The week that was

Kylie Piper - Thursday, August 14, 2014

What a week it has been! The others have already had much to say about the trapping and processing, so we’re here to tell you about the tidbits and other occurrences that have happened behind-the-scenes.

Despite the fact that we’ve been targeting the trapping of small mammals, sometimes our wayward bettong friends like to make sure that we know that they’re still there. This usually happens when driving to and from field sites, when it’s an almost repetitive start-stop exercise as people have to get in and out of cars to chase away the most-trusting bettongs that decide to cross paths with the vehicle tracks on which we’re travelling. But their presence may also manifest in other ways. For example, when checking an Elliott trap, Arid Recovery intern Brad Tonkin decided that it was much too heavy when he picked it up. Upon opening the trap he discovered a none-too-comfortable bettong wedged into the corner, looking much more square-shaped than he should have been. Brad must have been enjoying his close interaction with the mammals, because he also had an encounter with a Plain’s Rat that took a nip out of the webbing between his fingers. Ouch!

We (Chris – DEWNR, Tristan – budding ecologist, Brad –AR intern and Cat – real AR ecologist) have been doing activities together all week. Outside of the trapping we have been helping in some of the other goings-on at Arid Recovery. The present authors (Chris and Tristan) have been arriving early every morning and afternoon to help organise the animals for release. Between trapping sessions, there have been other tasks set for us as volunteers. Yesterday we helped to set-up a mock pitfall line as a demonstration for some of the Year 3 & 5 Roxby Downs school children that visit every year. We were also involved in dissecting some of the cats that had recently been removed from the Dingo Pen. We found that they had been eating a whole variety of native and introduced species including house mice, rabbits, hopping mice, dunnarts, ducks, geckos, dragons, skinks, grasshoppers and snakes! It’s no wonder that they have such a detrimental effect on the native fauna around here.

 

Tristan and Chris with some baby Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps) 

 

Speaking of native fauna, we’ve seen some pretty cool animals. The two most impressive recent sightings have been of a 2 m long Mulga Snake and an adult Bearded Dragon (the latter of which decided to give us a run-around by hiding underneath the car).

I (Tristan) have to be personally thankful for Chris’ impeccable driving as my deftly-placed sunglasses managed to survive ~ 13 km of bumpy dirt-track driving on the rear bumper of the 4WD. But I think that we all have to be thankful for an amazing trip.

This morning doing the routine checks of the pitfalls, I (Chris) was about to put my hand in the pitfall and thought I spotted a small snake, thanks Cat for confirming it was a sand swimmer. I would also like to thank Tristan and Brad for their experience and enthusiasm and an awesome week. Thanks guys!

We finished packing up the traps this morning and like clockwork the rain arrived and refreshed our minds, bodies and souls (how poetic). Tonight we’ll all (save Brendan) be heading to the Tavern to celebrate the rain, a successful trapping trip and new friendships!

The last of the dingo transects

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The topic of dingoes often sparks a range of opinions amongst conservationists and pastoralists. There are many uncertainties about the animal, including the exact date that the dingo arrived on Australian shores, if the dingo should be classed as a native Australian animal, and queries about the role the dingo plays in the current ecosystem. 

Arid Recovery’s Dingo Project has been investigating the detailed interaction between dingoes, cats and foxes since 2007. The Dingo Project has studied the role of dingoes in suppressing cats and foxes in arid Australia, the influence this has on prey populations, and if there is a possible net benefit for threatened species conservation.

Arid Recovery staff have been conducting track transects for the Dingo Project for five years. Covering a substantial area on foot at both the 37km² Dingo Pen and the control site at Mulgaria Station, an indication of dingo, fox, cat, rabbit and small mammal activity is derived from the presence of tracks along 200m transects. The three main habitat sites assessed are dune, swale and creek line, with ATV’s and 4wd vehicles darting from one site to the next.

The track transects are dragged in the afternoon, and then checked for the following two consecutive mornings. A count of rabbit and small mammal tracks is conducted, and predator tracks are recorded as a presence or absence.

