Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

A lonely tree makes plenty of friends

Posted on 29 July, 2021 by Ivan

Connecting Country has long advocated for raising awareness of paddock trees and their importance in providing habitat in a disconnected landscape.  To the credit of many local farmers and landholders, we often see paddock trees spared from cropping and clearing, allowing them to support many species of birds, insects and arboreal mammals. You can find a number of blogs we’ve published over the years on how to manage paddock and lonely trees – click here and here. 

We recently discovered a great article published on The Conversation, which highlights why and how lone trees can be managed in the landscape to support wildlife to move through agricultural landscapes. The article covers examples and research in a number of countries and concludes that lone trees are vital to provide wildlife stepping stones between healthy patches of habitat. Please see the published article below courtesy of The Conversation. We would love to see some photos of your favourite lone trees in the landscape!

A lone tree in a paddock in Guildford, providing important refuge for travelling wildlife. Photo: Ivan Carter

A lone tree makes it easier for birds and bees to navigate farmland, like a stepping stone between habitats

Vast, treeless paddocks and fields can be dangerous for wildlife, who encounter them as “roadblocks” between natural areas nearby. But our new research found even one lone tree in an otherwise empty paddock can make a huge difference to an animal’s movement.

We focused on the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, a biodiversity hotspot with 1,361 different known species of wildlife, such as jaguars, sloths, tamarins and toucans. Habitat loss from expanding and intensifying farmland, however, increasingly threatens the forest’s rich diversity of species and ecosystems. We researched the value of paddock trees and hedges for birds and bees, and found small habitat features like these can double how easily they find their way through farmland.

This is important because enabling wildlife to journey across farmlands not only benefits the conservation of species, but also people. It means bees can improve crop pollination, and seed-dispersing birds can help restore ecosystems.

Connecting habitats

Lone trees in paddocks, hedges and tree-lined fences are common features of farmlands across the world, from Brazil to Australia.

They may be few and far between, but this scattered vegetation makes important areas of refuge for birds and bees, acting like roads or stepping stones to larger natural habitats nearby. Scattered paddock trees, for instance, offer shelter, food, and places to land. They’ve also been found to create cooler areas within their canopy and right beneath it, providing some relief on scorching summer days.

Hedges and tree-lined fences are also important, as they provide a safe pathway by providing hiding places from predators. For our research, we used satellite images of the Atlantic Forest and randomly selected 20 landscapes containing different amounts of forest cover.

We then used mathematical models to calculate the habitat connectivity of these landscapes for three groups of species — bees, small birds such as the rufous-bellied thrush, and large birds such as toucans — based on how far they can travel. And we found in areas with low forest cover, wildlife is twice as likely to move from one natural habitat to another if paddock trees and hedges can be used as stepping stones.

We also found vegetation around creeks and waterways are the most prevalent and important type of on-farm habitat for wildlife movement. In Brazil, there are legal protections for these areas preventing them from being cleared, which means vegetation along waterways has become relatively common compared to lone trees and hedges, in places with lower forest cover.

Insights for Australia

For example, in Australia, many koala populations depend on scattered trees for movement and habitat. In 2018, CSIRO researchers in Queensland tracked koalas using GPS, and found koalas used roadside vegetation and scattered trees for feeding and resting significantly more than they expected. Likewise, lone trees, hedges and tree-lined fences can also facilitate the movement of Australian fruit-eating birds such as the Olive-backed Oriole and the Rose-crowned Fruit Dove. Improving habitat connectivity can help these birds travel across landscapes, feeding and dispersing seeds as they go.

In fragmented landscapes, where larger patches of vegetation are hard to find, dispersing the seeds of native plants encourages natural regeneration of ecosystems. This is a key strategy to help achieve environmental restoration and conservation targets.

To read the full article, please click here.



Bird of the month: Powerful Owl

Posted on 29 July, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our sevententh 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 and photos from the brilliant Damian Kelly.

Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua)

These guys are huge, Powerful Owls are enormous, amazing and BIG! However, for such a massive bird they can be extremely difficult to find, even when you know their location. My partner has excellent bird spotting eyes (that’s why he’s a ‘keeper’ and I really hope he doesn’t read this) and he describes them as looking like a dark basket ball very high in the canopy, in the biggest tree around. If you’re really lucky, have the patience and magic like Damian Kelly does, and a very long camera lens, you can see Powerful Owls as clearly as Damian’s stunning photos.

I tell you, Bird of the Month would be pathetic if it weren’t for Damian Kelly, but regular readers have probably guessed that.

Back to Powerful Owls and a closer look at their magnificence.

I’ve said they are big and they are in fact Australia’s largest owl, with a body length of 60cm and wingspans of 110cm to 140cm. It appears pairs mate for life and may be together for up to 30 years. Males are generally larger than females, she will do all the 35-38 days of egg sitting through winter, while the male feeds her. If you see a Powerful Owl through winter, it should be the male snoozing with the food he has hunted for the female, in his talons. Usually a possum such as a Ringtail, or Glider, as well as some bird species including cockatoos, ravens, magpies and choughs, which would have been snatched from their roost during the night. Looking at the species Powerful Owls eat, it’s evident they are all arboreal, in fact 95% arboreal. The remaining 5% is not preferred food and is made up of rabbits and larger insects when obtainable, like longicorn and scarab beetles. Pellets of partially digested bones and fur that are brought up can sometimes be found on the ground under roosts, along with whitewash, which is their poo.

