Friday, 30 September 2011

Large flock of Black-shouldered kites

The Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris) is not an unusual bird in the Southern Tablelands of NSW.  They have been rather scarcer during the recent drought but have reappeared in the last few months.   As usual they have been seen in 1s and 2s although a friend and near neighbour had reported a flock of 6 watching him do some work in a paddock.

Another near-neighbour rang me yesterday morning (29 September) to report that she had a flock of 6 roosting near her house.  As both properties look out across the Hoskinstown Plain, and are only 1km apart as the Kite flies, it seemed highly likely that they were the same birds.

However on the evening of the 29th my friend rang to say that the flock had grown to 14 and were roosting in a single tree.  He had taken a photo:
By the time I got to his property the flock were on the move but I still got to see most of them.

While deserving the term extraordinary such a flock is not unheard of.  Wikipedia refers to a feeding flock of 70 birds of this species and HANZAB refers to groups of up to 30 being reported.

Unfortunately we couldn't turn them into the closely related Letter-winged Kites (Elanus scriptor) which is more commonly seen in flocks, but is mainly a bird of the arid interior.  They do irrupt across the country occasionally when the population of rats, on which they feed, crashes.  According to HANZAB major irruptions have occurred in 1951-53, 1976-77 and 1980-81 and the weather conditions seem about right for a repeat.  As this would be a lifer for me I am hopeful!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Magpie wars

This is not about the AFL Grand Final but dispute resolution by Gymnorhina tibicens, the Australian Magpie.

This year we have had a group of 5 Australian Magpies hanging around our lawn and nearby areas, doing all the things Magpies do.   We presume this is a family group of 2 adults with 3 juveniles from last year, and have been surprised that they have stayed together so long.  In our experience the juveniles get kicked off once breeding season approaches.

Today there was a brief battle in the bare paddock about 60m from my window.  This distance, the poor light on a cloudy day and being taken through a window explain the rather grainy effect. However,  I think the sequence of images are reasonably self explanatory in showing one bird dominating the other.
It will be interesting to see if the number of birds in the group decreases over the next few days.

If the post had been about the AFL Grand Final, it would have noted with glee the fact that every 'unbiased expert' I have heard seems to put Geelong as about 30 point winners.  I will assert that I regard anyone who is not a member of the Collingwood Football Club as having no bias in this matter.  Go the Moggies!!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

More comments and images of Waterbirds

This follows on from my post about the Australian Painted-snipe at Kelly's Swamp in the Jerrabombera Wetlands.  The next few paragraphs are a (slightly edited for clarity) copy of my message of 27 September to the COG Chatline, with a few images added.
 By 1pm (ish) the Painted-snipe had moved towards Cygnus Hide (but of course on the Southern bank of the swamp).  They initially emerged from the grass  between the grazing cattle and then headed for a large patch of mud/water which they slowly crossed, in an astonishingly obliging way so that they could be tracked in my scope. About 2 pm (coinciding with Milburn's return) they flew back across the patch of mud and disappeared into the grass.

One Nankeen Night-heron seen just past Fulica Hide 
and the Glossy Ibis grazing in the Painted Snipe (and cattle) infested grass.

To cap off a rather good couple of hours, after a snuffle at the bird-free mud in the Sewage ponds Milburn spotted, and was able to point out to me, a Buff Banded Rail on the edge of Pond 6!
 In addition to this I had noted several (perhaps 20) Australian White Ibis scunge diving in another part of the swamp.
I suspect the central bird has been over-enthusiastic in the scunge-munching department!

Normally these birds are a dime a dozen - and overpriced at that - but since the big wet of 2010 have been a lot less common.  Perhaps this lot were displaced from Yowani Golf Club who chopped down their nest trees, claiming the nests were the cause of water pollution downstream course!  (Given the desire of Federal to sell some of their woodland for any purpose they can dream up  - and get the Government to accept - I will note that there are some golf courses in Canberra with better environmental credentials!)

The final thing I would note is that while looking at the Painted-snipe a little fluff ball ran past in the company of an adult Masked Lapwing.  That was the first lapwing chick I have seen this year.  It was a tad far off, and moving far too fast for a snap.

