Earlier this year I joined eight other volunteers to conduct an annual survey of Malleefowl activity on the vast Charles Darwin Reserve.
The methods for locating Malleefowl mounds have changed dramatically over recent times. My first experience at Malleefowl monitoring was at Badja Station in 2014, where I was one of 32 people stretched out in a long line, each of us 15 metres apart. In formation, we then walked into the bush in search of Malleefowl mounds. Yes, it was a lot of fun, but this method required many people and a lot of logistical support over a week of monitoring.
Fast forward to 2019 where with the aid of LIDAR air monitoring, only eight people were needed for surveys on Charles Darwin Reserve (CDR). We were able to navigate directly to already identified mounds, where we measured any activity. Although we did have to battle through a variety of heavy prickly bush to more open terrain, it was exciting as we approached each mound, wondering whether it was active.
At one active mound we observed fresh scrapings, indicating that the Malleefowl parents had just departed. This year, of the 78 mounds monitored, five were deemed active. As we were only monitoring 5% of the 68,000 hectares of CDR there's potentially a lot more activity on the remaining 95% of the property.
Over the four days of monitoring, the safety of participants was paramount and we wore long trousers and long sleeved shirts to prevent any injury. We also had the benefit of radio contact, lots of water and a Safety Grab Bag (which included an emergency first aid kit). At the end of each day, we returned to the recently refurbished volunteers' accommodation, with its new beds, a well-equipped kitchen and hot showers. Wow!
On the last day of monitoring we travelled to the adjoining Ninghan Station where, with the help of Ashley Bell, the son of the station owner Don, we monitored a further 24 mounds, again with the use of LIDAR. My excitement went off the scale when the last mound we found was very freshly active – I felt like we had a window into the Malleefowl's private space.
To cap off a wonderful four days of monitoring, Ashley took us to the sacred Warrdagger Rock some 30km from the homestead. The rock is incredibly big and beautiful. We explored a cave with paintings and Ashley told us stories about men-only and women-only areas. I felt very privileged to be in the presence of Ashley and to learn more about Aboriginal culture and interaction with country. I should mention that Ashley generously provided us with beautiful station-grown oranges – just delicious.
On a sad note, it has been announced that the manager of CDR Will and Olivia and the children will be departing at the end of 2019 for NSW, and along with many of the volunteers I’d like to wish them well. Over the two years I have known them they have been so welcoming, energised and professional in their approach to conservation and have played an important role in making CDR what it is today.