The Nature Lover's Log

The Superb Family

Quite a while ago I wrote a post about my backyard banksia (prostrate form)  It’s messy sprawling tangle  (much like my writing) that delights me every morning as I look out my kitchen window. I never imagined it would provide me with more joy by providing a shelter for a fairy-wren nest. Of course I didn’t know in late winter that our backyard would  be home to a wren brood. But looking back on my photos I see a timeline of events. 

Late Winter – Where are the males?

The wren family are happily hopping around the backyard on the grass. But where are the bright blue boys? There seems to be just females. Well the answer is – the males are probably there incognito, or at least with only hints of their later plumage. The male fairy-wren generally doesn’t get it’s full bright plumage until breeding season. He will moult his blue feathers to become brown again around autumn. Although the timing and extent of this change can vary greatly from individual bird and different years. It is thought older males (greater than 4 years) may not change back to brown colouring at all. Communities of fairy-wrens consist of a breeding pair and young males who haven’t found their own territory. Mum will generally kick her daughters out of the home territory earlier, when they pose a threat to her dominance.

Early spring – Getting amorous

Like a fairy-wren fairy-tale Ralph dons his best blue suit in time for the spring ball. The blue plumage seems to make Ralph human-shy he is very hard to photograph but the girls and, perhaps immature males, are quite bold and hop close as I sit on the lawn step. It is thought that the male’s blue and black plumage, while impressive, comes at a cost of exposure to a  predators ( See: It isn’t easy being blue – the cost of colour in fairy wrens)

Rita and Ralph begin courting with lots of long hops in the sunlight, closeness and cuddling. (okay I know it is unscientific to anthropomorphise, but the habits of children’s fiction writing are not easily quelled). In truth the fairy-wrens live out a story closer to a sordid soap opera than a fairy-tale. In all probability Rita is flitting around the neighbourhood to hook up with other handsome blue boys and no doubt Ralph is not confining his attention to Rita. Ralph may try to woo the girls he desires by presenting them with a yellow petal (unfortunately I didn’t photograph this activity) Around three-quarters of eggs laid by a female superb wrens have been found to be fertilised by males other than the male in the home territory. Rita and Ralph will likely stick with each other for life but will continue their sexual promiscuity every breeding season.

Nesting and incubating

Rita and Ralph seem very interested in the vegetable garden and the banksia. This is closer to the house than they normally venture and I have a good view from the kitchen window of their activities. I begin to get a little excited when I photograph the feather in the Rita’s beak.

Oct 8th on the side fence. Rita holds a gift from a bigger bird.

Nest building is definitely underway but I’m still not sure where. Rita will build and incubate the eggs all by herself but Dad (or perhaps step-dad from genetic viewpoint) will come in handy later

While I’m now suspicious that the nest is amongst the tangle of bendy banksia branches Rita seems to enter  the plant in different spots so I don’t know exactly where it is. I don’t want to look for fear of scaring them off.  

Once Rita has completed the nest she will lay the fertilized eggs one at a time (around 24hrs in between each). When all the eggs are laid she will incubate for around 14 days.

Feeding the hungry chicks (and an anxious wait)

Female Calling.

There is a flurry of activity. The wrens come back and forward all day with meals for the newly hatched chicks.   I can’t honestly tell how many females/juveniles are involved in the feeding as I don’t see them at the same time but it seems as one leaves another arrives. Ralph definitely does his fair share of food gathering while Rita or other females often sit on the garden stake calling. Is it a protective warning aimed at predators (or me) or is it a call of, ‘Hurry up with that food’? The delivery wrens bring tasty treats of spiders, crickets, grubs and moths.

The twittering from the nest becomes louder each day especially when food is nearby. It is funny to hear the desperate chirping (gimme gimme) then the choked chirping (gobble gobble) as the food goes down the throat. I may have imagined it, but the chirping was particularly raucous when a juicy grub was in the offing.

