Gems in the grass - citizen scientists find rare species in Victoria’s north

Friday 5 June, 2020

In March a group of citizen scientists spent the weekend at the Bael Bael Nature Conservation Reserve in Northern Victoria completing the annual wildlife survey. 

The survey was conducted prior to Victoria’s physical distancing restrictions were in place to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). 

For the past four years, a group of citizen scientists have surveyed the native grassland plains of Bael Bael Nature Conservation Reserve west of Kerang. Nocturnal spotlight surveys are the best way to uncover the reserve’s many secrets, and spotlighting often goes long into the night. This autumn the survey captured some significant results.

The survey was conducted over four nights with participants from the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, Parks Victoria and Friends of Terrick Terrick National Park. 

Survey results included sighting of 68 curl snakes, (35 more than recorded in last year’s survey) and 29 Fat-tailed Dunnarts (21 more than last year). These tiny marsupials are voracious predators of insects, spiders and small reptiles. To get through the winter, they store fat reserves in their tails and many of the animals seen were fattening up for the season. Other special animals recorded were: tessellated geckos and the endangered samphire skink. 

The most significant result was the presence of five critically endangered Plains-wanderers.  Apart from the exciting fauna discoveries, participants were also treated to some spectacular sky shows with a blood red sunset on one horizon and the ‘super moon’ rising at the opposite horizon. 

Staff from Parks Victoria’s Northern Plains Grasslands team attribute the excellent survey results to conservation work completed in the grasslands. The work is funded by the Victorian Government’s Biodiversity Response Planning program and is helping to ensure that Victoria’s natural environment is healthy, valued and actively cared for. The presence of Plains-wanderers provides proof that conservation works are successful.

Parks Victoria has been working to improve the overall condition of grassland habitat for native flora and fauna. This helps reverse or halt declines in populations of threatened species such as the Plains-wanderer, Hooded Scaly-foot, rare plants including Slender Darling-pea and Chariot Wheels and many other native fauna that live in the grasslands.

Conservation work has included invasive weed removal, pest animal control, working with local Traditional Owner groups and employing dedicated staff to plan and monitor conservation work outcomes. One of the most important and unique conservation actions has been the use of sheep for ecological grazing to maintain the short and open grassland structure which Plains-wanderers prefer.

Quotes attributable to Mark Antos, Parks Victoria Manager Science and Effectiveness 
“We are thrilled at these excellent results recorded in the latest survey. The results are directly related to the reserve’s condition getting better and better over recent years.

Volunteers contribute an extraordinary amount to flora and fauna surveys and monitoring in the grasslands and we wouldn’t be able to keep such a close eye on this important part of Victoria without them.”

“To many people these reserves look like ordinary paddocks, but they are full of wildlife and are some of the most important conservation areas in the state.”

Quotes attributable to Andrej Hohmann, Field Naturalists of Victoria 
"When we found a pair of Plains-wanderers on the first night of the survey we were over the moon and the excitement didn’t end for the rest of the weekend. Bael Bael was hopping with dunnarts and slithering with curl snakes. We were absolutely blown away by the results. 

Each year we have found more and more critters but to find so many this year and so many Plains-wanderers was a real treat. It was terrific to see first-hand all the hard work Parks has been putting into managing the reserve is paying off. 

Our volunteers are already looking forward to next year’s survey and another chance to help contribute to conserving this special place."


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