Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

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

Posted on 9 July, 2020 by Jess

Connecting Country’s ten years of nest box monitoring

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

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

Life in a sharehouse

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

 

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

 

Checking nest boxes

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

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

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

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

A new way forward?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hunting for fungi on Mount Alexander

Posted on 9 July, 2020 by Frances

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

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

 

Make your fencing wildlife friendly

Posted on 8 July, 2020 by Frances

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

Make your fencing wildlife friendly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wildlife-friendly fencing:

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Some little known facts about platypus

Posted on 2 July, 2020 by Ivan

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

Platypus (Berzins 1) Queanbeyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Mount Alexander Shire reviews local laws on invasive plants and animals

Posted on 2 July, 2020 by Ivan

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

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

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

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

 

Review and draft proposal of Mount Alexander Shire local laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarrangower Cactus Control Group

 

Cats and dogs in public places: survey

Posted on 1 July, 2020 by Ivan

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

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

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

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

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


Why is Council doing this now?

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

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

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

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

Next steps

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

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

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

Please click here to complete the survey. 

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

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

 

 

Living with lizards

Posted on 25 June, 2020 by Ivan

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

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

Top tips for a reptile-friendly garden

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

Bird of the month: Black Falcon and Brown Falcon

Posted on 25 June, 2020 by Ivan

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

Citizen science projects you can get involved in right now

Posted on 25 June, 2020 by Ivan

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

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

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

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

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

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

To access the full ABC article – click here

 

 

 

 

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

Posted on 18 June, 2020 by Ivan

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Confirm your support for Connecting Country’s work

Posted on 18 June, 2020 by Frances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Inquiry into ecosystems decline in Victoria

Posted on 11 June, 2020 by Frances

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

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

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

The Inquiry’s Terms of Reference include:

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

Submissions: close 31 July 2020

How to make a submission: go to Inquiry website

 

Connecting Country office still closed for June 2020

Posted on 9 June, 2020 by Frances

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

Golden Wattle in winter (photo by Frances Howe)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Need advice on controlling Gorse? VGT extension in Sutton Grange

Posted on 9 June, 2020 by Jacqui

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are limited spots so get in quick!

Social distancing rules will apply.

 

Congratulations to local Landcare on community grants

Posted on 4 June, 2020 by Jacqui

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

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

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

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

Links and further resources:

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

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

 

Tis the season to be planting

Posted on 4 June, 2020 by Ivan

Connecting Country are busily preparing to roll out our 2020 revegetation projects across the region over the next few months, with an abundance of moisture and perfect growing conditions. Recent rainfall in central Victoria means planting conditions are likely to be particularly good compared with in recent years, which has us excited about the prospects for the 4,500 plants ready at the Connecting Country depot.

Of the 4,500 plants, 1,500 have been provided by TreeProject and the remaining provided through Connecting Country’s funded landscape restoration projects  TreeProject is a wonderful not-for-profit group that connects landholders and community groups with volunteers who propagate low-cost indigenous seedlings to revegetate degraded landscapes. TreeProject is able to keep seedling costs as low as possible thanks to the commitment and enthusiasm of the volunteers who propagate the seedlings in their backyards from materials TreeProject supplies.

Our Landscape Restoration Coordinator, Bonnie Humphreys, has spent the past few weeks preparing for plant delivery and ensuring the plants are in top condition. Bonnie said ‘Connecting Country has 23 landholders signed up for the current 2020 batch of plants and projects, but we will be looking to expand to reach further landowners if more funding comes along. We are very lucky to have some terrific local plant suppliers, such as Newstead Natives, an indigenous plant nursery that propagates local plants for our region for habitat restoration’. Please enjoy some photos of the delicious plants, with our staff members Bonnie Humpheys, Jacqui Slingo and Ivan Carter.

Over the past decade, Connecting Country has worked with over 250 landholders and groups to enhance more than 10,000 hectares of habitat across the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. This equates to approximately 6 percent of the Mount Alexander Shire. ‘It has been my pleasure to again be part of delivering Connecting Country’s revegetation program this year. We have some great projects enabling us to support landholders to restore and create valuable habitat across the shire.’ said Bonnie.

Unfortunately, we do not have any current capacity for additional landowners to join our restoration projects, but are actively seeking further funding. We do encourage landowners to fill out our expression of interest form, or contact us for advice how to conduct restoration work on their properties for optimal biodiversity outcomes. Once we have your details on file, we can let you know of opportunities for assistance as they arise. To access the expression of interest form – click here

To find out more about our current projects or discuss your eligibility, please email us at info@connectingcountry.org.au. If you have filled out an expression of interest form in the past 12 months, we have you on file and you don’t need to fill in another form, but you can always let us know you are still interested via email.

