Slime visitors

After the long drought, we have taken on tropical storms, with rain most days. Plant growth is rampant, and the lawn mower has come out of its summer/autumn/winter retirement.

But amongst all the green I spot a flash of colour in the grass. Yellow. 

Close up, it resembles several blobs of crumbed, artificially yellow battered takeaway food! But the strands of slime give it away: the first slime mould of 2020 in my yard.

This one looks like the ’Dog’s Vomit’ slime mould. 

If you haven’t struck such an oddity before, this is one of a very strange and long misunderstood group of organisms (Fuligo). While no longer classed with fungi, they are included in my Fungi field guide (by A.M.Young).

It tells me they can produce cells that can ‘move about actively and ingest food rather like an amoeba. This cell feeds and reproduces by simple fission until there are perhaps thousands of daughter cells. A chemical signal then causes these cells to combine and form the fruiting structure…’.

I always find them slightly creepy.

My book says this one’s common name is Flowers of Tan, but Dog’s Vomit is much more apt.

Several days later the yellow has become a greyish mauve; now more likely to be mistaken for dried dog’s turds…

But it is not the only slimy visitor after the rain. In a much-horse-manured garden bed, crisp white snow crystals cluster and clump over a stem of my grapevine, again the slimy threads giving it away.

Others transform horse poo into snowballs. Or I could go with the food analogy and say powdered sugar…

An older one is already less snowy and within days they are all a less notable brown. Toasted desiccated coconut? 

No wonder I continue to be astonished at the intricacies and varieties that Nature holds, and sometimes shows, especially the ephemeral ones. I need another lifetime to discover more of them…

Dainty drop-in

Although there is no standing water in my yard, the wetlands lagoon nearby attracts waterbirds who occasionally drop in to my garden to see what my vegetation might hold.

This elegant creature is a White-faced Heron, apparently common enough all over Australia, but not seen by me anywhere else I have lived.

It flew in for a brief visit, had a good look about and seemed to decide against what was on offer. The long brownish feathers on the chest and those sweeping grey ones on its back are called ‘nuptial plumes’.

Its legs look too spindly to support it, and as it high-stepped around, it undulated its very long neck in ripples back and forwards, as if swallowing something.

Its very perfunctory check of my back yard was clearly a negative result, except for the pleasure it brought me to see it!

Water wanderers

After my last odd waterbird visitor, the Royal Spoonbill, I thought I had spotted another strange long-legged, long-beaked bird down there in the wetlands.

But when it settled its ruffled feathers and assumed a more familiar stance, it revealed itself to be not really odd at all.

Perhaps oddly out of place, as there are no cattle here, and I think it is the quite common Cattle Egret.

I have usually seen it in groups around cows in paddocks, some often perched on the backs of cows.

Native to Africa and Asia, they were introduced to Australia in 1948 – as was I! – and have spread successfully into new territories, including America.

Equally common, and perhaps equally out of place, was this Long-necked Tortoise, seen wandering in my dry back yard, heading uphill from the wetlands.

As it still had damp mossy patches on its back, it can’t have been lost or misguided for long.

I stood very still as It looked about carefully, fixing my feet at least with those gimlet eyes.

Then it turned itself about and, very purposefully and surprisingly swiftly, headed downhill towards the water. 

There is a low old paling fence to be negotiated but, as I later saw, it found the worn parts and dug away until it was on the watery side where it belonged.

But why had it left and what led it to think there’d be water up here?

These wetlands are a boon in attracting wild creatures; after all, water is life.

Solo Spooner

A glimpse of white down there in the wetlands, seen from my deck as I was hanging out washing; triple blink. What on earth could that be? Camera grab, race down to the yard, tiptoe to my fence.

The strange creature’s spoon-shaped bill said ’Spoonbill’ of course, although I have never had one visit me, here or elsewhere.

But it seemed to have a neck that could swivel 360 degrees. Cleaning its feathered back? Or scratching?

Apart from acrobatic ablutions, that long beak is used for sweeping shallow waters for food.

The black bill and legs and the red eyes tell me it is a Royal Spoonbill, confirmed by the impressive crest of head plumes I glimpsed earlier.

With the crest lowered, it looks more like a bearded elder, with hair hanging over its collar. And did it just yawn?

The weird and wonderful denizens of and visitors to even my little patch keep me in touch enough with the wild to survive in a town. Almost…

Parrot parties

Now that my bottlebrush tree is flaunting hundreds of bright red brush-like blossoms, the Rainbow Lorikeets are holding parrot parties. Like all lorikeets, they have a specialised ‘brush-like’ tongue to be able to feed on nectar, but these are the only lorikeets to have a blue head.