 

 

Last week saw the completion of the final dingo track transects. Warm, calm days provided ideal weather conditions to finish the last of the data collection. Arid Recovery Education and Community Officer Anni Walsh assisted with track transects at the control site on Mulgaria Station.

“The completion of the last of the track transects for the Dingo Project is a huge success. It is always a gamble conducting such a large scale track monitoring session during this time of year, as November is generally a month of strong winds in Roxby Downs. However, the weather was kind to us and transects were completed in four days, with an initial first look at the data suggesting good results!”

Arid zone ecologist Katherine Moseby will now input the latest results alongside the five year data set, closely analysing trends in predator activity and prey abundance. The results will then be published in a peer reviewed paper.

To find out more about the Dingo Project, take a look at Katherine’s previous dingo paper Interactions between a Top Order Predator and Exotic Mesopredators in the Australian Rangelands

 

 

 

 

Little Aussie Diggers

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A recent study from Murdoch University has highlighted the relationship between the loss of Australian digging mammals and ecosystem decline, and put our threatened species in the spotlight for all the right reasons.

Our little Aussie diggers are important ‘ecosystem engineers’.  Scratching away at the surface, poking their nose in the ground, digging holes of varying depths and bull-dozing complex burrow systems all contribute to the health of the soil. These disturbances mix organic matter and bring soil nutrients to the surface, whilst trapping organic compounds and other materials in their diggings.

These little diggers also improve water infiltration which increases soil moisture, and spread important fungi across the landscape, which helps plants to increase their absorption of nutrients. This disturbance by digging mammals could possibly alter fire regimes by reducing the amount of combustible plant material within a landscape, however further research needs to be conducted to confirm this.

Although these little Aussie diggers may be small, their ability to move soil is incredible! With suggestions that a digging mammal can approximately shift a remarkable 1.8 - 3.6 tonnes of soil per kilogram of body mass in a year.

Burrowing bettong Bettongia lesueur engineering the arid zone ecosystem inside the AR Reserve.

Unfortunately, six of the 29 digging mammal species that were present 200 years ago are now extinct. The introduction of predators, land clearance and spread of disease has seen nearly all of the living ‘digger’ species show massive contractions in their range. Many have diminished from the Australian mainland completely, or now only exist in predator-proof fenced reserves similar to Arid Recovery.

Studies inside the Arid Recovery Reserve have also suggested that our ‘Big 4’ reintroduced species are much more than a cute fury face! Our own ecosystem engineers have assisted in increased recruitment of native vegetation, including mulga Acacia aneura, silver cassia Senna artemisioides and sandhill wattle Acacia ligulata. A cross fence comparison found that recruitment was significantly greater inside the Reserve compared to sites studied beyond the fence.

You can assist in promoting the important role that these Aussie diggers play in shaping ecosystems by adopting your very own Little Aussie Digger. Follow the links on the Arid Recovery website and support the great work that Arid Recovery does in protecting these incredible ecosystem engineers.

Information for this blog past was obtained from the following journal articles:

Fleming, P., Anderson, H., Prendergast, A., Bretz, M., Valentine, L., Hardy, G., 2013, Is the loss of Australian digging mammals contributing to a deterioration in ecosystem function? Mammal Review, online version, pp 1-15.

Munroe, N., Moseby, K., Read, J., 2009, The effects of browsing by feral and re-introduced native herbivores on seedling survivorship in the Australian rangelands, The Rangeland Journal, 31, pp. 417-426

 

Flocking pigeons

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Over the past few months a group of volunteers have been watching the amazing site of thousands of Flock Bronzewings swarming across the arid landscape north of the Arid Recovery Reserve.

AR's resident cinematography, Travis Hague, has put together some footage of the phenomena.

Flock Bronzewing from LonelyOakfilms on Vimeo.


For more information about Flock Bronzewings, become a member of Arid Recovery and receive the new edition of the AR newsletter, with a feature story on these amazing birds.

