Monday, 25 May 2015

Update on Bird-a-Day 2015 ...

On 23 May it is looking pretty much as though my participation in the Bird-a-Day challenge for 2015 is about to grind to a halt.  I have 11 birds that I reckon are almost certain to be seen the area around home and a further 12 that are prospects in the urban part of the ACT.  If I can struggle through to 5 June (13 days away) there is a prospect of some coastal birds which might get me through to last years failure date of 11 June.

Comparing the species seen in 2014 with those in 2015 I found that there were 50 species seen last year that I haven't got (so far) this year and 34 this year that I didn't locate last year.  I haven't been able to isolate the reasons for this but was quite surprised to see that several of the species in both lists of "differents" were birds seen on the trips to Adelaide in both years.  This seemed to reflect the different routes followed, with birds such as Major Mitchell's Cockatoo and Yellow Rosella being logged on the trip across the Riverina last year and Little Crow and Chirruping Wedgebill featuring at Broken Hill this year.

This cartoon offers a couple of other reasons for the earlier onset of difficulties.
Of course, as soon as I posted the above I went for a bike ride looping from Queanbeyan, past the airport to Kelly's Swamp and back through Oaks Estate Rd.  In the course of this I found 6 "eligible'" species, including Bird of the Day, Fuscous Honeyeater (code 4, so definitely a bonus).

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Do Beavers Fly?

We lived in Ottawa in 1990 and 1991, and remember the time with great pleasure.  One of the highlights was realising how common beavers were in the area.  Some points:
  • We had been there less than a week and went for a walk along a path below Parliament House.  There was a beaver swimming across the River!
  • Go forward about 9 months and I took a bunch of visiting European Statisticians to the swamp adjacent to the Brittania Water Treatment Plant.  The guests were very excited to see a beaver: the Norwegian said something like "We have to go a long way from Oslo to see one of them!"
  • When Orienteering in the forests it was important to aim for the dam on beaver ponds: that was a nice run across a swamp whereas crossing upstream involved wading a significant depth of water.
  • They were also common in the suburbs and the City sent teams out with dynamite in Spring before the steams started flowing to blow up the dams which would otherwise flood houses.  This meant we were quite used to seeing beaver chomp marks.
Hold that last thought and come forward about 24 years.

Walking across the lawn this morning I was surprised to find a moderate sized lump of Acacia dealbata adopting a horizontal 'growth' pattern at point 1.
 Here is a close-up of point 2, confirming the source of the material
 Now looking at this it closely resembles beaver munching.
However, I am reasonably sure beavers neither fly, nor climb thin trees.  The same applies to wombats.  I must therefore conclude that the Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos have got fed up with a pure pine cone diet ...
...  and have ripped into the Acacia, searching for grubs.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Small Town Memorials support

I decided that putting my illustrations into the same post as the text of the poem (Smalltown Memorials, by Geoff Page) would distract from the poetry so here they are.  I have, in the spirit of the poem, largely restricted the images to memorials in smaller towns.

 "Just the obelisk" Captains Flat, about 50kms by road from Canberra.

 "A few names inlaid"  Tumblong, on the Hume Highway SW of Gundagai.
"More often full-scale granite", Deniliqin in the Riverina (SW NSW)
"A marble digger" Walgett -between Bourke and Moree, (NW NSW)
"a thickening of houses"  Hill End, North of Bathurst
"a few unlikely trees"  O'Connell (near Bathurst).  In this instance the trees themselves are the memorial.
"A marble digger" Walgett - between Bourke and Moree in NW NSW
"The next bequeathed us Parks and pools" Scone - a larger town, in the Hunter Valley. 
"Demanded stone" Coolac - recently by-passed by the Hume Highway a few kilometres North of Gundagai.
 Another stone: Cargo - between Canowindra and Orange.
The next few images reflect on recent additions to memorials.  I haven't tried to describe them poetically, since my efforts in that form approach doggerel - from underneath.

The poem was written in 1975 and thus couldn't consider the memorials to the Vietnam War as few (if any) would have existed.  Since a relatively small number of Australian troops served in the conflict the chances of a really small town having a Memorial are low.

Memorials specific to that conflict are becoming common, as with these examples from Wagga Wagga ....
...  and Gundagai.
The image of the gunship with troops gathered beneath it ...
... is a frequent element of Vietnam War memorials.

