Showing posts with label local insects and animals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label local insects and animals. Show all posts

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Local insects and animals - Blue faced honey eater

Meet another new addition to the family; Barry. He is a blue faced honey eater,

Barry came to us from the little girl next door; she rescued him from a group of noisy miners who were beating him up after he fell or flew from his home nest. His parents were nowhere to be seen so she bought him to us. He is living with us until he learns to feed and defend himself, then he will be free to go where he pleases. The usual progression with social birds is that they hang around the humpy, getting the odd free feed when times are hard until they meet a group of their own kind and head off with them (kind of like teenagers).

Blue faced honey eaters are a social sedentary species who eat insects, nectar and pollen. They are like a large family gathering; loud, hilarious and lots of arguments. The adults have a brilliant blue around the eyes (very 70s disco queen) but juveniles have a greenish tint around the eyes, they aren't allowed to wear eye shadow until they are about one year old.

An adult with full disco battle paint. I found this photo here

Barry is a little camera shy, but you can see his greenish eye shadow.

Barry is a late sleeper, often not waking up until well after I have fed all the outside animals, he sits with his head tucked under his wing and mutters curses at me if I poke him (gently). Once awake he demands breakfast in a loud squeaky voice until I give him some honey eater mix and meal worms. He is a playful little fellow; hanging upside down on his branches, flying in tight formations in his cage and fossicking under the newspaper on the cage floor for lost meal worms. At the moment he is spending part of each day out of his cage, flying around the humpy. Soon he will decide it is time to go out into the big world and explore the trees flowering around the place. 
This is the danger time for release birds as it is easy for them to go too far and get lost or be taken by a predator. We can't keep them in cages forever though, they are mean't to be free. It is with mixed feelings of joy and trepidation that I watch each one learn to live independently (much as I felt when my kids went off to uni) but most times it is joy that wins out.

On an unrelated subject, we planted a tree on Shaun's grave. It's a mandarine and every time I pass it I think of my little mate.

The Shaun tree

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Local insects and animals - Christmas beetle

Around the end of November we start to see a gorgeous type of scarab beetle here that we call a Christmas beetle. There are 35 species of Christmas beetle and their numbers are declining all over Australia. When I was a child we would have so many of these beetles invading the house that we would collect them in a jam jar to relocate outside.

 They fly into the humpy like a World War Two bomber, droning around the light with laborious care. They usually end up stuck behind furniture or in the track of a little opened window. If we find them alive, they go outside in the daylight so they can at least have a chance at breeding.

The average Christmas beetle lives about two years and starts life as a curl grub in the compost heap or under a log. Once they emerge as beetles and begin the search for a life partner (or at least a decent one night stand) they eat the roots of grasses and some trees. If they don't become a meal for something (my chooks love them), they mate and the females return to the ground to lay eggs.

Lots of native animals (and exotics too) eat Christmas beetles: from currawongs, Kookaburra and herons to goanna, small snakes and possums, they all love a good crunchy beetle. The baby ducks will snap them up and run away, squeaking excitedly, to find a safe place to eat them. Beetles of this kind (Scarabs) also play a role in pollinating. They are a very important part of the food chain. While the decrease in numbers  may make sweeping the floor and cleaning behind furniture easier it is a sad testament to our lack of understanding about the importance of all those tiny lives which support our own.
To boost the numbers of these beetles you can plant trees, mulch gardens and leave open areas of grass and shrubs. Leaving curl grubs in the ground in some areas can also boost numbers; we harvest all manner of insects from our soils to feed animals in care, but we also try to leave some areas alone so that we don't accidentally make any species extinct on our land.

Do you remember Christmas beetles when you were younger? Have the numbers declined in your area too?

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Local insects and animals - White faced heron

Our new arrival

 A friend arrived at our house a few days ago with an enormous dog carrier containing a little blue/grey bird. He had been flapping about on the ground in their yard and they thankfully rescued him from the dogs and cats. After a quick exam I put him in a quiet place to rest while I hunted (literally) up some food for him.
He is a White faced heron; a common water bird in this part of Australia. This particular member of the species (who I decided to call Angel) is a fledgling, probably about six weeks old. At first I couldn't find anything wrong with him except he was reluctant to stand up and was very thin, so off I went to hunt food.

