Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Listen up – is that an owl calling?

Posted on 19 May, 2020 by Frances

Autumn is a great time to be out listening for Powerful Owls at night. They call mainly at dusk and dawn during autumn and winter (April-July), early in their breeding season. During 2017-2019, Connecting Country volunteers were part of an exciting citizen science project to detect night birds, including the Powerful Owl, in the Mount Alexander region using bioacoustic monitoring. This formed part of the ‘Communities Listening for Nature’ projects run by the Victorian National Parks Association in partnership with Museums Victoria at multiple locations around Victoria.

Local keen field naturalist, bird watcher and scientist Jenny Rolland prepared an excellent report detailing the project. We’ve summarised some key points below. To read Jenny’s full report – click here

To view a video featuring Connecting Country volunteers talking about the project – click here

Areas included in the night bird study

How to study night birds

Using song meters to record bird calls is a powerful way to collect data on bird distributions across large areas with minimal fieldwork. When Connecting Country volunteers had the opportunity to use song meters, they decided to focus on night birds to complement the existing knowledge from our daytime bird surveys.

The team selected 17 monitoring sites within three blocks of key bird habitat in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria: Muckleford, Sandon and the Rise and Shine Reserve Bushland Reserve.

They targeted seven night birds, ranging from common species to rarer species with little evidence of local populations:

  • Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) – Relatively common, Threatened in Victoria
  • Barking Owl (Ninox connivens) – Rare, Endangered in Victoria
  • Southern Boobook (Ninox boobook) – Common
  • Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) – Common
  • Australian Owlet Nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus) – Relatively common
  • White-throated Nightjar (Eurostopodus mystacalis) – Relatively common
  • Spotted Nightjar (Eurostopodus argus) – Rare

Song meter securely attached to a tree

During 2018 the song meters recorded a whopping  5,005 hours (or 1.6 terabytes) of data. Calls were identified with a combination of listening by skilled volunteers and specialised computer software that interpreted sound frequencies as visual displays called spectrograms.

 

 

What did we learn about our night birds?

Powerful Owl adult and chick (photo by Damian Kelly)

The team was very excited to find:

  • Six of the seven target night bird species were detected (with Spotted Nightjar the only species not detected)
  • Barking Owl was recorded at four sites: two in the Rise and Shine block and two in the Sandon block
  • Powerful Owl was recorded at 12 sites across all three blocks
  •  Australian Owlet Nightjar and Southern Boobook were recorded at all sites
  • White-throated Nightjar was recorded at ten sites (mainly in the Muckleford block) and the Tawny Frogmouth at five sites

Results were compared with habitat data to provide valuable new information on habitat use for these species in the region that can guide future monitoring and habitat restoration efforts.

 

Listen to night birds

To hear the slow, far-carrying ‘whoo hoo’ of the Powerful Owl from Muckleford forest – click on the following recording

 

To hear the low, dog-like ‘woof woof’  of the Barking Owl from Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve – click on the following recording

 

Conclusions

Our local Listening for Nature study provided a large amount of acoustic data on night birds within our region and detected the presence of six of the target species. The project successfully brought together the local community with scientists and land managers to improve our collective understanding of species and ecosystems, and inform future management of our natural areas.

For more information about other similar projects around Victoria visit the Victorian National Parks Association website – click here

 

Survey on biodiversity priorities in Mount Alexander Shire

Posted on 19 May, 2020 by Jacqui

Tarrangower Cactus Control Group provided the following invitation to complete their brief survey about weed management and compliance in the Mount Alexander Shire by 31 May 2020.

Tarrangower Cactus Control Group has created a very short online survey to try to gauge how other community members and groups within the Mount Alexander Shire feel about noxious weed management within our Shire:

  • Are you concerned about the spread of noxious weeds in our local natural environment?
  • Do you think enough weed management is carried out by our local Shire?
  • Would you like our Shire to treat our natural environment with a greater priority?
  • Would you like to make a comment about local weed control?

Here’s the link to the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FPQ6QV8

There’re only 10 simple questions and it should take only 5 minutes to complete. We’ll collate the answers at the end of May 2020.

Tarrangower Cactus Control Group Inc

 

A new direction for Landcare in Victoria

Posted on 14 May, 2020 by Jacqui

An announcement from Landcare Victoria Incorporated (LVi), the organisation representing Landcarers at a state level.

A new direction for Landcare in Victoria

LVI provided the following information on recent developments and future support for Landcare.

Greetings from the Committee of Management for Landcare Victoria Incorporated (LVi), your state wide organisation representing grass roots Landcarers committed to increasing biodiversity and promoting the sustainable management of land.

Many of our members are busier than ever making sure that the supply chains are well provided with healthy food. We would like to update you as our valued members and partners on some exciting new developments at Landcare Victoria.

Landcare Victoria now has energetic support from two philanthropic trusts: Jim and Heather Phillipson (Rendere Trust) and Joanne and William Crothers (Upotipotpon Foundation). This will bring increased capacity to support our partners and Landcarers and deliver increased recognition, resourcing and support for resilient and productive landscapes and communities.

This recent support from the philanthropic community has been a catalyst for the Landcare Victoria team, prompting us to develop some ambitious future plans and make sure we have the right people to drive these forward and maximise the opportunity this new support brings.

An exciting new step in the future of Landcare Victoria is the decision to advertise for an inaugural CEO. The new CEO will be tasked with the primary objectives of driving ongoing funding of the Landcare Facilitator program and fostering the development of more diverse funding sources and strategic partnerships.  

A key theme in Landcare Victoria’s strategic plan is to encourage a strong, vocal and resilient Landcare movement in Victoria. Working with the Victorian State Government to ensure the ongoing employment and support of Landcare facilitators across groups and networks is fundamental to this. While continuing to work with State Government, Landcare Victoria is also seeking diversity of funding sources and broader community recognition and support.

