Thursday, 31 December 2009

More Lily

I posted in this page about our Asiatic lilies in the garden.  They are continuing to provide pleasure as the dahlias slowly get their act together.  In addition to the garden bed ones, Frances put some in a pot.  One of them flowered today: it is 8inches across the flower.  (OK, I'm old: for those with no Imperial background that is about 20cm!)

This is a nice bit of detail of the naughty bits of the flower.  And also some raindrops, as we got a small (1.5mm) shower!
 And here we have all three blooms out!

Plumed Whistling Ducks at Bungendore

At about 11:30 on New Year's Eve I was rung by another birder to say that 15 Plumed Whistling Ducks were on a small dam just outside Bungendore.  I was there with my camera rather smartly.

The plumes are clearly visible on the sitting duck.  The second image shows the whole flock.

This one provides a context by showing the farmyard in the background. Plus note that the birds are not worried by the cow and thus unlikely to be escapes from an urban yard.

Finally an example of the hazards of rural photography: trying to get the snap before a cow upstages the ducks.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Wet bark

We got a nice Christmas present in the form of 35mm of rain on the 25th.  Apart from the general 'goodness' of the event it makes the bark on some of our Eucalyptus mannifera show really nicely.  Enjoy the red and orange glows.


Thursday, 24 December 2009

Climate change: another brick in the wall?

For the first time ever we have got some ripe tomatoes before Christmas Day.  Clearly an effect of the hot air spouted by the Liberal Party!  (Thus proving sub-human intervention.)

It being Christmas we need some snow on the site.  In addition, I note the comment on this post referring to the Mad Monk (thanks Denis).  Combining the two, here is a You-Tube of Boney M in Moscow.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Saturday, 19 December 2009

End of year report

Much of what will follow has probably already been wittered about in one way or another, and when I think the boredom is likely to be too egregious I'll just bung in a link to the relevant page of the year's Proceedings.

In view of my interests it seemed a good idea to have a wildlife focus for the card.  The background is of Kunzea ericoides which blossoms at this time of year turning the Carwoola countryside white.    Going around the outside of the card and starting at the bottom left we have a Hyacinth Orchid Dipodium roseum, Blue Devil Eryngium rostratum, Golden Everlasting Xerochrysum viscosum,  and a stroppy Bearded Dragon Pogona barbata.  The middle image is of course our resident Tawny frogmouth Podargus strigoides family who again raised two chicks.

It is with some astonishment that I realise we have been living in Carwoola for very close to 3 years.  There are two aspects to this: on the one hand it seems like very little time has elapsed since we left New York, while on the other we seem to have been here for ever.  The"little time has passed" argument becomes very pronounced when I look at a few things which I intended to deal with in the first couple of months but are still on the agenda.  Dominant amongst this group are exterminating the briars and (most of) the blackberries around the paddocks.

I say 'most of' because we do like having a meal of blackberries so will continue to keep one patch for culinary purposes.  The block also provides sustenance in the form of mushrooms when there is any rain.

This leades into the first topic of THE WEATHER.

The following image shows the rainfall for the 3 years we have been here.  For the previous two years there has been a lot of rain in Summer (which I'll define as November to March) with scattered episodes the rest of the year. In 2009  (the green bars in the graph) this hasn't happened.  We got some good falls in September and October but that all got evaporated by a very hot November.  Hopefully we'll get a few thunderstorms in what is left of December.
We are to some extent insulated from the impact of the rainfall as we have a bore which provides water for the garden, although we try not to abuse that source.

Our water supplies inside the house are more fully dependent on what falls from the skies and the capture of this resource looked a bit problematic in the middle of the year.  The story of the new tank was reported earlier.  It has rained three times since that was completed:
  • the first rainfall followed me trying to fix something in the plumbing system and leaving switches in the wrong position so we captured zip;
  • the second fall was forecast well in advance so I made sure that all switches (electrical and plumbing) were correctly aligned.  It started to rain at about 8:30pm. At about 8:40 the power failed and thus the water  stopped being pumped from our catch tank to the new storage.  About midnight the rain stopped.  At 3:38 am a lot of beeping from various appliances said the power was back.  Captured water - very little.
  • the third fall was finally captured and added about 10cm to the new tank.
There are various GARDENING pages on the blog. For those keen on garden flowers there is a category for them in the blog.  As there is for fruit and veg, but I must link again to the spectacular success of the strawberries following Frances' transplanting efforts last year.  We continue to enjoy slurping on home-made strawberry ice cream (as a parenthesis  - growing up in England I loathed Walls strawberry ice-cream with a passion as it tasted yukkaroola - but this stuff is fantastic). 

