Sunday, 30 October 2011

Pink tongue hidden

A change in the weather around midday brought a thunderstorm and put an end to the work that I was going to do outside, so instead I was working undercover on the verandah. Di came to have a look at my progress and chanced to look over the verandah rail and directly below and spotted what she initially thought was a sloughed snake skin but then realised was a live skink. Checking it out, I thought it was a young Blue-tongued Lizard and went to get the camera for a photo or two. I took a couple from the verandah, directly above the lizard, just to be sure I had a record in case it disappeared before I could get a shot from a better position. It was in a spot where I only had one other vantage point and fortunately it stayed for a couple more photos. By now I was thinking that it was possibly another species as it seemed too long and slender to be a Blue Tongue. Checking my lizard reference I was very pleased to find that we had a Pink-tongued Skink or Lizard Cyclodomorphus gerrardii, a first sighting for us and another reptile to add to the list for our property.

Not as common as its Blue-tongue relative, it is more slender with a slightly prehensile tail and grows to about 30cm, which was the size of this one. They are found from The Cape York Peninsular down the east coast to just north of Sydney, in bushland bordering rainforest and wet eucalypt forest. Like the Blue-tongue they are a positive critter to have around your garden, as snails and slugs are part of their diet. It is best not to handle these lizards as they have a very strong bite that can be very painful, as people also often find when they handle Blue-tongues.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A morning in the big backyard

A southerly change last night brought cool wet weather, which was a little unfortunate as we were scheduled to do a morning whale watch cruise to see Humpback Whales migrate back to Antarctica for summer. It is getting towards the end of the migration south and most of the pods consist of females with calves, as the males generally head south earlier in the season. Deciding we would go regardless of the weather, we were soon aboard the Whale watch catermaran Amaroo and heading offshore, however on the way out of Wallis Lake we were able to take in some of the birdlife. Wallis Lake is home to quite a number Osprey and I was pleased to see a few. The first was perched atop of a power pole, which is quite common as they regularly build their nests on the poles.

The power company is active in erecting alternative poles to relocate nests to reduce the chances of the birds being electrocuted. The birds are generally quite happy with this arrangement and readily take to the new nests.
The lake is one of the largest oyster farming areas in Australia so there are lots of posts and fences that form part of the farm structures and they make ideal perches. Other birds took to the air as we went past and gave me a coupe of aerial shots.

Pied Oyster Catcher

Australian Pelican
Pied Cormorant
Pair of Osprey
We were able to watch some dolphins that were moving up the lake with the incoming tide; the pass under the road bridge and up the channel, past birds on a sand bank and along the breakwall to the open sea.

Crested Terns

Crested Tern takes flight
 Once outside we were faced with a bit of a swell that built up with the southerly wind, but we were blocked from the worst of it by the Cape Hawke headland and the nearest pod was reported to be in the vicinity. On the horizon we could see that whales were breaching and in general being quite active, whereas we we not having much luck. Then a calf surfaced almost directly under the boat and things were looking much more promising. However although we managed to see whales surfacing and diving we did not get any real dramatic displays; such is the way with whale watching; maybe next time.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A "Tradie" Bee

Our Christmas Bush is now in flower, but the bracts that colour brilliant red will not develop their colouring until later next month to be on show for Christmas. However today the flowers were the main attraction for lots of insects; bees, beetles, flies and wasps that were very busy working over the flowers. Some that I couldn't miss were large metallic bees that were buzzing to and fro from the flower clusters.

  These bees which are at least twice the size of honey bees are probably Metallic Green Carpenter Bees, Xylocopa Areatus (although bombyylans is also a possibility) and are one of 8 native species of the Genus. They are sometimes referred to as Grass Tree bees, as they often bore the hole their nest in the trunks of the plants, but they will also utilise other soft barked trees. They have a sting, but are not aggressive and people being stung is not particularly known. They were not staying still and it was quite overcast so not a particularly good photo.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Lewins' nest building

 Recently a pair of  resident Lewin Honeyeaters Meliphaga lewinii, started working on a nest in the clump of bamboo palm that we have in the garden at our front entrance. We have a window directly opposite, so we are looking forward to seeing the development of the nest and hoping we are going to be lucky enough to see a family reared.

