Welcome to the Autumn newsletter. We seem to have collected a variety of items of interest once again. Unfortunately we are missing an article from Dave Roberts. He is taking a break with his family over the school holidays after a hectic time juggling two roles with Graham Parkes retirement (see below). I’m sure he’ll have plenty for us next issue!
The first quarter of the year tends to be quiet as far as FOGG meetings are concerned.
But on the two occasions we have got together we found plenty to talk about as you will read in the two activity reports. And Wendy and I have been attending Round Table and Advisory Group meetings, as you will see in our reports.
And of course plenty has been happening in the wider scene. The new state government has just announced changes to the controversial camping fees introduced by the previous government, and made some good decisions for the Alpine National Park and Pt Nepean. But whether our parks system will get any improvement to its budget, and what will happen to the plan to open up our parks to commercial development is yet to be seen. In the meanwhile no proposals for development inside our park have been put forward.
This time last year I reported on the study into Victorian Public Lands which several of us had participated in. Their report has now been published and can be found on the web at http://www.landscapemap2.org/publications/StatewidePVreport2014.pdf
The report makes quite interesting reading, as much sociologically as the findings which in general are quite encouraging. Who participated, where they lived, how old were they, what income was all investigated to try to ensure that the results were a valid reflection of the Victorian public.
Locally the big news for our Park has been the retirement of Graham Parkes. Of recent years Graham has been District Manager for South West Victoria, covering the Grampians as well as all the other regional parks (Little Desert, Mt Eccles, Lower Glenelg). Before that of course he was for many years Ranger in Charge of the Grampians National Park, after stints at several other parks. 42 years in all. There is a generous tribute to him in the current VNPA publication “Park Watch” – “always willing to listen to community concerns, and one of Victoria’s most respected park managers, his knowledge and experience will be hard to replace.” Those of us who know him closely certainly appreciate how passionate he has been for our park in both his roles and we wish him well in his retirement. I will be attending a farewell for him on April 30.
April 13th will mark the commencement of the Grampians first Green Army team working to remove satellite populations of Sallow Wattle in the park, led by supervisor Joshua Brown. The group of 10 is made up of a supervisor and 9 young locals who will be working in the park for 6 months and accessing isolated areas in the park to eradicate the introduced plant species. The aim is to work on individual populations of the weed close to areas such as the Wartook Basin to keep it from spreading further into our waterways and becoming much more difficult to track and control.
As well as working on Sallow Wattle removal the group will be helping to create, install and monitor nest boxes in our local reserves where Brush-tailed Phascogales and Squirrel Gliders have recently been detected by the Hamilton Field Naturalists.
This group will be an excellent asset and hopefully we will see a large improvement in the extent of Sallow Wattle populations in our National Park.
Caity O’Reilly and Josh Brown
February Saturday 21st 4pm
FOGGs donated some money to the Museum of Victoria some time ago to help with student research projects. Phoebe Burns and Kara Joshi are a couple of these students, working on Smoky Mouse and bird detection. They came and presented their findings to a good group of FOGGIES and other interested locals.
BIRD DETECTION METHODS
Kara’s presentation was on her work trialling a new bird detection method using an audio recorder. Currently bird surveys are carried out by live humans listening to, and looking for, birds out in the field. It is usually very accurate, but time consuming and depends on people having easy access at suitable times of day. It is hard to make it comprehensive and unbiased. Is there a way to use the technology of recording bird calls and then machine reading them? Kara set up recorders and got many hours of bird calls, then ran them through the computer to see if she and it could separate the different bird calls and identify them. She also got bird experts to listen, and compared their results with those of the computer. Unfortunately she found that it was much harder than it sounded. Eventually it probably will work, but for the present nothing replaces a birdwatcher with binoculars and good ears.
This is one of those research projects that it is really useful for us to support. It’s not a sexy or exciting topic, but it lays the groundwork for what could be a very useful tool in the future. Just think of what a revolution the use of remote cameras has been for our knowledge of small mammals in the park.
SMOKY MICE IN THE GRAMPIANS
Phoebe has kindly sent us her summary of her talk.
Phoebe Burns is a PhD student at the University of Melbourne and Museum Victoria. With the assistance of a research grant from FOGG, Phoebe recently completed a Master of Science (Zoology) focusing on the status of smoky mice in the Grampians in light of forty years of droughts, invasive predators and fire.
