Birdwatching in Wagga Wagga


Fungi (Again)
July 29, 2010, 8:05 pm
Filed under: Fungi, Observations | Tags: , , , , ,

A sequel to this earlier post.

A. M. Young (A Field Guide to the Fungi of Australia, UNSW Press) estimates that there may be as many as 250 000 species of fungus in Australia, of which the vast majority are the so-called ‘microfungi’ – moulds, plant rusts, mildews and so on. ‘Macrofungi’ (mushrooms, toadstools, puffballs, cups, jellies, coral fungi and so on) account for a relatively small percentage of our overall fungal flora, but there may still be as many as 20 000 macrofungus species in Australia. Most of these are undescribed; many are entirely unknown.

Little is known about the distribution of Australian fungus species (except that the rainforests of eastern Queensland and New South Wales are probably among the most diverse locations), so there is no estimate for the number of species found in the Wagga Wagga area. The thumbnail gallery presently contains 57 images, accounting for probably 54 species (though many have not been properly identified). There are likely to be several hundred more occurring in the area.

This post illustrates a few of the more interesting fungus species from the area.

Mycena clarkeana seems to vary from a vivid pink to a darkish pink-brown. This identification (which is by no means certain) was suggested by I. R. McCann’s Australian Fungi Illustrated.

This photograph was taken in a well-treed area along the Mundarlo Road, which seems to support a surprising diversity (as roadsides go) of both flora and fauna. The fungus was found growing in a sheltered spot at the base of a eucalypt.

This species produces tiny parasols on the side of (in fact, almost underneath) rotting logs. This behaviour is shared by many members of the genus Mycena, making identification extremely difficult.

This photograph was taken at Wiesners Swamp Nature Reserve, which is roughly 100km (so Google Maps tells me) south-west of Wagga Wagga. Specimens belonging to this species, or to a closely related species, are often found much closer to Wagga, however.

This is a common and distinctive species, identified by its tall stem (which extends a short distance underground), its brown cap and its bright white gills. The subterranean part of the stem resembles a long taproot, giving the species its common name. The Rooting Shank can be quite viscid when wet but seems to dry rapidly in warmer weather. Young specimens have rounded caps, whereas older ones tend to have flattened caps, sometimes with a small raised section in the middle (called the ‘boss’ or ‘umbo’).

This species has been recorded along Mundarlo Road, on Willans Hill (where the photograph was taken) and at Livingstone National Park. It is likely to be found elsewhere.

Ramaria species produce coral- or lichen-like fruiting bodies, often amongst leaf-litter in woodland. The photograph above shows the only coral fungus specimen I have seen in the Wagga area. It is assumed to be a species of Ramaria, though there are at least two other genera of coral fungus represented in Australia (Ramariopsis and Clavaria). This specimen was found on the northern part of Livingstone National Park.

Poronia erici is a common and distinctive coprophilous (dung-loving) species. It is usually found on kangaroo dung, but according to Bruce Fuhrer (A Field Guide to Australian Fungi, Bloomings Books) it can also occur on wombat, rabbit and occasionally horse dung. Individual discs (or ‘buttons’) are less (often much less) than 1cm in diameter.

It has been recorded at Mates Gully Rd. TSR, Wokolena Rd. TSR, Willans Hill and Livingstone National Park, and can probably be found wherever there are kangaroos (which is almost anywhere, really). The photograph above was taken at Mates Gully.

The earlier post on fungi profiled the coprophilous Bird’s Nest fungus Cyathus stercoreus, which has been recorded at Mates Gully Rd. TSR and Kyeamba TSR. The species above grows on wood rather than dung and has been recorded at Matong, Ganmain and Kindra State Forests. Crucibulum laeve produces smaller fruiting bodies than its dung-loving cousin and is pale brown rather than blackish in colour. It grows in large clusters – the photograph shows only a small part of a much larger colony, possibly consisting of several hundred fruiting bodies.

