Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

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
  • To book – 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!

 

Biological controls as a weed management tool – 6 October 2020

Posted on 17 September, 2020 by Jacqui

Biological control is the practice of managing a weed or pest animal by the deliberate use of one or more natural enemies (biocontrol agents) that suppress it. Land managers, landholders and citizen scientists can each play a role in establishing and monitoring populations of identified biocontrols.  Once established, populations of biocontrol agents can build up to very high levels within a weed infestation. Eventually their numbers can build up to slow the spread or reproduction of a weed, allowing more time for other control methods to be used.

Connecting Country is pleased to support this free online workshop about weed biocontrols hosted by DELWP’s Weeds at the Early Stage of Invasion (WESI) project with Tarrengower Cactus Control Group and the Weed Society of Victoria.

The workshop will feature Dr Raelene Kwong and Greg Lefoe, Senior Research Scientists from Agriculture Victoria’s Research Division. They will explain the ins and outs of what is involved with biological controls as part of your weed management tool kit, and how you can be involved in your patch.

Special local guest presenter, Lee Mead, President of the Tarrangower Cactus Control Group, will provide an exciting local case study. Their community group has used biological controls to combat Wheel Cactus (Opuntia robusta) around Tarrengower and Maldon in Central Victoria.

Biocontrols can play an important role as part of an integrated weed management approach. For tips on getting started with weed control see Connecting Country’s fact sheet – click here

If you want to learn more about biocontrols and get a hands-on community perspective, register for the workshop via the link below. More information about biocontrols is also available via the Bio Control Hub website, a portal set up specifically for biocontrol projects within the Atlas of Living Australia – click here

Date: Tuesday 6 October 2020 from 10.00 – 11.30 am

Location: Online with link provided on registration

To register visit: click here

For more information contact: Rebecca James (rebecca.james@delwp.vic.gov.au)

After this event you have the option to also join the Weed Society of Victoria’s 2020 Annual General Meeting, from 11.30 am. All are welcome.

 

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.

 

Stormwater: a great environmental dilemma – 15 September 2020

Posted on 8 September, 2020 by Ivan

The Victorian Environmental Friends Network has a free online event that might be of interest to our community, particularly those living around the waters of Campbells Creek and Forest Creek in Central Victoria. While there have been many improvements in approaches and technologies for filtering storm waters before they enter our waterways, they are often absent from older systems of water management.

Title: Stormwater: Australia’s great environmental dilemma
Date: Tuesday 15 September 2020 at 7 pm 
Presenter: Dr Dave Sharley

This webinar will focus on the impact of stormwater pollution on the health of our urban waterways. It will discuss industry solutions and provide guidance on simple things we can all implement to reduce stormwater pollution.

Topics may include:

  • What is stormwater?
  • Urban sprawl pressures impacting our local waterways
  • Water Sensitive Urban Design
  • Assessing storm-water pollution
  • Finding major sources of pollution
  • Linking scientific data to community education and awareness programs

Dr David Sharley is an environmental scientist with over twenty years of experience working in water and environmental services. Dave worked at the University of Melbourne for over 10 years researching how pollutants can stress and change aquatic population structures and decrease the resilience of aquatic ecosystems.
Building upon his 20 years of research experience, Dave founded Bio2Lab in 2017 with Steve Marshall to develop and offer novel water quality monitoring tools to the water industry. Dave enjoys developing new ways to communicate scientific outcomes to governments, industry and the community, and has published many articles on the ecological impact of urban development and land management.

Dave’s main areas of interest include aquatic pollution, real-time monitoring, pollution tracking, environmental assessment, urban wetland ecology, integrated catchment management and linking environmental research outcomes to policy.

Tickets are free but is booking required.
To book visit: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/117482119181

Forest Creek in Castlemaine during the floods of 2011 (photo: Connecting country archives)

 

 

 

‘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

 

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

 

Learn about soils and soil testing – spring 2020 webinars with Cath Botta

Posted on 1 September, 2020 by Jacqui

If you’re curious about soils, how to manage soils for productivity, and what’s going on under your feet, this is a prime opportunity to take the next step in your understanding of how soils function, their structure, biology and mineral make up.

Soil scientist and amazing educator Cath Botta will present the series through the Yea River Catchment Landcare Group with support from the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority. The Goulburn Broken catchment region lies directly to the east of our North Central catchment region in Victoria, and there is overlap in soil properties. Participants are welcome to register for one or all three webinar sessions. All three sessions will have general info about soils. There will be a Goulburn Broken soils component at the end of session 3, and if you find that is not relevant you’re most welcome to drop out when suits.

