Welcome to our slightly late April newsletter. Some of you shouldn’t be receiving it because you are unfinancial but we have decided to be kind and give you a last free copy. Please fix before the New Year starts. Not sure? Contact our treasurer Judith on 53836247.
Unable to get to any of our activities but would like to help us? We welcome contributions from members- articles, poems, memories, art, photos …. This is your newsletter.
Last issue I mentioned the rising number of tourists and the official numbers have just been announced. In 2017 Grampians received over 53,000 international overnight visitors – up 3.5% on the YE 16 and visitors stayed 352,200 nights in our region – up 22.9% on YE 16.
And finally do remember we have a website, administered by our very reliable Frank van der Peet down in Apollo Bay. This newsletter will shortly be up there for anyone to see and remember, you can access articles from previous newsletters there as well. And there’s our Facebook page as well. Both Rodney and I are administrators but both of us find it hard to make time to update it so please add your photos and comments as a guest or if you are more interested, contact either of us for the password to act as an administrator.
Please note that our first activity for the year is on February 24th at 4pm in the Mural Room in the Parks Office at Brambuk. Hear about the research done by two of our members Ben Gunn and Bill Gardner.
Then on Saturday March 3 we are having our annual cleanup activity followed by a BBQ lunch. Because a replacement for Caity has not yet been appointed we have been asked to take on more responsibility. If you are able to help please contact us asap so we can work out sites and activities. See below.
April 13 Friday at 5pm Mike Stevens will catch us up to date on what is happening re environmental issues in our park. Some of us will then be heading to Cavendish’s Red Gum Festival the next morning to put up a display on the history of our Red Gum Walk in Victoria Valley.
You will notice a couple of references to the rapidly increasing number of tourists coming to the area to the joy of the tourism folk and the local councils. Dave has commented on the increase in rubbish, but there has also been an increase in rescues of lost and injured hikers. And then the drowning at McKenzie Falls. We are not alone of course, the Twelve Apostles area has the same situation and I have been reading articles on how overcrowded USA parks are and the problems this causes. Incredible photos of human traffic jams at Zion canyon, which I remember visiting peacefully not that many years ago. We as individuals and as a group are not anti-tourism. We boast about the place to our friends and we want to see it loved and appreciated. But how do we prevent people loving a place to death? How do our hard working park staff keep stupid people safe? They either don’t read signs, or ignore them anyway. And expect mobile phone coverage everywhere. Only a minority of visitors of course, but they do waste so much time and some cause so much damage to fragile environments.
We are kicking off another year and I hope it can be an impressive one. As always we will be doing a cleanup day this year in March, and I hope we can see some PhD presentations from some of our esteemed membership. A working bee or two, some educational sessions too. A picnic on the mount… no wait wrong song! Our usual mix, sprinkled with some time outdoors enjoying the park.
Online stuff- this may be a year of technology for FOGGs.
Parks Victoria have launched a website called ParkConnect, to help people find and join volunteer groups and organisations. The idea being it will allow people new to an area, or travelling through to find a local group or activity to be part of. Three members of our committee attended a workshop to learn its operation, from the team that developed the site. At that workshop we listed FOGGs on the portal. This may allow people to join us and maybe bring in some new members. They can join the group from the website, but would not be true members until they have attended an event and paid their fees. I would request our existing members who are tech savvy to go to ParkConnect, set up a profile and join the FOGG group on the portal. This will allow us and Parks Vic to keep track of volunteer hours in the park. We do need to add more information to the page, and that will happen in due course, but it is a work in progress. There is opportunity through this profile setup to list all skills and certifications that members have. This means those skills can be recorded and utilised, allowing some activities to be expanded by making use of the member/volunteer skill set.
Some of the committee including those that attended the training session need to log on and finish putting details into our page, but the bare bones are there, allowing us to be found.
An app has been launched by the Victorian State Government Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) that enables native plant ID and includes a facility to map where species are being observed. I have only played with it briefly, but it seems to be a useful app. It does require mobile service to work, although you can photograph plants and upload the photos at a later date. It provides plant identification assistance, with basic species information. Using your smartphone or other mobile device you can upload photos of observed plants and this will automatically record a location. It will enable a more accurate vegetation map to be generated showing where native species are still hanging on, and even areas they have returned to! Automatic recording of location does concern me a little, we don’t want too much information about locations of rare species to be available, but it is a balance that has to be found.
