Mellowing over time!

As I get older I tend to think less about weedy plants being ‘good’ or ‘bad’. At the risk of unleashing a flow of comments suggesting I reconsider, let me qualify my position.

Along Mia Mia Road there are a number of clumps of introduced European Blackberry Rubus fruticosus aggregate. These plants have been growing there for as long as I can remember, thriving in the disturbed soil that is a legacy of gold mining, road making and a variety of semi-agricultural pursuits. Despite their longevity they don’t appear to have spread much beyond their current location – you certainly won’t find the species growing on the surrounding rises and ridgelines where regrowth bush dominates the infertile soils. This is not the case in many better-watered parts of Victoria where Blackberry is an aggressive weed that dominates high-value riparian areas in particular. In the absence of native shrubs around this site the Blackberry is providing habitat for a variety of small birds – Superb fairy-wren, Red-browed Firetail, White-browed Scrub-wren, Yellow-rumped Thornbills and even White-browed Babblers using it sometimes for nesting.

Now I’m certainly not advocating allowing plants such as Blackberry to spread, but given a limited amount of effort to expend it would perhaps be better to establish some local blackberry ‘analogues’ such as Spreading Wattle, Hedge Wattle and Bushy Needlewood nearby, as a precursor to some concerted blackberry control. That way the small birds will have safe refuges for nesting and over time the habitat will be enhanced.

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Red-browed Firetail carrying nesting material, Mia Mia Road, 24th September 2016

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White-browed Scrub-wren

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European Goldfinch – an introduced exotic that is now well and truly naturalised around Newstead.

Solve this puzzle!

This nest was discovered earlier in the week at the Rise and Shine – it belongs to a Yellow-tufted Honeyeater. As you’ll see in a moment, this species typically nests low down in a shrub or eucalypt, but on this occasion selected a crevice on the trunk of a mature Yellow Box.

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater nest, Rise and Shine, 20th September 2016

Another visit the following day provided a surprising turn of events – a pair of Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters were visiting the nest, removing small pieces of wool and bark to add to a different, partially constructed nest in a small Long-leaved Box nearby. It’s a puzzle … was it the same pair having second thoughts and choosing another location? Or could it have been a different pair pilfering material from the original nest builders? I’ll never know!

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater gathering nesting material … from a Yellow-tufted Honeyeater nest!

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The second nest suspended amongst Long-leaved Box foliage

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A visit to nest #2 with strands of bark gathered from nest #1

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Only the birds know what’s going on!

Postscript: John Hutchinson’s terrific Avithera blog has an article on his observation of Brown-headed Honeyeaters apparently dismantling a White-naped Honeyeater nest in Gippsland. John’s note also makes mention of an article (see below) in the journal Corella which I’ll track down soon.

LEY, A.J., D.L. OLIVER & M.B. WILLIAMS. (1997). Theft of nesting material involving Honeyeaters (Meliphagidae). Corella21: 119–123.
Thieving of nesting material in 10 honeyeater species and six other passerines is described, in the Bundarra-Barraba region west of Armidale, New South Wales during a study of Regent Honeyeater’s biology in 1995-96. Theft of nesting material was from both active and inactive nests. The contribution of theft to nest parasite transfer (e.g. lice) and to nest failure in Meliphagidae is discussed.

The bush rebounds

The local bush is a riot of colour after recent rain. Last weekend I didn’t find a single flowering waxlip – now the colour purple is dominating the ground layer and will for the next month with chocolate lilies to follow. I’m encouraged by the way many of the smaller shrubs – rice flowers, peas and wattles, have rebounded. This is wonderful for small shrub-dependent birds such as Brown Thornbills whose numbers fluctuate according to annual breeding success. This season is a chance to rebuild flagging populations.

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Waxlip Orchid, Fence Track, 23rd September 2016

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Slender Rice-flower

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Gold-dust Wattle

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Brown Thornbill

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Sunshine and gold

Finding the nest of the Eastern Yellow Robin is always a delightful experience. Earlier in the week a rare burst of sunshine drew me to the Rise and Shine in search of this beautiful robin.

This species makes an exquisite nest – stands of grass, moss and fine bark are delicately woven to form the bowl which is then decorated with strips of bark that hang from the outer rim. The Rise and Shine is a great place to observe Eastern Yellow Robins – a series of drainage lines through the reserve are especially favoured.

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Eastern Yellow Robin, Rise and Shine, 20th September 2016

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The partially constructed nest

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Eastern Yellow Robin on nest, Rise and Shine, 20th September 2016

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Did you notice the leg-band on the first image?

Other birds seen and heard: Sacred Kingfisher (an early arrival), Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Collared Sparrowhawk, Dusky Woodswallow, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Laughing Kookaburra and suite of the usual honeyeaters.

The forest and the trees … Eucalypts of the Mount Alexander Region

To understand the forest you first have to know the trees.

This Saturday, 24 September, the new Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests publication, Eucalypts of the Mount Alexander Region, will be launched at 10.30am in the Castlemaine Library foyer.

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This 90 page guide by Bernard Slattery, Ern Perkins and Bronwyn Silver aims to help the beginner train the eye to see the differences between eucalypts – and to appreciate how spectacular they sometimes are. It presents the commonest species of the Mount Alexander Region, generously illustrated, and clearly described in plain language. Though firmly based on one local area (the forests and reserves around the town of Castlemaine), it describes species common to the whole Box-Ironbark region, and would be useful to any enthusiast in that region, from Ararat to Chiltern.

The publication of this book has been made possible by a generous grant from the Worrowing Fund through the Norman Wettenhall Foundation. Other supporters have been the Castlemaine Field Naturalists’ Club and Connecting Country.

The book’s cost is $10 and people buying it at the launch will receive a selection of free tree-related bookmarks and a FOBIF fungi poster. Proceedings will start at 10.30 in the Castlemaine library foyer. Refreshments will be served.

I’ve had a sneak preview of the book – it’s a fabulous publication and a significant contribution to further developing our sense of place and appreciation of nature in central Victoria. I feel extremely honoured to have been asked to launch the guide.

Just add water

The swamps of the Moolort Plains are ‘full’ again – not quite to the level of 2010/11, but refreshingly wet.

I made a lightning visit at the weekend around some of my favourites, mainly to document what they look like at this stage of the wetting cycle. There were very few birds to be seen – not to worry the ‘bush telegraph’ will rectify this situation in coming weeks and I expect to see some interesting visitors. Speaking with local wetland ecologist Damien Cook last week, he mentioned seeing a flock of Plumed Whistling Ducks at Long Swamp – a taste of things to come!

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Baker’s Swamp, 16th September 2016

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Black Swamp at Campbelltown, 17th September 2016

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Galloway’s Swamp, 18th September 2016

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Lakeside Swamp, 17th September 2016

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Lignum Swamp, 18th September 2016

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Long Swamp, 16th September 2016

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Purple Swamphen @ Baringhup – this one was disturbed making a nest on the edge of the swollen Loddon River near the Caravan Park, 18th September 2016

Plains raptors

It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens to the numbers and species of raptors on the Moolort Plains over coming months. With so much water around I expect to see a surge in the availability of prey. A visit over the weekend didn’t produce a lot – I was hoping to spot a Black Falcon or Spotted Harrier but struck out. I did however get a distant view of a Swamp Harrier near the Havelock Road wetland, as well as the ‘usual suspects’ pictured below.

Brown Falcon, Moolort Plains, 16th September 2016

Brown Falcon, Moolort Plains, 16th September 2016

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Black-shouldered Kite

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Nankeen Kestrel

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