New grasswren populations found in Gawler Ranges

POPULATIONS: The Gawler Ranges subspecies of Short-tailed Grasswrens is one of only two subspecies of Short-tailed Grasswrens. Picture: Supplied.
POPULATIONS: The Gawler Ranges subspecies of Short-tailed Grasswrens is one of only two subspecies of Short-tailed Grasswrens. Picture: Supplied.

New populations of the endangered short-tailed grasswren, a Gawler Ranges subspecies, were found in the Gawler Ranges during a recent survey of the area.

To monitor how the species is tracking, staff from Natural Resources SA Arid Lands, volunteers and local community members spent a week surveying known habitat sites as well as new sites in the Gawler Ranges National Park and surrounding stations of Thurlga, Yardea, Mount Ive and Kolendo, as well as Nature Foundation’s Hiltaba Nature Reserve.

Figures from the 2017 survey were compared with results from a Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources survey in 2005 conducted by Graham Carpenter, who returned to assist with the 2017 survey.  

Grasswrens are elusive and restricted to rocky hilltops dominated by spinifex grassland. 

They forage mostly on the ground and fire and grazing are the most immediate threats to the species, which has an estimated total population of about 900 mature individuals.

In the original survey of 51 sites in 2005, 19 were detected as having populations of short-tailed grasswrens but due to a fire in 2011, many of the original 19 sites showed no evidence of grasswrens in the recent survey.

Community ecologist Catherine Lynch said while it was disappointing it appeared some of the populations were no longer present at previously identified sites, the results from the survey were still positive.

“Of the 57 sites surveyed, we did detect grasswrens at 20 of those sites with a number of new sites located,” Ms Lynch said.  

“It was pleasing as there were real concerns about whether the grasswrens were still present in the area following the fire.”

From this survey, funded by the SA Arid Lands Natural Resource Management board and the National Landcare Program, Ms Lynch said a greater understanding had been gained about the habitat requirements of short-tailed grasswrens and the differences between where they were and were not, with particular fire and grazing regimes a factor.

It was also valuable to see how fox baiting undertaken in the national park as part of the Bounceback program has benefited the short-tailed grasswren.

The short-tailed grasswren (Gawler Ranges) is one of only two subspecies of short-tailed grasswrens with the other subspecies found in the Flinders Ranges.