Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

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

 

How to Create Frog Friendly Habitats

Posted on 16 November, 2015 by Connecting Country

Renowned local ecologists, Elaine Bayes and Damien Cook have produced two terrific youtube videos:’Frogs and their Calls’  and ‘Frogs and their Habitats’. The information is well presented and relevant to our local area. Each goes for about 30 minutes. Click on each image below to view:

Elaine

Damien

 

Farewell to a comrade on Muckleford Creek

Posted on 19 October, 2015 by Connecting Country

Connecting Country Works Crew Member, Ned Brook, shares a moment from out on the job on the Muckleford Creek…

The Connecting Country Works Crew are out fencing along Muckleford Creek. The nearby cows are restless, they’ve been restless all morning. They’re young cows, perhaps they are just a little jittery. But these cows have been on this property for a while now, something is up.

Ned's cows

Ned’s cows

“Do you know what’s wrong?”

We say to one another.

“No, but they seem really uneasy.”

“I know, they’ve been like this all morning.”

“Yeah, I think something’s wrong, I just don’t know what.”

I continue with my work, fencing off these very cows from the creek bank that they use. Cows are lovely creatures but they are not selective; they will eat anything that’s green. The grass on the creek banks is usually greener, and stays greener for longer. So the cows will continuously graze until the grass, using all its energy to grow and stay alive, has had enough.

All of a sudden, the cows move through a gap in the fence where they can cross the creek. Their hard hooves and immense weight pass over the now bare soil on the creek bank. They push it further down, compacting it, and at times collapsing whole sections. If the situation persists the soil will slowly degrade and become weak and vulnerable.

The cows pass through the unhappy creek. You can tell it is unhappy because it hasn’t seen water for a long time, aside from the floods that carve whole sections off the vulnerable bank. Now the trees seem upset too with their gnarled roots exposed. This is why we are fencing this creek off, to give it a chance to rehabilitate and be happy again.

The cows move further away into the property, then take a sweeping left turn and move back toward the creek and stop. They all stop at once. I also stop, and stare.

In groups of two or three the cows move slowly forward, stare a long time at something on the ground, sniff some, then return to the group. It takes a while for me to realise what they are doing. One of their friends, their comrades, has fallen, passing away in the night due to some ailment. The cows have come to farewell a friend.

 

Our majestic paddock trees

Posted on 23 September, 2015 by Connecting Country

Connecting Country Works Crew Member, Ned Brook, shares his love to our mighty paddock trees…

I noticed you out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t supposed to be looking for you, we were meant to have our attentions on a malfunctioning drainage pipe, but I saw you all the same.

I saw you as we were driving over toward Maldon. The area surrounded on three sides with metamorphic mountains and a depression in between. This is where I found you.

I turned, after I caught a glimpse of you, and witnessed your full majesty. Standing there, tall and strong, healthy. A Yellow box. A beacon to birds and wildlife all around you. I was so taken back by you that I couldn’t concentrate on the pipe.

Holy Goat Cheese and Sutton Grange Organic Farm

Big Yellow

I thought to myself, you stand there, tall and magnificent, providing invaluable services to all around you. To the farmer who relies on you to keep that troublesome water table down below. To the birds who you feed, in their thousands, that visit you every year. To the koalas, possums, phascogales who you protect. Not to mention the teeming insects that live within and use your trunk and bark as a home.

It impressed me how you stand and provide this service with little need or thanks. But you’re beyond that aren’t you, you’ve been here far longer than any of us.

But there is something you need, that we can help with. You have a few friends in the paddock with you, some equally aged and wise old things that I’m sure you converse with regularly. But what about the young ones? Where are your children? Who’s there to take up the reigns when you finally decide to take a final rest? What you need is a fence.

We’ve helped out some brothers and sisters of yours, in a special paddock over in Sutton Grange. We planted friends for them, young boisterous things that will settle down with age. And we fenced them in, to protect them from the wandering cattle and mischievous sheep. But we wouldn’t even need to do this for you. All you need is a fence, some room to grow, and you’d do the job yourself.

 

Spring brings new opportunities with Connecting Country

Posted on 14 September, 2015 by Connecting Country

As winter comes to an end, so does the planting season for revegetation.

Jarrod Coote out checking the growth of one of our direct seeding sites.

Jarrod Coote checking the growth at one of our direct seeding sites.

It’s been a busy few months for the Connecting Country team, who have been planting and direct seeding indigenous species on private lands around the Mount Alexander Shire. Our work aims to creating better links for wildlife movement between the existing important habitat areas.

This year brought a new team of crew members – Lauren, Ned and Jason. The crew, which turns over each year in order to make the opportunity available to as many local people as possible, have been focused on planting, weed and rabbit control and the installation of protective fencing – while also receiving formal and in-house training in a range of natural resource management techniques.

