Category Archives: General

The Giant Dragonfly an ancient peat-swamp survivor in the Blue Mountains

Article by Dr Ian Baird

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 Act 2016, 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 Austrophlebia costalis. 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

Science for Wildlife – Postfire Projects and call out for volunteers!!

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.

Laksmi & joey Ra – Koala Release Science for Wildlife Photo: Ian Brown

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.

Laksmi & joey Ra – Koala Release Science for Wildlife Photo: Ian Brown

Camera Trap Project – calling for volunteers!!!

Help us work out which species used water and food stations during the bushfires

Lyre Bird captured as part of the Camera Trap Project. Credit: Sourced from Science for Wildlife

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?

Link to register: S4W Bushfires – Water and Food stations — Zooniverse

Australia’s Environment 2020 Report

How did our environment fare last year?

Improved rainfall conditions have pulled our environment out of its worst state on record, but recovery is slow, partial and precarious.

That’s the main conclusion from the Australia’s Environment, the latest in an annual series of environmental condition reports.

The report, and its website, provide a summary of key environmental indicators and how they changed in 2020.

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT

Seniors Festival 1 April – 30 April 2021

NSW Seniors Festival 

NSW Seniors Festival (formerly Seniors Week) is the largest festival for seniors in the Southern Hemisphere. To acknowledge the remarkable contributions our local seniors make to our Blue Mountains community, a program of events for the month of April, 2021 has been put together. The theme for 2021 is ‘In our nature’

All events will strictly follow COVID safe procedures, as outlined by NSW Health.

A copy of the Seniors Festival Program for the month’s events can be downloaded here and hardcopies will also be available at Council’s Library branches and Customer Service Centres in Katoomba and Springwood.

https://www.bmcc.nsw.gov.au/documents/2021-seniors-festival-program

March 2021 Gecko Newsletter – Autumn issue

Welcome to the 2021 Autumn issue of the Gecko Newsletter. In this issue read about:

  • Actinotus forsythii Pink Flannel Flower
  • A brief Bushcare internship
  • Saving the Trees – one Gecko at a time
  • Wentworth Falls Lake
  • Crayfish Count Regenerate Project
  • New Narrow Neck Bushcare Group
  • Allendale Landcare Group
  • Report a Koala Sighting
  • Butterfly Hill-topping site at Lawson
  • New Blackheath Community Farm Landcare
  • Poison Hemlock
  • Snowy Mountains Humpback Slug
  • Feral Scan – Fox Scan
  • What’s On

Click here to open the latest Gecko

https://www.bmcc.nsw.gov.au/documents/gecko-newsletter-autumn-2021

Clean up Australia Day Sunday 7th March

Last year local volunteers removed 1.6 tonne of rubbish from bushland and parkland sites, most of which included drink containers, plastic food wrapping, packaging materials and plastic bags. 

You can get involved by finding a local park or area that needs cleaning or by joining an existing Clean Up site near you. Once registered, you will be sent a free Clean Up kit including bags, gloves, information and promotional materials.

For further information on how to get involved and find a local site near you, please visit the Clean Up Australia Day website www.cleanup.org.au/

Garguree Swampcare, Maple Grove Clean Up Australia Day 2020

Environmental Citizen of the Year – Lis Bastian

Outstanding citizens were celebrated at Blue Mountains City Council’s annual Australia Day Awards on 26 January, 2021.

Environmental Citizen of the Year – Lis Bastian

Congratulations to Lis Bastian – a founding member of one our new bushcare groups – Blackheath Community Farm Landcare.

For years, Lis Bastian has devoted herself to helping others live more sustainably. She does this by leading by example and by teaching people of all ages about permaculture and environmental responsibility.

Lis created The Big Fix (www.thebigfixblackheath.org) which is a social enterprise that focuses on ‘changing the story.’ The initiative has enabled a collaborative, solutions-based culture to grow and thrive in the Blue Mountains and beyond.

