From The Editor

Welcome to our Autumn issue.

Despite the Covid 19 lockdown we have been able to get you quite a bit of news and interesting reading. Those of you who get the newsletter by email will have already received two quite lengthy articles, one on art sites by Ben Gunn, Jake Goodes and Leigh Douglas, and one on gnammas by Prof Brian Timms. If you are getting only a hard copy of this newsletter and would like to read either or both of these, do let us know and we can mail them out to you. But be aware they are both quite long. But most interesting.

Just today we learnt that the Park is now open -sort of. We have no idea of course when normal activities will be able to be restarted, but we will let you know as soon as we can. In the meantime, why not do some reading about our Park? Buy one of the new books which are mentioned in the newsletter, reread stuff you already have, research the internet for interesting stuff. For example, the journals of the Field Naturalist Society are online and I can recommend say Dec 1969 which has a description of an August visit to the Roses Gap area, or January 1973 “the Wildflowers of the Flat Rock area” covering a whole year of visits.

Keep safe and we hope we can see some of you in the not too distant future.

Margo Sietsma

President’s Report

Good Day to Friends of Grampians Gariwerd,

On Friday 24th I will be attending the Grampians National Park landscape management plan Strategy meeting via teleconference.  We have come a long way in a few weeks with telecommunications!

This session will focus on preparation of a Draft Plan for public release and comment.  So please watch out for this and to respond with public comments.

We hope that you still have work and that you have been able to spend some time outside during this very difficult time.

We hope that you will enjoy the newsletter and thank you to Margo and Leigh for putting it together.

Thank you also to Bill for providing us an update on shield and clam shrimps and a very interesting article on gnammas.

Powerful owl

This is the time of year that Powerful owls are breeding and the other night we heard them at our property in Fyans Creek.

A few days later we were walking under a big old Pinus radiata tree and we heard an angry sounding noise ‘oorh’ and after 10 minutes of scanning the branches we eventually saw not one, but two powerful owls perched high up in the branches.  One was asleep and the other one was preening. Exotic trees have their benefits! We don’t think they are breeding on our place. We have been following the construction of nest boxes with interest as they are using 3D printing to make them!

Here are some photos.

 

On a recent walk around our property we spotted our first flowering orchid for the year; Parsons Band (Eriochilus sp.).  It would appear that the flower is produced before the leaves.

 

 

 

Have you noticed all the wattles coming out in flower, we even have correa and hakea flowering at our place.

All the best and we hope we can meet in person again soon.

Catherine Pye

From Rhonda, Our Chief Ranger

Surprisingly things are still very busy in the park and assisting staff including myself juggle the home schooling thing.

The whole of the Grampians National Park is closed to all people, including not being available for locals to undertake exercise within. These closures are very different to anything we have had in place before as they are under the public health act which is administered by Victoria Police not by my staff. There were a number of stages to this full closures with us first closing campgrounds, then a week later closing picnic tables & BBQ’s and then a week later full closure. All this caused some confusion to locals, understandably.

We did have discussions regarding a potential part closure of the park eg allowing locals to exercise but with a park with 55 entrances and numerous communities who believe that the Grampians is their back yard including Ararat, Stawell, Horsham, Hamilton it was deemed as too difficult to enforce and be fair. Also the aim of the closure was to reinforce that staying at home is what we have to do and taking a drive to go for a hike is not what is considered exercise.

We know that is a very challenging time and hope that people can understand that the decision was not made lightly and was taken to protect the whole of the community.

We do not know when this closure will be lifted as it will be determine by the chief health officer. We are, though, in the park required to undertake a full patrol of the park daily and report our findings and I know that Victoria Police are also do regular patrols and providing information. At this stage our patrols are indicating a high level of compliance however this week we have had a number of incidents of our signage being removed that we have to replace.

If there is any silver lining to this tough time is that we are still able to work in the park and with this closure in place we are taking the opportunity to do as much maintenance work as possible in high visitor sites, in particular hazardous tree work in our campgrounds and a full walking track maintenance program at MacKenzie Falls and Balconies as examples. We are hoping to complete the burn between Boroka Lookout and Halls Gap which is such an important strategic burn whilst the park is closed, having significantly less impact that it would if the park was open.

