White-throated Needletail sightings 1999/00

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Subject: White-throated Needletail sightings 1999/00
From: Mike Tarburton <>
Date: Tue, 25 Sep 2001 09:45:02 +1000

The first White-throated Needletails reported to me were of five birds seen at Bribie Is. by Phil & Linda Cross on 7th October.  The next was of a single bird seen at Jandowae, Qld., 11 October, by Martin Wiggington; and the third sighting was of 12 birds at Beachmere. Qld 16 October.  Congratulations to these observers in Queensland who in some years do not see them prior to observers in the southern states.

On the other hand the last reported sightings were of 20 birds at Boolarra, Gippsland, Vic.  These were seen on 27 March by Ray Marston, who is not on this list, but sends his reports in via snail mail.  So how did these and many other birds seen a few days previous in Victoria (Marlene Lyell, Duncan Fraser) and ACT (Marnix Zwankhuizen) get out of the country without being seen further north?  It points up the fact that we really do only see a fraction of the birds on or crossing our island.

Mixed flocks with Fork-tailed Swifts were seen by Linda Cross, David Stewart (possibly), Stanley Mathews, Craig Doolan, Bruce Cox, Chris Barnes (100 & 52 FTS) & Keith Brandwood .  They were seen hawking with Tree Martins by Merrilyn Serong and Keith Brandwood; and with what were possibly Fairy Martins by David Taylor. They were seen with Dusky Woodswallows by Merrilyn Serong.

Sixteen of the 236 sightings were of single birds and 18 were of two birds only.  The largest number estimated was 5,000 seen by David Stewart at Ocean Shores in North NSW.  One thousand were seen at O'Shannassy Water catchment Area Fire Tower north-east of Melbourne per Merrilyn Serong.  820 were seen by Chris Barnes at Woodgate south of Bundaberg, 500 each at Rotomah Island Bird Sanctuary, Vic. by Craig Doolan and between Munro and Marlo in East Gippsland.  Alan Morris saw 400+ at Bateau Bay, NSW.  Jann & Ross Mulholland saw 350 between Hawk Nest & Mungo Brush, NSW and John Boyce estimated 300  between Moe & Morwell in Victoria.

Alan Morris made 41 Needletail records. Keith Brandwood made 21 sightings, Ray Marston sent in 18 sightings, Robert Inglis & Susan Meinhold 17 each, & Merrilyn Serong made 12. Marnix Zwankhuizen saw eight groups; Dick Dallimore, Laurie Knight, & Duncan Fraser, six each; Linda Cross saw five groups; Bill Jolly  & John Leonard, four each.  Then there was Paul Jones who reported only three groups near the Mt Beenak Fire Tower, north east of Melbourne, but said he was seeing them most days.

Politically 8 sightings were made in ACT,  108 in NSW, 67 in Qld, and 58 in Vic.

David Hair reported declines since early 1990's in S. Sydney.  Edwin Vella reports a significant decline over his home area in Western Sydney over the last three years.  Andy Burton reported a decline in Western Sydney over the last 5-10 years, but cautions that others in W. Sydney still  maintain normal numbers as do some observers on the Central Coast.  Graeme Fraser, of Alstonville (nNSW) noticed a large decline in sightings in his district this year.

Tasmania may be a special case, although I think it exemplifies the general situation that some regions vary in opposite ways in different years.  Tim Reid is the only current regular reporter I know of from Tasmania and so our sample is small from an area I believe has large and erratic annual variations, due to the birds possibly not visiting Tasmania every year.  Tim made no records this season, though he was as active in the field as he usually is.

Thank you all for your reports and thanks also to people like Carol Probet who not only send in their own reports but those of others in their sphere of influence.

In summary it looks as if this year we saw more birds than last year so the slide that has been occurring over the last ten plus years may have bottomed out.  I thank Rory Poulter for his input in April (through Birding Aus) showing that the new atlas data shows a definite decline in swift numbers in the last ten years and in the time since the first atlas. Here is hoping that in the long term tree planting and other sensible ecological measures here and in northern Asia will help swift numbers to build up again so that more people can enjoy the exuberance found in watching them feed, drink and play in our skies.

Happy birding


Dr Mike Tarburton
Assoc. Prof. Biology
Pacific Adventist University
PMB Boroko
Papua New Guinea

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