Walker Swamp Wetlands Tour with Glenelg Nature Trust

14 September, 2019

An absolutely fascinating day looking at the work this group is doing to restore wetlands on the edge of the Grampians, followed by a visit to a redgum forest inside the National Park. You will remember that last year FOGG gave them some money towards buying these properties so as to restore these precious environments. You can subscribe to their newsletter.

AGM and some gardening work in the Halls Gap Botanic Garden

9 November, 2019

At our AGM we chose the committee for 2020:

  • President: Catherine Pye
  • Vice President: Leigh Douglas
  • Secretary: Bill and Judy Gardner
  • Treasurer: Judith Thompson
  • Committee : Geoff Stratford, Andrew Cunningham, Rodney Thompson, Neil Macumber  A vote of thanks was made to retiring members (Mabel Brouwer and David Steane).
  • Newsletter Editor…Margo helped by Ben

We then did some some gardening work in the Halls Gap Botanic Garden, followed by a talk at the Mural Room on Wildlife Health Surveillance Victoria by Pam Whiteley.

Pam is the coordinator of Wildlife Health Victoria and is highly qualified and experienced Vet in the Faculty of Vet and Agricultural Sciences at University of Melbourne. She had previously worked at Healesville Sanctuary, spent 3 years working in the National Wildlife Health Center (American spelling !)  USA, CSIRO animal health laboratory in Geelong and Vic State Vet Laboratory.

Her fascinating talk gave examples of diseases that our wildlife can have and how this can occasionally be passed to humans ( Zoonoses). Clearly she has a fascinating profession with many times needing to investigate why native animals are sick or dead. It makes her a real detective but apparently the investigations can be very complex and expensive with need to detect poisons and many forms of infections. Pam did mention that it cost $1000 for full toxicology testing!

She emphasised the importance of sending to her the bodies of animals as soon as possible after death as possible to give the best chance to find a cause. She told us to avoid direct contact with the dead animals by ideally using gloves and certainly 2 plastic bags at least and putting this onto ice before posting.

She does get some important specimens from local vets but sadly it seems not all vets know about her work. Without the specimens , her investigation cannot proceed.

As an example of a mystery human illness known as Mycobacterium Ulcerans in which we humans can get a nasty skin ulcer. It seems this maybe contracted from mosquito bites which have contact with certain possums. It is currently being found in people in the Mornington Peninsula and no longer in Bairnsdale where it was first recognised decades ago. Clearly it still is needing more scientific research to get all the answers!

Another example of an infection spread from one  creature to another, Pam cited bacterial infections contracted by Eastern Grey Kangaroos from cattle and sheep.

She also discussed the disease that young kangaroos can get by eating the pasture filaris at certain times. This is well known to sheep farmers also.

She also mentioned the importance of surveillance of the wildlife because of potential dangers to humans or our stock.

Pam also discussed the contracting of serious mites by koalas and wombats contracted possibly from foxes.

Another curious observation was the death of 100 ringtail possums found dead on beaches after a long hot dry summer, thought to be due to dehydration as infections and poisons were excluded. This could be a future risk for possums and koalas with climate change.

Yet another curiosity her team managed to elucidate were of cockatoos with feather loss and weak beaks found to be due to a viral illness.

Pam also discussed multiple deaths of king parrots that were found to be due to their getting an intestinal protozoa from contaminated bird feeders due to faecal contamination.

She also discussed the deaths of many frogs thought to be due to aluminium poisoning from disturbed soil after heavy rain.

Yet another mystery epidemic of deaths, this time of raptors was thought to be due to their consuming rodents who had been poisoned with Rodenticides and this moved onto discussion regarding the problem farmers have of controlling rodents but not harming wildlife. This clearly is a fine line to tread on occasions.

Another fascinating example of mysterious illnesses and deaths were of Dolphins dying of Toxoplasmosis, believed to be due the infection being washed into the ocean from cats! She mentioned a particularly severe death toll in the waters off California.

Currently she is investigating the large number of deaths of shearwaters in Port Fairy and how this maybe linked to deaths of many migratory birds in the Northern Hemisphere this year.

Pam mentioned how few reptiles are sent into her so her knowledge of their diseases is lacking.

She again mentioned the importance that people like us in the public be aware of her department’s existence and their keenness to receive animals for investigation as soon as possible and encouraged us to “spread the word”.

Christmas on Mt William

December 14, 2019

We had a very enjoyable evening picnic on Mt William. Parks had given us permission for two cars to drive up with our chairs and provisions while most of us walked both ways. It was beautiful weather and this time we were prepared for the cold as the sun set. We revisited the marine fossils in the rock near the very top, and Neil showed us the Mt William Snow Gum (rare and only found on Mt William and Major Mitchell Plateau).

