Cassinia shrub’s not widespread in Ballarat

SMALL SHRUB: Some smooth cassinia, photographed this week at Woowookarung Regional Park at Canadian, on the edge of Ballarat.
SMALL SHRUB: Some smooth cassinia, photographed this week at Woowookarung Regional Park at Canadian, on the edge of Ballarat.

The small shrub known as smooth cassinia is common in parts of the Woowookarung Regional Park at Canadian, but is very scarce elsewhere in the Ballarat region.

There is a small population in some dry bushland above the Yarrowee River at Brown Hill, and that appears to be its limit within 50km of Ballarat.

There are no records for the nearby Creswick forest that extends north from the Brown Hill population, nor from the extensive Enfield-Linton forest. Suitable habitat appears to exist in both these forests.

Its occurrence at Woowookarung adds value to this newly-created park on the edge of Ballarat. Found mostly where open ground has been disturbed in recent years, it is rare in undisturbed, mature parts of the park.

The bushy flower clusters are prominent there at this time of year. Like other cassinia shrubs, this one is a pioneer plant, growing soon after disturbance and providing shelter for other plants to grow. And, like most pioneer plants, it does not live long, up to five years or so. It is a small bushy shrub, less than a metre tall.

This shrub has had recent changes to its names. It was once known as sticky cassinia, Cassinia uncata, but that species has now been divided into several, so our local one is now called the smooth cassinia, with the botanical name of Cassinia complanata.

COUNTING BIRDS

A March count of Lake Wendouree’s birds has revealed totals of 120 black swans, 15 great crested grebes and 16 musk ducks.

Populations of most species were as expected, except for the musk ducks, which are less than half the total expected at the end of a breeding season. Three months ago there were 25.

Swan numbers were also down, from 162 in December to 120 in March.

There were 980 coots counted, along with 350 black ducks and 126 wood ducks. Only five grey teal were noted, and no hardheads. The freckled duck total was relatively high, at 52. Numbers of great cormorants were surprisingly high, at 42. Normally we would expect up to a dozen.

Great crested grebes totalled only 15, and no young birds were seen. These grebes have been nesting since October without success, with rakalis (water rats) being blamed for this.

It is pleasing to see the waterbirds using the uncut water-milfoil (lakeweed) for resting and feeding. More of this aquatic vegetation is being left uncut and it is having the desired effect of attracting many waterbirds. The total number of bird species counted a week ago was 44.