My friend Tony Bucci, wrote a couple of
very interesting articles about his traveling experiences in Australia.
He sent me copies of some of those articles and he also gave me
permission to share them with all of you. I hope that all of you enjoy
reading them, just as I did. even if someone of you don't breed
Gouldian's finches I am sure, that you too will enjoy reading iTony 's
experiences. Here it is the article of Tony's second trip to Australia.
I, too, wrote several articles of my own
experiences while traveling in many areas of Australia. If any one
wishes to read them, please go to the Abba web site @ www.abbaseed.com
<http://www.abbaseed.com/> . Click on breeder info. and then click on "A
JOURNEY IN OUTBACK OF AUSTRALIA" While you are there, you can also read
many other articles on traveling experiences to different parts of the
world and on cage birds, in general
Australia Revisited: Gouldian Finches in
Their Natural Habitat
By Tony Bucci, San Pedro, CA
It was always my desire to see and study
Gouldian Finches (Chloebia gouldiae) in their native habitat. I have
visited Australia in the past and made attempts to see Gouldians but
failed to do so. Last spring, while "surfing" the Internet for
Australian bird web sites, I came across a Gouldian Finch site. Michael
Fendley, a coordinator of the Threatened Bird Network at the RAOU Head
Office in Australia, was looking for volunteers to help count Gouldian
Finches in the Northern Territory. My first thought was: Here is my
Immediately I sent Mr. Fendley an e-mail
indicating that I was interested in volunteering for the survey. The
next day I received Mr. Frendley's reply telling me that he had sent my
name to Mr. Peter Dostine, Senior Research Wildlife Officer with the
Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory in charge of the
Gouldian Finch project.
Several days later I received a letter
from Mr. Dostine informing me of details for the Gouldian count project.
He stated, "The main objective of the work is to derive population
indices to monitor trends through time and infer responses to management
actions to assist the conservation of the Gouldians." 1997 would be the
second year for the project of counting Gouldians at waterholes during
the dry season in the Northern Territory.
In order for me to participate in the
project, I was to be in Darwin or Katherine, Australia, on July 28th.
There I would be met by a Northern Territory ranger and taken to the
I left Los Angeles on the 7th of July,
landed in Sydney, then proceeded to the city of Perth in Western
Australia, a region I had never visited before. In Perth I visited with
my cousin. I knew it was mid-winter in Australia, but I did not realize
that it would be so cold in Perth. I was forced to buy some winter
Perth and its port at Fremantle were
beautiful places to visit. My cousin insisted that I visit with him
longer. He drove me to Albany in the southwestern part of Australia, and
then headed toward Cape Leeuwin. The century-old lighthouse at Cape
Leeuwin at the southern tip of the state of Western Australia is the
guiding light for sailors entering Australia's South Sea from the Indian
Ocean. The next day we traveled north along the beautiful southwestern
coast and returned to Perth.
It was then time to part with my cousin.
I left Perth by bus and traveled north toward Broome. I chose to ride a
bus in order to see more of Western Australia. It was a grueling
two-days-and-one-night bus ride to reach Broome. Broome has beautiful
beaches and a tropical climate. I was now wearing shorts, a tank top,
and sandals. This would be my "uniform" for the rest of my stay in
Australia. I rested in Broome for two days then proceeded with another
night's bus ride to Katherine.
I stayed in Katherine for two days and
visited the famous Katherine Gorge. It was now July 28th, and I
anxiously waited to be picked up by the Northern Territory ranger. To my
surprise, I was picked up right at 2:00 P.M., as planned, by Mr. Peter
Dostine, and we drove to Edith Falls where we made our base camp.
I immediately pitched my tent on nice
grassy ground. This was to be my home for the next seven days. I met all
of the Australian volunteers and a couple from Germany. In total, we
were 15 enthusiastic "bird nuts", there to do our job. Mr. Dostine was
in charge of the project.
Every morning we got up at 5:00 A.M. A
quick breakfast was available on a "help yourself" basis, which was
reminiscent of my army days. By 5:30 we were on our way to the Yinberrie
The Yinberrie Hills are used by Gouldian
Finches each year during the dry season to feed and nest. It is the site
of the largest known breeding population. Study of the area is therefore
of obvious importance to assess the conservation status of the Gouldian
Finch. Results from simultaneous counts conducted in 1996 suggest that
this method provides a useful index of population size.
Our group would do the same as was done
previously: simultaneous counts of birds' daily watering points
conducted at the same time. That was the reason why many volunteers were
We left in groups of three to four
volunteers in four-wheel drive Toyota trucks and Land Cruisers. The
roads are very rocky and dusty in the Yinberrie Hills. In fact, the
truck in which I was riding had two flats before we got there. One at a
time we were dropped off at different locations. Each of us had a
location assigned each day. Most of the time, after being dropped off,
we had to walk to our location through riverbeds to reach a watering
Waterholes in the riverbeds varied in
size. Some were about half the size of a backyard swimming pool, while
others were much smaller. At the end of July, it was well into the dry
season. By season's end in November, these waterholes would be totally
In addition to the riverbed waterholes,
there are artificial waterholes in the Yinberrie Hills, maintained by
the Mt. Todd Gold Mine workers. The artificial holes are maintained by
the mine to help Gouldians survive the dry season. Also, it discourages
Gouldians from visiting contaminated water bodies on the mine site. The
artificial waterholes are made with black plastic sheeting placed
amongst rocks to form a small pool. The pool formed is approximately 3
feet in diameter, and some rocks are placed in it to create an island
for the Gouldians and other finches to land and drink. The water supply
is kept in a drum placed about 30 feet away. A small hose supplies the
waterhole by a gravity drip system. I was told that Gouldian Finches
prefer to drink from these small artificial holes.
