When is a paddock not a paddock?

When it’s a wetland, and apparently the pale-vented bush-hen (Amaurornis moluccana) thinks ours qualifies.

Pale-vented bush-hen (Amaurornis moluccana)

Pale-vented bush-hen (Amaurornis moluccana); photo by Aviceda, Wikimedia Commons

I heard this bird for the first time last night, and the description on the Michael Morcombe and David Stewart bird app of “noisy” is about right – a repeated loud squeaking. I was scrolling through the app in bed last night trying to ID it, and the call is unmistakeable. “Distinctive shrieking calls” is another description that fits the bill (and the whole bird).

The bird is apparently uncommon in our area, the southern end of its range. It is listed as vulnerable by NSW Environment and Heritage. That website says:

 In NSW, bush-hens are an apparently uncommon resident from the Queensland border south to the Clarence River, though the species appears to be expanding its range southwards with recent records as far south as the Nambucca River. …

The pale-vented hush-hen is secretive and cryptic, usually remaining in dense vegetation near watercourses or at the edges of wetlands.

I can’t say I blame it for thinking our place is currently a wetland. The weather over the past few days, courtesy of a few lows plus the fall-out from Cyclone Marcia, has produced a distinctly sodden environment. It’s still raining although the cyclone has now moved east out to sea. We had 110 mL over 24 hours, and 215 mL over five days so far. That’s not anywhere near a record, nor as bad as for folks further north, so I think we got off quite lightly with this weather system.

We have some springs, a couple of small ponds and a narrow creek with dense vegetation (and, sadly, much lantana among the macadamia trees – you’ll notice the photo above shows the bird in lantana), and apparently the bush-hen likes such cover. I suppose I can console myself that the weeds provide protection for a vulnerable species.

The Environment and Heritage website also says:

  • The pale-vented bush-hen inhabits tall dense understorey or ground-layer vegetation on the margins of freshwater streams and natural or artificial wetlands, usually within or bordering rainforest, rainforest remnants or forests.
  • Also occurs in secondary forest growth, rank grass or reeds, thickets of weeds, such as lantana (Lantana camara), and pastures, crops or other farmland, such as crops of sugar cane, and grassy or weedy fields, or urban gardens where they border forest and streams or wetlands, such as farm dams. Can also occur in and around mangroves, though rarely do so, if at all, in NSW.
  • Key elements its habitat are dense undergrowth 2 to 4 metres tall and within 300 metres of water.
  • The diet consists of seeds, plant matter, earthworms, insects and some frogs, taken from ground cover or by wading at edges of streams or wetlands.
  • The breeding season is from spring to early autumn, October to April.
  • The nest is a shallow bowl or cup of grass stems, often partly hooded, built close to water in thick ground vegetation such as dense blady grass (Imperata cylindrica), mat rush (Lomandra) or reeds, often under or growing through shrubs or vine or beneath a tree.
  • Birds lay 4 to 7 eggs in a clutch and will re-lay after a successful breeding attempt and make multiple attempts after nesting failures.
  • The incubation period is about 3 weeks. The hatchlings are precocial and can run soon after hatching; they are probably dependent on their parents for 4 to 5 weeks after hatching.

I hope our bird is breeding happily before the paddock reverts to its usual self.

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More Five Corners fungi

Continuing from the previous post, here are more of Mazza’s fungi photos, in no particular order.

Five Corners fungus 12A

Five Corners fungus 12A

Five Corners fungus 12B

Five Corners fungus 12B

Five Corners fungus 13A

Five Corners fungus 13A

Five Corners fungus 13B

Five Corners fungus 13B

 

Five Corners fungus 14

Five Corners fungus 14

Five Corners fungus 15

Five Corners fungus 15

Five Corners fungus 16

Five Corners fungus 16

Five Corners fungus 17

Five Corners fungus 17

Five Corners fungus 18

Five Corners fungus 18

Five Corners fungus 19

Five Corners fungus 19

Five Corners fungus 20A

Five Corners fungus 20A

Five Corners fungus 20B

Five Corners fungus 20B (underside of 20A)

Five Corners fungus 21A

Five Corners fungus 21A

Five Corners fungus 21B

Five Corners fungus 21B

Five Corners fungus 22A

Five Corners fungus 22A

Five Corners fungus 22B

Five Corners fungus 22B

Five Corners fungus 23

Five Corners fungus 23

More to follow in the next few posts.

