Category Archives: land management

A member’s Story

A Voice for Members
by David Klessa

We have been members of Land for Wildlife for nearly 8 years and remain committed to the broad objectives of ‘caring for country’ (aspects of which I shall return to later in this article). Having the sign on our gate is not so much a badge of honour, although we feel privileged to be members; rather, for us at least, it is a statement that we consider wildlife conservation and the protection of habitat to be a responsibility we have in choosing rural residency and lifestyle in the Top End. Not that we would have taken our responsibility any differently had we not joined Land for Wildlife; weed eradication, toad control and general upkeep would have continued as before but shared experience and the enrichment it brings by being members would have been missing.

Bird life

Retirement brings the advantage of more time at home to observe but, paradoxically it seems, less time for upkeep (falling energy levels!). We certainly saw new visitors to our place this year and our bird population was more diverse and greater (with the notable exception of magpie geese). Over the last 10 years or so, a section of our property has hosted hundreds of magpie geese generally from late October until late December which night roost in the tops of mature E.tetradonta and provide the safest spots. Watching them land in flocks at dusk is fun because it resembles a car dodgem show because it inevitably leads to bump offs and much noise. But there were much fewer this year and they left in late November. With the wetter start to build-up this year on top of our third highest annual rainfall last year, I suspect the floodplains have provided an earlier yield of wild rice and Eleocharis for grazing.

Amongst the newcomers was a pair of raptors and juvenile (grey wing feathers). One of these magnificent adults is shown in Photo 1 perched on our upstairs verandah rail. We think it is a Collared Sparrowhawk -can anyone confirm?

We have also been delighted to have a nesting pair of Rainbow Pittas for the first time. They seem to like the area around our pool which is densely shaded and has copious leaf litter under the tree canopy where they have built two nests (Photo 2). It’s fun watching them hopping about collect sticks and leaves for nesting with the size of the bundle in their beaks often dwarfing their heads – or is it only the male that collects and builds the nest? – can anyone help?

At the bottom of our drive, last month, we saw the arrival of a flock of around 20 Crimson Finches which spent time alternating between pandanus trees and a conveniently located puddle that served as a bird bath. We haven’t seen them for some years, so it was pleasing to have them visit us.
Weeds
Dealing with weeds at near ground level might be relatively straight-forward –  albeit hard work and, at times, back-breaking but what if the weed dwarfs all other surrounding trees rising to well over 30 m and throws out suckers which extend as far as 50-100 m from the parent tree. Yes, sounds like a nightmare and it has been with the presence of an African Tulip tree which was planted before we bought our property 20 years ago.

Photo 1: Mature Collared Sparrowhawk (?), February 2017 (© Meera Klessa)

Photo 2: Rainbow Pitta nest, December 2017

Not only does it have an incredibly high growth rate in the tropics (ie of up to 5cm in trunk diameter/year), their wood is spongey, weak, and prone to break in storms. There are also reports that the pollen of their attractive flowers is poisonous to wild bees. Under Queensland legislation (Biosecurity Act, 2014) the African Tulip tree is classed as a restricted invasive plant. If it has not been banned for sale or planting in the NT, it ought to be.
So, this year with time on her hands, we decided to act and were spurned on by meeting the tree surgeons who so aptly demonstrated their skills at the nesting box programme organised by Emma and Land for Wildlife earlier this year. The tree was duly felled in June and it was great to watch these guys working with crampons, rope, and chainsaws. All the wood was retained on site and placed to provide habitat/refuges for wildlife. The trunk was sawn to near ground-level and treated with glyphosate which has been successful in killing the root system of the parent tree. Before and after shots are shown in Photos 3 & 4.

Photo 3: Before

Photo 4: After (beer drunk purely to demonstrate scale)

A Voice for Wildlife and Self-Help

I am sure I share the sentiments of Land for Wildlife members when I say that I was disappointed to learn about how devastating the fires around the Berry Springs/Darwin River areas were this year and how hard work in establishing and conserving habitat (and nest boxes) can be so easily destroyed and undermined by repeated annual hot fires. It is unacceptable that some members experienced damage to their properties and wildlife conservation by trespass. Likewise, it is intolerable that some cat owners should choose to allow their pets to roam freely with the resulting devastation to wildlife everywhere but especially on neighbouring Land for Wildlifeproperties. Lack of weed control by some land owners continues to cause problems to some of us but also to the greater environment.

