Monday, 25 February 2013

Antipodean heart on sleeve

Traipsing after crakes and rails and pigeons and the like I often reflect on these beautiful English names and also on the early naturalists, who knew their field so well and how exciting it must have been for them to find crakes and cranes and herons and quail here in Australia, in the places or niches it would be reasonable for them to find them. Of course there were plenty of wonders too, like the platypus and echidna and bizarre birds such as the emu. Even the black swan was an oddity. The expressions black swan event, black swan theory and black swan problem are based on the improbability of a black swan occurring and I assume pre-date the Australian experience where black is the only way swans come. I've already commented on the expression a whiteness of swans elsewhere on this blog.

Growing up in Australia, it never occurred to me that I was in any way backward or down-under or an outsider. My place is my place. As a child I couldn't have cared less that people applied fake snow to shop windows midsummer for Christmas, or that traditional Christmas lunch was a little heavy for the climate. Leaves changed to red and seasonally fell off trees in other parts of the world? Ponds iced over? Yeah really? There wasn't any ice down my local swamp or billabong. I recall thinking that the idea of the Mediterranean as the middle of the earth was an ambitious claim but it's only as I get older that my appreciation of my true antipodean status grows.

Here's one thing. Clockwise. The hands on a clock travel round the same direction as the shadow on a sundial right? Try it, though if you live in the southern hemisphere the results might be nasty.

Then there's the southern hemisphere horoscope. I don't pretend to understand but I believe it gets messy fast. Even Feng Shui needs to be adjusted for the southern hemisphere. If horoscopes and Feng Shui aren't your thing, perhaps you are acquainted with the wee small hours for live tele coverage, for important events like Netherlands in the World Cup, reinforcing Antipodean remoteness from the centre stage.

And now, yes there is a birdy point to this post, I learnt today, that the link with St Valentine's Day and romantic love, is all about when the birds take their mates, just not in my hemisphere of the planet! Apparently Feb 14th is not even a good approximation in the northern hemisphere, but if you are after a scapegoat, Chaucer is the fellow. I read about it here and recommend you do the same. 

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Random non-exotics

I'm posting this as I like the curve of the right wing against the gum branch behind. That's about it. Oh and the cockatoo's facial expression.

And a random annoying miner. 

Another crested pigeon.


Who is the most pea-brained of them all?

Not exactly overly Common Bronzewing

I startled a pair on the mountain track today. Here's one of them.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013


No sorry I did not see one. If only. I look and look but have never spotted one and sightings reported through the bird list I am on, are precious few.

But never fear, if shooting the blighters is your thing, you can take 20 a day, during the upcoming quail shooting season in Victoria, that starts in April.

On the other hand, if you know where there are quail in abundance, I'd really like to know, so I can look into booking an eco holiday to see them. I tried googling 'problem quail' and 'plague quail' to see if I can find where they are so plentiful that they can be taken as a sport but all I got were biblical references and advice for pet quail ailments. Surely quail hunting is only with us, as an accident of history? Last time I checked my watch I wasn't in Europe in the Middle Ages. 

Anyhow I am not going to jump up and down about this one. I have a pressing need to pay attention to applied linguistics in any spare moments so this blog may slide into recess...


Monday, 18 February 2013

Another tack... against NSW Government's changed shooting laws

I know you kindly read my letter opposing shooting in NSW National Parks. Thank you. I sent it off to the various politicians and have only had one response so far, which was from The Hon George Souris, who informed me that most of the shooting would be on private land, of ducks in areas near the Murray. This made me quite curious as to why the National Parks are so nicely spread over NSW, but I began to look into the duck hunting/Game Bird Management Program more closely, since wild duck numbers have been 'unmanaged' in recent years and ducks pose a threat to rice crop as it becomes established. I know local ducks quickly consumed $80 000 worth of young plants at a Canberra wetlands last year, so I believe the ducks really might be a problem to farmers however the more I read the more horrified I became about what will really happen. 

