Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Restoring landscapes in a changing climate – 13 November 2021

Posted on 21 October, 2021 by Frances

How do we plan for restoring and revegetating our fragmented habitat, in a time of climate change? What are the latest projections for our climate over the coming decades and how does this affect revegetation projects? Connecting Country are hosting an online event exploring this topic, combined with our Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Saturday 13 November 2021 at 2.00 pm. This year’s AGM theme is ‘Restoring landscapes in a changing climate’ and Connecting Country has secured two guest speakers who will explore climate change projections for our region and how revegetation projects might look in the future.

Guest speakers at the event will be Bonnie Humphreys (Connecting Country) and Geoff Caine (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning). Bonnie will update the audience about Connecting Country’s mission to create two climate future plots in our region, with support from the Ross Trust. Bonnie is Connecting Country’s Landscape Restoration Coordinator and coordinates on-ground actions and ecological surveys. Geoff will be speaking on the latest climate projections for our region and the implications for biodiversity and revegetation. Geoff is a Program Manager (Community and Partnerships) at DELWP, focusing on climate change, energy and sustainability.

Landcarers and landholders in the Mount Alexander region are increasingly concerned about the future viability of their revegetation work, given recent weather patterns and future climate predictions. Many have seen their revegetation plantings die in recent years due to heat and water stress, and some have even stopped planting.

Connecting Country seeks to help address this issue and has secured funding through the Ross Trust to establish two climate future plots of 500 plants right here in Mount Alexander region during 2021-23. This ‘Future-proof our forests’ project focuses on two important species from our local area: Silver Banksia (Banksia marginata) and Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa).

You may have heard the terms ‘climate future plot‘, ‘climate-resilient landscapes‘ or ‘climate-ready revegetation‘, but what do they actually mean? In simple terms, they refer to the use of climate change modelling to plan for revegetation, by using suitable indigenous plants sourced from places with climates similar to that predicted at the revegetation site in decades to come (usually hotter and drier places). This is a new and emerging revegetation technique.

Bonnie Humphreys (Connecting Country) will talk about how climate future plots work and the challenges of pioneering our first local plots. ‘We are working to include a variety of plant provenances, grown from seed from areas that are hotter and drier, as well as areas that are cooler and wetter’. ‘Even though our climate is predicted to become hotter and drier, there may be other genetic information stored within a particular provenance, such as ability to survive an insect attack, or frost resilience, which plants from the hotter and drier area do not have,’ said Ms Humphreys.

The project has selected plant provenances based on Bureau of Meteorology’s climate predictions for our region. These are paired to these predictions with species distribution and the availability of seed for our chosen plants. Connecting Country hopes the climate future plots will create seed production areas and provide climate-adapted seed for use in future revegetation projects. They will also help to identify individuals and provenances most suited to survive in our changing climatic conditions.

The AGM will include a brief presentation from staff and committee members about Connecting Country’s achievements over the past year, to allow supporters old and new to hear what Connecting Country does and plans for the coming year. All are welcome.

Bookings are essential for this online event. To make a booking – click here

To find out more about the AGM 2021 (including AGM documents) – click here

If you have any questions, please email ivan@connectingcountry.org.au or call (03) 5472 1594.

Thank you to the Ross Trust for their invaluable support of our ‘Future-proof our forests’ project.

 

Healthy Landscapes – land management events 2021

Posted on 21 October, 2021 by Ivan

We recently came across some great upcoming events on sustainable land management, aimed educating and building the capacity of farmers and other landholders. The series of workshops are scheduled for October to December 2021. They are part of a larger project called ‘Practical Regenerative Agricultural Communities’, a collaboration between local governments, Landcare networks and water authorities.

Of particular interest is the ‘Grass and Pasture Identification’ workshop, featuring Dr Graeme Lorimer who has been teaching how to identify, understand and manage wild (non-planted) grasses for 32 years. This webinar is combined with field days at several locations. The webinar is on Tuesday 26 October at 7.30 pm and the field days include one in Redesdale VIC on Friday 26 November 2021 from 10.00 am.

Details of the eight workshops can be found below, courtesy of the Macedon Ranges Shire Council website.

The Healthy Landscapes project

The Healthy Landscapes: Practical Regenerative Agricultural Communities program aims to raise awareness in their community about sustainable land management practices that improve soil health, reduce exposure to climate risk, enhance biodiversity and increase on-farm productivity. This program is being delivered as a partnership between Macedon Ranges Shire Council, Hepburn Shire Council, the City of Greater Bendigo, A Healthy Coliban Catchment project (North Central Catchment Management Authority and Coliban Water), Melbourne Water and the Upper Campaspe Landcare Network.

The Healthy Landscapes: Practical Regenerative Agricultural Communities project aims to raise awareness in the community about sustainable land management practices that improve soil health, reduce exposure to climate risk, enhance biodiversity and increase on-farm productivity.

For details and bookings for the upcoming events – click here

 Grass and Pasture Identification Webinar image

 

How to better manage farm waste

Posted on 14 October, 2021 by Frances

Castlemaine local and waste guru, Jess Drake, is helping run in a brand new project to help better manage wastes on farms. Here is some information from Agrifutures Australia on how to get involved.

Agrifutures Australia is running a program of work to support innovative ideas and options for the avoidance, recycling, and reuse of pre-farm gate waste (specifically wastes from workshops), and ensure there is clear direction and coordination of activities for the sector to achieve the required change. Murrang Earth Sciences and Science into Action, along with sector experts, are investigating practical options for agriculture, fishery, and forestry communities to revalue and manage these workshop wastes. While we have our own expertise frankly, to develop useful and practical ways of managing workshop waste, we need to understand what concerns you/your members and what you/they need.

We are running some online sessions to work with people who run or manage family-owned fishing, forestry, or agricultural enterprises, as well as representatives of peak bodies, and associated relevant government bodies.

