Wild South East

a nature blog of south-east Victoria, mostly Gippsland


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The Knob Reserve, Stratford

Although it’s got an unfortunate name, the Knob Reserve in Stratford is a hidden little gem tucked away behind the town. This park is 56 hectares of mostly Gippsland Plains Grassy Woodland, an EVC (Ecological Vegetation Class) which is threatened and few relatively intact remnants remain in the region due to clearing for agriculture.

Plains Grassy Woodland, Knob Reserve.

Plains Grassy Woodland, Knob Reserve.

Historically this park is very significant to the indigenous Gunaikurnai people and has been a traditional meeting place for thousands of years. The ‘knob’, a prominent bluff along the banks of the Avon River would have been seen a long distance away. Evidence of their occupation can be found on and around the bluff including scar trees (trees with bark removed for canoes or shields) and sandstone grinding stones which were used to sharpen tools such as axes.

Panorama from the bluff overlooking the Avon River.

Panorama from the bluff overlooking the Avon River.

Grinding stones

Grinding stones

Early spring is the time when this area comes to life and although the grass is still green from winter it doesn’t take long for the soil and vegetation to dry out to a crisp. When I visited last week a lot of the herbs, lilies and orchids were in full bloom and the birdlife was extraordinary.

The Bulbine Lily Bulbine bulbosa was particularly common and the large yellow flowers could be seen dotted everywhere.

Bulbine Lily

Bulbine Lily

Chocolate Lilies Arthropodium strictum were also very common but only just beginning to form flowers and I think if you went back next week it would be a haze of purple.

Chocolate Lily

Chocolate Lily

This reserve has a high number of Donkey Orchids Diuris spp, one of them, the Purple Diuris Diuris punctata is listed as threatened. Although there weren’t any I could see flowering yet the photo below is from another trip I did to a grassland reserve near Bairnsdale the next day.

Purple Diuris Diuris punctata

Purple Diuris

Leopard Orchids Diuris pardina and Golden Moth Orchids Diuris chryseopsis weren’t common but scattered in the denser grasslands.

Leopard Orchid Diuris pardina

Leopard Orchid

Golden Moth Orchid

Golden Moth Orchid

Like I mentioned the birdlife was amazing and within half an hour I had a tally of nearly 40 species! Parrots in particular were everywhere and many were searching for nesting hollows in the old Red Gums.

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Sulphur-crested Cockatoo checking out the real estate

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Might need a second opinion from the wife

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Eastern Rosella checking out a hollow

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A moment of contemplation

We’re heading back to this reserve next week for work and it should be great to see what else might pop up.

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Southern Serpents (Gippsland’s Reptiles- Part 2)

Now spring has arrived snakes are starting to show their faces and as I tend work in prime snake habitats every year I couldn’t be happier (although some of my fellow workers have other thoughts on this). I have a soft spot for snakes and a lot of respect. This following blog describes some of the common species likely to be encountered in Gippsland, Victoria.

Although not as diverse as in the warmer parts of Australia, Gippsland’s snakes have evolved to withstand the bitter winters of the southern part of the continent. All species in Gippsland go through a period of semi-hibernation called torpor where they shelter under logs or in burrows during the cooler months. On warmer sunny days in winter many often emerge to feed before returning to a state of torpor in a shelter.

One species which has evolved to withstand at least some resilience to the cold is the White-lipped Snake Drysdalia coronoides.

White-lipped Snake Drysdalia coronoides. Morwell River wetlands, Morwell.

White-lipped Snake Drysdalia coronoides. Morwell River wetlands, Morwell.

This small, inconspicuous species often enters torpor later than most snakes and emerges earlier at the end. It’s also found in higher elevations than other snakes in the alpine regions for the same reasons. In the reasonably mild summer of 2014/15 I saw them more frequently than usual and this could have been due to the milder conditions being favourable to them.

Growing to a length of around 40cm it is generally an olive-grey or rusty brown colour with an orange to pink belly. The underside of juveniles is often much more brightly coloured as can be seen in the photos below. This individual was found in grass tussocks in the Latrobe Valley and was only about 25cm long. When disturbed it flashed it’s vivid belly at me and this is probably a defence mechanism of the species.

White-lipped Snake (juvenile)

White-lipped Snake (juvenile)

White-lipped Snake (juvenile) in 'defence' posture

White-lipped Snake (juvenile) in ‘defence’ posture

Skinks are the primary food of White-lipped Snakes with some frogs and small mammals taken also. Although venomous they are generally not regarded as life-threatening to humans. They can be found in a large variety of habitats from the coast to the alpine country.

The Lowland Copperhead Austrelaps superbus is probably the most commonly encountered species in the region and as it’s name suggests it is mostly found in the lowlands or plains. It can also be found in some elevated areas.

