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Bird Week events

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It’s that time of year again; next week is Bird Week and The Backyard Aussie Bird Count 17th -23rd October 2016. You can register for the bird count and become part of this great citizen science project here http://aussiebirdcount.org.au/

So let’s celebrate and get involved, especially as we are lucky enough to live in one of the most fantastic regions in Australia for bird species, bird watching and intact bird habitat. At Land for Wildlife we also and have a whole list of fantastic members in our program who manage their land to support wildlife, including our wonderful birdlife.

Land for Wildlife has organised 2 special events next week for members and friends of the program in the Darwin ‘rural’ area:

On Thursday 20th October from 5- 7pm join author of “Birds of Australia’s Top End region” and “Birds of Palmerston” on her property in Darwin River for some laid back evening bird watching. She will give an overview of bird  life in the region, bird behaviours and how best to attract birds and manage bird habitat. This will be followed by light refreshments and info on how to take part in the bird count.  RSVP (elupin@greeningaustralia.org.au) for directions.

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On Saturday 22nd October from 8- 10am join Parks staff and friends of Fogg Dam at Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve for some morning bird watching, an introduction to bird species and habitats in the rural area. This event is for Land for Wildlife members, friends of and interested others and is run in collaboration with Parks and Wildlife (please RSVP to confirm- see the poster below).

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Other great events happening in the Darwin region include

A bird watching cycling tour at East Point in Darwin on Sunday 16th October at 8am bike-tour

A whole host of Events including Bird art at CDU-

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and lots more, so take this great opportunity to learn more about our bird life.

Top End Wildlife- Children’s Books- The Quoll

We have some very talented artists and story tellers in the Top End, and what better way to get the next generation to value our wildlife and landscapes and the connectivity between species,  than to intrigue and educate them through books, here is just the first of  a few great titles that we will feature.. .

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Sandra Kendall, Darwin resident and artist has written several books with a focus on loving our landscapes and the wildlife within-
My main aim is providing accessible images and stories for children about native wildlife to entertain and educate. The last couple of books have focused on urban wildlife to provide stories that Top End kids can claim particular affinity with with the hope that in turn this will stimulate interest in other local species. 

My first book “Quoll” (published by Windy Hollow Books 2008) was inspired by the Island Ark Project, a collaboration between Biodiversity North, The Territory Wildlife Park and The Gumurr Marthakal Rangers aiming to preserve a healthy population of Northern Quoll on offshore islands as the arrival of Cane Toads in Top End was pushing the species to the brink of extinction. The story of one quolls plight is told from the animals point of view as she tries to save her family from the Cane Toad ‘invasion’.

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(Scientific information about the Northern Quoll for the book was kindly provided by Dr John Woinarski in the info pages following the narrative)

The Northern Quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus) is a mammal native to northern Australia which weighs 300g- 1000g and has prominent white spots on its fur. It is carnivorous and eats a range of invertebrates including reptiles. It’s habitat is hollow logs, tree hollows and rock crevices.  

The Northern Quoll is listed as critically endangered in the Northern Territory and is listed as endangered within Australia as a whole. It has been recorded as rapidly declining in numbers over the last few decades. This decline is largely attributed to the introduction and spread of cane toads but also is affected by frequent and late season burning, which causes habitat loss.

In the Northern Territory the quoll is  restricted to the Top End. To assist its recovery private landholders can implement a Cane Toad eradication  program, prevent the loss of habitat, particularly tree hollows by protecting landscapes from hot fires and even create and place tree hollows with the property.


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For more information a fact sheet can be found here https://nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/205475/northern-quoll.pdf

Schools for Wildlife

Local Rural Artist and Land for Wildlife member has been working with Howard Springs Primary School to create a giant wildlife mural. The beautiful mural is in the bold and colourful style typical of Marnie’s work and depicts a woodland and billabong habitat with many well known and loved native animals of the rural area making an appearance in their own funky style throughout the painting.  These include dingoes, wallabies, brolgas, emus, Comb-crested Jacanas, and Magpie geese and the lagoon is based on Girraween lagoon.

