Sunday, August 31, 2008

Around Rosedale

Rosedale is just a half hour drive south from home, and the landscape is quite different. Just south of the Latrobe River, the fertile floodplain dairying country gives way to sandy remnant coastal dune landscape.

Yesterday Duncan and I headed that way to explore a couple of pieces of bushland that as yet have not been taken over by pine plantations. I managed to find him plenty of orchid leaves, a few orchids and heaps of birds. I even got me a ‘firster’, the Bassian or White’s Thrush!

After lunch we headed for the nearby Holey Plains State Park. We thought we might have found an early flowering of the rather rare Wellington Mint Bush, but there was no sign of it yet. If we get it later in the season, I’m sure one or other of us will tell you its story. I found one plant of Sticky, (or Stinky), Boronia, Boronia anemonifolia, that was in flower. Not a particularly good example of this odoriferous plant, but I’m sure we’ll get some better ones soon.

The Grass Trees, Xanthorrea australis, are always great to see in this park. They’re such a stunning variation to the banksias and eucalypts. This one didn’t have a flower stem. I just liked the way the twisted trunk in the background framed it.

At the Merrimans Creek picnic ground, the creek looked in wonderful condition. I’m certain that Duncan’s contemplative look was in reference to Mother Nature’s handiwork and nothing more sinister.
We had a beaut day in a couple of spots that will need re checking from time to time, and I think I know a couple of old blokes that might be up for that.

Friday, August 29, 2008

How I Do Nest Boxes

G’day All,
Especially Mick and Mosura. Strewth, are you sure you want my philosophy on nest boxes? Alright, here goes.

I make them out of whatever scrap material I can find around the place. Old tongue and grooved flooring is good, as there are no gaps between the boards for cold draughts or moisture to get in. The nominal dimensions for a rosella sized parrot box are, about 250mm x 250mm in cross section, about 400mm high and a 70 to 80mm diameter entrance hole.

I’m not too fussed about the size. When you see some of the nesting sites of these birds in the wild, the dimensions suggested above would seem like a mansion to them. I have built some larger versions in the past and while the birds did occupy them, I nearly killed myself lifting them into position on top of a ladder.

I don’t bother with hinged lids, I just screw on a nice watertight flat roof. I only need to clean out inside the box once every year or two, so there’s not much work involved in undoing a few screws. The roof has a bit of overhang to help keep the weather away from the entrance hole.

Sometimes I put a ‘ladder’ on the inside front wall, just under the entrance hole. It just consists of a stick or two attached to the wall so that the young birds can climb up to the hole easily when they fledge. More often though, I don’t bother with this either, as you discover they will nest at the bottom of hollows several metres deep and they can still climb out ok. Also, one time when I did the clean out, I discovered all the ‘ladders’ had been chewed off.

Next, I attach a short piece of branch flat on the outside front wall under the hole. At one time I read a theory that suggested a perch protruding straight out from the nest box was too inviting to all sorts of other birds, particularly Indian Mynahs. We do have mynahs here and I’ve never seen one at any of the nest boxes.

The final bit of the construction stage is to add some means of attaching the box to a tree. My early attempts involved screwing the boxes rigidly to the trunk of the tree. These boxes soon began to disintegrate. I think that as the tree grows, sways and twists in the wind, the forces on the attached box caused it to slowly break apart. Now I put an eye bolt in the top of the box to hang it from a hook and an eye bolt each side so that I can attach a light chain for wrapping around the trunk – more detail later.

If the box I’ve built is made from softwood, I give it a coat of paint to help protect it from the weather. Hardwood boxes I tend to leave unpainted and they look great as they weather naturally. After tossing in a small handfull of sawdust from the woodheap, or leaf litter from under a tree, the box is ready to put in place.

I’ve put boxes in very concealed spots and very open spots – they are both utilised. I’ve put them up high and down low and both those localities are utilised. Like in nature, they will nest almost anywhere. A pair of easterns nest each year on the golf course about 5 metres from a green, in a very skinny hollow formed between the trunks of a double trunked tree, no more than knee high from the ground.

My first priority for selecting a spot is to pick somewhere that I will easily be able to monitor it. No problems around the garden, almost anywhere is accessible. On the golf course, I’ve picked spots that I pass nearby regularly as I do the watering or mowing. The tree has to be reasonably substantial of course and it’s best if the trunk is vertical. Usually I try to face the box to the north or north-east, as most of our worst weather comes from the west and the south.

