Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Team Awesome: our volunteers add 17,000 records to Victorian Biodiversity Atlas

Posted on 7 May, 2020 by Ivan

Databases are only as good as the data that is entered (or not entered) into them, with many important decisions relying on databases being up to date and conclusive. Connecting Country and our monitoring partners have collected tens of thousands of wildlife records over the past decade. But there’s no point collecting data if it’s not accessible to the people who need it.

From 2019 to 2020, Connecting Country’s amazing volunteers have entered a whopping 17,175 wildlife monitoring records to the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (VBA), with thousands more records currently being progressed in preparation for uploading soon.

Adding this amount of data to the VBA has taken a substantial effort of over 500 volunteer hours. Anyone who has entered this amount of data onto the VBA can attest that the process is not straight forward, so this has been a huge effort by our volunteers and a significant contribution to conservation efforts in the local region. Uploading our records to the VBA means that the data we have collected is no longer ‘locked up’ within our organisation, but available for researchers and decision-makers when they are making important decisions about where to allocate government resources, where to do planned burns, and whether to approve developments such as residential subdivisions.

Our awesome team of data entry volunteers volunteers

Initially, we were seeking just one volunteer to help enter data for us. However, when we put the call out for a volunteer we got such an incredibly strong response that we chose to engage four enthusiastic volunteers to share our data. These four amazing and tireless volunteers are Alexandra Reinehr, Corey Greenham, Karen Stuart and Lou Citroen.

  • Alexandra is about to complete a Bachelor of Science with an Environmental Management and Ecology major. She lives on an 153 acre property in central Victoria so it’s not surprising her focus is on sustainable and biodiverse farming practices. Alexandra came across Connecting Country through one of her lecturers at Victoria University and was interested in volunteering so she could learn more about the flora and fauna of her region as well as help contribute to their mission to restore and enhance biodiversity.
  • Corey grew up in the Bendigo area and currently lives in Melbourne. Corey finished his Bachelor of Environment and Society at RMIT in 2018. He has a broad passion for the environment and sustainability but has strong interests in biodiversity, urban greening, and community-based environmental initiatives. Corey says, ‘I thought the project would be a fantastic chance to learn more about the local environment in the Bendigo and Castlemaine region while helping to improve the existing information on local species such as the Phascogale. Even though I grew up in the area, I only spent a little bit of time in Castlemaine and have really enjoyed exploring the town and surroundings over the course of volunteering.’
  • Karen is well known here in the office at Connecting Country, having previously completed a work placement in our office and helped make sure our nest box database is in good shape. After working in administration and finance for 35 years and raising two children, Karen seized the opportunity to follow her passion. She is studying a Diploma of Conservation and Land Management. A highlight includes two weeks of volunteer fieldwork on the Eyre Peninsula with Australian Wildlife Conservancy, where she worked alongside expert ecologists. She is blending her work history with her studies and (partly due to her volunteer work with Connecting Country) Karen is beginning to obtain work through local ecologists. Karen says, ‘It is an absolute privilege to have the opportunity to volunteer with Connecting Country and the wonderful people associated with the organisation, and to be able to combine my data experience with my environmental studies.’
  • Lou has volunteered extensively with many diverse causes over the years. He started with volunteering for his daughter’s athletics competitions, then a placement in the 2000 Sydney Olympics (‘And what a blast it was!  A thrilling, unforgettable two weeks of my life!’), followed by nine years at BirdLife Australia, before moving to Castlemaine. Lou says, ‘During that time a BirdLife staff member suggested I make contact with Tanya Loos (then at Connecting Country), which of course I did.  Community-based Connecting Country, a small not-for-profit, focussing on restoring biodiversity in Mount Alexander region, is a vibrant, indefatigable, well-organised, friendly and inclusive group of dedicated scientists and veritable army of volunteers.  My volunteer ‘career’ aspiration, to make a contribution to conservation, however humble, has happily continued in Castlemaine.’

Connecting Country warmly thanks each of our data entry volunteers for the enthusiastic contribution of their valuable time and expertise to what we know can be a tedious task! We simply couldn’t have shared our monitoring data without them, and they’re a delight to have as part of the Connecting Country team.

Habitat Health Check

These new records have been added to the VBA as part of our Habitat Health Check project, funded by the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust. Habitat Health Check: empowering citizen scientists to monitor habitat health in Central Victoria has supported our transition to a citizen science model.  This two-year project ending in June 2020 and consisted of reviewing our four monitoring programs: Birdwatch, Nestboxes, Plantwatch and Reptile and Frog monitoring. It is a collaborative, robust, citizen science project that monitors native animals and plants in the Mount Alexander region. We have reviewed our existing monitoring programs, and moved to a new collaborative, targeted model that empowers our enthusiastic and skilled volunteers, improves scientific rigor, and promotes data sharing via the Visualising Victoria’s Biodiversity online portal.

What is the VBA? 

We often get questions from the community and landowners asking about the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (VBA) and why it is important. We also get questions about where people should add their surveys, and sightings of flora and fauna, to ensure government agencies can access and consider the records. The VBA uses consistent data standards in recording species observations and conservation efforts, and contains over seven million records across the state of Victoria.

The VBA is a web-based information system designed to manage information about native and naturalised species occurring in Victoria. The system includes species attribute information, including origin and conservation status, along with more than six million records of species distribution and abundance. All published records have been through the verification process including review by a panel of Victorian experts. The VBA includes data submitted to Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) from external sources as well as the Department’s own data collections from systematic surveys and general observations.

Connecting Country enters the data from our monitoring program onto the VBA. With amazing volunteer helpers, we are currently entering all historical data from our surveys and observations. This will assist the government agencies in planning and reporting on biodiversity outcomes. We hope it will result in better planning and management outcomes for biodiversity. The data from the VBA feeds into the Atlas of Living Australia, but not vice-versa, so Connecting Country recommend that all flora and fauna data is entered onto VBA first and foremost, as it will also be added to the Atlas of Living Australia. Stay tuned for our upcoming blog post about the Atlas of Living Australia.

