Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Monday, April 29, 2013

Local Lilly Pilly tree, flowers, fruit

The local Lilly Pilly was known as Acmena smithii when I moved to Robertson. Unfortunately, it is now back with the difficult-to-spell Syzygium tribe, so it is now Syzygium smithii (though PlantNET does not seem to realise it).

The local plants normally have creamy white fruit, but some (few) have pale pinkish/purple fruit. None of the local plants have the strongly coloured Lilly Pilly fruit typical of most of the other members of that genus.

Here is a shot of a single tree, at my friends' property Cloud Farm. There is a large Eucalypt behind the Lilly Pilly. The dense, dark green leaves and white buds and flowers are the give-away.

Syzygium smithiitree at Cloud Farm
 Here are the flowers (taken in December 2011).
Syzygium smithii Buds and open flowers.
These small flowers show some structural similarity
to Eucalypt flowers.
But they lack the distinctive "cap" of Eucalypts.

Typical creamy-white fruit of the local Lilly Pilly plants
Fresh fruit (taken two days ago)
Syzygium smithiiThese fruit are on the same tree as the buds and flowers
But the photos are two years apart.
But the months are characteristic
December for flowering
Late April/May for fruiting.
There is just a bit of pinkish spotting on these fruit.

This tree, being overlooking the escarpment, and hence warmer than Robertson proper, fruits just a little earlier than the best stands of local Lilly Pilly trees on Fountaindale Road, and at Tony and Anna's place.
Leaves of Syzygium smithii

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Having a feel for one's local area. Hunches can pay off.

Sometimes, one's instincts (or hunches) bear fruit.
This morning I set out to check an area opposite the Barren Grounds (approx 10 Km along the Jamberoo Mountain Road from Robertson). I had been in that area several years ago and found what I thought at the time were some Nodding Greenhoods (Pterostylis nutans).

I had a feeling that those plants warranted a good looking at, to double check the ID I had casually ascribed to those Orchids years before. And anyway, I hadn't been in that particular area for a few years.

Sure enough, I stopped opposite the Barren Grounds, walked back about 100 metres, to get past a thicket of native Stinging Nettles and some Native Raspberry prickles. I then walked off the road and quickly found a small colony of Greenhoods.

One look convinced me they were in fact not Pterostylis nutans, but the similar species Pterostylis hispidula (Small Nodding Greenhoods). 

Pterostylis hispidula
(Small Nodding Greehood).
The angle at which the Lateral Sepals
(otherwise known as "points" in most Greenhoods)
are held is distinctive.
Colony of Pterostylis hispidula
(Small Nodding Greehoods).

Pterostylis hispidula
(Small Nodding Greehood).
The bronze tinge on the tip of the "Hood" (Galea)
is also diagnostic.

Lateral view of Pterostylis hispidula
(Small Nodding Greehoods).
In this shot, the labellum is visible (with cobweb)

Pterostylis hispidula
(Small Nodding Greehoods).
The tip of the retracted labellum is just barely visible
These plants have sensitive labellums
which snap shut (inside the flower) if disturbed.
It is part of their pollination process.
I was also surprised to see a few flowers (nearly finished) of Spiranthes australis.
Spiranthes australis
amongst ferns in wet forest.
I am familiar with this species of Orchid, but I expect to see them in open swampy grasslands. But here they were growing in a wet grassy area, surrounded by Tree Ferns, Synoum and Lilly Pilly, and all were growing under tall wet sclerophyll Eucalypt forest.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

And now for a flock of White-headed Pigeons

Following up on yesterday's brief post, today I saw a flock of White-headed Pigeons on a dead tree, above a thicket of Privet bushes. This is the same area where I say these birds on 19 March.
Flock of White-headed Pigeons
on dead tree opposite the Robertson Nature Reserve.
These White-headed Pigeons seem to like to stick together (apart from occasional appearances of couples on powerlines). In that regard, their behaviour is very different from the Wonga Pigeons, or even the Brown Cuckoo-Doves. Their behaviour is more typical of "fruit-eating" Pigeons in my experience, such as the Top-knot Pigeon (which I have only ever seen over-flying my house, in Robertson, or down below the escarpment at Lee's Road, feeding on Cabbage-Tree Palms).

