Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Nest box monitoring reports are ready!

Posted on 23 January, 2020 by Asha

Nest boxes for phascogales

The Brush-tailed Phascogale is a carnivorous marsupial distinguished by its bushy tail. Once widespread through central Victoria, its range and numbers have severely declined due to habitat removal, degradation and introduced predators. It is listed as Threatened under Victorian legislation and considered vulnerable to localised extinction. Lack of old trees with nesting hollows is one factor that likely limits recovery of this species, which depends on hollows for shelter and breeding.

In 2010-11 Connecting Country installed 450 nest boxes designed for Brush-tailed Phascogales across the Mount Alexander region. We carefully located these nest boxes in a range of forest types, to allow for scientific analysis to understand phascogale distribution and habitat preferences. We have monitored our nest boxes every two years, but lack of funding makes further monitoring difficult. Ongoing monitoring is essential to determine if the Brush-tailed Phascogale is still declining, or management actions helping.

Our 2018 nest box monitoring

In 2018, we monitored Connecting Country’s nest boxes for the fifth time since they were installed in 2010-11. This monitoring season was notable, as it was the first time our monitoring program was not funded. However, we were able to monitor our ‘core’ group of 300 nest boxes, either by volunteering our own time, or incorporating nest box monitoring into our other professional roles. Beth Mellick (Wettenhall Environment Trust), Jess Lawton (La Trobe University) and Asha Bannon (Connecting Country) coordinated an amazing army of volunteers to complete our 2018 nest box checks.

To download the snapshot report – click here . For detailed methods, results, discussion, and acknowledgments, please email info@connectingcountry.org.au for a copy of our comprehensive report.

Thank you!

Our nest box monitoring program simply would not continue without the help of our community. We are most grateful for your ongoing support. Connecting Country would like to say a special thanks to the Wettenhall Environment Trust and La Trobe University for making the 2018 nest box monitoring possible. Thanks also to our amazing nest box volunteer helpers in 2018: Jeremy, Lori, Naomi, Bev, Paul, Gayle, Carmen, Mal, Damian, Frances, Lachlan, and Meg. A special thank you to Karen, Alex, Corey, Lou and Cara for their assistance in collating, managing and sharing our nest box data. The nest box data was analysed as a part of Jess Lawton’s PhD project at La Trobe University, and thanks are due to Andrew Bennett, Greg Holland and Angie Haslam at La Trobe University for support and statistical advice for this analysis. We also acknowledge the support of Helen Macpherson Smith Trust in helping facilitate our move to citizen-science based monitoring.

The Wettenhall Environment Trust generously provided us with funding in 2019 to maintain and repair nest boxes and report on our 2018 nest box check. And of course, a big thank you also to the hundred or so landholders who continue to host the nest boxes and support our monitoring program.

Looking to the future, we are thrilled that Connecting Country has received funding from Bank Australia to conduct nest box monitoring in 2020. This funding will support field work, project management, data entry and volunteer training during the coming year. We look forward to continuing to work with our community to monitor nest boxes and look after our phascogales in 2020 and beyond.

 

How to help wildlife in hot weather

Posted on 22 January, 2020 by Ivan

Central Victoria’s summers are often relentless, and don’t seem to be getting cooler and wetter anytime soon. Hence it’s a good time to reflect on the best methods of helping wildlife survive the warmer months. Thankfully, there is plenty of information already published and proven to work, which we’ve summarised in this post.

Animals Australia provides the following useful summary of priority actions that you can do to at your place to help wildlife right now.

1. Leave water out for animals

Sweltering summer days can be uncomfortable to be outside in for just a few minutes. Imagine what it’s like for animals who have no way of escaping the heat. During extreme heat waves, native animals can suffer terribly and even die. The simple act of providing them safe access to water can help them cope.

Water tips:

Birdbaths are an excellent way to provide water to thirsty animals, although they do not cater for ground-dwelling animals (photo by  Frances Howe)

  • Leave shallow dishes of water in the shade. Try to avoid metal dishes unless they’re in full shade as they will get very hot in the sun.
  • Put some dishes high up or in trees if you can, to help keep wildlife safe from predators.
  • Use shallow bowls if possible, as small birds can become trapped in deep dishes and drown. Cat litter trays can be suitable and inexpensive.
  • If you use large bowls or buckets, be sure to place some sticks, rocks and/or bricks inside to allow any trapped animals to make their way out.

2. Keep dogs and cats indoors

Not only will this help your animal companions escape the heat, but it will enable thirsty wildlife to access water in your backyard safely.

3. Cover your pool

It may feel counter-intuitive to prevent wildlife from cooling down in your pool on a hot day. But heat-stressed animals looking to cool down are at risk of drowning in the deep water. It’s not great for animals to be drinking pool water anyway as it may make them sick. Ensure animals have access to safe and fresh water sources in your yard instead.