Because the NSW Government was forced to make a deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party, that party have been able to push through significant changes in the law. If you didn't know, NSW axed the duck hunting season in 1995, which like all such seasons, had a fixed term. Because ducks have been 'unmanaged' in recent years, there is now no season or bag limit for licensed shooters to 'mitigate' against these ducks. And to thwart protestors, the areas available for shooting will only be made known to those licensed. Hunters and Fishers want to get on with the job, without protestors slowing proceedings and it is illegal to interfere with 'conservation hunting'. This is part of the new law.

All this might even be ok, if it weren't for Australian native birds, who have been around since before the politicians, since before the rice crop, since before all of us white guys. Westen folk (yes including me) have had an enormous impact on the fragile Austalian biota and a number of native birds are now threatened and endangered. If you have a notion of legal processes in this country, you will know that a substantial effort has been made for such a classification to be recognised. 

But for what? The areas the birds live in, and I am now referring particularly to the endangered Australasian Bittern, are now open to conservation hunters. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean everywhere, but on private land it is possible for children as young as twelve*, to be licensed as conservation hunters, to mitigate against unmanaged ducks, any time, any amount of birds. For sure they must pass a WIT (Waterfowl Identification Test) so they know the difference between a duck and a bittern but please don't try and tell me that children, however well intentioned, won't make mistakes. And don't try to convince me that adults won't make mistakes. And any mistakes, any unecessary flushing of birds, any stressed birds is bad news for our surviving Bittern.

As a result I have written a new letter to Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation as follows. I will send it in a day or two.

* I'm not sure about the age of the youngest conservation hunters. I know ten year olds can sit for the Waterfowl Identification Test, which only ever needs to be taken once but I think the minimum age for hunting is 12. 

February 2013

Dear EPBC Referrals,

I believe that the NSW Game Bird Management Program will have a significant impact on the endangered Australasian Bittern. Australasian Bittern in inland south-eastern Australia survive within a limited range of habitat. The core range of the Australasian Bittern lies in the Riverina and it’s my belief that changes in game bird shooting laws in NSW, which enable landowners to protect ricefields from wild ducks, without regard for season or quantity of birds taken, will have a significant impact on Australasian Bittern. I believe this will occur through misidentification, misadventure and through stress, which will force the Bittern into areas where they are more vulnerable to predators. I believe that the consequences of changing shooting laws have not been properly considered by the NSW Game Bird Management Program. I would also like to know whether the NSW Game Bird Management Program have lodged an Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Referral to determine the effects of changing laws on endangered species, which inhabit the rice crop they seek to protect.

From information available on the Species Profile and Threats Database for the Australasian Bittern provided by the Australian Government’s Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, the population of Australasian Bittern, in eastern Australia has been estimated at 2000 birds (Delany & Scott 2002). The southeast Australian population is the most important for the species' survival because it is the largest subpopulation.

More recent data from Birdlife Australia suggests that numbers are much lower than this estimate and that the number of Australasian Bittern in Australia are critically low. Only 113 Australasian Bittern were recorded at 60 wetlands throughout Australia 2011-2012. Though this is higher than the 92 birds recorded the previous year, it is lower than expected, given the amount of rainfall in the Murray Darling Basin and elsewhere in eastern Australia. Of the 113, 42 Australasian Bittern were recorded in NSW. 14 of these birds were recorded in the Riverina area, making this core Bittern habitat.

Australian Bittern have specialised habitat requirements and in eastern Australia, cessation of floodplain inundation due to water harvesting and alteration of drainage systems has destroyed much of the Bittern's seasonal habitat (Jaensch 2004). Many of the Murray-Darling wetlands are no longer available or are rarely available for use by Bitterns due to river regulation and water harvesting (R. Jaensch June 2005, pers. comm.). In the inland regions the Australasian Bittern inhabits vast floodplain wetland systems, although today these are effectively reduced to small areas of remnant habitat, except in exceptionally wet years (R. Jaensch June 2005, pers. comm.). In NSW, the Australasian Bittern is frequently recorded in the Murray-Darling Basin, notably in floodplain wetlands of the Murrumbidgee, Lachlan, Macquarie and Gwydir Rivers (Marchant & Higgins 1990; NPWS 1999; R. Jaensch June 2005, pers. comm.). Aggregations of Australasian Bittern consistently occur at wetlands such as Fivebough Swamp (at Leeton, NSW), where habitat is actively managed for this species and is supplemented by nearby ricefield habitat (FTWMTI 2002).

