Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Give me shelter…and protection from cats

Posted on 14 January, 2021 by Ivan

We recently discovered an interesting and relevant article on the ABC website, highlighting new research into alternative methods of protecting our native wildlife from feral cats. We may not all know the harrowing statistics, but a recent study by the Australian National University (ANU) concluded that on average each pet cat kills about 75 native animals per year, but many of these kills are never witnessed by their owners. They concluded that this equates to cats killing more than 1.5 billion native animals per year.

Any advancements in protecting our native wildlife from cats will be beneficial in addressing the extinction crisis. The ABC article highlights research conducted by the University of Tasmania, which looked at the impact of the feral cat compared to the native spotted quoll.  They concluded that Australia’s wildlife is up to 200 times more likely to come across a deadly feral cat than an equivalent native predator.

A place to hide is vital to the survival of many native animals. Connecting Country has been restoring missing understorey plants like Spreading Wattle for over a decade. (photo: Connecting Country)

This new research reinforces Connecting Country’s restoration strategy of reintroducing missing understorey species into the landscape, including prickly plants and ground cover species. While trees are great, it is vital to have a complex community of understorey species, occupying different strata our the forest and woodlands.

The full article is available from the ABC website – click here

 

 

 

Celebrating Landcare with Connecting Country’s new grant

Posted on 14 January, 2021 by Ivan

Connecting Country is excited to announce we were successful in obtaining a small community grant from the Mount Alexander Shire Council (MASC), allowing us to produce a video celebrating the amazing achievements of our local Landcare groups from across the Mount Alexander region in central Victoria. Our 2021 Celebrating Landcare project will highlight the variety of on-ground landscape restoration and other Landcare activities from across our region that contribute to a healthy and more sustainable landscape. We love our volunteers and this is a chance to recognise their significant achievements in a visual format, using a combination of interviews, footage from on the ground, and project information.

We are very fortunate to have around 30 active Landcare and Friends Groups in our region, which will be very hard to capture in a short video, but we will do our best! We are forever grateful for their passion and array of skills, which has resulted in the recovery of many degraded landscapes across our region.

This project will also aim to attract new members to our Landcare groups, and show the many benefits of volunteering and being part of a bigger picture of landscape restoration. Current members and volunteers include over 1,300 residents from a diverse mix of cultural and demographic backgrounds, genders and age groups. These groups collectively own or manage a significant proportion of the private land throughout our shire.

We hope our video will support and acknowledge over 10,000 hours of incredible work our Landcare volunteers contribute to the region annually, all in five minutes of video! A big ask we know, but we are determined to deliver a great project within the modest budget.

We expect to have the video completed late in the second half of 2021 and will keep the community updated on its progress.

In the meantime, please enjoy our five minute video highlighting our restoration and bird monitoring programs, produced by our partners at Remember The Wild. We would like to thank the MASC for the community grant funding and acknowledge their contribution towards delivery of this project.

 

 

Connecting Country Factsheets: revegetation, nest boxes and pests

Posted on 14 January, 2021 by Ivan

One of our most popular pages on the Connecting Country website is the home of our regionally-specific fact sheets, covering the topics of weedspest animalsnest boxes and revegetation. These were developed by Connecting Country staff to give practical, local information on the key topics that we get the most questions about. They cover the latest locally-relevant information about managing invasive species and creating habitat for the unique biodiversity of the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. Landholders and managers comment they enjoy the local content because it’s more relevant than the generic information available elsewhere.

Following local advice on revegetation techniques will give your plants the best chance of survival (photo Connecting Country)

We developed the fact sheets courtesy of funding from the North Central Catchment Management Authority. The fact sheets formed part of our ‘Prickly plants for wildlife on small properties‘ project, which targeted landowners with smaller properties who were keen to manage their land as wildlife habitat, but were excluded from previous projects. Through this project, we’ve helped numerous local landholders with smaller areas of remnant vegetation to protect and improve habitat on their land. We’ve supported landholders with on-ground actions such as revegetation planting, weed and rabbit control, and nest box installation, as well as delivering three popular community education events.

Many people contact Connecting Country regarding how to revegetate their land using native tubestock plants. There are numerous aspects to consider when using this technique, such as when to plant, how to prepare the soil, what to plant, and how to protect your plantings. Our revegetation planting fact sheet covers all these topics and more, to help you give your precious native plants the best start in life.

Here is a brief outline of each of the four fact sheets:

  • Weed control. Weeds, or invasive plants, are one of the main extinction threats to Australia’s native plants and animals. Some weeds were introduced initially as garden plants, and others accidentally introduced and spread through seeds or plant material. Some native species become weeds if they spread aggressively beyond their natural range. To download – click here
  • Nest boxes for wildlife. A nest box is an artificial enclosure provided for hollow-dependent animals to live and nest in. Providing a well constructed and maintained nest box on your property can provide a supplementary home for native animals where natural tree hollows are missing. To download: click here
  • Invasive pest animals. Invasive animals are a major threat to biodiversity and agriculture. They can cause long-term damage to ecosystems and have resulted in dramatic extinction rates of species across Australia. To download: click here
  • Revegetation planting with tube stock. Planting within or next to existing bushland to provide habitat for native animals can be a satisfying endeavor. Taking time to plan and prepare your revegetation will give you the best chance of seeing your plants survive to maturity. To download: click here

Further information and fact sheets on a variety of restoration topics can be found on the Connecting Country website – click here

 

Uggboots to the rescue: Phascogale adventures

Posted on 7 January, 2021 by Ivan

How does one catch a Brush-tailed Phascogale on the run in your house? Easy – with an Ugg boot apparently!

