Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

CC events in 2017 – it’s going to be a big one!

Posted on 10 January, 2017 by Connecting Country

Connecting Country runs a dedicated education and engagement program each year. Our program aims to provide a local platform for the sharing of information, practical skills and inspiration with a focus on plant and animal monitoring, environmental management and habitat restoration across the Mount Alexander region. 2017 is no exception.  We already have more than 10 activities planned and are so pleased to be collaborating on these with community members and a variety of partner organisations.

CLICK HERE for more details on activities we currently have planned for 2017.  Some of the highlights will be the Camp Out on the Mount event on the weekend of the 1st-2nd April and look out for the Water in our Landscape workshop series in late April-early May.

Volunteers at the Landcare Camp Out on the Mount

Volunteers at the Landcare Camp Out on the Mount 2014

You can also keep in touch and make contributions and suggestions via our Connecting Country Facebook Page  – do ‘like’ us!

Alternatively, you can also contact me at the Connecting Country office for more information about the Education and Engagement program on 5472-1594 or naomi@connectingcountry.org.au.

I look forward to seeing you at one or more of our events in 2017.

Naomi Raftery
Engagement Coordinator

 

 

 

Nature News January 2017 – Reconnecting at the Res

Posted on 9 January, 2017 by Connecting Country

For this month’s Nature News (on page 17 of the January 3rd edition in the Midland Express), Connecting Country’s Naomi Raftery and Golden Point local and photographer, John Ellis, have teamed up to share their appreciation and knowledge about one of the region’s most loved summer places, the Expedition Pass Reservoir.

The first time I swam in the Expedition Pass Reservoir or ‘the Res’ was about ten years ago. I’m from the sea and so this large body of cold and dark fresh water was intimidating to say the least. I talked myself through imaginary, unseen creatures and kept going back, often at night jumping into the water as it reflected the stars on its surface and made me think I was jumping into the universe.

The Expedition Pass Reservoir is a great public place to connect with nature, especially in summer. Photo: John Ellis

The Expedition Pass Reservoir is a great public place to connect with nature, especially in summer. Photo: John Ellis

Expedition Pass Reservoir sits in the pass named by Major Mitchell when he led his expedition through the hills in 1836. The reservoir was built in 1868 and is fed from Forest Creek and was supplemented by the Malmsbury-Bendigo water race – a feat of engineering in its day. The Res is a special place, especially in summer. On long hot days it provides many different people with a cool, free place for a dip. The Res becomes a true meeting place, for all types of people.

Murnong (Microseris walteri) in flower, seed and spent blossom. One of the wild flowers you might see at the Res in Spring. Photo: John Ellis

My appreciation of the place has deepened over the years. I still really like swimming there but will often venture to the bank opposite the car park to walk the less crowded side of the slopes. I enjoy exploring the spring wildflowers with my local flora guide and feeling the hum of life whizzing around me as the beautifully coloured dragonflies zoom past often closely followed by super fast Welcome Swallows. Once, I woke from a nap  in the bush to find myself nose to short beak with a pretty surprised Echidna who then, endearingly, looked to be trying to dig its way to China in an attempt to get away.

Over the last 21 years Golden Point Landcare has initiated many enhancements to the local environment near the Res on both public and private land. This work has required strong partnerships with the government agencies who manage the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park.  Their work makes the Expedition Pass Reservoir an important part of a corridor for animals, humans and otherwise to use, live in and love.

The Expedition Pass Reservoir is a shining example of how important it is that our local public land be managed effectively so as to provide a place for people to connect with nature and themselves.

You can pick up an ‘Indigenous Plants of Castlemaine and Surrounds’ flora guide for a gold coin donation at the Connecting Country office at the Hub office 14, 233b Barker St, Castlemaine (Enter glass door on Templeton St).

 

Merry Christmas from Connecting Country – our 2016 wrap and our 2017 plans

Posted on 22 December, 2016 by Connecting Country

2016 has been an exciting year for Connecting Country staff and committee of management. We have been busy helping landholders with on-ground works, supporting landcare, monitoring populations of plants and animals and engaging with our community of amazing supporters, members and volunteers. We are all so proud to have had the opportunity to work with the people and environment across the Mount Alexander region to do all of these activities.

In 2016 we focused on raising the profile of woodland birds and growing our partnerships with fellow organisations. This enabled us to work cooperatively with the Friends of Box Ironbark Forests, North Central Catchment Management Authority, Mount Alexander Shire Council, Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation, Parks Victoria, Castlemaine Festival of Gardens, Castlemaine Agricultural Society and of course lots of our local landholders and volunteers. We would like to thank all involved and our project funders over the last twelve months.

We have also been planning for our future and 2017 promises to be as invigorating. We currently have ten projects on the go and look forward to continue rolling them out into the New Year. We are particularly looking forward to the Camp Out on the Mount event, celebrating the achievements of the the Connecting Landscapes program which concludes in June and a workshop series around Water in our Landscape. Watch this space to find out more!

We have created a snapshot from 2016 events and activities in the gallery below, see if you can see you!

PS. Please note our office will be closed from the 24th of December 2016 until the 3rd of January 2016.

 

Nature News December 2016 – Lichens: Underrated Natural Wonders

Posted on 7 December, 2016 by Connecting Country

For this month’s Nature News, found on page 38 in this week’s Midland Express (6th December 2016), Bronwyn Silver, nature photographer and co-author of Eucalyptus of the Mount Alexander Region, shares her interest in the natural beauty and wonder of our local lichens.

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Map Lichen (Rhizcarpon geographicum) Photo: Bronwyn Silver

I was originally attracted to lichens, especially ‘map’ lichens, because they looked so unusual. Map lichens (Rhizcarpon geographicum) come in many colours and often have intricate arrangements due to each lichen being surrounded by a black border and adjacent to another. Many of the rock surfaces tightly encrusted with map lichen look like aerial maps or abstract art works.

Unless you are watching out for this lichen, these subtle and often small formations can easily be overlooked. But once I became aware of their wonderful abstract qualities and sought them out, I found them to be quite common in our bushlands.

