Fairy Gerygone and Lewin’s Honeyeater

I’m still finding creatures I can’t identify and having to call on my Friendly Local Experts for help. They are very generous with their time,  and I thank them for their help but I don’t want to embarrass them by getting anything wrong so they will remain Anonymous FLE’s (unless, of course, they read this and choose to be named). My latest call for help related to these little birds:

fairy gerygone
What’s smaller than a Brown Honeyeater?
fairy gerygone
Is this the same or not?

They were attracted to the sprinkler at the bush block on Hervey’s Range I visit regularly. My first thought was that they were Lemon-bellied Flycatchers (aka Fly-robins) but I couldn’t account for the white streak under the eye in the second photo. They looked a bit too small, too, so I asked.

The reply was prompt: “… southern race of Fairy Gerygones: the first one is a female, the second with the white streaks is a male.”

They were new to me so I looked them up. Slaters’ Field Guide calls Gerygones “Australian Warblers” and their “Fairy Warbler, Gerygone palpebrosa,” is “10 – 11.5cm” – Sunbird size, not Brown Honeyeater size. Birdway, which is regularly updated with name changes in a way that books can’t be, includes them in “Australasian Thornbills, Scrubwrens, Gerygones & Allies (Acanthizidae).” The Fly-robin, for comparison, is here.

One of the area’s most common honeyeaters, the Lewin’s (Meliphaga lewinii), also came to enjoy the sprinkler:

Lewin's Honeyeater
Lewin’s Honeyeater

As usual, I came home with a collection of spider and insect photos. The most interesting are now on flickr, here and close to it, in my photostream.

Dry-country goanna

Australia has just over twenty species of goanna (aka monitor lizard) but if anyone talks about seeing ‘a goanna’ they usually mean the largest local species. In our case, that’s the Lace Monitor, Varanus varius, which happens to be the second-largest in the country. (The Perentie of the central deserts is a little larger, growing to 2.4m as against the Lace Monitor’s 2.1m.)

The normal colour scheme of our Lace Monitors (I’m simply going to call them ‘goannas’ from here on) is dull grey-black with a generous spattering of creamy spots, as in my photographs of goannas at Wallaman Falls, on Whitehaven Beach and in the hills above Mission Beach (scroll down each page for the pics).

goanna
Crossing open ground. The tip of the tail is right on the edge of the photo.

When we saw this reptile crossing the back yard of a weekender on Hervey’s Range we were surprised enough to check the reference books. It was close to two metres from nose to tail, so there weren’t many possibilities.

This strongly-banded sand-and-charcoal goanna is, in fact, still Varanus varius, although the ‘Lace’ name doesn’t suit it very well at all. It is known as ‘Bell’s form’ or ‘Bell’s phase’ and is more common in the drier inland than on the coast.

goanna
Noticing that s/he has been noticed

The Hervey’s Range property is just on the inland side of the crest of the range, although with a higher rainfall than regions further West, so a Bell’s form goanna is not too far out of its normal territory. That said, Wikipedia has one from the Fraser Coast (Hervey Bay – Maryborough) in its Lace Monitor gallery, so the geographical separation can’t be too strict.

goanna
Camouflage test

Pretty little spiders

Regular readers will know that I visit a bush block on Hervey’s Range, half an hour or so inland from Townsville, fairly often. It’s a great place for spiders, though I’m not quite sure why; earlier visits have brought me the two species of golden orb weavers living side by side which I mentioned here, my only whip spider, my only tarantula and many more. My latest visit brought me these three little ones.

The Horned Triangular Spider, Arkys cornutus, is so attractively bizarre that it is photographed more often than it otherwise would be. This is the first I’ve seen in real life and yes, I photographed it too.

It lurks in foliage waiting for unwary prey to land close enough to be caught between its impressively barbed front legs, so its hunting strategy is the same as the crab (aka flower) and lynx spiders. However, it is not closely related to either of those families but is an orb-weaver (AraneidaeAraneinae) which for some reason has given up  weaving.

red spider on leaf
Horned Triangular Spider

My next odd little beast is one of those crab spiders (Thomisidae), the Hairy Crab Spider, Sidymella hirsuta. It’s about 15mm long from toe to toe but its body is almost the same size as that of my Arkys.

spider on leaf
Hairy Crab Spider

My third spider isn’t as photogenic as the other two but I thought I should include it because I saw it in the same patch of bushland on the same morning.

It’s a Cyclosa, a member of a genus of smallish orb-weavers with the habit of constructing a messy strand of debris and (sometimes) egg sacs across the middle of their web and pretending to be part of the rubbish. It must be an effective strategy because they are quite common.

