G'day LFWers and GFWers, and welcome to 2013 - it's shaping up to be a hot one. One of our newest members, the Ayers Rock Resort at Yulara, has smashed records by recording ten consecutive days over 44 degrees. We hope that your block or garden has fared well in the heat so far this summer. Those with predominantly natural gardens will now be reaping the benefits of native plantings. If you've managed to remove invasive species like Buffel Grass and kept plantings to locally native species, then your garden should be using much less water to get through these hot, dry periods.
In this edition we have a quick chat about the significant trees of Central Australia, and there is a special photographic presentation from frequent contributor Dave Price. Also, we investigate the presence of another colonial species that seems to be becoming established around Alice Springs - the Rainbow Lorikeet.
Lastly, a reminder that the Irrante photography competition is now in full swing and you should be on the look-out for nature photo opportunities wherever you go. We have made a slight revision to the conditions of the competition to allow us to judge and present the awards at the Alice Springs Show in August, rather than at the end of 2013 as we had proposed. Keep sending in your pictures, and the entries will now close the week before the show begins.
Emus on Bullen Road?!? Having just had their position on the NT threatened species list downgraded (from Vulnerable to Near Threatened), it was exciting to receive a report just before Christmas last year of an adult Emu on Bullen Road, Ilparpa, with five youngsters in tow. The last we heard of this species so close to Alice Springs was when the Field Nats discovered a set of tracks across the surface of Conlon's Lagoon in 2011. Since then the nearest reports have been down south towards Erldunda and Angas Downs or north of Alice Springs in the Sandover and Tanami regions. Keep your eyes peeled folks!
Our TNRM funded rabbit project has now wrapped up. This does not mean that we are no longer interested in your rabbit control stories. Rabbits are still a significant problem for Central Australian land managers and are one of the biggest obstacles to natural revegetation for many properties. Chris will head to Melbourne at the end of February for a workshop focusing on community-based solutions to invasive species management problems. This workshop is being organised by the Invasive Animals CRC, the Tasmanian Government, and The Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law at the University of New England. If there are any members or friends out there with stories about invasive species management that Chris can take to Melbourne and share at the workshop then please drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and it will help to keep the Central Australian perspective in the conversation.
Further rabbit control inspiration, if it is needed, from Prof. Brian Cooke.
There's been another interesting sighting, this time right in the suburbs. Residents in Cowle Street had a visit from a one metre Perentie which wandered down the street and headed on into Boucaut Street to an uncertain future. This is a species which is seldom reported this far into the suburbs but they can make their way up watercourses into developed areas, and perhaps this individual was attracted by the smell of water.
How has your garden fared in the heat of recent weeks? Have you got any tips for fellow gardeners on how to keep your garden thriving through a hot summer while still being waterwise? We'd love to hear your stories and share them with the Garden for Wildlife community, so get in touch and let us know about your triumphs and tragedies in desert gardening during a heatwave.
Articles and Contributions...
Twas The Night(jar) Before Christmas?
by Chris Watson
(above) The Spotted Nightjar in flight after flushing from its nest - Dave Price
Can you hear that grinding noise? That's Clement Clarke Moore, author of the titular ditty I have so grievously corrupted for a cheap headline gag, spinning in his grave. If we could just hook him up to a generator, a clean power source for Alice Springs might be guaranteed for centuries to come. I'm sorry but I couldn't resist. But enough of this nonsense.
These stunning images have been provided by LFW supporter Dave Price. Dave has come through with yet another cracking set of photographs taken during his pre-Christmas Tanami travels. The Spotted Nightjar Eurostopodus argus, is a bird which is often glimpsed while driving at night or seen as roadkill, but you'd be very lucky to get a decent look at one in the daylight. Superbly cryptic and capable of preternatural stillness, it is a ground nesting species which will remain in place until the very last minute before flushing from underfoot rather than give away its hiding place.
(above) Nesting Spotted Nightjar - Dave Price. The "spotted" part of the name refers to the prominent white spots visible near the extremity of each wing in flight, as visible in the image at the top of this story.
(above) The single egg in the "nest". The adult returned to continue incubating after Dave retreated.
Nightjars don't really make a nest at all but lay their egg directly onto the leaf litter or earth beneath a shrub. Shortly after hatching the chick is covered with a pink down which, despite the contrast with its parents' intricately patterned plumage, nonetheless blends in very well against outback soils.
