Thursday, 29 January 2015

Flowers everywhere and the next generation

Insects and Plants

It has been a very prolific season for flowering gums; not so good for the roof as flower and nut debris clogs the gutters but great for the bees, moths and butterflies.
Practically every flower in this flowering gum had a visiting bee. We have 2-3 hives within 1-200m of the house but generally 10-20m up large trees so no access to the honey. Still, we get fantastic pollinator services. I'm no good at identifying bees, apart from the Blue-banded bees.
Late one evening, I also spotted this interesting moth in amongst the bees. Duncan F identified it for me as a Mistletoe Moth (Comocrus behri) - thanks Duncan.
Another source of spring colour is the Chocolate Lily (Dichopogon strictus?) which grow more prolific every year. I'm under strict orders not to slash the paddock until they finish flowering.

Birds and Animals

This young Eastern Spinebill braved the Noisy Miners and perched in a bush just outside our kitchen window for a while. The only shot I had was through the flywire screen but you can clearly see the size of the bill, needed to get into the local flowers for nectar.
A Varied Sitella departs it's nest last spring. Very hard to spot the nest 15m up a tree and so well-camouflaged. 

Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, with their screeching and willful destruction of flowers and house-fittings, can be a real pain. However, you can see the intelligence and interest in the eye of this example of this long-living species (50+ years).
One of a pair of Channel-billed Cuckoos which visit for 5-6 weeks every spring to strip our Mulberry tree of berries. Our orchard seems to exist for the birds not us. We used to net the trees but found the Satin Bowerbirds were always getting inside the nets but needed help to escape.
Not a local but a nice shot of Long-billed Corellas taken at Khancoban, NSW in November.
We had family up here over the Australia Day long weekend and it was a real joy to have my 11 year old niece show a strong interest in all things natural and outside. The pressure was on to deliver some interesting sights; luckily, we had a good day as she was able to get up close and personal with these locals.
This Eastern Water Dragon was surprised by us coming around his tree and adopted their normal behavior of staying motionless. He was also a few metres away from the water's edge; if closer, he would probably have jumped into the water to escape.
His decision to freeze ("I'm not here") allowed me to get this uncropped close-up showing the colours and texture of his skin plus his interesting eye structure.
Not long before, we'd come across this Echidna (more info here) foraging in the paddock. When disturbed, they scrunch down and dig into the earth, leaving only their spines to deter attackers. However, after 1-2 minutes, he peeked up and seemed content to wander around almost under our legs.
A short time later, this Goanna appeared again up a box tree in the garden near the pool, completing a pretty good trifecta for Chloe and maybe, just maybe, pushing her further along as a budding naturalist.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Summer nestings

A recent trip up the Licola road produced a couple of interesting sights. The Hickey Creek track often produces a nice mix of birds and this time it included a couple of interesting nest sightings.
Olive-backed Oriole on its intricately woven and suspended nest, one of two within a few metres of each other.
An unoccupied White-winged Chough's nest, looking like an upturned cow pat up a tree.
In our own backyard: an anxious Leaden Flycatcher keeps a close eye on the photographer.
Nankeen Kestrels are fairly common around here and sighting more than one or two at a time is unusual. Thus, you can imagine our surprise at seeing eleven in one location above Glenfalloch station near Licola. There were two groups on adjacent steep grassy ridges, taking advantage of the strong breeze to just hang in space before diving down to collect something in the grass. Despite the large number of slow-moving targets, it was quite difficult to get a decent focused shot.
Back on the nesting theme; a large box tree in our back-yard offers a number of holes for nests which get shared around over the years.
This female Australian Wood-duck checks out one big hole for a possible nest. A few days later, someone else has designs on the contents so she did well to reject this location.
Mr Goanna takes a moment to have a rest in the sunshine after discovering the hole has no eggs or chicks for breakfast.
A full-body shot as he climbs further up the tree. This one is about 1.5m (5 feet) long and beautifully coloured.
An outing yesterday with the Heyfield birdwatchers in and around Sale produced nearly 50 species, including two sightings of Scarlet Honeyeaters (alas, no photos). A couple of favourites though...
An Azure Kingfisher searching for snacks in the swamp
A male Golden Whistler
Its been a lean few weeks for astronomy with humid, cloudy nights and now the full moon. Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy must wait for better weather. In the meantime, a couple of my favourites.
Messier 42 in the sword in Orion's belt is a spectacular object. Down here in the Southern hemisphere, it appears upside down and is more commonly known as the Saucepan. Further info here.
Eta Carinae: 20 minutes of exposures, showing more than 7,000 stars. More info here.