Birds go under ground

Subject: Birds go under ground
From: K W Stockwell <>
Date: Wed, 11 Feb 2009 21:38:30 +1100
Saturday 7th February was the hottest day ever recorded in many parts of Victoria. The temperature in the Echuca-Moama district exceeded 46 degrees celsius and there was a hot wind. An Echuca birder observed 15 dead birds near her house, including five dead Eastern Rosellas. The neighbour of another district birder observed Eastern Rosellas, which were feeding in a fruit tree, falling down dead

Amongst the scores of people who perished in fires that day was well-
known conservationist Jenny Barnett. Much of Jenny’s work focused on fire and the need to manage it in a way that protected people as well as native ecosystems.

But many birds survived. Some Neilborough (Bendigo area) birders
observed lots of bush birds huddled together hard up against a shaded wall of their Neilborough house.

Whilst watching a TV news cast, I observed Magpies walking amongst the smouldering ruins of burnt Kinglake properties in which people had died.

Pine Grove farmer Eris O’Brien (who manages some grassland properties owned by Trust for Nature) observed that some birds of northern
Victoria’s grassland plains went underground to escape the extreme heat!

Eris was at Trust for Nature’s Korrak Korrak Grassland (west of
Kerang) on Saturday 7th February when the temperature rose close to 50 degrees and observed some unusual behaviour by the grassland’s birds.

Eris emailed the following to me:

 "It was 40 degrees by 9:00 am. I was walking around the grasslands
cutting a few Bathurst Burrs.  As I was walking, I flushed several
Stubble Quail, White-winged Wrens and Brown Songlarks from under the
ground!   Yes that's right, grassland birds were down in deep soil
cracks and sink holes, some of them more than one metre underground.

"Perhaps the most surprising were the White-winged Wrens which decided that the shade of the shrubs wasn't enough respite from the 50 degree wind. But it was also quite weird to see mature Stubble Quail popping out of the ground through holes about the size of a small rabbit hole. Elsewhere in the grasslands, the birds were all seeking shade beside
small shrubs or beside fence posts.

"As I stopped by Glassons Grassland on the way home ~ the temperature was around 50 degrees by then~ I observed dozens of Stubble Quail seeking the shade of African Boxthorn, Lignum and Acacia oswaldii. By this time, no grassland birds could be seen in the open.

"Has anyone has observed this behaviour from Plains-wanderers on days of extreme heat?" (End of quote)

Keith Stockwell,

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