Monday, December 29, 2008

Leaf Insect

As I wandered near a shrub in the garden the other day, I happened to notice a leaf flutter lightly. There was no wind at all at the time, so I had a closer look. So good was the camouflage, it took some time to locate her – I think it was a female, they are much larger than the male. Head to tail she measured 130mm and with her forelegs extended she was well over 200mm. I gently removed her to another location to get some better views, and returned her to where I found her later.

Stick and leaf insects are phasmids. They are herbivorous with simple front legs that do not have the raptorial spines of the carnivorous mantids. The shortened forewings are hardened into tegmina that always cross over right onto left.
While I was moving in to take some photos, she suddenly opened her wings to display a bright blue patch. This is apparently explained as a secondary defence behaviour to startle any predators. There are around 150 species of leaf and stick insects in Australia. Their excellent camouflage skills mean we don’t see them very often. Mostly their numbers are quite low, only breeding when conditions are just right. There are three pest species that can reach plague proportions and defoliate large areas of bushland. One of the joys of coming across such a specimen is the following research of the species and discovering many fascinating facts. For example, many phasmids simply drop their eggs to the ground where often they are taken by ants into their nests. Inside the ant nest, part of the egg is eaten by the ants, but the egg remains mostly intact and is safe from attack by parasitic wasps. There is a strong pet trade in stick insects, and probably the rarest insect in the world is the Lord Howe Island Phasmid.

Great fun!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

At Last ...

… a day away just devoted to birds.

G’day Readers,
Yesterday I went with Duncan to help with his wader count on Lake Reeve. (If you’d like to see some of the birds we saw – and a more serious report of what we found – click here.)

Overcast and windy was the order of the day, but we were both happy enough to be out birding again.
We began at the Seaspray end and were pleasantly surprised to see some water, if not too many waders. We’d just got started and Duncan spotted some waders on the far shoreline, as usual. We sloshed along the track for a bit in a vain effort to get a closer look through the scope for counting and identifying. Just then, the shire ‘mossie larvae eradicator’ came along in his machine. Despite pleadings and the offers of money from Duncan, he wouldn’t take us any closer to the birds. We moved on to Loch Sport and checked out the causeway. There was a little bit of bird activity here, along with the ‘Loch Sport Monster’- the one in the background.

We chose a spot out of the wind for lunch and had a visit from this little fellow. It appeared to be carrying a flag. As it moved around, it waved its flag up and down constantly. It would seem to be a signal of some sort, but it was a complete mystery to both of us. Can anyone out there help? (Hatchet Wasp - Evaniidae sp. Common, parasitise Cockroach eggs, the 'flag' is part of their long thin abdomen.)

After lunch we journeyed on a little further to Point Wilson, where we spent some time trying to identify the three species of Terns that were resting on a sand spit.

Although the bird count was not particularly high, the constant wind had tired us out a bit by now, so we ‘turned our heads for home’ basking in the realisation we’d seen some nice birds, some beaut landscapes and at last, some casual water in the paddocks!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's Green Again!

G’day All,
Sorry for the delay between reports lately, but…

As everyone would be aware, Victoria had a nice ‘rain event’ over last weekend. Some places recorded 200+ mm. Around here there were reports of between 50 and 80mm. And, Gouldiae’s place? 30mm! A very welcome 30mm mind you, but it was an excellent demonstration of how we here in central Gippsland are definitely in a rain shadow.
I haven’t had to water the golf course for a few days now, and the place is GREEN.
Now of course, the grass is growing and the mowers are going every day.

A couple of reports ago I posted some shots of an insect that interested me. Here are some more pictures.

A bit of research, (belated), reveals that it is probably a Yellow Flower Wasp, Agromyia sp.

Some of the features that define it as a native Flower Wasp and not an introduced European Wasp are, brown wings, (cf clear), slender body of 20mm, (cf stout body of about 12mm), and no black spots on the yellow stripes, (cf a pair of black spots in the yellow stripes on the side of the abdomen).

