Tess Kloot died on the 10th November 2016, just one day short of her 93rd birthday. In earlier days she was an active member of all three bird organisations centred in Melbourne – the RAOU/BA, BOC/BOCA and VORG. She was archivist for the RAOU in the 1970’s and then a library volunteer for BOCA and a member of its Publication Committee. In 2005 she received the BOCA Distinguished Service Award.
Tess threw herself into all things ornithological, including the usual birdwatching activities. She contributed to bird surveys, e.g. The Atlas of Australian Birds conducted by the RAOU from 1977 – 1981, and she herself organised the VORG 1988 – 1991 survey on the birds of Box Hill.
As part of her varied ornithological activities, Tess delved deeply into birds, books, biographies, bibliographies and history, reading and writing prolifically. Many of her articles appeared in The Bird Observer and VORG Notes. She was author or co-author of books and reports such as Birds of Australian Gardens (publ. Rigby 1980), Birds of Cranbourne Botanic Gardens (publ. BOCA 1993), Birds of Box Hill (publ. VORG 2000) and was both the compiler and author of a large bio-bibliographical supplement (publ. BOCA 1995) to Whittell’s The Literature of Australian Birds, 1618 – 1950.
Perhaps the greatest single task that Tess undertook was to collect first-hand information on the lives of all ornithologists connected with Australian birds. For these she used questionnaires, conducted personal interviews and corresponded widely. She gathered together 567 biographical files, 164 newspaper cuttings, c. 145 people photographs, and additional material on Tom Iredale and his wife Lillian Medland. In 2003 all this was accepted by the State Library of Victoria where it is stored as The Tess Kloot Collection (ref. no. PA 03/107) and may be consulted by those seeking relevant information.
John Barkla has many years of birding behind him having started as a boy. He has been a member of Birdlife Australia and it’s antecedents for 40 years. He has held several operational positions and remains Vice-President and Chair of the Finance and Audit Committee. He has been on Melbourne Water’s Biodiversity Conservation Advisory Committee at the Melbourne Treatment Plant, Werribee since 1986, and lately it’s Chair. In recent years he has traversed the continent with his partner, Alison Street, a dozen times and came to relate to us a composite of those journeys, Twelve Journeys across the Nullarbor 2008-2015. The audience had gathered to hear his favourite birding spots and to see John’s magnificent bird photography.
Leaving Melbourne on day one their destination is often Hattah-Kulkyne NP. Birding is always good here and a visit to Lake Mournpall may score Apostlebirds, which rarely can be seen in South Australia. Mallee Emu-wrens have declined 90% in Victoria due to habitat reduction and fires. John recommends a drive along the Nowinji Track which runs on the east and west of the highway, listening carefully for their faint call –“virtually impossible to locate by sight”.
The next stop is Birdlife Australia’s Gluepot Reserve, reached by crossing the Murray River at Waikerie SA. This marvellous area of Mallee and Triodia (spinifex) is not only great for birds but is home to 52 species of reptiles and over 150 species of ants! The habitat is perfect for Striated Grasswren, and again John winds down the windows to pick up their soft contact call. He also finds that Red-lored Whistler is best located by their distinctive call – and not to be confused with Gilbert’s Whistler. The critically endangered Black-eared Miner are tricky as they hybridise with the Yellow-throated. The hybrids retain the yellow throat feathers but lack black head marking over the ear. Other great birds to see at Gluepot are Shy Heathwren, Scarlet-chested Parrot (recently breeding at Gluepot), Regent and Mulga Parrot, the barnardi race of the Australian Ringneck, Chestnut Quail Thrush, Black Honeyeater and Spotted Nightjar.
At Port Augusta John and Alison always call at the Arid Gardens, did you say for lunch? White-winged Fairy-wren can often be seen beside the road in, and Chirruping Wedgebill are common in the garden.
120 km to the west is Lake Gilles Conservation Park where it is possible to see the newly separated Copper-backed Quail Thrush.
Gawler Ranges NP is a short detour from the highway. Spectacular scenery can be highlighted further with Crested Bellbird, Black-eared Cuckoo, Southern Scrub-robin, Spiney-cheeked and White-fronted Honeyeaters; and at good times they see Dusky, Black-faced, Masked and White-browed Woodswallows.°°
On one scorching day in January the temperature had risen to 47°C on three consecutive days. John and Alison pulled up at Yantanabie on the Eyre Highway and witnessed several bird species suffering heat stress in the shade of the local hall. They put out water in a bowl and watched; birds drank including 30-40 pipits, while three Ground Cuckoo-shrikes clustered around the sub-floor ducts emitting cool air.
