Thursday, December 26, 2013

Detecting Ground Parrots by their call

Below is one of the first accounts of Ground Parrot survey by call. It refers to the two main calling periods of each day and the fact that the birds will often but not always fly during the calling period, sometimes calling, sometimes not. The author notes difficulties of counting the birds which have been detected by their call.

The short paper by C. Bevege entitled 'Calling of the Ground Parrot' appeared in the Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union journal, Emu Volume 67. Pages 209, 210.





Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ground Parrots west of Albany

All definitely known Western Ground Parrot locations over the past 30 years have been east of Albany. The following posting comprises an article about a sighting west of Albany in 1952, the first recorded sighting west of Albany since 1913.

The article is by J.W. Baggs. It was published in 1953 in the Western Australian Naturalist, Volume 3, page 198, and entitled 'Rediscovery of the Ground Parrot at Bow River'.

The map (oriented north/south on the page and at a scale of 1:1200) shows a small part of the south coast of Western Australia between Walpole and Denmark. Albany is further east than Denmark.

In 2011, three men saw what seemed to be a Ground Parrot not far from the location of Baggs' sighting. The story of their sighting is in the Friends of the Western Ground Parrot Newsupdate, January 2011. The sighting was followed up with several surveys, but despite several attempts, the bird was not relocated. The story of the initial sighting can be accessed in the newsletter archive at










Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Wongan Hills - Ground Parrots were there


  Wongan Hills farmland.       Photo linked from the Wongan Hills tourist website.

Below is an extract from a paper by Julian Ford, which was published in the South Australian Ornithologist, 1968, Volume 25, pp. 99-105. It discusses the distribution of the Ground Parrot in Western Australia and makes particular mention of the specimens collected in Wongan Hills, which are now in the British Museum as part of the Gould collection.







Wongan Hills is 150 km NE of Perth and a similar distance from the west coast of Western Australia (WA). The Wongan Hills collection is easily the furthest Western Ground Parrot record from the coast in WA. Although most details about the collection are missing, it is feasible that the Ground Parrot population extended that far inland as the sandplain is continuous with the sandplain further west and closer to the coast that was surveyed in part in 2007 (see the three previous postings). The Wongan Hills area which comprised a mix of Salmon Gum woodland, York Gum woodland, mallee, and mallee heathland on the sandplain, was extensively cleared in the early 1900s, and only small patches of native vegetation were left intact, these mostly being around granite rocks and salt lakes. The more coastal country had less woodland and mallee and a higher proportion of heathland on sand. It was cleared for farms in the 1960s but extensive areas were left as bush. 

John Gilbert, a trained taxidermist, was  based in the Swan River colony (Perth, Western Australia)in 1839 and 1840 collecting fauna specimens for John Gould.(Wikepedia). He was in the colony again in 1842/43 and made a trip to the wongan Hills area in the spring of both those years. It is likely that the Ground Parrot chicks were collected by him or a member of his party. Though there is no record of them it is known that some communications from Gilbert to Gould were lost. Ground Parrots may have persisted in the Wongan area into the early 1900s but they would not have survived the intensive clearing.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Surveying the northern sandplain

Below are further extracts from the unpublished report 'Search for Western Ground Parrots in the northern sandplain 2007'  by Brenda Newbey and Renee Hartley.

Location of the surveys

There were no clear positive records during the surveys. However some records were unresolved: the 'maybes' of the following page of the report. 

There have been no follow-up surveys to these 'maybes'. However, there has been a survey a little south of the area covered in this project with negative results, and another in the Mount Adams area  resulting in another 'maybe'.




Monday, November 18, 2013

More accounts of possible sightings north of Perth




The accounts above are taken from the unpublished report 'Search for Western Ground Parrots in the northern sandplain 2007' by Brenda Newbey and Renee Hartley, as are the two accounts in the previous posting. All, except the Herriot account which sparked the survey, came to light as a result of the survey publicity.

Ray Woods' sighting could well have been an adult male with a dependent fledgling as at that early stage young Western Ground Parrots have a lot of brown in their plumage.

The Badgingarra farmer's record is very interesting. The bush adjacent to his property appeared to be excellent ground parrot habitat. Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters (TCHE) in that bush used calls that were extremely close to ground  parrot calls as described in the 2007 survey  report: 'One call in particular was very deceptive, and it was not  until volunteer John Tucker followed then observed the TCHE making the call that we could be sure it was not a ground parrot.'

Monday, November 11, 2013

A search north of Perth


It was a long time before there was a detailed search for Western Ground Parrots (WGPs) north of Perth. The sighting that sparked the search was that by Shane Heriot (see above), a cold trail as the sighting was six years before the search.

