A close encounter with the Plains Wanderer

Over the past few years I have spent a number of nights waddling across the grasslands that comprise part of Terrick Terrick National Park with Scott Baker and others looking for Plains Wanderer and other threatened species of the area with little luck. At best it has been a good opportunity to have a few beers with mates and a bit of exercise – aside from a few button-quails and barn owls had rarely seen anything of note. The Plains Wanderer is a critically endangered bird that looks superficially like a quail but is more closely related to waders and is a monotypic member of its own family Pedionomidae. The Terricks for many years were considered a stronghold for the species but in recent years it has been largely absent. It seems to prefer a habitat just short of drought conditions with sparse rather than thick grass. A couple of months back I got a message from Owen Lishmund that he had found a Plains Wanderer in the Terricks but was unfortunately away so couldn’t race up – following that more people found more birds so was almost frothing at the bit when I finally got a chance to head up again with Scott Baker for a look.

We headed up late afternoon and of course dropped into Mitiamo Store for a couple of Jill’s famous steak sandwiches which I can highly recommend. Arriving at our chosen paddock a bit after dark we wolfed down the steak sandwich, cracked a can and headed out spotlighting. Within a few minutes I spotlit another member of the threatened community of the area – a Fat-tailed Dunnart. I have seen these in NSW, SA and the NT but was a first record in Victoria for me. These are little, savage members of the Dasyurid family that take a toll on local insects, arthropods and vertebrates. I really like how it stood up on hind legs like a little Quoll when checking me out before scampering down a hole. This was one of a dozen I saw for the night which was great considering I had seen a grand total of zero in previous nights up here – it seemed a good omen.

Fat-tailed Dunnart

Fat-tailed Dunnart

After only twenty minutes and a couple of flushed Pipits, I put up a bird. I immediately knew from its long trailing legs it was a Plains Wanderer! It took a few moments to locate as it was so well camouflaged but I did a little dance as I realised it was a lovely young male bird. We spent a couple of minutes photographing before leaving it alone – it was sitting so still and reliant on its disguise I think i could easily have picked it up. I was pretty stoked and what an amazing, unique and tiny little bird! We continued on in this and another paddock and despite finding more dunnarts and a large number of dunnarts that was the only PW for the night – we walked over 20km for the night. Since then I have heard that other surveys in the same area have found more birds so hopefully there is an increase in Victoria. With the Plains Wanderer out of the way I now need to go and find a Scrubbird – my last endemic family in Aus.

Plains Wanderer

Plains Wanderer

Plains Wanderer

Plains Wanderer

Plains Wanderer

Plains Wanderer

Scott and I eventually camped in the park and did a bit of birding and herping in the morning before having a bacon and egg roll at Jill’s in Mitiamo and heading home – a very successful night!

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