2014 DIARY - Parkcarers of Southern Murrumbidgee

Diary of POSM activities for 2014

Our great news from late December is, we won a 25th Anniversary of Landcare grant! That means we will be tranforming the area around the dam at the top of the northern arm of Barney's Gully into a wetland, improving the connectivity and understorey of the existing mature trees, and keeping out the cows that are sometimes used there to help control the African lovegrass. The cows will have a trough instead of using the dam, and their grazing can continue to be used to reduce the fire risk to the houses upslope.

December: Our December activity brought a shock: an unplanned fire (accidental or deliberate) in late November burnt all our plantings on the steep slope above the Murrumbidgee. It also burnt the small Callitris that were regenerating there from the seed of a mature tree. There was a lot of African lovegrass on the slope, which provides a lot of fuel and burns very fast and very hot. That day, there were two prescribed burns in other areas and fire crews were already busy managing those when the call came in, and lovegrass burns so quickly they probably couldn't have done any more.

We were quite heartbroken, but I remember someone walking by in October who we'd talked with about the risk of fire (she was a POSM member prior to the 2003 fires) and we told her how much difference we knew we made to the ecology of the area, even if the inevitable consequence of fires is that we lose some of our hard work!

We got to see how the African lovegrass grows in profusion after fire if there is rain, which we got in the following week or two. Hopefully the kangaroo grass that also grows well on the rockiest parts of that slope will continue to thrive. It was lovely to see the Murrumbidgee River flowing so well, and quite strange walking beside it, with the blackberries now largely dead (following spraying earlier in the year) so we could actually see as well as hear the water flowing by, fast and close.

So our plans for watering became work weeding, identifying serrated tussock and blackberry locations for later control, moving more rocks to strengthen the leaky weirs on Barney's Gully (Paul finally finished using the rock from the middle rock pile!), and cutting low branches from the stunted eucalypts upslope to use as further erosion control on the banks of Barney's Gully. We also collected the burnt and melted plastic plant guards and left them in a pile. It was a sad end to the year. We finished the morning by sharing our delicious Xmas fare under the trees at Point Hut Crossing, which cheered us up because we share the good and bad and somehow that makes it much more bearable (and enjoyable).

Murrumbidgee River flowing high and fast, December 2014. Dead blackberries in foreground, but they need follow up spraying because they're coming back!

There are more photos from December here.

November: In November after the early hot days we'd had, we concentrated our efforts on watering our plantings from the previous month, it was great to see that they were doing well, apart from many of the blackthorns. We didn't have guards for all the plants the previous month (having enough guards is a perennial problem for us, but important because the plants need protection from the rabbits and roos too) so we re-used guards we'd removed along the way. Very hard work in the heat on the steep slope, but it's so necessary to water them whilst they're getting established, and we always feel great afterwards.

Nodding Chocolate Lily (Dichopogon fimbriatus), Nov 2014. We saw a scattering of these beautiful lillies above Barney's Gully.

You can see more photos of (mostly) plants taken from September to November here.

October: For our October activity we planted about 50 silver wattle and early black wattle seedlings grown by Vera from seed we collected in autumn, as well as 20 blackthorn seedlings. We planted them on a fairly steep, rocky, NW slope above the Murrumbidgee River, amongst the black cyprus pines that we'd planted in May. We also watered all our previous plantings, including the Cassinia planted near the top of the slope amongst the Eucalypts. It is quite an effort carrying water up that slope! Of course, you don't need to go to the gym when you do work like this and it's so much more fun.

A mass of Bulbine Lilies (Bulbine bulbosa) just outside the "cow paddock" section of Strangers, October 2014.

September: In September we finished planting the seedlings left over from the previous month. We also walked along Barney's Gully looking at our previous erosion control work, watering some of our previous plantings, talking about what might need doing next. As we walked, we discussing the grant application being made for us to plant the area around the dam on the top fork of Barney's Gully, to help control erosion, turn the dam into a wetland habitat and improve the understorey and connectivity between existing eucalypt plantings and the river, where the yellow-faced honeyeaters migrate in late autumn, and many small woodland birds seem to thrive all year.

Creamy Candles (Stackhousia monogyna), Sept 2014. They have shorter stems than the ones I photographed the following month.

August: For our August activity the rangers dropped off plants, stakes and guards for us. Whilst Paul continued moving rock to strengthen a leaky weir, the rest of us (including another new person) planted river she-oaks, river tea-trees and river bottlebrush along Barney's Gully. We've had a fair bit of success with previous plantings over the years, so the diversity of size and species of plants are helping to stabilise the gully banks and improving the biodiversity. Lauren saw scarlet robins and we found a dead frog in one of the pools. Our newest helper is a mountain biker and she is very interested in the mountain bike tracks that will be constructed upslope on Stranger's Hill.

