Friday, September 12, 2008

Parrot Heaven

The Kingston area, just South of Hobart, must be the Tasmanian equivalent of Mecca, for a range of parrot species that have had more than passing assistance from humans. For many years the home of about 25 or so Galahs, believed to be the progeny of birds released from a ship at Port Huon in 1922, they have been joined by Long-billed and Little Corellas, and most recently by Rainbow Lorikeets. The Galah numbers have burgeoned too, no doubt joined by aviary escapes and possibly trans Bass Strait migrants. Apart from the odd vagrant, these species would not normally include Tasmania as part of their distribution range.
A few days ago,I spent a morning on the Kingston Golf Course (after seeking permission from the secretary/manager), armed with a camera rather than golf clubs, and wandered round. I wanted to get a few shots of the Rainbow Lorikeets, having noted half a dozen of them in the Blue Gums along the nearby beachfront, and having heard that they frequented the golf course.
As I wandered back to my car from the clubhouse, I could already hear the 'strains' of the numerous Musk Lorikeets in the nearby gums, I could also hear a few Swift Parrots calling from among them, but this was the first and last intimation of their presence. I drove down to the club's works area, flushing several Eastern Rosellas from the track side, and noting several groups of Wood Duck and flocks of Galahs, feeding on the verdant fairways. The works area abuts Brown's River, and I walked over to the river bank. My first sighting there was a solitary Australasian Grebe, splashing its way over the water surface, towards me! Concentrating on that, I had failed to see the single Little Pied and Two Little Black Cormorants, roosting on a dead tree branch, only a few metres away, obviously used to the to and froing of the ground staff, and unfazed by my close approach. With obviously so many groups of birds about, I just wandered "higgledy piggledy" round the course, drawn to whatever seemed like a photo op.. I photographed Galahs, Eastern and Green Rosellas, Musk Lorikeet, Noisy Miners, Australian Magpies and Wood Duck in quick succession. However, the Rainbow Lorikeets were proving rather more elusive, although I had a brief view of a couple passing rapidly on to distant gums. I then spotted a corella among a flock of around 30 Galahs, and closed on this. It proved to be the only Little Corella that I recorded (photo at bottom left). It was keeping company with a very anaemic coloured and similar sized Galah, a species with which they occasionally cross breed, at least in aviary situations.
I had just about given up on the 'rainbows' when I was drawn to a dispute between Eastern Rosellas and Musk Lorikeets, high in a large gum. I tried to get a few shots, but the 'easterns ' flew off. I stood under the trees contemplating leaving, the increasing numbers of golfers were a distraction, when I heard a 'rainbow' call from almost overhead. And there, unnoticed by me, were a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets, sussing out a nest hole or 'spout' at the end of a hollow branch, some 10 metres up. A couple of shots before they disappeared deep inside. I waited for what seemed an eternity, (I'm really not the patient type that people sometimes suggest!). 10 minutes or so later, they emerged, and I shot a few more images including the photo at right of a bird at the possible nest entrance, and the image at top left, before they flew off. Ambling back along the river bank, I could see a flock of Long-billed Corellas lined up along the power lines overlooking the children's playground, on the other side of the river, waiting for one of the frequent 'handouts' of food. Every now and then, amid much screaming, they would all take to the air, and from my observations this usually indicates a nearby raptor, often a Brown Goshawk.
I have mixed feelings about the corellas and 'rainbows'. There is no doubt that many are aviary escapes, or their progeny, and they have the potential to become serious pests. There is also the question of what impact they may have on our native species, the Swift Parrot in particular. I suspect that they are already past being able to 'control' their numbers, and I'm not sure that it would be supported by well meaning, but perhaps, ill informed members of the public. I have no doubt that although we use the expression "aviary escapes", many of these parrots have in fact been deliberately released when the owners tired of them. All too frequently I notice other fauna that's been dumped, ranging from chickens and ducks, through to cats, many of them in conservation areas.