If you are interested in participating, please click here to find out more and register – click here

Please note that we will need to limit participation to less than 75 people (spread across the sectors and the country) directly in the online sessions. However, we welcome ideas, thoughts or other engagement via reply email or info@scienceintoaction.com.

Dr Jess Drake
Environmental Regulation and Soil Scientist
Murrang Earth Sciences

 

 

 

Announcing Connecting Country AGM – 13 November 2021

Posted on 14 October, 2021 by Frances

Connecting Country is delighted to announce our Annual General Meeting 2021 (AGM). While we’d really like to meet up in person, an online meeting allows for unpredictable COVID-19 restrictions and opens the event to a broader audience.

Please join us for this free online event on Saturday 13 November 2021 at 2.00 pm for brief AGM formalities and our special guest presenters. As usual it will be much more than an AGM!

Our theme is Restoring landscapes in a changing climate

Special presentations:

  • Future-proof our forests
    Bonnie Humphreys (Landscape Restoration Coordinator) and Ivan Carter (Engagement Coordinator)
    Join Bonnie and Ivan to learn about Connecting Country’s mission to create the first climate future plots in our region, with support from the Ross Trust.
  • Climate scenarios and planning considerations for central Victoria
    Geoff Caine  (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning)
    Hear Geoff speaking on the latest climate projections for our region and the implications for biodiversity and revegetation.


Everyone is welcome!
 Please register your attendance and we will send you the link prior to the meeting – click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AGM formalities

The following Connecting Country AGM 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 Ross Trust for their invaluable support of our ‘Future-proof our forests’ project.


 

What to plant in and around your dam – 14 October 2021

Posted on 7 October, 2021 by Frances

Planning and planting to maximise the potential of farm dams

Join Sustainable Farms for a free online webinar on the latest research on the benefits of enhancing farm dams, what to plant where and other practical planning tips!

When – Thursday 14 October 2021 at 12.00 pm (AEDT)
To register – click here

This one hour lunchtime webinar will cover practical aspects of enhancing farm dams:

  • Dave Smith (Sustainable Farms ecologist) will discuss current research on the multiple benefits of enhancing farm dams
  • Angelina Siegrist (Sustainable Farms ecologist) will introduce our new Enhancing farm dams: What to plant in and around your dam guide, including the different zones of a dam and species selection
  • Sally Day (Greta Valley Landcare project officer) will share her experiences of why farmers choose to enhance their dams and practical aspects of planning a farm dam project

There will also be plenty of time for questions.

The organisers recommend having a copy of the Enhancing farm dams: What to plant in and around your dam guide handy during the webinar.

To download a copy of the guide from the Sustainable Farms website – click here

Sustainable Farms is an initiative of the Australian National University.

Local ecologist Karl Just discusses biodiversity at a farm dam in Taradale (photo by Jaqcui Slingo)

 

Endangered butterfly finds new hope in central Victoria

Posted on 29 September, 2021 by Ivan

The endangered Eltham Copper Butterfly (Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida) represents one of the most fascinating stories both due to its co-dependency in nature and how people have rallied for this species.  This is a rare, good news story within the extinction crisis across Australia, proving we can save species from the brink with the right care and resources.

It is a story of lost and found and lost and found again. The little butterfly was formally described in 1951 having been collected from several sites around Eltham (then north east of Melbourne) during 1923-56.  Subsequent lack of records over the next 37 years, combined with vegetation clearing for housing development where they once thrived (Tallarook, Murtoa, Dimboola, Keilor, Broadmeadows and Yarrambat), lead scientists to conclude the butterfly had become extinct. Then the butterflies were rediscovered at Eltham in 1987 on a property about to be subdivided. Community campaigning for this tiny insect resulted in the purchase and protection of eight hectares of land around Eltham and Greensborough. The 1987 discovery also triggered funding of a state-wide search. Nine colonies were discovered in 1988, including two in new regions: Castlemaine (central Victoria) and the Kiata-Salisbury area (western Victoria).

Finding where a threatened species lives is the first step in conserving it, but protecting it from threats is the key to survival.  Sadly, since 1988 three known populations were lost through housing development in Melbourne’s north eastern suburbs (Montmorency and Eltham) and from grazing and weed invasion in western Victoria (Salisbury).  It is likely that butterfly populations were also lost from other areas where they were not yet discovered.

The Eltham Copper Butterfly is only the size of a ten cent piece (photo by Elaine Bayes)

However, bursts of effort over the decades have led to the discovery of new populations, mostly in north central Victoria. In 2011, a 3,000 ha search found eight new populations around Bendigo and Castlemaine.  All the newly-discovered populations are very localised. Although the populations are located within a larger area of what looks like suitable butterfly habitat, the butterfly only occurs in 3-25% of habitat. Numbers of butterflies within these areas are also small, with populations of around 50 butterflies peppered across an area.  Why they are found in some areas and not others is unclear, and what makes good butterfly habitat appears very complex.

Eltham Copper Butterfly is a small attractive butterfly with bright copper colouring on the tops of its wings and lives in dry open woodlands. A member of the blue butterfly family, it has a fascinating ecological dependency with two other species – a Notoncus ant and the Sweet Bursaria plant (Bursaria spinosa), which is the sole food source for the butterfly larvae. It’s survival also relies on an unknown array of environmental factors including availability of food for the ants, relationships with predators, site aspect and soil type.

The symbiotic relationship works like this. The adult Eltham Copper Butterflies lay their eggs on or at the base of Sweet Bursaria plants. The eggs hatch and the larvae make their way to the ant nest where they are tended and guarded by Notoncus ants.  This amazing service is achieved through a mixture of trickery and treats. Trickery in that the larvae of this family butterflies are believed to give off chemicals and make noises that can pacify ant aggression, mimic ant brood hormones, and attract and alert ants if the butterfly larvae is alarmed. Treats in that the butterfly larvae produces sugary secretions from their body in proportion to how many ants they need to guard them. These nocturnal ants then lead the butterfly larvae out at night to browse on the Sweet Bursaria leaves, and defend them from the many nocturnal predators that see the larvae as a juicy snack. Larvae pupate in or near the ant nest, with adult butterflies emerging from October to March each year, peaking from November to January. The adults then feed on nectar of Sweet Bursaria flowers, before they lay their eggs at the base of the plant, and on the cycle begins again.

