Presentation on Tuans this Thursday

This Thursday evening 19th October Newstead Landcare Group is hosting a presentation by PhD candidate Jess Lawton. Jess is studying the Tuan or Brush-tailed Phascogale, a threatened and declining species of the Box-Ironbark country. The presentation will start at 8pm at Newstead Community Centre and all are welcome. A gold coin donation would be appreciated.  Afterwards there will be supper and a brief AGM.

Jess says,

“The Brush-tailed Phascogale is a rare, threatened species, and is declining in Victoria. Our understanding of its conservation biology is limited because it is sparsely distributed, ‘trap-shy’, and has been difficult to survey using traditional techniques. We know that this species has a rapid reproductive cycle, whereby all males die of stress and exhaustion after their first breeding season. We also know that this species often has a large home range of up to 100 ha. Therefore, the current thinking is that it requires large areas of intact forest for a population to persist. However, this species still occurs in modified habitats, such as paddock trees, roadsides, and isolated remnant patches. The aim of my study is to see if the occurrence of the Brush-tailed Phascogale in a modified landscape relates to patch size and patch connectedness.

Connecting Country set 150 nest box sites in 2010 to provide habitat for this species through the Mount Alexander Shire. They have since monitored many of these nest box sites every two years, and now have a number of years of data on this species occurrence in the region. I selected 50 of these 150 sites, stratified according to landscape context (ie. the amount of tree cover surrounding each nest box site). Between April and June 2016, while Connecting Country conducted their nest-box checks, I set two cameras at each of these 50 sites.

In this study, I model the occurrence of Brush-tailed Phascogales in the Mount Alexander Shire with landscape attributes, such as the size of a forest patch, and a number of habitat attributes collected in the field, including forest productivity, forest structure, logs and leaf litter, and tree size and species.

One  property near Axe Creek was home to a particularly active population of Brush-tailed Phascogales, and you can watch a video of the sort of footage we detected”

Tuan in nest box at Welshmans Reef. Photo by Jess Lawton.

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The last walk

FOBIF’s last walk for the year took in some isolated areas in the Red White and Blue and Dunn’s Reef sections of the Muckleford State Forest. Walk leader Geoff Neville having been struck down by the flu virus which seems to have raged in our region for months, the walk was devised by a committee consisting of Catherine Jerome, Jeremy Holland and Bernard Slattery, using Geoff’s walk notes. We’re not quite sure how, but the walk was completed in good order, with several highlights. The chief of these was an exhilarating aerial display by four sugar gliders, but there were plenty of wildflowers about, in spite of the general dryness of the bush. Bernard Slattery and Liz Martin sent us the photos below.

A late walk’s report with photos of Sugar Gliders came in from Noel Young:

A lot of birds calling, including Fantail and Pallid Cuckoos, Horsefield’s Bronze-cuckoo, Grey Fantail, White-throated Treecreeper, Grey Shrike-thrush, Red Wattlebird, Rufous Whistler, Superb Blue-wren, Spotted Pardalote, Striated Pardalote, Olive-backed Oriole, Raven, White-winged Chough, and Thornbill sp.

Also seen along the way; Sugar Gliders (3 or 4 ran up a tree from a stump at ground level); a large Echidna, and a small Brown Snake.

A scattering of flowering plants included –

Lots of Senecio sp. (fireweed) and Sticky Everlastings, Yam Daisy, Chocolate lily, Downy Grevillea, Pink Bells, Rice flower, Showy Podolepis, Guinea-flower, Daphne Heath, Grey Everlasting, Parrot-pea, and Bluebell. Orchids were scarce, but we came across Purple Waxlips, Musky Caladenia, Purplish Beard-orchid, and a Slender Sun-orchid.

Watch for the 2018 walk program early next year.

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Let’s go and tear up some country, fellas

There’s something very striking about advertisements for SUV’s: almost every one contains an image of a car either tearing up some country, plunging through a waterway, or driving along a remote beach. TV advertisements of these cars will sometimes do all three, as watchers of sporting broadcasts can attest.

The gist of this quite substantial propaganda barrage is: ‘go for it, rip up the country, that’s what these machines are for.’ There might be an additional message: ‘be a man: show the country who’s boss.’ We’re not sure about that one.

Isn’t it great tearing up the country? Illustration of a ‘review’ of Jeep Cherokee in the Age, which should know better.

This is just hoon behaviour, and most 4WD drivers don’t go for it, fortunately. In fact, the Code of Conduct of 4WD Australia includes the following:

‘1. Obey the laws and regulations for Recreational Vehicles that apply to public lands.
‘2. Respect the cultural, heritage and environmental values of public/private land,
by obeying restrictions that may apply.
‘3. Respect our flora and fauna. Stop and look, but never disturb…
‘7. Adopt minimal impact camping and driving practices.’

