Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Queensland Road Trip 3: Golden Bowerbird & Little Kingfisher at Possum Valley

Golden Bowerbird
Following our visit to Undara (see following post) we moved on to the delightful refuge of Possum Valley Rainforest Cottages near Ravenshoe for a 5-night stay. The transformation from tropical savannah to highland rainforest and dairy pastures of the southern Atherton Tableland is as impressive as it is fast.

Maple Cottage at Possum Valley
This 63ha Possum Valley property abuts the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Many of us did our bit in the 1980s to secure the protection of North Queensland's extensive tracts of tropical rainforest.

Golden Bowerbird
The property is beautifully maintained and organised by its owner, Paul Tredgett. Visitors can stay in one of two timber-lined bush cabins with plenty of room in the midst of the forest. We stayed in Maple Cottage, which has an added advantage of Internet access.

Golden Bowerbird

Golden Bowerbird
A stay here for a few nights costs not that much more than fees for camping sites at better known birding destinations in the region. I'm surprised that Possum Valley (Google it) is not at the top of any wildlife enthusiast's destination list when visiting tropical Queensland.

Golden Bowerbird female
It's been delightful to be reacquainted with wet tropics birds and mammals that I had not seen for a very long time. The last time I was in this part of the region, as a backpacker in the mid-1970s, my camp was the floor of the mens' toilet at The Crater National Park.

Rainforest lake - Possum Valley
Wonderful encounters with two species on our first day here sums up the value of this place. Golden Bowerbird is at top of any birders' wishlist for North Queensland and I found two females, then a male and a female on my first walk along one of the property's rainforest trails.

Little Kingfisher
The male was feeding low in the canopy and was ridiculously tame – it was so close to me that it was difficult to get the whole bird in the frame of my new big lens. Very low light conditions so images not quite as bright as I would have liked.

Little Kingfisher
The property has three small lakes nestled in the rainforest. On one of these I found a Little Kingfisher, another highly prized ornithological target in northern climes.

Little Kingfisher
A small boat was tethered to a jetty on the lake. I was able to follow the kingfisher around the lake by rowing the boat.

Little Kingfisher
Full list of birds seen on the first day at Possum Valley can be found here. More on other birds and mammals later.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Queensland Road Trip 2: Savannah & Undara - Squatter Pigeon, Two Rock Wallabies & Bats

Allied Rock-Wallaby
Following our overnight stay at Belyando Crossing (see following post) we headed north to Charters Towers for a two night stay in a caravan park. Apart from a fine collection of nicely maintained historic buildings, the highlight here is Tower Hill.

Allied Rock-Wallaby
The summit of the lookout over the town is home to a thriving population of Allied Rock-Wallabies. The animals are readily found early in the morning around the carpark; it's gratifying indeed to see a population of rock-wallabies doing well in the centre of an urban area.

Camping at Greenvale
We continued north for an overnight stay in the delightful caravan park in the strange township of Greenvale. The nickel mine here for Clive Palmer's refinery on the coast 200km distant closed long ago (the mineral has been imported since from New Caledonia) but sporting and other facilities in what is essentially a ghost town are maintained. Tree change? A 3-bedroom home can be had for $78,000.

Savannah at Undara
Onwards further north to Undara Volcanic National Park. The park protects extensive tracts of savannah woodland and basaltic rocky outcrops, along with spectacular lava tubes - the longest of their kind in the world.

Mareeba Rock-Wallaby
The downside to this place is that you pay an arm and a leg for everything - including entry to the park and lava tubes, and camping - because Queensland Parks and Wildlife have leased all tourist operations to private entrepreneurs. National parks are supposed to be for the people, not for wealthy graziers (the former leaseholders of the park) to exploit commercially.

Undara Lava Tube
Close to the camp I found several Mareeba Rock-Wallabies, a close relative of the Allied species of Charters Towers.

Pretty-face Wallabies


Macropods were in abundance in the park including Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Wallaroo and Pretty-face Wallaby.

Eastern Horseshoe Bat
During a lava tube inspection we saw several Eastern Horseshoe Bats hanging from the cave ceilings.

Squatter Pigeon
Squatter Pigeon
Squatter Pigeon is always a nice bird to encounter. They appeared to be quite common in the park. Diamond Doves were also present.

Australian Hobby

Great Bowerbird 
Other birds about included Australian Hobby and Great Bowerbird. A full list of species seen in the park can be found here.

Tawny Frogmouth
While plenty of Tawny Frogmouths and Southern Boobooks were about the camp.