Visit to Cooinda Burrong

January 11, 2020

For our first activity for 2020 a dozen members gathered at the scout camp to revisit the ptilotus erubescens study that we assisted with during Stan Parfitt’s time.

The exclusion plots are long gone. Due to fire damage the remaining fencing material was removed for the safety of those using the scout camp. Quinn (the current camp manager) has tried to keep the signs in place since the fencing was removed. This did enable us to find the study areas. Unfortunately most were bare of ptilotus, or any grasses for that matter. The impact of fires, and the tough conditions and grazing since have had their effects.

One area was still showing both the Ptilotus erubescens (Hairy Tails) and the larger and more common ptilotus macrocephalus, commonly known as Featherheads. Many seed heads had been grazed off. I believe our final count was 40 plants and 60 flower heads. But there was some dispute about this figure amongst those present.

It was heartening to see that even with fire, and the destruction of the exclusion fences, that nature had found a way and the erubescens were still alive and appeared to be spreading wider, even if their numbers were not increasing yet.

At Quinn’s suggestion we went for a walk to examine another exclusion plot that was set up for a different purpose. There was not much to see, it appeared to have fallen into disrepair. Quinn was also keen to learn more about what was a weed and what was native. Especially concerning the SA weed orchid, and the sallow wattles. Now that he has some knowledge he will set the Scouts to work helping to control and remove the weeds. He will also ensure the ptilotus plants are unmolested as much as possible.

We sat down as a group to eat a picnic lunch, and were joined by 2 of our Rangers for a chat and to talk about upcoming activities. It was nice to see both Hannah and Kailee at a Foggs activity. I think they enjoyed the opportunity to talk to the group and get to know us a bit better, as did we.

We then went for a walk along the Bunnah trail, and up one of the ridges to look at the granite outcrops. While walking we did use a GPS unit to log any weed species we observed, that may become a project at a later date.

I don’t know that the study is worth continuing, unless it becomes a priority for Parks. The erubescens is no longer classified as threatened, so I doubt the project will be at the top of the list now.

Cheers, Rod Thompson

Catherine adds  “Bird species seen include red wattle bird, white throated tree creeper, magpie, sulphur crested cockatoo, yellow faced honeyeater, superb blue wren, Australian raven, kookaburra, brown thornbill, weebill, crimson rosella, yellow tufted honeyeater, yellow tailed black cockatoo and some type of Quail.”

Clean up Australia Day (Sunday May 19)

Two FOGG members started out from Halls Gap collecting rubbish through the Botanical gardens and up one side of the creek to Venus Baths and back down the other side of the creek to the gap.  They then cleaned the car park at Silverband Falls and the track up to the falls where they also chipped out some spear thistles. Two bags of rubbish were collected plus a small bag of crushed Aluminium cans separated for recycling.

Ten people assembled at the MacKenzie Falls carpark and cleaned up the area there, plus the walking tracks to the falls and the lookout. About two full bags of rubbish were collected mainly from the carpark area. We then moved to the Smiths Mill camping area and did a general cleanup there and also along the road to the campsite.

And a Pomonal group found very little rubbish at the Tunnel Rd carpark and track, so turned their attention to the roads just outside the park where dozens of beer bottles and several old TV sets were found. The trail between Zumstein’s and MacKenzie Falls was cleaned up by the Wimmera Bushwalking group the following weekend, an activity they regularly undertake.

Visit to Summerday Valley (Saturday June 15)

Fifteen people turned up in reasonable sunshine to visit the Hollow Mountain area. Earl, of the rock-climbing company “hanging out” based in Halls Gap, conducted us on a guided tour of Summerday Valley, highlighting the track hardening work and fencing carried out to maintain and improve the tracks in the area. We learnt that the Grampians was regarded as one of the world’s premier climbing locations, attracting visitors from all over the world, and that numbers doing this had been growing very rapidly until the recent climbing bans. Summerday Valley is special in that it caters for beginner and school groups, with good access to climbs and good toilet and parking facilities.
We heard how the current climbing bans were placing additional strain on other areas where climbing was still allowed, such as Mt Arapiles and closer to Halls Gap.

A discussion evolved round the necessity of bolts for safety in climbing, the use of chalk, and erosion and trampling caused by sheer numbers using popular or beginner climbs. We all agreed that the problem had to be managed and that a major obstacle was a lack of funding for Parks to carry out hardening and upgrades of popular spots.

At this stage, the group split with a number of members retracing their steps to the carpark, and then doing the walk to Gulgurn Manja art site, before proceeding to the Mt Zero Picnic area for a late lunch.

The remainder ascended the 100 steps and rejoined the walking track to Hollow Mountain. A further split in the group occurred at the overhang wall, which is rated as a 23 climb up the crack portion, and a 32 in the smoother overhang bit…and is an international destination for climbers. Two members opted to sit and chat while the others ascended Hollow Mountain. The windblown cave system was investigated, and the view onto Taipan Wall ogled at, before we proceeded to the cave of the west, which contains a bouldering scramble knows as “The Wheel of Life”, again an internationally renowned series of moves.