Connecting Country has a long-standing history of restoring landscapes across our region (photo: Connecting Country archive)

 

Addressing our wildlife cat-astrophe: Threatened Species Recovery Hub

Posted on 4 June, 2020 by Ivan

While we love our furry feline friends, it’s well documented that cats can have a devastating impact on our native wildlife. Why do cats always get their way: because they are very purr-suasive, and owners often let them out to forage and hunt during the day and night. The following interesting article from the clever folk at the Threatened Species Recovery Hub highlights some new research about Australia’s cat problem and potential solutions. For more information, the book Cats in Australia by John Woinarski, Sarah Legge and Chris Dickman discusses the impact of cats in Australia, their relationship with people, and their management. It can be purchased from CSIRO Publishing and accessed from The National Library of Australia.

This article is provided courtesy of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub.

Addressing our wildlife cat-astrophe

Predation by cats is a key threat to at least 123 threatened species in Australia. Better understanding and reducing the impact of feral cats on susceptible wildlife has been a major area of research for the Threatened Species Recovery Hub. Hub Deputy Directors Professors Sarah Legge and John Woinarski take a look at our research to address Australia’s cat problem.

Conservationists have worried about what cats do to Australian wildlife for over a century. For example, Archibald Campbell, a prominent naturalist, wrote in a 1906 issue of The Emu: ‘Undoubtedly, if many of our highly interesting and beautiful birds, especially ground-loving species, are to be preserved from total extinction, we must … at no distant date face squarely a wild-cat destruction scheme.’ But these warnings didn’t precipitate much action. The very quality that makes cats such appealing pets – their spectral, cagey guile – makes them noncompliant subjects for research and management. Until recently, compared to other invasive vertebrate species like foxes and rabbits (for which research and management was prioritised because of their recognised detriment to agriculture), we knew much less about cat ecology and the extent of their impacts, and cats had a reputation for being impossible to control.

However, over the past decade or so, there have been some noteworthy successes in the control of feral cats, especially the development of a cat-specific poison bait presentation (Eradicat®) in Western Australia, and eradication of cats from islands and from within large fenced areas on the mainland, with consequent benefits to many threatened species.

From about 10 years ago, some key technological advances, including the miniaturisation of tracking devices and the advent of affordable camera traps, as well as innovations such as using tracking dogs, have enabled new research approaches for cats, and many other relatively small, cryptic species.

The surge of cat research and management has been supported by policy leadership from governments, including the Australian Government, which shone a spotlight on cats in the Threatened Species Strategy, revised the national Threat Abatement Plan for cats, encouraged greater alignment of policy and management of cats across the states and territories, and funded a body of research to improve cat management through the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the National Environmental Science Program.

Issue 14 of Science for Saving Species showcases some of the hub’s portfolio of interlinked and collaborative research projects on cats, developed following a large workshop held in 2015 that identified major knowledge gaps and opportunities. This portfolio has two broad components; one component has gathered the evidence base for the extent and scale of cat impacts, by comprehensively synthesising published and unpublished work. This research established the first estimate for the cat population size in Australia and built on that to describe spatial patterns of cat predation (and overall tolls) on mammals, birds, reptiles, with estimates for frogs and invertebrates available soon.

Dr Hugh McGregor from the University of Tasmania is working with Arid Recovery to fill important knowledge gaps about cat diets, hunting behaviour and relationships with rabbits. Image: Nicolas Rakotopare

 

The hub has many on-ground research projects about how to reduce cat impacts, shown here grouped by broad management option. The map of Australia shows the spatial variation in cat density during wet years, new knowledge which was produced by the evidence-gathering component of the program.

Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Rosie Willacy, John Davies, Jaana Dielenberg, Stephanie Todd, William La Marca, Bronwyn Hradsky, Hugh McGregor/Arid Recovery, Linda van Bommel, F L’Hotellier, AWC, William La Marca, Diver Dave – Wikimedia – CC BY SA 3.0, Jody Gates, Nicolas Rakotopare , Hugh McGregor/Arid Recovery.

 

The approach is currently being extended to foxes; the complementary suites of cat and fox studies will help us understand how the relative impacts of these two predators vary over space and time, and thus guide the relative investment in control efforts for foxes and cats.

The evidence-gathering component of the cat research program has also identified which mammal and bird species are most sensitive to predation by cats. Some native species can persist only in the near-absence of cats (and foxes), and have survived extinction only because populations naturally exist on, or have been translocated to, islands or mainland fenced areas that are cat- and fox-free. The hub’s research identified which of these species were currently inadequately protected, and recommended sites for future island and fencing projects that would increase the level of protection most effectively and efficiently across the set of predator-susceptible mammal species.

