Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Understanding your soil

Posted on 19 January, 2021 by Ivan

Connecting Country has been putting together practical information about how to restore and manage land for central Victorian landholders for over a decade. We now have a pretty useful collection of resources for learning about local soils on the Connecting Country website. Learning more about your property, local landscape and soils is a great basis to successfully plan for repairing and revegetating your property. Knowing about your soil type, and its limitations and qualities can be important in making a property management plan.

Geology of the Mount Alexander region

In the centre of the Mount Alexander Region, Castlemaine township is situated on low sedimentary undulations and hills of the dissected uplands. Much of the surrounding area is hills and wooded slopes with rocky outcrops common and granitic boulders visible.

To the northeast, Mount Alexander forms a prominent granitic ridge rising 250 metres above the surrounding land. To the southeast, the Calder Highway follows the sedimentary terraces and floodplain of the Coliban River. To the north, rolling sedimentary hills and valley slopes form fertile ground for the Harcourt apple orchards.

Undulating and low rolling sedimentary hills occur in several areas to the west and southwest of Castlemaine. These are characterised by rocky low hills and gentler, rock – free slopes and depressions. Most of these areas have been cleared for grazing. To the far west of the shire we have flat volcanic plains. This is some of the best land for agriculture in central Victoria.

Volcanic and granitic soils are a feature of our region’s farming districts (photo by Bonnie Humphreys)

 

Other areas exhibit moderate to steep slopes with shallow and stony soils, especially on the upper slopes and crests. Many of these areas have retained their native vegetation due to the steep and rocky nature of the terrain and the low fertility and low water holding capacity of the soils.

Soils

The health of the land is intimately linked to the health of the soil. Our region has a great diversity of soil types that reflect differences in parent material, topography, climate, organic activity, age and degree of weathering. For agricultural purposes, many of these soils have some chemical and physical limitations (such as sodicity) which require careful management. A good way to learn about soils is to visit the website Victoria Resources Online website, which provides interactive maps and descriptions of each soil types. The chances are your property has already been mapped for its soil type, providing a good starting point.

To access the Victoria Resources Online web page on soils in the North Central region – click here

Healthy soils form the basis of farm and ecosystem productivity. Issues such as erosion, salinity, soil carbon sequestration, nutrient run-off and acidification can all be addressed through understanding soil structure, biology and chemistry. To find out more about improving the soils on your land – click here

Other useful references

  • Costermans Native Trees and Shrubs of South-eastern Australia (1994) – Chapter 2 (page 5-18) provides a useful basic introduction to geology.
  • Palaeozoic geology and resources of Victoria (1998)
  • Geology Society of Australia – Victoria
  • Geology of Victoria
  • Earth resources online  – The Victorian government has digitised the main Victorian geological map series and made them available free of charge to the public. This includes historical geological surveys, geological reports, gold field mapping, regolith, geophysical and hydro geological maps.
  • GeoVic – Explore Victoria Online – Data sets that can be viewed and interrogated include mineral, petroleum and extractive industries tenements, land-use and airborne geophysical survey boundaries, gravity, magnetic and radiometric images, borehole and well data, surface geochemistry results, mines and mineral occurrences, and geological maps and interpretations at various scales.
  • Victorian geological map sheets – Free- downloadable raster versions of all geological sheet maps ever produced of Victoria, from 1:50:000 – 1:250,000 scale.

 

Fallen timber and leaf litter for healthy landscapes

Posted on 19 January, 2021 by Ivan

We have recently had some positive discussions with local landholders about the return of insects, reptiles and birds to their properties during 2020, especially with the higher rainfall and cooler conditions we’re experiencing this summer. We really enjoy hearing stories from landholders about what is happening on the ground. It keeps us motivated and passionate about providing support and advice for healthy landscapes. Both landholders noted that parts of their farms had sections of fallen timber, woody debris and leaf litter, which they retained as a deliberate action to increase the biodiversity and health of their farms. A diverse range of insects and birds are beneficial for pest control and for pollinating many important plants on farms, as well as forming part of the food chain that is beneficial to a healthy landscape.

The Sustainable Farms initiative has produced a comprehensive fact sheet about the importance of retaining dead trees, fallen timbers and leaf litter in landscapes. Sustainable Farms is an Australian National University initiative supported by philanthropic organisations, industry groups and government.

