Sunday, 30 December 2018

Fantastic Phasmid

This Titan Stick Insect Acrophylla titan was in our garden yesterday, he probably still is, but I can't see him. His two long antennae are tucked in between the front legs, which have a ragged, leaf-like form.

The thorax and legs had thorn-like spines which also made him resemble a true twig.

Acrophylla stick insects are well named as they favour the highest foliage of eucalyptus trees to feed on, acro being Greek for highest or topmost. So I don't know why this one was down in at our lowly level. The tall yellow box in the front garden, which spreads over where he was hiding, is about 20 m tall. He was about 20 cm long.

His eyes had cryptic colour bands around them, and there was a tiny mite clambering around them.

Seen from below, his head was just as spectacular, with an intriguing array of mouth parts. Why does a vegetarian need such a complicated eating system, I wonder. They only eat leaves.

His wings are on the last section of the thorax, but extended over the fore part of the abdomen. The vestigial wings on a female only extend as far back as the last pair of legs. Although his wings are small for his size, the males can fly. The females cannot. I think this one must have flown away as I left him in one small tree and after dusk he had gone, not in the tree. And yes I am sure he wasn't there. They are nocturnal feeders.

And look at those fantastic feet. He has two hooks and a gripping pad on each one, so over six legs, that's a lot of sticking ability. No wonder they are such good climbers and like to be high.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Big rain

Droplets of rain hang from eucalyptus flowers in the garden. 

More than 50 mm of rain fell on Canberra yesterday, 29 mm before 0900 hr and final figures not in yet. A great relief after such a long dry winter and spring, but I would rather less fell more frequently to give the land a chance to re-invigorate itself, the plants to grow and animals to prosper. Too much rain at once is of limited good.

During a break between the heaviest downpours, the water clung tight, running slowly down the long tapering leaves.

Eucalyptus bark shines when wet. Many species of eucalypt cast their bark in summer and these had only just begun to do so.

The old bark of this tree has been heavily scratched by possums who climb these trees every night. A new skin is long overdue.

While I was out between showers, I checked the leaves of the silk tree for eggs or small caterpillars of Tailed Emperor butterflies. These magnificent butterflies have laid eggs on, and new adults have successfully flown from this tree in most recent years, so I was anxious that any eggs or caterpillars might have been lost in the torrential rain. No sign, but expect updates to the blog when they do appear.

The flowers on the silk tree had only began to open the day before, and in the rain their finery looked rather bedraggled.

Wet pink fur-balls.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

The last frogmouth chicks have fledged

The last broods of tawny frogmouth chicks in my study areas have now fledged. Although there are probably more out there that I don't know about. When there is only one chick, as in the above situation, it is usually the male who keeps close by and protects it.

This single chick was the last from fifty-five territories I monitored this year. Although it has a short tail and wings, it can fly capably between trees and now follow its parents through the wood as they search for food. They will continue to feed the chick for about a month yet as it is not fully developed, only enough to leave the nest site. It is safer for these birds to leave the nest as soon as they can because predators are more likely to find them if they stay in any one place for too long, such as in the nest.

The adult female was up on a branch immediately above them. She is quite unconcerned by my attention because she is familiar with me. Even though I only check on them perhaps four of five times during the breeding season, they are long-lived birds and this bird has seen me often enough over several years to recognise me and know that am not a threat to her or her chick.

In the adjacent territory, another male was sitting close by a single chick. The chick does not know me so it is inquisitive, staring down at the strange human looking up at it, but not alarmed as its father next to it has not given any alarm notice. This chick is about three weeks out of the nest and much larger and further developed than the previous one.

Then a goshawk flew overhead and the local birds gave a chorus of alarm calls. This made the male lift its head and keep alert, although only adopting a partial defensive posture. The chick responded immediately and went a little further into a stick pose. Both birds were wide-eyed and listening to the other birds' messages. Then after a minute or so, the danger had passed and the birds all relaxed.

The female was in a lower branch of the next tree and simply gave me a look as I stood by.

Then she began preening and shaking her feathers, quite at ease in my presence.

The family will move around their territory during the summer and I am less likely to find them again. So this might be my last meeting with her for a while. I left her basking in the sun with her head tilted to catch its rays. They do like to sunbathe.