We received a video from a local landholder, Brodi, who rescued this Brush-tailed Phascogale from their house in Sutton Grange using a sheepskin boot in late 2020. Doesn’t get much cuter than that!

The Brush-tailed Phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa tapoatafa), also known as the Tuan, is a small, nocturnal, carnivorous marsupial, a little larger than a domestic rat. In Victoria, the Brush-tailed Phascogale was once widespread, but now has a fragmented distribution. It’s found to the east and north-east of Melbourne, central Victoria (around Ballarat, Heathcote and Bendigo), north-eastern Victoria, and far western Victoria (from Mount Eccles to Apsley).

The Brush-tailed Phascogale is a threatened species listed under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and considered Vulnerable in Victoria.

Thanks Brodi for sending us this video. Please enjoy!

To learn more about Brush-tailed Phascogales and their conservation, check out our blog post below. To get involved in our monitoring program for Brush-tailed Phascogale, please email info@connectingcountry.org.au

Fun with Phascogales – Jess Lawton’s Talk

 

Bird walk at Eganstown: Saturday 9 January 2021

Posted on 7 January, 2021 by Ivan

BirdLife Castlemaine’s beloved bird walks are commencing again with a leisurely stroll down through the Deep Creek Streamside Reserve, Eganstown, ten minutes drive west of Daylesford in central Victoria. It is the first walk for 2021, with 2020’s walks being interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Deep Creek Streamside Reserve has some excellent stands of mature grassy woodlands and herb-rich foothill forests, and will no doubt provide some excellent bird watching opportunities. Please see the details below, kindly provided by Birdlife Castlemaine.

Bird Walk – Saturday 9 January 2021 – Deep Creek Streamside Reserve, Eganstown

Hopefully, if the COVID-19 situation allows we will be able to have a full round of Bird Walks in 2021! Our 2021 program begins on Saturday 9 January (note – this is the second Saturday rather than the usual first Saturday of the month). We will walk along the road by Maclachlan Creek through manna gum streamside forest until we reach the reserve at the end of the road. Then along wide paths to the old spring. If there is time and the weather is good we will then walk through the bush – lovely messmate forest! Last time there blue-winged parrots were seen! Snakes are active in the area at the moment so long pants and boots a must – and bring snake kits if you have them (we will also have first aid kits with snake bite bandages).  There will be some uneven ground and walking through the forest but those feeling less up for a walk could easily walk down the road and then picnic down by the creek. Our walk leader is Tanya Loos. All welcome!

Where: Deep Creek Streamside Reserve, Eganstown VIC. Turn onto Deep Spring Road from the Midland Highway, approximately 9 km west of Daylesford and park near the Nowland Track which is about 600 m from the Highway. Coordinates: -37.350353, 144.074929

When: Meet at Deep Creek Streamside Reserve at 9:00 am. Walks last for approximately 2 hours.

Bring: Water, snacks, binoculars, sunscreen, hat, sturdy shoes. Long trousers are advised during snake season.

More info: Jane Rusden, 0448 900 896 or Judy Hopley 0425 768 559. To discover more about Deep Creek Streamside Reserve – click here

Please note that walks will be canceled if severe weather warnings are in place, persistent rain is forecast, if the temperature is forecast to be 35 degrees or above during the walk period, and/or a Total Fire Ban is declared.

Steep gorges and volcanic outcrops are on offer at Deep Spring Reserve (photo: Birdlife Castlemaine)

 

Victorian Rabbit Action Network launches new website

Posted on 7 January, 2021 by Ivan

Run rabbit run! The Victorian Rabbit Action Network (VRAN) has launched its new website, to help support community action on rabbit management in Victoria. The new website is an excellent example of a modern communication tool, with a good assortment of videos and case studies to assist landholders.

VRAN is led by a steering group of community members, government representatives and industry leaders who, with the VRAN Executive Officer, facilitate community-led action on rabbit control.

Connecting Country has received many inquiries about increasing rabbit numbers in the past year, with many landholders noting an increase in juvenile rabbits in the landscape. We believe this is a timely reminder to start planning coordinated rabbit treatment, especially coordinating with neighbours to help address rabbits at a larger landscape scale.

VRAN has provided the following update on their new website and their grants scheme, which is available to landholders in our region.

The VRAN website was developed with ‘community’ front of mind and is aimed at helping people working in the rabbit management space, to increase their knowledge on best practice rabbit management and connect with others working in the industry. Rabbits have been in our landscape for over a century destroying natural habitats, agriculture, and cultural heritage, and are listed as one of Australia’s biggest threats.

Having a reliable contractor with the right skills and equipment is important for effective control (photo: VRAN)

 

The new website contains information on best practice rabbit management, training programs, videos, grant programs, research and so much more. VRAN are also inviting community groups and organisations to apply for their new grant program.

VRAN Chair, Gerald Leach, says ‘VRAN have grants up to $5,000 to help community groups and
organisations to raise awareness of the rabbit issue and best practice control methods’. The Community Action Grants program is open until 29 January 2021. More information on the grant program and can be found on the website – click here

This new digital resource and the grant program was developed through funding from the Australian Government Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper in collaboration with Agriculture Victoria.

Visit the VRAN site today to apply for a grant and help plan your summer rabbit program: www.vran.com.au

 

Bird of the month: Tawny Frogmouth

Posted on 24 December, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our tenth Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly.

Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides)

Before we delve into the secretive life of the Tawny Frogmouth, this ‘Bird of the Month’ blog is nearly one year old and I’d like to extend my deep gratitude to Damian Kelly and Ash Vigus. When I asked Damian if he’d be happy to help me with research, I had this rosy image in my head of the two of us spending blissful hours in his enviable library, buried in books. COVID-19 ensured this cozy vision of mine was not to be. Instead, Damian would email his research to me, along with his gorgeous photos. Ash Vigus has also been very generous with lending an ear and great ideas, as we did our socially-distanced walks, and his stunning photos. Without these two, Bird of the Month would not have been nearly as interesting nor pretty.

Some months ago the charismatic Owlet Nightjar was our feature bird. This month’s relative, the Tawny Frogmouth, is similar in that it is also nocturnal, NOT an owl and charismatic in its own cryptic way. Frogmouths are not restricted to Australia: Papua New Guinea and tropical Asia have their own species. In Australia, the Tawny Frogmouth is found all over the country where there are trees, but the Papuan Frogmouth is restricted to Cape York and the Marbled Frogmouth is found only in tiny areas on Cape York and around Brisbane. However, both species are found in Papua New Guinea. They all have characteristic wide mouths and are incredibly cryptic, being experts in looking like a broken off dead branch and therefore difficult to spot during the day.

By night, however, if your lucky you may see Tawny Frogmouths hawking flying insects in the car headlights. Sadly they are prone to getting squashed on the road because of this. At home I’ve watched one hawking Rain Moths attracted to the light from our windows at night. It must have eaten a dozen of them and I’m not quite sure how it fitted them all in – it must have been the Frogmouth equivalent of Christmas dinner with a third helping of pudding. They will also pounce on small vertebrates like lizards, which get a thorough pounding before being swallowed, and they enjoy insects on the ground.

Tawny Frogmouths are between 34 cm (females) and 53 cm (males) long and can weigh up to 680 g (photo: Damian Kelly)

Tawny Frogmouths are often confused with owls, but are actually more closely related to nightjars (photo: Damian Kelly)

 

Breeding is done in spring. Typically two eggs are laid in a messy collection of sticks which constitutes their nest, in a horizontal branch fork in a large mature tree. Despite populations slowly decreasing, these apparently insecure nests produce chicks fairly effectively. Equality of the sexes is a thing with Tawny Frogmouths, with the male sitting on the eggs during the day and both parents sitting at night.

These much loved and unusual birds can be found in urban areas, which perhaps endears them to us humans. Or maybe it’s their cute as cute fluffy chicks with their great wide eyes, snuggled up to their nest buddies.

Please enjoy the Tawny Frogmouth distinctive ‘Oom oom ooom call’, courtesy of Wild Ambience.

A big thank you to contributors to this edition of Bird of the Month – Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly – for their amazing knowledge and skills.

 

If you go out in the woodlands today: staff Christmas lunch 2020

Posted on 23 December, 2020 by Ivan

Connecting Country staff enjoyed a celebratory Christmas lunch this week, in the bush near Castlemaine VIC, hosted by our Director Frances and her lovely partner Duncan. The outdoor affair, in a COVID-safe environment, was privy to a stunning display of birdlife and the last of the colourful spring wildflowers and grasses. The grassy-woodlands were a beautiful example of landscape recovery and restoration, thanks to a wonderful season of rain and sustainable land management by Frances and Duncan.

Connecting Country staff and volunteers extraordinaire enjoying lunch (photo by Ivan Carter)

 

Our festive lunch visitor: Scarlet Robin (photo by Frances Howe)

It has been a challenging year to operate an organisation that values engaging with landholders and the community face to face, but we have found new ways to engage and continue our projects throughout the year. We have learnt and grown together, with the nature lunch a perfect way to send off the year.

The beginning of summer is often a time where our forests and woodlands begin to lose their bright colour and flowers, but there were two indigenous species still providing colour and bling in the leadup to Christmas: Sticky Everlasting Daisy (Xerochrysum viscosum) and Copper-awned Wallaby-grass (Rytidosperma fulvum). Our lunch was also interrupted by a very festive visit from a pair of Scarlet Robins.

Sticky Everlasting Daisy

An Australian native daisy indigenous to our region, which is a small narrow-leaved plant up to 50 cm high and 40 cm wide. It is often known as Shiny Everlasting. Sticky Everlasting likes a sunny position and will tolerate dry conditions and poor soils, like many in our region. The leaves are quite narrow so it is fairly inconspicuous when not in flower. They have a slightly sticky feel, hence the name. The flowers are bright gold, glossy, crispy daises about the size of large buttons, see photos below. The flowers stay on show for many months and add colour to our subtle bush tones. Like many of the native daisies, Sticky Everlasting will attract numerous butterflies and moths, as well as native bees.

Copper-awned Wallaby-grass

Wallaby grasses are native perennial grasses that are common in our region. The fluffy tops are distinctive, and they catch the sunlight perfectly in summer. Aside from the flowers, they are fairly inconspicuous and are often missed in our woodlands and paddocks. They are known for their drought tolerance and also are a avourite grazing plant for wallabies and kangaroos.

Below are a selection of photos taken in the Grassy-Woodlands around Castlemaine by Connecting Country staff. Please enjoy, and stay safe over the festive season.

 

Discovering ducks: which duck are you quiz?

