Birding Without Borders

Day 345: By the Rules

An Emu counts for the Big Year, but not a trio of Gouldian Finches.

December 11, 2015: Atherton, Australia — Del and I traced our way from one spot to another today, working our way south on the west side of the Great Dividing Range. We passed through hot, dry Eucalyptus woodlands and shallow lakes, arriving at the Atherton Tablelands in the afternoon.

For lunch, we stopped at the Mareeba Wetlands Reserve, where, for the past 12 years, Gouldian Finches have been bred in captivity and released into the wild. These finches, which are one of the most colorful birds imaginable, disappeared from this area decades agoperhaps because of DDT pesticide use on local crops, combined with other factorsand the idea is to reestablish a population. It’s difficult to tell whether the program is having an effect; the birds seem to vanish into the surrounding bush when released, but could be surviving out there somewhere. About 150 more birds were released recently. Today, we saw three Gouldian Finches next to the reserve’s parking area, mixing with the local Double-barred Finches and Chestnut-breasted Munias. 

It’s tempting to count them on my year list, but a population must be self-sustaining in the wild for at least 10 years to be considered “established.” These finches don’t meet that criterion yet, so I’ll have to leave them off. It was a little strange, though, to not be able to count a free-flying Gouldian Finch while, a couple of minutes later, an Emu walked right up to us in the parking lot (apparently hoping for a handout) and got ticked on the year list. Emus are wild and native here and nest on their own, even if some of them get used to people. Captive-breeding is grounds for disqualification, but human habituation is not. Rules are rules.

By the way, if you say “eee-moo,” you’re mispronouncing it. Australians pronounce Emu “eee-myew.” Saying eee-moo instead of eee-myew is a dead giveaway that you’re not a local, said Del. I admitted that most people can probably tell I’m not from Australia anyway, but point taken.

This evening we are staying at a place called Rose Gums at the edge of the Atherton Tablelands, looking forward to some wet forest birding in the morning.

New birds today: 24

Year list: 5731

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