Some years back our dedicated volunteer webmaster set up a system that allowed us to have email addresses for President, Secretary, Treasurer, Editor etc @friendsofgrampiansgariwerd. We haven’t adopted them and in some ways I feel it is to our detriment. The legitimacy it lends us as an organisation when communicating with government departments, filing grant applications, and press releases etc cannot be underestimated. I know I’m guilty of not trusting emails from an unknown source with a gmail address, I wonder how many others might be the same. We can remove that doubt. As a second advantage, imagine not having to learn new email addresses after each AGM. The email address would be tied to the position, not the person. I feel we should look into setting it up properly, Frank has volunteered to help us set up each office bearer and all will be easy to change to the new office bearer if need be. We will discuss this as a committee and make a decision.
I recently received a bag from a former FOGG president containing unused Red Gum Walk signs. As an organisation in the late 80’s and early 90’s we paid to have interpretive signs made up to install on the longer loop of the walk, which never got off the ground due to park management concerns at the time. I’d like to kick it off again and make Sue McInnes’s vision comes to pass. Several late members, founders of the group and former presidents dedicated them selves to this project. I grew up working on this project, it’s time we got it finished in some fashion.
We may not be able to do the longer loop, but I would like to see the original short loop properly reinstated. It’s irked me for years that we have been slow to do this. In some circles the walk is iconic, it started a nationwide trend of providing access to the environment for the less able to enjoy. It was the first walk in the Grampians that didn’t climb a hill or a mountain. It shouldn’t disappear quite yet! We can honour several people by working towards a new version, using old signs designed by renowned artists who believed in the project.
It has been a busy summer holiday period in Grampians National Park. According to the latest figures the Halls Gap area saw a 1774% increase in population – from 316 permanent residents to a peak of 5500 people! This was the largest percentage increase across the state of Victoria and evident by the sheer volume of people visiting the national park.
However, the impact on the park has been both positive and negative. It is fantastic seeing so many people out enjoying this landscape, however disappointingly we have noticed an increasing number of people failing to take responsibility for their own rubbish. Please help spread the message of taking your rubbish with you. The photo below was taken by one of our rangers at Silverband Falls Carpark.
STAFF MOVEMENTS: After 3 years in the Grampians as a Volunteer Coordinator and Project Firefighter, Caity O’Reilly has accepted a new marine focused role with Parks Victoria at Queenscliff. Caity will be greatly missed and we wish her all the best in her new position.
Ian Hanson has returned to the team as acting Ranger Team Leader for Park Operations. With over 10 years of experience in the park, Ian will help guide the team responsible for roads and visitor site infrastructure and maintenance.
In the middle of this month we will also see the addition of Jessica Sharp as Grampians Ark Coordinator. Jessica will bring a wealth of knowledge and skills to the role of protecting native small mammals and managing introduced predators.
FIRE AND EMERGENCY: The F&E team have spent the last month completing a range of activities and works. They have responded to several fires, including a large plantation fire at Mooralla on the western side of the park. The team also played a key role in the successful search and rescue operation for missing bushwalker Julio ‘Lester’ Ascui. Looking forward, the team will continue to work on maintaining access to waterpoints and clearing strategic firelines.
This season be sure to keep an eye out for the team in the new Mercedes Unimog fire tanker. This tanker provides increased capability on the fireline and significant improvements in firefighter protection.
ENVIRONMENT AND HERITAGE: The E&H team have been busy with several projects. These have included deploying fox and feral cat remote sensor monitoring cameras throughout the park, searching for new Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby release locations, clearing of vegetation regrowth impacting significant rock art sites, successful funding bids for goat and deer control programs in Autumn, and working with the Catchment Management Authorities on National Landcare phase 2 grants for Sallow Wattle and feral animals.
2016 FLOOD RECOVERY: Key recent works have seen Redman Road reopened. See our weekly road report for further detail on what is open and closed in the national park.
2014 FIRE RECOVERY: At Zumsteins the roof on the middle cottage has been replaced and expert stone masons have completed restoration works to the walls. Contractors are continuing to develop new interpretive signage for the area.
VISITORS AND COMMUNITY: The V&C team have been making the most of the increase in visitors. With two enthusiastic seasonal rangers on board, the team has facilitated four Ranger guided walks, five Junior Ranger kid’s activities and a series of information “pop-up’s” at Mackenzie Falls, Wonderland Carpark and Halls Gap Visitor Information Centre to help visitors better prepare for their visit, provide park specific information and promote the Survive the Heat campaign.
The Grampians Peaks Trail (GPT) continues to evolve and take shape. Contractors have completed work on over 1.5km of steel walkway on the remote Major Mitchell Plateau. This was achieved in challenging conditions over a winter that involved rain, hail and snow.
As a result, First Wannon Hiker Camp has reopened, however access is only from Mt William or Mafeking. The walking track between Stockyard Saddle and Jimmy Creek Campground remains closed for extensive stonework.
