Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests AGM 12 August: Geoff Park presentation

Posted on 15 July, 2024 by Ivan

Our friends and project partners at Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests (FOBIF) are having their Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 12 August 2024, with local ecologist Geoff Park as a guest speaker. Geoff will speak about locally extinct or rare woodland bird species and discuss what we think we know about the current situation and consider options and possibilities for future conservation efforts. It will be sure to be a great event. Please find the details below, supplied by FOBIF.

Woodland birds in central Victoria – historical observations, current status and future prospects

Woodland birds are an iconic and special element of the box-ironbark forests and woodlands of central Victoria. The impacts of European settlement, from gold-mining to agricultural intensification, have contributed to a steady decline in species diversity and populations. This decline is now being exacerbated by the clear and present effects of climate change.

Geoff’s talk will span some historical perspectives on what are now locally extinct or rare woodland bird species, discuss what we think we know about the current situation and consider options and possibilities for future conservation efforts.

When: Monday 12 August 2024 at 7.30pm

Where: Castlemaine Senior Citizens Centre, Mechanics Lane, Castlemaine VIC

Flame Robin (adult male), Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 26 June 2024 (Geoff Park,  Natural Newstead)

FOBIF AGM items will also be covered on the evening. There are several vacancies on the FOBIF committee, interested people are encouraged to consider joining. There is a link for nomination forms and more information here.

 

Midweek Bird Walk – Wednesday 17 July 2024, Forest Creek Trail Castlemaine

Posted on 4 July, 2024 by Ivan

Our friends and project partners at Birdlife Castlemaine District are holding another mid-week bird walk along Forest Creek to observe and discuss the range of birds that make the creek valley their home. It will be a great chance for a casual stroll along an accessible trail with knowledgeable and passionate bird watchers, and an opportunity to learn more about restoring our local landscapes.  All welcome and no prior birding experience necessary.

July Midweek Bird Walk

Wednesday 17 July 2024

Forest Creek Trail, Happy Valley, Castlemaine

Following the successful May midweek walk, we have decided to try another in July. This time we will walk along the Forest Creek Trail, Happy Valley. This track is a section of the Leanganook Track which is also known variously as the Happy Valley Walking Trail and the Goldfields Track, depending on the information source. The track is mostly flat providing easy walking.

Habitat is varied with much regeneration work also having been done by the Castlemaine Landcare Group and others. Possible sightings include various Thornbills and Honeyeaters, Pardalotes, Pied Currawong, Musk Lorikeet, Silvereye, Grey Fantail, etc. We may also come across some waterbirds in the creek.

Our walk leader will be Bob Dawson.

Where: The Trail starts at Happy Valley Rd. From the Hargraves and Forest Sts. roundabout, Happy Valley Rd is approx. 800 metres east toward Melbourne off the Pyrenees Hwy (B180). (Note: the beginning of Happy Valley Rd is marked as Burke St on Google Maps, etc., but the street sign says Happy Valley Rd). Turn left into Happy Valley Rd, then the start of the Trail is about 250 metres on the right.

GPS – 37.06874, 144.22776.

When: Meet at the Forest Creek Trail at 9:00 am.

BirdLife Castlemaine District Branch eNews November 2023 - BirdLife Australia

 

Help us protect Large Old Trees: EOFY donation drive

Posted on 25 June, 2024 by Ivan

Looking for a great local cause to donate to at the end of this financial year? Over the next 12 months, we will be working to protect and enhance large old trees in our landscape, through our key project “Regenergeate before it’s too late“. Now is a great time to make a financial contribution to Connecting Country’s works as the end of the financial year approaches. Donating is easy – use our secure online service (click here), with all donations to Connecting Country being tax-deductible.

Thanks also to all our supporters for being part of the Connecting Country community in 2024, joining our shared vision for landscape restoration across the Mount Alexander region. The valuable work we do couldn’t happen without people like you – volunteering time to help with wildlife monitoring, joining our education events, participating in our on-ground projects, giving financial help or just being a member.

Funding for conservation is a constantly moving beast but we are determined to continue and maintain our core capacity and current projects until new project funding arrives. However, we need help to maintain the strong foundations essential to our success as a community-driven organisation and keep us focused on long-term plans. With enough support, the coming year will see us continue to help landholders with on-ground actions, prepare for climate change, maintain our long-term monitoring, and deliver events that inform, educate and inspire.

You can be assured that any financial support from you will be well spent, with 100% invested into our core work of supporting and implementing landscape restoration in our local area. We run a very lean operation and our small team of part-time staff attracts voluntary support that ensures every dollar goes a long way. We have produced a video below, which highlights the importance of caring for large on trees on farms, and why these landowners value their large old trees. 

As a Connecting Country supporter, you’ve already contributed to some amazing successes. Since beginning in 2007 we have:

  • Helped protect and restore 15,000 ha of habitat across the Mount Alexander region, which equates to around 8.1% of the shire.
  • Delivered more than 245 successful community education events.
  • Installed more than 450 nestboxes for the threatened Brush-tailed Phascogale.
  • Maintained a network of 50 long-term bird monitoring sites.
  • Secured funding to deliver more than 65 landscape restoration projects.
  • Supported an incredible network of over 30 Landcare and Friends groups.

 

Bird of the Month: Australasian Grebe

Posted on 19 June, 2024 by Ivan

Welcome to 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 blessed to have the brilliant Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, accompanied by Damian’s stunning photos.

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae)

Australasian Grebes hold a special place in my heart, simply because they have such cute fluffy bums and can often be seen on dams. They are seemingly half fish, spending their lives on or under water. They nest on rafts and can spend long periods under the water foraging. On land they are quite ungainly and walk very awkwardly. And then there’s the chicks, the cutest striped balls of fluff riding on a parent’s back, tucked safely away in a bed of living feathers.

