Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Bowra Bird Banding

Bowra Station is a property that up until a few years ago was run as a family grazing operation, just outside of Cunnamulla in outback Queensland. Now it is owned and run by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy as a nature reserve, and birds are especially bounteous.

It is in the heart of the mulga country of south-west Queensland, and hosts such mulga specialties as Halls’ Babbler, Bourke’s Parrot and Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush, but also includes a range of other habitats and boasts a bird list of just over 200 species. Bowra has been a revered location for birders for a long time, and was included among the top ten birding sites in Australia in the most recent edition of Australian Birdlife, BirdLife Australia’s magazine.

Hall’s Babblers (Pomatostomus halli) are not uncommon at Bowra but are shy and like to keep their distance. This bird carries a band and is presumably one of the birds Dean Portelli banded as part of his PhD research in 2006-09.
We managed to catch and band two Hall’s Babblers in the “Western Paddocks” part of Bowra. This one is looking a little ruffled and somewhat disgruntled just before being released.

We (Karen and I) made the 1,000 km drive from Canberra to Bowra to participate, as part of the Canberra contingent of banders, in an Easter / ANZAC week of bird banding organised by Jon Coleman from Brisbane. Other Canberrans were Mark Clayton, and Richard, Mark and Brett Allen, but the bulk of the effort was made up of another 20 or so people, mainly from Queensland.

We saw quite a few Emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae) on the drive up to Bowra, as well as on the property. These ones, attracted to seepage from a water trough, were our companions through much of our second day of banding. 
Australian Bustards (Ardeotis australis) are always a highlight, nobless personified. We were lucky to pick up on this one in the long roadside grasses as we whizzed by at 110+.

The weather was perfect (it is Queensland, after all!) with temperatures just edging into the low 30s on some days, and dropping to a refreshing 13 or so overnight. The region had received good rains in February, with follow-up rains in March, so the vegetation was looking fabulous, but we were blessed with beautiful sunny days and clear starry nights.

Our camp site by the billabong was idyllic – glowing reflective moonrises (and sunrises on the few days we hadn’t already de-camped before dawn to get an early start with the banding), and the all-night serenades of several species of frog, the strident cackle of the Masked Lapwings (Karen’s unfairly deplored “ugly-bird”), the soft yelping of the White-headed Stilts, and the “sweet-pretty-creaturing” of the Willie Wagtails all adding to the atmospherics.

Our campsite at Bowra Station, between the billabong and the shearers' quarters.
We pitched our tent less than 10 m from the edge of the billabong and were treated to its various moods. This moonrise, with Scorpius ascending, is at a bit of an angle as, in the absence of a tripod, I balanced the camera on a gas cylinder wedged into the fork of a tree; and I didn't want to rotate and crop as that would have deleted Pi Scorpii (the right nipper) from the image.
Sunrises over the billabong were beautiful and serene.
And the suffused pink of sunset foreshadowed the arrival of the mosquitoes!

Three of our four days there were solidly taken up with banding activities. All up, the Canberra team banded something over 400 birds. Finches made up the bulk of our catches, thanks to some nets being strategically placed close to water at each of the sites where we banded, but we caught a wide range of species, some of the highlights being Hall’s Babblers (2), a Crested Bellbird, a budgie, Diamond Doves, a Restless Flycatcher and the three local Fairy-wrens (Variegated, Splendid and White-winged varieties).

The banding station in a quiet moment - Karen, Mark and Brett.

Male Zebra Finch Taeniopygia guttata.
Double-barred Finch Taeniopygia bichenovii.
Male Plum-headed Finch Neochmia modesta.
The line-up: male Zebra Finch, Double-barred Finch and male and female Plum-headed Finch.
A male Crested Bellbird (Oreoica gutturalis) - frequently heard but less often seen let alone captured.
A male Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii) - common but always stunning!
Brown Honeyeater (Lichmera indistincta) - the facial markings are anything but indistinct when seen this close.
A female Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus) - what a stunner!

A very uncooperative Australian Ringneck and several excruciatingly loud and sharp-clawed Apostlebirds inflicted the worst damage, but all wounds have now healed satisfactorily!

Mark, Richard, Mark and Brett had arrived a day earlier than Karen and I did, and left a day earlier, so we spent our final day looking for birds rather than banding them. I was very keen to find a Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush but unfortunately was not successful. In fact I didn’t get a single new species for the whole trip. But the birdwatching, both at Bowra, and on the way to and from, was nonetheless very satisfying and I logged a total of 131 species for the trip.

Of these, the ones that stand out most for me were the numerous emus along the route; the single bustard we saw just south of Cunnamulla; the many Plum-headed Finches (which I also saw at the Nyngan “waterbird wetlands” aka the sewage works); the Mulga Parrots, Bluebonnets, Red-winged Parrots, Superb Parrots, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos, and flocks of Cockatiels and Budgerigars; a swirling mass of 300+ Black Kites, a hugely dark Black-breasted Buzzard lifting off from a carcass just in front of the car; and an exquisite view of a male Spotted Bowerbird bathing at the campsite billabong with its bright pink nuchal crest glowing brilliantly in the sunshine.

White-headed Stilt (Himantopus leucocephalus) at the campsite billabong.
Male Splendid Fairy-wren (Malurus splendens).
A pair of Brown Falcons (Falco berigora) at "Stony Ridge" kept a close eye on me. 
On the way home, we watched this male Plum-headed Finch at the Nyngan sewage works take two large feathers to its nest in the rank grasses on the levee of the settling pond. Probably the bird of the trip for me.


  1. Great writing, great photos, great birds - can't beat that combination Harvey! And I love the blog title...

  2. Great ringing spot, beautiful species of which we only know a few from aviaries here in Europe.
    We do the same thing in a slightly different detail on the other side af the world! :)



    sorry, couldn't get profile right therefore anonymous.