Modern radio-tracking helps finch conservation work in Australia

14 Oct
A black-throated finch with a radio tag. Photo Juliana Rechetelo

A black-throated finch with a radio tag. Photo Luiz Mestre

The map on the right indicates the birds range taken over a 21 day period

The map on the right indicates the birds range taken over a 21 day period.Home ranges can be estimated in different ways; the method Juliana Rechetelo used is called kernel, so the blue area is where you have 95% of points, which she assumes, is 95% of chances of ‘finding the bird’ … the yellow is the core area, 50% of data is there.

Juliana Rechetelo, who was originally from Brazil and today does research work on the Black-throated finch in Australia kindly shared the following story with the Rare Finch Conservation Group :

The black-throated finch is a grass-seed-eater endemic to eastern Australia and the range of the southern subspecies, Poephila cincta cincta, has contracted 80% since the 1970s. It is listed as endangered under Federal and States legislation. Much of its habitat has been damaged and destruction is continuing. We need to know about its biology and ecology to assist with further conservation and management actions. My PhD project focused on understanding the ecological needs of this species.

My study area is close to Townsville, north-east Queensland, Australia, where an important remaining population of the southern subspecies exists. I investigated movement patterns, home range, daily movements, habitat use, habitat selection, and foraging and nesting sites. I have monitored birds and sites for almost 3 years, visiting areas known to support BTF to observe/monitor flocks and locate foraging, drinking and nesting locations and undertake vegetation surveys. I captured birds with mist nets, colour banded them and fitted radio-tracking devices to some.

Radio-tracking black throated finch was a demanding job but it has provided unique and valuable information about this group of birds. Whilst radio tracking BTFs I was able to follow an individual or whole flock and I could learn not only details about their movements and home range, but also about behaviour and daily routine. Banding and radio-tracking studies showed that BTFs moved further than previously thought and field observations showed they use different parts of the landscape for different activities (feeding, nesting, roosting or resting). Conservation management of areas should consider their movement patterns and the different parts of the landscape they are using for different activities. Conservation of BTF will require the collaboration of landholders to provide healthy habitat. This outcome depends on research and practical contributions from landholders. Research aligned with community effort is the perfect alliance to help this species.

Juliana Rechetelo

Juliana Rechetelo

Juliana Rechetelo is a PhD candidate at James Cook University and CSIRO, Townsville. Her current research focuses on the ecology of granivorous birds with particular attention to the Black-throated finch. She is researching aspects of land use affects on the distribution of granivorous birds, the way in which the birds use landscapes, movement patterns in relation to resource distribution and aspects of their feeding ecology. Juliana is the recipient of the Stuart Leslie Bird Research Award from BirdLife Australia.

The RFCG would sincerely like to thank Juliana for sharing her special learning’s with us . Originally coming from Brazil we would also like to congratulate her for tackling such a brave project in a foreign language and country.

The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation and is totally dependent on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild. For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za

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Plum-headed finches caught mating by Peter Merritt

12 Sep
Mating Plumheads 1Photographed in the Cairns area in the far northern part of Queensland, Australia.  Peter said the mating act lasted ” about 3 to 4 seconds ” Photo: Peter Merritt.

Using a Canon Mark 1V Peter Merritt captured more tan 30 frames during the 4 seconds of photography

Using a Canon Mark IV he captured more than 30 frames during the 3 to4 seconds of photography. Photo : Peter Merritt

The above photographs could perhaps be a world first ! Plum-headed finches ( Aidemosyne modesta ) are found in Eastern Australia in open woodland and tall savanna grassland areas, often near water or swamps. They are highly sociable birds and can quite often be seen with Double-barred finches during the non-breeding season. The species is normally very nomadic over a wide area in both the breeding and non breeding seasons.  They will lay, on average, 4 to 6 small white eggs and both sexes will be involved with the incubation, which takes about 12 days. Chicks fledge at about 21 days and are normally weaned roughly at 18 days

Peter Merritt is currently on a photo safari in the Kruger National Park. South Africa. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Peter Merritt is currently on a photo safari in the Kruger National Park. South Africa. Photo Eelco Meyjes

The Rare Finch Conservation Group would publicly like to thank Peter Merritt from New South Wales, Australia for kindly donating his brilliant photographs to the RFCG. Peter has done this in the interest to help advance public awareness and the beauty of finches on an international basis. Peter is semi retired and works for 8 months of the year on a heavy road grader machine, on a cattle station in Northern Australia, to support his wonderful hobby of wildlife photography.