The Australasian Grebe is too cute for words.  Photo Damian Kelly

Appearance can vary quite a bit. In the breeding season, both males and females have a glossy-black head with a chestnut stripe on the face extending from behind the eye through to the base of the neck and a distinctive yellow patch below the eye. In contrast, the non-breeding plumage of both sexes is dark grey-brown above with silver-grey below and lacks the distinctive yellow patch. Juveniles are quite different again, with camouflage-type black stripes on grey plumage.

Juveniles are quite different again, with camouflage-type black stripes on grey plumage. Photo: Damian Kelly

They are adaptable and can be found in varying habitats from small farm dams to larger bodies of water. Food includes fish, snails and aquatic arthropods usually collected by diving. Grebes are also known to eat their downy feathers and feed feathers to their young. Various reasons have been suggested for this behaviour ranging from aiding digestion to assisting the formation of pellets to help eject fish bones, but definitive reasons are yet to be determined.

Grebes are known to be quite mobile and will fly to new areas as water levels change. Flight is generally undertaken at night. They have also colonized New Zealand in recent times.

The Australasian grebe is common on freshwater lakes and rivers in greater Australia, New Zealand and on nearby Pacific islands. Photo: Damian Kelly

Nests are a floating mound of vegetation that is usually attached to a submerged branch or other fixed object. Over a season, two or three clutches of 3-5 eggs are laid. At times two females may lay in the same nest.  Young can swim from birth and are fed by both parents. However, if a second clutch is laid the young of the previous brood are driven away.

To hear the call of the Australasian Grebe, please click here

 

Help us thrive in 2024/2025: EOFY donation drive

Posted on 17 June, 2024 by Ivan

Looking for a great local cause to donate to at the end of this financial year? Now is a great time to make a financial contribution to Connecting Country’s work, if you can afford to, as the end of the financial year approaches. Donating is easy – use our secure online service (click here), with all donations to Connecting Country being tax-deductible.

We appreciate all your financial support, whether large or small, one-off or regular.

Thanks also to all our supporters for being part of the Connecting Country community in 2024, joining our shared vision for landscape restoration across the Mount Alexander region. The valuable work we do couldn’t happen without people like you – volunteering time to help with wildlife monitoring, joining our education events, participating in our on-ground projects, giving financial help or just being a member.

We have a demonstrated track record of fifteen years of successful landscape restoration and strategic landscape planning for the future. However, in the current situation, it’s extremely difficult to secure funding for on-ground environmental projects. The post-COVID-19 pandemic has caused our government and many philanthropic organisations to freeze or delay grant opportunities.

We are determined to survive and maintain our core capacity and current projects until new project funding arrives. However, we need help to maintain the strong foundations essential to our success as a community-driven organisation and keep us focused on long-term plans. With enough support, the coming year will see us continue to help landholders with on-ground actions, prepare for climate change, maintain our long-term monitoring, and deliver events that inform, educate and inspire.

You can be assured that any financial support from you will be well spent, with 100% invested into our core work of supporting and implementing landscape restoration in our local area. We run a very lean operation and our small team of part-time staff attracts voluntary support that ensures every dollar goes a long way.

As a Connecting Country supporter, you’ve already contributed to some amazing successes. Since beginning in 2007 we have:

  • Helped protect and restore 15,000 ha of habitat across the Mount Alexander region, which equates to around 8.1% of the shire.
  • Delivered more than 245 successful community education events.
  • Installed more than 450 nestboxes for the threatened Brush-tailed Phascogale.
  • Maintained a network of 50 long-term bird monitoring sites.
  • Secured funding to deliver more than 65 landscape restoration projects.
  • Supported an incredible network of over 30 Landcare and Friends groups.

Thanks again for your support for Connecting Country. Making our vision a reality is only possible with strong community support. Please enjoy this gallery snapshot of some of our 2023-24 activities.

 

Confirm your support for Connecting Country’s work: EOFY

Posted on 4 June, 2024 by Ivan

A huge thank you to our many amazing supporters who have been generously donating via our online service over the past year. Now is a great time to make a financial contribution to Connecting Country’s work, if you can afford to, as the end of the financial year approaches. Donating is easy – use our secure online service (click here), with all donations to Connecting Country being tax-deductible.

We appreciate all your financial support, whether large or small, one-off or regular.

Thanks also to all our supporters for being part of the Connecting Country community in 2024, joining our shared vision for landscape restoration across the Mount Alexander region. The valuable work we do couldn’t happen without people like you – volunteering time to help with wildlife monitoring, joining our education events, participating in our on-ground projects, giving financial help or just being a member.

We have a demonstrated track record of fifteen years of successful landscape restoration and strategic landscape planing for the future. However, in the current situation, it’s extremely difficult to secure funding for on-ground environmental projects. The post-COVID-19 pandemic has caused our government and many philanthropic organisations to freeze or delay grant opportunities.

We are determined to survive, and maintain our core capacity and current projects until new project funding arrives. However, we need help to maintain the strong foundations essential to our success as a community-driven organisation and keep us focused on long-term plans. With enough support, the coming year will see us continue to help landholders with on-ground actions, prepare for climate change, maintain our long-term monitoring, and deliver events that inform, educate and inspire.

You can be assured that any financial support from you will be well spent, with 100% invested into our core work of supporting and implementing landscape restoration in our local area. We run a very lean operation and our small team of part-time staff attracts voluntary support that ensures every dollar goes a long way.

