The birds that inhabit rural landscapes often do so in harmony with productive farming and grazing enterprises. However, some species are sensitive to certain land management practices and their abundance can wax and wane as land use changes over years and decades. As such, the variety and abundance of birds in rural landscapes can tell us a lot about the health of remnant bush and the sustainability of agricultural practices.
In other words, birds are useful ecological indicators for land managers who want to monitor the effects of their land use practices on nature at the farm, catchment or landscape scale.
By developing knowledge of the birds that inhabit your landscape, and observing what birds live where, and when they come and go, you will build an understanding of the habitat requirements of those birds. Such understanding will be invaluable in helping you to plan and manage land use change over coming years. Perhaps of even greater significance is the mere pleasure you will derive from being able to recognise and name more of the birds you see every day.
Following the success of a similar book, “Birds of the Darling Downs: a land-manager’s guide” (Ford and Thompson 2005), the Cotton Catchment Communities CRC and ACGRA approached the authors to produce a field guide to complement the management guidelines in the Australian Cotton Best Management Practices (BMP) Manual.
The aim of this book is to provide the cotton producers of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland with an easy-to-use fieldguide to birds and their habitat requirements in farming landscapes. We envisage the book being part of a toolkit that growers will use in monitoring the health of their natural resources as they implement BMP across their landscape.
This guide covers the birds likely to be found in the cotton-growing regions of south-eastern Australia, from the Balonne River valley in Queensland, through the Border Rivers, and across the Gwydir, Namoi and Macquarie valleys in New South Wales.
The landscapes of this region are dominated by fertile floodplains, big rivers lined with magnificent red-gum communities, and diverse open woodlands on lighter soils. Rugged ranges, such as the Nandewar and Warrumbungle Mountains form a spectacular backdrop to parts of the region, and are a source of many of the birds that farmers in those areas enjoy.
Extensive areas are devoted to the production of cotton and grains on the floodplains, while grazing of native pastures in riparian and woodland communities plays an important role in maintaining an ecological and economic balance in the production system.
Australia has over 800 species of birds, more than one-third of which may be found in the cotton regions of central-eastern Australia. While there are many good guides to this enormous variety of avian wildlife, finding the right bird in a traditional field guide can be a daunting task to the uninitiated. What’s more, the thought of trying to understand the taxonomic ordering of the species is a chore even for some birders!
This guide eliminates the need to search through scores of species that don’t even occur in your region in order to find the one you’re looking at on the fence-post. It includes a photographic guide to 118 common and significant bird species of the region, plus a checklist of more than 300 birds known to occur in the region.
In addition to the common species guide, this guide provides a series of guiding principles for landscape management to maintain and enhance bird habitats whilst ensuring sustainable agricultural production. The principles are based on knowledge acquired from research in agricultural landscapes throughout eastern Australia. Management actions described under each principle are closely aligned to the management guidelines presented in the Land and Water Management module of the Cotton BMP Manual.
There is also a detailed guide to bird species that we consider are useful indicators of ecological condition in farming landscapes.These are the birds to watch out for in your farm remnants - their presence would suggest your management practices are providing suitable habitat for some of the more sensitive wildlife in the area. Each species description in this section includes a guide to the management practices that can be adjusted to bring back or retain that species in the landscape.
When you undertake property planning and monitoring activities for BMP, you may wish to refer to these sections to get some ideas for the future enhancement of the natural areas on your property. By keeping an eye out for the indicator species, you will be able to monitor the positive results of your improving land management for years to come.
To find out more about birds, their habitats or land management for birds and biodiversity, you may wish to track down some of the reference material listed in the “Further Reading” section. If you prefer to speak to someone knowledgeable about such things, then try getting in touch with one or more of the people and organisations listed in the “Contacts” section.