birding-aus swifts and deceitful

Subject: birding-aus swifts and deceitful
From: David James <>
Date: Wed, 05 Jan 2000 20:41:56 +1000
this message didn't make it out earlier

>Date: Tue, 28 Dec 1999 18:42:02 +1000
>To: BA
>From: David James <>
>Subject: swifts and deceitful
>Hi Birders,
>This morning (28-12-99) while birding at Cungulla (mouth of the Haughton
River, about 40 km S of Townsville, north Qld), I came across a flock of
several thousand Fork-tailed Swifts. It was difficult to be sure how many
there were, but a few dense swarms amalgamated and dispersed and from what
I could see they were stretched at least 2km long and 1 km wide. I first
saw them at about 10:20 and they were still around the same location at
12:50. Maybe 1-2,000 is the best estimate.
>Birders seem to be reporting vagrant swifts/swiflets all over the place
these days so I spent well over an hour scrutinising this lot, searching
for odd things. And I found a few...
>One or two White-throated Needletails stood out as chunkier, short square
tails, grey backs and white vents. Hardly surprising to see them, I've seen
a few small groups in this general area lately. But you know, its the first
time I've ever seen these 2 species together. 
>More interesting (to me) were the handful of slim swifts with dark vents
and white rumps (like Fork-tailed Swifts) but with short squarish tails.
Candidate House Swifts perhaps? 
>Certainly not! These were fork-tailed swifts in tail moult and wing moult.
Quite a few had "moult gaps" (missing feathers) in the outer primaries, and
in the secondaries. Some had tails a bit shorter than usual with only a
shallow fork, some had tails very short and apparently square (when
fanned). This is to be expected in December and January when Fork-tailed
swifts are in full moult. The moult changes the flight dynamics just a tad,
and the moulting birds flap more and glide less. 
>Important features which defined these birds as Fork-taileds were the
scaly grey underbody and underwing coverts, and the clouded demarcation
between the white throat and the underbody.
>I've seen this situation a few times now, most recently at the Pascoe
River on Cape York, 12-12-99.
>With the spate of reported House Swifts in recent years, I can't help but
wonder how many might be referable to moulting Fork-taileds, and how many
observers have considered this possibility?  
>Good birding to you all,

Since then I've seen fork-tails in flocks pf up to a hundred on about 5
days between Ingham and Ayr, NQ, and twice, up to 30 Needletails with
Fork-tails near cungulla. 

My first records of fork-tails this season in townsville area were mid
October and seen regularly since. First White-throats were about mid Nov.

mike Tarburton, I'll send you more acurate details when time permits.

David James
PO BOX 5225
Townsville Mail Centre,
Qld 4810, Australia

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