Manly Vale Public School upgrade threatens local extinction of endangered species

The cover image is copyright of Stephen Mahony and this article is written by Chad Beranek

 

Manly Vale Public school is praised as being an innovative pioneer in regards to teaching their students the importance of the environment and sustainability. One of the reasons this school is able to to achieve such success in this area is because of its location. The school is located next to well kept remnant bushland which forms a linkage to Manly Dam Reserve which has further linkages that reach Garigal National Park and beyond. This unique setting allows students of Manly Vale Public School to immerse with the Australian wilderness and learn about the plants and animals which dwell there. This is a crucially important experience for children to have during their development. This enables them to form an early respect and understanding of the natural heritage of Australia, as well as a toolkit for survival and an early embodiment of adventure and joy of the wilderness.

Despite boasting being one of the few school in Sydney lucky enough to be surrounded by pristine Sydney sandstone woodland and being the forefront in primary education of sustainability, the department of education have decided to expand the school in a very unsustainable manner. Much of the  4.37 hectares of bushland proposed for “removal” will be on Department of Education land including the schools own “nature area”- used to teach generations of children about the environment. Clearing for the Asset Protection Zone requires compulsory acquisition of land into  Condover and Manly Dam Reserves. The latter being a living memorial to those who served in two world wars.

Now lets make this clear, I’m not against the expansion. I want this school to expand so it’s environmental education can reach more students. However, it can expand it’s facilities in a much more sustainable way. In this article I will describe what animals and plants of interest call this bushland-to-be-developed home and the inherent threats these species face.

The threatened Red-crowned Toadlet (Pseudophryne australis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

The threatened Red-crowned Toadlet (Pseudophryne australis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

The threatened Red-crowned Toadlet is the first in line to be completely wiped out from this area if this development proceeds. As I have described in the Backyard Conservation Fact Sheet for this species, the Red-crowned Toadlet is vulnerable to development which occurs on the ridge top above where they live. This is because Red-crowned Toadlets are always found on sandstone slopes in trickling tributaries and soaks. Development which occurs on the ridge top causes altered storm water regimes which always causes surplus of water discharges down these trickles and soaks which end up washing away the nests of these rare frogs.

Red-crowned Toadlets are usually only found in large reserves and national parks, so the fact that they are occurring in this comparatively small tract of bush next to Manly Vale Public School is a testament to how healthy and biodiverse this bush patch is. The proposed expansion of the school sees buildings to be constructed on the ridge above the known Red-crowned Toadlets populations and alarmingly close. These population will unfortunately be entirely extirpated from this bushland if the proposed development proceeds.

Eastern Pigmy Possum (Cercartetus nanus)

As with the Red-crowned Toadlets, the Eastern Pygmy Possum also faces local extinction if the current proposal is allowed to go through. The Eastern Pygmy Possum (the one depicted in the cover photo) is one of the smallest possums in the world and is just an adorable animal. Unfortunately often comes out second best in the face of urban expansion. In the case of Manly Vale, the remnant bushland next to the school appears to contain one of the most urban situated populations, which just further highlights how valuable and diverse this relatively small strip of bushland is. Experts have said that this population appears to be the remnant stronghold for pygmy possums in Manly Vale. Any further encroachment can and will eliminate pygmy possums from this area and surrounding areas.

Powerful Owl chick

Powerful Owl chick. These birds threatened and naturally rare. They are very picky in choosing their nesting hollow. Cutting down a chosen nesting tree will eliminate them from the surrounding landscape.

There are many more animals at threat  from the proposed expansion, including Bandicoots, Edichnas and Wallabies, but I have just touched on the threatened rare species. There has even been Powerful Owls found nesting on site. In addition to the threatened animals that face local extinction, there are also potential for threatened plants occurring on this site which also face annihilation. The plants include the Sunshine Wattle (Acacia terminalis spp. terminalis), Pimelea curviflora var. curviflora, Seaforth Mintbush (Prostanthera marifolia), and  Tetratheca glandulosa. This surprisingly diverse little bush hosts a wide array of many other  plants which once again highlight just how biodiverse it is. Thanks can be given to the hard working bush regeneration volunteers of this area which have labored thousands of hours keeping this bush clean and weed free. Unfortunately the proposed development would see all this work undone.

