Saturday, 31 January 2009

Victorian alps

Just to show you the bigger picture, this is Hotham Heights ski village from half way up Mt Loch (taken while I was catching my breath!) Note the Snow Gums in the foreground, recovering from the severe fires several years ago, near their upper limit.

Another photo from Mt Loch, of Mt Buffalo on the horizon, with the ridge leading to Mt Feathertop in the foreground. What a beautiful place.

Legs eleven (or sixty)

Amongst the forest litter under the Snow Gums at Hotham we found a millipede, a very long millipede. At least eight or nine centimetres long. And with a brilliant metallic sheen.

I'm finding it difficult to identify it because as usual my photos don't show the bit I need to see - in this case the eyes. If it's blind then for sure it's a Polydesmid Millipede but if it's not then it's probably a Spirobolid Millipede. I'm guessing the former because it only has about 19 body segments. Apparently I have to see how many legs on the fourth segment or the fifth segment but I can't tell. There's a lot to be said for 'collecting' but of course it's not the correct thing to do these days.

Sometimes I wish I was an 'expert' at something, anything! Anyway, it was certainly an impressive creature, and we carefully put it back into the leaf litter before we went on our way.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Hoppers on Hotham

On our walks around Hotham and Dinner Plains last weekend we found a few of the amazing flightless grasshoppers called Southern Pyrgomorph or Spotted Mountain Grasshopper Monistria concinna. This one thought I couldn't see it hidden in a rock crevice.

Last summer we found them at the Baw Baw ski village but they had different colouring - apparently there are about eight forms. They have the ability to survive in the freezing conditions because of an antifreeze substance in the haemoglyph (blood-like fluid).

There were quite a few different grasshoppers, including many small ones I didn't bother chasing, but these three stayed still long enough to have their portraits taken. I don't don't what they are yet.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Mothing at noon

Here's a challenge for my blogging friends who seem to be able to stay up half the night mothing and record beautiful photographs of their 'catch'. I need my beauty sleep so finding a moth in the daytime is a bonus.

The Billy Buttons (Craspedia sp.) on Mt Loch near Hotham were flowering last weekend, and some had finished flowering. They were attracting a large range of invertebrates, including this colourful moth on a button past its prime.

I'm thinking it might be an Oriental Tiger Moth Phaos aglaophara. Can anyone confirm that?

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Wind damage

Last Thursday we travelled to the Sale on our way to the Victorian alps, calling in to Mt Worth reserve on the way.

It was a shocker of a day - hot, windy and dusty - and just when we decided to have lunch at Mt Worth there was a wind storm with thunder and lightning and heavy rain. We had it all. But then the sun came out and we had time to explore the area a little. I'm going back one day because it looks really interesting. The views over the Latrobe Valley were a bonus.

On the way out of the park to Mirboo North we found our way obstructed by several trees that had come down in the storm. A majority vote decided that we would go back the way we'd come in, but our leader over-ruled us so we set about attacking the obstacles. After about half an hour we succeeded in clearing a path between the trees and the cliff on the driver's side and made it through.

A starfish in the forest

We went to Mt Hotham ski village for a few days, a great spot to visit in the summer to see the alpine plants flowering. And on one of the tracks we found this several of the smelly Starfish Fungus Aseroe rubra. The flies loved it. Bruce Fuhrer in A Field Guide to Australian Fungi states that the spores are distributed after passing through the insects! This is the first time I've seen this fungus so it was a highlight of the trip.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

An unidentified damsel

This one's for Duncan and pertains to comments on my previous blog entry.

We found this damselfly at Reedy Lake near Geelong but haven't identified it yet. She was perched on a vertical reed with her ovipositor in the water. I'm thinking Austrolestes genus, possibly leda, but the photo probably isn't quite good enough to be sure and I don't have any others.

Reedy Lake

Thank goodness today wasn't a hot one. We were out on the saltmarsh and reedbeds of Reedy Lake near Geelong and there was no shelter from the sun. Luckily our leader had a key to the gate (oh, the power!) so we were able to escape the long walk in by driving most of the way along a track that follows the north bank of the Barwon River.
We were shown how the water levels of the Barwon and a side channel are regulated to control salinity levels (the tide used to reach much further up the river) and the carp. The photo above shows a channel. Several bitterns were seen here recently, and mapie-geese as well.
The yellow flowers of the waterbuttons mixed with the purple of the Creeping Monkey-flower Mimulus repens was quite a sight. (You can just see a bit of it on the edge of the photo above.) And the red Azolla was floating in patches on the water. Altogether a beautiful place.
This is the Monkey-flower, common on the margins of swamps and lakes. The flowers are meant to be like little masks, hence mimulus, from the Greek mimo (ape) or mimos (imitator). I had wondered why such a pretty flower was called a monkey-flower - now I know. If you click on the photo to enlarge it you can see the fleshy dimpled leaves.

And this is the floating fern called Azolla pinnata. I think there might be some duckweed in there as well.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Hanging on for life

You wouldn't think that the Dodder-laurel was related to the Camphor Laurel but they are both in the laurel family, the Laurelaceae. Cinnamon comes from another plant in the family, Cinnamomum zeylanicum.

