Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country: A Guide to Victoria's Goldfields Region 0643069674, 9780643069671, 9780643092211

The forests and woodlands of Victoria's Box-Ironbark region are one of the most improtant areas of faunal diversity

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Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country: A Guide to Victoria's Goldfields Region
 0643069674, 9780643069671, 9780643092211

Table of contents :
Contents......Page 6
Preface......Page 7
Acknowledgments......Page 8
Introduction......Page 9
1 Wildlife of the box-ironbark: an overview......Page 14
2 Wildlife and habitat conservation......Page 28
3 Box-ironbark habitats......Page 50
4 Species accounts......Page 58
Mammals......Page 59
Birds......Page 73
Reptiles......Page 157
Amphibians......Page 177
5 Where to watch wildlife......Page 184
6 Hints for watching wildlife......Page 222
Checklist of box-ironbark wildlife......Page 226
Description of conservation status......Page 232
Plant species referred to......Page 233
H......Page 236
V......Page 237
Selected reading......Page 238
Useful contacts......Page 242
Photo credits......Page 243
C......Page 251
F......Page 252
K......Page 253
O......Page 254
S......Page 255
T......Page 256
Z......Page 257

Citation preview

WILDLIFE of the

BOX-IRONBARK Country

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WILDLIFE of the

BOX-IRONBARK Country

CHRIS TZAROS Photographs by

Tadao Shimba Chris Tzaros and Peter Robertson Additional photography Lindy Lumsden, Peter Merritt, Rob Drummond and Andrew Bennett

© Chris Tzaros 2005 All rights reserved. Except under the conditions described in the Australian Copyright Act 1968 and subsequent amendments, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, duplicating or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. Contact CSIRO PUBLISHING for all permission requests. National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry Tzaros, Chris. Wildlife of the box-ironbark country. Includes index. ISBN 0 643 06967 4 (paperback).

ISBN 0 643 09221 8 (netLibrary eBook).

1. Forest animals – Victoria. 2. Eucalyptus – Victoria. 3. National parks and reserves – Australia - Victoria. I. Shimba, Tadao. II. Robertson, Peter. III. Title. 591.9945 Available from CSIRO PUBLISHING 150 Oxford Street (PO Box 1139) Collingwood VIC 3066 Australia Telephone: +61 3 9662 7666 Local call: 1300 788 000 (Australia only) Fax: +61 3 9662 7555 Email: [email protected] Web site: www.publish.csiro.au

Cover photographs Front: Peron’s Tree Frog (Chris Tzaros), Musk Lorikeet (Tadao Shimba), Squirrel Glider (Peter Robertson), Ironbark woodland (Chris Tzaros). Back: Common Scaly-foot (Peter Robertson), Mistletoebird (Tadao Shimba), Brush-tailed Phascogale (Todd Soderquist), Spotted Pardalote (Tadao Shimba), Short-beaked Echidna (Chris Tzaros). Spine: Regent Honeyeater (Chris Tzaros). Cover and text design by James Kelly Typeset by James Kelly Printed in Australia by Impact Printing

Contents Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 1 2 3 4

Wildlife of the box-ironbark: an overview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Wildlife and habitat conservation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Box-ironbark habitats . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Species accounts: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Mammals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Birds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Reptiles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Amphibians . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Where to watch wildlife . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Hints for watching wildlife . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

13 27 49 56 58 72 156 176 183 221

Checklist of box-ironbark wildlife . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Description of conservation status . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Plant species referred to . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Glossary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Selected reading . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Useful contacts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Photo credits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Audio CD: Box-ironbark nature soundscape . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Index to species . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

225 231 232 235 237 241 242 243 250

Regent Honeyeater

Preface Victoria’s box-ironbark forests and woodlands support a rich and diverse array of wildlife, quite different from that of wetter vegetation communities to the south and drier environments to the north. Within this unique ecosystem, eucalypt blossom provides food for many nectar-feeding birds such as honeyeaters and lorikeets, tree-hollows are critical for nocturnal arboreal mammals and hollow-nesting birds, and fallen timber and rocky outcrops provide habitat for a range of reptiles, amphibians and ground-dwelling insectivorous birds. The species that depend on these features of the habitat are a distinctive part of box-ironbark forests and woodlands. Sadly, these forests and woodlands have been reduced to around 15 per cent of their coverage before European settlement. Large tracts were extensively removed during the gold rushes of the 19th century and vegetation on the most fertile lowland areas was cleared for agriculture during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Over the many years since then, areas of remnant and regrowth forest and woodland have been greatly modified by various land uses and processes. Not surprisingly, this has had a devastating effect on the fauna, and many species such as the Regent Honeyeater, Squirrel Glider, Swift Parrot and Woodland Blind Snake are now threatened with extinction. Dozens more species are experiencing drastic decline. Only in the past decade has the region seen its first examples of national parks and dedicated conservation reserves. This book aims to provide a means for people to better identify and understand the vertebrate wildlife of the region, with information on all animal groups – mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs – in one compact volume. I trust it will also promote a greater awareness and appreciation of the wildlife in this unique area of Victoria, and most importantly, stimulate further interest and action needed to conserve this precious and highly threatened ecosystem. Chapters 1 to 3 give a brief overview of the box-ironbark wildlife, its conservation status and threats, and the vegetation with respect to its use as habitat by wildlife. The species accounts in Chapter 4 describe the distribution, status and ecology of all of the animal species to be found in the area. Information included in the species accounts has been derived not only from a combination of my own field experience in the box-ironbark ecosystem, but also from personal communications with a number of other naturalists and experts, and from the published books, reports and papers listed at the end of this book. Chapter 5 includes some useful hints for watching wildlife and features some of the new national parks, state parks and nature conservation reserves where people can experience the ecosystem and its wildlife for themselves. It gives advice on when to visit, how to get there and what they may expect to see. At the end of the book there is a checklist of the fauna, a glossary, a list of potentially useful contacts, a list of plant names referred to in the book, and a list of selected further reading. Also included is a nature soundscape recording on compact disc, which will help people identify many species of birds and frogs by call. Detailed field notes to accompany the recording are on pages 243–249. I hope that this book will be used by many people, not only workers or students in the field of land and wildlife management, community extension or regional planning, but also landholders, naturalists, tourists, and anyone who may simply wish to learn more about the wildlife of Victoria’s wonderful box-ironbark country. Chris Tzaros

Acknowledgments I owe a great debt of gratitude to Mick Fendley for his keen support of this book and untiring efforts towards acquiring funding to enable its publication. Financial assistance was provided by Parks Victoria (through Alex Holt and Roy Speechley), the Norman Wettenhall Foundation (through Geoff Park and Scott Anderson), the Department of Sustainability and Environment (through Rob Price) and in-kind contribution from Birds Australia (through Mike Weston). To all the above, I am deeply appreciative of their support. This book was also made possible through the generous help of many dedicated friends and colleagues who contributed in so many ways. I especially thank Tadao Shimba and Peter Robertson for extensive use of their superb wildlife photographs which stunningly illustrate this book. Other photographic contributors to who I am also thankful are Lindy Lumsden, Rob Drummond, Andrew Bennett, Kelvin Jakes, Neil Fifer, Jiri Lochman, Geoff Brown, Todd Soderquist and Michael Seyfort. I am also particularly grateful to those who reviewed and edited earlier drafts: Andrew Bennett, Lindy Lumsden, Peter Robertson, Ian Davidson, Eileen Collins, Garry Cheers, Mick Fendley, Mark Antos, John Peter and Peter Johnson. Information and figures for various sections of the text were provided by Ray Thomas, Natalie Holland, James Fitzsimons, Simon Kennedy, Geoff Brown, Roger Standen, Felicity Nicholls, Peter Morison, Barry Traill, Peter Menkhorst and Tom Smith. The species distribution maps were generated from the Atlas of Victorian Wildlife by Andrew Corrick, Petina Pert and Barb Baxter (Department of Sustainability and Environment) who showed considerable patience and tolerance throughout the mapping process. Additional assistance with species maps was provided by Andrew Silcocks (Atlas of Australian Birds, Birds Australia). I also thank all of the observant and diligent people who have submitted their wildlife records to the atlas projects – the creation of distribution maps would otherwise be impossible. Maps of the region and of parks and reserves were expertly created by Desiree Leslie-Hughes under the guidance of Simon Ransome (Victorian Environment Assessment Council). Staff from CSIRO Publishing – Nick Alexander, Briana Elwood, James Kelly and Camilla Myers – have all been tremendously helpful and a pleasure to work with. Nick particularly has been exceptionally accommodating in listening to my ideas, providing a plethora of useful advice and making constructive comments on the manuscript. In compiling the audio recording, it has been a privilege working with Andrew Skeoch of Listening Earth. Andrew is a master of nature sound recording and I thank him for allowing me to use his extensive material and for producing the CD. I acknowledge the contribution of the Bendigo Field Naturalists Club and those many individuals who have in some way shaped my interest, knowledge and appreciation of box-ironbark wildlife over many years, but I particularly recognise John Robinson, Ian Davidson, Rob Price and Andrew Bennett as mentors. I have much to thank them for. Finally, I thank my dear wife, Julie Hennessy, for her unfailing support, endless encouragement and meticulous organisational assistance during preparation of this book, and also for sharing an interest in my beloved box-ironbark forests by accompanying me on the many field trips and ‘holidays’ north of the divide.

Introduction The box-ironbark forests and woodlands of Victoria occur naturally in the area north of the Great Dividing Range and south of the Northern Plains, from Stawell in the west to Chiltern in the east. The map below shows the extent and distribution of the vegetation together with details of land tenure. Outlying areas of box-ironbark vegetation in southern Victoria are not included in this book. Also excluded are other vegetation types, such as River Red Gum woodlands along the major rivers, cleared agricultural pastures, native grasslands, and wetlands and other aquatic habitats that, although occurring in the general region, do not strictly form part of the boxironbark ecosystem. While the term ‘box-ironbark’ refers to tree species, particularly Grey Box, Red Ironbark and Mugga Ironbark, these species are not necessarily found at all sites in the ecosystem. Plant communities that are dominated by Yellow Gum and Red Stringybark, and even mallee eucalypts, such as Blue Mallee, Green Mallee and Bull Mallee, are all considered part of the box-ironbark ecosystem. These communities are interspersed among the more typical box-ironbark vegetation types and, because they contain an array of understorey plants characteristic of the box-ironbark country, they qualify as box-ironbark vegetation.

WEDDERBURN

INGLEWOOD ST ARNAUD

BENDIGO DUNOLLY

HEATH

STAWELL

ARARAT

AVOCA

MARYBOROUGH

CASTLEMAINE

Introduction

9

Only animal species that occur within the geographic area shown in the map, and that occupy box-ironbark vegetation, have been selected for inclusion in this book, based on the following criteria: Mammals: species for which there are 10 or more accepted records in the Atlas of Victorian Wildlife. Birds: species for which there are 10 or more accepted records in the Atlas of Victorian Wildlife, and/or those which are known to breed within the defined habitat and area. Reptiles and amphibians: species which have an accepted record in the Atlas of Victorian Wildlife. Those animals that occur within the defined region but not at sites containing box-ironbark vegetation have been excluded from this book, as are all introduced species. The few partially aquatic species that are included do occasionally use box-ironbark habitats. There is a complete checklist of all native species of vertebrate fauna recorded within Victoria’s box-ironbark ecosystem on pages 225–230.

CHILTERN

WANGARATTA

BENALLA

RUSHWORTH

EUROA

NAGAMBIE

COTE

LEGEND Towns

LEGEND

Towns Box-Ironbark Boundary Public Land Use

Box-Ironbark Boundary National Park

Historic and Cultural Features Reserve

Public Land Use National Heritage Park

National Park 0

5

10 15

km

0

5

10 15

Reference Area

Historic and Cultural Features Reserve

State Park

Commonwealth Land

Regional Park National Heritage Park

Other Public Land Reference

Area

Nature Conservation Reserve

State Park

Commonwealth Land

Regional Park

Other Public Land

10

Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Countr y

Species accounts The individual species accounts in Chapter 4 summarise current knowledge about their distribution, status and ecology. For each species there are notes on diet, vocalisations, social organisation, general behaviour and breeding. There are also notes on habitat and microhabitat use, as well as information on specific locations where a species may be encountered on a regular basis. Under ‘range and status’ there are notes on extent of occurrence, seasonality and abundance. The account includes the name of any similar species that may be similar in appearance, behaviour, or in call. Accompanying the notes for each species is a photograph, and a distribution map from the Atlas of Victorian Wildlife. Unless specified, information in these species accounts relates specifically to the Victorian boxironbark ecosystem, referred to throughout the species accounts simply as ‘box-ironbark’. The following abbreviations for public land tenure have been used throughout the species accounts: NP NHP SP RP NCR WR SF

National Park National Heritage Park State Park Regional Park Nature Conservation Reserve Wildlife Reserve State Forest

Crested Shrike-tit

Introduction

11

Interpreting the species maps The maps show the distribution of species both within Victoria’s box-ironbark ecosystem and their broader distribution within Victoria. Records are from the Atlas of Victorian Wildlife database, established and maintained by the Department of Sustainability and Environment.

