April 2013. Newsletter of Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife in Alice Springs


April 2013




G'day LFWers and GFWers, and welcome to the cooler weather. This can be one of the busiest times of year for wildlife in The Centre. Conditions have remained mostly dry in recent months and there are many reports of wildlife moving into urban areas, perhaps to take advantage of artificial water sources. In the case of some reptile species, looking for a sheltered spot to see out the cooler months will see them on the move in coming weeks.

We've seen some signs of this already, with urban residents having increasingly frequent encounters with the largest of our lizards. Chris relates one such encounter which occurred on his return to water sampling duties at the start of the month.

(above) An Equatorial Anole Anolis aequatorialis, asleep in the Ecuadorian cloud forest.

Having just experienced the stunning success of private ecological reserves that are becoming popular in Ecuador, Chris shares some thoughts on the common threads linking Land for Wildlife with conservation on private land in a very different climate. 

LFW News...
Land for Wildlife has been busy this month with many members getting to work on some serious pest control. Our loaner cat and dog traps are all out on properties at the moment, but we're aware that many of you are having difficulties with wild dogs and cats entering your land. If you have one of our traps that you are not using at the moment, please get in touch and we can arrange to pick it up and deliver it somewhere it will be put to immediate use.

On the topic of pest control, if you are having an influx of mice at your place, please try to find alternatives to using rodenticides. A few stupefied night birds have been found around town recently (including a slightly crook Barn Owl here at the LFW office), and while this is not always caused by secondary poisoning, it is certainly a possibility. Check the weblinks section for more information, and spread the word to your neighbours.

GFW News...
This month we extend a warm welcome to a few new members; Simon and Robyn over at Old Eastside, Wendy and Ian in New Eastside, Matt and Donna in far Eastside  and Rona Glynn Pre-school also in Old Eastside. Welcome aboard!

(above) New members! Chris babbles on as the staff at Rona Glynn Pre-school consider their plans for escape. - Matt Digby.

We'd love to try and get a few more GFW signs up around town,   so if you have neighbours who you think may be interested - help us spread the word! You don't have to be a GFW member to receive this newsletter, so you can forward the link to any of your email contacts, and they can subscribe in their own time. 

...and talking of new gardens, we still have plenty of copies of Andy Vinter's brilliant regeneration guide for Central Australian gardeners, and the Greening Australia guide to native plants for Central Australian gardens. Contact us for your copy of both great books, or bother your local nursery or bookshop - if they don't have them, demand that they get them! 

Lastly, we received a kind invitation from GFW Number One Ticket holder Ada Markb, to view her new cat enclosure. Ada was aware of the trouble that Gus might have been causing to the local wildlife, and had a friend come to enclose part of her courtyard.

As you can see from the photographs, the enclosure is big enough for Gus to have a good run around in, and he has a cat flap to access the house, but he is unable to have free-reign over the garden - good news for the birds and reptiles. 

Ada tells us the construction only took a single day and has not hampered her enjoyment of the garden, or her cat, whatsoever. Thanks for sharing Ada!

Articles and Contributions...

Prince of the Ponds
by Chris Watson

As the (mostly) dry conditions continue in The Centre, I've received numerous reports of Perenties being seen about town - including one which has taken up residence on a LFW member's patio!

(above) Perentie Varanus giganteus. This one has clearly been having a dig for something - hopefully chasing a rabbit down a burrow.

Most weeks, I'm involved in a routine water-sampling program at Power and Water Corporation's sewage treatment facility, which also happens to be a popular birdwatching destination.

(above) The Perentie does his best Sir Ian McKellen - "NONE SHALL PASS!"

This Monday as I was on my rounds, I was lucky enough to encounter a fairly large Perentie. As it was right in the middle of the road, there was not much I could do but pull over and wait for him to move. I always carry a camera in the back seat of the car for precisely such opportunistic wildlife encounters and the photos here are the result of this brief meeting.