The Eltham Copper Butterfly emerges in December on days over 25 degrees. Photo: Elaine Bayes

Elaine Bayes is one of the leading ecologists championing the future survival of the Eltham Copper Butterfly in northern Victoria. Elaine has conducted numerous surveys for the butterfly and its preferred habitat over the past decade, along with her colleague ecologist Karl Just and a team of citizen scientists, uncovering new populations along the way. Elaine recently obtained funding through the Victorian Government’s Biodiversity On-ground Action Program to map and monitor current known populations, and conduct further surveys for suitable habitat across central and western Victoria. Elaine is excited about the chance of finding further populations of the special butterfly. ‘We have the opportunity to conduct surveys in locations that we have not previously surveyed, but we know have great habitat potential. The next six months will see our team survey locations around Castlemaine, Chewton and Kiata, with the hope of discovering new populations, which is very exciting and vital to the survival of this endangered species.’ noted Ms Bayes.

A citizen science event in Castlemaine in 2019 attracted a strong crowd and interest in the Eltham Copper Butterfly (photo by Frances Howe)

Although there are several known populations around the state, the future of this special butterfly remains uncertain. It is listed as threatened under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and as endangered under the Commonwealth Environmental Conservation and Biodiversity Act 1999. This places considerable importance on managing the small number of known population sites and locating any potential new sites so they can be protected from threats.

‘Land clearing and fire are two of the main one threats to this species. It is critical that we search for unrecorded populations so they can be protected, particularly from planned burns. The habitat around butterfly populations is vital and must be protected from over burning for the butterfly and their complex ecological relationships to survive,’ said Ms Bayes. Recent surveys from ecologists and the community have resulted in important changes to fuel reduction burns, allowing land managers to still reduce fuel load but ensure vital habitat is maintained for butterfly breeding.

Larvae pupate in or near the ant nest (photo by Elaine Bayes)

 

How can you help?

To contribute, get involved in the protection, conservation and management of remnant bushland on your property or in your local area, as there are increasingly rare and threatened species living within them. In particular, retain and restore any native understorey plants on your property, and if appropriate to your area, plant Sweet Bursaria.

For updates about the butterfly population in Eltham-Greensborough and associated volunteer events, there is a Facebook page – click here

For the Eltham Copper Butterfly populations in northern Victoria, get involved locally in management, monitoring or raising awareness. From early November to January, walk through areas where Sweet Bursaria grows and look for the copper sparkle of flying adult butterflies.

You can report sightings of this elusive butterfly on the new and amazing Butterfly Australia App. For information visit – www.butterflies.org.au

This 2021 Eltham Copper Butterfly project is funded by the Victorian Government’s Biodiversity On-ground Action Program.

 

Bird of the month: Kestrel

Posted on 27 September, 2021 by Ivan

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

Australian Kestrel (Falco cenchroides)

A member of the Falco genus which includes Peregrines and Hobbies, Kestrels are widespread across the world, with 13 species recognised. A few overseas species migrate with the seasons, but most are non-migratory, although they will move about depending on food availability. Their diet includes small birds, mice, reptiles, locusts and grasshoppers along with some other insects, spiders and other terrestrial invertebrates. They will readily move to areas of abundance during mouse and locust plagues. Within Australia, many areas have resident pairs. Juveniles spread widely after fledging and may move long distances.

Kestrels often hover in one spot searching for a variety of prey including insects and rodents (photo: Ash Vigus)

 

Australia has one species – the Australian or Nankeen Kestrel. It can be found all over the Australian mainland and on some outlying islands including Tasmania, most Bass Straight islands as well as Christmas, Norfolk and Lord Howe islands. It has occasionally been recorded as a non-breeding visitor to Papua New Guinea, the Torres Strait islands, New Zealand and Java. It is likely that they have expanded in both population and distribution with the clearing of forests for farmland, as they prefer open country. They have also readily adapted to taking the introduced House Mouse as well as the Common Starling, which often comprise a significant part of their diet.

It is the smallest Australian Falcon with a length of 30-35 cm and a weight range of 165 g for males to 185 g for females. They are great fliers, soaring and hovering with ease. Quite spectacular to watch.

Generally, breeding occurs between August to December. Australian Kestrels are quite adaptable and will utilise tree hollows, cliffs, old nests of other birds, nest boxes and even the broken tops of anthills. There are also records of them using sinkholes in the ground and mine shafts. They are known to use the nests of White-winged Chough, Australian Magpie, Whistling Kite, crows and ravens and even the top of Chestnut-crowned Babbler nests. Certainly very adaptable!

Clutches of eggs range from 1 to 6, but usually 2-3. Most of the incubation is done by the female with the male feeding her. Upon hatching the female generally feeds the young, often with food brought to the nest for her by the male.

There are some remarkable records of fostering, with young kestrels being reared by Black-breasted Buzzards and even a Black Falcon feeding young kestrels at the nest.

To hear the call of an Australian Kestrel, please – click here

Jane Rusden
BirdLife Castlemaine District

 

 

Leaky Landscapes symposium – 8 October 2021

Posted on 22 September, 2021 by Ivan

As members of the Biolinks Alliance, we are excited to be attending their ‘Leaky Landscapes’ 2021 symposium, to be held online on 8 October 2021. The topics and guest speakers look most interesting and relevant to climate-proofing our future landscapes, with a focus on soils and improving the productivity of degraded landscapes.

Congratulations to Biolinks Alliance for putting on this event, and gathering a wealth of knowledge on a most important topic for future generations and biodiversity gains.

