A Brown Honeyeater seeks water on a scorching day at Purnululu National Park, Western Australia. Image by guest blog photographer Steve K Wilson.
This post features some terrific images of Mulga Snakes from western Queensland, all taken by Lindsay Muller.
The Mulga Snake (Pseudechis australis) is one of seven species of snake in the genus Pseudechis, widely known as the ‘black snakes’. This is an odd name for the group, as just one species is always black.
“The Mulga Snake (Pseudechis australis), also known as the King Brown Snake, is poorly named, as the Mulga (Acacia aneura) forms only part of its vast distribution and individuals are not always brown. This extremely variable snake, ranging from yellowish brown or reddish brown to dark olive, has a reticulated pattern formed by dark-edged scales. It is the largest and most widespread species within the group, occurring across most of mainland Australia except the more humid eastern and southern regions.
A large Mulga Snake putting on a defensive display is an impressive sight. While it is fairly placid and disinclined to bite, if it does so it chews while biting, injecting the greatest venom yield for any Australian snake.”
— Gerry Swan and Steve Wilson, What Snake Is That?
I have unfortunately never seen a live Mulga Snake, just haven’t been out west enough I guess. Here’s the closest I’ve come to one — a shed skin on a rock outcrop on the Hood Range in western Queensland. A magic place, made all the more so by the presence of such marvellous reptiles.
Another member of the Black Snake family, the more appropriately-named Red-bellied Black Snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus), is surely one of Australia’s most beautifully-coloured animals. It’s my favourite Australian critter (well, after my dog, but she’s not native and she’s not wildlife by any stretch).
Mention mistletoe to most Australians and they seem to think only of the Christmas tradition of kissing under one — that is, under a northern-hemisphere plant (which they have probably never seen). Meanwhile, Australia has at least 90 native species of mistletoe, probably none of which have ever been kissed under in December.
I’ve always found Australian mistletoes colourful and interesting plants, despite the reputation they seem to have as a pest and parasite. Is this reputation deserved? This blog post presents a perspective on these plants by natural historian Rod Hobson, with some notes on recent research by Dr David Watson and images by guest photographers Mike Peisley and Craig Eddie.
Under the Mistletoe — Rod Hobson
This may come as a surprise to many but contrary to popular belief mistletoes are not parasites. Botanists regard mistletoes as ‘hemi-parasites’, that is ‘half-way parasites’. Biologically, a parasite is an organism living in or on another organism (its host) from which the parasite obtains its food. Mistletoes don’t take anything from their host other than sap water and any minerals therein. They have green leaves therefore they have chlorophyll, which means that they are fully photosynthetic and process all their own food. During long droughts mistletoes suffer severely, as they don’t have any of the various means to conserve water that their hosts might possess. This is especially so if the survival strategy of the host includes restricting water flow to its outer branches. This process thus ‘starves’ the mistletoe of this essential commodity and the mistletoe may eventually succumb to this tactic.
Another popular belief is that mistletoes kill trees. This is not so, as it would take a great many mistletoes to kill a tree and many large trees can be seen doing quite well despite their heavy load of mistletoes. A large number of mistletoes on a tree could well contribute to its decline if the tree was under stress from other factors such as adverse climatic conditions, disease or heavy insect attack. The outer parts of a mistletoe-infected branch will often die though, as upon germination the mistletoe’s anchor (haustorium) enters the water-carrying section (xylem) of its host. Eventually the haustorium may totally block the xylem thereby ‘starving’ the branch’s extremities of water and causing their deaths.
The small and brightly-coloured Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum) is often blamed for spreading mistletoes. It is not the sole culprit however, as over 40 species of Australian birds (especially honeyeaters) are known to eat the mistletoe fruit. Other animals, including the dainty little Feathertail Glider are also very fond of mistletoe.
Australian mistletoes have an ancient Gondwanaland lineage with closely related species found throughout the southern continents, as mistletoe expert Dr Gillian Scott points out in her excellent A Guide to the Mistletoes of Southeastern Australia. Dr Scott, quoting the Australian ornithologist Ken Simpson, also defends the Mistletoebird. According to Ken this bird is a relatively recent arrival in Australia, coming long after the split up of Gondwanaland and the evolution of our mistletoes. Australia has 90 species of mistletoes with about 35 of them found in south-east Queensland. Our mistletoes are contained in two families, the Loranthaceae (74 species) and the Viscaceae (14 species). The Loranthaceae has large colourful flowers and fruits whereas the Viscaceae has tiny flowers and small translucent fruits.
There is still much to be found out about these fascinating plants and new species are still being discovered. As late as 2004 a new mistletoe was described from south-east Queensland. It was named Gillian’s mistletoe (Muellerina flexialabastra) in honour of its discoverer Dr Gillian Scott. It is only known from the Darling Downs and Moreton Districts where it is found on the Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghami).
Mistletoes are not the demons that popular myth paints them. Rather, they are interesting and colourful members of Australia’s prolific floral wealth. So, please stop worrying about the roses and take time out ‘to smell the mistletoes’.
[This article was originally published in the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service newsletter Bush Telegraph, Summer 2008.]
Research does seem to indicate that mistletoe has become more abundant in woodland areas. Why is this so and is it really a problem? Dr David Watson, a plant biologist from Charles Sturt University in Albury, New South Wales, has undertaken an ambitious 25-year project to learn more about the place of mistletoe in Australia’s environment.