Using the VBA

The VBA includes a dynamic list of all species found in Victoria and provides information including conservation status. There are more than seven million records of species distribution and abundance collated from many different data providers. You can use the atlas to search and map species from across the state, and check for threatened species in your area.

Adding your records to the VBA is a valuable way to influence a range of government investment, regulation and management decisions. The following video link highlights why the VBA is important. By sharing your observations in the VBA format you can contribute to statewide biodiversity planning, and help DELWP measure the progress to meeting their Biodiversity 2037 targets.

VBA have also released a mobile, simplified version for recording your general observations called VBA Go.

For more information on the VBA including videos and help guides to get you started – click here

To sign up, log in, access and contribute to the VBA – click here

To  access VBA Go – click here

 

 

The value of small patches of remnant vegetation: 14 May 2020 webinar

Posted on 7 May, 2020 by Ivan

One of the biggest challenges for restoration projects across the region is habitat fragmentation and how to manage isolated patches of remnant vegetation. Connecting Country has been working for over a decade to restore our fragmented landscape through strategic planning, and working with local landowners to help protect and restore wildlife habitat and connect areas of remnant vegetation.

Although traditionally, conserving large patches of intact habitat is considered a priority, the value of smaller patches is less clear. Connecting Countries biodiversity monitoring programs have highlighted the value of the small patches of remnant vegetation for woodland birds and the Brush-tailed Phascogale, among other species.

We discovered a useful upcoming webinar that explores the value of small patches of remnant vegetation. It is hosted by Ben Zeeman, a vegetation ecologist working at the Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority. Ben will discuss recent research examining the relevance of habitat fragmentation theory when conserving critically endangered ecosystems in highly modified landscapes. The results of this work challenge some long-held conservation principles, identifying that small habitat patches often have high ecological value.

This talk will be delivered online with time for questions and conversation at the end. Please register for the session and you will be emailed a link before the event.

Topic:           The value of small patches of remnant vegetation
Date:             14 May 2020 at 6.45 pm
Venue:          online
Host:             Ben Zeeman
To register:  click here

Agenda:

  • 6.45 pm – Livestream starts – allowing for the resolution of technical issues
  • 7.00 pm –  Ben to speak about remnant vegetation
  • 7.45 pm – Ben to take questions

Small patches of remnant vegetation are vital in connecting larger tracts (photo: Connecting Country)

 

Bird of the month: Eastern Spinebill

Posted on 23 April, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our third 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 be joining forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome any suggestions from the community. We are lucky enough 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. You may be familiar with the third bird off the ranks.

Eastern Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris)

This month has seen the return of the Eastern Spinebill to Central Victoria, as they leave higher elevations for the winter. I’ve noticed them feeding on Rock Correa around my house and Geoff Park wrote about their return on his blog, of course, accompanied by his stunning photos. This is a species that has adapted to gardens and will utilise non-native species of flowering plants, such as Salvia, in their search for nectar. Did I mention Correa, they LOVE Correa.

The Eastern Spinebill, though a Honeyeater, is arguably our local answer to the humming bird, as they have a habit of hovering whilst using their long curved bills to probe flowers. This ability means they can feed on nectar plants too delicate for birds to actually land on. In addition, they eat plants and a large assortment of insects. If you’ve read Tim Lowe’s book ‘Where Song Began’, you’ll know birds use nectar for energy, but its’ relatively low nutrient levels mean birds look to insects for minerals and other nutrients.

Pineapple Sage is a favourite of the Eastern Spinebill (photo by Damian Kelly)

 

So here’s an interesting thing: through our research on this gorgeous little honeyeater, Damian Kelly and I noticed an anomaly that we can’t get to the bottom of. The guide books say that during the summer Eastern Spinebills retreat from low elevations to higher elevations and can be found in places like the High Country. However, around mid elevations such as Cottles Bridge (north east of Melbourne VIC), they can be found all year round. Young birds are known to travel larger distances and usually appear locally before the mature adults do. However, an extensive long-term study across most of their range (from South Australia, through Victoria to New South Wales) from 1984 to 1999 involved mist netting and banding 39,572 Eastern Spinebills with a re-capture of 3,602 birds. The study discovered that 99% of re-captured birds were less than 10 km from their original banding location. In short, they had moved very little distance at all, but the same cannot be said for our local birds. It would be fascinating to know what’s going on here.

Perhaps this is a highly adaptable bird? It will nest under verandahs and utilise non-native food sources such as fuschia, move if it has to, or not if it doesn’t. For a small bird they are reasonably long lived. In the  study mentioned above, one individual was banded as an adult, then caught six more times during the study period, which means it was an adult for at least 13 years and 2 months.

I suspect there’s much going on with the Eastern Spinebill, much more than feeding on their favourite Correa and being chased across the garden by other honeyeaters, which is how we often see them. Anyone up for a PhD on Eastern Spinebills …?

To listen to the varied and lovely calls of the Eastern Spinebill, and see a map of its distribution, please – click here

The eastern spinebill is a species of honeyeater found in south-eastern Australia in forest and woodland areas, as well as gardens in urban and rural areas (photo by Damian Kelly)

 

Written by Jane Rusden
Research by Damian Kelly and Jane Rusden
Photos by Damian Kelly

 

 

 

Backyards are a beautiful bird haven: Cornell Lab

Posted on 23 April, 2020 by Ivan

Fortunately there are many online resources that can keep us learning and connected to nature, while we stay safely at home. Here are some great suggestions about how to improve your bird watching skills, using the excellent Merlin Bird ID app on your smart phone or other digital device, and via educational videos from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. A reminder though, to ensure you use Birdlife’s Birdata App, when entering your data, surveys and observations.

One of the delights of bird watching has always been that you can do it anywhere, including right at home. Take a quiet walk or enjoy a moment of reflection at your window: birds will be with you. Now is a great time to deepen your knowledge and appreciation with resources like these:

Click on the the above links and following images to access these resources.

