Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Connect with Nature Event: Loddon Wetlands 20 & 21 April 2024

Posted on 15 April, 2024 by Ivan

Our friends at the Wedderburn Conservation Management Network are hosting a wonderful event, exploring the Loddon Region on Saturday and Sunday 20 & 21 April 2024. This event is your chance to immerse yourself in the beauty of the Loddon region at the Wetlands, Gatjin Dja, for a weekend filled with exploration, learning, and appreciation for the natural world. Please see further details below, including the booking details.

Connect with Nature – in the Loddon

Let’s get outside and enjoy the beauty of nature together in the Loddon – Connect with Nature event!

Connect with Nature – in the Loddon

This event is your chance to immerse yourself in the beauty of the Loddon region. Join us at the Wetlands, Gatjin Dja for a weekend filled with exploration, learning, and appreciation for the natural world around us. Take a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life and reconnect with the tranquility of nature. From Traditional Owner Weaving Workshops, and guided walks to bird watching, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Don’t miss this opportunity to connect with nature in a truly special setting.

Free camping available from Friday evening.

BYO Lunches, 

Free BBQ dinner provided Saturday evening.  (please advise any dietary requirements)

To book your ticket for this free event – click here 

 

For more information about Wedderburn Conservation Management Network – click here

 

Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club: April 2024 talk

Posted on 10 April, 2024 by Ivan

As a monthly tradition, our friends at Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club (CFNC) hold a meeting with a guest speaker on the second Friday of the month, followed by a group excursion or field trip the following day. Castlemaine Field Nats provided the following details about their April 2024 meeting, which look very interesting and exciting. All are welcome to attend. For more information on CFNC, please visit their website – click here

 

Monthly Meeting:  Friday 12th April, 7.30pm, Uniting Church Fellowship Room, Lyttleton St. Castlemaine

Speaker: Professor Tim Entwisle, “Evergreen and Entwisleia: a botanical life, and a seaweed”

Professor Tim Entwisle is an author, botanist and former director of botanic gardens in Melbourne, Sydney and London. He also lived for a few years at Yapeen and completed his final years of secondary school at Castlemaine High School. In 2022, Tim published a memoir called “Evergreen: the Botanical Life of a Plant Punk” (Thames & Hudson), and this will be the subject of his talk for us on 12 April.

He will explain why he became a botanist (and phycologist) and some of the highlights of his three decades working in, and visiting, botanic gardens around the world. Tim will also share with us the story of a seaweed (an alga) called Entwisleia bella, and how this came to be named after him. (Tim will bring some books for sale and signing).

All welcome.

Tim with Entwisleia bella

 

 

 

 

Bird of the Month: Varied Sitella

Posted on 26 March, 2024 by Ivan

Welcome to 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 blessed to have the brilliant Damian Kelly from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month.

Varied Sitella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera)

The Varied Sitella is a small grey bird that is often hard to see, although it is widespread in our region. One distinguishable behaviour is that it often runs down a tree trunk or branch or hangs upside down as it searches for food. A gregarious species, it can usually can be seen in groups of 2 up to 20 when foraging in its preferred woodland haunts.

As the name implies, plumage can be quite variable within the species and there is extensive and complex variation in different geographical areas. DNA evidence supports a few distinct subspecies, and there is widespread hybridisation between these different subspecies – all in all a bit confusing!

The Varied Sittella is a small songbird native to Australia. Photo: Damian Kelly

It can be found across Australia (but not Tasmania) in a variety of habitats from southern Victoria all the way up to Cape York, in Western Australia and is also lightly spread throughout the inland.

At times it can be found foraging in mixed species flocks which include Buff-rumped and Striated Thornbills and occasionally Scarlet Robins. It is rarely seen on the ground, preferring to move along tree trunks and in the foliage. It tends to favour higher spots on trees compared to other bark-feeding species such as Treecreepers and Crested Shriketits and can be seen 8-14m above ground level, which of course makes observation that much more tricky.

So, if you haven’t seen them around much, this preference for high branches is probably why – coupled with an overall grey appearance that helps them blend in with their surroundings.

Diet consists mainly of insects gathered from foliage and gleaned from the cracks in rough-barked trees. Flocks keep in contact as they move through the foliage by constant calling as well as flicking their wings to reveal their distinctive coloured wing-bar (see above photo). Sitellas also roost as a group, usually along a horizontal branch, all facing the same direction.

(The Varied Sittella is usually heard before it is seen in the upper branches. Photos: Damian Kelly)

Studies have shown that this species is largely sedentary with few movements more than 10 km from local areas.

Like some other Australian species, Sitellas engage in cooperative breeding. A breeding group generally consists of a primary breeding pair and a varying number of helpers, ranging from 1-7 individuals. Helpers may be adult birds along with some juveniles from previous clutches. Nests are an open cup-shaped structure, often with a long tail making them somewhat cone-shaped. Nests are constructed of bark and spider webs, sometimes incorporating hair or fur.

Find more information on the Varied Sittella, including their calls, here.

 

Safeguard Harcourt’s wildlife corridors: Petition

Posted on 25 March, 2024 by Ivan

Our friends at Harcourt Valley Landcare Group have been busy working on a campaign to protect Harcourt’s wildlife corridors and biodiversity assets from inappropriate development, for future generations. Harcourt is a special part of our region, and has significant vegetation that is critical habitat for threatened species such as the Brush-Tailed Phascogale, Brown Toadlet and Sun Moth Orchid, as well as many majestic large old trees and habitat corridors. The Harcourt Valley Landcare Group have started a petition on Change.org, to request the Mount Alexander Shire Council protect such natural assets from inappropriate development and ensure our wildlife and biodiversity thrive into the future.

Please find further information and details provided by Harcourt Valley Landcare Group, including how to sign the petition.

