Learn about local bats and birds

Want to learn more about our local creatures of the sky? A couple of great events are coming up where you can get out and about and explore woodland bird and bat habitat and hear from experts about their ecology. These events are supported by Central Tablelands Local Land Services through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

As part of Australian Bat Night the Central Tablelands LLS will be hosting a Mudgee Bat Night at Putta Bucca Wetlands on Friday, 22 March.

Come along and learn about our local creatures of the night, their habitat and what makes them special. Bat Ecologist Marg Turton will be speaking about the importance of bats and how to attract them to your property.

Bentwing bat Image credit Marg Turton

The evening will also include a night time walk to spot and listen to both insect- and fruit-eating bats at the wetlands, kids activities: making a bat mask, colouring in a bat or folding a bat origami and, a free BBQ dinner.

Central Tablelands LLS is also inviting anyone interested in our local woodlands and the birds which call them home to attend a morning of learning about Woodland Birds on Farms, focusing on protecting the Regent Honeyeater, on Thursday 28, March.

The event will commence with morning tea at the Cooyal Hall where we will hear from Ross Crates from The Australian National University about his recent research on the Regent Honeyeater and its recovery. Dr Crates studied the Regent Honeyeater as part of his PhD research and will offer an insight as to why this critically endangered bird has been disproportionately affected by habitat loss.

Huw Evans from Central Tablelands LLS will also speak about actions you can take to care for your woodland. The day will also include a visit to Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve to see what Regent Honeyeater habitat looks like and will conclude with a BBQ lunch.

Regent Honeyeater Image credit Mick Roderick

These events are free and all are welcome to attend.

For more information about these events, or to RSVP please contact Evelyn Nicholson, Land Services Officer with Central Tablelands LLS, on 0427 637 907 or email: Evelyn.Nicholson@lls.nsw.gov.au.

The Mudgee Bat night will be held at the Putta Bucca Wetlands, Putta Bucca Rd, Mudgee on Friday, 22 March from 5:30pm with BBQ dinner at 6:00pm. Please RSVP for catering purposes by 18 March.

The Woodland Birds on Farms event will be held at the Cooyal Hall, Wollar Rd, Cooyal on Thursday 28, March starting at 9:30am for morning tea. Please RSVP by 22 March for catering purposes.

From impenetrable scrub to highly biodiverse wetland ecosystem

Through community collaboration, an exhausted quarry has been turned into a public reserve managed for biodiversity conservation and public recreation.

The Putta Bucca Wetlands reserve is situated on the site of an abandoned aggregate quarry, just a stone’s throw from the Mudgee town centre. The site was opened to the public in 2011 and since that time has been undergoing extensive restoration and rehabilitation works.

The name Putta Bucca is an aboriginal word thought to come from the Wiradjuri language, “puttaba” meaning a hill near a creek and “bugga” meaning stinking fish.

The Putta Bucca Wetland is a public reserve managed by Mid Western Regional Council. Rehabilitation works at the site have been a collaborative community project, supported by Mid Western Regional Council, Central Tablelands LLS, Watershed Landcare and many volunteers. Mid Western Regional Council has been successful in securing some $5-6k in grant funding to conduct works at the site, such as weed removal and re-vegetation.

To date 5000 trees, shrubs and grasses have been planted by the Friends of Putta Bucca volunteers, Green Army, Council, local schools and community planting events for National Tree Day.

Wetlands are one of the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems. The rehabilitation works conducted at the site have significantly increased habitat value and Putta Bucca is now supporting a highly biodiverse wetland ecosystem, despite it’s relatively small size of 31 hectares.

The wetland now boasts a multitude of birdlife, as well as many frog, fish, reptile and mammal species, including the platypus. The site is renowned amongst birdwatchers with a growing list of over 160 bird species, including 12 threatened species and now rates as the 55th bird hotspot in N.S.W.

Image of Pink-eared Duck courtesy of Mark Leary.

The site is also used as a stopover by animals passing through the area, such as the Swamp Wallaby and the threatened Painted Honeyeater, and is an important breeding ground for migratory bird species, including the Rainbow Bee-eater.

While wildlife is thriving at Putta Bucca, future plans for the site include further improvements to recreational facilities to attract more human visitors to the site.

