Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Now open: Biodiversity On-ground Action – Community & Volunteer Action Grants

Posted on 6 April, 2017 by Connecting Country

Grant applications are now open for the Biodiversity On-ground Action – Community & Volunteer Action Grants.

The Community & Volunteer Action grants:

  • are offering funding for projects between $5,000 and $50,000,
  • include the option of single or multi-year projects, and
  • have a broad biodiversity focus.

Funding of up to $1 million is available for these grants in 2017.

Who can apply: Community groups/networks and not-for-profit organisations primarily focused on environmental projects such as biodiversity conservation or habitat protection and restoration projects.

Grants close: midnight 10 May 2017

Further information: www.environment.vic.gov.au/communityaction

 

Water in our Landscape workshops – registrations now open!

Posted on 28 March, 2017 by Connecting Country


Water can have a powerful impact on our landscape. If we can slow flows and retain water for longer we can improve soil fertility, habitat quality and reduce erosion. How we might achieve this is the theme for Connecting Country’s 2017 ‘Water in our Landscape’ education program. Three workshops will explore habitat creation in dams, ecological thinning, and gully restoration.

The free Friday morning workshops are being held on public and private land in late April and early May. They are likely to be popular with rural landholders, bush block owners, and local Landcarers. Numbers are limited and booking is essential.

Turning your Dam into Habitat – 21st of April 2017
This workshop features local ecologist, Damien Cook, who will discuss the possibilities and practical steps of turning farm dams into habitat. Participants will learn how to reap the benefits of establishing more wetland plants and animals on their properties. For bookings please visit: https://www.trybooking.com/257169

Ecological Thinning on Bush Blocks- 5th of May 2017
This workshop is designed for those interested in the benefits, challenges, and approaches to ecological thinning remnant vegetation. Participants will visit a four year old thinning trial in Muckleford and will hear from ecologist, Paul Foreman, and local contractor, David Griffiths, about this fascinating pilot project. For bookings please visit: https://www.trybooking.com/270332

Creating Frog ponds and Habitat Corridors – 19th of May 2017
This workshop highlights the approach of the Victoria Gully Group in seeing possibilities and setting priorities for the ecological restoration of the gully. This session is designed to help people to make decisions about land use and habitat creation in low-lying areas. For bookings please visit: https://www.trybooking.com/270312

CLICK HERE for more information about the workshops or CLICK HERE to download a copy of the poster.

 

Guardians assemble! A new group of custodians is formed…

Posted on 22 March, 2017 by Tanya Loos

The special bird habitats of Clydesdale, Sandon and Muckleford now have a small team of Guardians! These three areas, of both private and public land, are designated as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) by BirdLife International, and BirdLife Australia.

Connecting Country held a workshop on Saturday 18 March 2017 to recruit KBA guardians and provide training in filling out an Easter Heath Check form each year. Birdlife Victoria KBA coordinator Euan Moore and his wife Jenny kindly took some time out from their busy schedule to present a comprehensive introduction to KBAs, and how to become a Guardian.

The open bushland around the hall was filled with birds – despite being rather hot, we saw a Diamond Firetail, a Mistletoebird and a pair of Peaceful doves – 20 species in all!

There are over 300 KBAs in Australia – and the Easter Health Check is a means to working out which KBAs are in danger – so that lobbying can be done and funding procured. For example, recently the Murray-Sunset and Hattah KBA was saved from an inappropriate burning regime that had reduced the population of tiny,  rare birds called emu-wrens by such a drastic degree that they had become critically endangered.

In the case of our Key Biodiversity Areas,  the Easter Health check is a means for locals to come together and try to quantify the threats facing our woodland birds and their habitats. Each KBA has what are known as “trigger species” – the key species that are under threat in that habitat – in our area, the trigger species are the Diamond Firetail and Swift Parrot.  During the workshop there was much discussion around what these threats are, and the rate that they are causing declines in the Diamond Firetail. A fascinating process! Drought featured heavily, as did grazing, and pest animals such as European Rabbits, Red Foxes, and cats, both feral and domestic.

This young Diamond Firetail faces an uncertain future. Photo by Geoff Park

Connecting Country’s Stewards for Woodland Birds project is delighted to support the Easter Health Check initiative. The Health Checks filled in by our guardians will form the basis for a series of community plans for each area – Clydesdale, Sandon and Muckleford.

If you were unable to make it to the workshop but would still like to be involved – contact us! Not only birdos are needed for this process – anyone with understanding of our local habitats, the trials faced, and the communities working to address these threats is welcome to take part. At the workshop it was decided to form a small Guardians email list so that people can stay in touch – let Tanya know if you wish to be added to the list. Email tanya@connectingcountry.org.au or call 5472 1594.

Thanks to Euan and Jenny for an inspiring and informative workshop – and many thanks to the enthusiastic participants! For more information on KBAs, see BirdLife’s overview: click here

The KBA workshop and the Stewards for Woodland Birds Program are supported by the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust.

