Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Nest box monitoring reports are ready!

Posted on 23 January, 2020 by Asha

Nest boxes for phascogales

The Brush-tailed Phascogale is a carnivorous marsupial distinguished by its bushy tail. Once widespread through central Victoria, its range and numbers have severely declined due to habitat removal, degradation and introduced predators. It is listed as Threatened under Victorian legislation and considered vulnerable to localised extinction. Lack of old trees with nesting hollows is one factor that likely limits recovery of this species, which depends on hollows for shelter and breeding.

In 2010-11 Connecting Country installed 450 nest boxes designed for Brush-tailed Phascogales across the Mount Alexander region. We carefully located these nest boxes in a range of forest types, to allow for scientific analysis to understand phascogale distribution and habitat preferences. We have monitored our nest boxes every two years, but lack of funding makes further monitoring difficult. Ongoing monitoring is essential to determine if the Brush-tailed Phascogale is still declining, or management actions helping.

Our 2018 nest box monitoring

In 2018, we monitored Connecting Country’s nest boxes for the fifth time since they were installed in 2010-11. This monitoring season was notable, as it was the first time our monitoring program was not funded. However, we were able to monitor our ‘core’ group of 300 nest boxes, either by volunteering our own time, or incorporating nest box monitoring into our other professional roles. Beth Mellick (Wettenhall Environment Trust), Jess Lawton (La Trobe University) and Asha Bannon (Connecting Country) coordinated an amazing army of volunteers to complete our 2018 nest box checks.

To download the snapshot report – click here . For detailed methods, results, discussion, and acknowledgments, please email info@connectingcountry.org.au for a copy of our comprehensive report.

Thank you!

Our nest box monitoring program simply would not continue without the help of our community. We are most grateful for your ongoing support. Connecting Country would like to say a special thanks to the Wettenhall Environment Trust and La Trobe University for making the 2018 nest box monitoring possible. Thanks also to our amazing nest box volunteer helpers in 2018: Jeremy, Lori, Naomi, Bev, Paul, Gayle, Carmen, Mal, Damian, Frances, Lachlan, and Meg. A special thank you to Karen, Alex, Corey, Lou and Cara for their assistance in collating, managing and sharing our nest box data. The nest box data was analysed as a part of Jess Lawton’s PhD project at La Trobe University, and thanks are due to Andrew Bennett, Greg Holland and Angie Haslam at La Trobe University for support and statistical advice for this analysis. We also acknowledge the support of Helen Macpherson Smith Trust in helping facilitate our move to citizen-science based monitoring.

The Wettenhall Environment Trust generously provided us with funding in 2019 to maintain and repair nest boxes and report on our 2018 nest box check. And of course, a big thank you also to the hundred or so landholders who continue to host the nest boxes and support our monitoring program.

Looking to the future, we are thrilled that Connecting Country has received funding from Bank Australia to conduct nest box monitoring in 2020. This funding will support field work, project management, data entry and volunteer training during the coming year. We look forward to continuing to work with our community to monitor nest boxes and look after our phascogales in 2020 and beyond.

 

How to help wildlife in hot weather

Posted on 22 January, 2020 by Ivan

Central Victoria’s summers are often relentless, and don’t seem to be getting cooler and wetter anytime soon. Hence it’s a good time to reflect on the best methods of helping wildlife survive the warmer months. Thankfully, there is plenty of information already published and proven to work, which we’ve summarised in this post.

Animals Australia provides the following useful summary of priority actions that you can do to at your place to help wildlife right now.

1. Leave water out for animals

Sweltering summer days can be uncomfortable to be outside in for just a few minutes. Imagine what it’s like for animals who have no way of escaping the heat. During extreme heat waves, native animals can suffer terribly and even die. The simple act of providing them safe access to water can help them cope.

Water tips:

Birdbaths are an excellent way to provide water to thirsty animals, although they do not cater for ground-dwelling animals (photo by  Frances Howe)

  • Leave shallow dishes of water in the shade. Try to avoid metal dishes unless they’re in full shade as they will get very hot in the sun.
  • Put some dishes high up or in trees if you can, to help keep wildlife safe from predators.
  • Use shallow bowls if possible, as small birds can become trapped in deep dishes and drown. Cat litter trays can be suitable and inexpensive.
  • If you use large bowls or buckets, be sure to place some sticks, rocks and/or bricks inside to allow any trapped animals to make their way out.

2. Keep dogs and cats indoors

Not only will this help your animal companions escape the heat, but it will enable thirsty wildlife to access water in your backyard safely.

3. Cover your pool

It may feel counter-intuitive to prevent wildlife from cooling down in your pool on a hot day. But heat-stressed animals looking to cool down are at risk of drowning in the deep water. It’s not great for animals to be drinking pool water anyway as it may make them sick. Ensure animals have access to safe and fresh water sources in your yard instead.

4. Keep an eye out for heat-stressed wildlife

If you spot any critters who look like they’re struggling, call your local vet or local wildlife rescue group (for contacts – click here) for help. During natural disasters (e.g., bushfires), wildlife carers can be overwhelmed, but your local vet may be available and can assess the situation and treat injured animals (for free).

Tips for heat-stressed wildlife:

  • Be particularly mindful at dusk and at night as many nocturnal animals will be more active during this time.
  • Prepare an emergency kit to keep in your car including water, a blanket or towel, and a box. For kit suggestions – click here
  • Save a few local wildlife rescue contacts in your phone so that you can ring for advice if you need it. For contacts – click here
  • Help reduce the chances of animals being hit on the road. For details – click here

5. Share your fruit trees with hungry wildlife

The colorful Rainbow Lorikeet is well adapted to searching for backyard fruit if needed (photo by DPI WA)

Wildlife who have survived through bushfire are hungry. They have not only lost their homes, but their sources of food. During this time of ecosystem disturbance and habitat loss, it’s never been more crucial to protect species like flying foxes, who are key pollinators for many plants. The more flying foxes we can keep healthy and happy, the better our ecosystems will survive and regenerate. So consider taking down your fruit tree netting, and share some fruit with native wildlife.

