All posts by emlupingsky

WHAT RAT IS THAT?

DON”T KILL RANDOM RATS!– The photograph below is a Black- footed Tree-rat (Mesembriomys gouldii). A dead one, accidentally killed by a resident in Howard Springs who mistook it for a Rattus rattus (our common introduced pest rat).

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Please pass on the message that before killing rats that you are think are pests- make sure that they are not our natives!

Rat-sack, snap traps and other methods do not discriminate! If you are unsure if you have natives then you can live trap and then re-release if they are.

Keeping pets (in particular dogs and cats) under control and not allowed out at night when these nocturnal animals are out and about eating fruit.

This is a juvenile rat (pictured above), but generally they are larger than our pest rat, with darker ears and black feet and their tail looks like it is dipped in white paint.

These gorgeous creatures are endangered and although seemingly common in the Darwin and rural area they are declining greatly in numbers elsewhere- so let’s look after them!

ENHANCE THEIR HABITAT (like in our member’s program) is always helpful- plan some more of  their favorite native fruit trees, and install nest boxes. In addition to try and retain, or begin to grow old growth trees that can harbor hollows by keeping any uncontrolled and hot fires out of your property and further landscapes.

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REPORT IF YOU SEE THEM
Many members and people in the rural area say they often see the Black-footed Tree-rat or that they live in an old car or roof.

If you can positively identify these fantastic rats and have seen them recently- then let everyone know. They are endangered and a lot less common further away from Darwin and the rural area. The more data on them the better.
Similarly any other species of native fauna, such as echidnas, sugar gliders and phascogales can be recorded.

You can upload your sightings of any native fauna species to the NT’s Wildwatch. Your sightings will be recorded in official records and be able to be viewed by others via NR Maps. Check out www.wildwatch.nt.org.au  

If you are in our nest box program and the species are in the nest box we will be submitting this information for you. 

Our Enhancing Habitat Workshop

Our recent Enhancing Habitat workshop, held at the Territory Wildlife Park, was a great success. The workshop was presented in collaboration with Territory Wildlife Park, Charles Darwin University (CDU) and Remote Area Tree Service. Over 45 Land for Wildlife members attended to learn about the different ways their properties can be improved as habitat for arboreal wildlife. Information was provided about the importance of tree hollows and nest boxes as habitat for native species, such as the threatened Black-footed tree rat. Practical demonstrations and arboreal animal encounters were also included, and members were given the opportunity to finish nest boxes to take home and install on their property.

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IMG_3412 (Medium)Dr Leigh-Anne Woolley, a researcher from CDU, gave an informative talk about her research into the decline of arboreal mammals in the NT and the use of nest boxes by these species. Leigh-Anne showed that nest boxes were used by several native mammals and the size of the hollow determined which animals were likely to use them.

Territory Wildlife Park assistant curator, Damien Stanioch, gave a practical presentation with Land for Wildlife coordinator Emma Lupin, of the several ways that nest boxes can be installed onto trees. Damien also talked about and answered questions on his experiences with the use of nest boxes. Afterwards, members had the opportunity to paint their complimentary nest boxes, which were generously made by the Palmerston Men’s Shed, with some products supplied by Bunnings.

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The team from Remote Area Tree Service gave a great demonstration on how hollows can be made manually by using chainsaw techniques on dead trees, branches and logs. This is a wonderful way to ‘speed up’ the natural process of hollow-forming.

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During lunch, staff from Territory Wildlife Park treated members to an up-close encounter of native animals which use hollows, including the sugar glider and threatened northern quoll and black-footed tree rat.

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A huge thanks to Territory NRM for funding this project and to the Territory Wildlife Parkfor hosting and the time of their always knowledgeable and passionate staff. Thanks to Dr Leigh-Anne Woolley for presenting and sharing her knowledge, to Remote Area Tree Services for their wonderful presentation; to Palmerston Men’s Shed for making our boxes and Bunnings for donating some of the materials and of course all the members that are getting involved….