Please read on for more details from Biolinks Alliance and visit the website – click here

Climate proofing our landscapes and biodiversity – Practical approaches to soil absorption and techniques for fixing desertified landscapes

About this event:

  • Tickets are FREE for all Biolinks Alliance Network Members and students (tickets must be purchased with a relevant organisation email address or student email)
  • General public tickets are $15
  • Government Agencies & Industry professionals are $50

This symposium will be looking at practical approaches to fixing the damaged landscapes of central Victoria making them more absorbent (less leaky) and so more biologically productive and better able to withstand the impacts of climate change.

Restoring and climate proofing our environment is widely recognised as being essential to helping biodiversity adapt to climate change – but what is less well understood is how to do this.

Many of our natural systems are less healthy, biodiverse and productive than they once were, due to histories of degradation through gold mining, timber cutting and agriculture. Their soils are no longer porous enough to absorb rainfall so less water is available to the landscape and its food webs. Hotter, drier, more variable weather brought on by climate change is amplifying the ‘desertification’ of environments.

It will be a forum for researchers, conservation practitioners, landholders and land managers and interested community members to share information and experiences, form connections and develop collaborative and strategic approaches to ecosystem restoration that specifically aim to restore and climate-proof damaged landscapes by rebuilding soil health and water holding capacity for carbon, hydrology, productivity and biodiversity (improved habitat/resources for threatened species) benefits.

Even though we might feel that urgent global action on emissions reduction is out of our hands, there are things we can do to better prepare our backyards and local landscapes for the worst impacts of Climate Change.

This forum showcases 21st century strategies and practical case studies that has been largely missing from policy debates about local environment climate change mitigation. There is so much more that needs to be done and can be done if we work together effectively to make it happen.

It will bring together leading researchers, exemplar projects and interested practitioners in a two-day event exploring the science and practice of improving the hydrological function of landscapes, in order to support people to take practical actions to building climate resilience in their local regions.

Friday 8 October 2021 – online via Zoom

Keynote presentations including audience Q&A:

  • Dr David Tongway – ‘The application of Landscape Function Analysis (LFA) to the Restoration of Disturbed Landscapes’
  • Dr Jon Fawcett – CDM Smith, ‘Understanding hydrological and sub-soil dynamics’
  • Professor Dave Watson – Charles Sturt University,  ‘Facilitating recovery: marshalling food web dynamics and engaging landholders to keep our woodlands thriving’
  • Darren Dougherty – Regrarians, ‘Global Examples of Regenerative Agroecology in Ecosystem Restoration’
  • David Eldridge – ‘Harnessing the activity of soil disturbing animals to restore degraded woodlands’

To purchase tickets – click here

 

 

How to get help for injured native animals

Posted on 22 September, 2021 by Ivan

We love our wildlife and are very proud of the amazing work wildlife rescuers do every week across Victoria. It is a tireless and stressful job that provides an important service for our wildlife and community. We are often asked about how to report injured or sick wildlife and who is the best contact in our region. Please read on for further information courtesy of  Wildlife Victoria and a local wildlife rescuer, that covers the basics and some interesting facts.

Wildlife rescue deals with hundreds of calls each day during the busy periods over summer (photo: Wildlife Victoria)

How you can help sick or injured wildlife

1. Prioritise your own safety

If the animal you have found is located on or near a road make sure you park as safely as possible and turn on your hazard lights. If it’s dark turn on your headlights and stand in front of the car so you are well illuminated.

Keep a safe distance from the animal to not cause panic, and do not attempt to handle or approach the animal until you have contacted a trained rescuer.

Important: Larger mammals can be dangerous when distressed, and should only be handled by a trained wildlife carer.

 

2. Contact a professional wildlife rescuer as soon as possible

Caring and handling wildlife requires specialist skills and training. The best thing you can do to help the animal is to contact a trained professional who can give the animal the care it needs.

Wildlife Victoria run an emergency support line 24 hours per day, seven days a week. Call Wildlife Victoria’s on (03) 8400 7300 or to report online – click here

3. Follow the wildlife rescuer’s instructions

If you are unable to wait for the rescuer to arrive, try your best to leave some kind of marker or signal close to the animals location so they can easily locate it.

If your rescuer asks you to bring the animal to a nearby wildlife shelter, remember to prioritise your safety and the safety of the animal. Handle the animal delicately with as much padding between you and it to protect from biting, disease or simply to prevent stress.

Never attempt to feed native wildlife, but if possible provide clean drinking water.

 

Further information and resources

Wildlife Victoria has some excellent fact sheets and educational materials regarding how to care for sick and injured wildlife.  They cover topic such as baby birds, heat-stressed animals, wildlife-safe netting and safe driving around wildlife. To view the wildlife fact sheets – click here

 

Tracking wildlife rescues activity in your area

Explore Wildlife Victoria’s map to see which animals were in need of help in your local area last month. The points on this map all relate to a single animal, or family of animals, reported to Wildlife Victoria last month. (Yes, this is just one month!) To view the map – click here

 

 

 

Healthy Landscapes guide – get your copy now

Posted on 21 September, 2021 by Frances

We’re rather chuffed at the community response to our Healthy Landscapes guide so far. If you don’t have a copy yet, be sure to get your copy before the first print run sells out!

Here’s just some of the feedback:

  • I was in Castlemaine today and suddenly remembered this item about the book being available at Stonemans. They had it at the front desk and we are reading it now back at home. It is really outstanding and very relevant. Thanks to Connecting Country for their dedication. (Welshmans Reef landholder)
  • Sensational! A must-read for anyone with a property from 1 to 1,000 acres. (Yapeen landholder/farmer)
  • I wish we’d had this guide when I first moved here 25 years ago. (Golden Point landholder)
  • Wow, what a fabulous publication. It covers all bases and is an essential read for all landowners. It has particular relevance for anyone doing due diligence before purchasing rural acreage, however big or small.  (Walmer landholder)

 

For more information about the Healthy Landscapes guide – click here

Copies are now on sale – when COVID-19 related restrictions allow.

