A golden autumn

A number of folks have commented in recent weeks on the proliferation of spiders in the local bush, in particular the extraordinary Golden Orb-weaver Nephila edulis.

These magnificent spiders have been casting their webs with enthusiasm post Xmas. Walking in the bush at present is tricky as you weave your own way amongst their silken creations, some of which are more than a metre across.

GOW1

Golden-orb Weaver, Mia Mia Track, 27th March 2022

GOW2

II

Speckled Warblers have bred again during autumn, a good sign for this declining woodland bird. I’ve also spotted both Red-capped and Scarlet Robins in recent weeks … they went missing during the heat of summer.

SW1

Speckled Warbler (female)

SW2

Speckled Warbler (male) … ferrying food, 7th March 2022

SW3

Speckled Warbler (male) calling

WEHHE

White-eared Honeyeater, 27th March 2022

Unseasonal

Late summer and early autumn rain has triggered sone unseasonal breeding activity.

White-faced Herons, a common local waterbird, often breed some distance away from the waterbodies they frequent when hunting food.

This nest, secreted in a clump of mistletoe in a tall Grey Box is home to two well-grown chicks. A third nestling appears to have succumbed, perhaps the result of competition for food with its stronger siblings.

One parent arrived as I watched on, alighting nervously on a nearby clump of mistletoe before proceeding to attend the chicks.

WFH1

White-faced Heron chicks, Newstead, 30th March 2022

WFH2

II

WFH3

One of the parents

WFH4

II

WFH5

III

Spot the difference?

I’ve been tardy posting this story, but here goes.

The first two images are of a pair of Barking Owls, roosting in a tall Yellow Gum west of the Loddon River at Newstead. The slightly larger male is on the right with the smaller female (narrower head and rounded crown) perched just behind. The birds were photographed at 8.30am that morning.

BarkingOwlsRise

Barking Owl pair – male at right, Newstead, 10th March 2022

BarkingOwlsRiver

II

This second pair of images were taken the next day, around 5pm, this time at a different site about 900 metres to the east.

I’ve studied the images carefully and am convinced they are the same pair – one similarity is the smudge of blood on the bill of the female, but there are numerous other signs if you look closely.

It’s early autumn and I suspect the home range of the birds has expanded as they search for food in the lead up to breeding over winter. Barking Owls are very fond of rabbits!

BORiver1

Barking Owl (male), 11th March 2022

BORiver2

Barking Owl (female)

‘Understory’

A small copse of Silver Wattle, established by our wonderful Newstead Landcare Group, highlights the importance of understorey for small, woodland birds.

At least six Spotted Pardalotes were seen foraging amongst the foliage as I snapped this series of images.

SP1

Spotted Pardalote, Loddon River @ Newstead, 27th March 2022

SP2

II

SP3

III

SP4

IV

A lesser known migrant

Autumn has arrived and so we say farewell to a number of breeding migrants for another year. In recent days Rainbow Bee-eaters have departed, along with Sacred Kingfishers a little earlier in the month.

A less well-known migrant, the Tree Martin, can be seen at present gathering in large feeding flocks in the Muckleford bush. This dainty aerialist breeds locally in tree hollows – the red gum swamps of the Moolort Plains are a favoured place as well as the intact bushland around Newstead.

The flocks, comprising adult and immature birds, can number in the hundreds, with the birds feeding above the canopy as well as sweeping down over water in search of insects. From time to time they will perch in small groups on exposed branches, amongst the foliage or alighting fleetingly on the ground where they will pick up dry leaves … possibly a habit associated with their breeding behaviour. Whilst these images were taken earlier in the month the birds are still around – the first cool days of April is when they typically head north.

TM1

Tree Martin, South German Track, 3rd March 2022

TM2

II

TM3

III

TM4

IV

TM5

V

TM6

VI

TM7

VII

TM8

VIII

TM9

IX

Some Autumnal Invertebrates

As our gentle summer draws to a close, there is still plenty of invertebrate action around. Dragonflies and Damselflies are closely related hunters that abound at the moment and are very busy mating. Both belong to the order Odonata, referring to the teeth on their mandibles. In adult form, both hunt flies and mosquitos on the wing. Damselflies tend to be smaller, more slender and perch with their wings along their bodies.

Wandering Ringtail (Austrolestes leda) damselfly
Up close, it’s clear that the damselfy’s eyes are widely spaced and somewhat smaller than a dragonfly’s

Dragonflies usually perch with their wings perpendicular to their bodies. Wandering Perchers (Diplacodes bipunctata) are common dragonflies in our patch and are fascinating to watch.

