101 bird species spotted at Mornington-Marion Downs

13 Dec. 2022

AWC Field Guide Steven Spragg recently traversed across Mornington-Marion Downs Wildlife Sanctuary and identified 101 unique bird species – in one day!

The record for the most species sighted in Australia in one year (known as a Big Year) is 770 by John Weigel. Of course, a Big Year gets harder over time as a birder’s number of unidentified species depletes. Still, 101 species across one area, in one day, is no small feat.

Steven started his day at 4:46 am and finished nearly 14 hours later. In that time, he travelled 193 kilometres and spotted 1,936 birds. His findings show the epic diversity of species present around the birding mecca that is Mornington.

Have a gander at his list:

200 Pictorella Munia
200 Peaceful Dove
200 Budgerigar

Budgerigars in open grassland, backdropped by Gidyea (Acacia cambagei) Wayne Lawler/AWC
Budgerigars in open grassland, backdropped by Gidyea (Acacia cambagei)

150 Varied Lorikeet
100 Painted Firetail

Painted Firetail Finch Wayne Lawler/AWC
Painted firetail finch

100 Little Corella
100 Double-barred Finch
100 Diamond Dove
80 Long-tailed Finch

Long-tailed finches Steven Spragg/AWC
Long-tailed finches

70 Gouldian Finch

AWC protects one of the largest remaining populations of the endangered Gouldian Finch at Mornington-Marion Downs, and smaller populations at Charnley River, Wongalara, Pungalina and possibly Brooklyn.

The primary threat to the survival of the Gouldian Finch is altered fire regimes – especially an increase in extensive, hot wildfires in the late dry season. Wildfires reduce the availability of seed at key times during the year and limit the availability of tree hollows for nesting. Until recently, people often travelled thousands of kilometres to catch a glimpse of a Gouldian Finch. Now, thanks to both heavy rainfall and active backburning to minimise wildfires at Mornington-Marion Downs, Steven only had to drive for five minutes to see 70 members of this species bathing and foraging in all their glory!

Gouldian finches Steven Spragg/AWC

40 Crimson Finch
35 Zebra Finch
30 White-winged Triller (small numbers across various locations)
30 Brown Honeyeater
20 Yellow-tinted Honeyeater
20 Torresian Crow
20 Rainbow Bee-eater

Rainbow Bee Eater In Open Woodland Wayne Lawler/AWC
Rainbow bee-eater in open woodland

20 Brown Quail
18 Black-faced Woodswallow
16 Spinifex Pigeon
15 Little Friarbird
14 Comb-crested Jacana
14 Chestnut-breasted Munia
12 Rufous-throated Honeyeater
12 Paperbark Flycatcher
12 Magpie Goose

Magpie Geese Wayne Lawler/AWC
Magpie geese over the wetland, Lake Gladstone (Piccaninny Plains Wildlife Sanctuary).

11 Pacific Black Duck
10 Willie-wagtail
10 Red-backed Fairywren
10 Little Woodswallow
9 White-quilled Rock-Pigeon
8 Tree Martin
8 Royal Spoonbill

Royal Spoonbill At Waterhole Wayne Lawler/AWC
Royal Spoonbill at waterhole

8 Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo
8 Magpie-lark
8 Black-fronted Dotterel

Black Fronted Dotterels Christine Bull/AWC
Black-fronted Dotterels, photographed at Bowra

8 Bar-shouldered Dove
8 Australasian Darter
7 White-gaped Honeyeater

White-gaped honeyeater Steven Spragg/AWC

7 Blue-winged Kookaburra
7 Black-faced Cuckooshrike
7 Black Kite
6 White-breasted Woodswallow
6 Red-winged Parrot
6 Little Black Cormorant
6 Intermediate Egret
6 Fairy Martin
6 Crested Pigeon
6 Cattle Egret
6 Brolga

Brolgas Steven Spragg/AWC

6 Black-chinned Honeyeater

Golden Backed (black Chinned) Honeyeater Wayne Lawler/AWC
Golden Backed (black chinned) Honeyeater

