Birdwatching in Wagga Wagga


A Few Notes
January 30, 2011, 10:51 pm
Filed under: General, Lists | Tags: , , ,

I see that it has been more than two months since I last posted here. I’m afraid posting will probably continue to be sporadic and unreliable.

I’ve added two species to the list of bird species found in the Wagga area: the magpie goose (Anseranas semipalmata) and the plumed whistling-duck (Dendrocygna eytoni). Both species were recorded in a flooded paddock some distance south of The Rock (and so including them here requires a very generous definition of “the Wagga area”). They were seen together with many hardheads, pacific black ducks, australian wood ducks, grey teals, whiskered terns, white and straw-necked ibises, white-faced herons, eurasian coots and purple swamp-hens. This brings the total number of species recorded here to 168, of which 161 are native.

Also, there is a brief article on fungi by me in the most recent issue of Woodland Wanderings (Vol. 7, Iss. 2; Spring 2010), the newsletter of the Grassy Box Woodlands Catchment Management Network. It is much the same as this blog entry. Also note that in the published article the photographs of Resupinatus cinerascens and Mycena sp. are in the wrong spots.

More substantive updates to come soon, hopefully.



The Mates Gully Rd TSR [Flora]

The Mates Gully Rd TSR is a long, narrow strip of remnant Box-Ironbark forest running northwest to southeast along Mates Gully Rd. near Tarcutta. A report by the Department of Environment and Conservation (now the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water) estimates that prior to European settlement almost 12,000 hectares of Box-Ironbark forest would have been found in the Wagga area. According to that same report, less than 10% of this forest-type remains. The authors recommend listing this woodland community as vulnerable under the TSC Act. They give their rationale as follows:

Although some remnants in fair to good condition remain, most notably in Mates Gully travelling stock reserve and small areas around Tarcutta, a large proportion of this community has been cleared or degraded as a result of clearing and grazing by stock [DEC, 2005: 28].

Mates Gully does show some signs of clearing and degradation, and noxious weeds like St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) and Paterson’s curse (Echium plantagineum) have infiltrated the reserve, but it is nevertheless remarkably well-preserved.

A small and by no means complete list of bird species recorded in the TSR can be found here. Two vulnerable species, the black-chinned honeyeater (Melithreptus gularis) and brown treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus), have been recorded in the reserve. The Mates Gully Rd TSR is also a known overwintering site for the endangered swift parrot (Lathamus discolor), though I haven’t recorded it there.

The reserve is also home to a number of reptiles, including the lace monitor (Varanus varius) and several skinks.

Trees

The dominant canopy species are Mugga Ironbark (Eucalyptus sideroxylon), Red Stringybark (E. macrorhyncha), Red Box (E. polyanthemos), Grey Box (E. microcarpa) and Blakely’s Red Gum (E. blakelyi). The northwestern section of the TSR is only sparsely treed, presumably as a product of historical clearing, and is dominated by Red Stringybark and Mugga Ironbark. Immediately adjacent to this is a large stand of Red Box, which is relatively uncommon in the area. The southeastern end of the reserve has a much thicker canopy.

Shrubs

The Mates Gully Rd TSR displays a much greater diversity in the shrub-layer than do most of the area’s reserves. The northwestern section of the reserve, though dominated by forbs and grasses, contains four wattle species (Acacia paradoxa, A. genistifolia, A. pycnantha and A. lanigera) and five shrub legumes (Daviesia leptophylla, Dillwynia sericea, Hardenbergia violacea, Indigofera australis and Pultenaea foliolosa), as well as the yellow rice-flower (Pimelea curviflora) and a New Holland daisy (Vittadinia sp.). The centre of the TSR is dominated by Cassinia species, sometimes to the exclusion of all else. The southeastern end possesses probably the greatest shrub diversity in the reserve, containing heaths, wattles and legumes, including Hovea linearis, Dillwynia phylicoides and Platylobium formosum. The daphne heath (Brachyloma daphnoides), the peach heath (Lissanthe strigosa), the urn heath (Melichrus urceolatus) and a beard heath (Leucopogon sp.) are all common here. Hibbertia obtusifolia can also be found at this end.

