Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Give me shelter…and protection from cats

Posted on 14 January, 2021 by Ivan

We recently discovered an interesting and relevant article on the ABC website, highlighting new research into alternative methods of protecting our native wildlife from feral cats. We may not all know the harrowing statistics, but a recent study by the Australian National University (ANU) concluded that on average each pet cat kills about 75 native animals per year, but many of these kills are never witnessed by their owners. They concluded that this equates to cats killing more than 1.5 billion native animals per year.

Any advancements in protecting our native wildlife from cats will be beneficial in addressing the extinction crisis. The ABC article highlights research conducted by the University of Tasmania, which looked at the impact of the feral cat compared to the native spotted quoll.  They concluded that Australia’s wildlife is up to 200 times more likely to come across a deadly feral cat than an equivalent native predator.

A place to hide is vital to the survival of many native animals. Connecting Country has been restoring missing understorey plants like Spreading Wattle for over a decade. (photo: Connecting Country)

This new research reinforces Connecting Country’s restoration strategy of reintroducing missing understorey species into the landscape, including prickly plants and ground cover species. While trees are great, it is vital to have a complex community of understorey species, occupying different strata our the forest and woodlands.

The full article is available from the ABC website – click here

 

 

 

Bird walk at Eganstown: Saturday 9 January 2021

Posted on 7 January, 2021 by Ivan

BirdLife Castlemaine’s beloved bird walks are commencing again with a leisurely stroll down through the Deep Creek Streamside Reserve, Eganstown, ten minutes drive west of Daylesford in central Victoria. It is the first walk for 2021, with 2020’s walks being interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Deep Creek Streamside Reserve has some excellent stands of mature grassy woodlands and herb-rich foothill forests, and will no doubt provide some excellent bird watching opportunities. Please see the details below, kindly provided by Birdlife Castlemaine.

Bird Walk – Saturday 9 January 2021 – Deep Creek Streamside Reserve, Eganstown

Hopefully, if the COVID-19 situation allows we will be able to have a full round of Bird Walks in 2021! Our 2021 program begins on Saturday 9 January (note – this is the second Saturday rather than the usual first Saturday of the month). We will walk along the road by Maclachlan Creek through manna gum streamside forest until we reach the reserve at the end of the road. Then along wide paths to the old spring. If there is time and the weather is good we will then walk through the bush – lovely messmate forest! Last time there blue-winged parrots were seen! Snakes are active in the area at the moment so long pants and boots a must – and bring snake kits if you have them (we will also have first aid kits with snake bite bandages).  There will be some uneven ground and walking through the forest but those feeling less up for a walk could easily walk down the road and then picnic down by the creek. Our walk leader is Tanya Loos. All welcome!

Where: Deep Creek Streamside Reserve, Eganstown VIC. Turn onto Deep Spring Road from the Midland Highway, approximately 9 km west of Daylesford and park near the Nowland Track which is about 600 m from the Highway. Coordinates: -37.350353, 144.074929

When: Meet at Deep Creek Streamside Reserve at 9:00 am. Walks last for approximately 2 hours.

Bring: Water, snacks, binoculars, sunscreen, hat, sturdy shoes. Long trousers are advised during snake season.

More info: Jane Rusden, 0448 900 896 or Judy Hopley 0425 768 559. To discover more about Deep Creek Streamside Reserve – click here

Please note that walks will be canceled if severe weather warnings are in place, persistent rain is forecast, if the temperature is forecast to be 35 degrees or above during the walk period, and/or a Total Fire Ban is declared.

Steep gorges and volcanic outcrops are on offer at Deep Spring Reserve (photo: Birdlife Castlemaine)

 

Bird of the month: Tawny Frogmouth

Posted on 24 December, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our tenth 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.

Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides)

Before we delve into the secretive life of the Tawny Frogmouth, this ‘Bird of the Month’ blog is nearly one year old and I’d like to extend my deep gratitude to Damian Kelly and Ash Vigus. When I asked Damian if he’d be happy to help me with research, I had this rosy image in my head of the two of us spending blissful hours in his enviable library, buried in books. COVID-19 ensured this cozy vision of mine was not to be. Instead, Damian would email his research to me, along with his gorgeous photos. Ash Vigus has also been very generous with lending an ear and great ideas, as we did our socially-distanced walks, and his stunning photos. Without these two, Bird of the Month would not have been nearly as interesting nor pretty.

