Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

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

Posted on 23 September, 2020 by Ivan

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

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

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

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

When: Saturday 17 October 2020

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

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

Practical session with mentor: 1.30 pm to 4.00 pm

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

Cost: both sessions are free of charge

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

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

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

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

 

When is a Grey Butcherbird a Long-billed Corella?

Posted on 23 September, 2020 by Ivan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sue Boekel
Member, Birdlife Castlemaine and District

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

 

Hot off the press: 2021 woodland birds calendar

Posted on 17 September, 2020 by Ivan

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Last chance to book for AGM 2020

Posted on 17 September, 2020 by Ivan

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

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

Our AGM 2020 speakers:

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

 

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

 

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

AGM formalities:

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

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

 

‘Tricky birds’ event delivered to a packed online audience

Posted on 3 September, 2020 by Ivan

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 

Further information on our expert presenters

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

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

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

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

 

Birdata: Become a citizen science superhero

Posted on 1 September, 2020 by Jess

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

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

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

Supported by Lotterywest.

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

Join on zoom: click here

For more information: click here

 

Bird of the month: Red-browed Finch

Posted on 27 August, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our sixth Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly and a splendid image from Martin Tatton.

The small but charismatic Red-browed Finch

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Red-browed Finch nest (photo by Damian Kelly)

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-browed Finch nest. Ph

oto by Damian Kelly

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beginner birdwatching with Inala Foundation

Posted on 13 August, 2020 by Jess

The Inala Foundation, a habitat conservation organisation based in Bruny Island, Tasmania, is running a free online event titled a ‘Beginner’s Guide to Birdwatching’. We think this is a fantastic theme for an event, as we know there’s a strong interest in bird watching in our local Mount Alexander region. Interestingly, we’ve recently been planning our own ‘Birding for beginners’ event for later in 2020, but want to share this in case it’s of interest to the community in the meantime. Please see the details below from the Inala Foundation, including how to register. 

The Swift Parrot enjoys habitat in Bruny Island, Tasmania, as well here in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria (Photo: Michael Gooch)

 

Birdwatching is a great activity that everyone can enjoy. During the COVID-19 lockdown period we have seen a huge increase in the number of new birdwatchers around the world. Many people are navigating their way through the maze that is birdwatching optics and scratching their heads about learning to ID birds, particularly how to differentiate some of the trickier species.

The Inala beginners guide to birdwatching answers all these questions and more. Join us online on Saturday 22 August 2020 for a free introduction and live question/answer session.

When: Saturday 22 August 2020, 10:00 am – 11:00 am
Cost: Free
To register and find more information: click here

 

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

Posted on 23 July, 2020 by Ivan

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

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

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

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

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

Tricky bird experts: Chris Tzaros and Geoff Park

 

 

Bird of the month: Batman and Robin

Posted on 23 July, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our sixth Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Have your say on ethical birding guidelines

Posted on 16 July, 2020 by Ivan

 

Bird watching is a hobby that can be enjoyed alone or in groups (photo: Connecting Country)

We received a request from BirdLife Australia, asking for assistance in reaching bird watchers in our region with a survey on ethical birding guidelines. The Mount Alexander region of central Victoria is a bird watching destination, with Castlemaine even having its own BirdLife Castlemaine District branch. Anyone is welcome to join their monthly bird walks, which give new bird watchers a chance to learn from the local gurus and enjoy some of our region’s best natural hotspots.

Please take the time to complete the survey on ethical birding guidelines.

Here are the details from BirdLife Australia

BirdLife Australia is in the process of updating our Ethical Birding Guidelines, which were last drafted in 2012. We want these guidelines to be embraced by all of BirdLife Australia, and therefore we wanted to give you, the network, the opportunity to have your say. Some of the changes may impact some of your activities, or you may feel passionate about key areas of ethical birding, or you might just be curious about something.

Whatever your thoughts, BirdLife would love to hear your voice on this. As a disclaimer, opinions on ethical birding can differ over specific details, so while we endeavour to incorporate your feedback, we may not be able to include all of your personal suggestions, where suggestions clash between responses.