Mosura said...

Great pics! I hadn't heard the story of Galahs being released in 1922 before. Very interesting.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Alan
In Victoria, the Rainbow Lorikeets have spread naturally, from points further north because of humans planting gardens along the coast, providing a continuous all-seasons habitat.
Add global warming into the mix, and you have the possibility of natural expansion of range of these birds.
Galahs and Corellas have been greatly advantaged by clearing of forests to create farmlands, which provide food (grasses) where there was forest habitat before. Many birds, e.g., Magpies and Mudlarks, have been similarly advantaged by humans changing the landscape.
Strong populations in coastal southern Victoria greatly increase the chance of natural experimental crossing of Bass Strait. Many small birds (e.g., Silvereyes and Robins) make the trip, so strong flying birds like parrots could surely make the trip.
I agree about the threat posed by aggressive Rainbow Lorikeets to the Swift Parrots. Not sure if there is an answer, however.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Mosura,
I have the release of Galahs on the "authority" of Michael Sharland (in his Tasmanian Birds). I should hasten to add that I don't have personal knowledge of the event!

BirdingTas said...

Hi Denis,
Thanks for your comments. I agree with your remarks about the possibility, if not likelihood, that expansion of the range of parrots is a likely cause of the present numbers. I am also aware that there were obviously feral corellas and Galahs about in southern Tasmania for some years before the more recent expansion.
In the case of the rainbows, there is evidence of them being released locally. I see that fewer than 10 rainbows were released in the Perth area in the 60s, and there is a prediction that numbers will reach over 20,000 by 2010. It has been declared a pest in that state.
There has been an attempt to limit corella numbers in the past (I briefly took part in that programme). Galahs are probably the most widespread of the "invaders", but seem to have had little impact on local species, but time will tell.
I have no doubt that many species are capable of crossing Bass Strait, but apart from the usual migrants, few actually make it. Conversely, the abundant Green Rosella doesn't seem to make it to the Mainland, even from the islands.
Global warming may well see the range southwards of many species, and Tasmania may be the "beneficiary", but I'm not quite sure how I feel about that!
The decline in numbers of Swift Parrots is already a concern, without the possible competition, but, like you, I don't see an answer.

david said...

Hi Alan
I remember seeing some rainbow lorikeets in ulverstone about 5 years ago, ju8st a pair i think.
Personally i could be convinced they made it to tassy themselves but i think if we want to give the swift parrot the best possible chance of a longterm existence then we should do what we can to eliminate the rainbow loris. Perhaps for no other reason than we will feel pretty silly when the lorikeets have reached critical mass, there is no hope ofcontrol and the swift parrot (which is marginalised already in so much of its lifecycle )drops off the extant perch. Of course there are many other things we should do for the swifties but i think its far better to "try and fail than not try at all".
and i love your blog by the way!
dave j

BirdingTas said...

Thanks Dave,
I think the source of the Rainbow Lorikeets or the corellas, is, in the end, somewhat irrelevant, and I'm certainly not in a position to judge. They're here. Their impact on our native species is of concern, particularly the rainbow/Swift Parrot issue, as you mentioned. I am sufficiently jaundiced to believe that either, nothing will be done (except monitoring), or there will be a prolonged study undertaken (with suitable major funding), and by its conclusion, it will have been overtaken by the reality of the problem and past fixing. I'm sorry if that seems unduly pessimistic!
John Tongue sent me a story about rainbows in Ulverstone, where apparently there were about half dozen of them for some years. However, he mentioned recently seeing 32 in one tree alone.
I appreciate your comments, Dave, and whole heartedly agree, that it would be better to try and fail, than not to try at all. I'm not holding my breath!

Penny said...

Whilst at the Fort at Tinderbox yesterday, mecca of the Musk Lorikeet,I was pleased to briefly see a dozen or so Swift Parrots. Luckily I have yet to see any Corellas or Rainbow Lorikeets there.