Buff-breasted Button-quail search 11-13/12/11

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Buff-breasted Button-quail search 11-13/12/11
From: Carl Billingham <>
Date: Tue, 20 Dec 2011 14:46:40 -0800 (PST)

Here is a revision of an email I sent to those involved in the previous 
weekends search for BBBQ at Mt Molloy.  Because of the constraints of 
Birding-Aus I have not attached the map I mention in my email, however, if 
anybody wants a copy please feel free to contact me off line. 
Fellow BBBQ paddock bashers,
Thanks so much to the hardy souls that joined us on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday 
in the search for the elusive BBBQ and to those that provided information on 
where to look and, just as importantly, what to look for.  The conditions were 
very hot and humid, making the experience most uncomfortable for those of 
us that had grown soft residing in an air-conditioned office most of the time 
(ie me).  
A number of Brown Quail were flushed along with numerous Painted 
Button-quail.  The big question is did anyone see BBBQ?  The answer is yes, 

I have attached a printout from GPS of some of our travels showing where the 
previous sightings had been made.  
>From Peter Marsh we had BBBQ1 (S16 49 23, E145 22 15), BBQ2 (S16 49 00, E145 
>22 19) and BBQ3 (S16 49 12, E145 22 19). Additional information and a 
>photograph of the first location BBBQ1 from Bob Way, helped confirm we were 
>looking in the right area, however, this area seemed to be the least 
>productive in terms of BQ or any other seed eating birds (eg Peaceful Doves 
>and Pale-headed Rosellas).  It looked to me as if this patch had finished 
>seeding and I suspect the birds had all moved on to 'pastures new'.   I have 
>marked up the areas where the grass still seemed to be seeding heavily in 
>green on the attached map.  
 Six of us, Michael Kearns, Dominic Chaplin, Martin Cachard, Phil Gregory, and 
Adam Arnold, covered the area thoroughly on the Sunday morning, although with 
the benefit of hindsight I suspect we were searching too high up the hillside.  
All that was flushed was one very golden Brown Quail (only sighted by 
myself) and half a dozen Painted Button-quail, although it is most probable 
that these included multiple sightings of the same PBQ's.
The Sunday afternoon it was just Michael and I.  We spent more time on the 
lower slopes and adjacent flats that had grass seeding. We quartered the areas 
where BBBQ had been seen previously, thoroughly, without success.  We then 
concentrated on the areas where the grass was still seeding which were north of 
the dense vegetation (melaleucas marked in blue on the map) between the 
powerlines and the base of the hills.  It was in this area we had our most 
likely candidate for BBBQ.  
Michael flushed two Quail from right under his feet which wheeled away behind 
him. Michael's first comment was that they were a different colour to the PBQ 
and BQ we had  been seeing in the area being a lighter buff colour.  Both birds 
flew about 30-50m and landed some distance apart. I concentrated on where the 
furthest one landed and chased after it while Michael went for the closest.  I 
had only got a brief look as they flew away and agreed they were a paler buff 
colour and were lighter underneath.  
Walking up to the area where the second one had landed I was surprised when it 
flushed about 3m behind my right shoulder - I had walked right past it!  By the 
time I had turned around and got a bead on where it was, it was well on its way 
toward the hills at about tree top height (6-9m) before banking behind a tree 
and disappearing from sight.
It was considerably larger than the PBQ we had been seeing but wasn't huge as 
some had described the female BBBQ in previous recordings on Birding-Aus.  
My first impression was of a uniform pale buff bird of similar colour to the 
clay in the area with pale/cream flanks and a series of darker bands down the 
middle of the back. It was considerably lighter on the rump and back than the 
PBQ's we had been seeing which appeared to have a uniform dark-grey colour as 
they flew away (occassionally with an orange patch visible on the shoulders if 
you got your binoculars on to them in time).
This bird also appeared much plainer buff without any of the overall black 
flecking which gives the Brown Quails a more uniform and richer colour (the 
Brown Quail we saw in the area ranged from plain mid-brown to a golden colour 
and one which was almost orangey rufous - similar to the illustration in 
Morecombe).  No markings were noted on the underside of the BBBQ candidate, nor 
the contrasting darker primaries that I expected to see based on others 
recorded sightings.  I immediately thought I had seen a BBBQ but the lack of 
the last diagnostic (noticably contrasting darker flight feathers) started me 
doubting what I had seen later on.  Unfortunately Michael did not see this 
second bird take off and so couldn't add anything to put my mind to rest.     
The following morning we returned with Kay Parkin and commenced our search at 
the spot where we had had the last flushing (marked as BBBQ4 on my map, co-ords 
S16 49 7 E145 22 15) with almost imediate success.   At almost exactly the same 
location where I had flushed the bird the second time, Kay managed to flush one 
as well.  Her initial impression was of a pale buff coloured bird but as 
neither Michael nor I saw it and she wasnt experienced at picking BBBQ from PBQ 
she has been left with a most unsatisfactory 'possible sighting'.  In hindsight 
we should have been walking closer together.
Kay left us to catch her flight home at about 9.00am and Michael and I carried 
on, sighting only a couple of PBQ's, until 11.30 when we called a halt to 
proceedings due to the heat.  
We returned later in the afternoon just as a storm broke overhead with a 
torrential downpour.  We noticed Martin Cachard's 4WD pulled up on the side of 
the road and were impressed that he was still out birding in the downpour while 
we were struggling to keep our hire car on the road!   We caught up with Martin 
just as the rain was easing and set out to spend more time scouring the line 
around the base of the hills from BBBQ2 around to BBBQ1. At this stage Dick 
Jenkin also joined us having hightailed it straight from getting off his plane 
in Cairns.
The search proved fruitless aside from one very small PBQ from the BBBQ4 site 
and one Brown Quail flushed further south from the BBBQ1 site.  We then came 
back and checked north of BBBQ2 which appeared to be much more suitable habitat 
as at least the grass was seeding in this area, however, we didn't see any 
quails there.
The following morning 6 of us, including Dominic Chaplin, Phil Gregory, Dick 
Jenkin and Jun Matsui, set out once more.  We flushed a number of PBQ and a 
Brown Quail but alas the only possible candidate was a button-quail that 
flushed at some distance away from us up the slope.  Opinions as to what this 
was were mixed with Phil and Dick noting a much paler underside.  I was the 
only 'nay sayer' as I didnt see anything different to what I had been seing on 
PBQ's in the area over the last couple of days.  After referring to our 
collection of different illustrations of Button Quails back at the car (were 
the artists really looking at the same birds as us???;-) we agreed on an 'open 
verdict' on the last sighting.
It was thus time to head for the airport after a quick shower at Cassowary 
House on the way.  

Lessons learnt:  In future I would concentrate on areas where the grass was 
seeding and look for other seed eating birds in the area such as peaceful doves 
and pale-headed rosellas.  In this instance, the grass seemed to be seeding 
most prolifically where the ground cover had been burnt back underneath the 
Two further observations:  we never heard any Quails calling either on the 
ground or when flushed, and none of us noticed any platelets over the 3 days.
 On behalf of Michael and I, I would like to thank Dominic Chaplin, Martin 
Cachard and Phil Gregory for taking the time to join us in the search (more 
than once which amazed me!).  I would also like to thank Keith and Lindsay 
Fisher for taking us spotlighting at Kingfisher Lodge on the Monday night.
Thanks again to all participants and good luck with future searches - I will be 
Carl Billingham
Taringa, Brisbane

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