I do not believe ‘the voice’ in support of wildlife conservation and everything associated with good decision making in land use planning, and sustainable practices in land management, is strong enough. However, I want to quickly add that ‘the voice’ should not come from Land for Wildlife itself, but from us……it needs to be ‘our voice’ as individuals, as an independent group, including non-members who also share our values and objectives. Land for Wildlife, as an organisation relying upon government funding, cannot do that job for us, and must not.
I have always been struck by how successful other interest groups such as the fishos and hunters have been, and continue to be, in putting forward their views and in fighting issues that might affect their lifestyles in pursuit of their interests. They gain media time and attention. We simply don’t.

So, I would like to propose a meeting of like minds, should they exist! I would be delighted to organise a meeting in February/March 2018 at which we might discuss the concept of self-help and its development, but I suggest we would need a quorum of at least 10 attendees to get the ball rolling. If you are interested, or simply want to comment, please send an email to humptydooer@hotmail.com marked ‘Self-help’ in the message title.

Have a great holiday, and all the best in the New Year.

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Enhancing Habitat Update

140 of our nest boxes are up in trees on Land for Wildlife properties from Darwin to Katherine! They are hoping to attract our Black-footed Tree-rats and food plants for them are also being planted on each nest box property.

After our fantastic workshops, members have been busy painting and installing the boxes. Boxes have also been installed at 3 schools- Girraween Primary, Howard Springs Primary School and Milkwood Steiner School.

Some members got friends and family together to install the boxes and soem even got a little help from Emma.

Emma (LFW coordinator) even got on the radio to talk about the project…

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These are just some of our nest boxes looking fabulous in their gorgeous host trees

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And then, the next exciting part has been checking out the boxes with our new especially designed nest box camera, with the help of the landholders and our Green Army team who are learning about surveying.

 

So far we have not caught any mammals live on camera but we have got Eucalyptus leaf nest material (very likely to be from the Black-footed Tree-rat), droppings that look like those of the Black-footed Tree-rat and some small identified fluff balls (to be sent for analysis).

We have also found some other gatecrashers using the nest boxes, including many geckos, grasshoppers, spiders and European honey bees.

Check out this amazing (non native) bee colony that took up a nest box at Alison and Mike’s property in Humpty Doo, and then moved on.

Bees in nestbox July 2017Nestbox 5 at 135 Jefferis Road small

So no live pictures of our Tree-rat friends but evidence of some and sightings from landholders of BFTRs outside the nest boxes! We are hoping to hear about motion sensing cameras we can lend to our landholders soon and will be checking on the boxes in 3 months time! All the data is being collated as well as a map of the location of every nest box!

Now we will wait and see if anything moves in over the next few months, while our Green Army are busy planting 15, 000 trees for the Black-footed Tree-rat ! (yes 15, 000) on Land for Wildlife Properties.

Land for Wildlife is Branching Out

Our “Trees for Wildlife Program” got into the local news, with more tree plantings happening all the time through the monsoons with the Green Army helping with plantings….we will continue the program next year if more landholders would like to get involved. See the “Trees For Wildlife” Tab

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Land for Wildlife in Katherine

We are very excited to announce that this year our “Land for Wildlife Top End” program welcomed an 888 Hectare property just outside of Katherine into the program. The property is on Gorge Road and is managed by Mick Jerram for the owners who recently acquired the property. Mick is a very knowledgeable tour guide in the area who operates “Gecko Canoeing and Tours”.

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The beautiful property is now our largest Land for Wildlife property in private ownership and includes the Maude Creek. The landholders have appointed Mick to be their land manager and would like to manage the land as a wildlife refuge and possibly run an eco-tourism enterprise that would support the upkeep.

Land for Wildlife coordinator and botanist (and former coordinator) Greg Leach headed down to Katherine to assess the property and look at its wildlife habitat assets. This was done over 2 days and being such a large property only some of it was visited on the accessible tracks, which is why we ended up down there in the steamy build up- trying to catch as much of the property before it was too boggy!

