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.