“Mum, you’re such a nerd!” My daughter may be right but given she’s a self-confessed anatomy and biochemistry nerd, it was a sign of affection rather than criticism.
I guess many of us have obsessions but some are regarded as nerdy rather than cool. I’d just related an incident that occurred while hiking and this was her immediate response. I asked for her reasoning. After all, it seemed like a perfectly normal activity to me. Let me describe the situation and you can decide if the label is justified.
While admiring these colourful caterpillars near White Rock carpark, I accosted two passing hikers I assumed to be nature lovers.
After their initial fright at my excited hello and crazy hand gestures, one of the women whipped out a Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) field guide and flicked through to the exact identification page. Now I wouldn’t have to spend hours hunting down the name of this beautiful creature on the Internet and if my search had been unsuccessful, I had also been saved a few sleepless nights puzzling over its identification.
On the same page were two other moth species I was to find (below). How lucky was that! It would have been even luckier though if I hadn’t cut off the information below the pictures needed to identify those two. I think they are both day-flying species of the tiger moth families, Arctiidae and Aganaidae.
Why does this tale prove the nerd status, I hear you ask in amazement. Here is Tough Cookie’s reasoning. I am a nerd because:
- I noticed the caterpillars in the first place
- I got excited by the discovery
- I cared desperately about what species they were
- I overcame my introverted nature to hail down two complete strangers passing by and,
- I actually expected them to care about it as much as I did.
I think she is exaggerating, don’t you? Anyway, I’m sure all of you equally-as-normal readers are just as anxious to know what they are as I was.
These impressive caterpillars are the larvae of the day-flying Joseph’s coat moth, Agarista agricola, which is the top picture of the field guide page I photographed.
They usually eat the vines of the Vitaceae family, including the Australian native grape and cultivated grape species. I could see the dried tendrils of defoliated vines wrapped around the shrub the creatures were on. I’m not completely sure but I think they were attempting to eat the shrub leaves because they were deprived of their usual diet. You can see the chewing attempts in the next picture. Perhaps I am wrong, though, and this is another plant species they do normally eat.
I also noticed what appeared to be parasitic eggs on some of them (below). I wondered if they would survive to pupate.
I face a constant dilemma when hiking. The Yaddamun Track I wrote about last time is not my usual kind of walk. Due to the long distance and unpleasant conditions, a good speed needs to be maintained. Most of the time I choose shorter walks because I enjoy making discoveries along the way. It’s easy to miss little treasures such as fungi, shy birds, insects and interesting rocks if you are going at break-neck speed. After annoying my walking companions with a curiosity-induced snail pace, I’ve usually opted to walk solo so I don’t feel the pressure to hurry, but in doing so, I face another problem. I love to have others with me to share the excitement of discovery. It’s just not quite the same on my own. Thankfully I have a camera so I can still enjoy (belatedly) sharing my nerdy excitement over nature discoveries with you on my blog.
People often ask if I am afraid of walking alone in the Australian bush. The dangers of snakes and spiders are often mentioned. My response is always that I am more afraid of negative encounters with humans or being involved in a car accident enroute than I am of creatures that crawl or slither. I have a healthy respect for snakes and spiders and take precautions, but it is not always possible to prepare for the irresponsible or malicious acts of humans.
In fact, when the dangers of spiders are mentioned, I’m reminded of a girl I went to school with. Ingrid was a gentle and kind soul who loved animals and I remember reading that she refused to remove spider webs from the outside of one of her homes as she believed they helped control the sandfly and mosquito population. Spiders did not harm her. What killed her in the end were the actions of a violent man.
Having said this, the unexpected appearance of a giant hairy spider crawling on the inside of my car windscreen while I was driving at 100km/hr on a busy motorway could have resulted in a violent end for me and the other occupants. Fortunately, I froze rather than swerved madly or let go of the steering wheel. By the time I could pull over safely, the enormous arachnid had disappeared into the dark depths of the interior fittings never to be found. If you want a holiday from family taxi-driving services for a few weeks it’s a very good strategy to employ. According to my family, the bus and train services are less wildlife friendly than my aging car.
After such a drawn out introduction which isn’t really a proper introduction since I still haven’t actually told you what this post is about, I’d best get down to business. After reading four blog posts about White Rock Conservation Estate I bet you thought (and hoped) you’d heard the last of the place. Well, not quite yet. This is the last one. I promise! There is just one walk left to describe – the Ridge Track.
I’ve lived in the White Rock region for nine years now and have seen a phenomenal amount of land clearing and development. Actually, I think it is strange that we refer to it as development. This sounds far too upbeat for me. I find it difficult to view the bulldozing of forests as positive growth.
Although I’ve been told White Rock Conservation Estate is protected, I’ve heard those words before about other areas which have since been “developed” and so over the past few years I’ve tried to catalogue the wildlife species I see on my walks as evidence of White Rock’s habitat value. While I will be describing and sharing photos of the Ridge Track, first I’d like to share some of the birds and insects I see regularly. To view other species please check past posts, Lured by the Big Dog, Seeking Solitude, and The Art of Hiking.
The processionary caterpillars of the bag shelter moth, Ochrogaster lunifer, nest at the base of trees or in bags suspended in trees. These larvae are covered in hundreds of barbed hairs which can cause serious irritation to humans.
They’ve also been associated with stillbirth and abortion in mares. It seems the mares may ingest the remains of moulted caterpillars and the barbed hairs carrying bacteria penetrate through the gut and cause infection leading to the death of developing foals.
