Category Archives: Flora

Stepping with care

I endeavour to step carefully as I wander through our local bush, especially at this time of year.

A carpet of wildflowers underfoot – and as the days warm there are other possibilities!

I crouched down amongst a field of Blue Pincushion and Silvertop Wallaby-grass, then the ground suddenly ‘exploded’.

A wondrous sight – a Painted Button-quail nest, with four beautifully marked eggs.

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Blue Pincushion Brunonia australis, Mia Mia Track, 26th November 2022

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Painted Button-quail nest

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Silvertop Wallaby-grass Rytidosperma pallidum

Bush craft

The artistic creations of woodland birds are on display in the local bush at present.

The Jacky Winter, a delightful small flycatcher weaves a delicate nest from thin stems of native grass and cobwebs. The structure is a shallow bowl, often placed like this one in the horizontal fork of a small branch.

Olive-backed Orioles contract a more substantial nest, a hanging basket woven together with grass, cobwebs and narrow bark strips (Red Stringybark is a favourite material). The nest is typically suspended in the canopy of a sapling and well camouflaged.

The adobe nests of the White-winged Chough are scattered throughout. These structures can last for decades, sometimes abandoned after one season, other times refurbished with additional rims added to the original structure over a number of seasons.

Painted Button-quail continue to surprise, pleasantly. This one was foraging just north of Mia Mia Track amongst the Rough Wattle that is doing brilliantly in our soggy spring. I’ve now logged five separate locations for this species over the past week.

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Jacky Winter weaving, Mia Mia Track, 13th November 2022

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Jacky Winter … weaving in monochrome

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Oilve-backed Oriole incubating

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White-winged Chough nest

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Painted Button-quail, Mia Mia Track, 13th November 2022

Botanically diverted …

A brief diversion from ‘things with feathers’.

Such a wonderful spring – abundant rain and mild weather have created ideal conditions for native plants. I visited a favourite wetland on the Moolort Plains earlier in the week and was delighted to see a mass flowering of Broughton Pea Swainsona procumbens. This glorious native pea was once common across the volcanic plains but has sadly diminished from the effects of overgrazing and cultivation.

Two other wetland species were also spotted, both unfamiliar to me, so I had to ‘phone a friend’ to confirm the identification (thanks Higgo!).

White Purslane Montia australasica is widespread in cooler parts of Victoria, occurring mainly in perennial or seasonal swamps and slow-moving rivers in the lowlands, and in seepage areas or on bare gravelly or rocky ground in the alps (Source: Flora of Victoria).

Woodland Swamp-daisy Brachyscome paludicola occurs along the Murray River and its tributaries south to near Bendigo, in a belt north of the Grampians and south of Little Desert, on the western outskirts of Melbourne, and at a few scattered localities between Melbourne and the Grampians on inundated clay soils, commonly in Eucalyptus camaldulensisE. microcarpa or E. largiflorens woodland (Source: Flora of Victoria).

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Broughton Pea Swainsona procumbens, Moolort Plains, 2nd October 2022

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White Purslane Montia australasica

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Woodland Swamp-daisy Brachyscome paludicola

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Often under-valued … but not by the birds!

Hedge Wattle Acacia paradoxa is an under-appreciated plant.

A common and widespread native, it was once a declared noxious weed, supposedly because it was thought to harbour rabbits … a lazy and misguided view I’m afraid.

It is a wonderful plant for small birds, such as wrens and thornbills and is frequently used by White-browed Babblers for nesting and roosting. Wherever Hedge Wattle is prominent bird diversity is enhanced.

These images were taken yesterday at a lovely bush block at Clydesdale. Other birds noted were: Scarlet Robin, Eastern Yellow Robin, Mistletoebird, Fuscous Honeyeater, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, White-eared Honeyeater, Red Wattlebird, Little Eagle, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike and Crimson Rosella.

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Hedge Wattle, Clydesdale, 28th August 2022

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Hedge Wattle flowers

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Superb Fairy-wren (female)

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Striated Thornbill

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Spotted Pardalote in sapling Grey Box

Wattles, birds and more on show …

It’s mid-August and some familiar local wattles are in full bloom.

While less spectacular than Golden Wattle, Rough Wattle Acacia aspera is one of my favourites.

