Posted on 28 January, 2021 by Ivan
Rabbits are a persistent landscape pest in our region, particularly in the granitic soils around Mount Alexander in central Victoria. Many landholders and Landcare groups have implemented rabbit control programs over the past decades, with some excellent outcomes across the region. It is estimated that approximately 200 million feral rabbits inhabit Australia, a staggering number, but considerably less than the numbers prior to the introduction of the biological control viruses.
February is the North Central Catchment Management Authority’s (CMA) ‘Rabbit Buster’ month, when landholders and communities are encouraged to revisit their rabbit control plans. Connecting Country strongly encourages landholders to participate in this program. Persistence is a vital aspect of rabbit control, especially when numbers are relatively low.
To view Connecting Country’s fact sheet dedicated to rabbit control – click here
Here is an from the North Central CMA, regarding their Rabbit Buster month 2021.
Whilst Rabbit Buster field days have been postponsed until later in 2021, there is plenty to be done now. While the grass is dry and prior to autumn rains, numbers are usually at their lowest.
The Victorian Rabbit Action Network published the ‘Rabbit Recipe’ in October 2020, advocating the following steps:
- Make an assessment of the rabbit population = the size of your problem.
- Following this, undertake and monitor a baiting program.
- Baiting should be followed by ripping. The deeper the better.
- Warren destruction is the key to effective rabbit control ‘Destroy the warren, Destroy the rabbit’.*
- Continue monitoring on an ongoing basis to detect and treat any re-infestation of your property.
*It is noted that dozer ripping is site-specific and can only be done where practical and culturally safe to do so.
Resources to support you…
Ag Vic has a wealth of information to help you start or support your rabbit control program.
‘Rabbit control is most cost-effective in late summer and early autumn as breeding has generally paused at this time. Biological control and naturally harsh environmental conditions can cause added stress on the rabbit population and may lead to longer-lasting results.’
Controlling rabbit populations when they are low is the most cost-effective control and efforts are more likely to be sustained. Agriculture Victoria Biosecurity Officers are always willing to discuss rabbit control options with you.
For more detailed information on Victoria’s research and best practice integrated rabbit control methods – click here
Victorian Rabbit Action Network (VRAN)
VRAN are committed to promoting community led action on rabbit management in Victoria and supporting people to work together for more effective and sustainable rabbit control.
VRAN can help you through:
- Running training and mentoring programs, delivering workshops on best-practice rabbit control, and supporting people and organisations to collaborate on rabbit action.
- Occasional funding grants to support community learning, innovation, and rabbit management (See Funding Opportunities section of their website).
- Short, easy to view YouTube Videos on all aspects of a rabbit control program – click here
You may even have a VRAN mentor or leader in your area, to check, get in touch with Heidi Kleinert: VRAN Exec Officer via email@example.com
RabbitScan remains one of the most user-friendly tools to record rabbit populations. RabbitScan is a free resource for landholders, Landcare groups, community groups, local Councils, professional pest controllers and biosecurity groups. It has been designed by landholders for communities, and it is very easy to use.
What to record:
- Rabbit activity (such as sightings and warrens).
- Damage, such as soil erosion.
- Control activities (such as warren ripping).
- Disease in rabbit populations (such as RHDV).
You can even speak with a member of the RabbitScan team to organise some training for your local community.
Posted on 27 January, 2021 by Ivan
Welcome to our eleventh 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 Ash Vigus.
Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus)
Sun lighting up this bird’s feathers to iridescent rainbows is a wonder of the natural world. The Rainbow Bee-eater is arguably the most vibrantly colourful bird of our region in Central Victoria, and it literally lives up to its name both in vivid plumage and diet. While species of Bee-eaters are found world-wide, our one species spends the winter in Northern Australia, then in spring flocks head south, heralding warmer temperatures to come. Newstead cemetery is a local bird hotspot where they breed and can be found until around the end of March, and sometimes into April.
As their name suggests, the Rainbow Bee-eater dines on bees … and wasps, as well as less dangerous prey such as dragonflies, butterflies and other flying insects. The bird will perch up high, waiting until it can make a dashing flight after airborne prey. If it’s an insect with a sting, they will return to their perch and employ ‘bee-rubbing’, a technique where they hold the insect across the bill tip and rub it’s sting out on their perch, before safely swallowing. On occasion they will also forage on the ground or from foliage.
Males are slightly larger and more colourful than females, and have an obvious tail streamer. After migration in large flocks, small groups will splinter off and monogamous pairs will nest in a small colony. Young males hatched the previous year often help parents feed hatchings.
For such a pretty bird, they have what may be surprising nests. I’d be head to toe in dirt if I had my babies in a tunnel, especially if that tunnel was 40 – 150 cm long, and as a female, I’d be the one doing most of the digging. They favour sandy soil or clay banks, in flat or sloping ground, in which to construct their nest tunnel with a chamber at the end. Eggs may be laid straight on the earth, or the chamber lined with grass and feathers.