We have attached a copy of the guidelines as they stand, BLA Ethical Birding Guidelines Draft July 2020, for you to have a read of, and then to have your say – click here

Responses close 21 July 2020, so get your responses in fast.

Furthermore, feel free to forward this message to your wider committees and supporters. The more responses we get, the best we can ensure that the guidelines will be embraced by all.

BirdLife Australia

 

A new look at how birds talk, work, play, parent and think – 15 July 2020

Posted on 1 July, 2020 by Ivan

We recently discovered a free online event hosted by the Geelong Regional Library Network that will interest the bird lovers in our community. The event will feature two superstars of bird zooniverse, Jennifer Ackerman from the USA and our own Sean Dooley, discussing a new look at how birds talk, work, play, parent and think. You may have seen a fantastic recent article by Sean Dooley in The Guardian newspaper on how the dawn chorus of birds gives him hope and connection. Well worth a read. Please see the following details from the Geelong Regional Libraries website on how to register and what to expect at the event.

Please contact the organisers at Geelong Regional Libraries if you have any questions about this online event

A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think: 15 July 2020

Jennifer Ackerman is the New York Times bestselling author of The Genius of Birds, and has been writing about science, nature, and human biology for almost three decades. Join her online from her home in the USA in a twitchers’ event you won’t want to miss! Jennifer is joining us online from the USA and will be talking with renowned Australian birdwatcher, Sean Dooley, author of The Big Twitch and National Public Affairs Manager for Birdlife Australia. He is currently presenting the ‘squawkback’ segment on ABC Melbourne radio every Thursday afternoon.

REGISTER HERE

Date: Wednesday 15 July 2020 from 7:30 to 8:30 pm

Jennifer Ackerman: Author of The Bird Way

Jennifer Ackerman has been writing about science, nature, and human biology for almost three decades. Her most recent books include Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: a day in the life of your body; Ah-Choo: the uncommon life of the common cold; Chance in the House of Fate: a natural history of heredity; The Genius of Birds; and Birds by the Shore. A contributor to Scientific American, National Geographic, The New York Times, and many other publications, Ackerman is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in Nonfiction, a Bunting Fellowship, and a grant from the Alfred P Sloan Foundation.

Sean Dooley: Facilitator

Sean Dooley is a renowned Australian birdwatcher, author of The Big Twitch and former holder of the Australian Big Year twitching record. He is also National Public Affairs Manager for Birdlife Australia. He is currently presenting the ‘squawkback’ segment on ABC Melbourne radio every Thursday afternoon.

 

Bird of the month: Black Falcon and Brown Falcon

Posted on 25 June, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our fifith Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly and Geoff Park, and photographs from Ash Vigus. 

Black Falcon (Falco subniger) and Brown Falcon (Falco berigora) comparison

Ash Vigus (local bird enthusiast) took some stunning photos of Black Falcons this month, so here’s a bit of a comparison between this raptor and its cousin, the Brown Falcon. In Central Victoria Brown Falcons are relatively common, whereas Black Falcons are relatively rare, but both species are quite hard to tell apart.

As usual on this blog, I have been assisted by local writer, photographer and bird expert, Damian Kelly. He had this to say:

‘A few thoughts on the Black Falcon, it is a nomadic species that prefers the drier inland. However, it can be seen at places as diverse as the Moolort Plains and the Western Treatment Plant near Werribee. Being an opportunist, it likes places with easy pickings as it is the pirate of the raptors – aggressively chasing down other raptors with prey and snatching it from them. Hence the Western Treatment Plant with lots of prey, including Brown Quail and plenty of other raptors such as Brown Falcons and Black-shouldered Kites, which it tries to pirate. Sometimes referred to as the bully of the raptor world, it has long, sharply pointed wings and flies rapidly – quite a sight! I have seen them following cattle and sheep as they flush up prey such as Pipits and they will hang out around areas with quail. I have also seen them along Rodborough Road (Moolort), a place where mobs of Brown Quail can be seen near clumps of taller grasses. Around this area, Moolort and the road to Clunes are likely spots. Further afield the Western Treatment Plant in near Werribee, is the place to see them.’