In order to convert our plans into action Landcare Victoria is establishing the Victorian Landcare Fund.  This public fund has the specific role of supporting biodiversity and promoting the sustainable management of land. Landcare Victoria is also in the process of achieving Deductable Gift Recipients status which will provide more avenues for diverse financial investment in Landcare across Victoria.  

This will not only attract investment from philanthropic organisations, the fund will provide a vessel for “mum and dad” investors from the broader community, to support Landcare actions within their own communities both locally and state wide.

As a grass roots organisation, our future plans are focused on bringing even greater outcomes, raising the profile of Landcare in Victoria as well as the incredible work of our Landcarers, for benefit of the broader community and the environment.

 

Last chance for calendar photo competition – closes 18 May 2020

Posted on 14 May, 2020 by Ivan

Several weeks ago we announced our inaugural Connecting Country calendar competition and entries have been flowing in steadily. 

Our theme is woodland birds and this photo competition is open to all Connecting Country members and people of the Mount Alexander region. The aim of the competition is 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 the year 2021.

The calendar will be available to purchase and will feature the top 12 photographs, as selected by the Connecting Country team. There is a limit of two entries per photographer, and the competition will close at 5 pm on Monday 18 May 2020. Both experienced and amateur photographers are encouraged to participate. Simply email your chosen images to ivan@connectingcountry.org.au by 5 pm on 18 May 2020.

We have been extremely impressed with the quality entries so far and thought we would share the highlights from this week in a gallery below. Thank you to everyone who has contributed so far! Keep the entries coming until Monday 18 May 2020.

Calendar competition details:

  • Photos must be relevant to the theme of woodland birds and taken in the Mount Alexander region in central Victoria.
  • There is a maximum of two photo entries per photographer.
  • Entries must be submitted by email to ivan@connectingcountry.org.au, including the location, date and subject of the photo.
  • Original photos must be at least 3 MB for image quality, but to enter please email files under 1 MB.
  • Entries close on this Monday 18 May 2020.
  • Winning images will be selected by Connecting Country and published in a 2021 woodland birds calendar.
  • There will be no commission paid to competition winners, but full recognition of your work will be featured and acknowledged.

Further details on the competition format and conditions are provided on our website: click here

 

Arboretum comes to life in Elphinstone 

Posted on 14 May, 2020 by Ivan

We were fortunate to receive the following Landcare story written by Sue McLennan from Elphinstone Land Management Association (ELMA), as part of Connecting Country’s ‘Landcare Stories’ series. The story highlights the importance of Landcare in our community, and how Landcare not only helps restore our local ecosystems, but educates the next generation of land managers. Since 2012 Connecting Country has employed a  Landcare Facilitator to support the work of community land management groups in the Mount Alexander Shire. If you would like to join a local Landcare group,  visit Connecting Country’s website for contact details for all the groups in our region – click here

Arboretum comes to life in Elphinstone

The Elphinstone Arboretum is a great example of a shared vision coming to life through community engagement, teamwork and dedication, in the true spirit of Landcare. As the brainchild of former Elphinstone Land Management Association (ELMA) member Neville Cooper, who saw an opportunity to enhance and develop a half acre site dotted with mature sliver banksia and eucalypts at the Recreation Reserve in Elphinstone, the arboretum has become an important part of our local landscape.

When established in 2010, aided by a grant from the Mount Alexander Shire Council, the project captured the hearts of ELMA members and has been the most successful of our group’s planting days and working bees. With assistance from native plant guru Frances Cincotta from Newstead Natives, indigenous plants were carefully chosen and planted according to habit, with many species grouped together to allow for greater visual impact and easy identification. Over 400 seedlings have been planted over the years to showcase trees and shrubs indigenous to the area, encouraging visitors to learn about native plants and how to use them on their own properties, while providing habitat for native wildlife.

Elphinstone Primary School students learning all about the arboretum (photo: ELMA)

Some years later, when the plants had become well established, ELMA was successful in obtaining a grant for signage through the North Central Catchment Management Authority. In 2017 we installed fixed full colour signs with photos providing information on habit, flowering and cultivation of over 25 different plants including various species of acacia, eucalypts, correas, melaleuca and hopbush, to name a few.

The arboretum is an ever-evolving space. Although we’ve lost a few plants along the way, we’ve gained knowledge in which species have thrived under the local conditions and have planted more of those species, ensuring that each year it grows in abundance.

Not only is it a wonderful asset for our community, it’s a celebration of our botanical heritage and an example of how we can make a positive impact on our environment. We hope that visitors to the Recreation Reserve can enjoy the arboretum, not only to admire its beauty but as a botanical and educational reference for many years to come.

The Elphinstone Arboretum is located behind the Elphinstone Hall in Olivers Lane, Elphinstone VIC.

ELMA is a Landcare group in Elphinstone, in central Victoria, just outside of Castlemaine. This group of volunteers work on public and private land to enhance biodiversity, carry out land restoration, offer advice on best practice land use, and manage pest plants and animals. ELMA is a member of the Victorian Farmers Federation’s Farm Tree and Landcare Association (FTLA). Please visit ELMA’s website for more details on membership and upcoming eventsclick here

Sue McLennan
ELMA

 

 

 

Farmer of the Year 2020 – nominations open

Posted on 14 May, 2020 by Ivan

We treasure our local farmers and producers in the Mount Alexander Region, who not only produce an amazing array of farm produce and commodities but often also care for their environment and manage their natural assets for the benefit of us all. Over the past decade, Connecting Country has worked with many farmers who have committed to protect and improve the natural biodiversity on their farms, while also managing their primary production and putting food on our plates. It is a juggling act that requires a combination of dedication, intelligence, anticipation, hard work, resources and a love for the land. Farmers deserve all the recognition they can get, working tirelessly and often without holidays. Please consider nominating a local farmer for the Farmer of the Year award.

