Category Archives: Eucalypts

Grey Box – a local marvel

Each year, at this time, I marvel at the sudden explosion of flowering on our local Grey Box Eucalyptus microcarpa.

This magnificent tree is one of the keys to the ecology of the box-ironbark ecosystem and its flowers are one of the main reasons for the diversity of nectar feeders that inhabit the region. Honeyeaters, lorikeets and (hopefully) migratory Swift Parrots depend on the resources created by Grey Box from now until late autumn.

Grey Box has been described as a pollinator generalist (see Wilson, 2002, p 67). It doesn’t produce the same large volumes of nectar as, for example, Yellow Gum – a species that is a magnet for birds, but Grey Box is apparently adapted for pollination by both birds and insects. Many honeyeaters are fond of insects as well as nectar so Grey Box is ‘just the ticket’ for these birds.

Grey Box flowers, Mia Mia Road, 2nd February 2018

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Grey Box buds on the same tree

Grey Box woodland along Annand’s Lane on the edge of the Sandon State Forest

In recent days I’ve been watching both Rainbow Bee-eaters and Sacred Kingfishers catching insects in the vicinity of flowering Grey Box … fuelling up before their journey north. It’s a complex and marvellous ecosystem.

Sacred Kingfisher returning to the nest with an insect caught from amongst the nearby Grey Box

Reference: Jenny Wilson (2002) – Flowering Ecology of a Box-Ironbark Eucalyptus community, PhD thesis, Deakin University.

Not just bark

The heat at this time of year produces some amazing bushland effects, especially with the bark on our local Yellow Gums. During a run of very hot days long strips of bark, grey-blue on the outside and orange on the inside, peel away to reveal the classic ‘look’ of the Yellow Gum aka White Ironbark. The accumulation of bark on the forest floor is a key driver of the ecology of this landscape – Yellow-footed Antechinus are one of the animals to profit and not surprisingly are abundant where there is good cover of fallen bark.

Yellow Gum, Mia Mia Track, 13th January 2018

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Yellow Gum bark on the forest floor, Mia Mia Track

Yellow Gums, South German Track

Red Box … not to be outdone!

Yellow-footed Antechinus on South German Track

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Historical marker

Calm evenings are a wonderful time to visit Cairn Curran. This set was observed as I sat above the reservoir at Joyce’s Creek earlier in the week. The site is traced by a ragged line of dead River Red-gums that mark the original course of the creek – a reminder of a past landscape.

Looking north-east along the original course of Joyce’s Creek, 10th January 2018.

Australasian Darter (female), Joyce’s Creek @ Cairn Curran, 10th January 2018

Australasian Darter (male)

Female Australasian Darter in level flight

Great Cormorant

Whistling Kite

A New Year special

Over the years I’ve found many nests of the Sacred Kingfisher, but this is the first time I’ve ever managed to spy the eggs.

Unusually this nest is below ground level, in a River Red Gum hollow on the edge of an eroded gully in the Mia Mia. The eggs were nestled safely in a bed of powdered wood, carefully prepared by the adult kingfishers.

What a wonder to catch a glimpse into the life of this beautiful bird.

Sacred Kingfisher nest with four eggs, Mia Mia Track area, 31st December 2017

The female incubating

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To sting, hide or mimic

The bush in our yard at Strangways is a constant source of invertebrate subjects at this time of year – and they reveal a range of strategies for protection.

Lifting a rock I found this impressive and somewhat intimidating little Marbled Scorpion (Lychas marmoreus).

Marbled Scorpion (Lychas marmoreus)

Marbled Scorpion

This magnificent specimen, although well-armed, seemed to hope the intruder – me – would not notice and leave her alone. As soon as my attention shifted, she slid under another rock. I wonder if the bulge in the midriff might be pregnancy.

Marbled Scorpion (Lychas marmoreus)

Marbled Scorpion #2

Marbled Scorpion up close

Plenty of eyes and quite a mouth

On  branch of a Silver Wattle, I found the youngest Acacia Horned Treehopper nymph I’ve met to date. Another case of “If I don’t move, you’ll think I’m part of this branch.”

