Friday, December 31, 2010

Azola Water Fern

Very boringly though not entirely unexpectedly, it's raining again. Last month, December 2010, we had 583 mm of rain! That is 23 and a half inches for those who think in that measurement. Rainfall for the whole year of 2010 was over two metres. (7 or 8 feet?)

If we feature at all on your news reports, they're probably saying the whole country is under water. Here, on my patch, it's soggy. Since my yard is on a flood plain, with its thousands of years of silt, it gets muddy with the constant addition of water.

Small plants with shallow roots are struggling. They're growing rank and leggy. I'll probably need to replant my second lot of summer vegetables, cucumber and eggplant. Or they won't make it at all this summer.

Azola Water Fern with Raindrops
One thing that consistently looks good in the rain is the azola water fern. A raindrop gathers on the centre of each plant and with even a tiny amount of light reflecting off them, it can be very decorative.

The green tinge on the fronds tells you there hasn't been enough sun. In full sun the plants are brown.

This bath-ful also supports the last few of a batch of striped marsh frog tadpoles which eat the azola roots. After I'm watching for a while, the tadpoles will start nudging the plants tearing off the roots.

Or sometimes you see these little tadpole mouths coming between the plants for a bit of air.

Azola is be a pest in many situations, but I find it very useful for the tadpoles. If I get too much, I'll scoop it out and throw it on the vegetable garden to rot down. Or I'll put a batch of into my worm farm.

What have you got growing?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Butterfly Central

Yesterday, outside for the first time since Christmas Day - due to rain and bronchitis - I had the three thrills in short order. The first being a sunny day, finally, after more than ten days of rain.

Varied Eggfly 
The second, a visit by a varied eggfly butterfly, sitting briefly with its wings outspread on my garden bench - not enough time to get a photo. But trust me, a beautiful sight. Velvety black upper wings splotched with white eggs, each surrounded by a band of deep purple blue. [Photo of it sitting on washing line with closed wings, to give you an idea of the size]

Third, soon after throwing a mango pit and skins into the sweet potato patch for rotting down, these remains were visited by an Evening Brown butterfly.

I had read in the Jordan and Schwencke book, Create More Butterflies, that Evening Browns prefer fruit juice to nectar, but to have it happening right in front of your eyes on your own patch is still a thrill to me. 

Evening Brown Sipping Mango Cocktail
Makes me want to ensure there are always mango skins, just for the Evening Browns. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Yellow Migrant Butterfly

This yellow migrant butterfly has been sipping nectar from lime blossoms, its tongue is still rolling back up.

These butterflies, both white and yellow forms, are a common sight in my garden from September on. Though they lay their eggs on native senna as well as the introduced senna, I don't at the moment have a very large native bush growing.

It's my plan to get a half dozen of these plants going though they are proving difficult to get established. So far I have only the one and that one only about a metre tall, not yet big enough for a concentrated onslaught by caterpillars.

For nectar, these butterflies visit most of the plants flowering this month consisting of canna lilies (weed), Paterson's curse (weed); nasturtium, cherry tomatoes, lomandra and various flowering herbs, such as coriander.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

'Cotton Lace Spider'

Lacey spiderweb.
 This morning discovered at least half a dozen different spiders in the lilly pilly tree. This web one of the most striking. The Wildlife of Greater Brisbane doesn't feature it so perhaps it is local to this area. I'm calling it the Cotton Lace Spider for now. 

I imagine this is the way animals get named, just by someone describing them, and the name being taken on. 

Have you seen this anywhere? The lacy part is about 2.5 cm (1 inch) across.

I'll be interested to find out where else this spider lives.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Striped Marsh Frogs

This morning I checked the rain gauge and that is all I have done in the yard today. The guage is mounted on the fence (dog digging and cat hunting skinks prevention) around my vege garden, approximately eight long paces from the back door. Plenty of time to get muddy feet with the ground completely sloppy under the grass.

Which is the joy of living so close to a river. The land here is, in effect, a flood plain with clay soil. This is the reason I built up my vegetable garden and imported a loamy soil.

Normally, when it is not raining, I do a circle around the yard, camera in hand. This is an old photo of a Striped Marsh Frog trying to hide among the stones 'mulching' a pot plant. This is sometime last month, presumably before it was involved in a spawning event, the result the tadpoles now growing up.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Orchard Swallowtail

Orchard Swallowtail
This butterfly very busy with its laying. The cumquat bush is well protected amongst grasses, native lomandra and broad leaf paspalum seed heads overhanging.