Then, when I did more research, I began to find lichens even more fascinating. Although they are sometimes confused with moss, lichens are unrelated to moss or any other plant. In fact, lichen can be regarded as a community rather than a single organism because it always consists of at least one species of alga and one species of fungus that grow together in a mutually beneficial relationship. The fungus provides protection and absorption of minerals and gains nutrients from its photosynthesizing partner in return.

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Peppered Rock Shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia conspersa) resting on rock and moss (Triquetrella papillata) Photo: Bronwyn Silver

There are over 3000 known species of lichen in Australia; some are leafy, some are plant-like, and some are flat. Map lichen and other flat types are pretty much the same in all weather conditions. Other lichens are called ‘resurrection’ plants because they can switch off their metabolism and then fire up again when there is moisture.

The greatest threats to lichens are fire and pollution. However, the importance of conserving lichens is generally overlooked despite their many benefits for the environment. Like mosses, they can help with soil stabilization and the colonisation of barren environments.  Some animals eat them, insects shelter in them, and people have used them for food, perfume, medicine and dyes. For example, traditionally lichens were used to produce the colours of Harris Tweed.

And very importantly they can enhance our aesthetic appreciation of the bush with their varied colours, unusual shapes and wonderful patterns on the surfaces of rocks, trees, leaves and soil.

If you would like to find out more about lichens a good place to start is the three engaging interviews with Tasmanian lichenologist, Gintaras Kantvilas, available on the ABC Science Show – click here.

 

Soils workshop with Katie, Hugh and NCCMA

Posted on 1 December, 2016 by Connecting Country

On Wednesday the 30th November 2016, Connecting Country was proud to partner with the North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA) to provide an soils health workshop as a extension to our Farm Field Day held in August. Sixteen attendees were taken through the soils guide which was developed by the NCCMA to help people to conduct tests on their soil to survey for soil health. Katie and Hugh Finlay, from the Mount Alexander Fruit Gardens, kindly hosted the event on their orchard in Harcourt and shared their understanding and land management practices in relation to soil health.

Mandy Coulson (NCCMA) and Martin Hamilton (Department of Agriculture) lead participants through the guide which aims to give landholders a quick and easy group of soil tests they can do on their patch. It’s intended that these results become baseline information for soil health. Katie and Hugh grounded this exercise with the story of land management practice change on their orchard, current practice and resultant soil health.

Connecting Country has copies of the soil guide available from their office at the Hub – feel free to drop by and pick one up. Another great resource for people interested in soils is the The Brown Book website hosted by the Corangamite CMA.

 

 

 

 

 

Wildlife friendly garden workshop with Cassia Read

Posted on 28 November, 2016 by Connecting Country

Among exuberant flowers and darting pollinator insects, twenty people gathered in Cassia Read’s Castlemaine garden on Saturday the 19th November 2016 to learn about wildlife friendly gardening. Cassia’s mission for the workshop was to inspire and inform people about how to nudge their gardens in a wildlife friendly direction. Cassia suggested elements that could be added to any garden to make it more biodiverse, whatever the gardeners needs and values.

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Cassia (left) talked about how we could all nudge our gardens in a wildlife friendly direction.

Cassia explained that she’s passionate about wildlife friendly gardens because life in the garden brings beauty and joy; it fosters a connection between people and nature; and, because gardens can provide a refuge for wildlife in a changing climate.

A garden is a community of plants and animals, living together and interacting with each other. Cassia introduced the concept of garden community ecology with a drawing of a food-web in her own garden. This illustrated how energy, harvested from the sun by plants, moves up the food chain; from pollinating and leaf eating insects and seed and nectar eating birds, through predatory insects, reptiles, frogs, small bush birds, bats and phascogales, to larger carnivores such as kookaburras and boobook owls.

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Foodweb in Cassia’s garden, showing ‘who eat’s what’ and the movement of energy harvested by plants from the sun, up the food chain to larger predators (Illustration by Cassia Read).

Cassia drew attention to the importance of insects in bringing wildlife to the garden, because many of the larger vertebrates either eat insects directly or they eat the insect predators. Even small honey-eaters supplement much of their diet with insects living in the tree canopy.

Cassia invited participants to spend a moment quietly observing life in the garden in two different locations, using two different ways to observe: an unfocussed, dreamy gaze that allows you to see all the movement in the garden with your peripheral vision; and a focused gaze to see the detail of particular species and individuals going about their daily lives. Cassia commented that observation is the key to wildlife friendly gardening. The more you look, the more you learn and enjoy and are inspired to create a living landscape around you.

Cassia discussed the spectrum of garden styles that range between pavement and bushland, with biodiversity in the garden increasing as you moved from a low diversity, simplified landscape like a park, through to a garden with different vegetation layers, different micro-habitats and more indigenous species.

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Spectrum of garden styles, from pavement to bushland, with garden biodiversity increasing with complexity of vegetation structure, micro-habitats and indigenous plantings (illustration by Cassia Read).

During the guided tour around her half acre block, Cassia discussed elements she has added to her garden to create shelter and food for wildlife. Standing around her small pond, participants discussed how the creation of even a small pond, planted with local water plants, brings frogs, dragonflies, aquatic invertebrates and a place for quiet reflection and observation. Other important elements included:

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Cassia’s pond has Pobblebonk tadpoles but no mosquito larvae because she’s introduced native Murray Rainbow Fish that eat wrigglers but not frogs eggs.

  • Growing indigenous and exotic flowers for native pollinators such as native bees, wasps, hoverflies and butterflies. Through extending the flowering season with thoughtful planting you can extend the time nectar and pollen are available to pollinators;
  • Planting dense and prickly shrubs where small bush birds can hide from cats and aggressive or predatory birds;
  • Building leaf litter, mulch and woody debris for insect habitat, which in turn provide food for ground foraging birds, reptiles, frogs and phascogales;
  • Adding nest-boxes and artificial hollows to trees for birds and bats – but watch out they aren’t placed too high or you won’t be able to evict Indian Miners and other wanted pests;
  • Planting a drought-tolerant native lawn that provides food and shelter for moth and butterfly larvae, and seed for native pigeons and Diamond Firetails;
  • Creating varied rocky habitats for basking lizards, including rock on soil and rock on rock. Also, pupae from ant colonies that live under the rocks are an important food source for ground foraging predators.

