I was surprised and pleased to have an email via the webpage from the USA. Janet Martin, a friend of the Great Smoky Mountains NP in Tennessee, would be in Halls Gap in early November, was FOGGS doing anything then? Well, we had nothing planned, but I was free and had such good memories of visiting her park back in the 1980’s with my husband when he was on a work visit to nearby Huntsville, Alabama. So on a perfect November day we climbed most of the way up Mt Rosea, enjoying magnificent views and wildflowers.
You may remember that this time last year we were successful in our application for a grant to fence off an area in the Ironbarks state Park near Stawell to protect a very rare orchid, and later, we hope, a reintroduction of this orchid.
With Parks help we engaged a contractor, but the very dry weather that Stawell has endured this past year means that it is only now that the fence is going up. The soil has been iron hard.
On 24th July ten of us met at the Mt Rosea Car park for a walk into the Bugiga campground. We headed up the track in very overcast weather and met Mark Whyte the new parky looking after tracks and roads. He escorted us to the campground, we arrived just as a heavy shower came through. We took cover under the shelter and experienced the gale wind sweeping up the mountain gap and straight through the shelter, which has been aligned to take advantage of the view but does not give protection from the prevailing wind. While in the shelter we noted that there were no tables only long bench style seats. The campground has been constructed with steel and timber. The walk ways are all raised timber which blend in with the surrounds, the tent pads are hard wood and also raised. We did note there was nowhere to anchor a tent in lieu of tent pegs in the ground. (there is a railing, but it doesn’t suit all tents).
The walk way is terraced to allow for the slope in the ground and we noted that this could be hard to negotiate in the dark on your way to the toilets. The toilets although iron and rusted brown are a very large structure and very prominent as you walk into the site. We suggested that for future campsites something with more curves and less imposing would be good. All human waste is to be taken off the site and this has presented many challenges.
am sure there will be many lessons learned from this first campsite and hopefully as future camps are constructed along the walk there aesthetics to blend into and with minimum impact on the environment will be achieved. As we were all now very damp and cold we adjourned to the Halls Gap Pub for tea where we were met by our webmaster Frank van der Peet and Sylvia, it was good to catch up with them once more.
Margo had some excellent photos of the campsite in the last newsletter and they were captured on a much sunnier day than the one we experienced.
Six FOGGs members met at the Dead Bullock Falls camping ground on Roses Gap Road. Present were Will and Proo, Alison, Rodney and Jan-Bert and Mabel. We followed the very pretty creek with numerous small waterfalls until we reached the first escarpment where a large waterfall dropped into a sandy pond. From here we followed the southern branch of the stream up two further escarpments and passed two more very beautiful high waterfalls. From the third escarpment we could have walked to Mount Difficult to the south, however we chose to walk to the north and climbed further to reach a lovely little cave perched above a spectacular rock wall. We ate our lunch here before returning to the cars following the northern arm of the creek back past further water falls.
Unfortunately the area had been very badly burnt during the fire but it was lovely to see the large variety of small plants which were re-establishing themselves. Early in the walk the ground was covered with a mat of ‘running postman’ which was just starting to come into flower.
We were all pleased that it seems the Parks are thinking of opening this walk up for the general public, and believe it will become a very popular walk in the northern Grampians. It provides a new way to access both Mount Difficult and Briggs Bluff or simply as a shorter walk to enjoy the numerous waterfalls, rock formations and vegetation.
On the Queen’s Birthday weekend, this year, the Fauna Survey Group (FSG) of the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria (FNCV) visited the Grampians to survey for arboreal mammals, in particular the Squirrel Glider. The group carries out fauna surveys on private and public land in accordance with its Department of Environment and Primary Industries research permit.
Eleven members travelled west and camped at the Plantation Camping Ground, where they were hosted by Ryan Duffy and Dave Handscombe from Parks Victoria. By and large the weather was very kind to us. On Sunday we were joined by Margo Sietsma and some of her family for some
Seven survey areas were identified by Parks Victoria – the Dadswell’s Bridge, Golton, Silverband Falls and Heatherlie areas within the Grampians National Park (NP), Deep Lead and Lonsdale Nature Conservation Reserves (NCR) as well as the Ledcourt State Forest (SF). Within the survey areas 16 transects were identified. The surveys at Dadswell’s Bridge and Golton were not completed due to lack of time. There is scope to incorporate these sites in future visits to the park.
