New local book on bird walks

Ever wanted to go on a walk in our local bush with plenty of birds to observe along the way? Damian Kelly’s new publication, Castlemaine bird walks: a guide to walks and birds in the Castlemaine district, will give you lots of ideas about where to go.

This comprehensive 202 page book has 4 to 5 pages on over 40 walks. Each description covers birds you might come across, a site description, and text and a map of the walk itself. Informative photos of birds and the local landscape are on most pages.

 

There are also useful sections on topics such as how to identify birds, bird watching – tricks of the trade, and birds of the Castlemaine region.

A companion website to the book allows for information sharing and updates. 

Castlemaine Bird Walks will be an invaluable resource for locals and visitors to our area who want to explore our bushlands and observe and identify birds.

Chris Timewell provided assistance in the preparation of the book and with the maps. The Wettenhall Environment Trust provided a grant to help with publication costs. 

The book is available at Stonemans Bookshop in Castlemaine or directly through the website. The cost is $20.

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Creeks: jump in and have your say

Do you have an opinion on our local creeks? Mount Alexander Shire is looking for responses to its Castlemaine Creekways management plan. The plan is open for consultation till May 8. It can be found online here.

The ‘creekways’ in question are Barkers Creek from the Botanical Gardens to the confluence with Forest Creek; Forest Creek from Colles Road to the confluence; and Campbells Creek from the confluence to Cemetery Road. Council is manager of these stretches of the waterways under licence from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

Forest Creek in spate in Castlemaine, 2011: channelisation like this is one way of controlling floodwaters, but it has its disadvantages.

The Plan aims to improve the waterways ecologically via cooperation with the relevant landcare groups and to develop the trail network so as to increase public access. Naturally these aims involve a commitment to manage the risks involved: risk management is named as ‘the foundation of the plan’ and the risks in question are listed as fire, flooding and (interestingly) trees (see post below).

It’s fair to say that in the last ten years the most controversial thing about our creeks has been their tendency to flood in wet years: just type ‘creeks’ and ‘floods’ into the search box above to get a sample of the responses to creek flooding. The current plan canvasses various flood protection options like channelization, drains and levees. All have merits and defects—the main one being that they tend to shift the flood problem downstream. The brute fact is that when more water pours into the catchment than can be held in a waterway, it will flow onto the flood plain: and generations of unwise settlement on flood plains have presented us with most of our current flood management problems.

The Plan sets up the ambitious aim of linking the three creeks ‘into a continuous network to:

–connect the townships of Castlemaine, Chewton and Campbells Creek

–provide safe routes to destinations e.g. schools

–cater for different recreation groups e.g. young, old, and varied fitness/ability levels o enable access to places of interest e.g. the creek confluence o provide and showcase links to history – social/cultural/geological

–encourage active community stewardship.’

How all this is to be achieved is not specified.

You can provide a written submission entitled Castlemaine Urban Creekways Management Plan submission by:
Email: info@mountalexander.vic.gov.au
Post: Mount Alexander Shire, PO Box 185, Castlemaine Vic 3450
In person: Civic Centre, Corner Lyttleton Street and Lloyd Street, Castlemaine.

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Deadly trees?

A curious feature of the Creekways Plan is its bland listing of ‘trees’ as one of the three main risks to humans from the creeks.

We all know trees can do a lot of damage when they fall or drop branches. You need to uses your common sense when around old Red Gums, for example. But users of Forest and Campbells Creeks tracks in the last couple of months have been puzzled by what seems to be an amazing over reaction to this danger.

Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) cut down and painted near Forest creek: Blackwood are a long-lived species that have excellent timber. They typically do not drop limbs until very old (50 years plus). The pictured tree had no signs of any rotting and was located three metres from the edge of the track.. Photo and text: Karl Just

The photo above shows the kind of lopping which has been done along Forest and Campbell’s creeks. In many if not most cases it’s  hard to see the danger offered by the massacred trees. It’s also very clear that the kind of assessments which categorised these trees as dangerous paid no attention to their biodiversity role.

It’s a bizarre feature of our society that nature is very often seen as a menace out of all proportion to its real danger: so snakes are much more feared than motor cars. In the case of trees, a recent investigation found that in the ten years 2007-16 277 people died in Australia ‘struck by a thrown, projected or falling object’–presumably a small number of these would have been falling branches. In the same period 523 died falling out of bed. Figure that out.

Stinkwort choking the Colles Road footpath. This noxious weed appears to have been spread by council or Vicroads vehicles.

