Sunday, August 31, 2008

Snakes won't sit up and listen

Thirty minutes within three metres of a busy Red-bellied Black Snake today for typical outcome: not one good picture. Picture above, best of more than 50, is not even typical of the encounter. Snake spent almost all the time with head either under grass or obscured by the stuff.

Red-bellieds (Pseudechis porphyriacus) are frustratingly prone (oops) to nosing about in full sunshine and managing never to be picture-perfect. Came upon today's 900mm snake from behind on quiet forestry road. Hopped off bike and stepped in closer each time head was under dead grass.

Off we went. Snake working this way and that. Slowly north, sticking to slashed strip about two metres wide. Vigorously sliding under and butting bunches of grass from below to force a passage through the swathes. One sudden hidden strike brought hope of a kill, but led to nothing. Halfway through the 40 metres the snake paused briefly and lifted a suspicious head (the picture) but immediately resumed the hunt.

On we went, until the cut strip began to narrow and I tried to get both closer and ahead of its probable next move. A blur of black and snake gone into the long stuff.

Just have to accept this is the way of things. It's a lucky privilege having factors combine to allow a 30-minute insight into behaviour. In similar pattern, I saw cannibalism of a 600mm Red-bellied by a 1200mm specimen in Tyto about three years ago. But on that occasion I stayed 6-8 metres back as I trailed the big snake.

Much more obliging, a Lace Monitor (Varanus varius) sunning itself also alongside the forestry road near where I'd seen it yesterday. But again the grass kept getting in the way. This is the first Lace Monitor I've seen around Ingham. Almost as rare is the Frilled Lizard (Chlamydasaurus kingii). Several skinks, big and small, but little else on reptile legs.

Depauperate, that's the word of the day! However, there's no need to use jargon to stop people reading this post. Putting a snake at the top is enough to slash views. But I can't stop loving them (in the nicest, safest possible way!).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Let's take a little walk

'Black' Butcherbird...rufous morph (sorry about the picture)
Little Shrike-Thrush ... delays the quest

Come for a little birding walk with me. We'll gloss over most of the trees and plants and concentrate on living things.

Nearly 8am at Tyto carpark, warm (say 20C), greyish light, low cloud, mild breeze. Promise of later sunshine.

Brown Honeyeaters, Yellow Honeyeaters, House Sparrows, Bar-shouldered Doves, Spotted Turtle-Doves and Indian Mynas in the carpark plantings and backing eucalypts.

On the bike (you walk, I ride), toward the first lagoon. Darter, wings outstretched, takes warmth from the feeble sunlight. Agile Wallabies crop grass. Near hairless joey pokes its brick-red head from one pouch. Withdraws shyly. Fairy Martins hawk for insects and dip to the water.

Turn right toward north boundary (suburbia) and routine daily survey in Birds Austalia's preferred format: 2-hectare, 20-minute count. Dry creek lined by small trees to left, open ground right with 20+ Bush Stone-Curlews - beyond survey limit - standing around. Whistling Kite opens count, then Fairy Martins (5), Masked Lapwings (2), Peaceful Doves (2), Crimson Finches (8), Red-browed Finches (6), Willie Wagtails (2), a Straw-necked Ibis, White-browed Robins (3) and a Black Butcherbird.

But it's not black. The bird's an immature rufous morph, race rufescens. Cracticus quoyi adults are black but one nest may offer rufous, and black. More to point, the species isn't numerous in Tyto and photographic desire takes over. Twist and turn, duck and dodge, miss chances, lose bird, refind, lose again, get distracted by juvenile White-browed Robin. Finally emerge almost 45 minutes later with so-so pictures of Butcher, robins and Little Shrike-Thrush (another distraction).

'Gimme food'. 'Gimme food'. 'Gimme food'. White-browed Robin proves immune to pester power.

Onward to main lagoon lookout. Forest Kingfishers, Green Pigmy Geese, Australasian Grebes, Comb-crested Jacanas, Wandering Whistling-Ducks, Pacific Black Ducks, Little Pied Cormorants, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Black-necked Stork (juvenile triplets), Royal Spoonbills, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Black Kite overhead, and Welcome Swallows and White-bellied Woodswallows.

