Remote sensors to protect endangered bird

In Issue36 by FIEA

The Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle, distinguished by its size and its wedge-shaped tail, is a much-loved species. Preying on reptiles, birds and mammals, across a wide range of habitats, from the coast to highland areas, this majestic bird defends large territories, nesting in sheltered aspects of patches of mature forest throughout Tasmania.

And with a total adult population estimated to be much less than 1,000 in total, and with existential threats to existence including loss of nesting habitat, nest disturbance and collisions, the eagle is listed as an endangered species. For Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagles, who defend large territories all over Tasmania, preservation of nesting areas and minimising disturbances during the breeding season is key to their ongoing survival.

But for a bird that has irregular and vast nesting habit, maintaining safe and sustainable nesting environments can be highly problematic. Enter Sustainable Timber Tasmania, the Tasmanian government forest custodians responsible for managing more than 800,000 hectares of crown land for ‘permanent timber production.’

For Sustainable Timber Tasmania, the preservation of Tasmania’s wedged-tailed eagle nesting habitat is an important part of its activities in the forest. Utilising state-of-the-art technology, Sustainable Timber Tasmania is trialing the use of remote sensing technology to improve Wedge-tailed eagle management options for the forestry and electricity network industries, detecting and reporting on Wedge-tailed eagle activity in real time.

Known as ‘Project – Eagle Eye’, Dr Dean Williams a Sustainable Timber Tasmania research affiliate for the University of Tasmania’s ARC Centre for Forest Value, spoke of importance of using the wireless industrial internet of things (IIoT) to monitor bird activity and establish an information ecosystem across the Tasmanian landscape.

‘We are now using the latest sensor technology along with Long Range Wide Area Networks (LoRaWAN) to monitor eagle nest activity during wedge-tailed eagle breeding season,’ Dr Williams said. The wedge-tailed eagle’s breeding season runs from April until September and can be highly disruptive to Sustainable Timber Tasmania’s harvesting operations.

‘As it stands, Sustainable Timber Tasmania monitors nest activity during breeding season with a highly experienced observer flying low over the forest in a helicopter, close enough to the nests, to see if the nests are active. The observer then prepares and submits a written report to the land manager to make operation decisions.’

‘Through Eagle Eye we hope to sow the seed for a digital forest, providing land managers with the capacity to monitor nest activity in real time, working in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders to preserve this treasured species for many generations to come,’ Dr Williams said.

Indeed, with the support of major forest managers, the Tasmanian forest industry regulator (FPA), the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment and Tasmania’s major electricity network manager, Sustainable Timber Tasmania, with the support of a number industry partners, has installed sensors on seven nest trees and video cameras in six of these trees.

‘This project really is an example of collaboration in action, so far we have captured eagle activity in five of these nests,’ Dr Williams said. But there is still much work to be done, as it stands there are more than 1900 wedge-tailed eagle nests listed on Tasmania’s biodiversity database, and of those there are 800 nest sites that can affect forest and power transmission management activities from time to time.

However, the number of nest sites near active operations during the breeding season is much lower. Dr Williams explains. ‘There are nearly ten times more nests then there are breeding pairs. However only around 80 to 120 of these nests are used for each breeding season. The use of sensors and wireless networks to detect nest activity is an important step that can reduce aerial checking and improve wedge-tailed eagle nest management.


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