Nature Notes | When swallowtails return to Wendouree

TAPESTRY: The chequered swallowtail is a beautifully-patterned butterfly and a rare visitor to the Lake Wendouree area.
TAPESTRY: The chequered swallowtail is a beautifully-patterned butterfly and a rare visitor to the Lake Wendouree area.

A sighting of the butterfly known as the chequered swallowtail was a welcome discovery last month.

Continually flying at about two metres over a small area of about 20 square metres in the North Gardens Wetlands near Lake Wendouree, the butterfly had clearly adopted a territory, which it seemed ready to defend from any rivals.

No others were seen in the few minutes that this uncommon insect was observed in its self-imposed restricted territory.

The chequered swallowtail is a dull yellow butterfly, larger than most, with a network of black lacy markings on its wings. This is where its chequered title comes from. Its wingspan is around 70mm.

In the Ballarat area it appears to be a summer visitor in small numbers at Mt Warrenheip, where its foodplant - the dusky scurf-pea - grows, but sightings in other places are rare and spasmodic.

Local records of the chequered swallowtail are within the period late October to mid-March.

It is normally an inland butterfly, found in the arid and semi-arid regions. Observations in southern Australia are thought to be of individuals on southward migration after favourable seasons further north.

At Mt Warrenheip it utilises “hill-topping” behaviour, with males flying around the top of the mount in defence of their territories.

This behaviour is typical of several butterfly species, particularly those in the swallowtail group.

FIRE BIRDS

Stubble burns sometimes attract a variety of hawks. Recent observations around Smeaton and Ullina have resulted in raptors such as the brown falcon, black falcon, black kite and whistling kite attending fires.

One larger fire had 14 large raptors within its smoke, including nine black kites, five whistling kites and two black falcons.

Where do these birds come from? One observer believes that the black kites and whistling kites, at least, may come from the Newstead area. Up to a dozen black kites have been seen.

A black kite at a recent fire was seen with a quail as prey. Other birds sought would include smaller birds such as larks and pipits, as well as mice. Some of the smaller hawks, such as black-shouldered kites and nankeen kestrels, would take crickets.

Another notable raptor seen in the same area is the spotted harrier, an uncommon visitor to open country in the Ballarat region.

This and the black falcon have been sought by several local bird observers, but neither have been easy to locate. Finding them will probably be more difficult now that paddocks have bare burnt ground.