Friday, 29 April 2011

Banks' legacy

When Joseph Banks collected specimens of flora at Botany Bay in 1770 on James Cook's voyage of discovery one genus of plants would forever recognise his significance by bearing his name; Banksias.
Together with Solander he collected four of the some 76 species that occur naturally in Australia and of those only one is found elsewhere. The vast majority of the species are found in Western Australia and those are generally rather difficult to grow in the east due to the climatic and soil variations. They are favourite plants for their fantastic flower spikes that birds love, the seed cones that all Australian kids know as Banksia men from the May Gibbs' childrens' stories and their sculptural forms. Some of our examples are coming into flower at present so I snapped a few today.

Banksia ericifolia  Flowers unopened

Banksia spinulosa var. collina

Banksia spinulosa Banksia Golden candles cultivar

Banksia integrifolia  Coast Banksia

Banksia plagiocarpa with Lewin honeyeater
Banksia aemula  Seed cone unopened follicles

Web of gold

The golden silk of this Orb weaver gives it the common name, Golden Orb Weaver Nephila plumipes which is one of  three GOW  (Nephila maculata found in the tropical regions, is the largest and can be up to 45mm long) in Australia and is found throughout tropical and temperate regions. The female is the web builder and is a giant compared to the tiny male who spends most of his time on the outer edges of the web picking up the smaller insects snared and being ready to mate when he gets a chance without being eaten. The web once built is added to and constantly maintained. The web is often home to a number of smaller spider species such as the Quicksilver spiders and they probably benefit from the discarded husks of the orb weaver's prey that are kept hanging in the web.

Night visitor

Had a visit last night from a White Stem Wattle Moth Chelepteryx chalepteryx (f) which attracted by the light landed on a window screen and stayed there so I could lay the screen down to get a few photos. It is one of the larger moths with a wingspan of about 10cm with very attractive markings and the hind wings which were unfortunately fairly well hidden have rusty red colour markings. It is found over Eastern Australia where its caterpillars feed on mainly on wattle species.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

New winter outfit

The blady grass and lomandra clumps that are the main vegetation of our front paddock are ideal habitat for one of the most unusual birds on the property, the Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus.  Coucals are part of the cuckoo family but unlike their relatives they make their own nest and raise their young. The Pheasant Coucal is Australia's only Coucal and is found in coastal regions through northern Australia and down the east coast to about 200k south of Sydney. They are ungainly birds in the air taking short flapping and gliding flights and generally prefer to run through the long rank grass. They are seen often perched on a low vantage point above the grass taking the sun and quickly drop into the grass if disturbed. Through the summer breeding season they have black body plumage but as we have the first taste of winter weather it has been replaced by their winter finery. There were two enjoying the sun this morning as I was driving up the track and I managed to get a couple of photos to show off their winter fashion.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A day for the birds

Cool, showers and a fresh breeze not a great day for outside activities, but it seems to have been weather for the birds.The breeze was enjoyed by the raptores, with a visit from the wedge-tail eagle family spiraling around the hillside for a while, a pair of white-breasted  sea eagles sailed past as did a whistling kite, whilst a sparrow hawk swooped through the tree tops trying to flush out one of the small birds. Of these I only managed to snap a quick silloette of one of the wedge-tails overhead.
However the first of the birds to have me grab the camera today was a cuckoo whose unmistakable call kept being repeated from a tree nearby. This continual repeating of their call has a benefit of allowing you to find where they are with relative ease and then it is just a bit of luck if you can get close enough for a shot. When I got a look at the cuckoo I could see it was the Fan-tailed Cuckoo which I had expected from its call and the fact that I had seen one around lately, but had not been able to get a photo. Today I was lucky it flew from the tree where I tracked it to another where I had a much better position for the photo and was very pleased to get a few shots. At the same time out of the corner of my eye caught a glimpse of a Golden Whistler.

