Monday, September 22, 2008

Fungi: Banksiamyces

Banksiamyces are small cup fungi (Ascomycetes) that grow on old cones of Banksia species.
Banksiamyces toomansis grows on Banksia marginata, the species that grows at Black Sugarloaf.
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tiny spider

I was photographing the crustose lichens on the old seed cases of swamp paperbark Melaleuca ericifolia when something moved.
This tiny spider survived the stormy weather of the past few days. It rarely moves far from its hiding place.
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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Moulting Lagoon

heath myrtle (Thryptomene micrantha)
sunset over Great Oyster Bay
Black Swans at Moulting Lagoon

Moulting Lagoon is one of ten sites in Tasmania listed under the Ramsar agreement as a wetland of international significance. It is the most important breeding and foraging habitat for Black Swans in Tasmania with numbers reaching over 14,000 in some years. Many species of waterfowl, including Australasian Shelducks and Chestnut Teal, congregate in late summer; flocks of migratory waders, including Greenshank and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper visit the lagoon and it also has several rare and threatened plant species and unusual geological formations.
Twice yearly assessments of the waterfowl and other birds are undertaken at Moulting Lagoon. The late summer count occurs just before the duck-shooting season and the winter survey is timed to evaluate the impact of the hunt. The ongoing monitoring is a requirement under the Ramsar convention to which the government is a signatory. Despite this, funding is decreasing annually and the assistance of volunteers is becoming ever more crucial.
For the past several years I have participated in the surveys. It is not only important work, it is a very beautiful place to spend a day. The survey takes place early in the morning, so volunteers usually stay overnight at Iluka. This year I had a few spare hours to explore the Hazards, the granite mountains that form a spectacular backdrop to the lagoon.
Being late winter, very few plants of the heath plants were flowering. However, I did see heath myrtle Thryptomene micrantha, a plant restricted to the Freycinet peninsula on Tasmania's east coast.

A trip to Forth Falls

Pterostylis sp.
Geoglossum sp.
Marasmius sp.
cicada exoskeleton
Galerina hypnorum

The local field naturalists group (The Central North Field Naturalists) have regular monthly outings to look at birds, plants, fungi, liverworts and just about anything else that catches our eye.
On Sunday August 3rd we went to Forth Falls near Lake Barrington where we saw several Dusky Robins and heard Flame, Scarlet and Pink Robins, Golden Whistlers and a Grey (white morph) Goshawk.
There were several orchid species, a cicada exoskeleton and, despite being fairly late in the season, quite a few fungi including a beautiful blue-capped Marasmius sp. growing on a small dead branch and Galerina hypnorum, a small fungus associated with moss.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Brown tree frog (Litoria ewingi)

The Brown tree frog (Litoria ewingii) is found throughout Tasmania. I see them frequently at Black Sugarloaf, usually in the garden, but sometimes in the bathroom.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A female raspy cricket

I found this female raspy cricket in the car a few months ago. Her sword-shaped ovipositor at the tip of the abdomen is used to insert eggs into the tissue of plant stems or leaves. Raspy crickets belong to the family Gryllacrididae. There is one described species in Tasmania, Kinemania ambulans, and two undescribed species. Microscopic examination is require to determine the species.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Colour in the forest

One of the most colourful members of the forest bird community in Tasmania is the Spotted Pardalote, a bird that spends almost all its time in the eucalypt canopy foraging for psyllid insects and an associated exudate called lerp. This tiny bird nests in hollows it excavates in the ground.
A colony of the bright yellow Dermocybe canaria appears in the same place every year.

Russula sp.
I find many different Russula species near home. Most are large and distinctly coloured in reds or purples.

Billardiera longiflora (purple appleberry) is one of three purple coloured fruits in the forest. The plant is one of only a few climbing plants in Tasmania and although the fruits look succulent and hang from the plants throughout the colder months, no birds or other animals are known to eat them.

Leocarpus fragilis

Although these yellow structures resemble eggs or seeds they are in fact the spore producing fruit of a slime mould. They were covering a dead fern frond and I know from previous experience that I needed to take the photograph immediately. If I'd left it for a few hours this ephemeral fruit would be gone.