Brown Falcon – pale morph, with its pale chest, more upright stance and tail a similar length to its wings (photo by Ash Vigus)

 

Newstead local, prowler of the Moolort Plains, blogger and bird expert, Ecologist Geoff Park has sound advice on Black Falcons and how to distinguish them from Brown Falcons. He says the flight pattern of the two species is quite distinct, with the Brown Falcon appearing sluggish whereas the Black Falcon is more like a Peregrine Falcon – very fast. When perched the Black Falcon appears to be crouched, with a distinct long tail extending past the wings, unlike Brown Falcons whose tails are shorter. Also the Black Falcon has a dark chest, unlike the Brown Falcon.

To confuse the issue, Brown falcons come in three different morphs – pale, intermediate and dark – making it confusing when looking at a Black Falcon. However, the flight pattern, perched stance, tail length and chest colour will give you a nice identification tool kit. For further information on Black and Brown Falcons (or any birds local to Newstead) check out Geoff Park’s fascinating blog, Natural Newstead. Or take a drive on the Moolort Plains west of Newstead in central Victoria, and have a look for various raptor species, including Brown Falcons, and if you’re lucky, Black Falcons.

Black Falcon in its typically crouched perch and long tail, on the Moolort Plains (photo by Ash Vigus)

 

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

For more information about these birds and to listen to the call of a Black or Brown Falcon – click here

 

 

 

Citizen science projects you can get involved in right now

Posted on 25 June, 2020 by Ivan

The rise and rise of citizen science projects across our region has been heartwarming over the past decade. The passion shown by the Mount Alexander community has been outstanding, with Connecting Country recruiting many skilled and dedicated volunteers to conduct ecological monitoring that collects vital information about the state of our wildlife and environment. In recent years we’ve adapted Connecting Country’s ecological monitoring programs to be directed and delivered by a team of dedicated volunteers, coordinated and supported by a paid staff member. We celebrate our much-loved citizen scientists wherever possible.

Connecting Country’s monitoring projects are only a few of the hundreds of citizen science projects across the nation. Many of these keep important research going and improve the knowledge pool in sectors that cannot attract funding.

We came across an excellent summary of the numerous and varied citizen science projects across the nation, listed on the Australian Broadcasting Commission website. As the article suggests, the recent COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in many people reporting feelings of moderate to high levels of anxiety and depression during this period of uncertainty. The article explains that in a survey of more than 54,000 people last year, more than three-quarters of Australians thought that spending more time in nature would make us happier.

Connecting Country aims to connect our community with the landscape and build their capacity to manage the land sustainably. We feel that our citizen science projects enable the community to be part of caring for our landscape and environment. Our projects can enable people to feel a little hope about reversing ecosystem degradation and be part of the solution at a local scale, while contributing to the larger picture.

Please enjoy a selection of photos from our various citizen science projects and events over the past decade.

The ABC article summarises some impressive projects that are currently up and running working wonders across our nation. The Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA) has a project finder that currently lists 513 citizen science projects right across Australia that you can get involved in. This is a great way to see what is happening in your local area, or to find a specific topic or cause that may interest you as a volunteer.

To access the full ABC article – click here

 

 

 

 

And the winners are…..woodland birds photography competition 2020

Posted on 18 June, 2020 by Ivan

Connecting Country would like to extend a huge thank you to our community for the fantastic entries into our 2020 woodland birds photography competition. We received a very high number of quality entries for this competition, far more than we expected.

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

The judging panel have completed reviewing all the entries and awarded 13 winners to feature in Connecting Country’s 2021 woodland birds calendar – one for the front cover of the calendar, and one bird for each month of the year. Please enjoy the winning photographs below, including the talented photographer behind each image.

The 2021 calendar will be available to purchase in the coming months, so stay tuned and don’t purchase a new calendar quite yet!

