Saturday, October 14, 2006

Meehan Range Fire. A Birders Perspective.

As many Tasmanians would be aware, a major fire on the Eastern Shore of the Derwent River, tore through the Meehan Range on Thursday and into Friday. Many suburbs abutting the range were threatened. The fire, which was
almost certainly deiberately lit, started at Risdon Vale and continued on to Mt. Rumney, driven by gale force Northerlies, and covered a distance of around 12 kilometres. This morning, Saturday, curiosity finally got the better of me, and I entered the Red Gate end of the range to survey the damage. It's a bit hard to convey the feeling of entering an area of bush that you've come to know intimately over 30 odd years, not knowing what you might find. I had feared total destruction. Although I didn't enter the burnt area--the Rural Firefighters are still back burning and controlling the still burning fire--I did get some idea of the destruction. The accompanying shot is about 300 metres into the area and shows smoke rising largely from the Stringy Bark Creek and surrounds. This area, I suspect, has been destroyed.Unfortunately,it's this area that contains much of the breeding habitat of several species that were in the middle of their breeding cycle. Fortunately, the fire, generally speaking, didn't burn through the crowns of the trees and they will quickly recover. Not so for much of the understorey, which had taken nearly 20 years to recover from the last fire. Erosion, caused by fires, aggravated by illegal off road vehicles, and
then occasional heavy rain, has left a very thin soil. The area is in need of some TLC, but unless the general populace take some control, it will continue to be abused by a small minority. Apart from putting up signs, "Parks" largely ignores the area. To be fair, with a ludicrously small number of rangers to cover reserves throughout South East Tasmania, I don't see that changing.
Now for some good news! As I walked towards the fire scene, I was struck by the numbers of birds calling, which considering the thick smoke that covered the area in the last few days, was heartening. Even a few pairs of Brown Thornbills, within 50 metres of the still smouldering bush, were gleaning insects. I did wonder what happens to birds caught in fires. Do they fly off? If they did you might expect an over abundance of birds on the perimeter. Perhaps someone could enlighten me.
Just as a footnote. This morning came the news of a Sorell Fire Unit that had been stolen, crashed and equipment stolen. As if the Rural firefighters hadn't had enough to contend with over the last few days, fighting fires. There are a few in our community that beggar belief!

4 comments:

John Tongue said...

Hi all,
Sad but not unexpected news about a great spot for birding right on Hobart's doorstep. I hope to get out there soon to see just how much was damaged. This is especially so because this was where I'd planned to lead a Birds-Tas outing focussing on bird calls on Nov 11th. Depending on what I find, I may need to choose a different location.

BirdingTas said...

It wasn't as bad as I feared, but I didn't/couldn't get beyond the bridge. Until it's safe to do so, we won't know the full extent of the damage.The 1985 fire left most of the gully intact, and it's in this gully that I've taken many of the shots in the blog, including those of the firetail (last blog).

John Tongue said...

I guess we can still hope and pray!

Denis Charlesworth said...

I was passing the Meehan Range on Show day morning which was about a week after the fire I think, and decided to pop in and have a look. I went in at the first gate on Flagstaff Gully Road and walked into the gully immediately adjacent to this. This area seemed to have suffered less damage with the canopies of the Eucalypts and some lower shrubs only partly singed. I saw 11 bird species in the half hour I was there. Maybe the birds crowd into the relatively undamaged areas after a fire until shortage of food and territorial imperatives cause them to relocate further afield.
The species sighted were:
Grey Shrike-thrush
Tas(?)Thornbill
Forest Raven
Grey Fantail (many)
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike
Brown Falcon
Yellow-rumped Thornbill
Blue Wren
Silver-eye
Scarlet Robin (imm)
Green Rosella.
It will be interesting to see how the population recovers.