Field Naturalists’ Club of Ballarat hosted the South East Australian Naturalists Association autumn camp at Pax Hill. We had seventy guests from 15 Field Naturalists Clubs around Victoria. Visitors came from Portland, Hamilton, Warrnambool, Timboon, Geelong, Donald, Castlemaine, Bendigo, Broken Creek, Upper Goulburn, FNCV, Ringwood, Latrobe Valley and Sale. With our own members over 80 people were present for dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings. Thanks to all the members that helped in so many ways to put an a great weekend for our visitors.
Naturalists went on excursions, lead by local guides, to observe the plants, trees, birds, ants, geology and history of bushland areas around Ballarat.
At Lake Burrumbeet visitors watched several hundred pelicans feeding close to the southern shore. One thousand pelicans were seen on the lake. We looked at the majestic old Red Gums.
While walking through the Junipers Road Bushland Reserve near Haddon we inspected the types of eucalypts and wattles growing in the area. Common Heath was flowering. Even in autumn a few flowers were seen – Common Heath, Narrow-leaf Bitter-pea and a bluebell. Hyacinth orchid had finished flowering, the large seed pods hang on the stalk. Scarlet Robins, White-browed Treecreeper and Grey Fantails were seen.
During a bird walk around Lake Wendouree the visitors were delighted to see 38 species of birds including Musk Duck, Blue-billed Duck and Great Crested, Hoary-headed and Australasian Grebe.
Another bird watching group visited sites in the Creswick area where we usually find a variety of small migratory birds. As is often the case, several species expected to be seen were not sighted, presumably having departed on their long return flight north. Tawny Frogmouths with young had been sighted a few days before our excursion but these had also moved. We did see a Wedge-tailed Eagle, a variety of water birds, Rosellas and a Rufous Fantail.
One excursion looked at the types of ants in urban parks. Other excursions to Creswick, Scarsdale, Wombat Forest, Mt Buninyong, Macarthur Park showed visitors the diversity of habitat in the Ballarat area.
On Friday night after dinner speakers, Emily Noble from Field Naturalists’ Club of Ballarat showed a range of trees, orchids, birds, ants and flies found in the area. On Saturday night, Martin Scuffins spoke on the care of injured birds of prey. Martin brought in a Barn Owl to illustrate his comments about raptors, thrilling the audience the audience as the bird enjoyed being fed.
Roger Thomas led an bird walk around Macarthur Park and Paul’s Wetland with the group sighting 24 species at Macarthur Park and 14 at Paul’s Wetalnd.
The buried rivers of gold around Creswick made for an interesting circuit with participants travelling through the impressive Kingston avenue of honour, past former mine sites and through volcanic plains, visiting the historic Monier bridge built by Sir John Monash at Lawrence and finishing at the Australiasian Number 2 mine, the site of Australia’s worst gold mining disaster.
Visitors had the opportunity to visit Ballarat botanic gardens to see the spectacular begonias and marvel at the great trees planted by our pioneers which included the enormous blue gum along the Gillies Street boundary.
Gayle Osborne of the community group ‘Wombat Forestcare’ lead an excursion though some unusual forest types in the headwaters of the Werribee River. Special features were areas of Sedgy Riperian Woodland and then a hill slope of Heathy Dry Forest. Yarra Gums were common across both areas, which tend to have large hollows, and we were entertained by a group of Gang Gangs at one stage. We lunched near Magee’s Creek close to the Werribee River, in an area that was once reserved for water storage. Wombat Forestcare is currently objecting to a mining proposal that will destroy a significant area of his part of Wombat Forest.
In the afternoon we visited one of five research sites of a long-term study established in 1984 in the Wombat Forest to quantify the effects of spring versus autumn burning and fire frequency on flora, fauna, invertebrates, tree growth, soil fertility and fuel levels. We were led by Dr Kevin Tolhurst of the University of Melbourne’s Creswick Campus, who’s knowledge of fire ecology was an inspiration to us all, and highlighted the importance of research in this area. One plot visited had not been burned for over 70 years, while others have been burned seven times in the past 30 years. The results are vital for our understanding of fire management, yet maintenance of funding for long term research is under constant threat.
On Sunday morning 23 SEANA members visited the La Gerche Trail, which commemorates the life of John La Gerche who worked with other forest bailiffs to control the rampant cutting of the Ballarat-Creswick Forest for mining and other timber. La Gerche also established a plant nursery and Sawpit Gully and trails of tree species for regeneration of mined areas, which now has Victorian Heritage Status. The trail is a 2.2 km circuit under towering specimens of 120 year old pines, oaks and other exotic and some native species.
The Field Naturalists Club of Ballarat is involved with Parks Victoria in a project to re-sign the La Gerche Track, which will be completed in 2015.