Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

What I learned with beginner birdwatchers

Posted on 21 October, 2020 by Jess

We received this lovely report from Lou Citroen, one of our eleven experienced volunteer bird watchers who led a small group walk at one of Connecting Country’s group bird survey sites for our ‘Birdwatching for Beginners’ event on 17 October 2020. The 46 available spots for this field session booked out incredibly fast – a reflection of the strong level of interest in local birds within our community. To view the theory session from this event, presented online by Damian Kelly – click here

Dear Jess,

I wanted to thank you and Frances for all the work you have put into what turned out to be a resoundingly successful Birdwatching for Beginners day!  You must also have contacts in High places as the weather turned out to be just perfect after a rainy start of the day!!

I thoroughly enjoyed the webinar.  The Webinar is such boon and useful communication tool especially in these COVID times!

I found Damian’s presentation really informative, and useful.  It reinforces for me that it doesn’t matter how many years you do birdwatching, there is always something to learn from others; a lifelong learning process that is so enjoyable.  I loved Damian’s relaxed and chatty style.  The participants in my group also enjoyed it greatly. As concerns my particular group, we had a really fun and leisurely hour and a half on site with Carmen, Kate and Julia.

They were a lovely chatty group! Thankfully they all found the directions to the spot helpful (phew).  It was fabulous to have Frances there, not just as first aider, but as great company and to help fill in some of the details about this site.

After introductions and the short safety talk, the group were delighted with the bird identification brochures Frances handed out.  The brochures were indeed helpful in identifying a few of the birds we saw … or were looking for!

Group members learned an important bird watching skill: how to use binoculars (photo by Frances Howe)

 

With her keen eye, Carmen spotted a Galah nesting hollow (and another disused one), Julia eventually spotted one (of three!) Olive-backed Oriole, I showed them the White-winged Chough nest that Liz and I had spotted on the ‘reconnaissance mission’ … plus a few Choughs.  A loud Rufous Whistler remained elusive.  A beautiful raptor flew overhead but sadly remained unidentified (I still have trouble with identification of a number of raptors).  There were quite a few Crimson Rosellas and Red Wattlebirds about and we heard one or two Yellow Thornbills, but spotting a male and female Superb Fairy-wren at close range was a treat for all.

Here are some of the bird species Lou’s group detected on their walk (photos by Geoff Park):

As my hearing is still pretty good, I explained to the group that, a little differently from Damian’s approach, in addition to visual cues I place a fair amount of importance on learning to recognise bird calls.  I was able to show them that, while calls are unique to each bird (apart from the mimics that Damian pointed out) many have a little repertoire of calls to be aware of.  The Crimson Rosella showed off with three.

At the end of the walk, all three were thrilled when Frances gave them all a copy of Damian’s book (click here).  It was clearly a lovely surprise for them and a nice way to end our little excursion.

As I said to Frances afterwards, I think this was great success; an eye-opener (no pun intended) that there is such an interest in birds in our community. The three in our group were great to meet and clearly enjoyed the time.  I had a ball!  By about 3 pm we were all done and on our way home.

Thank you for the mountain of planning and coordinating behind the scenes to make it such a success!

Warmest wishes,

Lou

It was our pleasure Lou! We’re so glad your group had such a wonderful time. Receiving messages like this really warms our hearts and makes all that behind-the-scenes admin work worthwhile. We hope this is the beginning of an exciting bird watching journey for Carman, Kate and Julia, and all our participants.

This event was supported by the Australian Government’s Communities for the Environment Program. 

 

‘Birdwatching for beginners’ engages the next generation of birders

Posted on 21 October, 2020 by Ivan

Our popular ‘Birdwatching for beginners’ event last weekend (Saturday 17 October 2020) had 282 people register for the theory session in the morning and we quickly ‘sold out’ of free tickets for the practical afternoon session. The event proved once again that community interest in birds and bird watching is gathering momentum, creating a new generation of bird watchers. The event aimed to attract new bird watchers and bird survey volunteers, and get people out enjoying and exploring the natural assets we are blessed with in Central Victoria. We’re thrilled to have such a positive response and see the enthusiasm of the participants, who were mostly from the Mount Alexander region and surrounding areas.

Local author and bird enthusiast Damian Kelly presented an overview and introduction to bird watching in the morning session, covering a range of topics and tips to get people skilled-up for bird watching. Damian is the author of the terrific ‘Castlemaine Bird Walks’ book. Damian wooed the audience with some outstanding bird photos, mostly from his own garden in central Castlemaine. He provided practical suggestions on how to get to know birds and where to start looking for birds in our region. He also responded to participants’ questions, answering important questions about binoculars, birding groups and bird calls, before heading off to mentor a practical session near Castlemaine. It was a busy day for our community birding champion!

The afternoon practical session involved a team of 4-5 beginners teaming up with an experienced local birdwatcher to go bird watching at some of Connecting Country’s bird survey sites on public land across our region. We ‘sold’ all 45 allocated tickets for this event with a long waiting list. People were keen to take this excellent opportunity to visit some great bird watching sites, with an experienced mentor to guide attendees through the afternoon. Small groups meant participants had plenty of opportunities to ask questions and learn directly from mentors, while minimising COVID-19 risks.

Feedback from both the morning and afternoon sessions was positive and appreciative, with many participants emailing directly after the event with thanks and requesting recordings of the event. The afternoon practical session was invaluable for the lucky attendees, who got to experience mentoring and an expert guide to the local birds of our survey sites on public land. There were many highlights from the afternoon, including seeing Dusky Woodswallows, Brown Falcons, Olive-backed Orioles, Superb Fairy-wrens, White-plumed Honeyeaters and Welcome Swallows. Several nests were spotted, including the amazing clay nests of the White-winged Chough.

