As part of National Bird Week 2017 (inspired by the Birdlife Australia Aussie Backyard Bird Count), Land for Wildlife conducted a mist netting workshop for members on a rural property in White Gums. Bird banding is an activity that requires the bander to be trained to handle birds and trap them in an ethical and humane manner with mist nets. Bruce Pascoe, a local bird bander with an A-Class authority, conducted the mist netting and banding and explained the processes to the keen birders in attendance.
The mist netting workshop started shortly after sunrise, on a cool October morning, with the intention of seeing some birds up close and personal. A secondary intention was to observe and survey some of the species that can be found in the region. The final objective was to place band the captured birds so that they can be released and potentially recaptured down the line.
Three nets were set up from the evening before the workshop. On arrival, attendees were shown how to unfurl a net in preparation for a survey and the reasoning behind mist netting and banding captured birds. Mist netting and the subsequent bird banding allows us to see how many species and individuals reside in an area, their lifespan, migration habits, movement to feeding grounds and other long-term demographic questions. The data obtained is important for bird conservation, as well as help to guide habitat preservation activities.
Bird banding in Australia is governed by the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme (ABBBS), who supply numbered metal bands to registered and qualified banders. These bands are fitted around the tarsus (lower leg) of the captured bird. The process is painless and doesn’t cause distress to the birds. According to the ABBBS, over 2.6 million birds and bats have been banded Australia-wide, with 140,000 having been recaptured.
Other detailed information such as physical characteristics (sex, age, moult), and body length measurements (beak, wing) are obtained from the bird before it is released. For example, the head length can be used to determine sex in some species, but also age. The sex of a bird can also be determined from the plumage colouration or cloacal protuberance and brood patch shape. Feather wear and shape is a good indicator of the age of the bird, but many other characteristics can also be used. Anatomical features of birds, their moult and how to age birds can be found in an excellent section of Birds of the World.
While the going was slow to start, a fourth net was set up to the north of the property and this was successful at capturing three birds – two Yellow-throated Miners (Manorina flavigula) and a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Acanthagenys rufogularis). Both species received size 05 alloy bands and measurements were taken. You can view summaries on the capture/recapture history of the Yellow-throated Miner and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater on the ABBBS website.
Interested in birds and don’t know where to start your journey? Get in touch with Birdlife Central Australia (email@example.com) or follow their facebook page to keep posted about bird sightings in the Alice Springs area.
This biodiversity survey was conducted with Animal Ethics approval (Charles Darwin University Animal Ethics 12006 Landscape, fauna and flora survey and impact assessment in relation to mineral and petroleum exploration, infrastructure development and conservation initiatives throughout the Northern Territory), a Parks and Wildlife Commission NT permit (60855 Permit to Interfere with Protected Wildlife) and a Department of Primary Industry and Resources permit (026 Licence to Use Premises for Teaching or Research Involving Animals). An A-Class bird banding ticket was held by Bruce Pascoe, who oversaw the survey.
We thank Cyd Holden and Peter Latz for allowing the Land for Wildlife team to visit and monitor the bird populations on their property. Appreciation goes to Bruce Pascoe for the use of mist nets and assisting with the workshop proceedings.
Land for Wildlife has conducted biodiversity surveys on member properties since 2007. They are an important tool in determining the success of land management activities carried out and to create a better understanding of species population dynamics in areas of mixed land use. The information gathered from the surveys adds to the knowledge of species distributions in areas that may otherwise pose access issues to do with land tenure and ownership.
Traditionally, the biodiversity surveys are conducted on Land for Wildlife properties only and involve trapping for a range of wildlife, including reptiles, frogs, mammals and invertebrates, as well as conducting visual transect surveys for birds. In 2017, as part of National Bird Week, Land for Wildlife took the aim of conducting a biodiversity survey targeted only at birds that visit the water baths provided on both rural and urban blocks so that Garden for Wildlife members would have an opportunity to take part in the process.
The survey was conducted using camera traps, which are small cameras housed within a pelican case that is responsive to movement. The camera is operated through infra-red sensors that detect movement and initiate recording. Three brands of camera trap were used for the survey, which included Reconyx (4), Bushnell (7) and Faunatech (1). Reconyx cameras were capable of taking still images, and were set to take 10 consecutive images following the detection of movement. Bushnell and Faunatech cameras were capable of taking moving footage, and were set to take 30 seconds of consecutive footage following the detection of movement. While Reconyx, Bushnell and Faunatech cameras are often called camera traps, they do not in fact capture the animal, but rather record its presence.