Please email us at info@connectingcountry.org.au if you’d like a copy put aside for you.

 

 

Tis the season to be planting

Posted on 4 June, 2020 by Ivan

Connecting Country are busily preparing to roll out our 2020 revegetation projects across the region over the next few months, with an abundance of moisture and perfect growing conditions. Recent rainfall in central Victoria means planting conditions are likely to be particularly good compared with in recent years, which has us excited about the prospects for the 4,500 plants ready at the Connecting Country depot.

Of the 4,500 plants, 1,500 have been provided by TreeProject and the remaining provided through Connecting Country’s funded landscape restoration projects  TreeProject is a wonderful not-for-profit group that connects landholders and community groups with volunteers who propagate low-cost indigenous seedlings to revegetate degraded landscapes. TreeProject is able to keep seedling costs as low as possible thanks to the commitment and enthusiasm of the volunteers who propagate the seedlings in their backyards from materials TreeProject supplies.

Our Landscape Restoration Coordinator, Bonnie Humphreys, has spent the past few weeks preparing for plant delivery and ensuring the plants are in top condition. Bonnie said ‘Connecting Country has 23 landholders signed up for the current 2020 batch of plants and projects, but we will be looking to expand to reach further landowners if more funding comes along. We are very lucky to have some terrific local plant suppliers, such as Newstead Natives, an indigenous plant nursery that propagates local plants for our region for habitat restoration’. Please enjoy some photos of the delicious plants, with our staff members Bonnie Humpheys, Jacqui Slingo and Ivan Carter.

Over the past decade, Connecting Country has worked with over 250 landholders and groups to enhance more than 10,000 hectares of habitat across the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. This equates to approximately 6 percent of the Mount Alexander Shire. ‘It has been my pleasure to again be part of delivering Connecting Country’s revegetation program this year. We have some great projects enabling us to support landholders to restore and create valuable habitat across the shire.’ said Bonnie.

Unfortunately, we do not have any current capacity for additional landowners to join our restoration projects, but are actively seeking further funding. We do encourage landowners to fill out our expression of interest form, or contact us for advice how to conduct restoration work on their properties for optimal biodiversity outcomes. Once we have your details on file, we can let you know of opportunities for assistance as they arise. To access the expression of interest form – click here

To find out more about our current projects or discuss your eligibility, please email us at info@connectingcountry.org.au. If you have filled out an expression of interest form in the past 12 months, we have you on file and you don’t need to fill in another form, but you can always let us know you are still interested via email.

Connecting Country has a long-standing history of restoring landscapes across our region (photo: Connecting Country archive)

 

Addressing our wildlife cat-astrophe: Threatened Species Recovery Hub

Posted on 4 June, 2020 by Ivan

While we love our furry feline friends, it’s well documented that cats can have a devastating impact on our native wildlife. Why do cats always get their way: because they are very purr-suasive, and owners often let them out to forage and hunt during the day and night. The following interesting article from the clever folk at the Threatened Species Recovery Hub highlights some new research about Australia’s cat problem and potential solutions. For more information, the book Cats in Australia by John Woinarski, Sarah Legge and Chris Dickman discusses the impact of cats in Australia, their relationship with people, and their management. It can be purchased from CSIRO Publishing and accessed from The National Library of Australia.

This article is provided courtesy of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub.

Addressing our wildlife cat-astrophe

Predation by cats is a key threat to at least 123 threatened species in Australia. Better understanding and reducing the impact of feral cats on susceptible wildlife has been a major area of research for the Threatened Species Recovery Hub. Hub Deputy Directors Professors Sarah Legge and John Woinarski take a look at our research to address Australia’s cat problem.

Conservationists have worried about what cats do to Australian wildlife for over a century. For example, Archibald Campbell, a prominent naturalist, wrote in a 1906 issue of The Emu: ‘Undoubtedly, if many of our highly interesting and beautiful birds, especially ground-loving species, are to be preserved from total extinction, we must … at no distant date face squarely a wild-cat destruction scheme.’ But these warnings didn’t precipitate much action. The very quality that makes cats such appealing pets – their spectral, cagey guile – makes them noncompliant subjects for research and management. Until recently, compared to other invasive vertebrate species like foxes and rabbits (for which research and management was prioritised because of their recognised detriment to agriculture), we knew much less about cat ecology and the extent of their impacts, and cats had a reputation for being impossible to control.

