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For the spermologers

August 9, 2018

The many diggings on the property at the moment indicate that echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) are currently out and about. They are usually seen roaming across the landscape as individual animals and are rarely seen in a group, which for those spermologers (collectors of trivia) amongst us is called a parade.

The best chance to see a parade of echidnas is during breeding season, between June and September, i.e. now. The beginning of the courtship process involves male echidnas following in a line (nose to tail) behind a female echidna in what is known as an echidna train. The train can be many male animals long and can last for days before the female stops and the male at the head of the train (usually by this stage the fittest male) gets to mate. Male echidnas have been known to participate in several trains during a season.

I had known about these trains for many years but had never seen one. And so it was when walking last week I spied on the far slope (actually Mac, the Border Collie X spied it first) an echidna train. It was only three animals long but a train none the less. By the time I got there (Mac having arrived on the scene much earlier) the train had been derailed and in its place were three echidnas digging their way to Lajes das Flores , Azores (the exact opposite side of the earth from Strath Creek – another one for the spermologers!)

We (Mac and I) waited behind a tree until dark to see if the train would reform but to no avail –such is the state of the train system in Victoria.

Not dead but not moving either

July 17, 2018

Over the years Judy from Limestone has contributed several interesting photos to this blogsite and as previously noted they all involve dead things. Her latest contribution is a photograph (below) of the inside of a wasp’s mud nest which had accidentally been knocked off a wall. This time the creatures inside are not dead, but they are not moving either.

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Potter Wasp nest

Wasps from the Sphecidae and Crabronidae families build mud nests in a variety of shapes and sizes. Potter Wasps for example build urn-shaped structures (see photo right). Common Mud-daubers (Sceliphron laetum) build many chambered cylindrical nests (below left).

Mud-dauber nest

These nests act as breeding chambers for the young. After the nest is constructed (but before it is sealed) the female wasp hunts for spiders or caterpillars on which the young will feed. These they sting and paralyse and then

Potter Wasp carrying a caterpillar

carry them back to the nest where they are placed in the mud chambers (pictured right). A single egg is then laid on the immobile host and the chamber is sealed.  When the wasp larvae hatch they feed on the fresh still living but immobile host.

The dislodged nest pictured above clearly shows a collection of spiders which have been deposited in the mud chambers. In the chamber on the right a wasp larvae can be seen feeding on the green spider.

Gruesome as it is, the nest looks more jewel box than burial chamber.

Flowerdale phascogale

July 13, 2018


The Brush-tailed Phascogale is a little-known native carnivorous marsupial that captured the imagination of many in the local community when remote cameras set up during the Focus on Fauna survey project in 2011/12 revealed its presence at several locations in the Flowerdale – Strath Creek area. That indicated that this threatened species was most likely recovering well after the Black Saturday fires, and several sightings since then, many in nest boxes, have confirmed this.
 
The delightful photos shown here were taken recently by Ken in Flowerdale. What is unusual is that the phascogale was out during the day, since it is predominantly a nocturnal hunter, feeding mainly on arthropods, but occasionally supplementing its diet with small vertebrates and even nectar.

 
Phascogales are highly susceptible to predation by foxes and cats, as well as native goannas and owls. It is hoped that a significant reduction in fox numbers under the current King Parrot Catchment Fox Control Project, in which Ken is a participant, will greatly improve the survival chances of this little critter.

Standing out from the mob

July 2, 2018

Following a tip-off and receipt of some grainy mobile phone photos, we decided to investigate reports of an all-white Eastern Grey Kangaroo on a large grazing property in the Flowerdale/Strath Creek area. With the help of the property owner’s son, after a couple of tries we were able to get close enough for some long-range photos. The roo seemed in all other respects normal and well-accepted by the rest of the mob, but of course stood out from a long distance away, presumably making it more vulnerable to predation.

A white kangaroo is quite a rarity – an estimate by the Australian Zoo is 1 in 10,000 – but there are several reports on the internet of sightings in Victoria in recent years. We came across one interesting article on a white kangaroo in an urban environment. It was a paper titled “The White Kangaroo” by Simon Watharow presented at the Australian Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference in 2016. Many Strath Creek residents will remember Simon from a wonderful presentation on snakes he gave at the Landcare AGM some years ago. In his paper Simon gives an explanation of the difference between the genetic anomalies leucism and albinism. He also suggests that one of the main threats to his kangaroo might be from humans keen to have a rare skin on their floor – which is why we’ve been vague about the location of this kangaroo.

