Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Wandering Dutchman meets CSI: Mallacoota

WARNING: This post contains images that may shock you. A bit. Maybe. Probably not. Read on.

After the wonder of the Wandering Tattler, we wondered what to do next. Mallacoota here we come. Towards evening we went on a search for the Ground Parrot. According to the book by Dolby and Clarke: Where To Find Birds in Australia, a favoured spot is the heathland surrounding the aerodrome at Mallacoota. Normally you would consider heathland to consist of lots of variation in height [say up to a metre] of lots of different species, perhaps the occasional small tree.  Here, surrounding the aerodrome, security and fire risks are mitigated by slashing.

Example of the heathland around Mallacoota aerodrome. Good for roos.
In the picture above you can see that the vegetation height of the heath is very low, hardly high enough for a budgie to hide in let alone a Ground Parrot. But this was a noted place to see the bird so we slowly zig-zagged across the heath and then around the edges hoping to flush one/some. And then we found one. Just one. About three metres from the double strand plain wire fence separating the gun club from the heathland. And slightly the worse for wear. Well, dead actually.

Yes, he was dead. The ants were already investigating the carcase. But what an opportunity to examine, in the hand, a rarely seen bird.

And then, the veterinary pathologist part of me started thinking. Hmm. How often do you see a dead bird? Not that often. And here is a species that is shy and elusive, uncommon to rare. And we find a body. Better examine it a bit more closely. The next image shows the examination environment.

The next image shows the beautiful markings on the belly.

So a look-see [not a pathology term!] underneath showed that the right humerus [top wing bone] was broken.

Hmm. No blood either. Thus no haemorrhaging which you would expect from a broken bone. Must have broken the humerus on or after death. Perhaps the point of death. Continues examination. The head showed traumatic injuries. 

There was a scrape, almost like beak had been rasped off, on the right side of the base of the beak and an indentation and missing feathers on the right side of the top of the cranium. Suddenly it all made sense.

My hypothesis is that this bird, probably with mates, was flying along at parrot speed [pretty fast] when he hit one of the two single strands of plain wire [about 8 gauge -- real thick] of the fence. First with the base of the beak then the head -- instant death -- then his humerus which breaks [and doesn't bleed because his heart has stopped beating] and momentum takes him cartwheeling several metres away from the fence, stone dead. One of the hazards of life. CSI, Silent Witness, eat your heart out!!

Pretty sad really but what an opportunity to examine such a bird. Wow. We didn't see any that evening nor the next morning when we walked the heathland at Shipwreck Creek but we did hear lots  in heathland at Greencape Lighthouse in the Ben Boyd National Park in NSW towards Eden.

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