Field Trip to Busselton/Yallingup

Pied Cormorant attempting to swallow a large fish. Image: Colin Prickett

KRM Branch 26-29 Sept 2020

Our field outing for September was a long weekend stay at Yallingup, with 11 attendees. Our base was to be a house on a large block that we had rented for the weekend. As we were unable to move in until the afternoon it was decided to meet at the Busselton Jetty. The weather forecast for the weekend was not looking good, but while driving down it appeared that perhaps the forecasters had got it wrong for a change with a bright sunny sky and mild conditions. However, while waiting to catch the train for a ride out to the end of the jetty we could see a squall approaching across Geographe Bay and the conditions soon changed for the worse with heavy rain driving in. Fortunately the train carriages had windows that could be closed to keep out the rain and we stayed dry on our trip out to the Underwater Observatory. On the way out a lone Australasian Gannet was spotted diving for prey, its sleek body shape making very little splash as it entered the water. The arriving frontal system had an impact on the clarity of the water, but we were still able to have a good view of a large school of Yellow-tailed Scad, plus the marine life attached to the pylons. The Observatory is a good addition to the Jetty experience and well worth a visit.

The rain eased up while we had a spot of lunch and had almost stopped as we made our way to our base at Yallingup. Our home for the weekend, Alinjarra, was situated on an open woodland block with a wide variety of shrubs and other flora as the understorey. Our first orchid sighting did not take long with a Forest Mantis Orchid (Caladenia attingens) found alongside the boardwalk to the outside deck of the house as we unloaded our cars. After getting settled in, there was enough time to explore the block before the sun went down. A walk track from the car park to the rear of the property turned up some surprise sightings. Bird Orchids (Pterostylis barbata) were soon found just off the track along with Purple Enamels (Elythrantha brunonis). On a sandy patch just off the track we found Flying Duck Orchids (Paracaleana nigrita) and King in his Carriage Hammer Orchids (Drakaea glyptodon). Both were totally unexpected. More were found on what appeared to be a firebreak a bit further off the track. The Hooded Lily (Johnsonia lupilina) was also in flower along the track. Towards the front of the property more orchids were found including Rattle Beaks (Lyperanthus serratus), Dunsborough Donkey Orchids (Diuris jonesii) and Common Mignonette (Microtis media subsp. media). Other flora of note included the lovely Bunjong (Pimelia spectabilis), Holly-leaved Mirbelia (Mirbelia dilatata), Chorizema rhombeum and Scaevola calliptera. Fungi at the house block included Coltricia, Trametes, Trametes coccinea, and Laetiporus portentosus, the White Punk. After dinner a brief spotlight around by Bob Goodale turned up a Ring-tailed Possum, a great end to our first day. Overnight rain had cleared by dawn and, as we enjoyed a morning cuppa, we looked out from the deck to see a large group of Grey Kangaroos, with a couple of larger males engaged in a serious-looking sparring session. Western (previously Golden) Whistlers and Striated Pardalotes were calling and five Magpies flew onto the safety rail of the deck in search of a few morsels. Over the weekend Daniel would find the following invertebrates on the house block :A Clubiona sp. Sac Spider, and Opisthoncus sp Jumping Spider, and hundreds of Oecobius cf marathaus Wall Spiders; Cormocephalus sp. Centipedes; Predatory Ground Beetles; Clogmia sp. Moth Flies; Cossonine weevils, a Cheliferid Pseudoscorpion, and a pair of Tiphiid flower wasps all shaken from a Kingia’s leaves; unidentified native cockroaches and katydids; Bull ants – Myrmecia nigriscapa; and Tasmanoplana comitatis, a terrestrial predatory flatworm that showed up in the bathroom. A caterpillar found on the deck seems to be an Anthelid, but Daniel didn’t recognise it.

After breakfast we set out for Yallingup where we stopped near the old town hall, which is usually a good spot for orchids in early spring. Here we found more Dunsborough Donkey Orchids, Cowslip Orchids (Caladenia flava) plus a Scott River Spider Orchid (Caladenia thinicola). We then made the short drive up to the Torpedo Rocks Car Park where, after taking in the magnificent view out towards Smith’s Beach, we walked north along the Cape to Cape Track for a short distance. The Shark’s Tooth Wattle (Acacia littorea) with its masses of yellow flowers really stood out alongside the track.