There is some molecular evidence that the caterpillars that form hanging silken bags and those that make nests at the base of trees could be separated into different species, however, according to entomologist, Martin Steinbauer, this needs to be complemented with morphological data and examination of types.
As the mass of wriggling larvae consumed the leaves on this branch, I noticed a couple of individuals sharing a piece of leaf and was immediately reminded of the scene from Lady and the Tramp where the two canine sweethearts shared a long strand of spaghetti.
Then along came another caterpillar to make it a threesome and spoiled the romantic vision.
The next caterpillars may be the larvae of the glasswing butterfly, Acraea andromacha.
Another species I’ve noticed is the evening brown butterfly Melanitis leda which resembles a leaf and often eludes my eyes and camera. These butterflies lay their eggs on the leaf of tall grass which will be the caterpillar’s food.
This isn’t a great shot of what I think may be a small green-banded blue butterfly, Psychonotis caelius, which commonly feeds on Red Ash.
And here’s an unusual sight. An unknown butterfly species speared by a barb on a cobblers peg seed.
It wouldn’t be the Australian bush without the drone of cicadas.
I’ve seen many more species of birds at White Rock than I’ve been able to photograph. Most of my shots are of fluffy rear ends or faces obscured by twigs and grass. When I blow up the shots on my screen their expressions have me suspecting that the birds take pleasure in this hide and seek game.
I think these are variations of female and male variegated fairy-wrens. I’ve never been good at bird identification and many of my shots are blurred but I want to share them in order to show what lives at White Rock. Feel free to correct me.
The next one is a male golden whistler.
After hearing eastern whipbirds for most of my life, I saw my first one clearly only recently. Eventually I managed to grab a few dodgy pictures through the branches as proof. By contrast, Brian from bushboy.blog who lives in New South Wales, sees them regularly in the garden and takes far better photos than I do. See what I mean about birds playing hide and seek with me?
Mistletoe birds are another rarity for me but I pointed my camera at a flash of red recently and finally caught one on camera.
Red-browed finches are a common sight along the fire-trails.
Occasionally I spy fan-tailed (pictured)and channel-billed cuckoos.
Eastern yellow robins, rose robins, sacred kingfishers, Australasian fig birds, tree creepers, king parrots and pale headed rosellas are common sights.
Eastern Yellow Robin
Possibly a female eastern yellow robin?
Possibly a rose robin.
Australasian figbird (female and male)
And of course, I also see honeyeaters. The first is a yellow-faced honeyeater.
I see many more species than I am able to photograph. I just hope that the new developments encroaching upon the area don’t come with pet cats. I’ve lost most species of birds and lizards from my own backyard since the arrival of three new cats in my street. To hear the garden now silent of bird calls and devoid of the rustling of skinks and dragons in the leaf litter is disheartening. At the same time I’ve noticed a big increase in insect pests in my yard since their disappearance.
Many varieties of fungi, lichen and other small treasures can be found at White Rock also if you patiently search, especially after rain.
The trunks of White Rock’s native trees may also change through the seasons, especially after prescribed burning. I find the colourful resins and “bleeding” of trunks appealing.
Before my obsession with flora and fauna sends you to sleep, it’s time to describe the Ridge Trail which is an alternative route to using the wide 6.5 km return multi-user fire trail used to reach the impressive White Rock formation. The Ridge Track can also be used to form a circuit rather than backtracking over the multi-user trail. It is much harder but I think far more interesting, with its narrow paths meandering through thick bushland and barely existent tracks over rocky ridges. I don’t have a GPS to track the distance but I estimate it to be shorter than the multi-user trail. It probably takes just as long or longer though, due to the more challenging terrain. Families with young children are better suited to the multi-user trail option.
The entrance to the Ridge Track is not very well marked, another reason why it is less used. Begin at the carpark picnic grounds and follow the regular multi-user fire trail signs to White Rock. Keep watch for wallabies and kangaroos feeding in the long grass and bracken ferns by the road.
When you come to this junction, instead of continuing along the multi-user trail to your right, you need to take the left branch instead and then watch out for a narrow entrance on your right.
There should be a wooden post and possibly a sign (but don’t count on it).
Alternatively, you can take the usual multi-user trail to White Rock and return via the Ridge Track. If you choose this last option you’ll see signs to the Ridge Track on your left after reaching the top of steep wooden steps at the White Rock monolith.
Much of the lower part of the Ridge Track trail is narrow, eroded and flanked by thick scrub (except after prescribed burning).
As you walk higher you’ll hit the rocky more open paths of the ridge line and notice grass trees, termite mounds, towering native trees and flowering shrubs.
The terrain is uneven and in parts poorly marked but if you keep following the ridge line you will eventually see the top of White Rock in the distance. Along the way you’ll have distant views of Brisbane city.
As I’ve mentioned in past posts, White Rock has spiritual significance for the traditional Indigenous Owners and they ask that you respect this by not climbing the structure. It doesn’t matter how often I visit the rock, I am still fascinated by its beautiful sandstone patterns and the unusual weathered shapes of outcrops. The late afternoon sun turns the rock golden and I always leave the area feeling more at peace.
As I wrote earlier, the benefit of a short trail means you don’t have to walk fast. You have more time to observe – to immerse yourself in your surroundings. While I appreciate the physical challenge of a long walk it doesn’t give me the same kind of buzz as a slow wander of discovery. That’s why repeated walks at White Rock can be so rewarding. Even though I know the terrain very well, I’m not exaggerating when I say there is always something new to be found if I take the time to look closely. There’s enough hurrying and busyness in this world already. Being able to slow down is a relief and a refuge in itself – for me anyway.
Thanks for reading. 🙂