Words: Steph Murphey
For my first ever bird-surveying adventure, I had the pleasure of joining the Conservation Council of WA’s (CCWA) Citizen Science team and a group of incredible volunteers on a trip to Chingarrup Sanctuary, Koreng Noongar country, in November.
Chingarrup is a 560 hectare property with stunning views of the Stirling Ranges and a paradise for birdwatchers. It forms part of the Gondwana Link - a world leading restoration project which is reconnecting natural habitats across a 1,000 km belt in south-western Australia.
Sadly, two-thirds of the vegetation in south-western Australia has been cleared. Much of the land clearing was done as a condition to purchasing land in the 1960s. Many bird and animal species have been reduced to small isolated populations that are under continual stress. With birds, scientists predict we could lose 50% of the remaining species from the main agricultural areas within 50 years.
Gondwana Link has an active plan to change this. The vision is to rebuild a landscape where people and nature can live together. Already, farmers are finding wildlife coming back to habitats left amongst productive farms, more and more properties are being purchased to protect and restore habitats and Citizen Scientists are recording how those habitats recover.
Citizen Science coordinators Dr Nic Dunlop and Alison Goundrey have collected thirteen years worth of data with a dedicated team of volunteers on bird populations and vegetation in Chingarrup as part of Gondwana Link management.
On my weekend trip, three teams conducted multiple Hybrid Standard Search surveys. The purpose of these surveys is to identify impacts of differing clearing histories and regrowth vegetation on bird diversity in different sites at Chingarrup – measured by counting bird species and numbers present.
I was warned about the 3.30am start to catch the early morning bird chorus. But I was surprised with the complexities of surveying bird species which involves high-level listening skills to identify the bird calls from distances of up to two hundred metres away.
It was fascinating to hear the team calling out the names and numbers of different birds all morning. There were honeyeaters, fairy-wrens, weebills, currawongs, and scrub-wrens, to name a few!
It wasn’t just birds we identified during the survey either. We also found emu eggs, mallee-fowl and spotted nightjar feathers, new plant species, and shingle backed lizards.
Best of all, we checked in on an eagle nest that the group had found at the previous trip in October. It was a delight to see that the fluffy white Wedgie chick had developed into a near fledged healthy youngster, with both parents around keeping an eye on us from high in the sky.
Big thanks to Eddy and Donna Wajon for hosting us at Chingarrup, and to Bush Heritage for the comfortable facilities of the Michael Tichbon Field Station, our base for the weekend.
In 2021, volunteers have conducted an incredible 220 bird monitoring days. I’d highly recommend getting involved in the new year. It’s vital conservation work with the added appeal of observing unique wildlife and enjoying glorious landscapes.
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