Council has been successful in their application for Stronger Country Communities grant funding which will be utilised to build a new bridge over the Cudgegong River and allow for linking walking trails from Lawson Park to the reserve. There are also plans to build a toilet block and a commitment by Glencore to fund works at the site over the next 3 years, commencing with a covered barbeque area.

Planning for a resilient and sustainable environment for our future

Watershed Landcare is a grassroots community organisation and we work together with our community to support an integrated, productive and sustainable approach to land management. The group has been active in our region for 21 years, working with the community to encourage positive change and progress from a people, prosperity and environmental point of view.

Our area covers approximately 900,000 ha (9000 km²) stretching to Gulgong in the north, Burrendong Dam in the west, the Turon River in the south and the Wollemi National Park in the east. Members include established landholders, town and village residents, land managers, people with country retreats and local businesses.

Our activities, field days, workshops, seminars and projects focus on topics of importance to our members, and consultation with our community is an important aspect of the planning process.

As well as conducting a survey, the group recently held a project planning session. The Management Committee and Coordinators met with members and representatives from the wider community to identify and design projects that meet the groups’ strategic objectives as well as community needs.

The group brainstormed project ideas to engage, empower and support our community to achieve a resilient and sustainable environment within our district. The day was very successful with many great ideas flowing.

Making Plans: Identifying and designing projects that meet the groups’ strategic objectives as well as community needs.

Watershed Landcare’s priorities will continue to focus on projects and activities that address sustainable agriculture, improving soil and grazing management and biodiversity, including the protection of threatened and vulnerable species and communities.

Raising awareness of issues relevant to our local environment and supporting people to create change through capacity building and sharing of knowledge and skills remain important core values to the organisation.

Do you have a great idea for an event or project we could run, want to get involved or want to find out more about what we do?

Visit our website, www.watershedlandcare.com.au, or contact one of our Coordinators, Claudia Wythes on 0412 011 064 or Agness Knapik on 0435 055 493 or email: info@watershedlandcare.com.au.

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For only $44 per year, you will, receive newsletters about our events, and other activities we think might interest you.

Be the first to know about our on-ground projects, and be eligible to benefit from grant incentives. Gain free or discounted entry to our events.

Imagine it took more than a 100 years to build your home?

Well if you are a small animal, such as the eastern pygmy-possum, then it might take 100 years for a tree to grow large enough to develop a hollow suitable for you to nest in. If you are a parrot or an owl, and require a larger, deeper hollow, then it might take 200-300 years to develop.

A large variety of creatures rely on hollows for nesting or breeding habitat; from tiny microbats, possums and gliders, to owls, cockatoos and other parrots. And they all have different requirements and preferences as to the size and shape of the of the opening, and the depth, volume and extent of insulation of the cavity.

A range of hollow types is necessary for biodiversity and the presence of old, mature trees in the landscape is crucial.

Image of Superb Parrot courtesy of Mark Leary.

Hollows occur primarily in old eucalypt trees, where formation by wind breakage of limbs, lightning strike or fire, termite, insect or fungal damage is less likely to be covered by growth of external sapwood. Hollows with large internal dimensions are particularly rare and only occur in large, old trees with sufficient trunk diameter.

Hollows are becoming an increasingly scarce resource for hollow dependant species, those that rely on hollows for shelter and nesting, either on a daily or seasonal basis. The loss of hollows can lead to local extinctions of these species.

Many of our mature old trees are isolated and under stress, or reaching the end of their life span, and natural recruitment is rare, particularly in agricultural areas where woodlands have been converted to crops and pastures.

This is part of the reason why many of our large hollow-nesting birds, including the Glossy Black Cockatoo and Superb Parrot, are vulnerable or endangered. The loss of tree hollows has been listed as a key threatening process by the NSW Scientific Committee.

What can you do?

  • Retain live and dead hollow bearing trees
  • Protect vegetation which produce hollows
  • Plant local native species that produce hollows

Watershed Landcare have launched our ‘A Home Among the Gum Trees’ project and we are seeking expressions of interest (EOI) from landholders in our region to protect mature hollow bearing paddock trees on the land they manage. Funding of $7,000 is available to conduct on-ground works which protect mature habitat trees, the project is now open for EOIs and will close on 15 February.

For more information or to submit an EOI, visit our website: http://watershedlandcare.com.au/projects.