(above) A tiny nightjar chick, just days old, shelters beneath a Witchetty Bush from the intense Tanami heat - Chris Watson
(above) The nightjar chick covered with its pinkish down - Chris Watson
(above) An immature Spotted Nightjar, still exhibiting the last of the pinkish hues in its plumage before moulting into its adult plumage. This bird was discovered roosting on an Alice Springs driveway - Chris Watson.
The nightjar that Dave encountered had a single unhatched egg. A couple of months back I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a Spotted Nightjar that had a newly hatched chick. I've included the pictures of this little fellow as well, and the ability of this tiny creature, the size of a golfball, to survive under our searing desert sun with little or no shelter except the dappled shade of a straggly acacia, is truly impressive.
(above) Adult Spotted Nightjar - Dave Price
We support ethical wildlife photography and Dave was very careful not to disturb this nesting bird (after the initial accidental flushing of course). It is almost impossible for anyone to notice a nesting nightjar on the ground before it flushes, but after the bird had left the nest, Dave moved away to allow it to return and continue incubating its egg. He flagged a nearby tree as a guide and returned later to sneak up and obtain the images of the adult bird from a sensible distance.
Thanks again Dave and congratulations on these extraordinary images.
What's So Significant About Trees?
by Chris Watson
Though I now swelter in the comfortable dry heat of Alice Springs, it was just a few days ago that I was paddling down the cool, dark waters of the Pieman River making its way through the impenetrable and serene forests of the region known as The Tarkine in western Tasmania. It's a difficult place to talk about trees. In fact, in most parts of Tasmania, talk of any trees, can so quickly become heated and intensely political, that you soon learn it's a topic best avoided. The open animosity between the more vocal elements of the forestry industry and conservationists is quite confronting when you first set foot in the island State. With the approval of a large-scale mining operation in The Tarkine recently announced, the relationship has only become more strained. These days, if you're not equipped with all of the salient facts and possessed of a well-researched and defensible position, trees, in Tasmania anyway, are added to the famous list of taboo topics that should just never be raised in the pub - for everyone's sake.
(above) End of an icon; the fragmented remains of the two Ghost Gums featured in a well-known painting by Albert Namatjira. - Chris Watson
Having grown accustomed to this island-wide injunction, it was jarring to return home to news of the loss of two of the most iconic trees in the country. This is what remains of Albert Namatjira's famous "Twin Ghosts" on Larapinta Drive just west of Bullen Drive, after a fire was lit that police are treating as suspicious. While the loss of these trees is a genuine tragedy, the Central Australian Ghost Gum Corymbia apparerinja, is a comparatively short-lived species of arid-zone tree. In its natural habitat a lifespan of 100-150 years is probably a generous estimate of the outer limits of its longevity. It is one of the more fire-resistant species in The Centre, but with the steady march of Buffel Grass across the landscape, these trees are increasingly threatened by the 'death of a thousand cuts' resulting from frequent fires preventing epicormic regrowth that normally occurs following fires.
Even allowing for the fact that the fires which destroyed the "Twin Ghosts" may have been deliberately lit, the trees' continued survival was already under a shadow, in the absence of any maintenance or protection, ie; Buffel Grass control. Sadly, it sounds like this is precisely the sort of attention that the trees were about to get, with their heritage listing under NT law only a few weeks away at the time of their destruction (see linked news article in the Webwatch section below).
This leads quite naturally to a discussion about the many other significant trees around The Centre which are similarly threatened by the encroachment of Buffel Grass, development, water stress, or simple negligence. The National Trust (NT) is currently in the process of reviewing the management of the Register of Significant Trees (RST), and Land for Wildlife is taking the initiative of revising the existing register for the Alice Springs region so that we can be ready to contribute when a Territory-wide document is ready for production.
