Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Nature News October 2016 – Make it and wildlife will come

Posted on 4 October, 2016 by Connecting Country

For this month’s Nature News, on page 26 in this week’s Midland Express (4th October 2016) local ecologist and garden designer, Cassia Read shares come of her insights from creating a wildlife friendly garden. While Connecting Country encourages you to use locally native plants where possible, Cassia has found that all sorts of flowering plants can provide useful habitat. 

wildlife-friendly-gardens

Cassia’s garden plays host to a range of local wildlife and plant species.

Striding around the corner of a friend’s Newstead house today my eyes suddenly met the steady gaze of a Grey Shrike-thrush sitting on her eggs. She’d made her home in a basket nailed to the wall, within arms-reach from where I stood. She wasn’t bothered by comings and goings of her human neighbours.

Thrush’ sing exquisite songs in my own Castlemaine garden. I was instantly inspired to hang baskets around my house to encourage more of these birds.

I am fascinated by the possibilities of gardens that meet both needs of the people and the local birds, lizards and butterflies. In these days of a changing climate, urban gardeners can support a host of local wildlife with food, shelter and water. It just takes some thought and a little time spent pottering in the garden.

In my own garden, I’m not aiming to restore bushland or even to create a picturesque bush garden. I grow fruit, veggies and some nostalgic flowers from my childhood. I welcome cool summer shade from deciduous trees. How do I balance my needs with those of wildlife?

I find comfort and direction in considering the spectrum of home garden styles in Castlemaine, ranging between easy-care concrete and bushland gardens that meld with local Box Ironbark Forest. Wherever a garden is positioned on this pavement-to-bushland spectrum, it can be nudged in a more wildlife friendly direction.

For instance, some grass provides a place for magpies to fossick where a pavement is void of life; old style flowers provide nectar for butterflies while ornamental cultivars bred for show are nectarless; a corner planting of dense shrubs is better for Blue Wrens and Thornbills than a park-like lawn that stretches from house to fence; a dry stone wall provides shelter for hibernating Marble Geckos where cemented walls are pure architecture.

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink…. Make it and wildlife will come.

Gardens with wildlife hum with energy and interest. Spotted Pardalotes dipping in a bird bath and Blue Banded Bees darting amongst the Rosemary flowers bring spontaneous joy. Today I’m planting colourful salvias for my girls to pick and Eastern Spinebills to feed on. Tomorrow I’ll scatter basking rocks for lizards. Not big steps, but nudges in a wildlife direction.

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

For more information about attracting wildlife to your garden visit the “Wildlife Friendly Gardens” page of our resources section (click here).

 

Last chance for direct seeding through Connecting Landscapes

Posted on 29 September, 2016 by Connecting Country

Direct seeding success at a property in Taradale

Direct seeding success at a property in Taradale

For the past five years Connecting Country has been incredibly fortunate to be running our Connecting Landscapes Across the Mount Alexander Region program. Funded through the Federal Government, it has allowed us to support 75 landholders  undertake revegetation across 357 ha and the control of weeds and rabbits across an additional 1,349 hectares, plus additional bushland enhancement measures such as protective fencing and grazing change within all areas.  We’ve also coordinated dozens of education events and continued our biodiversity monitoring surveys for birds and phascogales.  Now is your last chance to get involved with the on-ground works aspect of this fabulous program. To meet our targets, we are looking for one or two new properties to undertake revegetation projects of at least 5 hectares (12 acres).

These subsidized revegetation projects would be organised and implemented by Connecting Country and its works crew. The plants used would comprise locally occurring wattles, eucalypts and other understory species. Using a process called direct seeding, they are planted as seed with our specialised equipment. We encourage all expressions of interest from landholders within the target area (see map below). If we cannot help you this year or through this program, we will keep your details on a database in case of future opportunities.

Bonnie explains how direct seeding works

Bonnie explaining how direct seeding works to landholders.

Contact us now to get involved! Alternatively, talk to your neighbours if you think they might benefit. To find out more about our on-ground works process and to access an expression of interest form, CLICK HERE.  For more information contact Jarrod or Bonnie on 5472 1594 or email jarrod@connectingountry.org.au.

Landholders who have already undertaken projects can expect Jarrod and Bonnie to be undertaking some follow up visits in the coming months to see how things are going.

‘Connecting Landscapes’ is just one of several, although the largest, projects that Connecting Country currently runs. While this particular program finishes up mid next year, our other programs such as hosting Asha (our landcare facilitator) and stewards for woodland birds will continue and there are many other exciting opportunities in the pipeline.

We are currently in the process of considering the future direction of Connecting Country and we encourage you to attend our AGM to help us explore the possibilities. Click here to find out more about the AGM. We are also currently running an on-line survey at the moment and would appreciate your input, click here to complete our on-line survey.

