Red-anthers, flies, bugs and beetles

After some spring rains, we have the joy of seeing Red-anther Wallaby Grasses (Rytidosperma pallidum) at our place flowering. To the unaided eye, their dangling red anthers are tiny bright bits of colour in the bush. With high-power macro lenses, their remarkable beauty and delicacy is more easily appreciated.

Red-anther Wallaby Grass in flower

With a variety of plants flowering, numerous flies, bees and butterflies are out in full force. Introduced Cabbage White Butterflies have been very busy on the Shiny Everlasting flowers.

Cabbage White Butterfly on Shiny Everlasting.

Numerous tiny Ant Flies (Parapaleosepsis sp.) about 3mm long have gathered in numbers on a Hardenbergia vine. I was intrigued to see them waving their wings back and forth, which apparently is quite a feature of this genus. The adults of most species apparently like to feed on mammal dung, but may also enjoy rotting vegetation.

Stiletto flies (Genus Neodialineura) are also out and about. This one was sleeping on a Golden Wattle leaf. The adults feed on pollen and nectar whilst the larvae feed on other insects in the leaf litter.

Stiletto Fly

Beetles are also around in good numbers. I’ve found quite a few Belid Weevils this season, recognisable by their long cylindrical bodies and weevil snout.

Sutural Belid Weevil (Rhinotia suturalis)

They are referred to as “primitive” weevils due to their straight antennae and were common across the Gondwana lands 100-160 million years ago. “True” weevils have elbowed antennae. Adult Belid weevils usually feed on pollen and their larvae eat damaged or diseased wood. I find the adults to be very cooperative sitters for close-up portraiture.

Not shy of close-up portraits

Leaf Beetles are also around, like this Paropsisterna fastidiosa feeding on a Grey Box leaf. I wonder if their fussy eaters or particularly tidy to get such a species name.

Paropsisterna fastidiosa

Not to be confused with beetles, which have chewing mouth parts, are bugs which have tube mouths for sucking – either the juices of plants or of hapless insects. Today’s featured bugs are both vegetarians.

Wingless Coreid Bugs (Agriopocoris sp.) spend their daylight hours in the leaf litter and climb into plants to suck sap by night. I’ve mostly found them on Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) at our place. As the name implies, they differ from other coreid bugs by remaining wingless into adulthood.

Wingless Coreid Bug
Side view.

Shield Bugs are also suckers of plant sap. I’ve noted quite a few more Common Gum Tree Shield Bugs (Poecilometis patruelis) this season.

Common Gum Tree Shield Bug
Common Gum Tree Shield Bug

Species #225

Whilst not completely unexpected I was thrilled to finally observe a small flock of Banded Stilts yesterday afternoon at Cairn Curran Reservoir.

This is a new species for my local list – number 225 in fact!

There were fourteen stilts accompanied by three Red-necked Avocets, a bird that I’ve seen a few times previously on the storage as well as on a number of the Moolort Plains wetlands.

Banded Stilts can be found across much of central and southern Australia where they typically favour saline wetlands and estuaries – habitat for brine shrimps which are key part of their diet. It’s not uncommon to see them in freshwater environments, however I expect these birds are in transit … shuttling between coastal wetlands and inland salt lakes. They were something of a mystery bird until recent decades when flocks of many thousands were found breeding on islands in salt lakes of inland Australia. A fascinating account of their breeding habits can be found here.

Banded Stilts and Red-necked Avocets, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 22nd November 2020

Banded Stilts and Red-necked Avocets are often found in mixed flocks

Banded Stilts have pink legs while Red-necked Avocets legs are a pale blue

Adult Banded Stilts have a distinctive chestnut breast band – note the sub-adult bird at top right

II

Banded Stilts in flight … not to be confused with the White-head Stilt (which lacks the chest band) – common at Cairn Curran 

II

The trio of Red-necked Avocets

The tight knit flock

II

Quiet moments

This set of images resulted from some patient waiting at the Rise and Shine.

A number of pairs of Dusky Woodswallows were moving between perches and once they became accustomed to my presence were quite happy to make a close approach and start preening.

Traces of cobwebs on the head (Images #3 – 6) suggest that nesting is underway. A shield bug on the lichen (Image #5) was only revealed upon closer inspection.

Dusky Woodswallow, Rise and Shine, 18th November 2020

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

Spoonbills, herons and egrets

While Little Grassbirds and Golden-headed Cisticolas have caught the eye at Joyce’s Creek in recent weeks  there have been some pretty impressive large waterbirds to enjoy as well.

Interesting to see a pair of Royal Spoonbills in full breeding plumage as I’ve never found this species nesting locally. Small numbers can be found along the shallows of the creek during wetter years. Still no migratory waders to report – usually a few Red-necked Stints and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers would have arrived by now.

Royal Spoonbills in breeding plumage, Joyce’s Creek, 18th November 2020

II

III

Great Egret and White-faced Heron

Great Egret

II

III

IV

V + White-breasted Woodswallow

Where do you go to my lovely?

The Little Grassbird Megalurus gramineus is a relatively common local warbler, but rarely observed unless you make a special effort. Like many ‘little brown birds’ its plumage is subtle but distinctive.

It can be found in a variety of locations and habitats in the district, almost always near water. Over the years I’ve observed it along the Loddon River, in the rush beds at Joyce’s Creek (where this one seen) and in greatest numbers on the lignum swamps of the Moolort Plains.

It is something of a mystery bird, singing its mournful song regularly during the breeding season and then remaining silent for the rest of the year. It is always cryptic, furtive and wary – to catch a glimpse as I did for these images was fortunate indeed.