Sunshine Wattle (Acacia terminalis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2014

Sunshine Wattle (Acacia terminalis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2014

The fact is that there is enough space on school grounds which don’t contain bush to start development there. The proposed bush smashing can be undone with a smarter, more sustainable and less fragmenting development design. Any decrease in the destruction of Sydney sandstone woodland is huge in conserving the nature in Sydney as this biome is constantly under threat because it is situated in the most urbanised area of Australia. This is a very similar to a case to the Spring Gully threat. Both of these land clearances are proposed to be occurring within Sydney sandstone woodland, and in both instances we need to realise that we cannot negotiate the already limited pristine bushland within the Sydney region. There are always smarter and more sustainable ways of achieving development.

Pimelea curvifolia var. glabrata, a close and more common relative of Pimelea curviflora var. curviflora | Copyright Chad Beranek 2014

Pimelea curvifolia var. glabrata, a close and more common relative of Pimelea curviflora var. curviflora | Copyright Chad Beranek 2014

 

Overall we need to understand that we live in an age with an ever expanding population and thus very limited resources. Our strength is being the most intelligent species in the world. We need to use this intelligence and realise that unsustainable destruction of nature will only have negative compounding influences in the future. If the directors of the expansion of Manly Vale Public School can’t wake up and see just how unsustainable and unproductive the proposed development is, they will undo all the good work this school has been striving to achieve in the fronts of sustainability, the environment and the very future of the next generation of innovators and pioneers.




To help out and stay informed please visit, like this page and voice your opinion. Every voice counts, with enough of us we can call out ill-informed bad practices like this and ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for all. You can find out more information on the Wild About blog.

The video below provides more information on this bushland:

Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis)

The eastern yellow robin (Eopsaltria australis) is a small insectivorous bird found common in woodlands along the southern east coast of Australia. These small birds are voracious insect predators and display high attentiveness when hunting. They are often easy to spot as they use a particular technique when hunting, where they sit and perch vertically a meter of two on a shrub and wait for a minute, then with a sudden burst of energy, they dive down and capture an insect in the leaf litter.

I have had experiences working in Western Sydney Parklands where they will bravely dive bomb between my legs if it means catching that insect!

 

Eopsaltria australis

Swooping down to catch an insect | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Swooping down to catch an insect | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Perched, awaiting an insect | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Perched, awaiting an insect | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

The eastern yellow robin has been implicated with gradual decline with increasing land clearance, they are still found in any healthy thick bush areas, however studies have indicated that there range is constricting in the north. They are decreasing in numbers in the northern end of their distribution which is currently around Armidale, where up there, they are considered rare.

 

Release of an Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis) during a uni field trip at Stroud | Copyright Chad Beranek (2012)

Release of an Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis) during a uni field trip at Stroud | Copyright Chad Beranek (2012)

 

Like many of the smaller birds (such as fairy wrens and willie wag tails), the eastern yellow robin is often eliminated from urban areas due to the disturbance and clearance of forest. These smaller birds depend on dense woodland with a thick shrub layer. When a bush becomes to degraded and has the shrub layer removed, these small birds get bullied and harassed by birds which are adapted living in open woodland areas which have a minimal shrub layer (such as the aggressive noisy miners).

To ensure the smaller birds can still manage in urban areas of Sydney, try planting a nice thick shrub plant. Plants such as Hakea sp. and Busaria spinosa are optimal shrub plants for small birds and offer them good opportunities for nesting sites and protection. A bird bath placed next to a shrub and they are surely to move in if they are in the area!

Mining for Gold; Frogs of Quarries

Scattered around Sutherland Shire are small disused quarries. These sites echo with age from a hundred or more years ago when the generations before us were mining out shale and sandstone to build some of the very buildings we use today. During this mining extraction process, holes the the ground were created, cutting into the bed rock. The sandstone bed rock is impermeable and more often than not, these old mining spots become full of water as the mining works usually cut in a pond like shape into the earth.

As an indirect and unforeseen  consequence, these disused quarries have become perfect habitat for frogs. Some of them being large enough to sustain permanent wetlands and other smaller ones become equally as important ephemeral wetlands (A water body which dries up periodically). In fact, in this day and age, ephemeral water bodies may be especially important for frogs, as their periodic drying removes the water born fungal pathogen effecting frogs world wide called ‘chytrid’.

