Wild South East

a nature blog of south-east Victoria, mostly Gippsland


1 Comment

THE GREEN DRAGON IN THE LAND OF GIPP

There is a place in this world called the Land of Gipp, an enchanted land many will say. In this land the locals whisper in hushed tones that a green dragon lurks in the cool valleys of the forested hills. It is said that it lives on land but will take to water if it feels hungry. People say the male dragon has a throat of fire but no one has known a single person to be harmed by it. In fact, those who have seen it with there own eyes say it is friendly but very, very shy and will dive in the water if it sees a human approaching.

berrys-creek-morning-3

The magical Land of Gipp

So, what is this mysterious green dragon? I was curious. But where do I start my search for such a beast when the Land of Gipp is so big? Speaking with an old villager one day he said that many people call it the Water Dragon and that he himself had once caught a glimpse of it while fishing on a river bank when he was a child. When I asked him to describe it he told me “It had piercing red eyes with large sharp spines running from the top of its head down the length of its emerald green back. From across the river bank it saw me and it rushed to dive in the water but as it did so I saw its fiery throat. That sight has stayed with me forever”. When I asked this man if he knew where he saw this creature he did not know as it was over 70 years ago and his memory was fading.

I now knew roughly what it looked like and that it can be found in and along rivers so this was some help to begin my search.

I started my travels from the western end of the Land of Gipp looking for a river to begin my search for this puzzling creature. The western part of Gipp has only small amounts of forest, the trees cleared by farmers so they have enough grass to raise their cows, and the rivers here were small and few so I decided to push on to the misty mountains I could see on the far horizon.

IMGP5413

For what seemed an eternity I eventually reached the mountains and entered large areas of steep forest where the trees reached to the sky like enormous hands.

P1080565

It is said here in the Land of Gipp that the largest flowering trees in the world grow and after what I saw I believed them as it seemed like the trees were never ending in height. After a while I came across a small bubbling creek lined with thick ferns which had trunks the thickness of my body and towered over my head, shading out almost all the sunlight. I had a drink and refreshed my face in the cool stream and then had a thought. If there’s a creek then it should hopefully flow downhill into a larger creek, then maybe a river. This might be the place to find my dragon.

I began travelling back downhill again, this time keeping to the creek.

IMGP5956 (2)

It had started as a trickle, then began jumping and crashing over rocks before joining with another creek and rushing as one down through the dense forest to join with a mighty river in the valley, just as I had suspected. The sun was close to setting so I set up camp in a small clearing and found some delicious wild fruits to eat. In the fading light I walked along the river peering at the bank hoping for a glimpse of the curious animal but it was nowhere to be seen. I decided to return to camp and get some sleep as I had been walking all day.

The next day I went for another stroll along the edge of the river. This time the sun was higher and shone on the bank revealing many large rocks along it’s edge and in the middle of the river.

P1110217

I expected to see as much as the day before, nothing, so I had a quick search up and down the river and then turned around to head back to camp once more. Suddenly I heard a small splash from near one of the large rocks in the water but when I looked there was nothing to be seen. I slowly sat under a small wattle tree, mostly hidden from view and waited. I sat there for nearly an hour looking at the river when to my right I heard something moving in the leaves only metres from me. Then it stopped. I wasn’t scared at all as I knew if it was the dragon it would be friendly. Then, in the blink of an eye, I saw a green and orange flash almost a metre long scuttle down the bank and crash into the water. Was that the dragon? I wasn’t sure.

I sat there for a while longer searching the water and land when I caught something moving amongst the rocks heading for the river’s edge. Suddenly, a light green reptile about 80cm from it’s head to the tip of it’s tail emerged from out of the water and onto a fallen tree branch.  I was shaking with excitement! Here was the mighty dragon I had hoped to see for so long and it was in full view!

