Feral Cats

I expect you all have heard the good news that feral cats have been declared a pest species in Victoria, which means that shortly our Park staff will be allowed to work to reduce their number. But how to do it most efficiently and reasonably humanely? I came across a most interesting article in the Bush Heritage edition 12 Jun 2018


That Tricksy Felixy

I recently visited Currawinya National Park to learn more about Felixer cat traps from their inventor, cat management expert Dr John Read

It’s well known that cats have a huge and often catastrophic impact on native species and are notoriously difficult to control. We urgently need an effective solution that that can be deployed in diverse landscapes, not just to bring endangered species back from the brink of extinction, but also to prevent other species declining to that point. Felixer traps are a promising candidate.

Feral cats are so hard to control because they are reluctant to take baits or enter traps, particularly when prey such as small native mammals are abundant. John created the Felixer trap after thinking for many years about the problem. His answer was to take advantage of cats’ Achilles’ heel – their fastidiousness in cleaning. The Felixer takes advantage of this behavioural trait, spraying them with a toxin that they then lick off to their detriment. The trap uses a series of inbuilt laser sensors that distinguish cats from all other non-target species, ensuring that only feral cats are sprayed. You can find out more at

Introducing the Nature Glenelg Trust

When I was at the Cavendish Red Gum festival I listened to an exciting presentation on this trust and I believe it will be of great interest to our group.

Nature Glenelg Trust is established as an environmental organisation for the following purposes:

  • To protect and enhance the natural environment, with a particular emphasis on wetland conservation and restoration activities, supported by the Habitat Restoration Fund.
  • To generate and provide high quality scientific information that enhances management of the natural environment.
  • To support and undertake key conservation ecology research.
  • To promote public awareness of nature through education, and involving the community in the activities of the Trust.

How did it all begin?

In 2011 a small group of people, with a range of complementary skills and a passion for practical solutions, got together to develop a new way of getting more environmental work to happen “on the ground” in their local region. A shared passion for nature in our region and a desire to maximise practical action were the motivating factors that brought us together. We recognised that a need exists for an environmental non-government organisation (NGO) to be based in this region, have a regional focus, and work on the issues of greatest local relevance with our local community and partners. Nature Glenelg Trust is our living experiment to fill that gap.

Why Nature Glenelg?

The name of the Trust describes our regional focus, with the Glenelg River situated at the centre of our large regional home; straddling the border between South Australia and Victoria. To enable us to focus our efforts in this region, Nature Glenelg Trust has staff based in regional centres situated between Adelaide and Melbourne. The fact that the Glenelg River is one of this region’s most important waterways, with a catchment that is home to a wide range of wetland habitats, plants and wildlife, makes it an ideal choice. Over the past 6 years, NGT has been especially busy in the Dunkeld area, working with private landholders and Parks Victoria to restore wetlands on public and private land, with great success at places like Brady Swamp, Gooseneck Swamp, Green Swamp and Scale Swamp

Thanks to a new partnership between Nature Glenelg Trust (NGT), Glenelg Hopkins CMA and the Hamilton Field Naturalists Club (HFNC), Stage 1 (500 acres) has now been successfully purchased to become Nature Glenelg Trust’s first wetland reserve in Victoria. On the 2nd of March 2018, the purchase of Stage 1 of Walker Swamp was settled. Over the years ahead Walker Swamp will be restored to its former glory, but first we’re now seeking support to secure Stage 2, and double the eventual project area to 1000 acres. This project expansion will enable us to fully restore the Walker Swamp floodplain and physically link the entire project area with the Wannon River and the Grampians National Park. Adjacent to the Grampians National Park, (a short 15-20 minute drive) this floodplain property retains all the necessary ingredients for successful restoration. 

With the commencement of this new project, NGT has also recruited Dr Greg Kerr to manage the property and the complex process of restoring its environmental values. Greg grew up in the western districts and is now back home, living and working in the Dunkeld community. To get in touch with Greg, you can email or call him on: or 0418 846 993.