The bored-doodle chases a skink in the passionfruit vine.

As followers of any of my social media would know I have a dog I call, the Bored-doodle (bordoodle breed). She spends most of her time in the backyard and regularly chases skinks (unsuccessfully) and once a rat in amongst the banksia. I’m so scared she’ll destroy the nest or attack the chicks. I put loose trellis frames around the most accessible parts of the bush but realistically I can’t make it dog-proof. As soon I was sure there are chicks in the banksia I start saying, ‘NO’ whenever the Bored-doodle went near. Via a facebook message from the Fairy-wren Project I learnt it was around 14 days from hatching to flight. I count the days anxiously.

Fledglings

One day without thinking I walk down to have breakfast at my usual spot at the end of the path. A twittering flurry of tiny things rises up from the banksia. I should have been more careful.  It seems I’ve made the fledglings panic and fly sooner than they were ready.

It’s mayhem. One chick flies into the thyme flowerpot near the house, two flutter into the vegetable garden and one hits the glass fence and comes down on the wooden sleeper around the pool area . There are four! Four fluffy tiny birds with short tails who can barely fly.  Rita and Ralph flap around trying to gather them in. I stand still and yell at the Bored-doodle who is approaching the fallen chick. The dog freezes responding to the urgency in my tone. The little chick flutters up to join his dad on the fence.

Relieved, I call the dog and creep back to the house, grab my camera and take a few shots, then let them settle. Later that day I hear them chirping in the citrus tree. ( I have a telephoto  lens and these picture are cropped so am not as close as I may appear. I was wary of frightening them again so don’t try and brush back the vegetation in the way.

Every morning I listen for the fledglings chirps. I don’t  hear them every day and sometimes I think they’ve abandoned the yard for good. But anytime I hear their demanding chirps  I call to anybody who’s listening, “My babies are back!  I spy them hiding in the foliage of trees and shrubs but occasionally they’ll come out into the open – eager to greet their food-bearing parents. The chicks grow quickly – especially their tails.  Within two weeks of fledging their appearance is barely distinguishable from their mother but they are still cheeping insistently for food. I learn that chicks rely on their parents for food for around 40 days.

Reflecting

December 10th : It’s a month as I am writing this, since I’ve seen any of the family so I hope they’re alright. On reflection I think it both wonderful and sad that they chose my backyard to nest. Why would they choose a yard with a dog? Was it a calculated risk? The bored-doodle definitely keeps cats away. We frequently see cats roaming in the front yard and the nearby bush. So maybe the bored-doodle was the lesser of two evils. And as it turned out (luckily) she was well behaved around them.

I finally feel it is okay to look for the nest. I took a picture of the back of the nest but can’t get round to the front without pulling it out. There are feathers (some appear to be the male blue feathers) and yellow flowers interwoven in the nest of grass and web. There even appears to be a silk coccoon in the mix. Wren families can have two broods per season but they don’t use the same nest. However they may use materials from the old nest in the new – this is why I leave the nest in-situ in case my wren family decide to recycle building materials.

If you don’t own hunting pets and you have the space it’s worthwhile considering growing thick low sturdy shrubs to shelter and, if you are lucky,  provide a nesting site for small birds. Having witnessed the volume of food including grubs that were consumed by the wren chicks I can say that the wrens were great pest controllers for our vegetable garden as well a been a Superb delight to observe.

Big thanks to the Fairy-Wren Project for answering my questions on Fairy-wren breeding .

The Nature Lover's Log

Natural resources at my desk

I have updated this old post as I find I am using more online resources, particularly for insect identification.

My love for nature is enhanced by constant education. These are some of the resources that help me classify and learn about the flora and fauna in my photos. I apologise to my overseas visitors these resources relate to Australian wildlife.

