaks nor marks
beyond the breast band. When it stretched its wings it showed its back and tail; a short, fine
wing bar and uniform dark primaries were noted; the back and rump were dark with pale
sides to the rump; the tail was dark and wedge shaped. There was no trace of chestnut on
the upperparts and the distinct cap on the crown, made obvious by the long supercilium was
marked with fine streaks.
Some small Sharp -tailed Sandpipers moulting from breeding to non -breeding
plumage suggested Long -toed Stint at first sight. However the Long -toed Stint had no bars
on flanks nor streaks on under -tail coverts. The short bill was also finer and the head was
relatively smaller than those of Sharp -tailed Sandpipers. Generally the Long -toed Stint
appeared neater and tidier than the accompanying Sharp -tailed Sandpipers. These
occasionally “crept” about like the Long -toed Stint but generally prefered to probe rather
than pick in the muddy conditions pertaining at the time. Also the supercilium of the Long –
toed Stint was much clearer than those of the adult Sharp -tailed Sandpipers and more like
that of juveniles. However, there was no trace of chestnut nor rufous tones in the plumage
of this stint. In the presence of Sharp -tailed Sandpipers size is diagnostic, with the Long -toed
Stint “tiny”.
A Long -toed Stint, presumably the same bird, was seen again at Fivebough Swamp
in the same general area on 9 and 23 November, 14 December 1985 and 26 January and
September 1992 Page 229 February 1986. No field notes were taken after 9 November when it was noted that
scapulars had dark feather centres and broad pale fringes. This bird was not seen again
despite continuing weekly visits to Fivebough Swamp.
The following year on 8 March 1987 a Long -toed Stint was again present at
Fivebough Swamp. As a consequence of previous experience with this species, and Little
Stint Calidris minuta, Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii (in UK), Least Sandpiper and Semi –
palmated Sandpiper C. pusilla (in Canada) it was not considered necessary to take detailed
notes at the time. In retrospect this is now considered to have been a most unfortunate
However, the bird was only 12 metres away and it was noted that the tertials had
rufous edges and one scapular was rufous also. The call was described as a “liquid piping
call”. The bird was seen again on 15 and 22 March 1987, when it was feeding on mud at the
edge of a patch of cumbungi Typha sp. On 29 March 1987, by which time it showed a marked
cap with greyish neck and breeding plumage coverts, scapulars and tertials, the legs were
described as pale yellow. On 5 April 1987 it was still present with two Wood Sandpipers and
a Double -banded Plover Charadrius bicinctus. The only comment in my notes was “long
tertials with broad chestnut edges”. The last sighting was on 12 April 1987 when no further
notes were taken.
It was several years later, with visits to Fivebough continued weekly, on 18 August
1991 before another Long -toed Stint was present at Fivebough. Initially it was resting,
crouched on the edge of a small pool in water couch Paspalum paspalodes roughly cropped
by grazing cattle. When it started to feed the yellow/green legs and slightly decurved fine
two-tone bill were noted and the bird was tentatively identified as an adult Long -toed Stint
in worn breeding plumage. This was confirmed later following reference to Cramp &
Simmons (1982), Jonsson & Grant (1984), and Hayman et al.(1986).
On 24 November 1991 a Long -toed Stint, presumably the same bird seen on 18
August 1991, was again present. By this time realised how scarce this species had been
over ten years of weekly visits to Fivebough. Consequently, detailed notes were taken on
24 November, 9 and 14 December 1991. The following description is based on these field
Conditions. All observations were in the morning between 06.30 and 09.00 (E.A.S.T.). The
approach was from the SE and round to the W. Light was excellent. The bird was always
in the same general area of very shallow water, slowly drying out, with dried mud heavily
poached by cattle and interspersed with small tussocks of closely cropped water couch.
Approach was down to 12 metres.
Page 23 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
1Size and shape. The presence of Sharp -tailed Sandpipers, Red -necked Stints and Red –
capped Plovers feeding with the Long -toed Stint made relative size comparisons of great
value and easy to estimate. The Long -toed Stint was clearly very much smaller than Sharp –
tailed Sandpipers and noticeably smaller than both Red -necked Stints and Red -capped
Plovers. The tertials extended to about the same length as the tail.
Upper parts. Generally brown relative to grey Red -necked Stints. Comparison was as
marked as difference in colour between Sharp -tailed Sandpipers and Marsh Sandpipers.
However, there was less contrast of back feathers than in Sharp -tailed Sandpipers. Centres
of scapulars and coverts of Long -toed Stint were dark and broadly edged brownish grey.
The head and bill were smaller and finer respectively than those of Red -necked Stints
present. A clear supercilium, which was not noticeably bulbous in front of the eye (see
Alstrom & Olsson, 1989) extended well past the eye. The forehead, crown and lores were
dark and the ear coverts showed a dark smudge behind and below the eye.
Wings. A short fine wing bar was noted on stretched wings.
Under parts. Under parts were a clear, bright white with a light indistinct, greyish
Bare parts. Fine bill, less in length than width of the head. Obvious pale legs. Light base
to lower mandible.
