Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Aussie Bird Count week 16-22 October 2023 

Posted on 12 October, 2023 by Anna

Aussie Bird Count is Australia’s largest citizen science Project and is run by Birdlife Australia. Celebrate Bird Week 2023 and the tenth year of the Birdlife Australia’s Aussie Bird Count, by taking part! 

The 2023 event will run from October 16 to 22.  You can undertake as many bird counts as you like over this week long period. You can do this from your backyard, local park, or other favourite outdoor area.

To complete a count, all you need to do is spend 20 minutes in one spot, noting down the birds that you see. Binoculars will come in handy! If you can identify birds by their calls, please include these in your count, but if you aren’t sure of a bird without seeing it, please exclude it rather than making a guess. The Aussie Bird Count app has a handy field-guide to help you identify birds or you can visit the website (aussiebirdcount.org.au). 

Once you have completed your count, you can submit it to Birdlife in two different ways:  

Through the online web form (this form won’t be made live until the 10 October 2023)  

OR  

Via the free Aussie Bird Count phone app. 

Last year 77,419 volunteers recorded a whopping 3.9 million birds of 620 different species! The vast amount of data collected during the bird count is invaluable for ecologists to track large-scale biodiversity trends. It is a wonderful way to get to know your local birds and connect with nature.

Register today and help make the tenth Aussie Bird Count the biggest and best yet.

For more information and to register, head to aussiebirdcount.org.au  

If you’re lucky you might even come across some of the below birds. Can you identify each of these beauties?

 

Photos by Geoff Park and Damian Kelly.

 

Unveiling the Feathered Five’s Fading Symphony

Posted on 3 October, 2023 by Ivan

Three of our region’s Feathered Five are now listed as threatened. We have partnered with Birdlife Castlemaine District to deliver a series of blog posts describing these species, why they are threatened, and what we can do to support the conservation of these species into the future.

Extinction is a modern issue

The word extinction may evoke thoughts of the Wooly Mammoth or the Dodo. But in Australia, extinction is very much a contemporary issue. Currently 39 Australian mammal, and 22 bird species, are extinct; a further 154 birds are threatened with extinction. There are very recent, examples of extinctions. The Christmas Island Pipistrelle, a native bat, was last recorded in 2009 and formally declared extinct in 2019. Australia has also recently experienced its first documented reptile extinction. The Christmas Island Forest Skink went from being abundant and common up until the late 1990s to officially declared extinct in 2017. The last one died in captivity in 2014 less than five months after Australian legislation finally listed the species as endangered.  Climate change represents a real and serious threat; the Bramble Cay Melomys, a bright-eyed native rodent, was declared extinct in 2014, likely due to rising sea levels impacting its island habitat. To date, there have been 100 extinctions in Australia since European colonisation (click here).

Our Famous (Feathered) Five… but for how long?

Just a few months ago, three of our beloved Feathered Five: the Diamond Firetail, the Hooded Robin (south-eastern), and the Brown Treecreeper (south-eastern), were listed under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This means that the birds are now protected under federal legislation, but the declines that lead to these listings raises concerns about the status of these species into the long term.

Male Hooded Robin along Mia Mia Track. Photo: Geoff Park

What can you do? Conservation action in the Mount Alexander area

When a species is listed as threatened under the EPBC Act, the Australian Government develops a conservation advice document. These are intended to guide recovery planning and identify actions required for conservation and recovery of the species. For detailed information, you can read the conservation advice on the Diamond Firetail (click here), Brown Treecreeper (click here), and Hooded Robin (click here).

We would be devastated if our beloved Feathered Five slipped away and are hopeful that the listing of these species prompts wider conservation action. The listing of these species has prompted our friends and project partners, Birdlife Castlemaine District, to hold a meeting and consider what local actions could be undertaken to preserve these species. Into the future, we will be working with Birdlife Castlemaine District to seek funding support for these species, and to continue to raise the profile of these important species and do our best to conserve them.

An adult Diamond Firetail resting in a gum tree, note the finch beak. Photo: Geoff Park

Birdlife Castlemaine District have proposed the following simple, practical actions that landholders can take to help protect these special birds:

  • Plant and retain locally indigenous shrubs and native grasses, and – importantly – allow them to go to seed, to provide food for seed-eating birds. Many gardens in the area already have wallaby grass – rather than mowing them, let them go to seed. Indigenous seeds are available from the Castlemaine Seed Library for a select number of species.
  • Insects are also an important food source for some of the Feathered Five species, so plant local, insect-attracting plants. Reduce spraying of garden pests such as aphids.
  • Provide water for birds and consider using water sources that hang to reduce predation from cats at bird baths.

Keep cats inside – see the Safe Cat website for information on how to keep cats (and wildlife) safe.

Brown Treecreeper need a variety of native trees and shrubs to forage and nest. Photo Geoff Park

 

 

‘The urban garden in Box-Ironbark country’: FOBIF AGM 9 October 2023

Posted on 2 October, 2023 by Ivan

Our friends and project partners at Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests (FOBIF) are having their AGM next Monday (9th October), featuring a talk by Dr Cassia Read on creating wildlife habitats in your garden. It is sure to be a great event and an important topic as we learn to co-exist with wildlife and create climate refuges around our homes and in our urban fringes. Please find the details below, provided by FOBIF.

FOBIF AGM: 9 October 2023

Our guest speaker at this year’s FOBIF Annual General Meeting will be Dr Cassia Read. Cassia is an ecologist, educator and garden designer, working at the intersection of biodiversity conservation and human wellbeing. She is Principal Ecologist and Co-Founder of the Castlemaine Institute and a FOBIF Committee member. She will be speaking on creating garden wildlife habitats.

The urban garden in Box-Ironbark country: Can you have your roses and fairywrens too?

Whatever your gardening style you can nudge your garden in a wildlife friendly direction. By adding habitat elements and designing for alignment between your needs and the needs of wildlife, you can create a stunning landscape that supports the remarkable creatures of Box Ironbark Country. Whether you prefer formal or wild gardens, cottage gardens or bush-blocks, by realising the potential of your garden oases you can be part of creating neighbourhood networks that will support people and biodiversity in a changing climate. This talk will provide you with know-how and inspiration about creating wildlife habitat, whether you’re starting from scratch or adding to an existing garden.

