Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Endangered butterfly finds new hope in central Victoria

Posted on 29 September, 2021 by Ivan

The endangered Eltham Copper Butterfly (Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida) represents one of the most fascinating stories both due to its co-dependency in nature and how people have rallied for this species.  This is a rare, good news story within the extinction crisis across Australia, proving we can save species from the brink with the right care and resources.

It is a story of lost and found and lost and found again. The little butterfly was formally described in 1951 having been collected from several sites around Eltham (then north east of Melbourne) during 1923-56.  Subsequent lack of records over the next 37 years, combined with vegetation clearing for housing development where they once thrived (Tallarook, Murtoa, Dimboola, Keilor, Broadmeadows and Yarrambat), lead scientists to conclude the butterfly had become extinct. Then the butterflies were rediscovered at Eltham in 1987 on a property about to be subdivided. Community campaigning for this tiny insect resulted in the purchase and protection of eight hectares of land around Eltham and Greensborough. The 1987 discovery also triggered funding of a state-wide search. Nine colonies were discovered in 1988, including two in new regions: Castlemaine (central Victoria) and the Kiata-Salisbury area (western Victoria).

Finding where a threatened species lives is the first step in conserving it, but protecting it from threats is the key to survival.  Sadly, since 1988 three known populations were lost through housing development in Melbourne’s north eastern suburbs (Montmorency and Eltham) and from grazing and weed invasion in western Victoria (Salisbury).  It is likely that butterfly populations were also lost from other areas where they were not yet discovered.

The Eltham Copper Butterfly is only the size of a ten cent piece (photo by Elaine Bayes)

However, bursts of effort over the decades have led to the discovery of new populations, mostly in north central Victoria. In 2011, a 3,000 ha search found eight new populations around Bendigo and Castlemaine.  All the newly-discovered populations are very localised. Although the populations are located within a larger area of what looks like suitable butterfly habitat, the butterfly only occurs in 3-25% of habitat. Numbers of butterflies within these areas are also small, with populations of around 50 butterflies peppered across an area.  Why they are found in some areas and not others is unclear, and what makes good butterfly habitat appears very complex.

Eltham Copper Butterfly is a small attractive butterfly with bright copper colouring on the tops of its wings and lives in dry open woodlands. A member of the blue butterfly family, it has a fascinating ecological dependency with two other species – a Notoncus ant and the Sweet Bursaria plant (Bursaria spinosa), which is the sole food source for the butterfly larvae. It’s survival also relies on an unknown array of environmental factors including availability of food for the ants, relationships with predators, site aspect and soil type.

The symbiotic relationship works like this. The adult Eltham Copper Butterflies lay their eggs on or at the base of Sweet Bursaria plants. The eggs hatch and the larvae make their way to the ant nest where they are tended and guarded by Notoncus ants.  This amazing service is achieved through a mixture of trickery and treats. Trickery in that the larvae of this family butterflies are believed to give off chemicals and make noises that can pacify ant aggression, mimic ant brood hormones, and attract and alert ants if the butterfly larvae is alarmed. Treats in that the butterfly larvae produces sugary secretions from their body in proportion to how many ants they need to guard them. These nocturnal ants then lead the butterfly larvae out at night to browse on the Sweet Bursaria leaves, and defend them from the many nocturnal predators that see the larvae as a juicy snack. Larvae pupate in or near the ant nest, with adult butterflies emerging from October to March each year, peaking from November to January. The adults then feed on nectar of Sweet Bursaria flowers, before they lay their eggs at the base of the plant, and on the cycle begins again.

The Eltham Copper Butterfly emerges in December on days over 25 degrees. Photo: Elaine Bayes

Elaine Bayes is one of the leading ecologists championing the future survival of the Eltham Copper Butterfly in northern Victoria. Elaine has conducted numerous surveys for the butterfly and its preferred habitat over the past decade, along with her colleague ecologist Karl Just and a team of citizen scientists, uncovering new populations along the way. Elaine recently obtained funding through the Victorian Government’s Biodiversity On-ground Action Program to map and monitor current known populations, and conduct further surveys for suitable habitat across central and western Victoria. Elaine is excited about the chance of finding further populations of the special butterfly. ‘We have the opportunity to conduct surveys in locations that we have not previously surveyed, but we know have great habitat potential. The next six months will see our team survey locations around Castlemaine, Chewton and Kiata, with the hope of discovering new populations, which is very exciting and vital to the survival of this endangered species.’ noted Ms Bayes.

A citizen science event in Castlemaine in 2019 attracted a strong crowd and interest in the Eltham Copper Butterfly (photo by Frances Howe)

Although there are several known populations around the state, the future of this special butterfly remains uncertain. It is listed as threatened under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and as endangered under the Commonwealth Environmental Conservation and Biodiversity Act 1999. This places considerable importance on managing the small number of known population sites and locating any potential new sites so they can be protected from threats.

‘Land clearing and fire are two of the main one threats to this species. It is critical that we search for unrecorded populations so they can be protected, particularly from planned burns. The habitat around butterfly populations is vital and must be protected from over burning for the butterfly and their complex ecological relationships to survive,’ said Ms Bayes. Recent surveys from ecologists and the community have resulted in important changes to fuel reduction burns, allowing land managers to still reduce fuel load but ensure vital habitat is maintained for butterfly breeding.

Larvae pupate in or near the ant nest (photo by Elaine Bayes)

 

How can you help?

To contribute, get involved in the protection, conservation and management of remnant bushland on your property or in your local area, as there are increasingly rare and threatened species living within them. In particular, retain and restore any native understorey plants on your property, and if appropriate to your area, plant Sweet Bursaria.

For updates about the butterfly population in Eltham-Greensborough and associated volunteer events, there is a Facebook page – click here

For the Eltham Copper Butterfly populations in northern Victoria, get involved locally in management, monitoring or raising awareness. From early November to January, walk through areas where Sweet Bursaria grows and look for the copper sparkle of flying adult butterflies.

You can report sightings of this elusive butterfly on the new and amazing Butterfly Australia App. For information visit – www.butterflies.org.au

This 2021 Eltham Copper Butterfly project is funded by the Victorian Government’s Biodiversity On-ground Action Program.

 

Bird of the month: Kestrel

Posted on 27 September, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our nineteenth 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 photos by Ash Vigus.

Australian Kestrel (Falco cenchroides)

A member of the Falco genus which includes Peregrines and Hobbies, Kestrels are widespread across the world, with 13 species recognised. A few overseas species migrate with the seasons, but most are non-migratory, although they will move about depending on food availability. Their diet includes small birds, mice, reptiles, locusts and grasshoppers along with some other insects, spiders and other terrestrial invertebrates. They will readily move to areas of abundance during mouse and locust plagues. Within Australia, many areas have resident pairs. Juveniles spread widely after fledging and may move long distances.

