Fish o’Clock at the Bay!

What a great example of team work! Encounter Bay, in the golden late afternoon light, and five pelicans, a group of crested terms, a bunch of silver gulls, a few little black cormorants, a white-faced heron and a stray grebe joined forces for a fishy snack.

From lazy idle swimming, the pelicans suddenly became purposeful, turning and swimming in tight formation, first in one direction and then the opposite way. They encircled and herded the fish ahead of them and then dipped their bills to grab a share. The smaller birds circled around the edges of the pelican group and the terns dive-bombed from the air above.

The fishing frenzy only lasted less than ten minutes, before all the birds had caught enough and had settled in their night roosts on the granite boulders, preening feathers and tucking head under their wings.

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Posted in caring for our planet, environment, fish, sustainable natural resources management, waterbirds | Tagged , , ,

Remnant reminders

Small pockets of natural vegetation still persist on the south coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula, reminders of the diverse and highly adapted plant community which evolved to survive in steep gullies and coastal hillslopes exposed to salt-laden winds. The coastal mallee tells the story – a compact spreading multi-stemmed tree often only 2-3 metres tall, hugging the ground on coastal slopes, sheltering clusters of plump buds, large cream flowers and fat gumnuts.

The distinctive grass trees (yakkas) swirl their skirts in the wind and send their poker-like flower stalks skywards. The local eucalypt woodlands specialise in pale twisted trunks under a dark green canopy, with yakkas and heath shrubs underneath.

The dense native shrubs seem to have the best strategy, keeping a thick but low profile. Native bottlebrush shrubs are consolidating the year’s growth – they have dropped their seed and won’t flower until the spring. The summer belongs to the silver banksia, with all stages of flowers and fruit showing off a range of colours from cool green to yellow and gold, maturing to shades of brown.

The remnant reminders persist along roadsides, in gullies and corners of paddocks, tiny pockets of the dense cover that existed before settlement. Protecting and expanding these remnants can help to sustain the landscape into the future, stabilising soils, preventing erosion, cooling the land and providing homes for small native animals and birds. They are essential to the essence of the Fleurieu.

Posted in caring for our planet, conservation, disturbance, ecosystem services, eucalypts, native vegetation, seeds, sustainable natural resources management | Tagged , , , , ,

Diary of a red gum — update for 2017

Our red gum has been very slack with its diary – it needs to catch up a whole year (including reporting some surprises)!!

Following the dense flowering in November 2016, the red gum had a dense crop of ripening fruit by February 2017. Surprisingly, these fruit were already ripe enough to release seed as early as March, with tiny russet-coloured seeds spilling from opened fruit on fallen twigs.

 

 

IMG_0290The seed and spent fruit continued to fall continuously from March to October, with large numbers of open fruit shed particularly during July–October. This was much earlier and for a very much longer period than expected from observations on the Murray River floodplain.

By November, while a diminishing fruit crop still persisted on the tree, old leaves were being shed and new leaves starting to appear. A few flowers appeared in December, negligible numbers compared to the dense flowering of the previous year. However, this was consistent with previous observations that this tree has a pattern of dense flowering in alternate years. New leaves were the dominant growth in December, as the last remnants of the closed mature fruit hung on.

Huge quantities of bark showered down from the tree from late December and through January, exposing the pale smooth bark along all branches and the trunk. A new crop has started with the first tiny buds appearing in February 2018. Based on the observed pattern, a bumper flowering season can be expected in November 2018 (unless there are further surprises?!).

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Fabulous flowering season on the Murray River floodplain

December 2017 has turned out to be the best flowering season yet for river red gums and black box on the Murray River floodplain! The trees seem to have returned to the ‘normal’ pattern of summer flowering for red gums and for most black box, after 2016 was dominated by winter flowering for black box, and multiple flowering events for many trees. This summer almost every tree is covered in dense clusters of cream-coloured flowers, with fresh new leaves appearing. Even the creeping monkey flower (Mimula repens) has formed dense purple carpets along the edges of wetlands. The trigger was most likely the flood which peaked 12 months ago, triggering dense bud crops which are now in full flower. That means there will be high volumes of seed next summer! It’s a great Christmas present to see the floodplain trees continuing recovery from the Millenium drought and looking so good!

Posted in black box, caring for our planet, conservation, environmental flows, eucalypts, Murray-Darling Basin, native vegetation, phenological cycles, regeneration, river red gums, sustainable natural resources management | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Urgent Warning: Escalating Threats to Survival of Planet

 

An urgent warning of major threats to the survival of our planet has just been published in BioScience. The paper by Ripple et al. (2017) has been endorsed by 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries (BioScience, bix125, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix125). They are deeply concerned that there has been almost no progress in addressing threats first identified 25 years ago, in the 1992 ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity’.