The other thrust of modern Memorials is to honour National Service personnel, who didn't necessarily go into battle.  This example is from Young, NW of Canberra
In both of these cases the memorials tend to appear close to those commemorating the two World Wars, often all located in a Memorial Park.  (Strangely, the World War Memorials are often some fair distance from the memorial to the Boer War which predates both of them.)

Small Town Memorials

I was recently sent a copy of Geoff Page's  poem "Smalltown memorials" by someone who knows that for our "Every Town in NSW" project I had defined a town as somewhere with a War memorial.;

I thought it to be a very evocative work and Geoff has kindly agreed to my publishing it in this blog subject to including the attribution at the end of the work.

Smalltown memorials
by Geoff Page   

No matter how small
Every town has one;
Maybe just the obelisk,
A few names inlaid;
More often full-scale granite,
Marble digger (arms reversed),
Long descending lists of dead:
Sometimes not even a town,
A thickening of houses
Or a few unlikely trees
Glimpsed on a back road
Will have one.

1919, 1920:
All over the country;
Maybe a band, slow march;
Mayors, shire councils;
Relatives for whom
Print was already
Only print; mates,
Come back, moving
Into unexpected days;
A ring of Fords and sulkies;
The toned-down bit
Of Billy Hughes from an
Ex-recruiting sergeant.
Then seen each day —
Noticed once a year;
And then not always,

The next bequeathed us
Parks and pools

But something in that first
Demanded stone.

FromSmalltown Memorials, University of Queensland Press 1975' 

As many of the phases in the poem describe things we have seen and photographed I have compiled a set of images and posted them here.  That post also:

  • indicates where I took the photos; and
  • includes a few comments about, and images of, some development in memorials since 1975 (when the poem was published).

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Don't be a Stranger Pond at Pine Island

21 members and guests​ gathered on Don Dunstan Drive for a lap of Stranger Pond and a trip to the Murrumbidgee at Pine Island. 
On finding that the surrounding suburb was Bonython, I was contemplating how the Labour Premier of South Australia would react to being grouped with one of the 12 elite families of Adelaide.  Reflecting on the energy with which Warren and Kym (see second para in particular) explored their wide range of  interests I reckon Donny would not be unhappy.

Despite a very ordinary forecast (and some very ominous clouds) the weather was kind.
As we began our lap of the Pond a range of common waterbirds ​were noted with a mixed flock of Coots and Pacific Black Ducks coming across the Pond, either expecting (wrongly) to be fed bread) or escaping a dog being walked..  An Egret on the far bank was inspected closely and confirmed as an Eastern Great Egret.  
New Holland Honeyeaters flew off into the nearby houses and a Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike was a bit of a surprise at this time of year.  As we neared the dam wall there was some discussion of the specification of a small grebe which was resolved to being a Hoary-headed.  Almost instantly 2 definite Australasian Grebes were seen, with one showing, from some angles, breeding plumage. 
We totaled 32 species on this site.

We passed through a belt of woodland to the car park at Pine Island South where we came under macropodial inspection.
Thornbills were evident in the shrubs along the river bank, and members eventually identified Buff-rumped, Brown and a single Yellow Thornbill.​  
Interestingly no-one identified a scrubwren on the outing.)  A pair of Scarlet Robins were celebrating their status  as 'vulnerable' by munching on grubs.  The female had finishing dining by the time I got the camera out.
At least 3 Golden Whistlers were seen with 2 identified as non-adults with rufous colouration on their wings.  Rosellas were present in larger that usual numbers with 8 Crimson and 12 Eastern Rosellas seen in this area.  25 species were seen here.

For the total trip we recorded ​47 species.

As we were walking back we noticed a very dense burst of blossom on an Ironbark.
We immediately thought that we were not too far (according to Google Earth, about 600m) from the area  where a Regent Honeyeater was seen last year in flowering ironbarks.  We watched this tree briefly but nothing interesting was seen.

This was the first time I had tried using BirdLog to record species on the walks (although another member of the group has been using the application for a while).  There were a few issues (such as working out how to delete a species added in error) and I probably should not have sent the checklists Cornell-wards until after the call over (or remembered my ebird password).  Other members reckoned I spent more time entering data than I would with a pen and a notebook, but allowing for the time I would have spent at home entering the data subsequently, I think it is another large step in the right direction.  (Using eBird being the first very big step that way.)  

