Two migratory swifts visit Australia each southern summer. To enable us to monitor the changes in numbers our swift guru Mike Tarburton has identified a network of sites where swifts are recorded most regularly. These sites are generally located where a good view of potential swift feeding areas can be obtained and should be relatively easy to locate.
The two species are:
- White-throated Needletail (WTNT) spend most of their time over the forests right down the east coast arriving in Tasmania usually by January. In Feb & March some of the birds will leave the forests when wind patterns are right, and they forage over woodlands to the west of the forests. These trips may last a couple of days or up to 1-2 weeks before they return to the forests.
- Fork-tailed Swift (FTS) utilize all of the Australian land area, with a few joining WTNT flocks, but the majority spend the whole season in the sparsely populated parts of Australia and so are recorded very infrequently by swift observers, or anyone interested in counting and reporting them.
These long-range migrant species face considerable pressure on their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere which has resulted in significant declines in numbers over the past few decades, particularly WTNT.
- Timing– Swifts are mainly in Australia between September and April, though best recording periods vary between states, see site guide below. Time of day appears not to be crucial, however in very hot weather swifts may be very high up and hence harder to locate, so morning and afternoon / evening are probably optimum survey times.
- Go to a Swift Monitoring Site and get yourself in a comfortable position with good viewing of the area.
- In Birdata, these surveys should be entered as General Birdata Surveys directly into the app or a notebook for entering at a later date. A crucial aspect of this survey is to record the time spent swift watching, so record the start and finish times of the survey. Most importantly, please ensure all surveys where no swifts are recorded are entered into Birdata – as this is a monitoring project, null sightings are just as vital as positive sightings.
- Scan the skies for swifts using your naked eye and binoculars in all visible directions. If more than one observer is present, work together to maximise the areas covered.
- If you record swifts, identify the species present and try to count or estimate the number of birds. Record the time of the sighting and if possible record some behavioural data such as relative flight height and direction of travel (this additional sighting information can be entered into the species notes field in Birdata).
- You are welcome to record all bird species seen and heard within the area, however swift recording is the main goal at these shared sites. If you do record all species, mark the survey down as an Area Search, if you’re recording just swifts, then enter the survey as an Incidental Search.
We will be adding to the list of Swift Monitoring Sites. If you think we have left off a good site, please let us know and we will add it to the site network.
- It is possible that some of the established sites may change their character and become less suitable for swift viewing (particularly if vegetation has grown up). If that is the case, please let us know and we can remove the site from the network.
Monitoring Site Guide
South Australia (Feb – March.)
Although the supply of Needletails to South Australia is low, there is a greater chance of seeing them close to the Victorian border and near the west end of Kangaroo Island.
Flinders Chase Visitors Centre: -35.94916,136.73666
Picanninie Ponds Rd. From T/O at -38.04887,140.94727 to -38.0477,140.9441
Victoria. (Dec – March)
Mt St Leonard Public Tower (next to Fire Tower): -37.56700,145.525833
Upper Yarra Reservoir Lookout: -37.67593,145.89400
Bunyip State Park, Helipad: -37.950341,145.661633
Saddle bridging Bunyip Rd/Forest Rd.
a) Proposch Rd -37.945970,145.820380
b) Bunyip Rd -37.942937,145.803425
c) Gentle Annie Tk -37.950154,145.811856
These sites were made fruitful by the 2006 fires, but the re-growth is reducing the field of view each year.
Thurra River Rest area Long Vehicle Turnaround. -37.566667, 149.276111
New South Wales. (Nov – March)
Anywhere along Hwy 1. Particularly where you have a view over forests.
Reserve Creek: nr Junction of Reserve Creek Rd & Round Mountain Road: -28.351501,153.499189 This is very near the site where Ella Pratt saw more sightings in the late 1950s than anyone else in Australia.
Banora Pt, Sewage Treatment Plant. -28.20611,153.53030 Several observers have seen Needletails here and I think consistent looking would yield many more sightings.
Belongil Estuary-28.631902,153.591710 Chris Barnes has recorded them here on many days recently, and the Nearby Byron Bay Sewage ponds are also a good area.
Caniaba near Lismore. -28.8470,153.2112 Paul Griffin in recent years has made frequent sightings of small groups near here.
Bulahdelah -32.386295,152.229829 There should be good sites near this point as Paul Osborne has made many sightings near here.
Reserve Drive, Bateau Bay. -33.383778,151.481779 Needletails appear squeezed into the coastal heaths here and Alan Morris has made many sightings near here even though he spends much time co-ordinating bird-watching trips and collating data over a wider area.
Bilgola Plateau, Plateau Rd. -33.645776,151.313697 From the streets near this road Alan McBride has made many sightings in recent years.
Bobbin Head Rd, Turramurra -33.730833,151.138333 Tom Wilson has made many sightings along this road.
Pedro Swamp -35.943282,150.144729 Julie Morgan sees Needletails frequently in this area.
Timbilica/Princes Hwy Rest area. -37.369569,149.714968 The last 10 km before the Vic border are good Needletail territory and are very close to where in the last 7 years Irene & Robert Allan have seen needletails on more days than anyone else in Australia.
Queensland. (Nov – March)
Kobble Creek – Samsonvale. -27.258072,152.851189 Colin Reid, Sarah Beavis, Julie Sarna as well as Tom & Marie Tarrant and others see Needletails in this region.
Griffin, Nth Brisbane. -27.263625,153.030318 Andy Jensen, sees Needletails near this intersection each day for several weeks at a time.
Bracken Ridge, C. Slaughter Pk, North Brisbane -27.327137,153.035179 Needletails feed here occasionally but travel over frequently. Ross Smith sees them frequently.
Additional swift information:
FTS breed on rock faces in China, Mongolia, Siberia, Korea & northern Japan. These rock faces are not being mined to my knowledge. As a consequence, the FTS population is much larger than that of the WTNT.
WTNT breed inside tall tree stump hollows in Siberia, and Hokkaido and have not adapted to breeding in man-made structure as swifts in Europe and North America have. Unfortunately logging (60% of it illegal) of the Siberian forests has been depleting total forests including the tall stumps this species breeds in, for some decades now and its effect is being seen in a significant decline in birds visiting Australia. The soil in Siberia is frozen for 6 months of the year so tree growth is very slow. This means tree hollows are not being replaced. In addition to this Australia is building many wind farms using a type of turbine that for some unknown reason kills WTNT – one of the world’s fastest flying birds. Most bird species are unaffected by the Australian wind-farms but that this species is, means censusing the flocks you see is important.
While WTNT do cover a lot of ground they do favour certain forest patches and ridges where insects are brought up to them to feed on. The same winds that bring their food “upstairs” also enable these well-designed birds to travel without beating their wings. They mostly fly against a breeze or wind but can go in any direction (relative to the wind direction) without beating their wings. What this all means is that some observation sites are better than others and as the population has declined they no longer need to visit sites that they formerly used. Quite a number of observers have told me of the number of years that it is since they saw WTNT on their patch. So, to help you find some and to help us obtain more flock counts we here publish sites that have proven effective in recent years. You may need to spend half a day or even a whole day at these sites to give a reasonable chance of seeing a flock of the declining WTNT.
For more information, please contact Andrew Silcocks and Mike Tarburton