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Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Friday, October 29, 2010

Noisy Pitta found near Berrima

Several days ago a Noisy Pitta (Pitta versicolor) was found near Berrima, in the Southern Highlands of NSW. This is a long way outside its normal range, and in a very unusual habitat for this species, which is a classical "rainforest bird".

Berrima is approximately 40 Kms west from Robertson (which itself is just above the Illawarra Escarpment, the closest true rainforest habitat to Berrima). The bird was presented by a "soft mouthed" Golden Retriever, to the dog's owner. Fortunately, the dog was very gentle, as befits a properly bred "retriever".

Unfortunately, the story does not have a happy ending, for although the bird was carefully handled (minimal handling), and was kept covered, and fed and watered appropriately, it was handed over to WIRES, but it died before it had fully recovered from its ordeal. Whether it was unwell to start with, is not known. After all, it was outside its normal range, and well away from its normal habitat, being a tropical rainforest bird.

Noisy Pittas normally live in dense tropical and sub-tropical rainforest. Their range is normally only as far south as the "Barrington Tops" (Hunter Valley Region). There are apparently some reports from the Mt Keira area, on the Illawarra Escarpment. (*** - see note below) The open farmland setting where the bird was found, is way outside its normal range and habitat preference.

IMAGE WARNING

IN KEEPING WITH THIS BLOG'S POLICY
OF PRESENTING INTERESTING AND UNUSUAL RECORDS
INCLUDING OCCASIONAL PHOTOS
OF DEAD ANIMALS AND BIRDS
I HAVE TAKEN SEVERAL IMAGES OF THE DECEASED BIRD.

I REGARD THIS AS AN EDUCATIONAL SERVICE.
HOW OFTEN DOES ONE GET THE CHANCE
TO SEE A NOISY PITTA IN SUCH DETAIL?

ANYWAY, IF YOU ARE LIKELY TO BE OFFENDED
BY PHOTOS OF A DEAD BIRD,
PLEASE GO NO FURTHER.

Kindly check back onto my blog again tomorrow.


*****

I have formally registered the "sighting"
(as such records are known).
There is no doubt as to the validity of the sighting
(photographic evidence).
The query was asked if this bird might have been
a caged bird "escapee"?
That seems unlikely, as few people would have the facilities
to keep a bird such as this in a private aviary.
They are certainly not "normal" caged birds.
Only the Taronga Park Zoo (Sydney) is likely to have a Noisy Pitta.

So there is no reason
to doubt the authenticity of the record as being
entirely a natural occurrence.

Location: The bird was found between Berrima and Moss Vale,
Southern Highlands, NSW.
Habitat: open pasture land, with residual mature Eucalypts
Date of finding: 26 October 2010

*****

Birdline NSW

Cumberland Bird Observers Club
Birding NSW

Report Receipt

Thank you for your report which has been recorded as follows:

Species: Noisy Pitta
Date: 28 Oct 2010
Site: Berrima, NSW
Notes: Bird retrieved by dog. Not obviously damaged by dog, however, it died, subsequent to it being handed over to local WIRES people. Bird was located in open farm land in Southern Highlands, between Berrima and Moss Vale. Cleared pasture, with large remnant Eucalypt trees. Nearest rainforest (Illawarra escarpment) is 55 Kms away, at Macquarie Pass. Mt Keira (apparently this species has been reported from there) is approx 90 Km away. Photo of bird taken after it died.
Observer: Denis Wilson
Photograph:


And here are the images:

Note the brilliant electric blue flashes on the wings and rump.
This colouring would really show up in low light conditions
when the bird is on the forest floor.
The back and wings are a brilliant emerald green,
The head is a rich brown.
The bird has large feet and strong legs
as befits its ground dwelling nature.
The beak is very powerful suiting its preference
for snails and ground dwelling arthropods (insect relatives)
This awkward looking image is shown to reveal
the brilliant patch of red feathers
in the ventral area and the under-tail coverts.
The dark patch on the belly is diagnostic of this species.
The throat is very dark, so it is almost invisible in this image.
This image shows the rich brown head
and the patches of white on the wing
(fully visible only when wings are fully extended)
Pittas have extremely short tail feathers.
The tail does not extend beyond the wings (or the legs).
Here you can get an idea of the white wing patches.
"Rigor Mortis" had set in by the time I collected the bird,
two hours after it had died.
So I was unable to open the wings properly,
for risk of damaging the specimen. I did not want that.

The rump is electric blue,
the tail feathers are black, but with emerald green tips.
The wings have traces of brown on the tips of the flight feathers.
The dominant colour is
bright emerald green on the back and wings.

The bird is stored safely (wrapped and frozen) and its body will be passed on to the CSIRO in Canberra, shortly, for inclusion in the Australian National Wildlife Collection.

