Wild South East

a nature blog of south-east Victoria, mostly Gippsland


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Bountiful Buchan

There’s something about Buchan in east Gippsland that draws our family in every time and it’s not the Buchan pies or the ridiculously touristy Buchan Caves Reserve in town (they are both pretty good mind you). We’re always looking for something away from the raucous flocks of tourists and exorbitant prices and after Christmas we found such a place.

Tucked away east of Buchan is a small campground called Balley Hooley at the junction of the Buchan and Snowy Rivers. We had been here two years before but only for a swim so this time we decided to camp here for 5 days from Christmas day.

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Snowy River near Balley Hooley campground

On Boxing Day it rained on and off for most of the day and the following few days the river rose quite a bit. We spoke with a couple of kayakers who regularly paddle down this stretch of river and they said it’s the highest they’ve seen the river in summer for a while.

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Early morning on the Buchan River. Dragonflies, mudeyes (Dragonfly nymphs) and Water Striders were abundant here.

Reptiles were common everywhere and although people kept saying they saw Red-bellied Black Snakes I didn’t see a single one!  The ubiquitous Lace Monitors Varanus varius were common around camp looking for scraps and one we saw skulking around was huge and very old.

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Lace Monitor Varanus varius

In the woodland I saw a few Jacky Dragons Amphibolurus muricatus as they scuttled a short distance before becoming nearly impossible to see in leaf litter.

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Jacky Dragon Amphibolurus muricatus

Black Rock Skinks Egernia saxatilis were occasionally seen sunning themselves on large logs in the nearby forest. This one below was reasonably friendly and happy for me to approach closely.

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Black Rock Skink Egernia saxatilis

Along the Snowy River the large Gippsland Water Dragon Intelligama lesueurii howittii was very common and as we approached by canoe many would scramble awkwardly over rocks on the river edge or dive in the water.

aaa

A very large adult male Gippsland Water Dragon

Also near the river bank were Yellow-bellied Water Skinks Eulamprus heatwolei. Like the Water Dragon these lizards are good swimmers and can hunt in the water for small aquatic animals.

At night the girls and I went hunting for frogs by torchlight and found many small frogs (most with remnants of tails) and tadpoles. I’m pretty sure these were Lesueur’s Tree Frog Litoria lesueurii. No adults were seen but they were heard.

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Young Lesueur’s Tree Frog?

Many plants along the river edges were in full bloom such as the Kanooka Tristaniopsis laurina with its yellow Leptospermum-like flowers.

 

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Kanooka Tristaniopsis laurina

 

Also in full bloom was Burgan Kunzea sp. Species within Kunzea, especially K. ericoides have had several name changes and K. ericoides which I’ve been so familiar with is now only a NZ species and the original one is split into 3 species! BOTANISTS! There is a rare Kunzea in the upper Snowy River and this one in the photo may even be it but I’ll leave it to the experts.

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Burgan Kunzea sp

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Bursaria spinosa in full bloom

As I’m unfamiliar with a lot of the East Gippsland flora there were many I haven’t ID’d. Here’s a few of them I found along the river near camp:

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Through word of mouth we heard about the nearby Wilson’s Cave which is a free-to-access cave on Parks Victoria land. We finally found it after parking off the Buchan-Orbost Rd and looking for the less than obvious sign. Once we found the entrance down the bottom of a hill we donned our head torches and followed a series of long tunnels and dead ends for several hundred metres before finally emerging back into sunlight through a very tight exit hole and realising we had actually walked underneath the road. It didnt have the brilliant decorations of the more popular caves in the area but the girls (and us for that matter) were absolutely thrilled with the adventure of exploring this underground world.

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Another fork in the cave. Which way?!

A drive to another free-to-access cave system at the Potholes Reserve was less successful as they either were padlocked for safety reasons or required abseiling equipment to access. Maybe next time.

I did find at the reserve an interesting looking fossil which at first glance I thought was an imprint of a shoe in mud but turned out to be solid limestone like the surrounding rock.

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I’m not sure what it may be a fossil of, even after trolling the internet looking for anything similar. Anyone have any ideas?

Until next year.

 

 

 

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Croajingolong


Last fortnight we spent three days in Croajingolong National Park in far SE Gippsland. It’s been about 12 years since we were last here and it was good to see it hasn’t changed a bit. This remote national park is reasonably pristine and contains vast tracts of forest and coastline stretching about 100kms from the Vic/NSW border west to Bemm River. We camped at Thurra River which is full of shady campsites and is several kilometres from the Point Hicks Lighthouse.

One of the highlights included walking on (and sliding down) the enormous sand dunes a couple of kilometres from camp.

Thurra River sand dunes

Thurra River sand dunes

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View from dunes toward the mouth of the Thurra River and camp.

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A track leads around the back and on top of these dunes and when I first visited this place years ago the river could easily be followed from the base of the dunes back to camp. Not so this time. The river and banks were choked with debris and it took us over two hours to reach camp. Our girls slept well that night!

