PROTECTING THE WHITE-THROATED GRASSWREN
White-throated grasswren (Photo: K. Dixon)
This project aims to improve the outlook of the threatened white-throated grasswren, known from the sandstone heath shrubland (“Stone Country”) on the Arnhem Land escarpment.
Territory Natural Resource Management (TNRM) is working with Traditional Owners, Indigenous ranger groups, Kakadu National Park and scientists to conduct targeted surveys, habitats assessments and surveys for feral cats to inform management actions for the white-throated grasswren.
Targeted survey results will inform planning for strategic fire management by Indigenous ranger groups to protect white-throated grasswren habitat by creating larger patches of long-unburnt habitat in the Stone Country. The Arnhem Land escarpment is a site of conservation significance, and management activities undertaken for the white-throated grasswren will likely benefit additional species that use similar habitat.
The methodologies used in the targeted surveys for the white-throated grasswren were developed in collaboration with partners. These methodologies include call playback surveys, motion sensor camera traps, and bioacoustic recording devices in areas deemed to be suitable habitat through predictive modelling and in consultation with Traditional Owners.
Following initial consultation to plan survey sites, Jawoyn Rangers and Territory Natural Resource Management conducted surveys on Jawoyn Country in the Manyallaluk Aboriginal Land Trust (ALT) for the white-throated grasswren in August 2021.
Surveys are currently being undertaken in the Warddeken Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) in collaboration with Warddeken Land Management, following the same methodology employed on Jawoyn Country. Already, the results of the predictive habitat modelling are informing the fire management program in the Warddeken IPA in 2022, to protect long-unburnt patches of the Stone Country.
Further surveys are planned over the next 12 months in other areas of the Stone Country with various Indigenous Ranger groups and results from these will continue to help inform fire management planning. All surveys are carried out under appropriate animal ethics, Northern Territory Government and Northern Land council permits.
Department of the Environment (2014). Conservation Advice Amytornis woodwardi white-throated grasswren. Canberra: Department of the Environment.
Mahney T, Brennan K, Fegan M, Trikojus N, Young S and Fisher A (2011). Yirlin-kirrk-kirr (White-throated Grasswren) Kakadu National Park Survey 2011. Unpublished report to the Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport (NRETAS), Darwin.
Woinarski JCZ, Fisher A, Armstrong M, Brennan K, Griffiths AD, Hill B, Low Choy J, Milne D, Stewart A, Young S, Ward S, Winderlich S and Ziembicki M (2012). Monitoring indicates greater resilience for birds than for mammals in Kakadu National Park, northern Australia. Wildlife Research 39, 397-407.
ABOUT THE WHITE-THROATED GRASSWREN
The white-throated grasswren (Amytornis woodwardi) is a small passerine (singing bird), with beautiful markings and a long dark brown tail. The birds have a black head, wings and breast band that are streaked with white, a deep chestnut brown rump, and of course, a white throat! The males are a tawny buff colour beneath, while the females are a rich chestnut.
These difficult to encounter birds inhabit long unburnt sandstone heath, and are known only from on or around the Arnhem Land escarpment. Preferred habitat has bare rocky outcrops, ground cover including hummock grasses like spinifex for nesting in, shrub cover and sparse trees. Boulders, rock crevices and cliff ledges provide places for the white-throated grasswren to hide from predators, and provide refuge from fire.
The white-throated grasswren is culturally significant to the Indigenous peoples of the Stone Country, where they may be associated with sacred sites or ceremonial practices. The species is known by the name yirlinkirrkkirr or yirrindjirrin in the Kunwinjku dialect and djirnidjirnirrinjken in the Kune dialect, from the Bininj Kunwok language group. The Jawoyn name for the species is Nyirrnyirr.
Warddeken Land Management Rangers and TNRM staff looking for yirlinkirrkirr
SAVING THE SPECIES
The white-throated grasswren is listed as Vulnerable in the Northern Territory (Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1976) and nationally (Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999). Anecdotal information from birdwatchers, and a lack of recent recorded sightings, suggests that the species is disappearing from sites it was once seen regularly. Surveys in Kakadu National Park in early 2010 corroborated this observed decline (Woinarski et al. 2012 and Mahney et al. 2011). The species was listed as a priority mammal under the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Strategy 2015-2020, and Territory Natural Resource Management has been funded through the National Landcare Program to deliver a 3-year project from 2021 – 2023, aimed at improving or stabilising the trajectory of the threatened white-throated grasswren.
This project is supported by TNRM through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program