This posting and the next two postings will be extracts from the search report (unpublished). It is titled Search for Western Ground Parrots in the northern sandplain 2007, and is by Brenda Newbey and Renee Hartley. The project was an initiative of Birds Australia WA (now Birdlife WA) and was strongly supported by the Department of Environment and Conservation (now Department of Parks and Wildlife).

It should be noted that all confirmed WGP records in C20 and so far this century have been in the vicinity of the south coast of Western Australia, not the west coast.

The page below is page one of a brochure that was prepared and distributed in the search area of the northern sandplain prior to and during the survey period. Very few WGPs remain: most of the south coast sites no longer support WGPs. The estimated number of WGPs has declined since the brochure was prepared in 2007.








Sunday, November 3, 2013

Western Ground Parrots North of Perth

The Western Ground Parrot’s range did extend north of Perth and it is possible that a few remnant birds are still there. The efforts to search the area have been quite limited. Below are brief extracts from a report by Edwin Ashby published in Emu, Volume XX, January 1921, by the Royal Australasian Ornithologists’ Union.
The area of sandplain that Ashby refers to is roughly a right-angled triangle with the longest axis measuring about 165 km. Much of the area is now farmland and although there are a couple of large reserves, they are frequently burnt.

NOTES ON BIRDS OBSERVED IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA,
FROM PERTH NORTHWARDS TO GERALDTON.
BY  Edwin Ashby, F.L.S., M.B.O.U., Wittunga, Blackwood.
S.A.
Mr. J. W. Mellor and the writer visited Geraldton, 370 miles north
of Perth ; but, except for one day at Geraldton and part of a day
at Moora, our observations were made separately. By this means
we were able to cover more ground, each visiting different
localities. …….
I did not see any specimens of the Western Ground Parrot
(Pezoporus flaviventris), but I got such an accurate description of it,
both its appearance, habits, and flight, that there is not the slightest
doubt in my mind that 25 years ago it was scattered freely through
the sand-plain country between Dongara and Watheroo. Since then
the denseness of the bush has been greatly reduced by the constant
fires. My informant—an old man of exceptional observing powers
—was confident that fires are the real cause of the disappearance of
this and other birds. This view endorses my own observations. I
was not aware of the “ Ground-Parrot " having been before recorded
as inhabiting these northerly sand-plains, and it should still be
searched for in such districts that have been missed by fires…….

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Western Ground Parrots at Audley End House


A few years ago, Simon Nevill who is very knowledgeable about Australian birds, visited Audley End Museum and to his surprise saw three mounted Ground Parrots.

Audley End House, Essex, England, is a palace in all but name. The collections there include many birds from Australia.

Simon brought back a copy of some documentation about the consignment that included the Ground Parrots. It was sent from “Freemantle Swan River” on the Unicorn. The accompanying list and letter is dated 10 December 1845. (Note that the British Swan River colony was only established in 1829.) All of the specimens were from Western Australia, so the Ground Parrots are definitely Western Ground Parrots.

The recipient was Richard Cornwallis Neville, 4th Lord Braybrooke, an avid collector of natural history and archeology, whose home was Audley End House.

We have not been able to determine who the sender was, but he describes occupying himself during a period of sickness when he was unable to read, with making a large collection of fauna from different parts of Western Australia and skinning, preserving and stuffing them.

The collection sent to Lord Braybrooke was indeed large comprising at least 95 birds including an Emu, at least 19 quadrupeds including Rock Wallabies, a dingo and a pair of Dalgytes (Bilbies), and 6 reptiles.


A little of the handwritten text is reproduced below. The Ground Parrots are most likely numbers 8 and 9 although the native name there is that which appears in Serventy and Whittell (1967) Birds of Western Australia for the Elegant Parrot which is at number 12 on the list. Below the handwritten text is much of the accompanying letter, transcribed by the museum. The photo of Audley End House is from Wikipedia.




Saturday, October 19, 2013

Nest with Ground Parrot feathers

The photo is by Ray Garstone. It was taken in Cape Arid National Park in the 1970s and was a confirmation that Western Ground Parrots were in the area. The nest belongs to a Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, a species that is common in most locations where Western Ground Parrots have been found. Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters nest close to the ground in a small shrub.

Subsequently, searching for evidence of Ground Parrot presence included examination of nests of these honeyeaters and also of the Rufous Fieldwren, another species common in parts of the Western Ground Parrot habitat.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday, October 4, 2013

Green Ground Parrot






The pages above are from the first book devoted exclusively to parrots in captivity.  

Greene, W.T. (1883). Parrots in Captivity. London: George Bell and Sons. The book has been digitized by the National Library of Australia.