Kestrels often hover in one spot searching for a variety of prey including insects and rodents (photo: Ash Vigus)

 

Australia has one species – the Australian or Nankeen Kestrel. It can be found all over the Australian mainland and on some outlying islands including Tasmania, most Bass Straight islands as well as Christmas, Norfolk and Lord Howe islands. It has occasionally been recorded as a non-breeding visitor to Papua New Guinea, the Torres Strait islands, New Zealand and Java. It is likely that they have expanded in both population and distribution with the clearing of forests for farmland, as they prefer open country. They have also readily adapted to taking the introduced House Mouse as well as the Common Starling, which often comprise a significant part of their diet.

It is the smallest Australian Falcon with a length of 30-35 cm and a weight range of 165 g for males to 185 g for females. They are great fliers, soaring and hovering with ease. Quite spectacular to watch.

Generally, breeding occurs between August to December. Australian Kestrels are quite adaptable and will utilise tree hollows, cliffs, old nests of other birds, nest boxes and even the broken tops of anthills. There are also records of them using sinkholes in the ground and mine shafts. They are known to use the nests of White-winged Chough, Australian Magpie, Whistling Kite, crows and ravens and even the top of Chestnut-crowned Babbler nests. Certainly very adaptable!

Clutches of eggs range from 1 to 6, but usually 2-3. Most of the incubation is done by the female with the male feeding her. Upon hatching the female generally feeds the young, often with food brought to the nest for her by the male.

There are some remarkable records of fostering, with young kestrels being reared by Black-breasted Buzzards and even a Black Falcon feeding young kestrels at the nest.

To hear the call of an Australian Kestrel, please – click here

Jane Rusden
BirdLife Castlemaine District

 

 

How to get help for injured native animals

Posted on 22 September, 2021 by Ivan

We love our wildlife and are very proud of the amazing work wildlife rescuers do every week across Victoria. It is a tireless and stressful job that provides an important service for our wildlife and community. We are often asked about how to report injured or sick wildlife and who is the best contact in our region. Please read on for further information courtesy of  Wildlife Victoria and a local wildlife rescuer, that covers the basics and some interesting facts.

Wildlife rescue deals with hundreds of calls each day during the busy periods over summer (photo: Wildlife Victoria)

How you can help sick or injured wildlife

1. Prioritise your own safety

If the animal you have found is located on or near a road make sure you park as safely as possible and turn on your hazard lights. If it’s dark turn on your headlights and stand in front of the car so you are well illuminated.

Keep a safe distance from the animal to not cause panic, and do not attempt to handle or approach the animal until you have contacted a trained rescuer.

Important: Larger mammals can be dangerous when distressed, and should only be handled by a trained wildlife carer.

 

2. Contact a professional wildlife rescuer as soon as possible

Caring and handling wildlife requires specialist skills and training. The best thing you can do to help the animal is to contact a trained professional who can give the animal the care it needs.

Wildlife Victoria run an emergency support line 24 hours per day, seven days a week. Call Wildlife Victoria’s on (03) 8400 7300 or to report online – click here

3. Follow the wildlife rescuer’s instructions

If you are unable to wait for the rescuer to arrive, try your best to leave some kind of marker or signal close to the animals location so they can easily locate it.

If your rescuer asks you to bring the animal to a nearby wildlife shelter, remember to prioritise your safety and the safety of the animal. Handle the animal delicately with as much padding between you and it to protect from biting, disease or simply to prevent stress.

Never attempt to feed native wildlife, but if possible provide clean drinking water.

 

Further information and resources

Wildlife Victoria has some excellent fact sheets and educational materials regarding how to care for sick and injured wildlife.  They cover topic such as baby birds, heat-stressed animals, wildlife-safe netting and safe driving around wildlife. To view the wildlife fact sheets – click here

 

Tracking wildlife rescues activity in your area

Explore Wildlife Victoria’s map to see which animals were in need of help in your local area last month. The points on this map all relate to a single animal, or family of animals, reported to Wildlife Victoria last month. (Yes, this is just one month!) To view the map – click here

 

 

 

Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country – new edition

Posted on 8 September, 2021 by Ivan

One of our most treasured nature books by legendary nature enthusiast Chris Tzaros is about to get an update with the release of the second edition.  ‘Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country’ has been a bible to many living in and around box-ironbark country, with amazing imagery and detailed information on the fascinating animals that call our local forests and woodlands home.

Chris was a guest speaker at our 2020 sell-out event, ‘Tricky Birds’, and is one of the nation’s leading bird photographers and experts on the box-ironbark regions.

The second edition of ‘Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country’ is now available via pre-order and is due to be delivered in the coming weeks. No doubt the second edition will feature glorious imagery and a comprehensive overview of the ecologically significant Box–Ironbark habitats and their wildlife.

If you can’t wait for it to hit local bookshops, you can pre-order a copy now from CSIRO Publishing – click here

Cover image of Wildlife of the Box–Ironbark Country, second edition, featu

Overview (courtesy of CSIRO Publishing)

A comprehensive overview of the ecologically significant Box–Ironbark habitats and their wildlife. Victoria’s Box–Ironbark region is one of the most important areas of animal diversity and significance in southern Australia. The forests and woodlands of this region provide critical habitat for a diverse array of woodland-dependent animals, including many threatened and declining species such as the Squirrel Glider, Brush-tailed Phascogale, Regent Honeyeater, Swift Parrot, Pink-tailed Worm-Lizard, Woodland Blind Snake, Tree Goanna and Bibron’s Toadlet.

Wildlife of the Box–Ironbark Country gives a comprehensive overview of the ecology of the Box–Ironbark habitats and their wildlife, and how climate change is having a major influence. This extensively revised second edition covers all of the mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs that occur in the region, with a brief description of their distribution, status, ecology and identification, together with a detailed distribution map and superb colour photograph for each species.

The book includes a ‘Where to watch’ section, featuring a selection of national parks, state parks and nature conservation reserves where people can experience the ecosystem and its wildlife for themselves.

This book is intended for land managers, conservation and wildlife workers, fauna consultants, landholders, teachers, students, naturalists and all those interested in learning about and appreciating the wildlife of this fascinating and endangered ecosystem.

Features:
• Covers 267 species, each with a detailed description, high-quality colour photograph and updated distribution map
• Includes new species accounts for fauna that now reside permanently or regularly visit the Box–Ironbark region
• Provides a list of parks and reserves, including maps and descriptions of 16 locations to observe Box–Ironbark wildlife

About the author

Chris Tzaros is uniquely placed to write about the fauna of Victoria’s Box–Ironbark country. Brought up near Bendigo, he has had a passionate interest in wildlife since childhood. Chris has 25 years’experience working on wildlife research and conservation projects, largely focused on threatened woodland birds, for both government and nongovernment environmental and conservation organisations. He is an award-winning wildlife photographer and has produced the majority of the photos in this book. Chris is currently an independent wildlife ecologist and nature
photographer based in north-east Victoria but enjoys working among nature right around Australia.