The endangered and elusive smoky mouse (Pseudomys fumeus) is a small native Australian rat species. The nocturnal species nests in communal burrow systems and consumes a varied diet of fungi, invertebrates, seeds and plant material. While many aspects of the species’ life history appear quite flexible – such as diet, habitat, and timing of the breeding season – smoky mice have been poorly detected across much of their range in recent decades and are thought to be in decline.
There are several hypothesised causes of decline in smoky mice, most notably drought, foxes, feral cats, and fire – all of which play major roles in the Grampians-Gariwerd National Park. My research focused on a smoky mouse population in the Victoria Range, in the west of the park. In November 2012, I was part of a team from Museum Victoria and Parks Victoria who surveyed one of the historical smoky mouse sites in the Victoria Range as part of a broader survey of the Grampians. We detected an astounding 28 individuals at the one site, now affectionately known as ‘Supergully,’ – a record high number in the Victoria Range. Three months later Supergully burned in the Victoria Valley fire, along with all other historical smoky mouse sites in the Victoria Range.
Given the severity and comprehensiveness of the fire, our main concern was that if smoky mice could not persist in the fire scar, there might be no suitable unburned patches nearby from which they could recolonise the Victoria Range. Many small mammal species in the Grampians, such as swamp rats and heath mice, aren’t found within fire scars for a few years post-fire. Based on smoky mouse records in the area and the documented fire responses of similar species, the outlook for smoky mice was grim.
I set out to determine whether smoky mice had declined in the Victoria Range since their initial detection in 1974 and how the species responded to the 2013 fire. From September – December 2013 I surveyed 42 burned and unburned sites across the Victoria Range.
Prior to this study, smoky mice were recorded in the Victoria Range in two sites in 1974 and three sites in 2002-4. In 2013, I detected smoky mice at one known site and five new sites, although I also confirmed their absence from the only two sites where the species was detected in 1974. The limited number of sites surveyed in 1974 and the gap in surveying between then and 2002 mean that although there has been no statistical shift in occupancy over the past 40 years, I cannot confidently interpret this in practical terms. Although I detected individuals at ‘new’ sites, this may be a reflection of previous sampling effort rather than a shift in the species’ occupancy in the Victoria Range.
Contrary to expectation, smoky mice survived in the Victoria Valley. Of the six sites at which I detected smoky mice in 2013, five had recently burned. Of nine individuals I captured at Supergully in 2013, three were recaptures from 2012, suggesting the species persisted in situ. All the individuals I captured at burned sites were within a normal weight range and I found evidence of breeding. While this is great news for smoky mice, the species may not respond in the same way to future fires under different weather and habitat conditions.
Despite persisting through the fire, smoky mice appear to be currently declining in numbers in a snapshot of one site. Supergully yielded 28, 9 and 3 individuals in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively. This may be a delayed response to the fire, part of a natural population cycle, or the result of some other factor such as decreased rainfall.
Smoky mice in the Victoria Range have persisted over the past forty years of droughts and feral predators, as well as the short-term impacts of fire. However, for smoky mice and other threatened species, we need to survey populations regularly to keep track of fluctuations in abundance and isolate these from other threatening declines.
Both girls joined us for a meal at Halls Gap pub and a pleasant discussion.
FOGGies gathered on Saturday 21st March for our contribution to Clean Up Australia.
A nation this big needs more than one day a year to keep it clean, so our dedicated group gathered on a day of our own choosing to do our bit. 7 of us met at Wonderland car park, left a few vehicles there and shuttled on to the Sundial carpark. Armed with packed lunches, sustaining fluids, garbage bags, gloves and various tools for picking up any unpleasantness we were yet to learn of, we set out. A beautiful morning, good company, on a very picturesque walk. What a great way to spend an autumn day.
We dawdled along to The Pinnacle, picking up the occasional can and bottle, tissues and other small items. Along the way various plants and flowers were spotted, to be photographed and discussed. As were several friendly rock skinks. The views were enjoyed, and the conversation was great. We soon approached the top. The area around the Pinnacle and the now unmarked Nerve Test had a much higher concentration of rubbish.
We found a space among the hordes to sit on the rocks in the sunshine and break bread. After lunch a brief chat about issues relating to FOGG grew into brain-storming about a need for a new guide to Grampians flora and its possible formats. A quick look at the world class view, and the break was over.