Conservation on Private Land - A Trans-Pacific Perspective
by Chris Watson 

(above) The ubiquitous Blue-footed Booby Sula nebouxii, greets visitors to Isla Espanola, in the Galapagos Archipelago. - Chris Watson

For most of March, I was lucky enough to head across to the other side of the Pacific, to spend some time in The Galapagos Archipelago and mainland Ecuador. The Galapagos, with its many associations with Charles Darwin's work, had an obvious attraction for the tourist interested in natural history, but Ecuador (which owns the Galapagos) was  less known to me. For many years, the mainland of Ecuador has been seen, by the world of tourism, as merely a jumping-off point for tours of the famous archipelago that the country presides over to its near west. More recently, and thanks in large part to the influence of wildlife-seeking tourists, the mainland of Ecuador has started to open up an impressive system of private ecological reserves.

(above) The characteristically misty cloud forest of Mindo, with a Bronze-winged Parrot Pionus chalcopterus, silhouetted in the centre of the frame. - Chris Watson

The set-up of these reserves has been enabled by the steady flow of keen nature tourists. Much as the tourism industry in southern Africa, and conservation resulting from flow-on effects, has benefitted from tourists seeking encounters with the "Big 5" (African Elephant, Black Rhinoceros, Cape Buffalo, Lion, and Leopard), tourists are now heading to Ecuador seeking Puma, Jaguar, Baird's and Mountain Tapir, Andean Condor, Three-toed Sloth and other iconic wildlife.  By giving native, and in some cases threatened, wildlife a commercial value, tourism has become an important catalyst for motivating local populations to shift from hunting, trapping, and selling wildlife, to protecting, studying, and breeding it. Valuing and protecting wildlife habitat then follows close behind.

The majority of tourists originate from the US where bird-watching is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. Miami is only a four hour flight from Quito, Ecuador's ramshackle, high-altitude capital.   Mainland Ecuador is one of few areas in the world that is classified as "mega-diverse", with a list of bird species exceeding 1600 species (the bird list for the whole of Australia, including island territories is around 900 species, but Ecuador is only about half the size of NSW!) For bird-watching tourists then, the appeal is obvious.

But funded though they are by ecotourism dollars brought in by keen amateur naturalists, most of these reserves also host year round scientific research, and are at the forefront of protecting Ecuador's mind-boggling diversity. Some reserves are run by NGOs like Fundacion Jocotoco, but many are privately owned.    

These properties are run by people who have a clear interest in the financial gains to be had by courting the lucrative US tourism market, but the people I met also glowed with an undeniable pride in their country's natural heritage, and an obvious passion for the conservation and study of the wildlife on "their patch". 

I spent the majority of my time around the small cloud-forest village of Mindo, about a 1.5 hour drive down to mercifully lower altitudes from Quito. Rather than the fairly sparse vegetation found on the higher slopes of the Andes, equatorial cloud-forest is characterised by dense growth in the understorey, but is also cool due to the altitude, lush, and as the name suggests, misty. This is in contrast to true rainforest which occurs at lower altitudes, and is more steamy, hotter, with taller trees creating a denser canopy, and consequently more open understorey. 

The village of Mindo is festooned with homemade signs advertising eco-lodges, birders' hostels, and wildlife guiding services for visitors. The diversity of the place is immediately apparent - one of my first encounters was with a very noisy and persistent insect that buzzed about my face. Like any good Centralian accustomed to waving flies away, I instinctively swished my hand at what turned out to be an Andean Emerald - a jewel of sorts, but not the mineral kind. This was my first encounter with a hummingbird. The scientific name of this species, just one of over 120 hummingbirds found around Ecuador is Amazilia franciae. These tiny birds are commonplace, and small changes in altitude bring you into contact with a dazzling variety of them, each with more stunning plumage, and a more arresting name, than the last: Violet-tailed Sylph, Green-crowned Woodnymph, Empress Brilliant, Booted Racket-tail, Ruby-gorgeted Sunangel. Isn't it wonderful to know that you share the planet with something called a Ruby-gorgeted Sunangel?

(above) Smaller than a Zebra Finch; one of the many species of hummingbird to be found in Ecuador, this is the Andean Emerald Amazilia franciae, and those wings are going at 30 to 50 beats per second! - Chris Watson

The local populace has taken to ecotourism, and conservation on private land, with gusto. Local farmers and land-owners now regularly invite scientists and survey teams onto their properties to conduct field work in the hope that they may discover difficult to find, and lucrative, lekking sites for big-ticket species like Andean Cock of the Rock, Long-wattled Umbrella Bird, or the astonishing Club-winged Mannakin. Local farmers know many of the salient bird calls and stay in regular contact with birding lodges and tour guides to inform them of the birds heard around their properties.