Usually I’m alerted to Rainbow Bee-eaters by their call. A glance skywards and there you will see them soaring around on extended wings, much like woodswallows do. When lucky, you may observe ‘plunge bathing’, where they fly above water, suddenly dive with a splash, and fly straight to high perch to preen wet feathers. With their graceful flight and gorgeous colours, they never cease to give me a thrill.
To listen to the call of the Rainbow Bee-eater visit Graeme Chapman’s website – click here
A big thank you to contributors to this edition of Bird of the Month – Jane Rusden, Damian Kelly and Ash Vigus – for their amazing knowledge and skills.
Posted on 25 January, 2021 by Asha
You are invited! Representatives from Landcare/Friends groups in the Mount Alexander Region Landcare Network, along with other interested community members and stakeholders, are invited to the biannual Mount Alexander region Landcare Link-up.
As always, the February Link-up will be focused on Landcarers sharing stories of their work. In lieu of in-person presentations, this year local groups have been invited to share a short video update to minimise COVID-19 risks. These will be shared at the Link-up and on the Connecting Country website. Along with the video updates, attendees will be invited to gather in small discussion groups, each focussed on a topic of interest to local Landcarers. Hot drinks and light supper provided.
When: Monday 22 February 2021, 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM
Where: Please book for venue details, as places may be limited due to COVID-19 restrictions.
RSVP: Please book online at https://www.trybooking.com/BNRGB by Monday 15 February 2021.
More information: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0418 428 721.
Posted on 19 January, 2021 by Ivan
We came across a useful free conservation program run by Environment Victoria, based on building the capacity of communities and individuals to tell effective stories that influence change for positive environmental outcomes for our rivers. We know that telling local stories helps build understanding and is a useful platform for action and practice change.
Over the next few months, Environment Victoria will be bringing people together from across northern Victoria for a comprehensive training program to tell stories that are emotionally compelling and get media attention. If you are interested in joining the free program, please see the following details from the Environment Victoria website.
Environment Victoria’s Rivers storytelling program
To win long-term protection for our rivers, we need to change the stories we tell about them. Join this free training program to find out how.
The stories told in the media about the Murray-Darling Basin make it difficult for regular people to engage – and even harder to see what the solutions are.
We need to tell the stories of our communities, which are bearing the burden of change. Local stories help build understanding and they galvanise people who want to take action.
Over the next few months, Environment Victoria will be bringing people together from across northern Victoria for a comprehensive training program to tell stories that are emotionally compelling and get media attention.
The training sessions will be held monthly. You can attend individual sessions, or commit to the whole program.
Environment Victoria will also be supporting participants with coaching, a list of media contacts in your area and feedback for telling your own story.
At the end of the program, you’ll have published an opinion piece, media story or social media video you’re proud of – and you’ll be connected to a new network of river storytellers in your area.
For further information or to register your interest, visit the Environment Victoria website – click here
Posted on 19 January, 2021 by Ivan
Connecting Country has been putting together practical information about how to restore and manage land for central Victorian landholders for over a decade. We now have a pretty useful collection of resources for learning about local soils on the Connecting Country website. Learning more about your property, local landscape and soils is a great basis to successfully plan for repairing and revegetating your property. Knowing about your soil type, and its limitations and qualities can be important in making a property management plan.
Geology of the Mount Alexander region
In the centre of the Mount Alexander Region, Castlemaine township is situated on low sedimentary undulations and hills of the dissected uplands. Much of the surrounding area is hills and wooded slopes with rocky outcrops common and granitic boulders visible.
To the northeast, Mount Alexander forms a prominent granitic ridge rising 250 metres above the surrounding land. To the southeast, the Calder Highway follows the sedimentary terraces and floodplain of the Coliban River. To the north, rolling sedimentary hills and valley slopes form fertile ground for the Harcourt apple orchards.
Undulating and low rolling sedimentary hills occur in several areas to the west and southwest of Castlemaine. These are characterised by rocky low hills and gentler, rock – free slopes and depressions. Most of these areas have been cleared for grazing. To the far west of the shire we have flat volcanic plains. This is some of the best land for agriculture in central Victoria.
Other areas exhibit moderate to steep slopes with shallow and stony soils, especially on the upper slopes and crests. Many of these areas have retained their native vegetation due to the steep and rocky nature of the terrain and the low fertility and low water holding capacity of the soils.
The health of the land is intimately linked to the health of the soil. Our region has a great diversity of soil types that reflect differences in parent material, topography, climate, organic activity, age and degree of weathering. For agricultural purposes, many of these soils have some chemical and physical limitations (such as sodicity) which require careful management. A good way to learn about soils is to visit the website Victoria Resources Online website, which provides interactive maps and descriptions of each soil types. The chances are your property has already been mapped for its soil type, providing a good starting point.