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The mural is 7m x 2mto and was made to encourage the appreciation and preservation of our local environment and animals that live around us. 5 students were chosen to assist with the project and went to the Wildlife Park to research our wonderful wildlife and a series of workshops were undertaken for them to draw and paint their selected critters for the scene.

The mural took 5 months to create and was opened on the 30th July by Gerry Woods. There were great local craft stalls, and Land for Wildlife had an information stall.

It is fantastic to see a school embrace such fantastic projects to pass on the message to love and appreciate the wildlife around us. The principle, Julie is very supportive and further art and wildlife projects are being designed.

img_9597The school has also joined up to Land for Wildlife as an educational member in the Growing Towards Category. Next year the students will be taking part in the Trees for Wildlife program and planting trees to restore and create Black-footed Tree-Rat habitat and learn all about these fantastic creatures and how to enhance habitat for mammals and other wildlife.IMG_9593.JPG

We are looking for other rural schools to join in with Land for Wildlife activities, particularly tree planting and creating nest boxes- so if you are involved in a school and would like to get everyone involved get in touch and we can provide more details of how this can work.

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The fabulous Frilly

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The Australian Frilled Lizard is one of our most remarkable lizard species with their showy frill that is used for defence and communication. It is also the animal logo for the Territory Wildlife Park.

The preferred habitat of this iconic Lizard is semi-arid grassy woodlands either open shrubby woodland or woodland with a tussock grass understorey.

“Frillies” as they are affectionately known are generally solitary and territorial. They spend a lot of their time in trees and will feed on spiders, cicadas and other tree dwelling insects.

They also come down to the ground to hunt for ants, small mammals, lizards and amphibians (they will eat small toads, which is lethal for them).

Frillies tend to stay up in trees during the dry season and are well camouflaged and less active in the cooler months.

During the build-up and wet season months as the temperature and humidity increases they become more visible as they actively display and seek mates to breed with.

Mating takes place around September with females laying 8-23 eggs in a hollow in the ground in November.

The eggs are tiny and only weigh 3-5 grams. The tiny frilled hatchlings will emerge in February and are independent from the day they hatch. Hatching during the wet season is the perfect time for baby Frillies as there will be plenty of insects (food) available for them to catch.

 

The main predators for Frilled lizards are birds of prey (such as eagles, hawks and owls), snakes, bigger lizards, dogs and cats. The biggest threats to Frillies in the Top End are land clearing, habitat destruction, feral cats and Cane Toads.

As a Land for Wildlife member you can help our Frillies in the following ways:

  1. Maintain open shrubby woodland and a tussock grass understory on your property.
  2. With areas that have been cleared, re-vegetate and create a “Lizard lounge” using a combination of native trees, shrubs and grasses.
  3. Leave dead trees (that are not a hazard), fallen logs and rotting timber. This provides habitat for the animals that Frillies will feed on.
  4. Restrict your pets (both cats and dogs) access to these habitat areas.
  5. Trap and remove feral cats and Cane Toads (which are toxic and lethal to Frillies) from your property
  6. Avoid using pesticides on your property as these may be killing the Frillies food source. Let natures pest exterminator do the job for you.
  7. Slow down when you spot a Frilly on the road. They tend to hold their position and not get out of the way which has resulted in many Frillies being hit and killed on roads.

Share what you know about Frillies with others and encourage them to also make their properties Frilly Friendly.

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Top End Native Garden Openings (TENGO) has Land for Wildlife


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TENGO (Top End Native Garden Openings) is run by the Top End Native Plant Society (TENPS) and is an open garden program; gardens that feature native plants are open for visitors to get inspiration, learn more about native plants and even buy some. Some of these properties are in suburban settings and some in the rural area and include native landscapes.

