Latest News

Stay up to date with all the latest news on Nature Foundation's programs, projects and activities!

Forever Nature Fund

Introducing the Forever Nature Fund; to ensure that an additional half a million hectares of critical habitat, and the biodiversity it supports, is conserved and protected in perpetuity.

Our ambitious target is an investment of $20m by 2030 to enable land acquisition at a scale that provides high impact and sustainable nature conservation.

Join us at the launch of the Forever Nature Fund and be inspired by our keynote speaker Dr Chadden Hunter*, Australian wildlife biologist and filmmaker who has worked alongside Sir David Attenborough. 

Program:

5.15pm - Drinks and canapés
6:00pm - Welcome
6:30pm - Dr Chadden Hunter presentation
7:30pm - Forever Nature Fund launch

Don't miss out! Book now

*Dr Chadden Hunter appears by arrangement with Saxton Speakers Bureau.

Announcement of biodiversity certificates scheme

Nature Foundation welcomes the Albanese Government’s announcement of the creation of a biodiversity certificates scheme. The development of legislation and a market to trade biodiversity certificates has the potential to facilitate investment – at scale - into landscape restoration and management.

We are further encouraged by the announcement that the market will be open to all land managers – whether they be farmers or conservation or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island land managers. However it will be critical for the design and ongoing integrity of the scheme to be underpinned by scientifically robust biodiversity measurement and reporting. A national biodiversity market has the potential to complement and build on Nature Foundation’s work to save, protect and restore Australian landscapes. We look forward to participating in the government’s consultation for the scheme.

Nature Foundation is the leading provider of South Australian based biodiversity credits called Significant Environmental Benefit (SEB) credits. SEB credits are generated through active management of land to improve biodiversity and achieve a demonstrable net environmental gain.  We currently manage SEB Areas over more than 60,000 hectares and across three locations – Witchelina Nature Reserve, Murbpook Nature Reserve and Gidgealpa Station.  

Read the Prime Minister's Media Release.

Photo: Murbpook Lagoon (left), flood-runner (centre) and the River Murray (right) Credit Patrick Mentzel

Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby update

A Rocky Road to Recovery at Hiltaba 

The Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby (YFRW) population was once spread extensively over the Gawler Ranges, Flinders Ranges and into north-western NSW & south-western QLD. Their population, particularly in the Flinders Ranges, was severely depleted by intensive hunting after European settlement, and heavily impacted by the introduction of feral animals such as foxes and goats. 

Hiltaba Nature Reserve, comprising 78,000 ha, is located in the Gawler Ranges on Eyre Peninsula. It is an important habitat for native plants and animals, particularly the YFRW. Since Nature Foundation acquired Hiltaba in 2012, we implemented an intensive feral goat, cat and fox control program. Recent monitoring of the YFRW population shows, for the first time since purchase by NF, the wallabies appears to be successfully breeding, which will increase the population and enable them to occupy more rocky outcrops across the broader landscape where they were once found.  

This is supported by the pleasing findings from our trapping work (mark-recapture and release), where there are a number of adult females with pouch young, and the majority of wallabies proving to be sub-adult or juvenile. Sightings outside known core habitats are now also becoming more common. The wallabies are also radio tracked, and recently we have received permission to start ear tagging them to see how many turn up in camera traps over a broader area.     

YFRW at Witchelina

The last official record of YFRWs on Witchelina Nature Reserve is from 1933 when Hedley Herbert Finlayson investigated the northern extent distribution of YFRW and close to the southern extent of the Black-flanked Wallaby (Petrogale lateralis).

HH Finlayson confirmed the species of wallaby sighted at Witchelina to be YFRW and notes the similarity of Witchelina with Boocoomata (presumably Boolcamatta), now managed by Bush Heritage and a location where YFRWs are recovering. We have always been intrigued by Finlayson's report and in light of what is now 12 years of vegetation recovery and predator control we have been contemplating whether the habitats previously occupied by YFRWs would once again be suitable.

Recently, Dr Mark Lethbridge (a specialist in wallabies), Mr Bruce Jackson and Dr Jonathan Sobels volunteered a week of their time to search the areas where YFRW may have existed. While the survey yielded some interesting results, more ground habitat assessment work needs to be done over a broader area to see where else they may have been and how these habitats linked up. They searched two significant range complexes and found an old YFRW skeleton at one of the sites, south of the original site explored by HH Finlayson. This is significant as it confirms that YFRWs were once more widespread throughout these low ranges, probably linking up to Mt Aroona further south. 

