Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Birdata: Become a citizen science superhero

Posted on 1 September, 2020 by Jess

At Connecting Country, we love using the Birdata app, and we know that many of our friends and members love it too! It’s a simple way to make your bird observations count for science. We came across this event from Birdlife in Western Australia. However, they have opened it up to anyone who would like to learn to be a citizen science superhero. We think it may be of interest to our members. Here is what Birdlife Western Australia had to say about this event:

Regardless of whether you have been firmly on the #birdingathome bandwagon or whether the lockdowns and border closures have kickstarted your interest in the birds around your patch, the time you spend out noticing nature is precious. Nobody else sees what you see, so why not put it to use? Your everyday bird sightings are super valuable!

Join this webinar to learn how recording the birds you see (even in your own backyard!) using the Birdata app can help protect and conserve our feathered friends. BirdLife WA’s Citizen Science Project Coordinator Dr Tegan Douglas will show what we can discover when we pool our knowledge through citizen science, and how easy it is to get involved!

Supported by Lotterywest.

Date*: Wednesday 9 September 2020, 1 pm – 2 pm UTC+08 Perth.  *In Central Victoria the event time is 3 pm – 4 pm. 

Join on zoom: click here

For more information: click here


Learn about soils and soil testing – spring 2020 webinars with Cath Botta

Posted on 1 September, 2020 by Jacqui

If you’re curious about soils, how to manage soils for productivity, and what’s going on under your feet, this is a prime opportunity to take the next step in your understanding of how soils function, their structure, biology and mineral make up.

Soil scientist and amazing educator Cath Botta will present the series through the Yea River Catchment Landcare Group with support from the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority. The Goulburn Broken catchment region lies directly to the east of our North Central catchment region in Victoria, and there is overlap in soil properties. Participants are welcome to register for one or all three webinar sessions. All three sessions will have general info about soils. There will be a Goulburn Broken soils component at the end of session 3, and if you find that is not relevant you’re most welcome to drop out when suits.

Your property’s soil is arguably your primary asset and you may well be allocating a good portion of your annual budget towards liming and/or some form of fertiliser. So, it makes sense to understand how your soil works – its biology, structure and minerals and how best to manage it productively and sustainably. This series of three webinars will cover soil health and soil testing basics through to the key components of your soil tests. Whether you are just starting out or have been taking soil tests for a while, one or all of these webinars will have something for you.

There is time scheduled between Sessions 1 and 2 to allow you to collect and send off soil samples and receive your results in preparation for Sessions 2 and 3.

During the webinars, we will be referring to the booklet ‘Understanding your soil test step-by-step’. You can request a free hard copy at registration.

To download a copy of ‘Understanding your soil test step-by-step’ – click here

All session times are 10 am to 12 pm:

  • Session 1 – Monday 7 September 2020
  • Session 2 – Monday 12 October 2020
  • Session 3 – Thursday 15 October 2020

To register – click here 

For further information please contact Judy Brookes (

This project is supported by Yea River Catchment Landcare Group and the Goulburn Broken CMA through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.


Operation Hollows targets illegal firewood collection

Posted on 27 August, 2020 by Frances

Dead trees and fallen logs play an essential role in our local Box-Ironbark forest ecosystems. They provide food and shelter for countless living organisms from fungi and plants to the invertebrates that sustain larger animals such as woodland birds and Brush-tailed Phascogales. Many of our local birds, reptiles and small marsupials also rely on tree hollows for nesting and shelter.

 When people collect firewood from our native forests, and remove standing dead trees and woody debris on the ground, they can contribute to a serious loss of biodiversity and affect the long-term viability of wildlife habitat. Therefore firewood collection requires careful management. While many of us rely on firewood to keep us warm over winter, we can make sure our firewood is from a sustainable source. The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and Parks Victoria have launched a statewide operation to address the destruction of wildlife habitat caused by illegal firewood collection in Victoria’s forests, parks and reserves. Here are some details from DELWP.

Operation Hollows is targeting the unlawful removal of commercial quantities of firewood from public land, and suppliers of illegal firewood.

Australian owlet-nightjar uses a hollow in a dead tree (photo by Peter Turner)

Uncontrolled firewood collection can lead to the loss of important habitat such as hollow logs and dead trees. Habitat loss has a serious impact on iconic native species that rely on our forests to survive, such as the Powerful Owl, South-eastern Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Greater Glider, Pygmy Possum and many others.

Authorised officers will undertake patrols in forests, parks and reserves and use cameras to detect offenders. As organised groups are known to illegally collect firewood at night, patrols will take place at all times of the day and night and on both weekdays and weekends.

The Conservation Regulator’s Major Investigations and Operations Unit and Parks Victoria’s compliance team will target suppliers suspected of unlawfully collecting and distributing illegal firewood.

Anyone caught illegally removing firewood can face a fine of up to $8,261, and vehicles and equipment may also be seized.

Commercial firewood suppliers need to have the appropriate licences and permits to collect and sell firewood obtained in Victoria. Domestic firewood collection is allowed in designated collection areas during a firewood collection season, and people may collect up to two cubic metres per day and 16 cubic metres per financial year.

The Conservation Regulator and Parks Victoria recognise that many people are facing significant hardship, having been impacted by drought, bushfires and now the coronavirus (COVID-19) and may be relying on firewood from state forests to supplement their heating needs. Over the past few weeks, the Conservation Regulator has detected thousands of tonnes of firewood that have been removed illegally, reducing important supply for hundreds of households across Victoria.

