Monthly Archives: June 2009

What’s flowering in June

In my indigenous garden and in the local bushland in June you will find two very prickly shrubs in flower. One is Spreading Wattle Acacia genistifolia which grows to 2m tall x 2m wide, with cheery lemon-yellow pom poms, and the other is the only Hakea species that is indigenous to our shire, Bushy Needlewood Hakea decurrens ssp. physocarpa. The Bushy Needlewood grows (slowly) to 3m tall and 1m wide and it bears delicate white flowers all Winter which contrast beautifully with the bright red stems. The flowers are similar to Grevillea flowers – Hakeas belong to the same family as Grevilleas: Proteacea. The prickly foliage of these understorey plants provides safe nesting sites for small birds. Even when neither species is in flower, you can tell them apart from the following features:

 Hakea decurrens & Acacia genistifolia Bushy Needlewood Hakea decurrens                 Spreading Wattle Acacia genistifolia

* narrow habit                                                          * shrub is as wide or wider than it is tall

* bright red stems (on new growth)                   * stems not bright red

* prominent woody grey fruits (all year)         * long pale brown seed pods (December)

 (Part of an article published in the Newstead Echo in June 2005)

Elphinstone Phascogale

Neville Cooper recently found this Brush-tailed Phascogale Phascogale tapoatafa on the Pyrenees Highway in Elphinstone, June 2009.  We think it must have come from the Fryers Ranges State Park and tried unsuccessfully to cross the road!  We think it’s female.

Brush-tailed Phascogale

Brush-tailed Phascogale

Unravelling a puzzle

I have been puzzling over this photograph taken recently near Mia Mia Track. The large Yellow Box Eucalyptus melliodora in the middle ground is about 80 cm diameter at breast height (foresters and ecologists record the size of trees as DBHOB – diameter at breast height over bark!). Research in recent years across the Box-Ironbark country suggests that eucalypts in this ecosystem grow between 0.3 and 0.5 cm in diameter per year suggesting that the pictured Yellow Box might be between 160 and 240 years old. This site is probably more fertile and moist than the surrounding area being in the base of a shallow gully, so “good” growing conditions may mean the tree is not quite so old as suggested.

Old Yellow Box in erosion gully near Mia Mia Track

Old Yellow Box in erosion gully near Mia Mia Track

The area is dotted with old shallow mine shafts associated with the gold rushes of the 1850’s to 1880’s. This activity usually led to rapid clearing of timber and subsequent heavy erosion of the topsoil. The root mass from the Yellow Box across the gully indicates that this happened after the tree became established. Most of the trees in the background are much smaller and have grown following clearing – either that associated with gold seeking or later timber gathering. Its an intriguing picture. I would be interested in other interpretations.

The Campbelltown Snow Gum

On the edge of the stony rises just south of Campbelltown is a solitary Snow Gum Eucalytpus pauciflora. It seems incongruous for a tree that we associate with the alps and high country to be growing so close to Newstead. In fact there are quite a number of Snow Gums on the volcanic country between here and Ballarat, usually occurring as lone trees on fertile farmland – generally overlooked and probably under appreciated. This particular individual has been protected from grazing and appears to be in reasonable condition with a great crop of new buds that will burst into flower early next summer.

Solitary Snow Gum - between Campbelltown and Smeaton

Solitary Snow Gum - between Campbelltown and Smeaton

A new bird!

My Newstead bird list has risen to 163 species with an exciting new addition. Today just south of Mia Mia Track I saw a Chestnut-rumped Heathwren Hylacola pyrrhopygia. Although this species is regularly reported across the box-ironbark country I haven’t seen one around Newstead until today. I got quite a good look as it searched for food on a rocky ridgeline vegetated with coppice regrowth of Red Stringybark, Grey Box and Red Box and an understorey of Daphne Heath. For more on this great little bird have a look at Andrew’s post of the 24th March complete with a song!

It was an interesting day for birds as I also saw a party of White-browed Babblers in the same area along with Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters, Brown-headed Honeyeaters  and a Grey Shrike-thrush. Just as I was returning to the car I disturbed a Tawny Frogmouth perched in a small Grey Box.

Flame Robin

Yesterday Mary and I had a short walk in the area around Mia Mia Track and South German Track looking for the elusive Crested Bellbird. We didn’t see a Bellbird but were lucky enough to see a male Flame Robin, our first for the season. Flame Robins Petroica phoenicea are regular visitors to our district in late autumn and winter. They generally return to breed in upland areas, including the Victorian Alps, over spring and summer, although I can recall them breeding on our block at Sandon during the late 1980s. Flame Robins are one of three different types of “red robins” you might see in our district, the others being the Scarlet Robin which is resident and fairly common, and the Red-capped Robin, a bird generally found in much drier country to our north, which seems to be still found in small numbers locally. I had a recent report of a Red-capped Robin from the Muckleford area.

Other birds seen on our walk were Brown Treecreeper, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Crimson Rosella and White-winged Chough. We also saw Box Mistletoe flowering – the most common species of mistletoe in our area and an important source of nectar for birds and other fauna.

Drooping Mistletoe Amyema pendula

Box Mistletoe Amyema miquelii

Have you seen this critter?

Following on from the theme of the last post I would like to hear about observations of this local mammal – the Yellow-footed Antechinus Antechinus flavipes.  Check out this fabulous photograph taken by Roger Standen of a Yellow-footed Antechinus in the Kamarooka area north of Bendigo.

Yellow-footed Antechnius at Kamarooka (Roger Standen)

Yellow-footed Antechnius at Kamarooka (Roger Standen)

Here is what Roger reported …………. “Thought you might be interested in this little fellow I came across in the north-east corner of Kamarooka forest today. It was busy building a nest with dry leaves from the forest floor. Darting out of it’s little home in this fallen log to pick up a dry leaf and dragging it back inside kept it busy for some time. It was doing this between 3-4 pm. The day was overcast but quite bright so it was good to see such good views of it (normally a nocturnal animal, sometimes males can be seen during the mating season apparently. I have seen them in the day three or four times in the past). Every now and again it would leave the log and scamper around over a wider area (up to 20m from the log) occasionally rummaging among the litter on the ground. It appeared to be quite plump so I suspected it was a pregnant female, but I understand that they mate starting late July as daylight hours start to increase after the winter so it it is probably just be a fattened animal getting ready for a quiet time over winter?? You probably know that the antechinus mates aggressively, biting, scratching and copulating for up to twelve hours, resulting in extreme stress to the male antechinus, that leads to a breakdown of the immune system and death. This stress related death of the males protects the young from competition from adult males. They are a unique little animal.”

I do remember one occasion in the Rise and Shine with the boys and we spotted one on a Grey Box tree. It kept circling the trunk to stay out of view – we tried to outsmart it by having one of us move around to the opposite side of the tree. It didnt take long for the Antechinus to work out our cunning plan – it just quickly shot up to the top of the tree!

The photograph below (taken by Elaine Campbell) of a male Yellow-footed Antechinus was captured at Mia Mia Road, Newstead on 2nd August 2006. See the comment above from Frances Cincotta for a great description of this observation.

Male Yellow-footed Antechinus, Mia Mia Rd Newstead 2 Aug 2006

Yellow-footed Antechinus at Mia Mia Rd, August 2006 (Elaine Campbell)