Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Walking with the sound turned up: listen to the bush

Posted on 2 December, 2019 by Asha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Exploring the colour of wildflowers (and the joy of surprises)

Posted on 19 November, 2019 by Ivan

Getting out and about reminds us of just how many lovely wildflowers and things there are happening in the bush, even as the weather warms up! We are blessed to live in a region with large tracts of public land with woodland wonders aplenty, and now is a great time to get out and see some of the vivid and subtle colors our bushland has to offer. One of our Landscape Restoration Coordinators, Bonnie Humphreys, has kindly outlined some of the native species that may still be flowering and on show over the next few weeks, including a few surprises below!

  • Bush Peas (Pultenaea sp.) and Parrot Peas (Dillwynia sp.) are flowering.
  • Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata) is laden with pods at the moment, hinting at a good year for seed production.
  • Black Wattle (Acacia mearnsii) is in flower with lemony yellow blooms. Some can be seen from the Forest Creek bridge on Duke St, on the right hand side as you head towards Chewton.
  • Chocolate Lilies (Arthropodium strictum) and Sticky Everlastings (Xerochrysum viscosum) are looking spectacular.
  • Look out for beautiful white flowers from Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) and White Marianth (Rhytidosporum procumbens).
  • Creamy Candles (Stackhousia monogyna) are flowering. These have a lovely perfume which is most prevalent at night indicating a preference for night pollinator such as moths.
  • Cats Claw Grevillea or Alpine Grevillea (Grevillea alpina), some plants are still flowering away. There are many different colour forms in this plant including green, yellow, red, and then mixes of combinations.

There are many great places for bushwalking on public land in our region, including Kalimna Park (just a short walk from Castlemaine town centre), Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve (Sandon), Monk Track in the Dry Diggings National Park (Chewton), Muckleford State Forest, and Guildford Bushland Reserve.  View excellent ground-truthed maps of many of these areas by local cartographer Jase Haysom by clicking here. Local bird expert Damian Kelly’s book Castlemaine Bird Walks is another great resource for bird and wildlife outings in the bush.

Before the heat takes the color and vibrancy out of these treasures, be sure to explore some of the abundant nature hotspots in our region. Scroll down to see pictures below of some colourful characters from our local bush.

 

Cats Claw Grevillea (Grevillea alpina). Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Shingle Back Lizard. Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Creamy Candles (Stackhousia monogyna). Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Chocolate Lilies (Arthropodium strictum) and Sticky Everlastings (Xerochrysum viscosum). Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Twining Fringe-lily (Thysanotus patersonii). Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Muckleford bush with Parrot Pea (Dillwyina sp.), Cats Claw Grevillea (Grevillea alpina), Murnong or Yam Daisy (Microseris walteri), Grey Everlasting (Ozothamnus obcordatus) and Chocolate Lilies (Arthropodium strictum). Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

Keep an eye out for nesting birds. Here’s an Owlet Nightjar fledgling checking out the world! Photo: Bonnie Humphreys

 

 

 

 

Natural Newstead: A proper soaking and then woodland birds

Posted on 31 July, 2019 by Asha

If you love birds and our natural heritage, hopefully you’ve already discovered the Natural Newstead blog. The blog is a wealth of knowledge and expert observations of flora, fauna and landscape in central Victoria. With nearly 2,000 subscribers, it contains some of the best nature photography you will see anywhere. It is run by Newstead resident and local ecological identity Geoff Park, with contributions from other knowledgeable locals. Geoff Park has worked in various roles with the North Central Catchment Management Authority and in the private sector, and is very passionate about biodiversity conservation and on-ground biodiversity outcomes.

If you’re not familiar the blog, check it out here: https://geoffpark.wordpress.com

We particularly enjoyed Geoff’s recent post about woodland birds enjoying the wetter conditions this winter. To read this post on the Natural Newstead website, click here, or continue reading below.

A proper soaking and then woodland birds
Posted on 1 July 2019 by Geoff Park

We’re in the depths of winter and celebrating wonderful rainfall over the weekend.

Hopefully we move slowly now into a ‘typical’ spring that enables some recovery of woodland bird populations across the region. I was pretty chuffed to see some familiar faces at Muckleford Gorge, especially a pair of Hooded Robins. Along with the Crested Shrike-tit and Jacky Winter we encountered numerous Flame Robins, a Golden Whistler, Restless Flycatchers and Brown Treecreepers.