The box-ironbark maps show cells of 5' latitude by 5' longitude (approximately 7 km by 9 km) in which there are records of a species in the Atlas of Victorian Wildlife. This information is superimposed over the distribution of public land (shaded beige). Three major towns are labelled to provide additional aid to location. This combination of public land layer and place name, and the enlarged scale of the map, allows the reader to interpret the distribution of a species with reasonable accuracy. It may also be useful for those wishing to determine which species occur in a particular park, nature reserve or forest block. The Victoria maps also show cells of 5' latitude by 5' longitude in which there are records of a species in the Atlas of Victorian Wildlife. Records in the database with imprecise locality information are placed in a 10' cell and represented by a larger symbol on the maps. This information is presented statewide, with the box-ironbark ecosystem (i.e. the area covered in the accompanying box-ironbark map) shaded grey. The reader may then examine the distribution of a given species outside of the Box-Ironbark region. This is useful to show the extent to which a species shows a preference, or otherwise, for box-ironbark habitats in relation to elsewhere in the state. On both maps, the most recent species records from a grid cell are coloured for the time periods ‘before 1970’ (red) and ‘since 1970 inclusive’ (green). While it is recognised that fauna survey effort has differed between these periods, for many species it does provide an indication of the extent and timing of change to their distribution. The maps in this book should not be regarded as complete in that absence of a record does not necessarily mean absence of the species – it may imply that there are no records in the Atlas of Victorian Wildlife. This may especially be the case for species that are not readily encountered, such as rare, restricted or cryptic species. Generally though, the maps are comprehensive and indicate the current extent of species distributions using the most recent data available.

Taxonomy and nomenclature In this book, common and scientific names of species follow those used in Menkhorst (1995) for mammals, Christidis and Boles (1994) for birds, and the Victorian Flora Species Index (2001) for plants. For reptiles, most scientific names follow those of Wilson and Swan (2003), except for Acritoscincus duperreyi which has remained Bassiana duperreyi – still most commonly applied to this species. Common names for reptiles used in this book differ slightly from Wilson and Swan (2003) in that those used in this book are the most popular names by which the species is known in Victoria and in the Atlas of Victorian Wildlife. For amphibians, scientific names follow Robinson (1998), and common names are those by which the species is most commonly known in Victoria and in the Atlas of Victorian Wildlife.

1 Wildlife of the box-ironbark: an overview

One of the main reasons for the high level of diversity and distinctiveness of the wildlife of boxironbark forests and woodlands is the position of the ecosystem in the landscape – interposed as it is between semi-arid and arid inland environments to the north and west, and moister environments to the east and south. In addition, climate, landform, geology and soil type all influence the vegetation communities that make up this distinctive ecosystem, providing a wide variety of habitat types for wildlife, ranging from characteristic ironbark and box eucalypt woodlands to low mallee-dominated shrublands. A total of 287 species of native wildlife have been recorded in the box-ironbark ecosystem in Victoria. In each animal group, but most notably among the birds, there is an array of temperate woodland-dependant species, as well as species representative of the wet forests of the Great Dividing Range, and the drier environments of the Murray River floodplain and semi-arid mallee region. Species from these adjacent regions generally occur at the edge of their range in the box-ironbark ecosystem. In addition, there are also widespread species that occupy many habitats throughout Victoria, further adding to the diversity of wildlife in the box-ironbark forests and woodlands. Widespread clearing and modification of box-ironbark habitats since European settlement has resulted in marked changes to the composition of wildlife communities and the conservation status of many species. Three particularly sensitive groups of wildlife are: • species that depend on tree-hollows for shelter or breeding, • mobile species that track and use resources, such as flowering, in different localities, and • ground-dwelling species that use forest and woodland habitats. While we may never fully appreciate just how many species have been lost, it is clear from the limited historical records that some species have been driven to extinction and no longer occur in the ecosystem. Of great concern is the continuing decline of many other species across parts or all of the Box-Ironbark region. The remaining areas of box-ironbark vegetation now support Opposite: The diverse vegetation communities that make up Victoria’s box-ironbark ecosystem are scattered across the gently undulating rises and low hills inland of the Great Dividing Range in south-eastern Australia.

14

Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Countr y

a number of species that are either threatened, rare, or not found elsewhere in the state. Consequently, these habitats have a high conservation value at both a state and national scale.

Mammals Mammal populations have been worst affected since the arrival of Europeans. The introduction of competitive herbivores (e.g. rabbits, domestic stock) and exotic predators (cats and foxes), and persecution by early European settlers, have all contributed to the loss of mammal species during the past 150 years. The White-footed Rabbit-rat, once believed to be reasonably common throughout Victorian woodlands, including box-ironbark areas, declined to extinction within just three decades of European colonisation. The Rufous Bettong also once occurred throughout much of the boxironbark ecosystem, but disappeared from Victoria during the early 1900s. Among the last records were those collected as specimens, now in the Museum of Victoria, from Violet Town in 1874 and from near Bendigo around 1900. Gone too are the Eastern Quoll and the Dingo, both which were unable to withstand the earliest changes to the landscape and died out across the Box-Ironbark region within decades of European settlement. Despite these major impacts and loss of species, 38 species of native mammals remain in Victoria’s box-ironbark ecosystem. Marsupials comprise almost one-half of the native mammals (18 species), and include many ground-dwelling species such as kangaroos, wallabies and dunnarts, as well as arboreal species such as possums and gliders. Some ground-dwellers, such as the Black Wallaby and Eastern Grey Kangaroo, have increased in number and expanded their range throughout the region and are among the most frequently observed mammals. Others, such as the Common Dunnart, have been adversely affected and are rarely seen. Arboreal species are particularly well-represented. There are nine: ranging from the tiny, rarely seen Feathertail Glider, to the robust and familiar Common Brushtail Possum. Most arboreal

The Rufous Bettong once occurred throughout much of the box-ironbark country. This specimen was collected near Bendigo around 1900.

Wildlife of the box-ironbark: an over view

15

species depend on tree-hollows and now are largely restricted to localities that contain mature trees and suitable hollows (see Chapter 2). The largest group of placental mammals are the insectivorous bats, with 13 species present in the region. Most of these bats are common and widespread, though they are difficult to observe due to their nocturnal activity, small size and habit of sheltering during the day in roost sites in treehollows and under bark. Insectivorous bats are voracious predators of small aerial invertebrates. They are highly mobile and can use separate areas for roosting and foraging – some individuals may travel distances of 10 kilometres or more to forage each night. Two large fruit-eating bats have also been recorded in the Box-Ironbark region as irregular vagrants. The Short-beaked Echidna and the Platypus, both monotremes, also occur in the box-ironbark ecosystem. The Echidna is widespread and moderately common, but the Platypus is extremely rare and restricted to permanent watercourses that run through box-ironbark forests and woodlands. These stream habitats are shared with the semi-aquatic Water Rat, which can also use adjacent terrestrial habitats.

The White-footed Rabbit-rat, illustrated here by John Gould, declined to extinction within just three decades of European colonisation. Source: La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria.

16

Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Countr y

The Koala occurs throughout the box-ironbark country, but is more common in moister forests to the south.

The Inland Broad-nosed Bat is found in drier inland habitats and occurs on the southern edge of its range in the box-ironbark country.

Natural distribution patterns The distribution patterns displayed by mammals of the box-ironbark ecosystem can be divided into four main groups. First, there are species typically associated with wet forests of the Great Dividing Range of south-eastern Australia, such as the Common Wombat, Long-nosed Bandicoot and Eastern Pygmy-possum. These are found at a small number of locations in the far south and east of the ecosystem. More common species representative of moister forests include the Koala, Common Ringtail Possum and Feathertail Glider. Second, there are a group of mammals characteristic of dry inland environments (such as mallee habitats) including species such as the Western Grey Kangaroo and Inland Broad-nosed Bat. Third, there is a group of mammals that are typically associated with temperate woodlands – the habitats characteristic of the box-ironbark ecosystem. Species such as the Brush-tailed Phascogale, Yellow-footed Antechinus and Squirrel Glider have a Victorian distribution that is centred on box-ironbark habitats and they are commonly regarded as ‘woodland specialists’. The final group of mammal species are those, such as Common Brushtail Possum, Sugar Glider, Lesser Long-eared Bat and Short-beaked Echidna, that are widespread throughout many habitat types in Victoria, including the box-ironbark ecosystem.

Birds Box-ironbark forests and woodlands are renowned for their rich and varied bird life. Some 186 species of native birds (excluding waterbirds) are known from Victoria’s box-ironbark ecosystem. Most of these (86 per cent) regularly breed in box-ironbark habitats or migrate to the region each year. Other species, including rare vagrants such as the Grey Falcon, Crescent Honeyeater and Cicadabird, occur only very occasionally.

Wildlife of the box-ironbark: an over view

17

The Regent Honeyeater, once a common bird seen in large flocks in the box-ironbark country, is now critically endangered.

A number of bird species have suffered a marked decline in population size and experienced severe range contraction in the box-ironbark ecosystem since European settlement. The Regent Honeyeater, reported to be widespread and common until the 1970s, is now critically endangered on a national scale. Areas that once supported large breeding flocks of this colourful honeyeater now support only small numbers of birds infrequently. Numerous other woodland species are experiencing range contractions and population declines. The Crested Bellbird, for example, was commonly recorded in the forests surrounding Chiltern until the 1970s, but the population dwindled rapidly and the species was last recorded there in 1991. The Grey-crowned Babbler has declined markedly in the box-ironbark woodlands and elsewhere in Victoria over the past few decades, and is now threatened and restricted to isolated localities in central and northern Victoria. The Hooded Robin, Speckled Warbler and Diamond Firetail remain relatively widespread throughout the box-ironbark country but their numbers continue to decline and populations have disappeared from various districts since around the 1970s. The decline of the Crested Bellbird

‘A bird confined to the country nearer Chiltern is the Oreoica cristata, its beautiful bell-like notes being always heard among the ironbarks.’ A.G. Campbell (1902)

‘Crested Bellbirds are now almost certainly extinct at Chiltern. As this was the last population in north-east Victoria, they are now likely to be extinct in this entire region.’ B.J. Traill (1995)

18

Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Countr y

present distribution (records since 2000) no records since 1980 no records since 1970

The range of the Grey-crowned Babbler has declined significantly over the past 30 years.

Four important groups of birds can be recognised, based on their ecological requirements, namely their usage of foraging resources and micro-habitats used for roosting and nesting. Nectar-feeding birds are the most conspicuous. Around 20 per cent of the box-ironbark birds feed on nectar to some extent. They are mostly colourful species that are highly vocal, active and aggressive. Wattlebirds (2 species), friarbirds (2 species), honeyeaters (24 species), lorikeets (4 species) and the Swift Parrot are strongly influenced by the distribution and seasonal flowering patterns of the characteristic nectar-producing eucalypts such as Red Ironbark, Mugga Ironbark, Grey Box, White Box, Yellow Box and Yellow Gum. Eucalypt flowers provide critical food resources for these birds, both directly as carbohydrate-rich nectar and indirectly through attracting invertebrates which in turn provide a protein-rich food. Insects make up a large part of the diet of most nectar-feeding birds. Ground-foraging and ground-nesting birds are also well represented and are some of the ecosystem’s most emblematic species. Birds such as the Painted Button-quail, Bush Stone-curlew, Common Bronzewing, Turquoise Parrot, Chestnut-rumped Heathwren, Speckled Warbler, Buff-rumped Thornbill, Southern Whiteface, Jacky Winter, Hooded Robin, Grey-crowned and White-browed Babblers, Spotted Quail-thrush, Crested Bellbird and Diamond Firetail, are all dependant on features of the ground-layer, such as sparse grass cover, a patchy understorey and woody and leafy debris, for various parts of their life-cycle.