Behaviour. Slower, more deliberate feeder than Red -necked Stint. Less picking, a slower
walk, kept crouching down. Creeping style of locomotion. Once flicked over debris. Hiding
crouched in tussocks of water couch and dried cattle footprints when Swamp Harrier Circus
aeruginosusoverhead. Wary, stalking and crouching alternately. The walk of the Long -toed
Stint when feeding is deliberate with bent legs; not the urgent, tiptoe runs of the hyperactive
Red -necked Stint under the same conditions.
Voice. A sweet soft “crreeet” repeated when agitated several times from a crouched
position half hidden in a dry cow foot print. When approached within 12 metres the Long –
toed Stint flew: it towered high into the sky over the swamp repeating the same “crreeet” call.
No other calls were heard.
The records of Long -toed Stints in New South Wales are summarised in Table 1.
There have been 14 records from 1969 to 1991 at nine locations between 18 August and
12 April. Single birds were usually recorded with only one exception when two were seen
at Cobar. All records except one have been away from the coast. Long -toed Stints are not
September 1992 Page 24recorded every year in New South Wales and the increasing number of birdwatchers has
not been reflected in any increase in records over recent years. These observations suggest
that this species is an irregular summer visitor in small numbers to New South Wales.
Table Summary of Reports of Long -toed Stints in New South Wales.
1969 6-15/1 Dareton Morris et al. 1981
1975-76 23/11-7/2 Cobar* Aust. Birds 11:92
11977-78 29/10-18/3 Hawkesbury Marshes Aust. Birds 13:10, 14:10
1979 11-22/11 Parkes Morris et al. 1981
1981 28/12 Wentworth Aust. Birds 17:11
1982 13/11 Tullakool Aust. Birds 18:51
1983-84 26/12-20/2 Fletcher’s Lake Aust. Birds 19:86, 20:116
1985-86 26/10-9/2 Fivebough Swamp Aust. Birds 22:22, 23:81
1986 1-2/11 Shell Point Aust. Birds 23:81
1987 18/12 Tullakool T B 0 672:15
1987 1/2 Hawkesbury Marshes} Aust. Birds 24:58
8/3-12/4 Fivebough Swamp }
1991 18/8-14/12 Fivebough Swamp This report
*Refers to two birds, all others one only
Page 25 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
At Fivebough over the ten year period 1982 to 1991 Long -toed Stints were present
in three summers, and it is probable that only three birds were involved. Over that period
385 visits, of average duration two hours, were made to Fivebough to count waders; 308
of these visits were in the warmer months between 1 August and 30 April of the following
year. Long -toed Stints were seen on 17 occasions over the three summers which represent
less than 6 percent of visits when they could have reasonably been expected in New South
Wales. These observations support the conclusion that Long -toed Stints are irregular
visitors to New South Wales in small numbers in the non -breeding season.
Long- toed Stints are very quiet, unobtrusive and wary. Consequently, they are easily
overlooked. The grassy edges of shallow pools, drying muddy edges of cumbungi stands
and drying mud disturbed by cattle adjacent to muddy shallow pools are good places to
search for a crouching bird which can be easily approached to about 12-15 metres. Once
found the site can be revisited over an extended period with a very good chance of relocation
as Long -toed Stints are apparently very loyal to a specific area in a particular site, provided
conditions do not change markedly.
Once located the Long -toed Stint is not a difficult bird to identify, if it is assumed that
Least Sandpipers do not occur in Australia. A combination of very small size, brownish
upperparts, clear white supercilium and throat, pale yellow/green legs and lightly streaked
indistinct breastband and otherwise bright, white underparts are sufficient identification
Reference to published literature (Jonsson & Grant, 1984; Hayman et al. 1986;
Pizzey, 1980) suggests that Long -toed Stints habitually stretch to full height and this may
help identification because of the longer neck relative to other small calidrids. This behaviour
was never exhibited at Fivebough even in taller water couch tussocks. On the contrary, it
was more usual to see Long -toed Stint crouched down in short cropped vegetation or half
hidden in a cattle footprint.
Although the notes referred to in this paper, and the geographical location, strongly
suggest Long -toed Stint and clearly eliminate Red -necked Stint, and other dark legged
small calidrids even more detailed notes would be desirable to eliminate Least Sandpiper
with 100% certainty if this species were to occur in Australia (see Jonsson & Grant, 1984;
Alstrom & Olsson, 1989; Hayman et al. 1986).
Least Sandpiper is a Nearctic species which shares with Long -toed Stint the
characteristics of small size, brown upperparts, pale olive or yellow/green legs and marked
breastband. cannot recall Least Sandpipers on migration in Canada moving about with the
September 1992 Page 26relatively slow, deliberate, creeping movements characteristic of Long -toed Stints at
Fivebough. This behavioural factor may be a useful aid in the separation of these two
species where they occur together.
