Vol. 31 No. 2-text

PDF version available here: Vol. 31 No. 2

The object of the Club is to promote the study and conservation of Australian birds and
the habitats they occupy.
President Elisabeth Karplus
Vice -President Stuart Fairbairn
Secretary Penny Drake -Brockman
Treasurer Cindy Ryan
Annual subscription rates (due 1 October each year):
Adult Member $35
Junior Member $20
All members receive a bi-monthly Newsletter and the journal Australian Birds,
and are entitled to attend the Club’s regular monthly meetings and field excursions.
Correspondence should be addressed to:
PO Box Q277, QVB POST SHOP, Sydney NSW 1230
Original articles and short notes on birds are invited for Australian Birds, especially
those relating to field observations in New South Wales. Line drawings and good
quality photographs are welcome. Please refer to Advice to Contributors, inside back
Editor Peter Roberts
Production Stuart Fairbairn
Cover Pictures
Front : Grass Owls Painting Steve Tredinnick
Please address manuscripts to the Editor at:
33 Carlyle Rd, LINDFIELD 2070
ISSN 0311-8150
Pre -press and Printing by The Village Scribe Tel: (02) 9428 1753 Fax 9428 1796AUSTRALIAN
Volume 31 No.2 March 1998
‘Division of Zoology, University ofN ew England, Armidale 2351
‘Faculty of Resource Science and Management, Southern Cross University, Lismore
2480 (present address: 39 Harris Road, Normanhurst 2076)
’46 Yeramba Street, Turramurra 2074
Records of the Grass Owl Tyto capensis (n=106) were collated in order to assess the Owl’s
distribution and status in New South Wales. This provides the historical and statewide context
for a study of the Owl’s distribution and habitat preferences on the upper north coast of NSW.
It is concluded that the Grass Owl’s main population in NSW is on the North Coast. where it
occurs year-round and breeds; it probably occurs regularly south to the lower Hunter Valley.
It also occurs and breeds on the North-west Plains, where it may be resident, and it occurs on
the Far West Plains in wet years after heavy summer rains. The Grass Owl may be more
numerous, particularly on the inland plains, than the few records suggest, though nevertheless
The range and status of the Grass Owl Tyto capensis in New South Wales have
been given as “?Scarce. ?Nomad. … Uncertain distribution”, with records listed for the
Northern Rivers, Mid -north Coast, Central Coast, Northern Tablelands, North-west Plains
and Lower Western; breeding has been recorded (eggs April -July; Morris et al. 1981).
The most southerly records in eastern NSW, on the Southern Tablelands and Central
Coast, have been reviewed by Hobcroft & James (1997). Harrington, in the lower Manning
Valley, is the most southerly breeding record, but details (cited as “D. Cameron, details in
press” by Rogers 1973) have never been published and therefore this important record
Australian Birds Vol.31 No.2 29was not documented properly. Meanwhile, other records since 1980, notably for inland
areas, require revision of the Owl’s perceived range and status in NSW.
The Grass Owl is generally regarded as rare. For instance, Olsen (in Strahan 1994)
considered the Grass Owl rare, localised, sparsely distributed and seldom seen Australia –
wide, possibly most common inland. She identified clearing, burning and grazing of
suitable habitat as threats to the species. McAllan & Bruce (1989) attributed the paucity
of NSW records to a lack of nocturnal survey effort and a lack of suitable habitat (“tall,
thick grassland”), and noted that coastal and inland populations may be separate. Cooper
& McAllan (1995), while noting that Tyto owls are under -reported in the western two-
thirds of NSW, also attributed the lack of Grass Owl records in that region to a loss of
suitable breeding habitat (“tall grassland”). Smith et al. (1995) considered the Owl likely
to have declined in the Western Division, on the basis of the paucity of records for the
region in the past 25 years and an apparent decline in the Owl population on the grassy
downs of inland Queensland as reported by Storr (1984). Smith et al. identified likely
factors for this decline as reduced prey populations (small native ground mammals), habitat
degradation by overgrazing, and predation by foxes and feral cats. Ayers et al. (1997)
identified cultivation, overgrazing and feral predators as threats in western NSW. However,
in some circumstances clearing and cultivation in coastal (formerly forested) areas may
favour the Owl, at least temporarily (e.g. pasture, fallow and harvested canefields, sapling
pine plantations: Squire 1987, Hollands 1991). The Grass Owl is listed on Schedule 2,
Vulnerable, of the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, under the criteria
“population reduced to a critical level; distribution reduced; ecological specialist” (NPWS
This paper reviews the range and status of the Grass Owl in NSW, partly as historical and
statewide background preparatory to a study of the distribution and habitat preferences of
the Owl in far north coastal NSW (Maciejewski 1997), but also for comparison with, and
to complete this review series on, other threatened Tyto in NSW (Sooty Owl T tenebricosa
and Masked Owl T novaehollandiae: Debus 1994, Debus & Rose 1994).
Records of the Grass Owl in NSW to December 1996 were collated from literature,
the Australian Museum (AM), the RAOU Atlas of Australian Birds, mapped NSW Bird
Atlassers’ records in Cooper & McAllan (1995), colleagues’ unpublished data, and
personal records. Literature records were obtained from the following sources: Emu,
Corella, Australian Bird Watcher, Australian Birds including the NSW FOC annual bird
reports 1970-1994 (herein “Bird Report” for a given year), NSW FOC Newsletter “unusual
records” series by Morris & Chafer and Morris & Gladwin to December 1996, NSW Bird
Atlassers Newsletter, and books and other publications (Mees 1964, Strahan 1994). Some
records were reported by more than one source, therefore care was taken not to double –
30 DEBUS et al: Grass Owl March 1998count records. One record was taken as one bird at one locality in one month (i.e. two
birds = two records), and nestlings were not counted. As far as possible, the same range
of sources was used as for the Sooty and Masked Owls (Debus 1994, Debus & Rose 1994
and subsequently published FOC records), so that the results are comparable. This paper
reviews the situation up to, but not including, the study of Maciejewski (1997); field
records obtained and analysed by SEM are not repeated here nor used in the analysis.
Owl records were taken at face value, but the sources used confer a high level of confidence
in their reliability. To be consistent with Debus (1994) and Debus & Rose (1994), most
unpublished records from the NSW Bird Atlas and those in the National Parks & Wildlife
Service Atlas ofN SW Wildlife were not used here, although used in a detailed analysis of
records for the upper North Coast (Maciejewski 1997). Furthermore, some outlying bird
records in the NPWS Atlas database may have a low level of reliability. We have included
four available NSW Bird Atlas records that add significantly to understanding of the
Owl’s distribution, particularly in western NSW.
Owl sites were located on topographic maps and assigned to the botanic provinces used
by McAllan & Bruce (1989). Owl records were allocated conservatively as the minimum
number per month in cases of multiple sightings at a given site per month or season.
Because the owls were seldom recorded repeatedly at the same site and no assumptions
can be made about resident pairs or occupied home ranges, each record of an owl or pair
of owls approximates a “site” in the sense of Debus (1994) and Debus & Rose (1994) for
other Tyto. Possible Grass Owl records from the South-west Plains in the 1860s (Appendix
2) could not be incorporated in this analysis.
The Grass Owl has been recorded in many of the regions of NSW (as delineated
by McAllan & Bruce 1989). Most records are for the North Coast (72%), with scattered
records also for the Central Coast (2%), Northern Tablelands (1%), Southern Tablelands
(1%), North-west Plains (14%), North Far West Plains (6%) and South Far West Plains
(6%) (n = 106+ records; Table 1, Figure 1). Although the coast is the most important
region (74% of records), the inland plains and far west (pooled, 26%) may be more
important than the few records suggest (Table 1, Figure 2).
