An Expedition to Spitzbergen in the Arctic

magdalena-fijordGary Schoer, OFF member and extensive Polar traveller joined us once again in November to share his photos and assessment of the beauties of and threats to the Arctic. Gary took us with him on a Aurora Expedition small group expedition to the Svalbard Archipaelego which includes its biggest Island, Spitzbergen, in between Northern Norway and Greenland. 

 
puffinsWhile Gary was fortunate to see and capture some great images of seabirds such as puffins, Northern Fulmars, Ivory Gulls and Guillemonts to name a few, he gave additional insights into their conservation status and particular threats which are causing many populations to plummet in the last 20 years or so.
 
calving-arcticThe smoking gun seems to be especially the rapid increase in average air temperatures, reduction in amount of sea ice especially thicker multi-year ice. In some areas average temperatures have increased by as much as 10 degrees celsius, causing the frozen soil of the tundra to melt and even creating additional pine forests where once there were no trees over many parts of the Arctic. 
 
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Gary had to travel to 81 degrees North to see 6 of 7 polar bears sighted on the journey on sea ice, which was virtually absent further south…a big change over as little as 15 years since OFFS members Julian and Annette Sheen were there. One other bear was sighted on a small glacial moraine island where it may have had to swim quite a distance to get access to Arctic tern eggs…a pressure on a bird that has flown 15 000 km from Antarctica to breed there.    
 
flowersSo, as Gary emphasised, everything is connected. The changesd size of populations and average body length of the important bird-food fish  may be contributing to sea bird losses.
 
While we in Australia and more temperate worlds argue about how to effect behavioural and fuel use changes to keep average world temperatures below 2 degrees above recent historical levels, the animals, plants and indigenous people who live there are well past that target, and we can only hope that sensible and strong political efforts will stope what we are seeing in the Arctic creating a tipping point that will affect ecosystems well beyond the poles.
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St George Community Award to Chris Lloyd

entryChris Lloyd has been a member of Oatley Flora and Fauna Conservation Society since 2007 (and was a family member in the 1960s, when his mother was secretary of the organisation). He has had a life-long concern for the health of the environment and has contributed to a number of programs to monitor and improve wildlife welfare.

award2Since 2013 Chris has co-ordinated the Georges River component of Birdlife Australia’s project on Powerful Owls. Chris has worked with 150 volunteers to monitor 20 or so pairs of Australia’s largest owl as they hunt and breed along the river from Campbelltown to Taren Point. He sees one of the most significant aspects of the project is providing ‘citizen scientists’ with the skills and knowledge to work alongside biologists and contribute to valuable research. Chris has organised numerous workshops for volunteers to learn skills including microscopy and data recording and the application of biological concepts to fieldwork.

powerful-owl-084-webIn the Powerful Owl project Chris has worked closely with Bushcare volunteers. He himself has also undertaken habitat restoration in a separate project – monitoring endangered seabirds and restoring their breeding grounds on islands on the NSW coast. It is tiring and uncomfortable work – at night counting incoming birds, and by day tearing out tangling kikuyu grass and planting native Lomandra as cover for the nesting birds.

Chris has a gift for imparting information on these environmental projects to a general audience. He is an entertaining and persuasive speaker who has addressed groups ranging from small garden clubs along the Georges River to OFF meetings, Bushcare seminars, and service groups including the Men’s Shed of Mortdale. With plans provided by Chris, and encouragement from OFF member and Bushcare staffer Heather Stolle, Mens’ Shed workers have produced a number of nest boxes for birds, enhancing our local habitat for native species.

award4An environmental issue of great concern to OFF is water quality in Georges River and its catchment. Chris is one of our members who has participated for many years in Clean Up Australia Day, removing rubbish that would otherwise pollute our waterways. In recent years he has been joined in that important community work by his partner Nadia and their teenagers.

Black-bellied Swamp Snake at Oatley Park

Black-bellied Swamp Snake or Marsh Snake Hemiaspis signata was found by OFF member Matt Allison on the road near the entrance to Myra Wall garden at Oatley Park on 13 February 2016.  The snake appeared to have been run over. Report was made by Liz Cameron our Secretary and past Australian Museum educator.

Black Belly Swamp Snake 13022016

This is believed to be a rare sighting for Oatley park  Matt Mo’s paper (on the OFF website) didn’t record the species in his surveys in Lime Kiln Bay between 2006 and 2014 but noted that a specimen was collected in Oatley in 1996; according to Glenn Shea (2010) that was the last record in the Australian Museum’s database, for the species in the St George area (Shea, G M 2010.  The suburban terrestrial reptile fauna of Sydney – winners and losers.  pp. 154-197 in The Natural History of Sydney; edited by Dan Lunney, Pat Hutchings and Dieter Hochuli for Royal Zoological Society of NSW).  Glenn listed the Swamp Snake as one of the ‘Suburban Battlers’ in regard to persisting in the Sydney region.
Black Belly Swamp Snake and Liz
The Atlas of Living Australia records that the 1996 specimen from Oatley was donated to the Australian Museum by Oatley resident and staff member at the Museum and donated another swamp snake in 1986. 

