Okay, so they are only ducks … but I was happy to get these images last weekend.
A party of five Grey Teal on a small bush dam in the Muckleford State Forest. Wild ducks are almost always incredibly wary and will take flight at the slightest hint of danger. I was fortunate to be able to make a close approach to these birds as they paddled quietly … still with one eye on the photographer!
Grey Teal, Muckleford State Forest, 1st August 2020
With the damp earth of winter, it is a joy to spend some time low to the ground and admiring the mosses in our bush. And admiring the things that com out of the moss.
In lots of places, Scented Sundews (Drosera whittakeri) push up through the mosses. It’s not a coincidence that nearby, mushroom fruiting bodies are also poking up.
Fungus gnat larvae feed on the fungus strands under the soil. At this time of year, adults will be laying eggs in the soil. I’ve also read that some fungus gnat adults will feed on the mushrooms themselves and carry the fungus spores around the bush. Sundews that happen to be amongst areas rich in fungi will get more gnats stuck to their sticky spines and will therefore be able to proliferate more.
As I was rolling around the ground trying to get good angles on the luxurious mossy floor of our woodland at Strangways, I was delighted to see a small red speck climb out of the thick moss.
The red speck was a Red Velvet Mite – an arachnid of the family Trobidiidae. Unlike other arachnids, their bodies are not segmented. They have two eyes but use chemoreceptors (smell but with no nose) and sense vibrations to find their prey – primarily other invertebrates.
They will emerge from the soil after rain. At times I’ve seen a horde of these tiny animals, up to 50 at a time, ranging from less than 0.5mm to about 4 mm long, quickly dispersing. This one was on its own and was about 3mm long.
Apparently, male Red Velvet Mites will construct a little boudoir of plant material and spermatophores – little clumps of sperm – into which he will invite a prospective mate. He does this by waiting for a lady to pass and then does a little dance for her. If she likes what she sees, she sits on one of his spermatophores and impregnates herself.
Not far from where I found the little red cutie, I found a male midge sitting on a Golden Wattle bud. I’ve struggled to get a photo of the wonderful feathery antennae that the boy midges sport, so I was very pleased that this lad sat still long enough to get a decent shot.
The ibis is often referred to colloquially as the farmers friend, on account of the wonderful service it provides feeding on insect pests in pastures. Many species of native birds perform a similar wonderful role, including cuckoos.
This Fan-tailed Cuckoo was observed last evening, feeding on caterpillars in a paddock beside the Loddon River. Over a period of twenty minutes or so it captured perhaps a dozen, each time descending from a low perch to snatch the caterpillar from a leaf, returning to its perch on each occasion to devour its prey. It then rejoiced with a series of trills before eyeing off its next victim. I originally misidentified the caterpillars as one of the Heliothis species of moths – they are actually Brown Pasture LooperCiampa arietaria, typically found on capeweed and Erodium but also a pest of young crops and clover pastures.
Let’s hear a cheer for Fan-tailed Cuckoos!
Fan-tailed Cuckoo with , Loddon River @ Newstead, 25th July 2020
The ground carpeted with Yellow Gum flowers – a sure sign that nectar-loving parrots are about.
This time it was Little Lorikeets, feasting on the eucalyptus blossoms at the Rise and Shine. The smallest and perhaps the scarcest of our local lorikeets (Purple-crowned Lorikeets would rival them) are delightful birds.
Yellow Gum flowers on the woodland carpet, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 24th July 2020
Sitting at my desk over the past fortnight I’ve heard the regular trills of a Fan-tailed Cuckoo (possibly from a few different individuals) coming from the direction of the Loddon River to our west.
Last evening I went in search of the ‘perpetrator’ and found a couple of individuals in one of my favourite spots along the river (pictured below). Cuckoos have arrived early this year – Shining and Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoos are already about as well, perhaps a fortnight earlier than their usual arrival dates. I’ve yet to observe Pallid or Black-eared Cuckoos but will be on the lookout for them in coming weeks.
Loddon River @ Newstead (iPhone panorama), 22nd July 2020
I enjoyed Patrick’s post from yesterday featuring Cassinia sifton, and his observations of some newly arrived Shining Bronze-cuckoos. I’ve known this local native species, formerly Cassinia arcuata, under various common names – Coffee-bush, Drooping Cassinia and Chinese Scrub. The great local website Wild plants of the Castlemaine district has some terrific information on the species.
During my visit to the Rise and Shine last weekend I came across a small flock of Silvereyes foraging in a copse of Cassinia sifton.
Flame Robins and a pair of Hooded Robins were then observed nearby along with my first Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo of the season (heard but unseen).
Since the heavy rains of 2010-11, we’ve had quite a growth of Cassinia sifton at our place. In recent weeks, it has become favourite fodder for Looping Caterpillars of the moth genus Chlenias.
Almost all of the Cassinia bushes at our place have at least a few of these munching away, ranging from 10-30 mm long. As there is a great abundance of the shrub in our bush, I’m very happy that someone is keeping it in check. There is some debate about whether Cassinia sifton is truly native to Victoria or whether it came from NSW during the early gold rushes. Until recently it was classed as one species with Cassinia arcuata which is now a rare species only found in the northwest of the state.
I was trying to get some photos of a Shining Bronze-Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus) at our place the other day and found two on the ridge, chasing each other in an amorous sort of way. They got themselves deep into a Cassinia bush where one (a male I assume) offered the other a series of Chlenias caterpillars. Due to the dense bush I was only able to get a pretty ordinary shot of her eating her gift. The male was hidden behind some of the branches, but I figure this one definitely belongs in this post.
Also in great abundance in our bush at present are Fungus Gnats. As I prowl around the bush looking for subjects, I am struck by how important these tiny insects are for pollination and as fodder for other invertebrates. They are also very challenging to get good photos of.
Nocturnal ants are also common and very important during winter nights and again Golden Wattles are favourite haunts.
Harvestmen are arachnids that look like spiders, having eight legs, but unlike spiders they only have two eyes (spiders have eight) and have external mouth parts that crunch their prey rather than sucking the insides out as spiders do. I’ve seen harvestment from time to time, but this year I’ve seen a lot of Opoliones harvestmen, usually on wattle and eucalypt leaves.