The state’s core population of the Grass Owl appears to be on the North Coast, probably
extending regularly as far south as the Hunter Valley (Appendix 1; also recent Hunter
record in Morris & Gladwin 1997). This is the main region having confirmed breeding
records. However, there may be significant populations on the North-west Plains, which
Australian Birds Vol.31 No.2 3111′ 142 k3 144' 45" 146' 147" 148' 49' Sl iSgW ,..., 1 I 6%. ' ' " g nr i il ll IS i 4 29' lapgulmpoujibimlindlie He il d nin IQ N. IT fidlIVIBItedi I.. II IP I ii di Ervin a i di 1 a 1 :11 - I pi! 1.1 I liriq 1 i1 n plu111 r1 amil on ild I, I 31' Jim iimum uri le Li Li-: Hi ' ' le .1 IP tp:luso gbh! to iIliu m VIiNlOl ill ' PI ro ' IP' 11111101 IIIII I 111 -pi lin PI in' I. iii'i i Till 169 11 II 1 1 i , .°a4' II 'RI" II h 'I ilk I II 1 1 1 1 6 II I 11* 36' 'is mili 37 Figure 1. Distribution of the Grass Owl in New South Wales in ten-minute grids, incorporating mapped records of Cooper & McAllan (1995); the records of Shields (in Strahan 1994) for the North-west Plains could not be shown. share a Torresian influence with the North Coast (Cooper & McAllan 1995), and on the North and South Far West Plains which are contiguous with Eyrean parts of adjoining states inhabited by the Grass Owl (e.g. Schodde & Mason 1980). Although evidence is limited, the Owl breeds on the North-west Plains (Appendix 1) and perhaps the Far West Plains in some years. Conversely, the Owl is probably only a vagrant to the Central Coast and tableland regions, with no records for the western slopes. That is, there appear to be no records (other than of vagrants) from areas between the North Coast and the inland plains. Significant populations of Grass Owls occur in littoral national parks and nature reserves on the upper North Coast (Appendix 1) and probably also in other such reserves south to the lower Hunter Valley, although the latter supposition requires confirmation by survey. There are records to the west of Myall Lakes National Park, though not yet from the park 32 DEBUS et al: Grass Owl March 1998itself (Figure 1), and in or near de facto reserved (Defence Force) land (Williamtown; Morris & Gladwin 1997). The apparent gap on the mid North Coast is more an artifact of lack of surveys than a real break in distribution. For example, we are aware of a 1996/97 NPWS survey record for Limeburners Creek Nature Reserve. On the North Coast, the encounter rate by targeted surveys is greater in grassy paddocks than in coastal reserves (Maciejewski 1997). This result suggests that Grass Owl densities may be higher in rank pasture on fertile soils on private land than in heaths and sedgelands on sandy infertile soils in reserves. Consequently, important Owl populations may remain unprotected. It may also mean that floodplain swamps and grasslands were the Owl's preferred habitat, or that the Owl has colonised newly created habitats. An ability to use artificial grassland may partly offset losses of natural habitat. Seasonality In NSW as a whole, the Grass Owl has been recorded in all months, but most often in spring (45% of 98 dated records) and least often in summer (10%), with autumn (23%) and winter (21%) falling in between. The pattern is similar for the North Coast, though with an even greater winter- spring bias versus summer -autumn (6% in summer, 7% in autumn, 28% in winter, 59% in spring, of 68 dated records). Conversely, most records for the North-west Plains fall in summer and autumn, and the only records for the Far West Plains fall in autumn (Table 1). The most likely explanation for the spring flush of records (including many road -kills and other deaths) on the North Coast is dispersal by newly independent, inexperienced juveniles, after fledging in winter. However, two of the four female specimens (Appendix 1) had laid eggs and were therefore not juveniles. Some dispersing birds may originate in Queensland, as well as local breeding sites. On the inland plains, and particularly the far west, the flush of autumn records may reflect arrival and breeding after heavy summer rains (or flooding from rainfall in Queensland), and the consequent flush of vegetation and prey. For the Far West Plains, the 1974 Grass Owl irruption coincided with a mouse plague and an irruption of Black -shouldered Kites Elanus axillaris and Barn Owls Tyto alba in the region (Bird Report). The 1993 records coincided with an irruption of quail Coturnix, button -quail Turnix and Flock Bronzewings Phaps histrionica, and a concentration of various diurnal raptors, in the region (McAllan 1996), and preceded a statewide irruption of the Letter -winged Kite Elanus scriptus (Bird Reports). For the North-west Plains, the 1977 record coincided with an irruption of the Letter -winged Kite, but the 1978, 1979 and 1996 records did not coincide with reported irruptions of other raptors (Bird Reports, FOC records). Australian Birds Vol.31 No.2 33Table 1 Number of records of the Grass Owl in New South Wales by month, within the botanical regions defined by McAllan & Bruce (1989); ND = no date. From published and unpublished sources (Appendix 1). Abbreviated region names (NC = North Coast etc.) as in Appendix 1. Region Month DJF MAM JJA SON ND Total NC 1 2 1 0 2 3 4 4 11 20 14 6 8 76 CC 0 1? 2+ 1 1 NT 0 0 1 1 ST 0 1 0 1 NWP 1 2 2 2 2 2+ 0 2 0 0 0 1 14+ NFWP 0 5 6 1 SFWP 3 3 0 6 Total 2 4 4 6 7 10+ 4 6 11 21 16 7 8+ 106+ Breeding Little can be said, except that of the two breeding records for the North Coast, one was "successful" (presumably fledged or near- fledged) in April and the other was at the advanced nestling stage (suitable for banding) in early May (Appendix 1). If the latter hatched around late March or early April, then laying would have been around late February or early March (from incubation and nestling periods in Schodde & Mason 1980, Hollands 1991, Strahan 1994). Two female specimens, collected in July and August (Appendix 1), had oviducts "curled down" and had therefore laid eggs. Similarly, the breeding record for the North-west Plains indicates laying in February (Appendix 1). These few, approximate laying dates are consistent with the previously recorded autumn -winter laying season for eastern Australia (cf. Schodde & Mason 1980, Morris et al. 1981, Hollands 1991, Olsen & Marples 1993, Strahan 1994). The stated period "eggs April -July" in NSW, in Morris et al. (1981), was information from the illegal egg- collecting network (G. Holmes pers. comm.), but details are not available. 34 DEBUS et al: Grass Owl March 1998Diet The few studies of the Grass Owl on the NSW North Coast reveal a diet predominantly of rodents, particularly the introduced house mouse Mus domesticus, supplemented by insects and small birds (Fitzgerald & Thorstensen 1994, Maciejewski 1997). It is apparent that much hunting is done in disturbed areas such as sugar -cane and other crops or pastures, as well as in heathlands and wetland fringes. An additional dietary record for the North Coast concerns a juvenile water rat Hydromys chrysogaster in an Owl pellet from Bundjalung National Park in August 1991 (A.B. Rose pers. comm.). There are no dietary data for the Owl on the inland plains of NSW, but it is likely that its foraging ecology in the arid zone is similar to that elsewhere in arid Australia. In north- eastern South Australia and south-western Queensland, the Owl preys primarily on the long-haired rat Rattus villosissimus (Parker 1977) or, in the rat's absence, mostly house mice supplemented by native rodents and small dasyurids (Read 1995). Of these, the plains rat Pseudomys australis, stripe -faced dunnart Sminthopsis macroura and fat -tailed dunnart S. crassicaudata, as well as the long-haired rat, previously occurred east to the cracking -clay plains of the upper Darling, Gwydir and Namoi valleys, and south to the Liverpool Plains (Mahoney 1974, Dickman & Read 1992, Dickman 1993, McAllan 1994). All five of these species fluctuate greatly in abundance and, at least for the rodents, according to seasonal conditions and food supply. In some of these species, population expansion during good seasons may arise from long-distance movements as well as from local refuges (Dickman & Read 1992, Dickman 1993). Such a diet in arid and semi -arid areas may account for irruptive movements by the Owl. 80 60 40 20 Coast Tablelands Slopes Plains Far West Zone Figure 2. Number of NSW records of the Grass Owl, by botanic/moisture zone (after McAllan & Bruce 1989). Australian Birds Vol.31 No.2 35Mortality and threats Eighteen road -kills or road injuries and three probable road -kills amount to 17- 20% of all Grass Owl records in NSW (Appendix 1), a similar proportion as for the Masked Owl (20%, Debus & Rose 1994) and much higher than the I% of Sooty Owl records (Debus 1994). The figure for Grass Owls, as for Masked Owls, probably reflects a propensity to hunt for rodents along roads. Perhaps it also reflects the otherwise cryptic nature of Grass Owls, and the