Naturally for Birds donates all profits to Save the Gouldian Fund to support research and on-ground actions to help conserve wild populations of the endangered Gouldian Finch. In this article we provide some information on the one of the research projects currently being supported.
AN UPDATE ON THE BIGGEST CURRENT INVESTMENT FOR SAVE THE GOULDIAN FUND
Gary Fitt, Brisbane (March 2019)
We are now in the second year of our ARC-Linkage project, “Movement ecology of granivorous finches – informing fire management in savannas” led by Assoc Professor Hamish Campbell and his research team from Charles Darwin University (CDU) and focussed on the Wyndham region. It’s great to report that things are tracking well. This is the largest current investment for Save the Gouldian Fund and involves a partnership with CDU, World Wildlife Fund Australia, WA Dept. of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions, and two companies – National Drones and Wild Spy.
We now have a full complement of Postdocs and PhD students in place to work on the movement ecology of Gouldians and other finches. A key milestone late in the dry season of 2018 was the construction of six autonomous tracking towers and the tagging of a number of finches with small transmitters. The towers allowed the team to determine the location of the tagged birds every 10 seconds over the following 40-day period. This was a pilot to test the infrastructure, but it provided valuable data on the areas which the birds were using in the hills to the north of Wyndham.
An important aspect of the 2018 research was to more accurately estimate the local finch population. In August 2018 the team used mist nets to catch and colour band a large number of Gouldian, Long-tailed, and Masked Finches at several sites in the study area. They then collected sightings of banded and un-banded birds using remote motion-detection cameras that were placed at the waterholes near the capture sites between 6am and 10am for six days each. These provide outstanding image quality and allow the details of banded birds to be recorded.
Re-sightings of colour-banded birds from the cameras and from the STGF volunteers are being used to develop population estimates. These will be compared with population estimates based only on our typical waterhole counts, to test whether re-sighting and counting birds more than once during a waterhole count biases estimates of population size.
Waterhole counts were collected at each waterhole by STGF volunteers in early September 2018 by counting the number of finches visiting each site in a 2-hour period between 5:30am-7:30am.
Automated Receiving Towers.
Three of the automated receiving towers erected in the Wyndham area. The receivers continuously monitor for signals from our marked birds.
In late September the team tagged a number of Gouldians, Masked, and Long-tailed Finches trapped in mist-nets, by attaching tiny (0.27gm) radio-transmitters to their backs. During the next 40 days (the life of the battery) many birds were detected daily or near daily and showed Gouldian Finches moving more frequently among towers than Masked and Long-tailed Finches. This supports the prediction that Gouldian Finches, with their specialized diet, need to move further than the other finches to meet their daily food intake requirements.
Plans for 2019
This season the team plan to install many more receiving towers to get greater landscape coverage and also ring and radio tag many more finches with tags with a longer battery life. This will provide better spatial coverage and better resolution to determine whether birds are foraging for food and whether habitat patches used varies among species. The expanded network will include a number of additional waterholes where the STGF Count in September 2019 will focus. These waterholes are known to be visited by Gouldian, Masked, and Long-tailed Finches, and towers at these locations will capture broader landscape-scale movements of the finches. The team will also expand use of camera traps at waterholes to better understand the time of day and frequency of visits to each waterhole, and how this might bias population estimates from waterhole counts. In September 2019, the Save the Gouldian Fund volunteers are also planning to pair 2-hour waterhole counts with camera trapping.
Finally the research team will conduct vegetation sampling at many points across the landscape to measure grass diversity, seed availability for finches, tree hole density, and canopy cover. This will be used to correlate resources to fire influences and how this in turn affects finch movements. So, a busy year ahead.
(Thanks to the CDU research team for images).