Along Mia Mia Track there are some lovely patches – not coincidentally this can be a hotspot for woodland birds.

I was interested to observe White-naped Honeyeaters gleaning amongst the Coffee Bush, presumably taking insects.

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Rough Wattle

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Silvereye in Golden Wattle

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White-naped Honeyeater in Coffee Bush Cassinia sifton

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Common Hovea

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White-browed Babbler

The sun comes out …

As I write this the rain is tumbling down again.

Earlier in the week we had a welcome burst of sunshine, enjoyed by fauna and flow alike, notwithstanding some invertebrate casualties!

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White-eared Honeyeater, Bruce Track, 8th August 2022

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Scented Sundew … first flowers

The wattles are out and so are the birds

The first burst of Golden Wattle Acacia pycnantha flowering has occurred during the past week, a sure sign that the season has shifted. Flowering will reach a ‘crescendo’ in August. Rough Wattle Acacia aspera has also commenced flowering, but more on that in a forthcoming post.

A visit to the South German Track area at the weekend produced a number of highlights, including fleeting, close-up views of a Chestnut-rumped Heathwren gathering food and a most unusual find – a peacock tail feather suspended in the foliage of a Golden Wattle. I can only speculate about how it got there.

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Golden Wattle in flower, South German Track, 24th July 2022

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Brown-headed Honeyeater

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Eastern Spinebill

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Chestnut-rumped Heathwren

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Peacock feather

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Silvereye

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Yellow-faced Honeyeater

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Rakali encounter

This was quite a memorable encounter.

It was the hour before dusk and as I stood quietly beside Muckleford Creek a familiar shape could be discerned moving along the margin between the water and the bank, occasionally pausing. Its identity soon became apparent.

A Rakali, otherwise known as the Water Rat Hydromys chrysogaster, spent the next hour with me as I watched on, fascinated. It was foraging both along the shoreline and in the water, diving numerous times around clumps of Water Ribbons in search of a meal. Feeding on invertebrates such as yabbies and mussels, they will also take small juvenile birds and eggs if the opportunity presents.

Rakali are a reasonably common inhabitant of the Loddon River and its tributaries, also occurring in Cairn Curran Reservoir. They can also apparently be found in bush dams but I’ve never observed one locally in this habitat.

They breed in late winter and spring and produce a litter of one to seven (usually four or five) offspring. Some females may breed multiple times over this period. The denning behaviour of Rakali is little known, but they are known to build a burrow close to water, often under an overhanging bank. This individual disappeared into the same spot on three occasions when it returned from foraging. The last image in this series shows the location of what I suspect is the den.

Rakali are native rodents, one of roughly 60 species recorded across Australia, of which around ten are now extinct. Sadly, many of these unique animals have been lost to the dual depredations of habitat loss and feral pests. Rakali is a survivor … not so species such as the evocatively named White footed Rabbit-rat which once inhabited the woodlands and stream systems of central Victoria.

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Rakali, Muckleford Creek, 28th June 2022

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Rakali can often be found by looking out for their ‘feeding tables’, such as a suitable log or rock, where they consume their meals and deposit the remnants. The ‘feeding table’ pictured below lacks the usual crustacean skeletons or mollusc shells … a little baffling.

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Rakali feeding station

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Rakali at den entrance

Bushland … wonderland

I observed my first Flame Robin for the season way back in late April.

There have been regular sightings since, but none so lucky as this … the male posed directly in front of me, one of several, while a female foraged in the mossbeds below.

Despite the cold and bleak conditions, the local bush is a wonderland at present.

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Flame Robin (adult male), Mia Mia Track, 28th June 2022

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Female Flame Robin

Minilandscape

Mini landscape … Honey Pots Acrotriche serrulata and fungus … Galerina … maybe? 

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Spreading Wattle Acacia genistifolia

On balance …

… it’s been a pleasant start to winter around Newstead.

While temperatures have hovered in the low teens over the past three weeks the compensation has been some lovely rain.

The local bush is quite busy and you can sense that many of our woodland bird species are on the cusp of breeding again. The first Golden Wattle flowers have appeared, only on a handful of plants, out of sync with those that will burst forth in late July.

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Golden Wattle, Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve, 13th June 2022

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Buff-rumped Thornbill

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Scarlet Robin (male)

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Scarlet Robin (female)

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater