Monday, 30 March 2015

Blog Name Change

..... and a new template layout.

When?  As of today the blog "Nature of Tasmania" has had a name change.

What?  It is now "Nature Notebook.

Where? The URL remains the same ( )

Why?   Future content will not always be solely of Tasmanian interest.

                    (O O)
     I             Thank You           I        
     I                                 I
     I     Mosura  ( a.k.a. Alan )     I
                    II II
                   ooO Ooo

Friday, 27 March 2015

Sea and Sky - Home of the Albatross

You don't need a boat to see an albatross or two. Just find a good vantage point along the coast, watch and wait.

(Both shots taken from the shoreline at Cooee, Tasmania)

Shy Albatross

 Black-browed Albatross

( Skywatch Friday )

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Exceptional View of a Platypus

Yesterday I went down to Fern Glade (in Burnie, Tasmania) for a bit of birding but I soon found myself sidetracked.  I couldn't believe my luck when a Platypus hauled itself out onto a log to have a good old scratch. I didn't have the tripod so I leaned against a tree to try to steady the camera. After ten minutes my arm was aching trying to hold it still but at the same time I was smiling from ear to ear. It was one of those singular experiences where you get to share the moment with an otherwise secretive animal. 



For anyone not familiar with this semi-aquatic mammal, the Platypus is a bit of a zoological enigma.  When the first specimens were sent to Europe, many thought it was some sort of clever taxidermic hoax. An egg laying mammal with webbed feet, a duck-like bill, and a beaver's tail. The male even has venomous spurs on the hind limbs. (You can see these spurs in the video.)


(If you are not interested in the next section on the naming of the Platypus then you may want to scroll down for a poem by Banjo Paterson.)

The Naming of the Platypus

A quick search on the web came up with several aboriginal names for the Platypus. They include, Oonah, Boondaburra, Biladurang, Mallingong and Tambreet.

Other European names are, Duckbill, Duck-billed platypus, Duckmole, and Watermole,

Interestingly, the current common name, Platypus, is actually from the original scientific name.  Dr George Shaw named it Platypus anatinus back in 1799.

     Platy - from the Greek platýs meaning flat
     Pus - from the Greek poús meaning foot
     Anatinus - Anatis is latin for duck. Anatinus means, "concerning a duck"

So we have a flat footed duck like animal.

Unfortunately, the name Platypus had already been used six years earlier by Johann  Herbst for a group of, fungus farming,  weevils (quite a few of which are found here in Australia). The name was therefore changed to Ornithorhynchus anatinus.

 The original Platypus, a Weevil - Platypus cylindrus
Picture from British Entomology Vol 2 Plate51 Author John Curtis (1791–1862)

Ornithorhynchus was the name given by Professor Johann Blumenbach of Germany in 1800. Both Shaw and Blumenbach gave this animal descriptive names based on the animals duck-like bill. The full name given by Blumenbach was Ornithorhynchus paradoxus.

     Ornitho - from Greek ornis or ornith meaning bird.
     rhynchus - from the Greek rhýnchos meaning bill or snout.
     paradoxus - as in the English word paradox.

So we have a bird billed (Duck-billed) animal with the name  paradoxus  reflecting the contradictory nature of the animals appearance.

Mark Twain quotes a New Zealand Naturalist who seems to have his own name for the Platypus ( as well as his own system of trinomial nomencalature). He calls it Ornithorhynchus
Platypus Extraordinariensis.

This naturalist (who is known simply as Christian) was apparently a bit of a poet and Twain quotes the following verses about the platypus:

"Come forth from thy oozy couch,
O Ornithorhynchus dear!
And greet with a cordial claw
The stranger that longs to hear

"From thy own lips the tale
Of thy origin all unknown:
Thy misplaced bone where flesh should be
And flesh where should be bone;

"And fishy fin where should be paw,
And beaver-trowel tail,
And snout of beast equip'd with teeth
Where gills ought to prevail.

Of course our own Banjo Paterson also wrote poetry about the Platypus:

Old Man Platypus

(Banjo Paterson  -  1933)

Far from the trouble and toil of town,
Where the reed beds sweep and shiver,
Look at a fragment of velvet brown,
Old Man Platypus drifting down,
Drifting along the river.

And he plays and dives in the river bends
In a style that is most elusive;
With few relations and fewer friends,
For Old Man Platypus descends
From a family most exclusive.

He shares his burrow beneath the bank
With his wife and his son and daughter
At the roots of the reeds and the grasses rank;
And the bubbles show where our hero sank
To its entrance under water.

Safe in their burrow below the falls
They live in a world of wonder,
Where no one visits and no one calls,
They sleep like little brown billiard balls
With their beaks tucked neatly under.

