Early Saturday morning on the 24th January eighteen fine bushcarers and interested twitters headed to the Deanei to see if we could spot some birds. The walk was guided by Graham Turner who has many years of experience and is a great presenter with many many wow facts about local birds –and his bird calls are just amazing to listen to. Graham was surprised at how many birds we did see(January is not a particularly great time of year for bird observation) We ended up sighting or hearing the calls of 36 birds in all –a wonderful effort and what I noticed most is the wonderful & peaceful vista that lies within the Deanei.It is just so beautiful –tall graceful gums with Thornbills in the high canopy , whip birds in the distance , fire tails coming in close and as Graham pointed out the Deanei is the perfect place for Wonga pidgeons. One of the highlights was to see a Pacific Bazza which Graham explained as a Climate Change bird –it seems to be expanding its southern extreme. We look forward to another twitch very soon.
A big thank you to Frank Winternitz and Graham Turner for enabling this wonderful event to occur.
No doubt you all need a rest after a busy Summer of celebrating, weeding and regenerating, so here’s another packed issue of Gecko – you have an excuse to make a cuppa, put your feet up and settle down for a good read about the great environmental protection work we’re all engaged in. Full of contributions from Environment Branch staff as well as Bushcare Team members and volunteers: Powerful owls, weed control in threatened forests, feral fish and a swamp study – there’s surely something for everybody this Autumn!
Late in 2014 Council’s Bush Regeneration Team discovered the remains of a bird found in Lapstone Reserve with mixed feelings. Naturally they were saddened, but also curious: they thought it might be a Powerful Owl, but weren’t sure. Tracy Williams made some enquiries with Council’s Environmental Scientist who verified that Bush Regeneration Team member Matt Rudge’s initial identification was correct and also referred her to Birdlife Australia’s Sydney Powerful Owl project. This very interesting and important project is the subject of our feature article “King of the Night Forest”.
Your Bushcare program goes from strength to strength. Our 65 Bushcare, Landcare and Swampcare Groups have already contributed over 3,500 hours of voluntary bush regeneration since June, and we can welcome one new Landcare Group: Birriban Katoomba High School – a big thank you to David King and Elly Chatfield as well as Steve Ahern and other KHS staff! We can also welcome back Redgum Park, Bullaburra, which recently restarted thanks to Vanessa Keyser.
Well done Bushcarers – thank you. We look forward to seeing you on a Bushcare site soon!
Council is calling on lower Blue Mountains residents to help protect endangered local forests by controlling noxious weeds such as Lantana, Privet and African Olive on their properties.
These highly aggressive, invasive weeds are a major threat to the last remnants of Shale Sandstone Transitional Forest (SSTF) and Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest (STIF). The lower Blue Mountains is the last stronghold for these rare and unique forests.
Grey Gums (Eucalyptus punctata) are one of the tree species typically found in Shale Sandstone Transition Forests (above and below). Images: Jill Dark
SSTF is listed as a Critically Endangered Ecological Community under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and STIF is listed as an Endangered Ecological Community under that Act, as well as Critically Endangered under the Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act.
These acts offer some protection for communities on publicly owned land such as in national parks and Council reserves, but many of the last remnants of these forests exist on private properties. By working together with local residents to control local noxious weeds, Council hopes to give these natural treasures a future.
Noxious weeds are a major threat to Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forests, which provide habitat for Sugar Gliders (left). Image: Jill Dark
Home to species such as Sugar Gliders and Powerful Owls, Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forests have dwindled since European settlement from 26,500ha down to a mere 500ha.
Council has cleared some major infestations of Lantana, Privet and African Olive around Glenbrook, Blaxland, Valley Heights and Springwood town centres and is asking local residents to check for and control noxious weeds on their properties.
By law (Noxious Weeds Act 1993), both Council and private landowners have a legal responsibility to control noxious weeds on land in their care. Under the Act, Council is also required to inspect private lands; ensure landowners and land managers are controlling noxious weeds; and monitor invasive weed species. Council will be inspecting around 700 private residences in Glenbrook this financial year as part of this role.
The spread of weeds is one of the Blue Mountains worst environmental problems, with over $1 million spent every year by Council on weed control. Of all weeds, declared Noxious weeds pose the greatest threat to local biodiversity – they spread like wildfire, invade bushland and waterways, and are capable of destroying whole ecosystems. Lantana alone has degraded more than four million hectares Australia-wide.
