Eyrean Grasswrens (Strzelecki Desert, SA)

To: "" <>
Subject: Eyrean Grasswrens (Strzelecki Desert, SA)
From: Ian May <>
Date: Thu, 27 Sep 2001 19:42:16 +0930
G'Day All

Earlier this month, Pat and I spent two weeks in the southern Strzelecki
desert looking for Eyrean Grasswrens (Amytornis goyderi).   Recently,
good rains have fallen over the area and bird life is teeming
everywhere.  The vegetation is in good condition and in the last few
years, since the reduction of rabbits due to Calici virus, the rabbit
grazing line which was previously a visual characteristic of these sandy
deserts has disappeared and plant foliage now droops to the ground
providing improved bird habitat.

Within a block bounded by Merty Merty station, Cameron Corner, Hawker
Gate and the northern end of Lake Frome, we searched many sites and were
pleased to find Eyrean Grasswrens at most suitable locations.   We have
found them to be widespread throughout the Strzelecki desert south to
Yandama Creek.  They are common near the remote Tilcha bore on
Callabonna Creek and in 1979 we recorded them further south at
approximately 29'40" S 140'30" E, which is east of Lake Cootabarlow.

Eyrean Grasswrens live on sand dunes and dune swales with a vegetation
cover of Sand-hill Cane-grass (Zygochloa paradoxa).   Cane-grass mixed
with Spinifex and Acacias forming a shrubland among sand dunes is also
suitable habitat.   They can also be found at sites where vegetation is
sparse and in poor condition such as heavily rabbit and cattle grazed
sand dunes during drought.    Our observations over more than 25 years
indicate a close association with Zygochloa paradoxa.

Easier to find near drifting crests and on the eastern aspect of  large
cane-grass covered sand-hills, searching for Grasswrens is most
successful during the first and last hours of daylight in warm calm
weather.  Usually there are several birds in a group and a series of
faint but distinctively sharp "tzee" and "tzee zeet" alarm calls can be
heard as you enter into their territory.  The pitch is higher and more
metallic than calls of White-winged and Variegated Wrens which are also
common in the same habitat.

A particularly good Eyrean Grasswren site was located along the main
road from Cameron Corner to Merty Merty which means it is easily
accessible, even to conventional cars.   The site is at 28'.54".33 S,
140'.21".65 E which is on Merty Merty station, only about 1/2 kilometre
west of the Bollards Lagoon boundary grid which is clearly signposted.
The area comprises red sandy dunes running north/south that are covered
with cane-grass, triodia (spinifex) and mixed shrubs (acacia, cassia
etc.).  The habitat seems best on the north side of the road on the
eastern aspect of the dunes.

This should be a good spot for anyone looking for these birds.   There
are several family groups of up to 5 birds each in the area but the
noise of cars will frighten them into cover where they can remain silent
and hidden for some time so it is usually best to search more than 50
metres from the road.  This site looks ideal for Emu Wrens too but we
did not see any.   Eyrean Grasswrens are widespread in this area and
they occur at other sites along this road.   Recently, others have
recorded them near Bollards Lagoon (see birding-aus: Allan Morris
30/08/00; Keith Betton 28/08/01).

We also searched adjacent areas in NSW without success and my report on
this will follow.


Ian May
PO Box 666
Enfield Plaza SA 5085
Tel: 0409 474 575
(08) 8380 9553

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