Naming the genus is not problematic but even the experts avoid more exact identification, saying things like, “Cyclosa is very diverse in Australia with at least 10 species, currently under revision. At this stage it is not possible to reliably identify Australian Cyclosa to species, with the exception of a few,” and I’m not going to rush in where they fear to tread.

The thread I photographed contains (counting from the top) debris which looks like tiny dead leaves, four pale egg sacs, dark debris, the spider, more dark debris, a bigger pale bundle and a loose bundle of rubbish; the whole thing is only about as thick as a grass stem. Click on the images, as usual, for more detail.

spiderweb with debris
Cyclosa, egg sacs and debris
spider in web
Zooming in to see the spider at much more than life size: what’s in the image is about 8mm from top to bottom

Lorikeets and figbirds in North Queensland

parrot on red flowers
Rainbow Lorikeet on Umbrella Tree flowers

We regularly visit a “bush block” on Hervey’s Range, 40 minutes’ drive inland from Townsville. Six weeks ago we saw lots of Rainbow Lorikeets feeding on the bright red blossoms of the Umbrella Trees (Schefflera actinophylla) there, but when we returned a couple of days ago the flowers had become fruit and the lorikeets had shifted to a tall gum tree, 50 metres away, which had burst into blossom in the meantime.

A family of Figbirds (Sphecotheres vieilloti) had taken their place on the Umbrella Tree, feeding gregariously on the dark brown fruit. There was certainly plenty of it it to share!

brown bird on brown seed-head
Figbird on the mature fruit, early April
green and brown birds on the same flowers
The whole family feeding together

The Umbrella Tree is native to this part of the world and is not a problem here: it grows well but “has maintained a balance with other native species,” as this DAF page says. The page goes on to add, however, that “when it is grown in southern Queensland, this fast-growing invader out-competes local native species,” and this other Queensland government fact sheet simply calls it a weed (but has better pictures of it).

That’s unfair, since a weed is, when you come down to it, simply a plant where you don’t want it. Even Lantana, loathed up here, is not a weed everywhere.

A very short walk on Hervey’s Range

Stick insect hanging beneath a leaf
Stick insect

I had an idle hour or so while I was visiting family on Hervey’s Range last weekend so I wandered very slowly around their bush block with my camera, taking photos of all the interesting little wildlife I spotted. This is the wet season, albeit not a very wet season so far, so the bush is looking quite lush and the herbivorous insects are taking full advantage of the food supply – and the predators, in turn, are taking full advantage of them – by multiplying enthusiastically. I must have missed far, far more than I saw but I still came back with a good collection; here are some highlights.

The stick insect above was one of several on a small tree. When disturbed, they drop out of their tree and play dead. When that doesn’t work, they do their (very poor) best to scramble away and hide.

black and gold beetle
Tiger beetle
black beetle with white markings
A small Longicorn beetle on a blade of grass
brown beetle
Weevil on a blade of dry grass

Weevils are a family of beetles characterised by their trunk-like snouts, as seen (e.g.) here.


black bug on twig
Plant-hopper
cicada on leaf
A smallish cicada, perhaps the Brown Sugarcane Cicada, Cicadetta crucifera
cicada-like bug
Plant-hopper, Fulgoridae

The cicada looks like the odd one out but these three are all Hemiptera and all sap-suckers.


black and silver fly on twig
Robber-fly, rather small for the family at about 12mm long
brown insect on leaf
Juvenile (but already large) cricket or katydid
orange-brown cockroach
This rather handsome creature is a native cockroach

These three are unrelated.

I turned over the twig the cockroach was resting on to see where the spider silk was coming from and found a whole family – mother and hatchlings, anyway, though no father – nestling underneath:

gold and white spider
Mother and babies

There were lots more spiders, too. A small creamy-white Crab spider, Thomisus spectabilis, was waiting patiently on the tip of a leaf; a couple of Lynx spiders were doing the same, while one was protecting hatchlings like the spider above; and a large Garden Orb-weaver, Eriophora transmarina, slept the afternoon away under the edge of a leaf, waiting for evening to renovate her half-metre web and (hopefully) catch her dinner.

Presenting these spiders as thumbnail images obscures their size difference. The only one on this page which is larger in real life than an adult’s thumbnail is the Garden orb-weaver, which is only about almond size anyway in the posture seen here. The others are all considerably smaller, so they are larger than life-size even before you click on them to see high-resolution images.

white spider
Thomisus spectabilis flaunting her bandit mask
brown furry spider
Garden orb-weaver in her day-time retreat
striped spider on dead leaf
Lynx