Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Nestbox workshop – a sweet success!

Posted on 17 May, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Connecting Country’s Nestboxes for Wildlife workshop on Sunday 6 May 2018 was blessed with fine weather, a great presenter, and sightings of a little sugar glider family via our special nestbox camera. The workshop was held at a local Trust for Nature property owned by Jan Hall, a long-time Connecting Country friend and supporter. Jan kindly opened her home so we could view a presentation inside, and enjoy an al fresco lunch under the grapevines.

Our presenter, Miles Geldard, has had a long career in natural resource management, including working as a Land for Wildlife Officer and park ranger. But most relevant for us, Miles shared his in-depth understanding of the design, construction, installation and maintenance of nestboxes, gained over many years of observation and trail-and-error.

Information from Miles’ presentation will be summarised and made available as a fact sheet on our website.

Here is some of the wonderful feedback we received following the workshop:

  • ‘Loved the day. Will inspire us to put some boxes up on our 7.5 acres.’
  • ‘The finer points from Miles’ experience were very helpful.’
  • ‘Loved the ad hoc discussion in the field of what’s happening with the boxes. Damage, placement, etc.’
  • ‘Learnt new things about nesting boxes (been making them for thirty years).’

This workshop was very popular and was fully booked. Therefore we are holding a repeat workshop on Sunday 17 June 2018. Bookings are essential. If you would like to attend, please contact us by email ( or phone (5472 1594).

Many thanks to Miles, Jan, Asha, Frances and Duncan for their help on the day! And many thanks to the Wettenhall Environment Trust for the funding that made this workshop possible.
Please enjoy this gallery of photos from the afternoon.





Eastern Yellow Robin Talk – Thursday 31 May 2018

Posted on 16 May, 2018 by Tanya Loos

All are welcome to join Lana Austin of Monash University in Newstead next week as she unpacks the bizarre genetic story of what is known (and not known) about the Eastern Yellow Robin. Lana will also explain how volunteers can participate in this fascinating genetic study.

When:  Thursday 31 May, 2018 at 7 pm
Where: Newstead Community Centre: the Mechanics Hall (Lyons St, Newstead VIC)

This is a free event, with no need to book!

We featured the Eastern Yellow Robin project on the blog last week – read the story here if you missed it.  And click here for a poster about the event.

A stunning Eastern Yellow Robin, photo by Geoff park. Wonder which genotype THIS one is?!?



Learning about caring for large old trees

Posted on 3 May, 2018 by Tanya Loos

On Saturday 28 April 2018, over 30 people gathered at the Guildford Saddle Club to learn about the value and care of our old eucalypt trees. This was a joint Connecting Country and Mount Alexander Shire event, and part of the council’s Sustainable Living Series. Tanya Loos (Connecting Country) was the presenter, and we also heard from Bonnie Humphreys (Connecting Country), Kylie Stafford (Mount Alexander Shire Council) and Bev Philips (Maldon Urban Landcare Group). One of the participants, Vicki Webb kindly volunteered to write this post about the workshop. Thanks Vicki, and to all involved in this most successful workshop. Further information about caring for large old trees will be posted on the Connecting Country website in the next couple of weeks. 

Bev is dwarfed by a huge and healthy grey box. Photo by Bonnie Humphreys.

Is there anything old eucalypts can’t do? They are a keystone habitat structure in Mt Alexander Shire, providing resources critical to species diversity – that was the message from Connecting Country on a perfect-autumn-day workshop under the box gums at the Guildford Saddle Club.

Just about all parts of these majestic trees sustain a huge number of mammal, bird, reptile and insect species. Hollows in the trunk, branches and dead stumps provide shelter and nesting sites. The tough leaves are a source of food, moisture and shelter. Flowers, buds and nuts feed a large variety of species. The bark shelters bats and insects. And at the end of the tree’s life, it decomposes and provides nutrients for the soil and trees of the future.

I’d heard that hollows take at least 100 years to develop, but was amazed to learn that up to five centuries are required to form a hollow large enough to host a powerful owl or black cockatoo nest. And if we want a diverse range of species on our land, we need habitat that has at least three and up to ten trees old enough to form hollows for each hectare.