To access the Victoria Resources Online web page on soils in the North Central region – click here
Healthy soils form the basis of farm and ecosystem productivity. Issues such as erosion, salinity, soil carbon sequestration, nutrient run-off and acidification can all be addressed through understanding soil structure, biology and chemistry. To find out more about improving the soils on your land – click here
Other useful references
- Costermans Native Trees and Shrubs of South-eastern Australia (1994) – Chapter 2 (page 5-18) provides a useful basic introduction to geology.
- Palaeozoic geology and resources of Victoria (1998)
- Geology Society of Australia – Victoria
- Geology of Victoria
- Earth resources online – The Victorian government has digitised the main Victorian geological map series and made them available free of charge to the public. This includes historical geological surveys, geological reports, gold field mapping, regolith, geophysical and hydro geological maps.
- GeoVic – Explore Victoria Online – Data sets that can be viewed and interrogated include mineral, petroleum and extractive industries tenements, land-use and airborne geophysical survey boundaries, gravity, magnetic and radiometric images, borehole and well data, surface geochemistry results, mines and mineral occurrences, and geological maps and interpretations at various scales.
- Victorian geological map sheets – Free- downloadable raster versions of all geological sheet maps ever produced of Victoria, from 1:50:000 – 1:250,000 scale.
Posted on 19 January, 2021 by Ivan
We have recently had some positive discussions with local landholders about the return of insects, reptiles and birds to their properties during 2020, especially with the higher rainfall and cooler conditions we’re experiencing this summer. We really enjoy hearing stories from landholders about what is happening on the ground. It keeps us motivated and passionate about providing support and advice for healthy landscapes. Both landholders noted that parts of their farms had sections of fallen timber, woody debris and leaf litter, which they retained as a deliberate action to increase the biodiversity and health of their farms. A diverse range of insects and birds are beneficial for pest control and for pollinating many important plants on farms, as well as forming part of the food chain that is beneficial to a healthy landscape.
The Sustainable Farms initiative has produced a comprehensive fact sheet about the importance of retaining dead trees, fallen timbers and leaf litter in landscapes. Sustainable Farms is an Australian National University initiative supported by philanthropic organisations, industry groups and government.
Fallen dead wood provides important habitat for a suite of invertebrate species dependent on decaying wood for their survival. These species play an important role in recycling nutrients in forest and woodland ecosystems. They include a range of species that feed, breed, or shelter in dead wood, or may be predators, or parasitoids dependent on species that live on dead wood. Birds and reptiles feed on these insects, as well as other small marsupials and mammals. Standing dead trees, whether killed deliberately from ringbarking or by bushfires, form a critical resource for fauna, especially following intense wildfire. Connecting Country has been working with landholders for over a decade to convey the importance of keeping some undeveloped areas of their properties as wildlife habitat.
There is always a fine balance between keeping places wild and healthy, and managing bushfire risk, so obviously careful planning is required around houses and buildings in certain settings, such as heavily forested properties.
For further information please read the ‘Keep your fallen timber and dead trees’ fact sheet from Sustainable Farms – click here
Posted on 14 January, 2021 by Ivan
We recently discovered an interesting and relevant article on the ABC website, highlighting new research into alternative methods of protecting our native wildlife from feral cats. We may not all know the harrowing statistics, but a recent study by the Australian National University (ANU) concluded that on average each pet cat kills about 75 native animals per year, but many of these kills are never witnessed by their owners. They concluded that this equates to cats killing more than 1.5 billion native animals per year.
Any advancements in protecting our native wildlife from cats will be beneficial in addressing the extinction crisis. The ABC article highlights research conducted by the University of Tasmania, which looked at the impact of the feral cat compared to the native spotted quoll. They concluded that Australia’s wildlife is up to 200 times more likely to come across a deadly feral cat than an equivalent native predator.
Interestingly, the leading researcher concluded that while it would be ideal to remove all feral cats, this would be pretty tricky. Instead, one of the key recommendations was that resources should be given to increase the complexity of understorey habitats to provide refuges for prey animals. It is suggested that we need to look at making it easier for native prey to survive feral cat encounters, while we work on developing broad-scale cat control methods.
This new research reinforces Connecting Country’s restoration strategy of reintroducing missing understorey species into the landscape, including prickly plants and ground cover species. While trees are great, it is vital to have a complex community of understorey species, occupying different strata our the forest and woodlands.
The full article is available from the ABC website – click here
Posted on 14 January, 2021 by Ivan
Connecting Country is excited to announce we were successful in obtaining a small community grant from the Mount Alexander Shire Council (MASC), allowing us to produce a video celebrating the amazing achievements of our local Landcare groups from across the Mount Alexander region in central Victoria. Our 2021 Celebrating Landcare project will highlight the variety of on-ground landscape restoration and other Landcare activities from across our region that contribute to a healthy and more sustainable landscape. We love our volunteers and this is a chance to recognise their significant achievements in a visual format, using a combination of interviews, footage from on the ground, and project information.
We are very fortunate to have around 30 active Landcare and Friends Groups in our region, which will be very hard to capture in a short video, but we will do our best! We are forever grateful for their passion and array of skills, which has resulted in the recovery of many degraded landscapes across our region.
