birding-aus fairy-wren habitat

To: Birding-aus <>
Subject: birding-aus fairy-wren habitat
From: (Richard Johnson)
Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1999 15:27:30 +1000
Hi All

John Leonard's question has opened up a very interesting discussion. For what it's worth, here are some observations of my own.
I know the forest mentioned by Terry Pacey very well, being a frequent visitor when I lived in Gatton (it's a small world Terry - I'm surprised we never crossed paths). Though Variegated, Superb and Red-backed FW's could all be seen in a very small area, it was my impression that the RB's were always in grassy open forest, particularly that thinned by selective logging, while Var's and Superbs were usually in shrubby forest. How the latter two spp partitioned habitat was much less apparent. On one occasion at this site I watched these two spp in a loose flock foraging together on fallen shrubs and small trees beside a newly-cleared track. I can only assume that in this case, some resource partitioning at a much less observable scale was in effect e.g. feeding on different invertebrates. My feeling generally though is that Var's were more 'interior' birds and the Superbs were 'edge' birds. The Var's were typically in the shrubby gullies inside the forest and Superbs in more open, though shrubby, areas at the edges. This seems borne out by observations elsewhere in SE Qld but is by no means an iron-clad rule. I have certainly seen Var's on ecotones e.g. between dense riparian vegetation and more open adjoining forest types, including quite disturbed areas . The idea of Superbs as an edge species would fit in with their ability to adapt to suburban gardens. These observations seem to fit in well with those of Andy Burton (Superbs in disturbed, weedy areas) and Sean Pywell (Var's in the interior of mallee patches, Superbs on the edges).
The above comments only apply to the nominate lamberti in SE Qld. Out here at Roma, some 450km WNW of Brisbane, We have Var's, presumed but not confirmed assimilis, Superbs and White-winged. It is possible to see all three in close proximity but the WW's are always in open grassy/chenopod areas. They only overlap with Superbs and Var's where taller shrubs encroach into grassy/chenopod herblands. The Superbs and Var's are often in the same habitat together here (generally brigalow regrowth and shrubby poplar box woodland, sometimes with the introduced shrub African boxthorn) with no obvious partitioning. It is notable that the Superbs are in urban areas (parks and gardens) of Roma but the Var's never are. As an aside, both species seem to love African boxthorn, which tends to invade cleared areas on alluvial soils here at Roma.
Assimilis appears adapted to much more open habitats than the other races. They are present in the mitchell grass downs of central and northern inland Qld, occurring with WWFW's in part of this area, and I have seen a mixed party of assimilis and Red-backed FW's in a gully covered by spinifex and sparse low trees at Lawn Hill. Yet more possibilities for research on resource partitioning by fairy-wrens!
Has anyone interested in this topic got access to Rowley and Russell's monograph on the fairy-wrens? There might be some illuminating information in there if they could share it with the rest of us.
A final thought. This line of discussion might prove useful to the editors of HANZAB 5 - Hugo Phillipps, are you reading this???

Richard Johnson
Senior Conservation Officer, Habitat Case Studies
Roma District
Tel: (07) 4622 4266  Fax: (07) 4622 4151

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