In amongst some granite outcrops we found the Exotic Spider Orchid (Caladenia nivalis), which stands out among the coastal shrubs, plus a Broad-lipped Spider Orchid (Caladenia applenata subsp. applanata). A Bark-mimicking Grasshopper (Coryphistes ruricola) was spotted, but instead doing an excellent job of mimicking granite rock. Other invertebrates included: Prowling Spider Miturga gilva; Sticknest Rainbow Ants (Iridomyrmex conifer group); a Transverse Ladybeetle (Coccinella transversalis) and Green Spring Beetles (Diphucephala).
Image: Colin Prickett

Our next walk would be at Blythe Reserve, Old Dunsborough. It is only a small reserve but it contains some very nice flora. We saw Mangles Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos manglesii), Common Butterfly Trigger Plant (Stylidium piliferum), Twining Fringed Lily (Thysanotus sp.), Billy Buttons (Craspedia variabilis) and many others. The orchids found included Chapman’s Spider Orchid (Caladenia chapmanii), Rusty Spider Orchid (Caladenia ferruginea) and Swamp Spider Orchid (Caladenia paludosa), together with Forest Mantis and Dunsborough Donkey Orchids. Image: Colin Prickett

As usual, Daniel was on the look out for invertebrates and found an Argyrodes Dewdrop Spider on a spider orchid; Nasutitermes; Rhinotia weevils; and Signal Flies and some other curious flies on a Stinkhorn fungus.

Our next stop was Meelup Beach, where we stopped for lunch near the car park. An Osprey was seen flying over the beach as we arrived and, while enjoying lunch, we spotted Humpback Whales out near the horizon and, a little later, a pod of dolphins.

After lunch we took a walk along the track to the west through Meelup Regional Park. Along the track we found the beautiful Queen Trigger Plant (Stylidium affine) (left) and Stylidium megacarpum plus Forest Mantis Orchids, Blue China Orchid (Cyanicula gemmata) and Hill’s White Spider Orchid (Caladenia longicauda subsp. clivicola). A male Splendid Fairy Wren was spotted foraging amongst the leaf litter along the track and a small skink, a Western Pale-flecked Morethia (Morethia lineoocellata) posed atop a granite boulder long enough for a photo before scurrying off into the heath.

Image: Colin Prickett

Invertebrates included Cicadellid planthoppers; pollen-covered flies; large blood-sucking Tabanids; and tiny Heteromastix sp. Soldier Beetles.

For a change from concentrating on the wildflowers we decided to check out the Dunsborough lakes for wetland birds. We found the lakes near the golf course and associated residential area a bit disappointing in terms of birdlife with only a few Eurasian Coots and Pacific Black Ducks sighted.

Our last stop of the day was at Carbunup Nature Reserve. Situated right on the Bussell Highway this reserve is well worth a short stopover in spring. We parked close to the service station and walked along the edge of the road towards the entrance gate. Before we had gone too far along, we spotted a large group of Dunsborough Donkey Orchids growing out of the spoon drain on the roadside verge. A little further along the same drain we spotted the orchid named after this area, the Carbunup King Spider Orchid (Caladenia procera). More were found in the reserve itself, together with Chapman’s Spider Orchids, Rusty Spider Orchids and Rattle Beaks. We also found the Purple Mat Rush (Lomandra purpurea) in flower, a first sighting for many of us, plus Coral Vine (Kennedia coccinea). Invertebrate species included dozens of the June Beetle Colymbomorpha vittata, Case-bearing Leaf Beetles, and multiple specimens of the odd Hakea-associated weevil Rhinoplethes foveatus; and Western Web Dasher spiders. Our visit was capped off in great fashion when a group of Varied Sitellas foraged on the trees and shrubs around us with seemingly little concern for our presence. We then headed back to our base where we had a very pleasant dinner and reflected on a great day.