Their brilliant colours warrant their name. They are not, however, blessed with a sweet song, and as they feed in flocks, the combined shrill screeching makes me greatly miss the musical calls of my Mountain’s Crimson Rosellas.

My other visiting parrots have been the Galahs; rarely seen here on the coast, they are very common, often in huge flocks, in open country.

Only two came to see what my yard had to offer in the way of food. I assume they didn’t find much to their taste, as they were only here for a day.  Surprising, given their wide range of feeding habits: seeds, grain, fruit, blossom, shoots, as well as insects and their larvae.

I am always grateful not to be a haven for Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, given their raucous screeching, but Galahs are not much better, their calls described by my bird book as ‘loud whistles, strident shrieks and screams’!

But two temporary Galahs can be appreciated.

Early black beauties

Alerted to look up from my desk by whirling aerial activity outside, I saw about six Welcome Swallows flying round and round the back yard airspace.  It looked as frenetic as when the young first fly, but I haven’t noticed any nests on my verandahs or eaves.

There seemed to be other birds in the mix.

When some peeled off to perch, I spotted a Willy Wagtail, who typically did not stop still long enough to be more than a blur.

Then I gasped at this unmistakable fishtail shape.

A Spangled Drongo!

I know; in Australia it sounds like a joke…

I have only seen this bird twice before. It is the only Australian species of drongo, and it is most handsome, with its iridescent feathers, blueish spangle, and bright red eyes.

Today there were two, so I hope they will nest nearby.

Like swallows, they can catch insects on the wing.

However, my bird book says they are migratory, ‘arriving in October and leaving in March’.  We are still in August. Like the fire season, is August the new October?

One of the other dapper black-feathered birds in the yard at the same time was an Australian Magpie-Lark, female I think.

I have usually called them Pee-Wees (after their call) and berated them for attacking my windows, but now I have hung feathers in corks outside, they do not bother with those reflected birds.

As they mostly catch their insects on the ground, they were not competing with the flying food frenzy above. So they are back ready to nest too; theirs is of mud, and has been in the Jacaranda tree in the past. Hmm; but will they find some mud in this drought?

I will keep an eye out for all nesting activity.

Prodigal Frogmouth?

From my kitchen window, I spotted an unusual blob in one of the casuarinas in the yard.  We’d had a windy night, so it could be a broken-off branch.

In fact it was both. The Tawny Frogmouth had wedged itself behind a broken limb, and was there for two days.

Then it appeared in the slimmer neighbouring tree, actually the tree where the ‘nest’ had been in 2017, from which two babies had hatched, to my great delight. The prodigal returns?

Next morning it had moved to a fork in the same tree, but seemed much fatter. Fluffed up to keep warm?

From the front, I was not sure if it was one or two birds. It looked very broad; was it pregnant, returning home to lay those eggs? But if so, where was the nest or stick platform? Inadequate as that had seemed, it had served its purpose, but had long since broken up.

As the sun warmed the yard,  it moved from the fork and perched on a broken branch. Definitely one bird. And definitely fat.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on any stick activity in that home tree.

High rise neighbours

I am bordered on two sides by tall trees – casuarinas, camphor laurels and cadaghi (Corymbia torelliana), with lower growing myrtles and pittosporum and melaleucas. I hear heaps of birds that I rarely see.

One I have often heard – or thought I had – is the Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua). Its mournful, slow ‘woo-hoo’ has wafted up from the forest to my verandah and my study windows so many times but I have never been able to locate it in time to see it. And I am a visual person, so evidence of the eyes is what will convince me.

Now I have been not only been able to see it, but manage one discernible photo image, much zoomed, before it took off.

No doubts: a Powerful Owl!

More commonly seen in the higher rise branches is the White-headed Pigeon, but these look like a pair: the male (on the left) and the less dapper, or less vividly contrasting plumaged female, which I have not seen before.

Oh, I am so fortunate that I still have this proximity to an arboreal high rise and its inhabitants!

Travelling Huntsman

I was used to spiders seeking shelter from wet weather but in these very hot days–  and more days – and more days, I have had a Huntsman spider come inside.

For the first day he was high up in the kitchen, near the manhole, so I assumed that was the entry point. Next day he was on the opposite wall.

The following day I couldn’t see him.

But then I spotted him — or an identical mate? — two wide rooms away, with no manhole entry. 