Gippsland Water Dragon- Physignathus lesueurii howittii. Yallourn, Vic

It then moved onto the muddy bank amongst some vegetation and there I got a closer look. I could see that the scaly skin on it’s throat was a magnificent orange, yellow and black colour. This must be what people were saying about it’s fiery throat. And yes, there were the spines running from it’s head to it’s back as well as the fiery red eyes.

Gippsland Water Dragon

I opened my backpack and pulled out my Complete Guide to Reptiles of Australia. There it was on page 410, the Gippsland Water Dragon Intellagama lesueurii howittii.

FACT: The Gippsland Water Dragon is a real reptile which lives in Gippsland in southern Victoria, Australia. It can grow up to 1 metre in length and lives along rivers, lakes and even along rocky beaches. Only males have the bright orange-yellow (and sometimes blue) throat and a light green body. Females are smaller and are mostly light and dark grey and both males and females have faint stripes, mostly on the tails. It is harmless to humans and they eat all kinds of things from fruits and leaves to fish and yabbies. Incredibly they can stay underwater for up to 1½ hours! In New South Wales and Queensland the colour of this lizard changes. There they have darker stripes and the male has red patches on his throat and belly as well as a dark line through the eye.

Keep an eye out for the spectacular Gippsland Water Dragon next time you’re near some water in the Land of Gipp, I mean Gippsland.

This is the first part of a regular ‘Land of Gipp’ series. These stories are targeted towards young kids and the aim is to portray nature with a sense of wonder and mystery. Hopefully this encourages them to get out of the house and explore! Please share this with any children you know. See also one of my previous posts Human:nature where the inspiration and reason for this series originated.

 

 

 


1 Comment

Human:nature

I’ve been in the field of environmental management for a little while now and one thing that stands out is that most people who couldn’t care less about the environment and/or destroy it are the ones who have distanced themselves from it since childhood. If they do spend the occasional weekend in nature they’re not the ones who stop to appreciate the beauty of it in all its intricacies from the beetle scuttling amongst the leaf litter to the raucous honeyeaters feeding on blossoms in the tree canopy. I believe it all stems from what experience in nature, if any, you had as a youngster. Without experience and knowledge there’s no empathy and appreciation. Therefore conservation in general is hampered by the quality and quantity of kid’s (and adult’s) experience with nature. For conservation to be normalised in society and not something some people are ashamed to admit we must get kids in to nature as much as we can, especially in schools.

imgp4945

Kid’s spare time these days is generally dominated by the digital revolution, whether its playing games on a tablet, trolling the web or watching TV. Human’s love affair with everything digital is mostly influenced by friends and advertising. Society unfortunately sees this as normal, a way of disconnecting with reality while at the same time exploring and interacting in digital media. With the emergence of smart phones everything is now literally in the palm of your hand. Children adjust to technologies well and become tech savvy very quickly. Most young kids have poor judgement and are highly influenced by society which is a toxic combination when it comes to the digital world. They see it as the only way in which to ‘escape’.

The environmental movement today has, in part, benefited from digital media but its a double-edged sword.  One one hand it has brought attention to conservation issues on an unprecedented scale and reduced paper consumption but on the other hand it has created a society which would rather view a forest on their phone than actually see it in person. It has also created a society which is bombarded by the media with conflicting information about environmental issues, particularly climate change. This results in many people becoming confused, complacent (and often annoyed) by all the flood of information and often feel hopeless that they can’t do anything to help.

When people do get out of their sterile world and immerse themselves in nature they get a sense of why and what the conservation movement is so passionate about preserving. It should be mandatory in the school curriculum to get kids on a regular basis out in to nature and to get them on their hands and knees exploring and appreciating all that they see. If we have any hope in reversing the destruction humans have created its in the kids these days because the adults (cough..cough..politicians..) are doing a terrible effort.

p1070204

I know there’s many people who follow my blog who have kids, plus I’ve got two, so in the near future I’m going to write some short articles which hopefully sparks an interest in children to get out and explore their local bushland or park, not an article which forces information down their throat but one which portrays nature with a sense of mystery and generates adventure and wonder. Well, hopefully it does! So keep posted and get those future leaders out into the wilds.

wp_001296

 

 

 


1 Comment

Two birds with one ‘stone’

Two birds I’ve been wanting to photograph for a while are the Musk Lorikeet and the Azure Kingfisher. I got to take some photos of both of these in the last week.

