MT ROGERS AS 2013 BEGINS + update

[Blog update, 30 January. Early January post ('Mt Rogers as 2013 begins') is further below.]

After what seemed like a week away I've now had four "wanderings-around".

The first were in relation to the WALK, WONDER AND WEED Guided Walk on Sunday 27th and after we'd had 45ml rain here in mid-Flynn. I heard that Latham received 60ml but I expect there are variations on a flooding theme.

On the walk Tahlia walked to the summit with her mother, Mary, promising to carry her on the way down. We saw two KANGAROOS on the other side of the GULLY and plenty of green ENVIRONMENTAL WEEDS to occupy a Conservation Volunteers Australia crew if we can book them later in the year. 
To illustrate the point, two not-yet-crimson Rosellas were eating green pyracantha berries in the same area. Do they crush the berries' seeds into infertility or spread them in their poo?
On another credit side I discovered our tallest KURRAJONG tree. It's been poo-ed in by a bird perched on a dead mass of Cootamundra wattle branches....but several years ago I'd say.

On the walk up the Gully the erosion and debris piles caused by the rushing water were  easy to see. Phil showed where he'd taken a shovel to change the drainages line for water. His work has the effect here, and over in the east (on Burnt track) of diverting the water away from the gravel path & significantly reducing the erosion of the communal path (a logic the TAMS people hadn't worked out when they repaired the path & when the two new concrete drains were installed.)
The DEBRIS PILES showed how water-borne material builds up behind obstructions (such as grass tussocks, rocks, small branches). This forces the water to slow-down and spread sideways across the miniature landscape as creeks and rivers have done for aeons. The debris contains sediments such as silt and soil, woody and grass pieces & seeds. In time the seeds may germinate and help the obstruction become a permanent structure that helps with revegetation.
Kathy was interested in identifying African lovegrass (ALG). There are a few plants on the mowed track up the edge of the gully and more as emerging plants where the CAR-BURN still scars the ground at FIVE-WAYS on the ridgeline. I expect the rain we've had will favour ALG as it's very good at using the slightest scrap of water for sending up new flowers.
In this area there's one of the original plantings of SNOW GUMS where the offspring are looking much healthier than their parents ever did. Have they adjusted to the conditions on Mt Rogers even though we're some10km from the naturally occurring Snow Gums that are part of the walks in Aranda Bushland?

I don't visit the summit very often but for the walk Mary was given some landmarks to help with her bearings. The impact of Gungahlin is all too clear whereas Hall remains screened by native and the village's exotic trees. Mary B walked up towards the summit with one Golden Retriever in addition to her own two.
The track down to the south-east corner again showed how Phil's earthworks had reduced the erosion-causing torrents. Another example of volunteer-labour saving the authorities many $1000's

We had a "wonder" about the Eucalyptus pulverulenta which looks over the gully down to Bainton Crescent. It's a very un-Eucalyptusy Eucalypt or rather its leaves retain the rounded shape that we associate with juvenile gum leaves. The Silver-leaved Mountain Gum is "Very rare and localised in the wild, the nearest population being found on Black Ridge southeast of Bredbo". Fortunately this rarity has been tempered by their being propagated in numbers which could be used when the new Belconnen suburbs were being built. There are several on the edges of Mt Rogers and in other open spaces between suburbs.

Just before returning-to-base we had a look at the rocky area at the end of the "mountain-bike" track. The Barbed wire grass I'd planted some years ago are just beginning to show why the grass has that name...for the shape of the flowers. We were delighted to find that the BURSARIA we planted when Anne and Kirsty took out the large pine seedling is in full flower.
No sign of the FROGMOUTHS though we were able to look closely at the NOISY FRIARBIRDS' nest which had been blown down in the storm. We were able to see how the birds had WOVEN the nest material over the small eucalypt branch so it wold hang down amongst the tree's leaves. The nest's made of strips of reddish bark, twine, a piece of cord, dog hair, white plastic strips and even a piece of gold tinsel. The nest was placed near the NO MOTORBIKES sign if you have time to pause & WONDER at the no-hands construction.

The rotting sleepers of TROLL BRIDGE have been replaced. I wonder what would happen if we placed a troll just under the bridge or how long it would last to trigger a smile or two? 
The COCKATOOS have left quite a few feathers behind under and around their roost trees near the Rechner Place playground. Superb parrots roosted nearer the Barber Crescent corner for w couple of nights but their calls are no longer trilling through our suburbs. Groups of Superbs have been seen at the AIS, near the Jamison centre and on Belconnen golf course in the last two weeks. The KOELs' calls are still heard but much less frequently. Perhaps they know that their northern return journey would take them into the remains of Oswald.

