Critically endangered birds found at Terrick Terrick National Park
Monday 21 October, 2013
A male and female pair of critically endangered Plains-wanderer birds have been found at Terrick Terrick National Park, north of Bendigo in Victoria, by volunteers doing a fauna survey in early October 2013.
Plains-wanderers are found only in south-eastern Australia and nowhere else in the world. They are endangered in Australia and critically endangered in Victoria.
Parks Victoria Environmental Scientist, Dr Mark Antos, said this was a particularly exciting find since it is the first time any of the birds have been seen in the park since late 2012 and it is hoped that the pair that were found together may be breeding.
“In Victoria, these birds are critically endangered and there are usually an estimated 500 Plains-wanderers in good years. However, since the floods of 2010/11 this number is presumed to have decreased considerably.
“The floods caused a huge build up of grass biomass and Plains-wanderers can't live in grassland that is too dense. The habitat for these birds has also declined across south-eastern Australia as former grasslands are used for agricultural purposes or building developments,” he said.
The pair of Plains-wanderer was discovered by volunteers who regularly survey and monitor the fauna and habitat at Terrick Terrick National Park.
“There has been a fantastic and committed group of volunteers doing the surveys and monitoring for the past four years, at least six times a year,” said Dr Antos.
“Around 50 volunteers from all walks of life including staff members from Parks Victoria and other government organisations, local graziers and farmers, local residents, and people living in Melbourne have helped conduct the surveys,” he said.
The volunteers use spotlights at night to detect any Plains -wanderers and other fauna including reptiles, birds and mammals.
The area in the park where the Plains-wanderers were found was formerly a privately owned paddock that was ploughed and cropped with oats and lucerne until the mid 1990s, until the land became part of the park in the late 1990s.
Parks Victoria Ranger Program Coordinator, Mark Tscharke, said Terrick Terrick National Park is home to one of the few remaining native grassland areas suitable for Plains-wanderer habitat in northern Victoria.
“Since this area was acquired as park land, a small team has actively worked towards restoring this important land to its native grassland habitat,” he said.
“Sheep grazing has been continued in some areas of the park from when the land was a farm for ecological management purposes such as keeping the grass at a favourable length for the Plains-wanderers. Slashing and burning programs are also regularly carried out to help control weeds,” said Mr Tscharke.
“In less than 20 years, this paddock has been restored from a cropped area with introduced plant species to native grassland that is home to may native birds and animals and a potential habitat for the Plains-wanderer.
“It is really exciting news to find a male and female Plains-wanderer pair back in the park. We will continue to actively manage and conserve these precious native grasslands in the hope that we can promote suitable habitats for more of these birds in the future,” he said.
Unusual breeding habits
- Once a female Plains-wanderer has laid her clutch of two to five eggs, the male does most of the incubating and then guards the chicks for the first two months after hatching, while the female continues on to breed with other males.
- Unlike many bird species, it is the female who is more colourful than the male Plains-wanderer.
Estimating the biomass in the Plains-wanderer habitat
- Research has shown that Plains-wanders require a habitat where the grasslands are low (around 15cm in height) and open.
- Parks Victoria staff members have employed an interesting ‘golf ball’ method to estimate the biomass cover in the park to help inform how the area is best managed and conserved.
- The method was developed by research staff at La Trobe University and entails scattering golf balls in the survey area and determining the visibility of the balls, depending on how much biomass is in the grassland.
- The results are then used to help determine how the park and habitats are managed to ensure biodiversity is conserved.
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