It’s not just frogs that are able to utilize these quarry wetlands. Water birds, snakes and freshwater macroinvertebrates are able to live and breed in these habitats. A good example of these habitats are the many sand mining quarries found along the stretch of Greenhills near Cronulla, which reach out patchily to Kurnell. There are many smaller disused quarries found scattered throughout the Royal National Park.

A few nights ago, I went to investigate how much diversity of frogs one of these artificially created wetlands harbor and I was astounded and very impressed to hear and see at least 9 species.

 

The Quarry

The Quarry

 

The first noise I heard as I approached the wetland was clicking of the Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera) which you are likely to hear almost all year round in any pool of water, whether its a puddle or a wetland. The next noise I heard was unfamiliar to me at first. It sounded reminiscent of a ducks ‘quack’ but It sounded frog like to me. I followed my ears to locate one and It turned up being the Wallum Rocket Frog (Litoria freycineti). It was exciting to hear them calling in such numbers (around 20 at least) as they usually begin calling in November, so a few weeks early.

 

Wallum Rcoket Frog (Litoria freycineti) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Wallum Rcoket Frog (Litoria freycineti) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Wallum Rocket Frog (Litoria freycineti) | Chad Beranek (2014)

Wallum Rocket Frog (Litoria freycineti) | Chad Beranek (2014)

Common Eastern Froglet compared to a Wallum Rocket Frog

Common Eastern Froglet compared to a Wallum Rocket Frog

 

I did note that the water in this particular wetland was very warm and could be an explanation for the early arrival of the Wallum Rocket Frog. It could also explain the abundance of metamorphling frogs literally jumping every where. From tiny 5 mm Common Eastern Froglet metamorph, to larger Striped Marsh Frog metamorphs. In warm water the growth and development of the tadpole is spend up which is an adaptation to avoid being stuck in a water body that is destined to dry up.

 

Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Metamorph Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Metamorph Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

 

The next noise that became apparent to me (which were also in very high abundance, approximately 30+ calling individuals), were the Smooth Toadlets (Uperoleia laevigata). These small frogs make a dull ‘arrrkkk’ sound, calling terrestrially, sometimes quite a distance from the water.

 

Smooth Toadlet calling from leaf litter | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Smooth Toadlet calling from leaf litter | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Smooth Toadlet (Uperoleia laevigata) | Chad Beranek (2014)

Smooth Toadlet (Uperoleia laevigata) | Chad Beranek (2014)

 

After listening carefully I started to tune into the frequencies of some tree frog species who were joining in on the chorus. Calling in much less abundances, the Perons Tree Frogs (Litoria peronii) maniacal cackle could be heard in numbers between 5-10, and also the occasional inclusion of Eastern Sedge Frogs (Litoria fallax), with about 5 individuals contributing.

 

Perons Tree Frog (Litoria peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Perons Tree Frog (Litoria peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Perons Tree Frog (Litoria Peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Perons Tree Frog (Litoria Peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Eastern Sedge Frog (Litoria fallax) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Eastern Sedge Frog (Litoria fallax) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Eastern Sedge Frog (Litoria fallax) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Eastern Sedge Frog (Litoria fallax) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

I noticed huge amounts of tadpoles in the water. On closer inspection I could see multiple different species and the occasional dragonfly nymph (a common predator of tadpoles). However it seemed they were the only predator, with no appearances of fish. Perhaps this is a reason why tadpoles are in such high abundances here. I managed to scoop a large tadpole out which I thought could of been a Giant Burrowing Frog (Heleioporus australiacus) tadpole. However it was more likely to be a Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peronii) tadpole… Speaking of which where are the Striped Marsh Frogs?

 

Probably a Striped Marsh Frog tadpole | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Probably a Striped Marsh Frog tadpole | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

After scanning deciding to head home I did a quick scan of the bank as I was exiting and stumbled across a frog I’m sure you are all familiar with, the Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peronii). How strange it was to hear not even one calling, and only see 2 this night. Perhaps they don’t fair as well in natural sites, and utilize urban areas better?

We have covered a frog fact Friday on this common frog and can read more about it here: http://gumnutnaturalist.com/frog-fact-friday-the-most-common-frog-of-sydney/

 

Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

After getting ready to head back to the car, I stopped to have one last marvel at the chorus of multiple species of male frogs competing to find a mate. I took recordingg to share it with you. See if you can tease out which species of frogs are calling in the recording!