There are many farmers in our region that are leading examples of sustainable agriculture (photo: Jarrod Coote)

 

Australian Farmer of the Year nominations 2020

The Australian Farmer of the Year Awards are designed to celebrate and applaud the outstanding achievements of those individuals and families making a significant contribution to Australian agriculture. There are seven awards categories:

  • Australian Farmer of the Year
  • Young Farmer of the Year
  • Farmer Legend of the Year
  • Rural community leader of the year
  • Rural consultant of the year
  • Agricultural Student of the Year
  • Award for Excellence in Agricultural Research

Nominations must be 200 words or less. To read the awards guidelines – click here

Nominations close on 24 May 2020. Winners will be announced in October 2020.

 

Birdlife presents Powerful Owl online: 14 May 2020

Posted on 12 May, 2020 by Ivan

Are you looking for an interesting online bird event this week? Birdlife Australia is running a series of birding at home events and activities, to keep us engaged and learning at home during the COVID-19 restrictions. This week will feature an online event about our birds from the night, the nocturnal community, and will include a questions and answers session with Dr Beth Mott, Birdlife Australia’s Powerful Owl Project Officer.

Here is what Birdlife Australia has to say about the event.

Birding at home: Nocturnal birds with Dr Beth Mott

‘To help everyone who is now #BirdingatHome, Birdlife Australia presents a weekly live series on Facebook where our bird experts will be taking questions and talking about what we love best – birds. Beth is our Powerful Owl Project Officer (NSW) and is fully primed to answer your questions about noises in the night – your nocturnal birds!

Beth will talk about the night birds we are likely to see and hear at home, as well as threatened species such as Australia’s biggest owl – the Powerful Owl– so if you’ve got a query, post your question here! Beth will also touch on how you can help prevent our nocturnal birds from exposure to the dangers of rodenticides.

Even if you are an expert birder, we encourage you to join in for a chat – and please spread the word to all the bird and nature lovers in your life.

To find out more about our Powerful Owl project work in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria – see https://birdlife.org.au/projects/powerful-owl-project’

Topic: Nocturnal birds with Dr Beth Mott
Date: Thursday 14 May 2020 12pm – 1pm
Venue: online
Host: Birdlife Australia
To register: click here

 

Is landscape restoration working?

Posted on 7 May, 2020 by Ivan

We are super lucky to have secured local Newstead resident and blog royalty, the wonderful Geoff Park, as a guest blog author this week, exploring the question of ‘Is landscape restoration working?’ This topic is close to our hearts, given Connecting Country’s decade of landscape restoration work and ecological monitoring. We are enlightened to read Geoff’s well thought out article exploring the questions, answers and unknowns. Please enjoy the following insights from Geoff Park and subscribe to his excellent Natural Newstead blog (https://geoffpark.wordpress.com/author/geoffpark/) if you don’t already!

Is landscape restoration working?  

Across Australia (and beyond) there are wonderful initiatives, many community led, to restore damaged landscapes. Here in Mount Alexander Shire the work of dedicated landholders and community groups such as Connecting Country is part of a continental effort of landscape restoration – at many different scales from patch to paddock to catchment.

All up it represents a monumental expenditure of time, human resources and money – so how well is it working?

I’d like to tackle this question from three different perspectives.

Firstly, to what extent have we been able to repair the key ecological processes, such as absorbing and filtering water, enabling soil formation and promoting natural regeneration – fundamental things that healthy landscapes do well.

Our local landscapes have been ravaged, especially by mining which began in the 1850s and continued into the start of the 20th century at a significant scale, only to be followed by large-scale timber extraction during the world wars. At least five waves of vegetation clearance have occurred – each time the landscape has bounced back to some degree through natural regeneration, but it’s not the same and it’s certainly not as good. Much of the bush on public land in district is what I would term a thicket – regenerating eucalypts, often multi-stemmed and originating from an ancient lignotuber, at a density perhaps ten to a hundred times greater than the ‘original’ bush.

Repairing ecological processes is no easy task – with a metre of soil stripped from the land and new soil being formed at perhaps 10 mm in 100 years you can do the maths!

Secondly, how well are we succeeding in restoring the missing components?

Well what have we lost? A number of species of birds have become locally extinct – the Grey-crowned Babbler and Bush Stone-curlew have succumbed to loss of habitat and fox predation, while once common birds such as the Regent Honeyeater and Swift Parrot are on the brink. On the flora side of the equation we have retained most of the diversity of trees and larger shrubs (especially wattles), however smaller shrubs, understorey grasses, and forbs have been decimated. For example, Silver Banksia, was common locally until the advent of extensive grazing from the 1870s or thereabouts. It is now locally extinct around Newstead. It is encouraging to see landscape restoration becoming more sophisticated, moving from large scale establishment of eucalypts to more nuanced approaches such as targeted plantings of shrubs and grasses to an active exploration of how cultural burning techniques might restore something of the ‘original’ look and feel of the bush. Not only will this restore some of the missing parts of the puzzle it will also enable our landscapes to function more effectively.

And thirdly – what is happening to the structure, or put more simply … how does it look?