The threats identified included ozone depletion, freshwater availability, marine life depletion, ocean dead zones, forest loss, biodiversity destruction, climate change, and continued human population growth. Since that warning was published, the Earth’s population has increased by 35%, by 2 billion people, and the only threat which has been met is the hole in the ozone layer.

Since 1992, humanity has failed to address these environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse. Especially troubling is the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising GHGs from burning fossil fuels (Hansen et al. 2013), deforestation (Keenan et al. 2015), and agricultural production—particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption (Ripple et al. 2014), and a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years. While greenhouse gas emissions have reduced by 68%, temperatures have risen by 168% and CO2 emissions have risen by 62%.

Urgent changes are needed in environmental policy, human behaviour, and global inequities is still far from sufficient. These include effective nature and biodiversity reserves, halting habitat clearance, restoring native plant communities, re-introducing apex predators to restore ecological balance, control trade in threatened species, reducing food waste, shifting away from meat-based foods, reducing fertility rates, promoting green technologies and managing to achieve a sustainable human population.

The authors state that humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to ‘business as usual’. Time is running out and we all must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.

Share the Paper and spread the message (link below)!! Vote for politicians who share these goals!!

https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/advance-article/doi/10.1093/biosci/bix125/4605229

Posted in caring for our planet, climate change, conservation, ecosystem services, regeneration, sustainable natural resources management, waterways, wetlands | Tagged , , , , , ,

Cranes, Cackling Geese and Californian wetlands

During a recent visit to California, it was great to meet up with former Ducks Unlimited colleague Andy Engilis, and to re-visit two key waterbird sites in the delta of the Central Valley. Last seen in 2001, managed wetlands at Cosumnes River Conservation Preserve and the Yolo Creek By-pass Wildlife Area have matured very well. The visit in mid-autumn coincided with the first waves of over-wintering waterbirds arriving to seek respite from cooler northern temperatures. We saw large flocks of cackling geese (like a smaller version of Canada geese) weaving across the sky and groups of sandhill cranes grazing in the fields and grasslands, all within sight of downtown Sacramento.

Andy is now based at UC Davis and Curator of the amazing Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, with rows of cabinets filled with drawers of specimens, like bats, humming birds, waterbirds, even a cabinet with a lion skin, leopard skin and tiger skin in successive drawers! He teaches mammology, ornithology, icthyology and herpetology, and has inherited ‘orphan’ collections from other institutions, making the UC Davis museum collection one of the best in the US! Meeting some of his students, it seems he is an inspirational teacher, as well as being a dedicated birdwatcher. Andy combines all these interests into research projects to understand use patterns and habitat needs of birds using the managed regional wetlands. Thanks for an inspiring visit!

Posted in caring for our planet, conservation, managed wetlands, sustainable natural resources management, waterbirds, waterways, wetlands | Tagged , , , , ,

Watering Wisdom Exchanged!

Water For Nature held another successful Exchange in the South Australian Riverland this week, showcasing successful environmental watering projects and exchanging stories between all the different people who engage in this challenging space! Standout stories came from Riverland artist Liz and ‘Accidental Citizen Scientist’ Ron. Liz told of how she and fellow-artist husband Clint became involved in watering the Yarra Creek floodplain across the river from their home, after watching its sad decline in the drought. Clint became the ‘human bobcat’, digging shallow trenches and building mini-dams to make the most of the water as the floodplain turned into a wetland full of frogs, waterplants, healthy lignum and flowering black box. Ron was quietly rehabilitating after major surgery on the river bank near Nildottie until his peace was disturbed by a noisy pump transferring water into the adjacent wetland. Ron became the pump man, photopoint monitor and local advocate for the recovery project at Greenways wetland. Both stories inspired the audience and provided neat examples to use to spread the word about why environmental watering is so important. In spite of the unexpected downpours which delivered 37 mm of rain to Renmark and made the floodplain impassable for most of our planned field tours, the Water Exchange was a very successful event, with a heap of positive networking among participants

and many new friends made!

Posted in black box, caring for our planet, community engagement, ecosystem services, environmental flows, eucalypts, Murray-Darling Basin, native vegetation, rainfall, regeneration, river red gums, sustainable natural resources management, wetlands | Tagged , , , , ,