It is the Bittern which inhabit the ricefield areas that I am writing to you about. Under the NSW Game Bird Management Program which is managed by the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service, private landholders can legally protect their crops from the damage caused by wild ducks using conservation hunters licensed by Game Council NSW. No season or bag limits apply.

A letter I received from The Hon. George SOURIS, BEc, DipFMgt, FAIM, FCPA MP, Member of the Legislative Assembly, Member for Upper Hunter, Minister for Tourism, Major Events, Hospitality and Racing, and Minister for the Arts, Member of the The Nationals (NSW) assures me: "Under the new laws game bird hunting will be allowed for sustainable agricultural management purposes”. Further I was assured that: “Game bird hunting predominantly happens in rice growing areas like the Riverina and towns nearby the Murray.” My concern is that this game bird hunting, with no regard for the breeding season of any species and no bag limits will have a significant impact on the Australasian Bittern. With the tiny numbers of Bittern left, the loss of the single bird must be seen as significant. Opening private land in NSW to conservation hunters, given the pressures already on threatened and endangered species is unsupportable. In particular the massive habitat loss already outlined forces remaining sensitive species into smaller, localised areas such as ricefields which are now open to shooters.

I am aware that Australasian Bittern are not targeted through the Game Bird Management Program, rather they are a protected species. I am also aware that conservation hunters must undertake a Wildfowl Identification Test (once) and in NSW be over the age of 10 years however I am not satisfied that such measures will be sufficient to prevent the shooting of Australasian Bittern through misidentification and misadventure. Any such losses will have a significant impact on the population of Australasian Bittern. Australasian Bittern presently inhabit the same ricefields as the game birds mitigated against. Moving targets can be difficult to identify. Australasian Bittern are large, slow moving and are potentially easier targets than many of the ducks that are targeted, particularly for inexperienced hunters under the age of 18.

Furthermore I am concerned that the disturbance caused by conservation hunters and their dogs in ricefields will have a significant impact on the Australasian Bittern as this impact will stress the Bittern and expose them to danger. Disturbing the Bittern’s feeding and nesting sites may drive them into areas where they are more vulnerable to predators. Repeatedly flushing Bittern means that they will use energy needed for feeding and place them under undue stress.

To hunt, conservation hunters must gain the required licenses, then contact Game Council at Tocumwal on 03 5874 2983 for information on where and which farmers require assistance. This is hardly a transparent process and is deliberately secretive so that shooters can organise without fear of protest. For the survival of the Australasian Bittern, I urge you to investigate this matter fully. The Game Bird Management Program must be halted immediately until this is thoroughly investigated.

Australasian Bittern numbers are desperately low. These birds have specialised habitat needs and survive within a limited range. Opening their range to conservation hunters will lead to Bittern death through misadventure and misidentification. Conservation hunters and their dogs will also stress Bittern, forcing them into areas where they are more vulnerable to predators and threats. The consequences of opening Riverina areas for shooting, through the Game Bird Management Program, need to be thoroughly researched for the survival of the Australasian Bittern and other endangered and threatened species in the Riverina, including those within ricefield areas.

Act now before it is too late for our endangered birds.

Yours Sincerely,

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The boys are back in town

Man I hope my prediction about a shooting accident in National Parks does not manifest as rapidly as my prediction that the swans would return.

So yes two swans are back and they are giant meanies. Well one is. It kept the other one back from the bread showers and pecked its neck when it got too close. Though the two stick together, the smaller one is understandably wary. I have been doing some background reading and swans are known to do awful things such as drown each other. I know plenty of animals have a pecking order; there's only so much food to go round, so this shouldn't surprise me so much. My mum's dog illustrated this a while back, when the dog tried rid herself of her runt pup a few times, before finally discarding it in the cactus patch

Grey Teal

This duck could be a female Chestnut Teal; either are uncommon at the pond but what a cute, nicely shaped duck it is. Very attractive. It flew in alone, for one day only and I photographed it just after rain. All the head shots are a bit soft so I wasn't that happy with the results but you can see it's a duck.

