Olkola rangers & the Golden-shouldered Parrot

about  Olkola 
on 06 Jul 2015 

“Hey! Where’s the road gone?!” The metre high grasses have covered it up again!

I’ve never driven 7 hours just to put in a photo point before (that’s 7 hours there and 7 hours back, by the way) but for the Olkola land managers this is just a regular day.

The team of six rangers and their coordinator have over 800,000 ha to manage in central Cape York. The country is endless savannah grasslands, melaleuca swamps, open eucalypt woodlands, creeks, rivers and lagoons.

“It’s strange Country” says Olkola Chairperson, Mike Ross. He’s referring to the spring mounds, which bubble up rocks and secrets from 3km underground; to the glowing white hills that appear from nowhere and to the little parrots that live in giant ant beds.

It’s a strange, beautiful place this Olkola Country.

Bush Heritage is extremely proud to be partnering with Olkola; working together to support Olkola undertake their healthy country planning and to care for their significant natural values.

One key conservation concern for Olkola is the golden-shouldered Parrot (Psephotus chrysopterygius). This iconic and beautiful, small species of parrot is the Olkola totem, which means there is significant cultural responsibility to care for and protect the endangered bird.

The golden-shouldered parrot is a small granivore closely related to the extinct paradise parrot (P. pulcherrimus). The male is turquoise with a black crown, bright yellow on the wing and forehead and with a salmon pink belly.

Females and immature birds are mostly green with a turquoise rump. Also known as the ‘ant bed parrot’ the little bird waits until the end of the wet season when termite mounds are soft from the rains and digs out a nest chamber in which to safely lay eggs.

In the early dry season Olkola rangers undertook surveys to count active nests and to mark out potential habitat for future surveys.

The parrots’ distribution is estimated at 1,380 km2 for the northern population, with survey effort this year focussing on the north-east corner of Olkola’s tenure as a starting point.

This work was undertaken with the guidance of Sue Shepard, who is a local expert from neighbouring Artemis Station and who has been monitoring the golden-shouldered parrot for 20 years.

Dr Steve Murphy also took part and very kindly donated 20 remote monitoring cameras. These cameras were placed several meters away from active nests and will hopefully capture successful fledglings heading off into the world to fend for themselves.

Not all chicks will make it however, and these cameras will also give us a good insight into the types and frequency of predation events suffered by the parrots (goannas and butcher birds being the main culprits).

In addition to the parrot surveys Olkola rangers have established their first long-term monitoring plots and photo points to assess changes in savannah vegetation health over time. This will allow the rangers to understand the impacts of their management activities, particularly fire management, and the way this influences plant species, diversity and habitat values.

Woody thickening of broad-leaved titree (Melaleuca viridiflora) is a particular concern, as too many trees can adversely affect golden-shouldered parrot habitat.

Olkola Aboriginal Corporation and Bush Heritage Australia are currently developing a long-term, landscape-scale habitat improvement project in order to secure the future of this iconic parrot.

With the help of Bush Heritage, local experts, landholders and Queensland Parks, Olkola rangers will implement the recovery actions necessary to secure the current population, and protect the parrot and its habitat well into the future.

The Olkola rangers would like to sincerely thank the Scully Fund for its generous donation that allowed this year’s surveys to happen, through funding ranger wages and the purchase of necessary monitoring equipment.