Some months ago the charismatic Owlet Nightjar was our feature bird. This month’s relative, the Tawny Frogmouth, is similar in that it is also nocturnal, NOT an owl and charismatic in its own cryptic way. Frogmouths are not restricted to Australia: Papua New Guinea and tropical Asia have their own species. In Australia, the Tawny Frogmouth is found all over the country where there are trees, but the Papuan Frogmouth is restricted to Cape York and the Marbled Frogmouth is found only in tiny areas on Cape York and around Brisbane. However, both species are found in Papua New Guinea. They all have characteristic wide mouths and are incredibly cryptic, being experts in looking like a broken off dead branch and therefore difficult to spot during the day.

By night, however, if your lucky you may see Tawny Frogmouths hawking flying insects in the car headlights. Sadly they are prone to getting squashed on the road because of this. At home I’ve watched one hawking Rain Moths attracted to the light from our windows at night. It must have eaten a dozen of them and I’m not quite sure how it fitted them all in – it must have been the Frogmouth equivalent of Christmas dinner with a third helping of pudding. They will also pounce on small vertebrates like lizards, which get a thorough pounding before being swallowed, and they enjoy insects on the ground.

Tawny Frogmouths are between 34 cm (females) and 53 cm (males) long and can weigh up to 680 g (photo: Damian Kelly)

Tawny Frogmouths are often confused with owls, but are actually more closely related to nightjars (photo: Damian Kelly)

 

Breeding is done in spring. Typically two eggs are laid in a messy collection of sticks which constitutes their nest, in a horizontal branch fork in a large mature tree. Despite populations slowly decreasing, these apparently insecure nests produce chicks fairly effectively. Equality of the sexes is a thing with Tawny Frogmouths, with the male sitting on the eggs during the day and both parents sitting at night.

These much loved and unusual birds can be found in urban areas, which perhaps endears them to us humans. Or maybe it’s their cute as cute fluffy chicks with their great wide eyes, snuggled up to their nest buddies.

Please enjoy the Tawny Frogmouth distinctive ‘Oom oom ooom call’, courtesy of Wild Ambience.

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

 

Discovering ducks: which duck are you quiz?

Posted on 23 December, 2020 by Ivan

The RSPCA Victoria and BirdLife Australia have launched a new campaign called ‘Discover Ducks’, after recent research revealed five in six Victorians cannot name any native ducks, despite Australia being home to 15 unique species. We love our ducks, and locally, they appear to be having a great season, with plenty of water around during spring 2020. While this campaign is aimed at Victorians, anyone can access the online resource, and increase their knowledge of our native ducks. All Australians can answer that timeless question: Which Duck Are You?!

We have had fun, in the virtual Connecting Country office, exploring which duck we each are, and how accurate they all seem to be!

Please enjoy a summary below, courtesy of the Discover Ducks team, regarding the importance and aim of this campaign.

Dr Liz Walker, CEO of RSPCA Victoria said the campaign seeks to build a state of passionate duck lovers by improving Victorians’ knowledge and love for our diverse range of unique, native ducks.

‘We believe more people would appreciate ducks and care about their welfare if they could relate to them the way they relate to other wildlife, such as koalas or kangaroos. After last summer’s tragic bushfires, we know there is very strong public concern for native animals, and a desire to rescue, treat and protect those animals. Ducks need to be included,’ says Dr Walker. ‘They are fascinating creatures, and each native species has unique traits. Discover Ducks creates an opportunity for the community to learn and share information and celebrate our beautiful native ducks.’

BirdLife Australia’s National Public Affairs Manager Sean Dooley agrees that there has never been a better time to discover our wild duck populations. ‘Sometimes even birdwatchers can take ducks for granted. But when you take the time to get to know Victoria’s ducks, you soon realise what fascinating and beautiful birds they are. However, there are far fewer ducks out there in our wetlands than there used to be with the research showing drastic decline in their numbers, due to the changes we have made to their aquatic habitats.’

Discover Ducks shows people how to recognise different ducks, where to spot them around Victoria and how to interact with them in a welfare-friendly way. Many of these lessons are valuable across the country, not just in Victoria, and wherever you are located, the ‘Which Duck Are You?’quiz is a great bit of fun, or you can test your knowledge with the Know Your Ducks Quiz.