Posted on 23 December, 2020 by Ivan

The RSPCA Victoria and BirdLife Australia have launched a new campaign called ‘Discover Ducks’, after recent research revealed five in six Victorians cannot name any native ducks, despite Australia being home to 15 unique species. We love our ducks, and locally, they appear to be having a great season, with plenty of water around during spring 2020. While this campaign is aimed at Victorians, anyone can access the online resource, and increase their knowledge of our native ducks. All Australians can answer that timeless question: Which Duck Are You?!

We have had fun, in the virtual Connecting Country office, exploring which duck we each are, and how accurate they all seem to be!

Please enjoy a summary below, courtesy of the Discover Ducks team, regarding the importance and aim of this campaign.

Dr Liz Walker, CEO of RSPCA Victoria said the campaign seeks to build a state of passionate duck lovers by improving Victorians’ knowledge and love for our diverse range of unique, native ducks.

‘We believe more people would appreciate ducks and care about their welfare if they could relate to them the way they relate to other wildlife, such as koalas or kangaroos. After last summer’s tragic bushfires, we know there is very strong public concern for native animals, and a desire to rescue, treat and protect those animals. Ducks need to be included,’ says Dr Walker. ‘They are fascinating creatures, and each native species has unique traits. Discover Ducks creates an opportunity for the community to learn and share information and celebrate our beautiful native ducks.’

BirdLife Australia’s National Public Affairs Manager Sean Dooley agrees that there has never been a better time to discover our wild duck populations. ‘Sometimes even birdwatchers can take ducks for granted. But when you take the time to get to know Victoria’s ducks, you soon realise what fascinating and beautiful birds they are. However, there are far fewer ducks out there in our wetlands than there used to be with the research showing drastic decline in their numbers, due to the changes we have made to their aquatic habitats.’

Discover Ducks shows people how to recognise different ducks, where to spot them around Victoria and how to interact with them in a welfare-friendly way. Many of these lessons are valuable across the country, not just in Victoria, and wherever you are located, the ‘Which Duck Are You?’quiz is a great bit of fun, or you can test your knowledge with the Know Your Ducks Quiz.

Learn more about Discover Ducks at discoverducks.org.au and spread the word via social media using the hashtag #discoverducks

The Australian Shelduck: hard to find, easy to spot, with spectacular coloring (photo: Discovering Ducks)

 

People power! Victoria Gully Group working bee

Posted on 14 December, 2020 by Asha

People power! Earlier this month, twelve Victoria Gully Group volunteers hand-pulled over 2,500 Cape Broom (Genista monspessulana) seedlings at Clinkers Hill Bushland Reserve near Castlemaine in central Victoria. Several years ago, Victoria Gully Group began major restoration work at this site, so this working bee was important follow-up on past work.

Cape Broom is a noxious weed that has damaging impacts on the environment and agriculture in Australia. For more information about its impacts and management – click here and here.

When removing the Cape Broom seedlings, volunteers could see native seedlings emerging, including acacias, native peas and bursaria. If left unchecked, the Cape Broom would quickly grow to out-compete and smother the diversity of native habitat plants growing at the site. As many Connecting Country followers will know, Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) is a vital plant for the life cycle of the threatened Eltham Copper Butterfly (Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida). For more information about their unique relationship – click here

Victoria Gully Group volunteers also work with the Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning to do restoration work such as revegetation, weed control and exclusion fencing just down the road from Clinkers Hill in Victoria Gully (a tributary for the local Forest Creek in Castlemaine). In recent years they have also established and maintained frog ponds in the gully to provide habitat.

Landcarers are often a humble bunch, so the amazing volunteer work they do can fly under the radar. Victoria Gully Group’s recent working bee was just one example of over 100 Landcare and Friends group working bees that take place in the Mount Alexander region every year to care for our local environment. Let us acknowledge and celebrate this achievement.

If you’d like to volunteer with Victoria Gully Group, or one of our other local Landcare or Friends groups in the Mount Alexander region, you can find their contact details on Connecting Country’s website – click here

 

Eltham Copper Butterfly update: 2019-20 surveys

Posted on 3 December, 2020 by Frances

The Eltham Copper Butterfly is one of our most treasured and interesting threatened species, and we are fortunate enough to have the largest population in the world right here in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. This special little butterfly has recently recieved some much-needed attention, attracting funding for three separate projects in our region.

During 2019, Connecting Country obtained funding from the Mount Alexander Shire Council to increase community awareness and education regarding the butterfly, and to support citizen science monitoring in key locations to learn more about the local populations. We worked closely with local ecologists Elaine Bayes and Karl Just who, with support from Wettenhall Environment Trust, continued their vital work on mapping local Eltham Copper Butterfly habitat and distribution. We also joined in the excellent Butterfly Celebration Day held in Castlemaine Botanical Gardens in November 2019.

We have recently received an update from our expert Eltham Copper Butterfly (ECB) enthusisast, Elaine Bayes, regarding the 2020-21 ECB monitoring program. We admire Elaine, and her colleague Karl Just, for their extensive work on this threatened species. Without such dedicated individuals in our community, this special little butterfly might be more trouble that it already is.

Please enjoy the following update by Elaine Bayes

Due to Coronavirus we are not running any group ECB monitoring this season, however we would really appreciate it if anyone wants to get out and carry on searching for ECB habitat and/or ECB flying.

Priorities this year are:

  • Continue to search for ECB in the red and pink sections of Kalimna Park using the map we collated last year – see attached geo-referenced kalimna map with grids and yellow dots for last years ECB records and blue dots for past records) and ADULT method sheets.
  • And/OR replicate overall method we did at kalimna park re mapping ECB HABITAT at the 2 other ECB populations in Campbells Creek and Chewton – see dingo park map which has both sites on it and ECB habitat method.

