Category Archives: Landscape

Kites at the swamp

I was fortunate last Friday to spend the day at Long Swamp on the Moolort Plains with folks from the Dja Dja Wurrung Aboriginal Clans Corporation. I was one of a number of observers invited to join an Aboriginal Waterways Assessment for the Tullaroop catchment. One of many highlights was a pair of Black-shouldered Kites ‘greeting’ us when we arrived at the swamp under blue skies and warm late autumn sunshine.

The presence of this species, absent from large areas of the plains over the past year or two, is a sign of high quality raptor habitat. Long Swamp is a special place, now in the safe hands of Trust for Nature, and where it is possible to reimagine this country.

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River Red Gum @ Long Swamp, Moolort Plains, 30th April 2021

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Black-shouldered Kite

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Eastern Grey Kangaroo

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Wisdom of the ancients

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)

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?

This is how it once was …

A visit to the Franklinford and Yandoit Cemetery at this time of year is a window into a landscape that is now sadly much diminished.

Kangaroo Grass Themeda triandra forms an almost pure sward, waist height and swaying in the breeze of a sweltering November afternoon.

The cemetery was established in 1842, just a few short years after the first squatters arrived with their flocks, about a year after Edward Stone Parker established the Loddon Aboriginal Protectorate station a few hundred metres to the east.

From here it’s a short hop to the Jumcra as it flows northwards to join the Loddon River at Newstead. Juvenile Grey Fantails were chasing insects beside the stream, a White-browed Scrub-wren collected spiders for its young as Sacred Kingfishers called from the Candlebarks overhead.

Kangaroo Grass, Franklinford and Yandoit Cemetery, 28th November 2020

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Juvenile Grey Fantail by the Jumcra at Franklinford

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White-browed Scrub-wren and spider

Woodland musing

For a while now, decades in fact, I’ve been an interested observer of landscape change in the Newstead district and more generally across the box-ironbark country.

Three overarching observations:

  1. Significant areas of farmland, prime grazing land last century, are now largely de-stocked and actively regenerating – especially with eucalypts and native grasses.
  2. This farmland sits within a mosaic of  ‘bush’ – forest and woodland, much of which is public land in varying states of recovery. The legacy of repeated clearing (many areas were harvested for timber multiple times since the 1850s) is often reflected in regenerating eucalypt thickets where the stem density may be 10 to 100 times greater than it was pre-clearing.
  3. Bird populations know what’s going on … there are distinct patterns of species richness and abundance that reflect the past history of land use and management.

What is happening in central Victoria is not unique, in many parts of the world agriculture is retreating from areas where it was once pervasive, a phenomenon described as land abandonment. In my experience the greatest variety and numbers of birds tend to be found in areas where the original fabric of veteran trees has triggered natural regeneration of understorey plants and this is happening where farming practices are changing and land is recovering with or without direct intention.

The three habitat images below exemplify this:

#1 woodland bird habitat (private land) – large old trees, natural regeneration and patchiness – ideal for Jacky Winter, Hooded Robin, Diamond Firetail and Swift Parrot

#2 woodland bird habitat (public land) – woodland thicket with fair to middling understorey – not as bird rich as #1 but has potential … just wait 100 years or so to see this realised.

#3 woodland bird habitat (private land) – woodland thicket with minimal understorey – maybe a Brown Treecreeper or two and the odd Scarlet Robin … this too has potential but would most likely benefit from some active management (fire, thinning, planting etc) … and time!

There are layers of complexity too – while #1 woodland bird habitat is good it could be even better with replenishment of missing shrubs, grasses and forbs.

Jacky Winter, Green Gully, 5th September 2020. This species does best on the margins of intact bush and open country – especially abandoned farmland.

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#2 – Woodland bird habitat **

#3 – Woodland bird habitat *

Eucalytpus regrowth is an important part of the story – it is ideal breeding habitat for a range of woodland birds, such as the Yellow Thornbill (pictured below), Mistletoebird and Weebill. Black-chinned Honeyeaters also enjoy this habitat.

