Posted on 15 February, 2016 by Tanya Loos
There’s diamonds in those hills – Diamond Firetails, that is. This jewel of a bird is one of the ‘feathered five’, our very special woodland bird species that are a focus for Connecting Country. Over the years, we have supported a number of on-ground projects that strive to ensure these five species and other woodland birds are flourishing in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria now and in the future.
Our inaugural Feathered Five Festival is a celebration of woodland birds and their habitat with two days of birdwatching, activities and talks over the weekend of 19-20 March 2016. However, you don’t need to be a budding birdwatcher to attend the free Saturday Evening Forum on the 19th of March in Campbells Creek.
From 5pm until 6pm, Connecting Country staff members will be on hand to answer your land management concerns; Bonnie Humphreys can help you identify any plant, Jarrod Coote will consider whole farm planning and funding opportunities, Tanya Loos knows lots about birds and other fauna, Alex Schipperen is great with practical things such as fencing and the control of weeds and rabbits, and Asha Bannon will help you link-up with your local Landcare Group. You can bring along any plant samples you’d like identified and you can contact us beforehand if you’d like a detailed aerial photo of your property to discuss. Meanwhile, Judy Laycock will be running some exciting nature art activities with the kids.
Following a tasty dinner from Growing Abundance and music by Castlemaine’s Chat Warblers, we are thrilled to have Professor Andrew Bennett, from Latrobe University and the Arthur Rylah Institute, and Phil Ingamells, from the VNPA, share their thoughts on the future of biodiversity in the area. Andrew has been a scientific advisor to Connecting Country since 2010 and will discuss “Drought then flooding rains; how do woodland birds respond to climatic change?”. Phil Ingamells is sure to inspire us with his talk “Collaborating on ten things we can all do to help nature adapt to a new climate”. A short panel discussion will take place after the talks.
On both mornings of the Feathered Five Festival, bird walks in search of the feathered five will occur in various locations around the Mount Alexander region. Connecting Country’s Woodland Bird Coordinator, Tanya Loos, explains; “in the last year or two, through walks and workshops, we have been encouraging a cohort of budding birdwatchers to get out there and improve their birdwatching skills. This weekend is their time to shine as a number of community led walks will be carried out simultaneously on the Saturday morning – the feathered five drive!”
On the Sunday morning, we’re pleased take part in a guided nature walk with a special focus on woodland birds and their habitat. The walk will take place at a private property in Strangways which is a woodland wonderland, with a lovely grassy understory and grand old eucalypts. This joint Connecting Country and the Friends of Box Ironbark Forest (FOBIF) event will be led by Tanya Loos (Connecting Country) and Andrew Skeoch from Listening Earth.
You can come to one event –or all three! Bookings are essential – by the 17th March 2016. Click here for more information and to book, or call Connecting Country on 5472 1594.
This festival has been made possible with funding from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and the Australian Government.
Posted on 8 February, 2016 by Tanya Loos
Beginner birdwatchers and experienced mentors alike joined together to explore the Muckleford forests on Sunday 7 February, 2016.
The morning was warm and still, and the bush seemed washed clean after the recent downpours to grace the area. We concentrated on a few sites along Mia Mia Track near Newstead, and then finished at the “Quince Tree” site, along Pullans Rd towards Maldon. The group was rather large, at twenty people, but we saw some great birds, and learnt a lot from one another, too.
Geoff Park has been featuring the Mia Mia track on Natural Newstead lately, and he kindly provided some local “intel” on some good spots.
As we stood around introducing ourselves at our first stop, we heard the distinctive call of the Crested Bellbird way off in the distance, and we also saw and heard a Peaceful Dove.
We saw a female Hooded Robin and searched for the male Hooded Robin without success, but a male Rufous Whistler resplendent in his russet-coloured plumage gave everyone excellent views. We also saw plenty of honeyeaters, such as Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters. Another highlight was very good views of a juvenile Rufous Whistler, with a streaked breast.