Your property’s soil is arguably your primary asset and you may well be allocating a good portion of your annual budget towards liming and/or some form of fertiliser. So, it makes sense to understand how your soil works – its biology, structure and minerals and how best to manage it productively and sustainably. This series of three webinars will cover soil health and soil testing basics through to the key components of your soil tests. Whether you are just starting out or have been taking soil tests for a while, one or all of these webinars will have something for you.

There is time scheduled between Sessions 1 and 2 to allow you to collect and send off soil samples and receive your results in preparation for Sessions 2 and 3.

During the webinars, we will be referring to the booklet ‘Understanding your soil test step-by-step’. You can request a free hard copy at registration.

To download a copy of ‘Understanding your soil test step-by-step’ – click here

All session times are 10 am to 12 pm:

  • Session 1 – Monday 7 September 2020
  • Session 2 – Monday 12 October 2020
  • Session 3 – Thursday 15 October 2020

To register – click here 

For further information please contact Judy Brookes (juncball@bigpond.com).

This project is supported by Yea River Catchment Landcare Group and the Goulburn Broken CMA through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

 

Spending to save: what will it cost to halt Australia’s extinction crisis?

Posted on 30 July, 2020 by Ivan

A new research paper has revealed some astonishing facts about the small amount of money allocated to biodiversity and threatened species across our nation. Records show Australia has one of the highest extinction rates in the world over the past century. One of the main factors in the loss of biodiversity is the increased rate of human  population growth, which has led to habitat change through land clearing, urbanisation, hunting and resource extraction. The introduction of new invasive species has also had a huge impact Australia’s biodiversity. The forests of the Mount Alexander region have endured a long history of disturbance since the 1850s, leading to many indigenous plants and animals becoming extinct or threatened.

But what would it cost to halt Australia’s extension and biodiversity crisis? According to this recent scientific research paper, it would cost $1.6 billion to improve the status of all of Australia’s threatened species and return their health to the point where they can be removed from lists of at-risk flora and fauna, through protections from land clearing and invasive species, habitat restoration and other means. $1.6 billion is not small change, but achievable for a nation of our wealth, and much less than many government investments in recent times.

The reality is that we have been spending $86.9 million in 2017-18, $49.6 million in 2018-19 and an estimated $54.6 million in 2019-20 on Australia’s threatened species through the Commonwealth government. Hence it is not surprising that biodiversity and ecological assets are in poor health across the nation and declining rapidly.

The scientific research paper is titled ‘Spending to save: What will it cost to halt Australia’s extinction crisis?’ and is published in the Conservation Letters. A copy of the abstract is provided below. To access this fascinating paper in full – click here

As with most governments worldwide, Australian governments list threatened species and proffer commitments to recovering them. Yet most of Australia’s imperiled species continue to decline or go extinct and a contributing cause is inadequate investment in conservation management. However, this has been difficult to evaluate because the extent of funding committed to such recovery in Australia, like in many nations, is opaque.

Here, by collating disparate published budget figures of Australian governments, we show that annual spending on targeted threatened species recovery is around U.S.$92m (AU$122m) which is around one-tenth of that spent by the U.S. endangered species recovery program, and about 15% of what is needed to avoid extinctions and recover threatened species. Our approach to estimating funding needs for species recovery could be applied in any jurisdiction and could be scaled up to calculate what is needed to achieve international goals for ending the species extinction crisis.

Our local visitors, Swift Parrots, are listed as critically endangered and threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation (photo: Michael Gooch)

 

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

 

 

Funding for new Healthy Landscapes project

Posted on 23 July, 2020 by Ivan

Connecting Country has worked hard to secure funding and is pleased to confirm we have a brand new ‘Healthy Landscapes’ project through the Commonwealth government’s Smart Farms program. This 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 will develop a Healthy Landscapes guide book, especially targeted to the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria, and deliver a series of educational workshops for landholders on sustainable land management.

The Midland Express newspaper recently took an interest in this project and published an excellent article, including interviews with Bendigo Federal MP Lisa Chesters and Connecting Country’s Ivan Carter. To read the article – click here

Here is an overview of the one-year project, which will kick off in August 2020 with planning of the guidebook and workshops.

Healthy Landscapes guidebook

The guidebook will cover practical topics such as:

  • Reading your landscape: Assessing a property to identify natural assets (e.g., remnant vegetation and large old trees), threats (e.g., weeds, overgrazing, erosion), the need for shade and shelter for stock.
  • Property planning: Whole-property planning tailored to landholder needs and aspirations, to protect and enhance natural assets, increase farm productivity, reduce threats and build farm resilience.
  • Managing soil and water: Identifying soil types, managing soil erosion, building soil carbon, managing farm dams as habitat, fencing waterways and off-stream watering to improve water quality.
  • Promoting biodiversity: Fencing remnant vegetation, grazing exclusion, revegetation techniques, selecting revegetation areas and plants to achieve landscape connectivity, enhance remnant vegetation, protect soil and shelter stock.
  • Managing threats: Weed and pest animal identification, control methods, integrated pest management, staying ahead of new and emerging weeds using the latest online tools.


