FOBIF AGM: Monday 27 August 2018

Ian Higgins, well known local landcarer and co-founder of Friends of Campbells Creek Landcare, will be our speaker at the upcoming FOBIF AGM on August 27.

In an article about Ian after he received the Australian Government Individual Landcarer Award in 2017, the Victorian Landcare Magazine wrote:

Higgins’ early interest in native plants has continued through his life. He developed a remarkable knowledge of indigenous flora species, their propagation and revegetation, leading to a 30-year professional career during which he has contributed significantly to revegetation and environmental planning in Victoria, in both professional and voluntary capacities.

You can find out about Ian’s history of involvement in environmental projects here.

Topics he will cover in his FOBIF speech will include:

  • Changes in our landscape and vegetation since colonisation, including the profound local impacts of gold mining and the consequences of a European mindset
  • A short history of rehabilitation efforts, including the contribution of landcare groups
  • Is aiming for something more like the pre-European condition viable?  Given that we’ve already lost many components of the ecosystem, together with massive invasions of exotic species and climate change, what should our local landscape and vegetation management goals be?  

The meeting will start at 7.30 in the Ray Bradfield Room, Castlemaine (next to Mostyn Street IGA supermarket). Information on how to nominate for the FOBIF Committee can be found here. All welcome and supper will be served. 

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A walk in the winter sun

Occasional violent gusts of cold wind didn’t change the basic picture: Sunday was a bright winter day, perfect for a brisk stroll over to the Welsh Village from Chinaman’s Point via the Garfield Wheel and Sailors Gully, with a return along Forest Creek. Wattles are getting into their stride, and Dusty Miller was flowering abundantly along Sailors Gully.

Walkers take a break in Sailors Gully. Photo by Bernard Slattery

The village is at its atmospheric best in winter, and a strong group on FOBIF’s September walk enjoyed that atmosphere to the full: the forest setting, the abandoned buildings and mine works, and the dramatic nearby slate quarry walls made for an exhilarating experience.

Our thanks to Barb Guerin and Lionel Jenkin for guiding the group through the labyrinth of tracks around the village.

Next month’s walk is in the Fryers Ranges—sure to be abundant with wildflowers. Check the program for details.

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Fires: the themes are getting familiar

Fires have ravaged Greece, and are still burning California. Gippsland has had a large bushfire in the dead of winter, and NSW has had its earliest ever total fire ban day. We’re bracing for another serious fire season.

If you have the nerve, a bit context on this contentious issue can be found in ‘California burning’, a long and provocative article in the New York Review of Books. The article can be found here. Familiar themes abound in the international story: poor forest management, climate change, arson, flammable weeds, unwise urban development at the forest interface, poor understanding of fire ecology. Here’s a sample:

‘In the United States, exurban and rural property development in the wildland-urban interface has been, perhaps, the final straw—or at least another lighted match tossed on the pile. Most wildfires that threaten or damage communities are caused by humans. Campfires, barbecues, sparks from chainsaws, lawnmowers, power lines, cars, motorcycles, cigarettes—the modes of inadvertent ignition in a bone-dry landscape are effectively limitless. Let’s say nothing of arson. Houses and other structures become wildfire fuel, and vulnerable communities hugely complicate forest management and disaster planning. In his panoramic 2017 book Megafire, the journalist (and former firefighter) Michael Kodas observes pithily that “during the century in which the nation attempted to exclude fire from forests, [those forests] filled with homes.”’

Interestingly, the article suggests that old growth forest is more resilient to fire than the even aged stands resulting from clear felling, and notes that the current US administration’s policy is to respond to fire with more logging, ‘which may well result in less resilient forests and, of all things, more fire.

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What’s all that intensely green stuff?

We haven’t had a huge season for rain. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, ‘Statewide rainfall was 33% below the long-term July mean of 70 mm, the driest July since 2002, and large areas in the north and east of Victoria, and to the north of Melbourne had rainfall totals in the driest 10 per cent on record for July.’ This follows a dry autumn, with rainfall almost 40% below the long term average.

Tayloria octoblepharum, Spring Gully road, August 14: a characterful history.

But we’ve had plenty of dampish days: very good for moss, which has given much of our bushland its intense green winter tinge. Get down and enjoy it!

The picture shows a patch of Tayloria octoblepharum, a characterful plant with cigar shaped spore heads. It favours rotting matter. A gruesome detail: the moss was first described for modern science from a sample collected from the decaying remains of a Tasmanian bushranger! You can find this and other edifying details from FOBIF’s Mosses of dry forests of south eastern Australia. The second edition of this book is almost exhausted, and a third printing is planned for the coming months.

