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FRIENDS OF THE WESTERN GROUND PARROT A community group dedicated to the recovery of an unusual WA bird which could soon become extinct.

Newsupdate no. 32

June 2008

Recovery Project Survey Results from Abby Berryman Since the last update, three more survey trips have been carried out – two at Fitzgerald River National Park and one at Cape Arid. Fitzgerald The surveys in the Fitz have confirmed that we have very few Western Ground Parrots remaining there – probably fewer than 16 individuals. In April, a survey of the Drummond Track Wilderness Gate area revealed that there were probably between 6 and 12 WGPs present, a similar number to last year. The story at Short Road however, is very different. During our recent trip there we heard no WGPs at all. Part of the problem at Short Road is that a lot of the suitable habitat was burnt in a wildfire in late 2006. A survey carried out in June last year found that there were still 3 or 4 WGPs in the area. Whether these birds have moved away from the area or something has happened to them will remain a mystery. Cape Arid National Park As for Cape Arid, unfortunately some of the area we had surveyed at Pasley was burnt in May by a prescribed burn that escaped. Western Ground Parrots require habitat that has not been burnt for many years and the best way of protecting their long-unburnt habitat is to use fire to create strategic buffers around these areas. While there is always the chance of prescribed burns escaping, to not burn at all means that we could lose the entire Cape Arid population in a single wildfire. While in Cape Arid for the Poison Creek survey in May we also visited Pasley to resurvey around the edges of the burnt area. Only a small proportion of the potential habitat at Pasley was burnt. Western Ground Parrots are good fliers and in the past have been observed moving away from fires. The fire at Pasley was slowmoving and should have allowed ample opportunity for the birds to escape it. Although very few ground parrot calls were heard along the edge of the burnt area it does not mean that they were not present. The survey was just a few days after the fire and the disturbance may have made the ground parrots temporarily stop calling. Alternatively, they may have moved well away from the burnt area into places where we have not yet surveyed. A follow-up survey is planned for early July to again listen along the edges of the burnt area and to investigate areas of suitable habitat to the east where the ground parrots may have taken refuge. In the Poison Creek area (surveyed 13 to 22 May), once again we found good numbers of ground parrots. We estimated that there were at least 20 ground parrots present, a similar number to last year. For now, Cape Arid seems to be the stronghold of the Western Ground Parrot and further work is planned to study their breeding habits through radio-tracking, and to carry out a more comprehensive survey of potential habitat. In particular, within the Pasley/Telegraph Track area, there is a large area of suitable habitat, most of which has not been fully surveyed. Depending on funding, we hope to survey this area next year, as well as other pockets of suitable, long-unburnt habitat in Cape Arid. Once we know how many WGPs are out there and where they are distributed, we will be able to make better plans about how to protect the vital areas of habitat.

Volunteer opportunities There will be opportunities for volunteers to join us in Cape Arid sometime between August and October to assist with the radio-tracking study. If anyone is interested in volunteering, or if you would like more information, please contact: Abby Berryman – Ph: (08) 9842 4519; Mob: 0429 842 451 Email:

The DEC’sWestern Ground Parrot Recovery Project is funded through the South Coast Natural Resource Management Inc., the regional group for NRM on the South Coast of Western Australia. Funding provided by the Australian and Western Australian Governments through the joint National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality

Trials of cat-baiting In the last issue (no. 31) was an item on cat-baiting. A trial of a marker, rhodamine dye, in capsules within the baits was to have taken place soon after the article was written. Baits with capsules of dye have now been dropped. Unfortunately it was discovered too late that the capsules failed to contain the dye: they leaked. Consequently there was no point in proceeding with the trapping program which was to determine whether fewer non-target species would be affected by the baits if the poison were to be in capsules within the bait. The actual baiting in the Fitzgerald River National Park was time-tabled to take place next autumn. It was intended to boost the chance of success of the 2009 breeding season of ground parrots among other species. The hope of being ready by then has receded. The hunt goes on….for Western Ground Parrots in the north Although some searching for Western Ground Parrots on the northern sandplains took place in the mid 1980s, it was widely accepted that the sub-species was extinct in this region until a sighting was made near Jurien in 2001. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until 2007 that a follow-up survey on this sighting took place (Newbey and Hartley 2007), and while this survey did not yield a definite result, it came up with some tantalising evidence in the form of Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters apparently imitating Ground Parrots (so they must have heard them fairly recently?). The publicity associated with the survey also brought to light a number of sightings of varying reliability. One of these sightings was quite a good description of an adult and immature bird seen in heathland inland from Dongara in 1992. This site happens to be in an area where a mineral sands mining company, Tiwest Joint Venture, is exploring for mineral sands, and a proposal was therefore put to Tiwest that they sponsor a Ground Parrot survey in this area. The company agreed, so in May 2008 a party of up to 10 people (including several Tiwest employees) was forced to stay in the sea-side town of Dongara and visit the local coffee shops on a regular basis, in return for spending a few hours at either end of the day listening for Ground Parrots. In short, we heard nothing definitive despite almost ideal conditions for 5 days. We listened in low heath with a lot of sedges that someone said looked good for Ground Parrots, we listened where the birds had been seen in 1992, we listened where there was a mixture of fire ages, we looked for feeding signs and we looked for feathers in nests (although admittedly not many nests of other bird species were found). We didn’t entirely draw a blank, however, as we also encountered Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters giving three strong, ascending whistles, one of the team heard a whistle that he remained moderately confident about despite a lot of interrogation, and at a site close to the 1992 sighting, what we think were Rufous Fieldwrens were giving a very quiet version of the Ground Parrot call. So, more tantalising evidence for an extant northern population of the Western Ground Parrot. The extent of sandplain heath in the region is massive so the 2007 and 2008 surveys have barely covered a fraction of a percent of available habitat, but it seems possible, even likely, that they are out there somewhere. Given the decline of the population on the south coast, locating these northern birds and ensuring their best management is something that needs to remain on the agenda. Mike Bamford. 17th June 2008. 2