Transcriptions of calls are notoriously variable, particularly for stints (Jonsson &
Grant, 1984). The 1991 Long -toed Stint at Fivebough called several times very clearly and
the call, described as “crreeet”, is comparable with “kree” (Lane, 1987), “chee” (Frith, 1976;
Pringle, 1987; Pizzey, 1980) or “chree” (Jonsson & Grant, 1984). However, the description
of calls for Least Sandpiper in Jonsson & Grant (1984) “trree”, Hayman et al. (1986) Irree”,
Cramp & Simmons (1983) “kreeep”, and Pratt et al (1987) “stree-eep” suggest a similar call
for this species. Field guides from North America where Least Sandpiper is very common
would support this call for Least Sandpiper (Robbins et al. 1966; Scott, 1983), whereas field
guides from SE Asia (King et al. 1975), Thailand (Lekagul & Round, 1991), Japan (Wild Birds
Society of Japan, 1982) and Australia (Slater et al. 1989; Simpson & Day, 1986) do not
mention any call for Long- toed Stint similar to the call of the Fivebough bird. Obviously great
care needs to be exhibited where the call is used for identification purposes for these two
very similar species. Having brought attention to this matter the combination of obvious very
long supercilium, short fine wing bar and uniform dark primaries strongly support Long -toed
Stint rather than Least Sandpiper for the first Fivebough bird; marked cap with greyish neck,
long tertials with broad chestnut edges and two-tone bill strongly support Long -toed Stint
for second bird; and fine short wing bar, light indistinct greyish breastband, light base to
lower mandible, dark lores and forehead, clear supercilium and towering flight strongly
support Long -toed Stint for the third bird. It is therefore highly unlikely that any of these would
have been a Least Sandpiper.
As a consequence of the observations, anomalies and uncertainties discussed in the
preceding notes, it is recommended that detailed descriptions and field notes, including
calls, of all pale legged stints seen in Australia should be made by enthusiastic observers.
Colour photographs from various angles would be invaluable for subsequent perusal by
interested groups, individuals or record appraisal committees.
The author acknowledges the support and encouragement of Alan Morris in
suggesting more detailed written recording of field characteristics of Long -toed Stints at
Fivebough Swamp, and also the reviewers whose suggestions and comments have
resulted in the preparation of an acceptable manuscriptfrom a seriesof ordinary observations
and often subjective notes.
Page 27 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
Alstrom, P. & Olssen, U. 1989. The Identification of Juvenile Red -necked and Long -toed
Stints. Brit. Birds 82: 360-372.
Bent, A.C. 1962. Life Histories of North American Shorebirds. Part 1. New York: Dover
Publications Inc.
Blakers M., Davies, S.J.J.F., & Reilly, P.N. 1984. The Atlas of Australian birds. Carlton:
Melbourne University Press.
Cramp, S. & Simmons, K.E.L. (eds.) 1983. The Birds of the Western Palearctic.
London: Oxford University Press.
Frith, N.J. (ed.) 1976. Complete Book of Australian Birds. Sydney: Reader’s Digest Services
Pty. Ltd.
Hayman, P., Marchant, J.H. & Prater, A.J. 1986. Shorebirds: an identification guide to the
waders of the world. London: Groom Helm.
Jonsson, L. & Grant, P.J. 1984. Identification of Stints and Peeps. Brit. Birds 77: 293-315.
King, B., Woodcock, M. & Dickinson, E.C. 1975. A Field Guide to the Birds of South -East
Asia. London: Collins.
Lane, B.A. 1987. Shorebirds in Australia. Melbourne: Nelson.
Lekagul, B. & Round, P.D. 1991. A Guide to the Birds of Thailand. Bangkok: Saha Karn
Bhaet Co.
Morris, A.K., McGill, A.R. & Holmes, G. 1981. Handlist of Birds in New South Wales. Dubbo:
Pizzey, G. 1980. A Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Sydney: Collins.
Pratt, H.G., Bruner, P.L. & Berrett, D.G. 1987. A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the
Tropical Pacific. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Pringle, J.D. 1987. The Shorebirds of Australia. London: Angus & Robertson.
Robbins, C.S., Bruun, B. & Zim, H.S. 1966. Birds of North America. New York: Golden
Scott, S.L. (ed.) 1983. Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Washington, D.C. National
Geographic Society.
Simpson, K. & Day, N. 1986. The Birds of Australia. South Yarra: Lloyd O’Neil.
Slater, P., Slater, P. & Slater, R. 1989. The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds.
Willoughby: Weldon.
Wild Bird Society of Japan. 1982. A Field Guide to the Birds of Japan. Tokyo: Kodansha.
Keith Hutton, 9 Karri Road, Leeton NSW 2705
On the 13 January 1990, a Barred Cuckoo -shrike Coracina lineata, was observed feeding
cicadas to an advanced juvenile at Gumma Crossing 5.5 km east of Macksville. The two
birds were observed in a small cluster of rainforest species including Native Celtis Celtis
paniculata, Red Olive Plum Cassine australis, Port Jackson fig Ficus rubiginosa, Blue Lilly-
pilly Syzygium oleosum and Ribbonwood Euroschinus falcata. The later three trees were
fruiting, attracting a number of Figbirds Sphecotheres viridus, Olive -backed Oriole Oriolus
sagittatus and a Lewin’s Honeyeater Meliphaga lewinii. The cluster of rainforest species
contrast with the surrounding vegetation, consisting of areas of Swamp Oak Allocasuarina
glauca, Grey Mangrove Avicennia marina var. australasica and Sea Rush Juncus kraussi,
Blackbutt Eucalyptus pilularis forest with a heath -like understorey and a picnic area which
is well grassed and with scattered trees predominately Swamp Oak.
