Saturday, 20 December 2014

Invertebrates appear

Following a period of warm weather, and with some favourite food plants flowering, insects are beginning to appear.

Of course having mentioned food plants my first example is from an Order - Mantodea - which feed on other insects!  In this first image the prey is clearly visible (and the prey was feeding on a plant).
 I have included this extra image because if has a less busy background and looking at the full size version I could see a row of spines along the outside of the fore tibia.  This gets it to the Family Mantidae.  The commonest mantis is Orthodera ministralis which this resembles, but i cannot see the diagnostic blue spot on the foreleg: I suspect it is a nymph.
This is a beetle.  Having the head and thorax not visible doesn't help with identification furrther than that!
 The first Fiddle beetles (Eupoecila australasiae) appeared on the daisies.
 The presence of a rostrum puts this as a weevil.  I had thought the lumps on the elytra would make it easy to identify but not so.  Having straight antennae seems to rule it out of the true weevil family!  It was feeding on a Red-hot poker.
 This one was easy: a Botany Bay Weevil, Chrysolopus spectabilis.  It was feeding in a grass tussock out in a paddock.
A fly!  Mainly included as the proboscis is clearly visible.
An ant: one of many slurping the nectar from the Red-hot pokers.

Friday, 19 December 2014

A paler shade of white

Hopefully that title will evoke a memory of the Procol Harum song "A Whiter Shade of Pale " for those who:
  1. had been born by 1967; and
  2. can remember the year!
Rather than a 1-hit wonder Pom Pop band, with a predilection for enriching lawyers (see link), this post is about the various approaches to white in some of the native flora in Carwoola.

Whiskers Creek Rd is currently bordered on both sides by swathes of Kunzea ericoides (aka "Burgan" in Australia or Kanuka in NZ).  This is the usual White Christmas of Carwoola appearance.
 When we walk through here early in the morning the sweet scent of the flowers is almost overpowering,  I'd like to put in a link here to give you the scent  but no-one would click on that would they?

A little further up the road a large bush of Cassinia longifolia also appears to have white flowers
 However, against the Kunzea flowers the Cassinia is clearly more like cream.
 Nearby a tall Bursaria spinosa also appears cream against a Kunzea backdrop.
 However that appearance goes away when the open flowers are looked at closely. They are definitely white.
Here is a close-up of some Bursaria flowers with some Kunzea.  Look closely and the different petal shapes can be seen, but both are in fact the same shade of white!


Wednesday, 17 December 2014

COG sinks the wellie into Hall

In my email reminding folk about this outing I commented:
 "...some areas out this way have been rather damp after recent rains.  Either wear old footwear or waterproof things.  Grass seeds might also be an issue so gaiters might be useful.  I would also remind people of Mark Clayton's post-blitz comment that the Reserve looks to be rather good reptile habitat: sturdy trousers, gaiters or wellies would be useful."
In the event I was the only one wearing wellies and a few hardy souls were wearing shorts!  One can entice a horse to water  ....

I thus followed my email with oral advice to watch they were putting their feet and if something wriggles under them, press down hard until everyone else has moved away.  (In the event no-one reported any reptiles of note, and we only saw a fox to represent the other Orders of Chordata.)

23 of us gathered in total and climbed the gate (as the kind ACT Government has blocked off the climb through) into the TSR and looked at the border fence.
 
The birds didn't worry about this administrative construct and neither did we.

Later in the walk we visited the Cemetery and found what must surely be a joy to the orchid fanciers: an unmown cemetery.
A sign near the entrance explains that is is a deliberate policy to protect the Tarengo Leek Orchids (Prasophyllum petilum).  Well done the ACT Public Cemeteries  Authority!
 OK, to birds.  There were a group - surely a family - of 4 Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes at the TSR.  We didn't see an adult feed a juvenile so not a breeding record.
 On the other hand I decided this Sulphur-crested Cockatoo was working on a nest hollow (rather than just being destructive because it could).
 A Jacky Winter was probably second-best bird.  In fact half the group was watching one bird while the rest were looking at another so there were two of them.
Best bird was undoubtedly the Crested Shrike-tit of which nearly all the group got great views, but I didn't get a snap.  Third best bird - which would have been a contender for #1 if more than one of the party had seen it - was a Brown Treecreeper which hopped around on a tree stump in front of the observer.

Sacred Kingfishers were evident throughout the walk, largely due to their calls being audible over the noise of the traffic on the Barton Highway.
This Sacred Kingfisher had a very dark (for this species) blue back and pale breast.  An unwary observer might have thought it another species.
 Few birds were at the Cemetery.  A flock of 9 Straw-necked Ibis were pleasant to see.  While looking at them another bird was spotted soaring even higher.  It was a very large bird with a clearly visible white head and dark wings.  After much consideration we concluded it was a White-necked Heron.

A second soaring bird was certainly a raptor but views were not definitive.  As we were leaving we did see this Australian Hobby in some distant dead trees dining on something - probably a cicada.
 A couple of active nests were photographed (and some others seen by some of the party).  This Willie Wagtail's nest had three little occupants.
 The adult occupant of this nest had nicked off, but was identified as a Noisy Friarbird.
We scored 39 species at the TSR and 11 at the Cemetery.  There were some surprising MIAs:

  • not one thornbill;
  • no Cuckoos seen (and the one possible call not thought by the listener to be good enough to tick); and 
  • no Rufous Whistlers.

