Sunday, 10 September 2017

Caloundra's Grassy Wildlife Habitats-Opportunities Lost and Found

From coastal wallum to long-cleared land, Caloundra has plenty of grasslands around, most of it unprotected. Some of it is overgrown with invasive Couch grass ( Cynodon dactylon), while other areas are under threat of clearing for developmental estates. Three main areas around Caloundra have (or have had) great potential to become effective wildlife, some of which I have grown quite fond of.

Wallum grassland near proposed Aura site

The first and probably the best site is based at Bancroft's "Red Gum Reserve". I have posted about this location before, usually referring to it as "The Grasslands". On summer surveys back in 2015 I counted 64 species of birds, with some interesting species such as Little Bronze cuckoo (Chalcites minutillus), Lewin's Rail (Lewinia)*no picture*, and Tawny Grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis). The Bronze Cuckoo was an interesting find for me because they are not very often recorded on the sunshine coast and it was a "lifer" for me!

"The Grasslands". Notice Couch Grass infestation

Less than spectacular shot of Little Bronze Cuckoo (Chalcites minutillus)

Unfortunately, adjacent habitat that was largely utilised by other birds and wildlife has been cleared in the past weeks-this damage can be sen from the Kawana link road. Large populations of elapids such as Red Bellied Black Snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus) and Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) have been recorded there and nearly stepped on-they were strangely unfazed by human activity.  Nowadays, the creek once utilised for frog hunting there is now little more than a muddy drain. The dam that provided water for many birds during the hot summer has now been reduced to a puddle, and the old trees that provided habitat for microbats and possibly owls, have all been cleared.

Dam-Before clearing

Dam-After Clearing

However, some animals have not only survived, but thrived in the new conditions. A pair of Wedge Tailed Eagles (Aquila audax) were photographed on mounds of dirt within the construction site taking advantage of the animals trying to escape. Each eagle had a mammal clutched in their talons, likely one of the many Bandicoots or Rabbits that were exposed while fleeing the destruction.

Wedge Tailed Eagle (Aquaila audax) on construction site

While the clearing of this habitat is saddening, the Grasslands give me hope. The site in which the Little Bronze cuckoo was found has not only been protected, but improved. The local council often do plantings of native saplings in areas previously affected by Couch grass ( Cynodon dactylon), and the results for this site have greatly improved nesting habitat for birds and rodents, giving the local snakes a second chance as well. Additionally, a raised footpath has been added, which walkers can use to spot an array of passerines including White Throated Honeyeater (Melithreptus brevirostris), Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora) and Golden headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis), which will often put on a show for the viewer at close proximity. Although I am yet to aquire a photograph, one can often spot Red Bellied Black Snakes basking on the path ahead, although a careful approach is advised (they are incredibly shy and dart off the track with even slight movement or vibration near them).

Raised footpath, newly laid.

To the left of the footpath is a planting site run by the council

Veregated Fairy Wren (Malurus lamberti)

Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora)

Golden Headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis)

The second area that has come to my attention is A patch of wallum heathland next to Springs Drive, in new estate. This area has been severely degraded, and what was once a huge wallum area full of frogs is now another muddy swamp with houses being put on it. Strangely enough, the site is a large natural drainage basin, and often floods after big rains. Constructers have done nothing to make the ground more suitable for housing so the next big rains will tell whether that location is effective for housing or not. Unfortunately, I cannot find any photos of the land post-clearing, as they were lost while wiping my computer. No matter, there's not much left to imagine.

Former wallum area-this has all been cleared now.

Despite the bad news, there is hope for this site yet. I recently discovered a healthy patch of wallum sedgeland in forest nearby, potentially utilised by Wallum Sedgefrog (Litoria olongburensis) and Wallum Froglet (Crinia tinnula). On a spotlighting search earlier on this year, I heard an Australian Owlet Nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus) in Melaleuca forest near this location-the species would be a "lifer" for me. Unfortunately, I haven't yet taken any usable shots of the local wildlife due to school studies and work, however during the next 6 months I plan to scour the area for signs of frog and reptile activity. In the meantime, enjoy some poor habitat shots.

Newly found wallum wetland-exciting!

While development remains a large threat to this habitat, with plenty of support these threatened areas can be protected. The third area to be discussed is in the developing estates of Aura. While I still have my doubts for the sustainability for the site, there is a noticeable degree of effort being put in to aid the survival of local animals as best as possible. Dams and crossings are built specifically for frogs, Possum bridges and sediment dams have all been introduced, even before the houses have finished being built. Most importantly, and perhaps unintentionally, very little to no water runoff will make it to the swamps adjacent to the suburbs, which is vital for sensitive species (such as frogs) to survive. Despite this refreshing news, I fear that as people move into the area there will be an increasing problem of pollution into these swamp areas and, perhaps more disruptive, direct human disturbance. For the time being, however, the swamp looks quite healthy, if not a little overgrown:

Sedges and swamp on Aura's northern outskirts

These photos give poor depth of field-in person, this area is spectacular.

The biggest threat that development poses here is on local Wallum Frog populations. I have been mentioning these species a lot in this post because they are one of the species most susceptible to degradation of Caloundra's grasslands. A good indication that a grassland is healthy is that there are frogs calling from within it after rain. All three of the sites described in this area have Wallum Froglets (Crinia tinnula) calling, sometimes in great numbers. Additionally, the Aura sites show great potential for other frog species such as Tyler's Tree Frog (Litoria tyleri), Wallum Froglet (Crinia tinnula) and potentially Scarlet Sided Pobblebonk (Limnodynastes terraereginae).

Wallum Froglet (Crinia tinnula). This specimen was found along Steve Irwin way.

With holidays just around the corner, I plan to visit each site after big rain and survey birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs respectively. I also have ideas to work on some tree planting at the Grasslands site (with permission from council of course!). I believe that if native plants are brought back, the site may have a chance to grow and become a wetland, which would be hugely beneficial for the rare frog and bird species that live there. Stay tuned for further posts over the holidays, not just of activity at the grasslands but also from outings around the Sunshine Coast. I also have plans to head out to Crows Nest National Park, on a search for Brush Tailed Rock Wallabies (Petrogale penicillata) around Perseverance Dam and along Crows Nest Creek.

1 comment:

  1. I love your optimism, Ollie! To be honest, all that development and habitat destruction is a little soul-crushing for me to see. South-east Queensland has become a developer free-for-all.

    Love your bronze-cuckoo photo (I have yet to see that species myself - your pic beautifully shows me what I should be looking out for... that vivid red eye-ring!). The cisticola with one leg on each grass stem is also very charming!

    Keep up the great work, I am glad you are keeping an eye on all this development.