Protecting birds in the Bush Capital: the role of community-based activities to improve biodiversity conservation

An overview of Canberra’s bird diversity

The “Bush Capital” is surrounded by grasslands, woodlands and wetlands that provide breeding and foraging habitats for many animal species. (Environment and Planning Directorate, 2014). However, these landscapes are under threat. Population growth and urban expansion were pointed out by the 2015 ACT State of the Environment Report (Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment, 2015) as the main drivers of habitat clearing in the State. (Francis, 2016; Environment and Planning Directorate, 2016).

As a consequence, many of native birds are under risk of extinction. (Department of the Environment and Energy, 2016). Their life cycle has been constantly disturbed by habitat clearing, especially due to the loss of old trees, which provide them habitat for nesting, shelter and food. (Martin & McIntyre, 2007; BirdLife Australia, n.d.A). Moreover, native vegetation is important for migratory species. (BirdLife Australia, 2014). In this context, considering that birds are essential for the maintenance of natural ecosystems and also for the provisioning of many ecosystem services (e.g. pest control, seed dispersal, recreation and nutrient cycling) (Wenny et. al 2011), they have been targeted as a priority of biodiversity conservation planning in ACT.

Motivated by this background, I’ve been volunteering within the Canberra Ornithologists Group. In the next topics I’ll briefly describe the projects that I was involved during my volunteering experience, such as its expected outcomes.

 

The Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG)
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(Source: http://www.ala.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/COG-emblem.png).

The Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG) is a volunteer-based group that have been playing an active role on promoting the conservation of native birds and their habitats since 1970. Their main activities include surveying birds in order to develop the knowledge about Canberra’s species and to improve the management of native vegetation, protect the habitats of threatened and declining species. In order to achieve these objectives, the group promotes many activities involving local and scientific community, including meetings, field trips and surveys.

 

The Bush-Stone Curlew reintroduction

The Bush-Stone Curlew (Burhinus grallarius) (Figure 1) is a ground-dwelling species distributed throughout Australia. (BirdLife Australia, n.d.B). (Figure 2). The species was locally extinct from Canberra 40 years ago due to foxes and cat predation, as well as habitat fragmentation. During the last two years, COG has been connected local volunteers, researchers and farmers to reintroduce the Bush-Stone Curlews at the Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary, located in the north of Canberra. (Francis, 2014).

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Figure 1. Bush-Stone Curlew, adult individuals. Source: BirdLife Australia website. (http://www.birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/bush-stone-curlew).

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Figure 2. Distribution of Bush-Stone Curlew in the Australian Territory. Source: Birds in Backyards Project website (http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Burhinus-grallarius).

Farmers in NSW began to breed curlews in 2000. On June 2014, 11 individuals were introduced in an aviary inside Mulligans Flat. After five months of adaptation, they were successfully released from de aviary (watch the video of the release here! http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-23/bush-stone-curlew-being-released-in-the-act/5835886). (Francis, 2014). One year later, a baby curlew was recorded in the Sanctuary: the first successful breeding in the region a 50 years!

A new batch of curlews was brought to the Sanctuary this year. This is the point which my volunteering starts: I helped to look after the curlews during their period on aviary, before their release. My work experience included: (1) checking the number of individuals on the aviary; (2) clean their food boxes and provide fresh food and clean water; (3) checking the aviary for damage; (4) recording comments about curlews’ behaviour. Before it begins, Bill Graham (COG secretary) clarified the aims of the project and oriented me on how get things done. It was a great and fun experience!

During my volunteering, I’ve been recording some videos and taking many pictures of this cute curlews:

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Warning close to the Curlew’s aviary.
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Aviaray (from the outside).
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Fresh food for the Curlews! A mix of meat and veggies.
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Aviaray (from the inside).
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Curlews approaching the food. 🙂

The most interesting aspect of working on a reintroduction is to understand how complex is the process that has to be completed before the release. There are many things to be done, and it is essential to guarantee that the individuals will be safe until they get adapted to the environment and capable of foraging and breeding successfully. Therefore, it is important to keep monitoring them during the pre and post-release periods, using tracking rings and video recordings.

Curious about the future of the curlews? Check it out the flyer here and keep an eye on the updates on Mulligans Flat website: https://mulligansflat.org.au/.

 

The Latham’s Snipe survey

The Latham’s Snipe (Gallinago hardwickii) (Figure 3) is a non-breeding migrant from the south east of Australia. (Figure 4). They move from Australia on the winter, passing through the north and New Guinea and breeding in Japan and on the east Asian mainland. Therefore, they leave the breeding areas from August to November, arriving in Australia mainly in September. The Latham’s snipe occurs mainly in wetlands, owing to their specific diet: they feed from plant material, molluscs and insects that lives on mudflats and shallow water. (Figure 5) (BirdLife Australia, n.d.B).

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Figure 3. Latham’s Snipe, adult individual. Source: BirdLife Australia website. (http://www.birdlife.org.au/bird-profile/lathams-snipe).

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Figure 4. Distribution of Latham’s Snipe in the Australian Territory. Source: Birds in Backyards Project website (http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Gallinago-hardwickii).

