Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Bird of the month: Black Falcon and Brown Falcon

Posted on 25 June, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our fifith Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly and Geoff Park, and photographs from Ash Vigus. 

Black Falcon (Falco subniger) and Brown Falcon (Falco berigora) comparison

Ash Vigus (local bird enthusiast) took some stunning photos of Black Falcons this month, so here’s a bit of a comparison between this raptor and its cousin, the Brown Falcon. In Central Victoria Brown Falcons are relatively common, whereas Black Falcons are relatively rare, but both species are quite hard to tell apart.

As usual on this blog, I have been assisted by local writer, photographer and bird expert, Damian Kelly. He had this to say:

‘A few thoughts on the Black Falcon, it is a nomadic species that prefers the drier inland. However, it can be seen at places as diverse as the Moolort Plains and the Western Treatment Plant near Werribee. Being an opportunist, it likes places with easy pickings as it is the pirate of the raptors – aggressively chasing down other raptors with prey and snatching it from them. Hence the Western Treatment Plant with lots of prey, including Brown Quail and plenty of other raptors such as Brown Falcons and Black-shouldered Kites, which it tries to pirate. Sometimes referred to as the bully of the raptor world, it has long, sharply pointed wings and flies rapidly – quite a sight! I have seen them following cattle and sheep as they flush up prey such as Pipits and they will hang out around areas with quail. I have also seen them along Rodborough Road (Moolort), a place where mobs of Brown Quail can be seen near clumps of taller grasses. Around this area, Moolort and the road to Clunes are likely spots. Further afield the Western Treatment Plant in near Werribee, is the place to see them.’

Brown Falcon – pale morph, with its pale chest, more upright stance and tail a similar length to its wings (photo by Ash Vigus)

 

Newstead local, prowler of the Moolort Plains, blogger and bird expert, Ecologist Geoff Park has sound advice on Black Falcons and how to distinguish them from Brown Falcons. He says the flight pattern of the two species is quite distinct, with the Brown Falcon appearing sluggish whereas the Black Falcon is more like a Peregrine Falcon – very fast. When perched the Black Falcon appears to be crouched, with a distinct long tail extending past the wings, unlike Brown Falcons whose tails are shorter. Also the Black Falcon has a dark chest, unlike the Brown Falcon.

To confuse the issue, Brown falcons come in three different morphs – pale, intermediate and dark – making it confusing when looking at a Black Falcon. However, the flight pattern, perched stance, tail length and chest colour will give you a nice identification tool kit. For further information on Black and Brown Falcons (or any birds local to Newstead) check out Geoff Park’s fascinating blog, Natural Newstead. Or take a drive on the Moolort Plains west of Newstead in central Victoria, and have a look for various raptor species, including Brown Falcons, and if you’re lucky, Black Falcons.

Black Falcon in its typically crouched perch and long tail, on the Moolort Plains (photo by Ash Vigus)

 

A big thank you to contributors to this edition of Bird of the Month – Jane Rusden, Damian Kelly and Geoff Park – for their amazing knowledge and advice, and to Ash Vigus for his gorgeous photos.

For more information about these birds and to listen to the call of a Black or Brown Falcon – click here

 

 

 

Citizen science projects you can get involved in right now

Posted on 25 June, 2020 by Ivan

The rise and rise of citizen science projects across our region has been heartwarming over the past decade. The passion shown by the Mount Alexander community has been outstanding, with Connecting Country recruiting many skilled and dedicated volunteers to conduct ecological monitoring that collects vital information about the state of our wildlife and environment. In recent years we’ve adapted Connecting Country’s ecological monitoring programs to be directed and delivered by a team of dedicated volunteers, coordinated and supported by a paid staff member. We celebrate our much-loved citizen scientists wherever possible.

Connecting Country’s monitoring projects are only a few of the hundreds of citizen science projects across the nation. Many of these keep important research going and improve the knowledge pool in sectors that cannot attract funding.

We came across an excellent summary of the numerous and varied citizen science projects across the nation, listed on the Australian Broadcasting Commission website. As the article suggests, the recent COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in many people reporting feelings of moderate to high levels of anxiety and depression during this period of uncertainty. The article explains that in a survey of more than 54,000 people last year, more than three-quarters of Australians thought that spending more time in nature would make us happier.

Connecting Country aims to connect our community with the landscape and build their capacity to manage the land sustainably. We feel that our citizen science projects enable the community to be part of caring for our landscape and environment. Our projects can enable people to feel a little hope about reversing ecosystem degradation and be part of the solution at a local scale, while contributing to the larger picture.

Please enjoy a selection of photos from our various citizen science projects and events over the past decade.

The ABC article summarises some impressive projects that are currently up and running working wonders across our nation. The Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA) has a project finder that currently lists 513 citizen science projects right across Australia that you can get involved in. This is a great way to see what is happening in your local area, or to find a specific topic or cause that may interest you as a volunteer.

To access the full ABC article – click here

 

 

 

 

DELWP climate science webinars – 24 and 26 June 2020

Posted on 19 June, 2020 by Ivan

Two interesting and important climate science webinars are open to the community to learn more about Victoria’s climate past, present and future, and what we are likely to see in our region in 2050 and beyond. The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) is running these free online events on 24 and 26 June 2020. A major challenge for Connecting Country, and others working to restore landscapes, is where to find this information and how to apply it to our work. These free webinars will help inform us about the latest science and we can apply it to planning future projects.

DELWP climate science webinars

Want to understand more about the climate change information available for Victoria? How has the climate already changed? What might Victoria’s climate be like in 2050 and beyond? Where do you even start in looking for this information?

DELWP is running two webinars to give an overview of the information from Victoria’s Climate Science Report 2019 and the local-scale Victorian Climate Projections 2019, as well as guidance on understanding and using the information.