Learn more about Discover Ducks at discoverducks.org.au and spread the word via social media using the hashtag #discoverducks

The Australian Shelduck: hard to find, easy to spot, with spectacular coloring (photo: Discovering Ducks)

 

Our 2021 woodland bird calendars – nearly sold out!

Posted on 17 December, 2020 by Ivan

Our gorgeous cover features a Weebill by Albert Wright

Don’t miss out on one of the best 2021 calendars going around, even if we do say so ourselves. Treat yourself or your loved-ones to a delightful Christmas gift, while supporting habitat restoration in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. Thanks to our wonderful friends at MAAW, calendars have been selling fast.

Connecting Country’s 2021 woodland bird calendar is high-quality full-colour, A3-size and spiral-bound. Each month features one of the 13 beautiful images that won our woodland birds photography competition. All photos showcase local bird species and were taken by talented local photographers in the Mount Alexander region of Central Victoria.

Calendars are $30 each and make an excellent gift.

Where to buy:
Mount Alexander Animal Welfare Opportunity Shop
12 Johnstone St, Castlemaine VIC

Shop opening hours:

  • Tuesday 10 am – 3 pm
  • Thursday 10 am – 3 pm
  • Friday 10 am – 3 pm
  • Saturday 10 am – 1 pm

For more information on the MAAW shop – click here
For more information on MAAW’s work – click here

Mr June: Scarlet Robin at Muckleford Forest by Ash Vigus features in our 2021 woodland birds calendar

 

Connecting Country again extends a special thank you to our talented volunteer graphic designer, Jane Satchell, and our 13 winning photographers, who generously donated their images to feature in the calendar. Many thanks also to MAAW op shop for their support in stocking our calendar.

 

Bird of the month: Grey Shrike-thrush

Posted on 23 November, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our ninth 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.

Grey Shrike-thrush (Colluricincla harmonica)

The local bush has been bustling with nesting activity, although raising chicks is not always as nurturing and wholesome as you might think. Nests get raided, eggs don’t always hatch and it’s not necessarily easy for the newly fledged chicks. You’ll hear their incessant begging for food and see parents desperately trying to keep up the flow of breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a time of learning as fledglings can’t always assess risks and can be a bit ‘young and dumb’, being too bold for their own good and getting confused as they try to make sense of a situation. I witnessed one such occasion during an altercation in my backyard.

Confused young Grey Shrike-thrush getting harried by an angry Fuscous Honeyeater (photo: Damian Kelly)

 

A newly fledged Grey Shrike-thrush chick had got too close to a Fuscous Honeyeater nest. The poor chick seemed totally confused about the whole situation and didn’t know which way to go. It’s parents waiting just out of harrying range whilst the Fuscous Honeyeaters were on attack level – ‘take no prisoners’! The upshot was the chick finally moved away, the honeyeaters settled down and I got some photos of the action as they were all preoccupied with bird world high stakes politics.

So let’s look at the abundant Grey Shrike-thrush. Probably one of the most familiar, varied and prettiest of songsters to be heard, which perhaps makes up for its brown and grey colouring. I call it soft and subdued but others may call it out as dull. In the past it was known as the Harmonious Thrush and its taxonomic name reflects this: Colluricincla harmonica. Interestingly, their song can exhibit different dialects from place to place.

Individuals can live up to twelve years and it’s known that pairs can reside in one place for up to five years and remain together for longer. They are largely a sedentary species, but may move between altitudes with the seasons.

Taking a really close look will reveal gorgeous black eyelash like bristles around its bill and below the eye. (Lady Gaga attempted a similar look without the nuance. Pretty rad all the same.)

Young Grey Shrike-thrush singing it’s heart out (photo: Damian Kelly)

 

Present in all but Australia’s driest deserts, it prefers undisturbed treed habitats, including gardens on occasion. It’s often seen foraging for insects and small vertebrates like frogs and lizards, where there is some understorey, tossing leaf litter to find their prey. They will also take eggs and nestlings of small birds, so it’s not surprising the Fuscous Honeyeater was so upset.

Adult Grey Shrike-thrush doing what they do best, harmoniously singing (photo: Damian Kelly)

 

To listen to the Grey Shrike-thrush call – click here

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wanted: experienced bird watchers!

