Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Monday, January 30, 2012

Huge colourful Swift Moth at Butler's Swamp.

On Friday I was at Butler's Swamp (just on the roadside verge, folks), in Kangaloon. I noticed this amazing moth sitting low down in the grass and rushes there.

I am familiar with the large Swift Moths which come to my porch light and windows on wet nights, especially. Usually Oxycanus dirempta.
But this one seemed different - larger, heavier, fatter and with deeper wings than any I had ever seen before.
Also, all my previous ones had some silver marks on the wings, but the patterns vary considerably.

All photos today are provided by 
my Orchid colleague, Alan Stephenson.

Ignore the dark lines on the wings
They are shadows from the grasses and rushes
in which this moth was hiding.
Its wings are plain fawn coloured.
No silver stripes.
Abantiades hyalinatus - a "Swift Moth" or "Ghost Moth"
Anyway, I sought advice from Dave Rentz, who said he thought it was an Hepialid Moth, but flicked the question on to Ted Edwards, from CSIRO's Australian National Insect Collection.

The answer came back that it is indeed a Hepialid moth, Abantiades hyalinatus
Indeed, my moth matches some shots from Donald Hobern's gallery.
But a quick look at the link below will show you why I did not recognise it at first. Look at the variability of this species of Swift Moth.

It sure makes it hard for the amateur when they have wing pattern markings which are "optional".

I was not surprised when David originally suggested Hepialidae, but could not find matches in the Australian Moths on line page for this species.
Ted's comment about the colour fading (after the specimen dries out) explains that.

But I still think it very unsporting of these Moths to have optional patterned or plain wing markings.

Many thanks to both Dave Rentz and Ted Edwards.


Although we were out and about searching for Orchids (and we found some good ones), the Moth "find" tended to be the discovery of the day.

What happened was that when I spotted the moth 
we all gathered around to take photos.
Then I decided to try to pick up the moth, gently, 
as many large moths appear not to be too troubled by being handled.
Side on view of head, and neck of Abantiades hyalinatus
When I did pick it up, it immediately started flapping.
That revealed this amazing underneath colour.
Clear lilac hind wings.
Abantiades hyalinatus - hind wing colour
And not only were the wings this lilac colour
So was the body!
Abantiades hyalinatus with lilac body revealed

Lest you think too badly of me, dear reader, 
for having disturbed this creature,
here she is, after I released her. 
She flew straight back down into the grasses and rushes
and grabbed hold of a stem, 
just as she had been doing when I first found her.

(I have assumed the sex to be female, mostly because of her size
and also her relatively fine antennae - but I am NO EXPERT.)

You can see the slight hint of lilac even there.
I am not sure what the large black dots are
on the abdomen.
Presumably some kind of gland or other organ.
If anyone can advise me, I would appreciate it.
Underneath view of Abantiades hyalinatus
Once again, I express my gratitude to Alan Stephenson for the photos.
I can now reveal that on the day I was busy 
hanging on to the Moth during the "flapping shots"
and afterwards, 
I was totally bewildered by my encounter with this wonderful moth
and so could barely hold my camera straight.

Post Script: Regular readers will have noted that when Blogging about Moths I frequently link back to Donald Hobern's Flickr Gallery of Australian Lepidoptera (as I have done today).

Well today, Donald advised that "Friday was my last day working at CSIRO as Director of the Atlas of Living Australia ( I am moving for a few years with my family to become Director of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility ( in Copenhagen, Denmark. I'm already suffering withdrawal pains at the thought of leaving the Australian fauna for a few years, but I'll be back and I plan to keep working on the Australian plume moths in my spare time."
Donald Hobern.

It is appropriate therefore for me to thank Donald publicly for the excellent service he has provided via his personal Photo gallery, and also via his role as Director of the Atlas of Living Australia. 

I hope that he will continue to make his photo gallery available to us, as a reference service.
And I hope that the Atlas will continue to grow, and develop to its full potential. It is a service which has attracted the interest of many naturalists as well as professionals in the various fields of Natural History.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Corunastylis formosa (???)

Two days ago I published a post proclaiming that I had found a "new" Midge Orchid - new for me - that is.
Right and wrong.
Ah, the perils of Blogging, folks.

