Saturday, 25 April 2009

More lizzid

ANZAC Day was its traditional drizzly cold self. Quite appropriate for a day commemorating the folk who died in the mud of Flanders.

It did however seem a bit strange to find an Eastern Blue-tongued Lizard clambering about beside our drive.

The reptile was found by Tammy, who was quite keen to play with it. We were not keen for this to happen at all and were pleased a chicken wire fence was between them. Apart from the principle of not damaging the wildlife when possible, anything that eats bugs is to be encouraged.

  • For those of an inquisitive mind, this is a good site about the species and its relatives.
  • For those wondering about the word "More" in the title of this post see, which also includes an image of the closely related Blotched Blue-tongued Lizard.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Are Dusky Woodswallows migrants?

This question has been raised recently on the chatline. The information available from the Garden Bird Survey (GBS) is too much to fit in my Gang-Gang (see articles, but not complete enough for a CBN article. So I have stuck it here.

HANZAB (v1A p19) defines ‘migratory’ as “all or most individuals moving between breeding and non-breeding ranges”. Wikipedia has a few more words under 'Bird migration":

"Bird migration refers to the regular seasonal journeys undertaken by many species of birds. Bird movements include those made in response to changes in food availability, habitat or weather. These however are usually irregular or in only one direction and are termed variously as nomadism, invasions, dispersal or irruptions. Migration is marked by its annual seasonality. (emphasis added MB) In contrast, birds that are non-migratory are known as resident birds. "

Reading the HANZAB species account (v7A p456) shows that the debate about whether this species is a migrant, and which subset of migration patterns apply to it, has been ongoing since at least 1920!

Seasonality of observations

Looking at aggregate data for the whole 27 years of GBS data shows a clear peak in the number of birds observed in March-April May and a lesser peak in September. There are very few records of the species in the GBS for June and July in particular.

Examining the number of birds recorded in each year for Autumn (March to May) and Winter (June to August) gives a somewhat more interesting picture. Note that in this graph the horizontal axis is for calendar years since Winter goes across the GBS year boundary.

At an even more detailed level the pattern within the Winter months changes somewhat. For 2003 - 2005 there are some birds in all three months, showing full overwintering. For 2006 - 2007 June and July are empty (except for 3 birds in June '06) while each August still has a small number of birds. While all the earlier records of Wintering birds are in August they are not as consistently present as in the last few years.

Half of the Winter observations of Dusky Woodswallows in recent years come from Curtin and 7 of the remaining 8 come from the Northside of Canberra (interestingly, mainly sites close to grazing or equestrian areas).

Overall abundance of birds

The graph to the left shows the value of A (ie the average number of birds of this species seen per active week per site) for all 27 completed years of the GBS. While the value of R2 is not high enough to indicate a significant trend over time, if the extreme value for year 24 is replaced by the average of years 23 and 25 the overall shape of the graph remains the same while the value of R2 rises to 0.70, much closer to significance.

Breeding records
It is also possibly interesting that in GBS year 24 (which contains the breeding period following the 2003 bushfires) the number of breeding observations was 10. This contrast with most years not recording the species breeding at all, or at most 1 or 2 breeding records. This supports a comment made to me that the increased number of GBS observations shown in the graphs reflect a change in behaviour following the fires. Now that the mountains are recovering from the fires the birds are returning to a more traditional pattern.

My conclusion is that, in this area, GBS data suggests the species certainly satisfies the definitions of a migrant given in HANZAB and Wikipedia.

There seems to have been a major 'shock' to the seasonality of the bird's presence in the more urbanised part of the ACT following the 2003 bushfires. It is possible that matters are returning to the previous situation, possibly with the species arriving earlier than in the past.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

The season of mellow fruitfulness

Thus far Autumn (or Fall as some misguided countries call it) has not been very misty. This is actually a major change for Canberra, where, in the past, there was always a fair chance that the airport would be closed early in the morning.

After that unbracketed parenthesis, let us get back to the remainder of the cliche with some photographs of the grapes from the garden.

Here are a couple of images of some of our apples. They have been quite successful as a result of a) pruning; b) netting the trees to keep the parrots off; and c) relocation of the arboreal marsupials aka possums.

The image to the left is not of apples, as many of you will have noticed. These (except for the strawberries) are in fact butternut pumpkins which we have picked to avoid the frost. This is a change from previous thinking in which the frost was seen as desirable to harden them off. Old thinking does apply to Queensland blues so they are still on the vine, an an image will be posted in due course.

Autumn is also the time to be getting the stuff out of the ground. I won't use the word "roots since it may be taken out of context. While the pumpkins have a future life in bread, and as soup we have yet to decide what to do with the rutabagas.

That is about all for the fruit and veg side of things.

