26 September 2023

White-bellied whipbird found back in colour

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The Department for Environment and Water (DEW) has announced that a white-bellied whipbird thought to have been extinct has been rediscovered at Ngarkat Conservation Park in South Australia’s Murray Mallee.

The Department said a team of researchers from Victoria’s La Trobe University and a number of community volunteers discovered the whipbird, which was presumed extinct after catastrophic wildfires across the region in 2014.

DEW said the discovery was made by a volunteer from Victoria’s Mallacoota, who recorded the bird’s call on her phone as part of an extensive 30-day field survey.

“Data collected by the survey has increased understanding of the distribution of 10 key species within the endangered Mallee bird community and will directly inform future management efforts to protect and recover these threatened species,” the Department said.

Lead researcher at La Trobe University, Simon Verdon said that after hearing the recording he was immediately convinced they had found the whipbird.

“However, we had to ask other experts to verify our find, which took a while because the call was faint with a lot of wind noise,” Dr Verdon said.

“There’s the chance now for us to act to benefit them – to inform future conservation efforts and take steps to protect their habitat, he said.”

“Until now, there hasn’t been that opportunity because while we suspected some individuals may have survived the 2014 wildfires, we didn’t know where they were.”

He said the geographical area known to contain the species had also been selected as one of Australia’s ’20 Priority Places’ under the Commonwealth’s 2022-2032 Threatened Species Action Plan.

Conservation Ecologist with DEW, Chris Hedger said managing an appropriate fire regime was critical for the species, especially as the whipbird populations were small and isolated.

“This finding will enable us to protect and enhance existing habitat through various fire management planning and response activities,” Mr Hedger said.

“It will also allow for more concentrated survey efforts to further improve local understanding of this population, and it gives us a very useful starting point, rather than trying to find a needle in a 271,000-hectare haystack.”

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