Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Pollinator heroes of Central Victoria: Common Halfband Hoverfly

Posted on 30 November, 2023 by Ivan

With spring upon us, now is the perfect time to take a closer look at the smaller pollinator heroes of our region! There is plenty to see and hear across all habitats across central Victoria if you stop and pay attention to the little things. Throughout the warmer months the bees are buzzing, butterflies are fluttering, beetles are looking for mates and wasps are making nests. There is plenty to see and hear across all habitats in central Victoria if you stop and pay attention to the little things. These wonderful pollinating creatures are the heroes of the bush, grasslands, our gardens and waterways.

The Buzz project: promoting pollinators of central Victoria, is a Connecting Country project funded by the North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA) through the 2022 Victorian Landcare grants, that aims to celebrate and expand community knowledge on the smaller heroes of our local ecosystems, the insect pollinators.  As part of this project, we have explored the lives of some of our most loved native pollinators from across the local region through a series of blogposts throughout November. This is the final blogpost in this series, with the hero of focus from the endearing hoverfly family.

Dr Mark Hall, local entomologist, has kindly shared his extensive knowledge on some of the local pollinator heroes that are so important to the health of our ecosystems. 

Common Halfband Hoverfly (Melangyna viridiceps)

Words by Dr. Mark Hall

Hmm, is this a bee? It certainly looks a bit like one with those bright yellow bands. And it is visiting lots of flowers. No, this is actually a fly trying to mimic a bee. Thankfully there are some tell-tale signs to tell the two apart. See those really big eyes, and the very short antennae? Unlike bees that have oval eyes on the sides of their head, fly eyes are typically much larger and rounder, sometimes taking up most of the head. And the antennae are shorter in flies, whereas bees have longer, segmented antennae. And that’s not where the differences end.

Flies are often more abundant in cooler climates, such as higher-up mountains, and can forage in colder weather (so can be more active than bees in early spring in this region). Whereas bees will often be more direct in their fight for flowers, hoverflies spend a lot of time flying above flowers, seemingly surveying for the perfect one before landing. Like bees, they feed almost exclusively on flowers (their larvae eat aphids) and are very good pollinators. They are fast flyers like bees, but they do lack the branched hairs that make bees exceptional pollen carriers.

The Common Halfband Hoverfly is a slim-bodied fly with reddish brown eyes, dark thorax and black and yellow banded abdomen. Photo by John Walter.

The Common Halfband Hoverfly can be found across most habitats in south-eastern Australia and in the southwest, including quite arid environments. They will feed on the nectar and pollen of many different types of plants and can also be confused with other hoverfly species, most typically the Yellow-shouldered hoverfly (Simosyrphus grandicornis), which is also common and abundant.

Why not take the opportunity to slow down this spring and take a look in your local bushland or garden and see what pollinator heroes you can find?

 

               

 

 

 

Pollinator heroes of Central Victoria: Resin Bee

Posted on 29 November, 2023 by Ivan

Spring is here which means the bees are buzzing, butterflies are fluttering, beetles are looking for mates and wasps are making nests. There is plenty to see and hear across all habitats in central Victoria if you stop and pay attention to the little things. These wonderful pollinating creatures are the heroes of the bush, grasslands, our gardens and waterways.

The Buzz project: promoting pollinators of central Victoria, is a Connecting Country project funded by the North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA) through the 2022 Victorian Landcare grants, that aims to celebrate and expand community knowledge on the smaller heroes of our local ecosystems, the insect pollinators.  As part of this project, we will explore the lives of some of our most loved native pollinators from across the local region through a series of blog posts throughout November.

Dr Mark Hall, local entomologist, has kindly shared his extensive knowledge on some of the local pollinator heroes that are so important to the health of our ecosystems. 

 

Resin Bee (Megachile ferox)

Words by Dr. Mark Hall

One of at least 169 bee species in the family Megachilidae, which include the leaf-cutter and resin bees, Megachile ferox can be found across southern Australia.

It has a very hairy head, body, legs and abdomen that are perfect for pollen-carrying. It also has large mandibles (jaws) for chewing nest holes in wood. The bright red tip on its abdomen may be what you see first though.

Resin Bees get their name because they build their residences out of resin. Photo by John Walter

 

The Resin Bee is most active during spring and summer, particularly from November to February, visiting a range of important flowering plant species, including Eucalypts, Dillwynia and Bursaria. It nests in woody structures, such as trees and shrubs and can make a home in insect hotels in gardens if they are designed and placed correctly.

With extensive and prolonged habitat clearing occurring through much of central Victoria, this and other wood-nesting species have become less common. However, where woody nests and good floral diversity are available, this species will provide an excellent pollination service.

 

 

               

 

The Buzz project: promoting pollinators of Central Victoria, Landcare planting

Posted on 28 November, 2023 by Hadley Cole

Victoria Gully group members planting away. Photo by Victoria Gully Landcare.

Pollinators can range from bees, butterflies, flies, wasps, moths, birds and even bats and are crucial to the successful reproduction and conservation of many of Australia’s native plant species. With reports of decline of pollinators across the globe due to land clearing and climate change, now is the time to plant, create and nurture habitat for our local native pollinators. 

Throughout 2023 Connecting Country has been rolling out The Buzz Project: promoting pollinators of Central Victoria. During the winter months, while the pollinators were lying low, Landcare groups from across the region were busy planting pollinator-attracting plants at their sites. Connecting Country distributed 240 plants to Landcare groups from the region, including species such as; Chocolate Lily, Matted Flax-lily, Narrow-leaf Bitter-pea and Sticky Everlasting-daisy.

