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FRIENDS OF THE WESTERN GROUND PARROT A community group dedicated to the recovery of an unusual WA bird which could soon become extinct.

Newsupdate no. 31

April 2008

Upcoming survey dates (Help if you can) 22 Apr - 1 May 13-22 May 4-13 June

Fitzgerald River NP –Drummond Track Wilderness Gate Cape Arid NP - Poison Creek Fitzgerald River NP - Short Rd/Hamersley Drive

For more information, or if you would like to assist with surveys, contact: Abby Berryman – Project Officer – Ph: (08) 9842 4519; Mob: 0429 842 451 Email: abby.berryman@dec.wa.gov.au

Recovery Project Survey Results from Abby Berryman Ground Parrots going well in Cape Arid National Park but the overall situation is dire Up until a few weeks ago we thought that the total number of Western Ground Parrots remaining was probably fewer than 100. In the Fitzgerald River National Park, WGP numbers have dropped dramatically over the past few years. In 2007 there were perhaps only 20 WGPs remaining in the park. Our aim for the first half of this year is to visit each of the known populations of Western Ground Parrots to find out just how many remain. A survey from 11-15 February was conducted in the West River area (Cocanarup Timber Reserve, adjacent to FRNP). This area had been identified as potential habitat in July last year and recommended for future surveys. On closer inspection the habitat was not as suitable as first thought. The vegetation lacked the diversity of other areas and in general there appeared to be a scarcity of known food plants, particularly sedges. However, listening surveys were still conducted over the entire area but no Western Ground Parrots were heard. From 6 to 13 March we surveyed in the Wilderness Area of Fitzgerald River National Park. The previous survey (in October 2007) only detected 1, maybe 2, ground parrots. This survey, at least 2 ground parrots were heard, possibly even 3 or 4. This is far less than the 15-20 birds found there in 2004. Although there was a very slight increase in the number of birds heard since October last year, this may not reflect an actual increase in the population size.

Surveys of the populations at Drummond Track Wilderness Gate and Short Rd will be conducted over the next few months to determine if numbers have stabilised or are continuing to decline. At Cape Arid, the situation has not been so grim. The 2007 survey of the Poison Creek subpopulation estimated that there were 20-40 birds in that area, an apparently stable population. This area will be surveyed again this May. The Pasley/Telegraph population on the other hand had not been properly surveyed since 2005. While cautiously optimistic about the trip we had planned for 1-11 April, we expected to find only 30-40 birds in the Pasley area. What we did find exceeded all expectations. In just one evening, with 6 listeners spaced out over a 400m x 800m grid, we heard somewhere between 20 to 40 birds. Potentially, there may be 100 or more WGPs within the Pasley subpopulation. While this is good news and increases the number of known Western Ground Parrots to over the 100 mark, the situation is still dire for the WGP. We need to find out why they are disappearing from Fitzgerald River National Park and take action to halt and hopefully reverse the decline. Possible culprits include feral predators and climate change, as well as the ever-present threat of habitat destruction by wildfire. While Cape Arid NP currently seems to support a healthy population, we cannot become complacent and allow the Western Ground Parrot to disappear unnoticed.


The DEC’sWestern Ground Parrot Recovery Project is funded through the South Coast Natural Resource Management Inc., the regional group for NRM on the South Coast of Western Australia. Funding provided by the Australian and Western Australian Governments through the joint National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality

Update on cat population and control measures by DEC in WGP habitat by Sarah Comer, Regional Ecologist While we have no conclusive evidence, in the form of direct observations or feathers from cat stomach contents, that cats are feeding on Western Ground Parrots there is certainly good cause to be concerned that feral cats are a potential factor in the recently observed ground parrot decline. In the last 10 years cats have been observed in significant numbers at Mt Manypeaks and Waychinicup, and in the Fitzgerald River National Park. In arid and semi-arid areas in Western Australia cat numbers have risen in response to fox control (Short, 2004), and it is quite likely that we are seeing a similar event on the south coast, where fox baiting programs started in the later half of the 1990’s. The reason for the disappearance of ground parrots form Waychinicup and Manypeaks is not known, but it is quite possible that cats were at least partially responsible. Further in 2004 a preliminary survey of cats in areas in the Fitzgerald River National Park where ground parrot numbers had been decreasing, recorded a high density of cats in the general area. Following discussions with DEC Science staff, including Dave Algar who runs the cat control research team, a proposal to conduct an experimental cat baiting program was developed. DEC’s partnership with South Coast NRM Inc. resulted in this innovative project being funded, and in 2007 we started to first part of the project which involves identifying the risk of using cat baits on non-target native fauna. This is done by inserting a