 

Safeguard Harcourt’s Wildlife Corridors: please sign the petition

Harcourt residents are lucky to enjoy the natural beauty of a place that affords them bush to exercise and socialise in, views to Leanganook (Mt Alexander), wildlife to encounter, Barkers Creek and rich soils to nourish us and majestic, tall trees to watch over us.

Whether we live in Harcourt township and stroll the streets with our dogs in the morning, or spend our weekends caring for larger properties, whether we grow our livelihood from the land or just seek solace from it after earning our livelihood elsewhere, we all benefit from the land the Dja Dja Wurrung people have cared for, for generations.

And yet we are at risk of losing this. Harcourt was identified in 2014 as a town that can support growth and Mt Alexander Shire Council has been developing Plan Harcourt, the document that shapes how this might look, since 2020. Safeguarding the nature we love in Harcourt hangs on the strength of the environmental protections in this document.

Nature needs you to let Mount Alexander Council know you care about Harcourt’s precious natural environment and that you’re watching this process with interest, by signing this petition.

Join Harcourt Valley Landcare Group’s call for Mt Alexander Shire Council to protect wildlife corridors that allow safe passage for our precious native species from Leanganook (Mt Alexander) to the Walmer Forest. These wildlife corridors include roadside vegetation corridors like Elys Lane, Douglas Lane, Shady Lane and Eagles Rd; and waterways such as Barkers Creek and Picnic Gully Creek. We call for strong protections for Large Old Trees, habitat for the Brush-tailed Phascogale, Brown Toadlet and Golden Sun Moth Orchid.

Click here to sign the petition and for more information.

 

 

Seeking volunteers: 2024 Nest Box checks

Posted on 12 March, 2024 by Anna

Monitoring local legend, the Brush-tailed Phascogale, is one of our core activities here at Connecting Country. We’re excited to be planning our nest box monitoring for Autumn 2024, with support from the Ian and Shirley Norman Foundation and the Victorian Government Nature Fund!

Connecting Country’s nest box monitoring program was established in 2010. Our 450 nest boxes across the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria allow us to collect valuable scientific data about the threatened Brush-tailed Phascogale and other arboreal mammals. For more information on our nest box monitoring – click here

A Brush-tailed Phascogale. Photo by Geoff Park

This year, our nest boxes will be surveyed by an experienced team of trained volunteer Team Leaders.

We are seeking volunteers to assist the Team Leaders in conducting nest box surveys, with feet planted firmly on the ground (i.e., not climbing ladders).

This nest box volunteer role involves: 

  • Travel within the Mount Alexander region
  • Following safety procedures
  • Carrying ladders and equipment to sites
  • Helping to navigate to sites
  • Writing observations and recording data
  • Taking photos

Fieldwork roles require working on uneven ground and carrying ladders (these are heavy!) through the bush, sometimes in hot or cold weather. Some sites require hikes through uneven terrain, or climbing over fences. Volunteers require a reasonable level of fitness and an adventurous spirit!

Volunteering on environmental projects is a great way to learn about our local environment, keep active, contribute to nature conservation, learn skills and meet new people.

If you are interested in assisting us, please send a brief email to anna@connectingcountry.org.au stating:

  • Your availability during April and May 2024
  • Why you are interested in volunteering (so we can do our best to make your volunteering experience as useful as possible, for you!)
  • Any relevant experience
  • Any questions you have

We look forward to hearing from you.

Greg helps his sister Kerrie inspect nest boxes. Photo by Kerrie Jennings

Max and Nat carry a ladder to a nest box site. Photo by Beth Mellick

Sugar Gliders in a Connecting Country nest box. Photo by Beth Mellick

 

Clean up Australia Day: Sunday 3 March 2024

Posted on 27 February, 2024 by Ivan

Clean Up Australia Day is an annual nationwide event focused on empowering local communities to clean up, fix up and conserve the natural environment. This year Clean Up Australia Day will be held on Sunday 3 March 2024.

Local Landcare and Friends groups of the Mount Alexander/ Leanganook region often host a Clean Up Australia Day event. Please see below for a list of local events happening across our region or to find events happening near you – click here .

You can also get in touch with your local Landcare group to see if they are hosting a 2024 event by finding your local group on the Connecting Country website – click here

Friends of Campbells Creek 16th annual clean-up event:

Help to clean up rubbish along the creeks and trails, followed by a social morning tea.

Meet: We’ll meet here at the bus shelter next to Winters Flat Footbridge, Johnstone Street (Midland Highway), Castlemaine, and then spread out to various locations to gather rubbish and return to Winters Flat.

Early Start: We’ll start early (8:00 am) to avoid the heat of the day and finish work at 10:00 am.

We’ll provide: collection bags, rubbish skip (courtesy of the Council), tea/coffee and biscuits.

Wear: hats, gloves, sturdy clothing, enclosed boots/shoes

Bring sun protection, a rake if you have one, your own water (and a friend)

Hope to see you there!

For more details – click here

 

Sutton Grange Landcare Group 

Where: Meet at the Sutton Grange Hall, Faraday – Sutton Grange Rd. Sutton Grange VIC 

When:  Sunday 3 March 2024, 9.00 am – 10.30 am

What to bring: Hats, sunscreen, sturdy footwear, water bottle, gloves and a friend!

It is anticipated that they will finish at 10.30 a.m. with refreshments and the opportunity to exchange thoughts on what you would like our group to concentrate on in 2024.

 

Golden Point Landcare Group

Where: Meet at Expedition Pass Reservoir (The Res), Golden Point Rd. Golden Point VIC

When: Sunday 3 March 2024, 10.00 am – 12.00 pm

What to bring: Hats, sunscreen, sturdy footwear, water bottle, gloves and a friend!

