Sunday, 31 March 2013

Friends of Daly Reserve, Gisborne

Macedon Range's newest conservation group had its first meeting on Sunday March 24, 2013. Like me (until recently), you probably won't have heard of it let alone been to Daly Reserve in Gisborne (Howey Street, behind the Scout Hall). It is a small patch of part-parkland and part-remnant vegetation that somehow escaped from development and stands proudly near the centre of Gisborne.

On hearing that the reserve was under threat of development, a few individuals took up the fight to save this lovely Council reserve. I heard about it last year via an email from our Riddells Creek Landcare president, Narelle. Coincidentally, our member David Francis and I independently popped in when we next passed the area to have a look and, without trying too hard, we named 50 species of indigenous plants in the reserve. But most excitingly we both spotted what we have since confirmed as being an extremely rare wattle, Acacia verniciflua (Bacchus Marsh variant) - which has recently renamed as Acacia rostriformis:

It was a great day last Sunday at the group's first meeting and how exciting it is to see a new group born.

I was asked to lead a walk after the main meeting, during which the group spotted a few species not previously recorded there ... they were:

Tricoryne elatior (Yellow Rush-lily) - 

Wahlenbergia multicaulis (Branching Bluebell) -

Eastern Grey Kangaroo -  

At the time of the meeting David and I had found 56 indigenous species at Daly Reserve. Since then I've been back a couple of times and managed to get the species list up to 93 - it really is a very diverse spot. Getting close to the '100' milestone! Some very interesting species too, showing wide diversity:

Zebra Spider Hunter Wasp (a new one for me) -  

White Punk (a massive shelf fungus that grows on Eucs - often seen fallen to the ground) - 

3 species of dragonfly including this female Wandering Percher -  

Grey Currawong (quite an unusual bird) - 

Nodding Saltbush (a bushfood plant) -  

Scopula rubraria (moth) -  

Yellow-banded Dart (tiny butterfly) - 

A full list can be tracked via this link (it updates automatically):
... or via the collection itself:
... and here are all the photos/observations I've uploaded so far:

Good luck Friends of Daly Reserve from all of us at Riddells Creek Landcare!

Possible new rail for Riddells?

I saw a pair of smallish rail-like birds that spent perhaps three minutes working through the clumps of grass along a minor drainage ditch outside my study window this morning. Unfortunately, they were beyond the range of my smartphone camera.

My initial thought was that they were Buff-banded rails that I have sighted several times in summer a year ago. However, even with the binoculars I could not see the distinguishing field-marks - conspicuous white stripe over the eye, chestnut patch behind the eye, or the yellow band on the chest.

Checking my Claremont Field Guide to the Birds of Australia (after they flew off), the only other raillids close to the color pattern (brown speckled/mottled back, similarly mottled/banded underside) are Lewin's Rail and Baillon's craik or the Australian craik. However, both of the latter have grey chests and the ones I saw had brownish possible mottled but not conspicuously banded chests - which fits Lewin's rail. Arguing against this is my reading that Lewin's rails are predominantly swamp dwellers and rarely seen in Victoria.

See for a Lewin's rail like I may have seen.

Baillon's crake: and (didn't have the slate grey and the mottling on the back wasn't as coarse as these).

My Natureshare observation of a buff-banded rail

James Booth's obo:

The eye-stripe is too conspicuous to be missed.

I don't think any non-raillid would fit the description - very short tail, horizontal posture, longish legs, long beak. It might be worth keeping an eye peeled for such birds.

In other words, I think I saw a pair of Lewin's rails, but without a photo or another sighting with the field guide in hand and opened to the right pages - I'm not prepared to add an (unexpected) new species for Riddells.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

The Big Fungus

It's not often I get a text saying "come and see my giant fungus".  I'm sure most people would stay well clear but I was there within 30 minutes, and it was well worthwhile.

Eight year old Ellena adds perspective for what turned out to be Phlebopus marginatus (known as the Salmon Gum Mushroom in Western Australia - perhaps meaning they grow under Salmon Gums in W.A.?). Phlebopus marginatus is thought to be Australia's largest mushroom species. They were found by Riddells Creek Landcare member, Julie Macdonald, on her property, growing beneath wattle and gum trees.

This species is supposed to be edible but tastes rather bland, and some references I found suggested great care should be taken because it can contain maggots. On that subject, I did notice some flies acting strangely on top of the mushroom. Eventually, I caught the odd behaviour on camera ...