This photograph was taken in Kindra State Forest near Coolamon.

This identification is somewhat tentative. I have based it on the manner in which the outer skin (which is rubbery and rather clammy in young fruits) dries and cracks to reveal the spore mass, a habit it shares with, for example, Calvatia cyathiformis. (See the wonderful Australian Fungi – a blog for information on that species).

This is quite a large species – the specimen photographed reached almost 20cm in diameter – but next to its relative Calvatia gigantea, which has been known to reach 150cm, it seems rather pathetic. That species is not found in Australia.

The photograph was taken in January of this year. The specimen was found in a lawn composed principally of introduced grasses (with some Wallaby Grass Austrodanthonia sp.) on the edge of Willans Hill.

Coprinus comatus is a common species of lawns and parks around Wagga. It often grows in loose colonies, as here. It is also known as the Shaggy Ink Cap.

Once these fruiting bodies reach maturity they quickly begin to autodigest, and before long all that will be left is a thick black liquid and a stem.

This photograph was taken on Pine Gully Rd., near Joyes Hall. Nearby was a colony of the Yellow Stainer (Agaricus xanthodermus) and a number of unidentified puffballs.

This is only a small selection of local species. For more, see the thumbnail gallery.



Signs of Spring
July 25, 2010, 11:30 pm
Filed under: Flora, Observations | Tags: , , , , ,

With barely more than a month left of winter, a number of early-flowering native plants are starting to show themselves. Of course, many Australian natives are highly opportunistic, responding swiftly to favourable conditions. Thus there will be often be wildflowers blooming at the coldest and least hospitable times of the year.

The native Grassland Wood-sorrel (Oxalis perennans) is one such. Unlike its weedy relative, Soursob (Oxalis pes-caprae), Grassland Wood-sorrel is a small and inconspicuous plant. It is a common constituent of open woodland areas.

Some species, on the other hand, have very specific flowering periods. Early Nancy (Wurmbea dioica), as its name suggests, is one of the first plants to flower each year. Flowering plants have been recorded on Willans Hill since the beginning of June.

Hardenbergia violacea is a popular garden plant, and cultivars are available with purple, pink and white flowers. In its natural form it is a deep, vivid purple and flowers towards the end of winter and throughout spring. It is a member of the Fabaceae (often called the Leguminosae), along with the Glycines, Dillwynias, Pultenaeas and so on. It is also related (though slightly more distantly) to the wattles (Acacia spp.)

Another early flowering plant is Erodium crinitum, the Blue Storksbill (also known by many other names). It can be seen flowering early in July, but is perhaps more distinctive later in the year, when it produces fruit. The fruit is a tall spike, often produced in clusters (see its PlantNET profile for pictures).

All of these photographs were taken on Willans Hill in July of this year.

In other news, I have added the Brown Treecreeper and Crested Shrike-tit to the species list for Willans Hill. Neither species is commonly seen – the former is classed as Vulnerable, the latter is simply extremely cryptic in its habits.

I have also added thumbnail galleries of flora and fungi images to the site. These are still works-in-progress. I hope to add similar galleries for insects, reptiles, mammals etc., and also for specific locations (the flora and fauna of Willans Hill, for example).



Birds of Urban Areas: Thornbills and Relatives
July 14, 2010, 7:41 pm
Filed under: Birds of Urban Areas, Observations | Tags: , , , ,

Habitat modification is one of the major factors contributing to the ongoing decline of bird populations worldwide. Many species have quite specific habitat demands that are simply not met by cultivation and development of land. To give one prominent example, the eastern subspecies of the Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnis victoriae), considered a vulnerable species, is only commonly encountered in eucalypt-dominated open woodland. (Berry Jerry State Forest, a River Red Gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis forest with a sparse understorey, seems to support the largest local population). The destruction of woodland remnants leads to the isolation of local populations and has the potential to cause local extinctions.

