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Battling for the Bittern with the Robinson Crusoe Island project

A comprehensive body of work has been implemented in Lake Cargelligo to protect the Australasian Bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus); an iconic Australian bird species under threat.

Funding from Catchment Action NSW has meant Local Land Services, the Robinson Crusoe Island Reserve Trust Group volunteers and other local landholders could work together on a range of practical initiatives to protect the habitat of the threatened species.

The project focused on reducing threats to the Australasian Bittern by improving its habitat and controlling feral pests including pigs, cats and foxes that are known to prey on the chicks and eggs, said Land Services Officer Libby McIntyre.

“The Battling for the Bittern project was launched to support the Australasian Bittern on Lake Cargelligo’s Robinson Crusoe Island and surrounding wetland areas,” Ms McIntyre said.

“The island and surrounding wetland fringes provide critical permanent freshwater habitat for wetland, nomadic and migratory birds, including the Australasian Bittern.

“These birds require large, relatively undisturbed freshwater wetlands where they breed in densely vegetated reedbeds with sedges, rushes, cumbungi or the common native reed phragmites.”

The nationally endangered Australasian Bittern, also known as the bunyip bird, has a special place in Australian folklore.

“The male bird’s call is an eerie booming sound and thought to be the origin of the mythical bunyip that lived in creeks, swamps and waterholes,” Ms McIntyre said.

“Unfortunately its numbers have dwindled as this iconic native bird’s habitat has been degraded — there are thought to be less than 1,000 birds left in the wild.

“Threats such as land clearing, increasing pest animal numbers, overgrazing, habitat disconnection, invasive weeds and low public awareness have all taken their toll.”

Contractors were engaged to carry out weed and pest animal control on the island and also a trapping and ground shooting program on a number of private properties surrounding the Lake.

President of the Robinson Crusoe Island Reserve Land Manager Group, Peter Skipworth, was pleased to see the project come together.

“We’re very happy with all the work completed on the island, the contractors were very easy to work with and completed as much as they could in the time available,” Mr Skipworth said.

“I was very happy to have them on my property and they are welcome back any time.”

As followup, the Local Land Services’ biosecurity team supplied neighbouring landholders with pest animal traps, training in their use and trail cameras to target and control pests in the future.

Local Land Services will also be working with the Lake Cargelligo community to improve their knowledge and understanding about this threatened bird.