Photo: Maria Reed

More iron-grass for Tiliqua

This winter, 700 Iron-grass seedlings were planted at Tiliqua Nature Reserve.

As Tiliqua is home to nationally endangered pygmy Bluetongue lizards, revegetation work is more difficult than usual. Prior to work commencing, plots had to be mapped out by Nature Foundation staff member, Dr Lucy Clive, to ensure that digging holes for planting did not interfere with wolf and trapdoor spider holes, which are likely to be home to the lizards.

In addition, three Nature Foundation rotational managers created grazing exclosures around some of the newly planted iron grass seedlings to give them the best chance of survival by protecting them from sheep and kangaroos.

The revegetation work was carried out by staff and volunteers from Nature Foundation, the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board and Mid Murray Landcare SA. This work is part of a collaborative 'Iron-grass native grassland project' supported by the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board and the Northern and Yorke Landscape Board through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

We would like to thank Bec and Jay from Ngadjuri Nation who joined us on the second planting day. Nature Foundation is committed to engaging with Traditional Owners and acknowledge and respect the deep spiritual attachment and the relationship they have to country.

Photo: Kate Graham

Time on Country at Hiltaba

Nature Foundation Chair Jan Ferguson, CEO Alex Nankivell and senior staff had the pleasure of spending time on Country with the Gawler Rangers Aboriginal Corporation (GRAC) and GreenCollar last month.  

This was the second trip to Hiltaba Nature Reserve with representatives from GRAC and GreenCollar this year. The time spent together on Country facilitated deepening discussions about the opportunities for the Hiltaba Carbon Project. The project is a three way partnership between GreenCollar, GRAC and Nature Foundation and aims to regenerate 23,000ha of native forest at Hiltaba, in an area of high cultural and biodiversity conservation significance.  The partnership will provide Nature Foundation with access to environmental markets such as Carbon and emerging Nature Positive markets and the income received will support our work on the ground in actively managing Hiltaba for biodiversity conservation. 

This significant and enduring 25 year partnership with GreenCollar and GRAC will build on Nature Foundation’s existing relationships and work with GRAC, and will catalyse new ways of working together on important cultural management, conservation initiatives and training of Gawler Ranges young people through our Kids on Country program. 

Photo: Marian Wilson

State of the Environment Report - Alex Nankivell's update

On 19 July 2022, Tanya Plibersek, Minister for the Environment and Water, released the State of the Environment 2021 report. The Minister acknowledged the need for increased environmental funding, committed to protecting 30 per cent of land and sea, and recognised the critical role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and local communities must play in curbing the tide of our environmental decline.

Overall, the health of Australia’s environment has been assessed as poor and deteriorating due to increasing pressures from climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and resource extraction.

The key findings were:

  • An 8% increase in species listed as threatened since 2016.

  • Threatening processes combine to create cumulative impacts on our environment and species.

  • Invasive species continue to significantly impact the environment, economy and human health, costing the country billions of dollars.

  • There has been an inability to effectively manage the pressures that result in species extinctions and deteriorating ecosystem conditions. This is expected to continue if more is not done.

At the press conference, the Minister also confirmed the government’s commitment to protecting 30 per cent of Australia’s land and 30 per cent of Australia’s sea by 2030 (30 x 30). This is a welcome shift in federal government policy and comes ahead of the final Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting (COP 15) in December 22 to be held in Montreal.

Nature Foundation, through its conservation and reserve management programs, has been assiduously working away at increasing the area that we manage for conservation outcomes (added 20,736 hectares to our portfolio in the last 3 years), restoring ecosystem health at its reserves and conducting targeted threatened species management projects on a growing list of species including Yellow-footed Rock-Wallaby, Plains Mouse, Short-tailed Grasswren, Thick-billed Grasswren, Regent Parrots and Red-tailed Black Cockatoos.

The timing of this announcement aligns well with the refocusing of the Nature Foundation’s conservation efforts and strategic objective to continue the protection of high-value habitats.

We look forward to future announcements the federal government might make in the biodiversity conservation space.  