Fallen dead wood provides important habitat for a suite of invertebrate species dependent on decaying wood for their survival. These species play an important role in recycling nutrients in forest and woodland ecosystems. They include a range of species that feed, breed, or shelter in dead wood, or may be predators, or parasitoids dependent on species that live on dead wood. Birds and reptiles feed on these insects, as well as other small marsupials and mammals. Standing dead trees, whether killed deliberately from ringbarking or by bushfires, form a critical resource for fauna, especially following intense wildfire. Connecting Country has been working with landholders for over a decade to convey the importance of keeping some undeveloped areas of their properties as wildlife habitat.

Leaf litter and wooden debris are vital to birds and many other animals on farms (photo: David Adam)

 

There is always a fine balance between keeping places wild and healthy, and managing bushfire risk, so obviously careful planning is required around houses and buildings in certain settings, such as heavily forested properties.

For further information please read the ‘Keep your fallen timber and dead trees’ fact sheet from Sustainable Farms – click here

 

 

Celebrating Landcare with Connecting Country’s new grant

Posted on 14 January, 2021 by Ivan

Connecting Country is excited to announce we were successful in obtaining a small community grant from the Mount Alexander Shire Council (MASC), allowing us to produce a video celebrating the amazing achievements of our local Landcare groups from across the Mount Alexander region in central Victoria. Our 2021 Celebrating Landcare project will highlight the variety of on-ground landscape restoration and other Landcare activities from across our region that contribute to a healthy and more sustainable landscape. We love our volunteers and this is a chance to recognise their significant achievements in a visual format, using a combination of interviews, footage from on the ground, and project information.

We are very fortunate to have around 30 active Landcare and Friends Groups in our region, which will be very hard to capture in a short video, but we will do our best! We are forever grateful for their passion and array of skills, which has resulted in the recovery of many degraded landscapes across our region.

This project will also aim to attract new members to our Landcare groups, and show the many benefits of volunteering and being part of a bigger picture of landscape restoration. Current members and volunteers include over 1,300 residents from a diverse mix of cultural and demographic backgrounds, genders and age groups. These groups collectively own or manage a significant proportion of the private land throughout our shire.

We hope our video will support and acknowledge over 10,000 hours of incredible work our Landcare volunteers contribute to the region annually, all in five minutes of video! A big ask we know, but we are determined to deliver a great project within the modest budget.

We expect to have the video completed late in the second half of 2021 and will keep the community updated on its progress.

In the meantime, please enjoy our five minute video highlighting our restoration and bird monitoring programs, produced by our partners at Remember The Wild. We would like to thank the MASC for the community grant funding and acknowledge their contribution towards delivery of this project.

 

 

Ugg boots to the rescue: Phascogale adventures

Posted on 7 January, 2021 by Ivan

How does one catch a Brush-tailed Phascogale on the run in your house? Easy – with an Ugg boot apparently!

We received a video from a local landholder, Brodi, who rescued this Brush-tailed Phascogale from their house in Sutton Grange using a sheepskin boot in late 2020. Doesn’t get much cuter than that!

The Brush-tailed Phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa tapoatafa), also known as the Tuan, is a small, nocturnal, carnivorous marsupial, a little larger than a domestic rat. In Victoria, the Brush-tailed Phascogale was once widespread, but now has a fragmented distribution. It’s found to the east and north-east of Melbourne, central Victoria (around Ballarat, Heathcote and Bendigo), north-eastern Victoria, and far western Victoria (from Mount Eccles to Apsley).

The Brush-tailed Phascogale is a threatened species listed under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and considered Vulnerable in Victoria.

Thanks Brodi for sending us this video. Please enjoy!

To learn more about Brush-tailed Phascogales and their conservation, check out our blog post below. To get involved in our monitoring program for Brush-tailed Phascogale, please email info@connectingcountry.org.au

Fun with Phascogales – Jess Lawton’s Talk

 

Bird walk at Eganstown: Saturday 9 January 2021

Posted on 7 January, 2021 by Ivan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Celebrating our volunteer heroes at Connecting Country

Posted on 17 December, 2020 by Ivan

Connecting Country could not do what we do without our volunteers. Our management committee is run by volunteers, our monitoring programs rely on skilled citizen scientists, our landholders ensure landscape restoration is maintained, and others help with events, Landcare, engagement and in countless other ways. We love our volunteers and appreciate their dedication to our vision of increasing, enhancing, and restoring biodiversity across central Victoria.