 

You can also register your own local clean-up event on the Clean Up Australia Day website – click here

 

Save the date: Natural Capital Forum 13 June 2024

Posted on 27 February, 2024 by Ivan

Our friends and project partners at the North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA) are hosting an interesting forum in June 2024 on Natural Capital and how it might assist landowners balance biodiversity and potential income. Save the date for now, 13 June 2024, and if interested, please see the details below, including how to request an invite. We are excited to see how the Natural Capital space can assist landowners in our region manage their land with further incentive to restore the landscapes for ecological benefits.

Natural Capital Forum: Balancing the books between nature, productivity, and people

Join representatives from NCCMA on June 13, 2024, in Bendigo for the Natural Capital Forum and discover how you can harness the power of natural capital to drive success.

Learn about the wealth of natural assets like soil, air, and biodiversity that provide essential benefits to humans and see how you can make natural capital work for you.

Tailored for land managers, primary producers, farmers, and supporting organisations.

Stay tuned for more details or request an invite at info@nccma.vic.gov.au.

Don’t miss this opportunity to unlock the potential of natural capital for your success at the North Central Natural Capital Forum.

Location:
The Capital Theatre, Bendigo
Contact:
Request an invite at info@nccma.vic.gov.au.

 

Bird of the Month: Great Cormorant

Posted on 22 February, 2024 by Anna

Welcome to 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 blessed to have the brilliant Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, accompanied by Janes’s stunning photos.

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

While sitting in the deep shade of Castlemaine Botanical Gardens, nature journaling with BirdLife Castlemaine District, we witnessed a Great Cormorant diving underwater fishing. Somehow it managed to swallow, with considerable effort, a huge silver fish which glistened in the morning sun. After the swollen bulge in its neck deflated as the massive fish went down its gullet, the Great Cormorant had a swish of its face and a bit of a bath, before perching on the much-loved tree that hangs well over the water from the island in Lake Johanna. After a bit of a preen, it set about drying its wings and digesting its huge meal.

Great Cormorant drying its wings in a typical pose for the species. Bird feathers are structured to be waterproof and trap air, but diving birds have a more open structure because trapped air would be like trying to dive with floaties on … very difficult. As a consequence, the Great Cormorant gets soaking wet and needs to dry out after a fishing session. Photo by Jane Rusden.

The Great Cormorant is a true cosmopolitan species. You can find it in the Botanic Gardens in Castlemaine as well as across the world. It is the most widespread cormorant and can be found over much of Europe as well as China, Japan, Africa, India, America, New Zealand and parts of South-east Asia. Up to 6 subspecies are recognised. Overseas birds tend to have more white on the face than Australian birds.

As a very adaptable species, it can be seen both along the coast as well as inland wherever there are rivers or large water bodies. Banding studies in Australia show that some birds are sedentary, but more than half were later recorded a long way from their original location. Birds have been recorded travelling from NSW to Western Australia and even as far as Macquarie Island and Lord Howe Island.

Interestingly, overseas in Europe and America it is largely associated with coastal regions and estuaries. However, in Australia it is primarily a freshwater bird. Diet consists mainly of fish, crustaceans, frogs and large insects. Fish are usually caught by diving, with mainly shallow dives of 1-3 metres and mostly less than 1 minute under water. The deepest dive recorded has been 9.5 metres.

A Little Pied Cormorant (left) and a Great Cormorant (right) perched, at Lake Johanna. Notice the beautiful teal colour of the Great Cormorant’s eye. Photo by Jane Rusden.

Great Cormorants are sociable birds that breed and travel in groups. Breeding is usually in large colonies up to 2000 birds, although one colony at Lake Menindee in NSW numbered around 20,000 birds. Breeding tends to be erratic, especially inland where it depends on water levels. Nests are open, flat platforms made of sticks, twigs, plant material and debris. Usually 3-5 eggs are laid and both parents incubate and feed the young.

Their range overlaps with other Australian cormorants but usually it is easy to separate them as only the Little Black Cormorant is similar, although it lacks any yellow on the face area.

 

Focus on trees: Tree photography workshop opportunity

Posted on 19 February, 2024 by Ivan

Our friends and project partners at Biolinks Alliance are hosting a large old trees photography workshop with the wonderful Alison Pouliot. Alison is a leading expert and holder of knowledge regarding nature photography, conservation, fungi and deep ecosystem understanding.

Connecting Country are requesting our community and supporters to map significant old trees in our region, through our project here.  Well captured photography can contribute greatly to recording and telling their story.

Please see details about the event below, including how to book tickets.

Focus on Trees – Tree Photography Workshop with Alison Pouliot

Large old trees are vital keystone structures in rural and urban landscapes. However, the value of these trees is often overlooked in planning such as road and fire management. Documenting these trees visually is important both as a scientific record and in drawing attention to their significance and conservation.

This workshop specifically focuses on assisting participants to improve both their technical and creative skills in photographing trees. Tree photography provides many challenges and each of these will be discussed and techniques for overcoming them demonstrated throughout the workshop. This is a very hands-on, interactive workshop combining theoretical, critique and practical sessions. It begins with a discussion of participants’ interest in photographing trees as well as any challenges or issues they may have experienced. This is followed by a session where participants’ pre-submitted images will be constructively critiqued by the group (during which participants are free to remain anonymous), followed by a field trip to put techniques into practice. Participants will be provided with supplementary printed notes to reinforce principles covered in the workshop.

Large old tree Photography workshop with Alison Pouliot

Participant Requirements

Participants are asked to wear appropriate clothing and sturdy footwear for the field trip, which will go ahead regardless of weather. They are reminded to bring their cameras/phones including additional batteries, battery charger and instruction manual. Participants are encouraged to submit two images (as per guidelines that will be provided to participants) prior to the workshop for constructive critique during the workshop.