6. Know what to do if you find distressed or injured wildlife

If you have found an animal who is visibly distressed, wrap them loosely in a blanket or towel if it is safe to do so, and place them in a cardboard box, before placing the box in a dark, quiet and cool place. Injured animals will often be quite frightened, so if there is a risk they may scratch or bite, wear gloves and try gently ushering them into a washing basket without touching, them instead of wrapping them in a blanket or towel.

Offer water but not food and call a wildlife carer immediately, or your local vet. Never pour water into an animals’ mouth -it’s not natural and can cause additional distress and even physical harm. Instead, provide cool water in a bowl and allow them to lap from it.

 

 

 

 

 

I spy…baby goannas in Shelbourne!

Posted on 16 January, 2020 by Asha

Can you see the young Tree Goanna (Varunus varius, aka Lace Monitor) in the photo below?

Many thanks to Newton Hunt for sending through these observations from his property in Shelbourne, Victoria. Newton said the one pictured is about 0.6 m long, but two larger goannas of 1.2 m and 1.5 m also visit the property regularly.

An interesting fact from the Bush Heritage website about Tree Goannas is that they ‘will dig holes into the side of termite mounds to lay their eggs. This is clever as the termites then rebuild the nest around the eggs, keeping them safe and at a constant temperature. When the young hatch the mothers return to help dig them out.’

Young Tree Goanna in Shelbourne (photo by Newton Hunt)

Newton also sent us these two photos of Wedge-tailed Eagle chicks he watched being reared in 2019:

 

What is the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas and why should we use it?

Posted on 16 January, 2020 by Ivan

We often get questions from the community and land owners asking about the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (VBA) and why it is important. We also get questions about where people should add their surveys, and sightings of flora and fauna, to ensure government agencies can access and consider the records. The VBA uses consistent data standards in recording species observations and conservation efforts, and contains over seven million records across the state of Victoria.

The VBA is the web-based information system designed to manage information about native and naturalised species occurring in Victoria. The system includes species attribute information, including origin and conservation status, along with more than six million records of species distribution and abundance. All published records have been through the verification process including review by a panel of Victorian experts. The VBA includes data submitted to Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) from external sources as well as the Department’s own data collections from systematic surveys and general observations. The VBA replaces several legacy systems, including the Victorian Flora Site Database, Atlas of Victorian Wildlife, Aquatic Fauna Database and Victorian Rare or Threatened Plant Population monitoring (VROTPop) systems.

Connecting Country enters the data from our monitoring program onto the VBA. With amazing volunteer helpers, we are currently entering all historical data from our surveys and observations. This will assist the government agencies in planning and reporting on biodiversity outcomes. We hope it will result in better planning and management outcomes for biodiversity. The data from the VBA feeds into the Atlas of Living Australia, but not vice-versa, so Connecting Country recommend that all flora and fauna data is entered onto VBA first and foremost, as it will also be added to the Atlas of Living Australia. Stay tuned for our upcoming blog post about the Atlas of Living Australia.

Here is a summary of how the VBA works from the DELWP website, including how users can register to enter data and contribute to statewide biodiversity planning. Click on the links for further information.

What is the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas?

The VBA species observations are a foundation dataset that feeds into some of the many biodiversity tools used in DELWP’s everyday decision making – showing where wildlife is now and how this has changed over time.  This makes it a core input to the majority of the governments processes and programs that impact native species.

It is used in conservation status assessments, Habitat Distribution Models (HDMs) that feed into the Strategic Management Prospects and Native Vegetation Removal Regulations and into our public land management, research activities and State of the Environment reporting.

You can use the atlas to search and map species from across the state, check for threatened species in your area. Also, by sharing your observations in the VBA format you can help us measure the progress to meeting the Biodiversity 2037 targets.

Victorian Biodiversity Atlas

Adding your records to the VBA is your main way to influence a range of government investment, regulation and management decisions.

The VBA includes a dynamic list of all species found in Victoria and provides information including conservation status. Currently there are more than seven million records of species distribution and abundance collated from many different data providers.

We have also released a mobile, simplified version for recording your general observations called VBA Go. Click on the link for more details, videos and help guides to get you started.

For more information on the VBA, please click here.

 

Butterfly Monitoring 28 December 2019 – POSTPONED!

Posted on 27 December, 2019 by Ivan

Due to the extreme weather forecast on the 28 December 2019, we have decided to move the Eltham Copper Butterfly Monitoring Session to the 31 of December 2019 (10am to 2pm). The new location is listed on the booking page below, if you are able to attend. 

We have cancelled the monitoring session due to the fact that the Eltham Copper Butterflies will not be out once the temperature is this warm, so monitoring on these days would be a waste of time. Our monitoring consultants have suggested the change in dates and locations and we are excited to have two remaining sessions to find some new populations of this precious and endangered butterfly.

We have created a new booking session if you are able to help us on the 31st of December from 10am to 2pm. The temperature is forecast to be mid to high 20s, so perfect for the Eltham Copper Butterfly. Alternatively, there is a final session on 3 January 2020.

Monitoring dates and locations:

  • 10-2 pm Tuesday 31 December 2019.  Location: Water tank on Hunter Track, top end of Hunter Street, Kalimna Park, Castlemaine VIC, Australia.
  • 12-4 pm Friday 3 January 2020.  Location: Corner of Vanstan Road and Lawson Parade, behind Castlemaine Secondary College, Castlemaine VIC, Australia.