The digging part of the year has arrived with patches dug and filled here and there for the 500 daffodils acquired earlier in the year and tulip bed creation scheduled for today(23 April). In the vegie garden patches have been dug for the eating broad beans section (must remember to start consuming last year's crop) and garlic.

I felt I had to include an image of the flower bed outside our bedroom, with our array of Chrysanthemums. We have some others, genetically identical, in another bed and they are poor, miserable, little things. It appears to be due to the imaged bed getting a lot of water and the other resembling Egypt away from the Nile.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

The N(S)FF - Music

It is pleasing to report that there was some good music to be had at the Festival. Here follow some comments on the various acts that we saw.
  • The Fagans: Judging by the number of times members of this family appeared on the program it is possible to hypothesise that the first 'F' in NFF stands for Fagan. All excellent musicians but very, very earnest.
  • Old Man Luedecke: A Canadian banjo player. Good player, good singer and a nice line in chat.
  • Alan Kelly Band. A 4 piece outfit from Ireland . Rather good: we saw their act twice and Frances bought three CDs!

  • Bluestone Junction: A bluegrass band of the single Microphone persuasion, and quite good at their work. I saw them in the ABC concert (and we tried to get into a workshop but it was already full).

Charlie McMahon and the Rhyth
m Organism: Charlie is a one armed (note the metalwork holding the didgeribone) white didgeridoo player, and was accompanied by a cellist and a violin player. very different and rather good.

  • Nano Stern: a Chilean guitarist who was very good at his work, but we left to go elsewhere for reasons which escape me now.

  • Aindrias de Staic: an Irish/Gypsy stand up comedian and fiddle player. Rather like Billy Connolly but with more emphasis on the word pronounced Phuc. That was a tad boring, but his general act - Around the world on Eighty quid - was very funny.

  • Pierre Bensusan: Frances only saw him and thought him good but very quiet.
  • The Jews Brothers band: Again only Frances saw them, but reckoned they were very good. Bought a CD!
  • Warren Fahey and the Larrikins: Historic folk songs from the bush. Quite good but a little earnest despite Warrens jokes and one liners.
  • The Spooky Men's Chorale: the usual humour. A little later Fred Smith, inthe Urban Sea Shanties session,described them as a) the folk scene's answer to the Village People and b) the folk scene's answer to Manpower. The spookies looked affronted but didn't deny the charge. See section on humour!
  • Akoustic Odyssey They write their own songs.
  • The Borderers: Basically 2 Irish persons who seemed to have modelled their act on Annie Lennox and Angus Young (of AC/DC). Hardly folk music and I didn't think they had the talent to pull off the imitation. Write their own songs.
  • The Hot Club of Cowtown: A trio from Austin Texas who were extremely good. Played a very wide range of music, played it very well and seemed to be enjoying themselves: not all earnest. Did a good job on the Hot Club (de Paris - Mr Rheinhart's band) and an eve better number of the Cowtown stuff.

The N(S)FF - Humour

Given the garbage of administration it is good there was some humour around. It is a pity that many of the performers were deadly earnest in promoting their causes, but possibly the humour of the Spookies explained their popularity?

They continued their practise of putting up small signs with pun ridden philosophies all round the place. Some samples:
  • SpookyBreakfast Convention toasts cereal offenders.
  • Spooky choir rejects enhancement claims "Manboobs are all our own work".
  • Spooky tenor claims are bass less.
Some photos:

A good line by the Head Spooky in one of their gigs, where he mentioned things that could muck up a romantic getaway. His killer was ".. finding that every other room in your resort has been allocated to the 250 members of Morris Dancers for Jesus."

Warren Fahey -the founder of Larrikin records and a stalwart of the Australian folk scene - did a song and chat session of bush music. It included a grizzle about the rising cost of sheep in Australia. He then concluded that it was the same in New Zealand where the price of lamb was now $20 an hour.

Of course Big Rory and Ochie were travelling around the site. Big Rory plays a Scot on Stilts while his wife dresses in a dog costume and gallops around sniffing crutches and simulating pissing on folk! And this is their profession!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The N(S)FF Adminstrative stuff

I'll begin this with a few images of events around the Festival that don't really fit under the topics of music or Humour.

Given that many folk songs are based upon the down-trodden of society it is not surprising that there is a fair element of socialism in the genre. Indeed, those who know me would say this is part of why I like it.

It is also the case that the event now held in Canberra each Easter is the National Folk Festival of Australia.

