Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Bird of the month: the chatty Crimson Rosella

Posted on 13 February, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our first-ever Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’ll be taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to be joining forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome any suggestions from the community and our supporters. We are lucky enough to have the talented Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about the first-ever bird of the month. We know you’ll be familiar with the first bird off the ranks. We thank Jane for the following words, the first of many posts to come.

Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans)  

Recently I returned from a month-long conservation volunteer hiking trip pulling weeds in coastal south-west Tassie. As I sat looking out on the bush from my living room, a Crimson Rosella flew in to drink from one of the many freshly fill birdbaths around my home. It walked in that funny fashion parrots do which is slightly pigeon-toed, up to the rim of the pot base holding water and dipped its head for a drink. Using it’s incredibly dexterous foot, it then scratched its head, turned and flew off.

A mature Crimson Rosella (above) and two immature Crimson Rosellas (below) showing the different coloring (photos by Jane Rusden)

There are various races (forms, often denoted by color variation), but let’s take a look at our local Crimson Rosellas. Mature adults have a vibrant crimson head and chest, with mid to very dark blue wings and tail. Immature birds are olive green in the body and head, as they mature the crimson replaces the green. Both mature and immature birds have a mid-blue patch which extends from the lower mandible (bill) to the cheek.

Being a parrot, they have an extremely strong, down-curved bill, which is powerful enough to crack wattle and grass seeds, as well as gum nuts. Like many parrots, they are amazingly expert chewers, which is useful when renovating tree hollows in eucalyptus at breeding time. For such a powerful bill, Crimson Rosellas can use it to be very clever and delicate at manipulation of all manner of things.

 

 

 

Primarily you’ll see Crimson Rosellas in trees, thought they do wander about on the ground at times. They are a species that can be found in both the local Box Ironbark forest as well as in towns and gardens. I mentioned tree hollows – parrots need tree hollows in which to nest and raise their young. In our area much of the bush was cleared during the gold rush, which in tree terms is not that long ago. Therefore, there hasn’t been the passage of time for trees to grow old and develop tree hollows. You might like to consider putting up a Crimson Rosella nest box in your garden. I have several at my place and they are used regularly by a number of species, including Crimson Rosellas.

To listen to the varied and lovely calls of the Crimson Rosella, please click here.

 

Distribution of the Crimson Rosella (image from Atlas of Living Australia)

 

Words by Jane Rusden

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s who in the Connecting Country zoo: Frances

Posted on 13 February, 2020 by Ivan

We thought it might be nice for our friends and supporters to get to know the team at Connecting Country, and learn about why they joined us. First off the ranks is our director and superb (fairy wren) leader, Frances Howe.

Frances joined Connecting Country in 2017, after a career in assessing and managing environmental and social impacts of large development projects, across Australia and around the world. She has led environmental teams in Melbourne, Adelaide and Dubai, and been an environmental advisor for a non-government organisation in Lesotho (Africa). Her qualifications including a Bachelor of Science (Honours) and Master of Environment from the University of Melbourne. Having travelled far and wide, including living in the Middle East, Africa and the United States, Frances returned to settle in Castlemaine. She lives with her husband and dog on a bush block outside Castlemaine, surrounded by the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park, where she enjoys watching the wildlife and rehabilitating the degraded landscape.

What motivated you to join Connecting Country?

Throughout my life and career I’ve focused on practical ways to reverse environmental problems, initially in addressing the effects of land contamination, then in managing natural resource projects to reduce environmental and social impacts. Connecting Country offered a new challenge, a compelling opportunity to use my skills to help my local environment and community.

After 20 years as an environmental consultant, I was ready for a more meaningful role, helping make a difference on the ground. Connecting Country impressed me because it does real stuff to stop environmental degradation and improve habitat at a grassroots level. We don’t just talk, we work with community to deliver practical actions based on scientific evidence. I think that’s pretty cool.

What have you learnt from your time at Connecting Country?

The Connecting Country team have taught me heaps about our local plants and animals, but I still have much to learn! I am endlessly amazed by the rich pool of visionary, knowledgeable, committed and resourceful people within our local community, and their capacity to drive positive change. So many locals freely dedicate their time, land, skills and money to repair the land and care for wildlife. I’ve also learnt it’s really difficult to get funding, even when our work is essential to secure a viable future for ourselves and fellow inhabitants of the land.

Which projects do you manage at Connecting Country?

I manage the team and the overall organisation, rather than individual projects. A big part of my role is developing projects and sourcing funding. I work with Connecting Country’s dedicated management committee, oversee finance and administration, review documents, manage staff and support the team as needed. As a people manager, I aim to empower and support the team to plan and run their own projects. I’m proud and impressed how each of them has stepped up to build their skills and develop as project managers. It’s an honour and pleasure to work with such a collaborative, committed and talented bunch of people.

How did you first become interested in our natural environment and our unique ecosystems?

As a kid, all my annual summer holidays were spent camping in the lush forest of the Otways. There I got curious about the plants and animals, why they were there and how they all fitted together. At university I initially enrolled on a different path, but another camping trip made me reassess and change to study ecology. Growing up, I also spent a lot of time at my aunt and uncle’s tiny cottage near Daylesford, which is how I came to love central Victoria.