Online:

Facebook:

Amateur Entomology Australia – Fantastic group there is seemingly enthusiasts on each insect group here. If you want an id make sure you follow the rules of group by posting geographical location and any helpful behaviour/size/plant hosts/micro-habitat. Be aware that many insects cannot be identified to species level – because they either need microscopic examination or a simply not well-described (this is what makes entomology so exciting). Apart for getting id’s the posts by others will teach you a lot about insect behaviour and classification.  This site also seems to except spider posts although not insects.

Websites:

http://www.bowerbird.org.au/ If I can’t get an id on Amateur Entomology facebook I go to this citizen science site where you can post photos and descriptions and usually have it identified as close as possible by an expert. This site is a little hard to get used to but administrators seem to be very patient with newbies. I had trouble with screen size/scrolling once and got quick response via email. There is a long online document with instructions on how to post but I found it best to muddle through and refer to instructions when you get stuck (otherwise you will be overwhelmed.)  Even if you don’t post, scrolling through the sightings on individual ‘projects’ may lead you to an id on your own discovery.  ‘Projects’ on bowerbird are broad groups of living things eg moths, beetles, bees, spiders, fungi or even all sightings in a particular geographical location.

https://www.brisbaneinsects.com/ WOW! this site has me in awe. The Chew family from Brisbane started this site in 2001 and their last posting appears to be 2011. They have taken so much care to carefully identify and photograph the insects around Brisbane. Because ids in the insect world are ever-changing some classifications here may be out of date. Even so, this is the site where I most often find matches to the hard-to-find creatures or at least find their closest relatives. Just looking through the listing of insect families is an education and gives you a broad perspective of evolutionary relationships. I live in southern NSW but rarely find an insect that is not listed here (although there are are many that I don’t see). I hope this site is never taken down as I believe it will serve as a record of insect biodiversity which according to dire predictions is in rapid decline. Thank you, Chew family.

https://australianmuseum.net.au/animals The Australian Museum site is an important source of accurate information on classification. Can be contacted by email with photo attachment if you are really stuck. I queried them a few times and they have given good succinct answers.

http://www.ozanimals.com/index.html It is not clear who runs this site but they certainly have a wide array of photos of all animal types with classification. Click on the small index photos to see larger and often a variety of photos. Good to browse through if unsure where to start.

https://fungimap.org.au/ this is a not-for-profit organisation that asks for your sightings of fungus. They have pdf forms to fill in if you want to submit a sighting or have a fungus identified. Identification will take a while as they are inundated with requests and fungi can be tricky shape/colour shifters which are hard to classify. Try some of the resources listed before you submit an identification request.

http://hunter.lls.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/516807/guide-to-common-fungi-hcr.pdf This is a guide to local fungi in the Hunter and Central Rivers Region of NSW. Not my region, but of course, a lot of fungi are widespread. Good descriptions and photos.

http://hvbackyard.blogspot.com.au/ This blog appears to have been inactive (sadly) for a while. But has a good list of fungi pictures which have been carefully classified.

https://wildlifespotter.net.au/ This is a bit different. Not a site to investigate my photos but a fun site to help with fauna research. Sign up and classify animals taken by automatic cameras set up for various projects throughout Australia. I have spotted quolls, dingoes, white-tailed rats, bandicoots, bettongs, mulgara (small marsupial carnivores) and, I know you won’t believe me – I think a Tasmanian tiger.

Instagram:

On Instagram you can just about find any # you could ever imagine. If you suspect you have a particular fungus, bird, insect, search on the hashtag and relevant pictures will appear. I have put in some pretty obscure genus and species names and have rarely had zero hits. From these hashtag searches (and those who like your posts) you can find nature photographers that are also interested in classifying flora and fauna. Use specific hashtags so you attract like-minded naturalists.

Bird apps Books are still the best tools for bird identification but it can be useful to have a bird app with calls. I purchased the Morcombe and Stewart Guide a few years ago. However this is quite expensive ($30) and really the most useful feature is the audio. I notice there are now free apps for apple and android devices that offer bird sounds.