During the observation two features drew my attention. Firstly, the juvenile was
being fed on medium black cicadas, species unknown, but possibly Black Prince Psaltoda
plaga (A.B. Rose in litt. 1992) found in the Swamp Oaks and once fed a large yellow/red fruit,
species unknown. Observations at Nambucca Heads on the 1 February 1986 and the 16
March 1986 (Clancy 1989) and pers. obs.; and Repton area on the 12 January 1991 and
January and February 1992; young Barred Cuckoo -shrikes were being fed solely on Small –
leaved fig Ficus obliqua and Port Jackson Fig. Clancy (1990) noted nestling and juvenile
Cuckoo -shrikes were fed fruit and insects at Port Macquarie.
The second interesting feature was the method of capturing the cicadas. E.S.
Hoskin points out that in his experience, while cicadas seem easy prey, many birds find
cicadas elusive to catch. This was born out by my observation. The adult would land on a
branch, flushing a cluster of cicadas. In the pursuit that followed, it was clear the agility
necessary to catch cicadas in flight was lacking and several flush/pursuit events were
required before a successful catch was made. Considering there were fruiting trees at the
picnic area (the adult fed on the fruit of Port Jackson Fig and Ribbonwood) and suitable fig
trees in the surrounding district, it is not clear as to why the adult engaged in an apparently
energy consuming chase for cicadas. However Hoskin (in lift. 23 February 1992) makes the
point that many species of birds eat cicadas and all fruitivorous species give protein to their
young, so that it is not anything unusual but probably has not been documented before for
this species.
The juvenile amongst other plumage features, was mottled grey on the head, neck
and breast, the belly was white, while wing coverts had dark centres with buff edging. Casual
observation of a juvenile in the Repton/Mylestom area (just north of Urunga) in January and
Page 29 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
1February 1992, suggest that the grey mottling is lost approximately four to five weeks out
of the nest. The young bird at Gumma Crossing was confident when flying, often following
the adult. Considering its age and mobility, the nesting site may not only include the
Nambucca Valley as suggested by Morris et al. (1990). Barred Cuckoo -shrikes, including
im matures, have been seen at locations in the neighbouring valleys of the Bellinger and
Macleay (20 to 25 km from Gumma Crossing). The possibility of the young bird moving from
these neighbouring areas cannot be discounted.
wish to thank Mary Secomb for proof reading and typing, and to Greg Clancy for
identifying the plant species and for many helpful comments on the draft. Tony B. Rose and
E.S. Hoskin commented on the manuscript.
Clancy G.P. 1989. Recent breeding records of the Barred Cuckoo -shrike at Port Macquarie
N.S.W. Aust. Birds 23, 39.
Clancy G.P. 1990. Observations on breeding Yellow -eyed Cuckoo -shrike Coracina lineata.
Corella 14, 160-161.
Morris A.K. and Chafer C. 1990. Unusual records for January -February 1990. NSW FOC
Newsletter No. 118.
D. Secomb, 5 Rosedale Street, Nambucca Heads, N.S.W. 2448
The Cotton Pygmy -Goose Nettapus coromandelianus is known to have decreased in range
and abundance in Eastern Australia since the arrival of Europeans and now only appears
to persist in any numbers in Queensland (Blakers et a11984, Marchant & Higgins 1990).
Following a sighting of a female Cotton Pygmy -Goose at Lane Cove, have been prompted
to locate all reports of this species for New South Wales. This paper summarises these
records and comments on possible reasons for the current status of the species in N.S.W.
Set out below are details of some early collector’s cabinets that relate to early
records of the Cotton Pygmy -Goose in N.S.W. together with records of all other reports.
The Dixon and Strathallan cabinets, Hunter Valley c.1820
In 1937 Sir William Dixon purchased a collector’s cabinet in London for the State
Library N.S.W. (Imashev 1991). Painted on one of the interior panels of the cabinet is a
picture of a male Cotton Pygmy -Goose in flight with another unidentifiable duck on a stretch
of water nearby (pers. obs.).
In 1989 a private collector purchased another collector’s cabinet from Sotherby’s
in Melbourne. This cabinet is known as the Strathallan Cabinet from the castle in Scotland
where it originated. The paintings in the cabinet are almost identical, though the other duck
on the relevant panel is undoubtedly an Australasian Shoveler Anas rhynchotis. In addition
most of the original bird specimens are intact (McCormick 1991). Included amongst these
80 specimens is a study skin of a male Cotton Pygmy -Goose. There is the possibility that
as there was more than one collector’s cabinet there may have originally been more than
one Cotton Pygmy -Goose collected.
The origins of these cabinets are obscure, however, the Strathallan Cabinet may
have been owned by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Macquarie was a close friend of James
Drummond whose family owned Strathallan Castle up until 1910.
Amongst the painted panels are three views of Newcastle, that, through the
buildings pictured, can be dated to between August 1818 and around 1820 (Imashev 1991,
McCormick 1991). Some of the other panels, including the Cotton Pygmy -Goose panel,
show scenes that can be identified with the lower Hunter area. The view in the pygmy -goose
panel appears to be that looking south down the H unter towards Black Hill and Mt. Sugarloaf
(pers. obs.), possibly from near Raymond Terrace. The Hunter River is tidal in this area and
the panel on the Dixon Cabinet shows the banks exposed much as at low tide.
