Mallee trip report

To: 'Chris Sanderson' <>
Subject: Mallee trip report
From: Peter Shute <>
Date: Wed, 13 Oct 2010 16:58:01 +1100
I wonder then what's going on to have them sometimes neither appear nor call, 
yet other times carry on as though you weren't even there.

We found photographing them challenging, but not impossible. We both have 
manual focus lenses, and manual focusing is probably advisable when they're 
jumping in and out of vegetation. We just kept firing away till we got a 
reasonable picture. The male in the tree was a fairly easy but distant target. 
The female was very difficult, she stayed in cover much more, and scurried 
quickly from clump to clump, so even my sharpest shot has grass in the 

Peter Shute
From: Chris Sanderson 
Sent: Wednesday, 13 October 2010 4:31 PM
To: Peter Shute
Cc: Tim Dolby; Jeremy Weiss; 
Subject: Mallee trip report

Hi Peter,

Glad to hear you had such success on your trip.  Yes, your description of 
Mallee Emu-wren behaviour sounds quite typical of some of my better encounters 
with the species.  I've never had huge amounts of luck with photographs as they 
are very good at keeping tufts of grass, branches and the like between you and 
them.  However, sometimes you can be lucky and they emerge onto dead branches 
to sing.  I would definitely say hearing their calls is critical to finding 
them.  They are insectivorous so feeding in low shrubs is pretty common when 
they feel safe, and they maintain home territories of reasonable size, so 30m 
of movement would definitely not be unusual.  I recall seeing birds move 
distances of over 100m before though it's always hard to keep track of such 
things in the mallee.  There was a girl doing banding studies of birds at 
Nowingi, I've lost track of her but perhaps someone on the forum knows the 
results she came up with?  I know establishing territory size was one of the 
outcomes of the study.

Chris Sanderson

On Wed, Oct 13, 2010 at 2:41 PM, Peter Shute 
<<>> wrote:
I thought I'd continue this thread now that I'm back from a trip to the Mallee 
with Bill Stent on the weekend. Not only did we see a Malleefowl at Bronzewing, 
and a Red-lored Whistler on Honeymoon Hut Track (see my Birdlines for 
10/10/10), but we also did well with Mallee Emu-wren at Nowingi Track (see 
Bill's Birdline for 7/10/10).

On previous trips we've not even heard any, this time we had a couple in sight 
for 30 minutes. I was under the impression that if you do see them, it's 
usually brief, and that even with playback they won't stay out long. But we had 
a male and a female sitting on triodia clumps, hopping around on the ground and 
on fallen branches, even sitting in a tree at head height a few times. Bill 
could hear others around us, but I found that I could only hear the loudest of 
their calls, so that might explain why I've never heard them before.

At the time we were under the impression that we'd come across them while they 
were out feeding, but now I'm wondering if we just happened to be standing 
right next to a nest, and that it was actually a distraction display. We didn't 
use any playback while they were in sight, and had only played about 5 seconds 
on my phone, maybe a couple of minutes before we came across them, 50m away 
from the spot. The female was much more timid than the male, as we had great 
difficulty getting any photos, but it came much closer than the male, to within 
4 or 5m. The male was staying much further away, sometimes 15m or more.

Has anyone else seen them behave like this? We did think at the time that they 
appeared to be feeding. What do they eat? Would they normally look for it in a 
tree 2m off the ground?

After we moved away, the birds were still visible, and there was one - not sure 
if it was one of the two, at the time I thought we'd found some more - moving 
ahead of us for quite a long way. I was under the impression that this species 
is very sedentary, not moving more than a few metres from its bush, but this 
one must have been moving over a distance of perhaps 30 or 40m. If they do 
often move this far then if think that anyone walking along behind could easily 
get the impression that they were seeing quite a few birds, not just one. 
Perhaps this is at least a partial explanation for the reports of "almost 
having to kick them out of the way".

Peter Shute
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