Poplar gum full of birds

Our poplar gum dropped a lot of leaves a month ago in preparation for its flowering, and it has been full of birds ever since. In order from most to least numerous visitation, we’ve enjoyed (mostly!) the company of Rainbow Lorikeets, Blue-faced Honeyeaters, White-gaped Honeyeaters, Little Friarbirds, Leaden Flycatcher, Great Bowerbird, Brown Honeyeater (common in the garden but not in the poplar gum), Blue-winged Kookaburra, Spangled Drongo, Indian Mynah, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Figbird and Torres Strait Pigeon (my first sighting this season).

Amongst them, however, was a Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, Trichoglossus chlorolepidotus, my first record of the species in the garden.

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A tree full of birds

bright green and orange bird
Rainbow Lorikeet

In the few days since my last post the poplar gum has come into full blossom and the birds are loving it. The Rainbow Lorikeets have become regular visitors again, squabbling over the flowers and foraging for insects in the foliage. I’m not sure what the one on my photo is up to – looking for beetles, or perhaps trying to clean his dirty beak?

black bird
Spangled Drongo

Drongos are insectivores but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in a flowering tree. What, after all, do so many insects feed on? Nectar, of course, and the tree hosts a good number of bees, flies and butterflies.

brown bird
Juvenile Little Friarbird

I was going to call this post “Patience rewarded” to congratulate myself on getting better photos of the juvenile Little Friarbird I encountered a few days ago. There were at least two of them this time – “this time” being the forty minutes I spent sitting on our front steps yesterday, with my telephoto lens pointing up into the foliage to take all of these pictures.

grey bird
Female Leaden Flycatcher

Leaden Flycatchers are small, quick and quiet. I don’t know how long they frequented our garden before I first spotted one, but I have seen them quite regularly since then. As always, you’re more likely to notice something if you’re on the look-out for it.

Today is officially the first day of Spring. As I’ve said before, the four European seasons don’t have much relevance to our monsoonal tropical climate but we are – just – seeing signs that the season is changing. The humidity is up, and we even had a tiny shower or two overnight; one of our banana plants has decided to put out a bud; and temperatures, particularly overnight, have crept up enough to notice. We don’t expect any real rain until November but we’re now looking forward to our next Wet rather than backward to the one that failed.

Camouflaged retreat

white silk covering hollow in treetrunk
Jumping spider retreat, standard model

Three years ago I wrote about the clever hideaways constructed by jumping spiders on the trunk of our poplar gum. They are still building them but there’s always something new … one of our current residents has chosen to make its retreat in a broad groove which features orange-brown bark instead of the silver-grey of the larger open expanse of the trunk.

But spider silk is silver-white, so the standard retreat would shine out to predators like a beacon – not a good idea at all. What to do? Colour the silk, of course, to match its surroundings!

I have no idea how it managed to do this – whether it changed its silk during production or scurried round on its new white retreat sticking crumbs of bark to it. Both seem unlikely and if it’s the latter, the crumbs are too tiny to see even under the highest magnification of my macro lens.

brown silk retreat
Jumping spider retreat, tinted model

To see the spider itself – the Flat White Jumping Spider, Arasia mollicoma – follow this link to my earlier post.

Zodiac moth on the poplar gum

large dark moth on gum blossom
Zodiac moth, Alcides metaurus, high in our poplar gum

Birds aren’t the only creatures attracted to the abundant blossom of our poplar gum. As well as the Rainbow Lorikeets, Friarbirds, Blue-faced Honeyeaters and White-gaped Honeyeaters we have flying foxes at night and, naturally, insects during the day. This moth is a special visitor: I haven’t seen one, let alone photographed one, in my garden before although I have seen them occasionally around Cairns.

Zodiac moths, Alcides metaurus, are more common in rainforest than in our drier country.  They are (obviously) a day-flying species, and belong to the Uraniidae family, Swallowtail moths. They are as large as some of our Swallowtail butterflies – Ulysses or Orchard, for instance – at about 100mm. (If they weren’t, I couldn’t have managed a decent photo from ground level, even with my telephoto lens.)

Zodiac moth underside, with black and white bars
Zodiac moth underside
Zodiac moth feeding
Zodiac moth feeding


Pop(u)lar Gum in blossom

Our huge Poplar Gum (Eucalyptus platyphylla) has, as predicted, burst into flower – suddenly and exuberantly. The trigger seems to have been the few millimetres of gentle rain which arrived on Sunday, since by Monday the whole tree looked like this:

creamy gum blossom
Poplar gum blossom

It has become enormously popular with the Rainbow Lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus) in consequence. They have abandoned the paperbark (they had nearly stripped it, anyway) and dozens of them at a time are feeding in the canopy.

Rainbow Lorikeet in the Poplar Gum
Rainbow Lorikeet in the Poplar Gum
two lorikeets arguing
Two lorikeets disputing over the flowers

Anyone standing beneath the tree is showered with the caps off the flower buds, and with fragments of twigs, leaves and flowers.

The birds keep up a screeching racket which bursts out even louder when they squabble, as they often do.

With all that, they are (as I said last week) very difficult to see. They have an amazing knack of vanishing into the leaves. When you watch for a while, you can see most of the ‘why’ and ‘how’: they have to walk around on the small branches and reach out through the leaves to the flowers, because the flower stems are not strong enough to take their weight.

Lorikeet with head showing through leaves
Now you see it …

Their colours are surprisingly good camouflage, too, as the bright blue head becomes sky in sunlight and grey branch in shadow, while the green and yellow become leaves.

How much of the bird can you see in the small picture here? Click on it for a larger version and look again.