Wild South East

a nature blog of south-east Victoria, mostly Gippsland


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Winter Orange-bellied Parrot survey

This weekend is one of the annual winter Orange-bellied Parrot surveys throughout north-west Tasmania, King Island and south-east coastal areas of the mainland. This is part of a regular volunteer program run every year by Birdlife Australia to give a better picture of the population of one of the worlds rarest parrots.

This species is in critical danger from extinction and numbers are drastically low with estimates ranging from 60-70 individuals left in the wild. Several zoos have breeding stocks as insurance and these occasionally release birds into the wild. These parrots breed in Tasmania and migrate to the mainland in winter to feed in coastal saltmarshes from South Australia to southern Victoria. The majority of sightings of the parrot on the mainland are in the Westernport region but occasionally some turn up in unexpected places.

I was involved in surveying one site on the northern part of Anderson’s Inlet, east of Inverloch in Victoria but unfortunately, and not surprisingly, no Orange-bellied Parrots were seen.

Our daughter helping with the survey surrounded by   Beaded Glasswort Sarcocornia quinqueflora

Our daughter helping with the survey surrounded by Beaded Glasswort Sarcocornia quinqueflora

Large flocks of Blue-winged Parrots were seen feeding on the extensive areas of Beaded Glasswort Sarcocornia quinqueflora and Shrubby Glasswort Sclerostegia arbuscula. These are also one of the favourite foods of the Orange-bellied Parrot and occasionally individuals may join the Blue-wing flocks. In an area of about 1km I counted about 75 Blue-winged Parrots in several feeding flocks.

Blue-winged Parrot

Blue-winged Parrot

Blue-winged Parrots on Shrubby Glasswort Sclerostegia arbuscula

Blue-winged Parrots on Shrubby Glasswort Sclerostegia arbuscula

Beaded Glasswort Sarcocornia quinquefolia

Beaded Glasswort Sarcocornia quinquefolia showing signs of the seed having been eaten

The Blue-winged Parrot is very closely related to the Orange-bellied and is distinguished by subtle differences in the overall body colour, a larger blue stripe on the wings and no orange belly.

Even though no OBP’s were seen at the site this is still valuable information as it gives a better overall picture of where populations tend to be centered and which areas are higher priority for conservation efforts. Having such low numbers it is very prone to extinction from predation, disease, development and changes in habitat. Even a freak storm could wipe most of the population out!

Lets hope this species can bounce back before its too late.

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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.