Saturday, 16 November 2013

A Hidden Gem on the Gold Coast

Reedy Creek Lagoon, Varsity Lakes

I like my coastlines wild and rugged, so the Gold Coast isn't always my first choice for a day at the beach. The stretch of shore between Surfers Paradise and Coolangatta has been extensively urbanised, with high-rise holiday units established right up to the frontal dunes. It is a fast-growing area with many new suburbs popping up each year, the most recent example being Varsity Lakes. Originally, my intention was to survey this location as a brief stop-off on the way to the beach, but I was so impressed at the quality of natural habitat that had been retained in the area that I ended up foregoing the swim.


Officially, this little reserve doesn't exist. I didn't see any signs or commemorative plaques during my time there and the area is small and unnamed on various maps. This is especially odd considering that there are a maze of well-planned pathways in the reserve, meandering through sections of bushland where careful re-planting of native vegetation has occurred. Someone's efforts are going unrecognised!

I entered the bushland off Castello Drive, a short walk from the nearby Train Station. My goal was to document the insect life of the area, and my attention was quickly captured by this winged beast.

Australian Tigertail (Ictinogomphus australis)

Pacific Baza

Noisy Miners (Manorina melanocephala) distracted me soon after with alarm calls directed at a White-bellied Sea-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) flying overhead. Another bird of prey I saw later - the exotic-looking Pacific Baza (Aviceda subcristata) - escaped harassment by mostly sticking to the tree canopy.

Around the wetlands were common waterfowl species including Pacific Black Ducks (Anas superciliosa) and White-eyed Ducks (Aythya australis), both of which were outnumbered by Grey Teal (Anas gracilis). A little island in the lagoon offered foraging opportunities for a pair of Black-fronted Dotterel (Elseyornis melanops).

Common Adreppus nymph
Focussing back on the micro-wilderness, I found this young Adreppus Grasshopper (Adreppus fallax) on a waterside sapling. Notice how it seems to be aware of its colouring, choosing to rest on the brown leaf instead of the green ones eitherside! A much less pleasant encounter occurred later when a concealed Giant Grasshopper (Valanga irregularis) flew out of a bush towards my face. The hand-sized creature collided with my upper chest before continuing on its way, and I was glad there were only birds and bugs around to hear me scream. It shared the air with Wanderer (Danaus plexippus) and Common Crow (Euploea core) butterflies, each sailing lazily around their respective foodplants. At least the butterflies respected my personal space!

Wide-banded Grassdart (Suniana sunias)

Cymbidium species (?)

Several thunderstorms this week ensured Reedy Creek was in full flow through the lagoons, and on a damp streambank I found a patch of these Orchid-looking plants. I'm going to go out on a limb and say they may possibly be a Cymbidium species, but I'm happy to be corrected! Truth be told, apart from the main groups of Australian natives, I know very little about plant identification. I notice that as I get older, I have become more curious about flora types, not just seeing them as 'bird resting places' like I used to. [August 2014 update: after re-visiting the site with plant ID books, these plants are Palm-Lilies (Cordyline sp.) and are actually considered to be rather rare.]

Lowland forest
The open forest habitat featured Eucalyptus and Melaleuca species for the most part, but revegetation work around a saltwater inlet has resulted in a grove of Beach Hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus) thriving. Alongside Reedy Creek, palms reach for the sky, recreating a Gold Coast lowland rainforest habitat lost to the urban sprawl. Rainbow Lorikeets (Trichoglossus haemotodus) were a beautiful sight in these sections, calling noisily from nesting hollows high up in the branches. On the ground in the shadows, another bird was recognisable by its distinctive hairstyle alone.
Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes)

Where the sunlight filtered through, Garden Skinks (Lampropholis delicata) watched me carefully as they basked.

Garden Skink

Elsewhere, these two Large Brown Robber Flies (Dolipus rubrithorax) were - ahem! - enjoying themselves too much to pay any attention to me. I left them to it after taking their picture, but Dome-backed Spiny Ants (Polyrhachis australis) clearly like to watch!

Large Brown Robber Flies and Dome-backed Spiny Ant
Banded Pupa
Parasite Wasp

I had intended my original focus to be on the Wasp species of the area, but a lack of currently flowering trees meant that the more obvious species were not prolific. Amongst the humid leaf litter beside Reedy Creek were several Banded Pupa Parasite Wasps (Gotra species) however. The females of these stingless wasps have a greatly-elongated egg-laying organ named an 'ovipositor', which they use as a syringe to inject their eggs into insect pupae, particularly Moth cocoons. The wasp larva hatches quickly and feeds on the creature inside, sometimes killing it and at other times allowing it to just survive. A related Orchid Dupe Wasp (Lissopimpla excelsa) that I saw later featured the ovipositor organ, identifying it as a female.
Orchid Dupe Wasp
This wasp gets its name from the way in which the male is tricked into mating with a type of Orchid flower (Cryptostylis leptochila), pollinating it in the process. His excuse is that the flower scent is almost an exact match for the female wasp's sex pheromones.



Sceliphron formosum nest
One important difference between a Wasp and a Bee is that the larvae of the former are always carnivorous, whereas Bees feed their young on plant products like honey. This means that despite their occasionally aggressive nature, Wasps actually do us a great service where insect control is concerned. Around the various picnic shelters in this location, I saw the nests of the Slender Mud-nest Wasp (Sceliphron formosum), a species that provides food for its young by stuffing live caterpillars into these egg chambers. In a more landscaped lakeside area, a large Orange Spider Wasp (Priocnemus bicolor) swooped around the Lomandra bushes at high speed, mocking my photography skills. As its name suggests, this Wasp feeds its young on Spiders that include even the biggest of Huntsmen (Heteropoda) species. The only time I ever feel sorry for a spider is when I think of the fate they meet at the hand (or stinger) of this wasp - paralysed and walled into a chamber, then eaten alive! Just another example of how 'Wild' our suburbs and gardens truly are!

