Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Get set for ‘Birdwatching for Beginners’ – 17 October 2020

Posted on 23 September, 2020 by Ivan

Hold onto your hats – again! Following our wildly successful advanced birdwatcher event, ‘Tricky Birds of central Victoria’, we are running a free ‘Birdwatching for Beginners’ event on 17 October 2020. The event aims to attract new birdwatchers and bird survey volunteers, and get people out enjoying and exploring the natural assets we are blessed with in central Victoria.

Bird watching is a great activity that almost everyone can enjoy. The COVID-19 lockdown period has seen a ten-fold increase in the number of new birdwatchers around the country, with a similar trend here in central Victoria. People are craving nature and the outdoors, prompting them to navigate their way through the maze that is bird watching and enjoying the challenges of how to differentiate some of the trickier species.

Connecting Country is excited to have local author and bird enthusiast Damian Kelly present an overview and introduction to bird watching. Damian is the author of the terrific book Castlemaine Bird Walks. Copies of this book will be available to participants.

The beginner’s event will take part over two sessions: an online presentation with Damian Kelly from 11 am to 12 pm, followed by a practical session in person in the afternoon, from 1.30 pm to 4 pm. The practical session will involve a team of 4-5 beginners teaming up with an experienced local birdwatcher to conduct some field bird surveys on public land across our region. This is an excellent opportunity to visit some great bird watching sites, with an experienced mentor to guide you through the afternoon. Participants will have a chance to ask questions and learn directly from mentors.

When: Saturday 17 October 2020

Theory session with Damian Kelly: 11:00 am to 12.00 pm

  • 500 tickets available
  • Online event
  • All welcome
  • Targeted to adults but suitable for all ages and abilities
  • To book – click here

Practical session with mentor: 1.30 pm to 4.00 pm

  • 30 tickets available
  • Field event
  • Targeted to participants 15 years and older who are keen to learn bird watching in a small group setting
  • Requires a basic level of fitness and involves walking over uneven ground
  • Copies of Connecting Country woodland birds brochure and ‘Castlemaine Bird Walks’ book available for attendees
  • To book – click here

Cost: both sessions are free of charge

This event is part of our ‘Community for bush birds’ project supported by the Australian Government under the Communities Environment Program.

A link to the online event will be emailed to registered participants prior to the event, along with details and locations for the practical session.

All participants in our practical field session must adhere to health and safety requirements, including current COVID-19 restrictions such as social distancing, face masks and limits on group size. Please wear appropriate clothing and footwear and bring water and snacks, as well as binoculars if possible. Connecting Country will provide some extra binoculars to share among the groups if required.

Bird watching is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying ways to enjoy our natural heritage. Bird surveys also contribute valuable data to science and for informed decision-making. Birds are often our key connection to the landscape. They are prevalent in most environments and tell us much about our surroundings and environmental health. Central Victoria is considered a birding hotspot, with birds of all shapes and colours, highlighted by the following spectacular images from Geoff Park’s Natural Newstead blog. They often bring you to explore wonderful places that you did not even know existed!

 

When is a Grey Butcherbird a Long-billed Corella?

Posted on 23 September, 2020 by Ivan

We were fortunate to secure the talented and passionate bird-enthusiast, Sue Boekel, from BirdLife Castlemaine District, to write a guest blog about an interesting encounter with a Grey Butcherbird during COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne. Sue also sent an accompanying video to help tell her charming little story. Please enjoy Sue’s words and video below.

Being locked down in suburban Melbourne might not be all bad. At the beginning of June, I was outside in the backyard instead of in the gym, performing exercises in the weak, winter sunshine. I was accompanied by our resident Grey Butcherbird (Craciticus torquatus) such a bold boy as he perched on a nearby garden stake in the veggie garden. Plenty of insects wafted about which he often caught on the wing, with a resounding snap of his large, strong beak. Each year there seems to be a different species dominating our area and this season, it was Grey Butcherbird. They are usually calling in the nearby wetlands but this year, they have moved into backyards. The males are slightly larger than the females but both have the striking black and white markings. It’s the juveniles which are brown and fawn overall with similar adult patterning.

My introduction to the Grey Butcherbird was as a young child. My brother had two Budgerigar which he kept caged. At times they were placed outside on the terrace but we arrived home one day to find them at the bottom of the cage with peck marks around their necks. My Dad quickly chose the Butcherbird as the culprit, possibly due to the hook at the end of its long, straight beak to skewer prey. 

Although territorial, I haven’t heard them about lately so they must have moved elsewhere to nest. The backyard is being ‘patrolled’ by a pair of Little Wattlebird and I have just heard the call of an Eastern Koel….

But back to the backyard gym; I heard the familiar beautiful, melodic warbling Butcherbird call from a tall native Frangipani tree. But wait! I was mistaken as I now heard a Common Myna, now a Eurasian Blackbird, now a Noisy Miner, a Magpie-lark, Long-billed Corella, Australian Magpie, Rainbow Lorikeet and more, all flowing out of the beak of a Grey Butcherbird! How amazing!! I felt privileged to be an audience to his clever repertoire.

It was a reminder to myself to always check to see exactly what is making a call before identifying the bird. I’ve recently heard a Brown Thornbill mimicking a Fan-tailed Cuckoo but that’s another story.

So when is a Grey Butcherbird like a Long-billed Corella? When it’s mimicking its call!