Webinar 1: Climate change in Victoria – past, present and future
Date: 1-2 pm, Wednesday 24 June 2020

  • Victoria’s climate has already changed
  • Future climate projections
  • Resources available – using the decision tree to find what you need
  • Victoria’s Climate Science Report 2019
  • Regional information: Victorian Climate Projections 2019 Regional reports, data tables
  • Communicating Climate Change
  • Planning for uncertainty
  • Lots of time for Q&A with the DELWP project team

Join via this link on the day: MS Teams Live Event

Webinar 2: Victorian climate projections 2019 – findings and tips for interpreting
Date: 1-2 pm, Friday 26 June 2020

  • What do the projections say for Victoria?
  • What are the benefits of local-scale climate data?
  • How to understand and work with the different sources of uncertainty in projections
  • Top tips to interpret the projections correctly
  • Lots of time for Q&A with DELWP and CSIRO scientists

Join via this link on the day: MS Teams Live Event

There’s no need to register for the webinars – just save the time in your calendar and click on the links above to join when it’s time. The recording will be available if you can’t make it on the day.

Planning of revegetation projects must incorporate climate science for the best chance of long-term survival (photo by Connecting Country)

 

And the winners are…..woodland birds photography competition 2020

Posted on 18 June, 2020 by Ivan

Connecting Country would like to extend a huge thank you to our community for the fantastic entries into our 2020 woodland birds photography competition. We received a very high number of quality entries for this competition, far more than we expected.

The theme was woodland birds and the competition was open to all Connecting Country members and the broader Mount Alexander region community. The aim of the competition was to highlight our special woodland bird community and share the passion and skills of our passionate local photographers, as well as produce a beautifully printed calendar for 2021.

The judging panel have completed reviewing all the entries and awarded 13 winners to feature in Connecting Country’s 2021 woodland birds calendar – one for the front cover of the calendar, and one bird for each month of the year. Please enjoy the winning photographs below, including the talented photographer behind each image.

The 2021 calendar will be available to purchase in the coming months, so stay tuned and don’t purchase a new calendar quite yet!

Please email us at info@connectingcountry.org.au if you’d like a copy put aside for you.

 

 

Confirm your support for Connecting Country’s work

Posted on 18 June, 2020 by Frances

A huge thank you to our many amazing supporters have been generously donating via our online service as we approach the end of the financial year. Now is a great time to make a financial contribution to Connecting Country’s work if you can. 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. We appreciate all your support, whether large or small.

Thanks also to all our supporters for being part of the Connecting Country community in 2020, joining our shared vision for landscape restoration across the Mount Alexander region. The valuable work we do couldn’t happen without people like you – volunteering time to help with wildlife monitoring, joining our education events, participating in our on-ground projects, giving financial help or just being a member.

We know we have a demonstrated track record of ten years of successful landscape restoration and great plans for the future. However, in the current situation, it’s extremely difficult to secure funding for on-ground environmental projects. Now the COVID-19 pandemic has caused our government and many philanthropic organisations freeze or delay grant opportunities.

We are determined to survive, and maintain our core capacity and current projects until new project funding arrives. However, we need help to maintain the strong foundations essential to our success as a community-driven organisation and keep us focused on long-term plans. With enough support, the coming year will see us continue to help landholders with on-ground actions, prepare for climate change, maintain our long-term monitoring, and deliver events that inform, educate and inspire.

You can be assured that any financial support from you will be well spent, with 100% invested into our core work of supporting and implementing landscape restoration in our local area. We run a very lean operation and our small team of part-time staff attracts voluntary support that ensures every dollar goes a long way.

As a Connecting Country supporter, you’ve already contributed to some amazing successes. Since beginning in 2007 we have:

  • Restored over 9,500 ha of habitat across the Mount Alexander region.
  • Delivered more than 200 successful community education events.
  • Secured funding to deliver more than 50 landscape restoration projects.
  • Supported a thriving network of 30 Landcare and Friends groups.

Thanks again for your support for Connecting Country. Making our vision a reality is only possible with strong community support. Please enjoy this gallery snapshot of some of our 2019-20 activities.

 

 

Cultural surveys in Castlemaine and Bendigo

Posted on 18 June, 2020 by Ivan

We received a great newsletter update from Harley Douglas, Dhelkunya Dja Project Officer with Djandak, about recent cultural surveys in our region, as well as some impressive flora and fauna surveys. The results of these surveys will feed back into fuel reduction plans and management practices for these important public land assets within Dja Dja Wurrung Country in central Victoria. It is heartening to see the wisdom and knowledge of Traditional Owners influencing land management practices across our treasured parks and woodlands. There is also an important survey to complete regarding what the community enjoy about these parks and reserves.

Walking Together – Balak Kalik Manya – update

The Walking Together- Balak Kalik Manya Project is a four-year project committed to writing site-specific management plans for two sites within Dja Dja Wurrung Country; Kalimna Park in Castlemaine and Wildflower Drive in Bendigo. Both sites were selected due to their proximity to growing townships and the increasing pressures of urbanisation slowly encroaching both park boundaries. The project is exploring how we can increase community connection with nature, how to improve visitation rates and encourage healthy use of these sites, all while maintaining and improving biodiversity. The project will promote Djaara employment and assist in Djaara reconnecting with traditional practices of land management.

Since the previous newsletter, our flora and fauna assessments have now been completed with terrific results in mapping Eltham Copper Butterfly (Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida) populations and clusters of Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) habitat within Kalimna Park. Similar surveying was completed at Wildflower Drive to detect the presence of the Eltham Copper Butterfly but sadly, there were none detected. The elusive Pink-tailed Worm-lizard’s (Aprasia parapulchella) presence was discovered at Wildflower Drive. This is an important find as our surveying information and mapping of this species, and other threatened and important species, has been provided to DELWP to inform their scheduled fuel reduction burns at the site.