Please enjoy the following photos captured by Ivan Carter, Frances Howe and Asha Bannon during the practical sessions, with birds and new birders sharing together.

This event is part of our ‘Community for bush birds’ project supported by the Australian Government under the Communities Environment Program.

A recorded copy of Damian’s presentation is available for download – click here

If you would like to learn more about birds, or have an interest in raptors and/or thornbills, you might like to download the presentations below, from our ‘Tricky Birds of Central Victoria’ event. They are an excellent resource for a little more detail on these bird groups.

  • Geoff Park raptor presentation – click here
  • Chris Tzaros thornbill presentation – click here

If you enjoyed this event, please consider contributing to Connecting Country’s work. We run entirely from grants and donations, with all donations over $2 being tax deductible.

 

 

 

Celebrate National Bird Week with Aussie Backyard Bird Count – 19-25 October 2020

Posted on 15 October, 2020 by Ivan

 

Bird watching is an easily accessible activity that connects us to nature (photo: Geoff Park)

Celebrate National Bird Week with Connecting Country by joining thousands across the country participating in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count. The bird count has been increasingly popular over the past few years, with the past 12 months seeing a surge in bird watching  across the country.The next Aussie Backyard Bird Count is on 19-25 October 2020. The Aussie Backyard Bird Count is an activity for all-ages that involves observing and counting the birds that live near you – whether that’s in your garden, the local park, a beach or even your town centre. By recording the birds you’ve seen within a 20 minute period, you will help BirdLife Australia develop an understanding of local birds, while getting to know the wildlife on your doorstep!

Please read on for details from Birdlife Australia about the importance of this annual survey and how to participate.

How do I take part in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count? 

To complete the Aussie Backyard Bird Count, spend 20 minutes standing or sitting in one spot and noting down the birds that you see. You will need to count the number of each species you spot within the 20 minute period. For example, you might see 4 Australian Magpies, 2 Rainbow Lorikeets and a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo. If you can identify birds by their calls, please include these in your count, but if you aren’t sure of a bird without seeing it, please exclude it rather than making a guess. The Aussie Bird Count app has a handy field-guide to help you identify birds. Once you have completed your count, you can submit it in two different ways:

  1. You can submit your bird count through the online web form (this form won’t be made live until the 14 October)

OR

  1. You can submit your counts through the free Aussie Bird Count app. The app is available for iPhones and Android smartphones, go to the Google Play or iTunes to download the app for free. If you have the Aussie Bird Count app from previous years don’t delete it, it should update automatically with the newest version. In between event dates, the app operates as a field-guide/bird finder.

Why should I do the backyard bird count? 

By participating in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count, you will be helping BirdLife Australia find out about the common species that live where people live. Providing us with a snapshot of Australian birds at the same time each year allows us to look at the trends in our bird communities from year to year. This is important because it’s these more common species that give us the best indication of the health of the environment – think of birds as a barometer for nature!

Why is the bird count in October? 

Spring is the season when birds are more lively and visible. They begin nesting, breeding and flocking and generally appear more playful. Thousands of migrant birds return to our shores in spring as well. For these reasons it is also National Bird Week, a tradition that started back in the early 1900s when 28 October was first designated by our predecessor, the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union, as the first ‘Bird Day’.

What other surveys can I get involved with? 

The Aussie Backyard Bird Count only takes place once a year, however BirdLife Australia run other surveys throughout the year that you can take part in. Birds In Backyards runs seasonal surveys that you can join in with, even if you’re not an expert bird-watcher, and there’s lots of info on how to attract more birds to your backyard! Check it out here. You can also register with our Birdata app if you want to take part in more regular bird surveys.

 

 

A self-guided bird-watching walk with North Harcourt & Sedgwick Landcare

Posted on 15 October, 2020 by Asha

Take yourself on a self-guided bird-watching walk, organised by North Harcourt & Sedgwick Landcare with support from Connecting Country.

North Harcourt & Sedgwick Landcare have created this walk as the perfect excuse (if you need one) to go out and learn about what birds live where and why. This event is a self-guided tour in the North Harcourt Sedgwick area of Central Victoria. Just look for the posters and follow along!

The posters will have information about the habitat at different points along the walk and which birds you might see there. It is designed for everyone, from kids to avid bird-watchers. Any time is a good time for bird-watching, but the best times are early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

The walk begins at the intersection of Mandurang S Road, Springs Road, and Bryden Road in Sedgwick and follows the Coliban channel (see map on the right for details). You will need to bring some binoculars, and a device with a bird ID app is a massive advantage. Don’t forget good walking shoes, first aid kit, and some water and snacks. Allow around 20 minutes at each one of the four stations. The entire walk is around 3 km return (allow around 2 hours). The trail has some steep sections so please go at a safe pace. Please stay on the track at all times and, with the weather warming up, be aware of snakes.

When: This event will run from 19 October to approximately 8 November 2020.

To download the poster: click here

For more information about the walk please email NHSELandcare@gmail.com

For more information about North Harcourt & Sedgwick Landcare: click here

 

Last chance for ‘Birdwatching for beginners’ – 17 October 2020

Posted on 15 October, 2020 by Ivan

We would like to remind our members and bird-loving community that limited tickets are available for this weekend’s ‘Birdwatching for Beginners’ event. The event aims to attract new birdwatchers and bird survey volunteers, and get people out enjoying and exploring the natural assets we are blessed with in central Victoria. We’re thrilled at the enthusiastic response so far! 

