Collaborative and high-tech Malleefowl project in the Mid-west

on 28 Feb 2017 

Located in the mid-west of Western Australia, our Charles Darwin Reserve occurs in a region that's listed as a National Important Bird Area for Malleefowl.

Malleefowl are large ground-dwelling, mound-building birds listed as Vulnerable under Commonwealth biodiversity legislation and identified in the National Threatened Species Strategy

Bush Heritage joined with our neighbours – the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and Ninghan Station – as well as the North-Central Malleefowl Preservation Group on a project to find new Malleefowl mounds so that annual monitoring can provide more robust data on population trends.

The National Recovery Team has developed a monitoring method that involves revisiting known mounds and searching for signs of fresh activity each year. The trick has always been finding enough mounds to monitor because the best Malleefowl habitat is often dense scrub that can be difficult to walk through.

Early last year, the Gunduwa Regional Conservation Association funded a collaborative project to use the latest technology – LiDAR – to find new mounds in our region.  A special laser scanner was attached to a light plane which flew across target areas of suitable Malleefowl habitat. The imagery was analysed using algorithms that are able to identify the distinctive donut or dome shaped mounds on the soil surface built by these amazing birds. The result was a list of potential Malleefowl mound locations that needed to be checked on the ground.

In spring, teams of volunteers checked hundreds of potential mound locations provided by the LiDAR project across the Gunduwa region. I was involved in the surveys at Charles Darwin Reserve and also supported the Badimia Rangers at Ninghan Station. The monitoring work can be hot and scratchy but the thrill of seeing a bird and the anticipation when you approach a new mound hoping it's recently been worked by a breeding pair is addictive! It was also an incredible spring for wildflowers and bush tucker.

At Charles Darwin Reserve, across two sites, the results are now in - we were able to locate an additional 80 mounds as a consequence of the Gunduwa LiDAR project. A fantastic outcome indeed.

Now that we have these new mound locations it will also be possible for us to take part in a National Adaptive Management Project developed by the National Recovery Team and the University of Melbourne. The project is supported through the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the National Environmental Science Program and aims to identify how feral predator control measures affect Malleefowl populations.

One of the monitoring sites on Charles Darwin Reserve occurs within our ongoing Eradicat baiting trial area (where we are targeting feral cats and foxes), the other is outside this and will act as a control. Monitoring data from Charles Darwin Reserve and many other paired sites across the current range of the species will be combined and analysed by Melbourne Uni researchers.

We're committed to working together with our neighbours, the community and researchers to help protect this iconic threatened Australian bird.

A special thank you must go to Gordon and Glenda McNeill, Joe Benshemesh, Tim Burnard and Graeme Tonkin for their ongoing support.