 We came along to learn what we can do to help our trees reach these kinds of phenomenal ages. An important message was not to fuss too much. Tree health is largely determined by soil, and falling branches and leaf litter should be left in place as habitat and natural fertiliser. We should avoid adding fertiliser, to avoid nutrient overload. However, we can actively assist nutrient cycling by planting deep-rooted perennials like native lilies and grasses around the tree’s drip line.

Some people said they try to help their eucalypts by removing remove native mistletoe, which takes hold in trees already under stress. We learned that this parasitic plant actually provides valuable resources such as prime foraging and nesting sites for birds such as the diamond firetail, as well as providing fruit, nectar and nutrient-rich leaves to feed a host of other species.

We learnt that echidna mothers find piles of woody debris of sticks, branches and leaves the perfect place to leave their young while they forage in their territory for days at a time. This message was very timely for me … just a few days later I spotted my resident echidna burrowing into the pile in my yard left over from fire season preparations, and destined for the mulcher. It hadn’t occurred to me that piles like these should be dismantled before burning, otherwise the puggles (baby echidnas) will have no chance of escape. Even better, woody debris can be left in place to create habitat for woodland birds before decomposing into the soil, or put into a dam to help create wetland habitat. I’m more than happy for my ‘mulch pile’ to remain in place as some choice habitat.

This workshop reminded me of how important our old eucalypts are, and has inspired me to make sure this precious resource is well looked after on my property.

Vicki Webb, landholder from Sandon


Eastern Yellow Robin – more than meets the eye!

Posted on 2 May, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Monash University is conducting an amazing study on the genetics of a local woodland bird, the Eastern yellow robin right here on our doorstep in the Muckleford and Newstead forests. Lana Austin from Monash University is living in the Newstead area and coordinating volunteers for mist netting of Eastern yellow robins, and wild observation of banded robins. Lana introduces the project below.

Information evening and local bird banding project

Eastern yellow robins. A common woodland species. Not endangered. No fancy breeding displays. Easy to spot. So why is Monash University putting so much effort into following every move of these birds?

Well, it turns out they are more remarkable than once thought.

Recently we discovered two unexpected genetic lineages in our familiar robins. These lineages lie neatly to the east and west of the Great Dividing Range. While they are genetically distinct, even with the best pair of Swarovski binoculars the two lineages look exactly the same to the human eye.

Here’s where it gets really interesting. Along the east and west boundary there are sites where the two genetic lineages coexist (e.g., Muckleford State Forest, Crusoe Reservoir, Bendigo). So, they are hanging out together but maintaining ‘genetic purity’. This means that while we can’t see the difference, the birds can.

We are witnessing the Eastern yellow robins split into two species!

This raises some interesting questions. How do the robins know that a potential mate is the same genetic lineage? What happens when they mate with a different lineage? Would they prefer to mate with a different lineage, or not at all? How successful are the hybrid offspring?

Later in May (date being finalised), Lana will be giving  a presentation  as she unpacks what is known (and not known) about the Eastern yellow robin. Volunteers are most welcome to join the field team from the 5-10 May on their colour banding project. Email for more information.

For info on the Eastern Yellow Robin Project website click here 


Homes for birds and mammals: nest box workshop Sunday 6 May 2018

Posted on 26 April, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Are you considering enhancing your property by adding a few homes for wildlife? Rosellas, pardalotes, kookaburras and owlet-nightjars will readily use nest boxes. Many mammals will use them too, including possums, bats, sugar gliders and brush-tailed phascogales!

Autumn is an ideal time of year to install nest boxes, according to Miles Geldard, who has designed and constructed thousands of nest boxes. Animals are seeking warm and secure homes before winter.

If you already own nest boxes, or want to set some up on your property, come along to an afternoon workshop with Miles and Connecting Country in McKenzie Hill, near Castlemaine.

A Tuan in a nest box, by Jess Lawton


Sunday 6 May 2018 from 12:00 midday to 3:30 pm

Miles Geldard shares his extensive knowledge on the design, construction, installation and monitoring of nest boxes for wildlife

Includes light lunch, indoor presentation and nestbox check using a special camera

We will also have a very special door prize for a lucky attendee!

Connecting Country has an extensive nest box monitoring program. We encourage any landholders who are hosting some of the 400 nest boxes in the region to attend! For more on our nest box program click here.

