Friday, 17 July 2009

Seasonal matters

Here in the Antipodes (why isn't the UK called the Propodes?) it is pretty much the middle of Winter: most days have a frosty start and there aren't many flowers around.

One good sign of Winter is the way the wombat that lives by the creek sits outside its burrow from lunchtime onwards on sunny days soaking up a few rays. I have also noticed that the anthills are getting seriously trashed, suggesting that echidnas are getting hungry. I saw the first one for several weeks this afternoon when the small dog went ballistic when up on the road for a walk: there was a spiny person hiding in a clump of wallaby grass.

Another sign of Winter is that the local sheep are multiplying rather swiftly. I was going to title this post "especially with mint sauce - apparently originally attributed to the wife of Sir Walter Scott, but now (ab)used by every blogger on Earth. However here is a piccie of one with its Mum.

The real sign of Winter is folk burning their heaps of crud that are too feral to compost and too much trouble to put in the house fire. I have had some difficulty getting the weather right (high humidity and no wind) on a day when I was home but 17 July was it. Herewith a set of pix, and accompanying cliches.

From little things, great burns may come.

No smoke without fire.

Who forgot the marshmallows?

After 90 minutes.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Under the mistletoe

We have quite a lot of mistletoe on the Eucalypts growing on our property. This is a good thing as the presence of mistletoe is highly correlated with high biodiversity. Right now (ie mid-July) some (on a later check, about 50%) of them are flowering and I was able to get an image of flowers which had been knocked down.I am not sure what caused them to descend: no log trucks have been seen on the place so my next favourite nominees for environmental destruction are Crimson Rosellas. However these plants are the favourite hang-outs of some rather uncommon honeyeaters and they will thus be closely studied!

The flowers above are of the Drooping Mistletoe (Amyema pendula) which flowers all year. I have subsequently checked out another low-growing mistletoe and found that every flower in the bunch had a stalk so that turned out to be the Stalked Mistletoe (A. miquellii). With A. pendula the central flower in each group is sessile (in plain language, has no stalk). It's nice to have both of the species present on the block!

As well as the fallen mistletoe blossom the first Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata) has flowered! Here are a couple of blurry images - the wind was blowing enough to shift them in and out of focus).

Monday, 6 July 2009

Topi trip 1

Not You-all Lakes ...

... But Myall Lakes! This is the report on our rip to the Great Lakes area of New South Wales. This is about 250k North of Sydney (and thus 550km NE of Carwoola. We stayed in a house called Topi Gums at the locality of Topi-topi - effectively in the middle of the scrub, about 20km from the coast.

Apart from anything else this document is a test run of my netbook, purchased as a means of storing our photographs from when we visit Peru later in the year. I got it from B&H Photovideo in Manhattan (cost about $A470 compared to $A700 around Canberra) and thus far it is doing the job needed.

Indeed both the netbook worked well and the trip was very successful. I'll put up more details in the following posts and add photographs etc as time permits.

Topi trip 2

Topi Gums

The house we are staying in is marvellous, looking out over a large dam and with just enough mown grass to provide a firebreak.

The first animal we had encountered was the caretaker's Great Dane cross: it was very friendly and playful, and Tammy was very keen to go and play with it, but if there had been an outbreak of hostilities she wouldn't have made a mouthful! She has herself made a mouthful of various bones we have given her, and then buried what won't fit. This is a very amusing process to watch as all steps in the process are done with great precision. On one occasion she set off (on the lead) down the drive with bone in mouth and about 100m from the house, buried the bone under a tree. Why that tree and not the 40 others she passed ? who knows!

The bush is fairly dense and well supplied with ticks, as Tammy found on the first day. She did not like having it removed from her (and neither did the tick, as it got lobbed into a fire).
Also on the topic of wildlife, on the first morning I got up and found a red smear on the lounge floor. As I didn't remember spilling any Shiraz there I was perplexed but ignored it. A little later I found another smear, with a very fat leech sitting on the end of it! Our friend then commented that this explained the hole she had found in her leg! On the Friday evening I decided that the leech from Tuesday was neither big nor fat: This was because I found another one, which was really gross, on the kitchen floor. A little personal exploration revealed that I was the victim this time.

In an attempt to keep up Tammy's routine I took her for a short walk on the first morning. The main sense which I used on this was that of hearing. Not that there was much choice due to the fly-overs of FA18s from the Williamstown airbase. They were pretty evident for about an hour (and again while we were the beach). This contrasted with the absolute silence the rest of the time (apart from noisy frogs and birds of course).

