Monday, 5 December 2011

A tour of the environment in the Brindabellas

On 4 December Frances and I joined a tour to the Brindabella Ranges run by Ian Fraser of Environment Tours.  The basic route for the trip was to head over the Murrumbidgee River (still a very good flow after recent rains) and up the Mt Franklin Road to Mt Ginnini : essentially following a ridge which forms the Western border of the ACT.

Our aims for the trip were to:
  1. enjoy some of the plants of the ranges; 
  2. acquire some useful knowledge about the plants and animals of the area; and 
  3. see or hear a Cicadabird.
The third objective was pretty much a personal one for me, since my ACT  list was deficient in this species.  Cutting to the chase, it still is.

I have decided that rather than presenting the comments and images in some thematic form (eg grouping all flowers together) I will do a chronological report.  This is primarily because many of the images have both plants and insects in them.  While explaining my intentions, I will also comment that:
  • I hope to improve the identification of many of the insects but have decided to get the basic structure of the post done (in case the hope is not reflected in outcome).
  • Where material appears in blue below it is a particularly egregious deviation from the plan and can be skipped without losing the plot.  Indeed, skipping such rants may increase understanding of the narrative!

The useful information from Ian began well before the Brindabellas with discussion of the origin of the name "St John's Wort" as applied to the nasty weed currently colouring most of the ACT yellow.  (It was used to scare away evil spirits by hanging a bunch of it above a front door on St John's Day  - June 24.)

After a brief comfort stop at the Bulls Head dunny our first "proper" stop was at the track which heads to the summit of Mt Franklin.  We only covered the first 300m but saw plenty of interesting things.

The first 'pea' was Oxylobium ellipticaI will note in passing that I have been intrigued why the family colloquially referred to as 'peas' is formally called Fabaceae (ie  the beans family) rather than - as in the past  - Leguminoseae (which would seem to refer to the Latin name for 'pea').  Ian explained that the standard is that a family takes the name of the first, in a chronological sense, named genus within it.  Faba - the Broad Bean - got in first!  (In addition the garden pea is botanically Pisum sativum!)
The next image is of a very colourfully bodied moth.  Were it not for the shape of the antennae I would call this a butterfly (which are of course simply a form of moth).  My initial attempts to identify this have been fruitless (and in fact, nameless)!  However I have now been advised by an expert that is is within the range of variation of Spilosoma curvata the Crimson Tiger Moth.
We then got to the first of the Grevilleas: G. lanigera.
An insect - I suspect a flying ant, certainly a member of the Hymenoptera - on a Brachyscome spathulata.
A very colourful grasshopper (which I have been totally unable to find anyhere on the net) on a Podolepis robusta(?).  The careful observer will also note an ant - one of approximately 73.5 billion in the area - sneaking up the RHS of the flower!
This is the new shelter on the site of the old Mt Franklin Chalet, which was destroyed in the 2003 bushfires.  The twisted bit of metal in front of this stately pleasure dome is the remains of a tank stand.  While it is undoubtedly a Good Thing that something has been erected, one wonders how many staff years of Rangers could have been funded by the cost of this?  The whinnying sound you might hear is that of a hobby horse being let loose.
About the only flowering heath I saw on the trip was this clump of Monotoca scoparia. Obviously the other heaths have done their procreative thing and moved on to storing energy for next Spring.
The flower here is a Pimelia and my guess is P. ligustrina.  Although I rarely use vernacular names I find this one "Kosciuszko Rose" to be very evocative.  The insect appears to be a  Pintail Beetle (family Mordellidae) and at this stage I can get no further than that.
Here we have a Stellaria pungens (the star-like flower) growing in front of one of many carpets of Tetratheca ericifolia.
This hoverfly (I will take a punt at subfamily Syrphinae) was feeding on Leucochrysum albicans.
We then piled back into the bus and went to the end of the road at Mount Ginnini to have our lunch.  At this point we were serenaded by the generator powering the air traffic device at that point.  As someone who occasionally flies places I cannot object to this device!