Please book for these events – click here

Everyone is invited to become involved. Monitoring isn’t difficult but you will need:

  • A reasonable level of physical fitness, as monitoring involves walking off-track through the bush, often in warm weather.
  • A positive attitude and willingness to learn.
  • Ability to read maps, follow simple procedures and record sightings.

To learn more about this wonderful and interesting little butterfly click here. It would be terrific to find some new populations in our region and this is the perfect opportunity to survey some excellent butterfly habitat. You don’t need to attend all these events to be a monitor. Once you understand the monitoring method and feel confident you can identify an Eltham Copper Butterfly, you’re welcome to do your own monitoring and report sightings.

Sorry for the inconvenience and hopefully you can attend another session. The weather sure is extreme at the moment and we thank you for your patience. If you’d like to get involved in Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring, please come along to a monitoring event.

Karl Just and Elaine Bayes educate the community on how to identify the precious Eltham Copper Butterflies. Photo: Ivan Carter

 

Volunteers spot endangered butterflies in Castlemaine

Posted on 26 December, 2019 by Jacqui

In pleasant but overcast conditions, eight volunteers joined local ecologists, Karl Just and Elaine Bayes, on Sunday 15 December 2019 to look for Castlemaine’s endangered butterfly (the Eltham Copper Butterfly) in Kalimna Park, Castlemaine VIC.

After a quick briefing, we formed a line in the bush (emergency services style) and began walking slowly with long sticks in hand to tap the Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) plants gently as we walked by, to see if any Eltham Copper Butterflies would alight. We all had high hopes of spotting some of the small beautiful butterflies. To begin with some thought we saw them, only to realise they were small yellow moths, revealing their identity as they landed and tucked their wings.

After walking together for a while a call came from a volunteer at the end of the line that Eltham Copper Butterflies had been spotted on top of a rise! The group broke formation, scrambling up the hill to take a look, and were treated to excellent views of the butterflies, which may have been flying more slowly than usual because of the overcast conditions. Seeing the butterflies in flight helped us improve our identification skills. When flying, Eltham Copper Butterflies can look dark, almost black, with flashes of copper, compared to other butterflies of similar size.

An Eltham Copper Butterfly at rest on fallen timber (photo: Jacqui Slingo)

Elaine informed us that the adult butterflies tend to be ‘plant loyal’ and are likely to stay close to the individual Bursaria plant they were born on. We were treated to more sightings throughout the afternoon, generally finding butterflies at same locations where they were recorded during previous years. We were able to track the locations during the survey on our smart phones using Avenza, a free app available on Apple and Android. For more information on Avenza – click here

If you’re keen to join in and help out with surveys for Eltham Copper Butterflies, there’s still time this butterfly season, which extends from December to March. Please stay tuned to our blog, or contact us for information on further monitoring events.

Everyone is invited to get involved. Monitoring isn’t difficult but you will need:

  • A reasonable level of physical fitness, as monitoring involves walking off-track through the bush, often in warm weather.
  • A positive attitude and willingness to learn.
  • Ability to read maps, follow simple procedures and record sightings.

To learn more about this wonderful little butterfly – click here. It would be terrific to find some new populations in our region. You don’t need to attend an event to be a monitor. Once you understand the monitoring method and feel confident you can identify an Eltham Copper Butterfly, you’re welcome to do your own monitoring and report sightings.

 

 

Restoration site in Taradale takes off!

Posted on 17 December, 2019 by Jess

We’ve just wrapped up our spring bird monitoring season for 2019. Connecting Country’s bird monitoring program was established in 2010 to investigate the effects of habitat restoration on woodland birds. 2019 was the first year our sites were monitored entirely by our team of amazing volunteers. Some of our current and former staff members also volunteered to do bird surveys.

One of our Landscape Restoration Coordinators and volunteer bird monitor, Jacqui Slingo, surveyed one of our revegetation sites in Taradale, Victoria. This was a paddock site that was direct seeded in 2014.  As you can see from the photos below, revegetation by direct seeding can take a number of years to take off depending on the conditions and rainfall in the years following. Jacqui was delighted to find that the direct seeding is now going great guns, with many Wattles now over 2m tall. With the increased cover of vegetation many smaller native birds are starting to use the vegetation, where previously they had only been heard in neighbouring bush.

Direct seeding at the Taradale site 3 years after seeding in February 2017.

 

Revegetated species starting to emerge in 2017, including: Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha), Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata), Spreading Wattle (Acacia genistifolia), and Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa).

Direct seeding at Taradale beginning to take off November 2019. Photo: Jacqui Slingo.

The birds observed during the survey starting to use the new vegetation included: Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, Grey Fantails, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, and teams of Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Striated Thornbills and Buff-rumped Thornbills.

It’s always rewarding to see wildlife benefiting from our restoration work!

If you are interested in increasing or enhancing native vegetation on your property within Mount Alexander Shire in central Victoria, feel free to fill in an expression of interest form (click here). We will keep your details on file for the next opportunity when it arises.

If you have skills and interests in bird monitoring and are interested in joining our bird program, please email our Monitoring Coordinator, Jess Lawton (jess@connectingcountry.org.au). We are always on the lookout for skilled bird watchers to join our monitoring program!

Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) with developing seed pods. Photo: Jacqui Slingo

 

Echidna CSI – your reports needed

Posted on 17 December, 2019 by Ivan

We received a thought-provoking message from the Echidna ‘Conservation Science Initiative’ (CSI) project, run by researchers at the University of Adelaide, South Australia. They seek reports and photographs of the lovely Echidnas in our region. They’ve been studying the molecular biology of monotremes (both echidna and platypus), the world’s oldest mammals, and discovered some incredible surprises about their biology. For some fun facts about monotremes – click here.

