Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Endangered Red Goshawks netted and tagged during nesting season

Red Goshawk on Cape York (Image by John Young)

The Queensland Labor Government has handed responsibility for a controversial program that nets and tags the endangered Red Goshawk on Queensland's Cape York Peninsula to international mining giant Rio Tinto. The goshawks are caught and tagged during their nesting season.

A Red Goshawk caught near its nest near Weipa in a bow net and fitted with a GPS satellite transmitter in a harness disappeared three months later. The then Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection told north Queensland blogger Tony Nielson in February 2017 that a month after the adult female disappeared, its female fledgling was also netted and fitted with a tracking device; the movements of that bird were being tracked 12 months later.

Queensland Environment Department & Rio Tinto personnel with captured juvenile Red Goshawk
Netting and tagging can provide valuable information about the movements of migratory waders and other birds, but such programs should be conducted in moderation and with great care. An important shorebird roost at Toorbul in South-East Queensland, for instance, was deserted for a considerable time after cannon netting of the birds late last year. A critically endangered Night Parrot disappeared after being caught and fitted with a tracking device in Western Australia in August 2017; its mate vanished soon after. Authorities had made no attempt to estimate Night Parrot numbers at the site before the bird was caught.

At least four Red Goshawks have been caught and tagged on mining leases held by Rio Tinto in the Weipa-Aurukun region of Cape York. The leases span 380,000 hectares – a vast area of savannah woodland that the company boasts is 5.5 times the size of Singapore. Rio Tinto has signalled that more birds will be caught in co-operation with the Queensland Department of Environment and Science and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. The AWC owns Piccaninny Plains, a Cape York reserve described by the organisation as an “important stronghold” for the species.

Red Goshawk on Cape York (Image by John Young)
In a statement in October, Rio Tinto's Weipa Operations general manager, Daniel van der Westhuizen, said that in co-operation with the Queensland Government, the company had been able to refine its tracking and trapping techniques for the Red Goshawk over three years. The capture of birds and fitting them with transmitters had provided “invaluable information” on their movements. No details of that information have surfaced.

Rio Tinto declined to respond to a series of questions I put to the company about the program. Rio Tinto exports 33 million tonnes of bauxite a year from its Cape York leases. A Red Goshawk nest was first detected on a Rio Tinto mining lease in 2015, near Mapoon. Environmental activists have long argued that the company's strip-mining has grave environmental consequences. The Wilderness Society claimed that Rio Tinto's South of Embley bauxite mine, for instance, would have “enormous environmental impacts from total forest destruction, to fundamental disruption of hydrology, to threatening rare species”.

Rio Tinto's Cape York bauxite mining
North Queensland birding guide David Crawford says he is concerned that goshawks are being captured during the nesting season. Crawford claims he was contacted last year by somebody associated with the Red Goshawk Recovery Plan seeking information about nest sites, which he refused to provide.

Says Crawford: “To research something is one thing but to disturb such a rare bird with low populations in the middle of the breeding season is barbaric. The ethics people who authorise this behaviour need to be thoroughly looked at. How is this majestic bird going to struggle to survive with a tracker pack and a 200mm aerial sticking out between its shoulder blades? When contacted about birds and chicks they put trackers on, they say they have proof the data is there on the movement of these birds but it has never been released to the public. Is the science working or are the birds with trackers on dead?”

Another North Queensland naturalist, who asked not to be identified, says he has learned that live Rainbow Lorikeets are tethered to the ground to lure the goshawks so they can be trapped by bow nets. Bow nets are often used to catch raptors: a lure animal is secured on the ground within reach of a spring-loaded bow-shaped net that is set off as the target approaches the bait. It is possible that if the target attempted to fly as the net was sprung, it could be injured or killed.

Red-tailed Hawk caught in a bow net in the U.S.
Red Goshawks are presumably netted during the nesting season because they would be widely dispersed and difficult to catch at other times of the year. When I put a series of questions to the Department of Environment and Science about the program, a departmental spokesperson replied: “I have been informed this project is funded and lead by Rio Tinto. All questions can be directed to them.” (As mentioned above, the company refused to comment.)

Pressed on whether the state Environment Minister, Leeanne Enoch, was aware her department had handed over responsibility for managing endangered species research to a mining company, the spokeperson added: “The Red Goshawk research project is an example of a partnership to provide better understanding of a threatened species. Rio Tinto is carrying out the research project, with technical support and advice from DES. The company has a permit issued by DES and a memorandum of understanding with DES, and has obtained animal ethics approval.”

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Sunshine Coast Pelagic December 2018

Brown Booby

We departed Mooloolaba Marina at 6.30am on Wednesday December 12, 2018 under clear skies, negotiating a gentle swell as we headed east. The trip had been postponed due to rough weather from Sunday December 9. We saw a few Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and a Flesh-footed Shearwater on the way out. A small flock of Common Terns flew by as well as a Sooty Tern in relatively shallow water before we reached the shelf at 9am. We began laying a berley trail in 340 metres, 32 nautical miles offshore: 26.38.127S; 153.43.577E.

Common Tern
We drifted slowly in a south-westerly direction, trialling our latest berley mix of diced chicken skins, some fish offcuts that had been smashed up pretty thoroughly, and an abundance of tuna oil. We had a good slick with floating berley all day, but birds were few and far between. The forecast easterly of 10-15 knots did not materialise; instead we had barely a breeze the whole time we were out wide, the wind picking up a little on the way back in.

Tahiti Petrel
We had the odd Tahiti Petrel checking us out and a smattering of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters along with the odd Flesh-footed Shearwater, a single Short-tailed Shearwater and a couple of Sooty Terns. We also had a nice if somewhat distant pod of feeding Short-finned Pilot Whales. We turned around at 12.30pm to allow a bit of time to search closer to shore.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater

Short-tailed Shearwater
We threw out a bit more berley on the Barwon Banks and stopped at a couple of spots closer in. A Brown Booby flew by and small numbers of Common Tern, Little Tern and White-winged Tern were seen, along with a couple more Short-tailed Shearwaters.

White-winged Tern

PARTICIPANTS: Paul Beer (skipper), Cory Spring (deckhand), Greg Roberts (organiser), Margie Baker, Louis Backstrom, Tony Baker, Sarah Bevis, Rob Collins,  Phil Cross,  Michael Daley, Robin Duff,  Richard Fuller, Geoff Glare, Simon Husher, Mary Hynes, Bob James, Rob Kernot, Elliot Leach, James Martin, Sean Nolan, Tina Rider, Carolyn Scott, Jamie Walker.

BIRDS: Total (Max at one Time)

Tahiti Petrel 10 (2)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 70 (15)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 4 (1)
Short-tailed Shearwater 3 (1)
Brown Booby 1
Crested Tern 120 (40)
Little Tern 2 (2)
White-winged Tern 6 (4)
Common Tern 25 (8)
Sooty Tern 5 (2)

Short-finned Pilot Whale 8 (3)