Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Eastern Yellow Robin Talk – Thursday 31 May 2018

Posted on 16 May, 2018 by Tanya Loos

All are welcome to join Lana Austin of Monash University in Newstead next week as she unpacks the bizarre genetic story of what is known (and not known) about the Eastern Yellow Robin. Lana will also explain how volunteers can participate in this fascinating genetic study.

When:  Thursday 31 May, 2018 at 7 pm
Where: Newstead Community Centre: the Mechanics Hall (Lyons St, Newstead VIC)

This is a free event, with no need to book!

We featured the Eastern Yellow Robin project on the blog last week – read the story here if you missed it.  And click here for a poster about the event.

A stunning Eastern Yellow Robin, photo by Geoff park. Wonder which genotype THIS one is?!?

 

 

Caught on camera!

Posted on 10 May, 2018 by Tanya Loos

This remarkable photograph shows a Yellow-footed Antechinus bounding up a log with an Australian Magpie in hot pursuit. It was taken by a trail camera – amazing timing!

In this case, the antechinus escaped being breakfast, running so fast all of its paws are in the air! It is great to see the tables turned on these adorable but voracious hunters (see pictures of a Yellow-footed Antechinus preying upon a grey fantail here).

The landholders who sent us the photo said  ‘These wildlife cameras are great! We catch so much and are able to watch so many different animals, birds, reptiles, insects, etc.  and what they get up to each day.’ Lynne and Ric live on a beautiful woodland property east of Maldon, and are keen bird surveyors.

If you would like to see what lives on your property, why not borrow a wildlife camera from us? We are happy to loan wildlife cameras to our members – usually for a three week period. To book one, email tanya@connectingcountry.org.au or phone us at the office on 5472 1594.

Many thanks to Lynne and Ric for the amazing photo.

 

Swift Parrot surveys on 19 and 20 May 2018

Posted on 10 May, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Swift Parrot survey season is upon us again, with a monitoring weekend coming up on 19 and 20 May. BirdLife Australia’s Swift Parrot monitoring program is essential for assessing where our beloved swifties are, what resources they are feeding upon, and their numbers.

Our regional coordinator for swift parrot surveys is Beth Mellick from Wettenhall Environment Trust. If you would like to be involved in this Autumn’s swift parrot count, contact Beth via email to be assigned a site (email: beth@wettenhall.org.au). And regular watchers – don’t forget to let Beth know where you are surveying so we can make sure we cover our whole region!

This beautiful Swift Parrot was photographed by Connecting Country member Micheal Gooch, visiting his bird bath in Clunes (www.outsidefourwalls.com)

 

Chris Timewell (formerly of Connecting Country and now with BirdLife Australia) provided this update on Swift Parrot (and Regent Honeyeater) surveys:

We are again seeking volunteers to search for both species across Victoria, NSW, ACT and Queensland, as Swift Parrots make their way up to the mainland from Tasmania and Regent Honeyeaters move about the landscape in search of flowering Eucalypt trees to feed on. The May 2018 Swift Parrot and Regent Honeyeater survey weekend is coming up soon on May 19th and 20th. As always, we are happy for people to undertake their searches up to a week on either side of the survey weekend. Opportunistic sightings from any time of the year are also welcomed. 

So far this season there have been scattered Swift Parrot sightings from across its mainland range – with the highest clusters around the north-eastern fringes of metropolitan Melbourne and returning birds to favourite haunts such as Mt Majura (ACT) and the Cessnock forests of the Lower Hunter (NSW). There are Spotted Gums noted flowering on the South Coast of NSW (e.g., Marramarra National Park), Coastal Grey Box is flowering in the Lower Hunter and Swamp Mahogany is starting to flower in coastal areas – each of which are attracting large number of lorikeets and other nectar-feeders. 

If you are new to the plight of this Critically Endangered parrot, the BirdLife website has a profile on swift parrots here.

