Life in the drains

A day off work  a good time to explore the drains of town. With (small) dog and (smaller) camera, of course.

I say drains, because unfortunately it’s about the closest thing you get to a creek or some kind of natural waterway in this part of town. Still,  drains and water always have life of some kind, even if a tad feral.

[Blog update: Clicking on any image will bring up a larger version of the image.]

Pluto

A walk is always an exciting thing for a dog, in this case our midget mutt Pluto. The world is just full of stuff to explore. Like when we were kids. (Photos R. Ashdown)

Pluto

Why walk when you can fly?

IMG_4032

Are we going in here, boss?

Pluto

OK, let’s move into the light …

Cane Toad

… where we meet one of the underworld locals — a Cane Toad (Bufo marinus), seeking peace in the dark during the daylight hours.

 

Tracks in the sand

Tracks, Windorah

Tracks of night-movers. An early morning on the red sand dunes near Windorah.

Reproduction of text and images from a small article of mine recently published in the Spring 2012 edition of Wildlife Australia, the magazine of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland.

Who goes there?

We might have missed the wildlife but, with careful observation, we can tell who’s been there – and, possibly, which way they’ve gone, and how quickly.

Tracks — ephemeral trails in time — are always exciting to a naturalist. As windows into the lives of often elusive and shy animals, animal tracks open up an unseen world. They invite investigation and further detective work to figure out what wildlife has travelled the land before you. Along with scats and other markings, tracks bear witness not only to what animals have passed by, but what they did, where they went and more. Ground that others might not look at twice comes alive with a wealth of information.

Red-necked Wallaby and tracks

The closely-placed prints of the front and fore-limbs of a macropod, possibly a Red-necked Wallaby, in the bed of the Maranoa River at Mount Moffatt National Park show that it was not moving quickly.

Interpreting animal tracks has been, and still is, an essential life-skill for many people. Historically, animal tracking skills helped people find food, avoid dangerous predators and read the stories on the landscape. Indigenous Australians are masters in this field. My favourite description comes from Stanley Breeden, in his wonderful book Uluru: Looking after Uluru-Kata Tjuta — the Anangu Way. Breeden devotes an entire chapter to tracks and describes the exciting experience of exploring tracks and trails in the red sand with Anangu People.

The dense patterns of tracks I see in the sand everywhere are almost entirely made by small to tiny animals, their passages written in a fine handwriting. Luckily the sand is a perfect medium. The smallest toes and the lightest footfalls leave their marks.

For months now I have puzzled over these bewildering scrawls of hieroglyphics. A few I can identify … but most tracks are indecipherable. I need an interpreter, and there is none better than Edith Imantura Richards. To her the tracks are a clear text, an open book that she reads in great details and with a casual ease that comes from long practice. Reading tracks is routine to her but never dull. She enjoys telling interested people about the plants and animals, to share her knowledge with them.

Stanley Breeden, Uluru : looking after Uluru-Kata Tjuta — the Anangu way

Following the footsteps

Identification of wildlife tracks is employed today in wildlife research, conservation, and outdoor education. I’ve always found it extremely difficult. It’s hard to find ‘perfect’ tracks, and the surfaces on which the tracks are left make a lot of difference. The tracks by a particular animal will look different on different surfaces. The speed and gait of the animal varies the tracks and they are also affected by weathering.

Red Triangle Slug

Footprints are tracks, but not all tracks are footprints. These mysterious circular marks are found on the bark of eucalypts in wild places, as well as on the fences of towns like Toowoomba. They are made by the mouths of nocturnal molluscs, the native Red Triangle Slug, which grazes on wet nights on the algae that grows on those surfaces.

Gillen's Monitor

Goannas and other lizards leave distinctive tracks that include their feet and a tail-mark. Some goannas , such as the tree-loving, tiny and elusive Gillen’s Monitor (Varanus gilleni) are hard to spot, their presence perhaps best detected by marks in the sand.

The best places to find tracks are in locations with little vegetation and impressionable surfaces, such as sand or mud. The best times are generally early in the morning or late afternoon, as the oblique rays of the sun create shadows that make the tracks easier to see and to photograph.

Luckily these days we have several great guides to animal tracks and traces. For many years I carried A Field Guide to the Tracks and Traces of Australian Animals by R.G.B. Morrison, while today Barbara Triggs’ Tracks, Scats and Other Traces — a Field Guide to Australian Mammals is an essential book for any naturalist. Both Morrison and Triggs note that it is important to know something of the way that animals’ feet and limbs are constructed and how they move at different speeds — and both books give detailed descriptions of these factors.

Carpet python

Snakes, such as this Carpet Python at Arcadia Valley, leave unusual winding patterns on dusty roads and sand.

birds

Some tracks left by birds. Migratory wader prints in the sands of Moreton Bay (left), wet footprints from a just-departed White-faced Heron at Carnarvon Gorge (middle), and the wing marks of a Superb Blue Fairy Wren on a dewy car windscreen (right).

Matching the tracks

I’ve collected quite a few photographs of animal tracks over the years, but have identified very few of them, at least to species level. There’s something fascinating about them from a photographer’s point of view, particularly when you enjoy photographing the patterns in nature. It’s the intriguing evidence of an animal you’ve just missed seeing, but are now aware is around you somewhere. The bush speaks to us in many ways.

Bulldog ant, Wooli

Insects also leave their mark. A Bulldog Ant struggles to cross the sands of a steep dune at Wooli.

Loggerhead Turtle, Mon Repos Beach.

Tracks on a beach near Bundaberg are evidence of a natural history event that has been played out here for millennia. At night, in summer, between November and February, turtles, such as this Loggerhead, lumber up beaches to dunes to lay eggs, before returning to the ocean. These strange and large tracks are quickly obliterated by the rising tide.

My favourite tracking experience was stumbling upon the fresh marks in the red sand of the Simpson Desert, soon after arriving on a trip there. I had not seen a thorny devil (Moloch horridus) at that stage, but was fairly sure that these parallel lines of small footprints might belong to one of these wonderful native dragons.

I followed the tracks into the setting sun and, sure enough, came across my first thorny devil making its way slowly but purposefully across the sand. Photographing it as it wandered along in the setting sun was a memorable experience, and a lasting reminder to me that the tracks of other creatures can be worth following.

Thorny devil

Following tracks can sometimes lead to the track-maker. My track marks and those of the Thorny Devil I eventually found, Simpson Desert, western Queensland.

Thorny Devil

 

Flight of the stingless bees

My son has been keeping an eye on a colony of Stingless Native Bees (Trigona carbonaria) in his school grounds. These tiny (4mm) native insects are found across open forest, woodland and rainforest through coastal areas of eastern Australia.

