Wild South East

a nature blog of south-east Victoria, mostly Gippsland


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Bald Hills Wetland Reserve

On a relatively warm day last week I had a wander at the great little patch of bush on Gippsland’s Bass Coast, Bald Hills Wetland Reserve. This little pocket rocket of a reserve is relatively small at 135 hectares but has a great variety of ecosystems to keep a nature nerd busy for hours! This was my first serious effort at trying out my new telephoto lens and what it’s capable of.

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Info board at the start of the walk. Bird life around here was amazing.

 

A walking track leads from the carpark and takes you through open woodland, crossing over a seasonal creek lined with both the Scented and Swamp Paperbark and continuing on through mostly Messmate and Narrow-leaved Peppermint woodland.

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After walking almost a kilometre you reach a wide wetland where there was once a bird hide that was unfortunately burnt down by an arsonist several years ago.  The wetland at this time of the year is often very low and the birdlife not that numerous but in its peak season the number of waterbirds can be amazing.

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Masked Lapwings were very common.

 

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Grey Teal and Masked Lapwings

 

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Silver Banksia Banksia marginata catching the sun

 

Damselflies mating. Bald Hills Wetland, Vic. 16.4

Damselflies mating

 

I snapped off a few shots but I had other things on my mind to photograph, those of the scaly kind. There is a little ephemeral wetland to the left of the main wetland which is full of reeds and sedges and I remembered from my last visit seeing a Lowland Copperhead snake around this area. I thought I’d try my luck at finding one but little did I realise how successful my search for them was to be!

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The ephemeral wetland. Copperhead central!

 

Scouting around the edge of the swamp in the open sunny areas where the reeds and sedges merge into paperbark thickets and woodland I manage to glimpse a large Copperhead which slid away into some dense sedges. No luck with a photo yet. This time I moved stealthily, scanning every potential sunning spot where they might be hanging out. Finally some luck! One was moving amongst some reeds heading in my direction, apparently oblivious to me. I stood completely still and watched as it moved even closer. I realised I should have put a smaller lens on the camera as my telephoto has a minimum focus distance of around 2 metres and the snake was currently almost 2 metres from me.

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Lowland Copperhead hunting amongst the vegetation.

 

I managed to snap a few terrible photos as it moved in and out of the reeds, probably hunting frogs, before it became too close to focus. I was about to step backwards to keep the snake in focus when I thought I’d better check behind me so I didn’t trip on anything. Luckily I did as there was a large Copperhead right behind me less than half a metre from my foot! I stood still watching it as it tasted the air around me with a few flicks of it’s tongue. It finally realised there was something suss about me (or maybe I just had bad B.O.) and it moved off out of sight. I turned my head back to the other snake to see its tail disappear into thick vegetation. Straight away I put on a more sensible lens and went ‘hunting’ again. This time I had more luck and got some half decent shots of some.

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Overall I counted at least 10 or 11 Copperheads in this wetland. Looking out over the top of the reeds I could see where a lot of the snakes were moving as the vegetation was flicking and bending, plus you could hear them moving around. As a lot of you who read this regularly know I love my reptiles so I was in scaly heaven, albeit a little bit of a risky heaven at times!

Woodland birds were very common in the reserve, especially at the start of the walk. Most obvious were Golden and Rufous Whistlers, Grey Shrike-thrush, Red-browed Finch, White-browed Scrubwren, Superb Fairy-wren, Grey Fantail, Silvereye and eight honeyeater species (White-eared, White-plumed, New Holland, Yellow-faced, Brown-headed and White-naped Honeyeaters, Red Wattlebird and Noisy Miner).

Grey Shrike-thrush. Bald Hills Reserve, Vic. 16.4.17 (RT1)

Grey Shrike-thrush

 

Superb Fairy-wren. Bald Hills Reserve, Vic. 16.4.17 (RT)

Superb Fairy-wren strutting his stuff

 

Yellow-faced Honeyeater. Bald Hills Reserve, Vic.16.4.17 (RT1)

“Oi, what you lookin’ at?”  Yellow-faced Honeyeater

 

I was hoping to see some Koalas on this walk as I’ve seen them in the carpark area before and their droppings are everywhere under the trees. No luck this time though.

Apparently this reserve explodes in spring with orchids and flowers so I’m going to check it out again in Sept or Oct.

 


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Around the traps

It has been a busy month for me so far. Not only was I involved in a long awaited survey near the Gippsland Lakes for the threatened New Holland Mouse but I’ve also just purchased a whole new camera setup. The only problem is I’m still learning the buttons and settings of this camera plus getting use to my new lenses. Apart from a bridge camera (cross between a compact and DSLR) I haven’t purchased a proper DSLR since 2007 and a lot has changed since then!

Anyway, below are some of my pics from the last 1½ weeks around various sites in Gippsland.

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Grey Shrike-thrush. Darriman Reserve, Giffard.

 

 

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Sunset from Eagle’s Nest lookout, Inverloch.

 

 

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White-lipped Snake found during the New Holland Mouse survey. Gippsland Lakes, Vic.

 

 

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Agile Antechinus. Gippsland Lakes, Vic.

 

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Agile Antechinus getting revenge!

 

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New Holland Mouse, Gippsland Lakes, Vic

 

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Xanthorrhoea in the early morning. A favoured habitat for the New Holland Mouse.

The New Holland Mouse has only been recorded at 3 locations in Victoria in the last 15 years and these are Wilson’s Promontory, Providence Ponds and Gippsland Lakes, all within the Gippsland region. Originally the species was widespread throughout south-eastern Australia but is now restricted to fragmented areas of NSW, QLD, Victoria and Tasmania. We ended up trapping over 20 of the little guys near the Gippsland Lakes so this was a major success. We also had infra-red cameras set up which detected them as well.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 


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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.

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Green and Golden Bell Frog

 

 

 

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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.

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Filmy Maidenhair Fern

 

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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.


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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.

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Wet heathland near Barry Creek camp.

 

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Looking towards Yanakie from the Lower Barry Creek track.

 

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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!

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

 

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Bees and wasps feeding on a Xanthorrhoea flower

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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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.