Category Archives: Not a bird

Silver chrysalis on Oleander bush – Common Crow Butterfly

Strolling along, head in the trees as is my wont, I saw something that fair knocked the socks off me. Today’s post is not about a bird, but it is about something that birds encounter.

It’s the chrysalis of the Common Crow Butterfly, hanging from an Oleander leaf. Here it is from a different angle:

At first I thought someone was playing a trick, and had stuck a Christmas bauble on the bush. Then I did some research, and found the Australian Museum’s page about the Common Crow Butterfly. Evidently the pupal stage (chrysalis) lasts about two weeks. I must have discovered this one towards the end of its transformation. I first saw the chrysalis on Thursday. Less than a week later, on Tuesday, the chrysalis had turned black, and I could see the yellow and white markings on the butterfly’s wing. This photo is blurry, because it was early morning twilight, and I had only my phone camera.

Later the same day, the chrysalis was empty:

Oleander bushes are poisonous. Extremely so, to humans. So I wondered, are they poisonous to birds? If so, is the pupa poisonous too, given that the caterpillar had no doubt been feeding on Oleander leaves? It seems the answer to both questions is yes. Oleanders and the pupae of the Common Crow Butterfly are poisonous to most birds.


Ringtail possum in nest

When walking through the Australian bush near Sydney, you see many nests in the trees overhead. They’re not all made by birds. Ringtail possums build and live in nests too. A possum nest is called a drey.

Today I spotted this rather untidy-looking nest in a tree above a path:

When I got closer and zoomed in with my camera, I saw this cute character peering out of the nest:

I continued on my walk. About half an hour later, on my way back, I noticed that the possum was still peering out of the nest but had changed to a more comfortable position:

Possums are sociable creatures, often sharing their nests with other members of the family. If you zoom in on the above picture (open it in a different tab of your browser then zoom in) I think you can see the curled up back of another possum inside the nest.

Here’s another view of the nest, with the possum sticking out of the top left of the nest:

What a cute face!

Tree, moon, wind, and a serendipitous fruit bat

There’s no bird in this post. Just a restful scene of tree branches, a moon, a freshening wind, and a surprise appearance by a fruit bat in the gloom. I think the wind dislodged the bat from its perch in the tree.

Cicada, what a noise!

The cicadas are out in full force this summer. A week ago, while walking in the bush on a hot morning, I was suddenly doused in spray of cool drops from the trees above. It seems cicadas do pee. Copiously. A quick check of the internet assured me the spray is harmless. You can basically view it as sugar water that’s passed through a cicada.

However, the occasional dousing is not the most noticeable characteristic of cicadas. The thing most people notice about them is their singing. Song is not exactly the right word. What a noise! Only the male cicadas sing. This video shows how they pulsate their abdomens to make the noise:

They are large insects, about the thickness of an adult person’s thumb, and interesting to look at. I think they’re quite attractive, in an outdoorsy sort of way:

They have an impressive life cycle. The adult cicada is the winged insect we see, and it lives for only a few weeks. But the nymphs, which are the form of the creature that hatch from the eggs, live for around seven years, underground. A previous post of mine has pictures of the empty husks left behind when a nymph transforms into the winged adult.

This picture shows the underside of one cicada as well as the top of another:

I think these are Black Prince cicadas (Psaltoda plaga). I found them at Manly Dam National Reserve, near Sydney: 33°46’37.6″S 151°15’09.4″E.

The cicadas in my previous post were Floury Bakers (Aleeta curvicosta), noted for singing upside down.

This blog is primarily about birds, and cicadas aren’t birds. But they’re nearly as big as some birds, and they’re part of our local birds’ ecosystem. In fact, the larger birds have a feast during cicada season. One of my first memories of Australia is of coming across half a cicada buzzing aimlessly on a path through a bushy area. The insect was bright green, the first green one I’d ever seen, and the sight filled me with sadness. So I’m happy to see them when they come, even though their call is a little intrusive!

