A bird enthusiast has photographed a rare raptor, last seen on South Australia’s southern Eyre Peninsula in 2004.
Photographer Fran Solly saw the square-tailed kite (lophoictinia isura) at Whalers Way, south of Port Lincoln, while looking for another threatened species — the very shy western whip (psophodes nigrogularis).
Whalers Way is a privately owned coastal tourist attraction that hosts vegetation preserved under a heritage agreement.
The site is being used by SA space industry operator Southern Launch to conduct three test rocket launches with a view to a more long-term presence on the site.
Conservationists are concerned the rocket launches will threaten the rare birds that call Whalers Way home, including the southern emu wren (stipiturus malachurus) and the western whip.
In a previous statement, Southern Launch chief executive Lloyd Damp said the testing program would provide the chance to measure what effect the noise would have on local species.
“Should the effect be detrimental to the environment then, of course, the project as it is proposed shouldn’t proceed — we should look at other mitigating strategies or activities so that the local environment is preserved.”
Mr Damp said the company would be looking to clear less than 1 per cent of land at Whalers Way, should a permanent program be approved.
“Those sections of the land are outside the heritage agreement,” he said.
Concern for birds
Ms Solly is concerned about the impact of rockets on the bird life and the impact of loss of habitat.
“These birds used to be on Eyre Peninsula and the last recorded breeding of a square-tailed kite on Eyre Peninsula was between 1989 and 1991 and then the last recorded sighting was actually 2004,” Ms Solly said.
While she had photographed hundreds of birds in the region, the western whip bird had been elusive.
“We certainly heard them, but these birds are incredibly secretive,” she said.
“We didn’t get the photo, but we got something equally as exciting.
“It’s got a lot of birders across South Australia a bit excited,” Ms Solly said.
A Department of Environment and Water spokesperson said the kites ranged predominantly along coastal and subcoastal areas from south-western to northern Australia, Queensland, NSW and Victoria.
They were not listed as endangered nationally but were listed as endangered in South Australia.
The spokesperson said the bird photographed could be a chick from a nest 700 kilometres away.
“There are several known pairs that regularly breed in the Mount Lofty Ranges,” the spokesperson said.
“The bird sighted at Whalers Way may be offspring — from the successful breeding activity in the Mount Lofty Ranges — looking to establish its own territory, visiting the area, or simply passing through.
“There have been few recordings of the birds on the Eyre Peninsula in recent years.”
The spokesperson said the main threats to the species are the clearance and fragmentation of their open woodland habitats, nest disturbance, egg collection by private collectors or as part of the illegal wildlife trade, and illegal shooting.