Bird Observing in the Grampians

JanBert Brouwer

The joint outing with the Birdlife Horsham branch on Sunday July 3rd started with a bleak weather outlook following rain and low lying clouds. Not something that is likely to make the birds put on an active show. However a large-turn out of bird observers often means many keen eyes to detect birdlife.

The Birdlife group always prepares their trips very thoroughly with a reconnaissance visit preceding the outing to find interesting birds. Tim Mintern and Ian Morgan had recently sighted emu wrens near the air strip in the western part of the park but these birds proved to be too elusive for this outing. However the Scarlet Robin put on a splendid display there and was a real highlight. It was surprising that even water birds were very scarce on the Moora Moora Reservoir.

Hennie and Bill Neve hosted us for our lunch break at their home in Wartook. A wonderful warm environment on this wintery day for some lively social interaction that is such an important  part of both clubs.

All in all, the group managed to sight 53 different bird species that day although I must admit that my tally was way down as usual. A remarkably high number for these weather conditions. A few notable examples were also close encounters with the White-Throated and the Brown Tree Creepers, the Restless Flycatcher, Spotted and Striated Pardalotes, and several different Thornbills (Brown, Buff-rumped, Yellow and Yellow-rumped)  with a final appearance of the Eastern Spinebill.

Photo Point Mapping of Sallow Wattle

Last year  FOGGs volunteered to keep a pictorial record of Sallow Wattle at 20-30 spots in the Park. We would mark each spot with a star picket and it would be a matter of going back to the same spot twice a year and taking a photo at a time that suits the individual volunteer. It has been a slow start but we now have the map with the spots to be monitored and enough volunteers to spread the load.  The actual photo work is about to start on this long term project.

Update On The Orchid Conservation Program

Our contractors have erected a locked fence to keep grazing animals away from the highly endangered orchid  Caladenia audasii —(or McIvor Spider-orchid, Audas Spider-orchid) in the Stawell Ironbarks Forest, and there is a remote camera to deter any human predators. The team will keep a close eye on it and when (if?) it flowers it will be crosspollinated from the other surviving colony near Bendigo and eventually more plants can be grown at Cranbourne then released back into the wild.

Cultural Arts Site Excursion

I don’t get to enough FOGGs activities because I live in Melbourne and get caught up in activities there. However, as a passionate student of the Aboriginal story of Gariwerd, I made sure I could be at the cultural sites excursion run by Ben Gunn on April 9th. We 2016-04-08 FOGG_29met up at Buandik and I noticed a few keen non FOGGs members also turned up, having found out by various means (thanks to the wonders of the internet) that this rare opportunity was being offered.

Twenty of us set off up the Goat Track – some by foot and some by car to the location Ben had chosen for our adventure. As we tramped through the bush to visit three sites in all, Ben generously filled us in on many aspects of the archaeology of Gariwerd art sites and discoveries. We learned about the changing nature of interpretations of the art. Amusingly Ben criticised some of his own earlier attempts at proscribing meanings to the symbols.

The fire of 2013 in this area destroyed much vegetation, and regrowth is slow. 2016-04-08 FOGG_10However the great gift is that so much is accessible which once was very scratchy to get into. One of the big bonuses, as we learned from Ben, is that several art sites have been re-discovered. Some by climbers and some by fire recovery crew. Our main objective was to visit one of these sites as well as stop to look at a previously known site now closed to the general public.

When we arrived Ben asked us to spot the art, and no one managed to do so. He had tricked us a bit by standing around the corner from where it actually was. All the same it was a good lesson in just how hard it is to find and identify genuine art.  Which makes it all the more remarkable that new sites are being found and recorded.

We also got a demonstration of how newly emerging technology can be used in this process. Ben showed us how a photo with a camera loaded with special software can enhance 2016-04-08 FOGG_35the faded art and make it starkly visible.

We also got to watch him ‘map’ the shape of the shelter with a kind of laser gadget (sorry for my technical vagueness).