The first one was the Musk Lorikeet. I was working at Dutson Downs east of Sale in some  woodland when a large and noisy feeding flock of these parrots (possibly up to 200) descended on some Coastal Manna Gums.

p1150151-2

p1150160-2

Though they are mostly nectar feeders I noticed they were actually feeding on sugary lerps on the leaves of the gums. One landed just above my car so I climbed on the tray and managed to get quite close and take some snapshots. It was hard to get one standing still as they were probably overdosing on sugar so the photos aren’t the best!

The other was the Azure Kingfisher. Again I was working in some bushland, this time at a beautiful redgum woodland area at Avon-Perry River Delta Gippsland Lakes Reserve. While walking along the edge of the Perry River at lunch time I heard in the distance the distinctive high pitched ‘seet’, followed by another further along the river. Following the noise I was disappointed to find them gone but waited 5 minutes and was rewarded to have one land literally in front of my camera only 2m away. Firing off about 20 photos in succession I got a few decent pics.

p1150215-2

p1150194-2

I then walked backwards to observe it better and noticed it fly out of site under the steep bank of the river where I was standing only to emerge a few minutes later and fly off. This makes me think it had a nest in the side of the bank and probably the reason it was checking me out. It wasn’t carrying any food so it may have been constructing the nest. This species is listed on DELWP’s current threatened species advisory list as near threatened.

A very productive week.

 


Leave a comment

A frog and a fern

I was lucky enough to get photos of two more of Victoria’s threatened species on my forays recently.

The first is the Green and Golden Bell Frog Litoria aurea.

p1150066

Green and Golden Bell Frog

 

 

 

p1150056

p1150074

Typical habitat of Green and Golden Bell Frog with matted and floating vegetation.

 

This frog is listed as threatened in Victoria and many populations have crashed in recent years from a multitude of factors, particularly the introduced Chytrid fungus. This one was captured during a fauna survey for a client near Dutson Downs, Victoria and is possibly the most westerly record of the species in Victoria in recent times. We were pleased to hear a large number of these frogs calling in the wetlands we surveyed at the site.

The other threatened species was the Filmy Maidenhair Fern Adiantum diaphanum.

p1150096

Filmy Maidenhair Fern

 

p1150090

Typical habitat

 

This species is restricted to only a few small fragmented sites in Victoria, all being in the western Strzelecki Ranges in Gippsland. Although threatened in Victoria there are healthy populations in New South Wales, Queensland, New Zealand, several islands and China. This one was photographed at a site near Trafalgar, Victoria, in wet forest.


3 Comments

The Prom and the Parrot

Almost every Victorian has a soft spot for Wilson’s Promontory National Park, one of the state’s most iconic and visited parks. So to be asked recently to go on a hike in the less visited northern section of the ‘Prom’ I jumped at the chance, especially since we were there to look for the rarely seen Ground Parrot.

We started the hike at Five Mile Rd carpark just off the main road once you get inside the Prom. Here we walked east over undulating hills to Barry Creek campsite where we set up our base camp for the surveys. In the afternoon we hiked north along the Lower Barry Creek track for over 2km checking areas of low shrubs and heathland, the Ground Parrot’s favourite habitat, then returned back to camp. Most of the suitable habitat we found was not far from our camp so this was where we concentrated our efforts.

p1140971

Wet heathland near Barry Creek camp.

 

p1140969

Looking towards Yanakie from the Lower Barry Creek track.

 

p1140913

The Lower Barry Creek track was often hard to find!