The Watershed Landcare ‘Home Among the Gum Trees’ Project is supported by Local Land Services through funding from the Australian Government and is a component of the Driving Corridor Connectivity Project funded through NLP2.

Important environmental factors about our Box Gum Woodlands

Box Gum Grassy Woodland is the shortened name given to the endangered ecological community ‘White Box, Yellow Box, Blakely’s Red Gum Grassy Woodland’. This community is characterised by a sparse shrub layer, a diverse mix of native grasses and herbs, and is dominated by the eucalypts White Box, Yellow Box and/or Blakely’s Red Gum. Grey Box may also dominate or co-dominate in the Nandewar Bioregion.

Prior to European settlement Box Gum Grassy Woodlands were widespread along the western slopes and tablelands of The Great Dividing Range, occurring from Southern Queensland through to Central Victoria. Despite this wide ranging distribution, Box Gum Grassy Woodlands are rather specific in the geographic and environmental factors governing their distribution.

Soil fertility is the most important environmental factor governing the localised distribution of Box Gum Grassy Woodlands. They are closely associated with fertile clay loam soils of moderate depth on flat to undulating terrain, along the lower slopes of the Tablelands and Western Slopes in New South Wales. Within the Watershed Landcare region they occur mainly in areas with a 550 mm to 800 mm annual rainfall and an elevation below about 700 m above sea level.

On steeper, less arable and rockier ground, Dry Sclerophyll Forest replaces Box Gum Grassy Woodland. Dry Sclerophyll Forest may be dominated by the same tree species but the understorey is predominately shrubby, rather than a grassy one.

Today less than 4% of Box Gum Grassy Woodland remains, much of which is highly fragmented and in poor ecological condition. The productive and fertile clay loam soils are the reason, because when Europeans settled an area for agricultural purposes they would have first chosen the most productive parts of the landscape.

Many large hollow bearing trees of the Box Gum Grassy Woodlands are isolated and under stress, or reaching the end of their life span. Natural recruitment is rare due to much of the Box Gum Grassy Woodlands being converted to crops and pastures. Large hollow bearing trees provide habitat for a myriad of insects, birds, reptiles and mammals, shade for livestock, and give the landscape its quintessential Australianness. These trees cannot be replaced in the short to medium term and need to be protected from the added nutrients of livestock camps and the cultivation of soil close to their root system.

Watershed Landcare have launched our ‘A Home Among the Gum Trees’ project and we are seeking expressions of interest (EOI) from landholders in our region. Funding of $7,000 is available to conduct on-ground works to protect mature hollow bearing paddock trees in Box Gum Grassy Woodland. EOIs close 15 February.

For more information or to submit an EOI, visit our website.

The Watershed Landcare ‘Home Among the Gum Trees’ Project is supported by Local Land Services through funding from the Australian Government and is a component of the Driving Corridor Connectivity Project funded through NLP2.

Helping your garden deal with the heat wave

In very hot weather, when the evaporation from the leaves is greater than water uptake from the roots, plants get dehydrated just like we do.

Unlike us, they can’t go for a swim or go sit in the shade. Fortunately, there are some simple strategies to help our plants minimise heat stress.

When it’s hot and dry the best thing you can do for your garden is mulch, mulch and more mulch. A thick layer of mulch helps to conserve the water you put onto your plants and also helps them deal with the heat by keeping the root zone cool. Mulching also suppresses weeds so the plants have less competition for water.

Water when you get the most value out of it. In the early morning or late evening, the evaporation is at it’s lowest, the soil is cool and you get the biggest bang out of the least amount of water.

Plants susceptible to fungal diseases, such as lawns and tomatoes, should be watered in the morning so they are not left with water on their leaves overnight, allowing fungus to take hold.

Take care not to over water though; you can drown plants very quickly, while it takes much longer for them to die of thirst. So feel the soil, you can quickly asses the moisture level with your finger, if it comes out dirty with cool soil stuck to it, the soil is fine. If your finger is dusty and no soil is sticking to it, it is time to water.

Deeply water trees but don’t overdo it, water-logging trees can cause them as much stress as drying them out. A deep watering once or twice a week is usually sufficient.

Young trees also benefit from having other plants around them while they are getting established. This helps to create a humid micro-climate around them and less water is transpired through the leaves.