rhodamine dye marker into the bait, then taking whiskers from all animals captured in monitoring programs where the special (non-toxic) baits have been laid. The dye is able to be seen as a stain in the whisker under infrared light. T h e f i r s t s t a g e o f n o n -target baiting f o u n d t h a t significant numbers of Bush Rats and Western Brushtail Possums consumed the baits, which had had the dye marker injected. The injection of the dye resulted in the dye marker being present throughout the bait, so a second bait uptake trial will be completed in autumn 2008, and in this trial the dye will be contained in a capsule (similar to how we would then insert the poison). It is hoped that by putting the marker or poison in a capsule the risk of uptake by non-target species will be greatly reduced. Once this has been completed and we can satisfy requirements to minimise the impact of cat baiting on any native fauna we can hopefully continue with experimental baiting of cats around those very critical ground parrot breeding areas in the FRNP in autumn 2009. It is hoped that ground parrots, and other sensitive fauna will respond in a positive manner to the removal of cats, and we are currently trying to determine the most appropriate way of conducting post baiting monitoring to detect changes as a result of cat decline.

Photo : Peter Collins (Albany DEC Fauna Conservation Officer) with some of the 4000 cat sausages containing Rhodamine B dye marker that will be used for the second stage of bait uptake trials in autumn 2008. All of the capsules had to be manually inserted into these baits.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: This work is supported by the Department of Environment and Conservation’s South Coast Region, Science Division and Western Shield Program and funding provided by South Coast NRM Inc. Short, J. (2004). Mammal declines in southern Western Australia: perspectives from Shortridge’s collection of mammals in 1904-1907. Australian Zoologist: 32 605-628. 2


The WGP goes to South America: Report from Brent Barrett (Brent presented a paper on his work with the Western Ground Parrot at an ornithological conference in Argentina.) The setting was amazing, in the foothills of the Andes in a town called St Martin de Los Andes. There were over 200 participants from all of South America and some from Europe and North America. For the first time the Western Ground Parrots were presented outside of Australasia and in a foreign language. While I spoke in English I introduced my talk in Spanish and had all my slides translated to Spanish. I wore my T-shirt proudly and got many good comments on it. I was the only person to have a bird shirt that was actually the species I was presenting. Most of the questions were simple about behaviour but the message of how rare they are and what great advances we have made was delivered, and received well. We now continue our travels to Iguazu falls and then to Colombia. After spending time over one month writing the presentation in internet cafes it is relaxing to know it is finished. Thanks to the Friends group for all their support. Here is a photo of me with the conference president and my new t-shirt Thanks for the support. (The WGP Friends sent Brent the shirt)

Comments from WGP Friend, Tony France (In part abridged and paraphrased, with permission) Tony says that if the Western Ground Parrot is to be saved, the step beyond monitoring should be taken soon. Even if additional small colonies are located we might still be in the position of monitoring and simply hoping for the ongoing viability of this mobile species in the wild. Problems faced are o o o o o

Wildlife habitat is unlikely to increase in extent or quality DEC and EPA are underfunded Little control over feral animals, wildfires, arson Climate change is occurring The extreme difficulty of studying this bird due to its rarity and to its ecology.

