About Me

My photo
Canberra-based naturalist, conservationist, educator since 1980. I’m passionate about the natural world (especially the southern hemisphere), and trying to understand it and to share such understandings. To that aim I’ve written several books (most recently 'Birds in Their Habitats' and 'Australian Bird Names; origins and meanings'), run tours all over Australia, and for the last decade to South America, done a lot of ABC radio work, chaired a government environmental advisory committee and taught many adult education classes – and of course presented this blog, since 2012. I am the recipient of the Australian Natural History Medallion, the Australian Plants Award and most recently a Medal of the Order of Australia for ‘services to conservation and the environment’. I live happily in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise surrounded by a dense native garden and lots of birds.

Thursday, 31 December 2020

Farewell to 2020!

It's a long time since I was sorely tempted to say 'and good riddance' to a year, but it truly has been a shocker for us all. Here it began as 2019 ended, with so much of eastern Australia (and significant areas elsewhere) burning on a scale and at an intensity unprecedented in European times, and quite possibly ever. In Canberra (and parts of NSW) it continued with savagely destructive hailstorms in late January, following hard on the heels of widespread intensive dust storms over much of inland NSW, product of an extended ferocious drought. 

And then of course COVID-19, which has affected - and continues to affect - every country on earth to varying degrees. Here in Australia, we have been more fortunate than most. This is due both to being an island, and to the efforts of state and territory governments working in rare cooperation. We have also proved to be a population which has by and large done the right thing, despite the costs of doing so and our reputation for being a mob generally uninterested in going along with government strictures. Nonetheless everything has changed for everybody.

Continuing my tradition of recent years (since 2013 in fact), to mark the changeover of years I've selected a photo from each month of 2020. In the past the difficulty has usually been choosing just one picture per month (or even just two on the occasions I allowed myself to stretch a point), but not so for most of this year. Among the places we'd planned at various times to visit, but been prevented by COVID restrictions, are South Australia (we got as far as the Victorian-SA border in March before things imploded), Costa Rica, Queensland and the Blue Mountains for Christmas. Accordingly my choices of photos are much more limited than I'm used to, one result of which is that I've had to post bird pics for instance for successive months, which I try to avoid doing. I hope the journey is still worth your while!
 
As ever I don't make any pretence to photographic excellence, but have chosen the pictures because of their associations, and in most cases because they are ones I've not previously used this year in a blog posting. Let's embark.
JANUARY
 
Regent Honeyeater Anthochaera phrygia, Watson woodlands, suburban Canberra.
This is one of the world's rarest birds, with perhaps only 250 adults scattered along
the east coast and hinterland. Formerly abundant, it's not clear exactly why it's seemingly
headed for extinction, but it's a nomad which relies on the threatened temperate woodlands.
It's years since I saw one and this was an encounter both exciting and poignant.    

FEBRUARY
Eastern Bristlebird Dasyornis brachypterus, Currarong, south coast NSW.
This is another endangered species which we encountered on a morning walk in the
heathland at one of our favourite 'escape places', on the northern end of Beecroft
Peninsula, Jervis Bay. We try to get there at least a couple of times a year and
this was our last pre-COVID visit. Bristlebirds, old Australians, are notoriously
shy, but this pair investigated us on the track, just before oblivious walkers
and accompanying dogs scared them away.
(More on Currarong here.)

MARCH
At the beginning of the month (pre-COVID here) we visited a friend
at Lake Cargelligo in mid-western NSW. It was very dry still and not
a lot of obvious wildlife but this big Lace Monitor Varanus varius (most of
two metres long) caught our attention, despite trying to be inconspicuous.
 
Later in the month we set out to attend a family wedding in Adelaide; the COVID clouds were starting to gather, but we'd not yet understood what was coming. Only two days into the trip however border closures were being announced, so we spent a couple of gloriously peaceful and safe days in Lower Glenelg NP in south-western Victoria where we'd booked before turning for home and bunkering down. (More on that park here.)
 
Among many highlights here was another threatened bird species (though only in NSW, and not nearly as endangered as the earlier two species). 
Olive Whistler Pachycephala olivacea, Lower Glenelg NP.
I almost feel guilty that I took this photo while sitting at our campsite table!
This is a generally uncommon bird (as well as being shy and inconspicuous) scattered in
wetter forest habitats along the east coast.

