Processionary caterpillars at Boho

A procession of caterpillars.

A procession of caterpillars.

I was wandering through a rather weedy Grassy Woodland today, avoiding getting snagged by briar rose, when my walking companion, Doug, exclaimed ‘Hey, what’s this?’ It was a furry line snaking through the grass, at slow but steady pace.

These were the incredibly hairy Processionary Caterpillars of an attractive moth, Ochrogaster lunifer, that occurs over much of Australia. About 20 larvae were following their leader, head to tail, through the short grass, stopping occasionally when they felt threatened by my close-up presence.

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We watched as they made a bee-line (so to speak) towards … something, nearby; we didn’t hang around to find out. This sighting helped to close a circle for me, as I’d only recently become aware that this species occurs in the Strathbogie Ranges. I was  surprised that an adult moth turned up at Boho South a couple of months ago. I’d naively thought this species was restricted to outback Australia, as that’s where they are usually depicted as occurring.  Now I know better. I’ll keep my eye out in future and maybe even follow them to see where they’re headed.

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The Rainbow Butterfly-eater?

Here’s a piece from our occasional correspondent from Shean’s Creek, Penny Algar.

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“Rainbow Bea-eaters (Merops ornatus, this one obviously needs glasses!!), usually arrive at our place sometime after August and depart towards the end March. Hearing the first warbly, almost guttural calls that herald their arrival, is exciting. The Bee-eaters’ iridescent green and blue plumage is extraordinarily beautiful. I first noticed these birds after hearing tapping sounds on dead timber, a behaviour that seems to be a technique to smash prey, usually butterflies and other insects and presumably bees! I have seen Rainbow Bee-eaters swooping gracefully en masse to take insects on the wing as well as bathing in dust and foraging on the ground. They are very social and seem to always travel in chatty groups.

“This year their numbers seemed to be slightly down on previous years. I have never seen a nest but there are many areas of eroded gully banks nearby where they might breed. These photos were taken with a 500mm lens near the house dam. The dead tree perch is popular with many birds but is particularly enjoyed by the Bee-eaters. This bird had just caught a female Common Brown Butterfly (Heteronympha merope).”


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March of the millipedes!

Portuguese Millipedes thick on the ground.

Portuguese Millipedes thick on the ground.

I can still remember a time before Portuguese Millipedes arrived at our home. It must have been seven or eight years ago – how things have changed!

These introduced millipedes seem to be silently overrunning the country, or at least the wetter bits. Unfortunately, the Strathbogie Ranges are no exception.

I think they arrived here with loads of straw from the Euroa plains during the drought, about 2005-6. The last years of the drought didn’t suit them that well, but once the wet years of 2010-11 hit, their populations exploded – all through the region. And every Autumn since then, once some rain has fallen, they appear in their gazillions. In some parts of the garden there’d be 50+/sq m.

I only hope that the population crashes seen in South Australia (of Portuguese Millipedes!), which are due to the spread of a millipede parasite, happens here too.

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Bogong Moths in Strathbogie Ranges

Bogong Moth (Agrotis infusa)

Bogong Moth (Agrotis infusa), almost a snack itself.

In this case, it’s not size that matters, but numbers.

Most people know that Bogong Moths were an important seasonal food source for Indigenous Australians and that coastal people would travel many kilometers into the Victorian Alps and Snowy Mtns to feast on them over Summer. Many people then infer, incorrectly, that these must be large moths, if they’re going to be worth that effort.

In fact, Bogong Moths are a lot smaller than many people realize: body-length ~35 mm, wingspan ~45 mm. Their importance as bush tucker is because they can congregate in very  large numbers in the cool caves and rock shelters of the high country over Summer. Interestingly, it seems that not all Bogong Moths make the trek to the high country in Spring, as they are a common sight at lights all summer long in the Strathbogies.

Continue reading

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From Cuckoo-shrikes to Cuckoo Bees

Neon Cuckoo Bee (Thyreus nitidulus), Boho South. Photo Terry Frewin.

A Cuckoo Bee (Thyreus sp), Boho South. Photo Terry Frewin.

But the similarity ends with the name. These bees really are parasites, just like cuckoos – they parasitise the nests of other bees! This Cuckoo Bee is most likely the parasite of the Blue Banded Bee, another local native bee, which many readers might be familiar with from their own gardens. This Cuckoo Bee was photographed the other day in a local garden on Upper Boho Rd, by Terry, a local naturalist. She’s seen Blue Banded Bees before, but not a Cuckoo Bee.

Many native bees, including cuckoo bees and Blue Banded Bees live solitary lives. If female Blue Banded Bees, that lay eggs in small crevasses, don’t guard their nests carefully,  Cuckoo Bees could find the nest and parasitise the brood.

Here’s a close-up of the striking banding on the tail end of a Blue Banded Bee.

Blue Banded Bee. Photo Louise Docker.

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Dainty lace-wing, but deadly apetite.

Moth Lacewing

Psychopsis mimica F. Psychopsidae, Benalla, Victoria). ID Ken Harris.

Their wings may look delicate, even dainty, but these little-known insects are deadly predators (well, to aphids and other soft-bodied insects anyway!). As adults, lacewings can be confused with several other types of insects; it’s really only the green lacewings that look sort of normal. Take the one at left; it looks a little like a moth with plastic wings – called a silky lacewing.

Mantid Fly, Mantid Lacewing (Neuroptera) Campion ?callosus

Mantis Fly (Campion ?callosus)

Lacewing larvae are usually inconspicuous, except off course for the infamous ‘ant lions’, which bear no resemblance to lions at all, other than that they have huge jaws, a fierce disposition and hang-out in an arena waiting for unsuspecting victims.

Yet another local lacewing Continue reading

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Black-faced, yes, but why a shrike?

Adult Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike atop a large walnut tree.

Adult Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike atop a large walnut tree.

… or cuckoo, for that matter, when it’s neither. Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes are usually unobtrusive seasonal visitors to most of the Strathbogie Ranges. Their call is a gentle churring and not particularly loud; unless you’re listening for it, you’ll probably miss it. And they have very distinctive, almost loopy flight, making this an easy bird to ID in flight. Additionally, plumage colouration, as their name implies, is also distinctive, so you’ll recognize one when it’s not flying. Nonetheless, these handsome birds are often overlooked by the general public because they’re relatively quiet and shy. You can listen to the call of the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike on the ‘Birds in backyards’ website. Continue reading

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