Friday, 13 January 2017

Forest Butterflies

It's still hot in Canberra and there are a great number of butterflies about, although apart from the occasional flutter-by their abundance is not obvious. Those in the forest are keeping low and in shade for much of the day, like this Common Brown Heteronympha merope which, typical of its species, was sitting hidden on the forest floor litter with its wings closed, only flying when disturbed by my footfall close by. Then about a dozen others erupted from the litter. They should have stayed where they were as I wasn't about to trample them and I certainly had not seen them.

Many other Common Browns were hanging from the drooping branches and leaves of the trees, or on the trunks, wherever there was shade from the intense sunshine. This one has a very abraded wing and the pattern of the other upper forewing can be partially seen, enough to recognise it as a female by the large blotchy markings.

In amongst the Common Browns were several Marbled Xenicas Geitoneura klugii which closed their wings as soon as they landed on the litter and simply disappeared from my vision. I clould only grab this one shot through the grases as one landed and immediately closed its wings.

Then in a sunny open glade where there was a patch of heath and low-growing herbs I saw a few of these delicate little Blotched Dusky-blues Candalides acasta. The blotch refers to the large smudged dark grey spot on the edge of the hindwing.

This was as wide as this butterfly held its wings open. A pity as the soft blue on the upper wings has an elegant tone.

I watched a group of Stencilled Hairstreaks Jalmanus ictinus chasing one another and laying eggs on a wattle tree, but they were to high to photograph. However, I did take some shots of this Imperial Hairstreak J. evagoras as it perched on smaller wattle bush.

The back edge of this species' hind wing is coloured and curled in a curious way. And the butterfly was moving each hindwing slowly and asynchronously as if to imitate another animal, or to give the impression that its head was at that end if any potential predator was nearby. When seen from above, the modified wings have a three-dimensional appearance, adding further to the impression of perhaps a head on an otherwise slim body.

The wavy edge to the hind wings seen from below.

Occasionally, the butterfly opened its wings to reveal a shimmering coat of scales. And when it flew, as when I first saw it and probably the only reason I spotted it, it was a blue light shining in the shade of the forest.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Hot and Thirsty Butterflies

A flock of butterflies reflected in the water next to where they were sipping from the wet mud on the pool margin. They never drank directly from the open water.

It has been hot and sunny in the Canberra area since Christmas and all sorts of wildlife have been going to drink at whatever water-sources they can find. There were thousands of butterflies at one small puddle straddling a woodland path, lifting as a cloud as I passed then settling to drink as soon as I was one stride away. They must have been thirsty. I was too, and I was on my way back from a long hot walk, but the effect of their colourful wings was so mesmerising that I had to stop and grab some shots of them.

A Common Grass-blue Zizina otis and an Australian Painted Lady Vanessa kershawi perch on a raised piece of mud, while a troop of ants gather water near to the dead body of a Common Grass-blue.

A group of Common Grass-blues settle on the mud, one with very worn wings.

A Common Grass-blue drinks from the mud, two Cabbage Whites Pieris rapae stand in the background.

A group of Cabbage Whites gather on the mud.

A freshly emerged Cabbage White on the left compared with a tattered-winged older one on the right.

A Cabbage White draws water up through its long thin proboscis.

And another is attacking by an ant as it drinks. The butterflies were restless as they were repeatedly being disturbed by the ants.

The distinctive wing-spots on the upperside of a Meadow Argus Junonia villida.

As with so many butterflies, the underside of the Meadow Argus's wings are dull, this helps to conceal the insect when it rests with its wings closed.

This was the view I had when lying flat on the edge of the pool taking the photographs. It was a wonderful experience to lie there less than a metre from hundreds of butterflies fluttering around me. Just me in a wood, by a pool at ground level sharing the insects' view of the world, on a hot summer day.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Maria Island details

I like to get close and explore texture and form when I take photographs for myself.

Here is a set of such shots from the Maria Island trip.

The Painted Cliffs - a well known sandstone feature on the island.

A close up of the weathered sandstone around the corner from the previous shot.

And another from around the next corner.

Meanwhile, over on the far western side of the island, there are the fossil beds at Fossil Bay - once quarried for limestone to make cement.

Footprints left on the beach by a Tasmanian Devil as it prowled at night.

The distinctive claw pattern of an echidna's tracks where one crossed a sand dune.

To keep sand and dirt out of their ears, wombats have a dense mat of hairs covering their aural orifices.

The striped pattern on eucalyptus trunks left by bark cast at different times.

Maria Island wildlife

Here is a simple set of images that give a taste of the wildlife on Maria Island. I could say much more and post a blog on each species, but for now I prefer to present just a short list to give a hint of the flavour.

A hermit crab climbs back into its shell as it is rescued from the tideline - there were gulls and oystercatchers about.

Bright starry flowers and fleshy succulent leaves of Pink Pigface.

A pair of Cape Barren Geese - these birds, which were becoming endangered elsewhere, had been breeding well on the island until Tasmanian Devils were introduced. No geese have produced young for a few years now. The devils were sent there to maintain a virus-free population in isolation, at the cost of them killing geese and other animals. A strange conservation strategy.

A Tasmanian Native Hen, they too are no longer rearing young due to predation by the devils.

A Tasmanian Pademelon - these marsupials are about the size of a large brown hare, or a little more. Perhaps, they are just large enough to escape from the devils, as they seem to be thriving on the island.

A Bennett's Wallaby - as she scratches her ear, her joey peeks out from behind its own tail which is hanging out of the pouch.

A Wombat lies sleeping during the day. A favourite wombat past-time. This one is lying at the entrance to its burrow.

A modern, or rather, a still extant mollusc sits on the fossilised shells of extinct molluscs.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Maria Island

This is the first of three posts, an overview, on a recent trip to Maria Island off the east coast of Tasmania. The island is a national treasure, for history as well as wildlife and it is managed by the Parks and Wildlife Service, Tasmania. As it is an island, it has to be accessed by boat and there is no vehicle service, so all is quiet on the island. And I never tried to seek a signal for my mobile either. Peace.

Our perfect landing spot on the beach of Chinaman's Bay on the west coast of an isthmus between the two main landmasses at the north and south of the island. At the longest, the island is about 20 km, and at the widest, about 13 km.

Trails of Pink Pigface Carpobrotus rossii spread down a sand dune on the east side of the isthmus on Ocean Beach, where there is usually a swell coming in from the Pacific.

Granite rocks present a rough headland at the southern tip of the island, the clean rock indicating how high the sea hammers on the cliffs in storms.

Orange lichen grows on the coastal granite just above the water splash zone. These are Hymeneliaceae sp. and are characteristic of coastal granite in southern Australia. This cove is Haunted Bay, sheltered from the westerlies and once used by whalers to lie up while processing blubber from whales and seals killed in the surrounding sea.

Mount Maria (711 m), the highest point on the island is in the northern part. This and the other high peaks, Bishop and Clerk, are of dolerite and all the high ground is swathed with continuous eucalyptus forest.

There are a few wetlands, pools and marshes on the coastal plains on the west of the northern part of the island. The most abundant birds I saw there were white-faced herons and black swans.

The eastern side of the island drops off in cliffs, their abrupt edge contrasting with the gentle slopes on the west. The whole island would have been covered with forest as in the background of this photograph, the grassland is a remnant from the days of european settlement and agricultural clearing.

The east coast of the northern part of the island does not present such a perfect landing spot.