At that time, Australia was a geographical rather than a political label and did not include the island of Tasmania. The New Zealand version is the Kakapo which has now been classified into a separate genus. Australian Ground Parrots are now known to be neither insectivorous nor eaters of tubers.

The illustrations are chromoxylographs - wood-engraved plates, colour printed and hand finished, by Benjamin Fawcett. The original drawings were by A.F. Lyndon.

The last paragraph (below) in the section on the Green Ground Parrot expresses a sentiment that seems a little strange nowadays or perhaps it is just the way it is put.
........

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Ground Parrot collection in the American Museum of Natural History, New York



Image from Wikipedia commons

The museum holds seventeen Ground Parrot skins. Most, if not all of them, would have been part of G. M. Mathews’ huge collection of Australian bird skins which numbered 30,000. He had an additional 10,000 bird skins. The collection was acquired by the museum in 1931 to Mathews’ disappointment as although he had to sell it in the late 1920s due financial difficulties, he had hoped it would stay in Australia or England.

The seventeen skins are made up of one from Western Australia, two from South Australia, one from Victoria, twelve from New South Wales and one from Australia. Below is information about some of the skins, obtained from the museum’s website.

Skin 623806. Pezoporus wallicus flaviventris. A juvenile collected by F.L. Whitlock and G. M. Mathews at Wilson’s Inlet, South-western Australia on 20 November 1912.

This is the only specimen of a Western Ground Parrot in the collection. Presumably it was collected for Mathews, by Whitlock who lived near Wilson’s Inlet. This juvenile just might have been one of the WGP chicks that Whitlock had discovered on 20 October in the same vicinity. (See blog entry August 2013 ‘Finding Western Ground Parrot nests’.

Skin 623820. Pezoporus wallicus wallicus. Collected by G. M. Mathews at Tatanoola (Heath country) Glengelly River, South-east South Australia, 1903.

Ground Parrots have been extinct in South Australia since the 1940s.

Skin 623807. Pezoporus wallicus wallicus. A male collected by G. M. Mathews near Wollongong NSW, 1890.

Skin 623815. Pezoporus wallicus wallicus. A female collected by G. M. Mathews at Long Bay near Sydney, November 1895.



Saturday, September 21, 2013

Many Names

The Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus developed the binomial nomenclature taxonomic classification system over many years starting with the publication in 1735 of the first of several editions of Systema Naturae. It was based on a scheme begun a couple of hundred years earlier by the Bauhin brothers but is attributed to Linnaeus because he refined and used it consistently showing that it can be used to effectively classify all the world’s plants and animals. The Linnaeus system is used to this day. After more basic divisions, each plant or animal is allocated into a class, an order within that class, a family and a possibly a sub-family, a genus, a species and maybe a subspecies according to its structure and apparent similarity to other species. The final division – species or subspecies is based on differences from others in the same genus. The name of the taxonomist who selects the species name and the date of publishing that name is recorded. For now the Western Ground Parrot is class Aves (Birds), order Psittaciformes, family Psittacidae, sub-family Psittacinae, genus Pezoporus, species flaviventris. (taxonomist North, date 1911). There have been several iterations before this name was arrived at.

Slow communication led to some confusion in early days of European settlement. The first Ground Parrot skins were sent to England from Sydney soon after settlement began in 1788.  A taxonomist, Latham, named the bird Psittacus formosus (Parrot beautiful) in 1790. As another parrot had been given the name formosus, another taxonomist, Kerr, renamed the Ground Parrot in 1792, this time wallicus, latinisation of New South Wales. In 1793, another taxonomist gave it the name of terrestris (of the ground), but it was too late and although that was an appropriate name, Kerr’s name had priority. Another taxonomist, Perry, published the name Psittacus viridis (Parrot green) in 1810, but he was far too late for the name to be adopted permanently.

The skins arriving at the Goteborg Natural History Museum in Sweden in 1864 were labelled as Pezoporus formosus (Latham). I am not sure when the genus name Pezoporus (Walking) first came into use.

Gregory Mathews (1876 to 1949) became a taxonomist specializing in Australian birds early in the twentieth century, and produced a major work in twelve volumes: The Birds of Australia. He became infamous for splitting species into subspecies, many of which were subsequently shown to be unwarranted. He accumulated a collection of 30,000 Australian bird skins and 5,000 books on birds. The collection of skins ended up in the American Museum of Natural History, New York, in 1931, and the books went to the National Library of Australia, Canberra.

