Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

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.

 

Lions? We don’t have lions, but we do have Antlions!

Posted on 17 November, 2016 by Connecting Country

dscn0408Connecting Country’s field botanist, Bonnie Humphreys, came across an interesting creature this week while out in the field conducting vegetation surveys and finding her way around her new camera. Upon return to the office, Bonnie did some hunting around to see what it was that she had captured with her camera. Turns out it is an antlion, but the species remains unknown. Perhaps one of our readers could help us identify it?

The antlions are a group of about 2,000 species of insect in the family Myrmeleontidae, known for the fiercely predatory habits of their larvae, which in many species dig pits to trap passing ants or other prey.

ant-trap

Antlion cone shaped trap.

The sand traps are about 40mm diameter. The Antlion sit at the middle of the trap, covered by loose sands. When an ant or other small insects walks inside the trap, some sand falls into the centre to alert the Antlion. It flicks more sand to the ant and cause the ‘land sliding’. The ant then falls towards the centre and the Antlion attacks the ant by its long jaws.  Some other species larva burrow freely in sand or live on trees as predators. They pupate in soil with cocoon covered with sand. Eggs are laid singly and scattered in dry soil. You can watch another species of antlion in action here.

 

If you do recognise the species we’d love to hear from you, please leave a comment below.

 

Paterson’s Curse – pretty but a problem

Posted on 24 October, 2016 by Connecting Country

The flower of Patterson's Curse close up!

The flower of Paterson’s curse close up!

While out in the field Connecting Country staff, Bonnie Humphreys and Jarrod Coote, have noticed a number of out-breaks of Paterson’s Curse in our region. This weed is easily recognisable at the moment by the swathes of purple flowers. Yes it’s pretty, but it’s also a potentially big problem.

Paterson’s curse is a winter annual herb that often becomes the dominant species in pastures. It is a prolific seeder that can produce more than 5000 seeds per plant per year. Large quantities of seeds may accumulate in the soil over several years. For example, a seed bank of up to 30 000 seeds per square metre has been reported. Seeds may remain dormant in the soil for up to five years.

Paterson’s curse is considered a weed because:

  • It reduces pasture productivity and is toxic to livestock.
  • It can degrade the natural environment, compromising habitat values by crowding out and suppressing native vegetation.
  • Hay and grain infested with it fetch lower prices.
  • It affects human health. Some people are allergic to the pollen and the rough hairy texture of the leaves and stems causes skin irritation in people having close contact with the plant.

The life cycle of Paterson’s curse is important to understand in managing infestations. Currently plants are flowering and set seed from the top of the stem down. The plant then dies back and seeds germinate in the residual bare ground. As the plant grows it forms a rosette and then sends up the flowering stem.

So right now, the best thing to do is to map infestations and chip or spray emerging rosettes in Autumn next year. Rosettes can be easily chipped out and turned upside down to dry in the sun or sprayed with a registered herbicide.

For more information from the Agriculture Victoria website, click here.

 

 

 

Sunday 18th September 2016 – Muckleford Landcare Open Day event

Posted on 12 September, 2016 by Connecting Country

As part of Connecting Country’s Landcare Open Day several local Landcare and Friends groups are hosting public events. Here are the details of this weekend’s event to be held this Sunday the 18th September 2016, in Muckleford.

Muckleford Catchment Landcare

sweetsugars

A bundle of fun, sweet sugar gliders at home in their nestbox.

WHERE: starting at the Muckleford Community Centre, then onto Walmer Conservation Reserve

WHEN: Sunday 18th September, 10am -12.30pm

DESCRIPTION: Muckleford Landcare is happy to invite you to attend a “Public Reserves Bus Tour and Field Day” on Sunday 18th September. There are a number of ‘mysterious’ and interesting parcels of public land in Muckleford that are termed public reserves – some are hidden away and this short bus tour will allow participants to find out about their story. The tour will end up at the Walmer Conservation Reserve at midday where we will work with local fauna expert expert, Miles Geldard, to check the wildlife nest boxes.

