Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Long Foggy Walk


I had a few hours to make use of today while the ute was having a service. I headed for the wetlands, as I tend to do if I have some spare time in Sale. It was cold and foggy, but by the time I got to the interpretive shelter, probably a 3km walk, I’d warmed up somewhat.
I headed for the lookout but found the final bridge was still down from the last flood – more than 12 months ago!
The main boardwalk has been repaired though, so I set off for a quiet stroll along its length. The birds were a bit quiet. I heard the calls of the Grey Shrike-thrush, Eastern Spinebill, Whistling Kite, Red Wattlebird, White-eared Honeyeater and a few others, but I didn’t see too much. In places on the boardwalk, the light wasn’t too bad. A couple of times I caught a family of Blue Wrens working over the reed beds for their morning feed.

As I tried for a picture or two, I was thinking that there is hardly a habitat in which I haven’t seen these wonderful little birds – mountain forests, coastal scrub, open woodland understorey, town parks and gardens, wetlands and everything in between. Great little adaptors I reckon.
The fog would thicken up now and then, and at times it was particularly quiet and eerie.

I headed back along the road and crossed the canal on the old bridge in Maxfields Rd, turned left and headed for the back end of Lake Guyatt. I’d probably walked something like 6 km by now, mostly on well formed and maintained walking trails or boardwalks. We’re pretty well catered for really. Lakes Guyatt and Guthridge have extensive and well used walking tracks too. The fog on Guyatt was just starting to lift, and a lone Pelican was cruising in the distance.
A little further on I could see some ducks sitting and waiting for the sun to come out. I didn’t have my binoculars, but I’d be fairly certain they were part of the Freckled Duck population that seems to have made this spot their base for the time being. As I passed under a flowering gum, a Red Wattlebird caught my eye. Amazing how well they can be camouflaged. The tree was not particularly dense. I was just concentrating on the one individual, waiting for it to get into some sunlight. Eventually got a couple of shots and went to walk off, and 4 of them flew out of the tree!

I crossed onto the Lake Guthridge track next and came across this Darter with the now stronger sunlight directly behind him, so that he appeared to be doing a Batman impersonation. Back up into town. A cuppa and croissant, an hour of shopping and back down to the garage. About 5 hours worth all up. “Ah, your vehicle is not ready yet sir, could you come back in an hour, or if you like you can make yourself comfortable in our lounge area and help yourself to a cup of coffee.” That’ll do me thinks I, having just purchased a fungi field guide that needed perusing.

Pleasant morning, if a little expensive.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Private Conservation

G’day Fellow Nature Lovers,

There’s no doubt that we Aussies have not had a good past record for preserving our wildlife and its habitat. Many of our wild areas are still in alarming decline. Our species extinction rate is one of the worst in the world.

I’ve always held an optimistic view. We will wake up in time, WON’T WE?

Perhaps private conservation will be the solution. An astonishing six million hectares of Australia—something like the size of Tasmania—is now being privately protected for plants and animals. Hundreds of millions of dollars are involved as schemes spring up around the country.

Here’s a link to an interesting radio program, (Background Briefing – Radio National), where you can download an interesting set of interviews of conservationists and landholders. Have a listen, there is some great work being done.

Perhaps all is not lost.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

'Rock' Orchids in Owl Creek

G’day Good Readers,
I guess if I Googled up ‘Rock Orchid’ I would get a few pages of genuine Rock Orchids. Yep, just tried it, nearly 6 million pages.

I’ve always been fascinated by the way the Greenhoods in Owl Creek will grow very happily in the moss beds on the rocks. In some cases they must be surviving in barely 1 or 2 mm of soil.

I ventured up the gully yesterday and was a little dismayed to see the damage done by, I’m guessing, feral deer. DF and I had seen some evidence of this before, but the extent of it yesterday was alarming. Many plants had been extensively chewed, moss beds trampled, and in quite a few places the bank of the creek was collapsed.

The bird list was pretty good – Crescent and White-naped Honeyeaters, Yellow, Brown and Striated Thornbills, Red-browed Finches, Yellow Robins, King Parrots, Whipbird, Lyrebird, Blue Wrens, to name a few. There were also a few calls I couldn’t recognise and didn’t see the birds, but that might have been the mimicry of the Lyrebird at play. ‘Wild’ birds have to cooperate by, 1 sitting still, 2 in the sunlight, 3 no more than a metre or two away for me to get a half decent picture. A female Golden Whistler obliged for a short while yesterday. One day a male will cooperate in the same way – hopefully.

