Category Archives: Flora

Grey Box – a local marvel

Each year, at this time, I marvel at the sudden explosion of flowering on our local Grey Box Eucalyptus microcarpa.

This magnificent tree is one of the keys to the ecology of the box-ironbark ecosystem and its flowers are one of the main reasons for the diversity of nectar feeders that inhabit the region. Honeyeaters, lorikeets and (hopefully) migratory Swift Parrots depend on the resources created by Grey Box from now until late autumn.

Grey Box has been described as a pollinator generalist (see Wilson, 2002, p 67). It doesn’t produce the same large volumes of nectar as, for example, Yellow Gum – a species that is a magnet for birds, but Grey Box is apparently adapted for pollination by both birds and insects. Many honeyeaters are fond of insects as well as nectar so Grey Box is ‘just the ticket’ for these birds.

Grey Box flowers, Mia Mia Road, 2nd February 2018

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Grey Box buds on the same tree

Grey Box woodland along Annand’s Lane on the edge of the Sandon State Forest

In recent days I’ve been watching both Rainbow Bee-eaters and Sacred Kingfishers catching insects in the vicinity of flowering Grey Box … fuelling up before their journey north. It’s a complex and marvellous ecosystem.

Sacred Kingfisher returning to the nest with an insect caught from amongst the nearby Grey Box

Reference: Jenny Wilson (2002) – Flowering Ecology of a Box-Ironbark Eucalyptus community, PhD thesis, Deakin University.

Two for the price of one

The Buloke Allocasuarina luehmannii is an iconic local tree – it can be found as single trees (usually) scattered through the box-ironbark country and as isolated and highly fragmented stands across the Moolort Plains. Buloke is listed as a threatened species in Victoria, while Buloke woodlands (as an ecological community) are nationally endangered.

A close looks at this remnant patch of Buloke – two living trees and a sadly fallen veteran – revealed a number of clumps of Buloke Mistloetoe Amyema linophylla, its glorious crimson flowers in fine display. Buloke Mistletoe is also listed as threatened in Victoria, not surprising given its almost obligate dependence on Buloke and the closely related Belah Casuarina pauper, a tree found in even more arid environments than ours!

Remnant Bulokes @ Joyce’s Creek, 21st January 2018

Buloke Mistletoe flowers

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One of the dozen or so mistletoe clumps on the Buloke at left (above)

According to the Viridans database …

Amyema linophylla is a mistletoe which is parasitic principally on two species of leafless tree; Buloke (Allocasuarina luehmannii) and Belah (Casuarina pauper). It has narrow, grey-green leaves, clusters of erect, red tubular flowers and white, fleshy fruit which are produced in late summer and autumn. Amyema is widespread in woodland vegetation of north-western Victoria where the rainfall is generally less than 500 mm a year. Despite its broad geographic range Amyema is never found in large numbers (often less than 10 in a population) and there are usually substantial distances between host trees.

Amyema linophylla is classified as vulnerable in Victoria because its numbers are significantly below what they would have been at the time of European settlement and more that 80% of the records are from roadsides, paddocks, other private land and public land not managed for conservation. The host species themselves were once much more abundant than they are today. With the development of agriculture in the low rainfall areas of Victoria Buloke and Belah were cut down for timber or firewood, as they were often the largest trees in the area. They were also removed because they occupied the most fertile of the soils in the drier ecosystems. Today more than 90% of the stands of Buloke and 60% of Belah are on unprotected public or private land. In most cases 25% or more of the understory plant species are non-natives.”

Not just bark

The heat at this time of year produces some amazing bushland effects, especially with the bark on our local Yellow Gums. During a run of very hot days long strips of bark, grey-blue on the outside and orange on the inside, peel away to reveal the classic ‘look’ of the Yellow Gum aka White Ironbark. The accumulation of bark on the forest floor is a key driver of the ecology of this landscape – Yellow-footed Antechinus are one of the animals to profit and not surprisingly are abundant where there is good cover of fallen bark.

Yellow Gum, Mia Mia Track, 13th January 2018

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Yellow Gum bark on the forest floor, Mia Mia Track

Yellow Gums, South German Track

Red Box … not to be outdone!

Yellow-footed Antechinus on South German Track

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Historical marker

Calm evenings are a wonderful time to visit Cairn Curran. This set was observed as I sat above the reservoir at Joyce’s Creek earlier in the week. The site is traced by a ragged line of dead River Red-gums that mark the original course of the creek – a reminder of a past landscape.

Looking north-east along the original course of Joyce’s Creek, 10th January 2018.

Australasian Darter (female), Joyce’s Creek @ Cairn Curran, 10th January 2018

Australasian Darter (male)

Female Australasian Darter in level flight

Great Cormorant

Whistling Kite

A New Year special

Over the years I’ve found many nests of the Sacred Kingfisher, but this is the first time I’ve ever managed to spy the eggs.

Unusually this nest is below ground level, in a River Red Gum hollow on the edge of an eroded gully in the Mia Mia. The eggs were nestled safely in a bed of powdered wood, carefully prepared by the adult kingfishers.

What a wonder to catch a glimpse into the life of this beautiful bird.

Sacred Kingfisher nest with four eggs, Mia Mia Track area, 31st December 2017

The female incubating

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Of husks, seeds and transformations

Our beautiful Shiny Everlastings, Xerochrysum viscosum, have mostly finished flowering, but this heralds a new expression of their beauty. Perhaps only appreciated at higher magnification. As the seeds are carried off from the remains of the flower by the wind-catching pappus, they have an elegance all their own.

Shiny Everlasting seed dispersal

Shiny Everlasting seeds about to ride the wind

Our Magenta Storksbills Pelargonium rodneyanum have also set seed, again with an impressive aid to flight and corkscrew, which I presume drives the seed into the soil on landing.

magenta storks bill stack

Magenta Storksbill seed

On the same Silver Wattle that I recently found an Acacia Horned Treehopper nymph ( https://geoffpark.wordpress.com/2017/12/07/to-sting-hide-or-mimic/ ) I found this empty husk, the nymph off to life as it’s next instar.

Acacia Horned Treehopper shell

Acacia Horned Treehopper skin

Also grazing on the vegetation in the front yard was a later instar of the Gum Leaf Katydid that I posted pictures of a few weeks back ( https://geoffpark.wordpress.com/2017/12/07/to-sting-hide-or-mimic/ ). This one was on the now empty flower heads of an Austrostipa grass. This katydid is still a nypmh as the wings are not fully formed and the animal relied totally on camouflage for safety. Also note the long antennae, which is a feature of katydids.

Katydid nymph

Gum Leaf Katydid

Similar in size and strategies to the Katydid is this Gum Leaf Grasshopper nymph. Again its wings are underdeveloped and it relies on its superb camouflage for safety. Note the short antenna compared to the Katydid.

Gumleaf Grasshopper nymph

Gum Leaf Grasshopper

PS Many thanks to Geoff for his post about my macrophotography exhibition at Dig Cafe in Newstead. The exhibition is on until January 31st.

A visit to the Imperial Blue colony

On December 29th 2010 I wrote about a colony of Common Imperial Blue butterflies at Yandoit.

A couple of days ago, almost seven years later to the day, I dropped by on a trip south to see how they were faring. The air around the copse of Silver Wattles was delightfully alive with these remarkable butterflies, with pairs mating and ants in attendance around the pupae. You can read here, at the Strathbogie Ranges – Nature View blog about their fascinating life history.

Common Imperial Blues, Yandoit, 22nd December 2017

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A cluster of pupae with attendant ants

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This copse of Silver Wattles is home to the colony