You can meet Greg, and also hear NGT’s Manager Mark Bachmann speak about NGT’s past, present and future projects in the Dunkeld area, at a special community presentation evening being held at the Dunkeld Community Centre at 7.00pm on Tuesday 21 August. This is your chance to learn about our local wetlands, ask questions and, if you are interested, find out how to become involved.

For more information about Nature Glenelg Trust, you can visit: www.ngt.org.au.

Feral Cats

News from Mike Stevens

The Victorian Government has indicated it will officially move to declare cats as pest animals on public land in mid-2018 paving the way for feral cat control.

The important next step will involve community engagement to consult on the types of control techniques that will be allowed. Being able to complement large-scale fox 1080 poison baiting with large-scale cat poison baiting could be the next evolution of the Grampians Ark project. Data is indicating that aerial baiting for feral cats is extremely effective during the colder, winter months when natural food resources are scarce and feral cats are under a higher metabolic requirement, thus, less fussy and more willing to eat a bait. It is the type of sophisticated “once-per-year” program the Grampians could deliver, complementing the long-term fox poison baiting efforts.

The Western Quoll reintroduction project in the Flinders Ranges continues to get excellent results – feral cat numbers remain low as a result of large-scale cat baiting and control strategies and quolls are breeding. Imagine if we could return Eastern Quolls, Spot tailed Quolls, Eastern Barred Bandicoots, Eastern Bettongs and more rock-wallabies to the Grampians!

Deer in the Grampians

Daryl Panther

There were 16 people in attendance, including a few who were interested in learning more for the purpose of hunting, not our usual audience but welcome all the same.

Daryl explained his background and how he has farmed Deer in the past and now being a contractor to Parks Vic. helping with the control of feral animals. He continued by describing the different  species of deer found in Victoria.

  • Rusa Deer are found mainly around Sydney and NSW. They have 3 points on each antler. They will breed with Sambar, but as there are only isolated populations of Rusa in Victoria and we don’t have them in the Grampians they are not an issue.
  • Sambar Deer are one of the heaviest species of deer. They are found around Mt Cole, in South Australia and also in the Otways, with a few in the Grampians area. They have 3 points on each antler and a bib around their neck. Samba deer don’t mix with red deer so they tend to occur in different parts of the Park to Reds.
  • Hog Deer are similar to Rusa and Samba but only grow about as big as a lab dog, there are very few around, none in the Grampians. They have established populations mostly in Gippsland.
  • Chital or Axis Deer are found in Queensland around Charters Towers, there are some isolated populations in Victoria, but not within the Grampians.
  • Fallow Deer are grazers rather than browsers. They have distinctive palmate antlers, although when young can look like those of Red deer. There are four colour variations, black, red, white and menil, they all have spots throughout adulthood, unlike others that only exhibit spots as juveniles. They are commonly found around Pomonal, but do occur in other areas of the park.
  • Red deer, along with Fallow, are the most common species found within the park, (although Sambar sightings are expanding).They are a larger animal and have antlers with many points. There is open hunting season on Red and Fallow deer all year round.

Deer have their fawns in December and usually only have one young. The fawns stay with their mothers till April. March, April and May and into June is the rutting season at this time you can call animals in. Daryl demonstrated this mating call. Red deer males look for females while Fallow deer females do the searching. During the rut males hate each other and fight but at other times of the year can be found in bachelor herds. In June males and females congregate into herds.  Come November/December they spread out into the bush while the females have their fawns. The males drop their antlers at this time, possibly to prevent them from injuring the young, but mostly it is a response to nutritional needs. It is easier to move through the bush in leaner times searching for food if you don’t have an anchor either side of your head.

Deer were introduced into Australia 160 years ago and were brought to Longeronong and Hamilton where they were released around the 1860’s in order to have animals to hunt in the future. In 1918 they were declared a protected animal.

About ten years ago a study on the deer in the Grampians estimated there were more than 1100. Since then there have been several severe fires, pushing the deer out to the edges of the park for food and some were shot as a result of this. Numbers did drop, however now that the bush has recovered the animals have come back into the shelter of the Park and it is difficult to get an accurate estimate of numbers without doing an extensive survey.  Some estimates have them around 550 while others say there are over 1100. Some of our group members think this estimate is too low.

