Back to the Prom

A Wilson’s Promontory Hillside at Sunset

It has been a while since I’ve shared some photos from Wilson’s Promontory National Park, along the southern coast of Victoria, Australia. This is definitely one of my favorite places I have ever visited and today I want to tell an ecology story of a special plant that I had no idea existed until making this trip in December, 2017.

Sawtooth Banksia (Banksia serrata)

The Banksia are a highly adapted plant that are found along a number of coastal habitats surrounding Australia. Wilson’s Promontory has four recorded species, two small to medium tree type forms, Banksia serrata and B. integrifolia and two smaller brush/shrub forms, B. marginata, and B. spinalosa (1). The most abundant species on the Prom and the only one I had sense in taking photographs of is the sawbank banksia, B. serrata. 

Current (sides) and past (center-back) year’s inflorescence of Banksia serrata

Banksia are easily identified by their bottlebrush-shaped spike inflorescence, which can contain hundred to thousands of of tiny flowers. Typically, only a few flowers will produce a hard and woody follicle that may hold the seed enclosed on the inflorescence “cone” within the canopy for as many as ten years. Although hard fires will cause the death of established Banksia, it is a necessity for most Banksia to remain stable in their habitat. Wild fire causes the woody follicles to dry and allows the opening of the hinges that releases the seeds within and promotes their germination (2).

A Banksia serrata loaded with years of “cones”

The photo below shows a very old “cone” that is still being held on the plant despite the seed having been released due to fire-induced desiccation.

Banksia serrata “cone” that has released its seed

The Banksia are well-adapted to fire as the next photo attests. Collin and I found this recent cut along a trail access. The thick and furrowed bark helps to keep fire from destroying living cells underneath.

Banksia serrata limb crosscut

There is a great case for describing Banksia as mutualist keystone species. Nectar produced at the base of the flowers was used by original native peoples, the Gunna and the Boonwurrung, to sweeten their water. This nectar also feeds a wide variety of important insect and bird pollinators during the day and mammals, like the eastern pygmy possum, at night. Birds such as Spinebills, Wattlebirds and Lorikeets have tongues adapted with brush-like tips that helps them specialize in feeding primarily on nectar and pollen (2). The photo below shows a Rainbow Lorikeet that I was able to capture in the act of feeding.

Rainbow Lorikeet, Trichoglossus moluccanus, feeding on Banksia serrata flower nectar

Only the largest of seed-eating birds, like the Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, can use their strong curved beaks to break into the woody seed pods of Banksia to feed on the seeds within.

Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus) are one of only a few potential bird species that can prey on Banksia seed on the Prom

B. serrata and B. integrifolia are among the tallest of trees in heathlands and similar habitats where they are found in the Prom. Because of this, they are important architecture for perching and nesting birds as well as providing shelter for small mammals. This male Fan-tailed Cuckoo is one of a few birds we found using the Banksia.

Fan-tailed Cuckoo (Cacomantis flabelliformis) – One of many birds that “nest” on the Prom

Until next time, have a good day, mate.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Australia 2018 – An unexpected treat

Little Black Cormorant and…

Being a herper from days long ago I was certainly aware of the potential for finding special squamates in the land of spectacular and dangerous reptiles. But, with little time in the right habitats, I did not get my hopes up for finding much. As Collin and I were making our way south, we stopped at a bridge that crossed a stream that drained the tropical rainforest we were driving through into the Tasman Sea. As I watched and photographed a cooperative Little Black Cormorant, I picked up some motion on the other side of the stream.

Lace Monitor

Out of the vegetation lumbered this huge varanid, a lace monitor! The lace monitor is the second largest monitor in Australia and this individual was a full-sized adult. I estimate its size at 4.5 – 5.5 feet in length.

Lace Monitor (Varanus varius)

I’m sure the monitor could have made a nice meal of the cormorants, but none of the few birds that were within viewing distance appeared to be too concerned. The lizard took a small drink and then continued downstream before being lost in the vegetation. What a treat!