Mathews allocated names for the Ground Parrot from different regions: Pezoporus terrestris leachii (Mathews, 1912)  Tasmanian Ground Parrot; Pezoporus terrestris dombraini (Mathews 1914) South Australian Ground Parrot; Pezoporus melanorrhabdotus (replacement name for P. wallicus, Mathews 1924). [This last name refers to the name given by Billardiere to the Ground Parrot - Black-spotted Parrot.] All of those names were reduced to Pezoporus wallicus wallicus (Kerr), when it was determined that all of the birds of the eastern side of Australia were one taxon. The Western Ground Parrot was named Pezoporus flaviventris (flaviventris means yellow belly which is a distinguishing feature) by Alfred North in 1911. Mathews made it a subspecies: Pezoporus wallicus flaviventris. In 2009, genetic work showed the Western Ground  Parrot to be a separate species in its own right and so the binomial name Pezoporus flaviventris (North 1911) has now been re-instated while the Eastern Ground Parrot has reverted to Pezoporus wallicus (Kerr, 1792).


           
References
            Condon, H.T. (1975). Checklist of the Birds of Australia. Part 1. R.A.O.U.
           
Robin, L. (2001). The Flight of the Emu: A Hundred Years of Australian Ornithology 1901-2001. Melbourne University Press.

Slater, P. (1980). Rare and Vanishing Australian Birds. Rigby.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Losing Habitat in South Australia

The Ground Parrot  was close to extinction in South Australia when the South Australian Ornithologist published an article entitled “ The Ground Parrot (Pezoporus wallicus) in South Australia” by H.T. Condon in 1942. He describes the difficulty of finding Ground Parrots by 1941, and the failure to persuade the powers that were to save some habitat suitable for them. Sure enough, the last record of a wild Ground Parrot in South Australia was a few short years later: in January 1945 (McGilp 1945).


We have reproduced here the photo of a Ground Parrot in Adelaide Zoo that was used to illustrate the article, plus the first page of Condon’s article. The entire article can be accessed on the link:


It includes notes on Ground Parrot habits, food, causes of disappearance, overall distribution, and a comprehensive reference list.

McGilp, J.N. 1945. South Australian Ornithologist 17:55




Wednesday, September 4, 2013

1918 photo in the wild

The photo within the article below could well be the first photo of the Eastern Ground Parrot and is almost certainly the first published photo of an adult bird taken in the wild.

Arthur Herbert Evelyn Mattingley was an enthusiastic amateur ornithologist and a pioneer of bird photography. Born in Melbourne in 1870, he was an inaugural member of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists’ Union, and a founding member of the Bird Observers’ Club. His photos were pivotal in the campaign to stop the slaughter of egrets for their plumes.

In the article below, his keen observation and enjoyment of birds shines through. Mattingley would be pleasantly surprised to learn that the Ground Parrot, though endangered, can still be found in Victoria.


Mattingley, A. H. E. (1918). The Ground-Parrot (Pezoporus formosus). Emu 17, 216-218.


The Ground-Parrot (Pezoporus formosus).


BY A. H. E. MATTINGLEY, C.M.Z.S.


The Ground-Parrot
Photo by A.H.E. Mattingley C.M.Z.S.



These beautiful birds are to be sought where the Wind goes
alternatively sobbing, soughing, whistling, and sighing through
the harsh herbage, which renders the bird’s light-timbred call
difficult of segregation. This separation from other bird calls
and subsequent fixture of the position of the Ground-Parrot’s
voice is a requisite essential to successful observation and the
discovery of the bird and its place of abode without its being
startled by being forced to fly up to disclose itself, which act is
contrary to its desire and usual habit of comporting itself.

This interesting bird is local in habit, and can usually be found
in the same area of country - moorlands or coastal plains. To
seek out a bird, one should requisition the services of a well-trained
pointer or setter, which can help one considerably to find and
flush the bird when desired, or to “ point ” it out. These birds
have a “ scent,” and dogs can readily “ pick up ” their trail, run
them down, and “ set” them. As they go singly or in pairs,
and are sparsely distributed, a dog that “ ranges ” well will soon
indicate their presence or absence.

In selecting its home, the Ground-Parrot naturally frequents
a type of country that affords a close covert as a protection from
observation from above, and in harmony with its own colour;
and as well it chooses a class of growth that permits of the free
exercise of its habit of running rapidly through it, but free from
observation; and a place which also contains its food supply,
consisting mainly of the seeds of grasses and shrubs and tender
shoots of plants.

The Ground-Parrot has been occasionally encountered in
swampy places on uplands, and has also been found on open
plains and swampy areas on mountains. Like its congener, the
Night-Parrot (Geopsittacus occidentalis), the Ground-Parrot is
doomed to early extinction on the mainland of Australia,
especially in those parts whereon the foxes are encroaching, in
the course of the next few years, as will be shown later on.

