Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Turtle frogs - just bizarre

So ugly they're beautiful  sorta cute...

Myobatrachus gouldii

It has been a dry dry winter and spring, except some decent rainfall last night brought out the call that turtle frogs would be about.

I've never seen one before, and thought that they were impossible difficult to see, and only the most dedicated herp freaks would ever have a prime viewing experience.

But no - they're far more common than I had thought, and last night was the night to see them crawling around on the surface, calling out to the ladies, looking for a mate to spend their summer with deep down in a burrow of love.

The live in SW Western Australia, on sandy soils - hence they do well on the Swan Coastal Plain - a place of exceptional sandyness. It would appears that a number of significant bushland reserves, like Whiteman Park, Bold Park and Kings Park, have sizeable populations of turtle frogs lurking in these sandy soils. They spend most of the lives nudging their way face first in the sand, burrowing away in a fossorial manner, eating termites. Termites!

But there are a very few occasions when the critters come to the sandy surface, and  this is usually spring-summer on the first night of/after the first heavy rainfall.

So - spring rains mean pairing for the frogs, followed by a summer spent together in a burrow, summer mating and egg laying, and then these eggs develop directly into froglets. That's pretty amazing.

The call is a deep, throaty "murrrp" and there were .. well.. from the sounds of it.. 'undreds of 'em.  And they're tiny - only about 2 -3 cm long (SVL). They can be hard to spot, but when you finally triangulate their location and peer around - there they are! On the soil surface, looking a bit like a cross between a marri nut and a strawberry bubblegum bubble.Or in a burrow entrace or depression in the sand.

No bulgy froggy eyes for these guys - they have tiny, deeply inset eyes like a microbat or mole, apparently covered a protective membrane. They have a saggy, oversized skin which appears to inflate like a bubblegum bubble. They're also pinkish - which takes their resemblance to a bubblegum bubble even more.. And chunky arms. They have chunky arms for digging face first through sand.

That's great - thanks to those who alerted me to finding this amazing frog, and I'll keep an ear out for them again next time we get the decent rains...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wattle Day - Woodmans Acacia

September 1st is Wattle Day - 

huzzah - 

So I'm using this day to profile a little wattle battler - Woodman's Acacia or Acacia woodmaniorum. This shrub straggles its way over the banded iron formation (BIF) ranges near the Blue Hills, in the midwest of Western Australia. This is this only place where it grows, miles away from  its presumed closest relative (Acacia alata var. biglandulosa). The description is here.

It has angular stems and flattened phyllodes which are decurrent along the stems of branchlets  - making this another winged wattle. The flowers are bunched in solitary little pom-pom inflorescences which pop out of the stems on moderately long peduncles. Despite the 'leafy, green' appearance, this plant packs of punch of spines on the phyllode tips.

Named after the three Woodman brothers of local botanical fame in Western Australia , this wattle was named and declared rare as soon as surveys in the midwest established that it was new and very restricted in distribution. The greates threats this little hardy acacia faces is open cast iron ore mining, since its preferred habitat is atop the haemtite-rich hills of BIF. It will pop up in crush rock spoils, to a degree.

This species shares it habitat with other interesting and plants like the Drummondita fulva (endemic to the Blue Hills - Yalgoo region), Rhodanthe collina and generally splendid and species rich Acacia - Melaleuca nematophylla shrublands, rich heaths and stands of Callitris columellaris on rocky hillslopes and ridge tops.

Given how incrediblely flat the general midwest region is - these are truely outstanding landforms with differnet plants and communities on the tops from the vast surrounds of seemingly endless mulga - bowgada shrublands.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Gwelup fungal goodness

Now that it has rained after weeks of cold, dry winter, all the wee mushrooms are poking up their fruiting bodies. So it was opportune weather for a fungal foray at Gwelup bushland on the weekend. This reserve is tucked away in Perth north-west suburbs, and is a piece of remnant tuart woodland which is a but fragment of what was an extensive sweeping continuous community ranging from Yanchep to Busselton.

This Tuart woodland has a canopy in good condition, dominated by tuart (Eucalyptus gomphocephala) and sheoaks (Allocasuarina fraseriana). However, the understory is rather weedy, what with a history of being a stock route during settlement. So there is a fair bit of Gladiolus caryophyllaceus, Hypochaeris radicata, Pelargonium capitatum, Asparagus asparagoides and Avena barabata and Erharta longifolia.