APRIL
By now we were largely confined to home except for necessary outings such as
food shopping and exercise. Fortunately a walk around nearby Narrabunda Hill
came into that category. This photo (taken into the sun) of White-winged Choughs
Corcorax melanorhamphos, threatening us with white wings (usually hidden) and
bulging red eyes, is a memento of that time (and one of the very few photos I took in April).
 
MAY
Another local walk, this time at a site known informally as Bluetts Block.
A reminder of the resilience of nature; epicormic growth sprouting from the scorched
trunk of a Broad-leaved Peppermint Eucalyptus dives. The shoots under the bark
of most eucalypts are held in check by a hormonal block until the tree is
defoliated by fire (or insect attack etc), when the block is released and the leaves
sprout to enable photosynthesis until the crown reestablishes itself.
 
    

 

JUNE

Another reminder of the fires - this time of the vast, near-continuous east coast fires of
December and January. Xanthorrhoeas (or grass trees) sending up post-fire flowering spikes
in Jerrawangala NP near Nowra, south coast NSW.
At this stage we were spending a lot of time travelling to and from Nowra,
assisting with a family move to Canberra. Driving through the devastation
for scores of kilometres was tough, but scenes of recovery like this helped.
Xathorrhoeas often put up these spikes in the
winter or spring after a hot summer burn.


 
JULY
Snow Heath Woollsia pungens, Currarong (see February above if you skipped it!).
Back there for a few days in winter, I was surprised to see an unfamiliar heath plant flowering
along the walk - especially such a striking one. I needed some help but discovered that this heath,
with which I'm familiar but which normally has white flowers, has a population of
bright pink ones centred right on Currarong! I love the constant learning process.


AUGUST
Now was the time we were originally due to be taking a tour to Costa Rica. As compensation we planned a trip to somewhere else warm - Queensland. However two days before we left, that border too slammed shut. We were something of collateral damage - there'd been a flare-up of COVID in Sydney and, though the ACT had been free of cases for weeks, we were included for convenience. By now we couldn't leave NSW so instead we travelled around it - it was a cage, but a big and attractive one. And by now too the drought was finally ending, and we were swinging into the wet La NiƱa phase of the cycle. We'd intended to spend most of our time in the semi-arid western plains, but the rains continually drove us eastward and we eventually spent most of our time along the coast.
Australian Logrunner Orthonyx temminckii, Borganna Nature Reserve near Port Macquarie,
north coast New South Wales. These little rainforest birds live almost exclusively on the
ground where they scrape aside the leaf litter with powerful legs and feet, braced on
spiny tails. I find them to be very wary and I'd never managed to photograph one
until that afternoon. This one was entirely focused on its long struggle with
a determined big centipede and didn't mind (or didn't notice) being approached.

SEPTEMBER
Sydney Waratah Telopea speciosissima, Brisbane Water NP, Central Coast NSW.
Into September now and we were heading south towards home, but the flowers were
starting in earnest. And for me who didn't grow up with them, the spectacular
big heads of waratahs, containing dozens of individual flowers, always enthrall.
 OCTOBER
Back home, and with hip surgery looming for me, we took a few days off in the Blue Mountains late in October. Vast areas burnt last summer, but not everywhere, and the flowers were again excellent. As a result, so were the insects. I'm slipping in two photos (well three actually, but one's just a supplementary for clarification) for this month.
Masked Devil Cyclochila australasiae form spreta.
I'm a big fan of cicadas and this one - cold and wet, low down and easy to photograph! - is a beauty.
This species come in a bewildering array of colours and patterns, with a variety of names
accordingly. Yellow Monday, Chocolate Soldier, Greengrocer and Blue Moon all
refer to forms of this species.
And after some dry years with few cicadas, they're making up for it this summer!
 
This is a 'bucket list' photo for me. It's the first time I've managed to get an acceptable photo of
orchid pollination. This sawfly Lophyrotoma sp. has just pollinated a Flying Duck Orchid
Caleana major (unrecognisable in this photo because it's been 'triggered'; see next photo).
He was attracted by the flower's scent which mimics the pheromone of a female sawfly
(actually a wasp relation) and in his exertions the orchid has transferred the sticky
bundle of pollen (the 'pollinia') which he is wearing like a yellow saddle. The fabulous
feathery antennae can detect very low levels of the pheromones (real and fake).
 