There will be a short formal AGM at 7.30 followed by Cassia’s talk. Supper will be provided and everyone is welcome. If you wish to nominate for the FOBIF committee, contact Bernard Slattery 0499 624 160. The meeting will be held in the Ray Bradfield Room, Victory Park, Castlemaine, with access from the IGA carpark or Mostyn Street.

Cassia in her Castlemaine garden.

FOBIF AGM: October 9, 2023

 

Farewell Jess Lawton: thanks for all the birds

Posted on 2 October, 2023 by Ivan

We recently said ‘goodbye’ to our much-loved Monitoring Coordinator, colleague and friend, Jess Lawton. Jess has been an incredible asset to Connecting Country over the past (nearly) four years. She has provided inspiration and dedication to the role and will be missed by the community, landowners and citizen scientists with whom she managed and shared her passion, vision and wisdom. Her commitment to the monitoring program was a juggling act, with Jess managing the bird monitoring program and also the nestbox program. Jess’s efforts have made a huge difference to the local landscape, citizen scientists and the broader community.

We wish Jess all the very best in her new role at the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (Federal Government) and are thrilled she will stay involved as a Connecting Country volunteer and supporter. Thanks also to all the landowners and volunteers who have supported Jess during this time. She will also give a talk at our upcoming AGM on her favourite topic, her deep love for the Brush-tailed phascogale. Stay tuned!

As one-star bird moves to another landscape, another arrives. We have been very fortunate to recruit a new Monitoring Coordinator – another local talent – Anna Senior. We welcome Anna with open arms and her talents from far and wide.

Local resident Anna Senior joins Connecting Country with a wealth of knowledge in monitoring and ecology. Photo: Connecting Country

Introducing Anna

Anna is a terrestrial ecologist with experience working in environmental management for state government and private sectors throughout eastern Australia. She has a passion for the conservation of lesser-known species, particularly reptiles. Her PhD explored the conservation biology and ecology of some of Victoria’s rarest lizards; the Guthega skink, mountain skink and swamp skink. 

Anna lives in Castlemaine with her partner and enjoys tending her garden and looking after her ever-growing menagerie. Anna is based at Connecting Country on Mondays to Thursdays. 

Anna has been supporting various projects at Connecting Country over the past eighteen months and is the perfect fit for the role of Monitoring Coordinator.

We are super-excited to have Anna on board, please say hello to Anna via her email or touch base if you would like to volunteer for our monitoring program: anna@connectingcountry.org.au

 

Mapping large old trees: let’s celebrate and protect these beauties!

Posted on 28 September, 2023 by Ivan

It has been a little over a year since we announced the arrival of our new mapping portal, aimed at helping community citizen scientists map the old, and often large, trees of Central Victoria.

We have been excited to see the database entries feed in over the past 12 months and we have now reached 25 large old trees entered into the portal. The majority of the entries have been around the Maldon, Welshmans Reef, Chewton, Castlemaine and Guildford areas, with a variety of citizen scientists taking some excellent photos and providing data about the tree species, age, height and habitat values. A special mention must go to Bev Phillips from Maldon Urban Landcare Group (MULGA), who entered a whopping 15 trees into the database. Well done, and a massive thank you, Bev, for your persistence and love for our landscape.

We thought it would be timely to publish the photos entered into the mapping portal so far, to highlight the diverse range of large old trees across our landscape. Interestingly, all of the 25 entries are Eucalyptus species, which are usually the tallest trees in the local landscape. We would love to see some other species mapped and entered, such as the Casuarinas, Acacias, Banksias, Bursarias and other local midstory species.

Please enjoy the images below, captured by our keen citizen scientists over the past 12 months.

 

The interactive mapping portal is part of Connecting Country’s larger project, ‘Regenerate before it’s too late‘ , engaging the community in the importance of old trees and how to protect them.  Over the next two years (2024-2025), we will continue to host community workshops and develop engagement resources. We will also help local landholders with practical on-ground actions to protect their large old trees and ensure the next generation of large old trees across the landscape.

How to map and enter old trees in our mapping portal

We are asking the community, including landholders, Landcarers and land managers, to map their favourite old trees across our region. Anyone can access Connecting Country’s new online mapping portal. The portal uses BioCollect, an advanced but simple-to-use data collection tool developed by the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) and its collaborators. BioCollect helps users collect field biodiversity data for their own projects, while allowing the data to be easily copied into the ALA, where it can be publicly available for others to use in research, policy and management. This allows individual projects to collectively contribute to science across Australia.

The mapping portal is now open for any community member to record the old trees in your area. You will need to register with the Atlas of Living Australia (its easy and free), then upload a photo and enter the field details needed for the survey. The portal will ask you simple questions about the tree location, size, species, age (if known), health status and habitat value.

To record your large old tree, or view the field survey questions and required measurements – click here

By recording large old trees, you will help build our understanding of the large old trees in our region and contribute to the largest biodiversity database in our country. As the database grows, you can also access the portal to learn about other wonderful large old trees in our area and view the photos.

We are most grateful to the generous project support from the Ian & Shirley Norman Foundation. The foundation aims ‘To encourage and support organisations that are capable of responding to social and ecological opportunities and challenges.’ To learn more about Ian & Shirley Norman Foundation – click here

 

 

 

Large old tree walk: with Uncle Rick Nelson

Posted on 13 September, 2023 by Ivan

Connecting Country is thrilled to announce we are teaming up with Nalderun Education Aboriginal Corporation to deliver a cultural walk through the majestic large old trees at Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park in Golden Point, VIC. Come along and learn about these centuries-old trees, their cultural importance to the Dja Dja Wurrung people and the important role they play for biodiversity.

Our very special guest speaker is Dja Dja Wurrung Elder, Uncle Rick Nelson. He is a cultural advisor for the community on various matters for the Dja Dja Wurrung.  Uncle Rick will take us on a guided walk, showing us some of the large old trees that sit quietly in our landscape and sharing their cultural significance.  We are super excited to have his knowledge for this experience.