Summertime Snake Awareness

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

This Tuesday saw Roxby Downs’ first Community Snake Awareness Session and we were amazed at the turnout. Over 65 people attended the talk by Living with Wildlife principal Geoff Coombe and were even privileged enough to meet and greet some of his scaly companions. Of note; the Red-bellied Black Snake, a Tiger Snake, and the Western Brown fondly named Psycho.

Throughout the presentation we learned about not only the types of snakes we would find in Roxby and surrounds (the Mulga, Woma and Western Brown) but also how to avoid attracting them, what to wear in situations in which you might find one, and what to do if you get bitten.

Roxby's introduction to Living with Wildlife

For those of you who were unable to attend, these are a few of the most important things to remember when it comes to snakes and when dealing with them:

  1. It’s true that snakes are more scared of you then you are of them! Respect them and you shouldn’t have a problem!
  2. Stand still when you get too close, as Geoff mentioned, snakes don’t go around biting what they think are trees!
  3. Don’t give them places to hide where you don’t want them going. e.g. large bushes or garbage piles close to the house (they are only trying to hide and get out of the sun!)
  4. Wear appropriate clothing when out bushwalking etc. (long pants and closed in shoes) and;
  5. If you DO get bitten, apply appropriate first aid and get help immediately, don’t clean the wound (the venom on your skin can help identify the snake that bit you) and try not to move (you don’t want the venom to spread!).

 

A native Woma Python meeting the crowd

A big thankyou to Geoff, and his assistant Greg, and everyone who came to support this initiative, we hope that you came away with some valuable information and can feel a little more confident if faced by a snake. We sure learnt a lot!!

And if you want to know more feel free to visit Geoff Coombe’s Living with Wildlife website at http://www.livingwithwildlife.net/.  

Getting up close and personal to a Woma Python

Volumes of Volunteers

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Arid Recovery would not be the successful organisation that it is without the help and support of our dedicated volunteers. Over the past three months we have been overwhelmed with volunteers travelling from far and wide to assist us with various research projects, reserve maintenance and attending expos. In fact the amount of volunteers we have had has been so huge, that we didn’t have enough space in our newsletter to mention every name!

This overwhelming number of volunteers has been astounding, and Arid Recovery is extremely happy to be able to work alongside such a huge group of enthusiastic and dedicated arid zone lovers!

“By becoming a Friend of Arid Recovery and volunteering your time, you are playing a role in protecting and restoring Australia's endangered species” explains Education and Community Officer Anni Walsh. “Whether you live locally or not, there is sure to be a task you can assist with, and the work is rewarding for the individuals volunteering their time and for Arid Recovery”.

In the last quarter alone we have had nearly 50 people volunteer their time with Arid Recovery. This is an incredible number of people, and the accumulated volunteer hours are astonishing! The variety of tasks that volunteers assist with is very broad, and can range from feral control and checking of perimeter traps, to fixing fences and taking tours.

The recent external bettong release project has been a major volunteer event, with an abundance of people assisting in the capture and relocation of burrowing bettongs. Braving the cold and working during the night, we have had adults, children, locals and visitors help with this massive project. The thrill of capturing a bettong, and maybe even seeing one of our other ‘Big 4’ threatened species is too exciting, with many people coming back to volunteer again and again.

 

And so to each and every person listed here we say THANK YOU! 

Mark Allen

Travis Gotch

Barbara Murphy

Mel Allen

Travis Hague

Charles Nzama

Molly Allen

Ben Haines

Tess O'Leary

Bianca Amato

Jackie Hines

Peter Paisley

Rowan Carroll

Zoe Jellie

Ben Parkhurst

Fernando Carvalho

Stewart Jones

Johan Poteiter

Meryn Codell

Ken Lamb

Tim Quinn

Peter Colman

Hannah Leadbeter

Katy Read

Anna Copley

Hugh Leadbeter

Sarah Robertson

Peter Copley

Megan Lewis

Luke Sanders

Phillipa Copley

Chris McGoldrick

Bianca Staker

Ben Cronin

Jen McKenzie

Jill Tideman

Scott Elliott

David Milazzo

Anthony Wyatt

Brooke Essex

Jamie Millard

Margarett Wyatt

Jenna Forbes

Kane Mooney

Bree Galbraith

Beth Moyses

If you are interested in assisting Arid Recovery in undertaking one of our many volunteer opportunities, email education@aridrecovery.org.au

An Arid Recovery Life For Me

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

University of Queensland student Jacqueline Hines spent 3 months at Arid Recovery for her industry placement. Jackie reflects on her time at Arid Recovery, and the wonderful opportunites that she was provided with.