And then, all at once, there was a small flock of Varied Sittella working the bark on the trees, an adult male Scarlet Robin with a juvenile Scarlet Robin, a Speckled Warbler hopping along the ground, and some Buff-rumped Thornbills. Not everyone got to see every bird – but most people saw the Sittellas which I am very glad for, as they are a special little bird, almost like tiny treecreepers.
As it was getting hot, we moved to the Quince Tree site a little earlier in the hope of seeing a few more birds. We also carried out our second “2 hectare 20 minute” survey of the day. This method is the gold standard of bird surveying – moving slowly along an area of two hectares, recording all birds seen and heard for exactly twenty minutes. Some of the participants have set up survey sites on their properties, while others are surveying the many group sites we have dotted about the Mount Alexander region. Practicing the method in a group is always worthwhile! For more on bird surveying and group sites – see HERE.
‘Quince Tree’ is the unofficial local name for a public bushland reserve near the eastern end of Pullans Rd in Gowar. It is named for the group of old Quince trees near the site entrance, and it has been a renowned site for Victorian birdwatchers for decades. The drought hit the birds of Muckleford forest hard, and while the site is not as amazing as its glory days in the eighties, it still has a consistently good number of special woodland birds. This site is actually one of Connecting Country’s official bird monitoring sites and over 60 species have been observed here since 2010 – including Painted Button-quail, White-browed Woodswallow, White-winged Triller, Black-chinned Honeyeater and Little Lorikeet.
As we did the survey, we had some unusual views of White-browed Babblers high in the canopy in a couple of large Mistletoe clumps. Babblers are usually on the ground or in shrubs! We also caught glimpses of the dozens of Fuscous Honeyeaters in the area, and also Brown Treecreepers. As often happens on bird outings, the highlight was back where the cars were parked.
The babblers emerged from a stand of silver wattles, and one flew very close to our group with feathers in its bill, and then entered a nest in the Quince trees! We were surprised to note that breeding was occurring at this time of year, however, I have since discovered that babblers actually maintain their nests year round as a permanent roosting or sleeping site for the babbler family! The Birds in Backyards profile on White-browed Babblers also states that while most breeding is from June to November, these sociable birds will breed at any time of year – see this link for more information: [Birds in Backyards]. So we do not know whether the birds are lining their nests for the coming of another brood, or just keeping the roosting nests nice and comfy with a feather lining!
To register your interest for upcoming bird walks, please send me an email or give me a call. Tanya Loos, Woodland Birds Project Coordinator, 5472 1594, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on 14 January, 2016 by Tanya Loos
In the last couple of days, ABC Hobart has reported that this summer’s baby Swift Parrots have nearly all left Bruny Island in southern Tasmania to begin their migration to mainland Australia.
Dr Dejan Stojanovic, who has been monitoring the parrots, said the birds would fly over Tasmania first before heading north. The young “swifties” can be distinguished from the adults by their calls. For more information and to hear the calls, read the article here
Each year for the past decade or so, BirdLife Australia have coordinated special survey weekends on mainland Australia for the migratory Swift Parrot and the nomadic Regent Honeyeaters. One survey weekend is held in mid-May each year, and the other in early August. An update from BirdLife details the findings from the last survey season for these two Critically Endangered woodland birds. For the full report, click on the link to see the Swift Parrot Regent Honeyeater 2015 update, or you can read the summary I have prepared below.
Much valued volunteers from the ACT, NSW and here in Victoria participated in the counts, including the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club and a number of other swiftie devotees we have locally. In central Victoria, the parrots were reported at Muckleford, Kyneton and the Greater Bendigo National Park.
The average flock size across their entire mainland range was small – generally between 1 to 40 birds – although in NSW one flock was observed with over 100 individuals!
The numbers of Swift Parrots found on the two dedicated survey weekends were low during 2015, despite a similar survey effort compared to previous year. In other years with similar low numbers of Swift Parrots on the survey weekends (e.g. 2009 and 2012), large groups were eventually located later in the season. This was not the case for 2015, where low numbers of Swift Parrots were reported throughout their mainland range across the whole period.
These findings support the recent uplisting of the Swift Parrot from Endangered to Critically Endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The threats they face in Tasmania, including continued logging of their breeding habitat and predation by the introduced Sugar Glider, coupled with ongoing drought in their winter feeding grounds on the mainland are hastening the decline of this very special parrot.