Now they are using their knowledge and molecular tools to help with echidna conservation – but they need your help! Here is an outline of what the Echidna ‘Conservation Science Initiative’ is researching and how you can assist.

We want to learn more about echidnas! Where they are, what they are doing and if they are healthy – so we can work towards their conservation.

How can you help? By taking photos and collecting scats (i.e., poo). Although an iconic native Australian animal, we do not know much about echidnas’ wild populations, as they are extremely hard to find (when you’re actually looking for them). However, we know that there are many of you that have seen wild echidnas (sometimes even in your own backyard!) and taken photos or videos of them. With your help and photo taking abilities, we can start filling in the gaps about wild echidnas in Australia.

What we also need help with is collecting echidna scats.

Why? Because we can get a lot of information about echidnas through the molecules in their scats. We can get out DNA and hormones to tell us who that echidna is, if it’s healthy, stressed or reproductively active. And so we can learn more about these wild populations without having to track or capture any of these animals.

The EchidnaCSI app for smartphones is now available for new echidna sightings and scat collecting!

What do I do if I see an echidna? 
Open the app, go to the ‘submit’ page and select ‘record an echidna sighting’. Your camera will pop up so you can take a photo. Once you have taken a photo select ‘use photo’. A new page will open where we ask you some questions about the echidna, e.g., if it was alive or dead, walking or digging, a juvenile or adult, and a section for you to add any interesting comments if you wish. Then you submit your recording! We will be sent the photo with the GPS location and the information about that echidna.

What do I do if I find an echidna scat? 
Open the app, go to the ‘submit’ page and select ‘collect specimen’. Your camera will pop up so you can take a photo of the scat first. We need this photo so we can get its GPS location to match the sample. A new page will appear asking you to get an envelope or bag and to write the date, time and your name on it. This is so we can identify which submission it belongs to once we receive it. The next page will instruct you to place the scat in the envelope/bag, trying not to touch it. We then give you information on how to send us your collection.

For more information and to download the app – click here

Echidnas forage at the ground surface, waddling along slowly, sweeping their pointed snout across the ground like a metal detector (Photo: Prof. Frank Grützner, University of Adelaide)

 

Help monitor our endangered copper butterfly – Sunday 15 December 2019

Posted on 12 December, 2019 by Ivan

This Sunday will be the second of four Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring events for 2019-20, with local ecologists and butterfly enthusiasts Elaine Bayes and Karl Just training volunteers in how to conduct the vital monitoring needed to help this threatened species.

This is a fantastic opportunity to get out in the bush, learn more about your local environment, and collect some really important data to help protect this beautiful threatened species. You might even discover a new population of this special butterfly!

Castlemaine’s Kalimna Park is home to the largest remaining population of the threatened Eltham Copper Butterfly in the world. However, we don’t know how many butterflies there currently are, and its entirely possible that other, undiscovered populations exist around the Castlemaine area. The aim is to support interested community members to learn how to monitor with expert guidance, conduct more monitoring and (hopefully) discover new populations.

When: 12.00 -4.00 pm on Sunday 15 December 2019

Where: Parking spot just north of where golf course intersects with Kalimna Tourist Road, Castlemaine, VIC – click here for map

Bring: water, a hat, suitable clothing (long pants, sturdy shoes and weather-appropriate gear) and snacks to keep you going

Please book for this event – click here

Everyone is invited to get involved. Monitoring isn’t difficult but you will need:

  • A reasonable level of physical fitness, as monitoring involves walking off-track through the bush, often in warm weather.
  • A positive attitude and willingness to learn.
  • Ability to read maps, follow simple procedures and record sightings.

To learn more about this wonderful and interesting small butterfly, including ecology, distribution and information on how to identify this species from similar look-alike butterflies – click here.

There will be two more over the next few weeks, covering different areas around Castlemaine:

  • 12-4 pm Saturday 28 December 2019. Location: Corner of Vanstan Road and Lawson Parade, behind Castlemaine Secondary College, Castlemaine VIC – click here for map.
  • 12-4 pm Friday 3 January 2020. Location: Corner of Vanstan Road and Lawson Parade, behind Castlemaine Secondary College, Castlemaine VIC – click here for map.

If you’d like to get involved in Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring, please just book in and come along to a monitoring event, or for further information contact Ivan at Connecting Country (ivan@connectingcountry.org.au).

 

A team effort: monitoring biodiversity at Connecting Country

Posted on 3 December, 2019 by Jess

Community has always been at the core of what we do at Connecting Country. In recent years, it’s been increasingly difficult to source funding for environmental projects. In this new phase, we’ve had to rely on our community even more.

It is important we monitor local biodiversity so we can understand how our on-ground works are helping species. In past years, Connecting Country was able to employ staff members to monitor over 50 woodland bird survey sites, 450 nestboxes, and 48 reptile and frog sites.

Community members monitoring birds (photo: Connecting Country archives)

Nestbox monitoring
In recent times, the funding that once covered this monitoring has ended. 2018 was the first year our nestbox monitoring program was not funded. But that didn’t stop us! Asha, Beth, and Jess were able to incorporate nestbox monitoring into work and volunteer time. With the help of an army of volunteers, we monitored 297 of our 300 ‘core’ nestboxes. Special thanks to Beth, Asha, and Jeremy, Lori, Bev, Paul, Gayle, Carmen, Mal, Damian, Frances, Lachlan, Naomi, Claire, Meg and Naomi for providing invaluable assistance with our nestbox program.

Monitoring nestboxes (photo: Tanya Loos)

Woodland bird monitoring
Later in 2018, we received funding from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust to review all our monitoring programs, and to support volunteer ‘citizen scientists’ to carry out the monitoring. Spring 2019 was the first year our woodland bird sites were monitored by citizen scientists. Special thanks to our keen bird monitors: Damian, Lex, Jane R, Peter, Geoff, Jennifer, Euan, Asha, Jacqui, Jane M, Kerri P, Kerrie J, Lawrie, Lou, Sue, Peter, Steve, Tanya, Angus and Bob.