We stopped to look at the bees after school recently, and found them swarming in the air, with hundreds moving about in a group being gently pushed backwards and forwards by the breeze. I took some images with a compact camera, which gave quite a surreal effect.

What were they up to? Native Stingless Bees do not sting (hence the name), but can defend their nests by biting and swarming. There seemed to be no attackers about, however.

I asked QPWS Resource Ranger Rod Hobson what they might be doing, and he replied in his usual helpful way. Clearly he failed to see the aesthetic appeal of my abstract bee images:

Ashdown,

Due to the fact that all but one of your images concentrates on the arty-farty depiction of this phenomenon and only one is of any value whatsoever in deciding on what is actually happening with the colony concerned it is impossible to give a definite explanation to your observation. There are three possible scenarios to this particular incident:

•  Native bees of this genus do swarm and can do so at any time of year including winter. Most of the swarming bees are drones obviously with a virgin female attending. These swarms are usually small up to about 200 individual bees.

•  Pheromones bind a hive together and each have has a pheromone particular to itself. Occasionally a hive gets so big that there is not enough pheromone to go around and bees that miss out are driven from the hive because they are not recognised by other members of the hive. These swarms can be of considerable size.

•  Trigona spp. (yours are carbonaria) are an aggressive mob towards others of the same species from different hives and pitched battles often take place between hives resulting in many casualties. The area around the defending hive is often left with a litter of corpses around its entrance after the battle ceases.

Judging by the number of bees that you report and appear in your images I’d go for either the second or third scenarios. Have a look around the hive ASAP to see if there is any evidence of victims of an invasion remaining although these could have already blown away after last nights wind or have been carried off by scavengers especially ants.

The bees at the entrance to their hive. These social insects make nests out of wax and resin in hollow tree trunks, branches, fallen logs and rock crevices. The brood comb is a horizontal spiral and pollen and honey are stored in pots.

Grey Goshawk

Some wonderful images of a Grey Goshawk (Accipiter novaehollandiae) taken by Mike Peisley at Boondall on the edges of Brisbane.

Ancient rainforest

A firm grip on the Earth . Buttress roots in a gentle rain, Toonumbar NP, New South Wales.

This is a selection of images from a trip to the World Heritage-listed rainforests of northern New South Wales. These sub-tropical forest remnants — known as the Gondwana rainforests — are centred around the ancient caldera of the Mount Warning shield volcano, and stretch either side of the eastern section of the New South Wales–Queensland border.

I’d like to dedicate this post to my friends in the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service who were recently made redundant in public service cutbacks. Dedicated, hard-working, passionate, experienced and skilful people one and all.

Mount Warning from the Border Ranges, New South Wales. Mount Warning, now the centre of Wollumbin National Park, is the remaining core of a giant shield volcano that towered above the landscape 20 million years ago. This photograph was taken from the remains of the edge of the original volcanic crater, or caldera, now covered by subtropical rainforest, and stretching in a semi-circle from northern New South Wales to southern Queensland.

Looking east to the Pacific Ocean from the Border Ranges.

The Gondwana rainforests include the most extensive areas of subtropical rainforest in the world, large areas of warm temperate rainforest and nearly all of the Antarctic beech cool temperate rainforest. Few places on earth contain so many plants and animals which remain relatively unchanged from their ancestors in the fossil record. The outstanding geological features displayed around shield volcanic craters and the high number of rare and threatened species are of international significance for science and conservation.

The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area was first inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1986 and extended in 1994. It is what is known as a serial World Heritage Area and is comprised of several protected areas in north-east NSW and south-east Queensland.

The Gondwana rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area

Brindle Creek, Border Ranges, New South Wales.

Brindle Creek, Border Ranges, New South Wales.

Seeking the light. Toonumbar NP, New South Wales.

Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius swainii), Toonumbar NP, New South Wales.

Red gold. A Red Cedar (Toona ciliaris), Toonumbar NP, New South Wales.

On the borderline. The Queensland-New South Wales border runs along the backbone of many rainforest-covered ridges, such as Springbrook NP.

Toonumbar NP, New South Wales.

Rainforest skink (Saproscincus sp.), Toonumbar NP, New South Wales.

Tiny fungi at ground level, Toonumbar NP, New South Wales.

Carpet Python (Morelia spilota), Nightcap NP, New South Wales.

Lamington Spiny Cray (Euastachus sulcatus), Wollumbin NP, New South Wales.

Terania Creek, Nightcap NP, New South Wales. The site of Australia’s first protest gatherings to save the east coast’s last remaining rainforests from development. Thanks to every one of those ‘greenies’ for your wisdom, passion and the desire to stand up for your beliefs.

Rockmasters and other legendary dragonflies

The summer of 2011-2012 was hot and wet. Great for frogs, insects, reptiles and all sorts of things. I had the good fortune to be invited on a dragonfly-hunting expedition to some rarely-flowing creeks near Rockmount, just down the hill to the east of Toowoomba.

Jade Hunter, Austrogomphus ochraceus.

Jade Hunter (Austrogomphus ochraceus). Challenging the intruder to his patch of creek, or just curious? All photos Robert Ashdown.

Rod Hobson and Barry Kenway — fans of the fluttering insects belonging to the order Odonata — were spotting species that hadn’t been seen locally for a while, or at all. They were especially keen to spot some ‘rockmasters’ —  large and spectacular damselflies.

Stockyard Creek

Stockyard Creek, Rockmount — a dragonfly paradise.

The creeks were alive with insect life, and it was very enjoyable just sitting with the camera trying to snare images of things as they flashed past.

Scarlet Percher, Diplacodes haematodes.

Scarlet Percher (Diplacodes haematodes). One of about 300 Australian species in the order Odonata.

Eastern Billabongfly, Austroagrion watsoni.

The Eastern Billabongfly (Austroagrion watsoni) is a damselfly. The order of primitive insects known as the Odonata is divided into two sub-orders — the damselflies (Zygoptera) and the dragonflies proper (Epiproctophora or Anisoptera).

Scarlet Percher, Diplacodes haematodes.

Scarlet Perchers (Diplacodes haematodes). After mating some dragonflies remain joined and egg-laying is completed in tandem. Dragonfly females lay from 400 to 2000 eggs (depending on species).

a teneral straight out of the exuvia!

A newly-emerged adult dragonfly (the brown ‘shell’ of the larvae — or exuvia — can be seen below). The adult has taken about an hour to emerge, but will then only stay around long enough for its wings to dry. Adults usually live from one to three months.

Gold-fronted Riverdamsel. Pseudagrion aureofrons.

Gold-fronted Riverdamsel (Pseudagrion aureofrons).

Blue Skimmer. Orthetrum caledonicum

Blue Skimmer (Orthetrum caledonicum).

