The Weight of Gold

Golden-shouldered Parrot


Artemis Station, Cape York, Queensland, Australia

October 12, 2012

I've been out a couple of times the last few weeks weeks in Niigata and although I've seen some nice birds far off I've failed to get any good new pictures to post about. I've decided to post this article I wrote for the Toowoomba Bird Observers September 2013, Newsletter. It was an important experience for me and hope you find it worth a read. 

My first view

The Weight of Gold.
We came out empty-handed on the first day. We also missed out with our first tries on the second day and it seemed we were going to miss out altogether. We had spread-out and were moving forth in our final search. I heard a soft sound up at the top of a tree in front of me and I began to focus my eyes on a small greenish parrot. As the second-hand ticked to the next stroke, Mick, some thirty metres to the left of me, announced, “Found them.” (‘On ya, Mick. I was a second too slow. I did take a single pic of my find and later confirmed it was indeed what we were looking for). Mick’s find, however, was low to the ground and consisted of several birds.

male (left) with young

I’d done just a little research before the tour. I had learned that there were just 75 pairs of Golden-shouldered Parrots in the wild. All confined to special habitats of the lower reaches of Cape York. Now, almost a year later and I find estimates of 1000 to 1500 hundred individuals in the wild. It depends what you find on the internet of course so please disregard the accuracy of my estimates. It is for sure, however, that the Golden-shouldered Parrot is endangered as listed by Birdlife International. There are some small populations but all are threatened by a variety of conditions. When watching our gentle little family, I observed a couple of swoops at them by a Black-backed Butcherbird (Which sent them flurrying) and have since found that butcherbirds certainly predate on small parrots. Predation is of course common by cats and other introduced species. I was quite excited to realise however, that our family consisted of, I think one male, but several young birds. My delight soon became concern as our tour guide, Klaus, explained that they are usually successful breeding but numerous are lost in the wet season as the dusty patches of grass seed become flooded and food becomes scarce. I have learned that this species relies on carefully timed fire that rejuvenates the grass and flowers on which they feed.

Black-backed Butcherbird

Golden-shouldered Parrots nest in termite mounds and it is fascinating to think about the mounds not just protecting the eggs but maintaining a suitable temperature for the eggs success. One mound on one property is not enough, however, as nesting sites are regularly changed after each breeding season to avoid parasites etc. It must be understood that their world is delicate and can be easily destroyed by livestock, floods, ill-timed fire and predators as well as, of course, other changes to their environment. Maybe several of these factors also contributed to the disappearance of the Golden-shouldered Parrot’s close relative, the Paradise Parrot from the Darling Downs.

My advice is not to get a new camera just before you go on a tour. Instead of concentrating on live birds at close quarters my attention kept readjusting to the back of my camera trying to learn the menu and change focusing settings because I kept focusing on the grass in front of my subjects. I would have known instinctively how to adjust my older camera. I think it was because of this, I failed to get a decent portrait of the shy father. With any camera, I recommend practice, practice, practice.
Attention away from the camera and I understand what a privilege it was to behold the family foraging for seed in the delicate vegetation just metres in front of my feet. “Tread gently”, I told myself. I may not have the power to stop fire or rain or save a species from endangerment, but even to the slightest degree, just because I have learned of them, the weight of their future is upon my shoulders.

Juvenile male

References and Further Reading

Termite mounds