While this tree lopping was being done, the footpath linking the Forest Creek track to the Pennyweight cemetery was being overgrown (again) by Stinkwort (Dittrichia graveolens), more or less pushing people to walk on the road verge. A proper concern for safety might see footpath clearing, not hacking at small trees, as a priority.

And while we’re about it: as we’ve pointed out before, the roadsides of the shire are infested with this Stinkwort, very likely spread by council maintenance vehicles. This is a noxious weed, and under state law municipalities are required to ‘manage noxious weeds …on land they manage’. According to Ern Perkins’ Wild Plants of the Castlemaine District, Stinkwort ‘taints dairy products and meat, can cause stock death by poisoning and bowel damage by the fluffy seed heads, and can cause dermatitis in humans’.

Here’s another example of puzzling tree management, courtesy of Karl Just:

Prior to being pruned, this Silver Wattle was high quality habitat for the regionally rare Satin Azure butterfly, a small population of which occurs along Forest Creek. This butterfly species relies on an association with meat ants and Wire-leaf Mistletoe. The best habitat trees are wattles supporting mistletoe that have good access for the attendant ant species. This requires wattle branches that touch the ground next to meat ant nests, so that the ants can then easily access to the mistletoe in the upper branches where the butterfly larvae live. The pictured wattle was previously the best example of the wattle-ant association along Forest Creek but the weeping branches were removed, even though they posed no hazard. Photo and text: Karl Just

 

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Local guide launched

A new publication, Native plants and animals of the Chewton Bushlands, was launched on 17 March in the Tea Rooms of the Botanic Gardens. The authors are Karen Baker, Antoinette Birkenbeil and Hannah Nichols. Ian Higgins launched the guide with a speech that drew on his in-depth knowledge and experience with local regeneration and revegetation. Over 40 people attended the event. 

The guide is small in size but manages to cover 120 plants and 120 animals in its 144 pages. Although focussed on the Chewton Bushlands it will be a useful flora and fauna guide across the whole Mount Alexander Region. 

 

Attractively designed by local resident, Mark Carter, there are close to 200 images from 18 mainly local photographers. Leon Costermans drawings are also included. Funding for the guide was provided by the Mount Alexander Shire. If you would like a copy, contact Karen Baker on 0439 714 665, kamb@unimelb.edu.au

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Management burns to start soon?

Residents around the region have been letterboxed by DELWP informing them of the imminent start of the Department’s fuel reduction burn program. It’s so far been too dry to safely undertake these burns up till now, but it remains to be seen if the weekend’s rain will change this situation.

You can find a map of all local proposed burns here and an online copy of the Fire Operations Plan here

It’s important for all local residents to familiarise themselves with local burn areas, and especially to go and have a look at what the Department is proposing. It’s also important to go and see what they have actually achieved after burns have been completed. Recent improvements notwithstanding, DELWP’s record in creating crude and destructive fire boundaries, and its deplorable habit of unintentionally destroying large habitat trees isn’t great. One way of getting improvements in these matters is to increase public scrutiny of their work. We should never forget that the stated intention of these burns is ‘to minimise the impact of major bushfires and to maintain or improve the resilience of natural ecosystems.’ The second of these aims should not be neglected.

The most significant burn in our region, by far, is that proposed for Kalimna Park. This one was planned for last year, but could not be implemented for lack of appropriate conditions. For a justification of the burning of this part of the park, see Simon Brown’s response to our 2017 Post.

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OK: it’s pretty bleak. On the other hand…

As Hanrahan might have said: ‘It’s dry all right’. A quick check of the map below will confirm what common observation has already registered: February was dry, and March so far hasn’t been much better. The 27 mls of welcome rain which fell this weekend hasn’t done much to change this picture.

And yet, there are signs of life. Many eucalypt species have been flowering through the dry, and currently it’s the turn of Long-leaved Box (Eucalyptus goniocalyx). The photo below was taken in an intriguing grove of very old trees planted along Farran Street. This species has a pretty sprawling habit normally, so it’s a bit of a mystery why they were planted along this roadway–but we can enjoy them all the same.

Long-leaved Box blossom on Farran Street Castlemaine: it’s dry all right, but there are signs of life about the place.

And while we’re on the subject of dry weather, one of the more peculiar aspects of our culture is the habit of radio and TV reporters to say how awful it is when rain is forecast, and to suggest that weekends are ruined if they’re not sunny.