Blue Mountains City Council runs a series of aquatic monitoring programs to measure the condition of our creeks, lakes and lagoons over time. If you are interested in finding out about the suitability of our waterways for swimming or the condition of your local creek’s water bug community, you can download a range of reports from Council’s website.
Council’s Aquatic Systems Officer, Christina Day, sampling macroinvertebrates at a tributary of Megalong Creek.
A new threat to the health of Blue Mountains waterways has emerged with the discovery of a Noxious fish species: Redfin Perch (Perca fluviatilis) at Wentworth Falls Lake.
Redfin Perch (Perca fluviatilis). Note the characteristic orange-red pelvic and anal fins and tail; two separate dorsal fins and pattern of broad black vertical bands. (image from DPI website)
The Redfin Perch is native to northern Europe and was introduced to Australia in the 1860s for angling. The species is now widespread in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT and occurs in parts of SA and WA. It has become a serious pest, capable of destroying native fish populations and recreational fisheries as it breeds and grows fast, predates voraciously on aquatic invertebrates and native fish and can carry the Epizootic Haematopoietic Necrosis Virus, which is deadly to a range of native and stocked fish species. Redfin Perch is listed as a Class 1 Noxious species in NSW.
At present there are no effective eradication methods known and Council is concerned about the detrimental effects the Redfin may have on other fish species and aquatic invertebrates such as dragonflies at Wentworth Falls Lake and downstream in Jamison Creek. A new population of Redfin was also found in 2014 at Lake Lyell, near Lithgow.
It is possible that the species was deliberately introduced to Wentworth Falls Lake and Lake Lyell. Such an action would be illegal and heavy penalties apply for the intentional translocation of Redfin Perch, as well as for the posession or sale of any live Redfin Perch.
Recreational anglers may legally catch Redfin, in which case the fish should be humanely killed immediately and utilised or disposed of appropriately. The species may only be retained and transported if it is dead.
For more information visit www.dpi.nsw.gov.au or contact NSW DPI Aquatic Biosecurity on 4982 1232. You can also call Council on 4780 5000.
Help stop the spread of pest fish:
Don’t transfer fish between waterways or into farm dams, and don’t use live fin fish as bait in freshwater;
Don’t return pest species to the water – immediately kill humanely and utilise or dispose of appropriately;
Help catch new invaders early: report suspected aquatic pests and/or information about possible illegal translocations of Noxious species to the
by Jenny Hill (Environment Communication & Engagement Officer)
In February 2014 Tutsan/Goldflower – Hypericum androsaemum and H. kouytchense (syn. Hypericum x moserianum) and African Olive – Olea europaea ssp.cuspidata were declared noxious weeds in the Blue Mountains.
Tutsan and African Olive are Class 3 noxious weeds: this means “the plant must be fully and continuously suppressed and destroyed and the plant must not be sold, propagated or knowingly distributed”.
Hypericum kouytchense – the fruit is a dry capsule. (Source: Jenny Hill)
Tutsan is a common garden plant of older gardens in the upper Blue Mountains. It has striking yellow summer flowers. It is also an invasive weed and a potential threat to riparian communities, hanging swamps and threatened frog species habitat.
Tutsan prefers cooler climates with high rainfall and is especially common in areas such as Jenolan Caves, Katoomba, Leura and Wentworth Falls.
Hypericum androsaemum – the fruit is fleshy and berry-like (photo source: Digging Dog Nursery diggingdog.com/pages2/plantpages.php/S-0182)
If not controlled, African Olive takes over large areas forming dense monocultures. It is a huge problem on the Cumberland Plains but is also moving up the mountains and is currently found in mid and lower Mountains areas such as Woodford, Hazelbrook and from Faulconbridge to Lapstone.
African Olive – the upper surface of the leaves is glossy grey-green and the underside is silver, green to brown with a hooked tip. (Photo Source: P.Cuneo RBG, Sydney).
On 4th October 2014 Garguree Swampcarers were thrilled to hear a presentation by Kirsten Cowley. Kirsten is undertaking a Geomorphic Assessment of Temperate Upland Swamps for her PhD Candidature at the Department of Environment & Geography, Macquarie University.