Contact me if you have any questions or need me to explain the methods better.

Below is an update on the amazing success we had with this methodology last year at Kalimna and how it protected ECB from the planned burns that occurred there last autumn.

Eltham Copper Butterfly update from 2019 to 2020 surveys – Elaine Bayes 

Last summer we were very lucky to receive support to carry out Eltham Copper Butterfly (ECB) surveys in Kalimna Park as well as many educational initiatives to promote this species locally.

During the October 2019 – January 2020 ECB flying period, the ECB at Kalimna park were surveyed by ecologists Elaine Bayes and Karl Just as part of a flora and fauna assessment for the Dja Dja Wurrung. In addition to this work the ECB Monitoring Group which now has 45 members, carried out additional surveys searching for ECB throughout this period.  Collectively Karl, the group and I found: 113 flying adults, located 5 new ECB sub-populations and extended the area of known ECB occupancy from 3 ha (based on past data from 2005-2015) to 8 ha in 2019-2020 (this area is a polygon around ECB seen during this period, with 10m buffer).

In order to ensure that our efforts were focussed we only searched areas that supported the Sweet Bursaria host plant. To do this we developed a 50m grid across the park and carried out a rapid assessment of numbers of Bursaria plants within each grid and colour coded them (time spent was 48 hours). Overall, we assessed all 225 ha of Kalimna Park of which 73.25 ha was ranked prime potential ECB habitat. Using this map we focussed our ECB searches only in areas with medium to high density of Bursaria. The total survey effort or time spent searching for ECB in this period was 187 hours.

Our ECB habitat mapping and adult ECB records were all shared with DELWP, and a few members of the monitoring group met with Fire Operations Staff of DELWP, Bendigo prior to their Autumn 2020 burn in the hope that they could carry out the burn without burning the 8 ha of ECB habitat.  A large area of Kalimna Park was burnt, including patchy burns where some of the larger ECB colonies occur.

ECB at the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens update 

Mount Alexander Shire Council have funded for the second year in a row, a survey of Eltham Copper Butterflies that in the northern section of the Botanic Gardens. Seven transects were established in this area in 2010 and were surveyed by DELWP from 2010-2012.  MASC then resurveyed these transects in 2019 and again this year.  Historically the botanic gardens ECB population provided evidence that ECB populations may move up to several hundred metres depending on local environmental conditions.  Previous studies of the gardens ECB indicated that they occurred on one of two ridges and that they moved from one ridge to the other.  I was always dubious as from my three years of surveys they were only ever seen on the western ridge.  So I was shocked last week to find that the only ECB I saw were on the eastern ridge!  However given that there has been a large number of years where the site was not surveyed, more consistent observations over time will support this.  This is more evidence that we need to protect not only where ECB occur but surrounding habitat that can support them so they can shift when conditions no longer support them.

Getting involved this summer 

If you would like to join the ECB monitoring group to help survey for the butterflies and their host Bursaria plants, please contact Elaine: rakali@outlook.com.au.

For information about the Eltham Copper Butterfly and its identification, see: https://connectingcountry.org.au/education-resources/eltham-copper-butterfly-in-central-victoria/

To learn more about this fascinating little butterfly, including ecology, distribution and information on how to identify this species from similar look-alike butterflies – click here. Please enjoy the following video , courtesy of the N-danger-D Youtube Channel, that has some excellent footage of this wonderful butterfly and symbiotic ant species.

 

 

Good news for Coliban Platypus population

Posted on 3 December, 2020 by Frances

A platypus survey recently conducted by the Australian Platypus Conservancy (APC), in partnership with Malmsbury Landcare Group, succeeded in capturing 8 animals (6 males, 2 females) in a 3-kilometre segment of the Coliban River in and near Malmsbury township in central Victoria. APC’s latest newsletter provided the following update on their work.

The survey’s main objective was to replicate APC surveys previously carried out in 2001 (near the start of the millennium drought, when 10 animals were recorded in the study area) and again in 2010 (shortly after the drought ended, when only two animals were recorded). Given that only a fraction of the animals found in an area is expected to enter nets on any given night, the recent results are consistent with platypus abundance having now recovered to pre-drought levels.

This is not particularly surprising given that a female platypus matures at the age of two years and average fertility in reasonably productive habitats is 1.9 babies per litter. The low number of females encountered in the most recent survey probably reflects the fact that it was carried out in October, when many breeding females will be spending a lot of their time in a nesting burrow – either incubating eggs or caring for recently hatched young.

Platypus 31.7.16 (photo John Bundock) 25%

Compelling evidence indicates that platypus numbers have declined or disappeared in many waterways across the species’ range. Photo: APC

Both the 2001 and 2020 surveys found:

  • At least one platypus was captured at every site where nets were set.
  • Two males and two females were recorded at Malmsbury township.
  • There was evidence that a healthy rakali population coexists with platypus in the study area.

Viewed at the catchment scale, the Malmsbury platypus sub-population is part of a much larger group of animals occupying around 50 kilometres of river channel between Malmsbury Reservoir and Lake Eppalock. Although not all of this area will necessarily be characterised by platypus densities that are as high as those at Malmsbury, recent eDNA evidence indicates that animals occur widely, with the pattern of recent platypus sightings also helping to confirm that this part of the Coliban system holds a regionally important platypus population that should be managed with care to ensure its long-term survival.