To get your copy ($15) head to:

Mount Alexander Animal Welfare (MAAW) Op Shop
12 Johnstone St, Castlemaine VIC
For shop information and opening hours – click here

Castlemaine Visitor Information Centre
44 Mostyn St, Castlemaine VIC
For centre information – click here

Stoneman’s Bookroom
101 Mostyn St, Castlemaine VIC
For shop information – click here

The Book Wolf
1/26 High St, Maldon VIC
For shop information – click here

A copy of the guide has been made available free of charge to each local Landcare and environmental volunteering group in the Mount Alexander region. This project is made possible through support from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, through funding from Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

 

Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country – new edition

Posted on 8 September, 2021 by Ivan

One of our most treasured nature books by legendary nature enthusiast Chris Tzaros is about to get an update with the release of the second edition.  ‘Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country’ has been a bible to many living in and around box-ironbark country, with amazing imagery and detailed information on the fascinating animals that call our local forests and woodlands home.

Chris was a guest speaker at our 2020 sell-out event, ‘Tricky Birds’, and is one of the nation’s leading bird photographers and experts on the box-ironbark regions.

The second edition of ‘Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country’ is now available via pre-order and is due to be delivered in the coming weeks. No doubt the second edition will feature glorious imagery and a comprehensive overview of the ecologically significant Box–Ironbark habitats and their wildlife.

If you can’t wait for it to hit local bookshops, you can pre-order a copy now from CSIRO Publishing – click here

Cover image of Wildlife of the Box–Ironbark Country, second edition, featu

Overview (courtesy of CSIRO Publishing)

A comprehensive overview of the ecologically significant Box–Ironbark habitats and their wildlife. Victoria’s Box–Ironbark region is one of the most important areas of animal diversity and significance in southern Australia. The forests and woodlands of this region provide critical habitat for a diverse array of woodland-dependent animals, including many threatened and declining species such as the Squirrel Glider, Brush-tailed Phascogale, Regent Honeyeater, Swift Parrot, Pink-tailed Worm-Lizard, Woodland Blind Snake, Tree Goanna and Bibron’s Toadlet.

Wildlife of the Box–Ironbark Country gives a comprehensive overview of the ecology of the Box–Ironbark habitats and their wildlife, and how climate change is having a major influence. This extensively revised second edition covers all of the mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs that occur in the region, with a brief description of their distribution, status, ecology and identification, together with a detailed distribution map and superb colour photograph for each species.

The book includes a ‘Where to watch’ section, featuring a selection of national parks, state parks and nature conservation reserves where people can experience the ecosystem and its wildlife for themselves.

This book is intended for land managers, conservation and wildlife workers, fauna consultants, landholders, teachers, students, naturalists and all those interested in learning about and appreciating the wildlife of this fascinating and endangered ecosystem.

Features:
• Covers 267 species, each with a detailed description, high-quality colour photograph and updated distribution map
• Includes new species accounts for fauna that now reside permanently or regularly visit the Box–Ironbark region
• Provides a list of parks and reserves, including maps and descriptions of 16 locations to observe Box–Ironbark wildlife

About the author

Chris Tzaros is uniquely placed to write about the fauna of Victoria’s Box–Ironbark country. Brought up near Bendigo, he has had a passionate interest in wildlife since childhood. Chris has 25 years’experience working on wildlife research and conservation projects, largely focused on threatened woodland birds, for both government and nongovernment environmental and conservation organisations. He is an award-winning wildlife photographer and has produced the majority of the photos in this book. Chris is currently an independent wildlife ecologist and nature
photographer based in north-east Victoria but enjoys working among nature right around Australia.

 

New law gives council powers to enforce weed control

Posted on 7 September, 2021 by Asha

This article was written by local community member and volunteer Lee Mead. Lee has been an active community member and weed warrior for many years and her current roles include President of the Tarrangower Cactus Control Group, founding member of the Friends of Maldon Historic Reserve, and valued supporter of Connecting Country. Lee compiled this article with the aim of helping to raise awareness of a new Local Law in the Mount Alexander Shire.

The new laws will make it easier for the council to prosecute people who don’t control noxious weeds on their properties, as well as increasing the penalties for this infringement. 

Thank you Lee and keep up the great work! 

One of the positive highlights of 2020 was the endorsement of a new Local Law by the Mount Alexander Shire Council (MASC). The new Clause 19 has been created, which is specific to the control of declared noxious weeds. There is now significantly greater clarity and priority in our Shire’s Local Law given to the management of noxious weeds, which harm the environment and agriculture.

The new Clause 19, titled ‘Control of Noxious Weeds’, gives much greater definition, clarity and interpretation to the impacts and issues of weeds. It includes a definition of ‘noxious weeds’ and reference to the Victorian Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 (CaLP Act) and the Catchment and Land Protection Regulations 2012. In addition, the penalty for non-compliance has been doubled, from 5 to 10 penalty points.

The definition of noxious weeds (in the Local Law and the CaLP Act) refers to weeds that are a:

  • State prohibited weed or
  • Regionally prohibited weed or
  • Regionally controlled weed or
  • Restricted weed.

For more information on noxious weeds and their management – click here

These Local Law changes will raise the status and significance of noxious weed control in our Shire and reduce the ambiguity that the previous sub-clause created. The new clause will provide the Shire’s Bylaw Officers with a clearer definition of noxious weed management and hopefully result in increased enforcement action with non-compliant property owners. This new and specific ‘noxious weed’ clause will be more effective by making it easier for ratepayers to seek assistance from MASC Bylaw Officers to enforce weed control actions by absentee property owners, who are sometimes unaware of their legal weed control responsibilities.

We will be watching with a keen eye to see if any compliance infringements are issued under this local law over the coming year.

Lee Mead

Gorse is a declared noxious that can take over valued farmland and environmental assets (photo by Victorian Gorse Task Force)

 

Landcare Facilitator role – apply now

Posted on 2 September, 2021 by Frances

Don’t forget we are currently seeking a new person to join our team in the role of Landcare Facilitator for the Mount Alexander region, with applications closing soon.  Our region is home to around 30 Landcare and Friends groups, representing one of the highest levels of Landcare engagement in the country! If you or someone you know has relevant skills and experience, please read on.