You can see that he is sitting on his knees to eat in this photo.

White faced herons eat lots of things; small fish, tadpoles, worms, crickets, beetles, but all of them are live and wriggling so his food needs to be live too. We took off to the river to catch some little fish for him to eat, coming home with a bucket full of tiny fish from the river's edge. We also gathered up a bucket full of tadpoles from large puddles on the way home. These were scooped out of the buckets with a net and dumped into a shallow container of water for him to 'hunt'. The two buckets of little animals lasted for the afternoon as he is a very hungry little heron.

After three days of living in his box and only coming out so I can clean his bedding, he was put out into the aviary during the day and bought in at night. The time consuming job of fishing for tadpoles, finding bugs and digging worms to feed him has become a shared thing for the three human family members currently at home, we take it in turns to fish in the dam with a net, catching tadpoles, small fish and various aquatic insects by the hundred, turn over logs and junk in the yard and dig holes in mulched areas to find bugs and worms. With four or five feeds a day, we are decimating our future frog populations to feed him. He also gets meal worms from the meal worm farm we keep for just such a need, and crickets (which we bought especially for him). I did build a cricket trap or two, but no luck catching any wild ones yet.

Rabbitto decided to come and say hello to our new guest.
Now he is strong enough to stand up by himself I see he has a bend leg, maybe it's a birth defect, maybe he had a break that healed or maybe he just stands funny; either way he is improving. He stands for longer and longer periods of time, hunts for crickets and things in the straw on the bottom of his aviary and is interested in life around him. I am hopeful that Angel will make a full recovery and fly off into the sunrise to live his own life.

You can see that his left leg has a definite extra bend at the knee.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Local insects and animals - the noisy miner

Three days ago my partner greeted me at the door with a grin and the words "I've got a present for you", I was immediately suspicious as 'present' has become a code word for 'lots of work' in our relationship. I came inside to find an ominous looking box on my desk with a tiny bit of fabric sticking out the bottom. When I opened the box I found the little fellow below nestled on a t-shirt (begging questions about Kev' driving around shirtless).

He (I'm assuming his gender) is a noisy miner; a bird native to this area, although not around the humpy. He coped with a close up inspection fairly well and I discovered a slightly damaged wing on the left side and a slightly more damaged hip on the left side. As he was picked up on the road (sitting like a stunned mullet, according to Kev') I assume he has been clipped by a car.
He can grip a perch with both feet, but sits with one leg off to the side. I am hoping he has no broken bones, and after three days he would be dead by now if he had any (gangrene sets in fast).

Noisy miners in the wild eat nectar, pollen, fruit, insects and occasionally a little lizard. I am feeding him a mix of fruit smoothie with added insectivore mix that we keep in the cupboard for emergencies, I also add one drop of pentavite (liquid vitamin). When I can, I will add some nectavore mix (lorrikeet food), but at present I have none in stock. He seems to love the mixture. I went out and collected some white ants for him too, which he had fun playing with, but didn't eat.

When he can put all his weight on his leg and fly around we will begin the long process of re-assimilating him into the wild; probably at my parent's house where there is a family in residence, although their complicated flocking behaviour means that he will not be accepted if he is a she; apparently the females maintain fairly rigid territories which do not overlap while the males wander about in gangs, joining new gangs on a random basis.

This little man needs a name for the (hopefully) short time he will be with me; any ideas?

Sunday, 4 January 2015

local insects and animals- Stinging flies

It's summer, you can tell by the buzzing noises all around. Flies are a common problem in Australia, especially in rural areas where livestock are kept. Here we have three sources of fly attraction; the sheep, the chooks (and other sundry poultry) and the toilet. The most common flies are the stingers, they feed on blood and lay their eggs in poop, so they have a double incentive to live with us.The most common stinger we have here is the horse fly (Tabanidae species) there are many different species but they all share common behaviours.