The Gully sediment profile being explained by Kirsten
The talk was incredibly informative and well-presented and we all came away very enthusiastic and keen to know more! Luckily for Swamp/Bush Carers Kirsten is very open to involvement with monitoring and feedback and will be doing another talk for any people interested to learn more about this wonderful project in 2015.
Kirsten’s PhD involves assessing the physical attributes of upland swamps, such as water quality, carbon sequestration potential and sedimentology and how these attributes change along a geomorphic degradation spectrum.
The Gully is one of the 12 (out of 500) swamps that Kirsten is investigating. These investigations will include sediment description and properties, analysis of carbon storage, water quality assessments, carbon budgets, hydrological function, groundwater residence times and connectivity with deeper aquifers.
Some of the ways that these things will be assessed will be through:
Water table levels to be logged
Stream gauging in receiving streams directly downstream of the swamps
Vertical hydraulic conductivity measurements using a permeameter in ~10 locations within each swamp
Lateral hydraulic conductivity — pump/slug tests within installed piezometers.
Kirsten is a fantastic source of knowledge and her work in the mountains will be very valuable both now and in the future, so don’t miss her talk in the coming year; watch out for the date and time in the next Gecko and on this website!
A faint woo-hoo echoed through the gully followed by others at roughly ten-second intervals. I smiled, as I slowly descended the gently sloping track into the gorge towards the nest tree, where a pair of Powerful Owls (Ninox strenua) were about to begin their annual courtship ritual. Soon, the owl was joined by his mate.
With a little practice, telling a male and female Powerful Owl apart can be relatively simple. The second note of the male’s woo-hoo is generally lower, or the same pitch as the first. On the other hand, the female’s call has a higher second note. My pair near the town of Glenbrook has a very passionate female, whose second note is usually much louder in volume too, as if she were calling with enormous passion for her mate.
Nesting begins in late autumn /early winter inside large tree hollows. Chicks (called owlets) usually emerge from their nest hollows during late July and into the month of August within the Sydney region.
Adults first start roosting together or near each other during March/April and come late afternoon, often well before sundown, they begin calling. This is usually initiated by the male and answered by his mate. Soon, they fly onto their favourite rendezvous perches, usually within sight of their chosen nest tree, and begin calling, then preening themselves.
They preen themselves first usually, stretch and defecate, then allopreen. That is, they preen each other. This allopreening is usually of the head area and is done with utmost love and care. It is a wonderful sight to see owls — known as fierce and merciless killers of night creatures — being so kind, loving and gentle with one another. At least so it seems to an amateur naturalist like me. Ornithologists would frown at my statements using human emotions. However, I like to interpret my own observations into the language of normal folk, so they can share the excitement with me, rather than be bored to tears with mundane observations.
Powerful Owls are the largest of the Australian owls. They are members of the Strigidae (hawk owl) family, as are Southern Boobook, Barking Owl and Rufous Owl. Once any of these owls turn side-on, you’ll notice the resemblance to hawks, hence their apt descriptive hawk owl name. Powerful Owls range from around Bundaberg in Queensland to western Victoria. Some of the densest populations occur near metropolitan areas of Sydney and Melbourne, with the NSW alpine regions and the NE NSW coastal forest areas having dense populations.
The owls range inland as well, about as far west as the Pilliga State Forest in NSW. Their home range estimates vary mostly due to the density of prey species (the availability of prey). Some home ranges have been estimated as low as 300 hectares with a high prey density, whereas I have also read that some home ranges can be several thousand hectares in low prey density forests.
On average, the home range is around 800 – 1,000 hectares, except urban areas, where the ranges can be far smaller. Areas like Epping, in Sydney’s northern suburbs, can hold three or more pairs along a few kilometres of walking tracks inside the national park bordering suburbia. Here, there are lots of birds, possums and gliders for the owls to feast on.
Powerful Owls often roost in cool, temperate rainforest gullies along creeks, especially during the heat of summer. However, their nest trees may be located well up along a ridge, away from the cool of the rainforest. Also, since the owls nest during winter, it is less likely that heat stress would be a risk factor to the young, developing, owlets inside the tree hollows.
