Tag Archives: Territory Wildlife Park

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)

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)

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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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An introduction to Birdwatching

 

It is Bird week– A celebration of Australian birds! We are very privileged in The Top End to have some fantastic bird species and relative to elsewhere in Australia some very intact bird habitat. There are over 250 species of birds in the region. 19 bird species are endemic to the Australian monsoon tropics and 3 species that are only found in the Top End and Kimberly region. (Rainbow Pitta, Silver-backed butcher bird and Yellow rumped-mannikin) Many other species are distributed only in the tropics, and are found in parts of Indonesia, New Guinea and beyond.

64 species in the Darwin region are migratory, the majority of which migrate from the region for the dry season.

One quarter of our birds are water or wetland birds. Another quarter of the birds are either shoreline or sea birds, leaving half as terrestrial (land) birds.

Different birds occupy different habitats, but many move between habitats, depending on food sources and shelter.  Honey Eaters move between Woodland landscapes and riparian or monsoon forest habitats, depending on where nectar is.

Birds such as birds of prey, some pigeon species, parrots, cockatoos, and some honey eaters inhabit the open forests and woodlands. Other birds choose the monsoon forest as their primary habitat, such as some flycatchers, honeyeaters, fig birds, the Rainbow Bee eater and the great Bowerbird.

Below is a painting of Comb-crested Jacanas by Jasmine Jan, our host and artist often specialising in native birds.

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Where and when to go bird spotting-

The best time to go bird spotting is first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon, this is when most birds are most active.

The best places to go bird spotting is where there is a food or water source for birds. Fruiting trees, flowering trees, seeding grasses and places with insects are where birds hang out. If you want to see waterbirds, then finding a wetland is the obvious place to go.

Often it is hard to see the colourings of birds, so to ID birds their shape, silhouette and what is called their “Giss”, which is how birds move. Of course another great way to identify birds is by their calls. These can be found on phone on computer apps too!

This weekend Land for Wildlife co-hosted 2 Bird watching or walking sessions for members of Land for Wildlife and friends of.

The role of National Parks, conservation reserves and Private land managed as Land for Wildlife is essential for bird habitat. Native birds do also of course love planted gardens, native and otherwise which have diversity and water.

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On Saturday The Territory Wildlife Park kindly hosted An Introduction to Bird Spotting with Denise Goodfellow who has written various books including “Birds of Australia’s the Top End”. This event was designed for Land for Wildlife members and friends of with fantastic bird painter (and Land for Wildlife member and TWP staff member) Jasmine Jan. This was booked out with 20 attendees keen to know more about birds.

This compact bird spotting session took participants on the TWP train to the natural Goose Lagoon and the bird hide, through the woodland and marginal paperbark swamp, with some stops on the way looking at plants that are sources of bird food and smaller birds.

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Denise gave a short introduction to the types of birds and some bird spotting tips, including the great advise that sitting a long while in one place and watching the birds and getting to know them and how they all behave is really important and rewarding. This can be done on a back veranda or in a patch of native vegetation.

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We stayed at the bird hide some time and watched the water birds on the lagoon while those attending quietly  asked questions to our bird experts and not so quietly met other members and talked about birds on their blocks. On the lagoon we spotted Radjah (Burdekin) ducks, Black necked stalks (Jabiru), Little egrets, Comb-crested Jacana and many more.

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Land for Wildlife member and local author, Di Lucas shared some knowledge on bird behaviours and habitat.

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We learnt from Jasmine that many birds are also nocturnal and can be spotted by their calls. Goose lagoon is a natural lagoon and there are many different landscape types within the park as well as an aviary of rainforest birds.

We also learned about different ways of collecting bird data and doing bird counts and encouraged everyone to participate in the “Aussie Backyard Bird Count” for bird week, to celebrate our fantastic bird life and be part of a citizen science project. Go to http://www.aussiebirdcount.org to get involved! Bird watching is a great way to enjoy the bush (as modelled by Land for Wildlife member Cathy Hansen, below)

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Thanks once again to Denise, Jasmine and The Territory Wildlife Park for hosting us. Go to the next article to hear about our Sunday “Landholder’s Wildlife Walk”

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.

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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.

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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.

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