Here’s the easy bit. Most of the boxes I put up now would be no higher than 3 metres from the ground. I select a spot, put the ladder up, screw in a galvanised coach screw at a slight angle above horizontal and hang the box on it. I attach a small tension spring to one end of the chain and then using one of those handy snap-on clips, attach that end to one of the eye-bolts on the side of the box. I wrap the chain around the trunk, apply a bit of tension via the spring and note where I need to cut the chain to reach the other eye-bolt. Using another snap-on clip, I attach the chain to the second eye-bolt. Job’s done!

Suspending and ‘chaining’ the box makes it very easy for getting down later for cleaning etc. The chain and spring system allows for some movement from the tree but holds the box firm enough without ringbarking the tree.

Finally, lately I’ve been salvaging any small and suitable hollow logs when I’ve been collecting our firewood. I always feel a little guilty getting firewood. It is a renewable source of course, but even lying on the forest floor it is great habitat for lots of fauna. I’ve covered a few holes with timber cut to shape, and I’m hoping that in the right place, these might entice some Pardalotes or Bats, Feather Gliders …? Anyway, it makes me feel a little less guilty about getting firewood.

I hope this has answered some questions Mick and Mosura. Why not have a go?


Looking Promising

G’day All,
A few days ago I finally got around to finishing and erecting 6 new parrot nest boxes – 3 in our garden and 3 on the golf course. I think I was just in time.

The three boxes in the garden have been checked by Eastern Rosellas already. I was hoping some Crimson Rosellas might have got a look in, as their numbers seemed to have declined since we moved here.

I was chain sawing some firewood to see us through to the last of winter, hopefully, and when I glanced up I caught this eastern checking out the nearest box.

I’m sorry for the quality of the images. I just grabbed the camera and fired from some distance. As the birds settle down and grow more accustomed to me being near, I hope to get some better shots.
Regards, Gouldiae

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Trim, Tall and...

…Nodding, Helmet and Gnat.

On my way to Sale the other day via a pretty circuitous route, I chanced upon a little bit of remnant native bush that I mentally ticked as worth a revisit. I headed there today.

Just south of Rosedale, this little pocket of scrub is surrounded by pine plantation and has a small inviting gully running through. I saw and heard plenty of birds, the highlight probably being the flock of near 100 Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos that flew out from some trees as I approached.

When I quickly looked previously, I thought there’d be a chance of some orchids and that was my priority today.

There were carpets of leaves and pretty soon I found some Gnats in flower, (Small – reniformis I think, but I’m willing to learn if you’d like to put me straight).

Down in the gully in the moss beds under the Paperbarks I spotted some Tall Greenhoods, (melagramma I’d say).

There were plenty of different leaves under there too, so I reckon a re-visit might go in the diary. As I started veering off back out of the gully I was on my knees at one point crawling under a fallen tree and came across a colony of Helmet leaves. A short search eventually rewarded me with a few flowers, (probably Slaty – incurvus).

There'd been some recent rain and some of the photos show tiny grains of sand and soil still stuck to the plants. I came across just one small colony of Trim Greenhoods, (concinna).

There were Nodding Greenhood colonies, (nutans), all over. Down in the gully they were quite tall, and up in the drier parts their stems were much shorter.

In the disturbed ground beside one of the pine plantations there was a bit of colour too. Plenty of Running Postman, (Kennedia prostrata), with a few flower heads – just a lovely wildflower.

Just as I was heading for the ute, a cold drink and piece of fruit, a flash of yellow among the young pines caught my eye, Showy Bossiaea, (Bossiaea cinerea), perhaps? I find the peas very hard to distinguish.

I had an enjoyable time. If I didn’t get the ID’s right, I apologise. Please correct me, it’s the best way for me to learn.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

New Links

G'day Bloggers,
I've just added two new links to Aussie nature blogs that I'm enjoying. Great photography and some wonderful storytelling, tyto tony and Portraits of Australian Animals. I hope you enjoy them too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Yellow Box

In an effort to try and identify my local eucalypt species a bit better, I’ve decided to pick some of my favourite trees on the golf course next door, and discover what I can about them.

This big Yellow Box, Eucalyptus melliodora, stands right beside the 12th green. It’s mostly hidden as you approach from down the fairway, but as you get within chipping distance it comes into view and being only a few metres off the green, dominates the background.

The leaves are thin, small, grey-green in colour and have a distant marginal vein. The ovoid fruit often have the dark remains of a staminal ring.