 

Nature News March 2017 – Summertime Boom in Forest Creek

Posted on 7 March, 2017 by Connecting Country

For this month’s Nature News, on page 36 of the Midland Express (7th March 2017), Forest Creek resident and Connecting Country’s Works Crew team leader, Fritz Hammersley describes nature’s response to a wet spring through the dry of summer in the Forest Creek catchment.

 Last spring, we had to abandon the car late one evening on one side of a rapidly rising Forest Creek. We threw some things to the opposite side, tied others to our shoulders and crossed the knee-deep torrent.

This stunning Yellow Box Eucalyptus melliodora blossom is built for attracting pollinators including bees. Photo: Bronwyn Silver

Our valley is pocked with dredge, sluice and gravel pits from the gold rush. They quickly filled when the creek burst its banks. As the flood receded, the pits became isolated blackwater lagoons saturated with decaying litter, hostile to gilled creatures but no barrier to air-breathing larvae like mosquito. Lizards arrived for the bounty.  Five Sacred Kingfishers, Todirampus sanctus, flitted around one low-hanging branch for a couple of months, feasted and moved on.

An unusual patch of Bracken Fern, Pteridium esculentum, commonly seen in wetter climates, sprang to life. Like Coffee Bush, Cassinia arcuata, it will recruit after good rainfall or become denser after fire. Both will eventually out-punch pasture grasses until  acacias and eucalypts overshadow and calm them. In the forest these plants know their place, but on cleared land the sky’s the limit.

A Mud-dauber Wasp, Sphecidae sp., built a house in my bookshelf with a dried mud paste. She placed a paralysed Orb Spider, Araneus sp., in each cell and laid an egg on it. The hatchling feeds on the body juices of the spider, leaving only its exoskeleton amongst the shards of its dusty tomb.

Suddenly in the bush this summer we get a faceful of spider’s orbs every time we walk in the bush! Some are preposterous with ridiculous anchoring spans of five metres plus, others opportunistic, like the spider that positioned its orb outside our beehive and couldn’t keep up with the harvest.

Now in this dry summer Yellow Box, Eucalyptus melliodora, found slightly upslope from the creek flats, creates a park-like atmosphere above the dry grass with verdant new growth. Within it the profusely flowering Box Mistletoe, Amyema miquelii, is abuzz with bees. Lilies and orchids may  respond to the spring floods of 2016 with a greater floral display next season, there will be fewer mosquitoes around, and eventually this marvellous boom will peter out.

 

An opportunity to be a part of a global conservation initiative: locally!

Posted on 1 March, 2017 by Tanya Loos

BirdLife Australia is looking for people in each of the Key Biodiversity Areas to complete an “Easter health check” for their local area. Connecting Country has invited Euan Moore from BirdLife Victoria to come up to Clydesdale on Saturday the 18th of March to take us through the process for our part of the Bendigo Box Ironbark area.

The KBA boundaries are outlined in blue, and include Muckleford Forest, Rise and Shine Bushland reserve and the Sandon State forest. And a lot of private land too!

As you may know, Connecting Country is an affiliate organisation of BirdLife Australia. And BirdLife Australia is aligned with one of the biggest conservation networks in the world – BirdLife International. BirdLife International has designated hundreds of areas of conservation importance around the world known as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA).  And we have one here on our very own doorstep – we are part of the Bendigo Box Ironbark area.   Our part of the KBA has been designated especially for the Diamond Firetail and Swift Parrot, and covers both public and private land. Your property could be of international importance! For more information on the KBA and the Easter Health check process click here.

This annual check is about assessing habitat and its threats so anyone with a interest in landscape restoration would be most welcome. In fact, the KBA’s used to be known as IBA’s: Important Bird areas – but they changed the Important Bird to Key Biodiversity to reflect the importance of the areas for the whole ecosystem, not just birds! We encourage you to attend this workshop whether you live in the areas highlighted in the map or would simply like to visit the beautiful bushlands.

  • A Swift Parrot surveys its woodland home, photo by Chris Tzaros.

    When: Saturday, 18 March, 2017

  • Time: 10-2pm with lunch provided
  • Where: Clydesdale Hall, Locarno Rd
  • RSVP is essential for catering purposes to Tanya on tanya@connectingcountry.org.au or 5472 1594
  • Please wear outdoor appropriate footwear and clothing as we will be going to the nearby Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve for some of the workshop. Click  here for a workshop flyer.

Funding for this workshop has been generously provided by the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust, as part of the Stewards for Woodland birds project. 

 

 

 

 

Skink Shenanigans – news from our reptile and frog monitoring program

Posted on 16 February, 2017 by Asha

In 2016, Connecting Country set up a new reptile and frog monitoring program across the Mount Alexander region. With the help of 42 landholders and over 20 volunteers, we have recently finished checking the 480 monitoring tiles. These tiles make up 48 sites across the region, distributed between sites of intact woodland, revegetated woodland, and grasslands/paddocks.

