Stan McCosker's interest in birds
His work as a
C.S.I.R.O. bird bander,
1960s. S.E. Queensland
Stan joined the CSIRO bird banding organisation in the early 1960s, after a short introductory course.
From boyhood Stan loved the Bush. He had worked on his family’s farm in the Beerburrum/Glasshouse Mountains area north of Brisbane. He loved the land, to work the soil, to plant, to grow flowers, vegetables, fruit. He was good too with animals. (He was in the Australian Field Artillery in WWI, part of a team of men and horses driving, manhandling, and firing the field guns).
He (twice) created a wonderful plantation – Matala - in New Britain (New Guinea). He was, all his life, to observe and write about birds. Some of his many articles from New Guinea were published in the Bulletin, an internationally respected Australian journal.
His love of nature is well recorded in the pages of Masked Eden. Stan was just coming into his own again when he died during a bird banding trip by the waters of Pumicestone Passage, the channel separating the mainland from Bribie Island.
Stan McCosker's application to the C.S.I.R.O.
for a Bird - Banding Permit, 15th October, 1964
(Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation)
Bird Banding; rural Queensland. 1969
A Roman sporting gentleman took swallows from his home to chariot races in Rome and there liberated them painting them with winning colours to carry the news back to friends providing them, with an opportunity for some smart practices in betting.
Royal swans and falcons were marked to establish ownership.
Bird ‘ringing' is concerned only with the scientific method, dealing primarily with the study of migration and distribution and for the gathering of local and domestic information on the daily lives of birds. Ringing (banding) will indicate the use of rings (bands) engraved with a serial number and the address of the ringing scheme.
In Australia, our bands are engraved with size no. etc and range from the smallest 01l which is used on silvereyes, wrens, (mention others) up to ? used on ? mention CSIRO ???
An ornithologist in Germany tied coloured threads around the feet of swallows to prove that the idea that swallows hibernated, under water was correct or otherwise. He reasoned that if they did hibernate under water the colour -would be washed out but as they returned with, the colours still bright it confounded the long held theory as to their hibernation under water.
Before this Gilbert White seeing them flocking over swamps said it gave countenance to the opinion of their retiring under water.
An unfinished article by Stan McCosker, late 1960s
The term in England is RINGING - In Aust BANDING, so that folk who BAND birds in England are called RINGERS while those in Aust who RING birds are called BANDERS.
RINGERS were and are, or are they, super duper sheep shearers who de-clothed 100's of sheep a day so it would not do in Aust to refer to our bird loving Banding fraternity as RINGERS for we do not de-feather birds but BAND them not RING them - taking all their vital statistics such as weight, length, bill, wing, and tarsus length, colour of iris and gape and try to sex them, easier perhaps than working out what a long, haired human is, unless one sees them under a shower – humans not birds.
A fascinating absorbing study for all ages and sexes and Queensland needs many many more enthusiastic bird lovers to help to gather information to add to the knowledge already found which shows just how vital birds and important birds are to our living.
The history of Bird marking as distinct from Bird banding goes back to the third century BC when it is said that a Roman garrison besieged by the Ligurians sent to a gent named Quintus Fabius Pictor a swallow taken from a nest so that she might return to it with a message the number of knots in a thread tied to her foot indicating how many days later relief would arrive.
On record is the recovery of a duck shot in Sussex in the winter of 1708-9 which bore around its neck a silver collar engraved with the arms of the King of Denmark.
Young Woodcock were marked at Alnwick in Northumberland with rings bearing the letter “N” and the year. Between 1891 and 1908, 375 birds were marked and 58 of these were recovered. Had these rings borne a serial number Lord William Percy would be known as the pioneer of bird-ringing (banding).
A Danish professor in1899 actually laid the foundations of scientific bird-ringing when he placed number-stamped bands on young starlings, 162 all told. In 1903 the Royal Hungarian Central Bureau for Ornithology began operations and in the same year work began on the Baltic followed in 1904 by the Germans at Heligoland.
It was not until 1909 that Great Britain inaugurated the scheme and. the one conducted by a Mr Witherby continued for 28 years during which time over half a million birds were ringed, when it was handed over to the British Trust for Ornithology. Over a million birds were ringed in the British Isles since then.
Witherby, when he started the scheme stressed two qualifications which still hold good. “Firstly, to mark a large number of birds with such care that the facts with regards to the identity of the birds, the numbers of the rings and the dates and localities are indisputable; secondly to recover such a proportion of the marked birds that the results obtained may be sufficient to make them really valuable”.
