October 17th 2012
Help spot the gang of four
Following is a story about Islanders doing a great job with a formidable pest. A pest that may now be down to just four wily individuals. And you can help. The article which follows comes from Magnetic Island Nature Care member, Phil Stevenson.
The joys of life on Magnetic Island are defined not only by what we have here but also by what we thankfully live without. Our recent experience of traffic lights on Arcadia Road reminds us that there are some things best left on the mainland. And we only have to take the ferry to Townsville to be greeted at the terminal by something we're glad we don't have to put up with: the Myna bird.
Since its introduction to Australia in the 1860's, in a failed attempt to control insects in Melbourne's market gardens, the myna has bred to become the dominant bird species in much of urban east coast Australia, attacking and discplacing native bird populations. In Sydney, for example, suburbs which were once home to tiny birds such as the Superb Blue Wren and the Pardalote are now overrun by the Myna. My brother, living in Newcastle watched as, year after year, Mynas picked the young from the nest of a Willy-Wagtail, the only native resident of his suburban back yard. An article in the September 4th edition of Australian Gegraphic On-Line reports a recent Canberra study which shows the Myna has also been responsible for the decline of birds as large as the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo and the Laughing Kookaburra. It has the distinction of being listed in the top one hundred invasive species on the planet.
Fortunately, efforts to rid our urban areas of this pest have been growing. Canberra has had, for some years, an active group dedicated to Myna-eradication. Their methods have been very successful, providing a model for other communities wishing to deal with the problem. In Cairns, I've heard that trapping has already rid the town of around 10,000 of the birds.
Our Island, of course, has not entirely escaped the Myna. Every year we seem to get a few who set up residence around the ferry terminal, but the good work of Townsville Council's Department of Integrated Sustainability, and particularly that of Byron Kearns, their Land Protection Officer, has meant that their eradication has been swift and humane.
This year, however, the numbers at Nelly grew to nine before they were noticed and Council informed. Such a number is a worry, with the danger of an exponential increase creating a problem very difficult to control. This year the birds have also been spotted at Picnic Bay around the mall.
In a way, though, such a number has had a positive effect: it has created a greater awareness amongst Islanders that we must be more vigilant and organised to deal with the threat of a Myna invasion. Consequently, a partnership has developed between Council and residents, working under the auspices of Magnetic Island Nature Care. Islanders can do some of the work - monitoring the movements of the birds, and daily checking traps - that is otherwise so time-consuming for Council Officers.
Here on the Island we can be grateful that we have the knowledge and expertise of a couple of residents who have been able to complement the officers' work. Nelly Bay residents, Peter Illidge and Eric Vanderduys have devoted a lot of time and effort in the past couple of months to catching the birds. Peter brings experience as a former National Parks ranger to this work, and Eric brings years of research into Australia's fauna. As an observer, watching from the sidelines, what impresses me is the commitment to humanely disposing of the birds. There is nothing gung-ho and macho in anyone's approach to this problem. It has, however, involved a lot of hard work and a lot of time that those Islanders, busy with careers and family, can ill-afford.
Nevertheless, the results have been largely successful. At the time of writing there seem to be four remaining, spotted at Picnic Bay. It's hoped that in a week or two they will be gone.
After that, we rely on Islanders to promptly report any that they might see. And I mean prompt! Phone Peter as soon as you see them. Knowing when and where they are spotted helps enormously in their capture. Peter will take your call on 0407 930 412
Across Townsville there is a growing community effort to eradicate these birds. Only a few Sundays ago the Ross Valley Lions Club held a standing-room only meeting to discuss measures to rid the entire region of the birds. A huge task but Island residents should wish them well.
We should also offer a huge thank you to Peter, Eric, Byron and to Council for the work they have done in keepng us free of a pest we can well do without.