This is a free event for limited numbers, with lunch provided, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

For catering and logistical purposes, please register your attendance – click here

  • When: Saturday 14 October 2023 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
  • Where: Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park, Golden Point 3451 (exact location will be revealed once you book)

The cultural walk is part of Connecting Country’s larger project, ‘Regenerate before it’s too late‘ aimed at engaging with the community about the importance of old trees and how to protect them. Over the next two years, we will develop engagement resources such as the old tree mapping portal, community events and an educational video. We will also help local landholders with practical on-ground actions to protect their large old trees and ensure the next generation of large old trees across the landscape.

  • Click here to book, tickets are limited, so get in quick.

We are most grateful for our generous project support from the Ian & Shirley Norman Foundation. The foundation aims ‘To encourage and support organisations that are capable of responding to social and ecological opportunities and challenges.’ To learn more about Ian & Shirley Norman Foundation – click here

Learn more about Nalderun: Click here

 

 

Calling all nature lovers: iNaturalist workshop Friday 6 October

Posted on 13 September, 2023 by Ivan

It’s here! We are excited to present our much-anticipated workshop on how to use and benefit from the iNaturalist biodiversity platform. As part of ‘The Buzz project: promoting pollinators of Central Victoria’, Connecting Country is hosting an iNaturalist workshop on Friday 6 October 2023 in Castlemaine, VIC. Local naturalist and Castlemaine Field Naturalist Club member Euan Moore will hold the workshop and will cover a range of skills including;

  • How to set up an iNaturalist account and profile
  • How to upload photos to iNaturalist 
  • How to reach out to naturalists and scientists on iNaturalist to confirm, verify or identify your sightings

iNaturalist is a wonderful online platform that allows all curious citizen scientists to record sightings and identify all kinds of species including, insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, plants, sea life, coral, and fungi. Species that are identified and verified are added to a sweep of data that is collected and recorded not only on iNaturalist but also to the Atlas of Living Australia. Recording data is vital in conservation management. If we know what is out there then we can make the best decisions on how to restore and protect biodiversity across the country!

Introduction to iNaturalist - Vermont Institute of Natural Science

iNaturalist is a nonprofit social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity.

This is a free event for limited numbers, with lunch provided, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

To register your attendance – click here

  • When: Friday 6 October 2023 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM
  • Where: Castlemaine Senior Citizens Centre

This is a wonderful opportunity for keen Landcarers to learn the most efficient and useful ways we can use iNaturalist to record data across Landcare sites in the region.

 

The Buzz Project is funded by the 2022 Victorian Landcare Grants through the North Central Catchment Management Authority. We would like to thank the NCCMA for making this event possible. 

 

 

 

Caring for old paddock trees: best practice

Posted on 11 September, 2023 by Ivan

Why protect paddock trees?

Paddock trees are often the oldest and most valuable habitat elements in agricultural landscapes. When paddock trees are cleared, it takes generations to replace the habitat they provided, including the insects and abundant nectar for birds and mammals, thick bark with cracks and crevices for microbats and small reptiles, and hollows for many significant species.

Paddock trees provide great habitat for travelling birds and wildlife between larger tracts of habitat. Photo: CC

Even standing dead trees, fallen branches and leaf litter offer valuable resources and should be retained wherever possible. Many paddock trees across our region are suffering die-back caused by old age, pests and disease, nutrient loading, soil compaction and lack of protection from intensive agricultural practices. These valuable giants are disappearing from our farming landscapes, often with no younger trees to replace them. However, we can take action to protect paddock trees to extend their life, and establish future generations.

How do we protect paddock trees?

  • Fence off paddock trees from stock and machinery where possible, including space around them to promote natural regeneration.
  • Incorporate existing paddock trees into revegetation plantings to improve the health of paddock trees and habitat value of revegetation.
  • Leave dead paddock trees standing if possible – they contain cracks, crevices and hollows for wildlife such as microbats, and perching sites for birds of prey, parrots and water birds.
  • Install stock-proof guards around young trees within paddocks if fencing is not feasible.
  • Reduce grazing pressure: When native vegetation is browsed heavily, plants struggle to flower or set seed, and they have less habitat value. Grazing pressure also creates soil compaction and increased nutrient loads from manure.

A magnificent large Yellow Box (Eucalyptus melliodora) with young, successional trees growing in a fenced off area. Photo: CC

The importance of remnant vegetation

As most of our region was cleared for mining, timber and agriculture, any remaining native vegetation is extremely valuable for wildlife habitat and provides many on-farm benefits. Remnant vegetation is essentially indigenous plants growing in their natural environment. Protecting bush with lots of plant species and a complex structure is the highest priority. However, even a single large old tree, or a patch of native grasses or shrubs is worth protecting.

Revegetation is a valuable tool to increase species diversity, and expand or reconnect existing patches of bush to provide habitat for wildlife. However, the process of reestablishing high quality habitat in cleared areas is very labour-intensive and slow.

Large trees can take hundreds of years to grow and develop the tree hollows and create the fallen timber essential for many local wildlife species. Leaf litter can take decades to rebuild. Soil conditions in disturbed areas often favour weedy grass growth or inhibit growth of native plants, and some plant species are difficult to source or are unavailable.

Revegetation of degraded woodlands with understory plants. Photo: Gen Kay

Protecting what native vegetation is already there, and providing the conditions for it to regenerate naturally, is much cheaper and easier than re-establishing it from scratch. Eucalypts and other plants often self-seed, and if protected from grazing animals and weed competition, can start to establish. It is far easier to protect areas of seedlings with plant guards or fencing than investing in the planning, site preparation, planting, and ongoing maintenance of revegetation.

And finally……leave rocks, logs, branches and leaf litter

Leave logs on the ground to provide important resources for fungi, insects, reptiles, frogs, birds and small mammals. Clearing up rocks, logs, branches and leaves will exclude many woodland animals by removing the habitat elements they depend on. It will create a simple habitat and favour animals that are already common in our towns and farms, like magpies, cockatoos, rabbits, foxes and hares.