Our travels this year have directed us to Adelaide for family matters and to South America.  Martin also went to Vanuatu for work matters early in the year, but has now decided that retirement is just too busy to allow work to interrupt it.  Unless of course a trip to somewhere really interesting came up.

OK.  This thing is getting too long so lets cut to the personal stuff, organised in descending order of priority in the household.

The small dog has wiggled and licked and wormed her way deeply into our hearts.  Extreme thanks to Bill and Jean for providing her with care and love while we were away in Peru.  She continues to be very interested in reptiles but thus far, inshallah, she hasn't had a close encounter of the legless kind.  (Although we have seen quite a few Eastern Brown Snakes and one Red-bellied Black Snake around the house and garden.)

Frances is very well and continuing to be a voluntary guide at the National Gallery.  She has done a lot of research for the French exhibition and led a couple of tours thus far.

She is also getting herself around the native plants, both on our block (yes, there is a category on the blog for that) and more widely through our walks with the ANPS.

Her interest in musical instruments continues with practice on piano, accordion and whistle a regular event.

Martin continues to be into birds.   His life list made a major surge (from 1600 to 1815) as a result of the trip to Peru and Chile but a few others have been picked up in Australia as well.  In particular his efforts on the COG Garden Birds Survey has been very busy with:
  • normal survey operations and PR stuff;
  • an excellent redevelopment of the Survey processing system by Sandy Hayman; and 
  • publication of the second edition of the Birds of Canberra Gardens.
The recording of birds in Carwoola is picking up with close to a dozen folk in the area providing records during the year.  If I (that is, Martin) am not careful, this is going to become a big job.  Pole sana - a Kiswahili phrase meaning "I am sorry for you, but it ain't my fault" - although i cannot ths far work who else's fault it is..

It would be nice to say Martin has continued to run marathons or at least half-marathons.  Unfortunately that would be a great big porky.  After dealing successfully with a buggered hamstring early in the year a sciatic nerve problem emerged during the trip to Adelaide.  This has really curtailed running since July with the only exercise highlight being finally getting his 50th Handicap run T-shirt from the Vets.  When the shirt was presented there was some astonishment that it had taken 25 years (at 11 races per year - an 18% participation rate!!!) to achieve this.  Its always good to set a record.

An interesting  - for Martin at least - development during the year has been the appearance of some of his photographs on the ANPS website.  Even better was that some others (of lizards, including the one at the card end of this stuff) made it to the Palerang Bulletin!  Gotta be part of my 15 minutes of fame.

I (that is Martin - to no-one's surprise I am sure) realise I have, so far,said nothing about politics in this.  Basically the year has been good.  Our local Federal member Mike Kelly continues to be excellent and our State member  Steve Whan seems to be getting rewarded for good work.  Nationally it is great to see Tony Abbott leading the Liberal Party (since that should put them in Opposition for quite some time).  Internationally Barack Obama seems to be doing as good a job as possible although I am worried that he still doesn't have an icon on Doonesbury.

Other than the implicit apology for not running enough, I also haven't said anything about sport.  Probably because I feel most sport these days is bullshyte.  The highlight of the year had to be the Yankees getting the World Series and the low point the performance of the Wallabies (Australia's Rugby Union team - who lost to Scotland, rated as the most difficult task in Rugby)!  I was sad for Rob and Warren that the Saints didn't get an AFL flag but the Grand Final  was a great game and losing to Geelong is not bad.  (Unlike losing to Hawthorn or Collingwood which should cause an outbreak of seppuku - if the hara-kiri isn't happening quickly enough).

