Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Taking a dip in my coffee

I was sitting on the deck, enjoying my coffee, when a tiny fly-like creature landed in my cup. I fished it out, transferred it to a leaf and photographed it.

My friends on Flickr eventually identified it for me. It's a native bee, one of the Masked Bees named because they have yellow or white 'bandit' markings on the face. Its scientific name is Hylaeus euxanthus.

By the time I got back to my coffee it was cold, but the pleasure I have had in the photographing and identifying this little creature has been worth the sacrifice.

Happy Christmas everyone. I'll be away for a couple of weeks. See you all in the New Year, and I look forward to more shared blog adventures in 2009.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Life on an escarpment

I got a phone call today from Dick. "Come and see the Blue-tongue at Seaview Park." Okaaay. "And the mistletoe's flowering."

So I dropped everything (I was supposed to be cooking for a family get-together tomorrow), found my camera and went. The Wire-leaf Mistletoe was indeed flowering, in profusion, on a stand of rare Wirilda Wattle in the middle of suburban Belmont. The park is on an escarpment on the edge of the Barwon River and supports very healthy natural vegetation but is under constant threat from everything suburban.

I wish I'd seen the little caterpillar at the time - I would have taken a macro to see what it was.

And the Blue-tongue didn't have much in the way of markings and wasn't very big so maybe it's a young one.

Monday, 15 December 2008

An infestation of scale

Yesterday I discovered that the pigface plant in my garden is covered in little white fluffy bits that on closer inspection turned out to be a cottony cushion scale species, Pulvinaria I think, in the Coccidae family. I don't think it's the famous one that devastated the Californian fruit industry years ago because this one has very pale blue eggs and that one has red eggs. But then, "I know nuzzing" :) Those little caps have me intrigued. Does each mother scale make her own cap? They look like tiny leaves.

Now, what do I do about scale on my plant? Apparently ladybirds like them so I might just keep my eyes on it.

Saturday, 13 December 2008


Both of these little grasshoppers were on an eremophila in my garden today. I don't have a good reference to find out what they are. The brown one was about 2 cm long and the green one shorter (if you don't count its very long feelers).

Friday, 12 December 2008

My herbarium

For several years I have been making a herbarium.

I've been collecting, drying and pressing one of each of the plants I have found growing on our property at Homerton. Each collection is mounted on card and labelled with the GPS reading, date, scientific name and family, common name and details of the environment I found it in such as soil, dampness etc. I also photograph the plant. (I should point out that I don't collect rare or threatened plants.)

It's been a lot of fun and I'm always on the lookout for new plants to add to my herbarium. One of the best aspects has been that it has forced me to look at the references to try to identify the unknowns. Now I'm extending the project by mapping where I find those plants in the an area of about 10 kms by 14 kms around the property - this corresponds to one block on the grid in Flora of Victoria. If I find a plant that's not listed in my area on the DSE list (called the Flora Information System, FIS) I send in my record which is gratefully accepted. I feel like I'm contributing to the greater body of knowledge in a small way.

For a long time I resisted recording weeds, but have finally come to the realisation that they are an important component of the environment now and we should be keeping tabs on them. So now I look for weeds as well and send in reports to FIS.

This is one of my mounted collections. It's Amyema pendulum Drooping Mistletoe in the Loranthaceae family. Because it's a mistletoe I included a piece of the plant I found it growing on, Acacia podalryiifolia Queensland Silver Wattle growing in the farmhouse garden.


Joy, oh joy! It's raining :-D

We've had the wettest day for the year, and possibly the wettest for December ever. I'm happy, my garden's happy, the bush and grasslands will be respond wonderfully, tanks and dams are full. It's been lovely steady rain so it's soaking in beautifully instead of running off into the stormwater drains. More to come.

Unfortunately though, here in Geelong, today is the day they are having a big community day on the first two sections of the new ring road prior to it opening to traffic tomorrow - Rotary and other service clubs have put in a lot of work to organise a fun walk, run or ride day. It's ironic really, because the construction is ahead of schedule because there haven't been many wet days!

Change of subject. One of the spots we visit on our Challenge Count route (see last blog) is Hospital Swamp near Lake Connewarre. It's not far off the beaten track and most people in Geelong wouldn't have been there because there are no picnic tables or grassed areas, but the view across the water to Geelong is fantastic. It's a good spot for birds as well. We saw a couple of brolgas near here.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

A challenge

Today was the BOCA Challenge Bird Count and my team had a lot of fun looking for as many bird species as we could find in a day. I came home a little early and don't know what the total count is yet.