Crested Shrike-tit (adult male), Muckleford Gorge, 30th June 2019. Photo: Geoff Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crested Shrike-tit (adult male), Muckleford Gorge, 30th June 2019. Photo: Geoff Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hooded Robin (male). Photo: Geoff Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jacky Winter on a branch. Photo: Geoff Park

 

 

 

A recent visit from a pie eater

Posted on 28 March, 2019 by Ivan

We received an exciting and amusing email this week from Saide and Gary, regarding a pie-eating guest she had visiting her home. Below is a copy of the email and some great photos. Thanks, Saide!

 

We found this tail …. And waited

Next there was a body attached to the tail

Bottoms Up!

Is it a possum, very determined to get into that nook?

Then it fully appeared. The creature spent some time exploring the scientific data sheets then, finding a cosy nook, among the papers, tuan curled up and went to sleep, but only after eating a morsel of warmed meat pie.

I swear the dear creature whispered ‘thank-you’, before nodding off for the rest of the day.

By 6pm tuan was off into the world of Connecting Country’s nestboxes, eucalyptus and wildflowers to be, in the Heathy Dry Forest ridgetop adjacent to this house!

 

The Dead Tree Detective- Scientists need your help spotting dead trees

Posted on 28 March, 2019 by Ivan

Have you seen dead or dying trees in your area? No doubt with the current hot and dry conditions, many of us have seen trees under severe moisture and heat stress.

A collective of concerned scientists have launched a new citizen science project, The Dead Tree Detective, which aims to record where and when trees have died in Australia. Unfortunately, the current drought across many regions of Australia has been so severe that some native trees have died or are under severe stress. It is important to document these occurrences, which will assist  scientists in understanding and predicting how native forests and woodlands are vulnerable to climate extremes.

This project will allow people Australia-wide to report observations of tree death. In the past, there have been many occurrences of large-scale tree death that were initially identified by concerned members of the public such as farmers, bushwalkers, bird watchers or landholders. Collecting these observations is an important way to monitor the health of trees and ecosystems.

Climate extremes have pushed some of our local iconic native trees to their limits of survival, so it is essential to document which species are surviving better than others under these conditions. This project allows you to upload photos of your trees and answer a few questions to help identify the possible causes. You will find some information about each of these causes in the ‘Resources’ section. You can even revisit the locations in following months to document whether trees recover or not. To see what other records there are in your area, go to the ‘Data’ section. See the ‘Blog’ for details of any new major tree death events that we have become aware of.

Please click here to upload photos regarding this project and to read the full project description, which is hosted on the Atlas of Living Australia.

Red Box at St Brigid’s Catholic Church Maldon photo by Bev Phillips of Maldon Urban Landcare Group)

 

Painted Button-quails in the garden

Posted on 29 May, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Connecting Country staff member Bonnie Humphreys has seen small, quail-like birds wandering around her garden for weeks, even on her doorstep. Until now, they’ve escaped Bonnie’s efforts to capture a photo and confirm identification as Painted Button-quail! The two birds seen here were resting quietly together.

Button-quails are a truly Australian group of birds. Although they look a lot like quails, DNA analysis suggests that button-quails are quite distant from all living groups of birds. Their behaviour is certainly very unusual!

Unlike most birds, it’s the brightly coloured female who calls, and attracts a male. They are polyandrous, with one female mating with several males in an area. After mating, the female builds a domed nest near the ground in a shrub or grass tussock, and lays three or four small white eggs. The male then incubates the young until hatching. Once hatched, the tiny little chicks fledge right away and the male feeds them for the next ten days or so. After this, the young button-quails can fend for themselves.

The birds pictured above could be either males, or immature birds. In females, the reddish patch is brighter. However, the depth of the colour red is quite variable according to light conditions and the position of the bird. Hence it’s quite tricky to identify the sex of the bird. (Happy to hear local birder expert opinion on this one!)

Bonnie’s visiting button-quails are a group of three birds, and the Handbook of Australian and New Zealand birds says they are most often seen in small family groups. At this time of year, breeding has finished, so maybe they are just being companionable and foraging together until the female starts her ‘booming’call.

Their foraging technique is also most unusual. Painted button-quails often feed in pairs, in grasses and leaf litter on the ground. They scratch and glean, spinning on alternate legs to create distinctive circular depressions, known as platelets. Platelets are often the only visible sign that the bird is present. The photo below shows the typical look of platelets in bushland with plenty of leaf litter.

There’s been extensive feeding activity in leaf litter and lawn areas at Bonnie’s place. It was hard to capture on camera the sheer extent of the ground being worked over by these enthusiastic little birds.

 

Painted button-quails are a member of the threatened Victorian Temperate Woodland bird Community. They are notoriously difficult to capture during typical (20 minute, 2 ha) bird surveys, so we welcome any sightings and observations. You can download a sightings sheet here, and let us know where and when you’ve seen button-quails, or their platelets.