Connecting Country looks forward very much to the May 2016 Swift Parrot surveys, as recording where the birds are feeding and the numbers of birds is critical to the recovery effort. Thanks to all those who participated in 2015.
The Regent Honeyeater was once a widespread species and moderately common across Victoria, including central Victoria. A blossom nomad, the distinctive honeyeaters would follow the flowering of the ironbarks and the Yellow Box trees across the great woodlands that once covered Victoria and NSW. These days, the picture is very different, with one sole wild Regent Honeyeater reported from Victoria in the 2015 year. They are doing a little better in NSW, with over 100 wild individuals detected.
The Regent Honeyeater is the subject of an intensive recovery program, involving a captive bred population, where adults are released into prime Regent habitat around Chiltern in north-eastern Victoria. Some 77 individuals were released in the Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park, and then monitored very closely through the use of radio transmitters. Happily the survival rates have been excellent, and breeding has occurred! One fledgeling raised by captive bred parents is still going strong months later – and named Lucky as he narrowly escaped being eaten by a Magpie! This incredible program is described in detail here.
Tanya Loos, 14 Jan 2016.
Posted on 11 December, 2015 by Tanya Loos
Last Saturday, 5 December 2015, over 25 of us were treated to a morning workshop with author and photographer, Chris Tzaros. Chris is a wonderful presenter and ecologist, and his talk was a fantastic overview of the bush birds of the ‘Connecting Country landscape’. Chris likes to call them bush birds rather than woodland birds, because as he rightly pointed out, many of our so-called woodland birds are found in the area’s extensive Box Ironbark Forests.
I was also really amazed by Chris’s ability to mimic bird calls – no need to play the smartphone bird call app at all!
In a comprehensive presentation, Chris pointed out that we have a particularly rich bird fauna in this area on account of being at the intersection of many different landscapes. There is the Loddon River and the surrounding plains, Cairn Curran and the open country, the dry forests of Sandon and Muckleford, Mount Alexander and the River Red gum plains of Sutton Grange and surrounds. We also have quite good patches of bush left, which means that our declining woodland birds are faring a bit better here than in other more degraded areas. Chris gave us a great overview of the birds of this area, including a special focus on the feathered five – the five species selected as ambassadors for woodland birds in the region.
Chris has provided training for many bird monitoring programs around Victoria across a diverse range of landscapes and communities. The bird monitoring method is kept consistent by training each area across the state to use the standard 2 hectare 20 minute bird survey. This is the methodology recommended by BirdLife Australia, and also the method we use to monitor birds for our seasonal surveys.
As Connecting Country’s woodland bird coordinator, I also introduced everyone to the eleven zones identified as priority habitat areas in the region for declining woodland birds, and directed participants to the Group Sites which are the starting point for our community monitoring program. The link below takes you to the bird monitoring page which has both the Group Site maps and a birdwatchers kit (in PDF format) – with instructions on how to survey, how to submit data and so on: all of which are available for download (click here).
After the presentations, we visited the Rise and Shine Reserve and carried out a 2 hectare 20 minute survey at the Rise and Shine Group survey site. We were delighted to see one of the feathered five – a Jacky Winter – nesting at the entrance to the reserve!
Chris was very impressed with everyone’s enthusiasm and the willingness to start counting birds, both on their properties and in the surrounding areas. We will be building on this energy in 2016, with monthly bird outings, a Feathered Five Festival (19-20 March) and a new program called Stewards for Woodland Birds. Watch this space!
For more information or to get involved, please telephone me (Tanya Loos) at the Connecting Country office on 5472 1594, or email email@example.com
Posted on 18 November, 2015 by Tanya Loos
On the first Saturday of December, join a small group of bird observers for a morning with ecologist and photographer Chris Tzaros. Chris shall take us through the ins and outs of monitoring woodland birds – with a special focus on the collection of data for Connecting Country and BirdLife Australia.
