We’ve had a few drizzly Daintree days recently – probably our least favourite weather when there is just enough rain to make outside work unappealing. It’s not cold but on those drizzly days everything feels damp and I long for a few hours of sunshine.
In the last few months, while Allen has been gradually recovering from an unfortunately rapid descent through one of our Mangosteen trees, he has been using his lighter Olympus camera as he quietly wanders around our tracks. While we have both always admired and photographed butterflies this year Allen has managed to take photos of a few species we had not previously identified. He has the required patience and has also been inspired by the recent acquisition of a new book. ‘A Field Guide to Butterflies of Australia’ written by Gary Sankowsky is a companion volume to his ‘All About Butterflies of Australia’ both published by Reed New Holland. The descriptions of both butterflies and their host plants in addition to photographs of both make identification so much easier and we’ve been having a lot of fun sharing the pleasure of learning.
The butterflies in the following photos are all members of the family Pieridae, known in a general sense as Whites and Yellows.
We have several different species of Mistletoe and many of them are suitable host plants for this colourful butterfly. Gary describes it as usually being found in rainforest and spreading out to Melaleuca wetlands near the coast which makes this property perfectly suited. It is not surprising that it is our most commonly sighted species of Delias but as similar bright colours occur in many of the Jezabels it is always worth a careful look to confirm identification.
Here is an example of ‘yellow’ – like sunshine on the wing!
Lemon migrants have a slight colour variation, during the wet season they appear in lemon/lime tones.
Common Grass Yellows are indeed both common and widespread over much of Australia. They are delightfully active butterflies, with gorgeous yellow wings giving colour and movement to our landscape.
‘Yellows’ can be hard to positively identify without a photo and digital photography gives us the opportunity for a close look. I must admit that I rather naively expected the host plant list to at least include some grasses but this does not appear to be so. There is quite an extensive list of host plants which helps explain their wide distribution. Gary Sankowsky has listed the Best Garden Host Plant as Breynia stipitata, a local rainforest species known as Fart Bush which readily self-sows in our garden. While I know its little red berries are consumed by birds, apparently not sensitive to their toxicity, I am glad to know that its leaves are providing food for the Common Grass Yellow larvae.
Although we’re still having occasional rain showers the weather bureau declared the end of ‘the wet’ a few weeks ago. Some clear mornings and gorgeous sunny days have lifted everyone’s spirits, all the more appreciated after our long and very wet summer. About a month ago we started seeing extraordinary numbers of butterflies, including some species we had not previously observed. They didn’t need the weather bureau to tell them the wet season downpours had finished! Four O’Clock Moths have been flying at all hours of the day and every Corky Bark tree, Carallia brachiata, seems to be hosting quite a number of their vibrant looper caterpillars. The one below was trying a different pose which it held like a yogi even with a camera lens at very close range.
The larval food plant of both Cruisers and Red Lacewings is the native passionfruit vine Adenia heterophylla. It’s bright red fruit is very decorative and is much appreciated by native rodents as well as cockatoos who usually don’t wait for the fruit to ripen! The seeds are obviously distributed successfully as we find these vines popping up in all sorts of places without any help from us.
Although the Hamadryad very closely resembles the Black and White Aeroplane it actually belongs in an entirely different sub-family and is the only member of Ithomiinae in Australia. It has close relatives in southern and central America. Peter Valentine mentions that the similarity between the these two species may be an example of mimicry by the aeroplane in order to gain benefit from the toxicity of the Hamadryad. The flight of the Hamadryad is more leisurely than that of the very similar Aeroplane and close attention to the wing pattern is required in order to confirm identification.
Described by Peter Valentine as “the most elusive of all the oakblues” Allen did well to photograph this beautifully patterned little butterfly. A dimorphic species, the upperside of the female is white whereas the male is blue. Peter Valentine’s delightful and informative book on Australian Tropical Butterflies has been very useful this year as Allen was able to identify the species he found that were unknown to us.
This not uncommon but very pretty little butterfly is often seen feeding on rotting fruit. The larvae feed on grasses and don’t seem to be particularly choosy as to which species. This is just a small selection of the butterflies seen this year. They are interesting subjects however some, like the Green Spotted Triangle, just have to be enjoyed as they move fast and seemingly continuously. The photos of the Four O’Clock moth are mine, all the others were taken by Allen and he’s still trying for one of the Green Spotted Triangle!
The verdant wet season is an outstanding feature of life in the wet tropics but rampant growth in the garden can sometimes be a challenge. While making the most of fine weather before our next rain event, I’ve been spreading mulch over weeded sections to reduce the effect of pounding rain and hopefully slow down weed germination.
Brush Turkeys and Orange-footed Scrubfowl started digging into the pile then as holes were extended into tunnels we realized that Bandicoots were also involved! Thanks to their assistance the mulch is maturing nicely and will keep me busy for quite some time.