As I mentioned before, we were left
alone at the waterhole. I usually positioned myself about 40 feet away
from the waterhole, a good distance from which to observe using
We were given data sheets with several
columns and lines to keep records. The columns were labeled "Gouldian
Finch-Adult", "Gouldian Finch-Juvenile", "Long-tailed Finch", "Masked
Finch", and the fifth column was used for doves, parrots, and other
The lines were spaced for 15 minute
counts. For example: 07:15-07:30; 07:30-07:45; etc. It continued down
through the last count, from 11:00 to 11:15 A.M. We were told to count
only the ones that drink. I assume it was because once the bird took a
good drink, it would not come back the same morning.
My first day was the most exciting. Many
birds arrived first thing in the morning, mostly Yellow-tinted Honey
Eaters, Long-tailed Finches, and a few Masked Finches. There were no
Gouldian Finches in sight. Suddenly, at 8:15 A.M., I saw a Black-headed
Gouldian hen drinking. My heart was pounding. For the first time I was
seeing a wild Gouldian Finch! I held my breath, hoping not to scare her
away. Then I saw four young (uncolored) and a redheaded male. They must
have been a family.
I took a deep breath and entered in the
proper columns: two adult Gouldian Finches, four juvenile Gouldian
Finches, and ten Long-tailed Finches. I continued to count birds fast
with a total count of 40 adult Gouldians, 80 juvenile Goulds, 100
Long-tailed Finches, 15 Masked Finches, several doves, four Northern
Rosella, two Hooded Parrots, and many Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters. Ninety
percent of the Gouldians I observed were blackheaded.
My first day of counting was at one of
the artificial waterholes. For me, it was a very happy and fulfilling
say. I was picked dup at 11:40 and taken back to the campground where
lunch was waiting for us. Many thanks to Sue ("Gilli") who prepared all
of our food. Gilli came all the way from southern Australia as a
volunteer to cook for us. Also, many thanks to David Hooper (Technical
Officer) who made daily trips to Katherine to bring fresh supplies of
food and liquids. David had a secret place to keep liquids cold, and if
you were nice to him, he would give you some after lunch.
During and after lunch made for great
fellowship. Comparing notes with other volunteers offered opportunities
to learn. At this time Mr. Dostine gave us the complied results of our
efforts for the day. The rest of the afternoon was our time. I enjoyed
hiking the surrounding hills of the Edith Falls campground. Also, I went
swimming in the small lake at the base of the Edith Falls.
On the second day, I was assigned to
count birds at one of the natural waterhole located in the dry riverbed.
I enjoyed the solitude and the beauty of the region. Since it was the
dry season, the tall grass on the banks of the dry river was yellow and
gold in color. I lay there amongst the tall grass under a small tree.
Hidden, with a good view of the waterhole, I waited patiently. Many
birds flew over my head but none came down to drink. That day my record
showed only two Barshouldered Doves. I was told that some waterhole can
be incredibly busy and other quiet.
Gouldian Finches make nests in the
hollows at the ends of tree branches. These hollows are formed by
termites. Certain trees are more favored by termites. In the Yinberrie
Hills it is the Salmon Gum Tree, or Eucalyptus tintinnans. These trees
have very smooth trunks and branches, and are pink in color. To satisfy
my curiosity, I broke off the dead end of a branch, exposing a hole with
termites inside. The Salmon Gum Trees are approximately 20 to 30 feet
high and are sparsely distributed among other trees.
According to author Sonia Tidemann, the
terrain selected by Gouldian Finches for breeding sites is rocky. The
requirements of a breeding site are Sorghum grass, water within four km
(2 ½ miles), and the hollow Salmon Gum Trees. The historical
distribution of the Gouldian Finches is across Northern Australia.
Breeding starts in late March after the wet season, and ends (I assume)
The next four days we continued our job
of counting Gouldians. Every day I was at a different waterhole. Each
location was different with respect to the numbers of Gouldian Finches
and other birds counted. According to Mr. Dostine's compiled information
of the total count for the year of 1997, the population of the Gouldian
Finch has increased from the count taken in 1996.
For me, the six days spent in the
Yinberrie Hills were some of the happiest days of my life. I met some of
the nicest people. Don Franklin, a Gouldian Finch Project employee, and
his girlfriend Christina, insisted that I stay with them in Darwin until
I was scheduled to depart the Northern Territory.
Our group left Edith Falls in the
afternoon of the 3rd of August and reached Darwin in the evening. During
the next three days, I visited Kakadu National Park, which is considered
the highlight of the Northern Territory.
On my last two days, I visited with Don
and Christina. They showed me around Darwin and graciously made me feel
at home. I enjoyed their company, good food, and the tropical warm
weather of Darwin. I left Darwin on August 7th and, because of the time
change, arrived the same day in Los Angeles. And I brought with me many
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