There are enough drivers around, however, who seem to think that ripping the country apart is what life is all about, and it’s a pity that they should be getting as much encouragement as they are. The results can be seen all over the country, and the photo below is a sample.

Section of the Goldfields Track near Irishtown, October 2: this kind of destruction is the direct consequence of irresponsible advertising of recreational vehicles.

Most drivers don’t behave like this, and it’s about time the industry and its publicists grew up and stopped promoting hoon behaviour.

Here’s a curious footnote, in this letter to the August issue of the RACV RoyalAuto magazine, and the editor’s response, under the heading, ‘Keep off the beach’:

‘Your writer recently visited Kangaroo Island with his 4WD and left an intrusive footprint on the formerly pristine Snellings Beach (“The Other Kangaroo Island,” R A July). Snellings is a small beach that can be walked in a few minutes. This allows you to experience how nature does perfection. A bonus is that pedestrians might see the rare hooded plover eggs and the birds get a chance of survival. We have roads for cars, beaches are for the creatures that depend on them. It is a privilege for humans to enjoy them.

Trish Edwards, Balliang

Editor’s note: The online version of the story has been modified to include our apology and to take out reference to driving on the beach.’

Out of curiosity, we just checked the online version of the July RA. The offending article doesn’t seem to be modified at all. It’s headed by a large photo of a  beach, a car parked in the foreground, and numerous tyre marks on the sand. The text reads, in part, ‘Within minutes we’d driven down onto the beach ourselves, our 4×4 rolling confidently over the firmly packed sand. Maybe five other people were scattered along Snelling’s pristine length. We’d found the other Kangaroo Island.’

Not so ‘pristine’ now, maybe. We’ve contacted the editors of Royalauto for a clarification. Oh, and we couldn’t find the apology, either. On the other hand, it’s not easy to find things in online versions of magazines.

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New wetland ecology and training courses

Intermittent Swampy Woodland, Aquatic Herb land with emergent Red Gums, Scotties Billabong, Lindsay Island

SERA 2016 award winning ecologist Damien Cook and Elaine Bayes have sent us information on their upcoming wetland courses.

Join us on a bus tour through some of northern Victoria’s most ecologically diverse wetlands that will be looking their best because of recent rainfall and flooding. Learn how ecological drivers determine wetland ecology. Dixie Patton, Barapa Traditional Owner will share knowledge on aboriginal uses of these amazing wetlands.  Other land managers will meet us along the way.

Learn about wetland restoration and management over 2 days with Damien Cook by visiting ‘Waterways’; a SERA 2016 award-winning wetland restoration project which he was involved in planning and implementing, followed by the 200 hectares of coastal park at the Victorian Desalination Plant, Wonthaggi.  Learn more about these projects here.

Learn to identify the most common wetland plants. Choose 1, 2 or all 3 days. Continue reading

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FOBIF September walk

Damien Cook with Crocodile Reservoir in the background.

The sunny forecast for last Sunday meant a big group came to our second last FOBIF walk for 2017. We set out from near the corner of Spring Gully Road and Fryers Road and proceeded across country to Crocodile Reservoir before turning back to the starting point.

Leaders Damien Cook and Elaine Bayes once again provided an informative and entertaining commentary on interesting features of the landscape and local flora and fauna. Julian Hollis helped out with geological information as did Frances Cincotta with plant identification..

As you can see from the photos below there was a spectacular display of spring flowers. Click on photo to enlarge. Photos were contributed by Ruth, Rosemary and Bronwyn.

Our last walk for the year on 15 October will be in Muckleford Forest led by local Geoff Nevill. The focus will be on orchids, other wildflowers and some mining remains.

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Don’t miss this show

Mountains and Waterways, our latest photographic exhibition at TOGS cafe, finishes on Thursday 28 September. Photos range from a closeup of leaves underwater to landscapes of Mount Alexander and Mount Tarrengower. There are also 5 terrific birds on water images by Patrick Kavanagh, Damien Kelly, Geoff Park and Mitchell Parker. The response to the show has been very positive with a number of people commenting that the photos remind them of why they live here. 

All photos are for sale for under $100 including frames. Proceeds of sales go to FOBIF to cover costs. You can see more Mountains and Waterways photos on our Flickr site and on previous posts here and here.

We would like to thank TOGS once again for their support in mounting this exhibition. This is our fourth show at the cafe and our eighth in total. 

Harcourt reservoir. Photo by Frank Foster. The reservoir is not on most people’s list of local picturesque spots, but this photo makes a claim for it’s charms.

