Birds in apple orchards: a Miner pest?

Inside the apple cage

Can farming techniques foster biodiversity, or even help fix some of the problems like invasive pests? A few ideas regarding apples and birds.

Bacchus Marsh is known for its apple orchards. They are uncaged, and scare guns are the main tool (that I’m aware of) to keep birds such as the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos from smashing the crop. In West Australia, the endangered Baudin’s Black Cockatoo can be a major pest in apple orchards, sadly a contributing factor to its endangered status. Both species are seed eaters: they tear open the apples to eat the seeds inside, a very frustrating behaviour for the farmer.

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Eugen von Guérard and Victoria’s volcanic plains cypress-pines


I previously blogged about the cypress-pine stands around Bacchus Marsh area. Whilst perusing a book on the colonial artist Eugen von Guérard I came across a painting of what is almost unmistakeably a stand of cypress-pine growing on the stony rises near Colac.

The 1857 painting has variously been called “Stony Rises, Corangamite” and “Stony Rises near Colac” and “Lake Korangamite”(1). It depicts an Indigenous camp under some basalt boulders at sunset, a memorable enough painting, but what really captured me was the trees. Continue reading

The lilies of the valley

Blue Squill Chamaescilla corymbosa and others

I recently was blessed to visit a remnant grassland in a little valley on the plains of western Victoria during a mass spring blooming of various lilies, orchids and other wildflowers. This site was once a sheoak and banksia woodland/savannah (I’m told) but most of them are gone, having been cleared. The derived grassland is, nevertheless, spectacular in its own right. This mass flowering is something not many people in modern Australia would have seen, although it would have once been typical of our temperate plains and grassy woodlands. A few photos might at least start rectifying the sad state of public appreciation. Continue reading

When sheoaks take over

2016-07-20 11.08.26

I recently had an opportunity to go for a few hours’ wander on the Queen’s Domain in Hobart, a huge park covering a hill near the city, which still contains some great native vegetation. Having often walked and played there as a kid in the 1980s I have a little historical perspective on the place, and the recent domination of former grassy woodlands by thick stands of drooping sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata, previously known as Casuarina stricta) saplings really stood out.

I recall a family outing on the Queens Birthday firecracker night, for which we walked up onto the western side (above the Brooker Highway) and let off our fireworks while enjoying the view across the suburbs where everyone else was doing likewise. We spent the evening sitting in the grass in an open woodland environment with some trees and shrubs around. It was easy to walk through. Some areas on the north side still look a bit like the west side did in the mid 1980s. Continue reading

‘Australian Grasses (With Illustrations)’ by Fred Turner

F_Turner_Australian Grasses_1895

The old man told me that as a young botanist circa 1970 he surveyed the pasture grasses of the NSW western slopes. Apparently he was particularly interested in the native grasses, but his superiors weren’t so impressed by this focus (he says) and he didn’t continue in that job.

Australian pasture grasses are still underappreciated and poorly understood. Many graziers prefer introduced grasses, including disastrous weeds like Buffel grass.

Recently, Dad got me a secondhand copy of Fred Turner‘s 1895 book Australian Grasses (with illustrations). A few people are beginning to appreciate Australia’s native grass landscapes for not only their ecology but in some cases as drought-hardy plants for grazing livestock. Turner noted this exact potential in many native grasses, and promoting them was a major part of his book. It’s amazing (if a little depressing) how many of the themes he introduced 120 years ago are still current. Continue reading

The epic geologic saga of Bacchus Marsh

g_Werribee Vale

How did the landscape at Bacchus Marsh form? It’s an area rich in geological history, believe it or not. The Werribee Gorge in particular exposes a lot of this history in the rocks it has cut through. This short history is based on material gathered in a couple of geology subjects I took. A bit of geological jargon is introduced in italics, with some explanation for the more obscure terms. Look it up on Wikipedia if you need more explanation!

It all started in a primeval sea

How far back do you go to tell a story? If we want to introduce the characters and setting, perhaps the Ordovician period of the Paleozoic era is a good time for this story. This period started 485 million years ago (485 ma in geological shorthand) and lasted for 41 million years (that is, until 444 ma).

You should be aware that since the discovery of plate tectonics last century, we know that the lumps of rock that make up continents are pushed around the globe over many millions of years, floating on the slowly churning, semi-fluid magma beneath the Earth’s crust. Well, in the Ordovician, the main part (that is, the craton) of the Australian continent was part of the Gondwana supercontinent, and the Australian plate was then located about at the equator.

At this time, most of what’s now the eastern states of Australia wasn’t there. Primeval mountain ranges, around where today’s Flinders and Barrier ranges are, were eroding a steady stream of sediments into the ocean off the coast. These sediments created large deposits – turbidites – off the continental shelf. Continue reading

Indigenous plants for a degraded site


Our local Friends group asked me to work out plant lists for autumn/winter plantings along the river. How to work out a plant list? With all the changes wrought since colonization, and further coming with climate change, what species are appropriate?

Once all of the plain at Bacchus marsh was some kind of redgum swamp, with billabongs, and rivers and streams frequently changing course across the floodplain. There’s still a billabong down at the Parwan end, near where the Werribee and Lerderderg rivers meet, but it’s on private land so most won’t have seen it.

In the section we planted on April 3, near the main Grant St bridge over the Werribee River, the river has been artificially deepened to prevent flooding. As the story goes, the farmers held title to the middle of the river, but the river kept moving so this caused some friction between landowners. At some point, they banded together and dug a deeper, permanent channel. Continue reading