Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mallee Emu-wren

A recent post on SteveB's blog Shooting my universe triggered a lovely memory of my attempts to see and photograph the Mallee Emu-wren (Stipiturus mallee) in Victoria, Australia in 2006. There are a few birds that really capture the imagination of a birder. For me it has always been the large and the small. I have a fascination with the Heron family (more of that some time in the future) and pelicans, and also with tiny birds. It started, as a novice birder in the UK, with Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits, wondering at how these tiny birds manage to migrate 1000's of Km each Spring and Autumn. In Australia, whilst most birds migrate much less here, there are a number of tiny birds that look almost to fragile to fly. One of these is the Mallee Emu-wren. This tiny bird weighs in at a maximum of 6.5g (less than 0.25oz) and is highly endangered due to habitat loss. It is close to extinction in South Australia and just clinging to survival in Victoria. Follow this link to go to the federal Department of the Environment web page for this species. As I read more about this bird I knew that it was going to be number one on my wanted list. I spoke to a few birders and it became clear the the best chance was at Hattah-Kulkyne National Park in Victoria. So one weekend in early 2006 I decided on a day trip (almost 400Km - 250 Miles each way) to see and photograph this bird. Well, I spent three hours in breezy conditions, getting spiked by the spinifex and never even had a sniff of the bird!!. A few months later, another opportunity came for me to visit the area for a day. This time I had researched more carefully and was armed with half a dozen GPS co-ordinates from a 2 year old breeding and population survey. It was going to be a doddle!! At the last site (not actually in the national park) just as I was giving up, I heard and finally glimpsed the bird. And that was it!! despite searching until dark, nothing!! Then in September 2006, I decided that a weekend trip was the way to go. So I packed up my trusty Subaru Forester, and headed East. I concentrated on the same site that I had seen them before, and again had a few tantalising glimpses just before dusk. So one pre-dawn spring Sunday morning, I was sitting hidden in a bush waiting.........and waiting. As the sun came up, so the birds began singing. Southern Scrub-robin........Chestnut Quail-thrush.......both good birds, but not THE bird. Then I heard the tiny call I was waiting for. Slowly the birds approached and I began shooting.............

This shot has been my most successful photograph to date, being used by Birdlife International for the worldwide launch their Red Data book for 2008.

What a magical moment...............


  1. Well Tony, that is patience on a cosmic scale and what a great ending! Those shots are just lovely. I was DYING to see ANY sort of Emu Wren on my trip to Aus, but didn't manage it. Just a reason to visit again I guess! (-:

  2. Hi Jen. Yes, I'd love to show you "my" Emu-wrens. We have 2 species within striking distance of Adelaide, both critically endangered due to habitat loss. My spare room is still vacant...........

  3. Definitely worth all the effort Tony.
    Thanks for dropping in on the "Early Birder". I have added you to my reader list . Cheers Frank.

  4. Great photos of a lovely little bird. Patience well rewarded.

  5. Frank and John, Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated

  6. Great looking Images and Blog.
    Thank you for your kind comments,I intend to revisit your soon.