 Tried to keep an eye on it while photographing the cuckoo and hoping to get a shot of it next. However it moved off into trees further away and I lost sight of it. But as luck would have it, later on it I found it in a tree where I did get a shot albeit not ideal. It is of the male bird as the female is a rather plain olive-brown.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

House proud Bull-ants

Following the wet weather, the Bull-ants are busy tidying up the nest and bringing bits and pieces to add to the appearance of their nest entrance.
These are the largest of Australian ants, they also have a fearsome reputation as a result of the painful sting they can inflict. There are over 65 species in Australia with the best known being the red (Myrmecia gulosa) and the black (Myrmecia negrascarpa) (pictured) and these are most likely to be seen our gardens, as well as their smaller but more aggressive Jumping Joeys or Jumping Jacks (Myrmecia pulosa). Their sting is inflicted not by their massive jaws which are used to grip whilst they stab the sting which is on the end of their abdomen into their victim. However despite their appearance the adult ants are sippers of nectar and sugars  and only the larvae are fed on insects.
In our pool garden we have two nests of the black Bull-ants and they are not at all aggressive unless you intrude on the nest. We have not tried to eliminate the nests as we work on the theory that if you know where they are, you are unlikely to get stung. So far we have found this works which is more than I can say for Jumping Joeys which wander far and wide and are happy to sting you at the slightest opportunity.

Together again

The search for mum was successful as both mum and youngster were together again this morning. The youngster was sticking very close,  no adventures today.

Monday, 25 April 2011

It's scary on my own.

Our young wallaby is spending more time outside mum's pouch, but this morning it was looking a bit scared and lonely, with mum not to be seen anywhere nearby. With drizzling rain and being a bit cooler than the past few days it was shivering and hunched down on the rocks. It blends in rather well and must have felt a bit more secure close to the house rather than out in the open. I saw one of the dingos a couple of days ago, so it is a risky time for youngsters to be on their own. The rain stopped and the sun came out which gave it some confidence to move around, have a nibble on some plants and then after about an hour head off to see if mum could be found. Haven't seen it or mum during the day, so guess we will have to see if they both turn up together in the next couple of days.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Honeyeaters love "Honey Gem"

Grevilleas are a favourite food source for Honeyeaters and we have added many to our garden, both naturally occuring varieties as well as hybrid cultivars and as a result have the pleasure of lots of visits from many Honeyeater species. A hybrid cultivar that they all favour is the "Honey Gem" as it is a profuse flowering plant and has loads of nectar. We planted one right outside the office and we are treated to being able to watch the birds as a break from working on the computer.This morning a group of Brown-headed Honeyeaters arrived to spend sometime working across the flower heads. They are one of seven species of "White-naped Honeyeaters
and range through southern Australia up the east coast into Queensland.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

peronii eye

Another look at one of our friendly frogs, Litoria peronii, Peron's Tree Frog which I found in a bucket of rain water that I wanted to empty to try and reduce our mosquito population. This meant a relocation that also gave me an opportunity to get a few portrait photos. They have beautiful eyes and striking yellow and black markings in the inside of their thighs and under arms, but not often on display, so it was the eye that got to be featured.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Sugar Glider death

Awoke to find our power was off and on checking the fuses found that a drop-down fuse on the high voltage line had been blown and then I found the poor little Sugar Glider, on the ground at the base of the pole. The poles have a barrier to stop possums climbing them, but Sugar Gliders can cover a large distance with a glide and bypass the need to climb the pole. To them it is just a convenient alternative to a tree to launch the next phase of a glide, as they move around their territory looking for food sources.
Sugar Gliders Petaurus breviceps are fairly common and have a range across north, east and south eastern Australia as well as New Guinea. There are seven sub-species recognised in Australia and four in New Guinea.
Being nocturnal they are not seen that often, so to most people they are an unknown animal even if they are in their backyard.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Frogs and a turkey

Spent today in the orchard and vegetable garden, doing some much needed tidying, fertilizing. Picked the first variety of the citrus season, Calomondins for marmalade. In the vegetable garden found a couple of frogs for today's blog, the first being a Rocket Frog Litoria nasuta, which as its name implies can launch itself in very long leaps. It is found throughout the north and north-east wet regions of Australia with its southern range in our vicinity. The second was our most prevalent frog the Dwarf Tree Frog Litoria fallax which was perched on the top of a pumpkin. This frog species is quite variable in its colouring, but this particular one was just beautiful, almost iridescent green.
I thought that was going to be it for today's blog, but just on dark as I was closing the garage door a Brush Turkey just wandered past. This is the first that we have seen on our property, although we have heard they were in the area. They are quite interesting large birds and they are generally regarded with a bit of love and hate as they can cause huge problems in gardens.