The target area for Connecting Landscapes.

The target area for our Connecting Landscapes revegetation program is shown in blue.

 

Spring 2016 – CFNC Wednesday Wildflower Walks

Posted on 21 September, 2016 by Connecting Country

Scented Sundew

Scented Sundew, one of the many local species you’re likely to see on a walk with the Castlemaine Field Naturalists.

Each Spring, the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club hosts a series of Wednesday afternoon wildflower walks.  With all of the rain over recent weeks and months, this is shaping up as being one of the best wildflower seasons in many years.

There are two more walks being held this year, both departing at 4pm sharp from the Octopus building car-park (Duke St, opposite the Castle Motel).  Members and visitors are welcome.

Wednesday 28 September – Location: TBD.  Leader: George Broadway

Wednesday 5 October – Location: TBD.  Leaders: Peter and Rosemary Turner

 

Friday Sept 23rd 2016 – Newham Landcare talk about frogs

Posted on 21 September, 2016 by Connecting Country

Young treefrog FRG 0052

A young tree frog pops up to say hello.

If you’ve wondered what all the noise is about following the recent rainfall, on Friday September 23rd 2016 the Newham and District Landcare Group will be hosting a talk about frogs by Richard Akers.

Richard will talk about the importance of frogs in the ecosystem, frog identification, sounds, the frog census and what we need to do to maintain a frog-friendly environment.

Learn also how to identify frogs in our area, what they sound like, the biology of frog life cycles, food chains, the impacts of fire posterand climate change and more.

The talk will be held at Newham Mechanics Institute Hall.

7pm drinks & nibblies
7.30 presentation
Supper to follow

RSVP appreciated: Helen Scott at orseda@bigpond.com or
0412 582 526

 

Farewell and HUGE thanks to the Green Army Team

Posted on 12 September, 2016 by Connecting Country

We recently said ‘good bye’ to our first Green Army team of 2016. During their six months, the team worked on projects for ten Landcare groups, including doing weed control, track maintenance, and planting. You can now see signs of their fantastic work all over the region.

The team asked Asha to pass on their thanks to all the Landcare members who took time to encourage them and assure them that their efforts will make a huge difference to the landscape and the community. Team member, Rachel, expressed that they have learned a lot during the six months, and that their time on the team has helped her career move forward. Most of the team will still be working locally, so keep an eye out for their friendly faces.

We had a short but sweet morning tea to see the team off and wish them well into the future. Thanks to all of the Landcare members who have worked alongside the team in the last six months. A big thank you to Liam, Mitch, Paige, Kirra, James, Rachel, Melissa, Josh, Cindy, and Peter for all your hard work.

greenarmy2016_1

 

Nature News September 2016 – The pleasures of crawling around in the damp

Posted on 6 September, 2016 by Connecting Country

On page 12 in this week’s Midland Express (6 September 2016) there is a great Nature News piece by local naturalist and co-author of the soon to be released local Eucalyptus guide, Bernard Slattery, about the wonder of those tiny and important life-forms – the mosses.

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Moss on Mount Alexander… a world you can get lost in. Photo by Bernard Slattery

This year we can celebrate a goodish winter: cold, grey, and—most importantly—wet.

And, apart from replenished dams, this wet winter is good because it gives us a reason to go out into the bush, get down on our knees, and become completely absorbed in looking at the micro universe of…MOSS.

Moss isn’t just a green monotonous smudge. It’s beautiful and very variable. To appreciate this fully, you have to get right down close with a hand lens, or a camera with macro lens. You do risk embarrassment by doing this. A few times I’ve been lying flat on my stomach checking out the moss, and concerned passers-by have stopped to ask after my health so it does help if you can wave a camera or a hand lens to reassure people you’re OK.

The wet winter has created great beds of moss in our forests. Moss has repopulated crevices in walls and appeared in patches in lawns and corners of garden beds.

Mosses are tiny and simple. Unlike more familiar plants like grasses, they don’t have roots: they absorb water and nutrients directly into their leaves. They also reproduce via fine, dust-like spores, not seeds.

They’re ancient plants, maybe the first to have colonised the land. There’s a theory that early mosses, over 400 million years ago, played a big part in boosting oxygen in the atmosphere, laying the foundations for all sorts of future evolutions.

Mosses are useful. They’re amazingly hardy and can colonize bare land so they’re good at helping the recovery of eroded landscapes. They can tolerate long dry periods:  seemingly dead crusts spring to life at the first shower of rain.

Seen up close, mosses are intricate, colourful and enormously various. Although some are so tiny as to be hard to make out without a microscope, there are plenty of species noticeable to the naked eye. Some leaves are rounded, some are thin as wisps; colours are every shade of green; and spore head stalks can be red, orange, green or yellow.