We had some interesting finds under the tiles, and we’ll be sharing these results soon. Frogs, juvenile snakes, several species of skinks and many invertebrates all seemed to love living under the tiles. It was often quite a challenge to tell the species apart, especially when they move at lightning speed!  Here is a video of two skinks that we’ve seen underneath the tiles.  Can you guess what they are?

CLICK HERE to find out more about Connecting Country’s Reptile and Frog Monitoring program including links to some useful resources to help you identify some of your own discoveries. Contact Asha for more information at asha@connectingcountry.org.au or (03) 5472 1594.

Connecting Country’s Reptile and Frog Monitoring Program is being undertaken with the support of the Ian Potter Foundation.

 

Nature News February 2017 – Revitalising country mindfully with fire

Posted on 8 February, 2017 by Connecting Country

For this month’s Nature News, on page 28 of this week’s Midland Express (7 February 2017), local resident and member of the Muckleford Forest Friends group, Chris Johnston shares her understandings gained at the Talking Fire event last year.

Talking Fire presenters – Trent Nelson (DDWCAC), Paul Bates and Peter Skilbeck (DELWP) and Mick Bourke (DDWCAC), at the Mt Tarrengower fire tower. Photo taken by: Julie Millowick

In the dryness of summer, the risk of fire can feel imminent. But ecologically, our remarkable Box-Ironbark landscape isn’t driven by fire. At Talking Fire, a community event held in Newstead in November last year, local ecologist Dr David Cheal revealed that our Box-Ironbark forests don’t actually need fire to regenerate. In fact, fires more often than every 30 years will reduce the range of plant species, impacting on the insects, birds and animals that live in these forests, and ultimately the chance to enjoy the diversity that Box-Ironbark country has to offer.

The species we can see today across Box-Ironbark country reflects their evolutionary past, and thus the influence of fire events. And so they reflect a low prevalence of natural fires, and probably the small-scale, highly targeted use of fire by Aboriginal people. The prevalence of fires increased dramatically when colonial settlers arrived; fire was a useful way to clear the land. Planned burns on public land, careless actions in the rural landscape, and the occasional arson and lightning strike have continued that pattern of more frequent burning.

So how do we sustainably manage, or in fact restore the ecological complexity of these forest remnants, and what might the role of fire be in this process?

In the past, Jaara people would have used fire as part of revitalising Country and encouraging certain species, so using fire as a carefully applied management tool has its attractions. At Talking Fire, Dja Dja Wurrung traditional owners Trent Nelson and Mick Bourke spoke about their desire to explore this possibility, working with the state government, the Shire and the wider community to share knowledge and explore ways that fire can be used to undo past damage and helping regenerate Box-Ironbark country.

A NSW project – Firesticks – is leading by example. It is designed to bring together scientists, Aboriginal people, government, and the Rural Fire Service to apply contemporary and Aboriginal fire practices to enhance biodiversity, connectivity and landscape resilience, and ultimately find new ways to care for the environment and keep the people and the places we love safe.

To read about Talking Fire and Dr Cheal’s comprehensive report on the fire sensitivity of Victoria’s native vegetation communities, visit www.talkingfire.org. Dr Cheal will also be the guest speaker on the role of fire in local landscapes at the monthly general meeting of the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club on 10th February, please see our earlier post for details.  To find out more about the Firesticks Project visit www.firesticks.org.au.

 

Stinkwort: Act now or be forever stinky!

Posted on 2 February, 2017 by Connecting Country

Treat Stinkweed now and reap the rewards in the future!

Bonnie came in from the field this week with something for us all to get our noses around. After a quick wiff, we thought we’d share what we learnt. Stinkwort or Dittrichia graveolens is an annual herb which grows to around 50cm high and is listed as a restricted weed in the North Central Catchment. It is easy to distinguish from other plants due to its stinky odour when touched. Most importantly, now is the perfect time to act if you have Stinkwort on your property.

This plant is a coloniser or pioneer which means that it grows quickly in areas with little competition such as around dams or along roadsides. It can sometimes be seen after a road has been graded or in areas where disturbance has occurred. Apart from the distinctive smell it also has a sticky almost greasy feel which makes it a last resort for browsing animals. This species is from the daisy family and produces large amounts of wind dispersed seed.

Stinkweed is often found in roadsides and recently disturbed areas

If you have found this plant now is the perfect time for controlling it as the plants are healthy and actively growing but most haven’t started producing flowers yet. The best ways to control Stinkwort include manual removal where individual plants occur, or with an appropriate registered herbicide. It is also possible to chip out plants in larger infestations and, as there are no flowers, leave them in situ rather than having to remove the whole plant.

While it is not known exactly how long the seeds of this species last it is guessed that they are short lived (up to 3 years) so it is possible to eradicate it and lessen the stink in your part of the world!

 

10 and 11 February 2017 – Castlemaine Field Naturalists AGM with guest speaker and excursion

Posted on 2 February, 2017 by Connecting Country

It’s a new year, and Connecting Country would like to share that the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club (CFNC) are raring to go! The first event for the year is on the evening of Friday 10th February 2017 with both the Annual General Meeting (AGM) and a special guest speaker – David Cheal.  The title of David’s talk is The role of fire in Box-Ironbark forests.