The gorgeous Spotted pardalote (Pardalotus punctatus) searching for insects in the leaf litter and dead branches. Photo: Geoff Park

We all want to protect our properties from bushfire.  However, make sure you check the latest research and guidelines on fire hazard reduction. Some historical practices are now considered ineffective for fire control but highly damaging for the environment. For example, removing leaf litter creates bare ground which often encourages weed growth, creating its own fire hazard. If you do need to remove logs and branches for safety or access, consider moving them to another location where they can continue to provide habitat.

This factsheet is part of a larger project called ‘Regenerate before it’s too late‘ that engages the community about the importance of old trees and how to protect them.  We are most grateful for the generous project support from the Ian & Shirley Norman Foundation .  The foundation aims ‘To encourage and support organisations that are capable of responding to social and ecological opportunities and challenges.’ To learn more about Ian & Shirley Norman Foundation – click here

 

National Threatened Species Day 2023: Central Victoria’s Ballantinia

Posted on 7 September, 2023 by Hadley Cole

National Threatened Species Day on 7 September each year aims to raise awareness of plants and animals vulnerable to extinction across Australia. According to Nature Conservancy Australia, we have 100 endemic Australian species that have been declared extinct as of March 2021.

Threatened Species Day offers a moment to pause and reflect on how we can conserve and protect Australia’s vulnerable and often unique species from becoming extinct. Many of Australia’s threatened species have become so due to human activity such as land clearing, the introduction of non-native pest and weed species and climate change which has lead to the fragmentation of native species populations. Often the solution to protecting threatened species is through human intervention in the conservation, restoration and enhancement of habitat and biodiversity.

Ballantinia antipoda is a tiny annual plant growing among moss. Photo by Aaron Grinter.

Sadly, in Central Victoria we have numerous threatened species including flora and fauna.  A lesser known but precious endemic threatened species in the region is Ballantinia antipoda or Southern Shephard’s  Purse.  Ballantinia is a tiny annual brassica, less than 5cm tall, with striking delicate white flowers.  It has a very limited habitat range across the highest points of Leanganook (Mount Alexander).

Ballantinia was endemic to south-eastern Australia, being found through parts of Victoria and Tasmania. Around the 1800s, it started disappearing and was presumed extinct for most of the 20th century until it was rediscovered at Leanganook (Mount Alexander) in 1983.  With much of the wider environment heavily modified for development and agriculture and invaded by weeds, the plant found refuge by growing in delicate moss mats on granite outcrops on the mountain. Surveys across the species’ historic range have failed to locate Ballantinia at other sites, and so it is believed that the only surviving population of the species is on Leanganook (Mount Alexander). Accordingly, its status is extinct in Tasmania, and critically endangered in Victoria.

In order to continue to preserve the species, annual surveys are undertaken to locate these refuges and note their condition, including current threats.  In late August 2023 volunteers from across the Mount Alexander region joined Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action’s Natural Environment Programs Officer, Aaron Grinter, to survey for Ballantinia across Leanganook (Mount Alexander).

Aaron reported that” the survey was attended by 15+ volunteers including Harcourt Valley Landcare and Metcalfe and Sutton Grange Landcare groups, as well as Parks Victoria field staff, Threatened Species Conservancy, Bendigo TAFE, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, and Connecting Country. All recently recorded population patches were surveyed except 1 due to time constraints. The plant was absent in 3 of the 8 remaining areas, and, where it was found, it was in significantly reduced numbers. One of the most important sites in particular that has previously recorded more than 1000 plants, only recorded 65. While climatic variation between warmer and cooler seasons is expected, a warming climate poses a significant threat to the species.

Volunteers survey for Ballantinia antipoda at Leanganook (Mount Alexander). Photo by Aaron Grinter.

As Ballantinia is a cool climate annual, it germinates at 14 degrees Celsius,  so we speculate that because of this warm, short winter, it hasn’t has the opportunity to fully sprout, which means the seed bank is not being sufficiently replenished. Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria have collected seed from the Ballantinia population in the past and have successful grown plants in a controlled environment. They will be returning next month to collect seed to bolster diversity in the population they have grown at the Royal Botanic Gardens.”

Thank you to Aaron Grinter, Natural Environment Program Officer at DEECA for the information and photos for this article.

 

Revegetation in a changing climate captures audience

Posted on 4 September, 2023 by Ivan

On Tuesday 1 August 2023, over 60 people gathered at the Castlemaine Anglican Church Community Hall to hear excellent presentations from a variety of guest speakers addressing how we can plan revegetation in a changing climate for best success.  The strong mid-week, mid-winter audience heard from Sasha Jellinek (University of Melbourne), Oli Moraes from DJAARA and Tess Grieves from the North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA). The evening was completed with a Q&A panel session to answer the audience’s questions and give reason for hope in the future. 

The overall learning and topics revolved around how we can use climate prediction modelling to consider future vegetation growth conditions and adapt current practices to future-proof our landscapes.

Lead guest speaker, Sasha Jellinek, covered where to find information on climate projections and future scenarios, as well as sourcing seeds from a mix of local and different bioregions, and how to make up this mix. Sasha is an experienced ecologist with a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) focused on Ecology from the University of Melbourne and has worked across many fields.  He was involved in the production of Greening Australia’s ‘Establishing Victorias Ecological Infrastructure; A Guide to creating Climate Future Plots‘ which is a great resource for those embarking on this road.

Oli presented DJAARAs recently released Climate Change Strategy and talked about how we can approach revegetation projects using cultural knowledge and wisdom.  Tess provided a great overview of the NCCMAs climate resistance projects and how they have been incorporating climate change modelling into their project planning and implementation.

A highlight of the presentations was the passion, dedication and knowledge of all three guest speakers, and we thank them for sharing so that we can all start planning for future success.

The event was recorded by the wonderful Ally from Saltgrass Podcasts and is available here.

This event was part of a larger project called Future Proof our Forests, where Connecting Country has established Climate Future Plots to monitor the success (or otherwise) of revegetation sourced from a variety of climates.

