Wattle trees have been stripped bare on roadsides, in farmland and on the edges of some local forests.
The cause is fireblight beetles, both grubs and adults.
They are so named because trees affected by their defoliation look as though they have been scorched.
Only feathery leaved wattles are affected.
In most cases it is the black wattle, but sometimes the silver wattle has been attacked as well.
All affected trees seem to be south of the Western Highway.
Berringa, Piggoreet and Clarendon are obvious places, but there are no doubt others around the edges of the forests south of Ballarat.
Wattles planted on the edge of the Ballarat bypass road are also showing the defoliation, and there is a patch in the southern part of Woowookarung Regional Park at Canadian.
Young wattles on bushfire-burnt country at Clarendon are very severely affected - so much so that many will probably not survive the onslaught.
This is clearly visible on both sides of the Midland Highway, and it is causing concern for landowners who had earlier been impressed with the useful natural regeneration of black wattle on their properties.
Some of the affected wattles show green under the bark when scratched, indicating they have a chance of recovery, despite their dead-looking outward appearance.
Fireblight beetles are small, only a few millimetres long. The beetles and their grubs eat wattle leaves. There are a few different species.
One local sort is greenish and striped, as shown in the photo, while another is glossy bronze-brown.
Similar activity has been previously noticed in other bushfire areas.
At those places, a proportion of the wattles recovered in summer when the beetle population dropped.
Our first local report was in early September, but the damage seems to have ceased.
These are native beetles. It has been suggested that the reduction of wattle foliage may help other plants to thrive by receiving more light, thus adding to the variety of plant species after a monoculture of wattles.
Such events occur perhaps every eight to 10 years.
Four plumed whistling ducks made a surprise visit to Ballarat's North Gardens Wetlands last month.
There have since been reports of pairs from Learmonth, Tourello and Brewster. Some of these may be the same birds, but it is unlikely that the same pair has visited three locations in recent weeks.
It may be that there is a small influx of plumed whistling ducks to our district this spring.
NATURE QUERIES ANSWERED
Can you please identify this orchid?
This is a bronze caladenia. It is a tiny plant, seldom reaching 15cm, and its segments are no more than 10mm long.
There was once only one sort of bronze caladenia, but it has been separated into two.
One grows mostly in the Grampians and far western Victoria, the other mainly in eastern parts of the state. Your specimen appears to be the eastern species.
The species differ in height, size and flower colour, but some specimens are difficult to confidently identify as one or the other.
We have bronze caladenias in the Creswick and Enfield forests, usually on dry sites among leaf litter.
Although easily missed because of their size, they are not uncommon in October and November.
- Questions and photos are welcome. Send to Roger Thomas at The Courier, PO Box 21, Ballarat, 3353, or email to email@example.com