Southern Boobook
Plus a skink to be ID when I get home.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Queensland Road Trip 1: Yandina to Belyando Crossing - Black-breasted Buzzard, Red-backed Kingfisher

Red-backed Kingfisher
The first day of our sojourn to North Queensland was a long drive through the Upper Burnett for an overnight stay in a forgettable caravan park in Biloela, with Emus seen north of Monto. Then westward to Emerald. We had planned to camp on Blackdown Tableland but it was booked out. On the way the first Yellow-throated Miners for the trip were seen.

Red-capped Robin
We stayed for two nights in the Lake Maraboon Holiday Village, a nice setting in brigalow scrub on a dry ridge near the huge artificial lake, 17km south of Emerald. Red-capped Robins were present in the scrub while Torresian Crows and Australian Ravens were there together.

Sunrise at Lake Maraboon
 Plenty of birds around the camping ground including Apostlebirds and Red-winged Parrots.

Red-backed Kingfisher

Red-backed Kingfisher
A Red-backed Kingfisher was looking good a short distance from the caravan park. Waterbirds on the lake included a Great Crested Grebe. Full list of birds for Lake Maraboon can be found here.

Great Crested Grebe
Heading north through Clermont on the Gregory Development Road, a flock of 400+ Brolgas was seen in a field around a small dam, mingling with cattle.

 More Emus were here; they had been not uncommon during the trip.

Blue-winged Kookaburra
We had a night at Belyando Crossing, camped behind a basic hotel-service station set up. Plenty of Blue-winged Kookaburras were about here, to remind us we were well and truly on the way north. A party of 4 Australian Bustards flew over the hotel at sunset.


Early in the morning, a little north of the almost dry Belyando River, I found two parties of Ground Cuckoo-shrike – one of 4 birds and one of 2 birds.

Black-breasted Buzzard

Black-breasted Buzzard

We headed north again and I was chuffed to find a Black-breasted Buzzard over the road about 50km north of Belyando Crossing. Our first Red-tailed Black Cockatoos also made an appearance.

Wedge-tailed Eagle
Quite a few Wedge-tailed Eagles were about. Full list of birds for Belyando Crossing can be found here. 

Australian Bustard
Another Australian Bustard was feeding roadside in the same area.

Ground Cuckoo-shrike

 Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater and Singing Honeyeater were among the birds in the woodland. The change in habitat from dry scrub and woodland to savanna woodland was evident as we headed north.

Ground Cuckoo-shrike

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

More Night Parrot Notes

Night Parrot on Pullen Pullen - Pic Steve Murphy
Rangers in Diamantina National Park in south-west Queensland flushed birds they believed to be Night Parrots on several occasions in the 2000s but authorities declined to fund full-scale searches for the species. It was not until ranger Robert Cupitt found a dead Night Parrot in the northern sector of the park in September 2006 that the presence of the species was confirmed.

Following my revelation that the grazing property Brighton Downs is where John Young took the first photographs of a Night Parrot in 2013 (see following post), a lively debate has ensued. Should the site have been revealed? Are researchers and authorities acting in the best interests of the Night Parrot by refusing to release recordings of its call so other populations can be searched for, and by generally maintaining a policy of strict secrecy surrounding the population on Pullen Pullen Reserve?

The 56,000ha reserve has been acquired by Bush Heritage Australia and excised from the 420,000ha Brighton Downs property, which adjoins Diamantina National Park. It is now clear that John Young found his birds by looking in areas of suitable habitat not far removed from where Cupitt's bird was located. As Jeff Davies points out on Facebook, John made the "obvious decision" to search the property adjoining Diamantina National Park (which does not detract from the significance of his finding).

Rangers in the national park flushed single parrots on three occasions while riding motor-bikes through old-growth spinifex in the mid-2000s. It comes as no surprise that no follow-up surveys were undertaken. The 2006 discovery was kept secret by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service; it was made public by me in The Australian six months after the event, in 2007. On neighbouring Brighton Downs just a year later in 2008, John Young heard the first call from what he then believed was a Night Parrot.

When Cupitt's discovery was revealed, QPWS told Andrew Stafford, who was writing a piece for Wingspan on the matter, that it would not be a prudent use of public resources to search for more night parrots. A departmental spokesperson says now the QPWS is unable to say if resources were directed at the time to further searches.