A great resource for finding out more is Bernard Slattery and Cassia Read’s Mosses of dry forests in south eastern Australia. To purchase a copy visit the Friends of the Box Ironbark Forests webpage www.fobif.org.au.

 

Friday 9th Sept 2016 – Australian Ants in roadside and remnants

Posted on 4 September, 2016 by Connecting Country

 

The guest speaker for the next Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club on Friday 9th September is Ballarat-based entomologist Peter Muller.  Peter’s presentation will be about the great variety of interesting ants that occur in the local area and beyond.  Peter has provided the following text about himself and the talk:

Early life; lived, trained/educated/qualified in agriculture. Changed direction and pursued a career in natural land management. Worked for various environmental organisation, Parks Victoria and Conservation and land management, and the various forms that it has morphed into over the years. Have gained substantial land management experience in a variety disciplines and responsibilities. Over 30 years have worked in conservation in most areas in Victoria.

Nest mound of Rhytidoponera spp. Photo by Peter Muller.

Nest mound of Rhytidoponera spp. Photo by Peter Muller.

For the last 15 years, until recently retired, I have worked in environmental education with Ballarat/Federation University, a challenging but rewarding profession. Now with a bit of time on my hands, I am devoting some of it researching ants and, hopefully, to answering some question about ants that I have had for many years. I hope, along the way, I can add a little bit to our environmental knowledge, and add value to natural areas particularly, roadside and remnants.

 I live at Enfield south of Ballarat, and have three daughters in various parts of the world.

Peter will also lead the club’s excursion on the following day, which will be a search for nests of sugar ants and other ants.  The following link provides some further information to assist with ant nest identification during the excursion (CLICK HERE).

Peter’s presentation will commence from 7.30pm in the Fellowship Room behind the Castlemaine Uniting Church (on Lyttleton St, next door to the Art Gallery and Museum) on Friday 9 September.  The excursion will depart from the Octopus building car-park on Duke St (opposite the Castle Motel) at 1.30pm sharp on Saturday 10 September.  Members and visitors are welcome to attend both, and there is no cost for attendance.

 

Taking a closer look at conservation covenants

Posted on 25 August, 2016 by Connecting Country

TFN brochureOne of the most inspiring aspects of the Sutton Grange Organic Farm (home of Holy Goat Cheese which we visited as part of our Farm Field Day) is how Carla and Ann-Marie have protected their remnant vegetation with a Trust For Nature Conservation Covenant.

Connecting Country would like to share an article by Mat Hardy from the August 2016 edition of Decision Point magazine about conservation covenants. This piece discusses their strengths as a mechanism for protecting nature and recommendations for ensuring their benefits are maintained into the future. To read the article click here.

For more information about conservation covenants check out Trust For Nature’s website.

 

Connecting Country in the national birding news

Posted on 27 July, 2016 by Connecting Country

In 2015, Connecting Country signed a ‘affiliated organisation’ agreement with Birdlife Australia, which is Australia’s largest organisation devoted to the future of native birdlife.  This agreement formalises an existing working relationship between our two organisations to cross-promote relevant events and activities, to share bird survey data and generally to provide on-going support for each other in efforts to conserve and study birds of central Victoria.

Brendan Sydes, Connecting Country’s president, has a long standing support role on two of Birdlife Australia’s committees.  In the June 2016 edition of the ‘Australian Birdlife’ magazine, there is an extensive interview with Brendan, where he talks about his role with Birdlife, his profession (as a lawyer with Environmental Justice Australia) and the importance of community-based approaches to landscape restoration – such as Connecting Country.  This magazine is sent to the 12,000 plus members of Birdlife Australia and is also available for sale in most newsagencies.  Connecting Country has already been contacted by people from elsewhere in Australia wanting to know more about what we do.

To read a scanned copy of the full article, follow this link (CLICK HERE).  For those out there with an interest and/or concern for our local birds, we encourage you to consider buying a copy of this magazine or joining up with Birdlife Australia as a member.

estore-mag-Dec152-451x451

 

 

19 August 2016 – Sustainable and Biodiverse Farms Field Day

Posted on 21 July, 2016 by Connecting Country

Holy Goat

Enjoy an informative tour of the Sutton Grange Organic Farm with Holy Goat Cheese owners Anna-Marie Monda and Carla Meurs.

Making a dream of a sustainable and biodiverse farm a reality is hard work, but some of the region’s most successful producers are here to help. Connecting Country and the North Central Catchment Management Authority (CMA) are bringing successful farmers together for a Farm Field Day on 19 August.