In 2011, Echidna Walkabout Tours captured this amazing footage of a Painted Button-quail foraging in leaf litter in urban Port Melbourne! Do watch the whole video because at the end the female puffs herself up like a frog and starts calling her booming call. The low frequency call is difficult to hear on the video, but you can see the amazing behaviour!

 

Caught on camera!

Posted on 10 May, 2018 by Tanya Loos

This remarkable photograph shows a Yellow-footed Antechinus bounding up a log with an Australian Magpie in hot pursuit. It was taken by a trail camera – amazing timing!

In this case, the antechinus escaped being breakfast, running so fast all of its paws are in the air! It is great to see the tables turned on these adorable but voracious hunters (see pictures of a Yellow-footed Antechinus preying upon a grey fantail here).

The landholders who sent us the photo said  ‘These wildlife cameras are great! We catch so much and are able to watch so many different animals, birds, reptiles, insects, etc.  and what they get up to each day.’ Lynne and Ric live on a beautiful woodland property east of Maldon, and are keen bird surveyors.

If you would like to see what lives on your property, why not borrow a wildlife camera from us? We are happy to loan wildlife cameras to our members – usually for a three week period. To book one, email tanya@connectingcountry.org.au or phone us at the office on 5472 1594.

Many thanks to Lynne and Ric for the amazing photo.

 

A batty visitor to a phascogale nest box

Posted on 4 January, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Elevated Plains landholder, Richard Pleasance sent us some fantastic video footage of a small bat or microbat visiting his nest box. I posted the footage online to the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria Facebook page and a bat expert identified the bat as a type of long-eared bat;  either a Lesser Long-eared or a Gould’s Long-eared bat, both of which are common in this area. Please click on the link below to view the bat movie – the bat arrives several seconds in…

Bat-video-RPleasance-01-2018

These two bat species live on insects, and use their incredible ears and skills in echolocation  help them locate crickets, moths, grasshoppers and other prey.  Both species roost in a range of locations, such as peeling bark, small hollows and, in the case of Lesser Long-eared bats, disused Fairy Martin nests, old coats or under piles of bricks in sheds!  Come breeding season, the females live in maternity colonies, which may be in hollow trees or sometimes in houses.

A Lesser Long-eared bat, by Matt Clancy

This bat was probably a single male, as they often roost alone. Richard built the box himself, using recycled materials, with the aim of attracting Brush-tailed Phascogales. Below is a photo of a phascogale inspecting the box. According to Richard ‘the box is on a stringy bark located in lovely bush close to a ridge but still a bit protected from weather’ and it faces south east.

A wildlife camera captures an evening visitor…

Richard doesn’t carry out any manual inspections of his nest boxes, preferring to set up wildlife cameras to monitor usage. This is a great option as it is safer than using a ladder to inspect, and minimises disturbance to the creatures within. And there is more! This nest box was also visited by a third species: a Sugar Glider (see below).

What a wonderful fluffy tail!

If you would like to monitor your nest boxes this summer, you could try wildlife cameras. We have a small number at the office to lend to landholders, or you could try another non-invasive technique known as stagwatching. A stag is an old dead tree with hollows, but the stagwatching process may be used to check nest boxes too. Stagwatching involves using the natural light at dusk to check the box usage, simply by waiting quietly by the box for some time. A very meditative experience, provided you cover up adequately against mosquitoes!

To found out more about nest boxes and how to stagwatch, see our website here and download the guide: NestboxFieldGuide

Many thanks to Richard for the wonderful footage and photos.

 

Say Cheese! – New Reptile and Frog Photo Gallery

Posted on 23 November, 2017 by Asha

Large Striped Skink in Welshmans Reef (Photo by Linda Craig)

Jacky lizards, geckos, pobblebonks, and ‘Tuk’ the turtle are all stars of our new reptile and frog photo gallery. CLICK HERE to go to the page, where we share photos of reptiles and frogs sent in by community members. Most of these photos are from landholders involved in Connecting Country’s reptile and frog monitoring program (CLICK HERE to read more), which uses ceramic roof tiles as artificial habitat for reptiles and frogs. Tile monitoring is fantastic, but these photos also capture species that don’t use tiles as habitat, like goannas.

Thank you to everyone who shared their photos!

