Spider spectacular!

It was a jam-packed weekend of activities in the Garden: The tomato festival invited to visit stalls, tomato tastings, plant & produce sales on the Band Lawn, plenty of kids explored Disney’s Fairy Trail, and for the romantically minded there was a massive red heart painted on the lawn in front of the tropical pyramid inviting lovers to showcase their best Valentine’ Day snaps on https://twitter.com/hashtag/GrassyHeart?src=hash

In the hustle and bustle the information booth served as an island of shade, a corner of quietness almost, only a few steps away from the main path and red train line.

Plus, it had its very own attractions: Not just one, two beautiful (and rather big – well, medium size for Australian standards) spiders were showing off there webs in the bed right in front of the booth, spun between palm and ponytail plant, in perfect height for viewing and photographing.

One was a golden orb weaving spider. One of the smaller specimens I have seen in the garden. Nonetheless, she was surrounded by several little spiders, males presumably who are trying to get lucky – and not eaten.

Not counting the long legs, orb weaving spiders can grow several centimeter big, with large (dependent on species grey or differently coloured) bodies. And yet they maintain a lightness as they elegantly sit in their webs. It seems they barely touch it, only holding on to it with the very tips of their legs.

It is certainly golden orb weaver season – their 3D web mastery is on display everywhere in the garden! Their webs are set up in bushes and trees, often overhead.

The webs glisten in the sun – make sure to look at the webs, especially the stronger (outside) threads from different angles until you can see its golden shine. You might even want to feel the strength and elasticity of the thread by carefully pulling on it. But be careful, the last time I slightly plucked on one of the outer threads the (understandably angry) spider came running towards me. Apparently they are unknown to bite, but better not to provoke her…

Web Repair

What a beautiful photo! View the original on Flicker: https://flic.kr/p/8UZJQN

The second spider on display at the information booth was a St. Andrew’s Cross spider. The web lacks the structural complexity of the golden web orb weaver’s but makes up for it by its distinct zigzag markings.

St Andrews Cross
Another great pic shared on Flickr – check it out on https://flic.kr/p/2gTyiZ

Like the spider in the picture above, the one at the booth has only one zigzag feature. I can’t wait to see whether more “ladders” will be added over time.

The two spiders at the information booth are hard to miss. In fact they seemed to attract almost more attention than the booth itself! People stopped to take photos or to ask what kind of spiders they were. Some tourists hoped they’d be the famously dangerous funnel web spiders and they could finally have a closer look (after being warned Sydney would be teaming of them, yet (luckily) they tend to stay below the surface).

There are of course other many other types of spiders in the garden.

Garden spiders, though mostly absent during the day have set up their large webs. And the clivias lining the borders of the Palm Grove beds are known hang-out spots for net-casting spiders. Unlike spiders with big webs net-casting spiders make small (tiny!) webs i.e. “nets” that they hold between their front legs. Neither the nets nor the actual spiders who resemble a dried wood chip or a little twig are easy to spot, but it’s worth looking for these intriguing little animals.

Net-casting spider

 This photo is taken at the other side of the world, in Costa Rica, but the little fellow looks very similar to the ones you can spot in the Garden in Sydney. Look at the original photo here: https://flic.kr/p/bnc2pd 

Not only did I have the pleasure to look at the spiders and people taking interest in those spiders from the information booth, I was also lucky to discover a copy of the Green Guide: Spiders of Australia. An enjoyable and nicely illustrated booklet that fits in your pocket as you set out to explore the spiderful world. Enjoy!

Diary of a brush turkey

It was about three weeks ago when the brush turkey first appeared outside of our apartment block. He tentatively scratched the ground picking up a grub here and there, his low-hanging yellow wattle swollen with new house owner pride. The next day he was back to create and properly move into “number 31” of our block. His yellow wattle busily swayed from side to side as he set to scraping up grass, leaves, mulch and twigs from the lawns and bordering beds into what soon became a very decent nesting mound, towering higher than our community garden’s compost pile (which by the way took us much longer to erect!). During the initial days of building he never seemed to leave the nest for longer than a few minutes. When busy in a corner further away he regularly interrupted his scraping to sprint to the nest – to check everything was ok? – and quickly to return to further scraping, and the same over and over again. His Strava stats would have been impressive.

His nest is an impressive site of roughly three by one meter located in the shade of two old paperbark trees. What may sound like a secluded setting away from the traffic and curious onlookers is right next to the footpath, separated only by a fence.

