Songbird alarm call after BioR netting exercise on Kangaroo Island

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A lack of honeyeaters captured in nets during a bird banding exercise at Cygnet Park Sanctuary last month could be cause for concern.

It could indicate that nectar feeding birds such as New Holland honeyeaters are in bigger trouble than we think after the bushfire disaster wiped out most of the western end of Kangaroo Island.

BioR founder David Paton led the bird banding workshops on the organisation's property off Ropers Road.

A total of 74 birds were captured in mist nets over the weekend, banded with an identification ring and released.

But while there were 12 species in total, dominated by striated and brown thornbills, silvereyes, superb fairy wrens and red-browed finches, there was a surprising lack of honeyeaters.

There were only three species of honeyeater and only one New Holland honeyeater.

Dr Paton said these songbirds typically at this time of year moved to the west end of the Island to exploit autumn and winter flowering heaths like Banksia ornata.

He spent months in the 1990s studying honeyeater movements and behaviour in Flinders Chase National Park.

Nectar bearing plants on western side of the Island, including native Banksia ornata and other heaths flowered extensively in autumn and winter, and many honeyeaters moved in.

Now with these heaths all burnt and not likely to produce much nectar for five or more years, the honeyeaters have to search elsewhere for food, he said

The lack of honeyeaters in the nets at Cygnet Park could indicate that populations of these honeyeaters have crashed after the fires.

Australia's songbirds were also slow breeders compared to European birds and so with small clutches of only two to three eggs they will take a long time to bounce back.

This was true across all of fire-affected eastern Australia, where songbird populations could be in trouble, he said.

"Now is the time of year that these birds are most vulnerable and as their food sources elsewhere on the island dry up, they might not make it," Mr Paton said. "We would have expected to see more of them."

Honeyeaters were often seen around urban gardens, often searching out native and non native nectar bearing plants, he said.

BioR and the Patons plan on returning in the spring to do more bird netting and banding. The plight of the Island's songbirds may become clearer then.

Spring is also the time that the annual bird survey at Cygnet Park Sanctuary is conducted.

Recent counts had shown the 170 ha of diverse revegetation on the property was now supporting bout 2000 extra native birds.

The revegetation works began on the 300-hectare property in 2008, but most of the revegetation was only about 10 years old.

And in more positive news, Dr Paton was heartened by the enthusiasm of the students from KICE and general community that participated in the bird banding workshops.

"The kids come from school and see what scientists do and get closer to wildlife," he said. "Just the simple act of holding a wild bird in your hand can make a big impression."

Dr Paton would like to see more flowering shrubs and trees planted across the eastern half of Kangaroo Island to assist the songbird recovery and reduce risks of losing the birds in future fire.

The glossy black-cockatoos had been well catered for in extensive plantings of she-oaks and other suitable species.

So perhaps now was the time to look at planting Banksia ornata, Adenanthos and Correa to help the honeyeaters.

Meanwhile back at Cygnet River Sanctuary, one observant participant noticed in the trees an unusual bird - an Oriental dollar bird, normally from northern Australia.

There had only been one previous KI sighting recorded in Chris Baxter's book of Kangaroo Island birds made by Allen Lashmar at Antechamber Bay in May 1978.

This story Songbird alarm call after BioR netting exercise on KI first appeared on The Islander.

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