21 August, 2008

Golden Bowerbirds build bachelor pads

Golden Bowerbirds build bachelor pads

The smallest of the bowerbirds is the Golden Bowerbird of north Queensland. Despite its size it builds the largest bower. Usually the bower consists of two towers joined by a bridge but in some places they build a second one on each side. The central bridge is decorated with lichens and fruit. In some instances it is decorated with flowers. I once saw a bower with seven flowers of a rare orchid. The friend with me at the time was an orchid fancier rather than a birder and was most distressed at the orchid's loss of reproductive potential due to the amorous intents of the bowerbird.
This bower is not a nest but a bachelor pad. It is the Ferrari sports car or Armani jacket of the bird world. It shows how fit the male is. Like athlete's attractiveness it is not his promise as a provider of goods but of good genes which makes him attractive. He will take no part in the nest building or raising of the young.

Before any of you males out there think that this is the life style, take a moment to reflect on the stress of the situation. He must start displaying now even though the females will not be interested in mating until December. He must maintain the bower throughout that period; building it with more sticks as they decay, keep it decorated, prevent other males from stealing his goodies and chase the young pretenders away if they get too uppity. The level of activity from the juvenile males which will trigger aggression from the 'old man' depends on his personality and varies greatly from bird to bird. Some males will allow uncoloured males to build substantial but undecorated bowers close to his while others will not tolerate a young male within 10 metres of the bower.

He must keep himself looking good as well and be on hand if females are checking out the local talent. To aid with feeding during this time birds will cache food. If you look at the tree below you will see a hole where a branch has broken off some time ago. This is the cache spot of this bird.

Despite this bower being on a road reserve, its presence is under threat of a logging operation to occur on the neighbouring private property. All these pictures were taken this afternoon.

20 August, 2008

Lake Sunset and Sweet Flowers

Liz, the lovely lady who runs Lake Eacham Tourist Park www.lakeeachamtouristpark.com sent me these beautiful pictures so I thought I would share them with you. The one above is of Mount Bartle Frere which at 1622 metres is our highest mountain around here. No that is not snow in the foreground even though it feels like winter has returned. These are the flowers of sugar cane.

Below is Liz's swimming pool. Actually as it is a national park she has to share it with the rest of us. Lake Eacham is a beautiful spot for a swim, walk or picnic. the bird watching there is pretty good too and with figs and quandongs coming into fruit it is just going to get better in the next month. Look out for Double-eyed Fig-Parrots near the toilets and above the chelid (turtle) viewing area. Bowerbirds and large pigeons will start feeding on the quandongs in the top picnic area soon. They are already feeding on the Polyscius elegans, Celerywood, in that area.

Lake Eacham is a volcanic crater filled with about 65 metres of rainwater. While it is not quite the classic maar, that is the best name for this type of volcano which produced little extruded matter. To the south of the lake the soils are mostly derived from the Hodgkenson formation metamorphics which underlie much of the Tablelands. Elsewhere the soils are derived from lava and volcanic scoria.

17 August, 2008

Phytophagus Phasmid's Phytotaxis and Predator

"Phytophagus Phasmid's Phytotaxis," not really but it sounded good. I was looking in the dictionary for 'phsiognomy' to check out words derived from it for the title of this blog. These two words jumped out at me and demanded use. A phytophagus animal is leaf eating. Phytotaxis refers to the arrangement of leaves. As this and many phasmids have leaf like structures on their legs, I do not think it is stretching things too far to use the newest word in my vocabulary. Back to 'physiognomy;' the face of a phasmid or stick insect does give a bit away about its character. At least it lets us know that it is phytophagus. Phasmids lack the strong jaws and large widely spaced eyes of carnivorous mantids. All phasmids are phytophagus so it is a bit of a tautology.