Around the humpy there are two main times when you will probably get bitten by a stinging fly; early morning and early evening. These flies seem to swarm together to feed before and after the sun hits the ground. They buzz around the sheep when I let them out to graze in the mornings and come back to the paddock with them in the evening, luckily the buzzing sound attracts the guinea fowl, who see them as an 'all you can eat' opportunity. The guinea fowl parade around the sheep making squeaky wheel sounds in an excited fashion as they snap up flies by the dozen. The chook pen is one place I rarely find stinging flies but not because they don't go there; they are attracted by the smell of warm blood and chook poop. I rarely find stinging flies in the chook pen because the chooks love to eat them too, in fact one source of constant amusement here is watching the young chickens catch a fly then run away with it cheeping like a maniac while all the other chicks give chase (also cheeping maniacally).
The toilet is the other place where you will probably encounter stinging flies; not only are there warm blooded animals holding relatively still, but nearby manure in which to lay's a stinging fly paradise. In response to this over-abundance of flies several bird species have taken to loitering around outside the toilet (and sometimes inside it too). The fairy wrens (both blue and red) always build nests on grass clumps or low shrubs nearby and are a source of entertainment as they hop about chasing flies and other insects. The welcome swallows swoop around the little tent that is our toilet building catching flies on the wing (and swooping very low to do it because stinging flies stay close to the ground). Our two old ducks spend a lot of time sitting in the toilet (well, beside the pedestal) because at their age they prefer food to come to them. They snap flies up as they buzz by.

Taken in balance, stinging flies are not such a problem for us, they provide a supplementary food source for both domestic and wild birds (and reptiles, I didn't mention the lizards and small snakes who eat them too) and a constant source of laughter and entertainment for us. All for the cost of a few drops of blood now and then and an itchy lump or two.

Do you have stinging flies?
How do you think of them?

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Local insects and animals - Garden orb spider

While tidying up a fallen branch recently, my daughter came across a pretty little spider. We had no idea what kind of spider she was (or if she was male or female, I'm just opting for female) so we did a quick search for a name. After a few hours of searching through sites and being gob smacked by the huge variety of spiders I decided to send the picture to an expert.

The lovely man from emailed me back within the hour with an identification. This lovely girl is a kind of garden orb spider. Apparently there are lots (100+) of species in this family of spiders (Araneidae) and her particular species wasn't known to him.

Orb weavers are spiders which build the traditional orb shaped web, they are non-venomous and generally beneficial to have around. The females lay their eggs in late autumn then die, leaving the next generation to fend for themselves through the long winter.

I am so glad I got the chance to meet this pretty spider and hope to see more of them in the future.
What spiders are common at your place?

Friday, 12 December 2014

Local insects and animals - goanna

It's summer time again (almost Litha as a matter of fact) and we have hens hatching chickens here and there. This always seems to draw the goannas in. 
The goanna, or lace monitor, is a very large lizard which grows up to 2 metres long. They eat pretty much anything they can catch; baby birds, eggs, mice, rats, frogs, snakes and carrion. 
There are several species of goanna in Australia, but here in Northern NSW we tend to find the common Lace monitor (Varanus varius) and the Sand goanna (Veranus gouldii). It is the Lace monitor who comes to visit the humpy most often, due to their liking for young birds and eggs.

A well fed Lace monitor

Once our hens begin to hatch their eggs around Ostara (spring equinox) the goannas begin to visit; stalking up and down the fences looking for a way in to the newborn chicks. At times it seems that we are under attack from them as it isn't uncommon for two or three goannas to be trying to get in at the same time.
The lace monitor is territorial and the same three individuals come back to our yard year after year. There is the big male (goannas have an internal penis which extends out of their cloaca when they pee, which they do by lifting one leg slightly off the ground, like a dog. Which is how I know he is a male) he has a shortened tail due to some long ago accident. There is a big female (I think) who has smaller than usual pattern bands and a young female. We have not named any of them as names have not occurred to us yet.