‘Often the diversity is there in the landscape ready and waiting – we just need to give the seeds a chance. Fenced off land allows not only the trees to establish and grow, but also those bushes and ground herbs and grasses that are such important wildlife habitat’ says Alex Schipperen, team leader of the works crew.

‘The beauty of this program is that we have funding available to partner with landholders and create habitat solutions that suit the landholder, and have great outcomes for biodiversity. Bringing areas of native vegetation onto a property also increases productivity by providing shade and shelter for stock, and increased protection for crops, so it’s a win-win situation.’

With the winter rush over, the team are now starting to plan the next round of projects. Land owners across the region who would like to see if their property is well placed to become part of these projects are encouraged to get in touch with Jarrod, Bonnie or Mel at the Connecting Country office on 5472 1594 or send an email to jarrod@connectingcountry.org.au .

This project has been supported by Connecting Country, through funding from the Australian Government.

 

Golden times in the sun (with slideshow)

Posted on 5 December, 2014 by Connecting Country

One of the most threatened species to occur in the Mount Alexander shire and surrounds is the Golden Sun Moth (Synemon plana).  This day-flying moth is considered to be ‘critically endangered’ on Federal legislation and ‘threatened‘ on state legislation.  Its preferred habitat is native grasslands and grassy woodlands, but it is also occasionally seen flying over agricultural paddocks that still contain a good cover of native grasses – particularly wallaby grass (Austrodanthonia spp.).

This moth has an unusual life history – the full details of which are still being discovered.  The adult female moth rarely, if ever, flies.  Instead, she will mostly perch on the bare ground between grass tussocks on warm-to-hot days during the months of November to January, displaying her golden-coloured hind wings.  The male moths (which have reddish-coloured hind wings) fly low over the sparse grassy vegetation, on the look-out for the female moths.  After mating, it is believed that the female lays her eggs near the base of grass tussocks.  The larvae then emerge from the eggs, and burrow down into the soil to feed; maybe on the roots of the grasses – or perhaps they feed on the mycorrhizal fungi that grows on the roots.  After one or more years underground feeding, the larvae then pupate and emerge as adults moths to begin the cycle again.  The adult moths have no mouthparts at all – and as such they only live for a maximum of 3-4 days after emerging, which is as long as their stored energy allows.

The adults moths will also often emerge en masse.  It is suspected that this is part of a strategy to overwhelm predators such as spiders and robber flies.  Certainly for these predators, the annual emergence of Golden Sun Moths represents a major feeding opportunity.

Adult Golden Sun Moths have been seen in Walmer, Barkers Creek and Taradale over the past couple of weeks by Connecting Country staff member Chris.  Last season they were also seen near Castlemaine, Sandon and Sutton Grange.

A local landholder to the north of Castlemaine provided Connecting Country with the following incredible series of photos of adult moths that she took from her property last summer (2013-14).

 

 

Launch of Wheel Cactus Mapping Appeal

Posted on 16 May, 2011 by Connecting Country

With this post, Connecting Country is launching their appeal for observations of Wheel Cactus to be lodged onto the Community Interactive Mapping Portal. Each month, a randomly chosen submitter of Wheel Cactus records will receive a prize. This month’s prize is a copy of Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country by Chris Tzaros.

Tarrengower School Rd extension (Photo from DPI).

Wheel Cactus Opuntia robusta is an emerging major weed species across Victoria. It has been a substantial problem in the broader Maldon area for many years, and is a potential risk of becoming a similar problem across most of the Mount Alexander Shire and surrounds. The Tarrengower Cactus Control Committee, with Parks Victoria, has made significant inroads in controlling major infestations around the Maldon-Tarrengower area. However, every Wheel Cactus plant is a potential source for a new out-break, and no part of the shire – including gardens, reserves and agricultural land – is immune.

The Department of Primary Industries are also undertaking a project that analyses the spread of Wheel Cactus spread from the Maldon area, and are seeking as many records as possible from all across the region.

With these thoughts in mind, Connecting Country has offered the use of their Community Interactive Mapping Portal (CIMP) to assist in the mapping of Wheel Cactus. The CIMP is a tool that allows any person with access to the internet to submit observations or other activities of interest (e.g. flora, fauna, revegetation, weeds) for particular point locations across the local area. All community members and groups are encouraged to submit past and present location records of Wheel Cactus, as well as other associated information. ANY Wheel Cactus records, even just dots on the map are useful, but more accurate records will be more valuable.

Further details on the Wheel Cactus mapping project, the use of the CIMP and also information on the identification and biology of the Wheel Cactus, can be found by clicking here.