Reference: Newbey, B and Hartley R (2007) Search for Western Ground Parrots in the northern sandplain. Unpublished report. Birds Australia WA

An intriguing account Below is one of the very interesting accounts that point to the recent presence of Western Ground Parrots in the north. This account (though in slightly different words) was one of those appearing in the Jurien report, cited above. For a few years a farmer was aware of the chance of seeing green ground birds in a certain location as he rode along the boundary firebreak on his motorbike. This was in the second last dip in the hilly country of his eastern border. It is quite high in the landscape. The farm is adjacent to Badgingarra National Park. In 2003 he saw them more clearly: that they were definitely parrots, and dull green. They were on the ground, not inclined to fly but to move away surprisingly fast e.g. disappearing into the pasture to re-emerge in a very short time 40 m further away. He saw them on the firebreak and never more than thirty metres from the bush. He never saw them perched on the fence (unlike some White-fronted Chats that were often there.) There were two birds and once, three. He did use binoculars more than once and once was as close as twenty metres from a bird. He made an effort to find out what these birds were by discussions and looking on the Web and came up with Ground Parrots and Night Parrots as the only likely suspects. He never saw a red band above the beak. He did try to contact someone through the Birds Australia WA website, in 2003 but received no reply. That was two or three months prior to the fire of 2003. All the bush adjacent to the farm was burnt up to the firebreak two hundred metres from the farm boundary and in some places up toand across the farm boundary. Very soon after the fire he saw one of the birds, in the usual area and on the ground right next to where the fire had come. Since then he has not seen any of these birds. During the Jurien surveys in 2007, in the vicinity of this farm and elsewhere in Badgingarra National Park, we heard many Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters calls that seemed to be very close to and in a few cases almost indistinguishable from ground parrot calls. Diverse low heathland is the dominant vegetation in Badgingarra National Park. Comment on Western Ground Parrot Recovery As can be seen from Abby’s survey notes, recovery is simply not happening. In fact the number of birds has gone from around 200 in 2003 to not more than 140 now. This is a critical decline and there is no sign that it has halted.

There are many difficulties to accomplishing the right burn regime in these remote and poorly accessible lands, but the importance of retaining any 20 year old or older vegetation that meets the ground parrot habitat criteria, can not, in my view, be over emphasized.

As Abby points out, fire management in the Cape Arid National Park (CANP)/Nuytsland Nature Reserve (NNR) is essential to cut down the size of the inevitable wildfires that have often swept across vast areas of potential WGP habitat. The burn in the Pasley area was well-intended, but because there is such a tiny extant population of ground parrots, it was most unfortunate that it went right through the listening points from which most calls had been heard only weeks before . There is very little really old vegetation (20 plus years) available in CANP or the adjacent NNR. It is unlikely to be by chance that the two highest density populations in CANP have been associated with patches of old vegetation.

It has become clear that a WGP Recovery team of two cannot do all that needs to be done to have a chance of effecting recovery of the WGP in time to avert extinction. A larger team is needed.

There are few WGP breeding records as yet but all (in CANP and FRNP) have also been associated strongly with long unburnt vegetation. The fire burnt about 50 ha. of old vegetation (half) and 200 ha. of adjacent eight year old vegetation. The remaining 50 ha. of old vegetation no longer abuts onto the eight year old vegetation and it was this juxtaposition that appeared to have been attractive to the ground parrots.

There has been a lot of progress in the short life of the WGP Recovery Project but to turn back the current downward trend in WGP numbers, an acceleration of well directed and executed activity will be essential.

Additionally the Recovery Plan which is not yet available for public scrutiny, but which was essentially written in 2003/2004 does not deal with the situation as it now is. A revised plan would seem to be needed with input from the findings of the past five years (during the life of the Recovery Project), plus research into other recovery programs in Australia and elsewhere that have been dealing with a bird species that is in rapid decline and where the number is already dangerously low.

Funding for additional survey personnel and equipment, and continuation of the cat-baiting trials is now being sought. B Newbey 3

A sighting near Bremer Bay in February There was an unconfirmed but interesting sighting in February. Like the sighting near Denmark in January, it was at the time of year when WGPs are most likely to be on the move. This photo was taken by Brent Barrett in the Fitzgerald River National Park in 2005, while Brent was the WGP Recovery Project leader. The series of photos taken of a bird in the wild at that time was a breakthrough. There had been only one good quality photo of a WGP available previously, and that was a head shot of a bird in the hand, in 1988. In 2006, under the leadership of Mike Barth, more still photos of even better quality were obtained by the WGP Recovery Team as well as many hours of video footage which contains much information on behaviour and food plants. As yet there has been no detailed study of these videos. It is possible to……

Wear a WGP! Western Ground Parrot T-shirts are still available in most sizes from child’s6 to adult’sXL. Jeff Pinder is the person to contact. Phone: (08) 9842 4519


Web pages Birds Australia WA Inc. has a web page for the Western Ground Parrot. Go to their website at and then access Projects, and Western Ground Parrot. There is another web page maintained by the Albany Bird Group: The next issue of the WGP Friends newsupdate is due in August 2008. Feedback is welcome. Contacts for Friends of the Western Ground Parrot Anne Bondin. Phone (08) 9844 1793; E-mail: Brenda Newbey. Phone (08) 9337 5673; E-mail: Address: Birds Australia Western Australia, Peregrine House, 167 Perry Lakes Drive, Floreat. WA 6014


June 2008 #32