DOUBLE-BARRED FINCHES were carrying pieces of grass into a bulky nest-like structure in a prickly Hakea bush just off the blue-metal track to the summit. On Monday 28th there were about 10 of these delightful little birds on the tower-side of the car-burn. They're not always, obviously around but sometimes their mewing calls can be heard.
Even rarer, SPECKLED WARBLERS were in the same area later, also with a mixed flock of small birds that included RED-BROWED FINCHES. 
A Black-shouldered kite was making use of the telecom-tower or flying whilst on the look-out for prey.
Helen and Chris reported that their BOOBOOK family had returned to the edge of their Spence garden. The timing, about 15th, was similar to the owls' arrival last year. Chris and Margaret have had daily encounters with a young BUTCHERBIRD who has worked out their BBQ-habits. These reports are marvellous as they keep us all in touch with the wildlife and the seasonal changes that make our walks and wanderings extra worthwhile.

For the past two mornings I've been out after some SERRATED TUSSOCK tussocks that I missed. Some were between the tower and the 'second summit' with its gaunt dead tree. Quite likely the majority of the grass's seeds have already been blown away but at least they're in my memory more strongly now. After the rain I've found that FLEABANE plants pull out readily, with a steady pull to leave most of the soil behind. There are a few Thistles around too. Beautiful pink-purple flowers but their seeds are also easily blown away if left to ripen. Near the boulders in the middle of the "mountain-bike" track a magnificent 1m Brown snake slithered away. Perhaps it had only recently shed its skin as it was more olive/khaki than brown. My gaiters gave a sense of security.

I'm hoping that the soil will still be damp enough for some similar weeding on Monday 4th...pulling Fleabane where we find it amongst quality vegetation and bagging thistle-heads.

See some of you then (Wickens by 9am), I hope!

[The blog post below is from January 2013.]

Numbers: In reflecting on the wildlife recently seen on and around Mt Rogers it occurred to me that people were the most numerous beings with, of course, their canine companions. Even though the swarms of Plague Soldier beetles now seem to have moved on in their life-cycles we are very far from being the most abundant animals there if all the invertebrate species are tallied….even the ones we know of. Butterflies are often seen with many of the males seeking mates by flying to the tops of hills and sending pheromone messages to females. This behaviour seems especially true of the Common Brown butterflies. At home the Cabbage whites are frequent visitors and their eventual green caterpillars have defoliated a few over-grown rocket plants.

Dogs: Has anyone ever sat down and counted the different breeds lucky enough to be exercised in the reserve? Of course there’s a range of “intermediate” characters with their parentage sometimes apparent from their looks! If this is the first newsletter you’ve encountered as a dog-walker please be aware of the likelihood of snakes being about especially away from the main gravel track. Keep an eye on what dogs are being curious about and there are also lizards and kangaroos that might attract their attention.

Koels:  In our four suburbs we’ve become familiar with the Koels’ “Ko-elle” calls since the birds moved back into the ACT region from further north in mid to late October. Around here the calls have been consistently heard most days whereas in other suburbs their presence has been more sporadic, according to the canberrabirds*email reporting line. Koels also give a “Wirra wirra” call but neither sound makes it easy to locate the callers. They have only been part of the Canberra summer for 2-3 years. They show cuckoo-like behaviour, laying their eggs in others’ nests and leaving the parenting to species like Wattlebirds and Noisy Friarbirds. Check the COG* website and gallery or Google to see what these Currawong-length birds look like.

Nests & hollows: There’s a Friarbird’s nest just at the entrance to Mt Rogers
from Schwarz Place.  Today one of the parent birds was following a recent trend of inspection just below the Frogmouths’ vacated nest fork. In recent days two Rainbow lorikeets, Galahs and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos have been checking out the fork and possibly enlarging a potential hollow. Pam pointed out a hollow that’s been used by Kookaburras. Perhaps there was a happy ending to several observations of Kookaburras’ beaks smashing at nest-boxes and tree hollows to enlarge entries for their use. One of the birds was preening nearby and I watched another dive into a Flynn garden an hour later. Is it dispersal time and you’ll be seeing and hearing them further away from Mt Rogers?