With only some 15 active banders in our vast state of Qland recoveries are few and mostly confined to local retraps. We need many many more banders and those interested should contact the CSIRO Division of Wild Life Research Canberra and get particulars.
Bird Banding in Australia started in ---
McCosker's C.S.I.R.O. Bird Banding Permit.
Queensland Government, 1969
Birds as detailed in C.S.I.R.O. Wildlife Research Division Publication WLS/B-B8/9: Australian Bird Banding Scheme Approved Band Sizes: List No. 9Q - April, 1962. (Copy of List No. 9Q – April, 1962 is available from the Secretary, Australian Bird Banding Scheme, Division of Wildlife Research, P.O. Box 109, City Canberra, A.C.T.)
Two of Stan McCosker's bird banding schedules from 1970 and 71.
Letters to Stan from his Bird Banding friend and mentor,
"Terete", Waterloo St., Wellington Point, Q.4160
20th February 1969. Dear Stan,
Thanks for your letter, giving us both the delightful picture of a White Christmas with Grandpa, children and grand-children, all realising it was 'put on for them' and enjoying it with true appreciation. How lovely for you, Stan, and what delightful scenes to file away for occasional reminiscence when you get back to this wonderful sunburnt country. Your Squirrel-proof feeding stations are so good that I think they warrant a little article with diagrams to one of your local Naturalist Clubs. How those Squirrels must have sworn at that cunning old coot with his roll-on roll-off walking bars.1 We hope you had the pleasure of watching one of your grey friends bite the snow. Your covered feeding station, particularly as it is moveable, must give the children great joy as you can site it to best advantage for the windows and conditions of the day. People are inclined to smile at us for buying sugar at the rate of 2 lbs a day just to feed to Honey-eaters, but to us it's much more fun than spending the money on buying, say, cigarettes.
Everyone will be glad when you start banding again at Caloundra, and there is no need to wait until the 1st July. Dave Purchase is issuing "Binding News" twice a year, and in No.2 of last December published a list of the 15 Queensland Bird Banders. I noticed that Robin Elks is not included; the story I'm not sure of, but is to the effect that CSIRO have not heard of him for 13 months or so and that he has not renewed his Permit, most of those listed are doing very little banding, if any at all, so come on, Stan! Included in B.News also is a price list of Pesola Spring Balances, 30 gm. 6 dollars; 100 gm.. 6 dollars; 300 gm, 8.30 dollars, plus 50c postage, via Steve Wilson's net service. I do not know whether these are long or short, but would recommend the long one with divisions of one gramme, if you buy in England. If you feel stylish, get yourself a wing rule, but mine is made from two 4 cent school rulers, hinged with a small bolt and provided with a home made stop. I find this entirely satisfactory and if I have the misfortune to stand on it and bust it, it doesn't matter much. I think it is now well recognised that wing span is a much more potent measure as it includes both wings, also the width of the body, and thus shows up small differences more clearly. Be prepared, Stan, to make a new start with banding in the conditions which you find existing on your return to Caloundra. It will inevitably be quite different from when you left. Down here each year there are acres of grapes bulldozed out into a heap and burnt, and the same applies to the timber at some of my banding spots. PROGRESS is rampant with its dozer blade surging ahead. Down here Council water mains are being laid everywhere and with the public water supply the area is becoming a Brisbane suburb. It is all still very wonderful though and you will love it just as much as ever. Our feeder and bird bath have given us a large population locally under the ruling drought conditions. In the last twelve months we have had only 20" instead of the average near 50. The enclosed picture shows some of our friends. After your St. Giles efforts, you may well start feeding at Caloundra.
My article "The Significance of Gape Colour in Brown Honeyeaters" has gone off to Bill Lane for "The Bird Bander". We have all been quite rocked to find that the trail led me through to a conclusion proved by ample re-traps, that "Brown Honeyeaters of all ages have yellow gapes”, except that for the duration of the 'winter' or 'breeding’ season the adult males have black gape s”. This article starting from the general assumption that young birds have yellow gapes, and working through four years to discover the real story, was most timely for Bill. It transpires that the Sydney group have run into the same sort of thing with Fuscous Honeyeaters, but have got very little along the way to the solution. My feeder and its large resident population gave me great advantages. You can imagine Bill's surprise on getting the whole story set out from me when I was unaware of their pursuit of the Fuscous, and they unaware of me on the trail of the Browns. All very entertaining and I'm sure, Stan, there are many more of these intriguing 'who-dun-its’waiting for you to sort them out. They are the super 'who-dun-its' in that it is up to the bander to set himself a problem that he has discovered for himself does exist.
