Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Dam residents

One dam on the farm is just a muddy reservoir with very little in the way of vegetation. Cattle have access on every side. But there must have been enough for the dragonflies and damselfies. The first image shows a damselfly that has caught what appears to be a fly. I have limited internet access so I can't research the species but maybe it is male and female of one genus of damselfly, and one genus of dragonfly that used cow pats as resting places.

PS Our friend from Gippsland has identified them for me. The top damselfly is a Blue Ringtail Austrolestes annulosus, next is a Red and Blue Damsel Xanthagrion erythroneurom and the dragonfly is a Blue Skimmer Orthetrum caledonicum. (Thanks DF).

Saturday, 26 December 2009

A mystery to solve

What do you think is going on here? I took a photo of bees on the edge of a dam on our farm at Homerton. I thought they were drinking water, but when I put the photos on the screen there are eggs or something on sticks and I don't know what the bees are doing. There are also small black flies present. Click on photos to enlarge.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Family closeness

"Come and have a look at this" said my neighbour. A new family has moved into the neighbourhood - a family of Tawny Frogmouths sitting on a low branch of a eucalypt, directly above a footpath. Of course we generated a bit of interest by standing in the street with binoculars and cameras - we met a new neighbour, talked to the postie who stopped to see what we were looking at and showed the birds to a couple of young girls out for a scooter ride with their dad.

There aren't any trees with hollows nearby because it's a relatively new suburb so it's a mystery where this pair nested and why they decided to spend the day in this tree. It will be interesting to see if they're still there tomorrow.

Round the twist

It was a perfect day today - low twenties, no wind, sunny with beautiful cloud formations - so we went to the beach. (No, not to swim. I know it's unAustralian but I detest swimming in the sea.) We went to explore some areas we haven't been to for a while.

It's years since we've been to the lighthouse on Split Point at Aireys Inlet on the Great Ocean Road, even though we've driven past heaps of times. You may remember the lighthouse as the star of the television series 'Round the Twist'. Last time we were there we drove up to have a look but this time we had to walk because the parking has been formalised and the cliffs and clifftops protected and revegetated. 'They' (whichever authority is responsible) have done a great job with the paths, steps and fencing.

It was interesting to compare the lush vegetation with an old photo in the cafe in the old keepers cottage - it showed the lighthouse on a bare hill in 1910. One of the few plants flowering today was the Sea Box Alyxia buxifolia. It's an uncommon shrub of exposed clifftops and well worth a second look. The small white flowers are very beautiful because the petals twist in a spiral and have fluted edges. They're going 'round the twist' as well.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Counting birds, in theory

Yesterday was BOCA's Challenge Bird Count and our team covered the usual route around the Bellarine Peninsula. I don't know yet what our total number of species was but it will be down on our average of about 130 species - the bush was very quiet and the tides were high. We couldn't even find a Pacific Gull! And there were no Mistletoebirds where we always find them. We had a good day though because it's always good to get out and about with fellow birdwatchers.

But I shouldn't have gone. I should have been home nursing my cold instead of being on the move for 14 hours. My other half told me it was a silly idea (not exactly how he put it) and reminded me that I'm not 21 any more, but the 'call of the bush' is very strong so I went. But because I was feeling lousy I didn't do some of the walks in to certain areas with the team and while I waited I wandered around where the cars were parked. In theory I was looking and listening for birds but in practice I had time to give the camera a bit of a workout. Only a bit because, remember?, I wasn't feeling too good. Just for fun I chased this tiny moth that was flying around the grasstrees at Ironbark Basin. It was active and I wasn't but one or two photos turned out OK. I've no idea what it is.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

A dainty moth

Tipanaea patulella (2), originally uploaded by boobook48.

We were meant to be searching for frogs around a dam at Bambra but I got distracted by the beautiful little white moths flying around the rushes and grass.

They were Tipanaea patulella. Apparently the caterpillars bore into the stem of rushes.

PS I tried out something new for this blog - I uploaded the photo and comments from my Flickr page. It was easy peasy. (Except I see that the original photo title comes up in tiny font underneath the photo which I don't think is really necessary, and the tags didn't come across either.)

PPS And I've just discovered that when you click on the photo to view large it takes you straight to my Flickr page where you have to click on the 'All sizes' option.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The greengrocer pays me a visit

This morning I drew back the curtains on the sliding door and was faced with this huge insect hanging on to the flywire screen _ bit of a shock when I hadn't even had my coffee!