However, over the past decade or so, there have been some noteworthy successes in the control of feral cats, especially the development of a cat-specific poison bait presentation (Eradicat®) in Western Australia, and eradication of cats from islands and from within large fenced areas on the mainland, with consequent benefits to many threatened species.

From about 10 years ago, some key technological advances, including the miniaturisation of tracking devices and the advent of affordable camera traps, as well as innovations such as using tracking dogs, have enabled new research approaches for cats, and many other relatively small, cryptic species.

The surge of cat research and management has been supported by policy leadership from governments, including the Australian Government, which shone a spotlight on cats in the Threatened Species Strategy, revised the national Threat Abatement Plan for cats, encouraged greater alignment of policy and management of cats across the states and territories, and funded a body of research to improve cat management through the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the National Environmental Science Program.

Issue 14 of Science for Saving Species showcases some of the hub’s portfolio of interlinked and collaborative research projects on cats, developed following a large workshop held in 2015 that identified major knowledge gaps and opportunities. This portfolio has two broad components; one component has gathered the evidence base for the extent and scale of cat impacts, by comprehensively synthesising published and unpublished work. This research established the first estimate for the cat population size in Australia and built on that to describe spatial patterns of cat predation (and overall tolls) on mammals, birds, reptiles, with estimates for frogs and invertebrates available soon.

Dr Hugh McGregor from the University of Tasmania is working with Arid Recovery to fill important knowledge gaps about cat diets, hunting behaviour and relationships with rabbits. Image: Nicolas Rakotopare

 

The hub has many on-ground research projects about how to reduce cat impacts, shown here grouped by broad management option. The map of Australia shows the spatial variation in cat density during wet years, new knowledge which was produced by the evidence-gathering component of the program.

Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Rosie Willacy, John Davies, Jaana Dielenberg, Stephanie Todd, William La Marca, Bronwyn Hradsky, Hugh McGregor/Arid Recovery, Linda van Bommel, F L’Hotellier, AWC, William La Marca, Diver Dave – Wikimedia – CC BY SA 3.0, Jody Gates, Nicolas Rakotopare , Hugh McGregor/Arid Recovery.

 

The approach is currently being extended to foxes; the complementary suites of cat and fox studies will help us understand how the relative impacts of these two predators vary over space and time, and thus guide the relative investment in control efforts for foxes and cats.

The evidence-gathering component of the cat research program has also identified which mammal and bird species are most sensitive to predation by cats. Some native species can persist only in the near-absence of cats (and foxes), and have survived extinction only because populations naturally exist on, or have been translocated to, islands or mainland fenced areas that are cat- and fox-free. The hub’s research identified which of these species were currently inadequately protected, and recommended sites for future island and fencing projects that would increase the level of protection most effectively and efficiently across the set of predator-susceptible mammal species.

The second component of the hub’s cat research program comprises a suite of field-based projects that aim to improve the way we manage cats at different scales (from sites to landscapes) using existing as well as novel control options. This has included work to extend and improve the way we use existing poison-baits, in places as diverse as Kangaroo Island, the Pilbara and the Queensland brigalow. At Pullen Pullen, research is aiming to make cat trapping and shooting ‘smarter’ by identifying when and where individual cats need to be removed to protect populations of highly threatened species like night parrots.

An example of research into a novel approach involves trials of whether ‘guardian dogs’ can effectively repel foxes and cats from around populations of eastern barred bandicoots in Victoria.

