Lindsey Nietmann, who is in Iluka from the University of Washington speaks to members of the Maclean District Avicultural Society about her work studying the Rufous Fantail bird in the rainforest.Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner
Lindsey Nietmann, who is in Iluka from the University of Washington speaks to members of the Maclean District Avicultural Society about her work studying the Rufous Fantail bird in the rainforest.Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner Adam Hourigan

Seattle researcher travelled the world for a rare bird

COMING from the bustling city of Seattle and starting on the rainforest Pacific island of Guam, it's pretty hard to see how Lindsey Nietmann's next port of call for her research was Iluka.

Ms Nietmann is a studying for her Ph. D. in Behavioural Ecology at the University Of Washington researching bird behaviour and has focussed her attention on the Rufous Fantail, which can be found in the rainforest areas in Iluka.

"I think everyone thinks because I've come all this way I'm researching some rare bird," Ms Nietmann laughed.

"I'd seen previous studies of them performed just outside of Coffs Harbour, and after looking at sites all on the coast between Coffs and Brisbane and decided to base myself in Iluka.

"(Iluka) actually has one of the highest densities of them on the eastern coast. They are quite small though, so unless you are a keen naturalist or bird watcher you may never see them."

Ms Nietmann's interest in the bird comes from their extinction on the island of Guam in the late 1980s after they were wiped out by an introduced brown tree snake.

The exact species of snake also exists on the Australian east coast, and it is by gathering data here, and overseas , Ms Nietmann hopes to being closer to an explanation.

"I've studied them on an Island north of Guam called Rota where they are no snakes present, and there they are fine," Ms Nietmann said.

"Here in Australia they're able to live with the snake, and though obviously some are still lost, they are not threatened by extinction like they were on Guam."

This year marks the second three-month trip Ms Nietmann has made to Iluka, last year she began bird banding in the area, helped out by a familiar face to avian followers.

"When I arrived, I got in touch with Greg Clancy to get approval for an Australian bird banding licence," she said.

"He's done some work in the Iluka area, and encouraged me to check it out."

The Rufous Fantail species is migratory, travelling north to the tropics in winter, and Ms Nietmann said from the banding she had seen, some birds returned to the area the following year.

"Some of the birds come back to the exact tree they were nesting in," she said.

On each trip Ms Nietmann collects data on nesting behaviour, where they nest and how successful different places are, and she has already noticed difference between the two environments.

"On Rota, the nestlings are in the nest on average for 14 days, which is three days longer than what they are here in Iluka," she said.

"That's three extra days for a predator to find them."

Ms Nietmann will return next year by which time she said she would have all the data she needed.

"Then I'll go back and analyse the data and write up the results, which may take another year," she said.

"My work is very theoretical -- and I have a theory why this happening. I collect all this data to test that out.

"Hopefully I'll be able to say why this has happened, and someone can use that knowledge to solve the problem."

Ms Nietmann completed her initial university studies in 2009, and has worked in jobs around the world studying birds.

"I've got experience studying birds and got jobs in cool places like North Queensland, the Caribbean and Central America," she said.

"Iluka definitely is a lot more quiet, my friends are all over 60 here. I'm not a partier or anything like that."

Last week she met with some new friends in the area, speaking to the Maclean District Avicultural Society at their monthly meeting at the Maclean Showground.

And while they are generally more concerned with caged birds, the line of questions that flowed from the small but enthusiastic group showed they too have a love of the  creature that has brought Ms Nietmann around the world more than once.

"I've always been a keen naturalist, I love observing animals and birds are quite easy to study," she said.

"As a scientist you have the ability to ask interesting questions -- and studying birds really facilitates that."

And Ms Nietmann saves her last comment for her part-time Australian home in Iluka.

"I absolutely love the community here, I think it's totally great," she said.

"The rainforest is incredibly special. For something once threatened by sand mining and for the people in the community to step in and save it, I'm  so grateful it was preserved."


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