Creatures of the Creek

Wasp Nest Tally; 40 kills at 20.3.17

At the end of February, Flowerdale Landcare once again held a platypus watch along the King Parrot Creek. With 19 watchers this year, we met at Flowerdale Community House for dinner and a briefing and having been allocated our sites, headed out to see what was happening in the Creek.

There were a number of newcomers to this activity and it was great that three people spotted a platypus in the heart of the residential area of Flowerdale. Only one other siting was recorded this time. However a few  days later Ken Mival came up with this great shot while taking a regular morning walk along the pedestrian path;

Ornithorhynchus anatinus

Ken's Platypus

Blow me down

This fly takes the cake and eats it (probably literally). I thought my picture of a fly a few weeks back was pretty good (click here), but Bryan, this one is a beauty and has to be shared!. No research – don’t know what it is, so it will remain “Bryan’s Fly” until we find out differently.

Bryan's FlyImage courtesy of Bryan Milner, Flowerdale Landcare

Australia has some pretty weird and wonderful insects and flies have their special place in the environment, usually associated with breaking down protein, but are also useful pollinators. Great colours on this one and probably a ‘must enter’ for the Flowerdale Landcare Photography competition in July.

BTW; Wasp nest kills to 14.3.17…………  29

European Wasp Nest

Found in a dry mulch heap and destroyed, this deconstructed nest is safe to inspect. Made up of wood pulp and saliva, this is only a small nest. Layers of comb are cemented one on top of the other with struts made from the same material. The same hexagonal cell shaped used by honey bees to give strength to the structure and minimize waste of space is also used by wasps.

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Nests destroyed by 10.3.17- now tally 23, including a big one on the walking track near our local shop, one beside the community tennis court and one behind the Men’s Shed. All areas well frequented by unsuspecting locals.

Wasp Alert!

As summer slips into autumn, and the nights become a little cooler, the salad days and outdoor living is marred by the huge increase of black and yellow invaders-we’re not talking Richmond Footy Club here, but something even more annoying. The plagues of European Wasps are back! The next month will see even more activity as they prepare to release queens  from the nest in April.

Last season, volunteers from our group located and destroyed 27 nests in our community, free of charge. With Melbourne Pest Controllers charging nearly $200 per nest, that is an effort valued at $5,400 to the people of Flowerdale. This year the problem looks like being even worse with at this stage 15 nests located and destroyed in the last couple of weeks, mainly in Coonan’s and Moore’s Reserves and along Spring Valley Road. We expect to eradicate probably another 40 nests over the next 6 weeks on the current trend, representing $11,000 of donated benefit to the community.

Finding the nests can be difficult. The way I do it at this time of year, is to go for a slow walk between 7:45 and 8:30 a.m., when the sun is still low. This enables you to pick up the shine on the wings and work out the direction they are heading. Most times the nest entrances are as big as a 50c piece and  in the ground. There could be tens of thousands of wasps in the nests, so there is a great risk of being stung badly if you disturb them. I frock up in my bee suit and go to work during the day with pyrmethrin powder and by next morning, when no further activity is observed at the nest entrance, I chalk up another kill.

Our native wasps are also active at this time of year. Their nests are often solitary such as the mud wasp species, which has made quite an artistic series of rosettes on a leadlight pictured below –

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Others wasps nest in small colonies such as those of the paper wasp above. Note the pupa in one of the cells. Thanks to Wayne Watson Photography for use of this image. These wasps will defend their nests, so do not interfere! Richmond for premiers – not this year!

 

I know an old lady who swallowed a spider ….

That wriggled and wiggled and tickled inside her

She swallowed the spider to catch the fly

I don’t know why she swallowed a fly

Perhaps she’ll die

Bryan Milner and Linda O’Brien have sent in some fine photos, the locally found orb weaver spiders. Arachnophobes look away now!

The first of these is the Golden Orb Weaver;

Caught in the right light, the silken web looks like golden thread. Photo courtesy of Linda O’Briengolden-orb-weaver

Honestly, these are quite beautiful spiders, unless you walk blindly headfirst into their web, which is quite an unpleasant experience. The spider itself won’t harm you; it’s just that creepy feeling of sticky webs across your eyelids, nose and mouth that raises the hair on the back of your neck and brings a primeval scream to your throat.

The next is the Garden Orb Weaver; photographed by Bryan Milner

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In 2003 the Garden Orb Weaver was part of an experiment by Glen Waverley College students in Melbourne sending spiders into space aboard the ill fated Space Shuttle “Columbia”

The last of the trio is the Spiny Orb Weaver; photo courtesy of Linda O’Brien

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A particularly cute spider don’t you agree?

 

I know an old lady …

Who swallowed a fly

I don’t know why she swallowed a fly?

Perhaps she’ll die!