There is currently a program with the sporting shooters association to try to reduce their numbers but so far not many have been shot. This is taking place as ecologists have identified a problem with over grazing in the park, and you cannot begin culling native wildlife while there are introduced species grazing the same areas.

After Daryl’s talk we got a chance to examine some skulls and antlers Daryl had brought with him. Those antlers are HEAVY! We then went for a walk behind Brambuk looking for deer sign. We saw a small group of Reds, along with trees they have rubbed on, scats and footprints. Not surprising really as Daryl estimates there are 50 or more resident in Halls Gap. They are safe from hunters, and have well watered gardens and fields of green grass all year round.

Daryl also shared some stories of his work in pest control for Parks Vic. He showed us radio collars for tracking programs and the judas goat program that allows tracking of feral goat herds to enable removal. He is even having to deal with feral pigs not too far from the park as rogue hunters are trying to introduce populations for their own hunting purposes. There is a possibility this is also being done with deer species too.

Editor’s note

This time last year I reported on a presentation to the park Advisory Group by Mike Stevens on the issue of deer in the Park, including the proposal to use the sporting shooters group as had been done in Wilson’s Promontory. You can read it on our website but here is his proposed action list.

  • Control red deer particularly in high priority herb-rich woodland areas.
  • Zero tolerance, opportunistic control of Fallow and samba deer to prevent population establishment.

Insects of the Grampians

Dennis Crawford

Dennis brought along some brilliant photos he has taken over the years, just a small selection of the ones that have fascinated him the most. With each insect he described, Dennis projected up a larger than life closeup picture to show off the best features. He is very passionate and moved from one to the other very quickly, sharing snippets of information as he went. I have done the best I can to string his information into a report for everyone who missed his brilliant presentation.

Insects occur on every continent in the world, including Antarctica!

Current estimates suggest there are 70,000 insect species in Australia, 20-30 million worldwide. But most are yet to be classified. Of this total less than 1% are pests. Their bad reputation comes because most people only notice them when they are a problem.

3/4 of all species on earth are insects. They have been around for longer than most other species.

Insects are incredibly important to the environment. They are responsible for pollination, seed dispersal, dung burial, recycling and even as food to plants.

If vertebrates disappeared overnight the world would continue on. If insects disappear the ecosystem collapse. They are of incredible importance to our everyday lives!

Meganeura monyi, the forerunner of dragonfly had a wingspan of nearly a metre! This was in the Carboniferous era, an  oxygen rich time in which it was far easier to survive with a more primitive respiratory system without lung structures. In fact it was the presence of a diverse range of insects that drove the diversification of flowering plants. They fall into 6 major categories

