When is a paddock not a paddock?

When it’s a wetland, and apparently the pale-vented bush-hen (Amaurornis moluccana) thinks ours qualifies.

Pale-vented bush-hen (Amaurornis moluccana)

Pale-vented bush-hen (Amaurornis moluccana); photo by Aviceda, Wikimedia Commons

I heard this bird for the first time last night, and the description on the Michael Morcombe and David Stewart bird app of “noisy” is about right – a repeated loud squeaking. I was scrolling through the app in bed last night trying to ID it, and the call is unmistakeable. “Distinctive shrieking calls” is another description that fits the bill (and the whole bird).

The bird is apparently uncommon in our area, the southern end of its range. It is listed as vulnerable by NSW Environment and Heritage. That website says:

 In NSW, bush-hens are an apparently uncommon resident from the Queensland border south to the Clarence River, though the species appears to be expanding its range southwards with recent records as far south as the Nambucca River. …

The pale-vented hush-hen is secretive and cryptic, usually remaining in dense vegetation near watercourses or at the edges of wetlands.

I can’t say I blame it for thinking our place is currently a wetland. The weather over the past few days, courtesy of a few lows plus the fall-out from Cyclone Marcia, has produced a distinctly sodden environment. It’s still raining although the cyclone has now moved east out to sea. We had 110 mL over 24 hours, and 215 mL over five days so far. That’s not anywhere near a record, nor as bad as for folks further north, so I think we got off quite lightly with this weather system.

We have some springs, a couple of small ponds and a narrow creek with dense vegetation (and, sadly, much lantana among the macadamia trees – you’ll notice the photo above shows the bird in lantana), and apparently the bush-hen likes such cover. I suppose I can console myself that the weeds provide protection for a vulnerable species.

The Environment and Heritage website also says:

  • The pale-vented bush-hen inhabits tall dense understorey or ground-layer vegetation on the margins of freshwater streams and natural or artificial wetlands, usually within or bordering rainforest, rainforest remnants or forests.
  • Also occurs in secondary forest growth, rank grass or reeds, thickets of weeds, such as lantana (Lantana camara), and pastures, crops or other farmland, such as crops of sugar cane, and grassy or weedy fields, or urban gardens where they border forest and streams or wetlands, such as farm dams. Can also occur in and around mangroves, though rarely do so, if at all, in NSW.
  • Key elements its habitat are dense undergrowth 2 to 4 metres tall and within 300 metres of water.
  • The diet consists of seeds, plant matter, earthworms, insects and some frogs, taken from ground cover or by wading at edges of streams or wetlands.
  • The breeding season is from spring to early autumn, October to April.
  • The nest is a shallow bowl or cup of grass stems, often partly hooded, built close to water in thick ground vegetation such as dense blady grass (Imperata cylindrica), mat rush (Lomandra) or reeds, often under or growing through shrubs or vine or beneath a tree.
  • Birds lay 4 to 7 eggs in a clutch and will re-lay after a successful breeding attempt and make multiple attempts after nesting failures.
  • The incubation period is about 3 weeks. The hatchlings are precocial and can run soon after hatching; they are probably dependent on their parents for 4 to 5 weeks after hatching.

I hope our bird is breeding happily before the paddock reverts to its usual self.

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2 Responses to When is a paddock not a paddock?

  1. Kath says:

    What a versatile environment you have!

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