Average total length is reported at 60 cm; today’s specimen was 45 cm long, so it wouldn’t be fully grown.

Species occurs in coastal and near-coastal areas of eastern Australia from far northern Qld to the south coast of NSW. Usually found in low-lying marshy areas but also found on dry rocky ridges and wooded beach dunes.  Normally active during the day and at dusk, but may be active at night in hot weather.  It gives birth to live young (from 4 to 20 in a litter).

The snakes feed largely on skink lizards and frogs.  A bite from a large specimen may be very painful but not generally regarded as dangerous. (This information from Cogger 2014.  Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia; 7th edition; CSIRO Publishing).

Report By Liz Cameron

 

Perils of Plastic- Prof Banati visits Myles Dunphy Reserve

IMG_1674Our Stream Watch group were fortunate to have a on site visit from Professor Banati Leader of the ANSTO Plastics project.
The increased presence of certain degradable plastics, including biodegradable plastics, is a challenge for the recycling of plastics more generally since the various plastics can be difficult to sort. Contamination of the waste stream with similar appearing but non-recyclable material by many seen as the Achilles heel of recycling.  A significant portion of plastic waste ends up in our oceans.
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Professor Banati said the team’s observations were changing perceptions about how the increased degradability of a material, such as plastic, may help to reduce the litter problem but, if not properly managed, might cause a contamination problem in the future.
Recent research shows that this is problematic due to the chemicals contained within plastics, as well as the pollutants that plastic attract once they are in the marine environment. For more see Guardian Dec 2014


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 ANSTO contributes to this collaborative research effort by using nuclear technologies to measure minute quantities of material such as the contaminants potentially leaching or being absorbed by degrading plastic material. ANSTO has national and international collaborations current work is being undertaken with Monash University, UTAS and CSIRO.



IMG_1676Other Research

In a new study, published Dec 2014 by the journal Royal Society Open Science, a British scientist reports the riddle of the “missing” plastic as solved: It sits in deep waters, broken down into tiny fibers and embedded in the sediment of the most remote places on Earth.

The discovery of microplastic in such remote marine habitats raises new questions about the potential for plastic debris to contaminate the food chain. Scientists have already documented that fish, birds, turtles, and other marine animals eat plastic. Thompson and his team found an even greater accumulation of plastic than previously suspected. The more plastic there is, he says, the more potential for toxicity to marine life.

Read more on the National Geographic article – Where has all the (Sea Trash) Plastic Gone

Regent Honey Eater Research – Capertee NP

Capertee NP Regent HE 12-18_10_2015 174OFF members are familiar with Capertee with two trips to Capertee National Park in 2012 & 2014. The society and members have provided some funding for research of Ross Crates (ANU PhD student) who is working on Regent Honey Eaters in Capertee NP. OFF recently donated some funds to Ross’s project to buy another video camera used for monitoring nests.

On 18 Nov Ross gave a update and reports ” the Regents are about to embark on a second round of nesting in Capertee NP. He reported there are three new nests near the homestead and another near the pump house on the river. Also he has found 4 new nests on “Home Hills”, the property immediately to the north and thinks another two are likely. He also reports that three fledglings from the first nesting effort in the NP are going OK. All sounds very exciting. ”

In 5 November Ross notes “  your camera will be up on a regent nest on friday. I have two new incubating females to monitor, and a hunch that there is one more to find in the national park.”

Capertee NP Regent HE 12-18_10_2015 002The Capertee River flows west to east, joining the Wolgan River at their confluence in Newnes. The river is fed by a number of minor tributaries in the upper reaches and forms part of the Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment. From the upper reaches of Bogee River to Glen Davis, the Capertee river flows through the Capertee Valley, which is internationally recognised and designated as an important bird area (IBA) by BirdLife International. This designation is principally due to the fact that the Capertee Valley is the core breeding range of the critically endangered Regent honeyeater. Once distributed throughout south eastern Australia from south Queensland to Adelaide, the species has suffered a major and ongoing population decline and associated range contraction. Current population estimates suggest there may be only 300-400 birds remaining. The Capertee Valley is now recognised as the core of the species’ breeding range, and is the only site in Australia where the species can be seen on a semi-regular basis.