Operation Hollows will help protect the environment and firewood supplies for community members through what will be a difficult and challenging year.

Kate Gavens (DELWP Chief Conservation Regulator) said ‘We’re targeting the illegal removal of commercial qualities of firewood, given the negative impacts it has on the health of our forests, wildlife habitat and the sustainability of firewood resources for the community.’ David Nugent (Parks Victoria Director of Fire, Emergency and Enforcement) added ‘Firewood collection limits ensure everyone has fair access to supply, while protecting the environment which provides important habitat for many of our threatened native species.’

Parks Victoria encourages anyone who buys firewood to question where it is being sourced from. To report the suspected illegal collection or selling of firewood call 136 186.

For further information on Operation Hollows – click here
For firewood collection rules in Victoria – click here
For information on sustainable firewood – click here



New IUCN Guidelines for connectivity conservation – webinar

Posted on 27 August, 2020 by Frances

Connecting Country exists to connect landscapes across the Mount Alexander region of Central Victoria. In ecology, landscape connectivity is often defined as ‘the degree to which the landscape facilitates or impedes movement among resource patches’. Landscape connectivity allows plants, animals and other organisms to disperse across the land and move between patches of habitat, affecting gene flow, local adaptation, extinction risk, colonisation, and the potential for plants and animals to cope with climate change.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has developed new Guidelines for conserving connectivity through ecological networks and corridors. Published in July 2020, the guidelines are based on the best available science and practice for maintaining, enhancing and restoring ecological connectivity among and between protected areas, other effective areas based conservation measures (OECMs) and other intact ecosystems.

The IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) includes the Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group (CCSG) based at the Center for Large Landscape Conservation in the beautiful Rocky Mountains at Bozeman, Montana (USA). This Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group is presenting a webinar about the new guidelines.

Session speakers will include lead author and Y2Y president and chief scientist, Jodi Hilty, as well as Stephen Woodley, Gary Tabor and Annika Keeley. Y2Y is the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, a not-for-profit organisation working to connect the wildlands and waters stretching from Yellowstone (USA) to Yukon (Canada).

An initial presentation will introduce the genesis of this work, discuss the main messages, and emphasise the recommendation for formal recognition of ecological corridors to serve as critical building blocks of ecological networks in conjunction with protected areas and other conservation measures.

Additional short presentations will highlight some of the featured 25 case studies demonstrating current approaches to connectivity conservation for different ecosystems and species, and at different spatial and temporal scales. Time will be reserved at the end of the session for questions and discussion.

This event is free and open to the public.

The Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group is holding the webinar is on Wednesday 2 September 2020 from 8 to 9:30 am USA Mountain Time. Unfortunately, the timing is not ideal for us in Central Victoria! This equates to 12 am midnight on the early morning of Thursday 3 September 2020 in Victoria, Australia.

To register for the webinar – click here

To download the IUCN Guidelines for conserving connectivity through ecological networks and corridors – click here

To learn more about the guidelines and why connectivity is important – click here


IUCN Guidelines for Connectivity Conservation | Webinar


Bird of the month: Red-browed Finch

Posted on 27 August, 2020 by Ivan

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

The small but charismatic Red-browed Finch

A fairly common sight in Castlemaine gardens is the small and beautiful Red-browed Finch. At first glance they may appear as a flock of small brown birds, but as they fly away you’ll see a flash of their red rumps. On closer inspection their red bill, with that distinctive finch shape for foraging seeds, and the red stripe through the eye, become apparent. They can be quite bold, which is how Martin got some lovely photos on his phone, at a friend’s place in Castlemaine (pre-COVID-19).

Martin’s photo of a Red-browed Finch, taken with his phone (photo by Martin Tatton)


Damian Kelly writes about this distinctive finch with its red flash of colour:

‘Chances are that any birds you see around your house are locals. They are largely a sedentary species with only local movements outside the main breeding season. In mountainous areas there is some evidence of altitudinal movement, with birds moving to lower elevations in winter. Several banding studies have shown 99.9% of birds are found less than 10 km from nesting sites. Some studies have shown that birds rarely move more than 400 m from their main territory, often near water.

Red-browed Finch with nesting material in its bill (photo by Damian Kelly)

If you watch them feeding you will notice that they break up seeds to get the main contents and discard the husks. They normally do not eat seeds whole. Although mainly seed eaters, they will also take insects if available.

They are monogamous, and both birds incubate and feed the young. Pair bonding remains constant throughout the year, even when moving in flocks outside the breeding season. Sometimes groups nest communally with several nests in a tree. In Victoria, the breeding usually occurs from August to April and a single pair may have up to three clutches in a season.

Red-browed Finch nest (photo by Damian Kelly)

Nests are an untidy collection of grass, twigs, feathers, wool and bits of string, with a tunnel entrance. Parents and young continue to roost in the nest for several weeks after hatching. Outside breeding season they also utilise roosting nests that look like breeding nests but are unlined. Up to six birds have been recorded roosting in these nests.

Around Castlemaine they are common and widespread and can be found in gardens and along the creeks (including the Forest Creek Trail). They are adaptable and can be found nesting in non-native plants as well as natives.’

A big thank you to contributors to this edition of Bird of the Month – Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly – for their amazing knowledge, and to Martin Tatton for his photo.

