December allsorts.

The plan was for a brief call to the shopping centre followed by a trip to the Elbow Orchid spot in the hope of getting a photo or three. The first part was successful but the orchids gave me the elbow, the disused track where I’d previously seen them is rapidly becoming impenetrable due to Burgan regrowth. Despite searching diligently I found none, although Little Duck orchids were reasonably numerous. However, every cloud has a silver lining as the old saying goes, and while looking under some undergrowth I saw something that was new to me. A group of curious small fronds that although a first sighting, immediately rang a bell, Comb Fern said the busy brain, Schizaea asperula, seen a long time ago in a book on ferns and filed away for future reference.

comb fern


comb fern

I can’t see little ducks without taking a picture, so at the risk of becoming boring….

little duck

Back at the vehicle and the question arose, no elbows so what will I do now, answer, just keep wandering and see what crops up in front of the camera lens, like this Sawtooth Banksia beside the track for instance, the old and the new.

banksia

I said the first part of the day was successful, and it was, but what a relief to escape from the pre-Christmas traffic jam and crowds at the centre into the peace and beauty of the bush. If there is a more spectacular plant than the grass tree in this state park I’m yet to see it.

grass trees

Although the majority of the park is sandy with associated dry country banksia and eucalypt vegetation, on the southern edge there is some moist forest with towering manna gums above the clear-running creek, where a lucky sighting of a platypus may be made. That wasn’t to be on this occasion, but a Pacific Black Duck’s paddling feet could be clearly seen through the faintly tannin-stained water. Bronze Needle Damselflies are a feature of this creek, and drew the photographer down the somewhat precipitous animal pad to the steep creek bank. Strangely, Odonata seemed to be completely absent, but then movement as a female Common Flatwing landed and posed very calmly, while the aforementioned photographer struggled to get into position, hold the camera steady, focus, and avoid slipping into the water.

common flatwing

Further along an even steeper animal pad or should I say slide pointed upwards, and with the help of obliging shrubs and tufts of lomandra, the level ground was reached with a surprising lack of drama. A Twining Glycine also utilising the shrubbery was even snapped on the way.

twining glycine

At this time of year wildflower colour is getting scarce, although white and yellow can still be seen. Yellow Stars for instance were scattered through the bush among the olearias that had long since finished flowering.

yellow star

Some eye catching tall shrubs of Tree Everlasting provided white in abundance, honey bees but no natives seemed to find the small flowers attractive, at least while I was watching.

tree everlasting

A glance up through the treetops on the way out of the bush provided the season’s first sighting of a White-throated Needletail, scything through the air ahead of the approaching storm. Then, out on the open plains a sickle-winged Hobby was the last sighting of a flying creature until I reached the outskirts of the town, where I stopped to greet the flying foxes who have returned to spend their summer holidays with us once again.

flying foxes


flying foxes

And while the flying foxes will be enjoying their festive fare somewhere out there in the darkness, the young Red Wattlebirds will be having their Christmas dinner in the garden grevillea cultivars. Honey Gem for main course, Peaches and Cream for dessert, and Coconut Ice for afters.

red wattlebird

Click all images to enlarge.

Prior to the best easterly low for many years that gave us over 100 mm of rain, the last water holding wetland involved in the Greening Australia re-vegetation program was not far off drying out. It is now full, and was the first stop on a recent trip on a grey day with Martin of G/A, and Heather, the project manager of the Gippsland Lakes Ministerial Advisory Committee. This is one of the sites where high furrow-mounding lines have been formed in readiness for planting in the autumn. The high mounding allows rainfall to disperse any salinity in the soil giving the tube stock a much better chance of establishing successfully. The lines can be seen in the photo of the wetland where the high water level has seen the great bulk of the Sharp-tailed Sandpipers move to another location. The big teal flock had also moved away, leaving a number of Black-winged Stilts as the main birds still in residence.

wetland

The second site visited is only a short distance away, and is one of the sites where Martin had heard the endangered Green and Golden Bell Frog a day or two previously. This was one of the reasons for our visit, in addition to checking on water bird distribution. We could hear several species of frog calling as we started to walk through the flooded vegetation, the Eastern Banjo Frog, the Common Froglet, and the Spotted Grass Frog. Then as we moved further in we began to hear the rasping call of the Bell Frog coming from several locations. The pictures show the wonderfully refreshed wetland with Martin and Heather trying to spot one of the frogs that proved just too elusive. I had my recorder and to hear one calling click here. Birds seen here were Whiskered Terns dipping over the water, and a Swamp Harrier ranging over the sedges.

wetland


martin


mart and heather

On then to the next wetland where the frogs had also been heard, and sure enough three were calling. I attempted to get close to one but unfortunately must have gone a bit too close and that was the last we heard of it. Ah well, not to worry, the scope was put up and trained on the sea eagles’ nest in the distance and we confirmed the presence of two youngsters with one of the adults keeping watch. Although the introduced European Carp is a serious pest of our waterways, it is an easily caught prey item for the young eagles when they are becoming independent. The nest can be seen in the tree just right of centre in the distance. The scope was then replaced on the tripod by the camera and 200-500 zoom for a shot showing one youngster and the adult.

wetland and nest


sea eagles

The abundant water also saw several Odonata species taking full advantage, and although I didn’t have the appropriate lens for the SLR, the FZ30 I carry for landscapes caught a Blue Ringtail perched under a still grey sky in an almost monochrome image.

damselfly

On our previous August visit to the final wetland for the day it was bone dry, and what a difference we found after the rain, shallow water stretching into the distance and refreshing the sarcocornia. In the far distance, Black-winged Stilts working along several hundred metres of shore-line shallows, in the slightly deeper water a huge flock of teal, probably the same birds that had vacated wetland number one, and occasionally lifting briefly out of the sarcocornia, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, also perhaps from wetland one. Too distant and distorted by shimmer from the finally emerging sun on the breeze disturbed water for satisfactory photographs, but observed with interest and great satisfaction through the scope and binoculars.

wetland


wetland

A final highlight with the sun at last shining, Odonata, Common Bluetails, Austrolestes annulosus displaying and mating in their brilliant blue colours, Blue-spotted Hawkers, Adversaeschna brevistyla hawking, tiny Aurora Bluetails, Ischnura aurora settling on the glasswort, and Wandering Perchers, Diplacodes bipunctata adding their red colour to the scene.
Wetlands at their best, thanks to that easterly low, let’s hope we return to the more frequent occurrences we used to get prior to the last two decades. Great company and a great day out.

Click all images to enlarge.

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