Excursion Reports

SEANA Ballarat Campout March 2010

Excursion Reports

C. A. Scott Egg Collection

The Scott Egg Collection was donated to the University of Ballarat by Timboon Field Naturalists’ Club. Charles Scott was a member of the Timboon FNC and after his death the family passed the collection onto the club. The club was aware of the need for secure storage and for a while the collection was stored at the DSE office in Colac. Fortunately it was transferred to University of Ballarat shortly before the Colac DSE offices was destroyed by fire.

The collection contains nearly 4000 eggs. They were collected from the early 1900’s. Often entire clutches of eggs were collected, including some clutches which contained a cuckoo egg. At University of Ballarat the collection has been reunited with the cabinet and draws made by Charles from old hospitable beds, the joinery shows the workmanship of a craftsman. Included in the collection are field notebooks, tools to blow eggs and tins which were used to carry eggs down from the trees.

The University of Ballarat has catalogued the collection and transferred all the information onto a database. The information recorded in the field book includes species name (often not the modern name we now use), location, structure of nest, date of collection and anecdotal, folksy observations of the surrounding area. These records make the collection invaluable. It could be used to compare past and present bird distribution, study variation in nesting times and investigate effect of climate change on birds.

Significant Trees

This excursion visited significant trees in the Ballarat city, most of which are registered on the National Trust of Australia (Vic.) Register of Significant Trees. The significant features, which qualified them to be included in the Register include the importance of the person who planted it, venerable age, outstanding size, rarity in Victoria, curious growth and aesthetic value.

The Corsican Pine in Scott Parade was part of an avenue planted in 1871 on the main road to Melbourne. An understorey of Kangaroo Grass still remains. Another Corsican Pine was planted in 1867 in front of the Synagogue. Today the trunk is 1 metre in diameter and the branches touch the Synagogue.

The Botanical Gardens of Ballarat East Town Hall contain several conifers including Spanish Fir and Blue Atlas Spruce.

At the Eastern Oval the WG Grace Elm was planted in 1874. WG Grace had played cricket on the oval twice and said it was the most English of places in Australia where he played – it was surrounded by Elms.

The grounds of Aquinas Campus of Australian Catholic University contain many large and unusual trees – Variegated Elm, Concordia Golden Oak.

An Arbor Day was held in 1890 at Victoria Park. At 11am a bugle sounded and 125 people planted trees in allocated positions – a list records the positions and species plantedby each person. Interesting trees include Pinus contorta, White Pine, Fastigate Oak. The native grasslands of the park are now maintained by a management plan that includes regular burning.

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Birds at Lake Wendouree and North Gardens Wetland

This excursion was run on Sunday and Monday mornings and visited 4 wetlands.

At Lake Wendouree the birds were concentrated in the Swan Pool with only shallow pools of water over the rest of the Lake. A Hardhead was feeding on bread with Black Duck and Grey Teal. On the opening day of duck shooting the lake was a safe place.

North Gardens Wetlands were developed about 10 years ago as a flood retarding basin and to filter water before it enters Lake Wendouree. The densely planted vegetation provides sheltered habitat for many birds. An immature Nankeen Night Heron was seen perched in the open before it flew into dense foliage.

Ballarat Common is another flood retarding basin on the north side of the Ballarat bypass. The depth of water varies with some suitable for ducks and waders. A highlight was 6 Black-fronted Dotterel with a group of White-fronted Chats.

Macarthur Park is a new wetland developed on the edge of a housing subdivision. A pleasant walk through the flourishing plantings of trees, shrubs and grasses around the ponds, but no bird sightings.

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Mineral springs of the Daylesford region.

There are at least 65 mineral springs in this area of Victoria and they and their surrounding areas are of interest to people unfamiliar with them and worth repeat visits for others. Early rain cleared before our first stop to Deep Spring. It was interesting to note the early reluctance to sample the water by some participants who, by days end, were tasting and comparing – “sweeter”, “more effervescent”, “flat”, “sulphur taste”, etc.

Next was Tipperary Spring where we had morning tea as well as mineral water and enjoyed the sunny, attractive bush and the creek replenished by recent rains. There was a large Manna Gum with Candlebarks on either side and a Blackwood Wattle nearer the creek.

Daylesford springs were next after a walk along the just overflowing Lake Daylesford which created a waterfall. European wasps shared the pumped water here and were a slight pest. We noted ripple rock and some inky cap fungi here. We were told that the very black disintegrating fungi were incorporated into ink used to make bank notes. The “threads” made forgery difficult.

Hepburn Springs was the lunch stop and people wandered along from Wyuna Spring, where there is a large Cherry Ballart, to Pavilion Spring, many enjoying the bubbly Locarno Spring. Along the way a Crimson Rosella was having a great time on red Hawthorn berries, Superb Fairy-wrens, Eastern Spinebill and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters were very vocal. New blue interpretive panels have been installed at many of these locations revealing history, anecdotes, formation and analysis.

