Image of the Month January 2023: Plains-wanderer

Photographer: Stephan Lorenz   Destination: Australia

Australia, and its offshore islands, are home to over 940 species of birds with an impressive 354 endemics, ranging from stunningly colourful parrots to a treasure trove of nocturnal birds. One of the most remarkable birds found in Australia is the Plains-wanderer, our featured species this month, and a fascinating bird that has been captivating birders and ornithologists for decades!

The Plains-wanderer is a unique terrestrial bird, endemic to Australia’s sparse, native grasslands primarily in New South Wales. It is extremely secretive and elusive and is unlikely to be observed unless deliberately searched for. Sadly, this species is listed as Endangered by the IUCN and there are estimated to be just 250 to 1,000 of these small, ground-dwelling birds left in the wild today.

Despite its small size, it has a distinctive appearance, with a plump, round body, short tail, and long legs for its size. The bird has a mottled brown plumage with a buff-coloured crown, making it even more difficult to spot in its natural habitat. They are reluctant to fly from danger, instead they tend to run, with their long high-stepping legs carrying them at considerable speeds.

In evolutionary terms, the Plains-wanderer is one of a kind and belongs to its own monotypic family - Pedionomidae. This makes it one of the most highly sought-after families in the world especially when you add in its limited distribution, and overall rarity. The most similar bird characteristically, would be Africa’s Quail-plover, another mind-bogglingly unique species that resembles a hybrid between a gamebird and a shorebird and is currently subsumed under the buttonquails.

One of the best ways to explore Australia's bird life is to visit each of the exciting, different regions, all offering their own variety of habitats and bird species.

The tropical northern regions are home to a wealth of iconic birds, such as Rainbow Pitta, Purple-crowned Fairywren, Hooded Parrot, Gouldian Finch, and Southern Cassowary, one of the largest and most unusual birds in the world. In contrast, the arid central regions are known for their desert-dwelling birds, such as the colourful Painted Finch, Bourke’s Parrot, Letter-winged Kite, Inland Dotterel and Spinifex Pigeon. The coastal regions of Australia are renowned for their seabird populations, with an excellent range of albatrosses and petrels on show while the eastern rainforest and temperate forest zones hold spectacular species such as Victoria’s Riflebird, Regent Bowerbird, Australian Logrunner, Gang-gang Cockatoo, Superb Lyrebird and Spotted Quail-Thrush.

The temperate regions of Australia are ideal for birders interested in a wider range of bird species, including songbirds, waterbirds, and raptors. This region is home to a number of important wetlands, such as the Shoalhaven River and the Murray River, and offers opportunities to observe a range of exciting species like, Rockwarbler, found only in the sandstone cliffs surrounding Sydney. Other species such as pardalotes, thornbills, petite fairy-wrens and a great selection of waterbirds are also features of this area.

Australia’s unique habitats carry a wealth of exceptional species that includes a long list of endemic birds and endemic bird families. No less than 8 bird families are entirely unique to Australia, making it a must visit slice of the world. All of Magpie Goose, Plains-wanderer, Lyrebirds, Scrubbirds, Bristlebirds, Pardalotes, Shriketit, and Australian Mudnesters can be found nowhere else on the planet! As part of Rockjumper’s 25th birthday celebrations we will be launching a brand-new Bird Families Promotion where countries like Australia will take centre stage. Look out for details coming soon.

From the rugged outback and stunning coastline to the modern cities and lush tropical rainforests, Australia is a destination with so much to offer.

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