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THE ORACLE. NEXT NEW BIRD FOR VIC

Variegated Fairywren. Inskip Point, Qld[4/1/17] photo Scott Baker

Attempting to predict next addition to the Victorian list an inexact science but will have a crack anyhow.

Already 514 species recorded in the state [around 50% of all species recorded in the country] and last few years number of the more obvious [previously outstanding] candidates including Tawny Grassbird, Wandering Tattler and South Island Pied Oystercatcher have now made well documented appearances. Still many possibilities but the lower hanging fruit has been picked.

Roy Wheeler’s ‘A handlist of the birds of Victoria’ [1967], was perhaps first serious attempt to catalogue a state list. It details the occurrence of 437 species [with notes and distribution maps].

Throughout 70’s and 80’s pioneering local birders Mike Carter and the late Fred T H Smith [amongst others] put their name to many new records for the state [and country] and in 1987 with publication of ‘Atlas of Victorian birds’, the list had grown to 484.

So, in the last 30 years, give or take a few taxonomic revisions, reappraisals etc have added around 30 species.

Is worth considering areas likely to produce a new state record…

Traditionally shorebirds/waders have proved a reliable source of ‘vagrants’ and still couple of semi-regulars to mainland Aus such as Eurasian Curlew, Nordmann’s Greenshank and Swinhoe’s/Pin-tailed Snipe we are yet to observe in Vic. However, much of this territory has been covered and list of possibles is dwindling. Dunlin and Bristle-thighed Curlew both considered an outside chance [would have to be a mega].

Similarly, pelagics /seabirds have contributed to fair share of more recent discoveries. Given vast ocean area and our limited survey capacity would be a good bet is more to come on this front. Access to pelagic areas off eastern Vic has been problematic but if can be resolved [and are working on it] would almost guarantee something special.

Perhaps will be an east coast tropical/sub-tropical forest species pushing into Vic. Last 10-20 years seeing range of many species extending south. Whole bunch of stuff in this category that could sneak across the border [quite a few options here and given changing climate a big chance I would suspect]. Some of these are listed below.

Proximity to Tasmania also suggests potential. Most of Tas endemics do occur on King Island [only 100km south of Cape Otway] but as yet pretty much nothing from Tas [except regular migrants- and now including Tas Morepork as a regular].

NW Vic another chance -probably unlikely but who knows. Things are changing. Yellow Chat [for example] not an impossibility.

For purpose of this exercise have chosen a top 10 most likely new birds for the State. Certainly not exhaustive. In taxonomic order[if such a thing exists], not order of likelihood.

 

AMSTERDAM ALBATROSS

Interesting case. Critically endangered species- estimated world population of just 130 adult birds that breed exclusively on Amsterdam Island [southern Indian Ocean].

Recent satellite tracking data illustrates regular dispersal east to Great Australian Bight and beyond- 1 bird travelling through Bass Strait within proximity of Vic pelagic boundary. At this stage 1 BARC accepted record for Aus: SA Basin [Mar-Apr 2012] and another 2 records currently under review.

Would suggest good chance species has already occurred in the zone. Edge of range and extremely rare but real chance will connect with this species at some stage.

Amsterdam Albatross tracking data. Source: http://www.seabirdtracking.org/

CHATHAM ALBATROSS

Bird identified as this taxa[subspecies of Shy Albatross at the time] on seawatch from Cape Schanck, Vic [8/8/76] was not accepted by BARC. There are however number of well documented reports from Tasmania [BARC accepted] that suggest is an infrequent visitor to region and worth keeping eye out for.

KERMADEC PETREL

An uncommon but regular species to east coast NSW and considered a good contender for next new bird. If we can gain regular access to pelagic waters off Eastern Vic would pencil this 1 in.

Kermadec Petrel. Kiama pelagic, NSW [25/3/17] photo Scott Baker

WHITE-NECKED PETREL

As above. Regular summer visitor to SE NSW. Less numerous further south [ie Tas] but have been records from Eden NSW [approx. 55km from border]

SABINE’S GULL

Very scarce in recent years but run of Aus records in the 80’s including Port MacDonnell, SA [17/6/84] and Wollongong, NSW [23/3/85] –both accepted by BARC, clearly put this in the ‘possible’ basket. Difficult to target, just hope 1 lands in our lap. More likely a pelagic species.

ORIENTAL CUCKOO

Long distance summer migrant that breeds in northern Eurasia. Regular in small numbers to more coastal areas in northern and eastern Aus. Semi-reliable in Brisbane area and recorded as far south as Booderee Nat Park, NSW [200km north of Vic border]. No immediate evidence are expanding range but given distances travelled in migration [around 10,000 km from Brisbane to Russia] couple of hundred extra km’s does not seem such a stretch. Interestingly have been 3 records for New Zealand including bird observed at East West Island, Snare Is group [10/12/86] –further south than Tasmania.

NOISY PITTA

NSW counterparts have suggested this species will eventually reach our border. Range is seemingly expanding southward. 2-3 birds observed over 10 day period in Bermagui ,NSW [12/7/17] around 115km north of Vic border. Challenge for us is actually finding 1. Species regarded as an altitudinal migrant and more likely to occur during winter months when access limited to some of the more suitable habitat in far East Gippsland. Also, non-breeding period and therefore less vocal. Difficult, not impossible.

Noisy Pitta. Eungella, Qld [31/12/17] photo Scott Baker

VARIEGATED FAIRYWREN

Recent taxonomic changes adopted by the IOC [International Ornithological Committee] have resulted in removal of Variegated Fairywren from the Victorian list. What was previously regarded as a subspecies of Variegated [widespread in central-NW Vic] has been ‘split’ and reclassified as Purple-backed Fairywren.

The range of what is now regarded as Variegated Fairywren extends from SE Qld to SE NSW. They are known from Ben Boyd National Park NSW–around 30km north of Vic border and have been reports much closer. This region less frequently surveyed, is possible have been overlooked. At least 1 unverified report from within Victorian boundary.

Been on the radar as a taxa that may occur in Vic for some time. Given newly recognized independent species status should put some additional effort in here –be nice to reclaim Variegated Fairywren for the State list.

BARN SWALLOW

Couple of claims from Vic but nothing solid. Is a regular [uncommon] summer migrant to northern Australia and we should remain vigilant, is possible. Distinctive if seen well but could easily be overlooked in flock of Welcome Swallows.

Barn Swallow. Yungaburra Qld [22/1/18] photo Scott Baker

CITRINE WAGTAIL

A major rarity anywhere in Aus but 2 records in NSW -Botany Bay [1/7/62] and Mudgee [24/8/14] and record for SA -Goolwa [28/5/87] would suggest is at least possible. Average of 20-30 years between reports in this part of the world so could be waiting a while [ie not holding breath on this 1]

Citrine Wagtail. Mudgee, NSW [30/8/14] photo Scott Baker

 

So there it is –the 10 most likely [according to myself] Admittedly a few long-shots in that lot. Is inevitable –law of diminishing returns, is getting tough.

If I was a betting man might be putting money on Kermadec Petrel or Variegated Fairywren. Who knows? Hopefully are blind-sided by something unexpected–would have to be good.

Can’t say exactly when or where or what but can pretty much guarantee number 515 will happen. We just have to find it.

 

SCOTT BAKER

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