A Flying Duck Orchid in its untriggered state. In the previous photo the 'head' on
a sensitive strap has been snapped downwards to force the sawfly against the
pollen presenter.

NOVEMBER
Because of the splendid spring this year, I put some effort into trying to track down as many orchid species as I could, especially around Canberra, with some success. I'll report in detail in a forthcoming blog post. This was the last one I saw before I went into hospital, and it gave me quite a degree of satisfaction because it's uncommon and I'd tried several times in a known site without success before a kind hint directed me to this small scattered colony well away from where I'd ever looked for it.
 
Black-tongue Caladenia C. congesta, Black Mountain, Canberra.
It is delightfully lurid, and the densely warty 'tongue' (or labellum)
is most impressive.
 
 DECEMBER
Finally two December photos, marking significant days for me. The first was taken on my first excursion (other than to the physio and doctor!) after getting out of hospital. We did a short slow walk in the National Botanic Gardens, where the butterflies were enjoying summer as much as we were.
Australian Painted Lady Vanessa kershawi on paper daisy, Xerochrysum sp.
This is a very common butterfly, but that's no reason not to admire it each time.
I love that we can see its uncoiled proboscis inserted into a tiny floret to extract
a drop of nectar.

And the other December photo was taken very recently, a couple of days after Christmas. This was another big day for me because it was the first time I'd been in the bush - essential for my well-being - since the operation five weeks previously. We drove (ie Lou drove!) up into the Brindabellas above Canberra; this was also significant because it was the first time we'd up into this very special Canberra back yard all year. As well as COVID issues, most of the park burnt in February, and the rest was closed for much of the year. I took lots of flower and insect photos, albeit somewhat awkwardly, and this one appeals to me.
 
Silver Snow Daisy Celmisia sp. with a couple of visitors.
I'm cautiously suggesting that the lovely coppery iridescent beetle is Eleale sp.
in the family Cleridae. This genus often visits flowers to eat nectar or pollen.
I hadn't even noticed its neighbour though until I processed the photo (in fact it had
just popped up and wasn't present in a photo taken three seconds earlier). To my
embarrassment, from front on I can't tell whether it's a spider or small grasshopper!

So, that's one version of my year, but even with the relative paucity of photos I could have shown you others. Perhaps I've prompted you to muse too on your year's natural history highlights - that can be a very satisfying and even therapeutic thing to do, especially in such stressful times.

Thank you reading this, and if you're a 'regular' reader I greatly appreciate that support. May 2021 be kinder to us all than 2020 has been, and may we still be able to be comforted and inspired by nature - and in turn may we start being better stewards than we've been in the past.
 
NEXT POSTING THURSDAY 14 JANUARY.
And remember that you can get a reminder when the next post appears by putting your email address in the Follow by Email box in the top right of this screen.

I'd love to receive your comments - it's easy and you don't need to sign in!
However, this reminder service is becoming increasingly unreliable and I have
no control over it. I keep hearing of people who are no longer getting
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Thank you!
 

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Lorikeets; the flash mob

Parrots are surely among the great treats of living in Australia. There are more than forty Australian species in the family Psittaculidae, which collectively cover the entire continent in every habitat. They include some of the most familiar and conspicuous Australian birds, prominent in the big cities, and also some of the rarest, which most of us never see. 

Distinct among these are the seven species of lorikeets; wherever you like in Australia, you are likely to be familiar with at least one or two of them. (To cover myself I should say that that number is technically eight, but the Coconut Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus is really a New Guinea bird which visits the Australian Torres Strait Islands.) There are many more species of the sub-group, including the short-tailed lories, in New Guinea and its associated islands.

'Lory' and 'lorikeet' are clearly closely related terms and in fact lory came first, though not used in Australia, from Malay luri, simply referring to a parrot. The 'keet' was added in English as a diminutive (think of parrot and parakeet). It too was first applied to birds from the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia and New Guinea, but was taken up in Australia soon afterwards.                    