There are of course many other websites, blogs and apps – some of them specialising in particular types of animals. Image searches are your friend and enemy. I’ve been down a lot of rabbit holes that lead to sites that have no classifications or wrong classification. When doing a search remember to always put the location (at least country) to narrow down. Also remember that juvenile and adult, male and female can look quite different. Observations of behaviour and habitat are also often invaluable in classification.

Books:

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I have many books on my shelves relating to marine life (from my scuba diving days) birds, mammals, reptiles, plants, and backyard wildlife. Some of these are quite old and there may be better or later editions published. But the following four books I have carefully chosen in the last 6 months and I can vouch for their usefulness in classification (as well as sheer beauty). Books are an important resource and far less likely to mislead you than the internet. They are often my first stop before I check online for more images and details.

The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight, 2012

I have old editions of Cayley’s and Simpson and Day  on my shelves but I was recently gifted this book for Mothers Day and it is my most treasured reference. Each page has only a few closely related species depicted (maximum four) with beautiful clear drawings often showing juvenile, male and female forms as well as variants. Every household should have a bird book and this one I would highly recommmend.

The Butterflies of Australia, Albert Orr and Roger Kitching, 2011

Also a mother’s day present. Filled with wonderful pictures of, not only the butterflies, but also eggs, caterpillars, pupae and host plants. This is large book (28cm long) and beautiful enough to grace a coffee table

A field guide to Australian Fungi, Bruce Fuhrer, revised 2016

This is a book with over 500 fungi described and beautifully photographed in their natural environment. It is widely acknowledged to be the most comprehensive guide to Australian fungi. Despite this, fungi identification is incredibly difficult for a beginner like me. Even using this book and internet searches I have five or six fungi photos that have me stumped. There is variation within species of colour and size and many features (sometimes microscopic) that have to be either recorded or photographed. Even in this book there are many fungi that are listed in a general group and described as unidentified species.

A field guide to Spiders of Australia, Robert Whyte and Greg Andersen, 2017

Beautiful close-up photos of spiders. You may not find the spider you are looking for here but it will set you on the right track re families to investigate.

Literaleigh, photography, The Nature Lover's Log

Cosy Corners

I am taking part in the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: CORNER

Corners can have bad connotations you don’t want to be sent to the naughty corner or be backed into a corner or even cornered by a pushy person.

But the corners in my post are more the cosy or the useful kind. There are times you need the comfort and structure of those sides around you.

You may need to hide in a corner…

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Black rock skink – Green Cape NSW

Even if you’re a pretend bug…

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One of the smaller displays at Sculpture By the Sea – Sydney

Or a frog in pot in a pond

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There is  a story of incredible resilience concerning this Striped marsh frog that I will relate in another post. But you may note it has deformed legs on one side.

 

Corners can be good to anchor your nest…

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Common paper wasp: Polistes humilis

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Mud-dauber wasps nests –  Sceliphron sp

or coccoon.

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Saunders Case Moth larvae.

Sometimes we seek corners out of the wind and cold and hot sun…

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or cosy corners just to snuggle.

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Literaleigh, photography, The Nature Lover's Log

The Stars of the Show

I am taking part in the Daily Post Photo Challenge:  Ooh Shiny!

(The challenge this week is too find something that provides a delightful distraction, that never fails to grab your attention away from the everyday.)

When people think of Australian fauna they think of the cute and furry marsupials – koalas, kangaroos and wombats or in the bird world they think of the sight of a running emu or the sound of a laughing kookaburra.  But to my mind, it is the parrots which are the attention-getters – the stars of the Aussie show.  Colourful, intelligent often raucous and bold, they never fail to delight and distract me. Many parrot species are long-lived, some mate for life – this devotion to one another is both heart-warming and fascinating.  When we moved houses over ten  years ago, from a block surrounded by rain-forest to coastal suburbia, it was the parade of parrots I missed most . The following is part of an essay I wrote entitled, Our Escarpment Home.

