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Malleefowl – these birds like it hot, hot, hot!

Published 09 Dec 2020 by Jessica Stingemore (Reserve Manager)

You might have heard the saying ‘Mad for Malleefowl’? I think it suits me very well.

Before I started as the Reserve Manager at Charles Darwin Reserve, I was an avid volunteer for Bush Heritage – and have been monitoring the Malleefowl mounds here on Badimia Country for the past five years.

In 2016, myself and a team of other keen volunteers went bush on one of the annual mound monitoring surveys and visited hundreds of potential Malleefowl mound locations that needed to be ‘ground-truthed’ after LIDAR analysis.

What’s LIDAR I hear you ask?

Briefly, LIDAR is a special laser scanner attached to a small aircraft that flies across target areas of suitable Malleefowl habitat. The imagery is analysed using algorithms that are able to identify the distinctive doughnut- or dome-shaped mounds on the soil surface built by these amazing birds.

Read more about this LIDAR mapping project.

That first year was had work – walking through thick shrubland never knowing if the potential mound that we were heading for would be a Malleefowl mound, an uprooted tree trunk, or just a pile of dirt pushed-up by a bulldozer or something.

But believe it or not, that year I actually saw a Malleefowl working the mound – a sight I have not seen since.

Thankfully I've seen many birds on the Reserve since then, and regularly see the megapods crossing the tracks while I'm driving around the reserve, or showing-up among the images recorded by our remote-monitoring, motion sensor cameras.

Every year since 2016 I've returned to Charles Darwin Reserve to monitor the Malleefowl mounds that we identified. But this year (2020), not only did I partake in the monitoring as Reserve Manager, but due to COVID I also taught the training component.

This consisted of a half day in and out of the classroom: learning all about the smart phone app CyberTracker, how to navigate in the bush with a compass and GPS unit, being safety conscious in the field, and also the ever-important aspect of how to monitor a mound.

Before the monitoring started, I knew of a few active mounds around the Reserve and so I took the group to an easy-to-access mound to learn the ropes. We didn't spot the bird that day, but we did see tracks, scats, and feathers, and some of us even thought we could smell the compost within the mound. (I often drive past this mound when I’m ‘doing the rounds’, and have since heard and even seen the bird there!)

Once the training component was complete, it was time for the real monitoring to begin, so we split into teams and headed off into the bush searching for active mounds. And apart from a few lost (but subsequently found) radios, the week was a great success, with everyone seeing at least one active mound, as well as much of the Reserve that very few people ever get to explore.

Another special element was having the privilege to visit our neighbours at the Ninghan Indigenous Protected Area where we all got a chance to learn more about Badimia culture, and the Badimia connection to Country.

Another saying I like about Malleefowl is that ‘the best time to monitor the mounds, is also the worst time’. The birds work their mounds throughout the year, but the best time to tell if they're active (or not) is to check them in summer – when it is hot, hot, hot.

And speaking of hot, I want to thank all of the amazing Malleefowl volunteers – (they’re ‘hot’) – for their tireless efforts this season and I hope to see them all (and others if they’re keen) next year.

Bush Heritage would like to thank NACC NRM for supporting this project through their ‘Gnow or Never' project funded by the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

A typical active Malleefowl mound on Charles Darwin Reserve. A typical active Malleefowl mound on Charles Darwin Reserve.
Learning the ropes for Malleefolw monitoring. Learning the ropes for Malleefolw monitoring.
Reserve Manager Jessica Stingemore at an active Malleefowl mound. Reserve Manager Jessica Stingemore at an active Malleefowl mound.
Group photo at Nignhan Station on Badimia Country. Group photo at Nignhan Station on Badimia Country.
Malleefowl working a mound at Charles Darwin Reserve. Malleefowl working a mound at Charles Darwin Reserve.
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