Monday, 4 January 2016

Farm life

Little Ravens
We pulled into the houseyard of the farm and I thought I'd accidentally driven onto the set of Hitchcock's The Birds. There were Little Ravens everywhere, dozens of them, in the trees around the house and in the paddocks, making a racket. They were still there the following day and the next. I estimated about 300 birds and I think they're feeding on the little grasshoppers and/or caterpillars that are in large numbers in the pasture.

The Yellow-rumped Thornbills are also feeding on the caterpillars. At least trying to ... I never saw one actually eat one.

Yellow-rumped Thornbill, with caterpillar in sight.
There are other insects on the grasses and a eucalypt in the yard that is flowering profusely.

And there are Tiger Snakes. We hardly ever see snakes around this house but in the last week we've seen three around the house and one near the entrance gate. It's a worry when there are grandchildren present as well but I keep telling myself many, many more people die on our roads each year. The Superb Fairy-wrens are excellent at calling the 'alert' signal so I just have to keep my ears open to their calls.

As well as the numerous kangaroos and wallabies that come out of the bush and bluegum plantations at dusk we have rabbits, a hare and a family of foxes. The Common Bronzewings feed under the wattle trees, the choughs call in the distance, two Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos fly overhead, the male koalas bellow loudly from their territories in the house paddock each night, and we enjoy the company of our resident Gang-gang Cockatoos, Galahs, Crimson Rosellas, New Holland honeyeaters, Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, White-browed Scrubwrens and Superb Fairy-wrens.

Common Bronzewing
But best of all is a bird new to my farm list. I was totally surprised to see what I thought was a Latham's Snipe at a small wetland in the bush and took a photo. Can you see it?

Hint. Look on the far side of the wetland.
No, I couldn't either until I downloaded the photos to my computer. And there were not one but two snipes! I went back this evening to have another look. It's lovely to think they've flown all the way from somewhere like Siberia to spend the summer on our farm.

Closer. Look in the timber debris.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Stewarts Reserve

Armstrong Creek, Stewarts Reserve
Stewarts Reserve is a small linear reserve on Stewarts Rd south of Waurn Ponds. It is only four hectares of grassy woodland with Armstrong Creek running the full length. There are almost no facilities in the reserve, just one picnic table and a short path, parking is limited and access is through a pedestrian gate.

In late spring and summer the water levels in the creek are low or non-existent and when I visited this week the creek was a series of waterholes. Many of the trees were flowering prolifically - eucalypts (Manna Gums, Swamp Gums and River Red Gums), Bursaria spinsosa and Acacia mearnsii - as were the Hop Goodenias and the water ribbons in the creek bed. Red-rumped Parrots and Eastern Rosellas were in numbers and I also heard a Purple-crowned Lorikeet. The only representatives of the honeyeater family were the Red Wattlebirds and White-plumed Honeyeaters, but I'm being a bit unfair because my visit was mid-afternoon. A morning visit would probably be more productive. The prickly Hedge Wattles and bursarias, the tree debris and the hollows in the old trees provide good shelter for the fauna (frogs, birds, insects, reptiles, bats and possums) in the reserve. There are relatively few weeds. The reserve is a very important remnant of what was once a more extensive environmental community - grassy woodland.

Many of the trees are tagged so presumably the council holds a database.
The Common Brushtail Possum gave away its location by moving when I was close by.
Armstrong Creek is only a few kilometres long and drains into marshland at Lake Connewarre but it has given its name to a new suburb being developed between Geelong and Torquay. The suburban sprawl will put immense pressure on the creek and Stewarts Reserve as well as the significant roadside vegetation in the area. I'm pessimistic about its long-term fate unless an active Friends Group evolves.

Stewarts Reserve and Armstrong Creek surrounded by housing development. Source: Google Maps
Photo taken from inside Stewarts Reserve.
Stewarts Road with Stewarts Reserve on the left.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Augustine Dam

The small island on Augustine Dam
It's an urban lake almost without a name. There aren't any signs at the lake, and it's not named on Google Maps. You have to dig deeply into the City of Greater Geelong's webpage to find that it's called Augustine Dam. It's in South Valley Rd, Highton. Whenever I've submitted a bird survey from the site I've called it St Augustines Lake because it's on the original grounds of an orphanage of that name that were subdivided several decades ago. Maybe I'll have to change the location name now that I've discovered its official title.

Stormwater flows into the dam and is filtered by the reeds and vegetation. It's circumnavigated by an excellent walking track. There is a playground, an island and a fishing jetty. The trees and shrubs have matured nicely and the whole area is well maintained except for the occasional feral ducks that appear, and I wish the council would remove the single Arum Lily that is growing at one end before it gets out of control. Can you call waterlilies a weed when they look so pretty? (I've read that they don't become weedy because they don't like fast moving water.)

Arum Lily, a serious weed
Waterlilies on Augustine Dam
At the moment there are frogs calling, there are cute little Pacific Black Ducks, Dusky Moorhens and Purple Swamphens, there is a pair of Darters, the Little Ravens are nesting and there are numerous honeyeaters. It's a real delight to walk slowly around just taking it all in.

Eurasian Coot
Male Darter
Dusky Moorhen parent and chick

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Lake Condah restoration

Lake Condah, 2010. Copyright GHCMA
Once upon a time...

...Lake Condah was a lake, a big lake. It developed when lava flows from Mt Eccles (Budj Bim) flowed down the Darlot Creek valley and pushed the creek to the west. It all happened only 8000 years ago.

For hundreds of years the lake was a haven for life - fauna and flora. The Gunditjmara modified the lake a little by building eel traps for aquaculture.

In 1954 the lake was drained to mitigate flooding in agricultural areas north of the lake and for half a century the 'lake' was more or less dry. Local farmers grazed their cattle on the lake bed. Can you imagine the effect on birdlife, plants and aquatic creatures? The site was of huge significance to local Aboriginal culture but that was ignored.

The lake itself is owned by DELWP (except for a privately owned section in the north west) and the land surrounding the lake is owned by Mt Eccles National Park, the Gunditjmara and private property.

In 2004 the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape was placed on the National Heritage List and is manged by the Gunditjmara people. This year there is a push, strongly supported by government, for the site to be recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage area.

In 2004 a restoration project for Lake Condah was commenced and in 2009 a weir was constructed, an "environmental bypass pipe, associated inlet and outlet structures, an automated flow control gate, and a 100 meter long rock chute incorporating a low flow fish passage", the design of which won an award for the construction company (Alluvium) in 2010. The project was a finalist in the Banksia Awards. The Museum organised a Bush Blitz there in 2011 and recorded many interesting plants and animals on the stony rises woodlands and the wetlands. The whole area is under the umbrella of the Clenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority.

Lake Condah in the foreground, stony rises, and Mt Eccles in the background.
Last week we went to have a look. It was a beautiful day, there was a lot of water in the lake and there were a lot of birds (numbers and species). Who needs to go to Kakadu when we have such a treasure in our own back yard? I didn't attempt a bird survey because a telescope would be essential.

There is still a lot of work to be done at Lake Condah. Weed control, fence post removal, monitoring of water flow and water quality and development of some tourist facilities (an amenities block was being constructed the day we visited). The Gunditjmara offer tours of this and other local areas of cultural significance. Go on. Treat yourself.

Sharp-tailed Sandpipers

Stilts, grebes and ducks. A lava tongue can be seen in the background.
The new weir that allows water flow to the Darlot Creek as well as the passage of fish.


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