 

Bird of the month: Fan-tailed Cuckoo

Posted on 19 August, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our eighententh 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 photos by Ash Vigus

Fan-tailed Cuckoo (Cacomantis flabelliformis)

More questions than answers are thrown up by this often secretive species. However, occasionally the Fan-tailed Cuckoo will show itself in plain view, as I had the opportunity to witness recently whilst doing bird surveys in the Whipstick (north of Bendigo in Victoria). The bird was hanging around, low to the ground, in a patch of Cassinia, which is good habitat for small birds. I’m sure of no coincidence…

In short, the Fan-tailed Cuckoo inhabits open woodland with dense, tall understory, preferably in a gully. Locally that means Golden Wattle and Silver Wattle, and occasionally mallee shrubs. As partial migrants, in winter it appears birds generally move north and return in spring. However, some birds remain all year.

Apparently, some birds stay close to where they hatched, others migrate and return to near where they hatched, and others move on. In short, their complicated movements are not well understood. Recapture in banding studies is low and the studies few, leaving us scratching our heads to some extent. What is obvious is that calling is heard in spring and generally not in winter. Is this due to winter migration or are they just keeping quiet?

The Fan-tailed Cuckoo enjoys hairy caterpillars in its diet, but will also take a variety of other insects and their larvae (photo by Ash Vigus)

 

The diet of the Fan-tailed Cuckoo consists mostly of insects, including Lepidoptera larvae (caterpillars), often foraged close to or on the ground, or in sallying flights. Interestingly, Fan-tailed Cuckoos can be found in mixed foraging flocks of the exact insectivorous bird species whose nests they parasitise. Wow, another question … why would a small woodland bird tolerate the presence of a larger bird who kills their eggs?

Talking of killing eggs, the whole point of cuckoos is that they lay eggs in other birds’ nests, who then raise the cuckoo chick to fledging. Let’s start at the beginning. Some cuckoo eggs mimic those of the host species, but Fan-tailed Cuckoo eggs do not. Their host species are Speckled Warbler, Gerygone, White-browed Scrubwren, heathwrens, fairy-wrens and thornbills. However, studies show that Brown Thornbill and White-browed Scrubwren are the most common victims. One thing in common with these species is their nests are domed or enclosed and close to the ground. At times Fan-tailed Cuckoos will also lay in cup-shaped nests built by robins and occasionally honeyeaters.

Fan-tailed Cuckoos are found throughout eastern Australia, south-western Western Australia and Tasmania (photo by Ash Vigus)

 

The Fan-tailed Cuckoo will lay one egg in a host’s nest. It has been suggested that the egg is placed via their bill or by holding in the foot, but there is little evidence of actual laying. How the host’s eggs are removed is unknown. There are records of Pallid Cuckoos removing a Fan-tailed Cuckoo egg, and visa versa, from the host’s nest. Now that’s a pickle! Generally, cuckoos leave the feeding and raising of their chicks to the poor overworked host parents. However, there are a few records of Cuckoo parents supplementing the feeding of their chicks, but not reducing the work for the host birds in any way. It just means a very well-fed Cuckoo chick.

Have you now got more questions about Fan-tailed Cuckoos, than answers? I know I do.

To hear Fan-tailed Cuckoo calls, please – click here

Jane Rusden
BirdLife Castlemaine District

 

The Great Southern Bioblitz: 22-25 October 2021

Posted on 19 August, 2021 by Ivan

For several years the iNaturalist citizen science platform has run the City Nature Challenge – a gentle competition between cities and regions around the world to see which location can collect and identify the most sightings of life-forms in their area over a week-long period each March.

In 2020 the Great Southern Bioblitz was born. This is a similar event to City Nature Challenge but held in October (southern hemisphere spring) when more plants are flowering, animals are more active and fungi are still plentiful. This year, the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club is hosting the Great Southern Bioblitz for our region of central Victoria, i.e., the Mount Alexander Shire and the eastern half of Hepburn Shire.

All are welcome and encouraged to contribute. You simply photograph as many plants and animals as you can within the region during the Bioblitz period, 22-25 October 2021, and load your sightings into iNaturalist via your phone or computer. Even if you are unable to record your own sightings you can still contribute by identifying the observations that others have uploaded.

Great Southern hemisphere bioblitz is a chance to engage with nature (photos: Euan Moore)

 

The Great Southern Bioblitz is not only fun, but an important way of recording the life-forms that are present in our area. Once you add a sighting to iNaturalist, others can help with or verify the identification. Data are then fed into repositories such as Atlas of Living Australia and state biodiversity databases such as Victorian Biodiversity Atlas.

To find out more:

  • Visit the Great Southern Bioblitz website – click here
  • Check out the 71 groups (10 in Victoria) taking part so far – click here

To download the iNaturalist app to your device or create an account on your computer – click here

The Great Southern Bioblitz is coming from 22-25 October 2021 (photo: Great Southern Bioblitz)

 

Training workshops

The Great Southern Bioblitz organising team has scheduled some training workshops to help people learn how to use iNaturalist and how to take part in the Bioblitz. This training will be useful beyond the Bioblitz as it will enable you to submit sightings from anywhere at any time.

Register for training at the following links:

  • A beginners guide for using iNaturalist
    Tuesday 17 August 2021 from 8:30 – 9:30 pm AEST
    To register – click here
  • Advanced tips for using iNaturalist
    Tuesday 7 September 2021 from 8:30 – 9:30 pm AEST
    To register – click here
  • A beginners guide for using iNaturalist
    Tuesday 28 September 2021 from 8:30 – 9:30 pm AEST
    To register – click here

 

A big thank you Euan Moore from the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club for the text and photographs for this article. To learn more about Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club – click here

 

Hot off the press: Healthy Landscapes guide

Posted on 11 August, 2021 by Ivan

It has been nearly a year in the making, and we are super-happy to announce that Connecting Country’s Healthy Landscapes guide has arrived fresh from the printers! And, it looks amazing (in our humble opinion!). The 44-page guide has been developed to assist our local farmers and landholders to manage their land for multiple outcomes, benefiting wildlife, property and landscape health. It is targeted to the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria, which makes it unique to our special local area. It forms part of Connecting Country’s Healthy Landscapes project, a Smart Farms project that delivers a series of educational workshops and a land management guide for landholders.

The Healthy Landscapes guide provides background context on our region’s natural assets, as well as eight concise sections on actions landholders can take to protect and restore habitat on their properties in central Victoria.

Topics included in the guide are:

  • Protecting remnant vegetation.
  • Make a plan.
  • Control weeds.
  • Control rabbits.
  • Revegetate your land.
  • Help hollow-using wildlife.
  • Manage your dam as habitat.
  • Care for paddocks.