We are currently looking for volunteers to carry out regular bird surveys on both private and public land across the Mount Alexander region. In particular we are searching for the feathered five: the Jacky Winter, Painted Button-quail, Hooded Robin, Brown Treecreeper and Diamond Firetail. Attending this workshop would be a great first step in getting involved.
The workshop will cover:
- A background to bird identification and bird fauna of the Mount Alexander region.
- Bird monitoring methods of the monitoring project (including a practical component).
- The role of community volunteers in ecological monitoring projects.
Some experience in bird watching is desired, however we are open to any enthusiastic attendees! Be quick though – we have just a few places left.
When: Saturday 5th December 2015 , 9am-12pm (followed by lunch until 1pm).
Where: Newstead Community Centre, Newstead.
RSVP: Essential! Contact Tanya Loos on 03 5472 1594 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please detail any dietary requirements.
About Chris Tzaros: Chris is a wildlife ecologist and nature photographer for his company; Birds, Bush and Beyond. In 1997 he was awarded Young Australian of the Year in the Victorian environment category in recognition of his commitment to box-ironbark conservation and his dedicated work on threatened birds such as the Grey-Crowned Babbler and Swift Parrot. In 2005, Chris authored a comprehensive book on the Wildlife of Australia’s Box-Ironbark Country. Chris is also an accomplished bird photographer and has contributed many beautiful images to Connecting Country’s Woodland Birds Brochure.
Posted on 13 October, 2015 by Connecting Country
Connecting Country members and supporters are invited to join us on the evening of Tuesday 27 October 2015. We have our Annual General Meeting (AGM), a special guest speaker and a light meal. It’s also a chance to catch up with CC staff, committee and other friends. It’s being held at the clubhouse of the Castlemaine Golf Club on Rilens Rd (just off the Pyrenees Hwy, between Castlemaine and Newstead).
The formalities of our AGM are being held first, from 6.30pm until 7pm. A copy of the agenda is attached (CLICK HERE).
If you are a Connecting Country member, then:
- You are entitled to vote on any and all relevant agenda items. If you are unable to make it to the AGM, but still wish to vote, then proxy forms are available.
- You are also able to nominate to join the Connecting Country committee. If you are interested in applying to join the committee, you are encouraged to contact the current president – Brendan Sydes – to talk more about what is involved in being on the committee, and the opportunities that are available (email@example.com).
From about 7pm until 7.30pm, a light meal will be provided. Locally made vegetarian soups and bread will be provided, along with tea, coffee and other drinks.
From 7.30pm, we will launch the new component of our woodland birds program, followed by a presentation by Sean Dooley from Birdlife Australia. Many of you will know of Sean either through his editorship of the Australian Birdlife magazine, as a regular contributor to ABC and community radio programs on all things ‘bird’ or as the author of ‘The Big Twitch’ (click here), which is one of my favourite books. His is also a very entertaining raconteur, being involved in comedy for many years as a contributing writer to TV shows such as Spicks and Specks.
To ensure sufficient catering and seating, it is preferred if you could send your RSVP to me if you’re planning to come along (firstname.lastname@example.org). Also send an email or call me if you are unsure if you are a member; if you’d like a committee nomination form or a proxy form; or if you’d like a copy of the 2014 AGM Minutes or 2014-15 Financial Statements to read before the meeting.
Chris Timewell, Director.
Posted on 9 October, 2015 by Connecting Country
Definitions of ‘Twitcher’
- A person or thing that twitches.
- The term twitcher, sometimes misapplied as a synonym for birder, is reserved for those who travel long distances to see a rare bird that would then be ticked, or counted on a list.
The second definition applies to Albert and Eleanor Wright – ‘the Gypsy Twitchers’ (although in their case, the definition should be expanded to include all birds – not just the rare ones – which are then photographed as well being ticked and counted). The Wrights have a residence locally, but they are insatiable travelers – hence the ‘gypsy’.
There website has an incredible array of photos of birds and other wildlife (CLICK HERE), and they are to have an exhibition of their work locally from the 14 October to the 22 November 2015.