This project will also aim to attract new members to our Landcare groups, and show the many benefits of volunteering and being part of a bigger picture of landscape restoration. Current members and volunteers include over 1,300 residents from a diverse mix of cultural and demographic backgrounds, genders and age groups. These groups collectively own or manage a significant proportion of the private land throughout our shire.
We hope our video will support and acknowledge over 10,000 hours of incredible work our Landcare volunteers contribute to the region annually, all in five minutes of video! A big ask we know, but we are determined to deliver a great project within the modest budget.
We expect to have the video completed late in the second half of 2021 and will keep the community updated on its progress.
In the meantime, please enjoy our five minute video highlighting our restoration and bird monitoring programs, produced by our partners at Remember The Wild. We would like to thank the MASC for the community grant funding and acknowledge their contribution towards delivery of this project.
Posted on 14 January, 2021 by Ivan
We developed the fact sheets courtesy of funding from the North Central Catchment Management Authority. The fact sheets formed part of our ‘Prickly plants for wildlife on small properties‘ project, which targeted landowners with smaller properties who were keen to manage their land as wildlife habitat, but were excluded from previous projects. Through this project, we’ve helped numerous local landholders with smaller areas of remnant vegetation to protect and improve habitat on their land. We’ve supported landholders with on-ground actions such as revegetation planting, weed and rabbit control, and nest box installation, as well as delivering three popular community education events.
Many people contact Connecting Country regarding how to revegetate their land using native tubestock plants. There are numerous aspects to consider when using this technique, such as when to plant, how to prepare the soil, what to plant, and how to protect your plantings. Our revegetation planting fact sheet covers all these topics and more, to help you give your precious native plants the best start in life.
Here is a brief outline of each of the four fact sheets:
- Weed control. Weeds, or invasive plants, are one of the main extinction threats to Australia’s native plants and animals. Some weeds were introduced initially as garden plants, and others accidentally introduced and spread through seeds or plant material. Some native species become weeds if they spread aggressively beyond their natural range. To download – click here
- Nest boxes for wildlife. A nest box is an artificial enclosure provided for hollow-dependent animals to live and nest in. Providing a well constructed and maintained nest box on your property can provide a supplementary home for native animals where natural tree hollows are missing. To download: click here
- Invasive pest animals. Invasive animals are a major threat to biodiversity and agriculture. They can cause long-term damage to ecosystems and have resulted in dramatic extinction rates of species across Australia. To download: click here
- Revegetation planting with tube stock. Planting within or next to existing bushland to provide habitat for native animals can be a satisfying endeavor. Taking time to plan and prepare your revegetation will give you the best chance of seeing your plants survive to maturity. To download: click here
Further information and fact sheets on a variety of restoration topics can be found on the Connecting Country website – click here
Posted on 7 January, 2021 by Ivan
Preventing the spread of weeds should be a high priority for landholders and provides one of the highest returns on investment. It is often the most cost-effective way of protecting and improving biodiversity and productivity on your property.
The Victorian Serrated Tussock Working Party (VSTWP) recently completed an industry first: a best practice weed hygiene guide, aimed at preventing the spread of serrated tussock and other weeds due to land management practices such as slashing, movement of vehicles and machinery. The guide contains principles and management actions that apply to many weeds found in our region, including serrated tussock, Chilean needle-grass, St John’s wort, and the various grassy weeds. Please read the following summary below provided by the VSTWP regarding the new guide.
The best practice guide weed hygiene was developed through collaboration with stakeholders, including a survey of relevant stakeholders and land managers to understand the complex networks involved in weed management.
The survey established three-quarters of respondents employed contractors to work on their land, with a range of formal and informal weed hygiene control mechanisms in place. However, only a few admitted to auditing their contractors annually or more often, with many reporting they have never conducted an audit.
The aim of this guide is to improve the operations of staff and contractors, providing appropriate oversight and strategies to prevent the spread of weeds. The guide is a vital link in managing serrated tussock across Victoria.
The guide acknowledges that land managers spend millions of dollars each year controlling serrated tussock and other weed species in Victoria.
Of all the management activities for serrated tussock and other high threat weeds, reducing spread is the cheapest and most effective method of control.
VSTWP Chairperson Lance Jennison said ‘This guide is split into easy-to-use sections that provide practical guidance on identifying and controlling serrated tussock, weed hygiene practices in the field, along with contract management and oversight’. ‘The best practice guide will prove invaluable for landowners, land managers, contractors and large-scale projects, with plenty of strategies to minimise the spread of serrated tussock,’ Mr Jennison said.
Serrated tussock is a hardy and aggressive grassy weed that is found throughout temperate regions of Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. Serrated tussock has a devastating impact on the biodiversity of native grasslands and can drastically reduce the carrying capacity of farmland. Seed can be easily spread through civil construction works, land management activities, and via livestock and wildlife.
