Category Archives: Flora

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!

WHHE2-1

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

WHHE3-1

I

WHHE1-1

II

drosera-1

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.

GW-1

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

BHHE-1

Brown-headed Honeyeater

ES1-1

Eastern Spinebill

ES2-1

II

ES3-1

III

Hylacola2-1

Chestnut-rumped Heathwren

Hylacola1-1

II

Peacock-1

Peacock feather

Silvereye-1

Silvereye

YFHE1-1

Yellow-faced Honeyeater

YFHE2-1

II

YTHE-1

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.

Rakali1

Rakali, Muckleford Creek, 28th June 2022

Rakali3

II

Rakali4

III

Rakali5

IV

Rakali6

V

Rakali7

VI

Rakali8

VII

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.

Rakali2

Rakali feeding station

Rakali9

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.

Flame1

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

Flame2

II

Flame4

III

Flame3

Female Flame Robin

Minilandscape

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

SpikeWattle

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.

GoldenWattle

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

BuffRump

Buff-rumped Thornbill

Scarlet

Scarlet Robin (male)

SRfemale

Scarlet Robin (female)

Yellowtufted

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

A home garden experiment

Some years ago I began experimenting with planting a number of non-local, indigenous plants in our home garden.

My choice of species was influenced by many years of traversing the landscapes of northern Victoria and admiration for some of the native plants, especially wattles, that characterise these places in the zone between home and the Murray River. This includes species such as Eumong Acacia stenophylla, Willow Wattle A.salicina, Yarran A.omalophylla, Black Box Eucalyptus largiflorens, and a number of others that I began planting around a decade ago.

Most of these plants have now established and thrived, with little or no attention. It represents my small effort to plan and plant for a future climate, one in which central Victoria will be hotter and drier than we have become accustomed to. At the same time I haven’t neglected some of the hardy local indigenous plants – Silver Banksia Banksia marginata, Lightwood A.implexa, Drooping Sheoak Allocasuarina verticillata and Buloke A.luehmannii, all of which are doing well in a changing climate.

Importantly, but hardly surprising, is that our local native birds are attracted to these plantings. A few minutes ago I took a break from the computer for a stroll through the garden … Spotted and Striated Pardalotes, Red-browed Finch, Silvereye, Grey Fantail, New Holland Honeyeater, Eastern Spinebill … all in and around some of these exotic new plantings as well as the local natives.

Home gardens can provide significant habitat for wildlife, in addition to a multitude of other benefits. Over time I predict we’ll start to increasingly see the use of some of these ‘dry country’ species in home gardens.

Eumong

Eumong Acacia stenophylla seed pods and foliage

Lightwood

Lightwood Acacia implexa bark

SilverBanksia

Silver Banksia Banksia marginata foliage

Spotty1

Spotted Pardalote (male) in Eumong

Spotty2

II

Spotty5

Male in a Silver Banksia

Spotty3

… in a Willow Wattle

Spotty4

Spotted Pardalote (female) in Silver Banksia

WillowWattle

Willow wattle flowers and foliage

Plains wandering … again

I was keen to pay another visit to the tiny Buloke remnant, in search again for Singing Honeyeaters. Sure enough the birds were still there, at least five individuals active in the canopy. From there I travelled further west to another favourite remnant, along Plumptons Lane at the edge of the plains country.

A Singing Honeyeater was heard, but my attention was drawn instead to a small party of Yellow Thornbills, a species very much at home in Buloke. Nearby, Harlequin Mistletoe Lysiana exocarpi, could be seen on a number of the mature Buloke trees. This striking mistletoe is widespread throughout Australia, from southern Victoria to the tropics and across the arid centre, and is known to parasitise a wide range of shrubs and trees. It will even become an epiparasite on other mistletoes including the local Box Mistletoe Amyema miquelii.

