Buff-breasted Button-quail

To: birding-aus <>
Subject: Buff-breasted Button-quail
From: Lloyd Nielsen <>
Date: Tue, 18 Jun 2002 10:19:49 +1000
There seems to be some apparent inaccuracies circulating concerning
Buff-breasted Button-quail and the Mareeba Wetlands i.e. the best chance
to see the species is at the Mareeba Wetlands. The Wetlands is only one
of a number of  places where it has been seen over the last 10 years.

Without wanting to denegrate the Mareeba Wetlands, the facts about the
Wetland sightings are as follows. At the end of 2000 I had a telephone
call from the then warden of the Wetlands. Someone had seen a pair of
Buff-breasted Button-quail there and the warden asked me to try to
confirm it. I went over a few days later and found a male and female
close to the spot where the original sighting was made. On a visit a
couple of weeks later (January 2001) with John Barcla (Melbourne) and
friends, we found several birds scattered over probably 600 metres of
lower ridge country. These were mixed with Painted Button-quail which,
interestingly, is the first time I have seen both species mixed. I went
back to the Wetlands again a couple of weeks later (after the first
rains but after the grass had thickened). Extensive searching failed to
find any button-quail - not even Painted. I later spoke to the warden
about intended regular visits which we had earlier discussed, with the
intention of  working jointly on the species as well as attempting to
try to record calls and to photograph the birds. I was promptly told
that people from Channel 10 (television) were lined up to do both the
photography and sound! (There seemed to be a message in that and
consequently, I have not been back since).

According to recent local press releases and radio reports, the Wetlands
is claiming to be currently monitoring Buff-breasted Button-quail and
that they have a 'population of Buff-breasted Button-quail' at the
Wetlands, the inference being that there is a resident population

My experience with the button-quail over 10 years is that it appears in
the Mareeba-Mt Carbine area in extremely small numbers, mostly singly or
twos, and quite sporodically, appearing late in the year (and in some
years not at all). Sometimes, it remains to breed during the wet season
but then disappears shortly after. In only one year (about 1993) did
they remain after the wet season - a very dry year when areas of grass
remained short. This season (2002), despite the failure of the normal
wet, there has been enough rain to make the grass grow tall, dense and
rank - a situation which from my experience, the button-quail avoids. By
the very nature of the species, I do not believe that it forms a
permanent population anywhere. In 10 years of trying to follow it, I
have never seen it in the same site in a following year. Apart from
1993, I have no records from the period May to November. The species is
obviously highly mobile, governed probably by condition of its preferred
habitat. When the habitat thickens as the wet season progresses, the
birds seem to quickly vacate these areas. My observations in the Mareeba
- Mt Molloy - Mt Carbine area agree closely with those of W. McLennan,
made at Coen in 1922 over a 6 month period when he eventually collected
birds and nests for H.L. White (now in the National Museum, Melbourne).

Only once since the Wetland sightings in January 2001 have I seen the
button-quail - a single bird at Mt Carbine in April 2001. I spent a
considerable amount of time (many days) during 2001 and early 2002
searching for it but to no avail. Rohan Clarke spent several days in
January 2002 (I was away at the time but supplied him with detailed
directions) thoroughly searching all of the known sites (including the
Wetlands) but again to no avail.

There is no doubting that there is suitable habitat at the Wetlands for
this button-quail. However, if the Wetlands has a resident population -
which I find incredible considering what we know (and which I believe
not to be so), then I believe it should be made known to some of us at
least, for the sake of this endangered species in the hope that we can
save it from disappearing altogether.

If I intended visiting the Wetlands in the hope of seeing the
Buff-breasted Button-quail, I would be phoning first and asking for more
information and the liklihood of seeing it. Immediately I confirmed the
existence in late 2000, entry to that area by the public and
birdwatchers was restricted which was fair enough. What the current
situation is I don't know. The suitable habitat is about the lower
slopes of the ridges, out from the information centre - around the self
guided Ridge Walk - certainly not about the lake where Brown Quail

I only mention the  facts above in the interest of people intending to
visit the Wetlands with high hopes of  seeing Buff-breasted

Having said all of that, the Wetlands Gouldian Finch release project
seems to be on track and I wish them well with that.

Lloyd Nielsen,
Mt Molloy  Nth Qld

An article on the Wetlands in the Cairns Post (8 June, 2002) states that
the Wetlands visiting hours for this season have been changed, opening
between 10.00AM and  4.00 PM, Wednesday to Sunday (which is not
conducive to birdwatching. Most bird activity in the tropics is from
daylight until about 10 - 11 AM - after that, the birds become very
inactive through the heat of the day, usually doing nothing more than
sitting about until late afternoon).
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