How do you spend your time away from work?

I’m fortunate to be passionate about my work, so there is little distinction between work and everything else. When not in the office I like to do yoga, grow veggies, enjoy good food and wine with my man, hang out with my dog and chooks, fix up old stuff and work on restoring my land. I’m an avid traveller – I’ve been to a lot of places, but currently enjoy being in one place.

 

What is your favourite movie and why? 

I love a lot of movies but my favourite is Lantana. It’s a carefully crafted mystery, but really so much more about trust, relationships and chance. And it’s named after a weed!

What is your favourite place to visit in our region and why?

If I have to choose just one, it’s Leanganook Track along Forest Creek in Wesley Hill. Castlemaine Landcare has done an incredible job of converting it from a highly disturbed wasteland into a beautiful home for native plants, frogs and birds. It’s inspiring.

 

 

 

 

Birdlife Castlemaine AGM: Saturday 7 March 2020

Posted on 13 February, 2020 by Ivan

Our partners and friends at BirdLife Castlemaine are having their Annual General Meeting (AGM), following their monthly bird walk. It is a good chance to hear their achievements and what is planned for the year ahead, as well as enjoy a bird walk at the lovely Mount Tarrengower. Here are the details from BirdLife Castlemaine.

Please be advised that the 2020 Annual General Meeting of the BirdLife Castlemaine District Branch will be held on Saturday 7 March 2020 at 11.30 am at 25A Church Street, Maldon VIC.

The meeting will follow the monthly bird walk to be held on Mount Tarrengower. Morning tea will be available from 11.00 am. A nomination form for committee positions is available by contacting BirdLife Castlemaine via email (castlemaine@birdlife.org.au). The positions vacant are Convenor, Secretary, Treasurer and committee members. A proxy voting form is also available. Please consider nominating for the committee.

Nomination forms and proxy voting forms should be emailed to castlemaine@birdlife.org.au OR mailed to: Secretary, BirdLife Castlemaine District Branch, 25A Church Street, Maldon VIC 3463. Nominations will also be accepted on the day of the AGM.

Best wishes
Secretary – BirdLife Castlemaine District Branch

For further information please – click here

Twenty-eight bird lovers enjoyed ‘Breakfast with the Birds’ and February 2020 Bird Walk at Warburtons Bridge, Glenluce VIC (photo by Birdlife Castlemaine)

 

 

 

 

Have your say on regional biodiversity planning: book now

Posted on 13 February, 2020 by Ivan

Here is a great opportunity to be part of the conversation about land, water and biodiversity in your area, the Regional Round Tables. Join the North Central Catchment Management Authority (CMA) and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) at one of their 2020 roundtable sessions to have your say about what you value in the region. This year’s roundtables focus on renewing the CMA’s 2021-2027 Regional Catchment Strategy and DELWP’s Regional Biodiversity Response Planning. They give the community a unique opportunity to have input directly into these important plans.

There are four sessions in North Central Victoria during March 2020, so please save the dates and attend if you can:

  • Tuesday 17 March: Harcourt Leisure Centre Hall.
  • Thursday 19 March: Kerang Memorial Hall.
  • Tuesday 24 March: Charlton Memorial Hall.
  • Thursday 26 March: Inglewood Football Pavilion.

All sessions are from 6.00 – 8.30 pm with meal available at 5.30 pm.

To book your seat at the table: click here 

The round table event will allow community members to nominate their important biodiversity assets (photo by North Central CMA)

 

More about this event, from the North Central CMA website:

Tell us about your local area, what you value and where we should focus our efforts on land, water and biodiversity management. Each year the North Central CMA engages our regional communities to talk about natural resource management through a series of regional roundtable meetings. This year we will be co-hosting with DELWP. The roundtables will focus on renewing our Regional Catchment Strategy for 2021-2027 and Biodiversity Response Planning for the region. Each roundtable will run from 6 pm to 8.30 pm with a meal available from 5.30 pm. For more information contact North Central CMA Project Manager, Nina Cunningham on nina.cunningham@nccma.vic.gov.au

 

eBird learning tool: a different approach

Posted on 6 February, 2020 by Jess

Being new to bird watching can be a daunting and exciting experience for many, with plenty of birds seemingly having similar appearances and attributes. Thankfully there are many excellent books, guides, smartphone apps and community groups that can assist with the learning of how to identify birds in your region. But we all know that practice, practice, practice is the key to getting familiar with our incredible birdlife in the field and learning from experienced bird-watchers is a great opportunity in our region (see Birdlife Castlemaine’s monthly birdwalk). To the beginner, it can very hard to tell similar species apart, such as the variety of Lorikeets in our region pictured below. Can you recognize who is who?

However, if you cannot get out into the field as often as you like, or cannot access locations to practice your bird spotting skills, there is another way to improve your skills on our local species. We’d like to introduce you to a great learning assistant: eBird Photo and Quiz

Each custom quiz presents you with 20 birds that occur at a date and location of your choosing, pulled from millions of photos and sounds added to the Macaulay Library by eBirders around the world. Guess the species—and don’t worry if you’re wrong—this challenging quiz is for your own fun and learning. After each guess, you’ll rate the photo or sound for its quality, helping curate the Macaulay Library so it is more useful for you and for science. It can be quite a challenge, but we do enjoy that you can choose any location in the world and any date, and get a different mix of birds for every quiz. Sure, it is not as good as being in the field with an expert to guide you, but it could be the next best thing. It is particularly enjoyable to listen to the sounds that go with each bird.

