The 2017 Twitchathon Golden-shouldered Parrot Project

Assessing the extent of nest predation on the endangered Golden-shouldered Parrot Psephotus chrysopterygius in central Cape York

Morning twitching group, mobile and ready
You can help save these spectacular Queensland parrots, join the 2017 Twitchathon and raise some funds for research. Photo: Graeme Chapman. (For more photos of the Golden-shouldered Parrot go to Graeme Chapman's website http://www.graemechapman.com.au/library/viewphotos.php?c=765)

The Golden-shouldered parrot is a Queensland endemic species occurring in the Cape York Peninsula. It is listed as Endangered under Queensland and Australian Government legislation (ie. EPBC Act) and is also considered one of the top 20 priority species for focus under the NESP Threatened Species Recovery Hub. It is a totem of the Olkola people and is of special cultural significance, the Olkola language name for the parrot is 'Alwal'. Populations have continued to decline on Cape York Peninsula, since monitoring commenced by Professor Stephan Garnett and Dr Gay Crowley in the 1990s, and some existing populations have now disappeared. Olkola Country is one of the last remaining strongholds for the species. Key identified threats include predation, vegetation thickening (allowing incursion of butcherbirds), inappropriate fire regimes and shortages of wet-season foods. Collectively, these are driving a decline in extent of occurrence, area of occupancy, quality of habitat and number of mature birds in the Golden-shouldered Parrot population. Black-faced wood-swallows that feed in mixed flocks with this species and provide alarm calls to Alwal while feeding, are also experiencing local decline. Recent troubling evidence has emerged that feral cats target nests and prey on juvenile birds just before fledging. The nests are easily accessible to this introduced predator as they occur in terrestrial termite mounds, less than 1 m off the ground. In addition, other native predators, such as goannas, have been observed exploring nests.

Earlier long-term research had not identified feral cats as a threat to the Golden-shouldered Parrot but recent camera monitoring at nests has shown that this is not the case - feral cats can take nestlings. The extent of this threat has not been accurately quantified, and with no clear data regarding how often this occurs and what other species may also target Golden-shouldered Parrots, effective mitigation measures cannot be put in place.

Since 2015, Olkola Aboriginal Corporation have been working with Bush Heritage Australia to implement components of the National Recovery Plan to secure the future of the Golden-shouldered parrot. Key activities have included new nest location, monitoring nesting and fledging, and implementation of fire strategies that reflect the pre-European regimes. This will reduce woody thickening and increase the parrot's food species (e.g. Alloteropsis).

In 2017 Bush Heritage Australia and the University of Queensland were successful in securing funding via a Queensland Government Everyone's Environment Grant to better understand and mitigate the impact of feral cats on nest success during the 2017-18 breeding seasons. The focus of this project was predominantly to trial the success of grooming traps, developed by Dr John Read (http://www.ecologicalhorizons.com/about), given they can be situated directly at active nests to target terrestrial predators. This project represents an important collaboration between the Olkola Aboriginal Corporation, Bush Heritage Australia, the University of Queensland and the Queensland Government. The partnership includes the participation of a University of Queensland Honours student (Teghan Collingwood).

The funding received from Birds Queensland's Twitchathon will support Teghan Collingwood's field work and the purchase of HD video motion sensitive cameras. This will contribute to the assessment of the relative impact of different predators, and test the efficiency of using static camera traps on nests to monitor the species.

Further information can be found https://www.bushheritage.org.au/species/golden-shouldered-parrot and https://www.bushheritage.org.au/places-we-protect/queensland/olkola

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