My investment in a modest Bruny Island property appears to be paying dividends.
The property might be small without “mod cons” but the tenants occupying it are more than happy. No sooner had they moved in to Box 10, Waterview Hill on North Bruny, they decided to start a family and already I have gone from landlord to de facto grandparent, eagerly awaiting the chance to see the offspring.
The one-bedroomed shack might be small but it nestles in what an estate agent would describe as a panoramic, woodland location.
It is surrounded by white gums, just the sort of neighbourhood in which my tenants, a pair of forty-spotted pardalotes might feel at home.
Earlier this year I invested $25 to finance the construction of a nesting box as part of a program aimed at halting a disturbing decline in forty-spot numbers. The leader of the research project, Amanda Edworthy, a PhD student at the Australian National University, commissioned the men of the BrunyIsland shed to construct 240 of the boxes so that she and her fellow researchers could study the breeding behaviour of the endangered pardalotes more closely.
Sponsors were invited to fund the boxes, quite a number of them coming from Mercury readers after I wrote about the program earlier in the year. Already the initiative, dare I say it, has got off to a flying start.
It’s a little early in the season to measure its total impact on numbers but soon after my sponsored box was placed in a white gum a pair of forty-spots took up residence. It was the fourth box to be used.
I had planned to monitor the box in person but other commitments had made it difficult for me to get over to BrunyIsland at the start of the breeding season, so Amanda kept me informed.
Amanda, from Canada, is being aided by her brother James among other researchers and it was he who discovered that Box 10 had tenants. James found that the nest had three eggs shortly after it was put in place and a short time later this had grown to five. Amanda reported that the male and female forty-spots were both incubating the eggs.
“The male and female take turns keeping the eggs warm ? or cool on hot days,” she reported, saying the pair switched places about every 20 minutes or so.
The last I heard the eggs were about to hatch.
Numbers of forty-spotted pardalotes have been in freefall in recent years, dropping by about 60 per cent, and the total population now stands at between 1200 and 1500 birds.
A lack of nesting hollows in white gums – trees suffering dieback in recent years because of drought – had been thought previously to be the main reason for the pardalote population collapse but Ms Edworthy is already discovering other problems facing the birds, including mortality among chicks caused by parasites infesting nests.
She visited BrunyIsland last summer for the first of three field seasons and found that more than half of the forty-spot nestlings were either eaten by predators or killed by screw-worm fly parasites. This year she has been using a natural insect repellent to reduce the number of fly parasites but is uncertain whether this will work. Amanda is also installing cameras this year to identify predators.
The forty-spot – one of the smallest Australian species – is endemic to Tasmania.
I hope that Box 10 plays its part in ensuring the forty-spotted pardalote has a future and I can’t wait to get over to Bruny to see a new generation of these beautiful little birds take flight.