Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

What’s in that nest box? – an update on our monitoring program

Posted on 9 July, 2020 by Jess

Connecting Country’s ten years of nest box monitoring

One way that Connecting Country contributes to nature conservation in the Mount Alexander region is through our infamous nest box monitoring program. We set up this program in 2010 to monitor our favorite hollow-dependent marsupial: the Brush-tailed Phascogale. This adorable little animal has experienced a serious range contraction and decline in numbers across Victoria. However, the Mount Alexander region remains a stronghold for this special critter.

Our 450 nest boxes across the region help us to provide homes where natural nesting hollows are rare. They also allow us to monitor this species population through time and learn more about its habitat requirements, and provide a great opportunity for landholders and volunteers to engage with a rarely-seen animal and learn more about wildlife on their properties. This project has also contributed valuable information to the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas, an Arthur Rylah Institute investigation into nest box use in Victoria, and a PhD project at La Trobe University.

Life in a sharehouse

Our nest boxes are designed for phascogales, but they are also used by sugar gliders. The two species and their nests are easy to tell apart if you can get a really good look at them. Phascogales have a characteristic black brushy tail. They make messy, smelly nests with shredded bark, leaves, feathers, and fur, and leave scats in the nest. Sugar gliders have a rounder muzzle, a gliding membrane, a tapered grey and black tail (often with a white tip), and extra-cute big round eyes. They make neat nests of fresh eucalyptus leaves in a cup shape. Below, we have two phascogales in typical phascogale nests, and two sugar gliders in typical sugar glider nests.

 

To learn as much as we can about who’s been using a nest box, it’s important to take a really careful look and document what we see. It’s not always simple! Below, we have a sugar glider in a phascogale nest (left), and a phascogale in a sugar glider nest (right).

 

Checking nest boxes

Our nest boxes are usually installed on trees that don’t already have natural hollows, on tree species that have rough bark (so it’s easier for animals to climb to access the nest box), and face south-south-east so the boxes don’t get too hot in summer. They are usually installed about 3 m high above the ground to help keep our precious native animals safe from predators such as foxes, and keep our nest boxes safe from vandalism.

This brush-tailed phascogale was climbing a grey box tree to get to its Connecting Country nest box. Photo: Jess Lawton (La Trobe University)

However, this also presents some logistical and safety challenges. We’ve always checked out nest boxes by climbing a ladder and carefully opening the lid of the nest box to inspect and photograph contents (without flash). Climbing a ladder brings a safety risk, and we are always looking for ways to make things safer for our staff and volunteers.

Over the last two years we’ve been reviewing our monitoring program as part of our Habitat Health Check project, supported by Helen Macpherson Smith Trust. We’ve done this to ensure our program is robust, and our volunteers are trained and safe. As part of this process we decided to trial a new way of inspecting nest boxes, checking them from the ground using a nest box inspection camera – an endoscope-type camera on the end of a long pole. We wanted to find out if the inspection camera made nest box checks safer and more efficient. We also wanted to test if we got the same results during our nest box checks if we used this new inspection method.

A new way forward?

So, in early 2020, armed with the best nest box inspection camera we could get our hands on, we trialed both survey methods. Asha, Jess, and intrepid volunteers Alex and Trevor, checked 17 nest boxes across two properties in Sutton Grange with both survey methods: an inspection camera, and by climbing a ladder and carefully peeking inside. We divided into two teams and went our separate ways to check the nest boxes, so no-one could guess what was in a nest box by looking at the other team’s excited facial expressions!

Below, you can see what each team saw at three nest boxes with both inspection methods. The inspection camera on the left, and by climbing a ladder and peeking inside on the right.

 

Can you guess which nest box inspection method we prefer? The two teams got different results at 5 out of the 17 nest boxes we inspected (that’s 29% of nest boxes!). For one nest box, this was because of different understandings of what the different species nest’s look like, which highlights the need for comprehensive training for all our inspectors. However, the remaining differences in nest box results between the two methods were because it was difficult to get a good enough look inside the nest boxes with an inspection camera. Overall, the ladder inspection method gave us a more accurate picture of what was going on in the nest boxes.