The nest was commenced using spiderweb to attach to the stem and since they have been adding grasses and downy seed materia,l interwoven with more spiderweb.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Insect, reptile and bird

A beautiful day and on a wander through the garden notice a moth with large antennae on the underside of a branch on a grevillea and I took a couple of shots and then  moved the branch to try and get a better angle but no luck it was off. my attempt at identification from the Butterfly House website would seem to place it in the Noctuoidea with two possible species either Epicoma contristis (my best guess) or the similar Epicoma tristis.

Later in the morning I heard a slithering as I was walking past a shrub and looked up to see a Common Green Tree Snake that was startled by my presence but was now looking me very closely to see if I was any sort of threat.

A harmless diurnal species the Common Tree Snake Dendrelaphis punctulatus is found in coastal regions of northern and eastern Australia. Being arboreal and hunting frogs, insects, small birds and mammals it relies substantially on its good binocular eyesight to give it accurate striking distance perception.
A bird nearby where I was working in the garden was in full song with lots of melodious whistling, chattering and being a bit of a mimic of other species. A distant glimpse suggested it was a Spectacled Flycatcher that I had been trying to get a good photo, but it was not going to come close enough. Then a chance would have it whilst we we having coffee on the verandah, I heard the same songs from the tree directly in front, but again couldn't get a good sight of the bird. It then flew to the next tree and sat on a clump of mistletoe long enough for me to get one quick photo.

I could see that it was not a Spectacled flycatcher but on checking identification found it to be a Black-faced Flycatcher Monarcha melanopsis that range right down the east coast of Australia and my first sighting of this species on our property so very pleased.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Bird calls

With breeding season well underway we awake every morning to a chorus of many differing bird voices and it is very pleasant to spend some time identifying as many species as you can from their calls. This morning we were up to about a dozen species before getting up for breakfast. A little later in the morning I heard a call that I had noted a few times of late but been able to find the bird that was calling. The call is a very deep "oom, oom, oom" repeated for a short time then stopped. Today I was able to get a fix on the general location and then searched the trees as I though it could be a Tawny Frog-mouth (a nocturnal bird that roosts in trees during the day looking very much like a dead branch) that at times call during the day. Then I heard a noise in the leaf litter and caught a glimpse of a smallish bird, but not enough for identification and then it disappeared.Thinking it might be a quail, but not our regular Brown Quail (as it has the wrong call) I checked our bird book and sure enough the female Painted Quail makes exactly the right call. Then as luck would have it a little later I spotted the quail working through some leaf litter behind our shed and was able to get close enough for a positive identification but unfortunately couldn't get a clear line for a photo so just the following, with some grass in the way.

Painted Quail Turnix varia found down the coast and adjacent ranges from North Queensland to south east SA and south west WA. Not a true quail they are one of the Bustard or button Quails.
Another bird that is very vocal at present is the Fantail Cuckoo and I did manage to get a photo of one  that was busy competing with a few others in the vicinity.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Pool rescue

A few showers of rain during the night had frogs out and about, however one made the wrong hop and ended in our pool, so required rescuing this morning from the skimmer box. This is a problem we haven't been able to completely solve. The morning check comes to the rescue and a relocation to the garden.

I had some trouble with the identification as there are a few species in the genera that are very similar and all have wide variations in their colouring. However working on the noted differences, this one seems to be a Dusky Toadlet Uperoleia fusca which is found down the coastal areas from mid Queensland to mid NSW.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Keeping an eye out

Overcast, windy and not all that pleasant but that was not a problem for a Common Long-necked Tortoise Chelodina longicollis  that is out of its winter hibernation and was busy working along the edge of one of our dams. It was gradually moving along the edge and getting its head down into the debris above the mud and looking for yabbies, tadpoles and insect larvae. They are regular inhabitants in the dams throughout the warm weather and reportedly some spend their winter hibernation in the water and absorb oxygen through their cloacal cavities allowing them to remain submerged for many months.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

A sacred bird

Throughout history many animals have been named sacred but I haven't found the reason for the naming of one our kingfisher species as sacred. Of course it could have been that the person who discovered this bird was so taken by the magnificent colour thought it should be made sacred. So we have the pleasure each year of visits by at least a pair of Sacred Kingfishers Todiramphus sanctus. 

