Wild South East

a nature blog of south-east Victoria, mostly Gippsland


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Bald Hills Wetland Reserve

On a relatively warm day last week I had a wander at the great little patch of bush on Gippsland’s Bass Coast, Bald Hills Wetland Reserve. This little pocket rocket of a reserve is relatively small at 135 hectares but has a great variety of ecosystems to keep a nature nerd busy for hours! This was my first serious effort at trying out my new telephoto lens and what it’s capable of.

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Info board at the start of the walk. Bird life around here was amazing.

 

A walking track leads from the carpark and takes you through open woodland, crossing over a seasonal creek lined with both the Scented and Swamp Paperbark and continuing on through mostly Messmate and Narrow-leaved Peppermint woodland.

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After walking almost a kilometre you reach a wide wetland where there was once a bird hide that was unfortunately burnt down by an arsonist several years ago.  The wetland at this time of the year is often very low and the birdlife not that numerous but in its peak season the number of waterbirds can be amazing.

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Masked Lapwings were very common.

 

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Grey Teal and Masked Lapwings

 

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Silver Banksia Banksia marginata catching the sun

 

Damselflies mating. Bald Hills Wetland, Vic. 16.4

Damselflies mating

 

I snapped off a few shots but I had other things on my mind to photograph, those of the scaly kind. There is a little ephemeral wetland to the left of the main wetland which is full of reeds and sedges and I remembered from my last visit seeing a Lowland Copperhead snake around this area. I thought I’d try my luck at finding one but little did I realise how successful my search for them was to be!

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The ephemeral wetland. Copperhead central!

 

Scouting around the edge of the swamp in the open sunny areas where the reeds and sedges merge into paperbark thickets and woodland I manage to glimpse a large Copperhead which slid away into some dense sedges. No luck with a photo yet. This time I moved stealthily, scanning every potential sunning spot where they might be hanging out. Finally some luck! One was moving amongst some reeds heading in my direction, apparently oblivious to me. I stood completely still and watched as it moved even closer. I realised I should have put a smaller lens on the camera as my telephoto has a minimum focus distance of around 2 metres and the snake was currently almost 2 metres from me.

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Lowland Copperhead hunting amongst the vegetation.

 

I managed to snap a few terrible photos as it moved in and out of the reeds, probably hunting frogs, before it became too close to focus. I was about to step backwards to keep the snake in focus when I thought I’d better check behind me so I didn’t trip on anything. Luckily I did as there was a large Copperhead right behind me less than half a metre from my foot! I stood still watching it as it tasted the air around me with a few flicks of it’s tongue. It finally realised there was something suss about me (or maybe I just had bad B.O.) and it moved off out of sight. I turned my head back to the other snake to see its tail disappear into thick vegetation. Straight away I put on a more sensible lens and went ‘hunting’ again. This time I had more luck and got some half decent shots of some.

Copperhead- Austrelaps superbus

Lowland Copperhead- Austrelaps superbus (2)

Overall I counted at least 10 or 11 Copperheads in this wetland. Looking out over the top of the reeds I could see where a lot of the snakes were moving as the vegetation was flicking and bending, plus you could hear them moving around. As a lot of you who read this regularly know I love my reptiles so I was in scaly heaven, albeit a little bit of a risky heaven at times!

Woodland birds were very common in the reserve, especially at the start of the walk. Most obvious were Golden and Rufous Whistlers, Grey Shrike-thrush, Red-browed Finch, White-browed Scrubwren, Superb Fairy-wren, Grey Fantail, Silvereye and eight honeyeater species (White-eared, White-plumed, New Holland, Yellow-faced, Brown-headed and White-naped Honeyeaters, Red Wattlebird and Noisy Miner).

Grey Shrike-thrush. Bald Hills Reserve, Vic. 16.4.17 (RT1)

Grey Shrike-thrush

 

Superb Fairy-wren. Bald Hills Reserve, Vic. 16.4.17 (RT)

Superb Fairy-wren strutting his stuff

 

Yellow-faced Honeyeater. Bald Hills Reserve, Vic.16.4.17 (RT1)

“Oi, what you lookin’ at?”  Yellow-faced Honeyeater

 

I was hoping to see some Koalas on this walk as I’ve seen them in the carpark area before and their droppings are everywhere under the trees. No luck this time though.

Apparently this reserve explodes in spring with orchids and flowers so I’m going to check it out again in Sept or Oct.

 


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Swamp Skink

The Swamp Skink Lissolepis coventryi is one of my favourite animals but unfortunately is becoming increasingly threatened from human-induced changes to its wetland habitats as well as predation by foxes and cats. It is currently listed in Victoria as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988).

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Swamp Skink Lissolepis coventryi, Bass Coast, Vic

Swamp Skinks grow up to 250mm in length and have a distinctive colouration. It’s body is typically a light olive green colour with two prominent black stripes along its olive-brown back. Its sides are black with light olive spots and patches. It can be confused with other species, particularly the similar sized and patterned White’s Skink Liopholis whitii (see photo below).

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White’s Skink Liopholis whitii, Hernes Oak, Vic

The habitat of White’s Skink is typically drier and it doesn’t seem to prefer wetland areas. The two skinks, however, were previously lumped together in the genus Egernia but recent studies have separated both these species from genus.

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Swamp Skink

 

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The current distribution of the Swamp Skink is the coastal plains of Victoria with populations extending slightly into coastal South Australia and NSW. The majority of these populations are highly fragmented and subject to increasing pressures. Swamps, wet heathland, saltmarshes, sedgelands and watercourses are the preferred habitats for the species and many of these have been drained for development or agriculture. Many of the small isolated patches of habitat left are subjected to further pressures from disease, pollution, weather events, poor drainage, amongst others. Some areas though have been protected and have a relatively stable population but much more sites need protection through habitat restoration, pest animal and weed control, and minimizing disturbance to existing habitats.

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Swamp Skink ‘condo’, Bass Coast, Vic.

If you live along the coastal plain of far S/E Australia keep an eye out for this species and submit any sightings to relevant departments. A great platform for the general public to submit sightings is the Atlas of Living Australia.  This citizen science based website collects data on Australia’s flora and fauna from a wide range of sources and can be accessed for information on species as well.

A fantastic article to read in relation to their requirements and management is the Swamp Skink management guidelines for the Mornington Peninsula (Clemann and Robertson 2015).

 


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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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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.