A free BBQ lunch is provided. Please RSVP to bethmellick@gmail.com or text 0431 219 980.

A Connecting Country nest box in the field

A Connecting Country nest box in the field

 

 

Winter bird survey highlights

Posted on 1 September, 2016 by Tanya Loos

Tanya has just completed our 2016 winter bird surveys - a grand total of 100 individual surveys - with some interesting results.

Tanya has just completed our 2016 winter bird surveys – a grand total of 100 individual 20-minute surveys – with some interesting results.

After our very dry Spring in 2015 we have had a very wet winter in 2016 – what a relief! Bird activity this winter has seemed to mirror the strange weather patterns – with large numbers of some species, unusual breeding behaviour, and increased numbers of ‘out-of-towner’ visitors!

For the Winter bird survey, I visit our fifty sites in both morning and afternoon which we have been monitoring since 2010. These sites are a mix of paddock sites, restoration sites and intact sites in bushland areas. For more on this monitoring program, follow this link HERE. The sites are located on both public and private land, however I have also included some observations of species seen whilst traveling around from site to site.

The numbers and distribution of our ‘Feathered Five’ seem to be unchanged this winter, with our Hooded Robins of Muckleford and Blue Hills remaining steady, Diamond Firetails in small numbers around Yapeen, Newstead and Clydesdale, and not a single Painted Button-quail observed during surveys! One of these elusive button-quails was  recorded and photographed by a local birdwatcher – great shot David Adam and thanks for permission to use the pic.  Happily, Brown Treecreepers were recorded in the southerly farmland areas of Metcalfe for the first time – a thrilling result as there are no database records for them in the Metcalfe or Taradale Conservation Reserves. With new areas of private land being enhanced for conservation, we may see more of these birds on this eastern side of Castlemaine.

david adam PBQ

A Painted Button-quail on Mia Mia Track, 23/07/2016, by Victorian Birders Group member David Adam.

Silvereyes have been around this winter in big numbers – I have seen flocks of thirty birds!  There are two populations of these lovely little birds – our locals with silvery buff and light rufous underparts, and some winter visitors from Tasmania with a deeper richer version of this lovely reddish colour on their flanks. Geoff’s blog Natural Newstead has more on these attractive birds (CLICK HERE).

I noted large flocks of the brightly coloured European Goldfinch in the Harcourt area, and flocks of about thirty Common Mynas (also known as Indian Mynas) just west of Newstead. Happily, I also noticed a LOT of small native birds, with large numbers of Spotted Pardalotes, Striated Pardalotes and Weebills busily feeding on the flowering Yellow Box.

The Little Corella, a smaller cousin of the Long-billed Corella with a little more blue and less pink around the face, is moving southwards with sightings in Sutton Grange and Baringhup. Pied Currawongs are in greater numbers this year, and not only in town. For the first time since surveys began, Pied Currawongs have been recorded in bushland during surveys. Another bird that is increasing  locally is the Grey Butcherbird, with a few sightings in Castlemaine and also in Walmer. A large  honeyeater may also be increasing locally – the Blue-faced Honeyeater, with sightings around town (including the Castlemaine Botanic Gardens) and in Maldon. Again, check out Geoff’s blog here for more on this species.

I observed Noisy Miners mating in Maldon in May which is quite late in Autumn to commence breeding! But after a poor spring in 2015, perhaps it seemed like a good idea. These aggressive native birds do not seem to be at the high numbers that they are elsewhere such as Bendigo and outer Melbourne, but their local populations are definitely worth keeping an eye on if we are to keep all our abundant bush birds.

I was surprised to see a pair of Scarlet Robins busily building a nest in Barkers Creek in late July, as it was still a very fresh 5 degrees celcius at 10:44am! Getting in early for a good Spring, I suspect. I would have to say though that the highlight of the Winter Bird Surveys was a most unusual visitor – a very confiding and lovely Olive Whistler. The Whistler was recorded by myself and volunteer Jane Rusden on the first survey of Winter at the magnificently regenerating Forest Creek in Golden Point. He or she hopped along the transect for nearly the whole twenty minutes, affording us excellent views.