I found it exciting to know that more cultural sites are being mapped and recorded. The richness and density of Aboriginal sites in Gariwerd makes this a unique and special place in Victoria, and it is wonderful that the count of sites is going up.  Even though almost all sites are necessarily kept secret to protect them from vandalism and degradation, it is very necessary for them to be preserved in the record of such a long lived culture which was so vibrant.

I think we all felt privileged to have this opportunity to have a brief look at how this is happening and feel even more supportive of the process. I tried to encourage Ben to write a book on Grampians rock art. I for one only want to learn more.2016-04-08 FOGG_47

Ben told us of the danger some sites are in; e.g. Climbers putting bolts in rock faces near art they probably haven’t even seen.  Preservation of the site we visited is probably assured by the fact that it would be very difficult to find it again. Possibly Ben led us there on a rather roundabout route purposefully. Of course we all understood well the vulnerability of the sites and this excursion helped to shore up our dedication to their protection.

Descending from the heights of the range and her secrets we gathered at Buandik picnic ground for lunch and chat. There were numbers of other picnickers and walkers and the car park was chock-a-block with cars. It looked more like a city park on a busy Sunday afternoon. I propose it might have been at peakIMG_2804 usage of all time – as I have rarely, over the years, seen more than a few cars there at any one time.

A few new keen members were signed up for FOGGs over lunch and some of us went on to take another look at Billimina and Manja shelters as a dessert option.

Thanks to Ben for answering our innumerable questions so interestingly.

Chris Sitka

Brushtail Rock-Wallaby Site

Although there have been issues with remote cameras in the last month, the two young at foot were alive and healthy when last detected in early March (as in photo).

The quoll has not been seen since last July, so it has either moved away or died.

Platypus Survey

The Wimmera CMA conducted a platypus survey  of the McKenzie River near Zumsteins in early April. It showed that despite the ongoing extremely dry conditions the fragile population is holding its own. They captured a new juvenile about 4 months old, the fourth year in a row that this has happened. They also recaptured  a 16 month old female. The Wimmera CMA chief executive said that environmental water releases through ongoing dry conditions  had a focus on maintaining suitable conditions for as long as possible so platypus, fish, bug and plant communities could stay in good shape.

Members of the public (including us FOGGIES) are urged to register any sighting on the platypusSPOT.org website.  Enjoy the very informative site anyway!

New Tourist Loop?

Northern Grampians, Southern Grampians, Horsham and Ararat councils are looking at developing a tourist ring route encircling the Grampians. It would be all bitumen, and allow visitors to enjoy views of the Grampians from across the plains as well as from nearby, as well as enabling local producers to showcase their products. Planning is still in the early stages and would involve sealing part of Winfields Rd and Flat Rock Rd.

 

Petition Call From The VNPA (Victorian National Parks Association)

We are asking members to please sign this petition, share it with your friends, and mail it to the VNPA or, preferably, go online to their website http://www.vnpa.org.au and sign there.

If Victoria’s national parks do not get the resources they need, our natural areas will continue to decline and recovery will be difficult.

If they are well resourced, nature has a very good chance for the future. And we’ll all benefit from a healthy environment.

Therefore, I call on the Victorian Government to:

  • Immediately return Parks Victoria funding to at least 2010-11 levels (an increase of at least $30 million a year).
  • Develop a future funding plan ensuring substantial increases to build the resources and expertise to fix up our parks, and address the many threats including weeds, pests and the pressures of climate change.
  • Make parks special places with appropriate tracks, signs and facilities so they are welcoming to all Victorians.

This petition will be delivered to:

  • Victorian Premier
    Daniel Andrews
  • Victorian Environment Minister
    Lisa Neville

Sallow Wattle

Wendy

At one of our meetings with parks staff last year Ryan suggested a possible project for FOGGs would be to photo monitor some areas of Sallow wattle. In the northern Grampians there has been an explotion of Sallow wattle since the January 2014 bushfires. There had been a survey for Sallow wattle in this area back in 2013 before the fires. From this survey we had photos and GPS points that had had been taken during the survey. It was hoped we could use some of these spots to continue monitoring. However the knowledge and technology to find these spots again proved beyond my capabilities so we decided to find new points in the same areas, Rodney and Wendy went out in early December and hammered in star pickets and took photos to get the project started. People who indicated last year they wanted to be part of this project will be contacted with instructions on how to continue the photo monitoring part of the project.