low probability of encountering them by other means. Other Grass Owl deaths or injuries were from barbed-wire fences (two records), an unspecified injury, and a bird found starving in an extralimital location. As the Grass Owl eats rodent pests of sugar -cane in NSW, it may be at risk of secondary poisoning by brodifacoum-based rodenticides ("Talon", "Klerat"), though no Owl carcasses from NSW have been autopsied. Brodifacoum has been implicated in a population crash of the Grass Owl in the North Queensland canefields, where the only autopsied Owl carcass contained residues of that chemical (Young & De Lai 1997). As a result, an "owl -friendly" rodenticide (coumatetralyl, "Racumin") is being recommended by raptor biologists as part of an integrated pest management program. The Grass Owl roosts and nests on the ground, and requires dense cover: on the North Coast of NSW typically closed wet heathland, closed sedgeland and closed tussock grassland 0.6-2 m tall and seasonally flooded (Maciejewski 1997). Notwithstanding the frequent mortality of Grass Owls on roadways, the major threat to the Owl on the North Coast is likely to be ongoing loss of habitat, particularly of safe refuges for roosting and breeding on private land. Similarly, loss of habitat may be a threat on the North-west Plains, where widespread cropping may adversely affect the native prey base of the Owl as well as causing periodic disruption of roosting and breeding sites. Although the Owl can forage in tall pasture and crops on the North Coast, some areas of such artificial habitat are being lost to urbanisation. It is likely, also, that there is loss of eggs and young to agricultural machinery and trampling by cattle where the Owl attempts to breed in croplands or pasture (e.g. Fleay 1968, Squire 1987). Predation by feral predators is identified as a threat to the Grass Owl (Smith et al. 1995, Ayers et al. 1997). The red fox Vulpes vulpes is likely to be a major problem: it is known to eat Grass Owls (Fleay 1968), and easily catches fledgling Powerful Owls Ninox strenua and fully grown juvenile Masked Owls when they are on the ground (McNabb 1996, Debus 1997). Feral cats Felis catus and mongooses Herpestes auropunctatus are suspected of causing the extinction of the Grass Owl on Fiji (Watling 1982, Clunie 1984), although habitat destruction associated with the expanding sugar industry in the late 19th Century may also be implicated in the Owl's decline there. 36 DEBUS et al: Grass Owl March 1998DISCUSSION There seems little reason to amend the assessment of the Grass Owl as "scarce" in NSW (Morris et al. 1981), but it is likely that there is a resident breeding population on the North Coast (perhaps south to the lower Hunter Valley), and its distribution is now somewhat more certain. Although primarily restricted to the North Coast, with occasional vagrants occurring on the tablelands and Central Coast, the Owl is also reported regularly from the North-west Plains with possibly irruptive populations, according to rainfall, on the North-west and Far West Plains. This review supports the suggestion that coastal and inland plains populations are separate in NSW (McAllan & Bruce 1989), although they could meet in central Queensland. Although Hobcroft & James (1997) contended that there is insufficient evidence for irruptive occurrences of inland Grass Owls in southern NSW, their remarks apply to records of vagrants on or near the coast. It is possible that records from the Far West Plains, and perhaps the North-west Plains, are irruptive occurrences of birds from the Lake Eyre Basin. However, the Owl may also have refuges in inland NSW and it might be resident in the Cuttaburra Channels. Inland NSW occurrences of the Owl were reported in or near areas of Mitchell grass Astrebla sp. habitat (cf. Figure 2 of McAllan 1996). These records are also from areas where the long-haired rat and plains rat occurred during irruptions in historical times (cf. Dickman & Read 1992, Dickman 1993, McAllan 1994), and the far western ones coincide with irruptions of other rodent- eating raptors and owls. It is likely that the Owl, rather than now being a vagrant to the Western Division (cf. Smith et al. 1995), still establishes temporary irruptive populations when seasonal conditions permit. With about 100 records at 90+ sites in NSW, the Grass Owl seems much less numerous than the Masked and Sooty Owls (about 330 records at 220 sites for Sooty, 250 records at 200 sites for Masked, from Debus 1994, Debus & Rose 1994 and subsequently published FOC records). However, the Grass Owl is even more cryptic and its vocalisations are softer and less distinctive, and it may be more numerous than the few records suggest. Furthermore, these records of the other Tyto include the results of targeted surveys, whereas Grass Owl habitat (particularly pasture and canefields) is less attractive to naturalists. There are vast inland regions of the State where Grass Owls may go undetected by ornithologists and unrecognised by laypeople. A problem, particularly in the inland, is to distinguish Grass Owls from the Barn Owl, which may also roost on the ground (e.g. McKean et al. 1969). Even on the coast, specimens of "Grass Owls" sent by fauna officials to museums for confirmation commonly turn out to be Barn Owls (e.g. CSIRO 1996). Australian Birds Vol.31 No.2 37Good information and illustrations are now readily available, to facilitate field identification of the Grass Owl (e.g. Hollands 1991, Strahan 1994). Suffice it to say here that correct diagnosis of the Grass Owl depends on the rich brown dorsal colour (not the grey of the Barn Owl), and the long bare tarsi which project well beyond the tail tip in flight (see also Hobcroft & James 1997). The cricket -like trilling or chirruping call is also a useful field character at night, but the Grass Owl's screech requires careful distinction from similar screeches of Barn and Masked Owls. Detection of the Grass Owl, and behavioural and vocal responses to playback of taped calls, are discussed by Maciejewski (1997). In addition, a playback survey on the far North Coast in December 1997 attracted at least four birds overhead, with a trilling response from possibly a fifth individual (SJSD pers. obs.). This observation, as well as supporting the usefulness of playback as a survey technique, suggests that the Owls may respond all year, albeit with some seasonal variation in intensity (cf. Maciejewski 1997). The likely occurrence of regularly breeding populations of the Grass Owl on the North- west Plains and Far West Plains has implications for development proposals in those regions. Under the TSC Act 1995, due consideration must be given to threatened species likely to occur on the proposed development site. The proponent's obligations extend to determining whether a species occurs on the site, and to assessing whether the proposal is likely to have a significant impact on that species. The Grass Owl must now be included as a species for consideration in the wetlands and grassy plains of the Central and Western Divisions of NSW, and the kinds of developments affected should include those (such as the cotton industry) that propose major changes to water regimes, e.g. by denying water to shallow or ephemeral wetlands. Widespread cropping (particularly cotton) may have severely reduced the area suitable for foraging by Grass Owls, because such cracking- clay plains previously supported large populations of several native rodents that are now extinct in the State. A complication is that some development proposals based in Queensland could reduce water flow across the State border, with consequences that are outside NSW control. There is an obvious need for a mechanism to ensure that Queensland development proposals consider the environmental impact downstream in NSW, in cases where water regimes are affected. Clearly, development proposals in the grassy plains and wetlands of the Central and Western Divisions, other than routine agricultural activities not restricted by current legislation, should include competent surveys for the Grass Owl. Regardless of development threats, there is a need for surveys and a better understanding of the Grass Owl's occurrence and ecology in inland NSW. Areas that probably need investigation in this regard include the lower Namoi Valley, Moree Watercourses, Macquarie Marshes, 38 DEBUS et al: Grass Owl March 1998Cuttaburra Creek, and the Paroo Overflow. Even on the North Coast, where ongoing development proposals potentially threaten Grass Owl populations, there is a need for better understanding of the Owl's status and ecology through further surveys and studies of its biology. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This study arose in part from SEM' s project (Maciejewski 1997), and the acknowledgements therein concerning sources of North Coast records and other assistance apply here. Lyle Smith and Rory Poulter forwarded Grass Owl records from the RAOU Atlas of Australian Birds database. Walter Boles of the Australian Museum provided access to and data on specimens in that collection, and David Charley provided data from the Australian Bird & Bat Banding Scheme. Tony Rose analysed owl pellets and stomach contents, and provided his previously unpublished data. The following people supplied unpublished Grass Owl records and/or unpublished data included herein: G. Clancy, R.M. Cooper, B. Curtis, R. Curtis, A.M. Gilmore, M. Goddard, J. Izzard, S.G. Lane, W. Lewis, N. Martin, J. Merrett (Native Animal Trust Fund, Newcastle), A.K. Morris, B. Paton, D. Roach, P. Scheitzer. Dr Hugh Ford and Alan Morris commented helpfully on a draft of this paper. REFERENCES Anon. 1996, The campaign continues (publicity report)', NSW Bird Atlassers News!. 51, 2. Ayers, D., Nash, S. & Baggett, K. 1997. Threatened Species of Western New South Wales, rev. edn, NSW Natl Parks & Wildl. Service, Sydney. Bennett, K.H. 1887, 'Notes on a species of rat (Mus tompsonii, Ramsay), now infesting the western portion of NSW', Proc. Linn. Soc. NSW 1887, 447-449. Bryant, C.E. 1934, 'The camp -out at Moree, NSW, and the birds observed', Emu 33, 159-173. Clunie, F. 1984, Birds of the Fiji Bush, Fiji Museum, Suva. Cooper, R.M. & McAllan, 1.A.W. 1995, The Birds of Western New South Wales: A Preliminary Atlas, NSW Bird Atlassers Inc., Albury. Costello, J. 1981, 'Birds observed in the Mungindi area, northern NSW', Aust. Bird Watcher 9, 55-67. CSIRO 1996, Murwillumbah Management Area Fauna Survey, report by CSIRO Div. Wildlife & Ecology, Canberra, for State Forests of NSW. Czechura, G.V. & Debus, S.J.S. (eds) 1997, Australian Raptor Studies II, Birds Australia Monograph 3, Birds Australia, Melbourne. Debus, S.J.S. 1994, 'The Sooty Owl Tyro tenebricosa in New South Wales', Aust. Birds 28 suppl., S4 -S19. Debus, S.J.S. 1997, 'Aspects of the biology of captive -bred, hack -released Masked Owls Tyto novaehollandiae', in Czechura & Debus. Debus, S.J.S. & Rose, A.B. 1994, 'The Masked Owl Tyto novaehollandiae in New South Wales', Aust. Birds 28 suppl., S40- S64. Dickman, C.R. 1993, The Biology and Management of Native Rodents of the Arid Zone in NSW, Species Management Report 12, NSW Natl Parks & Wildl. Serv., Sydney. Dickman, C.R. & Read, D.G. (1992), The Biology and Management of Dasyurids of the Arid Zone in NSW, Species Management Report 11, NSW Natl Parks & Wildl. Serv., Sydney. Diggles, S. 1866, Ornithology of Australia, Queensland, vol. 1, author, Brisbane. Fitzgerald, M. & Thorstensen, C.R. 1994, 'A note on Eastern Grass Owl Tyto longimembris diet from the north coast of New South Wales', Corella 18, 87-88. Australian Birds Vol.31 No.2 39Fleay, D. 1968, Night watchmen of Bush and Plain, Jacaranda, Brisbane. Gosper, D.G. 1986, 'Birds in the Richmond River district, NSW, 1973-1983. I. Distribution', Corella 10, I- 16. Gould, J. 1865, Handbook to the Birds of Australia, author, London. Hobcroft, D. & James, D.J. 1997, 'Southern records of the Grass Owl in New South Wales', Aust. Bird Watcher 17, 91-93. Hollands, D. 1991, Birds of the Night, Reed, Sydney. McAllan, I.A.W. 1994, 'John Gilbert's missing months', Mem. Qld Mus. 35, 155-179. McAllan, I.A.W. 1996, 'The Flock Bronzewing Phaps histrionica in New South Wales, with comments on its biology', Aust. Bird Watcher 16, 175-204. McAllan, I.A.W. & Bruce, M.D. 1989, The Birds of New South Wales, A Working List, Biocon Research Group, Sydney. Maciejewski, S.E. 1997, 'The Grass Owl Tyto capensis in north-eastern New South Wales', in Czechura & Debus. McKean, J.L., Bywater, J. & Hall, L.S. 1969, 'Two recent observations of the Grass Owl in eastern Australia', Aust. Bird Watcher 3, 196-198. McNabb, E.G. 1996, 'Observations on the biology of the Powerful Owl Ninox strenua in southern Victoria', Aust. Bird Watcher 16, 267-295. Mahoney, J.A. 1974, 'The Australian rodent specimens (Muridae) of J.E. Gray's List of the Specimens of Mammalia in the Collection of the British Museum (1843)', Aust. Mammalogy 1, 213-242. Mahoney, J.A. & Richardson, B.J. (1988), 'Muridae', in Walton. Mees, G.F. 1964, 'A revision of the Australian owls (Strigidae and Tytonidae)', Zool. Verhand. 65, 1-62. Morris, A.K. & Gladwin, C. 1997, 'Unusual records for May and June 1997', NSW Field Ornithol. Club Newsl. 162, 15-16. Morris, A.K., McGill, A.R. & Holmes, G. 1981, Handlist of Birds in New South Wales, NSW Field Ornithologists Club, Sydney. North, Al 1901-1914, Nests and Eggs of Birds Found Breeding in Australia and Tasmania, Aust. Museum, Sydney. NPWS 1992, Reasons for Decisions of the Scientific Committee in Relation to the Revision of Schedule 12, National Parks & Wildlife Service, Sydney. Olsen, P.D. & Marples, T.G. 1993, 'Geographic variation in egg size, clutch size and date of laying of Australian raptors (Falconiformes and Strigiformes)', Emu 93, 167-179. Parker, S.A. 1977, 'The distribution and occurrence in South Australia of owls of the genus Tyto', S. Aust. Ornithol. 27, 207-215. Read, J. 1995, 'The ecology of the Grass Owl Tyto capensis south of Lake Eyre', S. Aust. Ornithol. 32, 58-60. Rogers, A.E.F. 1973, 'New South Wales bird report for 1972', Aust. Birds 7, 89-109. Schodde, R. & Mason, I.J. 1980, Nocturnal Birds of Australia, Lansdowne, Melbourne. Smith, P.J., Smith, J.E., Pressey, R.L. & Whish, G.L. 1995, 'Birds of particular conservation concern in the Western Division of New South Wales: distributions, habitats and threats', Occ. Pap. NSW Natl Parks & WildL Serv. 20. Stokes, T. 1982, 'Grass Owl near Canberra, ACT', Australasian Raptor Assoc. News 3(4), 16. Storr, G.M. 1984, 'Revised list of Queensland birds', Rec. West. Aust. Mus. suppl. 19. Strahan, R. (ed.) 1994, Cuckoos, Nightbirds & Kingfishers of Australia, Angus & Robertson, Sydney. Walton, D.W. (ed.) 1988, Zoological Catalogue of Australia, Vol. 5, Mammalia, Aust. Govt Publ. Service, Canberra. Watling, R. 1982, Birds of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, Millwood Press, Wellington (NZ). Whitehead, G. 1993, The Habitat and Distribution of the Eastern Grass Owl on the North Coast of New South Wales, B.App.Sci. project report, University of New England Northern Rivers, Lismore (NSW). Young, J. & De Lai, L. 1997, 'Population declines of predatory birds coincident with the introduction of Klerat rodenticide in North Queensland', Aust. Bird Watcher 17, 160-167. 40 DEBUS et al: Grass Owl March 1998Appendix 1 Published and unpublished records of the Grass Owl in New South Wales, approximately in geographical and chronological order within the regions defined by McAllan & Bruce (1989), excluding the field survey records of Maciejewski (1997). NP = National Park; AM = Australian Museum; ANWC = Australian National Wildlife Collection, CSIRO, Canberra; ABBBS = Australian Bird & Bat Banding Scheme; Atlas = RAOU Field Atlas database/unusual record forms; NSWBA = NSW Bird Atlas database. Bird Report = NSW FOC annual bird report (published in Aust. Birds) for a given year; FOC = NSW FOC Newsletter "Unusual records" series by Morris & Chafer/Morris & Gladwin 1990-1996 inclusive. Region Source/comments North Coast: Tweed Heads One bird responded to playback Vintage Lakes Feb. 1995 (SJSD). Chinderah Road kill Pacific Hwy Sept. 1986 (Bird Report). Pottsville Road kill 3 km S Oct. 1993 (Whitehead 1993). Ye lgun One bird North Ocean Shores (now Billinudgel Nature Reserve) June 1986, feeding on a quail sp. (A.M. Gilmore); three birds undated (R. Curtis & B.Paton). Tyagarah One bird Sept. 1975 (Bird Report), one Tyagarah NR 1987 (N. Martin). Pair between Byron NR) Oct. 1991 (Fitzgerald & Thorstensen 1994). Byron Bay Three nestlings banded early May 1986 Belongil Creek 8 km W (J. Willows/ABBBS). Male with broken wing found by J. Willows July 1988; thin, 292 g (Bird Report, AM 0.60806). Richmond R Specimen registered 1889 (AM 0.3588; see Hobcroft & James1997). Ballina One bird Nov. 1979; Jan. and Oct. 1983; road kill 5 km S Sept. 1985; one bird May 1986 (Bird Reports). Recorded Ballina 10' grid between 1973 and 1983 (Gosper 1986). Road kill Duck Ck Pacific Hwy Aug. 1990 (G. Clancy). Four birds flushed Oct. -Nov. 1990- 92 (P. Scheitzer). Two road kills Aug. 1994 found by R. Moffatt: one contained one whole house mouse Mus domesticus and remains of two others; other contained Mus fur (A.B. Rose). Bird with wing injury Sept. 1995 (D. Roach), died, now AM 0.66273 (oviduct straight and thin). Casino Road kill Oct. 1979 8-10 km E (J. Izzard); one bird Oct. 1993 (Bird Reports). Uralba Five road kills at Pacific Hwy turn-off Sept. 1986 (Bird Report). Australian Birds Vol.31 No.2 41Wardell Road kill Sept. 1985; two birds July -Aug. 1986 (Bird Reports). Dead bird on Pacific Hwy towards Ballina Aug. 1991: female, 460 g, three mice in gut, oviduct straight and thin (AM 0.65005). Dead bird on Pacific Hwy 28km S of Ballina, between Wardell and Broadwater, July 1993: female, 540 g, mouse and insects in gut, oviduct curled down (Bird Report; AM 0.65004). Broadwater NP