Cameras were set to run for a full day for each property. A total of 12 Garden for Wildlife members (including six in Eastside, three in Braitling/Northside, two in Larapinta, and one in Desert Springs) and seven Land for Wildlife members (including three at Ross, three at Ilparpa and one at Connellan) took part in the Bird Bath Biodiversity Survey 2017.
The Bird Bath Biodiversity Survey 2017 was an interesting exercise, highlighting the diversity of avian species that visit artificial or semi-natural water sources provided on urban, peri-urban and rural properties. A total of 566 visits to bird baths were recorded over the monitoring period. Overall, 22 species were observed in the camera traps, of which 16 were observed visiting Garden for Wildlife bird baths and 14 were observed visiting Land for Wildlife bird baths. The most common visitor to bird baths was the White-plumed Honeyeater and the Crested Pigeon, recorded at 10 properties each, whereas the Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater was the most persistent visitor to bird baths, visiting 111 times across all properties.
Table 1. Avian species visiting Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife bird baths (^ Indicates an introduced species). Number of properties visited by species is recorded as all properties (Garden for Wildlife properties, Land for Wildlife properties). The list is ranked according to the number of properties visited.
|Common Name||Scientific Nomenclature||Number of Properties Visited by the Species||Total Number of Visits to Bird Baths Across All Properties|
|Grey Shrike-thrush||Colluricincla harmonica||1 (1,0)||1|
|Grey-headed Honeyeater||Lichenostomus keartlandi||1 (0,1)||1|
|Variegated Fairy-wren||Malurus lamberti||1 (0,1)||1|
|Mulga Parrot||Psephotus varius||1 (0,1)||1|
|Hawk||Accipiter sp.||1 (1,0)||2|
|Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike||Coracina novaehollandiae||1 (1,0)||2|
|Diamond Dove||Geopelia cuneata||1 (0,1)||2|
|Willie Wagtail||Rhipidura leucophrys||1 (0,1)||3|
|Galah||Eolophus roseicapillus||1 (1,0)||12|
|Zebra Finch||Taeniopygia guttata||1 (0,1)||12|
|Australian Ringneck||Barnardius zonarius||2 (1,1)||4|
|Magpie-lark||Grallina cyanoleuca||2 (2,0)||85|
|Peaceful Dove||Geopelia placida||3 (1,2)||4|
|Crow||Corvus sp.||3 (3,0)||8|
|Western Bowerbird||Ptilonorhynchus guttatus||4 (4,0)||10|
|Singing Honeyeater||Lichenostomus virescens||4 (2,2)||11|
|Brown Honeyeater||Lichmera indistincta||4 (3,1)||67|
|Spotted Turtle-dove ^||Streptopelia chinensis||6 (6,0)||22|
|Yellow-throated Miner||Manorina flavigula||6 (3,3)||33|
|Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater||Acanthagenys rufogularis||9 (7,2)||111|
|White-plumed honeyeater||Lichenostomus penicillatus||10 (7,3)||64|
|Crested Pigeon||Ocyphaps lophotes||10 (5,5)||110|
|Total Species Count||22 (16,14)|
|Total Visits to Bird Baths||566|
The Spotted Turtle-dove, an introduced species, was ranked 5th most common visitor at bird baths, recorded at six of the Garden for Wildlife properties monitored. Garden for Wildlife members can loan traps for free to help actively manage feral bird populations, as well as receiving instructions on how to make your own. Head to our website to see more information on feral dove control.
Several species were observed on only one property, which included four visiting Garden for Wildlife properties and six visiting Land for Wildlife properties. Of the species that visited several bird baths, the Western Bowerbird and the Spotted Turtle-dove were the only ones to visit Garden for Wildlife bird baths only. While the Western Bowerbird is known to visit rural bird baths, it wasn’t observed in this case. On the other hand, Spotted Turtle-doves are rarely seen south of Heavitree Gap and therefore their presence at the Land for Wildlife bird baths is not expected.