Rather than start a new post for a couple of images of birds here are a White-faced Heron, terrorising the frogs of Kelly's Swamp on 11 October
and another (also from 11 October) of the Glossy Ibis with a conveniently positioned scaling bird in the shape of a Pacific Black Duck.
After a couple of years of very low waterbird numbers and diversity things are really picking up at Kelly's Swamp and the Fyshwick poo-pits.   Today there were 3 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers are the 'pits.

Note the Black-fronted Dotterel in the LHS of the first image!

Monday, 26 September 2011

The 6-mile TSR puts on a show

This post starts with some environmental politics, moves through  a little local geography and ends with some pictures of interesting (to me) plants.

One of the features of NSW rural activity used to be the provision of reserves in which stock being driven (on hoof) could be spelled en route.  Since trucking came in these reserves are not used much for that purpose - to prove this most of the (many) beer bottles found in them date from the 1960s or earlier. However as the agricultural areas have been cleared these reserves have become islands of remnant indigenous flora.

This Reserve is obviously 6 miles from somewhere but I am unsure where!  It is about 5 miles from Bungendore and about 8 miles from Hoskinstown.  However, delving into history, it might be 6 miles from the crossing of the Molonglo River, which was an important site back in the day.

Whatever: we saw some great plants there today.

Frances nailed our first-for-the-season Diuris pardina (Leopard Orchid) within about 5m of parking the car!
We then noted a lotta Craspedia variabilis (?sp)
Getting away from yellow things we came across some heaths.  The first appears to be Lissanthe striga (Peach heath) which starts off peach-coloured but turns white.
This is far more advanced than the Lissanthe on our property about 12km away, but about the same elevation.

The second heath was Cryptandra amara floribunda (we think).  Very delicate and pretty (and white).
There were heaps and heaps of daisies around.  While they all appeared to be Leucochrysum albicans albicans var tricolore some were the white form and others the yellow.  Here is a shot of them both together.
We finally spotted some peas.  These were Bossiaea prostrata and earn 2 images due to the difficulty of getting the light correct!

Galahs do luvvie-duvvie

On my way up the block to check on (inter alia) the progress of the Glossodia (no progress to report) I noticed this Galah hanging on the outside of a nest hollow.
This caused me to wonder if Ms Galah was in the hole brooding some eggs.  However on looking a little more closely I spotted another galah a little higher up the tree (and to the right).
That was I thought quite OK, it is just supervising the work from a higher position.  Situation normal for galahs as for humanity.  I have subsequently looked more closely at the image and realise that there are two galahs on the higher perch (only the tail of the second is really visible).  This caused my interpretation of the next two shots to change a little.

I had thought that the worker had downed tools to have itself a little smooch.  However I now realise that it was a totally separate pair - perhaps one had brought the other along to point out that a good partner builds a nice nest hole?   If that was the case it doesn't seem to have worked  as a distraction method.  I still like the images!

A couple of hours after these images were taken the action got somewhat hotter: baby galahs are indicated somewhere in the not too distant future.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I did not have my camera with me at the time

The questions of
  • what happened to the worker;and 
  • whether someone is in the hole 
remained open for a while.  Later in the morning - just before the X-rated activity referred to above - there was much screeching from the hollow and a very annoyed Galah emerged.  A Pied Currawong was sitting on a nearby branch and it was not welcome.  The Galah kept opening its wings - thereby revealing the full extent of the pink plumage and bowing at the Currawong while screeching.  This is referred to in HANZAB as the Heraldic Display! Eventually the Currawong got tired of the noise and went away. 

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Painted Snipe at Kelly's Swamp

On the afternoon of 24 September the twitch system of Canberra Birds fired up with a report of there being a pair of Painted Snipe at Kelly's Swamp.  I have only seen this species once - and it was in difficult circumstances - before, so headed off for a look.

On arrival there were a number of cars parked at the Southern end of the swamp and on getting in to the area a number of birders were immediately evident.  As with the previous event getting the 'tickable' view was easy since I was immediately offered a look through an established spotting scope. 

