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, 6 January 2019

Red Goshawk nest tree pruned as research shows endangered bird flies vast distance

Red Goshawk on Cape York (Image by John Young)
Queensland Government officers studying the endangered Red Goshawk on Cape York lopped the limbs off a nesting tree while a bird was sitting on eggs to improve photographic opportunities. The claim was made as it was revealed radio-tracking has demonstrated that the Red Goshawk will fly considerable distances and across large bodies of water.

It was reported last month that the state Department of Environment and Science (DES) had effectively handed over responsibility for Red Goshawk research on Cape York to international mining giant Rio Tinto. The research involves catching nesting Red Goshawks in bow nets and fitting them with tracking devices on the company's bauxite and aluminium leases. Rio Tinto holds leases over 380,000 hectares of Cape York and is strip-mining extensive areas of tropical savannah woodland – the preferred habitat of the Red Goshawk.

Birding enthusiast David Milson says that when he lived in Weipa in 2015, he discovered the first Red Goshawk nest on Rio Tinto leases. The finding was reported to authorities and the then Department of Environment and Heritage Protection called in an arborist to lop several large limbs from the tree, where a female goshawk was sitting on eggs.

At the time, workers climbed the tree to fit two cameras to photograph and film the birds. Milson says he confronted departmental officers about what he regarded as unnecessary and risky intrusions: “I could not believe that here is this rare bird sitting on a nest, and here they are lopping off big branches all around the nest so they can get better pictures. Then they've got guys climbing up the tree to set the cameras up. It was beyond comprehension that they were doing it.”

Rio Tinto's strip-mining on Cape York
While living in Weipa, Milson learned of early results from the research program. A female fledgling that was caught and tagged was found to have flown 250 kilometres south from Weipa to the Edward River near the Aboriginal community of Pormpuraaw. The bird flew across Albatross Bay, a large expanse of water in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Signals from the transmitter stopped abruptly soon after the bird's arrival near Pormpuraaw. If confirmed by as yet unpublished data, this would be the longest recorded movement by a Red Goshawk, and likely the first instance of one flying over large expanses of water.

The DES and Rio Tinto refuse to say how many birds have been or will be caught and tagged under the program. The DES said in response to a series of questions about the program: “We've confirmed that you need to address these questions to Rio Tino, as the project leader.” Rio Tinto did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

However, the program was defended by Red Goshawk Recovery Team member Steve Debus, who has undertaken research funded by Rio Tinto in the past. In a post on chatline Birding-Aus, Debus says: “The original RAOU Red Goshawk project in the ’80s got some invaluable data on a pair of Red Goshawks that were caught and radio-tracked (female in the breeding season, 2 young fledged) and they bred in the following season after they had shed their transmitters. The Weipa study is funded by RioTinto but the work is conducted by expert raptor ecologists... notably Dr Richard Seaton. He has extensive experience radio-tracking raptors. The project is overseen by the Red Goshawk Recovery Team, and the team is privy to preliminary key data on female home range and juvenile dispersal.”

Referring to researchers losing track of birds netted under the program, and claims that goshawks could die as a result of the devices, Debus says: “Transmitters can fail or fall off, so ‘disappearance’ could be a signal issue rather than goshawk death. Raptors are quite robust... The recovery team is meeting in January, so we will undoubtedly be discussing the issues raised as well as data. The data will be published in due course. The study arose from Rio Tinto’s obligation to assess and minimise impact on a federally listed species.”

Debus dismissed critics of the research program as “trolls... going about half-cocked without knowing the facts”.

This prompted a response from North Queensland birding guide David Crawford: “It might be fine for you to accuse some of the concerned public as going off half-cocked about the latest Red Goshawk debacle… I agree that transmitters can fall off but I also believe that death is possible, if not likely, and one death or failed nesting due to disturbance is one too many.”

Debus responded by saying that the satellite transmitters fitted to goshawks would “give much better data in a proposed mining area so the researchers can identify key Red Goshawk areas and aspects of the birds’ ecology, so as to better understand and conserve them”.

1 comment:

  1. Good on ya David I was hoping you would get onboard with your observations.

    Chook Crawford