It all happened very quickly. It looks like they are dancing but everything seemed to suggest they are 'sizing up'. The fly on the right flew off after the confrontation. The prize of being master of this massive mushroom suggests it would be worth fighting for. No matter how close I got to the fly on the left afterwards, it didn't fly off, suggesting nothing was going to make it leave its mushroom.

They have different markings so it could also be male and female in a mating ritual. I haven't been able to ID them yet so I can't find out for certain what is happening.

Here are the actual records on NatureShare:

So when you are asked to go see someone's fungus, it might be more fun than you think!


Since this article was written there has been an update on the 'Dancing Flies': 

Friday, 22 March 2013

Dragonfly or Damselfly?

I was pointed to this lovely story the other day (thanks James): 
(please read the story before continuing here)

The story reads "My Rule 649 – Dragonflies and Damselflies says one of the differentiating features between dragonflies and damselflies is that dragonflies rest with their wings flat (open) and damselflies rest with their wings closed".

Here is an example of a damselfly that fits the rule (Common Bluetail): (NB. NatureShare is best viewed in Firefox, Chrome or Safari, not Microsoft Internet Explorer)

... and here is an example of a dragonfly that fits the rule (Southern Tigertail):

The story then expresses great pain on discovering there are species that don't fit this rule. I share the pain! It is a well used 'rule' but the more I see, the more I realise there are quite a few species that don't fit the 'rule'. Here is an example of a damselfly that holds it wings open (Common Flatwing):

But it is more painful – recently I came across a tiny dragonfly that holds it wings closed, the Common Shutwing (Cordulephya pygmaea) – it is apparently only seen in Autumn but fairly common (flying now in fact):

Rather than a rule, wings being held open or closed is in fact a ‘rule of thumb’. A rule of thumb is nicely defined by Wikipedia as “A rule of thumb is a principle with broad application that is not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable for every situation. It is an easily learned and easily applied procedure for making some determination.” A bit like a ‘non-core’ rule. A good example of a rule of thumb we were all taught at school is ‘i before e except after c’ (as in receive). As it happens this rule has now been dropped by most educators because there are more breaches of the rule than there are examples of the rule working; ie. it is a very inefficient rule of thumb!

So there are breaches of the dragonfly-damselfly rule of thumb on both sides – most breaches occur for damselflies (there are quite a few that break the rule and hold their wings open), whereas I think there is only one family with one genus of dragonfly in Australia with wings held closed (Cordulephya – and only the abovementioned species occurs in Vic – I think). Despite this, the rule of thumb does work much more often than not so it isn’t too bad (as a rule of thumb).

As it happens there is another rule of thumb that works better for damselflies vs dragonflies. It’s the eyes. In one respect this isn’t as good as a ‘rule of thumb’ because it is harder to see with the naked eye (in comparison to wings held open of closed) but I can only ID these creatures from a photo and the eyes are easily seen from photos.

So how does the ‘eyes rule of thumb’ work? All damselflies have a large gap between the eyes (they are held a bit like a hammerhead shark):

Dragonflies have eyes that are touching (or nearly so):

But, of course, being a rule of thumb there are exceptions. The exceptions though are only the family Gomphidae, which are dragonflies with an obvious gap between the eyes. However, with Gomphidae species, the eyes generally aren’t separated as much as damselflies, they are medium-large dragonflies and they are quite distinctive in their own right (whenever I’ve seen a Gomphidae species it has been obvious they are dragonflies and not damselflies). Here is a member of the Gomphidae family (Yellow-striped Hunter - Austrogomphus guerini):

The good thing is at least one part of this ‘eyes rule of thumb’ is absolute – here is how to apply it:
1. Eyes touching or nearly so = always a dragonfly
2. Obvious gap between eyes = damselfly, or a dragonfly in the Gomphidae family

Finally, is there an actual ‘rule’ that works for dragonflies vs damselflies? The answer is yes. Taxonomically speaking all dragonflies and damselflies form the insect order called Odonata (Order: Odonata). Confusingly the common name for the order Odonata is ‘dragonflies’ (noting that it contains damselflies too). The order Odonata comprises two sub-orders: 1) damselflies (sub-order Zygoptera); 2) dragonflies (sub-order Anisoptera – sometimes called ‘dragonflies proper’). According to Theischinger and Hawking (Dragonflies of Australia) damselflies and dragonflies can be separated by wing venation, thus:

1. Damselflies – Discoidal cell is a simple quadrilateral (sometimes traversed by crossveins, occasionally open at base).

