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Nest boxes replace lost tree hollows

Guest bloggers
Published 11 Mar 2021 
by Kim Jarvis (Scottsdale Field Officer) 
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Nest Boxes ready to be installed in the trees. Photo by Claudia Wade.<br/> Nest Boxes ready to be installed in the trees. Photo by Claudia Wade.
Next box builder Max Suthern with Vicki Suthern, Kim Jarvis and James Suthern. Photo Phil Palmer.<br/> Next box builder Max Suthern with Vicki Suthern, Kim Jarvis and James Suthern. Photo Phil Palmer.
Kim Jarvis checking out a new microbat nest box in Scottsdale’s wagon wheel shed. Photo Phil Palmer.<br/> Kim Jarvis checking out a new microbat nest box in Scottsdale’s wagon wheel shed. Photo Phil Palmer.
The Australian Owlet Nightjar is one of the hollow loving bird species we are hoping to see move into the new nest boxes at Scottsdale. Photo Peter Morris.<br/> The Australian Owlet Nightjar is one of the hollow loving bird species we are hoping to see move into the new nest boxes at Scottsdale. Photo Peter Morris.
Up we go: Scottsdale Reserve Manager Phil Palmer installs a nest box in a Yellow Box tree. Photo Kim Jarvis.<br/> Up we go: Scottsdale Reserve Manager Phil Palmer installs a nest box in a Yellow Box tree. Photo Kim Jarvis.

For the past 10 months I've been leading a project to install a suite of nest boxes at Bush Heritage’s Scottsdale Reserve on Ngunnawal country in southern NSW as part of our ongoing efforts to restore the reserve after bushfire.

Scottsy was badly burnt during the devastating 2019-20 fire season. About 73% (1006 ha) of the reserve was impacted during the Clear Range bushfire, which began as a spot fire from the Orroral Valley blaze burning across the border in the ACT's Namadgi National Park.

As a result, many of the large older ‘grandfather’ trees found all across the reserve were lost.

On the valley floor we lost approximately 80% of our hollow-bearing trees.

These were mostly Yellow Boxes, Apple Boxes, Scribbly Gums and Candlebarks, all with fantastic big hollows which provided vital habitat for many birds and arboreal mammals.

These trees basically became chimneys as the fire travelled all the way up through their trunks. It can take 100 years or more for Eucalypt trees to develop hollows so it’s hard to articulate just what a loss it was.

So, we knew we needed to find something quickly to try and replace what was lost.

Enter Alice McGlashan. Alice is an environmental educator, in the space of hollow using animals and nest boxes. Alice sourced nest boxes from generous local Canberran individuals, and from Creature Comforts in Sydney.

She taught me about hole sizes (wildlife won’t utilise a box with holes that could fit a predator) and hole placement (species like the Eastern Pygmy Possums like to enter from below, right near the tree trunk, while Parrot species enter from above through a top front hole).

With her help, we picked almost 80 boxes: 45 boxes for a wide range of woodland bird species, eight microbat boxes, four small mammal boxes and 20 Greater Glider boxes (to be installed at our Burrin Burrin Reserve which was also heavily impacted by bushfire).

Alice supplied half while Max Suthern, a handy carpenter and father of Scottsdale Field Officer James Suthern, constructed the other half.

The team completed their safety and working at heights courses, we bought an eight metre ladder, harnesses, ropes and belays and we were ready to go!

Parrot species, in particular, like to come back to places where they've bred before so we chose places on the reserve where nest boxes could be installed as close as possible to the trees that were lost.

Pygmy Possums rely on protection from shrubbery throughout the year and in winter nest in hollows on lower branches of trees that are disguised with shrubs and foliage. Thus the Pygmy Possum boxes will be installed on branches in the high country where the Scribbly Gum, Callitris and mid story shrubs that were badly burnt are growing back.

We’ve installed the first of the boxes and the rest will be up by the middle of autumn 2021, ready for animals to check them out in winter/spring. While we know it’s not a silver bullet, it’s reassuring that there will be lots more safe spaces for wildlife on Scottsdale.

Once they’re up we’ll monitor them regularly with manual checks and also set up some cameras to see who moves in!

This project has been generously supported by the Australian Turf Club Foundation.

Nest Boxes ready to be installed in the trees. Photo by Claudia Wade.<br/> Nest Boxes ready to be installed in the trees. Photo by Claudia Wade.
Next box builder Max Suthern with Vicki Suthern, Kim Jarvis and James Suthern. Photo Phil Palmer.<br/> Next box builder Max Suthern with Vicki Suthern, Kim Jarvis and James Suthern. Photo Phil Palmer.
Kim Jarvis checking out a new microbat nest box in Scottsdale’s wagon wheel shed. Photo Phil Palmer.<br/> Kim Jarvis checking out a new microbat nest box in Scottsdale’s wagon wheel shed. Photo Phil Palmer.
The Australian Owlet Nightjar is one of the hollow loving bird species we are hoping to see move into the new nest boxes at Scottsdale. Photo Peter Morris.<br/> The Australian Owlet Nightjar is one of the hollow loving bird species we are hoping to see move into the new nest boxes at Scottsdale. Photo Peter Morris.
Up we go: Scottsdale Reserve Manager Phil Palmer installs a nest box in a Yellow Box tree. Photo Kim Jarvis.<br/> Up we go: Scottsdale Reserve Manager Phil Palmer installs a nest box in a Yellow Box tree. Photo Kim Jarvis.