Atlassing Nocturnal Birds

Subject: Atlassing Nocturnal Birds
From: Stephen Ambrose <>
Date: Sun, 12 Apr 1998 16:05:34 +1000
At 12:31 PM 4/12/98 +1000, Peter Davie wrote:

>No Atlas would be complete without satisfactory coverage of nocturnal birds.
>No doubt there will be recommendations about methodology for this aspect
of the Survey; it might be worthwhile considering the use of tape recorders
for RECORDING the calls of owls etc during point (?) surveys  at night -
but NOT for calling them in! Tape recordings could be of considerable use
for later identification in cases of doubt.
Hi Peter,

Thanks for raising this point. I don?t think that anyone involved in the
strategic planning, so far, has really considered how to effectively survey
nocturnal birds during the atlas project. Perhaps you may like to raise
this point during the workshop discussions next weekend. Mark Holdsworth,
Chairman of the Australasian Raptor Association (ARA), will be present at
the workshop, and he may be able to provide some advice. The ARA includes
owls, owlet-nightjars (etc), in its sphere of interest because,
ecologically speaking, it regards these birds as nocturnal raptors.

The jury still seems to be out regarding the ethical and welfare issues
associated with the use spotlights and tape-recordings to locate nocturnal
birds in areas. You may recall this discussion taking place on Birding-Aus
about 18 months ago. Personally, I feel uneasy about thousands of
well-meaning, but possibly inexperienced, atlassers using spotlights and
tape-recorders to locate nocturnal birds because it may potentially be
disruptive and harmful to these species.

I lived in Canberra for about 3 years when COG was conducting its ACT bird
atlas. I was impressed with the way COG recorded the distribution of
Boobook Owls during this time. Towards the end of the data collection
period, the Boobook Owl had only been recorded in a small number of ACT
grid squares. At one of the COG meetings, members were asked to adopt a
square in which Boobook Owls had not been recorded. These members were
asked to spend at least one evening in a defined 5-day period searching for
nocturnal birds in their adopted square. As a result, the Boobook Owl was
recorded in most of the ACT squares. This is a clear example of how
observer effort can influence records of bird distribution.

Perhaps the Australian Bird Atlas can try something similar on a grander
scale. That is, one week in every season could be devoted to organising
atlassers to specifically survey nocturnal birds in as many grid blocks
and/or point locations as possible.

Do other Birding-Aussers have any suggestions?

Best wishes,

Dr Stephen Ambrose
Research Manager

Birds Australia (Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union)
Australian Bird Research Centre
415 Riversdale Road,
Hawthorn East,
VIC   3123.

Tel:    +61 3 9882 2622
Fax:    +61 3 9882 2677
1997 Australian Bird Research Directory is on Birds Australia's
home page: <>.

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