Yellow box honey is regarded as just about the best tasting of the eucalypt honeys. The wood is hard and durable, and is good for posts and firewood.

On the lower trunk, the bark is rough and fibrous and grey-brown in colour. The inner bark is quite yellow. The upper trunk and branches are smooth barked and gum like.

I’ve admired this tree for some time. Others around it have blown down or are dying, but this beauty seems quite healthy. May long it reign and watch many a putt lip the hole.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Heyfield Birdwatchers - August '08

G’day Blogworld,
Yesterday, five Heyfield Birdwatchers ventured into ‘Owl’ Creek. Fortunately we had two 4-wheel drive vehicles with us, so the journey down and especially back up, was made a lot easier. (Thanks John and Duncan.)

As we set off, I was quickly put under notice that my position as ‘coordinator of the group’, not a very highly paid position mind you, was in jeopardy if we didn’t get an owl. DF and I had seen Powerful Owls in this location on several occasions, but despite previous visits by the other three members of the group, the owls had been noticeably absent.

We hadn’t proceeded far before we had some pretty good ‘ticks’ – Wedge-tailed Eagle, Satin Bowerbird, Lyrebird, Crescent Honeyeater, Golden Whistler, Eastern Spinebill, Eastern Whipbird, among them. The birds were quite prolific.

We’d even found a few Greenhood Orchids, which along with the dominating Incense plant, kept the flora fans in the group relatively happy. I was beginning to feel a little relieved. Despite no owls to this point, the day was going pretty well.

As I rounded a bend in the track, I saw the others in camera/binocular ready position.

Could it be I thought? Something really has their undivided attention. Yep, bewdy, there was a Powerful Owl not too many metres away. He wasn’t going to fly off too quickly either, as he had his tucker for the day well and truly in tow, (toe?).

Quite a stunning bird, in a classic position. I don’t know about the others, but I almost filled my camera card there and then. Strange how it works. You have a marvellous subject in focus, you know that after the first few shots you have about as good an image as you are going to get, and yet you keep firing away.

Some Powerful Owl details –
Their range is limited to a thin strip taking in the Great Dividing Range and the coastal forests, from south east South Australia to about Rockhampton in Queensland.

Possums, Gliders, other birds and mammals form its principal diet. It will often hold on to its victim all day before finally consuming it by nightfall.

Powerful Owls are territorial and a pair will normally occupy a permanent range of up to 1000 hectares.

Adult birds can be up to 700mm long. Usually they breed from May to October, nesting in a large hollow trunk or branch of a tree. Their call is a mournful ‘whoo – hoo’. They are classed as uncommon.

Oh, and the victim –
Brushtail Possum, marsupial, can have a body length up to 500mm, plus a tail of around 400mm and weigh around 4 kg. Some meal!

Link - Duncan's Blog

Great day, great company, great result.


Sunday, August 17, 2008


These birds were on the power pole at the start of our driveway last night. I was trying to think of a caption for the pic...

Maybe -
"Put some seed in the bowl or we'll cut your power!"

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Cold Day Out

G’day Good Readers,
I had the opportunity yesterday, despite the chilling temperatures, to have a brief wander around a favourite little bit of open bushland – the Giffard Flora Reserve.

I wasn’t really in the mood. Apart from being cold, just as I got started and was pushing through some head high scrub, a spindly branch sprung back and hit me quite hard in the face. I retired to the ute only being able to see from one eye. I was about to return home and thought I’d break out the thermos and biscuits first and then see how I felt.

While having the cuppa, the eye came good, sort of, then I spotted a flash of red under some nearby bracken. I got down on my hands and knees, and with one good eye and the other one a bit watery, I came across a small Common Correa. This lifted my spirits a little and I decided to stay and look around a bit longer.

I could see plenty of orchid leaves, but none with stems or flower heads yet. Eventually I came across this lone Nodding Greenhood amongst a good number of Mosquito Orchid leaves.

The wildflowers were a little scarce really, but I reckon next month there should be some action. I did come across this fascinating little Lichen ‘forest’.

This specimen intrigued me. A quick look through my fungi field guide failed to come up with an ID. It was quite large, probably 200mm to 300mm across and about 150mm high. Its texture was quite fleshy, or even ‘rubbery’. I’ll have to do some more research.
(Cladia retipora - Snow Lichen. Thanks Mosura)

On the way home, I stopped beside a pine plantation. On the way down I’d noticed a flash of pink as I passed this point. Sure enough, the Pink Beard Heath was in the process of changing from bud, (pink), to flower, (white), - very attractive. Some of the flower heads were barely 2mm across.