Reaching the Nullarbor Roadhouse, John and Alison invariably head north. The Nullarbor Plain is bordered by the Trans Australian Railway 100km to the north and the Australian Bight to the south, “so you can’t get lost”! The plain is crisscrossed by numerous tracks, but heading north and a tad west you eventually reach Cook. On the way, amongst the low scrub, one should see the Nullarbor Quail- thrush; from this area John also showed Australian Pipit, Inland Dotterel, Australian Bustard, Australian Pratincole, Orange Chat, Rufous Fieldwren and Southern Whiteface.
Having safely reached Cook you might be able to chalk up Little Crow and Black-faced Woodswallow. Next stop, via the Old Eyre Highway, is the beautiful Eyre Bird Observatory south of Cocklebiddy. John was there in 2012 during a mouse plague when the overnight mice catch was offered to grateful Australian Ravens. One could see the gouldii race of Silvereye, also Blue-breasted Fairy-wren, Brush Bronzewing, Brown-headed and Purple-gaped Honeyeaters; but a highlight of a visit to Eyre are the Major Mitchell Cockatoos which daily visit the birdbaths.
From Cocklebiddy John and Alison have taken the track north across Arubiddy Station to Haig and then Rawlinna. One has to phone the station owners to get permission to cross their property. From here the Connie Sue Hwy takes you 400km to Neale Junction where you might be extremely lucky to see Princess Parrot. Alas, not John and Alison. Scarlet-chested Parrots are much more likely plus Grey-fronted Honeyeater, the newly split Sandhill Grasswren; and Redthroat are common.
They head west to the coast, Carnarvon being the southern limit of many northern birds. The Wildflowers en route can be spectacular, such as Wreath Leschenaultia. Near Cue is the monolithic Walga Rock, where you might see Banded Whiteface and Western Quail-thrush. At Monkey Mia the carpark can offer the newly split Western Grasswren; and on the hill behind the carpark one may find the assimilis race of Variegated Fairy-wren. Francois Peron NP is a good site for Pied Honeyeaters.
Having reached Perth the birding does not stop. 200km southwest is the town of Narrogin and nearby, the Dryandra Woodland nature conservation area. John had photographs of Bush Stone-curlew, Western Rosella, Gilbert’s Honeyeater (western species of White-naped Honeyeater), Brown and Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters. All these were taken near Magpie Cottage (accommodation) or at the wardens’ birdbath. The dryandra habitat also supports Rufous Treecreeper and Elegant Parrot.
Whilst in Perth John recommends to always check the rarities sightings. At Cervantes north of Perth they have seen Franklin’s Gull. Then they head to King’s Park and other suburban hotspots to pick up the common western birds, which nonetheless may include western races such as the maculatus race of the White-browed Scrubwren, and the semitorquatus race of Australian Ringneck. Around Perth one can also see Baudin’s Black-Cockatoo and the very similar Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo. At Wungong Dam one can pick up White-breasted Robin and Red-eared Firetail. John recommends visiting all the suburban lakes in Perth (e.g. Bibra, Munger, Herdsman, North and Thomsons). You might see the West Australian bellus form of the Australian Swamphen (no longer Purple Swamphen); or Western Corella, not to be confused with the similar Long-billed Corella.
One of their favourite spots is Lake McLarty, 100km south near Mandurah. Here, when the conditions are right, there are huge numbers of shorebirds. But being ephemeral, the lake’s birds fluctuate. John had great shots of Long-toed Stint, Pectoral, Wood and Broad-billed Sandpiper, Ruff and Osprey, all taken there.
We finished the journey at Rottnest Island, always worth a visit. Here they have seen Common Pheasant, Banded Lapwing, Banded Stilt, Fairy Tern, Ruddy Turnstone, Red-capped and Hooded Plover and Sanderling. Rock Parrots are known to occur on Rottnest but John and Alison have never been successful. A Roseate Tern perched on the rocks might be an alternate reward.
John explained at the beginning that this talk was a composite of 12 trips. He highly recommends a trip across the Nullarbor and he is happy to give anyone advice. We thanked him warmly for a fascinating evening.
Sadly Peggy Mitchell passed away on 3 October 2016 at age 94 years.