However, the administrators of the event seem to have worked over many years to combine these two attributes.
  • Thus in the past one used to be able to park across the road and just walk in. Now you have to drive past the event and walk back quite a bit. And that has been changed this year to make it less convenient and in fact more dangerous.
  • This was made even worse on the first day of the Festival when there were three Stewards - We are here to help you - on the entrance gate. They did nothing, as far as I could see, but if someone asked them a question the following 50+ cars all had to wait, so the line backed up to the main road. As I said, more dangerous.
  • Apparently people - probably members of an outlaw motorcycle club -were forging the wrist bands. So now there are bar codes on the wrist bands that have to be scanned in each time you go in or out of the venue.
  • On the Saturday we left earlyish and found that a security guard would not let us out the entrance gate. We had to go through another gate 50m away. To make this even more inconvenient (and dangerous) it was blocked by a truck delivering firewood to the Stewards Brazier.
  • The BS keeps getting deeper! For some reason the Spooky Men have become crowd favourites this year (they are good, see next two posts) and their gigs are really crowded. On Sunday the crowd control folk were blocking the entrances to Budawang as the place was full - probably fair enough - but then they introduced a rule that when the gig was over people wanting to go to the next could only use one entrance. As it was the poetry debate the queue was vast. More fear and loathing!
To misquote Artie Johnson at the end of each episode of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In: "Ve have vays of making you valk ze vey we vant you to valk." To quote him again "Verrry interesting. But STUPID."

So we now have the National Socialist Folk Festival. Without, of course, the racism and homophobia. In fact the basic problem is that the event has just got too damn big. When the Budawang with a cacity of 2000+ is overflowing for a concert they need to be looking at something like shifting the really big events to the arena. Of course, it is not possible to pick who the biggies will be but just shifting the Budawang to arena and the Fitzroy stuff to the Budawang would help.

I did meet a few interesting performers on my first day of Transport!

Monday, 6 April 2009

Guard dog on patrol

The image shows a fierce rocket-propelled rodent giving the eye to a couple of 'roos taking some green pick off our lawn on 5 April. Had sound been connected to the image you would be going a bit deaf by now, as she was also giving it some mouth.

There was nearly a repeat performance on 6 April. To protect our ear-drums I went on to the deck to throw a small branch (kept there for the purpose) at the roo. Not only did this not scare the roo away but the miserable marsupial hopped over to the branch - which had landed about 3m in front of it and sniffed it to see if it was edible!

The resultant roars of laughter scared it off.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

A brief report on the Hinterbliitz

As mentioned in a number of emails to the chatline and I decided to try to undertake a version of the Blitz technique for the areas of the COGAOI outside the ACT for the period around the 21st of March 2009. This is a brief summary of the outcome of the event and contains a few thoughts for the future. A more detailed analysis, including an assessment of the extent to which the objectives were met, will be compiled and submitted to the Editor of Canberra Bird Notes in due course.

41 data sheets were compiled during the Hinterblitz covering 34 Grid squares. 579 observations of birds were recorded covering 102 species.

The location of the Grid squares covered by the Hinterblitz, and the number of records for each of the squares are shown in the image.

The Northern and Southern extremes of the COGAOI were not covered so those rows have been omitted.

Observers undertook a range of counts, mainly 2Ha or 500m radius sites. Times in sites ranged from 20 minutes to 2 hours.

The most frequently observed species were: Australian Magpie (27 sites, 66% of total); Crimson Rosella (26, 63%); Grey Fantail (20, 49%) and Red Wattlebird (19, 46%). 31 species were recorded on one sheet only.

The most abundant bird was Common Starling (703 birds recorded at 13 sites, with 554 birds counted in a single flock on Lake Road, Bungendore). Other abundant birds were Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (156,15); Little Raven (134,7); Australian Magpie (125,27), and Australian Wood Duck (113, 7). 17 species were represented by a single bird. The most "unusual" bird - well-discussed on the chatline -was the Chestnut-rumped Heathwren from Wamboin with two birds reported.

The Hinterblitz coincided with the Waterbird Survey and details of observations were provided forthis report. However, due to the low water levels in Lake Bathurst and The Morass few waterbirds were reported from those sites. Most waterbird reports came from the Bungendore Sewage Ponds or the Foxlow Lagoon.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

An excuse vanishes

Not having had my eyes tested for many years (possibly 15) I decided - following some guidance from Frances - to do so. I went to an optometrist in Canberra - Andrew Watkins - who gets good reviews to see what he could find out. In essence my long vision was much the same as before but my short vision (eg reading) could be improved.

This was taken to indicate multifocal lenses. I had previously been wary of these because I couldn't believe they worked. Anyway I ordered a pair of Zeiss lenses - apparently the best one can get which include a sunglass function (now called 'transitions' -presumably because the average bogan, like the Blogger spellchecker, can't spell photochromatic).

They are fantastic. So I have now lost an excuse for all the gross typos in my emails and these posts!