A full binding Project will not be necessary to start. All you'll need to say is that you propose exploratory banding in, order to select a suitable Project.
With kindest regards from Muriel and me.
WELLINGTON POINT, Q.4160 3rd September 1969.
Yesterday I posted to you a packet of seeds taken from our Hakea Laurena. As you know, these need opening in the oven to extract the small sheet of tissue paper looking material which contains the small black seed. I understand from my Nurseryman friend that these should remain viable for a long time. Just what 'a long time1 is, is indefinite, but presumably it is such that it would carry safely through from one good season till a few more opportunities for survival of the species occur during succeeding years, under even Australia's harsh conditions. There are still some more seeds on the tree as I refrained from putting all our eggs in one basket, so there is still possibility of another try if this one doesn't work out.
Thanks for your letter of the 18th August, and all its news. Yes, we do think that your White-cheeked and White-browed Scrub Wren re-traps should be sent in to Bill Lane for Recovery Round-up in "Bird Bander". I looked up the previous references for these two species as published in Recovery Round-up. Steve Wilson has a bit of a stranglehold on the White-browed Scrub Wren, but I would still send it in. Previous items are for the White-browed Scrub Wren - "Bird Bander" Vol.3 page 77, 19 miles; 1 month. B.B. 4:64. 3 m. 12 mths.; B.B.4:64. 3 m. 2 mths.; B.B. 5:40 65 mths. 5:47 Analysis of Survival Rate by Steve Wilson. 5:66, 66 mths. 5:66, 67 mths. 6:40 73 maths. 6:40 Elks at Beerburrum 25 Oct. 65,; Stan McCosker 26 July 1966, 7 miles. 6:64, 75 mths. 7;17 85 mths. 7:43 86 mths. 3 birds. Yours at 54 months is at a new site so may interest Bill. With the White-cheeked Hordes, yours looks like the best to date. The references are - B.B. 3:77, your own bird recovered by Robin Elks at Caloundra. B.B.6:41, 33 miles, 16 mths. You will see the form in which Bill puts them and should copy this at double spacing.
My Queensland Permit turned up on 26th August so I expect you got yours too.
You look like being very popular with Frith if you are able to do something about Quail. No doubt you have read his article in the last "Bird Bander" endeavouring to enlist recruits. If you can beat Max Waterman’s 6240, you might get not only a motor car but a uniformed chauffeurette to distract you from the Quail! I'm not sure how Max gathers his Quail but I have a suspicion that he not only has a large team of helpers but uses spotlight and a handnet at night. No doubt we'll soon be treated to an article in "Bird Bander" on this.
We noticed in the "Courier Mail" that the tree selling drive went off very well.
Your new banding sites at the head of the Mooloolah River "Doone Yalley", Dave Evans' farm, Westaway's station, and the ridge at Currimundi sound very promising. One needs a few so as to be able to have resting pauses for the birds. At the moment, we have very few Honeyeaters here as they seem to be away nesting. Possibly the continuing drought has dispersed them to other areas. It was pleasing to have the Brown Honeys start their nesting in June and continue through July and August as shown in my Table 3 in the September "Bird Bander".
We hope that you enjoy your visit to your 'kangaroo cousins' in Sydney. In case this is a little obscure, the derivation is that a 'kangaroo cousin1 is several hops removed.
I had a ring from John Liddy the other night. He had been down to the Tweed and whilst there called in at Tom Guthrie's place. Imagine his surprise to find Bill Lane and family with John Disney camped at Tom's place. Tom is in W.A. but had mentioned to me that Bill Lane would probably be coming up this way in the August/ September school holidays. Bill had hoped to get here for a yarn but must have been just too busy with John Disney in the Tweed area to spare the day to come here. John Disney is preparing gen for release to banders about studies in moult, so no doubt he and Bill would be having a try-out. I know these two spent a previous holiday checking on the hand lens examination of the wet skin of the skull and cloaca inspection in connection with ageing of birds. John got one recovery of his Cormorants banded in the Bay at 7 miles and 3 weeks.
You will be pleased to learn that our house connection from the water supply mains was laid across to our fence a couple of days ago. Also, we got 2" out of the last lot of rains.
Kindest regards from us both.
WELLINGTON POINT, Q.4160 5th August 1969.
Thanks for your lingum of the 13th and 15th July. The urgent inquiries of our last letter really arose from our concern about how you were settling down at Caloundra after the long time Overseas, rather than any lateness in reply on your part. It is good to learn that you have fitted into the sunburnt surroundings as of the manner born.