The newly published weed hygiene guide can be viewed online at the VSTWP website (click here) or downloaded as a pdf (click here). Hard copies of the guide are also available on request by contacting the VSTWP (email: email@example.com).
Posted on 7 January, 2021 by Ivan
How does one catch a Brush-tailed Phascogale on the run in your house? Easy – with an Ugg boot apparently!
We received a video from a local landholder, Brodi, who rescued this Brush-tailed Phascogale from their house in Sutton Grange using a sheepskin boot in late 2020. Doesn’t get much cuter than that!
The Brush-tailed Phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa tapoatafa), also known as the Tuan, is a small, nocturnal, carnivorous marsupial, a little larger than a domestic rat. In Victoria, the Brush-tailed Phascogale was once widespread, but now has a fragmented distribution. It’s found to the east and north-east of Melbourne, central Victoria (around Ballarat, Heathcote and Bendigo), north-eastern Victoria, and far western Victoria (from Mount Eccles to Apsley).
The Brush-tailed Phascogale is a threatened species listed under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and considered Vulnerable in Victoria.
Thanks Brodi for sending us this video. Please enjoy!
To learn more about Brush-tailed Phascogales and their conservation, check out our blog post below. To get involved in our monitoring program for Brush-tailed Phascogale, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on 7 January, 2021 by Ivan
BirdLife Castlemaine’s beloved bird walks are commencing again with a leisurely stroll down through the Deep Creek Streamside Reserve, Eganstown, ten minutes drive west of Daylesford in central Victoria. It is the first walk for 2021, with 2020’s walks being interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Deep Creek Streamside Reserve has some excellent stands of mature grassy woodlands and herb-rich foothill forests, and will no doubt provide some excellent bird watching opportunities. Please see the details below, kindly provided by Birdlife Castlemaine.
Bird Walk – Saturday 9 January 2021 – Deep Creek Streamside Reserve, Eganstown
Hopefully, if the COVID-19 situation allows we will be able to have a full round of Bird Walks in 2021! Our 2021 program begins on Saturday 9 January (note – this is the second Saturday rather than the usual first Saturday of the month). We will walk along the road by Maclachlan Creek through manna gum streamside forest until we reach the reserve at the end of the road. Then along wide paths to the old spring. If there is time and the weather is good we will then walk through the bush – lovely messmate forest! Last time there blue-winged parrots were seen! Snakes are active in the area at the moment so long pants and boots a must – and bring snake kits if you have them (we will also have first aid kits with snake bite bandages). There will be some uneven ground and walking through the forest but those feeling less up for a walk could easily walk down the road and then picnic down by the creek. Our walk leader is Tanya Loos. All welcome!
Where: Deep Creek Streamside Reserve, Eganstown VIC. Turn onto Deep Spring Road from the Midland Highway, approximately 9 km west of Daylesford and park near the Nowland Track which is about 600 m from the Highway. Coordinates: -37.350353, 144.074929
When: Meet at Deep Creek Streamside Reserve at 9:00 am. Walks last for approximately 2 hours.
Bring: Water, snacks, binoculars, sunscreen, hat, sturdy shoes. Long trousers are advised during snake season.
More info: Jane Rusden, 0448 900 896 or Judy Hopley 0425 768 559. To discover more about Deep Creek Streamside Reserve – click here
Please note that walks will be canceled if severe weather warnings are in place, persistent rain is forecast, if the temperature is forecast to be 35 degrees or above during the walk period, and/or a Total Fire Ban is declared.
Posted on 7 January, 2021 by Ivan
Run rabbit run! The Victorian Rabbit Action Network (VRAN) has launched its new website, to help support community action on rabbit management in Victoria. The new website is an excellent example of a modern communication tool, with a good assortment of videos and case studies to assist landholders.
VRAN is led by a steering group of community members, government representatives and industry leaders who, with the VRAN Executive Officer, facilitate community-led action on rabbit control.
Connecting Country has received many inquiries about increasing rabbit numbers in the past year, with many landholders noting an increase in juvenile rabbits in the landscape. We believe this is a timely reminder to start planning coordinated rabbit treatment, especially coordinating with neighbours to help address rabbits at a larger landscape scale.
VRAN has provided the following update on their new website and their grants scheme, which is available to landholders in our region.
The VRAN website was developed with ‘community’ front of mind and is aimed at helping people working in the rabbit management space, to increase their knowledge on best practice rabbit management and connect with others working in the industry. Rabbits have been in our landscape for over a century destroying natural habitats, agriculture, and cultural heritage, and are listed as one of Australia’s biggest threats.
The new website contains information on best practice rabbit management, training programs, videos, grant programs, research and so much more. VRAN are also inviting community groups and organisations to apply for their new grant program.
VRAN Chair, Gerald Leach, says ‘VRAN have grants up to $5,000 to help community groups and
organisations to raise awareness of the rabbit issue and best practice control methods’. The Community Action Grants program is open until 29 January 2021. More information on the grant program and can be found on the website – click here
This new digital resource and the grant program was developed through funding from the Australian Government Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper in collaboration with Agriculture Victoria.
Visit the VRAN site today to apply for a grant and help plan your summer rabbit program: www.vran.com.au
Posted on 24 December, 2020 by Ivan
Welcome to our tenth 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.
Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides)
Before we delve into the secretive life of the Tawny Frogmouth, this ‘Bird of the Month’ blog is nearly one year old and I’d like to extend my deep gratitude to Damian Kelly and Ash Vigus. When I asked Damian if he’d be happy to help me with research, I had this rosy image in my head of the two of us spending blissful hours in his enviable library, buried in books. COVID-19 ensured this cozy vision of mine was not to be. Instead, Damian would email his research to me, along with his gorgeous photos. Ash Vigus has also been very generous with lending an ear and great ideas, as we did our socially-distanced walks, and his stunning photos. Without these two, Bird of the Month would not have been nearly as interesting nor pretty.
Some months ago the charismatic Owlet Nightjar was our feature bird. This month’s relative, the Tawny Frogmouth, is similar in that it is also nocturnal, NOT an owl and charismatic in its own cryptic way. Frogmouths are not restricted to Australia: Papua New Guinea and tropical Asia have their own species. In Australia, the Tawny Frogmouth is found all over the country where there are trees, but the Papuan Frogmouth is restricted to Cape York and the Marbled Frogmouth is found only in tiny areas on Cape York and around Brisbane. However, both species are found in Papua New Guinea. They all have characteristic wide mouths and are incredibly cryptic, being experts in looking like a broken off dead branch and therefore difficult to spot during the day.
By night, however, if your lucky you may see Tawny Frogmouths hawking flying insects in the car headlights. Sadly they are prone to getting squashed on the road because of this. At home I’ve watched one hawking Rain Moths attracted to the light from our windows at night. It must have eaten a dozen of them and I’m not quite sure how it fitted them all in – it must have been the Frogmouth equivalent of Christmas dinner with a third helping of pudding. They will also pounce on small vertebrates like lizards, which get a thorough pounding before being swallowed, and they enjoy insects on the ground.
Breeding is done in spring. Typically two eggs are laid in a messy collection of sticks which constitutes their nest, in a horizontal branch fork in a large mature tree. Despite populations slowly decreasing, these apparently insecure nests produce chicks fairly effectively. Equality of the sexes is a thing with Tawny Frogmouths, with the male sitting on the eggs during the day and both parents sitting at night.
These much loved and unusual birds can be found in urban areas, which perhaps endears them to us humans. Or maybe it’s their cute as cute fluffy chicks with their great wide eyes, snuggled up to their nest buddies.
Please enjoy the Tawny Frogmouth distinctive ‘Oom oom ooom call’, courtesy of Wild Ambience.
A big thank you to contributors to this edition of Bird of the Month – Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly – for their amazing knowledge and skills.
Posted on 23 December, 2020 by Ivan
Connecting Country staff enjoyed a celebratory Christmas lunch this week, in the bush near Castlemaine VIC, hosted by our Director Frances and her lovely partner Duncan. The outdoor affair, in a COVID-safe environment, was privy to a stunning display of birdlife and the last of the colourful spring wildflowers and grasses. The grassy-woodlands were a beautiful example of landscape recovery and restoration, thanks to a wonderful season of rain and sustainable land management by Frances and Duncan.
It has been a challenging year to operate an organisation that values engaging with landholders and the community face to face, but we have found new ways to engage and continue our projects throughout the year. We have learnt and grown together, with the nature lunch a perfect way to send off the year.
The beginning of summer is often a time where our forests and woodlands begin to lose their bright colour and flowers, but there were two indigenous species still providing colour and bling in the leadup to Christmas: Sticky Everlasting Daisy (Xerochrysum viscosum) and Copper-awned Wallaby-grass (Rytidosperma fulvum). Our lunch was also interrupted by a very festive visit from a pair of Scarlet Robins.
Sticky Everlasting Daisy
An Australian native daisy indigenous to our region, which is a small narrow-leaved plant up to 50 cm high and 40 cm wide. It is often known as Shiny Everlasting. Sticky Everlasting likes a sunny position and will tolerate dry conditions and poor soils, like many in our region. The leaves are quite narrow so it is fairly inconspicuous when not in flower. They have a slightly sticky feel, hence the name. The flowers are bright gold, glossy, crispy daises about the size of large buttons, see photos below. The flowers stay on show for many months and add colour to our subtle bush tones. Like many of the native daisies, Sticky Everlasting will attract numerous butterflies and moths, as well as native bees.
Wallaby grasses are native perennial grasses that are common in our region. The fluffy tops are distinctive, and they catch the sunlight perfectly in summer. Aside from the flowers, they are fairly inconspicuous and are often missed in our woodlands and paddocks. They are known for their drought tolerance and also are a avourite grazing plant for wallabies and kangaroos.