Give it a try, and see how many you can guess correctly.

There is also a useful smartphone app that we highlighted in a previous blog, that we find very useful: Ask Merlin, what is that bird. 

Can anyone guess this local beauty? Photo: Ebird

 

 

You are invited! Join us for the Landcare Link-up – 29 February 2020

Posted on 6 February, 2020 by Asha

Are you interested in learning more about our local Landcare/Friends groups? Maybe you want to get involved in environmental volunteering, meet like-minded people, show your support, or just want to know what Landcarers have been up to? Come along and join local volunteers at the February Landcare Link-up at the Castlemaine Uniting Church Hall.

This is the third annual Link-up dedicated to sharing the stories of Landcarers from the Mount Alexander region and highlighting some of the key projects and achievements. This year Landcarers are keen to invite the broader community and stakeholders along to be part of the journey and learn from the various groups in our region. The Link-up is always a casual and fun affair, with stories from a variety of groups and plenty of time for chatting over hot drinks and snacks.

To read about the Sharing Stories Landcare Link-up in 2019, please click here.

When: Saturday 29 February 2020, 4:00-7:00 pm

Where: Castlemaine Uniting Church Hall, 24 Lyttleton St, Castlemaine Victoria, Australia.

RSVP: by February 24 2020 to asha@connectingcountry.org.au or call (03) 5472 1594

Click here to download the invitation for the Landcare Link-up.

 

Become a Connecting Country Member: Join us on our landscape restoration journey

Posted on 6 February, 2020 by Ivan

We have noticed many of our supporters are not currently members of Connecting Country. The support we offer is not exclusive to our members, but we would love to sign up some new people and increase our membership in 2020. By being a member, you are showing your support for Connecting Country, and assisting us to achieve our aims and objectives. Membership provides insurance cover when you attend our events and activities or volunteer with us, and also allows you to vote at our Annual General Meeting and have a say on our future direction.

We currently have 250 valued members and would be thrilled to increase our membership to over 300 members this year. More members will assist us when applying for grants and presenting to potential funding bodies.

Membership is free, and needs to be renewed annually. Applications from first time members are submitted to the Committee of Management for official approval.

To become a member of Connecting Country for free, and help us on our mission of landscape restoration, please click here.

Connecting Country runs community education events, attracting over 1,000 attendees in the past year (photo by Ivan Carter)

 

For a quick recap of some of what we do and why it’s important, view the following video.

How Connecting Country began

In 2007, the Normal Wettenhall Foundation (now Wettenhall Environment Trust) developed a work plan for supporting community-led landscape restoration in south-east Australia. The Executive Officer contacted Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests (Mount Alexander Region), an environment group in Castlemaine, to see if there was interest in working collaboratively across the region on a landscape restoration project. A reference group formed, eventually leading to the creation of Connecting Country.

During 2008, the project produced a Biodiversity Blueprint (click here for details) that identified our assets, the possible threats they face and what future actions we can take. It suggested directions, clarified priorities in landscape restoration and helped reconcile cultural, agricultural and natural values.

In 2009, Connecting Country worked in partnership with the North Central Catchment Management Authority to implement a program across the local landscape with a specific focus on the threatened Brush-tailed Phascogale (Tuan) and its Yellow Box Woodland habitat.

Since 2012, we have implemented programs related to local Landcare support, habitat connectivity and pest plant and animal management. We have supported development of local action plans, habitat enhancement for woodland birds, community skills training in environmental management and biodiversity monitoring. For more information on our current projects click here.

Ted Macarthy with a revegetated Acacia (photo by Leonie van Eyk)

 

Rabbit Buster Workshop – 16 February 2020

Posted on 4 February, 2020 by Asha

Are you a property owner or Landcare member wanting to manage rabbits? Wondering what to do next?

Barkers Creek Landcare & Wildlife Group are hosting a workshop and demonstration day as part of the annual Rabbit Buster Month campaign, with support from Connecting Country, Agriculture Victoria, and North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA).

The session will cover:

  • Best practice rabbit management- presented by Agriculture Victoria’s Leading Biosecurity Officer, Jessica Seidel.
  • Integrated rabbit management.
  • Case studies from local Landcare groups and land managers.
  • Rabbit management demonstration by Jarrod Coote (field site visit).

Click here to download the flyer with more information about the workshop and how to register.

Why manage rabbits?

Rabbits have been significant pests in Australia since they were released near Geelong, Victoria in 1860. Rabbits are one of Australia’s most serious pest animals and typically:

  • Destroy pasture, crops and plant communities, impacting on agriculture and the environment;
  • Cause soil erosion and associated sedimentation of waterways;
  • Compete with native fauna for food and habitat.

For more information and resources about rabbit management, click here.