The butterfly sways around the bush, alighting the briefest moment to deposit one barely visible egg each time.

Eggs hatch into tiny black and white caterpillars resembling bird droppings, a survival strategy. Later, they turn  green-grey and look spiky. When they are disturbed they shoot a forked filament from their heads that resembles a snake's tongue. Not that I've ever seen that yet. 

What type of butterflies visit your patio, verandah, yard, garden, park, balcony? 

Orchard swallowtails are very versatile and can breed on almost any of the citrus plants. A small cumquat in a pot on your roof or balcony. Let me know how you go. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cicada Hatching

This cicada is hatching rather late in the day. Usually it is done by dawn, and the insect is hiding from its predators in the surrounding shrubbery by the time the sun is up.

Though this photo is from a couple of years ago, I am finding numerous cicada nymph casings on the vertical surfaces around the yard. I don't know enough about them to know what sort is hatching here.

Cicada nymphs live in the ground, often for years, sucking their food from tree roots.

This year we have many more bladder cicadas than I have ever known here in my little area. This species makes a loud ringing sound, starting after dark. I hear them even when it is raining. It can't be because we are having more rain because they live in the ground for more than the couple of years since the drought has broken.

Do you have cicadas where you live?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Orchard Swallowtail Caterpillar


This large caterpillar is chomping into my lime tree, sharing that particular leaf with a leaf miner. For quite a few days I saw no caterpillars in the trees where I'd been with my stink bug removal kit and I was afraid that maybe I had made conditions dangerous for caterpillars.

Removing stink bugs will bring more birds into the trees. More stink bugs means fewer birds. What I have to do I guess is try to get to an ideal stink bug ratio.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pied Currawongs

Magpies have red eyes and pied currawongs have yellow eyes.

I discovered this stunning little fact while browsing in my Brisbane Wildlife Guide. The birds are portrayed one above the other, in full regalia. Meaning that instead of a family of magpies, I host a clan of pied currawongs.

I have had suspicions for a while. The birds visiting my yard seemed bigger than magpies. While they wrestle worms out of the ground just like magpies do, they also eat skinks, paw paws and ripe bangalow palm seeds, as well as having a go at any half-eaten bones lying around that the dog hasn’t buried, as well as the juicy growing tips of the paw paw trees when there is no fruit.

Surely magpies are just insect eaters, I thought to myself as I opened the backdoor for the day, and startled a big black and white bird carving into a ripe paw paw. 

‘Startled’ is still the word. These birds probably recall the time when my dog was young and active and watchful. When she refused big birds entry to the yard with chasing at full throttle while barking. Woof. Woof. Woof. She’s deep-chested and had no trouble doing both at the same time. Now she makes only a half-hearted effort and then only when I am in the yard.

A few weeks ago I was witness to a major spectacle … a pied currawong corroboree. Between 12 and 20, by my best guess, of the birds gathered in the triangle of trees straddling my, and my neighbours’ yards – three bangalow palms, a cocos, three traveler palms and a coolamon tree.

As I say, I witnessed. Much of it from the back step looking down the length of the yard. After the first couple of tries, I didn’t bother walking down there, let alone with my camera, due to them flying off as soon as I came nearer than five or six metres.

For three! days! the noise out there was stupendous! Loud, ringing calls interspersed with a large variety of different songs. Loud in decibels and long in hours, the singers sang in the close canopy of the coolamon. It seemed to be the meeting place.

One reason for the meet may have been the serendipitous ripening of the seeds of three bangalow palms at the same time. A feast when added to the flower stalks (looking similar to banana flower stalks) in my next-door neighbour’s travelers palms.

It might be my imagination spinning a tale, but I am nearly positive that the two birds which normally frequent my yard, acted as hosts. They guided the visitors to the trees in my yard and sat on the fence watching over them while they enjoyed the berries.

At times I could see up to six birds gobbling down the bright red berries in my two palms, and three or four birds doing the same in the one over in the motel yard. The guard bird on the fence keeping a watchful, yellow, eye. One or two birds creeping in and out of the traveler palm fronds chasing down flowers, and still four or five bird voices in the coolamon raising a storm of song. There you have my estimate. I hope they do it again.

