Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Backyard science cures for boredom

Posted on 2 April, 2020 by Ivan

No doubt you have seen some great ideas of how to remain engaged and occupied during the isolation phase of the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s a very challenging time and impacts continue to spread across the globe. Connecting Country is adapting our community engagement model, to deliver some events to our audience, community and stakeholders in the comfort of their own home. Stay tuned for when we advertise these events in the coming months. We also hope to produce some videos down the track to keep everyone engaged.

We have discovered some excellent activities you can do from the safety of your own backyard and still contribute to science.  ‘The Conservation’ recently published an inspiring article. Please enjoy the following extract highlighting many useful activities and ideas to contribute to backyard science. To view the full article  –  click here.

Environmental projects need your support too

The yellow-footed antechinus (Antechinus flavipes) is a curious little marsupial (photo by Jane Rusden)

If you’d like to get your mind off COVID-19, there’s a plethora of other options for citizen scientists. You can contribute to conservation and nature recovery efforts – a task many took to after the recent bushfires. Some sites ask volunteers to digitise data from ongoing environmental monitoring programs. Contributors need no prior experience, and interpret photos taken with remote digital cameras using online guides. One example is Western Australia’s Western Shield Camera Watch, available through Zooniverse.

Other sites crowdsource volunteers to transcribe data from natural history collections (DigiVol), historical logbooks from explorers, and weather observation stations (Southern Weather Discovery).

Citizen science programs such as eBird, BirdLife Australia’s Birdata, the Australian Museum’s FrogIDClimateWatchQuestaGameNatureMapr, and the Urban Wildlife App, all have freely available mobile applications that let you contribute to ‘big’ databases on urban and rural wildlife.

Nature watching is a great self-isolation activity because you can do it anywhere, including at home. Questagame runs a series of ‘bioquests’ where people of all ages and experience levels can photograph animals and plants they encounter.

In April, we’ll also have the national Wild Pollinator Count. This project invites participants to watch any flowering plant for just ten minutes, and record insects that visit the flowers. The aim is to boost knowledge on wild pollinator activity.

The data collected through citizen science apps are used by researchers to explore animal migration, understand ranges of species, and determine how changes in climate, air quality and habitat affect animal behaviour.

This year for the first time, several Australian cities are participating in iNaturalist’s City Nature Challenge. The organisers have adapted planned events with COVID-19 in mind, and suggest ways to document nature while maintaining social distancing. You can simply capture what you can see in your backyard, or when taking a walk, or put a moth light out at night to see what it attracts.

For those at home with children, there are a variety of projects aimed at younger audiences.

From surveying galaxies to the Bird Academy Play Lab’s Games Powered By Birds – starting young can encourage a lifetime of learning.

If you’re talented at writing or drawing, why not keep a nature diary, and share your observations through a blog.

By contributing to research through digital platforms, citizen scientists offer a repository of data experts might not otherwise have access to. The Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA) website has details on current projects you can join, or how to start your own.

Apart from being a valuable way to pass time while self-isolating, citizen science reminds us of the importance of community and collaboration at a time it’s desperately needed.

 

Local bird watching in a time of isolation

Posted on 2 April, 2020 by Ivan

Right now, the best thing we can do to help stop the alarming spread of coronavirus is to stay home as much as we can. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find pleasure in nature or practice our bird watching skills. Autumn is a lovely time to be exploring our ecological assets and watching our birds, while still practicing isolation and safe social distancing.

Connecting Country’s bird survey Group Sites could be just the thing for those of you local to the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria, by combining some bush time and exercise. Connecting Country has a number of bird survey sites located on public land, for the public to survey any time they wish. They’re all known to have interesting species present. If you’re lucky you might see birds like Hooded Robins, Diamond Fire Tails or Painted Button Quail.

Diamond Firetail has been spotted at our group sites (photo by Geoff Park)

The Connecting Country Group Sites are all on public land, and are perfect for 2 hectare – 20 minute area counts. You can find them on the Connecting Country website – click here.

Group sites encourage people to establish survey sites that other birdwatchers can visit, to optimise the amount of data that can be generated at individual sites. These group sites have been created in partnership with BirdLife Australia and developed with the beginner in mind. If you need a refresher on survey techniques or monitoring using the 2 hectare – 20 minute area count, please visit the BirdLife website – click here.

We also came across this excellent article in the Guardian newspaper, which mentions that we may be stuck indoors but the skies are a source of ornithological wonder. Experts reveal what’s out there, where to look and how to get competitive about it. For details – click here.

You don’t need all the gear in the world to go birdwatching, just binoculars and a field guide (photo by Connecting Country)

 

 

 

 

Tanya’s tawny tales: a good news story

Posted on 27 March, 2020 by Ivan

We were thrilled to receive a well-written story from our former superstar staff member, Tanya Loos, about the journey of a Tawny Frogmouth. Tawny Frogmouths are often confused with owls, but are actually more closely related to the nightjars. Tanya gives us a great insight into these magnificent creatures and the journey of a special Tawny’s road to recovery. Please enjoy the following words and photos from Tanya.

The question I am most frequently asked is ‘I have found a bird that seems to be hurt – what should I do?’ It is always the same answer – capture the bird using a tea towel or towel, and place into an appropriately sized cardboard box. Then pop the box in a quiet room away from pets and people – and call a wildlife rescue number for assistance.

Usually it is a friend or local person – but a couple of weeks ago I got ‘the question’ via text from my teenage nephew! Heart burst moment! Nephew and Mum had seen a bird on the road in Hepburn – an owl they thought, that wasn’t flying away.

The owl turned out to be a Tawny Frogmouth – a much loved night bird that is commonly found in local forests and gardens. Even though Tawnies are brownish grey in colour, like owls, with big round eyes, like owls, they are quite different , and in a completely different bird family.

