WTNT Report for 2019/20

Subject: WTNT Report for 2019/20
From: Michael Tarburton <>
Date: Wed, 29 Jul 2020 09:46:05 +1000

White-throated Needletail (Hirundapus caudacutus) Report for 2019/20 Season.

This season there were 4681 reports sent in, or published where I could find them. This is significantly more than last year, even after I have gone through and deleted the many duplicate reports that it appears to be fashionable to make! Unfortunately, the number of reports not giving counts or estimates was up from 30 to 111. It appears that the large areas burnt out by bushfires forced the birds to concentrate more in the remaining unburnt areas.  This included many more sightings in Melbourne than we have experienced in recent years.  Some WTNT were seen in Torres Strait in early March, feeding low over Boigu & Saibai Islands and even going across to Papuan New Guinea. Were they escaping the burnt-out forests? For the previous two years, the largest flock reported was 2,000 birds but this year there were two flocks larger than this.   Daniel Weller reported 2,600 WTNT near Orbost in Vic. While Eric Vanderduys reported 2,500 WTNT at Smiths Lake in NSW – though he thought there were probably many more than that in the flock. There were three reports of about 1,000 birds. These were from Mungo Brush (John Connors), Black Mountain Gold Coast (Aaron Bean), Taree to Harrington (Ian Benson).

This season, there were six records for June, two for July and none for August.  These sightings were made in Qld, NSW, ACT, Vic & Tas.  Of the five sightings made in September, three were from Qld and two from NSW, so probably represent new arrivals.  There were 301 sightings for October.  The first Victorian sightings were made by me in East Gippsland near the Thurra River Rest Area on 27th Oct.  The first ACT sightings were made by Viv Rolland on 31 Oct. – much earlier than normal for ACT.  Lachlan Read, also saw 30 in the ACT on 15 Nov. – still much earlier than usual.  There were 7 sightings on Norfolk Island in Nov., and another one on Norfolk & several in the ACT in Dec.  The first WA sighting that I have is of 3 birds seen on Cocos Island by Jennifer Spry om 30 Nov.

 The first sighting from Tasmania was of 2 birds seen on 17th Dec at Devonport by Ramit Singal. The first of 16 South Australian sightings was made at Meningie on 31st Dec. when Sean Nolan and Tina Rider saw just one bird.  Another two were seen at Canundra N.P. in S.A. on 3rd Jan by Pip Unney-Barber.

 Three WTNT were being tracked by some Japanese researchers during the last season and I have just refereed their paper – but am not free to say too much till it is published. Data for all three birds supports my case that when these birds head north on migration they do so at heights beyond normal vision. One left Nth Qld heading west across the NT and departing Aus at the tip of the Kimberley. The second took a similar route but a little further Sth.  The third had just reached Tassie when it decided it was time to head home to Hokaido so returned across Bass Strait then west through S.A. then across WA, departing Aus near Dampier & Karatha.  So, if you are in SA, NT or WA towards the end of March or during April and you want to see migrating WTNT, point your high-powered Scope or binoculars heavenward and you might see our birds heading to the northern hemisphere, and make some uncommon sightings for those states. 

The average flock size this season was 28. This compares with 26, 32, & 30 for the three previous years.  Each of these figures is significantly lower than the mean of 52 for the decade 2000-2010.  So even though younger birds likely clumped more with experienced birds to beat the drought & the bushfires, the decline is sadly, still evident.

 So now we come to a sad section – reporting the top sighters.  It is sad because Irene Allan who has recorded the most sightings for the last ten years, & her husband suffered extensive destruction of their bush, farm and adjacent forests.  Despite this she still made (77) sightings, some even over the burnt parts.  Her brother Ron Becker 11 km south of her also had fire come up to their house in the process of destroying much of the surrounding bush, and he made fewer records than normal.  The most records were made by Andy Jensen (150), then myself with (83), Adrian Dick with (74), Ged Tranter (58), and Mark Allen (54).

There was a lot of effort put into counting WTNT this year and in appreciation I here report those who made 10 or more sightings.  Irene ALLAN (77), Mark ALLEN (54), Chris Attewell (32), Len & Jacquie AXEN (31), Alexander BABYCH (16), Chris BARNES (20), Peter BARRAND (21), Sarah BEAVIS (50), Ron BECKER (8), Ian BENSON (23), Tony BISCHOFF (10), Ian BRADSHAW (28), Max BRECKENRIDGE (17), Archie BRENNAN (17), Colin BROWNLIE (18), Frank BURCH (18), Todd BURROWS (33), Nick CARSON (51), David CHARLIE (43), Paul CHISHOLM (11), Rebecca CITRONI (10), Rae CLARK (10), Rohan CLARK (12), Gus DALY (16), David DAVIDSON (18), Adrian DICK (74), Louise, EARNSHAW (12), Steven EDWARDS (14), Adam FAWCETT (22), Stuart FLEMING (13), Rick FRANKS (27), Rod GARDNER, (17), Mat GILFEDDER (11), Phil GILMOUR (28), Simon GORTA (16), Matteo GRILLI (14), Chris HEALEY (16), Andrew HEIKAUS (12), Bas HENSON (42), Matt HINZE (12), Julia HUDD (11), Len ISIDORE (10), Andy JENSEN (150), Paul JONES (10), Thomas KENDALL (16), Jennifer KENNA (10), Rob KERNOT (25), Ian KERR (29), Russ LAMB (17), James LAMBERT (32), Jenny LAWRENCE (27), Dwaine LAXDAL (17), Elliot LEACH (23), Sue LEE (24), Paul LESTER (13), Mark LEY (12), Kurtis LINDSAY (10), Kersten MACKENZIE (16), Liam MANDERSON (13), Gillie MATTHEW (13), Andrew McCONVILLE (24), Daniel McKEON (14), Greg McLACHLAN (15), Bruce McNAUGHTON (11), Jack MORGAN (28), Alan MORRIS (30) + many sightings sent in for other observers, Ashley MULLAHEY (16), Liam MURPHY (12), Stephen MURRAY (32), John O’SHEA (22), Phillip O’SHEA (11), Carla PERKINS (12), Stuart PICKERING (13), Kaye POINTER (23), Steve POPPLE (48), Hugh POSSINGHAM (28), Ivor PRESTON (11), Michael RAMSEY (23), Ross RAPMUND (21), Chris RHEABERG (29), Mick RODERICK (18), Michael RONAN (27),  Marion ROPER (12), Julie SARNA (26), David SAWYER (15), Greg & Georgie SHAW (11), Ken SHAW (16), Andrew SIDES (11), Ross SMITH (12), Matthew STANTON (27), Ian STARLING (18), Jenny STILES (17), Peter STORER (11), Michael STRONG (18), Michael TARBURTON ((83), Marie TARRANT (12), Tom TARRANT (25), Daniel TERRINGTON (13), Ged TRANTER (58), Paul TURNER (17), Peter VALENTINE (10), Kent WARNER (15), James WATSON (17), Peter WEST (14), Tom WILSON (23), wingspanner (19), Hans WOHLMUTH (10), Mike WOOD (15), Jack WORCESTER (39).

 Thanks again to all those who have taken the trouble to send me your sightings.  It does not matter whether you sent in 1 report or more than 100, they are all useful in helping determine the WTNT population status and defining other aspects of their behaviour.

A big thank you is due to local bird club officials who have forwarded sightings from their members – very much appreciated. You can see them listed in green below the contributors list.

 Thank you & happy swift watching in the coming season.

 Mike Tarburton



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