Book here

https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/large-old-tree-photography-workshop-with-alison-pouliot-tickets-824888623077?aff=oddtdtcreator

This event is being held as part of Biolinks Alliance’s Large Old Trees project and is made possible through the generous support of the TAP fund, Lindy Shelmerdine, David Moffatt and Lady Marigold Southey. You can find out more about this project here: https://biolinksalliance.org.au/hero-tree

 

 

 

 

New Phascogale brochure: hot off the press

Posted on 31 January, 2024 by Ivan

It’s been some time since Connecting Country developed a new brochure, but here we have it, hot off the press – and it is all about the mighty cute, and threatened, Brush-Tailed Phascogale!

The brochure is aimed at educating our community and raising awareness of the Brush-tailed Phascogale and their habitat needs. It is available for download immediately – Click Here, or you can pick it up from the Connecting Country office in Castlemaine VIC.

The brochure is part of our ‘Habitat trees for Phascogales’ project that aims to protect and enhance habitat stepping stones for the Brush-tailed Phascogale and other native fauna, by protecting existing large old trees on grazing land.

We know that much of central Victoria’s native woodland has been heavily disturbed by a long history of mining, clearing, woodcutting, grazing, and changes in fire and water regimes. The local Box-Ironbark landscape provides habitat for many threatened species, including the Brush-tailed Phascogale, but much of the remaining woodland lacks complexity and is missing hollow-bearing trees that are important for foraging and nesting sites and protection from predators.

Tuan in a nestbox at Welshmans Reef. Photo Jess Lawton

Scientific studies demonstrate an alarming acceleration in the decline of most species within this community over recent years, including the Brush-tailed Phascogale which has experienced localised extinctions in some regions and has undergone a substantial range contraction and decline in numbers overall.

The Mount Alexander region is a likely stronghold for the Brush-tailed Phascogale and is important for the species’ future survival (Lawton et al. 2021, Austral Ecology). However, our region’s woodlands are heavily degraded and large old trees with hollows are now scarce and not being replaced.

Our project aims to protect large old trees from early senescence and facilitate natural regeneration. Over time, other key elements of phascogale habitat, such as fallen logs and leaf litter, will return to these areas.

The new brochure looks amazing, thanks to the hard work and creative magic of the Connecting Country team. In the brochure, you’ll find gorgeous images from some wonderful local photographers, as well as a summary of our how we can help the Phascogale thrive in our region.

Click here to download your very own copy, or drop into the office to pick up a free hard copy. We’d love to hear feedback on our brochure and any other information you may require into the future.

The Habitat Trees for Phascogales project is supported by the Victorian Government through the Nature Fund as well as the Ian and Shirley Norman Foundation.

 

Walking Together – Nalderun overview

Posted on 31 January, 2024 by Ivan

Please enjoy this wonderful article from our friends and project partners at Nalderun. The article was written by Floria Maschek, an ally and member of Friends of Nalderun (FoN). Nalderun is a Dja Dja Wurrung word meaning “all together”.

Nalderun Education Aboriginal Corporation- An overview

Nalderun (Nalderun Education Aboriginal Corporation), meaning ‘all together’, is a local Aboriginal run and led organisation and registered charity that predominantly focuses on providing opportunities for young, local First Nations People, whilst also supporting their families. The organisation also provides historical and cultural learning opportunities to the extended community, instilling the values of Country, truth telling and Indigenous world views, having many partnerships in government, community, education and health. Connection to Country, Community and Culture is at the core of Nalderun’s work – walking together for a thriving future for all. 

Nalderun supports young First Peoples to navigate the education system into meaningful employment, growing strong, proud leaders. Employment within the organisation involves an innovative cyclic mentorship approach. While Elders have a key place as directors on the board, young First Nations people hold a strong voice in decision making about Nalderun’s programs. 

The organisation relies heavily on grants and donations every year. Funding provides 20 part-time positions – 80% being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. As an ally and volunteer, it is incredible to witness the impact of the work, the breadth of community support and engagement, and how much the broader community also benefits when Nalderun is supported.

Nalderun’s work involves personalised student support, from tutoring to travel, and several programs including the following: 

School Based Apprenticeship Program (SBAT) and wrap around service.

Developing skills and connection in many areas including land management, conservation, agriculture, horticulture, education, business management and machinery operations. 

Warrarrak business

Connecting and engaging First Nations women and gender diverse students from local high schools (predominantly CSC) in a range of activities which include day trips, camps and cultural days. 

Kuli Business

A collaboration between Nalderun and Castlemaine Secondary College, guided by Uncle Rick Nelson, this program is for young Indigenous men. It involves trips on Country, and cultural engagement that includes hands-on activities and skill building. It helps them build strong connections to their Indigenous peers, a positive growth mindset and supports ongoing engagement with education. 

Youth Mentor Leadership Program 

This program is led by First Nations Youth Mentors who regularly visit, build relationships with and support local First Nations high school students. They have hosted Cultural Days on Djaara Country as well as a two day camp on Djab Wurrung Country.

The Meeting Place 

Held fortnightly during school terms, based in Yapeen, this program is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children within the Mount Alexander Shire and Maryborough Education Center and sometimes beyond. Students come together to learn the curriculum through Culture and Country. All who attend are honoured in the spirit of community learning. 

Foodshare

Nalderun delivered food to 13 families fortnightly through Foodshare last year in partnership with Bendigo Foodshare. A lot of meals!

Me- Mandook Galk

The community supported acquisition of land has allowed a strong connection with Country and shared community vision. This is the home of Nalderun’s new Bush Tucker Place, which is part of Nalderun’s long term vision to care for Country and Community.  Nalderun has been strengthening the partnership with the mob at the Middleton prison, and community mentorship, being on a wonderful learning journey about native plants that the farm is starting to produce and hoping to propagate over the year. The dream is to establish a sound revenue stream going into the future.