600x600_Amyema cambag 1The Regent honeyeater is a ‘rich patch specialist.’ This means that for successful breeding to occur, individuals must locate rich sources of nectar with which to provision young, in habitat that provides dense cover to conceal nests from predators. The most important breeding site for regent honeyeaters in the Capertee Valley is the banks of the river itself. This riparian habitat of river she-oak Casuarina cunninghamii provides the nesting substrate required by regent honeyeaters. The stretch of the river in the vicinity of Genowlan bridge holds breeding birds in most years, (including the present year), as does the open valley floor of the Capertee National Park.The riparian habitat is also of vital importance because the river she-oaks play host to a species of needle-leaf mistletoe, Amyema cambagei. The flowers of the needle leaf mistletoe are another important nectar source for breeding regent honeyeaters.

IMG_8549 Capertee River at CoorongoobaThe river itself provides their only source of drinking and bathing water. During hot weather, birds can be seen frequently taking water from the river, and bathing to help regulate body temperature.  A regular supply of water is likely to become increasingly important for breeding Regent honeyeaters given projected climate change scenarios. In addition, the river provides a bountiful supply of invertebrate fauna, which is an important source of protein for both adult and young birds. It is highly likely that the abundance of insects in the vicinity of the river is determined by the presence of water in the river.

Also critical to the successful breeding of the regent honeyeater in the valley is the flowering of a small number of key eucalyptus species, in particular Yellow box E.melliodora, White box E.albens and Mugga ironbark E.sideroxylon. It is widely appreciated that the frequency and intensity of flowering in these species is moderated by soil moisture content; periods of low soil moisture are associated with poor flowering events, which in turn moderates the frequency of breeding opportunities of the Regent honeyeater.

IMG_4678 Regent Honeyeater male Chiltern June 2010Given the importance of the riparian habitat of the Capertee valley described, any drop in the water levels in the Capertee River is highly likely to have a significant detrimental impact upon the long-term persistence of the Regent honeyeater in the wild. A reduction in water levels is likely to reduce both the frequency and intensity of flowering in nearby eucalyptus species, as well as in the long-term persistence of both the river she-oak and needle-leaf mistletoe. Lack of access to water during the breeding season may either result directly in mortality of offspring during hot weather or indirectly by increasing the risk of nest predation if parents are forced to commute further from the nest to obtain water. Alternatively, it may also inhibit the initiation of breeding altogether. A reduction in invertebrate fauna in foraging areas of breeding regent honeyeaters would also limit the protein resources to provision chicks, which could either cause offspring mortality of have negative effects on the long-term health of the birds. In summary, a regular and plentiful supply of water in the Capertee river is fundamental to the functioning of the entire ecosystem, of which the regent honeyeater plays a critical part.

(Contact Ross at my number 6379 7767)

Coal Mining & Water Pollution

River bed crackingAt the October meeting of Oatley Flora and Fauna Conservation Society, Dr Ian Wright from the University of Western Sydney (UWS) presented startling evidence of environmental damage caused by coal mining in the Sydney Region. Dr Wright worked as a scientific officer with Sydney Water investigating the impact of human activities on creeks and rivers in the Sydney basin before taking up a research fellowship at UWS in freshwater ecology and water pollution.

Ian is now a full-time lecturer teaching students in water quality and management, environmental planning and environmental regulation areas. Conducting his research on a limited budget and often faced with a hostile reception from mining interests in the Blue Mountains and Southern Highlands, Dr Wright and his students have persevered, comparing water samples taken upstream of mining activity with those down stream. They have found significant deterioration in water quality attributable to waste water discharge from mining operations. Toxic levels of salt, bicarbonate, zinc, nickel and other minerals have impacted on aquatic life and degraded the waters flowing through prized wilderness areas and World Heritage sites. yshattered_river_bed

Long-wall mining, in particular, is responsible for subsidence in the bedrock of some creeks and streams feeding into Sydney’s water catchments. Dr Wright showed photographic evidence of streams simply disappearing into cracks, only to re-emerge further ‘downstream’ polluted by mining waste. Dr Wright was critical of the Environmental Protection Agency, responsible for regulating the discharge of wastewater from mines. Pollution licence conditions need to be tightened requiring mining companies to meet higher standards, although he conceded the regulator had lifted its game recently but only under pressure from the community and, in turn, government.

Asked how Oatley Flora & Fauna Conservation Society members could help to stop mining companies from causing environmental damage, Dr Wright suggested the best way would be to keep the pressure on our politicians to introduce more stringent rules on mining activities. Dr Wright gave an undertaking to keep the Society informed of future developments in the regulation of the coal industry.

Ian Wright-OFF-presentation-Short-8-nov-2015

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Impact of a coal mine waste discharge on water quality and aquatic ecosystems in the Blue Mountains World Heritage area.