On-farm workshops

Three workshops will demonstrate examples of best practice sustainable farm management. Topics will reflect community interest, but may include:

  • Integrated weed management and tools to stay ahead of new and emerging weeds.
  • Value of native plant and animal assets within the farm ecosystem.
  • Shelterbelts for farm productivity and ecosystem health.
  • Birds as indicators of farm ecosystem health.

We aim to address the common questions we regularly get from landholders, and make the guidebook and workshops as useful as possible. Please let us know if there are any specific topics you’d like to see covered (email: info@connectingcountry.org.au).

Many landscapes in our region are leading examples of sustainable property management (photo by Jarrod Coote)

 

Digging those dung beetles

Posted on 21 July, 2020 by Ivan

The dung beetle is one of the natural world’s wonders and the role of this hard-working insect is rarely recognised. We occasionally see dung beetles moving copious amounts of dung when out in the field, but rarely have time to stop and ponder their importance in ecosystem function and soil productivity. Thankfully, there is an expert who has devoted his life to Dung Beetles – Dr Bernard Doube – who recently delivered a presentation on behalf of the North Central Catchment Management Authority.

Dr Doube works for Dung Beetle Solutions International and delivered the presentation to bring us up to date with dung beetle species, the history of introduction to Australia and the benefits to agriculture.  This presentation was delivered in June 2020 with the support of Landcare Victoria and North Central Catchment Management Authority.

Dr Doube is an international expert on dung beetles, earthworms and the biological basis of soil health. He worked with CSIRO for 29 years and was in charge of the CSIRO Dung Beetle Research Unit in Pretoria, South Africa, for seven years. He has published many research articles on dung beetles, earthworms and the biological basis of soil health. He has conducted grant-funded research since 2003 in association with many research partners, including water authorities, federal agencies, universities, Landcare and other landholder groups.

Australia has more than 500 species of native dung beetles and 23 species introduced from Hawaii, Africa and southern Europe. The introduced dung beetles are useful in Australia’s agricultural regions because our native dung beetles evolved with marsupials and are not adapted to use and disperse cattle dung.

Sometimes referred to as ‘nature’s architects’, dung beetles are part of a healthy agricultural landscape and can significantly improve the overall health of your soil. They benefit your property by breaking down organic material, transporting nutrients from the surface to the subsoil, improving water infiltration and reducing runoff.

It has also been concluded that dung beetles also reduce flies and odours by physically removing dung from the soil surface. This also helps to control dung-borne parasites. To learn more about dung beetles – click here

Please enjoy the presentation below, delivered by Dr Doube.

 

 

 

 

Hunting for fungi on Mount Alexander

Posted on 9 July, 2020 by Frances

Mushroom foragers will know that 2020 has been an exceptionally bountiful year for fungi in central Victoria. Recent rains have promoted an amazing flush of fruiting fungi to appear across our native woodlands, plantations and gardens.

We came across this beautifully recorded informative video about a recent trip to hunt for fungi on Mount Alexander, made by Liz Martin with Joy Clusker. Joy Clusker is the co-author of the wonderful book ‘Fungi of the Bendigo Region’ (2018). Joy and Liz have been going to check for fungi and to see if there is anything new for an updated book. Mount Alexander is a favourite spot and they recorded this trip in July 2020.

 

Victorian Biodiversity Atlas: its purpose and significance – 10 July 2020

Posted on 7 July, 2020 by Jess

Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club (CFNC) are hosting an online event the evening of Friday 10 July 2020 titled ‘The Victorian Biodiversity Atlas: its purpose and significance’, featuring Elizabeth Newton, who has worked for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and currently works with Trust for Nature. This free online webinar is open to the community to learn more about this important topic.

At Connecting Country, we encourage the community to submit fauna and flora records to the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas. You can read more about the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (click here) and about our amazing volunteers who have submitted hundreds of records to this important database (click here). Learning more about the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas, and uploading any of your own fauna and flora records is a great way to contribute to nature conservation, especially if you have some extra time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CFNC meetings are usually held on the second Friday of each month (February to December) starting at 7.30 pm. Due to government requirements, the CNFC committee has decided to suspend all club face-to-face activities until further notice.