Backyards: Still The Best Places To Go Bird Watching

Harlequin Ducks and Merlin Photo ID

Get More From Merlin Bird ID With These Powerful Features

Inside Birding

Inside Birding: How-To Videos For Learning Bird Identification

singing prothonotary warbler

Bird ID Skills: How To Learn Bird Songs And Calls

 

 

 

Checking the health of our habitat: project update

Posted on 16 April, 2020 by Ivan

In 2009, Connecting Country created a Biodiversity Blueprint with the help of the community and our partners. From the outset, scientific monitoring has been a high priority at Connecting Country. Monitoring allows us to observe changes in biodiversity over time, which gives us valuable information for ecological decision-making.

One of our monitoring priorities is the Brush-tailed Phascogale (photo by Jess Lawton)

We’ve been fortunate to have a world-class landscape ecologist, Professor Andrew Bennett, assist in creating our monitoring programs for woodland birds and the brush-tailed phascogale.

After the success of our ‘Stewards for Woodland Birds’ project, in 2018 we were delighted to announce we obtained funding from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust to support the review and transition of our monitoring programs. Habitat ‘Health Check: empowering citizen scientists to monitor habitat health in Central Victoria’ has been the project we required to transition to a citizen science model, with volunteers managed and supported by a paid Monitoring Coordinator.

Project achievements

After two years, Habitat Health Check is nearing completion. Our aim was to create a collaborative, robust, citizen science project that monitors native animals and plants in the Mount Alexander region. The project involved reviewing our four existing long-term monitoring programs: birds, nest boxes, plants, and frogs and reptiles. We then developed a new community-driven model that empowers our enthusiastic and skilled volunteers, maintains scientific rigor, and promotes online data sharing. We’re now sharing our valuable data with the community via the Visualising Victoria’s Biodiversity online portal and the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas.

During Habitat Health Check, our hardworking volunteers collected 2,280 new bird records, bringing our total bird records to over 26,000 individual bird records, and 541 records for our nest box monitoring. This is an amazing effort from our volunteers and a huge achievement for our Monitoring Coordinator. After reviewing our existing monitoring programs and running a series of community workshops, we have focused our resources and volunteer base, ensuring we have a sustainable monitoring program for the future.

Connecting Country’s Monitoring Coordinator, Jess Lawton, said: ‘We have held many workshops and meetings over the past two years to review and refine our monitoring program to ensure we make the best use of community resources, and that our work is congruent with both Connecting Country’s goals and areas of interest in the community. We value our volunteers and have included them in every stage of the development of our monitoring programs. I believe we now have a stronger and more focused program, after careful consideration of feedback from the community, volunteers and other stakeholders’.

Latest monitoring reports

Here are the most recent reports on our nest box and woodland bird monitoring:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is a joy to get out and monitor birds such as the lovely Spotted Pardalote (photo by Patrick Kavanagh)

Still time to get involved

We are still open to more volunteers for our bird and nest box monitoring programs, if you are keen to be involved in our ongoing monitoring for ecological change. Bird monitoring is conducted each winter and spring, and nest box monitoring is conducted in autumn. We’re closely monitoring the COVID-19 restrictions and will adjust our activities as required to keep everyone safe. For more details, please contact our monitoring coordinator Jess Lawton (jess@connectingcountry.org.au).

 

A mountain of monitoring data added to Visualising Victoria’s Biodiversity

Posted on 16 April, 2020 by Ivan

Connecting Country has partnered with Federation University to incorporate our monitoring data into the State Wide Integrated Flora and Fauna Teams (SWIFFT) ‘Visualising Victoria’s Biodiversity’ project, an online data portal. This will give the community, landholders and our stakeholders a chance to see how our data looks across the landscape, and will allow for easy access to the data for anyone who is interested.

With coordination by Connecting Country’s Monitoring Coordinator, Jess Lawton, the data has been submitted to SWIFFT and is expected to be available for access later this year. ‘We will be very excited to see our mountains of monitoring data on a visual platform such as VVB and we believe this will make it much easier for the community to visualise the valuable work they have been involved with for over a decade,’ said Ms Lawton.

Many beautiful birds in our region are now well documented in online databases (Yellow-tufted Honeyeater photo by Jane Rusden)

Sharing our data with SWIFFT is part of our Habitat Health Check project, funded by the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust to empower citizen scientists to monitor habitat health in central Victoria. The project is nearing completion in June 2020 and has enabled Connecting Country to review our existing biodiversity monitoring programs and transition to a sustainable model for future monitoring.

Visualising Victoria’s Biodiversity (VVB) is a place to discover and share spatial information on Victoria’s environmental values, conservation activities and research. VVB is a community resource and welcomes your feedback, input and contribution. VVB brings together existing environmental data sets and information created and managed by government agencies, organisations, community groups and individuals.

Image result for Visualising Victoria’s Biodiversity

VVB allows users to create maps and view projects (image by VVB)

 

Connecting Country is excited by the potential to represent over a decade of biodiversity monitoring data in a simple visual format. We encourage anyone wishing to share spatial information on biodiversity values from anywhere in Victoria to contact VVB to explore options for visualising your data on VVB.

The VVB provides tools to:

  • Generate a report with lists of environmental features, such as flora and fauna records, for a selected area of interest
  • view map layers of environmental features and observations in any area of Victoria.
  • Share information about your environmental project or research.

For further information on the Visualising Victoria’s Biodiversity project – click here.

VVB Report

All our Connecting Country monitoring sites will be added to the visual database (image by VVB)

 

 

Online training in wildlife acoustics

Posted on 9 April, 2020 by Ivan

Self-isolating? Unable to get out in the field or to the office as usual? Why not take advantage of this time to brush up on your recording and analysis skills? (and get some grown-up conversation if you’ve got kids at home!)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, US Company Wildlife Acoustics will be running a program of online events to help keep you sane. They are starting with some free training courses and drop-in sessions. Wildlife Acoustics create wildlife acoustic monitoring tools, specially designed to help scientists make impactful discoveries that expand our understanding of this biologically diverse planet. They are also keen to engage with the global monitoring community and ensure we can chat online, compare projects and listen to experts in their field.

