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December 2012 

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INTRODUCTION...

G'day LFWers, GFWers, friends and partners!

If you are reading this, then our new simian postmaster has done his job and we have entered a new era for the Irrante newsletter. You should still be able to print the newsletter out, or share it with your friends and colleagues through Twitter and Facebook with a click of the icon on the right. The MAILCHIMP software is new for everyone in the LFW office, so if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch and we can all learn together.

In this final edition for 2012, Matt gives us his account of the TNRM conference in Darwin where he presented our rabbit control program to the assembled natural resource management community. Chris takes us through an introduction to fauna atlassing, an activity that you may like to indulge in over your holidays, and a great way to get kids involved in wildlife observation and science.

We are also interested in sharing the wealth of our recent windfall from the good people at Canon Australia, and are offering two of our brand spanking new cameras as prizes, for a  LFW/GFW photo competition - one for the kids, and one for the grown-ups. See the bottom of the newsletter for competition details.


NEWS...
The main event this month has been the launch of Andy Vinter's Bush Regeneration Guide for Alice Springs. The gestation of this project has been a few years and was motivated by the unusually high rainfall in the preceding years. This is the first publishing project that Land for Wildlife has assisted since Nic Gambold's and Deb Metters' field guide to reptiles of the Alice Springs region back in 2004 (still available!) 

If you, or anyone you know, has an idea for a book with relevance to the Central Australian NRM community, don;t hesitate to drop us a line. We'd love to help out where we can to get more local authors sharing their knowledge. The first print run of Andy's book is already well on its way to selling out, so if you missed the launch, you can get in touch with us directly or drop in to Red Kangaroo books for your copy.

The other big event this month was Matt Digby's lightning tour of the Top End to deliver news of our ongoing success controlling invasive species in The Centre. The annual TNRM conference was held during the first week of December at the Darwin Convention Centre. Having recently wrapped up our TNRM-funded project to control rabbits of LFW properties around Alice Springs, we were invited to deliver a presentation on the methods of control of this destructive pest. Matt's presentation attracted plenty of interest from the Top Enders as, mercifully, rabbits are one problem that they don't have to contend with in the wet tropics.

We will be acquitting this project in the coming weeks so if anyone out there has any commentary or observations about the rabbit problem in Alice Springs we would welcome any contributions.    


ARTICLES & CONTRIBUTIONS...

FAUNA ATLASSING 101

 

In my working life, I'm surrounded by ecologists. This may be a gross simplification of a detailed and painstaking job but in essence, field ecologists are list-makers, albeit on a grand scale. They identify the flora and fauna, list soil types, land units, human impacts, fire histories, and topography. Putting all these lists together and understanding their associations and interactions is where the real science is done, and this requires years of training and experience. The process of understanding begins though, with skilled observers, in the field, taking note of their surroundings.

 

The analysis of data, and its subsequent synthesis into useful knowledge will always require formally trained scientists, but the collection of that data, can be done by almost anyone after a short apprenticeship. If you own a field guide, binoculars, and have bird/fauna lists from the most humble local patch lists to the most impressive national or world life lists, you can probably take your apprenticeship as read. If you've never been bird watching or botanising in your life, then it will not take you long to get involved - just step outside your door. By showing an interest and a willingness to learn you have demonstrated the most crucial characteristic of a good field naturalist - curiosity. You are ready, able, I hope willing, and I could almost argue that you are obliged, to start making your contribution to science, and our collective understanding of the planet we live on. We all benefit from the advancement of scientific understanding and we needn't leave the entire endeavour to the few talented individuals who manage to get paid for doing science. Trained scientists are more than capable of filtering, verifying, and moderating data fed to them from numerous channels. Bird watchers, botanisers, and back yard wildlife watchers are just some of those channels. Don't look on it as a chore - it's a wondrous opportunity, and a doorway to new experiences.

 

This link between citizen scientists and trained scientists is never better exemplified than in the rapidly growing online communities of bird and fauna atlassers. The synergetic results made possible by online networks connecting specialists and generalists, amateurs and professionals, and the remote and urban-dwelling, are extraordinary.

 

A recent and pertinent example of the value of such online networks was the notification of all in the Australian birding community of a vagrant gull (just one of many so far this season) in country Victoria. The correspondent was sent a photograph of a Franklin's Gull Leucophaeus pipixcan, an American species, by a friend in Canada who had returned home from an Australian holiday some weeks earlier. This photograph, and the attached story was quickly picked up on fora and within days, in fact I think with a day, the bird was relocated and has now been successfully photographed and documented. Other examples of a more academic nature are legion, and researchers routinely consult online fora and databases to request assistance with the location of cryptic or scarce species and or to canvas records of their study populations. This is the internet being put to its very best use: engaging people in the sharing of knowledge.

 

Still, I get the impression that there are a lot of wildlife enthusiasts out there who could be doing more to share their observations.  In my imagination I see sheds and attics across the country filled with boxes of yellowing notebooks accumulating dust. These notebooks contain patch lists, trip lists, and twitch lists, covering the entire continent. Many universities and research institutions ration out funded survey effort for honours projects, PhDs and post-doctoral studies in hours. Our imaginary boxes of notebooks must contain, years, centuries even, of dedicated survey effort, of all species of wildlife, in all areas, over all months and seasons, going back for decades. The mind boggles.

 

Consider now, that these hypothetical notebooks are not imaginary at all, and that this is probably a fairly realistic scenario. All those observations, all that knowledge, sitting there inaccessible to researchers who are crying out for richer and more complete data on their subjects. Researchers whose work would be all the more complete and definitive for a bit more time in the field collecting data. Researchers whose time in the field is necessarily abbreviated by funding shortfalls or simply by the time demands of writing grant applications or acquitting the last batch of funding. These researchers need your observations.