We're rather casual about it though, enjoying the birds and birding rather than aiming to be the best team on the day. Today though, we got a bit annoyed about dipping on Kookburra, Grey Butcherbird and Blue-billed Duck - all are certainties on our patch. But we did see a beautiful Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike nest with three chicks, lovely views of Red-kneed Dotterels and Black-fronted Dotterels. We saw three delightful 'chooks', Black-tailed Native-hens, running along a sandy island in a wetland. We delighted in seeing Lathams Snipe feeding out in the open.

And along the way I had time to grab a few photos of insects.

The Jewel Bugs were in profusion on a wattle tree in Grasstree Park near Torquay, and have you ever seen a ladybird with a dented back?

We were very curious as to why these caterpillars were interested in an ants nest.

And I found this little insect in Grasstree Park as well. (We were meant to be looking and listening for emu-wrens - which we didn't find. We hardly ever do!) Snail and others have told me that it's a Belid Weevil. For more information see this page.

Friday, 5 December 2008

What am I?

A year or so ago we replaced the floorboards on the verandah of the farmhouse near Heywood, Victoria. I was a bit concerned that the skinks that lived there would not return, but there was one there today.
It stayed still long enough to have its portrait taken but disappeared quickly when I made a noise, so I wasn't able to get photos that included toes or forehead. Consequently I'm having some trouble identifying it. Any ideas? It's not anywhere near water so I'm close to discounting Eulamprus tympanum - the stripe leading to the top lip rather than the eye leads me in that direction though.

The shed's as good as a tree

For a number of years now there has been a Common Ringtail Possum's nest in the farmhouse garage. The possums chose to build a nest in the rafters where a roll of pipe has been stored. Successive generations must use the same nest because according to one reference I have they only live three or four years. We check that they are present occasionally but try not to be too intrusive. We often see one out and about around the garden after dark.

I'm afraid the pipe is 'out of action' for a while yet.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Helena pays a visit

We pulled up to open the farmhouse gate and I noticed a very large moth fly through the headlights and appear to land in front of the car. I got out to check, and found it sitting on the bumper bar - a large moth called a Helena Gum-moth Ododiphthera helena, a male.

With the help of a torch I took its photo and left it where it was while we drove up the lane to the house. It then decided to move camp again, heading for the outside light of the house, so I took his photo again. I'm no expert at moth photography, but the results are good enough to identify it.

We found a caterpillar of the species in exactly the same spot in March this year. It's very similar to an Emperor Gum-moth Ododiphthera eucalypti, but doesn't have a white triangle on its shoulders. The caterpillars are quite different.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Now you see it, now you don't

When I browsed through some of the photos I took last week at Homerton I noticed that this little fellow suddenly acquired antennae - in a series of about ten photos the first five have no antennae and the last five there they are clear as day. What was going on? So I did a bit of reading.

It's a Paropsine Leaf Beetle Paropsis sp., one of the Chrysomelidae family, relatively common leaf-eating beetles. They feed on Mytaceae species, mostly eucalypts.

One of the characteristics of the Paropsids is that they can withdraw their legs and antennae from predators while sitting on a leaf. That's what I had inadvertently captured in the photo sequence. You can just see the tip of an antennae in the first photo.

Another characteristic is that they are extremely poisonous if eaten but I don't suppose I'll ever eat one so I'm not very worried.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

On the way home from market?

I'm not sure what's going on here. This insect was moving very quickly along the branch carrying something like a caterpillar. I wondered if it was caught on its proboscis rather than held. And where was it taking it if it was intentional? The second photo is not very clear but it shows the 'prey' more clearly (as well as the beautiful colouring, and knobby bits on the 'shoulder' area). Is it some sort of weevil?

Friday, 21 November 2008

An admiral

To quote from my Braby*, the Yellow Admiral butterflies Vanessa itea 'fly rapidly and frequently settle, with head directed downwards and wings outspread or closed, on leaves or tree-trunks'. Which is exactly what the one I photographed is doing. I think this is a female.
Aren't reference books great?

*The Complete Field Guide to Butterflies of Australia, Michael F Braby

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The food chain

I've almost forgotten how to do this - it's been so long since I last posted. And to make it worse I haven't even had time to read all my favourite blogs. But I think I'm almost back to my normal routine and catching up on all that has happened in blogworld over the last few weeks.