But we were there for the fungi - and the wet, cold conditions provided.

Here is a quick photo inventory of what we found within two hours. There slime moulds on rotten wood. Including the strangely named Icicle fairy fans (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa) and the unnamable slime mould with vivid yellow sporangia.

With fruiting bodies only milimetres in length, there was a little Stereum sp ? hirsutum growing on rotting wood.

Other tiny treasures included Mycenea sp. (left, next to the ruler), which was growing on rotten tuart log. Another rotten tuart branch yielded this beige-coloured skin fungus (Asterstroma persimile - I think).

Growing on tuart nuts was the aptly named tuart nut fungus (Harknessia uromycoides).

 And this Crepidotus eucalyptorum on tuart bark.

Clark's mycena (Mycena clarkeana) on melaleuca wood...

 .......and the vividly warm golden tuart cortinarius (Cortinarus ochraceofulvus) which ia mychorrizal on tuart roots.

And last little critter which caught out attention but wasn't at all fungal, was this cute native Bothriembryon sp., and it wouldn't surprise me if it was an endemic species of tuart woodlands on the Swan Coastal Plain.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Mighty Sevylor on the Millstream

Kayaking is great way to see the river scenery and wildlife. And my trusty plastic touring and seakayaks have been put to good use to travel the estuaries and inlets of SWWA.

But there are times when lugging 25 - 40 odd kilos of plastic on a car and through the bush is just not practical -

                              and so to promote the inflatable yaks.

The Mighty Sevylor is a 5 kg lump of plastic sheeting, inflated with a low pressure hand pump. Fitting snuggly in the back of the low-clearance-and-inappropriate-vehicle-for-road-touring subaru imprezza, the Mighty Sevylor proved its $ 100 - 200 worth at Millstream-Chichester National Park.

Minutes to inflate, hours to paddle - our two person boat was a snug fit for two. It is good that we're both short-arses, but the boat is fine for a single paddler to handle. Okay - so it doesn't rate highly for speed, but The Mighty Sevylor is convenient, stable, lightweight and perfect to take along on road trips when space and weight are at a premium. Perfect for spontaneous paddles.

Just upstream (west) from the Crossing Pool campsite, there is an easy access point at the ford and pipeline crossing over the Fortescue River. This allows for an easy 3 km of paddling upstream before you reach some rapids and melaleuca thicket, which can be easily portaged if you wish to go further. You can also try downstream from the ford, so long as you are prepared for portages.

Dense stands of Melaleuca argentea line the river, as well as the endemic millstream palm (Livistona alfredii). Expect to see a lot of birds, including rainbow be eaters, little black cormorants, black swans and blue winged kookaburras, zebra and star finches, butcher birds etc..

The river bank is easily accessible and open to walk along because the undergrowth is relatively sparse. Feral cattle are obviously keeping this more open, and intermittant flood events will scour the braided stream beds.

Keep you eyes open for ta ta lizards / long-nosed water dragons (Lophognathus longirostris) on the rocks and tree trunks..

Obviously  paddle only at low - moderate water levels and not during flood events. Winter is a perfect time for a paddle on the Fortescue because the weather is relatively mild  to warm for the Pilbara, plants are still flowering, the road are most accessible and mostly likley to be open have been graded by that time of year.

Time of year to paddle: Winter - spring (May - October). Avoid during flood events or predicted flood events. This means being aware of heavy rainfall in other parts of the Fortescue catchment.

Skill level: Easy. Grade 1- 2 (flatwater). Some moving water and minor rapids and ti-tree thickets.

Attractions: Pleasant easy kayak along wide, majestic river lined with tall, lush riparian vegetation and passing by specular mesas and rock outcrops.

Entry points: 2WD - Crossing Pool campsite and ford over Fortescue. Expect portages to get to long pools. Other points are also accessible with 4WD.

Note: Some areas of the river are of high cultural signifiance to the Yindjibarndi people and recreational water activities are not permitted.

More information -

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Chip chip

Striated pardalote (Pardalotus striatus)

Over the last few weeks, striated pardalotes have been chirping around the neighbourhood. Nothing else could be as distinctive as their incessant but cute "chippa chip" calls. According to the ornithologist at work, they are apparently relatively common in Perth's suburbs - more common than you would think. But are rarely seen, because they are tiny, more or less brown and spent most of their time flittering within eucalypt canopies.

