Twelve field naturalists gathered in very light precipitation on the Moonlight-Illabarook Road-side next to the Illabarook Rail Reserve on Sunday October 7. The reserve is a 28 hectare crown land reserve, one of more than 50 managed by Ballarat Environment Network since 2005. It was previously the home of the Illabarook Railway Station and goods shed, remnants of which can still be found across the site.
The railway station lay between Rokewood and Berringa on the Colac-Ballarat railway line that operated from the late 1800’s to the 1950’s, transporting produce from townships in Victoria’s south-west to Ballarat. It is now managed as a biodiversity reserve featuring lovely remnants of the now endangered Lower slopes Grassy Woodland ecological vegetation community, and has one of the best populations of Silver Banksias and Drooping Sheokes in the area.
Brief flora and bird surveys recently undertaken by contractors and volunteers in the reserve added more than 30 plants to the list of plant records gleaned from the last flora survey in 2002 and ten species to the bird list, and Emily was confident that with this many keen eyes scouring the site, yet more new species would be added to the plant and bird lists for the reserve, with plans to upload them into the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas soon, to form part of the State Government’s official flora and fauna records.
Even before we left the roadside and moved into the reserve, Indra had added two new birds to the list: Black Kite patrolling the skies above us, and Pallid Cuckoo, with its delightfully ascending call. It dived regularly into the grassland to pick out some of the many woolly caterpillars (including Pterolocera sp.) for its morning tea and lunch.
Much of the morning was spent with our eyes directed towards the ground, keenly seeking new grasses, forbs and herbs, and especially new species of “inch flora”, a term given to those plants that don’t grow much bigger than an inch high and are thus commonly overlooked. With hand lenses, camera zoom lenses, field guides and lots of plant knowledge in the group, we managed to confirm to species level the identity of 15 plants that had only been identified to genus level previously and added another 16 new flora species to the list, many of which did fit into the “inch flora” category. These included the Rayless Daisy, Brachyscome perpusilla, the Scarlet or Pimpernel Sundew Drosera glanduligera, the multi-stemmed Grassland Sundew D. hookeri and Prickly Woodruff Asperula scoparia.
Other tiny plants that were growing in profusion included the Moss Sunray Hyalosperma demissum, Woolly Heads Myriocephalus rhizocephalus, Dwarf Aphelia Aphelia pumilio and Small Wrinklewort Siloxerus multiflorus. A Black Wallaby Wallabia bicolor was also spotted by several people.
The prolific Cranberry Heath Astroloma humifusum were covered in maturing fleshy fruits, almost ripe for an emu’s lunch, and all the while, new birds were being spotted and heard. A Kestrel, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Skylark, Dusky Woodswallow, Yellow Thornbill and Yellow-rumped Thornbill were all added to the bird list. Of the 36 bird species recorded at the reserve, 25 were seen or heard. With Linda and Peter Rogan in our midst, we were a little disappointed that the temperature wasn’t warm enough to encourage the native bees out from their varied roosts.
After lunch, we headed to the north-east corner of the Parks Victoria-managed Illabarook Grassland Flora Reserve, bounded by sulphur-yellow flowering Canola fields full of elusive Stubble Quail. The call of the Brown Songlark was heard and more skylarks spotted, along with Blue-winged Parrots and a Brown-headed Honeyeater. A couple of lovely examples of Yam Daisy were photographed not far from the entrance, along with a dense clump of Golden Moth Orchids, species as yet undetermined.
The locally uncommon heath, Bitter Cryptandra Cryptandra amara was flowering beautifully as were the Yellow Stars, but the Blue Stars and Sundew flowers that had been enjoyed earlier in the week on a warm day were all tightly wrapped up against the chilly breeze.
La Trobe University researchers believe that a savanna vegetation community would once have been present on this site and others throughout the western plains of Victoria, so copses of various tree species including Drooping Sheoke Allocasuarina verticillata have been planted as seed orchards throughout the reserve. Recruitment trials for Silver Banksias Banksia marginata have also been undertaken, and are demonstrating the challenges of re-establishing these species in the landscape.
In November, the lemon-yellow flowers of the Twisted Sun-orchids Thelymitra flexuosa will be dotted throughout these grasslands amongst the Tall Sundews Drosera auriculata, Milkmaids Burchardia umbellata, Blue Pincushions Brunonia australis and various Sun orchids including the Salmon Sun-orchid Thelymitra rubra. The site will be well worth a return visit.
This excursion report was written by Emily Noble