Low bird numbers at Cowra Survey

It is rash to draw conclusions from the bird survey counts of one cold windy winter’s day. However last weekend’s bird counts were very low with zero birds on three of the sites surveyed. This was the first time I had made counts of zero and it was surprising to do so at several sites.

The Cowra Survey had shown a dramatic decrease in bird numbers during the Millennium drought (2001 - 2010) and then an healthy increase afterwards as the countryside recovered. From the comments of experienced birders it appears the current drought is affecting bird numbers across all the woodlands areas, perhaps to even lower levels than seen in earlier droughts. Drought-wise Cowra is actually faring better than many inland towns, with 60 mm rain over the last two months, and although creeks and dams are still empty there were puddles, and paddocks had a flush of green. 

The Cowra surveys were inspired by a landowner who noticed a decrease in the number of Babblers he was seeing on his farm. The project has inspired tree planting and the regeneration and protection of existing bush lands in addition to the invaluable information generated by the survey itself.

So it was a welcome consolation to see several Babbler families over the weekend, busy in their Babbler ways.

Grey-crowned Babbler at Morongla cemetery near Cowra

Grey-crowned Babbler at Morongla cemetery near Cowra

Cowra Woodland Birds Survey four years on.

The autumn Woodland Birds Survey at Cowra was held last weekend, with over thirty surveyors counting birds at 93 sites. As discussed previously, this survey has been running for 18 years and generates important information as to how woodland birds are responding to the challenges of development and climate change.

Four years ago the Cowra survey was my first entree into the world of birds, bird photography and bird surveys. As a novice surveyor I opened gates, pointed helpfully at birds and enjoyed the beautiful countryside. I gained great respect for my fellow surveyors and their expertise and enthusiasm. Since then I have studied bird profiles and tried to learn their songs. I bought a camera in 2015, a Canon EOS 7D II with a Canon 100-400 IS USM lens and found an absorbing and fascinating new hobby - the results of which adorn this website. After four years of surveying I hope to trade my learner surveyor’s plate in for a “P” plate at least.

Last Friday, before the surveys, I went to Conimbla National Park for a pre-view of Cowra birds. At the Wallaby Picnic Area I saw Golden Whistlers, an Eastern Yellow Robin, Red-browed Finches, Superb Fairy-wrens and took my first photo of a Speckled Warbler.

Speckled Warbler at Conimbla National Park.

Speckled Warbler at Conimbla National Park.

Cowra Woodland Birds Program Spring Survey

It was encouraging to see a flush of green driving into Cowra and to hear there had been 30 ml of rain. The locals say it was not enough to sustain winter grain crops but hopefully there would be a crop of hay coming on. Walking through the bush, what little grass was left crackled underfoot, and the land still shows the effects of this years short and sharp drought.

It was a good turnout – 25 surveyors for the 93 sites and the usual happy get togethers and renewal of old acquaintances. Many remarked on the absence of smaller birds over the weekend. The birding highlight was the sighting of a White-throated Nightjar. For our team it was seeing an Australian Hobby close up and a cloud of 20 or more bee-eaters.

The Cowra Woodland Birds Program (CWBP) has been working to reverse the decline of woodland birds in the Cowra district since 2001. The survey data is now one of the best records of woodland birds around. I enjoy taking part because the project has practical backing from many farmers and Cowra locals.

On the Saturday we all went out to see a regeneration site that was planted 12 years ago. It was exciting to see a Crested Shrike-tit and Superb Parrots on the site – also the Double-banded Finches shown here. A good weekend.