Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Bird of the month: Buff-rumped Thornbill

Posted on 19 May, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our fifteenth Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly.

Buff-rumped Thornbill (Acanthiza reguloides)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Bird’s delight: just add water

Posted on 5 May, 2021 by Ivan

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

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

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

 

Elphinstone bird walk – 1 May 2021

Posted on 29 April, 2021 by Frances

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note there are no toilets at the site.

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

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

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

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

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

Brown Treecreeper (photo by Ash Vigus)

 

Old trees draw a crowd

Posted on 28 April, 2021 by Ivan

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

Nature journaling with BirdLife Castlemaine

Posted on 22 April, 2021 by Frances

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

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

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

Eastern Rosella, watercolour and ink, by Jane Rusden

 

Nature journaling with BirdLife Castlemaine District

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

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

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

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

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

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

BirdLife Castlemaine District

 

Bird of the month: Hooded Robin

Posted on 14 April, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our fourteenth Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly.

Hooded Robin (Melanodryas cucullata)

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

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

Female Hooded Robin (photo by Damian Kelly)

 

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

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

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

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

Male Hooded Robin (photo by Damian Kelly)

 

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

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

 

Bird of the month: Superb Fairy-wren

Posted on 30 March, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our thirteenth Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly and Ash Vigus.

Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus)

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

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

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

Female Superb Fairy-wren (photo by Jane Rusden)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

References:

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

 

Rise and shine for BirdLife Castlemaine AGM – 3 April 2021

Posted on 17 March, 2021 by Ivan

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,

Judy Hopley

Secretary
BirdLife Castlemaine District Branch

 

2021 bird walks with BirdLife Castlemaine

Posted on 4 March, 2021 by Ivan

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

March 2021 bird walk

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

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

Dear members and friends,

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

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

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

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

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

To download BirdLife Castlemaine’s 2021 calendar – click here

 

Bird monitoring 2020 results are in!

Posted on 4 March, 2021 by Jess

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

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

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


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

 

Bird of the month: Fuscous Honeyeater

Posted on 25 February, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our twelfth Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly and Ash Vigus.

Fuscous Honeyeater (Lichenostomus fuscus)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Bird of the month: Rainbow Bee-eater

Posted on 27 January, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our eleventh Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly and Ash Vigus.

Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus)

Sun lighting up this bird’s feathers to iridescent rainbows is a wonder of the natural world. The Rainbow Bee-eater is arguably the most vibrantly colourful bird of our region in Central Victoria, and it literally lives up to its name both in vivid plumage and diet. While species of Bee-eaters are found world-wide, our one species spends the winter in Northern Australia, then in spring flocks head south, heralding warmer temperatures to come. Newstead cemetery is a local bird hotspot where they breed and can be found until around the end of March, and sometimes into April.

As their name suggests, the Rainbow Bee-eater dines on bees … and wasps, as well as less dangerous prey such as dragonflies, butterflies and other flying insects. The bird will perch up high, waiting until it can make a dashing flight after airborne prey. If it’s an insect with a sting, they will return to their perch and employ ‘bee-rubbing’, a technique where they hold the insect across the bill tip and rub it’s sting out on their perch, before safely swallowing. On occasion they will also forage on the ground or from foliage.

Males are slightly larger and more colourful than females, and have an obvious tail streamer. After migration in large flocks, small groups will splinter off and monogamous pairs will nest in a small colony. Young males hatched the previous year often help parents feed hatchings.

Female Rainbow bee-eater (photo by Ash Vigus)

 

For such a pretty bird, they have what may be surprising nests. I’d be head to toe in dirt if I had my babies in a tunnel, especially if that tunnel was 40 – 150 cm long, and as a female, I’d be the one doing most of the digging. They favour sandy soil or clay banks, in flat or sloping ground, in which to construct their nest tunnel with a chamber at the end. Eggs may be laid straight on the earth, or the chamber lined with grass and feathers.

Usually I’m alerted to Rainbow Bee-eaters by their call. A glance skywards and there you will see them soaring around on extended wings, much like woodswallows do. When lucky, you may observe ‘plunge bathing’, where they fly above water, suddenly dive with a splash, and fly straight to high perch to preen wet feathers. With their graceful flight and gorgeous colours, they never cease to give me a thrill.