 

Eastern Yellow Robin – more than meets the eye!

Posted on 2 May, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Monash University is conducting an amazing study on the genetics of a local woodland bird, the Eastern yellow robin right here on our doorstep in the Muckleford and Newstead forests. Lana Austin from Monash University is living in the Newstead area and coordinating volunteers for mist netting of Eastern yellow robins, and wild observation of banded robins. Lana introduces the project below.

Information evening and local bird banding project

Eastern yellow robins. A common woodland species. Not endangered. No fancy breeding displays. Easy to spot. So why is Monash University putting so much effort into following every move of these birds?

Well, it turns out they are more remarkable than once thought.

Recently we discovered two unexpected genetic lineages in our familiar robins. These lineages lie neatly to the east and west of the Great Dividing Range. While they are genetically distinct, even with the best pair of Swarovski binoculars the two lineages look exactly the same to the human eye.

Here’s where it gets really interesting. Along the east and west boundary there are sites where the two genetic lineages coexist (e.g., Muckleford State Forest, Crusoe Reservoir, Bendigo). So, they are hanging out together but maintaining ‘genetic purity’. This means that while we can’t see the difference, the birds can.

We are witnessing the Eastern yellow robins split into two species!

This raises some interesting questions. How do the robins know that a potential mate is the same genetic lineage? What happens when they mate with a different lineage? Would they prefer to mate with a different lineage, or not at all? How successful are the hybrid offspring?

Later in May (date being finalised), Lana will be giving  a presentation  as she unpacks what is known (and not known) about the Eastern yellow robin. Volunteers are most welcome to join the field team from the 5-10 May on their colour banding project. Email lana.austin@monash.edu for more information.

For info on the Eastern Yellow Robin Project website click here 

 

Birdata app and portal – an exciting new step

Posted on 19 April, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Recording bird surveys has just become much easier for a lot of keen bird people in our local area! Last Friday (13 April), over 20 bird survey volunteers gathered at the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens Tea Rooms to hear about BirdLife Australia’s smartphone app and bird data website.

Andrew Silcocks from BirdLife Australia manages the Bird Atlas – a comprehensive map of the distribution and numbers of Australian birds. Over the course of three very enjoyable hours, we learned how our data collection helps in bird conservation, how to use the very user-friendly app, and how to examine bird information on the portal known at Birdata.

And we were all very happy to hear Chris Timewell, BirdLife Australia’s Woodland Bird Project Coordinator (formerly Director of Connecting Country), present on the Birds on Farms research project. A separate blog post about the Birds on Farms project will follow soon.

Andrew Silcocks and Chris Timewell from BirdLife Australia

 

Connecting Country has been an affiliate organisation of BirdLife Australia since 2015. The two organisations are both bird mad (of course!), and collect and share bird data with one another. Connecting Country’s long term monitoring program has sent BirdLife over 20,000 individual records for their Birdata bird mapping project, and we have also extracted data from BirdLife to help with our reporting.

The Birdata app 

The feedback from participants was wonderful! The app is surprisingly easy to use – the phone finds your location, then you give it a site name, add the survey information such as the type of survey, and then simply start counting birds! So for those of you who were unable to attend the workshop, the following comments may encourage you to visit the Birdata website, download the app and have a go!

‘Really clearly explained, and I found the app easy to use’

‘I used Birdata extensively up until about 2 years ago so this provided a valuable update’

‘I had never previously used this app but I now feel very confident to conduct and submit surveys’

‘Opened my eyes to the power of the app AND the portal’.

To download the app click here. In the help section of the Birdata website here, there are short instructional YouTube videos and printed information on the portal and the app. These also might be useful for those of you who attended the workshop and would like a refresher.

The Birdata portal

The Birdata website is referred to as a portal. Once you are logged in, you can see your surveys and all your data. You can edit and change surveys you have done, such as correct a misidentified bird or refine the location.