Herbs and Forbs

The TSR also displays a great diversity in its groundcover species. Orchids recorded in the reserve are Cyanicula caerulea, Diuris chryseopsis, Hymenochilus muticus, Microtis unifolia, Petalochilus fuscatus (see below), Pterostylis nutans, two species of Stegostyla, and a sun orchid (possibly Thelymitra pauciflora). There are likely to be others. The northwestern end is dominated by the Common Everlasting (Chrysocephalum apiculatum), which can be seen in the photograph above, and also contains many Bulbine Lilies (Bulbine bulbosa) and Chocolate Lilies (Dichopogon strictus). Familiar herbs/forbs found in the TSR include a rock fern (Cheilanthes sp.), the pygmy sunray (Triptilodiscus pygmaeus), the smooth solenogyne (Solenogyne dominii), a woodruff (Asperula sp.) the native carrot (Dauchus glochidiatus), two saltbushes (Einadia hastata and Einadia nutans), the twining legume Glycine clandestina, the murnong or yam daisy (Microseris lanceolata), bluebells (Wahlenbergia spp.), the hill raspwort (Gonocarpus elatior) and the common raspwort (Gonocarpus tetragynus), the ivy goodenia (Goodenia hederacea), scrambled eggs (Goodenia pinnatifida), the pale sundew (Drosera peltata), the stinking pennywort (Hydrocotyle laxiflora), the many-flowered mat-rush (Lomandra multiflora), a fireweed (Senecio sp.), a native plantain (Plantago sp.), the black-anthered flax-lily (Dianella revoluta) and the blue flax-lily (Dianella longifolia), and the yellow rush-lily (Tricoryne elatior). Some areas are dominated by the shrub-like forb Stypandra glauca and there are many patches of the common buttercup (Ranunculus lappaceus) and the familiar sticky everlasting (Xerochrysum viscosum) at the southeastern end. Among the less familiar groundcover species found in the area are a copper-wire daisy (Podolepis sp.), spur velleia (Velleia paradoxa), kidneyweed (Dichondra repens), many finger flowers (Cheiranthera cyanea) and the blue pincushion (Brunonia australis). Hyssop loosestrife (Lythrum hyssopifolia), considered by some sources native and by others introduced, occurs in wetter areas of the TSR.

Grasses, Rushes and Sedges

The northwestern section of the reserve is a grassy open woodland dominated by speargrasses (Austrostipa spp.). At least three speargrass species are present, the most conspicuous being Austrostipa densiflora, which can be seen in the photograph at the top of this article. There are also two wiregrass (Aristida) species, including the brush wiregrass (Aristida behriana). Nineawn grass (Enneapogon nigricans) and common wheat-grass (Elymus scaber) occur in patches. Wallaby grass (Austrodanthonia sp.) and kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) are also present in the reserve, as is weeping grass (Microlaena stipoides) and what looks like a native lovegrass (Eragrostis sp.). Red-anthered wallaby grass (Joycea pallida) occurs at the southeastern end. A sedge (Carex sp.) and a rush (Juncus sp.) have been recorded in the wetter areas of the reserve.

Fungi

The reserve also appears to possess significant fungal diversity. The following species/genera have been recorded in the area (though difficulties of identification mean that this list may not be entirely accurate): Agaricus, Aleurina, Amanita, Arcyria, Calocera, Campanella, Cheilymenia, Clitocybe, Coltricia cinnamomea, Coprinus, Cortinarius, Cyathus stercoreus, Geastrum, Hypholoma, Limacella, Lycoperdon, Macrolepiota, Mycena, Omphalina chromacea, Pisolithus, Poronia erici, Pycnoporus, Ramaria, Russula, Scleroderma, Stereum, Tremella, Xerula/Oudemansiella. Also recorded in the TSR was a small, ground-hugging cup fungus, possibly a species of Peziza. Both brown and black specimens were found.



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.

———-

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.



Nest Hill Nature Reserve

Nest Hill Nature Reserve, formerly Pulletop State Forest, was gazetted in January 2001. It is located roughly 35km south of Wagga Wagga and 25km north of Holbrook. It is accessible only via management trails. The management plan can be found here, but is sadly rather light on details.

