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What’s next?

January 20, 2020

The last blog was the result of someone sitting on the riverbank looking for platypus and noticing a Sacred Kingfisher nest. I have spent a lot of time recently at that spot on the river bank photographing the comings and goings of those kingfishers. Last night whilst waiting for the kingfisher’s final food delivery for the day a Rakali (Hydromys chrysogaster) suddenly popped out of the water on to a partially submerged log and began devouring a very large freshwater crayfish (photo, bottom right).

The rakali (previously known as the Native Water Rat) is Australia’s largest rodent. The photo (left) clearly shows the long white-tipped tail. The tail makes up about half the animal’s body length and is used both for propulsion (by swinging it from side to side) and as a rudder. The photo also shows that when swimming the rakali has its nose, eyes and ears above the water level whilst maintaining a low profile in the water.

In muddy water the rakali relies on its whiskers (see photo above) to detect food. The whiskers are wider than the body which prevents the animal swimming into spaces where it is likely to get stuck. Incidentally this photo was taken when the rakali finally realised I was there. It then disappeared under water.

The back feet are partially webbed to aid in paddling but the front feet are not. They are used to grasp food (see picture right).

Given the current trend going to observe something and something else popping up, if I go down to the creek tonight to watch for rakali I wonder what animal will make an appearance. I hope it’s a bunyip!

What’s for dinner?

January 17, 2020

The trick to writing this blog is to always have the camera with you because you never know what you will see or when you will see it. Sometimes it’s a pain to do so. Rarely, careful observation will make the task far more predictable.

A friend of mine has been platypus watching on the warm evenings. When I say platypus watching I mean sitting on the side of the stream waiting to see a platypus. In doing so he noticed that a Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus) had built a nest in the river bank and had young because the adults were regularly flying from the nest and coming back with food. Before flying to the nest the adults would sit on a dead branch in the middle of the stream.

Not only does this provide a regular photo opportunity but if you sit there long enough you can see what type of food kingfisher chicks eat. During the day the main fare is lizards, see photo above left (I guess it’s because that’s when lizards are out and about). As dusk settles the adults come back with insects like grasshoppers (pictured above) and flies…big flies (pictured right).

So far despite the bird’s name, no fish for tea. Maybe I’ll have to wait  and watch a little bit longer.

All is forgiven

January 13, 2020

Our household has a love-hate relationship with Sulphur-crested Cockatoos (Cacatua galerita), so much so that they are simply referred to as Bastard Cockies (Cacatua illegitimii). Over the years they have picked at a substantial portion of the window frames of our house and have recently destroyed the windscreen and sunroof rubbers of our new car. I’m guessing all in the name of fun because the calorific value of automotive rubber must be as close to zero as you can get.

 

On the plus side they are prodigious weeders of Onion Grass or Guilford Grass (Romulea rosea), arriving in flocks in early spring to dig for the bulbs, clearing vast areas of the weed. However they come into their own during a summer rain storm after a spell of hot weather. The joie de vivre they seem to express by squawking loudly, stretching out their wings, hanging upside down and performing other acrobatics, to make sure all of their bodies get drenched in the soaking rain is great to watch (see photos). Maybe it is the same joy they get from destroying my car.

Either way the joy is infectious. All is forgiven..almost!

B&B open for business

January 9, 2020

I am still in awe of the discovery made last year that the building in which I live, now known as the Blue-banded B&B, houses a veritable condominium of Blue-banded Bee apartments. It is also very frustrating because though crumbling lime mortar may (and does) provide great places for these natives bees to build their tunnels, the fact that they are there means I cannot repoint the brickwork to stabilise the building structurally.

This summer I have been eagerly awaiting the return of the Blue-Banded Bees (Amegilla sp.) checking the favoured east wall daily to see if they had come back. Nothing…….until New Years Day. On January 1, all of a sudden it seemed like every B-B Bee in the world decided to turn up and choose their chunk of real estate for this year (pictured below). And accompanying them were the attendant Cuckoo Bees (Thyreus sp.) and Gasteruptiid Wasps (Gasteruption sp.), all eager to lay their own eggs in the B-B Bee cells.

Chequered Cuckoo Bee (left)

There is much I don’t understand here. I sort of get that there is an environmental signal (temperature? humidity? planetary alignment?? sun spot activity???) that says to the B-B Bees it’s time to visit the Butter Factory. In fact other blogs have discussed the sudden annual arrivals (& departures) of other fauna in our district such as Mayflies and Feather-horned Beetles. But for the entourage of predators to turn up on the same day is astounding.

Nature is a wonderful but mysterious thing. More observation is needed!

Don’t mind me

January 7, 2020

Venturing outside in the mid-afternoon heat last Friday with the temperature over 35°C I noticed a Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) waddling along, as they do, occasionally stopping to search for food. It meandered towards me and eventually clambered over one of my boots and then, after a sniff or two, over the other. Clearly there was nothing of interest there, so it continued on its way.