Posted on 29 October, 2020 by Jess

Connecting Country’s bird monitoring program allows us to see if all our hard work restoring habitat is actually making a difference, and to assess the status of our woodland birds in the Mount Alexander region of Central Victoria. Back in 2010, with help from experts, we carefully set up a bird monitoring program at selected locations across the region. Every year we go back to survey theses sites, providing valuable information to guide future decisions.

These days, our surveys are done entirely by volunteers – our community champions.

We’re now looking for more people local to the Mount Alexander area to be part of this program and assist with our bird surveys. We’re particularly looking for people to survey sites in around Harcourt, Sedgwick, Sutton Grange and Taradale areas.

To be involved in this program you will need to:

  • Be able to confidently identify bird species in the Mount Alexander area by sight as well as from their call
  • Have a reasonable level of fitness and able to traverse rough ground
  • Know how to conduct a 2 ha 20 min area search (we can help with this)
  • Liaise with private landholders
  • Be comfortable navigating to and from survey sites using a GPS on your phone
  • Attend an online induction
  • Follow safety protocols and adhere to current COVID-19 restrictions

We will support you, and can provide training on conducting surveys and navigation if required. However, having great bird ID skills is essential.

If you’re keen to be involved please email Jess Lawton (Monitoring Coordinator) including a brief description of any experience you have with bird identification and surveys, and a phone number: jess@connectingcountry.org.au

Jess will then get in touch to discuss and provide more information.

We’re lucky to have lots of beautiful birds in the Mount Alexander region (photo by Jane Rusden)

 

Bird of the month: Southern whiteface

Posted on 29 October, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our eighth 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 .

Southern Whiteface (Aphelocephala leucopsis)

I could gush on and on about Southern Whiteface. In my opinion they are one of the cutest tiny balls of fluff birds around. A tiny bird with its distinctive white face, which gives it the most loveable expression, I get very excited when I’m lucky enough to find them. Actually it was Damian Kelly who found them at Muckleford Station recently, and his totally gorgeous photos became the impetus this month’s focus bird. OK that’s enough carry on, let’s look at who they really are.

I couldn’t say they are uncommon, but they are not common in Central Victoria either. I’ve found Southern Whiteface in paddocks with bush nearby, providing them with plenty of foraging opportunities, turning over leaf litter looking for insects and the occasional seed. You may also see them in low shrubs, as was the case when Damian took these gorgeous photos, and on fence posts. They move around in parties of up to about eight birds, sometimes in a mixed flock with other insectivores.

As is often the case with birds, not a lot is known about their breeding, movements or general behaviour. However, they are most likely resident in Central Victoria as they can be found all year round. We are on the southern end of their range, which is generally drier areas of Victoria, NSW, and parts of SA and WA.

Quite an adaptable bird, they will utilise manmade structures such as the verandah of an old house, and renovate Zebra Finch and Welcome Swallow nests, as well as Kingfisher tunnels. Nests come in various shapes and sizes, usually domed with a side entrance, and bulky with twigs, grasses, wool and even bits of tufty rubbish.

Endemic to Australia, the Southern Whiteface is a small passerine found in arid regions across the southern half of the Australian mainland (photo Damian Kelly)

 

Despite their diminutive size Southern Whitefaces are pretty easy to approach, but not always easy to see as their plumage is short on colour. Mostly you see their grey-brown back and dark tail, but with a closer look you’ll see their pale belly and pretty, almost heart-shaped, white face with a dark stubby bill and white eye ring. They can be mistaken for Thornbills and Weebills, because they are Similar in size and colour, though stouter. At only 12.5 grams, they are tiny.

They are also known as ‘squeakers’ – how crazy cute is that? If you listen to them calling, you’ll see why.

Listen to their call – click here

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I learned with beginner birdwatchers

Posted on 21 October, 2020 by Jess

We received this lovely report from Lou Citroen, one of our eleven experienced volunteer bird watchers who led a small group walk at one of Connecting Country’s group bird survey sites for our ‘Birdwatching for Beginners’ event on 17 October 2020. The 46 available spots for this field session booked out incredibly fast – a reflection of the strong level of interest in local birds within our community. To view the theory session from this event, presented online by Damian Kelly – click here

Dear Jess,

I wanted to thank you and Frances for all the work you have put into what turned out to be a resoundingly successful Birdwatching for Beginners day!  You must also have contacts in High places as the weather turned out to be just perfect after a rainy start of the day!!