Conservation Conversations - watch the recording

On Monday, Chair of the Board Jan Ferguson OAM, newly appointed CEO Alex Nankivell and Deputy CEO Mark Ashley gave a comprehensive update on Nature Foundation's work over the last few months. This included how 10 years of managing Hiltaba and Witchelina Nature Reserves for conservation is paying off, updates on carbon projects on our properties and elsewhere and our dream to increase the amount of land we manage for conservation.

The evening was topped off by Dr Isabelle Onley, a Grand Start Grant recipient, filling us in on her fascinating PhD on Greater Stick-nest Rats. 

If you missed the webinar, or want to watch it again, you can watch the recording.

Photo: Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby with pouch young. Image credit: Maria Reed

Message from the Chair

I am writing to inform you of an important update regarding recruiting the new Chief Executive of the Nature Foundation. The Board approved the advertising of the position through Hender Consulting, ensuring we reached a broad and highly qualified field of potential candidates.

The Board were very clear that they wanted someone who could take the Foundation forward, is passionate about conservation, competent ecologically and who could build collaborative commercial, nature conservation and nature science relationships with existing or potential partners.  Also of importance was the need to attract someone who could support the Board to meet its governance accountabilities, provide services to members and generate income that would provide financial security and stability to the Foundation in the long term.

The selection panel and I shortlisted candidates independently from a competitive field to interview.  The process was comprehensive and unbiased, with all candidates performing well and to a high standard.

On Monday night, the Board met and unanimously supported the recommendation of the selection panel to appoint Alex Nankivell to fill the vacant position of Chief Executive of Nature Foundation.

Many would know that Alex is the longest-serving staff member of the organisation and has contributed significantly to the current success of our organisation. Alex has the vision to position the Nature Foundation as a leader in the Nature Positive Future.

Underpinned by

  • Targeted acquisition of land or partnerships that increase land being managed for biodiversity.

  • Significant partnerships developed with Traditional Owners.

  • Reintroductions of fauna or flora to our reserves.

  • A provider of Nature-based Solutions through best practice land management, science, and monitoring.

  • A knowledge leader in the field of conservation and biodiversity management.

I hope you will join me in wishing Alex all the best as he steers Nature Foundation to refocus our conservation efforts, ensuring we continue to be an inspirational, financially secure organisation that achieves operational excellence.

Jan Ferguson OAM
Chair

Pretty Point Campground now even better!


A team of eleven spent a week in June upgrading the popular Pretty Point Campground at Hiltaba Nature Reserve. Gawler Ranges National Park Rangers: Lindsay Brown, Sarah and Don and Nature Foundation volunteers: John Ovenden, Coral Johnson, Ian Pope, Chris and Maria Reed and generous sponsors: Greg Limbert, Sonya Coleman and Alison Hastings, put in long days completing the planned upgrade.

Over seven days the energetic team created a new entry and exit loop, delineated sixteen campsites, revegetated eroded bare patches by scarifying and seeding the area, planted 40 trees, resited fire rings, installed new signage and more than 300 recycled wooden fence post bollards and realigned the entry to the Betty and Bob Lewis Walking Trail!

A big thank you goes out to Greg and Sonya for donating the use of their bobcat for over twenty hours of digging post holes and finishing off the ground surface, and for a truckload of cement mix. Also to Ranger in Charge Lindsay Brown for supplying over thirty trees and native seeds of local provenance, plus securing a grant to lease a tractor with a scarifier to rip the revegetation areas. And of course to the Nature Foundation volunteers too!
                                             
Fineys Contracting from Wudinna also graded the road into Pretty Point and the loop road through the campground as well as creating the much needed water run offs.

We're also grateful to the Gawler Ranges National Park staff for planning the upgrade and collecting the seed prior to the event.

Come and check out the upgraded campground! Book now online!

Latest Nature Matters!


Welcome to the second edition of Nature Matters for 2022 – we hope you enjoy reading it! 
 
In this edition we continue our Vital Work Appeal. Our target is $100,000 and the end of financial year is the perfect time to donate and reduce tax at the same time! You can help stop and reverse nature loss in South Australia by making a donation to the Vital Work Appeal today.

Together we can achieve the conservation outcomes our natural environment depends on! 
 