Page 31 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
1Despite the suggestion that all the specimens came from the Newcastle area some
undoubtedly did not. One of the painted panels found on both cabinets depicts a Galah
Cacatua roseicapilla and a Crested Pigeon Ocyphaps lophotes with a background that is
apparently also from the Newcastle area near Lake Macquarie (McCormick 1991). This is
undoubtedly manufactured. Galahs did not reach the Hunter Valley until around 1919-1920
(Bourke 1969) while John Gould thought that Crested Pigeons were only occasionally seen
on the Liverpool Plains 200 km to the northwest some 20 years after the panels were painted
(Gould 1865). These two birds were probably specimens collected on one of John Oxley’s
expeditions, either to the Lachlan River in 1817 or the lower Macquarie River in 1818.
There is an outside possibility that Oxley may have collected Cotton Pygmy -Geese
somewhere between the Hastings and Hunter Rivers in 1818, otherwise none of the
presently known range of the Cotton Pygmy -Goose in Australia had been intensively
explored before 1824. Given all this evidence at least one male Cotton Pygmy -Goose was
collected somewhere south of the Hastings River and most probably in the lower Hunter
area around 1818-1820.
John Gould’s correspondents, Hunter River, before 1842
John Gould (1842) wrote that the Cotton Pygmy -Goose inhabits, The estuaries
and rivers between the ranges, and the coast from the Hunter to Moreton Bay”. Gould had
not seen the bird alive.
He did not state who his informants were, though two possibilities are Alexander
W. Scott whom Gould visited on the lower Hunter in 1839 (see Gould 1865 Vol.1: 38) and
Frederick Strange who supplied Gould with much information concerning the birds of the
north coast of N.S.W. and the Moreton Bay district (Whittell 1947). Alternatively Gould, or
his informant, could have known of the collector’s cabinets.
John Macgillivray, South Grafton, October 1864
North (1889) noted that the Cotton Pygmy -Goose was, “rather abundant on the
Richmond and Clarence Rivers” and described, “an egg taken from the oviduct of a bird of
this species shot by Mr. J. Macgillivray at South Grafton, during October 1864″. He gave no
further information in his revised edition of this work.
Two specimens Australian Museum, Grafton, before July 1881
There are two skins, A10357 (a male) and A10358 (a female) of Cotton Pygmy –
Goose that were registered in the Australian Museum in July 1881 (W.E. Boles pers.
comm.). These specimens were purchased at the Sydney Markets for one shilling and
September 1992 Page 32sixpence and apparently originated from Grafton.
James C. Wilcox, South Grafton, 1882
Campbell (1900) wrote, “Mr. James Wilcox, of the same district, has kindly sent me
the following note: “One of the birds had its nest in the spout of a gum -tree, about seventy
feet from the ground, in my garden in South Grafton, and, from what remember, there were
seven or eight young ones, which she carried out in her bill after they were hatched. The
spout almost overhangs a small creek. I know of other nests in trees about our
swamps. “.”
Jackson (1907) gave the date of this clutch as 1882.
J.C. Wilcox, Grafton district, 23 November, 1891
In the Australian Museum there is an egg collected by J.C. Wilcox on 23 November

  1. The locality is again Grafton and the bird was registered as 0.25990 in 1917 (W.E.
    Boles, pers. comm.).
    S.W. Jackson, Clarence River, August, 1895
    Jackson (1907) wrote, “I possess a fine pair of these birds (male and female),
    which were shot on a Clarence River swamp during 1895″. These specimens are in the H.L.
    White collection in the Museum of Victoria and were apparently collected in August 1895
    (Jones 1946).
    Specimen Australian Museum, probably Lismore, before May 1924
    A female specimen 0.27880 in the Australian Museum was collected by “Dr. A.M.
    Aspinall from Lismore” suggesting that the bird came from the Lismore area. It was
    registered into the Australian Museum collection in May 1924.
    Duck hunters, Tuckean Swamp, Richmond River, 1955
    Frith (1982) noted that a pair of Cotton Pygmy -Geese had been shot in Tuckean
    Swamp by duck hunters in 1955.
    Duck Hunter, Tuck’, Richmond River, 1956
    Page 33 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
    1Frith (1982) noted that a bird was shot by a duck hunter at Tucki in 1956. In both
    these instances Frith himself had identified the birds.
    Peter Mackey and Peter Moore, near Murwillumbah, 23 May 1964
    Peter Mackey wrote to Keith Hindwood in 1964 telling him that while in the
    company of Peter Moore he had seen two Cotton Pygmy -Geese on 23 May 1964. The
    locality was a lagoon near Murwillumbah covered with white -flowering water -lilies (E.
    Hoskin pers. comm.).
    Fred Johnston, Arnold McGill and Ern Hoskin, Long -neck Lagoon and Wilberforce
    Swamp, June -September 1969
    On 16 June 1969 Fred Johnston and Arnold McGill found a male Cotton Pygmy –
    Goose at Long -neck Lagoon near Cattai. The following weekend Ern Hoskin saw it at the
    same locality. On 12 July, Hoskin found that the bird had moved across the Hawkesbury
    River to a small swamp to the east of Wilberforce. It remained at this locality until last seen
    on 6 September 1969 (E. Hoskin pers. comm.).
    Merle Baldwin, Rocky Dam, south east of Yetman, 1 August, 1971
    On 1 August 1971 Merle Baldwin observed two females and a male Cotton Pygmy –
    Goose at Rocky Dam 35 km south east of Yetman feeding amongst “reeds” (Baldwin 1971).