We have also recently completed an extensive camera trapping program across both sites with Tactecol Consulting, in total 36 cameras were setup for a month to record and monitor the presence of a broad range of animals; but with a focus on arboreal marsupials such as Tuans, Sugar Gliders and Possums. Kalimna Park had promising results with Tuans but unfortunately, Wildflower Drive did not record the presence of any Tuans, Sugar Gliders or Possums. This was extremely disappointing given that the One Tree Hill area of the Greater Bendigo National Park (just a stone throw away from Wildflower Drive) is known to have healthy populations of these animals. However, this disappointing result provides an opportunity to investigate a range of management actions to help these struggling animals. Such as a rope bridge over Strathfieldsaye Road connecting the One Tree Hill block to Wildflower Drive, and this also provides an opportunity to construct and install nest boxes onsite in conjunction with school groups and local community members to help attract and provide a home for these important species at Wildflower Drive.

Cultural surveying will continue as more rockwells and other areas of cultural significance have been discovered and recorded within Kalimna Park, many thanks to the vigilant community members who are keeping an eye out for items of cultural significance and making us aware of the location for verifying. So far, all the items of cultural heritage I have been asked to look at have been legitimate- showing that some members within the Castlemaine community have a keen eye for Djaara culture.

Hanging out in some Wire-leaf Mistletoe (Amyema preissii) in Kalimna Park. Does anyone know the name of this groovy looking species of larva?

 

During April this year, we were planning on beginning consultation with the community to better understand what it is the community aspire their parks to be. Given the current global circumstances with COVID-19 we have had to delay this process until we knew how to best approach the situation. We will be going ahead with community consultation, starting NOW, in the form of a short, online survey. The survey asks questions about demographics and prioritisation of specific management actions that have been suggested for the parks. This survey is just the beginning of the community consultation we are planning to do, and I am hoping that we can meet in person within the next couple of months; when COVID-19 restrictions ease. Please fill in the survey and redistribute to other interested members of the community if you feel like doing so.

Here is the link to the survey- https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2MF7B2Z

If you or the group that you are involved with would prefer to give input in a different way other than the survey or a future face-to-face meeting, please let me know what process you would like to follow and I will try and accommodate as best I can to allow for everyone’s opinions to be voiced. These parks are incredibly special sites, and one of the things that make them special is having a community of people that care for them.

If you would like to discuss the survey with me, or if you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to get in touch. I would love to have your input.

Thank you,

Harley Douglas
DDW Member
Dhelkunya Dja Project Officer- Djandak
P: 5444 2888
E: harley.douglas@djadjawurrung.com.au

Black Rock Scorpion at Wildflower Drive

 

 

 

 

Inquiry into ecosystems decline in Victoria

Posted on 11 June, 2020 by Frances

The Mount Alexander region of central Victoria has a long history of disturbance. Since the 1800s our local ecosystems have experienced gold mining, timber cutting, clearing, contamination, weeds, pest animals, changes in fire and water regimes, and a changing climate. As observant people we are all too aware of examples of ongoing decline of our local ecosystems. Here is an opportunity to contribute to a new public inquiry into ecosystems decline in Victoria.

Volunteers working to reverse the decline of our local ecosystems (photo by Gen Kay)

The Environment and Planning Committee of the Victorian Parliament is conducting an Inquiry into ecosystems decline in Victoria. The inquiry will look at measures to restore habitats and populations of threatened and endangered species.

The Inquiry’s Terms of Reference include:

  • the extent of the decline of Victoria’s biodiversity and the likely impact on people and ecosystems
  • the adequacy of the legislative framework protecting Victoria’s environment and ecosystems, particularly in the context of climate change impacts
  • the adequacy and effectiveness of government programs
  • opportunities to restore the environment while upholding First Peoples’ connection to Country.

Submissions: close 31 July 2020

How to make a submission: go to Inquiry website

 

Connecting Country office still closed for June 2020

Posted on 9 June, 2020 by Frances

Here at Connecting Country we take our social and safety responsibility seriously. While there are landscapes, ecosystems and people needing our help, we continue to operate and support our community. However, we’ve had to adapt our work to reduce COVID-19 infection risks.

Golden Wattle in winter (photo by Frances Howe)

In the interests of health and safety, our staff and volunteers continue to work from home as much as possible. We have no plans to reopen the Connecting Country office at this stage. The government has given a clear direction for every Victorian who is able to work from home to continue to do so. It appears this restriction will remain to at least to the end of June 2020.

Although our office at the Hub is temporarily closed, we’re still hard at work, and you can still contact us via email or phone. If there’s no answer on the office phone, please leave a message and we’ll get back to you within a few days. Please be patient as we don’t check phone messages every day.

When we do need to visit the Connecting Country office and depot, we only do so with appropriate safety measures in place. If you need to visit us in person, please contact us to arrange a meeting before coming, as the Hub building and depot are locked.

Thanks for your understanding and we’ll keep you informed of any further developments. We appreciate your support in helping keep our community and environment healthy!

You can contact Connecting Country via email on info@connectingcountry.org.au or call the office on (03) 5472 1594.

In the meantime, please enjoy one of our favorite videos below, produced by the talented crew at Remember the Wild.

 

 

Need advice on controlling Gorse? VGT extension in Sutton Grange

Posted on 9 June, 2020 by Jacqui

Please see the invitation below to landowners in the Sutton Grange area from the Victorian Gorse Taskforce (VGT).  For enquiries, or to register your interest, please contact Brydie Murrihy from the VGT on the details below. 

The Victorian Gorse Taskforce (VGT) will be delivering a community-wide extension services program in the Sutton Grange area this June/July 2020. Households may register their interest by contacting Brydie Murrihy by email or phone (see below for details).

Extension Service
The VGT Extension Officer, Brydie Murrihy, will conduct a property assessment either alone or assisted by the landowner and will provide professional best practice management advice tailored to the property. The landowner will receive extension material and information on any support or assistance that may be available to them, a property map detailing location of gorse plants, a detailed weed management plan and follow up phone calls and/or visits with landholders if required.

This program is a free service and the property inspections will be scheduled to suit the participants involved.

Image may contain: plant, flower, sky, cloud, tree, outdoor and nature

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) is a Regionally Controlled Weed in the most parts of Victoria. It is a threat to native plants and animals and is best controlled early and consistently as part of an integrated approach. Photo: VGT

Application
If you have any queries or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact Brydie or the VGT via the VGT website or social platforms (Facebook & Instagram).

