The local bush hasn’t looked as good for years … of course memory does play tricks, but it’s a cracker of a spring.
Healthy shrubby understorey is a key driver of bird populations and there has been a steady recovery in some areas of the Muckleford bush since the Millennium drought broke in 2010. Rough WattleAcacia aspera is one of the plants priming this resurgence. In full flower it’s home to a myriad of insects and this of course brings the insectivorous birds to feast and breed.
Hooded Robins are competing at present with a host of other woodland birds for their share. The Eastern Yellow Robin (pictured below) was chasing the Hooded Robin pair in a minor territorial dispute, before all resumed regular duties.
A wander into the grassy woodland at our place the other night led to some interesting encounters and a puzzle with a solution reminiscent of science fiction.
Focusing my attention on the Poa and Austrodanthonia grasses, I was impressed by how many invertebrates were either sleeping, feeding of hunting on them. And it seems that a lot of insects are waking from their winter down time. I was delighted to find a tiny Praying Mantis nymph, all of 15mm long.
I also found quite a few leafhopper nymphs.
One activity that I forgot to list was mating. A pair of moths were busy organising the next generation.
Tussock grasses seem to be a favourite spot for small flies and wasps to sleep.
Katydid nymphs are also starting to emerge. A Twig-mimicking Katydid (Zaprochilus) was doing its best to look inconspicuous.
When this nymph is an adult, its wings will project strikingly upwards from its thorax, looking like a forked twig. As a nymph, theu are tiny buds just discernible.
I found another Katydid nymph not far away.
Hanging on a silk thread between two grass strands, I found a fungus gnat with a large, swollen and very red abdomen. My guess is that she’s heavily pregnant, but would be happy to hear any more informed explanations.
Cup Moth larvae have started making their appearance.
On the ground, perhaps knocked off a wattle as I moved around, I found an exquisite green moth. I assumed it has a relationship with wattles or eucalypts, but I discovered that its a Native Cranberry Moth (Poecilasthena pulchraria) and its caterpillars feed on native cranberry bushes (Astroloma).
A small bug on one tussock looked to me like a Mirid Bug nymph.
Other larval forms about are, of course, caterpillars. Chlenias are still very abundant, but not in quite the enormous numbers of last week. I was puzzled that a small percentage of them seem to have small parcels stuck on their backs. One suggestion is that it might be the skin from a previous shedding that hasn’t come unstuck yet. I’d appreciate any thoughts.
Another caterpillar similar in size and shape to Chlenias was magnificently camouflaged.
One fly that I found on a Golden Wattle leaf had me really puzzled. It didn’t look dead as its eyes were quite clean, but it was quite immobile and had a lot fuzz on its abdomen. Its wings and legs were in a very odd posture.
A bit of research led me to the fungus Entomophthora muscae, which as its name implies specialises in flies. When the spores come into contact with a fly, they have enzymes that break through the skin of the insect, allowing the fungal threads to spread through the fly. The fungus digests the organs of the fly and as the fly gets sicker, the fungus alters it’s brain function to make the hapless insect climb to a high point on a leaf, stretch its wings and legs. All of this sets the fly up perfectly for the next step. The fungus by now has spread microscopic canons over the abdomen and these will shoot spores out for them to land on the next victim. The wing and leg positions optimise the range of the spores.
And of course, where there are insects, there are those that eat them. Especially spiders. Like a baby Huntsman, about 10mm long.
I couldn’t resist another opportunity to feature the Rose Robin first observed last week in the Muckleford bush.
It was quietly foraging amongst the Golden Wattle, occasionally dropping to the ground to snatch an insect from amongst a carpet of Nodding GreenhoodsPterostylis nutans and Dwarf GreenhoodsPterostylis nana.
A true rose garden!
Rose Robin (male) and Golden Wattle, Muckleford State Forest, 22nd August 2020
As the woodland floor starts to burst into life there will be lots to observe and enjoy over coming weeks.
Orchids, including the Dwarf GreenhoodPterostylis nana, were a nice distraction during a walk at the weekend in the Mia Mia. I’ve no idea what the other greenhood pictured here might be … any ideas welcome!
[Note: It seems that the unidentified orchid is most likely the Emerald-lip GreenhoodPterostylis smaragyna. Many thanks to readers who offered their thoughts. There were a number of plants, all with single flowers – this species typically has multiple flowers but not always it seems].
With the damp earth of winter, it is a joy to spend some time low to the ground and admiring the mosses in our bush. And admiring the things that com out of the moss.
In lots of places, Scented Sundews (Drosera whittakeri) push up through the mosses. It’s not a coincidence that nearby, mushroom fruiting bodies are also poking up.
Fungus gnat larvae feed on the fungus strands under the soil. At this time of year, adults will be laying eggs in the soil. I’ve also read that some fungus gnat adults will feed on the mushrooms themselves and carry the fungus spores around the bush. Sundews that happen to be amongst areas rich in fungi will get more gnats stuck to their sticky spines and will therefore be able to proliferate more.
As I was rolling around the ground trying to get good angles on the luxurious mossy floor of our woodland at Strangways, I was delighted to see a small red speck climb out of the thick moss.
The red speck was a Red Velvet Mite – an arachnid of the family Trobidiidae. Unlike other arachnids, their bodies are not segmented. They have two eyes but use chemoreceptors (smell but with no nose) and sense vibrations to find their prey – primarily other invertebrates.
They will emerge from the soil after rain. At times I’ve seen a horde of these tiny animals, up to 50 at a time, ranging from less than 0.5mm to about 4 mm long, quickly dispersing. This one was on its own and was about 3mm long.
Apparently, male Red Velvet Mites will construct a little boudoir of plant material and spermatophores – little clumps of sperm – into which he will invite a prospective mate. He does this by waiting for a lady to pass and then does a little dance for her. If she likes what she sees, she sits on one of his spermatophores and impregnates herself.
Not far from where I found the little red cutie, I found a male midge sitting on a Golden Wattle bud. I’ve struggled to get a photo of the wonderful feathery antennae that the boy midges sport, so I was very pleased that this lad sat still long enough to get a decent shot.
The ground carpeted with Yellow Gum flowers – a sure sign that nectar-loving parrots are about.
This time it was Little Lorikeets, feasting on the eucalyptus blossoms at the Rise and Shine. The smallest and perhaps the scarcest of our local lorikeets (Purple-crowned Lorikeets would rival them) are delightful birds.
Yellow Gum flowers on the woodland carpet, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 24th July 2020