Sue Boekel
Member, Birdlife Castlemaine and District

To observe Sue’s recording of the Grey Butcherbird’s repertoire:

 

Rakali: our native otter

Posted on 23 September, 2020 by Frances

Our friends at the Australian Platypus Conservancy have issued their latest newsletter including a fabulous image and article on the Australian Water-rat or Rakali. Rakalis are known to inhabit suitable dams and waterways across Central Victoria. They’re regularly seen in Lake Daylesford and the Coliban River at Kyneton. Please enjoy this article from the Australian Platypus Conservancy, and for more Rakali fun facts see Connecting Country’s previous post – click here

Rakali dining (photo courtesy of Sputnik and Australian Platypus Conservancy)

A truly laid back ‘Aussie otter’

The Australian water-rat (or rakali) typically carries its food to a convenient log or rock before sitting down to dine. The remains of water-rat takeaway – piles of mussel or clam shells, crayfish claws and fish bones – often accumulate at favourite feeding platforms, providing reliable evidence that rakali occur in the vicinity. However, water-rats sometimes remain in the water while consuming their
prey, occasionally using their chest as a makeshift table – behaviour very reminiscent of sea otters. Many thanks to Sputnik for sharing this very engaging image of Australia’s version of an otter enjoying a fish snack while floating in the midst of water fern (or Azolla).

Incidentally, this photo was taken at Tailem Bend in South Australia – one of the few remaining jurisdictions in Australia that still allows enclosed yabby traps to be set anywhere in freshwater habitats. The South Australian government claims that its requirement for entrance rings to have a maximum diameter of 7.5 centimetres excludes all air-breathing fauna from traps, but this is simply not true for rakali. Due to their stream-lined shape, most (possibly all) water-rats will fit through a 7.5-centimetre hole, and many of these attractive and intelligent native mammals reportedly drown in South Australia each year.

To view latest news from the Australian Platypus Conservancy (Issue 81 – August 2020) – click here

To learn more about Victoria’s yabby net regulations – click here

 

Announcing Connecting Country’s annual report 2019-20

Posted on 17 September, 2020 by Frances

Connecting Country’s annual report for 2019-20 is now available for your viewing pleasure.  The report provides a brief overview of our recent work and allows us the opportunity to say a big thank our many funders, volunteers and supporters in the community.

It goes without saying that 2019-20 was a challenging time. We’re grateful for another successful year of restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander region of Central Victoria.

We had some fun putting together this year’s report, inspired by a visual approach with less text and more pictures. We even made it into a video with soundtrack! We hope you enjoy learning a bit more about our year.

To view the Connecting Country annual report 2019-20:

 

If you’re not already, please consider contributing to Connecting Country’s work. We run entirely from grants and donations, with all donations over $2 being tax deductible.

 

Hot off the press: 2021 woodland birds calendar

Posted on 17 September, 2020 by Ivan

We would like to introduce you to our much-awaited 2021 Connecting Country woodland birds calendar. It has taken much love and effort to develop 13 of the top competition-winning images into a full-blown printed calendar, but we think it has been well worth it. It looks stunning, thanks to the incredible talents of volunteer graphic designer Jane Satchell, and photographers who captured 13 excellent images that won our woodland birds photography competition.

The calendar is A3 size and each month features a local bird species, with all images taken by local photographers within the Mount Alexander region of Central Victoria.

Calendars are $30 each, plus $15 postage if required.

We have 30 copies for sale, in a limited print run, for the first 30 people to email us with an order.

The front cover features a gorgeous photo from Albert Wright, of a Weebill photographed at Maldon.

 

Connecting Country would like to extend a huge thank you to our community for the fantastic entries into our 2020 woodland birds photography competition. We received a very high number of quality entries for this competition – far more than we expected. We would also like to thank the winning photographers, who generously donated their images to feature in the calendar.

The calendar theme is woodland birds and the competition was open to all Connecting Country members and the broader community. The aim of the competition was to highlight our special woodland bird community and share the passion and skills of our passionate local photographers, as well as produce this beautifully printed calendar for 2021.

A three person judging panel reviewed all the entries and awarded 13 winners to feature in Connecting Country’s 2021 woodland birds calendar – one for the front cover of the calendar, and one bird for each month of the year.

Please email us at ivan@connectingcountry.org.au if you’d like a copy put aside for you, and we will email you payment instructions and pickup details.

 

 

 

Last chance to book for AGM 2020

Posted on 17 September, 2020 by Ivan

Our first ever online Annual General Meeting (AGM) is fast approaching. We currently have 77 bookings, so get in fast for our remaining tickets to join what’s sure to be a great event and a fun afternoon.

Please join us for this free event on Saturday 26 September 2020 at 2.00 pm for a refreshingly brief AGM and two rather special guest presenters. We will even provide some virtual refreshments!

Our AGM 2020 speakers:

  • Jess Lawton (Connecting Country) will present on ‘Connecting Country’s ten years of ecological monitoring‘. Jess is our treasured Monitoring Coordinator, PhD candidate and resident phascogale expert. Join Jess on a journey through Connecting Country’s long-term monitoring programs, with a focus on nest boxes and bird surveys.

 

  • Jacinta Humphrey (La Trobe University) will present on ‘The impact of urbanisation on birds’. Jacinta is a PhD student at La Trobe University and member of the Research Centre for Future Landscapes. Join Jacinta to hear about her research into the impact of expanding urbanisation on wildlife, with a focus on birds – a key issue raised by the local community during our recent Habitat Health Check project. To view Jacinta’s engaging video summarising her project – click here

 

Everyone is welcome! This is a free event but please register with Trybooking so we can send you the online meeting link prior to the event. To register – click here

AGM formalities:

Please note only current Connecting Country members can vote in the AGM.

If you have any questions, please email info@connectingcountry.org.au or call (03) 5472 1594.