This saga of secrecy has resonance today, for the same state government authorities are now calling the shots on the secrecy surrounding the Pullen Pullen project - and they are refusing to release call recordings to facilitate wider searches. BirdLife Australia, the peak birding organisation in Australia, unfortunately appears to have changed its tune on the issue. At the time of the row over Cupitt's bird, BA made clear its concerns about the secrecy and the failure of QPWS to consult the birding community. Now, BA chief executive Paul Sullivan has come out in support of the secrecy brigade, sharing a tweet on Twitter describing the release of site information as "terribly irresponsible".

Others can be the judge of that, but an important consideration is the impossibility of assessing the potential impact on unknown Night Parrot populations of massive mining and other development projects over much of the historic range of the species. Are night parrot populations being lost as we speak? Chris Watson has published a compelling case for less secrecy and greater involvement of the birding community to further the interests of the species.

It emerges that Queensland Government authorities may not have the final say on keeping call recordings secret. Bruce Greatwich points out on Facebook that the research work to date on Pullen Pullen has been funded by Fortescue Metals under a Commonwealth offsets program, so call recordings and other data are not the property of Bush Heritage Australia, the Queensland Government or researcher Steve Murphy. Asked if approval to distribute the call may be the responsibility of the federal government, a spokesperson for QPWS says the question should be directed to the Commonwealth. I'm about to head off on a lengthy road trip so can't pursue that angle now, but others might care to.

Many have expressed the view that it is fanciful for state government authorities and others to assert that secrecy was paramount because the area would be overrun by twitchers anxious to tick a Night Parrot. Concerns expressed about potential disturbances to the birds do not sit well with the media shows put on for selected journalists by BHA, with helicopters buzzing overhead and scrums of 5 or 6 large vehicles parked amid the spinifex clumps where parrots were supposedly roosting.

Moreover, there are plenty of cases where the publication and sharing of information has had nothing but beneficial consequences for threatened species.

Diamantina River Road
I have made the point that there is no public access to Pullen Pullen and that anybody searching should confine those searches to the abundance of suitable habitat that is to be found along the Diamantina River Road, the Winton-Jundah Road, and roads connecting the two.

This is from an interesting travel blog published online by Outback Travel Australia:

Next day saw us heading west from Winton for 50 kilometres along the blacktop, before heading south-west down the Diamantina River Road. This well-graded track traversed low, rocky hill country and river channels, before running across grassland to an unexpected intersection with Cork Road – a new alignment that doesn’t figure on most topographic maps, but is shown on current road maps. It intersects the Diamantina River Road at S22º55’14.3” E141º54’19.4”. This new road dog-legs a short distance further on, at S22º55’20.7” E141º53’32”, signposted right to Boulia, but we stayed on the Diamantina River Road, heading for Mayne Station. We pressed on down the Diamantina, passing by Brighton Downs homestead, heading for the mesa features of the Mayne Range, visible on the horizon.The Range forms the northern boundary of the Mayne River channels and is well worth some walking time. Amazingly, cattle climb to the tops of the mesas, where they graze on leaves during times of flood. The Mayne Range sits at the northern end of Diamantina National Park; Welcoming visitors at the northern doorstep of the Park are the ruins of the old Mayne Hotel.

However, people should remember that this is still a remote and potentially risky neck of the woods. Such is the remoteness and size of Brighton Down that the homestead on the Diamantina River Road is 70km from the centre of the property. Tragedy struck in 2013 when two young jackeroos working on the property were involved in an accident while driving the 200km from Winton, the most accessible town of any size. The driver was killed. Although on the main access road to Brighton Downs from Winton, it was the best part of two days before his mate was rescued.

Towards Diamantina National Park - Outback Travel Australia
Meanwhile, Bush Heritage Australia and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy have denied they are in dispute over plans by the AWC to build a predator-proof fence around 8000ha of Diamantina National Park. As reported in The Australian, the Night Parrot Recovery Team, which is working closely with BHA, believes parrots may be killed by flying into the fence. BHA and AWC have released a joint statement declaring the two organisations are "working together and with governments, scientists, traditional owners and the local community to protect the precious places and animals that desperately need our support".  For the record, I believe both organisations are doing excellent work. 

There is a worthy contribution on birding-aus from Kurtis Lindsay (see here) which provides further evidence suggesting that foxes, which are largely absent from northern Australia, may be the main threat to night parrots and other threatened species. As others have suggested, Kurtis points out that fox (and feral cat) numbers can be kept in check by dingoes. Foxes are absent from Pullen Pullen; feral cats and dingoes occur there in small numbers. 

