Category Archives: Flora

Broughton Pea

While 2021 hasn’t quite matched 2016 as a ‘wet year’, nor come even close to the amazing events of 2010-11, it has nonetheless been well better than average.

As a result there are a few wetlands across the Moolort Plains holding water and that has resulted in some notable observations.

This small freshwater meadow at Baringhup West is one of my favourite spots. It lies at the base of a gentle basalt rise and the wetland itself is dotted with lots of volcanic ‘floaters’ – it has never been cultivated and has been conservatively grazed over generations.

A brilliant purple flower caught my attention on a recent visit, one that I can’t recall seeing on the wetland previously. It is Broughton Pea Swainsona procumbens, a species that is rare in the district, but more common further north where it can be found in areas of heavy clay soils that are prone to seasonal inundation. Like many of the native peas it is extremely palatable to stock – its saving grace is that it can flower and set seed before grazing animals can get access to it.

Broughton Pea has featured previously on Natural Newstead, after Dawn Angliss found a specimen in 2009 at the Castlemaine Golf Course – click here for Frances Cincotta’s article.

The return trip home was also of note, a Spotted Harrier floating over the ripening canola and a pair of Swamp Harriers just south of Picnic Point, a species that is uncommon locally.

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Freshwater meadow, Baringhup West, 6th October 2021

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Broughton Pea

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Spotted Harrier

Making a meal of it

Woodland insectivores have been active in recent weeks.

Brown-headed Honeyeaters are currently feasting on lerp … also favourite tucker for Buff-rumped Thornbills.

Golden Wattle is flowering wonderfully at present, which in turn attracts a bevy of insects to feed on the flowers and foliage. If you look closely at the first three images of the Buff-rumped Thornbill below, a juicy green caterpillar can be seen  to the right of the thornbill. Moments after I captured the images the caterpillar was snatched from its hiding place amongst the wattle flowers. The Buff-rumped Thornbill then returned to searching for lerp amongst the  Yellow Gum saplings.

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Brown-headed Honeyeater, Welshman’s Reef, 25th August 2021

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Buff-rumped Thornbill

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Majestic visitors drop in for a bite

Some 12-15 years ago, we threw a few locally collected, untreated Hakea decurrens seeds in the bush at our place in Strangways, protected by a small exclosure fence. Before too long, we had a couple of large hakeas, covered with flowers and seed pods and with numerous second generation seedlings springing up beneath them.

Hakeas from direct seeding, and their offspring.

A few months back, we found seven Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus funereus) checking our hakeas out. This was the first time in the 27 years we’ve been on our place that we’d seen this species stop rather than just fly over. Yesterday, we saw a flock of about twenty happily and noisily cracking seed pods for their tasty contents. To my absolute delight, they stuck around while I got the camera.

A female pausing briefly from feasting.

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos evolved to feed on Hakea, Casuarina and Banksia seeds, but have become more dependent on introduced pines as their usual foods have been reduced by European land management practices. They also like to dig burrowing insects out of eucalypts and wattles.

Checking things out

One of the recorded Dja Dja Wurrung names for this species is Wareaine or Weerran (from John Tully’s book Dja Dja Wurrung Language of Central Victoria.

Females have larger yellow patches behind their eyes, grey eye rings and white bills. The males have pink eye rings and dark grey beaks.

One of the males of the group.

After sating their appetite with Hakea seed, the flock flew into a nearby Grey Box to rest and preen.

Rest time
A bit of beak sharpening.
And preening.

Watching these magnificent birds was a pure delight. Even more so to think that a few minutes easy work a decade and a half ago has resulted in a bit of food for these beauties. Looking forward to their next visit.

Pea, legume, or bean?  What does it mean? 

On behalf of Friends of the Box Ironbark Forests – Mount Alexander region

Come along (via Zoom®) to FoBIF’s AGM (7:30 p.m. on Monday the 9th of August) and hear Ian Higgins speak on:

“Everything you wanted to know about the plant world’s third most diverse family but were too afraid to ask”.

Yes, the “Fabaceae” family, aka peas and relatives has just won the bronze medal for species diversity (right after orchids and daisies)!  But was it cheating by branch stacking?  This family recently experienced a dramatic increase in the number of its species. 

  • What happened?  
  • What is the Greek word for branch anyway?
  • Why is this family the world’s most important source of plant resources that support humans (and the rest of the planet)?
  • Did you realise, that before Europeanisation, our district used to be much richer in species of this family?  
  • What’s gone missing and why?
  • What is the role of phosphorus and why is spreading “super” such an un-Australian activity?
  • What’s the connection with butterflies?
  • What is plant blindness 
  • Why should I care about plant identification?

Ian will reveal answers to all these questions and more as part of the launch of FoBIF’s marvellous identification booklet: “Native peas of the Mount Alexander region”.

Members and supporters who wish to attend can register by emailing FOBIF (info@fobif.org.au). We would like people to register 48 hours before the meeting. People who have registered will be sent a login link before the meeting. 