Reptile and frog monitoring
Our reptile and frog monitoring program has struggled to continue without ongoing funding.  We’re going to review our reptile and frog monitoring program early next year – so watch this space! Thank you to Mike, Paul, Thea, David, Kerrie, Rob, Kim, Mark, Alex, Beth, Neville, Geraldine, Geoff, Kerri, Tusker, Peter, Helen, Leanne, Jane S, Brendan and Jane R for your efforts with this program.

Many of our landscape restoration projects target species like this juvenile Spotted Pardalote (photo: Jane Rusden)

Data entry
We’ve collected nearly 25,000 species records since 2010. This year we recognized the importance of sharing this information with government agencies, so it can be put to the best use possible. We put a call out to see if anyone would be interested in assisting us with data entry, and we were blown away by many wonderful people offering to help. Thanks to Lou, Karen, Alex, and Corey – our data entry heroes! – for coming in to Connecting Country on a weekly basis, sitting in front of a computer screen and entering our species records into the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas.

Thank you!
This year, we had a small amount of money for a humble thank-you celebration for our volunteers. We wanted to be inclusive, so we initially wrote a list of all the people who had volunteered with us in any capacity over the past 2 years. This list came to over 120 people!  As much as we would have liked to have thanked each person, this was just not possible this year. So, we limited our celebration to our monitoring volunteers.

We enjoyed celebratory drinks and nibbles in The Hub Plot garden, a short summary of our monitoring achievements over the last two years, and Connecting Country’s inaugural ‘Klop’ game championship. Thank you to everyone who came and made it a wonderful evening with great company. A special thanks to Lou, Jane R, and Duncan for setting up and helping the evening run smoothly, and to Heather and Neil for the lovely venue.

These days our monitoring programs run off the smell of an oily rag. But, because we are surrounded by an enthusiastic community, we are still able to check in on our local biodiversity and deliver our monitoring programs. If it wasn’t for your hard work, we simply would not be able to monitor our wildlife. To everyone who has helped Connecting Country: Thank you! We are so grateful for your support.

 

 

 

Butterfly monitoring for 1 December 2019 – POSTPONED!

Posted on 29 November, 2019 by Frances

Our planned Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring this coming Sunday 1 December 2019 is postponed due to cool weather! Local ecologists and butterfly enthusiasts, Elaine Bayes and Karl Just, have advised that the weather forecast for Sunday is too cool for our special butterfly, which requires a series of warm nights to emerge. November 2019 has been cooler than last November, hence the butterflies are a little slower to appear.

Apologies to anyone who was planning to come along on Sunday. There are still plenty of opportunities to get involved and learn how to monitor this threatened species around Castlemaine. Given weather conditions, we will continue monitoring into January 2020.

Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring

There will be two more monitoring events over the next few weeks, covering different areas around Castlemaine, with a another event in January 2020:

  • 12.00 – 4.00 pm on Sunday 15 December 2019. Location: Parking spot just north of where Mount Alexander golf course intersects with Kalimna Tourist Road, Kalimna Park, Castlemaine VIC – click here for map.
  • 12.00 – 4.00 pm on Saturday 28 December 2019. Location: Corner of Vanstan Road and Lawson Parade, behind Castlemaine Secondary College, Castlemaine VIC – click here for map.
  • January 2020: date and location to be advised.

If you’d like to get involved in Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring, please come along to a monitoring event, or for further information contact Ivan at Connecting Country (ivan@connectingcountry.org.au).

 

Copper Butterfly monitoring update: 28 December 2019 and 3 January 2020

Posted on 28 November, 2019 by Ivan

Although the early summer weather was unfavourable for our beloved Eltham Copper Butterfly, butterflies have now been spotted out and about in Kalimna Park (Castlemaine VIC). Local ecologists and butterfly enthusiasts Elaine Bayes and Karl Just have been busy training enthusiastic volunteers in how to conduct the vital monitoring needed to help this threatened species.

In addition to the planned butterfly monitoring on Saturday 28 December 2019,  Karl and Elaine have now scheduled a further monitoring day on Friday 3 January 2020.

This is a fantastic opportunity to get out in the bush, learn more about your local environment, and collect some really important data to help protect this beautiful threatened species. You might even discover a new population of this special butterfly!

Castlemaine’s Kalimna Park is home to the largest remaining population of the threatened Eltham Copper Butterfly in the world. However, we don’t know how many butterflies there currently are, and its entirely possible that other, undiscovered populations exist around the Castlemaine area. Our aim is to support interested community members to learn how to monitor with expert guidance, conduct more monitoring and (hopefully) discover new butterfly populations.

Monitoring dates and locations:

  • 12-4 pm Saturday 28 December 2019. Location: Corner of Vanstan Road and Lawson Parade, behind Castlemaine Secondary College, Castlemaine VIC – click here for map.
  • 12-4 pm Friday 3 January 2020. Location: Corner of Vanstan Road and Lawson Parade, behind Castlemaine Secondary College, Castlemaine VIC – click here for map.

Please book for this event – click here

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Everyone is invited to get involved. Monitoring isn’t difficult but you will need:

  • A reasonable level of physical fitness, as monitoring involves walking off-track through the bush, often in warm weather.
  • A positive attitude and willingness to learn.
  • Ability to read maps, follow simple procedures and record sightings.

To learn more about this wonderful and interesting little butterfly, including ecology, distribution and information on how to identify this species from similar look-alike butterflies – click here. It would be terrific to find some new populations in our region and this is the perfect opportunity to survey some excellent butterfly habitat. You don’t need to attend all these events to be a monitor. Once you understand the monitoring method and feel confident you can identify an Eltham Copper Butterfly, you’re welcome to do your own monitoring and report sightings.