Finally, a note on the name Pullen Pullen, which BHA says is the local Aboriginal term for the Night Parrot. The name is uncannily similar to "Bulan Bulan", a documented Aboriginal name for the barnardi race of the Australian Ringneck. A coincidence perhaps.


Saturday, 14 May 2016

Night Parrot on Brighton Downs

Night Parrot - pic Steve Murphy
The following news and feature were published in The Weekend Australian of 14-15 May, 2016. I reveal that the cattle property Brighton Downs is where John Young discovered a Night Parrot population in 2013. However, the property is very large and I have not published specific site details for what is now known as the Pullen Pullen Reserve.

Analysis of the last five records of this species shows the parrot occurring over a 300km arc - from Boulia in the west to the Winton-Jundah Road in the east -  in Queensland's channel country. The Queensland Government's threatened species unit has decided that the parrot's call recordings will not be distributed to allow others to search for this enigmatic bird. These are same people who suppressed Robert Cupitt's Night Parrot find in the nearby Diamantina National Park in 2006.

It's time for a little less secrecy and for recordings to be distributed so that others can search for populations. It is a mistake for all the Night Parrot eggs to be left in one basket. Those wishing to search for this species could do worse than to look along the Diamantina River Road and the Winton-Jundah Road. Please note there is no public access to Pullen Pullen or Brighton Downs.

Brighton Downs & Diamantina National Park 
A sprawling live cattle export property in the channel country of outback Queensland has been revealed as being where a remnant population of the world's most mysterious bird lives.

The enigmatic night parrot, long feared extinct, is now known from five sites across 300km of some of the nation's most harsh and arid landscape.

The 420,000ha Brighton Downs property is where renowned naturalist John Young took the first photographs and film footage of the night parrot in 2013. At the time, no confirmed sightings of the parrot had been documented since 1912; the Smithsonian Institution regards the night parrot as the world's most mysterious bird.

Private nature conservation organisation Bush Heritage Australia announced recently it had established the 56,000ha Pullen Pullen Reserve to protect an estimated population of 20-40 night parrots at Mr Young's site.

BHA was forced to take out a $1.5 million mortgage to pay for the acquisition. Brighton Downs owner Peter Britton said the parrots had lived in the area for generations side-by-side with cattle grazing.

“I wonder with all this attention on the birds if we should be worrying about their future,” Mr Britton said.

Mr Young claims he was forced out of the BHA project. He has been hired as a senior ecologist with Australia's other major nature conservation organisation, Australian Wildlife Conservancy, which is locked in a heated dispute with BHA.

AWC announced this week a $3 million program that includes the construction a fence to keep feral predators out of 8000ha of the 507,000ha Diamantina National Park, which adjoins Brighton Downs. AWC plans to establish a population of 800 bilbies, doubling the Queensland population of the endangered marsupial.(More on the fence plan here.)

The proposed fence is understood to be less than 50km from Pullen Pullen. The last night parrot recorded before Mr Young's 2013 discovery was a dead bird found in 2006 in the national park. It had been decapitated when it struck a fence.

The Pullen Pullen night parrot site: Pic by The Australian
Allan Burbidge, the chairman of the Night Parrot Discovery Team, which works closely with BHA, said there is a risk of parrots striking the AWC fence and being killed.

“We would like to know what action would be taken if one or more parrots are killed following collision with a predator-proof fence,” Dr Burbidge said.

Frank Manthey of Save the Bilby Fund said he also opposed the fence because it would restrict the movements of bilbies from their last known haunt in Astrebla Downs National Park, 40km from the fence site.

AWC chief executive Atticus Fleming said the site was not near known populations of either bilbies or night parrots and will cover just one percent of Diamantina National Park.

“In our experience these fences have not had adverse impact on other species.” Mr Fleming said. “The fence is just one of the strategies being employed. There will be a range of feral animal controls.”

A decades-long absence of confirmed night parrot records ended with the finding a dead bird roadside near Boulia in 1990. A second dead bird was found in 2006 in Diamantina National Park, 120km south-east of Boulia. Mr Young photographed his parrot in 2013 on Brighton Downs, 30km north of Diamantina. Researcher Steve Murphy subsequently heard parrots calling at a second site on the property, 40km from Mr Young's site. Also in 2013, naturalist Glenn Holmes saw a night parrot on the Winton-Jundah Road, 60km east of Brighton Downs (see here).

John Young
For Peter Britton, a fifth generation cattle grazier, it was a dream come true when his family signed a $12 million contract in May 2013 with the giant Australian Agricultural Company to acquire the 420,000ha Brighton Downs holding in western Queensland's channel country. The Britton family had long coveted the live cattle export property on the banks of the Diamantina River. “We had wanted that all our lives,” Peter Britton said at the time.

