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Fay and I share an enduring recollection of our “first” Australian Painted Snipe Rostratula australia.  It was November 2012 and the pair captured in our telescope were not only our first record for the South Burnett region but technically the first Australian Painted Snipe we had ever sighted; the previous five, all within Queensland, had been listed as a subspecies of the Greater Painted Snipe Rostratula benghalensis australis.

It was not until 2000 that the “Australian” was split from the “Greater”.  In that year, Lane & Rogers [Stilt. 36:26-34] suggested treating the australis subspecies as a full species based on its “distinctive appearance, call, measurements and anatomy.”  More recent research indicates that the Australian Painted Snipe diverged from the benghalensis some 19 million years ago!  It is Australia’s only member of the Rostratula genus [del Hoya et al. 1996].

However, by then, it was almost already too late.  Since the 1950s, in spite of increased observer numbers, reporting rates have declined by some 90% [Rogers et al., 2003].

 A rather stocky wading bird, some 220–250 mm in length with a long pinkish bill it is readily identified: the adult female has a chestnut-black hood, white eye patch, a crown stripe, curved white collar and black, green, grey and buff patterns above [Simpson & Day, 1996]; the male is similar but smaller, duller, with minor colouration differences [pers. obs.].

Its fate lies primarily in its habitat.  The Australian Painted Snipe is a creature of shallow, terrestrial, freshwater wetlands [DoE, 2015).

It is estimated that since European settlement approximately 50% of Australia’s wetlands have disappeared, more in some regions of the country.  The two dominant causes of this sharp decline are attributed to the drainage of wetlands and the diversion of water to agriculture and reservoirs, the latter process reducing flooding and precluding the formation of temporary shallow wetlands (Garnett & Crowley 2000].

In 2001, the Threatened Bird Network and Australasian Wader Studies Group initiated a project aimed at improving our knowledge of the Australian Painted Snipe to enable the development of meaningful conservation plans (Rogers et al. 2005).

Foremost among the proposals is the development of an extensive database and it is within this sphere that many of us can contribute. By submitting all our own sightings of Australian Painted Snipe we can play an important part in maintaining and developing that established database.

Julian Bielewicz




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