Sunday, 31 August 2008

Rosella Nest Box

Well thanks to Gouldiae for motivating me to finally put up a nest box. Hopefully it's up in time for any Rosellas who are currently in the market for a rental property. The rent is cheap, or 'cheap cheap'. as the Rosellas would say. All they have to do is pose for a photo now and then.

The box is 250mm x 200mm and 400mm high. The hole diameter is 70mm. The hole itself is a little rough as I don't have a hole saw. I lost mine when I moved here and didn't want to buy a new one for one project. If the nest is a success I might invest in one as I will be wanting to make a variety of other nest types.

Although it doesn't look it in the photo, it is situated about 4m of the ground and faces north east. I remember the first time I put up a nest box in Scotland, I kid you not that within 5 minutes a pair of Blue tits were checking it out. Well I don't expect anything like that in this instance but I will keep and eye on it and if any interest is show I'll post it here.

If anyone's wants to make a nest box then check out Gouldiae's excellent post here or download a pdf file from the Victorian DPI here.

(Click to Enlarge)
Internal view with sawdust and a ladder

External view

In final position

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Little Foxes in My Backyard

Yes it's true. Here in Tasmania I have little foxes in the backyard but not the feral peril you might be thinking of. These are actually possums - Trichosurus vulpecula. The latin name vulpecula literally means 'little fox'. No doubt the name was given to them due to the bushy tail, hence their common name of Brushtail possum.

Scientific studies have shown that these possums spend 16% of there time feeding. Non-scientific studies suggest that most of that feeding is done on my fruit trees. I lost half my apples last autumn which meant I couldn't make the home brewed cider I had planned. They also ate the pears. At the moment they are even having a go at my lemons taking a bite out of each one. Despite this, I actually love having them around. I see it as my responsibility to find new and interesting ways to protect the fruit.

So why was I out photographing possums? Well a couple of weeks ago I took down the wallaby fence as it was unsightly and didn't work anyway. I figured I may as well let the smaller animals come in for a feed as well. I was hoping the bandicoots would come closer to the house. It seems to have worked as twice already I have accidentally flushed what I believe was a bandicoot in broad daylight but I only got a fleeting glimpse. The other night I walked up the hill with the torch hoping to see one but all I found was some of our regular visitors, half dozen Pademelons and a couple of Brushtail Possums. At least one of the possums was kind enough to hang about for a photo or two.

(Click to Enlarge)

Brushtail Possum - Trichosurus vulpecula

Brushtail Possum - Trichosurus vulpecula

Friday, 29 August 2008

Green Rosella

...Platycercus caledonicus

The green Rosella (or Tasmanian Rosella) was once much more common (particularly around orchids) but the population has declined over the years. One suggestion as to the cause is competition for nesting sites with the introduced Starling.

I do see small flocks from time to time but generally I see them in pairs. One pair visits our backyard where they feed in the Eucalypts and Native Cherries.

I'd love to know the origin of this birds name. Caledon is the old Roman name for Scotland and the suffix icus changes it to an adjective - thus caledonicus would mean Scottish. It seems a strange name for a Tasmanian endemic. However, there are other Australian species with the same name. For example the Nankeen Night Heron is Nycticorax caledonicus, so perhaps there is another explanation. Can anyone shed some light on this?

Below are are a couple of photos I took yesterday. In the first shot the sky is completely blown out but I actually quite like the effect.

(Click to enlarge)

Green Rosella - Platycercus caledonicus

Green Rosella - Platycercus caledonicus

Update: Thanks to Snail in the comments below for the explanation for the name caledonicus.

From Wikipedia:
The Green Rosella was described by the German naturalist Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1788. The species specific epithet was derived from the mistaken belief the bird was collected from New Caledonia.
Now I just need to find out how Gmelin acquired his Tasmanian Rosella in 1788.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Pitfall Trap your step

Yesterday at dusk, I set up a pitfall trap. No I'm not hunting stray tigers, not even Tasmanian tigers. The use of pitfall traps is a common way surveying for ground dwelling beetles. I've had some success with them in Scotland and for some time now I've been meaning to place a few up the hill in the backyard.

