Wild Mob & UNSW at Avocet Nature Refuge

By September 23, 2013 May 26th, 2015 Avocet Nature Refuge

The first Conservation in Practice course (BEES5002) for the University of New South Wales (UNSW) was a resounding success for everyone involved. The students gained practical real world experience in conservation biology and learnt first hand from dedicated industry professionals. All the while making significant contributions to an under resourced endangered species recovery program. Wild Mob is extremely proud of the success of this program and would like to thank and acknowledge our partners Janelle Lowry (EHP), Hugo Spooner (Avocet Nature Refuge), Jaz Lawes (UNSW), Jono Russell (UNSW) and all our enthusiastic students. It’s partnerships such as this one that can transcend fluctuations in government funding and provide capacity for the long-term management of Australia’s ecosystems.

It’s always great to be back at Avocet Nature Refuge, especially with a group of UNSW students, the day after another Queensland series win in the State of Origin. The Early-flowering black wattle (Acacia leiocalyx subsp. leiocalyx) painted the landscape yellow across large sections of the nature refuge, which also contains remnant brigalow scrub (Acacia harpophylla), the preferred habitat of the Bridled nailtail wallaby (Onychogalea fraenata) an endangered species. However the dry weather has left the dams low and the warm daytime temperatures caught some of our NSW students by surprise, but no one was complaining about sunshine and temps in the mid 20s.

For the duration of the course the students were split into four working groups. Over the first four days the students learnt to identify the tracks of native and introduced predator species in sand plots spread across the nature refuge. This method of predator monitoring provides important data to inform baiting and other control strategies on the refuge. The remaining groups were taken on a bird watching and identification walk by Tim O’Reilly to add to Avocet’s records, on one occasion being quite surprised to run into a large Black-headed python.  In the afternoons all groups were tasked with raking sand plots and pre-feeding all 117 Bridled nailtail wallaby (BNT) traps, one group observing a male BNT already enjoying a feed of lucerne inside an open trap.  A few enthusiastic, fence-jumping cows couldn’t resist eating the lucerne either.

The groups rotated activities regularly to ensure all had adequate time to learn and practice for the track identification assessment over the coming days. All passed with flying colours however confusing dog and fox tracks (easily done) was a common theme and became a running joke for the rest of the course. The evening talk by Andrew Elphinstone on introduced fauna focused on threats posed to biodiversity and control strategies. Coincidently the lecture followed a cat being trapped on the property earlier that day, one of the major predators of the BNT. Other in field lectures were delivered by Andrew Dinwoodie who shared his years of experience working in conservation biology. An intriguing and inspiring lecture on his experience as part of the Northern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii) recovery team captivated the students.

As a break from course work the group headed out to Minerva National Park to soak in the Central Qld landscape and check out the famous Virgin Rock. On the journey, we came across a mob of Pretty faced (Macropus parryi) and Black- striped (Macropus dorsalis) wallabies. Troop carrier ‘idol’ even provided multiple harmonies as Toto blasted out of the ipod and may have been inspired by excessive sugar intake.

After completing an essay on the BNT all the students were keen to see them up close over the trapping nights. The first night didn’t disappoint. Although the rain made everything muddy, it didn’t dampen their spirits. All groups, lead by Janelle, Andrew E and Andrew D practiced handling and processing the wallabies as they would later be assessed.

Over the five nights of survey 17 individual BNTs were trapped. All four of our student teams quickly acquired appropriate animal processing techniques and worked together well to carry out health assessments on all captures. The vast majority of animals were in good condition and most breeding aged females had young or showed signs of having young at foot. Although 17 individuals does not sound like many, this is a good result as many animals are considered ‘trap shy’, last years passive hair sampling genetic survey showed the Avocet population to be greater than 65 animals. As well as giving us a good snap shot of the community’s health the mark-recapture also allowed Janelle to place data logging collars on four females. This will give insight into their ranges, foraging areas and refuge sites, once again with an aim to improve management practice.

In between tracking ferals and assisting the mark-recapture the students also helped out trialing a new wildlife monitoring technique on Avocet. In an effort to better understand how feral dogs and cats use the landscape, there are 31 motion sensitive cameras laid out in a grid pattern across the refuge. The cameras operate 24hrs a day using an infra-red flash at night as to not disturb animal behavior. We are planning to have the camera grid operating for six months before students will analyse the data for trends in behavior. It is hoped that as this technology improves and becomes more cost effective it can be used to obtain close to real time information and better inform feral control.

Wild Mob scientists spend a lot of time and use a lot of equipment out in the field. We’re all about getting out there, getting our hands dirty and supporting our conservation partners. If you feel you can help Support Us or become a Project Partner of Avocet we’d love to hear from you.

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