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Woomargama Connections – Slate to Plate Bushwalk

Last Sunday the Slopes to Summit Partnership – a connectivity conservation initiative in the Eastern Murray – celebrated Spring with a bushwalk through a connectivity corridor in Woomargama. The 28 walkers had a wonderful morning. The walk started at Blue Metal Rest Area on the Hume Highway and walk approx. 10km including extensive areas of Box-gum woodland, and endangered ecological community. The area on four properties that form the corridor include a Travelling Stock Reserve, land that is protected in perpetuity by Nature Conservation Trust covenants, as well and Landcare revegetation sites.

 

“The partnership wanted to take the opportunity to experience connectivity conservation on the ground and enjoy the fabulous biodiversity in both the farming landscape and the bush up to Woomargama Nature Reserve” says Kylie Durant, facilitator for the Slopes to Summit Partnership at Holbrook Landcare Network. “It’s an opportunity to see in reality what we mean by ‘connectivity’ for wildlife”.

 

The area is home to many threatened woodland birds, a wide variety of orchids and wildflowers and the threatened Squirrel Glider. Many interesting woodland birds and plants were seen along the route and the scenic views enjoyed from the top of the ridge on Woomargama Station.

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“Without private landholders participating in conservation programs in the agricultural landscape, we would struggle to maintain connectivity between the large reserves at Woomargama and Table Top. It’s great to see the past 10 years work culminate in this great biodiversity corridor” says Nigel Jones, covenant manager with the Nature Conservation Trust.

The walk culminated in a gourmet picnic featuring local food products from Wymah Organics and other local food producers.

The walk was made possible through funding from the Australian Government’s “Bushlinks” project and “BushConnect” funded by the NSW Environmental Trust and a partnership with the Nature Conservation Trust. We also appreciate the enthusiasm and assistance of the landholders involved – thankyou for providing the opportunity.

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Dr Dave Watson from Charles Sturt University points out some woodland birds on-route

The Slopes to Summit Partnership also  launched two new identification guides for “Large Native Trees” and “Terrestrial Mammals”. These guides will assist in the identification of locally common native tree species and terrestrial mammals of the Southwest Slopes and Upper Murray Region of NSW. These brochures were a partnership between the Murray Local Land Services and the S2S Bushlinks project. These are available from the offices of Holbrook Landcare in Holbrook,  and the Murray Local Land Service in Albury.

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Ants…the ecosystem engineers

After the recent rains, many people have noticed the large amount of ant activity in some areas of the bush.

Often people comment about increased ant activity before rain events as a “sign” of rainfall – there isn’t scientific evidence for ants detecting weather events,  but it is highly likely that they can respond to environmental cues such as humidity and pressure.

The activity after a rain event is the ants cleaning out their tunnels and shows the role of the ant tunnels activity in the infiltration of water.

Ants can excavate a significant amount of soil from deeper layers and deposit it on the soil surface. Obviously, the more nests in an area, the more soil is being moved around. This can affect the surrounding vegetation. Continuous heaping of soil may support the persistence of some annual plants that would otherwise suffer from competition in dense vegetation. The ant environment may also support species with fast root growth or long rhizomes. In some cases, this mixing of soil can substantially change the environment for plant growth.

Ants concentrate plant and animal material around the nest site, and this rapidly becomes mixed with the excavated soil. Nutrients such as mineral nitrogen tend to remain within a decomposing particle unless it is incorporated in the soil so that this mixing of soil and organic matter by the ants contributes to the release of nutrients. Studies have found consistently higher levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon in ant nest areas.

 

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Bird Walk at Nest Hill Nature Reserve

Birdlife Australia conduct Swift Parrot and Regent Honeyeater surveys twice a year, with the first one for 2016 held in May. They seek volunteers to assist with the search, to help determine the distribution of both of these Critically Endangered

A group of Holbrook Landcare staff and members headed to Nest Hill Nature Reserve (formerly Pulletop State Forest) on Saturday 21st May in search of the elusive birds.

Unfortunately, no Swift Parrots or Regent Honeyeaters were seen or heard, but this also helps to inform BirdLife Australia in possible changes in distribution and helps to narrow down priority areas for surveys.

Although no Regent Honeyeaters and Swift Parrots were seen, the Reserve was still full of activity.

With some of the eucalypts still flowering we spotted the nectivorous Fuscous Honeyeater, White-plumed Honeyeater and Red Wattle Bird. Foraging on the ground were the Red-capped Robin, Flame robin, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Buff-rumped Thornbill, Striated Thornbill. White-throated treecreepers, Brown treecreeper, Grey shrike-thrush, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Crimson Rosella, Fairy Wren and White-winged Chough were amoung many of the other species were saw, including an Australian Hobby as we drove out.

