Groundsel discoveries

We have good numbers of Slender Groundsels (Senecio phelleus) flowering in our bush at the moment. These delicate daisies have a rosette of dark green leaves with purple undersides and tall stems, also with a few green/purple leaves, and tiny daisy flowers on top. Flowers that look like they should open more, but never do.

Slender Groundsel (Senecio phelleus)

Slender Groundsel

Many plants are both currently flowering and setting seed. They are quite beautiful when setting seed.

Slender Groundsel (Senecio phelleus)

Slender Groundsel setting seed.

Slender Groundsel (Senecio phelleus)

Groundsel seed and a little dew

I’ve often been curious about what pollinates these tiny daisies and this season have seen some of the many hoverflies visiting them, but have not been able to photograph them in this act. Whilst I was looking at one plant, I thought an ant might be doing some pollen collection, but she had other things on her mind.

Ant "milking" aphid

Ant munching on an aphid

To my surprise she was busy eating an aphid. As I looked at other flowers on the same plant, I discovered that she had quite a smorgasboard of them!

Aphids on Groundsel

Aphids on Slender Groundsel

Most of them were black, but for one tiny red one. Was this a different species or just a variant of the same?

Aphids on Groundsel

Standing out from the crowd.

I also found on the same plant a tiny gnat, who didn’t seem interested in the aphids, but I couldn’t tell if it wanted to get pollen or stick a proboscis into the plant.

Gnat on groundsel

Gnat on Slender Groundsel

It’s also a big time of year for Bluebells – Wahlenbergia sp. Also a hit with the hoverflies it seems.

Hoverfly

Hoverfly taking the offerings of a Bluebell

Hoverfly

And off to the next one!

The Secret Life of Mistletoe

The Secret Life of Mistletoe – a presentation on Thursday 21 November at Newstead Community Centre, 8pm … All welcome (A gold coin donation would be appreciated)

David M. Watson is Professor of Ecology at Charles Sturt University and an international expert of mistletoes. In addition to the ecology of parasitic plants, his research focuses on large-scale connectivity conservation and developing innovative approaches to biodiversity monitoring and measuring ecosystem health.

Newstead Landcare Group is delighted that Prof. Watson is coming to Newstead to present a talk on this enigmatic group of plants. Lacking roots, depending on other plants for their survival and relying on animals for dispersal, mistletoes have inspired a range of beliefs throughout the world. Some people regard them as magical, endowed with special powers; others as destructive weeds that devalue native habitats. In his talk David will review two decades of his research on these plants and share his emerging view of these plants as beautiful native wildflowers that support wildlife and boost productivity.

Prof. Watson will have copies of his book for sale at the event, “Mistletoes of Southern Australia” published by CSIRO. It is the definitive illustrated guide to all 47 species of mistletoe found in southern Australia. This new edition consolidates current knowledge about the natural history, distribution, biology, ecology and management of mistletoes in one convenient source. Illustrated with beautiful paintings as well as photographs of mistletoes and the animals that depend on them.

Eastern Spinebill on Box Mistletoe, photographed by Prof. David Watson

Amyema linophylla (Buloke Mistletoe) photographed by Prof David Watson.

A work of art … in the making

I’ve noticed that Grey Fantails are particularly numerous around Newstead this spring. I wonder if dry spring conditions in the bush have encouraged them into local gardens for breeding.

A delightful species, constantly on the move in search of insects, they are just as industrious when nest-building. Their nest is fashioned almost entirely from cobwebs and when complete is a true ‘work of art’. The nest below is currently under construction beneath a Wisteria vine in a local garden. It’s about half finished – the final structure of the bowl will be about twice the current height and a ‘wine glass’ stem will most likely be added to the base.

Grey Fantail (nest building), Newstead, 14th November 2019

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Sincere thanks to Colleen and Andrew for this alert.

A nice first

I observe Stubble Quail each year on the Moolort Plains, usually in the form a departing ‘projectile’ that whirrs away from near my feet.

Unlike Brown Quail they are pretty much confined to open farmland – grassy roadside verges, cereal crops and of course later in the season, stubbles. Brown Quail frequent similar habitats but are also found in areas with sparse tree cover. The images below are my first of this species locally. They are difficult to photograph, being secretive and rarely venture from cover during daylight hours. I’m almost certain this male is part of a breeding pair with an active nest. It was flushed a number of times from the same general spot as I was photographing a suite of other grassland species. This set of images captured the bird on one of its returns.

Male Stubble Quail @ Ullina, 13th November 2019

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A good reason to stay alert

Almost all species of birds are in a constant state of high alert. Unless you happen to be a large raptor, and even then you may be at risk of predation or attack in certain circumstances, danger can arrive at any time.

I was watching these Rainbow Bee-eaters at the Newstead Cemetery earlier this week when a Brown Falcon appeared nearby – travelling fast in level flight in the general direction of the bee-eaters. While probably not as great a threat as a Brown Goshawk or Peregrine Falcon (both of which I’ve seen recently in the neighbourhood) this relatively sluggish raptor does take unwary birds on a regular basis. On this occasion the bee-eaters stayed safe!

Rainbow Bee-eater, Newstead Cemetery, 12th November 2019

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Brown Falcon

Variety and abundance

In a highly modified landscape it’s wonderful to occasionally come across a place that retains something of its original qualities, undisturbed by the plough and little altered by grazing or fertiliser.

Such spots often surprise with an abundance of wildlife that’s in stark contrast to the surrounding country. I came across such a gem at the weekend, on the volcanic plains near Ullina. A narrow road reserve, it had has been ‘saved’ from intensification by the presence of basalt ‘floaters’ scattered in profusion across the site. It was alive with birds – a male White-winged Triller was something of a surprise as they usually prefer wooded areas rather than open grassy country. A pair of Stubble Quail took off with a whirr as I was surrounded by grassland birds of great variety and number – Brown Songlarks, Australian Pipits, Horsfield’s Bushlarks  and Eurasian Skylarks.

Basalt country – south of Glengower, 10th November 2019

Male White-winged Triller

Horsfield’s Bushlark

Brown Songlark (male)

Brown Songlark (female) – note the black belly

Australian Pipit

Another Pipit … I think!

Note: This last image has me a little baffled – I suspect it’s an Australian Pipit but there is something of a crest … like an Eurasian Skylark … but the bill is too slender and legs too long. Shame the hind claw is obscured as that would help. What do you reckon?

A flash of blue … and a hint of orange

I took an excursion to the southern margins of the Moolort Plains on Sunday morning. The highlight was a single Blue-winged Parrot on Cotswold Road at Glengower. What an extraordinarily beautiful bird!

It’s unusual to see Blue-winged Parrots in central Victoria in late spring. The stronghold of the species is Tasmania and southern Victoria, where they breed in coastal and sub-coastal forests and woodlands. After breeding the Tasmanian birds disperse to the mainland in autumn and along with the Victorian population can move long distances into semi-arid regions over winter. I’ve most commonly encountered them during the May-July period, either on the plains or in box-ironbark country. Some male Blue-winged Parrots (like this one) develop a pale-orange belly – echoing the striking plumage of the Orange-bellied Parrot, one of Australia’s most critically endangered species.

Blue-winged Parrot, Glengower, 10th November 2019

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