The road grader that Peter works on to support his hobby of wildlife photography.

The road grader that Peter works on to support his hobby of wildlife photography.

The cattle station that Peter works on has no less than 30,000 head of cattle. The station is 125 km long.The multi trailered road trains used can transport up to 120 head of cattle at a time ( see example in right hand photo ). Peter said he often works with his camera’s on standby , in his grader cab, just in case there is something very special for him to photograph. He uses Canon Mark IV cameras. Today Peter is currently spending the next 3 weeks in the Kruger National Park, South Africa doing what he enjoys most – photographing wildlife. For more info on Peter Merrit visit : http://www.merrittimages.com. We certainly look forward to seeing the results of his outstanding photographic work in the next couple of weeks.

The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation and is totally dependant on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild. For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za

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Yellow weaver hits African birdlife front cover

6 Sep
African birdlife Sept / Oct spring issue. Now available

African birdlife Sept / Oct spring issue. Again a great read ! Photo: Eelco Meyjes. subscriptions@birdlife.org.za

The latest African birdlife magazine is now on sale.  Again it is a must read issue.It has a great pic of a Yellow Weaver taken by Charl Senekal on the front cover.

Articles include: Eggs unscrambled. A fascinating story on why birds lay eggs written by Professor Andrew McKechnie, supported with photographs of nests and eggs by South Africa’s leading  photographic expert on the topic Warwick Tarbotten .

The Animal Demography Unit has an informative feature on the citizen science participation that is growing in leaps and bounds , in SA , to help record sightings of all bird species across the country. Scientists are now far better equipped to give us the early warning signals on the conservation status of each species.

The magazine also features an exciting  new series on bird photography which will help all of us no matter how good or bad we think we are. Charl Senekal’s work is featured and it is absolutely brilliant

RFCG member Monique Mcquillan

RFCG member Monique Mcquillan

Rare Finch Conservation Group member Monique McQuillan has  written a lovely story : Home and Garden . Now with Spring in the air it’s the perfect time for all of us , southern hemisphere finch enthusiasts, to prepare our gardens to attract all the colourful weavers, whydahs and widow finches back again. Monique is a senior horticulturist at the world famous Kirstenbosch gardens in Cape Town.

The Rare Finch Conservation Group is a registered non-profit organisation and is totally dependant on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild. For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za

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Black-throated Finch habitat has contracted by upto 80% in some areas

27 Aug
Black-throated Finch. Photo courtesy Geoff Jones

Black-throated Finches are now listed as threatened in New South Wales and vulnerable in Queensland, Australia . Photo courtesy Geoff Jones

Black-throated finches are monomorphic. Sexually they look the same, but a very well trained eye will be able to see the difference. Photo courtesy Geoff Jones

Black-throated finches are monomorphic. Sexually they look the same, only a very well trained eye will be able to see the difference. Photo courtesy Geoff Jones

Black-throated Finches are virtually extinct in some of its previous habitat areas in south western Australia. Photo courtesy Geoff Jones

Black-throated Finches are virtually extinct in some of its previous habitat areas in south western Australia. Photo courtesy Geoff Jones

The black-throated finch (Poephila cincta), or parson finch as it is sometimes referred to, is a species of estrildid finch found in grassy woodlands throughout north-east Australia from Cape York Peninsula to north-east New South Wales. It is often seen near water and rivers.

The black-throated finch has two subspecies, with intermediate forms found between the two.

  • Poephila cincta cincta is a white-rumped form found south of Townsville
  • Poephila cincta atropygialis is a black-rumped form found north of Cairns and it is believed it is extending its range southwards. 
  • For the past few decades, the population of this species has declined; the southern subspecies has now been declared threatened in New South Wales and vulnerable in Queensland. According to various  published scientific reports it appears to have vanished from 80% of its former range. 