And he talks in a deep unfriendly growl
As he goes on his journey lonely;
For he's no relation to fish nor fowl,
Nor to bird nor beast, nor to horned owl;
In fact, he's the one and only!

linked with : Saturdays Critters    and    Our World Tuesday

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Mistletoebird

The Mistletoebird, Dicaeum hirundinaceum,  would have to be among the most smartly dressed of all birds. Unfortunately we don't see them here in Tasmania but I was lucky enough to get a photo of one while visiting  Adelaide last October. To be precise the photo was taken at the Aldinga Scrub Reserve 45 km south of Adelaide.

Why is it called the Mistletoebird?

Quote from Wikipedia:
The mistletoebird eats a variety of different foods. It commonly eats the berries of mistletoes (hence the name) and other plants. The diet also includes nectar, pollen, spiders, and insects.

The species consumes the fruit of Amyema quandang (grey mistletoe) and other mistletoe species. By eating the fruit of the parasitic mistletoe, this bird is able to spread the seeds. When the birds eat the berries, the seeds pass through them, which takes anywhere from 4–25 minutes. Then when the birds excrete the seeds, they are sticky and easily adhere to the branch or trunk of a tree where they soon sprout.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Three Arthropodean Visitors

..... a moth, a beetle, and a spider.

While I have not been actively searching for interesting spiders and insects, I have crossed paths with several over the last week or so..

1. Southern Old Lady Moth

Southern Old Lady Moth, Dasypodia selenophora - Close up showing labial palps and coiled proboscis

Southern Old Lady Moth, Dasypodia selenophora - Dorsal view

Southern Old Lady Moth, Dasypodia selenophora -  Detail of wing scales

 (click to enlarge)

The Southern Old Lady Moth, Dasypodia selenophora, can be found in the southern half of Australia, as well as Norfolk Island, New Zealand and Macquarie Island. One particular Southern Old Lady Moth can currently be found in my house. They like to hide in dark places by day and so they often come into houses or other buildings.  After taking the above photos, I wanted to coax it onto some glass so I could photograph the underside. However, the sprightly old lady made it's escape and has not been seen since.

Why is it called "Old Lady"?  Probably for the same reason as another moth of the same name in Britain. The pattern was said to be like that on an old lady's shawl. Another common name for this species, Golden Cloak Moth, suggests a similar meaning.

So how do the moths get down to Macquarie Island (1546 kilometres south of Hobart). Apparently they hitch a ride on prefrontal airflows (northerly winds) ahead of cold fronts.  In one such event it was estimated that the Old Ladies, flying at 300m asl, could have reached Macquarie Island in under 10 hours. A nocturnal temperature inversion kept the temperature at above 5C.  They would have been traveling at around 100 m.p.h. What a ride!

2. Fuller's Rose Weevil

Fuller's Rose Weevil - Asynonychus cervinus - Lateral View (Click to enlarge)

This 8mm long, beetle was found in the garden on the underside of our rhubarb leaves. Some one on the Bowerbird web site has identified it as Fuller's Rose Weevil (Asynonychus cervinus). It is an introduced pest in Australia and many other countries, probably originating from Central and South America.   It has a large number of host plants but is best known as a pest of citrus. So, you may wonder,  why is it named Rose Weevil? According to the University of Florida Entomology and Nematology Department, this weevil "caused considerable damage to winter roses when it was first reported in the United States from California in 1879."

The elytra (wing covers) are actually fused together rendering this evil wee weevil flightless.  Another interesting facet of this beetles life is that it reproduces parthenogenetically. (no male required). In fact only females have been recorded.

3. Cupboard Spider

Cupboard Spider, Steatoda grossa. -  Lateral View  - (click to enlarge)
Cupboard Spider, Steatoda grossa. - Oblique  Dorsal View  (click to  enlarge)

While sorting out a large wooden box full of old blacksmith's tools I came across a relative of the infamous Redback spider Latrodectus hasseltii. It's known as the Cupboard Spider, Steatoda grossa. Like the weevil above, this is a cosmopolitan species but it is considered to be a native of Europe, including Britain.

Are they dangerous to humans? There is at least one well documented case of a  22-year-old female bitten on the shoulder by a Cupboard spider. She developed nausea, vomiting, and severe local and regional pain; symptoms similar to that  caused by the bite of Latrodectus spiders such as the Redback..  In fact, the symptoms were succesfully treated with Redback spider antivenom.

  • Common I.F.B. (1990) Moths of Australia - Melbourne University Press
  • Greenslade P., Farrow R. A., and Smith J. M. B. (1999). Long distance migration of insects to a subantarctic island. - Journal of Biogeography 26 , 1161–1167.
  • Graudins, Andis; Gunja, Narendra; Broady, Kevin W.; Nicholson, Graham M. (June 2002). "Clinical and in vitro Evidence for the Efficacy of Australian Red-back Spider (Latrodectus hasselti) Antivenom in the Treatment of Envenomation by a Cupboard Spider (Steatoda grossa)". - Toxicon (Case report) 40 (6): 767–75.
  • Gyeltshen, J. and A. Hodges. (2006, revised 2012) Fuller Rose Beetle, Naupactus godmanni (Crotch) (Insecta: Coleoptera: Curculionidae). - Entomology and Nematology. Florida Cooperative Extension Service. University of Florida IFAS. 