Please RSVP including any dietary requirements by 2 May 2018 by email ( or phone (5472 1594).




Birdata app and portal – an exciting new step

Posted on 19 April, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Recording bird surveys has just become much easier for a lot of keen bird people in our local area! Last Friday (13 April), over 20 bird survey volunteers gathered at the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens Tea Rooms to hear about BirdLife Australia’s smartphone app and bird data website.

Andrew Silcocks from BirdLife Australia manages the Bird Atlas – a comprehensive map of the distribution and numbers of Australian birds. Over the course of three very enjoyable hours, we learned how our data collection helps in bird conservation, how to use the very user-friendly app, and how to examine bird information on the portal known at Birdata.

And we were all very happy to hear Chris Timewell, BirdLife Australia’s Woodland Bird Project Coordinator (formerly Director of Connecting Country), present on the Birds on Farms research project. A separate blog post about the Birds on Farms project will follow soon.

Andrew Silcocks and Chris Timewell from BirdLife Australia


Connecting Country has been an affiliate organisation of BirdLife Australia since 2015. The two organisations are both bird mad (of course!), and collect and share bird data with one another. Connecting Country’s long term monitoring program has sent BirdLife over 20,000 individual records for their Birdata bird mapping project, and we have also extracted data from BirdLife to help with our reporting.

The Birdata app 

The feedback from participants was wonderful! The app is surprisingly easy to use – the phone finds your location, then you give it a site name, add the survey information such as the type of survey, and then simply start counting birds! So for those of you who were unable to attend the workshop, the following comments may encourage you to visit the Birdata website, download the app and have a go!

‘Really clearly explained, and I found the app easy to use’

‘I used Birdata extensively up until about 2 years ago so this provided a valuable update’

‘I had never previously used this app but I now feel very confident to conduct and submit surveys’

‘Opened my eyes to the power of the app AND the portal’.

To download the app click here. In the help section of the Birdata website here, there are short instructional YouTube videos and printed information on the portal and the app. These also might be useful for those of you who attended the workshop and would like a refresher.

The Birdata portal

The Birdata website is referred to as a portal. Once you are logged in, you can see your surveys and all your data. You can edit and change surveys you have done, such as correct a misidentified bird or refine the location.

You can also share your surveys with other people, such as on social media or by email. Any person doing bird surveys for one of our ‘official’ monitoring programs (such as the KBA monitoring, the Perkins surveys, or the Connecting Country sites) can send their data directly to BirdLife using the app if they wish. This saves on time and double handling. However, also emailing a copy of your surveys to us here at Connecting Country will help with keeping track of our bird survey program. Of course, those people who wish to stay with the old pen and paper method are most welcome to do so!

A fantastic feature of the portal is the ability to generate an up-to-the-minute bird list of any area of any size simply by drawing a polygon on the Birdata map. I used this function today to supply a bird list to Sutton Grange Landcare group. See the ‘Explore’ button on the portal for this feature.

Many many thanks to Andrew Silcocks for such an enjoyable and informative workshop! We would also like to thanks the Wettenhall Environment Trust for funding the workshop.

Say ‘swift parrot’! Workshop attendees were all smiles on a beautiful autumn day.






Workshop: the ecology and care of large old eucalypts – 28 April 2018

Posted on 17 April, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Large old trees, their ecology and care –  a two hour workshop in Guildford on Saturday 28 April. This short workshop will be presented by Tanya Loos from Connecting Country in partnership with the Mount Alexander Shire Council. It includes a walk through the Guildford Recreation reserve.

Our old eucalypts are incredibly valuable to local fauna. Studies show koalas prefer large old trees as their branches are broad and comfortable. Old trees are superior nectar producers to their young cousins, with masses of blossom providing abundant nectar to honeyeaters, bees and flying foxes. Their seed production is better too, with old trees producing more and better quality seed.

And then there are the hollows! Hundreds of animal species cannot survive without the hollows that large old trees provide. Possums, sugar gliders, bats, rosellas, owls, geckos and many more critters need hollows to shelter and to raise young.

A magnificent candlebark on Yapenya ( Mount Barker)

So come along and find out how we can care for these living treasures! We’ll discuss the mistletoe question (answer: leave it!), what large old trees really can’t stand, and what to plant beneath large old trees to keep them healthy and happy.