Our new District Manger Jamey Staples has started and I have had him out into the park a number of times already showing him the range of amazing things that this park encompasses. I will start to briefing him on our challenges over the next few weeks.

Hope you are all doing ok and looking after yourself and we can all get back out and enjoy the park soon.

Biodiversity Response Planning (BRP) Update

In the past 12 months the team has removed 188 red deer and 254 goats. The program is heading into Autumn deer control with ground shooting crews and aerial shooting planned to occur in late-April to Mid-May.

Sallow wattle mulching has been completed, however we still need to calculate the number of hectares treated.

Planning is full steam ahead for feral cat trapping and baiting hopefully kicking off in late July.

Grampians Ark

Fox baiting and fox leg-hold trapping is currently occurring.

Since two male Brush-tailed Rock Wallabies were released in spring our cameras have detected 1200 images of wallabies interacting and mating. Hopefully we will see some pouch young soon!

Matt White

Another Woohlpooer Day

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the FOGG excursion to Woohlpooer but soon after (Nov 1) I went with the Grampians Australian Plant society to nearby Woorndoo to look at work to protect the rare grasslands on the roadsides and on private property. Fascinating.

We started with looking at  beautiful grassland flowers on two sites alongside the roadside,

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We then moved back to the hall to hear speakers present on why these grasslands are so important. Neville Walsh from the Melbourne  Botanic Garden introduced “The forgotten flora of the volcanic plains” . We learnt how rare indeed they are, and some of the reasons for this.  These plains were quickly settled for grazing, and the paucity of classic Australian groups like Grevillea, banksia, Acacia, Epacris meant they were not seen as worth protecting. So now remnants are mainly limited to railway lines and road reserves. And recent management of these has not been helpful. Also these reserves being narrow and linear they are very susceptible to weed invasion. Then a speaker from the CMA told us about the work being done on private property, and how important even small patches are.

We were fed lunch and then were taken to two patches of roadside reserve to learn about the experimental work being done to maintain and preserve these. They are removing all the topsoil so all weeds are also removed, and then reseeding with grassland species.

Margo Sietsma

FOGG’s Clean Up Australia 2020

Some of us helped clean up Australia on 1st March, organised and helped by Hannah. We concentrated on Wonderland car park, and then Reid Lookout. For a small group, a lot of rubbish was collected! Most, and most disappointing, was tissues used for toilet paper. Thank goodness for gloves and the pick-up tongs.

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We had some positive discussions with tourists, some of whom even assisted by taking bags with them on their walks.

A barbeque donated by Parks and cooked by Rod (thanks Rodney) was a pleasant finale.

Thank you all, especially Hannah, who organised, motivated and took part in such a large amount of cleaning by various groups during the week. Very inspirational, Hannah – thank you!

Leigh Douglas.

Rescuing our Wildlife

A few of us living locally were privileged to get a last minute invitation from Derek Sandow to hear from a group of scientists on where they are currently with working with endangered species in two states . Derek is the Co-ordinator of the Grampians Ark Project.

The first talk was an update on the Brushtailed Rock Wallaby by Ms Shannon Kleeman (Bsc Hons), University Adelaide, S.A. Shannon has just completed her honours on ‘Non-invasive monitoring and reintroduction biology of brush-tailed rock wallabies in the Grampians National Park’

In the Grampians From 2008 – 2012, 39 were released and only 7 survived. Mortality from predation by foxes actually increased due to people coming in to do monitoring and supplementary feeding. Camera monitoring was introduced in 2014 to minimise disturbance to rock-wallabies and as a more cost-effective option and from the camera data, it was estimated in 2019 that there were 5 individuals. However Genetic testing of scats has now detected 8 individuals. Genetic diversity was found to be moderate, with a potential for inbreeding. Diet can be determined by analysing scats against a DNA plant library. However there is no DNA plant library for Grampians National Park. In other BTRW colonies, they have found a grass content was 4-15%. The NSW population has grass content 35-50%. In October 2019.the potential for inbreeding was addressed by replacing one male with two others (we reported on this in February but didn’t tell you that Margo was there). Better cameras were put in place in 2019 that are solar powered and are cellular capable so images can be sent directly to the HG office. Currently there are 9 animals ; 6 females and 3 males. Recommendations: Trap and collar juveniles, which will make the current camera monitoring more effective.