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The Impacts of Fire on Wildlife Workshop

Land for Wildlife hosted a Fire Workshop back in May with a focus on Fire and the effects on wildlife, particularly arboreal mammals.

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The subject is of course complex and controversial but vital to the management of our landscapes and the ecology of our native species.

To try a give a balanced perspective we organised a very well known fire ecologist Alan Andersen to present alongside Natalie Rossiter on the findings of fire experiments that have been conducted over several years in bushland at the Territory Wildlife Park and then for participants to be given an insight into the effect of fire on Wildlife and landscapes from a land manager’s point of view with Andrew Spiers giving a walk and talk, who also has many years of land management experience from National Parks and teaching and observing in the field.  There are of course many other experts in fire and many studies and perspectives to consider.

Over 20 people attended the workshop, including fire volunteer and land managers. They were shown the fire plots at The Territory Wildlife Park and then invited for a walk and talk on Andrew Spier’s property on the nearby Blackmore River flood plain. Greg Miles also attended and offered his perspective from being a long term ranger and Land Manager in Kakadu as well as managing his own Land for Wildlife property.

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Often it is perceived that there is too much fire in our landscapes in the Top End, often started by people with little knowledge of fire ecology (such as people out on quad bikes having fun or just driving along). Many preventative “prescribed” burns are carried out to induce an early (dry season) cool burn rather than a later hotter “accidental” burn when winds are higher and fuel load is drier.

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Gamba grass is a huge factor in affecting the fire regime. (see below). Fire management or regime involves the factors of frequency, patch size and shape burnt and fuel load (related to time of year) and conditions (dew point, wind etc. also related to time of year)

IN Summary-

  • Savannah Landscapes have been shaped by fire over a very long time in Australia to be dominant in species with fire survival mechanisms that thrive with fire such as Eucalypts and grasses.
  • Riverine areas, Monsoon forests and wet lands are more sensitive areas of vegetation and frequent fire does not allow them to regenerate as a Savannah landscape does. Often as these landscapes are bordered by woodland there can be a knock on or edge effect.
  • Gamba grass is a considerable factor in adding to fuel load and curing only to burn later, when fire is hot and to intense for other native species to recover.
  • The fire experiments have found that burns on the same area of bushland every 4 years (early or even later on) creates greater biodiversity (Andrew Andersen)
  • The longer term ecological interactions of species is the important factor that fire effects rather than the immediate effect on wildlife (Andrew Andersen)
  • Fire effects different species differently, there are some winners and some losers (AA)
  • Generally when fire is absent the tree layer becomes more mature and dense and fire sensitive species start to colonise, the grass layer reduces.
  • In the case of arboreal mammals, the absence of fire is favourable as mid-story fruiting plants, rainforest fruiting plants are more abundant as a food source and old growth trees stand for longer and harbour hollows.
  • It is very difficult to manage fire on a large property as there are many “Wild fires” which are uninvited. Many flowering plants are lost when this happens on the floodplains.
  • It really is down to the land manager to decide how they shape the landscape they manage with (or without) fire
  • Greg Miles introduced the idea of wet season burning, which we may invite LFW members to learn more about later in the year, below is a short summary:

Most land managers have adopted the advice of fire experts and been doing early dry season burning (EDS) for the protection of assets and to prevent destructive late season fires (LDS) later in the year.  While there are very good reasons to use EDS for this purpose, I would argue that what suites asset protection may not suit the natural ecology.  After 40 years of involvement in natural area fire management I have come to the view that EDS burning is cumulatively killing the woodlands of the Top End.  There is a mountain of circumstantial evidence to support this hypothesis, but it is contradicted in part by some research findings, especially CSIRO’s Kapalga Fire Experiment of the 1980’s.  But it is clear to me that frequent EDS burning promotes annual grasses, especially native speargrass.  Burning encourages more grassy fuel which encourages hotter burning which encourages more grass – ad infinitum.  Thus a “grass fire cycle” is created.  This cycle is improving the hunting success of cats and is slowly killing the pre-European ecology of the woodlands.  Add in Cane Toads and invasive African Grasses and you have the perfect storm.  But there is a way to break the grass fuel cycle.  In my view the solution is to reduce the amount of EDS burning and instead, dramatically increase the amount of early wet season burning (EWS).  Sure there are many practical problems with doing this, but they can be managed.  WSB is more intellectually demanding than EDS burning, but that should not be seen as a reason not to do it.  My prediction is that if land managers were to switch from EDS to EWS burning they would see a rapid turn around in the ecological health of the natural woodlands landscape.

