Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Healthy dams, healthy animals

Posted on 6 May, 2021 by Ivan

Through Connecting Country’s ‘Healthy Landscapes’ project we have delivered Continue Reading »


Bird’s delight: just add water

Posted on 5 May, 2021 by Ivan

We recently received some beautiful images from one of our landholders and community volunteers, Steph Carter, using a wildlife camera at her birdbath. The motion camera has captured some unique moments and a few unexpected visitors to the water source. It was heartening to see so many birds and other animals having a drink and a splash, showing the importance of having water available throughout the year.

The images were captured at Steph’s property at Porcupine Flat, near Walmer, Victoria. Motion sensor cameras are an excellent way to engage with our native wildlife, without being invasive or disrupting them. The advanced cameras are excellent at capturing our nocturnal native animals, which we rarely see but often hear.

A big thank you to Steph for sharing these images – we love them! Landholders are always welcome to send nature photographs, wildlife camera highlights or natural discoveries to us at:


Which rat is that?

Posted on 5 May, 2021 by Asha

We often get questions regarding the identification of small marsupials in our landscape, and in particular, how to identify the various native and introduced rats. It might come as a surprise to hear we have several species of native rats here in central Victoria, and some look similar to the introduced Black Rat (Rattus rattus). The Black Rat has inherited a bad name due to historical associations with the plague and perceived spread of disease, unlike our native rats, who go about their business quietly in our landscape.

In the Mount Alexander region, it is possible to see the Bush Rat (Rattus fuscipes) and in damper areas the Swamp Rat (Rattus lutreolus). These two species are from the same genus as domestic rats, but favour bush areas, and damp zones in the case of the Swamp Rat. Both natives tend to be smaller, darker and have shorter tails (especially the Swamp Rat) than the introduced rat. However, for inexperienced observers it can be hard to tell at first glance.

The Bush Rat avoids areas of human habitation, moving about at night (photo by Museums Victoria)


Local writer, wildlife photographer and educator, Damian Kelly, is best known for his birding expertise. However, his excellent blog also highlights some of the other native animals you may encounter in our region’s natural landscape, including native rats and marsupials. Damian’s encounters with the native animals of our region are beautifully captured through photographs and passionate writing.

Many thanks to Damian for sharing his passion with us.

To read Damian’s blog – click here

For more information about the native Bush Rat – click here

Distribution of the native Bush Rat, as captured through the Atlas of Living Australia (Image from ALA)


Mount Alexander Shire Council budget 2021-22: open for submissions

Posted on 5 May, 2021 by Asha

Now is your chance to have a say on the proposed Mount Alexander Shire Council (MASC) budget for 2021-2022, with submissions closing on 19 May 2021. Connecting Country would love to see more resources to support a healthy local environment. We have collaborated with MASC on several successful projects, and would be excited to see more opportunities for community projects such as weed and invasive species control, environmental education and landscape restoration in our region. Read on for details from MASC on how to contribute.

MASC helps fund some important community projects, such as the Butterfly Celebration Day in 2019 (photo by Ivan Carter)


Mount Alexander Shire Council budget now open for submissions

Mount Alexander Shire Council has now released the draft of their 2021-22 budget and submissions are called for by 19 May 2021. See below for the link to the draft budget.

The budget is now open for public submissions. Printed copies are also available for public inspection during opening hours at the Civic Centre in Castlemaine and Castlemaine Library.

Submissions must be in writing and be lodged by 5.00 pm on Wednesday 19 May 2021.

Please forward your submission titled 2021/2022 Budget to the Chief Executive Officer, Mount Alexander Shire Council, PO Box 185, Castlemaine 3450 Victoria or email

All submissions will be considered in accordance with the Local Government Act 2020. They should indicate whether the person, or a person acting on their behalf, wishes to be heard before Council.

Submissions will be heard at a Special Meeting of Council at 5.30 pm on Tuesday 25 May 2021.

Council will consider the 2021/2022 Budget at an Ordinary Meeting of Council on Tuesday 15 June 2021, starting at 6.30 pm. Both meetings are open to the public.

For more information contact Carolyn Ross, Executive Manager Business Performance, on 5471 1700.

Link to the draft budget: click here


Elphinstone bird walk – 1 May 2021

Posted on 29 April, 2021 by Frances

BirdLife Castlemaine District is teaming up with Elphinstone Land Management Association (ELMA) for their May 2021 bird walk. Bird walks are held monthly at some fabulous birding spots around central Victoria.

Please read on for more details from BirdLife Castlemaine District. To read their latest e-news – click here

May Bird Walk – Saturday 1 May 2021 – Coliban Main Channel, Elphinstone VIC

The next BirdLife Castlemaine District Branch bird walk will be held on Saturday 1 May 2021 along the Coliban Main Channel, Elphinstone. This is a joint walk, in conjunction with the Elphinstone Land Management Association (ELMA). The ELMA group of volunteers work on public and private land to enhance biodiversity, carry out land restoration, offer advice on best practice land use, and to manage pest plants and animals. ELMA is a member of the Farm Tree and Landcare Association (FTLA).