The parrots were the gaudy stars of the bird show and the avian personalities we observed the closest, due to occasionally feeding them native seed mix. The king parrots were the most spectacular with their fire-red chests (and heads in males) and their backs of velvety green. Despite their regal appearance the king parrots were humble. They watched us warily with soft eyes as they ever so daintily picked at the seed. They dwelt only in the tall trees. They’d land on our high veranda railing but I never saw them descend to the ground. This was such an unbreakable habit that we witnessed quite a few in great distress one scorching New Year’s Day. The thermometer soared to 43 degrees Celsius and four kings arrived dazed on our balcony, their mouths gaping with thirst. They were beyond being able to fly or even beyond reasoning to take water from a bowl. One female collapsed in front of us. We took it inside and squeezed water from a rag into her mouth. We saw no other species of birds in the trees or deck. We assumed the others had descended lower into cooler gullies and dense undergrowth, but not the ever-tree dwelling kings. When the evening came with a cool southerly change we released the distressed parrot. She flew to a nearby tree looking somewhat stunned. We could only hope she survived her traumatic experience.

The king parrots may have dwelt in the tops of the trees but they certainly weren’t the top of the pile. That honour belonged to the cheeky rainbow lorikeets. As their name suggests their plumage is a brash assortment of colours – blue, yellow, orange and green. They are the smallest but the pluckiest of parrots, the top guns. They’d skim past the corners of our house at impossible speeds and with pinpoint accuracy. The sulphur-crested white cockatoos are four times the size of the lorikeets but fled in submission when a pair of these bossy little birds flew to the deck.

The white cockies provided the comic relief in the parrot drama. There is nothing subtle about these big birds. They’d land on the railing with a thud and pleading squawks then proceed to earn their seed by entertaining us with gawky, swaying dances, nodding heads and expressive talking. Sometimes they’d ramp up the physical comedy by hanging upside down from their perch or pretending to fall from the sky in an uncontrolled dive, only to recover with much squawking and flapping.

The blue and red, crimson rosellas were the shyest, the backstage workers. They often didn’t land on the veranda at all but picked up the scraps of seeds flung to the ground by the messy cockies or impatient lorikeets.

The largest of the parrots were the transient black cockatoos who flew through the tree tops calling to their partners with their mournful drawn-out cries. A flypast of black cockatoos was relatively rare and we would rush out to watch them as they wheeled and cried through the trees.

Some of the following photos were taken before I had a SLR camera so are of varying quality but I hope they show the beauty and some of the variety of Australian parrots.

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Rainbow Lorikeet – swift and cheeky

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Sulphur-crested Cockatoo – raucous clowns. Long-lived about 20-40 years in the wild.

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Galah (the only parrot more common here in our new home on the coast) – a comical ground-feeding waddler

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The Crimson Rosella – shy and reserved.

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Gang-Gang Cockatoo (juvenile) – Mature male has a brilliant red head.

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Yellow-tailed black Cockatoo – Large, mournful criers

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King Parrots – beautiful , gentle. My son (12 years ago) admires the handsome male.

Literaleigh, photography, The Nature Lover's Log

Erupting Elements

I am taking part in the Daily Post photo challenge: ELEMENTAL

I always find that places in nature that are the most awe-inspiring are those not on the well-trodden tourist trail. They are uncrowded places where you can view the elements uninhibited by gift shops, barricades, queues and mazes of signposts. These places often have an element of danger for the unwary and you can imagine viewing the landscape as the indigenous peoples did thousands of years ago.

WATER

The first picture is a blowhole near Eden on the Far South Coast of NSW. We had a lovely bush walk through banksias to reach the spot and didn’t see a soul on our way there.  The blowhole was in fine form fed by the north-easterly swell. Massive volumes of water were forced to a height of six metres or more. There is nothing quite like seeing the swell roll in and feeling the anticipation – here it comes – boom and woosh. The air in the tunnel below is forced out and the water erupts.

