volunteer

Position Advertised: Community Outreach & Events Manager

Join our ranks! Volunteer position available.

Do you rival a colony of ants in your organisational skills? Perhaps a bowerbird is no match for you when it comes to putting on a show? Does meeting new people make you feel more warm and fuzzy than holding a koala ever could? If you answered 'yes' to the above, then you could be Wild Melbourne’s next Community Outreach & Events Manager!

Wild Melbourne is currently taking applications for anyone who wishes to join our volunteer management team. We're looking for someone who is passionate about connecting communities, forging new collaborations, hosting events, and ultimately, enhancing conservation values. If this sounds like you, click the link below for a detailed position description and to send in your application.

Applications will close on May 28.

See the full Position Description here.

For more information, please contact Community Operations Director Leonardo Guida at leonardo.guida@wildmelbourne.org

Looking After the Locals

This is a guest post by Sonia Sanchez Gomez.

December 10th, Saturday, 7.30AM. ‘Is that my alarm going off? Oh! Yes it is… Why? Ok! Get up, Sonia!’ And I did it, I got up. This probably impresses only people that know me well. They are aware that I am not a morning person at all. It can take me literally 42 minutes to completely open my eyes. Ok, I have no idea how long it actually takes me, I have never timed myself, but it would be too embarrassing if it took longer. So, why did I get up so early that Saturday? The answer is hooded plovers – also known as hoodies. I forgot about my chronic morning sleepiness, got up and went to a training workshop on monitoring the nesting success of these birds.

Adult brooding (keeping warm) a five-day-old chick.  Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

Adult brooding (keeping warm) a five-day-old chick. Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

Phillip Island Nature Parks and BirdLife Australia run this workshop to recruit and train Phillip Island residents, like myself, to join the ‘Hooded Plover Watch’, a group of volunteers and rangers who monitor the hoodie nests at the island beaches. Since 2006, BirdLife Australia has been coordinating their Beach-nesting Birds project, which involves working with coastal communities and volunteers across Australia to raise awareness about this group of birds, and to help monitor and improve their breeding success. Currently, this is the biggest citizen science project in the world. And there were not only local residents in the workshop room that Saturday - there were people that had driven from Melbourne to attend the workshop and learn about the hoodies. It was then that I realised that there was something fascinating about these birds.

Cordoned-off areas give birds space to nest on busy beaches. Shelters (like the one shown here) provide more protection to chicks if they need it. In this photo, there are two adults and one chick. Can you spot them?  Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

Cordoned-off areas give birds space to nest on busy beaches. Shelters (like the one shown here) provide more protection to chicks if they need it. In this photo, there are two adults and one chick. Can you spot them? Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

Signs on the beach indicate to the public that they should stay on the water's edge if there are hoodies nesting nearby.  Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

Signs on the beach indicate to the public that they should stay on the water's edge if there are hoodies nesting nearby. Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

Hoodies are tiny, endangered shorebirds that nest on the beach during spring and summer. They are the most threatened of the five Australian beach-nesting birds – pied and sooty oystercatcher, red-capped plover, beach stone-curlew and hooded plover. Hoodies lay their eggs in a small scrape in the sand above the high tide mark. They usually prefer open ocean beaches, but in Western Australia they also nest near inland salty lakes.

Beach. Summer. Heat. Imagine the level of disturbance and stress these birds go through. The first time I heard about the hoodie’s life, it blew my mind. In Spain, where I am from, if you get up at 7.30AM on a Saturday in summer it’s because either you have to go to work or you want to get a spot at the beach. Beaches are packed. Sometimes you can see more towel surface than sand. And the Mediterranean does not have big tide changes. So when I moved to Australia, beach-nesting birds were something totally new to me.

This four-day-old chick is looking for refuge close to the dunes at high tide. Chicks fledge at at 35 days old.  Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

This four-day-old chick is looking for refuge close to the dunes at high tide. Chicks fledge at at 35 days old. Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

When tide is low, adults and chicks (five days old in this photo) often forage on the rocky platform that becomes exposed. Parents never feed their chicks but have a full-time job showing them where to go and keeping them warm and safe.  Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

When tide is low, adults and chicks (five days old in this photo) often forage on the rocky platform that becomes exposed. Parents never feed their chicks but have a full-time job showing them where to go and keeping them warm and safe. Image: Sonia Sanchez Gomez

