The Newsletter of Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife in Central Australia - March 2015
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Yeperenye caterpillars of the Hawk moth Hyles livornicoides are beautifully abundant a month after the rains. Photo Jen Kreusser.


Tar vine Boerhavia coccinea, is a favourite food of the Yeperenye caterpillar.

Hello everyone,


February has set the standard for a fast paced year!

Firstly, thank you and congratulations to our new volunteer members that have committed to nature conservation on their private property. This month we have also been working hard to re-establish relationships with long-term members, to touch base and hear how progress is going. Thank you to everyone who has been in touch and kept us up to date. 

This month we are continuing to notice changes provoked from last months rains. A few consistently warm weeks have burnt off the vibrant green, resulting in noticeable shades of 'survival' yellow and orange. Flowering Eremophila spp. begin to slump and seeding natives grasses are in their final stages. What have you noticed this month?
 
Cheers,

Jen, Tim and Bill
LfW and GfW team
lfw@lowecol.com.au
Upcoming events...
  • Friday March  27th: 6.30pm. Bat Night: at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station (facilitated by NT Parks and Wildlife Service and in conjunction with Land for Wildlife). Ever wanted to have ultra sonic hearing? Bookings essential. Contact Susie Pendle on 08 8951 8247 or email susie.pendle@nt.gov.au 
Desert metamorphosis... 

After the tadpoles, frogs and termites in January we have seen an abundance of cicadas (such as the Golden Drummer 
Thopha colorata), which have been most obvious closer to the Todd River. Also an abundance of the sacred ayepe-arenye caterpillars (of the Hawk moth Hyles livornicoides) eating their way through the Tar vine Boerhavia coccinea. It's worth noting they are one of three culturally significant caterpillars for the Central Arrente people. 

Members have also been sharing with us their photos from the processionary caterpillar marching their way around with military precision (see photo)! Each caterpillar leaves a trail of silk indicating to the one to follow where to go. This poses more questions... what about the lead caterpillar? How do they know where to head? Any thoughts?

Each week brings change to the prevailing processes in our ecosystem. Keep your eyes out for natures subtle signs next week!

Sacred central Australian caterpillars of the Hawk moth Hyles livornicoides,  eating backyard greens (probably sweet potato vine)Photo Margaret Craig.



A Hawk moth Hyles livornicoides showing its pink under wing, represents the adult stage of the ayepe-arenye (or Yeperenye) caterpillar).



Processionary caterpillars Ochrogaster luifer race up a River red gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis, perhaps in search of a place to construct a new silk 'bag' nest? Photo Jen Kreusser.


A silk 'bag' or nest of the processionary caterpillar, fell from a River red gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis.

If you are have noticed that a colony of caterpillars has munched your favourite plant, fear not, if the plant is are healthy enough it should recover! 
To feed or not to feed...
How to discourage invasive birds at your place and welcome back the native bird diversity.


Whether it's a secret or not, we all love birds. This may be to varying degrees, though most people have a fascination with the feathered, avian dinosaurs of the sky - justifiably for many reasons...! Hollowed bones (to reduce body mass for flight), an adjustable aerofoil (to create the exact amount of lift) and a feathered covering to reduce drag. No matter how many times we marvel above at a Wedge-tailed eagle, their spiralling display provides a sense of wonder to even the most novice birdwatcher! However, we need to know how to experience and engage with (introduced or native) birds without creating a problem.

In urban areas of Alice Springs, the invasive Spotted-Turtle Dove Streptopelia chinensis and (a few) Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus has made inroads and become comfortable! This places pressure on native birds that we love to see visiting our gardens. Here's what you can do to help!
  • Avoid leaving (pet) food scraps out as these attract invasive birds and big-headed ants 
  • Avoid deliberately feeding birds
  • Keep rubbish bins firmly closed
  • Shield suitable nesting sites (gutters)
  • Monitor potential nesting trees and remove nests when initially established
  • Consider removing ornamental/foreign trees where doves prefer to roost and replace with native species
  • Construct a cover on your chicken coop to discourage doves from helping themselves to chook scraps, seed and water (this will also save you money on feed) 
  • Build your own dove trap and begin your own trapping campaign right in your back yard! (Send us an email: lfw@lowecol.com.au and we can give you all the resources and encouragement you need to get trapping! Some residents have caught over 200 doves in their street!).


Invasive Spotted-turtle doves Streptophelia chinensis are easily recognisable by their black collar with white spots.



Large trap for catching invasive Spotted-turtle doves Streptophelia chinensis in urban areas of Alice Springs. We have a couple of traps available  for loan - just ask (lfw@lowecol.com.au)!
 