To the hide. Find professional guide, photographer, cinematographer and Tyto instigator and visionary John Young seeking responses from resident Little Bitterns (2 heard), Spotless Crakes and White-browed Crakes. No sightings or sounds for me (apart from on John's hi-tech toys).

Chat away (birds, snakes, butterflies, more birds). Spot Australian Reed Warblers, White-throated Gerygone and one Little Kingfisher. Plus lovely green/black male Cairns Birdwing (butterfly), and a White-lipped Treefrog on the bulrushes. At a distance, Grey Teal, a pair of White-necked Herons and four White Ibises.

Quick look at Brown-backed Honeyeaters completing a nest near the hide and at a noisy Yellow Oriole and John gone. I follow some Olive-backed Orioles along the southern creek track. Hello to Bumpy Rocketfrogs in their stump and out southwest on a wide fire trail (access for firefighters).

No sign of the Southern Boobook (first for me: 225 on my Tyto list, of 235 total) harassed by a Spangled Drongo two days ago. But Mistletoe Birds, Sunbirds, MacLeay's Honeyeaters, a lone Fairy Gerygone and the Drongo show up.

Back on to inner lagoon circuit, look for migrant Latham's Snipe. None. Across western end and White-gaped Honeyeaters dash to and from small island. Chestnut-breasted Mannikins in the bulrushes, Nutmeg Mannikins in bushes and a plaintive Horsfield's Cuckoo atop a nearby tree.

No Collared Sparrowhawk in the usual hiding spot down the planted levee but two Sacred Kingfishers dart away. White-winged Triller works water's edge shrubs for insects.

Return to base of lookout and take southern track back toward Brown-backed Honeyeaters' nest. Surprise Common Tree Snake lying in feeble sunshine. Quickly vanishes. Surprise Buff-banded Rail almost below BBs' nest (didn't tell you I'd glimpsed rail first time around!).

No Azure Kingfisher in last big pool on creek. Get four Metallic Starlings, new seasonal arrivals from Papua New Guinea, as compensation.

Movement in gauvas leads to Graceful Honeyeater taking material from part-built nest (possibly BBH). Lose Graceful and turn to find a big Common Tree Snake moving around a tree trunk. Tiptoe up and get poor picture as snake changes mind about ascending tree and drops into long grass.

Walk (bike gets parked here and there) on and see dark head. Male Leaden Flycatcher. Another dark head. Northern Fantail, which sits on felled tree in sunshine. I sit on same trunk. Fantail won't turn to suit camera. Nor will a Silvereye, which pops up from the grass and devours a small insect.

After much singing a male Rufous Whistler appears, followed by a Varied Triller, a White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike and a Helmeted Friarbird. (Talk about no buses and then three at once!).

A Ulysses butterfly beams its blue brilliance along the creek, and a Wanderer (Monarch) flitters by before I quit my log and head back to the carpark. Always room for more on the list and a Blue-winged Kookaburra makes an excellent final sighting.

What have we forgotten? Probable chunky Red-bellied Black snake diving from sight, Rainbow Lorikeets streaking overhead, Rainbow Bee-eaters 'pirrip'erring in the distance, Tawny Grassbirds sticking to cover, Golden-headed Cisticolas likewise.

That's it. Four hours, a great fun chase to be continued another day, 65 birds seen, plus snakes, butterflies and wallabies and three pictures more or less keepable.

Hope you enjoyed the walk.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Yellow Spoonbill fronts up

Bigger of Australia's spoonbills, the Yellow-billed (Platalea flavipes) ranges over most of the country - and even gets to New Zealand - but seldom drops in to Tyto, where the Royals (Platalea regia) are relatively common in small numbers.

Another major difference, as in the bird pictured (only the second of 2008), is the plumage. Yellows just don't come in the spotless white of Royals and the even whiter white of Great and Intermediate Egrets. Nor do the Yellows glory in the startling yolky yellow breeding patches above the eyes of Royals. Seems a bit unfair, given the name, missing out on glorious yellow markings, doesn't it?