 

Reminder to book for AGM 2020 with speakers Jacinta Humphrey and Jess Lawton

Posted on 8 September, 2020 by Ivan

Our first ever online Annual General Meeting (AGM) is fast approaching. Please join us for this free event on Saturday 26 September 2020 at 2.00 pm for a refreshingly brief AGM and two rather special guest presenters. We will even provide some virtual refreshments!

Our AGM 2020 speakers:

  • Jess Lawton (Connecting Country) will present on ‘Connecting Country’s ten years of ecological monitoring‘. Jess is our treasured Monitoring Coordinator, PhD candidate and resident phascogale expert. Join Jess on a journey through Connecting Country’s long-term monitoring programs, with a focus on nest boxes and bird surveys.

 

  • Jacinta Humphrey (La Trobe University) will present on ‘The impact of urbanisation on birds’. Jacinta is a PhD student at La Trobe University and member of the Research Centre for Future Landscapes. Join Jacinta to hear about her research into the impact of expanding urbanisation on wildlife, with a focus on birds – a key issue raised by the local community during our recent Habitat Health Check project. To view Jacinta’s engaging video summarising her project – click here

 

Everyone is welcome! This is a free event but please register with Trybooking so we can send you the online meeting link prior to the event. To register – click here

AGM formalities:

Please note only current Connecting Country members can vote in the AGM.

If you have any questions, please email info@connectingcountry.org.au or call (03) 5472 1594.

 

Stormwater: a great environmental dilemma – 15 September 2020

Posted on 8 September, 2020 by Ivan

The Victorian Environmental Friends Network has a free online event that might be of interest to our community, particularly those living around the waters of Campbells Creek and Forest Creek in Central Victoria. While there have been many improvements in approaches and technologies for filtering storm waters before they enter our waterways, they are often absent from older systems of water management.

Title: Stormwater: Australia’s great environmental dilemma
Date: Tuesday 15 September 2020 at 7 pm 
Presenter: Dr Dave Sharley

This webinar will focus on the impact of stormwater pollution on the health of our urban waterways. It will discuss industry solutions and provide guidance on simple things we can all implement to reduce stormwater pollution.

Topics may include:

  • What is stormwater?
  • Urban sprawl pressures impacting our local waterways
  • Water Sensitive Urban Design
  • Assessing storm-water pollution
  • Finding major sources of pollution
  • Linking scientific data to community education and awareness programs

Dr David Sharley is an environmental scientist with over twenty years of experience working in water and environmental services. Dave worked at the University of Melbourne for over 10 years researching how pollutants can stress and change aquatic population structures and decrease the resilience of aquatic ecosystems.
Building upon his 20 years of research experience, Dave founded Bio2Lab in 2017 with Steve Marshall to develop and offer novel water quality monitoring tools to the water industry. Dave enjoys developing new ways to communicate scientific outcomes to governments, industry and the community, and has published many articles on the ecological impact of urban development and land management.

Dave’s main areas of interest include aquatic pollution, real-time monitoring, pollution tracking, environmental assessment, urban wetland ecology, integrated catchment management and linking environmental research outcomes to policy.

Tickets are free but is booking required.
To book visit: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/117482119181

Forest Creek in Castlemaine during the floods of 2011 (photo: Connecting country archives)

 

 

 

‘Tricky birds’ event delivered to a packed online audience

Posted on 3 September, 2020 by Ivan

Connecting Country set a new attendance record for our much-anticipated event, ‘Tricky Birds of central Victoria with Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros’ on Monday 24 August 2020. This online free event ‘sold out’ with 500 bookings recorded the day before the event. We were absolutely thrilled to host the all-star lineup of Box-Ironbark expert naturalists, Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros.

We were blown away by the level of interest in our event. Our Facebook event page reached 112,000 people. We had 500 individuals register, including people from across Victoria, as well as New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory, plus some enthusiastic registrants from the United States!

Jess Lawton (Connecting Country Monitoring Coordinator) kicked-off the workshop with a short history of Connecting Country’s woodland bird monitoring program and a big thank you to our hard-working bird monitoring volunteers. Geoff covered the topic of identifying raptors and Chris focused on identifying thornbills of central Victoria, followed by an hour of interactive panel discussion and a chance to ask the experts those tricky bird watching questions. Both of the presentations were delivered with the passion and precision you would expect from Australia’s leading bird experts and photographers, with many beautiful images and helpful tips about identifying these look-a-like birds that are so difficult to distinguish.

The virtual Q and A panel worked effectively, despite the panel and hosts being up to 500 km apart, and the audience only having a text box to answer questions. Some of the topics covered were:

  • Useful smartphone apps for bird watching
  • Best binoculars for serious bird watchers
  • Top spots in central Victoria for bird watching
  • Tips on getting close to birds
  • Migration of raptors and thornbills
  • Differences in thornbill calls
  • Thornbill interbreeding
  • Where to find different thornbills in the forest/woodland structure
  • Mantling behaviour in raptors
  • Increase in Black Kite numbers in central Victoria
  • Confusing and similar birds calls
  • Mixed flocks composition


A copy of Geoff and Chris’s excellent presentations from the event are available for download:

Geoff and Chris both used plates from the Australian Bird Guide, as well as their own photos from their presentations. If anyone wishes to reproduce or use any content from the presentations, we request they please contact Geoff or Chris first.

We apologise to anyone who wanted to attend the event but was unable to log in. We didn’t want to exclude anyone, but unfortunately our Zoom license only allowed a maximum of 500 attendees. We hope the presentations provide some good catch-up material.

If you enjoyed this event, please consider contributing to Connecting Country’s work. We run entirely from grants and donations, with all donations over $2 being tax deductible.

