Author Archives: Geoff Park

A home garden experiment

Some years ago I began experimenting with planting a number of non-local, indigenous plants in our home garden.

My choice of species was influenced by many years of traversing the landscapes of northern Victoria and admiration for some of the native plants, especially wattles, that characterise these places in the zone between home and the Murray River. This includes species such as Eumong Acacia stenophylla, Willow Wattle A.salicina, Yarran A.omalophylla, Black Box Eucalyptus largiflorens, and a number of others that I began planting around a decade ago.

Most of these plants have now established and thrived, with little or no attention. It represents my small effort to plan and plant for a future climate, one in which central Victoria will be hotter and drier than we have become accustomed to. At the same time I haven’t neglected some of the hardy local indigenous plants – Silver Banksia Banksia marginata, Lightwood A.implexa, Drooping Sheoak Allocasuarina verticillata and Buloke A.luehmannii, all of which are doing well in a changing climate.

Importantly, but hardly surprising, is that our local native birds are attracted to these plantings. A few minutes ago I took a break from the computer for a stroll through the garden … Spotted and Striated Pardalotes, Red-browed Finch, Silvereye, Grey Fantail, New Holland Honeyeater, Eastern Spinebill … all in and around some of these exotic new plantings as well as the local natives.

Home gardens can provide significant habitat for wildlife, in addition to a multitude of other benefits. Over time I predict we’ll start to increasingly see the use of some of these ‘dry country’ species in home gardens.

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Eumong Acacia stenophylla seed pods and foliage

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Lightwood Acacia implexa bark

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Silver Banksia Banksia marginata foliage

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Spotted Pardalote (male) in Eumong

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Male in a Silver Banksia

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… in a Willow Wattle

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Spotted Pardalote (female) in Silver Banksia

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Willow wattle flowers and foliage

Not for some years …

At least once or twice each week I visit Cairn Curran Reservoir, usually travelling across Joyce’s Creek and then wending my way around the storage to Picnic Point.

On recent visits I’ve observed, most times, at least one but up to three Great Egrets, as I cross the creek. Yesterday afternoon a smaller white bird, clearly an egret, caught my attention as it sat crouched on a limb of one of the dead River Red Gums along the creek.

It was an Eastern Cattle Egret, a bird that I haven’t seen in the district for some years. This one was all-white, a juvenile lacking the orange-buff feathers that are typical of breeding birds – traces of this plumage are often also seen in non-breeding individuals.

As their name suggests Cattle Egrets are generally found as small flocks in association with livestock, especially cattle, where they forage for insects disturbed by the grazing animals. Cattle Egrets are much smaller than both the Great Egret and Intermediate Egret (a rare visitor). The prominent feathering under the bill, creating a ‘jowled’ appearance, is a distinctive feature.

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Eastern Cattle Egret, Joyce’s Creek, 9th May 2022

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Autumn observations

The calls of Pied Currawongs, autumn migrants to the district, have been echoing around town for a few weeks now.

Another familiar cool-season visitor, the Eastern Spinebill, has now arrived. I’ve been hearing the odd one since mid-April and visited a favourite haunt yesterday, Rotunda Park. Sure enough, three immature birds were flitting about in the Newstead Landcare plantings. As is the usual case, the young birds arrive first, followed a few weeks later by the adult spinebills. Look out for them in local gardens over winter.

Earlier in the day I enjoyed close views of a trio of Eastern Yellow Robins, one with colour bands, in the Muckleford bush. A male Scarlet Robin was also sighted, along with White-throated Treecreeper, Golden Whistler, White-naped Honeyeater, Grey Shrike-thrush, Speckled Warbler, Brown Thornbill and a Grey Currawong.

I’m still hearing a Shining Bronze-cuckoo calling around town (at Dig Cafe last Friday) and some White-breasted Woodswallows were seen at Joyce’s Creek the same day.

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Eastern Yellow Robin, Tunnel Track, Muckleford State Forest, 8th May 2022

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Scarlet Robin (male)

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Bracket fungus on Grey Box

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Eastern Spinebill (immature), Rotunda Park

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Afternoon, the plains

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Plains country … click to expand

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Great Egret @ Picnic Point

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Australian Hobby, Moolort Plains, 6th May 2022

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Wedge-tailed Eagle and grumpy magpie

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Plains country #2

Smoke and raptors

I was surprised earlier in the week to see a rising column of smoke on the Moolort Plains. Stubble burning largely finished a few weeks back, prior to the autumn break.

