Wild South East

a nature blog of south-east Victoria, mostly Gippsland


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Southern Emu-wren

For years I’ve been chasing a good photo of a Southern Emu-wren. This bird is notoriously frustrating to photograph so I’ve only managed to get poor quality photos in the past. They have a habit of staying hidden amongst the low vegetation, occasionally popping up randomly for a look, then flitting back down almost immediately. Enough to make you want to pull your hair out!

Well today was my lucky day. I braved the cold biting breeze to visit the heathlands near Walkerville where I had a walk to try my luck at getting a good view of the elusive birds. I had heard this was a good place to see them so I was determined to get a shot or two. After walking along a firebreak at the top of the heathland for only 5 minutes I heard the distinctive high pitched trilling. It is similar to Fairy-wrens but slightly higher pitched and less intense. After a little while one stuck its head up in some low Allocasuarina thicket but as soon as I even thought of lifting my camera up it darted back down again. This little game was to go on for a while yet and I’m sure they were mocking me! My zoom lens itself weighs around 2kg so I could hold it up at eye level for only so long. Should have brought the monopod!!

Finally after 20 minutes or so of standing still with frozen fingers a curious male perched on a branch in full view. Gotcha!

Southern Emu-wren. Walkerville, Vic. 10 June 2017 ©Craig Boase CRW

Southern Emu-wren. Walkerville, Vic. 10 June 2017 (2) ©Craig Boase CRW

There are 3 species of Emu-wren in Australia and they get their name from the long tail feathers which resemble Emu feathers. The Southern Emu-wren is found throughout  southern Australia from Western Australia to southern Queensland and typically inhabit low vegetation and thickets. They tend to stay low in vegetation and will occasionally run, almost like a mouse, in open areas between thickets.

Males and females are similar in colour but only the males have the brilliant blue throat and eye brow.

 

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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.

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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

 

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“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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Around the traps

It has been a busy month for me so far. Not only was I involved in a long awaited survey near the Gippsland Lakes for the threatened New Holland Mouse but I’ve also just purchased a whole new camera setup. The only problem is I’m still learning the buttons and settings of this camera plus getting use to my new lenses. Apart from a bridge camera (cross between a compact and DSLR) I haven’t purchased a proper DSLR since 2007 and a lot has changed since then!

Anyway, below are some of my pics from the last 1½ weeks around various sites in Gippsland.

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Grey Shrike-thrush. Darriman Reserve, Giffard.

 

 

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Sunset from Eagle’s Nest lookout, Inverloch.

 

 

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White-lipped Snake found during the New Holland Mouse survey. Gippsland Lakes, Vic.

 

 

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Agile Antechinus. Gippsland Lakes, Vic.

 

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Agile Antechinus getting revenge!

 

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New Holland Mouse, Gippsland Lakes, Vic

 

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Xanthorrhoea in the early morning. A favoured habitat for the New Holland Mouse.

The New Holland Mouse has only been recorded at 3 locations in Victoria in the last 15 years and these are Wilson’s Promontory, Providence Ponds and Gippsland Lakes, all within the Gippsland region. Originally the species was widespread throughout south-eastern Australia but is now restricted to fragmented areas of NSW, QLD, Victoria and Tasmania. We ended up trapping over 20 of the little guys near the Gippsland Lakes so this was a major success. We also had infra-red cameras set up which detected them as well.


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THE GREEN DRAGON IN THE LAND OF GIPP

There is a place in this world called the Land of Gipp, an enchanted land many will say. In this land the locals whisper in hushed tones that a green dragon lurks in the cool valleys of the forested hills. It is said that it lives on land but will take to water if it feels hungry. People say the male dragon has a throat of fire but no one has known a single person to be harmed by it. In fact, those who have seen it with there own eyes say it is friendly but very, very shy and will dive in the water if it sees a human approaching.