A few species have successfully adapted to agricultural clearing and urban development. The Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) and Galah (Eolophus roseicapilla) are two notable examples. So successful have they been, in fact, that they threaten to overwhelm those species with which they compete for breeding sites. A third cockatoo species, the Long-billed Corella (Cacatua tenuirostris), is recovering after a long decline and is spreading at an extraordinary rate. It may soon join the list of native species with serious pest potential.

There are some species, however, that have adapted very well to urban development and should be encouraged. The thornbills (Acanthiza spp., from Gk. akanthos ‘thorn’), a group of small insectivores, are generally absent from the more built-up cities, but in Wagga are commonly seen in parks and gardens in urban and suburban areas. Two species are commonly recorded in Wagga itself and at least two others may be found in woodland remnants nearby.

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Yellow-rumped Thornbill (Acanthiza chrysorrhoa)

The Yellow-rumped Thornbill is the largest of the thornbills, measuring roughly 12cm from bill to tail. They are often seen feeding on the grouund, usually in small flocks. The spotted head is distinctive, as is the bright lemon-yellow patch on the rump. They are often noticed first by their call, a “musical, cheery, tinkling song, ending with two clear whistled notes” (birdsinbackyard.net). In a Greening Australia survey of revegetation projects in the area to the north of Canberra (Bringing Birds Back), the Yellow-rumped Thornbill was the second most-commonly seen bird, recorded only slightly less often than the Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus).

Being a ground-feeder, they are vulnerable to predation from domestic animals, especially cats.

Yellow Thornbill (Acanthiza nana)

The Yellow Thornbill is slightly smaller than the Yellow-rumped, measuring around 10cm from bill to tail. Yellow Thornbills are dull grey-green on top and pale yellow underneath. The inland form is noticeably paler and duller than the coastal form. They spend less time on the ground than their larger cousin, opting instead to feed in trees with feathery or needle-like foliage (in native woodland they are often found in cypress-pine Callitris spp.) and small, dense shrubs. Their call is a simple, two-note ‘chip-chip’ (see birdsinbackyards.net for a recording). In the Greening Australia survey, the Yellow Thornbill was the fourteenth most-commonly recorded bird.

Two other thornbill species, the Buff-rumped Thornbill (Acanthiza reguloides) and Chestnut-rumped Thornbill (Acanthiza uropygialis), have been recorded in woodland around Wagga, though the latter has been recorded only once (its usual habitat is the arid inland). The Buff-rumped Thornbill has been recorded once on Willans Hill, but is generally found only in better-preserved woodland areas, including Livingstone National Park. The Brown Thornbill (Acanthiza pusilla) has been recorded slightly outside the Wagga area and can probably found in woodland in the area. The Inland Thornbill (Acanthiza apicalis) may also be recorded here periodically.

The Weebill (Smicrornis brevirostris) also belongs to the family Acanthizidae. It can be distinguished from the Yellow Thornbill (at close range, at least) by its much shorter bill, the white eye-ring and the paler facial markings. At around 8cm in length, the Weebill is Australia’s smallest bird. Its call is a distinctive whistle, often given as ‘wee-wit’ and ‘wee willy weetee’ (birdsinbackyards.net). The Weebill can often be seen fluttering outside the foliage of eucalypts, darting in periodically to collect food. It is rarely seen in gardens, but is common in large, well-treed parks. In the Greening Australia survey, it was the 30th most-common species.

The Western Gerygone (Gerygone fusca) and White-throated Gerygone (Gerygone albogularis) are also members of the family Acanthizidae, as are the Speckled Warbler (Chthonicola sagittata) and Southern Whiteface (Aphelocephala leucopsis). These species are not known from urban areas.

Several other small natives, including the Striated Pardalote (Pardalotus striatus), Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) and White-plumed Honeyeater (Lichenostomus penicillatus) are found in urban and suburban area. These will be described in future posts.