Peggy and her husband Hartley came to live in Mount Eliza in 1968 and immediately became involved with conservation of plants and wildlife on the Mornington Peninsula. She was a committed bird watcher, travelling the length and breadth of Australia in search of new birds for her list and her 600th tick was a Red-tailed Tropicbird at Esperance in Western Australia. This made her a member of ‘The 600 Club’, an exclusive club. She was a Life Member of BirdLife Australia/BOCA and was collater of the Unusual Sighting Reports, published in The Bird Observer, from 1984 until 2002, a mighty job.
She was a member of the Peninsula Field Naturalists Club and coordinated their birding outings for many years. She and husband Hartley hosted the Field Naturalist committee meetings at their house and she was eventually made a Life Member of the Peninsula Field Naturalists Club.
Peggy and Hartley were instrumental (with others) in saving the Langwarren Military Reserve from development in the 1980’s so it is now a great nature reserve full of wildflowers and birds.
A wonderful character and we will miss her. We send our condolences to the family.
per BirdLife Mornington Peninsula December 2016 Newsletter
On this mostly mild and calm, partly-sunny morning, the 13 participants who assembled at the usual meeting place at 10am managed wonderfully in my absence. A huge thank you to Denise for responding at short notice and collecting signatures, keeping the day well organised, and making clear and complete bird lists at each location. Further thanks to Arthur for providing excellent photos taken on the day. Welcome to the three newcomers and to one who made a return visit after about 16 years. Thanks also to all the regulars who always make the day so successful.
Spring was certainly noticeable with such species as Horsfield’s and Shining Bronze-cuckoos being recorded in two places while Fan-tailed Cuckoos were at all places where the group stopped.
Superb Fairy-wrens, Spotted Pardalotes, Red Wattlebirds, Grey Shrike-thrushes and Eastern Yellow Robins were also everywhere. Weebills, New Holland Honeyeaters and Brown-headed Honeyeaters were plentiful. Even Mistletoebirds were found in three places. In contrast, Purple-crowned Lorikeet was only recorded once, as were Kookaburra and Tree Martin. Surprising finds were Rainbow Bee-eater and Yellow-tufted Honeyeater. That was our first record of the latter. Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters occur in numbers at The Brisbane Ranges and would only have to fly 10 to 20 km to be in the You Yangs.
The You Yangs area sits in a rain-shadow, largely due to the Brisbane Ranges blocking rain-bearing winds from the west. Brisbane Ranges habitat tends, therefore, to be wetter than that at the You Yangs. However, at present the You Yangs area is unusually green. The dams have water in them and some are dotted with clumps of white frog spawn. Pobblebonks, Spotted Marsh Frogs and Eastern Common Froglets share the soundscape at the dam above Fawcett’s gullly. Their calls are all quite different from one another, so are easy to distinguish.
Another sign of spring is the flowers, including those of the boneseed itself, of course. In the afternoon of the visit, the group removed one and a half hours’ worth of these flowering plants from a dense growth to the south of our official site. The springtime yellow of the brightly blooming wattles remains. These include Golden, Gold Dust and Hedge Wattles. Elsewhere Dwarf Greenhoods are growing in places that are boneseed-free and usually quite dry.
The last BirdLife You Yangs birding and boneseeding visit for the year is planned for Saturday 3 December. That will be the last time I organise and lead the outings for at least a year. One participant has offered to organise next year’s outings and she and others are prepared to lead one or more, so the project will continue.
On a very cold morning, in a howling gale but bright sunshine, 15 members and three visitors from Asia met on the banks of the Maribyrnong River to go birdwatching. Quite mad in those weather conditions!
Before we left the car park, we had THE BIRD OF THE DAY – a lone Swift Parrot, heavily disguising itself in dense foliage but popping its unmistakeable red face out from time to time and, turning upside down, showing us it’s pinky vent and long tail.
It was a new bird for many of the group and we had some difficulty in persuading our visitors what a rare sighting it was. It was hard to turn our backs on the rarity, watch the Whistling Kite flying upriver and, then ourselves, go downstream into the wind.
We followed the Maribyrnong Trail past Frogs Hollow Wetland (well named – there were many Common Froglets calling) and found Red-browed Finches on the fence and Superb Fairy-wrens on the grass. Jack’s Canal yielded Dusky Moorhens and Purple Swamphens, Australasian Grebe and we heard, above the gale, the plaintiff call of the Little Grassbird from the reed bed.
The waves were pretty choppy on the lake in Burndap Park but we had good views of both Grey and Chestnut Teal, and Hoary-headed Grebe.
