Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Diuris pardina at Medway.

I went a few weeks ago to a favourite spot at Medway, south-west from Berrima. There were no Orchids in evidence then, alas.

I tried again today, and found lots and lots of Diuris pardina in flower. The little yellow ears were waving everywhere, in the strong wind blowing today.

My Blogging colleague Martin reported on this plant seen at 6-mile TSR, near Bungendore, a few days ago. I have previously seen them at Goulburn, on Governor's Hill.
Diuris pardina from front, and side of  a second flower

Diuris pardina - flat creamy ears, lateral sepals twisted under flower

Note the fine spots on the rear of the "ears" of Diuris pardina
Here is a comparative image of Diuris maculata (left)  
and Diuris pardina (on right).
Diuris maculata and Diuris pardina
Note the clearer yellow colour on D. maculata, and the fewer spots behind the "ears" (see image two-above for that feature).

I have previously posted better images of this species, from Goulburn. I hope to get back there to try to get cleaner photos, on the weekend when the weather improves.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cherry Blossom Time in Robertson

Every year it happens, 
and every year I marvel at the beauty of these blossoms.

I know the Japanese community in Australia 
share my enthusiasm for our humble "Cherry Blossom Time".

If you have friends with Japanese connections,
please copy the following link and email it to them.

It is not quite the true Japanese  Hanami,  
but it is as good as we get, here.
Cherry Blossoms in Robertson, NSW
So, every year I like to publish a reminder that yes,
it is about to happen again.

Where: Hoddle Street, (Illawarra Highway) Robertson NSW.
(A Google Map is linked above)

Cherry Trees were starting to flower on Monday, 
ready for their peak on the long weekend .
Cherry Trees line the main street in Robertson.
 As the blossoms fall, there will then be the phenomenon of "pink snow"
as the blossoms fall to the roadway, 
and swirl around in the breeze.

Such transient beauty
is the very essence of the attraction of this seasonal event.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Diuris chryseopsis just starting to flower.

This plant suffers with several bad names. One is "Small Snake Orchid" - who would want to be called that?
The other popular name is "Small Golden Moth Orchid" - that's not much more endearing.
Lets stick with the scientific name - Diuris chryseopsis.

This is a lovely plant with a demure flowering habit - the flowers droop over, unlike the related Donkey Orchids, which hold their "ears" high.

Diuris chryseopsis

Close-up of Diuris chryseopsis

Diuris chryseopsis - often has two flowers per stem
Last year, there were hundreds of this species in flower in this one particular area along Tourist Road, Kangaloon.

But after the flowers had finished, the contractors doing the "slashing" on behalf of the Catchment Authority slashed the area where these hundreds of plants had flowered. So, naturally the seed capsules were damaged or lost, before they had ripened. Hence a whole colony of plants were unable to reproduce that year.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Blue-tongued Lizard and a Bird Orchid

Further up the hill from the spot where the Petalochilus hillmanii are growing (on Cambewarra Range) I had found leaves of what were likely to be Bird Orchids. I have not reported these, as there has been no previous record of this species here. One was budding, so I figured I ought wait till it flowered, to get a positive ID.

Well, yesterday, I took Alan up that ridge to show him what I had found so far, up there. I mean, in addition to the Tall Leek Orchids I have reported on from this spot.

We pulled off the road and straight away I found my path blocked by this magnificent specimen of a Blue-tongued Lizard. It clearly felt little urge to move out of my way. It was soaking up the warmth from the hard, hot soil.

Blue-tongue Lizard soaking up the warmth
This is the close-up of this Lizard. Uncharacteristically it made no attempt to hiss at me,  nor to attempt to  scare me with its spectacular blue tongue. I was actually hope it would do that, as the light was perfect for photography..

This Blue-tongue just tried to out-stare me.
Anyway, we eventually persuaded the Blue-tongue to scurry off the road, to safety. Then we went looking for the Bird Orchids.