Saturday 28 April 2018 at 10:30 am – 12:30 pm

Please book or make inquiries through Mount Alexander Shire Council:  call 54711700, or


Historic gum trees of Maldon – Nature News April 2018

Posted on 12 April, 2018 by Tanya Loos

April’s Nature News was written by Sarah Edwards, who completed her internship at Connecting Country, and Bev Phillips from Maldon Urban Landcare Group.  This story featured in the Midland Express on 10 April 2018.

If you want to explore some of the ‘living treasures’ featured in this month’s Nature News, Bev Phillips is leading a walk for a Maldon Focus Quarterly Conversation on Saturday 5 May at 1.30 pm. See here for more information.

Red Box at St Brigid’s Catholic Church Maldon.

This story began in 2010, when the late Wendy French from Maldon Urban Landcare Group (MULGA) noticed some large pre-European settlement indigenous eucalypt trees located within Maldon, and was very interested in discovering how old they were. Wendy studied approximately 20 trees in town and estimated their age.

Six years later, MULGA continued the work Wendy had started. Firstly, there was an original Red Box tree, estimated at 295 years of age, at an intersection that was being re-designed. Then there was a planning proposal for a retirement village to be developed on the site of a Maldon church, where there were four eucalypts estimated as between 185-430 years old. MULGA wanted protection of the trees during construction, and for an existing Petanque piste to not be moved close to the area the four trees. These issues re-ignited the notion of protecting old indigenous trees, as MULGA discovered the trees were not listed or protected under the heritage overlay.

In 2017, MULGA members organised a field day to search for all indigenous eucalypts in Maldon that could be classified as being over 165 years old, hence existing before European settlement in 1852. With the help of Frances Cincotta, from Newstead Natives, MULGA members identified, photographed and recorded GPS coordinates for the trees, and used standardised measurements and published growth rates to estimate their age.

They identified 61 likely pre-1852 eucalypts, including Grey, Yellow, Red and Long-leaved Box species on private and public land in Maldon. The oldest tree was estimated at 530 years old, and 80% were estimated at over 200 years old. In addition, 36 pre-1852 trees were surveyed on parts of the Maldon Historic Reserve. These trees were estimated to be between 190 and 645 years old.

Somehow, the 97 eucalypts managed to survive throughout the gold rush and population boom of the area. They are historically significant as well as being important to the ecosystem in Maldon. If only trees could talk, imagine the stories they could tell!

This is an ongoing project. Although the eucalypts surveyed on the Maldon Historic Reserve are under the protection of Parks Victoria, there is currently no protection overlay for the 61 eucalypts surveyed in other areas of Maldon. The protection of these trees is essential to preserve the natural environment and the heritage of Maldon. MULGA will continue to work with Mount Alexander Shire Council to achieve this.



Volunteer with a flair for graphic design needed for bird project

Posted on 10 April, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Calling all graphic designers! We are looking for a volunteer to design two very special bird signs, which will be displayed permanently at Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve in Sandon, and at the Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve. The signs will illustrate the values of the Muckleford and Strangways Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), and are a key component of our Caring for Key Biodiversity Areas project.

The Critically Endangered Swift Parrot. Pic by Chris Tzaros

The trigger species for these areas are the Diamond Firetail, Swift Parrot and Flame Robin. KBAs are designated by BirdLife International and BirdLife Australia.

The Caring for Key Biodiversity Areas project involves an on-ground works component, bird surveys and the two interpretive signs.

Design of the signs would be an excellent project for a university student who is studying the visual arts, or a graphic designer who wishes to do some pro-bono work to contribute to the community while raising the profile of their business. Purchase of the signs will be covered by the grant, but we need help with the graphic design component as a volunteer contribution.

We will be able to supply the written content and quality photos of the target species to use on the signs. But the magic of their presentation is up to you!

The signs will be launched in September 2018, so ideally we would have the signs designed by the end of July.

If you are interested, please send a copy of your resume, business website or an example of your graphic design work to Tanya at Connecting Country:
We will make a decision and let people know on Monday April 16, so get your applications in quick!

And of course, feel free to call on 5472 1594 if you have any enquiries!