Flowering eucalypts, such as this Grey Box, are an important food source for a large number of birds and mammals.

A diverse and complex ground-layer provides habitat for a wide range of fauna in the form of sheltering, basking, nesting and foraging sites.

Wildlife of the box-ironbark: an over view

Tree-hollows are an important yet scarce feature of box-ironbark forests and woodlands.

19

Lerp, the sugary coverings of psyllid insects, is a valuable food source for many birds and mammals.

Hollow-dependant species make up around 15 per cent of all bird species that breed in the ecosystem. These range from small species that require tiny crevices and knot-holes, such as the Striated Pardalote and Australian Owlet-nightjar, to those that need large hollows in mature trees, including the Powerful Owl, Barking Owl and Laughing Kookaburra. Mature and senescing hollow-bearing trees have a very important role in providing habitat in these forests and woodlands. The fourth group are insectivorous foliage-gleaners, such as whistlers (3 species), cuckooshrikes (2 species), cuckoos (5 species), gerygones (2 species), pardalotes (2 species), thornbills (7 species) and the Weebill. These species are specially adapted to forage on eucalypt and acacia foliage in search of small invertebrates. For much of the year many of these birds, together with a variety of other small insectivorous species, assemble in mixed-species foraging flocks especially during autumn and winter. These flocks are typically led by gregarious species such as Buffrumped and Striated Thornbills, with various followers including the Speckled Warbler, Scarlet Robin, Grey Fantail, White-throated Treecreeper and Spotted Pardalote.

The Fuscous Honeyeater is a woodland-dependant species characteristic of box-ironbark forests and woodlands.

Although fairly widespread, numbers of the Diamond Firetail continue to decline throughout their preferred woodland habitats.

20

Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Countr y

Natural distribution patterns Based upon their natural patterns of distribution, biogeographic origin and habitat preferences, birds of the box-ironbark – like the mammals – may be divided into four main groups.

The characteristic ‘woodland’ species are largely confined to, or distinctly centred on, box-ironbark forests and woodlands. Species such as the Fuscous Honeyeater, Black-chinned Honeyeater, Painted Honeyeater, Regent Honeyeater, Turquoise Parrot, Swift Parrot, Little Lorikeet, Bush Stone-curlew, Speckled Warbler, Diamond Firetail and White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike occur far more extensively in the box-ironbark ecosystem than elsewhere in Victoria. Species typical of moist forested environments to the south and south-east also make up a large component of the box-ironbark bird life. These include species such as the Crimson Rosella, Scarlet Robin, Red-browed Finch, White-browed Scrubwren, Striated Thornbill and Eastern Spinebill that are near the northern edge of their geographic range. Birds usually associated with semi-arid mallee environments, such as the Malleefowl, Shy Heathwren, Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, Purple-gaped Honeyeater and Southern Scrub-robin occur at some localities in the Box-Ironbark region, as do dry inland specialists such as the Cockatiel, Budgerigar, Black Honeyeater and White-fronted Honeyeater. There are also a number of generalist species that occur widely throughout south-eastern Australia such as the Grey Shrike-thrush, Rufous Whistler, Southern Boobook, Brown Goshawk, Australian Raven, Superb Fairy-wren, Grey Fantail and Brown-headed Honeyeater. A small number of species that prefer lightly treed landscapes have benefited from vegetation clearing and fragmentation – species such as the Noisy Miner, Australian Magpie, Crested Pigeon, Little Raven, Galah and Willie Wagtail, and are common throughout the area. Seasonality and movements Seasonal changes in the distribution and composition of bird communities are a characteristic feature of the box-ironbark ecosystem and contribute to the unique nature of these forests and woodlands. The most dynamic changes are caused by the seasonal movements of migratory species, which may be divided into two broad categories, autumn–winter migrants and spring–summer migrants (see illustration, page 22).

Autumn–winter migrants arrive in about March/April and depart around September/October. These species typically come from cooler climates. Migratory nectar-feeders are a distinctive seasonal component of this group. During autumn-winter, the dominant trees such as Grey Box, Red Ironbark, Mugga Ironbark, White Box and Yellow Gum may flower in sequence, commencing in early autumn and continuing to spring, sustaining populations of nectar-feeders throughout the cooler months. A patch of heavily flowering box-ironbark forest may contain between 15 and 20 species of nectar-feeding birds at this time. These noisy and hyperactive aggregations not only comprise residents such as Fuscous and Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters, but an array of migrants which arrive en masse to take advantage of the flowering smorgasbord of eucalypt nectar and pollen. The White-naped Honeyeater, Yellow-faced Honeyeater and the Eastern Spinebill move in from adjacent highland forests to the south, while species such as the Swift Parrot travel considerably longer distances – the entire population migrating from their summer breeding grounds in Tasmania to forage on winter box-ironbark blossom. During autumn–winter, large concentrations of Flame Robins and smaller numbers of Pink Robins disperse from the mountainous wetter forests of the Great Divide to the relatively milder

Wildlife of the box-ironbark: an over view

During autumn–winter, large numbers of Flame Robins descend from the cooler environments of the Great Divide.

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The Sacred Kingfisher is a summer migrant, spending its winter in northern Australia, Indonesia and New Guinea.

box-ironbark lowlands to escape climatic extremes, as do small numbers of the Gang-gang Cockatoo, Australian King Parrot, Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo and Pied Currawong. Other small insectivorous species such as the Golden Whistler, Scarlet Robin, Spotted Pardalote and Grey Fantail maintain year-round populations in box-ironbark habitats, with winter migrants augmenting their numbers. Longer-distance movements are made by migrating flocks of Striated Pardalotes and Silvereyes, both of the Tasmanian subspecies, which similarly augment resident box-ironbark populations during winter. Spring–summer migrants usually arrive in the box-ironbark ecosystem around September/ October, then depart in about February/March, sometimes as late as April. They move south into box-ironbark habitats typically from warmer northern regions, such as arid inland or tropical northern Australia, or more distant destinations such as Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Asia. Most species breed in the area over the spring-summer months, but some, such as the Whitethroated Needletail and Fork-tailed Swift, are non-breeding visitors from their breeding areas in Japan, China and Siberia. While some species, such as the Sacred Kingfisher, Pallid Cuckoo and Rufous Songlark, occur only during the spring-summer months, others, such as the Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Rufous Whistler and Olive-backed Oriole, may be considered partial spring-summer migrants. Small numbers of some species may live in the ecosystem throughout the year, some quite cryptically, and be joined by masses of migrating individuals once spring arrives. Most of these spring–summer migrants are intent on breeding, making a conspicuously vocal return with territorial establishment and mate attraction among their highest priorities. Several species call incessantly throughout this period and springtime bird song is a feature of box-ironbark forests and woodlands. Irregular movements of birds, including local movements within the ecosystem and from adjacent regions in response to variation in food availability, are also a characteristic feature of box-ironbark bird communities. During autumn–winter, the range of species at a given site may change substantially over the course of a day, a few days or a week, as a result of eucalypt blossoming and nectar availability. Highly mobile, transient flocks of species such as the Red Wattlebird, Noisy and Little Friarbirds, Regent Honeyeater and Musk, Little and Purple-crowned Lorikeets, may transform a local bird community when heavy flowering occurs. The box-ironbark

22

Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Countr y

Irregular

Spring–Summer

Nomadic

Autumn–Winter

General migration routes and timing of movements of some birds that visit Victoria’s box-ironbark ecosystem.

ecosystem, with its prolific winter flowering eucalypts, is of particular importance to these species; they come and go from favoured sites, following the flowering pattern of the eucalypts. Nomadic movements of some species into the box-ironbark ecosystem are irregular and largely unpredictable. The Budgerigar, Cockatiel, Black Honeyeater and White-fronted Honeyeater move in response to sporadic events, such as widespread inland drought. Some nomads, such as the Cockatiel and White-fronted Honeyeater, visit on a more frequent basis, while species such as the Budgerigar come very infrequently and may be absent for many years. Even species that are typically regarded as sedentary undertake localised seasonal movement. Distances they travel may be relatively small and for some it may appear to be more of a seasonal habitat change. A range of species use low-lying sites such as drainage lines and shallow gullies during summer, and sometimes for extended periods during prolonged dry spells. These areas are often relatively moister and more humid, and may support greater insect populations than surrounding drier habitats on slopes and ridges. Species such as Fuscous and Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters, Striated and Spotted Pardalotes and various species of thornbills, many of which are typically found at more elevated sites, often appear to seek refuge in these areas during dry times.

Wildlife of the box-ironbark: an over view

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Reptiles and Amphibians The box-ironbark ecosystem supports 41 species of reptiles, representing nine families: the tortoises (1 species), geckoes (3 species), legless lizards (4 species), skinks (18 species), dragons (2 species), goannas (2 species), blind snakes (3 species), pythons (1 species) and elapid snakes (7 species). Clearing and simplification of the forests and woodlands, particularly disturbances to the ground-layer by timber removal, grazing and altered burning regimes, has greatly reduced suitable habitat for many reptile and amphibian species. Many snakes are deliberately killed by humans, and for some species, such as the Carpet Python, killing and illegal collecting may contribute to local population losses. Declines have been detected for many species, including the Woodland Blind Snake, Tree Goanna, Bandy Bandy, Growling Grass Frog and Bibron’s Toadlet. Several species are listed as threatened but no species of reptile or amphibian is known to have become extinct in the area. Around half of the reptile species found in the box-ironbark ecosystem are skinks. They range from the very small Grey’s Skink and Garden Skink, to the larger Stumpy-tailed Lizard and Common Blue-tongued Lizard. Most species are terrestrial, sheltering under debris such as rocks and logs and foraging and basking on the ground surface. Some, such as the Tree Skink and Carnaby’s Wall Skink, make use of trees or large boulders, while others, including the Bougainville’s Skink and Three-toed Skink, are largely fossorial. Legless lizards are another distinctive reptile group and include the very rare and range-restricted Pink-tailed Worm-lizard and Burton’s Snake-lizard, and the more widespread Olive Legless Lizard and Common Scaly-foot.

The Olive Legless Lizard is found throughout the box-ironbark country.

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Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Countr y

The Common Spadefoot Toad shelters in underground burrows beneath debris, becoming active following rain when small ditches and gullies become inundated.

Two species of geckoes, the Marbled Gecko and the Wood Gecko, are reasonably common and widespread, while the Thick-tailed Gecko is rare and occurs only in central and western box-ironbark areas. Goannas are among the largest reptiles in the region; the largely arboreal Tree Goanna, though uncommon, occurs widely throughout the ecosystem, while the ground-dwelling Sand Goanna occurs infrequently, mainly in western and north-central districts. Dragon lizards, including the familiar Eastern Bearded Dragon and the swift-moving Tree Dragon, occur over extensive areas in the box-ironbark ecosystem, and are encountered basking on elevated sites such as stumps and rocks. Elapid snakes, which include the venomous ground-dwelling species, are well-represented in the box-ironbark ecosystem. These include widespread familiar species such as the Eastern Brown Snake and Red-bellied Black Snake, as well as species restricted to northern Victoria, such as Dwyer’s Snake and Bandy Bandy. The Carpet Python, a non-venomous snake, is the only species of python occurring in Victoria, and its population in the Box-Ironbark region is limited to just a few isolated rocky outcrops. Three species of blind snakes, a rarely encountered group of cryptic fossorial species, occur in box-ironbark habitats; the Woodland Blind Snake is a ‘woodland specialist’ which occurs throughout the ecosystem, whereas the Peter’s and Gray’s Blind Snake are at the southern edge of their geographic range. The Common Long-necked Tortoise is the only aquatic reptile that frequently occurs in the Victorian box-ironbark ecosystem, and is restricted to watercourses, dams and adjacent terrestrial habitats.

