Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

Distribution and abundance of herons, egrets, ibises and spoonbills in the Alligator Rivers Region, Northern Territory

SR Morton, KG Brennan and MD Armstrong

Wildlife Research 20(1) 23 - 43
Published: 1993


Aerial surveys between 1981 and 1984 were used to identify monthly trends in the abundance of Pacific herons (Ardea pacifica), pied herons (Ardea picata), cattle egrets (Ardeola ibis), great egrets (Egretta alba), little egrets (Egretta garzetta), intermediate egrets (Egretta intermedia), glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopica), straw-necked ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis) and royal spoonbills (Platalea regia) on five floodplains of the Alligator Rivers region, 250 km east of Darwin in the monsoonal Northern Territory. Ground surveys were conducted during the same period on one of the floodplains, the Magela. The aerial surveys indicated that the Magela floodplain was inhabited by few of these birds during the wet season (November-March), but that numbers then increased substantially in the dry season. The Nourlangie floodplain and Boggy Plain (a large backswamp of the South Alligator floodplain) showed similar patterns, but the numbers of birds tended to be lower. Birds were generally uncommon on the shallower East Alligator and Cooper floodplains, except for egrets in the wet season. Ground surveys suggested that the birds sought out the persistent swamps that characterise the Magela foodplain in the dry season. Ground surveys also indicated that aerial surveys underestimated densities. On the basis of correction factors calculated from ground surveys, peak numbers on the five floodplains were roughly estimated to be about 4000 pacific herons, 50 000 pied herons, 300 000 egrets (primarily intermediate egrets), 60 000 glossy ibis, 16 000 sacred ibis, 80 000 straw-necked ibis and 35 000 royal spoonbills. Great-billed herons (Ardea sumatrana), white-faced herons (Ardea novaehollandiae), striated herons (Butorides striata), rufous night herons (Nycticorax caledonicus), black bitterns (Dupetor flavicollis) and yellow-billed spoonbills (Platalea flavipes) were recorded sporadically in low numbers. The Alligator Rivers region acted as a dry-season refuge for herons, egrets, ibises and spoonbills because of the unusually persistent fresh waters of the Magela and Nourlangie floodplains and some of the backswamps of the South Alligator, such as Boggy Plain.


© CSIRO 1993

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