As a Connecting Country supporter, you’ve already contributed to some amazing successes. Since beginning in 2007 we have:

    • Helped protect and restore 15,000 ha of habitat across the Mount Alexander region, which equates to around 8.1% of the shire.
    • Delivered more than 245 successful community education events.
    • Installed more than 450 nestboxes for the threatened Brush-tailed Phascogale
    • Maintained a network of 50 long-term bird monitoring sites
    • Secured funding to deliver more than 65 landscape restoration projects.
    • Supported an incredible network of over 30 Landcare and Friends groups.

Thanks again for your support for Connecting Country. Making our vision a reality is only possible with strong community support. Please enjoy this gallery snapshot of some of our 2023-24 activities.

 

Bird of the Month: Rufous Whistler

Posted on 21 May, 2024 by Ivan

Welcome to 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 blessed to have the brilliant Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, accompanied by Damian’s stunning photos.

Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris)

The Rufous Whistler is a renowned songster, but it’s also one of those species who you can hear calling but have a lot of trouble locating exactly where the bird is. They have a knack for throwing their call so you can’t pinpoint them, despite their beautiful rufous breast and striking white throat banded on black for the male. Often the female will be lurking nearby, but her cryptic colouring makes her even more difficult to find. Luckily, they will sit on an obvious branch, where we can both see and hear their gorgeous and varied song.

Male Rufous Whistler, photo by Damian Kelly

Males and females are quite different in appearance. The male has the distinctive rufous underparts with a black band and white throat. The female lacks the bold black and white markings of the male and the underbody is distinctly streaked. Second-season immature males have very similar colouring to the females which makes identification tricky.

Female Rufous Whistler, showing her much more cryptic colouring. Photo by Damian Kelly

They can be found in a wide variety of habitats ranging from mallee to open forests and shrub lands as well as being adapted to urban areas. In Castlemaine their distinctive calls can be heard in home gardens from early spring. I have heard blackbird mimicry of their calls in our garden in town which can be confusing at times! Their distribution covers much of Australia including a lot of the drier inland. However, they are more common on the east coast and in south-west Western Australia compared to the drier inland zones.

Patterns of movement vary – some are sedentary whilst others move north for winter, returning in spring. Not a lot is known of their movements in many areas. Banding studies have shown that some birds return each year to the same area. It can be a long-lived species with some individuals being identified 14-15 years after first banding.

Breeding is normally in pairs and pairs are usually monogamous with the same pairs breeding each year. Unlike some other Australian birds there are no helpers at the nest. Nests are defended from others and both birds incubate and feed the young. They build an open, cup-shaped nest out of twigs and are often lined with grass that may be in a tree fork or foliage and sometimes in mistletoe. Usually, 2-3 eggs are laid.

This species is largely insectivorous and will take a wide range of prey. They tend to forage higher than other whistler species and are often observed 5-15m above ground. Food may be gleaned from foliage and tree trunks as well as being caught on the wing in short flights. Unlike other whistler species, they rarely feed on the ground.

As the days grow shorter and winter is almost upon us, we can look forward to the heralding of spring in the Rufous Whistlers call. In the meantime, keep an ear out for the Golden Whistler, also a magnificent songster. For more on Golden Whistler, from the wonderful Geoff Park, click here.

To hear the call of the Rufous Whistler, please click here

 

Midweek Bird Walk – Wednesday 15 May 2024, Campbells Creek Trail

Posted on 30 April, 2024 by Ivan

Our friends and project partners at Birdlife Castlemaine District are holding a mid-week bird walk to showcase the ecological restoration along Campbells Creek and observe the native birds that have returned to the landscape. It will be a great chance for a casual stroll along an accessible trail with knowledgeable and passionate bird watchers, and an opportunity to learn more about restoring our local landscapes. 

Birdlife Castlemaine Midweek Bird Walk – Campbells Creek Trail

Castlemaine Birdlife second mid-week walk is to be held at the Campbell’s Creek Trail in Castlemaine on the 15th May 2024. The trail runs from the Camp Reserve along Barkers and Campbells Creeks to the Campbells Creek township. The track is mostly flat providing easy walking and is wheelchair accessible. The walk runs partly through some areas of houses and commercial buildings but has good riparian vegetation thanks largely to the Campbells Creek Land Care group. Possible sightings include Pied Currawong, Musk Lorikeet, Silvereye, Grey Fantail, Golden and Rufous Whistler and various Thornbills and Honeyeaters. Our walk leaders will be Jane Rusden and Bob Dawson.

Where: The walk starts from the beginning of the trail which is off Forest Road just by the bridge over Barkers Creek, opposite Camp Reserve.

From the roundabout at the corner of Hargreaves and Forest Streets, travel west along Forest Street for about 500 meters, under the railway bridge and over Barkers Creek then park either in Gaulton or Forest Streets then walk back along the south side of Forest Creek toward the creek. We will be at the start of the Trail. GPS -37.06648, 144.21305.

When: Meet at the Campbells Creek Trail at 9:00am.

Bring: Water, snacks, binoculars, sunscreen, hat, and we also strongly recommend that you wear long trousers and closed-in sturdy shoes.

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

BirdLife Castlemaine District Branch eNews November 2023 - BirdLife Australia

Birdlife Castlemaine acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land where we are holding our walk, the Dja Dja Wurrung people and we pay our respects to their Elders past and present. We recognise and are grateful for the immense contribution of Indigenous people to the knowledge and conservation of Australia’s birds.

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

 

Bird of the Month: Laughing Kookaburra

Posted on 16 April, 2024 by Ivan

Welcome to 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 blessed to have the brilliant Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, accompanied by their stunning photos.

Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)

The sausage thief, Laughing Kookaburra mug shot. Photo by Jane Rusden

As we all know, the logistics of picnicking can be challenging when there’s a hungry, daring and intelligent Laughing Kookaburra around. I’ve watched a group of young kids cook sausages on the BBQ while camping, getting thoroughly bullied by a Kookaburra as they attempted and failed, to protect their cooking food. The bird dropped off a perch, wings out and gaining speed to dart deftly between the children, and snatch a fat sausage off the BBQ plate in its powerful bill. The poor kids were helpless against the crafty Kookaburra, what’s more the bird knew it, as did the kids. 

Laughing Kookaburra, the blue on the wing and rufous on the tail and rump is clearly visible. Photo by Damian Kelly.

An iconic bird that is always identified by its loud, often communal ‘laughing’ calls that echo throughout the bush. In reality these calls are mostly about delineating territories. Originally only resident in eastern Australia, it has been introduced to Western Australia, Tasmania and King Island. Even a few birds were introduced into New Zealand. It was popular amongst the early European settlers due to its abilities in snake catching and this probably contributed to the desire to introduce it into other areas. 

Due to its adaptability, it can be found in a wide range of habitats ranging from open forest to rainforest, parks, suburban gardens, farming areas and even sugar cane fields. It has adapted quickly to altered habitats and will readily take food from humans. In some areas studies have shown that up to 75% of their diet comes from people feeding them. They also take reptiles, insects, earthworms, yabbies and rodents. Small birds and native marsupials can also be part of their diet in some areas. 

Kookaburras are usually sedentary, remaining in the same territory all year. Although they perch in trees, the bulk of their prey is caught on the ground. Sitting on an elevated tree perch, power pole or on powerlines, they sit motionless watching for movement on the ground before diving down to collect their prey.  

As well as being an adaptable predator, the Kookaburra has a complex social structure. Generally, a breeding pair are assisted by offspring from previous broods who help with feeding. Some of these helpers can stay for up to 4 years. Communal behaviour also extends to roosting at night where a whole group will roost close together on the same branch. 

Laughing Kookaburra with a skink meal. Photo by Jane Rusden

Nests are usually in tree hollows, although in suitable areas they may also utilise arboreal termite nests. Usually only one clutch of 2-4 eggs is laid each season. Asynchronous hatching in the nest results in a hierarchy in size of the nestlings and in times of food shortage some weaker birds will not survive. Unfortunately, some decline in populations has been observed as the bird is at risk from human activities ranging from pesticide use to the loss of tree hollows as a result of land clearing. 

Laughing Kookaburra emerging from a nest hollow, having fed its young. Photo by Damian Kelly

 

Find more information on the Laughing Kookaburra, including their calls, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bird of the Month: Varied Sitella

Posted on 26 March, 2024 by Ivan

Welcome to 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 blessed to have the brilliant Damian Kelly from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month.

Varied Sitella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera)

The Varied Sitella is a small grey bird that is often hard to see, although it is widespread in our region. One distinguishable behaviour is that it often runs down a tree trunk or branch or hangs upside down as it searches for food. A gregarious species, it can usually can be seen in groups of 2 up to 20 when foraging in its preferred woodland haunts.

As the name implies, plumage can be quite variable within the species and there is extensive and complex variation in different geographical areas. DNA evidence supports a few distinct subspecies, and there is widespread hybridisation between these different subspecies – all in all a bit confusing!

The Varied Sittella is a small songbird native to Australia. Photo: Damian Kelly

It can be found across Australia (but not Tasmania) in a variety of habitats from southern Victoria all the way up to Cape York, in Western Australia and is also lightly spread throughout the inland.

At times it can be found foraging in mixed species flocks which include Buff-rumped and Striated Thornbills and occasionally Scarlet Robins. It is rarely seen on the ground, preferring to move along tree trunks and in the foliage. It tends to favour higher spots on trees compared to other bark-feeding species such as Treecreepers and Crested Shriketits and can be seen 8-14m above ground level, which of course makes observation that much more tricky.

So, if you haven’t seen them around much, this preference for high branches is probably why – coupled with an overall grey appearance that helps them blend in with their surroundings.

Diet consists mainly of insects gathered from foliage and gleaned from the cracks in rough-barked trees. Flocks keep in contact as they move through the foliage by constant calling as well as flicking their wings to reveal their distinctive coloured wing-bar (see above photo). Sitellas also roost as a group, usually along a horizontal branch, all facing the same direction.

(The Varied Sittella is usually heard before it is seen in the upper branches. Photos: Damian Kelly)

Studies have shown that this species is largely sedentary with few movements more than 10 km from local areas.

Like some other Australian species, Sitellas engage in cooperative breeding. A breeding group generally consists of a primary breeding pair and a varying number of helpers, ranging from 1-7 individuals. Helpers may be adult birds along with some juveniles from previous clutches. Nests are an open cup-shaped structure, often with a long tail making them somewhat cone-shaped. Nests are constructed of bark and spider webs, sometimes incorporating hair or fur.

Find more information on the Varied Sittella, including their calls, here.

 

Save the date: Natural Capital Forum 13 June 2024

Posted on 27 February, 2024 by Ivan

Our friends and project partners at the North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA) are hosting an interesting forum in June 2024 on Natural Capital and how it might assist landowners balance biodiversity and potential income. Save the date for now, 13 June 2024, and if interested, please see the details below, including how to request an invite. We are excited to see how the Natural Capital space can assist landowners in our region manage their land with further incentive to restore the landscapes for ecological benefits.

Natural Capital Forum: Balancing the books between nature, productivity, and people

Join representatives from NCCMA on June 13, 2024, in Bendigo for the Natural Capital Forum and discover how you can harness the power of natural capital to drive success.

Learn about the wealth of natural assets like soil, air, and biodiversity that provide essential benefits to humans and see how you can make natural capital work for you.

Tailored for land managers, primary producers, farmers, and supporting organisations.