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The song of the mushrooms woke me from my bed

That title is the wonderful first sentence in “That sounds fungi, it must be the dawn chorus”, chapter in Terry Pratchett, “A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-fiction” (2014, Doubleday). Teachers of writing have said that the first sentence is a very important “hook”, and this one sure had me.

The chapter is about Pratchett getting up early to collect edible mushrooms. It’s certainly something my parents and I did when I was a kid, driving into the countryside to favoured spots in paddocks or forests on Sunday mornings to gather field mushrooms. As in other countries, in Australia we have to make sure they are edible before we eat them, as some will kill you in particularly painful ways.

The fungi in the photos below, untested as to edibility, are all from Five Corners, Copmanhurst in dry sclerophyll, sandy country (thanks to Mazza Verdante who took the photos). I was going to try to identify them, but time has gotten away so I’ll just give them numbers in case some kind reader can identify them for me or I get around to it in future. There are quite a few photos, and they will extend over several posts.

Five Corners fungus 1

Five Corners fungus 1

Five Corners fungus 2

Five Corners fungus 2

Five Corners fungus 3B

Five Corners fungus 3A

Five Corners fungus 3A

Five Corners fungus 3B

Five Corners fungus 4

Five Corners fungus 4

Five Corners fungus 5

Five Corners fungus 5

Five Corners fungus 6A

Five Corners fungus 6A

Five Corners fungus 6A_50

Five Corners fungus 6B

Five Corners fungus 6C_50

Five Corners fungus 6C

Five Corners fungus 7

Five Corners fungus 7

Five Corners fungus 8

Five Corners fungus 8

Five Corners fungus 9

Five Corners fungus 9A

Five Corners fungus 9B_50

Five Corners fungus 9B

Five Corners fungus 9C_50

Five Corners fungus 9C

Five Corners fungus 9D_50

Five Corners fungus 9D

Five Corners fungus 9E_50

Five Corners fungus 9E

Five Corners fungus 9F_50

Five Corners fungus 9F

Five Corners fungus 9G_50

Five Corners fungus 9G

Five Corners fungus 10

Five Corners fungus 10A

Five Corners fungus 11A

Five Corners fungus 10B

Five Corners fungus 10C_50

Five Corners fungus 10C

Five Corners fungus 12A

Five Corners fungus 11A

Five Corners fungus 12B_50

Five Corners fungus 11B

There will be more fungi from the same location in the next few posts.

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So dry the trees are looking for a dog

We had a great storm last night with tonnes of rain, so the title phrase does not apply, but it’s Australia Day, so I suppose I’d better be patriotic and say something fair dinkum. I’m celebrating the continent and its marvellous geography, geology and wildlife, rather than the culture or politics. I’ll leave that to other people.

Being an editor, I also celebrate the language (which is culture, I admit), especially the vanishing idioms, like the title of this post. The Australian National University has a site on the meaning and origins of Australian words and idioms here.

Coming from country South Australia, I remember a few the old folks said, and many idioms are specific to a region. There are quite a few animal-based phrases – “stone the crows”, “you galah!”, “what a drongo!” (actually from a racehorse that never won a race, rather than the bird), “flat out like a lizard drinking” … speaking of which (awkward segue to today’s photos) …

Some skinks like to live in bathrooms, presumably for the water. Neighbour Jacki’s skink likes her banana cake and appears in her kitchen every time she makes it to nibble some. My own regular (possibly the barred-sided skink, Eulamprus tenuis) is the one who lives in the bathroom …

And in case you see this on your bathroom floor and wonder what it is …

Skink poo_3… it’s the poo of the skink (according to Barbara Triggs’s useful Tracks, Scats and Other Traces: A Field Guide to Australian Mammals, which doesn’t cover just mammals).

And if you don’t believe me, may your chickens turn into emus and kick your dunny down.

Hoo roo.

