S4W have an upcoming webinar on 28 May at 11 am -12pm where they will provide an update on their two koala projects, we’re they would love it if you could join them.
Please see all additional information on the webinar below.
‘Tune in online for an overview of all the work we have been doing to map and track surviving koalas after the 2019/20 bushfires, as well as the latest news from our project monitoring koalas after they are released from care. There will be an opportunity for a Q&A at the end of the webinar.’
Petalura gigantea (Family Petaluridae), commonly known as the Giant Dragonfly or Southeastern Petaltail is a very large dragonfly which may have a wingspan up to 12.5 cm. It is recorded from peat swamps, bogs and seepages along the coast and ranges of NSW from near the Victorian border to around the Qld border. It is listed as Endangered in NSW under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act2016, with habitat loss and degradation identified as the main threats. In addition to the large size and widely separated dark eyes, the species (and genus) is characterised by a long pterostigma (darkened cell) towards the end of the leading edge of the wings, and large, petal-shaped, anal appendages in adult males (Figure 1). Adult females lack the conspicuous anal appendages and are somewhat bulkier than males (Figure 2). These features distinguish it from other very large dragonflies such as Austrophlebiacostalis. Various Bushcare and Swampcare sites in the Blue Mountains include peat swamp habitat of Giant Dragonflies.
The Petaluridae (“petaltails”) can be traced back to the late Jurassic and currently includes 11 known species around the world, including the endemic Australian genus Petalura with five species. The family is unique amongst dragonflies, in that larvae of nine of those species (including all Petalura species) excavate (sometimes complex) burrows which extend below the water table in peaty soils and which they occupy and maintain for their entire larval stage. The deepest burrow recorded for a petalurid worldwide was a P. gigantea burrow I investigated, which was 75 cm deep. These dragonflies have very long larval stages; extrapolation from recent studies suggests a larval stage of at least six years in P. gigantea, and possibly 10 or more in some situations. Larvae reach a length of 4.5-5 cm. Larvae feed on a range of small invertebrate prey within their burrows, including worms and nematodes, and are likely to act as ambush predators of larger prey from within their burrow entrances, feeding on above ground invertebrates, such as spiders, crickets, cockroaches, and perhaps small frogs, such as Crinia signifera. Larvae with submerged burrow openings in shallow pools can also prey upon other dragonfly or damselfly larvae within those pools. It is possible (but unknown) that they also leave their burrow openings temporarily to forage under suitable conditions, such as at night and during rain. I have recorded above ground chambers above their burrow openings, within litter layers and Sphagnum hummocks, which they may use for foraging purposes. Larvae leave their burrows and climb the nearest shrub or sedgeland vegetation to undergo emergence (ecdysis) to the adult stage, usually leaving their larval skin (exuvia) attached to their shrub or sedge emergence supports. The presence of exuviae confirms a site as a successful breeding site. Emergence may commence in early October in some years in some sites and extend into January, but normally appears to commence during November, at least in the Blue Mountains.
Adults live for a maximum of one summer flying season, which extends into February at least, with occasional late flying individuals having been observed on one occasion as late as mid-March in the Blue Mountains. Adults are predatory upon other flying insects during flight and consume a range of prey, including other dragonflies and damselflies, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, cicadas, wasps, and various types of flies, including crane flies. Adults typically return to a perch to consume prey. Adults spend much time perched in sedgeland and shrub vegetation, interspersed with generally short flights associated with foraging, mating, and in the case of males, territorial interactions. Adult females typically leave their larval swamp habitat following emergence and only return to a swamp habitat for breeding purposes. There is no courtship behaviour and mating generally occurs in swamp habitat with the pair perched in sedge or shrub vegetation. Egg-laying (ovipositing) involves insertion of the ovipositor into the wet, organic-rich soil substrate, into fissures in the substrate, or amongst or under live or decomposing plant material overlying the substrate. Females typically walk along the soil surface or perch within covering vegetation or on litter while ovipositing. They do not appear to oviposit into substrate covered by more than 1-2 mm of water. Most adults encountered in swamp breeding habitats are males, who are typically territorial in swamp habitat. Predation of adults by birds, skinks and spiders has been observed and dead individuals have been found in spider webs.
Petalura gigantea is considered to be an obligately groundwater-dependent species. Although the burrowing larval habit confers ecological benefits, including increased environmental stability, and some protection from the effects of fire, flood, drought and above ground predators, the species groundwater dependence and restriction to peat swamp habitats places it at increased risk in the event of any reduction in groundwater levels (e.g., due to groundwater abstraction, tunnel or pipeline boring, and longwall coal mining), more intense fire regimes, and the potential compounding effects of rapid climate change. Loss and degradation of habitat as a result of urban and transport infrastructure development, agriculture, forestry, and longwall coal mining continue to threaten the species through loss and degradation of habitat.
