Thursday, August 29, 2019

Threats to Tasmania's Raptors
Vulnerable - Tasmania's Masked Owl 
 Image - JJ Harrison ( per wiki under CC3

Since writing about raptors a couple of weeks ago, I have talked to wildlife expert and consultant Nick Mooney, who has had fifty years of experience with Tasmania’s native species focusing on birds of prey or raptors. The good news he said, was that the large raptors such as the Wedge – tailed Eagle and the White-bellied Sea-eagle do seem to be holding their own, possibly even increasing in areas where devils have drastically declined, thus freeing up much carrion. Changes in attitude and laws leading to decreased persecution have also helped. Sea-eagles may have also benefited from the many new artificial lakes and ponds. 

However, he warns, this could change rapidly if the thirteen wind farms proposed for Tasmania go ahead, together with all the supporting power lines and infrastructure. As the Spanish example with regard to Bonelli’s Eagle has shown, detailed surveys, tracking routes and hunting ranges and subsequently siting and designing for least impact, will be of utmost importance, but such strategic surveying and planning simply does not occur in Tasmania. The most that happens is that turbines are located 1 km from eagle nests but this 1 km is a distance borrowed from forestry advice on reducing disturbance and has no rational founding whatsoever in minimising physical risk from turbine blades.

Windfarm advocates routinely dismiss the birds killed at windfarms as insignificant compared to what cats kill but this pitch is mischievous he says, because the reality is chalk and cheese. Sure, cats kill more birds than windfarms do, but those numbers are highly misleading since cats usually kill many small birds, birds which can usually breed their way out of problems from increased mortality. But large raptors (which are amongst the rarest of birds) are wildly over - represented in the windfarm kill statistics and these birds are not able to breed their way out of problems from increased mortality. Windfarms are, worldwide, an increasing problem for large raptors, says Nick. 

Because the windfarm issue is well known and gets considerable publicity, Nick is far more concerned about our smaller raptors that get overlooked because they are relatively common – the Tasmanian Mopoke (aka Southern Boobook) and particularly, the Brown Falcon.  Judging by the numbers of the latter brought injured into refuges or found dead on his extensive road counts over decades, he estimates that they are down to 20% of their former strength. 

This may be from decreased breeding and/or increased mortality. It seems that the days of seeing scores of juveniles feeding on crickets and grasshoppers in single stubble fields in late summer are long gone. The main cause of injury of those found on roadsides seems to be collisions with vehicles but an old problem seems to be more apparent now; secondary poisoning, usually as a result of eating poisoned rats and mice.  

 The main reason for this appears to be intensifying agriculture and the use of anti-coagulant rodenticides, the newer (‘second generation’) ones which kill in ONE application, rather the older type (‘first generation’) of anti- coagulants which took multiple doses.The weaker older poisons, allowed more birds to recover after ingesting poisoned prey..  This issue has long been known but got much press a few years ago when Parks and Wildlife officers on Macquarie Island sought to remove introduced rats and mice to enable native species to recover. Previous eradication efforts had not much affected native bird populations, but the new products certainly did and populations took some years to recover from the successful eradication of rats, mice and rabbits (a remarkable achievement in itself). 

As Nick says, sufficient numbers of raptors on or around a property to begin with, would help prevent the rodent problem peaking in the first place – predators often buffer the population ‘booms’ in prey but they have to be  in high numbers to do so. Sadly, right now, no one knows how our prime avian rodent catchers – the Masked Owls, Tasmanian Mopokes and Tawny Frogmouths are faring. They are secretive creatures that hunt mostly at night and are not easily surveyed without tracking equipment.

As in many a Third World country, few comprehensive surveys are done in Tasmania and sophisticated conservation has increasingly taken a backseat to economic development, seemingly at any cost. While I am all in favour of renewable energy, at this stage, it doesn’t appear that Tasmanians will benefit much from the proposed developments which may in fact compete with our sales of hydro -electricity, while tourism, including wildlife tourism and our fine food and wine industry which trade on our “pristine” environment and already bring in far more, may well suffer. 
What about jobs? With the first large windfarm in the Central Highlands almost at the commission stage, it would appear that  the project will only employ about TWO Tasmanians to dig a couple of holes and pour a bit of concrete.
Just because the proposed developments are out of sight of a clamouring populace, doesn’t mean we should let them pass without rigorous assessment. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Walking the Thumbs

View from the Picnic Ground - The Thumbs

I felt thrice blessed this weekend. For a start I got out into the bush for the first time in ages and my walking buddy was able to come with me (his idea actually). Wattle bloomed along the roadsides together with the occasional flowering plum or cherry in a front garden. It was also a perfectly sunny day – no wind, no showers – I am sure there are children alive in Tasmania today, who have never seen this phenomenon. Lastly, I saw not one, but three Wedge- Tailed Eagles, riding the thermals above us. More about them shortly.