2022 -2023 planning:  A new team is now in place to look at increasing the population. Funding of $25,000  has been sought to establish a DNA plant library for Grampians National park to discover what they are eating. What are the habitat requirements? Risk of predation by foxes is reduced after 6 months. It takes 5 months to establish a home range. So a better strategy is – a small group in one site,  and another small group in another site. Need access to water especially juveniles. Goats compete with food. New animals will be sourced from Mt Rothwell.  They are well genetically managed, but captive bred, so release into the wild is a big leap for them.

State overall recovery team goals:  A second population in East Gippsland in 2021. The East Gippsland population of 7 has grown  to around 50 animals. It is believed most escaped the recent fires. The recovery team hopes by 2022-2023, to establish a second population in Grampians National Park.

The next talk was on Western Quoll and brush tailed possum reintroduction to SA Flinders Ranges David Peacock. Dr David Peacock (Bsc; PhD) (Adjunct Senior Lecturer, University of Adelaide)

David has recently departed Biosecurity SA where he spent much of the last 20 years developing a reputation as one of Australia’s leading experts on rabbit biocontrol. He is also passionate about gathering and collating historic information on Australian marsupial distributions and is one of Australia’s leading experts on quolls.

Western Quoll reintroduction There was a WWF Quoll workshop in 2008 in Sydney. At that time in the Flinders Ranges they were doing fox baiting 4 times a year and reducing rabbits by ripping warrens. Getting rid of rabbits increases saltbush which was declining. It was decided to reintroduce quolls which were lost from Flinders Ranges in 1880’s and from APY lands in 1920s. So in 2014, 41 were reintroduced from WA, 2015 another 37 reintroduced from WA , and in 2016 – 15. They used soft release pens, releasing females first and then males. Radiotracking showed a 7km dispersal from soft pen release, they did not go as far as hard pen release animals.

5 year Anniversary. Traps and radio antennae show there are now over 400 shelter sites and recorded den sites. There’s enough for them to eat. Rabbit burrows make the best den sites and are the most chosen sites. Food is adult rabbit carcasses. 80% of  quoll scats contained rabbits. Female weights are stable. Pouch young  – 71 recorded in June 2014 – up to 6 young in one pouch, 2015 all females have pouch young. There are Flinders born quolls now adults with own young. Too many animals were being killed by cats. Not just female but all animals being denned by mum. So now they are working to remove cats using – cage traps, poison baits, targeted trapping. More than 300 feral cats have been removed to date excluding those taken in 2017 -2019 by aerial baiting.

Baits used are Eradicat Baits (1080) and Curiosity Cat (PAPP). Quolls have a moderate level of tolerance to 1080, and can eat the Eradicat (West Australian) sausage baits and don’t die.

Flinders Ranges – Baited the whole park with aerial bait lines using the Eradicat sausage bait.

2017: 86% kill of collared cats. No cats on camera for 12 months and quoll survival increased.

2018 :88% kill of collared cats    2019: 80% kill of collared cats

Dramatic change in quoll survival. Female quolls are more vulnerable to cats as not so large and have young. Cats can breed several times  a year, depending on environmental conditions.  Baits are dropped out when there is little other food around, which is generally early in winter, and around May in the Flinders.

Brushtailed Possum reintroduction in the Flinders ranges and beyond

Why? They are extinct in the arid zone and declining in all areas of SA except Adelaide and Kangaroo Island. They are important to the Adnyamathanha people. Possums are good nutrient recyclers.

