It’s been a long time coming this blog. I just had a look at the last time I wrote anything and it was way back in November. And it was about cicadas which I’m just going to write about now. How can I call my blog Birding Around when cicadas keep popping up!
I talked at Shakespear Park on Sunday (at SOSSI’s monthly volunteer day for those who can’t make it on Tuesdays) about the cicada species of the area. There are ten species that I know of, which is often a surprise to people. Most of us know the large loud chorus cicada of February but not the smaller, quieter ones singing any time from mid-October through to May-June.
Until recently I only had nine species on my list but I borrowed a bat detector from a bat guy and stumbled across a new cicada for me in front of the beachfront campground at Orewa. The reason for the bat detector, and the reason I haven’t found this species before, is that the high frequency song of some of the cicadas is beyond my hearing.
I think it’s Rhodopsalta cruentata but I need someone to check the photo and confirm this. It was singing on lupin bushes behind the dunes and kept singing even when I was very close.
Anyway, the morning at Shakespear Park was very enjoyable and we found a few of the Kikihia (Green cicadas) that some of our group hadn’t seen before. We were productive,too, in our task of weeding out a small legume which is becoming a nuisance on the back of the dunes along Te Haruhi Bay – coincidentally where R. cruentata would be found if it was present in the park.
Summer is here. Kingfishers are calling, shining cuckoos are back, and just this week I heard the first cicada of the season. It wasn’t actually this one in the picture, it was the small grey ‘clay bank’ cicada, Notopsalta sericea, which is always the first to sing. That was on the 1st November at Shakespear Park and, looking back on my notes from previous years, this seems to be quite late for the first sericea – the earliest I’ve heard them is on 25th September at Muriwai in 2000 and usually they’ve begun to sing by mid-October.
The cicada in the photo is the sand dune cicada, Rhodopsalta leptomera, which is a very special cicada on Northland’s east coast between about Tawharanui and Shakespear Parks. Common on the west coast, this is the only place it appears on the east side of the island. It lives in the very narrow margin of sand dune vegetation between high tide and either mown/grazed grass or bush which on the inland side. In many places it has disappeared because of farm grazing or urbanisation but within the Auckland Regional Parks it seems to still be doing ok.
In the middle of this photo you can see a dot of yellow and one of green. The dot of yellow is a wasp which is in the throes of killing the dot of green which is a Kikihia cutora, the autumn or snoring cicada (it sings well into the autumn when other cicada species have finished and it’s song sounds like a sleepy “zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz damba damba damba”).
I stole the dying cicada from the wasp and took this picture of it. Further along the track I watched as a house sparrow also ate one. I’ve seen tuis and mynas eat them and recently a photo of a bellbird with one in its beak. This beautiful cicada is food for so many creatures its a wonder there are any left.