Looking rather like a splattering of orange paint, the orange coating on the tree trunk in the photo is not moss or lichen, but colourful algae.
Possibly more noticeable at this damp time of year, it grows mostly on trunks of eucalypts known as peppermints. It also grows on pines and garden trees, and is sometimes found on rocks and other outdoor surfaces.
In a forest, this orange algae usually grows on more than one tree at a site, sometimes producing a rather eerie effect when numerous orange-clad trees are present.
Like mosses and lichens, algae are sensitive to moisture. They are more often found on rough, textured bark where moisture is readily retained, creating an ideal damp habitat during the damper months.
The finely-rough texture of peppermint bark appears more suitable than that of neighbouring trees such as stringybark, scent-bark or blackwood. The accompanying photo was taken on a peppermint near Buninyong.
Although more often growing on the south side of trunks, these velvet-textured, slow-growing orange algae sometimes spread further around, occasionally being found facing north. Officially, this is green algae. Its striking colour is caused by an orange pigment - a carotenoid - the same thing that makes carrots orange and flamingos pink. The colour may protect the tender green parts from sun. Like most mosses and lichens, the algae doesn't harm trees - it just uses them to grow on.
The first local migrant for the year - a fan-tailed cuckoo - was reported on August 1. That was at Lal Lal. Since then, others have been calling at Invermay and Canadian.
Back in July there was a reed warbler calling at Lake Wendouree, but it was unseasonably early, considering most reed warblers arrive from the last week of August.
Fan-tailed cuckoos often arrive in the first or second week of this month, so it is nice to have this very first sign of spring in the bird world. Already the first swans are nesting at Lake Wendouree, and wood ducklings have been seen with their parents. Also, magpies are sitting on their eggs, and little ravens are suspected of having chicks.
Tree martins were seen at Lake Wendouree on the morning of the snow last Sunday. They seem to make their first appearance there at a similar time each year, despite the fact that their main food is small flying insects, which we would expect to be almost unavailable in cold wintry conditions.
Tree martins had been reported a few days earlier at Campbelltown - which has a milder climate than Ballarat.
NATURE QUERIES ANSWERED
Sulphur-crested cockatoos have been eating or nipping off flowers on a backyard almond tree. Why would they be doing this?
These cockatoos are probably enjoying the nectar in the flowers. Nectar-feeding birds, such as red wattlebirds, visit almond flowers for nectar, so the cockatoos are no doubt enjoying the same sweet taste too.
These cockatoos are regarded as pests among nut growers, particularly in the almond plantations in the mid-Murray district.
There they - and other cockatoos and parrots - cause serious damage to the nuts, although I have not heard of them damaging the flowers there.
Cockatoos of most sorts - including black cockatoos, galahs and corellas - seem to have a vandalistic streak.
- Questions and photos are welcome. Send to Roger Thomas at The Courier, PO Box 21, Ballarat, 3353, or email to email@example.com