Landcare groups added the plants to their existing sites, adding a greater diversity of flowering plants and encouraging our native pollinators to move through the landscape.

Victoria Gully Landcare Group considered sites across the gully carefully when finding a home for the pollinator-attracting plants. They looked for areas that were protected from kangaroos, sites that provided dappled shade and were protected from recreational activities as well as having reasonable soil, and manageable weeds. The group planted within the protection of a 4m diameter temporary chicken wire fence and chose to plant nice and early in the planting season to give the plants the best chance of survival. 

Muckleford Catchment Landcare tackle grazing pressure with large wire guards. Photo by Muckleford Catchment Landcare.

Group members of Muckleford Catchment Landcare Group planted the pollinator species across properties in the groups’ area including Walmer, adding a diversity of understory plants to their existing work. To protect the plants from the grazing of curious animals, the planters used large chicken wire guards to give the plants the best chance of thriving.

Local Aboriginal Landcare group Tabilk Mooroopook Upper Loddon Landcare Group, who are auspice by Nalderun, planted their pollinator plants at Me-Mandook Galk, Nalderun’s ancestor tree property in Chetwon. They reported a successful planting day with Nalderun’s young First Nation leaders.

 “Many thanks from us here at Nalderun (and from the native pollinators at Me-Mandook Galk!) for the plants. They were planted by our School-based trainees (SBATs) out at the Ancestor Tree, both in and around the Bush Tucker beds, on one of their TAFE days studying Certificate II in Horticulture. The students had only just finished creating bee-hotels the week before, so we’re looking forward to attracting & hosting lots of amazing pollinators out there!

Photos below show the Nalderun First Nations youth planting pollinator species at Me-Mandook Galk, in Chewton. Photos by Nalderun.

Harcourt Valley Landcare group added their pollinator plants to an existing work site along Barkers Creek in Harcourt. Volunteers enjoyed a chilly morning out planting at one of their treasured sites on Barkers Creek in Harcourt. The pollinator-attracting plants added value to existing understorey plantings the group have been carrying out over the years at this site. The group noticed Eastern Yellow Robins and Grey Shrike Thrush at the site on the day of the planting and they also spent a little time learning how to identify the local River Red Gums.

Photos below show the Harcourt Valley Landcare group members busily planting along Barker Creek in Harcourt. Photos by Bonnie Humphreys.

Elphinstone Land Management Association planted their pollinator plant species at a new experimental site along a seasonal creek in Elphinstone. The group have formed a ‘Cool Places Project’ where they are aiming to restore sites that already provide shade and protection from the heat with indigenous plants. As the site is along a creek line there are challenges with Gorse and Blackberry invasion, however, the group are working slowly to get rid of the weeds and replace them with indigenous flora, 10 square meters at a time by trialling solarisation of the weeds. The aim over time is to build the biodiversity at the site by adding layers of indigenous flora to fill the ground cover, lower and middle stories.

We are delighted to see local Landcare and friends groups volunteering to plant and provide food sources and habitat for our local native pollinators across the region. By planting local indigenous plants we can provide greater biodiversity and connectivity of pollinator corridors that will see our local pollinators thrive and survive. And when they are doing well so are many of our other local fauna and flora! Thank you to all the groups who volunteered their time to plant these pollinator species across the region. We look forward to watching these plants grow, recruit and continue their ecological cycles.

The Buzz Project is funded by the 2022 Victorian Landcare Grants through the North Central Catchment Management Authority.

 

 

 

Pollinator heroes of Central Victoria: Imperial Jezebel

Posted on 21 November, 2023 by Ivan

It’s springtime and the flowers are blooming, the bees are buzzing, butterflies are fluttering, beetles are looking for mates and wasps are making nests. There is plenty to see and hear across all habitats across central Victoria if you stop and pay attention to the little things. These are the heroes of the bush, grasslands, our gardens and waterways.

The Buzz project: promoting pollinators of central Victoria, is a Connecting Country project funded by the North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA) through the 2022 Victorian Landcare grants, that aims to celebrate and expand community knowledge on the smaller heroes of our local ecosystems, the insect pollinators.

The project has been running throughout 2023 and has included a presentation with local entomologist Dr Mark Hall covering ‘Native pollinators on your property: who, where and what they do?’ followed by a field trip that took a further look into ‘promoting native pollinators from property to landscape.’

During November, we will explore the lives of our most loved native pollinators from across the local region. Dr Mark Hall, local entomologist, has kindly shared his extensive knowledge on some of our local pollinator heroes that are so important to the health of our ecosystems. 

Imperial Jezebel (Delias harpalyce)

Words by Dr. Mark Hall

With Christmas approaching, you may hear the familiar tune of “I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus, underneath the mistletoe…”. And while that particular type of mistletoe is not native to Australia (and in fact is an environmental weed), there are a number of plants we call mistletoe in Australia that are native and have another species “kissing” underneath them at this time of year. The mistletoes in question are a group of semi-parasitic shrubs, often associated with Eucalypts – Amyema, Muellerina and Dendrophthoe species. The faunal species in question is the Imperial Jezebel butterfly (among others).

The Imperial Jezebel, is a gorgeous Delias butterfly. Photo: John Walter

This spectacular butterfly species can be found across the south-east of Australia in all sorts of habitats where there are mature trees with mistletoe hanging and flowers to feed from. It is an early spring emerger and most active between August and November, where it mates and lays its eggs on the mistletoes, but can be active across all warmer months. The hairy black larvae (caterpillar) then feed on the mistletoe leaves, which not only help them grow, but also makes them taste pretty bad to predators – a win-win!