The walk is along the maintenance track running beside the Coliban Main Channel that transfers water from the Malmsbury Reservoir to Bendigo. It is very easy walking. The treed area which has mainly peppermint, box and stringy-bark with a moderate to high cover of shrubs and ground-layer vegetation starts out relatively narrow but increases in width as we continue along the walk.

Possible sightings are the usual several Honeyeaters, Scrubwrens, Fairy-wrens, Pardalotes and Treecreepers etc. with there being historical sightings of Eastern Spinebill, Dusky Woodswallow, Red-browed Finch, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Little Eagle and Tawny-crowned Honeyeater. Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos have also been seen recently. Our walk leader is Damian Kelly. ALL WELCOME!

Note there are no toilets at the site.

Where: The walk will begin at the Coliban Main Channel gate No.14 where the channel crosses under Wright Street, Elphinstone VIC. From Castlemaine, take the Pyrenees Hwy (B180) toward Melbourne. About 10 lm from Castlemaine, turn right onto Diggers Way toward Elphinstone. Drive approximately 1.4 km and turn right onto Wright Street, drive about another 1.4 km to where the channel crosses under Wright Street. There is a small parking area but most will need to park along the road itself. The road is not overly busy but is a main road so please park and walk with care. GPS: -37.11611, 144.33747.

When: Meet at the Coliban Main Channel at 9:00 am.

Bring: Water, snacks, binoculars, sunscreen, hat, sturdy shoes. During snake season we strongly recommend wearing long trousers and covered-in shoes.

More info: Jane Rusden, 0448 900 896, Judy Hopley 0425 768 559 or Bob Dawson 0417 621 691.

Please note that walks will be cancelled if severe weather warnings are in place, persistent rain is forecast, the temperature is forecast to be 35 degrees C or above during the walk period, and/or a Total Fire Ban is declared. Please check your email and our Facebook page the day before the event in case there is a cancellation.

Brown Treecreeper (photo by Ash Vigus)


Off to a fabulous phascogaley start: 2021 nest box checks

Posted on 28 April, 2021 by Jess

We are excited to have our dedicated team of volunteers out in the field this month, checking the nest boxes Connecting Country has installed across the Mount Alexander shire and surrounds in central Victoria. For 2021 our nest boxes will be checked by trained and insured volunteers rather than staff. Our volunteers are farmers, students and local community leaders, and bring a range of experience to the project.

Connecting Country commenced our nest box program in 2010 and has installed over 450 nest boxes on private and public land across the region. The nest boxes have been designed specifically for use by the threatened Brush-tailed Phascogale (also known as the Tuan), which is a nocturnal hollow-dependent marsupial that occurs in the local area.

The nest boxes provide supplementary habitat for Tuans and other native animals such as the Sugar Glider, particularly in areas where natural tree hollows are lacking. We anticipate that providing additional nesting sites, albeit artificial, will contribute to an increase in local Tuan populations and distribution. Our nest boxes are located across the landscape systematically so we can examine some of the factors that might influence their use by Tuans and other animals.

Our 2021 team of Volunteer Team Leaders are Ann-Marie, Asha, Beth, Corey, Frances, Kerrie and Kim. They are supported by Connecting Country’s Monitoring Coordinator and a network of volunteer nest box helpers. We thank them for their dedication and commitment to this project and our broader aims of landscape restoration.

Volunteer team leaders attended training in early April 2021, covering the topics of nest box inspections, how to climb a ladder safely, and how to identify species such as phascogales and sugar gliders. Paul Flood from Safety Systems provided the ladder safety training, and helped us improve our systems and processes to keep volunteers safe.

Volunteers sturdy the ladder and apply new safety skills to check a nest box (photo by Connecting Country)


We joined forces with Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club to inspect some nest boxes on 10 April 2021, and were delighted to find both Tuans and Sugar Gliders! This shows the importance of the nest boxes in our landscape, where tree hollows are far and few between. The following photographs show (from left to right) a Tuan, Sugar Glider, Jess from Connecting Country checking a nest box, and participants at the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club event.


Wanted: volunteer field helpers

We still have some vacancies for volunteer nest box helpers. This role involves assisting Volunteer Team Leaders to conduct nest box surveys, with feet planted firmly on the ground (i.e., not climbing ladders). Tasks include:

  • 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
  • Collating and entering data into databases.

Field work 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!

If you are interested in assisting us, please send a brief email to stating:

  • If you would prefer to assist as a field helper, or in the office
  • Your availability during April and May 2021
  • 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!


Old trees draw a crowd

Posted on 28 April, 2021 by Ivan

The old trees of Harcourt North had plenty of admiration from the strong crowd of 40 people at our ‘Caring for old trees’ event on Saturday 24 April 2021 at Hillside Acres in Harcourt North, Victoria. It was a day to remember, with still mild weather and two excellent guest speakers to educate participants about the beauty, benefits, importance and biodiversity of the old trees in our region. The event was our first face-to-face event in over 12 months and formed part of our ‘Healthy Landscapes’ project, funded through the Australian Government’s Smart Farms program.

The event was hosted by two local leading naturalists, Jarrod Coote and Tanya Loos, who coincidentally both previously worked with Connecting Country. The workshop involved a tour of the lovely Hillside Acres farm in Harcourt North, including some amazing old trees that have been estimated to be 300-400 years old. The walk and talk included how to look after older trees in the landscape, why they are important to farming and biodiversity, and methods of protection and providing succession.