The mist which had been hovering in the ACT all morning seemed to be rolling in while we dined.  I thik this gave a nice mysterious look to the surroundings.
 The mist did not deter the Flame Robins from being very active in the area.  This one was polite enough to pose for a snap, showing how the orange-red 'flames go up to its throat rather than hovering mid-breast as does the red of the Scarlet Robin.  A list of all birds seen on the trip is at the end of this post.
I believe this beetle to be a scarab, and my usual reference website has something very similar listed as Diphucephala sp.  The host plant is a battered Ranunculus.
The next species was quite common at this highest point (about 1800m).  It is Derwentia perfoliata.
 Euphrasia collina was quite common, throughout the trip, in rather dense little tufts of plants.
It is time for some geology.  This is a rather nice granite boulder showing the start of the natural progression to soil with the help of moss, lichen and some particularly bold grass.  Either that or, for fans of Patricia Wrightson (surely everyone is?), a nargun having a bad hair day.
 We now come to the worst photograph put on the internet this year.  However I did want to record the presence of Macleay's Swallowtail (Graphium macleayanus) on this trip.  We saw it at two sites - Mt Franklin and near Mt Aggie.  In neither case was it unduly keen on being photographed.  However hopefully the green colour and swallow -tail can be picked out with the help of the red arrows.
Subsequently (14 December) ANPS visited Mt Franklin and Frances took this photograph of the Swallowtail which actually lets the viewer see the insect!.

At about this point we got a nice view of some distant mountains and some people suggested anatomical names for the peak in the far centre of this shot.  No-one knew what it was really called!
A small amount of scree scrambling got this snap of Cardamine paucijuga ...
 .. and this one of Pratia pedunculata
 The main reason we stopped here was to photograph another Grevillea, G. diminuta.  A suggestion was made that it should have been the Territory flower as it is only found along this ridge, most of it within the ACT.  The official Territory flower - a "bluebell" is found throughout the high country down to Victoria.  However it was suggested the bluebell is easier to use as an icon. In my view this plant does look rather similar to a rather weather-beaten Waratah, which would also disqualify it as linking the Territory to closely to NSW!
 Somewhat closer to Bulls Head we stopped for the third Grevillea, G. oxyantha.
 This small purple 'pea' was identified as Cullen microcephalum, based on the shape of its leaves (which unfortunately didn't make it into this image).
 Here we have a Craspedia variabilis with another Pintail Beetle (family Mordellidae) checking it over.
 Now, not unusually for this blog, I must confess to making a complete chump of myself on this one.   I was asked to ID this greenhood and once I got a good look at it was delighted to do so as it grows on our property.  Noting the t-shaped appendage to the labellum I confidently called it as Hymenochilus cycnocephalus the "Swan Greenhood".  I will now get the blue ink flowing to refer to Mark Twain's aphorism that "its not what you don't know that hurts you, but what you know that ain't so".  Fortunately Ian was able to very gently point out that the species nominated  by me is only found lower down.  This one is H. crassicaulis the "Alpine Swan Greenhood" found from 1100 -1800 MASL!
Overall, a rather excellent day.  

List of birds seen.
Not a long list but any day with 3 Cuckoo species and Flame Robins isn't bad.  I am sure every tree down Warks Road held at least 3 Cicadabirds making rude gestures with their primaries as I looked out the other side of the bus! The list is in the order I wrote them down rather than any of the continually changing formats beloved by the taxonomists.
Flame Robin; Pied Currawong; Superb Lyrebird; Spotted Pardalote; White-browed Scrubwren; Fan-tailed Cuckoo; Pallid Cuckoo; Little Raven; Australian Pipit; Yellow-faced Honeyeater; White-throated Treecreeper; Brush Cuckoo; Grey Fantail; Red Wattlebird; Superb Fairy Wren; Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike.

On the ANPS visit they found, and Frances photographed, this Anemone Stinkhorn (Aseroe rubra).

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