 

blowfly

Australia Day last week and the flies were out in force. Yes, every fly loves a BBQ. Within a few seconds of the snags, or the prawns hitting the barbie (depending on whether you live in Flowerdale or Double Bay)  the ‘meat inspectors’ will be there, from blowies to bluebottles, they are the fair dinkum, true blue Aussies (after snakes and mozzies) and on the 26th of January we saluted them all, bending an elbow, soaking up the sun (slip, slop and slap of course), having a laugh, poking fun at authority and each other. And while we celebrated what is great about this nation we were also mindful that Australia Day for the first peoples of this country is a “sorry” day. One day we will find a better date that we will all be able to celebrate. I acknowledge the hills that embrace us, the creek that flows through us and the Taungurung people, past and present, first people of the district known now known as Flowerdale. 

 

Late nesters run a risk

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An Eastern Spine-bill is on high alert as it checks to see if anyone is watching!

This is one of several species nesting late this season. While having the advantage of many nectar bearing plants and thousands of insects to feed on there is always the risk of summer weather extremes that can kill the chicks or destroy the nest.

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After laying 3 eggs in a flimsy nest on the outer edge of a banksia rose, just 2 metres from where our dogs sleep, all eggs hatched successfully and the chicks were growing rapidly. But, then along came a thirty five degree day that had the parents desparately trying to provide shade by sitting over the nest. By evening the nearly  fledged chicks had spread out from the nest, hanging on to branches, trying to catch a breeze. Only one chick remained in the nest.

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An overnight cool change saw the temperature drop to 18 degrees with strong wind. Sad news in the morning – 2 dead chicks on the ground below the nest and one hanging upside down lifeless from the nest. I untangled its foot from the nest and felt a little movement from its leg. I remembered the story of “Thumbelina” from Sunday morning radio when I was a kid – something about a swallow that nearly died from cold and how it came back to life with a bit of kindness. So, I carried this little bird in a lightly closed fist, blowing warm air on it for half an hour as I felt stirrings of it coming back to life.

Shaving one handed, eating breakfast one handed, typing one handed,  I nursed the little Spine-bill all morning. We fed it lightly with a mixture of fresh honey and water during the day and that night I held it warm on my chest ’til morning.

We were excited to see the parents feeding in the shrubs around our house and as the chick was hungry and now quite vocal we thought we would put it back in the nest and observe. Within five minutes the first tentative parent came to the nest and fed the chick. The chick was soon following the parents for more food, hopping through the branches.

Later in the day we picked it up off the ground again and put it back in a bush for the night. The next morning it was in the company of the parents again and seems like it will survive and get stronger from here. Fantastic news as we love the sight of the mature birds hovering in front of flowers extracting the sweet rewards with their long tongues.

Portrait of Patience

A couple of days ago, Bryan supplied us a grand photo of the underwing of the Common Imperial Blue Butterfly (  https://kingparrotcreekenvironmentgroup.wordpress.com/2016/12/28/so-whats-bugging-you/ ). I had no hesitation in setting Bryan the task of obtaining a photo of the same butterfly with open wings. A difficult task as they open their wings for a portion of a second to flash the blue sheen within.

A man of patience, Bryan has produced this great portrait to match his earlier effort. About the size of a ten cent piece I’m sure you will agree the C.I.B. is one of Victoria’s prettiest butterflies.

Well done Bryan-and if anyone has interesting observations/photos from the Flowerdale environment that they would like to share, please send them in by using the “Leave a Reply” box at the end of this post.

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So, what’s bugging you?

Bryan and Kay Milner have become very keen observers of “bugs” in Flowerdale. Their latest curiosity was photographed on Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) branches, the “bugs” on the left are pupae of the Common Imperial Blue Butterfly (Jalmenus evagoras). The adult stage is in the picture on the right. Note the tails on the lower wings.

Also evident in these pictures are black ants (Iridomyrmex sp.), particularly in attendance of the pupae. A special relationship exists between the ant and this butterfly. The caterpillars/pupae exude a sweet honeydew that the ants like. In return, the ants protect the caterpillars/pupae – and believe me, these tiny ants have a very annoying bite! This relationship is called myrmecophilous or an ant-liking symbiotic relationship.

It is possible the butterfly is hanging around the pupae to mate with any female that emerges.

For more information on Victorian butterflies click here

Unwelcome Visitor

The Weed Orchid from South Africa, Disa bracteata, was recently spotted in Spring Valley Road, Flowerdale. Only one individual plant was found and has since been destroyed. This species has great survival skills and can soon colonise an area. It doesn’t rely on specific pollinators or soil fungi as  many of our indigenous orchids do, to set seed and germinate.

The seed from which this individual originated may have been brought into our area with machinery that has been slashing the roadsides over the last couple of years.Report  any sightings of the South African Weed Orchid to your local NRM organisation or Landcare Group.

 

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Disa bracteata