I thoroughly enjoyed the webinar.  The Webinar is such boon and useful communication tool especially in these COVID times!

I found Damian’s presentation really informative, and useful.  It reinforces for me that it doesn’t matter how many years you do birdwatching, there is always something to learn from others; a lifelong learning process that is so enjoyable.  I loved Damian’s relaxed and chatty style.  The participants in my group also enjoyed it greatly. As concerns my particular group, we had a really fun and leisurely hour and a half on site with Carmen, Kate and Julia.

They were a lovely chatty group! Thankfully they all found the directions to the spot helpful (phew).  It was fabulous to have Frances there, not just as first aider, but as great company and to help fill in some of the details about this site.

After introductions and the short safety talk, the group were delighted with the bird identification brochures Frances handed out.  The brochures were indeed helpful in identifying a few of the birds we saw … or were looking for!

Group members learned an important bird watching skill: how to use binoculars (photo by Frances Howe)

 

With her keen eye, Carmen spotted a Galah nesting hollow (and another disused one), Julia eventually spotted one (of three!) Olive-backed Oriole, I showed them the White-winged Chough nest that Liz and I had spotted on the ‘reconnaissance mission’ … plus a few Choughs.  A loud Rufous Whistler remained elusive.  A beautiful raptor flew overhead but sadly remained unidentified (I still have trouble with identification of a number of raptors).  There were quite a few Crimson Rosellas and Red Wattlebirds about and we heard one or two Yellow Thornbills, but spotting a male and female Superb Fairy-wren at close range was a treat for all.

Here are some of the bird species Lou’s group detected on their walk (photos by Geoff Park):

As my hearing is still pretty good, I explained to the group that, a little differently from Damian’s approach, in addition to visual cues I place a fair amount of importance on learning to recognise bird calls.  I was able to show them that, while calls are unique to each bird (apart from the mimics that Damian pointed out) many have a little repertoire of calls to be aware of.  The Crimson Rosella showed off with three.

At the end of the walk, all three were thrilled when Frances gave them all a copy of Damian’s book (click here).  It was clearly a lovely surprise for them and a nice way to end our little excursion.

As I said to Frances afterwards, I think this was great success; an eye-opener (no pun intended) that there is such an interest in birds in our community. The three in our group were great to meet and clearly enjoyed the time.  I had a ball!  By about 3 pm we were all done and on our way home.

Thank you for the mountain of planning and coordinating behind the scenes to make it such a success!

Warmest wishes,

Lou

It was our pleasure Lou! We’re so glad your group had such a wonderful time. Receiving messages like this really warms our hearts and makes all that behind-the-scenes admin work worthwhile. We hope this is the beginning of an exciting bird watching journey for Carman, Kate and Julia, and all our participants.

This event was supported by the Australian Government’s Communities for the Environment Program. 

 

‘Birdwatching for beginners’ engages the next generation of birders

Posted on 21 October, 2020 by Ivan

Our popular ‘Birdwatching for beginners’ event last weekend (Saturday 17 October 2020) had 282 people register for the theory session in the morning and we quickly ‘sold out’ of free tickets for the practical afternoon session. The event proved once again that community interest in birds and bird watching is gathering momentum, creating a new generation of bird watchers. The event aimed to attract new bird watchers and bird survey volunteers, and get people out enjoying and exploring the natural assets we are blessed with in Central Victoria. We’re thrilled to have such a positive response and see the enthusiasm of the participants, who were mostly from the Mount Alexander region and surrounding areas.

Local author and bird enthusiast Damian Kelly presented an overview and introduction to bird watching in the morning session, covering a range of topics and tips to get people skilled-up for bird watching. Damian is the author of the terrific ‘Castlemaine Bird Walks’ book. Damian wooed the audience with some outstanding bird photos, mostly from his own garden in central Castlemaine. He provided practical suggestions on how to get to know birds and where to start looking for birds in our region. He also responded to participants’ questions, answering important questions about binoculars, birding groups and bird calls, before heading off to mentor a practical session near Castlemaine. It was a busy day for our community birding champion!

