Local insects and animals – Green tree frog


The green tree frogs are back!!! We haven’t seen them here for years. First the extended dry period then the massive fire season seem to have knocked the population down so much that spotting a tree frog is cause for excitement.

Green tree frogs were once so common here at the humpy that we had invasions of froglings hopping through the humpy some nights as they left their spawning dam and went out into the world in search of adventure. After finding a tree frog on the pillow at bed time once or twice, we invested in mosquito nets for the beds that were tucked under the mattress to keep them out. In recent years we have missed seeing them around. I am so pleased that we have a few popping back up.

They eat mostly insects, but have also been known to gobble up the odd gecko and sometimes baby mice. In return, a lot of creatures eat them, black snakes love the taste of tree frog, as do brown snakes and pythons. Our ducks will chase them if left to their own devices too (we have rescued more than one big frog from the duck pen). They are mostly seen at night moving from their day beds to the hunting ground, or around the dam when it is raining, looking for love in the karaoke bar.

I love the sound of tree frogs calling from hidden places in the afternoon, it always predicts that a storm or rain is coming. They call in the rain; singing a song of joy and coming fertility until the rain has no choice but to fall on them (and us).

Apparently, this poor frog is depressed. She is a brown colour which means her mood is not good. Who knew frogs are like mood rings?

We have plenty of places a tree frog can hide and stay damp in the humpy garden. If you don’t have any place for them to hide outside, they will find a way into your house and look for a place there; they are particularly fond of flush toilets (everyone wants a house with a pool), behind paintings and under pot plants. Outside they like plants that have big leaves, damp pots and piles of rocks or old wood.

This girl is in need of a good meal and a quiet pond to swim in.

I find tree frogs charming and quirky, I know some people are afraid of them and find them ugly, but I can’t help but see the stoic joy they find in settling into the perfect place for the day, the glee they exhibit when they find a huge moth to eat and the self satisfaction of their measured hop…hop…hop on a tin roof at night. Welcome back Australian tree frogs, we missed you.

Local insects and animals – Satin bowerbird

It is the time of year when nature gets busy. There are babies everywhere; chickens, ducklings, firetail finches, blue fairy wrens, goanna, black snakes…the list goes on. Most residents of the humpy are finding a mate (or sticking with the one from last year) and settling down to raise a family. Not the Satin bowerbird though; he fancies himself a player. Satin bowerbirds are regarded as pests in our area, they are one of the main reasons all our garden areas are locked up like Fort Knox (along with possums, they are the most garden destructive species I know). They eat any fruit and vegetable plants they can get to and love red fruits (tomato, strawberry, capsicum and yes, even chilli). I find them annoying and fascinating at the same time.  