Wildlife of the box-ironbark: an over view

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Fifteen species of frogs are known to occur in the box-ironbark ecosystem, including representatives from two families; the southern frogs (11 species) and the tree frogs (4 species). The frog fauna ranges from the tiny southern frogs, such as the Sloane’s, Common and Plains Froglets (only 20–30 mm in size), to the large Growling Grass Frog (85 mm in size), a member of the tree frog family. Apart from species such as the Common Spadefoot Toad, Bibron’s Toadlet and Eastern Banjo Frog, which shelter beneath debris and in underground burrows awaiting rain to stimulate activity, most frogs occur at moist sites, mainly around waterbodies such as dams and waterholes, or in areas that are seasonally inundated such as low-lying depressions and gullies. Some species, such as Eastern Banjo Frog, disperse widely from moist sites and often occur throughout much drier surrounding habitats. Natural distribution patterns Climate has a major effect on the distribution and abundance of reptiles because they are ectothermic, relying on sources of external heat to regulate their body temperature. Accordingly, more species occur towards the relatively warmer northern margin of the box-ironbark ecosystem, including dry country specialists such as the Mitchell’s Short-tailed Snake, Sand Goanna, Carnaby’s Wall Skink and Tree Skink. Other species, such as the Eastern Three-lined Skink, Southern Rainbow Skink and White’s Skink, are representative of cool moist conditions and consequently are found only towards the southern moister end of the environmental gradient.

Some reptiles have an extensive distribution throughout the ecosystem, including common species such as the Marbled Gecko, Large-striped Skink, Garden Skink and Eastern Brown Snake, and uncommon species such as the Tree Goanna, Woodland Blind Snake and Eastern Tiger Snake. Others, including rare species such as the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard, Bandy Bandy and Burton’s Snake-lizard, are quite restricted in range and are known from just a few localities. Several species are naturally scarce because their broader geographic range only just penetrates the Box-Ironbark region, such as the Copper-tailed Skink, Grey’s Skink, Peter’s Blind Snake and Gray’s Blind Snake. Some species have a localised occurrence as a result of very specific micro-habitat requirements; for example, the Cunningham’s Skink and Black Rock Skink. Reptiles such as the Tree Dragon, Tree Goanna and Woodland Blind Snake are considered temperate ‘woodland specialists’ and are typically associated with box-ironbark habitats in Victoria and elsewhere across their range. Most of the amphibians in box-ironbark forests and woodlands are found over large areas of south-eastern Australia. The Spotted Marsh Frog, Common Froglet and Eastern Banjo Frog are all extremely common and widespread throughout Victoria. Others show an affinity with a particular region. The Victorian Smooth Froglet is adapted to wetter forest, and occurs marginally into the cooler southern-most box-ironbark areas, while the Mallee Spadefoot Toad, typically an inhabitant of semi-arid mallee woodlands and shrublands, occurs at some localities in the west of the ecosystem. Species typically associated with areas north of the Great Dividing Range, such as the Plains Froglet, Sloane’s Froglet, Plains Brown Tree Frog and Peron’s Tree Frog, are a distinctive component of the box-ironbark frog fauna. Uncommon frog species include the Bibron’s Toadlet, a widespread but patchily distributed dry forest specialist, and the Rough Toadlet, whose geographic range is extensive north of the Murray River through inland New South Wales, and only just reaches into northern Victoria in box-ironbark forest in the north of the Warby Ranges.

Swift Parrot

2 Wildlife and habitat conservation

National assessments of habitat loss, biodiversity decline and land and water degradation have identified the temperate woodlands region – which includes the box-ironbark country – as one of the worst affected areas in Australia. Currently, more than 40 vertebrate species found in boxironbark habitat are officially classified as ‘threatened’ or ‘near threatened’ in Victoria. (See Table on next page.) Box-ironbark bird communities are among the most seriously imperiled on the continent. At the current rate of loss and without threat abatement, many once-common species will become threatened and many threatened species may eventually become extinct. Threatened species, and those most susceptible to further decline, can be assigned to two broad groups based on habitat requirements, those that have a strong association with mature trees, and those that forage, nest or live on the ground. These two groups of fauna are characteristic of the woodland environment. They comprise species adapted to an abundance of large old trees, tree-hollows of a range of sizes, a reliable and abundant source of nectar, a ready supply of lerp and manna, a variety of foraging sites such as dead branches and peeling bark, and a complex ground-layer of grasses, rocks, logs and fallen debris. Several practical methods for conserving biodiversity are currently being implemented in the box-ironbark ecosystem. Some promote biodiversity conservation locally (e.g. Land for Wildlife and Trust for Nature properties), while others operate more widely at a landscape-scale (e.g. Lurg Hills Regent Honeyeater Project). A popular conservation approach is ‘recovery planning’ for individual species. These programs work towards the return, even partially, of species to their former distribution and numbers. This process generally involves identifying current threats and species-specific management issues, identifying necessary research, identifying conservation actions and setting priorities, disseminating information to the broader community, and obtaining funding to achieve these goals. Most biodiversity conservation programs underway in the box-ironbark ecosystem involve ‘flagship species’ – species with a charismatic appeal that generate greater levels of public and political interest, motivation and commitment. Some case studies of threatened species and landscape-scale recovery efforts are featured throughout this chapter in boxes.

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Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Countr y

Threatened and declining wildlife in Victoria’s box–ironbark country. Box–ironbark LU WC WU Mammals Brush-tailed Phascogale Fat-tailed Dunnart Common Dunnart Squirrel Glider Birds Malleefowl Square-tailed Kite Painted Button-quail Bush Stone-curlew Little Lorikeet Swift Parrot Turquoise Parrot Black-eared Cuckoo Powerful Owl Barking Owl Brown Treecreeper Chestnut-rumped Heathwren Speckled Warbler Western Gerygone Regent Honeyeater Yellow-tufted Honeyeater Purple-gaped Honeyeater Fuscous Honeyeater Black-chinned Honeyeater Brown-headed Honeyeater Painted Honeyeater Jacky Winter Red-capped Robin Hooded Robin Grey-crowned Babbler Spotted Quail-thrush Crested Bellbird Diamond Firetail Reptiles Pink-tailed Worm-lizard Eastern Bearded Dragon Tree Goanna Woodland Blind Snake Carpet Python Bandy Bandy Amphibians Bibron’s Toadlet Rough Toadlet Growling Grass Frog

Victoria1 CE

E

 

V

Australia 2

NT

DD

TW

E

V

 



 





 

 

 



    



    

    



 

  

 

   

 









 

       

 



       

    









  



  

















LU – localised and uncommon, WC – widespread and common, WU – widespread and uncommon. CE – Critically Endangered, E – Endangered, V – Vulnerable, NT – Near Threatened, DD – Data Deficient, TW – listed as members of the Victorian temperate-woodland bird community (a threatened ecological community). A brief definition of each status is presented on page 231. 1 Source: Advisory List of Threatened Vertebrate Fauna in Victoria, 2003. 2 National conservation status is based on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, 1999 list of taxa considered threatened in Australia.

Wildlife and habita t conser va tion

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Land-uses and processes that affect wildlife A number of land-uses and processes threaten the persistence of wildlife species and the ecological integrity of Victoria’s box-ironbark forests and woodlands. Habitat loss and fragmentation Habitat loss and fragmentation is the most profound factor influencing the distribution and status of wildlife in box-ironbark forests and woodlands. It has been suggested that for every 100 hectares of woodland cleared, between 1000–2000 woodland-dependant birds are lost. Before European settlement, box-ironbark vegetation in Victoria covered over a million hectares of the inland slopes of the Great Dividing Range. Today, only 17 per cent of this vegetation cover remains.

The once-continuous tracts of forest and woodland have been fragmented into smaller patches, and some of these are now below a critical size needed to sustain viable populations of certain forest and woodland-dependant species in the longer term. Some species are unable to move across cleared landscapes that separate forest blocks to reach other patches of suitable habitat and are at risk of dying-out from local areas. Smaller remnants are also more susceptible to degrading processes, such as invasion by weeds and feral animals. These landscape processes are occurring throughout the box-ironbark ecosystem, resulting in the gradual decline and localised extinction of sensitive species. Once animal populations die out, recolonisation from other areas is unlikely unless major habitat restoration efforts take place. Some vegetation communities have been so heavily cleared that they now exist as tiny remnants covering a fraction of their former distribution. The most seriously depleted communities

Most of the box-ironbark lowlands have been cleared. Remnants usually exist along roadsides and creeklines, and are few and far between.

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Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Countr y

Conserving the Brush-tailed Phascogale

Since European settlement the Brush-tailed Phascogale has declined significantly in Victoria and may still be decreasing. Although it has disappeared from the Gippsland and south-west regions of the state, the box-ironbark ecosystem still contains a large proportion of the population. Mature hollow-bearing trees are an important habitat and are used for foraging, nesting and daytime refuge. Suitable hollows are now scarce in box-ironbark forests and competition for available hollows with other species results in phascogales often being forced into using less than optimal sites such as stumps or under flaking bark, making them more susceptible to predation. For a small animal, phascogales forage over very large home-ranges – about 40 hectares for territorial females and around 100 hectares for roaming males. They require large tracts of forested habitat to support a sustainable population. Forest and woodland fragmentation poses a serious threat as it reduces habitat area, often to a size too small to support viable populations. Cleared land between tracts of suitable habitat may also form barriers to the dispersal of young and breeding males. Concern over the decline of phascogales has led to a conservation action plan to ensure its long-term survival and some initiatives have already been implemented: • priority management areas have been identified after five years of surveys examining 40 separate sites north of the Great Dividing Range, • tissue samples from animals across the 40 sites have been examined to indicate possible genetic relationships between the populations, • community hair-tube programs, to determine the presence of the species without trapping, have been implemented in central Victoria, • a local government council has drafted an Environmental Significance Overlay to assist in the protection and management of phascogale habitat on private property, • nest-boxes erected where natural hollows are scarce have proved to be a useful resource during the breeding period for females with young and for nomadic males, and • more informed decisions have been made regarding the management of public and private land to protect and enhance priority habitat.

In areas where natural tree-hollows are in short supply, nest-boxes can provide suitable temporary shelter and nest-sites for phascogales.

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – this phascogale is set for release after being captured for research purposes.

Wildlife and habita t conser va tion

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include Creekline Grassy Woodlands, Low Rises Grassy Woodlands and Alluvial Terraces Herb-rich Woodlands. These were rich habitats on the most fertile and productive soils in the region. Even widespread plant communities such as Box-Ironbark Forest and Heathy Dry Forest now cover only around half of their former extent and are in a highly modified and degraded condition. Timber harvesting and firewood collection With few exceptions, box-ironbark forests and woodlands in northern Victoria have been heavily and repeatedly cut-over for timber production and firewood collection. During the gold rush of the 1850s, tree felling was uncontrolled and timber was used extensively for mining infrastructure and fuel. Regrowth forests have been intensively managed since these initial periods of exploitation, mainly to provide sawlogs, sleepers, posts, poles and firewood. This intensive harvesting has included the selective removal of ecologically mature trees in the 1930s and 1950s to initiate growth of younger and straighter trees. In most areas, standing and fallen dead timber is scarce due to collection for firewood. Much of Victoria’s firewood supply is harvested from within the box-ironbark country, where the preferred fuelwood trees, such as Grey Box and Red Ironbark, grow.

In the past, the forests and woodlands were composed of open stands of large trees, many in excess of a metre in diameter. These once majestic open woodlands of broad-crowned, widely spaced trees, have been converted into the present-day forests dominated by high densities of small trees. This transformation has significant implications for wildlife, particularly those species dependant on tree-hollows, eucalypt nectar and a complex ground- and litter-layer. The harvesting of eucalyptus oil in mallee shrublands also has a substantial impact on the wildlife. Mallee eucalypts, particularly Blue Mallee and Green Mallee, are among the most prized

These posts have been cut from trees felled in the Kingower State Forest.