Rabbits can impact native vegetation, revegetation, and pastures alike. Photo: Pest Smart CRC

 

A massive thank you for your generous donations

Posted on 30 January, 2020 by Ivan

It’s been two months since we launched our first campaign seeking your contributions to Connecting Country, so it is a good time to update our subscribers and members on progress to date.

Thank you!

Firstly and most importantly, we would like to thank you all for being part of the Connecting Country community, joining with many others in supporting our shared vision for landscape restoration across the Mount Alexander region. The valuable work we do couldn’t happen without people like you – whether it’s volunteering time to help with wildlife monitoring, joining our education events, or participating in our on-ground projects – making our vision a reality is only possible with community support.

Our first-ever ‘support us’ campaign was prompted by a major decline in the funding available to community groups like Connecting Country. We know that with the combination of our track record of ten years of successful landscape restoration, great plans for the future, and lots of persistence, we can secure funding for some projects from governments and grantmakers. But we also know that lots of small, on-ground projects are not enough to keep us thriving and focused on long-term plans that go well beyond short-term funding opportunities.

Donation update

Since our request for help in December 2019, we’ve received a total of $3,370 in donations from our generous Connecting Country supporters, as well as another amazing donation of $5,000 from a local landholder family specifically to support our 2020 bird monitoring program. One marvelous anonymous supporter chose to donate $1,000 to Connecting Country, rather than worthy bush fire appeals, because they believe the work we do now will help everyone into the future. Some of our extraordinary supporters have chosen to make a regular monthly donation.

This has warmed our hearts and lightened our outlook for 2020 and beyond. Your support will allow us to continue restoring the landscape, monitoring change and educating the community on best practice sustainable land management. We are thrilled to see your support in all forms – financial, volunteering or other – and feel very special to have such a strong connection to our community.

What’s next

We should all be proud of what we’ve achieved. However, there’s still more to do. With your support, 2020 will see us continue to help landholders with on-ground actions, prepare for climate change, maintain our commitment to long-term monitoring, and deliver events that inform, educate and inspire.

If you have not already donated but would like to, we are continuing our campaign and still welcome your contributions. Donating is easy – just use our secure online service (click here) or download our form if you’d prefer cheque or cash (click here). All donations to Connecting Country are tax deductible.

Thanks again for your support for Connecting Country. It is much appreciated.

Connecting Country committee and staff

 

Meet the team: who’s who in the Connecting Country zoo?

Posted on 30 January, 2020 by Frances

We thought it might be nice for our friends and supporters to get to know the team at Connecting Country, in case you don’t already. Over the coming blogs we will feature each member of our dedicated Connecting Country staff team, including a little about their interests and why they joined Connecting Country.

Here is an overview of our current staff and when you’ll usually find them in the office.

  • Frances Howe – Director (Monday to Thursday)
  • Asha Bannon – Landcare Facilitator (Monday to Thursday)
  • Jacqui Slingo – Landscape Restoration Coordinator (Monday to Thursday)
  • Bonnie Humphreys – Landscape Restoration Coordinator (Mondays and Thursdays)
  • Ivan Carter – Engagement Coordinator (Tuesdays and Thursdays)
  • Jess Lawton – Monitoring Coordinator (Mondays and Tuesdays)

We also want to let you know that our wonderful Asha Bannon will be taking extended leave from mid-March to September 2020. During this time, the very capable Jacqui Slingo will take over as Landcare Facilitator, while local expert Bonnie Humphreys takes the lead as Landscape Restoration Coordinator.

The team at Connecting Country, minus Ivan Carter, who is pictured below with Jess Lawton. Photos: Heather Barrett and Tanya Loos

 

 

The concept of covenanting for conservation

Posted on 30 January, 2020 by Ivan

Have you ever wondered about conservation covenants and how are they applied? Did you know that we have already lost 80% of our biodiversity on private land in Victoria? We recently caught up with Senior Conservation Officer at Trust for Nature, Kirsten Hutchison, to learn more about this important conservation measure and what it means for landowners across our biodiverse nation. Here is a summary of the questions we asked Kirsten, which we hope will assist landowners in our region better understand covenants and the work Trust for Nature do in Victoria. Kirsten has been with Trust for Nature for nearly a decade and based out of the Castlemaine Office.

What is the concept of conservation covenanting properties?

Conservation covenants are voluntary. They are agreements on property titles that enable private landholders to protect nature forever, even after the property changes hands. Conservation covenants are set up for free—costs are covered so there is no cost to the landholder—and they are one of the most important things a landholder can do to Victoria’s environment.

Why should a landowner consider covenanting a property?

Since 1835, 66% of Victoria’s native habitat has been cleared. This has been most acute on private land, where 80% of biodiversity has been lost. Around 60% of land in Victoria is currently privately owned. Victoria is the most intensively settled and cleared state in Australia so it’s critical that we protect what’s left. This makes private land protection vital if we’re going to save Victoria’s threatened species and ecosystems. National and state parks are simply not enough.

Across the state, more than 1,450 private landholders have protected threatened woodlands, wetlands and grasslands with conservation covenants. These places are home to some of Victoria’s most threatened species such as the Helmeted Honeyeater and Plains-wanderer.

Kirsten Hutchison from Trust for Nature and Jody Gunn at Bush Heritage Australia, on Bush Heritage’s Nardoo Hills Reservem which has Trust for Nature conservation covenant on it. Photo: Bush Heritage Australia.

