Category: The Good The Bad & The Ugly


Just recently we have come across some new creatures in the garden that we haven’t seen before.  Aparasitic wasp that feeds on Lemon Tree Borer, it has striking patterns & distinctive white tips to it’s antenna. One site I found said that it may also feed on Codlin Moth larvae, which would be very useful in our orchard.

Lemon Tree Borer Parasite (Xanthocryptus novozealandicus)

Lemon Tree Borer Parasite (Xanthocryptus novozealandicus)

Green Tufted Lichen Moth

Green Tufted Lichen Moth

We also found a cool Moth, called the Tufted Lichen Moth, it’s not flashy, but using our cool new camera with a microscope function we could clearly see the tufts on it’s wings that give it it’s name.

 

Thirdly we came across a bright yellow ladybird, which was easy to identify. It is a Fungus eating Ladybird, which sounded useful, but apparently it stores spores of  powdery mildew or similar under it’s wing cases over Winter, while it hibernates & so can ensure it will have a food supply. Despite this habit I think it looks very cool & am happy to take my chances. It is always exciting to find something new, & interesting finding out just what it is. These small details of nature are amazing, the strangeness & complexity of it all. I’ve been visiting a website that helps with info & identification  called Nature Watch NZ, it’s well worth a visit.

Fungus Eating Ladybird Illeis galbula

Fungus Eating Ladybird Illeis galbula

A few weeks ago our son, Giles discovered some new & interesting spiders living near his home. These looked like tiny droplets of mercury, some were minute, and all we could see was a small glimmer of light reflecting off them. Good old Google images came up with a name, Dew Drop Spiders, or to give them their full name Argyrodes antipodianus. These originate from Australia but are pretty well spread throughout NZ. They are described as ‘kleptoparasitic’ – parasites by theft, which is a new word for me. This tiny spider makes a web which is attached to a host spider’s web, & from this it can sense when small prey are entrapped, small enough that the host spider doesn’t notice. The Dew Drop Spider makes a sortie onto the web, grabs its dinner & hastily retreats back to its own web.

Dew Drop Spider

After having a good look at the Dew Drops we wandered around looking to see if we could find any more on the fences. I came across quite a large web, with what looked at first to be a bird dropping on it, but as I looked more closely I could see some sort of spider in the middle. As we watched this very odd shaped spider came out to bundle up a fly, then it took it back into the central line, adding to what I’d first thought was a bird dropping. Above the web, there were three brown blobs, which we took to be tree gum or something similar, later, via Google again we found that these were egg cases for the spider. Now some weeks later they are still unchanged.

Information I have gathered about this weird spider, it’s official name is Cyclosa trilobata, a native to NZ. It belongs to the Orb Spider  category, & it seems that it’s habit of crouching in the middle of it’s fly debris may be a form of camouflage. They vary a lot in colour, grey, black, red, browns & silvers, & the males perhaps have more silver markings. Some of their Australian cousins make the most stunning webs, but this one is pretty unremarkable.

Three Lobed Spider Egg Cases Three Lobed Spider

In March 2014 I wrote an article about the health of our waterways, & had entered a piece of fibre art into the Nelson Fibre Art exhibition called ‘Downstream.’ I’ve just been reading an article in the Listener about a scientist called Mike Joy who is taking a stand for the wellbeing of New Zealands fresh water resources, here is the link:    http://www.listener.co.nz/current-affairs/ecologic/river-stance/

Our Creek Millstream

I’m interested in the study of species found in the water that act as indicators of water health or otherwise. I’m going to do some research of my own & report back what I find out. At the moment I can’t even identify many species so shall have to get familiar with those creatures we may hope to find in our own creek & other waterways. I have noticed that there seem to be few koura or freshwater crayfish around at the moment & this is unusual as we often see dozens in one spot. We also continue to have large rafts of algae in the slower running places, which block the stream & exacerbate growth of duckweed etc which further blocks the flow, hard to tell if this is a result of upstream pollution or simply that one of the large willows fell down & there is more sunlight warming the water & feeding the algae.The link below is informative on the process of checking the invertebrates in a given water supply. (benthic means at the lowest level, eg. the bottom of a stream bed, including silt.