Read Nature Matters here.
 
📷 Hiltaba Nature Reserve vista by Chris Warrior

Rare bird spotted during Witchelina bird survey


Birds SA concluded their autumn bird survey for Witchelina Nature Reserve this week, with some more interesting observations. 

The landscape remains wet from the six significant rain events since November 2021 and there are large numbers of some species, like Zebra Finches, that respond quickly to the flush of growth and the plentiful feed available. Orange and Crimson Chats, Budgerigars, Wedge-bills and Fairy-wrens, amongst many other species, can be frequently seen, while there are many raptors taking advantage of the available food. However the most noteworthy record this week was of one of South Australia’s rarest birds, the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface. This small bird, generally considered to be SA’s only endemic species, occurs sparsely across remote areas of northern SA and is rarely seen. 

This week the team (Andrew Black, Philippa Horton, Marg Evans, Peter Christie and rotational managers Phil Cole and Jenny Hiscock) found this bird at two locations (one sighting of two birds, one of two). This is an exciting record with only two other observations on the Reserve in recent years, one by Rotational Manager Greg Bannon and one by Port Augusta birder Bernie Hasse and others, and none during the regular surveys since 2014. The Painted Finches (only recorded once before on Witchelina) observed by the survey team a few weeks ago were not seen again. The next bird survey is scheduled for October.

Photo of Chestnut-breasted Whiteface courtesy Jenny Hiscock

Bucketing down at Witchelina!


A recent image from Witchelina Nature Reserve following heavy rainfall. Our Rotational Managers reported that the rain gauge went from 9 mil to 25 mil in 1.5 hours – that’s what you call bucketing down!

Our end of financial year Vital Work Appeal will raise funds to make the most of the resulting boom in our own backyard.

📸 Photo courtesy Fred and Petra van der Heiden, Rotational Managers

Flocks of Regent Parrots at Murbpook!


Our fabulous volunteer Coral Johnston was very excited to record flocks of Regent Parrots (Polytelis anthopeplus) at Murbpook Nature Reserve last week, counting at least 26! Image courtesy of Coral.

We have recorded a group of three Regent Parrots several times over the last year, and most recently in April, but never this many so it's great news!

The Regent Parrot feeds in Mallee and breeds in the hollows of River Red Gums along the River Murray in South Australia between Swan Reach and Renmark. It is also found in other parts of the south-west corner of the Murray Darling Basin and is listed as vulnerable both in South Australia and nationally. 

Painted Finches spotted at Witchelina!


This week a team conducted the 6-monthly bird survey at Witchelina Nature Reserve.  Given the significant rainfall both on Witchelina and across the north we thought we might find some interesting birds and this proved correct!  
 
On Termination Dam we found 30 or so Painted Finches Emblema pictum – a bird common in the north of Australia and occasionally seen further south, including the Flinders Ranges, but not previously recorded on Witchelina.  It may be these birds have been pushed south following significant breeding further north after the summer rains.  
 
This was a very exciting find for the survey team (Philippa Horton, Marg Evans, Jennifer Hiscock, Peter Christy and Rotational Manager Phil Cole), and for Nature Foundation.  In total nearly 90 bird species were recorded during the survey on the property; many more than for previous surveys conducted during drier times. Photo courtesy of Phil Cole.

Congratulations to Nature Foundation Grand Start Grant recipient Isabelle Onley


Isabelle has recently published her PhD research on the vulnerable Greater stick-nest rat (Leporillus conditor). Her original project was titled ‘Conservation genomics and adaptation of translocated Greater Stick Nest Rats under climate change’.

This great article in The Conversation explores how the female greater stick-nest rat rules the roost!

You can read more about Isabelle’s research published in scientific journals via the links below:
https://www.mdpi.com/2075-1729/11/7/653
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/aec.13100

Find out more about how Nature Foundation supports student research.
Our Mike Bull Award for Early Career Nature Scientists is currently open for applications!

Photo of Isabelle Onley installing HOBO loggers inside stick-nest rat nests at Arid Recovery courtesy Georgie Neave

CEO Hugo Hopton retires


The CEO Hugo Hopton has retired effective 22 April 2022 after over six years service with Nature Foundation.

Throughout his career Hugo has worked with communities and industries in land conservation, primary production, native vegetation management and water management and built relationships with Nature Foundation’s multiple stakeholders.