    The Lane Cove Record, late November 1991 – February 1992
    In the last week of November 1991 Hugo Floriani and Kim Baker, independently
    observed a duck they did not recognise. This duck was feeding in the lower channel of
    Stringybark Creek and the dam beside the S.C. Johnston factory at Lane Cove.
    On 6 December after being informed by Floriani that there was a pygmy -goose at the factory,
    Joan McGregor and visited the site. The bird was first seen flying down Stringybark Creek
    from the large weir beside the factory and landed on the creek channel where it commenced
    feeding on algae and waterweeds.
    The channel at this point is separated from the main tidal inlet of the Lane Cove
    River by a smaller weir. Nonetheless the channel had some Grey Mangrove Avicennia
    marina and Samphire Sarcocornia quinquiflora growing in it suggesting that it is at least
    occasionally tidal.
    The bird was observed at a distance of between 3 and 20 metres for about 45
    September 1992 Page 34minutes. It appeared as follows:
    Size: slightly larger than the Australian Magpie -larks Grallina cyanoleuca on the bank of the
    channel nearby and slightly smaller than the Dusky Moorhens Gallinula tenebrosa further
    along the channel.
    Facies: that of a pygmy -goose, that is, a small duck low in the water with small head and
    short neck (I have previously seen both Australian species of Nettapus a number of times
    in Queensland).
    Head: very dark brown forehead and crown continuing in a very thin line down the nape to
    the back, brown stripe from base of upper mandible through the eye to the ear coverts.
    Remainder of head and neck white.
    Wings and back: dark brown with a greenish gloss.
    Uppertail coverts: lighter brown than back.
    Tail: dark brown, though not as dark as the back and wings.
    Lower neck and upper breast: white with very fine black tips to the feathers making very
    fine dark lines across the breast.
    Belly and undertail coverts: white with some buff feathers.
    Flanks: buff feathers which were fluffed up partly covering the wings through most of the
    Soft Part Colours:
    Feet: lead grey.
    Eyes: dark.
    Bill: dark grey with a hint of yellow on the base of the lower mandible.
    Floriani and Baker joined us as we were watching the Pygmy -Goose and the bird
    then flew back upstream towards the larger weir. The bird again came back down to the
    channel allowing us to see the wing pattern from above. This pattern was completely dark
    brown apart from a thin trailing edge of white on the secondaries which became slightly wider
    towards the body.
    After examination of a number of field -guides (Pizzey & Doyle 1981; Slater et al,
    1986; Simpson et al, 1986 and Marchant & Higgins, 1990) we were able to determine that
    the bird was an adult female Cotton Pygmy -Goose.
    Floriani and Baker had also observed the bird feeding on a number of occasions
    on the reservoir behind the upper weir. This weir had a large cover of introduced water lilies
    Page 35 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
    1Nymphaea sp. and water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes. Other species of waterfowl on the
    reservoir included Chestnut Teal Anas castanea, Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa,
    Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, Dusky Moorhen and various other introduced ducks.
    The Cotton Pygmy -Goose stayed in the area at least into the following week but
    had gone by 13 December (H. Floriani pers. comm.). There was a report of the bird from
    further up the Lane Cove River the following week by a volunteer at the Australian Museum
    (W.E. Boles pers. comm.). The bird was seen again at Lane Cove State Recreation Area
    on 8 February 1992 (A. Burton pers. comm.). I am not aware of any later sightings.
    have not been able to find any recent reports of pygmy -geese kept by New South
    Wales aviculturalists. This bird was probably a wild bird, possibly present as a consequence
    of a severe drought in eastern Queensland and northern New South Wales the previous few
    The Cotton Pygmy -Goose was a breeding bird in the Clarence and Richmond
    River districts up until the 1930s. From the evidence of the collector’s cabinets and Gould’s
    correspondents there is little doubt that they occurred as far south as the Hunter River where
    there was, and still is, a large wetland system. They have occurred as vagrants as far south
    as Victoria (Emison et al, 1987). Indeed, given the paucity of recent records, this species
    must also now be considered a vagrant to New South Wales.
    The decline of the Cotton Pygmy -Goose in New South Wales can be put down to
    two possible causes: hunting and habitat loss. The majority of the documented records of
    the species for the state refer to collection for food or study purposes. Continued shooting
    to supply both the needs of collectors and the apparent demand of the Sydney Market can
    only have had a deleterious effect.
    Beruldsen (1977) suggested that the reason for their decline in the Clarence Valley
    was a consequence of draining of wetlands for flood control and the spread of water hyacinth
    over much of the free-standing water in the area. While this has happened on some wetlands
    in the area it has not occurred on all. For example the South Grafton Swamp has been
    drained though the Ulmarra and Everlasting Swamps still regularly hold water (D. Geering
    pers. comm.). Similarly, while water hyacinth is found on many wetlands in the area it is
    widespread in eastern Queensland throughout most of the remaining range of the Cotton
    Pygmy -Goose in Australia.