For more information about these birds and to listen to the call – click here


















Red-browed Finch nest. Ph

oto by Damian Kelly







Indigenous plant use: a new resource

Posted on 27 August, 2020 by Ivan

We recently discovered a very comprehensive and useful booklet specifically designed for anyone interested in Indigenous plant use, including Landcare and community groups, schools, revegetation practitioners and gardeners. If you don’t have a property or garden, this booklet is still of value, as it aims to illuminate Indigenous perspectives of indigenous plants.

‘Indigenous plant use – A booklet on the medicinal, nutritional and technological use of indigenous plants’ was produced by Zena Cumpston at the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes (CAUL) Hub in Melbourne, which is funded by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program. The guide is based on plants from Kulin Country, which incorporates five different aboriginal groups from southern Victoria, and includes many plants that are found in Central Victoria and valued by Dja Dja Wurrung people. By choosing plants specifically from the Country you are on, you will not only increase the plants’ chances of survival but help reintroduce these plants to the landscape and add to the biodiversity of your area.

To download a copy of the booklet – click here

Read on for more information on how the booklet came about.

In 2019, the University of Melbourne was transformed by the breathtaking influx of 40,000 plants native to Kulin Country that literally breathed new (ancient) life into the site. These plants took centre stage at The Living Pavilion, an arts/science event that aspired to forefront the University’s Parkville campus as an Aboriginal place: a place of belonging. The Parkville campus is built on the unceded lands of the Wurundjeri peoples of the Woi Wurrung language group who have belonged to and been custodians of these lands for 65,000+ years.

As part of the plant exhibition, The Living Pavilion’s lead researcher, Barkandji woman Zena Cumpston, used signage to educate people about the different plant species’ cultural and ecological significance. This plant research was so popular that many participants asked how they could access this information after the event and if there was a resource available that synthesised this work. Further, greening practitioners, schools and community groups have been contacting Zena to ask for more information and to discuss their educational aspirations to embed understandings of Indigenous ecological knowledge into their gardens and activities.

This booklet contains edited and abridged versions of the information that accompanied the indigenous plants at The Living Pavilion. We share information about indigenous plant use, including the medicinal, nutritional and technological use of plants (such as traps, nets and weapons) developed over many, many millennia by Australia’s First Peoples. Mostly, we cover widely available eastern Kulin Nation plants, and some edible plants from further afield that can be grown successfully in multiple Australian climates.

All of the plant information has been edited to fit onto labels that you can print, laminate and use in your garden. These labels provide an ongoing opportunity to learn on Country: gardeners and visitors will be able to interact with plants, smell, touch and taste, whilst they learn. This is an Indigenous way of knowing and learning, it is experiential learning: learning through doing, smelling, tasting, seeing, feeling, sharing and talking. The plants are presented from an Indigenous perspective; Latin names are second not first. Where possible we have also included information about the animals the plants benefit, in line with the holistic approaches to the environment so important to Indigenous ways of knowing and being.

Yam-daisy or Microseris walteri (photo by Robert Macrae)




Get ready for AGM 2020

Posted on 20 August, 2020 by Frances

For the first time ever Connecting Country is holding our Annual General Meeting (AGM) online. Please join us for this free event on Saturday 26 September 2020 at 2.00 pm for a refreshingly brief AGM and two rather special guest presenters.

Brush-tailed Phascogale (photo: Jess Lawton)

Jess Lawton (Connecting Country) will present on ‘Connecting Country’s ten years of ecological monitoring‘. Jess is our treasured Monitoring Coordinator, PhD candidate and resident phascogale expert. Join Jess on a journey through Connecting Country’s long-term monitoring programs, with a focus on nest boxes and bird surveys.





Birds at bath (photo: Frances Howe)

Jacinta Humphrey (La Trobe University) will present on ‘The impact of urbanisation on birds’. Jacinta is a PhD student at La Trobe University and member of the Research Centre for Future Landscapes. Join Jacinta to hear about her research into the impact of expanding urbanisation on wildlife, with a focus on birds – a key issue raised by the local community during our recent Habitat Health Check project. To view Jacinta’s engaging video summarising her project – click here


Everyone is welcome! Please register via trybooking here so that we can send you the link to the meeting as the event approaches. 

If you have any questions, please email or call (03) 5472 1594.

AGM formalities:

Please note only current Connecting Country members can vote in the AGM.


Treasure-hunting in the Goldfields

Posted on 20 August, 2020 by Asha

Yam-daisy (Microseris lanceolata) by Robert Macrae

We’re delighted to present a very special guest blogger: Asha Bannon. Asha will be known to many from her role as Landcare Facilitator for the Mount Alexander Region with Connecting Country. She is currently on extended leave, but took out time to prepare this for us.

What is special to you about the land around us? We have many treasures in our local bushland, often hiding in plain sight.

Next time you go for a walk, focus on tuning in to something new around you. I know I am usually on the lookout for birds, searching for signs of movement and bird calls, so it takes a shift in awareness for me to stop and take a closer look at the tiny plants and fungi near my feet. Perhaps you could take a magnifying glass out to look at mosses and insects, or take a few moments to close your eyes and purely listen to what’s around you. In these times when we need to shelter in place for a while, there are always new adventures to be had by discovering the different dimensions all around us.

The name of our bioregion, ‘Goldfields’, comes from the gold-mining in our history that drastically changed our landscapes. But it is important to remember that we also have an abundance of special plants, animals, and fungi which we should value like treasure, many of which share that golden colour. Trace Balla captured this sentiment in her book, ‘Landing with wings’ (picture shared here with permission).