Surveys carried out by the National Parks and Wildlife Service recorded only 20 bird species in the park. The following is a list of more than thirty recorded by me in the space of a single visit (the discrepancy is hard to explain):
1. Australian Magpie
2. Australian Raven
3. +Australian Wood-Duck
4. +Black Swan
5. Black-Faced Cuckoo-Shrike
6. Brown Falcon
7. Brown Treecreeper
8. Common Bronzewing
9. Crested Pigeon
10. Eastern Rosella
11. Eastern Yellow Robin
12. Flame Robin
13. Galah
14. Grey Fantail
15. Grey Shrike-Thrush
16. Laughing Kookaburra
17. Magpie-lark
18. +Masked Lapwing
19. Pied Currawong
20. Red Wattlebird
21. Red-Rumped Parrot
22. Restless Flycatcher
23. Rufous Whistler
24. Striated Pardalote
25. Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo
26. Superb Fairy-Wren
27. Weebill
28. Welcome Swallow
29. White-Plumed Honeyeater
30. White-Throated Treecreeper
31. White-Winged Chough
32. Willie Wagtail
33. Yellow Thornbill

(Those species marked with a + were recorded on a farm dam immediately adjacent to the reserve). Of particular note is the Brown Treecreeper, the eastern subspecies of which (Climacteris picumnus victoriae) is classed as Vulnerable. (Though there is some debate as to whether the local subspecies is C. p. victoriae or C. p. picumnus). The Fantail Cuckoo and Cockatiel were recorded in the surrounding area in spring.

The Reserve is dominated by three vegetation communities:
1. Rough-Barked Red Box (Eucalyptus polyanthemos)/White Box (E. albens)
2. Inland Scribbly Gum (E. rossii)/Norton’s Box (E. nortonii)
3. Red Stringybark (E. macrorhyncha; pictured above)/Inland Scribbly Gum/Rough-Barked Red Box

Nest Hill NR contains what is probably the largest stand of Red Box in the Wagga area (it is found in smaller quantities in Livingstone NP and Mates Gully Rd TSR). The presence of Red Stringybark is also noteworthy for similar reasons.

The understorey is sparse and generally lacking in diversity, owing to extensive grazing prior to the Reserve’s gazettal. Weeds (including *Sonchus asper, *Galium aparine and *Trifolium spp.) are encroaching on the Reserve’s boundaries.

Among the species recorded were the heaths Melichrus urceolatus (Urn Heath; pictured above) and Lissanthe strigosa (Peach Heath); the orchids Pterostylis sp. aff. parviflora (Tiny Greenhood; see here and here) and Pterostylis falcata (Autumn or Sickle Greenhood); and the small herbs Goodenia hederacea (Ivy Goodenia; pictured below), Cymbonotus preissianus (Austral Bear’s-Ear; pictured below), Geranium solanderi (Native Geranium), Hydrocotyle laxiflora (Stinking Pennywort) and Dauchus glochidiatus (Austral Carrot).

Also recorded were the grasses Austrostipa scabra (Rough Speargrass), Microlaena stipoides (Weeping or Meadow Rice-Grass; uncommon) and a species of Poa (Tussock Grass). Grass Trees (Xanthorrhoea sp.) were also present.

There was also a substantial fungus population, including several large colonies of Phylloporus clelandii (pictured above), Limacella spp., Pisolithus tinctorius (Horse Dropping Fungus) and a small, woolly bracket fungus (possibly a species of Stereum; pictured below).

There were also a number of mosses and lichens.

***

This information comes from a single visit to the Reserve. Future visits are likely to yield much more.



Insects
March 29, 2010, 11:56 pm
Filed under: General, Observations | Tags: , , ,

An earlier post (Willans Hill in Summer, January 5) listed a number of insect species found in the Wagga area. The present post can be considered a continuation of that one. Where possible the insects illustrated have been identified to the level of species, but identification is not always straightforward. Of the many resources I have used, the Brisbane Insects website is probably the most useful (I take the blame for any incorrect identifications, of course).

This is likely to be the first of many posts on the insect fauna of the area.


The Tailed Emperor is a large and beautiful butterfly in the family Nymphalidae. It is probably not a permanent resident here, but vagrants have been known to reach southern Victoria and south-eastern South Australia. The larva is pictured here on a Kurrajong (Brachychiton populneus), one of the species’ many larval foodsources, on Willans Hill. The “horns” are purely for intimidation: the caterpillar is completely harmless.


The larva of the Privet Hawk Moth is a large, robust and strikingly patterned caterpillar that – despite its name – is equally at home on a variety of introduced garden plants. The individual photographed was seen in a suburban garden, apparently feeding on the leaves of the Purple Trumpet Vine (Podranea ricasoliana), a South African import. Privet (Ligustrum spp.) is a significant garden escapee. Two species, L. sinense and L. vulgare, are declared noxious weeds in NSW.