What are the criteria for covenanting a property?

Generally a property needs to be at least 10 ha in size, have good connectivity and contain high quality remnant native vegetation. Priority is given to properties that have threatened species and vegetation types present on them. Trust for Nature is guided by its Statewide Conservation Plan which identifies 12 priority landscapes across Victoria that will make the greatest contribution towards conservation on private land. The plan also identifies 148 native plants and 88 wildlife species to target for conservation on private land.

Who do I contact about discussing conservation covenants?

Contact Trust for Nature Head Office in Melbourne on (03) 8631 5888 and they can direct you to the appropriate regional staff member. In North Central Victoria you can contact Kirsten Hutchison (Senior Conservation Officer) on 0459 168 865.

What are the restrictions on covenanted properties?

A standard covenant generally does not permit:

  • Native vegetation removal.
  • Introduction of any non-indigenous vegetation.
  • Subdivision.
  • Deterioration in the quality, flow or quantity of water.
  • Removal of wood or timber.
  • Removal or disturbance of soil or rocks, including cultivation.
  • Application of fertiliser.
  • Pasture establishment.
  • Recreational use of trail bikes and other recreational vehicles.

However, these standard restrictions can be modified in certain circumstances where the Trust is satisfied that the conservation of the land will not be adversely affected, i.e., the Trust can give permission for a temporary variation of the covenant via a ‘Letter of Approval’.  Permission granted by a letter of approval is conditional on the upholding of the conservation values of the property.

What are the benefits for biodiversity and our ecosystems?

Together with conservation covenants and reserves, we have protected more than 100,000 hectares across Victoria. This provides safe places for native animals and plants forever and helps to protect some of Victoria’s most threatened species such as the Helmeted Honeyeater, Growling Grass Frog and Red-tailed Black Cockatoo.  We also work with partner organisations such as Zoos Victoria and the Royal Botanic Gardens which rely on covenanted land for the safe release of plants and animals from captive breeding programs.

The Trust’s stewardship program provides ongoing support to landholders with a conservation covenant. The aim of the program is to ensure that all significant areas covenanted by the Trust are managed to maintain and enhance (where possible) the conservation values by preventing and controlling any threats to the biodiversity of a site. The program does this by providing the following services to landowners:

  • Practical assistance: A site management plan is prepared for each proposed covenant in consultation with the landowner during the initial covenanting process.
  • Technical advice: The Trust sources and provides technical advice to ensure landowners have access to up-to-date conservation related land management advice.
  • Education: The Trust provides resources to enable landowners to improve their knowledge about managing and monitoring their covenanted properties. This is achieved through field days, information sheets, developing flora and fauna monitoring programs and one-on-one contact with landowners.
  • Financial assistance: The Trust provides information on financial assistance that may be available from time to time for covenanters, including incentive grants for conservation activities (such as fencing, pest plant and animal control, and revegetation), rate rebate schemes with local councils, and tax concessions for the protection of covenanted properties.

Protecting and enhancing biodiversity on private land has public benefits to ecosystems and sustainable landscapes. The landowner named this paddock ‘Kirsten’s Paddock’ as a tribute to her efforts in protecting this important Plains-wanderer habitat.  (Photo by Kirsten Hutchison)

 

Trust for Nature – some general facts:

  • TfN are a not-for-profit Victorian conservation organisation and are one of Australia’s oldest conservation organisations, established by an Act of the Victorian Parliament in 1972.
  • Together with conservation covenants and reserves, has protected more than 102,000 hectares across Victoria.
  • Trust for Nature has registered more than 1,459 conservation covenants since 1986
  • Trust for Nature owns 42 nature reserves across Victoria, including the iconic Neds Corner Station, a 30,000 hectare property near Mildura that was once part of the Kidman empire.
  • Trust for Nature uses a revolving fund to buy and sell private land with high conservation values. They protect these properties with conservation covenants then on-sell them to new owners.

Watch the following video for an overview of Trust for Nature’s valuable work.

 

Bird walk at Warburtons Bridge – 1 February 2020

Posted on 28 January, 2020 by Frances

Birdlife Castlemaine District Bird Walk: Saturday 1 February 2020 at Warburtons Bridge, Glenluce VIC

Birdlife Castlemaine’s next walk takes us to Warburtons Bridge, Glenluce VIC. The walk will be preceded by ‘Breakfast with the birds’ at the Warburtons Bridge picnic ground on the Loddon River.

Please bring food to share, your own drinks, cutlery, etc. Breakfast will commence at 8:30 am followed by a walk of approximately 1 km. Birds that may be seen include Brown Treecreeper, White-browed Scrubwren, Eastern Yellow Robin and various Honeyeaters. Unusual sightings at this area have included Brown Quail and Spotted Quail Thrush.

There is a toilet at the camping ground.

Location and directions: Warburtons Bridge is located on the Drummond-Vaughan Road, Glenluce VIC. Coming from Castlemaine, travel to the destination via Chewton and Fryerstown on the Vaughan-Chewton Road.  At 3.1 km past Fryerstown turn left onto the Drummond-Vaughan Road.  Warburtons Bridge is on the left, approximately 1.8 km from this turnoff.

