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Saving our Species Update

Issue 3 - February 2015

Best wishes for a happy and sustainable 2015

Cumberland land snails. Copyright Australian Museum

We recently celebrated one year of the Saving our Species (SoS) program and are looking forward to many more positive activities in 2015. This issue brings you up to date on various aspects of the program.

Find out more about species projects, scientific work, information about threatened species, as well as all the opportunities that are avialable for you to become involved.

We are always happy to hear about any activities that you, or someone you know, are doing to help save our threatened species. Do you have a story to share? Email savingourspecies@environment.nsw.gov.au.

Volunteers help track the malleefowl at Goonoo forest

Malleefowl in Goonoo forest. Photo: Marc Irvin/OEH

Andy McQuie, Office of Environment and Heritage

Volunteers from around the Dubbo area recently gave up their weekend to help track and monitor the endangered malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata), which occurs in very low numbers in the nearby Goonoo forest, just north of the city.

The event was hosted by the Coonabarabran Area rangers of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and Regional Operations staff from the Office of Environment and Heritage.

The National Malleefowl Monitoring System, set up by the National Malleefowl Recovery Team under the leadership of Tim Burnard, uses a digital form loaded onto a basic smartphone. Using the digital form makes it easy to record malleefowl mound information. The form was created using the Cybertracker program, originally developed for Kalahari bushmen to record wildlife data in Africa. 

The 15 volunteers were instructed in the use of the system, with world malleefowl expert, Dr Joe Benshemesh, who developed the system, on hand to train the volunteers.

Dr Benshemesh says “using Cybertracker means all the data is collected methodically and in the same format, so it can contribute to an important picture of what is happening to malleefowl populations nationally.

“With NSW community volunteers and staff now contributing to the national malleefowl database, we can get a more comprehensive understanding of this species across its entire range, especially since the Goonoo forest is about the most easterly extent of its occurrence”.

Malleefowl in Goonoo forest. Photo: Marc Irvin/\\oeh

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Sniffing out endangered eastern bristlebirds

Detector dog Penny tracking eastern bristlebirds. Photo: Steve Austin

David Bain, Office of Environment and Heritage

The Saving our Species (SoS) program has allocated funds for actions to save the endangered eastern bristlebird (Dasyornis brachypterus). The eastern bristlebird is one of our most endangered species with approximately 2,000 individuals left in the wild.

A site-managed species under the SoS program, it is now only known to occur in three distinct and unconnected regions between southeast Queensland and far eastern Victoria. Funded actions have been critical for species management, particularly with regard to fire, urban development and habitat management.

The northern NSW Border Ranges population has less than 40 birds in the wild. The Office of Environment and Heritage, private landholders, NGOs and universities have been working together for over ten years to improve habitat quality and to implement a captive breeding program at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.

A detector dog, Penny, has been trained to help track eastern bristlebirds by scent in this population. Field trials undertaken from September to December 2014 were very successful in finding eastern bristlebirds and mapping of habitat use has commenced based on Penny’s results. The Border Ranges program has a strong focus on restoring and protecting habitat to enable the release of captive bred birds into suitable habitat to bolster the wild population.

The two areas making up the central population are very different in terms of management. Jervis Bay National Park is close to urban areas, and Barren Grounds Nature Reserve is in more remote areas of the Illawarra Escarpment. With good land management and strategic planning, on-going surveys are showing that at Jervis Bay the population is stable with some range expansion and at Barren Grounds numbers have increased slightly in heath unburnt for over 30 years. Translocations have occurred from both of these areas. The successfully reintroduced population at Beecroft Weapons Range, another population at Jervis Bay, continues to expand in both numbers and extent, and more recently released birds in the Cataract Dam catchment in the Illawarra region are breeding.

Annual surveys of the southern population in Nadgee Nature Reserve, south of Eden, are continuing in long-unburnt heath (currently 34 years post-fire). These surveys show that the numbers of eastern bristlebirds are stable or slightly increasing in this population.

Watch this video of Penny the tracker dog in action.

