BBBQ (Bristly Bastards Button-quail Quest) - long

To: <>, "Alan Gillanders" <>, "Bob Way" <>, "Colin Reid" <>, "Dominic Chaplin" <>, "Lorand Szucs" <>, "Richard Jenkin" <>, "robert burgoyne" <>, "Ron Broomham" <>, "Sue Abbotts" <>, "Bill Moorhead" <>, "Darryel Binns" <>, "lloyd Nielsen" <>, "Rohan Clarke" <>, <>
Subject: BBBQ (Bristly Bastards Button-quail Quest) - long
From: "Peter Marsh" <>
Date: Wed, 30 Nov 2011 12:06:56 +1100
Dear Birders,
Ron Broomham, Bob Way, Rob Burgoyne and I have just spent a few days staying at 
Kingfisher Park as a base for a search for Buff-breasted Button-quail (BBBQ). 
Given the rarity of this bird I thought the results of this outing may be of 
interest to others and hence the rather long report.

I had been to the Mt Malloy area looking for BBBQ on two previous occasions and 
had some idea of the habitat. On those occasions I had been alone and the 
literature suggests that the chance of success is enhanced by a group of people 
walking in line apart spaced by 2 or 3 meters. I therefor posted a note on 
Birding-Aus (what a great facility it is!) and from this initiative assembled 
the group noted above. We chose the period 24 to 29 November for the trip based 
on the literature suggesting it was better to search before the wet season 
produced significant grass growth. In addition to the participants mentioned 
above Dominic Chaplin from Cairns joined us on the 25th November.

We assembled all the literature on BBBQ we could including all postings on 
Birding-Aus, the HANZAB entry and an article in Wingspan March 1995 by Danny 
Rogers entitled “A Mystery with History – The Buff-breasted Button-quail”. In 
addition we sought advice from Lloyd Nielson, Rohan Clarke and Richard Baxter. 
Many thanks to all those who provided advice and assistance. 

On the basis of the advice received we decided to concentrate our search in two 
places. The first was an area just south of Mt Malloy, Queensland and beside 
Lake Mitchell. As one heads south on the main road  (Mulligan Highway) from Mt 
Malloy one passed Big Mitchell Creek and shortly after the road is widened on 
both sides of the road to provide truck parking. Lake Mitchell is on the 
western side of the road. There is a car park off the road at S16  48 59 E145 
22 07. The “Mt Malloy” target site is to the east of the road adjacent to the 
road widening. The site is unfenced and appears to be public land though I am 
not certain of its legal status. Suffice to say access is not an issue. Rohan 
Clarke had suggested :-
  Any habitat on the eastern side of the road adjacent to Lake Mitchell seems 
OK. Basically they occupy that narrow gravelly strip right at the base of the 
slope where there is a mix of grass patches and open bare ground and usually 
there is some sparse melaleuca in the same area. If you walk up the slope 10s 
of meters it becomes rocky and you are too high, if you get down onto the flats 
and it is finer soil or clay you are too low. Once on the right contour you 
just snake your way around all of the hills - the suitable habitat strip is 
only 10s of meters wide
We adopted this suggestion and each time we searched the Mt Malloy site we 
parked at the road widening and walked east until we came tot he contour 
suggested by Rohan and followed it . Generally we went south falong the contour 
but we did also go north along it.

The second site (“Mareeba Wetlands”) was dry hillsides around the Mareeba 
Wetlands Reserve. We contacted Neil at the reserve and he kindly allowed us 
early access one morning.  There is a modest charge for access to the reserve.

On the 24th November we arrived at the Mt Malloy site in overcast weather with 
intermittent light showers. We walked south along the contour and found that 
much of it had been reasonably recently burnt. recent rain had stimulated 
significaant grass growth and it was very noticeable that this new growth was 
seeding significantly. We walked for 2 hours out and back and in that time 
flushed at least 7 Painted Button-quail (PBQ) and a covey of 5 Brown Quail 
(BQ). In addition we flushed 1 BBBQ. The target bird flushed from beneath the 
feet of one of the searchers in about the middle of the line and flew uphill 
for about 30 m. It flew in a straight line and did not rise above about 1 m 
from the ground. This bird was noticeably different from the PBQs that we had 
already seen in that the back and the rump were considerably lighter (buffy 
brown) and there was a very distinct transition between the pale upper-wing 
covets and mantle and the very dark primaries (grey-black). We did not see any 
beak or facial characteristics. By contrast the PBQ were dark all over the back 
and upperwings. The BBBQ looked to be generally the same size as the PBQs we 
had already seen.  We walked to where the bird landed but could not relocate 
it. The bird had flushed from a flattish area of ground within our contour that 
had been burnt and had a significant amount of seed. This bird was seen at S16 
49 23 E145 22 15. This is south west of a power pylon that is on the hillside 
and supports a very prominent but unoccupied nest.