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On 29th May Land for Wildlife members Lucy and Ken Rowley opened their 7 acre Girraween property to visitors. Not only do Lucy and Ken have a great native landscaped garden they also have an amazing section of wildlife habitat including a large section of the delicate, beautiful and ecologically important Howard Sand sheet. They have taken a great interest in the plants and wildlife of this landscape and spend time carrying out weed management and fire protection. Their daughter has even made a set of wildlife information cards for birds found on the property. Land for Wildlife had an information stall and guided walks were taken to look at the wildflowers and importance of the Sandsheet landscape by LFW coordinator Emma Lupin and Sand sheet plant experts from TENPS Sarah Hirst and Dave Liddle.

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Over 60 people visited the garden and almost all came on one of the 6 guided “Nature walks” into the depths of the Sandsheet, which is unfenced and continues  into more intact Sandsheet and floodplain that leads to the Howard River.
If you would like to find out more about Howard Sandsheet vegetation and projects click here https://www.greeningaustralia.org.au/project/howard-sand-plains and go to project resources.

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The photograph above shows landholders Ken and Lucy accompanying one of the nature walks and some other visiting Land for Wildlife members and visitors on the walks.

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Land for Wildlife Coordinator models the new signs with Parks and Wildlife Symbol.

The Connection of Seasons

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The connection of seasons
by Di Lucas, Land for Wildlife member and local author
It is Yegge, the seasonal name given to this time of year, by the Gun’djehmi speaking Aboriginal people of Kakadu and Western Arnhem Land.  It is the time of year when the climate starts to cool down, the humidity should drop soon and the nights will be noticeably cooler.  Wattles bloom, filling the air with a thick blossom scent.  Unfortunately for some people wattles bring sneezles!  I’m not one of those people, I like to peer into the flowers to see what insects visit and then I take deep breaths to pick up the strong scent of these flowers. It seems to be a time of celebration in the woodlands. With sprays of yellow flowers from various wattle species, Kapok flowers  – ‘andjed’ (Cochlospermum fraseri);  orange flowers of the Grevillea pteridifolia – ‘andjandjek’,  Eucalyptus miniata – ‘andjalen’; pink flowering shrubs of Turkey bush  – ‘anbandar’ (Calytrix exstipulata),  ‘angodjmong-mong’ Gomphrena canescens (papery daisy shrubs). The woodlands are in song with the calls of many birds and insects.  If you happen to camp around these trees you are in for a treat. The bees are working hard collecting nectar to make honey and birds and bats are busy gathering nectar and insects from the flowers.
 The spear grass fuel loads are getting burnt, which makes way for new growth as well as leaving an important feeding ground for animals and birds.  Goannas, Bandicoots, Kites, Falcons, Night birds, Bustards find victims of the fires, whilst Black Cockatoos feed on spear grass seeds and fruits now the grass has been burnt.
 Near the floodplains, early morning or late afternoon one often hears then sees a large flock of Sulphur crested Corellas, cackling amongst themselves and almost greeting everything they fly across.
 There is still plenty of water on the floodplains but as the dry winds blow the water begins to recede. At the edges, delicate yellow lilies and the white fringed lilies reappear.  The larger waterliles ( Nymphaea species) are also in bloom, over the next couple of months they flower on mass across the floodplains and billabongs, a wondrous sight and scent to be experienced.
Brilliant sunsets depart the day across the floodplains now the dry season fires are with us.  In Kakadu the Yellow-water boat cruises allow you to experience this, or just standing at the boat ramp and floodplain viewing platforms at Yellow-waters or Fogg Dam and Darwin beaches, anywhere really, the sunsets are beautiful!
The migratory birds have moved on. The Magpie geese have young babes, as do the Partridge pigeon (red eye pigeons).  Wedge-tailed Eagles are ready to breed.
If you are out walking in Woodland country, or just around your block, look out for Billy goat plums (Terminalia ferdinandiana) they still have lots of nice fruits to collect off the ground.
During Yegge treat yourself to some walks in the bush to see what is going on; smell the waterlilies across the floodplains and billabongs; Catch some fish; Watch the birds eating nectar, you could even dip your face into a low flowering Grevillea flower and lick the honey nectar to see why the birds go crazy for this food, I think it is delicious.
For more details about birds and animals of this season, look at Ian Morris’s book, “Kakadu”, Yegge section pages 77-99, and Diane Lucas’s book. ‘Walking with the Seasons in Kakadu’

Revelations on Reptiles

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Another fantastic workshop, with a fauna focus was hosted especially for Land for Wildlife members at The Territory Wildlife Park. This workshop focussed on reptiles that are likely to be found in Top End landscapes and particularly properties of the rural Darwin area and how best to manage habitat for their success.

