Sunday 4 November 2012

Westonia Community Workshop

On Friday we packed our car with form ply, wire, hosepipe, nails, screws, a few hollow logs and a whole bunch of tools and headed east. Scattered showers broke up the horizon and a glorious afternoon light lit up the Salmon Gums on the road verge. These were very precious to see as more than 90% of native vegetation has been cleared from this region for agriculture. You can see the evidence of this clearing, and the location of Westonia, on the map below.

Three hours later we arrived at Westonia, a tiny town just near Merredin in the WA Wheatbelt. We checked into our accommodation and had a relaxing evening, preparing for a busy Saturday.

We got up early the next morning and headed to the Shire depot to set up for another Nest Box Workshop, this time to be conducted with the local community. About 15 people ended up attending, including half a dozen children, which was very pleasing. The workshop was organised by the Shire of Westonia and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), who were really keen to put up some boxes in the Westonia Common, a local remnant of Salmon Gum, Gimlet and Red Morrel woodland surrounding the town, rich in biodiversity.

After an introduction to tree hollows and nest boxes, we laid out the materials and were ready to start! There was some reluctance at first, but once the first person in the group picked up their saw and began cutting up plywood, everyone jumped in and was busily working. By lunchtime we had most of our boxes finished and enjoyed some sandwiches, biscuits and drinks provided by the local deli. Nothing like a bit of food to revive our enthusiasm!

A coat of paint and some time drying in the beautiful sunshine and the boxes were FINISHED! (we were blessed with a nice fine day after 2 previous days of heavy rain). Here’s a picture of the team with the 1 Black Cockatoo, 2 parrot, 2 pardalote and 2 phascogale nesting boxes made on the day.

The team then loaded the boxes into a ute and we headed to the bushland, only 2 minutes down the road from our workplace. We began by installing the black cockatoo box, which would take the longest out of the boxes to be hauled into position with ropes. The other boxes were much easier and by sunset that evening all seven were in place.

A particularly exciting discovery during the box installation was a sighting of several Regent Parrots in the bush. We were also told that Purple-crowned Lorikeets had been recorded there. Neither of these native parrots are very common in the wheatbelt any more (Australian Ringnecks and Galahs seem to be dominant everywhere), so it was encouraging to know that a little bit more diversity exists at Westonia.

We are looking forward to what might use these new boxes in the future! If you find the nest boxes in Westonia, please put a comment below about how they are looking and if any animals are using them. We would love to hear from you!

Sunday 28 October 2012

Cockatoo KIDS Club - Canning River Eco Education Centre

The Cockatoo KIDS Club is a flock of kids who learn about Black-Cockatoos, tell other people about conservation issues and care for the environment. It is run by the Canning River Eco Education Centre, and this is were we met a bunch of enthusiastic kids to talk about nest boxes. Not having much time, we took two completed nest boxes with us, one for possums and one for parrots. We talked with the group about the importance of hollows and why there are not many left around the city of Canning, as well as how we care for the environment by converting recycled waste into animals homes.

Before hanging the boxes we went for a bush walk along the river where saw waterbirds, lots of little 'bush birds' and some nest boxes previously put up in the trees for small micro bats. Along the way we picked up all the rubbish we could find, doing our bit to clean up the environment as we went. Well done kids!

Finally everyone signed the box so that we knew who was involved in the afternoon's activity and we all watched as Simon put his ropes up a large Flooded Gum (Eucalyptus rudis) right next to the river and hung the last box. 

If any of the kids from the Cockatoo KIDS Club or visitors to the Canning River Eco Education Centre want to tell us what has been using the nest boxes we would love to hear from you! Please comment below.

Thanks to Hayley Bullimore from Canning River Eco Education Centre for organising such a fun afternoon.

Saturday 20 October 2012

Mundaring Primary

Isn’t the above picture amazing!!? It was painted by Karra, a Year 1 student from Mundaring Primary, and it shows her depiction of our nest box program undertaken at her school today. The detail young people pick up never ceases to amaze us - there’s a tree with a hollow in the branch, a bird’s egg inside, a Black Cockatoo flying to the tree, and a tall, dreadlocked man with bandanna, khaki t-shirt and black shorts standing nearby, who looks the spitting image of Simon!
We were both very touched to receive such a drawing from a cute student who only attended the powerpoint presentation during our first hour at the school, and wasn’t directly involved in the box-building. Obviously she still gained a lot! It’s moments like this that make us realise what we do this work for! If any other students from Mundaring Primary would like to comment on the day or let us know what is using their boxes we would love to hear from you. There is a comment section below just for you!