Details of this event, including how to register, are provided on the CNFC website (click here)

The Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (VBA) is a foundation dataset that feeds into biodiversity tools used in the government’s everyday environmental decision making. Approvals and permits, funding decisions, and burn planning all rely on biodiversity observations submitted to the VBA.

This presentation will cover what the VBA is, contributing your data, and how your own flora and fauna records can make a difference.

It will also explore why the Department of Environment, Land and Water (DELWP) uses the VBA, and how it differs and interacts with other biodiversity databases such as Atlas of Living Australia, iNaturalist, and Birdata.

If you wish to attend this webinar, please email Peter Turner at munrodsl@iinet.net.au to receive details on how to attend.

If you previously registered for CFNC’s May webinar you will receive an email with details on how to register for the July session.

For further information please contact Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club – click here

Adding your data to the VBA contributes to informed decisions about land management and conservation of threatened species like Eltham Copper Butterfly (photo by Elaine Bayes)

Adding your data to the VBA contributes to informed decisions about land management and threatened species like Eltham Copper Butterfly (photo by Elaine Bayes)

 

 

Bird of the month: Black Falcon and Brown Falcon

Posted on 25 June, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our fifith 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 Geoff Park, and photographs from Ash Vigus. 

Black Falcon (Falco subniger) and Brown Falcon (Falco berigora) comparison

Ash Vigus (local bird enthusiast) took some stunning photos of Black Falcons this month, so here’s a bit of a comparison between this raptor and its cousin, the Brown Falcon. In Central Victoria Brown Falcons are relatively common, whereas Black Falcons are relatively rare, but both species are quite hard to tell apart.

As usual on this blog, I have been assisted by local writer, photographer and bird expert, Damian Kelly. He had this to say:

‘A few thoughts on the Black Falcon, it is a nomadic species that prefers the drier inland. However, it can be seen at places as diverse as the Moolort Plains and the Western Treatment Plant near Werribee. Being an opportunist, it likes places with easy pickings as it is the pirate of the raptors – aggressively chasing down other raptors with prey and snatching it from them. Hence the Western Treatment Plant with lots of prey, including Brown Quail and plenty of other raptors such as Brown Falcons and Black-shouldered Kites, which it tries to pirate. Sometimes referred to as the bully of the raptor world, it has long, sharply pointed wings and flies rapidly – quite a sight! I have seen them following cattle and sheep as they flush up prey such as Pipits and they will hang out around areas with quail. I have also seen them along Rodborough Road (Moolort), a place where mobs of Brown Quail can be seen near clumps of taller grasses. Around this area, Moolort and the road to Clunes are likely spots. Further afield the Western Treatment Plant in near Werribee, is the place to see them.’

Brown Falcon – pale morph, with its pale chest, more upright stance and tail a similar length to its wings (photo by Ash Vigus)

 

Newstead local, prowler of the Moolort Plains, blogger and bird expert, Ecologist Geoff Park has sound advice on Black Falcons and how to distinguish them from Brown Falcons. He says the flight pattern of the two species is quite distinct, with the Brown Falcon appearing sluggish whereas the Black Falcon is more like a Peregrine Falcon – very fast. When perched the Black Falcon appears to be crouched, with a distinct long tail extending past the wings, unlike Brown Falcons whose tails are shorter. Also the Black Falcon has a dark chest, unlike the Brown Falcon.

To confuse the issue, Brown falcons come in three different morphs – pale, intermediate and dark – making it confusing when looking at a Black Falcon. However, the flight pattern, perched stance, tail length and chest colour will give you a nice identification tool kit. For further information on Black and Brown Falcons (or any birds local to Newstead) check out Geoff Park’s fascinating blog, Natural Newstead. Or take a drive on the Moolort Plains west of Newstead in central Victoria, and have a look for various raptor species, including Brown Falcons, and if you’re lucky, Black Falcons.

Black Falcon in its typically crouched perch and long tail, on the Moolort Plains (photo by Ash Vigus)

 

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, and to Ash Vigus for his gorgeous photos.

For more information about these birds and to listen to the call of a Black or Brown Falcon – click here

 

 

 

Citizen science projects you can get involved in right now

Posted on 25 June, 2020 by Ivan

The rise and rise of citizen science projects across our region has been heartwarming over the past decade. The passion shown by the Mount Alexander community has been outstanding, with Connecting Country recruiting many skilled and dedicated volunteers to conduct ecological monitoring that collects vital information about the state of our wildlife and environment. In recent years we’ve adapted Connecting Country’s ecological monitoring programs to be directed and delivered by a team of dedicated volunteers, coordinated and supported by a paid staff member. We celebrate our much-loved citizen scientists wherever possible.