    Today a lot of excellent research work on the species is being done by the Black-throated Finch Recovery Team, Department of Environment and Climate Change ( NSW ) and the Wildlife Service.

     The Rare Finch Conservation Group would publicly like to thank Geoff Jones from Australia who kindly donated the 3 photographs of the Black-throated finch to the RFCG, in the interest to help advance the public awareness and beauty of finches on an international basis

The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation and is dependant on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild. For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za

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The Gouldian Finch

7 Aug
Gouldians gather at a waterhole at first light. Photo courtesy and copyright Kev Solomon

Gouldians gather at a waterhole at first light. Photo courtesy and copyright Kev Solomon

In the wild Black Heade Gouldian dominate. Photo courtesy and copyright Kev Solomon

In the wild Black Headed Gouldians dominate. Photo courtesy and copyright Kev Solomon

Gouldians catch a quick drink on the road to Wyndham- Western Australia. Photo courtesy and copyright. Kev Solomon

Gouldians catch a quick drink on the road to Wyndham- Western Australia. Photo courtesy and copyright. Kev Solomon

A male Gouldian is leg banded to study movements in the Wyndham area. Photo courtesy and copyright Kev Solomon

A male Gouldian is leg banded to study movements in the Wyndham area. Photo courtesy and copyright Kev Solomon

 Probably one of the most spectacular finches in the world is found in the very northern parts of Australia. Ranging from the Kimberley’s in Western Australia all the way across to the eastern side towards the northern part of  Queensland. The bird can either be seen with a black head, red-head or the very seldom seen yellow head, or as it is sometimes referred to as the golden-headed gouldian. The black headed gouldian is the one that is most often seen. Read what Kev Solomon , who lives in Queensland Australia had to say about these beautiful birds.

Kev Solomon doing what he really enjoys. Photographing finches wherever he can. Photo Eelco Meyjes

Kev Solomon doing what he really enjoys. Photographing finches. Photo Eelco Meyjes

” I am sitting by a string of waterholes as the sunlight slowly touches the water. There is a familiar two chirp call somewhere behind me. I dare not move. All at once there is a purple, green and yellow flash as a dozen birds touchdown on the brown and ochre beach right in front of me.

The Gouldian finch is considered endangered in Australia and vulnerable in the Northern Territory. My involvement concerned voluntary waterhole counts in 2002 and 2003 in the Yinberry Hills and at Nathen River.

Black headed morphs dominate with the occasional red-headed bird seen. Current year juveniles are plentiful. Flocks are now fragmented into pockets, thereby reducing their genetic diversity.

Gouldian’s feed mainly on dry sorghum seed which, in winter, falls to the ground. Threats are late dry season fires which destroy any green seeding heads as well as the fallen dry seed. Cattle grazing also depletes wet season grass stocks of cockatoo, spear, golden beard and spinifex grass. Gouldian’s are dependent on seed much more than other savannah finches which can survive a ‘resource bottleneck’ at the onset of the wet season by switching to live food. It is thought that this critical period for Gouldian’s is when spear grass seed germinates and is unavailable to birds, and the first of the wet season grasses are yet to produce seed. Many juvenile birds perish at this time.

Numbers overall appear to have stabilized. A trip to the Northern Territory and Eastern Kimberly in 2010 confirmed that Gouldian finches are still making their morning pilgrimage to drink at remote waterholes in the early morning sunlight.”

Kev Solomon was a guest on the 2013 year end RFCG EcoTour to Africa. We would sincerely like to thank him for sharing his personal story, observations and outstanding copyrighted photographs for the rest of us to enjoy.

Editors Comment : The Gouldian was for many years listed by BirdLife International and the IUCN Red Data list as Endangered and in 2011 the bird was downgraded as Near Threatened

The Rare Finch Conservation Group is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation and is dependant on donors and sponsors to carry out its conservation work on finches in the wild. For more info visit http://www.rarefinch.org or write to the secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za

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