Tony says that a captive breeding program is the next measure to put in place. He suggests that first all possible information about the eastern ground parrot in captivity should be sought. Subsequently sponsorship for at least three years should be found. Practical details should be researched and prepared. He continues: ‘If ..three adult WGP pairs were lost in the pilot process, we would hardly be that much worse off than thethan the low population figures so far found (300?). Indeed we cannot afford to let the low population figure reduce even more drastically for lack of prior thought, preparation and intervention. Again, even if the WGP capture and breeding scheme failed for any reason, the experience gained and the equipment used could be found useful for another bird conservation project. It has to be admitted that the enterprise I propose could prove relatively…expensive compared to what has gone on before…But in cost effective terms, the probabilit y of an expensive yet positive result has to be preferred over a relatively cheap but evidently failing method…. The present WGP research system clearly is not working at all well, and holds out too little promise that it would ever succeed in time, or even over time. Optimism is one thing: results are another.’

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Editor’s note: At the last meeting of the South Coast Threatened Birds Recovery Team the subject of what alternative actions can be taken to save the WGP was discussed. One member volunteered to seek out all available info on ground parrots in captivity to present at the July meeting.

Intro to Technical Officer, Jeff Pinder. Part 2. (Part 1 is in newsupdate no. 30) A couple of days later, and before looking for a job or finding somewhere more permanent to live than the backpackers, I wandered into the DEC office to enquire about voluntary work. Tony Friend circulated my details (thanks Tony) and even let me loose on his Gilbert’s Potoroos which I commented on how big they looked for rodents(sorry Tony). The first time I heard about the Western Ground Parrot Project was when Mike Barth invited me to a listening session at Waychinicup. On the drive out there someone in the party said that I wouldn’t hear the bird. Surely there was room for optimism. Four months and three subsequent unsuccessful trips to the Stirlings and D’Entrecasteaux (twice) followed. Suddenly it all made sense. My first live WGP encounter was on Poison Creek Road in Cape Arid. However even these calls were sporadic at best and mostly drowned out by western ground mosquitoes and western ground banjo frogs. So it was onto the Fitz and, as I saw it, an absolute “given” for plenty of good quality WGP action. However six parrot free days later and my hopes again were in tatters ( it seemed nothing could be taken for granted as far as this bird was concerned). And speaking of tatters, “Wendy” (my Hyundai named after WGP artist Wendy Binks) suffered a violation to her undercarriage after driving along one of the overgrown fire breaks. As nesting season approached the WGP team once more made their encampment near the Wilderness Gate (FRNP). For the first time in 8 months I got to hear clear, extended vocalizations and my first buzz calls. Admittedly the activity was centred predominantly on one pair but what a pair! Under intense secrecy we then plotted and schemed to plunder the holy grail (a.k.a catch a WGP). For some time we met with failure (no change there). And then one unlikely morning, before sunrise, I witnessed a near historic event. A WGP had flown into our mist nest and, as the bird struggled, Mike moved towards it with hands clasped inches from its writhing body. But before any of us could say “radio tracking” the parrot rose phoenix- like from its incarceration and disappeared into the gloom. And that was to be the finale to my 2007 WGP season. On reflection I think, for the most part of last year, I was simply “playing” at surveying WGP’s. For all the effort involved perhaps they didn’t fully endear themselves to me.So subconsciously I wasn’t prepared to take their plight seriously enough. It didn’t help of course when my friends back in England would flippantly ask me had I “….found that parrot yet?” But that morning in September, when the bird freed itself, changed my relationship with Pezoporus wallicus flaviventris forever. And as it fled, I sensed I couldn’t give up on it yet…it had become personal…..suddenly I cared…..alot.

Web pages Birds Australia WA Inc. has a web page for the Western Ground Parrot. Go to their website at www.birdswa.com.au and then access Projects, and Western Ground Parrot.

There is another web page maintained by the Albany Bird Group: www.albanygateway.com.au/Topic/Environment/Albany_Bird_Watching_Group/Endangered_Birds/ The next issue of the WGP Friends newsupdate is due in June 2008. Feedback is welcome. Contacts for Friends of the Western Ground Parrot Anne Bondin. Phone (08) 9844 1793; E-mail:

albanybirds@hotmail.com

Brenda Newbey. Phone (08) 9337 5673; E-mail: wgparrot@westnet.com.au Address: Birds Australia Western Australia, Peregrine House, 167 Perry Lakes Drive, Floreat. WA 6014

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April 2008 #31  

Friends of the Western Ground Parrot Newsletter April 2008 #31

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