It may be time for radio and TV executives to call in their weather reporters, and tell them: ‘Look, when you’re giving a forecast, stop saying that rain will ruin the weekend.  Instead, if it’s going to rain, say how great that is, and what a wonderful thing it will be to see that water soak in.’

xxxx

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Against the wind

Fifteen brave takers drove out of Castlemaine through a driving storm on Sunday the 18th for the first FOBIF walk of the year in the Fryers Forest. The storm lasted ten minutes, but the wind came and went all day, making for a blustery experience: and the Coliban channel is bordered with many wrecked trees, reminders of the epic winds which rampaged through this area earlier in the year.

Candlebarks on the Coliban channel: the channel hosts many exceptionally large eucalypts, especially Candlebark, Long-leaved Box, Stringybark and Manna Gums

The channel is a curiously contradictory experience. Picturesque and easy walking, the reserve lined with fine old eucalypts, Candlebarks and Manna gums being the standouts: but rampant blackberry and gorse infestations suggest that weed control is not a high priority for the water authority.

Next month’s walk takes in Brown’s Gully, one of the jewels of the Diggings Park. Check the program for details.

Continue reading

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Walks program 2018 kicks off

FOBIF’s 2018 walks program kicks off next Sunday with a stroll around  the Coliban Main Channel, with a return through sections of the Fryers Nature Conservation Reserve and the state forest. Check the walks program for more details.

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Needlegrass war

FOBIF has completed a preliminary report on its project to control Needlegrasses in Castlemaine. These weeds—related to Serrated Tussock— threaten to cause serious damage to pastures and native environments. They were probably introduced into Victoria from the 1930s, and have the potential to dramatically reduce land value because infestations reduce stock carrying capacity on farmland.

FOBIF gained a small grant from the Mount Alexander Shire to attack the needlegrass problem in 2017. Over the last twelve months project has involved a FOBIF coordinator,  19 volunteers who dug up and removed the weed, one paid weed remover, numerous other residents, council and DELWP staff, as well as landcare groups and Connecting Country.

Progress of the project is shown on the map. The volunteer commitment to further monitoring and removal will continue.

Please note that this is a revised version of the map that was posted on February 2.

The project has been a learning experience. A promising experiment has been made with control via woodchip mulching, and much has been learned about the identification and life cycle of the weeds, and how they spread. It seems very clear that Needlegrass can be spread when infested areas are mown or slashed. Seeds attach to the mower, and unless this is cleaned it spreads the seeds when it  moves on to its next job. It’s important therefore that infested areas are clearly identified, and not mown till the weeds and/ or their seeds are removed. Council workers have been increasingly helpful in this respect, but it seems that a more systematic approach to managing roadsides is needed. Not only do council staff need to be well informed about roadside weeds and control methods, but private citizens—residents and contract mowers—need to be better informed about ways to avoid spreading pests.

Roadsides are a long term and ongoing challenge: FOBIF has had occasion before to draw attention to the spread of weeds via dirty machinery, and we notice recent outbreaks of St John’s Wort along roadsides which may have come in this way. We hope that projects like the Needlegrass one will improve cooperation between managers and environmentalists, with better results in the future.

In the meantime, our thanks go to our modest coordinator and the other volunteers for the enormous amount of work they have put into this project.

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A sobering look across the Pacific

So far Victoria has passed through summer without disastrous fire events. In case you missed it, however, it’s worth casting a sympathetic eye across the Pacific to California, a US state with perhaps better environmental credentials than some. Maybe there are sobering lessons in their disastrous winter fires , the worst since 1906. The following is an excerpt from the London Review of Books:

“Jerry Brown’s California enters this new age with a halo over its head. We ‘get’ climate change and thumb our noses at the mad denialist in the White House. Our governor advocates the Paris standards with rare passion and sends our anti-carbon missionaries to the far corners of the earth. We await impatiently that great day when the entire Mojave Desert will be covered with Chinese-made solar panels, and silent Teslas rule the freeways. And we continue to send urban sprawl into our fire-dependent ecosystems with the expectation that firefighters will risk their lives to defend each new McMansion, and an insurance system that spreads costs across all homeowners will promptly replace whatever is lost.

“This is the deadly conceit behind mainstream environmental politics in California: you say fire, I say climate change, and we both ignore the financial and real-estate juggernaut that drives the suburbanisation of our increasingly inflammable wildlands. Land use patterns in California have long been insane but, with negligible opposition, they reproduce themselves like a flesh-eating virus. After the Tunnel Fire in Oakland and the 2003 and 2007 firestorms in San Diego County, paradise was quickly restored; in fact, the replacement homes were larger and grander than the originals. The East Bay implemented some sensible reforms but in rural San Diego County, the Republican majority voted down a modest tax increase to hire more firefighters. The learning curve has a negative slope.”

 

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