Night Parrot Report

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Night Parrot Report
From: knightl <>
Date: Wed, 26 Oct 2005 16:38:19 +1000
Getting rarite sightings accepted seems to be a contentious business. I had a look at the published account of the night parrot sighting
earlier this year  -  available at the WA EPA website [as mentioned
previously].  It occurred me to ask those in the know, whether the
level of detail provided would meet BARC submission requirements?

It's certainly an interesting account, and one that may motivate people to take cameras and spotlights when they are staking out watering
points at dusk and dawn.

Regards, Laurie.

Night Parrot Sighting 12th April 2005 (R.A. Davis)

Brenden Metcalf (BSc. Env. Sc.) and Dr Rob Davis (BSc. Biology/Env. Sc. Hons, PhD Zoology) went to Minga Well (UTM to be provided) before dusk on 12/4/2005 during a fauna survey of the Cloud Break Tenement of
Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. The objective was to stake out the
waterhole until dusk to see what birds came in to drink, with the aim
of furthering the species list for the area.

We sat on the concrete rim of an old water-tank next to a windmill. The seat allowed a view of approximately 80-90% of a permanent water soak
called Minga Well. The surrounding habitat is comprised of Mulga
woodland with many dead trees and virtually no understorey as a result of cattle grazing. Cows wandered off from the area on our arrival at
about 1733. I spoke for a while on the satellite phone before joining
Brenden at approximately 1745 pm. We both sat quietly scanning the
pools. Birds seen included a Bustard coming to drink from the right
bank, a kangaroo at the top of the pool and a dingo on the top right
part of the pool. At about 1800 I heard an approaching flock of birds
coming from the front and then left of the pool. I noted and remarked
to Brenden that I was not familiar with that call but have since heard it and am confident it was a flock of Bourke’s Parrots. There seemed to be several calls approaching from either side before I became aware of a small flock of calling birds (presumably the Bourke’s). Despite
trying to see the birds, the flock appeared to be flying below the
horizon and could not be seen against the dark background. The flock
was heard to circle above our heads twice before it was heard settling around us as evidenced by calling birds at ground level. Soon after
hearing these birds, Brenden remarked that there were some parrots on
the right bank across the water from where we were sitting. I scanned
the area with my binoculars and saw 3 medium-sized birds that were
approximately 1.5 m back from the water’s edge and on open ground but within a metre or two of some Mulga trees. As I watched they ran quickly forward. The motion was a definite run, more akin to that of a scurry and not the hop of birds such as the Singing Honeyeater. The
three birds behaved differently from each other. One ran towards the
water’s edge, the second ran towards the other and they seemed to
scuttle around a little. They seemed well adapted to the ground and ran in short waddling bursts.
The birds I observed in visible twilight conditions were a dull
greenish colour but I noted mostly the almost yellowish green colour of the front left breast of the bird I was watching. I also noted
distinctly marked black-flecked plumage that was not arranged into a
particular pattern but gave a streaked appearance of the feathers. I
primarily saw the colour of the breast and side and could not discern
further plumage detail although I was aware of a degree of brighter
plumage on the side of the head and breast. The birds were dumpier,
larger and more squat looking than a Budgie.
They appeared to have no other colours besides the green/yellow and
black plumage. The heads were rounded and “bull-headed” with a fatter
body giving a generally dumpy appearance. The body was slung low to the ground with the legs appearing relatively short and the tail quite
short. On this basis I eliminated almost immediately the Budgerigar
which would have had a completely different, smaller and more slender
shape, a longer tail and different method of moving. Furthermore no
budgerigar calls were heard in the vicinity prior or post this sighting and at the time of writing none has been observed on the entire
tenement during 12 days. I eliminated Bourke’s Parrots which I saw
several times subsequent to this sighting at both dawn and dusk, and on the same evening at the well, as the birds I saw were larger than
Bourke’s, were almost entirely horizontal when running (ie. Did not sit
upright at all like Bourke’s do), there were three birds on their own with absolutely no calling (which is usual for Bourke’s), they were
slung low to the ground in general appearance and had an altogether
very different jizz. The birds were observed for about 2-3 minutes with Swarovski 8X30 SLC binoculars at a distance of about 12m and it very quickly became apparent to me that these were Night Parrots. The actual bird sighting was at approximately 1815 (time not noted at time of
sighting). It was visible twilight and the birds were mostly still
observable including colour and overall plumage although fine details
such as bills and individual feathers could not be seen.
We did not speak to each other for the 2-3 minutes of the sighting
until Brenden heard my heavy breathing and said “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” and remarked that he had just seen a Night Parrot. We are both absolutely 100% confident that we saw Night Parrots Pezoporus
occidentalis and there are no other parrots that either looked or
behaved like these birds. The Night Parrots probably appeared quietly
on the bank or may have flown in with the Bourke’s Parrots.
Subsequent searches at both this well and Moojari Well were undertaken for the remaining 5 nights and once at dawn, but to no avail. This may be due to the disturbance by a larger number of people or may be due to the unusual conditions on the night of the sighting (see below)