To set-up an inspection: Brydie Murrihy 0428 335 705 or email bmurrihy@cva.org.au.

There are limited spots so get in quick!

Social distancing rules will apply.

 

Solutions to insect armageddon – online event 12 June 2020

Posted on 9 June, 2020 by Ivan

Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club (CFNC) are hosting an online event the evening of Fridan 12 June 2020 titled ‘Solutions to insect armageddon’, featuring a speaker from the University of Melbourne ’s School of Biosciences, geneticist Professor Phil Batterham. This free online is open to the community to learn more about this important topic.

CFNC meetings are usually held on the second Friday of each month (February to December) starting at 7.30 pm, in the Uniting Church hall, Lyttleton St, Castlemaine VIC. Due to government requirements the CNFC Committee decided in March 2020 that all club face-to-face activities will be suspended until further notice.

Details of this event, including how to register, are provided below from the CNFC website.

Prof. Phil Batterham’s career has spanned almost four decades at the University of Melbourne. Throughout his career, Phil has wrestled with the problem of insecticide resistance, providing both practical solutions for more sustainable control of the insect pests of agriculture and major contributions to our understanding of evolution.   In recent times Phil’s focus has switched to the impact that low doses of insecticides may be having upon global populations of insects that are in decline.

Insects are everywhere, and vital to human food production and natural ecosystems. While most of us are familiar with the tasks of some beneficial insects, we rarely stop to consider just how fundamental their role really is. Bees pollinate crops, dung beetles recycle nutrients, ladybirds control pests and bogong moths are food that sustains endangered pygmy possums.

Globally, there is evidence that beneficial insect populations are in freefall, and insecticide use to control pest insects is a key suspect. So how can humans control the insects we don’t want, while avoiding collateral damage to the insects that we need? Solutions to Insect Armageddon addresses this question, showcasing four fascinating stories of breakthrough research from the University of Melbourne driving new, non-chemical ways to control insects.

If you wish to attend this webinar, please email Peter Turner at munrodsl@iinet.net.au to receive details on how to attend.

If you previously registered for CFNC’s May webinar you will receive an email with details on how to register for the June session.

For further information please contact CFNC.

 

 

Congratulations to local Landcare on community grants

Posted on 4 June, 2020 by Jacqui

Maldon Urban Landcare group (MULGA) recently received a community grant to encourage people to choose  local indigenous plants in their gardens. The new project, funded by a small community grant from the Mount Alexander Shire community grants program, will add to MULGA’s current work. Their activities include long-term weed control and revegetation, and a project advocating for the protection of large old Eucalyptus trees in the Maldon area.

MULGA will produce and distribute a brochure about local native species to local residents, listing species that can be found in the bush around Maldon VIC. Gardeners will find tips on where to purchase local native plants and how to care from them.

In a recent interview Bev Phillips (MULGA Secretary) said, ‘As our climate gets drier the prediction is that in 50 years we’ll have the climate of Dubbo’. All but the toughest of plants will require care until established, and growing local natives requires far less water as they are already used to the dry conditions and poor local soils. By choosing to plant these local species, wildlife benefit too. ‘Planting natives helps to support the native birdlife – and everything else – the lizards and insects,’ Bev said.

Congratulations are also due to Nuggetty Land Protection Group who received a grant of $1,406 for their project ‘Gazebos to share’.

Links and further resources:

  • Full interview in the Midland Express – click here
  • Information on Mount Alexander Shire Council community grants – click here
  • Information on native plants of the Mount Alexander region – click here
  • More about Maldon Urban Landcare Group – click here
  • More about Nuggety Land protection Group – click here
  • Find your local Landcare group – click here

Spreading wattle (acacia genistifolia) is an excellent small garden plant, which is excellent habitat for woodland birds and flowers beautifully. Photo: Jacqui Slingo

 

Tis the season to be planting

Posted on 4 June, 2020 by Ivan

Connecting Country are busily preparing to roll out our 2020 revegetation projects across the region over the next few months, with an abundance of moisture and perfect growing conditions. Recent rainfall in central Victoria means planting conditions are likely to be particularly good compared with in recent years, which has us excited about the prospects for the 4,500 plants ready at the Connecting Country depot.

Of the 4,500 plants, 1,500 have been provided by TreeProject and the remaining provided through Connecting Country’s funded landscape restoration projects  TreeProject is a wonderful not-for-profit group that connects landholders and community groups with volunteers who propagate low-cost indigenous seedlings to revegetate degraded landscapes. TreeProject is able to keep seedling costs as low as possible thanks to the commitment and enthusiasm of the volunteers who propagate the seedlings in their backyards from materials TreeProject supplies.

Our Landscape Restoration Coordinator, Bonnie Humphreys, has spent the past few weeks preparing for plant delivery and ensuring the plants are in top condition. Bonnie said ‘Connecting Country has 23 landholders signed up for the current 2020 batch of plants and projects, but we will be looking to expand to reach further landowners if more funding comes along. We are very lucky to have some terrific local plant suppliers, such as Newstead Natives, an indigenous plant nursery that propagates local plants for our region for habitat restoration’. Please enjoy some photos of the delicious plants, with our staff members Bonnie Humpheys, Jacqui Slingo and Ivan Carter.

Over the past decade, Connecting Country has worked with over 250 landholders and groups to enhance more than 10,000 hectares of habitat across the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. This equates to approximately 6 percent of the Mount Alexander Shire. ‘It has been my pleasure to again be part of delivering Connecting Country’s revegetation program this year. We have some great projects enabling us to support landholders to restore and create valuable habitat across the shire.’ said Bonnie.