Workshop with Friends of Campbells Creek Landcare Group (photo by Gen Kay)

 

Landcare Facilitator – Mount Alexander region

We have an exciting opportunity for a hardworking person with experience in natural resource management and community groups to join our established community-run organisation. Connecting Country works with landholders and community groups to restore landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region of central Victoria, on both public and private land. Further information about our work is available on our website (connectingcountry.org.au).

The Landcare Facilitator is responsible for supporting around 30 active Landcare and environmental volunteer groups within the Mount Alexander region to build their capacity and resilience. We are looking for someone who is approachable, organised, and passionate about helping Landcare groups and other volunteers to achieve their goals to protect, enhance and restore the land and natural environment.

This is a part-time role (three days per week) based in Castlemaine, Victoria. It is a 12-month contract position, with contract extension subject to performance and funding availability.

For details on how to apply – click here

 

A huge thank you

Posted on 1 September, 2021 by Frances

Now that the end of financial year is done and dusted, and our 2021 financial audit is in progress, it’s time to extend another huge thank you to our generous donors.

We received around 60 financial donations from community members during 2020-21, ranging from $10 to several thousand dollars!

Thank you for your wonderful donations to Connecting Country. With many funding opportunities in decline or diverted, your contribution is extremely valuable and much appreciated. We cannot thank you enough.

Your donation directly supports our practical on-ground work to restore the land, educate our community and monitor wildlife. But, there’s more. You also provide our hard-working team of staff and volunteers with a much-needed morale boost, especially when things are a bit tough.

It means a lot to know we have your support and value the work we do.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you ever want further information about how your donations can support landscape restoration in our region, or wish to become a regular donor.

 

Conservation starts with community

Posted on 30 August, 2021 by Frances

Our friends and supporters at Remember the Wild just published a marvellous article on Connecting Country, starring our terrific and much-loved founding member and supporter – Marie Jones. Marie is a passionate Chewton resident, member of Connecting Country’s committee of management, and recently featured in our Landcare Celebration video.

To read the article – click here

Conservation starts with community: Connecting Country and land restoration in Central Victoria

Remember the Wild

Remember the Wild is Australia’s first nature connection charity. Remember the Wild seeks to bring experiences of the natural world back into our lives, for the benefit of both the environment and ourselves. Dedicated to improving public access to nature, they reconnect communities with the local environment and help people remember why the wild matters.

For more information on Remember the Wild – click here

The wonderful team at Remember the Wild previously made an inspiring and informative short film about Connecting Country’s work.

To view the video – click here

Connecting Country: Safeguarding Woodland Birds

A huge thank you to Remember the Wild for your ongoing support of Connecting Country’s work.

 

Regenerative agriculture workshops for a healthy landscape

Posted on 30 August, 2021 by Frances

Interested in regenerative agriculture?

Our neighbours at Macedon Ranges Shire, Hepburn Shire and City of Greater Bendigo are running a ‘Practical Regenerative Agricultural Communities’ project.

Local farmer webinars 2021

Join one of these upcoming online webinars to hear about local farmers’ journeys in holistic farming:

  • 31 August 2021 at 7 – 8 pm – Hear from Paul Righetti from Yandoit who farms sheep, cattle and pasture-raised hens
  • 7 September 2021 at 7 – 8 pm – Join Aaron Demeo from Raywood who manages meat and wool sheep, crops as well as dairy heifers

To register – click here

For a webinar flyer – click here

Holistic grazing course 2021-22

For information on their upcoming short course – click here

For information on their farm advisory service – click here

Not to be confused with Connecting Country’s recent ‘Healthy Landscapes’ project!

There are excellent examples of healthy dams and healthy landscapes in our region (photo by Bonnie Humphreys)

 

Landcare Facilitator role with Connecting Country

Posted on 24 August, 2021 by Frances

We are incredibly sad to be saying farewell to our much-loved Landcare Facilitator, Asha Bannon, in a few weeks. At the same time, we’re excited that Asha is taking on a brand new role with North Central Catchment Management Authority, and will stay part of the Connecting Country family as a valued member, volunteer and supporter.

This means we’re now recruiting for a new Landcare Facilitator to join the Connecting Country staff team.

Landcare Facilitator – Mount Alexander region

We have an exciting opportunity for a hardworking person with experience in natural resource management and community groups to join our established community-run organisation. Connecting Country works with landholders and community groups to restore landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region of central Victoria, on both public and private land. Further information about our work is available on our website (connectingcountry.org.au).

The Landcare Facilitator is responsible for supporting around 30 active Landcare and environmental volunteer groups within the Mount Alexander region to build their capacity and resilience. We are looking for someone who is approachable, organised, and passionate about helping Landcare groups and other volunteers to achieve their goals to protect, enhance and restore the land and natural environment.

This is a part-time role (three days per week) based in Castlemaine, Victoria. It is a 12-month contract position, with contract extension subject to performance and funding availability.

We seek someone who can:

  • Share a passion for supporting Landcare and community groups in the Mount Alexander region.
  • Engage and communicate effectively with people from a range of backgrounds in an open and friendly way.
  • Write clearly and concisely, and communicate complex concepts in simple language.
  • Work both independently and collaboratively as part of a team.
  • Plan and manage project activities, budgets and schedules.
  • Manage time and workload, coordinating multiple tasks simultaneously to meet deadlines.
  • Be responsible, self-motivated, reliable, adaptable and solution-focussed.
  • Exercise good judgment, make ethical decisions and set priorities.
  • Contribute as part of the Connecting Country team.
  • Use Microsoft Office and other relevant software.
  • Drive a manual four-wheel drive vehicle (with training if required).
  • Be flexible as the situation demands, including working outside normal work hours on occasion.