‘Owl’ Creek being one of the few moist localities around here at present, there was some fungi hiding under the rocks and logs too.

I quite enjoyed the outing, despite the very evident deer damage, and it was another opportunity to give J & N’s Calais a run while they are away on WET Magnetic Island.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Morning Cuppa

G’day All,
Yesterday started out frosty, -2 degrees in fact. Usually means a nice day will eventuate, and it did. Late in the morning I reckoned I had about an hour before hitting off the first tee. The sun was streaming in onto the front deck, so I figured a cuppa and a read of the paper, even though it was 2 days old, would just be fine. Here’s how I reckon it went….

Me, to self – “This is going to be nice.”

Rainbow 1 – “Look, there he is. You scream from your tree, and I’ll do the same from here, and he might put some seed in the tray.”

Rainbow 2 – “That sounds like a good idea, are you ready? Go!”


Me, to self (barely) – “Alright, ALRIGHT, I’ll get you some seed”.

Rainbow 1 – “See, works every time. Now, just pose for a bit while he gets a picture, and then we can have a good feed and get out of here.”

Speaking of rainbows, we’ve had one or two lately, not accompanied by much rain though unfortunately.


PS: Get well soon DF.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Well Named

G’day All,
What I call the 'bush wattles' are in blooming profusion, (smiles to self), around here at present. The beautiful golden yellow flower heads contrast wonderfully with the grey green of our bush, and with the blue sky. They’re always a good indicator that the days are drawing out a little too.

At Swallow Lagoon Reserve, where Duncan and I go on a regular basis to do a bird survey, there is an attractive understory wattle that provides excellent habitat for small birds, and it is beautifully named.

When it is in flower, it adds another dimension to the bushland scene, but up close it’s another story – thorns!

Why ‘Well Named’?
1. Acacia paradoxa. I guess the paradox is that it is attractive, until you are up close.

2. Kangaroo Thorn. Not sure of the kangaroo bit, but there is no doubting the thorn part.

3. Prickly Wattle. Yep, certainly.

4. Hedge Wattle. Apparently in some places it was cultivated as a hedge for containing domestic animals – ideal.
But, the one I like best and can confirm from experience, and will use from now on if I’m ever asked, is ..
5. Bugger Bush – perfect!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Why 'Gouldiae'?

G’day Blogworld,
Australia is sometimes known as the land of parrots, but I’d like to put in a word for our finches. We have almost 20 finch species, and some of them are stunners in my book, and one in particular has long held my admiration.

As a teenager I did what a lot of country boys did, and built my own aviary and trapped my own birds to help stock it. (Think I might have just lost a few readers). Most of my mates who did the same, went for the parrots – Crimson and Eastern Rosellas, King Parrots, etc, but even then I had a penchant for the local finches.

Around here, in Gippsland, there was no difficulty in pedalling our bikes a few miles, (in those days), just out of town and being able to trap a finch or two – Red brows, and Diamond Firetails and the introduced European Goldfinch in particular. I found them totally endearing.

I recall one day being taken to Melbourne and seeing for the first time, an aviary containing a small collection of other Australian finches. As I recall, there were Double Bars, Painteds, Longtails, and probably a few more. There was also a couple of these…

I’d never seen anything like them. I had to ask what they were called, and surely they were exotic? No, they were the stunning Gouldian Finch, Erythrura gouldiae, and they were Aussie. The aviary owner was quick to tell me they were almost impossible to keep in cold old Victoria, as they were native to virtually the very top end of the continent.

As education and work priorities took on more meaning, my childhood aviary was destocked and I left home for the big wide world. Probably, I barely thought of avifauna again for something like the next 30 to 40 years.

I think in 1995 we were ‘landscaping’ the back yard of our property and were deciding what to do with an unused few square metres in one corner. As I remember, I think it was Glen who asked, “What about an aviary?”

That innocent question rekindled my latent thirst for things bird!