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If you would like copies of any papers or presentations by Alan Andersen, Greg Miles or Andrew Spiers please contact Emma Lupin (elupin@greeningaustralia.org.au)

Enhancing habitat with nest boxes

Exciting news- The nest box design is finalised and the men’s shed in Palmerston is making 150 for the Land for Wildlife program.

What wildlife are the nest boxes for ?

This nest box design is made is to provide a nesting place for the Black-footed Tree-rat, which is a listed threatened species in the Northern Territory and Australia wide. For some reason this species still seems to be more common in the Darwin and rural area and declining in locations further away. It is thought that its overall decline is due to a lack of tree hollows (where it nests) and a decline in mid story fruiting trees (its food), and this is mostly associated with too frequent and hot fire and of course land clearing.

IMG_0836 (Custom)Land for Wildlife coordinator Emma with men’s shed member Max and the prototype nest box

Why this design?

Our nest box design is based on a design by Leigh-Ann Woolley, a researcher at Charles Darwin University. The entrance hole has been reduced to 85mm to discourage possums, but allow tree rats and other small native rodents, there is a small lip over the entrance hole to discourage birds as well as add rain protection. This design has been tried and tested very recently at Coburg Penninsular, with the Black-footed tree rat, and other smaller native mammals being recorded using the design (where 100 of this larger design were installed and 100 of a smaller design)

The final design has a slightly larger roof and will have extra brackets on the rear for attaching.

Who is making them?

The Palmerston men’s shed is a community workshop area for men to gather, develop skills, and undertake different activities. Essentially Men’s Sheds are about increasing the well being of men by fostering social connectedness and increasing self-esteem.

The shed at Palmerston makes a huge variety of items, mainly from wood but have recently specialised in making many different designs of nest boxes for native wildlife. Their last project made nest boxes for a “Darwin Wildlife Sanctuary” project for urban gardens.  The organisation also sell nest boxes at the Rural Fred’s Pass market on a Saturday for various species, including parrots, sugar gliders, possums and reptiles. They range from $30- $45 each.

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The men’s shed members model our prototype nest box. 

Where are they going ?

Early this year we asked members of our Land for Wildlife program if anyone wanted to sign up to this “Enhancing habitat”. We have room for 30 properties to be involved and all 30 spaces were filled by enthusiastic landholders, who live on a variety of properties, which include at least 1 hectare of wildlife habitat, or re-vegetating habitat. The properties involved are located in Leanyer (Darwin), Howard Springs, Girraween, Humpty Doo, Bees Creek, Bachelor, the Adelaide River area and Katherine and range from 5 acres properties to 2000 acres and also includes a s

The landholders have already pledged to manage part of their property for wildlife habitat which includes weed and fire management and where possible to enhance it habitat, this project does just that. Each landholder receives up to 5 nest boxes as well as 50 native food plants for the Black-footed Tree-rat to plant on their property.  Other measures that can encourage native mammals include good pet ownership, trapping for feral cats, leaving fallen logs and leaf litter and leaving standing dead trees (but making them safe if near used areas).

The advice given about choosing where to install nest boxes is –

  • Choose over-story long lived trees, such as Eucalyptus, Ironwoods and Lophostemons that have good canopy cover.
  • Choose trees in an area with other vegetation and protection.
  • Choose trees that do not already have  tree hollows, as the tree does not really need “enhancing” as habitat and this also may cause competition with species uptake and proximity.
  • If trees have a fork it is often easy to install the nest box in this, if not the recommended height is 2-3 m (far enough off the ground for safety and close enough for humans to check the boxes with a ladder)
  • Install nest boxes at least 30 meters apart.