 

The guide features a variety of stunning images, such as these on the front cover from Bronwyn Silver (bush sunset), Jane Satchell (gnarly wood) and Geoff Park (Yellow-footed Antechinus).

 

‘Landholders often ask us about where they can find information relevant to our region on how to manage their land to benefit the environment and farming,’ said Jacqui Slingo (Landscape Restoration Coordinator at Connecting Country). ‘We are thrilled to have produced a guide that allows landholders, especially the many new property owners in our region, to get started with caring for their property by protecting native vegetation and wildlife habitat through actions like weed and rabbit control.’

We would like to send a huge thanks to the many wonderful contributors in our community, including photographers, volunteer reviewers and experts who generously contributed their time and talents to the guide. Thank you! Thanks also to Jane Satchell, who illustrated and designed visual aspects of the guide, and led us through the layout process through to printing.

Connecting Country would like to thank the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, through funding from Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, for supporting this project.

Copies of the guide will be offered to Landcare and community groups, and available for general sale (around $15 per copy) in Castlemaine through the Castlemaine Visitor Information Centre, Stoneman’s Bookroom and Mount Alexander Animal Welfare (MAAW) Op Shop. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, or would like further information.

To read more about the Healthy Landscapes project – click here

 

Mysterious stockpiling frenzy hits the bush!

Posted on 5 August, 2021 by Ivan

We have all heard about the shortage of toilet paper across the nation, but it appears to have reached new levels in the bush blocks of Muckleford! We received a series of intriguing images from Connecting Country’s very own President and advocate, Brendan Sydes, showing some baffling theft of toilet paper courtesy of an unknown animal. We have a mystery to solve! Who took the roll of toilet paper from the outdoor toilet, to their home?  Let us play a game of ‘guess who stole the toilet paper’, revealing the clues in each image, and letting our audience guess the clever, resourceful and likely beautiful culprit.

A big thank you to Brendan for capturing this interesting mystery and sending us the photographs. Brendan noted that ‘The blue stuff in the box is a puppy chew toy which has also been commandeered by the occupant. The nest box has been there for about seven years and has been occupied by various native animals and bees before its present occupants’.

Let us know your thoughts and insights!

 

Landcare Week: 3-9 August 2021

Posted on 5 August, 2021 by Ivan

National Landcare Week

Throughout the first week of August, Landcare Week celebrates the tireless efforts and commitment of volunteers who help to maintain and restore our natural environment. In its 30-year anniversary this year, Landcare Week provides an opportunity for people to come together and learn more about Australia’s environment to help take care of our most precious resource. The annual Landcare Week campaign celebrates and acknowledges the thousands of Landcare networks and groups, facilitators, and other environmental care community groups, and volunteers across Australia working on conservation and sustainable land management activities in their local area.

Landcare is an important part of our community (photo: Jacqui Slingo)

 

From 3-9 August 2021, Landcare week will be aiming to raise awareness of all the vital environmental work being done across the country and to get people involved with taking care of our natural resources. It doesn’t take much to participate in Landcare Week and help make a positive difference. There are plenty of ways to contribute that don’t take up a lot of time.

Here are six ways to get involved with Landcare Week, courtesy of Landcare Victoria:

  • Plant native trees, shrubs and grasses to create habitat for native animals to improve biodiversity.
  • Put a birdhouse or nesting box for different species in your backyard. Every animal needs a home!
  • Ensure your dog is kept on a leash when near bushland and keep your cat inside overnight as they often hunt birds and other small native mammals.
  • Avoid chemical pesticides and herbicides in your garden to help protect bees and insects and use natural alternatives instead.
  • If you can’t reuse or re-purpose an item, try to recycle it to reduce pollution. Many household groceries still come in soft plastic wrapping. Most supermarkets will recycle these for you if you bag them up and bring them with you the next time you go to the shops.
  • Use public transport or riding a bike instead of driving to reduce your carbon footprint. Or if it’s necessary to drive to work, try to organise a carpool.

 

Revegetation of degraded woodlands is a common theme of our local Landcare projects over the past decade (photo: Gen Kay)

 

National Landcare Conference and Awards: Virtual event (courtesy of Landcare Australia)

Landscape of trees with text on green background

The feature of this year’s Landcare Week celebration is the gathering of thousands of landcarers from across the nation, joining together at the virtual 2021 National Landcare Conference and Awards events to share the latest innovations, technologies and tangible ideas to take action on.

From Australia’s biggest cities or the most rural locations, anyone can participate as a free online delegate on Thurs and Fri, 5-6 August 2021.

The program comprises a diverse range of over 60 speakers from the landcare community, government representatives and academics in 40 sessions across the four conference streams: Sustainable Agriculture; Environment and Climate Change; Community Partnerships in Action; and Landcare Impact. Delegates will also have the opportunity to attend the following panel discussions:

  • Landcare Farming: Landcare and farming, is the connection still valued?
    Bushfire Recovery and Resilience: Landcare’s role in recovery of communities, natural assets and farms after bushfire events.
  • Wellbeing and Mental Health Panel: Landcare Is ALL about trees right?
  • Cultural Land Management Panel: Integrating Indigenous Perspectives for better land management.

The conference will be live streamed and recorded, so attendees can dip in out and catch-up later. Free registration provides access to the National Landcare Awards presentation, educational resources and more.

Landscape architect, environmental educator and television presenter with an all-consuming passion for plants and people, Costa Georgiadis is the MC for the events. Costa is a long-time champion of landcare and also a Junior Landcare Amabassador.

Author, filmmaker and Indigenous fire practitioner, Victor Steffensen will be a special guest speaker along with Barry Hunter, for an engaging talk on Country, sharing the advantages and benefits that embracing cultural burn methods can bring to help the Landcare community tackle climate change. The panel will include a conversation on how farmers and landowners can get started and have conversations with Traditional Owners. The Cultural Land Management panel has been scheduled at a very special time of Friday afternoon to close the conference along with young landcare leader and Kalari Wiradjjuri woman, Dhani Gilbert.

A highlight of the conference program is the 2021 National Landcare Awards to celebrate the 69 finalists from the 2019 State & Territory Landcare Awards, where winners of the nine National Landcare Awards categories will be announced. The winners of the Bob Hawke Landcare Award and the General Jeffery Soil Health Award will also be announced.

 

 

A lonely tree makes plenty of friends

Posted on 29 July, 2021 by Ivan

Connecting Country has long advocated for raising awareness of paddock trees and their importance in providing habitat in a disconnected landscape.  To the credit of many local farmers and landholders, we often see paddock trees spared from cropping and clearing, allowing them to support many species of birds, insects and arboreal mammals. You can find a number of blogs we’ve published over the years on how to manage paddock and lonely trees – click here and here. 

