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.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Night Parrot: A Big New Barbed Wire Fence and the South African Glamping Connection

Juvenile Night Parrot killed by barbed wire fence in 2006
Bush Heritage Australia has completed construction of a barbed wire fence along the western boundary of its Pullen Pullen Reserve in western Queensland where none existed before, raising fears that low-flying Night Parrots may be killed by colliding with the fence. The fence is intended to keep stray cattle out of the reserve and to remind wayward twitchers that they risk a $353,000 fine if they cross it.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the owner of South African birding tour company Rockjumper is connected to a $25,000-a-head glamping tour to find Night Parrots in Pullen Pullen. Despite a suggestion in an email by Rockjumper founder and owner Adam Riley that participants would see a Night Parrot if they sign up, BHA cautions that a sighting is not guaranteed and declines to confirm that a July tour is fully booked, with more tours to come.

Adam Riley's email
The BHA fence extends from the property's southern boundary abutting Diamantina National Park, north along the Diamantina River Road to the reserve's northern boundary adjoining Brighton Downs cattle property. The fence is just 30m from the eastern side of the road.

Although there is plenty of nice looking habitat in view of the road on Pullen Pullen, access is prohibited to birders as the Queensland Government has issued a conservation order over the 56,000ha property. Anyone stepping over the fence risks a $353,000 fine or two-year jail sentence. The area west of the Diamantina River Road is floodplain with little suitable habitat, so opportunities for birders travelling the road looking for Night Parrots are seriously limited.

Pullen Pullen's new fence. Pic by Bob Young 
Satellite-operated cameras are installed along the fence to catch would-be intruders. John Young's epic finding of the Night Parrot in this area was prompted by the discovery of a bird which was decapitated by hitting a barbed wire fence in 2006 in the nearby Diamantina National Park. BHA is understood to have used flags and taping along its fence in the hope of saving more parrots from a similar fate, but two of the fence's three strands are barbed wire.

Off Limits: Potential Night Parrot habitat in Pullen Pullen along Diamantina River Road
This is somewhat ironic given BHA's fierce opposition to Australian Wildlife Conservancy plans to build a fence (albeit a different type of fence) in Diamantina National Park to protect bilbies. Night Parrots are low-flying and nocturnal. BHA has declined to respond to my request about what assurances it can give that the new fence will not impact adversely on the Night Parrot population. It is known that parrots fly from spinifex roosts to feed on succulents and other plants on adjoining floodplains. It appears likely that this fence would separate Night Parrot spinifex roosts from feeding grounds.

Off Limits: Potential Night Parrot habitat in Pullen Pullen along Diamantina River Road
As was reported, BHA is struggling with a $1.5 million mortgage to fund its Pullen Pullen acquisition, and the glamping tours could be a way of providing much needed cash. The problem is that the state government's over-the-top intervention not only impedes searches for further Night Parrot populations. It's not a nice look for BHA, which could do with more goodwill from the birding community. Instead, birders are branded a major threat to the species. Apart from Pullen Pullen, the government has imposed similar restrictions over the eastern half of the 507,000ha Diamantina National Park.

Diamantina National Park's exclusion zone
Adam Riley, the founder and owner of Rockjumper, emailed a cashed up birder advising him he had been invited to join an "exclusive" group of six people "to see" the Night Parrot on an excursion next July. The price included a charter flight and "glamping" (glamour camping) on Pullen Pullen. The "hefty" fee - which could be tax-deductible, he adds - is comprised of a $5,000 "cost" and a $20,000 donation to BHA.

Off Limits: Potential Night Parrot habitat in Pullen Pullen along Diamantina River Road
Riley's email, with the Rockjumper logo, says the tour is being conducted under the auspices of BirdLife International. His email last December said two spots were available. "With your interest in the bird I thought I'd best offer you the opportunity before anybody else," he added. Those spots have been filled, and further trips are on the cards. 