One bird Sept. 1975 (M. Goddard), Sept. -Oct. 1976, Oct. 1979 (Bird Reports); seven birds Sept. -Nov. 1979 (M. Goddard). One bird Sept. 1993 (Whitehead 1993). Woodburn Two male road injuries Aug. 1993: 450 g (AM 0.65003); 295 g, insects in gut (Bird Report; AM 0.64812). Bundjalung NP One beach -cast N of Woody Head Aug. 1974 (Bird Report; AM 0.60329). One bird flushed Evans R Nov. 1977 (M. Goddard; Morris et al. 1981).Also recorded Evans Head 10' grid between 1973 and 1983 (Gosper 1986).One bird RAAF bombing range Oct. 1993 (Whitehead 1993). Mororo Road kill Oct. 1993 (G. Clancy, Bird Report). Harwood Road kill found by G. Clancy Aug. 1987 on Pacific Hwy at Yamba turn-off: female, 478 g, oviduct turned down (Bird Report; AM 0.60243). Angourie One bird June 1983 (A.M. Gilmore). Wooli One bird Sept. 1964, two birds Sept. 1965 (Fleay 1968): sites were swamp near Angourie and near L. Hiawatha (M. Goddard) = now Yuraygir NP. Nana Glen Record Oct. 1995 (M. Brewer/NSWBA). Moonee One probable Grass Owl seen Aug. 1989 (Bird Report). Boambee One bird rescued from water, Boambee Ck estuary July 1987 (S.G. Lane, Bird Report, ABBBS). Previously reported to frequent heath at the southern end of Coffs Harbour airfield (per S.G. Lane). Harrington Bred successfully April 1972 (Bird Report). One probable Grass Owl seen June 1982 (Bird Report). [Both sites in or near what is now Crowdy Bay NP?]. Bungwahl Record Wallingat State Forest June 1983 (Hunter Bird Observers Club/NSWBA). Coolongolook Road kill Sept. 1989, mouse in gut (Bird Report; now skeleton, AM 0.65108). Girvan Bird injured on barbed-wire fence (died) Aug. 1993 (J. Merrett; Bird Report). Allworth Injured bird 1993 (J. Merrett; Bird Report). Karuah Dead bird on highway to S, Dec. 1993 (Bird Report). 42 DEBUS et al. Grass Owl March 1998Seaham One bird Jan. 1980 (A. Heinrich/Atlas), subsequently reported as known to be in the area (per J. Merrett). Anna Bay Bird injured on barbed-wire fence (died) Sept. 1993 (J. Merrett; Bird Report). Central Coast: St Albans Bird found dead Sept. 1991 (Bird Report; Hobcroft & James 1997; AM 0.64598). Sydney? Historical specimen(s) may have been from Sydney, according to then AM curator E.P. Ramsay's catalogues of 1875 and 1898 (the latter revised by A.J. North): AM P1961 must be pre -1875 (the "P" series) but has an anomalous date of 1888 and no locality; AM 0.2640 has the inferred (?) locality "[Sydney]" but no date (see Mees 1964, Hobcroft & James 1997). Sydney One bird Homebush Bay Oct. 1982 (Hobcroft & James 1997). Northern Tablelands: Tenterfield One bird "Sunnyside" 11 km W Feb. 1963 (Fleay 1968). Southern Tablelands: Murrumbateman One bird found emaciated Oct. 1982, later died, now AN WC 37048 (Stokes 1982, Hobcroft & James 1997). North-west Plains: Boomi Record "Kooramba" 85 km W of Boggabilla May 1996 (per J. Southeron/NSWBA). Mungindi One bird Dec. 1977, standing on ground at night in wheat stubble in irrigated land surrounded by grassland and lignum (Atlas, Costello 1981, Bird Report; full description supplied). Moree One bird in Moree Watercourse swamps, "Bullerana", Nov. 1933 (Bryant 1934). Pallamallawa Two birds Jan. 1978, flushed from beneath wilga Geijera parviflora bush in daylight and flew to nearby separate trees; otherwise amid treeless chenopod plain (R.M. Cooper/Atlas, Bird Report; full description supplied). Wee Waa Breeding "Merinda", two adults and four young seen Feb. to late Mar. 1996 (S. Williams/NSW Bird Atlas; Anon. 1996): downy young in a nest on the ground in a cotton field near a swampy area, Australian Birds Vol.31 No.2 43photograph of chicks confirmed as Grass Owl by J. Carpenter and A.K. Morris (per W. Lewis, A.K. Morris). Narrabri Five sightings of probably >1 bird May 1968 (McKean et al. 1969). Two birds between Goondiwindi and Narrabri July 1979 (Shields in Strahan 1994), not mapped in Figure 1. North Far West Plains: Hungerford Record "Moorland Downs" Mar. 1993 (T. Leigo/NSWBA). Broken Hill Five birds Metford Tank 50-60 km E of Broken Hill May 1993 (Bird Report, McAllan 1996). South Far West Plains: Menindee Six birds between Broken Hill and Menindee (Horse Lake to Kaleentha) Mar. -April 1974 (Bird Report, N. Schrader/Atlas). Appendix 2 The status of K.H. Bennett's records of "Masked Owls" from Inland NSW In their review of the Masked Owl in NSW, Debus & Rose (1994), on the advice of IAWM, included K.H. Bennett's records from Yandembah on the Hay Plain in 1864. Bennett corresponded with both E.P. Ramsay and A.J. North of the Australian Museum, and many of Bennett's observations were published by North (1901-1914). In a list of birds of western NSW seen by Bennett in the years 1862-1889, only two species of Tyto owl, the Barn Owl and Masked Owl, were mentioned (E.P. Ramsay correspondence May 1889, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW). Certain elements of Bennett's account suggest that he may have also observed Grass Owls. In particular, his observations of Masked Owls occurred only in 1864 during major irruptions of Letter -winged Kites, Flock Bronzewings and Barn Owls (see North 1901-1914), as well as a species of rat which Bennett (1887) identified as "Mus tompsonii Ramsay". This latter name is a junior synonym for the black rat Rattus rattus (see Mahoney & Richardson 1988). However, Dickman (1993) attributed Bennett's rats to the long- haired rat. Debus & Rose (1994) considered the rat of Bennett's account in North (1901- 1914) to be a stick -nest rat Leporillus sp. Bennett's (1887) account strongly suggests that the species was indeed the long-haired rat, with stick -nest rats also being present. Bennett (1887) noted that he again saw "Mus tompsonii" in large numbers in 1874 in the Barrier Range. On this occasion he again observed that "hawks (E. scriptus) and owls were there in great numbers". 44 DEBUS et al: Grass Owl March 1998In the letter accompanying the list of birds sent to Ramsay, Bennett noted, "I have enumerated 200 species which thanks to your valuable gift of Goulds handbook, I have been able to identify thoroughly..." Gould's handbook (1865) lists only the species of Tyto found in forest and woodland on the Australian mainland, namely Barn Owl and Masked Owl, not the Grass Owl nor the characters that distinguish it from the other Tyto. The Grass Owl was not described for Australia until the following year (Diggles 1866), therefore Bennett lacked sufficient information to recognise it. Although Bennett observed that "Masked Owls" roosted in the hollow trunks of stunted box trees that grew in scattered clumps on the plains (North 1901-1914), so did the Barn Owls that he observed at the same time. It is not certain that all of Bennett's "Masked Owls" were that species; many of his observations, other than of birds roosting in hollow trees, could have been of Grass Owls. About the Authors: Sandra Maciejewski completed a Bachelor of Applied Science (Honours) degree in the faculty of Resource Science and Management at Southern Cross University, Lismore, in 1994. The results of her project on the Grass Owl were presented at the Australasian Raptor Association conference in 1996 and published in the proceedings (Australian Raptor Studies II, Birds Australia Monograph 3, 1997). Since 1995, Sandra has been working as a biologist for Gunninah Environmental Consultants at Crows Nest in Sydney, but she is now considering a career move to Perth. This paper concludes the series on the five threatened owls in NSW, the other papers being in the "forest owls" special issue of Australian Birds (vol. 28 supplement, November 1994) and in Australian Birds 30(3), July 1997. Australian Birds Vol.31 No.2 45RARE BIRDS IN NEW SOUTH WALES IN 1995 SIXTH REPORT OF THE NSW ORNITHOLOGICAL RECORDS APPRAISAL COMMITTEE. ALAN K. MORRIS 1 Wombat Street, Berkeley Vale 2261 The sixth report of the NSWORAC details 27 submissions considered by the Committee. Together with 165 cases already dealt with previously (Morris 1996) this brings to 192 the total number of cases resolved. Of the 192 cases considered, 114 have been accepted, 48 not accepted and 30 not confirmed. Other 1995 submissions such as those of White Tern, House Swift, South Polar Skua, Black -winged Petrel, Cook's Petrel, Western Sandpiper and White -chinned Petrel are yet to be resolved. As at 31 December 1997, 242 submissions have been received. The objective of the Committee is to provide an informed, discerning and impartial appraisal of claimed records of birds rare in NSW and Lord Howe Island. The membership of the Committee for 1995 remained the same viz R. Cooper (Chairperson), A. Morris (Secretary), W. Barden, C. Chafer, D. Hobcroft, I. McAllan, A. Palliser and R. Turner. Note however that during 1996 Chris Chafer resigned and he was replaced at the 1997 A.G.M. by Keith Brandwood. At the AGM, the Committee placed on record its appreciation for the support and hard work done by Chris in reviewing the submissions and assisting with the production of the annual report. The