We also learnt that using an inspection camera for our particular type of nest boxes was not necessarily faster because the nest box lids were tricky to open using a pole from the ground. Surprisingly, inspecting nest boxes by climbing a ladder seemed less disruptive to the animals, as it was faster and quieter to open the nest box lid from a ladder.

We don’t want to change monitoring method if this will make our results less accurate. If we change our ability to detect animals, we can’t tell if changes in recorded animals are because of real population changes, or because of a change in our monitoring method. Instead, our plan for the future is to improve our ladder safety procedures, equipment and training for our nest box inspectors. The inspection cameras will still be valuable as a community engagement tool and backup method.

We will closely monitor COVID-19 restrictions with the hope of monitoring our nest boxes again in Autumn 2021. We think seeing a wild phascogale in a nest box is a very special experience. Please contact Jess Lawton if you would like to be added to our volunteer list (jess@connectingcountry.org.au). Volunteers must have a reasonable level of fitness and be comfortable working in the bush. We will need some volunteers to climb ladders (training provided), and some volunteers to carry equipment and take notes with feet planted firmly on the ground.

Connecting Country wishes to acknowledge the invaluable current and past support for our nest box program provided by Helen Macpherson Smith Trust, Wettenhall Environment Trust and Bank Australia

 

Hunting for fungi on Mount Alexander

Posted on 9 July, 2020 by Frances

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

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

 

Make your fencing wildlife friendly

Posted on 8 July, 2020 by Frances

Many of us have had the awful experience of finding a wild animal tangled in a fence. Here is an excellent article from our friends at Newham & District Landcare Group, who do outstanding landscape restoration work in the Macedon Ranges region of Victoria. This article was written by Penny Roberts for the Newham & District Landcare Group news.

Make your fencing wildlife friendly

In Australia, barbed wire is so ubiquitous that most people are hardly aware of its presence.

It forms the boundaries of countless properties, estimated at tens of millions of kilometres, and is the accepted way of keeping sheep and cattle within those boundaries. More than 60% of this fencing has barb wire as the top strand.

However, it is a major hazard to our wildlife, with thousands of native animals becoming entangled on its barbs each year. Nobody really knows the extent or how many, as many are removed by the landholder or eaten by foxes, cats and even birds of prey.

One of our members recently spotted this Sugar Glider caught on barbed wire on a fence. Fortunately, with four hands available, the Glider was safely released and inspection showed it had suffered minimal damage to its membrane.

More than 80% of recorded wildlife entanglement occurs on the top strand of barbed wire fences. We often see kangaroos hung up on wire and mesh fences, legs caught in a twist of wire – a reflection of their numbers in our landscape at present – but more than 70 wildlife species have been identified in Australia as occasional or regular victims of barbed wire fences.

Nocturnal animals are at greatest risk, failing to see fencing or cannot clear the height in windy conditions – Bats, Gliders and Owls most commonly. It may be that the fence is over a food tree or the gliding distance between trees is too great.

Fences close to wetlands may result in insufficient clearance for take-off and landing safely.

Jacky Winter perches on a fence (photo by Kerry Jennings)

Any barb wire presents a risk, however higher risks exist where fences are:

  • Newly constructed
  • On ridgelines.
  • Crossing or surrounding waterways and dams.
  • Near feed trees.
  • Higher than surrounding vegetation.

 

Wildlife-friendly fencing:

  • Remove any old fencing that has fallen into disrepair.
  • Consider whether a fence is really necessary.

 

Although most property owners would be reluctant to change all of their barbed wire fencing to plain wire, there are some steps they can take to minimise the harm to our animals where fences are necessary:

  • Identify the wildlife hotspots: along ridge lines, near feed trees, in wildlife corridors or over
    waterways.
  • Run a strand of white electric fence tape above the barbed wire. This flickers in the wind and is
    more visible than the grey wire.
  • Replace the top strand of barbed wire with plain wire or cover it with split polypipe.
  • Attach old CDs which swivel and reflect the light to make hotspot sections of fence more visible.