It’s ironic, but there are now more trees (in terms of stems/ha) in our landscape than there would have been 200 years ago, the thickening of eucalypts in response to repeated clearing has created a very different landscape. Where once there may have been 3 or 4 massive Grey Box per hectare on the low rises leading away from the Loddon River, there may now be upwards of a 1,000 stems per hectare. The open, ‘park like’ appearance that was often remarked on by landscape chroniclers, starting with Mitchell in 1836, was a scattering of large gums above wildflower filled native grassland – it was a mosaic with lots of open space. Sadly, there are few remaining examples – generally postage stamp remnants on private land.

This of course provokes the question, often hotly contested, of what should we be aiming for. One commonly used reference point is provided by what is known as the pre-1750 benchmark for ecosystems. Vegetation communities across Victoria have been described by botanists and ecologists in terms of what we think they might have looked like prior to European occupation, a descriptive reconstruction of the species composition and the abundance of some of the key species in each community, for example the density of characteristic eucalypts. While this can be a useful starting point and a guide, the onset of rapidly unfolding climate change has led to active questioning of this approach. In my home garden, some years back, I started planting beautiful, hardy Riverina wattles from 150 kilometres north – species such Eumong, Weeping Myall and Willow Wattle will I suspect become a feature of future local landscapes.

So … is landscape restoration working? It’s too early to say, however, there are some positive signs.

It’s instructive to look at time series aerial photography and in more modern times, satellite imagery Close to home, at Newstead, the change along the Loddon River between 1949, when the first aerial surveys were done, and 2002 – not long after Catchment Management Authorities were established to coordinate what is proving to be very successful large-scale river restoration, shows a remarkable and positive transformation. Click here for the details. The simple act of removing grazing along the riparian zone has led to extensive and sustained natural regeneration, augmented in recent times by strategic Landcare plantings.

Natural regeneration is happening on a significant scale across box-ironbark ecosystems in Victoria, but it is concentrated on the more marginal agricultural lands, the stony ridges and eroded hillslopes where topsoil is scant and fertility is low. Increasingly, however, a decline in some agricultural commodity markets and our proximity to large urban centres has driven a shift in land use across much of central Victoria, from a largely farming landscape until the 1980s to one where nature conservation is now a serious, widespread and legitimate land use – increasingly this is seeing once heavily cleared alluvial areas, not just the ‘lizard country’, being actively managed for biodiversity.

In my small patch around Newstead I’ve been tracking the disappearance and return of iconic woodland birds, like the Hooded Robin, Crested Bellbird and Chestnut-rumped Heathwren. My observations are anecdotal and are by no means systematic, but I am seeing some positive signs. The majority of species are doing okay, and while numbers move up and down with the seasons – there was a significant rebound after the Millenium drought broke in 2010-11 – my sense is that the trend is neither decline or resurgence but a fragile stability. How climate change plays out over the coming decade will be critical.

A core feature of Connecting Country’s work when it started over a decade ago was the establishment of a long-term monitoring program. This program, focusing on woodland birds, nest boxes and habitat assessment is a great example of tackling the question … is landscape restoration working? With monitoring results across reference and restoration site in a variety of ecosystems some patterns are starting to emerge to shed light on the question.

I’ll be interested to see what is emerging from a preliminary analysis of this data and while it won’t definitively answer the question … is landscape restoration working? … it will be a very useful start.

Geoff Park
Newstead VIC

 

 

 

 

Team Awesome: our volunteers add 17,000 records to Victorian Biodiversity Atlas

Posted on 7 May, 2020 by Ivan

Databases are only as good as the data that is entered (or not entered) into them, with many important decisions relying on databases being up to date and conclusive. Connecting Country and our monitoring partners have collected tens of thousands of wildlife records over the past decade. But there’s no point collecting data if it’s not accessible to the people who need it.

From 2019 to 2020, Connecting Country’s amazing volunteers have entered a whopping 17,175 wildlife monitoring records to the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (VBA), with thousands more records currently being progressed in preparation for uploading soon.

Adding this amount of data to the VBA has taken a substantial effort of over 500 volunteer hours. Anyone who has entered this amount of data onto the VBA can attest that the process is not straight forward, so this has been a huge effort by our volunteers and a significant contribution to conservation efforts in the local region. Uploading our records to the VBA means that the data we have collected is no longer ‘locked up’ within our organisation, but available for researchers and decision-makers when they are making important decisions about where to allocate government resources, where to do planned burns, and whether to approve developments such as residential subdivisions.

Our awesome team of data entry volunteers volunteers

Initially, we were seeking just one volunteer to help enter data for us. However, when we put the call out for a volunteer we got such an incredibly strong response that we chose to engage four enthusiastic volunteers to share our data. These four amazing and tireless volunteers are Alexandra Reinehr, Corey Greenham, Karen Stuart and Lou Citroen.