I arrived at the Arid Recovery Reserve 3 months ago. It was the middle of winter and I had just stepped off a plane from Brisbane (a place where winter doesn’t really exist), with no clue of what I was in for. Layering up was definitely something I became an expert at. For the first two weeks of my stay, we were trapping Burrowing Bettongs in the reserve and releasing them into the wild in the hope of establishing the first self sustaining wild population since their extinction on the mainland in the 1960’s. In two weeks we managed to release 995 bettongs, along with capturing and micro-chipping several Western Barred Bandicoots and Greater Bilbies, which we released back into the reserve. This proved to be a once in a lifetime opportunity to get up, close and personal with some of Australia’s cutest endangered species.

After the initial release of bettongs, it was time for me to get started on my project for university. This was of course industry placement for me, even though it sometimes felt like a holiday. My project was to help determine the survival and distribution of the Burrowing Bettongs that were released into the wild, by monitoring the activity of warrens within the release area where both bettongs and rabbits would shelter during the day. I spent my weeks travelling back and forth to the release area to monitor warrens, check remote cameras and top up feeders that provided supplementary food for the bettongs. When I wasn’t traipsing through the release site, I was sorting through remote camera images, assisting with feral cat and fox dissections and fence maintenance, helping with community awareness activities and school group visits, and working at the Arid Recovery stall at markets and expos.

There was never a dull moment at Arid Recovery, always something new on the horizon and a job to get done. Not only did my placement with Arid Recovery provide an opportunity to work with endangered species and understand the effort that goes into managing and maintaining a reserve such as Arid Recovery, it also gave me a chance to meet many inspirational people. I now consider Arid Recovery a home away from home. See you again soon!

Jackie with some of the natural wonders of the Arid Recovery Reserve.

Arid Recovery is arid smart

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The outback is a land of extremes. Temperatures vary throughout the year, with some nights being icy cold to a point of freezing, yet in summer the heat can be sweltering with temperatures above 40ºC for weeks. There is no average season and rain can fall sporadically at any time. With an average rainfall of 166mm per year, Roxby Downs and surrounding areas are not typically thought of as ideal locations for growing plants.

This Sunday the 29th of September the ‘Arid Smart Garden Expo’ will be hosted at the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens. Focusing on the benefits of native plants, the garden expo will feature gardening advice for native flora, native tours and children’s activities.

Arid Recovery will be attending the event. We will have a focus on the native vegetation of the Roxby Downs region, and incorporate the birds and animals of Arid Recovery and how they may use those plants. A children’s activity stall will be set up with an opportunity for kids to create a colourful collage of all things arid related!

“The Arid Lands Botanic Garden is a fantastic opportunity for people to develop an understanding of the plants that grow within the arid zone,” explains Arid Recovery Education and Community Officer Anni Walsh. “The outback region of South Australia covers almost 80% of the state’s land area, therefore arid zone plants make up a significant portion of the flora found within the state.”

Situated 250km south of Roxby Downs, the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden showcases an array of flora specific to the arid zone and outback regions. The 250ha site features flora unique to a variety of arid zone habitats, including sand dune, woodland and shrub land. A whole range of grasses, forbs, shrubs, trees and wildflowers from a variety of genus’ can be viewed at the site.

If you would like to learn more about arid specific flora, or enjoy a stroll through beautiful native gardens, then a visit to the Arid Lands Botanic Garden is a must!