We recently discovered a great article published on The Conversation, which highlights why and how lone trees can be managed in the landscape to support wildlife to move through agricultural landscapes. The article covers examples and research in a number of countries and concludes that lone trees are vital to provide wildlife stepping stones between healthy patches of habitat. Please see the published article below courtesy of The Conversation. We would love to see some photos of your favourite lone trees in the landscape!

A lone tree in a paddock in Guildford, providing important refuge for travelling wildlife. Photo: Ivan Carter

A lone tree makes it easier for birds and bees to navigate farmland, like a stepping stone between habitats

Vast, treeless paddocks and fields can be dangerous for wildlife, who encounter them as “roadblocks” between natural areas nearby. But our new research found even one lone tree in an otherwise empty paddock can make a huge difference to an animal’s movement.

We focused on the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, a biodiversity hotspot with 1,361 different known species of wildlife, such as jaguars, sloths, tamarins and toucans. Habitat loss from expanding and intensifying farmland, however, increasingly threatens the forest’s rich diversity of species and ecosystems. We researched the value of paddock trees and hedges for birds and bees, and found small habitat features like these can double how easily they find their way through farmland.

This is important because enabling wildlife to journey across farmlands not only benefits the conservation of species, but also people. It means bees can improve crop pollination, and seed-dispersing birds can help restore ecosystems.

Connecting habitats

Lone trees in paddocks, hedges and tree-lined fences are common features of farmlands across the world, from Brazil to Australia.

They may be few and far between, but this scattered vegetation makes important areas of refuge for birds and bees, acting like roads or stepping stones to larger natural habitats nearby. Scattered paddock trees, for instance, offer shelter, food, and places to land. They’ve also been found to create cooler areas within their canopy and right beneath it, providing some relief on scorching summer days.

Hedges and tree-lined fences are also important, as they provide a safe pathway by providing hiding places from predators. For our research, we used satellite images of the Atlantic Forest and randomly selected 20 landscapes containing different amounts of forest cover.

We then used mathematical models to calculate the habitat connectivity of these landscapes for three groups of species — bees, small birds such as the rufous-bellied thrush, and large birds such as toucans — based on how far they can travel. And we found in areas with low forest cover, wildlife is twice as likely to move from one natural habitat to another if paddock trees and hedges can be used as stepping stones.

We also found vegetation around creeks and waterways are the most prevalent and important type of on-farm habitat for wildlife movement. In Brazil, there are legal protections for these areas preventing them from being cleared, which means vegetation along waterways has become relatively common compared to lone trees and hedges, in places with lower forest cover.

Insights for Australia

For example, in Australia, many koala populations depend on scattered trees for movement and habitat. In 2018, CSIRO researchers in Queensland tracked koalas using GPS, and found koalas used roadside vegetation and scattered trees for feeding and resting significantly more than they expected. Likewise, lone trees, hedges and tree-lined fences can also facilitate the movement of Australian fruit-eating birds such as the Olive-backed Oriole and the Rose-crowned Fruit Dove. Improving habitat connectivity can help these birds travel across landscapes, feeding and dispersing seeds as they go.

In fragmented landscapes, where larger patches of vegetation are hard to find, dispersing the seeds of native plants encourages natural regeneration of ecosystems. This is a key strategy to help achieve environmental restoration and conservation targets.

To read the full article, please click here.

 

 

Help with identifying local frogs

Posted on 29 July, 2021 by Jacqui

With some better rainfall in our region over the past few months, you may be noticing frogs calling in our local creeks, dams and wetter areas.

If you hear a frog call that you can’t identify, the FrogID App can be handy with identifying tricky frog calls of our region.

FrogID is Australia’s first national citizen science frog identification initiative – a project led by the Australian Museum in partnership with Australia’s leading natural history museums and IBM. It is free but you do need to create a profile to record frog calls which then uploads the records to the Australian Museum frog experts for species verification.

One of the reasons to use the FrogID app is to ensure that all frog records are verified prior to entering records into the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), the largest database of flora and fauna records in Australia. Records entered directly in the ALA are not verified, and it was recently discovered that there were some incorrect records of frog species entered in the Mount Alexander region. The ALA contains a number of sightings in our area of Striped Marsh Frog, which was previously rare in this region. However, upon closer assessment by frog experts, they suspect the frog recordings are actually the Spotted Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes tasmaniensis), not the Striped Marsh Frog (Limndoynastes peroni). The two calls are similar and easily confused.

This is an important case study of how incorrect identification can potentially affect distribution datasets. This is not the case with the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas, as every record submitted by users is verified for possible errors or mistaken identification.

The frog recordings submitted via the FrogID app are often verified in less than 24 hours, and it is a great resource to improve your skills and learn a lot more about frogs along the journey.

In just one year, FrogID generated the equivalent of 13% of all frog records collected in Australia over the last 240 years – an amazing effort! The submitted recordings have resulted in over 66,000 validated calls and detected 175 of Australia’s 240 known native frogs.

The data has provided information about:

  • Impacts of climate change and pollution on Australia’s frogs including the first evidence of the decline in Sydney of the Australian Green Tree Frog.
  • Spread of the invasive Cane Toad.
  • Breeding populations of 28 globally threatened and 13 nationally threatened frog species.

The FrogID science blog has some interesting articles on frog ID and what happens for frogs in urbanised environments.

To download the FrogID App – click here

Location of all frog records for the first year of FrogID in Australia (image: ALA)

 

Bird of the month: Powerful Owl

Posted on 29 July, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our sevententh 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 and photos from the brilliant Damian Kelly.

Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua)

These guys are huge, Powerful Owls are enormous, amazing and BIG! However, for such a massive bird they can be extremely difficult to find, even when you know their location. My partner has excellent bird spotting eyes (that’s why he’s a ‘keeper’ and I really hope he doesn’t read this) and he describes them as looking like a dark basket ball very high in the canopy, in the biggest tree around. If you’re really lucky, have the patience and magic like Damian Kelly does, and a very long camera lens, you can see Powerful Owls as clearly as Damian’s stunning photos.

I tell you, Bird of the Month would be pathetic if it weren’t for Damian Kelly, but regular readers have probably guessed that.

Back to Powerful Owls and a closer look at their magnificence.

I’ve said they are big and they are in fact Australia’s largest owl, with a body length of 60cm and wingspans of 110cm to 140cm. It appears pairs mate for life and may be together for up to 30 years. Males are generally larger than females, she will do all the 35-38 days of egg sitting through winter, while the male feeds her. If you see a Powerful Owl through winter, it should be the male snoozing with the food he has hunted for the female, in his talons. Usually a possum such as a Ringtail, or Glider, as well as some bird species including cockatoos, ravens, magpies and choughs, which would have been snatched from their roost during the night. Looking at the species Powerful Owls eat, it’s evident they are all arboreal, in fact 95% arboreal. The remaining 5% is not preferred food and is made up of rabbits and larger insects when obtainable, like longicorn and scarab beetles. Pellets of partially digested bones and fur that are brought up can sometimes be found on the ground under roosts, along with whitewash, which is their poo.