 

How to apply

For further details about the role including full position description and preferred skills – click here

If you have any questions, please email Frances at info@connectingcountry.org.au (available Monday to Thursday).

Please provide your written application by email to info@connectingcountry.org.au, including a brief application letter summarising your suitability for the role and curricula vitae demonstrating your relevant skills and experience.

To learn more about Landcare in the Mount Alexander region, watch our new Landcare celebration video! – click here

Landcarers at work near Campbells Creek (photo by Gen Kay)

 

Healthy dams delivers healthy benefits

Posted on 23 August, 2021 by Ivan

Connecting Country was delighted to hold the third event for our Healthy Landscape project on Saturday 14 August 2021, after multiple COVID-related delays. We held the event live on-farm to a virtual audience by live streaming from a stunning property in Taradale VIC, on the Coliban River.

The event was kindly hosted by Chris Burgess and Martin Shaddick, who have worked tirelessly to control weeds and revegetate the property over the last 15 years. Chris is also the president of Taradale Landcare. The property features multiple dams and wetland areas, with plentiful birdlife enjoying the revegetation when we visited, and also signs of echidnas and a wombat!

Ecologist Karl Just, who has a fascination with aquatic plants and animals, gave an engaging and thoughtful presentation. He compared the two dams on the property, their water quality, vegetation, and the aquatic life you might expect to see within them.

Karl Just provided an excellent overview of how to improve farm dams for habitat and water quality (photo: Connecting Country)

 

For those who may have missed the live stream event on the day, it’s not too late. To watch online – click here

We have also provided the following summary of the information covered in the presentation.

Healthy dams

Actions for a healthy dam

For a healthy dam consider the following actions where possible:

  • Exclude stock from the water and where possible create an off-dam stock watering point. Less access for stock reduces added nutrients and disturbance. Excessive nutrient levels can be bad for the water as they can lead to algal blooms which suck out dissolved oxygen, depleting this resource for plants and animals.
  • Create buffering vegetation between nutrient sources and water – the wider the better. Adding a diversity of plants increases filtering capacity. The more plant diversity the more habitat value and animals will use the resource. If you have a choice about the direction of the buffering vegetation, choose the western side of the dam to block prevailing winds and reduce evaporation.
  • Include as many different habitat elements as possible such as plants, logs and rocks. Even old roofing tiles can also be useful. Place logs both vertically and horizontally. Horizontally to trap sediments and seeds, and create micro climates for plants to grow and vertically to increase access to water for animals. Logs that have some branches emerging from the water that offers perches for birds too.
  • If building a new dam, keep in mind that the flatter the gradient the more different plants and animals will be able to use it. There will be less variation in water depth for plants and it will create shallow nursery sites for animals. It is also useful to wait and observe a new dam for 12 months to see what natural regeneration happens. Fauna can bring in different plants, and you can get an idea of high and low water levels, helping to determine where the different zones are and where to plant.


Aquatic zones

The layers or zones of aquatic vegetation:

  • Submerged aquatics (below 400 mm from normal top water level) – such as pond weed, eel grass.
  • Deep marsh zone (250-500 mm below normal top water level) – such as water ribbons, milfoils, tall spike sedge, river club sedge.
  • Shallow marsh zone (edge of water to 250 mm below normal top water level) – such as spike sedge, swamp crassula.
  • Riparian edge zone (plants can handle inundation but also seasonal drying) – such as sedges, rushes.

The second dam on the host property was a useful case study, with Karl suggesting practical actions to improve its habitat value (photo: Connecting Country)

 

Revegetation considerations

If want to start dam revegetation, start with the riparian edge as this is the easiest and most diverse strata. Source tubestock from local indigenous nursery.

Be aware steep sides can be difficult to revegetate because they dry/flood more quickly. For this reason, the best time to plant around the riparian edge is late winter or spring, as dams are usually at full capacity, giving the plants some time to establish before drying, and less chance of getting flooded. Plants that grow quickly such as sedges and rushes filter water and create habitat more quickly.

Plant deeper aquatics when the dam is at a lower capacity. These can be a little harder to establish but worth a try.

Plant shrubs in winter. However, avoid putting woody trees and shrubs on the dam’s retaining banks as the roots can create pathways for water to flow, and this can undermine your dam. Where this is not an issue (on high side of dam) you could try planting Yellow Box, Candlebark, River Red-gums and Wattles, lots of wattles such as Blackwood, Black Wattle, Silver Wattle, Lightwood or other shrubs such as Prickly Tea-tree, River Tea-tree, River bottlebrush or Hop Bush. These provide landing sites and refuge for animals to get close to the water and have a drink.

Useful resources on plant identification

Flora of Victoria – click here
Flora of Castlemaine – click here

Answers to audience questions during the presentation 

How do you plant in the water?

You can push plants into the mud. In tough clay soils, it can be tricky to dig. Some plants such as water ribbons might need some protection for birds, such as ducks. You can use wire or netting, making sure that you check regularly to ensure no birds and other fauna become trapped.

Are yabbies and leeches bad?

Yabbies and leeches occupy a variable range of conditions of waterways and are not an indicator of poor or good health. Look for diversity of bugs to get a measure of water quality. There are lots of resources online or get involved in your local waterwatch – click here

How do a learn more about the little bugs in my dam?

Take a look at this resource from La Trobe University on macroinvertebrates – click here

Fish! Do you have any advice?

Make sure you don’t have European Carp! Try and remove if they are present as they will eat, animals and vegetation and stir up the water. Native fish that will grow to around 10 cm, have more chance of coexisting with tadpoles. Try small-bodied indigenous native fish such as Obscure/Mountain Galaxias or Southern Pygmy Perch. See the fish guide developed by the North Central Catchment Management Authority – click here

For more information on improving the water quality and habitat value for dams, as well as sustainable land management, please buy a copy of our Healthy Landscapes guide.

Copies of the guide will be offered to Landcare and community groups, and available for general sale (around $15 per copy) in Castlemaine through the Castlemaine Visitor Information Centre, Stoneman’s Bookroom and Mount Alexander Animal Welfare (MAAW) Op Shop. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, or would like further information.

