We may not see wild emus in our bush around Newstead, but there is one vast dark one that now strides across our sky. The dark lanes and dust of the centre of the Milky Way galaxy become visible as galactic centre rises on winter evenings. Aboriginal astronomers did not limit their descriptions to bright stars as the Arabic and subsequent European astronomers did, but include the dark shapes of the night skies into their science.
The head, neck and body of the emu rise above our place at Strangways
And with some labels
The most impressive is the great emu that stretches across the winter sky, with its head at the base of the Southern Cross (unromantically called the Coalsack by Europeans) and feet well north in the constellation Aquila (the Eagle). The mighty body of this bird, thousands of trillions of kilometres long, is found in the constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius.
Picnic point on Lake Cairn Curran provided a great setting for photographing the centre of the Milky Way. Saturn adds an extra bright object to the spectacle. The Sagittarius Star Cloud is also easily picked out with the naked eye, but is a real treat with binoculars. The Lagoon nebula is also discernible with the naked eye and is one of the many star-creating bright nebulae in this part of the galaxy. Messier objects 6 & 7 are open star clusters and are recently born clusters of stars that have blown their gaseous nebula into space.
And rumour has it that Newstead is the centre of the universe.
Milky Way central rises above Cairn Curran. Somewhere in there is a black hole millions of times the mass of our sun.
and some labels to go with that.
A visit to the Joyce’s Creek arm of Cairn Curran on Monday was a bit of a desperate attempt to satisfy the bird photography addiction (aggravated by the acquisition of upgraded lens and camera) on a cloudy and unpromising day. While I was delighted to see a party of five male and one female Flame Robins, they were a bit reluctant to pose for the paparazzi, as were the many Black -fronted Dotterels. A Red-kneed Dotterel (Erythrogonys cinctus) on the shoreline was more accommodating, but still a little coy.
A group of five Yellow-billed Spoonbills (Platalea flavipes) perched in an old dead River Red Gum were considerably more obliging. A little bit of light breaking through the sombre clouds at the right moment was even better.
Yellow-billed Spoonbill looking rather cool.
And perhaps tiring of the fool with the big lens
Time to move on
As I wended my way back to the car, the Flame Robins were still shy, but a Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus) clad in formal attire was happy to pose on a suitably corroded picket.
Invertebrate life above the soil is a little harder to find as the weather cools, although there are still plenty of spiders and moths.
I found a paper wasp on the handle of our flywire door yesterday morning. Very cold, it wasn’t moving much. I shepherded it onto a Hardenbergia leaf and to my surprise it started enthusiastically drinking the dew.
A cold paper wasp
Having a good drink
I continued to wander around the garden and found a few Rhytodoponera ants on a Silver Wattle. These ants seem particularly fond of Silver Wattles. As I looked closely through the macro lens at one ant, I could see that she too was filling up on the previous night’s dew. I wasn’t sure how much was for her and whether she was going to get this load back to her sisters. Nothing was happening fast at this point!
Rhytodoponera with dew
Away from the dew and the insects, I also found this magnificent scorpion under a rock. She was pretty curled up and was not keen on the camera, but I think she was about 25 mm long.
I have been watching this wasp (or a series of identical ones) visiting this same little stuck-together leaf hideout for some weeks. The wasp seems to spend a lot of time snuggled between the leaves but also comes and goes a bit. The wasp looks very like but not identical to paper wasps busily making nests under our eaves. I wonder if it’s a paper wasp and if so what business does it have here (and it doesn’t seem to be carrying off prey) or is a different species?
Wasp getting between Grey Box leaves
Checking out the intrusive fool with a camera
Insect subjects are a bit harder to find at present, perhaps due to the dry as much as the onset of autumn. But there has been plenty of Water Strider activity on our dam of late. I find these fascinating insects very hard to approach with a camera as they scoot off very quickly. I did get a few close up photos and am amazed by their other-worldly appearance.
Water Strider from above
This Water Strider was happily anchored on some debris and let me get a profile shot at last.
But the Water Striders weren’t the only invertebrates walking on the water. This little spider – perhaps a Wolf Spider from the layout of its eyes – made little forays across the surface of the water from the shore. When it returned to terra firma, it was very hard to see. In this photo, it is on the surface of the dam, a few millimetres above the bottom. I presume it may be looking for a Water Strider for tea.
Spider walks on water.
There are plenty of ants active at our place at the moment. Leafhopper nymphs are growing on both wattles and eucalypts and being attended by ants like this Golden-flumed Sugar Ant. The ants will get honeydew from the nymph and in turn protect it from predators.
Golden-flumed Sugar Ant (Camponotus suffusus) and leafhopper nymph.
Nearby on a Golden Wattle a few Rhytodoponera ants were fossicking.
Deeper in the bush a colony of Muscle Man Tree Ants have burrowed their nest in a Grey Box tree.
Muscle Man Tree Ant (Podomyrma adelaidae) as she carries wood pulp from the nest
and keeps carrying it…
…and she drops it from the edge of the branch.
Close-up to the mouth parts of Podomyrma adelaidae
On the bank of one of our dams, Meat Ants (Iridomyrmex species) scurry to and from their large nests. Many people say that these ants are very aggressive near their nests, but they’ve always let me get very close and never tried to bite.
Iridomyrmex sp. carrying debris from the nest
Emerging from the nest.
And just because it’s beautiful, a Leaf Beetle.
Even with the end of summer, there are still a lot of insects readying for the next season. Paper Wasps are still sealing their nests with mulched plant matter under our eaves at Strangways.
Paper Wasp readying material to close a nest cell
There are still caterpillars and other larvae out feeding up before metamorphosis. I think these ones might be beetle larvae, but I am happy to be corrected.
We also have various stages and species of Eucalyptus Tip Wilter Bugs sucking on eucalypt leaves.
Eucalyptus Tip Wilter Bug nymph I (Amorbus alternatus?)
Eucalyptus Tip Wilter Bug nymph II (Amorbus obscuricornis?)
There are also some leafhoppers continuing their symbiotic relationship with our ants, like this nymph on a Golden Wattle.
This Acacia Horned Treehopper shows the honeydew that the ants get in exchange for protecting the leafhopper.
Acacia Horned Treehopper
Acacia Horned Treehopper and ant.
Soldier Beetles are also out in force and lots of them are finding mates.
Soldier Beetles mating.
And just because it’s beautiful, a Belid Weevil on a Silver Wattle
There is quite an abundance of Praying Mantises at our place at present. Many are still nymphs and I’ve seen some that are only a couple of centimetres long.
Praying Mantis adult on Shiny Everlastings doing some night hunting
Nymph by night on a Golden Wattle
But I found myself wondering why they seem to have little pupils that looked at me in whichever angle I was viewing the insect.
Garden Praying Mantis nymph up close
Someone suggested that I look up the term pseudopupil. It does make a big difference knowing the right term to follow up! It turns out that when you look at a compound eye, the little eye sections or ommatidia that you are looking at are absorbing light. The others are reflecting it back at the observer. So the ones that the animal is seeing you with are dark.
Garden Praying Mantis nymph ready for action.
I’ve found these to be most enjoyable to photograph, not only because they look fantastic, but they are so curious. Quite a few have jumped onto my camera whilst being photographed. One that I was photographing a few weeks back gave the appearance of scratching its chin and then the top of its head as it tilted its tiny head from side to side trying to work me out. Fair enough too!
Garden Praying Mantis nymph – curious and curiouser?
I think the last shot is one of my all time favourites.
My exhibition of macrophotography at Dig Cafe in Newstead is finishing at the end of business on Sunday 28th January.