An experiment with blady grass

A blady grass plant, having been collected, trimmed,  translocated, planted, watered and mulched.

A blady grass plant, having been collected, trimmed, translocated, planted, watered and mulched.

A few weeks back, we had the good fortune to get advice from some experts from what used to be called the Threatened Species Unit of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. They informed us that the extensive roadside patch of a native grass that is common along the coast and northern tablelands is in fact the largest such patch (of two recorded to date) in the Southern Tablelands. The grass is blady grass, or Imperata cylindrica. It grows to about 50 cm high and has a tough flat leaf blade that stands vertically. In summer it is bright green but in autumn and winter it turns red. It produces a feather seed head a little like a miniature pampas grass. It grows in dense thickets and can be an aggressive coloniser, so it should be just about everywhere that it isn’t too cold. But it has an Achilles heel: it is like sugar cane in being a C4 grass, and like sugar cane it stores sweet sugar in its lower stem at certain times of the year. As a result cattle, on discovering this

tough species with a tasty base, can rapidly graze it to local extinction if the stands are small enough. This probably explains why the Goulburn population spreads along the roadside but rapidly disappears at the fenceline.

weeding, planting and seasoling the blady grass.

weeding, planting and seasoling the blady grass.

We have been advised that this might be an excellent species for the wetlands: it is locally quite rare and will serve to shelter migratory wading birds such as snipe and greenshanks. We were also advised to plant within two weeks of that date, while the blady grass was still dormant. As a result we arrived early one Wednesday to the large clump and removed a small area of plants from the very sizeable colony. Each blady grass plant has very small roots but large runners, so were easy to obtain. We immediately cut two-thirds of the leaf blades to reduce water loss, and wrapped the plants in wet newspaper to transport them.

Recycling plant guards from some of the melaleucas drowned in the recent flood. Interestingly enough many of the melaleucas have survived, though some are underwater still.

Recycling plant guards from some of the melaleucas drowned in the recent flood. Interestingly enough many of the melaleucas have survived, though some are underwater still.

We then placed the grass in three trial plots: one on top of a rise, one along a slope from well drained to poorly drained, the third at the bottom of a slope near water. We planted them about 50 cm apart and watered them with a Seasol solution to reduce the shock of digging up and replanting. We then mulched them. Additionally, some plants were protected with a red plant guards, while a few others were not trimmed and were allowed to retain their long leaves. Hopefully we will learn which is the better site for blady grass and what treatment is best for this easily obtained species.

A large clump of a tiny plant: stonecrop.

A large clump of a tiny plant: stonecrop.

And just one final note for the week (or fortnight). There may be plenty of weeds cropping up, but there is much long-lived native material producing its own rewards. Here and there amongst the mulch and bare areas, a few patches of a very small, rather plain looking native plant have arisen. It is Australian Stonecrop, Crassula sieberiana. The photo shows how tiny even a large specimen of this species can be, so it is very easy to overlook.

An expedition and discovery

The mysterious erosion gully cutting through one of our steepest banks.

The mysterious erosion gully cutting through one of our steepest banks.

Well, it has been a little while since the last post and we’ve mainly been busy cleaning up and working behind the scenes on the first bird hide, and that takes a lot of welding. In the mean time we had a problem and a mystery to solve. On the steep southern bank in an area seemingly a long way from gutters and drains is a jagged gully with knife-edge cliffs. It is a small insight into the past and houses some tree roots, boxthorn roots, a rusted pipe and, at least as important, a tiny cave built and regularly used by two little feathered jewels: spotted pardalotes. These tiny birds are black and yellow and spotted with white, cream and red. Their high pitched “sleep baby” call is familiar to anyone in the bush as they go about their business eating large amounts of lerps and other insects and, as a result, improving the health of eucalypts.

Ooh look, an answer to our question.

Ooh look, an answer to our question.

But what was causing the erosion? The top of the gully was a long way from any overland water and we appeared to have re-routed flows from the street drains. But last Friday peter Mowle decided to clean up the rubble filled bank below the fence. In doing so he uncovered a hitherto unknown drain coming from across the street. This has leaked large quantities of water through the porous ground to create our little canyon. So Peter carved a new drainage line away from the old brickworks site and this week we started to fill it with neatly placed brick rubble, both to conserve the heritage of the site and to minimise the effects of erosion.

Another problem then presented itself. Inside the drainage pipe there was a large pink coloured root. At first we thought to our horror it might be some illegally placed electrical cable, but it turned out to be the very much alive root system of a willow removed early in 2012. Time, flowing water and a good strong truck should extricate that.