How to look after your Land for Wildlife or Garden for Wildlife property: Biochar
by Tim Dowling

Wandering into the Alice Springs Tip Shop (officially called the Rediscovery Centre) recently, looking for materials to make a spotted turtle dove trap, I saw a sign saying “Biochar $8 a bag”. I had heard about the wonders of biochar and its amazing properties. It was made here in Alice just last year! So what is biochar? And how can we use it here in Alice Springs? Let’s take a deeper look.

What is Biochar?

It is basically a "half cooked" charcoal, full of nooks and crannies and when stirred into the topsoil provides a receptacle for water nutrients and micro-flora/fauna. It involves cooking woody waste without oxygen in a process called pyrolysis (in a sealed furnace). It produces a gas and a residue. The residue is biochar looking a like charcoal, (see picture) and the gas is also a beneficial by-product that can be used to produce the heat to cook the wood. There are cycles - and benefits.
It is claimed that its production and use is part of a multi-pronged strategy for mitigating global warming. It is a stable form of carbon that:
  • scientists believe stays in the soil from several hundred to a few thousand years sequestering carbon
  • holds onto nutrients and water molecules with a greater capacity than soil thus allowing stronger, more productive plant growth
  • recycles wood waste from waste facilities that would otherwise be landfill or mulched, ultimately breaking down and producing greenhouse gasses
How do you use Biochar?

It may be crushed and mixed into the topsoil. Its action is a long term soil conditioner. Or you can introduce it into your compost heap, to better distribute the micro-flora/fauna throughout the soil.

How does it work?
  • It forms a stable substrate that harbours microscopic beneficial organisms, allowing them to proliferate into the soil or retreat back into it.
  • It holds the soil open for water and air exchange.
  • Water is held in the soil rather than leaching downward or evaporating out. Water holds the dissolved nutrients that plants need.
It is particularly relevant for soils in Alice Springs because here they have low water availability and nutrient levels. But there is a catch. Our soils here are already a little alkaline and adding biochar directly to the soil enhances this alkalinity. Inoculating it by adding it to your compost heap prior to use is therefore recommended. In this way, microorganisms have a safe environment to harbour in and proliferate from.

Unfortunately the Alice Springs Rediscovery Centre only has a limited supply… HOWEVER I am keen to do some backyard tests to experiment. I have a plan to crush it up and lightly turn it into a section of soil that is producing a very poor irrigated lawn and a struggling citrus tree (grapefruit?). In upcoming newsletters I will have some updates on how my little patch is going. Look out for it. Or if you have any comments on your experiences with biochar then let us know at lfw@lowecol.com.au
 
If you are interested in knowing more about this fascinating subject check out these links:


Biochar is produced by firing waste wood products anaerobically (without oxygen), turning it into a useful soil conditioner here in Alice Springs.



Biochar is similar to the appearance and texture of charcoal, though effectively stores carbon.
 
Resources Connect and share sightings and experiences with other nature observers through the 'Bowerbird' website. 



Connect and share sightings and experiences with other nature observers through the 'Bowerbird' website. 
 
  • Arachnids
Those of you still swagging out during this warmer weather are likely to find some of the eight legged varieties...
For arachnid identification: the CSIRO are collaborating to produce a field guide, proposed to be published in 2016. In the meantime, information is being collaborated via their website


Barking spiders use a burrow to deploy an 'ambush' when hunting at night. Photo Bill Low.

For those more curious about arachnid identification: the CSIRO are collaborating to produce a field guide, proposed to be published in 2016. In the meantime, information is being collaborated via their website
 
Eco-links...
All the environmental and wildlife news that's fit to re-print

Local sacred caterpillars (Yeperenye) are in abundance
Link to article on ABC local

NT trialing baiting for feral cats
Link to article on ABC

Cat preys on endangered night parrot
Link to birding blog by Greg Roberts 

Drones for conservation
Link to article on The Conversation

Cane toads fenced from water in arid lands
Link to article on ABC Science

Dingos support survival of vulnerable dusky hopping mouse
Link to article on News

Feral cats on notice with new bait approved in WA
Link to article on ABC rural

Threatened Southern Brown bandicoot - not so threatened?
Link to article on the Sydney Morning Herald

Release of western Quolls in project in SA
Link to article on ABC

Dust: its role in supporting life on the planet
Link to article in The Australian

Anti-poaching network for tigers
Link to article in The West Australian

Rabbits and carbon emission
Link to article on The Conversation

Mammal extinction 'mostly' in remote areas
Link to article on ABC online

Ants, masters and their role in the colony!
Link to Article on The Conversation

Feral cats stomachs at the centre of research 
Link to article on ABC


Richard Waring and Rhondda Tomlison volunteering at the waste water treatment plant, for the National shorebird survey on February 8th,  2015 in Alice Springs.


Thanks for reading folks.

What have you been up to?
Keep us posted with all the interesting and exciting things happening at your place!

Cheers,


Jen, Tim & Bill.
March 2015
Copyright © 2015 Low Ecological Services, All rights reserved.


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