In the bushy residential area of Warrandyte on the borders of Melbourne, a little group of researchers are searching a pine forest for proof of Australia’s greatest owl — the powerful owl.
One researcher has his eyes locked on the greatest branches, attempting to find an owl amongst the pine cones.
Others look for inform-tale splashes of white owl poo around the tree trunks, brown chevron-patterned plumes, and the grey swellings of fluff and bones that are their regurgitated pellets.
Powerful owls can be identified throughout south-eastern Australia’s forests and forests, but a few of them have made a house in suburbia.
Although they do not find any owls in the canopy, ecologist John White and PhD trainee Nick Bradsworth from Deakin University are encouraged by the ground-level proof that the birds are around here someplace.
“We better get the net set up,” Mr Bradsworth states.
The strategy is to capture an owl and connect a tracking gadget to it. This will assist the researchers comprehend how these splendid birds endure in a landscape fragmented by homes, roadways and loud human beings.
Capturing a predator
With its bone-squashing talons and substantial yellow eyes, the powerful owl is a powerful predator.
And weighing in at around 1.5 kgs, capturing one isn’t simple.
Standing in a dried drain channel at the base of the pine forest, Dr White intends a weapon at the greatest branches of a neighboring eucalypt.
“We do get some pretty weird looks when we walk into urban reserves with all this gear,” Mr Bradsworth states, “but John is actually firing fishing line into the canopy, which we will use to position the net.”
Once the internet is in location in between 2 trees it’s about 12 metres throughout and 8 metres high. A light breeze triggers the middle to bulge out like a ship’s sail.
“We try to cover off the canopy as best as we can, because the owls move through the canopy to hunt for prey. So if we can get the net to that height they are unlikely to go over the top,” Mr Bradsworth states.
The owls begin to move from their roost around sunset, so the researchers have to attract their attention prior to they fly off to hunt for the night.
Powerful owls are really territorial. As quickly as they’re tossed out of their moms and dads’ area as juveniles, they’re off to discover a spot of their own — or pair with an owl that’s currently developed an area.
One method to motivate the owls towards the internet is to make them believe they have a trespasser, which they will then come and examine.
“We’ll play a sequence of owl calls for a while, alert them to our presence and then hopefully their first flight of the night is in our direction,” Dr White states.
They likewise play chick calls into the bush.
These owls mate for life, raising 2 chicks every year.
The last thing a set of grownups desire is their one-year-old chicks from in 2015’s reproducing season plaguing them.
“The chicks are pretty demanding, flying around squealing at their parents trying to get some possum off them,” he stated.
As the ‘hoots’ and chick ‘trills’ travel up into the pine forest, the researchers can just see and wait.
The chick call is all of a sudden echoed back to us. These chicks have not been tossed out by their moms and dads right now.
Then there is a remote, low hoot.
“Yep, it’s definitely an adult,” Mr Bradsworth states. Another soft hoot filters through the trees, and Dr White hears it too.
“It’s a male,” he states.
In a matter of minutes 2 looming shadows appear in trees on either side of the internet — the resident adult set are here.
“We’re playing the calls nice and quiet now because the owls are so close,” states Mr Bradsworth.
Lastly, the female owl flies into the internet. Mr Bradsworth runs forward to capture her prior to she strikes the ground as the internet is reduced.
The very first task is to get a beanie over the owl’s head to soothe her down and cover her huge beak.
A percentage of whispered swearing follows as they attempt to untangle her substantial talons from the internet.
Once the owl is without the internet, Dr White positions himself in an outdoor camping chair and holds the owl out so Mr Bradsworth can connect the GPS tracker.
“They’re a huge bird.”
Mr Bradsworth discovers her 2 longest main tail plumes, and glues the little tracking system to the top of them.
An environmental trap
Powerful owls require 3 things to live in a location: a tree to roost in, a tree to nest in, and adequate food to consume, according to wildlife ecologist Raylene Cooke from Deakin University, who leads the powerful owl research study group.
Roost trees and food — mainly possums — are not an issue in Melbourne, but they need a nesting tree with a hollow that is at least one metre in depth to fit mum and 2 chicks, which’s more difficult to come by.
“The only ones staying are along our waterways and river banks.
“They are an important component for powerful owls’ survival, so it’s actually essential we can keep those trees as best as we can.”
And this is where the metropolitan powerful owls can enter difficulty — there simply aren’t enough of those nesting trees.
“They pair with a mate for life, so as soon as they are holding down an area it’s not likely they will up and relocate to elsewhere even if there isn’t an appropriate nesting tree,” Dr Cooke states.
“They have actually gone in believing that they have actually got food and environment, but then they can’t reproduce. It’s an environmental trap.”
The closest recognized reproducing to Melbourne city is around 20 kilometres out, so while there are some birds roosting in some central city parks they most likely aren’t reproducing.
Even when owls are reproducing, the method they utilize the landscape implies it might end up being harder for them to live a city way of life, states Dr White.
“When we look at the tracks they make through the landscape, we know they use a few different patches of forest that are seemingly disconnected except for a thin strip of trees along river systems,” he states.
“And then they use those strips to join the dots between patches.”
If the green passages agreement more to give way for advancement, the owls might no longer be able to connect the pieces of excellent environment that stay.
“I suspect what will happen is the amount of habitat will start to dwindle to a point where they can’t connect up the bits, or it will drop below a threshold and they may well just naturally die out of those areas,” Dr White states.
“The minute the real estate density gets too expensive, and the tree density slopes, the owls go.
Once they have actually heard the comforting ‘beep beep’ of the radio transmitter element of the tracker, it’s time to launch the owl.
The beanie is really gradually eliminated from her head — and she introduces out of Mr Bradsworth’s hands.
For a minute the only noise is the air being thumped by her substantial wings as flies to a neighboring perch, and after that Dr White laughes, showing he’s caught the ideal action shot of the release.
She remains in the tree for a while, choosing at her plumes to straighten them over the tracker.
“She’ll go off and forage for the remainder of the night, and perhaps meet the male once again,” Mr Bradsworth states.