Page from ‘Landing with wings’ by Trace Balla (shared here with permission)

Examples include common species, such as Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) which is flowering in abundance right now, as well as threatened and rare species like Murnong (Microseris lanceolata) and Eltham Copper Butterfly (Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida). And the list goes on!

Tell us in the comments some of your favourite golden plants, animals, fungi, etc., and have a chat about them with your friends too to share the love for these treasures.

We have put together a simple worksheet with some easy-to-spot golden treasures to kick start your own checklist. Click here to download a copy, or you can make your own, either with golden treasures or another dimension of nature you’d like to explore. If you can’t get out into nature at the moment, click here to explore some Natural Newstead blog posts as the next best thing.

Asha Bannon


Climate science webinar: download now available

Posted on 20 August, 2020 by Ivan

In June 2020, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) hosted two online webinars regarding climate change projections in Victoria. These proved to be very popular and we received several inquiries from community members who were keen to obtain a recording of the webinars, so they could show others or catch up on the latest climate change projections. The Climate Science and Communications team at DELWP subsequently provided the following information on how to access the webinars.

Thanks to those of you who were able to listen in to the webinars held by DELWP’s climate change area in late June 2020. We’re pleased to be able to send you a package of materials from the two webinars. Apologies for the delay in getting these materials out.

Here are the recordings of both webinars:

Webinar 1 – Climate change in Victoria – past, present and future (24 June):

Webinar 2 – Victorian Climate Projections 2019 – findings and tips for interpreting (26 June):

Climate Science and Communications team

Environment and Climate Change | Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
Level 1, 8 Nicholson St, East Melbourne, Victoria 3002
PO Box 500, East Melbourne, 8002



What is a climate future plot?

Posted on 13 August, 2020 by Ivan

You may have heard the terms ‘climate future plot‘, ‘climate-resilient landscapes‘ or ‘climate-ready revegetation‘, but what do they actually mean? Well, in simple terms, they refer to the use of climate change modelling to plan for revegetation, by using suitable indigenous plants sourced from places with climates similar to that predicted at the revegetation site in decades to come (usually hotter and drier places). Obviously there is a lot of science behind this new and emerging revegetation technique, but we are starting to see working examples in Tasmania and Victoria, which is heartening.

We’ve found Landcarers and landholders in the Mount Alexander region are increasingly concerned about the future viability of their revegetation work, given recent weather patterns and future climate predictions. Many have seen their revegetation plantings die in recent years due to heat and water stress, and some have even stopped planting.

Connecting Country is seeking to address this issue. We’re looking for  funding to establish some climate future plots right here in the Mount Alexander region. These specially designed areas of ‘climate-ready’ revegetation would incorporate plants grown from seed both collected locally and from other regions (typically hotter, drier regions to our north). This increases the likelihood that plants will survive as climate impacts intensify. We would carefully design the project, obtain appropriate seed, grow tubestock and find suitable plot locations. Once planted, we would collaborate with citizen scientists to establish an ongoing monitoring program to measure the long-term survival and growth of the plants. This would provide valuable information to guide future revegetation planting.

An excellent working example of a climate-ready revegetation project is at Bush Heritage’s Nardoo Hills Reserve near Wedderburn, Victoria, where climate change is causing extensive dieback of Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa) and Yellow Box (E. melliodora) trees. To address this dieback, the revegetation research project has been designed to provide long-term guidance on viable, climate-ready eucalypt revegetation options for the reserve and this region using a strategy called ‘climate-adjusted provenancing’. The research trial will run over many decades but they should gain valuable results and insights each year.

Traditional revegetation programs use locally sourced seed, based on the expectation that they’re the most suited to the local environment. For long-lived species like eucalypts this approach is now considered high risk due to the changing climate.

Nardoo Hills Reserve die-back of eucalyptus species (Photo: Bush Heritage)


To read more about Bush Heritage’s climate-ready revegetation project – click here

Please enjoy the following video below, courtesy of Bush Heritage Australia, that highlights the challenges and achievements at Nardoo Hills.



All aboard the love train: echidna playdate

Posted on 13 August, 2020 by Ivan

We all know and love Tanya Loos, former Connecting Country employee, bird watching superstar, science writer and committed naturalist. We are lucky enough to have Tanya as a guest blogger this week, presenting her wisdom on the rarely encountered echidna train. Tanya is now working with Birdlife Australia, coordinating communications and engagement at a national scale. She has also written the much loved Daylesford Nature Diary, which was published a few years ago. Please enjoy her article below highlighting one of the most visually pleasurable phenomena in our region. 

In the higher altitude foothill forests, the local wattles usually flower in late August and September. The silver wattles are blooming in the Wombat Forest and surrounds:  a few weeks early this year. One reliable sign of early spring is right on cue – the appearance of amorous echidnas!

On that lovely warm day at the end of July – just before this cold snap, we were delighted to host a pair of echidnas mating in the garden bed!

The echidna is usually a solitary animal, with a large home range of between 30 to even 100 hectares. The echidna wanders around his or her territory using extraordinary muscular strength to move rocks and logs to get to tasty termites and ant nests in the ground, and if another echidna is encountered, they usually ignore each other.

This indifference turns into the complete opposite in mating season – 100% commitment and attention! A female of breeding age, around five years old, suddenly becomes hot property in the bushland, and randy males follow the female around, shadowing her every move. This behaviour forms what is known as an echidna train. An echidna train is composed of a female in front, with three or four males following head to tail behind, forming an echidna conga line. An echidna train may have as many as 11 males!

