Winter musings

Jacky Winter on pasture weed backlit

Have you noticed birds singing in the past couple of weeks?  21st June was the solstice — the shortest day of the year if you’re south of the Tropic of Capricorn, and a significant time in nature. The shift from days getting shorter to days getting longer triggers certain changes in animals and plants. For some Australian birds, nesting behaviour begins soon after the winter solstice. Birds that didn’t migrate may already be re-establishing their territory and this means an increase in birdsong (territorial singing as opposed to the generally shorter calls). Some birds start building their first nest of the season, heralding the frenzy of breeding activity that lies ahead. Others are still in their wintering grounds. Continue reading

Ghost Fungus: the sequel

Omphalotus nidiformis at twilight
Omphalotus nidiformis at twilight. Click to enlarge.

Last year I wrote about the cluster of bioluminescent Ghost Fungus (Omphalotus nidiformis) growing on a dead tree in the backyard of the house where I live (see Glow-in-the-dark fungi). This year we had an exceptionally wet March creating great conditions for fungi of all sorts. And guess what — those ‘ghosts’ were back in droves! But strangely, I didn’t recognise them at first. Continue reading

Before the migration: introducing the Yellow-faced Honeyeater

Yellow-faced Honeyeater in Leptospermum

A spectacular annual migration will begin in late March as Yellow-faced Honeyeaters start streaming northward up the coast and tablelands of south-eastern Australia. The waves of travelling birds will continue for 6-8 weeks on suitable fine-weather mornings. Already, observant birders might have noticed small restless groups moving about. Continue reading

Encounter with a Striped Marsh Frog

The rain has washed away the stifling summer heat. Everything’s glistening and frogs are moving around, finding new habitat. The other day, as I walked along a quiet residential street in the Blue Mountains, I noticed a rather winsome frog sitting on the road. By lucky coincidence I had my camera with me.

If anyone was watching through their window I don’t know what they must have thought, but you can’t get a ground-level photo of a frog without lying flat on the ground.

Striped Marsh Frog from ground level

Continue reading

Butterfly pas de deux

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Candalides xanthospilos (Yellow-spotted Blue). Click to enlarge.

Last week I found myself at the ballet. It wasn’t exactly a traditional ballet; it took place in the open air. The venue was a forest in the lower Blue Mountains, the stage was a blade of grass, and the dancers stood less than 20 millimetres tall. The plot, however, was a classic love story and the choreography was perfect. Continue reading

Function and artistry: an assortment of birds’ nests

Spring is a season of intense activity — not only for our fauna and flora but for me, as this is when I’m busiest leading tours, walks, and carrying out bird surveys. It’s frustrating that the season when I have least time to write is the very time there’s the most to write about. On the plus side, I’m outside seeing it all first hand! I’ll try to make up for my recent lack of posts with plenty of summer offerings, including looks at some of the interesting things I’ve seen during the past three months.

striped-honeyeater-at-nest

It hasn’t been hard to find birds nesting and feeding young. For many species this continues into the summer months. Australian birds tend to have long nesting seasons (and smaller clutch sizes) compared to cooler-climate northern hemisphere species (see Ford 1989). This allows them to raise two and sometimes more broods, or at least have another try if the first one fails — which happens often. A nest success rate of less than 50% is not uncommon among small birds. This might be due to predation of the eggs or young, parasitism by cuckoos, an unexpected shortage of food, severe weather, bushfire or human interference. It’s amazing small birds manage to reproduce at all when you think of the many dangers they face.

Let’s take a look at some of the nests I’ve found during my travels this season, plus a couple of favourites from last year thrown in. Each is ingenious in its own way.  Continue reading

Migration of the Painted Ladies

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Australian Painted Lady (Vanessa kershawi), also known as the Blue-spotted Painted Lady. Wingspan approx. 5 cm (2 inches).

Masses of orange-brown butterflies are currently moving through the Blue Mountains, and no doubt other parts of south-eastern Australia. These are Australian Painted Ladies, Vanessa kershawi, flying south (or south-west) on their spring migration. Continue reading