It is also nice to think that the data is safely in a database on the far side of the Pacific, before I have left the site.

A further advantage of using eBird is that it is possible to extract reports from their database, rather than relying on the goodness-of-heart of a database manager.  For this outing I had downloaded a report for an ad-hoc polygon (many thanks to the nice guy who developed this facility) covering both sites, intending to use that as a back list if I ran into major problems with  Birdlog.  The condition didn't arise, so I didn't use it in the field.  However, on comparing that list with what we saw we added 2 species: Australian King Parrot and New Holland Honeyeater to the eBird listing. 

Fires, small and not so small

As a result of a dry couple of months the period in which stuff can be ignited without a formal permit (but with sensible notifications to various people) was extended for end March to end April.  Murphy's Law being what it is, April was a very wet month so the fire risk became very low after about the 5th.

Whatever, on getting back home in early May a few folk sent round notices that they were going to light up their piles.  This seemed like a good idea and the weather looked appropriate for me to send my pile of noxious weeds, stuff I didn't want to put in the compost bins and minor garden prunings up on the 18th of May.  So I rang the RFS in Queanbeyan and sent a couple of emails around the 'hood.

I was a little later with ignition than I had intended but here we go at 12:58.
 2 minutes later, things were well underway.  (I would point out that a hose pipe connected to a good water supply was in the vicinity, but was only required for a damp-down later.)
 By 1320 the volume of combustibles was greatly reduced.
 By 1420 everything was looking rather controlled  ...
 ... but there was still fire down below.
By 1630 my fire was basically dormant but got hosed down to ensure it stayed that way, even though the weather forecast didn't mention any significant wind over night.

Frances had mentioned seeing a smoke plume as she came home from Queanbeyan at lunchtime and had wondered if it was mine.  She thought it looked "a bit big" and ceased worrying as she drove along and realised it wasn't in the direction of our house.

I'll say it was "a bit big".  Here are a couple of snaps of it at 1630.

It was coming from approximately the direction of one the notifying neighbours (about 8km away) so I rang him to see if he was having problems.  He said that his fire had been quite modest and put out on Sunday (17th) and this was a Hazard Reduction Burn by the Molonglo.  So I looked up the RFS fire information page and found this map.
I was a bit surprised that it was Cuumbeun since this is a fair way from the Molonglo.  However on Tuesday morning there was a story in Canberra Times about a Hazard Reduction Burn 3x the size of the one in Cuumbeun being undertaken in Kowen Forest by the ACT (this is presumably in the native vegetation not the pines which are arguably the bigger hazard).  It is however definitely "down by the Molonglo".

So why wasn't that megablaze on the NSW RFS page?  I can only assume because it was in the ACT not NSW and the two organisations don't share information.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Location of Pied Butcherbirds

There has recently been discussion on the COG Chatline on the whereabouts and status of Pied Butcherbirds in the vicinity of Canberra.  The most recent post, at the time of composing this, included the statement:
"Very clearly, ‘Bird Info’ shows most of COG’s records of this species are from the north of the ACT. "
I wouldn't argue with this statement, but include a snip of the distribution map shown in the COG BirdInfo page for this species to start off with.
Looking at the distribution more closely I have used information from eBird.  (Following a comment on birding-aus  that there were issues with the Birdlife Australia (BLA) maps, resolving which was a lower priority for BLA, I wouldn't rely on them as being too up to date.)

Here is the current (at time of writing) eBird distribution map for Pied Butcherbird in Australia.  I clearly shows that the range of the species stops in the extreme SE.
 Zooming in to that corner of the wide brown (and apparently about to get browner) land reinforces the idea that the ACT is about the edge of the current range.
The two spots on the South Coast are Murrumurang NP and Narooma: I don't know the observers but would note that a number of observations of Pied Butcherbirds reported on the COG chatline have been withdrawn as being Grey Butcherbirds that had been identified.

Zooming in to reveal the individual hotspots involved reveals few surprises.
The darkest mauve cell in the SE map is equivalent to the area around Urriara Village where a bird appears to be resident (or at has been seen by many observers over a long time period.  The Tin Hut Dam bird was reported by a number of people to COG but the observation (in October 2014) in eBird is by an interstate birder (who I know to be reliable)..