Yes I had found a "new species for me" 
but unfortunately I had given it the wrong name. 
Corunastylis formosa (not Corunastylis filiformis)
(Even that name requires confirmation.
It is possible that this is an as-yet unnamed species)
I had proclaimed that the species was Corunastylis filiformis. My Orchid-chasing colleague Colin Rowan (from emailed me to ask "are you sure?"
My answer was that NO, I was NOT SURE.
(I became less sure as I looked further and further into the original ID)

We swapped notes and I also communicated again with Alan Stephenson, who was able to provide a copy of the Orchadian description of another species, Corunastylis formosa, which, from P. 180 of David Jones's big Orchid book, looked a "better fit" with my plant.
  • The Orchadian, Vol 13, No 7 Published March 2001.
This is a copy of that illustration by David Jones, 
originally drawn on  4 December 1994.
Click to enlarge the image, 
to allow you to read the notes, 
and to see details of the illustration.

Note the text gives the name as Genoplesium formosum.
It has since been revised by Clements and Jones
in the Australian Orchid Name Index
as Corunastylis formosa.
Jones illustration from The Orchadian, from the original "description"

In order to resolve the true Identity of this plant, I decided I needed to collect a specimen, which will be forwarded to Mark Clements, at CSIRO, for verification of this ID, and to formally record the location of these plants at Butler's Swamp, Kangaloon, NSW.
So, why am I so sure that what is growing in Kangaloon
is Corunastylis formosa?
(I am no longer as sure.
But if it is not that species, what is it?
It has appeared early in the season,
in the same location for the last 3 years).
Corunastylis formosa (possibly) at Kangaloon.
The first point I wish to address is the habitat in which this plant grows. 
My flowers are growing on the edge of Butler's Swamp, Kangaloon
They are growing in the open, 
amongst grasses and some rushes
on black soil.
Some of them are found in deep moist peaty soil,
typical of an "upland swamp" over a sandstone rock substrate.
Altitude at Butler's Swamp is 640 metres. 

(Legal Note: these plants at Butler's Swamp are 
located immediately outside the "SCA's Special Areas")

Jones described his type specimen as 
"growing amongst shrubs on or close to the edges of montane swamps;
less commonly amongst grass bordering rivulets and other small streams.
Soils are  moist brown to blackish loams.
Altitude 750 - 800 m."

He also gives the etymology of the name "formosa"
as "from the Latin, formosus, finely formed, handsome,
in reference to the striking flowers and dense inflorescence."

Jones, D.L. The Orchadian, Vol 13, No 7 .... March 2001.

I wish to make the point about the similarity of habitat for Kangaloon
and the "type locality" as described by David Jones.
Altitude is high at Kangaloon (640 m), 
but not quite as high as Wadbilliga or Cathcart.
But compared to many other Corunastylis, 
both these groups of plants 
(Jones's "Type specimens" and my plants) 
must  be acknowledged as "growing at altitude".
Also the soil and habitat preferences appear similar for both sites.
Importantly, this is an unusual locality and habitat 

for other Corunastylis species I have located in this region
prefer locations, on dry soils or exposed rock shelves.

And now to the flower details:

The lateral sepals look like pointed "horns" poking out.
In situ, these lateral sepals tend to be held horizontally.
The dorsal sepal has no hairs along the edge
and the Labellum is coarsely hairy.
The labellum is also quite broad and "stiff" (i.e., it is not motile***)
as distinct from Corunastylis fimbriata, for example.

A single flower of  Corunastylis formosa (???) - isolated
To see the flower clearly, (isolated from others on the stem)
I severed the ovary and the flower from the stem.

Compare this image with the Figure "d" 
in the illustration above.
(Ignore the shadow lines)
Click to see the details.

Corunastylis formosa (???) petals and labellum visible, over the dorsal sepal.
Back to the Identification of this plant. 

This flower has the same "structure" as described by
David Jones within his  Corunastylis Group 2: "Dorsal Sepal hairless, petals hairless or with a few long hairs labellum broad with long coarse hairs." Jones. op cit P. 179

Compare this plant with the following related plants which I have previously reported and photographed. These are all grouped together by Jones in his "Group 2" (for Corunastylis).
  1. Corunastylis plumosa, the Tallong Midge Orchid - which grows on harsh, dry rock shelves, under dense low shrubbery.
  2. Corunastylis sagittifera, the "Horned Midge Orchid" which is a much paler flower, with a light-coloured labellum.
  3. Corunastylis formosa, the Cathcart Midge Orchid - this flower.
In order to study the flower's parts in detail
I dissected one flower.
Here is the Labellum.
You can see the coarse hairs on the labellum closely
and the two pale sections are the "callus" on the labellum
That callus is illustrated clearly in David Jones's illustration above
See figure "e" in the centre of that illustration.