 

Further information on our expert presenters

Geoff Park is a Newstead local legend, author of the highly popular ‘Natural Newstead’ blog, and Director of Natural Decisions Pty Ltd. He holds a Bachelor of Science (Honours) and a Diploma of Education. His background is in landscape ecology, teaching and community education. He has a long standing interest and involvement with communities working to improve biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes.

To visit Geoff’s Natural Newstead blog on observations of flora, fauna and landscape in central Victoria – click here

Chris Tzaros  is author of the outstanding book ‘Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country’, a comprehensive guide to the mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians that live in this unique habitat. He holds a Masters degree in Conservation Ecology. His passionate interest in bird and wildlife photography has won him multiple ANZANG photography awards. Chris worked for Birdlife Australia for ten years and runs his own company, Birds Bush & Beyond, based in north-east Victoria.

For more information on Chris’s excellent ‘Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country’ book, with a new print edition on its way soon – click here

 

Birdata: Become a citizen science superhero

Posted on 1 September, 2020 by Jess

At Connecting Country, we love using the Birdata app, and we know that many of our friends and members love it too! It’s a simple way to make your bird observations count for science. We came across this event from Birdlife in Western Australia. However, they have opened it up to anyone who would like to learn to be a citizen science superhero. We think it may be of interest to our members. Here is what Birdlife Western Australia had to say about this event:

Regardless of whether you have been firmly on the #birdingathome bandwagon or whether the lockdowns and border closures have kickstarted your interest in the birds around your patch, the time you spend out noticing nature is precious. Nobody else sees what you see, so why not put it to use? Your everyday bird sightings are super valuable!

Join this webinar to learn how recording the birds you see (even in your own backyard!) using the Birdata app can help protect and conserve our feathered friends. BirdLife WA’s Citizen Science Project Coordinator Dr Tegan Douglas will show what we can discover when we pool our knowledge through citizen science, and how easy it is to get involved!

Supported by Lotterywest.

Date*: Wednesday 9 September 2020, 1 pm – 2 pm UTC+08 Perth.  *In Central Victoria the event time is 3 pm – 4 pm. 

Join on zoom: click here

For more information: click here

 

Bird of the month: Red-browed Finch

Posted on 27 August, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our sixth 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 and a splendid image from Martin Tatton.

The small but charismatic Red-browed Finch

A fairly common sight in Castlemaine gardens is the small and beautiful Red-browed Finch. At first glance they may appear as a flock of small brown birds, but as they fly away you’ll see a flash of their red rumps. On closer inspection their red bill, with that distinctive finch shape for foraging seeds, and the red stripe through the eye, become apparent. They can be quite bold, which is how Martin got some lovely photos on his phone, at a friend’s place in Castlemaine (pre-COVID-19).

Martin’s photo of a Red-browed Finch, taken with his phone (photo by Martin Tatton)

 

Damian Kelly writes about this distinctive finch with its red flash of colour:

‘Chances are that any birds you see around your house are locals. They are largely a sedentary species with only local movements outside the main breeding season. In mountainous areas there is some evidence of altitudinal movement, with birds moving to lower elevations in winter. Several banding studies have shown 99.9% of birds are found less than 10 km from nesting sites. Some studies have shown that birds rarely move more than 400 m from their main territory, often near water.

Red-browed Finch with nesting material in its bill (photo by Damian Kelly)

If you watch them feeding you will notice that they break up seeds to get the main contents and discard the husks. They normally do not eat seeds whole. Although mainly seed eaters, they will also take insects if available.

They are monogamous, and both birds incubate and feed the young. Pair bonding remains constant throughout the year, even when moving in flocks outside the breeding season. Sometimes groups nest communally with several nests in a tree. In Victoria, the breeding usually occurs from August to April and a single pair may have up to three clutches in a season.

Red-browed Finch nest (photo by Damian Kelly)

Nests are an untidy collection of grass, twigs, feathers, wool and bits of string, with a tunnel entrance. Parents and young continue to roost in the nest for several weeks after hatching. Outside breeding season they also utilise roosting nests that look like breeding nests but are unlined. Up to six birds have been recorded roosting in these nests.

Around Castlemaine they are common and widespread and can be found in gardens and along the creeks (including the Forest Creek Trail). They are adaptable and can be found nesting in non-native plants as well as natives.’

A big thank you to contributors to this edition of Bird of the Month – Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly – for their amazing knowledge, and to Martin Tatton for his photo.

For more information about these birds and to listen to the call – click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-browed Finch nest. Ph

oto by Damian Kelly

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indigenous plant use: a new resource

Posted on 27 August, 2020 by Ivan

We recently discovered a very comprehensive and useful booklet specifically designed for anyone interested in Indigenous plant use, including Landcare and community groups, schools, revegetation practitioners and gardeners. If you don’t have a property or garden, this booklet is still of value, as it aims to illuminate Indigenous perspectives of indigenous plants.

‘Indigenous plant use – A booklet on the medicinal, nutritional and technological use of indigenous plants’ was produced by Zena Cumpston at the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes (CAUL) Hub in Melbourne, which is funded by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program. The guide is based on plants from Kulin Country, which incorporates five different aboriginal groups from southern Victoria, and includes many plants that are found in Central Victoria and valued by Dja Dja Wurrung people. By choosing plants specifically from the Country you are on, you will not only increase the plants’ chances of survival but help reintroduce these plants to the landscape and add to the biodiversity of your area.

To download a copy of the booklet – click here

Read on for more information on how the booklet came about.

In 2019, the University of Melbourne was transformed by the breathtaking influx of 40,000 plants native to Kulin Country that literally breathed new (ancient) life into the site. These plants took centre stage at The Living Pavilion, an arts/science event that aspired to forefront the University’s Parkville campus as an Aboriginal place: a place of belonging. The Parkville campus is built on the unceded lands of the Wurundjeri peoples of the Woi Wurrung language group who have belonged to and been custodians of these lands for 65,000+ years.