Please enjoy the video below, courtesy of the N-danger-D Youtube Channel, that has some excellent footage of this wonderful butterfly and symbiotic ant species.

If you’d like to get involved in Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring, please book in to a monitoring event, or for further information contact Ivan at Connecting Country (ivan@connectingcountry.org.au). 

 

 

Exploring the colour of wildflowers (and the joy of surprises)

Posted on 19 November, 2019 by Ivan

Getting out and about reminds us of just how many lovely wildflowers and things there are happening in the bush, even as the weather warms up! We are blessed to live in a region with large tracts of public land with woodland wonders aplenty, and now is a great time to get out and see some of the vivid and subtle colors our bushland has to offer. One of our Landscape Restoration Coordinators, Bonnie Humphreys, has kindly outlined some of the native species that may still be flowering and on show over the next few weeks, including a few surprises below!

  • Bush Peas (Pultenaea sp.) and Parrot Peas (Dillwynia sp.) are flowering.
  • Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata) is laden with pods at the moment, hinting at a good year for seed production.
  • Black Wattle (Acacia mearnsii) is in flower with lemony yellow blooms. Some can be seen from the Forest Creek bridge on Duke St, on the right hand side as you head towards Chewton.
  • Chocolate Lilies (Arthropodium strictum) and Sticky Everlastings (Xerochrysum viscosum) are looking spectacular.
  • Look out for beautiful white flowers from Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) and White Marianth (Rhytidosporum procumbens).
  • Creamy Candles (Stackhousia monogyna) are flowering. These have a lovely perfume which is most prevalent at night indicating a preference for night pollinator such as moths.
  • Cats Claw Grevillea or Alpine Grevillea (Grevillea alpina), some plants are still flowering away. There are many different colour forms in this plant including green, yellow, red, and then mixes of combinations.

There are many great places for bushwalking on public land in our region, including Kalimna Park (just a short walk from Castlemaine town centre), Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve (Sandon), Monk Track in the Dry Diggings National Park (Chewton), Muckleford State Forest, and Guildford Bushland Reserve.  View excellent ground-truthed maps of many of these areas by local cartographer Jase Haysom by clicking here. Local bird expert Damian Kelly’s book Castlemaine Bird Walks is another great resource for bird and wildlife outings in the bush.

Before the heat takes the color and vibrancy out of these treasures, be sure to explore some of the abundant nature hotspots in our region. Scroll down to see pictures below of some colourful characters from our local bush.

 

Cats Claw Grevillea (Grevillea alpina). Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Shingle Back Lizard. Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Creamy Candles (Stackhousia monogyna). Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Chocolate Lilies (Arthropodium strictum) and Sticky Everlastings (Xerochrysum viscosum). Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Twining Fringe-lily (Thysanotus patersonii). Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Muckleford bush with Parrot Pea (Dillwyina sp.), Cats Claw Grevillea (Grevillea alpina), Murnong or Yam Daisy (Microseris walteri), Grey Everlasting (Ozothamnus obcordatus) and Chocolate Lilies (Arthropodium strictum). Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Keep an eye out for nesting birds. Here’s an Owlet Nightjar fledgling checking out the world! Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

 

 

 

 

Be involved with butterfly monitoring – Saturday 16 November 2019

Posted on 14 November, 2019 by Ivan

This Saturday will be the first of four Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring events for 2019, with local ecologists and enthusiasts Elaine Bayes and Karl Just training volunteers in how to conduct the vital monitoring needed to help this threatened species.

This is a fantastic opportunity to get out in the bush, learn more about your local environment, and collect some really important data to help protect this beautiful threatened species. You might even discover a new population of this special butterfly!

Castlemaine’s Kalimna Park is home to the largest remaining population of the threatened Eltham Copper Butterfly in the world. However, we don’t know how many butterflies there currently are, and its entirely possible that other, undiscovered populations exist around the Castlemaine area. The aim is to support interested community members to learn how to monitor with expert guidance, conduct more monitoring and (hopefully) discover new populations.

Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring
When: 12.00 -4.00 pm on Saturday 16 November 2019
Where: Kalimna Park Rotunda, top of Urquhart Street, Kalimna Tourist Road, Castlemaine VIC – click here for map
Bring: water, a hat, suitable clothing (long pants, sturdy shoes and weather-appropriate gear) and snacks to keep you going

Eltham Copper Butterfly perched on flowering Sweet Bursaria (photo by Elaine Bayes)

There is no need to book, just come along.

Everyone is invited to get involved. Monitoring isn’t difficult but you will need:

  • A reasonable level of physical fitness, as monitoring involves walking off-track through the bush, often in warm weather.
  • A positive attitude and willingness to learn.
  • Ability to read maps, follow simple procedures and record sightings.

To learn more about this wonderful and interesting small butterfly, including ecology, distribution and information on how to identify this species from similar look-alike butterflies – click here.

It would be terrific to find some new populations in our region and this is the perfect opportunity to survey some excellent butterfly habitat.

There will be three more over the next few weeks, covering different areas around Castlemaine:

  • 12.00 -4.00 pm on Sunday 1 December 2019. Location: Water tank on Hunter Track, top end of Hunter Street, Kalimna Park, Castlemaine VIC – click here for map.
  • 12.00 -4.00 pm on Sunday 15 December 2019. Location: Parking spot just north of where golf course intersects with Kalimna Tourist Road, Kalimna Park, Castlemaine VIC – click here for map.
  • 12.00 -4.00 pm on Saturday 28 December 2019. Location: Corner of Vanstan Road and Lawson Parade, behind Castlemaine Secondary College, Castlemaine VIC – click here for map.