(Extract from “Misunderstood Mistletoe’ by Abbie Thomas, ABC Science online):
Studying 42 woodland remnants near Albury in New South Wales, Dr Watson removed mistletoe from half of these areas, while the mistletoe of the other areas was left intact. David’s plan was to find out if the presence of mistletoe can influence how many other species live in an area, in particular, bird species. David believes that mistletoe is now ten times more abundant in south-east Australia than it was before white settlement. Mistletoes particularly target trees isolated in paddocks or by the sides of roads, making them all the more obvious to us. However, David has argued that mistletoe ‘infestations’ are a symptom, not a cause of a much bigger problem. Changes in fire frequency and intensity, clearing trees and a reduction in native animals have all contributed. Mistletoe is killed by fire, and many areas are burnt far less often than before. Native animals such as possums, gliders and even koalas eat mistletoe, as do certain butterfly larvae. Once these species disappear from an area, there is nothing to keep the mistletoe in check. “But in the undisturbed bush, it’s an entirely different story,” David says. “The more mistletoes present, the greater the resources available for native animals, making the plants an important indicator of the area’s health.”
Preliminary results of his long term experiment suggest that more birds do, in fact, prefer to live where mistletoe is common. Woodland where mistletoe had been left intact had 17 per cent more total bird species, and of 44 woodland birds recorded, almost 70 per cent were more frequently seen in the intact sites than the sites without mistletoe. David says many birds prefer to nest in mistletoe because it provides shade and cover. Mistletoe nesters include the Grey Goshawk, several species of pigeon and dove, honeyeaters, wattlebirds, friarbirds and many others. Quite a number of butterfly larvae also feed on mistletoe, and some caterpillars can completely strip a mistletoe of its leaves in a matter of months, providing another natural check on mistletoe.
As the biology of mistletoe becomes better understood, biologists are urging that they be managed with an eye on the underlying causes of the problem. One place that did this recently was in the Clare Valley in South Australia where local residents were concerned about mistletoe infestations in local blue gums. They made it their business to learn more about the biology of mistletoes. Although some of the bigger infestations were manually removed, natural animal predators were also encouraged back to the area by fencing off areas and planting trees.
David says the best way to control mistletoe infestation is by addressing the underlying cause: such as putting up nesting boxes to encourage possums and gliders, control burning of the understorey to kill excess mistletoe, and encouraging regeneration of native plants. But he takes his argument further. Mistletoe, he says, could be a powerful tool in the management of forest plantations of species such as blue gum. At the moment, such plantations are plagued by chewing insects such as beetles, and require huge expenditure on pest control. But if every, say, 100th tree were to be seeded with a mistletoe, these would eventually grow, flower and attract insect-eating birds and possums which would also eat the problem insects, effectively turning a plant pest into a natural pest controller.
- Mistletoes in Australia — Australian National Herbarium. This is a fabulous on-line resource on Australian mistletoes.
- Dr David Watson’s personal blog on ecosystems. A fascinating blog on ecosystem research.
- Mistletoes of Southern Australia, by David Watson.
- The Botanical Art of Gillian Scott. Gillian Scott was the first Australian botanical artist to win the coveted Gold Medal of the Royal Horticultural Society (U.K.) in open international competition with her display of 22 species of Australian mistletoes.
- See David Watson’s link for a selection of peer-reviewed papers on Mistletoe.
- The Mistletoe Web of life. Australian Association of Environmental Education.
The Toowoomba Regional Council gardeners took what seemed like a radical step earlier this year when they planted a stack of sunflowers in the city’s Botanic Gardens.
Being used to seeing neat and ordered rows of flowers, we became entranced by the unruly mob of stunning, large yellow flowers that grew quickly around the central statue. They were a delight to stroll past in all types of weather and fun to photograph.
Things became even more fun though when the sunflowers developed full heads of seeds. Native parrots descended in flocks to ravage the nodding flowers, creating even more mess and delightful garden chaos. Tough, boisterous Rainbow Lorikeets and Galahs were joined by quiet and wary King Parrots and the occasional diminutive Scaly-breasted Lorikeet. All were all keen to plunder this unexpected suburban food source.
I only managed a few late afternoon photo sessions, standing quietly against the flowers, before they expired and the birds moved on. Some other walkers would stop to watch the birds, but most were oblivious to the feeding frenzy going on close by. The usually wary King Parrots would freeze when people got close, their green plumage blending into the green of the sunflowers.
I sent a few words of encouragement to the radical gardeners, in case they were getting worried by the chaos:
A big thanks to your Botanic Gardens gardeners for brightening the place even further. Just when I think they are a bit too obsessed with neatness they plant sunflowers around the statue in the centre of the Gardens.
Utterly and completely brilliant. First, people marvel over the bright, unruly flowers, then to our astonishment, the seeds of the flowers provide food for at least four species of local native birds— scaly-breasted and rainbow lorikeets, galahs and the beautiful king parrots — for weeks.
Last weekend people from all backgrounds were enjoying the flowers and also watching the birds. To see the huge, magnificently camouflaged (and usually very wary) king parrots quietly sitting on the sunflowers while kids on bikes raced past and walkers strolled within metres of one of our most spectacular species of parrots was most enjoyable.
Bloody marvellous stuff, please pass on my sincerest thanks to the gardeners for providing this epic splash of colour and life for both people and native birds, much appreciated.
Leonie from the Council replied:
Thank you so much for the wonderful photos, we were delighted to receive them and have printed copies to show all the staff. It is good to see a different theme in an area that is normally very formal and I am sure the gardeners will consider this again as it has proved to be very popular.
December 2013 had some of the hottest days on record for this part of the world. Not an ideal time to visit a rainforest, but I head south anyway, driving through sun-blasted, open farmlands until I meet the western foothills of the Great Dividing Range.
Goomburra, within Main Range National Park, is my destination.