Wildlife Acoustics has a full list of courses available for free online – click here. Popular courses book out quickly, but new courses are being added all the time. One of the most relevant ones for Connecting Country and our community is the following training session on Kaleidocope Pro, a suite of software tools that let you cluster, visualise and analyse wildlife recordings, and automatically identify species.

From Wildlife Acoustics:

Introduction to Kaleidoscope Pro for Birds and Land Animals

Date: Tuesday 14 April 2020

Time: 6-8 am Pacific US time, 9 am-11 am Eastern US time, 2-4 pm UK time, 3-5 pm Western European time – by our calculation this corresponds to 11 pm to 1 am in Victoria, Australia.

Are you interested in checking out Kaleidoscope Pro software for your acoustic file analysis? Have you just started to work with Kaleidoscope Pro and would like an in-depth primer on the basics of the software? Even if you are a power user of Kaleidoscope Pro there’s a good chance you’ll pick up a few new tips in this webinar. We’ll cover the basic functions of the Control Panel window. We’ll then spend time examining audio files and going through all the details of what the Viewer window has to offer. This webinar is an excellent foundation for more advanced topics such as cluster analysis and building classifiers.

 

 

 

 

Backyard science cures for boredom

Posted on 2 April, 2020 by Ivan

No doubt you have seen some great ideas of how to remain engaged and occupied during the isolation phase of the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s a very challenging time and impacts continue to spread across the globe. Connecting Country is adapting our community engagement model, to deliver some events to our audience, community and stakeholders in the comfort of their own home. Stay tuned for when we advertise these events in the coming months. We also hope to produce some videos down the track to keep everyone engaged.

We have discovered some excellent activities you can do from the safety of your own backyard and still contribute to science.  ‘The Conservation’ recently published an inspiring article. Please enjoy the following extract highlighting many useful activities and ideas to contribute to backyard science. To view the full article  –  click here.

Environmental projects need your support too

The yellow-footed antechinus (Antechinus flavipes) is a curious little marsupial (photo by Jane Rusden)

If you’d like to get your mind off COVID-19, there’s a plethora of other options for citizen scientists. You can contribute to conservation and nature recovery efforts – a task many took to after the recent bushfires. Some sites ask volunteers to digitise data from ongoing environmental monitoring programs. Contributors need no prior experience, and interpret photos taken with remote digital cameras using online guides. One example is Western Australia’s Western Shield Camera Watch, available through Zooniverse.

Other sites crowdsource volunteers to transcribe data from natural history collections (DigiVol), historical logbooks from explorers, and weather observation stations (Southern Weather Discovery).

Citizen science programs such as eBird, BirdLife Australia’s Birdata, the Australian Museum’s FrogIDClimateWatchQuestaGameNatureMapr, and the Urban Wildlife App, all have freely available mobile applications that let you contribute to ‘big’ databases on urban and rural wildlife.

Nature watching is a great self-isolation activity because you can do it anywhere, including at home. Questagame runs a series of ‘bioquests’ where people of all ages and experience levels can photograph animals and plants they encounter.

In April, we’ll also have the national Wild Pollinator Count. This project invites participants to watch any flowering plant for just ten minutes, and record insects that visit the flowers. The aim is to boost knowledge on wild pollinator activity.

The data collected through citizen science apps are used by researchers to explore animal migration, understand ranges of species, and determine how changes in climate, air quality and habitat affect animal behaviour.

This year for the first time, several Australian cities are participating in iNaturalist’s City Nature Challenge. The organisers have adapted planned events with COVID-19 in mind, and suggest ways to document nature while maintaining social distancing. You can simply capture what you can see in your backyard, or when taking a walk, or put a moth light out at night to see what it attracts.

For those at home with children, there are a variety of projects aimed at younger audiences.

From surveying galaxies to the Bird Academy Play Lab’s Games Powered By Birds – starting young can encourage a lifetime of learning.

If you’re talented at writing or drawing, why not keep a nature diary, and share your observations through a blog.

By contributing to research through digital platforms, citizen scientists offer a repository of data experts might not otherwise have access to. The Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA) website has details on current projects you can join, or how to start your own.

Apart from being a valuable way to pass time while self-isolating, citizen science reminds us of the importance of community and collaboration at a time it’s desperately needed.

 

Local bird watching in a time of isolation

Posted on 2 April, 2020 by Ivan

Right now, the best thing we can do to help stop the alarming spread of coronavirus is to stay home as much as we can. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find pleasure in nature or practice our bird watching skills. Autumn is a lovely time to be exploring our ecological assets and watching our birds, while still practicing isolation and safe social distancing.

Connecting Country’s bird survey Group Sites could be just the thing for those of you local to the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria, by combining some bush time and exercise. Connecting Country has a number of bird survey sites located on public land, for the public to survey any time they wish. They’re all known to have interesting species present. If you’re lucky you might see birds like Hooded Robins, Diamond Fire Tails or Painted Button Quail.

Diamond Firetail has been spotted at our group sites (photo by Geoff Park)

The Connecting Country Group Sites are all on public land, and are perfect for 2 hectare – 20 minute area counts. You can find them on the Connecting Country website – click here.

Group sites encourage people to establish survey sites that other birdwatchers can visit, to optimise the amount of data that can be generated at individual sites. These group sites have been created in partnership with BirdLife Australia and developed with the beginner in mind. If you need a refresher on survey techniques or monitoring using the 2 hectare – 20 minute area count, please visit the BirdLife website – click here.

We also came across this excellent article in the Guardian newspaper, which mentions that we may be stuck indoors but the skies are a source of ornithological wonder. Experts reveal what’s out there, where to look and how to get competitive about it. For details – click here.

You don’t need all the gear in the world to go birdwatching, just binoculars and a field guide (photo by Connecting Country)

 

 

 

 

Take a guess….how many Eltham Copper Butterflies did we see last summer?

