Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Summer’s feathered migrants – Nature News November 7 2017

Posted on 20 November, 2017 by Tanya Loos

For this month’s Nature News, Newstead naturalist and photographer Geoff Park writes about the feathered migrants that are characteristic of our region in the summer months. This article was featured in the Midland Express on November 7, 2017.

Sacred Kingfishers are one of my favourite spring migrants, their loud ‘kek kek’ call may be heard anytime from late August around Newstead. The kingfishers return faithfully to favourite nesting sites along the Loddon River and in the surrounding forests. This species nests in earthen tunnels and tree hollows, with the first fledglings appearing around Christmas most years. Observers can delight in watching the kingfishers as they first stake out territories, refurbish nests and then commence feeding youngsters from late November onwards. The sight of Sacred Kingfishers bringing a selection of cicadas, yabbies, fish and reptiles to their hungry brood is one of the ‘sights of summer’.

My absolute favourite though is the Rainbow Bee-eater. This extraordinarily beautiful bird can be seen year round in northern Australia – but they are not the same individuals. Small flocks of Rainbow Bee-eaters make a twice yearly migration up and down the east coast, with some birds moving as far north as Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia. The birds we see around Newstead may well spend their winter on Cape York where they are replaced by international travellers during the northern summer, as the ‘Newstead’ individuals migrate south.

Rainbow Bee-eaters nest in small colonies, perhaps most notably near the Newstead Cemetery, but also at various locations along the Loddon River. The sound of the first trills of this species can be heard anytime from early October as they gather above their breeding grounds and make spectacular display flights. As spring progresses they descend to their tunnels, usually in a vertical bank of an eroded gully or riverbank and clean their nests in preparation for egg-laying. Not all nests sites are used each year, but some of these special spots must have been used for centuries by successive generations of magnificent ‘rainbowbirds’.

Other summer migrant specialties, such as the Square-tailed Kite, appear to be increasing in numbers.  Flocks of woodswallows (Masked and White-browed Woodswallows) arrived on the first warm northerlies in October. We can also expect to see waders arrive from the northern Hemisphere, such as Red-necked Stints and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. These tiny birds use Cairn Curran Reservoir (most years) and the Moolort Plains wetlands (if they are wet!) to fuel up before flying 10,000 kilometres back to their Siberian breeding grounds!

Look out too for the rarities that may visit each summer. Last year we had a Common Koel in Newstead and this year a spectacular small red honeyeater known as a Scarlet Honeyeater has been visiting the region in unprecedented numbers.

For more information contact Geoff Park at Natural Newstead www.geoffpark.wordpress.com

A Rainbow Bee-eater. Photo by Geoff Park

 

Boosting Bulokes project helps a diamond shine

Posted on 15 November, 2017 by Tanya Loos

Thanks to Connecting Country’s Boosting Bulokes and Diamond Firetails project there are now 1,200 more young Buloke plants in the western parts of the Mount Alexander region.  These slow growing trees will eventually set seed and provide a  much-needed food source for seed-eating birds such as Diamond Firetails and Common Bronzewing pigeons.

Buloke trees belong to the Casuarinaceae or Sheoak family and were once abundant across the region. Bulokes are so rare nowadays that they are  listed as ‘threatened’ under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. We wanted to help bring this threatened species back into our local area. The Boosting Bulokes and Diamond Firetails project involved 78 landholders on 23 properties, Muckleford Landcare group and the kids and teachers of the Castlemaine Steiner School and Kindergarten.

Project coordinator Bonnie Humphreys with Lisa Hall from Castlemaine Steiner School – you can see the large robust guards in the background, as well as a host of enthusiastic kids and landholders!

Bonnie prepared a comprehensive fact sheet on Bulokes, covering their ecology, threats and importantly – how to plant and care for Bulokes! The sheet can be downloaded by clicking this link:  Buloke-Factsheet-CCountry.

Diamond Firetails are attractive little finches whose numbers are declining in the region.  Recent studies by Grace Goddard (unpublished PhD, Adelaide University) have shown that the Diamond Firetail relies heavily on the seeds from Sheoaks as a winter food source. Diamond Firetails also eat the seeds of exotic and native grasses. However, it’s the native grass seeds that are a superior food source. The Firetails also use the long grass stems to build their nests.

We can help our declining Diamond Firetail population, by planting:
* Native grass species such as spear grasses (from the  Austrostipa and Rytidosperma genera).
* Sheoak trees – the more commonly occurring Drooping Sheoak ( Allocasuarina verticillata) and of course the Buloke ( Allocasuarina leuhmenii).

For a  detailed (and somewhat technical) fact sheet on Grace Goddard’s Diamond Firetail studies click this link  Diamond-Firetail-Diet-fact-sheet

A Diamond Firetail strikes a pose at the edge of a bird bath, while two Red-browed Finches look on. Thanks to Nick Schulz from Nuggetty for the great pic!

 

Caring for Diamond Firetail habitat: new on ground works program

Posted on 1 November, 2017 by Tanya Loos

A Diamond Firetail, photo by Geoff Park

Connecting Country has been granted funding for a new on ground works project called ‘Caring for Key Biodiversity Areas in Central Victoria’. The special bird habitats of Clydesdale and Sandon are designated as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) by BirdLife International and BirdLife Australia. The trigger species for these areas are the Diamond Firetail, Swift Parrot and Flame Robin.

The project is funded by the Victorian Government – Community and Volunteer Action Grants. In a nutshell, the project has three main components:

  1. Care and protection of native vegetation on private land, including actions such as supplementary revegetation, weed control and rabbit control. These actions will help enhance habitat for the trigger species for the Diamond Firetail, Swift Parrot and Flame Robin.
  2. Creation and installation of two attractive interpretative signs at popular parts of the Key Biodiversity areas, such as Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, and Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve.
  3. Two community events in 2018, such as a bird walk and sign launch!

The participating landholders have been contacted, and site visits will begin in early 2018.

Earlier this year, Connecting Country held a workshop in partnership with BirdLife Australia, to recruit bird survey volunteers known as ‘KBA guardians’ and provide training in how to complete an annual ‘Easter Heath Check’ form. You can read about that workshop here.

Diamond Firetails are declining in our region. Photo by Geoff Park

We are thrilled that this workshop generated the interest and the impetus for this grant.

There is also a very keen new group, coordinated by Friends of Muckleford Forest, which involves volunteers surveying 15 sites across the Muckleford KBA. These surveys are in preparation for the 2018 Easter Health Check. To read about Friends’ project, or volunteer,  see the Friends website here.