Saturday, 31 January 2009

Coast Trip of '09

As a friend was taking herself off to NZ for three weeks her house at the Coast was in need of visits to water the the garden. As always we were happy to take on this duty.

The trip down was made interesting by a large bushfire burning in Morton National park just to the North of the Highway. The front of the fire was well off the road but smoke was drifting across the road for quite a few kilometres. I don't know if it was:
  • smell of the smoke;
  • the twisty road;
  • the breakfast she had just before we left; or
  • a combination of the above
but the rat became renamed as the Puke Monster shortly before Bateman's Bay. Fortunately we had put a blanket down in the car. A bit of rapid scraping, and a period of driving with the windows down, saw us get to 2km from our destination without further incident. At which point - after more scraping - I decided to walk Puke Monster for the last stretch.

After settling our belongings into the house we took ourselves off to Congo Point for some birding. In the past we had a weekender/bach/cottage here and it used to be a very quiet relaxed place. In the intervening 18 years it has been 'improved' with bitumenised roads and signs prohibiting all sorts of stuff, including dogs. We decided that the signs only applied to the campground and not the beach so headed out for the rock platform to see what was there. This involved a bit of wading for us and a swim for Pukey. The aftermath is shown in the image.

Getting back to the residence we had a good, albeit very warm night's sleep. (For the benefit of Adelaide and Melbourne readers I apologise for referring to minimum temperatures below 30 degrees C as "very warm". We don't like anything over 15C!) The following morning we went for a walk along the electricity easement to check out the birds in the local bush. As it was already getting hot there were relatively few birds around. (For the benefit of Adelaide and Melbourne readers I apologise for referring to temperatures below 42 degrees C as "hot". We don't like anything over 30C!) However there were some very nice Banksias flowering: the images below show both new cones and older ones with visible seed capsules.

A pleasure of walking along the easement is that there are no signs prohibiting stuff. So we could walk with Pukey without having to look over our shoulder for the forces of repression. I found out later that just off this easement was an area using for dumping nightsoil - ie human excreta - from the days before sewage got to the area. It is probably a form of fairness that there were no signs warning of this either!

However, just about everywhere else we tried to go the signs banning dogs were very evident. I have just reflecting, in writing this, that in the three days we were down the Coast we didn't see a single National Parks Service truck or Ranger: obviously they have spent all their funds on signs and have nothing left to enforce them. Typical bureaucracy.

We did find one beach on which dogs were allowed and I have attached a couple of piccies below. They show the scenes looking North and South respectively. The total distance covered is about 8km: if you look closely at the North looking image you can see about 50 folk in the patrolled area - and one person to the South. And on the far side of the Headland to the South is another 8km in a similar condition!

On the Friday we headed back home. I did drive a little more slowly than usual, but the road was still twisty and smoky. Since we had no chundering in the back seat we have concluded that the eating before driving was the issue. Puke Monster is renamed back to Tammy.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Recent bird stuff

This post is basically a chance to flaunt the photograph to the left, of a Rainbow Bee-eater taken in a paddock on the W edge of Canberra. Although it isn't professional standard I am quite proud of getting a hand-held shot at full zoom which focused tightly enough to show the tail streamers!

This one just places the single bird in context with a couple of its mates (in the sense of 'pals' not making any calls about living arrangements).

The following day I spotted this Gang-gang - the avifaunal emblem of the ACT - munching away in a hawthorn tree. Although a bit shady, the image doesn't do a bad job of catching the look and feel of the bird.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Yellow Box flowering

Last summer a few of the Yellow Box (Eucalyptus meliodora) trees on our property flowered, to our delight, and that of the local insect population. This year it seems that all those which didn't flower last year are having a go.

The images that follow go from distant views of a whole tree -perhaps 15m high - to a close-up of some flowers on the ground.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Carwoola Birds

2 Years of Birding in the Carwoola area

This report is about birds so I will start with a couple of images of the birds of the area. Gang-gang Cockatoo to the left and Grey fantail to the right! Both are commonly seen in the area.

This is an informal report on the birds I have recorded in the Stoney Creek Gazette (hereafter ‘the Gazette’) since moving to the area in late January 2007. Since (for reasons that are not clear to me) I omitted to issue records for April 2007 the report is based upon observations for 22 months.

For most of 2007 the records are a function of where I happened to go in the area, which gives a bias towards our home block. For 2008 (and I hope into the future) the records have been augmented by regular observations from Julienne Kamprad of Quailrise in Hoskinstown, and other observations in the area by the residents of that property. In addition I have received, and included, ad-hoc observations of interesting species from other readers of the Gazette.

Area of Study

Essentially the area for which I have recorded birds has been what I understand to be the catchment area of the Gazette, with a probable extension to Foxlow Bridge (because it is an ecologically interesting area and makes a nice bike ride) and Yanunbeenan NR. The approximate extent of the area is illustrated in the extract from Google Maps.


In the 22 months of observations 125 species have been recorded. 23 species were added to the list in 2008. Using the grouping I have employed for the Gazette, the breakdown of species follows.