 

Many thanks to Newham and District Landcare Group for sharing this useful information. To learn more about their group and read their news in full – click here

 

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

Posted on 7 July, 2020 by Jess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Some little known facts about platypus

Posted on 2 July, 2020 by Ivan

There is so much to love about one of our most unusual mammals, the platypus. They almost appear to be a blend of features from other creatures: notably a duck, a beaver and even a rakali. They are often misunderstood because we so rarely see these beautiful water creatures. Males are venomous, with sharp stingers on the heels of their rear feet that can deliver a toxic blow to any foe.

Platypus (Berzins 1) Queanbeyan

Based on mark-recapture studies along creeks in Victoria, a platypus home range typically measures 4-11 km (photo: Australian Platypus Conservancy)

The platypus is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ in Australia and on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. For more information and maps of distribution – click here

The Friends of Campbells Creek Landcare Group’s incredible habitat restoration work along Campbells Creek here in central Victoria has improved local conditions for platypus. In late 2019 they worked with the Australian Platypus Conservancy to survey Campbells Creek for platypus and rakali, with results presented at a community workshop in March 2020. The survey identified a number of platypus in Campbells Creek, which was heartening, although results indicated there was not great potential for successful breeding and increase in distribution.

The Australian Platypus Conservancy recently worked with Holbrook Landcare to produce a short video about the platypus and its conservation needs. This video gives a terrific overview of the ecological requirements of this wonderful species and how we can restore our waterways to ensure populations grow into the future. Interestingly, the video notes that foxes are one of the worst predators for the platypus.

The video can be viewed via the image below or on YouTube – click here

For more information about Friends of Campbells Creek Landcare Group and the Platypus project – click here

For more information about the Australian Platypus Conservancy and their survey methods – click here

 

 

 

 

Mount Alexander Shire reviews local laws on invasive plants and animals

Posted on 2 July, 2020 by Ivan

We received an update from the Tarrangower Cactus Control Group with some exciting developments on the persistent problems of invasive plants and animals in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. Many of our readers will be familiar with the frustrations of trying to manage invasive species on a local scale, only to find the issues keep persisting due to a lack of control elsewhere in the landscape. 

To access Connecting Country’s fact sheet aimed at assisting landowners to manage invasive plants and animals – click here

Tarrangower Cactus Control Group asked us to post the following update about the recent review of local laws by Mount Alexander Shire Council.

A large fruiting wheel cactus plant, one of the most destructive invasive species in our region (photo: Tarrangower Cactus Control Group)

 

Review and draft proposal of Mount Alexander Shire local laws

Over the past couple of years, a review of the Mount Alexander Shire Council’s (MASC) Local Laws has been carried out. During this review process, the Tarrangower Cactus Control Group (TCCG) took the opportunity to express their concerns to MASC of how ineffective and ambiguous the existing law is concerning noxious weed control. TCCG members met with Shire staff and requested greater clarity and priority be given to noxious weed management in the future Local Laws.

The outcome of these discussions has resulted in the creation of a new, specific clause for ‘Control of noxious weeds’ (Clause 19). In the current Local Law (2010) the only mention of noxious weeds is buried, insignificantly, in Local Law No. 3 ‘Environment’, under Clause 12 ‘Dangerous or unsightly land’, in a sub-clause (12.1(f)).

In the new proposed Local Law (2020), Clause 12 has been expanded into three new clauses (17, 18 and 19) to give much greater definition, clarity and interpretation to the environmental issues previously concealed in one clause.

The new, specific Clause 19 ‘Control of noxious weeds’ includes a definition of ‘noxious weeds’ and reference to the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 and the Catchment and Land Protection Regulations 2012. In addition, the penalty has been doubled, from 5 to 10 penalty points.

These changes will hopefully raise the status and significance of noxious weed control in our Shire and reduce the ambiguity that the previous sub-clause created. The new clause will provide the Shire’s Bylaw Officers with a clearer definition of noxious weed management and hopefully result in increased enforcement action with non-compliant property owners.

This new, specific ‘noxious weed’ clause should also be more effective by making it easier for landowners to seek help from MASC Bylaw Officers to enforce weed control action by neighbours, especially absentee owners.

