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.