The hooded robin is now a scarce bird within 40km of Ballarat, so local bird observers were pleased to see a pair of them at Campbelltown a couple of weeks ago.
The male is black and white, with a black head and upper breast. The female is grey and white instead of black and white.
It is a slightly larger bird than our other local robins.
Like them, it uses low perches such as stumps, rocks and low branches to spy its ground food.
The hooded robin is a bird of open forests and woodlands, especially where fallen trees and stumps are found.
It occurs in the Newstead district, as well as further north, and around Talbot and Maryborough.
In the Ballarat area it is now scarce south of Campbelltown, Clunes and Lexton, with only a few pairs within 40km of Ballarat.
Its range is gradually decreasing on the southern edge. Unlike some local red-breasted robins, it stays at the same place year-round.
The male hooded robin looks surprisingly like the male scarlet robin male from behind, with a very similar black-and-white back and wing pattern.
The black hood of one and the red breast of the other soon distinguishes them when they turn.
Australia has 15 species of robins, but just five have red breasts. The others are called robins because of their size, shape and habits.
One of the better-known species is the yellow robin.
They are not closely-related to either the European or American robins, both of which belong in the thrush family.
Australian robins are in their own family, which also includes some of the birds we know as flycatchers.
Other interesting birds typical of box-ironbark forests north of the Great Divide were seen on the recent Newstead outing.
These included peaceful dove, jacky winter, restless flycatcher, southern whiteface, white-browed babbler and black-chinned, fuscous and yellow-tufted honeyeaters.
Several of these are seldom found south of Campbelltown and Clunes.
A two-metre pale-flowered wattle in forest at Sulky was initially thought to be a Flinders Ranges wattle, a species that sometimes escapes cultivation and becomes weedy.
Closer inspection revealed that it was a true native, known as spreading wattle.
This is a rather prickly shrub, mostly less than two metres tall and wide. Its foliage is narrow, stiff and prickly. It is typically an autumn and winter flowering plant.
A feature of the autumn-flowering Flinders Ranges wattle is its pleasantly fragrant flowers, sometimes smelt before the plant is seen.
In the spreading wattle, however, the flowers are scentless.
NATURE QUERIES ANSWERED
I assume this fungus is a cauliflower variety but which one? I found it at the Kirks Reservoir area. Is it native or feral?
P.L., via email.
Your photo shows a coral fungi, probably Ramaria capitata, the cauliflower coral fungus. Your specimen is very dense and wide. This is a native fungus, and it is widespread and moderately common here. May and June are the main months in which it may be found.
There are many species of coral fungi, varying in their shape and branch formation. Some are upright, others are spreading. Most are pale, but some are yellow, rosy red or purple. They are commonly found on the ground, among leaf litter and twigs. It is rare for them to grow taller than 10m. At least one species is said to have a bitter taste, and is "somewhat toxic".
- Questions and photos are welcome. Email to email@example.com, or send to Roger Thomas at The Courier, PO Box 21, Ballarat, 3353.