  • Orthoptera– grasshoppers katydids locusts. They appeared 300 million years ago. A local example is the Raspy Cricket in the Grampians. It  produces silk from its mouth to join leaves, has long antenna and curved ovipositor as a nymph. But after maturity does not have the long ovipositor.
  • Coleoptera– beetles, these were the first important pollinators. Approximately 30,000 species occur in Australia. 1/3 of these are weevils. Botany Bay weevil is present in the Grampians and endemic to large areas across the rest of Australia. It is so named for the area where it was first identified. Not surprising as it was the first place European biologists saw of Australia.
  • Lepidoptera– moths and butterflies developed sucking mouthparts and became nectar and pollen feeders. Approximately 20,000 moths (450 of these are butterflies) in Australia. Butterflies fold their wings back behind them, moths lay them flat along their body like a carapace. The Mistletoe moth only feeds on mistletoe, the Crexa moth only feeds on cherry Ballart trees. If these plants are removed from the environment, so are the insects. Is it possible this relationship works the other way? It’s not yet known as there are so many to study, and funding goes towards looking at pest insects mostly.
  • Neuroptera are the Lacewings. Antlion lacewings myrmeleontidae, create a cone shaped trap in the ground to capture their prey, usually ants. They flick sand at the ants on the side of the trap so they fall down into the centre where they can be eaten. This flick is one of the fastest actions in the natural world.
  • Isoptera includes termites and ants/wasps
    • termites deadwood feeders/recyclers 350 species replace large herbivores in Australia, breaking down plant material. They also replace earthworms in dry northern climates. Termites fly, but discard wings when they land. Some termite soldiers have a  “glue gun head” to squirt at ants that enter the mound.
    • Ants evolved 100 million years ago, with an incredibly complex social structure to their colony. There are 3,000 species identified in Australia. But it could be double that. The  workers are sterile females, the highest numbers within the colony. Then there are the breeding male drones, and the smallest number are fertile queens that do all the reproduction. Nuptial flights take place where a complete new colony moves all at once. Males are twice as big as female workers, the queens are twice as big again. Workers don’t fly, but they do get carried sometimes. Ants use a chemical based communication, when they are agitated or injured you can sometimes smell this yourself. A Formic acid smell.  They are the first colonisers after bushfires, and a great indicator of environment health. Some ants eat insects, some are herbivores, and some feed on sugars produced by other insects, so they farm them but do not kill them, just consuming their discharge.
      • Myrmecia species are the bull ants. Scavengers but will also kill other organisms to eat.
      • Funnel ants build the funnel shaped sand castles on entrance of hole, to prevent water entry.
      • Inqualine ants live in termite nests and cooperate to gain the benefit of the shelter provided by the mound in a very harsh hot dry climate.
    • The Flower Wasps are the ultimate romantic. Males have wings but females don’t. (However the ladies do have a bad sting.) They burrow under ground to lay eggs in living beetle larvae. Males are attracted by the female pheromone and they will carry a female to a flower to mate and gorge on nectar. Instead of taking her flowers, they carry her to the florist! But they are competing with the Scorpion fly, which have incredibly dextrous legs. The male will feed other flies to the  female during mating!
      • Diamma bicolour, the Blue Ant is actually a wasp. The female sting is intensely painful. They are parasitic on mole crickets, males are too small to carry the female, so they mate on the ground.
      • A Spider Hunting Wasp will grip the fangs of a huntsman, hold on tight, and inject a sting to paralyse the spider. It then lays eggs in the living spider in her nest, as a natural nursery with food built in! They are bigger and stronger than huntsman.
      • Cuckoo wasps have an armour plated schlerotised carapace. They curl up as a defence from the wasps they invade to lay eggs in their nests. Th Cuckoo wasp larvae hatch first and eat the other wasp larvae. The adults are then providing food to raise the cuckoo wasp and not realising it!
  • Diptera are Flies.
    • Eucalyptus sawfly species are also known as spitfires. Pergagrapta polita is the common spitfire. The name comes from their defence of vomiting concentrated eucalyptus oil. If this gets into your eyes it creates a strong burning sensation.
    • Some flies parasitic on spiders, eat them from inside out. Mantispidae, the mantis fly have parasitic larvae that eat spiders. Bladder flies in Grampians do this
    • Chrysopidae, larvae have a jaw looking device that is actually straws for sucking the fluids from their insect prey. They collect the bodies of their food on their back, along with lichen as camouflage.

Aphids are  introduced to Australia. This could be why they have become such a garden pest.

There are even some insects who’s larvae produce potassium cyanide as a defence mechanism.

 

Eco-Burning In Winter

The Grampians National Park’s winter heathland burning program aims to provide small patches of diverse, new habitat for some of the parks most threatened small mammals whilst leaving large areas of long unburnt habitat that are important refuges from predators. This program targets heathlands throughout the park with a particular focus on areas of long unburnt heath.

Capitalising on clear, calm and dry winter weather days, for the past five years the Grampians team have been burning small patches bordering the Wannon River stretching from Yarram Gap Road to Lynches Crossing Track. The team is working to provide a mosaic of habitat for the nationally threatened long nosed potoroo and southern brown bandicoot. Using only matches to ignite the fiery grasses, in August this year the team burnt a total of five patches covering 18Ha of the 900ha burn unit; the largest being 11ha and the smallest 1ha.

To complement the burning program, a research partnership has been established with Deakin University to camera monitor small mammal populations, foxes and feral cats. One hundred and seventy camera stations have been set up 400m apart and is colloquially known as the Wannon River “supa-grid” for pre and post-burn monitoring. Deakin have recently completed the second year of monitoring and we are eagerly waiting to receive the results – standby!