Connecting Country’s monitoring projects are only a few of the hundreds of citizen science projects across the nation. Many of these keep important research going and improve the knowledge pool in sectors that cannot attract funding.

We came across an excellent summary of the numerous and varied citizen science projects across the nation, listed on the Australian Broadcasting Commission website. As the article suggests, the recent COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in many people reporting feelings of moderate to high levels of anxiety and depression during this period of uncertainty. The article explains that in a survey of more than 54,000 people last year, more than three-quarters of Australians thought that spending more time in nature would make us happier.

Connecting Country aims to connect our community with the landscape and build their capacity to manage the land sustainably. We feel that our citizen science projects enable the community to be part of caring for our landscape and environment. Our projects can enable people to feel a little hope about reversing ecosystem degradation and be part of the solution at a local scale, while contributing to the larger picture.

Please enjoy a selection of photos from our various citizen science projects and events over the past decade.

The ABC article summarises some impressive projects that are currently up and running working wonders across our nation. The Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA) has a project finder that currently lists 513 citizen science projects right across Australia that you can get involved in. This is a great way to see what is happening in your local area, or to find a specific topic or cause that may interest you as a volunteer.

To access the full ABC article – click here

 

 

 

 

And the winners are…..woodland birds photography competition 2020

Posted on 18 June, 2020 by Ivan

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.

The theme was woodland birds and the competition was open to all Connecting Country members and the broader Mount Alexander region 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 a beautifully printed calendar for 2021.

The judging panel have completed reviewing 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 enjoy the winning photographs below, including the talented photographer behind each image.

The 2021 calendar will be available to purchase in the coming months, so stay tuned and don’t purchase a new calendar quite yet!

Please email us at info@connectingcountry.org.au if you’d like a copy put aside for you.

 

 

Cultural surveys in Castlemaine and Bendigo

Posted on 18 June, 2020 by Ivan

We received a great newsletter update from Harley Douglas, Dhelkunya Dja Project Officer with Djandak, about recent cultural surveys in our region, as well as some impressive flora and fauna surveys. The results of these surveys will feed back into fuel reduction plans and management practices for these important public land assets within Dja Dja Wurrung Country in central Victoria. It is heartening to see the wisdom and knowledge of Traditional Owners influencing land management practices across our treasured parks and woodlands. There is also an important survey to complete regarding what the community enjoy about these parks and reserves.

Walking Together – Balak Kalik Manya – update

The Walking Together- Balak Kalik Manya Project is a four-year project committed to writing site-specific management plans for two sites within Dja Dja Wurrung Country; Kalimna Park in Castlemaine and Wildflower Drive in Bendigo. Both sites were selected due to their proximity to growing townships and the increasing pressures of urbanisation slowly encroaching both park boundaries. The project is exploring how we can increase community connection with nature, how to improve visitation rates and encourage healthy use of these sites, all while maintaining and improving biodiversity. The project will promote Djaara employment and assist in Djaara reconnecting with traditional practices of land management.

Since the previous newsletter, our flora and fauna assessments have now been completed with terrific results in mapping Eltham Copper Butterfly (Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida) populations and clusters of Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) habitat within Kalimna Park. Similar surveying was completed at Wildflower Drive to detect the presence of the Eltham Copper Butterfly but sadly, there were none detected. The elusive Pink-tailed Worm-lizard’s (Aprasia parapulchella) presence was discovered at Wildflower Drive. This is an important find as our surveying information and mapping of this species, and other threatened and important species, has been provided to DELWP to inform their scheduled fuel reduction burns at the site.

We have also recently completed an extensive camera trapping program across both sites with Tactecol Consulting, in total 36 cameras were setup for a month to record and monitor the presence of a broad range of animals; but with a focus on arboreal marsupials such as Tuans, Sugar Gliders and Possums. Kalimna Park had promising results with Tuans but unfortunately, Wildflower Drive did not record the presence of any Tuans, Sugar Gliders or Possums. This was extremely disappointing given that the One Tree Hill area of the Greater Bendigo National Park (just a stone throw away from Wildflower Drive) is known to have healthy populations of these animals. However, this disappointing result provides an opportunity to investigate a range of management actions to help these struggling animals. Such as a rope bridge over Strathfieldsaye Road connecting the One Tree Hill block to Wildflower Drive, and this also provides an opportunity to construct and install nest boxes onsite in conjunction with school groups and local community members to help attract and provide a home for these important species at Wildflower Drive.