4. Keep an eye out for heat-stressed wildlife

If you spot any critters who look like they’re struggling, call your local vet or local wildlife rescue group (for contacts – click here) for help. During natural disasters (e.g., bushfires), wildlife carers can be overwhelmed, but your local vet may be available and can assess the situation and treat injured animals (for free).

Tips for heat-stressed wildlife:

  • Be particularly mindful at dusk and at night as many nocturnal animals will be more active during this time.
  • Prepare an emergency kit to keep in your car including water, a blanket or towel, and a box. For kit suggestions – click here
  • Save a few local wildlife rescue contacts in your phone so that you can ring for advice if you need it. For contacts – click here
  • Help reduce the chances of animals being hit on the road. For details – click here

5. Share your fruit trees with hungry wildlife

The colorful Rainbow Lorikeet is well adapted to searching for backyard fruit if needed (photo by DPI WA)

Wildlife who have survived through bushfire are hungry. They have not only lost their homes, but their sources of food. During this time of ecosystem disturbance and habitat loss, it’s never been more crucial to protect species like flying foxes, who are key pollinators for many plants. The more flying foxes we can keep healthy and happy, the better our ecosystems will survive and regenerate. So consider taking down your fruit tree netting, and share some fruit with native wildlife.

6. Know what to do if you find distressed or injured wildlife

If you have found an animal who is visibly distressed, wrap them loosely in a blanket or towel if it is safe to do so, and place them in a cardboard box, before placing the box in a dark, quiet and cool place. Injured animals will often be quite frightened, so if there is a risk they may scratch or bite, wear gloves and try gently ushering them into a washing basket without touching, them instead of wrapping them in a blanket or towel.

Offer water but not food and call a wildlife carer immediately, or your local vet. Never pour water into an animals’ mouth -it’s not natural and can cause additional distress and even physical harm. Instead, provide cool water in a bowl and allow them to lap from it.

 

 

 

 

 

Bushfires: a hellish time for wildlife and humans alike

Posted on 22 January, 2020 by Frances

The bushfires raging over the past few months have been some of our worst on record, with record heatwaves and below-average rainfall making conditions very difficult for fire fighting and survival of our wildlife. It has been estimated that over 16,000,000 hectares of land have been burnt from June 2019 to January 2020 across Australia, making for some very challenging times for regional communities and ecosystems.

Although our region has not been directly affected by these fires, there are many options and organisations that currently advise and assist wildlife affected by the bushfires. One of the best articles we have seen was from Intrepid Landcare (click here). It gives a summary of the issues, resources, solutions and helping options.

Also of interest is a blog post from our former celebrity employee, Tanya Loos (click here), on how to help during the bushfire crisis. It covers the many requests and campaigns for helping wildlife in the recent bushfire areas.

 

I spy…baby goannas in Shelbourne!

Posted on 16 January, 2020 by Asha

Can you see the young Tree Goanna (Varunus varius, aka Lace Monitor) in the photo below?

Many thanks to Newton Hunt for sending through these observations from his property in Shelbourne, Victoria. Newton said the one pictured is about 0.6 m long, but two larger goannas of 1.2 m and 1.5 m also visit the property regularly.

An interesting fact from the Bush Heritage website about Tree Goannas is that they ‘will dig holes into the side of termite mounds to lay their eggs. This is clever as the termites then rebuild the nest around the eggs, keeping them safe and at a constant temperature. When the young hatch the mothers return to help dig them out.’

Young Tree Goanna in Shelbourne (photo by Newton Hunt)

Newton also sent us these two photos of Wedge-tailed Eagle chicks he watched being reared in 2019:

 

New climate webinar series to keep you informed!

Posted on 9 January, 2020 by Asha

Agriculture Victoria is running a free lunchtime climate webinar series in 2020, where participants will hear from a broad range of expert speakers from Agriculture Victoria, Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), CSIRO and other agencies.

Some of the webinar speakers in February and March include BoM’s Luke Shelley, discussing their new Local Climate Guides for Victorian regions, and CSIRO’s John Clarke, sharing the new Victorian Climate Change Projections 2019. Also from BoM, Climatologist Andrew Watkins will discuss the new BoM seasonal forecast products and new multi-week and seasonal outlooks.

The webinars will also be recorded so if you cannot join on the day, you can listen later.

For further information and scheduling details: click here

 

New Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Guide for Landcare

Posted on 9 January, 2020 by Asha

The new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Guide (published October 2019) assists Landcare and other environmental volunteer groups and networks that care for landscapes in Victoria to better understand the state’s Aboriginal cultural heritage management process.

The guide steps out the process for meeting the requirements of the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 and helps determine whether a Cultural Heritage Permit is required. The guide also provides the key Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Contacts by region and Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs).

