One of many species of wildflowers at its peak in mid-October is creamy candles, or scented candles. Growing to around 30 or 40 centimetres tall, and usually found in patches, it is widespread in the Ballarat district.
Creamy candles looks rather like some of the rice-flowers, but its numerous flowers are grouped in an upright cylindrical arrangement, rather than in globular heads. The reddish tinge on the buds at the top of the flower-spike is also quite distinctive. Each tiny flower has five petals, whereas those of rice-flower have four.
In our district, the flowers can be found from late September to around the end of November.
The numerous flowers emit a pleasant perfume, especially in the afternoon and into the night. Perfumed white flowers are usually pollinated by insects, so we could guess that creamy candles is pollinated by moths.
At the moment, they are flowering on the edge of Ballarat at the Sparrow Ground reserve in Canadian, where there are many other attractive wildflowers also blooming. Of special interest there at present is a small patch of slender rice-flower, with densely-flowered bushes making as good a show as can be found anywhere.
Creamy candles has the botanical name of Stackhousia monogyna. With rather few small leaves on its inconspicuous upright green stems, creamy candles tends to be unnoticed until its flowers appear in spring.
SEA EAGLES VISIT
A couple of white-bellied sea-eagles have been visiting Lake Wendouree recently, causing some consternation amongst the ibises nesting on the mud islands.
These are juvenile birds, patterned in light and dark brown, rather than the neat white, grey and black of adults. Most local sightings over the years have been of immature birds.
At one stage, one of the Lake Wendouree birds flew to the west, presumably to Lake Burrumbeet, where there are usually several sightings each year. Sightings at other places are irregular and infrequent, but they seem to be becoming more numerous.
Other recent Lake Wendouree reports have included drops in the numbers of purple swamphens and dusky moorhens, down to just 12 and 10, respectively.
Whiskered terns have increased along with the number of flying aquatic insects that form their prey. Spotless and Baillon's crakes have been reported. Cygnets continue to hatch.
Great cormorant numbers have increased to 28 or more, while coots have declined to 220, after 350 in September and 672 in August. Hoary-headed grebes are scarcer, with only six being found earlier this week.
NATURE QUERIES ANSWERED
I am not seeing as many water-rats in spring as I did in winter. Is this their breeding season, meaning that they are out of sight in their burrows? J.R., Lake Wendouree.
The water-rat (or rakali) breeds mostly in spring and summer, so females are probably in their burrows with youngsters now, or they will be in the near future.
The burrows have an entrance about 15cm wide, and have a lined warm chamber at the end. If conditions are suitable for them, water-rats might have more than one litter of two to four young in a year. The youngsters stay in their burrow with their mother for about a month, then they venture out with her for another four weeks, before fending for themselves. The rakali is not a particularly long-lived mammal, thought to live only three or four years.