Cultural surveying will continue as more rockwells and other areas of cultural significance have been discovered and recorded within Kalimna Park, many thanks to the vigilant community members who are keeping an eye out for items of cultural significance and making us aware of the location for verifying. So far, all the items of cultural heritage I have been asked to look at have been legitimate- showing that some members within the Castlemaine community have a keen eye for Djaara culture.

Hanging out in some Wire-leaf Mistletoe (Amyema preissii) in Kalimna Park. Does anyone know the name of this groovy looking species of larva?

 

During April this year, we were planning on beginning consultation with the community to better understand what it is the community aspire their parks to be. Given the current global circumstances with COVID-19 we have had to delay this process until we knew how to best approach the situation. We will be going ahead with community consultation, starting NOW, in the form of a short, online survey. The survey asks questions about demographics and prioritisation of specific management actions that have been suggested for the parks. This survey is just the beginning of the community consultation we are planning to do, and I am hoping that we can meet in person within the next couple of months; when COVID-19 restrictions ease. Please fill in the survey and redistribute to other interested members of the community if you feel like doing so.

Here is the link to the survey- https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2MF7B2Z

If you or the group that you are involved with would prefer to give input in a different way other than the survey or a future face-to-face meeting, please let me know what process you would like to follow and I will try and accommodate as best I can to allow for everyone’s opinions to be voiced. These parks are incredibly special sites, and one of the things that make them special is having a community of people that care for them.

If you would like to discuss the survey with me, or if you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to get in touch. I would love to have your input.

Thank you,

Harley Douglas
DDW Member
Dhelkunya Dja Project Officer- Djandak
P: 5444 2888
E: harley.douglas@djadjawurrung.com.au

Black Rock Scorpion at Wildflower Drive

 

 

 

 

Solutions to insect armageddon – online event 12 June 2020

Posted on 9 June, 2020 by Ivan

Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club (CFNC) are hosting an online event the evening of Fridan 12 June 2020 titled ‘Solutions to insect armageddon’, featuring a speaker from the University of Melbourne ’s School of Biosciences, geneticist Professor Phil Batterham. This free online is open to the community to learn more about this important topic.

CFNC meetings are usually held on the second Friday of each month (February to December) starting at 7.30 pm, in the Uniting Church hall, Lyttleton St, Castlemaine VIC. Due to government requirements the CNFC Committee decided in March 2020 that all club face-to-face activities will be suspended until further notice.

Details of this event, including how to register, are provided below from the CNFC website.

Prof. Phil Batterham’s career has spanned almost four decades at the University of Melbourne. Throughout his career, Phil has wrestled with the problem of insecticide resistance, providing both practical solutions for more sustainable control of the insect pests of agriculture and major contributions to our understanding of evolution.   In recent times Phil’s focus has switched to the impact that low doses of insecticides may be having upon global populations of insects that are in decline.

Insects are everywhere, and vital to human food production and natural ecosystems. While most of us are familiar with the tasks of some beneficial insects, we rarely stop to consider just how fundamental their role really is. Bees pollinate crops, dung beetles recycle nutrients, ladybirds control pests and bogong moths are food that sustains endangered pygmy possums.

Globally, there is evidence that beneficial insect populations are in freefall, and insecticide use to control pest insects is a key suspect. So how can humans control the insects we don’t want, while avoiding collateral damage to the insects that we need? Solutions to Insect Armageddon addresses this question, showcasing four fascinating stories of breakthrough research from the University of Melbourne driving new, non-chemical ways to control insects.

If you wish to attend this webinar, please email Peter Turner at munrodsl@iinet.net.au to receive details on how to attend.

If you previously registered for CFNC’s May webinar you will receive an email with details on how to register for the June session.

For further information please contact CFNC.

 

 

Tis the season to be planting

Posted on 4 June, 2020 by Ivan

Connecting Country are busily preparing to roll out our 2020 revegetation projects across the region over the next few months, with an abundance of moisture and perfect growing conditions. Recent rainfall in central Victoria means planting conditions are likely to be particularly good compared with in recent years, which has us excited about the prospects for the 4,500 plants ready at the Connecting Country depot.

Of the 4,500 plants, 1,500 have been provided by TreeProject and the remaining provided through Connecting Country’s funded landscape restoration projects  TreeProject is a wonderful not-for-profit group that connects landholders and community groups with volunteers who propagate low-cost indigenous seedlings to revegetate degraded landscapes. TreeProject is able to keep seedling costs as low as possible thanks to the commitment and enthusiasm of the volunteers who propagate the seedlings in their backyards from materials TreeProject supplies.