Education Network Group 

The group meets with local schools four times a year to support and help teachers with Indigenous pedagogy and worldviews, and to incorporate Indigenous content into the curriculum through Aboriginal and Torres Islander protocols. Nalderun also run tailored Indigenous worldview and pedagogy training for schools and local organisations.

 

Nalderun is breaking cycles of intergenerational trauma and disadvantage, which occur through ongoing colonisation. It is building pride, resilience and wellbeing.

Find out more about survival day: 

https://antar.org.au/issues/survival-day/history-of-the-date/

Nalderun website:

https://nalderun.net.au/

Floria Maschek is an ally and member of Friends of Nalderun (FoN). FoN members are guided by Nalderun Education Aboriginal Corporation and are diverse individuals and representatives of many local community networks, supporting Nalderuns visions and work. Nalderun Education Aboriginal Corporation supports the Aboriginal Community and is led by Aboriginal people while providing many learning and cultural opportunities to the broader community. Nalderun is a Dja Dja Wurrung word meaning “all together”. 

 

Our next digital journey: Instagram and photo competition

Posted on 30 January, 2024 by Ivan

We’re thrilled to announce a new chapter in our digital journey – Connecting Country is officially on Instagram! As we continue to grow and evolve, we’re excited to connect with you in new and dynamic ways through this vibrant platform.

Instagram might be a global stage, but it’s also a powerful way of connecting to our community in a more visual sense.  From engaging content to exciting collaborations, we can’t wait to connect with each and every one of you, no matter where you are!

Follow us on Instagram and get a glimpse of our current projects and activities around the region and the incredible people who make everything possible, click here or find us on Instagram: instagram.com/connectingcountrycastlemaine/

Photo competition

To celebrate our Instagram debut and celebrate our latest project – Habitat Trees for Phascogales – we’re hosting an exciting giveaway for one of our Instagram followers via a photo competition. We will be giving away a phascogale nestbox* for the best large old tree photograph taken in the Mount Alexander region during February 2024. To enter, simply upload your favorite photo to Instagram and tag @connectingcountrycastlemaine.

We would love to hear from you, so please share your thoughts in the comments, and join the conversation using our official hashtag, [#connectingcountrycastlemaine]. Your feedback will help shape the content you want to see!

Thank you for joining us on this exciting new venture. Together, let’s make our Instagram journey as memorable as the incredible milestones that brought us here.

See you on Instagram!

*Winner must be able to pick up the nestbox from our Castlemaine offices during March 2024.  Installation not included.

 

The misunderstood magical mistletoes: ABC online article

Posted on 25 January, 2024 by Ivan

Connecting Country has a long history of raising awareness about the often misunderstood native mistletoe in our region and the benefits it provides to a large array of birds, insects and marsupials. Our bird walk for beginners along Forest Creek, Castlemaine VIC, highlights various patches of healthy eucalypt and acacia species that host the semi-parasitic mistletoe plant and provide a healthy ecosystem function for many of our woodland birds.

We recently came across a great article published on the ABC website, where Dr David Watson, a plant biologist from Charles Sturt University, is interviewed regarding the many benefits and misunderstandings regarding mistletoe and its importance for healthy ecosystems. Please enjoy the article below, courtesy of ABC Online.

Mistletoe plays a vital role in Australia’s ecosystem

Mention mistletoe and people think of the magical plant that inspires many on-screen kisses. Others might say it’s a parasitic weed that kills its host tree. Mistletoes are indeed parasites, but this humble little plant might be an unsung hero when it comes to attracting wildlife.

This is why ecologist Lee Harrison persuaded Melbourne City Council to plant 800 mistletoe seeds in perfectly healthy street trees around the inner city and CBD. “They punch well above their weight in the biodiversity stakes,” says David Watson, a plant biologist from Charles Sturt University. “They flower and fruit when most other stuff doesn’t, so they are often the only source of tucker for insects and animals during hard times. “Mistletoes are a bird beacon but they also provide for sugar gliders, koalas, possums and butterflies.”

There are around 1,500 different species of mistletoe in the world, and all 92 in Australia are endemic — found nowhere else in the world.”Most people don’t realise that the mistletoe we see in our trees here is native,” Dr Watson  says. “Because we have that association with Christmas, people assume it’s an import, like blackberries and holly.”

Nuytsia floribunda, the Australian mistletoe, in bloom in Western Australia.

Nuytsia floribunda, or WA Christmas tree, is actually a mistletoe. (Photo: Graeme Churchard).

Dr Watson is about halfway through a 25-year study based in native woodland around Albury, NSW. “Essentially, we removed naturally occurring mistletoe from every tree across half of our study sites and left them at the other half.”

Preliminary results were quite startling: the areas without mistletoe lost a third of their previous bird diversity. “It is one of the strongest described effects of what’s called a keystone species — one that has a disproportionate influence on the ecosystem,” Dr Watson says. Dr Watson believes mistletoe has the potential to turn “virtually useless” street tree species and cities into wildlife sanctuaries. And no, they rarely kill host trees but, if they do, it’s generally because the broader environment is out of whack. “They kill trees as often as fleas kill dogs,” Dr Watson says.

“Generally it’s only isolated paddock trees that succumb, and they are a symptom of a broader malaise — there are not enough trees in the area.” Mistletoes are semi-parasitic canopy-dwellers; they photosynthesise to produce their own food but rely upon their host for water and support. Dr Watson says the word “parasite” gives them a bad rap.

“Like any predator, they have a role to play in a healthy ecosystem.” Fire also plays a role in “cleansing” mistletoes to stop them taking over — many trees regenerate after fire but mistletoes don’t. Changes to burning regimes upsets this balance. Dr Watson is also researching the fact that mistletoes drop their leaves more than gum trees and those leaves contain more nutrients, so mistletoes feed the soil under the host tree and keep it moist. Importantly for wildlife, this leaf litter drives more microbes in the soil, more insects, and hence more food for birds.