Mike Stevens

FOGGS have a policy of financially supporting students doing research in the Park, and of inviting them to share their knowledge with us and the public. It is so good that this kind of longitudinal study is happening, and that such a good partnership is in place between our rangers and the Universities.

Caladenia audasii Update

The Caladenia audasii near Stawell is well protected with a fence which was erected with a Communities for Nature Grant we got back in 2015.

This plant was pollinated and some seed was obtained last spring. Also last Spring another plant was found in the Ararat area and so another Grant application has been submitted to get funding to protect this plant. It is also hoped the grant will allow seed to be collected from these plants which will allow propagation of this plant at Cranbourne Botanic Gardens with the intent of planting them back into protected areas.

There are currently only around ten wild plants known in Victoria. The population in central Victoria was able to be hand pollinated several years ago and plants propagated from these plants have been successfully re-introduced back into the wild. It is hoped we can do the same with our local Stawell/ Ararat plants to insure its existence into the future.

Sallow Wattle Update

New 3D vision technique to revolutionise conservation efforts

PV Press Release Tuesday 21 March, 2017

If you think 3D vision glasses used for gaming are purely for entertainment, think again. A Parks Victoria science team is successfully using this technology for the first time to “fight the enemy” and identify a highly invasive weed, Sallow Wattle in the Grampians National Park.

The breakthrough technique has the potential to revolutionise the way weeds are identified and managed across Victoria, including areas previously difficult to access with mountainous terrain.

Steve Shelley, the Parks Victoria Information Management Officer, who has developed the use of this technology said, “The possibilities are endless. And how lucky am I to have this as part of my job? I enjoy using gaming technology at home for fun and then at work too.”

Parks Victoria Project Manager, Mike Stevens said, “You have to get sophisticated about knowing your enemy – in this case, weeds.”

“Dealing with large scale weed issues is like dealing with a big piece of string and you don’t know how long it is before monitoring begins.”

Other key points:

  • Mapping the extent and density of Sallow Wattle in the northern Grampians region using gaming technology (3D stereoscopic imagery).
  • Uses an ArcGIS plug-in called PurVIEW that utilises gaming technology (Nvidia 3D Vision glasses and infrared emitter) to present our park landscape in 3D from overlaying aerial photographs. Viewing in 3D helps to discriminate flora species by their height as well as their shape, texture and colour.

Innovative solution to a major problem facing our park managers.

  • Sallow Wattle is a highly invasive weed in the Grampians National Park. It has become a particular problem after fires in 1999 and 2014 released the Sallow Wattle seeds. Although native to Australia, it is not native to the Grampians and has spread so that other native plants are disadvantaged as it forms a solid wall that prevents many species from growing underneath.
  • In the Grampians, Parks Victoria is dealing with 30, 000 hectares and this poses a huge challenge for mapping weeds given the mountainous terrain.
  • Past surveying methods have included on-ground surveys which are time consuming, labour intensive and not always safe given the terrain.
  • The 3D vision glasses and infrared emitter allows the team to identify plants by colour, height, texture and infrared reflectivity.
  • Sallow Wattle is easy to identify using this method as it is a “middle-story” shrub and can easily be separated from tall eucalypts and low shrubs.
  • Weeds pose issues for biodiversity, and could significantly harm this important landscape and habitat that is also a major attraction for local, national and international visitors/tourists.

Brushtail Rock Wallaby Site

We hope many of you watched the recent news  on TV or heard some of the interviews on radio.

A story about the Moora Creek rock-wallaby colony featured on Sunday night 12 March ABC news bulletin. It was shown in at least South Australia, QLD, NSW and possibly ACT. An online extract can be viewed in the link below.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-12/rock-wallaby-joey-gives-hope-in-western-victoria/8347322

Interesting note from Ryan: Apologies to East Gipplsland and interstate partners (e.g. ACT Parks). Despite our best efforts to promote a broader program involving diverse partners, it did not make it to the final cut. Despite this omission, I hope the final product provides some promotion for the species and recent small success in Moora Creek.