Considered at a more local scale, the substantial pools located in Malmsbury township are likely to support successful platypus reproduction in both wet and dry years, with two females captured there in both 2001 and 2020. The high quality of this habitat reflects not only the pools’ size but also the provision of reliable outflows from Malmsbury Reservoir and many years of hard work by Malmsbury Landcare members to protect and improve adjoining riparian vegetation.

To visit the Australian Platypus Conservancy’s website – click here
To read all their latest platypus news – click here

 

 

Bird of the month: Grey Shrike-thrush

Posted on 23 November, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our ninth Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly.

Grey Shrike-thrush (Colluricincla harmonica)

The local bush has been bustling with nesting activity, although raising chicks is not always as nurturing and wholesome as you might think. Nests get raided, eggs don’t always hatch and it’s not necessarily easy for the newly fledged chicks. You’ll hear their incessant begging for food and see parents desperately trying to keep up the flow of breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a time of learning as fledglings can’t always assess risks and can be a bit ‘young and dumb’, being too bold for their own good and getting confused as they try to make sense of a situation. I witnessed one such occasion during an altercation in my backyard.

Confused young Grey Shrike-thrush getting harried by an angry Fuscous Honeyeater (photo: Damian Kelly)

 

A newly fledged Grey Shrike-thrush chick had got too close to a Fuscous Honeyeater nest. The poor chick seemed totally confused about the whole situation and didn’t know which way to go. It’s parents waiting just out of harrying range whilst the Fuscous Honeyeaters were on attack level – ‘take no prisoners’! The upshot was the chick finally moved away, the honeyeaters settled down and I got some photos of the action as they were all preoccupied with bird world high stakes politics.

So let’s look at the abundant Grey Shrike-thrush. Probably one of the most familiar, varied and prettiest of songsters to be heard, which perhaps makes up for its brown and grey colouring. I call it soft and subdued but others may call it out as dull. In the past it was known as the Harmonious Thrush and its taxonomic name reflects this: Colluricincla harmonica. Interestingly, their song can exhibit different dialects from place to place.

Individuals can live up to twelve years and it’s known that pairs can reside in one place for up to five years and remain together for longer. They are largely a sedentary species, but may move between altitudes with the seasons.

Taking a really close look will reveal gorgeous black eyelash like bristles around its bill and below the eye. (Lady Gaga attempted a similar look without the nuance. Pretty rad all the same.)

Young Grey Shrike-thrush singing it’s heart out (photo: Damian Kelly)

 

Present in all but Australia’s driest deserts, it prefers undisturbed treed habitats, including gardens on occasion. It’s often seen foraging for insects and small vertebrates like frogs and lizards, where there is some understorey, tossing leaf litter to find their prey. They will also take eggs and nestlings of small birds, so it’s not surprising the Fuscous Honeyeater was so upset.

Adult Grey Shrike-thrush doing what they do best, harmoniously singing (photo: Damian Kelly)

 

To listen to the Grey Shrike-thrush call – click here

A big thank you to contributors to this edition of Bird of the Month – Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly – for their amazing knowledge and skills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beautiful and mostly misunderstood snake

Posted on 19 November, 2020 by Ivan

There has been plenty of recent sightings of various beautiful snakes in our region. In fact, there are almost daily appearances at this time of year on our social media platforms and chat pages with many central Victorian locals posting images of snakes spotted in their yards or nearby.

It has been a perfect year for snakes in central Victoria. Late summer rains, autumn growth and a perfect spring break has lead to a healthy population of mice, frogs, lizards, and other tasty treats for snakes. Snakes have emerged as the weather warms up and are now in power-up mode for summer and the mating season. They are more common around our urban fringes and rural areas, owing to an abundance of food (e.g. mice are a favoured food source for Eastern Brown Snakes) or water sources (e.g. Tiger snakes prefer wetlands and creeks). The most common snakes around the Castlemaine region and are Eastern Brown, Tiger, Red-bellied Black, and Copperhead. For a full list, and photos and descriptions of each snake, please click here. For information about snakes locally, and how to be snake-safe on your property and see notes from our snake workshop.

Our partners at Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests (FOBIF) have recently published an article on a snake sighting around the Castlemaine region, and how to live with snakes. We have shared it below, and a nice photograph that was submitted with the article. Please enjoy, courtesy of FOBIF.

A bit of care, and everyone wins.

They’re out: snakes, we mean.

Which means: look out. It’s important to be careful when in areas likely to be frequented by snakes, for obvious reasons. This is virtually an annual preoccupation, so, at the risk of repeating ourselves, we are now going to repeat ourselves.

Eastern Brown snake, Gough’s Range SF, November 12 2020: we need to be careful about snakes, but the brute fact is that they are more at risk from us than the other way around.

And here is another great FOBIF snake post from 2014:

‘The Eastern Brown is highly venomous—but it’s not keen on attacking anyone as big as a human, and … will always try to get away if it can. If cornered, however, it is extremely nervous and aggressive. The moral therefore is, don’t approach any snake, and dress appropriately if going into areas where one might be met. The great majority of snakebite deaths have arisen when people unwisely take on the reptile [if you want to get it away from the house, call a snake catcher]. It is, of course, illegal to kill snakes, which are protected animals. For pets, the best advice is, don’t let them roam around the bush ferreting into holes; in any case, dogs should be on a leash in the Diggings Park.

