Sadly I’m not a really early riser, but occasionally I’ll make a supreme effort – usually rewarded in terms of bird observations.
In the first part of the day birds are generally easier to locate and observe. This Grey Shrike-thrush was seen last weekend in the Muckleford State Forest (within 5km of home). Part of an early morning chorus that included White-eared and yellow-faced Honeyeater, Scarlet and Rose Robin, it was allowed a close approach as it sat preening amongst the Golden Wattles after bathing. The forest floor is replete with fungi at present – the spectacular orange of Tremella … either mesenterica or aurantia stands out like a ‘traffic light in the bush’.
Grey Shrike-thrush, Muckleford State Forest, 18th July 2021
The gentle rains have soaked our soil and leaf litter and the threads of fungus have been hard at work digesting leaf litter and fallen wood. Walking through the bush on our place at Strangways has been a process of frequent wonderful discoveries of the gorgeous fruiting bodies of these fungi. It seems a particularly big year for them. I was chatting with the esteemed Bernard Slattery recently who hypothesised that the rain, coupled with cool weather and lots of cloudy days have made conditions perfect for them. The fungi along with the rejuvenated mosses make a bush walk quite a magical experience. I find identification of fungi quite challenging and the captions for these photos are very provisional indeed and any corrections are most appreciated.
Gilled fungal fruits are common on both the top and underside of the logs in our bush. Turning over a bit of wood can reveal quite a splendour. The fruiting bodies in the shot below have stared turning upwards, but some are yet to open up and show their gills.
Others have found a little niche in a gap in a log.
I was pleased to find a little fungus gnat on the stem of a Funnel Cup fungus. There appears to be another even smaller insect in the cup, but I can’t make out what it is. I’ve recently noted large swarms of fungus gnats swirling and dancing in the late afternoon sunlight.
There have been lots of leather fungi sticking out from dead wood too. Stereum fungi are amongst the most common.
Underneath the same log, we found another shelf-like fungus – Panellus – but this one looks very different underneath
Puffball fungi have also been poking up out of the moss and leaf litter. These beautiful little domes will discharge a puff of spores into the air when hit by a drop of water. The little spines on this one will drop off as it ages.
Under another log was a distinctive purple fungus – Ceripora purpurea – which is apparently less commonly found.
With the damp earth of winter, it is a joy to spend some time low to the ground and admiring the mosses in our bush. And admiring the things that com out of the moss.
In lots of places, Scented Sundews (Drosera whittakeri) push up through the mosses. It’s not a coincidence that nearby, mushroom fruiting bodies are also poking up.
Fungus gnat larvae feed on the fungus strands under the soil. At this time of year, adults will be laying eggs in the soil. I’ve also read that some fungus gnat adults will feed on the mushrooms themselves and carry the fungus spores around the bush. Sundews that happen to be amongst areas rich in fungi will get more gnats stuck to their sticky spines and will therefore be able to proliferate more.
As I was rolling around the ground trying to get good angles on the luxurious mossy floor of our woodland at Strangways, I was delighted to see a small red speck climb out of the thick moss.
The red speck was a Red Velvet Mite – an arachnid of the family Trobidiidae. Unlike other arachnids, their bodies are not segmented. They have two eyes but use chemoreceptors (smell but with no nose) and sense vibrations to find their prey – primarily other invertebrates.
They will emerge from the soil after rain. At times I’ve seen a horde of these tiny animals, up to 50 at a time, ranging from less than 0.5mm to about 4 mm long, quickly dispersing. This one was on its own and was about 3mm long.
Apparently, male Red Velvet Mites will construct a little boudoir of plant material and spermatophores – little clumps of sperm – into which he will invite a prospective mate. He does this by waiting for a lady to pass and then does a little dance for her. If she likes what she sees, she sits on one of his spermatophores and impregnates herself.
Not far from where I found the little red cutie, I found a male midge sitting on a Golden Wattle bud. I’ve struggled to get a photo of the wonderful feathery antennae that the boy midges sport, so I was very pleased that this lad sat still long enough to get a decent shot.
With all the moisture around, the fungi that live in our soil and break down vegetable matter are now putting out their fruiting bodies. These come in a diverse array, but most commonly of course, mushrooms. Their function is to disperse the fungus spores.
As these pop up out of our leaf litter and mosses, they can create beautiful subjects for landscape photographs on a small scale. I was struck by the magic of a Galerina fungus fruiting amidst the moss, lichens and rocks. I guess there are several fungi visible here as the lichen is a symbiosis of a fungus and algae.
We recently acquired Joy Clusker’s “Fungi of the Bendigo Region” which is a very useful field guide.
Mosses also multiply by spreading spores. Just behind the baby mushroom above, I found some spore capsules just starting to emerge from the moss. Looking through the very helpful “Mosses of Dry Forests in South Eastern Australia” by Cassia Read and Bernard Slattery, I think the moss is Leptodontium paradoxum, but I’m very happy to be corrected.
Winter nights are still a time to find some invertebrates out and about. On a Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) recently I found a very beautiful small green caterpillar, holding itself out perhaps to look like a bit of leaf.
The orange patches mark a lateral extension, a bit like a hood and the face could only be seen from below and in front. On close inspection, this little one was using some silk. When I visited later, there was no sign of a cocoon, so I’m not sure what the silk threads were about.
There are still lots of tiny midges and fungus gnats about, sleeping on leaves at night. You can tell this midge (only 2mm long) is a male from his feathery antennae. And you can tell he’s not a mosquito as his back legs are down.
With all the moisture in the soil, it’s a great time to get down into the leaf litter to see some fungi and other tiny treasures.
We’ve had our place at Strangways for 26 years and I’d been familiar with the Scented and Tall Sundews in our bush. Last winter was the first time I’d seen a Climbing Sundew (Drosera macrantha) at our place. Since then I’ve seen at least half a dozen. Perhaps it’s just getting your eye in. Unlike Tall Sundews, which are free-standing, Climbing Sundews tend to climb over other vegetation, like shrubs and grasses. The longest I’ve seen was about 30 cm long. This one, that I found yesterday, was only 4 cm long. So I presume it’s quite young – and yet it still has quite a few gnats and midges in its deadly leaves.
The leaves of Climbing Sundews are bell-shaped and tend to hang down. Those of Tall Sundew are more heart-shaped and the plant tends to point them outwards.
I tend to not turn over too many rocks or logs looking for subjects as I don’t want to cause too much disturbance. In the cold of winter, I do tend to resort to this more often as subjects in the bushes are much rarer. Clinging to the bottom of one rock, I found quite a number of Black-headed Sugar Ants (Camponotus nigriceps), whose nest was under the rock. I took a few photos of this sisterhood before very carefully replacing the rock to not squash any of these sleepy, beautiful ants.
The rain as enlivened the miniature world of the forest floor at our place as the fungi fruit and the mosses and lichens come to life. A macro lens is a great tool for discovering the hidden delights of our bush. These photos were all taken within a space of a few metres. Any help with identifying the mosses or fungi would be greatly appreciated.