We employed spotlighting, remote cameras and hair tubes as our survey techniques. The deployment of cameras and hair-tubes and the spotlighting component of the survey were carried out from 5 to 8 June 2014, with the retrieval of equipment taking place 2 weeks later.
Seventeen cameras were deployed. Fifteen of the cameras were deployed in trees within each transect, at a height generally between three and four metres. All were baited with peanut butter, oats and golden syrup. The other two cameras were deployed at Heatherlie in banksia trees, focussing on the bait as well as the banksia florescences.
The 25 hair tubes were also baited with peanut butter, oats and golden syrup. Fourteen of them were placed in trees near the cameras. They were screwed to the branch with the opening facing downwards. The other eleven were pegged out on the ground.
Each transect was spotlit once.
The success of each survey method at each location is detailed in Table 1 on p 6.
In addition to the arboreal species , a number of bird species were recorded on camera as well as some Grey Kangaroos. The bird species included Australian Magpie, Eastern Rosella, Eastern Spinebill, Laughing Kookaburra, New Holland Honeyeater and White-winged Chough.
The link below gives you access to all the videos that recorded animals (and some that did not).
A relatively short and low-cost effort detected the presence of eight species of arboreal mammal over the five study areas. Two of the species (Brush-tailed Phascogale and Squirrel Glider) are listed under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (FFG) and all three species of Pygmy Possum occurring in Victoria are listed as near threatened on the Advisory List. Although the species of Pygmy Possum encountered during this study was not able to be identified, based on the Victorian distributions of all three species it is most likely to be an Eastern Pygmy Possum.
The Squirrel Glider record from the newly-acquired Heatherlie section of the Grampians NP is significant as according to the VBA this endangered species has not been recorded in the park since July 1984. The Grampians represent the most south-westerly population of this species in all of Australia. This population is isolated from other Squirrel Glider strongholds and requires careful management and monitoring.
The Brush-tailed Phascogale records are of significance because according to the VBA database, this species has not been previously recorded from Lonsdale NCR or the immediate Grampians NP area. This species has suffered a large range decline is south west Victoria.
The Field Naturalists Club of Victoria
The Grampians Wildflower Show in Halls Gap would be impossible to present without the support of FOGG members from outside town. We introduced a lot of changes this year, with very mixed success. The main setting, in the Botanic Garden, looked beautiful, but proved challenging to our older visitors. There was a communication failure re the PV display for the hall, but the banner from the Hamilton Field naturalists was superb. And we didn’t explain well enough our decision to name less of our flowers and encourage folk to look them up in our resources. On the other hand, many visitors welcomed the changes
We still struggle for people with enough time to manage the event, so whether the show continues is still in doubt.
On Tuesday 27th May there was a tree planting at Zumsteins. FOGGs received a grant last year to do a planting around the kiosk area of McKenzie Falls and the money needed to be spent by 30th May. When the fire went through in February it was decided to relocate the work to the Zumsteins area. This activity was organised by Katherine Dyson who arranged for students from Stawell Secondary College to do the planting with some help from Proo and Wendy. The rain held off for us and we got a few hundred trees planted. They were a nice group of students and also had a biology lesson on how the bush recovers after fire. It is sad we are losing Katherine as she does such a great job with the students.
The aim of the project was to survey for arboreal mammals, in particular Squirrel Gliders. The group used remote cameras, hair tubes and spotlighting. A few Foggies were able to join them spotlighting near Silverband Falls, but unfortunately saw nothing interesting at all. It was only after I left that they even saw a wallaby!
On 11th June we had a presentation by Parks and DEPI staff: Jill Read ‘Fire and environment management officer’, Ryan Duffy ‘Biodiversity and Heritage officer’ from Halls Gap, Glen Rudolph ‘Planning Manager Wimmera District, Land and Fire’, and Andrew Govanstone ‘South West Bushfire Risk Landscape Planning’ DEPI. They explained some of the processes and considerations put into planned burns. This is a very large and complex subject and I have tried to give a brief overview of some of the things presented to us.
