Last Tuesday, Trust for Nature, the Northern Plains Conservation Management Network and North Central CMA, hosted a native grassland field day near Turrumberry. The focus was on the critically endangered bird, the Plains-wanderer, Pedionomus torquatus. This bird is in a family all on its own and has very particular habitat requirements. Sightings on the Victorian Volcanic Plains near Melbourne are very rare and they are found mostly on the Northern Plains of Victoria and the New South Wales Riverina.
Management of native grassland on the red soils is critical for the Plains-wanderer and assisting land managers in what to look for and how to measure the biomass level is very important. When the grass becomes too dense, the birds disappear, so it is better to graze grasslands with high numbers of stock for short periods rather than have less stock for longer periods. How much is too much, that is the question.
Dr David Baker-Gabb, renowned expert on the Plains-wanderer spoke about the biology of this fascinating secretive little bird and later launched the Managing Native Grasslands for Plains-wanderers Field Guide. The field guide highlights the ‘golf ball’ scoring method/monitoring technique used by Parks Victoria. Often direct observation is not enough and additional tools are needed, such as dropping 18 golf balls into a 1 m x 1m square quadrat and scoring how much of ball can be seen.
Dr Dan Harley, Threatened Species Biologist with Zoos Victoria, spoke about the Fighting Extinction Programme and the plan to start captive-breeding Plains-wanderers in 2017. There was a good attendance by Zoo staff to learn about Plains-wanderers and the management of their habitat. Zoos Victoria is also working with local recovery team partners, Parks Victoria and Trust for Nature who are working to preserve Plains-wanderer habitat.
Paul Foreman, grassland ecologist, led a walk across Andy and Judy McGillivray’s property pointing out threatened grassland flora species and spoke about some of the issues in managing grasslands. Fencing to soil type is important to ensure grassland grazing to the right level.
The Plains-wanderer’s range once included the plains between Geelong and Melbourne. Werribee Open Range Zoo is one of the locations for the breeding program. A breeding facility with 16 aviaries capable of holding up to 12 breeding pairs and 40 juveniles will be built at Werribee Open Range Zoo, with completion of the build expected in Autumn 2017.
The task is to find enough breeding stock in the wild and with the bird listed as critically endangered it certainly looks like this intervention is needed. On a positive side, work already being undertaken at Taronga Zoo shows that the given the right circumstances the bird start breeding at a very early age. Another aspect of this project is to find about 10000ha of suitable habitat to release the birds when the numbers have grown.
Here are a few photos taken on the day.