On the second morning, after another peaceful nights sleep we got to our morning routine. This morning while Tammy was scoffing her breakfast ? on a lead outside -she suddenly looked very alert. Then a Staffie appeared and there was some consternation among the humans. However both pooches were standing sniffing each other and wagging their tails when I arrived. Despite this, as before I reckoned that if good humour failed Tammy was not going to win a brawl with such a dog (even though it was only 5 times her size) so told the Staffie to go away (or words to that effect) which it duly did. A pity that we are so uncertain about her reactions to other dogs as it cuts out a lot of fun for her.

Enough with the dog already!

Birding is quite good here with 43 species on the list for the house and nearby. A full listing (of 90 species for the trip) won?t happen in this report but Eastern Yellow Robins are common in the garden which is always nice. Less nice was seeing 2 Common Mynas sitting on a couple of calves (juvenile bovines, not fetlocks) as we drove in one evening.

The third night's sleep was not that great since some rodents or mini-marsupials had decided to run some sort of sporting event in the ceiling. If it continues the caretaker will be asked to deliver some warfarin to calm things down. (I doubt if the ceiling could withstand a Great Dane being inserted to track them down - although a Tenterfield Terrier ......). Note from the end of the trip: the caretaker suggested it was sonme marsupials called Phascogales which " .. you just can't keep out of the house..."
On the Saturday we headed for Batchelor State Forest since we'd be able to take Tammy for a walk in there according to the young National Parks woman at Booti Booti. However, it had been a bit windy recently and there were a couple of trees across the road: the first I was able to destroy sufficiently to get the car past but the second defeated me. So we turned the car round and went for a walk along Barbies Road. This was quite pleasant, adding a couple of species to the trip list. We then went back to Topi Gums and spent the day relaxing there.

Topi trip 3

Booti -booti NP

This was the Tuesday. Our main target for the day was to walk in the Booti booti National Park, just outside Pacific Palms. As the name suggests there were a lot of palms (and also the Pacific) there. The aim of the Park as to preserve an area of coastal rainforest. The walk started with a fair amount of verticality but did, as promised, deliver rainforest with lots of palms, epiphytes and vines. Needless to say there were also some weeds, including bitou bush and lantana, but there was some evidence of efforts to control them.

On the first stretch of the walk there was only limited birdlife, with a brush turkey being the outstanding addition to my trip and year lists. After a pause for some fruit (schlepped in my backpack) we did the return leg, along the shore of Wallis Lake. This added quite a few bird species to the list with the best being very close views of a pair of sea-eagles. From the amount of vocalisation I would expect that they had procreation on their mind. Close behind the sea-eagles for "bird of the day" was a pair of Forest Ravens. They weren't on my list for the degree-square so are rather unusual here: however a couple of scruffy crows cannot be put ahead of magnificent raptors!

This leg was largely flat until with a kilometre to go it became necessary to scale Booti Hill (also known as Mont Booti) before descending to the start.

At the mid-point we had visited a National Parks office where the very helpful young woman asked if we had seen any whales. When we said not, she said the best place to go, to see them from land, was the Seal Rocks lighthouse. So after a very pleasant arvo tea (pleasant inter alia because the guys with nitro-powered model dune-buggies hadn't fired up until we were back in the car) we took ourselves off there.

Topi trip 4

Seal Rocks

The whales were delivered about 1 kilometre before we got to the lighthouse: we saw a lot of spouts and big splashes as they broached. I don't know if they were Humpbacks or Southern Rights ? these being the options - but they surely weren't dolphins! A young woman said she had had great views of them at the lighthouse so we took ourselves off there. Of course by the time we arrived at the lighthouse, the whales had passed by but we did see some spectacular scenery.

The lighthouse (at Sugarloaf Point which apparently is the second most Easterly point in Australia) is now automated so the keeper's cottages can be rented: $2,000 a week in winter and $4,000 in summer. Given that during the day you'd have a constant stream of tourists passing by to destroy the peace and quiet that seemed a tad excessive. It certainly made the $840 we were paying for total privacy seem even better value.