  • Alexandra is about to complete a Bachelor of Science with an Environmental Management and Ecology major. She lives on an 153 acre property in central Victoria so it’s not surprising her focus is on sustainable and biodiverse farming practices. Alexandra came across Connecting Country through one of her lecturers at Victoria University and was interested in volunteering so she could learn more about the flora and fauna of her region as well as help contribute to their mission to restore and enhance biodiversity.
  • Corey grew up in the Bendigo area and currently lives in Melbourne. Corey finished his Bachelor of Environment and Society at RMIT in 2018. He has a broad passion for the environment and sustainability but has strong interests in biodiversity, urban greening, and community-based environmental initiatives. Corey says, ‘I thought the project would be a fantastic chance to learn more about the local environment in the Bendigo and Castlemaine region while helping to improve the existing information on local species such as the Phascogale. Even though I grew up in the area, I only spent a little bit of time in Castlemaine and have really enjoyed exploring the town and surroundings over the course of volunteering.’
  • Karen is well known here in the office at Connecting Country, having previously completed a work placement in our office and helped make sure our nest box database is in good shape. After working in administration and finance for 35 years and raising two children, Karen seized the opportunity to follow her passion. She is studying a Diploma of Conservation and Land Management. A highlight includes two weeks of volunteer fieldwork on the Eyre Peninsula with Australian Wildlife Conservancy, where she worked alongside expert ecologists. She is blending her work history with her studies and (partly due to her volunteer work with Connecting Country) Karen is beginning to obtain work through local ecologists. Karen says, ‘It is an absolute privilege to have the opportunity to volunteer with Connecting Country and the wonderful people associated with the organisation, and to be able to combine my data experience with my environmental studies.’
  • Lou has volunteered extensively with many diverse causes over the years. He started with volunteering for his daughter’s athletics competitions, then a placement in the 2000 Sydney Olympics (‘And what a blast it was!  A thrilling, unforgettable two weeks of my life!’), followed by nine years at BirdLife Australia, before moving to Castlemaine. Lou says, ‘During that time a BirdLife staff member suggested I make contact with Tanya Loos (then at Connecting Country), which of course I did.  Community-based Connecting Country, a small not-for-profit, focussing on restoring biodiversity in Mount Alexander region, is a vibrant, indefatigable, well-organised, friendly and inclusive group of dedicated scientists and veritable army of volunteers.  My volunteer ‘career’ aspiration, to make a contribution to conservation, however humble, has happily continued in Castlemaine.’

Connecting Country warmly thanks each of our data entry volunteers for the enthusiastic contribution of their valuable time and expertise to what we know can be a tedious task! We simply couldn’t have shared our monitoring data without them, and they’re a delight to have as part of the Connecting Country team.

Habitat Health Check

These new records have been added to the VBA as part of our Habitat Health Check project, funded by the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust. Habitat Health Check: empowering citizen scientists to monitor habitat health in Central Victoria has supported our transition to a citizen science model.  This two-year project ending in June 2020 and consisted of reviewing our four monitoring programs: Birdwatch, Nestboxes, Plantwatch and Reptile and Frog monitoring. It is a collaborative, robust, citizen science project that monitors native animals and plants in the Mount Alexander region. We have reviewed our existing monitoring programs, and moved to a new collaborative, targeted model that empowers our enthusiastic and skilled volunteers, improves scientific rigor, and promotes data sharing via the Visualising Victoria’s Biodiversity online portal.

What is the VBA? 

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

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

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

Using the VBA

The VBA includes a dynamic list of all species found in Victoria and provides information including conservation status. There are more than seven million records of species distribution and abundance collated from many different data providers. You can use the atlas to search and map species from across the state, and check for threatened species in your area.

Adding your records to the VBA is a valuable way to influence a range of government investment, regulation and management decisions. The following video link highlights why the VBA is important. By sharing your observations in the VBA format you can contribute to statewide biodiversity planning, and help DELWP measure the progress to meeting their Biodiversity 2037 targets.

VBA have also released a mobile, simplified version for recording your general observations called VBA Go.

For more information on the VBA including videos and help guides to get you started – click here

To sign up, log in, access and contribute to the VBA – click here

To  access VBA Go – click here

 

 

The value of small patches of remnant vegetation: 14 May 2020 webinar

Posted on 7 May, 2020 by Ivan

One of the biggest challenges for restoration projects across the region is habitat fragmentation and how to manage isolated patches of remnant vegetation. Connecting Country has been working for over a decade to restore our fragmented landscape through strategic planning, and working with local landowners to help protect and restore wildlife habitat and connect areas of remnant vegetation.

Although traditionally, conserving large patches of intact habitat is considered a priority, the value of smaller patches is less clear. Connecting Countries biodiversity monitoring programs have highlighted the value of the small patches of remnant vegetation for woodland birds and the Brush-tailed Phascogale, among other species.

We discovered a useful upcoming webinar that explores the value of small patches of remnant vegetation. It is hosted by Ben Zeeman, a vegetation ecologist working at the Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority. Ben will discuss recent research examining the relevance of habitat fragmentation theory when conserving critically endangered ecosystems in highly modified landscapes. The results of this work challenge some long-held conservation principles, identifying that small habitat patches often have high ecological value.

This talk will be delivered online with time for questions and conversation at the end. Please register for the session and you will be emailed a link before the event.

Topic:           The value of small patches of remnant vegetation
Date:             14 May 2020 at 6.45 pm
Venue:          online
Host:             Ben Zeeman
To register:  click here

Agenda:

  • 6.45 pm – Livestream starts – allowing for the resolution of technical issues
  • 7.00 pm –  Ben to speak about remnant vegetation
  • 7.45 pm – Ben to take questions

Small patches of remnant vegetation are vital in connecting larger tracts (photo: Connecting Country)

 

Calendar competition highlights: Week 3

Posted on 7 May, 2020 by Ivan

A couple of weeks ago we announced our inaugural Connecting Country calendar competition and entries have been flowing in steadily. 

Our theme is woodland birds and this photo competition is open to all Connecting Country members and people of the Mount Alexander region. The aim of the competition is 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 the year 2021.

The calendar will be available to purchase and will feature the top 12 photographs, as selected by the Connecting Country team. There is a limit of two entries per photographer, and the competition opened on Monday 20 April and will close at 5 pm on Monday 18 May 2020. Both experienced and amateur photographers are encouraged to participate. Simply email your chosen images to ivan@connectingcountry.org.au by 5 pm on 18 May 2020.

We have been extremely impressed with the quality entries so far and thought we would share the highlights from this week in a gallery below.

Thank you to everyone who’s contributed so far! Keep the entries coming until Monday 18 May 2020.