The circuit track along Dalrymple Creek heads through wet sclerophyll forest, where giant eucalypts tower above rainforest scrub. At times, the scream of cicadas, known appropriately as Razor Grinders, is almost unbearable — a frenzy of tree-top insect metalworkers. Some recent rain and the hot weather has brought thousands of their nymphs up from their long, dark underground life. Their cast-off ‘skins’ are plastered over tree trunks, while the adult insects are high up in the glorious summer light, males calling females in a non-stop, deafening cacophony. What a dazzling stage of life it must be for an animal that has spent years underground in the cool, dark earth.
The smooth bark of the eucalypts bears evidence of other life, as skinks move across strange circular patterns — the feeding marks of Red Triangle Slugs. While scanning tree trunks I’m soon rewarded with a sighting of a Southern Angle-headed Dragon, clinging to a tree and furiously pretending to be a branch.
< click on any image in this post for a larger view, and use arrow keys to move forward through images or hit ‘escape’ to exit>
A bright, sunny day in rainforest is usually the worst time for a photographer to capture interesting images, as the contrast range between dark shadow and blazing patches of light is beyond the scope of camera sensors, and the resulting photographs never really look like what the eyes saw. However, I’m here to enjoy the walk and in that frame of mind I soon get consumed by the search for intriguing patterns and photographic subjects.
As the Cascades Track winds on and upward, there are window-like glimpses of rainforest slopes above and the multi-hued foliage of emergent trees striving to reach the light. At ground level the sunlit canopy is reflected in pools of water, where another elegant reptile — an Eastern Water Dragon — regards me warily as I traverse its own small patch of paradise. Christmas Orchids flower close to the track, blazes of white among the shadows.
The walk presents an endless kaleidoscope of colours and textures. What more could a photographer hope for?
No place is boring, if you’ve had a good night’s sleep and have a pocket full of unexposed film. — Robert Adams.
I stop at one pool for a break and in the quiet notice all sorts of life. The large tadpoles of Great Barred Frogs move endlessly in the water and a Marsh Snake hunts restlessly for a meal.
I end up spending over an hour stalking Whitewater Rockmasters, one of Queensland’s five species of huge damselflies in the family Diphlebidae. These dazzling insects patrol their small bits of territory, and rather than run all over the place chasing them I set up at one spot to which a large male keeps returning. I could sit and watch these characters all day.
The Cascades Circuit leads up and out of the cool rainforest, taking me back to my vehicle via open, recently burnt, woodland. Grass Trees have seen it before, masters of surviving fire, and their green and brown skirts add colour to a blackened landscape.
All too soon I’m heading home, windows down and hot air whipping through the car. I’ve visited another world, a place of green shadows and complex life. I will return again, soon, I hope.
When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence. — Ansel Adams.
Main Range National Park is located on the western part of the Scenic Rim — a spectacular arc of mountains stretching from Mt Mistake to Springbook in south-east Queensland.
Much of the rainforest areas within the park fall within a World Heritage area, known as the Gondwana Rainforest of Australia World Heritage Area. This area conserves more than 1700 species of flowering plants and 500 species of vertebrate animals.
I recently caught up with photographer Mike Swan, who was on his way home from a trip west gathering images for a forthcoming field guide to the frogs of Australia. Here are a few images from his far-ranging frog-chasing expeditions.
Mike’s a busy bloke — when not out in the bush with a camera he can be found working at Healesville Sanctuary in Melbourne, running an online herpetological bookshop and playing in alt-country band Low Rent.
The flower is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful of all our native plant species. Keith Williams, 1979.
With memories still fresh of my water-level encounter with these Giant Water Lilies at Lake Nuga Nuga in 2013, I recently came across some information on these spectacular plants in Native Plants of Queensland, Volume 1 (1979) by Keith Williams.
The four volumes of this title produced by this eminent Queensland naturalist from 1979 to 1999 contain a wealth of information on the State’s plants and their habitats. I’d encountered very little information on this species of plant when writing my earlier blog post on Lake Nuga Nuga.
From Native Plants of Queensland by Keith Williams:
Giant Waterlily Nymphaea gigantea
This species is found in coastal and sub-coastal areas from north Queensland to the southern border. In many places the pest Water Hyacinth has almost, if not completely, eradicated the water lily.
The Giant Water Lily grows in water of various depths and this varies from the shallow edges of the the quiet waters of the habitat, to water that may be greater than three metres in depth. It has been observed that plants growing in deep water have a tendency to produce larger leaves and flowers than those in shallow water. Many leaves form a single plant and when they reach the surface they may cover an area with a diameter of about four metres.
The flower is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful of all our native plant species. The flowers may be more than 30 cm in diameter. I have observed them to be larger than a dinner plate. The flowers have a delicate fragrance and have a life of little more than one day.
As soon as they open in mid-morning the various insects visit them in numbers and pollination is effected very quickly. The stem then bends several times and this pulls the flower under the water, The seed receptacle forms very quickly, and the small black seeds are released finally when the fruit disintegrates. The plants are rooted in soft alluvial muds and the spongy white roots spread outwards from the tuber for long distances in all directions.
The plant was an important food source for Aborigines, who ate the fresh flowers as well as the seeds. The importance of the plant is evident as the Aboriginal names Arnurna, Yakp-Kalo, Kaooroo, Moi-U, Thindah, Thoolambool, Mille, Thoongoon, Urgullathy and Irrpo all demonstrate. Many of these names referred specifically to parts of the plant.
Giant Water Lilies only thrive in clear water. Where there is constant heavy turbidity the plants die. Many areas where they were once plentiful have been lost because colloidal clays have entered the ponds and as they remain in constant suspension, they inhibit growth by preventing light reaching submerged parts of the plant.