This year, we were fortunate to receive a very generous donation from a local family to support our woodland bird monitoring, including providing a humble thank-you celebration for our volunteers on the evening of Monday 14 December 2020 at The Hub Plot, behind our office in Castlemaine, Victoria.

We enjoyed COVID-safe celebratory drinks and snack packs in the leafy Hub Plot garden. Our Monitoring Coordinator, Jess Lawton, provided a short summary of our monitoring achievements over the last year, followed by plenty of chatting and Connecting Country’s second annual ‘Klop’ game championship. Thank you to everyone who came and made it a wonderful evening with great company. Special thanks to Lou, Jane R, and Duncan for setting up and helping the evening run smoothly, and to Heather and Neil for the lovely venue.

These days our projects run off very tight budgets, with funding opportunities extremely few and far between. Community has always been at the core of what we do at Connecting Country. In this new phase, we’ve had to rely on our community even more.

Because we’re surrounded by an engaged and enthusiastic community, we’re still able to check in on our local biodiversity, and deliver monitoring, engagement, Landcare support and landscape restoration across our region. If it wasn’t for your hard work, we simply would not be able to continue our valuable long-term biodiversity monitoring, engage our community in caring for our local landscapes, or empower landowners to manage their land as wildlife habitat.

To everyone who has helped Connecting Country in 2020: a big thank you! We are so grateful for your support.

To find out more about volunteer opportunities at Connecting Country, please visit our website – click here

Please enjoy the following photos by Lou Citroen and Ivan Carter, capturing the beauty of our volunteer celebration on a balmy summer’s evening in Castlemaine.

 

 

 

 

 

Bird of the month: Grey Shrike-thrush

Posted on 23 November, 2020 by Ivan

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

Grey Shrike-thrush (Colluricincla harmonica)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weed management after fire webinar series starts 25 November 2020

Posted on 19 November, 2020 by Jacqui

Jump on and register for this opportunity to learn all about weed management after bushfire, delivered by the Weeds at Early Stages of Invasion (WESI) team and a wealth of expert collaborators. There are four free webinars in total, with each delivering a wealth of knowledge and useful information. It is vital to get on top of weeds after fire, as they usually are the first plants to immerge and have a blank canvas to invade and dominate in the years to come. 

Weed management after fire webinar series

After bushfire, our ecosystems are at their most vulnerable to weed invasion. Help us support indigenous flora and fauna by managing weeds in bushfire affected areas.

This webinar* series focuses on sharing practical knowledge so everyone can contribute to bushfire recovery.

Time:

Four webinars on the below dates all from 10:30 am to 12:15 pm.

Dates:

Webinar 1: Wednesday 25 November 2020 – Overview weed management after fire.

Webinar 2: Wednesday 2 December 2020 – Prioritisation of weeds after fire.

Webinar 3: Wednesday 9 December 2020 – Collaborative projects – weed management after fire.

Webinar 4: Wednesday 16 December 2020 – Weed identification and recording after fire.

For more information and to register for these free webinars: CLICK HERE

Collaborators:

  • State Wide Integrated Flora and Fauna Teams (SWIFFT)
  • Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) including:
    • Weeds at the Early Stage of Invasion (WESI)
    • Bushfire Biodiversity Response and Recovery (BBRR)
    • Natural Environment Program (NEP)
    • Connecting Communities Program (CCP)
    • Weeds and Pests on Public Land (WPPL)
  • Parks Victoria
  • East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (EGCMA)
  • Weed Society of Victoria (WSV)
  • Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC)
  • Landcare Victoria
  • Trust for Nature
  • Regional Roads Victoria
  • Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR)
  • Australian Association of Bush Regenerators (AABR)
  • Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife (FNPW)

* These webinars are funded by the Victorian Government’s $22.5 million Bushfire Biodiversity Response and Recovery program. For more information on the BBRR program, visit www.wildlife.vic.gov.au/home/biodiversity-bushfire-response-and-recovery

 

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.