Wandering Percher perching
The very different face of a Dragonfly

I was pleased to recently find a different species of Clerid Beetle at our place yesterday. Clerid Beetles are mostly elongated and they are covered with conspicuous hairs. I think the one I found is in the genus Lemidia. I haven’t been able to find out much about this genus, but apparently most Clerid Beetles are carnivores and prey on other beetle species. Adult Clerids tend to eat adult beetles and Clerid larvae tend to eat other beetle larvae.

Lemidia sp?
In profile.

Yesterday morning, I found an intriguing Praying Mantis struggling in one of our dog’s water bowls. From its camouflage, I suspect it lives in leaf litter, but I photographed it on the grass stem that I used to lift it from the water.

Praying Mantis.

Arachnophobe warning – cute spiders ahead!

It’s also a big time for spiders. I think Jumping Spiders are especially cute and I was very pleased to get some shots of a couple. They can be quite tricky to photograph as they like to jump, even onto my flash diffuser or my hand.

One very tiny spider I spied in the leaf litter. This one was only a few millimetres long. From my Spiders of Bendigo book, I think it might be a Jotus sp.

Jumping Spider

The second species was hiding on a twig on a Golden Wattle and its body was about 10mm long. I think this one is an Opisthonchus species.

Opisthonchus sp?
A dorsal view.

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

Nature photography at the Arts Hub

I’m very excited to be part of an exhibition of nature photography from the Goldfields at the beautiful Newstead Railway Arts Hub, starting next Saturday.

Bernard Slattery, Bronwyn Silver, David Tatnall and I will be showing some of our best photos of the natural world every weekend in March and on the Labour Day long weekend.

The Cascades by Bronwyn Silver
Ironbarks by David Tatnall
Flume by Bernard Slattery
Barn Owl by Patrick Kavanagh

The exhibition will be open on March 5th and be open every Saturday and Sunday from 10 am until 5 pm, with Sunday March 27th as the final day. It will also be open on Labour Day, Monday March 14th from 10 am until 5 pm.

There will be a launch and “meet the artists” on Sunday March 6th at 10.30 am. All are welcome to come to the launch – we’d love to see you.

More details and artist’s statements can be seen at the Newstead Arts Hub web site.

Up the creek

After our recent generous fall of rain, Joyce’s Creek near its inflow to Lake Cairn Curran has become a beautiful expanse of calm water. What could be better than to paddle upstream from the bridge at the Pyrenees Highway with binoculars and a camera?

Heading upstream from the bridge, the old River Red Gums killed by the flooding of the dam show the old creek line on the right. Younger Red Gums germinated after more recent floods can be seen on the left.

The old River Red Gums are full of hollows and provide nesting sites highly valued by hollow dependent species. A favourite spot for Long-billed Corellas (Cacatua tenuirostris)

Long-billed Corella coming in to land on a dead tree

White-faced Herons (Egretta novaehollandiae) also spend a fair bit of time perched on the old trees, keeping a close eye on the boat below.

White-faced Heron

Fallen trees and logs are also important habitat. Lots of Chestnut Teals (Anas castanea) are enjoying the creek at the moment. A male in non-breeding plumage watches us slip quietly past, surrounded by the tops of paddock weeds now drowned by the high waters.

Chestnut Teal

Heading upstream, the channel narrows to the old stream, sentinels from past centuries line the banks.

We saw Chestnut Teals all the way along the creek, quite a few with young.

Chestnut Teals prefer to nest in hollows 6m or more above the water, so the old trees along the creek provide great hollows for nesting. Some females will dump their eggs in the nests of other females, which explains why we sometimes see mothers with flocks of up to 17 chicks following them around. I use the plural Teals rather than Teal as apparently the use of plurals without an s is for game species. I dread to think of our beautiful birds being shot, so can’t bring myself to call them Teal.

A kayak is a beautifully intimate way to explore the landscape – photo by Lee Shelden

I was pleased to discover some Fairy Martin nests under the branch of one of the old trees. I usually see these wonderful structures mounted on a human made surface, so it was great to see them on a natural one. From the rings of mud on the tree, it looks like it’s been used for nests for a long time.

Fairy Martin nests on an old Red Gum

The old trees are also favoured perches for Australian Pelicans (Pelicanus conspicullatus) and Australian White Ibises (Threskiornis molucca)

An Australian Pelican, curious about the intruders.
An Australian White Ibis moves to a higher perch as we pass.
As we head back downstream, we get a good view of the many Fairy Martin nests underneath the bridge on the Pyrenees Highway. When no longer used by Martins, other hollow dependent birds like Pardalotes can use these fabulous homes.

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