A quick examination of gnammas nearby revealed a healthy population of Clam Shrimps flitting about. We then descended and walked to the Mt Zero Picnic area via the famous Anderson bouldering area.

Lunch was enjoyed in pleasant sunshine, followed by a short walk to look at historic graffiti (1919) plus more recent stuff on a spectacular overhang at the end of Flat Rock. While the committee met to discuss stuff, others went on an orchid ramble along the Mt Zero track.

Thanks to Catherine for organising an enjoyable and informative day.

Bill G

Brambuk Centre Talk: Trail Cameras & wildlife footage (Saturday 10th August)

Clive gave us a very interesting talk on his experiences using wildlife cameras on their property near Mt Dryden. What to look for when purchasing a camera, how and where to set one up, traps to avoid etc. Plus enchanting pictures of the native and non-native animals, some of which they have not seen in the flesh but only on the camera. I hope to have more on this in our next issue.

Margo

Visit by Professor Timms – 15/16th of August

Two years ago, a new species of clam shrimp was described by Prof Timms endemic to the northern Grampians rockpools or gnammas as they are more correctly known. He returned on 15/16th  of August as part of a  larger study into the ecology of gnammas in SE Australia, studying macroinvertebrates, zooplankton, and phytoplankton (this latter being undertaken by Dr Luciana Barbosa, a lecturer from the University of Paraiba in Brazil, who accompanied the Prof on this trip). Unfortunately his studies have been somewhat abbreviated due to delays by Parks Victoria in issuing a research permit, a matter on which FOGGs intervened on his behalf.

Eight gnammas on Flat Rock near Mt Zero were identified and surveyed and will be visited several times as the season progresses. In addition, four gnammas at Mt Arapiles were surveyed.  Even at this early stage the results are most interesting. The endemic clam shrimp was present at the Mt Zero gnammas (also those at Mt Stapylton and Hollow Mountain…sampled by FOGGs members but not part of the ongoing study) along with an assortment of other creatures such as mosquito larvae, beetle larva and so on. Species diversity was somewhat poor.

The composition of the Mt Arapiles gnammas was strikingly different, despite similar geology and climate. The clam shrimp was absent, but what is most likely a new species of shield shrimp was found, along with pea shrimp, and a type of Ostracod (a seed shrimp…that being its food). As well starwort was seen which did not occur in gnammas of the Northern Grampians, and also Daphnia.

The shield shrimp samples will be lodged with the Museum of Victoria before being shipped to the expert on these things in the USA for detailed description of its morphology, and most likely DNA analysis.

Even at this early stage these results appear to be a text book case of similar habitats resulting in two unique assemblies of invertebrates due to physical separation. Of course, the most famous examples of this are to be found in Galapagos Islands and documented by Charles Darwin.  FOGGs members are asked to keep an eye out for any gnammas they may find elsewhere, but especially in the Black Range and Dundas Range which have similar geology by physical separation from the main body of the Grampians.

Thanks are due to Louise Shepherd and Brigitte Muir at Natimuk for helping guide us to the gnammas on Mt Arapiles, and for keeping a eye out for their unique shield shrimp.  Prof Timms has provided some posters which will be used to explain to school groups what all this is about.

Bill G.

Activity Reports

AGM and picnic in the Halls Gap Botanic Garden November 30, 2018

It was a perfect evening for our AGM, which is reported elsewhere. Some of us cooked on the barbecue, to the appreciation of the local kookaburras, at least one of whom managed to grab a sausage from the unwary. Then we walked around the garden to look at the collection of Gariwerd plants, and appreciate the work of the volunteers who have been providing names for many of the plants, and for the work done to make the garden attractive to children.

Bird Walk and Talk Saturday 2 February, 2019

Such a hot day! Would there be any birds to be seen in the dry surrounds of Brambuk? Our secretary had done a good job of advertising the event on ABC radio, and Alison had it in Halls Gap’s monthly newsletter. So around 30 of us assembled at 4 pm, and some joined us later. FOGG member and bird expert Neil Macumber led us to a spot where we were under tall eucalypts and on a bank high above the almost dry creek. And we did manage to see quite a few of the more common birds including kookaburra, blue wren, scrub wren, tree creeper, finches

Then we moved inside to look at some of Neil’s superb photographs and learn about our resident birds and our visitors. There were so many! Birds from the bush, the plains, the lakes. Large ones, like brolga, emu, wedgetail eagle, little ones like wrens, finches and mistletoe birds.

Neil also showed us animals of the Grampians, this time not all his own photos but most were. Again, so much to learn.

Afterwards about 20 of us adjourned to the local hotel for dinner together and more discussion of birds and possible FOGG projects. An excellent way to start the year.