To view or download the guide: click here

 

 

Volunteers spot endangered butterflies in Castlemaine

Posted on 26 December, 2019 by Jacqui

In pleasant but overcast conditions, eight volunteers joined local ecologists, Karl Just and Elaine Bayes, on Sunday 15 December 2019 to look for Castlemaine’s endangered butterfly (the Eltham Copper Butterfly) in Kalimna Park, Castlemaine VIC.

After a quick briefing, we formed a line in the bush (emergency services style) and began walking slowly with long sticks in hand to tap the Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) plants gently as we walked by, to see if any Eltham Copper Butterflies would alight. We all had high hopes of spotting some of the small beautiful butterflies. To begin with some thought we saw them, only to realise they were small yellow moths, revealing their identity as they landed and tucked their wings.

After walking together for a while a call came from a volunteer at the end of the line that Eltham Copper Butterflies had been spotted on top of a rise! The group broke formation, scrambling up the hill to take a look, and were treated to excellent views of the butterflies, which may have been flying more slowly than usual because of the overcast conditions. Seeing the butterflies in flight helped us improve our identification skills. When flying, Eltham Copper Butterflies can look dark, almost black, with flashes of copper, compared to other butterflies of similar size.

An Eltham Copper Butterfly at rest on fallen timber (photo: Jacqui Slingo)

Elaine informed us that the adult butterflies tend to be ‘plant loyal’ and are likely to stay close to the individual Bursaria plant they were born on. We were treated to more sightings throughout the afternoon, generally finding butterflies at same locations where they were recorded during previous years. We were able to track the locations during the survey on our smart phones using Avenza, a free app available on Apple and Android. For more information on Avenza – click here

If you’re keen to join in and help out with surveys for Eltham Copper Butterflies, there’s still time this butterfly season, which extends from December to March. Please stay tuned to our blog, or contact us for information on further monitoring events.

Everyone is invited to get involved. Monitoring isn’t difficult but you will need:

  • A reasonable level of physical fitness, as monitoring involves walking off-track through the bush, often in warm weather.
  • A positive attitude and willingness to learn.
  • Ability to read maps, follow simple procedures and record sightings.

To learn more about this wonderful little butterfly – click here. It would be terrific to find some new populations in our region. You don’t need to attend an event to be a monitor. Once you understand the monitoring method and feel confident you can identify an Eltham Copper Butterfly, you’re welcome to do your own monitoring and report sightings.

 

 

BirdWatch Spring 2019: results are in!

Posted on 23 December, 2019 by Jess

Connecting Country’s long-term bird monitoring program was established to investigate the effects of habitat restoration on woodland birds. This was the first year our sites were monitored by our team of amazing volunteers. The 2019 monitoring season was supported by funding from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust as part of our Habitat Health Check project.

We’re excited to present the following short report summarising the findings of our 2019 monitoring program.

We’re also on the lookout for more volunteer bird monitors! If you have bird identification skills and are interested in joining our bird monitoring program, please email our Monitoring Coordinator, Jess Lawton (jess@connectingcountry.org.au).

 

Help Connecting Country thrive in 2020

Posted on 19 December, 2019 by Asha

Dear supporters

Thank you for being part of the Connecting Country community, joining with many others in supporting our shared vision for landscape restoration across the Mount Alexander region. The valuable work we do couldn’t happen without people like you – whether it’s volunteering time to help with wildlife monitoring, joining our education events, or participating in our on-ground projects – making our vision a reality is only possible with community support.

We know that with the combination of our track record of ten years of successful landscape restoration, great plans for the future, and lots of persistence, we can secure funding for projects from governments and grant makers. Just last week we successfully secured a modest grant to continue our important bird monitoring program into 2020. But we also know that lots of small, on-ground projects are not enough to keep us thriving and focused on long-term plans that go well beyond short-term funding opportunities.

This year I am writing to ask you to please extend your contribution to Connecting Country’s work a step further by chipping in some financial support (if you’re not already). Your donation of $20, $50, $100, or whatever you can contribute, will help us thrive in 2020. We are also introducing an ongoing support option, where you can nominate a regular monthly donation amount, and become regular contributor to our restoration endeavours. Your support will help build and maintain the strong foundations essential to our success as a community-driven organisation.

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 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. Over the past ten years we have:

  • Restored over 9,500 ha of habitat across the Mount Alexander region, which equates to around 6% of the shire.
  • Delivered more than 200 successful community education events.
  • Secured funding to deliver more than 50 landscape restoration projects.
  • Supported a thriving network of over 30 Landcare and Friends groups.

We should all be proud of what we’ve achieved. However, there’s much more to do. With your support, 2020 will see us continue to help landholders with on-ground actions, prepare for climate change, maintain our commitment to long-term monitoring, and deliver events that inform, educate and inspire. See our brand-new brochure for more on what we’re doing – click here.

We’d love for you to continue to be part of the Connecting Country story as it develops, including, if you can, chipping in some financial support. 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.