The pine plantations are often good places to find some different fungi. This healthy specimen of Rainbow Fungus, (I hope), was attached to a previously harvested pine stump.

It was time to get back home by the fire. It started to rain, my eye was stinging and it was still bloomin’ cold. An uncomfortable day, but fruitful. I’ll just have to wait a bit for the weather to turn. That might encourage the flowers to do their thing.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Heyfield Wetlands

G’day Everyone,
Almost right on my doorstep is a wonderful little bird habitat that has basically been constructed by the local community.

At various times in the past, the Heyfield Wetlands was the town common, a rifle range, sporting ovals, a horse racing track and apparently the parade ground for the local Light Horse Brigade.

The area is a naturally low-lying part of the Thomson River floodplain. Over time, it was severely neglected and degraded.

In the 1998, work was started to convert the area to a working wetland. Ponds, lagoons, tracks, bridges and boardwalks were constructed, and thousands of trees planted, and this work continues today. The aim is to reinstate the natural floodplain, restore the native flora and fauna, to provide recreational facilities and to beautify the entrance to the town.

Easy walking tracks


Continuing work

Basically, the area takes the town’s stormwater ‘run off’ and allows it to filter through a system of reed beds and ponds before overflowing into the nearby river.

In 2003, the Wetlands Information Centre was opened. This building features beautiful interior timber lining and unusual radial sawn external timber cladding. It is manned by volunteers 7 days a week and as well as performing the usual information centre role, is available for hired functions, meetings and tourist groups.

The Information Centre

Timber interior

Radial sawn cladding

The project is enthusiastically supported by various groups including local authorities like the Shire Council, the Department of Sustainability and the Environment, the Catchment Management Authority, the service clubs, and the schools.

Main pond - view 1

Main pond - view 2

My bird list for the Heyfield Wetlands contains a few good ‘ticks’ – Weebill, Baillon’s Crake, Buff-banded Rail, Great Egret, Latham’s Snipe, Pacific Heron, Peregrine Falcon, Spotless Crake and White-plumed Honeyeater among them.

White-faced Heron

New Holland Honeyeater

Grebe on nest


Clamorous Reed Warbler

The area is right on the edge of the town and I am always surprised and delighted at the variety of birds I can see almost every visit.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Renewal In Macalister Valley

Thanks for dropping by.

The Macalister River rises in the hills just below Mt Howitt. It flows south past Licola then into Lake Glenmaggie just north of Heyfield. The Macalister then passes through Maffra, and via the Thompson and Latrobe rivers, into Lake Wellington and the sea.

The valley above Heyfield is a popular spot for locals and visitors. Camping, fishing, hiking and four wheel driving are popular pursuits for the area. I like to peruse many of the gullies for the huge variety of birds and wildflowers.

Back in December 2006, the area was devastated by huge bushfires. The fires raged for two months and burnt out more than 1 million hectares.

Smokey valley - Dec '06

Denuded hill

Just several months later, in June 2007 the region received its heaviest rainfall in years. The denuded ground was unable to absorb or hold back the torrent. As a result, a devastating flood ensued. The river and Lake Glenmaggie remain discoloured with silt to this day.

June '07

Periodically, I have visited some of my favourite spots to check on their recovery, and things seem to be well and truly on the mend. Yesterday, I saw that parts of the valley were returning to their former splendid condition.

Valley view

The birds were in good number and variety – Crescent and White-naped Honeyeaters, King Parrots, Whistlers, Robins, Thornbills, Wrens, and more.

There seemed to be plenty of evidence that the basic ecological cycle of producer – consumer – decomposer, was returning. There were lots of epicormic and lignotuber growth, new seedlings, wildflowers, animal tracks, scats, and fungi.

New growth


King Parrot

Deer track

Hygrocybe firma?

Stereum sp?

There have been some obvious landscape changes in places, for example, the river flats are heavily eroded and there have been some changes in the actual course of the river.

Eroded flats

This is just nature at work of course and has been going on for thousands of years. It is the reason for the rich fertile plains downstream.

The fires and the floods were devastating. There are still many places totally empty of life as yet. However, in many places just a few hundred metres from the river, the deep gullies and gorges seemed untouched. I feel sure time will heal.