Other projects that have been spearheaded by Lis, include a Community Farm in Blackheath which she regularly reports on through Facebook to inspire others. Lis also set up and now runs ‘Pluriversity’, which provides a range of learning opportunities for young people who have left school engage with one another and the wider community.

Lis reaches out to others and builds partnerships with unlimited generosity and devotion to protecting the environment.

The full list Awards recipients included:

  • Young Citizens of the Year –  Annelise Schroder and Harry Elbourne
  • Citizen of the Year – John Turner
  • Senior Citizens of the Year – Peter A. Kidd and Rosemary Hart
  • Environmental Citizen of the Year – Lis Bastian
  • Community Achievement of the Year – Blue Fringe Arts and Literature Exhibition.

Happy New Year – 2021

A quirky photo of a Pink Flannel Flower (Actinotus forsythii) with an accompanying ant. Photo: Keith Brister

Welcome to the New Year! We’re looking forward to catching up with our Bushcare and Landcare volunteers, and working together back at our sites.

After surviving the many challenges last year threw at us, we can look upon this year with renewed enthusiasm and vigour. Keep an eye open for events; some of these may be online.

Swamped By Threats Project reaches halfway mark

By Michael Hensen

The Swamped by Threats Project, a partnership between BMCC, CTLLS, NPWS and Forest NSW, has reached the halfway mark. The project aims to conserve the ecological integrity and habitat quality of priority swamps for the endangered and swamp dependant Blue Mountains Water Skink and the Giant Dragonfly of the Blue Mountains and Newnes Plateau. The innovative ten year project is funded through a $750,000 Save Our Species (SOS) Partnership Environmental Trust grant.

A key focus of the project in the Blue Mountains has been the restoration of the natural hydrology of swamp systems which have been disrupted by stormwater flows from urbanised catchments, resulting in erosion, channelisation, de-watering, sedimentation, and weed invasion. Works have included stormwater outlet stabilisation, gross pollutant traps, raingardens, stormwater infiltration and integration structures and soft engineering swamp rehydration structures, as well as weed control.  The sixteen priority swamp systems being targeted include Connaught, Yosemite, Marmion Road, North Street, the Gully, McCrae’s Paddock, Leura Falls, East Leura, Jamison Creek, Central Park, Wentworth Falls Lake, Franks Creek, Kittyhawke, Duperry/Clarendon Swamp, Red Gum Park, Lawson Pool and North Lawson Swamps.

IMAGE: Eric Mahony and Geoffrey Smith at Central Park swamp raingardens in high flow CREDIT: BMCC

A big thank you goes out to all the Bushcare and Swampcare volunteers whose ongoing on-ground efforts are making such a valuable contribution of in-kind hours in support of the grant funded work.

IMAGE: Banksia Street raingarden above Wentworth Falls Lake  CREDIT: BMCC

This project has been supported by the Hominy Bakery in Katoomba who provide the catering for these events “You know the food is good when everyone’s silent” said Katy O’Neill at the Valley View Swampcare Event.

More information is available via this link: https://youtu.be/DmGZbkgjrQM

Acknowledgement of Country

The City of the Blue Mountains is located within the Country of the Dharug and Gundungurra peoples. The Blue Mountains City Council recognises that Dharug and Gundungurra Traditional Owners have a continuous and deep connection to their Country and that this is of great cultural significance to Aboriginal people, both locally and in the region.

For Dharug and Gundungurra People, Ngurra (Country) takes in everything within the physical, cultural and spiritual landscape – landforms, waters, air, trees, rocks, plants, animals, foods, medicines, minerals, stories and special places. It includes cultural practice, kinship, knowledge, songs, stories and art, as well as spiritual beings, and people: past, present and future. 

Blue Mountains City Council pays respect to Elders past and present while recognising the strength, capacity and resilience of past and present Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Blue Mountains region.