Of ants and ant lions

by Patrick Kavanagh

I well remember the experience of revelation when the copy of “The How and Why Wonder Book of Insects” that I’d received as a hand-me-down explained the mysterious little cones, perfectly formed with grainy sides, in the dirt around our yard and in the bush. They were the traps of Ant Lion larvae. The book described how an ant would slide into the trap and be eaten by the larva below. I was not beyond guiding an ant to such a fate and watching with fascination as the Ant Lion concealed in dirt at the bottom of the pit would flick dirt on the ant to help it slide into its pincers. I gently blew away the dirt to see the strange animal that is an Ant Lion larva. In 2014, I broke my own rules of not disturbing my insect subjects by again exposing one of these larvae for some photos. But until a last week, I’d never had a chance to photograph an adult Ant Lion. They are nocturnal and shy and I’d only seen one once. Until we found this one struggling in one of our dogs’ water bowls at night. It sat quietly on the leaf that we extracted it with, long enough for a few photos before it flew off.

Ant Lion traps, Strangways, 19th March 2017

II

Ant Lion

Adult Ant Lion aka Lacewing

II

On the other side of the predatory coin, I also recently enjoyed some time with some friendly Meat Ants Iridomyrmex purpureus. The reading I’ve done on this species suggests that they are very aggressive, but this little crew were very happy for me to lie in the dirt close to an outlet of their nest and snap away. I was also interested to read that they can also engage in ritual fights with meat ants from other nests and that they are often eaten by our woodland bird species. A few of these ants seemed to be removing small dead insects from the nest, which I thought might be young that had died.

Meat Ant

II

III

Barely a ripple

It’s raining this morning … the gentle sound of rain on the roof is unexpected but welcome. The Rainbow Lorikeets appear to have left and the Musk Lorikeets are celebrating their departure with a cacophony in the Yellow Gums behind the house. I think this might be autumn …

I couldn’t resist this sequence from yesterday at the bird bath – a female Spotted Pardalote quenching her thirst.

Female Spotted Pardalote, Wyndham Street Newstead, 18th march 2017

II

III

IV

Male Common Bronzewing

Watching waterbirds

Cairn Curran Reservoir has receded significantly over the past month, it’s now at just over 84%. This is creating some nice habitats for birds, as areas of exposed mudflat develop and provide additional foraging opportunities.

Cairn Curran Reservoir, 14th March 2017

I’m yet to see any migratory waders, such as stints and sandpipers, but expect some observations over coming weeks as small flocks stop by on their northerly journey. Nonetheless, there are other sights to enjoy – A Darter was the highlight during the week. A few pairs bred in Joyce’s creek over summer and the birds are now dispersing to spend the cooler months fishing the shallow waters of the lake.

Darter at Cairn Curran

Darter and Little Pied Cormorant

Darter in flight

White-faced Heron

II

III

A fleeting visit?

Gordon alerted me to the presence of a visitor next door … a beautiful Southern Boobook, sheltering in the security of the car-port.

Southern Boobook, Wyndham Street Newstead, 15th March 2017

This beautiful hawk owl, a relative of the Powerful Owl and Barking Owl (a rare local), is heard more than seen. During the day they roost in places where they can escape the attentions of small birds such as honeyeaters, which will mob an owl relentlessly if its arrives in their territory. Southern Boobooks are nocturnal hunters – they feed on flying insects and small vertebrates … including mice!

II

III

IV

Bunjil takes flight

To the people of the Kulin Nation, to which the Dja Dja Wurrung People belong, the Wedge-tailed Eagle is Bunjil.

“Bunjil is the creator being who bestows Dja Dja Wurrung People with the laws and ceremonies that ensure the continuation of life”*

Whenever I see one of these magnificent birds, such as this old adult on the plains, I reminded of how special this ancient land is.

Wedge-tailed Eagle, Moolort Plains, 14th March 2017

II

III

IV

V

VI

* Source: Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Recognition Statement

Berigora sequence

Sadly, the aboriginal names for many of our native species are not well-known … the Brown Falcon Falco berigora is a notable exception.

This beautiful, if sometimes clumsy falcon, is widespread across the continent. Usually flighty, this one posed nicely for the camera … as I sat admiringly in the car!

Brown Falcon, Moolort Plains, 13th March 2017

II

III

IV

V

VI

Postscript: For more information on the origin and use of the word berigora click here

It’s my turn now …

When the Rainbow Lorikeets, Red Wattlebirds, Galahs and rosellas aren’t monopolising the birds baths, a suite of smaller species flock in for their turn. I’ve also heard a Black-chinned Honeyeater in the garden this morning – we sometimes see them during autumn as they disperse from their breeding sites in the surrounding bush.

Juvenile Brown-headed Honeyeater, Wyndham Street Newstead, 12th March 2017

Brown-headed Honeyeater (adult)

Female Spotted Pardalote

II

III

IV

White-naped Honeyeater

II