Owls (Strigidae family) are predators who hunt and kill their prey with their huge fierce talons. Tawny Frogmouths capture their prey – mice, frogs, and insects with their beaks. Their feet are strangely weak, without big claws, and are used only for perching.

In Australia, we have three species of Frogmouth in the Podargidae family – the Tawny which is found all over the country, and the Papuan and Marbled Frogmouths which are found in Cape York and southeast Queensland.

Another difference between owls and Frogmouths is that Frogmouths are masters of camouflage, with finely patterned feathers, who adopt a special ‘broken stick’ posture, where the Frogmouths close their eyes and point their heads up to the sky. Owls never do this.

One of the golden rules of wildlife rescue is that if an animal survives and can be released, it must be released where it was found. Animals such as Tawny Frogmouth have specific territories or home ranges – where they know where the best places to find food are, the best sleeping (roosting) sites and nesting sites. This area is also where their mates or family members are! Our family Tawny was taken to a wildlife carer in Gisborne – and after a week or two, I travelled down to see if the bird was ready for release.

In the picture you can see the loving hands of Lynda the wildlife carer as she was checking whether Tawny’s wings were strong enough to fly. You can also see that the feathers are slightly brown – which means she is a female bird! The males are completely grey – a lovely ash colour, with the same fine patterning.

Tawny Frogmouths are often confused with owls, but are actually more closely related to the nightjars (photo by Tanya Loos)

 

Tawny wasn’t ready then, but yesterday Lynda texted me saying that Tawny has made a full recovery and is now ready to go back to her Hepburn forest.

The car collision must have been a mild one. Sadly this is the exception – as animal loving folks know – death by car is all too common. Driving slowly and carefully at night, dusk and dawn is the only solution.

To contact Wildlife Victoria phone: (03) 8400 7300 – and they will refer you to one of the many local wildlife carers in our region.

by Tanya Loos

 

Bird of the month: Australian Owlet-nightjar

Posted on 25 March, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our second-ever Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’ll be taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to be joining forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome any suggestions from the community and our supporters. We are lucky enough to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with some assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly. You may be familiar with the second bird off the ranks.

Australian Owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus)

The Australian Owlet-nightjar almost looks like a sugar glider, very cute with huge dark eyes peering from a hollow. Well known local author and photographer, Damian Kelly, has been trying for several years to photograph the resident Owlet-nightjars on my property as they soak up sun in their hollow entrance. However, they seem to know when he is coming and vanish.

Until recently, when he finally managed to coax the two birds at my place into modelling for him. Thanks for the photo Damian. The Owlet-nightjar is a near ground level, small and agile, insect and spider hunter, who emerges on dark often to drink and then search for prey. They will take prey on the wing, by pouncing from a low perch or running along the ground. So if you’ve got too many spiders for your liking, install a couple of nest boxes for Owlet-nightjars as they love them.

The Australian Owlet-nightjar is one of Australia’s most widespread nocturnal birds (photo by Jane Rusden)

The Australian owlet-nightjar is colloquially known as the moth owl (photo by Damien Kelly)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interestingly they are neither owl nor nightjar, but blend of these two, and a distinct species. Around their small bill and wide mouth are long rictal bristles for nocturnal hunting, reminiscent of nightjars. Like owls they have a round head and huge forward-facing eyes. Unlike nightjars, the eyes of the Owlet-Nightjar do not reflect light and they can be a very hard bird to see at night. Both male and female birds look indistinguishable, although the female can be slightly larger by 2-5%, which is impossible to actually see. Mostly they appear soft mottled grey with darker head stripes running back from the eyes middle of the head. If you see a rufous coloured Owlet-nightjar, it is most likely female.

Immature birds look almost the same as their parents, which is a nice change when you are trying to identify birds, as in many species they can look quite different. This species, thought relativity common in Box Ironbark Forest, can be incredibly difficult to find and see. They have a habit of dropping low in their hollow and out of sight before we’re aware of them.

Occasionally you may be lucky enough to see one that has flushed and is perched on a branch, but your best hope is in a hollow in just about anything from trees, to rocks, to buildings, usually not overly high up. I started putting up nest boxes when our resident bird tried to roost amongst tools in the back of the ute for several days! This year I discovered two Owlet-nightjars habitually roosting about 200 meters apart. The photos show the one in the nest box and the one in the tree hollow. Damian’s research found that pairs mate for life, but reside in nearby hollows.

Owlet-nightjars are often heard though rarely seen (photo by Jane Rusden)

 

They will have a dozen or more hollows they use over their home ranges of up to 80 hectares. I wonder if the two I see every day are a mated pair?

To listen to the varied and lovely calls of the Australian owlet-nightjar, please – click here

 

Words by Jane Rusden
Research material contributed by Damian Kelly
Photos by Damian Kelly and Jane Rusden

 

Grow Wild: Gardening to Sustain Wildlife in the Hepburn Shire

Posted on 12 March, 2020 by Frances

Update: The authors have cancelled the book launch of ‘Grow Wild’, but the book is now available to purchase.

Our Wombat Forest neighbours have been busy writing and publishing an excellent new book titled ‘Grow Wild: Gardening to Sustain Wildlife in the Hepburn Shire’.

They have extended a special invitation to the Connecting Country family to join them at the launch on Sunday 29 March at 2.00 pm in the Glenlyon Hall (Daylesford-Malmsbury Rd, Glenlyon VIC).

Written by local resident and avid gardener, Jill Teschendorff, and published by Wombat Forestcare, this beautiful book aims to empower people to include indigenous plants in their gardens and provide the special habitat needed by our local wildlife.