 

Unfortunately we didn’t see or hear any Ground Parrots during the two days. We did however stop to talk to a lone hiker who we asked if he had seen any low-flying, stocky green parrots. When we described them to him he seemed certain that’s what he saw but some descriptions he gave us sounded dubious. Who knows?

 

The Ground Parrot is a very cryptic species, much like its closest cousin the once thought to be extinct Night Parrot. A plump bird, the Ground Parrot is green with heavy mottling of yellow and black and a distinct red patch above the bill. It is more often heard than seen, unless accidentally flushed out of heath and is listed in Victoria as threatened. The call (which I had on an app on my phone) is very unlike any parrot I’ve ever heard and for me sounds more like a Gerygone than a parrot. Information beforehand suggested the Ground Parrot calls at dusk and dawn so these were when we did the most of the surveys. What we didn’t realise until after the survey was they actually call more often half an hour before dawn and half an hour after dusk!

We did however see a lot of interesting plant and animal life as well as some stunning landscapes so it was still very much worthwhile going on the hike. Chestnut-rumped Heathwrens were very common in the low heath areas. I’d only seen a fleeting glimpse of them before so to see and hear them a lot was great. I got some terrible photos of some at a distance so I wont embarrass myself and put it on here!

p1140994

Crescent Honeyeaters were reasonably common and were often seen feeding on Xanthorrhoea flowers.

 

p1140938

Bees and wasps feeding on a Xanthorrhoea flower

 

p1140910

This Southern Water Skink Eulamprus tympanum was friendly around our camp.

 

p1140939

This enormous Tiger Snake Notechis scutatus was not so friendly and was reluctant to let us pass on the track.

 

p1140958

Many Hibbertia species were in flower everywhere. This one is Silky Guinea-flower Hibbertia sericea.

 

p1140955

Yellow Stackhousia Stackhousia viminea.

 

There are plans for another survey next year and this time with the new information that has come to light hopefully some can be found/heard and counted.

Anyone who sees or hears a Ground Parrot around the Northern Wilderness Area of Wilsons Promontory National Park, Nooramunga Marine & Coastal Park and Cape Liptrap Coastal Park can download the survey and ID form from the Parks Victoria website.

Thanks go to Denise and Anthony Fernando, the Victorian National Parks Association and Denis Nagle for a great hike in a great location.


Leave a comment

Threatened Flora- Central Gippsland Plains

Working in the environmental management industry I’m privileged to be involved with the conservation and management of several threatened species, mostly flora, throughout Gippsland, Victoria. The central Gippsland plains have had a terrible history of extinctions and drastic reductions in populations of flora. This is especially the case for communities such as grasslands, grassy woodland and swamps which were extensively modified for cattle grazing and cropping. The introduction of rabbits and weed species have had a further impact on these habitats.

grassland-parkside-aerodrome-yarram

Native Themeda grassland, Yarram, Victoria

 

Below are some of the plant species which have only just hung on despite these adversities and many now have management plans and efforts to stabilise and hopefully increase populations. All species below are currently listed as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee (FFG) Act 1988, the key legislation in Victoria for the conservation of threatened species and communities. Some are also listed as threatened under the Environment Protection and Biological Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999, the federal government’s central piece of environmental legislation.

Purple Diuris Diuris punctata is a stunning species of Donkey Orchid found throughout lowland Victoria. In the Gippsland plains it is protected mostly on road and rail reserves in open grassy woodland/grassland communities. Populations can fluctuate from a handful of plants in some years to tens of thousands in good years.

diuris-punctata-purple-diuris-fernbank-recreation-reserve-fernbank-vic-grassland-27-10-2016-1

Purple Diuris, Munro, Victoria

diuris-punctatapurple-diuris-fernbank-vic-27-10-2016

Although threatened, some years it can flower in the thousands. Fernbank, Victoria

The Gaping Leek Orchid Prasophyllum correctum is one of the rarest orchids in Australia. It once extended throughout the grassy plains of south-east Victoria but is currently only known from two small sites west of Bairnsdale. This species is listed under federal legislation as endangered and there have been various attempts at propagating this orchid with varying successes. Little is known of its requirements in the wild such as pollinators, symbiotic soil fungi and the effect of burning regimes. Currently 19 other Prasophyllum species are currently listed in Victoria as threatened and research is being done on this genus into their biology and ecology.

prasophyllum-correctum-gaping-leek-orchid-munro-rail-reserve-east-of-munrovic-grassy-woodland-27-10-2014-2

Gaping Leek Orchid finishing flowering and developing hopefully viable seeds. Munro, Vic.