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Fires and misfires 1: how does a planned burn happen?

DELWP fire officers had two info sessions in this region last month to brief residents about the upcoming fire season, and planned burning operations. To see where these burns are taking place on the Department of Environment’s interactive map, click here.

It’s not the friendliest map, but a bit of persistence will give you a detailed look at where burns are planned for the next three years.

Among the information available at the drop in sessions was a useful A4 sheet, How does a planned burn happen? The sheet is divided into four sections: Planning the burn; Before the burn; On burn day; and After the burn. It would be fair to say that the info on the

sheet is a bit idealised: FOBIF has had experience with burns which don’t look quite as smoothly planned and implemented as the scenario on the sheet. In particular, the statement that firefighters ‘rake around trees to protect animal habitat’ will ring rather hollow to readers of this website, familiar with the apparently relentless destruction of habitat trees in Department operations.

More seriously, it’s a pity there was no room on the document to explain what the Department does to assess the actual achievement of its burns. The After the burn section is restricted to showing how firefighters patrol the burns to make sure it’s safe. There’s nothing to say how the burn is assessed for its actual fuel reduction, medium to long term. Nor is there mention of a critical overview of the burn from the environmental point of view. Well, it’s a short document, and only the really important stuff would fit on it…

…And on the subject of what’s important, and what’s less important, readers may want to look at Alison Pouliot’s provocative article in the latest edition of the invaluable Wombat Forestcare Newsletter. She poses the question, has our bush been reduced in the public mind to fuel? And has it become, simply, the enemy? ‘Summer is gone. Over. Finished. It is now officially the fire season…Not only has summer become the enemy, but so has the forest.’

Check it out.

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Fires and misfires 2: don’t be put off

In spite of these gloomy considerations, fire managers can point to some significant advances over past practices. Community consultation and information is certainly taken more seriously than it was 15 years ago. And the cautious reintroduction of indigenous burning to the region is to be welcomed—not least because this kind of burning takes seriously the whole question of land health, and is not directed simplistically at narrow questions of safety.

But blips can happen. As readers of our original notice can see, not all the information dispensed at the drop in sessions is necessarily reliable, and sometimes persistence is needed to get the facts. In the case in question, a member of the public was told that a zone in the Maldon area would be slashed, not burned, and that this would take place in Autumn. Both these ‘facts’ were wrong. A quick check of the map link above will show that the area, a reserve adjoining Rowe’s road, is a burn zone: and residents have already been informed by DELWP that the operation is to take place in spring.

Maldon Urban Landcare is currently negotiating a meeting with DELWP on the matter, and has already received an undertaking that phascogale habitat will not be burned during the spring breeding season. Endangered phascogales and sugar gliders frequent the area in question. We’ll see what comes out of the negotiation.

The moral of the story seems to be: look very hard at the documentary info—and don’t be scared to persist if you think you’re being dealt a wrong hand…

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Gardening for Wildlife

On Sunday 22 October a seminar on Gardening for Wildlife will be held in St Arnaud. Expert speakers including Castlemaine-based Cassia Read will discuss how to create habitat for native wildlife in home gardens. The event is free and you can find out all the details in this flyer.

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Mighty mountains? Rushing rivers?

Mountains and Waterways is the title of the latest photo exhibition of the Friends of the Box Ironbark Forests. Don’t expect shots of mighty snow capped peaks or Amazonian streams—though there is one intriguing shot of Mount Alexander under snow, and one of Forest Creek in flood, looking like a pretty respectable river. The exhibition tries to capture the particular spirit of our modest mountains, creeks and dams, and some of the flora and fauna that give them their own character, from dawn to dusk. 

Like any other part of the world, our country is defined by its uplands and the waterways they source.  Mount Alexander, Mount Tarrengower, the Fryers and Porcupine Ridges, and the rivers and streams flowing from them, are key reference points, and there aren’t many places in the shire where you can’t look up and see one of those high places, or look down at one of the streams draining from them. The FOBIF exhibition presents glimpses of places familiar to all of us, but from angles we may not have seen.  

The exhibition is running from 25 August till 28 September at Togs Café in Castlemaine.

Darter (Anhinga). Cairn Curran. Photo by Mitchell Parker, July 2017. One of the 22 photos in the exhibition.

The sixteen photographers whose work is included in the show are Janet Barker, Pam Connell, John Ellis, Frank Forster, Geraldine Harris, Patrick Kavanagh, Damian Kelly, Noel Muller, Alex Panelli, Geoff Park, Mitchell Parker, Harley Parker, Bronwyn Silver, Bernard Slattery, Richard Sullivan and Noel Young.

Thanks to everyone that participated in this project.

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