Nature photography online

I have been having such a good time outdoors lately that I am welcoming this wet day (our first for a very long time) not just for the much-needed rain but for the chance to catch up with my photos and my blog. My visits to Alligator Creek on Boxing Day and Magnetic Island (blog post to come) have reminded me how often I use several online reference collections to help me identify the wildlife I come across. I think they deserve to be featured in their own right, both to thank all the people involved with these excellent sites and to help any readers looking for wildlife identification guides. Here they are:

  • The Flickr group Field Guide to Insects of Australia is the hub of a community of interested and helpful folk with varying levels of expertise in entomology. With 600+ members and 22 000+ photos it covers a lot of bugs!
  • Graeme Cocks’ Wildlife of Townsville is unrivalled as regards insects of my local region and has smaller sections covering spiders, birds and other animal life.
  • Brisbane Insects and Spiders is a very big site which is great for SE QLD and very good for most of the East coast.
  • Spiders of Australia is Flickr’s counterpart to Field Guide to Insects of Australia. Very useful if you want help with ID, or if you think you know what you’ve got but want to look at lots of photos of it.
  • Arachne.org (Robert Whyte and Greg Anderson), Spiders of Australia (Ed Nieuwenhuys) and Find-a-Spider (Ron Atkinson) are all large, authoritative photographic catalogues. The third is focused on SE Qld (although of course many of its species have much broader ranges) but the other two are national.
  • When it comes to birds, Birdway (Ian Montgomery) is my first, and usually last, click but Birdlife Townsville (formerly the Bird Observers’ Club) is well worth a visit.

Most of my readers will have already visited Flickr, the online photo-sharing service, by now, if only because my links have taken you there. One of their ancillary services to users is the option of tagging other people’s photos as ‘Favorites’ to be able to return to them with a single click. My own favorites album, containing nearly 80 photos, is (unsurprisingly) full of nature photography and has a good proportion of macro work. Please click here to visit it … but only if you can remember to be kind about my own less-polished efforts afterwards.

Alligator Creek

We took advantage of the Boxing Day holiday to drive down to the camping and picnic area at Alligator Creek. It is normally a popular spot but the long dry spell which only ended on Christmas Eve seems to have discouraged the campers and even the day-tripper numbers were down, so it was pleasantly quiet. We paddled in the shallows, swam in the deeper pools, clambered over the rocks and enjoyed a picnic lunch. All of us are enthusiastic about wildlife and all of us had cameras so my photographic haul for the day is only about a quarter of the total.

We all took photos of the scrub turkeys, Alectura lathami. There were plenty of them around and they were absolutely comfortable with human society – even to the point of shopping at Supré, apparently:

scrub turkey with shopping bag over one shoulder
Scrub turkey returning from its shopping trip
scrub turkey with head in shopping bag
Did I remember to buy the bread?
turkey head-down in the dust
Crash landing? What crash landing?

They are large and somewhat clumsy birds but my third photo here is misleading: the bird did not crash-land at all but was enjoying an energetic dust-bath. A far more formal portrait is here, on my Flickr photostream.

The scrub turkeys were not the first creatures we noticed on arrival: the cicadas were. Their screaming drone is characteristic of the Australian bush in summer and dominated the picnic area. After a while we saw some of their cast-off shells (here and adjacent) clinging to tree-trunks and saplings but we never did see any of the adult insects; they must have been high in the trees.

I also brought home pictures of spiders – another ant-mimicking jumping spider, a tiny yellow spider which had somehow defeated a green-ant plus a couple of others – flies (1, 2), dragonflies, damselflies and a marvellously camouflaged mantis:

Brown Mantis 5822
Mantis? Where?

A post about an earlier visit to the same park shows the scenery and some more of the fauna, while this link will take you to a composite collection of my Flickr photos of the wildlife.

Service interruption

Green Path was taken off-line by my host over Christmas because traffic to the site exceeded the bandwidth I pay them for. It is (very obviously) back on-line now.

I would love to be able to say that you, my real readers, were responsible for the high usage but, sadly and irritatingly, it wasn’t true. Robots crawl around the web harvesting content for purposes both good (e.g. identifying content for search engines) and bad (e.g. grabbing email addresses for spammers’ lists), and the latter were responsible for the excess. Now that I know about the problem I can control it by blocking specific users so we might be all right from now on.

Recycled housing

When I saw a maroon and yellow wasp working on an incomplete mud nest, my immediate assumption was that she was building it. In the first photo in this series, one cell is about 3/4 complete and there is a dark area at the edge of the opening which is obviously wet mud.

Wasp approaching mud nest
Approaching the incomplete nest

Mud-daubers (Eumeninae, also known as Potter wasps) collect little balls of mud and stick them in place to make nests in which they lay a single egg (here and here are other species doing it). They place provisions, i.e. paralysed spiders or caterpillars, in it and then seal it and move on. Inside, the egg hatches, grows as a grub-like larva and pupates in a cocoon which it makes within the nest. It emerges from the cocoon and the nest as an adult wasp, and the life cycle begins again.

Wasp working at the nest
Working at the nest

Here she is again, working on the same area. No real progress is evident.

Wasp nest partly demolished
The nest mostly demolished

And here is the nest a while later. By this time it was clear to me that she was not building the nest but taking it away. Why? It was some time before I had an answer, once again from the helpful folk on my Flickr groups.

Wasp nest in final state
The final state of the nest

terraincognita96 said, “It is quite common for Eumeninae wasps to demolish vacated mud nests of the previous season. They bring along a mouthful of water, regurgitate it on the old nest, form a mud ball and take it to their actual building site. The barrel shaped object left behind could be a cocoon of a previous inhabitant?”

So it proved when I removed it to photograph it and cut it open:

cocoon? 5644

cocoon? 5648

That looks like an exit hole at the top, and the lower shot shows a thin-walled cell with a little organic debris remaining inside.

In retrospect, the cocoon visible inside the incomplete nest should have been enough to tell me immediately that this wasn’t normal nest-building, but I had never heard of wasps recycling building materials before. There’s (still) always something new to learn!