Kittyhawke Swamp, North Wentworth Falls. Photo by Peter Ardill
Wednesday 29th March 9am – 3pm
Join the long term efforts of volunteers to free this large swamp system of a huge variety of weeds and restore the habitat of the Giant Dragon Fly and the Blue Mountains Water Skink. A joint NPWS/ BMCC activity. Lunch and morning tea donated by the Hominy Bakery. Book with Lyndal on (02) 4780 5623 or firstname.lastname@example.org by Tuesday 21st March.
A Blue Mountains Swamp near the airfield at Medlow Bath — in its flowering glory — attracted an enthusiastic group of Swampcare volunteers to a field day in January 2017. The field day was part of a 10 year project to protect swamps, called “Swamped By Threats” whose partners include Central West Local Land Services, Blue Mountains City Council and National Parks and Wildlife Service.
The volunteers enjoyed a morning packed with information and good food topped off by a sighting of Blue Mountains Water Skinks – a well deserved reward for all their work during 2016! Unfortunately, the hoped for Giant Dragonfly did not make an appearance … this was not a good year for their emergence.
Two eminent swamp experts were on hand to generously share their knowledge deepen our understanding of swamp plants and animals and their dependence on groundwater. Doug Benson is a highly respected plant ecologist and Honorary Research Associate with the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney. He has studied swamps of the Blue Mountains and Newnes Plateau for more than 40 years, satisfying his curiosity about how and when they developed. Ian Baird drew on more than 13 years of research on the threatened Giant Dragonfly and swamps generally, to share his extensive knowledge of the fauna that dwell in them.
Our current swamps formed up to 15,000 years ago as the land warmed up and became wetter after the last Ice Age. How the unique swamp plants formed and where they were during these cold and dry periods are particular questions of interest.
Flowering shrubs such as the rare Acacia ptychoclada and Grevillea acanthifolia were admired along with sedges such as Empodisma minus and Xyris ustulata. Two of the shrubs present in swamps, Banksia ericifolia and Hakea teretifolia, are killed by fire because they do not resprout from a lignotuber and do not store seed in the soil. Individual plants can take up to 8-10 years to flower and fruit and even more years are needed between fires to establish a seed bank to ensure the continuation of viable populations of this species in this location.
Plants adapted to sandstone areas only drop seeds close to the parent plant, which is in contrast with northern hemisphere plants where seed moves much greater distances due to reliance on wind dispersal. The presence of Mallee eucalypts in swamps may be understood in terms of opportunities to thrive without the competition of larger trees. Adapted to wetter conditions and fire, some of these Mallees have lignotubers at least 50-100 years old.
Using a 1.8m steel soil probe, Ian demonstrated the significant differences in the depth of soft peaty soil over the swamp and the patches of drier sandy loam. These soil differences are reflected in the plants, and determine where Giant Dragonflies can reproduce.
Ian identified patches suitable as breeding habitat and those which were not, and discussed the importance of damp or saturated peaty soil with a high water table for egg-laying and larval establishment. It is believed that they then spend at least 6 years in their larval burrow. The deepest larval burrow Ian has found, also the deepest recorded, was 75cm.
A very young Blue Mountains Water Skink, plus two adults were sighted. One adult water skink sat still on top of the grass watching the group for some time. Genetic studies indicate that this species has been in swamps in the Blue Mountains for at least 2 million years, but where were they during the ice ages which have occurred over that time? They are currently solely dependant on peat swamps in the mid-to upper Blue Mountains for their survival.
Blue Mountains Water Skink
Ian gave some insights into the range of less appreciated fauna found in swamps which also need groundwater for survival, from the small invertebrates and skinks which may survive fire under patches of wet litter, to the Common Eastern Froglets, burrowing crayfish and swamp rats. Blue Mountains Water Skinks can sometimes use these burrows, and those of Giant Dragonflies, for protection from fire and predators. Crayfish burrows are found in areas with groundwater seepage or a high water table which they can access in their burrows. Swamp rat tunnels may also be abundant; one of which was inspected (these are more horizontal).
Both Doug and Ian explained how Blue Mountains Swamps are important for holding and filtering water. The conservation of swamps is a key concern of those present and an interesting debate on fire, sedimentation and climate change followed. The predicted hotter, drier conditions and more frequent fires will threaten the swamps’ survival.