I wish to express my appreciation to the lady who found the bird in the first place, and who looked after it appropriately. She tried to get it cared for by WIRES. Also, my friend Kim, who suggested that I be contacted to see if I could help.

Unfortunately, even with my local contacts, we were still not able to prevent the bird dying. However, at least the bird will not have died in vain, as it will go into the peak scientific collection of bird skins.

*** Postscript: I received the following comments from
Alan Morris, Moderator Birdline NSW.
Alan said that:
  • "Noisy Pittas are on the move south. There are three separate places on the Central Coast where you can hear them call (but not all the time) at the moment!
  • "While the southern normal breeding limit is the Barrington Tops/Gloucester area (not Coffs Harbour), they are being seen more regularly further south.
  • "There are regular reports for the Illawarra Region too although mostly in winter, but birds are now being reported all year round near Mt Keira I think!"
My response:
  • Thanks to Alan for the update on changing distribution of Noisy Pittas. With global warming seemingly occurring, that changed pattern makes sense. Many birds are extending their range from what we humans have regarded as "normal" (i.e., the distribution recorded since European settlement). Another which is recognised as moving "further south" is the Channel-billed Cuckoo.
  • I still regard this bird turning up near Berrima, in farmland, as an unusual record. The climate and altitude are the most significant differences from the areas on the Illawarra Coast mentioned by Alan.
  • Berrima district is approx 670 metres above sea level, and being away from the coast, is subject to much colder temperatures and is much drier, than even the highest places on the Illawarra escarpment which were mentioned by Alan as places where Noisy Pittas have been reported previously.

11 comments:

Nature ID (Katie) said...

This is an interesting post for many reasons. I wonder why you took picks on a black background.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Katie
Thanks for the comment.
By the time I collected the bird from the Wildlife Rescue people, it was just on dark. I needed to get it into the freezer ASAP, to prevent deterioration, so I was committed to using the Flash anyway, to get the photos I wanted.
.
From a quick look at your Nature ID Blog, I see you use flash for moth photos, so you would know about problems with reflective backgrounds.
.
I take many close-up photos, especially of tiny native Orchids, with flash - even during the day. That results in images with a black or neutral background. But with the size of the bird (vis-a-vis an Orchid flower), I had to open the lens aperture far more than my normal preference, which means letting much more light in. Hence background was going to show up.
.
Because of the multiple colours in the feathers, I wanted a neutral colour background, and chose a black sweatshirt laid out on a bed, as a background.
.
Several of the images are darker than I would prefer, but I was a bit nervous, and was in a hurry to get the bird into the freezer, to prevent the gut deteriorating.
.
I don't have a conventional "lawn" at my place - that would have been my background of preference.
.
Hope that explains my black background.
.
Cheers
Denis

Le Loup said...

Good post, beautiful looking bird. Reminds me of a woodpecker. I don't think I have seen one before.
http://woodsrunnersdiary.blogspot.com/

wildwings said...

It certainly is an interesting post - always hard looking at dead birds but as you noted Denis it is such a good opportunity for a close examination.

Tyto Tony said...

Hi Denis: Seems possible bird was taken by dog because sick or aged and unable to fly off. Might also explain it being out of usual forest habitat.

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Le Loup.
I am always nervous about posting photos of dead creatures. To me it is a great learning experience, but not everyone see it that way.
Glad you liked it.
Probably too cold where you are for these guys - but climb down off the ranges, towards the coast, somewhere and you would be in perfect habitat.
Denis

Red Nomad OZ said...

Thanx for the opportunity to see the detail of these beautiful birds - although sad in such circumstances.

Happy travels!

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Red Nomad and Le Loup.
Thanks both for the supportive comments.
Denis

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Barbara
Thanks for your comment.
I think it is worth it, despite the evident "anxiety" it causes in me, posting on a potentially unpopular theme.
Denis

Mac_fromAustralia said...

I think what you did is fine. You gave completely adequate warning. I was interested to see the photos, though I did shed a tear.

yeesang said...

Hi Dennis Wilson,

I'm writing from Butterworth, Penang, Malaysia.

One pitta megarhyncha was "nabbed" by my pet labrador very gently and playfully; on the morning of 11th November 2010 in my house garden.

I had a wonderful experience with this very colourful bird, I kept this mangrove pitta in my pet's dog-house and spent the following 10 hours studying the live sample and researching on the internet.

It was simply an exhilarating experience, as I'm not a birder and neither do I have any experience with birds. But I was indeed lucky to come in direct contact with this a near-threatened species (red-flagged IUCN 3.1) and it made it all so fascinating!

I have managed to set the bird free, and five days have come and gone; but I'm still reading up, learning about this bird, and perhaps do what I can do to minimise any negative impact on their habitat - well, hopefully I may do much.

I enjoy reading your blog on this bird, although the ending was sad.
I'd like to share with you my encounter with this rare and elusive bird, so you may read about my story on this at what-yeesang.blogspot.com