Nearly 30 Land for Wildlife members all boarded the train on another slightly sweaty but beautiful Saturday morning to meet Dion Wedd, curator of the collections at Territory Wildlife Park. In the nocturnal house Dion gave us a background to reptiles in the Top End and how we can look after their habitat, as well as all the participants having an opportunity to see and even handle some of the species themselves, including a Blue- tounged lizard (actually a skink), a Frill-necked lizard, a Tree frog and others.

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There are over 300 species of Lizards, snakes, turtles and frogs that can be found in the landscapes of the Top end region and about 1/3 of those in Darwin and rural region. Lizards include numerous small skinks which are common even in suburban gardens and rummage around in leaf litter, Dragons- Frill-necked Lizards (Chlamydosarus kingii), Tree Dragon (Gowidon temporalis) and Gilbert’s dragon (Lophognathus gilberti) gheckos and goannas, there are also Pygopods, which are legless lizards (and yes they look quite like a snake).

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Frill-necked lizard (photo  by Alice Buckle)

Northern Spadefoot Toad

Northern spade-foot toad (by Alice Buckle)

Mains frog

Mains frog (photo by Alice Buckle)

In wetter areas we find amphibians (frogs, toads and toadlets) in great numbers, turtles and water monitors. Many Land for Wildlife properties include inundated areas of Sandsheet, treed swamp or freshwater creeks.

And snakes, yep there are lots of them, over 40 species in the Top End region, many of the more common ones found in the Darwin region. Unfortunately there is a culture of humans in Australia fearing snakes and wanting to kill them, often without much knowledge of their behaviour or how harmful they are. Generally keeping a distance and letting them be is the best action.

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We joined Greg Mayo, Wildlife keeper in the monsoon rainforest, who told us a lot of amazing information about snakes, their behaviour and habitat and showed us a live Black-headed python (Aspdithes melancephalus). We were also informed of some snake first aid and who to call if a snake was too near.

Australia has 8 of the Top 10 deadliest snakes in the world, but only (on average) one person dies of a snake bite per year and almost always they were bitten when trying to catch it, handle it or had hurt it. Compared to other statics of how people die in Australia, that is pretty low on the list, we should be a lot more worried about cars, other humans and bad food or alcohol!

After our talks we had time to enjoy the reptile displays in the rainforest and got together at the main station for brunch and everyone got to share stories and tips on land management for reptiles on their own properties.

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The biggest threat to reptiles in our region are ‘inappropriate fire regimes’, Cane Toads and possibly at the Top of the list habitat loss (land clearing.) So good land management practice and the efforts of landholders (and our members) is of great importance.

“Inappropriate fire” is fire that is too widespread, too regular or too late in the season, or a combination of these factors. Most reptiles find it hard to get away from fire, they will try and find an underground or wet place or move to an unburnt area. If fire is later in the dry season (and enhanced with extra fuel from grassy weeds) it will often kill most lizard (and some mammal) species in the landscape. You will see birds of prey circling overhead ready to eat the grilled animals. IN addition to this, the leaf litter layer, where many smaller species thrive is taken away with fire.

On most small rural blocks, keeping fire out of the property with fire breaks and diligence is the best strategy.

Cane toads seem to have dented many reptile populations with competition and predation, although these populations have stabilised land managers can keep on top of cane toads by “disposing of them” as quickly and painlessly as possible…

Keep up the great work and a big Thanks to The Territory Wildlife Park staff for all their time and knowledge.

