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Conservation Matters

Contact Call | Volume 11 Number 4 | December 2022

I hope everyone caught the news item about the Federal Environment Minister’s commitment to zero extinctions. In addition to the commitment to 30% of our land area going into protected areas (mentioned in Conservation Matters in Contact Call Vol 11 No 3, page 4), the Minister’s new Threatened Species Action Plan is called Towards Zero Extinctions. Currently there are over 1,800 species listed as Threatened, Endangered or Critically Endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). Of these, the new Action Plan identifies 110 priority species including 22 bird species. No great surprises and scope for rather more work than is identified if zero extinctions are truly the target.

Within our region, priority species listed are Eastern Curlew, Golden-shouldered Parrot, and Red Goshawk: Night Parrot (?) and Plains-wanderer (?), might (doubtfully?) occur in our outback area. The Twenty Priority places in the new plan include the Eastern Forests of Far North Queensland, and Raine Island in the far northern Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Tanya Plibersek had this to say: This Action Plan sets ambitious targets, such as preventing any new extinctions of plants and animals; protecting and conserving an additional 50 million hectares of Australia’s land mass; and better managing feral cats, foxes and gamba grass. These are excellent targets and we must hope that the government allocates sufficient resources and skills to achieve these outcomes.

Many of our members have been enjoying the opportunity to follow a pair of Peregrine Falcons nesting on a sloping ledge in the vertical walls of the crater at Mt Hypipamee National Park. Three eggs were laid by 5 August and then a lengthy brooding period followed with successful hatching, although one hatchling did not last long. The other two were well fed by the parents and grew rapidly as white downy chicks over the next few weeks. By early October flight feathers were replacing down and the chicks were engaging in wing-flapping exercises. On the BirdLife Northern Queensland (BNQ) Facebook Group page many photos were posted showing the progress of the nesting from eggs to fledging. Sadly, on 13 October the smaller of the two chicks attempted flight but failed, and drowned in the water-filled floor of the crater. The second chick continued to be fed by both parents and finally fledged despite several swims in the crater.

I recall that during my early birding years in the 1960s and 1970s there was grave concern for the Peregrine Falcon globally due to the widespread agricultural use of DDT and organophosphates.

The surviving Peregrine Falcon, full-fledged and ready to leave The Crater. Image by Peter Valentine.

Eggshell thinning was recorded everywhere and the species was in a grim situation. The banning of DDT allowed an impressive recovery and while remaining uncommon, the species is now considered secure. It was fascinating while watching the Mt Hypipamee family to see the great pleasure many visitors took in being shown the birds. A very public location with sometimes hundreds of visitors passing through the lookout meant the birds were quite accustomed to movement and human noises. Visitors from all over Australia and from overseas all expressed pleasure and awe at the sight. Sharing these encounters probably helps grow conservation commitment, much as the webcam Peregrine nests in high rise buildings have accomplished, including in Melbourne. While there are concerns about potential theft of eggs or chicks, the degree of public attention and exposure may have helped security, as well as the sheer walls of the rock face. There was perhaps at least one attempt by someone to fly a drone at the site and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) Rangers posted signs warning against the use of drones. Overall the very positive experiences probably advanced conservation interests.

The announcement that the NSW Government is going to raise the height of the Warragamba Dam has been followed by significant opposition including from BirdLife Australia (BA) due to the impacts on the Critically Endangered Regent Honeyeater. Head of Conservation for BA, Dr Sam Vine, points out that the thousands of hectares of forest that will be inundated upstream contain critical breeding habitat for the species. The proposal attracted serious negative comment when first raised last year due to impacts on the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage site. These impacts are on some of the forest areas that were not burnt during the horrendous bushfires in the previous summers.

It has now been revealed that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been conducted in an extremely prejudicial way with the Environmental Consultant told to reword certain passages and that after her resignation (to protect her professional reputation) some of the statements were deleted by her replacement. These included a paragraph stating the “removal and degradation of critical breeding habitat may lead to the loss of the local population which would represent a considerable increase in population fragmentation at the entire population scale” that was removed entirely.

An official inquiry by law firm MinterEllison identified the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) processes as managed by WaterNSW as not being in accordance with best practice. A cross party Parliamentary Inquiry has opposed the raising of the dam wall and offered alternatives. There is concern that the NSW Government is trying to avoid paying the full amount of any compensation cost from the dam raising by underestimating the actual impacts. It looks very like an opportunity for the Federal Government to get involved – we are talking about two Matters of National Significance: World Heritage and the Critically Endangered Regent Honeyeater, one of the Priority species in the new Action Plan. Over to you Tanya.

Here is a call out for help from all birders and others in our region and elsewhere. Concerns have been raised about our endemic and endangered Australian Painted Snipe. There have been very few sightings reported since January 2021, and it would be very helpful for anyone with a record of a sighting to contribute that information for an ongoing assessment. The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2020 (Garnett & Baker, 2021) has estimated that the current population has significantly fallen and could be as low as 340 individuals. The main threats are ephemeral wetlands impacted by agriculture or weeds, and more frequent droughts. If anyone has any sightings please send your data to BirdLife Australia: Precise locations need not be disclosed.

One important habitat for this species is the Cayley Wetlands at Abbott Point, near Bowen. The species has been known to breed there, and a series of surveys (published in 2020) estimated a population of 35 individuals including some immatures in June 2012. Access to that area is limited due to the coal-loading facility. More recent records are known in Townsville and elsewhere. Please check your records and help provide information to BirdLife. In our region sightings in the past include Normanton, Mareeba, Mt Carbine, Atherton (Hasties Swamp), Cairns, Ingham and near Townsville.

A pair of Australian Painted Snipe, Bowra.


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