This event was organised by Blue Mountains City Council Bushcare and assisted by the New South Wales Government Environmental Trust Fund, NSW Local Land Services and NPWS
Kittyhawke Swamp, North Wentworth Falls. Photo by Peter Ardill
Wednesday 29th March 9am – 3pm Join the long term efforts of volunteers to free this large swamp system of a huge variety of weeds and restore the habitat of the Giant Dragon Fly and the Blue Mountains Water Skink. A joint NPWS/ BMCC activity. Lunch and morning tea donated by the Hominy Bakery. Book with Lyndal on (02) 4780 5623 or email@example.com by Tuesday 21st March.
A female Petalura gigantea – Giant Dragonfly. Photo by Ian Baird.
Threatened Species Day is a national day held each year on 7 September to commemorate the death of the last remaining Tasmanian tiger at Hobart Zoo in 1936. On this date every year we reflect on what has happened in the past and how we can protect our threatened species in the future. It is also a day to celebrate our success stories and ongoing threatened species recovery work.
With all this in mind Garguree Swampcare Group hosted a threatened species event on Sunday September 4.
30 fantastic volunteers joined in on the day which started with a restoration planting along the riparian corridor which connects the Blue Mountains Water Skink populations of the “McCrae’s Paddock” swamp and the “middle” swamp in The Gully Aboriginal Place, Katoomba.
Male Petalura gigantea Giant Dragonfly. Photo by Ian Baird.
Threatened species biscuits cooked by Sandy Holmes.
At 11am Sandy Holmes greeted us with a most amazing brunch, including giant dragonfly cookies and water skink eclairs (they were definitely threatened species …)
This was followed by Welcome to Country and a smoking ceremony by David King. He also spoke about Garguree Swampcare’s work and the ongoing support from the Environmental Trust and “Protecting our Places” grants.
Council’s Environmental Scientist Michael Hensen spoke about a new 10 year Environmental Trust – Saving our Species grant of $750,000 “Swamped by Threats” which will help protect the Blue Mountains Water Skink and the Giant Dragonfly at a number of priority sites across the Blue Mountains and the Newnes Plateau.
We finished the morning’s formal proceedings with Ian Baird presenting an exciting insight into the biology and identification of two iconic threatened species found in Blue Mountains Swamps: the Giant Dragonfly and the Blue Mountains Water Skink.
After that it was back to more connecting to our place through our stomachs!
Eulamprus leurensis (Blue Mountains Water Skink). Photo by Ian Baird.
An opportunity to continue the long term efforts of volunteers to keep improving this large swamp system that needs help to reverse the impact of many varieties of weeds. A known site of 2 threatened species, Giant Dragon Fly and the Blue Mountains Water Skink. This is a joint NPWS and BMCC activity. Lunch and morning tea donated by Hominy Bakery. Please book with Lyndal by 2nd September.
Come along and hear about the latests research for the Blue Mountains Water Skink.
PhD candidate, Sarsha Gorissen of the University of Sydney, is towards the end of her research project that aims to uncover more about the ecology and conservation biology of the iconic and endangered Blue Mountains Water Skink. This lizard is known worldwide only from the Blue Mountains and Newnes Plateau areas, so your backyard. Its image is featured locally on urban design, and it is the only endemic vertebrate to the Blue Mountains. It is known only from the highland, peat swamps of the area, which are also endangered, and which many Bushcare volunteers have worked in. Her project focuses on the the impacts of fire and groundwater loss on urban and bush populations of the lizard.
Sarsha Gorissen PhD Candidate
Conserving the fauna of highland swamps. The Blue Mountains Water Skink (Eulamprus leuraensis) is found only within the endangered highland swamps of the Blue Mountains and the adjacent Newnes Plateau. This endangered lizard is restricted to about 40 isolated swamps, most of them small, fragmented and close to urban areas. This unique habitat type is threatened by processes acting on a local scale (e.g., urbanisation, weed invasion, introduced animals, forestry and mining) as well as on a landscape scale (e.g., changes in climate and fire regimes). In particular, the effects of changes in fire and hydric regimes on E. leuraensis remain unknown. A research project on a landscape scale, requiring volunteer asssistance – the end result being guidelines for more effective management and conservation of this highly distinctive, highly threatened system.
As Bushcare Volunteers working in these swamps it will be interesting to see if there is anything we can do to help.