Their favourite nesting site is a hollow they have made in a large termite nest, high in one of our eucalyptus and when not at the nest, they are busy working the forest looking for insects ,frogs and lizards. They are one of Australia's ten species of kingfishers and are quite wide spread over the continent. Many of the wintering birds will travel though the islands to the north and as far as Indonesia and they are also found on Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island and across to New Zealand.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Pest Control

A welcome visitor to the vegetable garden today was one of numerous species of mantids found in Australia. As voracious predators of insects and their larvae mantids are a positive natural pest control agent (although non pest insects or even frogs are not excluded from their diet)

This visitor is one of the larger species, with the common name of Stick or Large Brown Mantis Archimantis latistyla  and is a female as can be seen by the short wings meaning she is flightless. This means that the males with full wings must fly in search of the females for mating and then be careful not to be eaten. The two spots on the fore wings are one of the distinguishing characteristics of this species.

As with all the mantis the adapted forelegs are the lethal weapons. capturing their prey as reach out and then snap shut impaling the prey on the spikes.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Whistler comp.

Following the flight of a King Parrot to try and get a photo I came upon a group of Rufous Whistlers Pachycephala rufiventris in the midst of a whistling competition to attract mates. They have a beautiful melodious whistle with both males and females very active, moving around the trees and shrubs chasing off rivals as they gave voice to their songs. With the King Parrot now gone, I concentrated on getting photos of the whistlers and it was a particularly frustrating time, as they barely stayed still long enough to get focused. Although I managed to get two photos I couldn't get a mature male, with full colour, to sit still.

Immature Male Rufous Whistler in full song
Female Rufous Whistler

  The females as well as whistling also do a display, dipping their heads, spreading wings and flicking up the tail, where as the males seem to rely on the whistling performance and chasing off rivals.
They have the most extensive range of the nine whistlers found in Australia being found throughout the country, but they are only migratory in our area arriving in spring and departing north for winter.

Saturday, 8 October 2011


They maybe ungainly on land, stately on the water but unquestionably masters of flight in the air. Australian Pelicans Pelecanus conspicillatus soaring on the airlift from updrafts circled briefly overhead as they gained height for their flight to another part of the waterway.

Found on waterways throughout Australia and at present in huge numbers to breed at Lake Eyre in central Australia that is experiencing one of its rare periods of flood. In our area we have a resident population that is boosted by birds from the interior during periods of drought.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Camouflage outfit

Doing a spot of weeding in the vegetable garden and disturbed this moth that was well hidden amongst the weeds to wait for dark. It is one of the cutworm family and as a larva had probably been feasting on some of my seedlings. Identified as a  Green Blotched Moth Cosmodes elegans of the family NOCTUIDAE, it reminded me of a camouflage uniform.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


Our red bottle brush shrubs are at their peak flowering and attracting honeyeaters to the garden. Our resident species are joined by a few nomadic species, of which the two most notable are the Scarlet Honeyeater  Myzomela sanguinolenta and the White-cheeked Honeyeater Phylidonyris niger. The Scarlet Honeyeaters were around in numbers last week and this week it is the turn of the White-cheeked who announce their arrival with lots of loud chattering calls as they quickly move from one brush to the next.
 The most popular of the bottle brushes are the Callistemon citrinus cultivar "Endevour" that are prolific flower producers that are loaded with nectar.

These honeyeaters range along the coastal areas of NSW and Queensland as well as the south western coast of Western Australia and favour coastal heaths and woodlands where bottle brush and banksias are in abundance..

Monday, 3 October 2011

Flannel & Velvet

I was struck by two things when taking a walk , the first was our small patch of Flannel Flowers Actinotus helianthi that are in full bloom and they never cease to give pleasure through their understated beauty. In the wild they can be found on NSW coastal heath habitat through to the ranges and up into Queensland. At their most prolific following a fire through the heath it is a stunning sight to see whole coastal dunes covered with flannel flowers. They can be quite difficult to grow in the garden as they like good drainage but need cool moist conditions for their roots. The whole plant is covered in a fine dense layer of white hairs that give the flannel appearance.
The second was the vibrant colour and velvet texture of a fungus, growing from a piece of Ironbark.
 I worked out the identification as Pycnoporus coccineus, one of the bracket fungi. It is not that I haven't seen one before, but this specimen was just so brilliant, it deserved a photo.