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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

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 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!).

A cautionary tale for all

May 17, 2018

Recently a good friend of mine rang up with an interesting question. Friends of hers had found a Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) wandering along the side of the road apparently ‘miles away from water’. Knowing my friend to be a keen naturalist they had picked it up, put it in a tub and were bringing it over to her. The question was “what to do now?”

It is probably a question that has plagued many of us at one time or another. I know of many people who, with the best of intentions, have rescued a turtle or frog they had seen on the road and introduced it to their farm dam or local stream. Unfortunately there is no reference I know of that explains the correct thing to do with wandering wildlife.

The conclusion that we came to after considerable discussion was that as far as nature is concerned, let it be. Is it the right thing? I hope so. Picking up wildlife and depositing it in another location is fraught with possible dangers for the animal particularly if they are territorial. Moving them from their home locale to another territory can result in conflict with the local animal. It is also dangerous for the ‘rescuer’. In the case of platypus, both the male and female are born with ankle spurs, the male’s delivers venom – not deadly to humans but extremely painful.

Of course all this is not to say that if you see a turtle wandering across the road you shouldn’t stop and assist its passage safely to the other side. I once stopped the traffic on the Western Highway (in both directions) to ensure an echidna made it safely across the road. The trouble with echidnas is that if you try and take direct action i.e. pick them up, they grip on to the road and don’t move for a long time – much to the annoyance of the waiting B-double driver.

Needless to say the boxed platypus (which in its short time in captivity got a name – Pitri) was taken back to the location it was found and released, seemingly none the worse for its adventure.

And a lucky few got to see a platypus up close and personal.

The word of the week is…pronotum

May 12, 2018

Insects have three distinct body parts – the head, thorax and abdomen and in most insects it is easy to tell the difference between them. Insects are also invertebrates meaning they have no internal skeleton but instead have a series of external body plates. These are collectively known as the exoskeleton. The pronotum (word of the week) is the first of these plates which make up the thorax.

In some insects the pronotum is enlarged. Cockroaches for example have a pronotum which extends to cover the entire head, sort of like a shield. In the photo left, the head of the Bark Cockroach (Laxta granicollis) can just be seen through the translucent pronotum. (Hint: the head is the end with the antennae sticking out).

For treehoppers of the Membracidae family the pronotum is even more impressive. The Acacia Horned Treehopper (Sextius virescens), pictured below, is an example.

The pronotum extends forwards and up so as to look like horns, hence the name. It gets better than that though. If you look carefully (picture right) the bright green pronotum also extends all the way down the insects back between the wings. For those familiar with the 1979 sci-fi thriller Alien it is not hard to see where the inspiration for the head of the Alien creature may have come from.

For those interested in the attendant ants, treehoppers are Hemipterans, sap-sucking insects which exude a sweet substance called honeydew. The ants collect the honeydew for food and in return protect the treehopper from predators and parasites.

Your challenge now is to use the word pronotum is your everyday conversation without anyone noticing.