Boots? Check. Gloves? Check. Sunglasses? Check. Wide-brimmed hat? Check. Shin and ankle gaiters? Check. Thorn-proof, long-sleeved shirt and trousers? Hmm... is there any such thing?
As it turns out, the answer to that question is ‘No’ – as this year’s hardy bunch of staff and volunteers discovered when we were out conducting the annual Malleefowl mound monitoring surveys on Charles Darwin Reserve.
Malleefowl seem to prefer to build their nests/mounds in the most impenetrable thickets of bush that you can imagine – with spikey, thorny and similar such impassability characteristics high on their habitat preference list.
Not surprisingly, these natural defences put our team, and our PPE (personal protective equipment) to the test when we recently went bush on the reserve searching for active Malleefowl mounds.
About eight of us visited more than 100 recorded mounds during the intensive two-day survey, and were delighted to find about a dozen of them in active use this breeding season. It’s a very special feeling following the GPS directions through dense scrub to locate the mound, and then to see that it's in use and being tended by the Malleefowl to incubate their buried eggs.
These discoveries were made sweeter as a result of the blood, sweat and tears that frequently had to be shed to get to the well-hidden nesting sites. All of us emerged from the bush bearing cuts and scratches and bruises, with bits of twigs embedded in our hats, hair and clothing. But we also emerged with a great sense of satisfaction in finding so many active mounds on the reserve. It’s a good sign that the conservation effort being carried out at Charles Darwin Reserve is making a difference to the future of this threatened species.
Malleefowl have disappeared from much of their former extensive range, and are now reliant on reserves and other large patches of bush with suitable, defensive nesting habitat.
All of the survey information that we recorded on our tablets has since been forwarded via the National Malleefowl Recovery Team to the National Malleefowl Monitoring Database. The sharing of information like this is critical to understanding the status of the species, and how it’s tracking in terms of further decline or recovery. Our focus at Charles Darwin Reserve is on recovery, and we’re hoping that our conservation efforts and interventions will see the number of active mounds increase as the years unfold into the future.
We’ll keep you posted!
Richard is a Bush Heritage volunteer (and member of our Volunteer Advisory Committee), and regular contributor to the ‘Bushie Blog’. You can follow Richard on Twitter: @RichardMcLellan