Category Archives: Flora

Undaunted by winter’s cold

The middle of winter is not a great time for invertebrate macrophotography. Dependent on the environment for body heat regulation, these tiny animals are mostly in some form of dormancy. But not all, and I am amazed at how many very tiny spiders, flies and ants seem to navigate the frosty conditions of a Newstead winter.

Last night, I was impressed to find a number of small ants seeking out food on the wattles at our place at Strangways. One species were small black ants, about 5mm long. I think they are a species of the genus Notoncus, but I’m very happy to be corrected. When I got to look at this photo on my computer, I was amazed to see what looks like a tiny brown mite on the ant’s abdomen. I find the size of some of these mites mind bogglingly small.

Notoncus sp.

Notoncus worker on Golden Wattle, with mite

As is often the case, these ladies were feeding from the little gland in the bend of the wattle leaf stem.

Notoncus sp

Feeding at Golden Wattle gland.

Another species of the same genus is one that I often see at night – Notoncus hickmani (I’m more confident about this as the friendly people at bowerbird.org.au identified it for me last year). Having done a bit of research on the web about this genus, I have found out that not much is known about their biology. These workers also look about 5mm long to me.

Notoncus hickmani

Notoncus hickmani on Silver Wattle #1

Notoncus hickmani

N. hickmani #2

About twice the size of the Notoncus ants was another species, black and quite graceful with ornate looking spines at the back of the thorax. I think this ant is a Campomyrma species. This is a sub-genus of Polyrhachis. Again, I’d like to be able to say something useful or interesting about these ants, but there seems very little information about them on the web. Given that all these ants are pretty common, it says a lot about what we don’t know about these incredibly important insects.

Polyrhachis-Campomyrma_19-07-16_3

Campomyrma sp?

 

 

 

Ducks, hollows and owls

It’s the middle of winter and Australian Wood Ducks are starting to think of breeding. At this time of year it’s common to see pairs alighting in River Red Gums around town and calling to each other as they stake out potential nest sites. This species, sometimes mistakenly called the Maned Goose, nests in tree hollows – River Red Gums are especially favoured. Some hollows are already taken. – Southern Boobooks are year round tenants!

Australian Wood Duck (male), Newstead, 22nd June 2019

Australian Wood Duck (female)

The male showing off its distinctive mane

Southern Boobook … evidence of successful hunting last evening between the nostrils!

Moss, water, wonder.

Moss and a little bit of water go a long way for life and for beauty as well. Frances Cincotta of Newstead’s native plant nursery Newstead Natives recently lent me a tray of germinating seedlings with a thick layer of moss to explore with my macrophotography set-up. The mosses had put up a multitude of spore capsules, which hold water beautifully!

Moss

Moss spore capsule #1

The photo above was taken inside with natural light and the window of the room can be seen reflected in the drop.

At 5x macro, truly each drop holds a world.

Moss

Moss spore capsule #2 at 5x

These images are made by focus stacking. As the depth of the image in focus is very small at high magnifications, one solution is to take several photos at different focal planes and use software to combine the images. This can result in some artefacts, which can be edited out. In this photo, I’ve left the artefacts in to add to the other-worldly feel’.

Moss flowers and dew

Focus stack with artefacts.

A common wisdom in macrophotography of plants is to avoid flash. However, with a tiny subject and large diffuser for the flash, the results can be quite good.

moss 3x stack 3 v crop

Moss spore capsule and water, focus stack with diffused flash.

Moss 3x stack 2 crop a

And again.

In a different light … an exhibition by David Oldfield

In a Different Light – Australian Native Flower Photographs in Ultraviolet Light … an exhibition by David Oldfield

Why would you want to take such photos in the first place? This sounds like the question “Why would you want to climb Mount Everest?” The answer is not the one given by British mountaineer George Mallory – “Because it’s there” but probably more “Because nobody else is doing that for Australian flowers”.

David Oldfield was bitten by the photo bug while at school in England long before digital cameras were available and learnt all about the wonders of darkroom work. These days you can get digital cameras modified by specialist companies so that you can take photos invisible to human eyes. There is a small band of photographers around the world who enjoy seeing what happens when you use cameras far beyond what they were designed to do.

Many flowers have dark patterns on their petals which are visible under Ultraviolet (UV) light but invisible to the naked human eye. Scientific studies of honeybee vision have shown that their eyes are sensitive to UV, blue and green light. It appears that the dark patterns visible in UV may assist pollinating insects, such as honeybees, to find the nectar or pollen on the flowers. Overseas UV photographers have reported the existence of dark “bulls-eye” patterns on yellow petals in their images.

David has found that Australian flowers show similar patterns, as you will see if you visit his exhibition at the Newstead Arts Hub between 1st and 23rd June, open every Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. It will also be open on Queens Birthday Monday 11th June.

The official opening will be Saturday 1st of June at 2pm. All welcome!

Cyanicula caerulea (Blue Caladenia)
13 September 2015 at Fence Track, Newstead

Cyanicula caerulea (Blue Caladenia)
13 September 2015 at Fence Track, Newstead

The walk is always worth it!

It was too dull to chase birds with the camera late this afternoon … for a change my focus turned to other matters.

Bush patterns after rain, Spring Hill Track area, 24th may 2019

II

Nice spot for an Owlet Nightjar?

Firewood harvesting …the legacy a decade on

Cherry Ballart … seen better days!

Nodding Greenhood leaves

Saloop Saltbush and ant nest

Cranberry Heath

II

The end of my stroll coincided with the sudden arrival of a mixed species feeding flock – Flame Robins, Grey Shrike-thrush, Golden Whistler, Speckled Warblers, Striated and Buff-rumped Thornbills … not a bad finish!

It’s Yellow Gum time!

Yellow Gum Eucalyptus leucoxylon has really started flowering well over the past month across the district. Unlike Grey Box, which has also enjoyed a good spell of flowering, Yellow Gum attracts a lot more birds. In the backyard at home Eastern Spinebills, White-naped Honeyeaters and even a Black-chinned Honeyeater have joined the other honeyeaters on the nectar flow. Out at Strangways Musk Lorikeets are using the veteran roadside trees … I also caught distant views of a Noisy Friarbird, an irregular visitor from areas further north.

Red Wattlebird feeding on Yellow Gum flowers, Wyndham Street Newstead, 18th May 2019

II

New Holland Honeyeater in the same tree

Musk Lorikeet in Yellow Gum @ Strangways, 19th May 2019

II

Vestiges of a lost landscape

A lone Drooping Sheoak Allocasuarina verticillata stands in the churchyard next door. This morning a small flock of Crimson Rosellas flew into the sheoak before dropping to the ground to feed on the fallen seeds of summer grasses. While this sheoak was thoughtfully planted there is a fair chance that if we could wind the clock back 200 years a few of its ancestors would have been growing happily in this same spot on the ridge overlooking the Loddon.

Crimson Rosella in Drooping Sheoak, Wyndham Street Newstead, 11th May 2019

Once was a grassy woodland …

The parish plan shown below (dated 1856) has a few notations describing the vegetation on the plains west of Newstead. If you click on the image you’ll see ‘honeysuckles’ are noted on the lot north of the road to Carisbrook – this is a reference to Silver Banksia Banksia marginata, no longer present in the district. Keeping the banksia company back then would have been many Drooping Sheoaks, Buloke and a rich array of plains flora. We are fortunate that at least a few sheoaks remain today, scattered through the box-ironbark country around Newstead.

Parish Plan from 1856 … showing the allotments to the west of Newstead south of the Loddon River