Now it’s April, I have had one foray into the creek with a net & bucket, but alas also with leaky gumboots, which dampened my enthusiasm. The leaky boots also hindered my attempts to find critters to identify since I am a total sook about cold water. I took a few photos, & identified a couple of things,(I have meantime lost the piece of paper with their names on,) so on the whole it was not a hugely successful outing. We have some intrepid friends visiting this weekend & shall have a more thorough go at finding  some creatures & identifying them. Hopefully I can add some more useful info after that.

Critters from creek march2016 005 (Copy)

http://cber.bio.waikato.ac.nz/images/Macroinvertebrates_and_water_quality.pdf

A couple of weeks ago we noticed some new wasp-like insects, busily pollinating the Siberican Motherwort plants. They were marked just like wasps, but flew like bees, or hovered a bit, every now & then there would be a flurry as two larger bees fought, or a large one grabbed a smaller one.

Honey Bee (left) Wool Carder Bee (right)

Honey Bee (left) Wool Carder Bee (right)

Wool Carder Bee

Wool Carder Bee

 

We’ve discovered the best way to find out new things on google is to go to ‘Images’ to search, much quicker than trolling through loads of websites, so off we went in search of this rather alarming new visitor, and this is what we learnt:

These new insects are in the family Megachilidae: which includes Leafcutters & Mason Bees. They are Solitary Bees, not forming large colonies like the Honey Bee. The females are about half the size of the males, they have specialised rows of hairs on their legs, which they use to scrape ‘wool’ the downy fur from leaves like Woolly Lambsear. They carry this wool beneath their bodies, & use it to line their nests. The nests are found in disturbed habitats, cavities in rotting wood, & timber stacks etc.

The larger males are very territorial, attacking & chasing off any other pollinators from their patch, they also harrass the females, and “immobilise them, trying repeatedly to mate” not very endearing habits! Although they seem aggressive there does not seem to be any evidence that the Wool Carders are damaging our native bee populations or affecting the honey bees to any noticeable extent. The Wool Carders gather pollen from exotic plant species, with long tubular flowers, & have a preference for purple & blue flowers, although in our garden they were only found around the Leonurus sibericus flowers, which are pink. As yet we haven’t found any nests, but there is so much wilderness around the creek, they could be anywhere.

 wool bee 008 (shrunk) wool bee 024 (shrunk)

Our ports are our vulnerable spots for new species to enter NZ and these bees were first noted in 2006 in Napier & Nelson, since then they have spread out to over a dozen locations. I think in our garden since we stopped keeping bees, & the wild bees died from varroa, a much larger variety of pollinators are present in our gardens, this is reassuring in a way, that nature is filling the gap. We see far more Hover Flies, Drone Flies, Bumble Bees & Native Bees than we used to.

The other shift we’ve noticed over the last 5 years or so, is that we have less of the red & black spotted Ladybirds & more of the irridescent Steel Blue Ladybirds, this year a new arrival was the Yellow Shouldered Ladybird, which looks like a dusty blue bug, with big yellow spots, these were most often found feeding on the aphids at the top of the Swan Plants. They were impossible to photograph!!

It’s unsettling having new things arriving & wondering what these changes mean, & also missing old friends like the Magpie Moth & Cinnabar Moth, which used to be common in our gardens.

I just wanted to put in some bird photos that we’ve taken over the last couple of weeks. It’s actually much harder than you might think to get a clear picture of a bird, especially one that moves around alot. This means that for each shot that even has a bird in it, there are at least 10 with nothing but background. We have been chasing an elusive Fantail around the house, ending up with 20 photos of the cobwebs on our ceiling, but no bird.

There were three Tuis in the Birch tree the other day, one was so puffed up it looked huge, the other two were hopping around it, perhaps they were babies? Anyway Geoff managed to get a few good shots of it chortling away.

Tui In Birch Tree Tuis

The Waxeyes have discovered the Pineapple Sage bush that flowers outside our bedroom window, about six of them were busy feeding on the nectar & I managed to creep up & get a couple of clear pictures. They are such beautiful, lively little things, also quite hard to catch with the camera.

Silver Eye or Wax Eye in Pineapple Sage Bush Waxeye

Lastly a stunning Wood Pigeon that we came across at Waipatiki. It was stuffing itself full of the leaves & flowers of the Morning Glory vine. It seemed an unusual thing to eat, but luckily for us, it was so engrossed it didn’t mind us stealthily approaching. What a big & beautiful bird, with lovely white markings & an irridescent pink & mauve back. It made my day to see it.