As part of the plant exhibition, The Living Pavilion’s lead researcher, Barkandji woman Zena Cumpston, used signage to educate people about the different plant species’ cultural and ecological significance. This plant research was so popular that many participants asked how they could access this information after the event and if there was a resource available that synthesised this work. Further, greening practitioners, schools and community groups have been contacting Zena to ask for more information and to discuss their educational aspirations to embed understandings of Indigenous ecological knowledge into their gardens and activities.

This booklet contains edited and abridged versions of the information that accompanied the indigenous plants at The Living Pavilion. We share information about indigenous plant use, including the medicinal, nutritional and technological use of plants (such as traps, nets and weapons) developed over many, many millennia by Australia’s First Peoples. Mostly, we cover widely available eastern Kulin Nation plants, and some edible plants from further afield that can be grown successfully in multiple Australian climates.

All of the plant information has been edited to fit onto labels that you can print, laminate and use in your garden. These labels provide an ongoing opportunity to learn on Country: gardeners and visitors will be able to interact with plants, smell, touch and taste, whilst they learn. This is an Indigenous way of knowing and learning, it is experiential learning: learning through doing, smelling, tasting, seeing, feeling, sharing and talking. The plants are presented from an Indigenous perspective; Latin names are second not first. Where possible we have also included information about the animals the plants benefit, in line with the holistic approaches to the environment so important to Indigenous ways of knowing and being.

Yam-daisy or Microseris walteri (photo by Robert Macrae)

 

 

 

Treasure-hunting in the Goldfields

Posted on 20 August, 2020 by Asha

Yam-daisy (Microseris lanceolata) by Robert Macrae

We’re delighted to present a very special guest blogger: Asha Bannon. Asha will be known to many from her role as Landcare Facilitator for the Mount Alexander Region with Connecting Country. She is currently on extended leave, but took out time to prepare this for us.

What is special to you about the land around us? We have many treasures in our local bushland, often hiding in plain sight.

Next time you go for a walk, focus on tuning in to something new around you. I know I am usually on the lookout for birds, searching for signs of movement and bird calls, so it takes a shift in awareness for me to stop and take a closer look at the tiny plants and fungi near my feet. Perhaps you could take a magnifying glass out to look at mosses and insects, or take a few moments to close your eyes and purely listen to what’s around you. In these times when we need to shelter in place for a while, there are always new adventures to be had by discovering the different dimensions all around us.

The name of our bioregion, ‘Goldfields’, comes from the gold-mining in our history that drastically changed our landscapes. But it is important to remember that we also have an abundance of special plants, animals, and fungi which we should value like treasure, many of which share that golden colour. Trace Balla captured this sentiment in her book, ‘Landing with wings’ (picture shared here with permission).

Page from ‘Landing with wings’ by Trace Balla (shared here with permission)

Examples include common species, such as Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) which is flowering in abundance right now, as well as threatened and rare species like Murnong (Microseris lanceolata) and Eltham Copper Butterfly (Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida). And the list goes on!

Tell us in the comments some of your favourite golden plants, animals, fungi, etc., and have a chat about them with your friends too to share the love for these treasures.

We have put together a simple worksheet with some easy-to-spot golden treasures to kick start your own checklist. Click here to download a copy, or you can make your own, either with golden treasures or another dimension of nature you’d like to explore. If you can’t get out into nature at the moment, click here to explore some Natural Newstead blog posts as the next best thing.

Asha Bannon

 

Climate science webinar: download now available

Posted on 20 August, 2020 by Ivan

In June 2020, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) hosted two online webinars regarding climate change projections in Victoria. These proved to be very popular and we received several inquiries from community members who were keen to obtain a recording of the webinars, so they could show others or catch up on the latest climate change projections. The Climate Science and Communications team at DELWP subsequently provided the following information on how to access the webinars.

Thanks to those of you who were able to listen in to the webinars held by DELWP’s climate change area in late June 2020. We’re pleased to be able to send you a package of materials from the two webinars. Apologies for the delay in getting these materials out.

Here are the recordings of both webinars:

Webinar 1 – Climate change in Victoria – past, present and future (24 June): https://publish.viostream.com/play/ny1ykcsn7fz45n

Webinar 2 – Victorian Climate Projections 2019 – findings and tips for interpreting (26 June): https://publish.viostream.com/play/ny1ykcsn7fafhp

Climate Science and Communications team

Environment and Climate Change | Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
Level 1, 8 Nicholson St, East Melbourne, Victoria 3002
PO Box 500, East Melbourne, 8002
E
: climate.science@delwp.vic.gov.au

 

 

What is a climate future plot?

Posted on 13 August, 2020 by Ivan

You may have heard the terms ‘climate future plot‘, ‘climate-resilient landscapes‘ or ‘climate-ready revegetation‘, but what do they actually mean? Well, in simple terms, they refer to the use of climate change modelling to plan for revegetation, by using suitable indigenous plants sourced from places with climates similar to that predicted at the revegetation site in decades to come (usually hotter and drier places). Obviously there is a lot of science behind this new and emerging revegetation technique, but we are starting to see working examples in Tasmania and Victoria, which is heartening.

We’ve found Landcarers and landholders in the Mount Alexander region are increasingly concerned about the future viability of their revegetation work, given recent weather patterns and future climate predictions. Many have seen their revegetation plantings die in recent years due to heat and water stress, and some have even stopped planting.

