Drones used to track bitterns


By Jamie Hearn
Senior Land Services Officer - Central Murray Ramsar project

P: 03 5881 9925 | M: 0447 420 789 | jamie.hearn@lls.nsw.gov.au

The drone used to monitor bittern populations and the project team behind it.Monitoring the population of the endangered Australasian bittern may be about to get a whole lot easier thanks to the use of thermal drone technology.

“Traditionally, monitoring population numbers of the bittern in the NSW Central Murray Ramsar site wetlands has been a bit of an inexact science,” explains Jamie Hearn, from Murray Local Land Services.

“Researchers currently venture out to the wetlands at dawn and dusk, listen for the booming call of the male birds, note the time, distance and bearing of the call, and then triangulate the calls to provide a male bittern population figure for that wetland,” he said.

“It is then assumed that one male bird can mate with up to three females.”.

However, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, a drone-mounted thermal imaging camera may prove to be a game-changer.

Mr Hearn, who manages the Murray Local land Services Central Murray Ramsar project, engaged the Ricegrowers Association of Australia and aerial survey company Wagga Drones to trial monitoring by drone.

“The system had earlier been used to successfully monitor bitterns in Riverina rice crops,” he said.

“We wanted to see how it worked in the taller, denser vegetation of our local wetland areas.”

Mr Hearn said that although the data collected by the drone was comparable to the acoustic surveys done at the same time of year, identifying the bitterns through the vegetation had initially proven challenging.

“However, we believe that ongoing refinement of the flying technique and camera and filtering technology will improve the quality and reliability of the outputs,” he said.

“We feel confident that this thermal imaging technology will greatly assist population monitoring of these endangered birds in the future.”

A YouTube video has been produced about the drone trial - see below.

This project is supported by Murray Local Land Services, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

National Landcare Program logo

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