It's a Greengrocer Cicada Cyclochila australasiae, green form. Other colour variations are Blue Moon (turquoise form), Chocolate Soldier (dark tan form), Masked Devil, Yellow Monday (yellow form). They're common and found (or should I say heard) up the east coast of Australia. And they're big _ its wing span is about 13 cm.

I was about to move it to a tree for a different photograph but it flew away when I moved the door. Oh well, now I can have my coffee.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A bird's nest of a different kind

Several weeks ago we did a plant survey on roadside vegetation near Barwon Downs but as usual we got distracted by insects, birds and fungi. Rosalind found these tiny fungi cups on a very small stick. I photographed them and went back to photographing plants. When we saw the photos on the computer we realised that they were Bird's-nest Fungi (species unknown but possibly Nidula emodensis). If you look carefully at the second photo you can see the peridioles scattered on the wood, presumably by raindrops. I've never seen one before, and would love to see a fresh one. I didn't realise they were so small.

Monday, 16 November 2009

A bearded orchid

The references state that this beard-orchid flowers through the spring into January but it was a bit of surprise when we found one last weekend at Bambra. Actually Barry, the birdwatcher, spotted it while we, the botanists, were sitting next to it at lunch time. Luckily we weren't actually sitting on it.

It's the Purple Beard-orchid Calochilus robertsonii, and it is quite common in this district. We had the reference books out trying to turn it into something unusual but didn't succeed. It's beautiful of course, what orchid isn't?

Sunday, 15 November 2009


The property owner told our group that they had a resident Red-bellied Black Snake on their property near Bambra. After we'd completed plant surveys, set out the mammal-traps and collected the insect traps we decided to have a look for the snake because they are not usually seen in the area. A snake was found on a dam bank but it turned out to be a dark Lowlands Copperhead Austrelaps superbus. We were delighted to see it catch and eat a frog (click on second photo to view large). We were also surprised to see it swim deep under the water rather than on the surface. PS. For the benefit of non-Australian readers, these snakes are dangerously venemous.

Dragonflies and damselfies

Last week the insects were flying in the long and lush grass on our farm at Homerton, including these three. (I really will have to buy that dragonfly book.) Maybe one of you, my fellow bloggers, will know what they are. Update: The second one is possibly a teneral (i.e. newly emerged) Wandering Percher Diplacodes bipunctata, and the first and third Metallic Ringtails Austrolestes cingulatus. Thanks D.

And today at Bambra these little beauties were patrolling a dam (the same one mentioned in my latest tweet - in the bar at right). Update: I think this damselfly is a male Ischnura aurora (Coenagrionidae).

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The thrill of the triller

OMG! I've been watching the birds on our farm near Heywood for 25 years but the last two days have been the best.

Our farm is open grassland paddocks leased to a dairy farmer, and a bush block, the whole surrounded by other areas of bush. The house paddock also has trees and shrubs. After years of drought and dry weather the last twelve months have been about normal (whatever that is now), the rainfall near or just below average. The vegetation has responded well and the pasture looks green and lush - so different to the paddocks around here in Geelong.

We went down to the farm for a couple of days this week and I had a great time observing the birds. They were everywhere, calling all day and building nests. I saw 60 species on our farm - and missed seeing some I normally see so the total could have been higher if I'd got up earlier:) The best were Brown Songlark, Rufous Songlark patrolling the house paddock continually, nesting Sacred Kingfishers, nesting White-winged Trillers in the house paddock, Swamp Harrier (not seen here for many years), Olive-backed Oriole, Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo, Dusky Woodswallow, White-necked Heron and Tree Martin. I dipped on Restless Flycatcher, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Red-browed Firetail, Grey Currawong, White-eared Honeyeater and Mistletoebird - all of which I usually see.

Because the triller was building a nest in a tree in the house paddock I was able to take my coffee and binoculars out and sit in the shade and just watch. It was fun to see the male triller collecting cobweb, lichen and bark, to see it attacking a Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo that ventured into the nest tree, to see it sitting on the nest (to try it out for size?). I never saw the female. Unfortunately we couldn't stay to see the next installment. And I didn't have time to search for the Rufous Songlark's nest - I'm guessing it was or will be in the long grass near the fence. We're back there over New Year but all the fun will be over by then. Maybe.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Spring fungi in the damp forest

When we were in the Otways looking for the Thismia last weekend (see last blog) we found quite a few different types of fungi as well. The mulch was damp, it was shady and there were quite a few understory shrubs and ferns present as well. In fact there was so much fungi there that it made me wonder why I haven't done more 'fungi forays' at this time of the year.