You can also share your surveys with other people, such as on social media or by email. Any person doing bird surveys for one of our ‘official’ monitoring programs (such as the KBA monitoring, the Perkins surveys, or the Connecting Country sites) can send their data directly to BirdLife using the app if they wish. This saves on time and double handling. However, also emailing a copy of your surveys to us here at Connecting Country will help with keeping track of our bird survey program. Of course, those people who wish to stay with the old pen and paper method are most welcome to do so!

A fantastic feature of the portal is the ability to generate an up-to-the-minute bird list of any area of any size simply by drawing a polygon on the Birdata map. I used this function today to supply a bird list to Sutton Grange Landcare group. See the ‘Explore’ button on the portal for this feature.

Many many thanks to Andrew Silcocks for such an enjoyable and informative workshop! We would also like to thanks the Wettenhall Environment Trust for funding the workshop.

Say ‘swift parrot’! Workshop attendees were all smiles on a beautiful autumn day.

 

 

 

 

 

Volunteer with a flair for graphic design needed for bird project

Posted on 10 April, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Calling all graphic designers! We are looking for a volunteer to design two very special bird signs, which will be displayed permanently at Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve in Sandon, and at the Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve. The signs will illustrate the values of the Muckleford and Strangways Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), and are a key component of our Caring for Key Biodiversity Areas project.

The Critically Endangered Swift Parrot. Pic by Chris Tzaros

The trigger species for these areas are the Diamond Firetail, Swift Parrot and Flame Robin. KBAs are designated by BirdLife International and BirdLife Australia.

The Caring for Key Biodiversity Areas project involves an on-ground works component, bird surveys and the two interpretive signs.

Design of the signs would be an excellent project for a university student who is studying the visual arts, or a graphic designer who wishes to do some pro-bono work to contribute to the community while raising the profile of their business. Purchase of the signs will be covered by the grant, but we need help with the graphic design component as a volunteer contribution.

We will be able to supply the written content and quality photos of the target species to use on the signs. But the magic of their presentation is up to you!

The signs will be launched in September 2018, so ideally we would have the signs designed by the end of July.

If you are interested, please send a copy of your resume, business website or an example of your graphic design work to Tanya at Connecting Country:  tanya@connectingcountry.org.au
We will make a decision and let people know on Monday April 16, so get your applications in quick!

And of course, feel free to call on 5472 1594 if you have any enquiries!

The Caring for Key Biodiversity Areas projects is funded by the Victorian Government – Community and Volunteer Action Grants.

 

‘Bush Play’ and ‘Cranes, Herons and Storks’ – two April 2018 events

Posted on 5 April, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Autumn is a busy time in Central Victoria. We would like to share two events that our readers may enjoy. ‘Bush Play’ is an activity especially for children, as part of Nature Play week. ‘Cranes, Herons and Storks’ is a presentation proudly hosted by Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club.

Bush Play: the colours of the bush in Kalimna Park

What: Come and join in a hunt for the colours of the bush. Help to discover how many different colours the bush has to offer. This is a free event for Nature Play Week and will be followed by a story about the bush. For details see the Facebook event page here.

When: Thursday 12 April from 2:00 to 3:30 pm
Where: Kalimna Park near the cubby houses
Who: For children aged 4 to 6 years old and an accompanying adult

Bookings: Please book as numbers are limited. Please email tiffany.inglis@gmail.com

 

 

Cranes, Herons and Storks: a talk at the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club Monthly meeting

Renowned photographer and author David Hollands wrote the classic book ‘Eagles Hawks and Falcons of Australia’ in the 1980s. He has written and provided photographs for many books on Australian birds, including kingfishers, owls and waders. David will be sharing his amazing photos and speaking about his latest book: Cranes, Herons and Storks of Australia.

The evening commences at 7.30 pm on Friday 13 April in the Fellowship Room, located behind the Uniting Church on Lyttleton St, Castlemaine (next door to the Castlemaine Art Museum).  Members and visitors are all welcome to come along, and to stay for a light supper after the talk. This is a free event.