The Spiny Leaf Insect, Extatosoma tiaratum, has flown around the world but not on its own wings. This insect from north Queensland is available in pet shops in Europe and North America. This large female has tiny wings and cannot fly. When not feeding she hangs vertically or upside down with her tail bent over like a scorpion's. I have observed this girl eat leaves of a fig, a lilly-pilly and an elaeocarpus. The male is slimmer with short fore wings and long hind wings. He will fly in search of a mate but she does not move very far at all. The eggs are shot out all over the place in a random fashion. Some may hatch within weeks but others may take two years.
Pacific Bazas, also known as Crested Hawks, love phasmids. Along with treefrogs they form the main part of the Bazas' diet. Young birds have broader bands on their breast and the most beautiful ochre under wings. Mating displays include swoops, rolls, twig exchange and talon grasping. When they lock talons the top bird glides down with the lower one hanging below with wings folded. The twig exchange takes place when one bird uses greater speed to come up under the other which is carrying the twig and seize it when upside down. Sometimes the top bird will not let go and I have seen both birds tumble towards the ground. When taking larger prey Bazas will sometime launch themselves into the foliage, grab the prey item and fall through the leaves till they come to a clear space where they spread their wings and fly to a perch to feed.
You can see the crest in this picture.

12 August, 2008

Tree-Kangaroo Update

This Lumholtz's Tree-Kangaroo was photographed by Petersen Creek in Yungaburra at about 9.30 am. She is licking the inside of her pouch and appeared to swallow something which would indicate she has a pouch young. The young will not defecate or urinate until the mother licks its cloaca. This means that carers of orphaned marsupials must do the same. (Well at least a reasonable facsimile.) They will wipe the young with a warm damp cloth to stimulate voiding.

The Lumholtz's Tree-Kangaroos of the western end of Curtain Figtree National Park are spending muck of the evenings feeding low to the ground. This has led to our disturbing Joan on one occasion and Jill twice in the last two weeks. Still, they recovered from their frights and have been relaxed when we saw them later. I hope Jill is not too angry with me as one the 11th she was almost on the ground. I took my guests quietly past her but then could not resist checking her out from a bit further away. As she climbed the huge Milky Pine, Alstonia scholaris, she made the woofing alarm call. This is something which not many people have heard and I had never heard it from her, despite almost standing on her one night.
Jill is still sharing her territory with Joan despite Joan now being three and a half years old. Joan has shown no signs of having pouch young yet. Jill's young from last year, Peta, was not with her the two times I saw her in the first week of August. It would not mean anything that during the disturbing incident of the 11th Peta was not seen. One of my guests did believe that there was another animal on the ground behind the tree. We will just have to wait and see but perhaps Peta has left home.
Pexie sitting in Turbina corymbosa, a vine from central America. She ate this while we watched.

Dorothy when she was much younger.
Photo by Jun Matsui who is soon to release his photo book on the wildlife of north Queensland, text in Japanese
As a joey she was almost black and white but has become more typical as she aged. Her arms used to be dark up to the elbow and her legs to the hips. Since maturing her back has become more tan and the shoulders darker. Her face now has the light forehead of an adult.

Dorothy is still spending most of her time across the highway which I remain disappointed about. I am happy that she is not often crossing the road.

Birds In and Around the Village in August

Buff-banded Rails are a common sight along quiet back roads of the Atherton Tablelands. This photo shows a bird ready for breeding but most are not this colourful yet.
White-headed Pigeons are fruit eaters. While they will take it fresh from the tree they are also happy to eat from the ground. After Cyclone Larry in March 2006 many of our birds left the district because of the lack of fruit. Numbers are now returning to normal and it is not unusual to see them feeding on the footpaths and road verges in Yungaburra or Malanda. Their nests are typical of their tribe being so thin one can see the egg through the bottom of the nest. However they are better than most pigeons at hiding their nest in dense vegetation. They lay a single large white egg.
Black Ducks live on most of the waterways here. this one was photographed under the new swinging bridge across Petersen Creek in Yungaburra.
Barred Cuckoo-shrikes eat mostly fruit. This one was in a fig tree in Short Street. Also in the same tree was this male Figbird with its face already coloured up for breeding. The face skin becomes dull out of the breeding season but then turns this lovely crimson as they get sexy. The females face is grey for most of the year but when she is getting ready for breeding it goes a beautiful mauve.

