“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” Jane Goodall
I’ve recently returned from an attempt at hiking to the summit of Mt Maroon in Mt Barney National Park, south- southwest of Brisbane, but haven’t had time to write up a report. The attempt was “interesting.” It didn’t quite go to plan, but none of my long hikes ever seem to! My hiking partner and I are alive which is the most important thing. Here are a couple of pictures of what is to come at a later date.
This week I’ll be sharing another nature post celebrating native Australian species in my local area. I hope you aren’t all natured out just yet!
“Honk! Honk! Honk!” For once this wasn’t the sound of an aggressive car driver unwilling to wait ten seconds until it was safe to pass my non-polluting, health-improving, less-damaging-to-the-road-surface bicycle!
This time it was the cry of a bird I’d never seen in the wild before – the magpie goose, Anseranas semipalmata. I dropped by Sherwood arboretum wetlands again for lunch recently and was rewarded with a sighting of four of these unique birds. I never got round to finishing my lunch…
Unlike most waterfowl, the magpie goose only has partially webbed feet with strongly clawed toes. While they can be seen in huge flocks in northern parts of Australia, in many southern localities they have disappeared for a number of reasons, mainly the destruction of wetland habitat. Magpie Geese numbers are affected by drainage of wetlands, increase of weeds such as Mimosa pigra, invasion of hoofed animals in wetlands, heavy metal contamination of water, changing weather patterns, hunting and lead toxicity due to ingestion of lead pellets.
If you aren’t familiar with these birds here are a few facts about them. Magpie geese mate for life but the males often have a pair of females. Males usually make the simple unlined cup nest which may rest on flattened floating reeds or in a treetop. A pair of females sometimes share a nest and all adults take part in parenting. Magpie geese mainly feed on wild rice, Oryza, Paspalum, Panicum, and spike-rush, Eleocharis and are regarded as an agricultural pest by some.
I returned to check on my magpie geese a few days later but they’d gone. However, despite it being almost winter here, there was a great deal of breeding behaviour in progress and not just of the feathered kind! In my last post, I caught an image of a pair of dragonflies on the ground at Nerima Gardens. Here at Sherwood wetlands, there was such a frenzy of this behaviour that one couple even landed on my hand temporarily! Here are a few one-handed shots before they flew away again to land on a reed.
Next I was startled to receive the attention of this dart butterfly (family: Hesperiidae). I’ve tried to identify it but even within a species, colour and patterns can vary and I’m not a lepidopterist. It may possibly be a Suniana sunias, Cephrenes augiades or Ocybadistes walker?
Mystery butterfly seemed to love my lily-white hand and pale straw hat and kept returning. At this stage I was starting to wonder if I’d magically become the “insect whisperer”. I know there are perfectly good scientific explanations for the dragonfly and butterfly landing on me but hey, we all have to have fantasies!
The next romantic couple I found were high in this forest gum. I noticed a flash of red and spotted this rainbow lorikeet guarding a nesting hole. After a while, its mate emerged to stare suspiciously at me.
A further wander brought me to this sight – a group of freshwater turtles sunning themselves.
Shy grebes tease me all the time but I managed a blurry distance shot of one of these fluff balls. I think it’s an Australasian grebe (or little grebe) – Tachybaptus ruficollis. An interesting fact about little grebes is that the parents feed their own feathers to their young. I found a couple of suggestions why they do this: (1) the feathers help form a plug between the stomach and small intestine in a young chick which acts as a strainer for small bones so that they can be dissolved properly and, (2) the feathers mix with food in the stomach lumen and are eventually ejected as pellets, possibly helping to facilitate the removal of parasites which tend to be a problem for grebes. Perhaps there are ornithologists out there with more knowledge?
Something really fishy was going on in the waterway. I kept hearing splashes and seeing large ripples. While searching for names of possible fish I found sites where people discussed the kind of species they caught there – cod, catfish and eels. There is a large “No Fishing” sign at the wetlands though! I hope these aren’t introduced European carp.
A couple of Australian magpies were scavenging on the ground. I wondered if this spotty one was a juvenile in the process of getting all its feathers; however, it was larger than the other “normal” one and I’ve never seen a young one look quite like this before.
Pelicans floated elegantly along the perpetually brown Brisbane River.
And a fig bird sat high in the treetops near a nest.
I found a tree loaded with large purple fruit. There were many lying on the ground uneaten so I suspected it must taste terrible or be poisonous. Sorry, but my mildly extreme nature didn’t stretch to testing it out on myself.
It turned out to be a Burdekin Plum, Pleiogynium timorense, native to Australia and it is indeed very astringent. In fact, they need to be buried or stored in a paper bag in a dark cupboard for a week or two to become tasty. Apparently they don’t ripen properly on the tree.
There are a few varieties with the lighter greenish-white ones being less astringent. They can be used to make jams, jellies, preserves, to flavour meat and to make wines. You can see by this photo of the core of seeds next to fresh fruit, that there is only a thin layer of flesh. Here in Australia, native flora and fauna that are able to be used as food are often referred to as bush tucker. Here are a few more examples of useful native plants.
I did read that the bark and roots of the tree were also used as a fish poison by Indigenous Australians but I couldn’t find verification for this at the time of writing. I’ve also read that the wood is highly valued among wood turners. Apparently sulphur-crested cockatoos and brushtail possums will eat the fallen fruit.
I also came across this dazzling Xanthostemon Chrysanthus a native rainforest tree, obviously very popular with nectar-feeders.
The noisy miners were being, well…noisy.
Here is a reminder from a previous post of what their nest and eggs look like.
And here are young and old examples of a native banksia flower (Banksia serrata?)
It was low tide along the Brisbane River so mangrove roots were visible from the board walk. They perform a valuable role in coastal ecosystems.
These gum tree branches were quite impressive.
And came from this huge specimen. A woman sitting underneath gives us some scale.
And lastly on this rough and ready nature walk, something tiny but no less important in this world.
Thanks for reading!
Pringle, J.D. 1985. The Waterbirds of Australia. Angus and Robertson/National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.