We would like to thank the Ross Trust for their generous funding for this important project. The Ross Trust is a perpetual charitable trust with a vision to create positive social and environmental change so Victorians can thrive.

Learn more:

For more information on climate future plots, see:

https://www.greeningaustralia.org.au/climate-future-plots/

https://connectingcountry.org.au/what-is-a-climate-future-plot/

 

 

Seeking landholder for mammal surveys: MSGV

Posted on 28 August, 2023 by Jess

We love phascogales and sugar gliders at Connecting Country! The Mammal Survey Group of Victoria has recently contacted us, as they are seeking sites on private land for wildlife surveys, including phascogales and sugar gliders!

Please see the information below provided by the Mammal Survey Group of Victoria and contact Kathy directly if you are interested in being involved.

Sugar Gliders in a Connecting Country nest box. Photo by Beth Mellick

The Mammal Survey Group of Victoria (MSGV) is a small citizen science group that performs surveys on private property to determine the presence of mammal species. Survey methods include the use of motion sensing infra-red cameras, spotlighting and general observation. MSGV can also install and monitor nest boxes for small arboreal mammals.

Surveys are usually performed over 2-3 nights (usually a long weekend) and the group camps on the property. Survey data is added to the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas, and results are compiled in a report which is shared with the property owners and relevant organisations such as Connecting Country.

If you are curious about the mammals in your area and own a property with a significant amount of native vegetation or have undertaken revegetation activities, we would love to hear from you. Property owners and families are welcome to participate.

Feel free to email Kathy Zonnevylle kathyz@optusnet.com.au and we can organise time for a chat.

For more information about the Mammal Survey Group of Victoria, please click here

 

 

Community Carbon – Growing to net zero in Central Victoria

Posted on 21 August, 2023 by Ivan

Our friends and project partners at the North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA) are looking for interested landowners for their Community Carbon project. The project aims to support revegetation efforts restoring critical habitats, connecting fragmented landscapes and addressing biodiversity loss. Please see the details below provided by the NCCMA, including eligibility criteria and how to apply. We think it is an exciting pilot program with potential for great local biodiversity outcomes.

Community Carbon – Growing to net zero in Central Victoria

The North Central CMA, in collaboration with the City of Greater Bendigo, Macedon Ranges, Hepburn, and Mount Alexander Shire Councils, is embarking on a new pilot project within the region.

‘Community Carbon’ is aimed at exploring the feasibility of delivering local revegetation planting to generate carbon offsets while also providing environmental, social, and economic benefits to the local community.  The initiative aims to leverage the carbon offset needs of local councils to support revegetation efforts – restoring critical habitats, connecting fragmented landscapes and addressing biodiversity loss.

Putting the call out to interested landowners

The first stage of this pilot project is to seek expressions of interest from local landholders.  There is a particular focus on sites where the combined planting area is 10 hectares or more, however, smaller sites will still be considered.

Unlike typical revegetation projects, the focus is twofold: using carbon from plantings to offset emissions and to revegetate precious native habitats.  Therefore, to participate landholders must also be willing to transfer the carbon rights from their plantings to the delivery partners.

Click here to see details on the project guidelines and eligibility criteria. 

If you’re interested in playing a part in helping reduce local carbon emissions and enjoying the benefits of increased habitat on your property, apply now.

A fact sheet about the program is available here.

This initial call for EOIs closes on 30 September 2023.

Landowner benefits:

Fence in foreground and young trees with guards in background

Engaging in large-scale revegetation can be very costly and we understand that many landholders find it difficult to justify the expenses and time commitments involved.

This program will provide financial support to deliver revegetation efforts, allowing you to enjoy a range of benefits, including:

  • attracting diverse wildlife,
  • improving the aesthetic appearance of your property,
  • reducing soil erosion,
  • improving soil health, and
  • enhancing water quality.

 

Bird of the month: Nankeen Night-Heron

Posted on 21 August, 2023 by Ivan

Welcome to 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 blessed to have the brilliant Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, accompanied by Damian’s stunning photos.

Nankeen Night-Heron (Nycticorax caledonicus)

After a frustrating afternoon trying and unfortunately failing to photograph Brown Falcons and Nankeen Kestrels on the Moolort Plains, Ash Vigus and I nearly gave up and went home. But at the last minute, just as we were losing light with encroaching dusk, we were thrilled to stumble on an immature Nankeen Night-Heron. Incredibly cryptic, they merge into the background and almost disappear, except in this case because it did a big spray of poop from its tree branch perch, which was very obvious when it hit the water below.

Immature Nankeen Night-Heron at Carin Curran Reservoir. Their plumage is quite different to the adult birds. Photo by Jane Rusden

A large poop has to come from a large bird, at 65cm in length and a wingspan of up to 1 metre, Nankeen Night-Herons are exactly that. Despite their size and the less camouflaged plumage of the adult birds, they remain masters of disguise, melting into foliage and becoming unnoticeable. They love roosting in dense vegetation and mostly forage at night to compound the difficulty of spotting them. When they vocalise, their loud croak or squawk is generally heard at night too. I always find it curious that the Herons, generally incredibly elegant birds, have the most hideous calls. However, they are calling to each other, not for the sake of our ears.

Herons are generally associated with water, the Nankeen Night-Heron is no exception, living, foraging and breeding along the margins of water. They inhabit the edges of lakes, rivers and coastal water bodies, good spots to hide and stealthy hunt for insects, crustaceans, frogs and fish. Their varied diet may also include house mice that wander too close to the Nankeen Night-Herons lethal stabbing bill, or even human refuse. You might be lucky to see one in the early morning, feeding along the edge of shallow water in local places like the Loddon River, Cairn Curran and the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens, they can also be found at Melbourne Botanical Gardens and Lake Wendouree in Ballarat.