Stag; the ram guarding a treed goanna.
When a goanna approaches the yard fence our galahs (two car accident victims who can't fly) give a screech or two, which starts the chooks off cackling, triggering our three dogs protective instincts and causing much barking. If the sheep are close to the house they join the chorus as well. As you can imagine, this din makes it impossible to continue studying, so I go out and release our goanna dog; Spot.
This is Spot; our goanna dog
Spot is 15 years old and since he was a puppy his job has been to escort goannas away from the chook pen. He does this by running towards them growling profanities until they turn tail and run for the nearest tree. He occasionally catches up to them before they get to the tree, but he doesn't bite them, he just bumps them with a closed mouth (to keep the panic level up), we didn't train him to do this, but we're glad he doesn't do any lasting damage. Once the goanna is climbing it's chosen tree, Spot sits at the base for an hour or so then comes back to the house for a pat, leaving a relieved goanna to cautiously climb down and sneak away. Stag, the ram will take over guarding a treed goanna for Spot as he prefers to be king of his paddock.
On the lookout for dogs and rams.

A lot of people kill goannas on the grounds that they eat the eggs and chickens if they can, to which I usually reply "So do we". We don't resent them, and I refuse to kill an animal simply for trying to survive. We lose most of our guinea fowl eggs and all the duck eggs to the goannas, even the occasional chick which strays through the fence, but that is the way of nature. I shed a tear for the mums who lose nests and babies and we move on.
How do you react to goannas?

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Local insects and animals - Joseph's coat moth

We had a visitor to the laundry this week; a beautiful Joseph's coat moth. The flash of fluttering colour caught my eye as I was getting ready to have a shower and I saw that it was a very pretty moth. After taking a few photos, I let her (or him) go outside. Apparently these pretty little moths only lay eggs on plants from the grape family, so I hope he or she finds some.
I love to see these colourful insects around the humpy, not only do they lend an air of festivity to the place, they also assure me that the ecosystem is still essentially healthy as biodiversity = stability.

Have you seen the Joseph's coat moth at your place?

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Local insects and animals - Red browed finch

The red browed finch is a fairly common bird in our area. They live in large flocks and spend their time foraging for seed in my chook pens and on the ground around the humpy. Seeing these little flashes of red and olive green flit through the garden or chook pen really cheers up the day for me; they always look so happy. 
In spring, just before they breed, these little finches go through an insect craving stage and spend a lot of time searching out insects from my vegetable garden, which is very useful when insect populations are high. They are often found with the blue fairy wrens in the yard, which is apparently a common association. Although the two species don't seem to talk to each other and wrens are predominantly insect eaters while finches are predominantly seed eaters.
In the ecosystem of the humpy they provide insect control, eat and spread small seeds, provide food for corvids (butcher birds, currawongs, crows and ravens) and generally lift the life and joy about the place. They also provide a warning to everyone when a goanna or snake is about by flying around frantically and making high pitched squeaking sounds until someone comes to investigate.

These photos were taken out of my office window...while I was supposed to be studying.

What kinds of finches do you have at your place?

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Local insects and animals - Feathertail glider

This afternoon, on the way home from work, I was contacted by a local school. They had a tiny little Feathertail glider in a box; apparently she  (it's a girl) had glided down into assembly this morning. When I got home (a half hour bus ride and a 1 km walk later) I opened the box to see what I had. She is a juvenile female (weighing in at just 7 g) and seemed fairly active and bright to me. I put a shallow dish of water in the box and some gum flowers from the trees outside, snapped some quick photos, weighed her and had a look to see what gender she was. Then I popped her back in the box and left her in peace while I rang WIRES. 
The Feathertail glider is the smallest gliding mammal in the world, with an average weight of 12g. They feed on pollen, nectar, insects and seeds. In this area they are fairly common, often being found drowned in dogs water bowls or bought in by cats. 
I think this one was probably heat effected as it was a burning hot day. Heat stress kills a lot of native animals, especially those who live in urban areas (like in the school buildings). This little girl will be handed over to a wildlife carer and hopefully will be released back into her home territory before too long.

Blurry, but I was trying to prevent an escape.