Labellum of Corunastylis formosa (???), showing the "callus"
Here you can see the "dorsal sepal" (between my fingers)
with the column exposed (showing the pollinia)
Click to enlarge the image.

The dorsal sepal and column of Corunastylis formosa  (???)
This is a significant extension of range(???) for Corunastylis formosa
Kangaloon is a long way north from Wadbilliga National Park and also from Cathcart, NSW. Google Maps shows Cathcart is 380 Km south (by road). Wadbilliga NP is 280 Km south from Kangaloon (by road). So this locality record is a significant extension of range for this species.

My friend Martin Butterfield has provided a map to show the relative positions of  Cathcart, Wadbilliga and Kangaloon.

Orchid chasing works best when it is done collaboratively, I find.
So I wish to thank Colin Rowan and Alan Stephenson for discussing the ins and outs of this ID with me, and Alan for providing the text from the Orchadian in which David Jones first described this species. That Journal is not available "on line" unfortunately. Martin Butterfield, who like me, is a plant chaser, and a fellow Blogger, and someone else who lives "in the bush" and so is familiar with the need to help people know where exactly we are talking about, has sent me a map with the three locations for this plant marked.
Thanks everybody.


*** motile: actively moving; self-propelled. (PlantNET)
The labellum of Corunastylis fimbriata "flutters" in the slightest breeze, or if one blows on it. This species (and many others) have a stiff labellum, which does not move.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Another Midge Orchid - Corunastylis formosa (ID now uncertain 8.2.2014)

I am not going to waffle on much tonight, 
but simply present a bunch of photos from today.
Some of them are here simply because they are so "pretty".

Golden Everlastings with a "Looper Caterpillar"
feeding on the pollen of the Daisy flower.
From Mt Gibraltar - at the edge of the wet Eucalypt forest there.

A "Looper Caterpillar" feeding on pollen of  Golden Everlasting Daisy
An exciting moment for me. 
I saw a Wedge-tailed Eagle on the ground 
feeding on a road-killed Grey Kangaroo.
It was beside the road, 
and did not fly when I drove past.
I stopped up the road about 200 metres, 
and turned and drove back very quietly.
By the time I got back, the bird had flown to a tree
but it had not flown away....... Remarkable for a shy bird.
Click to enlarge. The "Wedgie" is giving me the "stare"
It was watching me intently
and even giving a high-pitched call.
Clearly it wanted me to drive away, 
so it could resume feeding.
I obliged it - by leaving it in peace.

Wedge-tailed Eagle, head turned reveals red colour on back of neck.
This post has been revised as the original plant ID was
eventually found not to be correct. 
Now, to deal with the promised Midge Orchid.
It is another "new species" for me.
Corunastylis formosa
It is known as the Cathcart Midge Orchid,
because it was first described from there - 
a small place east from Bombala, south-east from Cooma. 
See Map here. 

Apart from a single image in David Jones's Orchid book
I can find no published images of Corunastylis formosa
to act as a "verification" of my ID of this plant.

If I am correct in that comment, by the way,
then this may be the first photo of 
Corunastylis formosa available
on the Internet.
(DJW - I now regard that ID as uncertain - 9 Feb 2014)

I shall publish another Post in several days time,
with more detailed images of the plant and
also the original Botanical drawing published
by David Jones in the Orchadian 
when he formally "described" the species (i.e., "named it").

I believe I saw this species last year, but they were "past it"
and I don't believe I got a proper ID for these plants then.
I have since confirmed this ID with Alan Stephenson
and also by phone and email, with Colin Rowan.

These plants were growing in moist grass, 
close to (but not in) Butlers Swamp
at Tourist Road, Kangaloon.
Corunastylis formosa along Tourist Road
A slightly closer shot - showing the Cathcart Midge Orchid 
as one sees it when walking past.
It seems to like growing amongst grass 
about 12 inches high (approx 300mm).
Open grassland, with Eucalypts about, but not shading these plants,
Base soil is derived from sandstone, but fairly moist soil.
Corunastylis formosa - purplish labellum is fringed, dorsal sepal is not.

And I promised to give you some more "pretties". 
The best Christmas Bells I have seen this season.

