The Vertebrate Fauna Of Werakata National Park

Overview

This report examines the fauna present in Werakata NP and Werakata SCA. It builds on the original survey report by the Department on the fauna of Werakata National Park (DEC 2005i). Werakata National Park and State Conservation Area are some of the more significant DECC conservation reserves for the protection of biodiversity in the Sydney Basin. Located within the dry rainshadow of the Hunter Valley, together they comprise approximately 6300 hectares of land located within the catchment of the lower Hunter River adjacent to the towns of Aberdare, Abermain, Abernethy, Bellbird, Cessnock, Kearsley, Kitchener, Kurri Kurri, Neath and Weston. This report compiles Atlas of NSW Wildlife data on the terrestrial vertebrate fauna of these reserves and documents the extensive surveys undertaken by the Department of Environment and Climate Change in 2005 and 2008. A total of 72 DECC systematic survey sites have sampled birds, frogs, reptiles, bats, arboreal and terrestrial mammals. This project 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 thirty-six (236) species of native terrestrial vertebrate fauna are known to inhabit the two reserves. This total is comprised of confirmed records of 15 frogs, 27 reptiles, 149 native diurnal birds, 10 nocturnal birds and 35 native mammals. In addition, 11 feral introduced mammals and five introduced bird species have been detected. The number of fauna species known to occur in Werakata National Park and State Conservation Area is twice that of many similarly sized reserves in Western Sydney or the Central Coast. Numbers compare favourably with less disturbed environments of medium-sized reserves in the region including Manobalai Nature Reserve, Mount Royal National Park and Bouddi National Park. The fact that these levels of fauna diversity are achieved is all the more remarkable given the intensity of modification and exploitation the forests in the Lower Hunter have experienced in the past.

The reasons that lie behind this diversity are likely to be threefold. Firstly, the reserves lie within a corridor of contiguous vegetation that links Cessnock to the surrounding Hunter Ranges. The effects of isolation, so prevalent in Western Sydney reserves, are lessened by the two reserves within the largest patch of remnant vegetation on the Hunter Valley floor. This appears to support species that require large home ranges such as the Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua), Masked Owl (Tyto novaehollandiae) and the Yellow-bellied Glider (Petaurus australis). Secondly, 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 nationally endangered Regent Honeyeater (Xanthomyza phrygia) and Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor) 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. The Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis), a threatened arboreal mammal, feeds on the flowering Spotted Gum along with the threatened Grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus). Thirdly, 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:

  • Of the 21 threatened fauna species confirmed to occur in Werakata NP and SCA, the Regent Honeyeater and Swift Parrot are considered to be the highest priority for conservation management. A further nine threatened species are considered a high priority for conservation management being the Square-tailed Kite (Lophoictinia isura), Barking Owl (Ninox connivens), Masked Owl, Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus), Speckled Warbler (Pyrrholaemus sagittatus), Black-chinned Honeyeater (Melithreptus gularis), Grey-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus temporalis), Squirrel Glider and the East-coast Freetail-bat (Mormopterus norfolkensis). Many 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 region.
  • A number of threatened species were found to be widespread in Werakata National Park but poorly represented in the adjoining State Conservation Area. These species include the Black-chinned Honeyeater and Squirrel Glider. The Grey-headed Flying-fox was widespread across both reserves.
  • The status of a number of threatened species is uncertain with few records, including the Square-tailed Kite, Glossy Black-cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami), East-coast Freetail-bat, Little Bentwing-bat (Miniopterus australis) and Eastern Bentwing-bat (M. schreibersii oceanensis).
  • Three threatened species have limited suitable habitat within the reserves; the Black Bittern (Ixobrychus flavicollis), Speckled Warbler and Grey-crowned Babbler.
  • A number of declining woodland bird species are now rare in the lower and middle Hunter Valley and have only either been recorded once within the reserves or a small number of times in woodland adjacent to the reserves. These species include the Turquoise Parrot (Neophema pulchella), Hooded Robin (Melanodryas cucullata) and Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta).
  • Pest species are widespread across the two reserves, with the Fox (Vulpes vulpes) being the most commonly recorded species. Foxes were more frequently recorded in Werakata NP, with only scattered records in Werakata SCA. Feral species, such as the Spotted Turtle-dove (Streptopelia chinensis), Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis), Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and Brown Hare (Lepus capensis) are largely restricted to the margins of the reserves. Fallow Deer (Dama dama) and the Feral Goat (Capra hircus) are currently only limited in extent in the study area, but have the potential to have significant impacts on native fauna in the future if not actively managed.
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Page last updated: 13 March 2014