I did heaps of research into what was being kept in aviaries at the time. I visited the aviaries of some keen local ‘aviculturalists’. Mostly I was disappointed. It’s a wonder now when I look back, that I didn’t walk away from the idea there and then. Too many home aviaries contained birds that were not suitable, or were too small, or they held incompatible species, or faced the wrong direction, etc.

In the middle of this confusion and, I must admit, a not too small a feeling of dismay, I came across a dedicated Australian finch breeder who had large, clean, attractive, well planted aviaries, one of which contained a magnificent colony of Gouldians.

I was still being cautious when I asked if he had any difficulties keeping them in cold Victoria. Not a problem at all apparently. By now, they had been well acclimatised to our conditions. He assured me you simply had to make sure the aviary was always dry, faced north, was fully roofed and had good protection from cold winds.

I thought I’d give it a go.

I built two purpose built aviaries and stocked one with a few pair of various compatible finch species from origins as far apart as I could manage, (to try and reduce the inbreeding factor), and the other with just a few Gouldians. My research had discovered that they ‘do best’ in an aviary of their own.

Success was rapid. I had very few losses and all species went to nest a few short weeks after introduction. I was away. I think I started with five pair of Gouldians, and pretty quickly had 50+ birds. Then of course came my first taste of questioning myself of why I’d started this.

By now I’d seen inside plenty of pet shops, and didn’t want to see MY birds sitting there in their tiny boxes. A few people had begun to enquire if I had birds for sale, and indeed I sold a few. I remember on one occasion visiting an aviary a few weeks after I’d sold some birds to this particular owner. I’d not been to his place before, but when he purchased his birds from me, he gave the impression his ‘set up’ was ideal. I was aghast when I saw what he’d put MY birds into.

Around about this time, we moved house. We purchased a property with plenty of yard space, so some large, well oriented, well planted aviaries went straight up. Of course the birds just expanded in to them. It didn’t take very long at all before I had overcrowding again.

I had found several like minded finch keepers by now, but of course we each had the same difficulty of how to move our stock on to reliable and dedicated people, and to keep our own stock as genetically diverse as we were able to get it. Eventually there is a limit.

I started murmuring that I was feeling troubled by this, and two or three people approached me and offered to buy the lot in one go. I hesitated a little and finally agreed. I think most of my birds went to good homes. Indeed these pics from Jim may well be of birds derived from some of my stock.

I had great success with the Gouldian. Not only are they visually stunning, I found them to be very ‘tame’ and even inquisitive of me when I was in their aviary. I had no difficulty getting them to sit on my hands, arms and head, (not plural), when I took in their daily seed grasses. I could lift the hens off the nest and put a ring on the leg of the babies while she sat on the bench beside me and watched.

I remain smitten, hence the nom de plume.


Gouldian Finch Fact Sheet.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Parrot Survey

G'day All,
Yesterday, a small crew of Heyfield Birdwatchers travelled down to Jack Smith Lake. The plan was to help DF with his parrot survey that he conducts down there on behalf of the Birds Australia Orange-bellied Parrot recovery program.

I suspect that most Aussies reading this will have at least heard of the Orange-bellied Parrot. Here's a small list of facts...

Orange-bellied Parrot - Neophema chrysogaster.
Around just 200 birds remain in the wild.
Migratory. They breed in summer on the sw coast of Tasmania and winter on the mainland, from se South Australia to se Victoria and sometimes up to the s coast of New South Wales.
In Victoria, they favour coastal saltmarsh habitat where they feed on various Glasswort and similar species.
There are reports from about 1830 to 1910 of 'thousands' of birds.
Dramatic decline began around the 1940's.
The current wild population has been 'stable' for some years and is estimated to contain about 40 breeding pair.
Similar species include the Blue-winged Parrot, Elegant Parrot and Rock Parrot and, as DF and I can testify, the mutant Turquoise Parrot.

Anyway, back to yesterday. At the first site, the 5 of us set off and it wasn't too long before we'd sprung the first flock of Blue-winged Parrots from a depression amid the tussocks. We had spread out to cover the ground better, and when the first flock took off, we came together a bit to try and estimate the numbers better and to scan them as closely as we could, to try and identify an elusive Orange-bellied Parrot. Both of these tasks are not as easy as they sound.
The birds are extremely well camouflaged on the ground. As you approach, they take off en masse and circle and dive back down to ground in the nearest cover. After some time of flushing and counting, and scanning the few individuals that managed to land in open territory or on a nearby fence, we all agreed that we'd seen about 120+ Blue-winged Parrots. No one felt they'd seen an Orange-bellied Parrot among them.