David Cheal will be presenting at the Castlemaine Field Naturalists 2017 AGM

David Cheal is a botanist with expertise in ecological restoration, landscape ecology and survey methodologies  He has worked at the Arthur Rylah Research Institute on aspects of the ecological impacts of fire in forests, and currently holds the position of Associate Adjunct Professor at Federation University, Ballarat.

David will make a short presentation on aspects of fire impacts in Box-Ironbark forests, and recovery of flora and fauna.  He will then open the meeting to questions and comments from the audience, to extend the discussion in areas of interest to members.  David Cheal has said that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers in this complex area – rather, there are wiser, more thoughtful answers and other answers that may be simple and attractive, but counter productive.

The evening will commence at 7.30pm at the Fellowship Room, which is located behind the Uniting Church on Lyttleton St (next door to the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Museum).  After the brief AGM formalities, David will give his presentation.  Members and visitors are encouraged to attend – and to stay afterwards for a chat during supper.

The excursion on the following day (Saturday 11th February 2017) will be related to the talk – a visit to the forests around the Red, White and Blue Mine in the Muckleford.  CFNC members have been undertaking flora surveys in burnt and unburnt sites at this locality for many years, and this excursion will explore some of these areas and consider their differences.  The excursion will depart at 1.30pm sharp from the U3A Octopus building on Duke St (opposite the Castle Motel) – weather permitting.  Again, members and visitors welcomed and encouraged to attend.  Car-pooling is likely to be available, and don’t forget to bring your afternoon tea.

If you would like to do more reading about fire ecology and management please see Connecting Country’s resources page on Biodiversity and Fire and the Talking Fire website.

 

Community Volunteer Action Grants survey closes this Sunday 5th February

Posted on 2 February, 2017 by Connecting Country

As part of the Threatened Species Protection Initiative, over $2 million dollars has been provided by DEWLP in Community Volunteer Action Grants (CVA). The program was designed to recognise the value of grassroots community action in making change happen quickly, and enable groups to deliver small-scale threatened species conservation projects on public and private land that strengthen community connections to the local environment.

Golden Sun Moths occur in our region and are critically endangered

Funds were directed towards supporting voluntary efforts to protect and restore threatened species habitat (such as planting of native vegetation) as well as engagement activities that increase the understanding and management of threatened species habitats (such as participation and training of volunteers in bird counts).

  • CVA Round 1 funded 83 community delivered threatened species projects.
  • CVA Round 2 is currently underway and will see 98 community threatened species projects delivered across the State. In CVA Round 2, eligibility to apply for grants was expanded and also included ‘not for profit’ organisations.

DEWLP are keen to hear your views and feedback on the Community Volunteer Action Grants program to help them design the next program.

A reminder that the survey will close this Sunday 5th February 2017.

It takes approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete and questions center around what the program should focus on, who might apply for funding, how long a project should be able to run for and what activities should /should not be funded.

DEWLP have sent the survey to a range of groups but please feel free to share with your volunteer community environmental networks.

They are looking forward to hearing how they can best deliver their community grants, making it easier to achieve their common goal of ensuring the survival and prosperity of Victoria’s most threatened plants and animals and protecting our biodiversity.

To complete the survey use the link below:
http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/3237824/Survey-CVA-Grants 

 

10-11 February 2017 – Local plant and weaving workshop at Guildford Winery

Posted on 19 January, 2017 by Connecting Country

The good folk at the Guildford Winery have asked Connecting Country to share details of their up coming Local Plant Weaving Workshop with Marilyne Nicholls. Marilyne is a renowned master weaver and generational Indigenous weaver, with extensive environmental knowledge about sedges and other plants. She is a member of the Victorian Aboriginal Weaving Collective with a strong Aboriginal traditional kinship connections to Victorian lands and to South Australian lands through her parents.

This two day workshop will explore the symbiotic relationships or biological alliances formed between people, culture, grasses, sedges and different species of birds and insects. Participants will learn how symbiotic relationships are important to Australian weaving traditions and how this in turn promotes wild species biodiversity conservation. Knowledge about local plants and different weaving techniques will be taught by Marilyne.

Details as follows:
When: Friday 10th and Saturday 11th February 2017 – 10am to 4pm
Where: Guildford Vineyard, 6720 Midland Highway, Guildford
Cost: $240 for two days or $120 for one day. This amount is inclusive of plant material, lunch at the Cellar Door, morning/afternoon teas for vegetarians/vegans/yogic.

Numbers are limited, to secure your place, pay full amount or pay deposit for $60 for each day you’d like to attend. The deposit is non refundable.

