Elu­sive night par­rot a chance dis­cov­ery

Broome Advertiser - - News - Peter de Krui­jff

The known dis­tri­bu­tion of a rare Aus­tralian par­rot con­tin­ues to grow with its re­dis­cov­ery in the Great Sandy Desert.

Sight­ings of the night par­rot have been rare in the past 100 years and it was only af­ter 2013, with sig­nif­i­cant ev­i­dence of the birds’ ex­is­tence in West­ern Queens­land, re­searchers be­gan to learn more about the habi­tat and life of the elu­sive species.

There were sight­ings near Lake Eyre and by Kim­ber­ley bird watch­ers in the East Murchi­son in WA ear­lier this year.

Now the Paruku rangers, based out of the re­mote com­mu­nity of Mu­lan some 600km south of Ku­nunurra and near Lake Gre­gory, have re­vealed photo and au­dio record­ings of what seems to be night par­rots. In July the rangers were work­ing with WWF Aus­tralia Kim­ber­ley pro­gram man­ager Alexan­der Wat­son and Neil Ha­m­aguchi from En­vi­rons Kim­ber­ley do­ing bilby sur­veys when they made the dis­cov­ery.

Af­ter re­view­ing the 40 to 50 pho­tos off one of their colour photo cam­era traps, the group spot­ted an an­i­mal which didn’t re­sem­ble the din­goes and camels they usu­ally got im­ages of.

Dr Wat­son said they couldn’t be­lieve what they saw. “The feel­ing was great,” he said. “Lucky we bought cam­eras that were in colour, it was a night par­rot, you could see the yel­low belly.

“While the im­age may be a lit­tle blurry, the colours, shape, habi­tat and time the bird was pho­tographed makes us ex­tremely con­fi­dent the rangers have pho­tographed a night par­rot.”

The rangers went back into the field a few weeks ago to ver­ify the sight­ing. Tak­ing some sound equip­ment they were able to record the whis­tle of the par­rot.

Tra­di­tional owner Hanson Pye said his grand­fa­ther used to tell sto­ries about the bird.

“I re­mem­ber my grand­fa­ther telling me that one day I’ll see it, but this bird is very clever and only comes out at night,” he said.

“It wob­bles around when walk­ing and comes out to eat the seed from the plants at night time.”

There are tra­di­tional songs and sto­ries about the bird; how­ever, they aren’t known by many and are said to be sa­cred.

Paruku ranger co-or­di­na­tor Jamie Brown also heard about the bird from el­ders and his grand­mother, as well as through eco­log­i­cal con­fer­ences.

“(My grand­mother) knows this bird and re­mem­bers hear­ing them and see­ing them as a child, so we know that the night par­rot has ex­isted in this area,” he said.

“Now that we have the ev­i­dence that the par­rot is in the area, we need sup­port for more rangers to manage fire in the re­gion and the threat of feral preda­tors like cats to keep this habi­tat safe.”

Dr Wat­son said there would now be a fo­cus on how best to con­duct fire man­age­ment to pro­tect the birds.

Pic­tures: Kim­ber­ley Land Coun­cil

The team of Erin Flynn, Hanson Pye, Jamie Brown, Lach­lan Johns, Neil Ha­m­aguchi and Alexan­der Wat­son who have been record­ing au­dio of night par­rots.

A cam­era trap im­age of a night par­rot.

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