The call of the Ground-Parrot is issued in a somewhat warbling
fashion, harmonious withal, but conveying a sense of sadness
well befitting the nature of its environment. On windy days
the note is rarely heard, no doubt on account of its want of
fulness and carrying capacity. It appears to be used solely in
calling to its mate. As far as could be ascertained, it uses its
call as infrequently as possible. The following is the call set to
music, and is repeated softly by the bird two or three times
generally :—

The notes, therefore, of the last remnants of the Pezoporus are not
easily detected.

Ground-Parrots lead a terrestrial life solely, and are never found
in trees. 1 have seen a bird, however, climb up to the height
of about one foot on a shrub after some seeds growing thereon.
When flushed they fly rapidly away, somewhat after the whirring
manner of a Quail, but not so direct, since they zigzag in their
course. No fright screech is uttered either when rising from the
ground during flight or on capture. When handled, the birds
bite savagely in defence of their liberty. When flushed, they
mount up in the air about 4 or 5 feet—usually a foot or two above
the herbage—and proceed from 3o yards to even as far as
200 yards should the intervening ground flown over be too open
or otherwise unsuitable to alight on as a covert. The late Mr,
A. ]. North records that on one occasion he noticed birds that he
had flushed alight on a fence.

I am informed by an old Quail-shooter who lived by hunting
that his retriever dog used, years ago, when the Parrots were
plentiful, to run down these birds and frequently capture them.
This evidences the fact that it is a difficult matter to flush the
birds. I have noticed, once birds have been flushed, if there be
plenty of cover available, the Ground-Parrot will not flush again,
expose itself, and fly away, but it prefers to trust to its powers
of running to place itself beyond danger. They sleep on the
ground at night, and are therefore easily caught by prowling
foxes, since the strong scent emitted by them attracts the wily
animal. As they nest on the ground, the fox and other predatory
creatures, such as domestic cats gone wild, dingoes, native cats,
snakes, and lizards have little difficulty in obtaining their eggs
or young.

An old correspondent of mine, Mr. Percy Peir, a well-known
aviculturist, of Sydney, has kept a pair of these Parrots alive for
some years in an aviary where the conditions were more suitable
than in the ordinary bird-cage, and where they could run about
on the ground.

Ground-Parrots are exceedingly active and graceful in contour,
and the colour of their plumage is as distinctive as the livery of
many other Australian Parrots is gaudy. The adult plumage of
both sexes is similar, being dark grass-green, or, to be more
correct, a bright Rinnemann’s green, barred alternately with
black and yellow, on the upper surface, and a yellowish~green,
barred also alternately with black and yellow, on the lower and
abdominal surfaces. The forehead is surmounted with a distinct
scarlet-tinged nopal red patch. The feet (which are somewhat
large, and have four toes) and legs, adapted for running, are of a
fleshy-pink colour tinged with blue-black.*

Their food consists largely of grass seed, such as that of
kangaroo-grass (Anthistiria), fruit of the tea-tree (Melaleuca),
wattle (Acacia) seed, and tender shoots of grasses, I am informed
by a Quail-shooter that the flesh of the Ground~Parrot is excellent
eating, and equal to that of Quail.

The breeding period ranges through the months of September,
October, and November. The eggs usually number three or four
to a clutch, are round in form like most Parrots’ eggs, and of a
glossy white colour, with a shell of fine texture. It is somewhat
remarkable that the eggs are not coloured, like those of most
ground-nesting birds. Coloured eggs afford some modicum of
protection from the prying eye of an enemy. This fact is all the
more noticeable when we know that the nest of the Ground-
Parrot is simply a somewhat deep hollow in the ground. The nest,
which is composed of grasses, is placed in a grass tussock or in
a mixture of heath and coarse grass, which, overlapping as a
rule, forms an overhead canopy.

Three varieties or sub-species of the Ground-Parrot are
recorded for Australasia, viz. :— P. formosus, (Latham) - range,
South Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia;
P. flaviventris, (North) — range, Western Australia; P. leachi,
(Mathews) — range, Tasmania.
 '
*Little seems to be recorded with reference to the immature plumage of
Pezoporus. The red patch on the forehead is missing in the immature birds
during their infancy, but is represented as they develop by a small dull yellow
patch, visible in both sexes. The plumage of the ventral surface generally is
more suffused with yellow, whilst the dark marking of the feathers of the
throat is much more pronounced.


Friday, August 30, 2013

La Billardiere's Ground Parrot

The item is acknowledged: 
         State Library of New South Wales – X980/15B

Image 13 from La Billardiere's folio published 1799: an Eastern Ground Parrot.