As the first visit was so successful we went back the next day. When we got to the lighthouse car park a couple of carloads of folk were milling about. As the cars had QLD plates they could be accused of being tourists. They looked a tad on the low socio-economic end of the ladder so when they started exclaiming about the potential pleasure of staying in the cottages I mentioned the rates. In response the largest male tourist ? who looked and sounded as though he knew a bit about Harley Davidson?s - said "Thanks. That would keep the riff-raff away!"

We walked out to the dunes next to the lighthouse and immediately started seeing whales. Some of them were clearly marked black and white, and they seemed to have humped backs so I guess that sorts the species out! My guess is that there were about 20 in the various groups.

Topi trip 5


Frances wanted to go and have a prowl round this town to what was there and, specifically, what was in the op-shops. I thought this was fine as I had found that the MV Amaroo offered whale watching trips, offering a sort of mini-pelagic birding experience. Given Frances rather colourful (or perhaps colourempty is the better word) experiences of pelagic voyages I wasn't sure if she would want to come along, but that would just be to the benefit of the op-shops. As the weather looked nice on Thursday she decided she would front the trip.

I had been recommended some medication to prevent sea-sickness (developed to overcome epilepsy, but apparently found good by NASA in overcoming motion sickness) but on looking it up on the 'net the side effects including increased risk of suicidal thoughts. This seemed a bit harsh for a boat trip so I asked our psychiatrist daughter her opinion. She thought it was a bit heavy-handed and said she wouldn't prescribe it for the purpose. So we took some Travel-Calm ginger tablets and apart from burning our mouths off, it seemed to do the job (although the sea was doing a fair impersonation of a billiard table).

A first victory was getting a discount on the tickets for being old people. The Seniors Card is a great invention!

The trip started with a fairly long chug through oyster farms in the course of which we were given a helpful explanation of the oyster industry. Apparently 1/3rd of Australia's oysters come from Wallis Lake (ie where we were). A few good birds were seen, including a nesting Osprey. We then had to put on life-jackets as we went over the bar: no dramas in this but, in other parts of NSW I have heard of people being stuck for days on an island because of bars being too dangerous to get back into port.

We motored along the coast a bit and found a couple of Bottle-nosed Dolphins fishing quite close to the beach One may be visible in the image to the left). One of them had something (possibly a plastic bag) stuck on its face so the driver called in the Coastal Patrol to try to do something to remedy this. Quite a pleasant period.

The next 20 minutes or so were basically a motor down the coast looking at scenery, followed by a swing out to sea, looking for whales. We had given up and turned for home ? everybody having come down to the cabin for the free coffee - when the driver spotted some spouting in front. Suddenly no-one is left inside the cabin! It was thought to be a male humpback (the males travel solo, rather than in a pod) and we got some reasonable sightings although it was spending a fair while under water. Right at the end a second spout appeared so there were at least two of them there. While trolling around looking for the submerged whale we were joined by a Yellow-billed Albatross - the first and only pelagic bird - and it was kind enough to come and sit on the water right next to the boat.

Eventually giving up on the uncooperative whale(s) we came cross a patch of sea being churned by diving Gannets. Suddenly we realised that the churning was caused by a huge pod of Common Dolphins. When I say huge, I am talking about 100+. This was absolutely spectacular and the beasts were all around the boat doing all the dolphin things, including porpoising with the whole body coming out of the water. This was really marvellous and turned the trip from very pleasant to magic! A few of my images seem to be not too bad so if you have the technology you can get some Prints of Whales ? without having to worry about young Mr DaGreek turning up!

On getting back to shore we hit the op-shops. I was keen for this as my belt had dis-corporated (pathetic: it was only 28 years old ? which I know because I bought it while in Colorado). I duly got a replacement cincture and a couple of flip-top bottles ($1 each) for beer and two nice beer glasses (20 cents each!). A quick fill-up with petrol, a visit to the supermarket and home.

Topi trip 6.1 and 6.2


This is really two bits, but since, due to the way Blogger posts items (and my forgetting the second when intially composing this) the second would appear before part 1 I have decided to combine them.

Brush(ed off) and Sugar Creek

The target on the Friday was to go to Mungo Brush to check out the rain forest. Unfortunately when we got to the crossing of the narrow stretch of water the ferry was not operating. Looking at the waves in the channel, this seemed like a reasonable proposition, but why didn't they say this on a sign at the Highway, rather than at the end of an 11km road? When I asked this question of the lady at the resort which ran the ferry she said that it had only closed, on the orders of the Parks people, about 5 minutes earlier. Grrr...

