Annual Count 2016
A flock of Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos near Casterton. Photo Credit Mike Sverns
More than 150 volunteers helped celebrate 20 years of counting cockies as part of this year’s annual count for the endangered South-eastern Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, which was held last month on Saturday 7 May.
Despite a record number of 52 sightings recorded on the day, the total number of cockatoos counted was considerably lower than last year’s total.
After taking into consideration double counts of cockatoos and three additional sightings of Red-tails recorded either side of count day the final tally stands at 901 birds, well down on last year’s record of 1545 birds.
Flocks were widely dispersed and considerably smaller this year, with only six large flocks of more than 80 birds recorded. Of these large flocks, three were determined to be double counts, and could not be included in the final tally.
The distribution and high occurrence of smaller flocks over a wide area may be partly to blame for the fewer Red-tails counted this year.
Red-tails are often very difficult to find, especially given their rarity and widespread distribution — spanning over 18,000km2 from Natimuk to Nelson in south-western Victoria and Mount Gambier to Keith in the South East of South Australia.
Although total numbers are down, it is unlikely that the population has suffered a rapid decline over the last 12 months; it’s more likely that birds were simply missed on the day.
This year counters found Red-tails near Casterton, Frances, Millicent, Naracoorte, Wilkin, Mt-Arapiles, Little Desert National Park, Miga Lake, Hotspur, Harrow and Cobboboonee.
The greatest concentrations of Red-tails (just over 60 per cent of all birds recorded) were found west of Casterton. It’s no surprise, then, that the biggest flocks recorded on the day — 334 birds drinking at a trough on the western boundary of Drajurk State Forest and 180 feeding near Cawker Creek — were found in this area.
The annual flock counts, which follow in the weeks after the count, have now revealed more than 700 birds currently feeding and residing in the Casterton area. Richard Hill and Tim Burnard were fortunate enough to count a staggering 501 birds come into drink at puddles in wheel ruts in Nangeela State Forest earlier this week.
Good numbers of Red-tails were also observed near Frances on the day, with follow-up surveys, thanks to Evan Roberts, revealing a total count of 136 birds for this area.
As always, information gained from the annual count is used to determine patterns of habitat use, a minimum number of birds and — most importantly — the location of large flocks. This information is essential for staff to carry out flock counts (counts of males vs barred birds - females and juveniles), which provide the best indication of breeding success.
Findings from this year’s flock counts will be available later in the month.
The annual count also helps to raise awareness of the needs of the cockatoo and offers volunteers a chance to become involved in recovery activities.
There was yet another wonderful turnout of volunteers to help on the day comprising locals, farmers who chose to survey their own stringybark patches, and interstate participants who travelled from as far away as Adelaide and Melbourne.
Volunteer effort was again outstanding, with 77 groups spending over 360 hours scouring more than 4,000 km of stringybark forest for the cockatoos across the range.
The annual Baileys Rocks Campout was again a big success with 24 people braving the wintery conditions to top off a big day of counting. Those attending were rewarded with a delicious cake thanks to Kerry Gilkes to celebrate 20 years of counting cockies.
Above: Volunteers attending the Baileys Rocks Campout (credit Tim Burnard). Below: Volunteers were treated to a delicious cake thanks to Kerry Gilkes (credit Kerry Gilkes).
BirdLife Australia and the Red-tail Recovery Team would like to sincerely thank all the wonderful volunteer observers involved on the day, including those that reported sightings in the lead up to the count. Without your incredible effort, this event would not be possible.
Also, thank you to those volunteers who offered to trial our first ever annual count smartphone app. The app sequence developed to improve data handling and accuracy, received mixed reviews, but was found to be very useful for detailing the exact route taken on the day. The Recovery Team will be looking to take on board people’s feedback and suggested improvements in readiness for next year’s count.
Finally, a special thanks to Evan Roberts and Kerry Gilkes for their assistance with promoting the count and getting local landholders involved on the day and Tim Burnard for running the training session in Casterton and organising the campsite at Baileys Rocks.
The SERTBC Recovery Program is managed by BirdLife Australia and is supported by Natural Resources South East, Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority and Wimmera Catchment Management Authority through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.
Sightings and counts of South-eastern Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos recorded as part of 2016 annual count - note double counts excluded.