Christmas Bells at Butlers Swamp (on roadside verge)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

ABC Radio Program "Birdland" and video imagery as well.

My daughter Zoe sent me this message
I believe this is the radio documentary your friend mentioned (on Facebook). I heard it on RN on Thursday.
But first please check out the youtube link I put below- it shows a slideshow of PHENOMENAL bird photos that was exhibited at Federation Square in conjunction with the Birdland project.
Video to accompany "Birdland" and shown at Fed Square
The ABC Documentary Zoe mentioned may be downloaded from the link below.
The Program runs for about 55 minutes, so be prepared to download it, and once it is fully downloaded and cached you can then save the file and replay it at your convenience.
The ABC site introductory comments for this program are as follows:

How would Australians feel if bird numbers diminished so much that the sight of a bird became a rarity, instead of a given. Australia's bird populations are under threat - even such iconic and common birds as the Kookaburra are diminishing in numbers.

The Birdland project asked Radio National listeners to tell us what birds really mean to them. Responses ranged from audio to text, and images. The best contributions are a part of and have informed the direction of the radio documentary. The result is a special exploration of what birds mean to Australians... and how we'd feel if they were gone.

As well as the radio broadcast, Birdland also became a slideshow, at Federation Square, Melbourne, which you can see below.

Music on the show was by Gretchen Miller, Russell Stapleton, Boyd, Stephen Adams, Bree Van Reyk, Alex Anderson, Rose Lang, Sean Scott, Al Kash, Terry Plunkett and Ashley Holmes. Poems and writing by Anne M Carson, Catherine Evans, Judy Fander, Maya Ward, Willow, Marian Waller, Carolyn Leach Paholski, Rebecca Newman, Belinda Hansen and Barbara Henery.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Genoplesium baueri - the "Brittle Midge Orchid" - another Endangered Orchid

Today Alan Stephenson rang me to let me know that he had found a few flowering plants of Genoplesium baueri. This plant is closely related to the other Midge Orchids which are better known (now) as Corunastylis. I have posted about several of  these already this season, and hopefully many more will come of the next few weeks.

As this plant is a leafless saprophyte, (no leaves and uses energy from decaying material to grow, instead of using chlorophyll to convert energy from the sun) one can only find it when it is in flower. And then only with difficulty, as the flowers are small, and reddish yellow, so they hardly stand out against dead leaves on the ground.
Genoplesium baueri. as found - over dead leaves

Plus, it is rare, and even if one knows roughly where they are known to occur, one still has to search amongst the grasses, and dead leaves to find a skimpy little plant about 150 mm high.

Best of luck.
Genoplesium baueri. A closer look at the plant "in situ"

Naturally when given the chance to be shown these plants, one jumps at the offer. 
Genoplesium baueri
Jervis Bay - here I come: 
*traffic of holiday period notwithstanding. 
90 minutes later I was there.
Genoplesium baueri a close-up view (camera case as background)
Alan looking for more Genoplesium baueri
We also found three species of Tongue Orchids in this area (in the Heritage Estate).
No wonder Peter Garret moved to protect this area, under the EPBC Act.

Firstly, this is the endangered Cryptostylis hunteriana
We found a few plants on two sites, close by to the site 
where the Genoplesium baueri plants were growing.

Cryptostylis hunteriana - the other "leafless saprophyte" Orchid in this area
Cryptostylis subulata - the Large Tongue Orchid
This is the kind of image I was seeking to get 
It clearly shows the glands underneath the flower
- the things which attract the pollinating wasps.
Underneath view of  Cryptostylis subulata
Cryptostylis erecta - the Bonnet Orchid
Other flowering plants found there include the photogenic
Christmas Bells

Blandfordia nobilis  - Christmas Bells

Thysanotus tuberosus Common Fringe Lily
This next plant is an odd little plant. 
It is a Pratia*** (Not quite), but it does not "fit" the general form of
The leaf shape is wrong. 
Flower colour is much bluer than the normal form.
but as Kirsten keeps telling me,
flower colour is the least significant factor in plant IDs.
a nice little Pratia - possibly Pratia purpurescens
Thanks once again to Alan for the opportunity to see these plants again.
One ought never pass up on this chance.
*** Kirsten has advised me that it is NOT a Pratia, but a Lobelia.
Oh well, I was close.
Both are in the Lobeliaceae
It is Lobelia anceps  (Formerly known as Lobelia alata)
Here is an image of  "Lobelia alata" from the ever-useful Bega Valley "List of Native Plants and Weeds". If you are not familiar with that website, I recommend it for people in coastal NSW, south from Sydney. I suggest you save it as a "favourite" or "bookmark it".