La Billardiere's Ground Parrot

In 1786, a French expedition was commissioned to visit New Holland to search for an apparantly lost French expedition that had been captained by La Perouse, and also to do some scientific study. 

This new expedition was commanded by D'Entrecasteaux and comprised two vessels: 'La Recherche' and 'L'Esperance'. 

One of the scientists on board was Jacques-Julien de la Billardiere, primarily a botanist. The Ground Parrot was collected in late 1792 or early 1793 when they were anchored at an inlet, that they called Rocky Bay, off Storm Bay,south of Hobart, Tasmania(then van Diemen's Land).  They named the bird a Black-spotted Parrakeet and noted

 it was green in colour, spotted with black, and moving constantly among the grasses, the bird did not perch in trees.

The expedition came to grief on the way back to France. In Java both D'Entrecasteaux and his second in command died,and then the ships were captured by the Dutch as France was at war with Holland. The collection of specimens was confiscated. On its way back to Amsterdam it was seized by the British who were also at war with the Dutch. Eventually, thanks to intervention by Sir Joseph Banks, it was restored to La Billardiere who had by then made his way back to France.

 La Billardiere published an account of the voyage in 1799 accompanied by a folio of 47 illustrations. Only four of the illustrations are birds, and the Ground Parrot is one of them. La Billardiere's 1799 publication was titled "Relation du voyage a la Recherche de la Perouse", and the folio of illustrations, "Atlas pour servir de la relation du voyage a la Recherche de la Perouse".

La Recherche and L'Esperance



Friday, August 23, 2013

Ground Parrot Specimens in Sweden

It is likely that Ground Parrot skins were sent to several museums and stately homes in Europe during the late 1700s and the 1800s when there was a fervour to discover and collect the wildlife of the wider world and to classify it.

In the 1800s, Australia was a group of British colonies later to become States with the main land mass still being called New Holland. Eastern Ground Parrots occurred in all Eastern States of Australia, including Queensland. The Western Ground Parrot occurs only in southern Western Australia.

The Goteburg Natural History Museum in Sweden holds five Ground Parrot specimens. All were given to the museum in 1864 by James J. Dickson, as part of a collection of Australian bird skins. The collection includes Superb Parrot, Brolga, Musk Lorikeet, Blue Bonnet, King Parrot, Superb Lyrebird, Satin Bowerbird, Gang-gang Cockatoo, Flame Robin, Superb Blue Fairy-wren, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Orange-bellied Parrot and several other more widespread species. None of these birds occurs in southern Western Australia and there are no southern Western Australian endemics on the list. It is possible but by no means certain that the collection was made in the colony of Victoria though not from the same location. All are labeled as from New Holland with nothing more specific. As part of this collection, the Ground Parrots are highly likely to be Eastern Ground Parrots.

One specimen is mounted and its image appears below. The number 1742 which can be seen on one of the labels on a skin is a specimen number, not a date.


We were aided in obtaining the above information by Dr G. Nilson, Collection Strategist – Senior Curator of Vertebrates, Goteburg Natural History Museum, Sweden. (www.gnm.se) He also supplied the photo of two skins.








Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Horace Wheelwright on the Swamp Parrot

Swamp Parrot was a common name often used for the Ground Parrot.

Horace Wheelwright was in the colony of Victoria for about seven years between 1852 and 1859. He was a naturalist, hunter, sportsman and writer. He spent a lot of time camped in the bush near Melbourne where he made a living by hunting for the Melbourne market - for food and trap-shooting competitions. 
As well as kangaroos and other mammals, many birds were taken -duck, quail, pigeon snipe, wattlebirds (5 shillings per dozen), assorted parrots and more.

I can agree with H. Wheelwright that the Ground Parrot rarely perches. In several viewings of the Western Ground Parrot over the years, only once have I seen one perched and that was in a low mallee. It was on a branch that was horizontal to the ground and only about 0.7 metre above it. As well,they do climb into and over shrubs to feed. As to the call of Ground Parrot, Wheelwright may have suffered a little deafness and couldn't detect the high notes, or his camp was sufficiently far from the haunts of the Ground Parrot for him not to hear the morning and evening calling sessions. (BJN)


The reference by Serventy and Whittell (see previous blog entry) is from Wheelwright's popular book.

Wheelwright, H.W. (1865). Bush Wanderings of a Naturalist; or, Notes on the field sports and fauna 
of Australia Felix. By an Old Bushman. Frederick Warne and Co., London.
(There was a previous edition in 1861 with a different publisher.)

