Saturday, May 30, 2009

Decline of Flame Robins

I keep a list of birds that I would like better images of, and high on that list is, and has been for some time, the Flame Robin. In fact, during the last several months, I've only managed to take the rather 'distant' shot (at left) of a Flame, this one an immature male, and it's not for want of looking. I photographed this bird on Goat Bluff, South Arm early in April, a venue that in the past has been a reliable spot for finding at least one, and sometimes, several pairs. I've also dipped out on recording them at several other 'reliable' spots. The lack of Flames contrasts with the relative abundance of the more sedentary, Scarlet Robin. Locally, I know of numerous venues that I can be sure of finding pairs of Scarlets, still in the vicinity of their breeding territories, and they are one of the species that I most often photograph (male Scarlet at lower right). I've even seen many more Pink Robins v Flames during the last year, a decidedly more elusive species.

Looking back through the literature, it's plain to see that there numbers have been significantly decreasing for many years. Michael Sharland, not a person given to exaggeration, wrote in his "Tasmanian Birds"(published after WW2) "very common", and of the Scarlet, "common". Bob Green, in his 1989 revised edition of "Birds of Tasmania", describes the Flame as a "numerous trans-Bass Strait migrant". He also describes the Pink Robin as "uncommon and nomadic". I also note an apparent decline that emerges after comparing the 2 Atlases of Australian Birds, published in 1984 and 2003. Perhaps they should all be compared to John Gould's comment, in his 1849 "Birds of Australia", when describing the Flame Robin as very common in Tasmania, goes on to say " I have even taken its nest from a shelving bank in the streets of Hobart Town". Those were the days!

Although my lack of sightings of Flame Robins may just be 'one of those things', I'd be interested in other perspectives on their apparently declining numbers.


mick said...

Lovely photos. I've only ever seen Eastern Yellow Robins here - I think the coast is not the right environment for the others.

Andrew said...

There are several spots on North Bruny Is., such as around Barnes Bay and on the first section of the track to Cape Queen Elizabeth, where they can be reliably seen

Unknown said...

Hi Alan,
Good to see you back. We seldom see a Flame these days - perhaps half a dozen in the last couple of years. Last time we saw many was one winter (about 4-5 years ago) when we saw 2 or 3 groups of 15+ birds. Memory is a bit sketchy, but one group was going through the farming land on the way out to Tasman's monument, on the peninsula, and the other was also in open paddocks along C185, between Elderslie and Dysart.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Melana and Andrew,
Thanks for your comments. I should, perhaps, have sub divided my comments on sightings of Flame Robins. Unlike Scarlet Robins, Flames flock, usually, but not exclusively, in coastal areas during the colder months, and some are known/presumed to cross Bass Strait. My comments were more about not seeing them in their breeding areas--in my case, areas that I have known or presumed them to have bred in, and seen them in recent years. This last season, I only recorded one pair away from the coast. That's quite a contrast to Michael Sharland's comments about them being "very common'. I did a drive round in the Lower Midlands last Winter, in areas that I have seen them, often in small flocks, in past years. I saw very few, and the largest "group" was 2 ! I did notice that there has been a marked change in farming practices, I assume that's related to less sheep farming, and an increase in irrigation and cropping. I noted Flame Robins (and Yellow-rumped Thornbills) only in areas that held fairly long grass, often tussocky. Others have noted a similar decline in Flames, based on rather more scientific data.
Andrew, are your Flames in that area year round, or are your observations recent? I can recall banding a number of Flames in the coastal heath just South of Cape Queen Elizabeth, during Autumn, about 20 years ago--a great area for birders when the banksias are flowering.

Penny said...

Hi Alan,
I regularly counted up to 8 mature male, plus assorted female and imm flame robins last winter inland of Cygnet on paddocks traversed by a reed covered winter creek. Since spring I've counted at least 3 pairs which have remained in their respective territories surrounding the paddocks.

BirdingTas said...

Hi All,
It looks probable that they've moved out of the drier areas into areas of greater rainfall. Certainly, Goat Bluff has been particularly dry, (banksia flowers are sparse and small) an area where I have consistently found them in the past. Doesn't really address their decline in areas such as the Wielangta Forest though. Perhaps I'll just have to get out more!

Penny said...

I felt I should update my last post, having scoured the surrounding paddocks for Flame Robins during the last week. Unlike the last two winters, this year the Flame Robins seem to have migrated. We have just had 8 inches of rain, perhaps they knew it was coming!

lou said...

great to read about this beautiful little bird . every year around anzac day without fail we see many small groups on our golf course in sorrento vic . they come for a short two or three week visit , maybe resting after travelling from tas. they then return every cup weekend in november.i have two female or young male and one male staying in our garden playing in the bird bath i feel quite honoured to have them as guests!