For further information on the plants of Roxby Downs and Arid Recovery email education@aridrecovery.org.au  

Summer Intership Applications Now Open

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Arid Recovery is a unique arid zone conservation project based near Roxby Downs.  The fenced reserve spans approximately 123km2. Feral cats, foxes and rabbits have been eradicated from half of the area, into which several species of locally extinct species have been successfully reintroduced.

 

Arid Recovery is seeking applications from highly motivated and resourceful interns. The Arid Recovery Internship program operates over 14 months, with interns required to work following periods:

  • This Summer - December 2013 through to February 2014
  • 3 non-consecutive weeks throughout the year (during University holiday periods or other negotiated times)
  • Next Summer - December 2014 through to February 2015

Objectives of the intern program include:

  • Feral control and reserve maintenance conducted on a regular basis
  • Trapping of native threatened marsupials, in particular assisting with the bettong external release project
  • Involvement in the organisation and operation of the annual small vertebrate trapping program
  • Coordination and control of Buffel Grass and other weeds of significance within the Roxby Downs region

Eligible applicants must:  

  • Currently be completing the second year of a three year study program, or third year of a four year study program
  • Have a current drivers licence and be willing to undertake 4WD training
  • It is desirable that applicants have some experience with ethical handling of animals
  • Be physically fit and willing to undertake labour intensive tasks
  • Capable in the use of maps and GPS for navigation
  • Be willing to commit to living in Roxby Downs (SA) for three months over two consecutive summers, and return to undertake three weeks of field work throughout the year

 

Benefits: Return transport from Adelaide to Roxby Downs (additional transport from other capital cities may be negotiated), on-site accommodation and modest stipend to cover food and incidentals.

 

Applications: must include a CV and one page letter addressing the position criteria which can be found at www.aridrecovery.org.au.  Applications and any queries can be forwarded to Arid Recovery, PO Box 147, Roxby Downs, 5727 or education@aridrecovery.org.au or phone (08) 8671 8282.

Applications close 5pm Monday 30th September 2013

Hands on education excites and enlightens

Developer 2 (MM) - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Biodiversity is essential for human existence, providing many goods and services to create a healthy environment, such as clean air and fresh water. It is vital that we all do our bit to help the environment, however sometimes we need a little reminder.

Arid Recovery takes great pride in educating school groups on the importance of biodiversity and conservation. The educational work that we do at AR is a step towards securing environmental awareness for generations to come.

This week we had students from Port Lincoln High School visit the Arid Recovery Reserve. The group of five students arrived late Monday afternoon, just in time to set some cage traps as the sun was going down. It was then time for dinner and bed before the early morning start at 4:30am to check the cage traps. The students were delighted as they had successfully trapped bettongs, Stick-nest Rats and bandicoots!

During the day students participated in various hands-on workshops to give them an idea of the monitoring, maintenance and research work that the team at Arid Recovery undertake on a daily basis. These workshops compliment the students’ studies towards a Certificate I in Conservation Land Management. Participating in track identification on the sand dunes, navigating their way around using a map and a GPS, and joining Ecologist Cat Lynch on a walk to discuss the common plants of the region were just some of the activities that kept the kids busy.

Education and Community Officer Anni Walsh demonstrates Elliott trapping 

“Educational visits like this are incredibly beneficial for students. Not only do they get to experience what it is like to be an ecologist working in the arid zone by learning tracks and flora, they also get to experience a variety of different species using various trapping methods,” explains Education and Community Officer Anni Walsh. “It’s a real thrill for the kids to hold a small dragon, or see a Western Barred Bandicoot with joeys in her pouch, and gives a further appreciation of the unique natural wonders of the arid zone.”

The satisfaction of completing 100m of fencing in the hot sun, and not getting lost during the GPS scavenger hunt where up there with some of the memorable moments of the trip.  However, the students all agreed that despite the early start, the cage trapping was easily the highlight of their trip. Our cute and furry threatened species have again captured the hearts of those fortunate to work with them!

Arid recovery is a conservation initiative supported by:
bhp
adelaide university