The mature male is a shiny blue/black colour, they are really very beautiful. The female and any males under about five years of age are a greenish yellow, mottled colour with the most extraordinary violet eyes I have ever seen.   The breeding behaviour of the Satin bowerbird is what makes them so very interesting. The male Satin bowerbird builds a bower; basically a well decorated clump of grass. He finds as many blue, silver or otherwise shiny objects as he can to decorate with, endlessly fussing with the placement of ornaments. Bowerbirds will steal pieces from other male’s bowers. When I was a child there was a certain blue plastic hammer (about 30cm long) which used to migrate from bower to bower every year. It was something of a game to find the bower with the hammer. I still marvel at the determination of those males; carrying a toy larger than themselves over distances of up to a kilometer. I wonder if that blue hammer is still being passed around. All of this effort is designed to attract as many females as possible. These birds have even been known to paint their bower with crushed berries and mud (mulberries beware).   The female comes down to see his bower (several times in fact) and if she aproves of the bower she will stay to watch his mating dance (he flutters around and makes whirring noises then dashes back and forward, some even roll over. Then… if he is lucky…she will mate with him. After which she leaves to start her career as a single mother and the male continues to try to attract more females. This has evolved as a very efficient way to spread genes as females do not choose the same male to mate with every year.   At some point between the house viewing and the stage show the female will go off and build herself a messy stick nest (the bird version of a humpy) so as to have somewhere to lay eggs after mating. These nests are not easy to find and I do not see baby bowerbird very often until they get to the leaving home (or fledging) stage. Judging by the number of surviving young I believe that female Satin bowerbirds are very good mothers who rarely lose their young.   The natural diet of the bowerbird is native fruits such as figs, wild raspberries, lilly pilly and other berries. Of course that means they eat what we grow in our gardens (being fruit based as well). Their role in the environment is to spread seed so that new plants can grow. To that end their digestive system is somewhat messy; they eat a lot of fruit but digest only parts of it, they then poop the seed and some partially digested waste out in a sort of spray pattern, usually from a fairly high branch. This means that plants such as wild raspberry can have its seed distributed to new locations. This charming habit also makes raising a baby bowerbird (or any other frugivore) a messy, smelly job. They do tend to be friendly, intelligent and endearing as well though.   The females often  forage for dog biscuits and other protein rich foods while feeding young. I have seen some taking meat scraps from the chook pen now and then also.  While they are undoubtedly a source of destruction and annoyance in the garden, the Satin bowerbird is a valuable part of the ecology and is important to our biodiversity. If you find a bowerbird eating your dog biscuits in the spring, spare a thought for the single mother lifestyle she leads and let her have a few.

Local insects and animals – Textured emerald moth

While at work recently one of the kids came racing up to show me a moth that had landed on her bag (a common occurrence). I admired the colours, took a few photos and had an ‘I wonder…’ conversation about what and if moths eat. The moth was moved to a nearby bush for safety and I was left wondering what sort of moth it was. We (myself and a small group of kids) were amazed by the beauty and depth of the colours and patterns in the wings.

This morning I began my search to answer that question;

An extensive stroll through the database of the Coffs Harbour Butterfly House yielded a few likely suspects and an image search on Google images confirmed it; the beautiful insect was a Textured Emerald moth.

Apparently adult moths drink nectar and other liquids through a proboscis and are quite fond of sweat because of the salt content, while the larvae eat leaves from various plants.

This is another example of the diversity of life around us that we are so often unaware of. If this moth had not been drawn to my attention by a child I would have been oblivious to this tiny scrap of beauty.

Note to self; always take the time to look when a child shows me something and appreciate beauty when I find it.

I wonder if I could weave fabric like those wings?

Local insects and animals- Blue banded bee

A while ago now (at least a couple of months), I found a sweet little bee buzzing to get out of a window at work. On close inspection it appeared she had blue stripes. This was a Blue Banded bee, one of Australia’s 1500 species of native bee.

These little bees are solitary; meaning that the females will dig a burrow for herself and lay her eggs alone. They can often be seen living in bee villages as they will dig their burrows close together, however they do not co-operate with other bees and do not form a hive. I guess you could say they are anarchists as they don’t recognise any form of government.

Blue Banded bees are essential to Australia’s ecology as they pollinate certain species of plants using ‘buzz pollination’; they essentially shake the pollen out of closed pollen capsules by holding the flower and trying to fly off. They are also very efficient at pollinating the solonaceae family of plants; tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum, chilli, potato, etc. Without these little bees we would not have the huge tomato crops we have in Australia.

They are eaten by the usual list of birds and reptiles (which varies from place to place) and have one really interesting parasite; the Neon Cuckoo bee. The Neon Cuckoo bee is also a solitary native bee, the females of the species lay their eggs in the burrows of the Blue Banded bee. When the egg hatches it eats all the food gathered by the Blue Banded bee and the intended recipient dies of starvation.

Because the Blue Banded bee builds a burrow to lay her eggs in, she needs a nice, malleable clay base. I try to leave some areas of bare soil in my garden especially for these little bees as mulching heavily reduces the real estate market for burrows. They have also been known to burrow into mud brick and cob buildings, and can cause a lot of damage in large numbers.