6 Australian Pelican
5 White-bellied Cuckooshrike
5 Australasian Bushlark
4 White-faced Heron
4 Rufous Whistler
4 Pacific Heron
4 Masked Woodswallow

Masked woodswallow in open woodland Wayne Lawler/AWC
Masked Woodswallow in open woodland

4 Great Bowerbird
4 Gray-fronted Honeyeater
4 Cockatiel
4 Banded Honeyeater
4 Australian Bustard

Australian Bustard Wayne Lawler
Australian Bustard

4 Australasian Grebe
3 Whistling Kite
3 Wandering Whistling-Duck
3 Straw-necked Ibis
3 Purple-crowned Fairywren

The Purple-crowned Fairywren’s coronatus subspecies is a staple along Mornington’s riverbeds but found almost nowhere else in the world. This Endangered subspecies’ range is limited to a small pocket of Western Australia and the Northern Territory, as it has adapted to live only along the banks of Northern Australia’s waterways. Much of its riparian habitat – particularly the Pandanus aquaticus vegetation that it nests in – has been decimated by feral herbivores and wildfire, causing significant declines in the Purple-crowned Fairywren population.

For close to two decades, Monash University researchers and AWC scientists have closely monitored an entire population of Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens at Mornington. Until 2018, they bucked the trend of decline the species was seeing elsewhere across Australia, with the number of breeding pairs increasing until the population had doubled in size! Then the vicious pairing of drought and wildfire in 2018 and 19 caused severe habitat damage, and their numbers saw a 41% decline. Both their flourishing numbers before habitat damage and extreme decline afterwards demonstrate the essentiality of habitat regeneration and maintenance in the survival of the species.

Despite its population decline, the Purple-crowned Fairywren population at Mornington has the highest density in its range, and so its little amethyst crown is a rare but wonderful treat for birders like Steven.

Purple-crowned fairy wren Steven Spragg/AWC

3 Purple-backed Fairywren
3 Little Pied Cormorant
3 Green Pygmy-Goose
3 Australian Owlet-nightjar (The final bird Steven spotted!)

Australian Owlet-nightjar Steven Spragg/AWC
Australian Owlet-nightjar

2 White-throated Honeyeater
2 Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
2 Rufous Songlark
2 Red-collared Lorikeet
2 Red-backed Kingfisher

Red Backed Kingfisher Wayne Lawler/AWC
Red-backed kingfisher

2 Northern Rosella
2 Mistletoebird
2 Gull-billed Tern
2 Bush Thick-knee

Bush Stone Curlew Or Thick Knee Wayne Lawler/AWC
Bush-stone curlew

2 Buff-sided Robin
2 Azure Kingfisher
1 White-bellied Sea-Eagle
1 Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern In Breeding Plumage Hunting For Tadpoles And Shield Shrimps Wayne Lawler/AWC
Whiskered tern in breeding plumage photographed hunting for tadpoles and shield shrimps at the surface on Honeymoon Lake, an ephemeral wetland flooded by summer rains on Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary, Tanami Desert, Northern Territory

1 Square-tailed Kite
1 Spotted Nightjar
1 Southern Boobook
1 Pied Heron
1 Olive-backed Oriole
1 Northern Fantail
1 Great Egret

Collared sparrowhawk Wayne Lawler/AWC
1 Brown Goshawk/Collared Sparrowhawk

1 Golden-headed Cisticola
1 Brown Falcon
1 Black-breasted Kite
1 Barking Owl

This mid-sized, hawk-owl has very distinctive vocalisations – a gruff ‘woof-woof’ or ‘wuk-wuk’ that sounds remarkably like a dog’s bark, and a much rarer, wavering scream, resembling a high-pitched ‘help!’ Luckily for Steven, it often becomes active before dark, so he was able to tick his 101 species off without having to stay up all night getting spooked by its vocal tricks.

1 Australian Magpie
1 Australian Ibis
1 Australian Hobby
1 Australasian Swamphen

With his wonderful bird knowledge, you’d be hard-pressed to find a field guide savvier than Steven.


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