Thanks again for your support for Connecting Country. Best wishes from the Connecting Country staff and committee for a safe and happy Christmas break and we look forward to your continuing involvement in 2020.

Thank you

Brendan Sydes
President – Connecting Country Committee of Management

 

Bird walk in the Wombat with Tanya Loos – 4 January 2020

Posted on 19 December, 2019 by Frances

We are super fortunate to have our very own local BirdLife branch: BirdLife Castlemaine District.

Monthly bird walks

BirdLife Castlemaine holds bird walks on the first Saturday morning of each month. All ages and birding abilities are welcome – they are a friendly and inclusive bunch! If you’d like to learn how to record your bird lists using Birdata, or brush up on your survey skills, they aim to do at least one survey each bird walk.

Meet on the first Saturday of the month, for an 8:30 am departure outside Castlemaine Community House (30 Templeton St, Castlemaine VIC) to tag along, car share or get a lift. Alternatively meet at the start of the walk as advertised. For further details see the BirdLife Castlemaine District Facebook page (click here), their eNews or their events page on the BirdLife website (click here).

Please note walk details times can vary from time to time according to weather conditions, etc., so please check details prior to the walk.

You will need, water, snacks, sun protection including a hat, sturdy shoes, long trousers, binoculars if you have them. Please dress appropriately for the weather.

Walks are cancelled if the temperature is above 35 degrees, it’s a fire ban or a severe weather warning has been issued.

January bird walk in the Wombat

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Gang Gang Cockatoo (photo by Geoff Park)

The first walk for 2020 is on Saturday 4 January 2020 in the Wombat State Forest with a very special leader: Tanya Loos (formerly of Connecting Country, now with BirdLife Australia!).

Join Tanya on a wander through the wet ferny gullies and peppermint ridges of the Wombat Forest. We will do the Whipstick Creek Loop walking track which takes 3 – 4 hours. Those who wish to do part of the walk can retrace their steps. On our walk we are likely to see local special species such as Rufous Fantail, Crescent Honeyeater, Gang Gang Cockatoo and Blue-winged Parrot. We might also see Rose Robin, Bassian Thrush and Square-tailed Kite.

Meet at the former Continuing Education building at 30 Templeton St Castlemaine VIC at 8.30 am sharp, to car pool. Alternatively, meet at Garden of St Erth car park, 189 Simmons Reef Rd Blackwood, VIC at 9.30 am.

Garden of St Erth is one of The Diggers Club’s properties and a fantastic perennial and fruit garden, with a cafe and nursery – well worth a look!

Wombat Forest bird walk
When:   Saturday 4 January 2019 at 8.30 am to car pool or 9.30 am to join walk
Where:  to carpool meet at 30 Templeton St Castlemaine VIC
               to join walk meet at Garden of St Erth car park, 189 Simmons Reef Rd Blackwood, VIC
Bring:    sturdy shoes, hat, insect repellent, sunscreen, water, snacks, binoculars

 

 

Copper Butterfly monitoring dates – 31 December 2019 and 3 January 2020

Posted on 17 December, 2019 by Frances

Although the early summer weather was unfavourable for our beloved Eltham Copper Butterfly, butterflies have now been spotted out and about in Kalimna Park (Castlemaine VIC). Local ecologists and butterfly enthusiasts Elaine Bayes and Karl Just have been busy training enthusiastic volunteers in how to conduct the vital monitoring needed to help this threatened species.

In addition to the planned butterfly monitoring on Saturday 28 December 2019,  Karl and Elaine have now scheduled a further monitoring day on Friday 3 January 2020.

This is a fantastic opportunity to get out in the bush, learn more about your local environment, and collect some really important data to help protect this beautiful threatened species. You might even discover a new population of this special butterfly!

Castlemaine’s Kalimna Park is home to the largest remaining population of the threatened Eltham Copper Butterfly in the world. However, we don’t know how many butterflies there currently are, and its entirely possible that other, undiscovered populations exist around the Castlemaine area. Our aim is to support interested community members to learn how to monitor with expert guidance, conduct more monitoring and (hopefully) discover new butterfly populations.

Monitoring dates and locations:

  • 10 am-2 pm Tuesday 31 December 2019. Location: Water tank on Hunter Track, top end of Hunter Street, Kalimna Park, Castlemaine VIC
  • 12-4 pm Friday 3 January 2020. Location: Corner of Vanstan Road and Lawson Parade, behind Castlemaine Secondary College, Castlemaine VIC

Please book for this event – click here

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Everyone is invited to get involved. Monitoring isn’t difficult but you will need:

  • A reasonable level of physical fitness, as monitoring involves walking off-track through the bush, often in warm weather.
  • A positive attitude and willingness to learn.
  • Ability to read maps, follow simple procedures and record sightings.