When foraging in the shallows, the birds sweep their heads rhythmically left-right-left-right, pausing in this metronomic pattern to swallow such prey as the sensitive bills have located and captured. I've never seen a spoonbill catch hold of a fish or, say, frog big enough to be seen clearly. This would explain why small parties of spoonbills often have an egret, usually the large Great, stalking along and accepted beside them. The spoonbills feel their prey, the egret sees its meals. No competition, no squabbles.

The latest Yellow arrival probably won't stay long. Even though often solitary, the birds obviously by their general absence throughout most of every year do not find Tyto's lagoon system as welcoming as do the Royals. On the plus side, the bird is not flighty, so long as the approacher moves slowly and doesn't seek to get inside the 'zone of confidence': which varies with all living things - in this case 20-25 metres.

So, if I can get close why isn't the picture better? Good question. I've just rechecked the focussing on the Panasonic FZ30. In short, it doesn't. Well, of course it does, but not super sharply. The Pana's days are numbered. If I'd known then what I now know etc etc...

But it has taken 62,000 images without any problems apart from the hand grip stretching (cut it away and glue-on two small velcro circles) and the 1.7x lens cover cap falling off (tiny drops of super glue dried hard on cover's six ribs).

Finally, the return of the slime!!! Couldn't resist picture of this colony of Fuligo septica (about 500mm x 250mm). And a last look at the sporangium of the earlier post, now slowly fading away.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bumpy frog and Mr Grumpy

Now you see him, now you don't!

This Bumpy Rocketfrog (Litoria inermis) might not be a him. Whatever the gender, the frog looks more Mr Grumpy than Bumpy. Not so hard to explain. It's nice and dark and you're in the middle of a mass of rocketfrogs, all dreaming rocketfrog dreams, the next second someone's poking a finger into a cleft in a dead stump and you're rudely prodded awake.Blame a more active frog whose movement caught the prodder's eye.

What can an indignant frog do under such circumstances? Best to play it cool. No noises, not even a 'cluc' or 'wek' - they're for mating. Disdain. Unblinking disdain. Regal disdain.

That's it, the disdain of a monarch. Take up a commanding position and stare the danger down. Then hop off somewhere safer. Such as merging against a dead trunk. Wait for the intruder to go away and play his anthropomorphic games with someone else.

All interesting enough as part of today's life in Tyto, but a curious thing comes with the frog on the stump. As is only too clear, I missed part of frog, and focus is soft. Nothing odd there.
But when I crop any part of the full frame the picture suffers. The more I crop, the more it suffers. Others may find nothing in the picture and feel little regret that (I think) something better was butchered.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fungi fun and name games

Coming to an 'understanding' of the problem

Covered the almost endless depths of my ignorance about slime moulds by delving into Bruce Fuhrer's Field Guide to Australian Fungi. What then could be simpler than finding fungi in the rainforest, getting them to smile and say cheese (and truffles) and naming them all from the book. Too easy!

Sure, most snakes are almost impossible to photograph, let alone name. Little brown birds can make one a twittering wreck. But a few fungi. How hard can that be?

Much harder than expected. Few fungi found. Not all photographed well. And even with book in hand names didn't pop out easily - or at all. But I liked the pictures enough to give two of the fungi a run.

Naturally, we'll start with a mystery entry. Can't find anything like this one in the book. Seems to be a 'clumper' that's been growing for quite some time. Width about 150mm. The picture is a view from above. The same species, shot from below and growing on the same fallen tree, opens this post.

Think I'm on surer ground with this one. Microporus xanthopus is found throughout tropical Australia. Large (up to 90mm) and small. I find the funnel 'flowers' mainly on small fallen branches in drier patches of forest.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Frog bites off two too much

Rebuilt earlier post to bring it within the layout that seems to work best with this template.

FROGS seem to have top PR people, don't they?

And it's not only because many of them are dying off in disturbing numbers all round the world. Seldom do we hear anyone bad-mouthing a frog. Nobody jumps up on a chair if a frog enters the room. Or rushes for a death-dealing broom.

Even the glitteringly colourful tropical rainforest frogs carrying lethal amounts of toxins produce more oohs and aahs at their beauty than flinching from their deadliness.

But a frog has to live. Living for most frogs means death for some other form of life. It's a jungle out there, they say, with that old line from one of Darwin's chums: "Nature raw in tooth and claw". Not so many teeth or claws with frogs, rather a cavernous mouth and an appetite to match.
Yet big eyes and even bigger mouths can lead to biting off more than one can chew. So with this White-lipped Green Treefrog.