Black-necked Stork at Yellow Waters, Kakadu National Park. Photo by David Hollands.

 

Tiny feathered visitor receives first aid

Posted on 5 April, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Many of our landholders and readers of this blog send us photographs of birds to identify, or animals that they are pleased to see on their properties and in their gardens. Last week, Robyn Patton, who lives south of Bendigo sent us photos of a bird that is ‘tiny and finch-like in size’.

The little creature had collided with a glass window and passed out from concussion. Robyn put the tiny bird in her dressing gown pocket.

Cradled in gentle, loving hands.

The bird started to revive after a few hours, so she carefully placed the bird in a covered cat carrier. When the bird could perch well and seemed to be revived, Robyn set the little one free into the garden.

Have you guessed the species? It is a Striated Pardalote! We featured these stunning birds on a blog last year with Peter Turner’s wonderful photos ( see here). This rescued bird is very young, as it lacks the dark head and bold markings of adult pardalotes. My guess is that the little one had just left the nesting hollow, and unfortunately encountered a window on its first day!

Robyn’s quick thinking saved the pardalote from being eaten by an animal while unconscious. We suggest that a concussed bird be placed in a covered box such as a shoebox, with a tea towel or something soft in the bottom, and then left in a quiet room for a few hours to recover. The dressing gown pocket is very comfy, but a shoebox is an even quieter, safer spot for the bird to recover. The bird will not need water or food, just warmth, darkness and quiet. If it is still very ill, you may need to contact your local vet or wildlife shelter.

Robyn clearly loves her birds. Here she talks about the birds in her backyard:

‘They follow me around the veggie garden, checking out my every move. They make my heart smile and they’re great company. Yes, I actually talk to them on occasion. I keep telling them to eat only bad bugs, and make sure they have plenty of fresh water to drink and bathe in.’

Thanks for sending in the photos, Robyn – and we are thrilled this little bird recovered!

The perch in the cat carrier was an excellent idea

For information on how to prevent birds colliding with windows, please see the excellent link below.

 

Why Birds Hit Windows—and How You Can Help Prevent It

 

 

Birdata App Workshop Friday 13 April

Posted on 29 March, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Andrew Silcocks from BirdLife Australia provides an introduction and practical demonstration of how to use online Birdata mapping and the smartphone app – at the beautiful Castlemaine Botanical Gardens. 

A Diamond Firetail, by Geoff Park

This year, BirdLife Australia staff are travelling Victoria with a series of presentations and workshops on Birdata – how to use it, and more importantly, why to use it.
The information that BirdLife Australia takes from Birdata underpins their State of Australia’s Birds Reports, as well as population and species trends and distribution analyses. These analyses inform threatened species nominations, which in turn influence the government allocation of conservation dollars and resources to those species.
Andrew is the coordinator of Birdata at BirdLife Australia and he is keen to share the Birdata app with you! Tanya Loos from Connecting Country will also be on hand to discuss the close relationship between Birdata and the Connecting Country bird monitoring program.

When: Friday 13 April from 11am – 3pm
Where: Castlemaine Tea rooms, at the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens
What you need:
*Shoes and clothing appropriate for birdwatching outside
*Your binoculars (some will be provided)
*Your Birdata login – just sign up at https://birdata.birdlife.org.au/
*The Birdata app downloaded on your phone – available on Apple or Android

Bookings and enquiries to Tanya Loos tanya@connectingcountry.org.au or call our office on 5472 1594

 

Autumn workshop series – launch celebration 27 March 2018

Posted on 19 March, 2018 by Tanya Loos

On Tuesday 27 March we’re launching Connecting Country’s Autumn Workshop Series for 2018. The launch will be an informal gathering at the Hub Plot, Castlemaine, with drinks and nibbles. All of our friends and supporters are most welcome. And bring along your knowledge and competitive spirit for a nature quiz!