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The magical Land of Gipp

So, what is this mysterious green dragon? I was curious. But where do I start my search for such a beast when the Land of Gipp is so big? Speaking with an old villager one day he said that many people call it the Water Dragon and that he himself had once caught a glimpse of it while fishing on a river bank when he was a child. When I asked him to describe it he told me “It had piercing red eyes with large sharp spines running from the top of its head down the length of its emerald green back. From across the river bank it saw me and it rushed to dive in the water but as it did so I saw its fiery throat. That sight has stayed with me forever”. When I asked this man if he knew where he saw this creature he did not know as it was over 70 years ago and his memory was fading.

I now knew roughly what it looked like and that it can be found in and along rivers so this was some help to begin my search.

I started my travels from the western end of the Land of Gipp looking for a river to begin my search for this puzzling creature. The western part of Gipp has only small amounts of forest, the trees cleared by farmers so they have enough grass to raise their cows, and the rivers here were small and few so I decided to push on to the misty mountains I could see on the far horizon.

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For what seemed an eternity I eventually reached the mountains and entered large areas of steep forest where the trees reached to the sky like enormous hands.

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It is said here in the Land of Gipp that the largest flowering trees in the world grow and after what I saw I believed them as it seemed like the trees were never ending in height. After a while I came across a small bubbling creek lined with thick ferns which had trunks the thickness of my body and towered over my head, shading out almost all the sunlight. I had a drink and refreshed my face in the cool stream and then had a thought. If there’s a creek then it should hopefully flow downhill into a larger creek, then maybe a river. This might be the place to find my dragon.

I began travelling back downhill again, this time keeping to the creek.

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It had started as a trickle, then began jumping and crashing over rocks before joining with another creek and rushing as one down through the dense forest to join with a mighty river in the valley, just as I had suspected. The sun was close to setting so I set up camp in a small clearing and found some delicious wild fruits to eat. In the fading light I walked along the river peering at the bank hoping for a glimpse of the curious animal but it was nowhere to be seen. I decided to return to camp and get some sleep as I had been walking all day.

The next day I went for another stroll along the edge of the river. This time the sun was higher and shone on the bank revealing many large rocks along it’s edge and in the middle of the river.

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I expected to see as much as the day before, nothing, so I had a quick search up and down the river and then turned around to head back to camp once more. Suddenly I heard a small splash from near one of the large rocks in the water but when I looked there was nothing to be seen. I slowly sat under a small wattle tree, mostly hidden from view and waited. I sat there for nearly an hour looking at the river when to my right I heard something moving in the leaves only metres from me. Then it stopped. I wasn’t scared at all as I knew if it was the dragon it would be friendly. Then, in the blink of an eye, I saw a green and orange flash almost a metre long scuttle down the bank and crash into the water. Was that the dragon? I wasn’t sure.

I sat there for a while longer searching the water and land when I caught something moving amongst the rocks heading for the river’s edge. Suddenly, a light green reptile about 80cm from it’s head to the tip of it’s tail emerged from out of the water and onto a fallen tree branch.  I was shaking with excitement! Here was the mighty dragon I had hoped to see for so long and it was in full view!

Gippsland Water Dragon- Physignathus lesueurii howittii. Yallourn, Vic

It then moved onto the muddy bank amongst some vegetation and there I got a closer look. I could see that the scaly skin on it’s throat was a magnificent orange, yellow and black colour. This must be what people were saying about it’s fiery throat. And yes, there were the spines running from it’s head to it’s back as well as the fiery red eyes.

Gippsland Water Dragon

I opened my backpack and pulled out my Complete Guide to Reptiles of Australia. There it was on page 410, the Gippsland Water Dragon Intellagama lesueurii howittii.

FACT: The Gippsland Water Dragon is a real reptile which lives in Gippsland in southern Victoria, Australia. It can grow up to 1 metre in length and lives along rivers, lakes and even along rocky beaches. Only males have the bright orange-yellow (and sometimes blue) throat and a light green body. Females are smaller and are mostly light and dark grey and both males and females have faint stripes, mostly on the tails. It is harmless to humans and they eat all kinds of things from fruits and leaves to fish and yabbies. Incredibly they can stay underwater for up to 1½ hours! In New South Wales and Queensland the colour of this lizard changes. There they have darker stripes and the male has red patches on his throat and belly as well as a dark line through the eye.

