BIRDLIFE NORTHERN QUEENSLAND CRANE COUNT REPORT 2021

By Graham Harrington, Ceinwen Edwards, and Edward Bell


This years annual Crane Count took place on Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th September 2021. The count this year was a bit of an undertaking with a transition of survey leaders. Graham Harrington stepped in to take over from David Merrall who has led the count for the last four years and decided his time had come to pass it on. We’d like to thank David for his dedication and effort these last few years. Edward will be taking over the coordinator position alone next year.


The response to a call out for volunteers was slow at first and had us worried, but we ended up being overwhelmed with over 66 volunteers taking part over the two days.



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Crane Count Report 2021
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Day transects


Transects were carried out across both days with the majority being covered on the Saturday and the Innot Hot Springs cluster being done on the Sunday. Across both days we managed to sight 2174 cranes which is 6% down on last year.


The sightings (Table 1) break down to Sarus Cranes 22%, Brolgas 47% and unidentified birds making up 31%. The number of unidentifiable birds is still high this year and a problem we will need to solve to improve the usefulness of the counts.


As per previous years the land use of the paddocks where cranes were sighted was identified. The large spike in Brolgas on grain crops (Figure 1) can be attributed to a very large flock sighted by the Innot Hot Springs team on Sunday. These data are something we will continue to gather as crop changes could impact on the number of over wintering cranes in the years to come.



Roost counts


Again this years count was carried out in less than ideal conditions with intermittent drizzle affecting visibility across many sites.


Overall across both days we counted 3,805 birds, an increase of 16% on last year! This was surprising as Hasties Swamp returned to having no birds again and Bromfield Swamp was low compared to previous years with only 119 birds reported.


Tinaroo proved to be problematic with lots of birds reported to be flying north over surveyors, but not enough landing to correspond with those seen overhead, so more searching to locate roosts will be needed next year - we’ll be looking for volunteers in the run-up to the count to check suspected roosts, so let us know if you’d like to be involved.

Willets Swamp continued to dominate the Central Tablelands in terms of numbers with 637 birds being counted on Saturday night. However, the surprise of the night was the West Barron Storage Pond with 677 birds (see Tables 2 – 4 in the report).


Due to logistics the Innot Hot Springs counts were carried out on the following day, Sunday 5th September. Brolgas made up the majority of birds seen with a flock estimated at 750~ being seen during the day transects.


The evening count was carried out across a number of pools in the area but the majority of Cranes roosted at General Plains Swamp as in previous years (see Table 5 in the report).



Thoughts for next year...


The number of birds unidentified was higher this year than last with 41% of birds being unidentified. This is a recurring problem that we will look into solving. Some suggestions have included using night vision binoculars/cameras and doing some checks at dawn which we may trial in 2022. If anyone has any night vision equipment we'd love to hear from you, so please get in touch at edbelljsy@icloud.com.


When we email out next year we’ll also ask if you are able to help out identifying roosts in the run-up to the Crane Count. Normally in the two weeks before the count, the organiser and a few others scope out known historical roost sites to check whether or not cranes are present. If you live on the Tablelands and fancy helping out in advance of the big day, again please let us know next year when we send out reminders.


Don’t forget, keep logging your crane sightings either on Birdata or eBird as its good to know where and when they are turning up.


Please put Saturday, 10 September 2022 in your diary for next years Crane Count, noting we have postponed the count by one week in order to miss the road closures associated with the Targa Rally.