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Land for Wildlife, Trevor member collects his habitat enhancing plants for the Black-footed Tree-rat 

Is any data collected?

Yes– those involved choose the trees where they would like to install the nest boxes, which are at least 30 meters apart. Each nest box location is recorded with a GPS, a brief description of landscape type and 3 photographs taken of its location. A habitat condition survey is made of property / nest box locations.

The habitat condition is recorded by laying 2 transects centered on 2 of the nest box locations which are situated and in representative areas of varying habitat condition on each property. The transects are 50m long and record the nearest tree to the left and the right of the transect every 5m. The tree must be over 1.2m in height and its DBH (Diameter at Breast Height), species and presence of hollows is recorded. The ground cover and fire history is also recorded. This is all done by the project coordinator with involvement from the landholders.

These surveys will provide a sample overview of tree density (and recruitment),  species diversity within tree species, presence of a mid story fruiting layer and presence of other tree hollows.

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Land for Wildlife member Kim, helps do survey work as part of the project on her 20 acre property in Humpty Doo

After installation the nest boxes will be monitored, hopefully by landholders and also the coordinator, who will look for evidence of uptake after 6 months.

The initial survey information allows us to analyse whether the uptake of nest boxes varied with location and property situation and habitat condition and type.

The enhancing habitat workshop for participants

A workshop at the Territory Wildlife Park is scheduled for May 20th for those participating, where landholders will learn about the different species that may take up the nest boxes and their habits (and maybe even meet some of these creatures)..

They will also learn how to finish and install the nest boxes and listen to talks from those who have studied nest box enhancement.

The Remote Area Tree Services guys will also be demonstrating who to create habitat and hollows from fallen logs, old trees and items found on properties, with the assistance of a chainsaw.

There is also a Fire Workshop for members and interested others on 7th May for those attending to learn more about the affects of fire on wildlife habitat.

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Above is an example of how to finish a nest box, this sample was made for us by Land for Wildlife member Niel Carpenter

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Land for Wildlife Volunteer models another nest box, made by Neil who is trialing finishing techniques to camouflage different next boxes.

Who is funding this? 

This project is funded by a Territory NRM Community grant and supported in kind by the Land for Wildlife Top End program (whose core funding is currently from Parks and Wildlife Commission NT).

Bunnings Palmerston has provided a donation of some materials towards nest box production.

We are looking for donations of paint to finish and camouflage the boxes as well as old hose for fixings.

Knowing Your Natives and Growing Your Own

Greening Australia (Darwin) is holding some community workshops in April and May about recognising and growing native plants; these workshops are open to anyone interested.

Each workshop is $40 or all 3 for $100 plus a free “Native Plants for Top End Gardens” book if you sign up to all of them.

All workshops run from 9am to 4pm (lunch included)

Please see the  flyer below.

Knowing Your Natives flyer

Workshop One      

Where- Greening Australia nursery and nearby bush location

When– Saturday 1st April

Content- Plant identification and seed collection

Learn how to identify plants through their features with a focus on natives and how to observe them in their natural vegetation communities (in a short excursion to local bushland) and how to make a herbarium specimen.

Learn the different types of seeds, the protocols for seed collection, how and when to collect seeds form different species and how to prepare and store them.

Workshop Two

Where- Greening Australia nursery

When- Saturday 22nd April

Content- An introduction to native plant propagation

Learn how to store and treat seed, how to sow, and the best time of the year to do this, to add success to growing your own native plants. Improve your techniques with growing from cuttings, how to propagate different plants. potting up plants and what medium to use.

Workshop Three

Where- A Darwin garden (TBC)

When- Saturday May 27th

Content – Designing and planting a small garden with native wildlife attracting and bush tucker plants

Learn about the best Top End native plant to choose for small gardens that are wildlife attracting or bush tucker plants. Learn how to design a small space with plant size, shape, texture, and water requirements in mind. Learn how to prepare and plant out a garden space.

Let any interested others also know.