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Land for Wildlife

Garden for Wildlife

 

Central Australia


Newsletter July 2015


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Hakea grammatophylla brightens the ridges of the Chewings Range with splashes of bright pink. Photo: Jen Kreusser.

June rainfall (and some hail in rural areas) brings anticipation for a surprise set of unique wildflowers that  require cool temperatures and moisture for germination. Let us know what has started to sprout at your place!

June and July continue to provide the perfect weather for getting on top of those pesky weeds and enjoying those natural areas among your gardens and further afield.

Thank you to those committed and enthusiastic community members, keen to eradicate feral spotted turtle-doves (see article below). We had a reasonable turn out for our recent trap building workshop in June and expressions of interest for the next! If you didn't get to the Alice Show to put the number of spotted turtle-doves seen at your place on our map, we'd love to hear from you via e-mail. 

This months newsletter includes a feature article from Jenna Ridley (Honours candidate) about her studies on the vulnerable Great desert skink 'tjakura' (Liopholis kintorei). We also share the success of our spotted turtle-dove workshop and more from our members and friends!
 

Upcoming Events:

  • Visit to Alcoota fossil beds: July 11th-12th. Contact Lee at Field Nats for more information before July 4th (ryall.lee8@gmail.com).
  • Junior Ranger Program: begins July 21st with NT Parks and Wildlife - Contact Susie Pendle to enrol and for more information.
  • DesertSmart EcofairAugust 7-9th @ Olive Pink Botanic Gardens.

See you about the traps!
Cheers,


Jen, Tim and Bill
LfW and GfW team
lfw@lowecol.com.au
 

The vulnerable and social Great Desert Skink, tjakura (Liopholis kintorei)
by (Honours candidate) Jenna Ridley


Threatened species research is essential to the scientific world and conservation managers to combat the threats of wildfire, fire regimes, introduced predators and urban expansion. In arid environments, a number of species are affected by wide scale wildfire, and the introduction of predators such as the fox and cat, which are well equipped to hunt and capture small mammal and reptile species. The combination of these two threats are thought to significantly influence the threatened reptile Liopholis kintorei, commonly known as the great desert skink or Tjakura (at Uluru).  The great desert skink inhabits the Western deserts region of Australia.

In Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park where I conducted my research, the skink is a priority species and is of primary focus for park managers due to the evidence of the skinks population decline in the park. The relationship between fires, prescribed and managed, and the impact on the great desert skink was the focal point of my research. I used searches, vegetation and soil surveys and camera monitoring to investigate the skinks presence and activities in areas with differing vegetation cover and fire histories.

Great desert skinks are communal multi-tunnelled burrowing species and their burrows are the focal point for studies on the species. Burrows are occupied by a ‘family’ of skinks and each entrance is utilised by multiple skinks. A common external latrine is used by each of the individuals in a burrow. During camera monitoring over this past summer it was not unusual to see multiple individuals from different age classes utilising the burrow system. Often sub-adults were seen together outside of the burrow.  However, burrows seemed not to be solely occupied or utilised by great desert skinks. Predators such as woma pythons and sand goannas are known native predators of skinks, and were observed spending time within a burrow, sometimes for hours at a time.

A Woma python (Aspidites ramsayi), left, and a Sand Goanna (Varanus gouldii), right, are captured on remote cameras outside of burrows. Credit: Jenna Ridley.

It is expected that skinks may have been preyed upon by these predators, or that predators were utilising burrows for an alternative use such as temperature regulation or shelter, as I found that skink activity did not alter in response to predators visiting the burrows. This indicates that predation may not significantly affect the skinks. I originally wanted to determine differences in vegetation cover to see if skinks and their predators were more vulnerable in more open environments. I found skinks did select burrow locations with higher vegetation cover than the surrounding landscape, which may also be due to the shrub species commonly associated with the burrows. The burrow site is essential to this species, a large degree of maintenance is required to ensure burrow stability, with soil at burrow sites more stable than the surrounding landscape. There was limited variability in activity between burrows in high and low vegetation cover. However, skinks were found to spend more time out of entrances and outside the burrow when vegetation was higher. This may be a behaviour utilised to reduce exposure to perceived predation risk. Although, skinks spent long periods of time within the entrances at the surface in open habitats and rarely exited, which may indicate there is another reason, likely temperature regulation or food needs.

Remote camera captures Great Desert Skink (Liopholis kintorei) movement during the middle of the day
 (12.40pm). Credit: Jenna Ridley.

Great desert skinks are a fascinating species, and I have found that they are able to tolerate a range of vegetation and are able to exhibit differing behaviours in response to certain factors. However, there remains a lack of information on the skinks food abundance and foraging strategies, which must be explored before explaining behaviours and location choice as a specific response to predation. I could not determine an answer to the skinks preferable fire regime, or their requirements for optimal habitats, and therefore more exploration needs to be undertaken to determine the most appropriate management of the species and fire in the areas it inhabits. 