Colour forms are found and they may be pure white, white with blue petals, or some have tips of colour on the outside petals, A very beautiful pink form, the Undulla Lily, occurs in a small creek in southern Queensland.
Keith Albert Walter Williams (1916–2003)
With a wide range of natural history interests — fish, both marine and freshwater; birds; insects, particularly butterflies; and native plants, Keith Williams, as well as being a practical, expert naturalist and photographer, was a dedicated member of The Queensland Naturalists’ Club. An astute observer of wildlife, Keith started writing Nature Notes for the Club Newsletter in May 1963 with his note on the Golden Bower Bird, following this with notes on subjects as diverse as koalas, snakes, geckos, and birds such as white faced herons, red-backed wrens and all kinds in between.
His writing was not restricted to informal Nature Notes, for Keith’s magnum opus was Native Plants — Queensland, the first volume of which was published in 1979 and the fourth and final volume in 1999. These four volumes, of over 1,400 pages, have been, and will continue to be, used by many naturalists and aspiring botanists. If he had no other achievements, this work alone would assure Keith Williams of a place in the ‘Naturalists’ Hall of Fame’.
Keith wrote a number of more formal papers for The Queensland Naturalist among which was one on the fishes of North West Island (1969) which, together with the generous giving of his time, helped many members identify the small fishes of the coral reef pools on future trips.
Source: D. Reeves, The Queensland Naturalist, Vol.44, Nos.1–3, 2006
Keith was born in Ipswich, Queensland, in 1916. He was made an Honorary ranger for the protection of Fauna and Flora in Queensland in 1934. He was a foundation member of the Queensland Ornithological Society and was a life member of the Ipswich Photographic Society and the Queensland Naturalists’ Club. In 1993 he was the recipient if the Queensland Natural History Award and in 1998 was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to conservation and the environment, particularly for his contribution to botanical knowledge and the collection of plant specimens.
A post from the last day of 2013 — another year slips past too quickly.
Despite it being one of the most difficult I can remember in many ways, I was still fortunate to be able to visit a few places, both near and not-so-near, and to be able to photograph some beautiful landscapes and marvellous creatures.
May you have a rewarding, successful and safe 2014.
Here are some wonderful images taken this year by fellow photographers Mike Peisley, Raelene Neilson, Michael Hines and Ross Naumann. All images reproduced with permission and thanks.
Managing fire is a constant part of a Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger’s job in Queensland.
While photography isn’t high on the agenda for those involved in the business of working closely with fire, rangers sometimes capture dramatic images of flames and burning landscapes.
The late Bill Morley was a ranger at Carnarvon Gorge National Park for over 15 years. He was also a keen photographer and naturalist, compiling a large slide collection and detailed notes on natural history at the gorge.
I recently undertook some archival scans of Bill’s collection of Kodachrome slides taken during his time at Carnarvon. Included in the collection is a record of a large wildfire event at the Gorge in 1988. The images are impressive — well composed and often taken in difficult conditions — even more so considering that they were taken while fighting the fire with other rangers. In the end, the fires ran for 53 days and burnt out over 80% of the park.
Here is a small selection of Bill’s images of this 1988 wildfire (which I have restored from slides affected by dust and fungus), accompanied by extracts from the notes he subsequently put together for a slideshow on the fire for future park visitors.
What can be done when a wildfire starts in rough country like this? It had been a good season up until the end of September 1988. But, with the coming of October temperatures soared to around 39°C in the shade. Hot winds blew, and humidity dropped, The green grass became brown and brittle, and the softer plants and shrubs wilted in the relentless heat.
Midday, Sunday 16 October. A lightning strike during a dry storm started a fire in dry grassland and leaf litter on a rocky ridge above Mickey’s Creek gorge, and, although it wasn’t known at the time, another lightning strike from the same dry storm started another fire near the extreme north-east of the park. There would soon be two wildfires in Carnarvon Gorge National park.
From vantage points both inside and outside the park, rangers took bearings of fire positions. Contact was made with neighbours and information exchanged on the positions and progress of the fires, Spreading rapidly, the fires in the south-east section dropped down into Mickey’s Creek Gorge, whilst up on the cliff edge, fierce winds caused it to ‘crown’ in the tree-tops in many places. That night, park rangers burnt back along the southern edge of Mickey’s Creek walking track, to contain the fire front the for the time being.
The next day the fire in Mickey’s Creek Gorge was heading eastwards toward the walking track and the fire at the top of the cliffs was spreading fast. Carnarvon Gorge Lodge and Bandana Station grasslands were under threat from advancing flames. Walking tracks in the gorge were now closed to park visitors.
The fire had dropped off the eastern edge of the Goombungie Cliffs, so a back burn from the western edge of the Baloon Cave track was undertaken to neutralise that firefront. Just on dusk, above the cliffs, flames raced up the steep slopes of the Great Divide and hit the top edge of the eastern side of ‘The Ranch’.
Visibility became severely restricted at times, as the Carnarvon ranges were absorbed within a huge blanket of smoke. At times, several palls of black smoke could be seen within the overall greyish-white, markings of the second fire now racing across the south-central section of the Consuelo Tablelands towards Carnarvon Gorge, pushed by strong north-eastern winds.
The next day, thick palls of black smoke signal that the fire is almost at the edge of Warrumbah Cliffs, immediately behind the national park’s workshop area. Cliff-top winds and updrafts contribute towards fire crowning in the trees along the cliff edge. Back-burns continue throughout the next two days to control the fire’s advance.
Eight days after the fires began, a few millimetres of rain is recorded, dampening the vegetation and quietening the fires temporarily, but three days after the rain any moisture has evaporated and the fires are whipped up again by steep winds.
