Saving grassy woodland is not just a matter of saving and replanting the trees.
When protecting the whole environment of the grassy woodland (rather than just the woodland component) it is just as important to protect and regenerate the native grassland beneath the trees.
Many species of wildlife are dependant upon woodland and grassy woodland for their survival. Unfortunately these two habitats, once so widespread in the region to the west of Melbourne, are now greatly diminished and endangered, and the remnants are fast disappearing. Consequently, the wildlife species that depend upon these habitats are also threatened and endangered.
Diamond Firetail Finch
One such species that depends upon grassy woodlands for its continued survival is the Diamond Firetail Finch. This is a strikingly beautiful bird that is unfortunately threatened (as is its habitat). We are fortunate in having numbers of Diamond Firetails (among many other species) in Pinkerton & Bushes Paddock.
The Australian Bush Heritage Fund recently published an article on the Diamond Firetail in its magazine 'Bush Heritage News’:
“Diamond Firetail: Conservation status: near threatened, nationally
Diamond Firetails live in the eucalypt-dominated grassy woodlands of south-eastern Australia. Most of these habitats have been cleared or severely modified, making them unsuitable for the birds.
The firetails are also disappearing from small areas of remnant grassy woodland
One of the key factors causing the decline of the firetails is thought to be the replacement of native grasses with introduced pasture grass. Where grazing pressure from stock is high, the grasses also fail to set seed, thus depriving the firetails of their most important food.”
Australian Bush Heritage Fund
'Bush Heritage News Winter 2005'
The article refers to just one species of bird that is becoming nationally threatened. However, this applies to other species of wildlife also. It is imperative that the few surviving remnants of woodlands and grassy woodlands be protected.
Among the seasonal migrants are the robins. These are a spectacular sight, especially as they visit during the darker months of autumn and winter The male Scarlet Robin is unmistakeable, with its bright scarlet breast contrasting boldly with its back of velvet black, usually seen accompanied by several brown coloured female partners. They are a common sight here during the colder months. Occasionally its rarer relative, the Flame Robin is also seen, but this has a flame-red breast and a slatey-grey back. Unfortunately, robins are declining in numbers, probably due to habitat loss.
Fortunately the beautiful Blue Wren, well known and loved by everyone, is common here all year round, as is the similar sized Yellow-tailed Thornbill (with its more subdued brownish plumage and bright yellow rump). Many of the smaller birds such as these depend on low bushes (not just large trees) in which to find shelter for nesting and protection.
Parrots are a prominent feature of the woodlands, finding nesting sites in the many hollow trees, and in spring they are especially conspicuous, squabbling noisily with each other (and with the ever present exotic mynahs and starlings) over nest sites. Eastern Rosellas and Red-backed Parrots are commonly seen, and Galahs are also a common sight, with White Cockatoos and Corellas often seen flying overhead. The abundance of these parrots often causes us to overlook their brilliant colours.
Often seen flying overhead are the majestic Wedge-tailed Eagles, as they search the ground below for rabbits, their main source of food. Whistling Kites and Little Eagles similarly soar above the grasslands and woodlands, also on the hunt for rabbits. Other hawks, large and small, fly among and above the trees, hunting for prey. Kestrels and Black-shouldered Kites hover over the grassland looking for insects and small birds, while falcons course the skies at great speed with long pointed wings, hunting larger birds. The occasional White-bellied Sea-eagle is sometimes seen flying over the adjacent Western Water treatment plant, and the nearby Melton Reservoir. This surprising visitor is similar to a Wedge-tailed Eagle, but has striking black & white coloration, and no long wedge-shaped tail.
Surprisingly, Magpie Geese can also be seen flying in the vicinity. These are large impressive looking water birds with bold black and white plumage. Due to drought conditions they are finding refuge on the adjoining ponds at Western Water Sewerage Works at Surbiton Park. These magnificent birds are familiar to all who have seen wildlife documentaries of Kakadu, not to mention featuring prominently in television adverts exhorting us to visit the Northern Territory. These birds were once a familiar sight in Victorian wetlands in the early years of settlement, but they were swiftly exterminated by a combination of extensive wetland drainage and uncontrolled market shooting to supply an eager market for fresh waterfowl at Victoria Market. They have been bred extensively at Lara Research Institute for many years, in hopes of their re-introduction into Victoria. Magpie Geese are now symbolic of the Far North, but their hopeful return to local wetlands would be a welcome sight.
Many other species of birds make their homes in Pinkerton & Bushes Paddock. Some live here permanently, while others are visitors only, migrating from other places at various times of the year. The Bird Observers Club conduct regular surveys of birds, and maintain a list of the birds found here, updating it at regular intervals.
The range of habitats in and around Pinkerton & Bushes Paddock ensures a healthy population of native birds. The grassy woodland itself adjoins a sizeable remnant of restored native grassland, while itself surrounded by farmland and grazing land. The nearby Werribee River corridor, separated from the woodlands by the Western Water treatment plants (with its large collection of treatment ponds) also ensures a healthy diversity of bird life in and around these two reserves.