Calendar competition details:

  • Photos must be relevant to the theme of woodland birds and taken in the Mount Alexander region in central Victoria.
  • There is a maximum of two photo entries per photographer.
  • Entries must be submitted by email to ivan@connectingcountry.org.au, including the location, date and subject of the photo.
  • Original photos must be at least 3 MB for image quality, but to enter please email files under 1 MB.
  • Entries close on Monday 18 May 2020.
  • Winning images will be selected by Connecting Country and published in a 2021 woodland birds calendar.
  • There will be no commission paid to competition winners, but full recognition of your work will be featured and acknowledged.

Further details on the competition format and conditions are provided on our website: click here

 

Australia’s Environment in 2019: scorecard for our region

Posted on 30 April, 2020 by Ivan

The Australian National University recently released ‘Australia’s Environment Report for 2019′. Record heat, bushfires and drought across Australia delivered the worst environmental conditions across the country since at least the year 2000, with river flows, tree cover and wildlife being hit on an ‘unprecedented scale’, according to a new report.

The report highlighted some somber but important reading, with the overall index of environmental conditions in Australia scoring 0.8 out of 10, the worst result across all the years analysed from 2000. Last year was no ordinary year, with the year delivering unprecedented bushfires, heat, very low soil moisture, low vegetation growth and 40 additions to the threatened species list. The report’s lead author, Professor Albert van Dijk of the Australian National University’s Fenner School of Environment and Society, said 2019 was ‘probably the worst in a century or more’ for the environment.

The report’s website portal allows users to view a report for each local government region, including the Mount Alexander Shire in central Victoria. Unsurprisingly, our region scored better than the national average, with a total score of 3.69 out of 10. This was assisted by the absence of major bushfires in our region, unlike much of Australia’s east coast. To access the regional reporting scorecards and environmental conditions across the country – click here

There is also a detailed report on the North Central region, which covers reporting on tree cover, vegetation condition, moisture, vegetation growth, and river flows. Interestingly, despite the record heat over our summer, the north-central region recorded above-average vegetation condition and average tree cover. For details – click here

The Mount Alexander region scored higher than the national average in 2019 (image by Australian National University)

 

The Australia’s Environment in 2019 report aims to make spatial information on environmental conditions more accessible and easily interpreted at different levels of detail. The report summarises a large amount of observations on the trajectory of our natural resources and ecosystems. It is based on analysis and interpretation a large volume of satellite, station and survey data. On the website, you can find a national summary report and webinar, as well as report cards for different types of administrative and geographical regions. In the accompanying data explorer, the spatial data can be viewed as maps, accounts or charts by region and land use type, and downloaded for further use.

The Australia’s Environment in 2019 report highlights the need for investment from the public, private and community sectors to restore and protect our environmental assets and ensure our natural environment is given adequate priority.

Connecting Country works hard to improve habitat quality and biodiversity, and build connectivity between existing habitat. Since beginning in 2007 we’ve collaborated with local landholders and project partners to restore nearly 10,000 hectares of land across our region.

Restoring landscapes has been Connecting Country’s core goal over the past decade (photo by Connecting Country)

 

Connecting Country calendar competition: more entry highlights

Posted on 30 April, 2020 by Ivan

Recently we announced our inaugural Connecting Country calendar competition and so far the entries have been flowing in steadily all week. 

Our theme is woodland birds and this photo competition is open to all Connecting Country members and people of the Mount Alexander region. The aim of the competition is 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 the year 2021.

The calendar will be available to purchase and will feature the top 12 photographs, as selected by the Connecting Country team. There is a limit of two entries per photographer, and the competition opened on Monday 20 April and will close at 5 pm on Monday 18 May 2020. Both experienced and amateur photographers are encouraged to participate. Simply email your chosen images to ivan@connectingcountry.org.au by 5 pm on 18 May 2020.

We have been extremely impressed with the quality entries so far and thought we would share the highlights this week in a gallery below.

Thank you to everyone who’s contributed so far! Keep the entries coming until Monday 18 May 2020.

Calendar competition details:

  • Photos must be relevant to the theme of woodland birds and taken in the Mount Alexander region in central Victoria.
  • There is a maximum of two photo entries per photographer.
  • Entries must be submitted by email to ivan@connectingcountry.org.au, including the location, date and subject of the photo.
  • Original photos must be at least 3 MB for image quality, but to enter please email files under 1 MB.
  • Entries close on Monday 18 May 2020.
  • Winning images will be selected by Connecting Country and published in a 2021 woodland birds calendar.
  • There will be no commission paid to competition winners, but full recognition of your work will be featured and acknowledged.

Further details on the competition format and conditions are provided on our website: click here

 

Biodiversity Response Planning: project update

Posted on 30 April, 2020 by Ivan

During six months of 2018, a diverse array of government, Traditional Owners and community organisations from across Victoria came together to participate in an intense Biodiversity Response Planning process. Connecting Country was one of these organisations!

After a lot of hard work, 89 new projects were announced by the Hon. Lily D’Ambrosio MP, including 85 projects for on-ground biodiversity action worth $33.7 million. These projects are part of the government’s investment to implement ‘Protecting Victoria’s Environment – Biodiversity 2037’ to be delivered by various stakeholders.

Connecting Country was excited to be selected for funding through our project: Remnant rescue – restoring woodland bird habitat in central Victoria.

Connecting Country is proud to have overseen this three year project in collaboration with our project partners: local landholders, Dja Dja Wurrung, Trust for Nature, Parks Victoria and Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. The project extends to the end of June 2021.

To date we have achieved some excellent on-ground outcomes, as well as building landholder capacity to understand their land and restore woodland bird habitat on their land. We have delivered strategic revegetation across 150 hectares of land, adding much-needed diversity and habitat, including may prickly understorey shrubs. Planting included locally threatened species such as Late-flowered Flax-lily (Dianella tarda) and Buloke (Allocasuarina luehmannii). We have also delivered weed and rabbit control across 190 hectares of private and public land, which will allow for natural regeneration of many indigenous plant species.

