Back down to earth …

Sunny Victoria, Australia.

Quite a change from Hokkaido but home in time to head to Terrick Terrick National Park to lend a helping hand in some fauna monitoring.

The Terricks are in the northwest of Victoria, 225 km from Melbourne, 60 km north of Bendigo. Some granite outcrops had got in the way of agricultural development so some forest had survived. This was the core of a state park and it preserves some very nice, revegetating Calitris woodland. North of that there is some marginal grazing country that had been lightly stocked and never cropped. It is the principle refuge of Victoria’s remaining Plains Wanderers, cute little birds whose closest relatives are the seed snipes of South America. Some of this country has been added to the park with a view to managing it for the benefit of our cute but endangered little birds. And somewhere along the journey the enlarged park became a National Park.

The management plan for the grassland seemed an excellent one, I am sure the Plains Wanderers would have been thrilled with it. Sadly Parks Victoria have done a woeful job of sticking to it. Still, the Wanderers are hanging on, just.

Finding them is a night-time task. They are not nocturnal but their eyes show up well in a spotlight and they tend to run rather than fly, they can be caught with a hand net, banded and released. Volunteering has its rewards …

Plains Wanderer
Plains Wanderer

And on a warm night the grassland can turn up other delights …

Fat tailed Dunnart
Fat tailed Dunnart
Eastern Scaly foot
Eastern Scaly foot

And whilst some are a handful of cute don’t try it with this one, it might result in being very unwell …

Curl Snake
Curl Snake

and most people would prefer not to handle this one either …


but they are cute in their own way, the little blue dots are the eye reflections of some of its babies that are riding on its back.

Plains Wanderer …

The Plains Wanderer is a little ground dwelling bird which has, as its closest relatives, the Seedsnipes of South America, a clue to its Gondwanan origins. It’s very cute and sadly very endangered.

It was found to be doing quite well on some farmland in the vicinity of Terrick Terrick National Park. This was on country that had never been sown to improved pasture and had been grazed by sheep for many, many years. Quite a lot of farmland was purchased and added to the park to conserve the bird. It had been well studied by this stage and the scientific advice to Parks Victoria was to continue a grazing regime.

Parks knew better, the sheep came off.

Dr Mark Antos has been studying the Plains Wanderer in the Park over recent years and has documented their catastrophic decline. They require low herb and grass with about 50% bare ground to do well. Two years of high rainfall and no grazing has turned the environment into something entirely unsuitable. Their plight made the Weekly Times recently which tells us …

… no Plains Wanderers had been seen as part of bi-monthly surveys since March 2011.

Meanwhile, it is my understanding that another researcher, working on private land, has continued to find the little buggers on land that is being grazed. In other words they’re better off outside the park than they are on land purchased with public money for their conservation.

Today, though, some good news. In the survey conducted this weekend one Wanderer was caught and banded. One hopes it signals the beginning of a recovery.