The draft proposed version of the Local Laws is now completed and has been published for community comments. Please take a look at the new version of the Local Law and send in some positive feedback to MASC in support of the amendments. Feedback needs to be submitted before end of July when Council will vote to accept the new version. Log onto the MASC website and go to their ‘Have your say’ page to find the document and link for feedback.

Tarrangower Cactus Control Group

 

A new look at how birds talk, work, play, parent and think – 15 July 2020

Posted on 1 July, 2020 by Ivan

We recently discovered a free online event hosted by the Geelong Regional Library Network that will interest the bird lovers in our community. The event will feature two superstars of bird zooniverse, Jennifer Ackerman from the USA and our own Sean Dooley, discussing a new look at how birds talk, work, play, parent and think. You may have seen a fantastic recent article by Sean Dooley in The Guardian newspaper on how the dawn chorus of birds gives him hope and connection. Well worth a read. Please see the following details from the Geelong Regional Libraries website on how to register and what to expect at the event.

Please contact the organisers at Geelong Regional Libraries if you have any questions about this online event

A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think: 15 July 2020

Jennifer Ackerman is the New York Times bestselling author of The Genius of Birds, and has been writing about science, nature, and human biology for almost three decades. Join her online from her home in the USA in a twitchers’ event you won’t want to miss! Jennifer is joining us online from the USA and will be talking with renowned Australian birdwatcher, Sean Dooley, author of The Big Twitch and National Public Affairs Manager for Birdlife Australia. He is currently presenting the ‘squawkback’ segment on ABC Melbourne radio every Thursday afternoon.

REGISTER HERE

Date: Wednesday 15 July 2020 from 7:30 to 8:30 pm

Jennifer Ackerman: Author of The Bird Way

Jennifer Ackerman has been writing about science, nature, and human biology for almost three decades. Her most recent books include Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: a day in the life of your body; Ah-Choo: the uncommon life of the common cold; Chance in the House of Fate: a natural history of heredity; The Genius of Birds; and Birds by the Shore. A contributor to Scientific American, National Geographic, The New York Times, and many other publications, Ackerman is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in Nonfiction, a Bunting Fellowship, and a grant from the Alfred P Sloan Foundation.

Sean Dooley: Facilitator

Sean Dooley is a renowned Australian birdwatcher, author of The Big Twitch and former holder of the Australian Big Year twitching record. He is also National Public Affairs Manager for Birdlife Australia. He is currently presenting the ‘squawkback’ segment on ABC Melbourne radio every Thursday afternoon.

 

Cats and dogs in public places: survey

Posted on 1 July, 2020 by Ivan

Mount Alexander Shire Council is currently asking the community to complete a survey on a proposed Order of Council for the Control of Dogs and Cats in public spaces. We have been asked to assist with distributing the survey to our audience, so they can get the best data on what the community wants from this proposal. The council aims to develop sensible controls for how dogs and cats are managed within our Shire, under a new Order of Council.

The proposed Order of Council will provide dog and cat owners with a clear understanding of when their pet needs to be placed under effective control. It will also consider the differences between urban and rural parts of the Shire by allowing for variations in less densely populated areas. Following a strong push from the community, a number of local councils are also introducing cat curfews and other initiatives to limit prowling and reduce the number of native animals they kill.

The ABC recently published a news article that summarised research on the shocking impact of feral and pet cats killing billions of animals each year.

Mount Alexander Shire Council provided the following information about the survey.

Cats can be a man’s best friend, but also a wildlife disaster if let to roam free (photo: Brisbane City Council)


Why is Council doing this now?

Experience tells us that the community’s general expectation is that there should be some restrictions placed on dog owners in how they allow their pets to interact with other members of the public. Following a strong push from the community, a number of Councils are also introducing cat curfews and other initiatives to limit prowling and reduce the number of native animals and birds they kill.

Within the community there are those who like dogs and those who do not. Similar feelings apply to cats. Council’s responsibility is to develop laws that balance community views and do not unreasonably favour or disadvantage an individual or group.

The proposed Order of Council would support Council’s broader objective of increasing responsible pet ownership by taking a proactive approach to the task of controlling dogs and cats in public places. What these controls look like, and how they operate, will be informed by community feedback.

Council is currently undertaking a review of the control of dogs and cats in a public place and has developed a survey to help review this process.

Next steps

Council will review all submissions from community members and use the feedback to inform a new Order of Council. The new Order will be presented to Council for consideration at a public meeting later in 2020.

If the Order is adopted by Council, it will become effective once it is published in the Government Gazette and locally circulating newspaper. When that occurs, Council will also undertake a community-wide education process to ensure our residents and visitors are familiar with the new regulations relating to dogs and cats in public places.

If you’d like any further information about this process; if you need assistance to complete the survey; or if you’d like more information on how an Order of Council would work, please contact Mr Jeffry Amy, Coordinator Community Safety and Amenity, on 5471 1700.

Please click here to complete the survey. 

We would greatly appreciate your feedback and please feel free to distribute this to any colleagues or members so that they can have a chance to develop controls which best suit our community. There are no trick questions or wrong answers just select any of the options that you think should be included. All Mount Alexander Shire residents are encouraged to have their say. I have attached an electronic copy should anyone prefer this over the survey.

Regards
Jeffry Amy  |  Coordinator Community Safety and Amenity Mount Alexander Shire Council
(03) 5471 1764  |  0429 599 249  |  www.mountalexander.vic.gov.au
Civic Centre  |  Corner Lyttleton and Lloyd Streets  |  PO Box 185  |  Castlemaine Victoria 3450

 

 

Living with lizards

Posted on 25 June, 2020 by Ivan

We recently received an excited email from a local landowner who had discovered a water skink in their garden. They were wondering if Connecting Country had any ideas on improving the habitat potential of their garden, and what tips we would suggest to ensure reptiles have a place to call home. It is always a pleasure to see wildlife in your garden, and there are some tried and tested measures to improve your garden and help our local wildlife. The landowner asked particularly about installing some kind of water feature, that may ensure reptiles have access to water over the warmer and drier months.

After some discussion between staff in our virtual office, we thought it timely to publish a few ideas for attracting and sustaining reptiles in our gardens, and creating safe places for our marveled but often misunderstood reptiles. Here are our top five suggestions to attract skinks and other reptiles that you can try in your garden, plus some useful resources that provide further information and actions to consider.

Top tips for a reptile-friendly garden

  1. Leaf litter and branches: To provide habitat for reptiles, it helps to leave leaf litter, mulch, fallen branches and rocks around your garden. This will attract insects for them to eat and provide places for them to shelter and sun themselves on, plus places to hide from predators such as birds and cats.
  2. No pesticides: It’s best to avoid using pesticides, as poisoned insects could be eaten by skinks and other reptiles.
  3. Shelter: As well as rocks, old bricks and roof tiles can provide places for reptiles to shelter and warm up in the sun.
  4. Water: Bonnie (our Landscape Restoration Coordinator) suggests installing a shallow water dish with rough edges or rocks so that skinks can climb in and out, with shelter or cover close by and possibly with a water plant such as Water-milfoil (Myriophyllum crispatum) in it to keep water cooler. A pond is a good way to increase biodiversity in your garden.
  5. Vegetation: Planting low growing tussocks and berry-producing plants such as Grey tussock-grass (Poa sieberiana), Silver tussock-grass (Poa labillardieri) or Kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) and also something like Australian saltbush (Atriplex semibaccata) or Climbing saltbush (Einadia nutans). Skinks also like foliage and flowers, including Austral stork’s bill (Pelargonium austral), Cut-Leafed Daisy (Brachyscome mulitfida), or try indigenous herby or daisy species.

A firm favorite but not so local, this Bearded Dragon visited Muckleford for our snake and reptile workshop (photo by Frances Howe)

 

There are many excellent guides and booklets on wildlife-friendly gardening, but one of our favorites for reptiles is the ‘Backyard Buddies’ guide on creating a lizard- friendly garden. It provides many useful actions to implement at your place, but also things to avoid if you are keen on reptiles enjoying your garden. It lists plants some that are beneficial and important for the reptiles in our region. Click here to view the backyard buddies webpage.