To book please contact:
Email: guildfordvineyard@bigpond.com

Phone:54764457 or Mobile: 0411253506

For more info: www.guildfordvineyard.com.au

 

2017 Autumn Fungus Workshops and Forays with Alison Pouliot

Posted on 9 January, 2017 by Connecting Country

fungiDiscover the curiosities and delights of the fungal kingdom this coming autumn through a variety of seminars, workshops and forays with the wonderful Alison Pouliot. CLICK HERE for the full details of each of the events listed below.  (Note:  These workshops are run by Alison, and are not official Connecting Country events).

SUNDAY 16 APRIL 2017 (EASTER SUNDAY) – TRENTHAM, VIC – Fungi in Focus – Photographic Field Day
MONDAY 17 APRIL 2017 (EASTER MONDAY) – TRENTHAM, VIC – Wild Desires – Fungus Foray in the Wombat Forest
SATURDAY 23 APRIL 2017– GELLIBRAND, VIC – Wild Desires – A Forest Foray in the Otway Forests
TUESDAY 25 APRIL 2017 – GELLIBRAND, VIC – Anzac Day Mushroom Hunt
FRIDAY 28 APRIL 2017 – WOODEND, VIC – A Foray Among the Funguses of Ard Choille Heritage Garden
SATURDAY 29 APRIL 2017 – WOODEND, VIC – A Foray Among the Funguses of Ard Choille Heritage Garden
SUNDAY 30 APRIL 2017 – KYNETON, VIC – Discovering the Fungal Curiosities of Bald Hill Reserve
TUESDAY 2 MAY 2017 – BACCHUS MARSH, VIC  – Photographic Field Day – Fungi in Focus
FRIDAY 5 MAY 2017 – NEERIM SOUTH, VIC – The Fungi – An Introduction to a Curious Kingdom
SATURDAY 13 MAY 2017 – MELBOURNE, VIC – The Fungi – An Introduction to a Curious Kingdom
FRIDAY 9 JUNE 2017 – CRESWICK, VIC – Meeting with Mushrooms – Fungus Identification Workshop and Foray
SATURDAY 10 JUNE 2017 – CRESWICK, VIC – Meeting with Mushrooms – Fungus Identification Workshop and Foray
SUNDAY 11 JUNE 2017 – BARINGHUP, VIC – The Fungi – An Introduction to a Curious Kingdom

For further information and bookings, please contact Alison directly at alison@alisonpouliot.com.

 

Nature News December 2016 – Lichens: Underrated Natural Wonders

Posted on 7 December, 2016 by Connecting Country

For this month’s Nature News, found on page 38 in this week’s Midland Express (6th December 2016), Bronwyn Silver, nature photographer and co-author of Eucalyptus of the Mount Alexander Region, shares her interest in the natural beauty and wonder of our local lichens.

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Map Lichen (Rhizcarpon geographicum) Photo: Bronwyn Silver

I was originally attracted to lichens, especially ‘map’ lichens, because they looked so unusual. Map lichens (Rhizcarpon geographicum) come in many colours and often have intricate arrangements due to each lichen being surrounded by a black border and adjacent to another. Many of the rock surfaces tightly encrusted with map lichen look like aerial maps or abstract art works.

Unless you are watching out for this lichen, these subtle and often small formations can easily be overlooked. But once I became aware of their wonderful abstract qualities and sought them out, I found them to be quite common in our bushlands.

Then, when I did more research, I began to find lichens even more fascinating. Although they are sometimes confused with moss, lichens are unrelated to moss or any other plant. In fact, lichen can be regarded as a community rather than a single organism because it always consists of at least one species of alga and one species of fungus that grow together in a mutually beneficial relationship. The fungus provides protection and absorption of minerals and gains nutrients from its photosynthesizing partner in return.

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Peppered Rock Shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) resting on rock and moss (Triquetrella papillata) Photo: Bronwyn Silver

There are over 3000 known species of lichen in Australia; some are leafy, some are plant-like, and some are flat. Map lichen and other flat types are pretty much the same in all weather conditions. Other lichens are called ‘resurrection’ plants because they can switch off their metabolism and then fire up again when there is moisture.

The greatest threats to lichens are fire and pollution. However, the importance of conserving lichens is generally overlooked despite their many benefits for the environment. Like mosses, they can help with soil stabilization and the colonisation of barren environments.  Some animals eat them, insects shelter in them, and people have used them for food, perfume, medicine and dyes. For example, traditionally lichens were used to produce the colours of Harris Tweed.

And very importantly they can enhance our aesthetic appreciation of the bush with their varied colours, unusual shapes and wonderful patterns on the surfaces of rocks, trees, leaves and soil.

If you would like to find out more about lichens a good place to start is the three engaging interviews with Tasmanian lichenologist, Gintaras Kantvilas, available on the ABC Science Show – click here.

 

Wildlife friendly garden workshop with Cassia Read

Posted on 28 November, 2016 by Connecting Country

Among exuberant flowers and darting pollinator insects, twenty people gathered in Cassia Read’s Castlemaine garden on Saturday the 19th November 2016 to learn about wildlife friendly gardening. Cassia’s mission for the workshop was to inspire and inform people about how to nudge their gardens in a wildlife friendly direction. Cassia suggested elements that could be added to any garden to make it more biodiverse, whatever the gardeners needs and values.