The workshop concluded in the shade of a gum tree, with an exercise and conversation about nudging our own gardens for wildlife. What more could we do and what were our barriers? Cassia guided participants to think about their gardens in terms of management zones, from high maintenance and input zones such as the small orchard, to low maintenance and input zones such as areas of drought-hardy, native shrubs planted for screening at the front of a block.

Thanks to all attendees for coming along, and to Cassia and Melanie Marshall from the Mount Alexander Shire Council for their work presenting and bringing this event into fruition. Much was learned from Cassia’s unique perspective on how to build a garden and engage with nature.

For further information visit our Wildlife Friendly Garden webpage here.

This workshop has been supported by Connecting Country, through funding from the Australian Government and the Mount Alexander Shire Council through their Sustainable Living Workshop Series.

 

 

Fantails and Button-quails on the Metcalfe Bird Walk

Posted on 23 November, 2016 by Tanya Loos

On the 6th of November 2016, Connecting Country’s monthly bird walk was at Metcalfe Nature Conservation Reserve, or “the Common”. We met at the Metcalfe Hall, and some twenty of us were delighted to hear that locals, Brian and Kate Hamond, had something special they wished to share.

Safe and sound, photo by Maeve Boyle

Safe and sound, photo by secondary school student Maeve Boyle

A large roll of wire in the Hamond’s open shed proved an excellent nesting spot for a pair of Grey Fantails. As we all gathered around, binoculars in hand, we were delighted to observe the pair swap over egg brooding duties. They seemed unconcerned by our presence, and Brian said he has been able to go about his usual business in the shed without disturbing the fantails. Many thanks to Brian and Kate for this exciting start to the morning.

We set off to the Common and the excitement continued – for the moment Greg Waddell opened the car door, we were stunned to get very good views of a small quail-like species as it walked and then flew away into the woodland. A rather technical discussion of Button-quail identification followed using a couple of bird books. We decided that the Pizzey and Knight field guide is most useful in these situations, as it has the key identifying feature in italics.  It was agreed that the bird was a Little Button-quail, rather than the more common Painted Button-quail. Little Button-quails are being seen increasingly in Eastern Australia after these record-breaking rains and – although rarely seen – they are on our local bird-checklist-for-the-mount-alexander-region.

The highlight birds seen along the Ridge Track were probably the Rufous Whistlers, calling incessantly from the canopy. A quiet spot that morning, we saw just 13 species along the track. The wildflowers were stunning however – thick masses of flowering Chocolate Lilies and Yam Daisies.

We traveled around the Goldfields Rd to the more lush areas on the lower slopes of the Reserve, and did a Twenty Minute 2 Hectare count as we walked up the slope and we saw 9 species. The birds were a bit hard to see due to the lush and abundant growth on the Yellow Box and Grey Box. Again, the wildflowers were a treat- with Chocolate Lilies and Bulbine Lilies in huge drifts. Thanks to Maeve for being our scribe.

wet-wet-spring-639We also saw a white form of Chocolate lily! This is not an albino – just a colour variation. You may have noticed some white forms yourself – such as Wax-lip Orchids, and also more recently, Bluebells (Wahlenbergia).

Our Bird Walks usually finish up at about 11:30am, but this time we travelled back to the Metcalfe Hall and I gave a short Powerpoint presentation on the birds of the Metcalfe area.

It was a very enjoyable morning, and I would like to thank Debbie Farmer, Secretary of Metcalfe Landcare, for organising the Hall and publicising the event locally. It was fantastic to have some beginner birdwatchers there!

Smiles in the woodland, pic by Tanya Loos

Smiles in the woodland, photo by Tanya Loos

 

Wednesday 30th November – Soils workshop with Katie Finlay and NCCMA

Posted on 14 November, 2016 by Connecting Country

soils-guideFollowing on from our Farm Field Day in August, Connecting Country is working with North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA) to run a short workshop about soils in Harcourt.

During this workshop participants will hear from Katie Finlay from Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens about their property and the role soil  health plays in their farming system. Practical instruction from Mandy Coulson (NCCMA) and soil scientist Rebecca Mitchell will take participants through a series of soil tests in the recently launched Soil Health Guide to measure health on your land.

If you’d like to come along, the free workshop will run from 10 – 11.30am on Wednesday November 30th 2016.

 

To reserve your place at this event, please follow this link: https://www.trybooking.com/241695.

For more information contact Naomi on 5472 1594 or email naomi@connectingcountry.org.au.

 

Nature News November – Eltham Copper Butterflies, a summer highlight

Posted on 3 November, 2016 by Connecting Country

For this month’s Nature News, found on page 31 in this week’s Midland Express (2nd November 2016), local ecologist Elaine Bayes shares her interest and knowledge of the incredible life cycle and local community efforts to protect one of our special endangered species, the Eltham Copper Butterfly. 

The very pretty Eltham Copper Butterfly. Photo by Elaine Bayes

The very pretty Eltham Copper Butterfly. Photo by Elaine Bayes

As the weather starts to warm up, from November to March each year, Eltham Copper Butterflies will emerge from underground caterpillars. This small and endangered butterfly is endemic to Victoria where it was once widely distributed.  Eltham Copper numbers have declined due to land clearing and inappropriate fire regimes, to a point where they were believed to be extinct in the 1950’s.  They were rediscovered in Eltham in 1986.  These butterflies are currently listed as endangered in Victoria and nationally.

The reason I am fascinated with Eltham Coppers is they have a weird and wonderful and totally dependent three-way relationship with Notoncus ant species and Sweet Bursaria plants. Notoncus ants are nocturnal ants which live underground including at the base of Sweet Bursaria plants.  Eltham Coppers lay their eggs at the base of a Sweet Bursaria plant and once hatched the larvae is guided into the ant nest and protected.  The larvae over-winters in the nest and ants lead them out to graze at night exclusively on the leaves of Sweet Bursaria.  In return, the ants feed on sugars which are excreted by the larvae’s honeydew gland.