Annual Count 2015
More than 135 volunteers participating in the range-wide search for the endangered SERTBC have helped to locate over 1500 birds in stringybark country across the South-east of South Australia and South-West Victoria.
The count, which was held on Saturday 2 May, has proved to be a big success with 38 sightings of birds and eight large flocks ranging in size between 75-349 individuals located. In total 1545 birds were counted which is seventy seven more birds than our previous best tally of 1468 recorded back in 2012.
The result is particularly pleasing given the lower number of birds recorded in the two years previous. This confirms our suspicions about birds being missed in previous counts, rather than the population suffering a rapid decline.
Although the number of birds recorded is the best yet it should not be interpreted as a population increase. The critically small population is believed to be still in decline based on the ongoing loss and deterioration of the species’ key habitats.
This year the birds were again dispersed widely, with sightings from as far north as Mt Charles in South Australia to Rennick State Forest in the far south-west of Victoria.
By far the greatest concentrations (over 67%) of Red-tails were found in the southern part of the range, with large flocks found near Rennick, Comaum, Nangwarry, Digby and Roseneath State Forest. As in 2012, many of the larger flocks were recorded coming in to drink at farm troughs, making for accurate counting.
The largest flock encountered this year, totalling a staggering 349 birds, was found coming in to drink on private property to the east of Rennick State Forest in the days following the count.
The most birds counted on the day (Saturday 2 May) went to the Lord Family, who counted a whopping 272 birds over the course of the day.
Over 70% of the birds found on the day were recorded in or adjacent to tracts of Brown Stringybark forest. An abundance of Red-tails in a particular area generally coincides with the fruiting patterns of the stringybark. Based on this knowledge, it would appear that the Brown Stringybark is carrying the most recent seed crop.
Several mid to large sized flocks were also encountered in the northern parts of the range. Of particular interest were the 100 birds feeding in Mt-Arapiles – Tooan State Park around 20kms south-west of Natimuk. Although the park is within the cockatoo’s range the birds are not commonly recorded in this area.
Other areas in which Red-tails were recorded include Meereek State Forest, Yallakar State Forest, Clear Lake, Frances, Powers Creek, Penola West, Naracoorte Ranges and Lucindale.
Again, there was an absence of birds recorded around Casterton (where two years ago 233 birds were recorded) and around Lower Glenelg National Park. Both areas have, in more recent years, been largely affected by fire.
The success of this years’ count has been attributed to the large number of pre-count sightings and information received in the weeks leading up to the count. In particular, information with regard to drinking sites has enabled team members and volunteers to be strategically placed at watering points where birds have been recently seen drinking.
In addition, the weather conditions on the day where in general far more conducive to searching for Red-tails than last year.
Information gained from the annual count is used to determine patterns of habitat use, the minimum number of birds and most importantly the number and location of large flocks. This information is critical for project staff to be able to carry out annual flock counts (counts of males vs barred birds - females and juveniles), which provide the best and only indication of breeding success.
The annual count also helps to raise awareness of the needs of the cockatoo and offers volunteers a chance to become involved in recovery activities.
Volunteer effort was again outstanding with 69 groups spending over 275 hours scouring more than 2,800 kms of stringybark forest for the cockatoos across the range.
The annual Bailey’s Rock Dinner and Campout was again a success with around 25 volunteers attending the night. As usual there was a good amount of bragging and banter about who saw the most birds, plus some informative talks from Tim and Richard about Red-tails.
On behalf of BirdLife Australia and the Red-tail Recovery Team I would like to congratulate and express my sincere thanks to all the wonderful volunteer observers, including those that reported sightings in the lead up to the count.
I’d also like to say a special thanks to Evan Roberts, Felicity Lord, Ros Bradey and Kerry Gilkes for their assistance with promoting the count and getting local landholders involved on the day and Tim Burnard for running the training session in Casterton and organising the campsite at Baileys Rocks.
Around 15 of our volunteers braved the wintery conditions and converged on Baileys Rocks for the annual BBQ and campout. As usual volunteers compared stories and tales of their days’ adventures, with cockatoos proving to be difficult to find this year by our campers.
On behalf of BirdLife Australia and the Red-tail Recovery Team I would like to express many thanks to all our wonderful volunteers. Without your incredible effort, this event would not be possible.
