At the suggestion of Tony Palliser I am writing to report a possible
(probable?) night parrot that my wife and I saw on the evening of 1 June in
the vicinity of Cloncurry. At about 1830 hours, about half an hour after
sunset, we were driving slowly north along the road from Duchess/Dejarra to
Cloncurry when we sighted a smallish dumpy bird in the headlight beams at
the edge of the bitumen. We had been driving cautiously and were watching
the edge of the road carefully because there were many kangaroos and cows
crossing the road. The bird showed no eye-shine, unlike nightjars, and the
eye was small, not large like that of an owlet-nightjar. Also unlike an
owlet-nightjar there were no darker stripes on the head. (We are very
familiar with owlet-nightjars having both seen and photographed them). The
head shape was also very parrot-like, and the tail was short like that of a
night parrot. We couldn't see much color because we had the bird only in
the headlight beams, but it was much the same color as the roadside grasses
and shrubs, i.e. somewhat dun colored in the light from the headlamps.
Unfortunately, even though I was driving slowly, I couldn't stop until we
were about 10 meters past the bird, and it flushed as we went by.
Nevertheless we felt that we got reasonable if brief looks at it, and we
were both confidant that we had indeed seen a night parrot. In size and
shape the only bird with which we felt it could be confused was an
owlet-nightjar, and it certainly was not that. Our sighting was almost
exactly 25 kilometers south of the turn-off from the Cloncurry-Mt. Isa road
in an area of grassy woodland in a valley between rocky hills. The habitat
is much like others common in the Mt. Isa uplands.
Tony thinks we probably do not have enough information for a rarities
committee report, and I tend to agree. However, if you think it would be
worth having such a report for the record, I would be happy to submit one.
I also hope this serves to alert anyone who might be in the vicinity of
Cloncurry that the road to Duchess might well be worth a look.
I should also be curious to know if there have been any other reported
night parrot sightings along the Cloncurry - Duchess road or elsewhere in
the vicinity since the sightings reported in the 1993 paper in EMU by
Stephen Garnett et al. The roadside areas south of Malbon, where I gather
there have been previous night parrot sightings, were rather badly trashed
by cows and I presume pigs as there was a large dead pig by the roadside.
The ground was mostly bare and didn't appear to provide much suitable
habitat for anything.
Department of Entomology
University of California, Davis
(Currently on research leave at the Department of Entomology, University
of Queensland, St. Lucia)