After a good year’s flowering and seeding, there is an abundance of old grass stems in our yard at Strangways. These stems are a surprisingly popular venue for invertebrates by night.
One grass stem provided a bed for a Halictid bee which I think was well asleep as it was very unfazed by my bright lights.
I also found a few bugs which look like more advanced versions of a Stenophyella nymph that I posted a little while back. These are seed eating bugs which explains their interest even though most of the grasses have already sent their seed off on the winds.
Weevils are also on grass stems in numbers. I suspect they are feeding on the stems.
And where there are herbivores, there are also carnivores. This spider was so flat against the grass stem when I found it that I thought it was just a discolouration of the plant. Anything unusual is always worth a look.
Elsewhere, I found a species of Horned Treehopper that I’ve not seem before. Most summers I see quite a few Acacia Horned Treehoppers on our wattles, with a perfect green camouflage. These were Brown Horned Treehoppers, also on a Golden Wattle stem and to me they looked so other-worldly.
On a drive across the plains earlier in the week a flash of crimson caught my eye, enough to cause me to stop and linger for a while amongst a roadside stand of Bulokes.
The crimson was from Buloke MistletoeAmyema linophylla, a rare parasite that grows on only two hosts, BulokeAllocasuarina luehmannii and BelahCasuarina pauper.
Buloke Mistletoe is only found on a small proportion, perhaps less than 5%, of the Buloke growing on the plains. The host is the signature tree of Buloke woodland, once a widespread and common ecosystem, now extensively cleared and consequently threatened. Buloke woodlands of the Murray Darling and Riverina are of major conservation importance.
As I admired the splendid mistletoe a flock of Yellow Thornbills appeared above me. Also known as the Little Thornbill, the party foraged happily for a while before moving on.
A pair of Sacred Kingfishers is currently occupying this fine hollow in a veteran River Red-gum. The lack of ‘whitewash’ around the entrance indicates that the eggs are yet to hatch, or at least they may have just done so. As the nestlings grow the adults perch at the entrance to deliver food and leave a tell-tale trail of excreta below the opening.
As I sat, entranced by the kingfishers, a small bird caught my eye as it fluttered, like a large moth, to perch beside another hollow above me. It was an Australian Owlet-nightjar (often confusingly referred to as the moth-owl … it is neither a moth or an owl!). It must have been sitting quietly nearby observing me before deciding to decamp to its roosting hollow for the day.
I was intrigued to notice the projections at the end of the rictal bristles around the face of of the owlet. I’ve never noticed these before but suspect they are a type of filoplume. The bristles are thought to aid the nocturnal navigation of the owlet as it hunts for insects in its favoured habitats – woodlands and forest. The plume-like projections looked very delicate and perhaps they only persist for a short time on the newly replaced bristles?
Australian Owlet-nightjar, Loddon River @ Newstead, 30th December 2020
The Imperial Hairstreak ButterflyJalmenus evagoras, also known as the Imperial Blue, is a striking and fascinating species.
With a wide distribution along the east coast of Australia it can be found throughout the box-ironbark and damper forests, where it typically feeds on wattles, especially Silver Wattle locally.
Like many butterflies it has a complex and remarkable life-cycle. The adults lay eggs from late spring through to the autumn. It takes about 4 weeks from when the eggs hatch until they pupate and then butterflies emerge about a week later. Eggs that are laid late in the season are dormant over winter, then hatch in spring to release the first batch of larvae.
The Imperial Hairstreak has a fascinating mutualistic association with Iridomyrmex ants. Adult butterflies will purposefully select host plants with ants on which to lay their eggs. The ants attend the caterpillars and pupae, protecting them from predators and parasitoids such as wasps, while at the same time feeding on secretions from the larvae. Click here to learn more.
Imperial Hairstreak Butterfly, Coach Track, Yandoit, 19th December 2020
One of the caterpillars with Iridomyrmex ants in attendance
Caterpillars commencing pupation in a communal web
I’ve seen quite a few elongated beetles with rust/orange wing covers of late and assumed that they are Long-nosed Lycid Beetles (Porrostoma rhipidius) that I’ve photographed previously, but as I’ve seen them mostly on the wing, I’ve not been able to tell for sure. The first time I got a good look at my supposed Lycid Beetle through the macro lens, I was surprised to find it was actually a Red Belid Weevil – Rhinotia haemoptera. I’ve seen a great abundance of Belid Weevils this spring – more than I’ve ever seen, but none with these fantastic brick-red wing covers.
I was so stunned by its likeness to the Lycid Beetle. Then I found one of the the latter resting on a Cassinia.
Not just the red wing covers, but the black head and body are so strikingly similar. So I was intrigued to read on the very helpful brisbaneinsects.com that the Red Belid Weevil gets a considerable advantage by looking so like its Coleoptera cousin. It turns out that the Lycid Beetle is quite poisonous to eat and its bright colour signifies this to predators. The Weevil gets the same protection without having to be poisonous – just by looking like someone who is. It might also explain why both of these insects seemed utterly unconcerned by my interest, not for a moment considering themselves to be a meal.