Below are a selection of photos taken in the Grassy-Woodlands around Castlemaine by Connecting Country staff. Please enjoy, and stay safe over the festive season.
Posted on 23 December, 2020 by Ivan
The RSPCA Victoria and BirdLife Australia have launched a new campaign called ‘Discover Ducks’, after recent research revealed five in six Victorians cannot name any native ducks, despite Australia being home to 15 unique species. We love our ducks, and locally, they appear to be having a great season, with plenty of water around during spring 2020. While this campaign is aimed at Victorians, anyone can access the online resource, and increase their knowledge of our native ducks. All Australians can answer that timeless question: Which Duck Are You?!
We have had fun, in the virtual Connecting Country office, exploring which duck we each are, and how accurate they all seem to be!
Please enjoy a summary below, courtesy of the Discover Ducks team, regarding the importance and aim of this campaign.
Dr Liz Walker, CEO of RSPCA Victoria said the campaign seeks to build a state of passionate duck lovers by improving Victorians’ knowledge and love for our diverse range of unique, native ducks.
‘We believe more people would appreciate ducks and care about their welfare if they could relate to them the way they relate to other wildlife, such as koalas or kangaroos. After last summer’s tragic bushfires, we know there is very strong public concern for native animals, and a desire to rescue, treat and protect those animals. Ducks need to be included,’ says Dr Walker. ‘They are fascinating creatures, and each native species has unique traits. Discover Ducks creates an opportunity for the community to learn and share information and celebrate our beautiful native ducks.’
BirdLife Australia’s National Public Affairs Manager Sean Dooley agrees that there has never been a better time to discover our wild duck populations. ‘Sometimes even birdwatchers can take ducks for granted. But when you take the time to get to know Victoria’s ducks, you soon realise what fascinating and beautiful birds they are. However, there are far fewer ducks out there in our wetlands than there used to be with the research showing drastic decline in their numbers, due to the changes we have made to their aquatic habitats.’
Discover Ducks shows people how to recognise different ducks, where to spot them around Victoria and how to interact with them in a welfare-friendly way. Many of these lessons are valuable across the country, not just in Victoria, and wherever you are located, the ‘Which Duck Are You?’quiz is a great bit of fun, or you can test your knowledge with the Know Your Ducks Quiz.
Learn more about Discover Ducks at discoverducks.org.au and spread the word via social media using the hashtag #discoverducks
Posted on 23 December, 2020 by Ivan
South African Weed Orchid, Disa bracteata, has finished flowering but if you are quick you can still help stop the spread of this emerging and highly invasive weed in our area. It is worth havin
g a look for plants on your property and planning for next season’s treatment. We have had many reports from our community of larger infestations in bushlands and grasslands across our region during spring 2020, so we thought it timely to show some photographs of what to look out for, and when.
South African Weed Orchid is a perennial terrestrial orchid with underground tubers. Dormant for much of the year, it sprouts in early spring with a rosette of leaves, followed by flower spikes developing into seeds as the weather drys out during summer. Plants in the leafy, vegetative stage are susceptible to herbicides which during the growing phase also kills the tubers. At later stages digging can be effective but requires care to remove all tubers.
This invasive plant often grows in association with other native orchids but can be distinguished from native species such as Glossodia and Caladenia by the lack of hairs and purple back to the leaf. Sun orchids have smooth leaves but they are single, longer and more channelled.
How to identify South African Weed Orchid:
- Stems – erect and fleshy usually 30–50 cm tall.
- Leaves – a rosette of green leaves with purple undersides, tapering from a broad base to an pointy tip, 5–15 cm long. These weeds are distinct from indigenous Onion Orchids (Microtis spp.) as they have a rosette of leaves, while the native Onion Orchids have one round leaf, often extending above the flower spike. They also have purple undersides, unlike our Onion Orchids
- Flowers – depends on the season but usually around late October through to December in Victoria. 15– 30 flowers grow on a thick cylindrical spike 5–20 cm long, which resembles a greenish-brown asparagus spear. Flowers very dense and are mostly greenish, ripening to reddish-brown and yellow with a leafy bract.
- Seeds – black, minute and dust-like, contained within the capsular fruit. The species is autogamous (self-pollinating) and thus produces a large amount of seed per plant. The main form of dispersal is wind, but seed can also be spread on shoes, clothing and vehicles, as well as in water and through animal and soil movement. The seeds can remain viable for years, hence one seeding plant this year means many weeds for many, many years to come. Seed set and dispersal starts as the plants mature and as the weather dries out. The seeds continue to mature even if the flower head is picked, so it is very important to bag up and remove.
- Tubers – produces new tubers each year it grows. These are similar in appearance to a small potato, about 20 mm in size (depending on conditions). The plant will also have a small shrivelled tuber, which is the one the plant is using to grow from currently. The plant also has a mass of fleshy roots and there is no main tap root.