Matted Flax-lily Dianella amoena is another species associated with open grassy woodland/grasslands and is also listed as endangered under federal legislation. As with Purple Diuris this species is now mostly restricted to road and rail reserves. Once also found in Tasmania it is now apparently extinct there and is currently known from scattered populations from the Gippsland plains to the Grampians in western Victoria.

d-amoena-giffard-vic-1

Matted Flax-lily, Giffard, Victoria.

 

Matted Flax-lilies develop brilliant purple and yellow flowers in spring and is often identified from other local Dianellas by the toothed margins and mid-rib of each leaf blade.

d-amoena-giffard-vic-2

Leaf blade of Matted Flax-lily showing serrations on margin and mid-rib.

 

Dwarf Kerrawang Rulingia prostrata is a nondescript little plant and as it’s species name says it grows prostrate. Although small, it’s trailing branches can spread up to 2m. In spring it develops small light pink flowers and in summer a spiky round seed capsule. This species is restricted to the fringes of wetlands associated with woodland communities.

rulingia-prostrata-dwarf-kerrawang-dutson-downs-vic-disturbed-drain-11-10-2016

Dwarf Kerrawang, Dutson Downs, Vic.

Dwarf Kerrawang is member of the Sterculiaceae family which typically includes larger trees and shrubs such as Kurrajongs or Flame Trees Brachychiton spp which many people are familiar with.

One of the showiest of Gippsland’s threatened flora is the Wellington Mint-bush Prostanthera galbraithiae. In spring this spindly shrub develops brilliant purple-mauve flowers with a spotted throat. At present it is known only from several populations at two localities, Holey Plains and Dutson Downs. Although present in relatively intact habitats (typically heathy woodland) it is dependant on regular burning regimes for germination and is susceptible to over-grazing by herbivores. This species was named after Jean Galbraith, a local botanist who co-discovered the plant and advocated for its conservation.

prostanthera-galbraithiae-wellington-mint-bush-holey-plains-vic-24-9-2016-1

Wellington Mint-bush, Holey Plains, Vic

 

prostanthera-galbraithiae-wellington-mint-bush-holey-plains-vic-24-9-2016-7

Wellington Mint-bush, Holey Plains, Vic

 

Swamp Everlasting Xerochrysum palustre is a tall daisy associated with wetlands and swamps in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. In Victoria the species is found in small scattered populations mostly due to the extensive draining and modification of wetlands for agriculture but also from weed invasion and grazing by native and introduced species.

wp_001111

Swamp Everlasting, Gelliondale, Vic

 

Trailing Hop-bush Dodonaea procumbens is a low-growing, prostrate shrub up to 20cm in height with trailing branches. It develops tiny flowers in spring and distinct winged capsules in summer. It inhabits seasonably wet depressions in woodlands, heathland and grassland.

dodonaea-procumbens-trailing-hop-bush-seasonal-wetland-in-heathy-banksia-woodland-dutson-downs-vic-4-6-2014-2

dodonaea-procumbens-trailing-hop-bush-seasonal-wetland-in-heathy-banksia-woodland-dutson-downs-vic-4-6-2014-1

This species was once thought extinct in eastern Victoria but a small population was rediscovered in the Dutson Downs area in 2009. Although not currently listed as threatened under Victoria’s FFG Act it is listed as vulnerable under the federal EPBC Act. It also occurs in low numbers from southern NSW to South Australia.