White flower spider

In this case, the spider, not the flower, is white. This tiny spider (possibly Thomisus spectabilis) was resting on one of my rose flowers, waiting for a pollinating insect to turn up for lunch.

Thomisus spectabilis, the white flower spider

These spiders are also known as crab spiders. There is some thought that white ones which look like this are female, but yellow ones are male.

Bites are apparently very painful to humans but lasts only a couple of hours. The venom would have to work quickly to disable a bee or butterfly struggling after the spider had pounced on it.

To paraphrase the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Nature, white in fang and claw”.

Sacred kingfisher

The Ballina Bar can produce some mighty waves – that’s why there are so many signs for boaties on their way out and way back, and where Marine Rescue is situated. Sunday was no exception – blustery, rainy and the waves giving a real sense of their tonnes of weight and force as they heaved into the mouth of the Richmond River between the breakwaters.

The big pod of dolphins, however, were having a whale of a time (so to speak) – surfing under and over the waves, leaping and twisting. I’d never seen three together with the middle one upside-down as they surfed together. Then the middle one did an almighty leap and jumped right out of the water and over its buddy on the right. Amazing and exhilarating!

On Lighthouse Beach it was pretty blowy, too, but this little bird was making the best of it, flying from one washed-up tree trunk or branch to another.

Sacred kingfisher

It was a sacred kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus), looking for crustaceans, insects and other small prey like lizards. Despite its name, it seldom eats fish.

They are solitary birds except for the breeding season (September to December). The nest is in a hollow branch, termite mound or river bank. Both male and female incubate the eggs and feed the young, in two clutches a season.

The beach was pretty clean of weed and there didn’t seem to be many insects available, but maybe this little bird was lucky.

A bower for the lady

It’s the time of year when birds go a’courting. I noticed a female satin bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus), and then a male, in the backyard this morning. I’d never seen the two of them together so was interested to watch their interaction. (The photos are not super-sharp as they were shot through my kitchen window, which the spiders are very pleased I don’t clean much.)

The female was hopping and pecking around on the ground, possibly looking for insects or fallen mulberry fruit. The male flew in and looked at her. She noticed him and continued pecking for food. He followed her at a distance. She flew up into a tree, so did he. Then I lost sight of both of them.

We’ve had a male satin bowerbird as long as we’ve lived here, but it’s impossible to say whether it’s been the same bird all the time. Males that have been banded seem to average eight or nine years, but have been known to go to 26 years.

Males don’t mature until they are seven or eight years old, which means, if their average age is correct, they don’t get many breeding seasons in. They initially look like the females, then start changing colour to the adult, shimmering, dark blue plumage at around five years of age. Females mature between two and three years.

A male will build a bower and decorate it with blue objects on the ground. It’s a ‘theatre’ designed to attract and impress a female well enough to mate. He displays to her by dancing and vocalising in and around the bower. If she is impressd, she will mate with him and, then go off and build a stick nest high in a eucalypt or acacia tree, usually laying two eggs. The male goes back to attracting and displaying to other females. There is a terrific YouTube video of the display here.

My bird’s bower has been in the same place for years, so I went down to see if it was still there – it has been repaired from earlier when only one ‘side’ existed. No birds were in sight, so I took some shots.

The ripped-up blue material seems to be from a thick plastic bag; there were also blue fruit juice bottletops and a yellow biro with a blue top. I’m not sure where all this came from as I don’t recognise anything from my kitchen.

My neighbours have seen regent bowerbirds, but I never have. I’m happy enough with satins.

The giant spear lily

Sometimes you walk past something and don’t even recognise it – that’s often the case with me and plants. I don’t know as much as I’d like – and the more I know, the more I realise I don’t know – but I’m getting better with the botany. Copy-editing botany books, as I do occasionally, certainly helps.

Yesterday just before lockdown was visited upon us again, we visited the Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens. Although it opened in 2013, I’d never been there.

It is relatively small but impressive nevertheless. I’d like to volunteer there but Wednesday (when the work days are) is one of my days at the museum – perhaps I’ll follow up that opportunity in the future.

I walked past a very large plant that looked like a gymea lily (Doryanthes excelsa), then took a second look as the flower was not like the spectacular gymea – it was even more spectacular! Fortunately there was a volunteer nearby doing some watering, so I collared him for an answer.

Doryanthes palmeri; photo by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Wikimedia Commons

It is the giant spear lily (Doryanthes palmeri), a vulnerable species endemic to the Mt Warning/Wollumbin caldera area in northern New South Wales. For a scientific paper on it, click here. The gymea lily (endemic to southern Sydney and the Illawarra, and apparently to several Lismore streets) is the only other member of the genus. I’ve probably walked past giant spears on my ramblings on the Scenic Rim, but assumed they were gymeas.

My font of information at the gardens said various honeyeaters will happily sip from it – not surprising as there are certainly very many flowers on a flower spike that may reach a height of 5 metres.

It is always a pleasure to talk to knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers.

Bizarre bezoars

Humans are generally a superstitious lot. Take the case of the bezoars displayed in our local museum, where I volunteer a couple of days a week.

The provenance of the largest one is: ‘Ball found in stomach of horse 1885: clay ball, extremely heavy, found in stomach of horse who lived his natural term of life, but was deformed in consequence. Mr Giggens, of Dungarubba, noticed the farm horse and when it died examined its remains. Mr Giggens was an owner of many well-known trotting horses. The ball has shrunk an inch since it was found.’

Enterolith from a horse

It weighs 3.3 kg and is 12 cm across – poor horse! Such an object is known as an enterolith, which is composed of minerals – primarily magnesium, ammonium and phosphate. The stone starts to form when a foreign object (say, a small piece of wood, twine, wire, sand or a piece of hair) is swallowed and becomes wrapped, through the internal muscular contractions of the stomach, in concentric rings of minerals.

The other four are trichobezoars, more commonly called hairballs, from a pig (the rectangular one) and some cows (the spherical ones). Those of you with cats will be familiar with them. Cattle are susceptible to getting hairballs in their stomachs because, unlike cats, they do not vomit. People who chew their hair a lot can also get bezoars.

Hairballs of a pig (rectangular) and several cows (spherical)

The word ‘bezoar’ originally comes from the Persian, meaning ‘antidote’. They were found in sacrificed animals, and across many cultures were believed to be a cure for leprosy, measles, cholera, depression and other ailments. Part of one could be worn as a charm, ground into a powder and consumed, or dropped into a drink suspected to contain poison.

So how about it – want to try one next time you’re feeling poorly? ‘Hair of the dog’ or cat – in the form of a bezoar – just might fix you up. But I wouldn’t recommend it!