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The property includes rocky sloping hills with open Eucalypt woodland and a variety of stunning Bloodwoods, hosting many birds and lizards and further diversity of creatures within the rock crevices and floodplain areas. Maude Creek keeps water in it all year with lush riverine plants along its banks, and there are additional wet season creeks and overflows throughout the property.

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There is a likelihood that the Gouldian Finch could populate the area, with its grassy lower areas and rocky hills, and Mick is looking for assistance to try and document what fauna species are definitely found within the properties. Major priorities include the eradication of wild Buffallo and cows.

buffallos

The fabulous tract of land joins surrounding properties which are intact and vast in size, including the Nitmiluk National Park, which is managed and protected under conservation legislation; it is also actively managed. All of the above set the property as a very significant area for wildlife conservation and an important tract of land which connects and creates large scale conservation corridors.

There are a couple of LFW registered properties in the Katherine area, from the days when Greening Australia had an office in the town. With this most recent membership LFW has a significant representation, so we have set about to see how we can get more Land for Wildlife involvement in the area and held an information session for interested others.

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Mick would love to have management based training on the newly joined property and many landholders and the Landcare group were interested in getting involved. There was a call out for information on native plant propagation, fauna likely to be found and fire management information. At this stage we hope to host workshops next dry season and team up with the Landcare group to carry out new assessments, the idea is to set up a Katherine interest group made of community members..… so watch this space.

mick-and-sign

Wildlife Encounters Workshop

 

Group shotJust recently the Land for Wildlife program hosted a members’ workshop in partnership with the Territory Wildlife Park  with a focus on wildlife, in particular mammals. Above are just some of the 37 participants we managed to grab at the end to pose for a photo. It was a really good day, where members got to meet each other, learn from some presenters, very experienced in wildlife handling or research and some of the animals themselves. The workshop was designed for land mangers signed up to the program to find out more about the mammals likely to be found on their properties, their habitats and food sources and how best to manage landscape for them.Agile Wallaby

It is well known that mammal (and reptile) numbers have declined in the region and across northern Australia. There is a lot of research carried out to find out exactly why, but there are some basic management practices that enhance habitat and protect fauna.

There are 50 species of mammals in the Darwin Region and over 80 species of reptiles, including lizards, snakes, turtles and frogs. Some of the most common mammals found in the Darwin region are the Agile Wallaby, the Common Brush Tail Possum and the Northern Brown Bandicoot and  the flying fox and other bats. Many mammals have decreased in numbers over the last 20 years including the Northern Quoll and Black footed Tree Rat.

The workshop started with a quick introduction to the Territory Wildlife Park and its function in environmental education and  conservation. The park actually encompasses more land than just the area in exhibits, which is vast anyway and encompasses many landscape types. The Territory Wildlife Park is a Land for Wildlife member and partner and has a focus on Wildlife education, housing an array of native Top End species within their natural setting.

Participants then took a lovely dry season stroll through the mixed woodland area, lined with Turkey Bush and into the woodland walk area which is home to many tame Wallabies that have been taken in after being rescued, often after being found in the pouches of mothers hit by cars. Park keeper Rob Mcgregor met us in the area and gave an informative talk about the mammals in the Top End , their distribution, behaviours and habitats, while some wallabies joined the discussion.

Rob talks too

Rob describes the behaviour of Wallabies in the enclosure (above). He stresses that one of the most important aspects to conserve Top End mammals is to conserve habitat, by managing woodlands well, eradicating weeds, keeping out frequent fire, which allows a mid fruiting layer to be prominent, which is an important food source for many mammals. Having corridors of intact landscape and reducing fragmentation is also important. So if you are managing an area for conservation, encourage neighbouring land managers to also conserve habitat and manage it well (and join Land for Wildlife!)

Most mammals are active at night, so the best way to spot them is by spotlighting. Even if you try some are shy and very small, so the next best way is to be able to recognise their scats. We looked at an array of samples and matched them to common mammals (and pests) found on rural properties. To see a copy of this, click here.