The owls’ nests are usually in some of the oldest, tallest, gum trees, which means that it is vital that we maintain pressure on local governments and other agencies to ensure we protect old-growth forests. Without these very old trees (some over 100 years old) and their hollows — which could take decades to form — many of our natives would be in serious trouble in the not too distant future.
Powerful Owls often share roosting and hunting areas with Sooty Owls, since both species have a preference of the same habitats and similar prey species.
Powerful Owls have their preferred prey items, but each locality may ‘force’ the owls to prey on particular species that may be more abundant in that territory. Greater Gliders, Yellow-bellied Gliders, Grey-headed Flying Foxes, Sugar Gliders, Common Ringtail and younger Common Brushtail Possums are all fair game, as are many larger birds from about lorikeet size up. Most owls I’ve seen in the Sydney basin have had Common Ringtail or Common Brushtail Possums in their talons when I saw and photographed them. Rarely have I seen them with other prey.
However, since I have been observing the breeding pair near Glenbrook, I have noticed a higher number of bird prey items than mammals.
Of course, since I was not at the other owls’ roosts every day of their life, I only have a small sample of times and observations. I have far more data and observations (over 120 hours now) at Glenbrook which indicates that my owls prey on birds about half the time. I have many pellets to analyse, but when I found them bringing prey to the nest, they were mostly Common Ringtail Possums, Laughing Kookaburra and possibly Tawny Frogmouth.
Indigestible body parts and fur are regularly regurgitated as pellets by these owls at their roosts. Some of the pellets contained mandibles and bones from possibly Sugar Gliders and there were lots of parrot feathers too and other matter. I would suspect some of the birds to be Crimson Rosellas and Rainbow Lorikeets based on the type and colour of feathers and Pied Currawong or Australian Raven, based on the larger black feathers.
It is very humbling to gain the trust and acceptance of a pair of owls and study them as they go about their lives. Even more humbling is that I have now seen two young birds crawl out of the very same hollow during two consecutive winters.
Interestingly, while some owls raise two owlets, my pair has only raised one per year since the 2013 season when I began to study them.
If you are interested in making contributions, you too can join the Sydney Powerful Owl Project, which was the brainchild of Kristen Hardy. She was so captivated and obsessed with seeing these owls in her Northern Beaches backyard, that she collaborated with Birdlife Australia and the project was born as a pilot project in 2011.
Initially, Dr Rod Kavanagh, Australia’s best known owl research scientist estimated that there would be about 20–30 territories in the Sydney basin. By the end of the 2012 breeding season, the volunteer project members had helped establish 47 known territories, nearly double Dr Kavanagh’s original and conservative estimate!
To join this exciting volunteer project, e-mail [email protected] and the kind folks at Birdlife will get back to you. They hold orientation workshops/talks in different areas around Sydney and Newcastle/Central Coast areas.
No doubt you all need a rest after a busy Summer of celebrating, weeding and regenerating, so here’s another packed issue of Gecko. You have an excuse to make a cuppa, put your feet up and settle down for a good read about the great environmental protection work we’re all engaged in. Full of contributions from Environment Branch staff as well as Bushcare Team members and volunteers: powerful owls, weed control in threatened forests, feral fish and a swamp study; there’s surely something for everybody this Autumn!
Late in 2014, Council’s Bush Regeneration Team discovered the remains of a bird found in Lapstone Reserve with mixed feelings. Naturally they were saddened, but also curious: they thought it might be a Powerful Owl, but weren’t sure. Tracy Williams made some enquiries with Council’s Environmental Scientist who verified that Bush Regeneration Team member Matt Rudge’s initial identification was correct and also referred her to Birdlife Australia’s Sydney Powerful Owl project. This very interesting and important project is the subject of our feature article ‘King of the Night Forest’.
Your Bushcare program goes from strength to strength. Our 65 Bushcare, Landcare and Swampcare Groups have already contributed over 3,500 hours of voluntary bush regeneration since June, and we can welcome one new Landcare Group: Birriban Katoomba High School. A big thank you to David King and Elly Chatfield as well as Steve Ahern and other KHS staff! We can also welcome back Redgum Park, Bullaburra, which recently restarted thanks to Vanessa Keyser.
Well done Bushcarers; thank you. We look forward to seeing you on a Bushcare site soon!