The Eltham Copper Butterfly and it’s attendant ants in the Sweet Bursaria. Photo by Damien Cook

The Eltham Copper Butterfly and it’s attendant ants in the Sweet Bursaria. Photo by Damien Cook

How does that happen?  How can they train ants to carry them to bed and take them out to dinner and keep them safe?  Its quite complex and includes production of a range of chemicals and pheromones which makes the ant think they are one of their brood and need looking after and protection.  It doesn’t end there, as pupae and larvae also make a range of noises which trick the ants into not recognising them as a threat and even protecting them.

The four known Eltham Copper populations across Victoria are now totally separate. This means that butterflies are no longer able to move between populations to exchange genetic material and make them more resilient to disease.  The Castlemaine population is centred in four main areas in our local parks. Ensuring that these areas are protected from prescribed burning, inappropriate development or invasion by weeds is critical for their long term survival.  As is finding and protecting new populations.  The Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club and Friends of Kalimna Park have protected local populations for decades by removing woody weeds, monitoring populations and negotiating with the state government on fire regimes.

Thanks to this community effort we have the largest stronghold of Castlemaine Copper Butterflies in Victoria – well that’s what I think they should be called!

 

Nature News October 2016 – Make it and wildlife will come

Posted on 4 October, 2016 by Connecting Country

For this month’s Nature News, on page 26 in this week’s Midland Express (4th October 2016) local ecologist and garden designer, Cassia Read shares come of her insights from creating a wildlife friendly garden. While Connecting Country encourages you to use locally native plants where possible, Cassia has found that all sorts of flowering plants can provide useful habitat. 

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Cassia’s garden plays host to a range of local wildlife and plant species.

Striding around the corner of a friend’s Newstead house today my eyes suddenly met the steady gaze of a Grey Shrike-thrush sitting on her eggs. She’d made her home in a basket nailed to the wall, within arms-reach from where I stood. She wasn’t bothered by comings and goings of her human neighbours.

Thrush’ sing exquisite songs in my own Castlemaine garden. I was instantly inspired to hang baskets around my house to encourage more of these birds.

I am fascinated by the possibilities of gardens that meet both needs of the people and the local birds, lizards and butterflies. In these days of a changing climate, urban gardeners can support a host of local wildlife with food, shelter and water. It just takes some thought and a little time spent pottering in the garden.

In my own garden, I’m not aiming to restore bushland or even to create a picturesque bush garden. I grow fruit, veggies and some nostalgic flowers from my childhood. I welcome cool summer shade from deciduous trees. How do I balance my needs with those of wildlife?

I find comfort and direction in considering the spectrum of home garden styles in Castlemaine, ranging between easy-care concrete and bushland gardens that meld with local Box Ironbark Forest. Wherever a garden is positioned on this pavement-to-bushland spectrum, it can be nudged in a more wildlife friendly direction.

For instance, some grass provides a place for magpies to fossick where a pavement is void of life; old style flowers provide nectar for butterflies while ornamental cultivars bred for show are nectarless; a corner planting of dense shrubs is better for Blue Wrens and Thornbills than a park-like lawn that stretches from house to fence; a dry stone wall provides shelter for hibernating Marble Geckos where cemented walls are pure architecture.

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink…. Make it and wildlife will come.

Gardens with wildlife hum with energy and interest. Spotted Pardalotes dipping in a bird bath and Blue Banded Bees darting amongst the Rosemary flowers bring spontaneous joy. Today I’m planting colourful salvias for my girls to pick and Eastern Spinebills to feed on. Tomorrow I’ll scatter basking rocks for lizards. Not big steps, but nudges in a wildlife direction.

Cassia will be showcasing her garden as part of Connecting Country’s Education Program and the Mount Alexander Sustainable Living Workshop Series on Saturday the 22nd of October at 10.30am (Please note this as a correction to starting time information published in the Midland Express on October 4th).

For more information about attracting wildlife to your garden visit the “Wildlife Friendly Gardens” page of our resources section (click here).

 

Mount Alexander Schools Landcare Days 2016

Posted on 28 September, 2016 by Asha

There were students as far as the eye could see; sorting through macro invertebrates, feeling the soil, looking for birds and building nests. Over three Tuesdays in September 2016, close to 380 Grade 5/6 students from 15 primary schools in the Mount Alexander region attended Connecting Country’s Schools Landcare Days. The idea developed at a Landcare Link-up last year, as a way to engage kids and their families with the environment around them. As all the locals know, we’ve had an amazing amount of wet weather lately, which meant that two out of three of our Schools Landcare Days were held at the Harcourt Leisure Centre, and one at Vaughan Springs on a rare sunny day.

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Students learning about different soil types with Brendan Smith

The activities each day were designed to teach students about natural processes and cultural heritage, and to encourage them to think of ways they can apply this knowledge to look after their local area. The wonderful Patrick Wilson from Doxa Youth Camp in Malmsbury came to all of the days, and maintained an infectious energy for aquatic ecosystems and macro invertebrates. Brendan Smith from Parks Victora had students laughing and getting their hands dirty while he talked about the importance of soil structure and health. They also transferred some young grasses into trays for planting out later, which for some students meant ducking out of the warm Leisure Centre and braving the icy wind outside!

On August 30th Jida Gulbil kindly came along and discussed Dja Dja Wurrung culture with students, helped by his beautiful didgeridoo (or, as Jida joked, his “telescope to see the stars”). That day we were also treated to an activity run by students from Chewton Primary School. Supported by Naomi Raftery, Marie Jones, and Julie Holden; Jet, Scout, Max, Amara and Emma ran an activity looking at food webs and thinking about what happens if you take elements out of a food web.