The second component of the hub’s cat research program comprises a suite of field-based projects that aim to improve the way we manage cats at different scales (from sites to landscapes) using existing as well as novel control options. This has included work to extend and improve the way we use existing poison-baits, in places as diverse as Kangaroo Island, the Pilbara and the Queensland brigalow. At Pullen Pullen, research is aiming to make cat trapping and shooting ‘smarter’ by identifying when and where individual cats need to be removed to protect populations of highly threatened species like night parrots.

An example of research into a novel approach involves trials of whether ‘guardian dogs’ can effectively repel foxes and cats from around populations of eastern barred bandicoots in Victoria.

Successfully used to protect agricultural species, guardian dogs are being trialled by the hub to see whether they can effectively protect populations of eastern barred bandicoots in Victoria. Image: Linda Van Bommel

 

Several field projects are investigating how we can reduce cat impacts across very large landscapes by managing other threats that interact with cat predation. For example, reducing rabbits can dramatically lower cat density, especially if matched with integrated cat control to minimise prey-switching events. In a reverse example, a project on Christmas Island aims to find out if black rats will increase as a result of the island’s cat eradication program, and how rats can be monitored for increases that could affect populations of endemic birds.

Earlier work showed that managing fire and livestock grazing in ways that maintain structurally diverse ground vegetation can reduce cat predation, at least in some circumstances. Fire and grazing management is an approach to cat control that could be implemented across very large landscapes, with multiple benefits, so the generality of the interactions between predators, fire and grazing is being investigated in habitats as diverse as the Victorian Otways, Kakadu, the stony deserts, the wet tropics and the Tiwi islands .

Other research in western New South Wales Sarah Legge and the Simpson Desert is investigating The Australian National University interactions between cats, foxes and dingoes, The University of Queensland and whether manipulating the densities of larger predators could influence the density and or activity of smaller predators.

Hub research has identified which Australian mammal species are the most highly susceptible to cat predation and should be prioritised for inclusion in Australia’s havens network of cat- and fox-free islands and fenced areas. Image: Jaana Dielenberg

 

The hub’s cat research has generated enormous interest in the print, online and television media, and has contributed to a heightened awareness about cat impacts, and greater support for their management in Australia compared with other countries. This support shouldn’t be taken for granted; in the past year, new research directions have included a focus on how we can continue to shape the conversation about cat impacts and management with a broad cross-section of the public by working with key stakeholders on targeted information exchange. To support this initiative, recent work has compiled detailed evidence about the impacts of pet cats on wildlife, and the economic burden of cat-borne diseases like toxoplasmosis that have substantial effects on human health and livestock production. Stay tuned for these results in future issues of Science for Saving Species.

Campbell was right to worry about cats, and a century later we are still worried. But our understanding of cat impacts, which native species are most at risk, and the range and effectiveness of management options, have improved considerably. Cat management is challenging but not impossible, and blue-sky ideas including using gene drives to reduce cat populations, and accelerating selection for predator avoidance, are just emerging. With continued policy and public support, management effort and research innovation, we may be able to win the fight that Campbell advocated so long ago: to protect our wildlife from the deadly threat posed by cats.

Sarah Legge – The Australian National University, The University of Queensland and Charles Darwin University

John Woinarski – Charles Darwin University

 

Agriculture Victoria landholder survey on weeds and pest animals now open

Posted on 2 June, 2020 by Ivan

There would be few, if any, landholders across Victoria that have not experienced the tiresome battle with the diverse range of invasive plants and animals. In the Mount Alexander region, many of us are aware of the vast areas of Gorse, Blackberry, Cape and English Broom, Thistles, Wheel Cactus, Bridal Creeper and other weeds, as well as invasive animals such as rabbits, foxes, and increasingly, deer.

Details of a new survey from Agriculture Victoria are outlined below. The survey will give the Victoria government important data to make strategic planning decisions and allocate funding.

Agriculture Victoria is seeking support from private landholders, including farmers, to help combat pests and weeds which cost Victoria more than $1 billion a year in management and control programs. Landholders are invited to take part in a state-wide survey to better understand the social and behavioural factors that influence pest and weed management.

Agriculture Victoria is the lead agency in the delivery of programs to combat established invasive species which is underpinned by the $4.3 million Weeds and Rabbits Project funded by the Commonwealth government. ‘We’ve been working closely with our key stakeholders and community members to better understand the barriers people face with implementing weed and rabbit management practices,’ said Agriculture Victoria Acting Program Manager Heidi Kleinert said. Ms Kleinert said community participation was crucial to understanding this space.