We think that you previously referred to "your young man" as David Evans. The other day at Wynnum, having lunch with an old friend of ours, Beatrice McKay, she spoke of her nephew, David Evans, who is on a farm in your district, and it seems that they might be one and the same.
The Hakea we have here is the pincushion Hakea, H. Laurina. There are quite a few seeds on the tree. I understand from my Nurseryman friend that these should be suitable now and that they stay viable for years. I could post you some, or you can pick them up next time you come. Our recent plantings were mainly Banksia integrafolia, Grevillea banksii, G. pteridifolia; C. linearis. We find also that the birds love G. cayleyii; G. juniperina; G. "Poorinda Queen". I think it is probably a case rather of which of the Grevilleas, Banksias and Callistemons suit your particular circumstances. I rather watch which ones do well in our area in the bush and then plant that sort here.
Your Noisy Friars and Butcher bird remind me that here I have had to trap and then release many miles away various ones of these that have become bullies at my feeder. May I suggest that you construct for yourself some sort of a trap which you can operate with a pull string when necessary to collect such bullies. I use my feeder trap as this forms a focus point for my swarms of Brown Honeys to act as decoys for those occasional ones of other species that visit me. The advantage of a pull string is that it is safe against catching birds when you are away elsewhere and not able to attend them. The pull string permits selective trapping so that one does not have to be continually releasing "trap happy" birds.
The Australian Bird Book on which Peter Slater is working is the one which Eric Lindgren in Perth is writing the text. Eric appealed in "Bird Bander" for weights and measures for use in his book, and we have sent him pages and pages.
You ask about CSIRO Forms. The Re-trap, both blue and pink, are as of yore; a sheet of the white one is included here for you. Isuggest you requisition some of these. My Queensland Permit hasn't arrived yet, either.
Yesterday I asked Vernon Cooper about seed for Quail. He finds they prefer Millet, but eat almost any sort of seed.
Nothing has happened so far about the Cormorants at the Stanley Dam. John Liddy seems to be involved with his car in the weekends in family outings.
I feel that when you were here I was very inadequate when you asked me about the ways that I handle birds. Not that my ways are anything special but it is always interesting to hear how other people manage. As I didn't answer properly then I have written out some details which may be of interest. For small species, to, say, size 3 band, I find lightweight cloth bags, about 12 " x 8", very suitable for individual birds. When netting, I carry six or eight around my waist, whether empty or full. The bags are fitted with draw strings and I tuck the knotted tops under my belt. For larger birds, such as Friars, I use heavier cloth and bags, say 14" x 10". For Currawong types, there is a bag 18" x 12" of really stout cloth. These tough bags may be used with advantage as a mitten or glove to grab the bird initially. It often busies itself with the loose flappy edges of the bag and so misses my encased hands.
In addition, l use two cylindrical containers, made from ½" chicken wire. These containers when kept on their side easily hold 25 Silvereyes or 6 or 8 Yellow-faced Honeys. The containers are about 7½" diameter, and 16" long, with one end of the netting tube blanked off with similar netting. All ends of wire are carefully twisted around to avoid any sharp snags. The open end of the netting tube which is a selvedge edge, is fitted into the upper end of an old khaki trouser leg and sewn with fine wire on to the wire mesh container. The opening of the bottom end of the trouser leg is partly sewn up, so that my hand, with a bird in it, can just move in or out easily. The wire container is placed in a sugar bag and tied to the wire mesh to retain them as a unit. The enveloping sugar bag keeps the birds quiet but lets air in. I am careful to keep this holding cage always on its side and simply put it on the ground beside the net. Merely laying the trouser leg along the top of the cage retains all birds. I never mix species.
With larger birds in a bag at my banding table, I locate the head and hold it through the bag. This keeps the bird quiet and permits me to open the bag and uncover a leg to band or measure, or a tail or wing to measure. Care must be taken to avoid twisting a wing. To measure length, I extract the bird, holding both legs in one hand and the head in the other. This way it is easy to stretch the bird along a rule which is a fixture on the side of my banding gear box.
For wing spans, I find it best to retain the bird's head in the bag, holding it firmly through the cloth, near the bottom of the bag. Then by peeling back the bag, all of the rest of the bird is uncovered. It is placed on its back with the balance of the bag over its feet. When working alone I sit on a stool with the ruler on the ground just in front of my toes. The bird, on its back, with the beak towards me, but, with the head held through the bag and its feet shrouded with the balance of the bag, is placed on the rule. Then holding its head and legs with the right hand, all through the bag, the left wing is stretched to the end of the rule and held in place by placing the tip of my rubber shoe sole near the end of its primaries, on some soft surface as a carpet or grass. Transferring the head and legs to my left hand, I stretch out the right wing with the right hand to measure the wing span along the rule. It is essential to move slowly and firmly so that the bird always feels shrouded out in the folds of the bag over its head and feet; with pugnacious birds, a second bag used as padding over the initial one is a real help against sharp claws.