Spotted turtle-dove trap making workshop


Thank you to those who came along to spark energy toward this important initiative. As many of our readers are already aware, invasive spotted turtle-doves (Streptopelia chinensis), are on the increase around town. Proactive action includes trapping the feral birds from your place. Spotted turtle-doves are aggressive towards other birds, they can dominate roosting and feeding sites and enjoy nesting in palms and introduced trees such as raintrees. They are attracted to dog food scraps and chicken coup scraps, so minimising these around your yard will also help with management. 

The trap making workshop held in June was a lovely afternoon at Olive Pink Botanic Gardens. Experienced and passionate long-term feral dove trappers shared their stories and enthusiasm with those keen to get on board. Eradication of spotted turtle-doves is achievable from a widespread effort across Alice Springs, which is possible if lots of individuals undertake trapping in their backyards! Thanks for sharing our message and keeping on with your fantastic trapping efforts.

Instigate gentle conversations with your neighbours and friends about:
  • avoid leaving out chicken pellets, dog food, or other food scraps in your yard/verandah
  • consider removing introduced trees  (palms, white cedar, pepper tree, himalayan raintree)  and replacing with native alternatives
  • build a spotted turtle-dove trap, get in touch with us for more info and how to trap ethically.


Jim, Dave and Peter, share stories about how to effectively trap spotted turtle-doves.


Community members, Ben and Rob, building traps to use at Araluen and at The Gap.


Sue and John building a trap that has already caught six spotted turtle-doves. Well done!
 

Features of traps:

  • small opening in the top or side to fit your hand for bird removal 
  • small funnel with ground exposed at the entrance to encourage doves to walk in (apparently they don't like walking on chicken wire or mesh).

Reminder about trapping ethically:

  • It is ultimately your responsibility to trap ethically 
  • Include food and water inside the trap
  • plan to trap during times when you can check it regularly
  • release any native species as soon as possible
  • When trapping during warm weather, ensure the trap is in shade
  • Ensure trapped feral birds are humanely enuthanized and animals are not placed under any stress (we recommend dropping off at the Alice Springs Desert Park).
Use chicken feed or large wild bird seed as the bait. Scatter food around the trap, inside and along the funnel entrance.

If you weren't able to make it to the workshop and are interested in building your own trap out of simple materials that you are likely to have in your shed - get in touch and we can give you designs and more information (lfw@lowecol.com.au).


 The simple design for a feral spotted turtle-dove trap includes a funnel entrance and an access door. Image: NT Government.



There are many trap designs possible,
this one has been constructed by a handy person and is used near a chicken coup with great success! Capturing over 400 spotted turtle-doves last summer -  congratulations! Photo: Amy Critchlow.

New Land for Wildlife members!


New members of the Land for Wildlife program, Tim and Jannah, are enthusiastic about nature conservation on their 2.2ha property that backs onto a ridge, just south of the Heavitree Range. The slope contains remnant vegetation of Witchetty bush (Acacia kempeana), Rock Fuchsia (Eremophila freelingii), Limestone Cassia (S. artemisioides ssp. oligophylla) and Grey Cassia  (S.artemisioides nothossp.sturtii).


A remnant vegetation community on the rocky slopes of a new Land for Wildlife property.

Other low lying areas of the property have previously been used to run horses and are impacted somewhat, though the owners plan to revegetate and are keen to encourage a dry-rainforest vine thicket in drainage channel.


Drainage channel and site for experimental 'dry rainforest', with Eucalyptus coolabah.
Photos from our members and friends...



This Southern whiteface (Aphelocephala leucopsis) was spotted amongst open woodland and grasses at Narwietooma Station, 140Kms NW of Alice Springs. Photo: Chris Connellan (our newest LfW member ).

This male Flock pigeon (Phaps histrionica) is an uncommon visitor to Narwietooma station - all on his own! Photo: Chris Connellan.
Resources?
  • CSIRO have updated a resource for identifying Australian moths!

Can you figure out which genus this moth probably belongs to? Have a go...

 

We expect a rainstorm of emails (lfw@lowecol.com.au)! We will let you know which genus we think it belongs to in the next newsletter.

Related articles...


Woma python captured on remote camera at Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park as part of a Great Desert Skink study: link to article on ABC online.

Land for Wildlife begins conversations with the community about domestic cats in Alice Springs. Link to article on ABC online

Photo: ABC News online, Jen Kreusser with our new member of the cat awareness campaign.
Thanks for reading folks.

Special thank you to our six Garden for Wildlife and Land for Wildlife members that were part of our focused cat (remote camera) monitoring project over May and June. We are still collating data and will share a summary in the next newsletter!

We really love it when our members and friends let us know what is happening at their place. Send us an email with some photos and keep us in the loop.

Happy winter!

Jen, Tim & Bill.
July 2015
(lfw@lowecol.com.au)
 
Copyright © 2015 Low Ecological Services, All rights reserved.


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