Campanella olivaceonigra

This is a delicate fungus I usually see on the dead fronds of cutting grass (Gahnia grandis). This morning I found it on a eucalypt stick. Its upper side, the visible surface, is a dirty blackish colour, but the underside is pure white and beautifully patterned between the gills.
Amanita xanthocephala
This is a common and distinctive fungus that grows in the drier parts of the forest. It is a native Amanita and similar to, but smaller than the European fly agaric (Amanita muscaria).

Thursday, June 5, 2008

raspy cricket and weevil

raspy cricket (Family: Gryllacrididae)


red and black spider

Cutting grass (Gahnia grandis)

Some plants in the forest seem particularly important for a range of species. The seeds of a large sedge that grows in wetter areas, the aptly named cutting grass (Gahnia grandis), form an important part of the diet of Olive Whistlers and Grey Currawongs.

Last weekend a large raspy cricket (Family: Grillacrididae) spent most of the day in the seed head of a cutting grass and this morning I spotted a weevil also in the seed head, but of a different plant. Last week there was a tiny red and black spider on one of the strap-like leaves.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Grey Currawong

Grey Currawong

Native currant (Coprosma quadrifida)

Pellet containing seeds and insect remains
Grey currawongs are year round residents at Black Sugarloaf but unlike some of the smaller birds they are usually extremely cautious and difficult to approach.

During the past few weeks one (sometimes two) currawongs have come very close to the house to feed on the fruits of a native currant (Coprosma quadrifida). In late summer they spend much time searching for insects and invertebrates under the shedding bark of the eucalypts.

I often find large regurgitated pellets whose contents give some indication of the birds' diet. In winter the pellets are packed with seeds, whereas in summer they contain insect remains, mainly of beetles and european wasps.

Grey Currawongs used to be considered an endemic species and during my childhood we knew them as Cinking Currawongs, a wonderful name as it so aptly described their song. They are now considered the same species as the mainland Grey Currawongs. As well as their familiar "clink, clink" call the birds have a series of other notes including an owlish howl that I've only ever heard at dawn.

Friday, May 30, 2008

More fungi

Pholiota sp.
Mycena austrororida

Hypholoma brunneum

Hygrocybe graminicolor

Entoloma sp.

Dermocybe austroveneta

Cortinarius archeri

Cortinarius sinapicolor

Campanella sp.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The four-legged Katydid

The katydid, which has been living on the Correa for at least a month, is not the most dynamic of insects, but its almost motionless disposition does allow for close photographic scrutiny. As mentioned below, in the daytime it stands, head downwards, on a leaf; in the evenings this mostly nocturnal species ventures 7cm to the top of the Correa. I know it is capable of fast movement because during the sudden onset of torrential rain and hail last weekend it moved quickly to underneath the leaf.

Every day I check its whereabouts and because it is so well camouflaged this can take a while. A few weeks ago I thought I’d lost my little friend, but it had moved from its hitherto favourite resting spot to a lower leaf.

Today I thought the worst had happened but eventually, late in the afternoon, I found her (him) well hidden in the middle of the bush.

Something traumatic occurred last night and the katydid no longer has six legs.

One of the defense strategies of orthopterans (grasshoppers and crickets) is their ability to sacrifice a limb that's grasped by a predator by contracting a special muscle at the base of the limb. A small diaphram immediately closes the wound to prevent infection or blood loss.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bassian Thrush (Zoothera lunulata)

Bassian Thrush

Bassian Thrushes (Zoothera lunulata) dwell in the shady forests of the gullies and paperbark swamps. Their beautiful fluty song heralds the day long before sunrise. It is occasionally heard late in the evenings and on dark overcast days.

Most of the year these secretive birds keep to the gully where they breed. I have only once found a nest, a large cup-shaped structure built against the trunk of a dogwood. In autumn they move into the open forests to forage for ground dwelling invertebrates, especially worms. They use their strong fleshy legs and feet to pound and scratch the ground when searching for prey.

Sometimes their presence is revealed by a warning whistle, a note so high that it’s beyond the hearing capacity of many people. Seeing the birds can be difficult, as their scalloped markings (their Latin species name ‘lunulata’ means 'marked with little moons') on their breast and back blend well with the leaf litter in which they search for food.

