Sunday, June 28, 2015

Working the Weeds

This morning’s walk took me along a track on the edge of town that has some waste-land beside the ever busy Princes Highway. Periwinkle, Blackberry, Black Nightshade and other invasives were in profusion and up to waist high in places. 

Periwinkle - a garden escapee?
 The highly adaptable and ubiquitous Superb Fairy-wrens were diving in and out of the weeds in great abandon, which made me think, “One man’s weed is a … fairy-wren’s larder”!

Female wren
 The occasional adult male was in full colour and several young males were just starting to show their blue plumage.
Young male Superb Fairy-wren
 I chased the delightful wrens about for a bit and was beginning to navigate my way back to clearer ground when a canopy species caught my eye. I’d been hearing the beautiful melodic call of a Grey Shrike-thrush above the ‘highway hum’ and mentally ticked the overhead bird as a thrush. But then it flew in a straight line between two trees without the thrush’s diagnostic undulating flight pattern. Closer inspection was needed and I was pleasantly surprised to see a pair of Crested Shrike-tits.
Crested Shrike-tit. Surprisingly close to town and busy highway.
Indeed a sight for sore eyes – (private joke!)

Friday, June 26, 2015

At Last, an Outing.

Between bouts of inclement weather patterns and a couple of small health issues, the chance arose one day last week to have another look at a favourite nearby piece of bush, Mt Cannibal Flora and Fauna Reserve. It was nice to stagger to the top and get those views and to see a few winter orchids on the way – a chance to draw some breath as I found each one.

Tall Greenhoods are a widespread species that can vary considerably in form. There was a lot of leaf and just a few plants in flower near the carpark.

Beside the track there was plenty of Acianthus leaf too, I think they were the Small Mosquito Orchid, A. pusillus.

My unidentified fungi folder is bursting at the seams but I think/hope I’ve got this one right. One big hint was the substrate, a Wallaby scat. Cheilymenia raripila prefers to grow in herbivore dung. 


 We are so lucky to have such a variety of terrestrial orchids in Victoria and there seems to be something in flower at all times of the year, if we only take the time to look.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Town Birds

Life has been getting in the way lately and I haven’t had much chance to chase some birds. Weather patterns have kept me indoors at times too. While sorting and backing up some files I hit on the thought of delving into some old images of town birds.

One of my occasional retirement pastimes is to walk the streets of Drouin, my new locale, and I am frequently delighted at hearing and seeing a nice spectrum of native bird species and of course a few introduced nuisances too. Here's three recent favourites....

Spotted Pardalote
The canopy of many of the large eucalypts that still remain within the town boundary, are often the source of the familiar call of this brilliant little bird. I can recall many times being asked what I was looking at when scanning some tree tops through the binoculars. “I can hear a Spotted Pardalote calling”, I say, “they’re always worth seeing”. When I’m able to show the inquisitor a picture in the field guide or on the bird app, many people are pleasantly surprised at this little bird’s beauty.

I see and hear Spotted Pardalotes frequently enough to suggest they must be digging their tunnel nests in some soft earth somewhere nearby.

Crested Pigeon
Most field guides will indicate that this ubiquitous species can be found in almost any corner of our vast continent except Gippsland. Anecdotal evidence suggests that for some years now they have inhabited many of the urban areas in my little corner of the world.

Oddly, this bird despite its size can be ticked aurally too. Crested Pigeons take off and accelerate with a very distinctive whistling wingbeat.

Black-shouldered Kite
Usually found in open farmland habitat, I have ticked this elegant raptor often within Drouin township. 

I found a nesting pair in the top of an old Strzelecki Gum at a wetland in the middle of a large housing estate. Of course I can’t be certain that the birds I’m seeing in different locations aren’t just the same pair that may have become a bit ‘urbanised’.

They can hover over my place any time!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Cordyceps - Killer Fungi

Cordyceps gunnii or ‘Dark Vegetable Caterpillar, is an interesting fungi with a fascinating story. I came across some today at the Lang Lang Primary School Arboretum.

(Click on images for a larger view)

Apparently there are about 400 species of cordyceps. C. gunnii is usually found in association with acacias and I found dozens of them today under some wattles. A few were growing in the middle of the track.

Cordyceps fungi are parasitic fungi that use insects or their larvae for their host. (Use this link to view a short and fascinating David Attenborough video about a cordyceps that uses live ants as its host)

Cordyceps gunnii grow from a host caterpillar below the ground. This one was just beginning to emerge through the surface.

I partly dug away some of the loose topsoil to a depth of nearly 450mm and still hadn’t reached the caterpillar corpse.

In some cultures, cordyceps are used for various medicinal and aphrodisiac applications. Don’t think I’ll give it a whirl.