Category Archives: Publications and writing

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

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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.

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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.

Eastern Yellow Robins … a short note

I’ve been reading about Eastern Yellow Robins this week.

Last August I photographed a pair engaged in courtship feeding at the Rise and Shine – this observation has been included in a short paper, Skinks and burrowing crayfish as prey items of the Eastern Yellow Robin Eopsaltria australis in south-eastern Australia (Valerie La May, Martin O’Brien, Con Boekel, Kathy Costello, Geoff Park, Sonja Ross) in Volume 33 (pp. 57-60) of Australian Field Ornithology. I’m grateful to the principal authors for inviting my participation … the observation happened in the blink of an eye!

If you’d like to read the paper you can access the on-line version of the journal via Birdlife Australia … all members ($79 for an annual membership) have free access to AFO and lots of other resources.

In the meantime our local robins are going about their business … I spent a nice hour with a pair on Pound Lane earlier in the week.

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Eastern Yellow Robin, Pound Lane Newstead, 12th May 2016

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What bird is that?

For ages I’ve been contemplating writing a blog post on bird identification field guides.

Mercifully, both for readers and myself, I’ve failed to do so!

I can now do better than that …

Chris Watson, a fellow bird blogger and curator of The Grip, has produced a terrific analysis of the major field guides to Australian birds. His blog post, Birds in Dead Trees, is an objective and subjective survey of the features, pros and cons of the five current contenders : Simpson & Day, Pizzey & Knight, Morcombe, Slater and Campbell. 

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It’s an excellent summary and will certainly be useful in deflecting future inquiries from friends and acquaintances.

For the record, my personal favourite is The Field Guide to Birds of Australia by Pizzey and Knight, but the first book that got me excited about birds is pictured below. I received a copy of Australian Birds by Robin Hill as a birthday present almost 50 years ago and still regard it with affection!

Robin Hill

Listen to this BIG IDEA

One of the acknowledged limitations of this blog (and many others for that matter!), is that pictures alone can never capture the wonderful soundscapes of the Australian bush.

Andrew Skeoch, a contributor to Natural Newstead and an extraordinary nature sound recordist, is featured on ABC radio this week – on one of my favourite programs, Big Ideas.

The episode, entitled ‘Listening to Nature’, was recorded at this year’s Woodford Music Festival.

The evolution of sound and listening. Listening to nature isn’t just a peaceful and joyful experience. It can teach us our place in the natural world. Animal sounds and bird song have adapted to specific environments and habitats, but the use of sound has in turn shaped the evolution of different species. And that includes homo sapiens. Sound has formed us as social and cultural ‘animals’.

Click here to listen to Andrew’s talk – you’ll be very glad you did!

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Whistling Kite – hearing the call is always a joyful experience

Andrew, together with his partner Sarah, are Listening Earth – for nearly twenty years they have been recording the diverse, wondrous and delicate sounds of our natural world.

A real treasure trove

The Castlemaine Field Naturalist Club is renowned for the collective knowledge of natural history held by its members. The club was formed in 1976 and has produced regular monthly newsletters since its inception. These newsletters contain a record of club excursions, local flora and fauna observations and informative articles on the ecology and natural history of the Castlemaine district …. which of course includes Newstead!

Recently, one of the club’s members, Chris Timewell completed digitising the full set of newsletters. They are a wonderful resource, an absolute treasure trove of information that will prove extremely valuable in the future as we witness changes in our landscape resulting from natural and human induced events. I was particularly interested in observations of the Sandon area where our family lived from the mid-1980s until 2000. Suzanna Starr, a local resident of Sandon made regular contributions, with some notable records.

Sandon

For example in October 1991, Suzanna recorded Hooded Robin (now rare at Sandon) and White-throated Gerygone (a rarely recorded summer migrant), while around the same time, members of the Maryborough FNC observed Australian Pratincoles on the Moolort Plains.

Pratincoles

I’m planning to do some more systematic reading of this wonderful resource soon.

The full digital set of newsletters can be accessed here.