Frog Frenzy for World Wetlands Day

Simpsons Gap: These Waterways are home to a range of amphibians, invertebrates and other fauna.

Simpsons Gap: These Waterways are home to a range of amphibians, invertebrates and other fauna.

Land for Wildlife went along to the Territory NRM World Wetlands Day Event on February 1st at Simpsons Gap and were delighted to see all the frogs that have emerged following recent rains. Three species were present at the TNRM hosted event, including the Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni), Red Tree Frog (Litoria rubella) and Spencer’s Burrowing Frog (Platyplectrum spenceri). The Centralian Tree Frog is distinguished by its green colour and white spots on the back, while the Red Tree Frog is much smaller, can be grey to brown in colour and possesses a broad black stripe running down the side of the body. Spencer’s Burrowing Frog has large and irregular splotches of dark brown on a lighter fawn body, and has a somewhat distinctive shield or plate behind the back of the head.

There are two main lineages of frogs in Central Australia, the first two species observed belong to the Family Hylidae (or tree frogs) and the third belongs to the Family Limnodynastidae (the Australian ground frogs). While Spencer’s Burrowing Frog spends most of its life underground to avoid dehydration, and emerges only for short periods after rains, the Centralian Tree Frog and Red Tree Frog are unable to burrow and climb into humid microhabitats such as crevices and tree hollows close to permanent water.

Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni)

Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni)

 

Red Tree Frog (Litoria rubella)

Red Tree Frog (Litoria rubella)

 

Spencer’s Burrowing Frog (Platyplectrum spenceri)

Spencer’s Burrowing Frog (Platyplectrum spenceri)

 

Tadpole

 

Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni)

Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni)

 

Parks and Wildlife NT are running a host of Frog Nights throughout February – get along to a session to see the diversity of amphibians in our local waterways.

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To learn more about World Wetlands Day (2nd February 2017), head to http://www.worldwetlandsday.org/

Are there frogs in your yard? Want to identify them? Pick up a copy of the Land for Wildlife production ‘Reptiles and Frogs of Alice Springs’ by Nic Gambold and Deborah Metters at any of our upcoming stalls and events. To find out more about this publication head to our Books for Sale webpage.

Birdlife Central Australia Shorebirds Survey at the Ponds

waterbird-feather

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.

Pam Walker and Jocelyn Davies spotting birds on the far side of the pond.

Pam Walker and Jocelyn Davies spotting birds on the far side of the pond.

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).

Data property of Birdlife Central Australia, data within graph provided by Barb Gilfedder.

Data property of Birdlife Central Australia, data within graph provided by Barb Gilfedder.

White-headed Stilt (Himantopus leucocephalus) juvenile

White-headed Stilt (Himantopus leucocephalus) juvenile

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!

Red-necked Avocet (Recurvirostra novaehollandiae)

Red-necked Avocet (Recurvirostra novaehollandiae)

 

Variegated Fairy-wren (Malurus lamberti) being chased around by three very keen females.

Variegated Fairy-wren (Malurus lamberti) being chased around by three very keen females

 

Long-nosed Dragon (Gowidon longirostris)

Long-nosed Dragon (Gowidon longirostris)

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).

Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) and chicks

Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) and chicks

 

Pink-eared Ducks (Malacorhynchus membranaceus) and a massive brood

Pink-eared Ducks (Malacorhynchus membranaceus) and a massive brood

 

Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) family

Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) family

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.

Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)

Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)

 

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

 

This showy one was swanning around for a good while trying to look pretty

This showy one was swanning around for a good while trying to look pretty (pardon the pun)

 

... and had left it's print for sure.

… and had left it’s print for sure.

Wildlife Videos

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.

Bird Breeding Bonanza

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!

Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) fledgling sits nearby the nest for safety.

Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) parent on a nest with two chicks.

 

Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) parent on a nest with two chicks.

Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) fledgling sits nearby the nest for safety.

 

Magpie-larks (Grallina cyanoleuca) getting ready to fledge the nest last month, now free-roaming and learning to feed on their own.

Magpie-larks (Grallina cyanoleuca) getting ready to fledge the nest last month, now free-roaming and learning to feed on their own.

 

Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) chick at the Alice Springs sewerage treatment ponds, one of several being guarded diligently by the parents.

Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) chick at the Alice Springs sewerage treatment ponds, one of several being guarded diligently by the parents.

Pool Conversion: Creating a Freshwater Ecosystem

By Jen Kreusser

There are many people in Alice Springs who are considering turning their once-loved swimming pool into an oasis of a different variety, or perhaps installing an old child sand pit or pool, in the hope of creating a self-sustaining water-feature and extending the attraction to a diverse range of feathered visitors. Smaller features can be created by using old bathtubs or similar, which I have seen to be effective. The question is: How to do this in an arid, urban backyard?

Call out to our readers: We would like to hear from LfW members that have done this, or at least experimented with the concept – get in touch!

In the first instance, it largely depends on what your ambitions are – and the space and resources you have available. In order for the water to be attractive for birds and other animals to visit, access will need to be created. Creating shallow areas for waterbirds to stand and placement of low branches (old or living) near the water’s edge will encourage birds to come and drink.

Pros: Once established, it is likely to be visually aesthetic – creating a unique habitat for residents to enjoy and observe. It is also an opportunity to grow a variety of water plants (which will attract a greater diversity of insects, birds, frogs and reptiles).

Cons: Available fresh water is likely to attract predators, especially in hot dry summers (such as unwanted cats and snakes). Evaporation rates during summer are significant (similar to a regular swimming pool) and regular additions of water would be required (tank water is best).

It may take some time to establish and convert the pool into a safe and healthy water supply. Like many water ecosystems, it’s about balance! Keeping onto the balance of microorganisms (algae, bacteria) will be important as time goes on and you may wish to consider purchasing a pH testing kit to help. We are not experts on creating freshwater systems, though we would really love to hear from our members that have created these and we can share more in our next newsletter.

Of course, if you are a lover of the arid zone, you may wish to consider filling in the swimming pool space for creating a new arid (dry) landscape feature such as a sand dune or rocky garden. Remember, when considering which plants to include in the space it’s worth checking out Native Plants for Central Australian Gardens (Forth & Vinter, 2007).

– Jen Kreusser

Keep an Eye to the Sky

After a couple of days of overcast weather, the skies have parted again and the birds are rejoicing. The Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus banksii) were out in force at the office of Land for Wildlife this morning – screeching and parading around. Not surprising that they are active given their breeding season is a couple of months in and there is plenty of seed available after summer rains. Females lay a single egg in a tree hollow lined with chewed wood shavings and the male provides her food while the female is busy incubating the egg.*

Red-tailed Black Cockie

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Meanwhile at the Power Water Ponds, a Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax) had caught something of the feathered variety for a morning snack. It’s always a sight to see such a large bird standing over a kill – though the nearby swans didn’t seem too concerned for their own welfare.

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Black Swans

* Readers Digest (1976). Complete Book of Australian Birds. (Readers Digest: Sydney, NSW)