Lorikeets are generally small parrots, long-tailed and brilliantly coloured, which feed in the foliage on flowers - both nectar and pollen - and soft fruit. (Except of course for those which have become accustomed to coming to back yard feeders, of which more anon.) They have brush-tipped tongues (like honeyeaters and woodswallows) to harvest pollen and take up nectar by capillary action. Most - and probably all, prior to European settlement - are nomadic, following the blossoms.

Scaly-breasted Lorikeet Trichoglossus chlorolepidotus, Goondiwindi, southern Queensland.

Varied Lorikeet Psitteuteles versicolor, Kakadu NP, Northern Territory.
Typically of lorikeets, this little tropical species seems just as happy upside down as not.
They have zygodactylous feet - which is to say that the inner two toes point forward and the outer two backwards - which are excellent for clambering around branches. 
This Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus moluccanus demonstrates the feet reasonably well.
It is feeding on an introduced Coral Tree Erythrina x sykesii near Nowra
in southern New South Wales. The big pea flowers of this very widespread tropical and subtropical
genus evolved to be pollinated by birds, including parrots.
(This one however will not be helped by the lorikeet - it is a sterile hybrid which seemingly
arose in New Zealand from species introduced there).

Perhaps these Musk Lorikeets Glossopsitta concinna, at Rosedale on the New South Wales
south coast, show their foot structure to better advantage here.
Like most parrots, lorikeets are hollow nesters, using hollows in both trunks and branch spouts.
Rainbow Lorikeet at nesting hollow in tree, Callum Brae NR, Canberra.
This next one however surprised me. Some other parrots excavate ground termite mounds for nests, and other birds such as kingfishers use tree termite nests which they smash into with their bills at full tilt (ouch). But I wasn't aware of lorikeets digging out such a nest until earlier this year.
Rainbow Lorikeet at excavated aerial termite mound, Port Macquarie, New South Wales.

Let's stay with Rainbow Lorikeets for now, as they are not only the best-known lorikeet, but one of Australia's most recognisable birds. They were the first Australian lorikeet to be scientifically described, from Sydney in 1788.
Rainbow Lorikeets feeding on flowering Xanthorrhoea spike,
Currarong, south coast NSW.
 
They are present in every Australian state and territory capital except Darwin, where they are replaced by the closely related Red-collared Lorikeet. They have been introduced to Perth and Hobart and are abundant in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, including the inner cities. In Canberra they are just taking hold; we saw them at our place for the first time last year and as shown in the photo above they are starting to breed here. I grew up in Adelaide but hardly ever saw them there - when the Sugar Gums Eucalyptus cladocalyx were flowering in Botanic Park they mysteriously but unfailingly appeared, but I've no idea from where. Now they seem to dominate the skies there.

They are moving inland at a sometimes startling pace too - it seems that every time I travel I encounter them in inland places where I've not previously seen them. They are one of the world's most gorgeous parrots but they are also highly aggressive and fight other species for food sources, and perhaps more significantly for nesting hollows. I love seeing them but am apprehensive about what their arrival might mean for Canberra bird life. 

They readily learn to come to feeders and love big-flowering hybrid native plant species.
Rainbow Lorikeets coming to seed at Broulee, NSW south coast.

Rainbow Lorikeet on bottlebrush, Callistemon sp., Rosedale.
Until recently the Red-collared Lorikeet Trichoglossus rubritorquis, of the northern tropics from the western Queensland border to the Kimberley, was lumped with the Rainbow Lorikeet, but we now recognise it as a separate species.
Red-collared Lorikeet on Umbrella Tree Schefflera actinophylla blossoms, Darwin.
This is a common bird throughout Darwin and the Top End.