At home with Pacific Black Ducks. Grey Teal is top right.

Post Script: The following day no Grey Teal. Day after that 3 of them so that makes them Grey Teal in my book, not Chestnuts. After that I lost track.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Shooting in NSW National Parks

To make my opposition to legalised hunting in NSW National Parks clear, I have sent the following letter to: 

Hon. Robyn Parker MP, Minister for Environment and Heritage
Hon. B.R. O'Farrell M.P., Premier

The Hon. George Souris, MP, Minister for Tourism

The Hon. Katrina Hodgkinson, MP, Minister for Primary Industries

The Hon. Michael Gallacher, MLC, Minister for Police and Emergency Services

I urge you to do the same and send this letter or your own, to your local member as well if you live in NSW. The letter is not original. I wrote part of it and copied a lot, that sums up longer term environmental concerns. The letter I copied from can be found in full here

You can find the list of affected National Parks and Reserves here.

You can find the list of National park estate land that cannot be declared as public hunting land on page 11 of this document. There are only 20 so it won't take you long to read it.$FILE/b2011-163-d18-House.pdf

Our birds and animals cannot enter this debate. Please write on their behalf.



It’s my belief that a legal hunting season in NSW National Parks is a very poorly considered decision. My concerns are for the safety of park users. Additionally I am concerned about the stress that will be caused to native birds and animals and I have serious long term environmental concerns.

We all know that gun deaths occur where guns are used. In Italy 13 people were killed in hunting accidents and 33 wounded in the first six weeks of the 2012 shooting season1. / Can your government afford a single hunting season gun death? Can you? Who do you imagine will die first? A father, a son, or a brother in a shooting party? Or pehaps bushwalker who walks into a park unsuspectlingly? Or is a foreign national more likely? It’s well known that people of non-English speaking backgrounds are overrepresented among drowning deaths in this country.” Will your government be more successful at warning non English speakers of dangers in National Parks than successive governments have been in warning of the dangers of the surf? And just how will your government close all the access roads to National Parks and make it known to all when shooting season is on?

As an appreciator of Australian nature I am also concerned for the stress caused to birds and animals while shooting season occurs. If it is documented that the presence of a photographer might put birds off breeding in an area, can you imagine the disturbance caused by shooting? As the birds and animals are silent in this debate, you must try to consider more than one perspective. And who or what is to stop a shooter taking potshots at protected Australian species? Life is tough enough for many species without a legal shooting season to content with.

Furthermore irresponsible game shooters are well known to actively introduce target species to areas in which they are allowed to shoot.  This has been cited often as a reason for the numbers and extent of deer, pigs and perhaps goats that are now pests in public and private land throughout eastern Australia. 

Some of the reserves in which shooting is soon to be allowed are quite small and isolated by surrounding cropland.  The temptation to release just a few piglets, goats or deer in such reserves will be irresistible to a minority of shooters.  What could be more attractive to a not-so-thoughtful shooter than a local ‘private’ hunting ground?  Many of these reserves currently support few or uninteresting feral species, so that the pressure to augment feral stocks will be great.

What is a keen hunter going to do in the unlikely event that his local hunting ground (National Park or Nature Reserve) appears to be running low on 'stock'?  Where is the vested interest for shooters to actually eliminate any feral animals at all? On the contrary, there is a considerable motivation to increase the number of feral animals so that they can be seen to be 'doing more' and being a more impressive part of the 'solution'.  Personal interest is completely opposed to the professed objectives of the policy.

Given we already know that feral translocation by shooters has occurred extensively in the past and largely if not entirely caused the present problem, any legislation that encourages such introductions to areas of even higher conservation value is an appalling, unforgivable change.  Together with the certainty that some native animals will be accidentally shot and the fact that general recreational hunting has never been shown to control any feral species in any location in Australia, what is the justification that allows changing the law?  We are faced with a lose-lose and yet one more 'lose' for our limited remaining native species.

Has the government included consideration of the problem of deliberate feral translocations into national parks and reserves, and if so, what evidence was used to decide the new laws would not make the situation worse than it is now?

In anticipatation of your reply to these issues.


