Friday, 1 December 2017

November Moths

Delexocha ochrocausta - wingspan c2 cm
note the long upward curved labial palps and fringed hind edges to the wings

I was out on another moth foray in the the Black Mountain woodland in November, with Glenn Cocking and Suzi Bond. Between this trip and that in October, there was quite a difference in the species and abundance of moths attracted to the lights. However, as I am simply a beginner in moth identification I was following their guidance, so what I present here is a very short list of the moths seen. All I aim to do is share my experience with others and illustrate the variety of moths, their colours and forms that can be found in one night with a light.

Wingia aurata - wingspan c2 cm
This Golden Leaf Moth has an amazing face as well as upturned hind edge to its wings. The shape and colour probably mimic a fallen leaf or piece of bark. The flash lighting exaggerates the gloss on the wing scales, it would be mat-toned in daylight when at rest.

Termessa nivosa - c2.5 cm
A Snowy Footman - what a wonderful name. This species' caterpillars feed on lichen, algae and moss and live beneath loose flakes of tree bark.

Melanodes anthracitaria - wingspan c5 cm
No common name - most moths do not have one. This is one of the abundant Geometridae species flying that night and its dark grey/black colouring fitted well on a piece of partially burned wood. There are two colour forms of this species, this and a yellow and black type. There are also two colour forms of caterpillar, green and brown. Both colours of caterpillar can come from the dark adults, but only the green from the yellow and black form. I wonder why this has evolved to the benefit of the species.

Sandava scitisignata - wingspan c2 cm
Fungi Snout - all moths should have such character names. The caterpillars of this species feed on fungi. I like mushrooms too.

Idaea costaria - wingspan c1.5 cm
A White-edged Wave - the pale leading edge to the wings, the costa, shows white in artificial light when they flutter and land around it. This is another geometridae, and like most of those species its mottled camouflage colouring blends with the substrate it lands on. In this case, a log with no bark.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Rain and Shine

Two days ago it was torrential rain. Today it was brilliant sunshine. This male Tawny Frogmouth sat on his nest all that day covering his three chicks from the wet, with only their tails sticking out. The usual brood size for these birds is one or two, so it was bit of a squeeze under there to keep dry. Meanwhile the rain pattered off his head and back, dripped from their tails and beaded on dad's back.

Today was much brighter and dry, very dry. The youngest chick was still sticking close to its father, although he was on the nest the chicks were all out.

The oldest chick had well and truly fledged. That one was up high in the next tree hiding very well, with mum close by. This youngster was probably a week or more older than the youngest one, and this is only the second brood of three chicks fledged this year in my study area in Canberra.

These birds might seem tricky, or easy, to see when the camera has framed them, but when viewed at a wider setting, there is a more realistic impression of how well these birds can hide.

Often a view down on a nest or brood can make it a little easier to find them, but I always admire them when I do find them. They are just so good at what they do, hide and sit quietly all day, waiting for night when the woods become theirs again.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Fully-fledged Frogmouths

Two well-grown frogmouth fledglings with their father on the right
On the 18th October this year I posted a feature on the first brood of Tawny Frogmouths to fledge in my study area, in Canberra. They left the nest on the 15th, and last weekend when they were six weeks old, they were fully-fledged, well almost. Compare the recent image above with that below of the same brood last month.

The youngsters now have fully-grown tail feathers, and in these pictures it can be seen how the young birds have rounded tips to these, while those of the adults are pointed. This is a common feature in birds.

Also, the young birds' under-tail coverts are still downy and white, while the adult's coverts are stiffer feathers and coloured for camouflage.

The same three birds on the 15th October - six weeks previously
Six weeks ago the young birds were only just out of the nest and still downy. Although they had well-enough developed flight feathers to flutter between trees for safety and to follow their parents around as they hunted.

The downy newly-fledged chicks 
The chicks have now lost most of their downy feathers, but a few still hung around their faces, giving the birds that still-young appearance. They could be dependent on their adults for another month yet and stay with them for longer, into the autumn or even stay with them till the next breeding season.

So at what stage can they be considered as having fledged? Well, for my study, I use the day they leave the nest as that is the only figure I can count for every breeding attempt. Many of the birds disappear into the woods after that. This is standard procedure to describe birds that have left the nest. Other birds which I study, such as Golden eagles, fledge at about twelve weeks old, but stay with their parents for another three months.

Soft downy face feathers
As is usual, it was the male who perched close to the young birds. He is larger and can give more protection against predators. The female was perched on an adjacent branch of the same tree, ready to fly in and help if any danger did approach.

The adult female

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Black Mountain Moths

I was recently asked to join a team of moth enthusiasts for a night's survey. My role was to take photographs which might be used illustrate a book they are writing on the moths of the Australian Capital Territory. These were Ted Edwards, Glenn Cocking and Suzi Bond and they used lamps to attract the insects, explained to me which was which, then I tried to grab some shots. I learned a lot in a such a short time, and since when looking up background of the various species.

Entometa sp. (Lasiocampidae) - wingspan of female c 8cm
The study site was in eucalyptus forest on Black Mountain, within a few km of the city centre, and we ran the traps from dusk (1900) to about 2300 hrs. The moths came in steadily all that time, and after a while they would drift off back into the surrounding darkness. So the variety of species changed as the night progressed as different moths are active at different times. I didn't know that before then, thanks Ted and Glenn.

Wingia lambertella - wingspan c 4cm
The moths' colours were distorted by the mercury lights, casting a green tinge over them, so I concentrated on taking shots insects out on the edge of the area, where they settled on leaf litter, foliage or branches. Although focusing the cameras in the near darkness was a challenge.

Sorama bicolor - wingspan male 4 cm, female 6 cm
All the species I photographed were eucalyptus, gum-tree, specialists so it was no surprise that they were abundant as we were in the middle of 5 sq km of dry sclerophyll forest dominated by Scribbly Gum Eucalyptus rossii, Red-stringybark E. macrorhyncha. The caterpillars of all the species illustrated here feed on gum leaves,

Hypobapta sp. (Geometridae) - wingspan c 5 cm
I have always shied away from studying moths as there are so many species, but as is so often the case, if we take it in small steps we can have a fascinating journey.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Old Suit

One of the highlights of my wildlife week has been meeting this wedge-tailed eagle high on a ridge. I was out for a walk on one of the many hills in Canberra, many of which are within suburbia, like this one. The bird was quite happy to sit on its branch while I walked past less than fifty metres away, so I grabbed a few shots. Once I looked through the long lens, I saw how scruffy he was - it was a male - not only his flight feathers of his tail and wings, but even his body feathers were tatty. It was an old suit and time he grew a new one. That would probably not be long now as the eagle chicks in the area are several weeks old now and will soon be fledging. When they are about 11 or 12 weeks old. This bird has probably worn his feathers down while hunting for his family, but he will have the whole of summer to regrow a new suit, while his fledglings learn to fend for themselves.

Once he had sussed me out and judged that I was no threat to him, he carried on preening. He tried hard to straighten and smooth those feathers. First those on his back.

Then he grabbed a primary that needed a good bit of maintenance.

He gave the whole lot a good shake.

Stretched out his wings - showing the chips on the edges of the primaries and his wayward tail feathers.

Meanwhile a pied currawong was determined to make life noisy and uncomfortable for its predatory neighbour. The wedgie couldn't care. He knew what he could do if he wanted to. And I moved on leaving them to it.