Invasion of the Mount Alexander region
As of 2020, this weed has been recorded across the Mount Alexander Shire in Chewton, Redesdale, Elphinstone, Taradale, Walmer, Barkers Creek, Sutton Grange, Guildford, Ravenswood and Harcourt. The records on the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) suggest that this species has been recorded across many sites in Victoria and Western Australia, with a total of 1,400 records entered onto the ALA.
Manual removal requires digging up and removing all parts of the plant, including the tuber, leaves and flowers. The plant material must be bagged securely (e.g., in a snap-lock bag) to prevent the fine dust-like seed from spreading further. It is also worth making sure that the soil around the plant is put back after removal, to reduce the risk of regrowth.
If you are interested in seeing some excellent photos at different stages of its lifeform across the year, local legends Euan Moore and Jenny Rolland have prepared the following collage of images. Many thanks to Euan and Jenny for their photos and information, and passion for controlling this invasive emerging weed.
To learn more about this emerging weed and see a map of its current distribution, please visit the ALA website by clicking on the image below (courtesy of ALA).
Posted on 17 December, 2020 by Ivan
Connecting Country could not do what we do without our volunteers. Our management committee is run by volunteers, our monitoring programs rely on skilled citizen scientists, our landholders ensure landscape restoration is maintained, and others help with events, Landcare, engagement and in countless other ways. We love our volunteers and appreciate their dedication to our vision of increasing, enhancing, and restoring biodiversity across central Victoria.
This year, we were fortunate to receive a very generous donation from a local family to support our woodland bird monitoring, including providing a humble thank-you celebration for our volunteers on the evening of Monday 14 December 2020 at The Hub Plot, behind our office in Castlemaine, Victoria.
We enjoyed COVID-safe celebratory drinks and snack packs in the leafy Hub Plot garden. Our Monitoring Coordinator, Jess Lawton, provided a short summary of our monitoring achievements over the last year, followed by plenty of chatting and Connecting Country’s second annual ‘Klop’ game championship. Thank you to everyone who came and made it a wonderful evening with great company. Special thanks to Lou, Jane R, and Duncan for setting up and helping the evening run smoothly, and to Heather and Neil for the lovely venue.
These days our projects run off very tight budgets, with funding opportunities extremely few and far between. Community has always been at the core of what we do at Connecting Country. In this new phase, we’ve had to rely on our community even more.
Because we’re surrounded by an engaged and enthusiastic community, we’re still able to check in on our local biodiversity, and deliver monitoring, engagement, Landcare support and landscape restoration across our region. If it wasn’t for your hard work, we simply would not be able to continue our valuable long-term biodiversity monitoring, engage our community in caring for our local landscapes, or empower landowners to manage their land as wildlife habitat.
To everyone who has helped Connecting Country in 2020: a big thank you! We are so grateful for your support.
To find out more about volunteer opportunities at Connecting Country, please visit our website – click here
Please enjoy the following photos by Lou Citroen and Ivan Carter, capturing the beauty of our volunteer celebration on a balmy summer’s evening in Castlemaine.
Posted on 17 December, 2020 by Frances
On behalf of the Connecting Country team, we wish every one of you the very best over the festive season, with special greetings to our wonderful volunteers, members, landholders, donors and supporters.
Whichever way you choose to celebrate, we hope you enjoy a well-deserved rest, and take time to connect with loved ones and our special local environment.
Connecting Country’s physical office at the Hub in Castlemaine remains closed to the public, in line with government health guidelines. Our virtual office will also close from 24 December 2020 to 4 January 2021 while our hardworking staff take a short break.
We look forward to seeing you (hopefully in person) in 2021!
Posted on 14 December, 2020 by Asha
People power! Earlier this month, twelve Victoria Gully Group volunteers hand-pulled over 2,500 Cape Broom (Genista monspessulana) seedlings at Clinkers Hill Bushland Reserve near Castlemaine in central Victoria. Several years ago, Victoria Gully Group began major restoration work at this site, so this working bee was important follow-up on past work.
When removing the Cape Broom seedlings, volunteers could see native seedlings emerging, including acacias, native peas and bursaria. If left unchecked, the Cape Broom would quickly grow to out-compete and smother the diversity of native habitat plants growing at the site. As many Connecting Country followers will know, Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) is a vital plant for the life cycle of the threatened Eltham Copper Butterfly (Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida). For more information about their unique relationship – click here
Victoria Gully Group volunteers also work with the Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning to do restoration work such as revegetation, weed control and exclusion fencing just down the road from Clinkers Hill in Victoria Gully (a tributary for the local Forest Creek in Castlemaine). In recent years they have also established and maintained frog ponds in the gully to provide habitat.
Landcarers are often a humble bunch, so the amazing volunteer work they do can fly under the radar. Victoria Gully Group’s recent working bee was just one example of over 100 Landcare and Friends group working bees that take place in the Mount Alexander region every year to care for our local environment. Let us acknowledge and celebrate this achievement.
If you’d like to volunteer with Victoria Gully Group, or one of our other local Landcare or Friends groups in the Mount Alexander region, you can find their contact details on Connecting Country’s website – click here