    Although severely reduced in area, large wetlands are still present in the Richmond,
    Clarence and Hunter Valleys (for example Tuckean, Ulmarra and Hexham Swamps). The
    September 1992 Page 36most likely change in these wetlands however, is the availability of nest hollows. Cotton
    Pygmy -Geese breed in hollows of trees in or near deep swamps (Beruldsen 1977). While
    many near -coastal wetlands persist, the areas surrounding them have been greatly
    modified for agriculture. Large areas have been clear -felled on the coastal floodplains and
    often within the wetlands themselves, for example Ulmarra Swamp (D. Geering pers.
    Additionally some drainage works have ensured the survival of the waterbody but
    have interferred with the water levels, which may mean that trees standing in the water die.
    This may be occurring, for example, at the Tuckean Swamp and in parts of the Hunter (M.
    Stanton & D. Russell pers. comm.).
    If there was a breeding population of Cotton Pygmy -Geese in the Hunter Valley
    then it presumably had been severely reduced before Gould visited the area in 1839. As
    there had been little draining of wetlands by this date any such decline would have probably
    been due to shooting of birds or clearing of the surrounding forest.
    The panels of the collector’s cabinets show the Pygmy -Goose on a tidal stretch of
    the Hunter River while the bird at Stringybark Creek was also feeding in an area that was
    occasionally tidal. Consequently Gould (1842) may have been correct and Cotton Pygmy –
    Geese in the southern parts of their range may feed in estuaries and rivers (contra Frith
    The Cotton Pygmy -Goose has been protected in New South Wales since 1948
    under the provisions of the Fauna Protection Act 1948. Since that time, numbers in central
    Queensland have remained relatively stable and may have actually increased (Blakers et
    al, 1984). It may be that the only barriers to the Cotton Pygmy -Goose reoccupying the
    coastal wetlands of New South Wales are the low overall numbers of the species from which
    recruitment might come and the degraded conditions of these wetlands and immediately
    surrounding forests.
    Baldwin, M. 1971. White -quilled Pygmy Geese. Birds 6, 20-21.
    Beruldsen, G. 1977. The nest and eggs of the White Pygmy Goose. Sunbird 8, 65-69.
    Blakers, M., S.J.J.F. Davies and P.N. Reilly 1984. The Atlas of Australian Birds. R.A.O.U./
    Melbourne University Press: Melbourne.
    Bourke, P.A. 1969. The western element in Hunter Valley bird life. Hunter Nat. Hist. 1, 24-
    Page 37 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
    1Campbell, A.J. 1900 (=1901). Nests and eggs of Australian birds including the geographical
    distribution of the species and population observations thereon. Author: Sheffield,
    U.K. 2 vols.
    Emison, W.B., C.M. Beardsell, F.I. Norman, R.H. Loyn and S.C. Bennett 1987. Atlas of
    Victorian Birds. Vic. Dept. Conservation Forests & Lands/R.A.O.U.: Melbourne.
    Frith, H.J. 1982. Waterfowl in Australia. 2nd Edn. Angus & Robertson: Sydney.
    Gould, J. 1842. The Birds of Australia. Part VI. Author: London.
  2. Handbook to the Birds of Australia. Author: London. 2 vols.
    Imashev, E. 1991. Rare and curious. The Dixson Galleries and Strathallan Collector’s
    Chests. The Aust. Antique Collector 41, 46-50.
    Jackson, S.W. 1907. Egg collecting and bird life of Australia. Catalogue of the “Jacksonian
    Oological Collection”. F.W. White: Sydney.
    Jones, J. 1946. Australian distribution of two Pygmy -Geese. Emu 46, 128-132.
    McCormick, A. (ed.) 1991. The Strathallan Cabinet in the Ruth Simon collection. Horden
    House: Sydney. (N.B. This book, of which there were only two copies published,
    can be found in the Mitchell Library, Pictures Section, State Library of New South
    Marchant, S. and P.J. Higgins (co-ord.) 1990. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and
    Antarctic Birds. Vol. 1B. R.A.O.U./Oxford Univ. Press: Melbourne.
    North, A.J. 1889. Descriptive catalogue of the nests and eggs of birds found breeding in
    Australia and Tasmania. Aus. Mus. Cat. No. 12. F.W. White: Sydney.
    Pizzey, G. and R. Doyle 1980. A field guide to the birds of Australia. Collins: Sydney.
    Simpson, K., N. Day and P. Trusler 1986. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. A book of
    identification. 2nd Edn. Viking O’Neill: South Yarra, Vic.
    Slater, P., P. Slater and R. Slater 1986. The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds. Rigby:
    Whittell, H.M. 1947. Frederick Strange. A biography. Aust. Zool. 11, 96-114.
    In particular I thank Joan McGregor, Hugo Floriani and Kim Baker for the initial
    information concerning the bird at Lane Cove; Alan Davies of the State Library of N.S.W.
    Walter Boles of the Australian Museum and Ern Hoskin, Keith Hindwood Bird Recording
    Service for allowing me access to material and records in their care; and Graeme Phipps,
    David Geering, Stephen Debus, Matthew Stanton and David Russell for discussions on the
    Ian A. W. McAllen, 46 Yeramba Street, Turramurra, N.S.W. 2074
    September 1992 Page 38OBITUARY – ELLIS McNAMARA
    Ellis was born on the Cordeaux River on the 23 September 1915 and died at Bulli Hospital
    on the 7 January 1992. He was the third generation to tend the apple orchard at Cordeaux
    River which had been established by his Grandfather and which had apparently been
    unprofitable until Ellis took it over. By a judicious selection of trees he was able to increase
    the yield of the orchard to the stage where it became more than viable. However this was
    a long-term project and it was not until the early 1950’s that Ellis was able to take up his
    pursuit of bird photography.