This particular bee was a female; apparently females have four blue stripes and males have five. Another difference between the sexes is that males sleep by clamping their mandibles (jaws) around a stalk of grass and hanging like fruit for the night while females will either sleep in their burrows or curl up inside a flower or leaf bed.

This particular bee was carefully eased out of the window space she found herself in and released into the wider world. I was happy to have met her close up and even happier to be able to help her on her way.

Local insects and animals – Eastern Grey Kangaroo

At one point, in the far distant past, we took on the job of macropod re-homers. This means that we rescued baby kangaroos, wallabies, possums, pademelons and other marsupials from road accidents, dog and cat attacks and other mishaps. We took these traumatised babies and tried to stabilise them, heal them and eventually release them back into the bush. We also provided a place for other wildlife carers to release their precious babies. I was going through my old photos and found a few we took of some Eastern Grey kangaroos we raised, their names were Gabby and Xena. I thought I would share our experiences.


The Eastern Grey kangaroo (referred to as grays from here on, so as not to alarm any UFO believers out there) are a very sensitive species; they get runny, upset tummies if there is a loud thunderstorm nearby. They are fairly numerous and not considered endangered, but they get hit on the road very often and in our area they sometimes fall prey to people shooting animals to feed dogs (and sometimes themselves). We still get one or two joeys (baby macropods) handed in to us about once or twice a year, even though we don’t raise them any more. When we get them handed in to us, or find them in the pouches of their dead mothers, we put them in a nice clean pouch (an old pillow slip turned inside out, inside a beanie or other woolen pouch) and put them on a hot water bottle (warm but not hot). A call to our local wildlife rescue group usually results in a drive to meet a carer in a MacDonald’s car park somewhere, invariably in the dead of night, looking like some sort of drug deal. We have been on both sides of this transaction so many times it seems hard not to see it as normal behavior.



Grays are delightfully cuddly animals, I enjoyed our time raising them, even though I suffered sleep deprivation and exhaustion on a huge scale. Raising a joey is not for the lazy; they need feeding at 3 hourly intervals (once they have hair) and need to be trained to toilet outside the pouch (more on this later), they need to have their pouch changed daily (or more often if the toileting won’t work). They are weighed daily and feeding is adjusted to suit weight. Eventually they are introduced to solids (fruit, vegetables, hay and kangaoo pellets) and moved outside; through the day at first then gradually to all night.


Toileting a joey (of any species) is interesting. When a mother kangaroo/possum/etc cleans her pouch she also licks the bottom of her baby (or babies) which stimulates them to poop and pee, she licks up this waste too (a thought which makes my mouth pucker in sympathy). Humans don’t generally enjoy the taste of poop so we have to find another way to simulate natural processes. A damp chux is just the thing, after feeding a bottle, the carer gently rubs the babies cloaca (a combined anus, vagina/penis and urethra) until they pee, uses the chux to soak it up then gently rub again until the baby produces a pellet or two of poop (or a greenish toothpaste-like poo in the case of grays). Joeys need to be toileted after every feed.


Taking on the care of a joey is not a hobby, it is much the same as raising a baby. It is a full time occupation that impacts your whole life. Macropod carers tend to love their babies and get very protective over them. Finding somewhere to release them slowly and carefully into the safest environment possible is very hard. That was our specialty; we live in a remote setting, away from heavy traffic, we have resident mobs of grays that will accept new members and we were trained in soft release.

Essentially our job was to gradually move our babies from the house to an outside pen while they were still young enough to adapt. When the joeys were living happily on two bottles a day and hard food we would start to let them roam for a few hours at dusk, then lock them back up. This time would get longer and longer until someone invariable forgot to shut the door one night. From then on we would leave the door open at night and gradually leave it open for longer periods through the day. Eventually the babies would stop returning for their bottles and only come to scrounge food every few days. Then comes the awful period of worry when they don’t come at all. For months and months, until one day, there they are again, begging for food.