Connecting Country extends a big thank you to Chris Burgess and Martin Shaddick for hosting this event, and to Karl Just for sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm for healthy wetlands. We also acknowledge the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, through funding from Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, for supporting this project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bird of the month: Fan-tailed Cuckoo

Posted on 19 August, 2021 by Ivan

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

Fan-tailed Cuckoo (Cacomantis flabelliformis)

More questions than answers are thrown up by this often secretive species. However, occasionally the Fan-tailed Cuckoo will show itself in plain view, as I had the opportunity to witness recently whilst doing bird surveys in the Whipstick (north of Bendigo in Victoria). The bird was hanging around, low to the ground, in a patch of Cassinia, which is good habitat for small birds. I’m sure of no coincidence…

In short, the Fan-tailed Cuckoo inhabits open woodland with dense, tall understory, preferably in a gully. Locally that means Golden Wattle and Silver Wattle, and occasionally mallee shrubs. As partial migrants, in winter it appears birds generally move north and return in spring. However, some birds remain all year.

Apparently, some birds stay close to where they hatched, others migrate and return to near where they hatched, and others move on. In short, their complicated movements are not well understood. Recapture in banding studies is low and the studies few, leaving us scratching our heads to some extent. What is obvious is that calling is heard in spring and generally not in winter. Is this due to winter migration or are they just keeping quiet?

The Fan-tailed Cuckoo enjoys hairy caterpillars in its diet, but will also take a variety of other insects and their larvae (photo by Ash Vigus)

 

The diet of the Fan-tailed Cuckoo consists mostly of insects, including Lepidoptera larvae (caterpillars), often foraged close to or on the ground, or in sallying flights. Interestingly, Fan-tailed Cuckoos can be found in mixed foraging flocks of the exact insectivorous bird species whose nests they parasitise. Wow, another question … why would a small woodland bird tolerate the presence of a larger bird who kills their eggs?

Talking of killing eggs, the whole point of cuckoos is that they lay eggs in other birds’ nests, who then raise the cuckoo chick to fledging. Let’s start at the beginning. Some cuckoo eggs mimic those of the host species, but Fan-tailed Cuckoo eggs do not. Their host species are Speckled Warbler, Gerygone, White-browed Scrubwren, heathwrens, fairy-wrens and thornbills. However, studies show that Brown Thornbill and White-browed Scrubwren are the most common victims. One thing in common with these species is their nests are domed or enclosed and close to the ground. At times Fan-tailed Cuckoos will also lay in cup-shaped nests built by robins and occasionally honeyeaters.

Fan-tailed Cuckoos are found throughout eastern Australia, south-western Western Australia and Tasmania (photo by Ash Vigus)

 

The Fan-tailed Cuckoo will lay one egg in a host’s nest. It has been suggested that the egg is placed via their bill or by holding in the foot, but there is little evidence of actual laying. How the host’s eggs are removed is unknown. There are records of Pallid Cuckoos removing a Fan-tailed Cuckoo egg, and visa versa, from the host’s nest. Now that’s a pickle! Generally, cuckoos leave the feeding and raising of their chicks to the poor overworked host parents. However, there are a few records of Cuckoo parents supplementing the feeding of their chicks, but not reducing the work for the host birds in any way. It just means a very well-fed Cuckoo chick.

Have you now got more questions about Fan-tailed Cuckoos, than answers? I know I do.

To hear Fan-tailed Cuckoo calls, please – click here

Jane Rusden
BirdLife Castlemaine District

 

The Great Southern Bioblitz: 22-25 October 2021

Posted on 19 August, 2021 by Ivan

For several years the iNaturalist citizen science platform has run the City Nature Challenge – a gentle competition between cities and regions around the world to see which location can collect and identify the most sightings of life-forms in their area over a week-long period each March.

In 2020 the Great Southern Bioblitz was born. This is a similar event to City Nature Challenge but held in October (southern hemisphere spring) when more plants are flowering, animals are more active and fungi are still plentiful. This year, the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club is hosting the Great Southern Bioblitz for our region of central Victoria, i.e., the Mount Alexander Shire and the eastern half of Hepburn Shire.

All are welcome and encouraged to contribute. You simply photograph as many plants and animals as you can within the region during the Bioblitz period, 22-25 October 2021, and load your sightings into iNaturalist via your phone or computer. Even if you are unable to record your own sightings you can still contribute by identifying the observations that others have uploaded.

Great Southern hemisphere bioblitz is a chance to engage with nature (photos: Euan Moore)

 

The Great Southern Bioblitz is not only fun, but an important way of recording the life-forms that are present in our area. Once you add a sighting to iNaturalist, others can help with or verify the identification. Data are then fed into repositories such as Atlas of Living Australia and state biodiversity databases such as Victorian Biodiversity Atlas.

To find out more:

  • Visit the Great Southern Bioblitz website – click here
  • Check out the 71 groups (10 in Victoria) taking part so far – click here

To download the iNaturalist app to your device or create an account on your computer – click here

The Great Southern Bioblitz is coming from 22-25 October 2021 (photo: Great Southern Bioblitz)

 

Training workshops

The Great Southern Bioblitz organising team has scheduled some training workshops to help people learn how to use iNaturalist and how to take part in the Bioblitz. This training will be useful beyond the Bioblitz as it will enable you to submit sightings from anywhere at any time.

Register for training at the following links:

  • A beginners guide for using iNaturalist
    Tuesday 17 August 2021 from 8:30 – 9:30 pm AEST
    To register – click here
  • Advanced tips for using iNaturalist
    Tuesday 7 September 2021 from 8:30 – 9:30 pm AEST
    To register – click here
  • A beginners guide for using iNaturalist
    Tuesday 28 September 2021 from 8:30 – 9:30 pm AEST
    To register – click here

 

A big thank you Euan Moore from the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club for the text and photographs for this article. To learn more about Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club – click here