After showing Alan the leaves of  known plants of that species, we then browsed for other possible plants. This strategy was rewarded with one plant in flower, and another advanced bud. This allowed us to make a positive ID of that species. Illawarra Bird Orchid - Simpliglottis chlorantha

These plants are "within range" and they do like to grow at this altitude. But they have not been reported from this locality before. They have been reported from the Budderoo Plateau (to the north) and from the Budawangs (to the south). So it is nice to be able to "fill in the gaps" in the range of this species of Orchid.
Illawarra Bird Orchid - Simpliglottis chlorantha
Here is another shot of the entire plant.
Two leaves and the open flower of Illawarra Bird Orchid.
So, yet another Orchid species for the list from this extraordinary locality.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Petalochilus hillmanii at 600 metres altitude, not just at sea level.

This species has previously been recorded officially as a "coastal" plant (meaning low altitude only). I have today received confirmation from Alan Stephenson that plants I found several days ago at Cambewarra Range Nature Reserve are in fact Petalochilus hillmanii. I have previously reported these plants from the Myola area and from Callala, in the Jervis Bay area.

Alan agreed to meet me at the site this morning. I can now confirm that there is no doubt about it. Petalochilus hillmanii has been positively identified as growing in the damp peaty soil found under a powerline easement which runs to a Telstra communications tower on Cambewarra Range at an altitude of approximately 600 metres above sea level.
long range habitat view to the Telstra Radio Tower
The habitat immediately around these plants is dense head-high Melaleuca thicket (with Eucalypts in the drier ridges, away from the Meleleuca thicket). But the Orchids are only visible along the slashed powerline easement, which is covered with various wet-land plants such as various rush-like things, Tall Sundews, and lots of alpine swamp-loving species of Xanthorrhoea (Grass Trees). The base soil underneath his dense peaty soil is obviously sandy soil over a rock shelf.  

To explain about the habitat, anyone who knows Cambewarra Mountain would assume this is rainforest habitat. Although such habitat does exist close by, on the same mountain (though mostly on basalt soil) this habitat is a moist soak, over sandstone. It is akin to a "Upland Swamp", but with Melaleuca thicket instead of sedge and rush plants. Once the Melaleuca plants were slashed to create the powerline easement, then the rush-like plants have established as the dominant plant form. This has also allowed the Orchids and Sundews and many low heath plants to colonise this area.
Petalochilus hillmanii

A mid-pink from of Petalochilus hillmanii. The "dark eye" is visible from a distance

A dual-flowered stem of Petalochilus hillmanii

A beautiful pale form of Petalochilus hillmanii
The same Petalochilus hillmanii flower close-up

Orchid pollinia stuck on the tip of the dorsal sepal

a very beautiful form of Petalochilus hillmanii

Sign indicating the beginning of Nature Reserve.
Despite that sign, the the local people know this area as Red Rocks Nature Reserve. It shows up that way, on Google Maps of the area.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tall Leek Orchid - Prasophyllum elatum

Ten days ago I found a group of Leek Orchids with half-formed flower buds along nearly black flower stems. I guessed that they would open up to be Prasophyllum elatum - the Tall Leek Orchid.

Anyway, I went back yesterday to check their progress. 
The plants I had originally found were not properly open 
(but they were recognisable as being this species). 
Dark stems of Prasophyllum elatum - not yet open
Fortunately I found another group of these lovely flowers, fully open. 
Prasophyllum elatum full stem view

These plants are growing in deep sandy soil on top of Cambewarra Mountain. They are growing in a semi-open heathland shrubbery, not in the rainforest one sees on that same hill, from the main road between Kangaroo Valley and Nowra. Obviously it is a very high rainfall area, but the sandstone provides excellent drainage.

Here is a shot of one of the flower spikes.
Flower spike of a Tall Leek Orchid - Prasophyllum elatum

Close-up of flowers of Prasophyllum elatum.
It seems that the Leek Orchid family of plants are much slower to flower in the Southern Highlands than they are on the Shoalhaven Valley and on the coast around Jervis Bay (where some of the Leek Orchids have already finished flowering).