To learn more about this wonderful and interesting little butterfly, including ecology, distribution and information on how to identify this species from similar look-alike butterflies – click here. It would be terrific to find some new populations in our region and this is the perfect opportunity to survey some excellent butterfly habitat. You don’t need to attend all these events to be a monitor. Once you understand the monitoring method and feel confident you can identify an Eltham Copper Butterfly, you’re welcome to do your own monitoring and report sightings.

Please enjoy the video below, courtesy of the N-danger-D Youtube Channel, that has some excellent footage of this wonderful butterfly and symbiotic ant species.

If you’d like to get involved in Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring, please book in to a monitoring event, or for further information contact Ivan at Connecting Country (ivan@connectingcountry.org.au). 

 

 

Restoration site in Taradale takes off!

Posted on 17 December, 2019 by Jess

We’ve just wrapped up our spring bird monitoring season for 2019. Connecting Country’s bird monitoring program was established in 2010 to investigate the effects of habitat restoration on woodland birds. 2019 was the first year our sites were monitored entirely by our team of amazing volunteers. Some of our current and former staff members also volunteered to do bird surveys.

One of our Landscape Restoration Coordinators and volunteer bird monitor, Jacqui Slingo, surveyed one of our revegetation sites in Taradale, Victoria. This was a paddock site that was direct seeded in 2014.  As you can see from the photos below, revegetation by direct seeding can take a number of years to take off depending on the conditions and rainfall in the years following. Jacqui was delighted to find that the direct seeding is now going great guns, with many Wattles now over 2m tall. With the increased cover of vegetation many smaller native birds are starting to use the vegetation, where previously they had only been heard in neighbouring bush.

Direct seeding at the Taradale site 3 years after seeding in February 2017.

 

Revegetated species starting to emerge in 2017, including: Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha), Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata), Spreading Wattle (Acacia genistifolia), and Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa).

Direct seeding at Taradale beginning to take off November 2019. Photo: Jacqui Slingo.

The birds observed during the survey starting to use the new vegetation included: Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, Grey Fantails, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, and teams of Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Striated Thornbills and Buff-rumped Thornbills.

It’s always rewarding to see wildlife benefiting from our restoration work!

If you are interested in increasing or enhancing native vegetation on your property within Mount Alexander Shire in central Victoria, feel free to fill in an expression of interest form (click here). We will keep your details on file for the next opportunity when it arises.

If you have skills and interests in bird monitoring and are interested in joining our bird program, please email our Monitoring Coordinator, Jess Lawton (jess@connectingcountry.org.au). We are always on the lookout for skilled bird watchers to join our monitoring program!

Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) with developing seed pods. Photo: Jacqui Slingo

 

Echidna CSI – your reports needed

Posted on 17 December, 2019 by Ivan

We received a thought-provoking message from the Echidna ‘Conservation Science Initiative’ (CSI) project, run by researchers at the University of Adelaide, South Australia. They seek reports and photographs of the lovely Echidnas in our region. They’ve been studying the molecular biology of monotremes (both echidna and platypus), the world’s oldest mammals, and discovered some incredible surprises about their biology. For some fun facts about monotremes – click here.

Now they are using their knowledge and molecular tools to help with echidna conservation – but they need your help! Here is an outline of what the Echidna ‘Conservation Science Initiative’ is researching and how you can assist.

We want to learn more about echidnas! Where they are, what they are doing and if they are healthy – so we can work towards their conservation.

How can you help? By taking photos and collecting scats (i.e., poo). Although an iconic native Australian animal, we do not know much about echidnas’ wild populations, as they are extremely hard to find (when you’re actually looking for them). However, we know that there are many of you that have seen wild echidnas (sometimes even in your own backyard!) and taken photos or videos of them. With your help and photo taking abilities, we can start filling in the gaps about wild echidnas in Australia.

What we also need help with is collecting echidna scats.

Why? Because we can get a lot of information about echidnas through the molecules in their scats. We can get out DNA and hormones to tell us who that echidna is, if it’s healthy, stressed or reproductively active. And so we can learn more about these wild populations without having to track or capture any of these animals.

The EchidnaCSI app for smartphones is now available for new echidna sightings and scat collecting!

What do I do if I see an echidna? 
Open the app, go to the ‘submit’ page and select ‘record an echidna sighting’. Your camera will pop up so you can take a photo. Once you have taken a photo select ‘use photo’. A new page will open where we ask you some questions about the echidna, e.g., if it was alive or dead, walking or digging, a juvenile or adult, and a section for you to add any interesting comments if you wish. Then you submit your recording! We will be sent the photo with the GPS location and the information about that echidna.

What do I do if I find an echidna scat? 
Open the app, go to the ‘submit’ page and select ‘collect specimen’. Your camera will pop up so you can take a photo of the scat first. We need this photo so we can get its GPS location to match the sample. A new page will appear asking you to get an envelope or bag and to write the date, time and your name on it. This is so we can identify which submission it belongs to once we receive it. The next page will instruct you to place the scat in the envelope/bag, trying not to touch it. We then give you information on how to send us your collection.