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Yes, there are tigers in Australia

… and I don’t just mean the late lamented extinct Tasmanian tigers.

Butterflies of the subfamily Danainae are commonly called ‘crows’ or ‘tigers’, but I really don’t know why. Our neighbours have peacocks, but I haven’t noticed these butterflies stalking them. :) Maybe the drop bears (Thylarctos plummetus) do that. I’ve been hearing them snorting every night – oh, wait, that is our local male koala (which, like the panda, is decidedly not a bear).

I found this blue tiger (Tirumala hamata) dead on the ground. It’s about the only time to get a good look at these normally fast-flitting flyers.

Brown tiger, Tirumala hamata

Blue tiger, Tirumala hamata

Underside

Underside

Adult butterflies live one to two months in summer (more if they’ve overwintered). This group eats the milky sap of some plants containing poisonous compounds such as pyrrolizidine alkaloids. These are used in the synthesis of male courtship pherones. They make the butterfly taste bitter, so providing a defence against birds.

Hmm, if birds did eat them, would that be a case of birds attacking and eating tigers? I know Australia has some odd animal relationships, but really … !

Update: They love the flowers of Buckinhamia celsissima, a native of the wet tropics of Far North Queensland, but used as a garden tree in suitable parts of Australia.

Tirumala hamata on Buckinghamia celsissima; photo by Sherrie Ford

Tirumala hamata on Buckinghamia celsissima flowers; photo by Sherrie Ford

Thanks to Sherrie for the photo!

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My, what long arms you have …

This species of estuarine shrimp, Macrobrachium novaehollandiae, was found by a friend in Fishery Creek, Ballina.

According to the IUCN Red List website, it occurs in the Cape Leveque and Fitzroy River basins (Western Australia), Buckingham River basin (Northern Territory) and from the Endeavour River basin (Queensland) through to the Sydney Coast-Georges River basin (New South Wales). It goes up rivers from the sea as far as the tidal influence reaches, and is abundant.

Macrobrachium novehollandiae; photo by John Hardwicke

Macrobrachium novehollandiae – the right claw is missing; photos by John Hardwicke

Macrobrachium novehollandiae_3

Macrobrachium novehollandiae_2Macrobrachium novehollandiae_4Macrobrachium novehollandiae_5The small shrimp are Palaemonetes atrinubes, also widespread and abundant in brackish water.

Palaemonetes atrinubes

Palaemonetes atrinubes

Thanks to Steven for finding the beasties and bringing them to my attention and to John for the photos .

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The screams in the sky

We are lucky in this country, along with South America, to have lots of parrots. They are beautiful and (unless they are eating your farmed crops) endearing. And noisy. And even noisier in large groups.

Towards dusk last night, we could hear  yellow-tailed black cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus funereus) coming down the valley from afar, like black angels calling out their descent with very distinctive and loud “kee AWWW”s. You can hear the call on the Birds in Backyards website here. The pine trees are presently producing cones, and about 30 birds turned up to shred them for their seeds.

yellow tails_2

Yellow-tailed black cockatoos feasting on pine cones

Yellow-tailed black cockatoos feasting on pinecones

The top bird does not have a misshapen beak but is carrying a pine cone

Another bird around the place in groups at the moment is the white-headed pigeon (Columba leucomela). These big chubby fruit-eating native pigeons were in the olive tree even though there are no olives at the moment. We more often see them pottering around on the ground in a pair.

White headed pigeons_3

White-headed pigeons

There is a lot of controversy about the introduced camphor laurel (Cinnamomum camphora), which has been spreading rapidly in this area for several decades. It is a large beautiful tree, but produces thousands of seeds that germinate easily in our subtropical climate, so much so that it has been declared a noxious weed in some areas. Many were planted as shade trees in school grounds and as street trees. There is some thought that the berries are toxic to wildlife, but the white-headed pigeons and other birds seem to thrive on them.

It often forms single species communities and excludes most other tree species, including desirable native vegetation. It’s going to be impractical to cut down all the camphors, although many bush regenerators are keen on that, so I guess the pigeons will continue to enjoy the fruit of the camphor laurel for the foreseeable future.

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