 

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.

 

Prickly plants for wildlife and community in Sutton Grange

Posted on 1 October, 2020 by Jacqui

‘Prickly Plants for Wildlife and Community’ is a project coordinated by Connecting Country during 2020 in partnership with local Landcare groups, with funding from the Albert and Barbara Tucker Foundation.

The project has supported Landcare groups to seek specialist botanical advice, develop local planting lists and plant hundreds of local-to-the-area (indigenous) understorey plants. These plants will help provide valuable food, nesting sites, and shelter for local woodland birds in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. Sutton Grange Landcare is one of four groups Connecting Country worked with on this project. We hope you enjoy this article about their work.

Albert Cox Wildlife Sanctuary

Sutton Grange Landcare Group has cared for the Albert Cox Wildlife Memorial Sanctuary since 1991, including working hard to control weeds and plant local native species. Their vision is to improve habitat for birds and other wildlife and they wanted to plant more indigenous shrubby plants to create more areas for birds to nest and to provide refuge and habitat.

Albert Cox Wildlife Sanctuary in Sutton Grange VIC, with large mature River Red Gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis). Photo: Naomi Hewitt-Ware.

The sanctuary was set up for just this purpose by local school teacher and amateur naturalist Albert Cox who taught at the local school for almost half a century until 1961. He encouraged students to make a note of birds, plants and other wildlife they observed. These observations were then shared and written into the observations book he curated. Cox’s diary entry demonstrates his love of the natural world and relationship to local wildlife (from Birdlore article by BJ Coman):

 ‘…On the morning of the 26th September 1951 the thrush that had been for such a long period a friend of all at the Sutton Grange School was found dead beside the residence garden. This bird was well over thirty years old and had nested around the school residence all these years, many seasons being spent in an old billy hanging under the veranda. The bird had died of old age, being found lying with an insect still in its beak. It died in the middle of the nesting season leaving a mate to hatch out and rear a family.

Sutton Grange Landcare Group has continued Cox’s example of observation and care through working bees and hundreds of volunteer hours spent controlling weeds, planting and maintaining the plantings at the sanctuary. They often see wildlife in the reserve including echidnas, wallabies, possums and a wide variety of birds.

Naomi Hewitt-Ware and son Murray from Sutton Grange Landcare Group planted 100 plants in the sanctuary during winter 2020 as part of ‘Prickly Plants for Wildlife and Community’. The plants were locally-grown indigenous species including Lightwood (Acacia implexa), Hedge Wattle (Acacia paradoxa), Drooping Sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata), Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa), Late-flowered Flax-lily (Dianella tarda), Bushy Needlewood (Hakea decurrens) and Tree Violet (Melicytus dentata). In the creek, they planted Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata), Common Tussock-grass (Poa labillardierei) and Basket Sedge (Carex tereticaulis).

Murray at work installing guards around the plants to protect them from wallabies. Photo: Naomi Hewitt-Ware.

These will complement previous plantings by the group including Silver Banksia (Banksia marginata), a species which has become rare across our region. Group members are very happy with the guards provided for the project, which make it harder for wallabies to damage the plants. They will continue to replace guards, water, and weed around plants as necessary to give them the best chance to establish and grow. Fortunately, this year has been excellent year for planting, with ongoing rainfall.

A healthy-looking Silver Banksia (Banksia marginata). This species is now rare across our region. Photo: Naomi Hewitt-Ware.

There is a creek flowing through the reserve which has an established canopy of introduced Pine trees (Pinus sp.) and impressive old River-red Gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) with hollows. It is a place of refuge, made possible by the careful work of the group removing weeds such as Gorse (Ulex europaeus) and Broom (Genista monspessulana) over the years.         

A creek flows through the sanctuary and has benefited from many years of weed control by Sutton Grange Landcare Group. Photo: Jacqui Slingo.

Landcare members are very appreciative of the support from the Albert and Barbara Tucker Foundation and Connecting Country, and are especially glad at being able to plant in such a good planting year.

To find out more about Sutton Grange Landcare Group or to get involved contact Christine Brooke (Secretary) by emailing .

 

 

 

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!

 

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

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

 

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

 

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