The afternoon practical session involved a team of 4-5 beginners teaming up with an experienced local birdwatcher to go bird watching at some of Connecting Country’s bird survey sites on public land across our region. We ‘sold’ all 45 allocated tickets for this event with a long waiting list. People were keen to take this excellent opportunity to visit some great bird watching sites, with an experienced mentor to guide attendees through the afternoon. Small groups meant participants had plenty of opportunities to ask questions and learn directly from mentors, while minimising COVID-19 risks.

Feedback from both the morning and afternoon sessions was positive and appreciative, with many participants emailing directly after the event with thanks and requesting recordings of the event. The afternoon practical session was invaluable for the lucky attendees, who got to experience mentoring and an expert guide to the local birds of our survey sites on public land. There were many highlights from the afternoon, including seeing Dusky Woodswallows, Brown Falcons, Olive-backed Orioles, Superb Fairy-wrens, White-plumed Honeyeaters and Welcome Swallows. Several nests were spotted, including the amazing clay nests of the White-winged Chough.

Please enjoy the following photos captured by Ivan Carter, Frances Howe and Asha Bannon during the practical sessions, with birds and new birders sharing together.

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

A recorded copy of Damian’s presentation is available for download – click here

If you would like to learn more about birds, or have an interest in raptors and/or thornbills, you might like to download the presentations below, from our ‘Tricky Birds of Central Victoria’ event. They are an excellent resource for a little more detail on these bird groups.

  • Geoff Park raptor presentation – click here
  • Chris Tzaros thornbill presentation – click here

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.

 

 

 

Celebrate National Bird Week with Aussie Backyard Bird Count – 19-25 October 2020

Posted on 15 October, 2020 by Ivan

 

Bird watching is an easily accessible activity that connects us to nature (photo: Geoff Park)

Celebrate National Bird Week with Connecting Country by joining thousands across the country participating in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count. The bird count has been increasingly popular over the past few years, with the past 12 months seeing a surge in bird watching  across the country.The next Aussie Backyard Bird Count is on 19-25 October 2020. The Aussie Backyard Bird Count is an activity for all-ages that involves observing and counting the birds that live near you – whether that’s in your garden, the local park, a beach or even your town centre. By recording the birds you’ve seen within a 20 minute period, you will help BirdLife Australia develop an understanding of local birds, while getting to know the wildlife on your doorstep!

Please read on for details from Birdlife Australia about the importance of this annual survey and how to participate.

How do I take part in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count? 

To complete the Aussie Backyard Bird Count, spend 20 minutes standing or sitting in one spot and noting down the birds that you see. You will need to count the number of each species you spot within the 20 minute period. For example, you might see 4 Australian Magpies, 2 Rainbow Lorikeets and a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo. If you can identify birds by their calls, please include these in your count, but if you aren’t sure of a bird without seeing it, please exclude it rather than making a guess. The Aussie Bird Count app has a handy field-guide to help you identify birds. Once you have completed your count, you can submit it in two different ways:

  1. You can submit your bird count through the online web form (this form won’t be made live until the 14 October)

OR

  1. You can submit your counts through the free Aussie Bird Count app. The app is available for iPhones and Android smartphones, go to the Google Play or iTunes to download the app for free. If you have the Aussie Bird Count app from previous years don’t delete it, it should update automatically with the newest version. In between event dates, the app operates as a field-guide/bird finder.

Why should I do the backyard bird count? 

By participating in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count, you will be helping BirdLife Australia find out about the common species that live where people live. Providing us with a snapshot of Australian birds at the same time each year allows us to look at the trends in our bird communities from year to year. This is important because it’s these more common species that give us the best indication of the health of the environment – think of birds as a barometer for nature!

Why is the bird count in October? 

Spring is the season when birds are more lively and visible. They begin nesting, breeding and flocking and generally appear more playful. Thousands of migrant birds return to our shores in spring as well. For these reasons it is also National Bird Week, a tradition that started back in the early 1900s when 28 October was first designated by our predecessor, the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, as the first ‘Bird Day’.

What other surveys can I get involved with? 

The Aussie Backyard Bird Count only takes place once a year, however BirdLife Australia run other surveys throughout the year that you can take part in. Birds In Backyards runs seasonal surveys that you can join in with, even if you’re not an expert bird-watcher, and there’s lots of info on how to attract more birds to your backyard! Check it out here. You can also register with our Birdata app if you want to take part in more regular bird surveys.