Cicadas singing

Not a bird this time, but a beetle that makes bush walking painful to the ears in the summer months around Sydney. The piercing noise of cicadas is familiar to most Sydney-siders. In this video, you can hear them all round you, and see one close-up pulsating its abdomen to make the noise.

The insect is quite large – about the length of your thumb – and has transparent, lacy wings:


Their huge eyes make them look super cool, as if they’re wearing sun glasses:


An interesting fact: The adult cicada is the winged insect we see, and it lives for only a few weeks. But the nymphs, which are the form of the creature that hatch from the eggs, live for around seven years, underground.

A while back, I came across these cicada husks. When the nymph is ready to transform into the winged insect, it climbs up from the underground onto a bush or tree trunk and sheds its skin. These are the resulting empty husks:

Cicada husks

Australian water dragon in tree

While I wander with my head in the clouds, looking for birds, I sometimes spot other interesting creatures. This is an Australian Water Dragon.

They’re quite large lizards, at 80-90 cm when adult, and attractive with their fierce eyes and that spiky crest running down their spine. They can be quite colourful. This one is shades of grey with yellow tinges. I’ve seen others with a rosy red glow on their chests. They like to be near water, and have long-fingered strong hands for climbing trees.

Australian water dragon

Common name: Eastern water dragon, or Australian water dragon

Scientific name: Itellagama lesueurii lesueurii

Approximate length: 90 cm

Date spotted: 3 December 2016

Season: Summer

Location: Manly Dam Reserve, New South Wales, Australia

Latitude/longitude: 33°46’50.1″S 151°15’04.5″E

Caterpillar nest high in a tree

Wandering through the bush looking at birds in my usual fashion, I saw this clump of something high in a tree. I zoomed in and took a photo. That’s when I discovered that the something is a web full of caterpillars! I’m deducing they’re caterpillars from the well-nibbled state of the nearby leaves.

Caterpillar nest

Date spotted: 24 September 2016

Season: Spring

Location: Manly Dam, New South Wales, Australia

Latitude/longitude: 33°46’45.9″S 151°14’59.4″E

Psyduck in Sydney

This blog is usually about birds in the real world, but I couldn’t resist posting this encounter with Psyduck from Pokémon Go. The game is a cute demonstration of irtual reality and the real world merging in augmented reality.

According to the description in Pokémon Go, Psyduck has a mysterious power to generate brain waves that only sleeping creatures should be able to emit. Useful, I guess?

Psyduck at Manly Dam

Common name: Psyduck

Scientific name: Duck Pokémon

Height: 80 cm

Date spotted: 23 July 2016

Season: Winter

Location: Manly Dam Reserve, New South Wales, Australia

Latitude/longitude: 33°46’37.2″S 151°14’49.3″E

Bird or UFO?

While walking through a patch of bush near Sydney this morning, I spotted this quirky bird in the distance.

You’re seeing it here with the benefit of my camera’s powerful zoom. Even so, I bet you looked twice! Here’s a picture with more of the surroundings in view:

They’re actually seed pods of a Banksia serrata, one of my favourite Australian trees. The tree is fondly called Old Man Banksia, and often has an eccentric twisted shape and gnarled bark. The seed pods can look quite funny, due to their varied shapes and hair-like protrusions. These pods have had all their hair burnt off by a recent bushfire.

So now I can call my find an INFO (Identified Non-Flying Object) instead of a UFO. INFO is a nice name for a mystery solved. 🙂

Water dragon in a tree

Not a bird this time. This is an Australian water dragon – a reasonably large lizard that climbs trees and loves water. This one is about 60 cm long, the length of my arm without my hand.

I first spotted it when walking underneath the branch it was on. See the impressively long tail:

Water dragon in a tree

Here’s a side-on view. Apologies for the silhouette. The lighting was difficult:

Water dragon in a tree

This is a close-up of its head and hands:

Water dragon in a tree

Common name: Eastern water dragon

Scientific name:  Intellagama lesueurii lesueurii

Approximate length: 60 cm

Date spotted: 25 October 2014

Season: Spring

Location: Manly Dam National Park, New South Wales, Australia

Latitude/longitude: 33°46’24.1″S 151°15’05.5″E