The large adult butterfly is almost entirely white (or greyish in some regions) on top of its wings, with some black edging and white spots on the outer wings. But it is the underside that is really captivating. In flight or when at rest with wings folded up, the black and grey wings, punctuated with bright red and yellow bands, are clearly visible. At this time you may also notice the hairy body and long clubbed antennae. The Imperial Jezebel is a great pollinator and certainly a hero of our gardens and bushland.

 

                   

 

 

Container recycling deposit scheme: help support us!

Posted on 21 November, 2023 by Ivan

We’ve got some good news! How would you like to recycle your cans, cartons and bottles and support Connecting Country at the same time?  On 1 November 2023 Victoria’s container deposit scheme, CDS Vic, commenced. The scheme rewards Victorians with a 10-cent refund for every eligible can, carton and bottle they return. The recycling scheme also has the option to donate to a local community group or organisation, which is a valuable fundraising opportunity, simply by recycling your drinking containers. The scheme is part of important work that is transforming Victoria’s waste and recycling system.

If you would like to donate some, or all of your money from the recycling scheme to Connecting Country, quote partner ID: C2000009164 at the return centre.

How to make a return: click here

It’s as easy as 1, 2 3:

CDS Vic provides a 10-cent refund for every eligible drink container returned at refund points across Victoria. Every bottle, can and carton you return helps divert valuable containers from landfill. 

     1. Collect eligible drink containers:

Most aluminum, glass, plastic, steel, and liquid paperboard (carton) drink containers between 150mL and 3 litres are eligible. Look for the 10c mark on the back of pack. Some drinks are not eligible, including plain milk containers, wine and spirit bottles.  Tip: Keep lids on and don’t crush your containers.

    2. Return your eligible drink containers

The interactive map makes it easy to discover refund points near you. Click here to search. The nearest refund point in our region is:

Chewton Service Station
37 Pyreness Highway, Chewton, VIC 3451

Over the Counter (OTC)

    3. Earn a refund or donate

All eligible drink containers are worth a 10-cent refund that you can either keep or donate to a community donation partner.

To donate to us, simply quote the Connecting Country partner ID: C2000009164

 

 

AGM 2023 a roaring success: Phascogales draw a crowd

Posted on 21 November, 2023 by Ivan

On Saturday 18 September 2023, a large crowd of people gathered at the Guildford Community Hall and heard a wonderful talk from Dr Jess Lawton on how we can help our iconic brush-tailed phascogale from surviving to thriving. A total of 70 tickets were sold to the AGM and event, which went very smoothly and was well received by all in attendance.

We also celebrated the hard work and achievements of Connecting Country through a presentation by our Director, Lori Arthur, as well as updating the audience on our current funding situation. We would like to warmly thank our presenters and all the committee members, staff and volunteers who assisted with the event, which has generated extremely positive feedback.

The biggest star of the show was guest speaker Dr Jess Lawton, former Connecting Country employee and leading Phascogale expert, who gave an enthralling presentation on her learnings from her recently completed PhD into phascogale distribution and habitat preference in central Victoria. Jess presented some fascinating insights into why Phascogales are thriving in some geographical regions and what ecological attributes have a statistical correlation to the abundance of phascogales found in nest boxes. One of the most important points that Dr Jess Lawton concluded from her studies, was the importance of leaf litter, ground logs and rough-barked eucalyptus species in determining the presence of phascogale populations. This has important implications for landholders and land managers, who can implement practical management changes and restoration measures to encourage phascogale and the insect populations that they depend upon.

Connecting Country volunteer, Lou Citroën, has kindly provided his photography skills, to capture the presentations in the images below. Thank you again Lou.

Our AGM was short and sweet, and all but one of our committee of management members were re-elected for another year. The sad news was the retirement from the committee of long-term stalwart Malcolm Trainor, who has travelled from the south side of Ballarat since 2014 to assist Connecting Country at committee meetings and events. Malcolm will be long remembered for his visionary input into the committee and his passion for landscape restoration and healthy soils. Thank you Malcolm and best wishes for your next adventure.

Malcolm received a thank you present from committee member Marie Jones. Photo: Lou Citroën

The hard-working Connecting Country committee must be thanked for their considerable strategic and practical contributions to our organisation. It is very impressive that the committee have committed for another year, providing stability in these uncertain times.

Elected members of Connecting Country’s 2023-24 committee of management are:

  • President:                   Brendan Sydes
  • Vice President:          (vacant)
  • Treasurer:                  Max Kay
  • Secretary:                   Marie Jones
  • Ordinary member:   Stephen Oxley
  • Ordinary member:   Loulou Gebbie
  • Ordinary member:   Christine Brooke
  • Ordinary member:   Deborah Wardle

The AGM minutes will be circulated to members and available on request. If you would like a copy of Connecting Country’s annual report for 2022-23 – Click here

The guest presentation event was part of a larger project, ‘Habitat trees for Phascogales’, which aims to provide habitat stepping stones for the Brush-tailed Phascogale and other native fauna by protecting and enhancing large old trees in the landscape, particularly in grazing land. For information on how to be involved in the project click here

The Habitat Trees for Phascogales project is supported by the Victorian Government through the Nature Fund as well as the Ian and Shirley Norman Foundation.

 

 

Last chance! Connecting Country AGM this Saturday 18 November 2023

Posted on 16 November, 2023 by Ivan

We still have 25 tickets available for our AGM this Saturday 18 November 2023 and require a few more members to come along to make a quorum for our AGM formalities. 