A special winter visitor: an Olive Whistler. Pic by Francesco Veronesi from Italy (Olive Whistler - Victoria_S4E5352) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A special winter visitor: an Olive Whistler. Pic by Francesco Veronesi (Olive Whistler – Victoria_S4E5352) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 We have Rufous and Golden Whistlers in the region, but the last record of an Olive Whistler to this region was reported in the Castlemaine Field Naturalists News in the 90’s – and they are usually in the Otways or the dense forests east of Melbourne!

If you have noticed unusually high numbers of certain species, or new species visiting your area – we would love to hear from you!

Email tanya@connectingcountry.org.au or call me at the office 5472 1594

Our Woodland Bird Monitoring program is supported by Connecting Country’s Connecting Landscapes program, through funding from the Australian Government.

By Tanya Loos, Woodland Birds Coordinator.

 

Nature News: A beginner naturalist discovers frogs

Posted on 16 June, 2016 by Connecting Country

With all this rain, it’s a good time to share Naomi Raftery’s story of discovery of our more elusive local residents – frogs. She’s found that many different types exist in our waterways and backyards… you just need to use your ears to find them! This Nature News article appeared in the Midland Express on the 3rd May 2016. Also, if you have a copy of last weeks paper (Midland Express, 7 June 2016, page 17), you’ll find a great article by Max Schlachter on our nest box program. 

spottedmarshfrog

Another elusive local resident, the Spotted Marsh Frog, is best identified by its ‘tok tok tok’ call. Photo by Damien Cook

It started in February this year. We had recently moved into a house that shares a back fence with a usually dry creek. A summer downpour of rain and our quiet backyard gained a sort of roaring sound that could only be water. I went to look and rushed back inside to declare that there was a ‘raging torrent’ at the back of our new house.

With that summer downpour came a new interest in my life. Frogs. We knew they were out there, as the soothing sound of a natural amphibian chorus stayed with us in our sleep each night, but we hardly ever saw them. That is until I went into the back yard and saw one pushing itself forward with impossibly skinny back legs. At first I thought it was a rat but the movement was unmistakeable.  I was curious to find out more.

Frogs are hard to identify, so I used the free Frogs Field Guide from the North Central Catchment Management Authority to help. Species in our local area include three types of tree frogs, which have small round pads at the end of each toe, a special adaptation that helps them to climb trees. There are also nine species of a group known as the Southern frogs, which are not brightly coloured or endowed with poisonous secretions for your arrow tips like other frogs, but they are warty reminders to take care of our riparian areas for the next generation of tadpoles.

Identification required me to learn to listen. I started by trying to decipher just one croak. Slowly different noises came clear. There was the ‘bonk’ single call of the Pobblebonk and the ‘crick crick crick crick crick’ of the Common Froglet. It was fun to try and make this noise myself.

Recently the disused bathtub in our yard half filled with water. I walked past and noticed the water ripple and caught sight of a frog stuck in the bath. After fishing it out, my daughter and I released it in the reeds at the back of the house. I identified it as a Pobblebonk and they’re pretty common around here.  Less common are the bright green and very sweet Growling Grass Frogs. This species is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ under the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. A local expert heard them singing at Kalimna Park during the last flood.

As my frog identification journey continues, I’ve gathered a solid set of resources to help along the way. You can download a free copy of the Frogs Field Guide from www.nccma.vic.gov.au. Our local frogs are also highlighted in Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country by Chris Tzaros. I also like www.frogs.org.au.

 

FOBIF Tree exhibition moves to Newstead

Posted on 30 May, 2016 by Connecting Country

Long-leaved Box Eucalyptus goniocalyx, juvenile leaf Strangways Photo by Patrick Kavanagh September 2014

Long-leaved Box Eucalyptus goniocalyx, juvenile leaf.  From Strangways
Photo by Patrick Kavanagh, September 2014

The Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests exhibition, Trees in the Mount Alexander Region, is moving to the new Newstead Railway Arts Hub after a month at TOGS café in March.