Fire on no fire, it’s business as usual in the camping ground, the people still come. Four large coaches are parked in the coach zone which is filled to capacity. Not many family campers arrive, as campers are discouraged from coming until the fires are out.
Thirteen days since the fires began, and the floor of the inner gorge is aflame and once again a park ranger is stationed at the Art Gallery, and another at Cathedral Cave. A back burn commences to save the cypress pine board-walk from the approaching flames.
Sixteen days after its birth, fire moves in behind Boolimba Bluff and drops over the edge in many places.
The remnants of the fires are still going 53 days after their start, when the first good storm occurs, with 75mm of rain. All fire is extinguished in the gorge. Loose soil is washed into creeks and Carnarvon Creek runs a deep chocolate colour, with black ash and charcoal floating on top. A tiny glimpse of the ever-ongoing process of erosion that, over a long time period, changes landscapes.
The rains caused the grass roots to sprout juicy green shoots and the kangaroos and wallabies feasted, and nests are built by birds as new leaves sprout in fire-singed trees and the insect population increases. A dazzling green rebirth follows, until the next fire.
An article written for the Spring/Summer 2013 edition of Wildlife Queensland news.
A nature photographer could not ask for a more perfect spot — it was one of those rare occasions when everything is just right. I was sitting in a borrowed kayak somewhere in the middle of Lake Nuga Nuga, the largest natural body of water in Queensland’s central highlands.
I’d paddled out with camera in the early morning, moving through a surreal field of native Giant Water Lilies, their huge pink flowers still closed. I thought I’d just keep paddling about furiously until I found things to photograph, typically impatient to discover something of interest.
The lake, however, was about to remind me once more of the need to just sit, wait, shut-up and look. I eventually stopped paddling and sat quietly, taking it all in and reminding myself to breathe and enjoy the moment. The sounds of morning on the lake rolled over me as the day’s dramas unfolded with the opening of the giant lily flowers.
The water soon warmed, and small Bony Bream moved to surface, splashing onto the lily pads and catching the attention of Whistling Kites. The birds broke off from preening to make spectacular diving runs into the water, flying off with tiny wriggling silver meals clutched tightly in talons. I’d never been so close these birds and was dazzled by their rich and subtle hues of brown and tan, with eyes burning bright over the desire to catch breakfast.
Other waterbirds also fished around me, cormorants and egrets flying past and into the water next to my small boat. It was as if by sitting still I’d convinced all that I was just another dead tree, many of which are a feature of this lake. I soon discovered that the dead standing trees were not dead at all — flocks of Tree Martins whirled around them and darted inside the hollows of what were clearly multi-story tenements for countless small birds. Once in, they would peer out again, whipping their tiny heads in all directions to catch the action, screaming at each other in tiny voices.
What life goes on unnoticed in our wild places when there’s no human around to catch it! What a pleasure to think of the places we have managed to protect and the myriad natural dramas played out by the wildlife that call these places home. Yes, we need parks for people, but these wild places are essential to the lives of species other than human.
Lake Nuga Nuga is one of 13 nationally-significant wetlands that fall within the Southern Brigalow Belt bioregion. Unfortunately the lake itself is not national park, however the small but significant Nuga Nuga National Park sits adjacent to the lake and preserves remnant vegetation communities, including Ooline and Bonewood, largely cleared from central Queensland.
One of those who fought hard over decades for the protection of remnant patches of Central Queensland scrub in national parks, such as Nuga Nuga, was Jim Gasteen. A life member of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, Jim travelled extensively throughout four States, surveying areas for inclusion in proposed national parks. Said Jim in the June 1989 edition of Wildlife Australia, “I am convinced that the entire Queensland Central Highlands complex is one of the foremost biological areas in Australia and that the entire ranges should be designated national park and state forest.”
Jim also wrote, in the March 1984 edition of Wildlife Australia, of a “most remarkable experience at Lake Nuga Nuga.” Jim, his brother and a friend were setting up camp late one afternoon. They soon noticed a small and isolated fledgling cormorant being incessantly dive-bombed by a pair of kites. The tiny bird would submerge, only to be attacked again when surfacing. Things eventually looked final for the small bird. “So intense was this uneven battle that the three of us were on our feet with binoculars, absorbed in the drama and wishing there was something we could do to forestall the inevitable.” Suddenly a group of pelicans, until then fishing nearby, swam toward the cormorant and surrounded it, driving off with snapping beaks the attacks of the kites in the fading light, until the raptors gave up and flew away.
To the surprise of the observers the pelicans then remained in a tight circle around the small bird, without the slightest movement, looking “like sentinels from another era.” Says Jim, “A change had come over the lake — it was something felt rather than seen, for all that were left now were the stars and our own thoughts. We too remained anchored to the spot. Nobody spoke.”
Jim wrote again of this “most remarkable swamp drama” in his book Back to the Bush in 2011 — it was obviously an experience he had not forgotten.
Such are our most memorable nature experiences formed, through being present in a wild place — large or small — and just watching what happens around us.
I’d been sitting in my tiny kayak for almost three hours watching the kites battling over small silver fish morsels, and things were starting to quieten as the day warmed up. The lily flowers were open for business and the water was alive with dragonflies and bees.
As I prepared to head back to shore a strange rushing sound descended and I looked up to see a massive squadron of Pelicans flying low over the lake, accompanied by a motley collection of cormorants. It was the perfect end to a terrific morning. I thought of Jim and reflected on how important our national parks and wild areas are as the crucibles of experiences that we can carry with us for many years.
Like the Echidna (previous post), the Cunningham’s Skink is another somewhat shy and nervous animal, at least where stumbling photographers are concerned. I photographed this dark specimen in a pile of rocks just outside the ranger’s house at Sundown National Park.