I think you would be interested in a book got out by the Primary Industries in 1958 by Stan Blake, Botanist, and Charlie Roff as Apiculturist, called "The Honey Flora of South-Eastern Queensland". It was eighteen bob when I bought it from Barker's Bookstore, but you may be able to get it at the Dept.
The May rains have rejuvenated a second of my old netting sites. It must be two years since I've been there, so I was pleased when I went back to re-trap a Yellow Robin and a Mangrove Honeyeater, banded in 1967 and 1966 respectively. We both understood how you must have enjoyed the thrill of once again getting a bird out of your net, and feeling it in your hand.
It's clear you will have to keep an eye on the ocean beach. Perhaps you noticed the little bit in the "Courier" on 22nd July that a banded. Giant Petrel had been caught at Scarness, Hervey Bay. It wearing a British Museum Band and I guess had been banded at the South Orkneys, below South America. The paper rang Don Vernon to try and get more detail, so Don got in touch with me, hoping that I might have some gen. Fortunately, in about the sixth "Bird Bander" back I was able to find a similar number, also on a Giant Petrel, which had been reported in Recovery Round-up as being found at Rottnest Island. The four people who found it at Scarness sent a cable to the British Museum seeking details, but it seems possible that the churls have replied by surface mail, as no further news Is available to date.
My copy of Brig. Hugh Officer's latest book "Australian Flycatchers" has come to hand as a result of my pre-publication order of $4.25. It is published by the Bird Observers' Club in Melbourne, and is a companion volume to "Australian Honeyeaters". The illustrations in this one, by Peter Slater, are far superior to those in the Honeyeaters. I think you would enjoy this book.
Last week the Contractors were laying the mains in our street for the Hedlands Water Supply Scheme. You can imagine that everybody is bursting to get connected as our drought continues, and many people arc buying water from trucks. Strangely, the_7" rain in_ May have at last cheered up our well avid yesterday I was able to re-start the pump with water for the garden. Both of these items make us smile as recently we have been carting water in buckets from the horse trough next door to keep our shrubs going the way they should.
Let us know how the plastic Surgeon enjoys himself on your ear, and incidentally how you enjoy him! It may even be convenient to ring us, or perhaps make a sally for rosella jam.
Kindest regards from us both.
Stan McCosker died in June 1971 while on a bird-banding trip.
He was at Tripconi Point, Cowiebank, beside the waters of Pumicestone Passage with Bribie Island opposite him and the Glasshouse Mountains behind. Near too the farming area which his grandfather had pioneered, McCosker country.
Stan McCosker had written a year before he died, a description of his first bird banding trip to Cowiebank:
I had a fascinating back to nature two weeks living in somewhat primitive conditions... amongst the birds and I've recorded 153 birds of 21 species, Cuckoos (Golden Bronze), Tawny Grass Birds, Lovely Azure Kingfishers, virile Mistletoe-Birds built like fighter planes and just as pugnacious, Redheads, Silvereyes, Whistlers both species, Golden and Rufous, lovely variegated Wrens male and female, a Lewin and a Grey Thrush which I had banded in 1966, as well as Silvereyes, White-Browed Scrub Wrens, Brown and Scarlet Honeyeaters, and Robins, two species, Rose and Northern Yellow...
The kangaroos and wallabies were ever so tame and they took very little notice of me and fed around the house at night and early mornings, and waggled their ears when I talked to them. I had 2 nets side swiped by them I presume.
The night the moon rose —full — the dingoes chorused its rising with a full throated effort and with lovely pretty-faced wallabies feeding placidly, the scene was wonderful, and the curlews piped... eerie but good for the system.
One has to see the moon rise over Bribie lighting the mudflats, turning them into gold and lighting a golden path across the waters and colouring the grey kangaroos feeding on the short grass in front of (Cowiebank)... to get the magic into the blood and one's being.
You know... it is not everyone's good fortune to be able to appreciate the moon and stars and the bees and birds — Nature — under the sun and they, I always think, cause the bother in the world. Golly and the majority seem to be gormless and without a clue on what makes for peace and quiet and good sensible living in this lovely world.