Mistletoe are found in almost every type of Australian environment, except Tasmania.

Mistletoe fun facts

A small bird with black on its head and back and red and white on its front, sitting on a branch

Mistletoe provides food and shelter for all sorts of bugs, animals and birds like the mistletoe bird.(Photo: Wikimedia Commons: Duncan McCaskill (CC by 3.0))

  • Mistletoe are over 30 million years old and fossil records suggest they originate from the part of Australia that was attached to Gondwana.
  • The Western Australian Christmas tree (Nuytsia floribunda), known for its stunning bright orange flowers, is possibly the largest parasite in the world. However, it’s suffered a 90 per cent decline over recent years.
  • The WA Christmas tree has blades on its roots sharp enough to break skin and slice through underground cables! It uses these to tap into roots of any plant within 100 metres.
  • Mistletoe can become vulnerable if their preferred host plant become more widely spaced. If there’s not be enough fruit to attract mistletoe birds, even a healthy plant cannot reproduce.
  • The leaves of nearly every Victorian mistletoe are the preferred food of caterpillars of at least one type of butterfly within the Azures (Ogyrisspp) and the Jezebels (Deliasspp).
  • Golden Mistletoe (Notothixossubaureus) grows only on another mistletoe, Dendropthoe vittelina, which in turn is parasitic on the relatively uncommon tree rough-barked apple (Angophora floribunda).
  • As mistletoe seed germinates, it puts out a tendril that secretes a cocktail of enzymes onto the branch, making a hole the tendril grows into.

 

Bird of the Month: Brown Goshawk

Posted on 23 January, 2024 by Ivan

Welcome to 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 blessed to have the brilliant Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, accompanied by Janes’s stunning photos.

Brown Goshawk (Accipiter fasciatus)

Solid looking Brown Goshawk in Campbells Creek, showing the heavy brow, long rounded tail and middle toe is similar length to other toes. Photo by Jane Rusden

Observed one morning when walking through the bush on my block, a Brown Goshawk pursued an Australian Owlet-nightjar in a fierce dog fight, flying at full speed down the gully, dodging trees by millimetres. The Brown Goshawk managed to catch the desperate Owlet-nightjar just before they saw the two humans, then they tumbled to the ground still locked together. the poor little Owlet Nightjar looked stunned and worse for wear, while the Brown Goshawk flew up into a tree, reluctant to loose it’s prey. The Owlet-nightjar at least got a bit of a breather, before both birds went their separate ways. I have no idea if the Owlet-nightjar survived the lethal body-puncturing talons of the Brown Goshawk, but the Goshawk certainly went hungry that morning.

The Brown Goshawk is one the Australia’s most widely distributed raptors and can be found across Australia and Tasmania as well as other islands, although it not as common in the very dry areas inland. It is a very versatile predator that uses a wide range of hunting techniques and can target a wide variety of prey. It will stalk grasshoppers on the ground, pursue small birds through the air and sit unobtrusively in cover, ready to glide down to catch prey on the ground. This prey ranges from insects to quail along with small rabbits, mice, lizards and snakes as well as yabbies and at times, carrion. Prey is usually 500g or less, but items such as young rabbits and reptiles up to 1kg have been known to be taken by female goshawks which are much larger than the male. Owlet-nightjars weigh 35-65g, putting them firmly in the small bird category of prey.

Choosing dinner. A Brown Goshawk terrorising rescue aviary Cockatiels, but the Cockatiels are thankfully very safe from this fearsome predator. Photo by Jane Rusden

The Goshawk is also well known for lurking around chicken coops and aviaries looking for dinner opportunities, as well as soaring up high on the lookout for prey. It is known to be a reckless and persistent hunter, chasing birds through the undergrowth, exactly like the Goshawk chasing the Owlet-nightjar down the gully, and at times will chase prey into or under buildings. Young goshawks, in particular, have a reputation for being quite reckless at times when chasing prey, dashing through dense foliage and into chicken pens.

Although quite common and widespread in both bushland and urban areas it often goes unnoticed due to its cryptic behaviour, sitting very still in foliage and silently observing with intense yellow eyes.

The introduction and spread of the rabbit along with the opening of forests has probably led to an expansion of its range since European settlement.

Nests are built usually in the fork of a tree out of sticks and foliage. 1- 5 eggs are laid (usually 2-4) and both parents will incubate and feed the young. Adults tend to be fairly sedentary but young birds have been know to spread quite long distances in their first year, with some banding re-captures over 900km from a nest site.

Identification

The Brown Goshawk can be tricky to distinguish from the closely related Collared Sparrowhawk. Although the female Goshawk is quite a bit larger at 45-55cm in length, the female Sparrowhawk (35-38cm) is almost as large as the male Goshawk (38-45cm). Colouration and habitat tend to be similar and differentiating the two species can be hard in the field, especially when you only get a fleeting glimpse of these fast and cryptic birds.

In short, the best indicators to separate them are as follows:

Find more information on Brown Goshawk, including their calls, here.

 

Help support us!: Container recycling deposit scheme:

Posted on 23 January, 2024 by Ivan

In a world full of bad news, we’ve got some good news! How would you like to recycle your cans, cartons and bottles and support Connecting Country at the same time?  On 1 November 2023 Victoria’s Container Deposit Scheme, CDS Vic, commenced. The scheme rewards Victorians with a 10-cent refund for every eligible can, carton and bottle they return. The recycling scheme also has the option to donate to a local community group or organisation, which is a valuable fundraising opportunity, simply by recycling your drinking containers. The scheme is part of important work that is transforming Victoria’s waste and recycling system.

If you would like to donate some, or all of your money from the recycling scheme to Connecting Country, quote partner ID: C2000009164 at the return centre.

How to make a return: click here

It’s as easy as 1, 2 3:

CDS Vic provides a 10-cent refund for every eligible drink container returned at refund points across Victoria. Every bottle, can and carton you return helps divert valuable containers from landfill. 