Please join us for this special free event on Saturday 18 November 2023 at 11.00 am for brief AGM formalities, our special guest presenter and a yummy lunch. We are thrilled to have Dr Jess Lawton, former Connecting Country superstar, present the findings from her recent PhD study into Phascogales and how we can take action to help them thrive once again.

 

The presentation event is part of a larger project, ‘Habitat trees for Phascogales’, which aims to provide habitat stepping stones for the Brush-tailed Phascogale and other native fauna by protecting and enhancing large old trees in the landscape, particularly in grazing land.

For catering and logistical purposes, please register your attendance – click here

Dr Jess Lawton is an ecologist with a passion for understanding the threats facing native fauna and ecosystems, and how we can take action to address these issues. Jess was the Connecting Country Monitoring Coordinator for the past five years and is one of the leading knowledge brokers on citizen science and monitoring our landscapes and wildlife. Jess has recently submitted her PhD thesis at LaTrobe University, where she studied our wonderful Brush-Tailed Phascogale. She relishes collaborative ecological work and is passionate about empowering communities to conserve and recover local biodiversity. Jess loves exploring the outdoors, playing music and camping.

When: Saturday 18 November 2022 at 11.00 am

Where: Guildford Community Hall, 30 Fryers St Guildford

Everyone is welcome!

 

For catering and logistical purposes, please register your attendance – click here


AGM formalities

The following Connecting Country AGM 2023 documents are available for download:

Please note only current Connecting Country members can vote in the AGM. To become a member or renew your membership – click here

If you have any questions, please email info@connectingcountry.org.au

Thank you to the State Government of Victoria for their funding support and ‘Habitat Trees for Phascogales’ project.

 

Pollinator Week 11-19 November 2023

Posted on 13 November, 2023 by Hadley Cole

This week marks 2023’s Australian Pollinator Week. Australian Pollinator Week acknowledges our important and unique insect pollinators. It is a designated week when community, business and organisations can come together to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators and support their needs. As we are now in the full swing of Spring weather, it is a perfect time to take a moment in nature to pay attention to the smaller creatures in our ecosystems. There are a number of events across the state celebrating Pollinator Week, including a pollinator discovery walk with Dr. Mark Hall in Heathcote VIC on Saturday 18 November and an online webinar hosted by the Wheen Bee Foundation on ‘integrated pest and pollinator management’ on Wednesday 15 November. For more information on events – click here

Common Halfband (hoverfly). Photo by John Walter.

Throughout the week (November 11 to 19) you can also take part in a ten minute pollinator count and record the pollinator life forms you observe in your garden, favourite nature place or Landcare site. For more information on how to take part in the pollinator count -click here

Taking part is quick and easy. You simply need to observe some flowers for 10 minutes, record the pollinators you see and register your results.

Follow the three step process below to get started.

  1. Learn
  2. Test
  3. Count

How to take part:

 

 

Book now! Connecting Country AGM this Saturday 18 November 2023

Posted on 13 November, 2023 by Ivan

Please join us for this special free event on Saturday 18 November 2023 at 11.00 am for brief AGM formalities, our special guest presenter and a yummy lunch. We are thrilled to have Dr Jess Lawton, former Connecting Country superstar, present the findings from her recent PhD study into Phascogales and how we can take action to help them thrive once again.

 

The presentation event is part of a larger project, ‘Habitat trees for Phascogales’, which aims to provide habitat stepping stones for the Brush-tailed Phascogale and other native fauna by protecting and enhancing large old trees in the landscape, particularly in grazing land.

For catering and logistical purposes, please register your attendance – click here

Dr Jess Lawton is an ecologist with a passion for understanding the threats facing native fauna and ecosystems, and how we can take action to address these issues. Jess was the Connecting Country Monitoring Coordinator for the past five years and is one of the leading knowledge brokers on citizen science and monitoring our landscapes and wildlife. Jess has recently submitted her PhD thesis at LaTrobe University, where she studied our wonderful Brush-Tailed Phascogale. She relishes collaborative ecological work and is passionate about empowering communities to conserve and recover local biodiversity. Jess loves exploring the outdoors, playing music and camping.

When: Saturday 18 November 2022 at 11.00 am

Where: Guildford Community Hall, 30 Fryers St Guildford

Everyone is welcome!

 

For catering and logistical purposes, please register your attendance – click here


AGM formalities

The following Connecting Country AGM 2023 documents are available for download:

Please note only current Connecting Country members can vote in the AGM. To become a member or renew your membership – click here

If you have any questions, please email info@connectingcountry.org.au

Thank you to the State Government of Victoria for their funding support and ‘Habitat Trees for Phascogales’ project.

 

2023 Great Southern BioBlitz November 24-27

Posted on 9 November, 2023 by Hadley Cole

The Great Southern BioBlitz, is an international event held in Spring each year that aims to record biodiversity across the Southern Hemisphere through citizen science. This year the event will run over four days in late November.

Nature lovers can upload observations to the iNaturalist app and contribute to biodiversity data across the globe! Castlemaine Field Naturalist Club host a project on iNaturalist that users can contribute to over the four days of surveying. The Great Southern Bioblitz Castlemaine region iNaturalist project covers the Mount Alexander Shire and parts of the Hepburn Shire, and offers a wonderful snap shot into local biodiversity across the region. You can record all living species from plants, to insects, fungi, reptiles, mammals, birds and more! For more information on how to get involved please see the below flyer courtesy of Castlemaine Field Naturalist Club.

