August 22, 2018

Where are all the eagles?

In the great wide world of wildlife, nothing in Tasmania compares with the sight of wedge-tailed eagles riding the thermals. They are truly awe-inspiring, with majestic statistics to match. The “wedgie” is the fourth biggest eagle in the world and the distinctive Tasmanian sub-species is the biggest found on the Australian continent. 

But the statistics related to the size and power of the eagles are matched by those that refer to its dwindling status.

Although the eagle might be familiar to all of us – I receive more reports of eagle sighting than any other bird – the species is in fact threatened and declining in Tasmania, with numbers put at fewer than 1000.

Eagle conservation has traditionally been in the hands of the state government wildlife authorities and a few individuals – like Craig Webb at the Raptor and Wildlife Refuge at Kettering – but now an initiative has been launched to involve the public in general, especially schoolchildren.

This project, called Where Where Wedgie, aims to share the joy and science of Tasmania’s birds of prey, with emphasis on the wedge-tailed eagle, culminating in a survey of these species at the end of May.

And last month the Bookend Trust, a not-for-profit organisation founded in Tasmania in 2008  inspire people of all ages and abilities to develop careers and interest in the environment, launched a Pozible crowd-funding campaign to ensure that their new project could include the whole community.

Tasmanians of all ages are  invited to participate in the Where Where Wedgie survey, to obtain baseline data on how this threatened species is tracking.

Survey success depends on inspiring enough people to train up and participate.

Tasmania’s Department of Education is funding the schools component of Where Where Wedgie, but the Bookend Trust is still seeking financial support to run community workshops and other training and promotional resources.

“For the general public, these workshops are the human side of the project,’’ said Clare Hawkins, threatened species zoologist and citizen science coordinator for the Bookend Trust. “We’re building some wonderful resources online to enthuse potential participants, explain the survey methods and get everyone’s skills up – but nothing beats talking it over face to face.’’

The Trust is hoping to raise $20,000, which would enable it to deliver at least 18 workshops across the state.

Dr Hawkins explained: “The survey methods are simple, but it’s really helpful to be able to discuss and demonstrate them in person, and also to bring together everyone who might be interested. These workshops will provide a chance for people to share their experiences of wedge-tailed eagles and other birds of prey, to learn from each other and to form a bit of a team across their local area.’’

Where Where Wedgie’s citizen science survey is a new approach and Dr Hawkins is hoping that the project will enable Tasmanians to obtain high quality, up-to-date information on the state of their eagles and other birds of prey. If the work goes well, the survey will become an annual event.

Pozible campaign: https://pozible.com/project/where-where-wedgie-for-grown-ups

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