The Register of Significant Trees of Alice Springs is many years out of date, is quite incomplete, contains many nominations that are no longer living, and exists only as three hefty lever-arch folders; there is no digital document. The first step of rejuvenating this document has already been completed; condensing what reliable information remains in the folders and entering it into an Excel spreadsheet. The next step is well on the way. We will shortly be sitting down with some of the best botanical, historical, ecological, and anthropological minds in The Centre, to nut out where to take the register from here. There are many worthy specimens across Alice Springs that never featured in the original register, or were featured but were poorly documented. For example, many of the big old River Red Gums in both the Todd River and the Araluen Precinct, the latter dating from historic floods, were not included. While the Register of Significant Trees affords no explicit legal protection for the specimens included in it YET, the inclusion of significant specimens in the register may be the first step towards heritage listing. Who knows? Perhaps one day the register will attain a legal status through which it can offer legal protection to the extraordinary trees in our landscape.
(above) The National Trust (SA)'s Significant Tree No. 239 - Cazneaux's Tree. It may have seen better days, but the "Spirit of Endurance", endures still. This is an example of a tree that was nominated to the register due to its outstanding aesthetic beauty, but which could just as easily be listed for its iconic location at the foot of Wilpena Pound in the heart of the Flinders Ranges, or for its historical significance. The majesty of the tree was captured by Harold Cazneaux in 1937 in his photograph entitled, "Spirit of Endurance", which was exhibited to national, and eventually international, acclaim. - Chris Watson
We are currently seeking funding to enable us to get out and photograph trees that are almost unrecognisable from their old photos in the current register, and to start measuring, mapping, and photographing all of the new nominations that have been suggested, and will hopefully continue to be suggested in coming years.
If you have any ideas you'd like to contribute to the advisory committee's discussions, including suggestions for avenues of possible funding, we'd welcome any input from our many members and friends, and of course new nominations will be just as welcome.
There are many criteria by which the various branches of the National Trust scrutinise new nominations for significant trees, but the ones currently in use within the NT, are as follows (keeping in mind that these are liable to change):
1. Aesthetic - any tree of outstanding aesthetic quality.
2. Size - any tree outstanding for its large height, trunk circumference or canopy spread.
3. Age - any tree that is particularly old or venerable.
4. Historical - any tree commemorating or associated with an important historical event.
5. Cultural - any tree associated with a well-known public figure or ethnic group.
6. Unique Location - any tree which occurs in a unique location or situation or provides an important contribution to the landscape, including remnant native vegetation, important landmarks, and trees which form part of an historic garden, park, or town.
7. Rare - any tree that is of a rare species or variety of very localised distribution.
8. Horticultural Value - any tree which is of horticultural or genetic value and which could be an important source of propagating stock.
9. Physical Features - any tree which exhibits a curious growth form or physical feature including unusually pruned forms.
10. Group - any group or avenue of trees conforming to any of the above criteria.
11. Habitat - any tree or group of trees making an important contribution as a habitat for particular flora and fauna.
NB: Significant trees may be native, exotic, natural, or cultivated.
Obviously, a few of these categories are speculative at best. I don't remember seeing any truly significant efforts at topiary in my travels around Alice Springs, but perhaps there is an opportunity there for an artistic soul.
Perhaps with a renewed focus on the outstanding trees around us, further tragedies like the loss of the "Twin Ghosts" can be avoided. At the very least, perhaps we can protect our trees better, and allow them to live for as long as possible, and have accurate documentary evidence of their existence once they have gone. We look forward to your participation.
The Rainbow Connection
by Chris Watson
"If you want the rainbow, you've gotta have the rain."
This tidy little sound bite, which has been attributed to Dolly Parton, is particularly interesting in light of recent events in Alice Springs. Ours is a town which gets comparatively little rain, but we certainly have an increasing number of rainbows - Rainbow Lorikeets that is.
(above) Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus haematodus - Chris Watson.
The source of these birds is not entirely clear, and may never be, but what is certain, is that they are making preparations to stay. Several pairs of these birds have been reported breeding in the suburb of Gillen. They are now regularly reported in small flocks up to 6 or 7 birds around Eastside, Larapinta, and right in the centre of town. Their distinctive, piercing calls in flight are difficult to mistake. The flowering gums near the Flying Doctors, the Lemon-scented Gums within the old Melanka complex, on the council lawns, and right up Todd Mall, all seem to be strong attractants.
To our near north (well, Mataranka) the Rainbow Lorikeet is found within its natural range as the sub-species rubritorquis (also known as the Red-collared Lorikeet), which was, until recently, treated by some taxonomists as a separate species. It's not unfeasible that some of these energetic, fast-flying birds managed to make the journey south under their own steam. We've had some wet years in which blooming trees and and open water would have enabled this journey. None of the birds that I have seen, or had reported to me, have the distinctive red/orange collar of this northern bird though.