Connecting Country is seeking to address this issue. We’re looking for  funding to establish some climate future plots right here in the Mount Alexander region. These specially designed areas of ‘climate-ready’ revegetation would incorporate plants grown from seed both collected locally and from other regions (typically hotter, drier regions to our north). This increases the likelihood that plants will survive as climate impacts intensify. We would carefully design the project, obtain appropriate seed, grow tubestock and find suitable plot locations. Once planted, we would collaborate with citizen scientists to establish an ongoing monitoring program to measure the long-term survival and growth of the plants. This would provide valuable information to guide future revegetation planting.

An excellent working example of a climate-ready revegetation project is at Bush Heritage’s Nardoo Hills Reserve near Wedderburn, Victoria, where climate change is causing extensive dieback of Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa) and Yellow Box (E. melliodora) trees. To address this dieback, the revegetation research project has been designed to provide long-term guidance on viable, climate-ready eucalypt revegetation options for the reserve and this region using a strategy called ‘climate-adjusted provenancing’. The research trial will run over many decades but they should gain valuable results and insights each year.

Traditional revegetation programs use locally sourced seed, based on the expectation that they’re the most suited to the local environment. For long-lived species like eucalypts this approach is now considered high risk due to the changing climate.

Nardoo Hills Reserve die-back of eucalyptus species (Photo: Bush Heritage)

 

To read more about Bush Heritage’s climate-ready revegetation project – click here

Please enjoy the following video below, courtesy of Bush Heritage Australia, that highlights the challenges and achievements at Nardoo Hills.

 

 

All aboard the love train: echidna playdate

Posted on 13 August, 2020 by Ivan

We all know and love Tanya Loos, former Connecting Country employee, bird watching superstar, science writer and committed naturalist. We are lucky enough to have Tanya as a guest blogger this week, presenting her wisdom on the rarely encountered echidna train. Tanya is now working with Birdlife Australia, coordinating communications and engagement at a national scale. She has also written the much loved Daylesford Nature Diary, which was published a few years ago. Please enjoy her article below highlighting one of the most visually pleasurable phenomena in our region. 

In the higher altitude foothill forests, the local wattles usually flower in late August and September. The silver wattles are blooming in the Wombat Forest and surrounds:  a few weeks early this year. One reliable sign of early spring is right on cue – the appearance of amorous echidnas!

On that lovely warm day at the end of July – just before this cold snap, we were delighted to host a pair of echidnas mating in the garden bed!

The echidna is usually a solitary animal, with a large home range of between 30 to even 100 hectares. The echidna wanders around his or her territory using extraordinary muscular strength to move rocks and logs to get to tasty termites and ant nests in the ground, and if another echidna is encountered, they usually ignore each other.

This indifference turns into the complete opposite in mating season – 100% commitment and attention! A female of breeding age, around five years old, suddenly becomes hot property in the bushland, and randy males follow the female around, shadowing her every move. This behaviour forms what is known as an echidna train. An echidna train is composed of a female in front, with three or four males following head to tail behind, forming an echidna conga line. An echidna train may have as many as 11 males!

Echidna trains last for about six weeks. I have heard three reports in the past week so we are right in the thick of echidna breeding season now. Isn’t it lovely that nature keeps on with these lovely seasonal cycles, whilst our human world is dealing with so much strife right now. Such comfort!

Rarely seen but much loved, the Echidna train (Photo: Stuart King)

 

When it is mating time, another unusual behaviour occurs; the creation of a mating trench. The female decides she is ready to mate and partially buries her front legs and head into the soft dirt at the base of a tree or bush. The males get very excited at this point and start digging a trench around the female. If there is only one male the mating trench will be a simple straight trench, if there are several males, the trench becomes a large doughnut shaped ring that can be 20 cm deep. The males push and jostle each other in the trench until eventually only one male is in position to mate with the female. They mate on their side, with their openings (cloacas) pushed together.

Dogs find echidnas fascinating creatures! Please ensure that your dogs do not have the opportunity to disturb echidnas during this special time.

I am pretty good with recording my bird sightings on my Birdata app – but the others – not so good! But this sighting has prompted me to fire-up my Echidna CSI app and take the time to record this sighting!

Echidna CSI is a fantastic research project led by Tahlia Perry, a University of Adelaide PhD student. They are on Facebook here – the photos are just wonderful! Echidna trains aplenty, and it is so great to see the variation in echidna colour and amount of fur – the Tasmanian echidnas are very large and fluffy! The Echidna CSI project is also online here.

The Echidna CSI app is pretty easy to use with a smartphone – you can either record a sighting as you see it, or add a photo from your camera roll for older sightings. As my pics are not geo-tagged, I was directed to the Atlas of Living Australia website to upload my sighting/photo. It took about 15 minutes but now it is done!

The project is also collecting echidna scats for analysis. I have an echidna scat – I used to show it as part of my scats and bush detective displays to school kids, and I have to admit I would be sad to part with it! They are surprisingly big – a cylinder of tightly compressed sand/dirt with tiny fragments of insect exoskeleton throughout. But it is for a good cause!

As the team explain on their website: ‘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.’

To the post office! : ) : )

Tanya Loos
https://tanyaloos.com/

 

 

Revisited: dam that is good habitat

Posted on 30 July, 2020 by Ivan

The rain has been steady across autumn and winter this season and it has been a pleasure seeing the many farm dams across our region mostly full to the brim and overflowing. The farm dam can be simply that, a farm dam for stock and irrigation, or it can be a farm dam along with important ecological values and habitat potential. There are plenty of small actions that landowners can implement to improve the habitat value of their dam. Dams can provide vital resources and habitat for fauna during heatwaves and extended drought periods, and can be important links in ecological restoration across the landscape.