If you have any interesting photos of reptiles or frogs that you would like to share in our photo gallery, please send them to asha@connectingcountry.org.au

Pobblebonk in Elphinstone (Photo by Sylvia Reeves)

Baby Common Long-necked Tortoise in Strangways, dubbed “Tuk” (Photo by Leanne Crisp)

 

Pardalotes put on a show at Muckleford Station

Posted on 19 September, 2017 by Tanya Loos

The local U3A birdwatching group visited Muckleford Train Station last week, and were entranced by a large flock of Striated Pardalotes displaying and carrying on in very close proximity. Local birdo and photographer Peter Turner captured a stunning series of images, and kindly sent them in so we could share them with you all!

One of the behaviours that intrigued Peter is a display which involves the pardalote bowing slightly, opening both wings and spreading its tail. Many of the pardalotes were displaying in this way, and Peter asked what the behaviour might mean.

Displaying on the train tracks

Here at the office, we have a copy of a large detailed book known as the Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds (HANZAB) The entry on Striated Pardalotes details this behaviour.

The Wing-and-tail Display is associated with nesting behaviour. As the Striated Pardalote sexes are very difficult to tell apart, it is not known whether the male or the female or both sexes are displaying. The display may involve quivering the wings, or fanning them by alternately opening and folding them.

 

Three pardalotes watch one pardalote’s display with much interest.

The Wing-and-tail Display is often part of a group display, where several pairs that are nesting in close proximity display to one another.

The Muckleford Station is a Striated Pardalote breeding hotspot – with many nest burrows  excavated in the clay soil near the platform.

Striated Pardalotes also take readily  to nestboxes, in fact previously on this blog, we featured a pardalote nestbox design by Ric Higgins; for details, click  here.

While Spotted Pardalotes are loved by many, these photographs remind us that the Striated Pardalotes are little stunners too. Thanks so much for the photos, Peter!

 

 

 

 

Ruby gives voice to sapphire – Scarlet Robins in Nature News August 4 2017

Posted on 13 September, 2017 by Tanya Loos

For this month’s Nature News, Connecting Country Landcare Facilitator, Asha Bannon shares her observations of Scarlet Robins in Campbells Creek.

“A flash of wing on a blue sky
A breast of delicate wildfire
The weight of day is carried away
As ruby gives voice to sapphire”

The opening words of Michael Kennedy’s song, “Scarlet Robin” beautifully sum up the joy of this bird. It’s a rare occasion that I’ll go out into the bush in spring without hearing the Scarlet Robin’s gentle “chee-dalee-dalee” call, a crucial part of a Box Ironbark soundscape. The male’s bright red breast can also give them away as they move through the bush, but you may need to look a little closer to spot his more camouflaged girlfriend.

Scarlet Robins are one of many woodland birds that depend on ground-level habitat to feed. Perching on a low branch or piece of fallen timber, they use this vantage point to spot insects on the ground below. They then swoop down to catch their prey, and return to the perch to gobble it up.

Observing these beautiful birds is a highlight of any walk in the bush for me. They are one of those birds that watches you as you watch it, creating a sense of mutual wonder. Both males and females are gorgeous in their own way. They will pair up for the year with their mate, never straying too far, seemingly connected by an invisible string as they move through the trees at eye-level.

I’ve seen Scarlet Robins twice at our place in Campbells Creek, which is just beside a tributary that leads into the creek itself. One was also seen at Connecting Country’s Campbells Creek monitoring site during a bird walk in July this year. This was only the third time a Scarlet Robin has been recorded at the site.

Scarlet Robins and other ground-feeding native birds are becoming more abundant in response to the maturing revegetation that the Friends of Campbells Creek Landcare have planted along the creek. They need good quality habitat to thrive, which is why they are one of Connecting Country’s newest indicator species of environmental health for this region. If you see a Scarlet Robin, you can send through your observation to tanya@connectingcountry.org.au and help build the picture of how this lovely species is doing in the region. For more information, visit http://connectingcountry.org.au/about/projects/securing-woodland-birds/bird-monitoring/

A male Scarlet Robin, by Geoff Park

 

Flora of Castlemaine and surrounds – the online guide is launched!

Posted on 9 August, 2017 by Connecting Country

On 1st August 2017, the online edition of the Wild Plants of the Castlemaine District was formally launched.  This comprehensive guide contains details on the identification, locations, preferred habitats and history of hundreds of native and introduced plant species found in Castlemaine and surrounding areas.  It can be viewed at the following stand-alone website location – https://www.castlemaineflora.org.au.