Embarking on our epic journey.

Embarking on our epic journey.

We had to do something about the drowned plants and their equally drowned guards. As a result Rodney brought his canoe (let’s not talk about it falling off the truck) and, with the help of two young assistants, embarked on an expedition into the swamps seeking elusive and disjointed tree guards. We rescued quite a few guards that will be used to replace the inferior green plastic and bamboo. We avoided most major mishaps, though one of the crew was shivering by the end of the voyage, having soaked her knees in very cold water. The Coleman canoe traversed the large pond, herding flocks of coots and white-eyed ducks in front of us and risking the noisy ire of hundreds of aggressive silver gulls. We witnessed them attacking a masked lapwing (spur-wing plover) and marvelled at their bravery.

Wait for me! Poor Biscuit.

Wait for me! Poor Biscuit.

Waiting in malevolent anticipation.

Waiting in malevolent anticipation.

Not quite so brave was Biscuit the one-eyed dog. He desperately wanted to come along but there was no room, so he raced out along a rock berm as far as he dared hoping forlornly that we would change our minds.  At times we were completely surrounded by swirling, screaming gulls, but they left us alone and displayed annoyance rather than nervousness at our intrusion. We collected many pink guards and made two noteworthy discoveries. Myriads of feral aquatic snails — the results of dumped water from fish tanks and irresponsible fish owners — were breeding like crazy, climbing over and depositing little jelly-like hemispheres of eggs onto the submerged tree guards. The other discovery was, that despite being completely submerged now for about a month, a great many of the young melaleucas were still alive and even showed green young leaves at the ends of their few branches.

There is another problem that the flood revealed, but more about that next time.

Now to clean up people’s rubbish …

Cleaning up rubbish and removing burnt boxthorn.

Cleaning up rubbish and removing burnt boxthorn.

Now most of the flood debris (and all the rubbish from our waterways) has been cleared, it is time to remove all the junk from the old brickworks site. Virtually anything of any value at all has been removed: we haven’t even found a single whole brick. We have found heaps of rusty tin sheets, plastic bottles and broken glass as well as the odd bits of a bed and a bathtub. We are placing the brick fragments in a drain to help take the Eastgrove stormwater into the wetlands in a way that will not cause erosion.

 

One of the grebes in their rather plain non-breeding colors.

One of the grebes in their rather plain non-breeding colors. They still have their fluffy bums though.

Apart from this, the deeper water birds continue to come. The hardheads (white-eyed ducks) are settling in well and the Australasian grebes have returned, but not in their usual rich breeding colours. The seagulls (silver gulls) are forming bigger and bigger crowds. Last week we got over 200 that sat around and watched us work. They are mainly here because, just around the corner, Goulburn still has an old fashioned garbage tip with minimal recycling and composting. They are noisy and aggressive and the ducks just tolerate them. We did see them attacking lapwings (spur-wing plovers) and other birds that flew nearby, though they left the white-faced herons alone. A majestic white-bellied sea-eagle soared above the wetlands for a while, and I have vague hopes that it might rid us of a couple of gulls, but after a while it moved on.

With the rains come weeds

Horehound thicket with rosettes of other weeds, such as Buchan weed.

Horehound thicket with rosettes of other weeds, such as Buchan weed.

Just as the ongoing rains are determined to drown some of our little plants, they have also brought new life into the killed weeds near the old brickworks. Huge, healthy thickets of particularly nasty plants are emerging from rubble turned to mud. The main culprits include Capeweed, Scotch and spear thistles, horehound, musky crowsfoot (not one of the native crowsfeet) and the dreaded Paterson’s curse. Looks like spraying time is coming soon … well, perhaps after the rain has spent itself.

Eastern Grey Kangaroos have been poking through the weeds but have moved on to greener pastures nearer the main pond.

Eastern Grey Kangaroos have been poking through the weeds but have moved on to greener pastures nearer the main pond.

On lower slopes, the weeds are mingled with grasses. Here wood ducks, teal, coots and moorhens have assembled in good numbers to eat the green pick within easy reach of our small lake. With them is our resident mob of kangaroos that travels across May Street from Rocky Hill to gorge on the greenery. There is more leafy growth than seeds, but enough remain to attract small groups of house sparrows and crested pigeons, very different from the large flocks that dominated the landscape during the drought. Interestingly, some good sized flocks of red-browed finches have been visiting the wetlands for some weeks now, traveling between the boxthorn thickets we have deliberately left for them.

We cleaned up in time for the new guests.

Ray, Heather and B1 remove the flood debris blocking the car park.

Ray, Heather and B1 remove the flood debris blocking the car park.