The show in Newstead will run throughout June 2016. It will include the photos from the TOGS show and a slide show which will have at least one image from people who sent in photos for the FOBIF Flickr site after a call for photos in January. There are 25 framed photos which are all are for sale with proceeds going to FOBIF.

The Arts Hub show will be open at weekends and the Queens Birthday holiday (Monday 13 June). Opening hours are 10 am to 4 pm. The address is Dundas Street, Newstead (directly across from Railway Hotel). If you would like to view the exhibition outside these days/hours, or help with staffing the show, contact Bronwyn Silver on 5475 1089.

The opening will be at 10.30 on Saturday 4 June 2016. There will be refreshments and everyone is welcome. Bernard Slattery from FOBIF will open the show.

Death Throes Yellow Box Eucalyptus melliodora. Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve Photo by Damian Kelly, November 2015

‘Death Throes.’  Yellow Box Eucalyptus melliodora. From Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve
Photo by Damian Kelly, November 2015

 

 

 

 

Remediation and Other Aspirations

Posted on 19 May, 2016 by Connecting Country

The recent Sutton Grange Landcare newsletter (May 2016 edition) featured an inspiring article by Pam and Grant Workman on their Connecting Country project. Their stunning property on the side of Mount Alexander forms an important part of our Mount Alexander to Metcalfe Link project, the first stage of which was funded through the state government’s Communities for Nature program in 2015.  Thanks to Grant and Pam for allowing us to share their story.

The direct seeding undertaken at the Workman's property.

The direct seeding undertaken at the Workman’s property.

As two townies who came to the country Pam and I took a while to acclimatise to our new environment. Living on anything beyond a suburban block was completely new to me although Pam had some childhood experiences of living in smaller rural communities.

What to do with 22 ha of rolling, if not steep land, subject to all the climatic vagaries of the Faraday Sutton Grange area. One of our sons from his strong interest in terra-culture systems developed a master management plan which in theory looked magnificent. Unsurprisingly it required more energy, time, water and reticulation infrastructure than we had available.

Enter ‘Connecting Country’. Another participant and community member, Natalie McCarthy extolled the virtues of this program at a recent Landcare meeting noting the excellent administration of the program and the responsive staff: we concur with all such affirmations. The program allowed us to isolate stock from our most fragile hill areas, direct seed more land than we would have believed possible, plant 750-800 trees and larger shrubs, and provide for weed and rabbit control.

So what had happened since we got underway in mid-2015? The wind blew, the rain failed to fall, the rabbits were endemic (migrating from adjoining land faster than we could control them), our weed control efforts while effective on our land, faced the onslaught of uncontrolled adjoining properties including the regional forest and we experienced record high numbers of kangaroos running through and over everything in their path. Sounds disastrous. And on the face of it, it was.  We lost nearly every planted tree and shrub being left with milk cartons strewn everywhere with only the odd bamboo stick to indicate where we had once planted.

Pam and Grant have found it pays to be patience when it comes to direct seeding.

Pam and Grant have found it pays to be patient when it comes to seeing direct seeding results.

The good news that it’s not all bad news!  We have learned a lot from observing how our particular situation responds to our efforts.  The direct seeding, after initially appearing to be a dead loss is coming to life like a giant awakening. We suspect that over the coming 2-3 years, even with modest rainfall we will have a significant cover from this process providing habitat for small birds and having a major erosion mitigation strategy in place.

What have we concluded from all of this in our circumstance on our specific block?  Big tick for the Connecting Country program and direct seeding. Planting trees and larger shrubs we think requires exclusion zones (roos, rabbits, weeds), and be no bigger than we can look after with our limited resources in any one year. Each successive year we should be able to create a new zone and go again. We also think that before embarking on such a venture it would have been really helpful to discuss what we planned to do with neighbours and try and include them in the program, if possible, but at the very least have them on board so that weed and rabbit control issues can be bipartisan particularly neared shared borders.

Most of this will be no surprise to those of you who have been custodians of the land in this area for a long time. Us newbies are still getting out heads around it and hopefully learning valuable lessons as we attempt to remediate our land.

Grant and Pam Workman