Brush-Turkeys Alectura lathami  

One of the mound building birds of Australia, the Brush-Turkey (also called Scrub-Turkey) had a distribution from Cape York south to the Illawarra region of NSW. Its range had shrunk north to the far north coast of NSW but with the changes in suburban gardens and an increase in coastal national parks and reserves it is recolonising much of its past range. They are found in rainforests, wet coastal forests and gardens bordering these habitats. The need to build a large mound to incubate their eggs tends to dominate their existence and the mounds can grow to about 6m diameter and up to 2m in height. The female deposits the eggs in holes about .5m deep in the mound and then the male bird is responsible for maintaining the temperature control of the mound to incubate the eggs.

Brush Turkey Qld. 2007

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Hanging out & quail of a time

Our changeable weather at present means perfect one day, ordinary the next, so today wet and cool, but the wildlife seem quite happy with the conditions as there were lots out and about. However our wallaby mum was not too keen and spent a few hours just in front of the office hunkered down in the drizzling rain. She would shake off the rain have a nibble on some grass and shrubs and generally take it easy, as she is carrying around a bit more weight. On a day like this staying indoors seems like the best option for a young joey, although it can get a bit cramped, so you need to have a stretch every now and then.

Whilst I was working with my photos on the computer I noticed a few quail fly across and one misjudged its flight and banged into the mesh fence around the pool garden. It dropped to the ground a little bit stunned so grabbed the camera and set off to see if it was OK and also get a photo. No need to worry, it was off under the fence and heading for the other side of the garden before I got near. Seeing where it dropped into the shrubs I managed to get in position without being spotted, then noticed the other two quail were on the other side of the fence. There was some calling going on between them and the problem of how to get together seemed to be the main topic, as they moved along the fence looking for a gap they could get under. I figured they would work it out, so I managed to get a photo without disturbing them and left it to them to solve the problem.

Brown Quail Synoicus australis

Friday, 15 April 2011

Where did it go?

Noticed a Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis pyrrhophanus busy wiping a fat juicy caterpillar on a branch to remove the irritating hairs. I grabbed the camera to get a shot and just as I am getting the focus set, a Grey Butcher Bird Cracticus torquatus swooped down with the idea of snatching the caterpillar. The cuckoo wasn't waiting around thinking it might be on the menu, so decided to drop the caterpillar to create a diversion. The butcher bird however, only interested in the caterpillar landed on the branch and then spent a few futile minutes trying to find the caterpillar, without success, so both birds missed their meal and the caterpillar got to live a another day minus some hairs.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

A butterfly day

Orange Palm Dart (f) Cephrenes augiades sperthias
Orange Palm Dart (m)
A perfect autumn day, cloudless sky, a light breeze and pleasant temperature make this arguably the best time of the year in our region. Today it was one for the butterflies that seemed to be making the most of the weather, depositing eggs on the plants that their larvae require. The most prevalent appeared to be the Common Jezabel,  catching your eye as they fluttered by, flashing white wings then black wings, from one mistletoe to the next, to lay their eggs on the new growth. There are not as many Orchard Butterflies, Wanderers and Lesser Wanderers now, but still a few sighted. A Blue Triangle and a Caper White put in brief hurried appearances whilst the Common Browns and Sword-grass Browns are still in residence. Yellow Migrants are here and very active barely touching down to deposit an egg, a flash of lemon flitting here and there making it hard to get a photo. Orange Palm Darts on the other hand are quite happy to spend some time just resting on the food plant (the palms in our garden) intended for their larvae (unfortunately they do a lot of damage to the palm leaves so there is a bit of culling required). At this time of year one of the visiting butterfly species is the Glasswing Acraea andromacha andromacha  which is the only Australian representative of this Genus (although there are many examples in Africa). They are found through northern Australia and down the east Coast but rarely as far as Melbourne. They are delightful to watch as they glide seemingly wafting along on the breeze, with the sun shining through their transparent forewings. At present they are searching out wild passionfruit plants to lay their eggs, also depositing some on the edible passionfruit plants, which is unfortunate as the larvae cannot feed on that species. All in all a great day for butterflies.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Drongo by name not by nature