     1. Collect eligible drink containers:

Most aluminum, glass, plastic, steel, and liquid paperboard (carton) drink containers between 150mL and 3 litres are eligible. Look for the 10c mark on the back of pack. Some drinks are not eligible, including plain milk containers, wine and spirit bottles.  Tip: Keep lids on and don’t crush your containers.

    2. Return your eligible drink containers

The interactive map makes it easy to discover refund points near you. Click here to search. The nearest refund point in our region is:

Chewton Service Station
37 Pyreness Highway, Chewton, VIC 3451

Over the Counter (OTC)

    3. Earn a refund or donate

All eligible drink containers are worth a 10-cent refund that you can either keep or donate to a community donation partner.

To donate to us, simply quote the Connecting Country partner ID: C2000009164

 

 

Muckleford Catchment Landcare pay tribute to David Griffiths

Posted on 19 December, 2023 by Hadley Cole

On Sunday 19 November 2023, Muckleford Catchment Landcare Group held a memorial for long time Landcare member and landscape restoration specialist David Griffiths. The group rallied together with other community members and friends of David to pay homage to the legacy that he has left. Beth Mellick secretary of Muckleford Catchment Landcare has shared the below tribute.

 

David Griffiths planting in Muckleford. Photo by Beth Mellick.

 

Muckleford annual general meeting and memorial to David Griffiths

We decided to go ahead with our planned annual general meeting in November, but to also make it into a memorial day for our good friend David Griffiths.

Dave died of cancer recently. Although we knew he was ill, his death still came as a shock and for many of us, we still can’t believe he is actually gone.

He left a huge legacy across central Victoria, having planted hundreds of thousands of trees on private property. He really knew all about this landscape restoration stuff – his favourite phrase was ‘landscape function’. 

We were so lucky that Dave was willing to share his knowledge and expertise with Muckleford Landcare. The amazing success of our plantings is because of his famous yeoman’s plough!

During the AGM we decided to leave Dave in the Vice President role. His dying was still too new, it was (and is) too soon to move on. He can’t be replaced. Members of our Landcare group and the Muckleford community got up and spoke about Dave, our comrade, and how he affected their lives, and their properties. We then planted a tree in his honour down at the Muckleford train station.

Thanks to the Goldfields Victorian Railway for being so amenable to our request for this memorial.

People say “gone but not forgotten”, and in Dave’s case this is so true because wherever we look, we see his work, and some of us believe if we look closely, we can see Dave.

Words by Beth Mellick

The Connecting Country team send deepest condolences to the friends and family of David.

Photos below show Muckleford Catchment Landcare members and community members paying tribute to David Griffiths. Photos by Beth Mellick.

 

Exciting news: Emerging Pardalotes

Posted on 19 December, 2023 by Ivan

We are blessed to have some of the most wonderful volunteers and supporters we could ever hope for, who help keep our restoration and monitoring programs ticking along across the central Victorian region. We love to celebrate and engage with our dedicated volunteers and were excited to receive a nice story and photos from one such volunteer, Lou Citroën. Lou is a keen bird watcher, citizen scientist and photographer, and has been observing a family of Spotted Pardalote birds in his backyard in Castlemaine. These birds have the unusual habit of nesting in burrows, and Lou was lucky enough to have them do this next to his veggie patch in spring.

Please find Lou’s observations and photos below, of a very sweet take of the young Pardalotes leaving the nest for the first time. Great capture Lou, keep up the great work and passion!

Emerging Pardalotes, by Lou Citroën

I have some exciting news.

I was over the moon to have actually witnessed (AND photographed) the two young pardalotes emerging and leaving their burrow (with some encouragement from Mum and Dad) this morning (after about 7 weeks of incubation and feeding)!

Thinking that I would not stand a chance to be able to capture this special moment in time, I was very lucky to do so and share it with you with the photos.

 

For further information about Spotted Pardalotes, courtesy of Birdlife Australia, please click here.

If you’re interested in volunteer opportunities with Connecting Country please send a brief email to anna@connectingcountry.org.au detailing your relevant experience and availability.

Connecting Country (Mount Alexander Region) Inc is an incorporated, not-for-profit community organisation restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander region. Donations help us continue this vital work. If you are in a position to contribute, please click here for more information on how to donate.

 

Large old tree profile: Chewton’s treasured long-leaved box

Posted on 14 December, 2023 by Ivan

Over the past 12 months, Connecting Country has been asking the local community to map our precious large old trees, through our new online mapping portal. The mapping portal aims to engage with the community about the importance of the old, and often large trees of central Victoria, as part of Connecting Country’s larger project, ‘Regenerate before it’s too late’.

Anyone can access the mapping portal. The community, including landholders, Landcarers and land managers, have been vital in mapping their favourite old trees across our region so far. To date, we have mapped over 30 old trees on the database and are keen for the community to continue mapping trees that are important to them and our local wildlife.

We will be highlighting some of the extraordinary trees that have been mapped, starting with a great entry from Joel B in Chewton, who uploaded a wonderful Long-leafed Box (Eucalyptus goniocalyx) in the Post Office Hill reserve, Chewton. We asked Joel to tell us what he loved about the tree and what made it a significant tree to him and his family. Thanks Joel! Please enjoy his words and images below, and scroll further for instructions on how to map a large, old tree yourself.

The coppiced long-leaved box of Chewton

…One of my favourite trees to visit is a coppiced long-leaved box on Post Office Hill reserve, Chewton. Its story is literally etched on it – first lopped, it has regrown with multiple branches, having survived a wildfire, multiple axe wounds and sawn-off branches, this is a living example of bush resilience!

In an area of limited natural tree hollows, one large branch has a hollow that has supported generations of brush-tailed phascogales in the decade I’ve been visiting it, with continual evidence of scats and scratchings on the branches and scats falling out of the hollow onto the forest floor below.