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Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Countr y

Towards recovery of the Swift Parrot

Victorian box-ironbark woodlands are the most frequently occupied mainland habitat for the endangered Swift Parrot. However, the loss and fragmentation of these woodlands has greatly reduced the total amount of habitat available. Forestry operations and firewood collection have further altered the age structure of forests, resulting in the loss of mature trees which are of greatest importance for the Swift Parrot. The species also suffers high mortality in urban areas by collisions with man-made structures such as wire-mesh fences, windows and vehicles. A national recovery program commenced in 1995 and since then a range of objectives have been identified, many of which have been achieved or are ongoing: • priority habitats and sites have been identified and mapped, • management prescriptions for hardwood production forests have been modified to protect and improve priority habitats, • ‘hot-spots’ have been identified and actions taken to mitigate risk of collision, • a regular volunteer-based survey and monitoring program has been established to increase knowledge of the species’ habitat requirements, distribution and movements, and to increase community involvement and awareness of the species and the recovery effort, • training workshops for volunteers have been conducted in several regional areas to provide feedback to existing volunteers, and to recruit new ones, and • additional areas of box-ironbark vegetation have been incorporated in the conservation reserve system, such that 77 per cent of priority box-ironbark sites are now reserved, compared with only 24 per cent before the review of public land status. The management and protection of box-ironbark habitats for the high-profile Swift Parrot, facilitated through the recovery program, has many additional biodiversity benefits, including the protection of numerous other threatened and declining species, and threatened plant communities.

The threatened and high-profile Swift Parrot is an important ‘flagship’ species for box-ironbark woodland conservation.

Volunteers are an important part of the recovery process – this observer is taking part in an annual survey conducted throughout south-eastern mainland Australia.

Wildlife and habita t conser va tion

Intact box-ironbark habitat (left) adjoining an area cleared of its understorey and ground litter-layer and subjected to stock grazing.

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Mining operations, even with revegetation programs, all take their toll on box-ironbark habitat.

sources of eucalyptus oil in Australia, but supply a small percentage of the overall market. During harvesting, mallee foliage is slashed to ground level every few years, substantially altering the structure and floristic composition of the vegetation, particularly the understorey and groundlayer. Few species of birds, mammals, reptiles or amphibians occur in harvested mallee areas. Habitat degradation Over-grazing by domestic stock and rabbits, tree-dieback, weed invasion, inappropriate fire regimes, timber removal, increased nutrients from stock and fertilisers, and changes to the micro-climate (wind speed and temperature), all degrade habitats by modifying and simplifying the structure and composition of vegetation, compacting and eroding the topsoil, restricting regeneration of trees and shrubs, and accelerating tree decline and death. In turn, this affects the wildlife by changing the availability of resources they need for feeding, shelter, taking refuge from predators, and for breeding. Some species are unable to withstand such changes to their environments and disappear from degraded forest and woodland remnants. The loss of animal and plant species can threaten the basic functioning of the ecosystem, interfering with essential biological processes such as plant pollination, seed dispersal, pest control and litter-layer decomposition, resulting in an overall loss of biodiversity values. Mining Gold has been extracted from the box-ironbark country since the 1850s. The most intense period of mining activity occurred during the initial ‘gold rushes’ and continued until the early 1900s, when shallow alluvial deposits were mined by puddling, sluicing and dredging, and deeper quartz reefs and deep leads were accessed by shafts and underground mines. Large expanses of box-ironbark vegetation were cleared and heavily disturbed, especially along creeks and drainage lines.

More recent and current mining activities also have substantial impacts on the extent and quality of box-ironbark vegetation, thus influencing wildlife populations. Though current open-cut and alluvial mining operations have relatively localised effects, they involve the removal of all or most native vegetation on the site. They also selectively target the fertile alluvial deposits (creeklines and gullies), further reducing these already depleted, productive lowland habitats.

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Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Countr y

Impact of gold mining

The discovery of gold changed the box-ironbark country forever. Before the diggers came, the Bendigo Creek was described as: ‘… the loveliest spot on earth, with waterholes with water in them as clear as crystal, kingfisher birds flitting about in the silver wattle, whose lovely foliage almost hid the banks of the creek from view, with occasional splashings as the duck-billed platypus tumbled from the banks into the water. But there was not a human being to be seen anywhere…’ T. Dungey (1846)

This soon became: ‘Little more than a year ago, the whole of this valley on the Bendigo Creek, seven miles long by one a half wide, was an unbroken wood! It is now perfectly bare of trees, and the whole of it riddled with holes of from ten to eighty feet deep – all one huge chaos of clay, gravel, stones and pipe-clay, thrown up out of the bowels of the earth! So much has been done on this one forest in one year; and not only so much but a dozen other valleys as large…’ W. Howitt (1853)

Revegetation programs on mine sites are now becoming more rigorous, but even so, it is unlikely that habitats on mined sites will be restored to their former quality, at least in the short-term, because of changes to soil and substrate structure. Strip mining of stone, gravel and sand continue to degrade and fragment particular vegetation communities. Recreational fossicking also results in disturbance to the soil and leaf-litter layer, as well as ground and understorey vegetation, which in turn affects animal species that use these habitats. Introduced species Non-indigenous plants and animals can interact with indigenous fauna in two main ways: competition and predation. Weeds compete for space and resources with native plants, resulting in an alteration to the structure and composition of the ground-layer. In areas where soils have been disturbed and where there are increased soil nutrient levels, such as small woodland remnants, the margins of larger forest blocks and along roadsides, the ground-layer is often dominated by weedy annual species such as introduced pasture grasses and vigorous invasive species such as Capeweed. These hardy species out-compete most native annual and herbaceous perennial plants and simplify the ground-layer. What was once a structurally diverse ground-layer of sparse native grasses and herbs is transformed into dense swards of introduced annuals. This may affect fossorial and terrestrial reptiles and amphibians, ground-dwelling mammals, and ground-nesting and ground-foraging birds. Many of these species require sparse foraging and nesting habitat on and near the ground, or a mosaic of sparse vegetation and fallen debris interspersed with thick patchy cover.

Competition from introduced animals also has adverse impacts on native fauna, mainly by limiting the amount of, and access to, habitat resources. The European Rabbit and Brown Hare consume the foliage of native plants, reducing native herb, shrub and grass species used by native herbivores, as well as preventing the regeneration of trees and shrubs required by understoreydwelling, ground-nesting and ground-foraging birds. Rabbits in particular heavily disturb the soil causing the spread of weeds, and they also use fallen hollow-timber as den sites, potentially

Wildlife and habita t conser va tion

The Common or Indian Myna is an aggressive introduced species which competes with native birds and mammals for nest sites.

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The European Fox poses a particular threat to grounddwelling fauna, such as the Malleefowl and the Bush Stone-curlew.

displacing native species that depend on this already limited resource. Foxes and cats compete with native carnivores, such as the Tree Goanna and Brush-tailed Phascogale, for food and for nest and den sites. Introduced hollow-nesting birds, such as the Common Starling and Common Myna, aggressively compete with native hollow-dependant birds for nest sites. The Common Starling, and particularly the Common Myna, have significantly increased in range and abundance throughout the region in the past 10–15 years, and most commonly occur in small remnants among farmland or near urban areas. Predation of native animals by foxes and cats occurs throughout the region, and is a significant cause of mortality for ground-dwelling mammals and reptiles, and ground-nesting and groundforaging birds. The fox poses a particular threat to restricted populations of rare species, such as the Malleefowl in the Wychitella district, which already faces an array of other threats. The Bush Stone-curlew is threatened throughout the box-ironbark ecosystem, and is especially vulnerable to fox predation. Problem native species Fragmentation due to vegetation clearing has increased the amount of ‘edge’ habitat, such as the modified fringes of forest blocks, small woodland remnants among farmland and residential areas, and linear strips along roadsides and creeklines. These edges are sensitive to changes in microclimate (wind, light, humidity), grazing by stock, input of nutrients, and invasion by weeds and feral animals. Animal species that are ‘generalists’ and able to make use of a range of habitats thrive in edge habitats, but these conditions are generally unsuitable for specialist forest-dependant species. The increase in some ‘generalist’ species has had negative impacts on other species, through competition for food and nest sites, aggression and dominance shown by territorial species, and higher levels of nest predation. The most widespread and severe case of a native invasive species causing such changes is that of the Noisy Miner.

Noisy Miners naturally occupy open eucalypt woodlands where there is little understorey, typically occurring around the edges of large forest blocks and in small or linear woodland habitat. They are generally absent from large intact areas of forest. As a result of habitat fragmentation, Noisy Miners have expanded their distribution into areas where they would not have formerly occurred. They are gregarious and highly territorial, and vigorously defend their

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colonies by aggressively chasing out almost all other bird species. They coexist only with species that are similarly tolerant of degraded habitats, and which use other food types. In areas where Noisy Miners occur at their highest population densities, small insectivorous birds and honeyeaters are often scarce or absent, suggesting that the dominance of the Noisy Miner influences a whole suite of birds and dramatically simplifies the bird community. The exclusion of birds such as pardalotes, thornbills, whistlers and honeyeaters, that consume leaf-feeding and sapsucking insects, may be to the detriment of the health of forest edges and small woodland remnants where Noisy Miners occur, therefore contributing to tree-dieback. Other forms of competition also operate in edge habitats. For example, the Galah competes for nest sites with other hollow-dependant fauna such as smaller, less aggressive parrots, gliders The Noisy Miner is a dominant native species which and possums. There is also evidence to suggest thrives in modified ‘edge’ habitats, often to the detriment of smaller less-aggressive species and that higher rates of predation may occur in ultimately, the health of the ecosystem. edge habitats, from native nest predators such as the Grey Butcherbird, Grey Shrike-thrush, Grey Currawong, Australian Magpie and Australian and Little Ravens. These predators have generally been favoured by habitat fragmentation, preferring open modified woodlands. Native cuckoos, which parasitise the nests of small birds such as thornbills, fairy-wrens and gerygones, are also most common in open woodland and edge habitats, and place further localised pressures on small insectivorous birds. However, some cuckoo species, such as the woodland-dependant Black-eared Cuckoo, have declined with the decline of its primary brood host, the Speckled Warbler – a species dependant on woodlands with a diverse ground-layer. Fire Fire occurs infrequently in the box-ironbark ecosystem due to the slow rate and discontinuous pattern of accumulation of leaf-litter and understorey fuels. Though there have been numerous small fires, there have been few large bushfires throughout the region. There has, however, been an increase in fuel-reduction burning in the past 15–20 years, which is intended to strategically reduce fuel hazards along roadsides and adjoining private property and residential areas.

Fire affects the structure and composition of vegetation communities, both in the short and the long term, depending on factors such as intensity and seasonality. The effects of fire on wildlife are much less clearly understood, though it is evident that fire reduces the availability and abundance of important habitat features such as fallen timber, leaf-litter, low understorey vegetation and standing hollow trees. For example, regular burning of the roadside vegetation habitat of the endangered Grey-crowned Babbler in central Victoria, was found to reduce population densities and the likelihood of breeding.

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A recently burnt area of box-ironbark forest.

Burns that are carried out during spring coincide with the peak period of reproduction for most species. These fires can remove critical breeding sites, such as eucalypt saplings, understorey shrubs, tussock grasses and fallen debris, required by many species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Fire can also reduce the insect population at this time when it is most important for breeding animals, such as birds. Mature trees, especially those that contain hollows, may be burnt or killed by fire. In some instances, hollow standing trees that remain smouldering after the general suppression of a fire are felled and extinguished, resulting in long-term loss of wildlife habitat. Further, fire in small isolated remnants may impose the risk of local extinction to fire-sensitive species. Bee-keeping The European Honeybee was introduced to Australia in 1826, primarily to establish a honey and beeswax industry. Commercial apiarists have operated throughout the box-ironbark country for several decades, and the forests and woodlands are highly valuable to the honey industry because many of the indigenous eucalypts flower prolifically and produce large volumes of nectar. About three-quarters of the total production of Victorian honey comes from the box-ironbark ecosystem.

However, colonies of honeybees have not remained confined to hives managed by apiarists and feral populations have become established throughout the region. These feral populations occupy tree-hollows of a range of sizes and compete with native hollow-dependant species, many of which are threatened (e.g. Barking Owl, Brush-tailed Phascogale). Nest-boxes erected in some box-ironbark areas to provide breeding and shelter sites for arboreal mammals have also been colonised by feral honeybees within a short time of being installed. Given the scarcity of tree-hollows in most box-ironbark forests and woodlands, occupation of hollows by feral

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Commercial apiarists operate in many box-ironbark areas, but many feral honeybee populations are now established throughout the region.

honeybees is a serious threat. Further, honeybees, both feral and commercial, are efficient consumers of nectar and pollen and inevitably compete with indigenous nectar-feeding species such as native bees and wasps, birds and arboreal marsupials. Considering that so much of the box-ironbark fauna relies heavily on nectar, and that many species are threatened and declining (e.g. Regent Honeyeater, Swift Parrot, Squirrel Glider), nectar consumption by honeybees is also considered a threat. In addition, introduced honeybees may not be as efficient in their role as plant pollinators as native bees and other indigenous animals which have evolved with the native flora over thousands of years. Any disruption that honeybees may cause to the intricate and complex process of plant pollination could have profound implications for the flowering and reproduction of plant species and potentially, on entire vegetation communities. Intensified human occupation People who live in Victoria’s Box-Ironbark region are fortunate to be close to natural forests and woodlands. These forested areas are not only important for biodiversity conservation, but also for their recreational, tourism, aesthetic, heritage and cultural values. However, pressures associated with human living are becoming an increasing threat to biodiversity conservation, particularly as urban areas continue to expand, and as people increasingly realise that rural ‘bush-living’ is an attractive lifestyle proposition. Many areas in central Victoria are currently being settled at greater densities than ever before, as larger properties are sold or subdivided into smaller blocks for residential living or hobby farming. Where there is little or no remnant native vegetation, this may have little or no negative impact on wildlife communities.