Then the hard work began. Innumerable water bottles, cans, discarded clothing, food wrappers and other items had been hidden or blown into the tea tree and down into the multitude of rock crevices on top of the mountain. My home made rubbish spike that had been ridiculed earlier, was in demand. Calls of “Rodney, Where’s the stick?” echoed from all quarters. We rapidly filled several bags, and then continued towards Wonderland carpark. The walk down Silent Street is tight and strenuous, more so when carrying rubbish bags. It was also a location with much discarded waste, but eerily beautiful all the same.
The general public we saw throughout the day offered encouragement and said it was great to see us cleaning up and how disgusted they were that people would make this mess. We were thanked for our efforts by many, and even aided by some.
The problem that dismayed us the most was the toilet paper, alternated with hankies, and even jocks used for the same purpose, discarded everywhere. This is a real problem. Do we need to educate the public to go before they set off, like children on a car journey? Or set up dispensers to provide doo-doo bags for people to take on the walk to pick up after themselves like dog owners? Between this issue and the rampant (and slightly evil) bottled water industry we filled 6 garbage bags by the time we got back to the carpark.
The rubbish bags were tied, piled into the back of the ute, and photographed for posterity. We then reversed the earlier shuttling duties, and a few of us had a cuppa under the watchful eye of a Scarlet Robin. I’m sure I heard him whistle strains of “My ol’ man’s a dustman..” in appreciation of our work. The rubbish was dropped into the skip at Brambuk, and another great day out with FOGGs was over. Time for an ice-cream!
As you probably will have read in Rodney’s account of our walk and cleanup day in the Wonderland area, we started to discuss whether there was a need for a new book on the Grampians, and if so what format, what would it encompass, and whether a book is now old hat and we need to look at tablet or phone appliances. The discussion emerged out of frustration some of us had in what books we use when out walking; there are several backpack size books but all are quite old, and each has its strengths and shortcomings. But it is also true that no comprehensive book on the Grampians has appeared since Jane Calder’s “The Grampians: A Noble Range” was published in 1987 but long out of print. Clearly before we start thinking whether we, together with other local interested groups, could seek funding to produce a new resource, we need to have a clear picture of what we want to do.
I thought I would start off by making a list here of what is generally available for general information and for plants. Please contact me with information about things I have inevitably missed. And if anyone wanted to do a follow up on birds, please do so.
General Books on the Grampians:
Jane Calder: “The Grampians: A Noble Range” 1987 VNPA
Geology, climate, soils, plants and animals, history, suggested activities. Excellent, superb pen illustrations, but 30 years old, out of print and I’m told very daunting to revise due to changes in print technology.
Gib Wettenhall & Alison Pouliot: “Gariwerd: Reflecting on the Grampians” 2006 EM Press.
Superb photos by Alison, five interesting essays by Gib, briefly exploring Aboriginal creation views, the botanical richness, European history, and issues in park management – particularly fire.
A & B Paton: “Discovering Grampians-Gariwerd” 2005 VNPA
A small pocket book mainly on walks and drives, but starting with a brief introduction to the Park – some history, some on where to stay, the different habitats, some of the common animals. Interesting to see how quickly a book like this gets dated – the 2006 fires and the 2011 landslides have affected some of the suggested walks.
Print Based Plant Guides:
A: large read -at – home books (Grampians and all Victoria)
Corrick & Fuhrer: Wildflowers of Victoria: 2002? Bloomings Books
Clear photographs, mostly including the leaves, short clear descriptions. Easy to see whether it is found in the Grampians, but not to any detail.
Jeanes & Backhouse: “Wild Orchids of Victoria Australia” Aquatic Photographics 2006.
1400 excellent photographs of 362 species plus 45 naturally occurring hybrids, together with detailed descriptions.
There are older books too, such as Galbraith: Wildflowers of South- east Australia.1977 Collins and other earlier orchid guides. But the names have changed so much, and the photos back then were grouped together in the centre of the book. However the pen sketches can be useful for distinguishing difficult species.
B: Field Guide size
Elliott: R A Field Guide to the Grampians Flora. Algona Press 1984.
This book covers trees, shrubs,climbers, lilies, grasses, orchids, ferns. My well worn copy attests to how useful this has been to me. Many species, not just the ones with colourful flowers. Easy alphabetical order by scientific name, almost always a pen drawing of the leaf, an indication of the habitat, and a useful guide by colour and size. But again the names have changed so much, and the photos back then were grouped together There is also a mini version Plant Identikit with just the most common plants.
McCann I: The Grampians in Flower VNPA 1994
400 flowers photographed – mainly life size, common and scientific names, family, size of plant, season of flowering, conservation status.