Cambewarra is an interesting location, in that it is nearly at the same altitude as Kangaloon, but its proximity to the warm coastal plain seems to bring forward the flowering time, relative to the same species at Kangaloon (where they are yet to flower). So altitude (and proximity to the coast) appear to give a considerable delay to flowering time, in Springtime flowering Orchids.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Painted Button-quail visits my garden

This bird must have been reading my Blog, over the last two days.
I was on the phone, talking with my brother, Brendan, when I saw a bird moving on the ground just outside my window. 

This is all I could see.
A small, "quail-like" bird moving around on the ground.
If you spot the eye first, you can then just make out the bird's shape.

At first I assumed it was a female Bowerbird. Then I looked more closely, and realise it was a "Quail" (see clarifying comment below).
Sensibly, Brendan told me to hang up the phone, grab my camera and then ring him back (in order).
Good plan.
Once I had taken the first shot, and expanded it on my camera 
I realised what I had photographed. 
This is the "cropped" version of the same image.
Painted Button-quail in my garden
The last species of "Quail" I was expecting in my own garden, between my Camellias, and under the Dogwood tree, was a Painted Button-quail (even though I had previously found a dead one down on Tourist Road, Kangaloon). But that's sandstone scrub habitat. Normal habitat for the species (Robertson is not!)

I had first thought Brown Quail, but realised it was too strongly marked for that. 
What about a Stubble Quail? They have fairly strong markings.  

Hang on - there a definite tinge of orange around the "shoulders" of this bird.
Orange tonings on neck and wings become apparent, as the bird walks around.
 Its a Female Painted Button-quail.
(as has been discussed recently, they are NOT true Quails).
As she moves into the sunlight, the ID is confirmed.
Painted Button-quails are well known for forming "platelets" - little round clearings on the ground.
The Flickr image (linked here) comments that: "Button-quail search for insects by standing on one leg and scratching away the leaf litter while rotating their body in a circle. This leaves a distinctive circular cleared area in the leaf litter." 

That's exactly what this bird was doing in my yard this morning. 
 It was walking around in a circle, scratching away the dead grass.
That leaves the cleared circular area
making it easy for it to
find insects.

Painted Button-quail formed this "platelet" in my garden
Today (Thursday) - my little friend was back, scratching away, busily, doing "circles" and clearing more of these "platelets". DJW 22 Sept 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Footprints of Evolution

This is the foot of a White-throated Treecreeper. (Cormobates leucophaeus)
It is listed as being in the "family" Climacteridae (which name obviously refers to its climbing ability).

This bird is in the Order: Passeriformes. That puts them amongst a huge group of birds known as "perching birds", but the name itself derives from the European bird, the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) which is familiar in many Australian cities and country towns.

The most obvious feature of this foot is the huge rear toe nail. The other toe nails are also strong, and over-all the foot is large, relative to the body of the bird.
Foot of the White-throated Treecreeper
These bird are noted for their habit of flying to the base of a tree, and climbing up the trunk, in a spiral manner, searching under loose bark, and in crevices, looking for spiders and insects. That's what they do. Having huge powerful feet, and especially elongated and powerful toenails is clearly an evolutionary advantage for them.

By contrast, this is the foot of a Painted Button-quail.(Turnix varius)
Foot of a Painted Button-quail - lacks a hind toe.
These birds (Button-quails) are more-or less universal in distribution. They inhabit warm grasslands in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia (not the Americas). They are a group of small terrestrial birds. The genus Turnix superficially resemble the true quails of the genus Coturnix, but differ from them, in lacking a hind toe.

The relationships of the Button-quails (Turnicidae) have long been unclear, having been placed variously in their own order, or with the Galliformes (birds related to "Chooks") or Gruiformes (birds related to Cranes). Recent studies have shown that the button-quails are actually related to the Gulls and Terns and their relatives (Charadriiformes). There are 16 species of button-quail, ranging through Africa, southern and south-eastern Asia and Australasia.
Whatever their real ancestral heritage (waders or gulls and terns), they have adapted to a life in dry country. They are apparently not at all related to the similar-looking quails and pheasants and the very familiar birds we know as "chooks". One only needs to recall the "so-called sport" of Cock-fighting (of which I do not approve) to realise they are selected for their spurs on the hind toe. That's my point in mentioning their rear toes - to distinguish them from this bird.