Two weeks after the signing came some frightening news for the Brittons. As revealed by The Australian, renowned naturalist John Young photographed and filmed for the first time the enigmatic night parrot, regarded by the Smithsonian Institution as the world's most mysterious bird. There had been no confirmed sightings of the night parrot since 1912; almost a century later, a population of the Holy Grail of Australian wildlife was discovered, generating news headlines internationally.

Young discovered the parrot in the heart of Brighton Downs. Britton was concerned that the finding of this critically endangered species might prompt government intervention to stop grazing on his cherished property. “I didn't know what to think, it was a worry,” says Britton, speaking publicly for the first time about the discovery. However, government authorities commendably kept their distance, allowing Britton to sell 12 per cent of Brighton Downs to private nature reserve organisation Bush Heritage Australia.

BHA announced last month it had acquired the 56,000ha Pullen Pullen Reserve to protect the night parrot population discovered by Young, estimated at 20-40 birds; Pullen Pullen is the local Aboriginal name for the parrot. According to Britton, the area is one of three large patches of ideal night parrot habitat – old growth spinifex amid rocky ridges – on Brighton Downs, separated by distances of 30km to 40km, which together comprise about 30 per cent of the property.

Pullen Pullen: Pic by Bush Heritage Australia
However, significant barriers remain to secure the long-term future of the species. BHA was forced to take out a $1.5 million mortgage to acquire Pullen Pullen – an unusual arrangement for such organisations - and is $3.5 million short of its $5 million target for a three-year program covering acquisition, research and management.

Now, BHA is embroiled in a heated dispute with Australia's other big nature reserve organisation, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, over AWC plans to build a predator-proof fence in the Diamantina National Park, which abuts the southern boundary of Brighton Downs.

Meanwhile, BHA and its night parrot researcher at Pullen Pullen, Steve Murphy, are under scrutiny by the natural history community for shrouding their project in secrecy. The BHA website shows a blank map of Queensland as the site for Pullen Pullen; selected media taken there by BHA are given no clues about their destination.

Recordings of the parrot's call are not being distributed to allow others to search for more night parrot populations; the cryptic birds, extremely difficult to see, are most easily detected when they respond to playback of their call. In essence, all the night parrot eggs are being put in BHA's Pullen Pullen basket. The whereabouts of the parrots were made known to Inquirer by well-placed sources who fear that BHA is pursuing a secretive agenda that may not necessarily be in the best interests of the species.

Peter Britton is concerned about the parrot's future. “This bird has been living out here side-by-side with cattle forever without any problems,” Britton says. “Now with all this attention, will that continue? I worry it might be like the last three prime ministers: the media grabs a hold of them and before we know it they're extinct.”

The parrot's discoverer, John Young, now works for AWC after falling out with BHA and Murphy, his former collaborator, who caught the first live night parrot in April last year. Young has lashed out at Murphy for using nets to catch the bird. It beggars belief that he netted one of the birds from my site,” Young says on his Facebook page. “What would have happened if it died in the net! We are playing with one of the least known birds in the world. Leave them alone.”

Murphy is unapologetic and has signalled his intention to use nets to catch two more parrots later this year. He is backed by the Queensland Environment Department's threatened species unit. “The department is working with the Night Parrot Recovery Team to protect the population and supports decisions made by scientific experts in the field,” a spokesman says.

Suitable night parrot habitat along the Diamantina Road.
Ironically, the threatened species unit enthusiastically backed claims by Young to have discovered a new species of fig-parrot in south-east Queensland rainforests in 2007, until those claims were challenged at the time by The Australian. Since then, government authorities have distanced themselves from Young. Recent government statements about Young's night parrot site fail to acknowledge the naturalist's key role in discovering the birds.

The AWC revealed this week an ambitious $3 million plan involving the construction of a fence to enclose 8000ha of the 507,000ha Diamantina National Park. The fence will protect bilbies and other endangered animals from feral cats and foxes. The federal Government is providing $1.2 million towards what would be the largest philanthropic investment in Queensland national parks.

However, BHA and its allies in the Night Parrot Recovery Team have come out fighting against the plan, fearing birds will be killed by flying into the fence. In 2006, park ranger Robert Cupitt found a dead night parrot in the northern sector of Diamantina National Park, relatively close to Pullen Pullen. The bird was decapitated by striking a barbed-wire fence; this was the last record of the species before Young's 2013 discovery.