Time: Meet at the destination at 8:15 am, or to carpool from Castlemaine meet at 8:00 am outside Castlemaine Community House, 30 Templeton Street, Casltemaine VIC.

Bring: Water, snacks, binoculars, hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, sturdy shoes, long pants during snake season, and other weather-appropriate gear.

Important information about walks: Walks will be cancelled if the temperature is forecast to be 35 degrees or more during the walk period, severe weather warnings are in place, persistent rain is forecast, or if the day has been declared a Total Fire Ban day. We’ll continue monitoring the forecast, so please check BirdLife Castlemaine’s Facebook page (click here) on the evening before the walk in case we have to cancel due to the weather conditions.

Image result for warburtons bridge glenluce

BirdLife Castlemaine District

Questions? If you have questions, you can email BirdLife Castlemaine (castlemaine@birdlife.org.au), or call or text Judy Hopley (0425 768 559) or Asha Bannon (0418 428 721).

All levels of experience are welcome – they’re a friendly bunch and the walks are a great chance to learn from and have fun with fellow birdwatchers.

 

Nest box monitoring reports are ready!

Posted on 23 January, 2020 by Asha

Nest boxes for phascogales

The Brush-tailed Phascogale is a carnivorous marsupial distinguished by its bushy tail. Once widespread through central Victoria, its range and numbers have severely declined due to habitat removal, degradation and introduced predators. It is listed as Threatened under Victorian legislation and considered vulnerable to localised extinction. Lack of old trees with nesting hollows is one factor that likely limits recovery of this species, which depends on hollows for shelter and breeding.

In 2010-11 Connecting Country installed 450 nest boxes designed for Brush-tailed Phascogales across the Mount Alexander region. We carefully located these nest boxes in a range of forest types, to allow for scientific analysis to understand phascogale distribution and habitat preferences. We have monitored our nest boxes every two years, but lack of funding makes further monitoring difficult. Ongoing monitoring is essential to determine if the Brush-tailed Phascogale is still declining, or management actions helping.

Our 2018 nest box monitoring

In 2018, we monitored Connecting Country’s nest boxes for the fifth time since they were installed in 2010-11. This monitoring season was notable, as it was the first time our monitoring program was not funded. However, we were able to monitor our ‘core’ group of 300 nest boxes, either by volunteering our own time, or incorporating nest box monitoring into our other professional roles. Beth Mellick (Wettenhall Environment Trust), Jess Lawton (La Trobe University) and Asha Bannon (Connecting Country) coordinated an amazing army of volunteers to complete our 2018 nest box checks.

To download the snapshot report – click here . For detailed methods, results, discussion, and acknowledgments, please email info@connectingcountry.org.au for a copy of our comprehensive report.

Thank you!

Our nest box monitoring program simply would not continue without the help of our community. We are most grateful for your ongoing support. Connecting Country would like to say a special thanks to the Wettenhall Environment Trust and La Trobe University for making the 2018 nest box monitoring possible. Thanks also to our amazing nest box volunteer helpers in 2018: Jeremy, Lori, Naomi, Bev, Paul, Gayle, Carmen, Mal, Damian, Frances, Lachlan, and Meg. A special thank you to Karen, Alex, Corey, Lou and Cara for their assistance in collating, managing and sharing our nest box data. The nest box data was analysed as a part of Jess Lawton’s PhD project at La Trobe University, and thanks are due to Andrew Bennett, Greg Holland and Angie Haslam at La Trobe University for support and statistical advice for this analysis. We also acknowledge the support of Helen Macpherson Smith Trust in helping facilitate our move to citizen-science based monitoring.

The Wettenhall Environment Trust generously provided us with funding in 2019 to maintain and repair nest boxes and report on our 2018 nest box check. And of course, a big thank you also to the hundred or so landholders who continue to host the nest boxes and support our monitoring program.

Looking to the future, we are thrilled that Connecting Country has received funding from Bank Australia to conduct nest box monitoring in 2020. This funding will support field work, project management, data entry and volunteer training during the coming year. We look forward to continuing to work with our community to monitor nest boxes and look after our phascogales in 2020 and beyond.

 

How to help wildlife in hot weather

Posted on 22 January, 2020 by Ivan

Central Victoria’s summers are often relentless, and don’t seem to be getting cooler and wetter anytime soon. Hence it’s a good time to reflect on the best methods of helping wildlife survive the warmer months. Thankfully, there is plenty of information already published and proven to work, which we’ve summarised in this post.

Animals Australia provides the following useful summary of priority actions that you can do to at your place to help wildlife right now.

1. Leave water out for animals

Sweltering summer days can be uncomfortable to be outside in for just a few minutes. Imagine what it’s like for animals who have no way of escaping the heat. During extreme heat waves, native animals can suffer terribly and even die. The simple act of providing them safe access to water can help them cope.

Water tips:

Birdbaths are an excellent way to provide water to thirsty animals, although they do not cater for ground-dwelling animals (photo by  Frances Howe)

  • Leave shallow dishes of water in the shade. Try to avoid metal dishes unless they’re in full shade as they will get very hot in the sun.
  • Put some dishes high up or in trees if you can, to help keep wildlife safe from predators.
  • Use shallow bowls if possible, as small birds can become trapped in deep dishes and drown. Cat litter trays can be suitable and inexpensive.
  • If you use large bowls or buckets, be sure to place some sticks, rocks and/or bricks inside to allow any trapped animals to make their way out.