Echidna trains last for about six weeks. I have heard three reports in the past week so we are right in the thick of echidna breeding season now. Isn’t it lovely that nature keeps on with these lovely seasonal cycles, whilst our human world is dealing with so much strife right now. Such comfort!

Rarely seen but much loved, the Echidna train (Photo: Stuart King)


When it is mating time, another unusual behaviour occurs; the creation of a mating trench. The female decides she is ready to mate and partially buries her front legs and head into the soft dirt at the base of a tree or bush. The males get very excited at this point and start digging a trench around the female. If there is only one male the mating trench will be a simple straight trench, if there are several males, the trench becomes a large doughnut shaped ring that can be 20 cm deep. The males push and jostle each other in the trench until eventually only one male is in position to mate with the female. They mate on their side, with their openings (cloacas) pushed together.

Dogs find echidnas fascinating creatures! Please ensure that your dogs do not have the opportunity to disturb echidnas during this special time.

I am pretty good with recording my bird sightings on my Birdata app – but the others – not so good! But this sighting has prompted me to fire-up my Echidna CSI app and take the time to record this sighting!

Echidna CSI is a fantastic research project led by Tahlia Perry, a University of Adelaide PhD student. They are on Facebook here – the photos are just wonderful! Echidna trains aplenty, and it is so great to see the variation in echidna colour and amount of fur – the Tasmanian echidnas are very large and fluffy! The Echidna CSI project is also online here.

The Echidna CSI app is pretty easy to use with a smartphone – you can either record a sighting as you see it, or add a photo from your camera roll for older sightings. As my pics are not geo-tagged, I was directed to the Atlas of Living Australia website to upload my sighting/photo. It took about 15 minutes but now it is done!

The project is also collecting echidna scats for analysis. I have an echidna scat – I used to show it as part of my scats and bush detective displays to school kids, and I have to admit I would be sad to part with it! They are surprisingly big – a cylinder of tightly compressed sand/dirt with tiny fragments of insect exoskeleton throughout. But it is for a good cause!

As the team explain on their website: ‘We can get a lot of information about echidnas through the molecules in their scats. We can get out DNA and hormones to tell us who that echidna is, if it’s healthy, stressed or reproductively active. And so we can learn more about these wild populations without having to track or capture any of these animals.’

To the post office! : ) : )

Tanya Loos



Beginner birdwatching with Inala Foundation

Posted on 13 August, 2020 by Jess

The Inala Foundation, a habitat conservation organisation based in Bruny Island, Tasmania, is running a free online event titled a ‘Beginner’s Guide to Birdwatching’. We think this is a fantastic theme for an event, as we know there’s a strong interest in bird watching in our local Mount Alexander region. Interestingly, we’ve recently been planning our own ‘Birding for beginners’ event for later in 2020, but want to share this in case it’s of interest to the community in the meantime. Please see the details below from the Inala Foundation, including how to register. 

The Swift Parrot enjoys habitat in Bruny Island, Tasmania, as well here in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria (Photo: Michael Gooch)


Birdwatching is a great activity that everyone can enjoy. During the COVID-19 lockdown period we have seen a huge increase in the number of new birdwatchers around the world. Many people are navigating their way through the maze that is birdwatching optics and scratching their heads about learning to ID birds, particularly how to differentiate some of the trickier species.

The Inala beginners guide to birdwatching answers all these questions and more. Join us online on Saturday 22 August 2020 for a free introduction and live question/answer session.

When: Saturday 22 August 2020, 10:00 am – 11:00 am
Cost: Free
To register and find more information: click here


‘Impact of urbanisation on birds’ with Jacinta Humphrey – Connecting Country AGM 2020

Posted on 6 August, 2020 by Ivan

Connecting Country would like to warmly (and safely) invite you to the Connecting Country 2020 Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Saturday 26 September 2020 at 2.00 pm.

This year’s AGM will be a little different: for the first time ever we are planning an online event. But as usual Connecting Country style, it will be much more than an AGM and will feature two very special presentations. This year’s AGM theme is resilience and adapting to change, and we have signed up two guest speakers who have been involved in monitoring ecological change over time. Long-term ecological monitoring is vital if we are to have accurate data to make informed decisions about land management, and develop strategies to address the ongoing decline and extinction of our wildlife.

We’re delighted to present our two excellent and engaging AGM guest speakers:

Jess Lawton (Connecting Country) on ‘Connecting Country’s ten years of ecological monitoring‘. Jess is our treasured Monitoring Coordinator, PhD candidate and resident phascogale expert. Join Jess on a journey through Connecting Country’s long-term monitoring programs, with a focus on nest boxes and bird surveys.



Jacinta Humphrey (La Trobe University) on ‘The impact of urbanisation on birds’. Jacinta is a PhD student at La Trobe University and member of the Research Centre for Future Landscapes. Join Jacinta to hear about her research into the impact of expanding urbanisation on wildlife, with a focus on birds – a key issue raised by the local community during our recent Habitat Health Check project. To view Jacinta’s engaging video summarising her project – click here


The AGM 2020 will also include a brief presentation from staff and committee members about Connecting Country’s achievements over the last decade, to allow supporters old and new to hear what Connecting Country does and our plans for the coming year. This is a free online, which is open to all members of Connecting Country and our community from near and far.

