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Bush Calls for Bird-Counting Students

Media Release 16 December 2014

Bush Calls for Bird-Counting Students

Two NorthTec science students will be spending January in the bush, working on a project which could have national significance.

Hayley Sharp and Laurence Sullivan are both working towards a Bachelor of Applied Science. Having completed their first year, both are delighted to have secured a month’s work this summer, monitoring birds around Mount Manaia for the Landcare Trust.

The Trust works with community groups to provide restoration advice and logistical support, and to help them secure funding to manage blocks of land.

When Landcare Trust approached NorthTec seeking students to carry out the paid work, conservation and environmental tutor Dai Morgan was happy to put Hayley and Laurence’s names forward. Both had expressed a strong interest in doing volunteer work during their summer break, and have excelled in their course work over 2014.

The pair will work for four weeks in the Whangarei Heads bush, comparing the traditional method of counting birds in an area with a new technique which could potentially be used by community groups all over New Zealand.

Bird monitoring is a time-consuming process and is sometimes difficult for community groups to carry out, says Dai. The new bird counting protocol could be more popular with community groups as it would easier to employ; however, the data must to be comparable to the traditional counting method.

Since the 1970s, the standard method of counting the bird population in a given area has been the “five-minute bird count” – literally counting the number of birds seen or heard in the area, to give an index of abundance.

Hayley and Laurence will be trialling the use of acoustic monitors, which record different bird sounds and are then analysed to define the size and type of bird population. Their project involves a comparison of the traditional versus the new method.

Dai said: “If we show that acoustic monitoring is comparable to the five-minute bird count, it is a nationally important piece of work. It will be a great tool for community groups because it will be easy to set up and run. I think it’s great that they are staying in Northland to do this work and helping out with conservation locally.”

Hayley and Laurence, who are both aiming for a career in conservation, have been preparing by spending time out and about with local ornithologists, learning to identify the calls of different birds.

Laurence, who hopes to work for the Department of Conservation, said: “The best thing about it will be being out in the bush, helping in the role of conservation.”

Hayley said: “It will be a cool learning experience and a chance to do something different. I’m unsure exactly what I want to do yet – there are so many exciting opportunities out there. Our course is great, because we do so much hands-on stuff and you get to put your work into practice.”

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