The Newsletter of Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife in Central Australia - October 2014
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cover pic - the warm weather has arrived and the Central Bearded Dragons are out and about. Chris Watson

G'day LFWers, GFWers, and friends everywhere.

Is it October already?!? We've been receiving more emails and contributions than we have space for lately, but it looks like we've managed to cram it all into one hefty newsletter.

We've got the wrap up from the last few months of chasing cats and foxes around The Centre, some short film clips from close to home, a truly extraordinary bird record from out west, exciting news about the legendary Night Parrot, more about feral doves, lots of upcoming events, a way to count penguins in the desert (seriously), and a very fat gecko.

Enjoy!


Our recent cat and fox trapping and monitoring project funded by TNRM has finally drawn to a close. The results have been collated and the camera traps checked. While we didn't catch as many as we'd hoped (just two cats and no foxes at all) it was a thoroughly worthwhile exercise that has increased our knowledge of both pest species locally.

Cats are naturally a bit more obvious in their behaviour and their tracks are more distinctive, even to an untrained eye. Differentiating fox tracks from the many dog tracks around town takes a bit more practice but the LFW coordinators have now had plenty of that! It seems that while feral cats are widespread, foxes are limited to just a couple of locations around town. We will be continuing to track them as best we can and keep you informed as this progresses.

While the formal part of the project is now over, business-as-usual at LFW will see the trapping continue as part of our normal trap-loan program. We will be staying in close touch with our members who keep us up-to-date with everything they are trapping. So far this year LFW and GFW members trapping privately on their own properties have removed 134.9kg of feral cats from the local area, surely relieving at least some of the predatory pressure on local fauna populations


above: Just one of the cats that the program removed from circulation

We'd like to offer sincere thanks to the good folks at TNRM who saw fit to fund this project. Feral predator control can often seem like a daunting and insurmountable problem, but if it is constantly relegated to the "too hard basket" then nothing will ever improve. The solutions are not clear at this stage, and perhaps complete eradication is not truly achievable just yet, but we shouldn't let this discourage us from doing all that we can to protect the special wildlife that is under threat all around us. 

And the feral cat cause has been getting plenty of attention both here and around the world. The destruction caused by feral cats has been highlighted in a number of recent news articles in a variety of media (all listed in our usual eco-links section below). With the Ecological Society of Australia holding its annual conference in Alice Springs soon, this topic is sure to get more of an airing as several speakers will be dealing with this topic (and other invasive species) directly.
John Young: Re-discovering the Night Parrot
7pm Sunday 5th October at Alice Springs Desert Park Cinema
Bookings essential: 8951 8788


pic: Many thanks to Steve Davidson for use of his painting of the ultimate desert conundrum - the Night Parrot.

Perhaps the greatest of outback mysteries is about to be unravelled right here in Alice Springs. The members of BirdLife Central Australia have achieved a real coup for Alice Springs in securing John Young as the official guest for the Red Centre Bird Festival (see upcoming events section).

John has become renowned since May 2013 as the man who has re-discovered, photographed, and filmed the desert's most infamous denizen: the Night Parrot. A bird of near-mythical reputation that has never been photographed once in the roughly 150 years since its description by scientists. There were only a few known sightings of the bird in the 20th Century despite naturalists collecting over 20 specimens in the late 1800s, and the bird having a distribution covering most of arid Australia.

A couple of dead specimens found by the road side within the last 20 years provided  the only hope that the bird persisted in small numbers in a few remote outback locations.

John has categorically allayed everyone's fears by not only finding the bird, but documenting it with hundreds of high resolution photographs, a few seconds of intriguing video footage, and most thrilling of all: recordings of the bird's call. A call that can only have been heard by very few people alive today.

John will be presenting a full one hour lecture on his long road to success in finding this most elusive of species. He will show us some of his photographs, play a short clip of the video that he managed to capture, and take questions at the end of his presentation. This is a show that John has been giving in a few locations down the east coast but this is the first time that John will be giving the lecture within the known range of the bird in question. It promises to be a thrilling evening.

He will also have limited edition prints available for sale, of his extraordinary and historic images of the bird.

Tickets are selling fast so bookings are essential:
$30 pre-sale or $35 at the door.


 
Just what have you been feeding your geckoes Dave?


above: Dave Price's chubby gecko

Regular contributor Dave Price has kindly sent in another picture of one of his wildlife encounters. He was having trouble identifying this gecko. This is not surprising as many professional ecologists sometimes have difficulty identifying some gecko species in the field.

Senior consultant at Low Ecological Services, Bill Low, was able to help put the question to rest though. Bill had the following to say about Dave's very chunky lizard, identifying it as a...