The theme for our autumn workshop series is Monitoring Healthy Habitats. We have a diverse series of events to inform and inspire you about habitat protection and local wildlife.

We’re pleased to be presenting these workshops together with our partner organisations:

  • Bird monitoring, with BirdLife Australia
  • Caring for large old trees, with Mount Alexander Shire Council.
  • Nestboxes for wildlife, with Miles Geldard.

 

An Eastern Spinebill strikes a pose (photo by Geoff Park)

Launch celebration:

Tuesday 27 March from 5.00 – 7.00 pm
At the Hub Plot, behind 233 Barker St, Castlemaine

Please RSVP for catering purposes to tanya@connectingcountry.org.au or call 5472 1594

Click here for the Autumn Workshop Series flier, and stay tuned for more details on each workshop.

These workshops are kindly funded by the Wettenhall Environment Trust. This lauunch event is part of our community engagement program supported by Biodiversity Hubs funding from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

 

Summer’s feathered migrants – Nature News November 7 2017

Posted on 20 November, 2017 by Tanya Loos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Rainbow Bee-eater. Photo by Geoff Park

 

Boosting Bulokes project helps a diamond shine

Posted on 15 November, 2017 by Tanya Loos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Caring for our Key Biodiversity Areas: new on ground works program

Posted on 1 November, 2017 by Tanya Loos

A Diamond Firetail, photo by Geoff Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

  • Learn about Key Biodiversity Areas by visiting the BirdLife Australia website: birdlife.org.au/KBA

 

 

Birds get a boost in the Goldfields region

Posted on 16 October, 2017 by Tanya Loos

All smiles beneath the rainbow outside the beautiful Chewton Town Hall.

By Tanya Loos, Connecting Country Monitoring and Engagement Coordinator

On Friday September 30, 2017, Connecting Country hosted an afternoon tea and planning meeting for the birders of the Castlemaine region.  I presented some of the findings of  the last six years of bird monitoring, and then the group had a discussion on the future of bird monitoring in the region. Last but not least, Fiona Blandford from BirdLife Australia gave a presentation on the merits of becoming a BirdLife Branch. It was a jam-packed afternoon,  filled with energy and enthusiasm!

Preliminary findings and report

Connecting Country has been counting woodland birds since 2010 as part of our long term monitoring program. This has been undertaken by a staff member (such as myself or my predecessors) and has helped build a picture of bird species distribution  across the landscape, especially in different habitats. This in-house monitoring has been quite comprehensive, but gaps still existed  – so in 2014, we started a citizen science program to enlist the help of birders across the region. A whopping 20,000 bird records have been submitted to BirdLife Australia to date!  The preliminary findings of the results of both programs may be found in this short report: Bird-Monitoring_Summary_Sept_2017

A more comprehensive update on this report to follow soon…

Bird monitoring in the region: banding together 

We love our woodland birds in this region – there is the Connecting Country-led bird monitoring, and other initiatives as well. Lesley and Anne Perkins are continuing the bird monitoring that Ern and Lesley started some twenty years ago, with help from local birders: there are 15 sites in all. More recently, the Muckleford Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) monitoring group commenced monitoring their sites in the Muckleford forest. This group is  ably coordinated by Geoff Nevill, and also has 15 sites.
We also wanted to discuss the other programs to ensure there was no double-up of sites and see if we could share methodology.  After removing the double-up and including group sites –  we calculated there are 84 sites being regularly monitored for birds across the region!

A follow-up blog post on the sites, survey methodology and other aspects of bird monitoring in our region coming soon…

A BirdLife Goldfields branch

Fiona Blandford, Birdlife Australia, and Tanya Loos, Connecting Country

Connecting Country has been an affiliate of BirdLife Australia since 2015, and we love our relationship – supporting each other’s events, and sharing data and expertise. Our nearest BirdLife Branches are in Ballarat, and to the north, in Echuca.