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Cassia (left) talked about how we could all nudge our gardens in a wildlife friendly direction.

Cassia explained that she’s passionate about wildlife friendly gardens because life in the garden brings beauty and joy; it fosters a connection between people and nature; and, because gardens can provide a refuge for wildlife in a changing climate.

A garden is a community of plants and animals, living together and interacting with each other. Cassia introduced the concept of garden community ecology with a drawing of a food-web in her own garden. This illustrated how energy, harvested from the sun by plants, moves up the food chain; from pollinating and leaf eating insects and seed and nectar eating birds, through predatory insects, reptiles, frogs, small bush birds, bats and phascogales, to larger carnivores such as kookaburras and boobook owls.

food-web


Foodweb in Cassia’s garden, showing ‘who eat’s what’ and the movement of energy harvested by plants from the sun, up the food chain to larger predators (Illustration by Cassia Read).

Cassia drew attention to the importance of insects in bringing wildlife to the garden, because many of the larger vertebrates either eat insects directly or they eat the insect predators. Even small honey-eaters supplement much of their diet with insects living in the tree canopy.

Cassia invited participants to spend a moment quietly observing life in the garden in two different locations, using two different ways to observe: an unfocussed, dreamy gaze that allows you to see all the movement in the garden with your peripheral vision; and a focused gaze to see the detail of particular species and individuals going about their daily lives. Cassia commented that observation is the key to wildlife friendly gardening. The more you look, the more you learn and enjoy and are inspired to create a living landscape around you.

Cassia discussed the spectrum of garden styles that range between pavement and bushland, with biodiversity in the garden increasing as you moved from a low diversity, simplified landscape like a park, through to a garden with different vegetation layers, different micro-habitats and more indigenous species.

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Spectrum of garden styles, from pavement to bushland, with garden biodiversity increasing with complexity of vegetation structure, micro-habitats and indigenous plantings (illustration by Cassia Read).

During the guided tour around her half acre block, Cassia discussed elements she has added to her garden to create shelter and food for wildlife. Standing around her small pond, participants discussed how the creation of even a small pond, planted with local water plants, brings frogs, dragonflies, aquatic invertebrates and a place for quiet reflection and observation. Other important elements included:

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Cassia’s pond has Pobblebonk tadpoles but no mosquito larvae because she’s introduced native Murray Rainbow Fish that eat wrigglers but not frogs eggs.

  • Growing indigenous and exotic flowers for native pollinators such as native bees, wasps, hoverflies and butterflies. Through extending the flowering season with thoughtful planting you can extend the time nectar and pollen are available to pollinators;
  • Planting dense and prickly shrubs where small bush birds can hide from cats and aggressive or predatory birds;
  • Building leaf litter, mulch and woody debris for insect habitat, which in turn provide food for ground foraging birds, reptiles, frogs and phascogales;
  • Adding nest-boxes and artificial hollows to trees for birds and bats – but watch out they aren’t placed too high or you won’t be able to evict Indian Miners and other wanted pests;
  • Planting a drought-tolerant native lawn that provides food and shelter for moth and butterfly larvae, and seed for native pigeons and Diamond Firetails;
  • Creating varied rocky habitats for basking lizards, including rock on soil and rock on rock. Also, pupae from ant colonies that live under the rocks are an important food source for ground foraging predators.

The workshop concluded in the shade of a gum tree, with an exercise and conversation about nudging our own gardens for wildlife. What more could we do and what were our barriers? Cassia guided participants to think about their gardens in terms of management zones, from high maintenance and input zones such as the small orchard, to low maintenance and input zones such as areas of drought-hardy, native shrubs planted for screening at the front of a block.

Thanks to all attendees for coming along, and to Cassia and Melanie Marshall from the Mount Alexander Shire Council for their work presenting and bringing this event into fruition. Much was learned from Cassia’s unique perspective on how to build a garden and engage with nature.

For further information visit our Wildlife Friendly Garden webpage here.

This workshop has been supported by Connecting Country, through funding from the Australian Government and the Mount Alexander Shire Council through their Sustainable Living Workshop Series.

 

 

South African Weed Orchid – ID first, then dig out!

Posted on 23 November, 2016 by Connecting Country

South African Weed Orchid, Disa bracteata, is flowering now and if you’re quick  you can help stop the spread of this emerging and highly invasive weed in our area. Tanya recently found them at Barkers Creek Reservoir in Harcourt and we have some photos to help you identify them. And, if you do find them, practice good bush hygiene so that you don’t spread the infestation.

South African Weed Orchid is a  perennial terrestrial orchid with underground tubers. Dormant for much of the year, it sprouts in early spring with a rosette of leaves, followed by flower spikes developing into seeds as the weather drys out during summer.