The initial (small) pile
The initial (small) pile

After the initial mound was established he slowed down his work – which was in favour of the nearby clivias whose roots took a bit of a beating. He also went to another bed that is separated by a footpath only to empty its soil onto the footpath. Good he has us working for him and cleaning up his mess. Brush turkeys are protected animals so hefty fines apply if we’d harm him. Also, they are apparently very difficult to persuade to give up their mounds or move their nest elsewhere once they have started building it – so best to just live with and manage him.

Judging by his big wattle he is an older bird and seems to know exactly what he is doing. So managing him means we leave him to it and in the interest of the other 30 units manage the mess he occasionally leaves behind. The best time without unnecessarily disturbing him is in the early evenings once he has left the mound to roost up in a tree. We are yet to find his roosting tree(s) as he can’t be seen anywhere in the ones in the immediate vicinity. Occasionally during the day he flies up into the tree right above the nest, but it’s not where he spends the night.

His mound of course has not gone unnoticed and rumors of it attracting rats and snakes have already started circulating. Surely he’d be the last to want rats and snakes around to threaten the eggs. It seems his enemies might be more of human than animal nature as he guards the mound and makes sure it has the right temperature as its material is decomposing to incubate the eggs.

The impact of his mound maintenance and continuous scraping for new material on the surrounding beds cannot be denied and there is some damage: Clivia roots lie uncovered, a few of the tender young plants were uprooted and quite a bit of soil and leaf litter moved – it’s a big nest after all. However, as we’re not growing any prize vegetables all uncovered plants seem to be replaceable – at minimal costs, too, as the local council provides some native ground covers for free. At present the brush turkey’s fate is undecided as the strata committee is yet to decide what to do (or not). Is it a bad omen that my sign “Please don’t disturb the brush turkey nest” was thrown away?

The established brush turkey nest
The established brush turkey nest

Wish him luck that he may nest in peace. Especially because he has been visited by females and there are most certainly eggs in the mound!

The ladies generally turn up early in the morning. I have seen him “lead” a female to the mound. Other mornings he just stands on top of the nest waiting for them to turn up. There are usually one or two ladies who visit, one morning there were even three! Only one female at a time seems to be allowed to join him on the mound. What exactly happens then remains a mystery as it is exactly when I need to leave for work (bad timing indeed). The other day though I caught him and a female on the mound.

She was busy taking it apart, digging so deep that steam emerged from the deeper layers. ‘Surely she must be so close to actually laying an egg’ I thought and got the iPhone out…

I stood patiently and filmed for what seemed an eternity. It might have been me intruding on this moment but she appeared to be more interested in digging than laying an egg – a behaviour he didn’t seem to appreciate either. We since refer to her as the “the crazy female” (but maybe that’s just the way the ladies behave 😉 ?). Or maybe the other female parading the fence got her chance after all?

What happens in the mornings between Mr. & Mrs. Brush Turkey clearly remains family business, but let’s hope they were successful and we will soon have brush turkey chicks emerging from the nest.

The bats are gone!

Quietly lies the Sydney Botanical Garden these days without its furry winged visitors quarrelling vociferously high up in the trees.

Much to the delight of plant lovers and tree protectors the forced relocation of the bats last month turned out to be very successful for now.  Many trees and palms fell victim to the sharp claws of the bats that cut into the bark tearing open conductive tissue.  This weakens the tree over time until it reaches a point of no return and dies.  Many valuable old trees perished this way.

The bats themselves might also be better off in other locations that are closer to food sources than their resting place in the CBD.  Tracking their daily commutes the bats living in the Garden flew out further and for longer than they would typically do from a location that had food sources at a closer proximity.

This might be a comfort to those who prefer having the flying foxes in the Garden.

Where I will miss the flying foxes personally is not so much in the Garden, but seeing them fly out to their feeding grounds at dusk.

Unlike European bats that swish past faster than you can blink leaving nothing but a shadow, flying foxes slowly wave past, imprinting their batman silhouettes clearly into the sky.

Sydney or Gotham City?

And what a great sight it was to depict them circling above the above the Harbour Bridge pillars being lit up from below.

Swirl

Being reasonable about the bats now gone from the Gardens is one thing. Nonetheless I feel a pang of disappointment that they are no longer part of the inner Sydney night sky.

Sydney harbour bridge and bats