I think the magic of hoodies relies on the fact that you find them at your local beach, when you go for a swim, for a walk, for a run. They are there, running over the sand and you do not need expensive gear or expert knowledge to observe them and learn about their behaviour. And they will captivate you. I was captivated, and I am not a birder. For the last month, I've found myself looking at these tiny birds and chicks for hours at my local beach. I've talked to a lot of people about why it is important to protect them, why walkers must keep their dogs on leashes, and how humans can help. I've been enjoying every minute spent observing five chicks growing, and have been trying my best to help them become full adults. And that is what the Beach-nesting Birds project aims for. It gives local communities a way to protect their environment, when most of them do care but don’t know what to do. It gets residents engaged and connected with nature, and at the same time these residents educate other beach users. Then we, the local volunteers, enter the data about our sightings in BirdLife Australia’s beach-nesting database, which plays a huge role in the conservation of hoodies.

Tomorrow is Tuesday. I will get up at 6AM this time to go and check the two hoodie families at my local beach. Tomorrow, again, I won’t care about my chronic morning sleepiness because I will start the day with one of the most rewarding feelings I have ever experienced.

If you want to become a volunteer, please contact BirdLife Australia. They will happily provide you with the necessary training to monitor hoodies in a safe way for you and the birds.


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Sonia Sanchez Gomez

Sonia is a PhD student at Monash University working on foraging behaviour and ecology of little penguins. Originally from Barcelona, she grew up spending her summers swimming in the Mediterranean and looking for crabs on the rocks with her dad.

You can find her on twitter at @SonSanchez9

 

 

 

 

Banner image courtesy of Sonia Sanchez Gomez: Adults are usually attentive to potential threats. Sometimes they pretend to be incubating eggs to keep predators away from the actual nest. 

Wildlife Emergency: Melbourne's Wildlife Rescuers

“I was inspired by the 2009 fires. I was watching a news report – I still tear up – and a kangaroo was running down the road. A helicopter came down and it turned around and skipped back into the fire and ran through a wall of flames.”

“So that was my big one. I don’t know why it gets me. There was a heap of horrifying stuff around the loss of human life on that day and I thought – someone’s got to do something for these animals. I’d always wanted to, but that was my point. And here I am.”

Sharon Boccini has been a wildlife rescuer for nearly seven years now: a volunteer who dedicates her free time to taking reports about injured wildlife, then driving out to help in any way she can. Heidi Still, another member of the Wildlife Rescuers who joined around the same time, has a similar story.

Volunteers from the Wildlife Rescuers transport an injured kangaroo to safety.  Image: Wildlife Rescuers

Volunteers from the Wildlife Rescuers transport an injured kangaroo to safety. Image: Wildlife Rescuers

“I’ve always wanted to, and it wasn’t until the 2009 fires … I actually found a dead wombat that had a live baby in the pouch, and I scooped it out and took it off to a shelter. They gave me a tour of their facility and I said: that’s it."

I’m sick of saying I want to do it, I’m doing it. And I haven’t stopped, ever since.”

The Wildlife Rescuers are a group based in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, although their reach is growing as their volunteer base expands. It is one member of an informal network of wildlife rescue groups around Victoria who look out for the injured animals in their area. Members of the public can keep the group’s number saved in their phone, and if you come across an animal in need of assistance, all you have to do is call it in.

“A call will come in, we’ll get the details, we’ll get as much history as we can,” Sharon explains. “We get a rescuer on the way or we go out ourselves depending on what’s happening. I know when I’m driving there I’m trying to think of 3000 scenarios that could happen … It doesn’t matter how many I think of, it’s always different.”

“Every rescue is different, every animal reacts differently,” Heidi adds. “You’ve just got to be ready to adjust to whatever happens.”

Once the rescuer has a handle on the situation, they must decide what course of action is best for the safety and wellbeing of the animal. “You contain the animal, assess it, and then decide where you go from there,” says Sharon. Rescuers are trained to apply first aid, but if the animal needs medical attention, it’s taken to a vet. Once it has been treated, the rescuer will transport the animal to a registered wildlife carer.