Common sense is the best defence against snake bite, but unfortunately, hysteria is more common than common sense, as witness a 2013 Sydney Telegraph headline: ‘Snakes are raiding the suburbs…Fatal snake bites will become a tragedy repeated this summer as the deadly reptiles—thriving in hot conditions—slither towards the urban sprawl.’ This horror movie scenario doesn’t fit well with the fact that on average less than 3 people per year over the whole of Australia die from snakebite: far more people are killed by bee stings…

…And the odds are stacked against the snake: more than five million reptiles are killed by cars in Australia every year. According to the Australian Museum, ‘countless’ Brown snakes perish in this way, ‘both accidentally and on purpose’.

For other FOBIF material on the subject of snakes, click here and here.

 

How to build a microbat box

Posted on 12 November, 2020 by Frances

Since beginning our nest box program back in 2010, Connecting Country has installed over 450 boxes on private and public land across the Mount Alexander region. The nest boxes were designed specifically for use by the threatened Brush-tailed Phascogale (also known as the Tuan), which is a nocturnal hollow-dependent marsupial native to our area.

The nest boxes provide supplementary habitat for the Tuans and other native animals such as the Sugar Glider. It is anticipated that providing additional nesting sites, albeit artificial, will lead to an increase in local Tuan populations and distribution. The nest boxes were located across the landscape systematically so we can examine some of the factors that influence their use.

We recently discovered a great article from the creative folk at Milkwood regarding how to build a microbat box, which is similar to a nestbox. Milkwood point out that ‘Microbats are worth encouraging into your garden. Not only are they delightful to watch on dusk – they gobble thousands of mosquitoes, moths and other garden pests each and every night. A single microbat can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes and small insects in an hour – which has earned them the well-deserved reputation of being nature’s mosquito busters.’

To enjoy the full article on Milkwood’s website – click here

For more information on Connecting Country’s nest box program – click here

Mount your bat box on a tree, pole or building – high enough to prevent vandalism and protect the bats from predators and floods (photo: Milkwood)

 

 

Survey update from Walking Together – Balak Kalik Manya

Posted on 4 November, 2020 by Ivan

Harley Douglas, Project Manager with Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation, provided an update on results from their community survey and workshops conducted for the Castlemaine and Bendigo communities (Central Victoria) during 2020. The visitor experience and use survey formed part of the Walking Together- Balak Kalik Manya Project, a four-year project committed to writing site-specific management plans for two sites within Dja Dja Wurrung Country: Kalimna Park (Castlemaine) and Wildflower Drive (Bendigo).

To view Harley’s presentation summarising results from the community survey – click here

There were some interesting findings from the surveys. The highest priorities for management actions within the parks were weed management, revegetation and nest box installation, closely followed by cultural burning. The least positive aspects for Kalimna Park were reported to be weed/environmental impact, rubbish and tracks/signage.

Q14: What management actions do you think should be prioritised for Kalimna Park and Wildflower Drive?

 

Please see the following summary regarding the community consultation, courtesy of Harley.

The visitor experience and use survey was powered by SurveyMonkey and the data collected was collated through the assistance of Parks Victoria’s Social Science Officer. From the 172 responses received, a summary report has been created merging the data into bar graphs, pie charts and other valuable graphics that quickly summarise demographics and usage of the parks.

Djaara community workshops were facilitated remotely to allow for the current COVID-19 restrictions. Two, two-hour sessions were held over Zoom for interested Djaara members to have input into the values, threats, issues, and opportunities associated with both parks. Djaara members workshopped ideas relating to Dja Dja Wurrung’s Goals as listed in ‘Dhelkunya Dja- Dja Dja Wurrung Country Plan 2014-2034.’ The information gathered from our members will be used to develop management strategies, actions, and recommendations.

Issues and opportunities that we discussed in both Djaara and Community workshops:

  • Vehicle access and misuse
  • Weeds – Onground management
  • Cultural heritage (protection of existing and creation of new)
  • Illegal firewood collection
  • Rubbish dumping
  • Track creation/ Illegal track creation
  • Cultural burning
  • Story telling
  • Predators (cats, dogs, foxes)
  • Threatened species (Eltham Copper Butterfly, Pink-tailed Worm-lizard, Tuan)
  • Signage
  • Loop walks
  • Djaara employment
  • Prospecting
  • Creating open space
  • Education
  • Visitor areas
  • Carparking
  • Djaara employment
  • Community ownership

Like our Djaara members workshops, broader community workshops were facilitated over Zoom due to COVID-19 as well. We held back-to-back sessions with Castlemaine community members one night, and then the Bendigo community members the following night. In total, we had 38 members of the community participate: 26 in Castlemaine, 12 in Bendigo. We worked through a PowerPoint presentation allowing community the opportunity to speak to threats or values from their perspective. We had some productive conversations that may have got carried away and deviated from the original topic, but all very worthwhile information that will help inform our management plans. The idea of facilitating a large community forum online with many differing opinions and views frightened me, but everybody involved was very respectful of each other’s thoughts and opinions- so I just wanted to thank everybody for making the sessions run as smoothly as possible and contributing valuable information that can only come from members of the community.

So, where to from here? Now that we have received input from Djaara members and community members, we have begun drafting our management plans. We are aiming to have a draft version of our management plans available for public comment at the end of November 2020.