Our Landscape Restoration Coordinator, Bonnie Humphreys, has spent the past few weeks preparing for plant delivery and ensuring the plants are in top condition. Bonnie said ‘Connecting Country has 23 landholders signed up for the current 2020 batch of plants and projects, but we will be looking to expand to reach further landowners if more funding comes along. We are very lucky to have some terrific local plant suppliers, such as Newstead Natives, an indigenous plant nursery that propagates local plants for our region for habitat restoration’. Please enjoy some photos of the delicious plants, with our staff members Bonnie Humpheys, Jacqui Slingo and Ivan Carter.

Over the past decade, Connecting Country has worked with over 250 landholders and groups to enhance more than 10,000 hectares of habitat across the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. This equates to approximately 6 percent of the Mount Alexander Shire. ‘It has been my pleasure to again be part of delivering Connecting Country’s revegetation program this year. We have some great projects enabling us to support landholders to restore and create valuable habitat across the shire.’ said Bonnie.

Unfortunately, we do not have any current capacity for additional landowners to join our restoration projects, but are actively seeking further funding. We do encourage landowners to fill out our expression of interest form, or contact us for advice how to conduct restoration work on their properties for optimal biodiversity outcomes. Once we have your details on file, we can let you know of opportunities for assistance as they arise. To access the expression of interest form – click here

To find out more about our current projects or discuss your eligibility, please email us at info@connectingcountry.org.au. If you have filled out an expression of interest form in the past 12 months, we have you on file and you don’t need to fill in another form, but you can always let us know you are still interested via email.

Connecting Country has a long-standing history of restoring landscapes across our region (photo: Connecting Country archive)

 

Addressing our wildlife cat-astrophe: Threatened Species Recovery Hub

Posted on 4 June, 2020 by Ivan

While we love our furry feline friends, it’s well documented that cats can have a devastating impact on our native wildlife. Why do cats always get their way: because they are very purr-suasive, and owners often let them out to forage and hunt during the day and night. The following interesting article from the clever folk at the Threatened Species Recovery Hub highlights some new research about Australia’s cat problem and potential solutions. For more information, the book Cats in Australia by John Woinarski, Sarah Legge and Chris Dickman discusses the impact of cats in Australia, their relationship with people, and their management. It can be purchased from CSIRO Publishing and accessed from The National Library of Australia.

This article is provided courtesy of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub.

Addressing our wildlife cat-astrophe

Predation by cats is a key threat to at least 123 threatened species in Australia. Better understanding and reducing the impact of feral cats on susceptible wildlife has been a major area of research for the Threatened Species Recovery Hub. Hub Deputy Directors Professors Sarah Legge and John Woinarski take a look at our research to address Australia’s cat problem.

Conservationists have worried about what cats do to Australian wildlife for over a century. For example, Archibald Campbell, a prominent naturalist, wrote in a 1906 issue of The Emu: ‘Undoubtedly, if many of our highly interesting and beautiful birds, especially ground-loving species, are to be preserved from total extinction, we must … at no distant date face squarely a wild-cat destruction scheme.’ But these warnings didn’t precipitate much action. The very quality that makes cats such appealing pets – their spectral, cagey guile – makes them noncompliant subjects for research and management. Until recently, compared to other invasive vertebrate species like foxes and rabbits (for which research and management was prioritised because of their recognised detriment to agriculture), we knew much less about cat ecology and the extent of their impacts, and cats had a reputation for being impossible to control.

However, over the past decade or so, there have been some noteworthy successes in the control of feral cats, especially the development of a cat-specific poison bait presentation (Eradicat®) in Western Australia, and eradication of cats from islands and from within large fenced areas on the mainland, with consequent benefits to many threatened species.

From about 10 years ago, some key technological advances, including the miniaturisation of tracking devices and the advent of affordable camera traps, as well as innovations such as using tracking dogs, have enabled new research approaches for cats, and many other relatively small, cryptic species.

The surge of cat research and management has been supported by policy leadership from governments, including the Australian Government, which shone a spotlight on cats in the Threatened Species Strategy, revised the national Threat Abatement Plan for cats, encouraged greater alignment of policy and management of cats across the states and territories, and funded a body of research to improve cat management through the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the National Environmental Science Program.

Issue 14 of Science for Saving Species showcases some of the hub’s portfolio of interlinked and collaborative research projects on cats, developed following a large workshop held in 2015 that identified major knowledge gaps and opportunities. This portfolio has two broad components; one component has gathered the evidence base for the extent and scale of cat impacts, by comprehensively synthesising published and unpublished work. This research established the first estimate for the cat population size in Australia and built on that to describe spatial patterns of cat predation (and overall tolls) on mammals, birds, reptiles, with estimates for frogs and invertebrates available soon.