As far as I can determine, the ones I’m seeing are the winged males, the females being wingless and soil burrowers. Their larvae parasitise other bugs in the soil. They are good at pollinating and preying on other insects. They can sting, but their toxicity is low and they do not swarm and attack when disturbed like the introduced European Wasp.

I’d better get a move on, there’s a couple of mowers to sharpen.

PS: Phoebe and mum are home and along with dad are doing well. Nice Xmas kids!

Monday, December 8, 2008


Miscellaneous – what a wonderful word. And, it allows me to post random pictures of some of the disparate things that have been happening around here of late. I seem to have been way too busy to focus on a specific subject, so here goes…

Like many others, I managed a look at the conjunction of the moon, Venus and Jupiter a few nights ago.
Apart from the sun, these are probably the three brightest objects in the sky, and they came together recently. There are five planets visible to the naked eye, but Venus and Jupiter are by far the brightest. Venus is our closest planet and Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. Both are enveloped in dense cloud, which helps their reflective properties as well.

Early the other morning I came across seven Pelicans on the golf course dam. I’ve often seen one and sometimes a pair, so it was a bit unusual to see seven I thought. Unlike some Pelicans I’ve come across at boat launching ramps and like places, these were a little wary. (There's a pun in there for those who know me!). I had to do some creeping about the bank to get near enough for a half decent shot in the low morning light. At one point I remember thinking, “I hope there are no early golfers about to see me on my hands and knees…”

These brilliantly marked insects were in great number on our Abelia shrubs in the garden.
They have been present for a week or more now, which seems odd to me. There appears to be no damage to the plants and no other plants in the garden seem to be engulfed in them, including some other Abelias in another location.

And finally, I mentioned in the opening that we’ve been a bit busy. Broken wrists, coring the greens, watering, machinery breakdowns, and a couple of brief rain events that have caused an increase in mowing activities all pale into insignificance with the late arrival of Phoebe. Phoebe is our second grandchild, born at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne on the 4th of December. Mum and daughter are doing well. Well done Merv! It’s gunna be a beaut Christmas.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Different World

Yesterday, coming back from a quick trip down to the Latrobe Valley, I ducked into the Morwell National Park in the hope of finding some Butterfly Orchids, (Sarcochilus australis) in flower. For a short while I struggled to find them. I found a decent stand of their favourite host tree, the Prickly Currant-bush, (Coprosma qudrifida), I saw evidence of their wonderful supporting root system and only a few leaf clusters. I thought I must have been too early or late.
Eventually I came across a few specimens that had some racemes that contained some flower heads.
Such a beautiful plant. They emit a beautifully subtle scent too.

As I strolled along the track listening to a Lyrebird going through his repertoire of calls, I was thinking of how this park is less than 100 kms south west of home and is such a different ecosystem and climate.
We don't have many moss covered logs, fungi or tree ferns on the golf course!

We don't have many Stinging Nettles either, thankfully. Uncomfortable as they can be, as I was reminded briefly yesterday, they still play an important role in their own ecological niche. Why doesn't this fellow get stung I wonder....
If you are a local reading this, and you haven't been to Morwell NP for a while, or dare I say haven't been there at all, I urge you to call in one day - great little spot!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Look, What's That...

…up there near the top of that precipitous rocky cliff face?

No, not the Peregrine Falcon chick.

There, look, through those brambles.

I think it’s that old guy who has a 105 year old mother in law!

Yeah, it’s only Duncan. Onya DF, hows the hip?

PS: As I'm about to upload this, the rain on the roof is deafening - oh bliss!

Core Blimey!

G'day Folks,
Once each year, the golf club engages a team of contractors to core our greens. Yesterday was the day. The process is something like this...

Step 1 - The coring machine runs over the green, extracting a 'core' of soil about 12mm diameter and 60mm long.

Step 2 - The cores are swept up and dumped somewhere nearby. They are used later to fill in low spots, cover bare places. etc.

The surface now look like this..

