The small, red-breasted bird known as the crimson chat is uncommon in Victoria, apart from the far north-west, so recent sightings in central and western Victoria have created considerable interest.
With no local records since the drought year of 1967-1968, reports of crimson chats at Baringhup, west of Maldon and the northern end of the Cairn Curran Reservoir, prompted a visit to see these rare visitors.
A few of them were found accompanying white-fronted chats at two sites, one at Moolort and one at Baringhup West.
The Moolort site is about 70 kilometres north of Ballarat, so it was not a long distance to travel to see such an infrequent visitor.
The male crimson chat is a smart little bird with red chest, cap and rump, and white throat. These colours are set off by a black mask through the eye.
The female is duller and browner, with a wash of red underneath. Like the male, she has a red rump.
In size and habits, they are similar to the more common white-fronted chat.
The birds were very much associated with canola crops, which seemed to be providing them with both food (caterpillars) and twiggy shelter.
The Moolort birds appeared to be nesting in the canola, although this was not confirmed.
Normally a bird of inland, low-rainfall regions - especially lightly-vegetated areas near salt lakes - the crimson chat is regarded as a nomad whose numbers fluctuate from year to year.
Visits south are made mostly during severe and prolonged inland droughts. From past experience, we would regard a visit by crimson chats to the Cairn Curran area as almost a once-in-a-lifetime event. They have not been seen there since 1968.
Sightings in the Bendigo and Wimmera districts have been reported this spring, as well as a surprise one at Rowsley, near Bacchus Marsh. Willaura, south of Ararat, has also had a recent visit, this time alongside an oat crop.
There are so far no closer reports of crimson chats. Campbelltown and Talbot seem the best possibilities, so local bird observers are watching out for them.
Our local bird observers' group recently visited Dimboola, where crimson chats were found, resulting in today's photo.
A blue-flowered, almost leafless climber known as love creeper is an attractive local wildflower found in both drier and damper forests. It is widespread in this region, but is mostly seen only when flowering in spring.
When fully open, the flowers have two widely spreading blue petals. They resemble pea flowers at first glance, while the unopened buds look like blue match-heads.
NATURE QUERIES ANSWERED
I was wondering what the insect event in the photo is? I have seen these beetles before but, never in a concentration like this. I would like to know how common it is.P.L. Wendouree.
These are flea beetles, so-called because their long back legs help them to jump like fleas. Their communal habit is well-known, but the reason for it is unclear. It may be defensive. Sometimes they swarm together almost like bees. At other times their groups are looser.
With 1000 or more in your photo, this is a large mass. Adults of these glossy black beetles feed on leaves, but there is no evidence of leaf damage on the tea-tree in your photo; the beetles seem to be using the shrub as a gathering place rather than a feeding site.
They are likely to be feeding on young tender growth of other plants.