Last weekend we planted in two different directions at once.  Craig watering Adnamira dam areaAndrew Henjak hammering stakes Adnamira dam plantation

We finished the final small tree lots that are part of the chain of connections across the Murrumbidgee river for small birds. That makes nine tree lots for connectivity only, plus two extra areas, a shelter paddock that used to be a calf-feeding area, and a decorative one that will have an avenue of white trunked eucalyptus mannifera at the entry to Adnamira .  The two extras will act as bird stepping stones as well.Planting at Adnamira entrance 2

Female Glossy Black Cockatoo photo by Tom Tarrant 2008 at iNaturalist.org
Female Glossy Black Cockatoo photo by Tom Tarrant 2008 at iNaturalist.org

We also created our first link in a second chain that will run along the river from Burrinjuck to Canberra to encourage the tiny local populations of Glossy Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus lathami) to meet up and repopulate.

That meant that the final small tree lot, coming down to a dam on Adnamira, was planted not only with our usual broad mix of locally sourced native trees and shrubs for the small birds, but also with 100 Allocasuarina Verticillata (the Drooping Sheoak) given to us by Greening Australia for the purpose.

Along the river banks we have lots of Casuarina Cunninghamiana (the River Sheoaks).  They’re one of the few native trees that seeds and shoots up quickly enough to outpace the munching of the sheep and kangaroos.  But Glossy Blacks don’t eat their seeds.

According to Ben Hanrahan from Greening Australia the rocky hills in his area used to be covered with Drooping Sheoaks as well as the eucalypts we can see in remnants.  It’s mind-bending that something so widespread could disappear so thoroughly.

allocasuarina planted 2011 in 2014 pine break
Allocasuarina planted in 2011 finally gaining height in 2014

Unlike the river casuarinas, allocasuarinas grow very slowly in the first few years.  We planted a few in 2011 and they sat at about 30cm (1 foot) tall for nearly three years.  A few times I thought some of them had died, but they still had a wispy green  needle or two sticking up. Suddenly in the last twelve months they’ve shot up, but had they not been protected from stock that would have been far too slow.  They also only live about forty years, so they need to be able to reproduce regularly.  Since I didn’t know they came in male and female, we scattered those 2011 seedlings rather widely and they may not be close enough together to breed successfully.

So we needed to add more.

As the Drooping Sheoaks have disappeared over the last 200 years, so have the Glossy Black Cockatoos.  Like a picky toddler, they only eat that one thing in this area.  Further north, and along the coast they have a few different choices, but they’re all allocasuarinas of one sort or another.  They’d literally rather die than eat anything else.

On one side of the river we planted those 100 Drooping Sheoaks.

On the other side, Greening Australia is organizing the planting of 300 more on another rocky hillside that I have yet to get fenced in.  My excellent fencer is a bit daunted by the steepness and rocks.  Greening Australia also have other plots near the river that should make a series of stepping stones for the Glossy Blacks.

If the birds look for them.

If they find them.

Mum asked “Why are you going to so much trouble for one bird?”

It’s a good question.

Ben Hanrahan told me that the population they know of at Burrinjuck contains just eight individuals.  The closest population around Canberra has perhaps 24.   In many ways it’s hard to know what the Glossy Blacks contributed to the landscape back when they were more widespread.  If we let them die out, we’ll never know.

George Main with planted trees Adnamira dam areaAdnamira dam area looking across to homestead stepping stone both plantedGeorge Main from the National Museum of Australia who kindly volunteered to help us plant the Drooping Sheoaks remembered propagating them as a child, and finding by trial and error that they don’t grow well in the boggy riverside spots that River casuarinas prefer.

I’m hoping they like the place we’ve given them, on a rocky, windy ridge. Just right for a cockatoo snack bar.

Jess and Shelley Weir, George Main, Andrew Henjak the fantastic dam area planting team
Jess and Shelley Weir, George Main, Andrew Henjak the fantastic dam area planting team