Detector dog Penny tracking eastern bristlebirds. Photo: Steve Austin

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Searching for the critically endangered Bossiaea fragrans

Bossiaea fragrans in flower. Photo: Amanda Jowett/OEH

 Amanda Jowett, Office of Environment and Heritage

In 2009, only 13 Bossiaea fragrans plants at two disjunct sites were known to exist within the Abercrombie Caves area. Following targeted searches over 3 years from 2011 to 2014, the known population has increased to over 400 plants at 21 sites.

Bossiaea fragrans is a leafless shrub known only from a small area within Abercrombie Karst Conservation Reserve and in an adjacent travelling stock reserve. It is listed as critically endangered under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.

This rare distinctive plant grows to about 1.5–2 metres high and consists of cladode branches (round with flattened wings). The flowers, appearing during the months of September and October, have yellow petals with red markings and a dark red keel (the pair of petals beneath the flower).

While the targeted searches, to date, have been successful in finding new populations, Bossiaea fragrans is still considered to be highly restricted, with its extent of occurrence no more than 1 km2. Effort has been made to provide information to several agricultural shows within the region to increase the awareness of this critically endangered plant and to encourage local landowners to notify the Office of Environment and Heritage if the plant is found on their property.

Monitoring was initiated under the Saving our Species program, by erecting remote cameras to investigate grazing threats. Feral goats were the main culprit; however, other browsers caught on camera included eastern grey kangaroos, swamp wallabies and a deer. Further data is being collected to assess the population trends and determine the threats.

Bossiaea fragrans in flower. Photo: Amanda Jowett/OEH

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Lapsed in time: a novel survey method for the cryptic grasslands earless dragon

Poplars wildlife camera. Photo: Rod Pietsch/OEH

Rod Pietsch and Thomas Reid, Office of Environment and Heritage

The endangered grassland earless dragon (Tympanocryptis pinguicolla) is a small highly cryptic lizard that occurs on the grassy plains around Canberra and the Monaro region of southern NSW.

The dragon lives primarily in natural temperate grassland endangered ecological community areas and uses spider and insect burrows for breeding, thermoregulation and refuge.

Long-term monitoring by Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) South East Region and colleagues from nearby ACT revealed that the dragon declined significantly through the millennium drought and has disappeared from some sites. Unfortunately, we still know very little about how to protect the species from threats such as drought and inappropriate land management because the species is so hard to find with conventional reptile survey methods. The dragons will use artificial spider burrows (spider tubes) but checking spider tubes is very labour intensive and can be ‘hit-and-miss’.

OEH South East Region staff are developing a novel survey method using wildlife cameras and spider tubes to reliably and efficiently detect the species. Wildlife cameras are rarely used for reptile surveys as cold blooded animals don’t produce body heat to trigger the cameras motion sensors. However, setting the cameras on time-lapse gets around this problem and the good news is it seems to work!

The time-lapse camera technique was trialled in conjunction with the annual spider tube monitoring on private land adjacent to the Queanbeyan Nature Reserve. Thirty-two cameras were set above spider tubes taking a photo every minute in daylight hours for a month.

This gave 361,276 images, 5,555 of which had dragons! The species was detected on all camera transects (and over 50% of the cameras) surveyed and proved more effective than checking tubes. The trial has also provided insights about where to place cameras, how long to leave them in the field, the most appropriate season to survey, and the optimal temperate range to detect dragons.

Scanning all the images was a bit like watching grass grow, but the footage of dragons is a great reward (see video). It is hoped that this method combined with habitat assessments will identify important habitat features and drought refuge more efficiently. We hope to develop the method to a point where it can be rolled out in a broad scale survey of the Monaro in order to identify populations of the species so that it can be better conserved.

You can watch a video of the dragon near the spider tube and spot some larger furry visitors.

Poplars wildlife camera. Photo: Rod Pietsch/OEH

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Community-based monitoring for the superb parrot – the benefits of citizen science through community engagement

Superb parrots. Photo: David and Glynis Ingram

Damon Oliver, Office of Environment and Heritage

From many years of community engagement activities in the South West Slopes, it is very apparent that many people, particularly landholders, love the superb parrot (Polytelis swainsonii) and have a strong desire to help in the recovery effort and to learn more about the species.