Just a few highlights of Hugo’s time at Nature Foundation include hosting ALCA’s national Private Land Conservation conference in 2019 and shepherding the Revitalising Private Conservation in South Australia program for existing and prospective Heritage Agreement Owners. Hugo is known to be a passionate advocate for nature on behalf of the environmental sector.

On behalf of everyone at Nature Foundation and our members, supporters, partners and sponsors, we wish Hugo well in retirement

Taking thermal imagery to new heights!

We were delighted to host Ross McEwan (CEO) and Joe Paparella (Regional Customer Executive SA/NT) from NAB at Prospect and Para Woodlands Nature Reserve to discuss how we are achieving the best biodiversity outcomes on our nature reserves.  An NAB Foundation grant will help fund a remotely piloted aircraft fixed with thermal cameras to detect native and pest animals at Witchelina and Hiltaba Nature Reserves. View the video about this project here. 

This will be the first time Nature Foundation has been able to conduct surveys at this scale, covering an area larger than Kangaroo Island. Aerial surveys will be a huge help in validating our on-ground management strategies – this highly specialised technology provides the precision and accuracy to increase our knowledge and understanding of the distribution of animals.  We are devising a comprehensive monitoring program that will enable us to manage both native and pest animals in a much more coordinated way.

Recovery for northern wetland at Murbpook


It was a momentous day last week when Nature Foundation was able to start the recovery phase for the northern wetland at its Murbpook Nature Reserve on Ngaiawang country.

This particular wetland has not been full for five years. Gum trees around the wetland are badly stressed, and much of the vegetation you would typically see at a healthy wetland is missing. By filling the wetland with Commonwealth environmental water we expect to trigger some positive changes for the wetland and improve habitat for threatened species like the Regent Parrot and Southern Bell Frog.

There to help out and witness the start of the recovery phase were two representatives from the First Peoples of the River Murray Mallee Native Title Claimant Group 2 – Jenny Grace-Giles and Steve Clarke, along with Nature Foundation’s Natalie Stalenberg and Lucy Clive. Find out more about Murbpook

Brock's research at Hiltaba


You may have read about Brock Hedges, Nature Foundation’s 2019 Roy and Marjory Edwards Scholarship recipient and University of Adelaide PhD candidate in Nature Matters Issue 3, 2021.

His research on the rock holes has been ongoing at Hiltaba over the last three years. Due to damage to some of his equipment deployed in 2021, he had to dash to Hiltaba in January.

Find out what he got up to and see some lovely images of Hiltaba and its fauna on his blog.

Witchelina Nature Reserve carbon project

Liam Crook our Nature Solutions Program Coordinator recently supported GreenCollar's assessment of Witchelina Nature Reserve as a potential Human Induced Regeneration carbon project, which increases carbon sequestration by adjusting land management practices.

So far, the assessment has included vegetation measurements at over 60 survey points, capturing the remarkable diversity of vegetation and soil types across Witchelina’s 1 million acres.

It was a fantastic time to visit Witchelina after all the recent rain!
New online booking system for Witchelina and Hiltaba


Have you seen our new online booking system for visiting Witchelina and Hiltaba Nature Reserves?

You can now view the different types of accommodation, find out if your preferred dates are available and book nature drives online!

Simply visit this page and click on Visit Hiltaba or Visit Witchelina


📷 Hiltaba Nature Reserve; Bill Doyle

South Australians for Climate Action


Nature Foundation is proud to stand with many other businesses, institutions and community organisations to seek a commitment from all political parties and candidates at the 2022 state election to implement powerful policies that protect our community, economy and environment from climate change impacts.

South Australia has a track record of bipartisan leadership on climate and energy policy, and we are well-placed to both improve our climate future and build the new economy powered by clean energy. We have a lot to gain by responding positively and forcefully to the changing climate. Now is the time to innovate for climate resilience and carbon-neutrality, to adapt our energy, transport, industry and agriculture to net zero emissions, and to reap the benefits in export and growth opportunities. Our goal must be the rapid achievement of 100% green energy, climate smart agriculture and biodiversity protection. Read the full statement here. 

Witchelina Washout!


Wonderful to see the effects of so much rain at Witchelina Nature Reserve.