Review List, as published previously (Morris 1996), remained unaltered in 1995 however the Committee decided to delete from January 1996 the following species: 1 White -necked Petrel, Common Diving Petrel, Red-tailed Tropic -bird and Brown Booby. All of these species have been recorded annually, often with multiple records, in the past ten years. In addition from January 1997 Common Noddy and Arctic Tern, and from 1 1 January 1998, Grey Ternlet, Black Noddy and Black Petrel will be removed for similar reasons. The Committee continued to work closely with Birds Australia Rarities Committee (BARC) and submissions relating to any species on their Review List are referred directly. No determinations were received from BARC for any 1995 records at the time of writing. The quality of submissions continues to improve which is indeed encouraging. Many of the difficulties faced by the Committee from submissions result from very brief notes taken from memory. It is re -iterated that the recording of rarities such as those on the Review List will require as a minimum one or more of the following: 46 March 1998Field notes as comprehensive as possible; Photographs and or tape recordings; Reports from multiple persons; and/or The completion of a RAC report form. A full report of each decision of the NSWORAC is available from the Secretary of each Committee. The format of this report is similar to previous reports. Again those records "not accepted"(NA), and those records "not confirmed"(NC) will be listed at the end of the Report. Records "not confirmed" are those where two years or more have elapsed without a submission even though invited by the Secretary. The Committee would welcome further information on any record not accepted or not confirmed and is willing to re -open to consider data additional to that already available. Following the name of species accepted, there will be a set of three numerals. The first is the number of confirmed records for the species in NSW, the second is the number of confirmed records since 1970 (when the NSWFOC Annual Reports commenced), and the third represents the number of species recorded in 1995. English and scientific names used in the text are in accordance with Christidis & Boles (1994). Those observers who recorded the first, second or third records for NSW are encouraged to publish details in an appropriate journal. Some people will feel disappointed at having their records not accepted but at the same time do understand that it is a worthwhile exercise to have the same standard of review applied to all records of rare or unusual species. Cases listed as "not confirmed" or "not accepted"do not necessarily reflect misidentification, rather that information to date is inadequate to confirm identity beyond reasonable doubt. The support of all people in the review system is appreciated. REFERENCES Christidis L. & Boles, W.E. 1994 , The Taxonomy and Species of Birds of Australia and its Territories, RAOU Monograph 2, Melbourne. Morris, A.K. 1979, 'The Inland occurrence of Tropicbirds in New South Wales during March 1978'. Aust. Birds 13, 51-54. Morris, A.K. 1996, 'Fifth Report of the NSW Ornithological Records Appraisal Committee 1994'. Aust. Birds 30, 1-13. Morris, A.K. & Burton, A. 1996, '1994 New South Wales Annual Bird Report', Aust. Birds 29, 63-112 Morris, A.K. & Burton, A. 1997, '1995 New South Wales Annual Bird Report'. Aust. Birds 30, 81-149. Whitier, J. (Compiler), 1996, "Nature in Eurobodalla No. 10 (1995)". Eurobodalla Nat. Hist. Soc., Moruya. Australian Birds Vol.31 No.2 47ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS wish to thank the RAC members who readily found the time to review the Report and to I provide constructive and helpful criticsm. Credit goes to all members of the NSWORAC who promptly review each case submitted to them and who provide very worthwhile comment. Finally I would like to thank the many people who submitted their records for review by the Committee, for without such support the Committee could not operate. SYSTEMATIC LIST OF CASES ACCEPTED White -necked Petrel Pterodroma cervicalis 22,22,1 Case No. 162 relates to the observation on 4 March 1995 during cyclonic weather caused by Tropical Cyclone Violet of a group of seabirds that were sheltering on the Hastings River, about 12 km upstream from Port Macquarie. It was at the same time that other tropical seabirds were blown inshore (see below). One seabird was different from the others and the observer sketched this bird at a distance of 150 m from his house, when the bird was under observation for 30 minutes. During this time the seabirds would take off, attempt to fly eastwards into the wind but became weak and so settled on the water once again. The bird was identified as a White -necked Petrel from the sketch supplied, which showed the diagnostic black cap through the eye, short black bill, white lores and prominent collar, white underparts and black carpal markings. The time of the year for this observation is consistent with the known December- April occurrence. Blue Petrel Halobaena caerulea 14,5,1 Case No. 234 relates to a seabird found on a road through open forest beside St Georges Basin Lake during wet weather on 4 September 1995; it died overnight. The bird was identified as a Blue Petrel because of its gadfly petrel size and shape, similar in size to Gould's Petrel Pterodroma leucoptera, but with the colouring of a prion, (grey on top, with dark "M" mark on back, white underneath). The head pattern resembled that of Gould's Petrel (dark cap and hind collar, paler and mottled forehead), with a blue line along the lower mandible of the bill, and having a broad and complete white tail tip. The specimen has been preserved. The time of the year is consistent with previous records (July -October) and all of the records have been for beachcast birds. There are as yet no records for live birds at sea in NSW. Streaked Shearwater Calonectris leucomelas 19,19,1 Case No. 167 details a Streaked Shearwater seen 20 n.m. off Sydney Heads on 11 February 1995 during fine and windy conditions with a north-east swell. The bird was photographed at 1044 hrs as it fed with a large number of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters around a deep sea trawler, and was observed by 20 observers for a period of five minutes at a distance of 48 MORRIS : Records Appraisal March 1998approx. 30 m. Notes were also taken at the time and the photograph shows the distinct white forehead, streaked cap, and white underparts. The record is consistent with the known occurrence of September -March. Black -bellied Storm -Petrel Fregetta tropica 8,8,1 Case No. 204 details a storm -petrel seen off Sydney Heads on 9 December 1995 in fine weather conditions and observed for a period of 1-2 hours. The bird was photographed at distance of ten metres from the boat and was seen by many observers. Wilson's Storm - Petrels Oceanites oceanicus and White-faced Storm -Petrels Pelagodroma marina were present for comparison. The bird was readily identified as a Black -bellied Storm -Petrel because of the black line extending from the black breast down the white belly, black head and back, white rump and white underwings, with thick black edging, long trailing black legs and feet. Previous records have been for the period September -November with one record for July. Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda 41,31,5 Cases Nos.163,171, 208 & 224 give details of four individual Red-tailed Tropicbirds blown inland during storms associated with Tropical Cyclone Violet 4-7 March 1995. Case No.163 relates to a freshly dead adult bird found on the beach at Norah Head during an NSWFOC outing on 4 March 1995. The bird was identified as an adult Red-tailed Tropicbird by the pale pink wash to the generally white colouration, red bill and tail streamers, and black line through eye to ear -coverts. The specimen was retained at the Australian Museum. Case No. 171 concerns a tropicbird found alive in Armidale on 6 March 1995 and was photographed. The bird was large, white, with a red bill, two red elongated central tail feathers, black facial stripe from the lores through the eye to the ear coverts, black shaft streaks on the primaries and black on the terials. This bird was cared for and subsequently released at sea. Case No. 208 details another Red-tailed Tropicbird found alive on the ground at Tamworth on 6 March 1995 and taken into care. It was subsequently relocated to Port Macquarie and then onto Coffs Harbour with the bird mentioned below, before being released back to sea. The description provided was similar to that given for Case No.224. Case No. 224 details another Red-tailed Tropicbird found exhausted near the railway line in Wauchope on 7 March 1995. This bird was taken to the NPWS office in Port Macquarie from where it was relocated to the Coffs Harbour Dolphin Pool before being released back to sea. The photograph of this bird in the Port