Everyone looks at nature in a slightly different way and each person has their own particular interests they like to pursue. Roger Thomas, a club member, manager of the Ballarat Environment Network Reserves and writer of the Ballarat Courier Nature Notes, has certain plants and animals that he likes to see during the year.
He presented a fascinating talk to club members in August, that highlighted his ‘favorites’ and the depth of his knowledge. Roger doesn’t usually travel widely and most of these plants and birds may be seen within a 40 km radius of Ballarat. There are common and uncommon species and for some birds it is enough to just hear them to be ticked off the list. Roger’s talk was more than a list, it was interspersed with interesting observations gained over many years.
Roger admitted that Field Naturalists had taught him a lot and paid tribute to club members who have influenced him in a number of ways over the years. He made particular mention of Stella Bedggood and Jack Wheeler and he began by learning about birds and then was introduced to plants. Roger joined the Ballarat Club when he was fourteen and as he looked around the room, reminded us all that we were all newcomers.
July is the start of his bird year when the first melodic call of the blackbird is heard and the new plumage of the Superb Fairy-wren appears. They moult twice a year but once the male is about 4 years old they retain their plumage and don’t moult. Yellow Gums and Ironbarks are in flower around Clunes and Campbelltown.
The Little Raven begins nesting, the White Ibis returns and you can see Cattle Egrets and spot the first Flame Robins. Cattle Egrets are an introduced species and were first seen in Ballarat in the 1940’s. The first plovers begin to nesting and winter flocks of bush birds are noticed in mixed flocks, so take time to stop and listen for the different birds
It is leaf time for orchids and sun orchid leaves appear along with Nodding Greenhoods, Veined Helmet Orchids and sundews. The first swans start nesting near Convent Corner on Lake Wendouree. Golden Wattle is seen at Adelaide Lead and at Corindhap. Coral Fungi appears as does the evidence that echidnas are in the area.
August sees the flowers of early Silver Wattle and Scented Sundew along with Common Hovea and the Purple Coral Pea. At the end of the month Early Nancy and Yellow Stars begin to appear. The first of the migratory birds such as the Oriole and Yellow-rumped Thornbills are expected. The last week of August sees Reed Warblers and cygnets appear. Wood Ducks call as they look for nesting sites and magpies sing in the moonlight. Swallows and wattlebirds may be sighted.
In September the Pallid Cuckoo comes down from inland Australia and the Sacred Kingfisher form north of the divide and northern Australia. It is peak time at the end of the month for Blue Fairies, Nodding Greenhoods, Leopard and Waxlip Orchid, with the anticipation of seeing a white one. Crested Grebes may be sighted and the Latham’s Snipes returns from its sojourn in Japan. Musk Ducks display and Sky Larks are heard and blackbirds begin to sing in the day time. If it is over 160c then you may hear the call of Pobblebonk.
October sees mistletoe flowering and if you are lucky Rainbow Bee-eaters may be seen at Mt Beckworth. White-winged Triller and Painted Honeyeater are likely mid-month also keep an eye out for Jacky Winter. Common Fringe-myrtle should be flowering in Enfield and there are lots of grass caterpillars from the common Anthelid moth. Fairies’ Aprons are around if you know where to look along with Beard Orchids and Hooded Caladenias at Clunes and Mt Beckworth. In wetter areas Scarlet Drosera and Stylewort are expected if the season is on track, but they are short lived.
November brings the White-browed Wood Swallows with a sparrow like chirp and they heard back on the first hot north wind. A later migrant is the Rufous Fantail and Whiskered Terns may be observed on Lake Wendouree. It is the peak time for flowers and birds from mid-October to mid-November. Tiger, Duck, Bronze Caladenia, Sun and Spider Orchids are in flower along with Grass Triggerplant. The Spear Grass is also in flower. Two other plants that require a trip to Enfield, are Enfield Grevillea, Grevillea bedggoodiana and the Dwarf Boronia.