The Field Naturalist Clubs of Bendigo and Castlemaine, and more recently Connecting Country have filled the gap of bird activities in the region, such as the Annual Bird Count, and Swift Parrot Counts. But after discussions with key birders in the region, and with Fiona Blandford the Network Manager, we all feel it is time for a local branch!

Fiona has suggested BirdLife Goldfields – as the area covered will be  Castlemaine and surrounds, including east to Baynton, south to Daylesford, up to just south of Bendigo, and to Maryborough in the west.  Fiona gave us all an insight into the BirdLife model, and how branches work – and how they really can cater for the needs of the birders and communities they live in. And I am thrilled to say we already have enough interested people for a committee!

Please get in touch if you have any questions or would like to be involved in our growing bird monitoring project.

Call Tanya Loos, Monitoring and Engagement Coordinator, on 5472 1594 during work hours, or email tanya@connectingcountry.org.au

 

 

Pardalotes put on a show at Muckleford Station

Posted on 19 September, 2017 by Tanya Loos

The local U3A birdwatching group visited Muckleford Train Station last week, and were entranced by a large flock of Striated Pardalotes displaying and carrying on in very close proximity. Local birdo and photographer Peter Turner captured a stunning series of images, and kindly sent them in so we could share them with you all!

One of the behaviours that intrigued Peter is a display which involves the pardalote bowing slightly, opening both wings and spreading its tail. Many of the pardalotes were displaying in this way, and Peter asked what the behaviour might mean.

Displaying on the train tracks

Here at the office, we have a copy of a large detailed book known as the Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds (HANZAB) The entry on Striated Pardalotes details this behaviour.

The Wing-and-tail Display is associated with nesting behaviour. As the Striated Pardalote sexes are very difficult to tell apart, it is not known whether the male or the female or both sexes are displaying. The display may involve quivering the wings, or fanning them by alternately opening and folding them.

 

Three pardalotes watch one pardalote’s display with much interest.

The Wing-and-tail Display is often part of a group display, where several pairs that are nesting in close proximity display to one another.

The Muckleford Station is a Striated Pardalote breeding hotspot – with many nest burrows  excavated in the clay soil near the platform.

Striated Pardalotes also take readily  to nestboxes, in fact previously on this blog, we featured a pardalote nestbox design by Ric Higgins; for details, click  here.

While Spotted Pardalotes are loved by many, these photographs remind us that the Striated Pardalotes are little stunners too. Thanks so much for the photos, Peter!

 

 

 

 

Celebration afternoon tea for the bird friends of the region: Sept 29, 2017

Posted on 14 September, 2017 by Tanya Loos

 Birds hold a very special place in the hearts of the Mount Alexander Region community.  Connecting Country has nearly 200 subscribers to the bird survey eNews, over 16 participating households with long term bird monitoring sites on their property, and a regular band of birdwatchers on our bird walks and outings.  Hundreds of bird records have been sent in by our volunteers for addition to our bird survey database.  And now it is time to say “thanks!”.

You are all invited to a lush afternoon tea at the Chewton Town Hall on Friday September 29.  This event will provide an opportunity to thank you all for your participation in the two year Stewards for Woodland Birds project, and most importantly present the results of the last two years of bird monitoring!  

It will also be time an opportunity to talk about the next steps, as we are also moving into a new phase of citizen science bird monitoring.  Therefore, I also hope to officially assign one or more local survey sites to those birdwatchers who are interested in being involved. All of the landholders who have existing bird survey sites on their land are also being invited, and it would be great for birdwatching volunteers and landholders to meet face to face. I also want to hear from YOU – what are your needs and interests for our continued bird monitoring program?

Lastly, we will be joined by Fiona Blandford from BirdLife Australia who will talk to us about the possibility of a new BirdLife Branch in the region – tentatively to be known as BirdLife Goldfields! This is a most exciting development and I would love to see some folks put their hand up to possibly be involved.