Male Rainbow Bee-eater with his tail streamer (photo by Ash Vigus)

 

For more information on local Rainbow Bee-eaters, check out Geoff Park’s amazing blog, Natural Newstead, and put ‘bee-eater’ into his search box – click here

To listen to the call of the Rainbow Bee-eater visit Graeme Chapman’s website – click here

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

 

 

 

Give me shelter…and protection from cats

Posted on 14 January, 2021 by Ivan

We recently discovered an interesting and relevant article on the ABC website, highlighting new research into alternative methods of protecting our native wildlife from feral cats. We may not all know the harrowing statistics, but a recent study by the Australian National University (ANU) concluded that on average each pet cat kills about 75 native animals per year, but many of these kills are never witnessed by their owners. They concluded that this equates to cats killing more than 1.5 billion native animals per year.

Any advancements in protecting our native wildlife from cats will be beneficial in addressing the extinction crisis. The ABC article highlights research conducted by the University of Tasmania, which looked at the impact of the feral cat compared to the native spotted quoll.  They concluded that Australia’s wildlife is up to 200 times more likely to come across a deadly feral cat than an equivalent native predator.

A place to hide is vital to the survival of many native animals. Connecting Country has been restoring missing understorey plants like Spreading Wattle for over a decade. (photo: Connecting Country)

This new research reinforces Connecting Country’s restoration strategy of reintroducing missing understorey species into the landscape, including prickly plants and ground cover species. While trees are great, it is vital to have a complex community of understorey species, occupying different strata our the forest and woodlands.

The full article is available from the ABC website – click here

 

 

 

Bird walk at Eganstown: Saturday 9 January 2021

Posted on 7 January, 2021 by Ivan

BirdLife Castlemaine’s beloved bird walks are commencing again with a leisurely stroll down through the Deep Creek Streamside Reserve, Eganstown, ten minutes drive west of Daylesford in central Victoria. It is the first walk for 2021, with 2020’s walks being interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Deep Creek Streamside Reserve has some excellent stands of mature grassy woodlands and herb-rich foothill forests, and will no doubt provide some excellent bird watching opportunities. Please see the details below, kindly provided by Birdlife Castlemaine.

Bird Walk – Saturday 9 January 2021 – Deep Creek Streamside Reserve, Eganstown

Hopefully, if the COVID-19 situation allows we will be able to have a full round of Bird Walks in 2021! Our 2021 program begins on Saturday 9 January (note – this is the second Saturday rather than the usual first Saturday of the month). We will walk along the road by Maclachlan Creek through manna gum streamside forest until we reach the reserve at the end of the road. Then along wide paths to the old spring. If there is time and the weather is good we will then walk through the bush – lovely messmate forest! Last time there blue-winged parrots were seen! Snakes are active in the area at the moment so long pants and boots a must – and bring snake kits if you have them (we will also have first aid kits with snake bite bandages).  There will be some uneven ground and walking through the forest but those feeling less up for a walk could easily walk down the road and then picnic down by the creek. Our walk leader is Tanya Loos. All welcome!

Where: Deep Creek Streamside Reserve, Eganstown VIC. Turn onto Deep Spring Road from the Midland Highway, approximately 9 km west of Daylesford and park near the Nowland Track which is about 600 m from the Highway. Coordinates: -37.350353, 144.074929

When: Meet at Deep Creek Streamside Reserve at 9:00 am. Walks last for approximately 2 hours.

Bring: Water, snacks, binoculars, sunscreen, hat, sturdy shoes. Long trousers are advised during snake season.

More info: Jane Rusden, 0448 900 896 or Judy Hopley 0425 768 559. To discover more about Deep Creek Streamside Reserve – click here

Please note that walks will be canceled if severe weather warnings are in place, persistent rain is forecast, if the temperature is forecast to be 35 degrees or above during the walk period, and/or a Total Fire Ban is declared.

Steep gorges and volcanic outcrops are on offer at Deep Spring Reserve (photo: Birdlife Castlemaine)

 

Bird of the month: Tawny Frogmouth

Posted on 24 December, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our tenth Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly.

Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides)

Before we delve into the secretive life of the Tawny Frogmouth, this ‘Bird of the Month’ blog is nearly one year old and I’d like to extend my deep gratitude to Damian Kelly and Ash Vigus. When I asked Damian if he’d be happy to help me with research, I had this rosy image in my head of the two of us spending blissful hours in his enviable library, buried in books. COVID-19 ensured this cozy vision of mine was not to be. Instead, Damian would email his research to me, along with his gorgeous photos. Ash Vigus has also been very generous with lending an ear and great ideas, as we did our socially-distanced walks, and his stunning photos. Without these two, Bird of the Month would not have been nearly as interesting nor pretty.

Some months ago the charismatic Owlet Nightjar was our feature bird. This month’s relative, the Tawny Frogmouth, is similar in that it is also nocturnal, NOT an owl and charismatic in its own cryptic way. Frogmouths are not restricted to Australia: Papua New Guinea and tropical Asia have their own species. In Australia, the Tawny Frogmouth is found all over the country where there are trees, but the Papuan Frogmouth is restricted to Cape York and the Marbled Frogmouth is found only in tiny areas on Cape York and around Brisbane. However, both species are found in Papua New Guinea. They all have characteristic wide mouths and are incredibly cryptic, being experts in looking like a broken off dead branch and therefore difficult to spot during the day.

By night, however, if your lucky you may see Tawny Frogmouths hawking flying insects in the car headlights. Sadly they are prone to getting squashed on the road because of this. At home I’ve watched one hawking Rain Moths attracted to the light from our windows at night. It must have eaten a dozen of them and I’m not quite sure how it fitted them all in – it must have been the Frogmouth equivalent of Christmas dinner with a third helping of pudding. They will also pounce on small vertebrates like lizards, which get a thorough pounding before being swallowed, and they enjoy insects on the ground.

Tawny Frogmouths are between 34 cm (females) and 53 cm (males) long and can weigh up to 680 g (photo: Damian Kelly)

Tawny Frogmouths are often confused with owls, but are actually more closely related to nightjars (photo: Damian Kelly)

 

Breeding is done in spring. Typically two eggs are laid in a messy collection of sticks which constitutes their nest, in a horizontal branch fork in a large mature tree. Despite populations slowly decreasing, these apparently insecure nests produce chicks fairly effectively. Equality of the sexes is a thing with Tawny Frogmouths, with the male sitting on the eggs during the day and both parents sitting at night.

These much loved and unusual birds can be found in urban areas, which perhaps endears them to us humans. Or maybe it’s their cute as cute fluffy chicks with their great wide eyes, snuggled up to their nest buddies.

Please enjoy the Tawny Frogmouth distinctive ‘Oom oom ooom call’, courtesy of Wild Ambience.

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

 

Discovering ducks: which duck are you quiz?

Posted on 23 December, 2020 by Ivan

The RSPCA Victoria and BirdLife Australia have launched a new campaign called ‘Discover Ducks’, after recent research revealed five in six Victorians cannot name any native ducks, despite Australia being home to 15 unique species. We love our ducks, and locally, they appear to be having a great season, with plenty of water around during spring 2020. While this campaign is aimed at Victorians, anyone can access the online resource, and increase their knowledge of our native ducks. All Australians can answer that timeless question: Which Duck Are You?!

We have had fun, in the virtual Connecting Country office, exploring which duck we each are, and how accurate they all seem to be!

Please enjoy a summary below, courtesy of the Discover Ducks team, regarding the importance and aim of this campaign.

Dr Liz Walker, CEO of RSPCA Victoria said the campaign seeks to build a state of passionate duck lovers by improving Victorians’ knowledge and love for our diverse range of unique, native ducks.

‘We believe more people would appreciate ducks and care about their welfare if they could relate to them the way they relate to other wildlife, such as koalas or kangaroos. After last summer’s tragic bushfires, we know there is very strong public concern for native animals, and a desire to rescue, treat and protect those animals. Ducks need to be included,’ says Dr Walker. ‘They are fascinating creatures, and each native species has unique traits. Discover Ducks creates an opportunity for the community to learn and share information and celebrate our beautiful native ducks.’

BirdLife Australia’s National Public Affairs Manager Sean Dooley agrees that there has never been a better time to discover our wild duck populations. ‘Sometimes even birdwatchers can take ducks for granted. But when you take the time to get to know Victoria’s ducks, you soon realise what fascinating and beautiful birds they are. However, there are far fewer ducks out there in our wetlands than there used to be with the research showing drastic decline in their numbers, due to the changes we have made to their aquatic habitats.’