Project highlights

Some project highlights so far:

  • Meeting with landholders on site to discuss their property goals, values and threats to their biodiverse and beautiful properties.
  • Working with keen and enthusiastic landholders to support them to commence landscape restoration.
  • Collaborating with project partners to help our local environment and restore important habitat.
  • Empowering landholders to manage their land for biodiversity.

 

Landscape Restoration Coordinator, Bonnie Humphreys, said ‘The project has allowed Connecting Country to align our habitat restoration goals in priority areas with the State Government’s Biodiversity Response Planning. We are delighted to deliver the on-ground works to our regional landowners, and contribute our skills to restoring native vegetation and ecological assets in the region’.

Project property in Walmer with a new fence protecting regenerating Buloke plants from stock grazing (photo by Connecting Country)

 

Why is this project important?

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 Box-Ironbark landscape contains provides habitat for many threatened species including members of the threatened Temperate Woodland Bird Community. Scientific studies demonstrate an alarming acceleration in the decline of most species within this community over recent years.

Habitat loss is the single greatest threat to woodland birds, and exacerbates other threats, such as predation by cats and foxes, and prolonged drought. Many of the remaining woodlands lack complexity and are missing the key understorey species that provide food, nesting sites and protection from predators for woodland birds and other animals.

Gorse treated in Metcalfe to allow regeneration of critical native understorey species (photo by Connecting Country)

 

Free webinar on cultural burning and threatened species – 7 May 2020

Posted on 30 April, 2020 by Jacqui

Our project partner, Trust for Nature, is holding a free education webinar on 7 May 2020 on cultural burning and threatened species.

The focus isn’t specific to the Mount Alexander region, but threatened species and cultural burning are increasingly relevant to the health of our local environment and communities. This webinar is suitable for home schoolers and anyone interested in what’s being done to look after our native plants and animals.

When: 7 May 2020 from 12:00 to 1:30 pm

Bookings: No need to register, just join the webinar via https://zoom.us/join

Questions: Please contact Ben Cullen at Trust For Nature (benc@tfn.org.au)

Local news on cultural burning and Trust For Nature

Here are some interesting links to related stories:

  • For media articles on cultural burning returning to the land with Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation – click here and click here
  • To find out more about Trust For Nature locally, see our recent interview with Kirsten Hutchison, Senior Conservation Officer with Trust For Nature in Castlemaine VIC – click here
  • To watch the beautiful video called ‘Leanganook: His teeth’, in which Trent Nelson speaks about Leanganook (Mount Alexander) and its importance to Dja Dja Wurrung and Taunurung people –  click here

 

FAQ about COVID-19 impact on Landcare projects

Posted on 23 April, 2020 by Jacqui

Here is an important update from the Landcare team at Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) about current and future grants for Landcare groups and volunteers. They provide some excellent ideas about how to stay involved in Landcare while complying with COVID-19 restrictions.

Dear project managers and environmental volunteers across Victoria

Thank you to everyone who has contacted staff from the Community Programs team within the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning over the past few weeks to discuss our grants programs, volunteering under coronavirus (COVID-19), and to raise the questions or concerns that you have about your current and future projects. While we all work through this challenging time, we appreciate you getting in contact to discuss these issues with us.

Please see attached a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) update from our team, which provides details about the impact of COVID-19 on the various grants programs that we help deliver, including the possible variation of projects that have been delayed due to COVID-19. The FAQ also includes a list of ideas for staying involved in environmental volunteering while at home and following government COVID-19 measures.

We hope this list provides some useful ideas for ways to stay connected with your environmental volunteering communities, and some helpful suggestions about how you can continue to do your work. If you have any other ideas or suggestions please share them with us and we will add them to future updates, so that others can try them too.

To access the FAQ – click here

If you have any questions please contact DELWP (enviro.grants@delwp.vic.gov.au).

 

 

Bird of the month: Eastern Spinebill

Posted on 23 April, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our third 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 be joining forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome any suggestions from the community. We are lucky enough 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 third bird off the ranks.

Eastern Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris)

This month has seen the return of the Eastern Spinebill to Central Victoria, as they leave higher elevations for the winter. I’ve noticed them feeding on Rock Correa around my house and Geoff Park wrote about their return on his blog, of course, accompanied by his stunning photos. This is a species that has adapted to gardens and will utilise non-native species of flowering plants, such as Salvia, in their search for nectar. Did I mention Correa, they LOVE Correa.

The Eastern Spinebill, though a Honeyeater, is arguably our local answer to the humming bird, as they have a habit of hovering whilst using their long curved bills to probe flowers. This ability means they can feed on nectar plants too delicate for birds to actually land on. In addition, they eat plants and a large assortment of insects. If you’ve read Tim Lowe’s book ‘Where Song Began’, you’ll know birds use nectar for energy, but its’ relatively low nutrient levels mean birds look to insects for minerals and other nutrients.

Pineapple Sage is a favourite of the Eastern Spinebill (photo by Damian Kelly)

 

So here’s an interesting thing: through our research on this gorgeous little honeyeater, Damian Kelly and I noticed an anomaly that we can’t get to the bottom of. The guide books say that during the summer Eastern Spinebills retreat from low elevations to higher elevations and can be found in places like the High Country. However, around mid elevations such as Cottles Bridge (north east of Melbourne VIC), they can be found all year round. Young birds are known to travel larger distances and usually appear locally before the mature adults do. However, an extensive long-term study across most of their range (from South Australia, through Victoria to New South Wales) from 1984 to 1999 involved mist netting and banding 39,572 Eastern Spinebills with a re-capture of 3,602 birds. The study discovered that 99% of re-captured birds were less than 10 km from their original banding location. In short, they had moved very little distance at all, but the same cannot be said for our local birds. It would be fascinating to know what’s going on here.

