Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Boosting Bulokes project helps a diamond shine

Posted on 15 November, 2017 by Tanya Loos

Thanks to Connecting Country’s Boosting Bulokes and Diamond Firetails project there are now 1,200 more young Buloke plants in the western parts of the Mount Alexander region.  These slow growing trees will eventually set seed and provide a  much-needed food source for seed-eating birds such as Diamond Firetails and Common Bronzewing pigeons.

Buloke trees belong to the Casuarinaceae or Sheoak family and were once abundant across the region. Bulokes are so rare nowadays that they are  listed as ‘threatened’ under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. We wanted to help bring this threatened species back into our local area. The Boosting Bulokes and Diamond Firetails project involved 78 landholders on 23 properties, Muckleford Landcare group and the kids and teachers of the Castlemaine Steiner School and Kindergarten.

Project coordinator Bonnie Humphreys with Lisa Hall from Castlemaine Steiner School – you can see the large robust guards in the background, as well as a host of enthusiastic kids and landholders!

Bonnie prepared a comprehensive fact sheet on Bulokes, covering their ecology, threats and importantly – how to plant and care for Bulokes! The sheet can be downloaded by clicking this link:  Buloke-Factsheet-CCountry.

Diamond Firetails are attractive little finches whose numbers are declining in the region.  Recent studies by Grace Goddard (unpublished PhD, Adelaide University) have shown that the Diamond Firetail relies heavily on the seeds from Sheoaks as a winter food source. Diamond Firetails also eat the seeds of exotic and native grasses. However, it’s the native grass seeds that are a superior food source. The Firetails also use the long grass stems to build their nests.

We can help our declining Diamond Firetail population, by planting:
* Native grass species such as spear grasses (from the  Austrostipa and Rytidosperma genera).
* Sheoak trees – the more commonly occurring Drooping Sheoak ( Allocasuarina verticillata) and of course the Buloke ( Allocasuarina leuhmenii).

For a  detailed (and somewhat technical) fact sheet on Grace Goddard’s Diamond Firetail studies click this link  Diamond-Firetail-Diet-fact-sheet

A Diamond Firetail strikes a pose at the edge of a bird bath, while two Red-browed Finches look on. Thanks to Nick Schulz from Nuggetty for the great pic!

 

Fun with Phascogales – Jess Lawton’s Talk

Posted on 9 November, 2017 by Asha

 At their recent AGM, Newstead Landcare invited Jess Lawton along to talk about her research on Brush-tailed phascogales (Phascogale tapoatafa). She shared some facts above about this special species, along with some interesting results from her PhD research with Andrew Bennett from La Trobe University. Jess used camera traps and habitat surveys to gather information on the habitat requirements for phascogales across central Victoria. Fifty of these sites were in the Mount Alexander region at some of Connecting Country’s nest box sites.

Brush-tailed Phascogale cartoon by Jess Lawton

Jess set up two cameras at each site, pointing towards the ground where she set up a small bait station. She collected these again after 40 days, and found she had a total of 69,611 photos to go through! These included 488 phascogale records in the Mount Alexander region. One brown treecreeper also had some fun with a camera and took 952 selfies (CLICK HERE for GIF)!

Taking into account site factors such as the amount of native forest in an area, elevation, productivity, predators, tree species, number of large trees, structural complexity, logs, and leaf litter, Jess found that phascogales were present at 82% of sites. Interestingly, she found that the amount of native forest in an area was not a big influence over whether phascogales were present at a site or not. However, this could have been due to the time of year data was collected, when males may have been using sub-optimal habitat during breeding season.

The two biggest habitat factors that Jess found influenced phascogale detection were tree species (box versus gum) and leaf litter. Sites with more box species and/or more leaf litter had more phascogale records. This is probably because these provide habitat for invertebrates, which are a critical food source for phascogales.

Jess finished with some tips for landholders who wish to help with phascogale conservation:

  • Protect existing hollows and put up nest boxes.
  • Keep it messy – leaf litter, logs, and tree stumps and all important for phascogales.
  • Help reduce predator pressure by keeping pets inside at night and walking them on a lead.
  • Care for your local bush by getting involved with your local Landcare or Friends group.

Thank you Jess and Newstead Landcare for an interesting and engaging talk. Here are some pictures Jess provided from her camera traps – well worth a look!

Phascogale Facts!

I am a small nocturnal marsupial.

I am threatened species.

My range in Victoria has contracted.

My home range area is 40-100 hectares (40-50 hectares for females and 100 hectares for males).

I rely on large tree hollows with small entrances for nesting and breeding, and will use several hollows within my range.

Females of my species give birth to eight young each year. Once weaned, the litter will weigh three times the weight of the mother.

I belong to the Dasyurid family and feed mainly on invertebrates, such as insects, spiders and centipedes.

 

 

10 Nov 2017 – The Americans are coming! A talk on invasive grasses from the USA

Posted on 6 November, 2017 by Tanya Loos

Ian Higgins is the guest speaker for the November Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club meeting.  Ian is a renowned local botanist, and was recently recognised as the 2017 Victorian Landcarer of the Year for his work with the Friends of Campbells Creek Landcare group.

Ian’s talk, titled ‘The Americans are coming’, is an overview of the invasive stipoid needle grasses that are spreading across many parts of Australia, including the local area.   His talk will cover:

Chilean Needle-grass (photo from the NSW DPI website).

What are they? The seven species currently known (or prohibited in the case of Mexican Feather-grass) from Victoria
Where are they? Where they are known to exist in Victoria and in our district
Why are they a problem? Behaviour and the threat posed to natural values
How can I identify them? Identification characteristics, especially how to distinguish them from native grasses
How are they spreading?  Dispersion strategies and human involvement.
How to manage them?  Duration of seed viability in soil, herbicides, etc.

Ian has also offered to help members and visitors to identify different grass species on the night.  If you have a specimen that you suspect is a weed, bring it along (preferably in a sealed plastic bag to prevent the spread of seeds).

When:  7.30pm on the second Friday in November (10th Nov). Members and visitors all welcome.

Where:  Uniting Church on Lyttleton St, Castlemaine – next door to the Art Gallery.  Due to exams being held in hall, this talk will be held in the chapel at the rear of the main church building.

There will be an excursion on the following day (Sat 11th Nov) to view some stipoid grasses in the field with a specialist.

If you have questions, please contact the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club.