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Keeping a low profile

April 12, 2018

There are certain birds that, although common and widespread, often seem to be overlooked. A couple of these have recently been encountered on our Strath Creek property. The first is the Australasian Pipit, a well camouflaged ground-dweller that darts about in bursts in pastures, grasslands and open woodlands, feeding on insects and occasionally seeds.

It often perches on logs, rocks or fences and wags its tail up and down on landing, but can be quite unobtrusive even in close-cropped paddocks. It feeds, sleeps and nests on the ground so needs to be alert to avoid predators like foxes and raptors.

The pictured bird was one of four we came across on our back hill. They were remarkably unconcerned by our close presence which allowed for some clear photos.

The other species that appeared the other day among a mixed flock of thornbills, Weebills and Grey Fantails, was a small group of Varied Sittellas which included a couple of juvenile birds (see left) that were still being fed by an adult. The sittellas are rather odd little birds, adept at busily foraging among tree branches and head-first down tree trunks. They have sharp slightly upturned bills ideal for prising out grubs, beetles, spiders etc. When feeding they seem to be perpetually on the move, but when they do rest, they often huddle together with a lot of jostling for best position.

So, perhaps unobtrusive, but it’s always a delight to spot either of these two species!

It’s easy being green …

April 5, 2018

… when you look like a leaf, as this rather prehistoric-looking insect does.

It’s a katydid, a close relation of crickets in the order Orthoptera, which also includes grasshoppers and locusts. We think it’s a Gum-leaf Katydid, Torbia viridissima, although it is equally well disguised on the Callistemon sp. branch shown here as it would be among eucalypt leaves.

Not so well hidden though when first found on the low Spyridium obcordatum shrub shown at right in our garden. In fact katydids are mostly nocturnal, so it was surprising to see it out and about in the afternoon. At night they ‘sing’ to attract females and protect territory by rubbing their wings together, rather like crickets . They feed on foliage and even small insects, although the Gum-leaf Katydid apparently feeds solely on gum leaves.

Katydids can sometimes be confused with praying mantids (order Mantodea), and with stick insects (order Phasmatodea), but the katydid’s enlarged hind legs in particular distinguish it from these other insect groups.

So keep an eye out for ‘leaves’ with strong back legs!

Close but no cigar

April 1, 2018

This blogsite was borne out of a project to record and report on fauna returning to the King Parrot and Strath Creek valleys after the 2009 bushfires. To this day Macwake makes sure that we keep to the original vision by only publishing posts of fauna from those valleys.

Recently I observed a distinctive looking bird doing acrobatics in a eucalypt tree. It turned out to be a juvenile Blue-faced Honeyeater (Entomyzon cyanotis), pictured 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 and what a colour it is (see photo left). Blue is such a rare colour in nature and this hue is stunning.

This honeyeater is found in open woodlands north of the Great Dividing Range all the way up to New Guinea. These photos were taken just north of the Strathbogies and therefore fall outside the range of fauna reported on this blogsite. Close, but no cigar.

Forget that you read any of this.

Nature at the door

March 21, 2018

Our glass-panelled back door seems to have been a magnet for interesting insects just lately. The small fly pictured at left we thought at first was a mosquito, but Karen Retra from the Wild Pollinator Count suggested on the BowerBird website that it may in fact be a non-biting midge (family Chironomidae), and so far no one has disputed that.

If so, it is a nectar feeder and potential pollinator, although not all adult midges actually feed. But with those feathery antennae (which indicate a male) plus a hairy abdomen and rear legs, it is easy to see it being an efficient pollen collector. Click on the image for a closer look.

Then we noticed the small long-legged fly (family Dolichopodidae) pictured at right with green eyes, striped abdomen and patterned wings. Any further identification suggestions for this one would be welcomed.

Another non-fly insect keen to have a peek through the door was this small frail mantis nymph at left, which was only about 4cm long.

We thought about cleaning the door for better photography, but then perhaps the dirty glass is what these insects find attractive?!