Guest speaker Tanya Loos explaining the importance of grazing management and protection of old trees in the landscape (photo by Ivan Carter)


Tanya covered some excellent points on how old trees provide vital farm infrastructure, as well as habitat for many birds, arboreal mammals, microbats, and insects. Jarrod covered some great insights about how to integrate healthy farming with a healthy landscape. He also provided practical advice on how to care for old trees so they remain part of our local landscape, and how to ensure the next generation of old trees.

The audience was fascinated to learn about the importance of Mistletoe in our landscape and the number of native animals it supports with its fruits, leaves and flowers. Also of interest was the importance of dead trees in the landscape, particularly to birds of prey and bats.

This large old Yellow Box (Eucalyptus melliodora) is estimated to be 300-400 years old (photo by Ivan Carter)


For those interested in local trees, Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests (FOBIF) has developed an excellent ‘Eucalypts of the Mount Alexander Region’ book. This 90-page guide book is well suited to beginners. In plain language, and generously illustrated, it presents most of the Eucalypt species that flourish in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. Copies are available from Stoneman’s Bookroom in Castlemaine and via FOBIF website – click here

Many thanks to Tanya and Jarrod for their outstanding knowledge and passion for landscape restoration, and also to Jarrod and Rebecca at Hillside Acres for sharing their unique and inspiring farm.

This section of the farm has extensive revegetation planting, bringing a variety of birds back into the landscape (photo by Jacqui Slingo)


Our Healthy Landscapes project is about helping our local farmers and other landholders to manage their land sustainably for the benefit of wildlife, themselves and the broader landscape. We are also developing a Healthy Landscapes guide book, especially targeted to the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. This event is part of a series of educational workshops for landholders on sustainable land management.

The next event on our education calendar will be a wetland restoration tour in early June 2021. Please stay tuned. 



Wheel Cactus community field day: 2 May 2021

Posted on 28 April, 2021 by Ivan

We love the work and achievements of our local Cactus Warriors over the past decade. They have managed to combine best practice management with community engagement and fun, to help rid many hillsides of the invasive Wheel Cactus.

Their next community field day on Sunday 2 May 2021 will be alongside the Cairn Curran Reservoir in Barringhup, VIC. The field day is a great chance to meet new people, learn how to manage Wheel Cactus and prevent the further spread of these invasive plants. Please read on for details from the  Tarrangower Cactus Control Group (TCCG), aka the Cactus Warriors.

What is Wheel Cactus?

Opuntia robusta: A plant native to Mexico, this cactus is most commonly called Wheel Cactus in Australia, and believed to be introduced into our country as a ‘hardy’ garden plant.

This cactus species has a distinct blue/green colour and large, flat, round pads with many short and long spines. The plant is erect and can grow to 3 metres tall. It has yellow flowers and dark red fruit in spring/summer, each containing approximately 500 seeds which are spread by animals and water.

This weed has become widely established in central Victoria, western New South Wales and south-eastern and eastern South Australia. It particularly likes to grow on granite outcrops, but also infests woodlands and pastures.

Community Field Day

The ‘Cactus Warriors’ had fun participating in the 2021 Maldon Easter Fair parade. But now the ‘fun of the fair’ is over and it’s time to continue their war against this noxious weed. The TCCG invites all interested folk to join us at our first community field day for 2021.

This year’s field day season will be launched on Sunday 2 May 2021 at a property beside Cairn Curran Reservoir, at the far end of Cairn Curran Road.  Directions will be signposted along Cairn Curran Road from the turnoff at Barringhup Road. The morning’s activities will begin at 10:30 am and end at 12:30 pm with an enjoyable BBQ and friendly chat.

If you have any queries, please contact us via our website at

Preventing further infestations of Wheel Cactus is vital to the control of this weed (photo by Cactus Warriors)


Nature journaling with BirdLife Castlemaine

Posted on 22 April, 2021 by Frances

Our clever friends at BirdLife Castlemaine District not only run fun and educational monthly bird walks around central Victoria, they are also a creative bunch. Their members include some talented local artists and wildlife photographers.

Starting 1 May 2021, after each monthly bird walk, community members are now welcome to join in with nature journaling. The idea is to enjoy the company of others who like to take a closer look at our local bush. No experience is necessary and people with all levels of proficiency are welcome.

Nature Journaling with BirdLife Castlemaine District will happen on the first Saturday of the month from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm on location following their monthly bird walk. Read on for further details from BirdLife Castlemaine and sign up to their eNews (email: or  Facebook page (click here) for regular updates and information on locations.

Eastern Rosella, watercolour and ink, by Jane Rusden


Nature journaling with BirdLife Castlemaine District

Castlemaine District BirdLife does not charge for either bird walks or nature journaling. Neither do we insist on participants becoming a BirdLife member or supporter. Cost will be nature journaling materials you need on the day, should you need to purchase anything.

First Saturday of the month, 11:30 am to 1:30 pm following the monthly bird walk. Location will be the same as the bird walk and will change every month. Sign up to our eNews or Facebook for details. Bird walks start at 9 am.