While there are all sorts of interesting designs out their I have simply used the humble baked been tin. It was buried so that the rim is at ground level. It is placed alongside a log, the theory being a beetle will be merrily walking along following the edge of the log and whistling 'The Road to Gundagai' until suddenly it stumbles into the trap.

The Pitfall Trap

Was it a success? Well there was one one beetle in the trap this morning. So, on current averages one could speculate that 5 traps might produce 5 beetles a night or 150 beetles per month :-) Of course you wouldn't want to put the trap out on a rainy night as the beetles will surely drown.

I will definitely set up another couple of traps, maybe just once a week or so. The main thing that may hold me up is the thought of eating more beans.

The beetle from last night belongs to the family Carabidae, known as Ground Beetles. These are the most likely catch in such a trap. The Catalogue of the Insects of Tasmania list 223 Carabids from 20 subfamilies.

Ground Beetle - family Carabidae (10mm)

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

A New Toy

I've stated previously that I'd like to replace my el cheapo microscope with a fancy new dissecting microscope, preferably with a trinocular head for photography. Well I still don't have one. However I have acquired another new toy. My wife recently popped in at a garage sale and saw an old microscope. Not knowing what I wanted she hesitated for a while as she didn't want to spend money on a piece of junk.

Well she bit the bullet and spent the cash. Here it is:

It's a Leitz Wetslar 'Dialux' with 12.5x wide angle eyepieces and 100x, 40x, 25, 10, and 4x objectives giving a magnification range of 50x to 1250x

Did she pay too much? I don't think so at just $10 :-) Mind you, based on the serial number it was made in about 1973 and I've had to pay a whopping $18 for a new light bulb. Still a bargain!

As far as I can tell everything else seems OK with it so here's hoping all is well when the bulb arrives. Now I need suggestions on what to use it for. A collection of animal hair samples perhaps? Any other suggestions?

(Click to enlarge)

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Some Recent Birds

Below are some photographs I've taken over the last week.

The Pelican was at the Inglis River in Wynyard. I went there in the hope of seeing a solitary pelican which is often present. Instead there were actually four - the most I've ever seen there. Unfortunately I was on the wrong side of the river for a good photo. Later when they flw off and circled overhead I managed a few shots but I was still on the wrong side of the sun.

Australian Pelican - Pelecanus conspicillatus

These are 'Fairy Penguins' or 'Little Penguins' as they are usually referred to now. I don't make a habit of looking for burrows but this one is at the side of a footpath which is regularly used by people and dogs so I don't think a quick snap would be too disturbing.

Little Penguin - Eudyptula minor

The Fantail is at York Street Reserve in Wynyard. I was there looking for orchids but this is all I came back with :-)

Grey Fantail - Rhipidura albiscapa

This young White-bellied Sea Eage was flying west along the coast.. We followed it for 9 km's. I estimate is was travelling at around 50 kmph although it's overall progress was held up by an endless supply of Ravens and Lapwings wanting to have a go at it.

White-bellied Sea Eagle - Haliaeetus leucogaster

And the humble Fairywren is, as usual, in my backyard.
Superb Fairywren - Malurus cyaneus

Monday, 25 August 2008

Gastropodal Wonders

... or shells on the beach

Along with the Strange's Watering Pot in yesterdays post I also came across the many other shells, two of which I've shown below.

The first is one of only six Cowrie species to be found in Tasmania. It is Cypraea comptoni. Sometimes these can look similar to C. angustata but the latter is broader and does not have any banding.

(Click to enlarge)
Cypraea comptoni.

I also found two little micro shells, the larger only 8mm long, I think these may be Ataxocerithium serotinum with the anterior canal and outer lip damaged.

(Click to enlarge)
Possibly Ataxocerithium serotinum

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Strange's Watering Pot

.....Humphreyia strangei

Humphreyia strangei, also known as Strange's Watering Pot, is a rather bizarre mollusk. The first time I came across one was at Lillico Beach. Giving it a quick scan I entertained all sorts of ideas ranging from a hollowed out tooth to a worm shell. I soon decided it must have been a gastropod which instead of growing in the normal coiled manner had grown straight. I was wrong again. I never would have guessed it was in fact a bivalve.

