Flora and Fauna
Goulburn River billabongs
From Cathkin to Molesworth you can observe the Goulburn River billabongs. These fertile soils encourage lush growth, and are a favoured area for farming. Likewise, many birds and animals will use these areas due to increased food resources.
Mistletoe and the mistletoe bird
Mistletoe is naturally occurring and provides an important food source for birds and butterflies, often during dry times when other plants aren’t flowering. The mistletoe is a parasite, but only becomes a threat to the tree when more than 30% of the tree is covered. Trees that are isolated are at most risk of mistletoe. The mistletoe bird feeds on the mistletoe seed – a sticky, gelatinous fruit that passes through the bird’s intestine rapidly – in about 8 minutes. To remove the sticky seed from its rectum, it straddles the branch and wipes its tail – thereby starting a new mistletoe. That’s a lot of wiping … and a lot of new mistletoe …
The Merton Railway & Cemetery Walk offers an easy 1.2 km return journey through a local example of a Grassy Woodland ecosystem. This is land consisting mainly of native grasses and other herbaceous species with an over-story of scattered trees.
Starting at the Information Centre, the walk follows the old railway line as far as the Merton Cemetery. It starts with open grassland consisting mainly of Kangaroo grass and some young Silver Wattles. As the walk continues the grassland gives way to light forest consisting mainly of broad leaf peppermints and later on Red Gums, Yellow Box and some Blackwoods which can be seen nearer to the cemetery.
Some of the plants which can be seen on this walk are:
- Kangaroo grass
- Spear Grass
- Wallaby Grass
- Weeping grass
- Thin Leaf wattle
- Silver Wattle
- Varnish Wattle
- Red Gum
- Broad Leaf
- Yellow Box
- White Gum
The rich biodiversity of this area doesn't end there.. Keep an eye out for these creatures great and small...
Amazing Golden Sun Moths Synemon plana
Golden Sun Moths have been found on properties close to Merton. They were once common across grassy plains, but are now endangered from changing land management.
They hatch from late November through December. The Merton trail travels through potential Golden Sun Moth habitat. The male will travel through native grass, flashing his golden coloured hind wing to attract the female.
Adult Golden Sun Moths only live for 2 – 5 days and are unable to eat while in the moth form. Females rarely fly. They too crawl through grass, flashing their colourful hind wings to attract passing males. Males hover over grass tussocks in search of females. Often it is males flying low that are spotted during early November to mid-December.
After mating, the female lays around 150 eggs at the base of a wallaby grass tussock. She inserts the eggs into soil crevices, and as the larvae hatch, they feed exclusively on the roots of Wallaby Grass. The larvae, (or caterpillar) take between one to three years to develop.
Ants in their pants
Echidnas are one of only two egg laying mammals (monotremes) in the world. The other is the platypus. Echidnas feed entirely often creating pockets of diggings over an ant nest. They hibernate over winter, becoming active as day time temperatures increase in August. August to September is a time of activity when they are hungry after their quiet winter, and this is the main mating period.
I am not a snake!
The legless lizard at first sight, might be mistaken for a small snake, however it differs in a number of ways. Striped Legless Lizards have long tails which can be shed, two small rudimentary hind limbs (which look like small flaps) and external ear openings. They have a broad flat tongue, unlike the forked tongue of snakes and often emit squeaking noises when disturbed. They are not venomous. The Striped Legless Lizard is tan and light grey in colour with a darker head and often a yellow face. It has a pattern of light and dark parallel lines running the length of the body, though some individuals have only very faint stripes or no stripes at all. Juveniles may be only 8 to 12cm long and weigh less than 1 gram. Adults can grow to about 30cm (more usually 20-25cm). Up to three-quarters of this is tail. The closely related Olive Legless Lizard is grey to olive in colour, often with a black lining to individual scales. Adults are longer and thicker than the Striped Legless Lizard, growing up to 35-40cm long. The two species can be very difficult to tell apart.
Whilst active during daylight hours, the Striped Legless Lizard’s ability to remain camouflaged means it is rarely seen. Refuge sites such as cracks in the ground (formed in late summer when clay soils of the grasslands dry out), crevices under rocks, the base of grass tussocks and in or under fallen timber, are vital to the lizard's survival.
Striped Legless Lizards live predominantly in remnant native grassland and grassy woodland areas. All recent records of this animal in the Goulburn Broken come from the Upper catchment, where they have been found in a variety of locations (gullies, slopes and ridges) and are often found in ‘unimproved’ paddocks, or on roadsides with good grass cover. Though they used to occur widely on the northern plains, there are no recent records.
NOT FRIENDS OF MINE...
The biggest threat to the Striped Legless Lizard has been the dramatic decline in area of its native habitat. In many cases remaining patches of habitat are further threatened by:
- Heavy grazing that causes trampling and removal of the grass layer, which in turn leads to loss of shelter and egg-laying sites, and an increase in predation.
- Ploughing, which destroys habitats and individual animals.
- Rock and large woody debris removal, which disturbs habitat and reduces shelter and egg-laying sites.
- Poorly timed burning of grasslands, particularly in spring when soils are moist, and few cracks are available for animals to escape the fire.
- Urban development, which can permanently destroy habitat and increase disturbance in nearby grassland remnants.
- Weed invasion, which degrades native grassland habitat.
THERE ARE OTHERS LIKE ME... BUT WITHOUT THE STRIPES
In the Goulburn Broken Catchment, confusion is most likely between the Striped Legless Lizard and the Olive Legless Lizard (Delma inornata). The Olive Legless Lizard, growing to 35-40cm, is larger and more robust. The major cause of confusion is that Striped Legless Lizards don’t always have stripes; many individuals are a pale brown/tan colour, similar to the Olive Legless Lizard. Still known to occur on the northern plains, the Olive Legless Lizard’s distribution is now restricted to pockets of remnant habitat (grassland and grassy woodland).
Two skinks are often confused with legless lizards - Three-toed Skink and Bougainville’s Skink.
IT’S NOT EASY BEING A LEGLESS LIZARD
The Striped Legless Lizard relies on grassland and grassy woodland habitat for survival. Most of the native grassland habitat in the Goulburn Broken Catchment has been extensively modified or removed. Remaining high quality habitat is very fragmented and limited in area.
The Striped Legless Lizard is listed as threatened and vulnerable under various international, commonwealth, state and territory legislation.
Birds and more
Don’t forget to look up - the bird life along the Rail Trail is as varied as the landscape. The Wetlands in Yea and Mansfield host many different species.
Looking up can deliver more than just feathers. Kookaburras, kingfishers and even koalas can all be spotted.
Wedge Tail Eagles are often sighted soaring high above you.
Kangaroos, wallabies and wombats can also be seen.
Watch out for the occasional snake crossing the trail too – they are always best avoided.