Bats in the Belfry?
by Marie Zuvich
No, ... but grey-headed flying foxes are in our local area at the moment, in extremely large numbers. Love them or hate them, as people do when they decide to take up residence at the end of your street, they are a fascinating cacophony of sound and movement day and night. And this is currently the case in South Moruya Heads with thousands presently camped there in swampy bushland. This would definitely NOT be news for anyone living nearby!
The flying foxes begin to lift about 5.50pm and continue to stream out until well after dark with maximum numbers in the air about 6.10pm. The majority seem to be flying off in a north-west direction, although increasing numbers are heading south over Congo. While best not to disturb them during the day, nor enter private property to get close, a drive around South Heads in the evening is well worth the effort. Counts over recent weeks indicated that numbers have grown at the camp with a rough estimate putting the figure up around the 30,000 mark! This camp was last occupied in 1994 and prior to that in 1990 but numbers were nothing like this according to local ornithologist Mike Crowley from the Eurobodalla Natural History Society. There are other known camps in the Shire that are occupied periodically.
This species is a canopy-feeding fruit, blossom and nectar-eater but will also feed on introduced trees such as fruit trees. While in our area, the species tends to feed on winter-flowering trees such as Spotted Gum, Mahogany, Forest Red Gum and Paperbark but also loves figs and lilly pilly.
It may therefore come as a surprise to learn that the number of grey-headed flying fox has declined markedly over the last century and that it is listed as vulnerable in the schedules of the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act as well as the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The main threat to their existence in NSW is clearing or modification of native vegetation for urbanisation and, to a lesser extent, illegal shooting.
However, in some places, like South Moruya Heads at the moment, the decline in grey-headed flying-foxes may not be obvious. As their natural habitat is lost through clearing, these animals become more concentrated in localised areas where feeding and roosting habitat is still available.
But harassed local residents take heart! Grey-headed flying foxes show a regular pattern of seasonal movement with populations concentrating now in late summer/autumn preceding their main breeding season. Once the Spotted Gums have finished flowering, the flying foxes will move away to other feeding grounds to bear their young, usually around September.
Despite their overpowering noise and smell, the grey-headed flying fox performs an important ecosystem function by providing a means of seed dispersal and pollination for many floral species.
For those interested in further information see http://www.threatenedspecies.environment.nsw.gov.au/tsprofile/profile.aspx?id=10697.
Kindly contributed by Marie Zuvich, EuroEcology