Macquarie News of 10 March 1995, shows an obvious adult bird. It is described as having " two long red central tail feathers, a large red bill, a black stripe through the eye, and black on the innermost flight feathers and on the flanks". Australian Birds Vol.31 No.2 49Finally Case No.201 gives a brief description of an adult bird seen at East Ballina lighthouse on 22 November 1995. It was battling strong easterly winds and endeavouring to stay over the sea. The bird finally moved north along the coast facing east. All previous records are for the period November -April. The phenomenon of tropicbirds being blown well inland during cyclonic weather has been previously documented (Morris 1979). Red -backed Button -quail Turn ix maculosa -,14,1 Case No. 189 details an observation of an adult female Red -backed Button -quail whose idenity was positively confirmed on 10 January 1995 although it had been observed in a Mangrove Mountain garden from 26 December 1994. Five observers were able to see the yellow bill, the russet coloured nape, throat and paler chest, fading to buff on the breast, size slightly larger than a King Quail Coturnix chinensis, all at a distance of ten metres. This description eliminates all other button -quail. This is the second Central Coast record, the first was at Tuggerah in 1970. Common Noddy Anous stolidus 31,26,1 Case No. 164 concerns two birds seen 10 n.m off Sydney in fine but windy conditions by many observers on 11 February 1995. Sooty Terns Sterna fuscata, a Grey Ternlet Procelsterna cerulea and a Long-tailed Jaeger Stercorarius longicaudus were present for comparison. However comparisons were not really needed because one of the birds landed on the boat and stayed there for ten minutes. Notes were made and photographs taken. The long thin black, downturned bill, dark brown plumage all over, pale grey forehead and crown merging into the brown on the nape and back, lores black, legs & feet & webs pinkish, and the notched tail, all helped to identify the birds as Common Noddies All previous records November -May, with most records for the North Coast Region. Grey Ternlet Procelsterna cerulea 20,15,2 Case No.165 details a grey ternlet seen 10 n.m. off Sydney heads on 11 February 1995 in fine but windy conditions. The single bird was seen by many observers, photographed and notes taken. The photograph clearly shows a small grey tern -like bird, with black bill, white front and trailing edges to the wings, while the detailed notes confirm the identity. Case No. 178 relates to an observation of a flock of 59 Grey Ternlets seen on 8 March 1995 at the Ballina Lighthouse in the aftermath of Cyclone Violet. The birds were heading north-east and flying strongly just above the waves. They were described as being small terns, having head, mantle, upperparts and lower back a blue/grey colour, with the underparts paler with a whitish belly, thin pointed black bill and blackish primaries. The description leaves little doubt as to the identity of the birds. The number observed is a mainland record for NSW. All previous records are for the period December -May. 50 MORRIS : Records Appraisal March 1998Australian Raven Corvus coronoides - Case No. 152 concerns the observation of an Australian Raven at a location 2 km north of Evans Head on 5 October 1994. Ordinarily the Committee would not review such a record but there are no confirmed records of Australian Ravens for this site where Torresian Crows C. orru predominate. The submission included notes on the description of the bird including obvious throat hackles and the calls. A return trip to the site with other observers failed to find the bird. The Committee initially did not accept the record (5/2), so the submission was referred to a recognised corvid expert. He considered that the original submission was inconclusive though strongly suggestive of an Australian Raven, which is highly likely as a vagrant in the area ( much more so than the Forest Raven C. tasmanicus). He concluded that because of the observer's reputation, his long term familiarity with the Torresian Crow, familiarity with corvid calls and his involvement with the production of biodiversity survey tapes of corvid calls, the identification was correct. The referee also noted that Australian Ravens now occur regularly within 50 km of Evans Head and that evidence shows that the species is extending its range into the far north coastal areas on NSW. The Committee concurred with the referee's decison. CASES NOT ACCEPTED (NA) OR NOT CONFIRMED (NC) Kerguelen Petrel Lugensa brevirostris I at 20 n.m. east of Sydney 23 September 1995 (Moths & Burton 1997). NSWORAC Case No. 195, NA. White -necked Petrel Pterodroma cervicalis I at Ballina 8 March 1995 (Morris & Burton 1997), NSWORAC Case No. 182, NC. Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda I Ballina 2 November 1995 (Morris & Burton 1997), NSWORAC Case No. 201, NC. Brown Booby Sula leucogaster I immature Ballina 15 February 1995 (Morris & Burton 1997) NC. Red -footed Booby S. sula I Ballina 15-16 February 1995 (Morris & Burton 1997), NSWORAC Case No.177 NC. Ruff Philomachus pugnax North Ck estuary, Ballina 9 April 1995 (Morris & Burton 1997). NSWORAC 1 Case No. 169, NA. Little Stint Calidris minuta I Tullakool Salt Works Jan -Mar 1995 (Morris & Burton 1997). NSWORAC Case No. 172 NC. Red -necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus 1 at sea off Wollongong 4 October 1994 (Morris & Burton 1996). NSWORAC Case No. 149 NC. Roseate Tern Sterna dougalii I at Flat Rock, Ballina 28 September 1995 (Morris & Burton 1997). NSWORAC Case No. 197, NC Common Noddy Anous stolidous Mossy Point, between Bateman's Bay & Moruya 10 February 1995 1 (Whitier 1996), NSWORAC Case No. 183 NA. 1 Ballina 15 February 1995 (Morris & Burton 1997), NSWORAC Case No.180 NC. Black Noddy A.. minutus 1 Ballina 15 February 1995 (Morris & Burton 1997), NSWORAC Case No. 179, NC. White Tern Gygis aMa 4 Ballina 5-8 March 1995 (Morris & Burton 1997), NSWORAC Case No.I8 I, NC. Australian Birds Vol.31 No.2 51Black -bellied Storm Petrel off Sydney Dec 1995. Photos : Tony Palliser 52 March 1998Drinking strategies of the Turquoise Parrot ALAN J. LEISHMAN Royal Botanic Gardens, Mrs Macquaries Road, Sydney 2000 During a recent banding field trip to Warraderry State Forest near Grenfell, NSW, from 27 March to April 1997 a large number of Turquoise Parrots, Neophema pulchella, 1 were observed drinking at an earth tank over a number of days. Observers present were Julie Dale (JD), John Ross (JHR), Joy Ross (JR), Alan Leishman (AL) & Ken Gover (KG). The tank that the Turquoise Parrots were observed at is situated in red soil country with a dominant vegetation cover of white cypress Pine, Callitris columellaris) with scattered white box, Eucalyptus albens and kurrajong, Brachychiton populneus. The eucalypt species are maintained at about 10-12 trees per ha under forestry management practices. The pine forest compartment where the tank is situated has not been harvested for 15 years although thinning of the pine was carried out about 5 years ago (Andrew Dean, State Forests, pers. com.). The pines that were cut for thinning purposes were left to rot where they fell. This provides excellent ground litter throughout the forest area. The drinking habits of the Turquoise Parrot were described by Frith (1952) where it was stated that: " They would regularly arrive in the trees around the waterhole immediately before first light, ... The birds would remain in the trees for ten to fifteen minutes before coming in to drink and when they did so were quite nervous.... Eventually the group would apparently become convinced of safety, and suddenly would silently swoop to the ground, literally run to the water's edge, drink rapidly and then depart with a whistle. The waterhole was kept under constant observation throughout several separate days but on no occasion did the birds return to drink a second time in the one day." Forshaw (1969) quoted Frith's reference as ... "noted that they came to drink only once a day, just before first light, ...". This was repeated in Forshaw (1973) without the reference to before first light. Jarman (1973) quoted Frith's reference but slightly altered it to read " They did not drink at any other time". All the above references to the drinking habits of the Turquoise Parrot are based on the observations of Frith (1952) on a small group of four immature birds. Observations at Warraderry State Forest provide a different picture for the drinking habits of this species to that presented above. Australian Birds Vol.31 No.2 53Turquoise Parrots were observed (by JD,JHR,JR) arriving at the tank between 15:30 and 18:00 Eastern Standard Time on the 27 March 1997 in groups of up to 15 birds usually arriving in waves. Max temperature for the day was 31° C. The Turquoise Parrots would fly into a small white box on the side of the tank and sit quietly for 10 to 15 minutes before flying down to drink at the