Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

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 naomi

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.