Figure 1. Male Petalura gigantea perched on razor sedge, Lepidosperma limicola, in a Blue Mountains Swamp. Note the conspicuous petal-shaped appendages at the end of the abdomen. Photo: Ian Baird
Figure 2. Female Petalura gigantea perched on Acacia ptychoclada in a Blue Mountains Swamp. Photo: Ian Baird
By Jessie Malpass (Communications Officer, Science for Wildlife)
Rescued Koalas returned to the Bush (plus 1)
As the massive bushfires were consuming the Greater Blue Mountains area, Science for Wildlife leapt into action and saved 12 koalas. With the help of volunteers and wildlife experts, Executive Director Dr Kellie Leigh and her team did everything they could to save as many koalas as possible from the approaching fires. These koalas were taken to Taronga Zoo for three months and were returned once it was safe to do so.
In March 2020, Science for Wildlife returned not 12 but 13 koalas to the wild! One of the koalas gave birth to a tiny joey after she was rescued.
Post-fire scat surveys tracking the koalas
Now, it has been just over 12 months since the last of the 2019/2020 bushfires, Science for Wildlife has been working hard to track surviving koalas. They have been monitoring the koalas that were saved ahead of the fires to learn how they use the landscape after fire, as well as heading out to five study sites across the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury to conduct scat surveys and find out how many koalas survived, and where.
Since September 2020 they have completed over 200 scat surveys with the help of volunteers, and have another 250 to go this time, using their koala detection dog team, including Smudge the Coolie. Conserving koalas in unburnt areas including around private properties is now more important than ever, and so Science for Wildlife conducted a recent ‘Community Attitude Survey’ to identify barriers to conservation. The results from the surveys will guide the information that S4W shares with communities, to improve outcomes for koalas and other species.
Camera Trap Project – calling for volunteers!!!
Help us work out which species used water and food stations during the bushfires
In March 2020, the last of the devastating 2019/20 bushfires were put out but Science for Wildlife was still on emergency response for wildlife, putting out water stations and food for any remaining wildlife in burnt areas. After the huge effort to place the food and water stations in the bush, Science for Wildlife wanted to evaluate if their efforts were worthwhile, so a team of staff and volunteers put out camera traps to monitor the water and food stations – hoping to capture images showing a range of wildlife benefiting from these stations.
Then COVID-19 hit, and the team were unable to bring the cameras back in to analyse the images and had to leave them out for a few months. For the remainder of 2020, Science for Wildlife focused on broadscale surveys to map surviving koalas to inform population recovery.
The team at Science for Wildlife would love your help to look through the camera trap images to see what we can discover! Fortunately, this summer has been kinder, but more hot summers and droughts will come, and the findings will help to guide welfare efforts for koalas and other species during the next extreme weather event. Water stations were placed up in trees and on the ground, so you will be looking for a range of arboreal and ground animals as well as birds. We cannot wait to see what animals you find! All you will need is a computer and internet connection.
Here are the questions Science for Wildlife are looking to answer:
Which water stations designs were used, were some used more than others?
Were the water stations still used after the heavy rains arrived?
Which species used the water and the food drops?
Which sites had more wildlife using the resources we put out, and how does that relate to fire intensity in that area?
Where were feral animals present, and how many were there compared to native wildlife?
Bushcare volunteers and Blue Mountains community members can now contribute to building knowledge about our local freshwater crayfish species, as part of an exciting new citizen science project, the Blue Mountains Crayfish Count.
Council’s Healthy Waterways Team runs annual crayfish surveys in three areas and waterbug surveys at more than sixty sites, but we are unable to conduct formal surveys in every stream- that’s where you come in!
By collectively gathering more data on crayfish, this helps us to get a better picture of the health of our crayfish populations, and in turn, the health of our waterways. It may also allow earlier detection of possible pollution incidents that are impacting on crayfish and waterway health.
As part of the launch of the project, we’ve made some short videos about crayfish. These summarise the differences between our native spiny crayfish and yabbies, their importance, and some things you can do to help protect them. There’s also some great underwater shots of some beautiful Giant Spiny Crayfish (Euastacus spinifer). Check out the videos at Council’s youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/BlueMtnsCityCouncil/videos
By collectively gathering more data on crayfish, this helps to get a better picture of the health of our crayfish populations, and in turn, the health of our waterways. It may also allow earlier detection of possible pollution incidents that are impacting on crayfish and waterway health.
Follow these simple steps to contribute to the crayfish count:
Register for iNaturalist through the app or website
Search for and join the Blue Mountains Crayfish Count project
When you next see a crayfish, take a photo of it
Upload the photo to iNaturalist (through the app or website), and add it to the Blue Mountains Crayfish Project.
RSPCA Landcare Group has been working for over 11 years to restore Woodland and EPBC Listed Swamp on the 4.4 ha RSPCA site in Mort Street North Katoomba. This bushland site contributes to a continuous bushland corridor along Katoomba Creek into the Grose Valley.