Wasp Moths belong to the Ctenuchinae, a subfamily of the Arctiidae (Tiger Moths). There are a number of similar Amata species, which cannot be easily distinguished. A number of individuals were seen recently in Livingstone National Park.


The Tiger Lichen Moth is also a member of the Arctiidae, this time of the subfamily Lithosiinae (Lichen Moths). Once again, several individuals were seen in Livingstone.


This stocky, distinctive moth was seen on Willans Hill and at Mundwaddery Cemetery. It belongs to the family Notodontidae. Its face is obscured by a dense mane of fibrous hairs:


The Diamond Beetle, also known as the Botany Bay Diamond Weevil, was the first Australian insect to be formally described. It is apparently very common around Sydney but is less so here.


Most ladybird species are considered to be important control agents of crop and garden pests. The Twentyeightspotted Ladybird (also referred to as Epilachna 28-punctata and Epilachna cucurbitae), on the other hand, is a leaf-eater, and is also highly prolific. The larva is bizarre:


A total of fourteen mature individuals were seen on a single zucchini plant.


Paropsis variolosa resembles a large ladybird. It feeds exclusively on the leaves of Eucalyptus species. This individual was photographed on Willans Hill.


This Longicorn (“long-horned”) Beetle was photographed on a Kangaroo Thorn (Acacia paradoxa) shrub in Livingstone National Park. The precise identity of the beetle is uncertain, but it may be a species of Platyomopsis.


The Green Potato Bug is – like the Twentyeightspotted Ladybird – a common resident of suburban gardens. It feeds on tomatoes, potatoes and other cultivated plants.

I have added the Black-Faced Woodswallow (Artamus cinereus) to the birdlist for Wagga Wagga. This brings the total number of species recorded over the past twelve months to 157, exactly 150 of which are native.



After the Rain
March 13, 2010, 12:59 pm
Filed under: General, Observations | Tags: , ,

“TORRENTIAL” screamed the front page of the Daily Advertiser, following Wagga’s wettest March day on record. The lake has filled for the first time in a very long time.

This is the lake as of March 11. By way of contrast, the photograph below shows the lake as it looked on January 21.


Very few shorebirds remain at the lake, of course, as there is no longer a very distinct shoreline. The water will most likely recede before long.

Apologies for the lack of posts lately. I have two in the works: one on fungi and one on insects.



Murraguldrie Flora Reserve
January 31, 2010, 3:03 pm
Filed under: Flora, General, Observations | Tags: , , , , , ,

Murraguldrie Flora Reserve is located around 45km southeast of Wagga on the Tumbarumba Rd., which separates it from Murraguldrie State Forest proper. The Flora Reserve was established to protect the only known population (a few hundred mature specimens) of the bush-pea Pultenaea humilis in NSW. It is a wetter forest than is usually found in the area and this is reflected in the health and density of the vegetation and the large populations of bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) found there.

There are other signs of a slightly different microclimate. Vanilla Lilies (Arthropodium milleflorum) and Chocolate Lilies (Dichopogon strictus), which typically flower in late spring, remained in flower in the reserve in mid-January.

Most of the reserve consists of eucalypts – including the Inland Scribbly Gum (Eucalyptus rossii) – with a heathy understorey. Among the wildflowers found in the reserve are the Small St. John’s Wort (Hypericum gramineum) and several species of goodenia.

Note: Hypericum gramineum should be distinguished from the much larger Hypericum perforatum, which is a noxious weed. At least one other major weed – the Blackberry (Rubus sp.) – is found in the reserve.

Cassinias, a group of flowering natives with a tendency to spread, are also found in the reserve – principally along roadsides.

There is likely to be a substantial insect and arachnid population in the reserve as well. The following photographs show a selection of the more conspicuous species.

A list of bird species recorded in the reserve so far can be found here. (Note that this was compiled from very few visits and is likely to grow in the future). The most interesting species on the list are the White-Throated Gerygone (Gerygone olivacea) and the Olive-Backed Oriole (Oriolus sagittatus), neither of which has been recorded elsewhere in the region. The Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnis), listed as vulnerable in NSW, is also a significant find.