Unfortunately, we do not have any current capacity for additional landowners to join our restoration projects, but are actively seeking further funding. We do encourage landowners to fill out our expression of interest form, or contact us for advice how to conduct restoration work on their properties for optimal biodiversity outcomes. Once we have your details on file, we can let you know of opportunities for assistance as they arise. To access the expression of interest form – click here

To find out more about our current projects or discuss your eligibility, please email us at info@connectingcountry.org.au. If you have filled out an expression of interest form in the past 12 months, we have you on file and you don’t need to fill in another form, but you can always let us know you are still interested via email.

Connecting Country has a long-standing history of restoring landscapes across our region (photo: Connecting Country archive)

 

Addressing our wildlife cat-astrophe: Threatened Species Recovery Hub

Posted on 4 June, 2020 by Ivan

While we love our furry feline friends, it’s well documented that cats can have a devastating impact on our native wildlife. Why do cats always get their way: because they are very purr-suasive, and owners often let them out to forage and hunt during the day and night. The following interesting article from the clever folk at the Threatened Species Recovery Hub highlights some new research about Australia’s cat problem and potential solutions. For more information, the book Cats in Australia by John Woinarski, Sarah Legge and Chris Dickman discusses the impact of cats in Australia, their relationship with people, and their management. It can be purchased from CSIRO Publishing and accessed from The National Library of Australia.

This article is provided courtesy of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub.

Addressing our wildlife cat-astrophe

Predation by cats is a key threat to at least 123 threatened species in Australia. Better understanding and reducing the impact of feral cats on susceptible wildlife has been a major area of research for the Threatened Species Recovery Hub. Hub Deputy Directors Professors Sarah Legge and John Woinarski take a look at our research to address Australia’s cat problem.

Conservationists have worried about what cats do to Australian wildlife for over a century. For example, Archibald Campbell, a prominent naturalist, wrote in a 1906 issue of The Emu: ‘Undoubtedly, if many of our highly interesting and beautiful birds, especially ground-loving species, are to be preserved from total extinction, we must … at no distant date face squarely a wild-cat destruction scheme.’ But these warnings didn’t precipitate much action. The very quality that makes cats such appealing pets – their spectral, cagey guile – makes them noncompliant subjects for research and management. Until recently, compared to other invasive vertebrate species like foxes and rabbits (for which research and management was prioritised because of their recognised detriment to agriculture), we knew much less about cat ecology and the extent of their impacts, and cats had a reputation for being impossible to control.

However, over the past decade or so, there have been some noteworthy successes in the control of feral cats, especially the development of a cat-specific poison bait presentation (Eradicat®) in Western Australia, and eradication of cats from islands and from within large fenced areas on the mainland, with consequent benefits to many threatened species.

From about 10 years ago, some key technological advances, including the miniaturisation of tracking devices and the advent of affordable camera traps, as well as innovations such as using tracking dogs, have enabled new research approaches for cats, and many other relatively small, cryptic species.

The surge of cat research and management has been supported by policy leadership from governments, including the Australian Government, which shone a spotlight on cats in the Threatened Species Strategy, revised the national Threat Abatement Plan for cats, encouraged greater alignment of policy and management of cats across the states and territories, and funded a body of research to improve cat management through the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the National Environmental Science Program.

Issue 14 of Science for Saving Species showcases some of the hub’s portfolio of interlinked and collaborative research projects on cats, developed following a large workshop held in 2015 that identified major knowledge gaps and opportunities. This portfolio has two broad components; one component has gathered the evidence base for the extent and scale of cat impacts, by comprehensively synthesising published and unpublished work. This research established the first estimate for the cat population size in Australia and built on that to describe spatial patterns of cat predation (and overall tolls) on mammals, birds, reptiles, with estimates for frogs and invertebrates available soon.

Dr Hugh McGregor from the University of Tasmania is working with Arid Recovery to fill important knowledge gaps about cat diets, hunting behaviour and relationships with rabbits. Image: Nicolas Rakotopare

 

The hub has many on-ground research projects about how to reduce cat impacts, shown here grouped by broad management option. The map of Australia shows the spatial variation in cat density during wet years, new knowledge which was produced by the evidence-gathering component of the program.

Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Rosie Willacy, John Davies, Jaana Dielenberg, Stephanie Todd, William La Marca, Bronwyn Hradsky, Hugh McGregor/Arid Recovery, Linda van Bommel, F L’Hotellier, AWC, William La Marca, Diver Dave – Wikimedia – CC BY SA 3.0, Jody Gates, Nicolas Rakotopare , Hugh McGregor/Arid Recovery.

 

The approach is currently being extended to foxes; the complementary suites of cat and fox studies will help us understand how the relative impacts of these two predators vary over space and time, and thus guide the relative investment in control efforts for foxes and cats.

The evidence-gathering component of the cat research program has also identified which mammal and bird species are most sensitive to predation by cats. Some native species can persist only in the near-absence of cats (and foxes), and have survived extinction only because populations naturally exist on, or have been translocated to, islands or mainland fenced areas that are cat- and fox-free. The hub’s research identified which of these species were currently inadequately protected, and recommended sites for future island and fencing projects that would increase the level of protection most effectively and efficiently across the set of predator-susceptible mammal species.

The second component of the hub’s cat research program comprises a suite of field-based projects that aim to improve the way we manage cats at different scales (from sites to landscapes) using existing as well as novel control options. This has included work to extend and improve the way we use existing poison-baits, in places as diverse as Kangaroo Island, the Pilbara and the Queensland brigalow. At Pullen Pullen, research is aiming to make cat trapping and shooting ‘smarter’ by identifying when and where individual cats need to be removed to protect populations of highly threatened species like night parrots.

An example of research into a novel approach involves trials of whether ‘guardian dogs’ can effectively repel foxes and cats from around populations of eastern barred bandicoots in Victoria.

Successfully used to protect agricultural species, guardian dogs are being trialled by the hub to see whether they can effectively protect populations of eastern barred bandicoots in Victoria. Image: Linda Van Bommel

 

Several field projects are investigating how we can reduce cat impacts across very large landscapes by managing other threats that interact with cat predation. For example, reducing rabbits can dramatically lower cat density, especially if matched with integrated cat control to minimise prey-switching events. In a reverse example, a project on Christmas Island aims to find out if black rats will increase as a result of the island’s cat eradication program, and how rats can be monitored for increases that could affect populations of endemic birds.