Guest speaker: AB Bishop author, radio presenter, horticulturalist and gardening ‘trouble-shooter’

Copies of the book will be available for purchase.

RSVP by Wednesday 25 March 2020
info@wombatforestcare.org.au
Jill Teschendorff 03 5348 7947

Please see the flyer for further information – click here

RSVPs are essential.

Butterflies enjoy backyard gardens and are excellent pollinators for many plant species. Photo: Elaine Bayes

 

Bird walk at Mount Tarrengower – 7 March 2020

Posted on 5 March, 2020 by Frances

Our friends and partners at Birdlife Castlemaine are having their monthly bird walk this weekend, at the beautiful Mount Tarrengower West, led by the wonderful Damian Kelly. This is a great opportunity to walk and talk with some of the best bird watchers around and increase your knowledge, as well as enjoy some lovely landscapes and company. Please find the event overview below, from their newsletter, as well as information about the AGM following the walk. For more details on Birdlife Castlemaine, please click here.

 

BirdLife Castlemaine District March Bird Walk

Saturday 7 March – Mount Tarrengower West 

BirdLife Castlemaine’s next walk takes us to Mount Tarrengower West, led by Damian Kelly. The habitat is grassy dry forest with box eucalypts on slopes, Red Gums and Yellow Box in lower areas. Birds that may be seen include Large Parrots, Eastern Rosellas, Thornbills, Scarlet Robin, Jacky Winter and Restless Fly Catcher.

Location and directions: From Maldon VIC take the Maldon-Bridgewater Road. About 2 km out of town turn left into Watersons Road. A further 1 km along is the turn off on the left to Mount Back Road. The walk starts here. Plenty of parking is available near this intersection.

Time: Meet at the destination at 9:00 am, or to carpool from Castlemaine meet at 8:30 am outside Castlemaine Community House (30 Templeton Street, Castlemaine VIC).

Important information about walks: Bring water, snacks, binoculars, hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, sturdy shoes, long pants during snake season, and other weather-appropriate gear.

Walks will be canceled if the temperature is forecast to be 35 degrees or more during the walk period, severe weather warnings are in place, persistent rain is forecast, or if the day has been declared a Total Fire Ban day.

Questions? If you have questions about our walks program, you can email us at castlemaine@birdlife.org.au, or call/text Judy Hopley (0425 768 559) or Asha Bannon (0418 428 721).

All levels of experience are welcome – they’re a friendly bunch and the walks are a great chance to learn from and have fun with fellow birdwatchers.

The 2020 Annual General Meeting (AGM) of BirdLife Castlemaine District Branch will follow the walk at 11:30 amat 25A Church Street, Maldon. Morning tea will be provided from 11:00 am.

Mistletoebird on a dead branch. Photo: Geoff Park

 

 

Nature photography in Newstead – 8 March 2020

Posted on 5 March, 2020 by Frances

The Mount Alexander region is blessed with some extremely talented nature photographers. Their thoughtful and evocative images help us appreciate and connect with the local environment. Local photographers and Connecting Country supporters, Janet Barker, Frances Cincotta, Patrick Kavanagh, Geoff Park and Bronwyn Silver, are holding an exhibition, Photographers of the Goldfields, at the Newstead Arts Hub in March 2020.

The launch and exhibition opening will be this Sunday 8 March at 11 am, so please come along and enjoy the talent on display and some tasty local food. 

Heron and Egret (photo: Geoff Park)

Here is a message from the photographers:

From the tiniest world contained on a dewdrop, to the expansive landscapes of the Plains and Mounts, the beauty of the Goldfields is all around us. However many treasures remain sight unseen, until revealed by the camera’s lens/focus.

Photography allows us to appreciate, understand and learn more about our local environs. Seen in its best light and in the moment, a photograph reveals that millisecond in time, for all time.

Bronwyn Silver, Geoff Park, Patrick Kavanagh and Janet Barker see their photography as a way of celebrating and ultimately protecting nature. Photographers of the Goldfields 2020 will feature some of our favourite gems, worth taking a longer look at.

Saturday 7 March to Sunday 29 March 2020
Weekends & Monday 9 March from 10 am to 4 pm 
Launch: Sunday 8 March at 11 am – All welcome
Newstead Arts Hub: 8A Tivey Street, Newstead VIC

Scroll through below to enjoy some favourite images and visit the exhibition to see more.

 

What scat is that? – take the quiz

Posted on 27 February, 2020 by Ivan

Have you ever been out walking and wondered ‘what scat is that?’ You can call it scat, faeces, or just plain poo, but if you’re not too squeamish, you can learn a lot from animal poo. Wild animal poo is known as scat, and it can be very useful in working out what species are nearby because each type of scat is different. It is a fascination among the scientific world and the broader community alike.

Of course, some scat will begin to dry out and look different with age, so if you really know your business, you’ll be able to tell how long ago the animal was there. It is well known that Koala poo, for example, goes from a moist green to something that looks more like dried out grass pellets. Regardless of the name you give it, most people go out of their way to avoid digested animal waste – but not the most dedicated scientists and animal lovers.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the animal world, identifying scats can tell you a lot about a creature, including what they eat, where they go and even how they live. The ABC has created a fun ‘What scat is that’ online quiz, which has excellent images and questions to assist learning. It is part of the ABC’s ‘How to Summer’ science series, which covers a variety of topics including ants, sea-creatures and scats.

Take the scat quiz to test your skills and learn a bit more about another survey technique and potential curiosity wonder!

To take the quiz – click here

Cube-shaped faeces

Around two centimetres wide and high, this scat forms almost a perfect cube. Which animal left it? (photo: ABC)

 

Bird of the month: the chatty Crimson Rosella

Posted on 13 February, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our first-ever Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’ll be taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to be joining forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome any suggestions from the community and our supporters. We are lucky enough to have the talented Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about the first-ever bird of the month. We know you’ll be familiar with the first bird off the ranks. We thank Jane for the following words, the first of many posts to come.

Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans)  

Recently I returned from a month-long conservation volunteer hiking trip pulling weeds in coastal south-west Tassie. As I sat looking out on the bush from my living room, a Crimson Rosella flew in to drink from one of the many freshly fill birdbaths around my home. It walked in that funny fashion parrots do which is slightly pigeon-toed, up to the rim of the pot base holding water and dipped its head for a drink. Using it’s incredibly dexterous foot, it then scratched its head, turned and flew off.

A mature Crimson Rosella (above) and two immature Crimson Rosellas (below) showing the different coloring (photos by Jane Rusden)

There are various races (forms, often denoted by color variation), but let’s take a look at our local Crimson Rosellas. Mature adults have a vibrant crimson head and chest, with mid to very dark blue wings and tail. Immature birds are olive green in the body and head, as they mature the crimson replaces the green. Both mature and immature birds have a mid-blue patch which extends from the lower mandible (bill) to the cheek.

Being a parrot, they have an extremely strong, down-curved bill, which is powerful enough to crack wattle and grass seeds, as well as gum nuts. Like many parrots, they are amazingly expert chewers, which is useful when renovating tree hollows in eucalyptus at breeding time. For such a powerful bill, Crimson Rosellas can use it to be very clever and delicate at manipulation of all manner of things.

 

 

 

Primarily you’ll see Crimson Rosellas in trees, thought they do wander about on the ground at times. They are a species that can be found in both the local Box Ironbark forest as well as in towns and gardens. I mentioned tree hollows – parrots need tree hollows in which to nest and raise their young. In our area much of the bush was cleared during the gold rush, which in tree terms is not that long ago. Therefore, there hasn’t been the passage of time for trees to grow old and develop tree hollows. You might like to consider putting up a Crimson Rosella nest box in your garden. I have several at my place and they are used regularly by a number of species, including Crimson Rosellas.

To listen to the varied and lovely calls of the Crimson Rosella, please click here.

 

Distribution of the Crimson Rosella (image from Atlas of Living Australia)

 

Words by Jane Rusden

 

 

 

 

 

eBird learning tool: a different approach

Posted on 6 February, 2020 by Jess

Being new to bird watching can be a daunting and exciting experience for many, with plenty of birds seemingly having similar appearances and attributes. Thankfully there are many excellent books, guides, smartphone apps and community groups that can assist with the learning of how to identify birds in your region. But we all know that practice, practice, practice is the key to getting familiar with our incredible birdlife in the field and learning from experienced bird-watchers is a great opportunity in our region (see Birdlife Castlemaine’s monthly birdwalk). To the beginner, it can very hard to tell similar species apart, such as the variety of Lorikeets in our region pictured below. Can you recognize who is who?

However, if you cannot get out into the field as often as you like, or cannot access locations to practice your bird spotting skills, there is another way to improve your skills on our local species. We’d like to introduce you to a great learning assistant: eBird Photo and Quiz

Each custom quiz presents you with 20 birds that occur at a date and location of your choosing, pulled from millions of photos and sounds added to the Macaulay Library by eBirders around the world. Guess the species—and don’t worry if you’re wrong—this challenging quiz is for your own fun and learning. After each guess, you’ll rate the photo or sound for its quality, helping curate the Macaulay Library so it is more useful for you and for science. It can be quite a challenge, but we do enjoy that you can choose any location in the world and any date, and get a different mix of birds for every quiz. Sure, it is not as good as being in the field with an expert to guide you, but it could be the next best thing. It is particularly enjoyable to listen to the sounds that go with each bird.

Give it a try, and see how many you can guess correctly.

There is also a useful smartphone app that we highlighted in a previous blog, that we find very useful: Ask Merlin, what is that bird. 

Can anyone guess this local beauty? Photo: Ebird

 

 

Trust for Nature: covenanting for conservation

Posted on 30 January, 2020 by Ivan

Have you ever wondered about conservation covenants and how are they applied? Did you know that we have already lost 80% of our biodiversity on private land in Victoria? We recently caught up with Senior Conservation Officer at Trust for Nature, Kirsten Hutchison, to learn more about this important conservation measure and what it means for landowners across our biodiverse nation. Here is a summary of the questions we asked Kirsten, which we hope will assist landowners in our region better understand covenants and the work Trust for Nature do in Victoria. Kirsten has been with Trust for Nature for nearly a decade and based out of the Castlemaine Office.

What is the concept of conservation covenanting properties?

Conservation covenants are voluntary. They are agreements on property titles that enable private landholders to protect nature forever, even after the property changes hands. Conservation covenants are set up for free—costs are covered so there is no cost to the landholder—and they are one of the most important things a landholder can do to Victoria’s environment.

Why should a landowner consider covenanting a property?

Since 1835, 66% of Victoria’s native habitat has been cleared. This has been most acute on private land, where 80% of biodiversity has been lost. Around 60% of land in Victoria is currently privately owned. Victoria is the most intensively settled and cleared state in Australia so it’s critical that we protect what’s left. This makes private land protection vital if we’re going to save Victoria’s threatened species and ecosystems. National and state parks are simply not enough.

Across the state, more than 1,450 private landholders have protected threatened woodlands, wetlands and grasslands with conservation covenants. These places are home to some of Victoria’s most threatened species such as the Helmeted Honeyeater and Plains-wanderer.

Kirsten Hutchison from Trust for Nature and Jody Gunn at Bush Heritage Australia, on Bush Heritage’s Nardoo Hills Reservem which has Trust for Nature conservation covenant on it. Photo: Bush Heritage Australia.