One of Connecting Country’s most popular posts over the past five years was about turning your dam into habitat. It was our highest-ranking post in terms of the number of views, and highlighted some practical actions landholders could take to improve their dams. In light of the recent interest in this topic we decided to republish the blog post here, along with some new links to useful resources on the topic

We thank Damien Cook for his slide presentation from the workshop, which is available via the link at the bottom of this post.

Turning your Dam into Habitat

Wetland ecologist, Damien Cook presented the ‘Turning Your Dam into Habitat’ workshop in April 2017 on his property in Spring Gully. Participants heard about the possibilities and practical steps for turning farm dams into habitat, wetland ecology and managing soil erosion in ephemeral creek lines.

Damien started the day talking about a swale that he and partner Elaine Bayes had built to divert water away from the house. This swale helps prevent water gushing in their front door and provides habitat for animals by remaining moist when nearby areas have dried out in times of less rain. We also heard how it acts as a biofilter and helps with mitigating soil runoff in times of high rain.

Damien kicks off the workshop by talking nutrient cycling and inviting frogs with things they like

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next we moved to a small frog pond near the house. This pond had previously been the site of a driveway but had been renovated to encourage frogs and provide space for wetland plants. Here Damien talked about encouraging insects as prey for frogs and fish and about nutrient cycling that occurs with wet and drying conditions. Plant species in this pond include Swamp Wallaby Grass (Amphibromus fluitans), Common Swamp Wallaby-grass (Amphibromus nervosus), Ridged Water-milfoil (Myriophyllum porcatum) and Water Ribbon (Cycnogeton procerum).  Damien recounted hearing five different species of frog using this small pond. When asked if he had introduced the frogs, he responded that “no, I invited them by providing conditions that frogs liked”.

A short walk through the paddock included a quick stop to listen for and talk about the Biberon’s Brooding Frog, (Pseudophryne bibroni) whose unusual parenting habits include the stay at home dads looking after the fertilised eggs until rain comes and disperses his brood. Damien also pointed out that his paddock was home the Golden Sun Moth, another critically endangered species.

At the dig dam participants heard about the value of creating banks of topsoil to plant into

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the first of three dams on the property Damien explained that, as with most dams, it was constructed in a way that has ensured it’s surface was largely subsoil. Damien had therefore built up the banks with introduced top soil and planted Jointed Twig Rush (Baumea articulata) into them. He had also planted Old Man’s Weed (Centipeda cunninghamii) and Eel Grass (Vallisneria australis), the later being a delicious treat for the resident yabbie population. This dam provided an opportunity to talk about why it’s good not to have trees on dam walls, creating floating pontoons in deep dams, and making shallow areas and peninsulas if renovating or building a new dam. 

Our next stop was the medium sized dam which was near full and awaiting the Water Ribbon germinants to reach the surface thus mitigating evaporation and providing shelter for frogs in warmer months.

Good questions from attendees helped draw out information from Damien about how to slow water down and make habitat in our landscape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last stop was a small dammed area in an ephemeral creek line. Prior to the 2010-11 flood this area had been  prone to erosion. Damien has renovated the area using rocks and wetland plants such as Tall sedge (Carex appressa)  to mitigate the erosion from moving up the creek line. This has allowed the creek to back up behind the dam wall and a small pond to form. Participants shared the joy of walking through the revegetated area to the dam. We heard how the planting in the creek and on it’s banks had prevented the further erosion of the creek and have provided habitat for various creatures including butterflies, moths and frogs. Plants along the creek used for the revegetaion included Blackwood wattle (Acacia melanoxylon), Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) and Gold Dust Wattle (Acacia acinacea).

Committee Member, Deb Wardle sums up the workshop and presents Damien with a gift from Connecting Country

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, back under shelter, we heard from Frances Cincotta from Newstead Natives and Damien about some wetland plant specifics. Deb Wardle from the Connecting County Committee of Management concluded the session and thanked Damien and the attending audience for the information and persistence in spite of the rain.

Thanks to all who attended, to Damien and Elaine of allowing us to host the workshop at their property and in particular to Damien for his informative presentation. It was such a joy to hear how participants could reap the benefits of establishing more wetland plants and animals on their properties.

More information and resources

  • Slide presentation by Damien Cook with key points from Connecting Country’s ‘Turning your dam into habitat’ workshop – click here
  • Land for Wildlife’s helpful guide titled ‘Dams as Habitat’ – click here
  • Sustainable Farms’s great webinar on ‘Enhancing farm dams’ – click here
  • Sustainable Farms’s interesting video on how research has helped farmers maintain healthy farms during the drought – see below

 

 

 

Spending to save: what will it cost to halt Australia’s extinction crisis?

Posted on 30 July, 2020 by Ivan

A new research paper has revealed some astonishing facts about the small amount of money allocated to biodiversity and threatened species across our nation. Records show Australia has one of the highest extinction rates in the world over the past century. One of the main factors in the loss of biodiversity is the increased rate of human  population growth, which has led to habitat change through land clearing, urbanisation, hunting and resource extraction. The introduction of new invasive species has also had a huge impact Australia’s biodiversity. The forests of the Mount Alexander region have endured a long history of disturbance since the 1850s, leading to many indigenous plants and animals becoming extinct or threatened.

But what would it cost to halt Australia’s extension and biodiversity crisis? According to this recent scientific research paper, it would cost $1.6 billion to improve the status of all of Australia’s threatened species and return their health to the point where they can be removed from lists of at-risk flora and fauna, through protections from land clearing and invasive species, habitat restoration and other means. $1.6 billion is not small change, but achievable for a nation of our wealth, and much less than many government investments in recent times.