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South African Weed Orchid – whole plant, roots and bulbs. Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Stems – erect and fleshy usually 30–50 cm tall. Leaves – a rosette of green leaves with purple undersides, tapering from a broad base to an pointy tip, 5–15 cm long.  These weeds are distinct from indigenous Onion Orchids (Microtis spp.) as they have a rosette of leaves, while the native Onion Orchids have one round leaf, often extending above the flower spike.

Flowers – from late October through to December in Victoria. 15– 30 flowers grow on a thick cylindrical spike 5–20 cm long, which resembles a greenish-brown asparagus spear. Flowers very dense and are mostly reddish-brown and yellow with a leafy bract.

Seeds – black, minute and dust-like, contained within the capsular fruit. The species is autogamous (self-pollinating) and thus produces

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Treatment by digging out and carefully bagging plant matter is useful in containing the spread of this invasive weed. Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

a large amount of seed per plant. The main form of dispersal is wind, but seed can also be spread on shoes, clothing and vehicles, as well as in water and through animal and soil movement. The seeds can remain viable for years. (This means that one seeding plant this year means many weeds for many, many years to come.) Seed set and dispersal starts at the end of November or as the weather drys out. The seeds continue to mature even if the flower head is picked.
Tubers – generally thought to have 1–3 tubers, similar  in appearance to a small potato, about 20 mm in size. The plant also has a mass of fleshy  roots and there is no main tap root.

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The weed orchid has 1–3 tubers about 20 mm in size also has a mass of fleshy roots and there is no main tap root. Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Treatment – Manual removal requires digging up and removing all parts of the plant, including the tuber, leaves and flowers. The plant material must be bagged securely (e.g., in a snap-lock bag) to prevent the fine dust-like seed from spreading further.

Currently this weed has been recorded in relatively small numbers in Chewton, Redesdale, Elphinstone, Taradale, Walmer, Barkers Creek, Sutton Grange, Ravenswood and Harcourt.

For further reading see this link for more information and reading references see page 6 of this 2009 edition of Weedscene magazine.

 

Lions? We don’t have lions, but we do have Antlions!

Posted on 17 November, 2016 by Connecting Country

dscn0408Connecting Country’s field botanist, Bonnie Humphreys, came across an interesting creature this week while out in the field conducting vegetation surveys and finding her way around her new camera. Upon return to the office, Bonnie did some hunting around to see what it was that she had captured with her camera. Turns out it is an antlion, but the species remains unknown. Perhaps one of our readers could help us identify it?

The antlions are a group of about 2,000 species of insect in the family Myrmeleontidae, known for the fiercely predatory habits of their larvae, which in many species dig pits to trap passing ants or other prey.

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Antlion cone shaped trap.

The sand traps are about 40mm diameter. The Antlion sit at the middle of the trap, covered by loose sands. When an ant or other small insects walks inside the trap, some sand falls into the centre to alert the Antlion. It flicks more sand to the ant and cause the ‘land sliding’. The ant then falls towards the centre and the Antlion attacks the ant by its long jaws.  Some other species larva burrow freely in sand or live on trees as predators. They pupate in soil with cocoon covered with sand. Eggs are laid singly and scattered in dry soil. You can watch another species of antlion in action here.

 

If you do recognise the species we’d love to hear from you, please leave a comment below.

 

Gazanias from our 2012 weed watch post

Posted on 2 November, 2016 by Connecting Country

The following information was originally published in 2012 by Geraldine Harris in the Castlemaine Naturalist newsletter, and has been kindly re-written by her for the Connecting Country website. we have decided to re-post it as a the Gazanias are currently in full bloom.

Some plants become environmental weeds when they escape from our gardens into the surrounding countryside and start competing with local native indigenous species. I want to look at how some of these infestations can be controlled and which native plants can be used in their place.

Our native plants cannot be expected to perform as vigorously as pest plants that have been selectively bred for survival over hundreds of years. However, getting rid of pest plants and replacing them with native species will help preserve the integrity of our local habitats, attracting and providing resources for more native birds and other animals.

Gazania linearis
Gazanias are the large daisy-type yellow flowers that are escaping from private gardens and appearing more and more abundantly along our local roadsides and in bushland throughout Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales.

These very showy plants originated in South Africa and are being promoted in many plant nurseries as a tough drought resistant species. Many hybrids have been developed in cultivation between Gazania linearis and a closely related environmental weed species Gazania rigens. These plants produce abundant wind-blown seeds that can be dispersed many kilometres from the source, producing ever-increasing patches of gazania that compete with locally indigenous species. Gazanias also have the ability to re-grow from their bare roots, which enables them to spread into our bushland by the dumping of garden waste containing the tuberous root systems of these plants. Native animals tend not to eat them as they are low in nutritional value.

Control methods include pulling out by hand if the infestation is small (making sure the roots are removed so it doesn’t re-grow) or spraying with a registered systemic herbicide into the heart of the rosette. If you have a large outbreak amongst grasses or in a lawn, a broadleaf-selective herbicide maybe a much better option. At very least, remove and then bag the flower heads. The ‘bagging’ prior to disposal is important because even when the gazania flower heads are detached, most still have the ability to develop as mature flower heads with masses of viable seed.