Blowhole

EARTH

There are places in the world where the earth’s crust is so thin that the hot mantle rises to the surface. These places of geothermal activity  give us a glimpse of the molten interior of the earth.

The following photos was taken 12 years ago at a place in the North Island of New Zealand called Orakei Korako. The park here is not far from the famous geysers at Rotorua but this place left a far greater impression on me than that more touristy town. Here water boils up in clear ponds heated by geothermal vents. These ponds are  close enough to reach out and touch (if you wanted to end up with severe burns). The air is hot smoky and sulphurous in a landscape where silica terraces are fringed by palms. All this in the otherwise cool temperate climate of New Zealand was a quite a surreal experience.  It seemed to be a scene straight out of the Jurassic age. I don’t remember the sulphur smell but judging by my daughter’s face it was quite bad.

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Literaleigh, photography, The Nature Lover's Log, Writing

Written in Stone

 

I am taking part in the Daily Post Photo Challenge: TEXTURE

Who hasn’t felt a compulsion to feel the texture of a sandstone boulder warmed by the sun, a smooth pebble from the river bed or a jagged quartz crystal.  To touch a rock is to connect to the earth before, humans. Before life itself.  I feel a poem coming on, and photos of  richly textured rocks taken on my travels.

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Written in Stone

Feel my ancient armour

Pitted, cracked, creviced

Broken, battered, fractured

Crumbled, smoothed and polished.

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Battles of ice and furnace

The water, wind and waves

The violent and the grinding,

Have left these scars I bear.

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Prehistoric life crushed

Old sea beds exposed.

Fossils and living lichens,

Leave their stories here

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Touch me says the silent stone.

Feel my weight and warmth,

Gathered from billion days.

Beneath your fleeting hands.

 

By Leigh Roswen

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Literaleigh, photography, The Nature Lover's Log

Sprawling satisfaction.

I am taking part in the Daily Post Photo Challenge : SATISFACTION

10-15 years ago when the kids were still small we regularly picnicked in the Wollongong Botanical Gardens.  We had our own favourite out-of-the-way (secret) spot where there was a bench-table in the sun. We’d spread out on ‘our’ bench to drink tea, orange juice and eat biscuits before exploring the gardens.

Below is the only photo I could find of our picnics. The grass wasn’t always this brown – it must have been a dry autumn in 2006. My son (not sure where daughter was) and husband are sitting on the bench. My son is soon to turn 18 but has still been known to hog/hug the biscuits to himself.

bench botanical gardens

Nearby to our bench was a magnificent (or at least I thought so) prostrate coastal banksia (Banksia integrifolia). It’s thick branches supported it in a metre-high dome shape and it sprawled for at least five metres in diameter.

I’m not sure why I was so struck by this unruly plant when the rest of the botantical gardens displayed mighty spreading trees, exotic cacti, an impressive rainforest  and an an orderly rose garden.

I think I liked its tangled, rambling and of course the robust yellow brush flowers – I have a fascination with banksia flowers.

At the time we lived on the escarpment in Wollongong – an area of rainforest, clay soils and limited sunlight hours. So, though I would have liked to buy a prostrate banksia, there was nowhere suitable to plant it. It’s a plant that needs plenty of room, light soil and full sun.

When we moved closer to the beach and landscaped our garden I finally found a spot to plant a banksia, unfortunately this spot was under the kid’s trampoline. The filtered sunlight through the trampoline net wasn’t ideal. The banksia survived but struggled. The children eventually outgrew the trampoline and my banksia was finally exposed to full sun. Now when I look out the kitchen window the first thing I see is my lovely sprawling, flowering banksia. It is a favourite of the little wattlebird too. Most mornings it sits on its branches and chuckles and chatters – proclaiming the banksia as its own. I’m happy to share it.

My plant is not as magnificent as the one in the botanical gardens  but it does bring me great satisfaction, a  living symbol of persistence and resilience.