I’ve always found Echidnas tricky things to get a decent photograph of. They always seem very wary, burrowing into the earth as soon as you get near one, leaving only a bunch of spines to be photographed.
So, it was a pleasant surprise to at last meet a curious and somewhat confiding Echidna. Lying on the ground in front of the busy mammal, I was soon rewarded with some close-up shots as it trundled up and inspected the camera, even attempting to climb over it.
Echidnas, like Platypus, are monotremes — egg-laying mammals. Female Echidnas carry a single egg, and later, the juvenile in a simple pouch on their belly.
Researchers are still discovering new things about these unusual mammals. One of the unique characteristics of monotremes is the spurs on the hind legs of males. In Platypuses the gland attached to the spur increases in size during the breeding season and produces a venom injected into competing males (the venom is highly toxic, causing excruciating pain that can take months to subside in humans). In male Echidnas, spurs are in the same position and the glands also get bigger during the breeding season. However, the spur cannot be erected and there have never been reports of anyone being envenomated by an Echidna.
The purpose of an Echidna’s spur has until now been a bit of a mystery. Researchers from the University of Sydney have recently found that male Echidnas use secretions from their spurs to mark territory during the breeding season. They are unsure whether the mammals are communicating their readiness to mate, or using this to ward off other males.
Genetic studies of the Echidna have revealed that the secretions were once toxic and may have been used for defence millions of years ago. The gradual disappearance of the venom in the spur secretion indicates a that the gland has evolved a new role.
This 2014 calendar was created for the Citizens of the Lockyer Inc., a group working to increase awareness of the rich biodiversity to be found within the Lockyer Valley, just south-east of Toowoomba.
Images, text and design work were donated to the group by Robert Ashdown, Bruce Thomson, Neil Armstrong, Mike Peisley, Catherine Burton, Rob Gratwick, Penny Davies and Jayne Darvell (images), Rod Hobson (text) and Rob and Terttu Mancini, Evergreen Design (design work).
Text Pages from Lockyer Wildlife calendar Rod Hobson. (PDF 344Kb)
Green Tree Frogs (Litoria caerulea) have not been seen too often in our Toowoomba backyard.
However, with the recent heat and storms, a deep resonating croak emanated from the old rainwater tank in our backyard. This is a sound from the summer storms of my childhood.
Cameras equipped with infrared triggers, known as ‘camera traps’, are used around the world to obtain information about wildlife and their habitats. Although they sound menacing, these traps do not harm wildlife. They simply capture images of fauna passing by the camera.
Remote cameras are used by rangers with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) to collect information about wildlife and ferals in the parks that they manage. Here are a few candid captures from some southern Queensland national parks.
Thanks to the rangers of QPWS, in particular Andy Coward, who looks after Culgoa Floodplains National Park in western Queensland.
I’m not a purist about camera gear, having always enjoyed wringing interesting results out of dodgy bits of gear.
I’m not alone it seems, as retro plastic cameras and mobile phones are the cameras of choice for many these days. Mobile phones were once pretty ordinary as far as taking photos went, but this has rapidly changed. They’re mostly not yet up to the quality a good compact camera, but they’re getting better and if you have them on you then they’ll get used.
Here are some photographs taken locally using my phone.
The parade of dead wildlife on our roads seems endless. I’ve become almost numb to it — a sad fact of life in this speed-addicted, car-mad society, something that most people do not even seem to notice anyway. I still stop (carefully) to check things dead on the road or to hurry-up some critter wandering about the asphalt.
On a recent early-morning drive north of Toowoomba we spotted a koala on the road. I found a safe spot to pull over (quite difficult on our country roads) and checked it out.
It was a large male, unfortunately dead, but still a beautiful animal. Its distinctive koala-smell transported me back to my childhood, standing at the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary at the Gold Coast holding a koala, totally lost in wonder, posing for a photograph with an ear-to-ear grin. I remember my grandmother’s anxiety leading to her being scratched by the one she was holding. There’d probably be an outcry these days and the place would be shut down and the animals all taken out by a SWAT team, but we did not worry too much then about a few scratches from such an animal.
As I was preparing to post this depressing and confronting image, I received by good fortune some great photos of a koala, very much alive and well, taken by Des O’Neill in his Brisbane backyard. So, to balance out the road-kill image, here’s some from Des, and also a lovely shot from Raelene Neilson, who also has the good fortune to have these beleaguered icons at her place.
A Powerful Owl —Australia’s largest and most, um, powerful owl — photographed at Moggill in Brisbane by Harry Hines, Senior Conservation Officer with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
Powerful Owl, giant of the continent’s nocturnal birds of prey, epitome of solitude and the voice that expresses as no other the essence and grandeur of the mountain bushlands. — David Fleay.
A spell of warm weather, and the Superb Blue Fairy-wrens rise early to once again wrestle with their reflections in the misty windows of our car.
Sometimes they leave their mark — this time two tiny footprints and the swish of a single delicate wing-tip. An instant smile-making bit of window art.
A Red-browed Finch (Neochmia temporalis) peers at me from a clump of reeds on the edge of Lake McKenzie, Fraser Island National Park.
I like this photo. It’s technically pretty poor, and composed in a fairly ordinary fashion, but it makes me smile as it brings back memories. Crouching in the sand, oblivious to anything else, all personal worries forgotten — completely in the moment with a camera, peering into reeds through a viewfinder and trying to get a single clear shot of a small bird that just won’t separate itself from the shadows. Suddenly it’s there, checking me out in a fashion most fearless for its size, before darting back into the reeds to join its crew.