Booking is essential for this event. To register for the AGM and receive the online link to attend please – click here 

There will be no super-delicious catering at this year’s AGM, but feel free to join us for some online discussion and chit-chat after the event, maybe even a BYO refreshment! If you have any questions, please email or call (03) 5472 1594.

AGM formalities:

The Connecting Country team at Camp out on the Mount 2019, minus Ivan Carter (photo by Heather Barrett)







Loss of Maldon Urban Landcare Group’s valuable restoration work

Posted on 6 August, 2020 by Frances

Unfortunately a large area of established revegetation of local native plants was cleared this week in Maldon.

The revegetation site is located on the northern end of the former South German Mine in Phoenix Street, Maldon VIC. Maldon Urban Landcare Group (MULGA) successfully revegetated the site as part of a larger long-term restoration project to restore the site that began in the 1990s.

An article about the revegetation site and the project was published in the 2015 Victorian Landcare and Catchment Magazine. To view the article – click here

The northern end of the site has now been groomed and almost entirely cleared of vegetation. We understand the area was cleared by an operator under the direction of Parks Victoria, who are responsible for managing the land. MULGA were not informed or consulted about this action.

Naturally, MULGA members have expressed their distress, frustration and disappointment that this has happened. Local Parks Victoria staff are in contact with MULGA regarding their concerns.

MULGA is one of Victoria’s oldest Landcare Groups. They are well respected and known as a hardworking, dedicated group of volunteers who put a huge effort into restoring the degraded reserves around Maldon. To learn more about MULGA’s work – click here


Site at former South German Mine in Phoenix Street, Maldon in August 2020


Barkers Creek Landcare & Wildlife Group take action during COVID-19

Posted on 6 August, 2020 by Jacqui

Action Plan from Barkers Creek Landcare & Wildlife Group

Barkers Creek Landcare & Wildlife Group recently released their impressive action plan for 2020-2024.

COVID-19 safety restrictions meant the group couldn’t hold a workshop and meet in person as planned. Instead they held an online member survey to get feedback on priorities for the next five years, and find out what members enjoy most about being in the group.

I’m sure you’ll agree the result is a beautifully presented and informative plan, complete with a map of their project sites and new signs, and lovely photos of plants and animals, and working bees in Barkers Creek!

To view the plan – click here

From the plan:

‘Once again, the survey really affirms how much people love living in Barkers Creek and how committed they are to restoring our local environment whether that be on public land or private property.

We encourage people to explore our group’s Landcare website – and join our group… and let’s see what we can achieve in the next 5 years.’

‘…Barkers Creek is a ‘Community’ … it’s not just the bit of ground between Harcourt and Castlemaine where it has been dug up, chopped down or dumped on.’

All the plant and animal photos were taken in Barkers Creek!



Revisited: dam that is good habitat

Posted on 30 July, 2020 by Ivan

The rain has been steady across autumn and winter this season and it has been a pleasure seeing the many farm dams across our region mostly full to the brim and overflowing. The farm dam can be simply that, a farm dam for stock and irrigation, or it can be a farm dam along with important ecological values and habitat potential. There are plenty of small actions that landowners can implement to improve the habitat value of their dam. Dams can provide vital resources and habitat for fauna during heatwaves and extended drought periods, and can be important links in ecological restoration across the landscape.

One of Connecting Country’s most popular posts over the past five years was about turning your dam into habitat. It was our highest-ranking post in terms of the number of views, and highlighted some practical actions landholders could take to improve their dams. In light of the recent interest in this topic we decided to republish the blog post here, along with some new links to useful resources on the topic

We thank Damien Cook for his slide presentation from the workshop, which is available via the link at the bottom of this post.

Turning your Dam into Habitat

Wetland ecologist, Damien Cook presented the ‘Turning Your Dam into Habitat’ workshop in April 2017 on his property in Spring Gully. Participants heard about the possibilities and practical steps for turning farm dams into habitat, wetland ecology and managing soil erosion in ephemeral creek lines.

Damien started the day talking about a swale that he and partner Elaine Bayes had built to divert water away from the house. This swale helps prevent water gushing in their front door and provides habitat for animals by remaining moist when nearby areas have dried out in times of less rain. We also heard how it acts as a biofilter and helps with mitigating soil runoff in times of high rain.

Damien kicks off the workshop by talking nutrient cycling and inviting frogs with things they like












Next we moved to a small frog pond near the house. This pond had previously been the site of a driveway but had been renovated to encourage frogs and provide space for wetland plants. Here Damien talked about encouraging insects as prey for frogs and fish and about nutrient cycling that occurs with wet and drying conditions. Plant species in this pond include Swamp Wallaby Grass (Amphibromus fluitans), Common Swamp Wallaby-grass (Amphibromus nervosus), Ridged Water-milfoil (Myriophyllum porcatum) and Water Ribbon (Cycnogeton procerum).  Damien recounted hearing five different species of frog using this small pond. When asked if he had introduced the frogs, he responded that “no, I invited them by providing conditions that frogs liked”.

A short walk through the paddock included a quick stop to listen for and talk about the Biberon’s Brooding Frog, (Pseudophryne bibroni) whose unusual parenting habits include the stay at home dads looking after the fertilised eggs until rain comes and disperses his brood. Damien also pointed out that his paddock was home the Golden Sun Moth, another critically endangered species.