“Albert Wright is a local wildlife photographer who specializes in bird images. Albert and his wife Eleanor, have spent the past 10 years traveling extensively around Australia (and more recently overseas), observing and photographing bird life. It is both passion and obsession! Some of Albert’s stunning images, on canvas, will be on display and for sale at Dig Cafe in Newstead, including many wonderful birds which are local to the Newstead area.”
While you are in Newstead, you can make it a double bird-art event, and also see the exhibition of Curly Hartup’s photography at the Newstead Railway Art Hub (see our earlier post – click here).
Posted on 7 October, 2015 by Tanya Loos
Celebrate National Bird Week 2015 by taking part in the biggest citizen science project to hit Aussie shores! From 19-25 October, thousands of people from across the country are heading out into their backyards, local parks, or favourite outdoor spaces to take part in the second annual AUSSIE BACKYARD BIRD COUNT! This is an initiative of BirdLife Australia; Connecting Country is an affiliate group of this fantastic organisation. We have a data-sharing agreement with BirdLife Australia – which means that the Aussie Backyard Bird Count helps us keep track of how woodland birds are faring in the Mount Alexander region.
To get involved in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count, all you need is 20 minutes, your outdoor space of choice, and some keen eyesight (or binoculars). It doesn’t matter if you’re a novice or an expert. Simply record the birds you know and look up those you don’t on BirdLife’s new Aussie Bird Count app or our through their website (www.aussiebirdcount.org.au). You’ll instantly see live statistics and information on how many people are taking part near you and the number of birds and species counted across your neighbourhood and the whole of Australia!
Not only will you get to know your feathered neighbours, but you’ll be contributing to a vital pool of information from across the nation that will help us see how Australian birds are faring. Last year volunteers counted 800,000 birds from across Australia, this year Birdlife Australia hopes to make it to at least one million. Get your friends and family together, head into the great outdoors and start counting!
Also, don’t forget that there are some great guest speakers in the Mount Alexander Shire area over the coming weeks, with Andrew Skeoch speaking at the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club this Friday (9 Oct) and Emmi Scherlies talking about Powerful Owls at the Newstead Community Centre next Thursday (15 Oct). See our earlier blog for further details on these two events (click here). We’ll also have some information soon about our guest speaker at our upcoming AGM on 27 October.
Posted on 7 October, 2015 by Tanya Loos
Ever wondered which bird field guide is for you? What about a good bird book for kids? Head into the Castlemaine Library this month to check out our Bird Week display.
Connecting Country has teamed up with the Castlemaine Library to present the display and includes reviews of some of the key bird books available.
For young people and the young at heart the Library also has the Great Library Bird Count activity…
The Bird Week display will be in the Castlemaine Library from 10th October – 24th October.
Bird Week is an initiative of BirdLife Australia, and runs at the same time as the Aussie Backyard Bird Count. If you go to the Aussie Backyards webpage you can see that the Castlemaine Library display joins ‘bird week’ displays from all around Australia.
If you can’t make it to the Library, see the Connecting Country birdwatching page for resources and useful tips to get you started.
Posted on 24 September, 2015 by Connecting Country
Via Geoff Park, Ken Hartup has made us aware of a wonderful exhibition of nature photographs by leading amateur photographer and long-time resident of Newstead, Alan Jesse Hartup (1915 –2004), which will be opened at the Newstead Railway Arts Hub on Saturday 10 October 2015 at 3pm. Viewings thereafter are by appointment through until the 24 October.
This exhibition is largely of bird life in Newstead and the surrounding districts, from Alan’s vast array of black and white photographs and colour slides. This selection of 20 works of black and white and prints from colour slides, span over 60 years of Alan’s impressive output. Beginning with his beloved 35m Voigtlander camera, he progressed to the brilliant level of work he achieved with his Mamiya and Rollieflex 2¼ square cameras and his great ability with dark room techniques.
Alan has been represented widely in amateur circles and has been a central figure in promoting, selecting and judging photography in Victoria and interstate. In preparing for this exhibition we have been reminded what a wonderful legacy Alan has left with images of the beauty and richness of our surroundings. He was a man at one with the natural world and one who took a vital interest in our environment and how to care for it. The exhibition was prompted by local field naturalists Geoff Park and Mrs. Joan Butler.