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Looking for aquatic macro invertebrates with Patrick Wilson

Our second Schools Landcare Day was held at Vaughan Springs, so Krista Patterson-Majoor was able to take students for a walk in the bush to learn about our local ecosystems and what has influenced the landscape we see today. Colin Lyons from Parks Victoria joined Krista to give his insights into the heritage aspects of the area. Meanwhile, Cathy McCallum and Graeme Harris from Baringhup Landcare were helping students to find and identify some mysterious bird cut-outs that were hidden in some very tricky places. In a quiet spot down the track, Asha Bannon and students were talking about Landcare and drawing soundscapes of what could be heard around them, which included lots of birds, lots of water, and lots of people!

On the last day, we had Aunty Julie and her students from Castlemaine Secondary College: Shakira, Grace, Cohen, Zeppelin, and Bailey. With help from the secondary students, the Grade 5/6s tried to match cards with seasonal events (e.g. “Wedge-tailed Eagles are breeding”) to the correct Dja Dja Wurrung season. This proved to be quite a challenge, but a great way to get everyone thinking. At the end of the day, all of the students had a nest to take home built at Nicole Howie’s birds nest activity. As Nicole said, it’s hard enough to make a nest with your hands, imagine how difficult it must be to make one with your beak while on the look out for predators.

A huge thank you to all of the amazing presenters who came along and gave it their all. The feedback from schools on the activities has all been extremely positive, and it was easy to see how engaged the students were with what they were learning. Thank you also to the teachers for being so supportive, the students for your patience and interest, and the Landcare members who came along to chat with schools and join in. Finally, we thank Nicole Howie for her hard work putting the days together.

The Mount Alexander School Landcare Days were made possible with funding from the North Central Catchment Management Authority Community Grants Program.

 

Nature News September 2016 – The pleasures of crawling around in the damp

Posted on 6 September, 2016 by Connecting Country

On page 12 in this week’s Midland Express (6 September 2016) there is a great Nature News piece by local naturalist and co-author of the soon to be released local Eucalyptus guide, Bernard Slattery, about the wonder of those tiny and important life-forms – the mosses.

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Moss on Mount Alexander… a world you can get lost in. Photo by Bernard Slattery

This year we can celebrate a goodish winter: cold, grey, and—most importantly—wet.

And, apart from replenished dams, this wet winter is good because it gives us a reason to go out into the bush, get down on our knees, and become completely absorbed in looking at the micro universe of…MOSS.

Moss isn’t just a green monotonous smudge. It’s beautiful and very variable. To appreciate this fully, you have to get right down close with a hand lens, or a camera with macro lens. You do risk embarrassment by doing this. A few times I’ve been lying flat on my stomach checking out the moss, and concerned passers-by have stopped to ask after my health so it does help if you can wave a camera or a hand lens to reassure people you’re OK.

The wet winter has created great beds of moss in our forests. Moss has repopulated crevices in walls and appeared in patches in lawns and corners of garden beds.

Mosses are tiny and simple. Unlike more familiar plants like grasses, they don’t have roots: they absorb water and nutrients directly into their leaves. They also reproduce via fine, dust-like spores, not seeds.

They’re ancient plants, maybe the first to have colonised the land. There’s a theory that early mosses, over 400 million years ago, played a big part in boosting oxygen in the atmosphere, laying the foundations for all sorts of future evolutions.

Mosses are useful. They’re amazingly hardy and can colonize bare land so they’re good at helping the recovery of eroded landscapes. They can tolerate long dry periods:  seemingly dead crusts spring to life at the first shower of rain.

Seen up close, mosses are intricate, colourful and enormously various. Although some are so tiny as to be hard to make out without a microscope, there are plenty of species noticeable to the naked eye. Some leaves are rounded, some are thin as wisps; colours are every shade of green; and spore head stalks can be red, orange, green or yellow.

A great resource for finding out more is Bernard Slattery and Cassia Read’s Mosses of dry forests in south eastern Australia. To purchase a copy visit the Friends of the Box Ironbark Forests webpage www.fobif.org.au.

 

Sustainable and Biodiverse Farm Field Day makes a splash

Posted on 25 August, 2016 by Connecting Country

Friday the 19th August 2016 was forecast to be wet in Sutton Grange, and it really was! However, around sixty local people braved the weather to attend the morning session at our recent Field Day at the Holy Goat Cheese farm.

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Participants see sustainable dairying in action at the Holy Goat Cheese farm.

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Participants listening to Ian Higgins explaining biodiversity values at the Holy Goat Cheese farm in Sutton Grange

Whilst on the farm, these hardy souls learnt about sustainable property management, goat farming and cheese production with Carla Meurs and Ann-Marie Monda. They also explored the values of biodiversity, birds and cultural heritage with Ian Higgins from Campbells Creek Landcare group, Tanya Loos from Connecting Country, and Gerry Gill from La Trobe University.

People were revived at lunch time in the warm and dry Sutton Grange Hall with hot drinks and delicious food from Growing Abundance.

The morning group were joined by an extra crowd of around thirty people who enjoyed the afternoon session listening to six local producers –  Katie Finlay  (Mount Alexander Fruit Gardens), Mandy Jean (Guildford Winery), John Cable (JCBee Honey), Ben Boxshall (Farm Forest Growers of Victoria), Sam White (Sidonia Road Organics), and Clare de Kok (Pig in a Box) – talk about viability, sustainability and biodiversity on their farms.

To quote one participant: “Thanks for putting together such a great and inspiring day. It was really beyond expectation and I got a lot out of it.

A huge thanks to all the presenters and participants for their good will and endurance in attending this event. It is amazing how much can be gained from other farmers and producers sharing their experiences and knowledge.

Thanks also to Mandy Coulson and the North Central Catchment Management Authority for their support in  planning and running the day. This event was part our Connecting Landscapes Education Program with funding from the Australian Government.

 

Tarrengower Cactus Control Group thanks local landholders

Posted on 23 August, 2016 by Connecting Country

The Tarrengower Cactus Control Group have asked Connecting Country to share a hearty thanks to local landholders who are working to control cactus on their properties and to promote their next community field day.

