Bird Survey Reveals a Major Win for the Region’s Miner Population

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Bird Survey Reveals a Major Win for the Region’s Miner Population

Recent field surveys have shown encouraging results for two endangered mallee bird species - the black-eared miner and the Murray Mallee striated grasswren.

In October last year, a team of volunteer and professional ornithologists undertook surveys of 2 properties on the South Olary Plain – Gluepot Reserve near Waikerie and Calperum Station, north of Renmark. The events saw the team walk a combined total of 564km in their efforts to survey miners in order to understand how the species is fairing.

The native and endangered black-eared miner (Manorina melanotis) is one of the most threatened species of bird in the Murraylands and Riverland region, and the biggest population in the region is known to inhabit Gluepot Reserve and Calperum Station. Both properties feature dense mallee woodland - the vegetation type preferred by black-eared miners which are much sought after by both national and international birdwatchers.

Bird Survey Reveals a Major Win for the Region’s Miner Population
The black-eared miner is one of the most threatened birds in the Murraylands and Riverland region.

The surveys took a total of 5 days to complete with the team walking through patches of thick mallee with spinifex grass whilst listening and watching for miners. A total of 1066 miners were spotted during the surveys, including both black-eared miners and the more common native yellow-throated miners (Manorina flavigula), which are very hard to differentiate in the field.

Interestingly, black-eared miners and yellow-throated miners can breed with each another, so a portion of the miners observed also includes hybrid black-eared-yellow-throated miners.

Bird Survey Reveals a Major Win for the Region’s Miner Population
A yellow-throated miner (left) and hybrid yellow-throated-black-eared miner (right). Image by JJ Harrison is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Given not all miners recorded were black-eared miners, further data analysis is required to ascertain an approximate number of the different miner types. However, the overall number of miners observed was encouraging and nests and young miners were frequently observed across the landscape.

In addition to the miners, the survey team recorded many other species of bird, including 59 individual sightings of the endangered Murray Mallee striated grasswren (Amytornis striatus howei). The striated grasswren inhabits open shrubby mallee with a healthy understory of spinifex. A large wildfire on the South Olary Plain in 2006 and the Millennium Drought all but decimated the striated grasswren population. Now, after a few good years of rain and no major wildfires, the striated grasswren has started to return from the north to its former range in Gluepot Reserve and Calperum Station.

Bird Survey Reveals a Major Win for the Region’s Miner Population
The number of striated grasswren observed during the surveys indicates a strong recovery in recent years.

The initial findings of this field survey are encouraging with good numbers of miners breeding in the region, and good numbers of striated grasswren returning to Gluepot Reserve and Calperum Station. Mallee woodland in our region is essential to the survival of these 2 bird species as well as many other native plants, animal and fungi. Despite bushfires and droughts, native species are resilient and can flourish as long as we care for the mallee habitat that remains.

This project is supported by the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program and landscape levies.

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