BirdLife's involvement is news to BirdLife. BirdLife Australia chief executive Paul Sullivan (who famously described birders looking for Night Parrots, his own members no less, as "vigilantes") tells me: "I can categorically assure you that neither BirdLife International nor BirdLife Australia are organising any 'official trip' for visiting birders/supporters to see Night Parrots."

The news appears to be news even to Riley's company. Rockjumper senior tour consultant Crystal Brook says: "Please note that we are not involved or associated with any Night Parrot searches." Adam Riley says he sent the email in a private capacity and that Rockjumper had no involvement. "It’s correct that I was invited on such a trip in a personal capacity," Riley says. "I then emailed a personal friend and invited him also. Neither I nor Rockjumper Birding Tours had anything to do with arrangements for this trip and I would have paid full price if I had chosen to participate. I decided not to participate for various reasons, as did my friend that I invited, and as far as I am concerned that is the end of the matter..." Riley adds that "claiming I have made a clear suggestion to participants that they will see a night parrot is a false accusation".

Off Limits: Potential Night Parrot habitat in Diamantina National Park

For its part, Bush Heritage Australia continues to refuse to admit to plans to raise funds with Night Parrot tours, saying only that BHA donors are often invited to visit its properties. But BHA is quick to assert that nobody visiting Pullen Pullen is guaranteed of seeing a Night Parrot.

Night Parrot. Pic by John Young
"In the event that there were such plans in the future, we could not guarantee visitors would see a Night Parrot," says BHA chief executive Gerard O'Neill. "Scientists have spent thousands of hours at Pullen Pullen Reserve in the past three years, during which the sighting of a Night Parrot has been rare."

What O'Neill doesn't say, however, is that things have come a long way since the days of those very rare encounters. Enough is known now that provided a reliable site is known, birds can be seen - even without playback or flashlights - in the right conditions with a bit of luck, time and perseverance. O'Neill says neither playback nor flashlights will be allowed during visits to Pullen Pullen. Crucially, however, the important matter of access to an active site will be taken care of.

Oh, and by the way, participants should not expect a free bottle of bubbly upon arrival. "To clarify, BHA is not offering any glamour camping trips to Pullen Pullen," O'Neill says.  

Update 30/3/2017
BHA refused to respond to questions about its fence but I found this information on a blog by the Pullen Pullen manager, Alex Kutt. Although Alex suggests that fences are well-known and avoided by nocturnal birds, he fails to mention that this is a new fence and a new barrier for parrots to negotiate:
After advice from the Night Parrot Recovery Team, we decided to fit the new fencing with white electric tape (aka horse tape). This 40mm bright white tape runs along the top of the new fence to create a highly visible barrier. On top of this, bright orange flags are placed every 100m as a bit of extra flappy bird deterrent.
This fence is already constructed in a typically wildlife-friendly manner – only three strands with the top wire plain

Bush Heritage will monitor the effectiveness of the fences, and make tweaks to the designs if necessary – though the long-term existence of many pastoral fences in the area means that these unnatural barriers in the landscape are well-known and avoided by nocturnal species.


  1. I am not too fussed about BHA extracting a few bucks from the rich by this exercise. The concern is that, given the amount of conflicting statements described in this post how can anyone have any faith that the process will be undertaken in a sound manner?

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. I looked at the Bush Blog and was really pleased to see photographs of this fence now with the white tape reflective tape [which I believe is also visible at night] and orange flag sections so it does sound far more bird friendly than just wire. It sounds as if the intended purpose is to keep out cows so hopefully this fence won't cause the Night Parrots any problems and will help keep their habitat free from trampling. Good to read that the intention is to remove old fencing too. Jenny Stiles

  4. I looked on the Bush Heritage Blog and was really pleased to see that the fence now has the white tape [which I believe is reflective enough to be seen at night] and the orange flags so it looks far more bird friendly that the earlier photos of wire fence. It does sound like a good idea to keep cows out and good to read that other fences will be dismantled.

  5. Neither the white tape nor the orange flags are in fact in place.