Nature Notes: November

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By BULS resident naturalist, John Hawker

Welcome to our new series of nature notes, featuring observations, ponderings, muses and questions about the environment in our local area.

A few afternoons ago at 4pm, I decided  to just pack up, go bush for a walk with binoculars in hand and see what was on offer. Upon disembarking the car, the territorial calling of five birds, all giving the same call caught my attention. Fairly soon I had tracked down two of the birds high up in the canopy of the narrow-leaf peppermint gums they were concealing themselves in. What revealed were two well-grown immature Rufous  Whistlers. (Go on - get a bird book off the shelf & look them up.) These immature birds are recognisable by the fine streaking on the chin and chest. Adult birds seen during the walk displayed the distinctive white chin, black bib and rich rufous-brown  undercarriage. It was really surprising to see fledged nest-young in November. This species usually breeds here during the peak insect time of early Summer.  How many of you realise this common species departs   here late autumn for warmer climes, returning in September to herald full Spring? So, drier, warmer conditions are seeing this species nest earlier than I can remember. So, is this seasonal adaptation, El Nino related, or climate change happening before our eyes?

Walking about forty metres further along I spied another spring-autumn breeding migrant to our area.  A gorgeous Shining Bronze-Cuckoo.  At  17 cm long, they aren't big , but they are gorgeous!  Purplish-brown head, iridescent bronze-green upper body,  white undercarriage with neat, parallel bronze-brown bars down to the tail. This pretty package gives a call similar to a person whistling a dog.  Not so pretty for the birds whose nest they parasitise: - the following list of birds seen on the walk can fall prey to the Shining Bronze-Cuckoo's  easy parenting option;  Brown Thornbill, Superb Fairy Wren, White-browed  Scrubwren, Restless Flycatcher, Silvereye & Yellow-tufted honeyeater. [So there's six potential offspring in one year without a single feather out of place.] Having spent half the year in our area, the entire population heads for a winter holiday to P.N.G. and east Indonesia. {I've been to Bali too.}

In an open area I spied an attractive Imperial Hairstreak Butterfly resting on a straggly flowering Silver Wattle sapling.This seems to be the place to hang-out if you're an 'Imperial Hairstreak'. Interestingly, the pupae of the Imperial Hairstreak Butterfly are "guarded" by a local species of ant: the ecology web in the Beechworth region has thousands upon thousands of such links, all of which have an intrinsic value, requiring the preservation of local natural habitat ,wherever possible.

Further along the track in a shady Silver Wattle grove there were Small Brown Cicada's clinging to the spindly upright branches. This is the earliest cicada to start singing in our area, & lets us know that Summer isn't far away. Inspecting the cicada's, I managed to spot a Highland Copperhead Snake sun-basking; almost within close striking range - but still way too close for comfort , so I gently changed direction for safety reasons, preferring slow reverse gear for a few steps.  It's amazing how difficult it is to see a semi-coiled snake in dappled light.

Later, on the return walk I enjoyed watching two Spotted Quail- Thrush log-walking on the fallen timber. (Look them up in your bird book - box sexes are real beauties.) This iconic bird species of our forest areas around Beechworth, Stanley & Wooragee is sedentary and territorial. Shy, and easily flushed, this species is seldom seen by the general public, even though they live in all the large forest blocks  in our area.  

While on the subject of migratory birds, a local wildlife trip-camera set in a small local wetland recorded the return of Japanese Snipe (Latham's Snipe) in early November. This species breeds in Japan  (Hokkaido & Honshu), before spending the Summer with us. [Usually it's the tourists who've got the camera!]

Members of the Australian Native Orchid Society visited Beechworth over Melbourne Cup Weekend. Despite very little rain in October, a fall of 22 mm on the 22nd of October, with more follow-up rain saw a late flowering flush of Rustyhood Orchids. These drought tolerant plants, of which there are several species in Beechworth Historic Park,  are only ever present in quite low numbers.  ALL are officially listed as threatened flora. It was indeed fortunate that some of the species could be shown in full flower. Indeed, a few more hot, dry days, would have seen all these plants shrivel away without  further flowering. Another interesting species seen in flower over Cup Weekend was the Flying Duck Orchid (Caleana major) (see photo).  These are always popular with bush visitors.

We do indeed live in an area rich in biodiversity.

John Hawker