To celebrate the 2023 Great Southern BioBlitz, our friends at Castlemaine Field Naturalist Club and Castlemaine Landcare Group are hosting two separate events over the weekend of the 25 and 26 November. Please see the flyer below for more details.

 

 

Robbed of its Glory: Conservation action for the Hooded Robin 

Posted on 31 October, 2023 by Anna

Three of our region’s beloved Feathered Five are now listed under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. We have partnered with BirdLife Castlemaine District to deliver a series of blog posts describing these species, why they are threatened, and what we can do to support the conservation of these species into the future. In this blog post, we briefly summarise the conservation advice for the Hooded Robin (click here), the causes of its decline, and what you can do to help it. To read an insightful ‘Bird of the Month” about this species, written by our amazing partners at BirdLife Castlemaine District, click here.  

Habitat and threats: Hooded Robin (Melanodryas cucullata)

Hooded Robins occur in eucalypt and acacia woodlands and shrublands with an open understory, some grassy areas and a complex ground layer. They will use small patches of around 3 hectares but prefer larger patches of more than 10 hectares. Important habitat elements include mature eucalypts, saplings, some small shrubs and a ground layer of moderately tall native grasses. Trees and tree stumps are essential for nesting, roosting and foraging. They occur where there is deep to moderately deep soil, rocks, and fallen timber, which provides essential foraging habitat. The Robin hunts with a ‘perch and pounce’ technique – a bit like a kookaburra. This means they need multiple stumps and trees for perches and open grassy areas to pounce into. They eat insects, small lizards, and invertebrates. The species is typically found in pairs or small groups and is shy, and largely sedentary.

A pair of Hooded Robins (female lower) (photo by Geoff Park)

Key threats:  

  • Habitat fragmentation and clearing, 
  • Extreme events (wildfire, heatwave, and drought),  
  • Overgrazing by domestic livestock,  
  • Noisy Miner competition,  
  • Invasive weeds,  
  • Predation by cats and foxes,  
  • Browsing pressure from rabbits and deer,  
  • Firewood collection and ‘tidying’ of farmlands, and  
  • Inappropriate fire regimes.  

This species is listed as ‘Endangered’. Its population has declined by > 50% in the last ten years. 

Some ways you can help Hooded Robins: 

  • Retain native vegetation, particularly that with a diverse but variable structure, in order to maximise foraging opportunities. i.e. habitat needs perches and open areas for foraging  
  • Undertake revegetation, focusing on connecting and expanding habitat and widening corridors. 
  • Replace trees from where they have been removed.   
  • Focus on productive lower parts of the landscapes, especially near streams. Aim for plantings of at least 50 m wide.  
  • Promote connectivity and avoid habitat gaps of > 100 m. 
  • Avoid intensive overgrazing in Hooded Robin habitat – aim to manage grazing to maintain or improve habitat. 
  • Target invasive weeds.   
  • Reduce edge habitat and plant a complex understory to deter Noisy Miners, which compete with this species.  
  • Limit firewood collection and the removal of fallen timber.
  • Provide water for birds and consider using water sources that hang to reduce predation from cats at bird baths.
  • Keep cats inside – see the Safe Cat website for information on how to keep cats (and wildlife) safe.
     

The information above has been summarised from the government’s Conservation advice Melanodryas cucullata cucullata (hooded robin (south-eastern)) (environment.gov.au). 

 

Presenting our 2023 Annual Report: ready for download

Posted on 31 October, 2023 by Ivan

Connecting Country’s annual report 2023 is now available for you to catch up on our highlights from 2022-2023.  Along with brief updates from our President, Treasurer and Director, the report gives an overview of our work – spanning landscape restoration, community engagement, monitoring and Landcare support – with plenty of gorgeous pictures!

Our annual report is also another opportunity to say a huge thank you to our many valued funders, donors, volunteers and supporters in the community, and our hardworking staff and committee of management.

We hope you enjoy learning a little more about our work and achievements this past year, which has been busy, challenging and enjoyable!

To view the Connecting Country annual report 2023 as a document – click here
To view the Connecting Country annual report 2022 as a video (with sound!) – click below

 

Helping us deliver more habitat restoration!

By making a regular or once-off donation you will directly support habitat restoration in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria, Australia.

Since 2009 we have worked with over 330 landholders and groups to do restoration works on over 13,000 hectares across our region, providing refuge for wildlife through planting of locally indigenous plant species, installation and monitoring of nestboxes, wildlife surveys and community education programs.

Connecting Country (Mount Alexander Region) Inc is a registered charity with deductible gift recipient (DGR) status.

All donations of $2 or more to Connecting Country are tax deductible.

Secure online payment by credit or debit card

Head to our secure online payment site by clicking below:

If you’re inspired to get more involved with Connecting Country please:

 

‘Surviving to thriving: Phascogale learnings’ with Dr Jess Lawton, and AGM 2023

Posted on 26 October, 2023 by Ivan

Please join us for this special free event on Saturday 18 November 2023 at 11.00 am for brief AGM formalities, our special guest presenter and a yummy lunch. We are thrilled to have Dr Jess Lawton, former Connecting Country superstar, present the findings from her recent PhD study into Phascogales and how we can take action to help them thrive once again.

 

The presentation event is part of a larger project, ‘Habitat trees for Phascogales’, which aims to provide habitat stepping stones for the Brush-tailed Phascogale and other native fauna by protecting and enhancing large old trees in the landscape, particularly in grazing land.