The Grampians is a fire prone landscape and has a high occurrence of lightning and so most of the species are well adapted to fire. 70% of the vegetation requires fire for regeneration and is fire dependant, 28% is influenced by fire but requires much longer intervals between fires, 1% is fire sensitive and is severely damaged by fire and 1% is independent of fire. The Grampians is made up of a mosaic of different vegetation types, consisting of over 40 Environmental Vegetation Communities (EVC’s) and each of these has a different Tolerable Fire Interval (TFI). Key fire response species are used to determine these TFI’s. For example some communities require 8-12 years for key species to mature and set enough seed to regenerate after a fire and if left too long e.g. 45 years or longer adult plants will have died and soil seed banks will decline. Ecological burns also take into consideration, keeping floristic diversity, creating environments that will sustain small ground dwelling mammals and protecting creeks and gullies from wildfires.
After the 2006, 2013 and 2014 wildfires the Grampians has very little long unburnt bush left and so reducing fuel loads around this remaining bush will be required to protect it from future wildfires. After 2006 it was thought there would not be another large fire for 20 years, however with the wildfires of 2013 and 2014, it has become apparent that things have changed. The types of fires we will be dealing with in the future are going to be more severe and there may need to be a change in the way planned burns are done. We were shown a video of the January 2013 fire which showed fire going from an area which 2 years earlier had a planned burn and then the increasing intensity when it got to unburnt bush. Fires in the Grampians are started predominantly by lightning and with the drying climate these are occurring earlier and later in the season and are more intense.
A fire and fauna project has been set up with Deakin university and after the 2006 fires 36 monitoring sites were established to monitor small mammals. Some of these sites have now had 2 and 3 fires over them, some wildfires and some planned burns. This monitoring is now giving a valuable database which when combined with rainfall and other environmental data gives a picture of how many of the small mammals react to fire. It also shows how important refuges are in times of drought and fires and how gullies and other refuge areas need to be managed to protect against wildfire. In addition to the Deakin work DEPI put out remote sensing cameras to monitor animals in areas before and after planned burns. DEPI’s Arthur Rylah Institute do bird surveys, and Field Naturalist groups also do camera monitoring.
It is recognised that there is a need to change the strategies used for ecological burns to achieve a more mosaic effect across the landscape. Different types of fire may need to be applied in different areas with some only one hectare and some larger areas treated but with a patchy effect achieved within that area.
Phoenix modelling is used to predict how fires might spread and do damage. This modelling has been used while fires are going and to help with decisions on how to attack fires and where to put resources. It is a tool which will be used more in the future for Strategic Bushfire Management Planning, which will be used to develop the Fire Operation Plans (FOPs). FOPs currently look at three years of planned burns and focus mainly on fuel management zones. Over the next 12 months this new Strategic Bushfire Management Planning (SBMP) will be developed and it will have a more holistic approach to planned burns. There will also be an emphasis on working with the community to understand how they would like to see public land managed in relation to fire. Part of that process will be that there will be more meetings like the one held on June 11th for FOGGs, as well as opportunities for people to contribute to this process. At the next Grampians Round Table meeting Wendy and Margo will learn more about these changes and inform people in the next newsletter.
About a dozen people met in the Mural room and Mike Stevens and Ryan Duffy gave us an update on park activities.
Mike explained in much detail the events of the January Northern Grampians Complex fire. On Jan 15 several lightening strikes started fires across the Grampians, Parks, CFA and DEPI staff worked hard to put these fires out, but inaccessibility and bad weather lead to a couple of fires in the Wartook area not being able to be controlled. Mike described to us how events unfolded and showed us a program called Phoenix Rapidfire which illustrated how the fire progressed. The program had been used during the fire to predict the fire behaviour and to give people warning of the likely path it would affect. Phoenix Rapidfire was developed after the 2006 bushfires and has been improved each year as more information from each fire season is fed into the model.
On the extreme weather days planned burns 3 years and older had no effect on slowing the fire front.
Ryan Duffy cultural and natural values ranger updated us on animals which have been captured on cameras around the park, the Brush tailed Rock Wallaby program and the use of trained dogs to sniff out Quoll scats. See Ryans article for more details.
After the meeting we had a meal together and made a few decisions: FOGGs will put in an application for ‘Communities for Nature’ grant for a fence around the Caladenia audasii site in the Ironbarks.
We have run out of FOGGs membership application forms and will start looking into getting them reprinted. We allocated up to $2000 dollars and a print run of 1000 to 2000.