Category Archives: Weeds

Not fussed!

I used to get frustrated with the fact that native Australian birds often seemed quite at home amongst ‘foreign’ weeds.

My emotions have mellowed over time.

Eastern Yellow Robins seem to really like hanging out amongst the clumps of Blackberry along the Loddon River, while our fledgling Red Wattlebirds have spent most of the past week hiding amongst the foliage and flowers of exotic shrubs bordering our yard.

Red Wattlebird fledgling, Wyndham Street Newstead, 29th September 2018

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Eastern Yellow Robin, Loddon River @ Newstead, 29th September 2018

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Please note: This post is not advocating a case for ‘weeds’, merely observing that some of our more adaptable species are quite at home in local ‘weedscapes’. I’ve yet to see a Chestnut-rumped Heathwren, Crested Bellbird or other more particular woodland bird in anything other than intact native habitat.

Mellowing over time!

As I get older I tend to think less about weedy plants being ‘good’ or ‘bad’. At the risk of unleashing a flow of comments suggesting I reconsider, let me qualify my position.

Along Mia Mia Road there are a number of clumps of introduced European Blackberry Rubus fruticosus aggregate. These plants have been growing there for as long as I can remember, thriving in the disturbed soil that is a legacy of gold mining, road making and a variety of semi-agricultural pursuits. Despite their longevity they don’t appear to have spread much beyond their current location – you certainly won’t find the species growing on the surrounding rises and ridgelines where regrowth bush dominates the infertile soils. This is not the case in many better-watered parts of Victoria where Blackberry is an aggressive weed that dominates high-value riparian areas in particular. In the absence of native shrubs around this site the Blackberry is providing habitat for a variety of small birds – Superb fairy-wren, Red-browed Firetail, White-browed Scrub-wren, Yellow-rumped Thornbills and even White-browed Babblers using it sometimes for nesting.

Now I’m certainly not advocating allowing plants such as Blackberry to spread, but given a limited amount of effort to expend it would perhaps be better to establish some local blackberry ‘analogues’ such as Spreading Wattle, Hedge Wattle and Bushy Needlewood nearby, as a precursor to some concerted blackberry control. That way the small birds will have safe refuges for nesting and over time the habitat will be enhanced.

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Red-browed Firetail carrying nesting material, Mia Mia Road, 24th September 2016

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White-browed Scrub-wren

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European Goldfinch – an introduced exotic that is now well and truly naturalised around Newstead.

Milk-thistle feasting

I’ve been pretty fortunate over recent days with some of the birds that have perched in front of the camera.

This is observation is not quite as spectacular but notable nonetheless. The church yard next door has a small patch of Milk Thistles – not much good for anything you might suspect. Not so if you are a Yellow-rumped Thornbill or Silvereye. A small mixed flock of these birds were attracted to the thistles, apparently consuming the seeds but possibly also insects associated with the seed heads. Another example of native birds exploiting weeds in a transformed landscape.

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Silvereyes feeding on Milk Thistles, Newstead, 3rd May 2015.

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Yellow-rumped Thornbill.

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The sound of summer

Let’s face it – some birds are more popular than others.

At the moment I suspect the Long-billed Corella is not high in the popularity stakes around Newstead. A large flock, of perhaps 200 individuals, is wheeling around town at regular intervals, making an unbelievable racket!

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Long-billed Corellas, Newstead Primary School, 30th December 2013.

If Long-billed Corellas were rare, then I’m sure they would be regarded as one of Australia’s most beautiful and charismatic birds. Unfortunately their ‘bad habits’, which in addition to their raucous calls, includes an aptitude for crop and pasture damage, means they are often held in low esteem.

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Three of the flock … caught in a moment of quietude!

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Snapped in the late afternoon sunshine.

Paradoxically, the Long-billed Corella was once on the verge of extinction in Victoria. Prior to agricultural intensification it depended on native grassland plants, such as Murnong (Yam Daisy), as a food source. Nowadays, it is pasture weeds with underground tubers, such as Onion-grass Romulea, that make up the bulk of its diet. The loss of native pasture over much of its original range, especially during the early part of last century, led to a significant decline in abundance, which has now reversed.

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Long-billed Corellas digging up onion-grass tubers.

A home amongst the blackberry and thistle

It’s a sad thing to report, but some native birds are not that fussy when it comes to choosing between weeds and indigenous plants for nest sites. They clearly take a utilitarian approach, as was the case with this Eastern Yellow Robin, currently nesting at the Reserve on the Loddon River.

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Eastern Yellow Robin nest – woven amongst Blackberry and thistles, Loddon River @ Newstead, 25th August 2013.

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The eggs of the Eastern Yellow Robin.

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The adult was quickly back onto the nest after my incursion.

Another wattle ‘problem’

Late winter throughout the Goldfields country is always brightened up by an explosion of yellow. At the moment a number of local wattles are looking great – Golden, Silver, Rough and Spreading Wattles are all flowering. A walk along the Loddon at Newstead will reveal another wattle flowering, this time not quite so desirable. Green (or Early Black) Wattle Acacia decurrens is a native of eastern New South Wales but has been widely used in revegetation programs outside its natural distribution, often mistakenly in place of Black Wattle Acacia mearnsii.

Green Wattle, Loddon River @ Newstead, 13th August 2012.