Dr Jess Lawton is an ecologist with a passion for understanding the threats facing native fauna and ecosystems, and how we can take action to address these issues. Jess was the Connecting Country Monitoring Coordinator for the past five years and is one of the leading knowledge brokers on citizen science and monitoring our landscapes and wildlife. Jess has recently submitted her PhD thesis at LaTrobe University, where she studied our wonderful Brush-Tailed Phascogale. She relishes collaborative ecological work and is passionate about empowering communities to conserve and recover local biodiversity. Jess loves exploring the outdoors, playing music and camping.

When: Saturday 18 November 2022 at 11.00 am

Where: Guildford Community Hall, 30 Fryers St Guildford

Everyone is welcome!

For catering and logistical purposes, please register your attendance – click here


AGM formalities

The following Connecting Country AGM 2023 documents are available for download:

Please note only current Connecting Country members can vote in the AGM. To become a member or renew your membership – click here

If you have any questions, please email info@connectingcountry.org.au

Thank you to the State Government of Victoria for their funding support and ‘Habitat Trees for Phascogales’ project.

File:Victoria State Government logo.svg - Wikipedia

 

Creeping towards extinction: Conservation action for the Brown Treecreeper

Posted on 24 October, 2023 by Anna

Three of our region’s beloved Feathered Five are now listed as threatened. We have partnered with BirdLife Castlemaine District to deliver a series of blog posts describing these species, why they are threatened, and what we can do to support the conservation of these species into the future. In this blog post, we briefly summarise the conservation advice for the Brown Treecreeper (click here), the causes of its decline, and what you can do to help it. To read an insightful blog post about this species, written by naturalist and nature writer (and our wonderful former monitoring and engagement coordinator), Tanya Loos, please click here.  

The Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus) is one of our Feathered Five, and also the flagship species for Birdlife Castlemaine District. 

The Brown Treecreeper typically occurs in woodland dominated by stringybarks or rough-barked trees, but also occurs in a number of other wooded habitat types. They usually occur in areas with an open, grassy understory, allowing them to forage near the ground and keep an eye out for predators. They mainly eat invertebrate prey, but also eat nectar and sap, and small lizards. They can be reasonably bold and are known to pinch food from the odd picnic as described in a recent Bird of the Month blog. They forage on the ground, in fallen timber, and on trees. They are usually in pairs or small family groups, and occupy permanent territories, nesting in tree hollows and stumps.  

The species is listed as Vulnerable as it has undergone a reduction in population size over the last 15 years.

Brown Treecreeper in the fading sun. Photo: Geoff Park.

Key threats include:  

  • Habitat loss and fragmentation. 
  • Habitat degradation caused by domestic livestock over-grazing. 
  • Noisy miner competition. 
  • Altered fire regimes. 
  • Extreme events (wildfire, heatwave, and drought). 
  • Firewood collection. 
  • Nest hollow competition. 
  • Overgrazing by rabbits and overabundant native species. 
  • Predation by cats and foxes. 

Some ways you can help the Brown Treecreeper: 

  • Retain woodland habitat.  
  • Revegetate, with a focus on expanding and connecting habitat, and ensure ground cover is patchy, and includes open areas for foraging. 
  • Insects are an important food source so plant local, insect-attracting plants. Reduce spraying of garden pests.
  • Target productive areas of the landscape (such as alongside streams) and aim for riparian plantings to be at least 50m wide.  
  • Avoid gaps of more than 100m between trees.  
  • Prevent overgrazing, and manage grazing to maintain or improve habitat. Use low-input, fast rotational grazing with long periods of rest and short intensive grazing events.  
  • Reduce edge habitat and plant a complex understory to deter Noisy Miners, which compete with this species. 
  • Retain large old trees, including isolated paddock trees. 
  • Keep it messy – retain leaf litter and woody debris, such as fallen logs. Avoid over-grazing and frequent fuel reduction burns.  
  • Provide water for birds and consider using water sources that hang to reduce predation from cats at bird baths. 
  • Keep cats inside – see the Safe Cat website for information on how to keep cats (and wildlife) safe. 

The information above has been summarised from the Federal Government’s conservation advice (click here) and advice from Birdlife Castlemaine District.

Brown Treecreeper creeping on the ground. Photo: CC archives.

 

Reminder: Shaking the shed for Connecting Country: Tuesday 24 and Wednesday 25 October 2023

Posted on 24 October, 2023 by Ivan

This week is our week fundraising at Shedshaker Brewing’s Keg for Good: Tuesday 24 and Wednesday 25 October 2023. Hopefully, we see a few of you there! 

How would you like to enjoy a tasty pale ale and support Connecting Country at the same time? Shedshaker Brewing’s Keg for Good is a new initiative aimed at providing local groups with a valuable fundraising opportunity, simply by having a beer!

Sales of the Frailty Pale Ale on the two designated nights are donated to a different group each month. So far, Shedshaker has donated money to Red Box Animal Shelter, Castlemaine Community House’s Food Pantry and Mount Alexander Animal Welfare (MAAW), with Connecting Country being the next recipient of the big fundraising opportunity.

Visit Shedshaker Brewing and support Connecting Country on Tuesday 24 and Wednesday 25 October 2023. We are hoping the sun is shining and the weather sweet and a few supporters can get down and enjoy a well-deserved beer!

Opened in April 2016 at the Mill complex in northern Castlemaine, the Taproom is open six days a week serving delicious beverages, yummy food, outstanding live music and beaucoup conviviality. A big thanks to Shedshaker for making this happen, we hope you can enjoy an ale for us and enjoy all that we both have to offer.

 

Aussie Bird Count week 16-22 October 2023 

Posted on 12 October, 2023 by Anna

Aussie Bird Count is Australia’s largest citizen science Project and is run by Birdlife Australia. Celebrate Bird Week 2023 and the tenth year of the Birdlife Australia’s Aussie Bird Count, by taking part! 