On to 2010!!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Some thoughts on bushfires and Emergency Services

By way of background, I rate myself as fairly risk tolerant with respect to bushfires.  I certainly loathe, with a passion:
  • the anal-retentive panic-merchants who seem to populate the Bush fire mob in Canberra, and 
  • the politicians who use bush fires to keep the population terrified and thus under control.
It is interesting that the enquiry into the bushfires in Victoria earlier in 2009 have brought out a lot of issues about incompetence for the State Fire people.  I had thought that this was stuff being dug out by folk who wouldn't appreciate that things get done in an emergency in less than ideal ways.  However, I have been paying a bit of attention to fire warnings in our area (mainly because the weather is hot, dry and windy, and the area is covered with a lot of dry grass - as a result of good rain in September and October and very little in November).  I now wonder if an IQ above 90 disqualifies people from serving in bushfire administration.

My key resource is a map put out by NSW Emergency Services purporting to show where there are fire bans and the levels of risk in the declared areas.

In the previous period of disgusting weather there were no symbols to indicate a fie ban on the map.  I thought this was simply a nerd glitch (I LOVE tautology) but did report it to the Minister for Emergency Services (who it so happens is our local State MP.

Today (!7 December) in the early afternoon it is about 36 degrees C, the wind is howling up to 78kph, and the humidity isabout 10%!  Lovely.  So I went to check that everywhere around here is fire-banned.  Here is the map.

Note the area to the South West of the State.  Coloured dark red for "Severe Fire Danger" but no fire ban!!!  I checked the text and it wasn't simply a matter of forgetting to include the symbol: they do not have a ban there (they do however have a very active thunderstomr system heading their way!  This is insane, especially as the area to the North (about the size of France) is under the highest rating of Catastrohic!

I thought to send the guys in the RFS an email pointing this out to them but there is no email address on their website.  Knowing what would happen if I tried to ring them - various switchboards and call centrres would suck money from me - I sent another message to the Minister.

Some peolpe do not learn.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Spider imitates Pardalote

I consider this to be one of my better photographs, because I have got enough of it n focus to actually show the little appendages organising the web.  When I say 'little' this beast was about 5mm across the carapace!

A friend with much  more knowledge of Arthropods (than myself) has advised that "Its a spiny spider possibly in the genus Gasteracantha, family Araneidae.  They often occur in large colonies with the webs strung among shrubbery."

The reference to pardalote is to the Spotted Pardalote one of the small jewels of the Australian avifauna!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Another day in the life

Several months back I put up a post about how we filled in our days now that we are no longer wage slaves.  Here is another one of those.

We got up at 6am and had a cup of coffee:
  • me sitting at my 'pooter checking emails and what has gone on in the world; 
  • Frances sitting up in bed reading an art book; and
  • small dog (without a cup of coffee) sitting with Frances.
About 7am it is time to go for a patrol of the premises.  This also gives all of us a small amount of exercise.  Especially the small dog who has to rush about a fair bit keeping the local 'roo population on their toes.

Back to the house (close to 8am) and my immediate task is to give the small dog her food for the day.  Frances has meanwhile started her daily foray into weeding the periwinkle from the garden bed on the Eastern end of the house.  This gives my second job of emptying the barrow full of periwinkle from yesterday onto my bonfire heap.  (For those not familiar with periwinkle, count your blessings: it is an incredibly invasive weed and I suspect very resistant to composting.  It probably won't spread after a good dose of flames )

Next task is to pick the strawberries.  Still quite a good crop.  While doing this I notice a rather unpleasant smell.  After reviewing my shower situation for the last few days reckon it isn't me and mentally schedule looking for dead things later in the day.  Having picked the fruit off the strawberries I start cleaning the plants up so as to encourage a second crop.  By the time that is finished it is close to 10am and time for another cuppa,

Before doing that I find a phone message from another resident of Carwoola talking about a bird nesting in his hayshed/garage.  For the time being that is simply recorded as an interesting observation, but I must go and photograph it sometime.

About this time Frances finishes the main weeding task and moves on to other duties.  Small dog comes indoors having spent two hours chasing things - mainly reptiles, and as far as we can determine with legs - around in the fenced garden bed, and munching on a bone. I remove the wire mesh from around the patch where we grew broad beans - the mesh is to keep the small dog out, since this is prime reptile habitat.  The mesh is installed around some olive trees, which are hopefully going to fruit this year, to persuade the 'roos to keep away.

