Saturday, February 15, 2014

Conservation Statement

Early in 1984, the Royal Australasian Ornithologists’ Union (RAOU)  published their first Conservation Statement, called The Ground Parrot. It was a quarto sized booklet of 12 pages and was mailed out to all members as a supplement to the March news magazine as well as to bodies with power to effect conservation measures. The author was C.W. Meredith, who had been studying the Ground Parrot in Victoria since 1979 for various Victorian Government departments so as to better manage this vulnerable species in that state.

The publication proved to be a very valuable tool for those who were trying to get some study done on the Ground Parrot in Western Australia. A draft version of the Conservation Statement resulted in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife making some funding available to the RAOU,  leading to the first ever scientific study of the species in Western Australia.

Salient extracts from the report are below. Highlighting has been added. The nest photos were very interesting and tantalizing to Western Australian bird watchers. Several, including Ray Garstone who was a very well-experienced nest finder, attempted to be the first to find a Ground Parrot nest in W.A. since Whitlock had in 1913, but without success.

The cover photos: Young Ground Parrots in the nest. (CWM)
Heath on the coast of East Gippsland - one of the habitats of the Ground Parrot (CWM)

South Australia. The Ground Parrot is now extinct in South Australia. It once ranged along the coast from the Victorian border to Adelaide. Most populations became extinct long ago due to clearing but parrots were still found around Port MacDonnell and near the Victorian border until the 1940s and 50s. The last population, in sedgelands behind coastal dunes near Nelson, died out in the 1950s when the creek [the outlet of Ewens Ponds) that flowed through these sedgelands and into the Glenelg River was diverted straight to the sea, and the sedgelands drained.
Western Australia. Next to South Australia, the decline of the Ground Parrot has been most severe in Western Australia. This is of particular significance as the Western Australian birds are differentiated as a separate subspecies. Once distributed along the coast from north of Perth to Cape Arid, the Ground Parrot is now only known from small, isolated populations at Augusta, Fitzgerald River, Cape Arid and possibly, near Albany24. Very little is known of the parrot’s habitat
requirements in these areas, but the Fisheries and Wildlife Department have recently provided funds to the RAOU for a survey of the Ground Parrot in the State25. Few of the known populations are in National Parks or reserves, and at least one, near Fitzgerald River, is in an area proposed for clearing for agriculture.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Since European colonisation the Ground parrot has suffered a significant reduction in range caused by clearing of its habitat. The main declines have been in western Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and the Bass Strait islands. In eastern Australia, this phase is largely over, although some local populations may still be in danger, but it is still continuing in Western Australia.
Heathland populations make up the bulk of the present total population and are dependent on a suitable fire regime for survival. Where burning is too frequent or too long excluded these populations are endangered. In temperate heathlands a minimum burning frequency of about once every fifteen to twenty years is recommended. A frequency of ten to fifteen years may be suitable for sub-tropicalheathlands. Burning in isolated areas should be planned bearing in mind the need to maintain core populations to provide recolonisers.
Given that present fire regimes in most parts of the parrot’s range are either (i)frequent burns (fuel reduction burning, encouragement of “green pick”,for grazing, arson and escapes from forestry activities) or (ii) very infrequent burns (total protection with the occasional wildfire), active management of fire will be required in most heathlands.
It must be stressed that the Ground Parrot’s responses to fire have only been delineated for temperate heathlands of types which occur in southern New South Wales, Victoria and parts of Tasmania. and for sub-tropical heathlands in northernNew South Wales and Queensland [preliminary work only]. Research is needed into fire regimes suitable for populations in Western Australia and perhaps southern Tasmania.
Much of the Ground Parrot habitat that remains is reserved, either as National Park or as Wildlife or Nature Reserves, though the adequacy of reserves in Western Australia needs to be assessed. Very little active management is undertaken in these reserves. Until this is done, more reservation will not preserve the Ground Parrot.
A number of currently endangered local populations require action. All Western Australian populations urgently need to be located. censused and studied with a view to producing a suitable management programme. Some may need to be incorporated into reserves.
The Long Swamp population in Victoria is small and isolated and its habitat wouldbe endangered if there were any alteration in the water level of the Swamp. This needs monitoring and may require management.
The Ground Parrot's well developed dispersal ability suggests that its reintroduction to some areas may be feasible, if the habitat can be restored. Recolonisation could occur from nearby populations or birds could be released into isolated areas. One possibility would be to re-establish a South Australian population by re-directing the outlet from Ewens Ponds back to its original course
and allowing sedgelands to redevelop around it.
1. Condon H. T. 1975. Checklist of The Birds of Australia. Pt. 1. Non-Passerines. RAOU, Melbourne.
2. King, W. B. 1979. Red Data Book, Vol. 2. Aves. IUCN, Switzerland.
3. A 15 month study of the Ground Parrot in Victoria during 1979-80 by C. W. Meredith. A. M. Gilmore and A. C. Isles for the Fisheries and Wildlife Division. The results are contained in an internal report of the Ministry of Conservation: “A Study of the Ground Parrot (Pezoporus wallicus) in Victoria", and in Meredith, C. W., A. M. Gilmore and A. C. Isles. in press. "The Ground Parrot in south-eastern Australia - a fire-adapted species?” Aust.J.Ecol. 9.
 A two month study of the Ground Parrot at Wilsons Promontory by C. W. Meredith for the National Parks Service in 1981. The results are unpublished.
A study of the bird in northern NSW coastal heaths by A. M. Gilmore during 1981. Results not yet published but some conveyed to the author by personal communication.
A three month study in 1983-84 by C. Meredith of the parrot’s status and management needs in Victoria following the 1982-83 bushfires. Results presented in an unpublished report to the Fisheries and Wildlife Division (Victoria) and the World Wildlife Fund (Australia).
4. Unless otherwise noted, the information in this section is taken from the Ministry of Conservation (Victoria) Report (see note 3).
5. The sedgeiands and the two temperate heathland types have been characterised floristically and are described in detail in the Ministry of Conservation report.
6. Personal communication from A. M. Gilmore; personal observations of Queensland heaths by C. W. Meredith; discussion with C. Sandicott and ]. Curnow, Queensland National parks and Wildlife Service.
7. See Newbey, K. and B., and K. Bradby. 1983. Notes on the Swamp Parrot. WA Naturalist 15; 145-146.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ground Parrot surveying gets underway in the Fitzgerald