Garden for Wildlife properties recorded 10 species on a single property, with the Crouch and Heller properties coming out on top. The Land for Wildlife properties recorded 11 species on a single property, with the Kenna property taking the lead. While it is sometimes expected that there would be fewer species observed in urban areas, this was shown not to be the case in this survey. The Sweeney property received the most visits by birds to Garden for Wildlife properties, totalling 101 visits, irrespective of species. The Kenna property took the prize for most visits to Land for Wildlife properties, totalling 171 visits.
Full details on the Biodiversity Survey 2017, including images and species summaries for individual properties can be found in the survey report.
All the birds recorded in 20-minute intervals on Garden for Wildlife properties were entered into the Birdlife Australia Aussie Backyard Bird Count to provide the national group with some interesting data from our little central Australian town.
The Bird Bath Biodiversity Survey 2017 showed that there is a range of species that visited bird baths around the Alice Springs area within a one-day monitoring period. However there are over 200 species that can be found in and around Alice Springs. A comprehensive list of birds likely to be observed in the region is given in the Land for Wildlife fauna list.
If you feel that you could be attracting more birds to your garden, you could try some of the hints and tips from Land for Wildlife on the biodiversity fact sheet.
Are you interested in taking part in the next Land for Wildlife or Garden for Wildlife biodiversity survey? Head to the Land for Wildlife Biodiversity Surveys Page to find out more information.
Until next time, happy bird watching!
This biodiversity survey was conducted with Animal Ethics approval (Charles Darwin University Animal Ethics 12006 Landscape, fauna and flora survey and impact assessment in relation to mineral and petroleum exploration, infrastructure development and conservation initiatives throughout the Northern Territory), a Parks and Wildlife Commission NT permit (60855 Permit to Interfere with Protected Wildlife) and a Department of Primary Industry and Resources permit (026 Licence to Use Premises for Teaching or Research Involving Animals).
We thank the survey participants for allowing the Land for Wildlife team to visit and monitor the bird baths on their property. Appreciation goes to Parks and Wildlife Commission NT for use of several additional camera traps. Thanks also go to Birdlife Central Australia for identifying several bird species.
Birds’ nests have evolved into many shapes and sizes, but they all function to provide a secure substrate for eggs and hatchlings, camouflage and defence from predators, as well as protect the eggs, hatchlings and incubating parent from harsh climatic conditions. My doctoral studies focused on understanding the factors influencing the structure and insulation of avian nests and hence the manner in which a nest may influence the energetic cost of incubation.
FACTORS INFLUENCING NEST SIZE AND SHAPE
Comparing the size and shape of nests of 36 Australian passerine species against parent mass reveals that nest surface area increases in direct proportion to the size of the parent. Nest diameter and height increase with parent mass but as nests become larger in line with increases in parent mass, the nest cup also becomes shallower and the opening becomes wider than expected, which allows for the space that the chicks will occupy.
Nest mass increases with parent mass at a rate that matches that of a supporting structure, suggesting that structural considerations of nest construction are of primary importance to nest design. The requirement for structural support is also evident for nest thickness, which increases more than proportionally expected as parent size increases. Structurally adequate nests become thicker than expected for their size in larger birds.
Of interest is how the size or number of eggs in a clutch relates to the size of a nest. The clutch surface area and the internal surface area of the nest increase simultaneously; and the clutch volume and volume of the nest cup are also associated. Since nest design for the majority of birds in the study is in part influenced by the male and egg shape is controlled by muscles in the pelvis of the female, it is likely that one does not control the other. However, nest and egg size/shape are influenced by body size and ancestry. Therefore, it is likely that the nest and clutch are in fact independent, yet matched secondarily due to the shared influence of body mass and genetic ancestry.
FACTORS INFLUENCING NEST INSULATION
As we know, the nest surface area increases in proportion to bird size, however nests become much thicker than expected as bird size increases. The thick walls provide structural support for the parent and clutch, with the consequence that structurally adequate nests achieve greater insulation than expected, as they increase in size. Nests are often viewed as objects that are designed to prevent heat loss from the clutch and incubating parent; however the requirement for adequate structural support is the primary selective influence on nest construction, not the requirement for insulation.
By assessing the insulation of Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Acanthagenys rufogularis) and Yellow-throated Miner (Manorina flavigula) nests under varying wind conditions, I found that wind enters the nest material and dissipates heat, resulting in a decrease in thermal insulation with greater wind speeds. The consequence of increased wind currents around and through the nests would be a near-doubling in heat production required by the parent when incubating.