So perhaps these birds have flown up from the well-established Adelaide population. This is certainly not impossible, but I think, considering the much larger distances involved and the drier country between here and Adelaide, very unlikely. The only real likelihood left then is that these birds have come from a private collection, either deliberately or accidentally liberated. This is a common enough occurrence; attentive birders around Alice Springs each have their anecdotes of blue Princess Parrots, Peach-faced Lovebirds, or large blue Budgerigars seen around town from time to time. In most instances these birds will either find their way home, or become part of the local food chain courtesy of our many resident falcons, goshawks, and sparrowhawks. Many of these cases involve birds which are not equipped to deal with our climate (or predators), and they are often single escapes so there is little chance of them finding a mate and reproducing.
(above) The Peach-faced Lovebird, a native of Namibia in south-western Africa. This is a common aviary escapee around Alice Springs and may find the climate comparable to its country of origin. - Chris Watson
The Rainbow Lorikeets, however, are here and they're breeding. This is a species which, up until the early 1980s, was mostly concentrated on coastal regions from about Byron Bay northwards, with a large gap separating north Queensland populations from those in the Top End. Small, isolated populations south of Sydney and dotted along the coast as far as Adelaide were precisely that; small, isolated, and only occasionally reported. In the cities and coastal towns south of their Queensland range, the species has had spectacular success in the last thirty years, colonising many urbanised areas, thanks to the plentiful supply of artificially watered native, and exotic, flowering shrubs and trees. As a child growing up in suburban Melbourne in the late 1970s and 1980s, the Rainbow Lorikeet was unknown to me. It was an exotic species which was always one of the treats of going to visit relatives on The Gold Coast. Now,visit most any suburb or park in metropolitan Melbourne or Adelaide, and it will not be long before you identify that piercing shriek or see the flash of that brashly coloured plumage across the sky. In many areas they congregate in such numbers that the noise can be deafening.
But can this new colonising species to Alice Springs be compared in the same breath to our feral doves? Both the familiar Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis, which is now ubiquitous in most parts of town, and formerly the Barbary (or African Collared) Dove Streptopelia roseogrisea, which was successfully eradicated (from Alice Springs at least) around 2004? These birds have been released in many parts of Australia and have proven very successful colonisers in almost all cases. The Spotted Dove was first introduced to Melbourne in the 1860s and there was a separate release of the species in Cairns in the 1940s. These populations eventually joined up, and they can now be found in abundance through an almost unbroken chain right down the eastern coast, across southern Victoria and well to the west and north of Adelaide where their spread has only been thwarted by the deserts north of the Flinders Ranges and the Nullabor Plain to the west. The Perth population was established in 1898, and has remained there ever since, where it is joined by a population of the Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis, remaining from a release of that species in the same year. These feral populations in the south-west are naturally hemmed in by the dry country surrounding the western capital, but have still managed to spread as far inland as Kalgoorlie and as far to the east as Esperance, with occasional reports as far to the north as Carnarvon. In Alice Springs, the population of Spotted Doves has been steadily increasing since the late 1980s, and despite a close brush with eradication in 2004, they have managed to hold on, and now may be more abundant than ever.
(above) A familiar feral, the Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis, at Olive Pink Botanic Garden. - Chris Watson
Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife continue to encourage members and the wider community to get involved in the control of feral Spotted Doves, but can we advocate the same response to a burgeoning population of Rainbow Lorikeets? This is a question which is bound to divide opinion on a number of counts. Here are just a few of the arguments that I have heard on both sides, some specious and some with perhaps more substance;
- Rainbow Lorikeets are native, albeit not native to here. Have they not naturally spread to other areas where they were once unknown?
- Rainbow Lorikeets are stunningly beautiful. Surprisingly, this comes into a lot of peoples' reasoning when I've had this discussion, and it can be persuasive. If you've ever gotten off a plane at Heathrow to be confronted by flock after flock of feral pigeons and not much else, you'll appreciate the contrast when returning home and heading through an Australian carpark to the baudy screeches and whistles of a hundred preposterously coloured parrots.