Wikipedia has some interesting notes about Button-quails.

There is an article in the Wires (Northern Rivers) website which discusses their unusual sex role reversal from the norm, namely the females are more brightly coloured than males, and they "hold and defend their territory" and after the female having laid the eggs, the male takes charge of raising the young. In that regard, they have many similarities to the huge ground-breeding birds, namely Emus and Cassowaries.

Anyway, the point about these photos is that the Button-quail's hind toe has been reduced to a mere "lump" on the foot, so entirely different from the Treecreeper's hind toe (which itself is an extreme adaptation). 

That's what happens when one's ancestors specialise in running around on the ground, in dry country habitats. Your hind toe becomes superfluous. Whereas, if one's ancestors specialise in picking insects from the bark of trees, you develop relatively huge feet and powerful toes. 

Both these birds were photographed last weekend, at Charcoal Tank, near West Wyalong.

Monday, September 19, 2011

West Wyalong birding weekend

These are not Robertson birds. They are birds photographed on a trip with registered Bird Banders to Charcoal Tank Nature Reserve, just a few kilometres south-west from West Wyalong.

My excuse for this indulgence (going bush for the weekend and blogging about these birds), is that I grew up with Mark Clayton, a Regional Organiser for the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme who trained as a Bird Bander with my father, Steve Wilson. So there is an element of a sentimental journey in this trip for me. Mark went on to work at CSIRO, and has since retired and still bands birds as a volunteer, and helps train other banders. For me, it is a fascinating thought that I knew Mark as a fourteen year old schoolboy, and he is still banding birds in his retirement. As the French say "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose".
I also met up with Neville Schrader OAM, a very experienced naturalist and long-standing Bird Bander himself. Neville's wife Shaydeen was also helping out. I also met up again with Anthony Overs, a senior Bird Bander and fellow Blogger, who I had met previously at Charcoal Tank. With other banders Jen, Kim and Carole and Stewart, and his son Duncan, it was a very pleasant weekend.

There are so many photos, I shall simply name the birds, with little discussion.
Hotlinks take you to other websites with more information about each species.
The image files are all relatively small (to facilitate fast loading)
But you can enlarge the images by clicking on them, to see the finer details.

Inland Thornbill - note the reddish eye and throat markings (like Brown Thornbill)

Eastern Yellow Robin
Brown-headed Honeyeater - note the difference in markings.
A Southern Boobook Owl stayed well and truly out of reach.
Head of Chestnut-rumped Thornbill. Note the pale eye and scalloped head markings
Tail view of  Chestnut-rumped Thornbill
Juvenile Golden Whistler (note the rufous plumage)
Grey Fantail - a dark coloured specimen displaying its tail
Horsefield's Bronze-Cuckoo
Diagnostic markings on tail of Horsefield's Bronze-Cuckoo
Double-barred Finch
Yellow (Little) Thornbill - note the fine markings around the eye
Plain olive coloured tail of Yellow Thornbill. Note the short tail.
Painted Button-quail - head and chest. Probably a male bird.
Foot of Painted Button-quail
Red-capped Robin - male
Red-capped Robin - female
Rufous Whistler - male
Rufous Whistler - female
Spotted Pardalote - male
Striated Pardalote - broad wing striped form (6 white lines on wing)
Variegated Fairy-wren = male just reverting to breeding plumage
White-eared Honeyeater - adult with grey head
White-eared Honeyeater - immature bird with green head cap, and yellow gape mark.
White-plumed Honeyeater - head and eye markings
White-plumed Honeyeater note the diagnostic mark on its neck.
White-throated Treecreeper - male (no orange spot on throat)
White-throated Treecreeper - female (note orange spot below eye)
Huge hind toe of White-throated Treecreeper. No wonder they can climb trees so well.
Yellow-rumped Thornbill