There is the famous story of a local man named Angel Paz - now world-famous in birding circles. He discovered an active lek of the Andean Cock of the Rock and started guiding tourists there to see these extraordinary birds. Along the way he would also be able to introduce people to Maria, a curious Giant Antpitta Grallaria gigantea, that Angel could mimic accurately enough to encourage out onto the path to display for his guests. This is a species which is virtually unapproachable elsewhere, and seen very rarely outside of Angel's farm. Angel now guides people through his private reserve most days, and has achieved world acclaim for the diversity and rarity of the birds found on his patch. In Mindo, stories like this abound. Various lodges have erected hummingbird feeders supplied with fresh sugar-water every day. This lodge has now become the spot to see this hummingbird species every day. That lodge is the only one that attracts that species. It's competitive, it's exciting, but it's also educational and it all works to the ultimate benefit of wildlife and wildlife habitat.

(above) Rock Star! A male Andean Cock of the Rock Rupicola peruvianus. This is one of the many sought after attractions of the Mindo region. The males gather in leks, where several birds display noisily and compete for the opportunity to mate.  The leks are in thick vegetation, on steep slopes, and the birds are easily disturbed. They only display for a brief period each morning and afternoon when the light is still very dim, but their intense plumage glows nonetheless. To find one without local knowledge and assistance would be tantamount to impossible - at this lek one steamy morning, I saw five! This was all thanks to my exceptional guide Angel Zambrano, and the farmer whose property this lek was on. He had heard the birds doing their distinctive and raucous display calls, noted the position, fenced it off from his dogs, and informed Angel in advance. - Chris Watson

I suppose the lasting impression that I took away with me, was of a conservation movement that is being driven very much by private land-owners - just like Land for Wildlife. It's the individual land-owners, often in direct competition with their neighbours for tourism business, who are driving the pursuit of greater protection for wildlife habitat. This has created an interest in conservation not just on their own properties, but in neighbouring areas as well, as owners attempt to link in with habitat corridors to encourage new species onto their land, and maintain the existing biodiversity.

When you have a community which relies on wildlife habitat conservation rather than exploitation for its economic well-being, surely only good things are ahead. 


Life on Air 
by Sir David Attenborough

I couldn't very well travel to the Galapagos Archipelago and not read this recently published autobiography by the man who, arguably more than Charles Darwin, has put the archipelago on the map.

This account of his life is surprisingly funny. Several times on the plane over, my travelling companion was compelled to enquire, "what's so funny?" I hadn't realised Sir David was such a wit. This book is aptly titled, commencing with his work with the BBC in a variety of minor roles, culminating with the magnificent achievement of his comprehensive audio-visual survey of all forms of life on Earth.

Field Guide to the Birds of Australia - Smart-Phone Application
by Graham Pizzey & Frank Knight

Though they have had many collaborators over the years, the flagship of Australian bird field guides is still referred to as "Pizzey & Knight". The book is routinely voted as the best in a strong field of Australian bird guides, and now the book is taking the plunge and becoming only the second Australian field guide to release a smart-phone application for iPhone and Android devices (the Michael Morcombe field guide was the first). 

Due for release in the next couple of months, this app boasts the superior artwork expected, recordings of calls for most species, and adds to the standard features of most field guide apps by including a site guide as well. So this app will not just help you to identify birds as you find them, but for those so inclined, it will help you locate them in the first place.

The full details of the app, including release date updates can be found at the following link: http://www.gibbonmm.com.au/tour/PKBA_PC.aspx


The story of Angel Paz and Maria the Giant Antpitta...

Watch a video of Chris' Perentie encounter -

The website of Fundacion Jocotoco; looking after the mega-diversity of Ecuador - 

Some further thoughts about owls and rodent poison...

Problem with pests? There's an app for that.....

Community Events...

Wednesday 8th of May at 7pm
Alice Springs Field Naturalists Club
Meet at the higher learning lecture theatre at CDU Alice Springs campus.

Wed 1 May, 7:30pm
Australian Plant Society
A not to be missed meeting at  Olive Pink Botanic Garden where Peter Latz will pose the question: Are introduced plants and animals changing the face of arid Australia?

Thanks folks! That's all for this month. Keep your contributions and feedback coming in, and we'll see you around the traps.

Chris, Matt, Jesse, and Bill.

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