Sharon helped this kangaroo down after it found itself in an unexpected situation. As this house is on a slope, Sharon believes the roo must have jumped from the neighbouring garden which is at a higher elevation - not from the ground!  Image: Wildlife Rescuers

Sharon helped this kangaroo down after it found itself in an unexpected situation. As this house is on a slope, Sharon believes the roo must have jumped from the neighbouring garden which is at a higher elevation - not from the ground! Image: Wildlife Rescuers

It’s difficult, unpredictable work, and Heidi and Sharon’s dedication is remarkable. Working by day for Wildlife Victoria, a statewide emergency response centre for injured wildlife, Heidi volunteers the rest of her time: “I wake up in the morning and I get calls or texts to go out and do rescues, and then generally I start work at Wildlife Victoria on the phones around about 1 o’clock. I work there until about 8 o’clock at night and then I drive home and by the time I get home the Wildlife Rescuers phone gets diverted to me… And then we start it all again the next day.”

Sharon works full-time as a teacher, but her passion for wildlife is what keeps her going: “I can do a day at work and it’s six hours and it feels like it goes forever and I’m exhausted at the end of it, and I can finish that day at school and do 8 or 10 hours of rescuing straight after it and feel fine. It’s like a puzzle piece that fits.”

Heidi is often asked how she can drag herself out of bed in the early hours of the morning to go to a rescue, but for her, it isn’t a chore: “I don’t do it because I have to. I do it because I love doing it.”

“I work so I can afford to go out and rescue animals.”

These two women are exceptional, but it doesn’t need to be a 24/7 commitment. If a member of the public is interested in learning about wildlife rescue and transport, Heidi and Sharon advise participating in a basic skills course offered by the Wildlife Rescuers. After that, it’s up to you how much time you commit. “It can be one hour a week. It can be one hour a month!” says Heidi.

“If you’re available for that one hour and you can save one animal – to that one animal, that one hour counts.”

“Even if you’re not available for rescues, it’s a really good skillset to have,” Sharon adds. “Just in case you come across something. Know how to check a pouch – you could save a life.”

Agro the tawny frogmouth was found on the ground after being blown from his nest.  Image: Wildlife Rescuers

Agro the tawny frogmouth was found on the ground after being blown from his nest. Image: Wildlife Rescuers

In the meantime, there are plenty of things Victorians can do to ensure their lives have minimal impact on our native wildlife.

“You generally find 99.9% of rescues are caused by humans in some way. Whether they’ve been hit by a car, they’re entangled in rubbish that we’ve left behind, they’ve flown into our window – whatever it is, it’s usually because we’ve put something in their way,” says Heidi. “Don’t leave rubbish behind,” she advises. It’s also helpful to leave a bowl of water outside on hot days to help local wildlife fight dehydration."

If you do come across an animal in need, don’t hesitate. “Plug our number into your phone so you’ve got it,” says Sharon. “Make the call.” Both advise that accidents happen, and you aren’t going to get in trouble if you’ve hit an animal in the road. “Just call it in so that the animal doesn’t suffer.”

For Heidi and Sharon, rescuing wildlife isn’t just a hobby - it’s a compulsion to do right by other living things. “It’s the thought that if I’m not here doing this for this animal, who is going to?” says Heidi. “When I’m there and I’m looking at a living animal that has feelings and is suffering, I’m going to do everything I can.”

“For me, it’s very similar,” says Sharon. “Every critter – they have a soul, they have feelings, they have connections, they have relationships. It’s not an animal I’m rescuing, it’s a being.”

“Every life matters.”

Make sure to log the Wildlife Rescuers’ number in your phone in case you come across a wildlife emergency: 0417 506 941

For wildlife rescue course updates and news on recent rescues, like the Wildlife Rescuers Facebook page: www.facebook.com/wildliferescuersinc


Alex Mullarky

Alex Mullarky is a freelance journalist and works part-time in threatened species conservation. Her other passion is ex-racehorse rehabilitation and she is currently completing her Masters.

You can find her on Twitter at @ajmullarky


Banner image is of tranquilised kangaroos rescued from Epping firegrounds and is courtesy of Wildlife Rescuers.

Public Perception: An Evening in an Urban Penguin Colony

‘There – is that one? I can hear something.’

’I can’t see anything yet. Anyway, how is this even a thing? Did you know this was here?’
Image: http://stkildapenguins.com.au

Image: http://stkildapenguins.com.au

Talking to visitors, you’d think the establishment of a penguin colony in one of inner Melbourne’s more popular waterfronts was a new and novel thing. But the curving pile of the St Kilda Pier breakwater has been host to the little penguin (Eudyptula minor) since at least 1974, when the first permanent breeding pairs were documented.[1] Anecdotes place them on site even earlier, with fishermen sighting penguins stopping on the rocks only two years after the breakwater’s construction for the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. It’s well known amongst ecologists that the little penguins of Victoria’s south coast and Phillip Island enjoy the high food availability and sheltered waters of Port Phillip Bay; the only surprise in some having established a colony was how quickly they did it.