Yellow Thornbill nest in eucalyptus regrowth

The tail end of a Yellow Thornbill

Peeking out from the beautifully woven nest of grass, moss and synthetics

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To read more about land abandonment here is an interesting article from the Yale School of the Environment.

Why mornings are best

I wish I was more of an early riser … sadly I’m not.

On the rare occasions that I make the effort it is almost always richly rewarded. Yesterday was a foggy start in the Muckleford bush as bird calls rang out around me – Eastern Yellow Robin, Pallid Cuckoo, Black-chinned Honeyeater and Golden Whistler were stand-outs.

As the first rays of sun broke through the fog, a few birds … including the Fan-tailed Cuckoo pictured below, soaked up the warmth before beginning their morning foraging.

Birds are almost always easier to observe and photograph at this time of day, allowing a closer approach and often performing some interesting antics.

Tunnel Track, Muckleford State Forest, 5th September 2020

Dew-laden web

Galah and nest hollow

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Yellow-faced Honeyeater

Time travel

This set of images provides a window to the past and the largely forgotten woodland landscapes of central Victoria.

The Silver Banksia Banksia marginata, also known as the Honeysuckle, was once common throughout the district – the Moolort Plains and floodplains of the Loddon River and its tributaries were a stronghold for this wonderful plant.

Now on the brink of regional extinction, it has encouragingly been included in restoration plantings over recent decades – only time will tell if these efforts inspire a natural comeback.

A Spotted Pardalote in a Honeysuckle would have once been a common sight, searching for insects along with other daytime visitors – various honeyeaters and lorikeets chasing nectar. Feathertail gliders, sugar gliders and pygmy-possums would have feasted on the rich flow of nectar during the hours of darkness.

Spotted Pardalote (male) in a planted Silver Banksia, Providence Gully Sandon, 18th July 2020

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To learn more about the magnificent Silver Banksia …

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A wonderful sunset last evening on the Moolort Plains.

Tarrengower from the Moolort Plains, 24th June 2020

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The view west towards Mount Moolort

PS: I heard my first Fan-tailed Cuckoo for the season on 22 June (centre of town) – at least six weeks early … perhaps an overwintering bird? Also a small flock of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos – heard but not seen yesterday morning.

Venturing outside the bubble

I’ve taken some geographic licence and bent the 20 kilometre rule a smidgeon with today’s post.

The headwaters of the Loddon River are on the Great Divide, south of Daylesford. Much of the landscape in this area was formed in the last 6-7 million years, the result of volcanic activity that is evident across much of south-west Victoria. Just north of the village of Glenlyon the Loddon River drops into a spectacular gorge, with a series of small cascades, including the Loddon Falls. Protected as a Natural Features Reserve, the area contains veteran Manna Gums and Candlebarks that provide a magnificent contrast with the tall basalt columns of the gorge. Fractures along the columns provide an anchor point for native plants including Tree Violet and Austral Stork’s-bill (the native geranium). The local Glenlyon and Upper Loddon Landcare Group has been responsible for weed control and judicious planting in the reserve over many years.

Click on the images below to enjoy them in full-size.

Loddon Falls @ Glenlyon, 24th May 2020

Looking north across the Loddon River Falls Reserve

A close up of the columnar basalt

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The mighty Loddon

How to see a bird …

Something a little different today.

Photographic images of birds are the daily fare on Natural Newstead. Other folks, of course, see our local birds, from tiny Superb Fairy-wrens to soaring Wedge-tailed Eagles, through different eyes.

The wonderful painting shown below is the work of well-known local artist Julie Patey. It is part of a terrific  initiative by the Newstead Arts Hub to showcase the work of local artists online during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Flight by Julie Patey

I’d encourage readers to visit the online Artists Market to view their beautiful work – much of what is ‘on show’ has been inspired by and celebrates the landscapes and natural beauty of the Newstead area and central Victoria.