Three White-headed Pigeons sitting on Street Lamp
which is close to the dead tree where the others are perched.

16 White-headed Pigeons on this tree
(plus 3 on the Street Light behind me)
 So, from my photos today, there are at least 19 White-headed Pigeons in this flock.

Incidentally, just for completing the "set" of local native Pigeons, these birds are very different from the Crested Pigeons which we see in the main street of Robertson and along the railway line. They are a small Pigeon, and exclusively grain feeders. They have probably followed the grain trains (which run down to the ethanol factory at Bomaderry, and sometimes for export via Port Kembla). These small Crested Pigeons are definitely not "natural" to the habitat of Robertson. I never see them at my house, although I am only 500 metres from the railway line. But they do hang around the human-dominated centre of the village and the railway line.

Monday, April 15, 2013

White-headed Pigeons back in Robbo

I wrote about the White-headed Pigeons (Columba leucomela (the first I had seen this season) on 19 March, when a flock of them suddenly turned up to feast on the fruit of some Privet bushes. Seeing a flock of these birds in Robertson is unusual.

This morning I saw a pair on the powerline outside my house.

White-headed pigeons
as seen from my back deck.
They are lovely birds, but although i have seen them here before, I am never sure what brings them here, as they are fruit eaters, rather than "seed" eaters. In other words, they do not walk around like Wonga Pigeons picking up dry seeds on the ground. But I have no mature, fruiting Lilly Pilllies at my property, so I am not sure what the attraction is for them.

But, heck, they are such beautiful birds, I am not complaining.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Cordyceps in Rain Forest at Robertson.

Today I was included in a Land for Wildlife seminar organised by Dr Karen Guymer of the Wingecarribee Shire Council. It was very informative, and well organised. It was hosted at the Robertson CTC.

However, for me the highlight was a guided tour of the Robertson Rainforest patch on Tony and Anna Williams "White Birch Farm". This rainforest is significantly different from the Robertson Nature Reserve, in the dominant plants being dense stands of Lilly Pilly trees Syzygium smithii (formerly Acmena smithii). In the Robertson Nature Reserve, the dominant trees are more varied, being Sassafras, Blackwood, Coachwood. It was a lovely forest walk, with fantastic ferns and, of course, beautiful patches of moss on the rocks and tree trunks.

While on the walk I noticed two small black fungi points sticking out of the ground. I called to Tony and pointed them out and explained what I thought they were, and sought permission to dig it up.

As I had expected, it revealed the mummified body of a large caterpillar, with a fruiting body of the Cordyceps gunnii growing out of the top of the caterpillar's original body.

Fruiting body of Cordyceps gunnii
The red line indicates the original ground level
The Caterpillars of the large Swift Moth which have been buzzing around my windows and perching on my front Verandah, are the main local insect which become infected by the Fungal Spores of Cordyceps gunnii.

This shows the entire body of the Caterpillar
and the Fungal Fruiting body
A dual 'head" is unusual, but not unknown,

This is a clearer image (taken on a previous occasion)
you can clearly still see the lumpy "prolegs" of the Caterpillar.
The fruiting body (in this case grey in colour)
grows out of the head of the caterpillar.

I often say to people that when you see an entire organism taken over by a Fungus and then to have a fruiting body grow out of the head of the organism which has been "taken over" by the fungus, it makes one not worry about a small case of tinea between one's toes.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Swift Moths are back with cool moist weather.

Swift Moths seem to emerge and hang around the front porch of my cottage on cool, moist nights.
This has been observed in previous years, but as they have just started to appear in recent nights I thought I ought record the fact.