Earlier work showed that managing fire and livestock grazing in ways that maintain structurally diverse ground vegetation can reduce cat predation, at least in some circumstances. Fire and grazing management is an approach to cat control that could be implemented across very large landscapes, with multiple benefits, so the generality of the interactions between predators, fire and grazing is being investigated in habitats as diverse as the Victorian Otways, Kakadu, the stony deserts, the wet tropics and the Tiwi islands .

Other research in western New South Wales Sarah Legge and the Simpson Desert is investigating The Australian National University interactions between cats, foxes and dingoes, The University of Queensland and whether manipulating the densities of larger predators could influence the density and or activity of smaller predators.

Hub research has identified which Australian mammal species are the most highly susceptible to cat predation and should be prioritised for inclusion in Australia’s havens network of cat- and fox-free islands and fenced areas. Image: Jaana Dielenberg

 

The hub’s cat research has generated enormous interest in the print, online and television media, and has contributed to a heightened awareness about cat impacts, and greater support for their management in Australia compared with other countries. This support shouldn’t be taken for granted; in the past year, new research directions have included a focus on how we can continue to shape the conversation about cat impacts and management with a broad cross-section of the public by working with key stakeholders on targeted information exchange. To support this initiative, recent work has compiled detailed evidence about the impacts of pet cats on wildlife, and the economic burden of cat-borne diseases like toxoplasmosis that have substantial effects on human health and livestock production. Stay tuned for these results in future issues of Science for Saving Species.

Campbell was right to worry about cats, and a century later we are still worried. But our understanding of cat impacts, which native species are most at risk, and the range and effectiveness of management options, have improved considerably. Cat management is challenging but not impossible, and blue-sky ideas including using gene drives to reduce cat populations, and accelerating selection for predator avoidance, are just emerging. With continued policy and public support, management effort and research innovation, we may be able to win the fight that Campbell advocated so long ago: to protect our wildlife from the deadly threat posed by cats.

Sarah Legge – The Australian National University, The University of Queensland and Charles Darwin University

John Woinarski – Charles Darwin University

 

Agriculture Victoria landholder survey on weeds and pest animals now open

Posted on 2 June, 2020 by Ivan

There would be few, if any, landholders across Victoria that have not experienced the tiresome battle with the diverse range of invasive plants and animals. In the Mount Alexander region, many of us are aware of the vast areas of Gorse, Blackberry, Cape and English Broom, Thistles, Wheel Cactus, Bridal Creeper and other weeds, as well as invasive animals such as rabbits, foxes, and increasingly, deer.

Details of a new survey from Agriculture Victoria are outlined below. The survey will give the Victoria government important data to make strategic planning decisions and allocate funding.

Agriculture Victoria is seeking support from private landholders, including farmers, to help combat pests and weeds which cost Victoria more than $1 billion a year in management and control programs. Landholders are invited to take part in a state-wide survey to better understand the social and behavioural factors that influence pest and weed management.

Agriculture Victoria is the lead agency in the delivery of programs to combat established invasive species which is underpinned by the $4.3 million Weeds and Rabbits Project funded by the Commonwealth government. ‘We’ve been working closely with our key stakeholders and community members to better understand the barriers people face with implementing weed and rabbit management practices,’ said Agriculture Victoria Acting Program Manager Heidi Kleinert said. Ms Kleinert said community participation was crucial to understanding this space.

‘Rabbits and weeds are a problem for all landholders, including farmers and public land managers, and we need to tackle this together,’ she said.

‘We are asking land managers to share with us how they manage weeds and rabbits on their property. The survey results will tell us what is working well at the moment, but also where improvements can be made.’

North East landholder and community representative Neil Devanny said a major issue for farmers in meeting their obligations to control pest animals and plants came down to setting and managing priorities.

Wheel Cactus has invaded farm land around the Maldon region, and can be difficult and costly to treat once established (photo by Lee Mead)

 

‘We all need to harvest our crops, shear our sheep, market our livestock and so this work must happen. It is easy to drive past a rabbit burrow or weed and say I will do that tomorrow,’ he said. ‘An effective pest program needs to remind and prompt landholders to take action, especially on a collective basis.’

‘Land manager input will assist in developing collective ownership of the programs to benefit the community as a whole and support the good work that is already being done.’

The survey opened Monday 25 May and closes Wednesday 24 June 2020.

To complete the survey – click here

For more information contact Nicole  Cairns (phone 0436 675 030)

The data community provide will be made anonymous and you will be able to read key findings on the Weeds and Rabbits Project website when available.

 

 

 

Stay home and enjoy birds with BirdLife

Posted on 28 May, 2020 by Ivan

In this post we explore some more marvelous ideas from BirdLife Australia for enjoying birds in our backyards and around the home, during this period of COVID-19 related restrictions and cold weather. Fortunately there are many online resources to keep us learning and connected to nature, while we stay safely at home. Remember to you use BirdLife’s Birdata App to enter your bird survey results and observations of our amazing bird life. One of the delights of bird watching has always been that you can do it anywhere, including right at home. No matter where we are, there’s usually a bird not far away.

Here are some ways we can continue to enjoy the beauty of our feathered friends, and have fun and learn new skills while our activities are restricted:

  • Test your Aussie bird knowledge and keep your mind limber with quick crosswords! – visit The Cross-Bird
  • Find out about that strange bird is perched on the verandah. Bird Finder allows you to search, browse or find information about individual Australian birds. More birds will be added over time. Alternatively you can view the full list of species.
  • Keep the kids chirpy. The Birds in Backyards team have put together some incredible resources to keep the family entertained, and help them learn about amazing birds and places at the same time.
  • Be inspired by the beauty of Australia’s birds – browse the gallery of winners of the BirdLife Australia Photography Awards, or contemplate what images you’ll enter in the 2020 competition.
  • Be transported to the beach from the comfort of your living room with these unique, downloadable activity books for kids, featuring stories, board games, puzzles, and more!
  • View the BIBY TV YouTube channel for a wonderful range of videos to keep you entertained – everything from gardening tips, to bird profiles and incredible conservation tales.
  • Follow the social media feeds on the link below, including the ‘have you ever asked #whatbirdisthat?’, which allows you to ask for bird identification help with hashtags on social media.