We abandoned springs for a time and went to The Blowhole in Hepburn Regional Park. This was enlivened by an encounter with three big, unrestrained dogs rushing Peter who had crossed the bridge first. We were all worried by this and were unimpressed by the rude owners. A tunnel was cut by miners to divert water to use for gold collection. The area is very rough and steep Ordovician slate and sandstone country. It is impressive and in a good spring plants here would be showy. We noted Chinese Scrub Cassinia arcuata colonising disturbed ground, Pultenaea daphnoides and the prostrate bright green Pultenaea pedunculata. Ringing notes were heard of White-throated Treecreepers from Manna Gum on the flats and box and stringy-barks on the steep slopes.

Next was a trip to Wombat Hill gardens to admire the mature gardens and the begonia display. Some people had not seen these before and were happy to visit them. Noel Schleiger had a new pronunciation beg-on-iahs which I will remember. I was surprised how many people climbed the tower for a sweeping vista of the district. Elm-leaf Beetle damage was noted and autumn leaves are already falling.

Spargo Creek spring was next en route back to Pax Hill. This area is now rather neglected (apart from a brand new blue sign), but in the past was a social gathering place, especially on Boxing Day in early years. Botanically in a good year this is attractive, even now we noted a good range of shrubs, grasses, small yellow daisies, Woolly Tea Tree, Cassinia longifolia and lovely Candlebarks. Gorse Spider-mites were new to some of our naturalists and photos taken revealed legs on tiny red “dots”.

This excursion worked well and I think was enjoyed. Little mention has been made of plants – much of the area is developed or rather dry crunchy bush and plants were not the focus. Some birds were heard and seen. I would like now to locate some less frequented springs and a newly published book may facilitate this search.

Claire Dalman

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Buried Rivers of Gold

This excursion ran twice following the CD, Buried Rivers of Gold Heritage Trail north-west of Creswick. At most sites, the CD provided quite long talks about the items of interest, many read by local historian, Jack Sewell.

The gold bearing rivers were buried by numerous volcanoes providing major challenges to miners lured by promised wealth. The story outlines landscape, geology, architecture and town history and culminates in the Australasian mine disaster – Australia’s worst mining tragedy.

We passed through Kingston and Allendale on the way to the very impressive Andersons Mill, a five storey bluestone construction, built in 1862 and a delicately balanced huge water wheel which once milled flour. Across a beautiful bluestone bridge, through Smeaton and on past mullock heaps and mining relics. At the Hepburn Estate No. 1 mine we were able to see the remains of the Cornish pump house, built to house the engine used to pump water from the deep leads. This looks across a vast former lake which was tropical, fringed with palms and inhabited by crocodiles and dinosaurs. Hard to believe!

Sir John Monash designed a bridge which was built of concrete in 1899-1900. It is Wheelers Bridge, a “Monier” system. It has seen better days! It held for us to cross and travel past sites of the Berry group of mines which yielded vast amounts of gold. As we travelled closer to Creswick, we followed the Australasian Deep Lead until we turned off to visit the site of the New Australasian No. 2 Mine. In 1882, this mine became the site of the worst gold mining disaster in Australia, when twenty-seven men were trapped when the mine flooded. The pumps were operated continuously (at 50,000 gallons an hour) for three days until rescuers finally could enter the mine. Only five miners were found alive. The story of rescue attempts is a vivid reminder of how early, slow communication and transport hampered rescue attempts repeatedly. A quick look at the lost miner’s memorial obelisk in the Creswick cemetery completed our tour.

Claire Dalman and Zelda Martin.

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Geology Excursion – Ballarat

Excursion leader Peter D’Auverne, a mining geologist, has been looking for gold in the Ballarat region since 1983. The excursion visited a number of geological sites close to Ballarat.

1st stop – Black Hill lookout

The geological sequence of the area:

1. 600 million years ago

Soil (sands and slays) laid down in the sea horizontally. Deep down lava spread out under the land mass which was then crumpled into folds until it broke. The molten rock came up into the breaks carrying minerals, pyrite, arsenopyrite, lead, zinc and gold.

2. 400 million years ago

There were high ranges around Ballarat from which water ran off. One creek ran from Ballarat East along near Victoria St. to the west and turned south along under where Lydiard St now is. Gold dropped into the rivers and it become concentrated with in gravels.

3. 30 million years

Ballarat heaved up and rivers narrowed with gold still in the gravels. Lava from erupting volcanoes buried river channels.

4. 2 million years

Mts. Buninyong and Warrenheip were two of many other points of eruption. Gold mining commenced in 1851.By 1872 the underground rivers were exhausted of gold. Then quartz veins were mined until the early 1900’s. By 1917 all but two of the mines had closed. 13 million ounces of gold were extracted from the Ballarat gold fields. There is as much gold left in the ground now.

2nd stop – Gong Gong Reservoir

The gradually cooling granite provided the heat to keep the minerals with a lower solidification temperature (quartz, felspar and gold) molten so they could concentrate in the cracks in the rock. Gold came up in solutions in quart veins. It solidified out of solution on to other gold and hence nuggets grew.
The granite here has been used for building and to block of stone to line the water channels. The dam wall is made from the mullock heaps.