Keep an eye out for the spectacular Gippsland Water Dragon next time you’re near some water in the Land of Gipp, I mean Gippsland.

This is the first part of a regular ‘Land of Gipp’ series. These stories are targeted towards young kids and the aim is to portray nature with a sense of wonder and mystery. Hopefully this encourages them to get out of the house and explore! Please share this with any children you know. See also one of my previous posts Human:nature where the inspiration and reason for this series originated.

 

 

 


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Two birds with one ‘stone’

Two birds I’ve been wanting to photograph for a while are the Musk Lorikeet and the Azure Kingfisher. I got to take some photos of both of these in the last week.

The first one was the Musk Lorikeet. I was working at Dutson Downs east of Sale in some  woodland when a large and noisy feeding flock of these parrots (possibly up to 200) descended on some Coastal Manna Gums.

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Though they are mostly nectar feeders I noticed they were actually feeding on sugary lerps on the leaves of the gums. One landed just above my car so I climbed on the tray and managed to get quite close and take some snapshots. It was hard to get one standing still as they were probably overdosing on sugar so the photos aren’t the best!

The other was the Azure Kingfisher. Again I was working in some bushland, this time at a beautiful redgum woodland area at Avon-Perry River Delta Gippsland Lakes Reserve. While walking along the edge of the Perry River at lunch time I heard in the distance the distinctive high pitched ‘seet’, followed by another further along the river. Following the noise I was disappointed to find them gone but waited 5 minutes and was rewarded to have one land literally in front of my camera only 2m away. Firing off about 20 photos in succession I got a few decent pics.

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I then walked backwards to observe it better and noticed it fly out of site under the steep bank of the river where I was standing only to emerge a few minutes later and fly off. This makes me think it had a nest in the side of the bank and probably the reason it was checking me out. It wasn’t carrying any food so it may have been constructing the nest. This species is listed on DELWP’s current threatened species advisory list as near threatened.

A very productive week.

 


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A frog and a fern

I was lucky enough to get photos of two more of Victoria’s threatened species on my forays recently.

The first is the Green and Golden Bell Frog Litoria aurea.

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Green and Golden Bell Frog

 

 

 

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Typical habitat of Green and Golden Bell Frog with matted and floating vegetation.

 

This frog is listed as threatened in Victoria and many populations have crashed in recent years from a multitude of factors, particularly the introduced Chytrid fungus. This one was captured during a fauna survey for a client near Dutson Downs, Victoria and is possibly the most westerly record of the species in Victoria in recent times. We were pleased to hear a large number of these frogs calling in the wetlands we surveyed at the site.

The other threatened species was the Filmy Maidenhair Fern Adiantum diaphanum.

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Filmy Maidenhair Fern

 

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Typical habitat

 

This species is restricted to only a few small fragmented sites in Victoria, all being in the western Strzelecki Ranges in Gippsland. Although threatened in Victoria there are healthy populations in New South Wales, Queensland, New Zealand, several islands and China. This one was photographed at a site near Trafalgar, Victoria, in wet forest.


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Threatened Flora- Central Gippsland Plains

Working in the environmental management industry I’m privileged to be involved with the conservation and management of several threatened species, mostly flora, throughout Gippsland, Victoria. The central Gippsland plains have had a terrible history of extinctions and drastic reductions in populations of flora. This is especially the case for communities such as grasslands, grassy woodland and swamps which were extensively modified for cattle grazing and cropping. The introduction of rabbits and weed species have had a further impact on these habitats.

