30 January 2012

Rain, and then some more.

Today is hot and humid.  It finally feels like summer might have arrived and the garden is growing madly and looking a little neglected as I have been spending most of my time sewing for my pregnant daughter. The clothes she could buy are made of synthetic fabrics - how uncomfortable - so she has cottons, silks and wool to wear now.  Lucky girl.

I mentioned in a previous post how exciting it was to discover new plants on our acreage and I have another two orchids to tell you about.  It is very satisfying to walk in our natural bush and discover more and more things are managing to spring back into life now that the hard hooved animals have been removed,  ie horses, goats and donkeys.  It was fun having horses in our lives for a  few years but that time has been and gone.  As our teenage girls have grown up and are producing offspring of their own it is feasible that the time may come again.  Never say never. 

The first of the orchids is Cryptostylis subulata, also called Large Tongue Orchid or Cow Orchid.  Large Tongue orchid I can appreciate but where did the name Cow Orchid come from?

The next photograph shows the Cows' Head.  See the long front face and the ears and horns?  Imaginative eh?

Plants are about 30 to 50cm high, these were closer to the 30cm mark.  They have long narrow leaves. Some bright green ones can be seen in the background of the above photo. Many flowers are stacked one above the other on a long stalk and open over a period of a few weeks - there can be up to 10 flowers per stem . Above you can see a finished flower to the left and buds above the open flower still to come.

 Some people can stick out their tongue and curl it up just like this - but not me.

Check out below how hard they are to spot in the bush.  Yep you could walk right past and not even see them.  Part of their charm once you know they are there I think.

Last look at Cryptostylis subulata

The other orchid was spotted on the same walk and is quite similar.  In fact it took me quite a few photographs before I realised there were two distinct types of orchid.  Hard to believe when you see them here that they could look alike in the bush but you will have to take my word for it.

Introducing Cryptostylis erecta.  Ta ta da dah.

Same many brown flowers on one stem, same height of plant, same 1 to 3 lanceolate leaves popping out of the ground, same location in the bush - open clearing.  The difference is the "Cow's tongue" is open this time.  The brown colouration seemed the same in the bush but looks quite different here in the photographs.

Can you appreciate the name erecta? The expanded part of the labellum, the stripey inflated bit above, forms a kind of erect hood or bonnet. In C. subulata there is a distinct downward droop, quite different to these guys.  I'm ashamed that I couldn't see straight away how different they were, although in my defence the two people I went walking with couldn't see it even when I pointed it out to them. 

Cute don't you think?  There are 20 species of Cryptostylis in the world with only 4 being endemic to Australia and I have now spotted two of them.  Yay me.  I'll be keeping a sharp eye out for the other one which is found here on the Central Coast. 

Our Australian species are even more special because they are fertilised by ichneumon wasps.  The plants rather cunningly send out pheronomes which attract the male wasps who think they are copulating with a female wasp, and thus spread pollen from one plant to the next.

Who would have believed that plants could be so sneaky?  It is also a reminder that everything is interconnected.  If we destroy the habitat of one part of the flora or fauna world we have no idea of the follow on consequences from our act.

12 January 2012

Red-browed Firetail finches

Twenty years ago my husband and I moved into an old house with bare paddocks surrounding it.  Since then we have gone to a great deal of effort to provide habitat for the little birds and have been rewarded with Blue Wrens and Red-browed Firetail finches living here all year round.  Shade trees shelter the house and lots of shrubberies and water sources have been provided for the birds. One small shallow bird bath sits outside my study window and gives me endless hours of entertainment. 

A tiny little bird has been coming for a bath every afternoon for a couple of weeks now and I have been attempting to photograph it so I can work out what it is.  It is so quick and shy that I haven’t managed to capture a decent photograph of it - yet.  Instead I took some photos of a family of Red-browed Firetails finches.  First Mum or Dad came down and scouted out the area.  He or she disappeared and the youngsters appeared one at a time.  This baby is looking to see if it is safe before it flies down for a drink. Very hard to spot isn't it?

Once safety was assured four little ones and their parents came down for a drink and then they disappeared almost as quickly as they had come.

Mum or Dad is keeping watch and four little youngsters all in a row are having a drink.  Notice the parent has a red bill and the babies have a black bill.  As they mature their bill changes to red and they develop the red brow like their parents.  Male and female adults are very similar.

Red-browed Firetails usually hang around together in small flocks.  We have seen well over 50 at certain times of the year, generally when the grasses in the "lawn" are seeding. They usually eat grass seeds whilst on the ground. .  It looks messy and untidy I suppose but I would rather see all the little birds than have a perfectly manicured area of grass.

Now with our plantings they remain most of the year. 

Very occasionally we put out seed for them which they seem to enjoy.

We notice they are often in company with Blue Wrens.  Perhaps the seed eaters stir up little insects which the wrens make short work of.  When disturbed the whole flock will fly up a short distance and then move somewhere else as a flock, generally not far away.

Red-browed Firetail finches build an untidy large domed nest with an entrance on the side, generally out of grass and small twigs 2 to 3 metres above the ground in dense scrub.  Both parents share nest building and care of the eggs and young.  They can have 2-3 sittings per year when times are good.  Youngsters are able to care for themselves about a month later.
We were delighted to see that the Fire Tails are breeding successfully in our garden.

5 January 2012

Spiranthes sinensis ssp. australis

2011 was a terrific year for native orchids. 

We had so much rain here on the Central Coast coupled with mild sunshine that the plants went wild.  I have spent many hours studying photographs of orchids in my reference books so when I saw a flash of pink  among the yellow Cat's Ears I knew what it was -  Spiranthes sinensis ssp australis.  It's a delicate little beauty, each tiny flower a combination of lolly pink and white. 

You would think they would be easy to spot out there in the paddock but not so.  Somehow the pink manages to vanish into the long grasses and other flowers.

Its common name is Austral Ladies' Tresses which is interesting because I am the only lady I know with bright pink hair!