Lowland Copperhead Austrelaps superbus. Morwell, Victoria

Lowland Copperhead Austrelaps superbus. Hernes Oak, Victoria

Lowland Copperhead

Lowland Copperhead

Lowland Copperhead

Lowland Copperhead

Copperheads, although being highly poisonous, are not renowned for their aggressiveness and have caused few deaths in Australia. They feed mostly on frogs and lizards and will also eat small birds and mammals. The White-lipped Snake has been recorded as prey of this species. The Lowland Copperhead can grow up to 1.7m in total length but most adults encountered are between 1 and 1.5m.

The Highland Copperhead Austrelaps ramsayi is very similar to the Lowland species but differs by having more prominent white streaks on the labials (lip scales) and the head scales behind the eye are slightly different. This species can vary from brown or rusty-brown to almost black. It is found mostly in the high country and foothills and occasionally in lowland areas.

The Tiger Snake Notechis scutatus is a reasonably common species throughout Gippsland and grows to a length of 1.5m.

Tiger Snake Notechis scutatus (sub-adult). Yallourn, Vic

Tiger Snake Notechis scutatus (sub-adult). Yallourn, Vic. The striped markings of juveniles and adults gives the snake it’s common name.

Tiger Snake

Tiger Snake

Juvenile Tiger Snake

Juvenile Tiger Snake

Due to their taste for frogs they are often found near swamps and other wetlands and are capable of swimming and climbing very well.

Tiger Snakes are very good swimmers.

Tiger Snakes are very good swimmers.

Beside a frog-filled swamp I have seen a Black Rock Skink Egernia saxatilis moving about on a log within two metres of a basking Tiger Snake, seemingly aware that the snake posed it little threat and possibly using the snake for protection from predators. They will occasionally eat lizards, as well as small mammals and birds, so the skink was living dangerously!

Tiger Snakes are one of the most dangerous snakes in the world due to their aggressive nature if provoked and the high toxicity of their venom. Most human deaths from Tiger Snake bites occurred in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, probably due to the draining of wetlands for agriculture and housing which forced the snakes to become more mobile. They were possibly much more common and widespread than they are now. The majority of deaths in Australia since the mid 1900’s have been primarily due to the Eastern Brown Snake Pseudonaja textilis (see below) and the Western Brown or Gwarder Pseudonaja nuchalis.

The Eastern Brown Snake Pseudonaja textilis is a large species growing over 2m in length and is found throughout Gippsland but is more common in the drier parts.

Eastern Brown Snake Pseudonaja textilis. Snowy River National Park

Eastern Brown Snake Pseudonaja textilis. Snowy River National Park

Eastern Browns are responsible for a large proportion of human deaths in Australia due to their aggressive nature and toxic venom. While hiking I have stumbled accidentally across a pair of mating Eastern Browns and as a result the male has flung itself at me very aggressively. They feed on a wide range of vertebrates, particularly reptiles and small mammals.

The Red-bellied Black Snake Pseudechis porphyriacus is found throughout Gippsland in a wide variety of habitats from the high country to coastal areas.

Red-bellied Black Snake Pseudechis porphyriacus. Giffard, Vic

Red-bellied Black Snake Pseudechis porphyriacus. Giffard, Vic

Red-bellies account for almost no fatalities in Australia despite being highly poisonous. This is due to the fact that they are quite reluctant to bite and will flee rapidly if threatened. My daughter had an encounter with one recently that burst from a bush near her feet and dived in a stream. See my post in January https://wildsoutheast.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/camping-along-ben-cruachan-creek/

They can grow up to 2m but most individual seen are usually around 1.5m. The belly can be vivid red or pale pink-red depending on the region and individual. Their diet consists mostly of reptiles and frogs but will take other vertebrates.

Red-bellied Black Snake showing it's typical vivid red belly

Red-bellied Black Snake showing it’s typical vivid red belly and jet black body

Red-bellied Black Snake

Red-bellied Black Snake


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Coastal Dune Flora -Part 1: Shrubs and trees

The flora of coastal dune systems deserve a lot of respect. Millions of years of evolution and adaptation has given these plants an unusually high tolerance to strong salt-laden winds and soil which is frequently mobile and low in nutrients. This harsh environment is also generally lacking in water and what water is available is usually salty or brackish. Plants here have developed an arsenal of physical adaptations to these conditions such as leaves designed for low water loss, prolific seed dispersal and general growth habits, amongst many others.

The first thing you notice when looking at a coastal dune is the vegetation on the fore dune (the side facing the sea) is typically of similar height and usually in a dense, stunted form.

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Stunted shrub vegetation consisting of predominantly Cushion Bush, Coastal Tea Tree, Coast Beard Heath, White Corea and Coastal Wattle.