"...Purplish Dtella, Gehyra purpurascens. This species used to be lumped into the Variegated Dtella (Gecko) complex, Gehyra variegatus, but your nose-on photo clearly shows the rostral (nose) scale is twice as wide as it is high and because it also has fewer than 10 peri-anal pores (not visible on the photo above) it is a Purplish Dtella. The ranges of the two species interdigitate with the Purplish Dtella being in the west part of arid central Australia and suggesting they are derivatives from the same parent species.

 
The fat tail is for fat storage and I thought at first the peculiar tail shape was because it is regrowing a new tail, but the rolled edge is apparently normal on the species but only shows up well on very fat animals. You're obviously not exercising your geckos enough; they need to chase their food, not have it flown in by lights which attract moths!" 

Interesting stuff. Thank you Dave and thank you Bill.
Spotted Doves - keep on trapping folks!


above: the feral Spotted Dove; a pretty problem. Chris Watson

Are you one of our dedicated dove-trapping legends? If not, would you like to be?

The feral Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis, is the only feral bird species that Alice Springs has to contend with and at the moment we are losing the fight. 

They're noisy, they make a lot of mess, they bully native species out of good nesting sites and roosting habitat, and they clog up your gutters and down pipes with their nests.

The birds you trap get taken out to the Alice Springs Desert Park for humane euthanasia and become part of the diet for all the hungry animals out at the park. So you're not only cleaning up the town but helping to keep the desert park animals healthy and happy.

Shortly we'll be putting out information for The Big Desert Dove Count. As part of our control efforts we need to establish how the population of feral doves is going. It'll be a one day effort coordinated across the town that everyone can help with.

In the meantime, if you would like to start trapping simply drop us a line at lfw@lowecol.com.au or call the office on 89 555 222, and we can set you up with simple plans to build your own trap from cheap and easily available materials - chicken wire and some gutter guard. If you're already trapping... well KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! And keep sending us your catch numbers so we can add them to the database. 

Who knows? Keep up the trapping and the NT News might make you famous!

http://m.ntnews.com.au/news/centralian-advocate/ferals-in-peril-as-alice-springs-man-cooks-up-tasty-turtle-dove-treats/story-fnk4wgm8-1227070772398

 
From the bookshelf...



Return of the Phasmid
by Rick Wilkinson

The story of the Lord Howe Stick Insect Dryococelus australis, is the stuff of classic natural history. The species was thought extinct for many decades. A team visiting the spectacular Ball's Pyramid that the insects call home in 1964, found only a single dead specimen. It wasn't until 2001 when David Priddel and Nicholas Carlile scaled the precipitous rock with ranger Dean Hiscox that the last remaining live population, just 24 animals, was found.

The species is still critically endangered but the future is looking better now with Melbourne Zoo leading a very successful captive breeding program which has now bred over 9000 of the insects.



Mosquito
by Richard Jones

This is another in Reaktion Books' stunning "Animal" range. Author Richard Jones takes us through the history, the literature and the science on perhaps our least favourite insect on the planet. Millions still contract malaria and the numerous other diseases carried by mosquitoes every year; 700000 still die annually from malaria alone. In 2014 they are still arguably, "the most dangerous animal in the world".

Jones illuminates the daily life and physiology of the mosquito with such passion that if you'll pardon the pun, it becomes infectious.  An animal so annoying but yet intricately enmeshed in human life to an extent that there is room enough in this book for as much history as science.

A fascinating and surprising read.


What have you been reading?
We'd love to feature more reviews from members and friends in this section. Have you read some good wildlife books lately? Maybe you have a favourite smartphone app relating to your natural history interests?

Put it all down in an email, and we'd love to include your input in future newsletters. 

 
Peter Latz helping his desert come back

The ABC Open project has had some Centralian input recently from local videographer Fiona Walsh. Titled "Helping My Desert Come Back", it features local botanist and all-round desert eco-sage Peter Latz and his battle with the Buffel. The full video can be viewed, entirely free, at the following link: 

https://open.abc.net.au/posts/to-see-the-land-healthy-and-happy-makes-me-feel-healthy-an-39ww0xh

Fiona then has more input with David Dixon on another Centralian video, "On The Verge of Success". This clip is sure to be close to many GFWers' hearts. View it at the following link:

https://open.abc.net.au/openregions/nt-central-australia-61ZR7Qe/posts/the-verge-of-success-59py8vu
 
A little finch a long way from home
by Chris Watson


above: Marg Friedel's picture of the adventurous Gouldian Finch among the Zebra Finches.

Scientist, Garden for Wildlife member and stalwart of the feral dove-trapping campaign Marg Friedel has sent us a photo that has created a bit of a stir nationally.