The practical field session quickly sold out, but you’re still welcome to register for the theory session.

Connecting Country is excited to have local author and bird enthusiast Damian Kelly present an overview and introduction to bird watching. Damian is the author of the terrific book Castlemaine Bird Walks.  We’ve had a sneak preview of Damian’s presentation and it looks fantastic! It includes input and beautiful drawings from local artist and bird guru, Jane Rusden.

The beginner’s event will take part over two sessions: an online presentation with Damian Kelly from 11 am to 12 pm, followed by a practical session* in person in the afternoon, from 1.30 pm to 4 pm. The practical session will involve a team of 4-5 beginners teaming up with an experienced local birdwatcher to conduct some field bird surveys on public land across our region. This is an excellent opportunity to visit some great bird watching sites, with an experienced mentor to guide you through the afternoon. Participants will have a chance to ask questions and learn directly from mentors.

When: Saturday 17 October 2020

Theory session with Damian Kelly: 11:00 am to 12.00 pm 

  • 500 tickets available
  • Online event
  • All welcome
  • Targeted to adults but suitable for all ages and abilities
  • To book – click here, a link to the theory session event will be emailed to registered participants prior to the event

*Practical session with mentor: 1.30 pm to 4.00 pm *(SOLD OUT)

  • Sold out – 40 tickets
  • Field event
  • Targeted to participants 15 years and older who are keen to learn bird watching in a small group setting
  • Requires a basic level of fitness and involves walking over uneven ground
  • Copies of Connecting Country woodland birds brochure and ‘Castlemaine Bird Walks’ book available for attendees

Cost: both sessions are free of charge

This event is part of our ‘Community for bush birds’ project supported by the Australian Government under the Communities Environment Program.

A link to the online event will be emailed to registered participants prior to the event, along with details and locations for the practical session.

 

Bird of the month: Spotted and Striated Pardalotes

Posted on 8 October, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our seventh 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 .

Spotted and Striated Pardalotes

Personally, I find Pardalotes one of our most endearing birds, and at times quite curious little characters. I remember my first sighting of a Spotted Pardalote well: a flurry of stunning white spots on black as the tiny bird burst from it’s nesting hollow in an embankment, and flew off in front of me. Other times, while sitting quietly in the bush, I have seen them at very close quarters.

On one occasion a Striated Pardalote sat on a branch close to my head, whilst inspecting me and the drawing I was working on. I hope it approved of my efforts, as it took it time appraising the situation from a couple of angles.

Damian Kelly found some interesting facts in his literature search on Pardalotes.

Among some of Australia’s smallest birds, Pardalotes are widespread from northern Queensland all the way to Western Australia, but avoid the very dry inland and very hot tropics. Although there are four species in Australia, around Castlemaine (Central Victoria) you will only see Spotted and Striated Pardalotes.

Best described as a common species, you will often hear them, but sometimes it is hard to see them as they favour foliage high in the tree canopy. Big flocks can occur at times and it is not uncommon to see mixed feeding flocks with Spotted and Striated Pardalotes, Silver Eyes, and on occasion, Thornbill species. Food includes arthropods, larvae, lerp, spiders and manna from gums. Perhaps one of the easiest times to observe Spotted and Striated Pardalotes is when they are feeding on the lerps and their sugary secretions, on lower hanging leaves.

Striated Pardalote – note the bit of yellow and a white stripe above the eye, but there are no spots on the back or wings and the rump isn’t red like the Spotted Pardalote (photo by Damian Kelly)

 

They are generally considered as mostly sedentary, but they do disperse after breeding and move down altitude to lower regions in cooler seasons. Banding studies show that more than 90% of bird recoveries are less than 10 km form the original banding site, suggesting they don’t move far. However, some outliers have shown movements of 200 km or more at times.

Nests are generally lower down and in a tunnel. It is not uncommon to see them popping out of their nests right at ground level, as I did the first time I saw a Spotted Pardalote. Suitable sites can include eroded river banks, mounds of earth, tree hollows and even beneath railway platforms, as well as in holes and crevices in buildings. Breeding effort is split between both birds in a pair. The female will lay up to four eggs in a nest built and lined with bark by both the male and female. Both parents incubate and feed the young.

Spotted Pardalote – one of the smallest of all Australian birds (8 to 10 cm long) and so colorful they are sometimes known as diamond birds (photo by Damian Kelly)

 

To listen to the Striated Pardalotes call – click here

To listen to the Spotted Pardalotes call – click here

By Jane Rusden with assistance from Damian Kelly

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AGM 2020 a roaring success: download available

Posted on 1 October, 2020 by Ivan

On Saturday 26 September 2020, a large crowd of people gathered on their computers, tablets and phones, to enjoy Connecting Country’s first ever online Annual General Meeting (AGM) and hear from two excellent guest speakers: Jess Lawton and Jacinta Humphrey. We sold a total of 98 tickets to the event, but it was difficult to tell exactly how many people attended, due to attendees sharing a screen with family members. The event went very smoothly, given the steep learning curve and technology required to run an AGM online.

We also celebrated the hard work and achievements of Connecting Country through a presentation by our Director, Frances Howe, as well as updating the audience on our current funding situation. We would like to warmly thank our presenters and all the committee members, staff and volunteers who assisted with the event, which has generated extremely positive feedback.

