September 13, 2013, was a busy day, and it will take me a few posts to get through it. This one takes us on a short walk away from the Stirling Range Retreat at the northern edge of the Stirling Ranges National Park, in search of a bit of wilder bush and the birds and plants that live there. It follows directly from our morning stroll around the retreat itself, the subject of my last post.
This bird, though, wasn't so much in the wilderness as in someone's front garden at the park border, just south of the retreat along the main road. It is a male Red-capped Parrot (Purpureicephalus spurius), sole member of its genus and the most colourful (if not garish) and distinctive of southwestern Australia's parrots. This is the best look I had at it.
With it was a Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis), much more willing to let me get a close approach. This is the southwestern race chloronotus.
Grass trees (Xanthorrhoea spp) are very Australian, and very odd. They are oddest in flower; those odd flowering spikes may remind you of cattails, but grass trees are actually closest to daylilies, aloes and their relatives. Modern classifications include them all in a single family, the Xanthorroeaceae.
Mallee country can look greyish and dry, but that just makes these brilliant pink flowers stand out all the more.
This is a species of Hibbertia or native buttercup (again, not a true buttercup but a member of the Goodeniaceae), but I am, as usual, not sure which.
Clusters of Starflower (Calytrix leschenaultii), a plant featured in my last post, added another touch of bright purplish-pink to the landscape.
Less colourful, perhaps, but still attractive, is Bunjong (Pimelea spectabilis), a member of the Pimeleaceae.
Even the grasses were attractive here - especially this one, with its silvery tassels.
So were a few plants without flowers, including this sundew (Drosera sp.).
We were not the only animals on the trail. Western Grey Kangaroos (Macropus fuliginosus) eyed us with, I suspect, quite limited curiosity.
Sharing our interest in flowers, but for culinary rather than botanical reasons, were an assemblage of honeyeaters. We spent quite a bit of time watching birds like this Yellow-plumed Honeyeater (Lichenostomus ornatus) probe for nectar among the white stamens of eucalyptus blossoms.
Honeyeaters like the Yellow-plumed belong to the dominant family of songbirds in Australia, New Guinea and their surrounding islands. Honeyeaters (Meliphagidae), unlike the members of such nectar-feeding bird families as the sunbirds (Nectariniidae), come in all shapes and sizes. Not all of them are primarily nectar-feeders - some, for example, subsist primarily on lerps, the sugary shells secreted by some scale insects - but most will visit flowers at least occasionally. Unlike sunbirds and hummingbirds, relatively few of them are brightly coloured, boasting only touches of ornament like the Yellow-plumed Honeyeater's yellow plume.
The Brown-headed Honeyeater (Melithreptus brevirostris) is the least colourful of one of the more strikingly-patterned genera of honeyeaters, its members generally identified by relatively short bills and dark crowns, with a white or whitish band stretching around the back of the head from one eye to the other.
The only Melithreptus I had never seen before was this one, the Western White-naped or Swan River Honeyeater (Melithreptus chloropsis). This was not something that bothered me particularly when I lived in Australia in the early 1970s, because at that time it was regarded as only a well-marked race of the eastern White-naped Honeyeater (M. lunatus) which differs most obviously in having the bare skin around the eye red rather than white. It was only accepted as a separate species after a molecular study in 2010. Of course it is still the same bird as it was in 1973, but I confess the lister in me was gladder to see it in 2013 than I might have been a few decades earlier.
Our walk took us through open heathland and eucalyptus woods dominated by Wandoo (Eucalyptus wandoo). Everywhere there were flowers.
The further we walked, the more wildflowers we saw. There was a variety of composites; this one, without ray florets, might be Annual Buttonweed (Cotula australis), but this is s family I am never too sure about - especially considering the number of alien composites there could be in the area. [20/4/15 - more likely Globe Chamomile (Oncosiphon piluliferum), an alien species from South Africa]
What these two are I have no idea, other than that they are obviously composites (Asteraceae).
The most startling flowers along the trail were Cat's Paws (Anigozanthos humilis), miniature versions of the kangaroo paws we were to see further north, weird in shape and striking in colour.
This is one of the many species of Dampiera (Goodeniaceae).
OK, I haven't the faintest idea what this is. Any Australian botanists out there?
I believe that this is one of two species of Flame pea (either Chorizema rhombeum or C. uncinatum).
There are a number of similar-looking iris relatives in the southwest. This one could be a local endemic, the South Stirling Morning Iris (Orthrosanthus muelleri).
This looks very much like a starflower (Calytrix), but with white flowers instead of blue.It may be Brush Starflower (C. asperula) or something similar.
Featherflowers (Verticordia), like starflowers, are highly attractive and unusual shrubs in the myrtle/eucalyptus family (Myrtaceae). They get their common name from the sepals, which are both colourful and divided into a series of narrow lobes, forming a featherlike fringe surrounding each flower. There are over 100 species, mostly confined to the Australian southwest. They come in a range of pinks and yellows; this one is probably Golden Featherflower (Verticordia serrata).
The hard, woody pods of Hakea spp. may not split open until after a fire, or after the plant bearing them dies.
This Harsh Hakea (Hakea prostrata), a widespread southwestern species presumably named for its spiny leaves, is carrying this season's crop of blossoms.
This is a different species of Kunzea from the one I displayed earlier in this post, with mauve flowers in more discrete, rounded heads. I believe it to be Kunzea recurva.
It was a flower-filled walk, to be sure, but we'll end back in the animal kingdom. In a bare tree we found a watchful Short-billed or Carnaby's Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus latirostris), the best look we had had at this bird so far. This is a large and spectacular bird (despite its lack of colour), with an interesting taxonomic history.
It was once thought that there was only one species of black cockatoo with white cheeks and tail patches in the southwest. It was called the White-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus baudinii), the western equivalent of the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo (C. funereus) of eastern Australia. In 19xx, though, a study demonstrated that the White-tailed Black Cockatoo was actually a complex of two species, with different bill shapes, calls and behaviour. Both are rare, but this is the commoner and more wide-ranging of the two.