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Wildflowers Walk and Macropod Talk

“Landholder walk and talks” are a fabulous way to let Land for Wildlife members share their knowledge with other landholders by taking them on a walk of their property and pointing out how they manage and enhance wildlife habitat.

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 The assessment of our new members Ingrid and David spanned over a couple of days as their property is over 400 hectares. The first visit we took out to the property was during the drier part of the dry season, so we went back after some rain to get a more complete plant list and see the property at a different time of year. This was turned into an opportunity for all Land for Wildlife members and interested others to visit the property.

Greg Leach, Botanist was on hand to identify annual flowering plants and other vegetation for those on the walk. Landholder, Ingrid gave an insight into the hard work carried out by the landowners with weed control and fire abatement.

 

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We walked to a beautiful view point on the property to overlook this unique landscape, it really is a stunning part of The Top End and the view  at the top was worth a slightly sweaty climb and we rested for a chat under the trees.

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Back at base camp we were treated to a fascinating talk by Landholder, David,  about Macropods (Kangaroos and wallabies ), this was based on his lifelong studies and looked at their behaviours, biology and the species trends all over Australia and then focusing on northern Australia. It was really illustrated that in the north we are so lucky to have large amounts of landscapes fairly undisturbed that we have a large percentage of species in tact, particularly in rocky areas such as near Adelaide River.

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We finished off with a feast of shared food and a Barramundi barbeque!

Below are just some of the flowering annual plants we encountered to add to the species list of the property. All of these species are very important to the food source for a large list of insects, which in turn are a food source for other animals as well as pollinators.

From Left to right, Thecanthes punicea (red), Plectranthus scuttellaroides, (purple) Centranthera cochinchinensis (pink)

 

From Left to right; Hibiscus meraukensis, Buchnera linearis, Cartonema spicatum

 

From Left to right; Mitrasacme connata , Thysanotus chinensis, Spermacoceae calliantha

Thanks so much to Greg Leach and our hosts for their hospitality and amazing conservation efforts.

 

Flora for Fauna- Plant of The Month of March (Loving our “Lolly bush”)

IMG_0364 (Medium)There are so many wonderful plants fruiting and flowering at the moment in The Top End with abundant food for fauna that it is hard to choose just one, but here is one that I have observed many birds eating and is truly beautiful to the human eye, as it looks like a love heart, and also can be eaten by humans. I have seen it on Land for Wildlife blocks in creeks at Humpty Doo, Bees Creek, Noonamah and on the Blackmore River too.

Cyclophyllum shultzii, also known as “Lolly Bush” and formerly Canthium lucidum is in the family Rubiaceae and a great local native and source of food for fauna.

It is a small thin tree or shrub that is found along rivers, in spring fed rainforest and in wetter areas, but is also popular as a wildlife attracting plant in gardens.

It has opposite leaves and tiny white and yellow flowers, these are loved by an array of insects and slowly form into  little love-heart red juicy fruits in January to March. These are loved by a huge array of birds including Bower birds, Dollar birds,  Honey Eaters, Rainbow Lorikeets and I am sure many more. Black-footed tree rats and other small mammals and even larger lizards would love these fruit too.

I have not managed to capture a bird in action, but here is the wonderful fruit itself, which have 2 little seeds that are in each half of the heart. IMG_0558 (Medium)

We love this plant and so does wildlife..

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You can propagate these plants fairly easily by seed and often small seedlings are found under the tree that have been dropped by birds. The leaves can yellow off a little if they get too much sun or dry out.

Emma, Land for Wildlife Coordinator

Landholder’s walk in the Robin Falls region

Come and join other Land for Wildlife members for a very interesting Landholder Walk and Talk in The Adelaide River Region near Robin Falls. Saturday 2nd April.

Learn about the ups and downs of managing over 400 Hectares of Land and also the work the Landholders have done on marsupial research.

Enjoy a walk on the property with information and expertise from Dr. Greg Leach on wet season flowering plants. Please get in touch for more details and directions.

2016 Landholders walk and talk