Wild South East

a nature blog of south-east Victoria, mostly Gippsland


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A reptile fortnight

Finally we managed to get a handful of warm to hot days in the last two weeks but it was only fleeting as the temperatures have dropped again, typical of this year’s unusually mild summer.

My passion for reptiles has resulted in me studying the weather forecasts every day hoping for a warm sunny day to bring them out. The last two weeks definitely lived up to my expectations.

The first of the hot days we were working for a client in wet forest near Trafalgar. While walking through an open section of the forest where sun was streaming through I came across a fully grown Tiger Snake Notechis scutatus. It was partially hidden in vegetation but I managed to snap some photos of it’s head. It seemed unperturbed by me and sat there while I composed my shots before finally slithering off slowly.

Tiger Snake

Tiger Snake

I’ve noticed in the past with very large, fully grown snakes that they are less frightened by people than younger snakes. One of the biggest Tiger Snakes I’ve ever seen was while working for Parks Vic in Wilson’s Promontory and the body of this snake was as thick as my arm! When we accidentally startled it (and ourselves!) it just raised it’s head and looked at us knowing fully well it could protect itself. We were sure it yawned at us too.

In the same forest near Trafalgar the Southern Water Skink Eulamprus tympanum seemed to be common on logs in open areas. This is a very inquisitive species and I managed to get within 10cm or so from it’s head with my camera. Although it’s called a Water Skink they are often found in areas a long way from any water body. They can, however, swim quite well.

Southern Water Skink

Southern Water Skink

Also in an open area of this same forest was a Blotched Blue-tongue Tiliqua nigrolutea.

Blotched Blue-tongue

Blotched Blue-tongue

I did mange to find a bright rusty-coloured individual near Bairnsdale last week but I didn’t have my camera with me.

While working for another client yesterday to the west of Golden Beach in Banksia woodland and dry heathy woodland I was surprised at the amount of reptiles around. We have a joke at this site that whenever we say “Gee, we haven’t seen a goanna for a while” we usually see one within a few minutes. This happened to be the case yesterday where we saw not one but two after we said this!

Lace Monitor

Lace Monitor

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This old boy was in an open paddock next to the woodland and was not worried about us approaching it one bit (it actually was falling asleep at one stage while I was photographing it!) They are known as Lace or Varied Monitors Varanus varius and many populations, especially in west Gippsland, are disappearing and as such are listed as vulnerable in Victoria.

In an area of Banksia woodland this little fella was found, a young Jacky Dragon Amphibolurus muricatus. This species can be common in areas of dry forests, woodland and heath.

Young Jacky Dragon

Young Jacky Dragon

This last one is a common species along the coastal fringe of Gippsland. The Eastern Three-lined Skink Acritoscincus duperreyi often has a pinkish-orange throat in the spring breeding season.  This one was found in coastal dune scrub west of Wonthaggi.

Eastern Three-lined Skink

Eastern Three-lined Skink

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Fruits of the forest

Now is the time when many plants in the Gippsland forests develop their fruit. Some of these fruits are edible but many can be quite toxic if you don’t know what you are looking at. I had a short wander today in a large patch of wet forest at Sunny Creek near Trafalgar. This area has seasonally wet gullies and drier slopes and is quite dense in parts. The first thing I noticed was the abundance of Prickly Currant-bush Coprosma quadrifida fruits this year.

Prickly Currant-bush berries

Prickly Currant-bush berries

Some of these plants were so overloaded with fruit they seemed to be battling to keep upright. The fruits are sweet and slightly astringent but as they’re very small they aren’t much of a meal. We have several on our property in South Gippsland and before Christmas last year our daughter harvested a lot of the fruits and we made Christmas puddings with them.

Another prominent edible species is the Kangaroo Apple Solanum aviculare which at this time of the year is also loaded with fruit.

Kangaroo Apple

Kangaroo Apple

Many people are divided on their reactions to eating the fruit. I personally love the fruit and I think they taste a lot like a cross between an over-ripe tomato and gooseberry. Care must be taken with this species that you only eat the fruit which are dark red and fully ripe (slightly squishy) as they can be poisonous if too green. Another common species of Kangaroo Apple is Solanum laciniatum which has more oval-shaped fruits and only turns orange when fully ripe. This species is more common in mountainous areas.

Another species I came across in my short walk was the Native Rasberry Rubus parvifolius and this tended to grow on the fringe of the forest.

Native Raspberry

Native Raspberry

Many people I have talked to, especially farmers, regard this species as a pest (often called ‘bramble’) and spray them out as they would with the introduced Blackberry. I cringe when I’m driving along roads and see that an area of native raspberry has been sprayed out. As with the Prickly Currant-bush you need a lot for a meal because they are small but they are very sweet and similar in taste to the European raspberry. These plants tend to grow in a variety of open habitats.