Other than the grass (and brambles) the obvious flowers were Vanilla Lillies (Arthropodium milleflorum).
 Up in the trees there were many Christmas beetles (Anoplognathus rugosus) throughout both sites.

 A small patch of the TSR, and the trees near the road at the Cemetery, were heavily laden with cicadas.  My suspicion is that these were Clangers (aka Clear-wing cicadas) Psaltoda claripennis.
To say the least they were very, very loud.
A butterfly (Common Brown?) was also  present at the Cemetery seeming to have a liking for people's hats!
As we left the cemetery we noticed a headstone for Bryce Courtenay.  Most of us were surprised that he was buried here.   The replacement of the stone 'bed' by an outline of eucalypt bark was a nie touch.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Interspecies interactions on The Plain

This morning I took the MTB for a ride to the Hoskinstown Plain, primarily to see what was going on in the Snow Gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora) remnant on Pollack Rd.  I also wanted to check an Acacia windbreak which has been visited in the past by Superb Parrots.

The Snow Gum remnant (and nearby E. mannifera) were very well endowed with birds.  The best sighting was a juvenile Pallid Cuckoo squeaking in the tree tops.  (I reported seeing a female Pallid Cuckoo in this area at the end of October: obviously she was checking out the territory at that time.)
The cuckoo's squeaking was successful, as a far smaller bird kept flying in to feed it.  I couldn't initially get a good look at the host due to foliage and then the cuckoo started flying from tree to tree, squeaking all the time.   Trynig to follow it was annoying as its route kept traversing a fence - fortunately neither barbed wire nor electrified.  Eventually the bird posed nicely again.
The Common Starling didn't feed it, but took its beakful of grub to its own brood in a nearby noisy nest hollow.  Then the Cuckoo's host appeared and fed its parasite.
After which the parent paused and revealed that it was a Brown-headed Honeyeater.   HANZAB reports that 13.8% of the hosts of Pallid Cuckoos were Melithreptus honeyeaters (which genus includes the Brown-headed Honeyeater).
My estimate is that the Cuckoo was shifting position every 2 or 3 minutes and flying up to 50 metres each time.  Its final position was over 100m from where I first saw it, bu the hosts seemed to be able to find it each time.  Parental instinct is an amazing driver for birds - I'd have watched this parasite fly  off and headed in the opposite direction!

Nearby a Laughing Kookaburra was attracting the attention of a Willie Wagtail.  It wasn't clear whether the Willie had a nest in the vicinity or was simply reacting on principle to the presence of a fledgling thief.
 When the Wille attacked it seemed to actually land on the Kookaburra's back, flapping its wings too fast for my camera to freeze.
This ended up with the Kookaburra flying away hotly pursued by the Willie.

When I first got down to the Plain I counted 130 Straw-necked Ibis (and a solitary Australian White Ibis) in a paddock.  On my return they had moved across Plains Road and I was able to get a shot of a proportion of the flock.
On the following day (16 December) the landholder reported 150+ Ibis in the paddock.

In the Snow Gums there were masses of Christmas Beetles.  I think they were providing sustenance for the Tree Martins flying through the area.  I thought it worth taking this snap of a Robber Fly, to show that they perch on thingss other than trees.
This close-up is included under the Mr Spiffy rule.
After scaling Pudding Hill I found an Eastern Long-necked Tortoise crossing the road.  I waited for it to stick it head out but it took too long  - and I was concerned that a motorist would look at me and splat the tortoise - so I picked it up and carried it across the road.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Natural things around Carwoola

We seem to have got an early start on Christmas with the countryside going white!  Unfortunately it isn't snow, but Kunzea ericoides.
 Here is a close up of this plant that is now very common here.
The other common white-flowered shrub in the area is Bursaria spinosa.  It is still in bud.
On the following day we noticed that a little of the Bursaria in the upper reaches of the Estate is now in flower.  So insect heaven will soon be with us.

Although Kunzea is not a bug magnet as is Bursaria I thought I'd go for a prowl to see what was around.

I'd barely got out the door when I came across two Common Bronzewings.
 As they are both males I know I will get chastised by one reader if I refer to them as a pair.  Or a couple.  So I'll stick with "two".
There were quite a few Hoverflies around but they were negatively phototrophic (not aided by a moderate breeze).  This Robber Fly was much more accommodating, although I was about 2m away when I took the image..
Getting to some planted Eucalyptus viminalis I was struck by the amount of clicking noises I could hear.  Most of this seemed to be coming from Christmas Beetles Anoplognathus rugosus which were well coupled.
 This one lost its grip so began a single.
This caterpillar was in my car and was very active.  Even though the image is very blurry I think it is attractive in a lion-dance sort of way.
A Cabbage White (Pieris rapae turned up on the kitchen window.  I was feeling peaceful so it was released outside, even though I could hear the brassica screaming.