Red-collared Lorikeets coming to water at a campground,
Victoria River, East Kimberley, Northern Territory.
The third member of the genus Trichoglossus in Australia (there are another nine species to the north of here) is the Scaly-breasted Lorikeet that we met earlier. This is an altogether more demure bird (at least by lorikeet standards!) than the Rainbows and notably smaller; the two often feed together however. It is found along much of the east coast north of about Sydney (though they have been seen in Canberra and I gather there's a feral population in Melbourne). While feeding it is essentially green except for the red bill and a shoulder flash, but in flight the underwing is also strikingly red-orange.
Scaly-breasted Lorikeet showing its scaly breast and red bill, Mount Molloy,
North Queensland.
Scaly-breasted Lorikeets feeding on street trees, Mullumbimby, northern NSW.
The other four species are considerably smaller and tend to give way to their bigger cousins. Probably the most familiar of these is the Musk Lorikeet Glossopsitta concinna, the only one of its genus. They are common and widespread in south-eastern Australia from Adelaide to north of Brisbane, but I suspect they are often overlooked as they flash overhead, small and green, without the red undersides of the bigger lorikeets. They have adapted well to suburbia (not so much the inner cities) but it is likely they are struggling there against the growing wave of Rainbow Lorikeets. 

I recall, as a boy, them coming (along with Purple-crowned Lorikeets) in flocks to feed on our apricots and peaches as they ripened. Mum always reckoned she was happy to share, but objected to them taking a bite from each fruit to test its ripeness. 

Musk Lorikeet on Eucalyptus ficifolia blossoms (a planted street tree from
Western Australia), Coles Bay Tasmania. The red forehead and cheeks define it.
The genus Parvipsitta ('small parrot') is appropriately named, both species being only about 15cm long. I grew up with Purple-crowned Lorikeets (P. porphyrocephala) - as I said earlier, they visited our Adelaide backyard fruit trees - but I don't often see them these days. They live to the west of here, in woodlands and mallee across southern Australia. In Western Australia they are the only naturally-occurring lorikeet and so utilise the wet forests as well. To experience a flowering Karri forest (E. diversicolor) abuzz with shimmering flocks of Purple-crowneds pollinating in the crowns, is one not to be forgotten.

Unfortunately I have only one very mediocre photo to offer, but in a very minor way it's historic in being one of the very first photos I took with my first digital camera. It was fairly primitive by today's standards, but more importantly I was totally green! They're a lovely little bird and deserve better.
Purple-crowned Lorikeet in flowering street gums (E. fasciculosa), Port Augusta, South Australia.
How I'd love the chance to take that photo now!
The distinctive (and unusual) purple crown can just be seen, though you can't hear
the very distinctive buzzy call.
The other Parvipsitta is the only Australian lorikeet listed as threatened, along with many other southern Australian woodland species. They were only the second Australian lorikeet to be described, just after the Rainbow Lorikeet. The Little Lorikeet P. pusilla (ie 'small little parrot'!) certainly lives up (or down) to its name. Short-tailed, ridiculously quick as the flocks dart into and out of the foliage, they are tiny. It took me until this year to get a photo of them, feeding high in wind-tossed eucalypt flowers on the north-west slopes of NSW. I didn't feel able to properly do this post until I'd got photos of all of them, so was doubly glad to get these.
Little Lorikeets west of Tenterfield, northern New South Wales, above and below.

In flight they can look a bit like Musk Lorikeets, with no red below,
but they are only two thirds the size. The all-red face and green cheeks
are other distinguishing characters.
Finally, one of the most appealing of all lorikeets (which is saying something and is of course very subjective), the Varied Lorikeet of the tropical woodlands west of the Gulf of Carpentaria. It is the only Australian member of its genus, though there are two others in islands to the north. It is small, but a bit bigger than the previous two, and particularly screechy. It is the only small lorikeet in its range, and only the big Red-collared Lorikeet overlaps with it, so there's no chance of mistaking it, even without those fabulous big white goggles! Flocks of them swarm in when the eucalypts are flowering. 

These entertained us for ages in the campground at Gunlom Falls in Kakadu National Park during the hot part of the (when we weren't at the falls).
Varied Lorikeet, Kakadu National Park.
The second photo on this page is probably a better portrait of it, albeit upside down.

Lorikeets, as you will have divined, are among my favourite Australians; a lorikeet day is a good day, and I hope I've been able to introduce you some you may not have yet met. Now that we've just started to be able to travel again, they are another treat to keep your eyes out for!

I think a post right on Christmas is likely to get lost, so my next one will be the last of the year, and feature my traditional New Years Eve round-up of the year with a photo for each month. 

NEXT POSTING THURSDAY 31 DECEMBER.
And remember that you can get a reminder when the next post appears by putting your email address in the Follow by Email box in the top right of this screen.