Cryptic adult on the higher branch, and juvenile Powerful Owl with pale breast. Photo: Damian Kelly

Data shows Powerful Owl populations have fallen to around 30 breeding pairs in what remains of Box-Ironbark Forests, and they are listed as “threatened” as populations continue to struggle. Pressures include lack of large old trees with suitably sized hollows, as well as declines in arboreal mammal populations. Additionally, with a home range of 300ha to 1500ha, suitable habitat for these huge owls is not be easy to find. Having said that, they will roost in non-native trees as well as natives, and can be found in a variety of habitats from moister to dryer forests, but have also been found in urban areas of Melbourne and Sydney. Clearly an adaptable bird, but with limits, perhaps due to its large size.

As a note, the whereabouts of Powerful Owls is kept a bit of a secret, this is due to their rarity and susceptibility for disturbance by humans. If you wish to go looking for them, expect long hours in the cold and wet, a sore neck by the end of it and a high chance of failure, however rewards are huge if you manage to spot a Powerful Owl, and please make sure it is not disturbed in any way.

To listen to the Powerful Owl distinctive call and for more information about local Owls, see our previous blog here.

A Powerful Owl with its dinner, probably a magpie. Photo: Damian Kelly


Birdwatching for beginners: VNPA online guide

Posted on 22 July, 2021 by Ivan

It was nearly 12 months ago when Connecting Country delivered our ‘Birdwatching for Beginners” event, which consisted of an online learning session and a practical group session in the field. The event was a massive success, providing a solid platform for the next generation of bird-loving watchers and monitors to improve their skills and learn from experts.

Volunteers survey birds in the Mount Alexander area. (photo: Ivan Carter)

We recently discovered a great online overview for beginners interested in improving their birdwatching skills, particularly given we are now in another COVID lockdown and looking for online resources. The online resource covers the topics of:

  • Spotting birds
  • Noticing the feature of birds
  • Identifying birds
  • Recording bird sightings
  • Using binoculars.

Please check out the VNPA resource below, and also our Birdwatching for Beginners event by clicking here, which has some useful resources and a video of our presentation featuring local bird guru Damian Kelly.

Birdwatching really is just watching birds! 

Having special gear and knowing birds really well is wonderful and can take the experience to another level, but the simple act of watching and admiring birds can make you a birdwatcher too.

One of the wonderful things about watching birds is that it brings you in to the present moment. If a bird appears, now is the time to observe it because in a moment, it could be gone.

Birding is such an engaging way to bring new excitement to your adventures in nature. If you are keen to give birdwatching a go think ‘watching birds’ as your starting point. Try the tips below to make it easier and fun.

Let’s go birding

If you are keen to give birdwatching a go, try spotting, observing and identifying 5 different species of bird on your next adventure, then you can step it up over time.

Please click on the link below, and off you go!

Birdwatching for beginners


Seeking birdwatchers for surveys in 2021

Posted on 6 July, 2021 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.

Volunteers survey birds in the Mount Alexander area (photo by: Frances Howe)

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.

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 (we can help with this)
  • 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 will then get in touch to discuss and provide more information.



Tricky birds: revisiting Thornbills

Posted on 1 July, 2021 by Ivan

In August 2020, Connecting Country collaborated with birding experts Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros for our much-anticipated event, ‘Tricky Birds of central Victoria with Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros’. This online free event sold out with 500 bookings recorded the day before the event. We were absolutely thrilled to host this event with Geoff and Chris, who shared their tips for birding in central Victoria.

Geoff covered tips on raptor identification and Chris focused on the tricky topic of 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 leading bird experts and outstanding photographers, with many beautiful images and helpful tips about identifying these look-a-like birds that can be difficult to distinguish.

To get some further tips on identifying Thornbills, you may like to visit Geoff Park’s recent posts below, through his much-loved Natural Newstead blog. This recently published three-part blog series, is an absolute treat for anyone who loves birds, highlighting a variety of thornbill species. It features stunning photographs and an excellent overview of the tricky thornbills. Please find the three blogs below:

Part 1: Striated Thornbills

Part 2: Brown Thornbills

Part 3: Yellow Thornbills

The Striated Thornbill is a medium-sized thornbill with greenish upperparts (photo: Geoff Park)


To see the ‘Tricky Birds’ presentations (PDF) delivered by Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros and discover more about the Connecting Country event, please click on the link below. We sure did learn a lot and the audience was thrilled to see these two leading bird ecologists provide valuable identification skills for tricky birds. 

‘Tricky birds’ event delivered to a packed online audience


Whistling Kite surprises with phascogale catch

Posted on 30 June, 2021 by Ivan

(warning: graphic content of predator and prey)

Our region of central Victoria is home to numerous raptors, particularly in the vast plains to the north and west of Castlemaine, where species such as Whistling Kite, Black Kite, Brown Falcon, Kestrel and Black-shouldered Kite hunt the plains and farmland. Raptors are near the top of the avian food chain and feed on a variety of mice, rats, birds and native marsupials, as well as various roadkill species. They are excellent hunters, as well scavengers, and are often seen perched on dead trees and fences, eyeing off prey in the grasslands and pastures.