Cryptic adult on the higher branch, and juvenile Powerful Owl with pale breast. Photo: Damian Kelly

Data shows Powerful Owl populations have fallen to around 30 breeding pairs in what remains of Box-Ironbark Forests, and they are listed as “threatened” as populations continue to struggle. Pressures include lack of large old trees with suitably sized hollows, as well as declines in arboreal mammal populations. Additionally, with a home range of 300ha to 1500ha, suitable habitat for these huge owls is not be easy to find. Having said that, they will roost in non-native trees as well as natives, and can be found in a variety of habitats from moister to dryer forests, but have also been found in urban areas of Melbourne and Sydney. Clearly an adaptable bird, but with limits, perhaps due to its large size.

As a note, the whereabouts of Powerful Owls is kept a bit of a secret, this is due to their rarity and susceptibility for disturbance by humans. If you wish to go looking for them, expect long hours in the cold and wet, a sore neck by the end of it and a high chance of failure, however rewards are huge if you manage to spot a Powerful Owl, and please make sure it is not disturbed in any way.

To listen to the Powerful Owl distinctive call and for more information about local Owls, see our previous blog here.

A Powerful Owl with its dinner, probably a magpie. Photo: Damian Kelly

 

Lets celebrate our region’s wonderful Landcare: new video launched

Posted on 29 July, 2021 by Ivan

We love our Landcare community! We are forever grateful for the restoration and revegetation projects Landcare and Friends groups have achieved over the past decades and all of the volunteers hours they dedicate to our natural landscape. This needs to be celebrated!

Connecting Country is excited to announce that we have recently completed our ‘Landcare Celebration’ video, a tribute to our hardworking and passionate groups across the Mount Alexander region in central Victoria. 

The video features a number of Landcare volunteers talking about why Landcare is important to our community and the vast diversity of projects across our region. Landcare is for everyone, including the natural landscape and all its diversity, and is a great way to meet your neighbours and make new friends.

We could have made a few full-length movies about our wonderful Landcare groups if the budget was unlimited, but we have had to settle on a 5-minute video. We also have a shorter version of the video, for promotion and social media.

To watch the full 5-minute version of the Landcare Celebration video, please click here.

To watch the 1-minute version of the Landcare Celebration video, please click here.

(Please note that we are hoping to add subtitles as soon as we can.)

“I have seen first-hand what community groups can achieve and the real difference they make on the ground every day,” says Asha Bannon, Mount Alexander Region Landcare Facilitator. “We hope that this video will give our broader community a snapshot of the opportunities that Landcare can give you to help care for our precious local environment, while also having some fun!”

The video would not have been possible on our budget without co-sponsorship from our favorite film-media company, MRL Media, who have generously funded part of the video production. We really enjoyed working with Steve and his team on the development and production and would like to thank them for helping us out make this project happen with professional outcomes.

This project was funded through the Mount Alexander Shire Council Community Grants Program, which contributed to the costs associated with making the video, as well as some hours for our amazing Community Engagement Coordinator, Ivan Carter.

Connecting Country would like to say a heartfelt thank you to the many community members who played crucial roles in making this video special, including Beth Mellick, Uncle Rick Nelson, Ian Higgins, Marie Jones, Drew Marshall, Jane Rusden, Brian Bainbridge, and the Landcare Steering Group.

Landcare in our region

Landcare is about caring for your land and your local area so it continues to support our community and natural resources for generations to come. This volunteer movement began in Victoria in 1986 and there are now more than 600 Landcare Groups in Victoria, with around 30 in the Mount Alexander region surrounding Castlemaine.

Landcare and Friends Groups care for our land through practical actions like revegetation, weed and pest control, erosion control, improving water quality, and helping farmers be more sustainable. They also engage and support community members through workshops, interpretive signs, recording history, building walking tracks, and more.

Intrepid Landcare working bee with Ian Higgins from Friends of Campbells Creek. Photo: Asha Bannon.

Get involved

Joining a Landcare or Friends group is a great way to actively help your local environment and get to know local people. You can get involved at any level, from dropping in to a working bee occasionally to taking a management role.

Visit the Landcare page on our website to learn more about local Landcare and how to contact your nearest group – click here

 

Managing Serrated Tussock in winter: VSTWP

Posted on 22 July, 2021 by Ivan

We recently received a media release from the Victorian Serrated Tussock Working Party (VSTWP) regarding how to identify and manage the invasive grass serrated tussock (Nassella trichotoma) in the winter months. It is a timely reminder to have an inspection of your property, keeping an eye out for new invasive species and making a treatment plan to implement prior to seeding in spring. Central Victoria is lucky to have only a handful of serrated tussock infestations, with known sites around Harcourt, Sutton Grange, Castlemaine and Golden Point. All of these sites are being managed, with very low numbers at each site.

Across Victoria, serrated tussock has now infested over 250,000 hectares of land, and caused great damage to agriculture and native grasslands. Serrated tussock can be very difficult to identify from other similar grasses in our region, making it less likely to be removed at the early stage of infestation. The VSTWP have developed a great identification factsheet and video, which can be viewed by clicking here. Please find the article below, courtesy of the VSTWP.

Winter is the time to inspect for tussock

Serrated tussock often strikes fear in landowners who have been battling it for years in southern Victoria. The spread of this invasive grass has been minimal in the Mount Alexander region to date, but there is no doubt that it is starting to immerge and spread around Harcourt, Castlemaine and Talbot regions. The climate in central Victoria is well suited to this weed of national significance, and there is no doubt it will invade the drier climates in our region if given the chance.

Now is a good time to inspect your property for serrated tussock, with increased plant visibility due to frost bleaching. In frost prone areas, the tussocks are bleached a golden yellow to white colour by frost during late autumn and winter. Serrated tussock has a white leaf base, while the tips of old leaves often have a bleached tip.

The change in colour makes the plants easier to spot in a paddock, making now a good time to do a survey of your land. The recent rains and autumn break in some parts of Victoria has been good for crops, but unfortunately, also good for the growth of serrated tussock. Controlling serrated tussock before the plant goes to seed is critical to prevent further spread, lost productivity and increased control requirements.

Note the bleached leaves of the serrated tussock plant in early winter. (photo: VSTWP)

Serrated tussock (Nassella trichotoma) is a long-lived perennial that can invade poor soils and survive fire, drought and frost. It reduces the productivity of pasture and can create a fire hazard. Its fibre content is so high that stock are unable to digest it. Seeds are spread by the wind, machinery and also by water and animals. The seed remains viable in the soil for more than 10 years and can dominate if there is no competition from other pasture species.