We had a curious ground parrot, common in the long
grass in the plains, on the heather, and often in low
tea-tree scrub (sometimes up to the knees in water)
called the Swamp Parrot. I have heard some very
learned ornithologists call it the Pheasant Cuckoo, which
I consider a very far-fetched name. The tail certainly is
shaped like that of the common pheasant, and it is
barred, and here the resemblance ends; but in what
respect this bird resembles the cuckoo, I never could
make out, seeing that it lives on the ground, has the
beak of the tree-parrot, and the call-note is nothing
more than a faint twitter. The swamp-parrot is an
elegant bird, both in shape and plumage; nearly as large
as the rosella, but not so plump. The ground colour,
light sea-green; every feather of three colours, green,
black, and yellow; a long pointed tail, the feathers
barred with black and yellow, and a red forehead. The
shape of the beak, head, and body, is that of the parrot.
But the legs are long and bare; the claws long, straight,
and pointed. In fact, it is a tree-parrot with the foot of
the lark. It lives on the ground (but I have seen them
perch on the tea-tree scrub), runs much and quickly, is
hard to rise, flies in jerks, goes away very sharp before
a wind, and is very pretty shooting, rising from the grass
and heather. We used to find them during the whole
year, frequenting different localities at different times;
and although they could scarcely be said to flock, I
generally rose three or four on the same spot. Dogs
will set them like quail.

The next few blog entries will also focus on early records by Europeans of the Eastern Ground Parrot as this one does.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Early Eastern Ground Parrot Observations.....

Edwards, H. V. (1924). Notes on the Ground Parrot. Emu 24, 35-37.

This article is a very early report on Eastern Ground Parrots (EGPs) in NSW and, as well as a record of observations, includes reflections on why this species has become more scarce in the years since the writer first observed EGPs  in 1884.

Although Mr Edwards reported that they had completely vanished from the Bega district by the time he was writing in 1924, ground parrots are still known in low numbers in some areas not far from the NSW coast.

Many characteristics of the Eastern Ground Parrot are shared by the Western Ground Parrot.

The illustration pre-dates Mr Edwards observations.

Notes on The Ground Parrot

By H. V. EDWARDS, R.A.O.U., Bega, N.S.W.

My acquaintance with the Ground Parrot Pezoporus walli~
cus) began about the year 1884, at which period, though never
apparently numerous, it might usually be flushed from the long
coarse grass and tussocks which then covered most of the gul—
lies and flats at the Kameruka Estate, in the Bega district on the
far south coast of New South Wales. The bird also haunted
the swamps, and was occasionally discovered among bracken on
the hillsides, but kept mainly to the denser cover, unless disturbed
and driven to take shelter elsewhere. lt was most commonly
found singly, although at times a couple of birds might be driven
from the same patch of cover. This Parrot rarely flies far, and
after covering a short distance in jerky, hesitating flight, plumps
back into Cover, much as a Quail does. During at day's Quail
shooting a few Ground-Parrots were almost invariably flushed
or were seen at times only a few yards in front of one's feet,
running silently through the tussocks, as they are loath to take
wing if they can escape by this means. These birds carry n
strong scent, and dogs set them as they do Quail. On one or
two occasions I found the dull-while eggs two in number, lying
on bare, damp earth beneath the shelter of a tussock, without
the slightest pretence of the formation of a nest. In those un~
regenerate days beautiful and always more or less rare birds
like the Ground—Parrot were very commonly shot and added to
the bag.

Personally I have never seen the Ground-Parrot perch -even
momentarily, on tussocks or elsewhere, but Horace Wheelwright
(the "Old Bushman") writing in the fifties of last century of
the fauna of Victoria, says that he occasionally saw the Ground-
Parrot perch on teatree scrub, and that he found the bird at
times about swamps in which, in places, the water was knee~deep.
The country in which Wheelwright made his observations lay
at the furthest not more than forty miles from Melbourne. He
also noted that pointers and other sporting dogs would set the
Ground-Parrot. The crops of birds incidentally shot on the
south coast of New South Wales contained seeds chiefly.

This Parrot was also found, at the period first mentioned, on
the rich Tarraganda flats, quite close to the town of Bega, but
during a long experience I have never met with or even heard
of it on the much colder Monaro highlands immediately above
the far south coastal districts. So far as the coastal districts
mentioned are concerned,the Ground-Parrot has long been but
a memory of the past. To its practical---probable entire —extinction
 three causes contributed:—

First, the increase in numbers of the perfectly useless and
terribly destructive European fox, introduced to this district,
and probably spreading also into it from others about the late
eighties of last century. This cunning animal must have played
havoc with the eggs and nestlings of the Ground-Parrot, and no
doubt also often stalked and seized adult birds as well.