Recordings:

141011_003 141013_003

 

The Blue Mountains Stream Frog

Found near the tops of mountains in areas near Sydney, the blue mountains stream frog resides. This species of the week is on a locally uncommon frog which usually goes unnoticed with most attention being paid to the endangered frogs. The blue mountains stream frog inhabits sandstone creeks in high altitude areas where is it well adapted for this habitat. Areas it is found includes the Blue Mountains and Darkes Forest. It quite large for a frog has powerful and agile legs, perfect for jumping along rocky sandstone banks and swimming through fast flowing mountain creeks.

 

Blue Mountains Stream Frog (Litoria citropa) | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Blue Mountains Stream Frog (Litoria citropa) | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

The blue mountains stream frog can be very varied in coloration, but will always have a red tinge under their arms and legs. Most of the time they are flanked by green (which can be almost fluro!) and have a brown top, with darker lines outlining their head. Some specimens can be almost completely green, but will maintain the head outline.

 

Blue Mountains Stream Frog | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Red coloration under the arms and legs | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Green morph of the Blue Mountains Stream Frog | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Green morph of the Blue Mountains Stream Frog | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

They begin calling usually around the middle of September with the first onset of warm weather followed by rain. They have a very soft call which can be difficult to detect when there is wind and flowing water about. They have a soft call due to the absence of a voice box. Even though they are usually hard to hear, in contrary to most other frogs, they are much easier to find when you get a creek they are present in. From September to January, they will be found all over creeks in high altitudes, usually on the sandstone banks, but may occasionally be seen perched up on ferns and branches of shrubs. If you are lucky enough, you may find some in amplexus in small pools to the sides of the creek.

 

Litoria citropa in amplexus | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Litoria citropa in amplexus | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

Blue Mountains Stream Frog (Litoria citropa) | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Blue Mountains Stream Frog in a fern | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

And if you are especially lucky, you may even have one jump on your face!

 

Face frog

Face frog

Species of the week: The Australian wood duck

In contrary to its common name, the Australian wood duck (Chenonetta jubata) is more closely related to a geese than a duck, but to make it less complicated we shall go on referring to it as a duck. The male and female wood duck are easy to tell a part; males have a dark head and a small main on the back of the head, where females have a light colored head with two white stripes, one below and one above the eye. The wood duck feeds by dabbling in grasslands or in shallow waters, feeding on clovers and other herbs, occasionally taking insects. Once an Australian Wood Duck has chosen a partner, it will spend most of its time with this partner, mating year after year.

 

Female Australian Wood Duck | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Female Australian Wood Duck | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Monogamous pair of Australian Wood Ducks grazing together | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Monogamous pair of Australian Wood Ducks grazing together | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

 

With the onset of spring, you may occasionally see a male wood duck in a tree. When seeing a duck sitting in a tree for the first time, it can be unusual.  However this is a perfectly normal behavior as when breeding season commences (usually around September), the males will call from a tree usually around 3 meters in the canopy and try to entice a female into a nesting hollow in the try. The female will lay on average 8-10 eggs in the hollow, but in some circumstances may lay more. After a bout a month in the nest, the hatchlings will be escorted out of the nest by their parents, where they have to preform a ‘leap of faith’ from the nesting hollow. This is the first danger they may face as some hatchlings become too scared to jump the 3 meter height and many stay, where they will be left behind.

 

Ducklings | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Ducklings | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

The mother and father will take turns in guarding the ducklings and directing them quickly and safely away from danger if it arises. The Australian wood duck usually avoids open water situations, especially if they have a group of ducklings to tend to. In the south east coast of Australia, a predator lurks in the depths of deep lagoons and creeks which will take a duckling if it ever gets the chance. The Marbled Eel (Anguilla reinhardii) is an aquatic predator that commonly reaches 1 meter in length and can some times reach just over 1.5 meters. If a group of ducklings, regardless what species, was ever to brave open water, this is the predator that would be their biggest worry.

 

Mother keeping a watchful eye of her ducklings | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Father keeping a watchful eye of his ducklings | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

Most of the time, only a few ducklings will make it in one clutch. In safe havens havens such as the Camelia Gardens, most of the ducklings will reach maturity. Within one month the ducklings will be completely unrecognizable and almost look likes an adult. To see Australian Wood Duck families, it is easiest to go to the Camelia Gardens, however please restrain your kids from harassing the ducklings and they can become separated from their mother and subsequently starve.

 

Website of the Camelia Gardens