Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Bright yellow fungus

A cluster of the Yellow Houseplant Mushroom Leucocoprinus birnbaumii
There has been a long warm spell at the end of this summer in Canberra, with a several periods of heavy rain. All of which added up to warm humid conditions - perfect for mushrooms, such as this bright yellow fruiting species that popped up in a plant pot on the verandah.

This is a tropical/warm temperate species with a worldwide range, so the recent warm humidity must have encouraged this one to fruit. The weather in Canberra is not usually so warm and wet at the end of summer and early autumn. The fungus grows in moist, rich organic soils, so the conditions in the pot where a small orange tree grows were probably tipped in its favour as the humidity increased. This is the first time I have seen one in the garden. Although the mycelia can probably live in the soil it takes a period of warm humidity to induce them to fruit.

I saw the fungus sprouting one day and the next they had burst open.


Sunday, 20 March 2016

Visitors to the garden pond

A Red Wattlebird sits on the edge of the pond
I had a camera trap set up at our garden pond in Canberra over the summer to see what birds visit it for bathing and drinking. The temperature was up in the high 30's C in late February - early March, so the birds seemed to appreciate the ready supply of cool water. 22 species used the water, 19 native and three alien. See below for the full list, and I have included a link to a video to show several of the birds that came by. To watch the video click here.

The video opens with a group of Red Wattlebirds and Eastern Rosellas splashing in the water. Then it shows two Eastern Rosellas with three young Crimson Rosellas. A single adult Crimson Rosella has a good splash in the middle of the pond and an Australian Magpie calls while coming in for a drink, followed by a young male Satin Bowerbird. He lives in the area and occasionally brings in pieces of blue plastic, in early-learning attempts at building a bower in the garden.

The large birds seemed to come for a drink in the afternoons. A Sulphur-crested Cockatoo takes a drink followed by an Australian Raven. Then as the light began to fade the smallest birds came in. A grey Fantail flitted about nervously, and a White-browed Scrubwren took a few dips under the cover of the falling light while a flock of cockatoos call in the background as they settle to roost. It was almost dark by then.

A Sulphur-crested Cockatoo comes in for a drink

During the night, only the local Brush-tailed Possums came down, but I'll keep setting the camera up as one night something unusual might come in for a drink. Food scraps are easy for animals to find in suburbia, but clean water is not so easy to find.

The highlight of the session? That easily goes to the Giant Water Spider Megadolomedes australianus, although I never managed to catch a picture of her. She was magnificent - they grow to up to 18 cm leg span, and they can eat fish. What a spider.

The full bird list for the garden pond:

Native species:

Crested Pigeon
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
Australian King Parrot
Eastern Rosella
Crimson Rosella
Grey Fantail
Superb Fairy-wren
White-browed Scrubwren
Brown Thornbill
Red Wattlebird
Noisy Friarbird
Yellow-faced Honeyeater
Eastern Spinebill
Magpie lark
Australian Magpie
Pied Currawong
Australian Raven
Satin Bowerbird

Introduced species:

House Sparrow
Common Myna
Common Starling

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Mystery Bird

Ken Bissett's photograph of the mystery bird posted on the chatline

There was a recent request for help with the identification of the above mystery bird in the local Canberra Ornithologists' Group chatline ( The query was by Ken Bissett of a small bird he had seen at Mulligan's Flat Nature Reserve, an area of woodland north of Canberra. The first online suggestion was that it might be a juvenile Brown-headed Honeyeater Melithreptus brevirostris, and another was a juvenile Western Gerygone Gerygone fusca. It is now early autumn and there are many young birds about, with confusing plumages. The latter is correct and I present below a selection of images to help explain the reasoning for this conclusion.

A first-year Brown-headed Honeyeater
Both species are woodland birds with light greenish/grey upper-parts and pale under-parts, and they are similar in size, about 100 mm in total length. However these are relative colour comparisons which can vary between individuals at different times of the year, so it is better to refer to specific features.

The same Brown-headed Honeyeater in profile
Ken's bird has a pale grey crown and dark grey legs and feet whereas a young, first year Brown-headed Honeyeater has a pale brown crown as pointed out by Mark Clayton, and pale yellow legs and feet, as pointed out by Richard Allen, in replies to the query. This Brown-headed honeyeater also shows a faint buff/yellow line across the nape.

An adult Brown-headed Honeyeater
For comparison between young and adult Brown-headed Honeyeaters, note the dark bill in the adult and the dark greyish-brown crown and side of head, with a clear white line across the nape.

A first-year Western Gerygone
A young, first-year Western Gerygone has a grey crown with no line across the nape (there is no such line on Ken's bird). It has a white eyestripe, emphasised by a dark line between the eye and the base of the bill. This is faint on Ken's bird, but it is there.

The same first-year Western Gerygone seen from the rear
When seen from the rear, the gerygone has obvious white markings on the tips of its tail feathers, which the honeyeater does not have. An alternative, old, name for the gerygone is the White-tailed Warbler, so that is a good feature to look for.

An adult Western Gerygone
There is no ambiguity between the adults of the gerygone and honeyeater. The adult Brown-headed Honeyeater has bold dark head markings and yellow legs and feet. The adult Western Gerygone has no bold head markings, only the small eyestripe. Its main distinguishing features are its red eye, grey legs and feet, and a dark band across its 'white-tail'.

The same adult Western Gerygone seen from the rear