Carallia brachiata is a land-based member of the Rhizophoraceae family. Although it is not found in tidal areas, like other species of this mangrove family, it is able to cope with wet ground as it develops adventitious roots to assist with gas exchange. Their very small fruit are sweet and tasty and as they are consumed by a number of different bird species they often germinate in our garden areas. I don’t want them to develop as trees in the house garden but the new growth which sprouts after a ‘heavy pruning’ is perfect for newly hatched caterpillars.
I glimpsed this beauty outside our bedroom window as she sinuously wound her way around the hanging basket, then hung down until she could reach the pot plant below and so return to the garden. No hurry, no stress, merely a delight to observe.
During a pruning frenzy yesterday I came across this rather large Spiny Leaf Insect or Macleays Spectre (Extatosoma tiaratum). She was looking decidedly nervous as I approached enthusiastically with my secateurs, snipping away at branches and so removing leaves she had been happily feeding upon.
I don’t blame her for feeling under threat as she was left somewhat exposed, despite her good camouflage. Needless to say I changed course and left that area of the garden for another day. Luckily we have planted quite a number of Xanthostemon verticillatus as it appears to be a favourite food for a variety of stick insects. A quick check today has revealed that she is on the same bush but safely tucked under some green cover. This garden surrounds the pool where I found a male Spiny Leaf Insect in 2013. Which leads me to wonder if I need to improve my powers of observation ….. or perhaps I haven’t been spending enough time tending to the shrubs in that garden.
And in other news ……….. the Amethyst python curled up around her eggs since November last year has now moved on. My granddaughter and I checked under the cover on Jan 1st and both snakes were there. When I checked on Jan 3rd the Carpet Snake was still guarding her eggs but only the empty shells of the Amethyst were left. No sign of young snakes and no sign of the adult. The Carpet snake is still curled up in the same area but in recent days I have seen her stretched out and I can see her eggs are empty. We have no idea why she remains in the same position.
Beautiful tropical summer weather; mostly dry mornings with periods of sun, followed by showers in the afternoon/evening so our ponds are gradually filling. Its perfect weather for dragonflies and hanging around in the swamp with a camera.
Water Prince (Hydrobasileus brevistylus) Female – she was hovering and occasionally dipping her abdomen towards the leaf.
Lesser Green Emperor (Anax guttatus) Flying up and down the ponds, very occasionally hovering before taking off again in a different direction. Possibly a male?
Front view – Lesser Green Emperor
Making the most of some lighter weather this turtle was resting on some pond ‘infrastructure’ that is exposed at low water levels. When the wetlands were new the fish needed places to hide so we arranged a few old tyres – its probably rather a good turtle resting place with a gentle slope and a decent grip on its surface.
Saw-shelled fresh water turtle
There are many of these delicate little Darkmouth dragonflies on the vegetation in the shallows. Once located they make relatively easy photographic subjects as they, like many in the Libellulidae family, will usually perch in between short flights, often returning to the same twig. Digital photography is a wonderful assistance in identifying dragonflies as some of the differences are quite subtle and certainly not obvious to an untrained eye.
24 hours after my initial sighting this beautiful insect, known as a Spiny-leaf Insect or Macleay’s Spectre, hadn’t moved very far and was looking very vulnerable hanging on under the eaves. After some research regarding suitable species I gathered a few leafy twigs, put them in a jar of water on the table and transferred the Spiny-leaf Insect onto them.
Next morning, after some initial concern at her disappearance, she was located on our ceiling and gently moved back to the vegetation in the jar. There was no sign that she had eaten anything from the selection provided so obviously these young shoots were not her preference.
A local Phasmid lover and friend, Daintree Boatman, was called for advice regarding suitable food plants. Murray dropped in for an inspection, so did our friendly next door potter and nature lover, Ellen with exclamations of delight over such a wonderful creature.
So, Allen made an extensive search by torchlight for exotic Guava but without success. It would appear that we have very effectively managed to eliminate this weed from the property!
Alphitonia petrei was the next on the list and finally we have had success. There was great excitement at finding droppings on the tablecloth this morning – like all Spiny-leaf insects, she prefers to eat in the dark.
Spiny-leaf Insect on Alphitonia petrei
So now I can confidently put her on the correct species and hope that a hungry predator doesn’t spot her. Its a wild world out there so perhaps just one more night in the relative safety of our house?
I found this tiny Phasmid (about 7 cm in length) hanging onto the wall of our house late yesterday afternoon. Extatosoma tiaratum is known to sometimes mimic lichen as a camouflage at an early instar, however as our house wall is not covered in lichen it looked very exposed and vulnerable.
Very young Macleay’s Spectre
With the light rapidly fading we had trouble getting a satisfactory photo. A second attempt after dark with a torch as well as the camera flash has yielded better results. I haven’t adjusted the colour at all – it really does look quite green.
Very young Macleay’s Spectre showing its tail curving back towards its head
After the photo session we moved it onto a plant so it had a better chance of avoiding attack by predator. This morning it was back on the underside of the eaves; although the plant may have looked an okay place to us, it apparently wasn’t considered suitable by the Phasmid.