Today was a brilliant day which began when we arrived at the school and Simon noticed this incredible mural, which he thought was such a beautiful thing to have at a school. It even has a Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, one of the species we are targeting with our nest boxes!

We kicked off the education session with our usual classroom presentation to about 50 students of various ages who learnt about tree hollows, nest boxes and the importance of recycling more than just the conventional waste. We then jumped straight into the box building with a smaller group of Year 4/5 students in the undercover area, and most groups had their boxes nearly complete by recess.

After recess the kids added the finishing touches to their boxes, and we all gathered out in the open to begin painting. We were very lucky to have some nice shade provided by a huge Marri tree right in the school grounds. Painting is always a messy affair but believe it or not, the kids still managed to get some paint on the boxes! Soon they looked like brand new and after leaving them to dry during lunchtime they were ready to hang.

Gill took our Year 4/5’s on a walk around the school grounds to see what nest hollows were already available for local birds, and to select some suitable sites for our new boxes. Simon took this opportunity to prepare the boxes for hanging by adding wire and chain to them, and get his climbing gear ready. Gill and the students found that a couple of large Marri trees already had some local parrots inside, as well as the dreaded feral Honey Bee, which is a threat to local wildlife. They also found an ENORMOUS Marri tree at the front of the school which amazingly appeared to have no hollows, a perfect spot for a box!

We began with one of the large cockatoo boxes and got all the students to sign their names on the front before the box left the ground. A few more classes came to watch as Simon then set up ropes high into the tree and hoisted the box about 10m to a suitable fork. He just managed to get the chains in place and the box in position when the siren rang, and all the kids were then ready to go home.

Thanks to the fantastic Dr. Julie-Anne Ellis for contacting us early in 2012 and arranging this activity several months ago. Also, we can’t forget the hard work of the kids involved in making the boxes so beautifully, and our sponsors. Thank you all!

Saturday 29 September 2012

Applecross Primary

Another day, another nest box! Today we had the privilege of spending the day at Applecross Primary School running our Schools Nestbox Program. The Year 5 class made six nest boxes of different sizes: two parrot, two possum and two Black-Cockatoo boxes. Above you can see them adding the finishing coat of paint under Gill's supervision, and below you can see Simon installing the first box.

Thanks to the fantastic teachers Vanessa Mann and Jessica Williams for organising us to come along, and to the kids who ran a fundraiser to help make it happen. Also, we can’t forget our sponsors, MacMahon Construction and Mundaring Hardware. What a brilliant way to finish off the school term - Happy Holidays!

If any students from Applecross want to tell us about the day or what animals have been using their boxes, please put your comments in the section provided below. We would love to hear from you!

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Winters Flat Primary

Today we got to run a workshop for Gill's nephew's school, Winters Flat Primary, while visiting family in Castlemaine. If any students from Winters Flat want to let us know about the day or what has been visiting their boxes please put a comment in the section provided below. We would love to hear from you! 

The Year 1 class had so many questions after our presentations in the class room. Lucky we went straight out to start building after showing them Simon'sduckling film, as they all got very excited seeing the little fluff balls dropping to the ground and thinking that maybe, just maybe, something similar would happen in a nest box near them one day.

The five boxes we made, however, were for parrots and possums, not ducks, but with the severe lack of hollows around Castlemaine due to all the trees being cleared during the gold rush, it is highly likely that these boxes will get used. Everyone had a go at using the different tools and had great fun putting them together and then painting them.

While we waited for the paint to dry, the kids drew some wonderful pictures of building the boxes and what might use them and we all went for an adventure along the creek, exploring this habitat to see what interesting plants and animals we could find.

Simon prepared the boxes and got the ladder ready for hanging, while the students played a game of charades - acting out the different animals they thought might use the boxes, like parrots, possums and bats.

Students eagerly put their hands up to see if they can guess the animal.

The local newspaper was also interested in what the students were doing and sent along a reporter to take a photo and write a little article - click on the article below to enlarge it and have a read!