This drone image by Graeme Tonkin shows what 145.2 mm total for the week beginning 17 January looks like on the ground!

📷 Graeme Tonkin
 

Raptor Appeal update

Thank you so much to everyone who supported our Raptor Appeal to help solve the mysteries of the majestic Wedge-tailed Eagles at Witchelina Nature Reserve.

We are aiming to carefully capture at least 12 adult Wedge-tailed eagles to fit them with a GPS collar* with a three-year lifespan that will provide a crucial amount of data. This methodology has been tested not only around the world but also here in Australia and our raptor experts Ian Falkenberg and Nick Mooney are experienced in this.

Thanks to our members and supporters we have raised nearly $30,000, which will enable us to purchase 10 GPS collars! You, or a group of friends can still sponsor a GPS collar and we’ll send an annual update of where the tracked Wedgies have been flying for the life of the collar.

With your support we can continue to manage Witchelina so that it continues to be an important refuge for these majestic raptors. Every donation will help!

*Ornitrack 10 Solar Powered GPS GSM/GPRS 3G Trackers
Note the GPS is not placed around the neck but attached to the back using a specially designed harness.

COVID Double Vaccination Requirements for Nature Foundation

 
With the opening of South Australia’s borders next week and increased likelihood of COVID in our state, Nature Foundation will require all staff, volunteers and visitors to be double vaccinated for COVID as a requirement of entry to our offices, work sites and nature reserves from Tuesday 23 November.
 
Please note that evidence of vaccination will be required prior to entry.
 
Thank you for your understanding and respecting our position on ensuring the wellbeing of our community and personnel.
 

KoC gets commendation!

We know that our unique Kids on Country (KoC) program has a huge positive impact on the lives of the young Aboriginal people who participate in it. But it’s exciting for us to hear that the impacts are being noticed further afield.

Recently Nature Foundation received a letter of commendation from Steve, a coach driver who has participated in several KoC camps.

As some of the participating schools are located in Adelaide, and the camps take place at Witchelina and Hiltaba, a driver and coach are engaged for the duration of the camp. The time the driver spends with the group is significant with travel time to the reserves taking at least seven hours.

Steve looks forward to each opportunity to be part of the KoC program and doing his part in being a positive influence on the young attendees.

He’s also learned a few things by attending the camps – he finds the cultural aspects very interesting and believes that they are a very important part of the program.

“I have seen first-hand and repeatedly, the positive effect these camps have had on the kids attending. Often kids have been quiet and reserved to start with and before long they start opening up, making new friends, and come together as a group relaxing and enjoying themselves,” says Steve.
 
It’s no wonder the program builds employability skills for young Aboriginal people by improving wellbeing, teaching life skills, building confidence 'on country' and sparking interest in conservation and land management.
 
The success of these camps in due to the hard work and commitment of Katie Perry, Youth Programs Coordinator, Warren Milera and the rest of the team.

You can help us continue to provide life-changing opportunities for young Aboriginal people by making a donation.

Protecting land and vulnerable species, bit by bit

Nearly four and a half years ago Nature Foundation volunteer Coral Johnston and her siblings became proud owners of a large Riverland bushblock. It was just what she’d been searching for: natural scrub in good condition, surrounded by other good quality bushland and at more than 900 ha, it was larger than any other property she’d seen.

“My motivation to buy it was so that I could go camping there and to be able to conserve something into the future,” said Coral.

The decision to buy was easy when they returned for a second look and discovered a malleefowl mound.

Because the vegetation on the Heritage Agreement property is in such good condition she hasn’t had to do much to maintain it, so she’s spent most of her time monitoring it. She has walked over 80 percent of the property and has discovered several wombat burrows and more malleefowl mounds.

“I do a lot of bird watching. I’ve seen Regent Parrots on a few occasions. I’m also a member of the Australian Plant Society so I identify the plants I find on the block. I’m adding to both the flora and fauna species lists that I was given when we bought the block.

“This spring and summer I want to focus on invertebrates. Invertebrates are harder to identify to species level.  Some you need to catch and look at them under a microscope or dissect them to be able to identify them. I don’t want to kill them so I won’t do that. I’ll just ID them to the best of my ability.”

