26 February, 2012

All things bright and beautiful

It is interesting to note that some of the brightest colours along the Barwon can be found on some of the smallest creatures. In season, the wattle trees provide a large and vibrant display our national colours whilst various introduced species add splashes of orange, purple and pink, however, down at ground-level, fluttering through the air and clinging to the stems of plants, there is an army of brightly-coloured insects.
On Monday afternoon, I was brought up short by a pair of what I think were harlequin bugs making their way across the path on the Highton side of the river:
Male Cotton Harlequin Bug
They were in rather a hurry to get where-ever it was they were going, which made photography at close quarters a little tricky, however I did manage to get one or two reasonable shots. I gather that they are also known as stink bugs for the bad smell they emit when disturbed.
Then on Tuesday, I came across this rather shiny little guy:
Bronze beetle near Breakwater
My knowledge of bugs is even more limited than my knowledge of butterflies, so I have not been able to identify him/her.
On Friday I was back again and this time discovered a number of Plague Soldier Beetles (not a species I'd seen before) who appeared to be congregating for the purpose of doing what they like to do in large numbers. Relatively speaking however, this was a rather small gathering and I only saw one "couple".
Plague Soldier Beetle
These little critters - also known as Green Soldier Beetles - were hanging around near the new Breakwater bridge. I gather that they like to form what is known as a breeding swarm, hence the the "plague" reference in their name, but tend to move on once they've finished their business. Similar to the harlequin bugs, they have chemical defenses. Their bright yellow abdomen is an indicator to would-be predators that they taste rather unpleasant!
"You put your right leg in" - a Plague Soldier Beetle enjoying the river views

Plague Soldier Beetle practising javelin?

So far I haven't seen a huge number of beetles and bugs, but will keep an eye out. In particular, the Geelong Advertiser informs me that the local cricket population is undergoing somewhat of a population explosion. I can vouch for this as there have been a number of the little beasts making their way onto the netball court as I have been pursuing my other favourite pastime over recent days. I haven't seen any along the river, however I do tend to restrict my activities there to daylight hours.
Finally, I did come across one other species of insect as I was riding past the kids' play area at the Barwon Valley Fun Park on Friday. She is large and definitely colourful, but I'm not sure of the correct taxonomy here...

21 February, 2012

Flying flowers

"The butterfly is a flying flower,
The flower a tethered butterfly."
Ponce Denis Ecouchard Lebrun
Rather apt, I think!
My recent laps around the river trail on the bike have paid off not only with several reasonable bird shots, but also with a few half-decent butterfly photos too. Now whilst my knowledge of the local bird population is pretty good, I know very little when it comes to butterflies. That it would seem, needs to change.
Some time ago, I posted on the butterflies I had so far managed to spot. They were the Cabbage White and the Common Brown Butterfly. Recently however, I spotted a few pairs of wings which I hadn't seen before. After some research, I also started looking a little more closely at what I had assumed was a homogeneous population of Common Brown Butterflies and discovered that all was not as it seemed.
During today's ride I snapped the following photos of what I believe was a Meadow Argus Butterfly a little upstream of the Queen's Park Bridge:
Meadow Argus Butterfly

Meadow Argus Butterfly
It had the same basic colours as the Common Brown, but different wing markings and the specimen I saw seemed somewhat smaller. It moved quite quickly, taking off in a straight line before settling again. Hopefully some better photos will soon be forthcoming.
On the opposite side of the river and a little downstream of the aforementioned bridge, I also came across this guy:
Yellow Admiral Butterfly

Underside of a Yellow Admiral Butterfly
A Yellow Admiral. Like the Meadow Argus, it also moved quickly, but seemed to spend more time going in circles before finally settling on the leaf where I took the shots. Unfortunately by the time I crept close enough to take some good close-ups it had closed its wings. It also had the bad grace to position itself the wrong way up on the leaf, so no, the gum trees don't grow upside down along the Barwon, I have just rotated the photos to suit.
These were my "captures" for today, however a couple of days ago, I also took the following shot, but have been unable to identify the subject - whether butterfly or moth:

It was quite spectacular in flight with flashes of red as it fluttered around before finally coming to land on this branch, but try as I might, I can't find it on-line.
Ideas anyone?

19 February, 2012

A lot more Pardalotus

Well, not to be deterred from my mission to photograph pardalotes, I headed out on the bike once again today. My first stop was at the same spot near the new Breakwater bridge that I managed to take the shots in my previous post. Immediately I was able to hear Spotted Pardalotes and headed towards the calls. I soon sighted my quarry who as usual proved impossible to photograph.
Unsuccessful, I headed over to the riverbank where I thought I'd seen them before. I spotted a likely candidate, however on closer inspection I discovered I had found myself a single Silvereye who didn't hang around for long. Almost immediately I saw another small bird hopping amongst the foliage. Light body, black wings with white markings, short beak...a pardalote? Well, yes, but not of the spotted variety.