Stay tuned for more details or request an invite at info@nccma.vic.gov.au.

Don’t miss this opportunity to unlock the potential of natural capital for your success at the North Central Natural Capital Forum.

Location:
The Capital Theatre, Bendigo
Contact:
Request an invite at info@nccma.vic.gov.au.

 

Our next digital journey: Instagram and photo competition

Posted on 30 January, 2024 by Ivan

We’re thrilled to announce a new chapter in our digital journey – Connecting Country is officially on Instagram! As we continue to grow and evolve, we’re excited to connect with you in new and dynamic ways through this vibrant platform.

Instagram might be a global stage, but it’s also a powerful way of connecting to our community in a more visual sense.  From engaging content to exciting collaborations, we can’t wait to connect with each and every one of you, no matter where you are!

Follow us on Instagram and get a glimpse of our current projects and activities around the region and the incredible people who make everything possible, click here or find us on Instagram: instagram.com/connectingcountrycastlemaine/

Photo competition

To celebrate our Instagram debut and celebrate our latest project – Habitat Trees for Phascogales – we’re hosting an exciting giveaway for one of our Instagram followers via a photo competition. We will be giving away a phascogale nestbox* for the best large old tree photograph taken in the Mount Alexander region during February 2024. To enter, simply upload your favorite photo to Instagram and tag @connectingcountrycastlemaine.

We would love to hear from you, so please share your thoughts in the comments, and join the conversation using our official hashtag, [#connectingcountrycastlemaine]. Your feedback will help shape the content you want to see!

Thank you for joining us on this exciting new venture. Together, let’s make our Instagram journey as memorable as the incredible milestones that brought us here.

See you on Instagram!

*Winner must be able to pick up the nestbox from our Castlemaine offices during March 2024.  Installation not included.

 

The misunderstood magical mistletoes: ABC online article

Posted on 25 January, 2024 by Ivan

Connecting Country has a long history of raising awareness about the often misunderstood native mistletoe in our region and the benefits it provides to a large array of birds, insects and marsupials. Our bird walk for beginners along Forest Creek, Castlemaine VIC, highlights various patches of healthy eucalypt and acacia species that host the semi-parasitic mistletoe plant and provide a healthy ecosystem function for many of our woodland birds.

We recently came across a great article published on the ABC website, where Dr David Watson, a plant biologist from Charles Sturt University, is interviewed regarding the many benefits and misunderstandings regarding mistletoe and its importance for healthy ecosystems. Please enjoy the article below, courtesy of ABC Online.

Mistletoe plays a vital role in Australia’s ecosystem

Mention mistletoe and people think of the magical plant that inspires many on-screen kisses. Others might say it’s a parasitic weed that kills its host tree. Mistletoes are indeed parasites, but this humble little plant might be an unsung hero when it comes to attracting wildlife.

This is why ecologist Lee Harrison persuaded Melbourne City Council to plant 800 mistletoe seeds in perfectly healthy street trees around the inner city and CBD. “They punch well above their weight in the biodiversity stakes,” says David Watson, a plant biologist from Charles Sturt University. “They flower and fruit when most other stuff doesn’t, so they are often the only source of tucker for insects and animals during hard times. “Mistletoes are a bird beacon but they also provide for sugar gliders, koalas, possums and butterflies.”

There are around 1,500 different species of mistletoe in the world, and all 92 in Australia are endemic — found nowhere else in the world.”Most people don’t realise that the mistletoe we see in our trees here is native,” Dr Watson  says. “Because we have that association with Christmas, people assume it’s an import, like blackberries and holly.”

Nuytsia floribunda, the Australian mistletoe, in bloom in Western Australia.

Nuytsia floribunda, or WA Christmas tree, is actually a mistletoe. (Photo: Graeme Churchard).

Dr Watson is about halfway through a 25-year study based in native woodland around Albury, NSW. “Essentially, we removed naturally occurring mistletoe from every tree across half of our study sites and left them at the other half.”

Preliminary results were quite startling: the areas without mistletoe lost a third of their previous bird diversity. “It is one of the strongest described effects of what’s called a keystone species — one that has a disproportionate influence on the ecosystem,” Dr Watson says. Dr Watson believes mistletoe has the potential to turn “virtually useless” street tree species and cities into wildlife sanctuaries. And no, they rarely kill host trees but, if they do, it’s generally because the broader environment is out of whack. “They kill trees as often as fleas kill dogs,” Dr Watson says.

“Generally it’s only isolated paddock trees that succumb, and they are a symptom of a broader malaise — there are not enough trees in the area.” Mistletoes are semi-parasitic canopy-dwellers; they photosynthesise to produce their own food but rely upon their host for water and support. Dr Watson says the word “parasite” gives them a bad rap.

“Like any predator, they have a role to play in a healthy ecosystem.” Fire also plays a role in “cleansing” mistletoes to stop them taking over — many trees regenerate after fire but mistletoes don’t. Changes to burning regimes upsets this balance. Dr Watson is also researching the fact that mistletoes drop their leaves more than gum trees and those leaves contain more nutrients, so mistletoes feed the soil under the host tree and keep it moist. Importantly for wildlife, this leaf litter drives more microbes in the soil, more insects, and hence more food for birds.

Mistletoe are found in almost every type of Australian environment, except Tasmania.