Poo dunnit LFW Member KAte Kilgour and her son examine mammal scats, an easy way of detecting what species are in the landscape. Kebin describes wildlife on his blockLand for Wildlife member Kevin Maxwell describes the behaviour of mammals on his property (with some great hand actions) and other members discuss mammals seen on their block.

Kernick After this great hands on (poo) activity, members exchanged stories of different species on their blocks and then Brooke Rankmore of Greening Australia gave a presentation.

Brooke had carried out a PHD in Land Fragmentation in The Top End. This was a few years ago, but she found that many mammal species were more plentiful in the rural area than in Kakadu at the time. Some of this she attributed to firebreaks and the absence of fire in areas in subdivisions.

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Brooke talks Brooke described the species of mammals that are now in decline and listed at an NT level. You can find that list here.  We are working on more fact sheets in Land for Wildlife that cover many more fauna species that are also more common.

Possum

All the participants then were lucky enough to have their own personal Territory Wildlife park guide through the nocturnal house to look at live exhibits of the mammals and some reptiles including The Black footed Tree Rat, the Water rat, the Northern Brown Badicoot and Common Brushtail Possum (pictured above in the hands of a volunteer).

Over some lunch everyone walked back through the woodland walk and was given a great tour of online resources that can help with land management. This was given by the very knowledgeable Brydie Hill who showed everyone the following-

NT Fauna Observations –  http://ntfaunaobs.nt.gov.au/

A site set up by The fauna division of DLRM that allows some “Citizen Science” and for landholders, or others to register and upload their native fauna sightings to the data base,. Here the records will be held and can be accessed.  To be involved you just need to set up a password and user name. If you would like more information contact us at Land for Wildlife or Brydie at DLRM.

Infonet  –  http://www.infonet.org.au/infonet2/

Infonet is a resource that has been developed with Territory Natural Resource Management and Charles Darwin University. It is a program that allows you to select an area of land on a map and generate reports about it. The reports can include as much or as little information as you wish on Soil, Flora and Fauna species, listed species, weed species, fire history and Wildlife Management. This is really quite easy to use, generates a useful and very professional looking report and is very useful for land managers. If you are interested in a small area of land (under 50 hectares) it is best to draw a larger boundary or give the area a buffer zone as the reports of species are made on held records and sightings which are not taken from every bit of land.

NR Maps –  http://nrmaps.nt.gov.au/

NR Maps is a mapping program holding different layers of Government information. If you like maps you will love this, although it is a little slow and you cannot hold your place yet. There is a side bar to the left which allows you to turn off and on different layers, including some vegetation, mining tenements and leases and Cadastre. Cadastre is who owns (or manages parcels of land). It will not tell you the name of private landholders, but will tell you whether the land is private, Vacant Crown Land, Pastoral or otherwise, how it is divided up and the size of each portion of land and its assigned portion number. This is really handy if you are wanting to know who is managing neighbouring land. If it is local council you can contact them with management issues.

NAFIhttp://www.firenorth.org.au/nafi3/

NAFI stands for Northern Australian Fire Information.

It allows you to track fires, look up fire history and fire scars and generate reports.  You can see when early or late fires are and the late ones (August on) are definitely not prescribed burning and detrimental to our landscapes and wildlife.

I hope these tools are useful and the information on mammals. Our next wildlife workshop series will focus on birds, insects and more reptiles. We would also like to encourage any members with knowledge to share this with others and help present some low key workshops or talks on there blocks. Get in touch!

Thanks again to all the amazing Territory Wildlife Park staff, including Damien, Rob,  Sarah and Jasmine and also presenters Brooke and Brydie.

Rob smilesDamien

Neem trees are declared weeds

neem-treeIt has been announced by The NT Weeds Branch that Neem (Azadirachta indica) is being declared a weed.

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This well know tree, prized in Asia as an insecticide which is becoming a well distributed plant, out competing our native trees in the rural area and beyond, particularly by waterways. I have seen it on quite a few LFW assessments and many land holders are not entirely sure what it is, so I thought I would post this information. The fruit is eaten and spread by birds.

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Below is some information provided by the weeds branch and some FAQs-

The NT Government (weeds branch) has formulated a draft weeds management plan, it is available at http://www.lrm.nt.gov.au/weeds/find/neem, the plan is open for comment and you contact the department for more information.

