Northern Victorian native grasslands

To: "BA email" <>
Subject: Northern Victorian native grasslands
From: "simon starr" <>
Date: Sun, 6 Jun 2010 22:13:25 +1000
Hi all,

Just wanted to let the birding community know of a few exciting and positive 
happenings here in northern Victoria over the last year or two.
Through the efforts of some individuals, Trust for Nature and DSE, a number of 
properties have been bought in recent times both on the Patho plains between 
Mitiamo and Echuca, and also on the Avoca plains west of Kerang.

On the Patho plains some more grazing properties (mostly large expanses of open 
short native grassland) have been acquired to add to the public reserve system. 
Plains Wanderers are being found on many of these properties where the habitat 
is suitable ( short sparse native tussock grassland ) and some surveys of 
private properties are finding Wanderers also.  With such a concentration of 
resources focussed on this area the future for these birds is looking secure, 
though grazing will need to be maintained to some extent/ and in some areas to 
prevent the grass swathe becoming too dense and tall. Recent locust swarms have 
provided some natural grazing.
On one private property recently a small number of Inland Dotterel were found 
and nesting was occurring. This is quite near to where Pratincoles and Inland 
Dotterel were present about 3 years ago at and near Terrick East reserve on 
Tomara Road.
Plains Wanderers appear to have had a successful and extended breeding season 
over the last year or so, with many first year birds being recorded.
Recent surveys are suggesting that the population of Plains Wanderer on the 
Patho plains could be higher than previously thought.  Other species regularly 
recorded include Banded Lapwings, Stubble Quail, Little Button-Quail ( a bit 
more seasonal) , Brown Songlarks and Singing Bushlarks, and the very cute 
Fat-tailed Dunnart.
I imagine that the DSE/Parks website would have info on which country is now in 
public land.  Please check before accessing any areas here because private 
landholders still dominate the landscape and it is important their rights are 

On the Avoca plains west of Kerang, a number of properties have been acquired 
which combined with land already in public hands is starting to add up to a 
really significant network of reserves, stretching from The Marshes west of 
Lake Charm right down to near Quambatook.
This country is a mix of Black Box floodways and open grassland.  It has not 
been as extensively cropped as the lighter sandier mallee country to the west, 
it is challenging country to farm , and through the drought has received some 
of the lowest rainfalls in the state.... regularly only reaching about 200mms 
annually.  This last year has seen things return to more normal conditions as 
far as rain goes ( or even better ).
 A very large property ( 5000 hectares ?) NE of Lake Lookout has recently been 
purchased by DSE from a landholder I know.  It is a fascinating place to visit, 
undulating , with ancient lake beds here and there, lunettes, and hardly a tree 
on the place.  It has been cropped ( rarely) and heavily grazed, but the tough 
conditions out there have suited the natives, and it is relatively light in 
weeds.There are many rare plants.  Inland Dotterel, Australian Pratincole and 
Plains Wanderer have all been recorded, aswell as breeding Orange Chats where 
there is a little more cover of saltbush.  It is a huge area and takes hours to 
walk right across. It has been named ( havent seen any signs yet) the Bael Bael 
Grassland Reserve and is accessable from the southeast edge of Lake Lookout at 
least. It is roughly bordered by Lookout Road/Baulch Road and Bael Bael Boga 
Road. The north of this reserve is just south of Yassom Swamp, also public 
land, with native grassland. ( not sure if the two areas meet).

Trust For Nature have acquired a number of properties south west of this area, 
down towards Quambatook. I wont go into much detail as I have no wish to steal 
their thunder plus there is no general public access, but suffice to say they 
have preserved some fantastic properties, a mixture of Black Box/Eumong 
floodways on the Avoca, and adjacent open grasslands, many of which are in 
excellent condition, and full of rare plants.  Again Banded Lapwings/Plains 
Wanderers/ Australian Pratincole and Inland Dotterel have all been recorded in 
at least some of these grasslands.  A recent survey of one sparse grassland 
recorded 23 Inland Dotterel, which included 3 juveniles (private and not 
visible from any road I'm afraid).
The woodland areas have a good mix of dry country woodland birds including 
Hooded and Red-capped Robins, White-browed and Grey-crowned Babblers, Southern 
Whiteface, Variegated Fairy-wrens, Zebra Finch, Blue Bonnets etc.  Spring and 
summer see good numbers of Woodswallows, Cockatiel , and often Budgerigar.  
Blue-winged Parrots use the area at times, and there is a variety of raptors, 
including Black Falcons. White-winged Wrens can be common along some of the 
roadsides and Orange Chats appear sometimes too

A general drive of the area could be rewarding for birdos,  the Lake Charm 
Quambatook road passes through much interesting country as does Gillies Road 
and other adjacent roads. But please do not access any of this country as it is 
privately owned, whether for farming or conservation.   Permission must be 
granted, and this is unlikely for the time being at least. Also check recent 
rainfall as the roads may be impassable.

I know that the rarer grassland birds are of great interest to birders.  The 
Inland Dotts appear to be fairly mobile,  at present the best I can suggest is 
the sparcest areas of the Bael Bael grassland reserve which will take you right 
out into the middle of that large block of land.   Make sure you've got plenty 
of time. I haven't visited myself since the summer, but even back then heavy 
rain had already triggered a big response in vegetation, and now, without 
grazing, large areas of bare ground are being covered over by creeping saltbush 
and other plants. You cant get too lost as the large lunette next to Lake 
Lookout will guide you back.
Another way can be to scan likely looking areas, including fallowed land, from 
the various roads I have mentioned.  This has worked for me on occasion.

All in all its an interesting and quiet bit of back country, with a remote 
outback feel to it ( by Victorian standards anyway ).

Simon Starr.
Pyramid Hill,

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