Thursday, September 22, 2011

Field Trip to Smiths Lake, Central New South Wales

Yesterday, I returned from a field trip at Smiths Lake, around 250 kilometres north of Sydney on the Central Coast. Smiths Lake is salt water, and periodically naturally opens to the sea.

View Smiths Lake Field Station in a larger map

The annual field trip is a large component of a second year ecology unit run by Macquarie University, and I was there as the plant science tutor. As well as vegetation pracs, the trip included pracs on bird communities, plant-dwelling invertebrates, benthic diatoms, fish communities and benthic invertebrates. It's the first time I've formally taught in biology, and just loved the experience. Out in the bush, there were plenty of snakes, including a Death adder, Acanthophis sp., one of the most venomous snakes in the world, but we made plenty of noise in the bush to keep them at bay. No students lost, happily.

Pelagica, one of the university's research boats. 

I didn't spend much time on our boat Pelagica, since my pracs were in the bush. But I did get to enjoy a boat trip on the final day.

My passion for terrestrial orchids grows unabated! Isn't this a cutey?

Calochilus paludosus,
Red Beardy ground orchid

A frequent visitor to the field station, a young male
Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Macropus giganteus.
This fellow was on his own, so has probably been forced out from his mob by the dominant male, and is wandering about looking for his own mob to start.

Lomandra confertifolia ssp. rubiginosa, a delicate sedge. 

An Australian Pelican, Pelicanus conspicillatus
My tent was close to this spot. Pelicans were gliding past my tent at dusk. There are hundreds of them on the lake, and given the massive numbers of fish we saw, it's hardly surprising. It's a fish smorgasbord.

A beautiful place, and a fabulous field trip! Such diversity of species. Bliss.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Peacock Carpenter Bee

It's a few years since I last visited Muogamarra Nature Reserve, which is just north of Sydney and on the southern side of the Hawkesbury River. But today returned with some fellow biologists from Macquarie Uni. The flora was as bogglingly diverse and plentiful as ever, but today a fascinating native bee caught my eye.

This is the Peacock Carpenter Bee, also known as the Metallic Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa bombylans. Given its colouration and metallic shine, at first I thought it was a beetle, but closer examination showed its distinctly beelike nature.

The bees were busy feeding at the copious flowers of Eriostemon australasius, the Pink Wax Flower.

Eriostemon is a genus in the family Rutaceae that's recently been split by the taxonomists, with most of the species being transferred to the genus Philotheca. Only Eriostemon australasius and E.banksii remain.

The Peacock Carpenter Bee is so known because of its colouring and life-cycle. Depending on the angle of the reflected light, its colour changes from blue to green to purple. And as for their carpentry, this is what the Australian Museum has to say:
The nest of the Peacock Carpenter Bee is usually a single tunnel about 30 cm long with interconnecting passages when the wood is wide enough. The tunnels are sectioned off into brood cells, which are sealed after an egg is laid inside with a supply of nectar and pollen rolled up into a moist ball. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the food balls and pupate.  
Often the young bee in the bottom cell of the nest emerges from its pupa first as it was the first egg laid. It chews its way through the walls of the other cells to break free of the nest. The other pupae usually fall through the holes and gather in the bottom cell. They hatch normally and climb their way out of the nest.

Female carpenter bees sometimes cooperate during brood rearing, taking it in turns to guard the nest entrance while the main egg-laying bee goes out foraging for nectar and pollen to feed the larvae. [Source]
The bee grows to 1.8 cm in length, feeds on nectar and pollen, and is found in Eastern Australia north of Sydney.

If you're planning a trip to Sydney, I really urge you to time your visit for when Muogamarra is open to the public, a few weekends in late winter/early spring. It is a beautiful place. I've put more photos from the day, including plenty of plant shots, on Picasa, here.