The Caring for Key Biodiversity Areas projects is funded by the Victorian Government – Community and Volunteer Action Grants.


Birdata App Workshop Friday 13 April

Posted on 29 March, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Andrew Silcocks from BirdLife Australia provides an introduction and practical demonstration of how to use online Birdata mapping and the smartphone app – at the beautiful Castlemaine Botanical Gardens. 

A Diamond Firetail, by Geoff Park

This year, BirdLife Australia staff are travelling Victoria with a series of presentations and workshops on Birdata – how to use it, and more importantly, why to use it.
The information that BirdLife Australia takes from Birdata underpins their State of Australia’s Birds Reports, as well as population and species trends and distribution analyses. These analyses inform threatened species nominations, which in turn influence the government allocation of conservation dollars and resources to those species.
Andrew is the coordinator of Birdata at BirdLife Australia and he is keen to share the Birdata app with you! Tanya Loos from Connecting Country will also be on hand to discuss the close relationship between Birdata and the Connecting Country bird monitoring program.

When: Friday 13 April from 11am – 3pm
Where: Castlemaine Tea rooms, at the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens
What you need:
*Shoes and clothing appropriate for birdwatching outside
*Your binoculars (some will be provided)
*Your Birdata login – just sign up at
*The Birdata app downloaded on your phone – available on Apple or Android

Bookings and enquiries to Tanya Loos or call our office on 5472 1594


Autumn Series Launch – a quiz and some beautiful music for 27 March 2018

Posted on 29 March, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Our Autumn Workshop Series launch was a fun and friendly fun affair. About 40 people enjoyed the mild Autumn weather in the beautiful Hub Plot garden, including landholders, new Connecting Country members, and members of our management committee and staff.

Following our workshop series theme of ‘Monitoring Healthy Habitats’, the evening included a fun and educational nature quiz. The various skulls, scats and other fascinating quiz items were largely from Tanya’s naturalist collection. Some of the items were quite difficult to identify!

After a drink or two and some yummy vegan nibbles, teams formed to tackle the quiz. Saide and Helen were the winning team. They correctly identified an echidna skull, a peregrine falcon’s regurgitated pellet (including racing pigeon ID rings!) and an echidna scat. Well done!

No-one correctly guessed the super-hard question – which was a small collection of stick insect scats! The prize for this question was a copy of Tracks, Scats and Traces, by Barbara Triggs. Margaret guessed caterpillar scats – which was near enough. Well done Margaret!

After the quiz, Nioka treated us to a beautiful series of songs, both covers and originals. Thank you Nioka!

We thank everyone for coming along, and wish all our friends and supporters a very restful and happy Easter long weekend. Special thanks to everyone who helped out and made the launch possible.

The Autumn workshop series is kindly funded by the Wettenhall Environment Trust.


Barkers Creek gets beautiful – Nature News March 2018

Posted on 27 March, 2018 by Tanya Loos

This March’s Nature News was written by Sarah Edwards, who did her internship at Connecting Country. Sarah interviewed Daryl Colless from Barkers Creek Landcare & Wildlife Group. This story featured in the Midland Express on 6 March 2018.

The Barkers Creek Landcare & Wildlife Group is a group of local residents who are passionate about protecting and restoring the natural environment. Getting your hands dirty doing on-ground works is a great way of connecting locals to the creek. The group includes members of all ages, which makes working bees a lot of fun!

Their story starts at the Little Red Apple store where you’ll find delicious fruit and vegetables, and award winning cider. It backs onto a section of Barkers Creek that needed a bit of TLC.

The owners of the Little Red Apple have a vision of creating an outdoor picnic area alongside the creek in the future, and were keen to help Barkers Creek Landcare & Wildlife Group restore this area. After removing plenty of blackberries and willows, they planted native plants alongside the creek. The weed removal was so successful that nearby landowners got involved and did some planting on their own properties.

The team gathers at the Little Red Apple site. Photo by Kirsten Hutchison.

There were challenges along the way. Since this project began, several floods have come through and washed away some of the plants, and damaged the footbridge. However, these setbacks did not dampen the spirits of this group. They rebuilt and replanted after the floods, still working to make this area a beautiful picnic spot and create a healthy environment that will attract native wildlife.