Local ecologist and author Damien Kelly has produced an excellent overview of raptors in our region. To view – click here

We were surprised by recently discovering a collection of images from a local resident, which showed a Whistling Kite grasping a captured Brush-Tailed Phascogale (Tuan). The photos show the brutal reality of the food chain and the incredible hunting skills of the Whistling kite. The photographs were taken by Helen McGeachin, and have been published here with her permission. Helen took the photographs a few years ago (June 2013) when she was working in her workshop in Elmtree Lane, Chewton VIC and looked up to see the kite (with poor little Tuan in hand ), which had landed on a nearby fence post.

The Whistling Kite is a medium-sized raptor (bird of prey) with a shaggy appearance. It has a light brown head and underparts, with pale streaks, and dark sandy-brown wings with paler undersides. The underwings have a characteristic pale ‘M’ shape when open. The head and body are relatively narrow and the tail is rounded. The wings are long and well-rounded, with a wingspan of 120 cm to 145 cm.

They are often seen near water or around farms, soaring in a lazy circling flight pattern. The distinctive call of the Whistling Kite is, unsurprisingly, a clear whistle, which begins by descending down the scale, followed by an up-scale staccato chatter, given by birds as they fly overhead or when perched. During the non-breeding season, they mainly eat carrion, but during the breeding season, they take live prey, especially rabbits and hares, as well as fish, reptiles, birds, small mammals and invertebrates. They sometimes attend fires to catch fleeing prey, and they may steal food from other birds of prey.

To hear the call of the Whistling Kite – click here



Nature journaling with BirdLife Castlemaine – Saturday 3 July 2021

Posted on 24 June, 2021 by Ivan

Here is a great opportunity to practice some nature journaling through our much loved BirdLife Castlemaine District branch, exploring the natural world through art and creativity. The location will be the woodlands around the popular Crusoe Reservoir, near Kangaroo Flat, Bendigo VIC. We rarely find the time to connect deeply to landscapes in the ever-increasing realm of busyness, so here lies the perfect opportunity!

Please read on for details provided by BirdLife Castlemaine.

For inspiring photos of the wildlife spotted at the reservoir and surrounds, visit the excellent website of Friends of Crusoe Reservoir – click here

Nature journaling – Saturday 3 July 2021

Join some nature-loving creatives and aspiring creatives and explore the natural world through your chosen medium … which can be whatever you want. We will be in the bush seeking inspiration from the natural world, both from the plant and animal kingdoms.

A beautiful drawing of an Eastern Yellow Robin, that Ash Vigus is currently working on (photo: Jane Rusden)


All ages and abilities are welcome.

11:30 am – 1:30 pm, 3 July

Crusoe Reservoir carpark, Kangaroo Flat, Bendigo VIC

From Castlemaine. Calder Hwy (A79) then turn left into Furness Street (Harvey Norman is on the corner). Go to the end of Furness Street then turn left into Crusoe Road. Crusoe Reservoir is 500 metres on the left. We meet in the car park there.

From Maldon. Bendigo – Maldon Road (C283) then left onto Calder Alternate Hwy. After 850 metres turn right onto Crusoe Road. After 6.7 km, Crusoe Reservoir is on the right. We meet in the car park there.

There are toilets just inside the entrance, near the carpark.

Be prepared to walk a short distance on flat ground, to find a good spot to settle and create.

Bring something to sit on, lunch, water or flask, very warm clothing, binoculars if you want and have them, and most importantly, your creative materials – pen, paper, pencils, paint, camera, or whatever you need to get creative in nature. Guide books could be helpful to identify plants and animals.

You may like to join our bird walk at 9 am at the same location. For details of all our events – click here

BirdLife Castlemaine District


Bird of the month: Galah

Posted on 23 June, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our sixteenth 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.

Galah (Eolophus roseicapilla)

Recently I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Nature Foundation’s property, Witchelina Nature Reserve, near Marree in South Australia and I highly recommend making the effort to visit. Whilst there I saw desert birds that Victorians get very excited about because their ranges don’t extend this far south. These are birds we rarely see and birds we commonly see, like the Galah. This bird is either overlooked or labelled a destroyer of crops, but lights up in clear desert light showing off the most stunning pink face and body.

Cockatoos are known to be very intelligent the world over, and this includes the Galah. They have readily adapted to altered habitats such as farmland, particularly cropping, with accompanying water sources. I saw them at Witchelina utilising open woodland and mallee, with the exception of the driest areas. They can often be seen in mixed flocks with both Corella species and Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, feeding on any area of open ground.

However, Galahs have also learned to utilise tall forests and coastal areas, a seemingly far cry from their original dry interior ranges. Interestingly, while the Galah was known rarely in Tasmania, there is now an expanded breeding population. In another example of the ability of this species to move vast distances, in 1966 in response to drought, a flock of Galahs moved from inland areas to Maroochydore in Queensland, where they now reside and breed. Its wide distribution and abundance positions the Galah as perhaps the most successful member of the cockatoo family.