In some instances, where appropriate habitat restoration is undertaken with careful planning, some sites may actually provide better habitat for wildlife. Developers may also find that many people prefer to live in estates where native vegetation and wildlife has been preserved, especially where properties adjoin national parks and other areas that have high

A new residential development adjoining box-ironbark forest.

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conservation values. Generally though, most housing developments in rural bushland areas continue to impinge on wildlife habitat values, increasing the number and level of threats with which wildlife populations must contend, such as weed invasion, predation by cats and dogs, and firewood collection. The adverse perceptions of some people towards wildlife is another factor that affects the conservation of box-ironbark fauna. Some people view wildlife as a pest rather than a valued asset and a privilege of country living. Changing the behaviour and attitudes of residents to accommodate native wildlife, and encouraging them to undertake basic steps to ensure its survival, is not easy. Very few people are willing to engage in active conservation efforts and this remains a great challenge for conservation workers and wildlife managers.

Features of habitat critical to wildlife conservation The loss of key habitat features as a result of the land-uses and processes outlined above has hastened the decline of many threatened and sensitive species. These features include lowlands and gullies, mature trees in forest areas, large areas of forest and woodland, and an undisturbed forest ground-layer. Each in its own way is important for the conservation of box-ironbark wildlife. Lowlands and gullies Gully lines, creek flats and lower slopes provide a relatively moist environment that supports different vegetation communities to those on drier soils at surrounding elevated sites. Forests and woodlands growing on the deepest fertile soils typically contain more large trees and are structurally more open than vegetation communities on the surrounding, drier slopes and ridges. They generally comprise a diverse mix of eucalypts, including Yellow Box, Grey Box, Yellow Gum and White Box, and in some areas, River Red Gum remains, indicating highest soil moisture and fertility.

These rich and productive areas tend to favour ‘rich-patch’ specialists, including arboreal possums, nectar-feeding birds (e.g. honeyeaters, lorikeets, Swift Parrot), birds that use large tree-hollows (e.g. cockatoos, parrots, owls), and some insect-feeding species such as the Brown Treecreeper, Crested Shrike-tit, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike and Eastern Yellow Robin. Bird communities are significantly more diverse and generally, there are higher total densities of birds in lowland habitats compared with adjacent slopes and ridges. Among the marsupials, Common Brushtail Possums, Common Ringtail Possums, Squirrel Gliders and Yellow-footed Antechinus are significantly more abundant, and nearly all of the reproduction of possums occurs in gullies. It is also apparent that lowland habitats, even minor gullies and creek flats, provide the only chance for refuge during periods of drought because they provide sufficiently ‘moist’ conditions for the growth and production of plants and insects to support animals that retreat from the surrounding dry landscape. Mainly because of the clearing of these habitats for agriculture, lowland fertile vegetation communities are now extremely limited in forest areas, with only tiny pockets and linear strips remaining, usually along small gully heads and minor creek flats. Gold mining in the 1850s also targetted gullies because of their rich alluvial deposits. Now, in central Victoria, lowland drainage areas comprise just 2.2 per cent of the remaining box-ironbark vegetation on public land.

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This fertile creek flat with River Red Gum and Yellow Box trees provides critical habitat for many ‘rich-patch’ species.

The selective clearing of fertile woodlands has resulted in the loss of a range of productive sites that would provide reliable and rich sources of nectar and other foods such as manna and lerp. Not surprisingly, this has led to some local extinctions (e.g. Grey-crowned Babbler, Bush Stone-curlew, Squirrel Glider) and has contributed substantially to the decline of the critically endangered Regent Honeyeater. Mature trees in forest areas The term ‘old-growth’ is used to describe forests and woodlands that have many large, senescing and ecologically mature trees that have ceased growing and that provide plentiful tree-hollows and dead wood. Clearing, mining and forestry activities have reduced large mature trees to less than one-tenth of what they were before European settlement.

Areas containing a high density of large old trees occur at just a few sites across the region, and only one tiny patch in the Dalyenong Nature Conservation Reserve matches the official criterion of an undisturbed and uncut ‘old-growth’ woodland. Forest stands containing large mature trees often exist as very small patches or linear strips, usually along forest edges, and there is little remaining ‘interior’ mature forest. Most of the remaining box-ironbark vegetation is immature and structurally simplified, generally dominated by coppice and seedling regrowth trees less than half their size at maturity and occurring at considerably higher densities than in the pre-settlement forests. Among species occurring in the box-ironbark, 61 per cent of mammals and 15 per cent of birds require tree-hollows for nesting or sheltering. Hollows usually form in large mature trees that have experienced die-back, fungal growth, termite infestation or exposure to fire and storms. Large trees generally provide a greater range of hollow sizes for animals to use than do small

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Large old trees with hollows, such as these impressive Red Ironbarks, provide crucial habitat for many species of box-ironbark wildlife.

trees. Because such trees are now scarce, and hollows can take over a century to form, many hollow-dependant animals are rare or threatened. Large hollow trees are particularly crucial for species such as the Powerful Owl, Barking Owl and Tree Goanna, not only for nest and shelter sites, but also to provide habitat for their prey such as possums, gliders and other hollow-nesting birds. Forest and woodland communities with more mature hollow-bearing trees generally have a far greater abundance of arboreal mammals and hollow-nesting birds than younger regrowth areas. Older trees are also more likely to shed branches and thus help create suitable habitats for ground-dwelling species including small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and ground-foraging and ground-nesting birds. Apart from providing hollows, large and mature eucalypts are also important providers of nectar. More than 35 resident bird and mammal species are at least partially dependant on eucalypt nectar as a food source. The Squirrel Glider, Brush-tailed Phascogale, Regent Honeyeater and Swift Parrot preferentially select larger flowering trees for foraging. Larger trees are more likely to flower and their canopies have a higher density of flowers than smaller trees. The widespread reduction in large nectar-producing trees from box-ironbark habitats may have important implications for the distribution, movement and abundance of the nectar-feeding fauna. Large areas of forest and woodland Few large patches of forest and woodland remain in the region – the largest are those on higher ground in the vicinity of St Arnaud, Dunolly, Maryborough, Castlemaine, Bendigo, Rushworth and Chiltern. Between these areas, on the lower slopes and fertile plains, remnants generally occur as a mosaic of smaller patches and strips in farmland, often along roads, rivers or creeks.

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The Rushworth Forest, incorporating the Heathcote-Graytown National Park, is Victoria’s largest remaining single tract of box-ironbark vegetation.

The size of remnant patches of forest and woodland strongly influences the richness and composition of animal communities. Larger blocks usually contain a greater diversity of species, whereas smaller remnants typically contain fewer species – those better adapted to living on forest edges. However, the value of smaller remnants to wildlife should not be discounted, especially those that are linked by vegetation to large forest blocks nearby, or that have a high density of mature trees. The connectivity of habitat patches is crucial to their ability to support viable populations of animals, especially less-mobile species such as reptiles and amphibians and small understorey dwelling birds. For mammals, as habitat patches are reduced in size, the more vulnerable species such as the Brush-tailed Phascogale, Common Dunnart and Yellow-footed Antechinus, are either lost or occur at reduced densities. However, some high-quality small remnants that contain large, mature hollow-bearing trees can be of great importance to arboreal mammals such as Squirrel Gliders, Common Ringtail Possums and Sugar Gliders. Birds are also affected by habitat patch size. Remnants below 5 hectares are usually not able to support many forest and woodland species. Patches of around 10–20 hectares can make an important contribution as habitat for forest and woodland species, as this is getting beyond the size that can be dominated by aggressive species such as Noisy Miners. Large blocks of vegetation of around 80–100 hectares or more are likely to sustain an intact assemblage of forest and woodland birds. Species with specialist habitat and foraging requirements, such as the nectar-feeding Fuscous and Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters, and the ground-foraging Buff-rumped Thornbill and Speckled Warbler, require extensive tracts of habitat that are spared the pressures and exposure from adjoining cleared land. Some generalist species, including the Grey Shrike-thrush, Striated Pardalote and White-plumed Honeyeater, are able to persist in remnants of a range of sizes.

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An undisturbed ground-layer is a vital component of a box-ironbark ecosystem.

Species that favour open country or edge habitats, such as the Australian Magpie, Red-rumped Parrot and Noisy Miner, appear to be favoured by habitat fragmentation, although most species are negatively affected by the process. The size and isolation of patches of habitat also affects reptiles, especially less mobile species. Smaller remnants generally support fewer species which are often ‘generalists’ such as Boulenger’s Skink and Marbled Gecko, however some small remnants, such as areas of highquality roadside vegetation, can still provide habitat suitable to maintain a diverse reptile fauna. This may be because roadsides are not usually subjected to disturbances such as persistent heavy grazing, and thus ground cover is relatively abundant and complex. Undisturbed forest ground-layer Approximately one-quarter of all mammal and bird species, and over 90 per cent of reptiles and amphibians in the box-ironbark ecosystem, depend on ground-layer habitats. Undisturbed ground habitats that have a complex variety of fallen branches, logs, rocks, leaf and bark litter, and low vegetation such as native grasses, herbaceous plants and small shrubs, are important for a range of species, including the Common Dunnart, Yellow-footed Antechinus, Bush Stonecurlew, Speckled Warbler, Olive Legless Lizard and several species of small skink. They also support a rich variety of invertebrates that provide food for larger animals. Soil and leaf-litter are used by fossorial reptiles that spend a large proportion of time underground – species such as the Bandy Bandy and Woodland Blind Snake.

Grazing, firewood collection, rock removal and fuel-reduction burning all result in the loss and modification of ground-layer habitats and contribute to the decline of a variety of wildlife species. Animals that live, feed or nest on or in the ground-layer are highly susceptible to changes

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to this habitat, and many ground-dwelling species have suffered major population reductions. Some ground-dwelling species have even been driven to local extinction in some areas. Research in box-ironbark woodlands has shown that sites that are ungrazed by domestic stock, and that have experienced less timber extraction and minimal fire disturbance, tend to have a greater structural diversity of near-ground and ground-level habitats. Many species can benefit from a complex ground-layer – reptiles and amphibians require such habitats for shelter and breeding; Sacred Kingfishers and Laughing Kookaburras forage by pouncing on basking skinks and large invertebrates on the ground or fallen timber; Jacky Winters and Hooded Robins perch on fallen trees, from which they sally forth to capture insects; and Brush-tailed Phascogales forage for invertebrates among woody debris.

Public land conservation reserves Until recent years, box-ironbark vegetation communities had been ‘forgotten’ in the national forests debate which was focussed heavily on wet mountain and coastal forests. Thus, box-ironbark habitats have in the past been poorly represented in Victoria’s conservation reserve system despite recommendations for change for over 30 years. More than 70 per cent of Victoria’s remaining box-ironbark vegetation occurs on public land, much of which constitutes important habitat for a wide range of threatened and declining fauna. Recent scientific studies and conservation campaigns by government and non-government groups have highlighted both the diversity of the box-ironbark flora and fauna, and its limited representation in conservation reserves. The single most prominent study was that conducted by the Environment Conservation Council (ECC), which commenced in 1996. Following the release of the final report in 2001, the Victorian Government accepted the majority of the report’s recommendations, which focussed largely on the urgent need to protect the natural values of box-ironbark forests and woodlands throughout their range. The result has been the establishment of a system of parks and reserves throughout the BoxIronbark region. This is the first representative system of conservation reserves in the temperate eucalypt woodlands region of south-eastern Australia, and the first reserve system in a ‘peopledominated’ landscape, rather than in remote, relatively unpopulated environments such as the mallee or the high country. In the future, additional reserved areas may be established through the acquisition of high quality box-ironbark vegetation from private land. Priority for land purchase will be given to sites with significant or threatened flora or fauna communities, areas that provide connectivity between current reserved areas, or areas that are privately-owned ‘inliers’ within existing parks and reserves.