In November 2016, local natural historian – Ern Perkins – sadly passed away.  Ern’s passion for the understanding the intricacies of natural environment was matched by his passion for sharing his knowledge with others.  A few months before his passing, he first launched this compendium of local plant species as a freely available resource via USB memory sticks.  Ern had developed this guide based on information that he and others had collected and compiled over more than 40 years.  With the support of Ern’s family since his passing, the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club has worked with a local IT graphics firm to make this guide available as an online resource, allowing it to reach a much wider audience.  Financial contributions and other support towards this important project has also been provided by the Friends of the Box Ironbark Forests (FOBIF) and Connecting Country.  Each of these organisations will have a link to this flora guide from their websites.  A permanent link to it has been established from the Connecting Country website here.

It is intended to be a dynamic website, with updates made over time in response to taxonomic changes, new photographs and new findings.  Landholders, Landcarers, students and many other people from the Mount Alexander Shire and beyond will appreciate this valuable and easy-to-use resource.

 

Pint-sized carnivore devours a Grey Fantail

Posted on 7 August, 2017 by Tanya Loos

We love it when Connecting Country landholders send in photographs of interesting flora and fauna observations. In April 2017, Tamsin Byrne sent us an astonishing series of photos of a Yellow-footed Antechinus hunting and eating a Grey Fantail at their bird bath. Tamsin and her family live on a beautiful Trust for Nature property in Sedgwick.

For those new to the Antechinus – they are small carnivorous marsupials related to Brush-tailed Phascogales or Tuan, Eastern Quolls, Tasmanian Devils – comprising a group know as the Dasyurids. Most are nocturnal, but the Yellow-footed Antechinus is actually diurnal, and so observed by landholders and birdwatchers during the day. Geoff Park has taken some wonderful portraits of these endearing mammals on his blog Natural Newstead; CLICK HERE. With their golden colour, round ears, sweet little paws, and confiding nature, the antechinus are very sweet and well-liked by all.

However! Appearances can be deceptive, and they are actually a top level predator! Large arthropods such as centipedes, insects, eggs and nestlings are commonly listed as prey items – but now we must also add adult birds to that list. Tamsin added some great captions to the photographs – please click on each photo with your mouse to go through each photo in the set. Many thanks to Tamsin for this exciting series of photos of nature “red in tooth in claw”!

 

 

 

New Reptile and Frog Brochure Available

Posted on 28 July, 2017 by Asha

Connecting Country’s newest brochure, Reptiles and Frogs of the Mount Alexander Region, is now out in the world! CLICK HERE or on the picture to download a pdf copy. You can grab a hard copy of this brochure by dropping by our offices, or by contacting asha@connectingcountry.org.au. Our local Landcare groups will also soon have copies available to share. 

The brochure includes beautiful photos of 8 frogs and 30 reptile species found in the Mount Alexander Region, plus tips for landholders on how you can help our local reptiles and frogs. Some of these tips include creating and improving habitat on your property and on public land by:

  • Creating ground-level shelter and food sources by ensuring there are plenty of logs, sticks, rocks, and leaf litter around
  • Helping degraded land regenerate by planting indigenous species, excluding grazing, and controlling noxious weeds
  • Protecting intact native woodlands and grasslands
  • Keeping predators such as foxes, cats, and dogs under control
  • Joining your local Landcare or Friends group
  • Creating a ‘frog bog’ or retrofitting a dam to provide frog habitat
  • Refraining from using herbicides and pesticides when rainfall is predicted, and minimising or avoiding their use near wetlands and waterways

Connecting Country’s Reptile and Frog Monitoring Program is being undertaken with the support of the Ian Potter Foundation.

 

Wombat numbers on the rise

Posted on 21 July, 2017 by Tanya Loos

Wombats thrive in Western Victoria: Staff member Tanya Loos, who lives 7km north of Daylesford,  shares a story about our burgeoning wombat population.

Coming home from work a week or two ago, I was just a couple of kilometres from my house. The car in front of me slowed to a stop. A medium sized mammal with a distinctly square bum ambled in front of their car and disappeared into the dark forest.
A wombat! A Common Wombat – also known as the Bare-nosed Wombat – in Porcupine Ridge! There are plenty of Wombats around Trentham, Glenlyon, and throughout the Wombat Forest, but in 15 years of living in Porcupine Ridge I had accepted the fact that while we have koalas, the wombats didn’t occur this far north. However, it seems the fortunes of wombats in western Victoria are changing!
In early 2016, a wombat caused quite a stir as it was photographed in the Gunbower forest, literally hundreds of kilometres from the nearest population. Peter Menkhorst, from the Arthur Rylah Institute was contacted to comment and he stated “The most westerly population of wombats on the Great Dividing Range is around Trentham and Daylesford, where the Campaspe begins”. He believed the wombat may have been an orphan pouch young that was released far from where it was rescued. Read the article in the Bendigo Advertiser here.