Having got that insurance for my year list I then picked the bird up in my binoculars and then used a convenient fence post as camera support to get a photo.
The second bird was in fact still there lurking behind the tussock abaft of the obvious bird.  There was much discussion about the sex of the birds (referring to i-phone Field Guide apes(sic)) and it was concluded that both were female with 1 adult and the other immature.  So unless one also debates gender they were two, but not a pair.

A pair of Masked Lapwings who obviously regarded the area as their territory protested noisily but were ignored by the Painted Snipe.

Here is the mob of birders (at this stage also unisex) with some anonymity added.
 The gender balance was improved and age distribution broadened shortly thereafter but I didn't feel like another snap.

In addition to the human and avian participation, the bovines appointed to control the fire hazard (in a swamp!) also turned up.  In the following image one Snipe is shown - marked by the arrow - together with a Masked Lapwing and parts of several cattle.
When the cattle got so that they were about to step on the log both Snipe walked away giving the assembled mob most excellent views.  A great sight!

Glossodia major and other notable native plants

While taking the small dog for a walk this morning Frances noted our first examples of Glossodia major, the Waxlip Orchid, growing in the verge of Whiskers Creek Rd.  These are far from unusual in this area but being the first of the season here are some photographs.

Of course they also earn photo points by being rather spiffy!  On returning to the area with camera (see below for results) I found at least 3 additional colonies.

This sighting led me to explore the points on our property where I knew there to be Glossodia leaves (or past sites of flowering).  The nearest I got was finding a couple of buds, which I estimate to be a day or two off flowering.  There were also some nipped off stalks with a pile of 'roo droppings nearby: thus the usual suspects are hoist by their own pootard. 

On returning to the roadside several other interesting plants revealed themselves.  What follows is in order of discovery and not 'interest'.

Indeed, the first species Brachyloma daphnoides has been very evident for a couple of months with prominent buds.  It has been suggested - no names, no pack drill - that the buds are attractive than the flowers.  Judge for yourselves.

A little further along, in a narrow track through some 2m high Kunzea ericoides I found a beautiful Tetratheca bauerifolia.
Two 'yellow things' completed my samples from that roadside.  The first is Microseris lanceolata (the Yam Daisy) and the second Leptorhyncus squamatus (Scaly Buttons).

My final offerings came from our property and are included since apparently not many folk take images of the seed pods of Acacia gunnii.  The first shows a pod just forming, while in the second the pods are well open.

Following from Denis's comment (below) about the likelihood of insect damage having caused the 'unpleasant' appearance of the A.gunnii I took myself and my camera to inspect a few things.  I did not find any hungry insects (not any 'typical' Acacia fruits) on the few A gunnii I checked over but did discover this caterpillar giving some A. buxifolia a bit of a workout.
I shall keep looking for the definitive fruit image!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The answer lies in the soil

Perhaps some readers will recognise the title as being the catchphrase of Arthur Fallowfield the famous West Country character from Beyond Our Ken.  I was thinking of this today as I prepared a new bed for some gladioli we have acquired for Summer colour

My blogging friend Denis has commented  a few times about the rocky nature of Carwoola.  This  proves he is familiar with the area.  His observations form the basis of my classification of the soils of our garden.  This has three elements, based on the tool one uses first when starting to garden in an area.
  1. Crowbar country: this is most of the area.  Once the inch of grass and topsoil has been penetrated the next step is to get the 2m long crowbar into the revealed shale.  Some clay is also evident and that, together with compost and what soil is able to be gathered from the surface becomes the basis of the bed.  No worms or other life visible until they come in with the compost.
  2. Mattock Meadows: Probably this stuff has been 'disturbed' by building work or earlier attempts to form a garden.There is some possibility of getting the blade of a mattock between the stones and the biggest ones are a bit bigger than fist sized.  A few worms (possibly Lumbricoides ferrocaput) are encountered.  After a first go with the mattock a fork can generally be used to sort out something that with a little compost becomes a suitable habitat for vegetation other than cactus or spinifex. 
  3. Fork farming: This is pretty much restricted to the vegetable garden. Nice friable soil, at least 15cm deep.  While it is in a gully and may thus reflect water run off, we suspect that it arrived in several trucks several years ago.  Lots of worms!
My efforts today were in section 2.  I worked out that I removed 30 litres of rocks from the 4 square metres that I worked over.  We then added about 60 litres of compost which should assist the 4 worms I came across to get happy.  (The rocks will not be wasted: we gather them together
 and use them to fill in potholes in the drive!)