A whiteness of swans

The surviving parent (I think the mother) and one or two fledged swanlings have been at the pond each day over the last week. I didn't see any severe attack of the swanling who remained behind, but all the flyins were aggressive and kept the castout swanling well back from white bread showers, chasing it away and sometimes forcing it from the water. These behaviours prompted me to think it's all about territory for swans. Good pond with reliable white bread supply. Yep we'll take it. They don't hate the left behind/castout swanling. It's just a threat to their range.

The photos below are from the weekend. You can see the mother is still bigger and her black and white colouring is more pronounced than her brood. She is at the back of the group of three and the ones near her are the close gang who fledged in December. It was these three against the one who remained.

However there's other news. Today is the first day since last autumn that there are no swans at the pond. All gone, even the runt. As an eternal optimist I imagine they all flew off together to explore new pasture and will pop back in from time to time!

And more news. The drain the little Buff-banded Rail fell into is also a fish trap. Today the water level has dropped and there are several dead and dying fish, about 20 cm long. I don't know what kind, maybe carp. I performed no rescue.

Anyway here are the swans. The collective noun 'a whiteness of swans' is not the commonest phase in English, but I didn't make it up. I guess it entered English prior to Europeans 'discovering' Australia.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Sacré bleu

With all yesterday's excitement I almost forget that a Sacred Kingfisher made a mid afternoon visit to the pond. It could be the same one I saw in a nearby park recently. I hope it becomes a regular.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Buff-banded Rail

There are Buff-banded Rails at our pond? Well there are at least two, for now.

My daughter and I rescued a Buff-banded Rail chick from a drain today. In retrospect I'm not sure we did the right thing. I wanted the chick back with its parent quickly but looking at photos afterwards, it looks like the chick landed in sludgy oil and maybe we should have called WIRES to have it cleaned before being returned to the wild.

Here's what happened. Walking around the pond, as you do on a nice afternoon, I heard loud bird shrieking at close range. It seemed to be coming from a drain, which is approximately a cubic metre in volume, just a few metres away. 

The drain is a pond overflow pit, which is mostly out of the water in dry times though one edge is in the water today. I stepped onto the cover but couldn't see anything.

The shrieking continued. I looked up and saw what I thought was a crake of some kind, on the grass where I'd just been. The bird was calling wildly and I only had time for two awful photos before it raced into the reeds.

On closer inspection of the drain, which was not easy from any angle, I realised there was a chick inside.

What I didn't realise properly at the time was that it had probably landed in the horrible pond sludge you see below, before it made its way to the relative safety of the wall, where it could move around a bit.

I was sort of able to peer in. The chick was naturally very scared. There's an open edge at the top of the drain of about 20cm, that a bird might escape through but this chick was not attempting to fly. It was stuck.

I tried opening the top of the drain but it was too heavy. I figured the only way out for the bird was on foot so I went home and to find wood to make a walkway and identified the bird as a Buff-banded Rail. The Canberra Ornithologists website lists these rails as uncommon summer breeding migrants.

On returning and positioning some tomato stakes as a walkway I sat and I waited but of course nothing happened. My daughter arrived a while later. We had another go at removing the drain cover and together we lifted it. For intents and purposes the chick was still stuck at the bottom but as my daughter had brought a rag, an old, clean nappy, she was able to catch it easily. She held the chick for long enough to take a photo, before it jumped from her clutch and darted into the reeds. 

Thrilled as I am to learn that Buff-banded Rails are so close to us, I'm not sure this one will survive today's experience. In the photos it looks like there's grease or oil near its tail which is potentially poisonous. I really hope it survives.


Saturday, 2 February 2013

Cacatua rosy cap

In the olden days the latin name for Galah was Cacatua Roseicapilla. Such a great name, however it appears galahs are no longer considered cockatoos and they are labelled with the much less enchanting Eolophus roseicapilla. 

Now don't fall down, but I am almost happy with one of my photographs! Walking home after work today I saw at least one million galahs, mostly eating grass seeds, but this male was alone in a shady tree. Maybe you think the colours are washed out, but I like the low contrast and low saturation in the shade. You could almost be misled into thinking these are elegant birds

Eolophus roseicapilla