Helping protect remnant habitats

Saturday 21 June, 2014

If our campaign to protect the Monjebup Creek property in the Fitz‑Stirling region of south‑west Western Australia is successful, another piece of the Gondwana Link puzzle will fall into place. Here's a taste of what we expect monitoring work on the property will reveal.

The western whipbird
The western whipbird, which has a distinctive call. Photo and recording by Graeme Chapman.

The western whipbird (Psophodes nigrogularis oberon) isn't the type of bird to hog the limelight. More often heard than seen, it has a distinctive, ‘never‑forgotten' call. Officially, the male western whipbird calls whit‑chee‑awheer‑chwit to which his equally elusive mate replies chwik‑it‑up. A melodious tune, it bears no resemblance to the drawn‑out whip crack of its distant cousin, the eastern whipbird.

The virtually intact bushland of the Monjebup Creek property in the Fitz‑Stirling region of south‑west Western Australia provides vital habitat for a number of threatened animal species, including the western whipbird.

Bush Heritage Ecologist, Angela Sanders, has heard the western whipbird's unmistakeable call before on the property, and says the habitat is ideal for this ground‑dwelling songbird.

"This sub‑species of western whipbirds prefers the mallee heath - particularly one with an open canopy and a dense under‑storey," she says. 

A malleefowlMalleefowl use heat from composting leaf litter to warm their nests. Photo by Jessica Wyld Photography

"Western whipbirds are very shy and difficult to spot. Sometimes when I'm out doing my monitoring work, and sitting quietly on the ground weighing or measuring something, one will come in for a look and cock its head at me. They're amazing looking birds and not a lot is actually known about them."

If Bush Heritage succeeds in its quest to secure protection for the Monjebup Creek property, Angela will begin her monitoring work there in spring. The signs are good that she'll find a number of significant animal species are present, including both the tammar and black‑gloved wallaby and the malleefowl.

"Malleefowl are truly fascinating birds," says Angela. "They're megapodes - also known as incubator birds. They use heat from composting leaf litter to warm their nests, which are huge mounds about one‑and‑a‑half‑metres high.

"When the chicks hatch, they're completely independent. They pop out onto the surface of the mound, then roll down the side and scuttle under a bush where they'll stay until their wings are dry. Then they're off. Right from the moment they hatch they're basically fully‑functioning mini malleefowl."

Tammar wallabyTammar wallabies will be right at home at Monjebup Creek. Photo by Jiri Lochman/Lochman Transparencies

A female mallee fowl can lay up to around 30 eggs in a season, yet only about 1% of the chicks survive because of predation by goannas and foxes. Angela is confident that her monitoring will confirm the presence of at least two or three breeding pairs on the property.

Another animal that Angela says is certainly on the Monjebup Creek property is the honey possum. This tiny creature punches way above its weight of around nine grams for a male and five grams for a female.

Comparatively speaking, the male honey possum has the largest testicles and sperm of any living mammal. When the babies are born they are about the size of a rice grain and their average life span is just two to three years.

Honey possums have no teeth and live on pollen and nectar, which they extract from native flowers with a paintbrush‑like tongue. “The evolutionary trail of this animal is quite incredible,” says Angela. “South‑west Western Australia is the only place in the world where they could have evolved. That’s because it’s the only place where pollen and nectar has been readily available for all twelve months of the year over such a long period of time.”

The diminutive honey possumA tiny honey possum. Photo by Annette Ruzicka.

While there is still much to be revealed about the native animals of the Monjebup Creek property, it’s what we could learn from its vegetation that may yet hold the greatest conservation value. Fire swept through the property around 20 years ago and since then, much of the bushland has regenerated into a dense and diverse mix of native shrubs and trees. The resulting mosaic of vegetation of different ages is in stark contrast to our other Fitz‑Stirling properties, where much of the vegetation is more than 50 years unburnt.

“A lot of banksias, for instance, collapse after about 50 years, and they’re one of the plant species that honey possums rely on.” says Angela.

If we're successful in securing its ongoing protection, we'll look forward to studying the various ages of vegetation on the Monjebup Creek property, including its highly successful regeneration. This would give us a baseline for patch burning on our other Fitz‑Stirling properties, helping to both preserve and promote their biodiversity.

Help us protect these habitats

We need your continued support to ensure we can secure this property and be in a position to establish ongoing maintenance and monitoring programs. Donate today.

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