Red and Blue Damsel. Xanthagrion erythroneurum.

Red and Blue Damsel (Xanthagrion erythroneurum).

Barry Kenway and Rod Hobson

Barry Kenway and Rod Hobson enjoying some time in the bush. Where are those rockmasters?

All very nice, but what about the elusive rockmasters? In the end we found two species — the Arrowhead and the Sapphire Rockmaster. There are only five species of these large damselflies in Australia.

It was a challenge and a joy trying to capture images of these dazzling blue jewels as they patrolled their territories.

Sapphire Rockmaster. Diphlebia coerulescens.

Sapphire Rockmaster (Diphlebia coerulescens).

Arrowhead Rockmaster

Arrowhead Rockmaster (Diphlebia nymphoides).

 

Claimed by time and the wild

Kookaburra, Brandon's Sawmill, Bellthorpe NP

There may not be any such thing as the perfect ‘wildnerness’. Every (or almost every) habitat in Australia has seen humans and been changed in some way by their presence, over many thousands of years or over a short and relatively recent time.

Sometimes that activity brought equipment and structures, which are gradually claimed by the landscape when left behind.

Brandon's Sawmill, Bellthorpe NP

Such places are always irresistable for photographers, or those with a keen eye for history and change. Bellthorpe, to the west of the Glasshouse Mountains in southern Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, is such a place.

Bellthorpe NP

I recently rediscovered some Fuji Velvia slides taken there on a weekend twelve years ago and enjoyed the contrast and saturation of this slide film, still a staple of many photographers.

Bellthorpe garage

Bellthorpe bowser

Bellthorpe reflections

Hyacinth Orchid, Dipodium sp., Bellthorpe

 Hyacinth orchid (Dipodium variegatum)

Lichens, Bellthorpe

Bellthorpe reflections

Pseudophryne raveni, Bellthorpe

Brood frog (Pseudophryne raveni)

Kookaburra, Brandons Sawmill, Bellthorpe

Human endeavour is often part of the story of many wild areas, but nothing stays the same. Evidence of the past can be ephemeral, and nature moves back in to claim it all.

Wagtails return

Since making my post on Willie Wagtails I’ve had some lovely images of these birds sent by friends, which I’ve shared here.

Willie Wagtail Rob Mancini

Photo by Rob Mancini

Willie Wagtail by Ross Naumann

Photo by Ross Naumann

Willie Wagtail Rob Mancini

Photo by Rob Mancini

Willie Wagtail by Rob Mancini

Photo by Rob Mancini

“I remember watching one (Willie Wagtail) spiral upwards as on a staircase, through the limbs of a Norfolk Pine in the St Kilda Botanical Gardens to peck a Hobby (sitting on top of the tree) on the back of the head. He did it then dropped back down to the lower half of the tree, then worked his way back up to do it again … and again. Man, that’s 20 years ago. I watched it for hours. What a bird worth remembering.” Russell Jenkins.

Carnarvon Gorge’s quiet magic

A slideshow of some images taken on a recent work trip to Carnarvon Gorge.

This blog post goes out on World Ranger Day 2012 to my Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger friends at Carnarvon — doing a brilliant and complex job caring for a magic place in difficult times. Thanks to you from all of us who love the place.

Suburban street, rainforest pigeons

Why not complicate things? Suffering from a bad cold and recovering from a painful back, I go walking late on a Friday afternoon. It’s complicated because I’m keen to photograph some birds, but have a dog and a lad with a scooter along. Recreational conflicts abound, with the dog being the least interested in birds, other than to chew on them. The lad is resigned to my distractibility (is that a word?) when birds are about — a pair of soaring Peregrines just slow us down and the dog can’t even see them.

White-headed Pigeons, Toowoomba

Lurking among the Camphor Laurels, trying not to be noticed. A flock of White-headed Pigeons (Columbia leucomela) in a Toowoomba street. Described as “among the wariest and most secretive” of rainforest pigeons, they can be seen near cars and off-leash dogs in suburban Toowoomba. All photos R. Ashdown.

Down at the park again. For months now I’ve been spotting White-headed Pigeons around Queens Park in Toowoomba, and lately there has been a large group of these native rainforest fruit pigeons feeding on the fruit of ornamental Camphor Laurels.

These are wary, nervous birds, and my previous attempts to get close with a little compact camera have been a dismal failure. The birds arrive early morning and late afternoon, adjacent to a road and near the dog off-leash area. As a result they are often disturbed, but seem content to wait for a while before returning to their meals. I sneak up slowly with an SLR and grab a few images.

White-headed Pigeons, Toowoomba

Keeping one eye out for trouble. White-headed Pigeons (also known as Baldy Pigeons) are one of Australia’s 22 native species of pigeons. While they are mainly fruit-eaters, they are related closely to rock doves. These birds are found down the east coast of Australia, usually in rainforest and wet eucalypt forest.

White-headed Pigeons, Toowoomba

Once threatened in Australia by land-clearing, these pigeons have made a recovery since Camphor Laurel  became a popular shade and street tree. Their numbers have increased and they are now seen in towns such as Toowoomba. An introduced plant may have its occasional good sides.

White-headed Pigeons, Toowoomba

In rainforest or wet eucalypt forest these birds are hard to see, as they will sit quietly. They occur in pairs and groups of up to 15 birds. They are nomadic, and wander from place to place in search of ripening fruit, although in some areas their numbers seem to stay constant.

White-headed Pigeons, Toowoomba

A female White-headed Pigeons is a duller and greyer bird than the male.

White-headed Pigeons, Toowoomba

White-headed Pigeons breed at any time of year, but usually between September and March. The males perform a spectacular display flight, as they move in an undulating fashion above their territories, while on the ground they carry out a distinctive bowing.

White-headed Pigeons, Toowoomba

Voice: “Loud, gruff, explosive ‘WHOO! uk, WHOO! uk, WHOO! uk, WHOO!’, breath indrawn on the ‘uk'; gruff, melancholy ‘ooms’.” — Frank Pizzey.

White-headed Pigeons, Toowoomba

The two immature White-headed Pigeons seen here in the foreground have a grey crown, nape and breast, as well as darker eyes.

White-headed Pigeons, Toowoomba

Beautiful shades of blue can be seen on the back of this specimen.

White-headed Pigeons, Toowoomba

Spotted — moments before this bird took off. It soon returned.

Thanks to Harry for looking after the dog while I raced off with the camera.

UPDATE 6/1/2013
Dr Bill McDonald, Principal Botanist of the Queensland Herbarium, wrote to let me know that unlike Top Knot Pigeons, White-headed Pigeons destroy the seeds of camphor laurels when they ingest the fruit.

“Thus, I’m always happy to see them around the camphors, especially in areas we are trying to regenerate,” he says.