In the most sheltered corner of the lake we found White-faced Heron, Great Egret and Pacific Black Duck roosting.
On a floating platform on the adjacent river we were able to distinguish the characteristics differentiating Little Black from Little Pied Cormorants and from a young Darter sharing the same platform. We had Wood Ducks and Eurasian Coots grazing on the grass of the riverbank and Crested Pigeons & Red-rumped Parrots picking up seeds from the path.
We went back to the car park for lunch where a Black-shouldered Kite hunted overhead, 30 Galahs flew by and Yellow-rumped Thornbills tinkled from the adjacent grassland. After lunch we crossed the river and explored the city side parkland.
In flowering Ironbarks on the golf course we had good views of Rainbow and Musk Lorikeets and were able to compare their markings and calls. We found a pair of Long-billed Corellas exploring a tree hollow and saw an old Mudlark nest. Heading further east towards the Walter Street Reserve we recorded Eastern Rosellas and both White-plumed and New Holland Honeyeaters. A newly-planted wetland area adjacent to a housing development had already been discovered by ducks and a cormorant but the only new species for the day that we found there were House Sparrows and Common Starlings. Revisiting that area in the future, when the plantings were better established would probably prove more fruitful. Buff-banded Rail has been recorded in the past from the creek that drains the area (sadly now only a concrete drain).
At Bird Call, we listed 48 species which, given the persistent cold wind, increasingly dull day and exposed site was a good total and all participants agreed they had enjoyed themselves in an area few had visited before.
Recently Birdlife Melbourne members, John and Trina Young got some big ticks in Coober Pedy. After weeks of looking for target species in northern Australia with low success, they were returning on the Stuart Highway. With some time to spare in Coober Pedy, and staying faithful to TheComplete Guide to Finding the Birds of Australia by R. Thomas & S Thomas, they drove the 18km northwest to the breakaways. Walking in this area they saw Spotted Harrier, then a Golden Chat and then Gibberbirds; many of them. After that success, the following day they went 12km southeast on the highway to, horror of horrors, the free camping area at the Hutchison Memorial. About 100-200 metres away from the caravans, Winnebagos, dogs and children, in the recommended bird site, they spotted Pied Honeyeater, Crimson Chat and then, my nemesis, Chestnut-breasted Whiteface. So as John put it, a halt in Coober Pedy was worth far more than a bag of groceries from the supermarket. Thanks for this tip off, John.
Note on birding etiquette
John also left us with a worthwhile reminder to always check with the owner or manager of private property before wandering about looking for birds. It’s a sad fact that bird watchers are no longer allowed on some stations. There’s no excuse in the bush; everyone knows everyone, so go to the hotel, service station, post office or the neighbour. Get a phone number and call first or call at the homestead.
Nest cages – Help or hindrance to a breeding shorebird population?
PhD Candidate Laura Tan reports on the pros and cons of predator exclusion cages around nests
Southwest of Melbourne at Truganina and Cheetham Wetlands, a population of Red-capped Plovers (Charadrius ruficapillus) has been studied by a research team (led by Dr Mike Weston) at Deakin University’s Centre for Integrative Ecology since 2008. The Red-capped Plover is a ground-nesting bird that lays up to two 3cm long eggs in a shallow scrape in the ground. They rely primarily on crypsis (camouflage of the egg and incubator) and cover (e.g. vegetation) to keep eggs safe over a 30-day incubation period. The species is widespread throughout wetlands in Australia, however in some areas habitat changes confine the species to isolated habitats with high predator densities.
When monitoring first began, it became increasingly clear that hatching and fledging success was very low – most eggs were preyed upon before they hatched, with foxes and ravens being the key egg predators. The low reproductive success recorded probably meant the viability of the population was in question.
Deakin University Wildlife and Conservation Biology researchers have the dual aim of contributing to science and also developing and testing conservation solutions for our study animals. We investigated the use of predator exclosures, or ‘nest cages’ (cage-like structures placed surrounding a nest, allowing entry and exit of the incubator but excluding both larger mammalian and avian predators) as an option to reduce the rate of clutch predation. Despite use in other management programs, the present literature is conflicted as to whether nest cages actually help target populations. Nest cages can potentially be used to buy time while longer-term solutions are implemented, and if effective, would be valuable if they could be extended to threatened species. However, downsides are that the nest location is basically advertised once a cage is installed, thus predators may ambush incubating birds or chicks as they leave the security of the cage, or nests could even be abandoned. Furthermore, it is a time-consuming option, requiring a large ongoing search and caging effort.