Coleoptera means sheathed wing and is the name for the order of beetles. The covers that protect their delicate wings are called elytra. These are modified forewings that allow beetles to get into places that would otherwise destroy their delicate flight wings. Many beetles favourite escape mechanism is to simply drop before flying off, presumably as it’s faster than deploying wings from under the elytra. Often,however, they are quite happy to pose for photographers, like this Comb-clawed Darkling Beetle.
With the abundance of Shiny Everlasting blossoms happening at the moment, it’s a great time to get photos of flies as they collect pollen.
Flies are often nervous, but I find that when an insect has found a flower that it really likes, it stays put even with a camera and big flash diffuser right over it. Is it that it’s so good that it’s worth the risk, or do they not identify me as a threat?
Sleeping flies are also a bonus for the photographer. One seemed to be asleep in broad daylight on a Golden Wattle leaf. I’ve not been able to identify this one, but wonder if it might be a Tachinid fly.
A Hardenbergia in our yard is a favourite napping spot by night for Lauxaniid flies. I can guarantee finding quite a number of them most spring nights. They are always on the northern side of the plant. It took me a while to come up with the hypothesis that they liked the shelter from the cool southerly breeze that’s present however subtle on most nights.
A visit to the Franklinford and Yandoit Cemetery at this time of year is a window into a landscape that is now sadly much diminished.
Kangaroo GrassThemeda triandra forms an almost pure sward, waist height and swaying in the breeze of a sweltering November afternoon.
The cemetery was established in 1842, just a few short years after the first squatters arrived with their flocks, about a year after Edward Stone Parker established the Loddon Aboriginal Protectorate station a few hundred metres to the east.
From here it’s a short hop to the Jumcra as it flows northwards to join the Loddon River at Newstead. Juvenile Grey Fantails were chasing insects beside the stream, a White-browed Scrub-wren collected spiders for its young as Sacred Kingfishers called from the Candlebarks overhead.
Kangaroo Grass, Franklinford and Yandoit Cemetery, 28th November 2020
Juvenile Grey Fantail by the Jumcra at Franklinford
Black-anther Flax Lilies have (Dianella revoluta) been flowering for a while in our bush. At present, they are bearing both flowers and fruits in our bush at Strangways.
Being blue, they are beloved by our local native bee species. Lipotriches bees are regulars at these flowers.
Lipotriches are sweat bees of the family Halictidae, nesting in burrows in the ground and attracted to the salt in human sweat – hence the name. The very helpful site aussiebee.com.au talks about the males of this genus gathering at dusk in large numbers on twigs or grass stems. I’ve yet to see this, but would love to.
Much smaller Halictids of genus Lasioglossum are also visiting the flax-lily flowers.
These tiny bees are also enjoying the Digger’s Speedwell flowers that are also still blooming.
In amongst the flowers, I saw something that looked and behaved like a hoverfly, but seemed too big. When I got a close look through the macro lens, the mystery was solved.
Shiny Everlastings are also in full bloom. I found a little Lacewing larva lurking on one flower, presumably looking for prey.
Away from flowers, the leaves are also busy places. Leaf Beetles are munching busily.
ARACHNOPHOBE ALERT – SPIDER PHOTO AHEAD!
The truth of life for any animal who’s not a top order predator is that their is always someone looking to turn you into a meal. NO exemptions for cute little leaf beetles.
For some weeks now, along with other Newstead residents, I have been watching a pair of Tawny Frogmouths carefully tending a nest in a River Red-gum that overhangs Panmure Street.
A fluffy youngster has just started to show itself in recent days.
I was interested to observe the development of the epicormic shoots beside the nest … they have grown in unison with the frogmouth family. Back on September 8th when I first posted about this pair the first shoots were barely visible – they now provide a lovely counterpoint to the frogmouth family.
Tawny Frogmouth nestling, Panmure Street Newstead, 31st October 2020
There are a number of ancient River Red-gums on the floodplain at Newstead.
This one is known well by the locals – people and birds alike. Back in 2013 I wrote a short post about Laughing Kookaburras using a perfect hollow in this gnarly veteran to raise their brood. At that time (30/11/2013), on the other side of tree a pair of Sacred Kingfishers were feeding young.
Here we are, just short of seven years later, and the hollow is occupied again. My memory is hazy on the details, but most years it provides a nest site for kookaburras and homes for myriad other fauna.
Laughing Kookaburra home in a River Red-gum, Loddon river @ Newstead, 25th October 2020
Laughing Kookaburra about to launch towards the nest hollow
Touch down #1
Touch down #2
The area around the hollow is worn from a multitude of landings