What is it:
Using any creative medium to record what your senses pick up in the bush. That may include using a sketchbook or paper for drawing, painting, notations, poetry and / or writing. You may need a camera, your phone or sound recording equipment. Or whatever you’ve chosen to do. Whatever your medium is, it is important we leave no trace of our activities and do not disturb the plants and animals in the bush. Picking plant material, disturbing bird nests or wildlife in anyway, will not be acceptable.

The basic premise is to enjoy the company of others who like to take a closer look at our local bush, no experience is necessary and all levels of proficiency welcomed. Each month we will ask one willing participant to very briefly tell us what is working or not working for them, or for their favourite tips.

What to bring:
Lunch for yourself, water, something to sit on. Wear clothes and footwear suitable for protection from the weather and snakes, so a sunhat, long sleeve shirt and long trousers with shoes suitable for rough uneven ground. As the weather cools, bring a rain coat, warm clothing and a warm hat. It can get very cold sitting still for two hours.

Importantly, bring the materials you require, for your chosen medium for your nature journal.

BirdLife Castlemaine District


What is Landcare and how do I get involved?

Posted on 22 April, 2021 by Ivan

Most people in our region may have heard of Landcare, and recognise the iconic logo of two hands forming the shape of Australia, but what is Landcare? We thought it was a good time to explain what Landcare is, why do they do what they do, and how to get involved in the central Victorian region.

McKenzie’s Hill Action & Landcare Group volunteers planting 100 prickly plants for habitat (photo by Sylvia Phillips)


At its heart, Landcare is about caring for your land and the land in your local area so that it will support our society and maintain our natural resources for generations to come. Depending on where you live that might mean looking after your farm, nature strip, local bush reserve, beach – all kinds of land. Through Landcare, individuals and communities get the support, knowledge and resources necessary to do this work.

Connecting Country has been busy over the past month planning a Landcare Celebration video, so stay tuned for this. It will explain some of our achievements, why people get involved and what can we do about improving our local landscapes.

There are about 30 Landcare and Friends of groups in the Mount Alexander region. Some were among the first Landcare groups to be established in the country, whereas others have formed recently. Each group is a little different, depending on their goals, members and the areas where they operate.

Each group has its own ‘home range’. Use the pages below to find out where your nearest group is and how to contact them or view the Landcare in the Mount Alexander region brochure, which includes a map of group areas – click here

Contact a Group

Landcare Facilitator for the Mount Alexander Region

Asha Bannon has been our local Landcare Facilitator since 2015.  She is always interested to hear from other organisations, businesses and individuals in the Mount Alexander region who would like to partner with Landcare to help protect and enhance the natural environment and agricultural productivity of our region. Please feel free to contact Asha via email ( or phone (03 5472 1594) if you’d like to get involved.

Connecting Country hosts the Mount Alexander Region Landcare Facilitator under the Victorian Landcare Facilitator Program.

The Facilitator role is supported and informed by a Steering Group made up of volunteer Landcare group representatives from the Mount Alexander Region Landcare Network. To learn more about the steering group and its members, click on the following link.



Carbon + Biodiversity pilot fund: open to 11 June 2021

Posted on 22 April, 2021 by Asha

Connecting Country has been restoring local landscapes across the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria since 2007. Our work has included revegetation, weed removal, wildlife monitoring, and educating landholders about sustainable land management. It is what we do and we enjoy building the capacity of farmers and other landholders to restore valuable biodiversity and habitat on their land.

Funding is an issue for community groups like us, and at the moment we are struggling to secure funding for on-ground restoration work.

However, there are new opportunities for landholders to apply directly for landscape restoration projects, such as the recently announced Carbon + Biodiversity Pilot. The Carbon + Biodiversity Pilot is being developed by the Australian Government with the Australian National University as part of a wider $34 million commitment to biodiversity stewardship on farms. The pilot project area includes farmers in the North Central region of Victoria.

Revegetation of local degraded woodlands can benefit farmers and the environment (photo by Gen Kay)


Please read on for further information provided by the Australian Government.

Carbon + Biodiversity Pilot

The Carbon + Biodiversity Pilot is trialing arrangements to reward farmers for improving on-farm biodiversity together with carbon projects under the Emissions Reduction Fund.

Under the pilot, farmers who plant native trees – in line with a biodiversity protocol developed by the Australian National University – will receive payments for biodiversity outcomes. These payments will be in addition to earnings a landholder might receive for their carbon abatement.

Eligible activities will build on Emissions Reduction Fund carbon projects.

Examples could include:

  • Planting, managing and looking after vegetation.
  • Regenerating gullies, waterways and degraded hillsides.

These plantings can also benefit farmers by providing shelter for livestock, improving soil moisture and reducing erosion.

Applications open 12 April and close 11 June 2021.

Eligible regions

The Carbon + Biodiversity Pilot will be run in six Natural Resource Management regions. Eligible regions are:

  • Burnett-Mary in QLD
  • Central West in NSW
  • North Central in Vic
  • NRM North in Tasmania
  • Eyre Peninsula in SA
  • South West in WA

Enquiries about the program can be directed to or you can call them on 1800 329 055.

For more information and to apply – click here


New surveys for Eltham Copper Butterfly habitat in Chewton

Posted on 22 April, 2021 by Ivan

The Eltham Copper Butterfly (ECB) is one of our most interesting and treasured local threatened species. We are fortunate to have the largest population in the world right here in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. In the past few years, this special little butterfly has attracted some much-needed attention, with several small but important projects active in our region.

Passionate local butterfly gurus, Elaine Bayes and Karl Just, have obtained new funding to assess additional local sites for habitat suitable for Eltham Copper Butterfly during 2021-22. This includes the bushland around Castlemaine and Chewton.

The initial surveys will involve habitat assessment of the Chewton Bushlands for Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa), a plant vital to the Eltham Copper Butterfly’s life cycle. A team of volunteers will map the density of this beautiful flowering shrub. These maps will be used to plan surveys for the butterflies when they become active, in the warmer days of early summer days. The relationship between the density of Sweet Bursaria, and the presence of the Eltham Copper Butterfly has been identified in previous surveys in 2019 and 2020, around Kalimna Park in Castlemaine.

Stay tuned for further information about the Sweet Bursaria and Eltham Copper Butterfly surveys, which bring a real possibility of discovering new records for this threatened species. We acknowledge the commitment of the Eltham Copper Butterfly volunteers, and Elaine and Karl, who are committing much of their time to help protect and improve the habitat for this fascinating species.

In 2019-20, Connecting Country delivered a popular community education workshop, and worked with ecologists Elaine and Karl to promote and coordinate four community monitoring sessions for Eltham Copper Butterfly around Castlemaine, when the adult butterflies were out and about. These events attracted many people keen to learn more about the life cycle of this butterfly and to participate in butterfly monitoring within local butterfly habitat. The aim was to support interested community members to learn how to monitor with expert guidance, providing skills for them to become citizen scientists, conduct more monitoring and (potentially) discover new populations. For details – click here

Ecology and habitat

The Eltham Copper Butterfly is a small attractive butterfly with bright copper colouring on the tops of its wings. It is endemic to Victoria, where it mostly lives in dry open woodlands. The Castlemaine-Bendigo population covers the largest area (>100 ha but full extent unconfirmed), followed by Kiata (90 ha) and Eltham-Greensborough (8 ha). The Eltham Copper Butterfly is only ever found in areas where Notoncus ant colonies are present, confirming they have a truly symbiotic relationship.

Adult Eltham Copper Butterflies lay their eggs at the base of Sweet Bursaria plants. The larvae hatch and make their way to the ant nest, where the caterpillars are guarded by the ants, which lead them to and from the ant colony to browse on the Sweet Bursaria leaves. In return, the ants feed on sugar secretions which are exuded from the caterpillars’ bodies.

Larvae pupate in or near the ant nest, with adults emerging from October to March each year, peaking from November to January. The adults feed on nectar of Sweet Bursaria flowers, and flowers of other plants such as Hakea species.

To learn more about this fascinating little butterfly, including ecology, distribution and information on how to identify this species from similar look-alike butterflies – click here

Please enjoy the following video (courtesy of the N-danger-D Youtube Channel) that includes some excellent footage of this wonderful butterfly and symbiotic ant species.


Bird of the month: Hooded Robin

Posted on 14 April, 2021 by Ivan

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

Hooded Robin (Melanodryas cucullata)

It’s a good day birding if you spot a Hooded Robin in Central Victoria, with its striking black and white feathers and the iconic black hood of the male bird. They are a quiet bird, and uncommon with a conservation status of ‘threatened’ due to loss of habitat, sadly making them harder to find. Unobtrusively, they love a fence wire to perch on while they scan the ground for insects…and then pounce, returning to their perch to swallow hapless insect prey, which is typical robin behaviour.

The Hooded Robin is one of Connecting Country’s Feathered Five, a local indicator species that is easy to identify (although females are easily confused with Jacky Winter, as they look very similar), relatively widespread in the region, and ground-foraging. Foraging on the ground makes them susceptible to pressures typically faced by woodland birds, such as predation by foxes and cats, and the loss of leaf litter, branches and other essential components of a ‘messy’ bush habitat that humans too often remove. Other threats are drought and changing fire regimes.

Female Hooded Robin (photo by Damian Kelly)


To find our more about the Feathered Five, see Connecting Country’s woodland bird webpage – click here

Unlike some of the more common robins, which belong to the genus Petroica, the Hooded Robin is in the genus Melanodryas, and is larger in body size and does not move around seasonally.

In our research Damian and I found some conflicting evidence of flocking behaviour. It is agreed that Hooded Robins will forage with other insectivores such as Flame and Scarlet Robins. However, some sources say they occur as pairs or single birds, whereas other sources report seeing them in family groups, which means four or five Hooded Robins. On reflection, Damian and I believe we’ve seen pairs or single birds on the edge of their range, at places like Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve south of Newstead VIC. However, we’ve seen larger groups of birds in more arid environments like Goschen Bushland Reserve near Swan Hill VIC, and the West McDonald Ranges near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. This would fit with the literature, however, we’d be very interested in what others have observed.

Various sources note the distinctive pre-dawn call of the Hooded Robin, their very quiet nature during daylight, and that they can be heard calling at night, particularly under a bright moon.

Male Hooded Robin (photo by Damian Kelly)


To listen to the call of the Hooded Robin, please visit Graeme Chapman’s website – click here

A big thank you to contributors to this edition of Bird of the Month – Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly – for their amazing knowledge and skills.


Volunteering Innovation Fund: open to 22 April 2021

Posted on 14 April, 2021 by Ivan

The Volunteering Innovation Fund encourages innovation and inspires more Victorians to volunteer for nature. This Victorian Government initiative aims to include people from all walks of life to volunteer in our parks and forests, benefiting the environment, volunteers and the community.

Connecting Country was fortunate to recently secure a small grant though this program, which will enable us to deliver a guided bird walk near Castlemaine VIC. The fund is currently open to the community until Thursday 22 April 2021. Please read on for more details from Parks Victoria.

Volunteering Innovation Fund

The Volunteering Innovation Fund is part of the Victoria’s Great Outdoors program (image by Parks Victoria)


Round 2 of the Volunteering Innovation Fund is now open with funding up to $50,000 available per project!

Parks and forests in Victoria are supported by many passionate volunteers. The Volunteering Innovation Fund is building on this incredible work and inviting everyone to enjoy Victoria’s Great Outdoors through volunteering. We are looking for innovators, nature-lovers and community-minded people to support, expand and diversify environmental volunteering.

For Round 2 we will be asking the public to vote on the most innovative, creative and game-changing applications that will increase the number, diversity and offering of volunteering opportunities in Victoria’s Great Outdoors.  This is an opportunity to generate widespread excitement about the Volunteering Innovation Fund and increase community involvement and interest in Victorian environmental volunteering.  We will also award funding to one application as a ‘Judges Choice’. The ‘Judges Choice’ will be awarded to an application that is scored highly by the Assessment Panel, but did not score the most public votes.

Round 2 closes 5 pm Thursday 22 April 2021, so to learn more about the project, read the funding guidelines and review the criteria for applicants visit:

Need inspiration? Take a look at the successful projects from Round 1 on the Parks Victoria website.

Parks Victoria is encouraging applications from far and wide. To help get the word out we have attached a briefing pack with Frequently Asked Questions and Social Media content (including relevant images) that we would appreciate you using to share with your networks.

If you have any queries, please email

Stay safe and well,

Volunteering Innovation Fund Team – Parks Victoria

1300 375 323



Mini marsupials meander in Muckleford

Posted on 14 April, 2021 by Ivan

We recently received some delightful photos from our valued Connecting Country volunteer, Lou Citroen, featuring a playful yellow-footed antechinus (Antechinus flavipes). We love the photos Lou, thank you! The antechinus was spotted on Castlemaine-Maldon track near Sawmill Rd, in the Muckleford region of central Victoria.

The yellow-footed antechinus is also known as ‘mardo’ and is a small marsupial found throughout our region and along the great dividing range in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. At first glance, they appear similar to an introduced house mouse, but an antechinus has a much pointier, long, narrow snout, unlike a mouse, which has a round head and nose. They are also larger than a house mouse, about 20 to 30 centimetres long, including their tail, and tend to hop about more on their hind legs.

Their diet is mostly invertebrates, eggs, nectar and sometimes small vertebrates. 

Please enjoy these photos from Lou, and a map of observance records in our region from the Atlas of Living Australia. 

Recorded submitted to various biodiversity databases for yellow-footed antechinus (image from Atlas of Living Australia)




North Central Regional Catchment Strategy: comment by 20 April 2021

Posted on 14 April, 2021 by Ivan

The North Central Catchment Management Authority (CMA) has been busy with the renewal of their Regional Catchment Strategy (RCS) for 2021-27. The draft RCS is now open for comment, which can be completed online, or in person at a drop-in session around the region. The draft is open for comment from 10 March to 20 April 2021. The RCS is an important document, and sets the priorities for North Central CMA for 2021-27, identifying  key assets, and actions within and around these assets.

Please read on to find out how to be involved in review of the draft RCS, and how to make comments and ensure our region has adequate representation in their funding model.

Many natural assets are identified for protection and support under the RCS (photo by Sandy Scheltema)


Be part of the conversation

The draft North Central Regional Catchment Strategy (RCS) is open for comment from 10 March to 20 April 2021. The RCS sets the direction for natural resource management for the next six years.

The draft is available (click here) and they are encouraging comments via the online feedback form. You can provide your comments directly via the ‘Have your say’ function on the website.

North Central CMA are also holding drop-in sessions across the region, and one online, so the community can review and discuss the draft with the North Central Catchment Management Authority team. All are welcome and no RSVPs are required.

For details see the flyer – click here

Drop-in sessions are from 4 to 7 pm. No need to register.
On-line session is on 29 March 2021 from 7 to 8.30 pm.

We encourage and welcome your feedback on this important strategy for our region.


Last chance! ‘Camp Out Collage’ contributions due 18 April 2021

Posted on 14 April, 2021 by Asha

Don’t forget to visit our special web pages if you’d like to join us for this year’s virtual ‘Camp Out on the Mount 2021’! Joining in is easy and fun. To get started – click here!