(Thanks for these pics PG)

We ambled and chatted our way back to the cars, identifying a few other species such as White-fronted Chats, Striated Field Wrens and even a couple of Wedge-tailed Eagles on the way.

Then it was a short drive around to site 2 and some lunch. We set off again in much the same pattern, not being too hopeful, as we reckoned 120+ Blue-winged Parrots would just about be our quota for the day - a quota we were quite satisfied with. The Blue-winged Parrot is classed as an 'uncommon' bird and follows a similar migratory pattern to the Orange-bellied Parrot, but will venture much further inland, reaching as far as central South Australia and New South Wales.

Persistence pays off however, as eventually another couple of smaller flocks sprung out of the tussocks, with their characteristic tsit..tsit..tsit.. call. We determined another 40+ something birds this time, but once again none of us was prepared to say we'd definitely identified an Orange-bellied Parrot. (What a shame -hope I live long enough).

The plod back to the cars was long and slow, but I for one was feeling quite exhilarated at being able to see almost 200 of the beautiful little Blue-winged Parrot.

Back at home, it was a hot shower, dinner, a chat to Glen about what we'd seen, a short snooze in front of the telly and then the head hit the pillow pretty heavily. Nice day spent in nice company, thanks Jim, Peter, Ian and Duncan.


PS: For some excellent background on Jack Smith Lake and the Orange Bellied Parrot program, check out Duncan's entry.

How Sad?

G'day All,
How sad is it, when an authority needs to chain down the barbecue lids, the spatula, and even the heavy concrete based picnic bench seats?

These were taken, (?), at a popular nearby picnic area. I sometimes despair for the human race!

Apologies for the rant. Anyone got some similar examples? Please don't tell me it just happens around here. (I hope 'Rant' doesn't become a popular Tag).


Friday, July 11, 2008

The Mighty and the Minuscule

G'day All,
There's an old Red Ironbark on the golf course next door that often catches my eye - seldom my ball, as I'm more prone to slicing than hooking!

Apparently the Gippsland plains and nearby foothills once had some good ironbark cover. There are some small stands of sideroxylon in a couple of reserves nearby, but there's not much left on private property or public land.

The common name, 'ironbark', of course derives from the hard, deeply furrowed and persistent bark.

The tough durable timber was once popular for heavy engineering uses, marine applications, railway sleepers, poles, flooring and decking.

While meandering around this one the other morning, a stray golf ball amongst the grass caught my eye. When I bent down to retrieve it, there surrounding it was a little colony of Nodding Greenhoods.

Glen and I had been waiting to see when the first ones would appear. We've been seeing the leaves but felt the flowers were a week or two away yet. Not so!

Nice little bit
of luck, but the best luck of all, I don't think the mower man will be able to get the 'rough cutter' near them - hooray!


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Finally Some Fungi

Between the cold southerly blasts we've been having down here, Duncan and I grabbed the chance of a fine day yesterday to 'get out' and have a scrounge around.

We ended up in a corner of the Holey Plains State Park, that although we'd each been there at night, neither of us had seen in daylight before. Guess I'd better explain. At various times over the last few months, we'd each been to numerous sites with DSE and Parks Vic, helping with their owl survey project. The names of some of the tracks we traversed yesterday eventually rang some bells. It was good to see where we'd been!

Principally we were looking for birds and wildflowers, but it wasn't long before I glanced around and saw Duncan in his classic 'fungi position'.

We've noticed that the fungi have been fairly light on this year, probably due to some degree to the lack of decent rainfall around here.

I stumbled about in the bracken looking for flowers but could only find a couple of our early wattles in bloom - Sweet Wattle and Prickly Moses, (I hope).

Eventually I succumbed to D's enthusiasm for decomposer organisms, and discovered this delightful little example on the side of the track.

The sun was getting low and it was time to work our way out of the maze of tracks. We came across the gas plant pipeline that cuts through the park, and where the scrub is periodically slashed. This is often a good spot to find examples of plants with small stature or prostrate habit. Several heaths were in flower - always a delightful subject for the camera I reckon.

Then it was home for a cuppa by the fire.