What are the criteria for covenanting a property?

Generally a property needs to be at least 10 ha in size, have good connectivity and contain high quality remnant native vegetation. Priority is given to properties that have threatened species and vegetation types present on them. Trust for Nature is guided by its Statewide Conservation Plan which identifies 12 priority landscapes across Victoria that will make the greatest contribution towards conservation on private land. The plan also identifies 148 native plants and 88 wildlife species to target for conservation on private land.

Who do I contact about discussing conservation covenants?

Contact Trust for Nature Head Office in Melbourne on (03) 8631 5888 and they can direct you to the appropriate regional staff member. In North Central Victoria you can contact Kirsten Hutchison (Senior Conservation Officer) on 0459 168 865.

What are the restrictions on covenanted properties?

A standard covenant generally does not permit:

  • Native vegetation removal.
  • Introduction of any non-indigenous vegetation.
  • Subdivision.
  • Deterioration in the quality, flow or quantity of water.
  • Removal of wood or timber.
  • Removal or disturbance of soil or rocks, including cultivation.
  • Application of fertiliser.
  • Pasture establishment.
  • Recreational use of trail bikes and other recreational vehicles.

However, these standard restrictions can be modified in certain circumstances where the Trust is satisfied that the conservation of the land will not be adversely affected, i.e., the Trust can give permission for a temporary variation of the covenant via a ‘Letter of Approval’.  Permission granted by a letter of approval is conditional on the upholding of the conservation values of the property.

What are the benefits for biodiversity and our ecosystems?

Together with conservation covenants and reserves, we have protected more than 100,000 hectares across Victoria. This provides safe places for native animals and plants forever and helps to protect some of Victoria’s most threatened species such as the Helmeted Honeyeater, Growling Grass Frog and Red-tailed Black Cockatoo.  We also work with partner organisations such as Zoos Victoria and the Royal Botanic Gardens which rely on covenanted land for the safe release of plants and animals from captive breeding programs.

The Trust’s stewardship program provides ongoing support to landholders with a conservation covenant. The aim of the program is to ensure that all significant areas covenanted by the Trust are managed to maintain and enhance (where possible) the conservation values by preventing and controlling any threats to the biodiversity of a site. The program does this by providing the following services to landowners:

  • Practical assistance: A site management plan is prepared for each proposed covenant in consultation with the landowner during the initial covenanting process.
  • Technical advice: The Trust sources and provides technical advice to ensure landowners have access to up-to-date conservation related land management advice.
  • Education: The Trust provides resources to enable landowners to improve their knowledge about managing and monitoring their covenanted properties. This is achieved through field days, information sheets, developing flora and fauna monitoring programs and one-on-one contact with landowners.
  • Financial assistance: The Trust provides information on financial assistance that may be available from time to time for covenanters, including incentive grants for conservation activities (such as fencing, pest plant and animal control, and revegetation), rate rebate schemes with local councils, and tax concessions for the protection of covenanted properties.

Protecting and enhancing biodiversity on private land has public benefits to ecosystems and sustainable landscapes. The landowner named this paddock ‘Kirsten’s Paddock’ as a tribute to her efforts in protecting this important Plains-wanderer habitat.  (Photo by Kirsten Hutchison)

 

Trust for Nature – some general facts:

  • TfN are a not-for-profit Victorian conservation organisation and are one of Australia’s oldest conservation organisations, established by an Act of the Victorian Parliament in 1972.
  • Together with conservation covenants and reserves, has protected more than 102,000 hectares across Victoria.
  • Trust for Nature has registered more than 1,459 conservation covenants since 1986
  • Trust for Nature owns 42 nature reserves across Victoria, including the iconic Neds Corner Station, a 30,000 hectare property near Mildura that was once part of the Kidman empire.
  • Trust for Nature uses a revolving fund to buy and sell private land with high conservation values. They protect these properties with conservation covenants then on-sell them to new owners.

Watch the following video for an overview of Trust for Nature’s valuable work.

 

Bird walk at Warburtons Bridge – 1 February 2020

Posted on 28 January, 2020 by Frances

Birdlife Castlemaine District Bird Walk: Saturday 1 February 2020 at Warburtons Bridge, Glenluce VIC

Birdlife Castlemaine’s next walk takes us to Warburtons Bridge, Glenluce VIC. The walk will be preceded by ‘Breakfast with the birds’ at the Warburtons Bridge picnic ground on the Loddon River.

Please bring food to share, your own drinks, cutlery, etc. Breakfast will commence at 8:30 am followed by a walk of approximately 1 km. Birds that may be seen include Brown Treecreeper, White-browed Scrubwren, Eastern Yellow Robin and various Honeyeaters. Unusual sightings at this area have included Brown Quail and Spotted Quail Thrush.

There is a toilet at the camping ground.

Location and directions: Warburtons Bridge is located on the Drummond-Vaughan Road, Glenluce VIC. Coming from Castlemaine, travel to the destination via Chewton and Fryerstown on the Vaughan-Chewton Road.  At 3.1 km past Fryerstown turn left onto the Drummond-Vaughan Road.  Warburtons Bridge is on the left, approximately 1.8 km from this turnoff.

Time: Meet at the destination at 8:15 am, or to carpool from Castlemaine meet at 8:00 am outside Castlemaine Community House, 30 Templeton Street, Casltemaine VIC.

Bring: Water, snacks, binoculars, hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, sturdy shoes, long pants during snake season, and other weather-appropriate gear.

Important information about walks: Walks will be cancelled if the temperature is forecast to be 35 degrees or more during the walk period, severe weather warnings are in place, persistent rain is forecast, or if the day has been declared a Total Fire Ban day. We’ll continue monitoring the forecast, so please check BirdLife Castlemaine’s Facebook page (click here) on the evening before the walk in case we have to cancel due to the weather conditions.