Annual Count 2013
More than 130 volunteers participated on Saturday 4 May as part of the 2013 Annual Count for the endangered South-eastern Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo. Fortunately enough, weather conditions on the day were favourable for counting birds, with many volunteers spending hours upon hours scouring the stringybark tracks in hope of spotting a few cockatoos.
Covering more than 2500 kms of stringybark forest and spending around 236 hours searching, this year our wonderful team of volunteers counted 1118 birds (excluding double counts) in stringybark forest across the species range in South East of SA and South West Victoria.
Despite a good number of reports in the lead up to the count, the final tally was down by 350 birds on last year’s record-breaking tally of 1468 birds. Although we had hoped to better last year’s result, 1118 birds is still a reasonable tally of cockatoos nevertheless. It’s likely that birds were just missed on the day, rather than the population suffering a significant decline over the last year.
Red-tails are highly nomadic, roaming from Natimuk to Nelson in south-western Victoria and from Mount Gambier to Keith in the South East of South Australia. Finding them can be quite a challenge, especially if they are not calling or are feeding in stringybark forest on private land that is inaccessible to counters.
This year, large flocks were recorded near Edenhope, Casterton, Benayeo, Natimuk and Naracoorte. There were a large number of birds in the Edenhope area, with a flock of 277 found in Yallakar State Forest by locals Gloria Freeman and Geraldine Ryan. Both women have had a long interest in the birds and participating in the Annual Count, with Gloria having taken part in every count since they began more than 18 years ago.
“We care so much about Red-tails, and enjoy participating in the count and educating kids about the importance of conserving these birds for future generations to come,” said Gloria.
Most of the birds were found feeding in Desert Stringybark forest, which typically occurs in and around Casterton, Edenhope and Naracoorte. Interestingly, few birds were recorded south of Strathdownie, with none found in the Lower Glenelg National Park. Low numbers of birds have been recorded in this area since 2010. This is thought to be due to the fruiting patterns of the Brown Stringybark, and more recently, as the result of large wildfires which have scorched more than 7000 ha of stringybark habitat in the Kentbruck area alone.
This year we had 20 people attend the annual Bailey’s Rock BBQ and Campout. As usual there was much good-hearted banter about who counted the most cockies, with Geraldine and Gloria claiming victory this year with their huge flock of 277 birds. They were closely followed by Richard Hill, Dick Cooper, Kay & Noel Stratman and myself (lucky enough), who teamed up to count 233 birds coming to drink near Casterton.
Importantly, the annual count provides a great opportunity for the community to become involved in the recovery program and learn about the conservation of this endangered bird. We again had a good turnout of volunteers, ranging from locals, including farmers who chose to search their own properties on the day, to those who have travelled from afar, including Adelaide and Melbourne. Furthermore, many volunteers who participated on the day have continued to return year after year to help search for cockatoos, with some having participated in all 18 counts.
On behalf of BirdLife Australia and the Red-tail Recovery Team I would like to express many thanks to all our wonderful volunteers who have helped out yet again to make this event so successful, including those who were called upon at the last minute. Without your incredible effort, this event would not be possible – so a big thanks to all.
I’d also like to say special thanks to Dick Cooper & Tim Burnard for locating and keeping tabs on the Casterton birds in the lead up to the count; Evan Roberts for all his work in organising local landholders to search their own properties on the day; and Kerry Gilkes for her time spent trying to locate birds north of Kingston.
Annual Count 2012
The results of the 2012 count have been released showing it was the ‘best year’ since the count started.
A dedicated team of 160 volunteers (61 groups) set out on 5 May 2012 to search for the elusive South-eastern Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo in stringybark habitat across the species range, from Nelson to Natimuk in Victoria and Keith to Mt Gambier in South Australia. Covering more than 2600kms of stringybark forest across more than 60 sites, volunteers created history and found themselves a part of one of the most successful counts since they first started more than 16 years ago.
A total of 1468 birds were counted by volunteers on the day, which is the highest number of birds recorded since counting commenced in 1996. The previous best tally was 1404 birds in 2008.
Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo Recovery Project Coordinator, Bronwyn Perryman, said the results of this year’s count were ‘very encouraging’, especially given the low numbers of birds (<850 birds) counted in the three years previous.