2. Keep dogs and cats indoors

Not only will this help your animal companions escape the heat, but it will enable thirsty wildlife to access water in your backyard safely.

3. Cover your pool

It may feel counter-intuitive to prevent wildlife from cooling down in your pool on a hot day. But heat-stressed animals looking to cool down are at risk of drowning in the deep water. It’s not great for animals to be drinking pool water anyway as it may make them sick. Ensure animals have access to safe and fresh water sources in your yard instead.

4. Keep an eye out for heat-stressed wildlife

If you spot any critters who look like they’re struggling, call your local vet or local wildlife rescue group (for contacts – click here) for help. During natural disasters (e.g., bushfires), wildlife carers can be overwhelmed, but your local vet may be available and can assess the situation and treat injured animals (for free).

Tips for heat-stressed wildlife:

  • Be particularly mindful at dusk and at night as many nocturnal animals will be more active during this time.
  • Prepare an emergency kit to keep in your car including water, a blanket or towel, and a box. For kit suggestions – click here
  • Save a few local wildlife rescue contacts in your phone so that you can ring for advice if you need it. For contacts – click here
  • Help reduce the chances of animals being hit on the road. For details – click here

5. Share your fruit trees with hungry wildlife

The colorful Rainbow Lorikeet is well adapted to searching for backyard fruit if needed (photo by DPI WA)

Wildlife who have survived through bushfire are hungry. They have not only lost their homes, but their sources of food. During this time of ecosystem disturbance and habitat loss, it’s never been more crucial to protect species like flying foxes, who are key pollinators for many plants. The more flying foxes we can keep healthy and happy, the better our ecosystems will survive and regenerate. So consider taking down your fruit tree netting, and share some fruit with native wildlife.

6. Know what to do if you find distressed or injured wildlife

If you have found an animal who is visibly distressed, wrap them loosely in a blanket or towel if it is safe to do so, and place them in a cardboard box, before placing the box in a dark, quiet and cool place. Injured animals will often be quite frightened, so if there is a risk they may scratch or bite, wear gloves and try gently ushering them into a washing basket without touching, them instead of wrapping them in a blanket or towel.

Offer water but not food and call a wildlife carer immediately, or your local vet. Never pour water into an animals’ mouth -it’s not natural and can cause additional distress and even physical harm. Instead, provide cool water in a bowl and allow them to lap from it.

 

 

 

 

 

Bushfires: a hellish time for wildlife and humans alike

Posted on 22 January, 2020 by Frances

The bushfires raging over the past few months have been some of our worst on record, with record heatwaves and below-average rainfall making conditions very difficult for fire fighting and survival of our wildlife. It has been estimated that over 16,000,000 hectares of land have been burnt from June 2019 to January 2020 across Australia, making for some very challenging times for regional communities and ecosystems.

Although our region has not been directly affected by these fires, there are many options and organisations that currently advise and assist wildlife affected by the bushfires. One of the best articles we have seen was from Intrepid Landcare (click here). It gives a summary of the issues, resources, solutions and helping options.

Also of interest is a blog post from our former celebrity employee, Tanya Loos (click here), on how to help during the bushfire crisis. It covers the many requests and campaigns for helping wildlife in the recent bushfire areas.

 

I spy…baby goannas in Shelbourne!

Posted on 16 January, 2020 by Asha

Can you see the young Tree Goanna (Varunus varius, aka Lace Monitor) in the photo below?

Many thanks to Newton Hunt for sending through these observations from his property in Shelbourne, Victoria. Newton said the one pictured is about 0.6 m long, but two larger goannas of 1.2 m and 1.5 m also visit the property regularly.

An interesting fact from the Bush Heritage website about Tree Goannas is that they ‘will dig holes into the side of termite mounds to lay their eggs. This is clever as the termites then rebuild the nest around the eggs, keeping them safe and at a constant temperature. When the young hatch the mothers return to help dig them out.’

Young Tree Goanna in Shelbourne (photo by Newton Hunt)

Newton also sent us these two photos of Wedge-tailed Eagle chicks he watched being reared in 2019:

 

What is the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas and why should we use it?

Posted on 16 January, 2020 by Ivan

We often get questions from the community and land owners asking about the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (VBA) and why it is important. We also get questions about where people should add their surveys, and sightings of flora and fauna, to ensure government agencies can access and consider the records. The VBA uses consistent data standards in recording species observations and conservation efforts, and contains over seven million records across the state of Victoria.

The VBA is the web-based information system designed to manage information about native and naturalised species occurring in Victoria. The system includes species attribute information, including origin and conservation status, along with more than six million records of species distribution and abundance. All published records have been through the verification process including review by a panel of Victorian experts. The VBA includes data submitted to Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) from external sources as well as the Department’s own data collections from systematic surveys and general observations. The VBA replaces several legacy systems, including the Victorian Flora Site Database, Atlas of Victorian Wildlife, Aquatic Fauna Database and Victorian Rare or Threatened Plant Population monitoring (VROTPop) systems.