In December Podolobium procumbens may be seen in Woorookarung and in Enfield Forest. Musk Lorikeet return to Ballarat and the first of the butterflies is the Common Brown. It is bird count month and on the first Sunday Roger tries to see as many birds as possible. Grasslands are in flower with Magenta Storks-bill, Blue Grass-lily and look for Jewel Spiders. Sword-grass Browns require a trip to Wombat Forest and you may also see good displays of Common Fringe-lily. Later in the month Imperial Hairstreaks are seen on ‘teenage’ wattles. Silvereyes are nesting and singing and a keen eye may spot Stubble Quail and Whistling Kites. Mt Beckworth is visited to see Eastern white-face. Brown Songlarks are on the list, as is Senecio linearis and the Common Wedge-pea Gompholobium huegelii. The Small Grass Tree is in flower in the first week of December and Rogers’s favourite flower is the Blue Pincushion, Brunonia australis.
January is the beginning of a new bird list, so it is off to Mt Beckworth for the Rainbow Bee-eaters and a Spotted Crake may be at Winter Swamp and Lake Wendouree. There is still a chance to see an Oriole and a Satin Flycatcher. It is also a good time to visit wetlands. In Creswick Forest, Hyacinth Orchids and Large tongue-orchid are flowering. Summer Beard Orchid is on the list and Sweet Bursaria is attracting many different insects. Blackbirds have stopped singing but you might expect to see the Small Copper butterflies.
On to February and the Australian Hobby may be glimpsed hunting roosting starlings. Fork-tailed Swifts with their white rump and White-throated Needle-tails usually appear but it is rare to see them before the new year. Spotter Harriers, Black Falcons and Black Kites are attracted to stubble burning so Roger heads for areas such as Clunes and Allendale. The smoke appears to be the trigger and the birds can feed on dead pipets, crickets, mice and quail. If it is too hot then it is always cooler in Wombat Forest and the aim is to see Gang-gang Cockatoos and Rufous Fantails. Dwarf Geebung, Persoonia juniperina, is found at Glenlyon and Woorookarung. On dusk there is a good chance to see bats. Young Crested Grebes are about and mole crickets will be heard.
In March swallows and martins gather on wires and dead tress with their young. Depending on the season is may still be a good time to go to a wetland and the last opportunity to visit before duck hunting season takes over. White-faced Herons are around and the last of the Rainbow Bee-eaters. Despite the dryness of the month it is still surprising to see the first Parson’s Band Orchid and Cranberry Heath will be in flower. There is a short period when the secretion manna, drops to the ground and is found under the Manna Gums, Eucalyptus viminalis. You may see a Bird Dropping Spider which lays extra egg sacks each week. Little Corellas may be seen at Lake Learmonth and Wendouree.
In April after the first frost the Flame Robin appears and is present for all winter. The Golden Orb Spider hang from their golden webs. Common Heath is flowering and it is possible to see this plant flowering somewhere throughout the region in all months of the year. It is at its best at Linton.
May is time for the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Eastern Spinebills and New Holland Honeyeaters are observed on banksias and goldfinches on thistles. Spotted and Striated Pardalotes are on the move. The Powerful Owl starts calling with its distinctive double call and the Bassian Thrush starts singing in the rain. They are heard on the La Gerche walk at Creswick and the Wombat Forest.
Banded Lapwing appear on newly ploughed paddocks around Newlyn and Ascot. This is the month for Striated Fieldwren and Buff-rumped Thornbill. Common Correa, Correa reflexa, is the flower to find and there is a green form near Daylesford and the usual red form near Linton, Enfield and Mt Beckworth. In May you may also notice the unusual minute grey insects, Podurids, on buckets of water especially after rain. They are springtails and less that 2mm in size.
June is fungi month and look for Inky Caps Ghost Fungus, Green Goblin, Emperor Cortinar and the Giant Bolete
As Roger says “if you are a field naturalist you are never bored”.