From just two pioneering nesting sites the colony now has over 1000 birds, although there could be as many as 1400. For tourists and locals alike, it’s an excellent chance to see a large population of a species adapting to the urban environment. While conservationists more often see negative effects from dense human infrastructure – such as changing daily rhythms caused by light pollution or behaviour shifting to accommodate the noise and rush of cities – some species persist, making use of their surroundings and benefiting from the changes humans have made. The little penguins of St Kilda have been found to spend a good deal of their foraging time in the shipping channels of the bay, using the artificial formations to corral their prey. However, inhabiting an area of heavy traffic also means exposure to oil and pollutants, and concerns are still raised over access to the part of the colony not fenced off from public access.

A three-week-old penguin chick at the St Kilda colony.   Image: http://stkildapenguins.com.au/

A three-week-old penguin chick at the St Kilda colony.

Image: http://stkildapenguins.com.au/

During the long hours of summer, evenings on the breakwater promenade are punctuated by the fluoro yellow vests of Earthcare St. Kilda volunteers. Aside from checking that everyone is behaving as they should, one of the goals of the group is to raise awareness and appreciation for the little penguins. Red-filtered torches in hand, they answer questions and point out the best spots to wait for those foraging penguin parents to swim ashore.

See that V-ripple in the water, between the yachts? Get ready to spot!

Inner-city residents around the world have been found to feel separated from their country’s natural landscape, the places beyond the ring roads. It’s a feeling among the St Kilda volunteers that, by helping people to see that there is a more appropriate way to appreciate the animals cohabiting our urban spaces, this perceived separation between the human and the wild can be closed a little further. By fostering that fascination, we can help move toward a more understanding society and a more considered discussion on conserving our green spaces.

Of course, this fascination with our more charismatic cohabitants doesn’t always have the best results. During the early and mid-20th century, little penguin rookeries on the Summerland Peninsula of Phillip Island were facing pressure from increased visitors and new housing developments. Tourism advertisements from the period promote the evening penguin march as a must-see attraction, and photographs show that avoiding disruption was a low priority. Already at risk from foxes and dogs, the stress and habitat disturbance from the human presence led to the state government partitioning the little penguins in dedicated reserves.  

An early 20th Century photograph of 'Penguin Beach' on Phillip Island.  Image: State Library of Victoria

An early 20th Century photograph of 'Penguin Beach' on Phillip Island. Image: State Library of Victoria

The 1920s saw the first crowds of tourists viewing the penguin parade by torchlight.    Image:   http://www.penguins.org.au

The 1920s saw the first crowds of tourists viewing the penguin parade by torchlight. 

Image: http://www.penguins.org.au

Even after the creation and subsequent expansion of the beachfront reserves, habitat fragmentation from the housing developments was still found to be too disruptive. In the 1980s, a land buyback program began with the aim of removing all permanent residences and infrastructure, returning the whole peninsula to as pristine a condition as possible[6]. In this instance, the separation of human and wild spaces was necessary.

So, what does this mean for colonies like the St Kilda penguins? An increasing human population and an increasing shift toward urbanization mean that cities will be growing larger in the future. Animals that fail to adjust will be edged out, and not just geographically – without their physical presence as a reminder, there’s a risk that planning departments will simply forget about them.

Animals persisting in urban spaces - such as beachside penguins, rooftop falcons, or bats in the Botanic Gardens - remind us that we still exist in and are still part of the natural world. Partial separation keeps a reservoir of the population safe; those out in the open remind us of what we could lose.

‘Look there, that one’s getting fed! By that saltbush, can you see?’

’Oh. They vomit into its mouth? Gross.’

 

Banner image of Phillip Island Penguin Parade is courtesy of penguins.org.au

[1] Eades D (1975) Fairy penguins (Eudyptula minor) breeding on St Kilda Pier. Bird Observer 519:12


Paul Jones

Paul works in science education and has been a teaching member of Monash University's Department of Biology since 2010. He is interested in community engagement and sustainable urban development.