Lace Monitor tracks

Tracks of a Lace Monitor

Another highlight was seeing a single Hooded Plover at the mouth of the Thurra River. It didn’t seem to be nesting yet but a Pied Oystercatcher was and seemed to be getting annoyed at the plover for getting close to it’s nest and chased it several times. The oystercatcher’s apparent mate was nearby and was banded with an orange tag and number 18 on it.

Hooded Plover

Hooded Plover

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Pied Oystercatcher on nest

Pied Oystercatcher on nest

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Also at the mouth was a Caspian Tern. This species, along with the Hooded Plover, is listed as threatened under the FFG Act.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

While at walking back to camp one morning I noticed a Grey Currawong acting nervous and swooping on something in our camp. It turned out to be one of the biggest, fattest Tiger Snakes I’ve ever seen and was quite aggressive when I tried to make it leave our campsite.

Tiger Snake

Tiger Snake

A few Red-bellied Black Snakes were seen during our stay as well, luckily not in our camp!

We made the 2km walk to the Point Hicks Lighthouse and went on a very interesting tour of it. The construction of it and the adjoining cottages began in 1887 and took three years to complete.  The cottages were initially to be built of granite but a ship was wrecked nearby loaded with timber and other building supplies bound for elsewhere so this was instead used. Talk about luck! The 37m tall lighthouse was initially to be built from granite blocks quarried and cut from site but instead this granite was crushed and used to concrete it. Imagine the effort in hauling up the wet concrete day after day. The only day they got off was on Christmas day but they got double their rum rations. Slackers.

Point Hicks Lighthouse and caretaker cottages

Point Hicks Lighthouse and caretaker cottages

On April 20th 1770 James Cook sailing on the Endeavour passed Point Hicks and was the first European to sight the east coast of Australia. He named the point after Lieutenant Zachary Hicks who was the first to sight land.

James Cook Memorial

Memorial to Cook and Hicks.

Swathes of

Coastal vegetation at Point Hicks

While at the top of the lighthouse we spotted these Australian Fur-seals basking on rocks at the point. There was a large male with a female and juveniles and they weren’t too worried when we went down and got a closer look.

Australian Fur-seals basking

Australian Fur-seals basking

Dreaming of fish

Dreaming of fish

The plant life surrounding Thurra River and Point Hicks was amazing and much of it was familiar to me but many weren’t. It was good to see Sweet Pittosporum Pittosporum undulatum in it’s correct habitat and not a serious environmental weed as in western Gippsland.

Stinging Nettle in full flower

Stinging Nettle in full flower

Native Violet Viola hederacea

Native Violet Viola hederacea

Pigface

Pigface Carpobrotus sp

Dianella tasmanica

Dianella tasmanica

 

Caladenia orchid

Caladenia orchid

Bidgee Widgee Acaena novae-zealandiae

Bidgee Widgee Acaena novae-zealandiae

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Winter Orange-bellied Parrot survey

This weekend is one of the annual winter Orange-bellied Parrot surveys throughout north-west Tasmania, King Island and south-east coastal areas of the mainland. This is part of a regular volunteer program run every year by Birdlife Australia to give a better picture of the population of one of the worlds rarest parrots.

This species is in critical danger from extinction and numbers are drastically low with estimates ranging from 60-70 individuals left in the wild. Several zoos have breeding stocks as insurance and these occasionally release birds into the wild. These parrots breed in Tasmania and migrate to the mainland in winter to feed in coastal saltmarshes from South Australia to southern Victoria. The majority of sightings of the parrot on the mainland are in the Westernport region but occasionally some turn up in unexpected places.

I was involved in surveying one site on the northern part of Anderson’s Inlet, east of Inverloch in Victoria but unfortunately, and not surprisingly, no Orange-bellied Parrots were seen.

Our daughter helping with the survey surrounded by   Beaded Glasswort Sarcocornia quinqueflora

Our daughter helping with the survey surrounded by Beaded Glasswort Sarcocornia quinqueflora

Large flocks of Blue-winged Parrots were seen feeding on the extensive areas of Beaded Glasswort Sarcocornia quinqueflora and Shrubby Glasswort Sclerostegia arbuscula. These are also one of the favourite foods of the Orange-bellied Parrot and occasionally individuals may join the Blue-wing flocks. In an area of about 1km I counted about 75 Blue-winged Parrots in several feeding flocks.

Blue-winged Parrot

Blue-winged Parrot

Blue-winged Parrots on Shrubby Glasswort Sclerostegia arbuscula

Blue-winged Parrots on Shrubby Glasswort Sclerostegia arbuscula

Beaded Glasswort Sarcocornia quinquefolia

Beaded Glasswort Sarcocornia quinquefolia showing signs of the seed having been eaten

The Blue-winged Parrot is very closely related to the Orange-bellied and is distinguished by subtle differences in the overall body colour, a larger blue stripe on the wings and no orange belly.

Even though no OBP’s were seen at the site this is still valuable information as it gives a better overall picture of where populations tend to be centered and which areas are higher priority for conservation efforts. Having such low numbers it is very prone to extinction from predation, disease, development and changes in habitat. Even a freak storm could wipe most of the population out!

Lets hope this species can bounce back before its too late.