‘Rabbits and weeds are a problem for all landholders, including farmers and public land managers, and we need to tackle this together,’ she said.

‘We are asking land managers to share with us how they manage weeds and rabbits on their property. The survey results will tell us what is working well at the moment, but also where improvements can be made.’

North East landholder and community representative Neil Devanny said a major issue for farmers in meeting their obligations to control pest animals and plants came down to setting and managing priorities.

Wheel Cactus has invaded farm land around the Maldon region, and can be difficult and costly to treat once established (photo by Lee Mead)

 

‘We all need to harvest our crops, shear our sheep, market our livestock and so this work must happen. It is easy to drive past a rabbit burrow or weed and say I will do that tomorrow,’ he said. ‘An effective pest program needs to remind and prompt landholders to take action, especially on a collective basis.’

‘Land manager input will assist in developing collective ownership of the programs to benefit the community as a whole and support the good work that is already being done.’

The survey opened Monday 25 May and closes Wednesday 24 June 2020.

To complete the survey – click here

For more information contact Nicole  Cairns (phone 0436 675 030)

The data community provide will be made anonymous and you will be able to read key findings on the Weeds and Rabbits Project website when available.

 

 

 

Stay home and enjoy birds with BirdLife

Posted on 28 May, 2020 by Ivan

In this post we explore some more marvelous ideas from BirdLife Australia for enjoying birds in our backyards and around the home, during this period of COVID-19 related restrictions and cold weather. Fortunately there are many online resources to keep us learning and connected to nature, while we stay safely at home. Remember to you use BirdLife’s Birdata App to enter your bird survey results and observations of our amazing bird life. One of the delights of bird watching has always been that you can do it anywhere, including right at home. No matter where we are, there’s usually a bird not far away.

Here are some ways we can continue to enjoy the beauty of our feathered friends, and have fun and learn new skills while our activities are restricted:

  • Test your Aussie bird knowledge and keep your mind limber with quick crosswords! – visit The Cross-Bird
  • Find out about that strange bird is perched on the verandah. Bird Finder allows you to search, browse or find information about individual Australian birds. More birds will be added over time. Alternatively you can view the full list of species.
  • Keep the kids chirpy. The Birds in Backyards team have put together some incredible resources to keep the family entertained, and help them learn about amazing birds and places at the same time.
  • Be inspired by the beauty of Australia’s birds – browse the gallery of winners of the BirdLife Australia Photography Awards, or contemplate what images you’ll enter in the 2020 competition.
  • Be transported to the beach from the comfort of your living room with these unique, downloadable activity books for kids, featuring stories, board games, puzzles, and more!
  • View the BIBY TV YouTube channel for a wonderful range of videos to keep you entertained – everything from gardening tips, to bird profiles and incredible conservation tales.
  • Follow the social media feeds on the link below, including the ‘have you ever asked #whatbirdisthat?’, which allows you to ask for bird identification help with hashtags on social media.

For more ideas, visit the ‘Birding at home’ page of the BirdLife Australia website.

 

 

Please help: nature and COVID-19 survey

Posted on 28 May, 2020 by Ivan

In recent years our partners at Remember the Wild were kindly produced two outstanding videos on the work and achievements at Connecting Country – a five-minute film and a one-minute summary. We are very proud of our story. To revisit these videos – click here

Remember The Wild recently produced a brief survey to understand how people’s relationship with nature has been impacted by social distancing measures. Survey results will be used to produce a report that they hope will contribute to broader awareness of the importance of nature in people’s lives. This report will be made available to the public and may provide groups working in the area of human-nature relationships with a tool to demonstrate the value of our work.

Remember the Wild would love your help in generating increased responses to their survey. They have some really interesting responses so far and see this is an important subject on the minds of many.

About the survey

COVID-19 has affected us all differently, impacting various aspects of our daily lives. Part of this impact may include our access to the natural world. Being at home may provide some of us with opportunities to spend time in the garden, whereas for others it may limit how often we get to go outside. It is important that we understand the impact of COVID-19 on our community’s relationship with the natural world, as it helps inform decision making around the accessibility of natural areas. Remember The Wild is asking our community to bolster such knowledge by completing this short, anonymous survey. Please support their quest for understanding by describing how your relationship with nature has, or has not, changed during these times of social distancing.

Survey link

To complete the survey – click here

About Remember The Wild

Remember The Wild is Australia’s first nature connection charity. They seek 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.

Connecting Country: Safeguarding Woodland Birds