During the Christmas break Kate, Reece and I visited Hattah NP, home to one of the last remaining populations of Mallee Emu-wren (Stripiturus mallee). Well equipped with mozzie repellant, we headed out at first light hoping to catch a glimpse of one of Australia’s smallest endangered birds. These birds rank high on a twitchers ‘must see’ list. With declining and isolated populations and at a truly tiny 4 – 6.5 g, they’re hard to see and even harder to photograph.
After a few false alarms, and just as hope was fading, we were lucky enough to observe a trio of these spectacularly delicate birds flitting amongst the Spinifex.
The bird is renowned for its long, ornamental, emu-like tail feathers and only occurs in the mallee regions of VIC. and SA. Specifically, they prefer a dense Spinifex understorey as they are reluctant fliers. Spinifex bushes are their preferred nesting habitat, where pairs construct a secure nest, cleverly concealed from predators.
In 2006, it was estimated that less than 3000 Mallee Emu-wrens remain and are mainly restricted to conservation zones. With a highly fragmented habitat, each of the five or six isolated populations is particularly vulnerable to being wiped out by fire. As we watched the Mallee Emu-wrens, our mate Reece, who has had a bit to do with the species, said what we were all thinking – it is not unlikely that some of these populations will go extinct in our lifetime.
The SA and VIC governments are working together to protect the species and encourage people to report all sightings to the local field officers.
There’s no mistaking it – this bird is tricky to find, and you certainly need to make an effort due to its restricted range, small size and timid nature. To be fortunate enough to witness this magnificent bird going about its business was truly a wonder.