Mistletoe fun facts

A small bird with black on its head and back and red and white on its front, sitting on a branch

Mistletoe provides food and shelter for all sorts of bugs, animals and birds like the mistletoe bird.(Photo: Wikimedia Commons: Duncan McCaskill (CC by 3.0))

  • Mistletoe are over 30 million years old and fossil records suggest they originate from the part of Australia that was attached to Gondwana.
  • The Western Australian Christmas tree (Nuytsia floribunda), known for its stunning bright orange flowers, is possibly the largest parasite in the world. However, it’s suffered a 90 per cent decline over recent years.
  • The WA Christmas tree has blades on its roots sharp enough to break skin and slice through underground cables! It uses these to tap into roots of any plant within 100 metres.
  • Mistletoe can become vulnerable if their preferred host plant become more widely spaced. If there’s not be enough fruit to attract mistletoe birds, even a healthy plant cannot reproduce.
  • The leaves of nearly every Victorian mistletoe are the preferred food of caterpillars of at least one type of butterfly within the Azures (Ogyrisspp) and the Jezebels (Deliasspp).
  • Golden Mistletoe (Notothixossubaureus) grows only on another mistletoe, Dendropthoe vittelina, which in turn is parasitic on the relatively uncommon tree rough-barked apple (Angophora floribunda).
  • As mistletoe seed germinates, it puts out a tendril that secretes a cocktail of enzymes onto the branch, making a hole the tendril grows into.

 

Bird of the Month: Brown Goshawk

Posted on 23 January, 2024 by Ivan

Welcome to 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 blessed to have the brilliant Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, accompanied by Janes’s stunning photos.

Brown Goshawk (Accipiter fasciatus)

Solid looking Brown Goshawk in Campbells Creek, showing the heavy brow, long rounded tail and middle toe is similar length to other toes. Photo by Jane Rusden

Observed one morning when walking through the bush on my block, a Brown Goshawk pursued an Australian Owlet-nightjar in a fierce dog fight, flying at full speed down the gully, dodging trees by millimetres. The Brown Goshawk managed to catch the desperate Owlet-nightjar just before they saw the two humans, then they tumbled to the ground still locked together. the poor little Owlet Nightjar looked stunned and worse for wear, while the Brown Goshawk flew up into a tree, reluctant to loose it’s prey. The Owlet-nightjar at least got a bit of a breather, before both birds went their separate ways. I have no idea if the Owlet-nightjar survived the lethal body-puncturing talons of the Brown Goshawk, but the Goshawk certainly went hungry that morning.

The Brown Goshawk is one the Australia’s most widely distributed raptors and can be found across Australia and Tasmania as well as other islands, although it not as common in the very dry areas inland. It is a very versatile predator that uses a wide range of hunting techniques and can target a wide variety of prey. It will stalk grasshoppers on the ground, pursue small birds through the air and sit unobtrusively in cover, ready to glide down to catch prey on the ground. This prey ranges from insects to quail along with small rabbits, mice, lizards and snakes as well as yabbies and at times, carrion. Prey is usually 500g or less, but items such as young rabbits and reptiles up to 1kg have been known to be taken by female goshawks which are much larger than the male. Owlet-nightjars weigh 35-65g, putting them firmly in the small bird category of prey.

Choosing dinner. A Brown Goshawk terrorising rescue aviary Cockatiels, but the Cockatiels are thankfully very safe from this fearsome predator. Photo by Jane Rusden

The Goshawk is also well known for lurking around chicken coops and aviaries looking for dinner opportunities, as well as soaring up high on the lookout for prey. It is known to be a reckless and persistent hunter, chasing birds through the undergrowth, exactly like the Goshawk chasing the Owlet-nightjar down the gully, and at times will chase prey into or under buildings. Young goshawks, in particular, have a reputation for being quite reckless at times when chasing prey, dashing through dense foliage and into chicken pens.

Although quite common and widespread in both bushland and urban areas it often goes unnoticed due to its cryptic behaviour, sitting very still in foliage and silently observing with intense yellow eyes.

The introduction and spread of the rabbit along with the opening of forests has probably led to an expansion of its range since European settlement.

Nests are built usually in the fork of a tree out of sticks and foliage. 1- 5 eggs are laid (usually 2-4) and both parents will incubate and feed the young. Adults tend to be fairly sedentary but young birds have been know to spread quite long distances in their first year, with some banding re-captures over 900km from a nest site.

Identification

The Brown Goshawk can be tricky to distinguish from the closely related Collared Sparrowhawk. Although the female Goshawk is quite a bit larger at 45-55cm in length, the female Sparrowhawk (35-38cm) is almost as large as the male Goshawk (38-45cm). Colouration and habitat tend to be similar and differentiating the two species can be hard in the field, especially when you only get a fleeting glimpse of these fast and cryptic birds.

In short, the best indicators to separate them are as follows:

Find more information on Brown Goshawk, including their calls, here.

 

Exciting news: Emerging Pardalotes

Posted on 19 December, 2023 by Ivan

We are blessed to have some of the most wonderful volunteers and supporters we could ever hope for, who help keep our restoration and monitoring programs ticking along across the central Victorian region. We love to celebrate and engage with our dedicated volunteers and were excited to receive a nice story and photos from one such volunteer, Lou Citroën. Lou is a keen bird watcher, citizen scientist and photographer, and has been observing a family of Spotted Pardalote birds in his backyard in Castlemaine. These birds have the unusual habit of nesting in burrows, and Lou was lucky enough to have them do this next to his veggie patch in spring.

Please find Lou’s observations and photos below, of a very sweet take of the young Pardalotes leaving the nest for the first time. Great capture Lou, keep up the great work and passion!

Emerging Pardalotes, by Lou Citroën

I have some exciting news.

I was over the moon to have actually witnessed (AND photographed) the two young pardalotes emerging and leaving their burrow (with some encouragement from Mum and Dad) this morning (after about 7 weeks of incubation and feeding)!

Thinking that I would not stand a chance to be able to capture this special moment in time, I was very lucky to do so and share it with you with the photos.