Some acacias have started to droop over the drive and some cypress trees are blocking my way to an area of the garden.  These both get pruned and the resultant mess added to the bonfire heap.  (Note: the existence of the bonfire heap indicates my optimism that at some point in the next 6 months we will get enough rain to allow me to light up the pile.)  I have noticed that the Common Bronzewings (fat pigeons for the ornithologically-challenged) are appearing regularly to munch on the seed.

I then had lunch and checked emails etc.  At that point Frances comes in and says that she has also noticed  rather unpleasant odour, but while she was fixing up the tomatoes.  This caused me to remember my added chore so I went to look for dead stuff.  Eventually I found a 3 foot long brown ex-snake tangled in the bird netting around our currant bushes.  It was not only dead but blown: cutting it out of the net was one of the least pleasant tasks I have ever done.  A 3-week dead possum in a fireplace was bad, but that could be removed with a shovel: this snake required up and close and personal attention.  Despite having just had lunch I didn't puke, but I did dry retch several times.

A main task in the afternoon was carting several barrow-loads of mulch to place around the olive trees.  This is further evidence of hope that we get some rain this epoch so that there is water to conserve.

The small dog was taken for a prowl around my Garden Bird Survey site to see what was around.   She loves coming for these walks, but it must be very frustrating for her since I am convinced that most of the smelly things she identifies have less than 2 legs.  Thus she doesn't get to follow up on them.  We didn't find many birds!

Not exciting, but I have no memory of feeling in the slightest bored during the day.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Consider ye the lilies of the .....

.. garden.  It only feels like a field (or in Australia 'paddock') when digging this stuff, or removing the Periwinkle and Hypericum that previous owners were careful enough to plant.

Enough with the negative vibrations.  The Asiatic Lilies in what we term the sunroom bed ('cos it is outside our sunniest room) are flowering - magnificently.

I have always had a soft spot for these since doing a Frank Muir impersonation in telling the tale of the real meaning of the biblical phrase alluded to in the title of this post.  It involved Dennis Lillee not selling oil.  Even by my standards it got obscure!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Superb Superb Parrots

I was every surprised (very pleasantly so) to get a phone call from a resident of Hoskinstown to say that he had seen Superb Parrots (Polytelis swainsonii) on his patch.

As shown by the red spot in this image, appended to a map produced from the Birds Australia Birdata  database this represents a reasonable extension to the range of the species.
I visited the site a couple of times before spotting the birds.  Two males and a female (distinguished from juvenile males by the blue 'wash' on the face were present.  They seemed very happy munching on Acacia dealbata!  I didn't manage to get a snap of the female so here are some of the males.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The story of O (-ring) and flowers

The Bureau of Meteorology have been forecasting a lot of showers and storm recently.  In honour of this, and noticing that the pump ha been a bit grumpy recently, I decided to clean the filter on the line up to our tank.  When I reassembled the device and found that water was going most everywhere except up towards our new tank.  It emerged that the seal between the filter cover and rest of the assembly was more like a walrus - long in the tooth and a bit hairy.

So it was off to find a new O-ring.
  1. First stop was Bunnings (for those overseas this is more or less Australia's answer to Wal Mart).  They didn't have any and reckoned it would be difficult to find one without knowing the brand of pump.
  2. Second stop was Southern Plumbing, on the grounds that pumps are an essential bit of plumbing kit.  Yes they sold pumps but not O-rings.  However they were able to say that CBC (this is the Consolidated Bearing Company, not Columbia Broadcasting Company) in Fyshwick had every sort of O-ring known to mankind.
  3. this proved to be accurate advice - and it only cost $3!
All we need now is some rain for the pump to shuffle around!

The rain will also be good for our garden which has not enjoyed the several days well above 30 degrees with strong winds.   The irises have basically taken their batand ball and gone home.  However Frances grew some snapdragons this year and they are rather magnificent - right in front of our studies windows.