Harley Douglas
Project Manager- Dja Dja Wurrung Enterprises Trading as Djandak

 

Ten ways to improve the natural assets on a farm

Posted on 4 November, 2020 by Asha

Sustainable Farms (an initiative of the Australian National University) has launched their excellent new booklet, ‘Ten ways to improve the natural assets on a farm’. The booklet highlights ten discrete projects that farmers and other landholders can do to improve the health of the natural assets – such as dams, shelterbelts or riparian areas – on their properties. We are particularly excited about the extensive scientific research that has gone into this publication, which gives enough detail, but is also engaging and relatable to the average landholder. Each of the ten actions are achievable and relevant to sustainable farming, and improving farm health, biodiversity and productivity.

The booklet highlights how one small change on a farm could create new habitat for native animals and lead to increased stock productivity. The publication is underpinned by 20 years of long-term research into biodiversity on farms. It represents a long-term collaboration between farmers implementing on-ground management practices, and ANU ecologists supporting the farmers’ observations with science.

To read the booklet online and for more information – click here

 

Gorse task force develop virtual field day

Posted on 4 November, 2020 by Ivan

You don’t have to go far around our region to see the menace that is the invasive plant Gorse (Ulex Europaeus). It has established in the disturbed sites around our parks and reserves, as well as roadsides and large tracts of private land. Gorse is one of Australia’s worst agricultural and environmental weeds. It infests valuable pastoral land and significantly reduces land values. It’s a haven for rabbits, foxes and feral cats, it clogs waterways and it prevents regeneration of native plants.

During 2019-20 Connecting Country partnered with Taradale Landcare to coordinate a community-driven gorse control project in Taradale in Central Victoria, funded through the Victorian Gorse Taskforce. This resulted in successful treatments of some large tracts of gorse. Tackling gorse takes effort – but doing nothing means it just gets worse. The Taradale area demonstrates a prime example of how bad gorse can get in a short period of time.

Home - Victorian Gorse Taskforce

Gorse can form dense spiny thickets, with seeds lasting up to 30 years in the soil (photo: Gorse Task Force)

 

The Victorian Gorse Taskforce (VGT) is a community group that leads the education and extension for gorse management across private and public land. They source funding from across government for community-led activities to reduce gorse in local areas. These groups provide information, financial and practical support to landowners managing gorse and are helping reduce gorse across the Victorian landscape.

The Victorian Gorse Taskforce has recently developed a useful virtual demonstration field day presentation. It gives an excellent overview about the organisation, the main components of a gorse management plan, effective control methods and who can assist in your gorse control efforts. It contains great video footage of how to conduct treatments and control methods, which we thought would be useful for our community.

Please view the virtual field day video below, courtesy of the Victorian Gorse Taskforce.

 

 

 

Citizen scientists: keep your eyes peeled for Bogong Moths!

Posted on 29 October, 2020 by Jess

The Bogong Moth is a primary food source for the adorable (albeit not local) little marsupial, the Mountain Pygmy Possum. (We recommend googling photos of these little guys if you’re having a bad day!) Unfortunately, moth numbers have crashed in recent years, with flow on effects for the Mountain Pygmy Possum. To read more – click here

However, community members can help scientists understand what’s happening by reporting Bogong Moth sightings. To learn how to identify a Bogong Moth – click here

Associate Professor John Morgan from the Research Centre for Applied Alpine Ecology at La Trobe University says:

If you’re out in the field over the coming months and you see Bogong Moths, I’d really appreciate you uploading your observations (locality of sighting, with photo so we can get a positive ID). 

There is incredibly poor data on where moths migrate from and where they return to. All Bogong Moths spend winter in the soil as larvae on the lowland plains (we think) before emerging and migrating to the high peaks to aestivate (avoid the summer heat). They then leave in mid- to late-summer to return to the plains to breed. We’re using citizen science to fill in some of the details but if you look at the data that is coming in, we still seem to be missing the lowland observations (although a bunch have turned up in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, attracted by the lights).

Bogong Moth (photo: Museums Victoria)

 

So, keep your eyes peeled, and if you see a small brown moth, take a photo and upload it to the Moth Tracker webpage. We’re sure any observations will be put to good use.

 

Wanted: experienced bird watchers!

Posted on 29 October, 2020 by Jess

Connecting Country’s bird monitoring program allows us to see if all our hard work restoring habitat is actually making a difference, and to assess the status of our woodland birds in the Mount Alexander region of Central Victoria. Back in 2010, with help from experts, we carefully set up a bird monitoring program at selected locations across the region. Every year we go back to survey theses sites, providing valuable information to guide future decisions.

These days, our surveys are done entirely by volunteers – our community champions.

We’re now looking for more people local to the Mount Alexander area to be part of this program and assist with our bird surveys. We’re particularly looking for people to survey sites in around Harcourt, Sedgwick, Sutton Grange and Taradale areas.

To be involved in this program you will need to:

  • Be able to confidently identify bird species in the Mount Alexander area by sight as well as from their call
  • Have a reasonable level of fitness and able to traverse rough ground
  • Know how to conduct a 2 ha 20 min area search (we can help with this)
  • Liaise with private landholders
  • Be comfortable navigating to and from survey sites using a GPS on your phone
  • Attend an online induction
  • Follow safety protocols and adhere to current COVID-19 restrictions

We will support you, and can provide training on conducting surveys and navigation if required. However, having great bird ID skills is essential.

If you’re keen to be involved please email Jess Lawton (Monitoring Coordinator) including a brief description of any experience you have with bird identification and surveys, and a phone number: jess@connectingcountry.org.au

Jess will then get in touch to discuss and provide more information.

We’re lucky to have lots of beautiful birds in the Mount Alexander region (photo by Jane Rusden)