A healthy wombat, photographed by Connecting Country’s wildlife cameras at his or her burrow in Sutton Grange.  (Ignore the date on the photos – it was taken in 2014)

After seeing my Porky Ridge wombat, I searched online and found a fantastic website called WomSAT. This website is an initiative of the University of Western Sydney, and encourages people Australia-wide to record their wombat sightings. The map is really is easy to use, and enables you to note down whether the wombat was dead or alive, and if it suffered from mange. You can also record burrows. The WomSAT website can be accessed here.

On this map, there were at least eight sightings of living wombats between Bendigo and Daylesford from 2015- 2016, in Harcourt, south of Bendigo in Sedgwick and a big concentration in the Baynton area to the east.

I had a chat with my Connecting Country work colleagues Bonnie and Jarrod who have been documenting an increase in wombat sightings all through the Harcourt and especially Sutton Grange area – one property had a network of burrows with 50-60 entrances!

The same wombat having a little scratch

So what is going on?! My Mammals of Victoria book, also by Peter Menkhorst, states that wombat distribution on a local level is ‘probably most dependent on the availability of suitable burrow sites in association with food supply’.  The wombats do not like very dense forest, but any open habitat seems to do – with habitats ranging from alpine heathland, to wet forests, dry forests and coastal scrub and tea tree heath. Most of the burrows noted by Bonnie and Jarrod have been on creeklines which are tributaries of the Coliban River, and surrounded by open forest or woodland.

Wombats were declared vermin in 1906, and there was a bounty on them from 1925 – 1966. This put the already diminishing western Victorian populations on an even deeper downward spiral and they disappeared from the volcanic plains and indeed, anywhere north of the Great Dividing Range.

Anecdotally, the recent increase in wombat numbers has been noticed after the Redesdale fires in early 2009, part of the devastating Black Saturday fires. The fires may have caused a dispersal of the wombats into previously unoccupied territory.

So if you are in open forest along a creekline north of Daylesford and south of Bendigo, keep an eye out, a wombat family could be your new neighbours!

If you are logging sightings on WomSAT or sending us in a sighting on our Special-Species-Sightings-Sheet-2017, make a note whether the Wombat is healthy or not. Sarcoptic mange is a hideous parasite that Wombats catch from foxes. The mites cause the most severe mange affected skin and swelling around the eyes – and the wombat gets very sick indeed, and eventually dies. More information on wombat mange can be found here. Happily,  wombat lovers and advocates have discovered that they can add a pesticide ointment to a flap on an affected wombat’s burrow and this treatment saves the wombat without it having to be captured and taken to a shelter.

 

 

What We Found – Results of Reptile and Frog Monitoring

Posted on 14 July, 2017 by Asha

The Plains Froglet (Crinia parinsignifera) or Common Froglet (Crinia signifera) was one of the species found under the tiles (photo by Sylvia Reeves).

Connecting Country’s Reptile and Frog Monitoring results are in! Thanks to the participation of over 40 landholders who have hosted the terracotta tiles, we now have a snapshot of some of the species lurking in our paddocks, revegetation and bushland.

A total of four reptile and one frog species were recorded in the 2016-17 monitoring period. The reptile species included Garden Skink (Lampropholis guichenoti), Bougainville’s Skink (Lerista bougainvillii), Large Striped Skink (Ctenotus robustus), and Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis). The frog species was identified as either Plains Froglet (Crinia parinsignifera) or Common Froglet (Crinia signifera) – further identification was not possible in this case without a permit to handle the animals.

For each of the different habitat types (intact woodland, revegetated woodland, and paddocks), the number of individuals and the number of species was measured. Both the number of individuals recorded and species diversity were highest at paddock sites. There were less individual frogs and reptiles in revegetated woodland than in intact woodland habitats, while the number of species found in these two habitats was the same. We also looked at the differences in how many sites had frogs and reptiles present between the different habitat types. In this case, intact woodland came out the highest and revegetated woodland the lowest. The tiles also proved to be popular homes for many invertebrates, which will hopefully be good tucker for any reptiles and frogs that decide to move in later.

The relatively low number of reptiles and frogs found overall during this monitoring period was not unexpected. The method of using roof tiles to monitor often has a low recovery rate, and these tiles had only been out on the ground for a relatively short amount of time. Connecting Country hopes to continue to work with landholders and Landcare groups to monitor the tiles through citizen science – with the number of species detected likely top increase over time.

The Large Striped Skink (Ctenotus robustus) was found at three of our monitoring sites (photo by Linda Craig).

