Sunday, 18 September 2016

Partridge Pigeon

Partridge Pigeons are another endemic Top End species I had been hoping to find and photograph.  However while they are regarded as being common in some places they eluded me until a 4km woodland walk near Cooinda in Kakadu National Park. Partridge Pigeons feed and nest on the ground but when flushed they often fly up to a perch in a nearby tree and sit there watching the intruder. This was the case for the pair I flushed at the start of the 4km woodland walk - the only Partridge Pigeons I saw on this trip to the Top End.

Adult Partridge Pigeon (race smithii) with distinctive red facial skin, white eye and robust bill.

There are two races of Partridge Pigeon. Geophaps smithii smithii is endemic to the Northern Territory and adjacent offshore islands while Geophaps smithii blaauwi is endemic to the Kimberly in Western Australia. The adults of the smithii race have red facial skin while blaauwi have yellow. It is intriguing to ponder what drove the evolution of yellow and red faces in an otherwise physically identical species that became geographically isolated in Australia’s Top End?

Both races are regarded as vulnerable.  For a ground feeding and “dry season” nesting Top End bird this is not surprising given the changed fire regimes across the savannah woodlands and the introduction of cattle and cats. Also the current large scale dry season so called planned or management burns, which occur during the Partridge Pigeon breeding season, are from what I saw, far too large and hot. Many other native animal species are also adversely impacted.

After the pair flushed, the first bird I found was perched high on a dead branch against a bright noonday sky. A few changes to camera settings allowed for reasonable exposure of the bird. The photo is included because it shows the distinctive head pattern well and the under-tail feathers.

First bird perched high on dead limb against a bright noonday sky.

It took me a while to locate the second bird about 50 metres away where better light allowed for more photos.

The distinctive head pattern, prominent white sides to the breast and small triangular faint pale blue feathers over the crop are visible in this photo.

The Partridge Pigeon has solid legs!

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