The buildings, pounds and exercise yards are at the top of the slope near Mort Street, below which is a fence separating the woodland where the Landcare group primarily works. Below the woodland a Blue Mountains Swamps runs down to Katoomba Creek.
RSPCA Landcare has removed a large weed plume of blackberry, cotoneaster, cherry laurel, broom and holly). We are now working on scattered weeds as well as pushing back an edge of holly.
We welcome more members to join us and enjoy this lovely bushland. Swamp wallabies regularly graze in the Swamp. The Landcare site contains diverse bushland showcasing the spectacular colour of native wildflowers in Spring 2020.
Wildlife Recovery Centre
We support a proposal for a wildlife recovery centre here in the Blue Mountains.
Our work has successfully restored the swamp and woodland on the RSPCA site for local native wildlife, which is now an excellent location for the rehabilitation of injured animals.
The RSPCA has announced that it has received provisional approval from NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service for a wildlife rehabilitation license for a dual occupancy site that will allow us to care for companion animals as well as wildlife. (RSPCA Media Unit 9/10/2020)
This proposal has raised 3 issues:
Is it needed?
Will the domestic Animal Shelter continue?
Can wildlife and domestic animals be cared for on this same site without further stress?
The 2019/2020 bushfires saw many injured wildlife sent to Taronga Zoo for care by specialist staff. For months, dedicated volunteers collected huge amounts of leaves locally and delivered them to the zoo for koalas.
This highlighted the need for a permanent wildlife care and rehabilitation facility closer to where our native animals live, and without the transport problems of a central Sydney location. This centre will not replace the need for WIRES carers to continue their invaluable work, but work alongside and complement that important service.
Continuation of Katoomba Shelter for Companion Animals
There is considerable concern in the community that this is an attempt by the RSPCA to close the shelter, as it attempted to do in 2014. As some of our members were involved in the successful community action to stop this closure, we believe this is a justifiable concern. We recognise that having a local shelter for cats and dogs reduces the likelihood of their being dumped in the bush and preying on native species.
RSPCA NSW appears to have given contradictory information to the Blue Mountains Branch, the Landcare group and Gazette about the continuation of the shelter for dogs.
In a report to the branch on August 1 2020, Rita Perkins (Senior Operations manager, RSPCA NSW) stated that if successful in obtaining the licence, then the site will not be able to look after dogs. Maybe there has been a change of plan? If so, it just needs to be acknowledged.
RSPCA NSW’s Wildlife Manager Nick de Vos stated (29/9/2020) that the RSPCA intends to continue to provide essential services to stray, lost, injured, neglected and at-risk animals and pet owners in the Blue Mountains community.
The RSPCA Media Unit issued the following statement on 9/10/2020 We announced earlier this year that, as part of our commitment to the people and animals of New South Wales, we are exploring establishing a facility that can manage both companion animals and wildlife at our Blue Mountains site.
We are pleased to announce that we have received provisional approval from NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service for a wildlife rehabilitation license, which means we are one step closer to making the project happen! The proposal submitted is for a dual occupancy site that will allow us to care for companion animals as well as wildlife. We still have a long way to go with this journey, but this approval means that the government has granted us permission to proceed with the design and development of the facility.
We are in the process of submitting a proposal to Blue Mountains City Council to continue to provide impound animal management services for the region on behalf of Council. Next, we will be submitting a Development Application to Blue Mountains City Council for the development of the dual occupancy site. The site has the size, space and potential to successfully manage both companion animals and wildlife. The design of the proposed infrastructure and enclosures are being carefully considered with this objective in mind. Has there been a change of plan?
3. Stress free care for both domestic and native animals?
How can the traditional role of the shelter continue alongside this proposed wildlife rehabilitation area? How can each companion animal and native animal be cared for in a safe, stress-free environment?
The size and shape of the site could allow for separation of functions. The cats that come into RSPCA are now housed in a custom-built indoor cattery and dogs are housed in concrete kennels. We understand that the use of indoor facilities for dogs is being researched and considered. Indoor shelters for dogs are common in many cold European countries for climatic reasons.
The current Taronga Zoo situation has very limited space and a wide range of animals in close proximity. Whilst more details are required, the Landcare group supports the Wildlife Recovery Centre in principle as a way to enable more wildlife to be rehabilitated closer to their natural habitats.
Native wildlife populations have been and continue to be greatly impacted by natural disasters and habitat loss, we therefore believe it is important to explore opportunities like this to invest in their care and recovery.
Blue Mountains Conservation Society are pleased to host local ecologists, Judy and Peter Smith, talking about the native fauna of the Greater Blue Mountains on the very day the World Heritage listing for the area was decided back in 2000.
The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area is home to a remarkably diverse native terrestrial vertebrate fauna (currently 434 species) of international significance.
The World Heritage listing recognises the region’s globally significant natural values including its biodiversity.
Judy and Peter will talk about the fauna of the GBMWHA as it stood at the time of publication of their book (October 2019) and then look briefly at what has happened to the fauna since.