The two biggest stars of the show were the amazing young scientists, and PhD candidates, Jess and Jacinta, who both gave enthralling presentations on ecological monitoring. Jess presented on the topic of Connecting Country’s ten years of ecological monitoring, which included birds surveys, nest box monitoring, and of course, phascogales! Jacinta covered her research into the impact of urbanisation on birds, which showed some surprising findings about how some birds adapt to life in the suburbs, and ideas about what might help urban birds and humans coexist. Jacinta also entertained the audience with an impressive Lego video. To view Jacinta’s engaging video summarising her project – click here

Our AGM was short and sweet, and all of our dedicated committee of management members were re-elected for another year. The hard-working Connecting Country committee must be thanked for their considerable strategic and practical contributions to our organisation. It is very impressive that the committee have all committed for another year, providing stability in these uncertain times.

Elected members of Connecting Country’s 2020-21 committee of management are:

  • President:                   Brendan Sydes
  • Vice President:          Saide Gray
  • Treasurer:                   Max Kay
  • Secretary:                    Marie Jones
  • Ordinary member:    Karoline Klein
  • Ordinary member:    Malcolm Trainor
  • Ordinary member:    Christine Brooke
  • Ordinary member:    Deborah Wardle

 

AGM minutes will be circulated to members and available on request. If you would like a copy of Connecting Country’s annual report for 2019-20 – click here.

If you missed the presentations and AGM, see the video of the event below, featuring each of the presentations and the formal proceedings. Please click play below and enjoy. Note the audio starts at 16 seconds.

  • Click here to download the 2020 financial audit report

If you have any questions, please email info@connectingcountry.org.au or call (03) 5472 1594.

 

FOBIF walks are back – 18 October 2020

Posted on 1 October, 2020 by Ivan

Our friends and partners at Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests (FOBIF) have announced their popular monthly nature walks across the Mount Alexander region of Central Victoria will recommence on Sunday 18  October 2020. They have adapted the first walk to comply with the latest COVID-19 restrictions, with multiple smaller groups rather than one large walk. FOBIF’s walks have a reputation for providing interesting insights into our local natural environment and biodiversity hotspots, led by local experts and passionate volunteers.

Here are more details from FOBIF, including a link to their website.

FOBIF are planning a walk on Sunday 18 October 2020 in the Chewton Bushlands, led by Antoinette Birkenbeil and Karen Baker.

The number of walkers on the day will be limited to 20 in two groups of 10. People will have to wear masks and observe social distancing rules.

The 5-6 km walk will start at the Coliban Water Reserve in Kennedy’s Lane where the old Harcourt Channel runs through remnant wetland. Many wildflower species thrive here in open bird-rich forest among old river red-gums. A climb then takes walkers into the tracks of the Bushlands with spectacular views and hopefully more spring wildflowers.

Check out FOBIF’s walks page for more details about the walk – https://www.fobif.org.au/walks/

Contact FOBIF by email (info@fobif.org.au) or by phone (Bronwyn Silver: 0448 751 111) by 16 October 2020 if you would like to register for the walk.

Also check the FOBIF website closer to the date in case the lockdown regulations change.

 

Get set for ‘Birdwatching for Beginners’ – 17 October 2020

Posted on 23 September, 2020 by Ivan

Hold onto your hats – again! Following our wildly successful advanced birdwatcher event, ‘Tricky Birds of central Victoria’, we are running a free ‘Birdwatching for Beginners’ event on 17 October 2020. The event aims to attract new birdwatchers and bird survey volunteers, and get people out enjoying and exploring the natural assets we are blessed with in central Victoria.

Bird watching is a great activity that almost everyone can enjoy. The COVID-19 lockdown period has seen a ten-fold increase in the number of new birdwatchers around the country, with a similar trend here in central Victoria. People are craving nature and the outdoors, prompting them to navigate their way through the maze that is bird watching and enjoying the challenges of how to differentiate some of the trickier species.

Connecting Country is excited to have local author and bird enthusiast Damian Kelly present an overview and introduction to bird watching. Damian is the author of the terrific book Castlemaine Bird Walks. Copies of this book will be available to participants.

The beginner’s event will take part over two sessions: an online presentation with Damian Kelly from 11 am to 12 pm, followed by a practical session in person in the afternoon, from 1.30 pm to 4 pm. The practical session will involve a team of 4-5 beginners teaming up with an experienced local birdwatcher to conduct some field bird surveys on public land across our region. This is an excellent opportunity to visit some great bird watching sites, with an experienced mentor to guide you through the afternoon. Participants will have a chance to ask questions and learn directly from mentors.

When: Saturday 17 October 2020

Theory session with Damian Kelly: 11:00 am to 12.00 pm

  • 500 tickets available
  • Online event
  • All welcome
  • Targeted to adults but suitable for all ages and abilities
  • To book – click here

Practical session with mentor: 1.30 pm to 4.00 pm**

  • 30 tickets available
  • Field event
  • Targeted to participants 15 years and older who are keen to learn bird watching in a small group setting
  • Requires a basic level of fitness and involves walking over uneven ground
  • Copies of Connecting Country woodland birds brochure and ‘Castlemaine Bird Walks’ book available for attendees
  • **This session is sold out, to join the waitlist – click here

Cost: both sessions are free of charge

This event is part of our ‘Community for bush birds’ project supported by the Australian Government under the Communities Environment Program.

A link to the online event will be emailed to registered participants prior to the event, along with details and locations for the practical session.

All participants in our practical field session must adhere to health and safety requirements, including current COVID-19 restrictions such as social distancing, face masks and limits on group size. Please wear appropriate clothing and footwear and bring water and snacks, as well as binoculars if possible. Connecting Country will provide some extra binoculars to share among the groups if required.