But, for some reason, one raucous male last week decided to bail me up in my house and spend his time having a go at my windows and peering inside a hole in the external wall.

He started with the front window.. very distracting he was too.. because this is what I could see while working at the computer.

 And then he moved around to the kitchen window - where he performed to two other birds who came around to investigate his chirping and wing-waving at the window.

There were concerns that he was spending way too much time responding to his reflection - an amazing fact alone was that that our scungy, dirty windows actually could cast a reflection. But he did also spend a lot of time performing at a hole in the wall and to the other birds, so I had hopes that they were going to nest there. He eventually did move on from the kitchen after a week and now I can hear him chip-chipping among large trees around the suburban block.

I rate the striated pardalote a 9.5 out of 10 on the cute scale. Damn handsome and very yellow about the chops.

And here is a pair in a more natural setting, flitting about their nest hole in a wandoo (Eucalyptus wandoo) at Dryandra woodland, 159 km SE of Perth.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Over the past week of so, a tawny frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) has been roosting in a small, mallee-form tree at my workplace.

He/she doesn't seem to notice that there is a mismatch between the grey plumage and reddish bark of Eucalyptus caesia, but hasn't deterred the frogmouth from returning each day to the same, small fork in the tree.

Other honeyeaters in the vicinity - the little browns, the New Holland and Singing honeyeaters - made a small, half-hearted effort to mob the bird, but gave up. Obviously a frogmouth doesn't get the same mob-fest attention as a boobook owl, like this owl which made the mistake to roost in our backyard and suffered days of diurnal insomnia at the hands of angry honeyeaters.

Frogmouths are funny ol' things- they're not uncommon, they're everywhere where you get decent stands of trees and scrub, but they're difficult to spot. It took 15 minutes of pointing to alert others as to the whereabouts of this particular frogmouth, despite the colour mismatch. When disturbed, they pretend to be a branch, and their superb camouflage is the key to this strategy of crypsis. It has taken five years for my kiwi partner to finally see a live frogmouth - so he has seen one in style.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Omphacomeria sp. (Santalaceae)


What the .. what is Omphacomeria? I struggled with the name at first... but it goes something like" OM-FAK OH-MERIA".  Like a meditative chant. It is a medium - largish shrub (1.2 - 2 m) in the sandalwood family and only has just been discovered in Western Australia growing on a remote, arid-zone range in the Gascoyne district. It is growing on a mountainous, steep, sandstone range which is popular with the tourists, and is found in steep, rocky gullies - it is growing even around the main tourist campsite.

And has been very much overlooked and required the careful eye of a taxonomist over in Canberra to confirm its identity to genus - but as yet is unidentified to species level. So, this day and this age, we're still finding new genera for the state in our remote central regions.

I don't know why it was not found beforehand - its a large shrub for starters! There have been a few floristic surveys in the region beforehand - including the CALM Carnarvon Basin survey [1], which covered the more mesic western faces of the range as part of a regional survey. And there had been mistletoe-host plant surveys and other surveys or individual collectors who tinkered at the edges of floristic knowledge for the ranges. So, in 2009, this plant turns up all of a sudden! Since we were on holiday, we popped in to have a look. This was a big ask for our tiny little Subaru imprezza - because the roads are coarsely graded and really not appropriate for small cars with no clearance (but it has AWD - yeah). But we prevailed.

It looks very much like Exocarpos aphylla and superficially like Anthobolus leptomerioides - and you'd be forgiven to jump to that conclusion, except that both species are absent from the wider region around the ranges. The lack of historical or herbarium records of an  'Exocarpos" for the range was even more puzzling - this wasn't a case of misidentification - it was a case of had not been collected before. Full stop. The photo below shows this species as locally abundant (a sparse but dominant component of shrub stratum) on the eroding slopes of the range. There - in the foreground..

It is very much a root parasite, with no leaves (just them scales), striate, photosynthetic stems and minute spikes of tiny, sessile flowers. The main clincher is the  Omphacomeria is dioecious, so flowers are unisexual and there are male and female flowers on separate plants (these are male flowers - we only found dried, old fruits on female plants and I forgot to take a photo of these).

