Black-eared Miner update and call for volunteers

To: "" <>
Subject: Black-eared Miner update and call for volunteers
From: Rhidian Harrington <>
Date: Mon, 20 Jan 2003 16:45:24 +1100
Hi all,

My name is Rhidian Harrington and I am the new field officer for the
national black-eared miner recovery team, taking over from Rohan Clarke (who
is on Macquarie Island increasing his bird list by 3) and Rebecca Boulton
(who is doing a PhD in New Zealand). I have just finished a PhD on the
effects of artificial water points on bird distribution and abundance at
Gluepot Reserve. Having worked at Gluepot I am very familiar with the
black-eared miner and its habitat, as well as the people involved in the
recovery program. They are all great people and I am really enjoying being
the field officer. I have included an article I sent into the TBN newsletter
to update you on the black-eared miner recovery program, including the huge
fire in Big Desert National Park.

As you are probably all aware, a huge fire swept across Big Desert National
Park in NW Victoria just before Christmas last year. The fire burnt over
180,000 ha and was the biggest fire in Victoria since the Ash Wednesday
fires 20 years ago. Although it did not directly threaten the translocated
Black-eared Miner populations in Murray Sunset National Park (MSNP) (about
80 km to the north), it highlights how vulnerable the Black-eared Miner is
to wildfires. If a fire of this magnitude were to pass through Gluepot,
Taylorville and Calperum Reserves (the stronghold of Black-eared Miners in
Australia) it could potentially render the species extinct overnight. A fire
of this size would have totally consumed the main stronghold of Black-eared
Miners in South Australia and easily consumed Gluepot (51,000 ha) and
Taylorville (92,000 ha) reserves.

In addition to this massive fire, numerous fires in the mallee vegetation
within the Black-eared Miner's range were ignited by thunderstorms that
passed over southeast Australia in November last year. Fires were ignited in
southwest Gluepot, on the Taylorville/Calperum boundary (200 ha), Dangalli
(~1000 ha) and Murray Sunset (where at least 22 fires were reported).
Fortunately, the two fires in Gluepot and Calperum were slow burning and
easily contained, and the numerous fires in Murray Sunset were a long way
from the Black-eared Miner translocation release sites.

Again wildfires have demonstrated how vulnerable the small isolated
populations of Black-eared miners are. With the great success of the initial
translocation to MSNP, the threat of wildfires to the Black-eared Miner
species highlights how important it is to attempt to establish another
population, through translocation, at a site removed from the South
Australian and Victorian populations. With this in mind, the assessment of
potential sites in NSW has commenced. During December last year, I spent 2
weeks searching Tarawi Nature Reserve and Scotia Sanctuary for a possible
translocation site. Although the data haven't been fully examined, I am
happy to report that there appears to be 2 or 3 sites that may be suitable
for translocation. I have worked closely with the managers of both reserves
(Tarawi - NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service; Scotia- Australian Wildlife
Trust) and also happy to say that they are both very keen to help the
national recovery team in every way possible to augment a tiny remnant
population in NSW.

During late October 2002, surveys were conducted at each of the five sites
from which Black-eared Miners were removed for translocation in 2000 and
2001 in South Australia by me and two volunteers (Alan Grenon from Seattle
and Richard Thaxton from RSPB, Scotland). We were very pleased to see that
all the grids searched contained miners and that at one of the grids
Black-eared Miners were observed breeding within a few hundred metres of the
removal site. This suggests that the removal of the five colonies for
translocation has only had a minor impact on the Black-eared Miner
population in SA, with new colonies moving in quickly to replace the removed

During September 2002, Rohan Clarke, assisted by four volunteers (Dean
Portelli, Curtis Doughty, Chris Brown and Kate Splitgerter), walked 234 km
of transects in MSNP. Seven birds were located in total and all of these
were colour banded, although no evidence of breeding was detected. Since
breeding was known to be occurring at Gluepot in October, a return visit to
MSNP was made in the hope of an improved chance of detecting translocated
colonies. In early November 70 km of transects were walked by me and Richard
Thaxton around the sites where miners were last recorded. Two unbanded
Black-eared Miners were recorded during the transects, while an additional
four miners were seen flying high overhead near the release site, but
unfortunately these individuals could not be located again. The small number
of encounters with miners on transects, their behaviour (flying high
overhead) and their poor response to playback suggested strongly that the
miners at Murray Sunset were not breeding, probably as a result of the
drought. Many thanks go to Richard, who coming from colder climes, was
uncomplaining and hard working while camping out and walking large distances
in the hot and dusty conditions. Although there appears to have been little
breeding last season at MSNP, making birds difficult to locate (they don't
respond to playbacks when they are not breeding), this is probably due
entirely to the drought and the translocation still continues to be a huge

Volunteers interested in working with me in the field on the Black-eared
Miner research can contact me on Phone: 03-94791672, or email:
 Fieldwork will commence in mid April for
2-3 weeks.  All volunteers would be required to work in remote locations in
the Mallee regions of Vic (Murray Sunset National Park) and SA (Birds
Australia Gluepot Reserve and Calperum Station). Tasks include conducting
surveys, nest searches, making behavioural observations, colour banding
birds and a lot of walking (you need to be relatively fit). You would need a
swag, but food is provided. You would also be at Gluepot for the ABSA
scientific day, which would mean you would meet heaps of birdos and listen
to some interesting talks on recent bird research.

Thanks to all the volunteers who helped out last year on the Black-eared
Miner Recovery program.

Happy birding,

Rhidian Harrington

Black-eared Miner Project Officer
Zoology Department
La Trobe University
Bundoora, Victoria
Australia 3086

Tel: 03-9479 1672
Mob: 0425 713203
Fax: 03-9479 1551

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