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:

IMG_9043 (2)

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.

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 now, particularly for insect identification.

My love for the 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:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/AmateurEntomologyAustralia/ Fantastic group there is seemingly an 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 identification.  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.

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 have 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.

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 be 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.

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 and blogs – 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:

IMG_9043 (2)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 three 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

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

The Nature Lover's Log

Our native forest fruits 2

nature shorts colourThe other rainforest fruit in our garden is the dear little tree that keeps on giving – no thorns here. To go with its sweet nature it has a sweet name – lilly pilly. Ours is a  Syzygium australe. The commercial name was Brush Cherry but these names can vary.

Lilly pilly’s  have a wide natural range from the rainforests of far North Queensland to the temperate rainforests of the southern states. Our lilly pilly occupies a shaded spot in the garden where nothing else we’ve planted over the years has survived.

It was  planted as small sapling only a year ago and has grown,

Lilly Pilly saplingIMG_8358

From this …..                                      to this.

It’s gifts are many and varied from leaves – glossy with red-tinged new growth,

IMG_8357 (2)

the light green buds,

lilly pilly buds 2

delicate white flowers,

IMG_8040

And of course the edible fruit which change from delicate pink to dark crimson.

Young lilly pilly fruitCrimson lilly pilly fruit

I have eaten the fruit at both stages, the darker fruit has a sweeter flavour. Other sites describe the fruit as a cranberry-like, but to me, they are much more like a tart light-textured (imagine lighter than a nashi pear) apple with a hint of rose flavour. I pick and wash them and eat them as is. Samantha Martin, known as the Bush Tukka Woman, says: ‘Lilly pilly berries are a perfect addition to any smoothie or fruit salad. They are also fantastic in jams, chutneys, ice-creams, savoury and sweet sauces, and can be baked into muffins for a sweet, healthy treat.” http://www.onyamagazine.com/lifestyle/food-drink/foodstuffs/move-aside-acai-berries/

http://www.booktopia.com.au/bush-tukka-guide-samantha-martin/prod9781741174038.html

Some of the lilly pilly fruits have largish seeds but others have a seed no bigger than a grape seed (which I just swallow)

IMG_8562 (2)lillypilly seed

Here in the Illawarra our lilly pilly starting fruiting in March and is still bearing edible fruit in late May.

Lilly Pillys picked in late May
Berries I picked yesterday

This can’t be the perfect tree? There must be a catch. Well there is. Many lilly pilly varieties are affected by psyllids (Trioza eugenia). These are tiny cicada-like creatures that lay their eggs on the leaves. The nymphs embed themselves in the leaf making a pit which shows as a lump or pimple on top of the leaf.

psyllid bumpspsyllid pits

My lilly pilly is psyllid-affected, but not badly. The nursery recommended removing affected leaves and keeping the plant healthy. We have subsequently installed a watering system and fed with Seasol.  Some sites recommend the pesticide Confidor – but I would definitely steer clear. The neonicotinoid chemicals within  Confidor have been implicated in decimating bee populations. http://www.see-change.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/PROTECTING-BEES-flyer.pdf

Besides, I prefer to keep a thriving ecosystem in my plants. This is just a few creatures I found on the lilly pilly  in the space of half-an-hour – potentially some of them feed on the psyllids.

 

small praying mantisBronze jumping spider?

A mantis and a small spider  (bronze jumping spider – Helpis minitabunda??)

 

green planthopper and nymphIMG_8799 (2)

A green planthopper (a sap-sucking insect) with nymph (I didn’t even notice the yellow-striped nymph when I took photo). Black beetle – I’m hoping these eat the psyllids

You can purchase lilly pilly varieties that are resistant to psyllids including Acmena smithii and Syzgium luehmannii.

I am not the only one who loves their lilly pilly. It is a favourite in Australian gardens for hedges, topiary and feature trees. But maybe it should be appreciated a little more for its bush food bounty.

The bored-doodle certainly does. She became goat-like when the lilly pilly came into fruit.

 

The Nature Lover's Log

The pleasure of peewees

nature shorts colour

I’m an average nature photographer. I don’t use manual mode and have just started to using aperture priority/f-stops (AV mode) to control depth-of-field. 70% of the time I still use Auto or P (ISO only control) settings on my Canon 100d.

I don’t own amazing equipment. I don’t have a dedicated macro lens, but with my Canon 18-55mm lens I can take decent close-ups. I don’t have a serious bird photography lens but if I’m close enough and the lighting good I can take a reasonable shot with my Sigma 18-250mm.

I don’t travel a lot (maybe one day) – many of my photos are taken in my local area and in most cases very local (my backyard).

In other words, I won’t win any photography competitions. There will always be those with better equipment, greater expertise and more exciting subjects.

But that’s fine because that is not why I take photos. I take photos to

Practice patience

To be observant

To learn about the natural world.

It once took me twenty shots and half an hour to get two decent shots of yellow robins as a family of these tiny birds flitted amongst the sheoaks (Warning! Nature photographers can be very boring company on outings). During this time of intense observation I was totally lost in the robin’s world. It was pure escapism. Environments, even familiar ones, take on a much more complex and exotic nature when I think like a nature photographer. Appreciation and quiet joy go hand in hand with close observation.

The fun part doesn’t end with taking the photo – at the end of the day I go to my computer and books. I identify and learn about the flora and fauna captured on my sd card.