For our final day we met up with Bernie Masters, from the Busselton Naturalists Club, for a walk around Ambergate Reserve in Busselton. Bernie met us at the entrance to the Reserve and gave us a brief history of the Reserve and how it was saved from being cleared for agriculture. He handed out leaflets prepared by the Busselton Naturalists Club that outline the properties of the reserve on a seasonal basis. The leaflets explain that: ‘The reserve is a high-quality remnant of plants and animals that were once common throughout the southern Swan Coastal Plain. It contains several rare and endangered species, including a Verticordia feather flower and the Southern Brown Bandicoot or Quenda. Mapping has shown that three threatened ecological communities make up more than 80% of the Reserve. Our walk would take us through the two eastern blocks of the four blocks that make up the whole Reserve.

The first block contained Marri woodland on heavy soils and the second block was scrubland or open woodland on winter-wet soils with many Kingia australis. Swamp Spider Orchids (Caladenia paludosa) and Rattle Beaks (Lyperanthus serratus) were soon found in good numbers along the trail. Other flora included Milkmaids (Buchardia umbellata), Yellow Candles (Tripterococcus brunonis), Dampiera linearis, Yellow Pea (Gompholobium capitatum) and Hairy Yellow Pea (Gompholobium tomentosum), Swan River Myrtle (Hypocalymma robustum) and White Myrtle (Hypocalymma angustifolium). We also found Oak-leaf Grevillea (Grevillea quercifolia), Pepper and Salt (Philotheca spicata) and both Purple Flags (Patersonia occidentalise) and Yellow Flags (Patersonia xanthina). Other flora included the Green Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos viridus), Leucopogon cordatus, Comesperma confertum, Comesperma calymega, Thryptomene saxicola, Desmocladus fasciculatus, Pixie Mops (Petrophile linearis) and at least two species of Boronia.

Invertebrates included Neosparassus sp Badge Huntsman; assorted spiders including young Jewel Spiders and Leucauge sp. Silver Orbweavers; a Cossonine Weevil; a Boxing Bark Mantis (Paraoxypilus sp., most likely tasmaniensis); Scorpion Fly (Harpobittacus sp.)(right) and various flies including an apparently infinite number of mosquitoes, Bull ants – Myrmecia vindex, and a Female Wandering Percher Dragonfly (Diplacodes bipunctata).

Image: Colin Prickett

At the end of our walk we said goodbye to Bernie and thanked him for giving up his morning to guide us through this magnificent Reserve. It was greatly appreciated.

After a spot of lunch we decided to do a spot of birding and made our way to some of the Busselton wetlands. Our first stop was at a bird hide just off Peel Terrace. No sooner had a resident warned us of the presence of Tiger Snakes than we spotted a smallish one crossing the track in front of us.

The bird hide allowed views of an extensive wetland but unfortunately there were not many birds present, just a few Eurasian Coots and a male Musk Duck. Welcome Swallows appeared to be nesting beneath the bird hide. We soon left the hide and drove further east to another wetland system where we found a huge Straw-necked Ibis nesting colony amongst the Melaleucas. There was a constant coming and going from the nests. Behind the Melaleucas we saw at least 35 Pink-eared Ducks, while a Whistling Kite patrolled overhead.

A few of us stopped off at Canal Rocks on our way back to the house. As usual it was a popular spot with many visitors present. The walkway that had been damaged during a big storm at the start of winter had been replaced and we made our way out over the ‘canal’. On our way back we spotted a Pied Cormorant swimming down the canal and then lost sight of it as it dived under the water. It emerged at the end of the canal with a large fish. We watched for more than 10 minutes as it struggled to swallow the fish and we doubted that it would succeed. However, it finally swallowed the fish, then swam to the rocks where it spread its wings to dry and soak up some warmth from the sun. It was a perfect ending to another great day.

At breakfast the next morning a Western Whistler was heard calling close to the house. When I went out to investigate, I noticed that it was sitting on the wing mirror of my vehicle and would periodically take flight to attack perceived rivals in the mirrors of cars. It was a comical sight. But all too soon it was time to pack up our cars, clean the house and head off for home. It had been a great weekend. Special thanks go to Rosalie Barritt for arranging the house where we were based; it was an excellent choice.

Colin Prickett