Elderberry Panax Polyscias sambucifolia is another species with edible fruit.

Elderberry Panax

Elderberry Panax

This tall wispy shrub is found in a variety of forest habitats and the fruit remind me of prawn eyes in their appearance. They are edible when a pale, steely-blue/mauve colour and are quite succulent.

One species common on the forest floor is the Native Elderberry Sambuccus gaudichaudiana.

Sambucus gaudichaudiana

Sambucus gaudichaudiana

Most of the plants I found had finished flowering but the one in the photo was found in a clearing and in full fruit set. These white berries are sweet and delicious and as with the introduced elderberry the fruits can be used to make wine.

I threw this last one in, even though they don’t have edible fruits. Stinging Nettle Urtica incisa is a native species but can be the bane of the bushwalker with it’s painful sting. They have a variety of uses from treating sprains and rheumatism to being a health benefit when the leaves are boiled and made into a tea.

Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle

It must be stressed that any fruits you eat must be identified correctly as an edible species.


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Bird-dropping Spider

When it comes to camouflage in nature not many evolve to look like poo! The Bird-dropping Spider Celaenia excavata  is one of these.

Bird dropping spider

Female Bird-dropping Spider

I came across this species while working west of Wonthaggi today and if I hadn’t seen one before I wouldn’t have recognised it as a spider. Sitting motionless with its legs and head tucked up it actually does look like bird droppings (my wife thinks it looks like a frog from the back end). It grows to about 12-15mm in length.

This species is nocturnal and hunts mainly moths, in fact it actually hunts for male moths only! This is because at night the spider hangs from a silk thread and releases a pheromone similar to those released by female moths which in turn attracts males.

Bird-dropping Spiders are usually associated with open habitats, often highly degraded, and are found mostly in southern and eastern Australia. The easily recognisable egg sacs are light brown with prominent dark stripes and are similar size to the female.


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Wanderings in a swamp.

I spent my lunchtime at work earlier this week traipsing through a great little wetland along the Bass Coast in SW Gippsland. The main reason was to ‘hunt’ down and photograph the elusive Swamp Skink Lissolepis coventryi which is currently listed as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988Last year I came across a pair of these skinks and only managed a photo of the head of one of them so I was hoping to get a better one this time. The skinks tend to sun themselves on top of dense vegetation on the fringe of this small wetland but will scamper away at the slightest movement.

While waiting for the skinks to emerge into the full sun on top of a thicket of Prickly Moses Acacia verticillata and Coral Fern Gleichenia sp my eyes were diverted to several large iridescent blue-green beetles moving about on the Prickly Moses wattle. These turned out to be the famous Botany Bay Weevil Chrysolopus spectabilis. These are famous because they were one of the first insects to be collected in Australia when the Endeavour landed in 1770 in Botany Bay and it was named by Sir Joseph Banks. The skinks were a no-show so I decided to snap some pics of this beetle.

Botany Bay Weevil- Chrysolopus spectabilis

Botany Bay Weevil- Chrysolopus spectabilis

Some of these were in the process of mating while others were feeding on the new leaves of the Prickly Moses, wattles being their primary food.

Botany Bay Weevils mating

Botany Bay Weevils mating

Being summer the water in the central part of the wetland had receded and many of the wetland plants on the outskirts of the swamp were taking advantage of this and putting on new growth or flowering. The Large Tongue-orchid Cryptostylis subulata was one such plant.

Large Tongue Orchid

Large Tongue Orchid

This spectacular orchid, although not rare, is uncommon in areas of moist soil, particularly around wetlands. Tongue Orchids are pollinated by male Orchid Drupe Wasps Lissopimpla excelsa which confuse the shape and smell of the flower for a female wasp. The male subsequently tries to mate with it and in turn pollinates the flower. Several of these orchids were found but no wasps were seen, maybe next time I’ll get a photo.

So, although it’s a bummer about missing the Swamp Skink again, I did manage to find some interesting things on my half hour lunch break.

Swamp Skink in April 2014 at same wetland.

Swamp Skink in April 2014 at same wetland.


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Day Moth- Phalanoides tristifica

I recently had a short wander around the lower Powlett River area west of Wonthaggi which contains some very interesting coastal vegetation and wetlands including coastal Banksia woodland, primary dune scrub, damp sands herb-rich woodland and swamp scrub.

In some of the open areas, especially disturbed spots, the Willow Herb Epilobium hirtigerum was surrounded by large numbers of the Day Moth Phalanoides tristifica. 

Day Moth on Epilobium hirtigerum
Day Moth on Epilobium hirtigerum
Day Moth

Day Moth

Day Moth laying eggs.

Day Moth laying eggs.