North Central CMA regional Landcare Facilitator Mandy Coulson said the field day is about learning from others and fully understanding the journey from idea to marketplace.

“It will be an opportunity to learn about local produce and the various journeys people are experiencing as they work towards achieving integrated sustainable land systems in the southern part of the region,” she said.

Carla Meurs and Anna-Marie Monda (Holy Goat Cheese), Katie Finlay  (Mount Alexander Fruit Gardens), Mandy Jean (Guildford Winery), John Cable (JCBee Honey), Ben Boxshall (Farm Forest Growers of Victoria), Sam White (Sidonia Road Organics), and Clare de Kok (Pig in a Box) will tell their stories of innovation, diversification and value adding.

farm field day flyer“Over 200 landholders in the Mount Alexander Region have worked with Connecting Country to improve the sustainability and biodiversity of their properties,” Connecting Country’s Krista Patterson-Majoor said.  “We are thrilled to provide this opportunity to see one of these inspiring farms in action and to learn from other local producers.”

The field day will be held at the Sutton Grange Community Hall and nearby Sutton Grange Organic Farm, the home of Holy Goat Cheese. The event is free and supported through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme and by Connecting Country, through funding from the Australian Government.

Click here to download a flyer and agenda for the day.

RSVP is essential by 8 August on info@nccma.vic.gov.au or 03 5448 7124.

farm field day agenda

 

Nature News: A beginner naturalist discovers frogs

Posted on 16 June, 2016 by Connecting Country

With all this rain, it’s a good time to share Naomi Raftery’s story of discovery of our more elusive local residents – frogs. She’s found that many different types exist in our waterways and backyards… you just need to use your ears to find them! This Nature News article appeared in the Midland Express on the 3rd May 2016. Also, if you have a copy of last weeks paper (Midland Express, 7 June 2016, page 17), you’ll find a great article by Max Schlachter on our nest box program. 

spottedmarshfrog

Another elusive local resident, the Spotted Marsh Frog, is best identified by its ‘tok tok tok’ call. Photo by Damien Cook

It started in February this year. We had recently moved into a house that shares a back fence with a usually dry creek. A summer downpour of rain and our quiet backyard gained a sort of roaring sound that could only be water. I went to look and rushed back inside to declare that there was a ‘raging torrent’ at the back of our new house.

With that summer downpour came a new interest in my life. Frogs. We knew they were out there, as the soothing sound of a natural amphibian chorus stayed with us in our sleep each night, but we hardly ever saw them. That is until I went into the back yard and saw one pushing itself forward with impossibly skinny back legs. At first I thought it was a rat but the movement was unmistakeable.  I was curious to find out more.

Frogs are hard to identify, so I used the free Frogs Field Guide from the North Central Catchment Management Authority to help. Species in our local area include three types of tree frogs, which have small round pads at the end of each toe, a special adaptation that helps them to climb trees. There are also nine species of a group known as the Southern frogs, which are not brightly coloured or endowed with poisonous secretions for your arrow tips like other frogs, but they are warty reminders to take care of our riparian areas for the next generation of tadpoles.

Identification required me to learn to listen. I started by trying to decipher just one croak. Slowly different noises came clear. There was the ‘bonk’ single call of the Pobblebonk and the ‘crick crick crick crick crick’ of the Common Froglet. It was fun to try and make this noise myself.

Recently the disused bathtub in our yard half filled with water. I walked past and noticed the water ripple and caught sight of a frog stuck in the bath. After fishing it out, my daughter and I released it in the reeds at the back of the house. I identified it as a Pobblebonk and they’re pretty common around here.  Less common are the bright green and very sweet Growling Grass Frogs. This species is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ under the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. A local expert heard them singing at Kalimna Park during the last flood.

As my frog identification journey continues, I’ve gathered a solid set of resources to help along the way. You can download a free copy of the Frogs Field Guide from www.nccma.vic.gov.au. Our local frogs are also highlighted in Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country by Chris Tzaros. I also like www.frogs.org.au.

 

Long Swamp Protected

Posted on 8 June, 2016 by Connecting Country

Last Wednesday (1 June 2016), Max Kay and myself (Saide Gray) from the Connecting Country Committee of Management were very fortunate to be able to attend the official launch of Long Swamp as a Trust for Nature covenanted wetland, now called the Murray Family Conservation Reserve: Long Swamp. After an initial gift of 40ha in 1992, the Trust for Nature, with support from the North Central Catchment Management Authority, donors and the community, recently purchased another 145ha of Long Swamp. Only one small site at the eastern end of the wetland remains in private hands.

longswamp

Long Swamp in January 2016. Photo by Geoff Park.

