Birds are on the move around South-East Australia, drought forcing them into areas where they’ve never been sighted before.
Very few people have ever seen an Australian bustard in Nyngan, NSW, nor a rare swift parrot in southern Queensland.
The rare regent honeyeater was seen recently in Nowra on the NSW South Coast, far from its normal range in the Capertee Valley near Mudgee.
Also the Victorian mallee’s yellow-plumed honeyeater was seen for the first time in Canberra.
The rare swift parrot, which nests in Tasmania, is going far afield to find food, and has been spotted in the high alpine country in NSW for the first time and even as far as southern Queensland.
And an avid twitcher spotted the inland dwellling crimson chat at Sydney airport.
The migration is astounding birdwatchers who are lapping up the rare sightings. Unfortunately, it’s a sign things are not well.
The drought has dramatically reduced nestings and forced birds to look further afield for food, as many stands of eucalypts such as the white box have not flowered over winter. The loss of nectar is hurting beekeepers - and birds.
Sean Dooley, of Birdlife Australia, said similar migrations occurred in the millenium drought, but in this drought there had been many very unusual and unique sightings. “The haunting thing is that although many birdwatchers are enjoying seeing these rare sightings, there’s this underlying reality that those birds may never return to their normal range,” he said.
The city of Sydney for instance has become a refuge for many birds including chats and songlarks, normally only seen in inland open country.
There had also been an “eruption” of sightings of barn owls close to the Victorian and NSW coast as they searched for food, away from their normal inland range. Black and black-shouldered kites had joined them on the coast. Many of the sightings are documented on the website Birdline.
“There’s been very little flowering inland because of the drought so birds are moving,” Mr Dooley said.
“People think it would be waterbirds that are affected in the drought, but they can move pretty easily. It’s with honeyeaters and birds of prey where the drought is really hurting.”
“If there’s no flowering, they really struggle. There’s been a big shift in the distribution of birds. A lot of birds are straying as they struggle to find food.” Nestings had also fallen dramatically.
He said the sighting of a rufous songlark in a Sydney suburb of Rockdale recently was a sure sign things were not normal.
The Victorian coasts had seen an influx of birds of prey, including kites and barn owls.
Seeing a critically endangered swift parrot in the high alpine areas was also very unusual. They’d also been seen in Hay and Nyngan.
“We’ve also seen the first ever record of a yellow-plumed honeyeater in Canberra.”
“In many ways it also shows how adaptive some birds are.”
The sighting of large Australian bustards far away from their range was a sign there was a natural crisis underway. “They wouldn’t move for nothing,” he said.
Here’s list of some bird movements:
Regent honeyeater: Normal range: Capertee Valley, Mudgee. Spotted: NSW Coast, Nowra.
Swift Parrot: Normal range: Tasmania, Eastern Victoria, South Coast NSW. Spotted: southern Queensand, Kosciuzsko, Nyngan, Hay.
Australian bustard: Normal range: inland Australia. Spotted: North-West victoria, Nyngan, NSW.
Black shouldered kite, black kite: Normal range: inland. Spotted: Vic Coast
Yellow-plumed honeyeater: Normal range: Victorian mallee. Spotted: Southern NSW, Cootamundra, first ever sighting Canberra.
Barn owl: Normal range: inland. Spotted: Victorian, NSW coasts.
Rufous songlark: Normal range: inland, open country. Spotted: Rockdale, Sydney, Sydney airport.
Crimson chat: Normal range: open country inland. Spotted: Centennial Park, Sydney.