Hard work! Paul moving rocks by wheelbarrow, August 2014 (blurry photo: Deb)

July: For our July activity we moved rock to work on a leaky weir. This is in a secondary gully below a dam on the lower end of Barney's Gully, above the most eroded part of the gully. If we can control the water upstream by removing as much energy as possible, then we can begin to slow and turn around the erosive processes. It was an incredible workout. I had to stress to our newest POSM member that that's the most physical work we've done. We were lucky to have a big group of keen volunteers and 4 wheelbarrows, and we made huge inroads into building up the weir to withstand the occasional high flows when the dam overflows and the massive area of runoff is covered in sheets of water.

POSM members and their trusty wheelbarrows near Barney's Gully, July 2014 (photo: Paul)

Walking along the Murrumbidgee, it was disturbing to see so many signs of rabbits - there were scratchings along many stretches of the tracks. The blackberry and dense stands of black wattle make it almost impossible to find their burrows, if we had a way to control them. We've definitely noticed that any seedlings without plant guards in the area are unlikely to survive.

You can see more photos from June and July here.

June: In June we began our rock work, moving rocks from a large pile kindly provided by our rangers. Paul the engineer estimates the 4 of us moved 3 tonnes of rock with 2 wheelbarrows! We are repairing and strengthening a leaky weir near the top of Barney's Gully. It's incredible how long water remains in places along the gully between the weirs now, whereas previously it flowed off straight away. A highlight of the day was the water spider Paul saw. We also heard a lot of frogs, common eastern froglets (Crinia signifera) - these are the most widespread and common frogs in our region, extending from the coast up into the Snowy Mountains.

May: For our May activity we started the day by planting black wattles that we'd collected seed for, then Vera propagated and grew. We planted the 35 wattles on the steep bank above the repaired dam wall, right beside the carpark. It was a relief to see the dam wall had been repaired - it was a big job but very necessary. The bank needed stabilising as quickly as possible in case of heavy rain and, though it had straw and bitumen protecting the bare soil, we planted fast growing "pioneer" wattles there to bind the soil and help stabilise the slope. We will need to put in more plants there.

We then moved on along the river and planted Hardenbergia amongst the rocks, and native black cyprus pine on the rocky slopes above the Murrumbidgee River, where they like to grow. It was good to see large patches of kangaroo grass there (sometimes it seems that African lovegrass is all that remains). Finally, we planted Cassinia under the Eucalypts higher up the slope, near where we've had good success with previous understorey plantings. In all, we planted 95 seedlings so it was a great effort by the group! It was also quite a hike getting water upslope to many of the plants.

This time we had tree guards for almost all the seedlings but we noticed that earlier plantings without guards have really been decimated by rabbits. We are keeping a map of where we've seen signs of them (droppings and scratchings) but haven't yet found any warrens - the blackberries are just too easy for them to hide in.

(Plantings: Acacia decurrens (Early Black Wattle), Hardenbergia violacea (False Sarsparilla or Purple Coral Pea), Callitris endlicheri (Black Cyprus Pine), Cassinia quinquefaria (Cough-bush))

A beautiful day with a beautiful view for planting, May 2014

You can see more photos from May here.

April: For our April activity hard-working POSM members worked with ranger Craig and planted 70 river tea-trees, river bottlebrush, and silver wattles around the top leaky weir of Barney's Gully, and 10 river she-oaks in the 2nd weir. Eventually the river she-oaks will become the main structure of the weir and we'll be able to remove the star pickets etc. (Plantings: Leptospermum obovatum, Callistemon sieberi, Acacia dealbata subsp. subalpina, Casuarina cunninghamiana )

Casuarinas establishing in leaky weir, Barney's Gully Feb 2014

March: For our March activity we worked on serrated tussock removal along Barney's Gully. Mostly we could chip it out, but some was too big and needed spraying, and some was covered in seed so we bagged what we could and took it with us. We had a good workout, and John found an enormous wolf spider with babies on her back.

Searching for small serrated tussock plants, Barney's Gully

Female flowers on C. cunninghamiana

You can see more photos from March here.

February: For our February activity a small group of us worked on woody weed control (mostly briar and hawthorn) along the Murrumbidgee River. We managed to join up with where we'd got to late last year, so we felt chuffed about that! We also saw Digger's Speedwell (a native plant), mistletoe on a casuarina and a eucalypt, a Lewin's honeyeater, a yellow-faced honeyeater and a female golden whistler, as well as a giant puffball.

Lauren checking our smallest leaky weir, Barney's Gully

Afterwards we walked along Barney's Gully to see how the leaky weirs had fared after the heavy rain in early February. There were lots of signs of big flows of water (flattened grass mostly), but the weirs had held up pretty well and are mostly continuing to function to slow down water so it seeps through the landscape, and catches sediment and nutrients. The rushes and sedges are continuing to spread despite the gully being completely dry in January for Waterwatch sampling.

One sign of how dry it had been were the dead leeches floating on a pool in Barney's Gully. One sign of the bounty that water brings was a beautiful bright red dragonfly. There was also a big red and yellow dragonfly laying eggs.

Scarlet percher dragonfly (Diplacodes haematodes)

Thank you to Vera for watering some of our Nov plantings in early Jan. It's amazing they lived through some of that incredibly hot weather, and down to her that they're alive now. And she must have lugged water a long way because there was none close by!

You can see more photos from February here.