Female Galah with her pink eye (photo by Jane Rusden)


Due to their adaptability, Galahs have landed in the crosshairs of parties with grievances towards them. This is an extra sad dilemma as they form permanent pair bonds for the life of a bird and have complex social structures. They will often use the same nest in a tree hollow year after year, rearing young who remain dependent for several months in the nest, then another month in a creche, still being feed by their parents.

On a lighter note, studies have shown their love of what humans call mischief. Galahs can undo bindings on grain bags for a free feed, will play and swing on wires, roll down inclines and play with objects using their feet, while lying on their backs. To bathe they love to hang upside down with their wings out, in the rain. No wonder the slang for a person being a bit of a goof is ‘you’re a Galah!’

Male Galah with his dark eye (photo by Jane Rusden)


To listen to the call of the Galah, please visit Graeme Chapman’s website – 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.






Swift Parrot in the news again

Posted on 2 June, 2021 by Ivan

Swift Parrots are one of the iconic species of our Box-Ironbark region.  The Mount Alexander region is one of its favored mainland foraging locations and it is particularly well known from the forests of Muckleford. On the Australian mainland, it’s a migratory visitor during the winter months for non-breeding activities only. All Swift Parrot breeding occurs in Tasmania during the spring-summer months, and this is where the Swift Parrot has recently been in the news.

The Swift Parrot featured in the news again this week and for all of the wrong reasons. The news article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and highlighted some of the challenges this stunning parrot is facing in Tasmania with recent logging activities in core habitat areas. The article provides a detailed interview with Dr Matthew Webb, a conservation scientist at Australian National University who monitors the spatial range of the nomadic swift parrots during their breeding season.

Please read on for an extract of the article, courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald. You can also read all about Swift Parrots in our region – click here

‘Leave the forests alone’: Swift action needed to save endangered parrots

Late last year, Dr Matthew Webb arrived at a patch of forest on the east coast of Tasmania expecting to find swift parrots feeding on the creamy white eucalyptus blossom and flitting, with distinctive speed, to nearby nesting trees.

Dr Webb has been studying these birds – the fastest parrot on Earth – and their summer breeding sites in Tasmania for more than 15 years.

When he arrived, the swift parrots were there. But so too were large trucks and heavy machinery logging trees in the Eastern Tiers forest reserve, despite the presence of the critically endangered birds.

It’s not that the presence of parrots in this coupe was unexpected.

Dr Webb is a conservation scientist at Australian National University who monitors the spatial range of the nomadic swift parrots during their breeding season. And he routinely notifies the state forestry agency – Sustainable Timber Tasmania – and the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment about parrot habitat. Yet this keeps happening.

Swift parrots are critically endangered.

Swift parrots are critically endangered (photo: Sydney Morning Herald)


‘I still really enjoy the work but what’s not enjoyable is returning to places that I’ve been monitoring for years and finding really critical breeding or feeding habitat turned into a hundred hectares of clear-fell,’ Dr Webb says. ‘This means not only more habitat loss but also active nests being knocked over.’

Swift parrots are a critically endangered bird found only in south-eastern Australia, whose decline is largely due to loss of habitat through deforestation and predation by sugar gliders, an introduced species in Tasmania.

To read the full article in the Sydney Morning Herald, please – click here


Bird of the month: Buff-rumped Thornbill

Posted on 19 May, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our fifteenth 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.

Buff-rumped Thornbill (Acanthiza reguloides)

Thornbill species are some of the most difficult local birds to identify, and the Buff-rumped Thornbill is no exception. If you can get a good view, you may be able to see it has a very pale, almost white eye. But this is not easy as they are constantly on the move, flitting about in the cover of shrubs and trees, or on the ground amongst fallen timber. A bit easier to see is its buff-coloured rump, which is also a giveaway with identifying this species. Other diagnostic features are its creamy-coloured body fading to a gently yellow hue low on its belly, and the black tail. Usually, I hear them before I see them. I liken their call to a Brown Thornbill with a touch of Grey Fantail. It’s a typical Thornbill call but with more melody than most.

To add to the confusion, Buff-rumped Thornbills are very fond of company, both their own species and other small woodland birds like Grey Fantails, Striated and Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Speckled Warblers (you would do a happy dance of triumph on seeing one of these), Scarlet Robins and other species. Rarely seen on their own or in pairs, they like a party and can be in flocks of up to 20.

Buff-rumped Thornbills are found in the drier, more open forest regions of coastal eastern Australia (photo by Damian Kelly)


Like many Australian birds, there are observations of them breeding cooperatively. The 2-4 eggs in a dome-shaped nest are tended by the parents with assistance from their sons, who feed the new hatchlings and their parents. Once fledged, the females tend to disperse, with their brothers often staying home. This means that Buff-rumped Thornbills are generally a sedentary resident in their range.

A mixed flock moving though the foliage can be exciting and tricky to identify, but satisfying, especially if you manage to sort out the Thornbills that are often present. Use your ears and your eyes … and good luck!