Perhaps this is a highly adaptable bird? It will nest under verandahs and utilise non-native food sources such as fuschia, move if it has to, or not if it doesn’t. For a small bird they are reasonably long lived. In the  study mentioned above, one individual was banded as an adult, then caught six more times during the study period, which means it was an adult for at least 13 years and 2 months.

I suspect there’s much going on with the Eastern Spinebill, much more than feeding on their favourite Correa and being chased across the garden by other honeyeaters, which is how we often see them. Anyone up for a PhD on Eastern Spinebills …?

To listen to the varied and lovely calls of the Eastern Spinebill, and see a map of its distribution, please – click here

The eastern spinebill is a species of honeyeater found in south-eastern Australia in forest and woodland areas, as well as gardens in urban and rural areas (photo by Damian Kelly)

 

Written by Jane Rusden
Research by Damian Kelly and Jane Rusden
Photos by Damian Kelly

 

 

 

Backyards are a beautiful bird haven: Cornell Lab

Posted on 23 April, 2020 by Ivan

Fortunately there are many online resources that can keep us learning and connected to nature, while we stay safely at home. Here are some great suggestions about how to improve your bird watching skills, using the excellent Merlin Bird ID app on your smart phone or other digital device, and via educational videos from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. A reminder though, to ensure you use Birdlife’s Birdata App, when entering your data, surveys and observations.

One of the delights of bird watching has always been that you can do it anywhere, including right at home. Take a quiet walk or enjoy a moment of reflection at your window: birds will be with you. Now is a great time to deepen your knowledge and appreciation with resources like these:

Click on the the above links and following images to access these resources.

Backyards: Still The Best Places To Go Bird Watching

Harlequin Ducks and Merlin Photo ID

Get More From Merlin Bird ID With These Powerful Features

Inside Birding

Inside Birding: How-To Videos For Learning Bird Identification

singing prothonotary warbler

Bird ID Skills: How To Learn Bird Songs And Calls

 

 

 

Connecting Country calendar competition: entry highlights so far

Posted on 23 April, 2020 by Ivan

Last week we announced our inaugural Connecting Country calendar competition and so far the entries have been flowing in steadily all week. 

Our theme is woodland birds and this photo competition is open to all Connecting Country members and people of the Mount Alexander region. The aim of the competition is 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 the year 2021.

The calendar will be available to purchase and will feature the top 12 photographs, as selected by the Connecting Country team. There is a limit of two entries per photographer, and the competition opened on Monday 20 April and will close at 5 pm on Monday 18 May 2020. Both experienced and amateur photographers are encouraged to participate. Simply email your chosen images to ivan@connectingcountry.org.au by 5 pm on 18 May 2020.

We have been extremely impressed with the entries so far and thought we would share the highlights this week in a gallery below.

Thank you to everyone who’s contributed so far! Keep the entries coming until Monday 18 May 2020.

Calendar competition details:

  • Photos must be relevant to the theme of woodland birds and taken in the Mount Alexander region in central Victoria.
  • There is a maximum of two photo entries per photographer.
  • Entries must be submitted by email to ivan@connectingcountry.org.au, including the location, date and subject of the photo.
  • Original photos must be at least 3 MB for image quality, but to enter please email files under 1 MB.
  • Entries close on Monday 18 May 2020.
  • Winning images will be selected by Connecting Country and published in a 2021 woodland birds calendar.
  • There will be no commission paid to competition winners, but full recognition of your work will be featured and acknowledged.

Further details on the competition format and conditions are provided on our website: click here

 

Online mushroom discovery workshops 2020

Posted on 23 April, 2020 by Ivan

We are a big fan of the talented and passionate Alison Pouliot, who is not only a very knowledgeable fungi expert but also a photographic maestro.  You may be familiar with Alison’s fungi and photography workshops, which she has delivered to the community and stakeholders for over a decade. This year, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, Alison is delivering some of her workshops online, which will allow us to see the wonderful world of fungi without leaving our lounge room. With promising autumn rainfall this year, there are early signs for a terrific fungi season, with much color and diversity already appearing in our forests and woodlands.

Here are the details regarding Alison’s online fungi workshops, from her website:

Mushroom Discovery Workshops Online

Given the current situation, fungus forays and workshops in the next six weeks have been postponed until 2021. Workshops scheduled for June 2020 will be reviewed in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, a series of online workshops have been scheduled. We really hope you can join us!

Although the world is in lockdown, the fungi are running riot out there in the forest! The recent rains could mean we are in for a bumper fungus season. This online workshop introduces participants to the diversity, ecology and curiosities of the Kingdom Fungi. In the first part of the workshop participants will learn how to recognise the major fungus morphogroups; the various parts of different types of fungi; and the features used to make identifications in the field. We will then work through participants’ specimens and identify them and discuss them. Don’t forget to bring along some fungus specimens.

Although the world is in lockdown, the fungi are running riot out there in the forest!

Why are fungi important in forests and gardens? How do we differentiate the desirable from the deadly?

This online workshop introduces participants to the diversity, ecology and curiosities of the Kingdom Fungi. Participants will learn the basic skills in identifying fungi though demonstration of techniques and by using their own specimens.

For workshop times and to book visit Alison Pouliot’s webite: click here 

Workshops are booking out fast, so be quick to secure your place!

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Alison is a professional photographer and a fungi expert – a great combination (photo by Alison Pouliot)