Today at Sulphur Creek myself and some companions found another two of these unusual bivalves.The one in the photo below is 62mm long. The other was a mere 14mm although it was damaged at the base so may have been a little longer.

While the name strangei comes from the surname 'Strange' it would have been even more fitting if it was derived from the adjective 'strange'. Of course, in this case it would have be named something like Humphreyia insolitus. (insolitus meaning strange or unusual).

The species belongs to the family Clavagellidae. There seems to be very little information available on this species. However from what I've read it starts off as a tiny, free moving bivalve. At sexual maturity it secretes a calcareous tube. The anterior end forms a concave disc known as the ‘watering pot’ which is cemented to the substratum after which this end can grow no further. The posterior end forms a four sided tube, roughly squarish in cross section and houses the siphons.This end continues to grow with the animal. The original bivalve becomes virtually non existent.They are believed to be suspension feeders. If anyone can offer more information or corrections to the above I'd be glad to here from you.

Strange's Watering Pot - Humphreyia strangei

  • MORTON, B. 2002b. The biology and functional morphology of Humphreyia strangei (Bivalvia: Anomalodesmata: Clavagellidae): an Australian cemented ‘watering pot’ shell. Journal of Zoology, London 258: 11–25.
  • Richmond M - 1997. Tasmanian Sea Shells Common to Other Australian States (Revised Edition) - Richmond Printers.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

New Holland Honeyeater Does Party Trick

.....Phylidonyris novaehollandiae

Well I noticed something about the New Holland Honeyeaters the other day - the white stripes on their head. I mean normally that's what they are - 'stripes' as seen in the first photo. However, in the second photo you'll notice the stripes are actually like tufts which it can raise up when excited. Maybe you have all seen this before but it's certainly a new one for me :-) If your eyes are like mine you'd be best to enlarge at least the second image to see what I mean.

(Click on images to enlarge)

New Holland Honeyeater - Phylidonyris novaehollandiae - Relaxed

New Holland Honeyeater - Phylidonyris novaehollandiae - Excited

Friday, 22 August 2008

Coast Needlebush

...Hakea decurrens

The University of Tasmania's Key to Tasmanian Seed Plants states that Hakea decurrens (formerly H.sericea) is "an uncommon shrub found in Tasmania only in the Furneaux Group (Cape Barren, Clarke and Flinders Islands)". The book 'Living with Plants' by McLeod & Gray says Hakea sericea was was once widespread between Burnie and Devonport but now can only be found at Rocky Cape National Park. I cannot find any other reference to the plant being at Rocky Cape. However, it is not hard to imagine a widespread loss of coastal heath species between Burnie and Devonport as the Bass Highway and the Railway line run right along the coast for much of the route between these towns. In any case, my little bit of north-west coast has three plants which I purchased from a Tasmanian native plant nursery last year. All are doing well. They flowering peaks in July and August so they will provide plenty of winter nectar for the honeyeaters.

Note: This plant is much more widespread in N.S.W & Vic

(Click images for larger versions)

Coast Needlebush - Hakea decurrens - Inflorescence

Coast Needlebush - Hakea decurrens - Fruit

Coast Needlebush - Hakea decurrens - Leaves

Thursday, 21 August 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different

..... More Birds Photos :-)

Yes, just for a change I thought I'd share some bird photos :-) First may I mention that I saw my first Welcome Swallow for the spring while in Ulverstone today. Unfortunately it was too far off for a photograph. Of course some swallows do overwinter in Tasmania but I for one have not seen one through winter.

I also saw my first 'Tasmanian' Little Corella. (See photo). Little Corellas in Tasmania are introduced from the mainland. This one was all alone and trying hard to blend in with a flock of 50+ Galahs so pehaps it is an even more recent escapee.