Recovery team chairman Allan Burbidge says Murphy's research shows parrots fly up to 7km from their spinifex roosts at night to feed but they may fly much further. “It is known from other work in Diamantina and elsewhere that species with nocturnal activity patterns are more susceptible to collisions with fences,” Burbidge says. “It seems likely that a predator-proof fence within night parrot habitat might pose a threat to a bird that flies 15 km or so each night. For a population with perilously low numbers, the effect could be highly significant.”

Bush Heritage Australia's site details for the night parrot reserve
The recovery team is demanding to know what action will be taken if parrots are killed by the fence. Murphy has contacted journalists with the aim of undermining the AWC plan.

AWC chief executive Atticus Fleming responds that the fence will cover just one percent of the national park. Fleming says the fenced reserve would protect a population of 800 bilbies – double the entire Queensland population of the endangered mammal – as well as the kowari and other threatened species. “There is broad scientific consensus about the urgent need for more cat and fox-free areas,” Fleming says. “AWC is recognised as the leader in establishing predator-free areas and is the only organisation in Australia to have established multiple large (1000ha+) areas. In our experience, such fences have not had any significant adverse impact on other species.”

Feral cats are considered to be the main danger threatening the future of the bilby and the night parrot. In 2013 and 2014, government officers shot 3000 cats in nearby Astrebla Downs National Park, where the main bilby population survives.

John Young will be hired by AWC to search for new night parrot populations around the Diamantina fencing site and in other areas where AWC is working, including Astrebla Downs. “John is the only person who has found a live night parrot population,” Fleming says. “That is an outstanding achievement. We wouldn't all be talking about night parrots if it wasn't for him.”

Steve Murphy has recorded eight vocalisations from the parrot; the main call is described as a flute-like, two-syllable cadence. Murphy promised last year to release recordings of the call so searches could be undertaken for new populations of the parrot, which is so cryptic that he has seen just three in three years of research. “Nobody argues about the benefits of that and it will be done,” Murphy said at the time.

Now, Murphy claims he is unable to release the call because he has been prevented from doing so by the threatened species unit. “The policy of non-disclosure is being driven by the state government,” he says. However, a spokesman for the unit says it is guided by Murphy's advice. And Murphy's advice is clear. He now fears the site will be invaded by illegal egg-collectors and birders keen to “twitch” a much prized rarity if the call is released. “There are risks to the integrity of my data and risks also to the birds themselves,” he says.

BHA has set up satellite-controlled cameras on the reserve to detect intruders. BHA chief executive north Rob Murphy (no relation to Steve) says distributing the call could hinder research and management work. “Steve's research shows the birds are highly sensitive to disruption from people and are easily disturbed,” Rob Murphy says.

Brighton Downs map

But the admission by Rob Murphy that parrots are easily disturbed by people raises doubts about the wisdom of intensive research strategies such as netting and tagging. Birds frequently die or are injured after flying into nets. John Young's supporters believe data collected from the parrot caught last year by Steve Murphy was sufficient to establish the necessary facts about habits and movements, without the need for more birds to be netted.

The government's threatened species unit has form on the subject of secrecy. The 2006 discovery of the dead night parrot by ranger Robert Cuppitt in Diamantina National Park was kept secret, notwithstanding its huge significance. The find was revealed by The Australian six months after the event. Critics argued at the time that an opportunity for a comprehensive survey to detect more parrots was lost.

A lesson in avian history may be instructive. In 1976, another rare nocturnal bird, the plumed frogmouth, was discovered in the rainforests of the Conondale Range in south-east Queensland. At the time, the frogmouth had not been seen or collected for several decades and its call was unknown; authorities feared it was extinct. Instead of the discovery being kept secret, multiple recordings of the bird's call were distributed. Surveys were conducted across an extensive area and several populations were detected. There was no invasion of egg-collectors and twitchers; the plumed frogmouth today is safely secure.

Approximate sites for last 5 night parrot records

Regardless of the debate over management and research, the developments on Brighton Downs are an excellent example of how grazing and environmental interests need not be incompatible across Australia's vast arid zone.

And whatever his reservations, Peter Britton is hopeful that the future of the species can be secured. That's why he sold Pullen Pullen for what he and BHA agree was a fair price. “I didn't want it on my conscious if the bird goes missing,” Britton says. “I had no interest in exploiting the situation to make money. Like plenty of people, I want the best possible outcome for this animal.”

Further notes on this subject can be found here.