Acacia Horned Treehopper nymph

Acacia Horned Treehopper nymph

Whilst looking at a Grey Box leaf stem, I noted what looked very like a little gall or lump of vegetation, only a couple of mm long. When I got the macro lens onto it, I could see it was a tiny Long-nosed Weevil (Haplonyx sp) that had tucked its nose under to look like a gall.

Long-nosed Weevil (Haplonyx sp?)

Long-nosed Weevil

In my last post https://geoffpark.wordpress.com/2017/11/23/speedwell-wallaby-grass-and-some-of-their-fans/ , I incorrectly labeled this little bloke a Cricket nymph. A bit more research has revealed that it is a Gum Leaf Katydid nymph, probably the 1st or 2nd instar. Whilst these nymphs can’t fly, their defence is to look something like an ant or spider – unappetising or threatening to potential predators. As they develop, they end up with the superb eucalypt leaf disguise that I’m more familiar with for katydids. Thanks to bowerbird.org.au for confirming the identity of this little cutie.

Katydid nymph

Gum Leaf Katydid nymph (Torbia viridissima) on Long-leafed Box

I’ve wondered where the term katydid comes from – it seems that it’s the sound made by an American species. I’ve also wondered about the extraordinary mouth parts of these animals. The little segmented “arms” coming off from around the mouth are called palps and are tasting organs. This one is perhaps tasting whatever it’s cleaning off its tiny feet.

Katydid nymph close up

A bit of cleaning.

PS: For those who enjoy photographs of tiny things, I will have an exhibition of macro photos “Small World” at Newstead’s Dig Cafe from December 19th. Hope you’ll be able to come along.

Night-herons and sparrowhawk

This young Collared Sparrowhawk caused some consternation amongst the Nankeen Night-herons roosting along the Loddon River last evening. One of them even alighted briefly below a River Red-gum in front of me to allow a hasty shot.

While I can’t imagine sparrowhawks (even the larger female which I suspect this individual is), taking an adult night-heron, their reputation is enough to cause alarm amongst large and small birds alike.

Nankeen Night-heron, Loddon River @ Newstead 2017

Collared Sparrowhawk (juvenile), Loddon River @ Newstead, 3rd December 2017

A nervous night-heron!

Sounding the alarm

Night-herons are safe from this ruthless hunter of small birds

Speedwell, Wallaby Grass and some of their fans

It’s delightful to see some of the beautiful local plants in flower at present. Digger’s Speedwell Veronica perfoliata and Red-anther Wallaby Grass  Rytidosperma pallidum are not only pleasing to the human eye, they have quite a few invertebrate fans as well. The Wallaby Grass can perhaps only really be appreciated with a bit of magnification.

Red-Anther Wallaby Grass (Joycea pallida)

Red-Anther Wallaby Grass up close

By night, the Wallaby Grass provided a comfy bed for a native bee and a beetle.

A native bee sleeps on a Wallaby Grass flower

Native Bee Lassioglossum sp. perhaps sleeping on Red-Anther Wallaby Grass

Clerid Beetle (Eleale genus) on Red-anther Wallaby Grass

A beetle also rests on a Wallaby Grass flower

I was surprised when I had a close look at the Digger’s Speedwell to see how many Aphids were sucking sap from the flower stalks.

Aphid

Aphids on Digger’s Speedwell

Hoverfly

A hoverfly finds the flower already crowded

Native bees are really enjoying the abundance of the Speedwell flowers. I think these are Small Metallic-banded Bees Lassioglossum sp. but I’m happy to be corrected. Myriad Sweat Bees managed to avoid my camera, alas.

Bees on Diggers Speedwell

Bees on Digger’s Speedwell

Bee on Diggers Speedwell

An abundance of pollen.

On a Long-leafed Box sucker, I also found this tiny cricket nymph.

Katydid nymph up close

Cricket nymph

PS: For those who enjoy photographs of tiny things, I will have an exhibition of macro photos “Small World” at Newstead’s Dig Cafe from December 19th. Hope you’ll be able to come along!