White-headed Pigeons on the web:

Red Triangle Slugs on the rampage

It’s a mid-winter night in Toowoomba, raining and cold. I step outside and my bare foot squishes something cold — cold, but very much alive.

Red Triangle Slug Triboniophorus graeffei.

The Red Triangle Slug (Triboniophorus graeffei), an air-breathing native slug. Photo R. Ashdown.

Oh no! I’ve trodden on a favourite invertebrate, one of a host of unusual creatures that come out to play in the suburbs at night. It’s a Red Triangle Slug — creator of the strange rows of circular marks covering fences and trees throughout town. It’s a wonderful wet night, perfect for them to rampage about the backyard.

Feeding marks of Red Triangle Slug Triboniophorus graeffei on fence.

The grazing marks of Red Triangle Slugs on a Toowoomba fence. Photo R. Ashdown.

These colourful native animals are one of approximately 1,500 species of land snails and slugs found across eastern Australia, a number that includes both native and introduced species. Most of the slugs and snails found throughout the gardens of towns such as this one are introduced, as native species have not coped well with the changes that urbanisation have brought to their original habitat. Red Triangle slugs, however, are an exception — survivors and adaptors, turning up all over the place.

Red Triangle Slug, Triboniophorus graeffei, Ravensbourne NP

A Red Triangle Slug in rainforest at Ravensbourne National Park. Photo R. Ashdown.

What type of creature are these Red Triangle Slugs, named for the … well, red triangle … on their backs? They are “terrestrial pulmonate gastropod molluscs from the family Athoracorphoridae”, the leaf-veined slugs.

Molluscs are soft-bodied invertebrates that usually have a shell for protection from human toes and other problems. They have a ventral foot for locomotion and, in aquatic species, gills for respiration. Their digestive and reproductive tissues are located together to form a visceral mass inside their bodies. An extensive fold of tissue, known as a mantle, covers them and is a protective sleeve for the head and gills. In snails it produces the shell. In the Triangle Slugs, it is reduced to the red-bordered patch on their backs.

Slugs and snails belong to the class of molluscs known as gastropods, which includes marine, freshwater and land snails (mostly with coiled shells) and slugs (without shells).

Red Triangle Slug, Triboniophorus graeffei,

The eyes have it. Simple eyes, on tentacles. Optical tentacles, if you like. Slugs can only ‘see’ light and dark, and the eyes are not able to focus. Photo R. Ashdown.

Growing to a length of 14 cm, the Red Triangle Slug is One of Australia’s largest native slugs. Found in coastal forests (and some towns) from around Wollongong New South Wales north to Mossman in northern Queensland, they graze on the microscopic algae that grow on tree bark, footpaths, posts and fences, among other things. Naturalist Martyn Robinson discovered that if given the chance these slugs will also remove bathroom mould!

Feeding marks of Red Triangle Slug Triboniophorus graeffei on fence.

The circular feeding marks of Red Triangle Slugs on a Spotted Gum. Photo R. Ashdown.

Red Triangle Slug, Triboniophorus graeffei, on camphor laurel

Late afternoon on a dark, wet day. A Triangle Slug roams a Camphor Laurel next to the Clive Berghoffer Stadium. Photo R. Ashdown.

Red Triangle Slug, Triboniophorus graeffei, eating algae on back steps

Alas, our stairs are in poor shape. Any remains of paint have been replaced by algae. Perfect, however, for a rampaging slug looking for a feast. Photo R. Ashdown.

Red Triangle Slug, Triboniophorus graeffei, eating algae on glass window

Doesn’t say much for the state of the back-door’s glass either! This slug runs amok in search of algae, or seeks a view of what the humans get up to at night. Photo R. Ashdown.

Red-triangle Slugs come in different colours. While the most common colour form is a creamy white animal with a prominent red triangular mantle shield, all-red and all-yellow animals can be found at Cunninghams Gap (south of Toowoomba). Future molecular studies may reveal that some of these colour forms are actually distinct species.

Red Triangle Slug, Mt Mitchell NP, Cunninghams Gap.

An orange form of the Red Triangle Slug, at Mt Mitchell NP, Cunninghams Gap. The hole inside the red triangle is the animal’s respiratory opening, known as a pneumostome, or breathing pore. This is a feature of all air-breathing land slugs and snails. Photo Harry Ashdown.

Photographing a Red Triangle Slug, Mt Mitchell, Cunninghams Gap.

Photographing a Red Triangle Slug, Mt Mitchell, Cunninghams Gap. Photo R. Ashdown.

Red Triangle Slug, Toowoomba

Toowoomba resident Jane alerted me to the presence of a beautiful red form of the slug in her Toowoomba backyard. Here are several curled up in a log in her great garden. Photo R. Ashdown.

Colour variations in Red Triangle Slugs

Colour variations in Red Triangle Slugs, from Australian Land Snails, Volume 1, by John Stanisic, Michael Shea, Darryl Potter and Owen Griffiths — gastropod gurus! Courtesy Darryl Potter.

If you have read this far you are probably not the kind of person who finds slugs disgusting. So, I don’t need to finish this post with a monologue about the important role native slugs and snails play in our ecosystems, as they go about recycling nutrients and offering themselves up as (sticky) food for many other critters.

I’ll just end by saying that it’s always great to see these little slow-motion beasties on wet nights, but not so great to feel them between your toes!

Red Triangle Slug on footpath, Toowoomba.

A Red Triangle Slug motors slowly along the footpath outside our place near midnight as cars swish past. A splash of colour on a drab, dark night in the ‘burbs. Photo R. Ashdown.

Slugs on the web:

Beautiful barred raptor

I’m currently writing the Queensland section of the NatureWatch feature for Wildlife Australia, the magazine of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland. For the Winter 2012 edition I enjoyed putting some words together to accompany more exciting images of a special raptor by my brother-in-law Mike Peisley.

Pacific Baza, Boondall wetlands, Mike Peisley

The beautiful, bold banding and rufous wash of the Pacific Baza. Boondall wetlands, Brisbane. Photo courtesy Mike Peisley

One of Australia’s most beautiful birds of prey can be seen travelling through urban areas of south-eastern Queensland from early winter to mid-spring. The Pacific Baza or Crested Hawk (Aviceda subcristata) is a striking animal, with bright yellow eyes, crest and a colourful profusion of brown, blue-grey and white feathers. It is distinguished from other Australian raptors by its boldly barred breast, broad rounded blue-grey wings wit barred flight feathers and the broad black band at the end of its tail.