 Striated Pardalote at Breakwater
 Firstly, this little guy was much more obliging than his spotted cousins and happily posed for some shots and was then joined by another who was equally as obliging. Both had yellow markings on their brow and chin, the white markings on the wings were stripes, not spots and the rest of their plumage was predominantly pale grey.

Pair of Striated Pardalotes at Breakwater
A pair of Striated Pardalotes it would appear. Their colours weren't as well developed as some photos I've seen so they may have been juvenile and were probably from a nest in the riverbank near the tree in which I found them. This is the one and only time I have seen the striated variety of pardalote but will certainly be keeping a close eye out for more.
They didn't hang around for an encore performance and I wandered off again in search of the spotted type.
Back on my bike, I headed upriver and on the Highton side once again, found the same little family of Spotted Pardalotes I'd seen one day last week.

Juvenile Spotted Pardalotes near Princes Bridge
This time, they were down amongst the rushes at the water's edge, which made photography a little easier, but of course,they still contrived to have at least one stalk between me and them most of the time. I have read that one of the common names for the Spotted Pardalote is the "Headache Bird". The name apparently derives from their often incessant three-note call (one low then two high notes). I am beginning to suspect however, that they were given the label not for their calling, but by someone attempting to take a decent photograph!
Spotted Pardalote near Princes Bridge
Having said that, the above two photos are probably the pick of today's bunch and still don't really show the amazing colours of the adult males, so I guess it is back to the drawingboard and a few more laps on the bike.

18 February, 2012

Spotting Pardalotes...

...is easier said than done!
About a week ago I noticed that there were a number of points around the Barwon through Geelong where I could hear Spotted Pardalotes. I think I had heard them previously but been unable to discover who was calling. This time I spotted them (excuse the pun) and have since seen them on several other occasions and in various places - always in gum trees where they like to hide.
So, I can hear them and - if I'm careful - I can see them, but photographing them? That's an entirely different matter. They are so small and so quick to flit about and usually high up in the trees that photos are rather tricky. However, I have persisted over the last several days (and clocked up quite a few extra kms on the bike in the process which is not a bad thing) and now have a few less than perfect photos to show for my efforts.
Spotted Pardalote grooming

In fact, were it not for one little bird who felt the need to spend at least five minutes sitting still and grooming itself, I would still have little more to show for my efforts than a variety of close up shots of gum leaves and a few blurry, vaguely bird-like images.
Spotted Pardalote at Breakwater
These successful shots were taken near the new Breakwater bridge on Thursday, but I have also seen them on the Highton side of the river in several places between the Princes Bridge and Queen's Park where in addition to the issues I mentioned above, lighting seems to be tricky too.
On this part of the river I seem to be attracting quite a bit of interest. One passerby knew exactly what I was up to and even asked if I'd seen the pardalotes. "As a matter of fact..." I said and took the opportunity for some shameless promotion of my blog!
Further upriver, I was asked several times if I had spotted a koala. No, and I must say, I have never seen one anywhere along the river, although I have heard them calling once or twice up at Lake Elizabeth.
Spotted Pardalote at Breakwater
So far, these are the best shots I've managed to grab. I am hoping to do a few more laps of the track and will hopefully find another obliging specimen who has the good grace to sit still on a suitably low branch with no obscuring leaves and no back lighting!

10 February, 2012

Currawong tails

Okay, I'm puzzled. I am hardly and expert when it comes to bird identification, but I thought I had my currawongs sorted - until yesterday. I had headed out for a gentle ride around the river via Fyansford and Breakwater, snapping some photos as I went.
As I headed down from Queen's Park towards Princes Bridge, I spotted a feathered tail hanging from a branch arching over the path. At first glance the underside was black and white striped. Upon closer inspection I discovered it was black tail feathers of varying lengths, each with a white tip giving the banded appearance. What was interesting about this was that the tail was attached to a Pied Currawong.
Now, to this point in time all the Pied Currawongs I'd seen had the typical white undertail and then a thin band of white at the tip - like this guy photographed in my backyard in April, 2010.
Pied Currawong April, 2010
This one looked similar to the bird in my tree at home, with the exception of the tail feathers. Curious, I went back to the same part of the river again today to see if I could find him/her again. I didn't have to look too hard before I was able to locate not one, but a pair of currawongs in the same area as yesterday. Both had the same tail markings I had seen on yesterday's bird.
Pied Currawong 1
I spent quite some time taking shots and they allowed me to approach to within a few metres, watching closely but not particularly concerned by my interest. Initially they busied themselves shredding the bark off the branch they were perched on before scooping out any creepy crawlies to be found inside. The only concern they showed was when they moved to a tree near a magpie who then attempted unsuccessfully to send them on their way. The magpie soon retreated and peace was restored.
Pied Currawong 2
So, armed with what I hoped was ample evidence to prove my point, I finished taking my shots and left them to it.
Now, several hours and many webpages later, I am still none-the-wiser as to what I am seeing here. My question for those who read my blog and know more about birds than I do (and  suspect there are a few) is this: are these juvenile birds whose tail feathers have yet to grow out properly or am I looking at two of the six different subspecies of Pied Currawong?
Certainly one of the two birds I saw today had paler grey feathers on its chest and could have been a young one. Neither looked anything like the rather large Grey Currawong I saw a couple of months back near Baum's Weir which was the subject of an earlier post nor were there any calls from these birds - although I did hear others calling further upstream on the opposite side of the river.
Finally, while I'm discussing currawongs, I noticed that the topic of the appropriate collective noun for these guys was a recent point of discussion on Denis Wilson's "The Nature of Robertson" blog here. When I first read this post, I was sure I had the answer to that one, but after looking back over my own currawong posts, it seems I do not, so I too would be interested to know if there is such a noun.