The reality is that we have been spending $86.9 million in 2017-18, $49.6 million in 2018-19 and an estimated $54.6 million in 2019-20 on Australia’s threatened species through the Commonwealth government. Hence it is not surprising that biodiversity and ecological assets are in poor health across the nation and declining rapidly.

The scientific research paper is titled ‘Spending to save: What will it cost to halt Australia’s extinction crisis?’ and is published in the Conservation Letters. A copy of the abstract is provided below. To access this fascinating paper in full – click here

As with most governments worldwide, Australian governments list threatened species and proffer commitments to recovering them. Yet most of Australia’s imperiled species continue to decline or go extinct and a contributing cause is inadequate investment in conservation management. However, this has been difficult to evaluate because the extent of funding committed to such recovery in Australia, like in many nations, is opaque.

Here, by collating disparate published budget figures of Australian governments, we show that annual spending on targeted threatened species recovery is around U.S.$92m (AU$122m) which is around one-tenth of that spent by the U.S. endangered species recovery program, and about 15% of what is needed to avoid extinctions and recover threatened species. Our approach to estimating funding needs for species recovery could be applied in any jurisdiction and could be scaled up to calculate what is needed to achieve international goals for ending the species extinction crisis.

Our local visitors, Swift Parrots, are listed as critically endangered and threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation (photo: Michael Gooch)

 

Tricky birds with Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros – 24 August 2020

Posted on 23 July, 2020 by Ivan

Hold onto your hats! Connecting Country is excited to host an all-star lineup for a workshop on identifying tricky bird species of the central Victoria. Two highly-regarded birdwatchers and ecologists, Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros, will present at our online workshop on identifying tricky birds on Monday 24 August 2020 at 7 pm. Geoff will be speaking on identifying raptors and Chris on identifying thornbills, followed by an interactive panel discussion and a chance to ask the experts your bird watching questions.

Please click here to register for this event. A link to the online meeting platform will be emailed to you in the coming weeks.

Geoff Park is a Newstead local legend, author of the highly popular ‘Natural Newstead’ blog, and Director of Natural Decisions Pty Ltd. He holds a Bachelor of Science (Honours) and a Diploma of Education. His background is in landscape ecology, teaching and community education. He has a long standing interest and involvement with communities working to improve biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes.

Chris Tzaros  is author of the outstanding book ‘Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country’, a comprehensive guide to the mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians that live in this unique habitat. He holds a Masters degree in Conservation Ecology. His passionate interest in bird and wildlife photography has won him multiple ANZANG photography awards. Chris worked for Birdlife Australia for ten years and runs his own company, Birds Bush & Beyond, based in north-east Victoria.

We are thrilled to present these two conservation superstars. This workshop is suited for our experienced bird watchers, but everyone is welcome. Please join us to learn together, and bring along your tricky bird questions.

Tricky bird experts: Chris Tzaros and Geoff Park

 

 

Bird of the month: Batman and Robin

Posted on 23 July, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our sixth 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.

Black-faced and White-bellied and Cuckoo-shrikes – aka Batman and Robin

You may have felt and seen the stirrings. The critters in the bush are gearing up for the new breeding season, just as the wattles and Hakea have begun to bloom. A couple of weeks ago I sighted my first White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike since last summer. As I took the time to observe its behaviour and plumage as it moved through the tree canopy, I was reminded about how hard it can be to distinguish White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes from Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes. Each species has several morphs. This post focuses on the Central Victorian morphs, to avoid getting too complex.

My first source of information is always Damian Kelly. He reported that the Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds (HANZAB) prefaced many comments on cuckoo shrikes with ‘not well known’. This I found interesting, as the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike is a moderately common and widespread partial migrant, even if the White-faced Cuckoo-shrike is uncommon, though widespread and a partial migrant or resident (depending on which book you read). I’d expected more would be known about these two species.

There are many similarities between them. Both species of Cuckoo-shrike display a graceful undulating flight, soft grey and white colours with black markings, and similar size, bill and body shape. The immature birds are especially difficult to distinguish, as is often the case. Both species are often seen as individuals or in pairs. However, occasionally I’ve seen Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes in huge flocks moving through treetops in our local forests, and after the breeding season White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes can be observed in flocks of up to 12. Often it’s their distinct call which signals their presence.

Let’s look at some of the differences between these two species, and what to look for when identifying them. There are several characteristics that are useful. Their calls differ, the Black-faced having a soft churring call and the White-bellied a sharper sounding ‘quizeek-quizeek’ (see links to calls below). Both species can do a wing shuffle upon landing on a branch, but the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes shuffles its wings every time and with a very obvious and pronounced movement.

Visually the colouring in adult birds is a little different. The Black-faced is just as its name suggests, its white belly only extends to below its chest and it is a slightly larger bird. In-flight the extended tail and wings appear black. The White-bellied has a more obvious and brighter white belly (although there is a dark morph, further confusing the issue but rarely seen in Central Victoria) and a black stripe from the bill to the dark eye.

The immature birds of both species are very hard to tell apart. Both are soft grey with a full white belly and chest, and both have a black stripe through the eye like the adult White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike. However, the black eye stripe in the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike runs from the bill and extends past the dark eye.

In conclusion, it’s all very confusing. However, you could say the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike has a Batman face mask but without the whole hood, and the White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike has an eye mask like Robin. Little superheroes – who’d have thought?

Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike (photo by Damien Kelly)

White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike (photo by Damien Kelly)

 

To read more about this wonderful bird on Geoff Park’s ‘Natural Newstead’ blog – click here

To learn more about the dark morph of the White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike – click here

To hear the call of the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike – click here

To hear the call of the White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike – click here

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