A long-running project to re-establish habitat for the rare Regent Honeyeater is showing positive results, thanks to dedication of volunteers and community members over the past 21 years.
Volunteers from Birdlife Australia and Taronga Zoo, as well as local residents and landowners gather in May and August every year to plant trees for the Regent Honeyeater and other threatened bird species.
Now, Regent Honeyeaters have been officially recorded for the first time on one of the earlier planted sites.
Birdlife Southern NSW volunteer and tree planting co-ordinator Iain Paterson, was part of the committee which began the project in 1994.
“Birdlife Australia had set up a branch in Sydney and were looking for a project to be involved in, in a practical sense,” he said.
“Capertee Valley was already known to be an important area for the Regent Honey eater, so we thought that something in the Capertee Valley would be good.”
The group’s first plantings were on blocks as small as 1 hectare, but the size of the project has grown each year.
On Saturday, volunteers planted approximately 3000 trees on a 6 hectare site at Crown Station Road, bringing the total number of trees planted to around 114,000.
Mr Paterson said all the trees planted over the past 21 years have been established on privately owned land.
Only trees and shrubs which are naturally found in the Capertee Valley are planted, with the main species being Mugga Ironbark, Yellow Box and White Box, all nectar producing trees preferred by the Regent Honey Eater.
The seedlings are grown from locally collected seed propagated at Della Libera nursery in the Capertee Valley.
Mr Paterson said it takes 10 to 15 years before a tree is big enough to provide food for Regent Honeyeaters, which prefer mature trees.
However, surveys of the earlier sites planted have found at least 68 different species of birds are using the trees, including six endangered species.
Incidental benefits of the tree planting include helping to control salinity and erosion.
The weekends are a boost for local tourism, with most of the visitors staying in the valley for the weekend
Mr Paterson said the project had benefited the local community also, with the Glen Alice Hall using the Saturday night dinner as a fundraiser.
Children from the Glen Alice School lent a hand with tree planting on Saturday and NSW Land Rover Club provided the vehicles and drivers to carry water to the newly planted trees.
At 82 years of age, Dick Turner, is the oldest volunteer and has been part of the project since it began.
“I came out with aerial photographs and identified 15 localities in the valley which I though would have Regent Honeyeaters,” he said. “We still observe some of those places.”
Mr Turner chooses the locations for planting sites and oversees the type and location of trees and shrubs planted to ensure there is a mix of larger trees and understorey plants.
Mr Turner said although the 21-year project had been a big commitment, it had not been hard to attract volunteers, thanks partly to the spectacular scenery of the Capertee Valley.
“People ask me ‘Can I come again?” he said.
Community has role in conservation program
Birdlife Australia is working with the Regent Honeyeater Recovery Team and Taronga Zoo to rebuild Regent Honeyeater numbers in eastern NSW.
Regent Honeyeaters were once found from Adelaide through south-eastern Australia to 100km north of Brisbane.
The species is now most regularly seen in the Capertee Valley and as far south as Chiltern in Victoria.
As the birds as widely dispersed, it is difficult to estimate numbers.
However, Birdlife Australia Woodland Bird Program Manager and Regent Honeyeater recovery co-ordinator Dean Ingwersen said close to 700 birds had been banded as part of the recovery program.
Regent Honeyeaters had been seen close to Mudgee and sightings were recently reported near Dubbo, he said.
Mr Ingwersen said although Regent Honeyeaters do not follow a regular migratory patterns, they fly to areas like Capertee Valley – known as a “rich nomad patch” - where the nectar rich plants they feed on can be found.
“A bird that we banded in Gippsland turned up here 20 months later having travelled 580km in a straight line,” he said.
Mr Ingwersen said the Capertee Valley is considered to be the most regularly used breeding place for the Regent Honeyeater.
As well as re-establishing habitat for the birds through tree planting, the recovery project is working with landholders to preserve remnant vegetation.
Around half a dozen landowners have entered into voluntary covenants which protect key vegetation in perpetuity, Mr Ingwersen said.
Taronga Zoo is also assisting with the project, by releasing captive bred birds into the wild in Chiltern.
The zoo is planning its largest release of up to 70 birds, in 2015.
Mr Ingwersen said the community education and involvement is an important part of the project, as the recovery groups relies on landholders and birdwatchers to report sightings.
Woodlands Birds for Biodiversity NSW Project Manager Mick Roderick said in the near future, Birdlife Australia plans to conduct one-on-one education sessions with landholders to help them to identify Regent Honeyeaters on their properties.