The 2023 event will run from October 16 to 22.  You can undertake as many bird counts as you like over this week long period. You can do this from your backyard, local park, or other favourite outdoor area.

To complete a count, all you need to do is spend 20 minutes in one spot, noting down the birds that you see. Binoculars will come in handy! If you can identify birds by their calls, please include these in your count, but if you aren’t sure of a bird without seeing it, please exclude it rather than making a guess. The Aussie Bird Count app has a handy field-guide to help you identify birds or you can visit the website (aussiebirdcount.org.au). 

Once you have completed your count, you can submit it to Birdlife in two different ways:  

Through the online web form (this form won’t be made live until the 10 October 2023)  

OR  

Via the free Aussie Bird Count phone app. 

Last year 77,419 volunteers recorded a whopping 3.9 million birds of 620 different species! The vast amount of data collected during the bird count is invaluable for ecologists to track large-scale biodiversity trends. It is a wonderful way to get to know your local birds and connect with nature.

Register today and help make the tenth Aussie Bird Count the biggest and best yet.

For more information and to register, head to aussiebirdcount.org.au  

If you’re lucky you might even come across some of the below birds. Can you identify each of these beauties?

 

Photos by Geoff Park and Damian Kelly.

 

A diamond in the rough: Conservation action for the Diamond Firetail 

Posted on 10 October, 2023 by Anna

Three of our region’s beloved Feathered Five are now listed under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. We have partnered with Birdlife Castlemaine District to deliver a series of blog posts describing these species, why they are threatened, and what we can do to support the conservation of these species into the future. In this blog post, we briefly summarise the conservation advice for the Diamond Firetail (click here), the causes of its decline, and what you can do to help it. To read an insightful ‘Bird of the Month’ about this species, written by our amazing partners at Birdlife Castlemaine District, click here 

Diamond Firetail – photo by Geoff Park

Habitat and threats 

The Diamond Firetail occurs primarily in lightly timbered habitats (including woodlands, open forest, and farmland) with relatively low tree density, few large logs, little litter cover and high grass cover. They live in flocks and roost in dense shrubs, and eat grass and herb seeds, Allocasuarina (she-oak) seeds, green leaves and insects.  This species’ population has declined by 30-50% over the last 10 years, and it is listed as ‘Vulnerable’. 

Photo by Geoff Park

Key threats:  

  • Habitat loss from land clearing.  
  • Invasive weeds, particularly exotic grasses.
  • Habitat degradation caused by livestock and overabundant native animal grazing. 
  • Competition with noisy miners. 
  • Habitat degradation caused by rabbits. 
  • Nest predation by pied currawongs. 
  • Extreme events (wildfire, heatwave, and drought).
  • Altered fire regimes – especially increased fire intensity. 

Some ways you can help Diamond Firetails: 

  • Protect Diamond Firetail habitat and retain, expand and reconnect remnant patches. Patches > 50 m wide and areas near water are especially important. 
  • Undertake revegetation, focusing on a diverse mix of locally appropriate native species, especially grasses for seed, and dense/prickly shrubs for shelter and nesting.  
  • Instead of mowing, allow native grasses to go to seed.
  • Retain mistletoe.
  • Plant for insect diversity, reduce spraying of garden pests such as aphids. 
  • Manage grazing to retain a diverse grass, forb and shrub layer. 
  • Control weeds. 
  • Provide water for birds and consider using water sources that hang to reduce predation from cats at bird baths.
  • Keep cats inside – see the Safe Cat website for information on how to keep cats (and wildlife) safe.

 The information above has been summarised from the government’s Conservation advice Stagonopleura guttata (diamond firetail) and advice from Birdlife Castlemaine District.

Flock of Diamond Firetails enjoying a lovely bath in a puddle. Photo by Damian Kelly.

 

Unveiling the Feathered Five’s Fading Symphony

Posted on 3 October, 2023 by Ivan

Three of our region’s Feathered Five are now listed as threatened. We have partnered with Birdlife Castlemaine District to deliver a series of blog posts describing these species, why they are threatened, and what we can do to support the conservation of these species into the future.

Extinction is a modern issue

The word extinction may evoke thoughts of the Wooly Mammoth or the Dodo. But in Australia, extinction is very much a contemporary issue. Currently 39 Australian mammal, and 22 bird species, are extinct; a further 154 birds are threatened with extinction. There are very recent, examples of extinctions. The Christmas Island Pipistrelle, a native bat, was last recorded in 2009 and formally declared extinct in 2019. Australia has also recently experienced its first documented reptile extinction. The Christmas Island Forest Skink went from being abundant and common up until the late 1990s to officially declared extinct in 2017. The last one died in captivity in 2014 less than five months after Australian legislation finally listed the species as endangered.  Climate change represents a real and serious threat; the Bramble Cay Melomys, a bright-eyed native rodent, was declared extinct in 2014, likely due to rising sea levels impacting its island habitat. To date, there have been 100 extinctions in Australia since European colonisation (click here).

Our Famous (Feathered) Five… but for how long?

Just a few months ago, three of our beloved Feathered Five: the Diamond Firetail, the Hooded Robin (south-eastern), and the Brown Treecreeper (south-eastern), were listed under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This means that the birds are now protected under federal legislation, but the declines that lead to these listings raises concerns about the status of these species into the long term.