Identifying the many varied and beautiful reptiles can be challenging. Connecting Country has published an excellent brochure on how to identify the numerous reptiles and frogs in our region. Click here to view the brochure or email us to arrange the purchase of a hard-copy printed version for a gold coin donation.

One of our favorite videos was aired on ABC’s Gardening Australia a few months ago, and features how to create a habitat corridor and refuge for reptiles. This habitat corridor is absolutely teeming with life, thanks to the native plantings that attract and sustain wildlife, including birds, bees, butterflies and insects. The video shows landowners how to construct a ‘lizard lounge’ – a lizard friendly location with shelter, basking rocks and plants. Click here to watch the video and get productive in your garden.

 

 

Bird of the month: Black Falcon and Brown Falcon

Posted on 25 June, 2020 by Ivan

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

A big thank you to contributors to this edition of Bird of the Month – Jane Rusden, Damian Kelly and Geoff Park – for their amazing knowledge and advice, and to Ash Vigus for his gorgeous photos.

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

 

 

 

Citizen science projects you can get involved in right now

Posted on 25 June, 2020 by Ivan

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

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

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

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

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

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

To access the full ABC article – click here

 

 

 

 

DELWP climate science webinars – 24 and 26 June 2020

Posted on 19 June, 2020 by Ivan

Two interesting and important climate science webinars are open to the community to learn more about Victoria’s climate past, present and future, and what we are likely to see in our region in 2050 and beyond. The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) is running these free online events on 24 and 26 June 2020. A major challenge for Connecting Country, and others working to restore landscapes, is where to find this information and how to apply it to our work. These free webinars will help inform us about the latest science and we can apply it to planning future projects.

DELWP climate science webinars

Want to understand more about the climate change information available for Victoria? How has the climate already changed? What might Victoria’s climate be like in 2050 and beyond? Where do you even start in looking for this information?

DELWP is running two webinars to give an overview of the information from Victoria’s Climate Science Report 2019 and the local-scale Victorian Climate Projections 2019, as well as guidance on understanding and using the information.

Webinar 1: Climate change in Victoria – past, present and future
Date: 1-2 pm, Wednesday 24 June 2020

  • Victoria’s climate has already changed
  • Future climate projections
  • Resources available – using the decision tree to find what you need
  • Victoria’s Climate Science Report 2019
  • Regional information: Victorian Climate Projections 2019 Regional reports, data tables
  • Communicating Climate Change
  • Planning for uncertainty
  • Lots of time for Q&A with the DELWP project team

Join via this link on the day: MS Teams Live Event

Webinar 2: Victorian climate projections 2019 – findings and tips for interpreting
Date: 1-2 pm, Friday 26 June 2020

  • What do the projections say for Victoria?
  • What are the benefits of local-scale climate data?
  • How to understand and work with the different sources of uncertainty in projections
  • Top tips to interpret the projections correctly
  • Lots of time for Q&A with DELWP and CSIRO scientists

Join via this link on the day: MS Teams Live Event

There’s no need to register for the webinars – just save the time in your calendar and click on the links above to join when it’s time. The recording will be available if you can’t make it on the day.

Planning of revegetation projects must incorporate climate science for the best chance of long-term survival (photo by Connecting Country)

 

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

Posted on 18 June, 2020 by Ivan

Connecting Country would like to extend a huge thank you to our community for the fantastic entries into our 2020 woodland birds photography competition. We received a very high number of quality entries for this competition, far more than we expected.

The theme was woodland birds and the competition was open to all Connecting Country members and the broader Mount Alexander region community. The aim of the competition was to highlight our special woodland bird community and share the passion and skills of our passionate local photographers, as well as produce a beautifully printed calendar for 2021.

The judging panel have completed reviewing all the entries and awarded 13 winners to feature in Connecting Country’s 2021 woodland birds calendar – one for the front cover of the calendar, and one bird for each month of the year. Please enjoy the winning photographs below, including the talented photographer behind each image.