I'd love to receive your comments - it's easy and you don't need to sign in!
However, this reminder service is becoming increasingly unreliable and I have
no control over it. I keep hearing of people who are no longer getting
notifications of new postings and I'm losing readership presumably as a result.
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Thank you!

Thursday, 19 November 2020

High in the Blue Mountains; Blackheath #2 - plants

In my last post I introduced the lovely Rough Track cabins on the edge of the Blue Mountains National Park, just outside of Blackheath at the top of the mountains. I promised to conclude this brief series with some plants that we've seen around there in a couple of visits - a couple of years ago in mid-summer drought, and very recently in a wet spring. There's a lot going on here at the moment so this one will be basically just a  photo essay of some lovely flowers. 

Most of these photos were taken either within the Rough Tracks property or in the immediate vicinity. Apart from the first picture all were taken in heathy understorey, mostly in dry forest. 

Despite the name Black Wattle (and the fluffy flowers), this inhabitant of wet gullies
is not an acacia but Callicoma serratifolia, a member of the old Gondwanan family Cunoniaceae.
However it was named 'wattle' for the same reason as Australian acacias were. It grew
profusely around the new Sydney colony in the late 18th century, and its stems were
cut and woven into frames ('wattled' to use the old English term), then covered in mud
('daubed') to make walls for basic houses. Sydney's Black Wattle Bay is name for this plant.

Flannel Flower Actinotus helianthi is related to carrots and parsley in the Family Apiaceae.
If you enlarge the picture you'll see lots of small flowers clustered together in the centre,
surrounded by white bracts to attract pollinating insects; it's the same principle
as that adopted by the paper daisies. The bracts are soft and furry - ie flannelly!


Pale Pink Boronia Boronia floribunda; both names are appropriate as the lovely pale
pink flowers are indeed abundant. Both foliage and flowers are scented. It's a funny
thing about the scent of boronia foliage; some people find it pleasant, to
others it can be quite rank.
Peas of course are plentiful (and I've not forgotten I've promised to post a second installment on this very important family to follow this recent post). Here are a couple of representatives.

An 'eggs and bacon' Dillwynia retorta - one of many!

A bush pea Pultenea glabra.
Myrtaceae is another prominent family in any southern Australian bushland, not least because it contains the eucalypts which nearly always dominate. Here are a couple of attractive Myrtaceous shrubs.
Fringe Myrtle Calytrix tetragona is found well beyond the mountains too, but is
always a welcome sight. The flowers (usually pink rather than white, as here)
flaunt long misty stamens...

... but after the petals drop the red sepals are still striking.
This impressive stand was in the Megalong Valley, just down the hill from Blackheath.


Pink Kunzea Kunzea capitata
Family Proteaceae is probably best and most widely known for banksias, grevilleas and hakeas, but here are a couple of others which are integral parts of the Blue Mountains understorey. 
Broad-leaved Drumsticks Isopogon anemonifolius; the 'drumsticks' name refers to the
spherical cones of seeds which form after the numerous flowers drop.

Mountain Devil Lambertia formosa; this name could well refer to the wickedly sharp
leaf tips, but in fact it's for the distinctly devil's head seed cases (below).

This devil looks decidedly grumpy - perhaps because it had been recently burnt.

Goodeniaceae is a medium-sized family of some 400 mostly Australian species, 80% of which are in either Goodenia, Scaevola or Dampiera though I suspect they are often overlooked. Here are a couple of common members of the Blue Mountains understorey.

Goodenia bellidifolia, an erect herb which often flowers profusely after a fire.
See next caption for its name origin.

Blue Dampiera D. stricta, a lovely splash of colour, and named for the botanist-pirate
William Dampier. A lovely juxtaposition with Goodenia whose name honours the
Reverend Samuel Goodenough, Bishop of Carlisle, treasurer of the Linnean Society
and wowser of considerable note.

From here on - at least until we get to the orchids! - we're looking at just one example of each of several families.

Sourbush Choretrum candollei, family Santalaceae is a hemiparasite. That is, while
it photosynthesises (mostly via the stems) to trap its own energy from sunlight
in the form of sugars, it takes water and minerals from the roots of surrounding plants.
The tiny flowers are so abundant that the display is striking.
The fruits of Sourbush (from which it presumably derives its name) are
much larger than the flowers which produce them.