tank. The parrots flew confidently down to drink and did not demonstrate any nervousness in coming down to drink or during the drinking process. A small number of Turquoise Parrots flew into an adjacent callitris prior to flying down to drink or to flying to the small white box to perch. Although a larger white box was available about 10 metres away all birds seen selected the smaller tree to rest in prior to drinking. Some birds after drinking flew back into the white box to sit quietly before returning to drink again, while others flew directly off into the forest area. It was estimated that 45-55 Turquoise Parrots visited the tank on this evening. Observations for all days are given in Table 1. There were also three additional species of parrots in the roost tree at any one time; they were Galah, Cacatua roseicapilla, Eastern Rosella, Platycercus eximius and Red-rumped Parrot, Psephotus haematonotus. All four species drank together with no adverse interaction. Table 1 Date Temp Time Observers # Birds 1997 range EST Observed 27 Mar 15-3 VC 1530-1800 JD,JHR,JD 45-55 28 " 12-27°C 0530-0730 JD,JHR,JR 25-30 28 " 12-27°C 1630-1800 JD,JHR,JR,AL 30-40 29 " 5-27°C 0615-0745 JD,JHR,JR,AL 20-30 29 " 5-27°C 1630-1800 JD,JHR,JR,AL 25-35 30 " 9-28°C 1630-1800 JD,JHR,JR 12-15 31 " 5-25°C 1630-1800 JD,JHR,JR,KG 10-12 Apr 8-25°C 0620-0800 JD,KG 8-12 1 The numbers of Turquoise Parrots observed on successive days declined, this was possibly due to the cooler temperatures, the availability of water in the form of dew from 29 March onwards and the mist netting activities being carried out around the tank. From these observations it can be seen that Turquoise Parrots drink at either or both early morning and late afternoon and not only at first light. As the birds observed were not 54 March 1998marked it was not possible to determine if in fact they did drink on more than one occasion per day. The belief that "they only come to drink once per day, just before first light" which has appeared in the literature since 1952 should be re -appraised. REFERENCES Forshaw, J.M. 1969, Australian Parrots. Lansdown Press, Melbourne. Forshaw, J.M. 1978, Parrots of the World. Second Ed. Lansdowne Press. Melbourne. Frith, H.J. 1952, 'A Record of the Turquoise Parrot', Emu 52, 99-101. Jarman, H. 1973, 'The Turquoise Parrot', The Aust. Bird Watcher 4, 239-250. About the Author Alan Leishman works at the Royal Botanic Gardens, and is an active bird bander. A Red Knot that he banded at Kooragang Island was recovered 9 years later in Eastern Siberia,11268 km north. Alan is a Sub -regional Organiser for the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Schemes. SPANGLED DRONGO AS PREDATOR OF HONEYBEES PETER RAMM 6 Yeramba Ave, Dolans Bay 2229 Between 10 - 13 January 1997 I observed Spangled Drongos Dicrurus bracteatus feeding on honeybees that come from the hive in my garden at Dolans Bay, a southern suburb of Sydney. Generally, two birds were involved and the feeding took place over a period of an hour each afternoon between 1400 and 1600 hours. The birds swooped down to get returning bees as they slow down in preparation to land. From the garage window of my house, using 8x30 Zeiss binoculars at a range of 5 m, I could clearly see the feeding process. The Drongo, having caught a honeybee usually in the mid -section, returned to its perch, often a horizontal tomato stake raised about two m off the ground and used for growing cucumbers. The Drongo carefully watched the bee for up to 15 seconds before cleverly transferring the bee to its foot, holding the bee against the perch with the sting end of the abdomen facing inwards to the centre line of the Drongo's body. From this position the Drongo pecked the sting off, sometimes drawing out the contents of the bee's abdomen, and flicked the sting (and contents) away. Taking its time, the Drongo then ate what was left, wings and all. I closely observed eight or nine feeding events and in each the actions were exactly the same. Australian Birds Vol.31 No.2 55Sometimes a Red Wattlebird Anthochaera carunculata chased the Drongos away, but after a few minutes the Drongos would return to continue their feeding. On two occasions a second honeybee attacked a Drongo, making a fast direct in -line pass at the bird. The Drongo ducked out of the way and looked very alert to what was happening. The bee had a second attempt but then flew off. Possibly the captured bee had put out some distress pheronomes seeking help. I was able to observe the red iris and raised feathers on the crown of each Drongo, which from my position appeared to be stubby, thick and greyish. No glossy green spots were noticeable on the crown ( as mentioned by Pizzey 1980), rather they appeared to be to be greyish patches about 1.5 cm in diameter. Bill Patching of Bundeena has also observed Drongos catching honeybees in a similar manner to what I have described. The fact that Drongos are predators of honeybees has been known for some time, and indeed in the early volumes of this journal Keith Hindwood (1970) noted that he had seen Drongos near Forster catching bees coming in to hives. The bees were held in the tip of the bill and wiped against branches before being swallowed. Hindwood postulated that such actions might have something to do with avoiding the sting of the bee. Hugh Elliot (1970) took up the theme and pointed out that the Drongo's treatment of honeybees is similar to that of the Rainbow Bee -eater Merops ornatus and queried whether Drongos had learned from Bee -eaters how to remove the sting. Hindwood followed up with another article quoting from the the Western Australian Naturalist that detailed how the Bee - eater prepared the bee for consumption by wiping its abdomen against a branch. This, however, is not the method that I have described for the Drongos at Dolans Bay. My Drongos held the insect in a claw, and bit off the sting and portion of the abdomen. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT I wish to acknowledge the help given by Alan Morris who encouraged me to write up this note, and who also provided the references. REFERENCES Elliot, H. 1970,Drongos as bee -eaters’, Birds 5, 25.
Hindwood, K.A. 1970, ‘The Spangled Drongo in south-eastern Australia’. Birds 5, 11-13.
Hindwood, K.A. 1971, ‘The Birds and the Bees’, Birds 5, 37.
Pizzey, G. 1980, A Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, Collins, Sydney.
About the Author
Peter Ramm is an active member ofthe FOC who also is an amateur
bee keeper. We admire his dedication to the pursuit of scientific
knowledge as he watched the Drongos devouring his precious bees.
56 March 1998Advice to Contributors
Manuscripts should be typed with double spacing and wide margins at top and sides, and
submitted initially as an original and two duplicates. Tables and figures must be in the
form of reproducable hard copy, having due regard to the journal page size and format. If
extensive retyping or drafting is required publication may be delayed or prevented.
Photographs should be submitted as glossy black and white prints of size and contrast
suitable for reproduction.
Upon acceptance, it is most helpful if the final manuscripts of substantial articles can be
submitted in word processor format. The editor will advise details of acceptable formats.
Contributions are considered on the understanding that they are not being offered for publication
Authors are advised to consult a current issue of Australian Birds as a guide to style and
punctuation, which conform in general to the Commonwealth Style Manual. Spelling
follows the Macquarie Dictionary. In paiticular:
dates are written as ‘1 January 1990’, but may be abbreviated in tables and figures;
the 24 hour clock is used with Eastern Standard Time, e.g.
0630 for 6.30 am and 1830 for 6.30 pm. Daylight Saving time should
be corrected to EST;
in the text, single -digit numbers are spelt out; 10 000 and larger numbers are
printed with a space (not a comma) separating the thousands;
English names of bird species (but not group names) are written with an initial capital
for each separate word.
Scientific names of bird species and their classification should follow Christidis & Boles
1994, The Taxonomy and Species of Birds of Australia and its Territories,
RAOU Monograph 2.
References to books appear in the form
Marchant, S. & Higgins, P.J.(eds) 1990, Handbook ofA ustralian, New Zealand and Antarctic
Birds, Vol. 1, OUP, Melbourne.
and to journals as
Morris, A.K., Tyler, V., Tyler, M., Mannes, H.& Dalby, J. 1990, ‘A waterbird survey of
the Parramatta River wetlands, Sydney’, Aust Birds, 23:3.
These are cited in the text as Marchant & Higgins (1990) or (Morris et al. 1990), respectively.Volume 31 No. 2 AUSTRALIAN BIRDS March 1998
S.J.S.DEBUS The Grass Owl in NSW 29
Alan K. Morris Sixth report of the NSW Ornithological
Appraisal Committee 1995 46
Alan J. LEISHMAN Drinking strategies of the Turquoise Parrot 53
Peter RAMM Spangled Drongo as predator of Honeybees 55