What does the Weed Management Plan do?

Weed Management Plans establish the management requirements that must be undertaken by land managers with respect to declared weeds. They also describe best management practice control options. The Weed Management Plan for Neem (Azadirachta indica) will form part of a strategic approach to weed management in the Northern Territory, with the overall aim being to negate the impact of neem on the natural environment and the Northern Territory economy.

What is neem and why was it declared as a weed in the Northern Territory?

Neem is a fast growing introduced tree that is rapidly establishing in Top End waterways including the Katherine River. Neem’s high levels of seed production, extensive root systems and ability to regrow from suckers has enabled it to aggressively compete with native plants, even in healthy, intact environments. In July 2014, neem was declared a Class B (growth and spread to be controlled) and Class C (not to be introduced to the NT). Since the declaration of neem as a weed, it has been encouraging to see the amount of control that has taken place to date, however there is still more to do.

If I have neem on my property am I obligated to control it?

Landholders must use their best endeavours to control the growth and spread of neem, this includes controlling seedlings, saplings and, where feasible, mature trees. Although not required by the Plan, the removal of mature trees from urban settings is considered highly beneficial as this removes a source of neem seeds. It is illegal to buy, sell or transport neem plants of seeds and no new plantings are permitted within the Northern Territory.

 How difficult is neem to control?

The management of isolated neem plants and small infestations can be relatively straightforward. However, the control of large established infestations will require careful planning, prioritisation and budgeting. Results may not be immediately apparent, as repeated effort may be required to produce obvious reductions in distribution and density.

Where can I find a copy of the Plan and/or make comment?

The draft Plan can be found on http://www.lrm.nt.gov.au/weeds/find/neem and online feedback form http://www.lrm.nt.gov.au/lrm/community-consultation or by calling Weed Management Branch on 8999 4567 for a hard copy.

A summary paper has also been written to identify the key objectives of the Plan. Written submissions can be sent to to: Weed Management Branch Department of Land Resource Management PO Box 496 Palmerston NT 0831 Or emailed to weedinfo@nt.gov.au Darwin Jabiru Yulara Katherine Three Ways Alice Springs Tennant Creek Management Zone (Class B/C) http://www.nt.gov.au/weeds Management Zone What happens to my comments/feedback? The draft Plan will be available until Friday 17 April 2015. Comments received during this time will be taken into consideration when developing the final Weed Management Plan, which will then be sent to the Minister for Land Resource Management for approval in accor

Urochloa humidicola- Tully grass- Introduced pasture grass!

Urochloa humidicola– Tully grass- Introduced pasture grass!

Just last weekend a Land for Wildlife Assessment was on a property with a lot of this grass. This is not a declared weed but can outcompete native plants in wetter areas and its presence is goring in the rural area of Darwin. I dug out this short article that Pete Mcfdden, a weed contractor that works in the area wrote last year- (and hope to get some better photos soon!)

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Another introduced pasture plant gone feral is the introduced species Humidicola. Present on many road verges in the rural areas it forms a dense stoloniferous mat and as an environmental weed can invade undisturbed bush land. Favouring wet areas it has even been considered as a “choking plant” to control Mimosa pigra.

Humidicola stays green most of the year and when it burns it produces very dense smoke that reduces visibility to almost zero. Humidicola has a thick root mass to feed underground fires that can burn for days until they break through the surface, producing new runaway wildfires. The ground can become so hot that it sterilises the soil, destroying other plants and seeds (NT Bushfire Volunteers)

Urochloa humidicola

The main mode of distribution is by root stolon growth and the plant steadily creeps along. Seed production is reportedly limited at lower latitudes and the vegetative reproduction is the main mode of propagation /spread.

Control with Glyphosate is effective but does require good coverage of all leaf areas and may require a follow up application. Recent experience at McMinns Lagoon Reserve confirms that control can be achieved in one season and no regrowth has been recorded from soil seed-banks or reshooting. As Humidicola prefers wet and innundative areas control is best achieved early in the wet season when access is easier.

When using any herbicide please read the label and use any appropriate personal protective equipment required.