2. Dragonflies – Discoidal cell is divided into a hypertriangle and triangle (often differing in shape in fore- and hindwing, and often traversed by crossveins).

Here are all the damselfly and dragonfly species we’ve found (so far) in Riddells Creek
Using this list, the wing venation isn’t always easily visible but you’ll be surprised how many times you can see it. (NB. once in a specific observation in NatureShare – click on the largest square beneath a photo to see the photo in its largest resolution).

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

From my dining room window...

There I was immersed in my work on the lap top working from home when at the corner of my eye I saw something move...I looked and there was this little creature munching away at the green grass that has emerged since the small amount of rain has recently fallen. S/he knew I was there but was clearly not feeling threatened. The birds and other animals always come in close to the house for grass and water when we have had an extended dry spell. And comforting that we can give them something to help.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Another Dragonfly and Two New Moths

I finally identified another dragonfly I saw at Wybejong and it is a new species record for Riddells Creek. Here is a mating pair of Hemicordulia australiae (Australian Emerald) - our 18th dragonfly species:

Thanks to the excellent work on the Moths of the Brisbane Ranges by Cathy Powers I was able to identify these two moths, both new species records for Riddells Creek (taking us to 306 moth species) ...

Phallaria ophiusaria -

Fisera eribola -

Not a new species but another beautiful moth is flying at the moment, the Black and White Tiger Moth (Spilosoma glatignyi):

Lots of New Species for Riddells Creek

The past couple of weeks have been incredibly dry but it does mean I've been able to walk right up the centre of the creek in Wybejong. In doing so I spotted an amazing array of new species.

First, this is an amazing time for dragonflies at the creek ... just look at these (just click on the links for photos - which are best viewed in Firefox, Chrome & Safari):

Scarlet Percher (new for Riddells Creek) -

... and flying in the same patch was the Wandering Percher -

... and the Blue Skimmer -

The females of these three species are all yellow & black but none were around that day.

Also in that patch of creek was the Swamp Tigertail -

Then this at the weir, Common Shutwing (new for Riddells Creek) -


Also at Wybejong I finally caught up with this very large grasshopper and worked out what it was:
Giant Green Slantface -

(I've seen heaps of this grasshopper on the grassland rail reserve but never been able to get close to one). I can only find records of this species near Heywood at Museum Vic so it could be quite an unusual occurrence. I've walked up and down our rail reserves for a few years now and this is the first year I've seen this unmissable species.

Also at Wybejong! A new plant species, Elatine gratioloides (Waterwort):
It appears this is a new plant species for the Macedon Range too. It is really tiny!!

I've created a native fauna & flora collection on NatureShare for Wybejong and added all the things I know that are remnant there (NB. no reveg or things that have been planted are allowed on NatureShare). So far I've amassed about 120 remnant species there at Wybejong and I haven't even started on birds yet:
... and have a look at some of the interesting observations I've added for starters (the echidna is very cute):

Feel free to join the collection (under members) and add your own observation - the list is lacking in birds especially. As I wandered through I also found four senecio species that didn't seem to be on the remnant flora list for Wybejong. I also saw someone acting suspiciously so I went up and asked what he was up to - he was from Sunbury and releasing a Brushtail Possum into Wybejong! It's all happening down there at the moment!!! Greening of Riddell do amazing work down there at Wybejong and it is exciting to see that so many remnant fauna species are surviving there. Even a massive Orchard Swallowtail butterfly flew by while I was there this week too - only the second I've seen in Riddell this season!

Not new species but a couple of firsts (unless you know differently) ...

First, I spotted a new species on Barrm Birrm last year and I've been visiting the three plants since January waiting for it to flower - it finally flowered this week.
Acacia implexa (Lightwood) -

Second, James and I went for a late night wander through Conglomerate Gully last week. At the 'cabin' James asked me if I'd seen any Sugar Gliders in Riddell and I answered no but I have heard them at my place. As I was giving my answer James spotted a Sugar Glider!

I think this could be the first photo record of a glider in Riddell - unless you know differently? The call is quite distinctive and sounds like a 'Chihuahua' calling from the trees - here is a link to the call:
Basic Sugar Glider Sounds

If that isn't enough, here is a new moth species for Riddells Creek, Metrocampa biplaga:


... but I've saved the best until last (for me anyway) ... this beautiful Pied Lacewing was in large numbers on tree trunks at Barringo recently:

We're now at 1160 species named in Riddells Creek!

Phew. If you made it this far, well done! :)