This encounter got me thinking about what a truly amazing animal the echidna is, and wondering how it would cope with climate change and, more immediately, with the catastrophic fires raging at present.

A quick search through reference books and on the internet revealed a surprising number of features unique to the Short-beaked Echidna, many of which help it to be a long-term survivor. In fact the fossil record shows it to be little changed from its Pleistocene era ancestors.

A few of its characteristics:
• unfussy as to habitat, as long as there is an ample food supply (predominantly ants and termites) and some shelter, it is found from sea level up to alpine altitudes and over pretty much the whole of Australia in a wide range of vegetation communities
• it can lower its metabolic rate and undergo torpor or hibernation for extended periods, allowing it to survive extreme cold, drought, floods and food shortages
• in bushfires it can dig down to about 1 metre and go into torpor, where it survives due to its tolerance of high carbon dioxide and low oxygen levels
• it is also a good swimmer and if necessary can dive deep
• it has the effective defensive mechanism of curling itself into a partly buried ball, due to its short flexible spine
• it is long-lived, sometimes up to 50 years in captivity.

Some other physical attributes are:
• it has fur between its spines and on its underside, the fur being longer in cooler climes, almost obscuring the spines in Tasmania – one piece of trivia related to its fur is that it can be infested with the world’s largest flea
• it does not have the ability to sweat and doesn’t pant, which helps avoid dehydration, but means it reportedly does not handle heat well (tell that to our echidna – out in the searing heat!)
• the male echidna has internal testes and an unusual penis with four knobs on the tip, while the female has a milk patch to feed the young which is called a puggle
• on each rear leg, the male has a small spur which, unlike the Platypus, is not venomous
• while it has poor eyesight, its eyes are well-protected by a hardened flat surface so they don’t get irritated by ants or impaled by sticks or its own spines
• it detects prey by smell receptors on its snout and possibly also by hearing
• it has a very long sticky tongue that can move very rapidly – the echidna’s generic name Tachyglossus translates as “quick tongue”
• and of course the feature that confounded early explorers and naturalists was that it lays eggs – a single soft-shelled egg laid into its backward-facing pouch.

Having apparently coped well with the extensive changes to the landscape that followed European occupation, the Short-beaked Echidna will hopefully be versatile enough to take climate change in its stride (or should that be waddle?).

Script revision needed

January 5, 2020

One of the presentations I deliver is entitled ‘Faunascaping Your Garden’ and describes simple things one can do to increase the number and diversity of animals in your patch. It comes with several caveats. You may have the best garden in the world but can fauna get there (is there a bio-link)? If there is a species you want to attract, is it local to the area? You won’t see an Andean Condor perched in a tree in Strath Creek!

One of the examples I give of managing your expectations is the Blue-faced Honeyeater (Entomyzon cyanotis), pictured left, photographed in Euroa. I love this bird because the colour blue is rare in nature and this bird is flaunting it loud and proud. As much as I would love this bird in my garden and might plant the right flora to attract it, the Blue-faced Honeyeater is rarely seen south and east of the Strathbogies. In fact I have never seen it in our area. Until now.

Whilst weeding the vegie patch I heard a bird call unusual for this area and looking up there was a juvenile Blue-faced Honeyeater in the tree above, pictured right and below. The green patch around its eye is bare skin and is indicative of the age of the bird. Young birds have yellow skin around the eye which turns green after six months. This skin turns blue after about 16 months.

The dry conditions on our continent in recent times has meant that fauna are moving outside of their normal distribution zones often in the search for water, or have the changes made to my garden in recent times actually enticed this bird in? Or has this species always been in the garden but I’ve never noticed it?

Either way this recent sighting means that a script revision is needed for my talk.

Different species, same story

December 31, 2019

Last year I blogged about watching Grey Fantails (Rhipidura albiscapa) build a nest in the vines outside the kitchen window. This year they have not returned but my ‘neighbour’ Corrine has had a pair of Willie Wagtails (Rhipidura leucophrys), pictured left, nesting in a tree next to her house and I have been gaining vicarious pleasure from listening to the reports of their progress. The scientific name is derived from the Greek words rhipis (fan), oura (tail), leukos (white) and ophrus (eyebrow) – a ‘white-eyebrowed fantail’.

Willy Wagtails inhabit most areas except dense forest. In 15 years we have never observed them on our bush block though they are plentiful in the neighbour’s paddocks. The birds are aggressive and territorial and are one of those you see harassing eagles and the like to protect their territory. Like Fantail nests, Wagtail nests are built of grass and bark held together with spider web and lined with animal fur. They do not however have the wine-glass shape. This nest in question was in a citrus tree 2 metres above the ground.

Last night an SMS accompanied with a photo, see picture right, proclaimed that two chicks had hatched and that I was invited to come around and take some photos with a ‘proper’ camera which I duly did. The resulting photograph (left) revealed an empty nest. Known predators include feral cats (unlikely), rats (maybe) or Pied Currawongs (most likely). Nature is nature!

Same story as last year, different bird.