Of course, some you see again, some you don’t. Some survive, some don’t, the important thing is to give them as much of a chance as we can. It is the same with all wildlife caring; we don’t own them, they come to us for a short time, for care and protection while they can’t do that themselves. It is sometimes very hard to let go, to let nature take its course, but that is the job.


If you see a dead kangaroo (or any dead animal) on the road it is a good idea to stop and pull the body off the road a fair way to avoid secondary deaths. Other animals come to feed off the body and get hit themselves (Wedge tailed eagles are often hit this way). While you are moving the body it is a good idea to see if there is a joey in the pouch too. If there is you can often remove it (if it is hairless leave it and call the carers for advice) and put the poor baby into a cotton pouch (keep a pillow slip in the car) and get him/her to a carer as soon as possible.

Local insects and animals – Blue faced honey eater

Meet another new addition to the family; Barry. He is a blue faced honey eater,

Barry came to us from the little girl next door; she rescued him from a group of noisy miners who were beating him up after he fell or flew from his home nest. His parents were nowhere to be seen so she bought him to us. He is living with us until he learns to feed and defend himself, then he will be free to go where he pleases. The usual progression with social birds is that they hang around the humpy, getting the odd free feed when times are hard until they meet a group of their own kind and head off with them (kind of like teenagers).

Blue faced honey eaters are a social sedentary species who eat insects, nectar and pollen. They are like a large family gathering; loud, hilarious and lots of arguments. The adults have a brilliant blue around the eyes (very 70s disco queen) but juveniles have a greenish tint around the eyes, they aren’t allowed to wear eye shadow until they are about one year old.

An adult with full disco battle paint. I found this photo here

Barry is a little camera shy, but you can see his greenish eye shadow.

Barry is a late sleeper, often not waking up until well after I have fed all the outside animals, he sits with his head tucked under his wing and mutters curses at me if I poke him (gently). Once awake he demands breakfast in a loud squeaky voice until I give him some honey eater mix and meal worms. He is a playful little fellow; hanging upside down on his branches, flying in tight formations in his cage and fossicking under the newspaper on the cage floor for lost meal worms. At the moment he is spending part of each day out of his cage, flying around the humpy. Soon he will decide it is time to go out into the big world and explore the trees flowering around the place. 
This is the danger time for release birds as it is easy for them to go too far and get lost or be taken by a predator. We can’t keep them in cages forever though, they are mean’t to be free. It is with mixed feelings of joy and trepidation that I watch each one learn to live independently (much as I felt when my kids went off to uni) but most times it is joy that wins out.
On an unrelated subject, we planted a tree on Shaun’s grave. It’s a mandarine and every time I pass it I think of my little mate.
The Shaun tree

local insects and animals- Black flower wasps

Today I decided to add a new section to my blog; local insects and animals. Every so often we find an unknown insect or animal around the humpy and it causes a rush towards the book shelves and the computer to find out what it is and what it does. From now on I will add the results of these research missions to my blog (partly so I have a record of what we have already researched, as I suspect we have looked up some things more than once and forgotten the results).

Today’s bug is…….the black flower wasp

My youngest daughter captured this photo of a black flower wasp on the lantana.

Haven’t they got pretty wings.

My youngest daughter was fascinated by the lovely blue colour of the wings and by their solitary nature. According to the CSIRO these wasps are solitary wasps who are responsible for pollinating many Australian natives (and a few exotics too) they lay eggs in caterpillars to reproduce. So many Australian native insects tend to be solitary, I wonder why they have evolved this way?
Given the worrying drop in the bee population of the world, I think it is important to encourage other insects who are capable of pollinating our food crops, or we may find ourselves very hungry. While the black flower wasp is known to pollinate mostly native plants, there is so little research on them that they may also play a large part in pollinating high nectar food plants like pumpkin, melons and marrow.
They enjoy high nectar plants and undisturbed mulched areas, so make sure you have some of this habitat in your garden and you will have these delightful wasps to entertain you and help control Caterpillar populations.