Friday September 29, Chewton Town Hall 2- 5pm.  Please RSVP for this event so I can ensure I have the right amount of delicious treats for you all. For further information call me on 5472 1594 or email tanya@connectingcountry.org.au 

 

Two finches – A Diamond Firetail with two Red-browed Finches, in a bird bath in the Nuggetty area – sent in by Nick Schulz. Thanks Nick!

 

Ruby gives voice to sapphire – Scarlet Robins in Nature News August 4 2017

Posted on 13 September, 2017 by Tanya Loos

For this month’s Nature News, Connecting Country Landcare Facilitator, Asha Bannon shares her observations of Scarlet Robins in Campbells Creek.

“A flash of wing on a blue sky
A breast of delicate wildfire
The weight of day is carried away
As ruby gives voice to sapphire”

The opening words of Michael Kennedy’s song, “Scarlet Robin” beautifully sum up the joy of this bird. It’s a rare occasion that I’ll go out into the bush in spring without hearing the Scarlet Robin’s gentle “chee-dalee-dalee” call, a crucial part of a Box Ironbark soundscape. The male’s bright red breast can also give them away as they move through the bush, but you may need to look a little closer to spot his more camouflaged girlfriend.

Scarlet Robins are one of many woodland birds that depend on ground-level habitat to feed. Perching on a low branch or piece of fallen timber, they use this vantage point to spot insects on the ground below. They then swoop down to catch their prey, and return to the perch to gobble it up.

Observing these beautiful birds is a highlight of any walk in the bush for me. They are one of those birds that watches you as you watch it, creating a sense of mutual wonder. Both males and females are gorgeous in their own way. They will pair up for the year with their mate, never straying too far, seemingly connected by an invisible string as they move through the trees at eye-level.

I’ve seen Scarlet Robins twice at our place in Campbells Creek, which is just beside a tributary that leads into the creek itself. One was also seen at Connecting Country’s Campbells Creek monitoring site during a bird walk in July this year. This was only the third time a Scarlet Robin has been recorded at the site.

Scarlet Robins and other ground-feeding native birds are becoming more abundant in response to the maturing revegetation that the Friends of Campbells Creek Landcare have planted along the creek. They need good quality habitat to thrive, which is why they are one of Connecting Country’s newest indicator species of environmental health for this region. If you see a Scarlet Robin, you can send through your observation to tanya@connectingcountry.org.au and help build the picture of how this lovely species is doing in the region. For more information, visit http://connectingcountry.org.au/about/projects/securing-woodland-birds/bird-monitoring/

A male Scarlet Robin, by Geoff Park

 

31 August 2017 – The Genius of Birds

Posted on 24 August, 2017 by Connecting Country

On Thursday 31 August 2017, the Castlemaine Library is hosting a presentation by American science writer and New York Times bestseller Jennifer Ackerman.  Jennifer will talk about her latest book, The Genius of Birds, which explores the latest international scientific research on our feathered friends.  Once you have seen Jennifer’s presentation, no doubt you will consider ‘bird brain’ to be phrase used as a great compliment!

The presentation commences at 5.30pm.  Entry is free, but bookings are required (click here for link to the booking website).  The library has let us know that there are a small number of openings still available.

Jennifer Ackerman has been writing about science, nature, and health for more than 25 years. Her work aims to explain and interpret science for a lay audience and to explore the riddle of humanity’s place in the natural world, blending scientific knowledge with imaginative vision. She has won numerous awards and fellowships.  There is further information about Jennifer on her website (click here).

Local wildlife sound recordist Andrew Skeoch is a huge advocate for Jennifer’s book and the research that she has compiled.  CC staff member Chris is reading it at the moment – and is also fascinated by the findings.