For more information and to download the app – click here

Echidnas forage at the ground surface, waddling along slowly, sweeping their pointed snout across the ground like a metal detector (Photo: Prof. Frank Grützner, University of Adelaide)

 

Help monitor our endangered copper butterfly – Sunday 15 December 2019

Posted on 12 December, 2019 by Ivan

This Sunday will be the second of four Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring events for 2019-20, with local ecologists and butterfly enthusiasts Elaine Bayes and Karl Just training volunteers in how to conduct the vital monitoring needed to help this threatened species.

This is a fantastic opportunity to get out in the bush, learn more about your local environment, and collect some really important data to help protect this beautiful threatened species. You might even discover a new population of this special butterfly!

Castlemaine’s Kalimna Park is home to the largest remaining population of the threatened Eltham Copper Butterfly in the world. However, we don’t know how many butterflies there currently are, and its entirely possible that other, undiscovered populations exist around the Castlemaine area. The aim is to support interested community members to learn how to monitor with expert guidance, conduct more monitoring and (hopefully) discover new populations.

When: 12.00 -4.00 pm on Sunday 15 December 2019

Where: Parking spot just north of where golf course intersects with Kalimna Tourist Road, Castlemaine, VIC – click here for map

Bring: water, a hat, suitable clothing (long pants, sturdy shoes and weather-appropriate gear) and snacks to keep you going

Please book for this event – click here

Everyone is invited to get involved. Monitoring isn’t difficult but you will need:

  • A reasonable level of physical fitness, as monitoring involves walking off-track through the bush, often in warm weather.
  • A positive attitude and willingness to learn.
  • Ability to read maps, follow simple procedures and record sightings.

To learn more about this wonderful and interesting small butterfly, including ecology, distribution and information on how to identify this species from similar look-alike butterflies – click here.

There will be two more over the next few weeks, covering different areas around Castlemaine:

  • 12-4 pm Saturday 28 December 2019. Location: Corner of Vanstan Road and Lawson Parade, behind Castlemaine Secondary College, Castlemaine VIC – click here for map.
  • 12-4 pm Friday 3 January 2020. Location: Corner of Vanstan Road and Lawson Parade, behind Castlemaine Secondary College, Castlemaine VIC – click here for map.

If you’d like to get involved in Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring, please just book in and come along to a monitoring event, or for further information contact Ivan at Connecting Country (ivan@connectingcountry.org.au).

 

Connecting Country office hours update

Posted on 11 December, 2019 by Frances

Koala at Moonlight Flat (photo: Frances Howe)

The Connecting Country office will be closed from 4.30 pm on Thursday 19 December 2019 and reopen at 8.30 am on Monday 6 January 2020.

Our usual office hours are 8.30 am to 4.30 pm Monday to Thursday. You’re welcome to drop by to say hello, pick up our new brochure or ask a question. We’re upstairs at the Hub building (233 Barker St, Castlemaine VIC, enter from Templeton St). However, if you’re coming to visit you may wish to call ahead, as we each work a range of hours and sometimes we’re all out and about at the same time.

Many thanks to our volunteers, donors and all our supporters during 2019. We wish you all the best for a safe and peaceful holiday season, with time to enjoy the bush!

 

What’s that bird? Ask Merlin

Posted on 10 December, 2019 by Ivan

Local bird enthusiast, author and photographer, Damian Kelly, has introduced us to a very special personal assistant. Meet Merlin, a smartphone app that helps identify bird species from our region and all over the world. We hope you enjoy Damian’s following introduction to the Merlin app.

The Merlin Bird app has been around for a while, but until recently lacked any Australian data. This has now changed and it has data sets covering regions of Australia, as well as an entire Australia data set. The app is free and works on both Apple and Android devices.

The data sets are based on information and images collected via eBird. If you have been an eBird contributor you have been part of it all. From the Apple app store or Google Play Store, just download the app and the relevant data files for our region. The data files are quite large and can take a while to download.

Unlike the other available bird apps, Merlin provides two very useful functions that provide assistance with identification:

  • Photo ID – identification of a bird directly from a photo.
  • Bird ID – a keying-out procedure where you answer questions and the possibilities are quickly narrowed down, which makes identification much easier.


Photo ID

You don’t need to have the image on your phone. It works on images displayed on your camera back or a hard copy.

Having tested the app on photos on my phone, camera back images and even the cover of my book I can say that the results are impressive, although not yet 100%. Oddly, it failed to identify a clear image of an Owlet Nightjar, but correctly identified many species that I threw at it, such as robins, thornbills, a Barking Owl and even a mixed image of a Powerful Owl with downy chick.

If it can’t identify an image it offers to let you assist with your suggested identification and sharing of your images if you wish. In this way it will gradually become more accurate, based on the input of a range of people.

