Gouldian Finch Irruption at Lee Point

Gouldian Finches are arguably one of the most beautiful finches in the world. They are native to northern Australia but seldom seen in the Darwin area.

 

Adult Gouldian Finch at Lee Point Dam, May 2022 – photo by Tobias Akesson

That is until this year. Thousands of people (about half are interstate visitors) have now seen wild (endangered) Gouldian Finches. Several Australian newspapers published articles on these unexpected sightings, for an early report refer April 2022 – The Daily News. In June 2022, ABC News Darwin and Channel 9 News Darwin reported on the sightings.

Gouldians are a type of grass finch. Grass finches need to be near water and have a diet of grass seeds supplemented by small insects – gouldians rarely eat insects.

Plausible reasons why numbers have increased at Lee Point include: a series of poor wet seasons in the Katherine region (encouraging gouldians to fly north), increasing gouldian population and expansion into other areas; and/or a natural increase at Lee Point. Its very likely that the gouldians are breeding at Lee Point; about half the gouldians seen in 2022 were juveniles.

Most of the sightings have been at the Corridor (called Biodiversity Corridor by City of Darwin) – see map below.

 

TIMELINE OF SIGHTINGS

2019 Aug-Sept – 10-15 gouldians, majority were juveniles, were seen for several weeks near a water leak at Buffalo Creek Road and resort; Peter Kyne – eBird Aug 2019

2020 – No sightings

2021 May – a few juvenile gouldians were recorded at the Corridor near Lee Point Dam: Trevor Oliver – 30 May 2021

2022 April – some sightings in Casuarina Coastal Reserve between university and beach; Tobias Akesson – 12 April 2022

2022 May – there were four days where 100 or more were recorded (on eBird) – the maximum number seen was estimated to be 150. Some were sighted most days at the Corridor (near the Dam). Megan Moody provided videos/photos from near Lee Point Dam mid-May, some show courting and mating behaviour of these beautiful finches.

2022 June – 50-100 were sighted on most days in the early morning and late afternoon near the Dam.

Two (successful) events organised by Friends of Lee Point in the early morning that attracted over 120 and 100 people respectively. Generally, about 50 people (total of morning and afternoon) visited the Dam site each day during the week with numbers increasing on the weekends.

Young juveniles (3 – 12 weeks old) being fed late June near the Lee Point Dam – video and photo by Tobias Akesson. The fluorescent nodules on their faces help parent birds feed them in the darkened tree hollows that they nest in.

2022 July – Gouldian sightings in the Corridor dropped off in the first week, possibly due to storms and cracker night, but have since returned to June levels. The number of people visiting the site remained similar to June.

Juveniles playing around with nesting material in the Corridor in July

Friends of Lee Point ran two events in the early morning. Both events were surveyed; 180 people in total attended – half were interstate visitors.

2022 August – On 6 Aug, FLP coordinated a gouldian count early morning involving 18 people on (9) known water points in the Corridor and Caravan Park; 120 gouldians were counted, approx half juveniles. 

Most of the month; sightings indicated that some of the gouldian population was roosting in the vicinity of Lee Point Caravan Park but feeding in the burnt grass area during the day north of Rapid Ck (5km away from dam); John Gruen – 11 Aug

2022 September

Lee Point Dam/Caravan Park area – up to 100 gouldians seen early morning on 3 Sept, 20 Sept. Gouldians regularly seen (sometimes over 50) after 6pm on eastern fence of caravan park. Over 100 seen late afternoon 23 Sept and 30 Sept. They are still attracted to the sprinklers; 18 Sept

Lee Point eastern dams/disused golf course – early morning, up to 100 gouldians seen 13 Sept and 50 plus on 22 Sept.

North of Rapid Creek – Over 50 gouldians seen around 5.30pm north of Rapid Creek; 9 Sept. Early morning 70 seen on 30 Sept.

Ludmilla – one sighting of up to 100 at the back of Maccas, 6pm 25 Sept.

2022 October

Rain late Sept/early October affected grass seeds and the gouldians are moving around more.  It’s uncertain they will stay in Darwin for the wet season. However, they are expected to be in Darwin from April onwards (similar to this year). Visitor numbers have more than halved since June due to weather and other factors.

CCR – 1 Oct 8.30am over 100 seen north of Sandy Ck; 2, 3 Oct morning 80 seen at Dripstone PK: 3 Oct 6pm 30 seen at Rapid Ck bridge; 28 Oct 5pm 30 seen north of Rapid Ck bridge.

Lee Point Dam/Caravan Park area: 3 Oct, 7 Oct after 6pm up to 50 seen.; 9 Oct 1825hrs caravan park 9 seen; 22 Oct north of resort on powerlines, 120 seen; 27 Oct 5.30 pm, 15 seen.

Lee Point eastern dams/disused golf course: One sighting in first week of 15; 14 Oct 0645hrs 12 seen.

2022 November

Apart from one sighting on 1 Nov at Dripstone Cliffs, the gouldians appear to have dispersed with the onset of rain.

 

Lee Point Dam Walk

Many people take this walk (dashed line) to see Gouldian Finches and the many other birds present, either early morning or late afternoon.

 

PHOTOS – June 2022 from the Corridor;

The last photo shows a Darter and Egret at the Lee Point Dam