Silky Purple-flag Patersonia sericea, a large iris of the family Iridaceae,
Each flower lasts only a few hours, but many are produced on successive sunny days.

Mitre Weed Mitrasacme pilosa; a not very conspicous herb,
but its four-petalled flowers are distinctive.

Twisted Mat-rush Lomandra obliqua, whose oddly contorted foliage is unmistakeable.
Currently in the family Asparagaceae, though it has been included in the Xanthorrhoea family
and its own family Lomandraceae, among others

Lobelia dentata, a spectacular little flower that it's easy to be anthropomorphic about.

Slender Violet Hybanthus monopetalus, a pretty and delicate little violet which
appears to have only one petal. In reality it's just that the other four petals are very small.

Strap-leaf Bloodroot Haemodorum planifolium, Family Haemodoraceae.
Curiously this is also the kangaroo paw family though the resemblance isn't
immediately obvious. In Australia it is the only genus in the family that isn't
restricted to Western Australia.

Rush Lily Sowerbaea juncea is a somewhat 'scruffy' lily - due to the crowded flower
head - which is found in wet sandy sites in heath.
Which brings us to the orchids, for which my fondness is no secret. To avoid any suggestions of favouritism I'll present them in reverse alphabetical order - and of course it's purely coincidental that I thus leave my two favourites to last...
Veined Sun Orchid Theylmitra venosa. This slightly faded specimen was at the end of its
flowering period towards the end of December. It likes wet feet, in bogs and below cliffs
though this one was by the edge of the track down to Grand Canyon near Rough Tracks cabins.


In late October the distinctive tall stems of Spotted Sun Orchids Thelymitra ixioides
were everywhere, hundreds of them, including around our cabin.
However in the absence of sun this genus of orchids is most loath to open
and it took until almost the end of our stay to find a single partly open flower.
The only (sort of) open Spotted Sun Orchid that we found.
Tall Leek Orchid Prasophyllum elatum - and indeed it is!
This one, which we saw from the car while driving along a bumpy track, was
over a metre high. Many leek orchids flower most strongly following
hot summer fires, and both this species and the next were only found by
us in such situations.


Short-lip Leek Orchid Prasophyllum brevilabre, a much more
modestly proportioned orchid, generally less than 20cm tall. The flowers
are tiny but, being snowy white, are surprisingly conspicuous.


Tiger Orchid Diuris sulphurea (it also goes by several other common names),
a common and widespread orchid (it was a bumper year for them around Canberra too)
which we encountered throughout the high Blue Mountains.


Red Beard Orchid Calochilus paludosus. My affinity for this wonderful orchid will be evident
to anyone who knows me, though my own beard long since faded from red.
It was a good year for these beauties in the mountains too.

And finally, a truly magnificent orchid with an odd name - until you see it, and then how could it be called anything but a Flying Duck?

Caleana major is named for George Caley, an early naturalist-explorer of the
Blue Mountains who worked for Sir Joseph Banks. For those who speak orchidese,
the labellum, which is at the bottom of most orchid flowers - eg the beard in the previous
example - forms the duck's head here. The strap holding it (ie the duck's neck) nods in the
breeze. A male sawfly is attracted by the scent of the flower which mimics that of a
female sawfly in an amorous state, lands on the labellum which snaps shut and
temporarily traps the wasp. In his struggles to back out, he encounters the pollen-bearing
column. The reason for all this detail becomes obvious in the next picture.



We saw the sawfly, genus Lophyrotoma, struggling in the flower but sadly by the time I
retrieved my camera he was out. However he was clearly exhausted by his ordeal and spent
some time sitting on the triggered flower (which would soon reset). The pollinium - a sticky
package of pollen - is seen stuck to his back. It was an exciting moment; I'd never managed
a successful photo of an orchid pollinator before. The fabulous feathery antennae have
a big surface area to boost their sensitivity to the scent of pheromones.

The Blue Mountains are all you've heard - and more if you're interested in natural history, which is a fair assumption given that you're reading this. Go and see for yourself, and you could do a lot worse than to try the Rough Track cabins. Thanks for reading.

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