Searching for the Night Parrot

To: Jon Wren <>
Subject: Searching for the Night Parrot
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2007 03:33:04 +1100
Quoting Jon Wren <>:

> Lorne states
> "How many birding-aus members have been out searching for night parrots?
> Very few I'd think."

I have been to Murnea each year for the last twenty years, in October, November
or December. Murnea Rockhole is where Andrews collected most of his NPs.

Andrews did not go to Murnea on spec: he knew that NPs were there. The rockholes
have a total capacity of perhaps 500l, rather less given that the biggest
rockhole was, until recently, filled with rocks and sand. The two smaller
rockholes will fill on perhaps 2mm of rain. The total surface area of all of the
rockholes is little greater than that of my desk top, but may have been rather
greater in the 1870s, when sheep were shepherded to the rockholes at night, and
the rockholes were, presumably, maintained. None-the-less, they are very small.
Moonarie HS is not far to the North, Yardea HS rather further to the West. Other
local waterholes were also used by shepherds, and several, like Murnea, remain
bare of vegetation, even in good seasons. The shepherds were Andrews's most
likely source of information.

There are plenty of "native" rockholes in the Gawler Ranges, but Murnea is
almost unique in my experience (there is a similar rockhole on the Eastern side
of Lake Gairdner). Murnea is not in a gorge, but in sandhill country. I have
never been at Murnea when there has been water in the big rockhole (it is still
not fully dug out), and the last fifteen years have had dry winters at Murnea.
The surrounding vegetation, excepting the Samphire around Lake Gairdner, has
survived remarkably well, as there has been insufficient water for sheep until
recently (a piped trough is now in the paddock). There are no goats, but camels
have appeared in recent years. There are still a few rabbits, and mangy foxes. I
cannot recall seeing a cat within many miles.

I have taken several people to the rockholes, but in dry years they are
singularly unattractive. I know of only one person who has been back. The last
wet year was 1992, and that year was wet across South-eastern Australia. That
was also before I "found" Murnea Rockholes. In October 1992 I put up two parrots
that may have been NPs, a little South of Murnea. Each of these birds came up
from virtually under the soles of my boots, and from under Cotton Bush, and flew
with the strength an character of Musk Lorikeets: they bolted, under a very low
(2m) Eucalypt canopy. An alarm call was given as the birds rose. I saw the two
birds, which flushed separately, for a total of less than one second, hardly
enough for conclusive, or even tentative, identification. The cotton bush has
not been the same since.

Andrews has made it clear that the NPs do not come to water until after last
light. In my experience, nor do Bourkes parrots, which I regard as just as
nocturnal. But Bourke's Parrots roost in trees.

As to "new" predators, cats arrived long before European man - they came with
Indonesians in the fifteenth century, if not before, and I am yet to be
convinced that foxes are a more significant predator than dingoes.

A final note: both specimens were found as dead birds. Ask yourselves how many
dead Mulga Parrots have you ever seen, as compared to the number of live ones...
it is obvious that the NP is one very hard bird to find!


Allan Lees


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