On the 25th we again visited the Mt Malloy site arriving at 6:30 in heavily 
overcast conditions. We were joined by Dominic Chaplin on this day. We repeated 
the previous days procedure with the exception that we only walked south to the 
site at which we flushed the BBBQ the previous day and then walked north along 
the contour past the latitude on which the cars were parked. We  encountered 7 
PBQ and 2 BQ and a single BBBQ. We did get a brief deck view of a PBQ on this 
day when we relocated a flushed bird confirming our flight identification of 
this species.The BBBQ was flushed at a spot almost directly east of the cars 
(S16 49 00 E145 22 19. It was again flushed on an almost flat spot with sparse 
seeding grass. It flew uphill for around 30 m and landed again not rising more 
than 1 m above the ground in straight flight. We walked to where it landed. 
After scouting around that area for a few minutes a BBBQ flushed about 60 m 
above the landing spot and flew quite high and straight down hill for in excess 
of 300 m. the bird was briefly seen in side view and again the paler colour and 
the wing contrast made us pick the bird as a BBBQ. This bird seemed to be 
larger than the PBQs we had seen with Ron initially thinking it might be a 
pigeon. It flew into a flat sparsely grassed area with Calitris and Eucalypt 
trees. We were unable to relocate it. We presumed that the second sighting was 
of the same bird and that as we had walked up the hill it had run along the 
ground to the site where it flushed for the second time. We returned to the 
cars at 11:15.

On 26th we arrived at the Mareeba Wetlands at 7:00 in lightly overcast 
conditions but no rain. we walked north from the car park around the side of a 
hill for about 1.5 Km. We did not feel that this area was suitable for BBBQ 
with quite thick grass tat had not been burnt for a long time. There was little 
or no seed on this grass. We flushed a single PBQ. We returned to the car park 
and walked out to the bird hide Pandanas Lagoon and then walked back up the 
track behind the hide to a saddle and then headed north sidling around a 
hillside. the habitat here looked more suitable for BBBQ with sparse, short 
grass. The area had not been burnt and there was little or no seed. We walked 
around the hillside to its end but only flushed 2 coveys of BQ. We returned to 
the cars at 11:30.

On 27th we returned to the Mt Malloy site at 6:30 in clear conditions. We spent 
the next 2 hours walking the contour between our two previous sightings. We 
encountered 3 PBQ and a single BBBQ. This bird flushed from flat ground on the 
contour which was lightly grassed but without seed at s16 49 12 E145 22 19. We 
walked through a well seeded grass patch just before the bird flushed and it is 
quite possible that it was feeding in this area and ran for a short distance 
before flushing. The bird flew only a short distance(about 10 m) and was 
flushed a second time. It then flew >100m and was not re-found. This bird was 
flushed right at the end of the line and only those observers at that end of 
the line got aa reasonable view of the bird. Rob Burgoyne did however manage to 
get the bird in his bins as he mentioned in his earlier posting on this forum. 
We again saw a number of PBQ during our search. We returned tot he cars at 9:30

We found the birds at the Mt Malloy site along the contour suggested by Rohan 
Clarke. We always flushed the birds from (or very close to) areas where burnt 
grass was flushing and seeding prolifcally. We only got flight views but felt 
confident after seeing so many PBQ and BQ that we could distinguish BBBQ from 
the other species. All but 1 observer sighting was with the native eye. We only 
ever saw single BBBQ whereas we saw single PBQ, pairs of PBQ and one covey of 5 

We stayed on at Kingfisher Park for a couple of days of more relaxing birding. 
We saw 160 species, the highlights being a male golden Bowerbird near its bower 
(thank you Alan!), a pair of Blue-faced parrot-finch at the clearing on Mt 
Lewis, a Sarus crane at Bloomfield’s Swamp and the first Red-necked crake for 
the year at kingfisher park. the Buff-breasted Paradise-kingfishers were very 
active at Kingfisher park. from a personal perspective sighting the BBBQ was 
satisfying as the achievement of a challenge but as an aesthetic event it left 
much to be desired. The fleeting flight view of the BBBQ was really nothing 
compared to a 6:00 pm (and thus very light) view of the Red-necked Crake 
washing itself in the front crake pond at Kingfisher Park or the wonderful 
spectacle of the Golden Bowerbird and his magnificent bower!

Hope this posting might be helpfull to others looking for the BBBQ in the future
Peter Marsh


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