Buff-rumped Thornbills inhabit grassy woodlands and feed mostly in small flocks among the lower levels of the vegetation (photo by Damian Kelly)


To listen to the call of the Buff-rumped Thornbill, please visit Graeme Chapman’s website – 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.


Bird’s delight: just add water

Posted on 5 May, 2021 by Ivan

We recently received some beautiful images from one of our landholders and community volunteers, Steph Carter, using a wildlife camera at her birdbath. The motion camera has captured some unique moments and a few unexpected visitors to the water source. It was heartening to see so many birds and other animals having a drink and a splash, showing the importance of having water available throughout the year.

The images were captured at Steph’s property at Porcupine Flat, near Walmer, Victoria. Motion sensor cameras are an excellent way to engage with our native wildlife, without being invasive or disrupting them. The advanced cameras are excellent at capturing our nocturnal native animals, which we rarely see but often hear.

A big thank you to Steph for sharing these images – we love them! Landholders are always welcome to send nature photographs, wildlife camera highlights or natural discoveries to us at:


Elphinstone bird walk – 1 May 2021

Posted on 29 April, 2021 by Frances

BirdLife Castlemaine District is teaming up with Elphinstone Land Management Association (ELMA) for their May 2021 bird walk. Bird walks are held monthly at some fabulous birding spots around central Victoria.

Please read on for more details from BirdLife Castlemaine District. To read their latest e-news – click here

May Bird Walk – Saturday 1 May 2021 – Coliban Main Channel, Elphinstone VIC

The next BirdLife Castlemaine District Branch bird walk will be held on Saturday 1 May 2021 along the Coliban Main Channel, Elphinstone. This is a joint walk, in conjunction with the Elphinstone Land Management Association (ELMA). The ELMA group of volunteers work on public and private land to enhance biodiversity, carry out land restoration, offer advice on best practice land use, and to manage pest plants and animals. ELMA is a member of the Farm Tree and Landcare Association (FTLA).

The walk is along the maintenance track running beside the Coliban Main Channel that transfers water from the Malmsbury Reservoir to Bendigo. It is very easy walking. The treed area which has mainly peppermint, box and stringy-bark with a moderate to high cover of shrubs and ground-layer vegetation starts out relatively narrow but increases in width as we continue along the walk.

Possible sightings are the usual several Honeyeaters, Scrubwrens, Fairy-wrens, Pardalotes and Treecreepers etc. with there being historical sightings of Eastern Spinebill, Dusky Woodswallow, Red-browed Finch, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Little Eagle and Tawny-crowned Honeyeater. Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos have also been seen recently. Our walk leader is Damian Kelly. ALL WELCOME!

Note there are no toilets at the site.

Where: The walk will begin at the Coliban Main Channel gate No.14 where the channel crosses under Wright Street, Elphinstone VIC. From Castlemaine, take the Pyrenees Hwy (B180) toward Melbourne. About 10 lm from Castlemaine, turn right onto Diggers Way toward Elphinstone. Drive approximately 1.4 km and turn right onto Wright Street, drive about another 1.4 km to where the channel crosses under Wright Street. There is a small parking area but most will need to park along the road itself. The road is not overly busy but is a main road so please park and walk with care. GPS: -37.11611, 144.33747.

When: Meet at the Coliban Main Channel at 9:00 am.

Bring: Water, snacks, binoculars, sunscreen, hat, sturdy shoes. During snake season we strongly recommend wearing long trousers and covered-in shoes.

More info: Jane Rusden, 0448 900 896, Judy Hopley 0425 768 559 or Bob Dawson 0417 621 691.

Please note that walks will be cancelled if severe weather warnings are in place, persistent rain is forecast, the temperature is forecast to be 35 degrees C or above during the walk period, and/or a Total Fire Ban is declared. Please check your email and our Facebook page the day before the event in case there is a cancellation.

Brown Treecreeper (photo by Ash Vigus)


Old trees draw a crowd

Posted on 28 April, 2021 by Ivan

The old trees of Harcourt North had plenty of admiration from the strong crowd of 40 people at our ‘Caring for old trees’ event on Saturday 24 April 2021 at Hillside Acres in Harcourt North, Victoria. It was a day to remember, with still mild weather and two excellent guest speakers to educate participants about the beauty, benefits, importance and biodiversity of the old trees in our region. The event was our first face-to-face event in over 12 months and formed part of our ‘Healthy Landscapes’ project, funded through the Australian Government’s Smart Farms program.

The event was hosted by two local leading naturalists, Jarrod Coote and Tanya Loos, who coincidentally both previously worked with Connecting Country. The workshop involved a tour of the lovely Hillside Acres farm in Harcourt North, including some amazing old trees that have been estimated to be 300-400 years old. The walk and talk included how to look after older trees in the landscape, why they are important to farming and biodiversity, and methods of protection and providing succession.

Guest speaker Tanya Loos explaining the importance of grazing management and protection of old trees in the landscape (photo by Ivan Carter)


Tanya covered some excellent points on how old trees provide vital farm infrastructure, as well as habitat for many birds, arboreal mammals, microbats, and insects. Jarrod covered some great insights about how to integrate healthy farming with a healthy landscape. He also provided practical advice on how to care for old trees so they remain part of our local landscape, and how to ensure the next generation of old trees.