She uses camera traps to record comings and goings of animals on the property, especially malleefowl. These ground-dwelling birds are the size of a large chicken and are well camouflaged which makes them hard to spot.

She keeps close tabs on a mound she located a couple of years ago.

“It looked really old – when they finish using them, they are open in the middle - a donut shape in the sand. The ring of sand had a crust on it and small herbs growing on it – all signs it hadn’t been used in quite a while.

“Then last year it was used again. The birds scratch mulch from the surrounding area into the middle. The area around looks like it’s been raked clean. Then they wait for rain, scratch it over and cover it with sand.

“When the mulch starts to compost, they dig it out and the female lays an egg in the mound and they cover it over with the mulch again. The composting action does the incubating of the eggs.

“They put a huge amount of effort put into the mound. Usually both birds tend to it every day. They usually turn up at about sunrise. Sometimes they might scratch around the top, or they might dig it right out, poke their beak in to test the temperature and then fill it up again.

“Then they go back again in the evening and do the same thing. The process can take two to three hours each visit.”

Females lay an egg every few days, so they scratch out the mound each time so she can lay the next one, and then it gets covered up again. They lay an average of about 16 eggs in a good season and Coral has recorded at least 12 hatchlings from one mound on her property.

“The adults must know where in the mound the eggs are laid – I imagine them in a circle – and by the time all the space has been filled, the early ones have begun to hatch.

“The babies hatch underground and dig their way out. A baby will pop up, dust itself off, quickly recuperate and then run off, sometimes within seconds of surfacing.”

“I’ve got camera trap images where a chick has hatched while the adults are scratching out the nest – and there is no interaction between them!”

Heart-warming stories like these, of private landowners taking a deep interest in the fauna and flora on their properties and doing their utmost to protect and improve them, are taking place all around South Australia. Coral is one of 1600 private conservation and primary producer landholders, who protect diverse landscapes and native plants and animals, exceeding 1.5 million hectares. These properties protect remnant vegetation in perpetuity and often form part of important wildlife corridors, providing an extension to national and conservation parks.

Photo: Malleefowl chick (Coral Johnston)
Eureka!

Recent Witchelina Nature Reserve visitor, Anne Dawes from nearby Farina Station, was on the hunt for evidence of Chinese market gardens, copper and gold! 

Picturesque Mirra Weir near Bungerider Well was Anne and her friends’ first destination after consulting with Property Manager Chris Reed. Anne had heard stories of Chinese market gardeners setting up in the vicinity and using water from the weir.

“But we could not work out where the vegetables would have been grown though, as the ground appears salty and stony,” said Anne.

One of Nature Foundation’s Rotational Managers, Greg Bannon, provided some insight: “It’s possible that the water quality at Mirra Weir was better when the weir was built because the stonework is very high quality and a lot of physical effort and cost went into building it. It has puzzled me that someone would have gone to that effort to contain water that was not fit for use.”
 
Next, the group headed towards Rischbieth Well where they looked around the old copper mine.

“I found out recently that my great-great grandfather purchased a 32nd share in it back in 1888. This area has been mined quite extensively and the shafts appeared deep!”

Next stop was Rischbieth Well itself.

“There are also stories of vegetables being grown and taken to Callanna where they were sold to people from Marree as well as being taken to the railway and sold along the line,” Anne said.

Another Rotational Manager, Phil Cole, confirmed that there were Chinese gardens in the northern part of South Australia: In the late nineteenth century, Chinese gardeners were active supplying vegetables in Birdsville, Marree, Innamincka as well as Oodnadatta… The usual pattern was for a gardener to establish a patch in the fertile alluvial soil on the river flat beside a reliable waterhole and plant a market crop which could be watered by hand: usually including potatoes, cabbages, watermelons and maize. (DEH publication)

“It’s plausible that the garden at Rischbieth could have supplied Callanna or Marree. Rischbieth Well is the best water in the region,” said Phil.

Greg provided further insight: “The links for these Chinese vegetable gardens, sometimes fairly short-lived, was the railway and water”. 

“The railway tracks were surveyed to include water sources of good enough quality to top up steam train boilers. Vegetables, like steam trains, need reasonable water!

“There were a lot of Chinese labourers and stonemasons employed in track construction.”