 

Arrival of Spring Migrants – Nature News, 1 August, 2017

Posted on 16 August, 2017 by Tanya Loos

For this month’s Nature News, Newstead naturalist and photographer Geoff Park writes about the feathered migrants that are arriving in our region at the moment, and in the coming months. This article was featured in the Midland E xpress on August 1, 2017.

At this time of year the pulse quickens a little in anticipation of the arrival of the first spring migrants.

Over the coming months, an assortment of wonderfully different birds will appear in the box-ironbark country to spend the spring and summer breeding and entertaining us with their musical calls.

Most of these birds will have come from northern Australia, or even further afield, where they have spent the winter – a bit like the ‘grey nomads’ that enjoy warmer climes as they wend their caravans north in increasing numbers each year. Our avian visitors are referred to as spring migrants but in fact many arrive in the dying days of winter.

A Fan-tailed Cuckoo sings his descending trill call. By Geoff Park

The first of the spring migrants are usually the cuckoos, with five species arriving to breed in our district. Most years Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo turns up in early August along with Fan-tailed Cuckoo, followed soon after by Shining Bronze-cuckoos and the largest of all, the Pallid Cuckoo. These four are common and easily distinguished by their calls which are often uttered from a prominent vantage point. Black-eared Cuckoos are generally last to appear at the end of the month, in much smaller numbers.

All of these cuckoos are brood parasites, that is, they lay their eggs in the nests of unwitting hosts, such as thornbills, wrens and honeyeaters, which then raise the young cuckoos as their own. While the host species ‘fall into the trap’ year after year, they are suspicious and intolerant of adult cuckoos, often mobbing them relentlessly when they appear.

The cuckoos will soon be joined by other northern visitors, such as Sacred Kingfishers, and my absolute favourite the Rainbow Bee-eater – which will feature in my next Nature News article, in November.

I’m often asked about the effects of climate change on birds. There is no doubt that some species are arriving earlier each year in many places in southern Australia, with numerous studies now providing decades of evidence of this phenomenon. Each year I try to record the first sightings of spring migrants and I’d be delighted to hear of local observations for any of the birds mentioned in this article … and for the others that have been overlooked!

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

 

Remnant rescue for woodland birds – looking for eligible landholders

Posted on 3 August, 2017 by Tanya Loos

Connecting Country is currently seeking expressions of interest for on ground works on private land. In particular, we are looking for  landholders with remnant vegetation on their properties who are interested in undertaking actions that improve woodland bird habitat.

Thanks to our recently announced “Woodland bird community habitat protection and enhancement” project, we have a small amount of funding available for the protection and enhancement of 60 ha of remnant vegetation. Building connections between bushland areas through direct seeding  and revegetation with tubestock is very important, but at the same time we need to care for our remnants; the core habitat.  This project will fund actions that protect bird habitat from threats such as stock grazing and weeds.

This male Scarlet Robin needs extensive areas of good quality habitat to thrive. Photo by Geoff Park

Eligible landholders will receive a site visit, and a subsequent plant list and property habitat management plan.  Activities funded will mainly focus on fencing for stock exclusion and weed control within these remnants.

Eligibility for funding from this project will be determined according to the following factors:

  • Size of your remnant vegetation patch
  • Property location
  • Presence of threatened woodland birds

Having said that, all interested landholders are welcome to fill in the EOI form.  If your proposed project does not fit with the requirements for Remnant Rescue,  then we will keep you on file for future opportunities.

Click here to open the Expression Of Interest Form for Remnant Rescue
Deadline for EOIs: 24th September, 2017

Please send in the form to info@connectingcountry.org.au or post it to PO Box 437 Castlemaine 3450. If you have any questions about this funding opportunity, please do not hesitate to contact Bonnie on 5472 1594.

This project is funded with the support of the Victorian Government’s Regional Biodiversity On-Ground Action Initiative.

Our resident plant enthusiast Bonnie Humphreys in a beautiful remnant patch in Yapeen