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!

Bald Hills Wetland Reserve, Vic (2)

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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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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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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Dinosaur food

Not many people are aware that right under our feet in Gippsland some of the oldest surviving types of terrestrial vascular plants in the world, the Lycopods of the plant division Lycopodiophyta. These primitive plants include species living today throughout the world such as the clubmosses, quillworts and spikemosses, among others. It is estimated that they first appeared in the late Silurian period around 420 million years ago and many have changed very little since then. The first dinosaurs didn’t appear until 160 million years later but no doubt some of them would have fed on these plants during their reign.

Baragwanathia longifolia is an extinct species of clubmoss and the first fossil specimen was discovered in the Thomson River catchment in Gippsland. It is regarded as one of the first vascular plants ever to have developed on land.

Baragwanathia fossil from the early Devonian period (c.410 Ma), Victoria.       By James St. John [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Early clubmosses such as Baragwanathia were probably small (up to 1m) but by the Carboniferous period (c.360 Ma) they were giants reaching 30-35m tall! Ferns evolved from these early clubmosses and both of these produce spores for reproduction.

One living species of clubmoss occasionally encountered in Gippsland and other southern and eastern parts of Australia is the Bushy Clubmoss Lycopodium deuterodensum. This species at first sight can look a lot like a small germinating pine and it can grow up to 1m tall. It is not very common in Gippsland but in South Australia it is considered endangered as many populations have been wiped out in this state.

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Bushy Clubmoss Lycopodium deuterodensum near Mirboo North, Victoria

Bushy Clubmoss is typically found in moist areas of wet heathland and open forests as well as disturbed ground. In west Gippsland I have encountered them in lowland forests, especially around Mirboo North, as well as in heathland near Walkerville.

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Bushy Clubmoss

They can reproduce by spores which are contained in a structure called the strobili at the terminals of the branches or they can spread by rhizomes, particularly after a fire.

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Close-up of the strobili of Bushy Clubmoss. These produce spores and will go brown when ready to release.

So, when you’re out in the bush next keep and eye out for these ancient relics.

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Leaf-curling Spider

During summer a common sight in southern and eastern Australia’s woodlands, open forests and urban gardens is an untidy and almost circular web strung between vegetation with a curled leaf seemingly caught in its centre.  This is usually the workings of the Leaf-curling Spider Phonognatha spp.

Leaf-curling Spider- Phonognatha sp. 10km west of Morwell, Vic.  In web on edge of Leptospermum swamp. 2-3-10

Leaf-curling Spider Phonognatha graeffei outside of its Eucalypt leaf shelter. Morwell, Vic.

There are currently 7 species of Phonognatha recognised wordwide with 4 in Australia. By far the most common and widespread in Australia is P. graeffei (pronounced greef-e-i) which is found in Tasmania and along the entire east coast of Australia to South Australia. Males reach a body length of about 6mm and females 10-12mm. They currently belong to the Orb-weaving family Araneidae but there is ongoing debate as to whether they should be in this family or not and in the past the genus has being placed in other families.

Leaf-curling Spider- Phonognatha sp. 10km west of Morwell, Vic. In web on edge of Leptospermum swamp. 2-3-10

Phonognatha graeffei

Leaf-curling Spiders, after constructing a web, will haul up a leaf from the ground at night using a silk line and attach it to the web. This is then curled up with more silk until it forms a shelter in which to hide. The top end is closed with silk and the base is open. I’ve noticed Eucalyptus leaves are favourites with this species in Victoria but I have seen them use Snowy Daisy-bush Olearia lirata and Hop Goodenia Goodenia ovata leaves as well. Occasionally other items such as paper or even an empty snail shell are used instead.

Leaf curling spider  'nest'. Berrys Creek, Vic. April 2014

Typical web design with the hub being a 3/4 circle with a curled leaf near the centre. This leaf I think is from a Snowy Daisy-bushBerry’s Creek, Vic

Once the leaf shelter is completed the male will shift in with a female or sometimes live close by. This is typically an immature female who lives in the top part of the leaf while the male guards the entrance from rival males and catches insects caught in the web.

Leaf-curling Spider consuming beetle. Dutson Downs, Vic. Open Banksia woodland. 20.3.2015

P. graeffei catching a Soldier Beetle (Cantharidae).

As soon as the female reaches maturity the male mates with her, occasionally resulting in the male being eaten. This female then moves out and constructs her own leaf shelter amongst nearby vegetation where she will lay her eggs. As with most other ‘modern’ spiders (Araneomorphae) they have short lives and both the male and female Leaf-curling Spiders will die at the end of summer to be replaced by their children.

Once hatched, the spiderlings themselves will begin hoisting up small leaves as practice for when they are ready to shift out of home and begin the process all over again.

 

 

 

 


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Leafless Banksia

While walking through a section of coastal scrub west of Golden Beach in Victoria I found this unusual clump of six Banksia flowers on the ground.

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At first I thought it was a bunch of flower heads that were knocked off a tree as there were no obvious leaves in sight. Looking closer I noticed it was rooted in the ground and was actually sending up three small suckers from the ground. In the centre of the flowers was a stump which had been either broken or chewed off some time ago as it had sealed over and turned grey.

This turned out to be a Silver Banksia Banksia marginata which it seems has had a very stressful life, probably from constant deer browsing (Hog Deer are very common around here) resulting in it becoming extremely stunted. After the most recent damage to its main stem it must have refused to give up its fight and sent out more shoots.

So, no it wasn’t a new species of leafless Banksia but a very hardy Silver Banksia with a stubborn fighting spirit.