Saturday, 16 July 2016


This year's Annual General Meeting took place at the Muir's beautiful hillside home above Mary's Creek and was preceded by forays into Mary's Creek State Forest in an area that was once home to diverse stands of forest, but is now largely covered by Hoop Pine plantations. Rainforest remnants remain, especially along Mary's Creek which has several popular swimming holes. Of particular interest among the surviving natives was a member of the unusual family Monimiaceae, Large-leaved Wilkiea (Wilkiea macrophylla) with its elongate rather holly-like leaves.

Large-leaved Wilkiea. D. Walter.
Members of the Monimiaceae like Large-leaved Wilkiea, its cousin Veiny Wilkiea (W. huegeliana) and Tetra Beech (formerly Tetrasynandra but now Steganthera laxiflora) are the larval hosts of what is probably Australia's most colourful skipper, the Regent Skipper (Euschemon rafflesia). Unfortunately we didn't see any of these close relatives of the butterflies, but members may remember when this species was honoured on a 4c postage stamp in the early 1980's.

Lemon Pittosporum (Pittosporum revolutum) in fruit. B. Hughes.

Quinine Bush (Petalostigma pubescens in the Picrodendraceae) in fruit. B. Hughes.

Alas, the logging roads in Mary's Creek forest have been heavily invaded by weeds. The margins of the roads are densely clothed with Lantana and Chinese Bur and the tree-killing Cat's Claw Creeper
(formerly Macfadyena but now Dolichandra unguis-cati) is running rampant.

Once a Hoop Pine now a trellis for a Cat's Claw. 
L. Muir.
Cat's Claw Creeper. L. Muir

The Mary's Creek forest reserve is badly effected by this invasive creeper. Introduced as a garden specimen from the American tropics, like many once cherished garden flowers, this has escaped and had a disastrous effect on the natural environment. Cat's Claw Creeper is a restricted invasive plant under the Bio-security Act. The photos to the left shows the matrix of runners on a Hoop Pine tree with the resulting death of the tree.

After rigorous testing, the Leaf-mining Jewel Beetle (Hylaeogena jureceki) and the Cat's Claw Lacebug (Carvalhotingis visenda), originally from the weed's native range, have been released in Australia in the hope of achieving some level of biological control. We were delighted to discover that the lacebug seems to have developed a good population on the basal leaves of the Mary's Creek Cat's Claw and we hope it will help reduce this infestation.
Cat's Claw Lacebug (Carvalhotingis visenda) damage to Cat's Claw leaves in Mary's Creek State Forest. L. Muir.

Balloon Vine (Cardiospermum grandiflorum) is another tree-smothering climbing vine that is invading the edge at the forest reserve, and also restricted under the Bio-security Act. The fruit is an inflated capsule and releases three black seeds when ripe.The clusters of small white flowers did't appear to be attractive to any bees or other insects.  

Balloon Vine (Cardiospermum grandiflorum). L. Muir.

Not all lianas are weeds and although they sometimes bring down a tree, native lianas are both less damaging to the environment and much more beneficial to wildlife. Monkey Rope Vine (Parsonia straminea) is one such native that thrives in the rich soils of the Mary Valley. The dried seed pods visible here are the result of flowering which occurs from Spring to Summer. A excellent nectar source for a wide variety of butterflies, bees, beetles and other insects, the leaves are a food source for the larvae of the Common Crow Butterfly (Euploea core).

Monkey Rope Vine (Parsonia straminea). L. Muir.

We saw no Common Crows, but another member of the butterfly family Nymphalidae, the Wanderer or Monarch was fairly common. Although these butterflies were not native in Australia until they flew-in in the 1870's (probably on a storm front from New Caledonia) and discovered our overabundance of weedy cotton bush and milkweed, the natural hosts they had been following across the Pacific.  See for more details.

Monarch or Wanderer Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) resting on a Lantana bush. L. Muir.

Although most Australians seem to have come to terms with the Wanderer, some native insects are less welcome. Among my least favourite are the Small Brown Paper Wasps (Ropalidia revolutionalis) with the finger-like nest that drip from branches, sign posts, hanging pots and rarely used door knobs. The nests and their attendants are often so innocuous that one never realises they are there until one's stumbling around arouses their nest-defending instincts. Far harder to miss are the sometimes gigantic paper nests of the Yellow-brown Paper Wasp (Ropalidia romandi). We encountered one such nest high overhead and out of harm's way in a Hoop Pine on the Mary's Creek trip. 
Large Yellow-brown Paper Wasp nest in Hoop Pine. D. Walter.

Ropalidia romandi up close - the paper shell protects tiers of combs in which the wasp grubs are reared. L. Muir.
The early birders encountered much less threatening wildlife in their trip around Mary's Creek forest including a Koala in a Spotted Gum (Corymbia maculata) and an exhausted (well, dead actually) male antichinus. The fatal sexual excesses of the antichinus are well known and presumably the strategy is successful as these small insectivores are fairly common in many areas and about 15 species have been described in Australia and New Guinea.

High in a Spotter Gum  enjoying the morning sun, I could think of a more comfortable position. L. Muir

Spent male antichinus. Where's the smile?

A female Golden Whistler or a young Eastern Yellow Robin? L. Muir.

Mary's Creek forest and the Muir's garden both contributed to an above average birding day with highlights including an Eastern Spinebill, Dusky Woodswallows, a Jacky Winter and Variegated Fairy Wrens.

Dusky Woodswallows. B. Doak.

Eastern Spinebill in action. B. Doak.

Variegated Fairy-wren (female 13-14 cm) - slight blue tinge on the tail, the multi coloured  male  would't play the photo game. L. Muir.

White-necked Heron (75-105 cm tall), a regular at the Muir's lily pond. L. Muir. 

Dusky Honeyeater (12-15 cm) common in the Muir's garden. L. Muir.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (45-50 cm) nice against a clear blue sky. L. Muir.

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