Bird watching is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying ways to enjoy our natural heritage. Bird surveys also contribute valuable data to science and for informed decision-making. Birds are often our key connection to the landscape. They are prevalent in most environments and tell us much about our surroundings and environmental health. Central Victoria is considered a birding hotspot, with birds of all shapes and colours, highlighted by the following spectacular images from Geoff Park’s Natural Newstead blog. They often bring you to explore wonderful places that you did not even know existed!

 

When is a Grey Butcherbird a Long-billed Corella?

Posted on 23 September, 2020 by Ivan

We were fortunate to secure the talented and passionate bird-enthusiast, Sue Boekel, from BirdLife Castlemaine District, to write a guest blog about an interesting encounter with a Grey Butcherbird during COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne. Sue also sent an accompanying video to help tell her charming little story. Please enjoy Sue’s words and video below.

Being locked down in suburban Melbourne might not be all bad. At the beginning of June, I was outside in the backyard instead of in the gym, performing exercises in the weak, winter sunshine. I was accompanied by our resident Grey Butcherbird (Craciticus torquatus) such a bold boy as he perched on a nearby garden stake in the veggie garden. Plenty of insects wafted about which he often caught on the wing, with a resounding snap of his large, strong beak. Each year there seems to be a different species dominating our area and this season, it was Grey Butcherbird. They are usually calling in the nearby wetlands but this year, they have moved into backyards. The males are slightly larger than the females but both have the striking black and white markings. It’s the juveniles which are brown and fawn overall with similar adult patterning.

My introduction to the Grey Butcherbird was as a young child. My brother had two Budgerigar which he kept caged. At times they were placed outside on the terrace but we arrived home one day to find them at the bottom of the cage with peck marks around their necks. My Dad quickly chose the Butcherbird as the culprit, possibly due to the hook at the end of its long, straight beak to skewer prey. 

Although territorial, I haven’t heard them about lately so they must have moved elsewhere to nest. The backyard is being ‘patrolled’ by a pair of Little Wattlebird and I have just heard the call of an Eastern Koel….

But back to the backyard gym; I heard the familiar beautiful, melodic warbling Butcherbird call from a tall native Frangipani tree. But wait! I was mistaken as I now heard a Common Myna, now a Eurasian Blackbird, now a Noisy Miner, a Magpie-lark, Long-billed Corella, Australian Magpie, Rainbow Lorikeet and more, all flowing out of the beak of a Grey Butcherbird! How amazing!! I felt privileged to be an audience to his clever repertoire.

It was a reminder to myself to always check to see exactly what is making a call before identifying the bird. I’ve recently heard a Brown Thornbill mimicking a Fan-tailed Cuckoo but that’s another story.

So when is a Grey Butcherbird like a Long-billed Corella? When it’s mimicking its call!

Sue Boekel
Member, Birdlife Castlemaine and District

To observe Sue’s recording of the Grey Butcherbird’s repertoire:

 

Hot off the press: 2021 woodland birds calendar

Posted on 17 September, 2020 by Ivan

We would like to introduce you to our much-awaited 2021 Connecting Country woodland birds calendar. It has taken much love and effort to develop 13 of the top competition-winning images into a full-blown printed calendar, but we think it has been well worth it. It looks stunning, thanks to the incredible talents of volunteer graphic designer Jane Satchell, and photographers who captured 13 excellent images that won our woodland birds photography competition.

The calendar is A3 size and each month features a local bird species, with all images taken by local photographers within the Mount Alexander region of Central Victoria.

Calendars are $30 each, plus $15 postage if required.

We have 30 copies for sale, in a limited print run, for the first 30 people to email us with an order.

The front cover features a gorgeous photo from Albert Wright, of a Weebill photographed at Maldon.

 

Connecting Country would like to extend a huge thank you to our community for the fantastic entries into our 2020 woodland birds photography competition. We received a very high number of quality entries for this competition – far more than we expected. We would also like to thank the winning photographers, who generously donated their images to feature in the calendar.

The calendar theme is woodland birds and the competition was open to all Connecting Country members and the broader community. The aim of the competition was to highlight our special woodland bird community and share the passion and skills of our passionate local photographers, as well as produce this beautifully printed calendar for 2021.

A three person judging panel reviewed all the entries and awarded 13 winners to feature in Connecting Country’s 2021 woodland birds calendar – one for the front cover of the calendar, and one bird for each month of the year.

Please email us at ivan@connectingcountry.org.au if you’d like a copy put aside for you, and we will email you payment instructions and pickup details.

 

 

 

Last chance to book for AGM 2020

Posted on 17 September, 2020 by Ivan

Our first ever online Annual General Meeting (AGM) is fast approaching. We currently have 77 bookings, so get in fast for our remaining tickets to join what’s sure to be a great event and a fun afternoon.

Please join us for this free event on Saturday 26 September 2020 at 2.00 pm for a refreshingly brief AGM and two rather special guest presenters. We will even provide some virtual refreshments!

Our AGM 2020 speakers:

  • Jess Lawton (Connecting Country) will present on ‘Connecting Country’s ten years of ecological monitoring‘. Jess is our treasured Monitoring Coordinator, PhD candidate and resident phascogale expert. Join Jess on a journey through Connecting Country’s long-term monitoring programs, with a focus on nest boxes and bird surveys.

 

  • Jacinta Humphrey (La Trobe University) will present on ‘The impact of urbanisation on birds’. Jacinta is a PhD student at La Trobe University and member of the Research Centre for Future Landscapes. Join Jacinta to hear about her research into the impact of expanding urbanisation on wildlife, with a focus on birds – a key issue raised by the local community during our recent Habitat Health Check project. To view Jacinta’s engaging video summarising her project – click here

 

Everyone is welcome! This is a free event but please register with Trybooking so we can send you the online meeting link prior to the event. To register – click here

AGM formalities:

Please note only current Connecting Country members can vote in the AGM.