While ambient temperature does not influence the structure of nests in my study, it does influence the insulation of nests and the thermal efficiency of the material. However, temperature and precipitation (henceforth referred to as climate) act in combination, indicating that the response of Australian passerines to one variable depends upon the level of the other.
In sites with low temperatures, nest insulation may be important to maintain an appropriate microclimate for offspring and therefore birds construct nests with good insulation, irrespective of the rainfall at the site. For nests constructed in warm climates but at the two extremes of rainfall, there is a pronounced decrease in insulation for nests built in areas with high rainfall, compared to areas with low rainfall.
The effect of climate extends to the thermal efficiency of the nest materials, indicating that not only the ambient temperature, but also the precipitation of the breeding site, influences material selection during the nest construction phase. Birds breeding in warm and wet climates construct their nests with materials that have a poor thermal efficiency compared to those in dry climates. The warm temperatures may cause a relaxation in the need for insulation, and poorly insulating materials (such as sticks and grasses, rather than fur and wool) are possibly less absorptive and able to dry out faster following a rain event, to restore the insulating function of the nest.
To determine the effect of water (from rain, dew or absorption from the nest substrate) on the heat loss from the nest, I measured Tawny-crowned Honeyeater (Gliciphila melanops) nests under varying water content levels (from dry to saturated). Water penetrating the nesting material increases conductance of G. melanops nests by up to two and a half times the rate seen in a dry nest – a consequence of the decreased thermal efficiency of materials in a wet nest. As a result, additional energy is required by the incubating parent to keep clutches warm when nests become wet. Individuals should be capable of obtaining additional floral resources to deal with an energy deficit in cold and wet conditions. However, if floral resources are poor and an individual is unable to meet such energy demands, it may abandon the nest altogether.
My studies highlight the importance of nest design and construction for the thermal properties of nests – small variations in nest design can have significant impacts on the insulation value of a nest, which will in turn influence the energetic cost of incubation. The effect of rain and wind on nest insulation, and the consequence of this for the energetics of the incubating parent, reinforces the view that appropriate nest site selection that provides additional shelter is crucial for avian reproductive success.
A Variegated Fairy-wren (Malurus lamberti) was snapped in a compromising position at the Land for Wildlife office. A group consisting of one male, a female and many juveniles (being a highly sociable species, this group structure is quite common) were seen fluttering about in a Witchetty Bush (Acacia kempeana) and Old Man Saltbush (Atriplex nummularia subsp. nummularia) in search of a drink and bath. Hot tip: The juveniles are characterised by a pink-orange eye ring. Within moments of the birdbath getting topped up, the family made a rushed and chattering B-line to the water source. The male, however, managed to stay clear of the camera (see the December Newsletter for an image of the male at the Water Stabilisation Ponds). You can head to our YouTube channel to see the video of a juvenile making a splash and below for the snapshots.
See the Back Roads episode from Hermannsburg to see the Ntaria Junior Rangers at Palm Valley. LFW was there but missed the cut (we are in the background being semi-famous though). Great to support such a great ranger team! Head to ABC iView and *View the Episode.
Birdlife Central Australia ran a summer Shorebirds count at the Alice Springs PowerWater stabilisation ponds on the weekend. The surveys are a part of the Shorebirds 2020 program, which aims to raise awareness about how incredible shorebirds are by engaging the community to participate in gathering the information required to conserve shorebirds, by conducting national shorebird population monitoring at over 150 key sites around Australia. You can follow Birdlife Central Australia on Facebook to see what other birds they find around Alice Springs.
Barb Gilfedder, who was organising the event, states that the Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) was the most significant bird seen on the day, with the Grey Teal (Anas gracilis) coming out on top as most common (500!) and runner up of White-headed Stilt (Himantopus leucocephalus; marked on the graph under the previous name of Black-winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus).
My personal favourite was a toss-up between the Red-necked Avocets (Recurvirostra novaehollandiae) that were swooping overhead, and the Variegated Fairy-wren (Malurus lamberti), which is of course not a shorebird but is utterly delightful. Plus, there were a couple of visiting reptiles, such as the Long-nosed Dragon (Gowidon longirostris)… not a bird at all!