I’ll also be posting this article on my blog, a place for sharing wildlife experiences, biodiversity brags, and ways of controlling the weeds we love to hate and why sometimes we need them. See you at 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Insect Eggs

Reproduction is part of the ongoing story of November, in this case with fourteen pearly eggs, of a stink bug, on a tuckaroo tree leaf, ready to hatch and begin eating. This is why in November ragged leaves are the look. Plenty of caterpillars and grubs means plenty of visiting insect-eating birds.

The size of the eggs, the size of a glass head on a pin, suggest quite a large caterpillar or larval form. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Paper Wasps

I'm having to go back on my word of no spraying under any circumstances but haven't worked out yet how I will do it. I was weeding yesterday and got stung in my face and ear by a couple of paper wasps. Their nest is about 30 centimetres above ground level, hanging from the end of a rose branch in the path into my vegetable garden.

We have two species locally. One that makes a circular nest and the other as per the image below:

This image from Wildlife of Greater Brisbane: a Queensland Museum Wild Guide. Another of my print resources. It's difficult to get close enough without getting stung, hence the copy of J Wright's shot.

All three of the paper wasps featured in the Guide are named just that. This one is the Ropalidia revolutionalis and amazingly always builds in the same region of my yard, between the rear eastern corner of the house and the front western corner of the garage which buildings are about three metres apart.

I say amazing, because though the different colonies are often having to be exterminated (because of getting in the way of people) a few months later a new crowd settles there and it all starts again. Must be an ideal wasp location.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Create More Butterflies by F Jordan & H Schwenke

  Print field guides have been one of my most important resources learning the species of this area. When I started re-planting almost six years ago I knew barely any of the native species other than birds. And indeed, I've had my Birds of Australia by Simpson and Day for twenty one years. 

Create more Butterflies has given me, by way of sourcing and growing the plants recommended, blue triangle butterflies, orchard swallowtails, fuscous swallowtails, yellow migrants and white migrants, yellow admiral, varied eggfly, splendid ochre, small grass yellow and several more in their seasons.

Nectar flowers will convince butterflies to visit. If you grow plants their caterpillars need, they'll stay long enough to deposit their eggs. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Orchard Swallowtail Butterflies vs Stink Bugs

This morning I had another go at inventing an organic mixture with which to control stink bugs. Unfortunately neither my camera nor my phone would give me back the photos I took.

I have three citrus trees which support a variety of wild life as well as providing me with fruit, in season. I sighted half a dozen orchard swallowtail caterpillars (as portrayed, on cumquat leaf) today, so any kind of spraying is out of the question.

Orchard Swallowtail Caterpillar, Nov 2009

Also this spring, an explosion of stink bugs. Dozens of fat, chocolate-brown specimens and dozens more young ones all the shades of green through bright orange and salmon with striped black and white feelers. Quite pretty and I don't mind a couple here and there. They are part of the dance after all.

 A couple of cups of white vinegar in a tall old plastic jug heavily "salted" with chilli powder and swirled around quickly killed most of the ones I managed to flick in there with a long paint brush. Taking them by surprise, I didn't get sprayed. Fifteen minutes later they were dead. The beauty with this kind of mixture is that it and the dead insects can be composted, and so the nutrients recycled.

Any other, better mixtures out there?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Weeding and Tadpoles

It rained all night with 11 mm in the gauge this morning. Soft, drizzly showers this morning with unbroken cloud cover. Our annual rainfall to the end of October is already 1662 mm so I guess we'll make the two metres of rain, again. And it is fairly warm.

This means an overgrowth of weeds as well as the good growth of the native vegetation I've been planting for the last six years. Every time I go outside I'm pulling what are normally roadside weeds. I've even got thistles this summer.

Serious weeding is usually kikuyu grass, broad leaf paspalum which is a shade lover and competitor of basket grass and maidenhair fern. Weeding kikuyu consists of zipping back the runners and pulling out the plants. the paspalum has to be pulled out plant by plant. These grow close together, in a clump, which alternately can be mattocked out.

In the meantime the tadpoles are growing up. Here seen consuming a dog kibble. Voracious little critters that will graze on various sorts of algae, roots of water plants such as azola as well as suck dry dead fish and snails.

Your yard as ark

I believe anyone with even a few square metres of ground in their care has the possibility of restoring their bit of land to the stage where it can act as an ark to creatures otherwise left without habitat.

Half a dozen arks on the same block, a hundred in the same small town, five hundred in a suburb and thousands in a city can be part of the wildlife corridors being developed even as I speak.

A striped marsh frog hides in a potted sedge plant sunk in the tadpole pond.