If you have any questions, please email info@connectingcountry.org.au or call (03) 5472 1594.

 

‘Tricky birds’ event delivered to a packed online audience

Posted on 3 September, 2020 by Ivan

Connecting Country set a new attendance record for our much-anticipated event, ‘Tricky Birds of central Victoria with Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros’ on Monday 24 August 2020. This online free event ‘sold out’ with 500 bookings recorded the day before the event. We were absolutely thrilled to host the all-star lineup of Box-Ironbark expert naturalists, Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros.

We were blown away by the level of interest in our event. Our Facebook event page reached 112,000 people. We had 500 individuals register, including people from across Victoria, as well as New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory, plus some enthusiastic registrants from the United States!

Jess Lawton (Connecting Country Monitoring Coordinator) kicked-off the workshop with a short history of Connecting Country’s woodland bird monitoring program and a big thank you to our hard-working bird monitoring volunteers. Geoff covered the topic of identifying raptors and Chris focused on identifying thornbills of central Victoria, followed by an hour of interactive panel discussion and a chance to ask the experts those tricky bird watching questions. Both of the presentations were delivered with the passion and precision you would expect from Australia’s leading bird experts and photographers, with many beautiful images and helpful tips about identifying these look-a-like birds that are so difficult to distinguish.

The virtual Q and A panel worked effectively, despite the panel and hosts being up to 500 km apart, and the audience only having a text box to answer questions. Some of the topics covered were:

  • Useful smartphone apps for bird watching
  • Best binoculars for serious bird watchers
  • Top spots in central Victoria for bird watching
  • Tips on getting close to birds
  • Migration of raptors and thornbills
  • Differences in thornbill calls
  • Thornbill interbreeding
  • Where to find different thornbills in the forest/woodland structure
  • Mantling behaviour in raptors
  • Increase in Black Kite numbers in central Victoria
  • Confusing and similar birds calls
  • Mixed flocks composition


A copy of Geoff and Chris’s excellent presentations from the event are available for download:

Geoff and Chris both used plates from the Australian Bird Guide, as well as their own photos from their presentations. If anyone wishes to reproduce or use any content from the presentations, we request they please contact Geoff or Chris first.

We apologise to anyone who wanted to attend the event but was unable to log in. We didn’t want to exclude anyone, but unfortunately our Zoom license only allowed a maximum of 500 attendees. We hope the presentations provide some good catch-up material.

If you enjoyed this event, please consider contributing to Connecting Country’s work. We run entirely from grants and donations, with all donations over $2 being tax deductible.

 

Further information on our expert presenters

Geoff Park is a Newstead local legend, author of the highly popular ‘Natural Newstead’ blog, and Director of Natural Decisions Pty Ltd. He holds a Bachelor of Science (Honours) and a Diploma of Education. His background is in landscape ecology, teaching and community education. He has a long standing interest and involvement with communities working to improve biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes.

To visit Geoff’s Natural Newstead blog on observations of flora, fauna and landscape in central Victoria – click here

Chris Tzaros  is author of the outstanding book ‘Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country’, a comprehensive guide to the mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians that live in this unique habitat. He holds a Masters degree in Conservation Ecology. His passionate interest in bird and wildlife photography has won him multiple ANZANG photography awards. Chris worked for Birdlife Australia for ten years and runs his own company, Birds Bush & Beyond, based in north-east Victoria.

For more information on Chris’s excellent ‘Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country’ book, with a new print edition on its way soon – click here

This event was part of our ‘Community for bush birds’ project supported by the Australian Government under the Communities Environment Program.

 

Birdata: Become a citizen science superhero

Posted on 1 September, 2020 by Jess

At Connecting Country, we love using the Birdata app, and we know that many of our friends and members love it too! It’s a simple way to make your bird observations count for science. We came across this event from Birdlife in Western Australia. However, they have opened it up to anyone who would like to learn to be a citizen science superhero. We think it may be of interest to our members. Here is what Birdlife Western Australia had to say about this event:

Regardless of whether you have been firmly on the #birdingathome bandwagon or whether the lockdowns and border closures have kickstarted your interest in the birds around your patch, the time you spend out noticing nature is precious. Nobody else sees what you see, so why not put it to use? Your everyday bird sightings are super valuable!

Join this webinar to learn how recording the birds you see (even in your own backyard!) using the Birdata app can help protect and conserve our feathered friends. BirdLife WA’s Citizen Science Project Coordinator Dr Tegan Douglas will show what we can discover when we pool our knowledge through citizen science, and how easy it is to get involved!

Supported by Lotterywest.

Date*: Wednesday 9 September 2020, 1 pm – 2 pm UTC+08 Perth.  *In Central Victoria the event time is 3 pm – 4 pm. 

Join on zoom: click here

For more information: click here

 

Bird of the month: Red-browed Finch

Posted on 27 August, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our sixth 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 a splendid image from Martin Tatton.

The small but charismatic Red-browed Finch

A fairly common sight in Castlemaine gardens is the small and beautiful Red-browed Finch. At first glance they may appear as a flock of small brown birds, but as they fly away you’ll see a flash of their red rumps. On closer inspection their red bill, with that distinctive finch shape for foraging seeds, and the red stripe through the eye, become apparent. They can be quite bold, which is how Martin got some lovely photos on his phone, at a friend’s place in Castlemaine (pre-COVID-19).