The pioneer zone (the lower section closer to the beach) typically consists of sparse vegetation including grasses, herbs and some shrubs. These are the frontline protection for the rest of the dune and plants here typically have strong stems and a network of mesh-like root systems which stabilize the lower dune. They are, however, subject to frequent high tides or storm surges which destabilises this zone. Once you move over the crest of the dune away from the sea to the hind dune the vegetation begins to increase in size and diversity and often becomes more open. Here the soil has become more stable due to the decrease in wind and the increase in herbs, groundcovers, mosses, lichens and fungi which bind the soil. The water holding capacity also increases due to the layer of humus in the soil.

One of the most successful and prominent species in Gippsland’s dune systems is the Coastal Tea Tree Leptospermum laevigatum.

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Coastal Tea Tree Leptospermum laevigatum produces a prolific amount of flowers.

This species’ defences include thick, leathery leaves and a habit of growing in dense stands, both of which help to reduce water loss. It also produces a huge number of seeds in each capsule and this increases the chance of successful germination. On the fore dunes Coastal Tea Tree tend to grow in dense, stunted forms whereas behind these dunes they can form tall, tangled thickets up to 8m in height.

Another common species is the Coast Beard Heath Leucopogon parviflorus.

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Coast Beard Heath Leucopogon parviflorus is a slow growing but hardy species which produces masses of small flowers in spring.

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This also has stiff, leathery leaves and like the Coastal Tea Tree it can be found growing in stunted forms on the fore dune as well as taller forms in more protected areas on the hind dune. It doesn’t produce the amount of seed as Tea Trees, instead forming white fleshy round fruits.

The Coastal Wattle Acacia longifolia ssp sophorae is a brilliant stabilizer of sand dunes and is often one of the pioneer species on newly formed sand drifts. Wattles usually develop a long, deep tap root and also have the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere making them one of the heavy-weights of the dune system. It’s these characteristics which make this species a major environmental problem outside of it’s natural range.

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Coastal Wattle Acacia longifolia ssp sophorae

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Coast Banksia Banksia integrifolia is one species which, although quite hardy, hasn’t developed the degree of tolerance to salty winds as the previously mentioned plants. As such it is often sparse and stunted on the fore dune but can be prominent and occasionally very large on the land side. Coastal Banksia flowers most of the year but rarely in summer and honeyeaters especially love the flowing nectar it produces.

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Coastal Banksia Banksia integrifolia
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Coastal Banksia in full bloom

One distinctive species in the dune system is the Cushion Bush Leucophyta brownii.  This rounded and very compact shrub has whitish-grey foliage and tends to grow in exposed sites. Due to its compact form it helps to protect and bind the soil as well as offering refuge for small animals. The leaves are reduced and flattened against the stem which helps it reduce moisture loss.

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The compact nature of the Cushion Bush Leucophyta brownie

Other common shrubs or trees found on coastal dunes include:

Boobialla Myoporum insulare. Another successful species this medium sized shrub has developed waxy leaves which again protect it from losing moisture.

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Waxy leaves of the Boobialla Myoporum insulare

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Drooping or Coast Sheoak Allocasuarina verticillata. This is a large shrub or small tree almost predominantly found on the backs of dunes and all members of this genus have evolved highly modified branches and leaves. The teeth-like leaves are reduced to extremely tiny whorls at the nodes of the long and slender branchlets. As the leaves are so small the branchlets actually perform most of the function of photosynthesis thus reducing the amount of water lost through transpiration. Due to this fact Allocasuarinas have colonised a large part of Australia including many dry and extreme environments.

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Coast Sheoak Allocasuarina verticillata

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Cone, flowers and leaves of Coast Sheoak.

White Corea Corea alba. This low shrub grows in all parts of the dune system and develops white tubular flowers in late winter to spring which small honeyeaters particularly like.

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White Corea Corea alba.

White Corea Corea alba

White Corea Corea alba

Although coastal dune systems are extremely hardy they are no match for the ignorance and greed of property developers and as such have been devastated in many areas for housing and ‘aesthetics’. In fact the role these dunes play is immense and include protecting inland environments from intrusion from high winds, salt-laden air and storm surges, not to mention the biodiversity and ecology of these areas. Dunes also provide a reservoir of  sand to replenish beaches in the event of destructive weather events.

Upcoming posts will include the other flora of these fascinating dunes.


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Soaking up the brief winter sun

My family and I have recently returned from 6 weeks travelling to the Kimberley (that’s why I haven’t posted on here for a while) and it’s been hard for us to adjust to the cold and wet conditions from wearing shorts and t-shirts (if that) every day in the tropics.

With a brief respite from the cold, blustery conditions today I managed to snap a few birds soaking up the sunshine before the conditions turned arctic again. A large flock of raucous Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos descended into a tall Blackwood in front of our house and began chewing at the bark of the tree in search of wood-borers. The sun was in the wrong spot for any good photos of the flock but this individual was apparently uninterested in joining the antics and was more happy to pose for my camera. After a good feed, the flock burst almost simultaneously from the tree to move to another Blackwood further down the valley.

