Sunday, 21 September 2014

Redcliffe's Wildlife on the Edge

Squirrel Glider

One of my favourite things about Brisbane is that native wildlife persists in our suburbs. One balmy night last week for example, I was thrilled to see a Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) less than a hundred meters away from houses in Kippa-Ring, a suburb on the Redcliffe Peninsula. If I had asked residents in the area how far I'd have to go to see such an animal however, I'm sure I would have been directed to National Parks forty kilometers away or more.

Chelsea Street Environmental Reserve, Kippa-Ring

I saw the glider in Chelsea Street Environmental Reserve, one of the last remaining patches of bushland on the Redcliffe Peninsula. You might think that the reserve zoning and scarcity of such habitat would ensure that this beautiful place is protected from development, but this is not true. To service the needs of Redcliffe's booming human population, Local, State and Federal Governments from both sides of the political spectrum have given approval for a railway line to be built through the centre of the reserve. Construction on the project is currently well under way, with completion planned for late 2016.

Moreton Bay Rail Link construction zone, through the centre of
Chelsea Street Environmental Reserve

Koala claw marks 

The issue is a complicated one. Redcliffe residents have long called for such rail infrastructure to be implemented on the Peninsula, as many of them travel daily to Brisbane city for work and services. By reducing the number of cars on the road, the railway line will also have a positive impact on air pollution and carbon emissions. It is where this project takes place that raises the most concern however, as the fauna of the area is undoubtedly being put under extreme levels of pressure to survive. Damage control strategies currently being deployed include the tagging and radio-monitoring of the local Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) population, as well as the relocation of a variety of animals affected by tree clearing, but one can't help but be skeptical of the long-term viability of the reserve.

Paperbark (Melaleuca quinquinervia) forest

Chelsea Street Environmental Reserve; Image courtesy of Google Maps
Note Anzac Avenue along top edge, and rail track through centre

By chance, I found myself in conversation with one of the project's construction engineers at the recent birthday party of a mutual friend. The question I put to him there was why the rail corridor had to be built through the centre of the Chelsea Street reserve, as opposed to along the suburban edge of it. His answer seemed reasonable enough, in that the curving of the railway line required to achieve my proposed alternate route wouldn't be feasible in terms of train-track geometry. 

'Edge effect' diagram;
Image courtesy of
The problem with the track design committed to now, however, is in regards to the 'edge effect'. This is the name that ecologists have given to the inevitable degradation that occurs at the boundary zone of any landscape. Habitat at the centre of any location is thought to remain more or less pure, but the edges of such places are where weeds, feral animals, opportunistic predators or environmental hazards can wreak havoc on the natural order of things. The construction of the rail corridor has now created a series of new 'edges' within Chelsea Street Environmental Reserve, and the wildlife there is under increased threat as a result.

Edge effect: the Environmental Reserve borders houses along Sandwell Crescent

Once upon a time, Chelsea Street Environmental Reserve adjoined the wetlands of Hays Inlet, allowing wildlife to move freely throughout the last remaining forest on the Redcliffe Peninsula. The rail corridor has effectively split the reserve however, turning the northern part of it into a small island of bush bordered on each side by roads, houses and now a train line. This means that the resident Eastern Grey Kangaroos (Macropus giganteus) and other species are extremely vulnerable to fire, drought, disease and feral predators, as their freedom of movement is restricted. The railway design will attempt to remedy this by building culverts under the tracks through which animals can pass through into the Hays Inlet area, but it remains to be seen how effective this will be. 

Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)

Swamp Box

I surveyed the reserve twice this month, once during the day and then again at night. The woodlands consist of gum, ironbark, she-oak, wattle, banksia and paperbark trees, but I took special note of the majestic Swamp Box (Lophostemon suaveolens) specimens on display. They can be recognised by their thick leaves and gnarled limbs.

For me, the reserve truly came alive during my nocturnal visit. Mammals were well-represented; besides the glider shown at the top of the page, the trees were filled with chattering Black Flying-Foxes (Pteropus alecto) and a family of Koalas. In the grassy understorey below, Grey Kangaroos and Swamp Wallabies (Wallabia bicolor) grazed. Smaller life forms were abundant, including delightful Ornate Burrowing Frogs (Platyplectrum ornatus) along the tracks.

Clockwise from top left: Dusky Owl Moth (Donuca castalia), Tawny Frogmouth,
Bordered Methana Cockroach (Methana curvigera) and Ornate Burrowing Frog

I was particularly impressed by the lack of weeds in the woodlands, and suspect that there is a fantastic bush care group nearby to thank for this. Perhaps they are also responsible for the extensive revegetation area behind Bunnings - a clever way to expand the edges of the reserve habitat, and thus the quality 'core' of it also. 

Revegetation area

Above: Grey Butcherbird with Banded Sugar Ants
(Camponotus consobrinus). Below: Tawny Frogmouth

Still, the signs of war with the surrounding suburb were evident. There were numerous native animal remains scattered throughout the reserve, perhaps victims of beloved pets or even malicious humans. I was alarmed at the sight of two dead birds side-by-side along a trackway - a Grey Butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus) and Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides), both tough species that can usually take care of themselves. 

It got me thinking. 

We may not have had a choice in where the railway line went, but there are still daily choices we can make to protect wildlife in our suburbs, because more survives than what we may realise!

For the people of Redcliffe, it's time to make that choice. Do you want to share your everyday world with Squirrel Gliders and birds, or do you want to let your cat roam free at night? You can't have both.

Would you like to see Koalas in your parks and reserves, or would you like to let your dog off the leash, thereby setting the example for every other dog owner to do the same? Sooner or later, these things become incompatible and you can't have both.

An off-leash dog and a Koala mother and joey, both seen at the reserve

For the people of Redcliffe: how do you want your children to know Kangaroos? 

The choice is yours.

Jawbone. INSET: Eastern Grey Kangaroo


  1. Really nice Christian! It is disheartening when development seems to supersede our need or want for a clean environment, as it usually does. But you're right that everyday choices are the most important :) Keep up the great work brother :) Noah

    1. Thanks Noah. It's definitely a tricky issue because, hey, public transport is supposed to be better for the environment, right? But to add to the bittersweet quality of the situation, I found out tonight there is a population of Frill-necked Lizards in the reserve too. Like, not Bearded Dragons, but that famous species from up north - it may be one of the most southerly populations of them! :(

  2. A very informative post, Christian. I must head out your way to explore more of this area before it's too late.

    1. Thanks Liz - yes, hurry, while it's still there!

  3. It must have been exciting viewing that glider so close to the suburbs!! I recently ran into a glider at the Hollow Log Nature Refuge, which I am fairly sure is a Squirrel Glider. It lacks the white tip of the tail, which is a frequent feature of Sugar Gliders, and has dark facial markings and a dark, bushy tail. I have photos on my newest blog, and if you are able to identify I would be very thankful. :)


    1. Yes Ben, it was fantastic! They are fast becoming one of my favourite animals! That said, I am by no means an expert on them, so take my ID skills with a pinch of salt. Will check out your blog now :)