Long Swamp is a priority ecosystem as it supports an extensive area of cane-grass wetland vegetation, a restricted habitat essential for a range of rare and threatened species, such as the endangered Australasian Bittern, the vulnerable Australian Painted Snipe and the Growling Grass Frog. A small group of Brolgas was recorded as using the site prior to draining in 1965 and have been seen returning in more recent years.  The new addition also protects the ecological community fringing the Swamp, which is known as Grassy Eucalypt Woodland of the Victorian Volcanic Plain, nationally listed as critically endangered under the Australian Governments’ Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Long Swamp is the only deep freshwater marsh in the approximately 50 diverse wetlands in the Moolort Plains, between Maryborough and Castlemaine on the north-eastern tip of the Victorian Volcanic Plain –  Victoria’s only national biodiversity hotspot.

As the wetland is surrounded by private land, this was a rare opportunity to briefly explore the site. The reserve was officially opened by Lily D’Ambrosio (Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, and also Minister for Suburban Development), David Clark, (chair of the North Central Catchment Management Authority) and Max Ervin (Chair of Trust for Nature). We were guided on a walk through the swamp by local ecologist Damien Cook after a welcome to country by Graham Atkinson (chair of the Dja Dja Wurrung Aboriginal Clans Corporation).

Now the work of restoration begins. If you would like to know more about the Murray Family Conservation Reserve: Long Swamp, please contact Trust for Nature on 1800 99 99 33 or trustfornature@tfn.org.au.

The following photographs show some of the landscape and flora present at this new Wetland Conservation Reserve.

 

 

FOBIF Tree exhibition moves to Newstead

Posted on 30 May, 2016 by Connecting Country

Long-leaved Box Eucalyptus goniocalyx, juvenile leaf Strangways Photo by Patrick Kavanagh September 2014

Long-leaved Box Eucalyptus goniocalyx, juvenile leaf.  From Strangways
Photo by Patrick Kavanagh, September 2014

The Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests exhibition, Trees in the Mount Alexander Region, is moving to the new Newstead Railway Arts Hub after a month at TOGS café in March.

The show in Newstead will run throughout June 2016. It will include the photos from the TOGS show and a slide show which will have at least one image from people who sent in photos for the FOBIF Flickr site after a call for photos in January. There are 25 framed photos which are all are for sale with proceeds going to FOBIF.

The Arts Hub show will be open at weekends and the Queens Birthday holiday (Monday 13 June). Opening hours are 10 am to 4 pm. The address is Dundas Street, Newstead (directly across from Railway Hotel). If you would like to view the exhibition outside these days/hours, or help with staffing the show, contact Bronwyn Silver on 5475 1089.

The opening will be at 10.30 on Saturday 4 June 2016. There will be refreshments and everyone is welcome. Bernard Slattery from FOBIF will open the show.

Death Throes Yellow Box Eucalyptus melliodora. Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve Photo by Damian Kelly, November 2015

‘Death Throes.’  Yellow Box Eucalyptus melliodora. From Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve
Photo by Damian Kelly, November 2015

 

 

 

 

Remediation and Other Aspirations

Posted on 19 May, 2016 by Connecting Country

The recent Sutton Grange Landcare newsletter (May 2016 edition) featured an inspiring article by Pam and Grant Workman on their Connecting Country project. Their stunning property on the side of Mount Alexander forms an important part of our Mount Alexander to Metcalfe Link project, the first stage of which was funded through the state government’s Communities for Nature program in 2015.  Thanks to Grant and Pam for allowing us to share their story.

The direct seeding undertaken at the Workman's property.

The direct seeding undertaken at the Workman’s property.

As two townies who came to the country Pam and I took a while to acclimatise to our new environment. Living on anything beyond a suburban block was completely new to me although Pam had some childhood experiences of living in smaller rural communities.

What to do with 22 ha of rolling, if not steep land, subject to all the climatic vagaries of the Faraday Sutton Grange area. One of our sons from his strong interest in terra-culture systems developed a master management plan which in theory looked magnificent. Unsurprisingly it required more energy, time, water and reticulation infrastructure than we had available.

Enter ‘Connecting Country’. Another participant and community member, Natalie McCarthy extolled the virtues of this program at a recent Landcare meeting noting the excellent administration of the program and the responsive staff: we concur with all such affirmations. The program allowed us to isolate stock from our most fragile hill areas, direct seed more land than we would have believed possible, plant 750-800 trees and larger shrubs, and provide for weed and rabbit control.

So what had happened since we got underway in mid-2015? The wind blew, the rain failed to fall, the rabbits were endemic (migrating from adjoining land faster than we could control them), our weed control efforts while effective on our land, faced the onslaught of uncontrolled adjoining properties including the regional forest and we experienced record high numbers of kangaroos running through and over everything in their path. Sounds disastrous. And on the face of it, it was.  We lost nearly every planted tree and shrub being left with milk cartons strewn everywhere with only the odd bamboo stick to indicate where we had once planted.