The second clincher is that the fruit has the seed INSIDE the fleshy receptacle (it is like comparing Prumnopitys versus Podocarpos, if you are so inclined). Here is broom ballart (Exocarpos sparteus) for comparison.

The third clincher for Omphacomeria is that the branches and flowers are highly resinous.

So there you have it. To date, all species of Omphacomeria occur in the eastern states of Australia, and now we have it here - in a remote, isolated mountainous range in the Gascoyne. A place well visited but not surveyed well. I think the lesson to be learnt with this new discovery is that everything deserves a second look, since it may have been overlooked at first glance. And also there is still a lot more to discover in our relatively unknown central arid-zone ranges in Australia.

[1]: Gibson N, Keighery GJ, Lyons MN (2000). The flora and vegetation of seasonal and perennial wetlands of the southern Carnarvon Basin, Western Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum Supplement 61, pp. 175–199

Friday, May 14, 2010

Velleia rosea

Pink velleia, Rosy velleia (Velleia rosea S.Moore).

This little herb in the Goodeniaceae family is a cheery addition to the inland, semi-arid to arid regions of midwest Western Australia. With a little winter rain, you'll find these wee, pink or lavender flushed flowers in spots and dots and fits and starts. After a decent soaking of welcome winter rainfall, this annual will form a carpet of colour that can transform a parched stand of straggely mulga (Acacia aneura) or ugly roadside rest bay (usually littered with pie-wrappers, toilet paper and beer bottles) into a little, exquisite floral wonderland.

This is one beast that I take for granted as common, but really is an endemic species of Western Australia and significant component of the winter 'desert ephemeral' flora. In flower, Velleia rosea is distinctive because of the large flowers (c. 15. - 2 cm diam., petals 1.3 cm long). But when in fruit, it can be easily confused with Velleia cycnopotamica, which has far more dainty, smaller flowers (c. 1 cm diam.) with narrow petals (corolla lobes lacking wings). Both species are sprawling little herbs, with a basal rosette of leaves and few-branched inflorence stalk with flowers arranged in cymes. 

I didn't notice until it was pointed out to me by a hopeless romantic that the petals were indeed heart shaped. I just refered impassively to them as emarginate or cordate or winged, and didn't think of the flowers in any emotive way. But there ya go - they're heart-shaped and pale rose in colour, with a blush of deeper rose-magenta in the throat. I will note that descriptions of flower colour may vary with the observer, but I would hesitate to describe the colour as fuchsia and settle on rose, lilac, pale lavender or pale pink, ranging to white.

Whatever your choice of colour description, make sure you take the time out to stop for a rosy flush of Velleia rosea on a midwest winter roadtrip.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Lawrencia helmsii

Lawrencia helmsii (Malvaceae): Dunna dunna.

If you are travelling through the midwest regions of Western Australia, you may chance upon this chunky, straggely, cactus-like shrub that's about 1 - 1.5 m tall and just as wide.

Lawrencia helmsiiLawrencia helmsii  - Dunna Dunna

It isn't a cactus, despite appearances, and we don't have Cactaceae native to Australia. But, it is a member of the mallow or hibiscus family (Malvaceae) and is a hardy occupant of dry, rocky gypsum and calcrete soils in the midwest regions of Western Australia. These tend to be mineral-enriched, clayey, saline, basic soils (pH abouts 8.0 ), often on or around rocky rises and saline / gypsum flats. This one we encountered was c. 70 km - 100 south of Newman, but we failed to take notice of exactly where we were along a seemingly endless stretch of the Great Northern Highway. No doubt however  - we were at the extreme northern limit of its distribution.

Despite initial appearances as a chunky monstrosity, Lawrencia helmsii - the Dunna Dunna, is a intricate plant when explored up close. If you look carefully at one of the many hundreds of tiny flowers which crowd along on the stems, you see that it is close to a mallow or hibiscus flower. Well - you are hard-pressed to see much really, and you need a bit of imagination. And these flowers are about -- oh - about 5 mm in diameter. This is a flower from a male plant which I have photographed - the species is actually dieocious. There is not much to these male flowers - five tiny reddish-green petals, a staminal column with a cluster of anthers at the top. The female flowers are similar, but with more style and less dangly bits.