Posted on 2 April, 2020 by Ivan

The Eltham Copper Butterfly (ECB) is one of our most treasured and interesting threatened species, and we are fortunate enough to have the largest population in the world right here in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. In the past 12 months, the special little butterfly has attracted much-needed attention, attracting funding for three separate projects in our region.

Connecting Country obtained funding from the Mount Alexander Shire Council to increase community awareness and education regarding the butterfly, and to support citizen science monitoring in key locations to learn more about the local populations. We worked closely with local ecologists Elaine Bayes and Karl Just, who with support from Wettenhall Environment Trust continued their vital work on mapping local Eltham Copper Butterfly habitat and distribution. We also joined in the excellent Butterfly Celebration Day held in Castlemaine Botanical Gardens in November 2019. Our hope is that all Castlemaine residents now know about this amazing threatened species living on their doorstep!

Connecting Country delivered a popular community education workshop, and worked with ecologists Elaine and Karl to promote and coordinate four community monitoring sessions for Eltham Copper Butterfly around Castlemaine VIC over November 2019 to January 2020, when the adult butterflies were out and about (for details – click here). These events attracted excellent numbers of people keen to learn more about the life cycle of this butterfly and to participate in butterfly monitoring within local butterfly habitat. The aim was to support interested community members to learn how to monitor with expert guidance, providing skills for them to become citizen scientists, conduct more monitoring and (potentially) discover new populations.

Well, the results are in, the numbers crunched and the maps produced! We now have some great insight our local Eltham Copper Butterfly populations, including previously unexplored areas of potential butterfly habitat. In total 113 individual Eltham Copper Butterflies were observed in the prime flying period between 15 November 2019 and the 3 January 2020.

Monitoring results

Our monitoring experts, Elaine Bayes and Karl Just, provided the following summary of the results, accompanied by a very detailed and useful map of the areas they visited:

  • The monitoring team searched, ranked and mapped all of Kalimna Park (170 hectares) for butterfly habitat in November 2019. Time spent to carry out rapid assessment was 48 hours.
  • This work determined that out of 170 ha of Kalimna Park, 73.25 ha was classified as prime potential Eltham Copper Butterfly habitat (i.e., medium or high quality Sweet Bursaria habitat).
  • Using Eltham Copper Butterfly habitat mapping, the team searched areas that were determined to have good butterfly habitat potential. Using this method the group located five new Eltham Copper Butterfly sub-populations and extended the area of known Eltham Copper Butterfly occupancy from 3 ha to 8 ha.
  • In total 113 individual Eltham Copper Butterflies were observed in the prime flying period between 15 November 2019 and the 3 January 2020 (some of which may have been double-counted from resurveying same area).
  • The total survey effort or time spent searching for butterflies in this period was 187 hours.

More about wonderful Eltham Copper Butterfly

Castlemaine’s Kalimna Park is home to the largest remaining population of the threatened Eltham Copper Butterfly in the world. To learn more about this fascinating little butterfly, including ecology, distribution and information on how to identify this species from similar look-alike butterflies – click here. Please enjoy the video below, courtesy of the N-danger-D Youtube Channel, that has some excellent footage of this wonderful butterfly and symbiotic ant species.

We would like to thank the Mount Alexander Shire Council and Wettenhall Environment Trust for providing the funding for these projects. We hope to continue to monitor Eltham Copper Butterfly and implement management actions to help our local butterfly populations thrive over the next decade and beyond. 

 

 

Frogging on

Posted on 31 March, 2020 by Frances

Autumn is a great time for frogs and recording frogs using the excellent FrogID app developed by the Australian Museum. The Mount Alexander region is home to around ten native frog species. Perhaps you have some frogs in your backyard, property or local dam that you can visit safely while adhering to current safety isolation requirements.

We know that the reduction of permitted leisure activities is presenting challenges – so here are some froggy suggestions from the FrogID team to help make the most of your time at home:

  • Record frogs in your back yard: if you already have frogs in your garden or property then we want you to record them daily if they are calling. Send those records in, our validation team are working from home and are keen to hear your submissions. If government advice has not changed, record frogs on your daily walk, whilst maintaining physical distance from others.
  • Download an activity sheet: if you have children looking for a fun activity, we have a fantastic activity sheet you can download – click here. There is a quiz, colouring in, and other cool activities. It’s all set up for you to print from home!
  • Explore the FrogID app or website: the FrogID app and website have hundreds of species profiles for all of Australia’s frogs, you can play their calls, view pictures and learn all about where they live and how they breed.
  • Build a frog habitat in your garden: for those who want to get your hands dirty and don’t yet have a frog pond, this could be a good time to start. Upcycle that old bathtub, recycle some old downpipes, create an oasis for your froggy friends. Don’t forget to record any frogs once they arrive, and send in pictures of your garden with your submissions on the FrogID app.

To learn more about the FrogID app see our previous post (click here) or download the FrogID app (click here).

Our Director, Frances recently spotted this handsome Spotted Marsh Frog.

Spotted Marsh Frog (photo by Frances Howe)

 

 

Tanya’s tawny tales: a good news story

Posted on 27 March, 2020 by Ivan

We were thrilled to receive a well-written story from our former superstar staff member, Tanya Loos, about the journey of a Tawny Frogmouth. Tawny Frogmouths are often confused with owls, but are actually more closely related to the nightjars. Tanya gives us a great insight into these magnificent creatures and the journey of a special Tawny’s road to recovery. Please enjoy the following words and photos from Tanya.

The question I am most frequently asked is ‘I have found a bird that seems to be hurt – what should I do?’ It is always the same answer – capture the bird using a tea towel or towel, and place into an appropriately sized cardboard box. Then pop the box in a quiet room away from pets and people – and call a wildlife rescue number for assistance.

Usually it is a friend or local person – but a couple of weeks ago I got ‘the question’ via text from my teenage nephew! Heart burst moment! Nephew and Mum had seen a bird on the road in Hepburn – an owl they thought, that wasn’t flying away.