Pam and Grant have found it pays to be patience when it comes to direct seeding.

Pam and Grant have found it pays to be patient when it comes to seeing direct seeding results.

The good news that it’s not all bad news!  We have learned a lot from observing how our particular situation responds to our efforts.  The direct seeding, after initially appearing to be a dead loss is coming to life like a giant awakening. We suspect that over the coming 2-3 years, even with modest rainfall we will have a significant cover from this process providing habitat for small birds and having a major erosion mitigation strategy in place.

What have we concluded from all of this in our circumstance on our specific block?  Big tick for the Connecting Country program and direct seeding. Planting trees and larger shrubs we think requires exclusion zones (roos, rabbits, weeds), and be no bigger than we can look after with our limited resources in any one year. Each successive year we should be able to create a new zone and go again. We also think that before embarking on such a venture it would have been really helpful to discuss what we planned to do with neighbours and try and include them in the program, if possible, but at the very least have them on board so that weed and rabbit control issues can be bipartisan particularly neared shared borders.

Most of this will be no surprise to those of you who have been custodians of the land in this area for a long time. Us newbies are still getting out heads around it and hopefully learning valuable lessons as we attempt to remediate our land.

Grant and Pam Workman

 

Swift Parrot count this weekend

Posted on 11 May, 2016 by Tanya Loos

Fans of the Swift Parrot are pleased to hear that the “swifties” are back in the Mount Alexander region, with a small flock of adults and juveniles reported on Geoff Park’s blog Natural Newstead (click here). These precious and declining migratory parrots visit the area every year in Autumn and winter. BirdLife Australia coordinates counts across the birds’ range, and we encourage you to participate this weekend (14-15 May 2016)! The Swift Parrot surveys can be undertaken in a couple of different ways.

Swift Parrot feasting on blossom, a beautiful photo by Chris Tzaros.

Swift Parrot feasting on blossom, a beautiful photo by Chris Tzaros.

  1. Join me on an outing to Kalimna Park this Saturday 14 May 2016. Kalimna Park is not renowned for a lot of Swiftie sightings but it is good to know where the birds are not occurring, as well as where they are. This walk is a rescheduled outing from last week which was cancelled due to bad weather. Please call or email to book a place and for further details. Phone 0400 458 910 or tanya@connectingcountry.org.au
  2. Head out on a survey yourself! The form to use is very easy and can be downloaded from the Birdlife website (click here). Elizabeth (Beth) Mellick from the Norman Wettenhall Foundation is coordinating the various Swiftie survey locations in our region, so if you are carrying out a survey, please email Beth at  beth@nwf.org.au.  The Muckleford-Newstead area is usually the best place to go to see some Swift Parrots!  However, some other potential locations that are not yet covered by birdwatchers include: Harcourt, Nuggetty, Welshmans Reef, and if you wish to go further south, Campbelltown and Talbot.

From Tanya Loos,
Coordinator of Connecting Country’s Woodland Bird Projects

 

Sleepy Snakes of Central Victoria

Posted on 5 April, 2016 by Connecting Country

If you look on page 11 of this week’s Midland Express newspaper (5 April 2016), you’ll see the third in our monthly series of Nature News articles.  Local resident Benjamin Boxshall has written a terrific article – Neighbourhood (Bird)watch.

In March, the Nature News article in the Midland Express was written by local Castlemaine naturalist, Bernard Slattery. Bernard shared his experiences about an occasional sight in our bush during these warmer days – snakes. Here is the article in case you missed out.

An eastern brown found in Fryers Forest. Photo: Bernard Slattery

An eastern brown found in Fryers Forest.
Photo: Bernard Slattery

Australians love horror stories about snakes. My favourite is this headline from the Sydney Daily Telegraph: ‘Deadly reptiles slither towards the urban sprawl.’ You’d think from this that your average snake is pretty keen to leap at your throat—right?

The funny thing is, that when you actually come across them, the main impressions you get are that they’re sleepy, or very shy and keen to get away. It’s a strange experience to be walking in the bush and to suddenly realise that the rustling sound you hear is a large snake sliding out of sight.

At Vaughan Springs last year I came within a few inches of standing on a Tiger Snake, curled up discreetly at the side of the track, and saw it only when it bolted at some speed down a steep slope. At moments like these you realise how strange our relationship to them is; they live at the margins of our perceptions and in our imagination, but are rarely willing to stay long in our company.

On my wanderings in this region the snake I’ve seen the most often is the Eastern Brown, which has enthusiastically adapted to modern living because of its taste for the rodents which hang around our settlements.

