Kirralee Mallett

Herons are my heroes

Growing up in the Wheatbelt of Western Australia, coastal sojourns were a rare treat – moving to the Sunshine Coast has changed all that and made me a budding marine scientist. The beach is the place I go to regain my sense and sensibility (after long hours at Uni and study) and I feel incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to study how these magnificent coastal ecosystems work. Besides all that infatuation with coastal ecology, I enjoy listening to music, travelling, and can be found (lost?) on long walks along the beach (soooo cliché I know).

When it comes to ‘shorebirds’ most people think of seagulls, plovers, oystercatchers, terns and their avian chums. The object of my beach-bird studies is both common and yet unusual. ‘Common’, because the species occurs widely throughout Australia and most people will have seen one. ‘Unusual’, because it is rarely considered to form part of the assemblages of birds that inhabit wave-exposed sandy beaches; I study the white-faced heron (Egretta novaehollandiae).

Whilst conducting bird surveys on the sand islands of Southern Queensland, we have noticed a sizeable population of herons. Individuals are usually seen near small freshwater creeks that emerge from the dunes, but can also be observed stalking prey in the swash zone. It appears that herons at the edge of the sea are highly flexible, with catholic choices in habitat and diet – how rumbustious their plasticity truly is cuts to the core of my BSc(Hons) project.

In more formal academic terms, I will identify the landscape and human factors that determine the distribution and habitat associations of herons across the surf-beach-dune interface. This is a fundamental starting point to investigate more complex functional questions in the future, such as the role of marine carbon in the diet of terrestrial carnivores on sandy shores: herons could well become my carbon heroes….

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