Dodder-laurel species are found growing in most areas, even out on the grasslands in Western Victoria where it is a dainty little little thing, but the one I found growing on the banks of the Barwon River at Geelong was anything but dainty. It was robust, and climbing over everything in its path, up to a height of about four metres in this case but it can climb a lot higher than that. Cassytha melantha the Coarse Dodder-laurel has quite thick stems but no leaves to speak of. You can see some of the leaves in the photo below. The flowers are insignificant but the fruit is quite large, about cherry size.

This dodder was attached to a young Black Wattle by small sucker-like pads called haustoria, and apparently gains access through these to the vascular system of the host plant. I had thought that they tapped into the root systems until I read Name That Flower by Ian Clarke and Helen Lee.

The patterns formed by the pads twining around the stem were very pretty in a geometrical kind of way, and I think I'll go back and try and get some better photos. The ones published here were taken 'on the run' because I was with a group of fellow naturalists and meant to be bird-watching :)

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Dinner's ready

On a field nats' excursion this morning someone pointed out a broken bird egg on the asphalt and I noticed several types of flies taking advantage of the food source.

Flies seem to be of interest to a few bloggers lately. Snail wrote a very interesting blog about blowflies, and Duncan posted photos the other day. I think what I have are some Flesh-flies (of the Sarcophagidae Family) and a blowfly, possibly Lesser Brown Blowfly Calliphora auger of the Calliphordae Family and another blurred stripey one in the background of the first photo. I'm happy to be informed.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Anglesea wildlife

Before I got distracted by orchids at Anglesea (and before my batteries went flat) I managed to find some insects on the foliage of plants at Point Addis.

This huge bullant (maybe 3cm long) was scurrying across the sand and up and down low plants, carrying what appears to be a bee. I wasn't too worried about it biting me while it had food in its 'mouth'.

Haven't worked out what this is yet, but it was under bark on a eucalypt and I only got one photo before it headed (flew actually) for another dark shelter.

A grasshopper, also unidentified as yet. Any suggestions welcome.

And on a leaf of a wattle I found these Stiletto-flies mating. They belong to the Therevidae family and the adults feed on nectar (their larvae in the soil are carnivorous).

Birds of a different kind

Braving the traffic on the Great Ocean Road I took myself off to see what was happening in the Anglesea heath - one of my favorite places. I wandered along paths at Point Addis that I had to myself because everyone else was at the beach, searched for insects in the foliage, listened to the birds, enjoyed the sunshine.

As I got back to my car another car pulled up. "I thought it was you" said Polly, who was showing her friend from New South Wales the Rufous Bristlebird on the point. "Have you seen the duck orchids?" No, I hadn't and wasn't even looking for orchids thinking it was a bit late in the season.

So off to the orchid patch we went, an area that has been mined for sand in the past and now regrowing. If Polly hadn't shown me I would never have seen these little beauties tucked away in the undergrowth. Beats me how anyone found them in the first place. There were two types of Duck Orchids there, the Large Duck Orchid Caleana major and the Small Duck Orchid Paracaleana minor. Both are uncommon in this area. The slightest touch will trigger the labellum to spring down against the column - and this is what it does when a male wasp responds to the 'female-wasp' scent emitted by the orchid.

Luckily I was able to get several photos before my camera battery went flat and I discovered that I'd forgotten to charge my spare battery!! The first photo is the Large Duck Orchid and the other two are the Small Duck Orchid.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Our Christmas tree

School finished for the year around 18 December and one of the first holiday joys for us kids was decorating the house for Christmas.
I'm talking about the olden days here so we didn't have any fancy decorations. We made our own. Mum let our imaginations run loose so we had pleated streamers running in every direction. And then dad would take us into the bush to choose a small tree which he cut down and took home for us to decorate as well. The tree was always a Native Cherry, or Cherry Ballart and I've since found out that its scientific name is Exocarpus cupressiformis. As the name suggests, it looks a bit like a cypress tree. It's a common small tree in the bush in south and east Australia.
We don't do that any more because it's not ecologically sound or even legal to be chopping down trees like that. Shame really because I liked it, but some people find the smell a bit strong.
The Cherry Ballart is a very interesting plant that tends to get ignored because it's so common. It's semi-parasitic, drawing nutrients from nearby trees, usually eucalypts. It's extremely hard to propagate so it's not usually found in home gardens even though it is attractive in colour and shape. One of the most interesting things about it is the fruit - fleshy, green turning to red, edible, berry-like and remarkable because the seed sits outside the fruit (hence 'exocarpus'). The leaves are reduced to scales so the angular stems are photosynthetic.
I took a photo of the fruit last week but it wasn't until I saw it on the screen that I realised that I also had a photo of the flower. The flowers are minute, only 1.5 mm across, and pale green. You'll find one in the photo below if you click on it to enlarge.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009


Funny little creatures the leafhoppers. I found these at Heywood. Look at those eyes!


Holidays have to come to an end unfortunately, but it was fun down on the farm at Heywood with the (extended) family.

The bush was dry, and the spring flowering over of course, but there were several areas of heath plants flowering well. The adult emu with about 10 young in tow gave us a surprise when they wandered across the track - well, the surprise was mutual really, and the chicks scattered in all directions.

Because of the lack of flowers I concentrated on finding insects in the foliage, with some success. It's great to find things tucked away in foliage and bark, getting on with what they do best. I found this beautiful little Triangular Spider on the edge of a leaf, sitting in its scrappy web with its big front legs stretched across the width of the leaf.

I took several photos, and when I looked again after fussing with camera controls ... it had caught a fly! I missed it. But I did get some good shots of the fly held firmly in the spider's grasp.