Step 3 - Another machine then comes along and spreads a fine sand across the green. This is a fairly critical step, as too much or too little sand can create problems later.

Step 4 - 'Verti-draining' is an additional step that involves another machine punching a spike about 30mm long into the green and vibrating the area to loosen the sub soil layer a bit.

Step 5 - Once the sand has dried out thoroughly, it is then 'swept' into the holes by dragging a metal mat around. By now, the grass is probably feeling a bit stressed, so we try to do this process as little as possible.

Step 6 - Finally, the greens are given well earned drink of water. Last night's 5mm thunderstorm was a big help too.

This morning, they look something like this...

Once the sand dries properly again today, a decision will be made whether to sweep them again or not. They'll be watered well for a day or so and any open holes will soon close up. They won't be cut for 4 or 5 days, and when they are, the height of cut will be adjusted to about 5mm, and on subsequent cuts be lowered gradually back down to the current height of 2.5mm.

Now we just have to 'nurse' them along for a bit. The soil should be well aerated, and should absorb water, fertilizers etc really well. Hopefully we can look forward to some nice greens to putt on throughout summer.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

20 Lovely Millimetres.

Only a few days ago I was whingeing about 35 degree heat and hot northerly winds. It doesn’t take very long at this time of year, in this corner of the world, for conditions to turn around. Yesterday we only got up to 15 degrees and had cold southerly blasts all day.

Today’s surface chart from the Bureau of Meteorology shows a low centered just off the Gippsland coast. Air movement around a low is clockwise, (here in the southern hemisphere), so it is coming up from the Antarctic regions.

The satellite image below, clearly shows the centre of the low and how the air is dragged up from the south. The light blue colour is the cold Antarctic air sweeping up toward us.

The sky today is still very leaden, and the wind is cold. One of my favourite weather observations is to look almost due west down the 2nd fairway, and this morning there is even a puddle in the foreground!
There is 20mm in the rain gauge too. I haven’t seen anything over 10mm in 24 hours for months. According to the BoM radar there is another band of moisture on the way too.
We even had to get the wood barrow out again, and light the fire.

Little old Skip, (very old and very blind), even knew where the warmth was when he came back inside after his morning constitutional.

Ah, good old Victorian weather patterns – they sure can vary. Some leaden skies have a silver lining though – I’m hoping for a couple of easier days on the golf course. How’d you go in Tassie Mosura?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wolf Spider

Yesterday I got stuck into a little bit of weed pulling in the garden, (think I just heard – “About time too”, in the background).

In the process I came across this gorgeous female Wolf Spider attached to her egg sac. (Really Mick, she is attractive). By the time I’d got the camera, she’d detached herself from the egg sac and moved away from it.

(Note: This is actually a Shield Spider, not a Wolf Spider. Mosura, see comments, has put me right. I think the rest of this entry is correct).

Wolf Spiders are great hunters with excellent eyesight, and they can move rapidly across the ground. They don’t spin a web, but live in a burrow in the ground. Their toxicity is fairly mild.

Last season, I got the picture below of a male that dashed away from the mower when I was cutting the grass. He was relatively large, with a body about the size of a twenty cent piece.

Isn’t it amazing what weeding the garden and mowing the grass can lead to?


Monday, November 17, 2008

A Minor Drama

We’ve been ‘off the air’ for a short while. 35 degrees and hot northerly winds have been a bit of a bother, then next door’s calf got its head stuck in our fence, and Glen decided to try and extricate it. G had hold of the wires as the calf pulled back and suddenly released itself, and the fence returned to its original position like a slingshot. Result?

Fractured wrist, ouch! Must have hurt like h… I was away with Duncan doing a bird survey when it happened. (We’ll finish the last 3 sites soon DF). In the meantime, it’s been domestic duties a bit for me – gulp!

Anyway, just before all this, I was cruising G’s roses one day and was drawn to the amount of insect life on them.

Glen is pretty assiduous with keeping the aphids at bay, but there was a small contingent of hover flies in attendance.

This unknown specimen was checking out the roses too. I have no idea what it is....