In the dark at a caravan park in North Queensland, the frog sought a late-night meal at a Willie Wagtail nest holding three near-fledglings. It grabbed two as one fluttered to safety.

Problem then for the frog was the weight of two birds and its tenuous hold on the wrought iron grille the parent birds had built their cupped nest upon. Gravity won. The frog lost its grip on both birds. One died. The other, put straight back into the nest, survived, along with the third sibling.

The frog lived to bite another day. (Green Treefrogs are thriving.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Slime's time has come

Who's up for some time with slime? No pretence at dinkum knowledge on my part. Pictures mine, the serious stuff's from a book.
What looks like a kitchen sponge turned feral is a mature fruit body called a sporangium (spore producing phase) of Fuligo septica (slime mould: Myxomycota division of kingdom Protoctista).

The spores become an amoeba-like creeping slime mass called a plasmodium feeding on bacteria, fungi and organic debris. (Remember The Blob? - Showing my age!). When the time of slime ends the cycle begins again. (I don't think the insects are in danger.)

The large (about 100mm x 50mm) red bracket fungus Pycnoporus coccineus (kingdom Eumycota; division Basidiomycota), is a common sight on fallen logs. Tyto has many such, casualties in the war against invasive exotic trees. (Insect definitely not in danger.)

Pictures here reverse usual order of things. But it's time the slime moulds - few in number and until recently lumped in with the fungi - got a break. Tough enough cycling through life looking like lumps of dog vomit and worse without always being put last in all the books.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Paperbark bursting its seams

Change of focus with a wind-stripped paperbark that looked to be bursting out of its skin. As I walked by the tree I could almost feel it calling out to be photographed. Doesn't happen often - and usually I lack the gear to do the chance justice. But I'm learning - rather late in life - to listen better to nature.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Stone-curlew out in the open

Bush Stone-curlew pauses cautiously as I crawl across wallaby droppings to get a ground level picture with the cryptic plumaged bird standing against a contrasting background. It's a bit of a game we've been playing off and on for two weeks. And it's taken two weeks to get half a useful shot. Usually the bird crouches down amid the debris left by a scrub-crunching machine and almost vanishes before one's eyes.

There's also a back story. The bird is one of a pair that stuck for months with a juvenile injured in a leg and almost certainly unable to forage effectively. The two parents recently returned alone to their former daytime standing place. Their effort was doomed to fail. But parents are parents and - whatever the species - go to extraordinary lengths for their young.

It is also curious that the two birds choose to stand alone and not mingle with 30 and more Stone-curlews in a small stand of paperbarks close to the Ingham town margin of the wetlands.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Magpie-lark in morning sun

Magpie-larks make themselves busy messing about near mud most of the time. Sensible, really, since they build their shapely large bowl nests out of mud.

They're nothing to do with Magpies or Larks. Pie applies the old English usage of black and white. The lark part perhaps sprang from the birds' liking for muddy open spaces.

Magpie-larks turn out to be most closely related to monarch flycatchers - some of which are black and white - but otherwise show almost nothing in common with them.

Caught male bird above on thorny weed by a pond - a rare pose for a bird happiest on the ground and most definitely not chasing about in aerial pursuit of flying insects.

Picture is another plug for image stabilisers. Taken handheld with Panasonic FZ30+1.7x tele lens (700mm=) from rough-idling 4WD 'mobile hide'.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Raw Brush Cuckoo so refined

RAW files and a raw photographer. Two looks at Brush Cuckoo images shot with Panasonic FZ30+1.7x TCL. Set to RAW quality, the camera first writes a 5MP jpg file (below) and then takes several seconds to write the RAW file (above). No burst mode. I'd given up shooting RAW. Too slow, and - worse - the images lacked definition. Turns out the problem's the nut holding the camera. Or more precisely failing to control the software. Lot to learn. Enjoy the bird!

Thanks to Akos,

Brown Goshawk drops in for brekkie banter

Gidday. Just flying up this track and thought I'd drop in and have a dekko for bit of brekkie. Scared? Why'd I be scared of you, sta...