Sunday, February 21, 2010

Feature article

Follow the story from empty nest to fledging with some hair-raising incidents along the way!

Video footage of the nest may cause the thread to load slowly. Please persevere.


Lacewings are the ugly ducklings of the invertebrate world. They start life as a rather hideous looking antlion which travels around with a collection of debris on its back, used as a diguise!

OK, technically they start life a bit before that as an exquisitely shaped egg on a strand of silk but that ruins my Ugly Duckling metaphor! The sticky silk prevents predators from reaching the eggs (which would be easy if the eggs were laid straight onto the leaves).

The antlion spends much of its time lurking underground in a specially designed ant trap. The trap is a conical hole in sandy ground. Ants fall down the slippery sides and are eaten by the antlion waiting just under the sand. If you dig into these holes you can get a good look at an antlion, but they are quite ugly. Don't say you weren't warned!

[pic of antlion holes]

The adult lacewing is the "beautiful swan". Somehow the hideous larvae grows into an elegant creature with long lacey wings and resplendent colours. This one is called the Blue Eyes Lacewing.

Here are some close-ups:

Green Lacewings are the most common type I've seen. On a summer night there can be several of them on the outside of the bathroom window attracted to the light.

In the bush, they are not so easy to spot!

This next example is so extraordinary I didn't even recognize it as a lacewing. I thought instead it was a bizarre type of moth! I have only ever seen one other of its kind and that was in a drawer at the Australian Museum. This is called a Silky Lacewing.

The website Insects of Townsville has a fantastic image of a Silky Lacewing here.

This lacewing appeared on some corn growing at school. At other times I have seen them hiding under branches.

This lacewing was seen at a farmhouse in NSW. Sadly, the photos fail to capture the sheer brilliance of its silvery wings.

Sometimes the photo opportunity comes at a high price. This lacewing was caught in a spider's web. Despite the similarity, the smaller creatures are not lacewings.

More information:
Ant lions
Australian lacewings build toughest silk - ABC science
Lacewings and antlions - CSIRO
Lacewings and antlions - Australian museum
Lacewings - Wikipedia

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Koels are most known for their loud calls. They hide in the dense folliage of tall trees so it can be very tricky to see them even when you can hear them clearly. They migrate to Australia in early Spring and stay till late Summer.

The Birds in Backyards website conducts a survey tracking the arrival of koels and the locations they are seen or heard while they are here. I have kept a record of the dates I have first heard koels in Spring and they seem to be getting here slightly earlier each year:

2005 - 26 Sept
2006 - 18 Sept
2007 - 8 Sept
2008 - 15 Sept
2009 - 28 August

This is a juvenile Koel feeding from a date palm.

The male is entirely black with red eyes.

This is an adult female. Her back feathers are spotted and her belly feathers are barred.

The juvenile looks a lot like the female. It can often be distinguished by its clumsy flight, or the noise it makes crying out for food. The other distinguishing features are the lighter coloured head (the top of the adult females head is black) and brown eyes (where the adult's are red). (Simpson & Day, 1984).

This juvenile attracted my attention by the noise it made stumbling around the branches of a fig tree before it managed to find its way free:

I heard this juvenile calling for food when I was walking along the Cooks River near Tempe.

Being cuckoos, Koels lay their eggs in the nest of another species and have no involvement in raising their own chicks. In this case the Koel chick was being fed by a Red Wattlebird.

As part of the mating ritual, the black male brings berries to woo the more camouflaged female.

This juvenile is old enough to feed itself.

More information about Koels is available here:
Koels - Birds in Backyards
Koels - OzAnimals online
Koels - Wikipedia

Reference: Simpson, K. & Day, N. (1984). Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Penguin, Ringwood, Victoria.

Friday, February 5, 2010

About me

My web presence centres on the theme of environment education. After two decades working in publishing, I have now retrained as a primary school teacher.

While I will be teaching in all primary school Key Learning Areas, my personal passion is for nature and the environment and I will be able to incorporate this as a theme while teaching literacy skills, scientific concepts and mathematical thinking.

My main node is this blog of my personal nature experiences. I grew up on a farm and spent my childhood with six other siblings hiking through the Australian bush, playing in creek beds and paddocks and generally being very close to nature.

When I was about nine I became interested in bird watching and persuaded my parents to give me my grandmother's old opera glasses. They weren't much help but the interest continued and today I never leave home without binoculars and a camera or two!

I live in Sydney now but have access to bushland in the Wolli Creek Valley where I regularly stalk birds and other wildlife and share my findings both casually, with members of the Wolli Creek Preservation Society (WCPS), and formally, by adding to the databases of the Cumberland Bird Observers Club (CBOC) and Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC).

As a volunteer with WCPS I have conducted guided bushwalks for over 1000 local primary school students. The Student blog would be an ideal place for such students to reflect on their experiences in the bush.

In my Master of Teaching (Primary) we were reminded of the technological advances that are occurring in schools and encouraged to participate and promote these. My Web Presence is a combination of role modelling Internet skills and providing a framework for my future students to participate in Internet publishing and collaborative authoring skills.

The four contributing nodes include:
  • a Blog for my students to use for creative writing about nature;
  • a Wiki for my students to collaborate on nature-related information reports;
  • a Flickr album containing my nature photos, which students may use in their projects; and
  • a Delicious Account containing my teaching and nature-related Internet bookmarks.
See also, Exegesis.


I used to think dragonflies were impossible to photograph. They'd flit about, land for less than a second and then buzz off again. After much stalking and some lucky captures I realized that you just have to find a dragonfly who is in the mood. Some will sit very still and practically let you poke a camera in their face! But if they are in the mood for flying, you haven't got a chance.

This photo (below) is probably my best ever dragonfly photo and, curiously, it was taken while I was surrounded by noisy school students on a bushwalk! We were near the Denutrification Wetland in Girrahween Park (a great place for spotting dragonflies) and I got several photos from different angles before it flew away.

This blue dragonfly (below) was seen on a school buswalk in the picnic area at Girrahween Park. The students were gathered for lunch and I stopped mid sentence when I saw this large blue dragonfly land close by. I later explained how rare it was for a dragonfly to pose for you!

The red dragonfly below proved trickier to capture. It was buzzing around a stormwater drain at Girrahween Park. My eyes could easily keep track of its movements because of the bright colour but I had to take the photo from a long distance because it wouldn't land close to me.

Even when dragonflies do stay still, they are tricky to photograph because a large proportion of their bodies are see-through! The transparent wings either don't show up well or reflect the light in ways you'd rather they didn't! Here are some examples:

The most beautiful dragonfly I ever saw was at The Drip on the Goulburn River near Gulgong, NSW. It was copper coloured and patterned in a way that reminded me of art deco stained windows. I was lucky enough to capture it with my hand-held mini-digital camera. Alas, the photos did not do justice to the perfection I saw with my eyes!

Also seen at The Drip was this blue-eyed yellow dragonfly.

Another trick is to catch dragnflies while they're mating. They seem to have other things on their mind than avoiding cameras!

Occasionally the images are so big and so close that the finer details of the dragonfly can be studied up close. I bet you didn't know they were so hairy!

And finally a word about Damselflies. Do you know how to tell the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly? One trick is to look at the way they hold their wings when they rest. If they are folded back along the body like this, chances are it's a damselfly.


I wrote this post a few weeks ago. Today, in the school garden, I had a fantastic encounter with a dragonfly. He posed for my camera for ages and I got some great photos.

For more details, see my Nature at School blog.