What does a highway, a sewage plant and an endangered parrot have in common?
Not much if you think about it – except if the bird in question is an Orange-bellied parrot.
Although I have been birding in the places where this very rare and beautiful bird spends its winters, I have yet to observe one in its natural environment. They spend their winters along the southern coast of Victoria and the south eastern coast of South Australia, including the Coorong which is just over an hour’s drive from my home. In the summer months the little population flies over the wild and stormy Bass Strait to Tasmania where they breed.
When I say “little population”, latest counts suggest that as few as 75 individual birds exist in the wild. That is is getting perilously close to extinct.
So what about that question I posed at the beginning? To answer that question you need to read an interesting article called “A highway, a sewage plant and an endangered parrot.” One very interesting fact I learned from the article is that the Orange-bellied parrot is one of only two parrots world wide which migrate.
I don’t have a photo of an Orange-bellied Parrot – not even of one in a zoo – but below I have included a photo of a very similar species, the Rock Parrot. You will just have to imagine an orange patch on the belly!
In this week’s local paper, The Murray Valley Standard, there was a disturbing article about the imminent demise of the endangered Mallee fowl, once a relatively common bird in our district. In over 25 years of intensive birding in the district I have only ever seen two birds, both together. While I’ve found about five nesting mounds, only two of them are still actively worked by the birds.
Local experts are predicting the complete local extinction of the species in my area within 5 years, a sad thing to contemplate. You can read the whole article, which includes photos, by clicking here. One of the most recently active nests at Ferries McDonald Conservation Park, is shown in the photo below. This park is a half hour drive from my home. While the bird is reasonably secure in some other parts of Australia, local extinction is a worrying trend and is being mirrored elsewhere, hence the endangered status of this amazing bird.
Over the years I have written several extensive articles about this bird:
The Innes National Park at the southern tip of Yorke Peninsula is one of the more reliable places to see the endangered Malleefowl. On our recent holiday there I didn’t manage to see any, but I was delighted to get some good photos all the same.
The birds I’ve shown here on this post were stuffed birds on display in the park Visitor Centre!
I have seen this species here on previous visits many years ago. A friend of ours used to have access to some non-public roads so he could set up his beehives in the mallee which is the predominant tree in the park. Allan was able to set up his 8mm movie camera and film the male malleefowl working at the nest mound. One memorable scene showed him scratching at the dirt with the male bird alongside busily scratching the dirt back onto the mound.
Malleefowl males make a nest by scratching earth, leaves, sticks and other vegetation into a mound, often 2 – 3 metres across and 1.5m high. The vegetation then rots, just like a compost heap, and the heat produced hatches the eggs. The eggs are placed in the mound by the female, often laying 20 – 30 eggs over the spring and summer months. The male then tends to the nesting mound, keeping the temperature at a constant level by adding more dirt, or removing it. On hatching, the chicks dig their way out of the dirt and then run off into the bush, tending for themselves from the first day.
The Hooded Plover is found along the southern coast of Australia, from Tasmania, though Victoria, South Australia and southern Western Australia. Its preferred habitat is sandy beaches where there is plenty of seaweed and there are nearby rocky outcrops, reefs and sand dunes. In some parts it can be found at salt lakes some distance inland in SA and WA. It lays its 2 or 3 eggs in a shallow scrape in the beach sand during the months of September to January.
The Hooded Plover is an endangered species. On the Fleurieu Peninsula near where I live there are fewer than 75 left, according the warning sign near the beach at Victor Harbor (see below). On a visit to Victor Harbor some years ago I was walking along this beach watching over about 60 primary school children on an end of year school camp. Trying to keep so many little feet away from the nest with two eggs took a major effort, but the birds patrolling the beach nearby were not too disturbed. Why they chose one of the busiest beaches in South Australia to lay their eggs is a mystery to me! I hope they survived.
The bird in the photo above was not taken at the beach. It was of a bird in an aviary at Adelaide Zoo where the keepers have cleverly recreated a small sandy beach to imitate its natural habitat.
Early last year I took this photo of a sign on the beach front at Victor Harbor, about an hour’s drive south of Adelaide in South Australia. The message of the sign is quite clear. This beach is one of the nesting places of the rare and endangered Hooded Plover. The beach also happens to be one of the busiest in the state during the summer holidays and is even popular at most other times of the year.
Hooded Plovers are confined to coastal areas of southern NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and parts of Western Australia. Nowhere is it common and, as the sign says, very few are left in places like the Fleurieu Peninsula south of Adelaide. The birds are small (about 19-23cm) and tubby, and their favoured habitat is broad sandy ocean beaches. The nest is a small shallow scrape in the sand where they lay 2-3 eggs.
If my memory is correct, this beach at Victor Harbor is the only place I’ve ever seen this species nesting. I was leading a large group of young children on camp when we came across a nest. Keeping 60 eager children away from the nest was a logistical nightmare. I’ve only ever seen this species on a handful of occasions, mainly on the Yorke Peninsula further west in South Australia. I have no photos of the Hooded Plover. I must try to get one when I visit the town again in about a week’s time.