The attached flyer has further details (CLICK HERE).
Posted on 8 August, 2015 by Tanya Loos
One of the joys of bird monitoring is the experience of magic moments: special points of time and place that stand out in the mind as truly special. Connecting Country’s winter bird monitoring has been completed for the 2015 year, involving two surveys at each of the 54 sites, which totals 108 ‘twenty minute – two hectare’ surveys. Here are a few of the magic moments from this winter’s wet and windy efforts!
While looking for the typical, tiny bush bird shapes in the foliage on the side of a hill in Metcalfe Conservation Reserve, I was completely taken aback by the sight of a huge Wedge-tailed Eagle taking off from the ground just metres in front of me, closely followed by another, younger bird. They had been eating a dead kangaroo, and the pair perched nearby in a paddock tree watching me closely as I completed the survey.
Speckled Warblers are not often encountered; they are a small, ground-foraging woodland bird somewhat like a scrubwren, with attractive streaky plumage. One lucky afternoon I had brilliant views of two foraging in rocky grassy undergrowth at the Nuggettys, then observed another at a direct seeding site in Maldon, foraging on the ground with thornbills and Scarlet Robins.
This year I have had the fortunate opportunity to set up a number of new bird monitoring sites (eight in total) with landholders who have past or present Connecting Country revegetation projects on their properties. After surveying a direct seeding site in the Blue Hills area, myself and the landholders went for a walk and we were rewarded with a brilliant session; dozens of bird species including Hooded Robins, Jacky Winters, Brown Treecreepers and culminating in a pair of Crested Shrike-tits doing a courtship wing shivering display. Magic!
If you are interested in a revegetation project on your property, call Jarrod Coote at the Connecting Country office on 5472 1594 to find out more.
And for those of you who are enjoying the birds on your property; watch this space, as we will be going out on another outing in early September.
by Tanya Loos, Habitat for Bush Birds Project Coordinator.
Posted on 17 July, 2015 by Tanya Loos
On Wednesday (15 July 2015), BirdLife Australia launched the Australian Bird Index. This ground-breaking research measures the health of Australia’s terrestrial bird populations. For the first time, vast quantities of data collected by volunteers and researchers have been analyzed to produce indices that help track Australia’s current state of biodiversity.
Just as the Consumer Price Index is a useful tool to evaluate the nation’s economy, The Australian Bird Index is a tool to quantify the overall health of the environment – using birds as the barometer.
The Bird Index has come about thanks to 15 years of citizen science data collection: comprising 14 million records and 900,000 surveys from across Australia – including many from the Mount Alexander region.
Now that Connecting Country is an affiliated organization with BirdLife Australia, both the data we collect for our long term monitoring program, and the data you submit, will be shared with BirdLife to assist in this important work.
So how are we faring? In order to make sense of the data, the Australian Bird Index breaks Australia up into nine regions: for example, the Mount Alexander Shire occurs entirely within the South-east Mainland region. In the South-east Mainland, dry woodland and forest dependent parrots are showing distinct downward trends over the last 13 years. These species include Purple-crowned, Musk and Little Lorikeets, Crimson Rosella and Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo.
But we see Crimson Rosellas all the time, I hear you say – this is the tricky thing about analyzing the data over a large area – in some areas the rosellas may actually be steady or even increasing, whereas across other areas, rosellas are dropping out of the picture entirely. As such, BirdLife researchers plan to carry out further research for the comprehensive State of Australia’s Birds report planned for early release in 2016. For more on the Australian Bird Index and the upcoming report: see here
The Australian Bird Index can tell us that the Purple-crowned Lorikeet has declined markedly, but not why this beautiful little bird has been reported as declining. Again – further research is required to tease out some answers. My guess is that the changing weather patterns are playing havoc with the flowering of the eucalypts that these tiny blossom nomads rely upon.
Geoff Park has recently posted some stunning photos of the Purple-crowned Lorikeet (click here) and it is great to hear that readers of his blog have reported seeing this species in good numbers.
Report from Tanya Loos, Habitat for Bush Birds Coordinator