Background: The Fortescue Marshes lie within 2-3km of this well. They
contain approximately 5000 km2 of samphire and spinifex and there have been 2 possible recent sightings in the area (both by Biota). The well represents the only major source of permanent water in the region
besides Moojari Well, and the preceding year has been very dry with
virtually no rain since September 2004. The fauna survey reflects this with generally low numbers of birds and vertebrates in traps. Interestingly, Orange Chats were also observed twice during the day at this well as were 12 Star Finches. Orange Chats are likely to also
reside in the samphire and travel to the well for water.
It is interesting that these sightings were on dusk at visible
twilight. This may have been luck as most records are reported to occur well after dark (John Blyth, pers. comm..) although Pizzey and Knight (1997) state that Night Parrots come in to drink at waterholes at dusk before going out to feed at night. It is possible that this species is crepuscular. The night of the sighting differed from subsequent days in that it was quite overcast with light drizzle preceding the sightings. As a result it was dark 5-10 minute earlier than subsequent nights and there was no delayed twilight effect.

Night Parrot sighting 12/4/05 Brenden Metcalf
Minga Well

Rob Davis and myself were birdwatching at Minga Well on dusk. We were
seated on the edge of an old tank on the western side of the pool (see Figure A) and observed a number of birds coming into drink
(Black-fronted Dotterels, Red-capped Plovers, Little Corellas, Common
Bronzewing). At about ~6.10pm I heard a flutter of wings on the eastern side of the pool. Rob whispered “Diamond Doves” and we both scanned with our binoculars. I saw some parrots and said “Parrots”. I saw two birds, both of which waddled down towards the water’s edge. They both appeared to have landed approx. 1 metre back from the water’s edge. One bird (A) made its way down to the water’s edge, whilst the other (B) stopped by a small pool made by a cow’s hoofprint in the mud. As we were roughly opposite the birds, I saw bird A from almost head on (facing west), whilst bird B was side on (facing north). Both birds
appeared to have waddled, with their body appearing to pivot on their
foot. Both birds had green plumage with darker speckles running the
length of their body. Bird A appeared to have a lighter plumage on its cheek, whilst bird B appeared to have the same shade of green across
the whole body.
Both birds were stout in appearance with short tails and reasonably
thickset bodies (approx. 18-25cm long and about 9cm deep across the
middle of the body). Whilst drinking, neither bird appeared to lift its head fully, like many other parrots do.
We watched the birds for approximately 1-2 minutes and after a quick
discussion, we agreed that we had seen Night Parrots. We discussed what to do next and as the spotlight was still in the vehicle, Rob decided
to get it. As he stood up the birds flew off.
Similar species
The bird was obviously a parrot, so species that were considered
Bourke’s Parrot This species doesn’t look as thickset and has
scalloping across the back which I didn’t see on these birds. This
species also has a longer tail than the birds I saw.
Budgerigar This species has a body that tapers off much quicker than
the birds I saw and the tails were much shorter in the birds seen.
Additionally this species tends to drink during the day in larger
groups and make much more noise – this species was not seen at all
during the current trip.
Mulga Parrot The patterning on the body was completely different.
Whereas this species tends to look mottled, the birds seen had the same pattern across the whole of the body (or at least those areas
observed). As with other possible species, the birds seen had shorter

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