Reaching for the sky

Earlier this year I blogged about the insect infestation of the young tuart in my garden.
rainbow lorikeet eating insects on the tuart

Unfortunately the insects that have already made homes among the tuart’s leaves are causing quite a bit of damage…The problem is the sap-sucking psyllids, also known as eucalyptus lerps, because the nymph constructs a “lerp” to hide under.

In the course of my investigations as to what insect was causing the damage I decided it was lerps, even though the lerps I’ve seen on other gum trees looked nothing like what this lorikeet was eating in my garden. I figured there must be lerps somewhere up high that I couldn’t see. This is an example of why you shouldn’t believe everything you read on a blog (or the web) because I was wrong.

Tuart Dwellers After reading the amazing children’s book Tuart Dwellers by Jan Ramage and Ellen Hickman (DEC, 2008) I realised the insect culprit causing the mass defoliation over summer might be the tuart leaf miner. The picture in Tuart Dwellers (p.27) looks more like what covered so many leaves and led to their death. There are still many leaves suffering, but more healthy leaves happily photosynthesizing.

Although Jan Ramage and Ellen Hickman didn’t mention lerps in Tuart Dwellers, they did get their facts right because this non-fiction picture book was fact-checked by scientists at the WA Dept of Environment & Conservation and local universities who are experts in tuarts and their associated wildlife. In April the book was shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Eve Pownall Book of the Year Award 2009. I’m looking forward to the announcement of the winners in August during Children’s Book Week to see if one of my favourite books of the year wins.

Ayesha snoozing under the tuart There are various other insects attacking the leaves, but not to the extent caused by the leaf miner. Some of the other insect dwellers in my tuart are:

  • male scale insects which cause galls on the leaves
  • other insects which cause galls on the branches
  • leaf eating beetles or weevils which eat leaves in a “shark fin” shape
  • caterpillars which eat leaves in a serrated shape

singing honeyeater perched on the fence next to the tuart The birds which have dwelled (fleetingly) in my tuart include:

  • rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus)
  • singing honeyeaters (Lichenostomus virescens)
  • red wattle birds (Anthochaera carnunculata)

There are willy wagtails, magpies, mudlarks, grey butcherbirds, twenty eight parrots and galahs which visit my garden, but the tuart is still too small for them. I hope motorbike frogs (or any frog) will visit my pond under the tuart one day.

When I was at Star Swamp last week for the meeting of the Northern suburbs branch of the Wildflower Society of Western Australia I saw a Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) sitting in a tuart. I usually only hear these night birds (which aren’t owls). As I pulled into the parking lot my car headlights lit up the tawny frogmouth perched in a tuart nearby. I thought it would be scared away by the sudden light, but it sat there as I parked and watched a moment. Inside I asked Phyllis for help with the ID. She came out to see and the bird was still sitting there, waiting for its dinner. One day there might be tawny frogmouths, boobook owls or barking owls in my tuart, but it’s too small yet.

This is the tuart soon after planting in February 2007
tuart soon after planting February 2007
3½ year old tuart August 2007
3½ year old tuart August 2007
Last winter it was about 2½m tall
tuart last winter July 2008
Tuart is now 5½ years old and shooting up toward the sky, higher than the gutter of my house, about 3½m.
5½ year old tuart


Ramage, Jan & Hickman, Ellen (2008) Tuart Dwellers Perth, WA: DEC


6 thoughts on “Reaching for the sky

  1. Hi Clare,

    You are so lucky to have seen a frogmouth in your tuart tree. Several years ago I found one on a busy road opposite the Wembley Golf Course. It must have been hit by a passing car. I picked it up and gave it to a resident who lived just opposite. The features were so incredibly soft – it was an exquisite looked bird. I don’t know whether it survived.
    Unfortunately dead birds were certainly on the increase along the roads when the bushland near Churchlands and next to Perry Lakes were cleared for development a year or two ago. Clearing such vast tracks of native bushland at the same time took vital habitat from our native wildlife. I’ve not heard our resident boobook owl since.

    Cheers Jan

  2. That’s so sad. I think all the bushland in Perth should be saved in reserves, so the few animals (and plants) our city and suburbs supports can continue living.

    Star Swamp is a large reserve (95h) and the wildlife is pretty safe (except when there’s a fire) even though it borders Marmion Ave. Last summer I saw a group of three tawny frogmouths in a tree just before sundown. Two were juveniles and they were so beautiful. But sadly I don’t think there’s any marsupial wildlife at Star Swamp.

    When I went to Darwin in May at the Territory Wildlife Park there was a tawny frogmouth with a guide near the entrance and I got to pat him. His feathers were beautifully soft. I also got to hold a carpet python and have him wrap himself around my neck and arms. I wanted to take both of them home with me, they were so amazing.

  3. Hi there, just looked up ‘Frog mouth owls’ and came across this.

    I was soooo lucky to see three young frog mouth owls at Houghton Vineyard – perched on a tree branch all huddled up together. Just amazed that I spotted them as they were so well disguised. Needless to say very very excited!

    I agree that the bush land around Perth needs saving – how about Green belts? Even an overpopulated tiny country like England still has a lot of countryside left – thanks I suspect to the green belt movement of last century. Seems there might remain a Eurocentric attitude to the ‘bush’ – because it doesn’t look like Sussex or Oxford not many people seem to care that it is constantly being flattened to build housing estates.

  4. That’s so cool you found three of them. They are beautiful aren’t they, and so hard to spot. Did you have a camera?

    Last week my dog and I were walking at night in a park we don’t usually go to. We were in the dark of the park and some people were walking along the lit path at the edge of the road. I saw a bird fly up from the ground to a tree, scared by the people on the path. I thought to myself “what’s a bird doing awake?” and then I realised it must be an owl or frogmouth. I walked toward the tree he’d flown into. The street lights didn’t reach very close to his tree, so he was very hard to see, but eventually I recognised a tawny frogmouth, still as the branch he sat on, trying to make me think he was part of the tree :) He was only 30cm above my head, and waiting impatiently for me to leave so he could get back to dinner!

    I just have to tell you (only because bird people repeatedly tell me this when I get it wrong) that tawny frogmouths aren’t owls. They’re in different families (one of the layers of classification of animals). The two have very diff looking faces – owl’s faces are flatter. There’s a few owls in Perth, but only one type of frogmouth. In other parts of Aust there are other types of frogmouth.

    And yes, we need to stop clearing our beautiful suburban bush, and even just 100+ year old tuarts on blocks that are cleared when subdivided.

    Re: greenbelts. In Gnangara there is a Bush Forever project which involves corridors of bush with a minimum width of 500m facilitated through landswaps with developers for pine plantations and other previously cleared land. The plan is currently with the State Government and hopefully will be approved, so this land will never(?) be cleared :)

  5. Is your tuart still alive? Did it make it through the lerps? I have a young tuart that I planted, it got borers during summer, so I have been looking after it a bit bettter, wetting agent, fish and seaweed and giving it extra water. I’m still hoping it will pull through. They grow sooooo fast when they are young.

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