Category Archives: Flora

Early mover …

The exception always proves the rule.

It’s notable to see a Golden Wattle flowering in early May … they typically start in the second week of July around Newstead.

Spreading Wattle has been flowering since February but is at its best over autumn.

The yellow hues of our honeyeaters are a nice complement to the golden spray of the wattles.

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Golden Wattle in flower, South German Track, 2nd May 2021

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Spreading Wattle

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Fuscous Honeyeater

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Yellow-faced Honeyeater

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White-naped Honeyeater

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Absent friends

I’ve been pondering the absence of Black-shouldered Kites from the Moolort Plains.

While Brown Falcons and Nankeen Kestrels have been about in good numbers over the past year, I can only recall a handful of observations of these small kites. They have been totally absent from some spots where in past years you might see a dozen or so on any one trip.

Many readers will appreciate that mice, a favourite prey of the Black-shouldered Kite, are abundant at present. Let’s hope for an influx of kites in coming weeks to help solve this problem.

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Brown Falcon, Moolort Plains, 14th April 2021

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Moolort Plains mullock heap (Keystone Mine)

Bunjil and buloke

In days long past this observation would have been commonplace, a Wedge-tailed Eagle perched atop a Buloke.

Both are iconic species, but sadly, such a sight is a rarity in these present times.

The Buloke is emblematic of the plains country, easily taken, slow to return.

Bunjil, the Wedge-tailed Eagle, is of special significance to Indigenous Australians, especially the Dja Dja Wurrung People of central Victoria.

Bunjil is the creator being who bestows Dja Dja Wurrung People with the laws and ceremonies that ensure the continuation of life. Dja Dja Wurrung People know Mindye the Giant Serpent as the keeper and enforcer of Bunjil’s law.

Dja Dja Wurrung Recognition Statement*, 15th November 2013

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Wedge-tailed Eagle and Buloke, Joyce’s Creek, 29th March 2021

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* The Recognition Statement signed at Yepenya on 15 November 2013, recognised the Dja Dja Wurrung as the Traditional Owners of Central Victoria.

Another classic … Native Peas of the Mount Alexander Region

Native pea plants in the bush: they’re hard to see when they’re not in flower, and impossible to miss when they are. Peas are beautiful, hardy and good for our soils. The problem is that many pea plants have quite similar flowers, which tempts the observer to lump them all together as ‘egg and bacon’ plants.

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In fact, most peas are easy to tell apart. Even the tricky ones aren’t impossible…as long as you’re prepared to get up close and take a good look. This guide, Native Peas of the Mount Alexander Region, offers detailed notes on 30 different native peas found in the bushlands of north central Victoria. Written in plain language and generously illustrated, it offers readers a way into a little known part of our natural environment.

The book is published by Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests in association with Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club and the Wettenhall Environment Trust. It follows our successful guides to eucalypts, wattles and mosses. There’s a general introduction, detailed species notes (including on weed species), and a section on names. Although based on species found in north central Victoria, it would be useful to anyone interested in flora of the box ironbark region.

FOBIF has also produced 8 new native pea greeting cards with detailed species notes on the back. They are available in sets of 8 with envelopes.

The book and cards are available from Stoneman’s Bookshop, the Tourist Information Centre, the Enviroshop in Newstead and the Book Wolf in Maldon. You can also buy the book and cards directly from FOBIF through PayPal, by cheque or bank transfer. Go to http://www.fobif.org.au and click on the Native Pea book and cards images on the right hand side of the home page for purchase details. The Recommended Retail Price for the book is $10. Sets of cards are $20.

Trailing Shaggy-pea

The beautiful images and informative text will certainly help take the mystery out of identifying our local peas

Congratulations again to Bronwyn Silver, Bernard Slattery and FOBIF on producing another stunning natural history publication!

The joy of autumn rain

While some parts of the continent at present are experiencing almost unprecedented amounts of rain, here in central Victoria we are enjoying the Goldilocks effect … not too little, not too much … but just about right.

This morning I tipped 37mm of rain from the gauge … a perfect autumn break as far as the bush is concerned, which made for some interesting sights yesterday afternoon in the Mia Mia.

I was also pleased to come across some autumn flowering orchids, including Parson’s Bands and what I think is one of the Midge OrchidsCorunastylis sp, but not sure which one.

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Autumn downpour, Mia Mia Track, 21st March 2021

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Midge Orchid – please help with species identification if you can?

My imagination

A glorious evening along Joyce’s Creek last night.

I was chasing what was probably an illusion, having heard a call the previous evening that sounded suspiciously like an Australian Little Bittern, a species that is a definite possibility for the area, but a genuine rarity nonetheless.

The ‘bittern’ was silent, but I was soon surrounded by Golden-headed Cisticolas, chasing insects in the dense rush-beds beside the creek. Not a bad consolation prize.

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Water Ribbons in Joyce’s Creek

Golden-headed Cisticola, Joyce’s Creek, 16th March 2021

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Not to be confused with …

When it comes to aquatic plants, perhaps plants in general, I’m often scrabbling for a correct identification. Birds are much easier, but I’m aware that some folks struggle with LBBs (Little Brown Birds).

At present around the margins of Cairn Curran at Joyce’s Creek some terrific wetland vegetation has emerged, providing ideal habitat for a number of LBBs.

Australian Reed-Warblers are ubiquitous amongst reed and rush-beds, as are Golden-headed Cisticolas (featured earlier in the week).

One such plant enjoyed by these birds is the River Club-rush Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani – hopefully correctly identified!

One of their companions is the wonderful Little Grassbird – a secretive inhabitant of the denser areas of wetland. This species is thought to be resident in the district but is largely silent outside the breeding season.

River Club-rush, Joyce’s Creek, 4th February 2021

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Life on the grass stems

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.

Halictid Bee on grass stem.

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.

Stenophyella perhaps?

Weevils are also on grass stems in numbers. I suspect they are feeding on the stems.

Weevil – Cryptorhynchini perhaps.

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.

Spider laying in wait on a grass stem.

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.

Brown Horned Treehoppers

Just a little thing

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 Mistletoe Amyema linophylla, a rare parasite that grows on only two hosts, Buloke Allocasuarina luehmannii and Belah Casuarina 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.

I’m pleased that I bothered to stop.

Bulokes, Moolort Plains, 6th January 2020

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Buloke (female flowers)

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Yellow Thornbill in Buloke

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Hollows make a home …

… for a myriad of native wildlife.

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

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Sacred Kingfisher @ nest site in River Red-gum

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