The key to long-term success of the sites worked on by Barkers Creek Landcare & Wildlife Group is the follow up work. Returning to a site yearly for weed removal and more planting is crucial. This Landcare group has worked very hard to achieve some amazing outcomes. Who knows what they will do next!

If you have any questions about this story or Barkers Creek Landcare & Wildlife Group, please see or contact Daryl on 0407 419 606.


Autumn workshop series – launch celebration 27 March 2018

Posted on 19 March, 2018 by Tanya Loos

On Tuesday 27 March we’re launching Connecting Country’s Autumn Workshop Series for 2018. The launch will be an informal gathering at the Hub Plot, Castlemaine, with drinks and nibbles. All of our friends and supporters are most welcome. And bring along your knowledge and competitive spirit for a nature quiz!

The theme for our autumn workshop series is Monitoring Healthy Habitats. We have a diverse series of events to inform and inspire you about habitat protection and local wildlife.

We’re pleased to be presenting these workshops together with our partner organisations:

  • Bird monitoring, with BirdLife Australia
  • Caring for large old trees, with Mount Alexander Shire Council.
  • Nestboxes for wildlife, with Miles Geldard.


An Eastern Spinebill strikes a pose (photo by Geoff Park)

Launch celebration:

Tuesday 27 March from 5.00 – 7.00 pm
At the Hub Plot, behind 233 Barker St, Castlemaine

Please RSVP for catering purposes to or call 5472 1594

Click here for the Autumn Workshop Series flier, and stay tuned for more details on each workshop.

These workshops are kindly funded by the Wettenhall Environment Trust. This lauunch event is part of our community engagement program supported by Biodiversity Hubs funding from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.


Charismatic rakali (native water rat) talk on 1 March 2018

Posted on 15 February, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Australian water rats are completely aquatic rats that are more like small otters than anything ratty.

They have very little in common with the rats that are found in the chook shed or behind the pantry – in fact, many people prefer to call water rats by the name Rakali.  Rakali are attractive native mammals that are excellent indicators of ecosystem health. They are an apex predator of our waterways, feasting on fish, yabbies and sometimes even ducks!

Rakali have webbed feet and come in many colours, this one in a very fetching apricot and chestnut brown.


Goldfields Library Corporation contacted us at Connecting Country seeking a speaker for their Big Ideas series. As Tanya had recently researched the ecology, evolution and conservation of these lovely animals, she jumped at the chance. Please come along to find out more about Rakali, and how you can help them thrive in the dams and waterways of the Castlemaine region.

When:  Thursday 1 March 2018 at 5:30 – 6:30 pm

Where:  Castlemaine Library (212 Barker St, Castlemaine)

Bookings:  Attendance is free, but please register here

Fun facts about rakali:

  • Based on anecdotal reports, rakali will travel several hundred metres across dry land to dine on delicacies, such as pet food left out regularly on a back porch.
  • Rakali thrive in both freshwater and seawater environments. They may be observed in environments as varied as beneath a busy pier in Geelong, or in a quiet freshwater stream in the mountains, or even in concrete lined lakes and ponds in public gardens.



Summer’s feathered migrants – Nature News November 7 2017

Posted on 20 November, 2017 by Tanya Loos

For this month’s Nature News, Newstead naturalist and photographer Geoff Park writes about the feathered migrants that are characteristic of our region in the summer months. This article was featured in the Midland Express on November 7, 2017.

Sacred Kingfishers are one of my favourite spring migrants, their loud ‘kek kek’ call may be heard anytime from late August around Newstead. The kingfishers return faithfully to favourite nesting sites along the Loddon River and in the surrounding forests. This species nests in earthen tunnels and tree hollows, with the first fledglings appearing around Christmas most years. Observers can delight in watching the kingfishers as they first stake out territories, refurbish nests and then commence feeding youngsters from late November onwards. The sight of Sacred Kingfishers bringing a selection of cicadas, yabbies, fish and reptiles to their hungry brood is one of the ‘sights of summer’.

My absolute favourite though is the Rainbow Bee-eater. This extraordinarily beautiful bird can be seen year round in northern Australia – but they are not the same individuals. Small flocks of Rainbow Bee-eaters make a twice yearly migration up and down the east coast, with some birds moving as far north as Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia. The birds we see around Newstead may well spend their winter on Cape York where they are replaced by international travellers during the northern summer, as the ‘Newstead’ individuals migrate south.