So much colour outside our kitchen window! After what seems like a long wet season,we are not the only ones enjoying some sunny days and our garden is busy with many birds and butterflies. Golden Penda, (Xanthostemon chrysanthus) is a very popular ornamental native species which has been extensively planted in our region and it is now flowering prolifically, leaving a carpet of golden yellow stamens lying on the ground beneath each tree.
Dusky Honeyeater frantically feeding
Macleay’s Honeyeater – the eye only just visible in the flowers.
Its a wonderful time of the year to be out in the garden, not too hot and there is lots to do but also much to gaze at and I’ve dashed back to the house for my camera on several occasions. The Macleay’s Honeyeater just won’t stop for moment in its feeding frenzy so I’ve had lots of trouble getting a shot that is even partially in focus.
Female Cruiser (Vindula arsinoe)
Male Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus)
The flower in these photos is a native Costus (Costus potierae) which looks very similar to the exotic Costus speciosus but can be identified from the latter by the hairy upper leaf surface. Costus potierae can be found in Cape York, some of the Torres St Islands and N E Queensland but it only occurs very close to sea level. The white flowers attract many butterflies and small birds while the beautiful red bracts provide a brilliant colour accent amongst the verdant garden foliage.
Ulysses butterfly (Papilio ulysses)
The flashes of blue from several Ulysses flying around is impossible to capture in a still photo – this splash of blue gives the general idea.
Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters are probably our most commonly sighted bird species and I was delighted that this one posed so nicely while deciding on where to fly next.
Since we converted our salt-water chlorinated swimming pool to a fresh-water swimming pond 6 years ago it has gradually become a more inviting habitat for many local creatures as well as being a delightful place to cool off during the summer months.
Fresh-water swimming pond with fish and plants.
I walked into the pool garden this afternoon and was amazed to find a male Macleay’s Spectre hanging, in a typical pose, on the strap-like leaf of a Louisiana Iris that is growing in a pot on the steps. This extraordinary Phasmid is widespread in parts of New South Wales and S.E. Queensland and it also inhabits North Queensland rainforests ‘though as you can imagine they are not easily found. After taking a few photos I invited it on to my finger so I could move it onto a shrub in the garden as it looked so vulnerable on the edge of the pool. After waiting more than 20 years to find a Macleay’s Spectre on the property I didn’t want it to indulge in unnecessarily risky behaviour.
Macleay’s Spectre (Extatosoma tiaratum tiaratum)
In order to take a better photo of the head I had to gently encourage the insect to the top-side of the branch where it ‘froze’ in position no doubt trusting that its amazing camouflage would protect it from attack. After the photo session I watched as it made its way further into the protection of the twigs and leaves.
Macleay’s Spectre head detail
Another delight in the pool garden this afternoon was the discovery of this exquisite nest which I am fairly certain has been built and used by a pair of Graceful Honeyeater although as the nest is now abandoned I can not be sure of the owner/builders.
We could smell the heavy, musty scent of the flowering Durian (Durio zibethinus) as we approached our orchard last evening. We only have 4 trees but they are laden with flowers and attracting quite a lot of attention, especially at night.
This photo only captures a portion of the tree with flowers in various stages along the main and smaller lateral branches up to a height of approximately 10 metres. As well as many blossom bats (possibly Northern Blossom Bats but we haven’t a positive ID), there are moths and beetles attending the flowers at night. The flowers open from mid afternoon to late evening with most pollen being shed before midnight and all flower parts excepting the pistil fall to the ground.
We walked under a tree and shone our headlamps upwards to watch the diminutive blossom bats flitting in and out, hardly seeming to stop on the flowers. Blossom bats make a ‘kissing’ sound and when I imitated them I would have them swooping really close so I could feel the air movement from their wings on my head. In the photo above you can see large drops of nectar spilling out – no wonder the bat has buried itself in a flower!
Allen didn’t realize he had caught one in flight until he looked at the photos on the computer screen. We are fascinated by the tiny muscular ‘arms’ – the bats don’t waste any time when they are feeding, a brief moment on a flower and they are on the move again.
All these photos can be enlarged by clicking on them and it is particularly worthwhile in this case to see the detail of the tongue in action.
This rather attractive (as yet unidentified) moth was also taking advantage of the plentiful nectar – and the next morning native bees were landing on the carpet of spent flowers lying under the tree, apparently gathering pollen. So while we look forward,with cautious optimism (having had past disappointments), to a bountiful crop of this glorious King of Fruits many other creatures have benefited from the flowers already.
Reference: “Tropical Tree Fruits for Australia” Queensland Department of Primary Industries 1984
Now that our major restoration projects are complete we are taking more time to simply enjoy the privilege of living in such a beautiful, peaceful and endlessly interesting area.
While there are always a few maintenance tasks the work is not onerous and we can take time out to enjoy our walking tracks as well as to sit and simply look around.
It is immensely rewarding to observe the growth in the vegetation, watch trees mature and to delight in the variety and number of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects both residing on and visiting the property.