Connecting Country enters the data from our monitoring program onto the VBA. With amazing volunteer helpers, we are currently entering all historical data from our surveys and observations. This will assist the government agencies in planning and reporting on biodiversity outcomes. We hope it will result in better planning and management outcomes for biodiversity. The data from the VBA feeds into the Atlas of Living Australia, but not vice-versa, so Connecting Country recommend that all flora and fauna data is entered onto VBA first and foremost, as it will also be added to the Atlas of Living Australia. Stay tuned for our upcoming blog post about the Atlas of Living Australia.

Here is a summary of how the VBA works from the DELWP website, including how users can register to enter data and contribute to statewide biodiversity planning. Click on the links for further information.

What is the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas?

The VBA species observations are a foundation dataset that feeds into some of the many biodiversity tools used in DELWP’s everyday decision making – showing where wildlife is now and how this has changed over time.  This makes it a core input to the majority of the governments processes and programs that impact native species.

It is used in conservation status assessments, Habitat Distribution Models (HDMs) that feed into the Strategic Management Prospects and Native Vegetation Removal Regulations and into our public land management, research activities and State of the Environment reporting.

You can use the atlas to search and map species from across the state, check for threatened species in your area. Also, by sharing your observations in the VBA format you can help us measure the progress to meeting the Biodiversity 2037 targets.

Victorian Biodiversity Atlas

Adding your records to the VBA is your main way to influence a range of government investment, regulation and management decisions.

The VBA includes a dynamic list of all species found in Victoria and provides information including conservation status. Currently there are more than seven million records of species distribution and abundance collated from many different data providers.

We have also released a mobile, simplified version for recording your general observations called VBA Go. Click on the link for more details, videos and help guides to get you started.

For more information on the VBA, please click here.

 

Turtle wisdom – slow down and watch the dam

Posted on 16 January, 2020 by Ivan

It was turtle time in Chewton last week, with local legends Marie Jones and John Ellis sending in some excellent photographs of a family of Long-Necked Turtles living in their dam. The dam has turned out to be important habitat for a family of turtles, with the larger creeks and rivers mostly dry in the long hot summers of central Victoria. The Eastern Long-necked Turtle is an east Australian species of snake-necked turtle that inhabits a wide variety of water bodies and is an opportunistic feeder. It is a side-necked turtle, meaning that it bends its head sideways into its shell rather than pulling directly back. Please enjoy the words below from Marie and John, who were kind enough to send in the observation and good news story. Feel free to send us your incidental observations of nature and wildlife – we’re always keen to share them with our friends and supporters.

‘We knew we had the odd interesting swimmer living in our dam – one had already been in the January Chewton Chat (last photo). But it was a social visit by staff from Connecting Country that really opened our eyes. They spotted long-necked turtles of varying sizes, maybe a family.

The dam is now a prime focus and counting the heads a daily routine. Seven heads up at the same time is the current record. A dam lot of interesting life out there…’

 

Could gene drive technology help control local weeds?

Posted on 9 January, 2020 by Ivan

No doubt one of the most controversial topics in our community is genetic engineering and gene manipulation. But what if it could potentially eradicate the invasive plants that cause irreversible damage to threatened species and agricultural assets across the Mount Alexander region, and the country? Connecting Country recently heard an interview with some leading researchers from CSIRO on ABC Radio National, that provides some interesting examples of controlling invasive plants and animals using new gene manipulation technologies. While we do not necessarily endorse genetic engineering, this technology is an interesting future option for minimising the impacts of invasive species on native bushland and farms.

Below is a link to the seven minute long interview with Andy Shepperd, Health and Biosecurity Research Director for Invasive Species at CSIRO, regarding his work in the area. A summary of the interview is also available from the ABC website.

The process of engineering DNA to help wipe out pests has sparked heated debate across the world. But as the research advances in mosquitoes and edges closer for rodents, Australian scientists want authorities to think about using gene drive technology on plant pests too. Their research suggests it could save the hundreds of threatened native plants and protect Australia’s crops.

Featured:

  • Michael Lamond (Agronomist)
  • Luke Barrett (Research Scientist at CSIRO)
  • Andy Shepperd (Health and Biosecurity Research Director for Invasive Species at CSIRO)

Reporter: Stephanie Smail

To listen to the interview: click here

Gorse is an invasive species that has impacted over 100,000 hectares of land in Victoria (photo by Gorse Task Force)

 

 

New climate webinar series to keep you informed!

Posted on 9 January, 2020 by Asha

Agriculture Victoria is running a free lunchtime climate webinar series in 2020, where participants will hear from a broad range of expert speakers from Agriculture Victoria, Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), CSIRO and other agencies.

Some of the webinar speakers in February and March include BoM’s Luke Shelley, discussing their new Local Climate Guides for Victorian regions, and CSIRO’s John Clarke, sharing the new Victorian Climate Change Projections 2019. Also from BoM, Climatologist Andrew Watkins will discuss the new BoM seasonal forecast products and new multi-week and seasonal outlooks.

The webinars will also be recorded so if you cannot join on the day, you can listen later.

For further information and scheduling details: click here