Singing Honeyeater, Moolort Plains, 27th February 2022

Buloke seed capsules

Buloke veteran and parent

Buloke provide a food source and living space for ants and a myriad of other insects

Yellow Thornbills are a feature of the bird fauna in Buloke remnants

II

III

IV

Harlequin Mistletoe flowers

Harlequin Mistletoe berries

The parasite and its host

Plains song

Bulokes are affectionately known as the ‘wind harps of the plains’ … the sound of the breeze passing through their foliage defies a suitable description.

This remarkable tree is home to a myriad of other species, from the Buloke Mistletoe to spiders, beetles, butterflies and wasps. Birds also, are drawn to this abundance – I’ve often encountered a party of Yellow Thornbills, Weebills or Brown-headed Honeyeaters foraging through the foliage of an isolated Buloke in search of insects.

Yesterday afternoon I stopped, as I often do, to have closer look at a small patch of Buloke at Baringhup West … three trees in the corner of a wind-swept paddock. Immediately I heard a distinctive call … pirtt pirtt, from high up in one of the Bulokes. A Singing Honeyeater Gavicalis virescens, one of a small party of four as it turned out.

I’ve seen this species before on the plains, but rarely. Its stronghold is the dry inland, extending to coastal regions in Victoria. These birds are, I suspect, part of a remnant population that was once widespread across the volcanic woodlands of central Victoria.

Buloke1

Buloke stand, Moolort Plains, 5th February 2022

Buloke2

Ripening seed capsules

Buloke3

Buloke Mistletoe

Buloke4

A buloke tree is a diverse and complex ecosystem

Singing1

Singing Honeyeater

Singing2

II

Singing3

III

Singing4

IV

Right on time

It’s become one of my annual rituals.

Each year, post Xmas, I pay a visit to a stand of Silver Wattles near Yandoit.

They are home to a colony of Common Imperial Blue Butterflies Jalmenus evagoras aka the Imperial hairstreak or simply the Imperial blue.

In common with many Australian butterflies this species has a fascinating and complex life history, of which Iridomyrmex ants play a key part. The larvae of this butterfly feed on the foliage of numerous species of acacias, locally I’ve only found them on Silver Wattle Acacia dealbata. The ants live in underground nests and emerge to provide protection for the caterpillars from predators and parasitoids. The reproductive success of the butterfly is significantly improved from this protection, meanwhile the ants profit from supping on sugary secretions produced by the larvae.

On most recent visits to the colony the adult butterflies have kept their wings folded. Yesterday however, was a cool morning and the butterflies were warming up – fully opening their wings to absorb the rays of the sun, displaying the brilliant metallic blue from which J.evagoras gets its common name.

You can learn more about the Common Imperial Blue Butterfly and its life history here and here.

The blog, Life in a Southern Forest, has a terrific story about the behaviour of the butterfly – click here.

IB1

Imperial Blue Butterfly, Yandoit, 7th January 2022

IB2

Mating

IB3

Larva, pupae and ant attendants

IB4

Pupae with cocooning larva at top

IB5

Adult butterfly … showing some wear and tear

IB6

Post mating

IB7

Courtship behaviour

IB8

II

IB9

Mating

IB10

The magnificent Imperial Blue Butterfly

Easily fooled,

… that’s me, not the kingfisher.

I’ve been staking out a pair of Sacred Kingfishers in the Rise & Shine for a few weeks now.

Last season a pair nested in an exquisite hollow (image #2 below) in a Long-leaved Box and I was convinced they were using the same site again.

One of the adults arrived with a freshly caught skink and as I waited expectantly for it to disappear into the hole, it darted, much to my surprise, into a different hollow in the same tree. Both adults made a number of visits during my short vigil. I suspect the young have just hatched, based on the lack of white-wash around the hollow entrance.

King1

Sacred Kingfisher with a freshly caught skink, Rise & Shine Bushland Reserve, 20th December 2021

King2

Last season’s nesting site

King6

Arriving with a wolf spider

SK1

II

King3

III

King4

Departing with a fecal sac

King7

Not quite sharp!