Tarrangower Cactus Control Commitee and volunteers, April 2011 (Photo from TCCC)

Tarrangower Cactus Control Committee and volunteers at a community field day in April 2011 (Photo from TCCC)

“Tarrangower Cactus Control Group (TCCG) would like to say thanks very much to all our local landowners who continue to control Wheel Cactus plants on their property. Very importantly, this also helps to stop the spread of seeds to their neighbours and other properties and parks nearby.

Have you noticed some Wheel cactus on your property but don’t know what to do with it? Tarrangower Cactus Control Group can show you how to kill it, and can even loan you the equipment to do it.

Local property owners Robyn and David McPhee contacted us for help and are now well on their way to controlling their wheel cactus infestation. “The Cactus Warriors came out to our property for a field day, brought all the equipment needed, and taught us all we need to know about killing this terrible weed” said David. “And they killed lots of plants which really gave us a boost to get into it” added Robyn. “The group has lots of experience and knowledge, we’re really glad we contacted them”, David commented, “plus they even fed us all”.

Wheel Cactus from the Tarrengower area (Photo from DPI).

Wheel Cactus from the Tarrengower area (Photo from DELWP).

TCCG, with Parks Victoria, have regular Community Field Days when we’re happy to bring our team of ‘cactus warriors’ volunteers to give you a hand to get started with treating Wheel Cactus. Contact us via our website at www.cactuswarriors.org

Our next Community Field Day will be on Sunday 28th August 2016 in our Historic Park, along Mount Back Road. Follow the signs along South Parkin’s Reef Road. The morning’s activities will begin at 10:30 am and end with an enjoyable BBQ and friendly chat.”  CLICK HERE for a flyer.

 

Nature News – July 2016: Nature Recovering in the Muckleford Valley

Posted on 22 August, 2016 by Connecting Country

In July’s installment of the Nature News in the Midland Express (pg 26, 2 July 2016 edition), renowned local ecologist, Paul Foreman shared his insights from getting to know his new property in the Muckleford valley – encouraging us to think about how the landscape works in both space and time.

In January this year our family moved from Castlemaine to a 46 ha property on the margins of the Muckleford Creek valley, Walmer. Though our initial focus has been settling into the house and establishing a garden, it has been interesting starting to get know the land we now own and its surrounds.

I automatically think about landscape in terms of how it all works in both space and time. One the earliest records for this area is found in Major Mitchell’s 1836 journal. Between Newstead and Castlemaine, on September 28 he fleetingly notes: “we passed alternately through strips of forest and over open flats well watered, the streams flowing southward; the country….. at least as fine as that we had left”. Although Mitchell tended to ‘gild the lily’, one of Australia’s first travel writers, William Howitt, who sailed from England to the Victorian goldfields in 1852, had a similar opinion of Muckleford valley: “[the township of Muckleford] lies in a splendid expanse of the richest meadow land imaginable, on the banks of a good creek.” Given these descriptions, it isn’t hard to image Aboriginal people long occupied and exerted an influence over this area.

Aerial photography from 1946 (above) and today (below) shows a landscape in recovery.

Fine country indeed! A landscape that has fared relatively well since the arrival of Europeans; avoiding the worst of the rapacious diggers with a terrain mostly suited to pastoralism. In view of both Mt Alexander and Tarrengower, our place has a mix of habitats: box-ironbark forest on the low sedimentary rises and a strip of what was once open grassy woodland on the margins of an unnamed side valley. (Perhaps being a ‘blow in’ I could be forgiven if I referred to said valley as Ottrey’s Creek, on account of the nearby ‘scrub’ from which it substantially drains. But I digress.) Although the hill country is entirely regrowth and the lower slopes only support fragments of the original bush, the last few decades has seen rapid ecological recovery, documented by aerial photography.

The constrained land use history has bequeathed us a surprisingly resilient landscape. The drainage lines are intact and there is little sheet erosion; the ground layer in the regrowth is diverse and abundant; and we are surrounded by a large expanse of remnant bushland. There is even widespread Buloke (Allocasuarina luehmannii) regrowth (literally thousands of them) and a few Blue Devils (Eryngium ovinum) coming back!  Along the roadsides and scattered across paddocks throughout the catchment there are still quite a lot of large habitat trees. I’ve already heard of numerous Tuan sightings since arriving and I’m told Swift Parrots can be ‘twitched’ at Muckleford Station most years. And on top of all that, amazingly, we are also blessed with no rabbits (our neighbour reckons the paddocks literally moved with them before calicivirus).

It is a privilege to be part of nature recovering, but not in a passive way. There is much we can do to make sure the environmental healing process endures. Connecting Country’s resources pages offer ideas on how you can better understand your land and take action to help its recovery: visit http://connectingcountry.org.au/education-resources/.

 

Nature News – August 2016: Brown Treecreeper Super-Group

Posted on 2 August, 2016 by Connecting Country

For this month’s Nature News, Connecting Country’s Woodland Birds Coordinator, Tanya Loos, celebrates the cooperative spirit of the Brown Treecreeper. You can read it in print on page 34 in the August 2nd 2016 edition of the Midland Express.

Some birds are so rare and hard to find that it is a delight to catch a glimpse of them, such as the Painted Button-quail or Powerful Owl. Other birds are classified as rare, but where they occur they are noisy and noticeable, and present in good numbers. A good example of this is the locally abundant, but threatened, Brown Treecreeper.

The social Brown Treecreeper can be spotted in the forests around Castlemaine. Photo by Geoff Park

Brown Treecreepers may be seen in most patches of forest and woodland in the Castlemaine region, especially in Muckleford and Newstead. They are tubby brown birds which hop along the ground, scamper along fallen logs, and creep up trees in the manner of treecreepers. Their call is a strident ‘spink spink’ and as the treecreepers are very social, you may hear lots of calls and see wing-fluttering as the birds sort out who is who in the flock.

Brown Treecreepers are particularly frisky at the moment, as the year’s breeding has begun! This species breeds cooperatively, that is, the young from previous years help the parents raise the young. These family groups usually number from three to eight birds. And then, in a totally cool twist – these family groups will team up with neighbouring family groups to form a super-group! A super-group or clan is a large group where most males from any group will help at any of the nests of the super-group.