For more ideas, visit the ‘Birding at home’ page of the BirdLife Australia website.

 

 

We plant, we look, we learn, we share, we cycle

Posted on 28 May, 2020 by Ivan

We received a fabulous Landcare story written by Beth Mellick from Muckleford Catchment Landcare Group, as part of Connecting Country’s ‘Landcare Stories’ series. The story highlights the importance of Landcare in our community, and how Landcare can be fun and engaging in many different ways across our diverse community. Since early 2012 Connecting Country has employed a local Landcare Facilitator to support the work of community land management groups in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria.

To join a local Landcare group, please visit our list of contact details for the Mount Alexander region – click here

Please enjoy the following words by Beth Mellick. For more details about Muckleford Catchment Landcare and their current activities – click here

Muckleford Catchment Landcare is made up of a vibrant group of landholders who are interested in being sustainable and want to know more about protecting their local environment.

We help each other out, share information and get together to plant trees to increase habitat connectivity. We hold workshops and events, and are active around protecting our roadsides and native species. We monitor nest boxes once a year at the Walmer Conservation Reserve, and have an annual bike ride. We leave weed control to contractors, and concentrate our time on activities that are enjoyable, interesting and social.

Once a year we get together and plan our activities for the following year: looking at someone else’s property, workshops on something we want to know (like how to retain water in the landscape or turn a dam into a wetland), and where we can plant habitat for strategic connections in the Muckleford landscape. We also look to partner with Connecting Country and other local groups on projects that will benefit our members.

We wanted to do something different – something fun that we could make an annual event for members to look forward to. We use the bike lane beside the railway line, starting at the Muckleford train station, going through Maldon and ending up at a local pub for lunch, before we return. We attract new members to this event. They often bring friends and family members of all ages and interests to get involved, and we love it.

Muckleford Catchment Landcare aims to:

  • Improve water quality in the Muckleford Creek and its tributaries.
  • Conserve soil in the Muckleford Creek catchment.
  • Create a healthy and viable balance between farming and biodiversity.
  • Encourage discussion, debate, participation and co-operation between landholders within the catchment.
  • Harness local knowledge and expertise to improve the environment and productivity.
  • Assist landholders to access funding for land improvement projects.

Annual Muckleford Landcare bike ride (photo: Muckleford Catchment Landcare Group)

 

 

Please help: nature and COVID-19 survey

Posted on 28 May, 2020 by Ivan

In recent years our partners at Remember the Wild were kindly produced two outstanding videos on the work and achievements at Connecting Country – a five-minute film and a one-minute summary. We are very proud of our story. To revisit these videos – click here

Remember The Wild recently produced a brief survey to understand how people’s relationship with nature has been impacted by social distancing measures. Survey results will be used to produce a report that they hope will contribute to broader awareness of the importance of nature in people’s lives. This report will be made available to the public and may provide groups working in the area of human-nature relationships with a tool to demonstrate the value of our work.

Remember the Wild would love your help in generating increased responses to their survey. They have some really interesting responses so far and see this is an important subject on the minds of many.

About the survey

COVID-19 has affected us all differently, impacting various aspects of our daily lives. Part of this impact may include our access to the natural world. Being at home may provide some of us with opportunities to spend time in the garden, whereas for others it may limit how often we get to go outside. It is important that we understand the impact of COVID-19 on our community’s relationship with the natural world, as it helps inform decision making around the accessibility of natural areas. Remember The Wild is asking our community to bolster such knowledge by completing this short, anonymous survey. Please support their quest for understanding by describing how your relationship with nature has, or has not, changed during these times of social distancing.

Survey link

To complete the survey – click here

About Remember The Wild

Remember The Wild is Australia’s first nature connection charity. They seek to bring experiences of the natural world back into our lives, for the benefit of both the environment and ourselves. Dedicated to improving public access to nature, they reconnect communities with the local environment and help people remember why the wild matters.

Connecting Country: Safeguarding Woodland Birds

 

Farm dam enhancement – webinar on 4 June 2020

Posted on 28 May, 2020 by Ivan

We came across an upcoming free webinar by the Sustainable Farms initiative on how to enhance your dam for biodiversity and improved water quality. Typically farm dams were constructed solely to provide water for stock and for irrigation, but that has been slowly changing. Although your dam’s primary role may be to supply water for farm production, there are some simple and inexpensive steps you can take to help turn your dam into a haven for local wildlife.

You might recall our recent spotting of Long-Necked Turtles in a farm dam at Golden Point here in central Victoria (click here), which was a good testament to the landowners efforts to improve habitat quality on their property.

Join Sustainable Farms ecologists Dr Mason Crane and Eleanor Lang from the Australian National University, and vet Eve Hall for a webinar to learn about:

  • Results of Sustainable Farms pilot study into the benefits of enhancing farm dams
  • Water quality and its impact on productivity
  • Healthy dams and biodiversity – creating habitat for critters such as turtles

The discussion will focus on how this applies to agricultural landscapes within the North East Victoria, South West Slopes, Central Tablelands and Murray-Riverina. However, much of the information will also be relevant to our region.

Farm dam enhancements: free webinar
When: Thursday 4 June 2020 at 12:30 to 2:00 pm (AEST)
To register: click here
For enquiries: contact Tamara Harris, Sustainable Farms, Australian National University by phone (0428 621187) or email (tamara.harris@anu.edu.au).

This workshop will be held using Zoom. Prior to the event, participants will be sent instructions on how to sign in. Participants will need a computer, tablet or phone device with speaker and microphone (camera is not necessary).