Black Wattle is indigenous to the Newstead area and flowers later in the season than Green Wattle. They can easily be distinguished by examining their ‘leaves’, actually phyllodes – flattened leaf-like structures, rather than true leaves. The phyllodes of Green Wattle have a single gland at the point where they divide into pinnae, whereas in Black Wattle there are usually two glands between the pairs of pinnae.

Green Wattle phyllode – note the single gland at the base of the divided pinnae.

Black Wattle – note the multiple glands.

Like Cootamundra Wattle [see post], Early Black Wattle has not yet become a rampant problem weed in our area, although unfortunately this has not been the case in parts of SW Western Australia and a number of places overseas where it is a major concern. It demonstrates the importance of taking care when selecting species for revegetation.

Green (flowering at left) and Black Wattles on the banks of the Loddon River @ Newstead, 13th August 2012.

Erratum: Thanks to one of our correspondents, Mel, for correctly pointing out that the feathery pinnae of both wattles are in fact true leaves. They are attached to the phyllodes, where the glands reside, in both Green and Black Wattles.

A vexed question

Every time I see the plant pictured below in our local bushland my brain starts to hurt. It’s the Cootamundra Wattle Acacia baileyana, indigenous to a small area near Cootamundra in New South Wales. A popular and widely cultivated garden plant it now ranges across much of temperate southern Australia, and has become naturalised in areas of bushland. It is in fact a weed … a plant out-of-place!

Cootamundra Wattle, South German Track, Muckleford State Forest, 25th July 2012.

Regardless of your personal view on weeds its hard to argue that Cootamundra Wattle is not a beautiful plant, the prolific sprays of flowers brightening up many a winter vista. While it does have the ability to invade native bushland and in some restricted cases hybridise with local native wattles, in my experience this is more likely to occur in disturbed sites. Around Newstead it is found in a few spots but has hardly gotten “out-of-control”, despite being established for many years.

Cootamundra begins flowering in mid-winter in this part of the world.

The problem with a weed like Cootamundra is that it is totally infeasible to eradicate – the costs of removing all of them from the bush would be horrendous, and it would not be socially acceptable to restrict their cultivation, or in fact remove those already planted. In home gardens they have a range of values including being an important food source for native granivorous birds. Our healthy local Common Bronzewing population is in part due to the generous seed fall from garden Cootamundras.  I would be interested in hearing other perspectives on this matter.

Common Bronzewings are particularly fond of Cootamundra Wattle seed – one of three pairs currently frequenting our place.

Trivia question: Cootamundra is famous for at least two things, one is Acacia baileyana … any ideas on its other claim to fame?

‘Exotic green parrots’

I have been asked numerous times over recent weeks to help identify what people have described variously as ‘exotic green parrots’. In almost all cases I suspect they are referring to juvenile Crimson Rosellas Platycercus elegans.Young birds look quite different to the adults, primarily olive-green with splotches of crimson and blue. Mature birds are entirely crimson and blue, although females do have a green tinge on the tail. The juveniles progress to full adult plumage over a period of about 16 months.

Juvenile Crimson Rosella, Cemetery Road Newstead, 10th March 2012.

Crimson Rosella (adult male), Joyces Creek, 12th December 2011.

Crimson Rosellas are an adaptable species – as these photographs show they are partial to introduced plants and are feeding on blackberry, hawthorn and thistles at the moment. Unfortunately their predilection for these fruits is a major contributor to their spread.

Juvenile Crimson Rosella feeding on blackberry fruits, Cemetery Road Newstead, 10th March 2012.

Weeds as habitat

by Patrick Kavanagh

The patch of Blackberries in Atkins Rd at Strangways is superb habitat for native birds as well as for rabbits. In addition to the New Holland Honeyeaters and Superb Blue Fairy-wrens that I’m used to seeing there, Red-browed Firetails and White-browed Scrubwrens have also been nesting amongst the blackberries. The Scrubwrens seem to be nesting in an edge of Variegated Thistles, but put on quite a show of flying into nearby Mistletoe and chirping like chicks – I presume to disguise the location of the actual nest. All of this to me reinforces the need to see what ecosystem services weeds may provide before mowing them down.

Superb Fairy-wren, Atkins Road Strangways.

New Holland Honeyeater on its Blackberry perch.

White-browed Scrubwren delivering another meal.

On Pigeon Hill

Pigeon Hill is an iconic landmark between Maldon and Baringhup. A rocky, boulder strewn outcrop situated at the junction between box-ironbark and plains country, it is home to some very interesting plants and animals. I am grateful to the owners Denis and Jeff for inviting to join them in a walk on the property last weekend.

The view from Pigeon Hill looking south-west, 26th June 2011

Pigeon Hill is botanically rich with the dominant tree being Yellow Box Eucalyptus melliodora, scattered at low density over much of the property. The fragile granite soils have suffered a great deal of past disturbance and this has contributed to some major weed challenges, particularly Wheel Cactus, which is being tackled in a comprehensive and systematic way. These efforts are also contributing to a wonderful program of control across the local area. I was struck by the presence of a number of understorey species, which tend to make their home in the soils of this granite country – Rock Correa, Small-leaved Clematis, Rock Isotome and Flat-leaf Bush-pea Pultenaea platyphylla. This latter species is only found in a small number of locations in the district and the property represents an important site for the conservation of this attractive native legume.

Flat-leaf Bush-pea in bud, Pigeon Hill, 26th June 2011

Flat-leaf Bush-pea looking great against the granite backdrop

It was wonderful to see the obvious recovery that is occurring on Pigeon Hill under the thoughtful and active stewardship of the owners.