Pete Best – in our garden

March 3, 2018

Gardening is such a peaceful past-time. Sometimes the idyll is punctuated by the sighting of a snake or the unearthing of a Pobblebonk, or worse still, half a Pobblebonk, just to add that dash of excitement. My gardening experience was recently interrupted by an angry buzzing (click on the sound clip below. Ignore the cockatoos in the background).

Instantly a number of possibilities came to mind – none of them good. If the neighbours had been watching they would have seen me hurtle out of the garden and then from a safe vantage point survey the veggie plot for a considerable amount of time.

The result – nothing. The expected appearance of an angry something (bee?/wasp?/frog?/cicada?) failed to materialise and after a while the sound stopped only to kick off again as soon as gardening resumed. The culprit, a Rhinoceros Beetle (Dasygnathus trituberculatus), pictured below.

Rhinoceros beetles are Scarabs just like Christmas Beetles. They are active at night. The male beetle sports three horns, one on the ‘nose’ and two on the ‘forehead’. The former is used for digging in the soil and for fighting other males with during mating season. The larvae live in the soil and feed on plant roots.

I am not sure of the mechanism by which the sound was made. It was obvious on closer inspection that the abdomen was vibrating rapidly under the hard wing case. Maybe the sound was generated by friction or maybe by air. But the investigation went no further and it was released. Clearly a very annoyed beetle. Just like Pete Best (a bit of trivia for all you Beatles aficionados!)

Right at last

February 26, 2018

The science of nest-box construction is fascinating. The size and position of the entrance hole and the depth, length and width of the box all influence which fauna select what residence. After the 2009 fires I, like many landholders in the King Parrot Creek valley, was supplied with nest-boxes to install on my property to replace the natural hollows which had been destroyed by the bushfires. Over the years this blog has reported on the many tenancies these nest-boxes have had. Some nest-boxes have been popular, some have not.

The rosella nest-box has had a revolving tenancy each year of White-throated Treecreepers, Australian Owlet-nightjars (ONJ) and both Ring-tailed and Brush-tailed Possums. Rosellas for the past seven years have been repeatedly trying to get into a Sugar Glider nest-box. The entrance hole is too small but that has not stopped them from spending many hours trying to gnaw a bigger one (see photo left).
The Brush-tailed Phascogale nest-box has been occupied occasionally by Sugar Gliders and the two ONJ nest-boxes have never been occupied. That could be more a statement of nest-box location than design. But never has a nest-box housed the animal or bird for which it was intended – until now.

A check of the phascogale nest-box this week revealed, surprise, surprise a Brush-tailed Phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa), pictured above. The animal was curled up in a cylinder of leaves. Macwake informs me that it was probably a recent arrival in the box as the nesting material and design is that of Sugar Gliders. Phascogales prefer nests of shredded bark and their own scats.

Brush-tailed Phascogales are regularly photographed by motion-sensing cameras on our property. They are frequent visitors to our bird-bath at night (pictured right) and individuals can be identified by their appearance e.g. shredded tail, white marking on the flanks. But we have never had one in a nest-box.

My expectation, now that the phascogale has moved in, is that the displaced Sugar Gliders will occupy the Sugar Glider nestbox and relieve the rosellas of the futile efforts they are making to widen the entrance hole. The rosellas in turn should move into the rosella nest-box displacing the treecreepers, ONJ and possums. Where will they sleep? Looks like the next project is to build more nest-boxes – of the correct design, of course.

A good guy with a bad name

February 22, 2018

Sometimes your name can give people the wrong impression. For example, as soon as people find out that a rakali is an Australian native water-rat, the term rat just puts them off. And a rakali is one of the cutest critters going. Similarly for cockroaches. They are automatically associated with spreading germs and disease. However there are a lot of native cockroaches out there who do not deserve that reputation.

The cockroach pictured below is a native Austral Ellipsidion Cockroach (Ellipsidion australe).

Ellipsidion australe 1-DSCN7794

It is a daytime active insect. Unlike many other cockroaches it is not a scavenger but feeds on pollen, honeydew and mould so is a good guy around your garden and one of the native pollinators.

Beware the assumptions in a name.