Rainbow Bee-eaters nest in small colonies, perhaps most notably near the Newstead Cemetery, but also at various locations along the Loddon River. The sound of the first trills of this species can be heard anytime from early October as they gather above their breeding grounds and make spectacular display flights. As spring progresses they descend to their tunnels, usually in a vertical bank of an eroded gully or riverbank and clean their nests in preparation for egg-laying. Not all nests sites are used each year, but some of these special spots must have been used for centuries by successive generations of magnificent ‘rainbowbirds’.

Other summer migrant specialties, such as the Square-tailed Kite, appear to be increasing in numbers.  Flocks of woodswallows (Masked and White-browed Woodswallows) arrived on the first warm northerlies in October. We can also expect to see waders arrive from the northern Hemisphere, such as Red-necked Stints and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. These tiny birds use Cairn Curran Reservoir (most years) and the Moolort Plains wetlands (if they are wet!) to fuel up before flying 10,000 kilometres back to their Siberian breeding grounds!

Look out too for the rarities that may visit each summer. Last year we had a Common Koel in Newstead and this year a spectacular small red honeyeater known as a Scarlet Honeyeater has been visiting the region in unprecedented numbers.

For more information contact Geoff Park at Natural Newstead

A Rainbow Bee-eater. Photo by Geoff Park


Now is the best time to try out Landcare!

Posted on 31 August, 2017 by Asha

Tanya on a walk with some excited ‘nature detectives’ at the 2017 Camp Out on the Mount

Landcare Week is coming up next week: September 4th – 10th 2017. It’s the perfect time to get outside, get your hands dirty, and connect with other community members. We have over 30 groups in the Mount Alexander region alone, so it’s easy to find an event or working bee that’s near you and suits your interests.

Landcare and Friends groups are always looking for extra hands to help and are keen to share their knowledge of our beautiful local plants and animals. During September, there are more than eleven events being run by Landcare groups, including nature walks to learn from experts and soak up the bush, and working bees to develop some hands-on skills and help improve habitat for native species.

CLICK HERE to visit our page with information about all of the Landcare events happening in the Mount Alexander region in September 2017.


Wetland Ecology and Training Courses: October 2017 – March 2018

Posted on 31 August, 2017 by Connecting Country

Registrations are now open for Rakali’s popular wetland courses commencing October 2017 through to March 2018. The courses are presented by SERA 2016 award winning ecologist Damien Cook and Elaine Bayes. Don’t hold off as the NEW courses may be a once off depending on level of attendance and it’s the last time the Wetland Plant ID will be held in the North Central region of Victoria. Click on the following headings to find out more:


Join us on a bus tour through some of northern Victoria’s most ecologically diverse wetlands that will be looking their best because of recent rainfall and flooding. Learn how ecological drivers determine wetland ecology.  Dixie Patton, Barapa Traditional Owner will share knowledge on aboriginal uses of these amazing wetlands.  Other land managers will meet us along the way.


Learn about wetland restoration and management over 2 days with Damien Cook by visiting ‘Waterways’; a SERA 2016 award-winning wetland restoration project which he was involved in planning and implementing, followed by the 200 hectares of coastal park at the Victorian Desalination Plant, Wonthaggi.  Learn more about these projects here.


Learn to identify the most common wetland plants. In order to manage or restore a wetland you first have to thoroughly understand it.  Wetland plant species, condition and placement within a wetland can inform you as to what is going on. You can choose 1, 2 or all 3 days – Each day is timed to follow the wetting and drying of the stunning Reedy Lagoon at Gunbower Island or nearby wetlands so each plant guild can be seen in their splendor.

  • Day One:  Sedges, Grasses and Rushes
  • Day 2:      Aquatic Plants
  • Day 3:      Mudflat specialists.

Click here for more information and to REGISTER. Alternatively contact Elaine Bayes at  Rakali Consulting 0431 959 085 or email Each course can be done as an individual unit or as a complete package (ask Elaine about discounts).

Click here to read some articles on the importance of understanding wetland ecology and using plant knowledge for effective wetland management.