You don’t need to attend all these events to be a monitor. Once you understand the monitoring method and feel confident you can identify an Eltham Copper Butterfly, you’re welcome to do your own monitoring and report sightings.

If you’d like to get involved in Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring, please just come along to a monitoring event, or for further information contact Ivan at Connecting Country (ivan@connectingcountry.org.au).

 

Eltham Copper Butterfly talk in Castlemaine – Friday 8 November 2019

Posted on 7 November, 2019 by Frances

Castlemaine and Bendigo host the largest known area of Eltham Copper Butterfly (ECB) habitat in the world. Given the global decline in insects, it is critical that we protect our Australian species such as the endangered Eltham Copper Butterfly.

Local ecologists Elaine Bayes and Karl Just are guest speakers at the November meeting of the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club. They will discuss the current distribution of ECB, the amazing relationship ECB has with Notoncus ants and the host plant Sweet Bursaria, and the local butterfly monitoring program. There has been little research on the central Victorian populations of ECB over the last decade. Elaine, Karl, and Julie Radford are trying to change this by leading the community in searching for new ECB populations and mapping colonies so we can protect them from planned burns and other threats.

The beauty of the Eltham Copper Butterfly (photo by Elaine Bayes)

Upcoming opportunities for the local community to be involved in studying and saving this species will be provided. Monitoring ECB also provides a great excuse to walk through our stunning bushlands over the summer months when ECB are flying and mating.

The monthly Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club meeting will start at 7.30 pm on 8 November 2019. This month the meeting will be held in the chapel behind the Uniting Church on Lyttleton St, Castlemaine VIC (next door to the Castlemaine Art Museum). All members are all encouraged to attend and, as always, visitors are also very welcome.  There is no cost for entry and no need for bookings.

 

If you are interested in helping Karl and Elaine with the monitoring of this amazing local butterfly over November and December 2019, please click here

 

Platypus survey in Campbells Creek

Posted on 7 November, 2019 by Ivan

Our partners and good friends at Friends of Campbells Creek Landcare Group have arranged for the Australian Platypus Conservancy (APC) to conduct a Platypus survey at six locations along Campbells Creek, Victoria,  in mid-November 2019.

The survey has been funded by Coliban Water. The survey will commence on the evening of Friday 15 November 2019 (depending on appropriate weather conditions), and finish early on Saturday morning. The APC team will be based at the Campbells Creek Community Centre. The first inspection of the nets will be at around 10 pm and continue throughout the night, approximately every two hours.

On Saturday morning at around 7.30 am, the results of the survey will be discussed at the Campbells Creek Community Centre (45 Elizabeth St, Campbells Creek VIC). Interested community members are welcome to join in and see the results. Tea and coffee will be available. In 2020 the APC team will return to conduct a citizen science workshop to present information on the biology and conservation considerations of Platypus and Rakali (native water rat), followed by a practical session on Campbells Creek. We will keep you informed of this event.

Platypus (Photo- John Bundock) 25%

The platypus has a streamlined body and a superficially duck-like bill (photo: APC)

 

For more information about Friends of Campbells Creek Landcare Group and the Platypus project, please click here.

For more information about the Australian Platypus Conservancy (APC) and the survey methods, please click here.

 

Seek and discover

Posted on 30 October, 2019 by Ivan

Have you ever wondered what that mysterious plant might be and don’t have the knowledge or time to consult with a botanical encyclopedia? Meet Seek!

The Seek app is an online social network for nature enthusiasts and is part of an ongoing attempt to involve ordinary people in citizen science projects. Similar to Shazam – an app that allows you to identify music from audio recordings – the Seek app allows you to identify plants and animals from your photos by harnessing image recognition technology. It is still in the early stages of learning many of the native species from this region, but learns from each experience it is exposed to.

The Seek app enables you to take photos of nature and have complex articifical intelligence attempt to identify them. Photo: I-Naturalist

The beauty of this app is that it encourages curious adventurers to become engaged with the wildlife around them. Fun and educational for kids and adults alike, users can earn badges while they learn about each new species they photograph.

We tried this app around Castlemaine in central Victoria to identify plants (and chickens in the community garden adjacent to our office – red jungle fowl, tick!), and found its ability to identify plants depended on the camera’s ability to focus. Moving the camera around at different angles (without taking a photo), helped it recognise exotic plants to genus level. It performed better at identifying exotic species, which is useful if you want to identify weeds. At this point in Seek’s development, it didn’t succeed at identifying any plants to species level.  We recommend patience and a good field guide, as we found the app incorrectly identified an  Early Black Wattle (Acacia decurrens – native to NSW and a weedy invader of bushland in central Victoria), as Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata), (Acacia dealbata – a locally indigenous species.

With further development, this could be a powerful app for anyone learning to identify weeds and local native species, and also for recording observations in the landscape. Seek draws from existing data collected from wildlife observations on iNaturalist, in combination with artificial intelligence and neural network technologies. Once downloaded, users are provided with lists of commonly recorded plants, insects, birds and other animals in their area. When a new photo is uploaded, the app’s artificial intelligence analyses the photo to find a match, adds it to the user’s collection, and provides a summary of information from Wikipedia.

The app software currently recognises 30,000 species, and will continue to improve with further use. The app’s co-founder Scott Loarie explains, ‘The only way we can improve our modeling of species is to get more data, and to do that we need more people outside taking pictures’.

The Seek app doesn’t require any registration to use and doesn’t collect any user data by default, though location data is used to show you the plants and animals in your area. Alternatviely, if an app is not for you, you might be interested to have a look at the Flora of Australia website

You can read more about the Seek app, and to download it for free – click here.