As is often the case, where there is smoke there are often raptors.

Sure enough Whistling Kites and Black Kites were hunting above the burning stubble, a number also chasing insects across the burnt ground. The highlight though was a pair of Black Falcons, the first I’ve seen for almost 12 months. Distant views but exciting nonetheless.

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Stubble burning, Moolort Plains, 2nd May 2022

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Black Falcon

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Whistling Kite hunting in stubble

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Black Kite

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What’s in a name?

An egret is a heron … but not all herons are egrets.

Herons are birds in the family Ardeidae that includes typical herons (familiar local species such as the White-faced Heron and White-necked Heron), bitterns, night-herons and egrets.

Egrets belong to the genus Egretta, of which the Great Egret is the species of egret most often encountered at Cairn Curran, while the White-faced Heron belongs to the genus Ardea (Latin for heron).

Both of these herons utilise the shallow margins of Cairn Curran throughout the year in search of small fish, frogs and invertebrates and will happily move into local wetlands when conditions are suitable. White-faced Herons often feed in flooded paddocks, Great Egrets rarely do so. Both tend to be highly territorial when feeding and will chase off intruding herons to maintain their domain.

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Great Egret, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 14th April 2022

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Great Egret displacing a White-faced Heron

Subtle shift

There has been a changing of the guard in recent days.

I spotted my first Flame Robin for the autumn two days ago, a female, arriving furtively to drink at a small bush dam. A number of Golden Whistlers also visited the water, a beautiful male avoided my camera. In the distance an Eastern Spinebill was calling, the first I’ve heard since last winter.

Around town in recent days both Shining Bronze-cuckoos and Fantailed Cuckoos have been calling, most likely birds heading northwards on their annual passage, although a few individuals remain in the box-ironbark over the cooler months. Meanwhile the usual array of honeyeaters complement the picture, as the subtle shift to winter beckons.

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Flame Robin, Mia Mia Track, 22nd April 2022

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Immature Golden Whistler

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White-naped Honeyeater

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Yellow-faced Honeyeater

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

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Autumn insectivores

Mixed feeding flocks of insectivores are a feature of autumn in the box-ironbark.

During a brief pause in the rain earlier this week I came across a small gathering along Spring Hill Track.

In the company of the Grey Fantails and Scarlet Robins were a Golden Whistler, Buff-rumped Thornbills, a Yellow-faced Honeyeater and a Grey Shrike-thrush. One of the fantails delighted as it sought insects through the foliage, fanning its tail repeatedly in an effort to disturb potential insect prey.

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Grey Fantail, Spring Hill Track, 20th April 2022

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Male Scarlet Robin

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Female Scarlet Robin

Along the track

While there is nothing out of the ordinary, the local bush is alive with birds at present.

A handful of Tree Martins remain, the lingering warm weather slowing their departure north. Musk, Purple-crowned and Little Lorikeets are enjoying the flowering Grey Box, while Scarlet Robins are back after ‘going missing’ over summer.

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Grey Fantail, Mia Mia Track, 15th April 2022

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Scarlet Robin (male)

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

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Yellow-faced Honeyeater

A golden autumn

A number of folks have commented in recent weeks on the proliferation of spiders in the local bush, in particular the extraordinary Golden Orb-weaver Nephila edulis.

These magnificent spiders have been casting their webs with enthusiasm post Xmas. Walking in the bush at present is tricky as you weave your own way amongst their silken creations, some of which are more than a metre across.

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Golden-orb Weaver, Mia Mia Track, 27th March 2022

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Speckled Warblers have bred again during autumn, a good sign for this declining woodland bird. I’ve also spotted both Red-capped and Scarlet Robins in recent weeks … they went missing during the heat of summer.

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Speckled Warbler (female)

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Speckled Warbler (male) … ferrying food, 7th March 2022

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Speckled Warbler (male) calling

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White-eared Honeyeater, 27th March 2022