As substitutes you could plant native daisies such as Sticky Everlasting (Xerochrysum viscosum), Common Everlasting (Chrysocephalum apiculatum) and Clustered Everlasting (Chrysocephalum semipapposum).  Pigface (Carpobrotus modestus) would also be a useful substitute requiring no water and producing large pink-mauve flowers all summer.

References
Rayner C. 2012, ‘Weed of the Month’, Angair Newsletter. No 1, p6.
Marriot N.2011, ‘Plant ‘Aussies’ – not weeds’, Growing Australian, Vol 54.3, No 216, p12-13.

 

Paterson’s Curse – pretty but a problem

Posted on 24 October, 2016 by Connecting Country

The flower of Patterson's Curse close up!

The flower of Paterson’s curse close up!

While out in the field Connecting Country staff, Bonnie Humphreys and Jarrod Coote, have noticed a number of out-breaks of Paterson’s Curse in our region. This weed is easily recognisable at the moment by the swathes of purple flowers. Yes it’s pretty, but it’s also a potentially big problem.

Paterson’s curse is a winter annual herb that often becomes the dominant species in pastures. It is a prolific seeder that can produce more than 5000 seeds per plant per year. Large quantities of seeds may accumulate in the soil over several years. For example, a seed bank of up to 30 000 seeds per square metre has been reported. Seeds may remain dormant in the soil for up to five years.

Paterson’s curse is considered a weed because:

  • It reduces pasture productivity and is toxic to livestock.
  • It can degrade the natural environment, compromising habitat values by crowding out and suppressing native vegetation.
  • Hay and grain infested with it fetch lower prices.
  • It affects human health. Some people are allergic to the pollen and the rough hairy texture of the leaves and stems causes skin irritation in people having close contact with the plant.

The life cycle of Paterson’s curse is important to understand in managing infestations. Currently plants are flowering and set seed from the top of the stem down. The plant then dies back and seeds germinate in the residual bare ground. As the plant grows it forms a rosette and then sends up the flowering stem.

So right now, the best thing to do is to map infestations and chip or spray emerging rosettes in Autumn next year. Rosettes can be easily chipped out and turned upside down to dry in the sun or sprayed with a registered herbicide.

For more information from the Agriculture Victoria website, click here.

 

 

 

8 Nov 2016 – Landowners looking after Grasslands Workshop

Posted on 12 October, 2016 by Connecting Country

plains-wander-chicksThe Landowners looking after Grasslands – Field Day on the Plains has been rescheduled to Tuesday November 8th 2016, 10.00am to 2.30pm because of the wet roads.

Join the Northern Plains Conservation Management Network, Trust for Nature and Dr David Baker-Gabb, renowned expert on Plains-wanderer, in launching Managing Native Grasslands for Plains Wanderers Field Guide. Hear from Dan Harley, Threatened Species Biologist with Zoos Victoria, about their Fighting Extinction Programme and the plan to start captive-breeding Plains-wanderers in 2017. Accompany Paul Foreman, grassland ecologist for a walk across Andy & Judy McGillivray’s property, and learn how to survey for threatened grassland flora species such as the nationally listed Swainson-peas.

swainson-peaWHEN: Tuesday November 8th 2016, 10.00am to 2.30pm
WHERE: Andy & Judy McGillivray’s, McIntyre Rd, off Roslynmead Rd, Torrumbarry. Vic Roads Reference: 30J2 & 31A2 .
Morning tea, lunch & afternoon tea will be provided. Please wear sturdy walking shoes, bring a camp chair, sunhat, binoculars, warm coat, sunscreen and a bottle of water.
RSVP is essential to the North Central CMA by 5 pm Thursday 3rd November on (03) 5448 7124 or email info@nccma.vic.gov.au

Please poster here for location details.

 

Creating Wildlife Friendly Gardens – Workshop and Webpage

Posted on 10 October, 2016 by Connecting Country

You can create beauty and habitat in your yard with a wildlife friendly garden. For those interested in habitat restoration but find themselves living in town we have put together a list of useful resources with information about how to build habitat for wildlife into our suburban gardens. Visit our new “Wildlife Friendly Gardens” page of our resources section (click here) for information about attracting wildlife to your garden.

Habitat for animals is possible, even on a very small scale. All photos by Cassia Read

Cassia Read will be showcasing her wildlife friendly garden as part of Connecting Country’s Education Program and the Mount Alexander Sustainable Living Workshop Series on Saturday the 22nd of October 2016 at 10.30am (Please note this as a correction to starting time information published in the Midland Express on October 4th).

This workshop is also advertised as part of the Festival of Open Gardens official program. The Festival is celebrating it’s 25th year and showcases gardens across Castlemaine and district. We especially love the gardens with native species (of course) in the program such as 152 Hargraves St., Winters Flat primary School, and the Newstead Community Garden.

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