On a more relaxed note here are a couple of images from the vegetable garden (on type 3 soil).  We have enough asparagus to share with friends.
Our broad beans are also doing well, with many flowers.
I was interested to see that as well as the expected bees some ants and a couple of 'blue' butterflies appeared to be participating in the pollination frolics.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Various aspect of the local environment.

Yesterday (20 September) I went for a stroll in a relatively new Nature Reserve in the ACT.  It is called Kama and contains some really nice grassy-box woodland running down to the Molonglo Valley.  There are some really magnificent trees in there - which will be the subject of a later post I hope - and also a group of Brown Treecreepers.  I rather like this shot of a Treecreeper creeping up a tree!
There were also a few dragonflies about - very active and far too busy to pause for a portrait - and one attractive (in a rather restrained-palette way) moth.
I will attempt to ID the species later, but for the time being will apologise for the phrase "restrained-palette".  It is collateral (linguistic) damage from the Fred Williams show at the National Gallery.

Today was a COG mid-month walk which took us to Narrabundah Hill.  It is a hill, but some distance from the suburb of Narrabundah.  It used to be the site of a pine forest but that exploded in the January2003 bushfires so is now a regenerating area, surrounded by horse paddocks.  We saw quite a few birds but the only one  snapped was this Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike. 
It is (obviously) black-faced, but is neither a cuckoo, nor a shrike.  Aren't taxonomists wonderful?

On the way home - after an excellent en-route hamburger at the Yass Road takeaway in Queanbeyan - I saw this Bearded Dragon sitting in the road so stopped for a snap or two.

The first shot shows the way this species flattens-out as a threat display while the second shows the pleasant colour (refraining from 'painterly' references to tonality) and the detail of its scaliness.

On getting home I wandered up our property to capture the first example of Leucopogon virgatus to grace the block this year.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Matters reptilian

Some years back I referred to a site as being "infested with reptiles".  An eminent local naturalist suggested I meant "enhanced with reptiles": I think it depends on circumstances (and to some extent the type of reptile).

We are currently having a preview of Summer and it is bringing the reptiles out in numbers.  I have put images of a Shingleback and a Long-necked tortoise in the linked posts.

A few days back a friend who lives on Hoskinstown Plain commented that he'd seen his first 'tiger' of the year: he wasn't referring to a stripey pusscat nor a Tamil separatist.  Last Saturday, on our way back from Tallaganda a rather long snake - I think an Eastern Brown Snake - was crossing the road just outside Rossi (I'd definitely regard that as an infestation).  I also saw a Bearded Dragon posing beside the road.

This morning I was over near Lake George when I encountered 2 Shinglebacks in circumstances which suggested they might have preferred privacy.  One scuttled off quickly but the other paused long enough for me to get this image.
The particular interest in this image is the width of the lizard.  I wondered initially if she was somewhat gravid but that is contraindicated by the activity before I arrived.  So I assume that they flatten out their body as a threat as do dragons.

A little further along I came across my first Eastern Blue-tongued Lizard of the season.  This was a rather colourful specimen.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The first pea!

One of the objects of desire amongst aficionados of Australian Native Plants is the flowering of the 'peas'.  This refers to members of the family now known as Fabaceae (ie 'beans': go figure) with yellow/red flowers.  We have a reasonably good collection of these on our property but until today we had not found any flowering.

That changed when Frances spotted some flowers on a Daviesia mimosoides.
Undoubtedly the excellently warm weather (maxima over 20 degrees and no fire needed for 3 nights) has got these going.

We have had excellent representation of the purple members of the Fabaceae - which don't seem to be viewed as 'peas' - with the mauve Hovea heterophylla everywhere and Hardenbergia violaceae anywhere that nothing else will grow.  I thought this one, growing up a eucalypt sapling very attractive.