“The population appears to have remained relatively stable over the last 4 years, despite the low numbers of birds recorded since 2009. This year’s result confirms our suspicions about birds being missed in previous years, rather than the population suffering a population decline” said Mrs Perryman.
The success of 2012 count was believed to be the result of good weather conditions on the day, the accessibility of the birds, experienced counters, and phone-in sightings from landholders and members of the public that weren’t involved in the count, but observed birds on the day.
Pairs of birds and flocks ranging in size from 7 to 200 were observed on both private and public land, with the main hotspots in and around Edenhope, Dergholm, Powers Creek, Nangwarry, Harrow, Rennick and Wandilo. Similarly, as in 2008, many of the larger flocks were recorded coming into drink at farm troughs and dams, making for accurate counting.
More importantly, over 60% of the birds counted were recorded within a 30km radius of Edenhope. This is likely to be attributed to the heavy seed crop and recent fruiting of the Desert Stringybark in the area, and the good seed crop observed in the Buloke this year.
Red-tails feed almost exclusively on Desert and Brown Stringybark, and seasonally on Buloke. Buloke fruiting can be highly variable from year to year, but in the event of a good seeding year (as observed this year) hundreds of Red-tails will flock to the northern parts of the range to exploit this food resource. This highlights the importance of protecting and restoring both stringybark and buloke feeding habitat.
Over the next few weeks, information gained through the annual count will assist BirdLife Australia staff to undertake all-important flock counts, which provide an indication of last year’s breeding success, and give an overall snapshot of how the population is faring. Preliminary results of these counts, so far, indicate good numbers of juveniles, which corresponds with the many young birds observed by volunteers on count day.
Apart from helping with research efforts, the count promotes awareness of the conservation needs of this local flagship species and provide a great activity, enjoyed by young and old. This year there was a fantastic turnout at the annual Bailey’s Rock Dinner and Campout with 25-30 volunteers attending the night. “There was a real buzz of excitement as each person arrived with more and more birds to add to the tally” said Mrs Perryman. “We would like to thank all involved and acknowledge that without our volunteers help and support this event would not be possible.”
Annual Count 2011
A big thank you to all 160 volunteers taking part in the Annual Count held on Saturday May 7th. Conditions on the day were good but rains earlier in the year made many of the tracks impassable.
Final numbers are now in and it looks as if another low count will be recorded for the third year in a row. While the result of 837 is slightly more than previous years, it doesn’t come close to the 2008 result of 1404 birds.
Red-tails roam from the Lower Glenelg National Park up to Keith and from Lucindale to Balmoral, so finding them in an 18,000 km2 area is always a challenge. It’s likely that many birds were missed in the scrub, rather than suffering a population decline since the record 2008 count.
Overall, Red-tails appear to have moved north in recent months. The biggest mob (201 birds) was spotted north east of Edenhope by long time Red-tail observers Ros and Andrew Bradey. Interestingly, very few birds were sighted south of Casterton.
The Annual Count gives an indication of population size. By taking this snapshot across the range, we get a better understanding of the Red-tails preferred habitat, which is used to target future conservation works. The count is also important in locating larger flocks. We conduct special counts of the larger flocks to give us an indication of the last years breeding success.
Importantly, the annual count is a great way for the community to get involved in Red–tail recovery with 163 volunteers taking part this year; some travelling from as far as Adelaide and Melbourne. Most volunteers however were relatively local including many farmers surveying their own properties.
As usual, there was a campout at Baileys Rocks (just north of Dergholm) with about 20 people attending and sharing tales of success (or not) in locating birds. Max Arney, another long time supporter of the Red-tails topped the score at the campout with 75. I need to find out his secret as he often finds big mobs on count day and I rarely see any!
Apart from helping our research efforts, the count is a great way to promote awareness of the conservation needs of this local flagship species and provide a fantastic activity, enjoyed by young and old.
This event would not be possible without the help and support of our fantastic network of volunteers. A big thank you to all those involved – we couldn’t do it without you! If you haven’t been involved in the Annual Count before, but would like to join in next year, please contact us on freecall 1800 262 062 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
2001 Campout, Baileys RocksPast Annual Count results are available to download as a larger version here
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