Ouyen was chosen as the venue due to considerable increase in interest in Malleefowl following recent sightings of large numbers of birds feeding on roadsides in the local area.
The weekend commenced on Saturday with a public information session held at the recreation reserve. Dr Jo Benshemesh gave a comprehensive overview of the work of VMRG, the history of monitoring and numbers of birds recorded over time. He touched on reasons why numbers have spectacularly increased and how abundant food sources found on the roadside (canola from grain carting vehicles) have affected the Malleefowl behaviour
Formal reporting back was carried out at the harness racing pavilion, with a delicious lunch provided by local community groups. Jo Benshemesh highlighted the main information recorded on the National Malleefowl Data base and confirmed that numbers of active Malleefowl mounds have increased dramatically. Jo also stated that the research and monitoring is showing that there appears to be no correlation between fox baiting and fluctuations in Malleefowl numbers.
Melbourne University researchers gave a presentation on the early stages of their research project on Adaptive Management of Malleefowl.
The VMRG submission in response to Fire Operation Plans for the Mallee was outlined, with major concerns regarding the 5% target critically impacting on biodiversity and Malleefowl habitat. Particular concern was highlighted where areas burnt by wildfire are not included in the burn target.
Ron Wiseman presented a motion camera sequence from a Malleefowl mound in Wathe reserve showing fox activity removing chicks, whole eggs and returning multiple times over several hours. In between fox visits the birds stoically returned and kept tending the nest.
President of VMRG Peter Stokie reported that the annual training weekend had gone very well this year with fourteen new monitors trained.
On Sunday twenty people visited the Iluka Mining Offset vegetation blocks on Tony and Bev Bingleys property adjoining the Annuello Flora and Fauna reserve. This area has not been searched for Malleefowl mounds, but tracks are frequently seen. A fire break was recently constructed as part of the management plan, which revealed a working nest beside the track. We sighted a Malleefowl in the offset block.
The reporting back weekend was a valuable opportunity to learn more about the VMRG activity over the past year. It was encouraging to see community interest and involvement with the activity, and to view the area that may be searched sometime in the future.
Article and photograph by Annette Robertson, photograph – members of the VMRG