Pacific Baza, Boondall wetlands, Mike Peisley

Pacific Bazas are omnivorous, mainly eating tree-frogs (such as this Graceful Treefrog) and insects, however they will also catch small birds, snakes and lizards and will eat fruit, such as figs. They can sometimes be seen clambering around in the foliage to snatch prey. Photo courtesy Mike Peisley

Pacific Bazas can be secretive and difficult to spot through much of the year. However, outside their breeding season they range widely, often in groups, from upland to lowland areas in south-eastern Queensland. Parties of up to 30 birds have been observed from March to December.

Pacific Baza, Boondall wetlands, Mike Peisley

Bazas have magnificent eyes. Red oil drops in the eyes assist them to discern green prey, such as the frog being consumed in the image above. For more on vision in birds, see well-known naturalist Ian Fraser’s article on page 7 of Gang Gang, the newsletter of the Canberra ornithologists. Photo courtesy Mike Peisley

It is thought that the seasonal movement of Pacific Bazas may be a response to variations in the numbers of their favoured prey, which includes insects such as preying mantids, stick insects and large grasshoppers. As these are often less common during winter at higher altitudes, this may explain the movement of Bazas to the coast, where there is more to catch and eat. Where to see them Pacific Bazas can be seen in many types of habitat, from rainforest to suburban gardens, however they not usually spotted in treeless or open areas. When moving in groups in the non-breeding season they may be seen in backyards and have even been spotted on clotheslines and on the balconies of multi-story buildings. Bazas are highly manoeuverable birds that chase and pursue their prey in the outer foliage of trees and shrubs. On fine, warm days single birds, pairs or small parties  soar overhead and their distinctive call — a mellow double whistle described as ‘whee chiu’ (the first note rising and the second falling in pitch) can be heard drifting down form the skies overhead or in local patches of bush. As spring approaches keep an eye out for mated pairs soaring together and performing acrobatic, tumbling aerial displays.

(With thanks to Greg Czechura.)

To see more of Mike’s Baza images please visit my September 2011 post.

The spirited Wagtail

Willy Wagtail, North Stradbroke Island. Photo by Michael Hines.

A jaunty-looking Willy Wagtail ponders the surf, North Stradbroke Island. Photo courtesy of, and copyright, Michael Hines.

I don’t usually associate Willie Wagtails (Rhipidura leucophryswith beaches, but some beautiful images taken at North Stradbroke Island by Michael Hines made me ponder just how ubiquitous these real characters are.

The Willy Wagtail is one of Australia’s most familiar birds, found throughout most of the continent. The name “wagtail” is confusing, because although it flicks and wags its tail from side to side, it is actually a member of the fantail family, and not one of the wagtails of Europe and Asia. [Bird: The DK Definitive Visual Guide]

Old shearers' quarters, Currawinya National Park. Photo R. Ashdown.

Old shearers’ quarters, Currawinya National Park. Photo R. Ashdown. 

A bird of many names

The Willie Wagtail was first described by ornithologist John Latham in 1801 as Turdus leucophrys.

John Gould and other early writers referred to the species as the Black-and-white Fantail. However, Willie Wagtail rapidly became widely accepted sometime after 1916. ‘Wagtail’ is derived from its active behaviour, while the origins of ‘Willie’ are obscure. The name had been in use colloquially for the Pied subspecies of the White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) on the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland. Other vernacular names include Shepherd’s Companion (because it accompanied livestock), Frogbird, Morning Bird, and Australian Nightingale. 

Many Aboriginal names are onomatopoeic, based on the sound of its scolding call. Djididjidi is a name from the Kimberley, and Djigirridjdjigirridj is used by the Gunwinggu of western Arnhem Land. In Central Australia, southwest of Alice Springs, the Pitjantjatjara word is tjintir-tjintir(pa). Among the Kamilaroi, it is thirrithirri. In Bougainville Island, it is called Tsiropen in the Banoni language from the west coast, and in Awaipa of Kieta district it is Maneka. [Wikipedia]

Willy Wagtail hunting dragonflies, Carnarvon Creek, Carnarvon National Park.

A Willie Wagtail hunting dragonflies, Carnarvon Creek, Carnarvon National Park. Willie (sometimes spelled Willy) Wagtails often hawk for insects along creeks, launching into flight from boulders or other perches. We marvelled at this bird’s ability to snatch fast-moving and wary dragonflies out of the air. Photo R. Ashdown.

Found almost everywhere

Exploring clearings, and familiar in urban areas, Willie Wagatils forage conspicuously in open places and are the only fantails to feed constantly from the ground. Through this capacity they have spread throughout Australia, avoiding only dense forests and treeless, perchless plains. [Reader’s Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds.]

Willy Wagtail, Stradbroke Island. Photo copyright Michael Hines.

Not your average backyard. Willie Wagtail on sand and pumice, Stradbroke Island. Willie Wagtails are one of five species of fantails (small flycatchers) in Australia. They are found throughout the mainland of Australia and, less commonly, in northern Tasmania. Mainly sedentary or locally nomadic, they tend to be solitary or to occur in pairs, but small flocks may form, where they are often mixed with species such as grey fantails. Photo courtesy of, and copyright, Michael Hines.

Small but fierce, with serious eyebrows

When breeding, Willy Wagtails defend their territory against even large predators, circling their attacker’s head in a figure-of-eight pattern uttering an aggressive ‘ricka-ticka-ticka-tick’. They defend their territory against other wagtails, enlarging their eyebrows in threat. Defeat is signalled by reducing the eyebrows and retreating. [Reader’s Digest Enclyopedia of Australian Wildlife.]

Willy Wagtail in flight, Currawinya National Park. Photo R. Ashdown.

Willie Wagtail in flight above the old shearers’ shed, Currawinya National Park. When driving out west I’m always worried about hitting these birds as they dart out onto roads to grab insects, or to taunt drivers. I remember hearing from someone somewhere that Aboriginal people believe harming a Wagtail will bring you bad luck for years. I once stopped to collect an injured one on the side of the road driving to Carnarvon Gorge (maybe I’d get some ‘luck credit’), but it expired despite my best efforts to keep it breathing. I wondered how such a tiny, frail body could possess such a fierce spirit. On the way home I stopped and buried it near the spot I’d found it, under a tree I reckon it would like. I check out the tree every time I return that way. Photo R. Ashdown.

A big place in human life and story

Aboriginal tribes in parts of south-eastern Australia, such as the Ngarrindjeri of the Lower Murray River, and the Narrunga People of the Yorke Peninsula, regard the Willie Wagtail as the bearer of bad news. It was thought that the Willie Wagtail could steal a person’s secrets while lingering around camps eavesdropping, so women would be tight-lipped in the presence of the Willie Wagtail. The people of the Kimberley held a similar belief that it would inform the spirit of the recently departed if living relatives spoke badly of them. They also venerated the Willie Wagtail as the most intelligent of all animals. 