Discover Ducks shows people how to recognise different ducks, where to spot them around Victoria and how to interact with them in a welfare-friendly way. Many of these lessons are valuable across the country, not just in Victoria, and wherever you are located, the ‘Which Duck Are You?’quiz is a great bit of fun, or you can test your knowledge with the Know Your Ducks Quiz.

Learn more about Discover Ducks at discoverducks.org.au and spread the word via social media using the hashtag #discoverducks

The Australian Shelduck: hard to find, easy to spot, with spectacular coloring (photo: Discovering Ducks)

 

Our 2021 woodland bird calendars – nearly sold out!

Posted on 17 December, 2020 by Ivan

Our gorgeous cover features a Weebill by Albert Wright

Don’t miss out on one of the best 2021 calendars going around, even if we do say so ourselves. Treat yourself or your loved-ones to a delightful Christmas gift, while supporting habitat restoration in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. Thanks to our wonderful friends at MAAW, calendars have been selling fast.

Connecting Country’s 2021 woodland bird calendar is high-quality full-colour, A3-size and spiral-bound. Each month features one of the 13 beautiful images that won our woodland birds photography competition. All photos showcase local bird species and were taken by talented local photographers in the Mount Alexander region of Central Victoria.

Calendars are $30 each and make an excellent gift.

Where to buy:
Mount Alexander Animal Welfare Opportunity Shop
12 Johnstone St, Castlemaine VIC

Shop opening hours:

  • Tuesday 10 am – 3 pm
  • Thursday 10 am – 3 pm
  • Friday 10 am – 3 pm
  • Saturday 10 am – 1 pm

For more information on the MAAW shop – click here
For more information on MAAW’s work – click here

Mr June: Scarlet Robin at Muckleford Forest by Ash Vigus features in our 2021 woodland birds calendar

 

Connecting Country again extends a special thank you to our talented volunteer graphic designer, Jane Satchell, and our 13 winning photographers, who generously donated their images to feature in the calendar. Many thanks also to MAAW op shop for their support in stocking our calendar.

 

Bird of the month: Grey Shrike-thrush

Posted on 23 November, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our ninth Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly.

Grey Shrike-thrush (Colluricincla harmonica)

The local bush has been bustling with nesting activity, although raising chicks is not always as nurturing and wholesome as you might think. Nests get raided, eggs don’t always hatch and it’s not necessarily easy for the newly fledged chicks. You’ll hear their incessant begging for food and see parents desperately trying to keep up the flow of breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a time of learning as fledglings can’t always assess risks and can be a bit ‘young and dumb’, being too bold for their own good and getting confused as they try to make sense of a situation. I witnessed one such occasion during an altercation in my backyard.

Confused young Grey Shrike-thrush getting harried by an angry Fuscous Honeyeater (photo: Damian Kelly)

 

A newly fledged Grey Shrike-thrush chick had got too close to a Fuscous Honeyeater nest. The poor chick seemed totally confused about the whole situation and didn’t know which way to go. It’s parents waiting just out of harrying range whilst the Fuscous Honeyeaters were on attack level – ‘take no prisoners’! The upshot was the chick finally moved away, the honeyeaters settled down and I got some photos of the action as they were all preoccupied with bird world high stakes politics.

So let’s look at the abundant Grey Shrike-thrush. Probably one of the most familiar, varied and prettiest of songsters to be heard, which perhaps makes up for its brown and grey colouring. I call it soft and subdued but others may call it out as dull. In the past it was known as the Harmonious Thrush and its taxonomic name reflects this: Colluricincla harmonica. Interestingly, their song can exhibit different dialects from place to place.

Individuals can live up to twelve years and it’s known that pairs can reside in one place for up to five years and remain together for longer. They are largely a sedentary species, but may move between altitudes with the seasons.

Taking a really close look will reveal gorgeous black eyelash like bristles around its bill and below the eye. (Lady Gaga attempted a similar look without the nuance. Pretty rad all the same.)