Magpies:  We’ve had several months of absorbing magpie-watching at our place. The heroine is from 2011’s brood. In spite of the “buzz-off” behaviour of her parents as they nested in 2012 she’s refused to take the hints (sometimes these are quite vicious especially from father). She’s busily moulting feathers and changing from dappled grey to black and losing flight and tail feathers. I’d imagine new feathers to be a very itchy process over and above the normal presence of mites and other insects amongst feathers. No wonder chooks like to dust-bath. From conversations with other Mt Rogers’ folk I’ve concluded we could compile a book about our observations of magpies.  In 2011 South Australians did just that. The Fearsome Flute Players: Australian magpies in our lives is the result. It combines anecdotes with biological explanations and also illustrates very strongly that connection with wildlife, nature and the outdoors is a vital factor in our wellbeing. If you would like to borrow the book, let me know!

Cockatoos: Hearing Cockatoos (SCC) flying over Flynn in screeching, early morning hordes reminds me that we should feel compassion for Schwarz and Rechner Place residents who bear the brunt of this daily assembling and dispersing cacophony. The cockatoos preen near the Flynn playground leaving discarded feathers to float, on one last flight, down to the ground. Earlier the SCC were feasting on Cootamundra wattle pods, holding the pods with their left feet. Now they’ve turned their attention to other wattle species and they’re sharpening their beaks on other trees’ branches.

Superb parrots:  Since October there’s been no shortage of Superb parrots’ calls locally and some sightings of these swift-flying, unusual birds on Mt Rogers. They are usually in small groups with males being most obvious early on. Apart from Mulligans Flat and Goorooyarroo nature reserves the birds’ nesting sites are still unknown to most. In the past 7-10 days we’ve heard more begging calls from the young birds in family groups. Have you seen the parents regurgitating food for the clamorous offspring? The parrots are feeding on unharvested fruit from our gardens and wattle seeds. No doubt they will move elsewhere when they exhaust our suburbs’ supplies. Do we agree that for 2012-2013 flocks of 20+ Superb parrots haven’t been sighted here? There have been sightings of a larger flock at the AIS. Perhaps COG members will be able to draw conclusions about the apparent changes in Superb parrots’ movements and their overwintering in the ACT in larger numbers than previously.

Fruit, seeds and weeds: As our lives have become busier the fruit trees planted or inherited in our gardens provide food for birds rather than people. Trees and shrubs issued as free screen plants provide berries and seeds for birds but millions of these are dropped into nature reserves where they out-compete native vegetation. These plants, privet, cotoneaster, pyracantha and broom, are targeted for removal by Mt Rogers Landcare Group’s volunteers. Home gardeners with these environmental weeds can take them (and other garden weeds & prunings) for mulching to Canberra Sand & Gravel’s landscaping yard at Parkwood. Twice a year free native plants are exchanged for berried bushes as an incentive to encourage their removal and reduce weed-spread.

Grasses: Spearheaded by Steve D’s efforts, we’re spraying African lovegrass and Chilean Needle Grass. Amongst the denser vegetation we’ve sought out Serrated Tussock, collecting the seed heads to prevent millions of seeds blowing away in the breezes. All three grasses are significant weeds in southern Australia, causing major agricultural losses and altering native grasslands’ flora and fauna. The Ginninderra Catchment Group supports our work with grant-funded spraying programs and the ACT Government’s agencies assist when funding for spraying is available.
With the onset of summer grasses have reduced their growth to concentrate on seeding. This gives the mowing program a chance to “catch-up” and gives reserves a park-like appearance. On Mt Rogers mowers have widened the bush-tracks. This makes our daily walks easier but runs the risk of transporting invasive grasses’ seeds on the machinery.
As summer progresses native grasses come into their own and flower. These grass species were despised during early settlement by graziers used to European varieties. Agricultural policies once included pasture improvement through the sowing of Phalaris and oats species and may have benefitted the sheep that grazed Mt Rogers more than fifty years ago. Maybe our small mob of kangaroos benefit by having hiding places.
These introduced species and Fescue are currently the tallest of the rank grasses on Mt Rogers. The wild oats are related to the crops grown for stockfeed, porridge and muesli.
Finches and some rosellas feed on the seed-heads but ground-feeding birds have fewer short-grass areas for seeking insects. As the climate dries out again perhaps these tall-grassed areas will retreat and, amongst the trees, the leaf litter recycling will resume.
A Happy and Healthy New Year based on exercise, fresh air and the natural world!

Rosemary     Mt Rogers Landcare Group….6258 4724     01.01.13.

*COG Canberra Ornithologists Group. 

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