Its cleverness is also seen in a Tinputz tale of Bougainville Island, where Singsing Tongereng (Willie Wagtail) wins a contest among all birds to see who can fly the highest by riding on the back of the eagle. However, the Gunwinggu in western Arnhem Land took a dimmer view and regarded it as a liar and a tattletale. He was held to have stolen fire and tried to extinguish it in the sea in a Dreaming story of the Yindjibarndi people of the central and western Pilbara, and was able to send a strong wind if frightened.

The Kalam people of New Guinea highlands called it Konmayd, and deemed it a good bird; if it came and chattered when a new garden is tilled, then there will be good crops. It is said to be taking care of pigs if it is darting and calling around them. It may also be the manifestation of the ghost of paternal relatives to the Kalam. Called the Kuritoro bird in New Guinea’s eastern highlands, its appearance was significant in the mourning ceremony by a widow for her dead husband. She would offer him banana flowers; the presence of the bird singing nearby would confirm that the dead man’s soul had taken the offering.A tale from the Kieta district of Bougainville Island relates that Maneka, the Willie Wagtail, darting along a river bank echoes a legendary daughter looking for her mother who drowned trying to cross a river flooding in a storm. 

The bird has been depicted on postage stamps in Palau and the Solomon Islands, and has also appeared as a character in Australian children’s literature, such as Dot and the Kangaroo (1899), Blinky Bill Grows Up (1935), and Willie Wagtail and Other tales (1929).  [Wikipedia]

Willie Wagtail, Marburg. Photo R. Ashdown.

Side of the highway, Marburg. Photo R. Ashdown.

A spirited and sweet voice

As a child I remember lying in bed at night listening to a strange bird call that would echo off the quiet houses — “sweet pretty creature” — loud and repeated for what seemed  forever. Adults had no answers to my questions about this call, and it took me many years to work out that it was a Willie Wagtail. Birder Trevor Hampel has an informative post on his blog Trevor’s Birding about wagtails calling at night.

The nocturnal call of the Willie Wagtail is most commonly heard during moonlit nights and especially during the breeding season (August to February). From my own experience, the presence of a bright street light or car park lighting can also contribute to this phenomenon.

Once started, the song can continue for lengthy periods, often stimulating other birds nearby to also call. It is thought that the nocturnal song in Willie Wagtails is used to maintain its territory. During the night there is no need for parental duties such as feeding the young or protecting the nest, so the song can be used to consolidate the territory. Sound tends to carry further at night and there are fewer sounds in competition and this adds to its effectiveness. It has been found that most nocturnal songs are from a roosting bird some distance away from the nest.

Wagtail with captured dragonfly, Carnarvon Creek. Photo R. Ashdown.

Wagtail with captured dragonfly, Carnarvon Creek. Photo R. Ashdown.

Eats almost anything

The Willie Wagtail is an adaptable bird with an opportunistic diet. It flys from perches to catch insects on the wing, but will also chase prey on the ground. Wagtails eat, among other things, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, dragonflies, bugs, spiders, centipedes, and millipedes.

They will often hop along the ground behind people and animals, such as cattle, sheep or horses, as they walk over grassed areas, to catch any creatures that they flush out. These birds wag their tails in a horizontal fashion while foraging. Why they do this is unknown but it may help to flush out hidden insects — or maybe they just like wagging their tails. For an in-depth study on the wagging tail of the wagtail, see here.

Willie Wagtail on cow, Rockmount.

Wagtails take ticks from the skin of grazing animals such as cattle and pigs, and have even been seen doing this with lions in a zoo. Rod Hobson tells of seeing a photograph of one on the head of a crocodile in Papua-New Guinea. Photo R. Ashdown (thanks to Helen and Bill Scanlan).

Determined parents

Willie Wagtails usually pair for life. Anywhere up to four broods may be raised during the breeding season, which lasts from July to December, more often occurring after rain in drier regions.

Wiilie Wagtail parent on nest.

Willie Wagtails build a cup-like nest, made of strips of bark or grass stems, and woven together with spider web or even hair from dogs or cats. They have even been seen trying to get hair from a pet goat. Photo courtesy Mike Peisley.

Wagtails may build nests on or near buildings, and sometimes near the nest of Magpie-larks, perhaps taking advantage of the aggressive and territorial nature of the latter bird, as it will attempt to drive off intruders.

From two to four small cream-white eggs with brownish markings are laid, and these are incubated for about 14 days. Both parents take part in feeding the young, and may continue to do so while embarking on another brood. Nestlings remain in the nest for around 14 days before fledging. Upon leaving, the fledglings will remain hidden in cover nearby for one or two days before venturing further afield. Parents will stop feeding their fledglings near the end of the second week, as the young birds increasingly forage for themselves, and soon afterwards drive them out of the territory. [Wikipedia]

Willie wagtail feeding young.

Willie wagtail feeding young. About two-thirds of eggs hatch successfully, while only a third of these leave the nest as fledglings. Young wagtails are taken by other birds,  cats and rats. Wagtails will defend the  nest aggressively from intruders, and like Australian Magpies, will sometimes swoop at humans. Photo courtesy Mike Peisley.

Wagtail defends nest from kingfisher

A Wagtail confronts a Sacred Kingfisher that has dared to land in the vicinity of its nest. Photo courtesy Mike Peisley.

The last word

Widespread, well-loved. [Graham Pizzey. The Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight Field Guide to the Birds of Australia.]

Looking for dragonflies, Carnarvon Gorge. Photo R. Ashdown.

Looking for dragonflies, Carnarvon Gorge. Photo R. Ashdown.

Wagtails on the web

Day-loving moths

Day Moth

These colourful invertebrates (butterflies?) turned up for several weeks all over my suburb in Toowoomba in summer.

One of the frustrating things about being a naturalist is that you can spend ages messing about watching things, then more time trying to figure out what you’ve seen, then if you’re like me, forgetting to make notes because you’ve been distracted by something else, or annoying-but-necessary things like work get in the way, and soon you pretty much forget everything you found out about what it is you were interested in. But that’s life.

I have many posts to make about last summer, and it’s already mid-winter. This blog is so far behind that I wonder if it’s even worth pursuing. However, it’s become some kind of online diary (gee, what a novel idea), and I enjoy keeping it running, so I’ll attempt to keep doing these posts and they’ll be filled with the usual inaccuracies and dodgy information.

Summer 2012 was a wonderful season for wildlife, with rain and heat, and all sorts of things popped up and ran amok — a top time for a nature photographer.

So, back to February! A small, fluttering invertebrate turned up all over my suburb for several weeks. At first glance they could be mistaken for butterflies, but I’d figured that they were actually Day Moths — members of a group named for their habit of flying about during the day. Whenever I’d see these moths they’d be flying between several trees, as if they were relentlessly patrolling a small territory. I tried to get photos of this one for few weeks before finally succeeding.