As coordinator of Land for Wildlife, which is hosted by Low Ecological Services P/L, I am fortunate to enjoy visits to the PowerWater stabilisation ponds on a somewhat regular basis to conduct water testing. It’s difficult to stay focused on the task at hand when there is such an amazing array of birds around. A few chicks have been making their way into the world of late (see last month’s Bird Breeding Bonanza post and the October/November newsletter).
Birdlife Central Australia has also helped me to identify some of the more common species that I have noticed around the ponds, including the Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) and the Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos). A large Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax) is sometimes seen at the ponds (see the video), along with many Whistling Kites (Haliastur sphenurus). If you want to visit the ponds for birdwatching, see the PowerWater factsheet for more information.
Batchelor Institute Alice Springs camera trapping session in November 2016 shows a cat going into a trap for a feed and a couple of inquisitive crows.
Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax) seen feeding on some kill at the Alice Springs wastewater treatment ponds.
Many avian species are breeding in town at the moment, with young chicks and fledglings making their way out into the world. Several Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) chicks and Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) cygnets have been seen at the Alice Springs sewerage treatment ponds over the last couple of months.
In my own yard, I have had a pair of young Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca) that recently fledged their sturdy mud nest and the family of four have been busy catching tasty insects in the lawn ever since. There is also a diligent Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) sitting on a nest with its chicks and other young nearby – who look rather gangly and awkward but delightful none the less! The White-plumed Honeyeaters (Lichenostomus penicillatus) reported in the last newsletter are still hanging around and are now just as vocal as their parents, though no doubt they will eventually go off to find their own territory.
What have you got breeding in your area? Send your photos in to share with the members!
By John Tyne
On September 28th, eight volunteers assisted Parks and Wildlife to conduct a census of introduced Rainbow Lorikeets in Alice Springs. The volunteers came from a number of organizations including Birdlife Central Australia, Alice Springs Field Naturalist Club and Land for Wildlife. Thirty nine locations were surveyed for rainbow lorikeets, with volunteers recording the times, location and number of birds seen and heard at each survey point. Despite the damp conditions many birds were out and about. After reviewing the data, I would conservatively estimate that there are at least 17 individual birds. The main population of birds appears to be focused in the Gillen area near the local primary school, which then probably disperses throughout Alice Springs during the day to feed. What is especially concerning is that two nesting hollows in the Todd River and a third in town are currently being used which may indicate an imminent increase in bird numbers. I would like to thank everyone very much for their help with this survey, and please keep the sightings coming in! They can be submitted to the NT Wildwatch website (http://root.ala.org.au/bdrs-core/nt-dlrm/home.htm), E-bird (http://ebird.org/content/ebird/) or submitted to me directly (John Tyne, John.Tyne@nt.gov.au ).
~ John Tyne, Parks and Wildlife NT
By John Tyne, Wildlife Ranger, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the NT
Over the last six months I’ve been monitoring the feral Rainbow Lorikeet population around Alice Springs. Most of these Lorikeets are likely to have escaped or been released from aviaries over the years, but recently they have been spotted nesting in hollows around town. I’ve got a decent handle on where they are now, but it’s been difficult to determine how many there are. I’m putting together a group of volunteers to help conduct a census to get an estimate on how many of the birds are out there. If any Land for Wildlife or Garden for Wildlife members are interested, please get in touch via email (John.Tyne@nt.gov.au) by Sunday the 25th of September to express interest. The time and date for the survey will be from 6:30-8am Wednesday the 28th of September.
Once I have participant numbers, I will print up a map with locations for the individuals to take observation from. I’m planning on meeting at 6:15 am, at the Town Council carpark to distribute the maps, pencils, etc. From the observation locations, I’ll ask that people listen and look for the lorikeets. If they are seen, the observer will need to record the time and a count of individual birds. If they are heard, they can try to move to where they can be seen, then take the time, a count, and record the new location. If the birds are moving, they can draw a line on the map indicating the direction of travel. When an observation is made, or you don’t hear or see anything after 10 minutes, participants can move on to the next location. At 8 am we can all meet back at the Town Council carpark, and I can collect the maps and observations.
There is no control work planned for the birds at the moment. This survey is really just a baseline so I can gather some data on how many birds are out there. If no control work is undertaken, it will be useful to see if there is any change in the population. If there is control work undertaken, it will help to determine if or how successful the work is.
Get in touch if you are willing to assist with the survey!
~ John Tyne