Article by Tyron de Kauwe, Natural Areas Conservation Officer, Sunshine Coast Council
Happy New Year to all and welcome back for more flying-fox community news.
The starvation event of late 2019 caused some unusual flying-fox behaviours (see December 2019 Flying-fox news). Since the last update, the food guarding behaviour has stopped, however many small, splintered camps remain. The severity of the food shortage saw many flying-foxes abort or abandon their young to try and conserve what little energy they had. As a result, we have seen very little crèching in our roosts and population numbers have been far lower than historically recorded.
The lack of food has not simply affected flying-foxes, many other nectivorous and frugivorous animals, such as rainbow lorikeets, feed on similar food species and are also struggling with greatly reduced food sources. Many lorikeets have been seen to be malnourished or in poor condition around our coastal areas where competition for limited resources is far higher.
February will see male flying-foxes establishing territory before mating season occurs over March and April. The four weeks of mating season is the noisiest time of year in flying-fox roosts, with males looking for potential mates through the day and night. Unfortunately for many nearby residents, this can be severely disruptive to sleep and little reprieve is experienced. Recent acoustic studies have shown that house insulation and double glazing windows significantly reduces the noise levels experienced in homes, and it is strongly recommended that these modifications be considered to assist in dealing with the noise at this time of year.
The reds are coming!
Yes, it’s that time of year again when we can expect our migratory visitors the little red flying-foxes to pay us a visit. While they’re here they may be noisy and messy, but it’s only for a short time as they’re likely to head north around Easter.
Many of the female reds are pregnant over summer and looking to stock up on resources before they return to their maternity roosts. This species comes primarily in search of the flowering bloodwoods, which have started to flower across the region. Unlike their grey and black cousins, the reds don’t tend to eat fruit and instead prefer nectar and some blossoms.
Reds have been recorded in very large numbers recently in Moreton Bay, Noosa and Gympie, with only a handful being reported so far on the Sunshine Coast. While their short-term presence may cause further disturbance in existing roosts and may be annoying for residents living close to their roosts, they too are providing an important pollination service for our Australian bush.
Roost storm damage
On 17 November 2019, a large storm cell came through the Sunshine Coast and decimated property and many reserves. Most notably, the storm hammered the Emerald Woods flying-fox site and white ibis roost. The storm dropped many mature melaleuca and eucalypt trees within the normal flying-fox footprint.
This has led to broad changes in how the flying-foxes use the site and a lot of unrest as all the wildlife vie for new roosting territory. While flying-foxes appear to have settled into a new footprint, time will tell what the long-term impacts are on this site and nearby potential habitat.
The full extent of the damage was captured by a drone flyover. A snapshot of the downed trees can be seen here.
Emerald Woods storm damage
Bushfire recovery program
As I am sure you are all aware, South Eastern Australia has experienced wide-scale destruction of homes and habitat since August 2019 through raging bushfires. On 20 January 2020, the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment released a list outlining the species most impacted by these events (https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/bushfire-recovery/research-and-resources). The list showed 327 federally-listed threatened species and four listed migratory species have lost more than 10% of their known Australian distribution during the bushfires. Of that, 49 species have lost more than 80% of their habitat.
Unfortunately one of those species is the grey-headed flying-fox, which has lost up to 30% of its national habitat. While this federal dataset only analysed species that are already federally listed, black flying-foxes share most of their foraging and roosting habitat with the greys, and their distribution extends further into Victoria and South Australia.
This study noted that “ many species not currently listed under national environmental law will have had much of their range affected by the fires and, in some cases, this impact may mean that these species have become threatened. The Department [of Agriculture, Water and the Environment ] _will be considering assessments of these species in the near future._”
So a close eye will be kept on the outcomes for the black flying-fox following these devastating events.
Additionally, devastating heat-stress events struck Melbourne and Adelaide in particular, killing scores of thousands of flying-foxes. These events were widespread across the country during an extremely hot and dry summer and disturbing reports like these (https://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/animals/flying-foxes-are-dying-en-masse-in-australias-extreme-heat.aspx) are becoming commonplace.
With all this habitat destruction and extreme climatic conditions, our great Australian bush relies more than ever on the pollination of flying-foxes. Arboreal mammals like greater gliders and koalas are reported to have lost up to 30% of their habitat. These species are solely reliant on those that pollinate Eucalypt forests, flying-foxes, for both their food and shelter.
Orphan and rescue update
With the destructive conditions mentioned above, many young flying-foxes were orphaned and require hand-rearing by dedicated bat carers. Numerous other weak, adult flying-foxes were brought into care suffering injuries from barbed wire, electrocution, vehicle strikes and domestic animal attacks as they did not have enough strength to fly high enough out of harm’s way or were in unusual locations in search of food.
This has had a remarkable strain on wildlife carers and more broadly, ecosystem health. For instance, in the 2018/19 financial year, Bat Rescue Inc. rescued nearly 600 flying-foxes across SEQ! Of those, we’re proud to share that 66% fully recovered and were released back into the wild.
However, many Queensland carers have also taken in overflow flying-foxes from NSW carers that are over-capacity.
Although they are overwhelmed at this stage, if you do come across an injured or deceased flying-fox, please DO NOT try to help them yourself or handle in any way. Call the RSPCA on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625) so that a trained and vaccinated rescuer can come and take care of it.
Bioacoustic monitoring on Land for Wildlife properties
Land for Wildlife has initiated a bioacoustics monitoring program for bats across the Sunshine Coast. A small group of landholders were trained in the use of bat acoustic detectors and loaned ‘echo meters’, by council, to survey the echolocating bats (microbats) on their property.
As most microbats register calls that are higher than human hearing range, echo meters record the sound and catalogue their distinct ‘signature.’ The shape and frequency of these signatures can then be used to identify the species.
Some species of echolocating bats are known as ‘bio-indicators’, meaning their presence is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. Using this method is another way in which Conservation Partnership Officers can track the success of ecological restoration activities.
6th Annual Australasian Bat Night
“Daddy, Daddy! Look, it’s Frankie!” yelled an excited child dragging his father towards our mascot Frankie the flying-fox. The proud Dad smiled and said, “We just HAD to come tonight. He hasn’t stopped talking about Frankie the flying-fox since last year!”
These were the scenes from last year’s Bat Night, a much anticipated event on the environmental education calendar.
You too can join Frankie for some fun by coming along to the 6th Annual Australasian Bat Night. Planning is still underway for this popular event, so stay tuned and book in quickly once details are announced to avoid missing out.
Like her friends, council’s Frankie is very busy flying and pollinating across the country and has been visiting several new places over spring and summer.
In September, Frankie snuck down to the nation’s capital and had a feed on all the wonderful flowers at the Floriade festival. She was then spotted foraging near the ‘Funky Forest’ at the Caloundra Music Festival over the October long weekend. After making an appearance at the ‘Creatures of the Night’ Bat Night on Halloween, she flew back down to Tamworth to help with their inaugural Bat Night. Keen onlookers will also have seen her up late and bringing in the New Year (because she’s nocturnal of course) at the Mooloolaba Fireworks.
If you see Frankie out and about, please take a photo and share your story using the hashtag #frankietheflyingfox.
Les Hall Young Conservationist Award
Thank you to all who submitted nominations for the inaugural year of the Les Hall Young Conservationist Award. Applications received were of an extremely high calibre and judging will be highly competitive.
The Les Hall Young Conservationist Award is about recognising and encouraging future generations of conservationists to achieve on-ground results across the Sunshine Coast.
Well done and good luck to all the nominees. The winner will be announced during the WEDfest event on Saturday 6 June.