With some expert ‘birdos’ on hand, it was a great morning for us to learn new skills in birdwatching and bird identification.

Over the past 27 years, HLN have been involved in a substantial amount of on-ground works improving habitat in the landscape. If you are interested in birdwatching or what might be in your back paddock, then we are looking for people interested to revisit these tree plantings and survey them. Please call the HLN office if you are interested or would like more information.

The ‘What’s in your back paddock?’ project is funded by Murray Local Land Services through the National Landcare Programme.

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“Fungi of the Southwest Slopes and Upper Murray” Brochure released

The “Fungi of the Southwest Slopes and Upper Murray” identification guide has been released…..just in time for lots of exciting fungi activity after the rain.

This  publication brought to you in a collaboration between Dr. Alison Pouliot, the Slopes2Summit Bushlinks project and the Murray Local Land Services.

‘The brochure provides just some of the many species that are found in our region. I have tried to pick ones that are distinctive, rather than representing 10 little brown mushrooms that all look the same, but it gives users an idea of the diversity of species and forms found in the ecosystems of the SWS and Upper Murray.” says Alison. “Fungi are very variable through their lifecycle, so exact identification can be very difficult – but it it is certainly fun to go out and appreciate the huge range that is out there and their critical role in nutrient cycling in soil and plant nutrition”

Just a short foray out into the Ten Mile Creek Gardens at lunchtime was very fruitful and we were able to identify some Lawyers Wigs coming up in the lawn!

Get your free brochure by contacting the Holbrook Landcare Office and we can make sure you get one, or point you to the contact nearest you that has one.

The Slopes2Summit Bushlinks project is funded by the Australian Government.

 

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Bats on the Billabong

Over 70 people attended Holbrook Landcare’s ‘Bats on the Billabong’ might on Thursday 14th April at “Fellow Hills”, Morven. The night was held in conjunction with the Australasian Bat Night which is a public awareness programme aimed to show people the fascinating world of bats and to promote their conservation.

Guest speaker, Dr Helen Waudby from Murray Local land Services, chatted to the crowd about the 13 different species of micro-bats found in the landscape and their function in the landscape. Bats play a vital role in the health of ecosystems and our agricultural systems, eating a wide range of insects including a range of species that are agricultural pests.

Helen, along with Dr Alison Matthews and Matthew Gill from CSU, demonstrated how they track and capture bats using harp traps and an anabat. Traps were set up along the Billabong Creek and checked by participants after dark, unfortunately with no luck. Although we didnt capture any bats, a few other nocturnal animals were seen while spotlighting.

A special thanks to Abby and Hamish Paton for hosting the event at “Fellow Hills”.

This event was made possible through the Slopes2Summit Bushlinks project, funded through the Australian Government.

 

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Common Myna’s on the march

I was out on farm near Gerogery the other day and spotted some of these Common (or Indian) mynas hopping around the silos. This is the first time I’ve seen them this far east.

Common Mynas are an invasive species that is common in cities and towns but is moving more and more into our rural landscape. They are aggressive species that compete with our native birds for territories,  food and for tree hollows, where they nest. They are a brown bird with have distinctive yellow beaks and legs.

The native Noisy Miner is another similar species, but is a native species that also has aggressive habits and is impacting on native bird populations as well.

The Common Myna is not a declared pest and there is not cohesive policy for eradication or control

So how can you discourage them on your farms and gardens?

According to the OEH website, Mynas like tidy lawns, manicured hedges and hard surface areas, so creating a more bushlike native garden will help keep them away. They are attracted to fruit trees, palms and pines. Removing pet food and covering compost bins will deter both mynas and miners.

Attract more native birds by offering water in bird baths, building myna-proof nesting boxes (PDF, 443KBexternal link) and planting locally native trees and shrubs – the most deterring habitat is dense tree canopies and thick shrubbery.

More information and photos for identification:

http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Sturnus-tristis

http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/pests-weeds/vertebrate-pests/pest-animals-in-nsw/myna-birdsn

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Wattles in September!

Wattles (Acacia spp) blooming herald the start of Spring and we celebrate Wattle Day on the 1 September.

Often people complain that wattles only live for 5 -10 years and don’t like to include them in plantings on farms. Wattles have an important ecological role in our local ecosystems. They are a key food plant for many species, with the wattle pollen being an important food source for many birds and insects at this time of year, when many other resources are scarce. the insect activity also attracts birds. The flowers don’t produce nectar but the leaves (or “phyllodes”) can secrete sticky, sugary secretions that are attractive to many insects, birds and possums. Who hasn’t brushed up against a wattle and ended up covered in ants!

The sap is an important food source for glider possums during the Winter, and sometimes there are very obvious chew marks on the bark.