We are hoping for lots of contributions so we can create a ‘Camp Out Collage’ of photos, stories, and pledges. For every contribution you make to the collage, you will be entered into a draw to win some great prizes, including nest boxes, plants, books, and more.


  • Nest box installed by Wildlife Nestboxes .
  • Book bundle on native plants of the Mount Alexander Region from Friends of the Box Ironbark Forests featuring Mosses, Eucalypts, Acacias, and Native Peas.
  • Local produce hamper.
  • Small selection of indigenous tubestock to plant (acacias and sheoaks).
  • Brochure bundle from Connecting Country featuring Woodland birds of Central Victoria, Indigenous plants of Castlemaine and surrounds, and Reptiles and Frogs of the Mount Alexander Region.

Entries are due by 18 April 2021.

Thanks to Theo Mellick-Cooper and Liz Martin for sending in these stunning contributions!

Camping Out photo by Theo Mellick-Cooper

Loving Leanganook photo collage by Liz Martin


Caring for old trees on 24 April 2021 – book now!

Posted on 8 April, 2021 by Ivan

Connecting Country is excited to announce that tickets are now available for the second event of our 2021 autumn workshop series. ‘Caring for old trees‘ will be hosted by two local leading naturalists, Jarrod Coote and Tanya Loos, who coincidentally both previously worked with Connecting Country. The event will be held in-person at the stunning Hillside Acres farm, in North Harcourt, Victoria.

This event is part of our ‘Healthy Landscapes’ project, funded through the Australian Government’s Smart Farms program.

The workshop will cover:

  • How to look after older trees in the landscape.
  • Why they are important to farming and biodiversity.
  • Methods of protection and providing succession.

We will also have the opportunity to tour of some beautiful large old trees at Hillside Acres. Old trees provide vital farm infrastructure, as well as habitat for many birds, arboreal mammals, microbats, and insects. The workshop will explore how to ensure that old trees remain part of our local landscape, and how to ensure the next generation of old trees.

The event will be on Saturday 24 April 2021 from 10 am to 12 noon in North Harcourt, VIC. It’s sure to be popular and tickets are limited. To book please – click here 

Due to COVID-19 limitations, catering for this event is BYO. Please come equipped for potential weather extremes, wear sturdy shoes and bring adequate water and nourishment.

Our Healthy Landscapes project is about helping our local farmers and other landholders to manage their land sustainably for the benefit of wildlife, themselves and the broader landscape. We are also developing a Healthy Landscapes guide book, especially targeted to the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. This event is part of a series of educational workshops for landholders on sustainable land management.

Our special presenters

Jarrod Coote

Jarrod is an environmental educator and practical ecologist. He runs Hillside Acres farm and has developed a sound knowledge of flora and fauna identification, ecology and habitat requirements. He has taught at education institutions and is a former Connecting Country employee. Jarrod has a passion for sustainable farming and land management, as well as birds and indigenous flora species.

Tanya Loos

Tanya is a superstar of many aspects of ecology and is best known for her ability to explain the intricacies and beauties of the natural world to the community. Tanya has previously worked with Connecting Country and Birdlife Australia, and is an expert in birds, mammals and community engagement. Her experience includes ecological consulting, project planning, client liaison and delivering training. She is also an author, blogger, and well-known advocate for environmental stewardship and sustainable land management.


Ecological Society of Australia features Connecting Country

Posted on 7 April, 2021 by Frances

Connecting Country was honoured to have our work featured in the March 2021 issue of the Ecological Society of Australia Bulletin. Please read on to enjoy our article. For a link to the published article, along with many other interesting articles about new ecological research – click here

A Collaborative Effort: Landscape restoration and Wildlife Monitoring in Central Victoria

Jess Lawton & Frances Howe

Connecting Country

Connecting Country is a community organisation working to restore landscapes across the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. This area largely comprises the Goldfields bioregion, and its box-ironbark forests and woodlands have a long history of land clearing for mining, timber harvesting and agriculture. The region retains about 35% of native vegetation cover, which has been degraded through inappropriate grazing, erosion, pest animals and weed invasion.

The region is home to species listed as threatened under Victorian and Commonwealth legislation, including the charismatic Brush- tailed phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa) and extremely restricted Southern shepherd’s purse (Ballantinia antipoda), along with the threatened Victorian temperate woodland bird community.

The local community is highly engaged, demonstrating above average levels of volunteering and a strong interest in nature conservation. Many community members actively contribute to landscape restoration. Changing demographics in the region mean larger farms are often converted to lifestyle properties, with many landholders keen to manage their properties for wildlife.

Landscape restoration

Since beginning in 2007, Connecting Country has worked with over 200 landholders and community groups to rehabilitate 10,000 hectares of habitat. Our work is based on four key areas:

  • Supporting Landcare through our Landcare Facilitator and around 30 local Landcare and Friends groups.
  • Restoring landscapes through on-ground actions such as fencing existing habitat, revegetation, and weed and pest animal control.
  • Engaging community through environmental education, workshops, information-sharing, social media and volunteer involvement.
  • Monitoring biodiversity with a focus on woodland birds and arboreal mammals.


