Silent Spring in Kamarooka (Bendigo, Vic)

Subject: Silent Spring in Kamarooka (Bendigo, Vic)
From: Keith Stockwell <>
Date: Mon, 11 Sep 2006 17:04:53 +1000
Hi all,

For many years, Rochester birder Peter Allan has recorded nesting activity
in a section of the Kamarooka Forest east of the Bendigo-Tennyson Road.
Kamarooka Forest is the northernmost section of the Greater Bendigo
National Park (Victoria).

Peter wrote an article about the forest and its wealth of birds and
wildflowers in The Bird Observer, volume 771, January 1977.

An article in the June 2003 edition noted the sharp decline in bird numbers
although the same range of species could be observed with some difficulty.

Peter reports that the situation has now deteriorated further. The primary
cause, he believes, appears to be the dry conditions of recent years and
the lack of regular autumn breaks.

While the taller eucalypts and mallee seem healthy, the understorey has
been devastated. Those shrubs which survive have many dead branches and are
under great stress. As the life span of these shrubs is relatively short,
good rains are required for new shrubs to grow. New plants which do appear
are being quickly eaten by rabbits, hares and wallabies. Because
surrounding land owners have dams, wallaby numbers are substantial.

I took a group bush walking in Kamarooka Forest on Saturday and can attest
to the accuracy of Peter's remarks about the shrubs being under great

The overall impact on bird numbers has been dramatic.

In 1986 and 1987 Peter recorded an average of 57 nests in his study area.
In 1988, 74. In 1989, 87, and in 1990, 40. From 1995 to 1999, the number
had fallen to an average of 18. The 2000-2001 average was 9. The 2002-2004
average had fallen to 3 and the 2005 average was 7. This year's figure will
most likely be lower as there are few if any signs of nesting activity in
the forest.

Hole nesters such as galahs were not checked out, nor were magpies and
ravens, so the figures are for bush birds: honeyeaters, whistlers,
thrushes, robins, thornbills, etc. Whilst the figures may have been
affected by track closures, Peter's holidays and the fact that Peter
visited the area more frequently when there was lots of nesting activity,
these factors along cannot account for the sharp drop.

Evident now is the distinct lack of territorial song and the simple absence
of birds generally.  Even the more mobile and adaptive species are fewer in
number, particularly Yellow-tufted and Fuscous Honeyeaters. The worst
affected are those more dependent on low ground cover for nesting and
feeding, e.g. babblers, Gilbert whistler and Restless flycatcher.

Peter believes that even if good rains fall in the near future, recovery
will take many, many years.

Bushland pockets which have been watered seem to have more birds than ever
and birds appear to be moving in to towns and closer to residences. In
Deniliquin (southern NSW/Riverina) yesterday, I was with a group led by Tom
Wheller which observed 84 species within 5km of the town centre. 84 species
in a town...that's pretty good. Species observed included Australian
Shelduck (with young), Pink-eared Duck, Banded Lapwing, Australasian and
Hoary-headed Grebe, Collared Sparrowhawk, Black Falcon, Black-tailed Native
Hen (with young), Spotted and Striated  Pardalote, Singing Honeyeater,
White-plumed Honeyeater (common in local red gum forests), Blue-faced
Honeyeater, Azure Kingfisher, Weebill, Varied Sittella, Crested Shrike-tit,
Grey Fantail (not common in this area), Rufous Whistler, Australian
(Richard's) Pipit, Clamorous Reed Warbler and Silvereye.

A pair of Superb Parrots was checking out a potential nesting hollow in  a
red gum wetland adjacent to the town's main street. Local birders who
survey the reserve nearly every Sunday morning tell me it is their first
record of Superbs in the reserve.

As vandals (probably not the same vandals who destroyed the bird hide near
Sydney though) recently destroyed a bridge over a lagoon in the reserve, we
had to cross on a wobbly plank. The elderly observers had no problem.
Unfortunately, one participant lost balance, flung out arms and legs, and a
fell flat on his back in the muddy lagoon. He was destined to spent the
rest of the day wringing wet and completely caked in mud. Maybe it's just
as well the Deni men's wear stores are closed on Sundays. Imagine walking
in a clothing store when you are dripping mud and asking to try on new

Another indicator of climatic change is the relative absence of emus from
the Hay Plain. Emus appear to have migrated into riverine forests where
their numbers seem to be much higher than in past years. Yesterday, whilst
we were returning to Echuca from Deniliquin,for example, two of us sighted
about 18 emus feeding close to the Cobb Highway at the edge of Gulpa Island
State Forest south of Deniliquin.

A few weeks ago, I observed scores of them on Gunbower Island (in red gum
forest north of Cohuna, Victoria).

Returning home from Deni, we also observed about 10 Superb Parrots feeding
alongside the highway a few kilometres south of the town. Their presence
was discovered by Phil Maher earlier in the day. A lot of indigenous shrubs
have been planted along this section of the highway and there were lots of
old box trees in bloom. The Superbs were feeding in the trees. Such
roadsides are a wonderful resource for many bird species.

There are pdf brochures on Gulpa Island Mathoura, Gunbower Island Cohuna,
Echuca-Moama, Barmah Forest, Kamarooka Forest and other local birding hot
spots on the Echuca and District BOCA web site (it has a long URL so use a
search engine) as well as photos of most of our local birds and other
birding information. I've set out to link to the birding web sites of
fellow birding-ausers.

Earlier this year I reported that Rainbow Bee-eaters had failed to arrive
in our area last summer. Until last summer, hundreds of pairs used to nest
in local sandhills. It will be interesting to see whether or not they
return this year. If they fail to appear again, it may be the result of an
unseasonable cold snap in February last year when several dead RBEs were
observed in the area. Another indicator of climatic change?

I hope to add a pdf brochure on birding sites of Deniliquin sometime this
month and hope such brochures will be of use to those of who visit the

Your feedback is invited.

Keith Stockwell


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