CategoryCount of Species
1 Waterbirds19
2 Birds of Prey10
3 Parrots and Relatives9
4 Kingfishers and other non-songbirds20
5 Honeyeaters11
6 Flycatchers and similar species16
7 Other, smaller birds32
8 Other, larger birds8

Frequency of observing species.

The next table shows the number of species by frequency of observation.

Frequency# Species
Every Month26
17-21 Months22
10-16 Months19
5-9 Months20
2-4 Months24
One month14

37% of the species have been recorded in 17 or more of the 22 months. and 26 species in every month. These 26 species observed in all months are shown in the following list. I have put an asterisk against those featuring in the 30 species most common in revegetation plots as listed by Greening Australia (GA) in their book “bringing birds back”. 14 species are common to both lists, with several of those in the GA list being migrants to the region and thus not likely to feature in an “all months” list.

Australian Wood Duck, Galah, Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, Crimson Rosella*, Eastern Rosella*, Laughing Kookaburra (see image to left), White-throated Treecreeper, Weebill*, Striated Thornbill*, Yellow‑rumped Thornbill*, Buff-rumped Thornbill*, Spotted Pardalote, Willie Wagtail*, Magpie‑lark*, White-eared Honeyeater*, Noisy Miner, Red Wattlebird*, Grey Butcherbird, Australian Magpie*, Pied Currawong*, Australian Raven*, Little Raven, White-winged Chough, Welcome Swallow, Common Starling*, House Sparrow.

Breeding Birds

Particular importance is attached to the birds which breed in an area, since if breeding habitat is depleted the species will not be sustained. The following list of 26 species observed as breeding in the area is based upon a broad definition of breeding, including activities from courtship display through nest-based activities to dependent young out of the nest.

Australasian Grebe, Black-fronted Dotterel, Australian Shelduck, Australian Wood Duck, Pacific Black Duck, Tawny Frogmouth, Dollarbird, Pallid Cuckoo, Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo, Welcome Swallow, Fairy Martin, Willie Wagtail, Leaden Flycatcher, Rufous Whistler, Grey Shrike‑thrush, Striated Thornbill, Buff-rumped Thornbill, Silvereye, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Red Wattlebird, Noisy Friarbird, Red-browed Finch, Olive-backed Oriole, Pied Currawong, Australian Magpie, Striated Pardalote.

I will end, as I began, with images. The Tawny Frogmouths (to the left) bred in a large Yellow Box in our lawn, and the whole family of 4 is still travelling around together.The Black-fronted Dotterels (at right) bred in a gravely patch by a farm dam off Whiskers Creek Road: they raised 3 young.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Pumping iron?

One of the things we inherited with the place was a small firefighting pump. After about a year I managed to get it sort of running but not very succesfully.

When John and Julienne came round I knew John was a good mechanic (and very knowledgeable about matters to do with firefighting) and asked him for his opinion about the pump. He was able to diagnose quite quickly that the pump had issues.

An obvious one was the amount of rust (IRON oxide) in the fuel filter and the interesting orange colour of the liquid going into the carburettor. After a lot of investigating in my messy shed - and application of Teflon tape in a number of locations on the carbie - we had a functioning pump.

Now we are just hoping we never have to use it!

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Too many spoonbills are never enough

This post is primarily intended for people interested in the breeding of Royal Spoonbills in the Jerrabombera Wetlands, specifically Kelly's Swamp, in Fyshwick, ACT. It is an initial sequel (or possibly a presequel) to an article I wrote for Canberra Bird Notes (CBN - published by the Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG)) which covered the first few weeks of this event.

I expect that a more thorough discussion of the later stages of the event will be published in the June 2009 edition of CBN, but thought it would be useful to summarise matters a bit closer to the event. While I have used my own images, such as they are, here I have also included some - several orders of magnitude better -very kindly offered by Geoffrey Dabb where noted below. He has also offered to give me some others for the published paper.

For the benefit of those who don't have access to CBN the image to the left shows which nest is which in my terminology.

The entire event began to be observed (I suspect the very first stages of the event - courtship of the birds from the LH nest - went un-noticed) on 25 October 2008. I have ruled a line under it as at 26 January 2009, when a chick flew out of the Upper nest. Over the intervening period period many members of COG have contributed observations of the birds at the nests and its surrounds, but I would particularly mention the contributions of Geoffrey Dabb, Frank Antram and Elizabeth Compston who were regular visitors to the hide (blind, for North American readers) overlooking the site.

I will also remedy an oversight in my previous CBN article by acknowledging the late Delia Johnson, who reported the first breeding record for the ACT in February 1998.

In the 2008-09 event it was difficult to see into the nests although the builders of Cygnus hide are to be congratulated on their foresight in its placement many years ago. On the basis of what was reported the following summary is offered:
  • three nests were commenced and all fledged young. That is a very high success rate compared to the literature cited in the Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds (HANZAB);
  • the LH nest hatched 3 chicks, RH nest 2 chicks (but visibility into this nest was particularly poor), and the Upper nest 4 chicks - thus total chicks hatched 9;
  • in terms of fledging - defined by me as a chick flying from the nest tree - the outcome was LH 2 chicks and RH and Upper nests 1 chick each;
This photograph by Geoffrey Dabb shows one of the chicks (N1Ja or b) from the LH nest soliciting food from its proud parent. It is probably capable of feeding by itself but still gets a little help.