If you are lucky enough to have a super-group on your bush block, you might wonder why these birds are considered rare! Brown Treecreepers are widespread across our region, but in neighbouring areas such as the Ballarat region, they have become locally extinct. Their habitat needs are quite specific, and if the changes in the landscape are too great, they simply disappear from that area.

Brown Treecreeper families have home ranges that may be as large as twelve hectares, and they need this patch to be continuous, good quality habitat. Even a gap of one kilometre is too far for them to cross!  Their patch needs to have plenty of large old trees, logs on the ground, an abundance of fallen timber and leaf litter, and grass tussocks.  Heavily burnt public land or very sparse cleared private land does not have the habitat complexity these birds need to find food and raise their young.

To find out more about Brown Treecreepers and the other members of the Feathered Five, see Connecting Country’s woodland birds section on our website (CLICK HERE).

 

19 August 2016 – Sustainable and Biodiverse Farms Field Day

Posted on 21 July, 2016 by Connecting Country

Holy Goat

Enjoy an informative tour of the Sutton Grange Organic Farm with Holy Goat Cheese owners Anna-Marie Monda and Carla Meurs.

Making a dream of a sustainable and biodiverse farm a reality is hard work, but some of the region’s most successful producers are here to help. Connecting Country and the North Central Catchment Management Authority (CMA) are bringing successful farmers together for a Farm Field Day on 19 August.

North Central CMA regional Landcare Facilitator Mandy Coulson said the field day is about learning from others and fully understanding the journey from idea to marketplace.

“It will be an opportunity to learn about local produce and the various journeys people are experiencing as they work towards achieving integrated sustainable land systems in the southern part of the region,” she said.

Carla Meurs and Anna-Marie Monda (Holy Goat Cheese), Katie Finlay  (Mount Alexander Fruit Gardens), Mandy Jean (Guildford Winery), John Cable (JCBee Honey), Ben Boxshall (Farm Forest Growers of Victoria), Sam White (Sidonia Road Organics), and Clare de Kok (Pig in a Box) will tell their stories of innovation, diversification and value adding.

farm field day flyer“Over 200 landholders in the Mount Alexander Region have worked with Connecting Country to improve the sustainability and biodiversity of their properties,” Connecting Country’s Krista Patterson-Majoor said.  “We are thrilled to provide this opportunity to see one of these inspiring farms in action and to learn from other local producers.”

The field day will be held at the Sutton Grange Community Hall and nearby Sutton Grange Organic Farm, the home of Holy Goat Cheese. The event is free and supported through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme and by Connecting Country, through funding from the Australian Government.

Click here to download a flyer and agenda for the day.

RSVP is essential by 8 August on info@nccma.vic.gov.au or 03 5448 7124.

farm field day agenda

 

Sticky Beak Tour 2016

Posted on 8 July, 2016 by Connecting Country

On Sunday 26th June 2016, 30 enthusiastic participants joined our ‘Sticky Beak Tour’ of restoration projects on four local private properties.  Connecting Country had assisted all four landholders to undertake on-ground works projects on these properties over recent years.  All 30 participants on the tour have also been undertaking on-ground works projects with Connecting Country’s support.  As such, it was a chance for everyone to gather and share their experiences in landscape restoration. Despite it being a chilly day, we were warmed by the stories from these four landholders, and by the very tasty soup served up at the Guildford Winery. To quote one participant;

The tour has really helped us to crystallize our plans for future plantings on (our) property. Discussion during the tour really helped us to weigh up the pros and cons of different approaches and being able to see things “in the flesh” really assists with the visualisation process. We now have a clear idea of what we want to do next and more confidence that the work can deliver the results we are looking for.

1_groupshot

Brandie Strickland, who is undertaking a student placement at Connecting Country, has recorded the stories of the four landholder’s we visited.

Site 1- Cullen Gunn, Walmer

Cullen is an engaging gentleman from Hamilton. He and his family enjoy their delightful 280ha property in Walmer as often as they can (though not as often as Cullen would like). The property was originally grazed heavily; a practice Cullen hasn’t continued unless you count the 600 or so kangaroos. It is Cullen’s dream to make the property carbon neutral and very biodiverse. He has established several areas dedicated to farm forestry. And, in 2008, decided to try direct seeding to add some diversity around his forestry operation. Four rounds of direct seeding later – including the help of Connecting Country – what looked like a potential failure is now as “thick as hair” in parts. As a result, Cullen and his family has watched over 100 species of birds return to the property and sugar gliders inhabit his nest boxes.

3_chris johnsonSite 2- Chris Johnston, Green Gully

Chris’s property used to be grazed by cattle and was heavily cleared for firewood and other uses. Originally Chris worried that maybe there were more problems on the land than she could manage. However, given the history of the property over the past 10 years it “wasn’t really that bad”. With the help of Connecting Country, Chris is trialing an exclusion plot to see what grows naturally without grazing by kangaroos, rabbits and other animals. She is also revegetating the cleared gully areas, however has found kangaroos and cockatoos to be an issue as they shred the tree guards. She has been lucky enough to replace most tree guards second hand and is trialing protecting seedlings with smaller fenced areas using other gathered resources, like star pickets, at little to no cost.  Chris is passionate about restoring the land and hopes to one day see it returned to the traditional owners, the Dja Dja Wurrung, for better land management.

Site 3- Mark and Helen Wakeham, Yapeen

Mark and Helen moved to their property 14 years ago. Despite Helen’s sometimes lengthy commute to Melbourne for work, both Helen and Mark are extremely happy with their little slice of the country. Like many of the surrounding properties, their property is currently grazed by cattle. However, over the years, the number of cattle has lessened as management costs have increased and the property has become more recreational: ‘not a farm, just fun’. The use of cattle on the property is now more of a management tool. Both Mark and Helen are very open to increasing biodiversity on their property and over the years have allowed a lot of conservation and revegetation work to be done. The North Central Catchment Management Authority fenced and direct seeded at the rear of the property to protect remnant Box Ironbark Woodland. More recently, Connecting Country has created a buffer zone along the roadside and gully with direct seeding which will provide a excellent link across the landscape.