Male Hooded Robin along Mia Mia Track. Photo: Geoff Park

What can you do? Conservation action in the Mount Alexander area

When a species is listed as threatened under the EPBC Act, the Australian Government develops a conservation advice document. These are intended to guide recovery planning and identify actions required for conservation and recovery of the species. For detailed information, you can read the conservation advice on the Diamond Firetail (click here), Brown Treecreeper (click here), and Hooded Robin (click here).

We would be devastated if our beloved Feathered Five slipped away and are hopeful that the listing of these species prompts wider conservation action. The listing of these species has prompted our friends and project partners, Birdlife Castlemaine District, to hold a meeting and consider what local actions could be undertaken to preserve these species. Into the future, we will be working with Birdlife Castlemaine District to seek funding support for these species, and to continue to raise the profile of these important species and do our best to conserve them.

An adult Diamond Firetail resting in a gum tree, note the finch beak. Photo: Geoff Park

Birdlife Castlemaine District have proposed the following simple, practical actions that landholders can take to help protect these special birds:

  • Plant and retain locally indigenous shrubs and native grasses, and – importantly – allow them to go to seed, to provide food for seed-eating birds. Many gardens in the area already have wallaby grass – rather than mowing them, let them go to seed. Indigenous seeds are available from the Castlemaine Seed Library for a select number of species.
  • Insects are also an important food source for some of the Feathered Five species, so plant local, insect-attracting plants. Reduce spraying of garden pests such as aphids.
  • Provide water for birds and consider using water sources that hang to reduce predation from cats at bird baths.

Keep cats inside – see the Safe Cat website for information on how to keep cats (and wildlife) safe.

Brown Treecreeper need a variety of native trees and shrubs to forage and nest. Photo Geoff Park

 

 

‘The urban garden in Box-Ironbark country’: FOBIF AGM 9 October 2023

Posted on 2 October, 2023 by Ivan

Our friends and project partners at Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests (FOBIF) are having their AGM next Monday (9th October), featuring a talk by Dr Cassia Read on creating wildlife habitats in your garden. It is sure to be a great event and an important topic as we learn to co-exist with wildlife and create climate refuges around our homes and in our urban fringes. Please find the details below, provided by FOBIF.

FOBIF AGM: 9 October 2023

Our guest speaker at this year’s FOBIF Annual General Meeting will be Dr Cassia Read. Cassia is an ecologist, educator and garden designer, working at the intersection of biodiversity conservation and human wellbeing. She is Principal Ecologist and Co-Founder of the Castlemaine Institute and a FOBIF Committee member. She will be speaking on creating garden wildlife habitats.

The urban garden in Box-Ironbark country: Can you have your roses and fairywrens too?

Whatever your gardening style you can nudge your garden in a wildlife friendly direction. By adding habitat elements and designing for alignment between your needs and the needs of wildlife, you can create a stunning landscape that supports the remarkable creatures of Box Ironbark Country. Whether you prefer formal or wild gardens, cottage gardens or bush-blocks, by realising the potential of your garden oases you can be part of creating neighbourhood networks that will support people and biodiversity in a changing climate. This talk will provide you with know-how and inspiration about creating wildlife habitat, whether you’re starting from scratch or adding to an existing garden.

There will be a short formal AGM at 7.30 followed by Cassia’s talk. Supper will be provided and everyone is welcome. If you wish to nominate for the FOBIF committee, contact Bernard Slattery 0499 624 160. The meeting will be held in the Ray Bradfield Room, Victory Park, Castlemaine, with access from the IGA carpark or Mostyn Street.

Cassia in her Castlemaine garden.

FOBIF AGM: October 9, 2023

 

Farewell Jess Lawton: thanks for all the birds

Posted on 2 October, 2023 by Ivan

We recently said ‘goodbye’ to our much-loved Monitoring Coordinator, colleague and friend, Jess Lawton. Jess has been an incredible asset to Connecting Country over the past (nearly) four years. She has provided inspiration and dedication to the role and will be missed by the community, landowners and citizen scientists with whom she managed and shared her passion, vision and wisdom. Her commitment to the monitoring program was a juggling act, with Jess managing the bird monitoring program and also the nestbox program. Jess’s efforts have made a huge difference to the local landscape, citizen scientists and the broader community.

We wish Jess all the very best in her new role at the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (Federal Government) and are thrilled she will stay involved as a Connecting Country volunteer and supporter. Thanks also to all the landowners and volunteers who have supported Jess during this time. She will also give a talk at our upcoming AGM on her favourite topic, her deep love for the Brush-tailed phascogale. Stay tuned!

As one-star bird moves to another landscape, another arrives. We have been very fortunate to recruit a new Monitoring Coordinator – another local talent – Anna Senior. We welcome Anna with open arms and her talents from far and wide.

Local resident Anna Senior joins Connecting Country with a wealth of knowledge in monitoring and ecology. Photo: Connecting Country

Introducing Anna

Anna is a terrestrial ecologist with experience working in environmental management for state government and private sectors throughout eastern Australia. She has a passion for the conservation of lesser-known species, particularly reptiles. Her PhD explored the conservation biology and ecology of some of Victoria’s rarest lizards; the Guthega skink, mountain skink and swamp skink. 

Anna lives in Castlemaine with her partner and enjoys tending her garden and looking after her ever-growing menagerie. Anna is based at Connecting Country on Mondays to Thursdays. 

Anna has been supporting various projects at Connecting Country over the past eighteen months and is the perfect fit for the role of Monitoring Coordinator.

We are super-excited to have Anna on board, please say hello to Anna via her email or touch base if you would like to volunteer for our monitoring program: anna@connectingcountry.org.au