 

 

A self-guided bird-watching walk with North Harcourt & Sedgwick Landcare

Posted on 15 October, 2020 by Asha

Take yourself on a self-guided bird-watching walk, organised by North Harcourt & Sedgwick Landcare with support from Connecting Country.

North Harcourt & Sedgwick Landcare have created this walk as the perfect excuse (if you need one) to go out and learn about what birds live where and why. This event is a self-guided tour in the North Harcourt Sedgwick area of Central Victoria. Just look for the posters and follow along!

The posters will have information about the habitat at different points along the walk and which birds you might see there. It is designed for everyone, from kids to avid bird-watchers. Any time is a good time for bird-watching, but the best times are early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

The walk begins at the intersection of Mandurang S Road, Springs Road, and Bryden Road in Sedgwick and follows the Coliban channel (see map on the right for details). You will need to bring some binoculars, and a device with a bird ID app is a massive advantage. Don’t forget good walking shoes, first aid kit, and some water and snacks. Allow around 20 minutes at each one of the four stations. The entire walk is around 3 km return (allow around 2 hours). The trail has some steep sections so please go at a safe pace. Please stay on the track at all times and, with the weather warming up, be aware of snakes.

When: This event will run from 19 October to approximately 8 November 2020.

To download the poster: click here

For more information about the walk please email NHSELandcare@gmail.com

For more information about North Harcourt & Sedgwick Landcare: click here

 

Last chance for ‘Birdwatching for beginners’ – 17 October 2020

Posted on 15 October, 2020 by Ivan

We would like to remind our members and bird-loving community that limited tickets are available for this weekend’s ‘Birdwatching for Beginners’ event. 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. We’re thrilled at the enthusiastic response so far! 

The practical field session quickly sold out, but you’re still welcome to register for the theory session.

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.  We’ve had a sneak preview of Damian’s presentation and it looks fantastic! It includes input and beautiful drawings from local artist and bird guru, Jane Rusden.

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, a link to the theory session event will be emailed to registered participants prior to the event

*Practical session with mentor: 1.30 pm to 4.00 pm *(SOLD OUT)

  • Sold out – 40 tickets
  • 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

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.

 

Bird of the month: Spotted and Striated Pardalotes

Posted on 8 October, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our seventh 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 .

Spotted and Striated Pardalotes

Personally, I find Pardalotes one of our most endearing birds, and at times quite curious little characters. I remember my first sighting of a Spotted Pardalote well: a flurry of stunning white spots on black as the tiny bird burst from it’s nesting hollow in an embankment, and flew off in front of me. Other times, while sitting quietly in the bush, I have seen them at very close quarters.

On one occasion a Striated Pardalote sat on a branch close to my head, whilst inspecting me and the drawing I was working on. I hope it approved of my efforts, as it took it time appraising the situation from a couple of angles.

Damian Kelly found some interesting facts in his literature search on Pardalotes.

Among some of Australia’s smallest birds, Pardalotes are widespread from northern Queensland all the way to Western Australia, but avoid the very dry inland and very hot tropics. Although there are four species in Australia, around Castlemaine (Central Victoria) you will only see Spotted and Striated Pardalotes.

Best described as a common species, you will often hear them, but sometimes it is hard to see them as they favour foliage high in the tree canopy. Big flocks can occur at times and it is not uncommon to see mixed feeding flocks with Spotted and Striated Pardalotes, Silver Eyes, and on occasion, Thornbill species. Food includes arthropods, larvae, lerp, spiders and manna from gums. Perhaps one of the easiest times to observe Spotted and Striated Pardalotes is when they are feeding on the lerps and their sugary secretions, on lower hanging leaves.

Striated Pardalote – note the bit of yellow and a white stripe above the eye, but there are no spots on the back or wings and the rump isn’t red like the Spotted Pardalote (photo by Damian Kelly)

 

They are generally considered as mostly sedentary, but they do disperse after breeding and move down altitude to lower regions in cooler seasons. Banding studies show that more than 90% of bird recoveries are less than 10 km form the original banding site, suggesting they don’t move far. However, some outliers have shown movements of 200 km or more at times.

Nests are generally lower down and in a tunnel. It is not uncommon to see them popping out of their nests right at ground level, as I did the first time I saw a Spotted Pardalote. Suitable sites can include eroded river banks, mounds of earth, tree hollows and even beneath railway platforms, as well as in holes and crevices in buildings. Breeding effort is split between both birds in a pair. The female will lay up to four eggs in a nest built and lined with bark by both the male and female. Both parents incubate and feed the young.

