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FoF Entertainment Review

December 13, 2018

Event:  Ecdysis – the musical

Genre:   Drama

Classification:  G – General exhibition, suitable for the whole family

Director:   Mother Nature

Cast:   Members of the Aeshnidae, Cordulegastroidea and Libelluliodea families (i.e. dragonflies)

Soundtrack:   Various frogs, crickets & cicadas

Year:   2018

Plot summary:  Ecdysis (the musical) is the coming of age story of a dragonfly as it transitions from nymph to adult. This process as the title suggests is called ecdysis. Dragonflies can spend between months and years of their lifecycle underwater as nymphs, depending on the species.  During ecdysis the nymph leaves the water on a piece of vegetation. The adult emerges through a split in the back of the nymphal exoskeleton (see picture below).  The wings are very small. Over the course of several hours internal hydraulics pump up both the body and the wings. I won’t give away the ending.

Rating:   Five stars

Showing:  NOW. On warm nights after dark, at a dam or wetland near you

Reviews:  “By far and away the best couple of hours I have spent in a long time and the backing track was great”   R. Litjens

Truly the greatest show on earth”  O. Donata

In a hole in the ground there lived a …

December 11, 2018

These opening words of Tolkien’s The Hobbit could equally apply to the little Spotted Pardalote that arose apparently out of nowhere from the grass in front of us while we were trying to photograph a White-winged Triller for a previous post on this blog.
In fact the pardalote emerged from the insignificant hole in the ground, pictured left, that marks the start of its nesting tunnel. The nest itself is made of shredded bark lined with softer material in a spherical chamber at the end of the tunnel, which can be as much as one metre or more long. The bird pictured here is a male with its rich yellow throat, but both parents are involved in nest construction and incubation.

The other pardalote in this district, the Striated Pardalote, sometimes also burrows into the ground, usually a creek bank, to build its nest, but more often it nests in a tree hollow.

So keep your eye out this summer, not just for snakes on the ground, but even for tiny colourful birds!

The Often Overlooked

December 9, 2018

In the valley the three snakes to watch out for (according to popular wisdom) are the Red-bellied Black, the Eastern Brown and the Tiger Snake. All three are classed as dangerously venomous and depending on the local environment one of the three will dominate. All are snakes of the Elapid family. That is having hollow syringe-like fangs at the front of the mouth that inject venom from a gland at the back of the jaw.

But spare a thought for the often overlooked fourth – the Lowlands Copperhead (Austrelaps superbus) so named, surprise, surprise for the colour of its head (see picture below) – a marking which may or may not be distinctive. The Copperhead is also an Elapid snake regarded as dangerously venomous and like the Black and Tiger snakes bears live young. The Eastern Brown Snake lays eggs.

Restricted to south-eastern Australia there are three species of Copperheads. They can tolerate temperatures far lower than the Black, Brown and Tiger Snakes. Therefore it is not uncommon to find them basking in the sun during seasons where one would not expect to see snakes. A daytime hunter, they are also known to hunt at night if the day temperature has been too hot. The Copperhead diet mainly consists of frogs. They are good swimmers and will also catch tadpoles for food.

These details do not bode well for one of my favourite pastimes, sitting on the side of a dam after a hot day watching the dragonflies emerge…stay tuned.

Whistler v. Triller

December 5, 2018

Rufous Whistler

In a revegetated gully at the back of our place there is a wealth of bird chatter at present. But the songs of two birds in particular dominate for much of the day, and it sounds like a battle to see which can impress the most. They are the Rufous Whistler and White-winged Triller.
Click on the audio icons below to hear their resounding calls which are well worth a listen.

Rufous Whistler:
White-winged Triller:

White-winged Triller

Both these birds are spring/summer migrants to Victoria, spending the colder months in the warmer climes of northern Australia. The male triller pictured here (it’s elusive – hence the long-distance shot!) is in its pied (black and white) breeding plumage. From March to August it changes its outfit to mainly brown and grey, more closely resembling the female. The male Rufous Whistler retains its impressive plumage throughout the year.

As a songster, the Rufous Whistler probably wins the day, but the White-winged Triller is certainly no slouch in the vocal stakes.

The Box – The Young and the Restless

December 1, 2018

Grasshopper instar

After the ’09 fires a grove of Yellow Box saplings started growing on our property. Being a mecca for young invertebrates and therefore birds and other creatures I began monitoring the fauna that lived there. Now the saplings are trees and hard to access. So recently I found three Grey Boxes (Eucalyptus microcarpus) that have just started their life. Only knee high they make it easy to check for critters and I can sit down and photograph – a real luxury. Once again I am going to see what lives in these very young trees. I will call this series The Box, after a TV series broadcast when I was young which I was never allowed to watch because of something that they now call Adult Themes.

Gumtree Hopper instar

Many insects mature through a series of stages called instars. As the instars grow they becomes too big for their external skeletons (exoskeletons) and therefore have to moult and form new, bigger ones. This is called incomplete metamorphosis. In most cases the instars look like smaller versions of the adult, just without wings. The wings appear after the final moult.

Spring is the time when insects lay eggs and the young hatch. It is also the time when eucalyptus trees are growing the tender new shoots on which some of these instars feed. A close look at the box trees reveals a veritable nursery of young instars, some of which are pictured. The adult cockroach can be seen HERE. To date each insect has not moved from the plant it was first observed on.

Austral Ellipsidion Cockroach (Ellipsidion australe) instar

Maybe they become restless when they are teenagers.

The diff is in the quiff

November 27, 2018

Cockatoos are distinguished from other parrots by having a crest on the top of the head that can be raised, usually when landing or when excited. In some birds, like the Galah, the crest is barely noticeable and in others like the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo it is the distinguishing feature. Cockatoos also lack the feathers with a light diffracting surface which gives other parrots such bright colours, particularly blues and greens.

The Black-Cockatoos, of which there are five species, make up the genus Calyptorhynchus, the scientific name being derived from the Greek kalupto meaning ‘covered’ and rhunkhos meaning ‘bill’, i.e. covered bill. It refers not to the crest but the feathers which hide the lower part of the bill.

The Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus) pictured above has a moderate sized crest. They are distributed along the eastern and south-eastern Australia and are commonly heard in our valley just before rain (click on the call below). A ‘squadron’ of these birds is an impressive sight as they ‘lope’ through the skies.

The Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus banksii) pictured above (male) and right (female) comprise several races distributed throughout Australia. In Victoria they are restricted to the far south-west corner (race graptogyne) where they are considered rare. I came across a pair recently of Red-Tails recently in WA. What impressed me was the size of the crest which can be extended to cover the upper bill as well. What a quiff!

Elvis would be impressed.


It’s all white

November 22, 2018

The camouflage tactics of the White Crab Spider (Thomisus spectabilis) have been previously documented but it has only been recently that I have seen them in action.

Spring blossoms are a mecca for pollinators of all sorts – bees, wasps, beetles and for amateur photographers like myself it is a time to get up close and personal with them in the hope of getting at least one decent picture. Recently a heavily blossomed Melaleuca was abuzz with pollinators rapidly moving from flower to flower. It was therefore quite strange to see a European Honeybee motionless on one of the blooms.

Closer examination revealed the bee to be prey to a White Crab Spider (pictured above). These spiders are ambush predators, hiding amid the flowers and then grabbing with powerful front legs any pollinator that ventures too close. The prey is then rendered immobile with venom. In the picture (above) it is easy to see how the spider can easily blend into the background of the flower. Just try to make out the legs!

It’s all white though. These spiders are not harmful to humans.