Calls of the wild
Strzelecki local and PhD student Cara Sambell, with VNPA's Christine Connelly, rep ort on the first 'Communities Listen ing for Nature' project at Mt Worth.
Mount Worth State Park and the surrounding district are located at the heart of the western Strzelecki Ranges in Gippsland. It is a couple of hours drive from Melbourne and well worth a visit for families, nature lovers and bushwalkers.
The park provides visitors with an example of the tall wet and damp forests that once dominated the Strzelecki Ranges. Originally home to the Bunurong (Boon Wurrung) and Gunai/ Kurnai people, the first European to 'discover' this impenetrable forested landscape was Polish explorer, Count Paul Strzelecki, in the 1840s.
Count Strzelecki and his party spent 22 days cutting a path through the forest, mostly on foot (on the ridge now known as Grand Ridge Road), and were led by Aboriginal guide Charlie Tarra. Following the cutting of McDonald's Track by surveyor George McDonald in the 1860s, the first European settlement in the region was made at nearby Poowong.
As the settlers arrived and worked hard to clear the forest, aided significantly by large bushfires in the late 1890s, the landscape evolved into a productive and fertile agricultural region, now well known for its dairy production.
The early settler accounts of the bird community of this region were of a forest full of song and life. In the 1870s, Arthur Thomas Henry recorded that the forest was 'alive with birds, parrots, galahs, satin birds, black cockatoos, jays together with small birds of all descriptions and last but not least the lyrebird'.
The Superb Lyrebird was widespread in the late 1800s and became well known and loved for its mimicry. Its repertoire often included the sound of axes chopping down the trees that were once its habitat, which sadly led to the decline of the lyrebird in this region.
The forests of the Strzelecki Ranges are today highly fragmented, but Mount Worth State Park and its surrounding district contain one of the most significant intact remnants of the western Strzeleckis.
The remnant protected by the state park includes majestic Mountain Ash, Manna Gum, Mountain Grey Gum, Silver Wattle and Blackwood on the slopes, with pockets of Rough Tree Ferns and Mother Shield Ferns in the gullies.
In the 1970s, Jack Brooks and the local field naturalists' club lobbied to establish the park. It was later expanded through the acquisition of abandoned farmland and a major revegetation program begun.
So far, 150,000 seedlings have been planted by groups such as Friends of Mt Worth, Greenfleet, Parks Victoria and others.
In the surrounding district, landholders in the Mt Worth and District Landcare Group have been working hard to expand habitat by replanting their own properties. This has been a major undertaking on often steep and slippery slopes prone to tunnel erosion and landslips.
Due to its close proximity to relatively large patches of natural and regenerating forest, Mount Worth State Park and the surrounding private properties are currently home to a variety of forest and woodland bird species no longer abundant elsewhere in the Strzeleckis.
These species include Rufous Fantail, Pilotbird, Rose Robin, the Superb Lyrebird, Brush Bronzewing, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Brown Gerygone and the threatened Powerful Owl.
The overall bird community of more than 100 species is highly diverse, with many able to tolerate a great variety of altered habitats.
Given the importance of the region for birds, it is an ideal location for the first Communities Listening for Nature project. In partnership with Museum Victoria, the VNPA are using bioacoustics technology to monitor birds and contribute to a Victoria-specific library of bird calls.
We are also working with the Friends of Mt Worth State Park and Mt Worth and District Landcare Group to set up and carry out a locally relevant project.
In April, we held a workshop with Museum Victoria, the community groups and Parks Victoria to determine the aims of the project in the Mount Worth region. Local community members, Paul Strickland and Merrin Butler, expressed the community's interest in documenting the return of birds to the revegetation they have established on their properties.
Parks Victoria Ranger, Craig Campbell, said the park shared the same interest.
Museum Victoria's bioacoustics expert, Dr Karen Rowe, designed a locally-specific scientific study to look at what bird species are living in plantings of three different age classes.
We will compare them with benchmarks of remnant vegetation and cleared land.
The project involves installing automated sound recording devices (song meters) that record for 30 days. The recordings are then processed using software that creates 'spectrograms' to visualise the sound.
We can't wait to hear, and see, the first recordings.
You can help
An exciting part of the project is the development of automated call recognition, where specialised software automatically detects what species are in a recording. To 'train' the software, we need help to annotate species calls in the recordings. If you have a good ear for bird calls and would like to volunteer some time, we'd like to hear from you.
Contact: NatureWatch Coordinator Christine Connelly by email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 9341 6510.
This story first appeared in the September 2016 edition of our magazine Park Watch. You can read more stories in our online version, and if you become a member of the Victorian National Parks Association you will receive your own copy in the mail.