Saturday, 22 March 2014

Croajingolong heathland = Emu-wren + Ground Parrot

The coast of Gippsland east of Marlo is fairly remote with many patches of heathland along the coast, much contained within the Croajingolong National Park. This heathland is home to a number of specialist heathland birds such as Southern Emu-wren, Eastern Ground Parrot, Striated Fieldwren and the Eastern Bristlebird (found east of Mallacoota Inlet).
Looking west across Shipwreck Creek - note heathland.
There are healthy populations of Emu-wrens and Ground Parrots, however these birds can be very hard to find, especially the Ground Parrots.
We have been in Mallacoota for the past week attending a BirdLife East Gippsland Autumn birding camp. One morning birding on the heathlands both east and west of Shipwreck Creek we found six separate groups of Emu-wrens with some parties/families containing at least six birds. Only one Ground Parrot was flushed.
Emu-wrens are hard to hear and see in the dense heath, however once found they are often inquisitive and will come up to vantage points to see who the strangers are in their territory and if you’re quick there may be some photo opportunities.
Following the camp I went back to the Shipwreck Creek heathlands to see if I could get some Emu-wren photos. The weather was cool and overcast with a moderate southwest breeze, not good conditions for finding heathland birds!
A female Southern Emu-wren - a typical view of these birds as they check you out from the heath.
The female stops briefly in the open.
 The males are very attractive with sky blue eyebrows and bib matching the rich rufous colours of the body feathers. They have long filamentous tail feathers which look similar to emu feathers, hence the name emu-wren. Their very small and weak wings only allow feeble short distance flight with a distinctive long trailing tail.
The male Emu-wren - appearing briefly above the dense heath.
The male again - note the sky blue eyebrow and bib, the rich rufous crown and long tail.
Detail from above photo - note the short weak wings.
The Ground Parrot is very hard to find and most often is flushed when it rises from the heath and flies at speed some distance before dropping back into the dense cover of the heath. They have a very distinctive call, which is nothing like most parrot calls, and this is often made at dusk to contact other Ground Parrots. To find and survey Ground Parrots, the best method is to listen for their calls at dusk.
While wading through the heath following a pair of Emu-wrens I managed to flush a Ground Parrot that fortunately only flew about ten metres before dropping into a relatively open patch of grass among the taller stunted Casuarina. Noting where it landed I was able to slowly move up and find the bird which was fairly nervous. I hoped it would settle down and then go about feeding however after a few quick photos the bird burst into flight and was gone in a flash, flying well over 100 metres before it was lost from sight.
Heath where Ground Parrot was flushed - note coast walking trail.
Here are a few of the photos of this very elusive bird.

The Eastern Ground Parrot - I was lucky to find it and get a few photos.
The bird was quite nervous, stretching its head up for a better look at me.

Note the small red patch on the forehead and the feather colours which allows this ground dwelling bird to blend in so well with its habitat.

A rewarding morning on the heath – hopefully I have no ticks?


  1. An great report of some wonderful sightings John. What a day!? Sounds like the camp was a success.

  2. Congratulations on two special findings and captures. I had a look in the area late last year on my way home from Queensland but didn't have any luck. I hope you have no ticks either.