Depending on the size of the infestation, plants can be removed manually using a hoe or spade, or spot sprayed using a registered herbicide. Small seedlings recently germinated will appear bright green until they are bleached by frost, and will be erect and stand out from the other grasses in a pasture. The Victorian Serrated Tussock Working Party (VSTWP) has a host of information on treatment options and case studies, including videos and information sheets that can be posted or emailed to landowners.

“We are asking landowners to conduct assessments of their properties before Spring, when the grass starts to flower. Serrated tussock flowerheads develop a distinctive purple colour as the seeds ripen in late spring and early summer. During winter you will be able to see the plants easily when they are bleached a lighter colour,” said VSTWP Chair, Lance Jennison.

The VSTWP has developed an online video and information sheets to help landowners identify the noxious weed, which can be viewed at www.serratedtussock.com.

“Serrated tussock is a costly weed to have on your property, especially when it becomes established,” Mr Jennison said. “It is best to check your property for new infestations and treat plants every season before seeding. A mature serrated tussock plant can produce thousands of seeds in a season, blowing up to 20 kilometres from the parent plant,” he said.

For further information, please visit www.serratedtussock.com, or contact the VSTWP on info@serratedtussock.com

A large infestation of serrated tussock in a grazing paddock near Bacchus Marsh Victoria. (photo: VSTWP)

 

Birdwatching for beginners: VNPA online guide

Posted on 22 July, 2021 by Ivan

It was nearly 12 months ago when Connecting Country delivered our ‘Birdwatching for Beginners” event, which consisted of an online learning session and a practical group session in the field. The event was a massive success, providing a solid platform for the next generation of bird-loving watchers and monitors to improve their skills and learn from experts.

Volunteers survey birds in the Mount Alexander area. (photo: Ivan Carter)

We recently discovered a great online overview for beginners interested in improving their birdwatching skills, particularly given we are now in another COVID lockdown and looking for online resources. The online resource covers the topics of:

  • Spotting birds
  • Noticing the feature of birds
  • Identifying birds
  • Recording bird sightings
  • Using binoculars.

Please check out the VNPA resource below, and also our Birdwatching for Beginners event by clicking here, which has some useful resources and a video of our presentation featuring local bird guru Damian Kelly.

Birdwatching really is just watching birds! 

Having special gear and knowing birds really well is wonderful and can take the experience to another level, but the simple act of watching and admiring birds can make you a birdwatcher too.

One of the wonderful things about watching birds is that it brings you in to the present moment. If a bird appears, now is the time to observe it because in a moment, it could be gone.

Birding is such an engaging way to bring new excitement to your adventures in nature. If you are keen to give birdwatching a go think ‘watching birds’ as your starting point. Try the tips below to make it easier and fun.

Let’s go birding

If you are keen to give birdwatching a go, try spotting, observing and identifying 5 different species of bird on your next adventure, then you can step it up over time.

Please click on the link below, and off you go!

Birdwatching for beginners

 

Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests FOBIF AGM (Online) – 9 August 2021

Posted on 22 July, 2021 by Asha

The Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests (FOBIF) 2021 Annual General Meeting (AGM) will be held online via Zoom on Monday 9 August 2021 at 7:30 pm.

The guest speaker will be Ian Higgins, who will talk about native peas in the region. FOBIF hopes the event will be a delayed launch for their new guide, ‘Native Peas of the Mount Alexander region’, which was released during a lockdown early this year (but still selling well!).

Nominations are now open for the FOBIF committee. You don’t need a special form to nominate. All that’s required is that you be a member, and that your nominator and seconder both be members. Nominations should preferably be sent to the Secretary before the meeting.

Members and supporters who wish to attend can register by emailing FOBIF (info@fobif.org.au). We would like people to register 48 hours before the meeting. People who have registered will be sent a login link before the meeting.

Contact FOBIF for more information:

Phone: (03) 5470 5161 or 0499 624 160

Email: info@fobif.org.au

What and who is FOBIF?

Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests (Mt Alexander Region) was formed in 1998 by people in the local community interested in working towards highlighting the significance of the Box-Ironbark Forests and Woodlands. There are over 100 members with a committee elected yearly at the Annual General Meeting.

We believe that the health of the land is intimately linked to its vegetation cover and the wildlife it sustains: that forests, soil and water are ‘an inseparable trinity.’ That’s why we work to encourage and support sound land management practices, on private and public land.

Learn more about their work by visiting the Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests website – click here

 

Platypus mysteries to be revealed – Baringhup Landcare Group

Posted on 15 July, 2021 by Asha

See below information about Baringhup Landcare Group’s exciting upcoming event with the Australian Platypus Conservancy:

The platypus is one of the world’s most amazing animals.  This furry, warm-blooded mammal lays soft-shelled eggs like a lizard, uses its bill to navigate underwater, and sorts out arguments with the help of venomous spurs.  The platypus is also among the most popular of Australia’s animal icons – a great flagship species for freshwater conservation.  But what about the platypus’s own environmental needs?  How is the species faring in the wild?  And what needs to be done to ensure that populations survive in our local rivers and creeks?

Baringhup Landcare Group has arranged for Geoff Williams from the Australian Platypus Conservancy to share his knowledge of this amazing monotreme on Tuesday 3 August 2021 at Baringhup Community Hall starting at 7.00pm.  Visitors are welcome. Bookings essential (see below).

Geoff will highlight the features that make the platypus so special, explain its conservation needs and how to go about helping these animals. He’ll then give some hints on how to spot platypus in the wild and outline the possibilities of becoming involved in ‘citizen science’ programs to monitor local populations.

Geoff Williams has been studying platypus since 1994 when he helped found the Australian Platypus Conservancy, an organisation dedicated to researching platypus conservation needs.  Prior to his work with the APC, Geoff was Director of Healesville Sanctuary for five years from 1988 to 1993 and, before moving to Victoria, was Assistant Director of Sydney’s Taronga Zoo from 1985 to 1988. Geoff has presented numerous public talks on platypus at venues throughout Australia, including various universities, the National Museum in Canberra and the Melbourne Museum (on behalf of Australian Geographic).

Please note: To help manage COVID restrictions please booking via www.trybooking.com/BSPNW or contact Di Berry using the details below. COVID limits and regulations will apply. Bookings essential.

For further information, please contact:

Baringhup Landcare:

Diane Berry (Sec) 0403 020 663

Email: dianejberry@hotmail.com

Australian Platypus Conservancy:

Geoff Williams 03 5416 1478/0419 595939

Email: platypus.apc@westnet.com.au

 

Wattles of the Mount Alexander Region – Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests

Posted on 15 July, 2021 by Ivan

We are at the beginning of wattle season, with some of the early flowering wattles already in bloom in our region. There are few things more colourful in our landscapes than the wattle blooming crazy, also often a wonderful scent accompanies. We thought it would be a good time to revisit Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forest’s (FOBIF) excellent publication, Wattles of the Mount Alexander Region. We love this guide, with excellent photographs, descriptions and information about each of the local wattles, and some interesting facts about their preferred habitat and ecological value. The book was written by Bernard Slattery, Ern Perkins and Bronwyn Silver and is a tribute to the talent of these local, knowledgeable ecologists and the FOBIF community.