We have read reports of both pale grey and brown joeys as offspring of a pure white mother, and it will be interesting to see if this one, which we think is a female, produces a joey and what colour it will be?

Coming to a fruit tree near you?

June 28, 2018
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Queensland Fruit Fly

This rather attractive little fly may or may not be in the Flowerdale/Strath Creek area. It’s the Queensland Fruit Fly (QFF), Bactrocera tryoni, a native insect distributed through much of eastern Australia, and with a bad reputation as a pest of orchards and vegetable crops, both on a commercial scale and in home gardens. So it’s not just introduced species that can cause problems for agricultural activities. This is the annoying culprit that is responsible for you having to wastefully dump your fresh fruit before entering the Sunraysia Pest Free Area.

Next Sunday, 1st July, the Strath Creek Landcare group is hosting a Focus on Fauna presentation on the QFF by Cathy Mansfield, Statewide Fruit Fly Coordinator for Agriculture Victoria. Cathy will talk about the life cycle, host plants, damage caused and methods of control. All are welcome, but please email focusonfauna@gmail.com if you plan to come.

To determine if the QFF is in fact in our district, the Upper Goulburn Landcare Network will have free lure traps available to take home. So here’s a chance to contribute to a bit of citizen science!

Click on the flyer at right for full details.

What’s in a name?

June 22, 2018

The robins are back in town. In our district several species of Robins (genus Petroica) are seasonal migrants seeking relief in the alpine areas from the heat in summer only to return to lower and warmer climes in winter. Well they are back for the winter in large flocks.

Male Flame Robin

Flame Robins (Petroica phoenicea) (pictured left) and Scarlet Robins (Petroica boodang) (below right and left) have been seen in large mixed groups– or it could have been a flock of each foraging closely together! At a distance or to the untrained eye the species are not easy to tell apart. The males of both species sport a red breast reminding me of the Robin Redbreast I knew from stories as a kid but had never seen. It is only when you see them together that the differences become apparent.

Male Scarlet Robin

Most obviously the Flame Robin has a dark grey head and back whereas that of the Scarlet Robin is black. The breast colour red presents as a variety of hues. The Flame Robin has orange-red markings which start at the throat. The Scarlet Robin colour which starts on the breast can vary between scarlet (right) and orange red (below left). The size of white splash above the beak of the Scarlet Robin is also a bit of a give-away.

Interestingly (and confusingly) the species name for the Flame Robin, phoenicea, is derived from the Latin word phoenicius meaning scarlet.

Not so Scarlet Robin

The aforementioned Robin Redbreast which was a character from my childhood is a British bird of the Chat family. It has brown plumage and a burnt orange breast. The discrepancy between the breast colour and name came about because when the bird was first named, the English language had not yet invented a word for orange. If it had it may have been called Robin Orangebreast.

Hasn’t got the same ring to it!

Nothing succeeds like….

June 11, 2018

As has previously been described several times, winter is not a good time to be blogging about native fauna. As many creatures are hibernating or have moved to warmer climes the search for a subject is not as easy as simply stepping outside, as it is in spring. It takes a bit of effort to find anything other than cockies pulling onion grass from the lawn or currawongs harassing hapless smaller birds. I had to resort to turning over timber in the backyard and lo and behold a critter emerged.

Pictured is a Black and White Seed Bug (Dieuches maculicollis). It is a True Bug (hemipteran) i.e. a sucking insect, of the Rhyparochromini tribe – from the Greek rhyparos meaning dirt and chromus meaning coloured. Not very flattering! Worldwide there are 370 species in this tribe of which 30 are in Australia.

Seed bugs, as the name suggests are generally ground-dwelling seed predators feeding on ripe seed which has fallen from grasses and bushes. They have specially adapted mouthparts for piercing the hard outer seed husk and sucking seed sap.

As the old saying goes, nothing succeeds like a hemipteran from the Rhyparochromini tribe (or a budgie with no beak!).