Dr Sarah Pryke
Sadly, the 2013 Gouldian Census will be our last. It is sad because it has become an iconic event, which as well as serving a critical function, has also been huge fun with many people turning up for it year after year, including many volunteers from various destinations overseas.
However, it is definitely not all sad news – especially for the Gouldians. Indeed, this count is our last one because we have expanded our work over such a wide area now that we can no longer effectively use volunteers to census the birds manually. Instead, and excitingly, we will be trialling recent developments in satellite tracking, whereby birds will fitted with tiny sensors that record all their movements (via satellite). This technology will enable us, for the first time ever, to determine dispersal patterns of both adults and juveniles, the distances moved by individuals during the non-breeding season (i.e. their migratory phases) and also, importantly, their survival. Over the last years, both researchers and volunteers have been puzzled about a number of curious patterns from the census data. Why are there so few adults and so many juveniles? Where have all the unbanded birds come from? Where do all the banded birds go? Have they dispersed or died? This technology will now be able to answer these fundamental questions and provided unprecedented insight into the Gouldian finch. So, although we are sad that this will be our last count, we are also excited at the prospects of taking this new and innovative project into the future.
In conjunction with monitoring the movement and survival of the birds, we will also continue to work hard on increasing both the size and connectivity of Gouldian finch breeding populations. Our nest box programme, which started in 2008, has been incredibly successful with addressing this first objective. Indeed, in our first stage, we placed nest-boxes, which are specially designed to meet the specific requirements of the Gouldians, in their known breeding sites, and found a resulting population growth of between 130-380%.
In recent times we have initiated stage two, which is to use nest boxes as a reintroduction tool to reintroduce Gouldians back into suitable habitat that they used to be found in, but which they haven’t occupied for decades. Although this stage has only been going for the last couple of years, it is already proving a great success. Many of the areas have been colonised within a single breeding season, and thus the previously small and isolated populations are rapidly expanding over a much wider area.
Along with stage two, we are also embarking on stage three, which is to use nest-boxes as a management tool to restore and create suitable habitat in their increasingly disturbed habitats. Over the last year we have been working with private landowners, pastoralists, and mining and agricultural developments to use nest-boxes to offset land clearing and help promote and protect habitat for Gouldian finches.
Overall, we now have well over 2,500 nest boxes installed and in the last few years, have been steadily moving east, south and west from our home base of Wyndham. These boxes now cover hundreds of kilometres from our base site and this year, we are also setting a new site in Queensland, an area from which the Gouldian is thought to almost be extinct.
Therefore, while we have loved the count and would love to continue to with it, our work has extended so far that it is no longer a feasible exercise.
However, we would never have got this far without the help of our volunteers and so we would like to take this opportunity of giving you all a heartfelt thanks. We really appreciate all your time, energy and interest, and hope that you will continue to support us.
We would also like to take this opportunity of thanking all of you who have made a nest box donation. Without you, we could not have afforded to do Stage One never mind Stages Two and Three!
So, to all our count regulars, we look forward to seeing you once again on the 1st September and for those who have often thought of coming on the count … THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE! Book in with David Myers NOW.
Contact David by email: email@example.com