The Vertebrate Fauna of Sugarloaf State Conservation Area

Overview

This report examines the fauna present in the Sugarloaf State Conservation Area. The reserve comprises approximately 3937 hectares of land. It is located within the catchment of the lower Hunter River and small watercourses flowing directly into Lake Macquarie adjacent to the small towns of Awaba, Freemans Waterhole, Killingworth, Mulbring, Seahampton, Wakefield and West Wallsend. This report documents the extensive surveys undertaken by the Department of Environment and Climate Change in 2008 and compiles Atlas of NSW Wildlife data on the terrestrial vertebrate fauna of this reserve. A total of 49 DECC systematic survey sites including 36 sites in the current survey have sampled birds, frogs, reptiles, bats, arboreal and terrestrial mammals. The DECC survey has contributed greatly to the knowledge of the current composition and distribution of wildlife across the study area, identified a variety of threatened species, and improved the understanding of conservation management priorities.

Two hundred and sixteen (216) species of native terrestrial vertebrate fauna are known to inhabit the reserve. This total is comprised of confirmed records of 17 frogs, 31 reptiles, 124 native diurnal birds, seven nocturnal birds and 37 native mammals. In addition, nine feral introduced mammals and one introduced bird species have been detected.

The reasons behind the high fauna diversity are likely to be fourfold. Firstly, the reserve lies within a corridor of contiguous vegetation that links Sugarloaf Range to the Watagan Mountains to the south. Secondly, some of the vegetation of the reserve is dominated by Spotted Gum (Corymbia maculata). This distinctive tree is one of only a few eucalypts that occur near the coast that are winter-flowering, and as a result large numbers of animals make use of it as a winter food resource. Nomadic species such as the threatened Black-chinned Honeyeater (Melithreptus gularis) and Grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) have been observed feeding in the blossoms of this tree on a number of occasions over the last few years, along with other honeyeater and lorikeet species. Thirdly some of the deeper and larger gullies support patches of closed forest below a eucalypt tall open forest canopy, which has resulted in the presence of a number of rainforest species, including species such as the Regent Bowerbird (Sericulus chrysocephalus) and Noisy Pitta (Pitta versicolor). Fourthly, the Hunter Valley is an important ecological linkage for the movement of many species between the dry western environments and those found along the coast.

Some of the key findings of the surveys are:

  • Sixteen threatened species have been confirmed to occur within Sugarloaf SCA; comprising one endangered and 15 vulnerable species (as listed on the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995).
  • Of these threatened fauna species, the Spotted-tailed Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus) is considered to be the highest priority for conservation management. A further three threatened species are considered a high priority for conservation management being the Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus), Black-chinned Honeyeater and the East-coast Freetail-bat (Mormopterus norfolkensis). All of these species rely on habitats that are closely tied to dry grassy woodlands on fertile soils. Historically, these same environments have been preferentially sought for agriculture and, as a result, have been extensively cleared and fragmented. Looming urban and industrial expansion associated with the major urban centres confounds impacts on these habitats across the Lower Hunter region.
  • A small population of the Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is present in the reserve and the survey recorded regionally rare and localised threatened species, such as the Stephens' Banded Snake (Hoplocephalus stephensii).

Pest species are widespread across the reserve, with the Fox (Vulpes vulpes) being the most commonly recorded species. A small population of the Feral Goat (Capra hircus) is present and there are scattered records of the Feral Pig (Sus scrofa). Both species have the potential to have significant impacts on native fauna in the future if not actively managed. The majority of the remaining feral species, such as the Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) and Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are uncommon and largely restricted to the margins of the reserve.


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Page last updated: 17 March 2014