Its movements outside the breeding season are where the mystery lies – there is some evidence that birds head inland after breeding, however I can recall it being resident when the swamps were full during 2010-11.

It occupies the same habitat as the Golden-headed Cisticola but rarely sings from an exposed perch as the cisticola will do.

Little Grassbird, Joyce’s Creek, 15th November 2020

II

III

IV

A spent Golden-headed Cisticola nest … a marvel of nature

Meet the maker … adult male Golden-headed Cisticola

Apologies for the lame Peter Sarstedt reference!

A smorgasbord of delights

Nestling Laughing Kookaburras certainly keep their ‘parents’ busy. An assortment of food was being ferried to these youngsters – yabbies and a variety of skinks delivered at regular intervals.

Laughing Kookaburras are cooperative breeders, generally living in small family groups with the offspring of previous seasons assisting the parents to care for the young. The family group by the river includes at least one helper.

Laughing Kookaburra with a yabby, Loddon River @ Newstead, 14th November 2020

II

… this time a small skink

… then a larger one

Arriving at the nest site

There are at least two pin-feathered nestlings in the hollow

Black anthers, bees, other little things and a dramatic end

Black-anther Flax Lilies have (Dianella revoluta) been flowering for a while in our bush. At present, they are bearing both flowers and fruits in our bush at Strangways.

Being blue, they are beloved by our local native bee species. Lipotriches bees are regulars at these flowers.

Lipotriches

Lipotriches are sweat bees of the family Halictidae, nesting in burrows in the ground and attracted to the salt in human sweat – hence the name. The very helpful site aussiebee.com.au talks about the males of this genus gathering at dusk in large numbers on twigs or grass stems. I’ve yet to see this, but would love to.

Much smaller Halictids of genus Lasioglossum are also visiting the flax-lily flowers.

Lasioglossum on Flax-lily flower.

These tiny bees are also enjoying the Digger’s Speedwell flowers that are also still blooming.

And on Digger’s Speedwell

In amongst the flowers, I saw something that looked and behaved like a hoverfly, but seemed too big. When I got a close look through the macro lens, the mystery was solved.

Hoverfly love on the wing

Shiny Everlastings are also in full bloom. I found a little Lacewing larva lurking on one flower, presumably looking for prey.

Lacewing larva – an impressive juxtaposition of camouflage and pincers

Away from flowers, the leaves are also busy places. Leaf Beetles are munching busily.

Middle-bar Acacia Leaf Beetle (Peltoschema suturale)

ARACHNOPHOBE ALERT – SPIDER PHOTO AHEAD!

The truth of life for any animal who’s not a top order predator is that their is always someone looking to turn you into a meal. NO exemptions for cute little leaf beetles.

A Beautiful Badge Huntsman making a meal of a Leaf Beetle.

It’s a numbers game

I’m often astounded at how small Tawny Frogmouths are when they leave the nest.

The youngsters pictured below, from two separate nests, are surely barely able to fly … if at all. In each case they are perched with a parent at some distance from the now deserted nest. I’m intrigued about how they make this journey.

The pair from the ‘West bank’ are tending two healthy offspring, while the ‘East bank’ pair has just one bright and alert youngster. Pairs can lay up to three eggs but it’s unusual for more than two to fledge.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen the family perched in a Peppercorn tree – the darkness under the canopy is clearly a nice place to spend the daylight hours.

Male and juvenile Tawny Frogmouth, Panmure Street Newstead, 13th November 2020

II

III

The Pound Lane family

II

Down to earth … again!

Rainbow Bee-eaters and Sacred Kingfishers are competing for my attention at present.

Both are well advanced in their breeding cycle, with both species inspecting, and in some cases, establishing nesting sites at present.

This sequence shows a territorial pair along the Loddon River up-stream of Newstead. It was interesting to observe the bill-rubbing behaviour from the male – bees and wasps, two of their favourite foods, are rubbed against the perch to remove the stings and venom glands. In this case the male has no prey in its bill so I wonder if this is simply an habitual behaviour to remove any semblance of toxins from a prior catch.

Rainbow Bee-eater (male), Loddon River @ Newstead, 8th November 2020

II

Bill rubbing behaviour

Enjoying the gentle breeze

Male (at left) and female (at right)

Potential nest site inspection

II

Kingfisher special

This series of cameos involves two pairs of Sacred Kingfishers on the Loddon River at Newstead.

The first set, pair #1, shows two separate instances of courtship feeding – the first with what I think is a robber-fly, the second with a small skink. Courtship feeding occurs during egg formation, laying and incubation and can provide a valuable source of nutrients for females. Many birds engage in courtship feeding.

In this case the female uttered a string of harsh ‘alarm-like’ calls when it spotted the male nearby, after which the male flew in to perform a rapid exchange of food. Male and female Sacred Kingfishers can be hard (perhaps impossible) to distinguish unless you observe this type of behaviour.

Sacred Kingfishers, Pair #1, Loddon River @ Newstead, 8th November 2020

II

III

IV

V

While I have occasionally witnessed courtship feeding in Sacred Kingfishers, I’d never before observed them mating. In this case, pair #2 were feeding along a stretch of the river with both birds returning to a succession of perches. I watched on in amazement as the male returned on one occasion to mate with the female. The image series below shows some exquisite details of this remarkable event. Just prior to the mating the female flew in to the river bank below my feet to work on the nest site – traces of mud can be clearly seen on the beak of the female.

Nearby a pair of Rainbow Bee-eaters were starting to inspect potential nest sites … more on that another day.

Pair #2 … downstream

II

III