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More photos for ‘Creatures’ project

Newstead photographer, Patrick Kavanagh, has generously contributed many of his terrific nature photos to our FOBIF exhibitions. Here are five of Patrick’s most recent offerings. 

Click on each photo to enlarge. You can see our ‘Creatures’ Flickr page here and find out how to contribute to our ‘Creatures’ project here.

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More stunning photos for our ‘Creatures’ project

Antoinette Birkenbeil, one of the authors of the recently published Native plants and animals of the Chewton bushlands has just sent us two wonderful photos of a Blue-banded Bee Amegilla cingulata. Antoinette has contributed many photos to our FOBIF photo shows in the past and is a long-term resident of the Chewton bushlands.

The Blue-banded bee collects the majority of its nectar from blue flowers. Photo by Antoinette Birkenbeil.

You can find out more about our Creatures exhibition and Flickr page here

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Launch of new book on fungi

Next Saturday, 4 August, the fungi book that Joy Clusker and Ray Wallace have been working for over 3 years will be launched.

Fungi of the Bendigo Region covers the area from Kamarooka in the north to Mt Alexander in the south. There are approximately 300 species featured with short descriptions and photos for identification. The guide can be carried in a back pack. 

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FOBIF AGM: first notice

The FOBIF Annual General Meeting will be held this year on Monday August 27 at 7.30 pm. More details about the location, program and guest speaker are forthcoming.

Do you want to play a role on the FOBIF committee? Or nominate someone else to the committee? All that’s needed is a piece of paper signed by the nominee, a nominator and a seconder—all FOBIF members. There’s no need of an official form, but for convenience, here’s a sample:

I nominate_________________________________

for the position of____________________________

Signed____________________________________

Seconded__________________________________

I accept the above nomination

Signed___________________________________

Positions on the committee are President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and two ordinary members. Nominations should be in before the meeting.

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For the birds

A large group rocked up to FOBIF’s July walk on Sunday, led by Damian Kelly, author of the recently published Castlemaine Bird Walks. The walk covered a section of the north eastern corner of the Maldon Historic area. The weather was fine and cool, and the birds discreet—but they were there to see: the best list for the group was 38 species, and the prize sighting was some nest building babblers.

In the Maldon Historic Reserve yesterday: the birds were discreet, but they were there for the observer.

A shorter version of this walk is described on pages 98-102 of Damian’s guide, with a map on page 102, and suggestions on possible sightings. The book is available at Stoneman’s Bookroom, or via the Castlemaine Birds website.

An interesting feature of this walk, between Muckleford station and the Smith’s Reef dam, was the contrast between the quite spindly tree cover in the Historic area and the fine, very old eucalypts on some of the surrounding farmland: a haunting sign of the rashness of past forest management practices. The photos give an idea:

Fine old Red Box on private land alongside the Castlemaine-Maldon trail: it’s ironic that cleared farmland often has better tree specimens than adjacent public land reserves.

FOBIF walkers at the Smith’s reef dam: spindly trees are the norm in the reserve.

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Something obvious

On the subject of old trees, and the lack of them, it’s worth drawing attention to a recent article in the Conversation website on their value:

‘In urban landscapes, many consider large and old eucalypts a dangerous nuisance that drop limbs, crack footpaths and occupy space that could be used for housing. But when we remove these trees they are effectively lost forever. It takes at least 100-200 years before a eucalypt reaches ecological maturity.

‘As trees mature, their branches become large and begin to grow horizontally rather than vertically, which is more attractive to many birds as perches and platforms where they can construct a nest.

Ravenswood interchange, May 2016. ‘The number of native birds in an urban park or open space declines by half with the loss of every five mature eucalypts.’ 1800 such trees were destroyed in this exercise. Is there a better way of getting safety?

‘Wildlife also use cavities inside ageing eucalypts. These are formed as the heartwood – the dead wood in the centre – decays. When a limb breaks it exposes cavities where the heartwood once occurred.

‘This is such a ubiquitous process in our forests that around 300 of Australia’s vertebrate species, such as possums, owls, ducks, parrots and bats, have evolved to use these cavities as exclusive places to roost or nest.

‘Mature trees also support high concentrations of food for animals that feed on nectar, such as honeyeaters, or seed, such as parrots.

One study found that the number of native birds in an urban park or open space declines by half with the loss of every five mature eucalypts.’

This last point is a sobering one—given, for example, that Vicroads demolished 1800 mature redgums at the Ravenswood interchange, and are looking to knock over another 3000 on the Western Highway. Of course, the reason offered was safety: but the question never seriously faced is: can safety be achieved without unnecessary destruction of the environment?

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