this message didn't make it out earlier
>Date: Tue, 28 Dec 1999 18:42:02 +1000
>From: David James <>
>Subject: swifts and deceitful
>This morning (28-12-99) while birding at Cungulla (mouth of the Haughton
River, about 40 km S of Townsville, north Qld), I came across a flock of
several thousand Fork-tailed Swifts. It was difficult to be sure how many
there were, but a few dense swarms amalgamated and dispersed and from what
I could see they were stretched at least 2km long and 1 km wide. I first
saw them at about 10:20 and they were still around the same location at
12:50. Maybe 1-2,000 is the best estimate.
>Birders seem to be reporting vagrant swifts/swiflets all over the place
these days so I spent well over an hour scrutinising this lot, searching
for odd things. And I found a few...
>One or two White-throated Needletails stood out as chunkier, short square
tails, grey backs and white vents. Hardly surprising to see them, I've seen
a few small groups in this general area lately. But you know, its the first
time I've ever seen these 2 species together.
>More interesting (to me) were the handful of slim swifts with dark vents
and white rumps (like Fork-tailed Swifts) but with short squarish tails.
Candidate House Swifts perhaps?
>Certainly not! These were fork-tailed swifts in tail moult and wing moult.
Quite a few had "moult gaps" (missing feathers) in the outer primaries, and
in the secondaries. Some had tails a bit shorter than usual with only a
shallow fork, some had tails very short and apparently square (when
fanned). This is to be expected in December and January when Fork-tailed
swifts are in full moult. The moult changes the flight dynamics just a tad,
and the moulting birds flap more and glide less.
>Important features which defined these birds as Fork-taileds were the
scaly grey underbody and underwing coverts, and the clouded demarcation
between the white throat and the underbody.
>I've seen this situation a few times now, most recently at the Pascoe
River on Cape York, 12-12-99.
>With the spate of reported House Swifts in recent years, I can't help but
wonder how many might be referable to moulting Fork-taileds, and how many
observers have considered this possibility?
>Good birding to you all,
Since then I've seen fork-tails in flocks pf up to a hundred on about 5
days between Ingham and Ayr, NQ, and twice, up to 30 Needletails with
Fork-tails near cungulla.
My first records of fork-tails this season in townsville area were mid
October and seen regularly since. First White-throats were about mid Nov.
mike Tarburton, I'll send you more acurate details when time permits.
PO BOX 5225
Townsville Mail Centre,
Qld 4810, Australia
To unsubscribe from this list, please send a message to
Include ONLY "unsubscribe birding-aus" in the message body (without the