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dorrigo Waratahs at Robertson Heritage Railway Station

Dorrigo Waratah makes a spectacular plant.
These outstanding Dorrigo Waratah plants make a fine summer display at the Robertson Heritage Railway Station.
Dorrigo Waratah at Robertson Heritage Railway Station

The NSW Waratah, Telopea speciosissima and its cultivars, and some hybrid Waratahs are also grown at the Robertson Railway Station, but they flower around the October Long Weekend (actually at the end of September, and early October).

As the name "Dorrigo Waratah" suggests, these plants grow naturally "in warm-temperate rainforest or rarely in wet sclerophyll forest, on escarpment ranges above 700 m altitude, Missabotti, Dorrigo and Mt Hyland areas (of NSW), and the McPherson Range", (SE  Qld). (Source: PlantNET) But as cultivated plants, they thrive out in the open in Robertson. Our natural habitat is classed as "cool-temperate", so maybe the adjustment to growing them in the open compensates for our lower summer temperatures.

Dorrigo Waratahs cultivated in the open, at Robertson
Their scientific name is Alloxylon pinnatum. They are related to the traditional Australian Waratahs (Telopea spp.) and Oreocallis and Chilean Firetree (Embothrium coccineum) from South America. Almost all these species have red terminal flowers, and hence the subtribe's origin and floral appearance most likely predates the splitting of Gondwana into Australia, Antarctica, and South America over 60 million years ago." (Source: Wikipedia)

Dorrigo Waratah - the whole plant makes a great display

Dorrigo Waratah flowers are less "showy" than the NSW Waratah

The leaf of the Dorrigo Waratah reveals its rainforest heritage - fresh green and soft.

Honey Bee making a Bee Line for the Dorrigo Waratah flower.
These plants have been grown by local Waratah enthusiast, Dr David Tranter, who has been largely responsible for the landscaping of the  Robertson Heritage Railway Station precinct. A great contribution to the local community.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Nature at work, making new things

The Oriental Liliums in my front garden bed are back in flower. It happens every year, regular as clockwork, it seems. Checking my previous posts it is apparent that I have written about them on 17 January 2010, and then again on 15 January 2011, and now today, 19 January 2012.  There are two colour forms (cultivars, or hybrids) growing together. The pink one opens first, and the white several days later.

White Oriental Lilium "Casablanca"

Pink Oriental Lilium

This is a young plant, growing between the other two varieties. It is its first year of flowering, and, it is a naturally occurring hybrid between the other two. It is a delicate blush pink. This is noted as Part 1 of my theme for today - "making new things".
Hybrid Oriental Lilium (naturally pollinated, and self-sown)

This Grey Fantail is on the lookout for insects (which are plentiful in Robertson at present).
You can see a photo of one of these birds in the hand
from a previous post from a bird banding trip to West Wyalong.
It shows the fan-shaped tail from which they get their name.
The fan tail and round wings give these birds amazing agility in the air
which they need in order to catch their insect prey.
Grey Fantail on a bare branch, on lookout for insects

Back to the theme of today's post - "making new things".

There is a pair of Grey Fantails with a nest at my friends' house, Cloud Farm.
Celeste and I saw them go to the nest several weeks ago, 
and so I went back today to monitor their progress.
Both birds are sharing nesting duties of sheltering tiny young, 
and alternately feeding them.
Grey Fantail on nest duty, sheltering its newly hatched chicks
This bird is the male, judging by his clearly marked eyebrows and dark colour.
I love Grey Fantails nests, for they are so neat.
Made mostly of cobwebs (for binding strength)
with an inner structure of grass.
They always seem to make a "tail" under the nest, 
which gives the nest its "wine-glass" appearance.
Quite why they do that is a mystery to me.
Male Grey Fantail on "wine-glass"shaped nest.
I also have a theory that Grey Fantails use cobwebs in nest construction, to match their own grey colour, for the closely related Rufous Fantail builds a similar nest, using brownish plant fibres (and some cobwebs). But the overall nest colour matches the birds brownish body colours when on the nest.

You can see two photos of a Rufous Fantail's brown nest on a post from several years ago. I apologise for the poor quality of one of those images, but together, they serve to illustrate my point.