July 2015 79 possums were introduced from Melrose, Yookamurra and Kangaroo Island. May 2016 another 69 possums, 2018 49 possums, 2019 28 possums. Radiotracking showed that possums come to ground to move and feed and this is when cats eat them. There have now been 3 years of cat baiting.

2018 Cat baiting is also being used for arid land recovery at Roxby Downs where the cats are preying on bettongs.

Reintroduce quolls to the Grampians?

Next David showed us an intriguing set of photos of historic accounts of Eastern Quolls in the Dunkeld region. Example below. Everyone present was supportive of working on achieving this.

Audience questions followed, mostly about cat poisons

Which Cat bait is registered for use in Victoria? The Curiosity Cat bait which is a sausage style bait with a capsule containing the toxin PAPP, was selected to trial rather than a similar bait with 1080 toxin. The reasons for the choice are unclear, maybe because of the perception that PAPP is a more humane toxin choice for cats. However goannas and big reptiles are susceptible to PAPP. Therefore , baiting can only be undertaken safely when reptiles are inactive(likely to be in July, August). Quolls do not have a tolerance to PAPP, so must also be considered if they were reintroduced to the Grampians. Foxes are more tolerant to the PAPP toxin than to 1080, so will need to consume multiple Curiosity baits for a fatal dose. There is a push to get Eradicat 1080 baiting registered nationally. Eradicat aerial baiting also does a great job.

Book News

There’s quite a bit happening with new books. Progress is continuing with our reprint of Ian McCann’s wildflower book. David Welch is very soon getting a full colour-proof, so he can check each page, before the final printing. However even if it is OK to go, it will still take about 2-3 months before it gets printed and shipped to Darwin. So we hope by the end of the year it should be available here.

There are two more books fresh on the market. Available locally is “Best Walks of the Gariwerd/ Grampians National Park”, and available online is “Gariwerd, an environmental history of the Grampians” by Benjamin Wilkie. Would any of you who have ordered it like to review it for our next issue? We would love to have more of your voices in our newsletter.

“Best Walks of the Gariwerd/ Grampians National Park” is by Debra Heyes and Julie Mundy and published by Australian Geographic. There are 25 walks described, from 1km to 49km long and they are listed as North, South and Central. Each walk has an excellent map, description and photos. But before you come to the walks, there is advice about topics such as what to take with you, caring for the environment, guided walks and bushwalking clubs, and a brief introduction to the importance of this place to the traditional owners. And then, after the walk descriptions, there’s more information on the traditional owners, the birds, the flora etc.

So all in all an excellent and comprehensive book. After many years of exploring the Grampians I am going to find it useful when revisiting places I’ve neglected, and when discovering walks which I haven’t yet done. My only criticism is: why don’t they mention FOGGS? We are not there even under “Useful Contacts”. Something we’ll have to follow up if there’s a call for a second edition.

WAMA Botanic Garden

There are two exciting developments at the WAMA site between Halls Gap and Pomonal which I think will be of interest to FOGG members.

WAMA is planning to build an art gallery on the site, but are starting with developing the site. They have just completed a fence to keep feral animals out of much of the site, and currently have two exciting projects underway.  The first is to install a grassland area. For a couple of years now Jallukar Landcare has been assisting collecting seed of many local grassland plants, under the guidance of Jess Gardner. Now they have cleared the topsoil away to get rid of most of the weeds (similar to what is described in the Woorndoo article on p 6) and have just this week scattered the seed.

In addition they have received a $48,000 grant from DELWP as part of the department’s Growing Victoria’s Botanic Gardens Program to develop the WAMA Endemic Public Garden. The 2-hectare garden plans to showcase the majority of over 70 endemic flora species native to the Grampians. It will be an interesting partner to the well established Halls Gap Botanic Garden. The Halls Gap garden is in the valley, and will always be limited as to how many grassland flowers it can show, and what endemic plants will thrive. We certainly have quite a few endemics, but we also have many plants found here but also across the state as well, whereas the WAMA Botanic Garden will show only endemics (ie found ONLY in the Grampians). We intend to work closely together and hope it will be a most productive partnership.