Martin’s photo of a Red-browed Finch, taken with his phone (photo by Martin Tatton)

 

Damian Kelly writes about this distinctive finch with its red flash of colour:

‘Chances are that any birds you see around your house are locals. They are largely a sedentary species with only local movements outside the main breeding season. In mountainous areas there is some evidence of altitudinal movement, with birds moving to lower elevations in winter. Several banding studies have shown 99.9% of birds are found less than 10 km from nesting sites. Some studies have shown that birds rarely move more than 400 m from their main territory, often near water.

Red-browed Finch with nesting material in its bill (photo by Damian Kelly)

If you watch them feeding you will notice that they break up seeds to get the main contents and discard the husks. They normally do not eat seeds whole. Although mainly seed eaters, they will also take insects if available.

They are monogamous, and both birds incubate and feed the young. Pair bonding remains constant throughout the year, even when moving in flocks outside the breeding season. Sometimes groups nest communally with several nests in a tree. In Victoria, the breeding usually occurs from August to April and a single pair may have up to three clutches in a season.

Red-browed Finch nest (photo by Damian Kelly)

Nests are an untidy collection of grass, twigs, feathers, wool and bits of string, with a tunnel entrance. Parents and young continue to roost in the nest for several weeks after hatching. Outside breeding season they also utilise roosting nests that look like breeding nests but are unlined. Up to six birds have been recorded roosting in these nests.

Around Castlemaine they are common and widespread and can be found in gardens and along the creeks (including the Forest Creek Trail). They are adaptable and can be found nesting in non-native plants as well as natives.’

A big thank you to contributors to this edition of Bird of the Month – Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly – for their amazing knowledge, and to Martin Tatton for his photo.

For more information about these birds and to listen to the call – click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-browed Finch nest. Ph

oto by Damian Kelly

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beginner birdwatching with Inala Foundation

Posted on 13 August, 2020 by Jess

The Inala Foundation, a habitat conservation organisation based in Bruny Island, Tasmania, is running a free online event titled a ‘Beginner’s Guide to Birdwatching’. We think this is a fantastic theme for an event, as we know there’s a strong interest in bird watching in our local Mount Alexander region. Interestingly, we’ve recently been planning our own ‘Birding for beginners’ event for later in 2020, but want to share this in case it’s of interest to the community in the meantime. Please see the details below from the Inala Foundation, including how to register. 

The Swift Parrot enjoys habitat in Bruny Island, Tasmania, as well here in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria (Photo: Michael Gooch)

 

Birdwatching is a great activity that everyone can enjoy. During the COVID-19 lockdown period we have seen a huge increase in the number of new birdwatchers around the world. Many people are navigating their way through the maze that is birdwatching optics and scratching their heads about learning to ID birds, particularly how to differentiate some of the trickier species.

The Inala beginners guide to birdwatching answers all these questions and more. Join us online on Saturday 22 August 2020 for a free introduction and live question/answer session.

When: Saturday 22 August 2020, 10:00 am – 11:00 am
Cost: Free
To register and find more information: click here

 

Tricky birds with Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros – 24 August 2020

Posted on 23 July, 2020 by Ivan

Hold onto your hats! Connecting Country is excited to host an all-star lineup for a workshop on identifying tricky bird species of the central Victoria. Two highly-regarded birdwatchers and ecologists, Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros, will present at our online workshop on identifying tricky birds on Monday 24 August 2020 at 7 pm. Geoff will be speaking on identifying raptors and Chris on identifying thornbills, followed by an interactive panel discussion and a chance to ask the experts your bird watching questions.

Please click here to register for this event. A link to the online meeting platform will be emailed to you in the coming weeks.

Geoff Park is a Newstead local legend, author of the highly popular ‘Natural Newstead’ blog, and Director of Natural Decisions Pty Ltd. He holds a Bachelor of Science (Honours) and a Diploma of Education. His background is in landscape ecology, teaching and community education. He has a long standing interest and involvement with communities working to improve biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes.

Chris Tzaros  is author of the outstanding book ‘Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country’, a comprehensive guide to the mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians that live in this unique habitat. He holds a Masters degree in Conservation Ecology. His passionate interest in bird and wildlife photography has won him multiple ANZANG photography awards. Chris worked for Birdlife Australia for ten years and runs his own company, Birds Bush & Beyond, based in north-east Victoria.

We are thrilled to present these two conservation superstars. This workshop is suited for our experienced bird watchers, but everyone is welcome. Please join us to learn together, and bring along your tricky bird questions.

Tricky bird experts: Chris Tzaros and Geoff Park

 

This event is part of our ‘Community for bush birds’ project supported by the Australian Government under the Communities Environment Program.

 

Bird of the month: Batman and Robin

Posted on 23 July, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our sixth 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.

Black-faced and White-bellied and Cuckoo-shrikes – aka Batman and Robin

You may have felt and seen the stirrings. The critters in the bush are gearing up for the new breeding season, just as the wattles and Hakea have begun to bloom. A couple of weeks ago I sighted my first White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike since last summer. As I took the time to observe its behaviour and plumage as it moved through the tree canopy, I was reminded about how hard it can be to distinguish White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes from Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes. Each species has several morphs. This post focuses on the Central Victorian morphs, to avoid getting too complex.

My first source of information is always Damian Kelly. He reported that the Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds (HANZAB) prefaced many comments on cuckoo shrikes with ‘not well known’. This I found interesting, as the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike is a moderately common and widespread partial migrant, even if the White-faced Cuckoo-shrike is uncommon, though widespread and a partial migrant or resident (depending on which book you read). I’d expected more would be known about these two species.