I'm hopeful that these will keep a nice burst of colour happening until our Asiatic lilies take up the running.  They in turn will be followed by Dahlias and then Chrysanthemums.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

At the swamp

The swamp in question is Kellys Swamp at the Western edge of Fyshwick (or the South-eastern end of Lake Burley Griffin).   On getting there this morning the first birds of note were the gang of 7 Black-tailed Native Hens which seem to have taken up residence there this summer.  Here are some of them, plus a Eurasian Coot for comparison.

My main reason for visiting the swamp was to check on progress of this year's Royal Spoonbill nesting event.  It appears that there are two nests active, very close together and very low in the same tree as last year.  An Australian White Ibis was also in the tree and as can be seen in the following image (if you expand it) it was gathering branches as well.

Apparently it was a bit to close to the nests and was soon chased off.  This image below shows the nest site (under the upper spoonbill).

Of course when you have breeding plumage like a spoonbill, you add new emphasis to the phrase "bad hair day"

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Lilies and other natives

 Exploring a part of our block which we don't often visit (a steep bit across a creek) we were pleased to find a very good crop of Common Fringe-lilies (Thysanotus tuberosus).

The two images following show a close up of the lilies and some surrounding Chrysocephalum apiculatum and a wider shot giving an idea of the density of the plants in an area totalling about 20m x 10m).  There were also isolated plants elsewhere.

Nearby was a nice collection of bluebells (Wahlenbergia sp); Hibbertia obtusifolia and Chrysocephalum semipapposum.

Finally I found a Pale Vanilla lily (Arthropodium milleflorum)

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Banding in Monga

A friend, Anthony, who is now a fully paid up bird bander has started a project in Monga National Park about 90km East of our place (by road - only about 55km in a straight line).  He has put the official stuff about his project in his blog.
Here are some photos of my visit to his site today.  Some really good birds and very pleasant company!

Although the site is in a National park and on a closed road the first requirement was to put up a notice explaining what was going on.  The second requirement was to ensure the track was barricaded to lowlife on tral bikes from trashing everything.

Here is a bird (an Olive Whistler) getting the business.  Needless to say as a licensed bander Anthony is primarily concerned with the welfare of th birs.  This is both at a macro-level - the aim of the project is to understand about bird behaviour and movements - and a micro-level - the safety and well being of the individual birds is paramount.  The pliers are to ensure accurate fitting of the bands, not to discipline the birds.  The birds show no concern for the welfare of the banders and pecked away with gay abandon. 

The full olive whistler!  It isn't hard to see why this group of birds are called 'thickheads".  (Unlike trail bike riders!)

One of my favourite birds: the Rufous Fantail.  For once the name is very accurate as shown here.

On the left we have a Lewin's Honeyeater and on the right a close up of its head with the diagnostic yellow patch.

There were also a few flowers, including this violet.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Friarbirds and Wattlebirds

We currently have a very good array of Callistemons flowering outside the kitchen window.  They are very popular with the largest honeyeaters: Red Wattlebirds and Noisy Friarbirds.  I'll try to get some images over the next few days.  Here is a starter showing the contortions a Noisy Friarbird can get into!

Shortly after this image was taken a couple of Red Wattlebirds came to slurp on some nectar.  This didn't last long, as the friarbird chased them away.  The FB then got back down to some serious munching/slurping.

The Red Wattlebirds have proved rather more difficult to get a snap of than the friarbirds.  Whether this is because they are getting hammered by the leatherheads all the time, or if they are naturally skittish I dunno. At any rate one eventually posed in a good manner.  It even shows the red wattle!

The rest of the images below show the friarbirds in various poses.

Une Fleur de Frogmouth

After a few days post-fledging absence the Tawny Frogmouth family have turned up in the vicinity again.  My guess is that they are taking the young folk for a tour of the domain.  My attention was first drawn to them by the twittering of a small flock of Yellow-rumped Thornbills who were objecting to their presence.

Notice the distance between the female (up against the trunk) and the rest of the family.  This is exactly how they arranged themselves last year.  They also used this branch (in a live Acacia dealbata) as a perch.

At one point an aggressive Pied Currawong flew in - I suspect attacking me not the Froggies - and the Gang of 3 all assumed the thin camouflage pose well before it arrived.   Too me it looked like a rather daggy Fleur de lys.  (If that analogy upsets anyone in Quebec: manque de pot!)