Male plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus). Copyright Ian Montgomery, birdway.com.au
Standing less than 20cm tall the quail-like plains-wanderer relies on blending into native grasslands for its survival. If startled it will run at first – its fight has been described as ‘ponderous’ – but its best defence is camouflage and it will hide at the first sign of disturbance.
In conservation circles this endemic bird is globally significant. Being the only species in its family – Pedionomidae – it sits alone on its own branch of the evolutionary tree. The last few years have seen a massive decline in numbers, and it’s been ranked fourth amongst birds worldwide for combined evolutionary distinctness and extinction risk.
“Despite appearances it’s a closer relative of gulls and shore birds than quails,” explains Ecologist Sandy Gilmore. “The South American seedsnipe – a plant-eating shorebird – is its closest relative and it’s thought the bird’s evolution could trace back 60 million years to when Australia was connected to South America and Antartica.”
Our Boolcoomatta Reserve in South Australia’s arid rangelands is an important site for the plains-wanderer, providing critical drought refuge habitat when conversion of grasslands to cropping and grazing has reduced its range elsewhere.
A new long-term monitoring program using remote infra-red cameras on both Boolcoomatta and our Bon Bon Reserve will help protect such vulnerable natives from feral foxes and cats.
Anecdotally we haven’t seen a fox on Boolcoomatta for over six years.
“We’ve just started collecting data” explains Healthy Landscape Manager Glen Norris. “At this stage we’re just confirming the presence or absence of certain species.”
having a territorial stoush were among images captured by the new remote cameras on Boolcoomatta.
“Anecdotally we haven’t seen a fox on Boolcoomatta for over six years, which we can attribute to eight years of intensive aerial and ground baiting,” he said. “With this monitoring we’ll collect data to understand feral movements more broadly.
Bon Bon is over 200,000 hectares, so with such sheer size we need data to support an efficient, evidence-based approach to feral animal control.
An incredible 60% of mammals have been lost in the broader South Australian arid rangelands since European settlement.
“Cats and foxes are just extremely generalist predators,” explains Sandy. “They’ll eat just about anything they can get in their mouths. The larger animals that would have had slower reproductive rates are mostly the ones to have disappeared. The survivors have bred fast enough to persist.”
The new program uses 20 remote sensor cameras on each reserve. They were put out last year for two months and the two cameras getting the most action were left out over summer, shaded with wooden structures to protect them.
Results were encouraging, with minimal ferals recorded, however Glen Norris found out he had a few pigs and sheep that have now been removed. In exciting news, no foxes have been recorded on Boolcoomatta so far!
The establishment of a partnership last year – The South Australian Rangelands Alliance – with Arid Recovery allows Bush Heritage to move towards trial reintroduction programs for some small mammals.
Ecologist Dr Aaron Fenner was appointed to a role working across both our South Australian properties and Arid Recovery’s nearby reserve, where four threatened mammals – the greater bilby, burrowing bettong, western barred bandicoot and greater stick nest rat – have all been successfully reintroduced within a fenced area.
“We’d love to reintroduce some of those back onto Boolcoomatta,” said Glen. “Obviously within a fenced area it’s easier to control feral predators, but the Holy Grail is to re-establish viable populations outside fenced enclosures.”
This Feral Monitoring Program has been generously sponsored by the Letcombe Trust.
Bon Bon Station Reserve was acquired in 2008 with the help of the Australian Government under the Natural Heritage Trust’s National Reserve System Program, the Government of South Australia and the Besen Family Foundation. Boolcoomatta Reserve was acquired in 2006 with help from the Australian Government under the Natural Heritage Trust’s National Reserve System Program and the Nature Foundation SA.