Birds of Australia – Masked Lapwing

Masked Lapwing

I had come across Lapwing species in Brazil. These are pretty interesting birds – often colorful, loud, large and not too off-put by human activity. They are classified in the family Charadriidae that includes the plovers and they always remind me of our Killdeer.  Most birds in this group use alarm calls and maybe injury feigning to protect themselves and their nests and offspring. These guys have similar tools, but look closely at the next image. Can you see their special weapons?

Masked Lapwing

Yes, these guys pack a little something extra in those wings. Also known as the Spur-winged Plover, the Masked Lapwing uses those spurs in territorial conflicts with one another as well as against potential predators that may be after their nests and developing chicks. Humans have been known to be struck by these not-so helpless birds.

‘Spur-winged Plovers’

 

Birds of Australia – White-bellied Sea Eagle

White-bellied Sea Eagle at Wilson’s Promontory NP, Victoria Australia

The first place we explored during our single day at Wilson’s Promontory National Park was Miller’s Landing and it’s associated trails. Miller’s Landing is a north-facing beach that leads to a healthy and productive inlet and marine sanctuary. The chances for finding all sorts of birds and other wildlife were high. We just needed to get lucky. After a few minutes of walking along the coastal mangrove marsh at low tide, Collin and I got a show that I’ll never forget. I only wish we had a spotting scope to see it better. After passing nearly overhead in a horrible back-lit situation, we watched this impressive White-bellied Sea Eagle fly off shore and into the inlet. We thought that would be the end – watching it fly until we couldn’t see it any longer. But this bird was on the hunt.

White-bellied Sea Eagle – on the hunt

I’m not sure of the species, but for the next several minutes we watched this eagle hunt and eventually capture a duck. Without stopping to rest, this eagle hover-hunted, trying time and time again to capture a duck that was diving and putting up a fight. I couldn’t believe this large bird had the stamina to continuously try at capturing this bird without rest.

White-bellied Sea Eagle – the struggle continues

Collin and I were the only humans on the beach and the only ones fortunate enough to observe this struggle. Although difficult to see in detail from our position, we could tell the duck was trying its best. It lasted at least 5 minutes and perhaps as long as ten. Eventually, the eagle won its prey, perhaps taking it to a nest nearby.

White-bellied Sea Eagle – the conclusion

Birds of Australia – The Fairy Wrens

Superb Fairy Wren

Among the most well known and sought after of Australia’s passerines are the Fairy Wrens and probably none is more popular than the Superb Fairy Wren that is found in New South Wales and Victoria in southeast Australia.

Superb Fairy Wren

Confident and brash, these guys have the personality of a chickadee on a mood-altering substance. On a couple of occasions, Collin and I found ourselves face to face with these guys at an arm’s length, being the apparent subjects of their songs and scoldings.

Superb Fairy Wren

The Fairy Wrens are sexually dimorphic, with males having an eclipse phase in the off-season where they molt to an appearance similar to the females. These birds tend to be found in family groups of 5 – 10 birds.

Variegated Fairy Wren

I found this Variegated Fairy Wren foraging among some low trees in a parking lot for Sawn Rocks at Mount Kaputar, NSW.

Birds of Australia – Black Kite

Soaring Black Kite

Considered by some to be the most abundant member of the family Accipitridae, the Black Kite is found throughout the old world. Populations of this species winter in the tropics and spend their summers in northern Europe, Asia and in Australia. Their diet is varied and consists of whatever they can catch, including carrion. This was one of the first Australian species I came to know. One morning I watched a group of at least 15 of these birds roosting in freshly plowed fields within the Monsanto research station we were visiting. I assume they were attracted to this area due to the mice and other rodents that were finding food and shelter among the large dirt clods.

Fievel’s no good horrible very bad day

 

The original carry out

 

Black Kite juvenile

 

Black Kite juvenile (I think)