Sunday, 4 September 2016

Chats - Crimson and Orange

Both Crimson and Orange Chats were abundant on our 2016 outback travels following widespread and good rain across much of the arid inland areas where they are typically found. Both are eruptive, or boom-bust species, with abundance increasing during the good times and declining during prolonged droughts. They are also nomadic moving to where rain has fallen. Rainfall across the arid interior is often very patchy and given the vast area of arid Australia – at least 70% of the mainland is defined as arid – it is not surprising that some areas receive rain while others miss out.

So finding Chats is a matter of looking where rain has recently fallen in suitable habitat -which includes open woodlands, plains with sparse grasslands or gibber, salt bush, samphire and so on. On our trip this winter both Crimson and Orange Chats were in good numbers and breeding in many locations. The Birdsville Track provided the conditions described above – it was easy to find both of these Chats along the track, especially along the northern half.

Male Crimson Chat perched atop a salt bush on the Birdsville Track.
The habitat preferences of both species of Chat seem to be a little different with Crimsons preferring more vegetated sites and Orange preferring more sparsely vegetated areas, particularly areas with gibber along the Birdsville Track. Therefore, Orange Chats are much harder to approach and seem far warier than Crimson Chats.

A section of the Birdsville Track with Gibber Plain where Orange Chats are more likely to be found.

Good Crimson Chat habitat beside the Birdsville Track with a number of salt bush species and other shrubs and grasses with open areas. Chats are ground feeders and need open areas to forage.

Male Orange Chat – a distant shot – I tried to get close to Orange Chats but they were all far too wary for close approach. Note gibber and salt bush.

Female Orange Chat – this bird was with the male in the photo above.

At the “good Crimson Chat habitat beside the Birdsville Track …” site (photo above) I spent some time observing a pair of Crimson Chats. The female appeared to be pursuing the male and made a number of approaches to him. I am sure they had a nest and she was wanting to mate with him. Several times it looked like they would mate but he seemed to lack interest and was the one who ended the encounter by moving away. The photos below capture some of their interaction. In between their interactions they fed on the open ground between patches of salt bush.

The female Crimson Chat approaches the male.
The male in the photo above has departed leaving the female.

The male seemed more interested in feeding.

The female moved a short distance.
Time for a quick preen.

The female makes another approach to the male – he looks startled by the approach?

The female is right in the face of the male and calling to him.

The male was not impressed with the female’s approach and she leaves.

The Orange and Crimson Chats were in breeding mode following good drought breaking rains – much of the inland is now alive with birdlife.

We recorded 40 bird species along the Birdsville Track between Birdsville and Marree. A couple of other species of interest were Australian Pratincoles and Cinnamon Quail-Thrush, neither species was easy to get close to for photos.

Australian Pratincoles were seen along the drive south from Mt Isa including the Birdsville Track. Single birds and small groups of 3 or 4 birds were the norm.

Pratincoles are shorebirds/waders and have a distinctive sharp/pointy appearance both on the ground and when in flight. The red on the bill indicates this bird is in breeding condition.

Cinnamon Quail-Thrush. As usual for any Quail-Thrush species they were hard to get close to for photos.

If you are planning an outback birding trip now is a good time to go.

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