Planting trees in a garden bed protected by undergrowth is ideal. If you have an isolated tree in a lawn you can give it a helping hand by protecting it with shade cloth or hessian to create a humid pocket.

Other hints and tips:

  • use a foliar spray of seaweed or fish emulsion to toughen the cell walls of plants
  • place pots in saucers of water in the shade
  • put shade cloth over veggies to give them a bit of shade
  • if the leaves on trees and shrubs have browned off or dried don’t pick them off, they will provide protection for the new growth

Microbes deep within

Discoveries of life deep within the earth’s crust are challenging concepts of what was thought to be a ‘suitable’ environment to sustain life.

Microbial communities have been detected in rock as far as 3 km into seabed and continental crust. Their existence in habitats devoid of sunlight, water and nutrient poor, anoxic and hot is forcing scientists to reevaluate the limits of life.

Sites in the world’s deepest mines, boreholes, oceanic hydrothermal vents and cracks in the ocean floor have become accessible to scientists through ultra-deep sampling; scientific drilling projects and deep ocean submersible research vehicles. These technologies allow researchers to obtain samples for further analysis in the lab and to install in-situ monitoring equipment.

Early results from one site, Hole C0020A in the Japan Sea, indicate a slow-growing microbial community able to metabolize a range of carbon and nitrogen compounds more than 2 km below the seafloor.

HABITABLE?: These active hydrothermal vent chimneys may support microbial life. Photo: Submarine Ring of Fire 2006 Exploration, NOAA Vents Program.

Other studies have revealed multiple, unique bacterial and archaeal species not encountered before, some existing at temperatures in excess of 100ºC. But this subterranean life is not just limited to microbes; various fungal species and more complex organisims have also been found, including 4 invertebrate species (flatworms, rotifers, segmented worms, and arthropods) at a depth of 1.4 km below the Earth’s surface.

Debate rages in this new field of research about the scale of the underground biomass, what has been dubbed the ‘deep biosphere’. There are suggestions that life can exist up to 10 km into the crust and estimates of the subsurface biomass range from 15-50% of the world’s total biomass.

Research is now focusing on understanding how such life survives. Sparsely distributed and slow-growing, these lifeforms seem to invest all their energy into maintain their existence rather than growth. Initial results suggest that these microbes are able to metabolise a suite of chemicals released by the interaction of water and rock such as sulfate, nitrate, methane, ammonia, and iron, as well as carbon.

Although in it’s infancy, this fledgling, but rapidly expanding, field of science is turning previously held assumptions on their head. Ongoing research may give us a better understanding of the deep biomass but for now questions – about the origins of life on earth, and the possibility that life here may have originated underground; the definition of what is hospitable for life, not only on earth but on other planets; and also how the presence of these microbes and their activity is affecting processes on the surface – remain unanswered.

Spiky citizen science

The echidna is certainly one of Australia’s iconic species but relatively little is known about these shy, spiky monotremes. A University of Adelaide project is trying to fill the knowledge gaps about echidnas and their wild populations. And you can get involved!

Researchers at the University of Adelaide have been studying the molecular biology of the planet’s oldest mammals, the platypus and echidna, and are asking the general public to contribute data to their research. There are only two wild populations of echidnas that have been extensively studied, one in Kangaroo Island and one in Tasmania, but very little is known about mainland populations.

The Echidna: Conservation Science Initiative project is trying to alter this by collecting a large enough data set from all around Australia to confer knowledge on population abundance, threats and possible conservation actions, all without having to track or capture these animals.

How can you help? If you see an echidna in the wild, or even your own backyard, take a photo or video and if you can find some poo that’s even better! DNA and hormones contained in the scats can provide information on the echidna’s environment, diet, health, stress levels and even reproductive status.

You will also need to record information of location, date and time of the scat sample collection and

observation photos of echidnas. Then send the scat in for analysis and upload the information into the Atlas of Living Australia.

You can also download the Echidnas CSI app to your phone, which will record date, time and location automatically and you won’t need to input this data manually: http://grutznerlab.weebly.com/echidna-csi.html

You can find more information on the project on the Atlas of Living Australia website or type ‘echidna CSI’ into your search engine.

Filling the gaps in pest control

A new role has been created to support pest animal control and programmes in our region.