The audience was fascinated to learn about the importance of Mistletoe in our landscape and the number of native animals it supports with its fruits, leaves and flowers. Also of interest was the importance of dead trees in the landscape, particularly to birds of prey and bats.

This large old Yellow Box (Eucalyptus melliodora) is estimated to be 300-400 years old (photo by Ivan Carter)


For those interested in local trees, Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests (FOBIF) has developed an excellent ‘Eucalypts of the Mount Alexander Region’ book. This 90-page guide book is well suited to beginners. In plain language, and generously illustrated, it presents most of the Eucalypt species that flourish in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. Copies are available from Stoneman’s Bookroom in Castlemaine and via FOBIF website – click here

Many thanks to Tanya and Jarrod for their outstanding knowledge and passion for landscape restoration, and also to Jarrod and Rebecca at Hillside Acres for sharing their unique and inspiring farm.

This section of the farm has extensive revegetation planting, bringing a variety of birds back into the landscape (photo by Jacqui Slingo)


Our Healthy Landscapes project is about helping our local farmers and other landholders to manage their land sustainably for the benefit of wildlife, themselves and the broader landscape. We are also developing a Healthy Landscapes guide book, especially targeted to the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. This event is part of a series of educational workshops for landholders on sustainable land management.

The next event on our education calendar will be a wetland restoration tour in early June 2021. Please stay tuned. 



Nature journaling with BirdLife Castlemaine

Posted on 22 April, 2021 by Frances

Our clever friends at BirdLife Castlemaine District not only run fun and educational monthly bird walks around central Victoria, they are also a creative bunch. Their members include some talented local artists and wildlife photographers.

Starting 1 May 2021, after each monthly bird walk, community members are now welcome to join in with nature journaling. The idea is to enjoy the company of others who like to take a closer look at our local bush. No experience is necessary and people with all levels of proficiency are welcome.

Nature Journaling with BirdLife Castlemaine District will happen on the first Saturday of the month from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm on location following their monthly bird walk. Read on for further details from BirdLife Castlemaine and sign up to their eNews (email: or  Facebook page (click here) for regular updates and information on locations.

Eastern Rosella, watercolour and ink, by Jane Rusden


Nature journaling with BirdLife Castlemaine District

Castlemaine District BirdLife does not charge for either bird walks or nature journaling. Neither do we insist on participants becoming a BirdLife member or supporter. Cost will be nature journaling materials you need on the day, should you need to purchase anything.

First Saturday of the month, 11:30 am to 1:30 pm following the monthly bird walk. Location will be the same as the bird walk and will change every month. Sign up to our eNews or Facebook for details. Bird walks start at 9 am.

What is it:
Using any creative medium to record what your senses pick up in the bush. That may include using a sketchbook or paper for drawing, painting, notations, poetry and / or writing. You may need a camera, your phone or sound recording equipment. Or whatever you’ve chosen to do. Whatever your medium is, it is important we leave no trace of our activities and do not disturb the plants and animals in the bush. Picking plant material, disturbing bird nests or wildlife in anyway, will not be acceptable.

The basic premise is to enjoy the company of others who like to take a closer look at our local bush, no experience is necessary and all levels of proficiency welcomed. Each month we will ask one willing participant to very briefly tell us what is working or not working for them, or for their favourite tips.

What to bring:
Lunch for yourself, water, something to sit on. Wear clothes and footwear suitable for protection from the weather and snakes, so a sunhat, long sleeve shirt and long trousers with shoes suitable for rough uneven ground. As the weather cools, bring a rain coat, warm clothing and a warm hat. It can get very cold sitting still for two hours.

Importantly, bring the materials you require, for your chosen medium for your nature journal.

BirdLife Castlemaine District


Bird of the month: Hooded Robin

Posted on 14 April, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our fourteenth 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.

Hooded Robin (Melanodryas cucullata)

It’s a good day birding if you spot a Hooded Robin in Central Victoria, with its striking black and white feathers and the iconic black hood of the male bird. They are a quiet bird, and uncommon with a conservation status of ‘threatened’ due to loss of habitat, sadly making them harder to find. Unobtrusively, they love a fence wire to perch on while they scan the ground for insects…and then pounce, returning to their perch to swallow hapless insect prey, which is typical robin behaviour.

The Hooded Robin is one of Connecting Country’s Feathered Five, a local indicator species that is easy to identify (although females are easily confused with Jacky Winter, as they look very similar), relatively widespread in the region, and ground-foraging. Foraging on the ground makes them susceptible to pressures typically faced by woodland birds, such as predation by foxes and cats, and the loss of leaf litter, branches and other essential components of a ‘messy’ bush habitat that humans too often remove. Other threats are drought and changing fire regimes.

Female Hooded Robin (photo by Damian Kelly)


To find our more about the Feathered Five, see Connecting Country’s woodland bird webpage – click here

Unlike some of the more common robins, which belong to the genus Petroica, the Hooded Robin is in the genus Melanodryas, and is larger in body size and does not move around seasonally.