Swift Moth (Oxycanus dirempta)
Swift Moth (Oxycanus dirempta)

Swift Moth (Oxycanus dirempta)

Monday, April 08, 2013

Surprises where one least expects them

Alan Stephenson sent me a message that a friend of his had pulled their car off the road, on the way back form Moss Vale to Nowra and found some red Greenhood Orchids. Alan identified them as Diplodium coccinum. More to the point, he wanted to know where these plants were, exactly, as these plants are not often seen, and were not known to grow in that area.

I got a message (several actually) suggesting that they were along what is known locally as the Nowra Road, west from Fitzroy Falls. There was a distinctive letterbox nearby.

Armed with that information, it took no time at all to find the plants, once I had driven to the right place.

Scarlet Greenhood - Diplodium coccinum
What was startling to me was that once I started to look, there were literally hundreds of flowers and far more plants (leaf rosettes) than that amongst the grass. They were everywhere in just one hundred metre section of the road. Across the road they were not seen. Further down they were not seen either.

A good example of Orchids growing where they love to grow.

two flowers amongst the grass.

Another nice specimen
The point of my Blog title today is that this road is one which I drive along occasionally, going to look at Orchids elsewhere. Alan has driven this section of road hundreds of times over the years, as his daughter lived in the Highlands at one stage, I understand, and also, it is on his route to just about everywhere from Canberra or points west, as well as the Southern Highlands. It just goes to show that one cannot assume there is nothing to see, just because one doesn't stop to look. In this case, we owe this discovery to an observant traveller's unexpected need to adjust the load on a  trailer.
In deep shade under the pine trees
there were many plants of Acianthus exsertus
 One surprise for me was to find this small "Coastal Greenhood" Diplodium alveatum
Diplodium alveatum
is similar to Diplodium obtusum
The labellum is clearly visible and dark
it has a strongly rolled edge to the "sinus".

Habitat shot

Diplodium coccinum leaf rosettes amongst thistle weeds.
These rosettes had large leaves,
and were quite plastic-looking,
with a deep vein along the mid-line.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Little Pied Cormorant - road kill

Graphic (not nasty) image warning

Every so often I post photos of dead birds, for scientific reasons.
I intend to do so today.
If this distresses you, please come back again another day.

The point of today's post is that one seldom finds Cormorants as road kill specimens. This is a once in a blue moon opportunity to see this bird up close.

Little Pied Cormorants are common enough birds, but one sees them either on a tree beside a creek or dam, or flying over, or else one sees the neck and the back only, because they swim very low in the water. There is good science behind their low level in the water, as their feathers are non-oily, to allow them to get wet, thus allowing them to sink in the water. Ducks have oily feathers, which repel water, and so trap air inside their layers of feathers, aiding the flotation of the birds. Cormorants are diving birds, (underwater swimmers) so flotation would hinder, rather than assist them.

Beak of Little Pied Cormorant - note the strong hook
which assists the bird to hold its fish prey.
Webbed foot of the Cormorant.
Left foot has "thumb" on inside
(same relative position as on our hands).
I was surprised to see how large the foot was.
The "little finger equivalent" is in fact very long.
That maximises the area of webbing, thus aiding propulsion.
Two Cormorants diving.
You can see their wings are closed,
and they propel themselves entirely by paddling
with their feet.
Hence the importance of maximising
the area of the webbing on their feet.
By contrast, Penguins flap their wings underwater -
They are "flying" through the water, not paddling.

Very fine belly feathers of the Cormorant.
White above the "vent" and black below.
Tail feathers are of an entirely different structure
They are stiff and veined.
Top side view of the Cormorant.
It is very long and narrow in shape,
compared to more commonly seen road killed birds
such as Magpies or Galahs.
And now for an image of a tiny parasite I found on the belly feathers of the Cormorant.

I checked the bird for parasites.
I was looking for "Flat Flies"which are common on many birds.
Instead I found numerous specimens of this parasite.
It was tiny. Maybe 1.5mm in length, with a pointed head.
It has 6 legs, so it is an insect, not a Mite (which have 8 legs).
So maybe it is a louse.
Check this image of an Avian Sucking Louse