At the dig dam participants heard about the value of creating banks of topsoil to plant into









At the first of three dams on the property Damien explained that, as with most dams, it was constructed in a way that has ensured it’s surface was largely subsoil. Damien had therefore built up the banks with introduced top soil and planted Jointed Twig Rush (Baumea articulata) into them. He had also planted Old Man’s Weed (Centipeda cunninghamii) and Eel Grass (Vallisneria australis), the later being a delicious treat for the resident yabbie population. This dam provided an opportunity to talk about why it’s good not to have trees on dam walls, creating floating pontoons in deep dams, and making shallow areas and peninsulas if renovating or building a new dam. 

Our next stop was the medium sized dam which was near full and awaiting the Water Ribbon germinants to reach the surface thus mitigating evaporation and providing shelter for frogs in warmer months.

Good questions from attendees helped draw out information from Damien about how to slow water down and make habitat in our landscape









The last stop was a small dammed area in an ephemeral creek line. Prior to the 2010-11 flood this area had been  prone to erosion. Damien has renovated the area using rocks and wetland plants such as Tall sedge (Carex appressa)  to mitigate the erosion from moving up the creek line. This has allowed the creek to back up behind the dam wall and a small pond to form. Participants shared the joy of walking through the revegetated area to the dam. We heard how the planting in the creek and on it’s banks had prevented the further erosion of the creek and have provided habitat for various creatures including butterflies, moths and frogs. Plants along the creek used for the revegetaion included Blackwood wattle (Acacia melanoxylon), Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) and Gold Dust Wattle (Acacia acinacea).

Committee Member, Deb Wardle sums up the workshop and presents Damien with a gift from Connecting Country









Finally, back under shelter, we heard from Frances Cincotta from Newstead Natives and Damien about some wetland plant specifics. Deb Wardle from the Connecting County Committee of Management concluded the session and thanked Damien and the attending audience for the information and persistence in spite of the rain.

Thanks to all who attended, to Damien and Elaine of allowing us to host the workshop at their property and in particular to Damien for his informative presentation. It was such a joy to hear how participants could reap the benefits of establishing more wetland plants and animals on their properties.

More information and resources

  • Slide presentation by Damien Cook with key points from Connecting Country’s ‘Turning your dam into habitat’ workshop – click here
  • Land for Wildlife’s helpful guide titled ‘Dams as Habitat’ – click here
  • Sustainable Farms’s great webinar on ‘Enhancing farm dams’ – click here
  • Sustainable Farms’s interesting video on how research has helped farmers maintain healthy farms during the drought – see below




Greeting cards on offer from FOBIF

Posted on 30 July, 2020 by Ivan

Our friends and project partners at Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests (FOBIF) are offering a swagger of stunning greeting cards featuring images captured by a handful of local talented artists. We really like the photographs and are sure they will lighten up the mood and add some colour around our region. The greeting cards feature photographs by Frances Cincotta, Joy Clusker, John Ellis, Patrick Kavanagh, Sarah Koschak, Doug Ralph, Bronwyn Silver and Albert Wright, and highlight some of the biodiversity and ecological assets that central Victoria has on offer.

Please see the details below provided by FOBIF.

The FOBIF greeting cards highlight some of our wonderful biodiversity (photo: FOBIF)


FOBIF new greeting cards now available

FOBIF has recently produced eight beautiful greeting cards (series 2) celebrating our local bushlands. They feature photographs  by Frances Cincotta, Joy Clusker, John Ellis, Patrick Kavanagh, Sarah Koschak, Doug Ralph, Bronwyn Silver and Albert Wright.

Each folded card is 10 x 14.5 cm with details of the photograph on the back.

They are available for sale as a set of 8 with envelopes. Cost for the 8 cards including postage is $20. You can find online purchase information from the FOBIF website – click here

You can also buy the cards at Buda (42 Hunter St, Castlemaine VIC, Friday to Sunday, 1-4 pm) and Falkner Gallery (35 Templeton Street, Castlemaine VIC, Thursday to Saturday, 11-4 pm).

You can see the whole image for each new card by clicking on the thumbnails below. Each folded card is 10 x 14.5 cm with details of the photograph on the back.


Spending to save: what will it cost to halt Australia’s extinction crisis?

Posted on 30 July, 2020 by Ivan

A new research paper has revealed some astonishing facts about the small amount of money allocated to biodiversity and threatened species across our nation. Records show Australia has one of the highest extinction rates in the world over the past century. One of the main factors in the loss of biodiversity is the increased rate of human  population growth, which has led to habitat change through land clearing, urbanisation, hunting and resource extraction. The introduction of new invasive species has also had a huge impact Australia’s biodiversity. The forests of the Mount Alexander region have endured a long history of disturbance since the 1850s, leading to many indigenous plants and animals becoming extinct or threatened.

But what would it cost to halt Australia’s extension and biodiversity crisis? According to this recent scientific research paper, it would cost $1.6 billion to improve the status of all of Australia’s threatened species and return their health to the point where they can be removed from lists of at-risk flora and fauna, through protections from land clearing and invasive species, habitat restoration and other means. $1.6 billion is not small change, but achievable for a nation of our wealth, and much less than many government investments in recent times.

The reality is that we have been spending $86.9 million in 2017-18, $49.6 million in 2018-19 and an estimated $54.6 million in 2019-20 on Australia’s threatened species through the Commonwealth government. Hence it is not surprising that biodiversity and ecological assets are in poor health across the nation and declining rapidly.