The owl turned out to be a Tawny Frogmouth – a much loved night bird that is commonly found in local forests and gardens. Even though Tawnies are brownish grey in colour, like owls, with big round eyes, like owls, they are quite different , and in a completely different bird family.

Owls (Strigidae family) are predators who hunt and kill their prey with their huge fierce talons. Tawny Frogmouths capture their prey – mice, frogs, and insects with their beaks. Their feet are strangely weak, without big claws, and are used only for perching.

In Australia, we have three species of Frogmouth in the Podargidae family – the Tawny which is found all over the country, and the Papuan and Marbled Frogmouths which are found in Cape York and southeast Queensland.

Another difference between owls and Frogmouths is that Frogmouths are masters of camouflage, with finely patterned feathers, who adopt a special ‘broken stick’ posture, where the Frogmouths close their eyes and point their heads up to the sky. Owls never do this.

One of the golden rules of wildlife rescue is that if an animal survives and can be released, it must be released where it was found. Animals such as Tawny Frogmouth have specific territories or home ranges – where they know where the best places to find food are, the best sleeping (roosting) sites and nesting sites. This area is also where their mates or family members are! Our family Tawny was taken to a wildlife carer in Gisborne – and after a week or two, I travelled down to see if the bird was ready for release.

In the picture you can see the loving hands of Lynda the wildlife carer as she was checking whether Tawny’s wings were strong enough to fly. You can also see that the feathers are slightly brown – which means she is a female bird! The males are completely grey – a lovely ash colour, with the same fine patterning.

Tawny Frogmouths are often confused with owls, but are actually more closely related to the nightjars (photo by Tanya Loos)

 

Tawny wasn’t ready then, but yesterday Lynda texted me saying that Tawny has made a full recovery and is now ready to go back to her Hepburn forest.

The car collision must have been a mild one. Sadly this is the exception – as animal loving folks know – death by car is all too common. Driving slowly and carefully at night, dusk and dawn is the only solution.

To contact Wildlife Victoria phone: (03) 8400 7300 – and they will refer you to one of the many local wildlife carers in our region.

by Tanya Loos

 

Connecting Country still hard at work!

Posted on 25 March, 2020 by Frances

Koala at Moonlight Flat (photo by Frances Howe)

Here at Connecting Country we take our social responsibility seriously, and while there are landscapes and people needing our help, we continue to operate and support our community. However, it may be in a slightly different format to normal to reduce infection risk.

In the interests of health and safety, all our staff are working from home as much as possible. Therefore our office at the Hub is temporarily closed. However, you can still contact us via phone or email. If there’s no answer on the office phone, please leave a message and we’ll get back to you. Our operating hours are unchanged: 8.30 am to 4.30 pm Monday to Thursday.

We are reworking our planned community events, converting them to online workshop format or postponing to later in the year. We’re reviewing our other activities with the aim of continuing our important work where possible without risking the health of our staff or community. Although some tasks will not be possible, there is much we can still do.

We will be adaptable and stay focussed until we all come through the other side of this difficult time.

We appreciate your support in helping keep our community and environment healthy! Please enjoy our favourite video below, from Remember the Wild, about our Woodland Bird Program.

 

Bird of the month: Australian Owlet-nightjar

Posted on 25 March, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our second-ever Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’ll be taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to be joining forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome any suggestions from the community and our supporters. We are lucky enough to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with some assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly. You may be familiar with the second bird off the ranks.

Australian Owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus)

The Australian Owlet-nightjar almost looks like a sugar glider, very cute with huge dark eyes peering from a hollow. Well known local author and photographer, Damian Kelly, has been trying for several years to photograph the resident Owlet-nightjars on my property as they soak up sun in their hollow entrance. However, they seem to know when he is coming and vanish.

Until recently, when he finally managed to coax the two birds at my place into modelling for him. Thanks for the photo Damian. The Owlet-nightjar is a near ground level, small and agile, insect and spider hunter, who emerges on dark often to drink and then search for prey. They will take prey on the wing, by pouncing from a low perch or running along the ground. So if you’ve got too many spiders for your liking, install a couple of nest boxes for Owlet-nightjars as they love them.

The Australian Owlet-nightjar is one of Australia’s most widespread nocturnal birds (photo by Jane Rusden)

The Australian owlet-nightjar is colloquially known as the moth owl (photo by Damien Kelly)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interestingly they are neither owl nor nightjar, but blend of these two, and a distinct species. Around their small bill and wide mouth are long rictal bristles for nocturnal hunting, reminiscent of nightjars. Like owls they have a round head and huge forward-facing eyes. Unlike nightjars, the eyes of the Owlet-Nightjar do not reflect light and they can be a very hard bird to see at night. Both male and female birds look indistinguishable, although the female can be slightly larger by 2-5%, which is impossible to actually see. Mostly they appear soft mottled grey with darker head stripes running back from the eyes middle of the head. If you see a rufous coloured Owlet-nightjar, it is most likely female.

Immature birds look almost the same as their parents, which is a nice change when you are trying to identify birds, as in many species they can look quite different. This species, thought relativity common in Box Ironbark Forest, can be incredibly difficult to find and see. They have a habit of dropping low in their hollow and out of sight before we’re aware of them.

Occasionally you may be lucky enough to see one that has flushed and is perched on a branch, but your best hope is in a hollow in just about anything from trees, to rocks, to buildings, usually not overly high up. I started putting up nest boxes when our resident bird tried to roost amongst tools in the back of the ute for several days! This year I discovered two Owlet-nightjars habitually roosting about 200 meters apart. The photos show the one in the nest box and the one in the tree hollow. Damian’s research found that pairs mate for life, but reside in nearby hollows.

Owlet-nightjars are often heard though rarely seen (photo by Jane Rusden)

 

They will have a dozen or more hollows they use over their home ranges of up to 80 hectares. I wonder if the two I see every day are a mated pair?