There are five pest groups within the Watershed Landcare area, these being the Hargraves Hill End Wild Dog Group, Ilford Running Stream Pest Group, Rylstone District Wild Dog Association, Munghorn Wild Dog Group and the newly formed Piambong Yarrabin Pest Group.

These groups are volunteer run and strive to support landholders and residents within their areas to manage wild dogs and other pest animals. While 3 of these groups have been active for more than 15 years, like a lot of volunteer run, community groups, struggle with membership and getting landholders to be involved in programmes.

Five Pest Animal Group Coordinators are now helping to support groups such as these in the Central Tablelands. In the Mudgee region the position is hosted by Watershed Landcare, through funding from the Central Tablelands LLS, and works closely with the CT LLS Mudgee Biosecurity team. This is a unique partnership and is getting a lot of interest from around the state.

Beth Greenfield has been appointed as the Pest Animal Group Coordinator for the Mudgee area. Ms Greenfields priorities have been building relationships, communication and helping pest groups with governance and funding applications. There is also a focus on working collaboratively with the National Parks and Wildlife Service on pest management where there are common boundaries.

One of the notable achievements since the inception of the Pest Animal Group Coordinator role, just 6 months ago, is getting full coverage of pest groups in the Mudgee area. There was a lack of clarity about where existing group boundaries lay; these have now been mapped, and stretched where there were gaps, so every property in our region is now encompassed by one of the 5 pest groups.

Ms Greenfield has also been working on awareness raising to increase landholders’ reporting of wild dog sightings or their activity.

“There are many examples of people seeing dogs, not telling anyone and stock deaths occurring in the area shortly afterwards.” said Ms Greenfield.

“We’re trying to get people to take action when they see a dog and to get the word out.” she continued.

If you have seen evidence of wild dogs or suspect you are suffering from livestock attack or losses please contact your local pest group or the CT LLS Mudgee office.

Watershed Landcare Pest Animal Group Coordinator, Beth Greenfield, can be contacted for more information on 0438 090 525 or by email beth.greenfield@watershedlandcare.com.au.

Watershed Landcare AGM

Local landcare group, Watershed Landcare, held its Annual General Meeting last Friday, 23 November. The meeting was well attended and gave members an overview of Watershed’s activities over the past year as well as an opportunity to mingle and chat at the supper afterwards.

Watershed Landcare Chair, Viviene Howard outlined the group’s 2018 activities and her presentation acknowledged and celebrated the contirbution of the organisation and it’s members to environmental and natural resource management in our region.

“As Chair I’m continually surprised at how many people we touch in the community. As a group we have fantastic reach and do lots of great things for the environment as a result.” said Ms Howard.

Notable achievements of 2018 included attracting project funding to conduct on-ground works, as well as new funding for the Pest Cooordinator role; 7 field days with 250 participants;

the Mudgee Small Farm Field Days program and members efforts in growing tubestock for sale at the event; adoption of a new constitution and 3 year strategic plan; new partnerships and maintaining sponsorship for Green Day and making sure the event is sutainable.

The 10th annual Green Day got a special mention. The theme of this year’s event was waste and featured ABC TV’s Craig Reucassel as keynote speaker. It was the largest Green Day to date and Ms Howard thanked Green Day Coordinator, Beth Greenfield for her contribution.

“It was an amazing event and supremely organised.” she said.

The Communities of Practice groups, the Mudgee Microscope Group, Grazing Group, Women in Ag Group and Mudgee Bee Group, also remain a strong focus, bringing together diverse groups of people with similar goals. The 4 groups held 31 activities throughout the year focusing on members interests.

The election of office bearers for 2019 was overseen by returning officer, Julie Reynolds.

Ms Howard was re-elected as the Chair for the 2019 Commitee. Sonia Christie, Christine McRae and Hunter White will hold the positions of Vice-chair, Secretary and Treasurer, repspectively. Jane Young and Rosemary Hadaway will fill the other executive positions.

The Watershed Landcare Committee meets at 5:30pm on the first Wednesday of the month. The new Executive Committee will hold it’s first meeting in February 2019. All Watershed Landcare members are welcome to attend.

If you would like more information about any of our projects or would like to join one of our special interest groups contact our Coordinator, Agness Knapik, on 0435 055 493 or info@watershedlandcare.com.au.

Keep an eye on our Catchment Corner column for news and upcoming events, workshops and seminars.