After watching them for a while I noticed they were landing on the Willow Herb and laying small black eggs in large numbers.

Day Moth caterpillar feeding on Epilobium hirtigerum

Some caterpillars had already hatched but most of the plants were covered in many of the eggs.

These caterpillars feed mostly on Epilobium and Oenothera and Hibbertia spp

Epilobium hirtigerum

Epilobium hirtigerum

This is one of two Australian species of the genus Phalanoides, the other P. glycinae is notorious both in Australia and overseas as a pest on grape vines and goes by the name Grape Vine Moth. P. tristifica is also a pest of grape vines but less so.


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Camping along Ben Cruachan creek

After Christmas we decided on a camping trip for two nights up to one of our favourite spots in Victoria, Ben Cruachan creek in the high country of central Gippsland. This area we stumbled upon in 2011 after following a very steep track with several river crossings from the Avon-Mt Hedrick Scenic Reserve. At this time the very popular Hugget’s Crossing in the reserve was a sea of people and dirt bikes so that’s why we headed bush as far as we could.

So, 3 years later our family were back, this time with a few of the extended family in tow as well. After travelling nearly 1 hr north from Heyfield we reached the small but prominent mountain of Ben Cruachan. A short drive to the top and we were rewarded by a fantastic but very windy view to the north and east.

View from Ben Cruachan lookout

View from Ben Cruachan lookout

Next on to the Ben Cruachan Creek which runs to the north of the mountain. Here there are several creek crossings with a couple of small campsites. Our favourite campsite was close to a very deep hole on the creek beside a cliff of which we dived down several times but could not reach the bottom!

Deep hole on Ben Cruachan Creek

We tried fishing in this deep hole but no luck, although there were a few large Short-finned Eel Anguilla australis swimming around.

Creek opposite campsite

Creek opposite campsite

The creek and bush were alive with birds and insects as well as the most Red bellied Black Snakes Psuedechis porphyriacus I’ve ever seen in one place! In one spot we counted 6 within about 50 metres, most of which dived into the stream when we got near and swam to the other side. Our 7 year old daughter is still cleaning her pants out after one surprised her by bursting out of a small bush near her foot and ‘jumped’ in the water! She did the right thing by freezing but she did let out a muffled scream. We thought it might be best if we head back to camp at this point.

Red-belly swimming

Red-belly swimming

A big Red-belly

A big Red-belly

I did notice an interesting behaviour the next day with one Red-belly which was foraging along the rocky stream bank in the cool morning and turning over and rummaging around small rocks with its nose apparently looking for food, most likely frogs I’d gather.

Another reptile along the stream bank was the Yellow-bellied Water Skink Eulamprus heatwoleii which was even more common than the snakes and found along fallen logs.

Yellow-bellied Water Skink

Yellow-bellied Water Skink

These skinks are very inquisitive and if frightened will disappear only to emerge not long after in full view of a wanna-be photographer who is searching the ground at his feet for Red-bellies.

One Gippsland Water Dragon Intellagama lesueurii howittii was seen on the bank but had the very smart idea to be on the opposite side to the snakes although it did scramble up the bank hysterically when I frightened a Red-belly into the water which headed directly toward the Water Dragon.

A single Lace Monitor Varanus varius was hawking around a recently abandoned campsite further upstream, most likely looking for scraps left behind.

Lace Monitor

Lace Monitor

Insects were abundant along the stream. The Arrowhead Rockmaster Diphlebia nymphoides with its striking blue male and golden female were the most common dragonfly seen and many were hunting up and down the stream for insects.

Arrowhead Rockmaster (male)

Arrowhead Rockmaster (male)

Arrowhead Rockmaster (female)

Arrowhead Rockmaster (female)

Other common insects were the Water Striders (Hemiptera:Geridae) which were abundant on the surface of the stream and many of these were mating.

Water Striders mating (smaller male on the back)

Of the Butterflies by far the most common were the Australian Painted Lady Vanessa kershawi and mostly female Common Brown Heteronympha merope.

Australian Painted Lady on Leptospermum

Australian Painted Lady on Leptospermum

Birds were very common in this area and a pair of Sacred Kingfishers were hanging around the deep pool area looking frustrated at our family for disturbing their favourite fishing spot. Some of the birds around camp were Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo, Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Gang-gang Cockatoo, Olive-backed Oriole, Satin Flycatcher, Eastern Whipbird, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Splendid Fairy-wren, Spotted Pardalote, Eastern Yellow-robin, Crimson Rosella, Welcome Swallow, Silvereye, Pied Currawong, Laughing Kookaburra, Yellow-tufted and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, Brown Thornbill, Grey Shrike-thrush and Grey Fantail. Southern Boobooks called every night and at one stage two were calling together. This was followed later by a pair courting and both making the unusual continuous ‘por-por-por…’