After the flood there was a lot of cleaning up to do, but half a dozen eager hands and a sunny morning made the work fly. By 11:00 AM the tree trunks were piled for the birds to use in the nearest pond, all the tangled branches were put on the heap to be burnt before too long and the mulch scraped off the tarmac and wheelbarrowed back to where the floods had removed it in the first place. By 11:30 the place was (almost) as neat as a pin again.

High and dry: the white ibises leave the now deep pond for easier pickings in the wet long grass.

High and dry: the white ibises leave the now deep pond for easier pickings in the wet long grass.

The pools are now back to their maximum depth of between 1.2 and 1.6 metres, so they no longer suit wading birds. There are a few that have stayed on though, such as the masked lapwings and the white ibis. There is still a sizable flock of these left over from the dry times and that stay probably with thanks to the garbage dump. Now they are probing around in the long grass where small skinks and baby snakes are likely to be hanging out. Occasionally the odd ibis will patrol the edge of the high water just in case something delicious returns. But the silver gulls have returned en masse, together with more grey teal. A few black ducks have also returned and I saw a solitary white-eyed duck or hardhead sitting inconspicuously with the teal on a rock berm.

 

Just a small sample of the 90 strong flock of gulls that visited last Wednesday.

Just a small sample of the 90 strong contingent of gulls that visited last Wednesday.

As the floodwaters recede

Melaleucas planted in May, now flooded.

Melaleucas planted in May, now flooded.

The June flood (yes, I made a mistake in my previous post, sorry) resulted in many of our new plants being underwater. It was a hard call. The drought was lasting so long we thought we might have enough time for the little things to grow.  We knew that under flood conditions most of these plants would be under water, but we didn’t think it would happen so soon.

Debris cast up by the flood.

Debris cast up by the flood.

Within a day the flood waters receded. The wetlands were mostly intact with little or no waters covering most of the grassy areas. Where the waters had risen, they had left additional mulch on top of existing mulch in most places, though there were a few places in which our mulch had been washed away. There was no serious erosion. The car park on lower May Street was covered in our transported mulch, as well as a few logs and branches, so this week we’ll have quite a clean-up job.

The baby tiger snake rescued by Rodney 2.

The baby tiger snake rescued by Rodney 2.

Apart from the debris, underwater plants and high water levels, the other main sign of the recent flood was the crowd of ravens, magpies and Indian mynas. These birds were looking for small creatures washed out of their holes and grassy nooks by the floods. Rodney 2 came to the rescue for one small tiger snake by presenting it with a stranded plant guard in which it could climb. He didn’t want to pick it up. Apart from being easily hurt by being picked up, baby tiger snakes, despite their tiny fangs, are just as potentially deadly as the adults. The guard, with snake, was placed near dry shrubs and it slithered off into the grass towards them.

Clearly, we’ll have a bit of cleaning up to do this week.

BREAKING NEWS …. Woo Hoo! Stage 2 can go ahead!

The Goulburn Group (TGG) was successful in obtaining a grant of $99,116 from the NSW Government’s Environment Trust allowing Stage 2 of the Goulburn Wetlands project to go ahead.

This is fantastic news. It essentially means that we can now continue with the task of restoring and regenerating the site, radically improving its environmental functionality.

This is not just a win for FROGS and TGG: it’s a win for Goulburn itself.

TGG applied for the Environment Trust funds in August last year and were told today of their success by a Trust representative shortly after NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker announced the 26 successful projects throughout NSW in a total package of over $2 million.

The announcement came approximately one week after Goulburn Mulwaree Council voted to provide additional funds ($25,000 for this year plus an additional $25,000 if we are successful with our Veolia grant application) to FROGS to help with the wetlands project.

This money will be put into removing and managing weeds, training volunteers, sowing 6 hectares of native grassland and 1 hectare of sedge meadow as well as providing structural habitat for wildlife such as boulder and tree jumbles.

This is such a positive thing. We’re very thankful to the Environment Trust and TGG’s  help, but we must also thank Goulburn Mulwaree Council for their proactive and continuous support since the project was first aired. We also thank our Local Member and NSW Minister MS Pru Goward who has not only helped and aided us actively from the beginning, but who has also provided over $10,000 of her own money to sponsor the bird hide we are presently constructing. Of course we must in particular thank our local volunteers for all their continuous hard work that has produced the on-ground results.

The flood, July 2013

The flood from Rocky Hill.

The flooded wetlands and golf course  from Rocky Hill.