(Click for larger versions)

Little Corella - Cacatua sanguinea (Ulverstone)

Black-faced Cormorant - Phalacrocorax fuscescens (Ulverstone)

Scarlet Robin - Petroica boodang (Backyard)

Scarlet Robin - Petroica boodang (Backyard)

New Holland Honeyearter - Phylidonyris novaehollandiae (Backyard)

New Holland Honeyearter - Phylidonyris novaehollandiae (Backyard)

Crescent Honeyeater - Phylidonyris pyrrhopterus (Backyard)

Yellow-throated Honeyeater - Lichenostomus flavicollis (Backyard)

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Eagles Vs Ravens

The White-bellied Sea Eagles fly over out place pretty regularly, sometimes several times a day. Quite often an eagle will be accompanied by the local pair of Forest Ravens who try to see it off. The eagle will generally ignore them and continue on it's route. Yesterday not one but two Sea Eagles got into a full scale dog fight right above our place. I was able to watch them for a good 10 minutes. They were high up, it was getting dark, and the rain clouds were rolling in as well. As a result, these are pretty poor images, but hopefully they convey some of the excitement of the event.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Birds Birds Birds

...and Birds

Here are some shots I took while out and about. All were taken between today with the exception of the Fairywren which was taken in the backyard on Saturday.

The Tern Is probably just Crested Tern - Sterna bergii although it isn't very crested so I might double check that one later.

One I did not manage to photograph was a Swamp Harrier, the first I've seen this Spring.It was probably a male given it relatively light brown appearance. Most Swamp Harriers migrate north for the winter so this one had likely just returned.

(Click to see larger versions)

Rainbow Lorikeet - Trichoglossus moluccanus - on Banksia

Galah - Eolophus roseicapilla

Little Wattlebird - Anthochaera chrysopteraon - feeding on Banksia

Little Wattlebird - Anthochaera chrysopteraon - feeding on Banksia

Superb Fairywren - Malurus cyaneus

Crested Tern - Sterna bergii (?)

Monday, 18 August 2008

Not Just a Twig

...but a home for Hemibella heliotricha

More than just a twig, the photos below show the larval case of Hemibella heliotricha, a moth of the very large family Oecophoridae. There are other members of the genus on the mainland. I noticed many of these larvae last August on one particular tree. I've been watching closely for the last few weeks and finally spotted one on the same tree today.

The larvae of the Genus hollow out twigs to make a larval case in which they gain protection. I'm always impressed by the straightness off the cross cut and the neatness of the round hole. They feed on Eucalyptus leaves. You can see the holes in the leaf where it has been feeding. Other parts of the leaf have only had the surface grazed. The caterpillar will use successively larger twigs eventually pupating within.

They can attach the twig to a leaf or branch using silk. Using a twig also offers pretty good camouflage but their habit of attaching themselves at right angles to a surface makes them a little easier to spot once you know what you're looking for.

(Click photos for larger versions)

Larval case of Hemibella heliotricha - 17mm long

Larval case of Hemibella heliotricha - Showing the hole at one end.
The twig is 2.2mm in diameter

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Social Huntsman Spider

... Delena cancerides

This afternoon I came across this spider - Delena cancerides. This is Tasmania's largest Huntsman spider. It is known as the 'Social Huntsman' as it can live in colonies of up to 300. It is rather flat bodied and generally lives under the bark of trees. This one was found on a star post when I removed a bit of tin that was attached to it. A couple of months ago, my wife picked up a cardboard box which had been lying rotting in the bush for quite a while. We both freaked out when we seen three of these huntsmen crawling on her. (Don't worry - I composed myself long enough to be able to rescue her) So..... apparently they also like to live between sheets of old cardboard :-0

For scale, the blue and yellow marks on the first photo are each 1 cm long. The star post is 4.5 cm across.

Warning: Arachnophobes should not scroll down any further.

Click to see larger version

Social Hunstman - Delena cancerides

Social Hunstman - Delena cancerides

Friday, 15 August 2008

Backyard Birding - 6

One bird I've been targeting for the last few weeks is the Brown Thornbill. At only 100mm head to tail and constantly on the move they have proven rather difficult to photograph. They also spend a lot of time right in among the foliage, in the canopy, foraging for insects. To date my attempts could only be described as little brown splodges. The kind of thing that makes you reach for a screen wipe. On that basis, I'm quite chuffed with the following shots I took this evening.

Click for larger version
Brown Thornbill - Acanthiza pusilla

Brown Thornbill - Acanthiza pusilla

Brown Thornbill - Acanthiza pusilla