Native Wood Pigeon or Kereru waipatiki Kereru

A familiar sound in Summer, is the high pitched buzzing of a female Mason Bee. Often we track the noise down & find the cells made of mud & clay, frequently with hapless spiders interred in them. We had to put cellotape on the vents on the TV because a Mason Bee kept arriving & going inside laden with mud. Our coats, which hang unused over the summer reveal clusters of cells, so too do the curtains. Our keyholes get filled up, as do any other likely crevices. This year as we moved the curtains, a whole collection of spiders fell out. Despite the books telling us that only Orb Spiders are collected, we had a fascinating variety, which inspired me to write about them. I Haven’t managed to find out what the lovely silver & yellow spider is.

Mason Bee Cells Spiders from a Mason Bee nest

In this close up photo below, you can see the Mason Bee’s egg waiting to hatch.

Close up, wasp egg is just off centre

Close up, wasp egg is just off centre

The female makes the cell, then collects spiders, which she stings to paralyse them, buzzing away happily while she works. Once the cell is packed with food supplies, she lays an egg & seals it shut. The egg hatches & the larva feeds on the preserved spiders. It’s a bit grim! Often we find empty cells with a hollow brown cocoon, which is all that’s left when the next generation emerge & fly away.

The Mason Bee itself is quite demur, a small black insect, maybe 10 to 15mm in length. They are native to New Zealand & Australia. I haven’t a photo of one to put in here, the high buzzing sound is often the first indication that you have a Mason Bee in your house. They don’t sting people the way a German Wasp does, so unless they are gumming up the insides of your TV you can leave them to go about their business, or even encourage them by setting up  some hollow sticks etc in the garden to provide a nesting site. There are some cool ideas for these on the internet. I was thinking that these days, a lot of people get their houses sprayed to kill spiders & other critters, & this probably makes the Mason Bee a less common visitor than it used to be.

One of the paddocks behind our place was recently cut & baled for hay. Since the bales were picked up, we have been amazed to see hundreds of Paradise Ducks arriving every day to feed. Every so often a large group takes off, & just like a scene from a nature doco they wheel & turn, flashing black & white.  Last night with beautiful light, we decided to creep up as close as we could to take some photos. Alas as the first group flew up, the batteries in my camera died, dammit!

Luckily Geoff had his camera & captured some of the action.

Hay HarvestParadise DucksDucks 4

Looking  up info about the Paradise Ducks, I’ve learnt that we have been wrongly assuming that the male is the black & white bird of the pair. Not so, it’s the female. A pair often forms a long term bond & may mate for life, ( although I remember they said that about white swans, then discovered that they were quite promiscuous!!) They are NZ’s only native Shelduck, which is in fact more goosely than duckish.  They are happy on land & in water, & it’s true that they can nest in trees, as well as long grass & hollow logs, where they lay about 9 eggs on average.

Paradise Ducks 1Ducks 2Ducks 3

I was told that they carry their young to the ground on their backs, but I’m not sure about that. At one time these bird numbers were low, as wetlands were drained, but now their numbers have prospered with the clearing of forest into pasture, & the establishing of ponds & dams. Now their numbers need to be controlled.

Known in Maori as Putangitangi, they were a managed food source, being hunted outside of the breeding season, when they were moulting & couldn’t fly.

Here we were, thinking we had seen all the bugs in our garden, when this character arrived on the kitchen windowsill. The photograph is taken on the relevant page of ‘The Reed Handbook of Common Insects.’ It was very tricky to get a picture of, & buzzed very disgruntledly.

Geoff trying to photograph TachinidGiant Hairy Tachinid

This is really a very bristly sort of fly, with a pointy head & striped abdomen.  All the Tachinids are parasitic, laying their eggs in larvae of butterflies, beetles & moths. According to our Reed’s book, this one lays it’s eggs in the Porina Moth caterpillars, & the flies can be seen flying over grassland looking for lunch for their young. It’s of the Protohystricia species, when I googled images, dozens of species came up, especially from Australia. I didn’t see this one though, it is a native, found South of Auckland.