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

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

 

 

Confirm your support for Connecting Country’s work

Posted on 18 June, 2020 by Frances

A huge thank you to our many amazing supporters have been generously donating via our online service as we approach the end of the financial year. Now is a great time to make a financial contribution to Connecting Country’s work if you can. Donating is easy – just use our secure online service (click here) or download our form if you’d prefer cheque or cash (click here).

All donations to Connecting Country are tax-deductible. We appreciate all your support, whether large or small.

Thanks also to all our supporters for being part of the Connecting Country community in 2020, joining our shared vision for landscape restoration across the Mount Alexander region. The valuable work we do couldn’t happen without people like you – volunteering time to help with wildlife monitoring, joining our education events, participating in our on-ground projects, giving financial help or just being a member.

We know we have a demonstrated track record of ten years of successful landscape restoration and great plans for the future. However, in the current situation, it’s extremely difficult to secure funding for on-ground environmental projects. Now the COVID-19 pandemic has caused our government and many philanthropic organisations freeze or delay grant opportunities.

We are determined to survive, and maintain our core capacity and current projects until new project funding arrives. However, we need help to maintain the strong foundations essential to our success as a community-driven organisation and keep us focused on long-term plans. With enough support, the coming year will see us continue to help landholders with on-ground actions, prepare for climate change, maintain our long-term monitoring, and deliver events that inform, educate and inspire.

You can be assured that any financial support from you will be well spent, with 100% invested into our core work of supporting and implementing landscape restoration in our local area. We run a very lean operation and our small team of part-time staff attracts voluntary support that ensures every dollar goes a long way.

As a Connecting Country supporter, you’ve already contributed to some amazing successes. Since beginning in 2007 we have:

  • Restored over 9,500 ha of habitat across the Mount Alexander region.
  • Delivered more than 200 successful community education events.
  • Secured funding to deliver more than 50 landscape restoration projects.
  • Supported a thriving network of 30 Landcare and Friends groups.

Thanks again for your support for Connecting Country. Making our vision a reality is only possible with strong community support. Please enjoy this gallery snapshot of some of our 2019-20 activities.

 

 

Cultural surveys in Castlemaine and Bendigo

Posted on 18 June, 2020 by Ivan

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

Walking Together – Balak Kalik Manya – update

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Thank you,

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

Black Rock Scorpion at Wildflower Drive

 

 

 

 

Inquiry into ecosystems decline in Victoria

Posted on 11 June, 2020 by Frances

The Mount Alexander region of central Victoria has a long history of disturbance. Since the 1800s our local ecosystems have experienced gold mining, timber cutting, clearing, contamination, weeds, pest animals, changes in fire and water regimes, and a changing climate. As observant people we are all too aware of examples of ongoing decline of our local ecosystems. Here is an opportunity to contribute to a new public inquiry into ecosystems decline in Victoria.

Volunteers working to reverse the decline of our local ecosystems (photo by Gen Kay)

The Environment and Planning Committee of the Victorian Parliament is conducting an Inquiry into ecosystems decline in Victoria. The inquiry will look at measures to restore habitats and populations of threatened and endangered species.

The Inquiry’s Terms of Reference include:

  • the extent of the decline of Victoria’s biodiversity and the likely impact on people and ecosystems
  • the adequacy of the legislative framework protecting Victoria’s environment and ecosystems, particularly in the context of climate change impacts
  • the adequacy and effectiveness of government programs
  • opportunities to restore the environment while upholding First Peoples’ connection to Country.

Submissions: close 31 July 2020

How to make a submission: go to Inquiry website

 

Connecting Country office still closed for June 2020

Posted on 9 June, 2020 by Frances

Here at Connecting Country we take our social and safety responsibility seriously. While there are landscapes, ecosystems and people needing our help, we continue to operate and support our community. However, we’ve had to adapt our work to reduce COVID-19 infection risks.

Golden Wattle in winter (photo by Frances Howe)

In the interests of health and safety, our staff and volunteers continue to work from home as much as possible. We have no plans to reopen the Connecting Country office at this stage. The government has given a clear direction for every Victorian who is able to work from home to continue to do so. It appears this restriction will remain to at least to the end of June 2020.

