Friday, 16 March 2018

Owlet Nightjar

It's not often that we see a night-bird, which usually roosts in a hole by day, out in the open. So this little bird, an Owlet Nightjar Aegotheles chrisoptus, surprised me when it flew up into a tree in front of me. Seemingly from nowhere.

The bird did not seem sure what to do next and it gave me a good look, watching me as if to determine whether I was a threat to it or not. It did not seem to think so, probably because I had not moved or chased after it.

This is where the bird had flown from, inside the hollow heartwood of this long-ago felled tree stump. The hole was straight down from the top and about 40 cm deep. That is rather low and shallow for an Owlet Nightjar to roost in, so I think it was a young bird of the year, now out on its own to find a territory with food and suitable tree holes to roost in, and nest in next year. It probably felt vulnerable in the small hollow and could see me walk past through the cracks in the timber. I do usually check such sites for animals, and I probably would have discovered it, so it did the right thing.

This is the habitat the stump was in, old farmland, partially cleared for grazing, which is now part of  the nature reserve network in Canberra. Owlet Nightjars hunt invertebrates at night, mostly on the ground, and the leaf litter around the stump would be good habitat for them. However the taller grass would not be so good as the birds can't see their prey so easily, nor land and walk about in tall grass - they have short legs.

I walked past the nightjar, on the far side of the bird from the stump. That way, if it was hoping to go back to its hole to continue its daytime roost it would be less likely to think that I would follow it. And I did not go back to check it, to find out if it had. If I had done so then I would have flushed it twice from its precious home and so might abandon it. It might not be the perfect home for an Owlet Nightjar, but it might have been all it had for now.

Most daytime views of Owlet Nightjars are of faces peering from roost holes. To see this one completely out, was a special occasion. But I do wonder, why do they have such long nasal bristles.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Namadgi Damselflies

While out at Namadgi surveying moths, as described in the previous post, I took some photographs of damselflies that were hawking up and down a stream side. I could not identify them at the time, but I wanted to collect some site records for the local recorder, Harvey Perkins. He subsequently and kindly identified them for me. See his posts on dragonflies and damselflies at

When I went down to the stream by the campsite at dawn, the damselflies were all hanging from grass and sedge stems over the water, still coated with dew, shining in the rising sun. But the water evaporated quickly and the insects soon warmed up. All I do here, is share those brief magic moments.

Four damselflies hang in their overnight roosts on grass stems overhanging a stream. Soon they were dry, warm and off hunting, mating and laying eggs.

Metallic Ringtail Austrolestes cingulatus, male

Metallic Ringtail, male.

Bronze Needle Synlestes weyersii tillyardi, male.

Common Bluetail Ischnura heterostica, male.

Common Bluetail, female.

Bronze Needle, male.

Bronze Needle, female.

Metallic Ringtail, male.

Metallic Ringtail, female.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

February moth survey

Sandava scitisignata 
The February moth survey in the ACT was held in the forested hills of Namadgi in the south of the territory about 65 km from the Black Mountain survey site and the centre of Canberra city. Once again, I am indebted to Suzi Bond for organising the weekend-long trip and to Glenn Cocking and Ted Edwards for identifying all the moths I photographed.

The moths were attracted to a light and lured to land on a nearby sheet of white fabric spread vertically next to the lamps. And some would land on nearby trees, where I took most of these photographs. This was all in forest without another light to be seen other than the stars above. The night was still and quiet apart from the background clicking of insects. Night-time in the bush, great.

The following are just a sample of the many moth species we found, and I have chosen this set for the individual features described. They are not in any taxonomic or rarity order.

Entometa sp. I like the broad and colourful antennae this moth has, and its 'furry trousers'.

Euproctis baliolalis is another furry species, seen here blending in well with the hairy lichens on a tree stem.

A specimen of Abantiades latipennis hangs from the same tree as the moth above. Its body is pink, but always hidden by folded wings when landed.