The superb parrot is a spectacular green bird that is easy to identify, thereby making it an ideal candidate for a citizen science monitoring program. Over the last 20 years the superb parrot has become a local mascot in the Boorowa Shire with local businesses using the superb parrot as their icon. The key threat to the species is the ongoing loss of large, old trees that provide hollows for nesting birds. Many old or dead paddock trees are lost each year.

The superb parrot is a highly mobile seasonal visitor to parts of the NSW South West Slopes, where it breeds in spring and summer. Most of the population then departs in autumn and winter, but their movements and non-breeding habitats are not well known. Since 2013, the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and the Australian National University have been working with about 40 community members, including landholders and residents of local towns, on a monitoring program to collect important population and distribution information that will contribute to the bird’s conservation and management.

Every spring our community surveyors are asked to spend at least one morning between late September and late November counting superb parrots at sites of their choice, or sites that can be provided for them, on both private and public land. Our landholder members count birds on their own properties. The survey involves counting the number of birds seen over a 1 km transect, over 1 hour, recording GPS locations and other data such as weather and the time of day. To date there have been over 100 surveys conducted. Data is collated by OEH and reported back to our community surveyors. Currently survey results are recorded on a paper data sheet. However, OEH South East Region is working on a project to enable the information to be collected via a smartphone app. Not only would this make it easier for our community surveyors to collect the information, but it will assist us to incorporate and review the data more quickly.

Superb parrots. Photo: David and Glynis Ingram


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Bolivia homoranthus no longer on the rocks

Homoranthus croftianus on the rocks. Photo: Todd Soderquist/OEH

Dr Todd Soderquist, Office of Environment and Heritage

Despite extensive botanical surveys over the past few decades in the Bolivia Range, south of Tenterfield, isolated populations of Bolivia homoranthus were not discovered until 1997.

This new species was named Homoranthus croftianus in honour of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Ranger, Dr Peter Croft, who has played a key role in conserving flora and fauna on the Northern Tablelands. Several small populations were found on granite outcrops, and in shallow soils and crevices on rocky slopes. Early observations suggested survival and recruitment were hampered by feral goats and perhaps other herbivores. Most populations have become extinct since discovery in 1997 due to this and other factors such as drought.

The one remaining healthy population of this endangered species is now the focus of intensive management by Office of Environment and Heritage staff under the Saving our Species program. The specific objectives of this program are to improve the species local recruitment and to re-establish its wider distribution.

With the establishment of Bolivia Hill Nature Reserve in 2000, NPWS was able to gradually control the local goat population and greatly reduce grazing pressure. However, to ensure the few remaining plants are protected from even occasional grazing incursions that might set the population back many years, strong mesh cages have been erected over selected groups of plants. In addition, all plants have been mapped to assess whether seedling recruitment is better inside the cages than at unprotected sites.

Seeds and cuttings are currently being gathered and will be used to establish a nursery population. Once mature stock is available, the species will be translocated to former sites and similar habitat that can be cost-effectively protected from grazing and wildfire.

Homoranthus croftianus on the rocks. Photo: Todd Soderquist/OEH

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Collaborating for the conservation of the small purple-pea

Coir logs stabilise the eroding cutting edge to protect the small purple-pea plants. Photo: John Holland

Chris Weston, John Holland Rail Pty Ltd

John Holland Rail Pty Ltd (JHR) has inherited the management of a significant environmental area subject to a Voluntary Conservation Agreement (VCA) between Tralee and Williamsdale (Tuggeranong and Bombala rail easement). The VCA area is highly diverse supporting threatened flora species and endangered ecological communities.

JHR as an approved ‘Rail Infrastructure Manager’ under contract from the New South Wales Government Transport for NSW are collaborating with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to conserve a number of small purple-pea (Swainsona recta) populations found within the VCA area. The small purple-pea is listed as endangered under NSW, ACT, Victorian and Commonwealth legislation. One of the management issues associated with the small purple-pea populations is that some populations are at risk of collapsing into the cess due to erosion of the cutting ridge. Small purple-pea plants that have eroded over the edge have died and seeds have failed to germinate.

