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Dam platypus

July 14, 2019

We’re quite used to seeing platypus in the King Parrot Creek and there have been sightings from there in recent months, even when the creek was reduced to barely connected pools. This included a platypus at Flowerdale which unfortunately had fishing line tightly wound around its body.

But we were a little surprised to get an email from Peter and Terry saying there was a Platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus, in their large farm dam (see photo at left), which in fact is more of an ornamental lake in the sizeable garden area surrounding their Strath Creek house.

We were less surprised after reading the following sentence in Mammals of Victoria, edited by Peter Menkhorst: “Wandering individuals, probably mainly dispersing immature animals, are occasionally found crossing dry land up to 2 km from the nearest water body … or in apparently sub-optimal habitats such as irrigation channels and farm dams.” Farm dams for livestock are often less than ideal habitat for platypus because of their depth and bare shallow-sloping hard-packed banks unsuitable for constructing burrows for nesting and shelter. Fenced-off dams with vegetated banks, like the one shown here, encourage the invertebrates that platypus feed on and are generally more suitable habitat.

Whether the platypus came up from the nearby Strath Creek or Wild Dog Creek after they began flowing again following recent rain, or came down from another dam on the property is open to speculation, but it is certainly a long way from any permanently flowing waterway.

One good piece of news regarding platypus is that new rules in Victoria banning the recreational use of opera house traps (and other enclosed yabby trap designs) in all waters came into effect from 1st July this year following a campaign by the Australian Platypus Conservancy. So there should hopefully be no more reports of platypus drowning in these lethal traps.

Spewin’

June 13, 2019

This organism is not quite fauna and not quite flora nor fungi. On the side of the driveway I found something on the ground that looked like it had been left by a wallaby after a big night out (see picture left). Appropriately named it is a Dog Vomit Slime Mould (Fuligo sp.). The name is bad enough but not all slime moulds look that revolting (see picture below).

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Trichia sp.

Slime moulds do not neatly fit into either the fauna, flora nor fungi categories and they have characteristics of all three. In normal situations slime moulds exist as single-celled organisms that are unable to be seen with the naked eye. They feed on microorganisms in dead plant material and fungi.

In times of stress however, if the food supply is scarce or if the temperature is unsuitable, slime mould organisms cluster together to form a larger, visible ‘blob’. The blob can be metres in size. The mass can move towards light or hunt for food as a single unit. Slime moulds reproduce by producing spores. When mature, the spores are dispersed and new ‘amoebae’ are formed.

During our recent fungi workshop white slime moulds were seen growing from the dead trunks of Tasmanian Blue Gums (pictured right).

I have a great idea to use these to produce a B-grade horror movie. It will obviously have to be done in Technicolor (Yawn.)

Nice necktie

June 5, 2019

One of the most common nocturnal animals in the district is the Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula). They are usually seen crouched on a branch high up in a tree. If you do get a chance to see their undersides they have a marking on the chest that looks like a neck-tie (see picture below).

Scent is used by many animals for a variety of purposes – marking territory, defining social organisation, attracting mates, etc. and the Common Brushtail Possum is no exception. The Brushie has two areas on its body that have specialised scent producing glands. One is near the cloaca (rear opening) and the other is the sternum (breastbone).

As possums mature they develop an area of reddish-brown hair on the chest up to 10cm long and 3cm wide. This area has a high density of scent producing glands. The density of glands is influenced by a number of factors such as gender, age of the animal and season.

Both male and female possums scent mark trees, rocks, etc. by rubbing them with their chests (chesting). This leaves an orange to brown stain on the object and also on their fur. It is still unclear as to the purpose of these markings. Koalas are also known to exhibit this behaviour.

So I now know what I thought was a neck-tie is not. It makes scents.

They’ll soon be wearing sunnies at night

May 30, 2019

A recent blog discussed using eye-shine to find fauna (spider, frogs, mammals) at night. I have started carrying a head-torch and a camera when taking Mac the Border Collie out for his nightly walk. Recently two pinpoints of light at the base of a large Red Stringybark in the road reserve (see photo left) alerted me to the presence of a critter. It was not perturbed by our presence maybe because we were hidden by the bright light, and continued to go about its business.


It soon revealed itself to be a Brush-tailed Phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa tapoatafa) or Tuan, a shy and not often seen small, arboreal marsupial. As the name suggests it is characterised by a large tuft of hair on the end of its tail (see photo below).