To listen to the varied and lovely calls of the Australian owlet-nightjar, please – click here

 

Words by Jane Rusden
Research material contributed by Damian Kelly
Photos by Damian Kelly and Jane Rusden

 

Prickly plants providing homes for wildlife

Posted on 19 March, 2020 by Ivan

Eucalyptus trees, their abundant nectar-rich flowers and the hollows that develop in older trees are typical habitat elements that spring to mind when thinking about wildlife habitat in Box-Ironbark Forests and woodlands. While these overstorey habitat elements are important, we also know that a diversity of understorey plant species are necessary for healthy resilient local forests and woodlands. And importantly for wildlife, this layer of vegetation within our local forests, gives protection, food and places to nest for many species of insects, small mammals, reptiles and birds, allowing them to survive and reproduce, and disperse through the landscape.

From clearing and disturbance that occured during the goldrush, the introduction of grazing animals over time, and invasive plants and animals, understorey plants have been lost or have greatly decreased in distribution and regeneration success throughout our landscape. This loss of species diversity reduces the complexity of habitats and their ability to respond, or bounce back from threats such as climate change.

Thankfully Connecting Country have secured funding over the past few years to return a suite of these understorey plants (many of which are prickly) to our region through landholder support and education to restore these vital species.

The most recent project supporting this work is ‘Prickly Plants for Wildlife on Small Properties’. The main focus of this two-year project is assisting landholders on smaller properties who may have missed out on previous Connecting Country projects that typically targeted larger properties (>10 Ha).

Connecting Country staff met with landholders who expressed interest in restoring the bush on their property, to assess the vegetation, identify threats and provide tubestock plants of local species suitable for their vegetation type. Where older eucalypts with hollows were lacking within the bush on these properties nestboxes were installed for species such as Brush-tailed Phascogale, Owlet Nightjar and microbats. This project is generously funded by the North Central Catchment Management Authority to improve the health and management of our landscape.

 

Landholders in the Mount Alexander region of Victoria have planted local indigenous species of understorey appropriate for their vegetation type.

 

Microbats were provided with homes through installation of nestboxes on properties lacking natural tree hollows.

 

 

 

Who’s who in the Connecting Country zoo: Asha

Posted on 18 March, 2020 by Ivan

What motivated you to join Connecting Country?

While studying environmental science at Deakin Uni, we learned about habitat fragmentation and the importance of landscape connectivity. So, when I heard about a project called ‘Connecting Landscapes’ happening in my own hometown, I had to learn more! I came along to one of Connecting Country’s birdwatching workshops, met some amazing people, and I was hooked. Working at Connecting Country gives me the opportunity to do meaningful, rewarding work in close partnership with our community to care for our precious local environment. I am a strong believer in the power of community when it comes to land management and conservation.

What have you learnt from your time at Connecting Country?

So much! I learn new skills every day from the other staff on our team and from the Landcare volunteers I work with. Also, working with our local Landcare groups has affirmed for me just how much community groups of volunteers can achieve (answer: a lot!).

Which projects do you manage at Connecting Country?

I have been working as the Mount Alexander Region Landcare Facilitator for just over four years now. During this time I have also managed various other projects, such as reptile and frog monitoring and nest box monitoring projects.

However, I am taking six months unpaid leave from mid-March 2020 to go travelling. During this time Jacqui will be our Landcare Facilitator.

How did you first become interested in our natural environment and our unique ecosystems?

I was lucky enough to spend lots of time in nature with my family when I was young, bushwalking and exploring different places in our local area and elsewhere. I also have fond memories from studying biology at school – looking at aquatic macroinvertebrates from the dam next to campus under the microscope made me realise there’s a whole lot going on out there that we don’t often see. It changed how I looked at the world and made me want to learn more about environmental science.

How do you spend your time away from work?

When I’m not at work I love going birdwatching, camping at Leanganook, or playing a good board game with friends.

What is your all-time favourite music album, and why? 

‘Take care, take cover’ by The Mae Trio. Songs like ‘Heart of a storm’ perfectly describes for me the feeling of relief of getting back to nature when you really need it.

What is your favourite place to visit in our region and why?

There was a site in Glenluce where I did bird surveys during my Honours that was smack bang in the middle of the bush. During spring it came alive with wildflowers, and it is the only place so far I’ve been lucky enough to see a Painted Button-quail.

Favourite movie?

The first one that comes to mind is ‘Ever after’, because I have watched it many times! It’s a nostalgic one from my childhood, but I also loved rediscovering this interpretation of the story as an adult.

 

We wish Asha a fantastic break while she’s away on six months leave from mid-March 2020. During this time, Jacqui Slingo of Connecting Country is our Landcare Facilitator for the Mount Alexander Region.

 

Connecting Country upskill on Climate Future Plots

Posted on 12 March, 2020 by Ivan

We’re very proud of what we do at Connecting Country. After a decade of landscape restoration, we have helped restore 9,500 hectares of habitat, equating to around 6% of the Mount Alexander Shire. We know this is only the beginning, and more is needed to provide vital habitat, vegetation, education and monitoring across our region for years to come. We also know that we must keep learning and updating our skill set to adapt to climate change and the likely scenarios that will occur across our region.

It was with great excitement that some staff members attended a recent Climate Future Labs workshop in Bendigo. The workshop was hosted by Greening Australia and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP). Greening Australia and DELWP have been working with a range of organisations to develop guidelines for community groups and agencies to improve the resilience of plants in your neighbourhood by planting Climate Future Plots.

What are Climate Future Plots?

Climate Future Plots are simply areas of revegetated and restored land that include plant species that already occur naturally in the area, but also include plants of the same species from other areas with different climates. This genetic mixing helps increase the capacity of the plants in our natural environment to adapt to a changing climate. As the climate changes, these plant communities will be better equipped to change with it. By including a mixture of local and climate pre-adapted plant genotypes (such as seed from hotter and drier, or cooler and wetter climates) the plots aim to enhance the resilience of natural landscapes to the changing climate. Through monitoring, we will also have more accurate information to actively inform future restoration and biodiversity conservation management.