Look at that feathery tail. The curling indicates distress, and who can blame her; a big predator has her.
If you have Feathertail gliders in your area you can put out SHALLOW water containers, plant flowering native shrubs and (most importantly) bring in the dog and cat at night.

Oh, and thank you to the little girl who held the box so carefully for me all the way home (you know who you are).

Monday, 10 November 2014

Local insects and animals - White-winged chough

We frequently have some noisy visitors to the animal pens; white-winged choughs. These funny little birds are often mistaken for crows by people who have never seen them before. They are mostly black with a white spot on their wings which is only visible when flying. They eat insects and seeds; which is why they love our place.
They forage for food on the ground, but always leave a lookout in a tree to watch for predators (which includes me in their eyes). The group we have here is relatively small; only eleven members this year, but they are often seen in flocks of 20 or more. They are social birds and spend long hours feeding and caring for the juveniles in the flock.
I often find a few choughs in a chook pen, eating happily with the chooks. They seem to help keep the fly population down too and watching them chase a stinging fly over the yard provides many laughs.

These two were eating grain this morning when I went to feed the chooks.
A blurry close up
I love having birds visit the humpy.
Have you seen choughs at your place?

Friday, 3 October 2014

Local insects and animals - St Andrews Cross spider

A lot of people seem to be frightened by spiders, I don't know why. Maybe it's the way they move or the fact that a small (really small) proportion of them are poisonous? These don't seem like good reasons; after all a small (really small) proportion of people are murderous, and we still keep talking to them...
On my recent trip to my mother's garden I managed to snap a picture of a really pretty spider, so I thought I would try to identify it.

X marks the spot

After a little bit of internet searching I discovered that this is a St Andrews Cross spider (as you probably guessed from the post title). I also discovered some amazing facts about Australian spiders (as is the way with internet searches);

  • Spiders have eyes like ours; not segmented or faceted like an insects.
  • The funnel web and red back are the only really venomous species in Australia, the bites of other spiders can be irritating but not dangerous (unless you are operating heavy machinery, but that's another story).
  • Mating is very dangerous for some male spiders; females may not even wait to mate before eating him.
  • There are some killer knit and crochet patterns out there for spiders and spider webs (I got distracted, OK?)
As for the St Andrews Cross spider specifically;
  • They are a species of orb spider; known for their beautiful web spinning.
  • There are at least three sub species of St Andrews Cross; Argiope keyserlingi and Argiope picta and Argiope mangal (based on our geographical location, the one above is a Argiope keyserlingi).
  • They make that beautiful cross that they sit on from a special UV reflective web which they use to attract insects to their web.
  •  The spider gets it's name from the shape of the cross it makes in it's web. In short; St Andrew was a Christian priest in Turkey or Greece who convinced a Roman commander's wife to give up sex, the commander had him crucified for it (Freud would be right onto that one) but he requested that he be tied to a saltire (an X rather than a +) as he was not worthy of being crucified in the same way as his Christ.
They are certainly beautiful little spiders. They are not venomous, they catch insects for a living and they build art in the garden, what's not to like?

Friday, 26 September 2014

Local insects and animals - King parrots

Australia has a lot of parrots; 56 species to be exact. The king parrot is one of the most beautiful of them. A lot of people in our area see them as pests because they can be extremely destructive and will destroy a vegetable garden in the blink of an eye. I think they are beautiful, but I take care to keep my vegetables growing in secure cages.

We have a little family of king parrots who visit in search of food regularly. There is Steve; the dad of the group, he may have been hand raised (I'm not sure) as he isn't scared to come into the house to steal bites from fruit and chew things. Next is Kerry; the mum, she is shy and hard to photograph, she flies away as soon as she sees me. They have two babies every year who stay with them until they get full plumage, this years babies have yet to come to the house.

Steve, waiting for me to fill the feeders.

Feeding wild birds is never a good idea (unless you are planting shrubs for them to feed off) they get used to being fed and rely on the food source without bothering to find more. They also get obese and are easy prey for predators. Having said that, our wild birds visit the chook pens and eat anything left over after feeding time. I don't encourage this, but I don't actively discourage it either. What can I say...I'm weak, I like to see them flying around the place and know they are all OK. They can be a pain in the proverbial though...