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Native Themeda grassland, Yarram, Victoria

 

Below are some of the plant species which have only just hung on despite these adversities and many now have management plans and efforts to stabilise and hopefully increase populations. All species below are currently listed as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee (FFG) Act 1988, the key legislation in Victoria for the conservation of threatened species and communities. Some are also listed as threatened under the Environment Protection and Biological Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999, the federal government’s central piece of environmental legislation.

Purple Diuris Diuris punctata is a stunning species of Donkey Orchid found throughout lowland Victoria. In the Gippsland plains it is protected mostly on road and rail reserves in open grassy woodland/grassland communities. Populations can fluctuate from a handful of plants in some years to tens of thousands in good years.

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Purple Diuris, Munro, Victoria

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Although threatened, some years it can flower in the thousands. Fernbank, Victoria

The Gaping Leek Orchid Prasophyllum correctum is one of the rarest orchids in Australia. It once extended throughout the grassy plains of south-east Victoria but is currently only known from two small sites west of Bairnsdale. This species is listed under federal legislation as endangered and there have been various attempts at propagating this orchid with varying successes. Little is known of its requirements in the wild such as pollinators, symbiotic soil fungi and the effect of burning regimes. Currently 19 other Prasophyllum species are currently listed in Victoria as threatened and research is being done on this genus into their biology and ecology.

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Gaping Leek Orchid finishing flowering and developing hopefully viable seeds. Munro, Vic.

Matted Flax-lily Dianella amoena is another species associated with open grassy woodland/grasslands and is also listed as endangered under federal legislation. As with Purple Diuris this species is now mostly restricted to road and rail reserves. Once also found in Tasmania it is now apparently extinct there and is currently known from scattered populations from the Gippsland plains to the Grampians in western Victoria.

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Matted Flax-lily, Giffard, Victoria.

 

Matted Flax-lilies develop brilliant purple and yellow flowers in spring and is often identified from other local Dianellas by the toothed margins and mid-rib of each leaf blade.

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Leaf blade of Matted Flax-lily showing serrations on margin and mid-rib.

 

Dwarf Kerrawang Rulingia prostrata is a nondescript little plant and as it’s species name says it grows prostrate. Although small, it’s trailing branches can spread up to 2m. In spring it develops small light pink flowers and in summer a spiky round seed capsule. This species is restricted to the fringes of wetlands associated with woodland communities.

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Dwarf Kerrawang, Dutson Downs, Vic.

Dwarf Kerrawang is member of the Sterculiaceae family which typically includes larger trees and shrubs such as Kurrajongs or Flame Trees Brachychiton spp which many people are familiar with.

One of the showiest of Gippsland’s threatened flora is the Wellington Mint-bush Prostanthera galbraithiae. In spring this spindly shrub develops brilliant purple-mauve flowers with a spotted throat. At present it is known only from several populations at two localities, Holey Plains and Dutson Downs. Although present in relatively intact habitats (typically heathy woodland) it is dependant on regular burning regimes for germination and is susceptible to over-grazing by herbivores. This species was named after Jean Galbraith, a local botanist who co-discovered the plant and advocated for its conservation.

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Wellington Mint-bush, Holey Plains, Vic

 

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Wellington Mint-bush, Holey Plains, Vic

 

Swamp Everlasting Xerochrysum palustre is a tall daisy associated with wetlands and swamps in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. In Victoria the species is found in small scattered populations mostly due to the extensive draining and modification of wetlands for agriculture but also from weed invasion and grazing by native and introduced species.

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Swamp Everlasting, Gelliondale, Vic

 

Trailing Hop-bush Dodonaea procumbens is a low-growing, prostrate shrub up to 20cm in height with trailing branches. It develops tiny flowers in spring and distinct winged capsules in summer. It inhabits seasonably wet depressions in woodlands, heathland and grassland.

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This species was once thought extinct in eastern Victoria but a small population was rediscovered in the Dutson Downs area in 2009. Although not currently listed as threatened under Victoria’s FFG Act it is listed as vulnerable under the federal EPBC Act. It also occurs in low numbers from southern NSW to South Australia.