Day Moth, Toowoomba

A Day Moth, resting on a Spotted Gum before heading over to a nearby Kauri Pine, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Day Moth, Toowoomba

This Day Moth is colourful, with a bright orange under-belly, black stripes and distinctive wing patterns.

Trying to identify this moth to species level is a tricky task for an amateur like me. For an accurate answer I’d usually need to catch one, kill and preserve it carefully, then get it to a lepidopterist or entomologist at the Queensland Museum, and hope that they had time to examine it and identify it for me. However, I was happy to let the thing fly back and forward between two trees in the sunlight, and have a bash at identifying it to some vague level.

I reckon that this moth is a member of the family Noctuidae, sub-family Agaristinae. Australian moth expert I. F. B. Common notes that moths in the family Noctuidae come in a ‘limitless array of shapes, sizes and colours’. There are over 1,000 species of moth in this family in Australia and more than 35,000 world-wide.

Pushing on in a devil-may-care taxonomic style, I’d suggest that this is one of a genus of moths named Cruria, commonly known as  Crow Moths.

One species of Crow Moth that turns up to the east in Brisbane is Cruria donowani, and this one of mine looks close. A description of this moth appears on the excellent Insects and Spiders of the Brisbane Area website. Here, the moth’s habit of patrolling between trees in its home territory is described, as well as its defensive behaviour of opening its wings when startled to reveal a ‘cat’s face’ pattern on its wings, designed to frighten potential predators. It is believed that butterflies and moths with this sort of wing pattern form a Mullerian mimicry complex to avoid predators — the moth may, in its colours and patterns, mimic the crow butterfly, which is toxic to predators.

Day Moth, Nightcap Ranges NP, NSW

Another Day Moth, shortly before landing on top of my camera lens. Nightcap Ranges National Park, northern New South Wales.

One month later, I was on a work assignment photographing World Heritage rainforest reserves in northern New South Wales. I ran into another Sun Moth, in a sunny clearing in rainforest, and had an amusing moment when the thing landed on the lens of my camera while I was trying to sneak up on it. Hard to get much closer to such a charming invertebrate.

More information on Australian moths:

Rainy day visitors — Satin Bowerbirds

June 2012 has been filled with many cold, rainy days. One foggy Saturday morning was brightened for me by the arrival of some Satin Bowerbirds, the first time I’ve seen these birds in our yard.

Alerted by their distinctive scolding call, I stalked out with the camera, and soon saw several females and a male. They were also in our neighbours’ yard, sitting on their ‘Hills (Clothes) Hoist’, where they seemed to be eyeing off some blue pegs (male satin Bowerbirds love to decorate their bowers with blue objects).

Female Satin Bowerbird

A female Satin Bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) in a grevillea in the back yard. I love the subtle shades of brown, green and olive of these birds, as well as their fine blue eyes.

Male Satin Bowerbird

A male on the neighbours’ Hills Hoist, checking out those irresistible blue pegs.

Male Satin Bowerbird

A male Satin Bowerbird briefly graces our drab front yard with dazzling colours, before heading off over our busy street and vanishing. Is it possible to ever tire of watching such delightful animals?

These very wary birds were quite hard to photograph, so I ended up with nothing more than a few dodgy record shots, which you see here. Our neighbours reported seeing two males and four females in their yard. I’ve seen these birds in the eastern Toowoomba area before, but this was a first for our yard. We have also had some Eastern Spinebills hanging about, another uncommon bird for our backyard.

Pobblebonk

Midnight on a foggy, humid Toowoomba night. I venture into the backyard — un-mown grass and rampant green, a very different sight to the yellow, dry block that we took on when we moved here ten-odd years ago. We’ve done little to it, it has just rained a lot lately and everything has grown.

Scarlet-sided Pobblebonk

Lurking in the yard at midnight — a Scarlet-sided Pobblebonk. All photos R. Ashdown.

February 2012’s rainy weeks have been sublime weather for all sorts of critters, including frogs. There in front of me at midnight, frozen by the light, was a new species for our yard, a Scarlet-sided Pobblebonk — one of my favourite frogs. What a fabulous thing to find lurking in the yard late at night!

Scarlet-sided Pobblebonk

The Scarlet-sided Pobblebonk (Limnodynastes terraereginae) is a member of a group of well-built, ground-dwelling and/or burrowing Australian frogs. Scarlet-sided Pobblebonks are also known as Northern Banjo Frogs, in both cases the name comes from the call of the males — when lots are going off they make a sound like a banjo being plucked, or a bubbling series of slightly different "bonk" noises.

Scarlet-sided Pobblebonk

Pobblebonks are burrowing frogs, and are only seen on the surface after lots of rain. Sometimes people find them in the garden after rain and mistake them for the introduced Cane Toad. We have lots of brown native frogs though, and this one is more colourful than a Cane Toad when you get up close.

Scarlet-sided Pobblebonk

The scarlet sides of the Scarlet-sided Pobblebonk. A regal king of the marshes indeed.

Scarlet-sided Pobblebonk

About to head off. Scarlet-sided Pobblebonks are found on the western slopes and ranges of northern New South Wales, through eastern Queensland and up to Cape York Peninsula. And in my dodgy back-yard. Outstanding!

 

Stormy sunsets

Storms, rain, wild weather all around. Many fine photographic opportunities abound. These were taken looking east over the Toowoomba escarpment with a Canon Powershot S100, after quickly pulling over while driving down the range. Glad I had the camera with me. The second and fourth shots were taken looking to the west.

Sunset over the Toowoomba escarpment, March 2012

Sunset over the Toowoomba escarpment, March 2012

Sunset over the Toowoomba escarpment, March 2012Sunset over the Toowoomba escarpment, March 2012

 

More rain, more fungus, new birds

Fungi, Queen's Park, Toowoomba

Fungi, Queen's Park, Toowoomba


Why was this fungus interesting? Well, apart from the fact that I just like fungi, it was at the base of an exotic pine tree in Queen’s Park, in the top branches of which three Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, a new Toowoomba bird species for me, were prising apart pine cones. My little camera had no hope of catching a decent cockatoo image, so this fungus is here instead!

Graceful Treefrogs

For the second time since I’ve moved to Toowoomba about a decade ago, we’ve heard the quiet wail of a Graceful Treefrog (Litoria gracilenta) in the back-yard. The sound brought back a few memories.

Graceful Tree Frog

Graceful Tree Frog (Litoria gracilenta), Lota, Brisbane. One of several species of 'green' frogs that can be found in Brisbane, the Graceful Treefrog is about 45mm long. The species lives in a range of habitats, from gardens to farmland, but is not found in rainforest or wallum heath. Photo R. Ashdown.