Wildlife conservation on private land Biodiversity conservation has traditionally been viewed by many as something that belongs within the public land system of national parks and other conservation reserves. However, there is increasing recognition that reservation of public land alone will not preserve all biodiversity in a given region. For example, some species of box-ironbark wildlife, such as the Squirrel Glider and Grey-crowned Babbler, occur primarily outside public land boundaries. Others, that occupy

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rich and fertile habitats such as the Regent Honeyeater and Woodland Blind Snake, also often occur on private land because their preferred habitat type is scarce in the public land system. More people are realising that indigenous vegetation on private land plays a significant role in nature conservation, and that there is a need to take action to preserve this habitat that is so crucial for many woodland dependant species. Two schemes have been particularly effective in recognising flora and fauna conservation on private land. Land for Wildlife is a voluntary, non-binding scheme run by the Department of Sustainability and Environment, which encourages landholders to conserve indigenous habitats on their land and foster fauna protection. Properties involved include bush blocks, agricultural properties, defence lands, wineries, local government reserves, school grounds, cemeteries and golf courses. The scheme allows for other primary land-uses to continue, providing that designated habitat areas are maintained or improved in ways sympathetic ‘Land for Wildlife’ and ‘Trust for Nature’ are two initiawith wildlife conservation. The program has tives which are making a solid contribution to the the highest participation rate of any private preservation of box-ironbark habitats on private land. land conservation scheme in Australia. By mid2004, nearly 600 properties had been registered in the Box-Ironbark region, totalling over 70 000 hectares, of which over 18 000 hectares are being managed primarily as wildlife habitat. Trust for Nature (Victoria) is an independent statutory body established under the Victorian Conservation Trust Act 1972 to administer conservation covenants and receive public donations and government funding to promote nature conservation on private land. Conservation covenants are management agreements between a private landowner and the Trust, and are legally binding and placed on the title of the property in perpetuity. Each covenant is negotiated individually and works by prohibiting or controlling activities generally detrimental to nature

‘Land for Wildlife’ and ‘Trust for Nature’ properties within Victoria’s Box-Ironbark region.

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The Lurg Hills Regent Honeyeater Project

The Lurg Hills area, near Benalla, is one of just a few key Victorian sites for the nationally endangered Regent Honeyeater and is the site of a landscape-scale conservation project. Much of the area is privately owned and since 1996 there has been a large community effort to protect and increase box-ironbark habitat by fencing remnant vegetation, regenerating and replanting degraded remnants, revegetating new areas, and creating ‘corridors’ to link these important sites. The project has been led by an enthusiastic coordinator, and has involved over 85 landholders, more than 7000 volunteers, the fencing and restoration of almost 700 hectares of box-ironbark vegetation, and the planting of over 240 000 trees and shrubs. Apart from the local landholders, volunteers from the wider community (e.g. bushwalking clubs, four-wheel drive clubs, university and school students, church groups) also make an invaluable contribution to this project through large-scale tree planting and nestbox monitoring on weekends. The use of the Regent Honeyeater as a ‘flagship’ species has been the stimulus for this highly successful landscape revegetation effort, yet there are many other woodland-dependant species in this area that will similarly benefit from this habitat restoration. For example, the project has also involved the placement of over 150 nest-boxes which are being used by the threatened Squirrel Glider and Brush-tailed Phascogale. Some of the older planted sites have been colonised by Grey-crowned Babblers and Hooded Robins. Even Regent Honeyeaters, the target species, are turning-up regularly at restored sites where they have been absent for years. It is inspiring that such a high level of community involvement has been generated and maintained, which has led to the success of this award-winning project. Without this community embracement, the success of this project would not have been possible. The Lurg district remains a healthy agricultural landscape as well as now being an attractive and important area for wildlife conservation, demonstrating that the two land-uses can be integrated and compatible, and of overall benefit to agricultural productivity.

Community participation is making a positive contribution to the recovery effort for the Regent Honeyeater.

This fenced remnant of Mugga Ironbark is part of a network of restored sites in the Lurg district.

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conservation, such as clearing, timber removal, grazing and subdivision. The Trust also buys land which is then either retained and managed by the Trust, transferred to the government for inclusion in the conservation reserve system, or re-sold to a private purchaser with a conservation covenant in place. Proceeds from land sales are returned into a ‘Revolving Fund’ and are then available for additional land purchases and the procedure is repeated. Currently, within the box-ironbark ecosystem, a total of over 2000 hectares is covered by nearly 100 covenants with Trust for Nature, almost all of which are privately-owned properties.

Conserving wildlife and habitat on private land For those people who are fortunate enough to own a property containing precious box-ironbark habitat, there are a number of key steps that can be taken to help conserve the vegetation and the wildlife that use it. The retention, restoration and re-creation of box-ironbark habitat will play a vital role in the future of this fragmented and depleted ecosystem, and the wildlife that depend on it. The most important actions are listed below: • Protect remnant vegetation by installing fencing to control domestic stock. • Encourage the natural regeneration of trees, understorey shrubs, native grasses, herbs and forbs. • Preserve and enhance native vegetation along creeks and gullies, by fencing and re-planting. • Re-plant ‘missing’ vegetation layers, e.g. understorey at sites that only contain trees, using species that are locally indigenous and of local provenance. • Increase habitat area by planting or direct-seeding at cleared sites, using species that are locally indigenous and of local provenance. • Link existing patches of vegetation by planting ‘corridors’ or ‘stepping-stones’. • Retain areas of fallen timber. • Preserve large living and dead trees, especially those that contain hollows and crevices. • Revegetate dam banks with understorey, especially shrubs with prickly foliage. • Enhance dams for wildlife by planting edges with aquatic and semi-aquatic plants such as sedges, rushes and grasses. • Control feral predators (and domestic cats and dogs). • Control weeds and invasive plants. • Install nest-boxes of a variety of different designs for use by a variety of different species, in areas where there are few large trees and a lack of natural hollows (but monitor usage of boxes to avoid harbouring pests such as starlings or feral bees). • Avoid, as much as possible, disturbance to areas of surface rocks, logs and leaf-litter. • Limit the use of barbed wire on the top strands of fences in woodland areas. • Take care with fire hazard reduction by limiting burning to paddock boundaries. • Establish a species list of plants and animals on your property, and report animal sightings, especially of threatened or significant species, to the Atlas of Victorian Wildlife or the Atlas of Australian Birds (see Useful Contacts, page 241). For further information on the conservation of wildlife and habitat on private land, please see the list of further reading on pages 237–241.

Spotted Pardalote

3 Box-ironbark habitats

The box-ironbark country supports a number of diverse and distinctive plant communities. Most areas of natural vegetation consist of dry open eucalypt forest and woodland dominated by a mixture of Grey Box, Red Ironbark, Mugga Ironbark or Yellow Gum. The understorey is uniformly sparse, dominated by Golden Wattle and Drooping Cassinia and scattered with a range of other low shrubs, herbs and grasses. Upslope of these communities are open forests dominated by Red Stringybark, Red Box and Long-leaf Box, with an understorey of low shrubs such as Daphne Heath, tussock grasses and small herbaceous plants. These two plant communities typify much of the box-ironbark landscape. However, interspersed with these are other vegetation communities, some of which lack the more characteristic ‘box’ or ‘ironbark’ components. For example, mallee shrublands fringe the northern-most box-ironbark woodlands and occur on some of the drier gravelly rises elsewhere, whilst outcrops of granite support low shrublands patchily distributed throughout the ecosystem. Though the overstorey may vary between these communities, they generally share a suite of understorey plants that most closely resemble those of the box-ironbark ecosystem. For this underlying reason, all are regarded as box-ironbark vegetation communities. All vegetation provides habitat for wildlife and, just as soils influence plant communities, features of the vegetation can strongly influence the fauna. For example, the presence of particular plant species, such as flowering eucalypts, can be important for nectar-feeding birds, and the availability of certain structural attributes, such as tree-hollows, can provide habitat for arboreal mammals. Though some animals are ‘generalists’, occurring widely throughout most vegetation associations (e.g. Black Wallaby, Grey Shrike-thrush, Garden Skink), others show a close relationship with a particular habitat type and may only occur in just a single vegetation community (e.g. Shy Heathwren, Squirrel Glider, Pink-tailed Worm-lizard). Generally, different vegetation communities each support a characteristic assemblage of fauna. For the purposes of this book, box-ironbark vegetation communities have been categorised into six broad habitat types. A brief description of these, and a summarised account of the characteristic wildlife of each, is provided on the following pages. For reference to scientific names of plants mentioned throughout this section, see the table on page 232–234.

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Box-ironbark forests and woodlands These dry forests and woodlands occur extensively across the gently undulating rises and low hills of the region. In western and central areas (Stawell–Rushworth), Red Ironbark, Grey Box and Yellow Gum are the characteristic overstorey species, while in the east (Wangaratta– Chiltern), Mugga Ironbark replaces Red Ironbark and grows in association with Grey Box and Red Box. While the understorey also varies from east to west, Golden Wattle is prevalent throughout the entire region. Gold-dust Wattle, Spreading Wattle, Drooping Cassinia, Twiggy Bush-pea, Gorse Bitter-pea and Cranberry Heath are the dominant understorey plants in central and western areas, whilst Grey Guinea-flower, Showy Parrot-pea, Cat’s Claws Grevillea, Narrowleaf Bitter-pea, Shiny Everlasting and Grey Tussock-grass are prominent in the east. The eucalypts in this habitat are those that flower prolifically during autumn and winter and produce large quantities of nectar, and the presence of these is a key feature of this habitat type.

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Open forest of Yellow Gum, Grey Box and Red Ironbark, pictured here in the Kooyoora State Park, supports a number of the most characteristic box-ironbark animal species.

Short-beaked Echidna

Characteristic fauna Mammals: Short-beaked Echidna, Yellow-footed Antechinus, Common Brushtail Possum, Sugar Glider, almost all insectivorous bats known to occur in box-ironbark ecosystem. Birds: Painted Button-quail, Common Bronzewing, Musk Lorikeet, Swift Parrot, Chestnut-rumped Heathwren, Red Wattlebird, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Fuscous Honeyeater, Black-chinned Honeyeater, White-browed Babbler, Crested Bellbird, Rufous Whistler, Dusky Woodswallow, White-winged Chough, Diamond Firetail, Mistletoebird. Reptiles: Marbled Gecko, Garden Skink, Bougainville’s Skink, Boulenger’s Skink, Stumpy-tailed Lizard, Tree Dragon, Eastern Bearded Dragon, Tree Goanna, Woodland Blind Snake, Eastern Brown Snake. Amphibians: Plains Froglet, Common Froglet, Eastern Banjo Frog, Spotted Marsh Frog, Common Spadefoot Toad, Bibron’s Toadlet, Peron’s Tree Frog.

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Heathy and grassy dry forests These vegetation communities are generally found on the upper slopes and ridgetops throughout the Box-Ironbark region. Rough-barked eucalypts such as Red Stringybark, Red Box and Long-leaf Box are the dominant overstorey species which form an open canopy over a sparse low understorey of shrubs such as Daphne Heath, Cat’s Claws Grevillea, Common Rice-flower, Gorse Bitter-pea and Grey Guinea-flower. The ground-layer is a distinctive feature of this habitat type, characterised in most areas by a well-established array of tussock grasses and herbaceous plants such as Silvertop Wallaby-grass, Grey Tussock-grass and Common Raspwort, as well as a variety of ground orchids and annual lilies. Rock outcrops and a scattering of woody debris are also prominent features of the habitat.

Speckled Warbler

Red Stringybark and Red Box open forests with an understorey of Daphne Heath, herbs and grasses, such as this example in the Warby Ranges, occur on the ridges and upper slopes throughout the region.