Today I did something I've never done before - I was asked to deliver a eulogy at a friend's funeral. That really took me out of my comfort zone, but I've discovered that when you mean what you say it's really quite easy. Ev had lived a long and good life. We laughed a lot during her funeral service because she had brought joy to the lives of many others. Death is a part of living unfortunately.

I was reminded of this when we visited our bush bock last week. The leaves on nearly every eucalyptus tree I looked at were severely damaged, and I was getting a bit worked up about the fact that they didn't look perfect. Then I started looking for what was actually doing the damage, and found lots of caterpillars, beetles and insects having a wonderful time eating their way to maturity. And the birds were having a wonderful time gleaning their supper as well. I've never seen so many White-naped Honeyeaters in the Manna Gum near the house. So the biodiversity in my environment was clearly evident and I got my camera out to record some of the nibblers. I've got no idea what they are.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Site loyalty

I'm a frustrated naturalist at the moment because I have to go to work. There's a big world out there to explore but work to be done. At least there is the thought that it's a temporary situation, a big advantage of casual work.
A walk at lunch time helps. The lakes at the back of the university are surrounded by a walking track that few people use and that's where I head most days, just as I used to when I was at the campus more often. As is the case when you frequently repeat a particular route I expect to see certain things - plants flowering seasonally, water levels going up and down, particular species of birds - but I must admit that I was surprised yesterday to find the Australasian Grebes nesting in exactly the same place as in previous years. Why that particular square metre of the dam? And then I walked a bit further and looked for the pair of Black-fronted Dotterels that fed on the muddy edge there in the past ... and there they were. It made my day.

Monday, 27 October 2008

I'm on a learning curve

Well, I've learned something today. Denis Wilson commented on my last post that I had photographed ladybird larvae, and he's right. What I thought were different insects turns out to be mostly different stages of the ladybird cycle. This is a link to more information about the stages of the Common Spotted Ladybird Harmonia conformis that is on my shrub. And here is another photo as well as one of the 'thrips' or 'aphids' that are covering the shrub, mostly underneath the leaves. Now I have to find out exactly what they are - I've emailed photos to an entomologist friend for help.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Time to party

I've been a bit busy. We've had a party to celebrate two of us turning sixty, I'm not saying who. Our daughter and her husband from Airlie Beach and daughter #2 from Geraldton came home for the occasion, and lots of others came to share the day. I didn't think I wanted a party but it was a lot of fun.

I haven't had time to get out to explore the natural world but I did find that the Kangaroo Apple in my garden is absolutely covered in thrip and their predators are having a party as well. Ladybirds, and several other creatures I haven't had time to identify, are having a fine time.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Halladale Point

We walked out to Halladale Point on the Great Ocean Road, and admired the ocean swirling around the rocks.

And when we saw the information board we looked at the scene with fresh eyes. The Falls of Halladale was wrecked at this place, and remained stuck on the rocks long enough to draw a crowd of spectators. What a sight. The sea was relatively calm the day we were there but the whole stretch of coastline is known as the 'shipwreck coast' because of the number of ships that came to grief there in the 1800s.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Keeping us in our place

Port Campbell National Park attracts thousands of visitors each year, but we were very impressed with the infrastructure built to direct the hoards away from the precious environment. At Princetown we found this stylish boardwalk, and enjoyed very close encounters with Golden-headed Cisticolas as a result.

At all the attractions there were proper carparks, good signage, well-constructed paths, steps and lookouts. This is The Arch and the one below is a boardwalk at the Twelve Apostles that I though was a bit close to a mighty cliff for my comfort.

And these two photos are tourist shots, taken in Bay of Islands and Loch Ard, just to show that it really is an impressive bit of coastline.

Roosting in a public space

When it comes to the annual Challenge Bird Count in December we know where to look for the Nankeen Night Heron. Without fail we find several at their daytime roost in this group of trees, Stone Pines, in a public space in Geelong. (There are several Night Herons in the photo below.) We tick them off and quickly move on to find the next species. Bird-watching on the run but a lot of fun.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Touring the coast

Last weekend I was a tourist - in my own patch. Four of us explored some of the Otway National Park, the Great Ocean Road near Port Campbell and the volcanic landscape at Camperdown and Colac. The weather was calm, warm and sunny, we saw lots of tourists, we saw some beautiful farming country, ferny gullies, tall forests and spectacular landscapes. We were in one of the most popular tourist destinations in Australia.