Interestingly the Porina Moth can be a big problem on pastures, the caterpillars emerge at night to feed on the grass. Reed describes them as ‘flabby & they secrete a brown fluid,’  the book also notes that the adult moths have no mouth parts, so life is brief. Finally it notes that ‘ in a few evenings, the female can lay thousands of eggs, spraying them over the pasture like a topdressing plane.’

It’s all very mysterious & weird out there in the backyard jungle.

bee-swarm.jpg

It’s been a week for bee swarms, one came through in a whirling flurry, & settled in a hole in an old willow tree down by the creek. The other was more obliging & clustered in the orchard, where we dropped it into a box, ( well, Geoff held the box & I banged the branch hard to dislodge all the bees), & set it in front of any empty bee box. They seem to have settled in Ok, so we’re hoping to get an established hive. It wasn’t very big, swarms get measured in terms of soccer balls for some reason, so a swarm as big as 2 soccer balls is pretty impressive, ours rates about half a ball. Still I was pleased with the photo of it.

The other adventure we had this week was a visit to the Waipawa Community Gardens , which is a brilliant site, with large plots for families & groups to take on & grow veges etc. Our extended family is sharing half a plot with some other people. We’ve planted spuds so far, but plan to add Kumara & Pumpkins in a few weeks. It’s a good feeling working as a group, with the kids helping, & hooning around. I remember my Grandad in England had an allotment in London, & I really liked the idea of a communal meeting place, & already we have discussed  varieties of tomatoes, compost & poos of various types, mulching & green manure crops.

The group photo is the begininngs of the herb garden in Waipawa.

Hedgehogs

We used to have a lot of Hedgehogs in the garden, these days we don’t see so many. The other night Rifkin was barking incessantly, & when we went to investigate, there was alarge Hedgehog on the path. I’m always surprised by the way they move, there legs are quite long so they are higher off the ground than I expect & they can move really fast.

hedgehog-023.jpg

A friend of ours has taken a dislike to them, she says they eat the frogs. I don’t know about that myself, although we have a definite shortage of frogs this year, & those we have are tiny.  I’ve just checked out Wikipedia & yes they can eat frogs…bother. Lots of other useful info there, so I don’t think it’s worth my while regurgitaing it all here. Years ago our dog dug up a nest of hedgehogs, there were 3 or 4 babies , all except one were dead, & this one looked dead too. I picked up the tiny pink body, about the size of my thumb & as I held it in my hand to look at it, the warmth  must have revived it a bit & it gave a little quiver. Galvanised into action, I took it home &  wrapped it up in a soft cloth & put it on a hottie. I made up a brew of my ‘baby animal’  mix, which is a little honey, egg yolk, milk & a tiny bit of codliver oil. Warmed up in eggcup doses . The baby took this from a dropper & went to sleep, well as much as I could guess, since it was bald, pink & blind at this stage. Much like rearing kittens or puppies a baby hedgehog needs to have it’s tummy & bottom wiped to stimulate it to go to the toilet. We had a seed raising heat pad, which we adjusted the temp of, by stacking magazines on top of it, this provided a steady temp. Usually I’d wake once or twice in the night to feed the baby, although before long it was big enough to go all night.To cut a long story short, our baby thrived, we called it Hoggle. Hoggle was quite a character, in the evenings I would let him out to explore, when he was tired he would climb up onto my lap, curl up in my hand & go to sleep. As he got bigger he became more adventurous & loved to get behind the fireplace & into the backs of cupboards. As he got older he became more & more nocturnal, & then started to reflexly curl into a ball when startled, we decided this was a good time to release him into the garden. We set up a house in the shrubs, but I don’t think he ever slept there. For some time we put food out too. The next year we came across a mother hedgehog & about 6 babies in the garden, we wondered if it was our Hoggle & if he was a she after all.

hoggle-mumma-puss.jpg

One interesting fact I’ve learnt, is that hedgehogs perform a ritual, called anointing. This explains one of Hoggle’s less charming habits, & something we had been very perplexed by.. He would chew up cat biscuits into a frothy mess, then smear it down each side of his body, looked quite weird, green & red!  He smelt very bad after this process so I would give him a bath. Must have been one of the cleanest hedgehogs around. Apparently in the wild, this habit is performed to possibly cover their scent.