As to the longevity of wattle….I like to think of it to be akin to a rock and roll star – live hard and die young….and leave lots of illegitimate offspring!

Many Acacias are able to produce seed early in their life, so although the parent plant dies, regeneration quickly follows. Many species are colonisers – come in after disturbances such as fire and regenerate prolifically, holding the soil together, fixing nitrogen (they are legumes)  and paving the way for other species. When they do die, the tangle of dead branches is still a haven for small birds.

Some species of wattle are more long lived, like Hickory Wattle – Acacia implexa – common in many of our woodlands around Holbrook,  and Blackwoods – Acacia melanoxylon that grow along many of our streams and creeks in the upper catchment.

Wattle pollen is big and heavy, and relies on the birds and insects to distribute it. Some think its unfairly blamed for causing hayfever as it really doesnt travel that far on the wind. The strong scent is more likely causing a reaction in those people that are sensitive.
Embrace the wattle!

 

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A good weekend for birdwatching….

BirdLife Australia’s Threatened Bird Network  are looking for volunteers to help survey Swift Parrots and Regent Honeyeaters across Victoria, NSW, ACT and Queensland in 2015. These surveys provide critical long-term data on the movements, habitat use and population size of the Swift Parrot and Regent Honeyeater.

The 2015 survey weekends will occur on May 16-17 and August 1-2.

Both of these species are threatened species that are known to visit our region. You might remember the tagged Regent Honeyeater that turned up in 2011 in the backyard of certain Landcare Chair…..

The key areas to look are probably where you might have flowering eucalypts – there are not many about at the moment so the parrots may very well be concentrated on them if they are out there.

The swifties have been spotted in the region as well, so if you are interested in this I encourage you to go to the Birdlife Australia website and have a look at the information there.

More information about Swift parrots can be found on the OEH website also – these guys come up from Tasmania at this time of year and they think there are not all that many breeding pairs left

There was a release of captive-bred Regent Honeyeaters in Chiltern National Park a few weeks ago and the team is keen for sightings of those too. What to do if you see a Regent Honeyeater can be found by clicking here

If you are not sure but think you are seeing something exciting, give Kylie Durant a call (0418198522)  and I can try and help out.  I saw the Regent Honeyeater back in 2011 and it is really a spectacular bird. I will be out this weekend stalking the Swifties!!!!

 

 

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Bardi moths – the Autumn break is here!

The rain over the weekend triggered the annual hatching of the Bardi moths, also known as Ghost moths or Rain moths. These moths belong to the family Hepialidae and are of the genus Trictena. This family is known as the Swift moths or Ghost moths, and they are very large moths  ( we had ones up to 12cm long flapping against the window) whose larvae feed on the roots of natives such Eucalyptus,  Acacia and Casuarina sp. Common names can be very confusing and I often hear people call them Goat Moths or even Bogong moths. These are very different families.

It would be romantic to think that they are a ‘sign’ of rain – unfortunately they hatch during the event – a bit late to use them as a predictor! However, I always see the mass hatching night as the sign that the Autumn break has arrived in earnest and its always a night in April in this part of the world.

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Bardi Grubs is the common name given to grubs of various species that feed on tree roots, but certainly this moth larvae is one of the more commonly used species. The brown, papery shell can be seen poking out of the ground the night after the hatching. According to the fantastic website from the butterfly house  (http://lepidoptera.butterflyhouse.com.au/hepi/atripal.html)  this species holds the  “world fecundity record” , for the greatest number of eggs being deposited by a non-social insect. One dissected female had 44,100 eggs. It is thought that they are laid in flight. We were able to observe the females shedding the little yellow eggs all over the veranda and in the kids hands. There are some great photos of Trictena atripalpis on this website, probably the species we are all seeing.

The tawny frogmouths and other owls enjoy the hatching very much, coming in to feast on them where they are attracted to the lights of the house. They look like they are worthwhile meal (unlike the Bogong Moth)  and apparently they are recorded as a bush food used by indigenous people.

 

 

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Orb Weaver Spiders – its really Autumn!

What is it about Autumn and orb weaver spiders? I was in a woodland remnant the other day and there were hundreds of webs that made it very difficult to walk through between the trees without walking into the mass of webs. Why don’t I notice them at other times?

Orb weavers are in the genus Nephila, of which there are 5 species in Australia. and it is the female spiders that build those huge webs of very strong silk that are particularly uncomfortable when wrapped around your face!

The male orb weaver is very tiny (5-6mm), and can often be found hanging out on the edge of the web waiting for his big chance.

From researching on the museum websites, it appears that they are obvious in Autumn because this is when the females mature and get large, and are looking to mate and  lay their eggs. The spider only lives for 18 months, so we are seeing the mature females at this time of year laying their eggs for the next generation! Who knows where they go for the rest of the year?