 

For further information about Spotted Pardalotes, courtesy of Birdlife Australia, please click here.

If you’re interested in volunteer opportunities with Connecting Country please send a brief email to anna@connectingcountry.org.au detailing your relevant experience and availability.

Connecting Country (Mount Alexander Region) Inc is an incorporated, not-for-profit community organisation restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander region. Donations help us continue this vital work. If you are in a position to contribute, please click here for more information on how to donate.

 

Large old tree profile: Chewton’s treasured long-leaved box

Posted on 14 December, 2023 by Ivan

Over the past 12 months, Connecting Country has been asking the local community to map our precious large old trees, through our new online mapping portal. The mapping portal aims to engage with the community about the importance of the old, and often large trees of central Victoria, as part of Connecting Country’s larger project, ‘Regenerate before it’s too late’.

Anyone can access the mapping portal. The community, including landholders, Landcarers and land managers, have been vital in mapping their favourite old trees across our region so far. To date, we have mapped over 30 old trees on the database and are keen for the community to continue mapping trees that are important to them and our local wildlife.

We will be highlighting some of the extraordinary trees that have been mapped, starting with a great entry from Joel B in Chewton, who uploaded a wonderful Long-leafed Box (Eucalyptus goniocalyx) in the Post Office Hill reserve, Chewton. We asked Joel to tell us what he loved about the tree and what made it a significant tree to him and his family. Thanks Joel! Please enjoy his words and images below, and scroll further for instructions on how to map a large, old tree yourself.

The coppiced long-leaved box of Chewton

…One of my favourite trees to visit is a coppiced long-leaved box on Post Office Hill reserve, Chewton. Its story is literally etched on it – first lopped, it has regrown with multiple branches, having survived a wildfire, multiple axe wounds and sawn-off branches, this is a living example of bush resilience!

In an area of limited natural tree hollows, one large branch has a hollow that has supported generations of brush-tailed phascogales in the decade I’ve been visiting it, with continual evidence of scats and scratchings on the branches and scats falling out of the hollow onto the forest floor below.

I imagine it has been a favourite roost or hunting perch for owls, judging by the pellets found below. In the day time it supports a range of our local woodland birds, from thornbills and honeyeaters in the canopy going after lerps, seasonal flowering and insects, to the larger ravens and currawongs that can be seen perching or tearing off bark on the larger branches looking for a tasty meal.

I always look forward to visiting and like to notice any activity…

Joel B

We need your help!

The mapping portal is now open for any community member to record the old trees in your area. You will need to register with the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) (its quick, easy and free), then upload a photo and enter the field details needed for the survey. The portal will ask you simple questions about the tree location, size, species, age (if known), health status and habitat value.

Trees can be tricky to identify, especially eucalypts. If you are unsure about the identification of the tree species, you can:

  • Use the to iNaturalist app assist with identification –  click here
  • Refer to a good guidebook, like those published by Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests – click here
  • Visit the Castlemaine Flora website – click here

To record your large old tree, or view the field survey questions and required measurements – click here

The mapping portal uses BioCollect, an advanced but simple-to-use data collection tool developed by the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) and its collaborators. BioCollect helps users collect field biodiversity data for their own projects, while allowing the data to be easily copied into the ALA, where it can be publicly available for others to use in research, policy and management. This allows individual projects to collectively contribute to ‘big science’.

By recording these trees, you will help build our understanding of the large old trees in our region, and contribute to the largest biodiversity database in our country. As the database grows, you can also access the portal to learn about other wonderful large old trees in our area and view the photos.

We are most grateful for our generous project support from the Ian & Shirley Norman Foundation. The foundation aims ‘To encourage and support organisations that are capable of responding to social and ecological opportunities and challenges.’ To learn more about Ian & Shirley Norman Foundation – click here

 

Give the gift of hope for woodland birds this Christmas

Posted on 11 December, 2023 by Ivan

It’s never been more important to act on landscape restoration and provide critical habitat for our woodland birds of central Victoria. This Christmas, give the gift of hope to our threatened woodland bird population. 

With every gift, you are helping Connecting Country to plant vital habitat and restore our degraded woodlands. As well as removing carbon from the atmosphere, these woodlands create habitat and ecosystems for our most treasured birds and other endangered wildlife. Do more than wish for change this Christmas. Take action to continue this important work today and restore our landscapes for your loved ones and future generations.

Today we are launching our ‘Christmas Gift for Woodland Birds’ campaign and asking our community to give the gift of habitat for our local wildlife this Christmas.

$20 plants 2 habitat and food plant to support woodland birds

$50 plants 5 habitat and food plants to support woodland birds

$150 purchases and installs a nest box for wildlife

$500 supports the establishment of a habitat corridor

$1000 can support landscape-scale carbon sinks and habitat corridors

Click here to make a gift contribution this Christmas

The Diamond Firetail is a small threatened bright finch with a black band of white diamond spots. Photo Geoff Park

Thank you for supporting our shared vision for landscape restoration across the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. You can be assured that any financial support from you will be well spent, with 100% invested into our core work of supporting and implementing landscape restoration in our local area. We run a lean operation and our small team of part-time staff attracts voluntary support that ensures every dollar goes a long way.

Over the past ten years, we have:

  • Restored 13,000 ha of habitat across the Mount Alexander region, which equates to around 7.5% of the shire.
  • Delivered more than 225 successful community education events.
  • Installed more than 450 nestboxes for the threatened Brush-tailed Phascogale
  • Maintained a network of 50 long-term bird monitoring sites
  • Secured funding to deliver more than 60 landscape restoration projects.
  • Supported an incredible network of over 30 Landcare and Friends groups.

Connecting Country has a long-established track record of revegetation success. Photo: Connecting Country

We should all be proud of what we’ve achieved. However, there’s much more to do.