Graphic Flutterer (Rhyothemis graphiptera)




22 comments:

  1. a very nice sampling of insect life, there. great macro shots of them, too. pretty lily pond.

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    1. Thank you, glad you liked it! Yes, the lily pond had a nice calming effect on me!

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  2. intro photo is very serene Christian and the dragonfly shot is magnificent. Hard to capture the Pacific Baza's, you managed. Oh and the Graphhic Flutterer is fabulous too; great and informative post.

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    1. Thanks Carole, glad you enjoyed reading it! I had a perfect Baza shot lined up in a nearby tree until it was dive-bombed by a Currawong. It then flew out to the lagoon where I ended up taking the picture on display here. Damn Currawong! ;-)

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  3. What a fabulous walk with you Christian. The two Dragonflies are my favourites but they're all great. I'd love to see that Spider Wasp in action with a Huntsman!

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    1. Thanks Em, glad you enjoyed the walk! I've seen the Spider Wasp in action before and it's quite alarming - will try get a photo sometime!

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  4. Great set of shots - nice place to know about when my kids force me to go to the Gold Coast!

    Have you been caught up in the rain / hail ?

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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    1. Thanks Stewart! Yes we've had storms rolling in every afternoon for about a week now and I've been loving it as I finally have water in my frog pond - and frogs! I've been in a hail-free area though so I'm lucky. Most amazing was a tornado in Moreton Bay on Saturday morning, which I'll post a picture of at the end of the month.

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  5. This is a wonderful series of photos and information..I like the macro closeups...I love the lush forest picture..so green and beautiful. cheers.

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    1. Thanks Nora, it was definitely a special find! :)

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  6. Hi Christian and re your question. Mixed feelings about shooting. Shooting is way of life around here in such a traditional farming area which is also 10-15 miles from the notorious Duke of Westminster’s upland estate (persecution of raptors). Morally no one should shoot wild animals, and certainly not breed birds for “sport”, but I can see that in their provision and management of land for birds to shoot, it can increase the habitat for other species, often scarce ones at that.

    It's good to hear that despite developement in your area, someone is taking the time and trouble to make a spot or two for wildlife. Your first picture of the blue and green lake is quite beautiful. A stunning Tiger picture too.

    Can't imagine a hand-sized Grasshopper but I think it would take anyone by surprise. You make an interesting point you make about the difference between a wasp and a bee, and a pity the wasps don't have a better PR system for spreading the word.

    The Graphic Flutterer is superby named and another stunner. I really enjoyed your varied post today.

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    1. Hi Phil! I think the establishment of shooting reserves might be a key difference between the English and Australian practise of this activity. I'm pretty sure the shooters here just go off into natural wetlands and reserves rather than create and manage their own, and photos emerge every year of rare and 'black-listed' species having been shot. We are probably living up to the Aussie stereotype of being 'redneck yahoos' in this way!

      I'm glad you enjoyed my post, thanks for your kind praise RE: pictures.

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  7. It looks like a great spot! I think I'll have to check it out on my next drive down the coast. Great images!
    Thanks for visiting my blog.
    You may well have run by me at Kangaroo Point. When I shoot there, I usually shoot down by the river and then on the way back up the stairs to the rotunda, I climb the brick wall half way up and sit on the rock edge.

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    1. Oh that's a great spot! I often finish the my city loop with a run up those stairs and always admire those brave souls on the rock ledge. Thanks for the kind words RE: my photos too :)

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  8. I notice the voyeur Polyrhachis australis in your photo and it made me remember a photo I'd seen of their nests

    http://www.qm.qld.gov.au/Find+out+about/Animals+of+Queensland/Insects/Ants/Common+species/Spiny+Ants#.UtCd4rSomSo

    Has anyone found these ants aggressive? We have biggish black ants in our garden that build nests like that and they are very aggressive if you happen to disturb their nests. They have a nasty bite too. I've talked to other people about them and they keep saying they are green ants but they don't look a bit like the photos of green ants I've seen. Any ideas?

    We also have the gorgeous Polyrhachis ammon in our garden and I love them.

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    1. Hi Shell, sorry I only just read your reply now, months late!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm not an ant expert myself but I do have P. australis nests in my garden citrus tree, and yes they swarm out angrily if disturbed. They don't sting however, so while you feel them bite with their jaws, you shouldn't really feel anything once they let go. If your ants cause you pain that lasts longer, then I'd say it is a stinging type. If you live in North Queensland, there is the very aggressive Green Tree Ant that is common in gardens and it has an extremely painful sting. They are a pale lemony green colour, not the black/metallic green like the Green Ants that live in our lawns which you might be seeing images of online.

      Hope this helps and sorry once again for the lateness of my reply!

      Christian

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    2. No problem Chris, Great to hear from you anyway.
      I live on the Redcliffe peninsula and, as you know Sandgate, you'll know it's very close by. I have seen them on the south side of Brisbane too. Their bite is like paper wasp's and sometimes it takes weeks before the red marks disappear.
      Anyway, thanks again for your reply.
      Shell

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    3. Ahh Redcliffe - yes I know the Peninsula very well! There's an early blog post on here about Queens Beach!

      I think some of the Polyrachis species squirt irritating chemical fluids at any unwanted visitor to their nest, so maybe combined with a bite, they give you a nasty reaction? It would be a shame to have to remove them from your garden though as they would be keeping insect pests under control.

      Be careful it's not some exotic species you have there too - Ants really do spread all over the world quite easily!

      Cheers,
      Christian

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