SMALL Water flowing into the wetlands through the culvert, 9 AM 25 June 2013 IMG_1398[1]

It has happened again. Continuous rain over two days (about 125 mm) resulted in a flood which, by about 9AM on Tuesday 25th June 2013, had put the Mulwaree River 1.4 metres above the bridge on May Street. At this point the water was gushing through our spillway. It had come down the Mulwarree (last time it went upstream as a result of the Wollondilly flooding), turned the chain of ponds into one wide river in which branches, rubbish and a host of other debris floated downstream, then spilled into the wetlands.  Outside the dammed causeway our plants were beginning to go underwater. That’s OK, they were pretty well established. But inside the water was lapping at their bases.

It subsequently rose much higher, and before 1:00 PM the water had well and truly topped the causeway and covered our poor young plants. Fingers crossed that they don’t get drowned, crushed under mulch or swept away. That was a lot of hard work putting them in and guarding them. Oh well … these things happen.

… More photos will come soon of the peak waters, so stay tuned.

Phew, what a morning!

SMALL Donna, Peter, Elva and Ashley, Goulburn Wetlands 190613_3246Normally we work on one project or task at a time. Sometimes we split into the builders and the gardeners, but today we were all over the place like crazy. Donna, Greg and I collected loose, broken bricks and carried them away to relieve the place of its jumbled rubble. Elva gathered plastic, tin and years of other old rubbish to put in a pile for Peter to remove. Peter sawed down the burnt remains of boxthorns past and Ashleigh systematically finished weeding our new plantings.

SMALL the end of the fence at last, Goulburn Wetlands 190613_3248

The concrete truck came and delivered a load or several. All hands were on deck to at very long last finish the base of the main fence after several months. We were all glad to see that job done. Two people scooped the fluffy concrete, one moved the scuttle to direct the pouring while another held the chute in place, another vibrated the foundations to settle the mix while others smoothed the top and edged it.

High vis gear as an important water diversion is created to reduce erosion.

High vis gear as an important water diversion is created to reduce erosion.

Some of the concrete was used to prevent erosion of the soft soil. A low ridge of concrete was used to create a small berm funneling water into the concrete culvert rather than onto the bare soil downhill. As time goes on the downhill site will be revegetated with plants from the endangered yellow box community, meaning a grassy and lawn like understorey with yellow box sparsely planted around the site. Hopefully this will contain  facilities for the general public in times to come.

 

Stabilising another culvert with concrete from the pour.

Stabilising another culvert with concrete from the pour.

Lastly, Bill 1 and Les directed concrete from the roadside drain down a steep slope to the main pond. This enabled them to ensure that water flows down to the boulders below without causing further erosion and filling the wetlands in with sand and silt.

A good result for a busy day.

 

 

 

 

All steamed up on a cold winter’s day

A cold and bleak morning, but the large compost piles give off a lot of heat ... and that's not all.

A cold and bleak morning, but the large compost piles give off a lot of heat … and that’s not all.

Getting ready to plant: highland honey-myrtles, pink tree guards, mulch, water and tools.

Getting ready to plant: highland honey-myrtles, pink tree guards, mulch, water and tools.

Early in the winter mornings and its time to spread mulch around the last plants to go in. We have to be careful. Not only is it possible to smother the small newly planted shrubs, but, more importantly the big mulch piles can contain dangerous pathogens, particularly in the form of fungal spores. This is why all the volunteers right next to the biggest pile are wearing face masks, though they’re mighty inconvenient if you have a beard or glasses.

Transporting mulch from the remains of the piles.

Transporting mulch from the remains of the piles.

We’re indebted to Lloyd Ashton for these piles of mulch. They are the shredded remains of trees and limbs removed around the town for pruning or other maintenance reasons. His large trucks deposit these great mounds near our work sites to make it easier for the volunteers to reach their targets.

The mulch provides warmth and insulation for the little plants in their protective guards during the frosty months. Eventually it breaks down and provides added nutrition for growing roots. We are careful to keep it away from the young roots near the plants, though. For a while during decomposition it can take up nutrients from the soil and even burn tender young roots. The mulch is our best defense against invasion by weeds. If they get through the 3 or so centimetre-thick layer we can spot them easily and remove them without having to use poisons.

On cold windy days some of the birds, such as these white ibis, like to shelter behind the banks and tree guards.

On cold windy days some of the birds, such as these white ibis, like to shelter behind the banks and tree guards.

We have used different planting techniques such as direct seeding and direct planting into killed weeds, but killing or removing the ground layer, planting, guarding and mulching has proved to produce the fastest growth with the highest survival rates.

As winter progresses the planting and some of the weeding will slow down while other projects take their place.