Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Night Parrot Discovered in Goneaway National Park, Queensland

Legendary bushman John Young has discovered the Night Parrot in Goneaway National Park in western Queensland. Young's discovery brings at to at least 10 the number of Night Parrot sites now known from a 350km arc of arid country stretching from Boulia in the west to Stonehenge in the east.

Working as a senior field ecologist for the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Young and another researcher heard several calls from Night Parrots in the remote reserve last week. The site is more than 50km east of a number of places where Young and the AWC team have found Night Parrots in recent months in the Diamantina National Park.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszcuk described the discovery as "terrific news". Environment Minister Steven Miles said the state government would consider imposing another exclusion zone over the national park. Existing zones over the eastern half of Diamantina National Park and the neighbouring Pullen Pullen Reserve, where Young took the first photographs of a Night Parrot in 2013, cover an estimated 250,000ha.

John Young
The exclusion of such a vast area of existing and potential Night Parrot habitat severely limits efforts by others to look for new parrot populations. Anyone entering the zones faces a potential two-year jail sentence and $353,000 fine. The measure was introduced largely because of fears that invading hordes of twitchers could jeopardise the bird's survival. The hordes never did materialise even when, after three years of suppressing them, recorded calls of the Night Parrot were finally released last month to help facilitate further searches.

However, Miles said the remoteness of Goneaway National Park may preclude the need for a further exclusion zone. The national park is difficult to access, with no gazetted roads to it. The government's management plan for the reserve warns: "Due to the parks extremely remote and rugged nature, significant safety issues have been identified for visitors. There is very limited potential for visitor opportunities to be developed, beyond a remote walking experience, until the issues of safety and access are resolved."  

Australian Wildlife Conservancy chief executive Atticus Fleming, said the Night Parrot calls were heard in a remote part of the national park. “The expedition to Goneaway involved exploring likely Night Parrot habitat by foot and all-terrain vehicle in extreme heat and challenging conditions, highlighting the challenges involved in studying and protecting this nocturnal parrot," Fleming said. 

“AWC has developed a habitat model which will guide further exploration by AWC ecologists of potential Night Parrot habitat in central west Queensland, in partnership with the Queensland Government, and elsewhere across Australia.”

Unfortunately, a draft press release by the Premier and Environment Minister - seen earlier today - yet again makes the mistake of claiming that the Night Parrot was considered extinct until Young's 2013 photographs. For the record, among other things, dead birds were found in 1990 and 2006. This myth seems to have morphed into accepted wisdom but the Queensland Government should know better.
Update 23/3: Although the press release was amended to "practically extinct" when it was eventually released, the myth continues to be perpetuated with The Courier Mail reporting this morning: "The species of bird was thought to be extinct until a discovery at Pullen Pullen reserve in western Queensland in 2013."

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