A closer look

Autumn in the box ironbark = mixed species flocks of woodland birds.

It’s often a good time to see small birds close up as they move through the bush in loose parties, searching the layers – ground, shrub and canopy, for insects.

I watched such a flock late on Friday afternoon – Buff-rumped and Striated Thornbill, Grey Fantails, a Grey Shrike-thrush and what I assumed was a pair of Scarlet Robins.

The adult male Scarlet Robin, pictured below, is unmistakable. The other bird, which I had initially identified as a female, is actually an immature individual of indeterminate sex. The ‘give away’ is the buff wing bars – these are typically white in an adult female.

There are a lot more honeyeaters getting about in recent days – flocks of White-naped Honeyeaters and small numbers of White-eared and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters are now scattered throughout suitable habitat. With wonderful rain, things are looking up!

Striated Thornbill in Cherry Ballart, nothingnesses of Fence Track, 3rd April 2020

Adult male Scarlet Robin

Immature Scarlet Robin

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Seeking the seeker

As a nature photographer I have a bucket list of images that I’m seeking to capture – the shots are ‘in my head’, awaiting the opportunity to see each one live as I wander through the local bush.

On image I’m seeking is that of a Yellow-footed Antechinus with its prey, perhaps a centipede, cockroach or beetle that it has captured moments earlier. While I have many photographs of this hyperactive marsupial seeker, the image in my mind’s eye has so far eluded me.

I watched one, along Sullivan’s Track in the Muckleford bush, for fifteen minutes or so earlier in the week. With the photographer at a distance it was quite happy to hunt as I snapped away. Alas, the oft visualised image remains firmly ‘in my head’ … but not in the camera!

Yellow-footed Antechinus, Sullivan’s Track, 31st March 2020

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Firetail Friday

Diamond Firetails have been starring recently on the blog. These striking little woodland birds seem to be going well at a number of local sites.

At this time of year they move out into open areas where native grasses are seeding. This little group of firetails were enjoying wallaby grass seeds in the grounds of the Newstead Cemetery.

Diamond Firetail, Newstead Cemetery, 27th March 2020

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Eagle-eye

These images are from a couple of cameos I enjoyed during a visit to Cairn Curran earlier in the week. The Wedge-tailed Eagle was circling a few hundred of metres up when I arrived at the lake. It abruptly went into a steep, gliding dive before braking just as fast and alighting in one of the large Sugar Gums near the railway bridge. It’s not that often you see a ‘wedgie’ behave like this … the speed and power is extraordinary.

The eagle observed me from a distance of about 50 metres for a few moments before departing. The encounter lasted for less than a minute but was certainly memorable.

Wedge-tailed Eagle, Joyce’s Creek @ Cairn Curran, 31st April 2020

Minutes later as I headed towards the main body of the lake I snapped this Australian Raven harassing a young Whistling Kite … a familiar sight in this area.

Australian Raven and immature Whistling Kite

Ants, an autumn orchid et cetera

When all else fails, the insect macrophotographer can always rely on ants. In times of low invertebrate numbers, they are always there running the show. On a warm autumn day, the Meat Ants Iridomyrmex purpureus near our dam have been out and about. I was intrigued to watch one industrious lady struggle mightily to drag a Grey Box leaf towards the nest. She made absolutely no progress with it at all and none of her sisters seemed to want to help. I have no idea what she wanted it for.

Meat Ant (Iridomyrmex purpureus)

Meat Ant and leaf #1

Meat Ant (Iridomyrmex purpureus)

#2

Meat Ant (Iridomyrmex purpureus)

I think the raised leg was more for leverage than a request for help.

By night, I found an ant with a significant mite infestation. I had seen this in previous years and the species of ant seemed the same. On bowerbird.org.au it was suggested that the previous ant was a Polyrhachis queen and this looked the same. My source said it was not uncommon to see them with mites. An both of my encounters with ants in this state were in mid-autumn.

Ant with mites (Polyrhachis?)

Polyrhachis? with mites

Flies of all shapes and sizes are common at the moment, but mostly very uncooperative sitters for portraits. Lots of Robber Flies seem to enjoy afternoon sun bathing and even a bit of amorous coupling, but have steered well clear of my lens. Bee Flies (Geron sp.) are also around in good numbers and tend to be more relaxed.

Bee Fly (Geron sp.)

Bee Fly on Drooping Sheoak

Whilst ants, flies and moths are abundant at the moment, we still seem short on the usual quotient of insects that chew leaves and suck sap. So I was pleased to find at least a couple of these recently. There have been a few leafhopper nymphs snuggling into the angles of branches of wattles and eucalypts to avoid detection.

Leafhopper nymph

Leafhopper nymph

I’ve also found a few tiny weevils on Golden Wattle leaves.

Weevil

Weevil

And finally, I was pleased to find a Parson’s Band orchid (Eriochilus cucullatus)or two putting out some flowers.

Parson's Band orchid (Eriochilus cucullatus)

Parson’s Band Orchid

Red-caps and more in the Mia Mia

5mm of rain on Sunday afternoon was very welcome. After the front passed, blue skies returned and I ventured out to the Mia Mia to immediately enjoy the sight of an adult male Red-capped Robin bathing in one of the small pools that had formed quickly during the minor downpour.

As is the norm after a rain shower bird activity is heightened. Crested Bellbirds were calling along with a Golden Whistler, numerous White-eared Honeyeaters and a Scarlet Robin. In the understorey I spotted Speckled Warbler, Striated Thornbill, Buff-rumped Thornbill, Brown Thornbill and Superb Fairy-wren. Woodland bird numbers appear to have recovered somewhat in some of my usual haunts – a good sign heading into the cooler months.

Red-capped Robin (male), Mia Mia Track, 29th March 2020

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Church-yard feast

The church-yard beside our house has an interesting assortment of grasses and forbs – some native, others exotic.

Eastern Rosellas are just one of the local species that enjoy foraging in this semi-natural ‘grassland’.

At least two species of Wallaby-grass (Rytidosperma sp.) are present along with Windmill Grass (Chloris truncata) along with introduced Flatweed (Hypochaeris) providing a variety of options for hungry rosellas over autumn.

Eastern Rosella, Wyndham Street Newstead, 29th March 2020

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