During a recent expedition out through the western desert Marg came upon this rock hole, somewhere over the WA border, with plenty of drinking Zebra Finches and Painted Finches. Darting in amongst them was a similar-sized drab green bird. Marg was quick enough to get this photograph which is what has been creating all the interest.

This is a juvenile Gouldian Finch. A well-known bird from the tropical savannas a long way to our north. In fact the next nearest record of this species to Marg's sighting is at least 300km to the north and even that bird would have been vagrant from its usual range. So Marg's sighting has gone down in the records as the most southerly record of the species, and by a big margin.

So how does a bird like this end up down in the desert? Gouldian Finches are commonly kept aviary pets, so the suggestion has been made that it could well be an escaped pet. Even so, the nearest captive population that I'm aware of is out at Glen Helen - a good 500km from the site. So it would still have been a big flight for the bird if it had originated there. The fact that it is a juvenile bird might give some credence to a natural origin for the vagrant bird. Gouldian Finches have reportedly bred quite well this year with numerous sightings of flocks of 100+ juveniles up around Katherine. So if the birds have bred well up in their core range, then it is entirely plausible that some might follow heavy rains down into the desert. Perhaps it is a more common occurrence that we are simply not aware of because there are so few sharp-eyed observers out surveying such remote spots?

Either way it is an extraordinary find and very well-spotted to have picked it out from the crowd of other flitting finches at the rock hole. Well done Marg and thanks for sharing. 
Eco-links...

Native species may be hindering fox control efforts
Link to article at Murdoch University

The big bloom in green roofs and walls
Link to article at Architecture & Design

Even following climate change; we'll always have flies
Link to article at Monash University

Paris in need of some pest control?
Link to article in the SMH

While pest control goes online in South Australia
Link to article on ABC Rural

Millipedes
Link to article on The Conversation

The best Australian science photos of 2014
Link to article at Business Insider

Cassowaries and chaplains: avoiding Canberra's conservation overreach
Link to article on The Conversation

Finding new nests for birds threatened by climate change
Link to article on The Conversation

Innovative use for old mobile phones: protecting wildlife
Link to article in International Business Times

Public attitudes to recycled sewage need better treatment, not the water.
Link to article on The Conversation

The Federal Environment Minister wants more NT input into the Green Army plan
Link to article on ABC Rural

Cats killing billions of animals in the US
Link to article on BBC News

It begins - big cat control program to be rolled out soon on Christmas Island. Where to next?
Link to article in The Australian

Identification of an Immune-Responsive Mesolimbocortical Serotonergic System: Potential Role in Regulation of Emotional Behaviour. Or how dirt makes you feel good. Get out there.
Link to article at Gardening Know How

Assessing risks to non-target species during poison baiting programs for feral cats
Link to article on PLOS One

A highway, a sewage plant, and an endangered parrot: the Orange-bellied Parrot
Link to story on Radio National

Legal eagles step in to defend threatened owls
Link to article in the Sydney Morning Herald

Sparrow gives clues about climate change impact on birds
Link to story on ABC News

Cannibal horses of the Australian high country
Link to article on The Conversation
 
Upcoming Events...


The Red Centre Bird Festival
Saturday 27th of September - Sunday the 5th of October

This is being run by the Alice Springs Desert Park and BirdLife Central Australia.

There are lots of activities and presentations through the week in a variety of locations for birders of all ages, from novices to hardcore twitchers.

Full program here.



Ecological Society of Australia 2014 Annual Conference

28th of September - 3rd of October

Alice Springs Convention Centre.

Full program and registration details here



Bats of the Red Centre:
a Biodiversity Matters workshop run by Land for Wildlife
Saturday 4th of October 6pm, Alice Springs Telegraph Station

Join LFW coordinator Chris Watson for a chat about the most secretive portion of Central Australia's mammal diversity - BATS.

We'll discuss how professional bat biologists survey for these fascinating animals, learn a bit about their unique life cycles, and set up some bat traps to (hopefully) catch some of these tiny mammals to get a closer look at some of their intriguing features. Bring a head torch or flashlight, and a chair or picnic blanket to sit on.
Thanks for reading folks.

It'll be a big few weeks in Alice Springs with the annual Ecological Society of Australia conference in town we have lots of wildlife friends to catch up with. The Red Centre Bird Week is also kicking off soon so it is all go in The Centre.

We hope things are as busy and productive wherever you are. We'll see you next month with a bunch of new stories.

Cheers!

Jesse, Chris, & Bill.
September 2014
Copyright © 2014 Low Ecological Services, All rights reserved.


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