Climate Future Plots are valuable because they:

  • Develop climate-resilient habitat by creating natural areas that maintain ecosystem function in uncertain climate scenarios.
  • Act as nursery sites due to their high genetic diversity.
  • Enable testing of predictions and proposed management strategies under a changing climate.
  • Inform future adaptive management by showing how species respond to climate interventions.
  • Enable community engagement and awareness by providing opportunities to work together.

 

Connecting Country and Climate Future Plots

Connecting Country have conducted strategic revegetation across hundreds of properties in our region. We found the Climate Future Plots training and guide an excellent resource for our future activities and climate-proof revegetation projects.

Restoration Coordinator at Connecting Country, Bonnie Humphreys, said ‘This workshop provided us with a guide to how to plan revegetation under a changing climate, including working out what our future climate will look like, and how to select the appropriate species and provenances to plant’. ‘It is important that we plan our habitat restoration practices in line with future climate predictions, based on the best science we have available,’ said Ms Humphreys.

While the guide is a great resource, it will still require a lot of planning to coordinate and implement the guidelines. Our staff and committee are urgently seeking funding to start implementing the guide, and expand our networks so we can source suitable provenances of plants and seeds. Once we secure funding, we will start work on planning and constructing Climate Future Plots in the Mount Alexander region.

Guidelines

A copy of the ‘Establishing Victoria’s Ecological Infrastructure: A Guide to Creating Climate Future Plots’ is available online for downloaded – click here.

The purpose of the guide is to provide a step-by-step process for organisations and community groups to plan, establish and monitor Climate Future Plots, and to establish a network of climate-resilient plant communities across Victoria and ideally nationally.

Here are some highlights from our revegetation program, which have survived well in the recent extreme weather, so far (photos by Connecting Country)

 

 

Talking sludge with Susan Lawrence – 13 March 2020

Posted on 5 March, 2020 by Frances

Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club are hosting Susan Lawrence talking about ‘Sludge: An Environmental History of the Gold Rush’ on 13 March 2020.

The gold rush was one of the defining episodes in Australian history and has left a rich legacy in culture, architecture and archaeology. Many of the stories are well-known but the profound environmental disruption associated with the gold rush is all but forgotten. For decades a deluge of sand, silt and gravel poured from the mines. New research is showing how one hundred years later the effects of the sludge continue to shape Victoria’s rivers and floodplains. It has implications for the management of cultural heritage, river remediation programs, catchment management, public health and debates about how people and environments interact.

Prof. Susan Lawrence is an archaeologist at La Trobe University, Melbourne. She has nearly thirty years’ experience working on sites all over Australia, including Tasmanian whaling stations and South Australian farms. She is the author of several books and has published internationally on gender, artefact studies, urban archaeology, colonialism, and industrial archaeology. Susan is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Society of Antiquaries of London. Her most recent book is Sludge: Disaster on Victoria’s Goldfields (Black Inc/La Trobe University Press 2019), co-authored with Peter Davies.

Castlemaine Field Naturalists meet monthly at 7.30 pm in the Fellowship Room behind Castlemaine Uniting Church, 24 Lyttleton St, Castlemaine VIC.

Visit their website for more information – click here

 

Clean up Australian Day: Sunday 1 March 2020

Posted on 27 February, 2020 by Ivan

Clean up Australia is happening this Sunday 1 March 2020, including at eight locations across the Castlemaine region in central Victoria. Clean Up Australia inspires and empowers communities to clean up, fix up and conserve our environment. What was started 30 years ago, by an ‘average Australian bloke’ who had a simple idea to make a difference in his own backyard. It has now become the nation’s largest community-based environmental event. It is hard to believe that this initiative began as the inspiration of one man, Ian Kiernan.

An avid sailor, Ian was shocked and disgusted by the pollution and rubbish that he continually encountered in the oceans of the world. Taking matters into his own hands, Ian organised a community event with the support of a committee of friends, including co-founder Kim McKay AO. This simple idea ignited an enthusiasm and desire among the local community to get involved and make a difference. And surely if a capital city could be mobilized into action, then so could the whole nation! And so it was that Clean Up Australia Day was born in 1990.

Local working bees in our region, include:


The best way to get involved in a cleanup activity is to view the map of all working bees (click here), where you can search via postcodes and townships. You can also create a cleanup event working bee, which is really awesome, and fundraise for your event if required. 

 

 

 

 

Gorse management info session: 21 March 2020

Posted on 27 February, 2020 by Ivan

Our partners at Sutton Grange Landcare Group have teamed up with the Victorian Gorse Task Force (VGT) to deliver an information session on Gorse (Ulex europaeus). Gorse is a species of flowering plant in the pea family (Fabaceae). It’s native to the British Isles and Western Europe, and has spread over 23 million hectares in Australia.

Join the Victorian Gorse Taskforce (VGT) at the information session with the Sutton Grange Landcare group on Saturday 21 of March 2020, held in the Sutton Grange Hall (921 Faraday-Sutton Grange Rd, Sutton Grange VIC ). There will be information about the role of the Victorian Gorse Taskforce, a chance to chat with their Extension Officer, information on best practice gorse management and refreshments to finish.

RSVP to Brydie Murrihy on 0428 335 705

For more information please contact:
Brydie Murrihy (VGT Extension Officer)
m. 0428 335 705
e. VGT@cva.org.au
or
Christine Brooke (Sutton Grange Landcare)
e. sglg@live.com

The Victorian Gorse Taskforce was formed in 1999 and launched a community-led integrated approach to reducing gorse across the landscape. VGT members include local people who have successfully controlled gorse on their land, as well as natural resource management, agricultural, pest management and other experts. We work with private landowners and public land managers such as the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, local councils and catchment management authorities. We also work with researchers exploring new ways to tackle gorse.

Please enjoy the video below by the VGT, that outlines the impacts of Gorse across Victoria.