A bi-coloured beauty, shy to show its face Acyphas semiochraea. 

Not all moths landed on the sheet or trees. This one preferred to land on the nearby ground, still in the lamplight, but in enough shadow to be easily missed and trod upon. Well it is rather well camouflaged as a fallen leaf, Monoctenis ballerina. 

Many of the species we trapped had furry bodies. The fur is of course modified scales as moths do not have hair. It can be cold in the hills, especially at night in summer or any time of day or night outwith. So, these furry coats would help keep the frost off the moths delicate bodies. This Lomera boisduvalii has a furry collar to its coat. 

I never knew what to expect to appear next under the lamps, the variety of shapes and colours seemed endless. Phaeophlebosia furcifera.

What a tiger, Tigrioides alterna. Think small, look close, whenever you go out at night. 

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Tailed Emperor emerged

The first of the Tailed Emperor butterflies emerged from its chrysalis today. When I checked on them at 1130 in the morning, this one, the first to set, had begun to show the adult butterfly colour beneath the case. The 'fur' of the thorax and abdomen and the wings spots can be clearly seen. I had been checking them every day and this one had turned straw-yellow yesterday.

I went to set up the time-lapse camera, only to find that it had not been emptied and re-charged so I had to do all that. Meanwhile, by the time that was done, about one-o-clock, the butterfly had just fully emerged. So it had taken less than an hour and a half to emerge. I had thought I still had time to set up, oops. I will be ready for the next one.

About twenty minutes later the butterfly turned around and continued to stretch.

To think that this marvelous, delicate form of life had been squashed into that tight case for the past 19 days. And it had been in a much more simple form of a caterpillar before that.

What a chance to see immaculate insect wing-scales. Not a single one missing or torn.

I think this butterfly was a female as it had an almost-all-white body and its tail was broad-ended. Here she extends her proboscis for the first time, stretching it through the leaves.

Then, this is her retracting his proboscis drawing in a tiny drop of water from the leaf surface. Her very first drink.

An emperor's tail - absolutely perfect.

A few minutes later, she was warmed up and flew off over the garden.


Wednesday, 31 January 2018

January Moths on Black Mountain

This is a post to continue my partial coverage of the moths surveyed at Black Mountain. It is only a sample of the moths attracted to the lights set last week by Glenn (see previous monthly posts for details and comparisons). The little beauty above, was the first one I saw this time. It is a Pink Arhodia Arhodia lasiocamparia.

In profile, its colouring fitted well, striking, against the black night behind.

Yet on a substrate of peeling bark, its colouring did not seem so bold and in daylight would be difficult to spot. The caterpillars feed on gum eucalyptus leaves, of which Black Mountain has 800 ha, so they must be well fed. Wingspan 6-7 cm.

This was my favourite of the evening as I am always fascinated by how well animals can conceal themselves by shape, colour and posture against their background habitat's colour and form. In this case, leaf and bark litter on the forest floor. This is Antictena punctunculus.

Even the frayed hind edges of its wings blend in with the broken edges of the fallen leaves.
Wingspan 4 cm.

Not all the moths were attracted to land on the white illuminated sheet, many landed on nearby trees, especially the smooth-barked gums, like this specimen of a Cleora sp. This is a species of looper, so named because the caterpillars loop their body into a high arch when crawling. Wingspan 5 cm.

Then there was this late contender for favouritism, an Epicoma sp., possibly the male of the species below, Epicoma contristis. 

This was the Epicoma contristis female, she is silver while the males are darker, hence the reason why I think the former sample might be a male of this species. The caterpillars of this species are of the classic dark grey, bristling, hairy type. Wingspan 3cm.

The Epicoma have fantastic head 'hair' it completely covers their face. I don't know the purpose for this hair, and everything in nature has a purpose - thermoregulation in the cool Canberra nights? It is just so illuminating to discover what lives in the woods and how variable moths are in colour and form.

Another wonderful night on the mountain.