But the most intricately beautiful species for me is the Red-bellied Black.  The Australian Museum says of it: ‘This beautiful serpent shares our love of sunshine and water, and is a familiar sight to many outdoor adventurers … Attitudes towards these largely inoffensive snakes are slowly changing, however they are still often seen as a dangerous menace and unjustly persecuted.’

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A red-bellied black on the Midland Highway. Photo: Bernard Slattery

Once, riding my bike on the Pyrenees Highway, I saw a splendid Black Snake basking in the early morning sun in the middle of the road. Not being an expert, I wasn’t keen to go too close, but tried to move it by ignorantly throwing small sticks at it. It sleepily disregarded my interference, and soon suffered the inevitable fate: five million reptiles are killed on our roads every year, many of them deliberately.

You have to be sensible about snakes. If you are, the chances of being hurt by one are seriously low. On average less than 3 people die from snake bite every year in this country, some while unwisely trying to manhandle the creature.  By contrast, around 3 people a day are killed by cars in Australia.

Check out Museum Victoria’s Field Guide To Fauna App if you’d like more information on these fascinating local species.

 

Nature News: Dry times for the Diamond Firetail

Posted on 25 February, 2016 by Connecting Country

Connecting Country, in partnership with the Midland Express, has launched its new monthly ‘Nature News’ feature.  Look out for these these articles by local naturalists appearing in the Midland Express on the first Tuesday of the month (or thereabouts). For the February edition, Tanya Loos shared her experiences about one of our local feathered friends; the Diamond Firetail. This article is reprinted below.  Keep an eye out in the next one or two editions of the Midland Express for an article on local snakes by Bernard Slattery.

Of relevance to the article below, at the Saturday evening forum of our feathered five festival (19-20 March 2016), Andrew Bennett will be discussing his research on how woodland birds are responding to climatic change and Phil Ingamells will share some tips from the experts on how we all can help. Click here for more information on the festival and to secure your spot for the talks.

diamond-firetailbathing

A Diamond Firetail in the bird bath. Photo by Geoff Park

Dry Times for the Diamond Firetail.  By Tanya Loos.

As our gardens and paddocks wilt in the ongoing dry, access to water for fauna becomes ever more important. One visitor to the bird bath that is sure to delight the senses is the Diamond Firetail.

A small bird of great beauty, the Diamond Firetail sports a neat black and grey suit with white spots, set off by a dashing crimson rump and a coral-coloured bill and eye ring. Here in the Mount Alexander region we are fortunate to have small numbers of this rare bird in the local bushlands.

Diamond Firetails feed on seeds of both grasses and native trees such as she-oak. One day at the Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve south of Newstead, I chanced upon a lone Diamond Firetail foraging with a distinctive series of moves. He trundled along the ground, then leapt up to a grass seed head, grabbed it firmly in his bill, then stood on the grass head to eat the seeds. The process was repeated at the next grass tussock.

Living on seeds alone is thirsty work, and Diamond Firetails need a safe source of water in their bushland or woodland habitat. In dry times, one way to help firetails and other birds is through the provision of a bird bath or two. Bird baths are a wonderful way to enjoy your local birds, but do bear in mind they require daily maintenance to ensure the water is clean, and always topped up.

It is too hot and dry for breeding at the moment, but after the rains return and seeding grasses are available, nesting will occur anytime from August. To attract the female, the male Diamond Firetail selects a long piece of grass with a seed head, and holds it tightly in his bill. He then fluffs his spotted flank feathers and sings as he bobs up and down on the perch.

If the female approves, they will mate in the privacy of the nest. The nest is a domed affair, of grasses, seed heads and roots, and may be found in a mistletoe clump or a thick shrub such as Hedge Wattle. A few years ago, I observed a Diamond Firetail nest built amongst the large sticks of the base of a Wedge-tailed Eagle nest!

The Diamond Firetail is less common than it once was, largely due to the removal of suitable habitat. Happily small populations are still being reported in areas such as Muckleford, Guildford, Fryerstown and Sedgwick. If you have Diamond Firetails visiting your garden, or you see some out in the bush, we would love to hear from you!

For more information about the Diamond Firetail and other woodland birds, visit Connecting Country’s website: www.connectingcountry.org.au or contact Tanya on tanya@connectingcountry.org.au.

 

Fancy seeing your photos at the next FOBIF exhibition?

Posted on 17 December, 2015 by Tanya Loos

Many of you will be familiar with the stunning photography exhibitions that are curated by the Friends of Box-Ironbark Forests (FOBIF), featuring intricate moss portraits, woodland birds and other flora and fauna of our beautiful area.  The theme of the next FOBIF photo exhibition is Trees in the Mount Alexander Region, and FOBIF are calling for potential photographers now.