Successfully used to protect agricultural species, guardian dogs are being trialled by the hub to see whether they can effectively protect populations of eastern barred bandicoots in Victoria. Image: Linda Van Bommel

 

Several field projects are investigating how we can reduce cat impacts across very large landscapes by managing other threats that interact with cat predation. For example, reducing rabbits can dramatically lower cat density, especially if matched with integrated cat control to minimise prey-switching events. In a reverse example, a project on Christmas Island aims to find out if black rats will increase as a result of the island’s cat eradication program, and how rats can be monitored for increases that could affect populations of endemic birds.

Earlier work showed that managing fire and livestock grazing in ways that maintain structurally diverse ground vegetation can reduce cat predation, at least in some circumstances. Fire and grazing management is an approach to cat control that could be implemented across very large landscapes, with multiple benefits, so the generality of the interactions between predators, fire and grazing is being investigated in habitats as diverse as the Victorian Otways, Kakadu, the stony deserts, the wet tropics and the Tiwi islands .

Other research in western New South Wales Sarah Legge and the Simpson Desert is investigating The Australian National University interactions between cats, foxes and dingoes, The University of Queensland and whether manipulating the densities of larger predators could influence the density and or activity of smaller predators.

Hub research has identified which Australian mammal species are the most highly susceptible to cat predation and should be prioritised for inclusion in Australia’s havens network of cat- and fox-free islands and fenced areas. Image: Jaana Dielenberg

 

The hub’s cat research has generated enormous interest in the print, online and television media, and has contributed to a heightened awareness about cat impacts, and greater support for their management in Australia compared with other countries. This support shouldn’t be taken for granted; in the past year, new research directions have included a focus on how we can continue to shape the conversation about cat impacts and management with a broad cross-section of the public by working with key stakeholders on targeted information exchange. To support this initiative, recent work has compiled detailed evidence about the impacts of pet cats on wildlife, and the economic burden of cat-borne diseases like toxoplasmosis that have substantial effects on human health and livestock production. Stay tuned for these results in future issues of Science for Saving Species.

Campbell was right to worry about cats, and a century later we are still worried. But our understanding of cat impacts, which native species are most at risk, and the range and effectiveness of management options, have improved considerably. Cat management is challenging but not impossible, and blue-sky ideas including using gene drives to reduce cat populations, and accelerating selection for predator avoidance, are just emerging. With continued policy and public support, management effort and research innovation, we may be able to win the fight that Campbell advocated so long ago: to protect our wildlife from the deadly threat posed by cats.

Sarah Legge – The Australian National University, The University of Queensland and Charles Darwin University

John Woinarski – Charles Darwin University

 

Stay home and enjoy birds with BirdLife

Posted on 28 May, 2020 by Ivan

In this post we explore some more marvelous ideas from BirdLife Australia for enjoying birds in our backyards and around the home, during this period of COVID-19 related restrictions and cold weather. Fortunately there are many online resources to keep us learning and connected to nature, while we stay safely at home. Remember to you use BirdLife’s Birdata App to enter your bird survey results and observations of our amazing bird life. One of the delights of bird watching has always been that you can do it anywhere, including right at home. No matter where we are, there’s usually a bird not far away.

Here are some ways we can continue to enjoy the beauty of our feathered friends, and have fun and learn new skills while our activities are restricted:

  • Test your Aussie bird knowledge and keep your mind limber with quick crosswords! – visit The Cross-Bird
  • Find out about that strange bird is perched on the verandah. Bird Finder allows you to search, browse or find information about individual Australian birds. More birds will be added over time. Alternatively you can view the full list of species.
  • Keep the kids chirpy. The Birds in Backyards team have put together some incredible resources to keep the family entertained, and help them learn about amazing birds and places at the same time.
  • Be inspired by the beauty of Australia’s birds – browse the gallery of winners of the BirdLife Australia Photography Awards, or contemplate what images you’ll enter in the 2020 competition.
  • Be transported to the beach from the comfort of your living room with these unique, downloadable activity books for kids, featuring stories, board games, puzzles, and more!
  • View the BIBY TV YouTube channel for a wonderful range of videos to keep you entertained – everything from gardening tips, to bird profiles and incredible conservation tales.
  • Follow the social media feeds on the link below, including the ‘have you ever asked #whatbirdisthat?’, which allows you to ask for bird identification help with hashtags on social media.