- When Charles Darwin first started to formulate his ideas on the origin of species, it was crucially informed by the observation that similar kinds of animals are found distributed in groups across the continents in a way that marries perfectly well with our understanding of continental drift. What we would now term biogeography explains this distribution of similar animals elegantly, and what we see in cases like Rainbow Lorikeets or feral doves (or even rabbits and foxes for that matter) are simply accelerated instances of the infrequent events of species change that Darwin described as "rafting events"; the very, very, very, infrequent occurrence of an organism making its way to an otherwise genetically isolated area. Unless you consider humans to be outside of the process of evolution, a slippery slope if ever there was one, then human-assisted species change cannot be considered unnatural.
- Rainbow Lorikeets carry diseases, they aggressively dominate feeding and nesting sites, are classified as a major pest to agriculture in most areas they are found (including where they haven't been artificially introduced), they are considered a nuisance both for noise and the mess they cause in urban areas, and if you grow fruit in your yard - forget about it, Rainbow Lorikeets will ruin it all.
I have to admit, I'm in two minds. Rainbow Lorikeets are stunning birds. Perhaps there's even a chance that due to their highly aggressive nature and penchant for roosting in ornamental palms that they may have some impact on the feral Spotted Dove population. But ultimately, I think if the lorikeets are allowed to become established we will lose what diversity is left among the small honeyeaters and doves that still frequent suburban gardens around Alice Springs. The Rainbow Lorikeets will leave none but the most robust and aggressive species that are capable of withstanding their bullying.
For the final word, I'll leave it to zoologist Tamra Chapman. If you're interested in further reading on this topic, her paper published in 2005 about the impact of Rainbow Lorikeets in the south-west of the country paints a fairly negative picture of their impact. A PDF of her paper is available by clicking the first link below; the other links may provide some further food for thought.
A study on the impact of the Rainbow Lorikeet in south-western Australia.
...And a few counter-arguments here.
...And yet more discussion of the introduced vs natural dilemma.
We'd love to hear your opinion on this subject. Drop us a line and let us know your thoughts on the matter. In the meantime, keep trapping those doves, and if you happen to trap a Rainbow Lorikeet, perhaps it's best if you hand it to your favourite aviarist, rather than releasing it again!
Six Easy Pieces: Essential of Physics Explained by its Most Brilliant Teacher
by Richard Feynmann
If these are easy pieces then it's no wonder I wasn't drawn to take physics at university. Taken from his, now legendary, lecture series at Caltech from 1961 to 1963, these deceptively thin chapters are reputed to be the easiest of the series. Don't let that fool you though, there's still plenty about these bare-bones physics lectures that will challenge your imaginative capacity, but don't let that put you off either. Feynmann was famous for his ability to render the most recondite of subject matter, readable and recognisable to a lay audience.
Esoteric though some of them are, in his descriptions of the foundation principles of modern physics, there is true wonder to be found and a more thorough appreciation of nature and the world around us.
Penguin Books, retails for between $9 and $30, so best to shop around.
Among the Islands: Adventures in The Pacific
by Tim Flannery
Tim Flannery will already be familiar to many readers as Australia's beleaguered Climate Commissioner, if not for his many other written works. In his latest book, he takes us back to the earlier days of his career. When in the employ of the Australian Museum in Sydney, he set out to survey some of the most inaccessible islands of The Pacific in search of new mammal fauna, and discovered much else along the way.
He discovered and named many new species during these expeditions; imagine monkey-faced bats and gazelle-faced wallabies and you'll start to imagine the sort of unique wildlife that has evolved on some of these remote outposts. But it isn't just the animals that surprise and startle. The young naturalist encounters many of the human inhabitants of the region as well and is equally impressed by the diversity of their cultural customs and varied ways of living.
Penguin Books, retails for around $33.
Design for water
by Heather Kinkade-Lavario
This is a technical book, but clearly written, which describes innovative ways of collecting water from alternative sources, but with a focus on the efficient harvesting of rainwater. The pages feature all the designs, schematics, and lists of components required, and also has a list of references. There are case studies to demonstrate where the equipment has been successful in the past and to depict the assembly and operation of the equipment.
Crucially, for our purposes, the book also features a section on harvesting rainwater for wildlife.
CSIRO Publishing, retails for around $40