But it was only at The Twelve Apostles, Loch Ard and London Bridge that we really felt like we were in a crowd. There are lots of places that are not visited by the bulk of the tourists and in a number of spots we were the only people there.

One of the quiet places was Moonlight Head, and it was in the nearby cemetery that we found the Twisted Sun Orchid Thelymitra flexuosa. It's reluctant to flower, even on warm days, but we were lucky to find it open. There were a lot of heath plants coming up to flower and flowering in the mown sections of the cemetery and it's well worth a visit. And so is Moonlight Head as well -it's one of the highest cliffs on the coastline.

Another sun orchid was flowering at London Bridge. Metallic Sun Orchid Thelymitra epipactoides was growing next to a path and I stopped to take its photo - and discovered that someone had broken it off and it was just propped up in the surrounding foliage. At that stage I didn't know what it was, so I decided to take it with me back to the car where I had a reference book - and felt decidedly guilty as we passed groups of tourists and National Park staff disguised as tourists. I had to hide it under my shirt! Me, in court, "No way! I didn't pick it - it was just lying there. Really." Anyway, it turned out to be an Endangered species. Which made it even worse than I'd imagined. It is a very beautiful orchid that grows on the exposed cliff tops in Port Campbell National Park.

And just for a change of scene, this was my lunch on Sunday. A delightful Fetta Salad, eaten in the garden at the Timboon Farmhouse Cheese. It looked too good to eat but was delicious. We bought a jar of the fetta so we could relive the taste at home.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008


Water went on sale and we bought it. Remember the time when we didn't carry water in labelled plastic bottles?
I nearly always have a bottle of water with me, but at least I can say that I only bought the bottle once and have refilled it from the tap numerous times. The bottled water industry has already passed milk and beer in sales (in the US at least), the empty bottles are fodder for land fill and cost a lot (environmentally) in transport and manufacture terms. And where does the water come from? Who owns the water?
At our last Eco Book Group we discussed Bottlemania: how water went on sale and why we bought it by Elizabeth Royte. Most of Royte's examples are US based, but the same principles apply world wide. The success of the commercialisation of the water industry when people already had good water to drink is a phenomenon that she tries to explore. She discovers that not all tap water is perfect. And, that bottled water does have its place but it's often no better than tap water.
Why would you pay some multinational company a lot more for a litre of the stuff?

Saturday, 4 October 2008


It was a beautiful day today, I didn't have any commitments, I knew the grasslands would be starting to flower - so off to Bannockburn cemetery I went.

This little treasure holds remnant volcanic plains grassland plants, including the endangered Large-fruit Groundsel Senecio macrocarpus. There are moves afoot to set up a new cemetery so that this one can stay as it is, with large open spaces beyond the graves. DSE keeps an eye on the population of this plant here and monitors the threats - encroaching suburbia, weeds, mowing practices - but it will be a miracle if this patch survives in good condition. I noticed yesterday that several of the new houses on the boundary have pushed building rubble onto the site and a couple of the neighbours have dumped garden pruning over the fence.

Then I went to Inverleigh Common - a very large reserve. It's a bit early yet to see very much in the way of flowers but there were Gold Moth orchids everywhere so it was worth visiting just to see that. There was one patch of Dillwynia hispida, the Red Parrot-pea. The local rabbits and kangaroos give the vegetation a hard time - a Friends group is trialling fenced-off areas and getting good results - and the parrot-pea was a prostrate instead of the normal metre or so high bush.

I didn't meet anyone else at all in my travels - the bush was mine for the day. Oh, what a feeling.

Get a grip

This little creature was flying around the grassland at Bannockburn today. I've no idea what it is, but don't you love the way he holds on to that grass stalk? The bottom legs crack me up. (I'm easily amused).


Mt Pollock isn't very high, but it is noticeable. It's an old volcano on the Barrabool Hills west of Geelong, and can be seen from a great distance because the volcanic plain is so flat. The canola crops on its flanks were blindingly yellow today. It will be a GM crop probably because the moratorium has been lifted.

The mountain has been in the news this week because of an application to put wind generators there. Locals are objecting (on aesthetic grounds, and they don't want tourists driving around their quiet rural area) and the issue will go to a hearing in March next year.