In our research Damian and I found some conflicting evidence of flocking behaviour. It is agreed that Hooded Robins will forage with other insectivores such as Flame and Scarlet Robins. However, some sources say they occur as pairs or single birds, whereas other sources report seeing them in family groups, which means four or five Hooded Robins. On reflection, Damian and I believe we’ve seen pairs or single birds on the edge of their range, at places like Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve south of Newstead VIC. However, we’ve seen larger groups of birds in more arid environments like Goschen Bushland Reserve near Swan Hill VIC, and the West McDonald Ranges near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. This would fit with the literature, however, we’d be very interested in what others have observed.

Various sources note the distinctive pre-dawn call of the Hooded Robin, their very quiet nature during daylight, and that they can be heard calling at night, particularly under a bright moon.

Male Hooded Robin (photo by Damian Kelly)


To listen to the call of the Hooded Robin, please visit Graeme Chapman’s website – 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.


Bird of the month: Superb Fairy-wren

Posted on 30 March, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our thirteenth 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 Ash Vigus.

Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus)

My grandfather, Claude Austin, passed on his passion for birds and conservation to my very young eyes and ears. One of my earliest and ongoing observations was that, despite downsizing from farm, to rural home on acres, to house in the city, there were always Superb Fairy-wrens, also known as Blue Wrens, in his garden. And so it became a life goal for me to create safe and suitable habitat for these tiny but charismatic and adaptable birds in my own garden. These days, living on a bush property, they provide a daily delight as they robustly sing to the world with all their might, jump over each other like circus tumblers and snuggle up in gorgeous family groups. However, I doubt that in his day, Pop knew of their saucy sex life. If he did he certainly wasn’t telling me.

Superb Fairy-wrens love dense bushes. They sing from the highest point and dive into them for cover from predators, while using the surrounding open ground to forage in a social unit, at a frenetic pace. Their diet consists of predominantly insects, but also flower petals and succulent fruits.

During spring and summer the male Superb Fairy-wren makes up for it’s tiny size, with vivid and iridescent blue and black breeding plumage making them quite conspicuous. However, during the non-breeding months they go through eclipse where they look quite motley, adopting mouse brown plumage like the female, but retaining the black bill and very dark blue tail.

Female Superb Fairy-wren (photo by Jane Rusden)


Damian Kelly’s discovered the following facts about Super Fairy-wrens during his research.

Generally you will see a male in company with a group of brown birds, both male and female. In the past this misled people into thinking that the male was polygamous and held sway over his ‘harem’.

This was all turned on its head by banding studies first by E and J Bradley and then Ian Rowley. What appears to be a territorial patriarchal group is in fact a matriarchal group. Groups comprise usually one coloured male, a bunch of brown males and one female. All birds assist in the feeding of the young. Any females hatched are driven from the group once mature.

To add to the intrigue, eggs in a nest are not all fathered by the coloured male – often separate eggs are fertilised by several different males. Various studies have found that over 40% of young in a territorial group were fathered by a male other than the dominant coloured male. This behaviour is true not only of the Superb Fairy Wren, but also the Splendid Fairy Wren.

BirdLife Australia’s ‘Birds in Backyards’ web page has this to say: ‘Male Superb Fairy-wrens have been labelled as ‘the least faithful birds in the world’. Females may be courted by up to 13 males in half an hour, and 76% of young are sired by males from outside the social group.’

Male Superb Fairy-wren in breeding plumage (photo by Ash Vigus)


Superb Fairy-wrens can be parasitised at times by cuckoos such as Horsefields, Shining, Fantailed and Black-eared.

To listen to the call of the Superb Fairy Wren, please visit Graeme Chapman’s website – click here

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


  • HANZAB. The Fairy-Wrens by Richard Schodde.
  • BirdLife Australia’s Birds in Backyards web page – click here


Rise and shine for BirdLife Castlemaine AGM – 3 April 2021

Posted on 17 March, 2021 by Ivan

Our friends and partners at BirdLife Castlemaine District Branch are holding their annual general meeting (AGM) on Saturday 3 April 2021 at the lovely Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve in Sandon VIC. The AGM will be held in conjunction with their monthly bird walk, which will explore the excellent bird habitat in the reserve.

For further details from BirdLife Castlemaine please read on or visit their website – click here

Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve is well known for its excellent birding opportunities (photo by Geoff Park)


Please be advised that the 2021 Annual General Meeting of BirdLife Castlemaine District Branch will be held on:

Saturday 3 April 2021 at 11.30 am
Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, Sandon VIC

The meeting will follow the monthly bird walk to be held at Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve.  BYO drink and chair – food for morning tea will be provided.

A nomination form for committee positions is attached.   A proxy voting form is also attached.  Please consider nominating for the committee.  Also attached is the agenda for the 2021 AGM and the unconfirmed 2020 AGM minutes.

Nomination forms and proxy voting forms should be emailed to
OR mailed to:
Secretary, BirdLife Castlemaine District Branch, 25A Church Street, Maldon, VIC 3463.

Nominations will also be accepted on the day of the AGM.

Please also note that a BirdLife Castlemaine District Branch committee meeting will be held on Sunday 11 April, 10.00 am in Hawkins Road, Campbells Creek VIC.