Nankeen Night-Heron adult. Photo by Damian Kelly

Everything about the Nankeen Night-Heron is connected to water, including breeding, which can happen at any time of the year, always in response to rainfall. They congregate all over Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea in suitable habitats, to breed in large colonies, often alongside other species of water birds such as Ibises, Cormorants, other egrets and my favorite, Spoonbills. Their stick nests are loosely made and situated over water. In days gone by, before widespread habitat degradation like the draining of swamps, there have been recordings of up to 3000 birds spread over 21 hectares, all breeding. Nankeen Night-Herons will lay 2-3 eggs, which are incubated by both parents, both parents also feed the young hatchings.

The beautiful Nankeen Night-Heron, photo by Damian Kelly

Good luck looking for this secretive species, you’ll need plenty of patience and very sharp eyes to find them, move slowly and try not to startle the wary but beautiful Nankeen Night-Heron.

You can listen to the Nankeen Night-Heron call by using the audio button here.

Jane Rusden
Damian Kelly

 

2023 National Tree Day: Community planting a huge success!

Posted on 14 August, 2023 by Hadley Cole

To celebrate 2023 National Tree Day, Connecting Country teamed up with Mount Alexander Shire Council, Mount Alexander Youth Advisory Group and the Post Office Hill Action Group to host a community planting day on Sunday 30 July 2023.

Community members had the opportunity to take local on-ground conservation action to protect and enhance biodiversity by planting indigenous plant species across sites at Post Office Hill Reserve in Chewton.

A recent Council survey found that the younger generations of our community are seeking opportunities to plant trees, make homes for wildlife and to undertake practical actions to address climate change. In response to this call for action, the community planting idea was conceived and the younger generations of our community came along in hordes to connect with nature and plant trees for generations to come.

Over seventy community members of all ages attended the event and enjoyed a range of activities from planting to badge making, colouring and bird walks.

Young Post Office Hill Action group member and budding bird watcher Tavish, teamed up with Jane Rusden from Birdlife Castlemaine to guide a bird walk for aspiring bird watchers. Youth Advisory group members, Thea, Billy, Lucia and Tanisha, set up a badge-making station to create badges promoting woodland birds of our region. The friendly Post Office Hill Action Group members worked enthusiastically to guide participants in the best planting practices for the site. It truly was a team effort!

The Connecting Country team greatly appreciate all the many hands that made light work out of a busy morning. A special thank you to Post Office Hill Action Group for hosting the event and for their commitment to protecting and restoring the Post Office Hill Reserve over many years. We know the plants planted on the day are in good hands and will be nurtured over the coming months.

Attendees reported that they enjoyed a wonderful morning out in nature, as well as the free lunch provided by Mount Alexander Shire Council.

This event was made possible due to the generous contribution from community members who supported our ‘Trees for the next generation’ GiveNow campaign throughout June and July 2023.  We know that our local community cares deeply about biodiversity conservation for future generations, but we were still blown away by the generous donations. A big THANK YOU to our generous members, supporters and the broader community who supported this event.

We look forward to doing it all over again in 2024! See you there.

Connecting Country staff welcome participants to Post Office Hill Reserve. Photo by Connecting Country.

 

A job well done! 300 indigenous plants find a new home. Photo by Connecting Country.

 

 

 

2023 Landcare Week August 7 – 13

Posted on 9 August, 2023 by Hadley Cole

This week marks 2023’s Landcare week from Monday 7 to Sunday 13 August. The theme for this year is:

Be inspired, be empowered, be a Landcarer

Landcare Week is a time for Landcarers to take a moment to reflect on the incredible work they achieve in protecting, enhancing, restoring and promoting local biodiversity. Without Landcare in our region much of the local natural landscapes would be left forgotten and degraded.

As a local resident of the Mount Alexander/ Leanganook region you may frequent Landcare sites on your regular adventures out into the natural world without even realising it. As you walk the dog along Campbells Creek, ride your bike around Harcourt, go for a run along Forest Creek, enjoy the peacefulness of the Loddon River in Newstead or Guildford, take the kids out adventuring around Maldon, chances are you will regularly come into contact with conservation works that have been lovingly carried out by the many and dedicated Landcare volunteers of our region.

This Landcare Week we encourage you to take a moment and reflect on the many hands that have cared for and continue to care for the lands across our beautiful region.

Being a Landcarer can be extremely hard work, but there are also many rewards. There is the satisfaction of contributing to a healthy landscape, creating habitat for native plants and animals. We also recognise there are benefits from connecting to the land, meeting people, making social connections and learning new skills. New research now shows Landcare can also improve personal wellbeing. To read more about the benefits of being a Landcarer – click here

To discover your local Landcare group head to the Connecting Country website – click here

Or get in touch with our Landcare Facilitator Hadley; hadley@connectingcountry.org.au

To learn more about Landcare in our region and to discover the benefits of working to nurture and protect the local environment please see the Landcare video below.

 

 

 

Reminder: ‘Revegetation Success in a Changing Climate’ event: Tuesday 1 August 2023 (8 tickets remaining)

Posted on 1 August, 2023 by Ivan

Connecting Country is excited to announce a special free upcoming event, ‘Revegetation Success in a Changing Climate’, on the evening of Tuesday 1 August 2023, at the Anglican Church Hall, Castlemaine VIC. The event will address how we plan revegetation in a changing climate and has been designed to support our community, land managers and Landcarers to have greater success in restoring our natural landscapes. We only have eight tickets left, so get in quick to avoid missing out!

The event will feature presentations from Sasha Jellinek (University of Melbourne), DJAARA and the North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA), and a Q&A panel session to finish. 

Join us to learn about how we can plan successful revegetation and restoration projects, using a combination of climate predictions and sourcing seeds from a variety of climatic zones, to future-proof our landscapes.

This event is part of a larger project, called Future Proof our Forests, where Connecting Country has established Climate Future Plots to monitor the success (or otherwise) of revegetation sourced from a variety of climates.

  • Click here to book, tickets are limited, so get in quick.

Our very special guest speaker is Sasha Jellinek, an experienced ecologist with a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) focused in Ecology from the University of Melbourne. Sasha has worked across many fields and was involved in the production of Greening Australia’s ‘Establishing Victorias Ecological Infrastructure; A Guide to creating Climate Future Plots‘. Sasha is currently a at the

We are also very lucky to have two further presentations from DJAARA and the NCCMA, who will both talk about how they are planning for climate change to ensure the greatest success in landscape management and restoration.