Woodcock K: “How to identify the wildflowers of the Grampians” and “How to identify the Native Orchids of the Grampians” Community Association of Halls Gap. (Another FOGG member).
Eschewing photos, Ken has used colour pencil to illustrate the flowers, (138 flowers and 70 orchids). The advantage of this method is that size and distinguishing features can be easily indicated.
Marriott N. via Grampians Tourism 2013
A double-sided A4 sheet folded in 3 with photos of the most common flowers.
Computer based Plant Guides (Grampians and all Victoria)
Viridans Databases of the plants of Victoria.
The company was established in December 1990 when it began development of the Victorian Flora Information System (FIS) series of botanical databases. Initially these databases were written for the sole use of the botanical survey team within the Department of Conservation and Environment (DCE) but over time they became the principal source of information on plants for a much wider range of users, inside and outside of government.
I have owned a copy of the Viridans database Wild Plants of Victoria for some years now and use it extensively for the Wildflower show each year. Well, you don’t actually own it. You buy a licence to use it for 3 years. My version is on a USB stick with a password and whenever the USB stick is in any windows based computer and the correct password is used it is accessible. It is for the whole of Victoria, but you can set just a region to look in. You can also subscribe to a web-based version to use via broadband. Or you can have the windows version plus an ipad/ tablet version (which I only learnt this morning while researching this). “The packages show, at a glance, the names, classification and conservation status of all 5000 vascular plant species recorded for Victoria. Each species has a plain English description and most are represented by one or more colour photographs. You can find the names by typing in a scientific name or a common name, you can even enter an old out of date name and there is a good chance the correct species will be found.” There is also another more detailed and more expensive version (Just-a-Minute Victorian Plants). I have once or twice tried to use the database on my laptop while out in the car, but it hasn’t coped with outdoors light. I haven’t tried the tablet app yet. Has anyone else?
Viridans also has some useful free products such as a guide to Victoria’s rare plants, and one on introduced plants and a plant index. They also have a similar range of resources for Victoria’s birds.
And that’s without starting on fungi, mammals, reptiles, insects and more! Or guides to habitats, such as grasslands, box- ironbark forests etc.
We are lucky in FOGGS to have many really knowledgeable folk and many very able nature photographers, some of whom are quite keen to get to work. But we need to know what we want to achieve. So please help your committee think this through. Can you add to the above list, can you give us a brief review of how useful you find any of the above resources? What kind of new resource would you like to see us help produce? Or do you think we would be biting off more than we can chew?
Two related interesting articles in local papers.
April will see a survey in the McKenzie river by the Wimmera Catchment Management Authority. Among others they hope to find the two baby platypuses first recorded last April, the first time in a decade that juveniles had been detected. The survey will also provide valuable information about the impact of environmental water releases in the river.
The researchers will also be trialling a new technique called eDNA which tries to pick up traces of DNA in the water (from hairs, faeces etc) . This can indicate the presence of platypus without actually trapping them or even seeing them. At this stage it can’t pick out individuals, or how recent the activity is, but it can be a basis for where it is worth taking a closer look.
The Advisory Group met on 18th March with the new convenor Kevin Bolwell in the chair. Once again we had a full agenda.
We first looked at how things are going with fire recovery works from last summer’s fire in the northern part of the Park.
McKenzie Falls Precinct
There are currently no plans to re-open the kiosk, but the option for someone to apply to do so will remain open. In the meantime, a mobile coffeecart has permission to serve coffee there when it is busy. The cottage will not be rebuilt. The toilets will be repaired, where they are currently. Power and telephone will be restored. (Currently there is no mobile reception so a fixed line will be needed- how best to do this is still to be decided). The question of parking is a real problem and we looked at some of the options. The current parking areas are not coping with demand at busy times, but how much of the park do we turn into carpark? A problem not confined to this site. The fire has opened up new vistas of the river above the falls and new open space is planned along the river and where the former house was. But in busy times should people be discouraged from picnicking here to reduce the pressure on carpark spaces?
Cottages at Zumsteins
A detailed consultants’ report on what best to do with the cottages has been received. Their recommendation is to work to repair and restore the central cottage (which was not burnt), by reroofing it, repairing and repainting the timbers, making the floor level. The other two cottages “Orange cottage” and “Green Cottage” were badly damaged. There is not enough insurance money to fully repair these and the consultants gave several options for both. Most likely a separate new protective roof over each of them, reducing the walls to a safe level of 1 metre and repairing them with new pise. They could then be easily accessible to the public and interpretive signs explaining about the building methods etc. We were generally in agreement and our comments were noted and there will also be discussions with the Laharum community.