I used to look forward to the calls of these frogs during summer when I lived in Brisbane. As the air grew humid and the sound of distant thunder rolled across a still suburb, the rising wail of a Graceful Tree Frog would be heard coming from high up in the dark-green canopy of the old mango tree that took up most of my small backyard and which had the swing attached that my one-year old son was so fond of. I would imagine the frogs flat against the swinging mango leaves for the cold months, almost sealed to the leaf, everything tucked in to reduce moisture loss, probably dreaming frog dreams of the coming rains.

Graceful Tree Frog calling.

A male Graceful Treefrog calling. The call has been described as a long drawn-out moaning "aaaare". Males call from the water's edge and from overhanging vegetation. Photo R. Ashdown.

If the rain persisted, after several days a huge chorus of wailing frogs would drift up from a creek a hundred metres down the road. It was the largest chorus I’d heard of frogs in my suburb, and after the rain ceased the calls would go all night, an eerie but somehow calming background soundtrack to a summer night. I’d sneak down there at night with a torch and a camera, to the vacant block between houses, and see stacks of these stunning emerald amphibians lining the edges of the creek calling. They’d probably been doing this there for many decades or probably centuries.

Gracefuls-breeding

Graceful Tree Frogs in 'amplexus'. The male grasps the female and fertilises the eggs she lays. The frogs lay a single layer mass or small clump of eggs just below the surface of water, and sometimes the eggs are attached to floating vegetation. They will lay eggs in temporarily flooded areas, and even in buckets or swimming pools. Photo taken at Boondall wetlands, Brisbane, by Mike Peisley.

Sadly, I was there when this summer gathering ceased for good, as the block was developed for houses, the old paper-barks trashed and the creek lined with pipes and concrete. The red-bellied black snakes and the frogs all moved out or were killed. Progress always has its quiet, usually-unnoticed down-sides in a city like Brisbane, where the landscape is gradually changed and the many small creatures vanish as their habitat suffers the death of a thousand cuts. It was a sadder summer season there without the nightly chorus of these graceful frogs.

Graceful Tree Frog

Brisbane is lucky enough to have forty-three recorded species of frogs, although two are now extinct. Many species are common and widespread, but some are disappearing. As bushland and temporary wetlands vanish, some species are becoming harder to see. Photo R. Ashdown.

Mudwasps

Mud wasp cache

A collection of spiders stored inside the cells of an opened mud wasp nest. Porcupine Ridge, Victoria. Photo R. Mancini.

There are many species of Australian mud wasp, which belong to the Families Specidae and Vespidae. While varying in colour and size, they are often black with yellow or orange bands. Mud wasps are solitary insects, feeding on nectar and drinking water.

Mud wasp drinking nectar.

Mud wasp drinking nectar, on grass tree flower spike. Barakula State Forest. Photo R. Ashdown.

Mud wasps can be seen near the edges of puddles or streams drinking or gathering mud for their nests.

Mud wasp gathering mud

Mud wasp collecting mud. Waaje State Forest. Photo R. Ashdown.

Potter Wasp

A large and colourful Potter Wasp (Abispa ephippium) collects mud from my eroded driveway. Potter Wasps live in open habitats and gardens, and are found across much of mainland Australia.

Nests are constructed by single female wasps. Some species build their nests in cavities such as in trees or old machinery (even taps), while others attached their mud nests to tree trucks, rocks, or in Rob’s case, buildings.

Mud wasp building nest

A Potter Wasp at work on Rob and Catherine's beautiful stone house, Toowoomba. The nest of the Potter Wasp contains many cells filled with caterpillars as food for larvae. A temporary entrance funnel (seen here) is built while the cells are being filled. Female wasps search for prey around trees and shrubs, using their jaws to cut into the shelters of leaf-tying caterpillars. Photo R. Ashdown

The female catches a spider or insect (depending on species of wasp), then stings and paralyses it. The hapless insect is carried back to the nest, whe an egg is laid on it and the nest sealed. When the wasp grub hatches it consumes the food provided and pupates in the cell. The emerging adult wasp then chews its way out of the cell.

On the prowl for spiders. Toowoomba. Photo R. Ashdown.

On the prowl for spiders. Toowoomba. This is actually not a mud nest builder, it's an Australian Spider Wasp. They catch large Huntsman Spiders and drag them back to their burrows in the ground. Toowoomba. Photo R. Ashdown.

Spider-hunting-wasp

Wasp with Huntsman Spider prey, moving quickly back to the burrow with paralysed spider. Photo R. Ashdown.

Australian Spider Wasp

A battered, and huge, Australian Spider Wasp searches energetically for ... well, spiders I guess ... among a scree slope on Mount TableTop, Toowoomba. Photo R. Ashdown

Mud wasps are native animals. They are not pests and rarely sting, as they are not usually aggressive to humans.

Dragonfly hunting

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Resource Ranger Rod Hobson was keen to find a Royal Tigertail (Parasynthemis regina) at McEwans Conservation Park near Pittsworth on the Darling Downs. This uncommon dragonfly species was spotted there in a recent survey. We searched, but didn’t find it – this time anyway. Here are some photos of other things we found (identifications not confirmed).

Chequered Swallowtail (Papilio demoleus). Photo R. Ashdown

Chequered Swallowtail (Papilio demoleus). Photo R. Ashdown.

Rod Hobson, McEwan Conservation Park. Photo R. Ashdown.

Rod Hobson, McEwan Conservation Park. Photo R. Ashdown.

Picris evae, a rare native daisy of the Darling Downs. Photo R. Ashdown.

Picris evae, a rare native daisy of the Darling Downs. Photo R. Ashdown.

Aurora Bluetail (Ischnura aurora)

Female Aurora Bluetail (Ischnura aurora). Creek in local area. Photo R. Ashdown.

Chequered Swallowtail (Papilio demoleus). Photo R. Ashdown

Chequered Swallowtails (Papilio demoleus). Photo R. Ashdown.

Spotted Pardalote (Pardalotus punctatus). In dry vine-scrub. Photo R. Ashdown.

Spotted Pardalote (Pardalotus punctatus). In dry vine-scrub. Photo R. Ashdown.

Scarlet Percher (Diplacodes haematodes)

Fiery Skimmer (Orthetrum villosovittatum). Photo R. Ashdown.

Blue Butterfly (species unknown). Photo R. Ashdown.

'Blue' Butterfly (species unknown). Photo R. Ashdown.

Blue Skimmer (Orthetrum caledonicum). Photo R. Ashdown.

Blue Skimmer (Orthetrum caledonicum). Photo R. Ashdown.

Male Aurora Bluetail (Ischnura aurora)

Male Aurora Bluetail (Ischnura aurora). Photo R. Ashdown.