Image result for warburtons bridge glenluce

BirdLife Castlemaine District

Questions? If you have questions, you can email BirdLife Castlemaine (castlemaine@birdlife.org.au), or call or text Judy Hopley (0425 768 559) or Asha Bannon (0418 428 721).

All levels of experience are welcome – they’re a friendly bunch and the walks are a great chance to learn from and have fun with fellow birdwatchers.

 

How to help wildlife in hot weather

Posted on 22 January, 2020 by Ivan

Central Victoria’s summers are often relentless, and don’t seem to be getting cooler and wetter anytime soon. Hence it’s a good time to reflect on the best methods of helping wildlife survive the warmer months. Thankfully, there is plenty of information already published and proven to work, which we’ve summarised in this post.

Animals Australia provides the following useful summary of priority actions that you can do to at your place to help wildlife right now.

1. Leave water out for animals

Sweltering summer days can be uncomfortable to be outside in for just a few minutes. Imagine what it’s like for animals who have no way of escaping the heat. During extreme heat waves, native animals can suffer terribly and even die. The simple act of providing them safe access to water can help them cope.

Water tips:

Birdbaths are an excellent way to provide water to thirsty animals, although they do not cater for ground-dwelling animals (photo by  Frances Howe)

  • Leave shallow dishes of water in the shade. Try to avoid metal dishes unless they’re in full shade as they will get very hot in the sun.
  • Put some dishes high up or in trees if you can, to help keep wildlife safe from predators.
  • Use shallow bowls if possible, as small birds can become trapped in deep dishes and drown. Cat litter trays can be suitable and inexpensive.
  • If you use large bowls or buckets, be sure to place some sticks, rocks and/or bricks inside to allow any trapped animals to make their way out.

2. Keep dogs and cats indoors

Not only will this help your animal companions escape the heat, but it will enable thirsty wildlife to access water in your backyard safely.

3. Cover your pool

It may feel counter-intuitive to prevent wildlife from cooling down in your pool on a hot day. But heat-stressed animals looking to cool down are at risk of drowning in the deep water. It’s not great for animals to be drinking pool water anyway as it may make them sick. Ensure animals have access to safe and fresh water sources in your yard instead.

4. Keep an eye out for heat-stressed wildlife

If you spot any critters who look like they’re struggling, call your local vet or local wildlife rescue group (for contacts – click here) for help. During natural disasters (e.g., bushfires), wildlife carers can be overwhelmed, but your local vet may be available and can assess the situation and treat injured animals (for free).

Tips for heat-stressed wildlife:

  • Be particularly mindful at dusk and at night as many nocturnal animals will be more active during this time.
  • Prepare an emergency kit to keep in your car including water, a blanket or towel, and a box. For kit suggestions – click here
  • Save a few local wildlife rescue contacts in your phone so that you can ring for advice if you need it. For contacts – click here
  • Help reduce the chances of animals being hit on the road. For details – click here

5. Share your fruit trees with hungry wildlife

The colorful Rainbow Lorikeet is well adapted to searching for backyard fruit if needed (photo by DPI WA)

Wildlife who have survived through bushfire are hungry. They have not only lost their homes, but their sources of food. During this time of ecosystem disturbance and habitat loss, it’s never been more crucial to protect species like flying foxes, who are key pollinators for many plants. The more flying foxes we can keep healthy and happy, the better our ecosystems will survive and regenerate. So consider taking down your fruit tree netting, and share some fruit with native wildlife.

6. Know what to do if you find distressed or injured wildlife

If you have found an animal who is visibly distressed, wrap them loosely in a blanket or towel if it is safe to do so, and place them in a cardboard box, before placing the box in a dark, quiet and cool place. Injured animals will often be quite frightened, so if there is a risk they may scratch or bite, wear gloves and try gently ushering them into a washing basket without touching, them instead of wrapping them in a blanket or towel.

Offer water but not food and call a wildlife carer immediately, or your local vet. Never pour water into an animals’ mouth -it’s not natural and can cause additional distress and even physical harm. Instead, provide cool water in a bowl and allow them to lap from it.

 

 

 

 

 

I spy…baby goannas in Shelbourne!

Posted on 16 January, 2020 by Asha

Can you see the young Tree Goanna (Varunus varius, aka Lace Monitor) in the photo below?

Many thanks to Newton Hunt for sending through these observations from his property in Shelbourne, Victoria. Newton said the one pictured is about 0.6 m long, but two larger goannas of 1.2 m and 1.5 m also visit the property regularly.

An interesting fact from the Bush Heritage website about Tree Goannas is that they ‘will dig holes into the side of termite mounds to lay their eggs. This is clever as the termites then rebuild the nest around the eggs, keeping them safe and at a constant temperature. When the young hatch the mothers return to help dig them out.’

Young Tree Goanna in Shelbourne (photo by Newton Hunt)

Newton also sent us these two photos of Wedge-tailed Eagle chicks he watched being reared in 2019:

 

BirdWatch Spring 2019: results are in!

Posted on 23 December, 2019 by Jess

Connecting Country’s long-term bird monitoring program was established to investigate the effects of habitat restoration on woodland birds. This was the first year our sites were monitored by our team of amazing volunteers. The 2019 monitoring season was supported by funding from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust as part of our Habitat Health Check project.

We’re excited to present the following short report summarising the findings of our 2019 monitoring program.

We’re also 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 (jess@connectingcountry.org.au).

 

Bird walk in the Wombat with Tanya Loos – 4 January 2020

Posted on 19 December, 2019 by Frances

We are super fortunate to have our very own local BirdLife branch: BirdLife Castlemaine District.