Collaborating with scientists

Connecting Country volunteers monitoring nest boxes in the Mount Alexander region.

We welcome and actively seek input from scientists when establishing and reviewing our monitoring programs. This advice has helped us to stratify our site locations, establish an appropriate number of sites, and monitor sites regularly and consistently over the long term.Connecting Country recognises that long-term monitoring is essential to identify whether restoration work is effective in improving biodiversity. Since 2010, we have monitored wildlife at approximately 200 sites across the Mount Alexander region, with a focus on woodland birds as indicators of habitat quality, and the Brush-tailed Phascogale as a flagship for conservation.

Our phascogale monitoring program involves nest boxes established at 100 survey sites, primarily on private land. Sites are stratified across five geographic subregions, to represent both large (> 50 ha) and small (< 50 ha) patches of forest, and gullies and slopes. We have surveyed these sites five times since 2010, and will survey them again in autumn 2021. Our woodland bird monitoring program was established with a similar approach to allow comparison of restoration sites with cleared and remnant vegetation sites.

Setting up monitoring programs with help from scientists has enabled data analysis and the ability to draw more meaningful conclusions about habitat use by species at our restoration sites. Our nest box data has been analysed as part of a PhD project. We have shared our data with researchers from La Trobe University, Federation University and the University of Melbourne, as well as public databases including the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas and Birdata.

Collaborating with community

Connecting Country’s monitoring programs were initially implemented by paid staff, but increasingly involve volunteers. Since 2018 we have moved to a new model where coordinated teams of skilled citizen scientists monitor woodland birds and nest boxes. Feedback from our funders indicates they prefer to invest in citizen science projects, and we find it increasingly difficult to find funding for in-house monitoring.

We work hard to keep data collection as consistent as possible with previous surveys. We take care to enlist volunteers who are skilled at identifying birds both by sight and from their calls, consistent with the skill levels of previous staff. We train volunteers in how to conduct surveys, liaise with landholders, navigate to sites, follow safety procedures, record data correctly and enter data into public databases.

The dedication of our volunteers is inspirational. However, there are challenges. We find that recruitment and training volunteers takes considerable time and is an ongoing process. We must keep our volunteers safe and healthy, provide regular reminders and follow up to volunteers, and answer their questions. When data is collected by many people, it must be checked carefully. It is essential for volunteer retention that volunteers feel appreciated, so we host thank-you events and take opportunities to celebrate our volunteers.

Volunteers report they enjoy monitoring, feel they are connecting with their natural environment, and value learning about scientific monitoring methods. Several volunteers have formed friendships with landholders and take opportunities to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for nature. We are incredibly grateful for the rich resource of skills and enthusiasm that our growing team of about 30 volunteers bring to our monitoring programs, and look forward to learning as much as we can from our data in the future.

For more information, contact Connecting Country here:

This article was first published in the ESA Bulletin March 2021.



Fabulous Phascogales with Castlemaine Field Naturalists – 9 & 10 April 2021

Posted on 7 April, 2021 by Frances

Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club (CFNC) holds monthly events and their April 2021 feature our very own Connecting Country Monitoring Coordinator and Phascogale specialist, Jess Lawton. Here are the details from CFNC.

Brush-tailed Phascogale (photo by Jess Lawton)

Webinar: Friday 9 April 2021 at 7.30 pm
Fabulous Phascogales: survival in a modified landscape
Guest speaker: Jess Lawton, Connecting Country

If you live in or around Castlemaine, you may have been lucky enough to encounter the elusive Brush-tailed Phascogale, or Tuan. This medium-sized marsupial has a large, black, bottlebrush tail and is listed as ‘threatened’ in Victoria. At the CFNC April monthly meeting on Friday April 9 2021 at 7.30 pm, we’ll hear from Connecting Country’s Jess Lawton on the biology and ecology of the Brush-tailed Phascogale, her research on the occurrence of this species in a modified environment, and how you can help this threatened species to persist. The meeting will be held by Zoom (details on the back page of the Castlemaine Naturalist, April 2021 issue).

Excursion: Saturday 10 April 2021 at 1.30 pm
Phascogale nest box monitoring in Sandon

Leaders: Jess Lawton and Jenny Rolland

Connecting Country has set 450 nest boxes to provide habitat for the Brush-tailed Phascogale through the Mount Alexander Shire. The boxes are monitored every two years, and volunteers are being sought to assist with continuing this important collection of data on the species’ occurrence. For our April excursion, we will join Jess in checking nest boxes at a property in Yandoit. Jess will explain the monitoring process and discuss how landscape attributes influence Phascogale occurrence.

Meet at the Octopus car park opposite the Castle Motel, Duke Street, Castlemaine VIC for departure at 1.30 pm sharp. Alternatively for those coming from further west, meet at the Newstead Arts Hub (8A Tivey St, Newstead VIC) at 1.45 pm and we will travel together in convoy to the property.

Bring sunhat, block-out, hand sanitiser, water and wear stout walking shoes (there will be some walking over uneven ground). Also bring your own afternoon tea and chairs for the end of the excursion.

Please comply with current Government COVID-safe requirements on the day.

The field trip will be cancelled in extreme weather conditions.

For further information please contact CFNC – click here