Wild South East

a nature blog of south-east Victoria, mostly Gippsland


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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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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.


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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.

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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.

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Purple Diuris, Munro, Victoria

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Wellington Mint-bush, Holey Plains, Vic

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Swamp Skink

The Swamp Skink Lissolepis coventryi is one of my favourite animals but unfortunately is becoming increasingly threatened from human-induced changes to its wetland habitats as well as predation by foxes and cats. It is currently listed in Victoria as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988).

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Swamp Skink Lissolepis coventryi, Bass Coast, Vic

Swamp Skinks grow up to 250mm in length and have a distinctive colouration. It’s body is typically a light olive green colour with two prominent black stripes along its olive-brown back. Its sides are black with light olive spots and patches. It can be confused with other species, particularly the similar sized and patterned White’s Skink Liopholis whitii (see photo below).

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White’s Skink Liopholis whitii, Hernes Oak, Vic

The habitat of White’s Skink is typically drier and it doesn’t seem to prefer wetland areas. The two skinks, however, were previously lumped together in the genus Egernia but recent studies have separated both these species from genus.

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Swamp Skink

 

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The current distribution of the Swamp Skink is the coastal plains of Victoria with populations extending slightly into coastal South Australia and NSW. The majority of these populations are highly fragmented and subject to increasing pressures. Swamps, wet heathland, saltmarshes, sedgelands and watercourses are the preferred habitats for the species and many of these have been drained for development or agriculture. Many of the small isolated patches of habitat left are subjected to further pressures from disease, pollution, weather events, poor drainage, amongst others. Some areas though have been protected and have a relatively stable population but much more sites need protection through habitat restoration, pest animal and weed control, and minimizing disturbance to existing habitats.

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Swamp Skink ‘condo’, Bass Coast, Vic.

If you live along the coastal plain of far S/E Australia keep an eye out for this species and submit any sightings to relevant departments. A great platform for the general public to submit sightings is the Atlas of Living Australia.  This citizen science based website collects data on Australia’s flora and fauna from a wide range of sources and can be accessed for information on species as well.

A fantastic article to read in relation to their requirements and management is the Swamp Skink management guidelines for the Mornington Peninsula (Clemann and Robertson 2015).

 


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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Memorial to Cook and Hicks.

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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

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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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The Knob Reserve, Stratford

Although it’s got an unfortunate name, the Knob Reserve in Stratford is a hidden little gem tucked away behind the town. This park is 56 hectares of mostly Gippsland Plains Grassy Woodland, an EVC (Ecological Vegetation Class) which is threatened and few relatively intact remnants remain in the region due to clearing for agriculture.

Plains Grassy Woodland, Knob Reserve.

Plains Grassy Woodland, Knob Reserve.

Historically this park is very significant to the indigenous Gunaikurnai people and has been a traditional meeting place for thousands of years. The ‘knob’, a prominent bluff along the banks of the Avon River would have been seen a long distance away. Evidence of their occupation can be found on and around the bluff including scar trees (trees with bark removed for canoes or shields) and sandstone grinding stones which were used to sharpen tools such as axes.

Panorama from the bluff overlooking the Avon River.

Panorama from the bluff overlooking the Avon River.

Grinding stones

Grinding stones

Early spring is the time when this area comes to life and although the grass is still green from winter it doesn’t take long for the soil and vegetation to dry out to a crisp. When I visited last week a lot of the herbs, lilies and orchids were in full bloom and the birdlife was extraordinary.

The Bulbine Lily Bulbine bulbosa was particularly common and the large yellow flowers could be seen dotted everywhere.

Bulbine Lily

Bulbine Lily

Chocolate Lilies Arthropodium strictum were also very common but only just beginning to form flowers and I think if you went back next week it would be a haze of purple.

Chocolate Lily

Chocolate Lily

This reserve has a high number of Donkey Orchids Diuris spp, one of them, the Purple Diuris Diuris punctata is listed as threatened. Although there weren’t any I could see flowering yet the photo below is from another trip I did to a grassland reserve near Bairnsdale the next day.

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Purple Diuris

Leopard Orchids Diuris pardina and Golden Moth Orchids Diuris chryseopsis weren’t common but scattered in the denser grasslands.

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Leopard Orchid

Golden Moth Orchid

Golden Moth Orchid

Like I mentioned the birdlife was amazing and within half an hour I had a tally of nearly 40 species! Parrots in particular were everywhere and many were searching for nesting hollows in the old Red Gums.

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Sulphur-crested Cockatoo checking out the real estate

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Might need a second opinion from the wife

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Eastern Rosella checking out a hollow

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A moment of contemplation

We’re heading back to this reserve next week for work and it should be great to see what else might pop up.