Thursday, February 11, 2010

Year of the Blue-winged Parrot

Judging from the amount of correspondence I have received, it looks as if the past breeding season has been particularly successful for the Blue-winged Parrot, at least in Tasmania's South-East. These parrots disperse to suitable grasslands post breeding, and it's then that numbers of them are first noticed. My first encounter this year was at Mortimer Bay, Sandford, in small parties of 3 to 5, most probably family groups, back in early January, an earlier date than usual. But I've had reports from as far South as Coningham, also from Kingston, Cambridge, Risdon Brook Park and the Coal River valley. Most were seen in grasslands, as you might expect, although I've seen several groups in the wooded areas of the Meehan Range.
I suspect that the good Winter and Spring rains, the highest rainfall for many years, was the main driver. It produced abundant grass, the seeds, according to the literature, being a major food source. The partly digested seeds are regurgitated to feed the nestlings, and also the female during incubation. From personal experience, for much of the time while they're nesting, you're much more likely to hear, rather than see them. Their "tinkling" call can often be heard as they fly high overhead, to and from the nest site.
Both the accompanying photographs were taken in the Meehan Range in the last few days. The upper shot, of a female I believe, was in a flock of 7 that came down to drink. After drinking, they flew to the shallow end of the pool to wash where they were quickly joined by several Green Rosellas, a not infrequent event. They seem to form a sort of "mutual defence pact", the Bluewings being very alert to anything unusual. The lower image is of a juvenile bird that appeared on its lonesome, stayed briefly, obviously didn't like the look of me, and flew off.
This small parrot, (it's about the size of a domestic budgerigar), is one of my favourites and some years ago now, I was fortunate enough to be involved in a project on this species. The project included a visit to the 'Woolnorth' property in the far North West corner of Tasmania, in Autumn, where they gather prior to migrating to the Australian Mainland. Despite the horrendously wet conditions we encountered, the sight of flocks of 3 or 4 hundred Bluewings wheeling en masse, often being harried by Australian Hobbys, both great aerialists, is one of those memories that I treasure.


mickbrownsbirds said...

Hi Alan

Thanks for the great pix. I read your earlier blog on Risdon Brook and had a walk there. I was lucky enough to get some nice photos of a blue wing and also my first shots of a scrub wren. I haven't seen any satin flycatchers yet though - where is Redgate on Meehan Range?

Mick Brown

BirdingTas said...

Hi Mick,
You've done better than I have as I've yet to get acceptable shots of bluewings at Risdon Brook, despite seeing them on many visits! Redgate entrance to the Meehan Range is accessed off the road into Cambridge. From the City towards the airport, take the left fork,as if you're going to Cambridge or Richmond. On your left, about 150 metres from the highway, is Belbin's Road (unsealed), opposite the highway underpass. Take that. There is a small turning circle a few hundred metres in, park there. It isn't the most salubrious site, it has had a hard life! Birding is a bit pot luck, but can be good. The "Redgate" apparently refers to the gate on the old Bellerive/Sorell railway line, long defunct.

mickbrownsbirds said...

Thanks Alan

I'll go and give it a try.


Anonymous said...

We live close to Meehan Range and this is the first year we've had flocks of these parrots in the garden. More interestingly, I saw a group of 3 beside Bradys Lake in the Central Highlands a couple of weeks ago. Are they becoming more common and widespread?

BirdingTas said...

It's interesting that you mention having flocks in your garden as, except perhaps in search of water, these domestic budgerigar size birds, rarely venture into gardens. Mostly they feed in grasslands, and in the Meehan Range they can often be heard at this time of year as they fly from their nest sites to grasslands, sometimes some distance away.
It's these grasslands that have begun to thrive again after years of low rainfall, that I suspect are the key to their apparent increase in numbers. One parrot expert (Joe Forshaw) writing 40 years ago, described the bluewing as Tasmania's most common parrot. Certainly in autumn, I have found them widespread in the Midlands, often feeding on roadside verges and nearby grasslands. Changes to agricultural practices may well have played a part in their decline. I have found them breeding in many parts of the Midlands and Central Plateau over the years, so their presence at Brady's Lake is a likely spot for them.
Thanks for your comments and observations.