The South Australian Register, 24 February 1879 provides some insight to why there was a demand for vegetables: (The Chinese railway workers) spend very little in drink, but on the whole they live in far superior style to the white men… They live to a great extent on rice… and preserved fruits, but their demand for fowls and pork outstrips all the efforts of the farmers to keep them supplied. They purchase their supplies… from the European storekeepers, but there are also some stores which are run by Chinese.

“The gardens moved as the railway lines progressed. Some may have stayed a bit longer after the construction gangs moved on,” said Greg.

Anne had also heard rumours of a lady going off to mine gold near Rischbieth Well.

Although she couldn’t find any on the ground, Phil unearthed a reference in the South Australian Register, 15 November 1888: Gold Discovered Near Hergott*. A telegram has been received by the owners of Mount North-West Station** which states: — Splendid gold is being obtained at Rischbieth Well. About 1 oz to the load in alluvial.

Anne and her party topped off their day of exploration with an enjoyable meal at the Marree Hotel!

If you are interested in visiting some of the sites mentioned in this article, please speak to the Rotational Manager on duty when you arrive at the reserve.
 
*Hergott Springs, approx 25 miles from Rischbieth’s Well
**now part of Witchelina
Thanks to Greg Bannon, Phil Cole and John Mannion for the information contained in this article.

Photo: Group of locals checking out Mirra Weir (Anne Dawes)
Leech removal is not the primary driver of basking behavior in a freshwater turtle

Dr Eric Norberg, the 2020 Mike Bull Award winner in Nature Foundation’s research grants program is one of the authors of this article ‘Leech removal is not the primary driver of basking behavior in a freshwater turtle’. The researchers examined the number of leeches that were removed from Krefft's river turtles (Emydura macquarii krefftii) after experimentally making turtles bask at a range of times of day, durations, and temperatures. They found that leech removal does not appear to be the purpose of the majority of basking events. Read the full article here.

Find out more about research grants.

📷 Dr Eric Nordberg and Kreft's River Turtle; Photo Rishab Pillai
Port Augusta Bird Observers Group at Witchelina


Last month Witchelina Nature Reserve was the destination for the Birds SA affiliated Port Augusta Bird Observers Group, The Babblers, who were keen to get snaps of the elusive Chestnut-breasted Whiteface recently sighted on the property.

On their first afternoon, the seven birders headed to where the bird had been sighted. Although they spotted Mulga Parrots and White-breasted Woodswallows there was no joy on the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface.

The next day they walked around the homestead and along a dry creek bed, finding a range of birds including Zebra Finches, a Wedge-tailed Eagle, an Elegant Parrot, White-plumed and Singing Honeyeaters, Black-faced Woodswallows, Tree Martins, Striated Pardalote and an Owlet Nightjar.

Although the nearby dam was dry, White-winged Fairy-wrens, Welcome Swallows, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes, White-browed Babblers and more were spotted in the surrounding scrub.

Still on the lookout for the Whiteface, the group set off to drive the 117km Dunes – Wildflower Nature Drive which took them through rocky hills, gibber plains, bluebush plains and sand dune country. Along the way they spotted Cinnamon Quail-thrush, Whistling Kites, Rufous Fieldwrens, Chirruping Wedgebills and a Thick-billed Grasswren amongst others. As they drove along the eastern boundary through bluebush plains, some Whiteface were seen and heard but the group were unable to confirm whether they were Chestnut-breasted or not. They had to be satisfied with photographing a flock of Chestnut-crowned Babblers instead.

They next morning they set off along the 90km Bungarider Nature Drive. As they drove along a creek bed near the homestead, they added Purple-backed Fairy-wrens, Mallee Ringneck, Southern Whiteface and Common Bronzewings to the bird list.

Birds were scarce in the dry, bare rocky hills country but as they crossed a bluebush plain, some small birds flew off. After following them on foot they were met with success! They spotted four Chestnut-breasted Whiteface, and to top it off, they also sighted a Thick-billed Grasswren.

“A total of 36 bird species were seen,” said Bernie Haase, trip leader, “but the birds of the trip would have to be the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface and the Thick-billed Grasswrens”.

The elusive Chestnut-breasted Whiteface is currently listed as Near Threatened in South Australia under SA legislation - National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972.

Photo: Elusive Chestnut-breasted Whiteface at Witchelina (credit: Richard Croll)

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