The campground was badly affected by the fire and also by finding asbestos in the soil, which has now been removed. The Parks team are taking the opportunity to rethink the layout. There will be better separation of group camps from individual and family campers and better provision will be made for caravans and campervans. Also the carpark for the Ngamadjidj cultural site will be moved to make a longer walk in, thus giving more of a sense of arrival. The plan looks excellent. The site urgently needs more revegetation work (again), and is sorely missed. We had quite a discussion as to alternative sites in the northern end of the park, on both park and private property. A formal campsite on Coppermine track is a possibility as it is already very popular with groups despite the lack of facilities. This led us into a discussion of the issue of campfees and the need now to prebook sites. Pre-booking will definitely help, but the sudden introduction of high fees is creating problems.
The Grampians Peaks trail
Work is almost complete on improving the track through the Grand Canyon area. The hiker camp near Mt Rosea that we inspected in November is now finished and the first stage of the walk will be officially opened shortly. The camps will be given indigenous names and this first one will be Bugiga, which is the name for Mt Rosea as recorded in the diaries of George Robinson. The next camp site will be near the start of Redman Rd. The Advisory Group is still very concerned at the funding model for the trail. We have had no response to the letter we sent to the previous minister so we resolved to write again, and also to Parks Victoria CEO.
Environment and Heritage
The quoll at the brushtailed rockwallaby release site is still being recorded on remote cameras but attempts to catch it or even to get samples of its DNA have not yet been successful. Unfortunately the young BTRW seen out of the pouch in spring has not been seen lately and is feared to be dead. We don’t know yet whether these two items are connected. There is overall a decline in the population of small mammals. Is the drying climate the cause? Some of the heritage news is also depressing. There has been an increase in graffiti at some sites, and an education strategy is needed. I also asked Dave about the proliferation of rock cairns along the Balconies track. When there were just a few it seemed a fairly harmless activity, but on my last visit there were just so many and people going further and further off the track to erect them. Dave told me that action had already been taken to dismantle them and that one of the tour operators had received a warning.
Finally we moved towards setting up some project working groups so that some of these important areas can get more focussed attention. Our next meeting is in June.
The last roundtable was held on 24 March and we had a full and varied agenda. Just a few of the topics covered follow:
- Russell Manning gave details of the last six months fire season. The Wimmera had a very busy fire season with more individual fires than we have experienced for many years. The dry conditions since winter last year lead to the country being very dry and high fire risks even under relatively mild conditions. Between September and November there were 30 fires. Fortunately we had a fairly mild late January, February and March. However the start of January saw DELWP managing 51 fires between Jan 2 & 7. With only 8 dozers and 8 aircraft, resources were stretched. The 2 big fires which impacted on the Grampians Region were the fire at Moyston and near Rocklands. As we had our meeting at the Moysten CFA shed we heard from locals about details of the fire and we later toured some of the burnt areas.
- The Victorian Government has asked the Inspector-General for Emergency Management (IGEM) to conduct a review of performance targets for the future bushfire fuel management program on public land. The report on this was due at the end of March but due to larger than expected number of submissions the report has been delayed. This is on our agenda for discussion at our June meeting.
- Glenn Rudolph told us about the planned burns and how they are trying to look at burns more from the fire risk perspective and some of the large areas on the Fire Operation Plan (FOP) will have small burns applied over successive years to create a mosaic effect. They are wanting to move away from the annual FOP process and have ongoing discussions of the burn programs. The dry conditions have meant that this years burn program will have to have changes made to it.
- Andrew Govanstone updated us on the South Western Bushfire Risk Landscape Plan (SWBRP). Seven risk landscape areas have been set up across the state. Strategic management plans for three of these areas were recently launched and the rest are due this year and the SWBRP should be available in July 2015. These plans take into consideration population centres, infrastructure, fire history, and environmental assets. The Pheonix Rapidfire Modelling computer program is used to identify the highest risk areas and which areas will best modify fire behaviour and reduce risk to assets. The model has been used to reassess fire management zones and does not vary greatly to the rezoning which occurred a couple of years ago. Over the next couple of months there will be opportunity for stakeholders and the wider community to have input into this plan. If you want further information on this plan contact Andrew Govanstone, Strategic Partnerships Facilitator, on 55270425 or by emailing