So we decided to refocus our attentions on the Sugar Creek Flora Reserve. On the way back we swung by 'The Grandis' which is the tallest (or one of the tallest, depending on which brochure/signboard you read) tree in New South Wales. It is a specimen of Eucalyptus grandis or Flooded Gum and was indeed quite impressive. Another large item seen here was the 2m ex-snake across the road: as this was just outside the Park boundary Frances was inclined in the souvenir direction. On a little closer inspection, the maggots on it changed her decision.

We then headed off to Sugar Creek Flora Reserve in another National Park (Wallingat). The reference to it being a Flora Reserve reflected its history when it was a reserved area within the State Forest: this designation did not in fact protect it at all. Fortunately that has changed as it is a spectacular area of rain forest vegetation mainly Fan Palms and E. grandis. There were a lot of epiphytes including ferns and arboreal orchids (not in flower) as well as the trees themselves. Some birds were heard but not seen, despite me going off into the forest looking for them (hint for the inexperienced: this is a very effective way of adding to your leech collection ? see entry under Topi Gums above).

As we swung out of the picnic area after a lunch break, Jean in the back seat called out that she had seen flowering orchids. Much braking ensued. These were Pterostylis nutans, and rather spectacular examples of greenhoods: however they were basically green, growing on an earth bank and about 10cm high so how the heck she spotted them as we drove along I do not know! Several minutes were spent taking photographs and enjoying the plants.

As our guests hadn't seen any whales we swung out to Seal Rocks to see if any cetaceans were enjoying the choppy conditions. No spouting was seen although Frances did see some dolphins. The wind was very strong at the lighthouse and if anyone (I suspect readers from Auckland or Valparaiso have the best chance at this) finds my NY Marathon cap, please return it.

Brushed on and Tallowwood Forest Park

On our last day I rang the providers of the ferry service and established that it was running. So off we went, aiming to catch the 10am service. A few kms from the ferry a small sports car (or at least the driver of same) was having trouble with the dirt road ? sitting on 40kph. I could see this might cause missing the ferry so honked past. In fact they made it on time.

After a very uneventful crossing ? this may not have been the case on Friday ? we rolled down the road to Mungo Brush. The business here was to do the Rainforest walk and add Regent Bowerbird to my life list. The male of this species is particularly lurid gold and black. So we did the 1.7km walk and saw a few birds but none of the target species. Drat (or words to that effect).
We then sat down and had a nice lunch during which Frances spotted a Blue-faced Honeyeater in one of the nearby trees. An addition to the year list as well as the trip list.

Leaving her to do artistic things in the campground I went back into the forest to (ab)use my M3 player and see if I could dig up the Bowerbird: an hour was allocated to this. Frances had asked about the level in the vego we were likely to see this bird and I had advised ?on the ground?. Thus when I looked at a largish bird 5m up munching on bugs on a Banksia cone I was very surprised to find a Bowerbird filling up my bins. A quick confirmation from the field guide and "Yahoo" was applicable. I think that makes my 1ife list 1598.

On getting back to the table where I had left Frances she was quite excited about a bird she had seen. On checking the field guide she nominated an Azure Kingfisher! That gets added to the trip list (a joint enterprise) but not my year list as the bird had buggered off by the time I got there.

We did a stroll along the Tamboy walk and were interested in the difference between the rainforest vegetation at the Eastern end of the camp and the Melaleuca swamp forest at the Western end. We decided that a quick foray to the beach would still let us nail the 2pm ferry. When we got there the track to the beach was taped off because of aerial herbicide spraying (penalties apply). I decided that
* they wouldn't be flying on a Sunday; and
* it was 1,000,000 : 1 that a Ranger would be along to berate us anyway.
I should pay attention when reading Terry Pratchett books as he is sure that million to one shots always come off. In fairness the ranger was just ripping off the tape as they'd finished the spraying ? and done a good job on the Bitou Bush ? so gave us no grief whatever.

Back across the ferry and up into the hills to find the Tallowwood Forest Park, which promised very tall trees etc. To check the way out of town I called into the information centre and was told how to get there and that Forests had removed all the infrastructure and it was totally overgrown (and the road was very rough). Anyway off we went. It turned out to be quite a trip with a highlight being a superb Lyrebird galloping across the road. The road was a bit average, and although we were able to work out where the park used to be, it was no longer visible. There were some really nice trees/ferns /palms etc so probably worth the 40km round trip.