A big thank you to the local construction team who were upgrading the bridge on the Pyrenees Highway near Chewton, and happily donated us some form ply off-cuts. Also to the resident who gave us hollow logs from her firewood pile - thanks!

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Nearer to Nature Mundaring - School Holiday Fun

It was exciting to be in the Hills Forest Discovery Centre surrounded by beautiful bush to conduct our nest box workshop, aptly named ‘Home Among the Gum Trees’, as part of the Department of Parks and Wildlife’s Nearer to Nature winter school holidays program.

We started the day with a powerpoint presentation to give some background on the topic and enthuse the children about tree hollows. Then we dived straight into the building! We were lucky to have 16 children who were so well behaved and very keen to work together on their boxes. Consequently all had finished their box by mid afternoon and were excited to take them home to hang in a tree in their backyard.

With some time up our sleeve before parents arrived, it was a great opportunity to take the group on a bushwalk through the forest. On the walk we talked about the loss of habitat trees which contain natural tree hollows, and how boxes were an important way to help replace them. The bush surrounding the Hills Forest Centre provided fitting examples of this habitat loss, as most native trees had at been felled to provide timber for the Number 1 Pump Station used to transport water to Kalgoorlie in the gold rush. We saw how this area contained very few old habitat (hollow-bearing trees), and looked carefully at the younger trees which were now regenerating (albeit very slowly).

Hopefully the children are proud of their new boxes and have local wildlife living in them very soon! Anyone who was involved in the day we would love to hear about your box and if anything has been using it! Please put your comments below.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Ardross Primary

Looking down from the leafy canopy and seeing over 150 smiling faces beaming up at Simon today was one of the most wonderful moments of his short ‘education history’. This photo was taken from about 20 metres up in a Lemon-scented Gum at the front of the latest school to participate in the School Nest Box Program. Why was he up there? Read Simon's post to find out...

The day began with excitement as I set up my powerpoint presentation while Year 6 (most of whom were aged 10) filed in and took their seats. I gave a talk about hollow homes and recycling rubbish, and was very impressed by how many students raised their hand when asked ‘who already recycles as much rubbish as they can at home, and who has a compost in their garden?’ It’s refreshing to see such young children having these sustainable thoughts. Soon we were out on the verandah to start the building!

Due to time limitations we only made three boxes - two smaller ones suitable for parrots or possums, and one large Black-Cockatoo box. I was very excited about the latter because only the week before today’s workshop, Ardross Primary School students had observantly noted Endangered Forest Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus banksii naso) feeding on Cape Lilac berries in the school grounds. Here is a photo they sent me: (thanks to Catherine Bishop for the brilliant picture!).

This observation bodes well for the future, as Red-tails are likely to nest on the Swan Coastal Plain providing suitable hollows are present near a food source. Records of the species habituating to the urban Perth landscape have increased in recent years, with the birds being seen feeding on introduced Cape Lilac trees, as well as native Marri, right across the suburbs. And the question of whether or not they can successfully nest in this altered landscape has now been answered, with the first breeding event of the species recorded in an artificial box at Murdoch University in 2011. So breeding at Adross is certainly possible - the birds just needed a box!

The Ardross students rotated their groups so all children had a turn at contributing to the completion of each box, with the others playing a ‘Cockatoo Board Game’ inside. As you might expect, the small boxes came together quite quickly. Below is a photo of Natalie Florenca, Kayla O'Sullivan and Annie Drane, who have finished their box and are ready for painting - well done girls!

The lunch bell rang but the super-keen boys working on the cocky box were determined to fix the last screws in place and apply their fresh green paint before stopping to eat. Nothing like children’s enthusiasm to inspire you! We then left the boxes in the warm sun, which beamed on the boxes throughout lunch and had them dry in no time. After a group photo and a ‘box signing’ (where all involved put their names on the large cocky box), we assembled out the front of the school so I could hoist it into place.

During the morning I had already secured my climbing ropes in place, so it was just a matter of ascending the tree, measuring the length of chain required to hang the box, then setting up the pulley system (which still took some time). Quite soon after I began a ‘tree climbing demo’, many other classes started filing out to the front to watch this ‘big event’, and as I looked at all the students sitting quietly, I realised just about the whole school was there. Some audience!