Works on Chatauqua Peak remain on track for completion by the end of March. Visitors are reminded that Chatuaqua Peak remains open via the Bullaces Glen Walking Track.
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!
SEDGES HAVE EDGES
RUSHES ARE ROUND
GRASSES HAVE KNEES (nodes) THAT POINT TO THE GROUND
Amphibromus, Lachnagrostis, Austrostipa, Chloris, Themeda, Neurachne ….. or, Wallaby Grass, Blown Grass, Spear Grass, Windmill Grass, Kangaroo Grass, Fox-tailed Mulga Grass – just some of the native grasses identified by Alan Bedggood at our home near Lake Lonsdale, as he led about 20 of us on a fascinating tour of discovery on our November activity. Ask Alan if you think I’ve got some names wrong …. because it’s quite likely ….. a new learning curve, and definitely a new passion.
Alan brought along samples of grass for us to handle and look at closely, with and without using little powerful illuminated magnifiers for studying the finer points of grasses, such as their awns, lemmas, and glumes, the only way in which to speciate many grasses; the more closely we could look, the more interesting it all became (and becomes).
A great memory tool Alan suggested was the use of comparative imagery: e.g., a wallaby grass floret looks like a unicorn’s head; some have moustaches, beards and fringes ….. Ask Alan …..
It’s amazing how knowing more about the grasses has deepened our understanding of ecosystems and habitats around the area. [Being at our place made it doubly beneficial to us]. It was a great relief to me to find that my favourite grass at home is native, Swamp Wallaby Grass, and not an introduced feral. It makes a beautiful sight, tall and graceful in winter-wet areas.
It was not only native grasses, however, so I’d better mention that there were a lot of weeds he identified here too! In addition to identifying weeds, Alan and Wendy discussed different ways to control them, and the pros and cons of each; also valuable was learning more about the degrees of threat posed by different species: e.g. African Veldt Grass is pretty scary, rampant along roadsides since the 2006 fires.
We helped Judith Thompson celebrate a very special birthday (Happy Birthday Judith!) over lunch, which we had under the verandah to keep us out of the sun…although the sun was more than welcome after our prolonged cold weather. Thank you Alan ….. both for the weather ….. and for sharing your passion.
As members gathered at the Boroka Lookout mid-morning in mid-October the lookout was shrouded in cloud giving very limited possibility of catching a glimpse of a view. No matter to FOGG’s, a dozen of us pooled vehicles to tackle the gravel road which had claimed a Parks vehicle, bogged, earlier in the week.
With some hastily arranged road repairs by Parks Vic our group encountered no hint of a problem. In fact the amount of interesting plants and interactions between those present meant we travelled only a small distance compared to that which had potentially been planned. Rodney and Margo had mapped out perhaps five to seven locations which we might stop and observe the flora and environment.
Our first stop seemed less than two kilometres along the Mt Difficult track and it became obvious that we were blessed to have the company of Neil Marriot for this day. While many in the group have great knowledge of the plants of the Grampians, Neil was just so spontaneous in his identification of species and forth coming with extra information he could share with us. ‘this specimen differs from the described species and is pending reclassification and naming as a new variety/species’ he explained to us on a couple of occasions. The range of plants observed and flowering at the time was so extensive and discussion so keen it became obvious that the number of stops was going to have to be limited. The sun was also breaking through making it a classic day to be in the Gramps!
Finally back into vehicles and a kilometre or so further on and it was coffee time before another look through vegetation at the side of the track. Large dense patches of Boronia in flower caught the attention of all of us.
Again the detail of observations and discussions led by Neil captured us all. We also ventured onto some rocky ledges which hosted some different plants but also exposed us to the resting places of a range of animals. Speculation, via scats, was that wallabies and possums frequented these ledges but disappointingly goats probably camped here as well.
This confirmed some observations we had made of preferential grazing of some species by most likely the goats and possibly deer. Along with us humans these ferals pose a threat to our special place.
With time passing rapidly we resolved to head for the start of the Wartook Lookout track and have lunch. The view to the east from the roadside was spectacular to observe while we ate and the plants no less diverse than our previous stops. To our benefit the day had turned into a classic bright sunny one with a cooling southerly breeze to maximise our experience.
Before we set off up the lookout track it was explained that it was being upgraded with rock from the immediate surrounds so that it would not suffer damage or start washaways with the expected increase of foot traffic when the peaks trail passes close by. While not completed, the path was of a very high standard and the walk was well defined and quite easy. More new plants observed along the way as well, which slowed our progress.