These flowers are emerging directly from the woody stem on a very, very short stalk (they're close to sessile, really), between the tightly packed, very short branches crowded with tight clusters of scaley leaves. Looking at the stems in detail is like a trip into an ever-shrinking world of tiny, fine features.  There are about 14 species/taxa of Lawrencia in Western Australia (which is the sum total of the species in Australia), and a couple of these are equally as bizarre as L. helmsii (like L. chrysoderma). I have included informally named taxa in that count.

Lawrencia helmsii has been described as a succulent, but that's only really because the tiny, tiny leaves are sort-of succulent. I'm not convinced. The stem is certainly not - it is woody and tough and sort of spongy like balsa wood. These main stems are certainly not a source of juice or water for the thirsty in the desert.

Because these are such weird-looking plants, there is some interest in growing them as an ornamental - but they grow in such a relatively extreme habitat that I'm not sure how they would go in an ordinary garden - unless you lived on a gypsum flat.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Chthonocephalus pseudevax

Chthonocephalus - etymology:  to have one's head stuck close to or in the ground. Literally meaning (in greek), "soil-head".

Chthonocephalus pseudovax

What a huge name for such a diminutive, unobtrusive plant. This little daisy grows in the more arid regions of Australia, on the impoverished silty clay loams which form the 'red sands' of the region. It is a spring annual (or desert ephemeral), and only really appears after good rainfall during winter months.  The main thing is that it is tiny! The heads (compound capitula) are only 1 - 3 cm in diameter, the plant is little more than a compact plant with a nice tap root, a whorl of leaves and then a compact compound flower head of tiny flowers (the florets).

Until Phil Short's review in 1990, there really was only about three species of Chthonocephlus. Now there are at least seven species, all very cryptic and requiring some detailed microscope work to work out whom is who. Chthonocephlus pseudevax is the common woolly groundhead, and is differentiated from the uncommon C. oldfieldianus by having 3 or 4 lobed florets instead of 5 lobed florets.

Not that you could possibly tell from a mere glance downwards. In fact, you'd be lucky to notice these plants at all if you weren't scanning the ground with a careful eye.

So next time you are walking among the wildflowers in the right area (i.e. inland Australia on red silty clay soils) - look down for Chthonocephalus - the little plant with the ridiculously big name.

Short, Philip S. (1990). A revision of the genus Chthonocephalus Steetz. (Asteraceae : Inuleae : Gnaphaliinae). Muelleria Vol. 7:225-238. National Herbarium and Botanic Gardens. Melbourne.

Addendum - I suspect that the image on Florabase website is not C. pseudevax but C. viscosus. Given that the premises are about to move, now is not a good time to tell them that that image and its voucher needs reconsideration.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The great hail storm

March 22nd was replete with storm warnings, so I stayed home just in case the roof of the crappy rental parted company from the walls during the predicted severe wind gusts. Well - we only copped heavy rain and minor back patio flooding. All of this was a welcome change to the months of drought which Perth had endured that summer.

But the western suburbs of Perth copped a rather more severe beating from The Great Hail Storm, with golf-ball units of hail which managed to smash windows and dent cars, the worst damage being recorded in a line between Osbourne Park to Karrakatta.

The most obvious damage has been to the trees. Extensive stands of trees in Kings Park have been stripped of their leaves - particularly the sheoaks ( Allocasuarina fraseriana), which I can only assume is because they have brittle branchlets and cladodes. The place really looks like it has been whipped around by a giant whipper-snipper. The impact marks of the hail on the burnt trunks of marri (Corymbia calophylla)  illustrate the size of the hail stones and force at which these slammed into the trees.
Unfortunately, over 40 endangered Carnabys cockatoos were killed by the storm, as they remain together in tight flocks and use Kings Park for shelter. The birds that were saved by vets, were released two weeks later back to their shattered homes. This is quite a blow to the species, which is declining overall.

Being next to Kings Park, the University of Western Australia was hit hard by the hailstorm, with flooded libraries and rare stained glass windows destroyed,  and obviously the glasshouses at the botany department also copped a fair beating. Having spent some time in my dark past working in these houses, I went to have a look to see how they had fared. Every single pane of glass was shattered, and many research projects, some of which had several years of progress, were destroyed that night, including that of postgraduate students.

So - something to keep an eye on this winter in Kings Park... recovery after the Great Hail Storm of March 2010.