A song meter survey trial to find the elusive Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus) in North-central Victoria has been a resounding success.

Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) Natural Environment Program Officer, Bec James, said breeding females were recorded calling at 19 sites across Victoria’s Northern Plains.

“Of the 19 sites, seven of them were already known to have birds in the area and six of them, according to our records, hadn’t had Plains-wanderers living there for three to eight years.

“The most exciting result for us was that at six of the sites we recorded, Plains-wanderers had never been seen there before,” Ms James said.

Victoria Plains-wanderer Operation Group’s Dr David Baker–Gabb said he installed 40 song meters across 13 sites on private and public land in September 2017 and collected the data in January 2018.

“The data were then analysed and a computer-based Plains-wanderer call recogniser was developed by Dr Karen Rowe of Museums of Victoria and David Bryant from the Arthur Rylah Institute.

“With the call recogniser, we were delighted to find that six of the 19 active sites had recordings of two calling female Plains-wanderers.

“Monitoring has been taking place in north-central Victoria since 2010 and sadly there has been a massive decline since then.  

“In the vehicle-based nocturnal monitoring surveys completed over the past three years, we only found Plains-wanderers in two to four of the 20 paddocks routinely searched. This year we found them in ten of the 20 paddocks meaning there has been a regional population recovery to levels found before the 2011 population crash, which is very gratifying.

“By using song meters many more sites can be monitored for more days with less effort and cost than by using vehicles.

“The song meters will be able to find sites occupied by breeding birds so they can then be avoided during captive-bred bird releases and in paddocks where they are preparing to breed.  

“With early identification of the birds, it will allow time for discussions with land managers about how to minimise the disturbance on their land while the birds breed.

“Our next steps will be refining the best times of the day and night to record calls and work out how to stop other birds from pecking holes in the wind socks covering the microphones,” Dr Baker-Gabb said.

The song meter survey work is funded with the support of the Victorian Government and the nocturnal monitoring was supported by funding from the Commonwealth Government.

The Plains-wanderer is listed as Threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and listed as Critically Endangered under the Commonwealth Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.