Dr Hugh McGregor from the University of Tasmania is working with Arid Recovery to fill important knowledge gaps about cat diets, hunting behaviour and relationships with rabbits. Image: Nicolas Rakotopare

 

The hub has many on-ground research projects about how to reduce cat impacts, shown here grouped by broad management option. The map of Australia shows the spatial variation in cat density during wet years, new knowledge which was produced by the evidence-gathering component of the program.

Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Rosie Willacy, John Davies, Jaana Dielenberg, Stephanie Todd, William La Marca, Bronwyn Hradsky, Hugh McGregor/Arid Recovery, Linda van Bommel, F L’Hotellier, AWC, William La Marca, Diver Dave – Wikimedia – CC BY SA 3.0, Jody Gates, Nicolas Rakotopare , Hugh McGregor/Arid Recovery.

 

The approach is currently being extended to foxes; the complementary suites of cat and fox studies will help us understand how the relative impacts of these two predators vary over space and time, and thus guide the relative investment in control efforts for foxes and cats.

The evidence-gathering component of the cat research program has also identified which mammal and bird species are most sensitive to predation by cats. Some native species can persist only in the near-absence of cats (and foxes), and have survived extinction only because populations naturally exist on, or have been translocated to, islands or mainland fenced areas that are cat- and fox-free. The hub’s research identified which of these species were currently inadequately protected, and recommended sites for future island and fencing projects that would increase the level of protection most effectively and efficiently across the set of predator-susceptible mammal species.

The second component of the hub’s cat research program comprises a suite of field-based projects that aim to improve the way we manage cats at different scales (from sites to landscapes) using existing as well as novel control options. This has included work to extend and improve the way we use existing poison-baits, in places as diverse as Kangaroo Island, the Pilbara and the Queensland brigalow. At Pullen Pullen, research is aiming to make cat trapping and shooting ‘smarter’ by identifying when and where individual cats need to be removed to protect populations of highly threatened species like night parrots.

An example of research into a novel approach involves trials of whether ‘guardian dogs’ can effectively repel foxes and cats from around populations of eastern barred bandicoots in Victoria.

Successfully used to protect agricultural species, guardian dogs are being trialled by the hub to see whether they can effectively protect populations of eastern barred bandicoots in Victoria. Image: Linda Van Bommel

 

Several field projects are investigating how we can reduce cat impacts across very large landscapes by managing other threats that interact with cat predation. For example, reducing rabbits can dramatically lower cat density, especially if matched with integrated cat control to minimise prey-switching events. In a reverse example, a project on Christmas Island aims to find out if black rats will increase as a result of the island’s cat eradication program, and how rats can be monitored for increases that could affect populations of endemic birds.

Earlier work showed that managing fire and livestock grazing in ways that maintain structurally diverse ground vegetation can reduce cat predation, at least in some circumstances. Fire and grazing management is an approach to cat control that could be implemented across very large landscapes, with multiple benefits, so the generality of the interactions between predators, fire and grazing is being investigated in habitats as diverse as the Victorian Otways, Kakadu, the stony deserts, the wet tropics and the Tiwi islands .

Other research in western New South Wales Sarah Legge and the Simpson Desert is investigating The Australian National University interactions between cats, foxes and dingoes, The University of Queensland and whether manipulating the densities of larger predators could influence the density and or activity of smaller predators.

Hub research has identified which Australian mammal species are the most highly susceptible to cat predation and should be prioritised for inclusion in Australia’s havens network of cat- and fox-free islands and fenced areas. Image: Jaana Dielenberg

 

The hub’s cat research has generated enormous interest in the print, online and television media, and has contributed to a heightened awareness about cat impacts, and greater support for their management in Australia compared with other countries. This support shouldn’t be taken for granted; in the past year, new research directions have included a focus on how we can continue to shape the conversation about cat impacts and management with a broad cross-section of the public by working with key stakeholders on targeted information exchange. To support this initiative, recent work has compiled detailed evidence about the impacts of pet cats on wildlife, and the economic burden of cat-borne diseases like toxoplasmosis that have substantial effects on human health and livestock production. Stay tuned for these results in future issues of Science for Saving Species.

Campbell was right to worry about cats, and a century later we are still worried. But our understanding of cat impacts, which native species are most at risk, and the range and effectiveness of management options, have improved considerably. Cat management is challenging but not impossible, and blue-sky ideas including using gene drives to reduce cat populations, and accelerating selection for predator avoidance, are just emerging. With continued policy and public support, management effort and research innovation, we may be able to win the fight that Campbell advocated so long ago: to protect our wildlife from the deadly threat posed by cats.

Sarah Legge – The Australian National University, The University of Queensland and Charles Darwin University

John Woinarski – Charles Darwin University