You can download data sets for different regions of Australia. It pays to make sure you have set your location as this helps with the accuracy of the app. The large data download ensures the ability to use the software without a network connection, which is handy when you are in more remote areas.

Bird ID

When you don’t have a photo, you can answer questions about a bird. These include:

  • Location – you can use GPS on your phone, enter a location manually or select from a map.
  • Date – helps with migratory species.
  • Size – a comparison set of outlines is provided.
  • Colour – main colour that you select from a palette.
  • General habitat and behaviour – fence or wire, trees, bushes and such like.

Then Merlin provides a list of potential species along with images, calls, distribution and general information. Again, you can confirm the accuracy, which helps improve the app.

Although not a full taxonomic key, the keying-out process is simple and easy to use. It should help beginners get going, as well as assist more experienced birders to narrow down possibilities.

What else can I say? It works as expected, is quite accurate and will quickly become more so as increasing numbers of people contribute. More significantly, it demonstrates the power of citizen science in producing very useful tools.

Damian Kelly

 

Connecting Country brochure reaches far afield

Posted on 5 December, 2019 by Ivan

We recently received an email from one of our valued members that gave us insight into the influence Connecting Country’s brochures can have on the broader community and even further afield. The email was from the lovely Kerrie Jennings, a long-time supporter and volunteer with Connecting Country. Kerrie included some photographs of Japanese students reading our brochures and learning about the Central Victorian landscape and the biodiversity within. It is heartening to know where our educational materials can travel, and what impact it might have on future connections to our unique landscape.

Here is the message and photos from Kerrie:

‘Here is a couple of pics taken by the Loddon River at Baringhup of students visiting from Japan. They stayed with their host family in Castlemaine and traveled out to the farm and also our neighbors’ farms to see sheep, cattle and hay. This group visited the Baringhup Landcare picnic site by the river where we chatted about the restoration of the area over afternoon tea. The booklets in their hands are from Connecting Country and will be a great memory and indicator of local wildlife as well as our efforts to know and care for our part of the world.’

Cheers and many thanks

Kerrie’

If you have a relevant local story, interesting observation, great photograph or blog idea, please email us (ivan@connectingcountry.org.au) and we can create a blog to share with our community.

 

A team effort: monitoring biodiversity at Connecting Country

Posted on 3 December, 2019 by Jess

Community has always been at the core of what we do at Connecting Country. In recent years, it’s been increasingly difficult to source funding for environmental projects. In this new phase, we’ve had to rely on our community even more.

It is important we monitor local biodiversity so we can understand how our on-ground works are helping species. In past years, Connecting Country was able to employ staff members to monitor over 50 woodland bird survey sites, 450 nestboxes, and 48 reptile and frog sites.

Community members monitoring birds (photo: Connecting Country archives)

Nestbox monitoring
In recent times, the funding that once covered this monitoring has ended. 2018 was the first year our nestbox monitoring program was not funded. But that didn’t stop us! Asha, Beth, and Jess were able to incorporate nestbox monitoring into work and volunteer time. With the help of an army of volunteers, we monitored 297 of our 300 ‘core’ nestboxes. Special thanks to Beth, Asha, and Jeremy, Lori, Bev, Paul, Gayle, Carmen, Mal, Damian, Frances, Lachlan, Naomi, Claire, Meg and Naomi for providing invaluable assistance with our nestbox program.

Monitoring nestboxes (photo: Tanya Loos)

Woodland bird monitoring
Later in 2018, we received funding from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust to review all our monitoring programs, and to support volunteer ‘citizen scientists’ to carry out the monitoring. Spring 2019 was the first year our woodland bird sites were monitored by citizen scientists. Special thanks to our keen bird monitors: Damian, Lex, Jane R, Peter, Geoff, Jennifer, Euan, Asha, Jacqui, Jane M, Kerri P, Kerrie J, Lawrie, Lou, Sue, Peter, Steve, Tanya, Angus and Bob.

Reptile and frog monitoring
Our reptile and frog monitoring program has struggled to continue without ongoing funding.  We’re going to review our reptile and frog monitoring program early next year – so watch this space! Thank you to Mike, Paul, Thea, David, Kerrie, Rob, Kim, Mark, Alex, Beth, Neville, Geraldine, Geoff, Kerri, Tusker, Peter, Helen, Leanne, Jane S, Brendan and Jane R for your efforts with this program.

Many of our landscape restoration projects target species like this juvenile Spotted Pardalote (photo: Jane Rusden)

Data entry
We’ve collected nearly 25,000 species records since 2010. This year we recognized the importance of sharing this information with government agencies, so it can be put to the best use possible. We put a call out to see if anyone would be interested in assisting us with data entry, and we were blown away by many wonderful people offering to help. Thanks to Lou, Karen, Alex, and Corey – our data entry heroes! – for coming in to Connecting Country on a weekly basis, sitting in front of a computer screen and entering our species records into the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas.