There are many similarities between them. Both species of Cuckoo-shrike display a graceful undulating flight, soft grey and white colours with black markings, and similar size, bill and body shape. The immature birds are especially difficult to distinguish, as is often the case. Both species are often seen as individuals or in pairs. However, occasionally I’ve seen Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes in huge flocks moving through treetops in our local forests, and after the breeding season White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes can be observed in flocks of up to 12. Often it’s their distinct call which signals their presence.

Let’s look at some of the differences between these two species, and what to look for when identifying them. There are several characteristics that are useful. Their calls differ, the Black-faced having a soft churring call and the White-bellied a sharper sounding ‘quizeek-quizeek’ (see links to calls below). Both species can do a wing shuffle upon landing on a branch, but the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes shuffles its wings every time and with a very obvious and pronounced movement.

Visually the colouring in adult birds is a little different. The Black-faced is just as its name suggests, its white belly only extends to below its chest and it is a slightly larger bird. In-flight the extended tail and wings appear black. The White-bellied has a more obvious and brighter white belly (although there is a dark morph, further confusing the issue but rarely seen in Central Victoria) and a black stripe from the bill to the dark eye.

The immature birds of both species are very hard to tell apart. Both are soft grey with a full white belly and chest, and both have a black stripe through the eye like the adult White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike. However, the black eye stripe in the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike runs from the bill and extends past the dark eye.

In conclusion, it’s all very confusing. However, you could say the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike has a Batman face mask but without the whole hood, and the White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike has an eye mask like Robin. Little superheroes – who’d have thought?

Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike (photo by Damien Kelly)

White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike (photo by Damien Kelly)

 

To read more about this wonderful bird on Geoff Park’s ‘Natural Newstead’ blog – click here

To learn more about the dark morph of the White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike – click here

To hear the call of the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike – click here

To hear the call of the White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike – click here

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

 

 

 

 

Have your say on ethical birding guidelines

Posted on 16 July, 2020 by Ivan

 

Bird watching is a hobby that can be enjoyed alone or in groups (photo: Connecting Country)

We received a request from BirdLife Australia, asking for assistance in reaching bird watchers in our region with a survey on ethical birding guidelines. The Mount Alexander region of central Victoria is a bird watching destination, with Castlemaine even having its own BirdLife Castlemaine District branch. Anyone is welcome to join their monthly bird walks, which give new bird watchers a chance to learn from the local gurus and enjoy some of our region’s best natural hotspots.

Please take the time to complete the survey on ethical birding guidelines.

Here are the details from BirdLife Australia

BirdLife Australia is in the process of updating our Ethical Birding Guidelines, which were last drafted in 2012. We want these guidelines to be embraced by all of BirdLife Australia, and therefore we wanted to give you, the network, the opportunity to have your say. Some of the changes may impact some of your activities, or you may feel passionate about key areas of ethical birding, or you might just be curious about something.

Whatever your thoughts, BirdLife would love to hear your voice on this. As a disclaimer, opinions on ethical birding can differ over specific details, so while we endeavour to incorporate your feedback, we may not be able to include all of your personal suggestions, where suggestions clash between responses.

We have attached a copy of the guidelines as they stand, BLA Ethical Birding Guidelines Draft July 2020, for you to have a read of, and then to have your say – click here

Responses close 21 July 2020, so get your responses in fast.

Furthermore, feel free to forward this message to your wider committees and supporters. The more responses we get, the best we can ensure that the guidelines will be embraced by all.

BirdLife Australia

 

A new look at how birds talk, work, play, parent and think – 15 July 2020

Posted on 1 July, 2020 by Ivan

We recently discovered a free online event hosted by the Geelong Regional Library Network that will interest the bird lovers in our community. The event will feature two superstars of bird zooniverse, Jennifer Ackerman from the USA and our own Sean Dooley, discussing a new look at how birds talk, work, play, parent and think. You may have seen a fantastic recent article by Sean Dooley in The Guardian newspaper on how the dawn chorus of birds gives him hope and connection. Well worth a read. Please see the following details from the Geelong Regional Libraries website on how to register and what to expect at the event.

Please contact the organisers at Geelong Regional Libraries if you have any questions about this online event

A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think: 15 July 2020

Jennifer Ackerman is the New York Times bestselling author of The Genius of Birds, and has been writing about science, nature, and human biology for almost three decades. Join her online from her home in the USA in a twitchers’ event you won’t want to miss! Jennifer is joining us online from the USA and will be talking with renowned Australian birdwatcher, Sean Dooley, author of The Big Twitch and National Public Affairs Manager for Birdlife Australia. He is currently presenting the ‘squawkback’ segment on ABC Melbourne radio every Thursday afternoon.

REGISTER HERE

Date: Wednesday 15 July 2020 from 7:30 to 8:30 pm

Jennifer Ackerman: Author of The Bird Way

Jennifer Ackerman has been writing about science, nature, and human biology for almost three decades. Her most recent books include Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: a day in the life of your body; Ah-Choo: the uncommon life of the common cold; Chance in the House of Fate: a natural history of heredity; The Genius of Birds; and Birds by the Shore. A contributor to Scientific American, National Geographic, The New York Times, and many other publications, Ackerman is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in Nonfiction, a Bunting Fellowship, and a grant from the Alfred P Sloan Foundation.

Sean Dooley: Facilitator

Sean Dooley is a renowned Australian birdwatcher, author of The Big Twitch and former holder of the Australian Big Year twitching record. He is also National Public Affairs Manager for Birdlife Australia. He is currently presenting the ‘squawkback’ segment on ABC Melbourne radio every Thursday afternoon.