Young Grey Shrike-thrush singing it’s heart out (photo: Damian Kelly)

 

Present in all but Australia’s driest deserts, it prefers undisturbed treed habitats, including gardens on occasion. It’s often seen foraging for insects and small vertebrates like frogs and lizards, where there is some understorey, tossing leaf litter to find their prey. They will also take eggs and nestlings of small birds, so it’s not surprising the Fuscous Honeyeater was so upset.

Adult Grey Shrike-thrush doing what they do best, harmoniously singing (photo: Damian Kelly)

 

To listen to the Grey Shrike-thrush call – click here

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wanted: experienced bird watchers!

Posted on 29 October, 2020 by Jess

Connecting Country’s bird monitoring program allows us to see if all our hard work restoring habitat is actually making a difference, and to assess the status of our woodland birds in the Mount Alexander region of Central Victoria. Back in 2010, with help from experts, we carefully set up a bird monitoring program at selected locations across the region. Every year we go back to survey theses sites, providing valuable information to guide future decisions.

These days, our surveys are done entirely by volunteers – our community champions.

We’re now looking for more people local to the Mount Alexander area to be part of this program and assist with our bird surveys. We’re particularly looking for people to survey sites in around Harcourt, Sedgwick, Sutton Grange and Taradale areas.

To be involved in this program you will need to:

  • Be able to confidently identify bird species in the Mount Alexander area by sight as well as from their call
  • Have a reasonable level of fitness and able to traverse rough ground
  • Know how to conduct a 2 ha 20 min area search (we can help with this)
  • Liaise with private landholders
  • Be comfortable navigating to and from survey sites using a GPS on your phone
  • Attend an online induction
  • Follow safety protocols and adhere to current COVID-19 restrictions

We will support you, and can provide training on conducting surveys and navigation if required. However, having great bird ID skills is essential.

If you’re keen to be involved please email Jess Lawton (Monitoring Coordinator) including a brief description of any experience you have with bird identification and surveys, and a phone number: jess@connectingcountry.org.au

Jess will then get in touch to discuss and provide more information.

We’re lucky to have lots of beautiful birds in the Mount Alexander region (photo by Jane Rusden)

 

Bird of the month: Southern whiteface

Posted on 29 October, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our eighth Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly .

Southern Whiteface (Aphelocephala leucopsis)

I could gush on and on about Southern Whiteface. In my opinion they are one of the cutest tiny balls of fluff birds around. A tiny bird with its distinctive white face, which gives it the most loveable expression, I get very excited when I’m lucky enough to find them. Actually it was Damian Kelly who found them at Muckleford Station recently, and his totally gorgeous photos became the impetus this month’s focus bird. OK that’s enough carry on, let’s look at who they really are.

I couldn’t say they are uncommon, but they are not common in Central Victoria either. I’ve found Southern Whiteface in paddocks with bush nearby, providing them with plenty of foraging opportunities, turning over leaf litter looking for insects and the occasional seed. You may also see them in low shrubs, as was the case when Damian took these gorgeous photos, and on fence posts. They move around in parties of up to about eight birds, sometimes in a mixed flock with other insectivores.

As is often the case with birds, not a lot is known about their breeding, movements or general behaviour. However, they are most likely resident in Central Victoria as they can be found all year round. We are on the southern end of their range, which is generally drier areas of Victoria, NSW, and parts of SA and WA.

Quite an adaptable bird, they will utilise manmade structures such as the verandah of an old house, and renovate Zebra Finch and Welcome Swallow nests, as well as Kingfisher tunnels. Nests come in various shapes and sizes, usually domed with a side entrance, and bulky with twigs, grasses, wool and even bits of tufty rubbish.

Endemic to Australia, the Southern Whiteface is a small passerine found in arid regions across the southern half of the Australian mainland (photo Damian Kelly)

 

Despite their diminutive size Southern Whitefaces are pretty easy to approach, but not always easy to see as their plumage is short on colour. Mostly you see their grey-brown back and dark tail, but with a closer look you’ll see their pale belly and pretty, almost heart-shaped, white face with a dark stubby bill and white eye ring. They can be mistaken for Thornbills and Weebills, because they are Similar in size and colour, though stouter. At only 12.5 grams, they are tiny.

They are also known as ‘squeakers’ – how crazy cute is that? If you listen to them calling, you’ll see why.

Listen to their call – click here

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