We’re getting back to some sort of routine again now. Normal service should resume shortly.

PS: Thanks Denis, (see comments), you were not far off. It seems that last insect is the nymph form of the Gum Leaf Katydid. The link is to a page from 'Brisbane Insects and Spiders Daily', a fascinating site. Once you have the Katydid page open, click on home page and blog for an excellent record of invertebrates by Peter and Tony Chew.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

HBW - Glenaladale, November '08

Today was the November outing of the Heyfield Birdwatchers, and we had a beauty!

Just four of us set off from Stratford at 830. The plan was to head for the Mitchell River and the Den of Nargun, on the way calling in and checking a couple of known favourite spots.

We turned off the highway at the eastern end of Providence Ponds and ambled slowly through some bushland toward Fernbank. The Callistemons were in flower and were attended here and there by some various honeyeaters. Three Emus plodded along the track ahead of us for a short time. We could hear Orioles, Choughs, Thrushes, Whistlers and Pardalotes calling throughout this section of bush, but we were a long way from the Mitchell River at this stage, so we pressed on.

My reason for taking this particular route was so I could check out a favourite wildflower spot at Fernbank. We didn't even get out of the cars. It’s sure been a bad year for wildflowers in this little corner of Gippsland. ‘Not looking good so far’, I thought.

Our spirits lifted a little at the Glenaladale Pumping Station. My plan was to have a cuppa here, spend 5 minutes checking out the surrounding bush and head on up to the Nargun’s Den for lunch. We didn’t get to see if the Nargun was in.

During morning tea at a particularly pleasant spot on the river bank, a Rufous Whistler entertained us with some great close up views and it’s wonderful repertoire of calls. Things were beginning to look a bit brighter.

There’s an old eucalypt at this site, with an exposed root system that I’ve admired before and wondered how the heck this individual could still be alive.

The thermos’s went back into the cars and we headed upstream briefly to see what was about. Eastern Yellow Robins, Yellow-faced Honeyeaters and a few others were ticked pretty quickly.

We began to hear a duck like call coming from high in the tree tops. This was beginning to refresh my memory of a bird we once saw fairly regularly on the golf course each year, but it has been noticeably absent for some time now. Suddenly we all got splendid views of a pair of Dollarbirds hawking for insects high above the trees.
This was a rewarding sighting because it was a first for John, Nancy and Marg. The birds would characteristically return to a high bare branch and allow us some beaut views with the binoculars.

A little further on, we discovered the Dollarbirds had a nest hollow they were returning to on a regular basis. I clambered up the slope to sit for a while in the hope the birds might return for a photo opportunity. The others proceeded on down the track for a bit.
The Dollarbirds didn’t return for some time, and eventually John reappeared on the track below me and suggested I hurry on down and see what they’d found – without my help!

First was a juvenile Brown Falcon.

This bird was ‘stumbling’ about in a tree just beside the track. It didn’t seem to mind our presence too much, so we fired away with the cameras.

Then came the extraordinary. There seems to be some debate about whoever saw what first. I wasn’t there, so I’ll leave well enough alone!

Some Peregrine Falcons at nest.

High up on a rock ledge, three little heads could be seen and the parent birds kept buzzing us and keeping close watch on our activities. It’s times like this I wish I could talk birdspeak and say, “It’s OK mum and dad, I just want to get a little higher up the rocks so I can see your babies better. I won’t hurt them, I promise”.

I got back down onto the track, joined the others and we waxed lyrical about the sightings. Then someone said, “Oh, we saw a Black-faced Monarch too”. Sure enough, we just started to head back to the cars and the Monarch was there beside the track.

A Gippsland Water Dragon and a beautiful coppery Skink, both a bit too quick for pictures, completed a wonderful session.

We enjoyed our lunch on a grassy bank above the river and decided the walk down into Nargun’s Den was not going to be as rewarding as the morning session. We opted for a ‘touristy’ drive home, including an ice-cream and more sightings of Dollarbirds at Briagolong.

One out of the box.