Monthly bird walks

BirdLife Castlemaine holds bird walks on the first Saturday morning of each month. All ages and birding abilities are welcome – they are a friendly and inclusive bunch! If you’d like to learn how to record your bird lists using Birdata, or brush up on your survey skills, they aim to do at least one survey each bird walk.

Meet on the first Saturday of the month, for an 8:30 am departure outside Castlemaine Community House (30 Templeton St, Castlemaine VIC) to tag along, car share or get a lift. Alternatively meet at the start of the walk as advertised. For further details see the BirdLife Castlemaine District Facebook page (click here), their eNews or their events page on the BirdLife website (click here).

Please note walk details times can vary from time to time according to weather conditions, etc., so please check details prior to the walk.

You will need, water, snacks, sun protection including a hat, sturdy shoes, long trousers, binoculars if you have them. Please dress appropriately for the weather.

Walks are cancelled if the temperature is above 35 degrees, it’s a fire ban or a severe weather warning has been issued.

January bird walk in the Wombat

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Gang Gang Cockatoo (photo by Geoff Park)

The first walk for 2020 is on Saturday 4 January 2020 in the Wombat State Forest with a very special leader: Tanya Loos (formerly of Connecting Country, now with BirdLife Australia!).

Join Tanya on a wander through the wet ferny gullies and peppermint ridges of the Wombat Forest. We will do the Whipstick Creek Loop walking track which takes 3 – 4 hours. Those who wish to do part of the walk can retrace their steps. On our walk we are likely to see local special species such as Rufous Fantail, Crescent Honeyeater, Gang Gang Cockatoo and Blue-winged Parrot. We might also see Rose Robin, Bassian Thrush and Square-tailed Kite.

Meet at the former Continuing Education building at 30 Templeton St Castlemaine VIC at 8.30 am sharp, to car pool. Alternatively, meet at Garden of St Erth car park, 189 Simmons Reef Rd Blackwood, VIC at 9.30 am.

Garden of St Erth is one of The Diggers Club’s properties and a fantastic perennial and fruit garden, with a cafe and nursery – well worth a look!

Wombat Forest bird walk
When:   Saturday 4 January 2019 at 8.30 am to car pool or 9.30 am to join walk
Where:  to carpool meet at 30 Templeton St Castlemaine VIC
               to join walk meet at Garden of St Erth car park, 189 Simmons Reef Rd Blackwood, VIC
Bring:    sturdy shoes, hat, insect repellent, sunscreen, water, snacks, binoculars

 

 

Restoration site in Taradale takes off!

Posted on 17 December, 2019 by Jess

We’ve just wrapped up our spring bird monitoring season for 2019. Connecting Country’s bird monitoring program was established in 2010 to investigate the effects of habitat restoration on woodland birds. 2019 was the first year our sites were monitored entirely by our team of amazing volunteers. Some of our current and former staff members also volunteered to do bird surveys.

One of our Landscape Restoration Coordinators and volunteer bird monitor, Jacqui Slingo, surveyed one of our revegetation sites in Taradale, Victoria. This was a paddock site that was direct seeded in 2014.  As you can see from the photos below, revegetation by direct seeding can take a number of years to take off depending on the conditions and rainfall in the years following. Jacqui was delighted to find that the direct seeding is now going great guns, with many Wattles now over 2m tall. With the increased cover of vegetation many smaller native birds are starting to use the vegetation, where previously they had only been heard in neighbouring bush.

Direct seeding at the Taradale site 3 years after seeding in February 2017.

 

Revegetated species starting to emerge in 2017, including: Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha), Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata), Spreading Wattle (Acacia genistifolia), and Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa).

Direct seeding at Taradale beginning to take off November 2019. Photo: Jacqui Slingo.

The birds observed during the survey starting to use the new vegetation included: Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, Grey Fantails, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, and teams of Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Striated Thornbills and Buff-rumped Thornbills.

It’s always rewarding to see wildlife benefiting from our restoration work!

If you are interested in increasing or enhancing native vegetation on your property within Mount Alexander Shire in central Victoria, feel free to fill in an expression of interest form (click here). We will keep your details on file for the next opportunity when it arises.

If you have skills and interests in bird monitoring and are interested in joining our bird program, please email our Monitoring Coordinator, Jess Lawton (jess@connectingcountry.org.au). We are always on the lookout for skilled bird watchers to join our monitoring program!

Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) with developing seed pods. Photo: Jacqui Slingo

 

What’s that bird? Ask Merlin

Posted on 10 December, 2019 by Ivan

Local bird enthusiast, author and photographer, Damian Kelly, has introduced us to a very special personal assistant. Meet Merlin, a smartphone app that helps identify bird species from our region and all over the world. We hope you enjoy Damian’s following introduction to the Merlin app.

The Merlin Bird app has been around for a while, but until recently lacked any Australian data. This has now changed and it has data sets covering regions of Australia, as well as an entire Australia data set. The app is free and works on both Apple and Android devices.

The data sets are based on information and images collected via eBird. If you have been an eBird contributor you have been part of it all. From the Apple app store or Google Play Store, just download the app and the relevant data files for our region. The data files are quite large and can take a while to download.

Unlike the other available bird apps, Merlin provides two very useful functions that provide assistance with identification:

  • Photo ID – identification of a bird directly from a photo.
  • Bird ID – a keying-out procedure where you answer questions and the possibilities are quickly narrowed down, which makes identification much easier.


Photo ID

You don’t need to have the image on your phone. It works on images displayed on your camera back or a hard copy.

Having tested the app on photos on my phone, camera back images and even the cover of my book I can say that the results are impressive, although not yet 100%. Oddly, it failed to identify a clear image of an Owlet Nightjar, but correctly identified many species that I threw at it, such as robins, thornbills, a Barking Owl and even a mixed image of a Powerful Owl with downy chick.