In April 2014, cutting stabilisation works were undertaken under the guidance of John Briggs (OEH, Threatened Species Coordinator, South East Region). The works were constrained by working at heights and difficult access for plant and materials. Given the sensitive nature of the site it was determined that engineering a retaining wall or undertaking reshaping of the cutting ridge would pose an unacceptable risk to the small purple-pea population. As such, stake coir logs were employed to stabilise the eroding cutting edge. Given the coir logs were light weight and could be manipulated around the uneven eroding edge, it was deemed the most practical method to eliminate heavy machinery use and disturbance to individual small purple-pea plants. Approximately 50 m of cutting was stabilised.

To date, the conservation project has cost $19,938 and has successfully prevented further loss of the small purple-peas eroding over the cutting.


Coir logs stabilise the eroding cutting edge to protect the small purple-pea plants. Photo: John Holland

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In the spotlight: James Farrell

James Farrell with kangaroo joey. Photo: M Farrell

Meet a young champion for wildlife, 11-year-old James Farrell. James has always loved animals and since a very early age has been fascinated by the frogs and lizards around his home.

These days he is a volunteer in the superb parrot monitoring program through Boorowa Landcare. He has enjoyed the experience so much, he has even brought along two friends. James is so committed to the species’ protection that he has recently written to the Federal Government regarding the proposed delisting of the species and suggests others could also send in their own letters of concern.

His involvement with the parrots began when within 50 metres of a drive to Young with his mother they counted 30-40 dead superb parrots on the side of the road. On the way back home, James says he “could not look at all the dead superbs, it was like a killing field”.

“I was concerned that if so many superbs were killed in one short space, it could be happening in all areas that the superb parrot lives and breeds”.

James advises that “to protect threatened species people should stop cutting down native trees and protect trees with hollows as these are the breeding spots for much of the Australian bird life”.

He also has some tips for monitoring birds. “Listen for the bird’s call because you may hear the bird before you see it, not too much noise, look for a place with bird life and stay safe”.

When participating in the superb parrot monitoring, James enjoys seeing large flocks of the species. He also enjoys the scenery and seeing other wildlife and, of course, he enjoys spending time with his mum in the outdoors.

James says, “It would be nice to see more people involved in protecting our native species. It would be nice to have these species around when I have children. We should respect our environment and not destroy it. It would be nice to see more people my age participating, I am eleven”.

James Farrell with kangaroo joey. Photo: M Farrell

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Page last updated: 02 June 2015

What's new

Environmental Trust Saving our Species Partnership Grants program. It is anticipated that the next call for applications under this program will be mid-2015. Projects are likely to include ‘landscape managed’ species as identified under the SoS program.

Bathing Birds 2015 Summer Survey. There is still time to take part in the Birds in Backyards project. Until 23 February, you can send in reports of birds you see bathing in your backyard.

Scientific Committee determinations. The NSW Scientific Committee meets several times a year to decide on which species, populations and ecological communities should be listed under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. Items being considered or open for public comment are available on the OEH website.

Save a Species Walk is back. Staff at the Royal Botanic Gardens and Centennial Parklands will form three teams to undertake a 120-km Save a Species Walk to raise money for the Australian PlantBank. As featured in our last issue, PlantBank is a unique facility specialising in the research and conservation of native plant species. All donations to support the Species Walk will go towards funding work on threatened native plants.

Featured species

Cumberland land snail. Copyright Australian Museum

Common name: Cumberland Plain land snail

Scientific name: Meridolum corneovirens

Conservation status in NSW: Endangered

Lives in small areas on the Cumberland Plain west of Sydney, from Richmond and Windsor south to Picton and from Liverpool west to the Hawkesbury and Nepean rivers at the base of the Blue Mountains.

Has a more flattened shell that is very thin and fragile, compared with the thick shell of the garden snail.

Known to be hermaphroditic.

Eats fungi, not green plants like garden snails.

Can dig several centimetres into soil to escape drought.

Main threat: Clearing and degradation of Cumberland Plain Woodland; weeds; removal of logs and leaf litter; grazing and trampling by domestic stock; fire.

More information about the Cumberland Plain land snail

Let us know...

If you are working on a threatened species project and would like to tell us about it, please fill out our survey or email us at savingourspecies@environment.nsw.gov.au.