It is a it rough when you are called a "drongo," as in Australia this is slang for someone who is a bit of a fool, so it is unfortunate for the Spangled Drongo Dicrurus bracteatus which just happens to be the only species of avian Drongos in Australia. There are many other species of Drongos in the "Old World" tropics and the name originates from the native Madagascan language. The Spangled Drongo is migratory in the southern part of its range down the east coast arriving around October and departing for northern Australia and New Guinea through Autumn. We usually see quite a few through summer but this is the first this season. Unfortunately I could only get a photo against the light so the iridescence of the feathers is not showing, which with their unusual fishtail and their aerial feats as the hunt insects on the wing, make them very striking birds.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Pied Butcher

As with many avian hunters, the Pied Butcher-birds Cracticus nigrogularis like to use the power lines as a vantage point to spot their prey, lizards, small birds, frogs, grasshoppers and other insects. Another hunting technique is to follow you when you are on the mower or tractor cutting grass or burning off a paddock, then they pounce on any likely prey that is flushed out. They get their name from their habit of wedging their larger prey in the fork of a tree branch to assist the dismemberment, but they do not store their food like "Old World" shrikes, which are often referred to as butcher-birds. Two species of Butcher-birds are widespread through Australia and both are regular visitors on our property. They are renowned for their beautiful musical calls with fluting warbles and trills.    

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Whip cracking

A sound synonymous with the Australian bush (on the east coast), is the unforgettable call of the Eastern Whipbird Psophodes olivaceus, a piercing whipcrack whistle heard on many bushwalks and usually without seeing the bird making the call. They are a ground frequenting bird found in the dense underscrub of rainforests and their margins, as well as the wet woodlands. We are fortunate to have at least one pair that spend some time around our house in the dense shrubs. The male is responsible for the whipcrack and the female if in the vicinity generally answers with a resemblance of an echo. As well as the whipcrack they have chuckles and melodic whistles in their repertoire. The male at times will come to the garden behind the cottage to make his whipcracks as the back porch acts like a sound shell to broadcast the call. They are very wary birds and will quickly disappear if they see you. This photo was taken from inside the house with the windows acting like a mirror to block his view inside.

Friday, 8 April 2011

A Common Brown shows her colours

At rest on the leaf and wood litter a Common Brown (f) Heteronympha merope merope  is well disguised and often overlooked until taking flight to give itself away, with a show of colour. One of our most common butterflies, they are regularly seen in the garden feeding in flowers or at rest on the ground.
Today's fine weather was appreciated by the butterflies to catch up on a good feed after a few days of rain.
This female feeding on Buddleja flowers is showing a bit of colour on the fore wing but as well as feeding also took the opportunity to do some sunbathing and show her hidden colours.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Fungi fruits

We are having on going wet weather and it is just perfect for fungi fruiting, so today between rain showers I managed to get a few shots of the fungi fruits that are pushing up all around the property. They have wonderful colour and shape but identification is a bit tricky for me so I am not confident enough to to name them.

At last one I know, a field mushroom Agaricus campestris

Friday, 1 April 2011

False eyes, false teeth

Sword-grass brown Tisiphone abeona abeona
Yesterday a southerly change brought thunderstorms and torrential rain (80mm in 4hrs) but today we were back to beautiful autumn weather and our wildlife seemed to be out and about to make the most of the change. Butterflies were flitting around the flowers to share them with the birds and one of our Diamond Pythons was out to get a bit of warmth from the morning sun. I took a couple of photos and when I looked at them I was drawn to the markings that look like false features, eyes on the butterfly and teeth on the python.
Diamond python Python spilotus spilotus

I can see why the butterfly would want the large eyes to fool a potential predator but the markings on the python are more bizarre and seem to have some other purpose.
Python about to slide under the garden fence, with the most recent meal a visible bulge in the mid-section.