It was undoubtedly the activities of a Bassian Thrush that revealed the bright red flower of the fairy lantern (Thismia rodway).

Monday, May 26, 2008

Fairy lanterns (Thismia rodwayi)

Fairy lantern Thismia rodwayi

I first founda colony of fairy lanterns Thismia rodway in the gully in 2004.

Thismias, or fairy lanterns, are succulent herbs that belong to the Burmanniaceae family; they are closely related to orchids. They grow almost entirely underground, are usually leafless, lack chlorophyll and are thus unable to photosynthesise. To obtain the nutrients they require, these saprotrophic plants rely on a symbiosis with fungi. However, as fungi are also unable to photosynthesize, a photosynthetic plant must also be involved in the association. It is possible that, like the underground flowering orchid of Western Australia, Rhizanthella gardneri, which is linked to a melaleuca species via its mycorrhizal fungus, thismias may be associated with Olearia argophylla or Bedfordia.

Little is known about the distribution and ecology of these rarely seen plants and their method of pollination remains a mystery. It is thought that pollen may be spread by termites, ants, flies or other small invertebrates that inhabit the litter layer. The strong fishy smell emanating from the flower may serve to attract litter layer detritivores to perform this function.

Thismias are mostly found throughout the tropics, with 32 species in tropical America, 25 in Southeast Asia, 19 in tropical Asia, and one each in Japan, the US state of Illinois and New Zealand. In some cases the story of their discovery is as intriguing as the plants themselves.
In 1912, Thismia americana was collected from a low sand prairie on the Chicago Lake Plain in Illinois by Norma Pfeiffer, then a botany student. She found more plants in the same area the following year, but that was the last reported sighting. This is hardly surprising given that the site is now covered in landfill and is highly industrialised.

In 2000, researchers surveying the botanical riches of Jade Mountain in the Yushan National Park, which covers Taiwan’s central mountain range, collected a white tentacled thismia which they named Thismia taiwanensis. This newly described species appears to be endemic to the area, having never been found elsewhere in Taiwan or on the Chinese mainland.

In 2001, a third thismia species for Australia was found by fungi enthusiast, Pat Jordon, at Bundanoon, in New South Wales. At first it was mistaken for a coral fungus (Clavaria sp.) because of its tentacle-like projections. It has since been named Thismia clavariodes because of this resemblance.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pink Robin (Petroica rodinogaster)

Pink Robin (adult male)

Pink Robins (female feeding young)

Pink Robin (sub adult male)

Female on nest

Pink Robins occur in the wet gullies and rainforests of the southern mainland of Australia, but Tasmania is the species’ stronghold. At Black Sugarloaf they breed in the swamp and gullies and build their nests in the upper fork of a small tree such as a dogwood, musk or paperbark.
Their nests are well constructed and well hidden and are unlikely to be seen unless a bird is building the nest or feeding young. Bark strips are bound with spiders’ web and the outside of the nest is decorated with mosses, liverworts and flakes of lichen.

I was fortunate one late January afternoon to watch and photograph a family of several young birds being fed by the female. The male watched but seemed to take no part in the feeding. While the young were still in the nest, however, he did do his share of food gathering.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Eastern Spinebill

Eastern Spinebill (juvenile)
Two plants flower profusely in the winter months, the mountain correa (Correa lawrenciana) (on which the katydid is living) and the common heath (Epacris impressa). Both are visited by the Eastern Spinebill, a small honeyeater found throughout southeastern Australia.

There is a resident population of Eastern Spinebills that breed at Black Sugarloaf each year. When the heath and correa are flowering the resident population is augmented by nomadic birds that move in from other areas to feed on the rich nectar source provided by these flowers.

Epacris impressa

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


A colourful array of fungi starts to appear after the first rains in Autumn.
I have been documenting the species that occur at Black Sugarloaf since 2000 and every year I add more names to the list, which now numbers over 200 species.
Here is a selection of the species found growing in May.
Coprinus sp.

Mycena sp.

Entoloma sp.

Chlorociboria sp.

Mycena interrupta

Mycena clarkeana

Mycena nargan

Rickenella fibula