Friday, 31 August 2007

A late update

I have been as slack as all get-out in doing anything about this blog. However since I gave a few birding colleagues a roost about using blogs I have started to explore what can be done with this one. So here we are now.

We have survived most of our first Winter here and have pretty much settled in to the rural lifestyle. I suspect the stuff we have been really looking forward to enjoying is just about to start happening as the trees and bulbs start blooming and then the vegetables will start growing and being harvested. I'll try to summarise the first few months with some pictures below.

The first of these is a picture of the house and the main lawn. When we first moved in the area was in a major drought so the green lawn was a major feature.

Keeping the lawn in order required some attention, in ways that varied between seasons.

This is how it got mowed in Summer .

In Winter we got a bit of help from the locals.

I think I implied that the drought had broken? This photo was taken standing in our drive during a rather wet period in June. Fortunately I am looking down the Creek notdown our drive!

As well as the rain we have had some strong winds. The two in combination converted this Yellow Box (Eucalyptus meliodora) in the prostrate form (E. m. lateralis). It took me the best part of a week to saw up most of the beast and cart the wood off to a shed for storage. We have got about 3 tonnes of firewood sawn up; another 2 tonnes waiting to be sawn; 6 sacks of kindling and 3 trailer loads of foliage being used in erosion control on the top of the property. Fixing up the internal fence which got creamed by the descending tree has taken a further couple of days, and still requires a bit of thought to get it looking more or less fixed.

This is a view looking up from the ford over Whiskers Creek towards the house. It is a somewhat arty-farty photo showing some of the 300 daffodils Frances has planted. A careful look might let you see the wire netting around the beds: this was to stop the 'roos and rabbits from munching the bulbs. In fact the only trespasser seems to have been a wombat, and that merely blundered through (until I strengthened the supports for the mesh).
Having mentioned rabbits I will now emulate the most Wascally of Wabbits and say "Tttthhhhatts All Folks" until I compose another bit.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Pallid cuckoo

This is a male Pallid Cuckoo calling loudly and repeatedly on 30 August at about 1430.

At 1630 on the same a different and strange call was heard, and on investigating, it turned out to be a female Pallid Cuckoo. The male was in attendance (obviously his calling was a succesful attraction device).

Having got the female in his vicinity he began court1ng her. This began with them sitting side by side on a dead branch about 2m above the ground. He then flew to the ground seized a fat caterpillar which he took to the top of a stake supporting a tree guard and beat it a few times. He then flew next to the female and presented it to her. She accepted the offering and swallowed it. I saw this happen approximately 10 times over 10 minutes before they both flew off at high speed.

I had initially thought the caterpillars were sawfly larvae and puzzled over the bird's ability to eat such astringent prey. However another observer (Paul Taylor) has reported seeing large numbers of other, presumably better tasting, 'black caterpillars' .

In a further interaction Rosemary Blemings has advised the following (similar comments were subsequently posted by Steve Holliday)

"They belong to the Autumn Day-flying Moth (Apina callisto). They are ground-feeding caterpillars using Capeweed, Cranesbill & Plantain as their main food since we've removed whatever they normally ate in pre-settlement days.

"Once they reach about 3cm the caterpillars commence excavating a hole & a tunnel in bare, compacted soil. They bring the soil grains up one by one & little piles are visible beside the pencil-diameter holes. Once inside the tunnel the caterpillars pupate, emerging in April as blackish moths with brown & cream patterning and orange/black striped bodies. They compare in size with a 10c piece if such comparisons are possible. The A. callisto caterpillars are also amazing in that they are able to continue foraging in -7 degree frost because their bodies contain an anti-freeze chemical. So what that would do to alimentary canals also rates a question or two!"

On 3 September 2007 at 10:30am a female Pallid Cuckoo flew into a lightning-damaged Eucalyptus macrorhyncha about 50m from the branch on which the previous episode had taken place. She called loudly ( a grating call) and a male flew in from at least 200m away. The male was making a rather unusual call - somewhat like the alarm call of a Common Blackbird. The birds immeditely copulated and after a brief rest then flew off together.

On 5 September I was preparing another area for direct seeding (ie spraying it with Round-Up) and spending a cuple of hours peering at the ground spotted some of the caterillars and was able to get images of both the larva and its hole.