Best wishes,

Judy Hopley

BirdLife Castlemaine District Branch


2021 bird walks with BirdLife Castlemaine

Posted on 4 March, 2021 by Ivan

Our friends and project partners at BirdLife Castlemaine District have shared their latest ‘Bird Walks Calendar 2021’, which sets out all the excellent monthly bird walks they have planned for the rest of 2021. If you have not attended one of their bird walks, then make 2021 the year to enjoy the pleasure of a guided bird walk with friendly local experts. Please read on for details, provided by BirdLife Castlemaine District.

March 2021 bird walk

Date: Saturday 6 March 2021 at 9 am
Leader: Damian Kelly
Location: Glamorgan Reef Bushland Reserve, Yandoit VIC

Monthly bird walks can be a healthy stroll with lovely people, with birds providing a natural bonus (photo by Frances Howe)

Dear members and friends,

Please find attached the BirdLife Castlemaine District Branch 2021 Calendar with brief details of our monthly bird walks and the bird camp to be held in September.

Full details about each walk will be posted on the BirdLife Castlemaine District. Facebook page and included in our eNews prior to each walk.  If you are interested in the bird camp, contact details are on the calendar.

Thanks to Bob Dawson, BCD’s Bird walk coordinator and to those who have already led walks or will be doing so as the year progresses. All levels of experience welcome – walks are a great chance to learn from and have fun with fellow birdwatchers. Full details about each walk will be posted on the BirdLife Castlemaine District Facebook page and included in our eNews prior to each walk.

Walks will be cancelled if, during the walk period, severe weather warnings are in place; temperatures over 35oC or persistent rain is forecast; a Total Fire Ban has been declared for the day. Please check your email and/or Facebook on the evening before a walk, in case the event has been cancelled.

For more information, please email or call/text Jane Rusden (0448 900 896), Judy Hopley (0425 768 559) or Bob Dawson (0417 621 691). Please also note that walks or other activities will need to follow all Victorian Government Covid-19 restrictions and recommendations and will only go ahead if the restrictions permit.

To download BirdLife Castlemaine’s 2021 calendar – click here


Bird monitoring 2020 results are in!

Posted on 4 March, 2021 by Jess

Connecting Country’s long-term bird monitoring program was established to investigate the relationship between habitat restoration and woodland bird populations across the Mount Alexander region in central Victoria. In 2020 sites were monitored by our team of tenacious volunteers, who managed to survey most of our sites, despite challenges associated with COVID-19 and lockdowns. The 2020 monitoring season was supported by the Australian Government’s Communities Environment Program. This was the second time our monitoring was 100% completed by volunteers.

The adorable Jackie Winter, a tiny but stunning bird of our region (photo by Peter Turner)

We are excited to present the following short report summarising the results of our 2020 bird monitoring program. We’re always on the lookout for more volunteer bird monitors! If you have bird identification skills and are interested in joining our bird monitoring program, please email our Monitoring Coordinator, Jess Lawton (

To hear more about our woodland birds monitoring program, and why we set up the program please watch the following video.


Bird of the month: Fuscous Honeyeater

Posted on 25 February, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our twelfth 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 Ash Vigus.

Fuscous Honeyeater (Lichenostomus fuscus)

Since we’ve all been in lockdown and spending most of our days at home, I thought the ever constant, interactive communities of Fuscous Honeyeater a good place to start this month. Partly because their endearing daily antics are the very opposite of what COVID-19 restrictions do to our own lives.

Visually the Fuscous Honeyeater is nothing to rave about, much like us living through lockdown in our PJ’s. In fact, I tell those new to bird watching, if they see a honeyeater but can’t quite work out what species it is, it’s probably a Fuscous. The small yellow tuft of feathers below the eye, on the jawline, can be very difficult to see, and otherwise they are a nondescript, mid olive-brown bird.

Their habit of foraging for insects on the wing, and lerp, honeydew and nectar in the treetops, makes them difficult to see as they flit about in the foliage. There is nothing to indicate which are male and female, although the male is very slightly larger than the female. Immature and non-breeding birds have a yellow gape, whereas breeding birds have an all-black bill (see photo comparison).

Fuscous Honeyeater with a yellow gape, indicating an immature or non-breeding individual (photo: Jane Rusden)

I find the best way to observe this species is at my birdbaths, which they absolutely love – not surprising as they are known to be drawn to water sources. I’ll often see about five birds gathering in a circle like they are at a noisy party, where they shout at each other all at once, then fly off one after the other in quick succession. There have been some long-term studies that indicate the Fuscous Honeyeater is a semi-colonial species, although they breed in monogamous pairs. They lay 1-3 eggs in a cup shaped nest that appear to be quite flimsy. However, they must be successful breeders and their densities can be up to five birds per hectare in highly suitable habitat.

If you find yourself somewhere on the east coast, between South Australia and Queensland, in a dryer forest, straining to looking at an olive-brown honeyeater that you can’t quite identify, but it’s vigorously chasing other birds through the canopy or shouting at it’s friends … you might be looking at a Fuscous Honeyeater.

Fuscous Honeyeater with a black bill indicating it’s a breeding adult (photo: Jane Rusden)

To listen to the call of the Fuscous Honeyeater, please  visit Graeme Chapman’s website – 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.