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A Sound Idea: acoustic monitoring of Tasmania's native bush birds

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Many Garden for Wildlifers love to see native birds in their gardens, or are very keen to know what they should plant to provide food and safe habitat for birds. In many areas small bird species (e.g. small honeyeaters, wrens and robins) are declining largely due to the clearing of understorey vegetation. This has lead to a dominance in larger birds, such as the Noisy Miner, which favour open country with scattered trees and no understorey.

Gardens with a variety of native plants to create a layered garden (see ‘Creating a wildlife garden’ in the Advice section of the Gardens for Wildlife web site) can play a valuable role in providing food, shelter, safe haven and nesting sites for native birds. Many GFWers have planted out their garden using local native plants, and have reported great success in increasing the number and variety of bird species that now visit or live in their garden.

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Birds are very good indicators of the health of native bush. Bushland with many layers of vegetation (in particular understorey) in good condition has been found to contain a greater diversity of native bird species than degraded bushland. This can equally apply to gardens. Providing suitable habitat in the garden can also link to habitat nearby, such as another wildlife-friendly garden, effectively providing safe ‘stepping stones’ or corridors along which birds can move.

A project to monitor the diversity and distribution of bush birds was started in August 2008 using digital sound recording devices. The project, aptly named ‘A sound idea’ uses Zoom H2 digital recorders which are relatively inexpensive, small, robust and have good quality inbuilt microphones. They require no technical expertise other than the ability to press a few buttons.

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A network of willing participants from around the state has allowed me to start compiling an aural record of different habitats including urban gardens especially those near bushland or reserves. The project will also record birds, frogs, and other vocal animals.

After listening to the recordings, I compile locality lists to send to each participant.

Acoustic monitoring has several advantages over conventional bird surveys. Firstly, there is a permanent record of the survey site. If needs be the recording can be listened to repeatedly; this is valuable if there's a quiet bird or one that only vocalises once. Secondly, more than one person can listen to the recordings to verify species identification and thirdly there is no need for skilled observers to be in the field.

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This is an exciting project that has the potential to involve many people keen to find out what birds occur in their area and to assist in bird monitoring. Already there are some interesting observations being made in relation to bird species, habitat type and condition. A clearer picture is emerging of what birds are able to persist in the substantially altered landscape, and what birds seem to be suffering serious declines. Keep up with the progress of the project and findings through the newsletter Chirp

Anyone wishing to participate please contact Sarah or the Coordinator Gardens for Wildlife.


Sarah Lloyd

(The Gardens for Wildlife and Land for Wildlife schemes are participating in this project).

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