The finer details

Whilst Australian birds are celebrated for their vibrant colours, many species are much more subdued … making the detail wet worth appreciating. The Brown Treecreeper below has a small smudge of brick-red feathers on the breast, indicating that it’s a female.

Brown Treecreeper (female), Sandon, 14th April 2019

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The Golden Whistler is clearly not a male – most likely a female – you may be able  to just discern some yellow around the vent. The bill is quite dark – it’s typically paler in immature birds that also show rufous feathers panels in the wing feathers.

Golden Whistler

The Jacky Winter can be a confounding bird for some observers. This one was dropping to the ground in search of insects from a nearby perch on a fence-post.

Jacky Winter

Looking forward

The Loddon River upstream of Cairn Curran is a sad sight at present – it has retreated to a series of disconnected pools and these are disappearing rapidly as autumn continues to be dry and unusually warm.

I’m looking forward … hoping for a restorative flow!

Loddon River @ Newstead, just upstream of the highway bridge, 13th April 2019

A Whistling Kite patrolling the river corridor

Should I stay … or should I go?

Cairn Curran Reservoir has shrunk to 34% of capacity … creating some large expanses of mudflats at the south-eastern portion near Joyce’s Creek.

The areas of exposed mud are providing excellent, albeit temporary, feeding habitat for small waders, Red-capped Plovers and Red-necked Stints in particular. Last Friday evening I observed ~ 25 Red-capped Plovers and a small number of stints. The plovers will remain through winter, shifting their location as new areas of mudflat and suitable shoreline appear on the drying lake. The Red-necked Stints are more complicated. Small numbers of immature birds remain in southern Australia over winter, while the adults make their extraordinary journey to breeding grounds above the arctic circle, typically departing from southern Australia in April. I can’t recall seeing Red-necked Stints over-wintering at Cairn Curran … the bird pictured below appears to be moulting into breeding plumage before tackling another epic journey.

Red-capped Plover (adult male), Cairn Curran, 12th April 2019

Red-capped Plover (immature)

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Red-necked Stint … moulting into breeding plumage

Red-necked Stint foraging in the shallows

Red-capped Plover (foreground) with foraging Red-necked Stint

On dusk at the lake

This juvenile Wedge-tailed Eagle provided a thrilling sight, right on dusk, at Cairn Curran last evening.

Its parents had earlier left the same perch … Tarrengower-bound.

Wedge-tailed Eagle, Cairn Curran @ Joyce’s Creek, 13th April. 2019

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Amongst the red-gums

Powerful Owl, Loddon River @ Newstead, 13th April 2019

The remain of an unfortunate Galah dangling below a satisfied owl

Powerful Owl close-up

Autumn in the Mia Mia

While in some ways autumn in a quiet time of the year in the local bush, the appearance of some familiar spring migrants, in this case Golden Whistlers and White-eared Honeyeaters, joining the resident species such as Brown Treecreepers and Dusky Woodswallows, adds a nice touch. I’ve been on the look-out for Swift Parrots and while they have been observed further east towards Castlemaine I’ve yet to sight any so far in 2019.

Brown Treecreeper, Mia Mia Track, 9th April 2019

Dusky Woodswallow

Golden Whistler (female)

White-eared Honeyeater

Hunters on the ground and a Cup Moth comes to a sticky end

Walking around the bush at night with a headlight reveals myriad tiny emerald coloured lights shining back at oneself. On close inspection, these beautiful jewels are the eyes of myriad ground-dwelling spiders.

One that I found recently had me scratching my head.

Ant-eating Spider - Habronestes sp?

Who am I?

I have the excellent “Field Guide to Spiders of Australia” by Robert Whyte and Greg Andersons (CSIRO publishing), but there are so many spiders in the book that it was a bit challenging to find the right one. I noted the interesting pattern of eyes and found a match in the eye patterns in Jenny Shields “Spiders of Bendigo” (Bendigo Field Naturalists Club).

Ant-eating Spider - Habronestes sp?

The distribution of eight eyes tells the story

The two forward-curved rows of eyes are characteristic of the Ant-eating Spiders – Zodariidae. Going back to the big book, I came to the conclusion that this one is a species of Habronestes. As the common name implies, they feed on ants. They look ant-like, make movements like ants and some species even secrete pheromones to smell like ants. I didn’t get to see this one catch and ants, but I think my light was cramping its style.

Ant-eating Spider - Habronestes sp?

Ant-eating Spider – Habronestes sp.

My lights were quite helpful for another subject. Wolf Spiders are the ones most likely to have those emerald shining eyes. Their eyes have a reflective layer which makes them brightly reflect torchlight. I found this one emerging from its burrow in amongst some thin leaf litter.

Wolf Spider - Tasmanicosa sp.

Wolf Spider – Tasmanicosa sp.

As I was watching what it would do next, it leapt forward and snatched a small moth, possibly attracted by my headlight.

Wolf Spider - Tasmanicosa sp.

Munching on a moth

Those big eyes help them hunt by night or day, grabbing prey with their strong legs. According to the Filed Guide, some species are large enough to catch reptiles and frogs and even Cane Toads. I was quite stunned when this one again jumped forward and grabbed a Painted Cup Moth, quickly pinning it down and injecting it with poison. One less Cup Moth to breed up.

Wolf Spider - Tasmanicosa sp.

A Painted Cup Moth in the process of becoming part of a Wolf Spider