3rd stop – Gong Gong cutting on Daylesford Road

600m year old rocks were cooked by the molten basalt when it was laid down 6m years ago. ‘Glassy’ basalt where it cooled very fast, in contact with the cooler 600m year old rock.

4th stop – Norman Street road cutting

600 million years ago sands and clays were laid down as horizontal beds with the larger particles of sand on the bottom of each bed.
400 -300 million years ago the layer were folded under pressure from the ends. Leather jackets formed between the beds, mostly in anticlines. They consists of iron and clay and can be molded hence the name leather. They are an indication of where gold can be found.
There are no fossils found here, although they are found at Bendigo in slightly younger rocks.

5th stop – Old Band & Albion No.9 mine

This is the only building relic of the early gold-mining days in Ballarat. It is a Cornish pump house for the Band, Albion and Loch No. 9 Mine now hidden under ivy and other vines. The builing had top quality brickwork typical of that period, with cream brick to highlight features, such as doorways.This mine ran from 1874 until 1912 reaching down to 2300 feet. The stamper for the mine was on the banks of the Yarrowee near Leith St. Bridge where there are remains of the platform for it.

Peter Williams Geelong Field Naturalists Club

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La Gerche Walk and St Georges Lake

The shrill piping of a White-throated Treecreeper sent us on our way on a beautiful sunny, autumn day in Ballarat to Creswick and the La Gerche walk. John La Gerche was born on the Channel Island of Jersey in 1845 and whilst he was at school there, gold was discovered on the other side of the world and bushland around Creswick was to be altered forever.

An excellent student, John brought his “high moral principles and conscientious sense of duty” to the colony of Victoria in 1865. By 1870 he was operating the Wombat Sawmill near Daylesford. The mill closed and in 1882 he was appointed bailiff for the Ballarat-Creswick State Forest. He took his job of preventing the illegal cutting of timber very seriously, but his passion was to re-stock the forest. Blue Gum, Radiata Pine, Golden and Black Wattle began the process and even quinine and tea (unsuccessfully). Sawpit Gully became the focus and by 1899 an area of 300 acres containing 24,600 trees had been
planted and the adjacent nursery was in full production. This is now the Creswick Campus of the University of Melbourne, Department of Forest and Ecosystem Science.

Our fascinating walk took us past the marbled-bark Black and Western Yellow Pines and under the English and Cork Oaks in Sawpit Gully. The sunny slope of the gully was dominated by Radiata Pine and of particular interest was the “Mother tree” which, because it was regarded as the best specimen, provided the seed for many of the pine plantations of Victoria. Many other introduced plants and trees were to be noted such as Irish Strawberry,
Gorse, Ivy, Blackberry and Holly. But in amongst it all were Cherry Ballart, Silver Wattle, Tea Tree, Blackwood. Dianella and a striking orange gilled fungi and the birds were there!

Yellow Cockatoos creaked overhead, a White-fronted Treecreeper piped, Crimson Rosellas chimed, a Golden Whistler was seen, Grey Fantails flitted as did Blue Wrens. A short stop for a “cuppa” at St George’s Lake added a Scarlet Robin, Wood Duck, Black Duck, Coots and a Bronzewing to the list. A most historically interesting afternoon was enjoyed by all.

Chris Baulch

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Buninyong Botanical Gardens

Despite being a long term Ballarat resident, this is the first time I have visited these scenic gardens. They were first established in 1861 and were planned in two sections totalling 10 acres. Part two is mainly open space with the “Gong” swamp area now dry. At the end is an early 19th C dry stone wall. There are 4 heritage trees, all Acer species, one being Red Norway Maple Acer platanoides and another Italian Maple A opalus. The great dividing trail also goes through this area.

The main gardens have many trees, a pleasing duck pond and bridge, an Avenue of Honour at the entrance and an attractive and recently restored rotunda that was first built in 1901. At the side is a sunken walled garden area that was originally the swimming pool. The pool was built in the 1870’s and was fed by nearby springs. This area has recently been neatly renovated under the Work for the Dole scheme.Notes about the early Curator’s duties were detailed – he had to look after the ponds, thebaths and the animals, as well as the gardens and teach the children to swim! In another area there is a brick stove where the Curator and family boiled water and sold food to picnickers as a fundraising exercise.

After thanking our volunteer guide we headed up Mount Buninyong – Height 745m. A Wedge-tailed Eagle flew beside us for a while as we ascended giving a great view. Some of the group climbed the tower at the top, being rewarded with great views of Ballarat and distant hills. The fire at Mt Cole area could also be seen. Another surprise was seeing a Koala sleeping in the trunk of a tree in the car park area.

Val Hocking

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Guest Speaker: Ern Perkins “Monitoring Change in Natural Ecosystems”.

Ern has been recording data in the Castlemaine are for many years. He has used a variety of methods including photopoint, 20 x 20 metre quadrat surveys of vegetation and 20 minute, 2 hectare bird searches. Repeated surveys have been done in the same area several times a year for periods of 10 or more years. The results have been analysed to show changes over time. Some of Ern’s startling conclusions were that logged or burnt ecosystems do not recover in drought times (although riparian areas do OK) and most birds are in serious decline while a few are enjoying population increases.

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