Nearing the top it became obvious why this is such a special location. Lakes Bellfield, Fyans, Lonsdale and Wartook are all in the vista, in fact a unique view of Wartook. Because you are higher than Boroka the scope of the Pyrenees to the east and the plains to the north are more striking. We could also see past Mt Difficult in places to the plains of the west. And of course the ranges to the south basked in the sunshine. To me it was a location that gave me the best impression of the extent of the Grampians that I have observed. Maybe only an aeroplane flight could be more complete.
By the time we returned to our vehicles it was agreed we had packed so much into a couple of stops and we were well satisfied to turn for home. A quick count of the species recording list showed more than seventy species had been observed without including the trees and larger shrubs and perhaps some of the smaller ones that were not in flower.
It was most appropriate as we departed that a wedge tailed eagle did some circles overhead to just check we had left his/her place as we found it.
The AG has met twice since our last newsletter. I missed the meeting at Mckenzie Falls and Zumsteins, but was able to attend the December meeting. (Quick summary: the green (middle) Zumsteins cottage will be well restored, with the western (blue) cottage partially demolished and managed as a ruin. The eastern (orange) cottage has had a protective, replica roof installed. The next state election may have some focus on McKenzie Falls options, particularly the carparking area.)
In December Mike caught us up to date with the dilemmas surrounding what to do with the Brush Tail rock wallabies, particularly in view of the fact that the male is about to begin breeding with his own daughters. DELWP have commissioned a review by Dr Graeme Coulson to be completed in April. The AG preferred option was rather than intervening by removing the older male and disrupting the existing colony, investigate introducing another small family group as a satellite population, with a different male, a reasonable distance away from the current group, and then over time individuals will meet. The AG was concerned that the future of the Moora Moora release site remains uncertain until the review is completed.
Mike also updated us on testing six different sallow wattle treatments, from handpulling, whippersnipping, machine mulching, and chemical spraying. The research results indicate hand pulling as the most environmentally sensitive but the highest cost as it requires repeated treatments in subsequent years, whereas chemical spraying was the lowest cost but highest environmental impact to non-target flora species. The best outcome appears to be mechanical mulching. Although it has a higher up-front costs, it appears to have lasting effects at reducing sallow wattle with minimal off-target impacts to desirable native vegetation
We also had updates on the Peaks trail. So far the onground work is still focused on upgrading existing tracks while cultural heritage and vegetation removal issues and permits for new construction are very slow. But what has been built is of very high quality.
Feral cats was another topic we discussed. However the same afternoon we learnt that there was the good news Mike has already written about, so we took no action after all.
Did you see the articles in the Age and on ABC on new spider finds in the Grampians? With the exquisite photos by our ranger Dave Handscombe? Here’s part of The Age article…
Peacock spiders, which are only a few millimetres long, have captured the public imagination recently due to their colour and ceremony.
And thanks to a recent discovery, Victorian spider enthusiasts no longer have to go far to find them.
Five species have been discovered in the Grampians, one of which had never been observed in Victoria and one that had never been observed outside Tasmania, making the find quite a coup.
“These spiders, they’ve got to put on a really good display – because if they are not happy with it, the females will go and eat them,” says Grampians park ranger Dave Handscombe, who found the species in October.
Mr Handscombe has worked as a ranger for more than 30 years, “and I’m looking forward to retirement”, he says.
Mr Handscombe decided to see if he could find one in his ranges. He and two friends picked a few likely spots in the Grampians National Park – places where the vegetation wasn’t too thick and where there had been no recent bushfires – and went spider hunting.
“What you’ve got to do, is really concentrate on the ground,” he says. “The trick is moving your foot and trying to detect any movement on the ground. And because they are jumping spiders, they tend to jump out of the way of your boot.”
Only a single species of Maratus had ever been spotted in the Grampians, Mr Handscombe says. But as soon as his team started looking, they found dozens of the creatures. “They are not rare, but they are tiny – three to five millimetres in size – and so most people don’t notice them. You can find them pretty well anywhere in the Grampians.”
Other than boot-detecting, the best way to find Maratus is to look for long strands of web attached to plants. The spider is a bungee-jump hunter; it uses silk to attach a safety line to a tree before leaping at moving prey, catching unlucky victims mid-air.
Mr Handscombe advises anyone hoping to see the spider to head to the Grampians between September and December, when the spiders moult and the males reveal their colourful plumages.
The Cavendish Community are very excited to be hosting the inaugural Red Gum Festival from the 13th -15th April 2018. As part of the event, they are aiming to provide the local community and visitors with a broad range of red gum and environmental related information, advice, opportunities and the chance to connect with relevant groups and organisations.
They have invited FOGG to participate and we will be contributing something about the history of our Red Gum Walk.