You can be involved in the citizen science continuation of this project in a number of ways:

  • CLICK HERE for a data sheet to monitor reptiles and frogs on your property. You can observe reptiles and frogs by undertaking active searches under tiles or debris on the ground, listening for frog calls, or sitting and waiting near a spot you think they might like to visit.
  • Send photos of interesting reptiles and frogs on your property to Connecting Country and we can share them on our Reptile and Frog Monitoring web page and Facebook page.
  • Learn more about our diversity and beautiful reptiles and frogs and how to identify them by using the many resources available on our resources page (CLICK HERE).

Please send your data sheets and photos to asha@connectingcountry.org.au or to Connecting Country, PO Box 437, Castlemaine, 3450

Connecting Country’s Reptile and Frog Monitoring Program is being undertaken with the support of the Ian Potter Foundation, and with monitoring tiles provided by the Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning.

 

Nature News – 6th June 2017 Master spinners of silk; the Orbweavers

Posted on 8 June, 2017 by Connecting Country

For this month’s Nature News (also on page 28 of this week’s Midland Express), local writer Dr. Lynne Kelly shares her love of spiders and knowledge of two local species of Orbweavers commonly found in the Castlemaine region.

Left: Garden orbweaver in her web at night. Photo taken by: Dr Lynne Kelly

“I adore spiders. I used to be an arachnophobe but knowledge cures an irrational fear, slowly at first. Then one day I watched an orbweaver spin her web from start to finish. That was the day I became a spider-obsessive. In the Mount Alexander Shire two varieties of orbweavers dominate – the large golden orbweavers who stay on their webs all day and the slightly smaller garden orbweavers that spin in the evening and scamper to hide in the foliage at dawn.

We have a few species of garden orbweavers. They are all in the Eriophora genus, distinguished by two prominent projections near the front of the abdomen. Garden orbweavers usually remove most of their web before dawn, re-absorbing the protein in the silk to use again. A single reinforced strand is left across the gap between bushes or trees in the hope that it will still be there the following evening. If that strand is broken, the spider will point her abdomen skyward and release a fine filament of silk. In even the slightest breeze, this silk will catch on foliage and she will rush across, back and forward, to reinforce the mainstay of her web. She will then drop to the ground and attach an anchor. She’ll rush up again to spin the radials and a spiral outwards. From the edge of her nearly complete web, she will then circle back towards the centre laying down the sticky spiral. Having worked tirelessly for nearly an hour, she will rest, head down, waiting for her prey.

Right: Golden orbweaver in her web by day with a tiny male approaching from above. Photo taken by: Dr Lynne Kelly

Unlike the garden orbweavers, the huge golden orbweavers stay on the web all day, constantly repairing and reinforcing it. It is not the spider which is golden but the glow of the silk when it catches the sun. All the individuals I’ve seen locally are the Australian Golden Orbweaver (Nephila edulis). Discarded debris is left in the web above the spider to confuse the birds. Male garden orbweavers are only marginally smaller than their females but the males of the golden orbweavers are tiny by comparison [see above photo on right]. Although the males of most spider species will survive their sexual encounters, the Nephila males sacrifice themselves in their final act. Having produced a golden egg sac, the female will then die with the first frost.”

For further reading, Lynne’s book, “Spiders: learning to love them” (Allen & Unwin, 2009) is an excellent resource for those interested in finding out more about these amazing creatures.

 

Pre-1852 original indigenous trees in Maldon

Posted on 23 May, 2017 by Asha

Yellow Box (Eucalyptus melliodora), estimated age 530 years, Bill Woodfull Reserve, Maldon (photo Frances Cincotta)

Bev Phillips has kindly provided this article about the amazing work Maldon Urban Landcare (aka MULGA) have been doing to protect the trees that have been around Maldon since before the gold rush. Anyone familiar with this landscape knows how precious our large old trees are, so thank you MULGA for helping look after them!

“The primary objectives of this project conducted by MULGA in 2017 were to obtain detailed records for original indigenous trees that were growing before 1852 (pre-European settlement) in Maldon, and to achieve long-term protection for these trees under the Mt. Alexander Shire Council Planning Scheme, or an appropriate alternative scheme.  The large, old indigenous eucalypt trees still surviving in the township of Maldon are of significant environmental and historical significance, and are rare examples of pre-European settlement vegetation in an urban setting. The recorded trees are estimated to be aged between 175 and 645 years old.

Initial work for this project was carried out by the late Wendy French in 2009-2010.  In early 2017 MULGA members, assisted by Frances Cincotta from Newstead Natives, conducted a detailed survey of trees with a circumference of at least 1815mm, measured at a height of 1.3m.  Sites surveyed were the Maldon Primary School, Maldon Hospital, Bill Woodfull Reserve, the Maldon Police Lockup land and St. Brigid’s Catholic Church.  In addition two trees on a private property and four roadside trees were surveyed.