For the last three breeding seasons we have placed cages over 117 nests of 202 located. During the first season (2012-2013) we compared caged with non-caged nests, and found that caged nests had an overwhelming influence on hatching success (at least one egg hatched at 96.2% of 26 caged nests, versus 6.8% of 44 uncaged nests); of all caged nests, only one cage appeared to have been compromised (for full results see http://tinyurl.com/RCPexclosures2015). Abandonment was slightly higher at caged nests (28% versus 10% at non-caged nests); though this may have been because clutches were surviving long enough to allow abandonment to occur.
The following two seasons we continued to use nest cages. With the initial comparison study complete, we began caging all nests and placing remote sensor cameras nearby. This was to help determine:
how many and what predators were visiting nests;
potential causes of abandonment; and
to learn more about Red-capped Plover behaviour during incubation and after hatching of eggs (chicks can leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching) in conjunction with nest cage use.
The footage from our first nests revealed a lot – numerous visits by ravens and foxes, and suggestions of predation on an incubating parent by a raven. This footage revealed the possibility that there may have been more adult mortality than previously recognized when using cages. Since then, we have recorded various levels of suggestive evidence of other adult deaths at nests, with ravens and foxes as culprits. In the last season, we obtained unambiguous evidence of a fox ambush of a male incubator at a cage, and a raven ambush of chicks as they leave the cage. In particular, from a population viewpoint, mortality of an adult bird is an especially concerning matter (as adults have long reproductive potentials), and an important consideration in the use of nest cages.
It is hard to recommend or dismiss the use of nest cages in predator management programs entirely. However, if a population is suffering due to high egg depredation, the use of nest cages should be considered given the high rate of hatching success. Despite this, it’s unlikely that nest cages confer a huge benefit over not using them, but in conjunction with other predator management methods, it has the potential to be a very successful option.
Many thanks to Parks Victoria and the Point Cook Coastal Park rangers for so kindly allowing us to continue our research on this wonderful species. Funding was provided by the M.A. Ingram Trust, the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country via BirdLife Australia’s Beach-nesting Birds Program, the Hermon Slade Foundation, Australian Bird Environment Fund (BOCA), Ecology and Heritage Partners, Theiss Degremont Joint Venture and AquaSure.
Our current publications from this study include the following
Ekanayake, K.B., Weston, M.A., Nimmo, D.G., Maguire, G.S., Endler, J.A., Küpper, C., 2015. The bright incubate at night: sexual dichromatism and adaptive incubation division in an open-nesting shorebird. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 282: 20143026.
Tan, L.X.L., Buchanan, K.A., Maguire, G.M., Weston, M.A., 2015. Cover, not caging, influences chronic physiological stress in a ground nesting bird. Journal of Avian Biology, 46: 001-007.
The weather forecast read the previous week was dismally ‘cold, wet, windy’, but the day was sunny, breezy and cool so 15 of us assembled with binoculars and cameras. Rob Grosvenor led the group in a walk around the ponds. The area is one of the Melbourne Water flood retarding basins which are surveyed monthly by BirdLife Melbourne volunteers.
It is interesting to record the birds found in such a small, recently established space among an area zoned light industrial and commercial. Birds here clearly survive despite potential disturbance. Clumps of gorse or reeds sheltered Superb Fairy-wrens, Common Greenfinches and Red-browed Finches while some lucky early arrivals recorded a silent Golden-headed Cisticola. New Holland Honeyeaters dominated but there were White-plumed Honeyeaters in some areas including a stand of eucalypts. A few Red Wattlebirds were recorded and a highlight was three Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters at the eastern end of the basin.
Jokes about a ‘duck-free wetland’ fell silent at the eastern ponds beside the go-kart circuit where Grey and Chestnut Teal, Australian Wood and Pacific Black Ducks joined two Great Egrets, several Eurasian Coots, a Dusky Moorhen and a Black-fronted Dotterel.
Other waterbirds included a male Australasian Darter, Little Pied and Great Cormorants, an Australian Pelican, a White-faced Heron and a passing Straw-necked Ibis.Raptors were clearly doing well as we saw Black-shouldered Kite, Nankeen Kestrel, Swamp Harrier and Brown and Peregrine Falcons. Rock and Spotted Doves, Common Bronzewing and Crested Pigeon were also present.
The final species count was 49; rather satisfying for a winter’s day in a small, much altered area and we thanked Rob for showing us the potential of the site.