A very helpful student Afarin Hosseini was keen to be the ‘official photographer’ and used my camera to take some excellent pictures of the box hanging process. These photos can be seen below. Well done Afarin!

I finished the day by hanging the two remaining smaller boxes in other trees close to the centre of the school grounds. Once again, I was thrilled to ‘hand over‘ the monitoring responsibilities to the Ardross students, who I’m sure will be very excited to tell about the first animals to move in!
Once again, I would like to say a BIG THANKYOU to our supporters, MacMahon Construction and Mundaring Hardware. Also, my thanks to Catherine Bishop and Lindsay Macmillan from Ardross Primary School for organising the day and providing great support, which ensured the workshop ran smoothly.
If you like the sound of this and would be keen to have us visit your school, please contact us. Also, if any Ardross Primary students want to tell us about the day, or what has been using their boxes since, please feel free to put your comments in the section provided below. We would love to hear from you!

Saturday 10 March 2012

Nest Boxes - Off the Ground! Re-Cyc-Ology Project begins at Tranby College

Our Schools Nest Box Program "The Re-Cyc-Ology Project" has finally begun, with our visit to the first school today, Tranby College. If any students want to tell us about their experience on the day, or what has been using their boxes, please feel free to put your comments in the section provided below. Just click the 'comments' tab. We would love to hear from you!

To start with we need to say a BIG THANKYOU to the fabulous, generous staff at Mundaring Hardware. Last week we were thrilled to receive a phone-call from Carolyn and Rusty regarding our sponsorship letter to say the shop was willing to donate various material to help us build nest boxes with school children, keeping our running costs to a minimum. They happily gave us hammers, screwdrivers, screws, paint and several other bits and pieces to help us run the first workshop, and are insistent on providing ongoing support to our cause. Our sincere thanks to these kind-hearted people.

Today we had the pleasure of working with 24 Year 8 Students from Tranby College, situated in Baldivis, who were all enthusiastic and had fun with woodworking. We started the session with some indoor talks, giving background information about hollow homes in Australian Gum Trees (by Simon), and the importance of reducing our waste, recycling, and information on how the students could recycle materials in their area (by Gill). Then we jumped outside and began the construction!

A sign overhead told me this activity was going to be a success when I noticed a pair of my totem Wedge-tailed Eagles, specks in the sky soaring high above in the distance. Each box was made in kit form, so the students’ task was (with some helpful hints) to nail a wire ladder inside the box, assemble the front, back, base and sides, fix the lid with a hinge, then give the whole box a good lick of fresh paint! All the groups showed great teamwork skills and the six boxes were pretty much finished by lunchtime, with some extra keen students choosing to complete their nest box after the bell, before getting their lunch :-)

In our afternoon session, I gave a tree climbing demonstration while setting up ropes in a massive Tuart tree, situated at the edge of the oval, which (with the students’ help) we had selected to house one of the large Black-Cockatoo boxes. This took much longer than expected: the children learnt some of the difficulties of climbing when fishing lines get tangled up in the canopy! Gill did a fantastic job of explaining all the intricacies of tree climbing while I attempted to untangle his lines - without success - so we returned to the centre of the school and I installed a smaller box instead (see picture below). This one proved much more straightforward, and afterward the students had to rush off to catch buses home (it was now 3:15pm).

Gill and I had a short break then ‘stayed back after school’ to continue hanging the remaining smaller parrot- and possum-sized boxes, choosing situations close to the school buildings where they could be kept under close watch. We then returned to the big Tuart, which had been beckoning me from the top of the hill overlooking the school. From high in the tree he set up a pulley system, and with Gill’s helping heaves we hoisted the box into position. You can see it in the picture below, about half way up on the right side of the tree.

As we packed our gear into the car we heard the grating ‘Karaak’ call of some Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, and several birds flew low over the tuart tree containing the new nest box. Was this a welcoming visit to a future breeding site? We sure hope so!

In the meantime it would be up to the Tranby College Year 8’s to keep an eye on their new wildlife homes - and write down details of any promising tenants in the Baldivis area.

Our thanks to Rachael Bullock and Jenny Florence from Tranby College for organising the day. If you like the sound of this and would be keen to have us visit your school, please contact us.