The scientific research paper is titled ‘Spending to save: What will it cost to halt Australia’s extinction crisis?’ and is published in the Conservation Letters. A copy of the abstract is provided below. To access this fascinating paper in full – click here

As with most governments worldwide, Australian governments list threatened species and proffer commitments to recovering them. Yet most of Australia’s imperiled species continue to decline or go extinct and a contributing cause is inadequate investment in conservation management. However, this has been difficult to evaluate because the extent of funding committed to such recovery in Australia, like in many nations, is opaque.

Here, by collating disparate published budget figures of Australian governments, we show that annual spending on targeted threatened species recovery is around U.S.$92m (AU$122m) which is around one-tenth of that spent by the U.S. endangered species recovery program, and about 15% of what is needed to avoid extinctions and recover threatened species. Our approach to estimating funding needs for species recovery could be applied in any jurisdiction and could be scaled up to calculate what is needed to achieve international goals for ending the species extinction crisis.

Our local visitors, Swift Parrots, are listed as critically endangered and threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation (photo: Michael Gooch)


Tricky birds with Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros – 24 August 2020

Posted on 23 July, 2020 by Ivan

Hold onto your hats! Connecting Country is excited to host an all-star lineup for a workshop on identifying tricky bird species of the central Victoria. Two highly-regarded birdwatchers and ecologists, Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros, will present at our online workshop on identifying tricky birds on Monday 24 August 2020 at 7 pm. Geoff will be speaking on identifying raptors and Chris on identifying thornbills, followed by an interactive panel discussion and a chance to ask the experts your bird watching questions.

Please click here to register for this event. A link to the online meeting platform will be emailed to you in the coming weeks.

Geoff Park is a Newstead local legend, author of the highly popular ‘Natural Newstead’ blog, and Director of Natural Decisions Pty Ltd. He holds a Bachelor of Science (Honours) and a Diploma of Education. His background is in landscape ecology, teaching and community education. He has a long standing interest and involvement with communities working to improve biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes.

Chris Tzaros  is author of the outstanding book ‘Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country’, a comprehensive guide to the mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians that live in this unique habitat. He holds a Masters degree in Conservation Ecology. His passionate interest in bird and wildlife photography has won him multiple ANZANG photography awards. Chris worked for Birdlife Australia for ten years and runs his own company, Birds Bush & Beyond, based in north-east Victoria.

We are thrilled to present these two conservation superstars. This workshop is suited for our experienced bird watchers, but everyone is welcome. Please join us to learn together, and bring along your tricky bird questions.

Tricky bird experts: Chris Tzaros and Geoff Park


This event is part of our ‘Community for bush birds’ project supported by the Australian Government under the Communities Environment Program.


Bird of the month: Batman and Robin

Posted on 23 July, 2020 by Ivan

Welcome to our sixth 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.

Black-faced and White-bellied and Cuckoo-shrikes – aka Batman and Robin

You may have felt and seen the stirrings. The critters in the bush are gearing up for the new breeding season, just as the wattles and Hakea have begun to bloom. A couple of weeks ago I sighted my first White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike since last summer. As I took the time to observe its behaviour and plumage as it moved through the tree canopy, I was reminded about how hard it can be to distinguish White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes from Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes. Each species has several morphs. This post focuses on the Central Victorian morphs, to avoid getting too complex.

My first source of information is always Damian Kelly. He reported that the Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds (HANZAB) prefaced many comments on cuckoo shrikes with ‘not well known’. This I found interesting, as the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike is a moderately common and widespread partial migrant, even if the White-faced Cuckoo-shrike is uncommon, though widespread and a partial migrant or resident (depending on which book you read). I’d expected more would be known about these two species.

There are many similarities between them. Both species of Cuckoo-shrike display a graceful undulating flight, soft grey and white colours with black markings, and similar size, bill and body shape. The immature birds are especially difficult to distinguish, as is often the case. Both species are often seen as individuals or in pairs. However, occasionally I’ve seen Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes in huge flocks moving through treetops in our local forests, and after the breeding season White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes can be observed in flocks of up to 12. Often it’s their distinct call which signals their presence.

Let’s look at some of the differences between these two species, and what to look for when identifying them. There are several characteristics that are useful. Their calls differ, the Black-faced having a soft churring call and the White-bellied a sharper sounding ‘quizeek-quizeek’ (see links to calls below). Both species can do a wing shuffle upon landing on a branch, but the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes shuffles its wings every time and with a very obvious and pronounced movement.

Visually the colouring in adult birds is a little different. The Black-faced is just as its name suggests, its white belly only extends to below its chest and it is a slightly larger bird. In-flight the extended tail and wings appear black. The White-bellied has a more obvious and brighter white belly (although there is a dark morph, further confusing the issue but rarely seen in Central Victoria) and a black stripe from the bill to the dark eye.

The immature birds of both species are very hard to tell apart. Both are soft grey with a full white belly and chest, and both have a black stripe through the eye like the adult White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike. However, the black eye stripe in the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike runs from the bill and extends past the dark eye.

In conclusion, it’s all very confusing. However, you could say the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike has a Batman face mask but without the whole hood, and the White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike has an eye mask like Robin. Little superheroes – who’d have thought?

Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike (photo by Damien Kelly)

White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike (photo by Damien Kelly)


To read more about this wonderful bird on Geoff Park’s ‘Natural Newstead’ blog – click here

To learn more about the dark morph of the White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike – click here

To hear the call of the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike – click here

To hear the call of the White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike – click here

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