Another small moment of life in the wild edges. Here’s to moments shared with little creatures of big personality.
The dragonfly collection of the late Toowoomba naturalist Barry Kenway has been preserved in the Queensland Museum, where it will contribute to the State’s knowledge of these marvellous insects.
From the Winter 2013 edition of Antenna, the journal of the Queensland Museum Foundation:
Dragonflies and damselflies are one of the world’s most familiar and charismatic insects.
There are 327 known species of Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) in Australia. The Odonata collection held by the Queensland Museum Network consists of over 4,000 specimens, acquired over the past 151 years.
This year, thanks to a generous donation through the Cultural Gifts Program by odonatologist extraordinaire Deniss Reeves, and a bequest from the estate of the late naturalist Barry Kenway, the Queensland Museum Network’s holdings of dragonflies and
damselflies have more than doubled. We now hold one of the most comprehensive and significant Odonata collections in Australia in terms of species representation and geographic coverage.
The names Deniss Reeves and Barry Kenway are synonymous with Odonata throughout Queensland. Over the last four decades, Deniss has devoted his life to raising community awareness and understanding about his beloved dragonflies and damselflies. During his odonatological career Deniss has amassed thousands of specimens, donating many to scientific institutions, and his stunning photographs of dragonflies and damselflies in their natural habitat have featured in many field guides, including the best-selling Wildlife of Greater Brisbane, published by the Queensland Museum Network. In 1999 Deniss’ significant contribution to the world of entomology was rewarded when the Queensland Pin Damselfly, Eurystica reevesi, was named in his honour.
Barry Kenway was a brother, husband, father, grandfather, teacher, sportsman and highly esteemed member of the Toowoomba community. He had an unquenchable enthusiasm for nature, particularly dragonflies. Barry amassed a collection of hundreds of specimens during his own expeditions and field trips with the Toowoomba Field Naturalists’ Club.
Deniss and Barry’s carefully preserved specimens have come to the Queensland Museum Network precisely packaged in paper envelopes and stored in a multitude of plastic containers. Our scientists will now begin the immense, complicated and delicate task of sorting and storing these specimens in a specially designed cabinet from the United States, purchased with funds raised by the Queensland Museum Foundation.
Queensland Museum Network curator Dr Chris Burwell noted that once sorted and stored, each specimen will be catalogued on the Queensland Museum Network database, making our vastly enhanced Odonata holdings, to be known as the Deniss Reeves & Barry Kenway Dragonfly Collection, accessible to the scientific community and the general public the world over.
“Doctoral scholar Alex Bush will use the collection in a research study to predict the impact of climate change on the distribution of these biological treasures and investigate how our system of reserves could be modified and augmented to best ensure their conservation,” Dr Burwell said.
“Importantly, the Deniss Reeves & Barry Kenway Dragonfly Collection project will form an enduring legacy, commemorating the steadfast commitment and passion shown by Deniss and Barry to the study and protection of dragonflies and damselflies”.
Thanks to Sonya Peters, Chris Burwell and Rod Hobson. Copy courtesy of Antenna, Queensland Museum Foundation.
Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Rangers on Fraser Island have many wildlife encounters. Most of these are enjoyable, but some are deeply disappointing.
Albatross are spectacular birds, so spotting one is always a joy — unless it’s one that is a species not often seen in Queensland and is critically ill with a longline fishing trace hanging out of its mouth.
In May this year Rangers Linda Behrendorff and Darren Blake found a Buller’s Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri) sitting on the beach one kilometre north of the Pinnacles at Fraser Island. The bird had a green nylon trace with a large longline clip hanging from its mouth. Although transported back to the Eurong Ranger base for urgent assistance, the albatross died that morning.
In June, the bird’s body was necropsied at the Moggill Koala Hospital in Brisbane. Dave Stewart, of the Environment and Heritage and Protection Department of Queensland, writes:
When necropsied, the green nylon trace was found to extend down into the proventriculus of the albatross. At the end of the nylon trace was a large hook with both a bent tip and a barb, both of which had punctured the wall of the proventriculus.
Approximately half of the nylon trace line (the section adjacent to the hook) had changed colour, from green to yellow and all except the tip of the stainless steel hook had begun to corrode. As the albatross was frozen shortly after death, for both nylon to change colour and for the stainless steel hook to begin to corrode, suggests that both of these have been in the gastro-intestinal tract of the bird for some time, in particular the proventriculus which is involved with the secretion of digestive enzymes.
The hook was identified as a tuna circle hook — used for catching all types of fish, while the short trace indicated a drop line set-up used for many types of fish (except tuna). Dave Stewart:
There are two main periods during the longline fishing when seabirds are likely to get caught. These are during the line setting and line hauling. During line setting, baits are attached to hooks and paid out from the stern of the ship. At this stage of the fishing, seabirds risk getting hooked on the lines and then drawn underwater and drown. During line hauling, seabirds may survive the initial hauling process, but retain the longline hooks, which eventually result in their death or disability.
Presumably, most instances of hook ingestion occur as a result of processing procedures (notably the discarding of hooked fish heads by factory crew) undertaken on non-Australian and/or illegal longlining vessels.
This is a medium-sized species of albatross, with a wingspan of 200 to 213cm. Buller’s Albatross are up to about 80cm in length and can live for up to 30 years. They feed mostly on fish, squid and tunicates (barrel-like filter feeders), but also octopuses, shrimps and lobsters.
While Buller’s Albatross visit Australian waters from the south, they are usually seen off the east coast from Coffs Harbour, south to Tasmania and west to Eyre Peninsula. The specimen found on Fraser Island is a rare visitor to our part of the world. This species was unknown from Queensland until 1991, when a specimen was found dead on Frenchmans Beach on North Stradbroke Island. Since this initial record there have been five specimens found beach-washed (mainly on Fraser Island), while five live birds have been observed offshore from Southport and Mooloolaba.