Please find details below, including where to purchase and what to expect in the beautiful developed guide.

Acacia, known in Australia as wattle, is one of the largest genus of plants in the country — nearly 1000 species! Its brilliant flowers transform winter and spring landscapes. Our sporting teams wear its green and gold colours. Sprigs of wattle flowers adorn official events, and Golden Wattle is our national floral emblem.

But how many wattle species can the average citizen name and recognise?

This 112 page guide, Wattles of the Mount Alexander Region, helps the beginner to make a start. In plain language, and generously illustrated, it presents 21 species which flourish in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. And a general introduction explains different features of wattles, helping in identification and appreciation of these tenacious and beautiful plants.

The book is published by Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests in association with Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club and Connecting Country. The authors are Bernard Slattery, Ern Perkins and Bronwyn Silver.

Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) sample pages from ‘Wattles of the Mount Alexander region’

  • Recommended Retail Price: $10.00 plus $3 postage and handling ($13)
  • Price for buyers outside Australia: $18.00 (includes postage and handling)

To purchase your copy through the FOBIF website, visit www.fobif.org.au/wattles-of-the-mount-alexander-shire       

or click here to download an order form to pay by cheque or bank transfer.

Wattles of the Mount Alexander Region

 

Rakali sighting at Expedition Pass Reservoir

Posted on 15 July, 2021 by Ivan

The gorgeous Rakali keeps a low profile in our community, with few sightings and some misconceptions about what is often called our ‘native otter’ or ‘Australian water-rat’. The Rakali is the largest native rodent and is a very attractive animal weighing up to 1.3 kilograms – as big as a medium-sized platypus. The Rakali’s ancestors are believed to have originally dispersed to Australia from New Guinea, where several closely related species are found today.

Connecting Country has been delighted to receive a sighting and video footage of a Rakali bathing in the glorious sunshine at our local Expedition Pass Reservoir. This is hugely impressive and important, as it validates a healthy waterway and restoration works for habitat and biodiversity. The footage was taken by local Chewton legends John Ellis and Marie Jones, who have been involved in many environmental and social projects in our region over the past decades. Marie said, “We stopped at Expedition Pass Reservoir to take a photo of a plant leaf to send to my daughter this morning and a rakali came along at the place where people tend to enter the water.  John luckily had his camera ready and this is the result. It made me feel as though we must be doing something right with the work we do – but then again perhaps it shows how versatile and adaptable these little creatures are!”

Please enjoy the footage below from John and Marie, uploaded to our Vimeo Channel. Further details about the Rakali and their distribution are also provided below, courtesy of the Australian Platypus Conservatory.

Rakali distribution

The scientific name of the Australian water-rat is Hydromys chrysogaster, which translates as “golden-bellied water mouse”. Early European settlers sometimes referred to this animal as a beaver rat, though it’s actually much more like an otter than a beaver in both its appearance and behaviour. Since the early 1990s the water-rat has also been referred to as Rakali – the name used by the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal people in the lower Murray River and Coorong region of South Australia.

Rakali occupy a wide variety of natural and man-made freshwater habitats, including swamps, ponds, lakes, rivers, creeks and irrigation channels. They also inhabit brackish estuaries and sheltered ocean beaches, and may populate ephemeral rivers and lakes in inland Australia when these fill with water after periods of unusually heavy rain. They tend to be most active in places where thick grass, low-growing shrubs, reed beds or large rocks provide plenty of cover on or near the banks. As shown below, water-rats are widely distributed on both the Australian mainland and Tasmania and also inhabit many offshore islands.

Capture map

Map courtesy of R. Strahan. (1995). The Mammals of Australia, 2nd edition. (Reed Books: Chatswood NSW)

Size and appearance

w-rat KangLake 2018 Aug (James Pettit) K1__3067 15%Adult Rakali measure up to 35 centimetres in length from their nose to rump, with a slightly shorter tail. Adult males typically weigh 0.8 kilograms (up to 1.3 kg) and adult females typically weigh 0.6 kilograms (up to 1.0 kg). Animals living in different places often vary in colour. Most commonly, the head and back will be dark brown (with golden-yellow belly fur) or a lighter shade of brown, reddish-brown or grey (with fawn- to cream-coloured belly fur). However, apart from animals born near Shark Bay in Western Australia, virtually all individuals have a distinctive white tail tip.

Rakali fur is moulted twice a year, becoming thicker in winter. Like platypus fur, it consists of fine dense underfur covered by coarser guard hairs. However, Rakali fur is much less effective than platypus fur at keeping its owner warm – Rakali cannot efficiently maintain their body temperature in water below 20°C and therefore need to exit colder water periodically in order to warm up in a burrow or other sheltered site.

Please click on the link below for further images and details about the Rakali:

Rakali/Water-rat – Australia’s “otter”

 

Online event: ‘The Sleepy Lizard’, Friday 9 July 7.30pm

Posted on 8 July, 2021 by Ivan

Our friends at Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club are hosting a wonderful online event called ‘Behavioural ecology of the Sleepy Lizard: when life gets tough, monogamy has its advantages’

The event is via the Zoom platform and features guest speaker, Dr Greg Kerr, from the Nature Glenelg Trust. Greg will be talking about the Shingleback or Stumpytail Lizard, also known as the Sleepy Lizard, and its unique behaviour and habitat requirements.

Please read on for details from Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club website.

Monthly Meeting – Friday 9 July, 7.30pm, by Zoom

Guest speaker: Dr Greg Kerr, Nature Glenelg Trust

“Behavioural ecology of the Sleepy Lizard: when life gets tough, monogamy has its advantages”

Victorians will know the Sleepy Lizard as the Shingleback or Stumpytail. For our July monthly meeting, Dr Greg Kerr, Senior Ecologist, Nature Glenelg Trust, will give fascinating new insight into the social behaviour of this species. In mammal and bird species there are many advantages of monogamy, particularly where parental care is critical to successful reproduction.

Sleepy lizards are socially monogamous and a male will closely follow a female for many weeks prior to mating. Greg’s research into the behavioural ecology of sleepy lizards leads to a rejection of the old idea that males are guarding the females, but rather suggests that it is the female who wears the pants in this relationship!

The meeting will be held by Zoom. If you have not joined earlier webinars and wish to attend, please email Peter Turner at munrodsl@iinet.net.au

Not so Sleepy Lizards! Learn more at our July meeting. (photo: Jenny Rolland)