The Western Australian branch of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists’ Union (RAOU) had a quarterly magazine called Western Australian Birdnotes. In the June 1983 issue, a Fitzgerald Campout was advertized. It was to be based at Twertup Field Studies Centre within the Fitzgerald River National Park though there would also be some camping near the sites to be surveyed for Ground Parrots. The trip was to be led by Roger Jaensch, then the Waterbird Project Officer, and was to take place from 29 September to 5 October. Part of the plan was to search for Ground Parrots and Western Bristlebirds.

Meanwhile, aware that this trip was to happen, the Newbeys sought help from the  Fitzgerald River National Park Association (FRNPA) of which they were members, to practice for the first time, a survey involving a number of volunteers.

They had undertaken a survey on their own on 28 and 29 July, hearing four calls in the evening (one only 20 metres from the listener) and nine calls in the morning. Time, direction and estimated distance, and type of call were recorded, though only as notes: as yet the data sheet had not been devised. They noted that an access road for the proposed farms was under construction.

Richard Jordan of Barren Grounds in NSW was contacted to ask for his estimate of how far a Ground Parrot call could be heard in calm conditions, so that effective spacing could be determined.

The FRNPA trip was on 9 and 10 September. There were nine participants, and conditions were perfect.  Spacing for the surveys was 400 metres apart. Ground Parrots were heard from two of the listening positions in the evening, and six of them in the morning. Additionally a Ground Parrot was sighted.

The RAOU Fitzgerald Campout was very well attended with 49 participants over the week. There was a big contingent from Perth and several locals as well, especially members of the FRNPA. The trip report, written by Brice wells, appeared in the December 1983 issue of WA Birdnotes. Brice reported that the Ground Parrot call was heard from only three listening points.

It is not recorded how many listening points there were. Ground Parrot listening was only attempted on a couple of evenings.

I can recall being anxious about all the disturbance that so many people made, and not being surprised that the birds did not call much. A survey method described by Richard Jordan and successful for flushing Ground Parrots at Barren Grounds was tried on this trip. It involved several participants to walk in a line through the heath, all carrying a long rope which was to lightly brush vegetation between. It was a complete failure: the rope far too heavy, but the worst problem was the nature of the vegetation. There were too many mallees, three or more metres tall, and it was absolutely impossible for everyone to progress at the same pace. (Brenda Newbey)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Historic tape recording

Using the link below (it's an mp3 file) you can listen to the short tape that Richard Jordan sent to the Newbeys in late 1982. The tape, of Eastern Ground Parrots, at Barren Grounds in New South Wales, has calls of adult birds (against the wind or sea), and at the end, calls of young chicks recorded by a microphone right next to a nest. Richard also described how to conduct surveys - pre-sunrise and after sunset. Now we knew what to listen for, and when. For the first time listening surveys were to be conducted in Western Australia and in particular in the Fitzgerald River National Park and the bushland to the north of the then border of the park which was under threat of being released as farmland.

The first two attempts to find Ground Parrots by listening for them in December 1982 and February 1983 were inconclusive. However the sighting and feeding record of 26 February (First feeding record,January 17)gave a location to try next time. This was done successfully on 12 May 1983 (see previous posting, January 25) when it was found (thanks to a piece of chocolate)that the WA birds are likely to call a bit later than those with which Richard was familiar. He had said the calling would continue until 30 minutes after sunset. In fact in WA, evening calling often does not begin until 40 minutes after sunset.