Revenge of the Maksed Lapwing

Masked Lapwings on the market ground in Yungaburra. On the bird below you can see the spur on the wing.
Masked Lapwings occupy any large piece of open ground. Also know as spur-winged plovers, these are noisy birds. They take insect and other invertebrates from in the grass. Normally quite shy of people they will follow mowers as they are disturbing insects for the Lapwings' dinner.
When nesting on the open ground or when with young, they defend their progeny with vigour. Our northern subspecies has these large facial wattles but small spurs. The black on the head extends down the back of the neck of southern birds and around the bend of the wing. Those southern birds are much more apt to actually strike their invader.
When I was teaching down south a pair nested in an unused corner of our school grounds. The children were warned to stay away. During a morning tea break one of my year six students was seen heading in the direction of the nest. I opened the staff room window to yell at him but thinking about the energy needed to project my voice through the cold spring wind and over eighty children and sixty metres, I closed the window and sat down. He continued on his way as I watched.
First one bird swooped on him and then the second joined in. They attacked from different directions. While one had the boy's attention the other clipped him from behind. The spurting of blood was obvious from my chair.
Grabbing a pad and a bandage I directed a colleague to call the boy's mother and if I was to wave vigorously then an ambulance as well.

Mum took the contrite and bandaged brigand off to hospital.

Just before the end of classes for the day I observed the mother on the school steps going towards the office. I remember thinking that I had misjudged that family as I had not expected thanks or an apology. When I entered the principals office in response to his summons I was ready to graciously receive her thanks.

"I will. You can't stop me. I'm going to sue him," she was almost shouting.

Normally slow to anger, this triggered a different response in me, "You'll what! You silly woman? And for what?" After pointing out that there was such a thing a malicious suit and that I would have the full support of the union and my employer I found the cause of her grief.

The pad I had used was just that, a sanitary napkin. At the hospital the nurses had laughed to see one put to such good but alternative use. I had brought her son into derision; made him a 'laughing stock.'

I turned on my heel and walked out. We never heard from the woman again!

Wetlands and Waterfalls

The Atherton Tablelands is lucky to have some wonderful wetlands. They are under threat however from sedimentation, draining and the excess use of water, mostly for irrigation. Hasties Swamp used to dry out every second decade or so but now it is almost a yearly event.
Wetlands are tricky things to manage and the removal of stock is not always the best thing. Exotic grasses and other weeds can overgrow the edges making them unsuitable for small birds and fences can lead to the death of wildlife.

Plumed Whistling Ducks and Magpie Geese roost at Hasties Swamp which is located just south of Atherton. As the dry season progresses more birds will move in from the ephemeral ponds in which they breed. In the bottom right of the lower picture is a Jacana. Sometimes known as the "Jesus Bird," they have long toes which enable them to spread their weight over many

floating plants and appear to walk on water.

Millaa Millaa Falls

Millaa Millaa Waterfall is one of the most symmetrical falls and thus is very aesthetically pleasing. At the base of the falls is a plunge pool but it is always too cold for me to swim. In the little stream are a number of fish species including Eel-tailed Catfish. There is a leucistic (tending to white but not albino) fish here which often hides under the overhanging gingers.

There are many small farm dams on the Tablelands which contain a variety of wildlife. Always ask permission first before entering paddocks. This is as much for your own protection as being good manners.

Platypus abound in the streams and dams but the best places to see them are in Yungaburra along Petersen Creek and at Tarzalli Lakes Fish Farm. They have a farm tour on which they guarantee you will see Platypus; you can't get better than that! They also have some wonderful smoked goods and fresh produce. Try some of the herb combinations which Dave uses on the fish and chicken.
Chelid turtles withdraw their necks to the side when threatened. Australia has many species and these are the Saw-shelled Chelid, Elseya latisternum.

Six-winged dragonflies? Not really, it is the shadow cast on the rocks. The Blue dragonfly is probably a Blue Skimmer, Orthetrum caledonicum, but it has no yellow on the sides of the thorax. The red one is the aptly named Scarlet Percher, Diplacodes heamatodes. Where you have water and insects there will be swallows. The Welcome Swallow is a migrant is Southern Australia but we have birds all year round. they build their nests out of mud, plant fibres and feathers.

01 August, 2008

Adventures of a Brown Tree-Snake

Adventures of a Brown Tree-Snake, Boiga irregularis This beautiful Brown Tree-Snake, Boiga irregularis, was found in our ceiling space as we were doing some renovations. I moved him to the garden as the access to the ceiling was being greatly reduced.

His presence upset the local birds. Honeyeaters were particularly active and vociferous in letting their feelings about the intruder be known.

Feeling unloved the snake moved off but still the cries continued. This Lewins Honeyeater was telling him just what he thought of sharing the garden with such an egg, frog and small bird eater. A Brown Honeyeater came along as well as two Dusky Honeyeaters and two Lewins.
Look at this pattern and tell me that snakes aren't beautiful!