We came home from work one day and found the house in disarray, from the evidence, we had either been vandalised or the king parrot family had come over for coffee and found us not home. They pushed books off the shelves, chewed the back off a chair and tipped over some bottles in the kitchen. They also tore a cardboard box apart to expose the fire extinguisher inside, and had a good go at figuring out how to activate it (the pin was pulled out but the handle proved too hard for them to work).

A close up of Steve, he was in the house and had to be caught and escorted outside.

The chair back they chewed up.

Do you have king parrots? Do you love them or hate them?

Monday, 26 May 2014

Local insects and animals - the brown quail

You can only see her head in this photo; we had to hold her securely as she really wanted to get away from the camera.

Yesterday we had a visitor in an old chook pen which has been empty for some time. My daughter heard a commotion, went to check the pens and found a little bird. The little quail was fluttering about trying to escape from the pen so my daughter caught her and bought her up to the house to be checked over (we weren't sure how long she was in the pen for). Thankfully she was Ok, but the encounter reminded me to check the empty pens regularly.

The brown quail is an unassuming bird at first glance; dull brownish plumage and a tendency to freeze when they hear anything make them hard to spot, but up close they reveal brilliant maroon eyes and soft satiny feathers. Their tiny little feet and legs remind me of chickens, but much more delicate.

They have an omnivorous diet of seeds, green shoots and insects, much like a miniature chook really. Brown quail live in social groups called coveys, breeding between December and January in tiny nests on the ground. Both sexes take turns incubating the eggs and the young leave the nest as soon as they hatch. The babies look like tiny brownish cotton balls with match stick legs, huddled under their mother or father for protection and warmth.

The babies are so beautiful.

The marking of brown quail are apparently very diverse.

I am glad we have a population of these delightful little birds in our backyard and I will be sure to provide plenty of low stubble and insect habitat for them to use.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Local insects and animals- Yellow faced whip snake

This is Esmerelda, the Yellow faced whip snake that calls our yard home.

The yellow faced whip snake is a very common visitor to yards in our area, we see the two that live in our yard regularly. This particular snake (Esmerelda) is fond of following me around as I feed the chickens (if I feed late) and I have had to chase her off when I feed the sheep so she doesn't get trodden on. Whip snakes are friendly and curious creatures, they like to know all the gossip and will come very close to you if you sit still for a long time (although, as most sources say they are timid snakes, that might just be the ones that live here).
They eat small reptiles like skinks and frogs, are diurnal (not night owls) and home bodies; staying within the same area all their life. They have been known to lay eggs communally and may even exhibit pairing behavior. They would rather get away from you than bite and there has never been a fatality from a whip snake bite.

Basic information

People in our area often kill them thinking they are Eastern brown snakes (they do look a bit like baby browns), but their behavior is very different and the extra large eyes give them away if you stop to look closely. Whip snakes are mildly venomous; having the same kind of venom as bees. If you are allergic to bees, don't get bitten by a whip snake. They are not aggressive at all if you don't try to pick them up (they hate that), but they will crawl (slide?) over your legs in a friendly manner if you are sitting on the ground near them.

Differences in behavior between whip and brown snakes
Brown snakes

  • Mostly encountered at dawn and dusk, unless you disturb their resting place.
  • Behave aggressively as soon as they see you; rising to striking position, swaying and coiling body together.
  • Flick their tongue rapidly and often.
An Eastern brown snake in an aggressive pose ready to strike.

Whip snakes
  • Mostly encountered from mid morning to mid afternoon.
  • Behave curiously; rising up above grass to watch but not in a striking position (see photos). Will follow people or animals but usually puts out a 'just passing through' vibe.
  • Do not often flick their tongue, instead remaining still and quiet.

A curious whip snake checking out the area.

Esmerelda watching me to see if the camera is dangerous.

Deciding that the camera is not dangerous she shows me her good side and goes about her day.
Do you have any interesting snakes in your yard?