Phascogales feed on invertebrates (insects, spiders, centipedes, etc) which they find by foraging around fallen logs and leaf litter. The home range of the male animal is about 100 hectares so even if they are in your area the chances of you seeing them are slight.


Phascogales are currently listed as Threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988). This is mainly due to the loss of hollow bearing trees and widespread clearing of its preferred habitat (open dry sclerophyll forest) for agriculture. This affects both the number of nesting sites and its food supply. Happily the phascogale nest-box set up on our property is currently occupied.

Our night-time walks will continue. I am sure it won’t be long before the native fauna, in an attempt to avoid detection will close their eyes as Mac and I wander past … or in the very least start wearing sunnies.

Spotlight at your peril

May 27, 2019

Variable Oxycanus Moth (Oxycanus dirempta)

If you are spotlighting at night at the moment, particularly with a head torch, beware. You are likely to be beaten to death by moths of the Hepialidae family which are attracted to the light. More commonly known as Ghost or Swift moths, they are fairly large and can be quite disturbing as they fly towards your head torch and hit you in the face (or get caught in your hoodie!).
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Abantiades sp.

 

The male moth is smaller than the female. After mating the female moth spreads eggs over a wide area by distributing them whilst in flight. The resultant larvae build burrows in the ground which they line with silk. They then feed on leaf litter or tree roots. The moths pupate in their burrow and when ready the pupa wriggles to the surface and the adult emerges. The empty pupa skin is often found lying on the ground or still poking out of the burrow (see picture right).

At the moment there are several species flying about. For those of you who do not heed the warning, a word of advice. Whilst spotlighting keep your mouth closed. One of the moths tastes kind of bitter. I think it’s the brown one!

Whistling wings

May 21, 2019

Crested Pigeons are not a particularly uncommon sight in our district, especially where grain is being fed to livestock, but it was a rare occurrence to have about ten of them visit our garden the other day. The rushed “insurance shot” of them at left is a bit out of focus and the next shot of one of them (below, right) is directly front on, which doesn’t do justice to the brilliant patterns and iridescent bronze colouring of their wings.
So for a better view we’ve included (below) a photo of a “crestie” taken at Maryborough some years ago.

They soon departed with their characteristic clatter of whistling wing-beats which can be heard in the audio below, together with their “whoop” call. The loud wing noise is apparently created by the particular alignment of a single flight feather.


The scientific name of the Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) means, unsurprisingly, “crested swift pigeon” and they are indeed very fast flyers. They typically intersperse their rapid wing-beats in flight with periods of gliding, which is very graceful to watch.

Crested Pigeons were originally confined to dry lightly-timbered parts of inland Australia, but have been able to greatly expand their range with the widespread clearing of native vegetation for crops and grazing. Their distribution now covers most of Australia, only excluding the far north and eastern Victoria.

We’re more than happy to have them join our local bronzewings. They are always easy to identify with their distinctive crests (more like a spike really), and of course their whistling wings.

The ‘Funny-shaped Beak’ Club

May 18, 2019

Ibises and spoonbills form a family of birds known as Threskiornithidae. As with most scientific nomenclature, the words are usually derived from Latin or Greek and you could be mistaken for thinking that Threskiornithidae might be translated as ‘birds with funny beaks’ or something similar. It fact the word derives from the Greek thrêskos meaning religious and órnis for bird, a reference to the sacred status of the ibis in early civilisations such as Egypt. Nothing to do with funny shaped bills at all. Physically the birds in this family have long necks and legs and 11 primary feathers (if you ever get close enough to count them)!

Ibises, pictured above have long, decurved beaks. They are distributed around the Australian coast line (apart from the Nullabor) and over the eastern half of Australia. Traditionally they inhabited wetlands (freshwater, brackish and saline), irrigated areas, floodplains and tidal margins. However a series of droughts has forced the populations into urban areas where the birds happily inhabit lawns, public gardens and rubbish tips.

Ibis feed by probing mud for crustaceans, molluscs and aquatic invertebrates. On land they feed on insects, frogs and reptiles.

The photograph shows two of the three Australian species of ibis, the Straw-necked Ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis) on the left and the Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca) on the right. Missing is the Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus).

Two out of three ain’t bad.