For more information on the Sustainable Farms initiative: click here

Farm dams can serve multiple purposes and improve local ecosystems (photo: Sustainable Farms)

 

 

 

Bird of the month: Swift Parrot

Posted on 21 May, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our fourth Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly. You may be familiar with the fourth bird off the ranks.

Swift parrot (Lathamus discolor)

It is the season to be looking out for and recording sightings of the critically endangered Swift Parrot, or Swifties as they are affectionately known. Having summered and hopefully bred in Tasmania, they migrate to South Eastern Australian mainland in mid autumn, for the winter months. As their name suggests, they are SWIFT. They fly fast, they eat fast and they call kind of fast. Beth Mellick at the Wettenhall Environment Trust in Castlemaine coordinates records of  sightings in Mount Alexander Shire, so let her know if you see Swift Parrots (including when, where and how many).

Stunning photo of a Swift Parrot by Leigh Pieterse. Swifties are VERY difficult to photograph at all, let alone this beautifully. We are very grateful to Leigh for giving us permission to use his photo.

 

Tasmania is the breeding ground for Swift Parrots, in the central north and along the eastern coasts. In autumn they migrate and scatter throughout the Great Dividing Range through Victoria, New South Wales and even southern Queensland. Given there are only about 2,000 individuals remaining, they can be very hard to find. However, they can also be heard and seen in flowering eucalypts in parks and gardens.

Swift Parrots are rare due to disruption to their breeding on two fronts. Logging of old-growth forest has reduced their habitat to dangerously low levels and reduced suitable nesting hollows. Additionally Sugar Gliders, which are introduced to Tasmania, can aggressively out-compete them and prey on eggs, chicks and adult birds. Swift Parrots face an up hill battle for survival, and a lot of effort goes into monitoring them. Given every sighting provides valuable data, I thought we’d look at Swifties, what to look for and how to identify them.

Swift Parrots are not easy to identify. Did I mention they are Swift! Also they like to hang out in mixed flocks with other lorikeets, and they are very hard to tell apart when in flight and feeding in the tree tops, as they all look brilliant green with red faces. In Central Victoria, the main species to confuse with Swift Parrots are the Musk Lorikeet and perhaps the immature Crimson Rosella. In the stunning photo above by Leigh Pieterse, you can clearly see the red face, including under the chin, bordered by a thin strip of yellow and the small patch of blue on the forehead. Musk Lorikeets don’t have red under the chin – they look like they are wearing a red mask across their eyes, whereas the Swift Parrot has just dipped their face in red.

Crimson Rosellas have a blue cheek running across the face from the bill (see our very first bird of the month – click here ). That’s all very well if you can see their faces – not easy as they like to feed in the tree tops of flowering gums and acacias. If lucky enough to see one, it’s often in flight – a flock speeding across the sky and they are gone. A feature to look for is the long tail (you probably won’t see that it is crimson). In contrast, Musk Lorikeets are stubby in the tail department. Muskies are flying barrels compared to elegant long-tailed Swifties. Immature Crimson Rosellas are motley green in the body, with a tail that’s green but could be turning into the adult blue, and are unlikely to be in a mixed flock with Musk lorikeets or Swift Parrots.

For more information on identifying Swift Parrots go to BirdLife Australia’s Swift Parrot Guide – click here

To listen to a Swift Parrot call recorded by local sound expert Andrew Skeoch – click here

To record Swift Parrot sightings, contact Beth Mellick – click here

Written by Jane Rusden with research assistance by Damian Kelly

 

Aboriginal land management prior to 1788

Posted on 21 May, 2020 by Ivan

We received a terrific article from Nalderun (a local service that supports the Aboriginal Community, lead by Aboriginal people) about Aboriginal land management prior to 1788 and the impact it had on the landscape. It makes a sobering and informative read, and gives us insight into what the landscape might have looked like before the changes that have taken place over the past two centuries. 

Aboriginal land management prior to 1788

During his explorations in the 1830s and 40s Major Mitchell saw park-like landscapes, sparsely studded with trees, with very little under-storey scrub. Writings, paintings and survey plans by early European explorers and settlers show more open forest and more grassland than in the same places now. What was then grassland has become eucalypt forest, as fires and harsh clearing of land led to denser growth.

Researchers believe that before 1788 people used fire to create and maintain the park-like landscapes, judiciously burning at the right time and the right intensity according to weather and need. Their cool, slow-moving fires produced grass, tubers or foliage matched to the animals (including humans) that thrived on those particular foods. The fires reduced fuel, ensured biodiversity and abundance, regulated plant and animal populations and located vegetation predictably and conveniently. Bush adjacent to grassland provided shelter so animals could retreat if threatened, but it also enabled people to use fire to drive their prey to the waiting hunters.

The mosaic of cleared land patches in between forested areas would have taken centuries of detailed planning to set up. So it was vital that every generation understood how to maintain the pattern. It became enshrined in the Law, a meeting of ecology and religion, which ensured undeviating commitment to this very intricate management of the land. The basic principles were used Australia-wide, whatever the fertility of the soil and natural vegetation of the land. Local conditions such as rain, wind, temperature and aspect influence the timing. There is not one rule for all!

Current burning practices emphasising only hazard reduction mean that many species are not given time to replenish before another threat arrives, whether fire, predator, pest animals spoiling feed, or logging. Catastrophic bushfires such as happened last Spring and Summer were unknown before European settlement. Last December (2019) some properties in the Hunter Valley in NSW were saved, arguably because of previously conducted cultural burning on their land.

Hopefully controlled burns and the methods of land management in use up until less than 250 years ago will one day be used together to make a safe, abundant and sustainable environment for all – humans, plants and animals.

Nalderun is a service that supports the Aboriginal Community, led by Aboriginal people. Many people and organisations in the Mount Alexander Shire contribute to Nalderun; the name is a Dja Dja Wurrung word meaning ‘all together’.

More information can be found at www.nalderun.net.au

There is also an excellent video below, which highlights the return of the traditional planned burn in Central Victoria, courtesy of the State Government of Victoria.