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Poking about in the Muckleford bush

Queen’s Birthday morning was perfect for poking about in the Muckleford bush.

Taking a well-trodden route that included South German, Bell’s Lane and Mia Mia Tracks I was rewarded with some nice observations.

The pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles were spotted on their overnight perch, contemplating their first sortie in search of a meal.

An early flowering Golden Wattle was something of a surprise, as was the opportunity to see both the Speckled Warbler and Rose Robin up-close.

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Golden Wattle in flower, South German Track, 14th June 2021

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Wedge-tailed Eagle (adult female)

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Adult male

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Speckled Warbler (male)

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Rose Robin (male)

Early mover …

The exception always proves the rule.

It’s notable to see a Golden Wattle flowering in early May … they typically start in the second week of July around Newstead.

Spreading Wattle has been flowering since February but is at its best over autumn.

The yellow hues of our honeyeaters are a nice complement to the golden spray of the wattles.

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Golden Wattle in flower, South German Track, 2nd May 2021

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Spreading Wattle

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Fuscous Honeyeater

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Yellow-faced Honeyeater

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White-naped Honeyeater

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Absent friends

I’ve been pondering the absence of Black-shouldered Kites from the Moolort Plains.

While Brown Falcons and Nankeen Kestrels have been about in good numbers over the past year, I can only recall a handful of observations of these small kites. They have been totally absent from some spots where in past years you might see a dozen or so on any one trip.

Many readers will appreciate that mice, a favourite prey of the Black-shouldered Kite, are abundant at present. Let’s hope for an influx of kites in coming weeks to help solve this problem.

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Brown Falcon, Moolort Plains, 14th April 2021

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Moolort Plains mullock heap (Keystone Mine)

Bunjil and buloke

In days long past this observation would have been commonplace, a Wedge-tailed Eagle perched atop a Buloke.

Both are iconic species, but sadly, such a sight is a rarity in these present times.

The Buloke is emblematic of the plains country, easily taken, slow to return.

Bunjil, the Wedge-tailed Eagle, is of special significance to Indigenous Australians, especially the Dja Dja Wurrung People of central Victoria.

Bunjil is the creator being who bestows Dja Dja Wurrung People with the laws and ceremonies that ensure the continuation of life. Dja Dja Wurrung People know Mindye the Giant Serpent as the keeper and enforcer of Bunjil’s law.

Dja Dja Wurrung Recognition Statement*, 15th November 2013

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Wedge-tailed Eagle and Buloke, Joyce’s Creek, 29th March 2021

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* The Recognition Statement signed at Yepenya on 15 November 2013, recognised the Dja Dja Wurrung as the Traditional Owners of Central Victoria.

Another classic … Native Peas of the Mount Alexander Region

Native pea plants in the bush: they’re hard to see when they’re not in flower, and impossible to miss when they are. Peas are beautiful, hardy and good for our soils. The problem is that many pea plants have quite similar flowers, which tempts the observer to lump them all together as ‘egg and bacon’ plants.

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In fact, most peas are easy to tell apart. Even the tricky ones aren’t impossible…as long as you’re prepared to get up close and take a good look. This guide, Native Peas of the Mount Alexander Region, offers detailed notes on 30 different native peas found in the bushlands of north central Victoria. Written in plain language and generously illustrated, it offers readers a way into a little known part of our natural environment.

The book is published by Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests in association with Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club and the Wettenhall Environment Trust. It follows our successful guides to eucalypts, wattles and mosses. There’s a general introduction, detailed species notes (including on weed species), and a section on names. Although based on species found in north central Victoria, it would be useful to anyone interested in flora of the box ironbark region.

FOBIF has also produced 8 new native pea greeting cards with detailed species notes on the back. They are available in sets of 8 with envelopes.

The book and cards are available from Stoneman’s Bookshop, the Tourist Information Centre, the Enviroshop in Newstead and the Book Wolf in Maldon. You can also buy the book and cards directly from FOBIF through PayPal, by cheque or bank transfer. Go to http://www.fobif.org.au and click on the Native Pea book and cards images on the right hand side of the home page for purchase details. The Recommended Retail Price for the book is $10. Sets of cards are $20.

Trailing Shaggy-pea

The beautiful images and informative text will certainly help take the mystery out of identifying our local peas

Congratulations again to Bronwyn Silver, Bernard Slattery and FOBIF on producing another stunning natural history publication!

The joy of autumn rain

While some parts of the continent at present are experiencing almost unprecedented amounts of rain, here in central Victoria we are enjoying the Goldilocks effect … not too little, not too much … but just about right.

This morning I tipped 37mm of rain from the gauge … a perfect autumn break as far as the bush is concerned, which made for some interesting sights yesterday afternoon in the Mia Mia.

I was also pleased to come across some autumn flowering orchids, including Parson’s Bands and what I think is one of the Midge OrchidsCorunastylis sp, but not sure which one.

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Autumn downpour, Mia Mia Track, 21st March 2021

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Midge Orchid – please help with species identification if you can?