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.