 

 Eltham Copper Butterfly events 2019

Posted on 28 October, 2019 by Frances

Confused about all the exciting things happening with Eltham Copper Butterfly (ECB) around Castlemaine at the moment?

We’re delighted that Castlemaine’s local populations of this threatened butterfly are getting the attention they deserve. Here is a summary of events prepared with help from local ecologist and ECB guru, Elaine Bayes of Rakali Ecological Consulting.

  • If you would like to help protect Eltham Copper Butterflies or would simply like a purpose while walking out in the bush, then come and join us in finding where ECB are so that they can be protected from threats.
  • If you are just curious and want to learn more about Eltham Copper Butterflies then come along to the Butterfly Celebration Day, ECB monitoring education session or Castlemaine Field Naturalist talk.
  • If you would like to become an Eltham Copper Butterfly Monitor and carry out searches either with our group or on your own, then join us on the ECB Monitor Training Events, so that you can learn how to contribute to conservation of the amazing Eltham Copper Butterfly.

2019 Eltham Copper Butterfly events around Castlemaine

Date Activity Further information
Friday 8 November 2019
7.30 – 9.00 pm
Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club talk on ECB with Elaine Bayes
Hear general information on ECB biology and monitoring
Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club
click here
Saturday 9 November 2019
1.30 – 4.00 pm
Field trip to Kalimina Park with Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club
See ECB habitat and learn method of ECB search
Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club
click here
Saturday 16 November 2019
12.00 – 4.00 pm
ECB monitor training – introduction
Receive training day on how to monitor ECB
Connecting Country
click here
Sunday 17 November 2019
1.00 – 3.00 pm
Butterfly Celebration Day at Castlemaine Botanical Gardens
Attend family event with art and music and ECB habitat tours
Castlemaine Landcare Group
click here
Sunday 1 December 2019
12.00 – 4.00 pm
ECB monitor training – practical
Carry out ECB searches as a group
Connecting Country
Bookings not required
For more information click here
Sunday 15 December 2019
12.00 – 4.00 pm
ECB monitor training – practical
Carry out ECB searches as a group
Connecting Country
Bookings not required
For more information click here
Saturday 28 December 2019
12.00 – 4.00 pm
ECB monitor training – practical
Carry out ECB searches as a group
Connecting Country
Bookings not required
For more information click here


Trained ECB Monitors
are also invited to join Karl Just and Elaine Bayes on their searches throughout November and December. The following dates are scheduled but may change depending on the weather – contact elaine@rakali.com.au if you would like to be kept updated:

  • Friday 15 November 2019
  • Friday 29 November 2019
  • Thursday 19 December 2019
  • Friday 20 December 2019
  • Friday 27 December 2019

This year’s events are supported by the Wettenhall Environment Trust and Mount Alexander Shire Council. 

 

October Wheel Cactus Community Field Day – 27 October 2019

Posted on 24 October, 2019 by Ivan

Tarrangower Cactus Control Group and Parks Victoria will hold their next Community Field Day on Sunday 27 October 2019, with the group keen to get some new Cactus Warriors on board.

  • Where: Treloars Rd, Tarrangower, VIC. Follow the signs along Watersons Rd.
  • When: 10.30 am to 12.30 pm on Sunday 27 October 2019.

Come and join the Cactus Warriors and Parks Victoria for a morning in the fresh air and learn how best to destroy Wheel Cactus. The location is at a property in Treloars Rd, around the corner from Watersons Rd. The route will be well signposted. The morning’s activities finish with a delicious BBQ lunch and friendly chat. The event is family friendly but children must be accompanied by a parent at all times.

For more information on the infamous Cactus Warriors – click here.

Check out the poster below for a location map or visit www.cactuswarriors.org and subscribe for a monthly field day reminder.

 

 

Where is that weed heading?

Posted on 24 October, 2019 by Ivan

A new web-based tool developed by Macquarie University in collaboration with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage is helping tackle the problem of weeds. It can be used by anyone but is particularly useful for land managers to help identify which weeds pose the greatest threat on their land.

Weed Futures is a web-based decision-support tool that anyone can use to find out information for over 500 weed species. The information available is a comprehensive assessment of potential weed threats for regions of interest under current and predicted future climates. It also rates weed species that are not yet invasive as having low, medium or high potential for establishment and expansion now and in the future. This tool is ideal to assist land managers in identifying those species for which detailed weed risk assessment and management are needed.

Weeds damage our environment, economy, biodiversity, threatened species and our public land. So much so that 18% of key threatening processes listed across the country are weed related. Collectively, these threats affect 54% of all threatened species and communities. To make matters worse, the interaction between weeds and other threats, such as climate change, only exacerbate the problem and can increase the invasive potential of weeds.

Weeds are often garden plants that escaped into the landscape (photo by Ivan Carter)

To tackle this pervasive issue, experts from Macquarie University, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage and others worked together through the NSW Adaptation Research Hub – Biodiversity Node to come up with some solutions. This work resulted in Weed Futures.

The Weed Futures tool can be used by anyone, but is particularly valuable to decision-makers, councils, government authorities, weeds officers, bush care groups and researchers. Weed Futures fills a significant knowledge gap about the potential distribution of weed species, an important factor in determining a weed’s risk.

Connecting Country will be using the Weed Futures mapping tool to assess the risk of many localised invasive species into the future, under a changing climate. Interestingly, the website gives predictions of potential distributions into 2035 and 2065, under a variety of climate change scenarios.

By using an informed evidence-based approach to decision-making, weed threats can be prioritised and efforts targeted to areas where the greatest benefit can be achieved. With the help of tools such as this, the combined effort of land managers and decision-makers can best target effort to reduce the impact of weeds on our environment and hopefully create a brighter future for our threatened species.

Predicted suitable habitat of Blanket Weed (Galenia pubescens) by 2065 (image by Weed Futures)