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Endemic Birds of Tasmania

Of the hundreds of bird species that can be seen in Tasmania, just 12 are endemic to the island. All twelve are shown below. For the sake of completeness, I've included two  photos which  are not my own, shared here thanks to the Creative Commons License. Many birders come down to Tasmania for a whirlwind tour and tick off all twelve endemics in a day or two. Personally, after being here for 9 years, I have only seen 11 and photographed 10.  I'm yet to see the Forty-spotted pardalote which only occurs in some small areas of the south-east and I'm yet to photograph the Strong-billed honeyeater. I'm in no rush. While I enjoy seeing new birds, my main enjoyment comes from observing even the common birds.

Tasmanian native hen      Gallinula mortierii

Green rosella       Platycercus caledonicus  in the backyard

Dusky robin       Melanodryas vittata    in the backyard

Tasmanian thornbill       Acanthiza ewingii     at Narawntapu N.P

Scrubtit       Acanthornis magnus  at Fern Glade, Burnie

Tasmanian Scrubwren       Sericornis humilus    in the backyard
Yellow wattlebird       Anthochaera paradoxa  at Romaine Reserve

Yellow-throated honeyeater       Lichenostomus flavicollis  at Round Hill

Black-headed honeyeater      Melithreptus affinus   in the backyard

Strong-billed Honeyeater    Melithreptus validirostris - Creative Commons - by J J Harrison

Black currawong       Strepera fuliginosa  at Cradle Mountain

Forty-spotted Pardalote - Pardalotus quadragintus - Maria Island - Creative Commons, Photo by Nomdeploom at en.wikipedia

Linking to I'd Rather B Birdin'

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Harlequin Bug Macro Experiment

... experimenting with some new (for me) macro techniques.

Harlequin bugs, Dindymus versicolor,  seem to be very active at the moment. There are hundreds of nymphs and a scattering of adults in our nectarine tree. They're not popular with gardeners as they use their sharply pointed, tube-like mouth parts to pierce fruit. They seem not to have noticed that the possums already ate half the nectarines and the rest fell to the ground where the pademelons feasted on them. We got about a dozen of the less desirable looking nectarines to ourselves.

Focus Stacking

The main purpose for photographing these common bugs was to test out my new el cheapo extension tubes which allow me to get a little closer to the subject. I also had my first attempt at focus stacking.

To quote Wikipedia: Focus stacking (also known as focal plane merging and z-stacking or focus blending) is a digital image processing technique which combines multiple images taken at different focus distances to give a resulting image with a greater depth of field (DOF) than any of the individual source images.

I've actually used focus stacking before on images of the moon but, for some reason, I have never tried it on bugs. I imagined that it would be too difficult. It turned out to be a fairly simple process requiring only a little patience. There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube if anyone is interested in having a go.

I was quite pleased with the result. You can see the difference from the focus stacked image below and a normal photograph. Both were taken with the same lens at F8. The stacked version is made up from eleven separate images.  I tried again for a 19 image stack but the bug did not co-operate and moved around too much.

 Focus stacked version (click to see larger image)

Single image showing narrow depth of field  (click to see larger image)

Extension Tubes

As for the extension tubes, I'm very happy with them. Although a cheap set, they do allow for auto focus. However, when you get very close to the subject the auto focus does not do too well. It makes no difference in any case as, for the purpose of focus stacking, you need to use manual focus.

The Canon version of the extension tubes cost around A$200.  Mine cost around $30 on E-Bay. Extension tubes have no glass in them. They simply extend the distance between the lens and the sensor so I cannot see how a more expensive set would give any real advantage.
My set of Extension Tubes.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Eastern Banjo Frog ( Limnodynastes dumerili )

"The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." - Mark Twain
(..... although it has been almost 5 years since my last post.)

Since making a pond for wildlife a few years back, I've recorded two frog species making use of it. They are the Brown Tree Frog (Litoria ewingi) and the Eastern Banjo Frog or Pobblebonk (Limnodynastes dumerili).

The Eastern Banjo Frog is found throughout south-eastern Australia. In mainland Tasmania we have the subspecies L.d. insularis while King Island has L.d. variegatus. While usually more active at night, this one was out and about by day. (hopefully not a sign of a sick frog)

Interestingly these frogs burrow into the soil in mid autumn and  don't emerge again until mid spring. While excavating in my backyard I have several times found them at a depth of about 50cm to 60cm in very rocky soil. From what I've read, their burrows are usually found within 100m of water. However I was finding these borrows long before I built the pond. As far I know there is no permanent water for at least half a kilometer from here.