The first is a small stemmed black cup fungi, only a centimetre or two wide, possibly Plectania (or Peziza). We found quite a lot of this, often completely covered in mulch.

In an open but shaded area next to a path we found a beautiful coral fungus in various shades of pink and deep purple. It's possibly a Clavaria. The insects seem to like it as well. My friend Polly thinks it could be Clavaria zollingeri which 'is usually found amongst decaying litter under tree-ferns' (Fuhrer) - which this one was.

The tiny blue Chlorociboria was growing on a piece of stick in the mulch. Apparently one species stains the wood blue and another doesn't. We didn't look that closely - it was hard to concentrate on the fungi when the Thismia was claiming our attention.

PS A friend has just forwarded me a photo she took on the day and it definitely shows blue staining on the wood so I think it's a safe bet that it is C. aeruginascens.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Looking for a needle in the haystack

They said it was impossible. 'Good luck', they said. 'Best of British luck.' But we pressed on.

Our plan was to search for a Fairy Lantern Thismia rodwayi in the wet forests of Great Otway National Park. Rosalind reasoned that because it grows in Tasmania and eastern Victoria it was a possibility that it would also be present in the Otways, given that Victoria and Tasmania were connected by a land bridge only 15 000 years ago. So she organised a bunch of us to go down there last weekend. It's a very big park but the search technique for this plant is to each take a one-square metre quadrat (that's one square metre!), carefully lift of the mulch and look underneath for this tiny plant. It might be red, but it's only a centimetre of two high. If no Thismia was present we moved on to another quadrat.

At our second site we were successful. It's a beautiful and unusual plant, aptly named Fairy Lantern. We found eleven plants in all, over two days. Naturally we were very excited. It was all good fun.

The first image is of an immature plant, the second is mature.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

More bush creatures

This beautiful little Lauxaniidae fly was on a bush-pea at Blanket Leaf picnic ground in the Otways - I think it's Pultenaea mollis and the little yellow slime worm was under the mulch.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Small delights

The Great Otway National Park is big, very big, and diverse. Last weekend we explored some of the wet forest areas. These are some of the small beetles we saw. The first is a Scarab beetle, the Eucalyptus Chafer Xylonichus eucalypti. I don't know identity of the other two as yet. The butterfly is a Forest Brown Argynnina cryila.

Update: The second beetle is a darkling beetle Lepispilus rotundicollis, the red and black insect is a Lycid beetle.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Another cemetery visit

Four types of grevillea can be found in the Brisbane Ranges, some more readily than others. One is the endemic Grevillea steiglitziana Brisbane Ranges Grevillea. Another is the Golden Grevillea Grevillea chrysophaea and it can be found fairly easily in heathy woodland near the old gold-mining town of Steiglitz. I found it easily at the Steiglitz cemetery where it grows between the headstones and reaches a height of several metres. A New Holland Honeyeater was taking advantage of the nectar when I was there. The flowers are a stunning golden yellow.

This plant is endemic to Victoria and grows in the east of the state except for the population in the Brisbane Ranges. I've never gone looking for the other two types of grevillea - another thing to put on my 'to do' list.

PS This cemetery is a good spot for orchids too.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

More of the plains

The Little River carves through the landscape and has rocky banks and cliffs. It is in this harsh environment that an aged Hop-bush Dodonaea viscosa survives despite a decade of low rainfall. The bushes we saw were covered in red seed cases.

We found the the nationally vulnerable Large-fruit Groundsel Senecio macrocarpus in the grassland ,and the beautiful Blue Devil Eryngium ovinium - hard to believe it's in the Apiaceae family.

Also hidden in the grassland was a baby Singing Bushlark. The adults were quite agitated until we moved on.

Plains wandering

Grasslands look uninteresting from a distance but up close are spectacular. We explored some grassland reserves on today's guided walk at Little River near the You Yangs. We had to walk very slowly in order not to miss little herbs hiding. There were several daisies, dianellas, bluebells, convolvulus, lomandras, blue devils, fringe-lilies, pimeleas, pelagoniums and grass-lilies as well as a variety of indigenous grasses. The yellow flowers of Clustered Everlastings dominated the scene.

One of the little herbs was a Plantain Plantago. I thought it was P. gaudichaudi, but it has hairy leaves so maybe it's P. varia.