Bougainville’s Skink

Characteristic fauna Mammals: Yellow-footed Antechinus, Brush-tailed Phascogale, Sugar Glider, Common Ringtail Possum, Black Wallaby, almost all insectivorous bats known to occur in box-ironbark ecosystem. Birds: Shining Bronze-cuckoo, White-throated Treecreeper, Spotted Pardalote, Speckled Warbler, Weebill, Brown Thornbill, Buff-rumped Thornbill, Striated Thornbill, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, White-eared Honeyeater, Brown-headed Honeyeater, Scarlet Robin, Spotted Quail-thrush, Varied Sittella, Golden Whistler, Grey Fantail. Reptiles: Marbled Gecko, Pink-tailed Worm-lizard, Large Striped-skink, Three-toed Skink, Garden Skink, Bougainville’s Skink, Boulenger’s Skink, Stumpy-tailed Lizard, Gray’s Blind Snake, Dwyer’s Snake. Amphibians: Plains Froglet, Common Froglet, Eastern Banjo Frog.

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Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Countr y

Heathy woodlands This habitat type is restricted to western and central areas of the Box-Ironbark region, occurring as isolated patches mainly around Stawell, west of Bealiba, Dunolly–Tarnagulla and immediately west of Bendigo. The overstorey varies between localities but typically contains stunted trees of Red Box, Grey Box, Long-leaf Box, Yellow Gum and Red Ironbark which form a low open woodland. A dense heathy understorey characterises this habitat, typically including Daphne Heath, Common Fringe-myrtle, Cat’s Claw Grevillea, Cranberry Heath, Flame Heath, Fairy Wax-flower, Bushy Needlewood, Scented Sundew and numerous ground orchids and annual lilies.

Australian Owlet-nightjar

Low open woodlands of Long-leaf Box, Red Box and Grey Box with a dense heathy understorey, such as this patch in the Dalyenong Nature Conservation Reserve, are scattered throughout western box-ironbark areas.

Boulenger’s Skink

Characteristic fauna Mammals: Short-beaked Echidna, Yellow-footed Antechinus, Sugar Glider, Western Grey Kangaroo, Black Wallaby, White-striped Freetail Bat, Gould’s Wattled Bat, Chocolate Wattled Bat, Lesser Long-eared Bat, Little Forest Bat. Birds: Musk Lorikeet, Australian Owlet-nightjar, Rainbow Bee-eater, Brown Treecreeper, Superb Fairy-wren, Weebill, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, White-eared Honeyeater, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Brown-headed Honeyeater, White-browed Babbler, Rufous Whistler, Grey Shrike-thrush, White-browed Woodswallow. Reptiles: Marbled Gecko, Bougainville’s Skink, Boulenger’s Skink, Stumpy-tailed Lizard, Tree Dragon. Amphibians: Eastern Banjo Frog, Common Spadefoot Toad.

Box-ironbark habita ts

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Mallee shrublands and woodlands Open shrublands and woodlands of mallee are restricted to the north and west of the BoxIronbark region. The most extensive tracts occur around Wedderburn, Inglewood, Tarnagulla and areas to the north of Bendigo, while smaller isolated patches exist south of Rushworth. These dry associations of stunted mallee eucalypts occur on the tops of gently undulating rises and low hills, on shallow stony quartz soils that have very low fertility and poor water holding capacity. The overstorey varies between localities and may contain Green Mallee, Bull Mallee, Blue Mallee and Kamarooka Mallee, which form a low dense tree-layer. At some sites, Broombush exists as a high shrub-layer, sometimes with Wallowa, and dominates the vegetation in the area. Common understorey species in mallee habitat include Gold-dust Wattle, Cranberry Heath, Common Fringemyrtle, Totem-poles, Wallowa, Sticky Hop-bush, Twiggy Bush-pea, Grey Everlasting and Golden Pennants. Mallee-dominated habitat in the box-ironbark ecosystem is important for a range of animals, more typical of semi-arid environments, that occur at the southern edge of their range.

Black Wallaby

Mallee associations, such as this Blue Mallee and Bull Mallee at Kamarooka, are home to a range of species adapted to drier conditions.

Yellow-plumed Honeyeater

Characteristic fauna Mammals: Short-beaked Echidna, Common Dunnart, Western Grey Kangaroo, Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Black Wallaby, Southern Freetail Bat, White-striped Freetail Bat, Gould’s Wattled Bat, Chocolate Wattled Bat, Lesser Long-eared Bat, Little Forest Bat. Birds: Common Bronzewing, Brush Bronzewing, Spotted Nightjar, Variegated Fairy-wren, Spotted Pardalote, Shy Heathwren, Weebill, Inland Thornbill, Yellow Thornbill, White-eared Honeyeater, Purple-gaped Honeyeater, Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, Brown-headed Honeyeater, Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, Red-capped Robin, Southern Scrub-robin, White-browed Babbler, Crested Bellbird, Gilbert’s Whistler, Golden Whistler, Grey Currawong. Reptiles: Wood Gecko, Thick-tailed Gecko, Pink-tailed Worm-lizard, Common Scaly-foot, Eastern Striped Skink, Bougainville’s Skink, Grey’s Skink, Boulenger’s Skink, Stumpy-tailed Lizard, Tree Dragon, Eastern Bearded Dragon, Woodland Blind Snake, Mitchell’s Short-tailed Snake, Eastern Brown Snake. Amphibians: Plains Froglet, Common Froglet, Eastern Banjo Frog, Mallee Spadefoot Toad, Common Spadefoot Toad.

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Lowland woodlands The open woodlands that occur on creek flats and adjacent lower slopes are the most productive box-ironbark vegetation communities. They are also the most seriously depleted as a result of past clearing for agriculture, and patches of this habitat now exist as isolated remnants scattered throughout the region. Gullies in forest and woodland areas that support River Red Gum and Yellow Box, an understorey of tall shrubs such as Black Wattle and Silver Wattle, and a dense layer of grasses and sedges, are particularly rich for wildlife. Fringing these areas are associations of Grey Box and, in western and central areas Yellow Gum, which also support fertile habitats with a well-established understorey of Golden Wattle and a species-rich ground-layer of grasses and herbaceous plants. In flatter terrain, such as some northern-most box-ironbark sites, lowland herb-rich woodlands of Grey Box and, in the north-east White Box, exist as open grassy and herb-rich woodlands of moderate fertility. Although these lowland woodlands may not contain water year-round, the deep fertile soils and seasonal inundation give these sites higher moisture availability than more elevated sites. They are therefore important refuges for fauna during summer and through drought. The presence of large old trees is another feature of lowland woodlands that is important for a wide range of wildlife, including many hollow-dependant species.

Peron’s Tree Frog

Lowland grassy woodlands, such as this creek flat in the Warby Ranges, harbour a rich assemblage of wildlife quite distinct from those of surrounding ridges and slopes.

White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike

Characteristic fauna Mammals: Short-beaked Echidna, Yellow-footed Antechinus, Common Brushtail Possum, Common Ringtail Possum, Sugar Glider, Squirrel Glider, Feathertail Glider, Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Black Wallaby, almost all insectivorous bats known to occur in Box-Ironbark region. Birds: Australian Wood Duck, Brown Goshawk, Little Lorikeet, Swift Parrot, Sacred Kingfisher, Brown Treecreeper, Superb Fairy-wren, Striated Pardalote, Fuscous Honeyeater, White-plumed Honeyeater, Black-chinned Honeyeater, Eastern Yellow Robin, Crested Shrike-tit, Restless Flycatcher, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Olive-backed Oriole, Diamond Firetail, Mistletoebird. Reptiles: Common Long-necked Tortoise, Wood Gecko, Southern Rainbow Skink, Garden Skink, Tree Dragon, Tree Goanna, Little Whip Snake, Red-bellied Black Snake, Eastern Brown Snake. Amphibians: Plains Froglet, Common Froglet, Eastern Banjo Frog, Spotted Marsh Frog, Mallee Spadefoot Toad, Common Spadefoot Toad, Southern Brown Tree Frog, Peron’s Tree Frog.

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Granitic hills woodlands and shrublands Open woodlands and shrublands that occur on granite outcrops occur as naturally isolated patches on the crests and slopes of granitic hills throughout the Box-Ironbark region. The overstorey commonly includes eucalypts such as Red Stringybark, Long-leaf Box, Yellow Box and Hill Red Gum, while at some localities White Cypress-pine and Drooping Sheoke provide a distinctive structural contrast. A sparse shrubby understorey is present at most sites, with species such as Deane’s Wattle, Snowy Mint-bush, Grey Guinea-flower, Daphne Heath and Common Fringemyrtle. The ground-layer comprises a diverse range of species including some that are confined to granite areas such as Rock Isotome, Nodding Blue-lily and a variety of other herbaceous plants and grasses. Though the vegetation of this habitat type is distinctive, the most prominent habitat feature is the presence of large boulders and exfoliating surface rocks, which provide a number of different-sized crevices used as shelter sites by a range of reptiles, amphibians and mammals.

Marbled Gecko

Granite outcrops support open vegetation communities with a characteristically shrubby understorey, as well as patches of exposed rock that are particularly important for reptiles.

Turquoise Parrot (female)

Characteristic fauna Mammals: Short-beaked Echidna, Yellow-footed Antechinus, Common Brushtail Possum, Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Black Wallaby, White-striped Freetail Bat, Gould’s Wattled Bat, Lesser Long-eared Bat, Little Forest Bat. Birds: Peregrine Falcon, Turquoise Parrot, Pallid Cuckoo, Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo, Australian Owlet-nightjar, Western Gerygone, Brown Thornbill, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Yellow Thornbill, Spinycheeked Honeyeater, Singing Honeyeater, Eastern Yellow Robin, Gilbert’s Whistler, Rufous Whistler, Grey Fantail, Dusky Woodswallow, Mistletoebird, Tree Martin. Reptiles: Marbled Gecko, Wood Gecko, Thick-tailed Gecko, Southern Rainbow Skink, Large Striped Skink, Coppertailed Skink, Tree Skink, Three-toed Skink, Boulenger’s Skink, Tree Dragon, Eastern Bearded Dragon, Tree Goanna, Woodland Blind Snake, Carpet Python, Dwyer’s Snake, Red-bellied Black Snake. Amphibians: Plains Froglet, Common Froglet, Eastern Banjo Frog, Spotted Marsh Frog, Common Spadefoot Toad, Bibron’s Toadlet.

4 Species accounts

Mammals Birds Reptiles Amphibians

Dusky Woodswallows

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Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Countr y

Short-beaked Echidna Tachyglossus aculeatus

Range and Status: Widespread but uncommon. Occurs at low population densities. Habitat: Open forest and woodland, mallee shrubland, granitic outcrops and treed farmland; seldom in lightly treed areas, usually only when dispersing. Prefers sites with a well-established layer of leaf-litter and an abundance of sheltering sites such as hollow logs and rotting stumps. Habits: Usually solitary; occasionally in twos or more during mating period (June–September) when males attracted by females scent trails. Diurnal or nocturnal; most active at temperature range 16–20°C; inactive below 9°C and above 32°C, and during rainfall. During prolonged cold spells, may enter torpor in sheltered site;

during short periods of hot or cold, may seek temporary cover. During warm weather, most active at night or early morning. Roams widely throughout home range. Forages on the ground, digging at the base of rotting stumps, in and under fallen timber, and at ant or termite nests. Eats mainly ants and termites. Signs of foraging include semicircular diggings around ant nests, and rotting fallen wood that has been torn apart. When disturbed in an exposed position, rapidly digs into soil or base of rock or stump, and erects spines. Locations: Mt Bolangum NCR, St Arnaud Range NP, Dalyenong NCR, Kooyoora SP, Greater Bendigo NP, Heathcote–Graytown NP, Reef Hills SP, Warby Range SP, Chiltern–Mt Pilot NP.

Yellow-footed Antechinus Antechinus flavipes

Range and Status: Widespread but scattered. Uncommon, limited by tree-hollow availability. Box-ironbark contains a large proportion of the Victorian population. Habitat: Open forest and woodland. Most abundant where there are numerous mature trees, stumps, fallen branches and logs containing small hollows and crevices. Prefers gullies and adjacent flats, especially in woodlands of Yellow Box–River Red Gum–Grey Box–Yellow Gum and Red or Mugga Ironbark; less common on ridges in box–stringybark. Habits: Usually seen singly. Diurnal or nocturnal; commonly seen by day scurrying among stumps, fallen timber and low on tree trunks (