31 August 2017 – The Genius of Birds

Posted on 24 August, 2017 by Connecting Country

On Thursday 31 August 2017, the Castlemaine Library is hosting a presentation by American science writer and New York Times bestseller Jennifer Ackerman.  Jennifer will talk about her latest book, The Genius of Birds, which explores the latest international scientific research on our feathered friends.  Once you have seen Jennifer’s presentation, no doubt you will consider ‘bird brain’ to be phrase used as a great compliment!

The presentation commences at 5.30pm.  Entry is free, but bookings are required (click here for link to the booking website).  The library has let us know that there are a small number of openings still available.

Jennifer Ackerman has been writing about science, nature, and health for more than 25 years. Her work aims to explain and interpret science for a lay audience and to explore the riddle of humanity’s place in the natural world, blending scientific knowledge with imaginative vision. She has won numerous awards and fellowships.  There is further information about Jennifer on her website (click here).

Local wildlife sound recordist Andrew Skeoch is a huge advocate for Jennifer’s book and the research that she has compiled.  CC staff member Chris is reading it at the moment – and is also fascinated by the findings.


Flora of Castlemaine and surrounds – the online guide is launched!

Posted on 9 August, 2017 by Connecting Country

On 1st August 2017, the online edition of the Wild Plants of the Castlemaine District was formally launched.  This comprehensive guide contains details on the identification, locations, preferred habitats and history of hundreds of native and introduced plant species found in Castlemaine and surrounding areas.  It can be viewed at the following stand-alone website location –

In November 2016, local natural historian – Ern Perkins – sadly passed away.  Ern’s passion for the understanding the intricacies of natural environment was matched by his passion for sharing his knowledge with others.  A few months before his passing, he first launched this compendium of local plant species as a freely available resource via USB memory sticks.  Ern had developed this guide based on information that he and others had collected and compiled over more than 40 years.  With the support of Ern’s family since his passing, the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club has worked with a local IT graphics firm to make this guide available as an online resource, allowing it to reach a much wider audience.  Financial contributions and other support towards this important project has also been provided by the Friends of the Box Ironbark Forests (FOBIF) and Connecting Country.  Each of these organisations will have a link to this flora guide from their websites.  A permanent link to it has been established from the Connecting Country website here.

It is intended to be a dynamic website, with updates made over time in response to taxonomic changes, new photographs and new findings.  Landholders, Landcarers, students and many other people from the Mount Alexander Shire and beyond will appreciate this valuable and easy-to-use resource.


Saturday 12 August 2017: Sharing Stories around the Fire and The Other Renewables Forum

Posted on 9 August, 2017 by Tanya Loos

This Saturday the 12th August 2017 is a busy day culturally and environmentally for our community! We have the Parkrun cultural morning at the Castlemaine Botanic Gardens previously posted here and we would like to promote two more events.

Sharing Stories around the Fire: a Words in Winter event

Join the Talking Fire group this Saturday 12 August 2017 in Newstead from 4.30-8.30pm to explore stories of fire in our landscape. We’ll visit a spot in the nearby forest, for readings and to listen to the language of the forest. Back at the Arts Hub, with hearty soup in hand, we’ll share our own stories and create some new stories too. Please RSVP so we have enough soup for all! Book via Eventbrite or through Chris on 5476 2457.

This journey through place, story, memory, myth and experience is a special event offered by the Talking Fire group as part of Newstead’s Words in Winter. Bring a story to share.

For more info: CLICK HERE.

The Mount Alexander Sustainability Group (MASG) presents: The Other Renewables Forum

On Saturday the 12th August 2017, 1.30pm – 5.30pm, the Mount Alexander Sustainability Group (MASG) will be presenting ‘The Other Renewables Forum’ at the Castlemaine Town Hall, with a line-up of recognised guests working in both a local and national context in the fields of bioenergy, geothermal, mini-hydro, pumped hydro, thermal solar and soil carbon sequestration.

MC: Mary Blain, MASG
Presenters: Andrew Lang, Alan Pears, David Taylor, Professor Lu Aye, Dr Guillermo Narsilio, David Carre, David Stratton, Deane Belfield, Chris Corr.

Cost: $20 General | $5 Members | Students Free

For more information:
Ph: 03 5470 6978