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo. Berry's Creek, Vic. In Acacia melanoxylon. 2.8.2015

Red-browed Finches have only recently begun establishing themselves in our 4 year old reveg area on our block. This little guy, like the Black Cockatoo, spent a fair while by it’s self soaking up the rays of sun before disappearing with it’s flock into a thicket.

Red-browed Finch

Superb Fairy-wrens are one of those birds that you become so familiar with they’re like an old friend. Like most of the other birds today this female loved enjoying the temporary sunshine.

Superb Fairy-Wren (female)


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Wetland frenzy coming to an end

With summer now ended and autumn started Golden-headed Cisticolas are starting to call less and less as the breeding season is coming to a close. The bird’s incessant buzzing and chirping in spring and summer signifies these warmer times of the year as much as the cicada does. In wetlands and nearby grasslands during these months males are commonly seen perching and calling on the tops of tall grasses, reeds and sedges or conducting elaborate flights while calling to nearby females.

Female Golden-headed Cisticola

Female Golden-headed Cisticola at Wonthaggi

This tiny species is common along the coastal and nearby regions of eastern and northern Australia but during the cooler months it can be quite hard to spot, mainly due to its size and habit of concealing itself amongst wetland vegetation.

While photographing these birds I came across a few other little critters on my travels.

Orb Spider- Eriophora sp

Orb Spider- Eriophora sp

These large Orb Spiders Eriophora sp. are a common sight amongst reeds west of Wonthaggi and some can grow quite big.

The Striped Marsh Frog Limnodynastes peronii with its distinctive sharp and loud “tok” call is one of the most common frogs in the region and can be found in a wide variety of habitats but requires a reliable water source to lay its foaming mass of eggs in the water amongst vegetation. For the most of the year the males can be heard calling, usually while half-submerged in water.

Striped Marsh Frog

Striped Marsh Frog

Dragonflies mating

Dragonflies mating

This pair of dragonflies, most likely Australian Emperors Hemianax papuensis , was mating in the middle of the pond but the female (in the water) seemed like she was having a whole lot of trouble keeping her head above water. The female usually has to extend her abdomen up in order to successfully mate with the male but she was more preoccupied with her own survival. The male finally gave up and they both flew away separately.

The frenzied activity surrounding wetlands may be drawing to a close in readiness for the winter downtime but there’s always something interesting to find.

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Little Forest Bat

I was lucky enough to photograph this Little Forest Bat Vespadelus vulturnus recently on an annual fauna survey in the Latrobe Valley in Gippsland.

Little Forest Bat

Little Forest Bat

This microbat is one of the smallest in Australia and only weighs 3-6 grams. As its name suggests the Little Forest Bat is usually confined to eucalypt forests where there are suitable hollows for roosting and rearing young. It will roost and breed in other areas though including nearby buildings. Found throughout south-east Australia including Tasmania it can be present in reasonable numbers in some forested areas and was one of the most commonly recorded during our surveys.

Competition for tree hollows by introduced birds such as the Indian Myna as well as clearing of vegetation for agriculture and housing developments has reduced the numbers of this and other bat species in the region. Little Forest Bats have been known, however, to roost together with possums in their nest possibly due to lack of tree hollows or just for their warmth in winter. In the winter period the bats usually go through a period of torpor where their heart slows and they become inactive.

They say that bats have a face only a mother could love but I’ve always had a soft spot for them.


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Like father like son

When it comes to unique Australian birds the Mistletoe Bird is up there with the best. This striking but usually inconspicuous bird is highly adapted to feeding primarily on the berries of the native parasitic Mistletoe and it’s gut has evolved to pass the berries quickly through it’s digestive system to be excreted on branches. These berries then germinate on the branch and a new plant grows, taking nutrients from the host tree.

I stumbled on an adult male and a juvenile male Mistletoe Bird feeding together on the berries of the Creeping Mistletoe Muellerina eucalyptoides in a Black Wattle Acacia mearnsii at Sunny Creek, Victoria.

Male Mistletoe Bird

Male Mistletoe Bird

Juvenile male Mistletoe Bird

Juvenile male Mistletoe Bird with it’s developing plumage (looks almost like it had been savagely attacked!)

The juvenile, in semi-plumage, was apparently following the adult male (I gather it was his dad) around and eating the plump fruit but its table manners and fruit selection were not as developed as its dad. The poor young guy was taking fruit which was too small and green and was also having trouble swallowing it correctly. Eventually it found the right technique and gorged itself on the fruits.

Feeding on fruits (notice the dribble)

Feeding on fruits (notice the dribble)

You can do it!

You can do it!

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Pear-shaped fruit of the Creeping Mistletoe

Pear-shaped fruit of the Creeping Mistletoe