Feature, News from the Field

Banding Birds and Breaking Records at Bowra

11 Aug. 2023
Wayne Lawler/AWC

In the vast expanse of Australia’s arid lands lies a birder’s haven – Bowra Wildlife Sanctuary. Every Easter, a dedicated team of ecologists and volunteers from the Queensland Bird Research and Banding Group embark on a unique expedition to monitor the region’s enigmatic bird species.

Among them is Hayden de Villiers, a field ecologist on sanctuary. In his time spent contributing to this survey, he’s learned that the early bird may get the worm, and the early cat may get the bird, but the early volunteer gets an unforgettable glimpse into the captivating world of arid-adapted birds.

“Starting before the crack of dawn has its benefits. We saw some great sunrises and amazing wee Bourke’s Parrots fly across the claypans to circle above us. When they felt safe, they landed on the dam wall and made their way down cautiously to the water’s edge for a morning drink.

With experienced birders across the board, we were well tuned into this behaviour, and could safely capture and band the parrots before they disappeared into the woodlands.

A wily cat waiting in the shadows kept us on our toes as we flushed it from its ambush spot, a stark reminder that these feral predators know the perfect time to be present.”

David Jones/AWC

The annual bird survey is no ordinary field trip; it’s a critical endeavor in understanding the ecology and dynamics of the arid zone species. Information gathered from this ongoing study sheds light on their productivity, survival, movements, and overall condition, especially in response to changing environments and vegetation communities.

This year, the team celebrated a fruitful survey, capturing a remarkable 804 birds from 48 different species.

Among the highlights was the recapture of a Halls Babbler, revealing an astonishing eight-year lifespan – twice the previously recorded maximum for this species.

Wayne Lawler/AWC

Another rare sighting graced the team’s records, with the elusive Little Grassbird making only its second appearance in the sanctuary’s history.

Little Grasswren, Wayne Lawler/AWC

Adding to the excitement, the team was elated to find the first Double-barred Finches in years, along with the Weebills, which had been scarce during the recent drier periods.

Double Barred Finch, Wayne Lawler/AWC

The sanctuary seemed to resonate with the melodic songs of White-plumed Honeyeaters, with nearly a quarter of all captured birds belonging to this species.

Wayne Lawler/AWC

Hayden says a well-oiled team meant the week ran smoothly:

“Spirits ran high at each evening’s birdcall, where everyone got together and registered their sightings. There were debates on where and how many sightings were made keeping the dataset robust, and if you were presenting some evidence on a rare sighting, you might need an army to back you up. Nevertheless, there were some great sightings, with teams usually having a combined tally of around 80-90 birds each day.”

The second survey site – Sawpits – where a high number of White-plumed Honeyeaters along with a comedic family of Apostlebirds were banded. Helena Stokes/AWC

On the final day he and AWC ecologist Helena scored their coveted century, with 102 birds identified between the two of them across the trip.

“With a now well-tuned ear and a sharp eye after two weeks in the bush,” Hayden says, “we left Bowra raising the bat.”

The work done by the Queensland Bird Research and Banding Group at Bowra Wildlife Sanctuary is not just about numbers and data; it represents a dedication to safeguarding Australia’s unique and delicate ecosystems. The insights gained from this annual pilgrimage into the arid heartland contribute greatly to conservation efforts, helping protect these remarkable species for generations to come.

Hayden de Villiers/AWC

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