 

Ornithological knowledge has wide ranging applications and has improved the way we live in innumerable ways already; aircraft safety, advances in immunology, farming practices, better (safer) chemical use, aquaculture, conservation, and a better understanding of evolutionary biology have all been informed by ornithological studies. In most ornithological papers and texts, you will find distribution and species richness maps, graphs and tables of data, and conclusions drawn, all resulting from observations made, and made available, by bird watchers contributing to local or national bird atlassing projects.

 

There are many of these projects going on worldwide, and several ambitious projects that don't just limit themselves to birds but list ALL living organisms; I'll limit my attention to the birds, for now, to prevent my brain from fizzing over with the possibilities. Many readers of this may already be involved in an atlassing program of one sort or another. If that's you, feel free to go and make a cup of tea and I shall trouble you no more. If you are yet to get involved though, I am urging you to get involved now. There are several atlassing projects online, and these are already revolutionising our knowledge of the distribution, movements, and abundance of species.

 

Eremaea Birds is the platform I have chosen to use, because it feeds most of the records that it collects through to the Birdlife Australia Atlas of Australian Birds - the "official" bird atlas. Eremaea organises your lists and keeps you appraised of the progress of competitors at patch, state, and national level, overall, over a day or over a year. You can pull data up at the touch of a mouse button to compare how your observations have changed from week to week, month to month, or year to year, in clear and downloadable graphs. Registration is free, quick and simple - much like signing up for a free email account. If you're already a registered atlasser with the BA atlas project you can enter your atlas number and all of your Eremaea records, provided they fit within the criteria for acceptance into the atlas, will get transferred across to the main database for moderation. There is already a dedicated handful of Alice Springs birders who use this database regularly and upload all of their observations. This has contributed to the Alice Springs region being one of the most surveyed blocks in the whole of the Australian Bird Atlas project. So far we have recorded 221 species from the submission of 1975 lists and this with just a few contributors. Imagine if we had were a few dozen more...

So get involved and let's see a few more Alice Springs Garden for Wildlife and Land for Wildlife properties appearing on the fauna atlases. Feel free to get in touch with us if you need a hand getting started. If I've failed to be persuasive enough, have a read of the articles available at the following links for some more eloquent endorsements of the benefits of fauna atlassing from a home-grown Nobel Laureate and an esteemed researcher in the field of Australian bird life.


Why our fine feathered friends deserve better - by Peter Doherty

Bird conservation trapped by scientific certainty - by Rob Clemens

 

 

BOOKSHELF...
This month we've rounded up a combination of local books and favourite holiday reading material.

CENTRAL AUSTRALIAN GRASS GUIDE: The Essential Glovebox Guide for Pastoral Lands.
By Coral Allan and Douglas Wilson.

Produced by local authors in 2006, this highly usable reference has become a mainstay of Land for Wildlife field trips. When you're ankle deep in burrs and prickles, and desperate to identify the culprit, this is your book. It has a particular focus on species with relevance to pastoralists, but this works in its  favour as it includes many introduced grasses as well as the common natives. It is by no meansa comprehensive guide to Central Australian grass species but it is an excellent introduction, and a book that you will refer to constantly on botanising trips.

Available from Red Kangaroo Books, CLMA, or from the Arid Zone Research Institute reception. (Approx. $25)

RED SAND GREEN HEART
By John L. Read

This book is yet to see ten years since its first edition, but it is safe to say that it has already become something of a classic in the field of popular writing about outback ecology and conservation. November 2012 has seen the release of a revised second edition which will certainly be as much of a treat as the original, but we have yet to get our hands on it yet, so a look at the original will have to suffice.

Dr. John Read spent the early years of his career working as an ecologist for BHP at the Olympic Dam uranium mine at Roxby Downs. With the South Australian outback to play in and the instructions to simply, "do the animals", he wasted no time. He lobbied hard for funding from the company and was instrumental in the foundation of Arid Recovery. He scoured the outback for extinct, rare, and endangered wildlife and was met sometimes with exhilaration and sometimes with disappointment but never with boredom.

This'll be a great holiday read for anyone sharing John's passion for wildlife in the outback.

Available from Andrew Isles Natural History Books (Approx. $30) 

LAST CHANCE TO SEE
By Douglas Adams and Mark Cawardine

By now, anyone with a television set and a vague interest in natural history documentaries will be aware of the recent successful follow-up series produced by the BBC with one of the original authors, Mark Cawardine, and Stephen Fry in place of Douglas Adams who passed away in 2001. This series is a worthy sequel to the original radio/book project, but the original remains a seminal classic, well worth re-reading over the summer or diving in to for the first time.

Adams, a prolific author during his prematurely abbreviated life, described Last Chance To See as his favourite, among all his works. Cawardine, a distinguished zoologist with the Natural History Museum, London, and an author in his own right, lends the book his passion for wildlife conservation and his broad knowledge of animal life, while Adams brings his unique wit to bear on this important subject. Often humorous, Adams never hides his famous love of the natural world and uses levity to bring new understanding to the plight of endangered animals.

This project could easily have come across as self-indulgent and frivolous, but instead it is deeply poignant and always leaves me with a sense of urgency for the pursuit of conservation measures at a local and global scale. This book is a wonderful way to spend a few hours over your summer, and is eminently readable for older children as well.


WEBWATCH...
link to reindeer remains in jet engine story - http://archive.audubonmagazine.org/features0905/solutions-webexclusives.html


Photo Competition...


 


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