Click here to make a gift contribution this Christmas

 

The Hidden Life of Skinks with Dr. Anna Senior

Posted on 16 October, 2023 by Hadley Cole

Our friends at Newstead Landcare are holding their Annual General Meeting this coming Tuesday 17 October 2023 and to celebrate will host special guest Dr. Anna Senior who will present on The Hidden Life of Skinks.

So many small things make our world tick, all interacting and keeping ecology in balance. Often hidden under a rock or small plant, or darting between cover, skinks play a pivotal role in our natural systems, but we rarely get a glimpse into their lives. Local ecologist Dr. Anna Senior will present on the fascinating world of skinks with a special focus on two threatened species that were the subject of her thesis. One of these, the Mountain Skink was recently discovered in the Wombat Forest.

When: Tuesday 17 October, 7.30pm

Where: Newstead Community Centre, 9 Lyons Street, Newstead VIC

All are welcome to attend and gold coin donations are appreciated. No bookings required.

 

Mount Skink. Image by Gayle Osborne.

 

Aussie Bird Count week 16-22 October 2023 

Posted on 12 October, 2023 by Anna

Aussie Bird Count is Australia’s largest citizen science Project and is run by Birdlife Australia. Celebrate Bird Week 2023 and the tenth year of the Birdlife Australia’s Aussie Bird Count, by taking part! 

The 2023 event will run from October 16 to 22.  You can undertake as many bird counts as you like over this week long period. You can do this from your backyard, local park, or other favourite outdoor area.

To complete a count, all you need to do is spend 20 minutes in one spot, noting down the birds that you see. Binoculars will come in handy! 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 or you can visit the website (aussiebirdcount.org.au). 

Once you have completed your count, you can submit it to Birdlife in two different ways:  

Through the online web form (this form won’t be made live until the 10 October 2023)  

OR  

Via the free Aussie Bird Count phone app. 

Last year 77,419 volunteers recorded a whopping 3.9 million birds of 620 different species! The vast amount of data collected during the bird count is invaluable for ecologists to track large-scale biodiversity trends. It is a wonderful way to get to know your local birds and connect with nature.

Register today and help make the tenth Aussie Bird Count the biggest and best yet.

For more information and to register, head to aussiebirdcount.org.au  

If you’re lucky you might even come across some of the below birds. Can you identify each of these beauties?

 

Photos by Geoff Park and Damian Kelly.

 

Unveiling the Feathered Five’s Fading Symphony

Posted on 3 October, 2023 by Ivan

Three of our region’s Feathered Five are now listed as threatened. We have partnered with Birdlife Castlemaine District to deliver a series of blog posts describing these species, why they are threatened, and what we can do to support the conservation of these species into the future.

Extinction is a modern issue

The word extinction may evoke thoughts of the Wooly Mammoth or the Dodo. But in Australia, extinction is very much a contemporary issue. Currently 39 Australian mammal, and 22 bird species, are extinct; a further 154 birds are threatened with extinction. There are very recent, examples of extinctions. The Christmas Island Pipistrelle, a native bat, was last recorded in 2009 and formally declared extinct in 2019. Australia has also recently experienced its first documented reptile extinction. The Christmas Island Forest Skink went from being abundant and common up until the late 1990s to officially declared extinct in 2017. The last one died in captivity in 2014 less than five months after Australian legislation finally listed the species as endangered.  Climate change represents a real and serious threat; the Bramble Cay Melomys, a bright-eyed native rodent, was declared extinct in 2014, likely due to rising sea levels impacting its island habitat. To date, there have been 100 extinctions in Australia since European colonisation (click here).

Our Famous (Feathered) Five… but for how long?

Just a few months ago, three of our beloved Feathered Five: the Diamond Firetail, the Hooded Robin (south-eastern), and the Brown Treecreeper (south-eastern), were listed under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This means that the birds are now protected under federal legislation, but the declines that lead to these listings raises concerns about the status of these species into the long term.

Male Hooded Robin along Mia Mia Track. Photo: Geoff Park

What can you do? Conservation action in the Mount Alexander area

When a species is listed as threatened under the EPBC Act, the Australian Government develops a conservation advice document. These are intended to guide recovery planning and identify actions required for conservation and recovery of the species. For detailed information, you can read the conservation advice on the Diamond Firetail (click here), Brown Treecreeper (click here), and Hooded Robin (click here).

We would be devastated if our beloved Feathered Five slipped away and are hopeful that the listing of these species prompts wider conservation action. The listing of these species has prompted our friends and project partners, Birdlife Castlemaine District, to hold a meeting and consider what local actions could be undertaken to preserve these species. Into the future, we will be working with Birdlife Castlemaine District to seek funding support for these species, and to continue to raise the profile of these important species and do our best to conserve them.

An adult Diamond Firetail resting in a gum tree, note the finch beak. Photo: Geoff Park

Birdlife Castlemaine District have proposed the following simple, practical actions that landholders can take to help protect these special birds:

  • Plant and retain locally indigenous shrubs and native grasses, and – importantly – allow them to go to seed, to provide food for seed-eating birds. Many gardens in the area already have wallaby grass – rather than mowing them, let them go to seed. Indigenous seeds are available from the Castlemaine Seed Library for a select number of species.
  • Insects are also an important food source for some of the Feathered Five species, so plant local, insect-attracting plants. Reduce spraying of garden pests such as aphids.
  • Provide water for birds and consider using water sources that hang to reduce predation from cats at bird baths.

Keep cats inside – see the Safe Cat website for information on how to keep cats (and wildlife) safe.

Brown Treecreeper need a variety of native trees and shrubs to forage and nest. Photo Geoff Park