Site 4- Mandy Jean, Guildford

Mandy and Brian own the Guildford vineyard. They acquired the property in 2004 and today, along with wonderful chef Zack Grumont, run a very successful business. If you walk around the vineyard you can see all the hard work that has gone into creating such a productive site. Mandy sees increasing biodiversity as critical to the vineyard’s success. The vineyard hosts up to 80 kangaroos over a year, hundreds of birds, bats and microbats and more insects than you can count. Kangaroos and birds, in particular, are very welcome as each benefits the vineyard in their own natural way. The birds reduce bug, disease and pest populations on the vines while the kangaroos provide a manure rich with nitrogen. With the help of Connecting Country, the vineyard is becoming more biodiverse with tubestock  planted on the surrounding hills to enhance both beauty and environmental benefit. Mandy’s next project is a indigenous ‘insectarium’ to increase natural pest control.

Acknowledgements

Our Sticky Beak Tour highlighted just a fraction of the work that landholders and community groups from across the Mount Alexander region have completed with Connecting Country over the past 8 years. We would like to thank all of them for their involvement – each project is a inspiring story of landscape restoration in this area. We would also like to thank:

  • Cullen, Chris, Mandy and Mark and Helen for being such excellent and inspiring hosts,
  • Geoff Park for his expert facilitation and photos,
  • Bonnie Humphries for sharing her project and botanical knowledge,
  • Zack Grumont and the Guildford Winery for a delicious lunch,
  • Brandie Strickland for the photos and write-up, and
  • the Australian Government for the funding as part of our Connecting Landscapes program.

 

Nature News – June 2016: Is there anybody home?

Posted on 5 July, 2016 by Connecting Country

On page 26 in this week’s Midland Express (5 July 2016) there is a great Nature News article by Paul Foreman about his property in Walmer.

In case you missed out on last month’s Nature News, Max Schlachter reported that the trick to monitoring nest boxes is having an eye for the décor. You can find the article on page 17 of the 7 June 2016 edition, or read it here:

A Connecting Country nest box in the field

A Connecting Country nest box in the field

Have you ever been out in the bush and noticed a mysterious green box hanging from the side of a tree? It might have had a cryptic code on the bottom like ‘CC10-206’?

If so, what you stumbled across is not a modern art installation or a military experiment, it’s a nesting box for one of Central Victoria’s lesser known marsupials – the Tuan (also known as the Brush-tailed Phascogale). Sometimes described as a cross between a possum and a rat, Tuans are carnivorous marsupials that live in trees.

In 2010/11 Connecting Country installed more than 400 specially designed Tuan nest boxes on properties across the Mount Alexander Shire. The boxes are monitored every two years and the 2016 surveys are just about complete.

Phascogale in nest

We’re all familiar with bird nests, but did you know that native marsupials also build a nest? Unlike most birds that only build a nest during the breeding season, marsupials such as Sugar Gliders, Ringtail Possums and Tuans live in a nest all the time, usually placed in the hollows of old trees.

The trick to monitoring nest boxes is to know which nest belongs to which animal, even when nobody’s at home.

Tuan’s are not the neat and tidy type – their nest is generally a complete mess. But they are prolific decorators and will use a variety of material to fill up their box. Bark is a favourite, as are feathers. Sheep’s wool and baling twine are also popular. In one box, a snake skin was even part of the décor – a bit gaudy for my taste.

sweetsugars

Sugar gliders in nest

Sugar Gliders also make use of the boxes and display a complete lack of imagination when it comes to nesting material. Leaves are the only thing they’ll consider, and almost always from Eucalypts. But can they make a nest! The leaves are arranged in a spirally woven bowl, and sometime they’ll even create a complete sphere, with themselves inside it. How do they do it?

The results of this year’s survey will be collated soon and made available on the Connecting Country website http://connectingcountry.org.au/monitoring/nestboxes/.  The site also has information on building and installing your own nest boxes.

Connecting Country would like to say a huge thank you to the 117 landholders whose properties we visited to survey their Tuan nest boxes this autumn. And also to the 20 volunteers who gave up their time to help take notes and carry a ladder through the bush. We couldn’t have got it done without you!

 

Local Climate Change Action: 1 new webpage and 2 upcoming events

Posted on 3 June, 2016 by Connecting Country

If you are interested in learning more about the impact of climate change in central Victoria then it you should head to Bendigo on Wednesday June the 15th. There are two events of interest – in the morning, the North Central Catchment Management Authority’s Climate Change Forum, and in the evening, a public forum on the future of Bendigo in a warming environment. More information on the these forums is below. Or, if you are enjoying the comfort of home, you can check out Connecting Country’s new Biodiversity and Climate Change resource pages.

Climate change will put pressure on the biodiversity of the Mount Alexander region. Photo: Shane Carey

Climate change and biodiversity in the Mount Alexander Shire

By working with people in our community to address the direct and indirect impacts of climate change, we hope to create a robust and healthy local landscape that remains livable for future generations of humans and other species.

Connecting Country’s activities – such as remnant protection, construction of wildlife corridors, control of pest plants and animals, and biodiversity monitoring – all contribute to climate change adaptation, mitigation and a better understanding of its effects. However, there is always more that can be done locally and at larger scales.

Our new climate change and biodiversity resource pages contains links to local information looking at climate patterns, the impact on biodiversity and what you can do to help. As with all of our resource pages, these references are continually evolving and your suggestions for new information is always welcome (email krista@connectingcountry.org.au).

CLICK HERE to view the pages.

North Central 2016 Climate Change Forum

This forum offers you an opportunity to share the latest knowledge of climate change science and agency activity with the North Central CMA. CLICK HERE to view the flyer.

When: 9 am – 1pm Wednesday 15 June 2016
Where: Bendigo Jockey Club, Heinz St, White Hills VIC 3550
RSVP: Attendance is limited.
RSVP to the North Central CMA by Friday 10 June
Telephone:  (03) 5448 7124
Email:  info@nccma.vic.gov.au

Public Forum: The Future of Bendigo in a Warming Climate

bendigo climate change forum