Spotted Pardalote – one of the smallest of all Australian birds (8 to 10 cm long) and so colorful they are sometimes known as diamond birds (photo by Damian Kelly)

 

To listen to the Striated Pardalotes call – click here

To listen to the Spotted Pardalotes call – click here

By Jane Rusden with assistance from Damian Kelly

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AGM 2020 a roaring success: download available

Posted on 1 October, 2020 by Ivan

On Saturday 26 September 2020, a large crowd of people gathered on their computers, tablets and phones, to enjoy Connecting Country’s first ever online Annual General Meeting (AGM) and hear from two excellent guest speakers: Jess Lawton and Jacinta Humphrey. We sold a total of 98 tickets to the event, but it was difficult to tell exactly how many people attended, due to attendees sharing a screen with family members. The event went very smoothly, given the steep learning curve and technology required to run an AGM online.

We also celebrated the hard work and achievements of Connecting Country through a presentation by our Director, Frances Howe, as well as updating the audience on our current funding situation. We would like to warmly thank our presenters and all the committee members, staff and volunteers who assisted with the event, which has generated extremely positive feedback.

The two biggest stars of the show were the amazing young scientists, and PhD candidates, Jess and Jacinta, who both gave enthralling presentations on ecological monitoring. Jess presented on the topic of Connecting Country’s ten years of ecological monitoring, which included birds surveys, nest box monitoring, and of course, phascogales! Jacinta covered her research into the impact of urbanisation on birds, which showed some surprising findings about how some birds adapt to life in the suburbs, and ideas about what might help urban birds and humans coexist. Jacinta also entertained the audience with an impressive Lego video. To view Jacinta’s engaging video summarising her project – click here

Our AGM was short and sweet, and all of our dedicated committee of management members were re-elected for another year. The hard-working Connecting Country committee must be thanked for their considerable strategic and practical contributions to our organisation. It is very impressive that the committee have all committed for another year, providing stability in these uncertain times.

Elected members of Connecting Country’s 2020-21 committee of management are:

  • President:                   Brendan Sydes
  • Vice President:          Saide Gray
  • Treasurer:                   Max Kay
  • Secretary:                    Marie Jones
  • Ordinary member:    Karoline Klein
  • Ordinary member:    Malcolm Trainor
  • Ordinary member:    Christine Brooke
  • Ordinary member:    Deborah Wardle

 

AGM minutes will be circulated to members and available on request. If you would like a copy of Connecting Country’s annual report for 2019-20 – click here.

If you missed the presentations and AGM, see the video of the event below, featuring each of the presentations and the formal proceedings. Please click play below and enjoy. Note the audio starts at 16 seconds.

  • Click here to download the 2020 financial audit report

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

 

FOBIF walks are back – 18 October 2020

Posted on 1 October, 2020 by Ivan

Our friends and partners at Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests (FOBIF) have announced their popular monthly nature walks across the Mount Alexander region of Central Victoria will recommence on Sunday 18  October 2020. They have adapted the first walk to comply with the latest COVID-19 restrictions, with multiple smaller groups rather than one large walk. FOBIF’s walks have a reputation for providing interesting insights into our local natural environment and biodiversity hotspots, led by local experts and passionate volunteers.

Here are more details from FOBIF, including a link to their website.

FOBIF are planning a walk on Sunday 18 October 2020 in the Chewton Bushlands, led by Antoinette Birkenbeil and Karen Baker.

The number of walkers on the day will be limited to 20 in two groups of 10. People will have to wear masks and observe social distancing rules.

The 5-6 km walk will start at the Coliban Water Reserve in Kennedy’s Lane where the old Harcourt Channel runs through remnant wetland. Many wildflower species thrive here in open bird-rich forest among old river red-gums. A climb then takes walkers into the tracks of the Bushlands with spectacular views and hopefully more spring wildflowers.

Check out FOBIF’s walks page for more details about the walk – https://www.fobif.org.au/walks/

Contact FOBIF by email (info@fobif.org.au) or by phone (Bronwyn Silver: 0448 751 111) by 16 October 2020 if you would like to register for the walk.

Also check the FOBIF website closer to the date in case the lockdown regulations change.

 

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
  • **This session is sold out, to join the waitlist – 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.