Everyone is welcome! 

For catering and logistical purposes, please register your attendance – click here

  • When: Tuesday 1 AUGUST 2023 6.30-8.30pm
  • Where: Anglican Church Hall (at the rear of the Church), 8 Mostyn St, Castlemaine VIC

We would like to thank the Ross Trust for their generous funding for this important project. The Ross Trust is a perpetual charitable trust with a vision to create positive social and environmental change so Victorians can thrive.

Learn more about climate future plots

For more information on climate future plots, see:


 

Bird of the month: Painted Button-quail

Posted on 18 July, 2023 by Ivan

Welcome to 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 blessed to have the brilliant Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, accompanied by their stunning photos.

Painted Button-quail (Turnix varius)

 

It’s always exciting to find side plate-sized, circular patches of bare dirt in amongst leaf litter, because in the Castlemaine region it can only mean one thing … quiet, cryptic and difficult to see Painted Button-quail. Recently I found these bare patches in the bush by my front gate, hidden in leaf litter under shrubs. These “platelets” of cleared ground are formed whilst the bird is foraging, by standing on one foot and rotating in a tight circle as they scratch the ground with the other foot. In NSW and Qld Black-breasted Button-quail also make platelets, making both species of Button-quail rather unusual. So what are Painted Button-quails searching the ground for? Their delicious dinner of course, which comprises of insects and their larvae, seeds, small fruits, berries and vegetation. So their diet is pretty broad.

A “platelet” made by Painted Button-quail while foraging. Photo by Jane Rusden

 

Dry open forest with sparse shrubs, and a ground cover of native grasses and dense leaf litter, in Muckleford Forest for example, is perfect habitat for Painted Button-quail. Being such a camouflaged species which tends to walk from cover to cover, historically it’s been difficult to accurately assess their numbers and distribution. However, using newly developed technology such as sound recording, motion-detecting and thermal camera, cryptic species such as the Painted Button-quail have become easier to monitor. Interestingly they have been found in a diverse range of habitats from dry ridges in moister forest, in coastal sand dunes and even forest edges where it abuts farmland. Curiously, Painted Button-quails will move into a newly burnt area after fire, but once the forest returns, they leave. This has been observed in the Otway Ranges and in Tasmania.

The female Painted Button-quail lays her eggs in a saucer-shaped hollow on the ground beneath some cover such as a tuft of grass, small bush or dry debris. She is Polyandrous and after laying 3-4 eggs and she moves on, makes her booming call day or night, advertising for another male to mate with and lay more eggs. She can do this 3 or 4 times in a breeding season. Dad is the stay-at-home parent, he incubates and feeds the young chicks.

We don’t have sand dunes in central Victoria, but I have seen Painted Button-quail on dry ridges and on the edge of forest in Campbells Creek and in the wider area of Castlemaine, Newstead and Guildford. Last spring I stopped the car quickly, as a Dad escorted his 3 tiny golf ball size fuzzy chicks walking across Rowley Park Road, it was the cutest thing you ever saw.

Painted Button-quail doing what it does best, hiding and camouflaging into leaf litter. Photo by Damian Kelly

 

To listen to the call of the Painted Button-quail – click here

Jane Rusden
Damian Kelly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking Together – towards Makarrata NAIDOC Week

Posted on 11 July, 2023 by Ivan

We’re a little late to publish this informative article from Friends of Nalderun about NAIDOC Week (which ended on 9th July) but it’s definitely still worth a good read. The article was written by Floria Maschek, an ally and member of Friends of Nalderun (FoN). Nalderun is a Dja Dja Wurrung word meaning “all together”. 

NAIDOC Week – For Our Elders

The raven/crow or ‘Waa’ in Dja Dja Wurrung, is an important totem to the Kulin Nation which Djaara are part of. Its call aptly wakes me on the morning I complete this column. Country is telling me to get up. There is work to do! I’m a non-First Nations person but connected now to Djaara Country and with responsibilities to it. Elders past and present are foremost in my consciousness, and I acknowledge their care for community, which is integral to Country. 

NAIDOC Week is celebrated from 2 – 9 July this year. The National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week’s theme this year is – ‘For Our Elders’. 

NAIDOC Week is a time when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people celebrate, recognising their history, culture and achievements. Locally, many First Nations People do so without taking on the same level of burden educating non-First People’s as they do for the recent Reconciliation Week. However, on these unceded lands where safety, truth and culture have so often been denied, NAIDOC Week offers an opportunity for all people to learn about and celebrate the oldest continuous living cultures on earth. 

The substantial history behind NAIDOC Week dates back to the 1920’s and 30’s and should be in our national consciousness, including the determined activism of people like Yorta Yorta Elder William Cooper, and one of the first major civil rights gatherings in the world, the Day of Mourning on Jan 26th 1938. These are among  many historical efforts that led to this week of celebration. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders earn their status, not simply by getting older, but by the relationships nurtured over time. They are recognised by their communities for their wisdom, cultural knowledge, care and service. Being an Elder comes with much responsibility. In turn, Elders should be treated with a high level of respect. The amazing Elders in our community are very busy people and it’s important that we know who they are. 

Locally, many will be increasingly familiar not only with local Elders but also other dedicated and hard working First Nations educators and mentors. Protocols around Elder status are more complex than many are aware and I myself am doing my learning around this. 

We are increasingly aware of First People’s culture and the very considerable efforts of these local leaders that go into celebrating First Nations people, culture and community. Young and proud First Nations People are emerging as leaders, listening and learning from the wisdom of the Elders and mentors. 

This year the National NAIDOC Committee 2023 writes: ‘Across every generation, our Elders have played, and continue to play, an important role and hold a prominent place in our communities and families. They are cultural knowledge holders, trailblazers, nurturers, advocates, teachers, survivors, leaders, hard workers and our loved ones.’ 