The Buller’s Albatross is a species is listed as Vulnerable under the Nature Conservation Act in Queensland and the national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Recent population estimates for this species of albatross indicate that about 31,000 to 32,000 pairs remain. While this may sound a lot, in biological terms it is a small number.
Buller’s Albatross are known to breed on a limited number of island groups around New Zealand and in other southern waters. When breeding, Buller’s Albatross are seen mostly over the shelf and slope waters off southern New Zealand, while some birds will occasionally travel further into the Tasman Sea. After breeding, many of these albatross disperse in the oceanic subtropical waters of the western South Pacific, or the Humboldt Current off the western shores of South America.
Longline fishing is a big problem for the Buller’s Albatross, and has been identified as the main threat to the Buller’s Albatross as a species. These albatross are often included in the estimated 300,000 sea birds drowned each year when they eat fish caught on longlines. It is believed that (an unsustainable) 600 breeding adult Buller’s Albatross are killed each year in Japanese operations off New Zealand alone. Other Buller’s Albatross are killed in the Australian Fishing Zone from longlining and collision with the cables and warps used on fishing trawlers.
The CSIRO in Hobart is involved in a study to determine the relationship between fishing activity in the Atlantic and declining albatross populations. It is being funded by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.
Resource modeller with the CSIRO in Hobart, Geoff Tuck, says the study will make recommendations about better managing Atlantic fisheries to reduce the effect on seabirds. He says that fishing agencies are currently setting about 400 million hooks across the Atlantic, and believes that area closures or reductions in effort in particular areas or in particular fleets may help the albatross.
“That’s a lot of hooks and even though a vessel may catch either no birds on a particular set or maybe only one bird or two birds, the problem is that when you multiply that up across millions and millions of hooks then it becomes a problem for our seabirds.”
Images (not credited) are courtesy Linda Behrendorrf, Jenna Tapply and Dave Stewart. Thanks to Linda and David for the information and images.
- Stewart, D (2013). A Buller’s Albatross from Fraser Island in May 2013. Unpublished report, Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.
References cited in the above report:
- Alexander, K., G. Robertson & R. Gales (1997). The incidental mortality of albatrosses in longline fisheries. Tasmania: Australian Antarctic Division.
- Blakers, M., S.J.J.F. Davies & P.N. Reilly (1984). The Atlas of Australian Birds. Melbourne, Victoria: Melbourne University Press.
- Brothers, N. (1991). Albatross mortality and associated bait loss in the Japanese longline fishery in the Southern Ocean. Biological Conservation. 55:255-268.
- EABG (Experimental Analysis of Behaviour Group) 1999. Draft Recovery Plan for Albatrosses and Giant Petrels. Environment Australia Biodiversity Group, Canberra.
- Environment Australia (EA) (2001). National Recovery Plan for Albatrosses and Giant-Petrels 2001-2005. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Environment Australia.
- Gales, R., Brothers, N. and Reid, T. 1998. Seabird mortality in the Japanese tuna longline fishery around Australia, 1988-1995. Biol. Conserv. 86:37-56.
- Gynther and Stewart (1998). First Record of Buller’s Albatross in Queensland. 42:494.
- Murray, T. E.; Bartle, J. A.; Kalish, S. R.; Taylor, P. R. 1993. Incidental capture of seabirds by Japanese southern bluefin tuna longline vessels in New Zealand waters, 1988-1992. Bird Conservation International 3: 181-210.
- Nel, D.C. & J.L. Nel (1999). Marine debris and fishing gear associated with seabirds at sub-antarctic Marion Island, 1996/97 and 1997/98: in relation to longline fishing activity. CCAMLR Science. 6:85-96.
- Stahl, J.C., J.A. Bartle, N.G. Cheshire, C. Petyt & P.M. Sagar (1998). Distribution and movements of Buller’s Albatross (Diomedea bulleri) in Australasian seas. New Zealand Journal of Zoology. 25:109-137.
Black Kites have been mysteriously dying in northern Queensland.
Experts are looking for clues as to why common black kites are falling dead from north Queensland skies.
Black kites, also known as shite-hawks and firebirds, are medium-sized birds of prey and are among the few raptor species which gather in flocks. Testing has so far excluded bird flu and Newcastle disease, both highly contagious viral infections linked to mass deaths of migratory wild birds, and transmissible to humans. But the cause of the latest spate of deaths, possibly linked to a cross-border infection, is still a mystery.
Biosecurity Queensland has confirmed it is testing “several kites in relation to unexplained deaths in the tropical north Queensland region. The exact number of bird deaths is unknown and estimates are not available at this stage of the investigation,” a spokesman told The Courier-Mail.
He said a range of tests were being undertaken for potential causes. “Laboratory testing is ongoing to determine the cause of this mortality incident.” Environment Department wildlife director Beck Williams said her office would investigate if it was suspected the birds might have been illegally killed.
Bird of prey expert James Biggs said it was highly unusual for raptors to die in large numbers or, literally, drop dead from the sky. “If it is not disease, it could possibly be poisoning, but without being familiar with the ongoing tests it is hard to know,” the Cairns Tropical Zoo bird supervisor said.
Black kites prey on insects, small animals and birds, and can spend all day soaring on the wing, hawking insects out of the air and eating them on the fly. “They are often seen hovering around fires, like cane burn-off, where they catch the insects pushed up on the updraft,” Mr Biggs said. “But if there is a road kill they will feed on that too. Whatever it is that is killing them I’d be very keen to know why. It’s a puzzle.”