For more ideas, visit the ‘Birding at home’ page of the BirdLife Australia website.

 

 

We plant, we look, we learn, we share, we cycle

Posted on 28 May, 2020 by Ivan

We received a fabulous Landcare story written by Beth Mellick from Muckleford Catchment Landcare Group, as part of Connecting Country’s ‘Landcare Stories’ series. The story highlights the importance of Landcare in our community, and how Landcare can be fun and engaging in many different ways across our diverse community. Since early 2012 Connecting Country has employed a local Landcare Facilitator to support the work of community land management groups in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria.

To join a local Landcare group, please visit our list of contact details for the Mount Alexander region – click here

Please enjoy the following words by Beth Mellick. For more details about Muckleford Catchment Landcare and their current activities – click here

Muckleford Catchment Landcare is made up of a vibrant group of landholders who are interested in being sustainable and want to know more about protecting their local environment.

We help each other out, share information and get together to plant trees to increase habitat connectivity. We hold workshops and events, and are active around protecting our roadsides and native species. We monitor nest boxes once a year at the Walmer Conservation Reserve, and have an annual bike ride. We leave weed control to contractors, and concentrate our time on activities that are enjoyable, interesting and social.

Once a year we get together and plan our activities for the following year: looking at someone else’s property, workshops on something we want to know (like how to retain water in the landscape or turn a dam into a wetland), and where we can plant habitat for strategic connections in the Muckleford landscape. We also look to partner with Connecting Country and other local groups on projects that will benefit our members.

We wanted to do something different – something fun that we could make an annual event for members to look forward to. We use the bike lane beside the railway line, starting at the Muckleford train station, going through Maldon and ending up at a local pub for lunch, before we return. We attract new members to this event. They often bring friends and family members of all ages and interests to get involved, and we love it.

Muckleford Catchment Landcare aims to:

  • Improve water quality in the Muckleford Creek and its tributaries.
  • Conserve soil in the Muckleford Creek catchment.
  • Create a healthy and viable balance between farming and biodiversity.
  • Encourage discussion, debate, participation and co-operation between landholders within the catchment.
  • Harness local knowledge and expertise to improve the environment and productivity.
  • Assist landholders to access funding for land improvement projects.

Annual Muckleford Landcare bike ride (photo: Muckleford Catchment Landcare Group)

 

 

Please help: nature and COVID-19 survey

Posted on 28 May, 2020 by Ivan

In recent years our partners at Remember the Wild were kindly produced two outstanding videos on the work and achievements at Connecting Country – a five-minute film and a one-minute summary. We are very proud of our story. To revisit these videos – click here

Remember The Wild recently produced a brief survey to understand how people’s relationship with nature has been impacted by social distancing measures. Survey results will be used to produce a report that they hope will contribute to broader awareness of the importance of nature in people’s lives. This report will be made available to the public and may provide groups working in the area of human-nature relationships with a tool to demonstrate the value of our work.

Remember the Wild would love your help in generating increased responses to their survey. They have some really interesting responses so far and see this is an important subject on the minds of many.

About the survey

COVID-19 has affected us all differently, impacting various aspects of our daily lives. Part of this impact may include our access to the natural world. Being at home may provide some of us with opportunities to spend time in the garden, whereas for others it may limit how often we get to go outside. It is important that we understand the impact of COVID-19 on our community’s relationship with the natural world, as it helps inform decision making around the accessibility of natural areas. Remember The Wild is asking our community to bolster such knowledge by completing this short, anonymous survey. Please support their quest for understanding by describing how your relationship with nature has, or has not, changed during these times of social distancing.

Survey link

To complete the survey – click here

About Remember The Wild

Remember The Wild is Australia’s first nature connection charity. They seek to bring experiences of the natural world back into our lives, for the benefit of both the environment and ourselves. Dedicated to improving public access to nature, they reconnect communities with the local environment and help people remember why the wild matters.

Connecting Country: Safeguarding Woodland Birds