Of the 61 pre-1852 original eucalypt trees recorded on public and private land in Maldon, 64% are Eucalyptus microcarpa (Grey Box); there are 8 Eucalyptus goniocalyx (Long-leaved Box), 8 Eucalyptus polyanthemos subsp. vestita (Red Box) and 3 Eucalyptus melliodora (Yellow Box).  49 trees are estimated to be 200-399 years old and there are 3 trees estimated to be aged 400-499 years and one tree 530 years. This means that 80% of the trees are estimated to have started growing between the years of 1618 and 1817.

In addition, MULGA members surveyed 36 pre-1852 eucalypt trees on parts of the Maldon Historic Reserve – the lower slopes of Anzac Hill, Pond Drive, and part of The Butts at the base of Mt. Tarrengower.  The species recorded are Grey Box (50%), Yellow Box (28%), Red Box (17%) and one tree each of Long-leaved Box and Eucalyptus camaldulensis (River Red Gum).

CLICK HERE for more information and links to two maps which show the location of all of the pre-1852 eucalypts recorded.  There is also a brochure, Living Treasures, available in the Maldon Visitors Information Centre, which includes information and a map for some of the pre-1852 trees.”

 

The Big Twitch on a smaller scale

Posted on 2 March, 2017 by Connecting Country

A Weebill – one of the smaller woodland birds on David’s “to get” list on his web page. Photographed by Geoff Park.

Those who attended Connecting Country’s 2015 AGM will recall Sean Dooley’s amusing recollections on his attempts to break the record for the most bird species seen in Australia within a calendar year.  He also wrote a self-deprecating book recounting this crazy adventure that he undertook in 2002 – The Big Twitch – which was popular among both birders and non-birders.  Tongue-in-cheek, the back cover of the book described Dooley’s efforts as possibly ‘the most pathetic great achievement in Australian history’!

Dooley’s book has inspired many other ‘twitchers’ to either attempt to break his Australian record, or to set new records for the most birds seen within state boundaries. (For example, Tim Dolby saw a then-record 345 species in Victoria during 2009 – click here to read of Tim’s journey).

However, as far as we are aware, no one has yet claimed the record for the most bird species seen within the boundaries of the Mount Alexander Shire in a calendar year.  However, that is all set to change, with local birdwatcher David Wilson deciding to undertake a big year in a small area.  After recently moving with his family to the Castlemaine area, David has taken on the challenge in 2017 as a fun way to get to know the forests, wetlands, waterways and other habitats of the shire.  As at the 22 February 2017, he had seen 104 different bird species.  Over the past four decades, the Castlemaine Field Naturalist Club members have recorded more than 230 species from the shire and surrounds – although many of these were very rare visitor or accidental vagrants, and not all within the shire boundaries.  At least one species has gone extinct from the local area in this time – the last known Grey-crowned Babblers from the shire sadly disappeared in the early 2000s. David is not sure how many species he will get within the year – but an impressive 200 species seems within the realms of possibility.

If you would like to see how David is tracking, the rules he has set himself, which species he has seen so far and where, and what he has left to go – you can visit his website (click here – scroll down on each webpage to see the details).  David has also asked us to pass on the following message – “‘As the end of the year gets closer, I’ll be looking for any hints on where to find those missing species. So keep your eyes open – you may know where a key species is that I still need to see”.

Good luck David!

 

 

Skink Shenanigans – news from our reptile and frog monitoring program

Posted on 16 February, 2017 by Asha

In 2016, Connecting Country set up a new reptile and frog monitoring program across the Mount Alexander region. With the help of 42 landholders and over 20 volunteers, we have recently finished checking the 480 monitoring tiles. These tiles make up 48 sites across the region, distributed between sites of intact woodland, revegetated woodland, and grasslands/paddocks.

We had some interesting finds under the tiles, and we’ll be sharing these results soon. Frogs, juvenile snakes, several species of skinks and many invertebrates all seemed to love living under the tiles. It was often quite a challenge to tell the species apart, especially when they move at lightning speed!  Here is a video of two skinks that we’ve seen underneath the tiles.  Can you guess what they are?

CLICK HERE to find out more about Connecting Country’s Reptile and Frog Monitoring program including links to some useful resources to help you identify some of your own discoveries. Contact Asha for more information at asha@connectingcountry.org.au or (03) 5472 1594.

Connecting Country’s Reptile and Frog Monitoring Program is being undertaken with the support of the Ian Potter Foundation.