FOR MORE INFORMATION SEE DR WRIGHT’S PUBLICATIONS CLICK HERE FOR MORE ABOUT UPLAND SWAMPS

15 NOVEMBER 2015 – LEADER ARTICLE “Coal Mining Risk revealed at Conservation Society meeting”

Powerful Owl Study on Oatley Owlets

Powerful owlet OatleyMatt Mo and David Waterhouse OFF members have just published  their observations on a pair of Oatley Owlets in a paper in Australian Field Ornithology.
This paper extends previous observations of behavioural development in Powerful Owl Ninox strenua fledglings. The study combines a near-daily visual monitoring program on a pair of owlets in Oatley, suburban Sydney, New South Wales, with corresponding pellet analysis.
The fledglings were initially fed on possums, fruit-bats, birds and insects, and first demonstrated independence by disassembling carcasses by themselves. By October, they apparently mimicked the adults’ strategy for capturing insects, and began to chase birds and bats. Behaviours thought to be part of honing their hunting skills—including tearing and ferrying strips of bark, foliage-snatching, and swooping at animals on the ground—were recorded. Such actions intensified during a period when the adults were mostly absent in November and December.

Microbat Predation on Mosquitoes

MicrobatDr Leroy Gonslaves studied the diet of microbats that live on the Central Coast for his PhD. His study area in Empire Bay has large areas of saltmarsh, which can support huge numbers of mosquitoes at different times of the year. Apart from nuisance biting, these particular mosquitoes have the potential to spread diseases such as Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses – which can cause rashes, fever and rheumatic pains. To See Powerpoint of Talk Click Here ( 75MB) Dr Gonslaves has also surveyed 56 Sites across Sydney for Microbats. Click here to see Sydney Morning Herald article

Herpetofauna of Lime Kiln Bay

A5. Lime Kiln Bay wetlandsMatt Mo’s latest publication on The Lime Kiln Bay Wetland provides the first comprehensive description of the amphibians and reptiles at the site from observations made between 2006 and 2014. Twenty-three species were detected: six frogs (Hylidae, Limnodynastidae, Myobatrachidae), one freshwater turtle (Cheluidae), 12 lizards (Agamidae, Carphodactylidae, Scincidae, Varanidae) and four snakes (Colubridae, Elapidae, Pythonidae).

Published in the The Victorian Naturalist 132 (3) 2015, 64–72)

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

The best ways to beat the bite of blood thirsty mosquitoes

Dr Cameron Webb was our first speaker for 2015 regaling the audience of 60+ members and guests with warm-blooded facts and anecdotes on mosquitoes and diseases associated with these pesky ankle biters. He has provided us some useful way to beat the bites.

cameronwebb_mosquitoes_theleaderMosquitoes found around the Georges River region are more than just nuisance-biting pests. Mosquito-borne pathogens, in particular Ross River virus, are regularly detected and there have been cases of human illness in the local area too. There is no mosquito control in the local wetlands so individuals need to take steps themselves to avoid mosquito bites. Long sleeved shirts, long pants and covered shoes will provide a physical barrier against mosquito but the use of topical insect repellents will be important too. There is a range of cheap, safe and effective repellents available in Australia. A repellents should be approved by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) who test for effectiveness and safety. There’s over 100 insect repellent formulations currently registered while dozens more unregistered repellents are commonly found for sale at various stores, markets and via online retailers. The best repellents contain either DEET or picaridin as these chemicals have been repeatedly demonstrated in testing to provide the longest lasting protection against a range of biting insects. Many reviews of the literature have shown that, considering the widespread international use of these repellents, there are very few adverse health impacts reported (keeping in mind that their use has probably saved many live from potentially fatal illnesses such as malaria or dengue).

By Paul Zanetti By Paul Zanetti

There are other types of repellents available. The most common are plant-based products such as tea-tree, eucalyptus, lavender, cat mint and peppermint oils. These repellents vary in their effectiveness but generally provide less protection than DEET or picaridin and if you prefer to use these types of repellent, it is important to remember that they’ll will need to be reapplied more frequently to provide comparable protection. mossie It isn’t all about choosing the right repellent, to prevent bites you’ve got to use it correctly. Regardless of formulation, there must be an even and complete cover of all exposed skin otherwise mosquitoes will find a way through. Reapplication is required after swimming or physical activity. Spraying repellent on clothes or giving a dab “here and there” isn’t going to provide protection. Although mosquito repellent patches and wrist bands have been registered they won’t “whole body” protection against mosquito bites. Using mosquito repellents is the best way to reduce the risks of mosquito-borne disease. If you’re out and about around the local wetlands and bushland areas, it is important to take measures to avoid mosquitoes so make sure you pack a tube of insect repellent in your bag this weekend. For more information see the recent article at The Conversation “Chemical or natural: what’s the best way to repel mozzies?” Dr Cameron Webb – Department of Medical Entomology, University of Sydney and NSW Health Pathology. Email: cameronn.webb@health.nsw.gov.au Twitter: @mozziebites  CLICK HERE TO SEE BLOG FOR MORE INTERESTING INFORMATION :