If it can’t identify an image it offers to let you assist with your suggested identification and sharing of your images if you wish. In this way it will gradually become more accurate, based on the input of a range of people.

You can download data sets for different regions of Australia. It pays to make sure you have set your location as this helps with the accuracy of the app. The large data download ensures the ability to use the software without a network connection, which is handy when you are in more remote areas.

Bird ID

When you don’t have a photo, you can answer questions about a bird. These include:

  • Location – you can use GPS on your phone, enter a location manually or select from a map.
  • Date – helps with migratory species.
  • Size – a comparison set of outlines is provided.
  • Colour – main colour that you select from a palette.
  • General habitat and behaviour – fence or wire, trees, bushes and such like.

Then Merlin provides a list of potential species along with images, calls, distribution and general information. Again, you can confirm the accuracy, which helps improve the app.

Although not a full taxonomic key, the keying-out process is simple and easy to use. It should help beginners get going, as well as assist more experienced birders to narrow down possibilities.

What else can I say? It works as expected, is quite accurate and will quickly become more so as increasing numbers of people contribute. More significantly, it demonstrates the power of citizen science in producing very useful tools.

Damian Kelly

 

BirdLife Castlemaine walk at Leanganook – Saturday 7 December 2019

Posted on 4 December, 2019 by Ivan

Our partners at Birdlife Castlemaine have provided the following information regarding their final bird walk for the busy 2019 year. It will be at the Leanganook Camping Ground loop track. Please see the details below, or click here to learn more about their monthly bird walks.

BirdLife Casltemaine’s final bird walk for 2019 will be on Saturday 7 December 2019 at Mount Alexander where we will walk the Leanganook Camping Ground loop track.  The walk will commence at 9.00 am at the camping ground accessed via Joseph Young Drive or meet outside Castlemaine Community House(30 Templeton Street, Castlemaine, VIC) at 8.30 am to car pool.

The habitat is open with Manna Gums, grassy woodland and scattered wattles. Birds that may be seen included Eastern Yellow and Scarlet Robins, Thornbills, White-throated Treecreepers, Yellow-faced Honeyeaters and Striated Pardalotes.

To celebrate a successful year for BirdLife Castlemaine District Branch, the walk will be followed by morning tea so please bring some food to share plus your preferred beverage.

Standard things to bring along to each walk include water, binoculars, hat, sunscreen, sturdy shoes, long pants during snake season, and other weather-appropriate gear.

Please note: Walks will be canceled if, during the walk period, the temperature is forecast to be 35 degrees or more, severe weather warnings are in place, persistent rain is forecast, or if the day has been declared a Total Fire Ban day.

Please check your email on the evening before the event to find out if it has been canceled.

Crimson Chat imitating Christmas (photo: Jane Rusden)

 

 

 

Exploring the colour of wildflowers (and the joy of surprises)

Posted on 19 November, 2019 by Ivan

Getting out and about reminds us of just how many lovely wildflowers and things there are happening in the bush, even as the weather warms up! We are blessed to live in a region with large tracts of public land with woodland wonders aplenty, and now is a great time to get out and see some of the vivid and subtle colors our bushland has to offer. One of our Landscape Restoration Coordinators, Bonnie Humphreys, has kindly outlined some of the native species that may still be flowering and on show over the next few weeks, including a few surprises below!

  • Bush Peas (Pultenaea sp.) and Parrot Peas (Dillwynia sp.) are flowering.
  • Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata) is laden with pods at the moment, hinting at a good year for seed production.
  • Black Wattle (Acacia mearnsii) is in flower with lemony yellow blooms. Some can be seen from the Forest Creek bridge on Duke St, on the right hand side as you head towards Chewton.
  • Chocolate Lilies (Arthropodium strictum) and Sticky Everlastings (Xerochrysum viscosum) are looking spectacular.
  • Look out for beautiful white flowers from Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) and White Marianth (Rhytidosporum procumbens).
  • Creamy Candles (Stackhousia monogyna) are flowering. These have a lovely perfume which is most prevalent at night indicating a preference for night pollinator such as moths.
  • Cats Claw Grevillea or Alpine Grevillea (Grevillea alpina), some plants are still flowering away. There are many different colour forms in this plant including green, yellow, red, and then mixes of combinations.

There are many great places for bushwalking on public land in our region, including Kalimna Park (just a short walk from Castlemaine town centre), Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve (Sandon), Monk Track in the Dry Diggings National Park (Chewton), Muckleford State Forest, and Guildford Bushland Reserve.  View excellent ground-truthed maps of many of these areas by local cartographer Jase Haysom by clicking here. Local bird expert Damian Kelly’s book Castlemaine Bird Walks is another great resource for bird and wildlife outings in the bush.

Before the heat takes the color and vibrancy out of these treasures, be sure to explore some of the abundant nature hotspots in our region. Scroll down to see pictures below of some colourful characters from our local bush.

 

Cats Claw Grevillea (Grevillea alpina). Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Shingle Back Lizard. Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Creamy Candles (Stackhousia monogyna). Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Chocolate Lilies (Arthropodium strictum) and Sticky Everlastings (Xerochrysum viscosum). Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Twining Fringe-lily (Thysanotus patersonii). Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Muckleford bush with Parrot Pea (Dillwyina sp.), Cats Claw Grevillea (Grevillea alpina), Murnong or Yam Daisy (Microseris walteri), Grey Everlasting (Ozothamnus obcordatus) and Chocolate Lilies (Arthropodium strictum). Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Keep an eye out for nesting birds. Here’s an Owlet Nightjar fledgling checking out the world! Photo: Bonnie Humphreys