Tuesday, 31 January 2017


Royal Tigertail Parasynthemis regina 

January has been hot and good for insects. Butterflies and grasshoppers are fluttering and hopping all over the place. And there are lots of dragonflies and damselflies about too. So, I have been educating myself by trying to identify some of the local species around Canberra. I can recognise about fifteen species so far, but I am very much indebted to Harvey Perkins for most of the initial identification of each species. He knows over fifty species in the region, and more nationwide, and more worldwide.

Royal Tigertail Parasynthemis regina 

I just love the way they tuck up their legs when flying, they look so cool.

Australian Emperor Anax papuensis

I have been taking photographs to grab shots of each species, for that is the only way I can look at the details of their colouring to identify them. That is OK when they are perched, although that is not as easy as it seems, but when they are flying I have to use the camera at high speed. There has to be enough light to allow shots to be taken at 1/8000 sec or more to freeze them in flight. I do not like using flash on wildlife. I don't like the effect and I don't like to stress animals.

Australian Emperor Anax papuensis

The ponds are busy with patrolling dragonflies and damselflies, and the females are busy laying eggs. This species lays its eggs deep in the water.

Black-faced Percher Diplacodes melanopsis female

They have very good eyesight, so careful watching of their behaviour and slow movement are required to stalk and photograph these quick flying insects.

Wandering Percher Diplacodes bipunctata male

Many of the dragonflies have been flying for a few weeks now, and some individuals are showing wear and tear. They only have the wings they emerge with, they do not regrow or fix themselves.

Tau Emerald Hemicordulia tau

When not hunting or patrolling for mates, they can be surprisingly secretive and difficult to see, often hiding under bushes.

Common Flatwing Austroargiolestes icteromelas

There are so many colours and forms, wonderful creatures.

Eastern Billabongfly Austroargrion watsoni

Bright blue on a bubble-mat of algae

Blue-spotted Hawker Adversaechna brevistyla

But above all, they are quick, very very quick.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Forest Butterflies

It's still hot in Canberra and there are a great number of butterflies about, although apart from the occasional flutter-by their abundance is not obvious. Those in the forest are keeping low and in shade for much of the day, like this Common Brown Heteronympha merope which, typical of its species, was sitting hidden on the forest floor litter with its wings closed, only flying when disturbed by my footfall close by. Then about a dozen others erupted from the litter. They should have stayed where they were as I wasn't about to trample them and I certainly had not seen them.

Many other Common Browns were hanging from the drooping branches and leaves of the trees, or on the trunks, wherever there was shade from the intense sunshine. This one has a very abraded wing and the pattern of the other upper forewing can be partially seen, enough to recognise it as a female by the large blotchy markings.

In amongst the Common Browns were several Marbled Xenicas Geitoneura klugii which closed their wings as soon as they landed on the litter and simply disappeared from my vision. I clould only grab this one shot through the grases as one landed and immediately closed its wings.

Then in a sunny open glade where there was a patch of heath and low-growing herbs I saw a few of these delicate little Blotched Dusky-blues Candalides acasta. The blotch refers to the large smudged dark grey spot on the edge of the hindwing.

This was as wide as this butterfly held its wings open. A pity as the soft blue on the upper wings has an elegant tone.

I watched a group of Stencilled Hairstreaks Jalmanus ictinus chasing one another and laying eggs on a wattle tree, but they were to high to photograph. However, I did take some shots of this Imperial Hairstreak J. evagoras as it perched on smaller wattle bush.

The back edge of this species' hind wing is coloured and curled in a curious way. And the butterfly was moving each hindwing slowly and asynchronously as if to imitate another animal, or to give the impression that its head was at that end if any potential predator was nearby. When seen from above, the modified wings have a three-dimensional appearance, adding further to the impression of perhaps a head on an otherwise slim body.

The wavy edge to the hind wings seen from below.

Occasionally, the butterfly opened its wings to reveal a shimmering coat of scales. And when it flew, as when I first saw it and probably the only reason I spotted it, it was a blue light shining in the shade of the forest.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Hot and Thirsty Butterflies

A flock of butterflies reflected in the water next to where they were sipping from the wet mud on the pool margin. They never drank directly from the open water.

It has been hot and sunny in the Canberra area since Christmas and all sorts of wildlife have been going to drink at whatever water-sources they can find. There were thousands of butterflies at one small puddle straddling a woodland path, lifting as a cloud as I passed then settling to drink as soon as I was one stride away. They must have been thirsty. I was too, and I was on my way back from a long hot walk, but the effect of their colourful wings was so mesmerising that I had to stop and grab some shots of them.

A Common Grass-blue Zizina otis and an Australian Painted Lady Vanessa kershawi perch on a raised piece of mud, while a troop of ants gather water near to the dead body of a Common Grass-blue.

A group of Common Grass-blues settle on the mud, one with very worn wings.

A Common Grass-blue drinks from the mud, two Cabbage Whites Pieris rapae stand in the background.

A group of Cabbage Whites gather on the mud.

A freshly emerged Cabbage White on the left compared with a tattered-winged older one on the right.

A Cabbage White draws water up through its long thin proboscis.

And another is attacking by an ant as it drinks. The butterflies were restless as they were repeatedly being disturbed by the ants.

The distinctive wing-spots on the upperside of a Meadow Argus Junonia villida.

As with so many butterflies, the underside of the Meadow Argus's wings are dull, this helps to conceal the insect when it rests with its wings closed.

This was the view I had when lying flat on the edge of the pool taking the photographs. It was a wonderful experience to lie there less than a metre from hundreds of butterflies fluttering around me. Just me in a wood, by a pool at ground level sharing the insects' view of the world, on a hot summer day.