I didn’t expect to learn anything about the pee wees I snapped in the backyard. After all peewees – also called magpie-larks or mudlarks (Grallina cyanoleuca) are one of Australia’s most common and unassuming birds. My bird book shows that they have an impressive range over the whole of Australia excepting an area of Western Australian desert. My only real thoughts on peewees were that they have a perchance for pecking at their reflection in shiny surfaces. That night my research revealed I had snapped a male and female pair. It turns out that male and female pee-wees have different plumage patterns. All my life I’d been looking at pee-wees and hadn’t realised this. The pleasure of finding facts like this, that will stay with me forever, is the reason I take nature photos.

Females : Females have a white throat and white face (around beak). From side view you can see they have an unbroken strip of white extending from chest up the neck to head.

Males: Black throat and black face with white ‘eyebrow’. *

IMG_7661 (2)
Female Peewee

 

IMG_7664 (2)
Male Peewee

  • I think of an old man with whitish eyebrows – such as an Albert Einstein – like figure or one of the grumpy old men on the muppets to help me remember this feature belongs to the male.

 

The Nature Lover's Log

An unwelcome gecko

IMG_1878-thumbnail-webImagine my thrill when I found a gecko on the roof of my downstairs under-renovation bathroom. I’d never seen one in the Illawarra. I love geckos. I was quite attached to one that used to keep me company in my dorm room in Wagga when I was at Uni. Another gecko encounter has gone into family legend. We were staying on a farm in Northern NSW and my husband spotted a leaf-tailed gecko on the laundry wall. He lifted our, then 3yr -old daughter up to view it. Curiouser and curiouser she leaned closer and closer then lifted her hand to touch it. Understandably affronted by this action the gecko leapt at her and brushed against her hand. She screamed and claimed the gecko had bitten her (no mark) and it was all Dad’s fault (of course). That night she did get bitten – all over ,by dozens of mosquitos. She had a severe allergic reaction to the bites which resulted in a rush to hospital, adrenalin, and, very nearly a tracheostomy (Just our average happy holiday – there has been devastating floods, broken bones and gastrointestinal illness in other episodes). To this day Daughter Unruly associates her traumatic illness with Dad and the poor blameless gecko. So it’s become a bit of a family joke to ‘blame the gecko.’

So gecko’s make me smile – except the one I found in the bathroom last week. This is an Asian house gecko. On further google investigation I found it to be an invasive specimen out-competing our native geckos and other small reptiles. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGdKd11_8GE

Asian house gecko
Found on the bathroom ceiling in our Illawarra home (approx. 11cm long)

 

The Asian house gecko or common house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus) betters the cane toad for its successful spread throughout Northeast Australia. But in even worse news – I don’t live in Queensland or even Northern NSW I live more than 750 km south of Brisbane – in Wollongong.

Is this year’s warm extended summer to blame or is this indicative of a trend of sub-tropical species moving south due to climate change?

I have recorded my sighting and photo on a website called Climatewatch. This site allows individuals to record the location of species sightings so their distribution can be mapped. With the axing of many climate scientists from government bodies sites like this may became more valuable than ever to help us monitor trends in climate zones.

The Asian house gecko has a tapering tail and is pinky-brown to dark grey in colour. They can be identified by the small spines along lower back and edges of tail. http://www.ozanimals.com/Reptile/Asian-House-Gecko/Hemidactylus/frenatus.html They also make a loud chick chick noise. https://www.soundrangers.com/index.cfm/product/63065_827/gecko-asian-house-gecko-call-01.cfmI may have heard this at night but dismissed it as a bird.

Two nights before the gecko sighting I saw small cylindrical droppings just outside the laundry/bathroom door and assumed it was a mouse. I bought some humane mouse traps but had no luck catching any vermin. I now wish I had inspected those dropping more closely as they were possibly gecko droppings. A clue to identifying gecko poos is the presence of small white blobs on one end.

I would be interested to hear if any other of my fellow New South Walians (never thought Welshmen was appropriate term) has seen or heard the Asian house gecko.

I have asked the Queensland Museum to confirm identification but as yet have not heard.

The Nature Lover's Log

Tree loss

collage-2015-12-19 tree loss 2

IMG_1878 thumbnailI am a little gloomy today. We have always had a lovely thicket of bottle brushes and paperbarks along our back fence. Now they are gone.

I used to pretend that we backed on to the bush, when we were, in reality, in a truly suburban block hemmed in on three sides. Even visitors used to believe there was no house over our back fence. They, and I, couldn’t see the house for the trees. This illusion is no longer plausible. I can see our back neighbours clothes line and the back wall of their house over the top of my bare back fence.

The problem is the trees were on the other side of the fence not on ours. For whatever reason our neighbours decided to take two bottle brushes (Callistemons) and two paperbarks (Melaleucas) down. I don’t know the back neighbours – partly because of the trees that gave us privacy and the fact they have a different street frontage. Maybe the trees were shading their pool too much, undermining their landscaping – who knows? I just know I  feel the need to post this small photo memorial to the lost trees. When I first got my SLR camera these trees and the birds that sheltered in them were my favourite subjects. I had planned to point my camera in that direction for at least a few photos for Seven Days of Wonder.* The picture of the silvereye in the bottlebrush is one of the first photos I took with my Canon and is still one of my favourites.

From Silvereye’s to silver linings. The loss of the trees means that our back garden bed now gets more sunlight. So I will grow my own native trees. I already have a grevillea there but want to chose some taller shrubs and small trees to eventually (very slowly) form another thicket.

Has anybody got a favorite bird-attracting tree to suggest?

*(Don’t forget only three days to start of SDOW photo challenge.)