One of three Wedge Tailed Eagles

The Thumbs are a group of three small peaks about 2 Km off the Wiegelanta Road, just outside Orford, but the road to them is largely unsealed, so don’t take your hire car there. There’s a small picnic area there – no water or toilets, and a nice little walk which is supposed to take around two hours. It is mostly known for its excellent views of Maria Island and the East Coast and as one wag wrote, “It’s not often that the best views are to be had before you start your walk.” 

Almost at the top of the Second Thumb -what the track notes don't say is that there are very steep gullies between them

Nevertheless, we set off and conquered two of the hills before the last one stared us down. My friend had to be back in town by four, so we reluctantly had to leave it at that for the day, but hating unfinished business of this kind, I drove there again on Sunday and did all three.

The turquoise waters of  Freycinet are visible from the second lookout

Hakea lissosperma - Mountain Needlebush - almost in flower

Cythodes Glauca - Purple Cheeseberry, an endemic. Had often seen the red , pink and white ones, which grow here too, but not these. Some were almost black. What a shame they aren't very edible! 

Standing on the Second Thumb, the first one obscures the waterviews

Nice view of the surrounding mountains though

The next day......

On the Sunday, despite the fairly promising weather forecast - only 2% chance of rain, the weather wasn't nearly as nice. A fierce wind blew most of the time, threatening to bring down dead branches or even trees. I'm sure the 360 views from the top of the last thumb were pretty spectacular, but  it started to drizzle and I didn't want to linger long. It also grew very dark and the rain began bucketing  down just as I got back to the car.  One sunny day does not a spring make, but I was thrilled to have seen those eagles.

Looking across at the third Thumb from the top of the second. There's a steep drop in between
The wind grows stronger and dark rainclouds  smudge the sky as I near the top, weather forecast notwithstanding

At the Third Lookout  -Trig Point to prove I made it, but  then it's Goodbye Thumbs, it's been nice knowing you!

I suppose this lovely cartoon by Leunig via the Leunig Appreciation Society sums it up:

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Well –dressed Trees -2

Speaking of well - dressed trees, I saw some others down near the hospital recently – the hospital which has been in the process of being rebuilt forever.

It didn't take long to discover that there was a whole street of these

It seems that our guerrilla knitters have been hard at work. Again, I thought wouldn’t it be better to have used the yarn to make a couple of blanket squares or maybe some hats and scarves, but then, thinking of the poor sods trapped in hospital beds up above, maybe it was a good use for a bit of wool. It certainly brightened up a rather dull day and made me look at my surroundings more closely.
Love those anonymous knitters. What a shame that their work is so ephemeral.


Look at the detail in these!

Well Dressed Trees - 1


These coat -clad trees caught my eye as I was driving past a park the other day. What a waste in the name of Art I thought, especially at this time of year when many are cold and homeless. On closer inspection, this proved to be not such a bad idea after all, which just shows that one shouldn’t jump to conclusions.


What the well - dressed tree wears - pure wool
Here’s what the labels on the trees said:

Free on a Tree is the initiative of an 11 year – old – Hobart boy, Oliver Edwards, who thought of it as part of a homework challenge at his school last year, after we had had lots of flooding.  Since then the idea has caught on in a number of places such as Redcliff and Toowoomba in Queensland, as well as other parts of Tasmania. This year he has branched out into blankets as well.
Though you might be sweltering in the Northern Hemisphere just now, it's a great idea worth remembering for when the cooler weather rolls around – a way to anonymously donate a bit of warm clothing  without embarrassing the recipient.

It's also fantastic to see so many young people doing great stuff. I'm just thinking about another young Hobart boy, Campbell Remess , ( he must be 14 by now), who has been sewing hundreds of bears for children in hospital for the last two years. Also the schoolchildren who have been campaigning against Climate Change or raising money for various causes such as our farmers or the Homeless. Just when I am feeling a bit disillusioned and sad, things like this make me think there is hope for humans after all. Go kids!