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.

 

 

 

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Pollinators of Spicebush

Sawfly – Tenthredinidae – Dolerus neoagcistus

With some extra nature time last week, I hit the trails at Shaw Nature Reserve hoping to get some shots of Claytonia virginica (spring beauty) being visited by its pollinators – particularly the small solitary Halactid bees.  The problem I had on this day is that these bees don’t typically like to be very active on cloudy, grey days.  There were a few flies visiting the spring ephemerals, but they were much to flighty to bother with.  So, I decided to give some attention to the Lindera benzoin (spicebush) that were blooming in abundance along the river bottom trails.  My goal then became to document the pollinators that visit this early-blooming bush.

Sawfly – Tenthredinidae – Dolerus neoagcistus

One of the more obvious of these pollinators that I found was this sawfly.  This is my best guess on identification.  This sawfly was quite small and by the looks of it, is quite an efficient pollinator.

Sawfly – Tenthredinidae – Dolerus neoagcistus

Probably the most abundant pollinator I came across were these Tachinid flies (again, flies are difficult and I could be wrong).

Tachinid Fly?

The hair-like setae that probably serve to aid the fly in responding to changing air pressures also serve as nice holders to move pollen from flower to flower.

Tachinid Fly?

I also found a number of multicolored asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis).  Typically predators of aphids, these beetles are also known to feed on pollen.  This is what I figure was going on in the image below.  Since there are probably few aphids to be found during the early spring, with few leaves being available, pollen is the next best protein source.  I suppose there could be aphids to be found hiding within the flowers, but did not inspect closely enough.

Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle – Coccinellidae – Harmonia axyridis

Probably my favorite find of the day were several flies of the family Empididae.  These are fascinating flies that are primarily predatory, but a few taxa will visit flowers to feed on nectar or pollen.

Dagger fly – Empididae – Empis or Hilara genus

Within this family are at least a few where the females will not hunt themselves, instead relying on a “nuptial gift” of a prey item from a male.  Males of some species will wrap their gift in a silk wrapper.  In these taxa the sex roles will often be reversed – the females courting the males to get these gifts and the opportunity to mate.  In at least one species, the females will inflate themselves grossly with air to give herself the appearance of being bound with eggs and fecund, to trick the male into thinking she is a prime candidate to provide his gift and have the opportunity to mate with.

Dagger fly – Empididae – Empis or Hilara genus

At least one species has taken this system a step further.  The males no longer provide a prey wrapped in its decorative covering, but simply provide the silken covering, or balloon, giving them the name “balloon flies”.  The photo below provides a good look at the dagger-like moth parts that give these guys another of their common names.  Another overlooked beneficial fly.  Not only do these guys prey on mosquitoes and other potential pest insect species, but their larvae are also predatory, feeding on insects in the soil and leaf litter.

Dagger fly – Empididae – Empis or Hilara genus

I’ll leave you with one final image.  This one isn’t a pollinator of the spicebush, but potentially feeds on its leaves in summer.  What I believe this to be is a (Camptonotus carolinensis) Carolina leaf roller that was parasitized by one of the “zombie fungi”, potentially Cordyceps sometime last summer or early fall.  This poor cricket was infected with this fungi that took control of its “mind”, forcing it it to climb high up on a branch of the spicebush.  Once there, the fungi used the cricket’s resources to fruit and spread its spores from this higher location in order to reinfect others.

Zombie Cricket

Until next time…
-OZB

 

 

Winter of the Short-eared

I have shared images and discussed the Short-eared Owl on a number of previous blog posts.  Never did I imagine the “storm” that the “winter” of 2015/2016 was to bring.  On many different trips to a few different places, I along with my partners Sarah and Steve, were fortunate to have great looks at great numbers of these fluffy fascinations in feathers.  I can’t say for certain if this winter in this region was abnormal for hosting a greater than average number of SEOW, or if my observational skills have just improved, but it certainly seemed easier than in past years to find and watch these birds.  I’ve just finished putting together a video with some video clips and highlight images that I wanted to share. Without further ado, here you are…

Oh, the challenges video brings to an inexperienced, unprepared and poorly equipped photographer.  Throw in the fact that these birds are utterly unpredictable and it’s hard to believe I was able to capture what I did.  So, I learn and take notes and hopefully improve next year.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

Other than the simians, is there another species easier to anthropomorphize?  Here we have cute and inquisitive SEOW, followed mere seconds later by the evil, harbinger of doom SEOW of which early writers told.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

And then we have the indifferent SEOW…

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

Okay, I’ll stop now before they take my biologist card away from me…
Although I got a few images, I struggled mightily and missed several great opportunities at capturing SEOW in flight this season.  The randomness of the encounters coupled with challenges with lighting and equipment make this a true challenge.  Funnily, one of my better in-flight photographs was taken with a setting sun at the bird’s back – not the best opportunity…

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

The image below was taken with the sun in a better position.  Notice the catch light, which suggests that the bird was up and in flight with the sun still in the sky.  Something else in this photo that I noticed before is the difference in dilatation of the lit pupil compared to the pupil of the shaded eye.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

Below is a flight shot from a further distance.  I liked the warm light of the golden hour, painting the dead prairie vegetation in fire.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

One night Steve and I were fortunate to have an owl perch close to our car well into dusk.  It then left its perch and landed nearby in the vegetation.  We could not tell if it was after a prey or decided to go back to bed, as it sat there for the short remainder of the day.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

The final image I am sharing here is just to show off those feather-covered legs.  A great adaptation for the cold climates in which these birds are found.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

-OZB

Announcing Art at the Shaw Nature Reserve Show & Sale 2015!

Poster

It is about that time of year.  I am again excited to announce that OZB will be presenting his work (~100 unique prints, specialty enlargements, calendars, greeting cards and more will be available) at Art at the Shaw Nature Reserve 10th Annual Show & Sale to be held the weekend of November 7th and 8th.  There will be more than 20 artists, providing art in a wide variety of mediums, including one particularly pathetic photographer… 😉   Here are directions to the show…

Map

I hope to see you there!

-OZB

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch

The Goldfinch have really taken a liking to the Silphium in my garden this year.  Every time I’m out there I observe at least a couple picking the seeds.  The two images of this post show them with their more famous plant source, the thistle, taken this summer at RMBS.

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch

-OZB

You Can Take the Pec Out of the Tundra…

Pectoral Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper

But you can’t take the tundra out of the Pec.

Pectoral Sandpipers
FIGHT!!

On the first day of August I found myself sitting next to one of the larger field puddles in the RMBS area watching the groups of migrating Pectoral Sandpipers.  These guys were probably less than a week or two outside of their nesting grounds on the arctic tundra and their hormones were still raging.  I was pretty surprised by their level of territoriality on their migratory route.  Maybe this is how they behave year-round, but I have not been able to confirm this in any source I can find.

The Chase is On
The Chase is On!!
The Chase Continues
The Chase Continues!!
Pectoral Pounce!!
Pectoral Pounce!!
A Peck of Pecs
A Peck of Pecs