TOGS in Castlemaine will host the exhibition in March 2016 and later in the year the Newstead Railway Arts Hub has kindly agreed host the same exhibition. Photos will be for sale to cover FOBIF costs.

The tree theme also allows photos of  close-ups of buds, nuts and flowers – and the fauna that live among the tree bark and foliage. For more information on submitting photos, and the guidelines click here.

We are excited at Connecting Country because March is also the month of the first Feathered Five Festival – a two day celebration of five very special woodland birds that live in our local forests. More on this soon….

yellow box maybe at Kyneton woodlands Barton property

This is a magnificent tree – which I think is a Manna Gum.  FOBIF members have kindly offered to assist in the correct identification of the trees for any submitted photos. Picture by Tanya Loos

 

All Good Things Must Come to an End…

Posted on 30 November, 2015 by Connecting Country

2015 Works Crew L to R with crew leader Alex, Lauren, Jason and Ned

2015 Works Crew L to R with crew leader Alex, Lauren, Jason and Ned

Works Crew 2015 – Thanks to Ned, Lauren and Jason

Each year, we employ our own Works Crew as part of the Connecting Landscapes program. The Crew assists land holders with the on-ground works agreed upon in their project management plan. The crew also receive formal and on-the-job training and experience.

Lauren, Ned and Jason finished up at the end of October 2015 after completing all planned project activities successfully. All outcomes were delivered on time, within budget and more important – injury free! It is so nice to work with people who are passionate about what they are doing and are willing to learn from one another. In that regards Connecting Country has been very fortunate over the last three years.  The dedication and commitment all crew members have shown is commendable and no doubt they will get far in future careers – whichever way they want go.

The 2015 Crew commenced in April at the onset of cooler weather with the more strenuous activity of fence building.  A lot of our restoration activities took place this year in the Muckleford Valley, where stock exclusion fences were installed along the Muckleford Creek and its tributaries. Besides conventional stock fences, the crew installed a large electric fence system spanning over 8 kilometres. This fence contained more than 35 kilometres of wire!

On the flanks of Mount Alexander we constructed a challenging fence in very steep terrain to protect direct seeding from stock. As vehicle access was limited, we had to drag up materials with ropes. The views were truly spectacular though; on clear days we could see all the way to the Colbinabbin Range, Mt Ida and Mt Macedon.

This year, we adopted a different way of tube stock planting by using a motorised earth auger to create a larger and deeper hole for easier root penetration and capturing more moisture. Hopefully this will lead to a higher growth and plant survival rates.

The Works Crew works program finished up nicely with seed collecting, woody weed control, rabbit fumigation and some exotic tree felling.

Connecting Country offers the opportunity to be part of our works crew every year to a new group of local people. Positions for the 2016 Works Crew will be advertised over this summer via the Connecting Country website and local newspapers.

Jason installing a gate fitting kit with a petrol-powered drill

Jason installing a gate fitting kit with a petrol-powered drill

 

Lauren along fenceline

Lauren only builds straight fences

 

Ned with pick

Ned clears a fenceline

Images from Shane Carey

 

Greening the Blue Hills

Posted on 30 November, 2015 by Connecting Country

Landholders in the Blue Hills, Tusker Patterson and Kerri Peacoulakis, are involved in Connecting Country’s Habitat for Bush Bird’s project. Here Kerri shares their inspiring story…

Tusker and I purchased our property over 3 years ago and it has been a great journey ever since. We own just over 40 hectares opposite the Blue Hills. More then half of our property is cleared land with an amazing erosion gully running through the centre of the property. The land use to used for grazing sheep. Our goals since purchasing the property are – one, build our family home. Two, encourage the bird life down from the Blue Hills and three planting out the erosion gully to help prevent it from eroding any further. Which in turn will help encouraging the bird life. Among many other things.

It was Tusker’s mum (Jane Mitchell) whom came to us with this amazing bird project proposal and encouraged us to move forward with the project. After meeting with the lovely Tanya Loos how could we not sign. Her enthusiasm and excitement was very encouraging.

We are now a few months in to the project and a lot has been happening. We have had over 8 hectares of direct seeding. Close to 1000 trees, shrubs and grasses have already been planted and many more to come. Thanks to our amazing family’s for helping us with the planting. Since no sheep have been on the property since we purchased the land a lot of re-vegetation has started to happen.

I have been lucky enough to see 3 of the 5 feathered five in close proximity to our property, include the Hooded Robin, Brown Treecreeper and the Jacky Winter. We are both very excited to see the property evolve and grow over the coming years and know that we are doing our little bit to help.

Peacoulakis before and after

Above: Before the project started, Below: The site today. Photos by Kerri Peacoulakis