Although our office at the Hub is temporarily closed, we’re still hard at work, and you can still contact us via email or phone. If there’s no answer on the office phone, please leave a message and we’ll get back to you within a few days. Please be patient as we don’t check phone messages every day.

When we do need to visit the Connecting Country office and depot, we only do so with appropriate safety measures in place. If you need to visit us in person, please contact us to arrange a meeting before coming, as the Hub building and depot are locked.

Thanks for your understanding and we’ll keep you informed of any further developments. We appreciate your support in helping keep our community and environment healthy!

You can contact Connecting Country via email on info@connectingcountry.org.au or call the office on (03) 5472 1594.

In the meantime, please enjoy one of our favorite videos below, produced by the talented crew at Remember the Wild.

 

 

Need advice on controlling Gorse? VGT extension in Sutton Grange

Posted on 9 June, 2020 by Jacqui

Please see the invitation below to landowners in the Sutton Grange area from the Victorian Gorse Taskforce (VGT).  For enquiries, or to register your interest, please contact Brydie Murrihy from the VGT on the details below. 

The Victorian Gorse Taskforce (VGT) will be delivering a community-wide extension services program in the Sutton Grange area this June/July 2020. Households may register their interest by contacting Brydie Murrihy by email or phone (see below for details).

Extension Service
The VGT Extension Officer, Brydie Murrihy, will conduct a property assessment either alone or assisted by the landowner and will provide professional best practice management advice tailored to the property. The landowner will receive extension material and information on any support or assistance that may be available to them, a property map detailing location of gorse plants, a detailed weed management plan and follow up phone calls and/or visits with landholders if required.

This program is a free service and the property inspections will be scheduled to suit the participants involved.

Image may contain: plant, flower, sky, cloud, tree, outdoor and nature

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) is a Regionally Controlled Weed in the most parts of Victoria. It is a threat to native plants and animals and is best controlled early and consistently as part of an integrated approach. Photo: VGT

Application
If you have any queries or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact Brydie or the VGT via the VGT website or social platforms (Facebook & Instagram).

To set-up an inspection: Brydie Murrihy 0428 335 705 or email bmurrihy@cva.org.au.

There are limited spots so get in quick!

Social distancing rules will apply.

 

Solutions to insect armageddon – online event 12 June 2020

Posted on 9 June, 2020 by Ivan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further information please contact CFNC.

 

 

Congratulations to local Landcare on community grants

Posted on 4 June, 2020 by Jacqui

Maldon Urban Landcare group (MULGA) recently received a community grant to encourage people to choose  local indigenous plants in their gardens. The new project, funded by a small community grant from the Mount Alexander Shire community grants program, will add to MULGA’s current work. Their activities include long-term weed control and revegetation, and a project advocating for the protection of large old Eucalyptus trees in the Maldon area.

MULGA will produce and distribute a brochure about local native species to local residents, listing species that can be found in the bush around Maldon VIC. Gardeners will find tips on where to purchase local native plants and how to care from them.

In a recent interview Bev Phillips (MULGA Secretary) said, ‘As our climate gets drier the prediction is that in 50 years we’ll have the climate of Dubbo’. All but the toughest of plants will require care until established, and growing local natives requires far less water as they are already used to the dry conditions and poor local soils. By choosing to plant these local species, wildlife benefit too. ‘Planting natives helps to support the native birdlife – and everything else – the lizards and insects,’ Bev said.

Congratulations are also due to Nuggetty Land Protection Group who received a grant of $1,406 for their project ‘Gazebos to share’.

Links and further resources:

  • Full interview in the Midland Express – click here
  • Information on Mount Alexander Shire Council community grants – click here
  • Information on native plants of the Mount Alexander region – click here
  • More about Maldon Urban Landcare Group – click here
  • More about Nuggety Land protection Group – click here
  • Find your local Landcare group – click here

Spreading wattle (acacia genistifolia) is an excellent small garden plant, which is excellent habitat for woodland birds and flowers beautifully. Photo: Jacqui Slingo