07 February, 2012

Build a bridge!

Over the past several months I have been observing the course of progress.It has long been planned that a new bridge will be built across the Barwon to replace the current Breakwater Bridge. The present structure was built in the 1960s to replace the breakwater built by Captain Foster Fyans in 1840. This original structure is believed to have been built upon a natural fording point in the river used by the Wathaurong people. This latest vision for the Breakwater river crossing is due for completion by the middle of 2012.
The Breakwater realignment as it is known is designed to relieve the traffic congestion which occurs on a daily basis as several thousand vehicles make their way between Belmont and Breakwater. The bridge will be at such a height that the all too frequent closures due to flooding will be a thing of the past as will the days of trucks misjudging the height of the underpass and getting stuck
Current Breakwater Bridge

Current Breakwater Bridge during floods in January, 2011
The new roadworks cross the Barwon Heads Road on the west side of the river, impinge slightly on the Barwon Valley Golf Course and cut through what was the site of the motorcross club before crossing first the Barwon and then the Geelong-Warnambool railway line. From there the road intersects Felmongers Road and Tucker Street on the east side of the river.
An article published in the Geelong Advertiser in October, 2010 gave a glimpse of what we can expect to see when the bridge is complete. In addition to carrying traffic each way, there will be pedestrian and bike lanes.
Over the past several months I have been snapping the odd shot or two as the bridge works have progressed. This shot shows the site of the new bridge during the minor flood which occurred in September, 2010.
Site of the new Breakwater Bridge
The following shots were taken from the east side of the river, slightly upstream of the new bridge.
May, 2011

December, 2011

February, 2012
 The following shots show the view from the West bank of the Barwon, slightly downstream of the bridge:
September, 2011

February, 2012
Before and after: the view from the current Breakwater Bridge in 2010 and in 2012.
February, 2010
February, 2012
As the final stages of construction continue, I hope to add to the photos on this page until we have the finished product.

04 February, 2012

Blue and green

Well, it has been over a week since sections of the Barwon were closed to the public due to an outbreak of toxic blue green algae and far from improving, things seem to be getting worse! There has been little rain to speak of during the week and temperatures are hotting up again for the weekend.
As a result, the river has now been closed as far downstream as the breakwater and the green goop continues to spread. I had the chance to have a look at the section from Breakwater up to Fyansford during a run and walk yesterday (Friday) and whilst it doesn't look too much different at the Breakwater end, the section upriver from Queen's Park is currently a dozen different shades of green.
Blue green algae in the Barwon River above Queen's Park
I returned this afternoon with camera in hand to snap some more shots of the spreading scourge and hopefully of a little kingfisher I spotted on my way past yesterday. Both aims were fairly quickly achieved. The Barwon up to the confluence with the Moorabool River (as far as I went on this occasion) has a distinctly greenish tinge to it and will do for some time I am told.
Blue green algae at Queen's Park

Blue green algae
Around Queen's Park the algae is currently flowing slowly past in clumps and swirls and threads of green, aqua and every shade in between. There is one aspect however, which does not translate into a blog post, and that is the smell. It is in places - to say the least - unpleasant and gives a very particular scent to the air.
But enough of algae. I headed a little upriver and soon managed to find the kingfisher by virtue of the fact that it was being roundly chastised by a willie wagtail.
Willie Wagtail and Sacred Kingfisher
It didn't seem too concerned by this and perched on a branch and watched me take my shots. We then proceeded to play chasey amongst the trees whilst I attempted to find just the right angle. At one point it swooped down to the surface of the river after some prey in a flash of blue wings against green water.
Sacred Kingfisher near Fyansford

Sacred Kingfisher near Fyansford

Eventually I headed a little further upriver to take more shots before turning back. I was keeping an eye out for the kingfisher but would have walked straight past, had it not chosen precisely that moment to sing. We then played another short game of hide and seek before it took off for a dead tree on the opposite bank. Given the current state of the river, I had no intention of following and continued on my way downstream.