Category Archives: Publications and writing

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.

FC cover photo

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 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 Native Thrush

THE NATIVE THRUSH – Regina Righetti

The sun has lain across the plain –

And you are flying over –

To sing your happy song again,

Where rain has drenched the clover,

And of green trees that edge the plain,

You are the happy lover,

And many many times again,

You song your song twice over!

O! would I hear that song again!

I think I can discover

A land of lands where is no pain –

And you are flying over –

And, O! if you would greatly deign

To sing each song once over,

I’ll listen to your lovely strain –

You are the happy rover!

My trees are green, made fresh, the rain

They’ll make you a light cover,

Your sweetest songs not sung in vain

O! be no more a rover!

Come sing again that glad refrain

With joy all brimming over –

Was never such a lovely strain,

E’er sung above the clover

Reproduced from Poems by Regina Righetti, The Hawthorn Press, 1974 (ISBN 0 7256 0122 1)

Turning the car for home

A late afternoon jaunt across the plains has become something of a ritual – the week is not complete without at least one circuit. Yesterday afternoon was looking like a largely fruitless excursion until I turned the car for home.

A large raptor caught my eye, hovering low over a ripening cereal crop. Instantly recognisable as a Spotted Harrier Circus assimilis, it hunted in typical fashion for 15 minutes or so as I watched in awe from the roadside. An absolutely gorgeous raptor, the Spotted Harrier feeds on small birds, mammals such as mice and rabbits, as well as insects. The harrier disturbed numerous small birds, including Horsefield’s Bushlarks and Australian Pipits, as it wheeled low in small circles – dropping to the ground regularly in pursuit of a meal. This species will successfully chase its prey on the ground as well as via a direct pounce. As I continued my homeward journey its mate was encountered a little further along – this individual was significantly smaller, confirming that the first bird was a female and the second a male. Spotted Harriers nest regularly on the plains, raising their young at this time of year when food is most abundant.

Spotted Harrier (adult female), Moolort Plains, 18th December 2020






Adult male Spotted Harrier


Call of the Reed-Warbler

As I was gathering my thoughts for today’s post I came across a reference to this evening’s episode of Australian Story on ABC TV.

It’s about Charlie Massy – farmer, historian and author of Call Of The Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture A New Earth. This highly acclaimed book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the health of the land and the future of farming in Australia and beyond.

Just a few days back, at Joyce’s Creek, I spotted my first Australian Reed-Warblers for the season.  Tune in tonite to hear the story of how this iconic bird became the talisman  and metaphor for Charlie’s ground-breaking book.

Black Swans in flight over Cairn Curran Reservoir, 26th September 2020

Australian Reed-warbler in Cumbungi at Joyce’s Creek




Compulsory reading …

I’m an avid reader of the Guardian – I suspect quite a few blog readers share my enthusiasm.

Earlier in the week an article  [originally published in The Conversation] with the troubling title ‘Australia’s beloved native birds are disappearing – and the cause is clear’, easily caught my attention.

The story summarises some recent work, by a group of highly respected researchers from the University of Queensland, on how habitat loss has affected multiple Australian bird species. The research team have developed a measure, the loss index (sounds somewhat innocent but it’s not!), to communicate how long-term, incremental loss of native vegetation is impacting on Australian birds – not just the rare and charismatic species, but also those (such as the Rufous Songlark and Rainbow Bee-eater pictured below) that don’t quite make it to the threatened species lists. Reading the article left me feeling deeply troubled …

… across Victoria, and into South Australia and New South Wales, more than 60% of 262 native birds have each lost more than half of their original natural habitat. The vast majority of these species are not formally recognised as being threatened with extinction

… not just because of the alarming record of insidious loss, but because it reinforces the personal (and often long-term) observations of local birders, naturalists, farmers and other landholders across the landscapes of Australia, about what exactly is going on with our unique biodiversity. I would urge you all to read the article and ponder, like I am at present, about what more we can do.

Male Rufous Songlark, Welsmans Reef, 27th October 2019


Male Rainbow Bee-eater



Stop press: EYRs punching above their weight again!

Keen birder, genetic researcher and follower of Natural Newstead, Professor Paul Sunnucks of Monash University, recently alerted me to a new paper on Eastern Yellow Robins.

With the compelling title “Genomic evidence of neo-sex chromosomes in the eastern yellow robin”, I’m sure many blog readers will be keen to absorb the details!

In a nut-shell the research presents another part of the puzzle of the evolution of this familiar and charming species – where it is thought we may be observing speciation in action. Previous research has shown that there are two distinct lineages of the Eastern Yellow Robin, one coastal and the other associated with the dry inland … meeting of course in the area around Newstead!

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

A nice summary of the work can be found here.

If you are really brave you can read the full journal paper here.

Castlemaine bird walks

A new local field guide has hit the ‘shelves’.

Castlemaine Bird Walks, by Damian Kelly, is a guide to more than 40 sites in the Castlemaine district where you can happily combine walking, nature observation and birding.

The aim of the book is to provide different avenues to enjoy the bush around Castlemaine. It is intended both for those interested in birds and where to find them, as well as providing a guide to a variety of walks in the area for anyone who wants to get out and about in the bush.

Generously illustrated with Damian’s own photographs, the guide will be a valuable resource for experienced and casual bird watchers.

Damian has set up a companion website, with more detailed information and resources – the site will evolve and provide an opportunity to share more about the relationship between birds and habitat across the region.

Click here to find out how to purchase a copy.

While my gaze was averted …

Recently I was given a special gift, a copy of the Australian Bird Guide, a marvellous new handbook/field guide written by Peter Menkhorst, Danny Rogers and Rohan Clarke, and beautifully illustrated by Jeff Davies, Peter Marsack and Kim Franklin.

I’ve been dipping into the book most days and enjoyed the descriptive notes and illustrations of my local birds. It was only today when reading the entry on the White-eared Honeyeater, having seen a couple that afternoon on Demo Track, that I discovered the taxonomists have been busy! This species has, for as long as I can remember, gone by the scientific name Lichenostomus leucotis. It is now Nesoptilotis leucotis. The genus Lichenostomus has undergone a significant revision, having been split into a series of new genera – Nesoptilotis, Ptilotula, Gavicalis, Stomiopera, Caligavis and Bolemoreus, with two species (Yellow-tufted and Purple-gaped Honetyeater) remaining in the now greatly diminished Lichenostomus. It’s going to take me a while to come to terms with these new monikers.

The White-eared Honeyeater remains a striking bird nonetheless. A winter migrant to this part of the box-ironbark, it can be found year round not far south around Yandoit. Its distinctive and loud ‘chwok, chwok, chwok’ calls ring for quite some distance on a still day and clearly announce its presence.

White-eared Honeyeater, Demo Track, 11th June 2017




Click here to read a review of the Australian Bird Guide at one of my favourite birding blogs, The Grip.

Blogging for Nature

Natural Newstead features in the Summer 2017 edition of the Victorian Landcare and Catchment Management Magazine – click here to read the article ‘Blogging for Nature’.

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.


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.