Thank you!
This year, we had a small amount of money for a humble thank-you celebration for our volunteers. We wanted to be inclusive, so we initially wrote a list of all the people who had volunteered with us in any capacity over the past 2 years. This list came to over 120 people!  As much as we would have liked to have thanked each person, this was just not possible this year. So, we limited our celebration to our monitoring volunteers.

We enjoyed celebratory drinks and nibbles in The Hub Plot garden, a short summary of our monitoring achievements over the last two years, and Connecting Country’s inaugural ‘Klop’ game championship. Thank you to everyone who came and made it a wonderful evening with great company. A special thanks to Lou, Jane R, and Duncan for setting up and helping the evening run smoothly, and to Heather and Neil for the lovely venue.

These days our monitoring programs run off the smell of an oily rag. But, because we are surrounded by an enthusiastic community, we are still able to check in on our local biodiversity and deliver our monitoring programs. If it wasn’t for your hard work, we simply would not be able to monitor our wildlife. To everyone who has helped Connecting Country: Thank you! We are so grateful for your support.

 

 

 

Walking with the sound turned up: listen to the bush

Posted on 2 December, 2019 by Asha

This blog post was kindly written by Jess Drake as a reflection on Andrew Skeoch’s talk at Connecting Country’s 2019 Annual General Meeting. Jess Drake is a local soil and land scientist. Thank you, Jess!

The day after Connecting Country’s event I did one of my usual forest loops in the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park without my headphones on. Andrew Skeoch had reminded me of the value of listening to the forest. This time I tried to follow Andrew’s four perspectives of listening while out walking.

His first perspective was using sound to identify species. I remember around this time last year I could hear frogs in the man-made dams in the bush. One of them is completely dry this year, and there was a clear absence of any Pobblebonk or Common Eastern Froglet that I heard in abundance last year (click here for details).

The second perspective of listening was sentience – communication between animals. I have a soft spot for the boisterous calls of the teenage White-winged Choughs. I love seeing and hearing packs of choughs causing complete upturn of forest litter layer, squawking at the top of their lungs. They seem to be chattering about their mischief or discovered treasures. The only break from their boisterous chatting seems to be when they see me getting that bit to close and a loud alarm goes off as they fly up into the trees, whilst seemingly agitated by being caught-out mid-fun.

Denuded trees in the National Heritage Park (photo by Jess Drake)

Ecosystem function was Andrew’s third perspective – using sound to understand the type of ecosystem you are in. One thing I noticed on my walk was instead of a rustle of leaves, I mostly heard the cracking and crunching of branches. As I looked up into the canopy on the ridge line, I noticed it was a bit thin. Many of the trees didn’t have leaves. Perhaps something is affecting the forest function?

The final perspective was evolution, where sound can reflect time. Andrew gave a few examples including about why cicadas sound has evolved to the cacophony we hear today.

Not being an ecologist, I thought about the sounds coming from the earth. As I accidentally kick a rock and it makes the thunking noise downhill, I imagine the sound of mass erosion during a thunderstorm, or the sluicing of mined materials during the gold rush. I imagine the loud explosions of volcanic eruptions that formed Lalgambook/Mount Franklin, as the country evolves over millions of years.

Andrew’s key message was really about listening both ways – us listening to the forest and the forest listening to us and revealing itself. He talked about using sound to learn about the conservation of our ecosystems. Sound in the forest is something that I personally had taken for granted (with my headphones on), but I certainly won’t again. I do like the chattering of the choughs after all!

 

Butterfly monitoring for 1 December 2019 – POSTPONED!

Posted on 29 November, 2019 by Frances

Our planned Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring this coming Sunday 1 December 2019 is postponed due to cool weather! Local ecologists and butterfly enthusiasts, Elaine Bayes and Karl Just, have advised that the weather forecast for Sunday is too cool for our special butterfly, which requires a series of warm nights to emerge. November 2019 has been cooler than last November, hence the butterflies are a little slower to appear.

Apologies to anyone who was planning to come along on Sunday. There are still plenty of opportunities to get involved and learn how to monitor this threatened species around Castlemaine. Given weather conditions, we will continue monitoring into January 2020.

Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring

There will be two more monitoring events over the next few weeks, covering different areas around Castlemaine, with a another event in January 2020:

  • 12.00 – 4.00 pm on Sunday 15 December 2019. Location: Parking spot just north of where Mount Alexander golf course intersects with Kalimna Tourist Road, Kalimna Park, Castlemaine VIC – click here for map.
  • 12.00 – 4.00 pm on Saturday 28 December 2019. Location: Corner of Vanstan Road and Lawson Parade, behind Castlemaine Secondary College, Castlemaine VIC – click here for map.
  • January 2020: date and location to be advised.

If you’d like to get involved in Eltham Copper Butterfly monitoring, please come along to a monitoring event, or for further information contact Ivan at Connecting Country (ivan@connectingcountry.org.au).