Secondly, the advent and quick increase in numbers of rabbits,
which penetrated over the Australian Alps to the Monaro dis-
trict, and from it soon spread to the coastal districts below.
Poisoned wheat and other grains were at first used as baits
for the destruction of the rabbit, and the Ground-Parrot, being
mainly a seed eater, suffered greatly, in common with many
other birds.

Thirdly radical alterations in and destruction of its natural
environment, many swamps being drained and the tussocks and
other coarse grasses eaten off close in consequence of heavier
stocking, while other changes in the country, also destructive
of the Ground-Parrot's natural sanctuaries, followed on the heels
of closer settlement and the subdivision into smaller areas of
the best agricultural and pasture lands. 

These three causes—
but especially the two first, finally rang the death knell of the
Ground-Parrot so far as the quarters under consideration are
concerned.

But what to the writer seems strange (seeing that the Ground-
Parrot survived it, though it may in part account for the fact
that the bird has never at any time been numerous) is the cir-
cumstance that the grassy gullies and swamps in which it was
most at home were always haunted in number by native eats
(Dasyurus). These actively predaceous little animals, keen of
scent, continually scoured the gullies and swamps, often in se~
eluded places. by day, in quest of food, of which terrestrial
birds, their nestlings and eggs, formed no inconsiderable part.

Yet in spite of these primeval natural enemies, the Ground-
Parrot held its own. Owing to the direct agency of rabbit poison,
and the fact that native cats (unlike the tiger cat, which prefers
to kill its own meat) fed on the carcasses of poisoned rabbits,
these animals have themselves also become practically extinct in
this district.
 ‘
In conclusion, I may mention that, some years ago, writer
in the Sydney Mail stated that, in a certain quarter of New
South Wales, where the Ground-Parrot then still existed, the
birds had taken to nesting in hollows excavated in steep banks
and cliff-faces affording spaces of soft earth sufficient in depth
for the formation of tunnels. They are said thus to have escaped at any rate the ravages of foxes.


Old illustration of Ground Parrot (Pezoporus wallicus). Created by Kretschmer, published on Merveilles de la Nature, Bailliere et fils, Paris, 1878


Monday, August 12, 2013

WGP entry in Western Australia’s first bird book

Serventy, D.L. and Whittell, H.M. (1967). Birds of Western Australia. Lamb Publications Pty.Ltd. Perth, WA.


This book was initially published in 1948 and was the first comprehensive guide to Western Australian birds. It contains some illustrations but the Ground Parrot is not among them. The Western Ground Parrot is called here the Ground Parrot and is under the scientific name Pezoporus wallicus which is still the scientific name of the Eastern Ground Parrot. The text below is from the fourth edition. There was a subsequent and final edition by The University of Western Australia Press, in 1976.

Ground Parrot
Pezoporus wallicus


Native names: Boo-run-dur-dee (north of Perth); Djar-
dong-garri, Djar-doon-gur-ree (Perth); Djul-bat-ta (south);
Ky-lor-ing (Albany).
General colour grass-green with wavy barrings above and below
of yellow and dark brown; a prominent red forehead bond; no
yellow on the cheeks; a pale yellow wing stripe. Iris, brown; beak,
light horn colour; legs, long, flesh colour. Length, 12 in.
Young birds lack the red forehead band.
When flushed the Ground Parrot rises suddenly like a quail and
flies off with a zig-zag flight, displaying the pale yellow wing stripe.
It drops suddenly about 50 or 60 yards ahead, when it may be again
flushed. The red forehead band is easily visible on birds which may
be sighted on the ground. 
Distribution: This species is now rare and of restricted distri-
bution in Western Australia, but in the early days it occurred on the
coastal plain from north of Perth to Albany. Up to recently the last
individuals which appear to have been observed by naturalists in this
State were noted by S. W. Jackson at Irwin’s Inlet in 1912 and by
F. Lawson Whitlock in the wet blackboy flats around Denmark in
1913. However, in December 1952 J. W. Baggs saw 4 birds at the
Bow River, near Irwin’s Inlet. In November 1963 members of the
R.A.O.U. saw the birds at Cheyne Beach, where they had previously
been observed by C. Allen in 1947.
Nesting: The nest is usually placed below some low bushy plant,
where a circular depression is scratched out in the soil and lined
with grasses. A nest found by Whitlock at Wilson’s Inlet on Novem-
ber 20, 1913, had 3 fresh eggs; pure white, roundish in shape, fine
and smooth with very little gloss. Size, 27 x 22 mm. Another nest
found by the same ornithologist in the same locality on October 20,
1912, had two nestlings a few days old.



This 1988 photo by Dr Allan Burbidge shows the pale yellow wing stripe as referred to in the WGP entry from Serventy and Whittell's 'Birds of Western Australia'.