Naural Values Update

Outstanding native mammal research in the Grampians wins award

A team of researchers from Deakin University has been recognised on World Environment Day for their outstanding research investigating the effects of fire and climatic changes on native mammals in the Grampians National Park.

The Nancy Millis Science in Parks Award recognises outstanding contributions to fostering excellence in applied science for the benefit of park management.

Parks Victoria Chief Executive, Dr Bill Jackson said: “This long-term research and monitoring project is greatly improving our understanding about how native mammals respond to major climatic changes and fires in the Grampians landscape. The research is directly helping to guide how we manage the park to help protect native mammals in this region.”

The project began in 2008, to investigate how small mammals re-colonised after the bushfires that affected the park in 2006. It then evolved into an ongoing program and each year since, 36 sites throughout the Grampians National Park have been monitored by Deakin University honours students. During this time, nearly 5,500 small mammals have been trapped, recorded and released, giving detailed information about the factors that are important for their survival after periods of flood, drought and fire.

“This has been a remarkable team effort, led by Deakin University’s Associate Professor John White, Dr Raylene Cooke and Dr Dale Nimmo and including work by 13 Honours students over the past seven years.  Such long-term scientific monitoring projects are rare but highly valuable for helping us to understand what’s happening in our parks and ecosystems, particularly in a changing climate.

“The data collected has given us important insights into the native mammals’ ‘boom and bust’ cycles that are weather dependant. Detailed maps using satellite images have shown the importance of wet gullies for refuges and maintaining healthy native mammal populations. The research has also shown that the Grampians is a much more ‘rainfall driven’ area than previously thought and rainfall is a key factor for these small mammals’ survival after fire, drought and flood.

“I congratulate the team who have worked closely with Parks Victoria staff locally and are making a real difference to how we manage the park. This includes how and where Parks Victoria and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) run planned burn and fire ecology works and pest predator control programs such as fox baiting to best protect the native mammals,” said Dr Jackson.

“Caring for our parks is a complex task that involves many challenges including climate change. We need strong partnerships, innovative solutions and a good scientific understanding of how best to tackle these issues and care for these important natural environments and their inhabitants. Dr Jackson said the project is part of Parks Victoria’s Research Partners Program that fosters collaborative applied research with universities and other research organisations.”

Key findings of the research to date include:

  • For the first time, the Grampians has been shown to be a rainfall driven ‘boom-bust’ system for native mammals. The research has shown the relative importance of factors such as annual rainfall as a major influence for these species to survive after drought, flood and fire. This is directly helping to guide when and where fire and pest predator management programs are run within the park to help protect the native mammals.
  • Small mammal refuges have been identified using the monitoring data and long-term satellite imagery. These include wet gullies and areas that maintain moisture even in dry seasons which the research has found are important for maintaining healthy mammal populations in the Grampians.
  • Evidence from the study indicates that small mammals recolonise from within fire affected areas. It was previously not understood how mammals re-colonise intensely bushfire affected landscapes, and whether this happens from adjoining non-affected sites or whether they survive within the burnt areas. It has been shown that different habitat elements are important for different mammal species to survive post fire, including the presence of rock-outcrops, large trees or small unburnt areas for refuge.

FOGGS are proud that we have been supportive of this important project in several ways. We have financially supported students as they visit the Grampians to conduct the research and we have been inviting them to present their findings to us. Last issue we had reports from two of the researchers and we look forward to hearing from Susannah Hale  sometime early next year.

We are very happy that, despite the funding shortfalls, in our Park the commitment to scientific research has remained  such a priority. Thanks Mike, Dave, Ryan and Ben.

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Quoll recorded on remote camera near Henham track as part of this research (most likely the same one recorded previously).