    Ellis had had a great interest in birds right from the age of 10 and in fact had
    sketched birds while he was in primary school. There was a patch of rain forest on the
    property and the house was within 50 metres of the edge and together with the open
    eucalypt forest around the orchard there was habitat for a wide variety of birds. The orchard
    therefore became somewhat of a meccafor birdwatchers and regular visitors there included
    Keith Hindwood, Norman Chaffer, Roy Cooper, Arnold McGill, Jack Waterhouse and some
    overseas ornithologists who were taken down there from time to time.
    Ellis joined the R.A.O.U. in 1935 and was still shown as a member when the last
    membership list was published in Volume 70. He published 3 papers and 6 short stories
    in the Emu between Volumes 34 and 46. His mentor in coloured bird photography was
    Norman Chaffer and he did a trip to North Queensland in 1954 with Norman Chaffer and in
    1957 through the Mallee with Jack Waterhouse. He did many subsequent trips on his own
    to isolated areas where he photographed birds some of which had not yet been seen by most
    birdwatchers. An example of this was the Grey Grasswren. Ellis told us how it had taken
    him three days to locate the nest and then he had to wait another couple of days for the bird
    to come back to it after it had set up the hide. Of great assistance to Ellis in his photography
    was his experience as a young birdwatcher and his ability to locate nests. In one year he
    located in the Barren Ground so many nesting Bristle Birds that the then guardian of fauna
    Mr. Griffiths was astonished to find that there were that number in the reserve.
    For many years Ellis came to the meetings at the Museum to show members his
    slides. These visits usually were to the January or February meetings and even though the
    January meetings were at that stage poorly attended because of absences on school
    holidays, the theatre was always crowded with people sitting on the steps. During my period
    in the chair Ellis was in poor health and he often came to show his slides when he no doubt
    felt the strain of a trip to Sydney.
    It was only when his health became so bad that he ceased to attend and he was
    missed very much by those of us who were used to seeing his slides each year.
    Ellis was a perfectionist and was always seeking to improve on the slides he had
    Page 39 Australian Birds Vol. 26 No.
    1taken, most of which would have been a source of great pride to anybody else who had
    created them. Of all the slides that Ellis had shown that which can always envisage is that
    of the White Goshawk with its prey of a Crimson Rosella in an apple tree in the orchard. This
    slide has been reproduced in a number of publications. Ellis had never married. Our
    sympathy goes out to all those members of the McNamara family and particularly to his
    cousins, Flo and Jack, who have been most helpful in giving us the information to enable
    the biographical section of this appreciation.
    J. Francis
    September 1992 Page 40NOTICE TO CONTRIBUTORS
    Contributors are requested to observe the following points when submitting articles and
    notes for publication.
  3. Species, names, and the order in which they occur are to be in accordance with “The
    Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds”. S. Marchant & P. Higgins (Eds.)
    Volumes 1 & 2; and “Handlist of Birds in New South Wales”. A.K. Morris, A.R. McGill and
    G. Holmes 1981 Dubbo: NSWFOC.
  4. Articles or notes should be type written and submitted in quadruplicate. Double spacing
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  5. Margins of not less than 25mm width at the left hand side and top, with similar or slightly
    smaller at the right hand side of pages.
  6. No underlinings and no abbreviations except as shown in the examples.
  7. Photographs should be glossy finish and not too small.
  8. The Style Manual, CommonwealthGovernment Printing Office, Canberra (1966) and
    subsequent editions will be the guide for this Journal.
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  10. Dates must be written “1 January 1990” except in tables and figures where they may be
  11. The 24 hour clock will be used, times being written 06:30, 18:30 for 6:30am and 6:30pm
  12. Mr, Mrs, Dr are not to be followed by a full stop.
  13. In text, numbers one to ten are spelt; numbers of five figures or more should be grouped
    in threes and spaced by a thin gap. Commas should not be used as thousands markers.
  14. References to other articles should be shown in the text – ‘…B.W. Finch and M.D. Bruce
    (1974) stated…’ and under heading
    Finch, B.W. and M.D. Bruce. 1974. The Status of the Blue Petrel in Australian Waters Aust.
    Birds 9, 32-35
  15. Acknowledgements to other individuals should include Christian names or initials.Volume 26, No.1 September 1992
    Debus, S.J.S. et .9L Breeding behaviourof a pair of Square -tailed Kites 1
    Angus, R.J. Notes on nesting Black -breasted Buzzards and
    other raptors in Sturt National Park 13
    Kohen, J.L. The White -winged Chough in the dreaming of the
    Aboriginal people near Sydney 17
    Carpenter, J.W. Pacific Bazar nesting at Tuggerah 19
    Hutton, K. Long -toed Stints in New South Wales 20
    Secomb, D. Adult Barred Cuckoo feeds cicadas to juvenile 29
    McAllan, I.A.W. The Cotton Pygmy -goose in New South Wales 31
    Obituary – Ellis McNamara 39
    Registered by Australia Post – Publication No. NBH0790
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