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Figure 5. Latham’s snipe foraging on the edge of wetlands. (Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-12/latham’s-snipe-wading-in-canberra/7408506)

The Latham’s Snipe Project was set up as an initiative join Australian and Japanese conservation experts. The project aims to improve the understanding about Latham’s Snipe migration routes and what wetlands habitats they are using during their movements, as well as how they interact with these habitats. The main outcome is to build a story about their migration in order to improve the protection of the wetlands used by them during their migration. To achieve this goal, the ACT government invested $25,000 towards the monitoring of three birds. These birds have been watched by satellite tracking since the beginning of this year. (Travers, 2016).

In addition, local community has been volunteering for monitoring Latham’s Snipes on the Canberra’s wetlands were they have been recorded. As a COG volunteer, I also helped with this task by recording the presence of the Snipes on these wetlands, as well as counting the number of individuals and taking notes on environmental features (e.g. wind, temperature, precipitation, etc.). These observations were done at two wetlands in the north of Canberra. I learnt a lot about wetlands’ conservation and wetland birds of Canberra!

Some pictures of the wetlands:

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First spot: Horse Park Drive Wetland. There is a water course inside the bush, where Latham’s Snipe individuals were found.
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Second spot: wetland in an urban park in Bonner, suburb of North Canberra.

The satellite tracking data in addition to the environmental and unpublished community data is helping researchers to analyse the efficacy of the biodiversity conservation and land management efforts focused on the protection of these wetlands, as well as guiding them towards to set up new improvements.

Curious about it? Wants to learn more? Have a look at the link! 🙂 http://www.swifft.net.au/cb_pages/lathams_snipe_project.php

 

General bird surveying

While working at these two main projects, I also helped with general bird surveys by assisting in counting the number of other species. This kind of survey helps the ACT government to effectively collect data towards to measure bird diversity in the State and to improve conservation efforts to protect these birds. It was a great opportunity for me to improve my knowledge about Canberra’s avifauna!

 

And so what?

At the end of my working experience, I was able to use my knowledge about bird conservation to understand other related issues, such as: Why do we need to improve conservation efforts toward to protect birds? How is it been made? What are the main outcomes for the natural ecosystems and also for human society?

To answer these questions, I came up with the influence diagram below (Figure 6), which works as a summary of what issues that motivated me to choose this volunteering and to complete my work experience.

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Figure 6. Influence diagram summarising the importance of improving conservation efforts towards protecting bird’s diversity.
 

I hope that you enjoyed! 🙂
Thank you!

Anna de Oliveira Silva, ENVS3090 2016.

 

References:

BirdLife Australia. (n.d.A). Threats to birds. Retrieved 7th October 2016, from http://birdlife.org.au/conservation/science/threats-to-birds.

BirdLife Australia. (n.d.B). Birds in Backyards Project Database. Retrieved 7th October 2016, from http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/finder

BirdLife Australia. (2014). Migratory Shorebird Factsheet. Retrieved 7th October 2016, from http://birdlife.org.au/documents/Shorebirds-FactSheet.pdf

Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG). (n.d.). About COG. Retrieved 7th October 2016, from http://canberrabirds.org.au/about-cog/

Francis, A. (2014, 24 October). Bush stone-curlew reintroduced in ACT after being considered locally extinct for 40 years. Retrieved 8th October 2016, from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-24/bush-stone-curlew-reintroduced-in-act/5835188

Francis, A. (2016, 17 July). Canberra’s ‘bush capital’ status could be under threat as ACT Government buys up land. Retrieved 7th October 2016, from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-17/bush-capital-changing-as-act-government-buys-up-rural-land/7632772

Department of the Environment and Energy. (2016). Threatened species & ecological communities. Retrieved 7th October 2016, from https://www.environment.gov.au/topics/threatened-species-ecological-communities.

Environment and Planning Directorate. (2014). Woodlands for wildlife: highlights from the last three years. Retrieved 7th October 2016, from http://www.environment.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0014/630302/Woodlands-for-wildlife-highlights-from-the-last-three-years_ACCESS.pdf

Environment and Planning Directorate. (2016). Woodlands. Retrieved 7th October 2016, from http://www.environment.act.gov.au/cpr/conservation_and_ecological_communities/lowland_woodlands

Martin, T.G. & McIntyre, S. (2007). Impacts of livestock grazing and tree clearing on birds of woodland and riparian habitats. Conservation Biology, 21(2), 504-14.

Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment. (2015). Annual ACT State of the Environment Report 2014-15. Retrieved 7th October 2016, from http://www.environmentcommissioner.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/782362/Accessible-WebVersion-OCSE-Annual-Report-2014-15.pdf

Travers, P. (2016). Tracking Latham’s snipe migration from Japan to southern Australia. Retrieved 8th October 2016, from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-12/latham-snipe-migration-project-takes-flight/7408292

Wenny, D. G., DeVault, T. L., Johnson, M. D., Kelly, D., Sekercioglu, C. H., Tomback, D. F. & Whelan, C. J. (2011). The need to quantify ecosystem services provided by birds. Auk 128, 1–14.

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About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
This entry was posted in biodiversity conservation, Birds, Migration, Reintroduction, Volunteer work and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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