  • Some rates are thus -> an average 1.3r chicks per nest, and 0.44r chicks fledged per chick hatched.
I suggest readers click on the Gantt Chart image above, and obtain a full size image (if that is how their email browser works), should they wish to read the labels. While I do realise that some birders have good enough eyesight, I don't think even a raptor specialist could read them as is. They may also wish to do the same with the following image, showing the 3 chicks from the lower nests playing in the water!

The issues which I hope to canvass in further detail in the forthcoming article include:
  • the differing durations of the stages of development in the various nests, including a comparison of the observed events with the material in HANZAB (noting that HANZAB has very little information on the duration of post-hatching events);
  • the various definitions of 'fledging' and how they apply to this event; and
  • interactions between the spoonbills and Australian White Ibis during later stages of the event. I might also use Ibises as a proxy for commentary about growth rates of the Spoonbill chicks. (The image above gives an idea of the number of ibises hanging out in the nest tree in the later stages of the breeding event.)
The final image is by Geoffrey Dabb and shows the event which concluded this data gathering exercise. That is, the chick (designated N3j) launching itself from the tree for the first time.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Gridiron tipping contest 2009 as at 090203

Last year the New York Times got a mob called Predictify to run an NFL finals series tipping contest. Despite my last foray into such things (the 1991 StatCan March Madness Pool) being a disaster - I didn't get one of the 1st round games right - I decided to have a go. To my surprise I came 22nd out of 'several thousand' entrants (Predictify wouldn't say how many punters went for this)

So in 2009 the Times ran its own comp and I had to go for it. The next bit was written when the first set of 4 games had just been completed and I got one right (and exactly the margin). Despite this miserable performance they had me rated as coming 701st out of 10,976! This seemed a little surprising and my guess is that the result doesn't acknowledge the outcomes of the 2 later games. By the next day my ranking had slipped a tad, to 8,088, which is more reasonable.

The maximum points available were 82 and the leaders (2 of them) had 68 [83% of the possible], so had obviously got all four winners but been a tad conservative on their margins. A further interesting change is that the 2nd round games appear to have changed teams around which will make life difficult: how can one pick the Giants when they aren't playing in that match?!

After another weekend of carnage in the top seeds, including the Giants proving that it doesn't matter how you tip them you lose, I have added to my score! I now have 39 points and have soared to 6525th place. So it seems that one's score is determined by who gets into the next round, rather than actually picking the results of specific games. Only 2 people have got all the winners right and the better of them has 155 points out of a possible 208 [75% of the possible]. I am in front of one of the NYT reporters !!

The next round featured the Steelers against some mob of no-hopers from Baltimore (OK they were doing better than either team from NYC) and duly kicked their butt. The other Conference Championship resulted in a team from Arizona getting to the Super Bowl. As a result of the Steelers good work I had got 3 games right and was thus approximately 2,612nd. This was good enough to put me in front of 2 of the 3 NY Times reporters. The winner got 10 of the11 games correct and appeared to be rather conservative in his score picks as he ended with 370 out of a possible 488 points.

Enough already.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Vegetables a-gogo

We picked (and ate) our first tomato on 2 January. The first zucchini was picked on 3 January.

The weather on ABC TV here is given by Mark Carmody, who also runs a gardening show. One of his catch phrases was that garlic should be planted on the shortest day and picked on the longest day. We were a few days late in the picking, but estimate we have got enough to last us through 2009: wha makes this particularly fine is that one planting of this lot was using cloves from our harvest in 2007!

We also dug up a lot of brown onions (left) and shallots (right).

Tadpolemouth update

After 3 weeks without a trace of the frogmouths (adult or young) I found the 2 young ones today. They were perched on a fence being harassed by a bunch of thornbills. (And a photographer!)

The next day (4 January 2009) I was bringing in the washing in the evening and heard a noise a bit like a bleating sheep (not unusual out here, but not usually from this direction). On looking in the direction of the sound I found all 4 frogmouths sitting in a wattle. Welcome back guys!

The photo of all 4 is rather naff, but is included to show the isolation of one of the youngsters.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Happy New Year! (and garden flowers)


The following are a few more images of what is currently in flower in our garden. Most of these are visible ffom my study window as I type! The white daisies are now quite dominant in the colour scheme, and the dahlias are just beginning to hit their straps.

The lavender will be "improved quite a bit I suspect as we recently visited a friends's place, just over the hill. She grows and sells lavender and had a magnificent array of bushes which has quite inspired Frances to do something about our lot!

This next lot down are mainly the gladioli which we inherited with the place. They pop up in the most unexpected places but as is obvious from the pictures are very nice to have around. Certainly too good for the nice Mr Humphries to chuck around the place!