I imagine it has been a favourite roost or hunting perch for owls, judging by the pellets found below. In the day time it supports a range of our local woodland birds, from thornbills and honeyeaters in the canopy going after lerps, seasonal flowering and insects, to the larger ravens and currawongs that can be seen perching or tearing off bark on the larger branches looking for a tasty meal.

I always look forward to visiting and like to notice any activity…

Joel B

We need your help!

The mapping portal is now open for any community member to record the old trees in your area. You will need to register with the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) (its quick, easy and free), then upload a photo and enter the field details needed for the survey. The portal will ask you simple questions about the tree location, size, species, age (if known), health status and habitat value.

Trees can be tricky to identify, especially eucalypts. If you are unsure about the identification of the tree species, you can:

  • Use the to iNaturalist app assist with identification –  click here
  • Refer to a good guidebook, like those published by Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests – click here
  • Visit the Castlemaine Flora website – click here

To record your large old tree, or view the field survey questions and required measurements – click here

The mapping portal uses BioCollect, an advanced but simple-to-use data collection tool developed by the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) and its collaborators. BioCollect helps users collect field biodiversity data for their own projects, while allowing the data to be easily copied into the ALA, where it can be publicly available for others to use in research, policy and management. This allows individual projects to collectively contribute to ‘big science’.

By recording these trees, you will help build our understanding of the large old trees in our region, and contribute to the largest biodiversity database in our country. As the database grows, you can also access the portal to learn about other wonderful large old trees in our area and view the photos.

We are most grateful for our generous project support from the Ian & Shirley Norman Foundation. The foundation aims ‘To encourage and support organisations that are capable of responding to social and ecological opportunities and challenges.’ To learn more about Ian & Shirley Norman Foundation – click here

 

Connecting Country featuring on award winning Saltgrass Podcast

Posted on 13 December, 2023 by Ivan

We are super excited to present our debut on the much-celebrated Saltgrass Podcast, which is now available for your listening pleasure. Saltgrass is a fortnightly MainFM radio show and podcast highlighting and celebrating what people are doing about the climate crisis in their communities. The Saltgrass podcast is created on Djaara country in Castlemaine by the very talented Allie Hanly, who has won numerous awards for the podcast including the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia Best Talk award in November this year.   Well done Allie and thanks for your support.

Connecting Country’s Bonnie Humphries and Hadley Cole feature on the episode discussing community involvement in landscape restoration and why genetic diversity is important to plant resilience in a time of climate change. This episode also features excerpts from our event called ‘Revegetation Success in a Changing Climate’ featuring Sasha Jellinek from the University of Melbourne and Melbourne Water, Oli Moraes from DJAARA and Tess Greives from the North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA).

S5 E18 Connecting Country

Guests:

Bonnie Humphries – Connecting Country – Landscape Restoration Specialist

Hadley Cole – Connecting Country – Landcare Facilitator

Sasha Jellinek – the University of Melbourne and Melbourne Water

Oli Moraes – DJAARA

Tess Greives – North Central Catchment Management Authority (NCCMA)

Summary:

00:00 Introduction

02:28 Acknowledgement of Country

03:22 Hadley Cole and Bonnie Humphries in conversation about Connecting Country and Landcare

17:30 Excerpts from event: ‘Revegetation Success in a Changing Climate

17:53 Sascha Jellinik – climate impact and importance of genetic diversity

21:14 Oli Moraes – The Role of Djaara in landscape restoration and climate strategies

25:36 Tess Greives – Climate ready Reveg projects

28:07 Bonnie and Hadley on the Importance of Genetic Diversity in Ecosystems

31:35 The Role of Climate Future Plots in Ecosystem Restoration

43:09 The Importance of Community Involvement in Ecosystem Restoration

46:03 Conclusion and Final Remarks

 

Give the gift of hope for woodland birds this Christmas

Posted on 11 December, 2023 by Ivan

It’s never been more important to act on landscape restoration and provide critical habitat for our woodland birds of central Victoria. This Christmas, give the gift of hope to our threatened woodland bird population. 

With every gift, you are helping Connecting Country to plant vital habitat and restore our degraded woodlands. As well as removing carbon from the atmosphere, these woodlands create habitat and ecosystems for our most treasured birds and other endangered wildlife. Do more than wish for change this Christmas. Take action to continue this important work today and restore our landscapes for your loved ones and future generations.

Today we are launching our ‘Christmas Gift for Woodland Birds’ campaign and asking our community to give the gift of habitat for our local wildlife this Christmas.

$20 plants 2 habitat and food plant to support woodland birds

$50 plants 5 habitat and food plants to support woodland birds

$150 purchases and installs a nest box for wildlife

$500 supports the establishment of a habitat corridor

$1000 can support landscape-scale carbon sinks and habitat corridors

Click here to make a gift contribution this Christmas

The Diamond Firetail is a small threatened bright finch with a black band of white diamond spots. Photo Geoff Park

Thank you for supporting our shared vision for landscape restoration across the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. 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 lean operation and our small team of part-time staff attracts voluntary support that ensures every dollar goes a long way.

Over the past ten years, we have:

  • Restored 13,000 ha of habitat across the Mount Alexander region, which equates to around 7.5% of the shire.
  • Delivered more than 225 successful community education events.
  • Installed more than 450 nestboxes for the threatened Brush-tailed Phascogale
  • Maintained a network of 50 long-term bird monitoring sites
  • Secured funding to deliver more than 60 landscape restoration projects.
  • Supported an incredible network of over 30 Landcare and Friends groups.

Connecting Country has a long-established track record of revegetation success. Photo: Connecting Country

We should all be proud of what we’ve achieved. However, there’s much more to do.

Click here to make a gift contribution this Christmas