Had he just ambled so far across the ceilings ?

Next day he was on the opposite side of the same room, just as in the kitchen.

Seems as if he gets bored with the view — or the food opportunities.

Next day, after two days, gone again, just as in the kitchen.

But I did find him in the adjoining bedroom, and this time, low enough for me to catch him inside a large glass, careful not to bend those long legs, slip a card underneath, and carry him to a sheltered new home — outside.

He can amble across the underfloor instead.

It reminded me of Huntsmen I have met at the Mountain, often more closely, such as in this post, ‘Spider fruit’.


Revisit?

Coming home after what had clearly been a wet week here, I was pleased to see my wildlife mates, including the plentiful kookaburras.

This one on the deck railing looked around at my intrusion as if he’d become used to having it to himself.

But what was he so keenly watching down below in the yard?

A turtle! I tiptoed down to see. It appeared to be scrabbling in a circle on the slight slope; was it injured?

Up closer, I decided it had use of all four legs. Noting the dried green weed on its shell, I wondered if it was the same Eastern Long-necked Turtle that had visited me very early on in my residency here. This turtle (Chelodina longicollis) is one of the snake-necked types, for obvious reasons, and a species of side-necked turtle, as it bends its head sideways into its shell rather than pulling it directly back.

However, from the look it gave me, this one was not about to say ‘Hello, nice to see you again’ or any such. Bearing in mind that their other common name is ‘Stinker’, from the offensive-smelling fluid it emits from its musk glands if it feels threatened, I backed off.

I stayed well away, watching from a distance, with my camera zoom at the ready.

When the turtle deemed I had been gone long enough and it was safe to move, it did, unerringly turning downhill towards the wetlands’ swamps and ponds.

At a fair pace it skirted the old timber fence. There being plenty of broken bits, I knew it would find a way out. After all, it must have come in from the wetlands.

But why?

And was it revisiting? I hoped so, since an annual turtle treat would be most welcome!

Puddles/ponds/pools

My adjoining wetland has had no wet flowing into it for ages, and the larger pool was pinkish and abandoned by the ducks because it was too dry. Rubbish was the main occupant of the various dips where swamps or pools used to be.

Then last night we had a little rain — and a rainbow!

Naturally, next day I went down to see if the birds had gone back yet. No, but they had found a smaller pool — or a bigger puddle — and were happily ensconced there.

The two beautiful Black Ducks above were there.

One stayed on the muddy edge — on guard? — while the other splashed and dabbled and ‘upped tail’, fully immersing to be the cleanest duck around — if such muddy water could do it. The sexes look the same, so I had no idea who was guarding whom.

When the swimming duck came ashore, it set about busily cleaning under its wings, showing the striking flash of colour of its operculum. My book says it’s ‘glossy green’; I had described it as turquoise and emerald but I can see here it also has a lilac edge.

What a stunning surprise in such a tailored brown bird — like flashing exotic undies…!

But the Ducks weren’t the only waterbirds to be using the newly added water.

A White-necked Heron was patrolling the far edges of the adjoining puddle. More wary of me than the Ducks, it several times flew across to the other side… not wanting to get its feet muddy?

I no longer have a rain gauge as I did in the country, so I will have to go by the wildlife’s use of the puddles/ponds/pools as to whether we have had enough rain for their lives on the big pool to resume.

Not yet.

Native exotica

I was sitting on my deck in the winter sun, having morning tea with my son-in-law Joe, when a flash of colour moved in the corner of my vision.

I turned my head to see my first Rainbow Lorikeet in this place, right there on my railing. Stunningly exotic, as if escaped from a South American rainforest. But it is ours, a fairly common nectar-feeding arboreal native parrot. I have never had them where I’ve lived.

I haven’t complained, as they are really noisy and screech most unmusically, especially in flocks, as they usually are.

There are lots of lorikeets but Rainbow Lorikeets are easy to identify as they are the only lorikeet with a blue head.

I was wary of scaring this one as I edged away to get the camera … but no need. It was as ‘cocky’ as a parrot can be!

In fact, having strolled along most of the length of the railing, it hopped onto the table and I fear would have eaten the morning tea bickies had I not deterred it.

Was it tame, an escapee?

When another joined it, I began to worry rather than rejoice. I don’t think regular doses of their flamboyance is worth the noise if a flock adds my place to their route…

But since then, no more sightings.

(My photos were all inadvertently deleted, so thanks to Joe for these quick-thinking shots taken on his phone.)



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