Aerial fauna assessments using a helicopter

In remote areas that are difficult to access, helicopters can be a useful tool in undertaking a fauna habitat assessment.

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Flying low and slow enables the assessors to record a considerable quantity of useful data at each location and for the entire area. For example, a helicopter was used during a preliminary assessment of the suitability of an area as a conservation reserve. The route flown during this assessment (Plate 1) shows the track line and 500 selected habitat survey locations. The intention here was to determine areas that might provide suitable habitat for four specific conservation species (i.e. Northern Quoll, Bilby, Mulgara and Pilbara Olive Pythons). At multiple locations in the project area we recorded a suite of information about the fauna habitat. These data include:

  • Date;
  • Observer;
  • GPS coordinates;
  • Fire history;
  • Landform;
  • Soil substrate;
  • Habitat quality and structure; and
  • Potential for conservation significant species.

These data were then able to be used to map areas that might contain habitat suitable for particular conservation significant fauna. Prior on-ground knowledge of the area was of enormous assistance in being able to adequately interpret habitat characteristics from the helicopter.

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Plate 1. Track map of the helicopter’s route (red line) showing the habtiat assessment sites (yellow dot with black centre)

Aerial fauna assessments are particularly useful for covering large areas in remote or difficult to access terrain. We have also used a helicopter to search for Malleefowl mounds along linear corridors that are inaccessible and require many kilometres of walking had a helicopter not been available. Again, it is necessary to fly low and slow along the corridor such that the assessors are not looking into the sun. We have successfully used this approach for a Western Power high-voltage powerline corridor in the south-west through agricultural land and in the Great Western Woodlands where the client was proposing to construct a power line through a vegetated area that had no road access. In both assessments, when a landform was observed that could be a Malleefowl mound, the helicopter slowed and circled the area and where necessary dropped to the ground enabling the assessors to have a much closer look.

In appropriate habitat, helicopters can also be a useful strategy in searching for Bilby burrows. This however relies on a low density of vegetation or recently burnt habitat.

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Plate 2. Active Bilby burrow in the Pilbara as seen from a helicopter

 

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