 

For more information about NAIDOC week including its history and events visit

www.naidoc.org.au

To learn about respectfully communicating with Elders visit

www.commonground.org.au/article/guide-for-respectfully-communicating-with-elders 

 

For further information on Djaara Country and the Dja Dja Wurrung people please visit Djaara

www.djadjawurrung.com.au

Floria Maschek is an ally and member of Friends of Nalderun (FoN). FoN members are guided by Nalderun Education Aboriginal Corporation and are diverse individuals and representatives of many local community networks, supporting Nalderuns visions and work. Nalderun Education Aboriginal Corporation supports the Aboriginal Community and is led by Aboriginal people while providing many learning and cultural opportunities to the broader community. Nalderun is a Dja Dja Wurrung word meaning “all together”. 

More information can be found at www.nalderun.net.au

 

Looking for landholders: Habitat trees for Phascogales

Posted on 10 July, 2023 by Ivan

Do you have large old trees on your grazing property? Are you in the Mount Alexander region? Do you want to protect your large old trees and increase habitat for local fauna? 

Connecting Country has been successful in securing funding to create habitat ‘stepping stones’ across the landscape with our project ‘habitat trees for Phascogales’. Working with private landholders we will improve habitat connectivity and resilience of local flora and fauna in times of climatic stress.

The Mount Alexander Shire is home to many threatened wildlife species that survive in the fragmented woodlands across our region. Large old trees and the hollows they provide are vital habitat for many of these species. One of the species that relies on large old trees is the Brush-tailed Phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa), also known as the Tuan. This a small, nocturnal, carnivorous marsupial, a little larger than a domestic rat and with a very distinctive bushy tail.

In Victoria, the Brush-tailed Phascogale was once widespread, but now has a fragmented distribution. The Brush-tailed Phascogale is a threatened species listed under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and considered Vulnerable in Victoria. One of its strongholds is around Central Victoria and the Mount Alexander region.

Phascogale in a Connecting Country nest box. Photo: Jess Lawton

The aim of the project is to protect large old trees across our region, with a particular focus on enhancing habitat for the Brush-tailed Phascogale. We’ll achieve this through practical on-ground actions including; revegetation, stock grazing exclusion around old trees, installation of nestboxes, and strategic weed and pest animal control. We will work with key landholders and focus on a plan for their property and the old trees it contains.

The Habitat Trees for Phascogales project is supported by the Victorian Government through the Nature Fund and the Ian and Shirley Norman Foundation.

A Phascogale in a large old tree. Photo by Geoff Park

Looking for local landholders

We are looking for landholders in the Mount Alexander Shire area who are interested in participating.

Appropriate candidates will have:

  • large old trees in grazing land that can be fenced off from stock grazing.
  • a willingness to retain fallen limbs, leaf litter and rocky outcrops in these fenced plots.
  • a commitment to ongoing low-level maintenance of plantings and of weed and pest animal control.

If your property is suitable for the project, we will:

  • Visit your property to identify large old trees and assess their potential for phascogale habitat.
  • Develop a written property management plan setting out on-ground actions to protect large old trees and enhance habitat connectivity on your property.
  • Provide contractor support and materials for fencing and planting ‘stepping stones’.
  • Provide contractor support for weed and rabbit control within the project area.
  • Provide suitable indigenous understory plants to help protect large old trees, increase habitat and food plants for fauna including the Brush-tailed Phascogale.

Landholder expressions of interest

If you meet the criteria above and are keen to protect and restore old trees on your land, please complete our expression of interest form – EOI Click Here

Please return your expression of interest form to Connecting Country via email (info@connectingcountry.org.au). Expressions of interest close on 13 August 2023.

To learn more about the Brush-tailed Phascogale, click here

Large old trees, such as this one, often do not have regeneration to succeed them. Photo: Connecting Country

 

 

Habitat Trees for Phascogales: a new Connecting Country project

Posted on 10 July, 2023 by Ivan

Our ‘Habitat trees for Phascogales’ project aims to protect existing large old trees on grazing land for the Brush-tailed Phascogale and other native fauna by protecting and enhancing these habitat stepping-stones in the landscape.

We know that much of central Victoria’s native woodland has been heavily disturbed by a long history of mining, clearing, woodcutting, grazing, and changes in fire and water regimes. The local Box-Ironbark landscape provides habitat for many threatened species, including the Brush-tailed Phascogale, but much of the remaining woodland lacks complexity and is missing hollow-bearing trees that are important for foraging and nesting sites and protection from predators.

Tuan in a nestbox at Welshmans Reef. Photo Jess Lawton

Scientific studies demonstrate an alarming acceleration in the decline of most species within this community over recent years, including the Brush-tailed Phascogale which has undergone a substantial range contraction, decline in numbers and experienced localised extinctions in some regions.

The Mount Alexander region is a likely stronghold for the Brush-tailed Phascogale and is important for the species’ future survival (Lawton et al. 2021, Austral Ecology). However, our region’s woodlands are heavily degraded and large old trees with hollows are now scarce and not being replaced.

Our project aims to protect large old trees from early senescence and facilitate natural regeneration. Over time, other key elements of phascogale habitat, such as fallen logs and leaf litter, will return to these areas.

The iconic Phascogale, is rarely seen but rarely forgotten. Photo by Geoff Park

What will this project achieve? 

Connecting Country will be implementing a range of actions and education activities aimed at addressing this habitat loss and increasing the range for this iconic species.

Short-term actions (within 3 years):

  • Engage landholders in protecting and restoring phascogale habitat on their properties.
  • Fence strategically selected large old trees to protect them from stock grazing, and promote their health and regeneration.
  • Plant understorey tube stock plants, and undertake weed and rabbit control within these areas.
  • Provide nest boxes as potential nesting sites where necessary.
  • Collect scientifically-rigorous data on Brush-tailed Phascogale distribution, that can be used by land managers to inform decision-making.
  • Educate our community to raise awareness of the Brush-tailed Phascogale and their habitat needs.

 

Stay tuned for upcoming events and on-ground actions

For information on how to be involved in the project click here

 

The Habitat Trees for Phascogales project is supported by the Victorian Government through the Nature Fund as well as the Ian and Shirley Norman Foundation.