Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The tail of two queues

I apologise for two posts in one day.  However such is life.  As well as that break-through the bounds of decency, all the images in this were taken with my phone: wot a bogan!

The Far queue
The National Gallery has been running a show of Post-Impressionist stuff from the Musee D'Orsay.  It is rather good and has been very popular: at the time of writing my guess is that they will be topping 400,000 visitors, and getting them through at about 6000 a day. With two and a half weeks to go they could well top the half million!  This must have done miracles for the local accommodation industry.

However there have been some issues with the length of the queues.  The two images below show the first and second halves of the queue outside the door of the Gallery on about the 19th of March. In total they extended 240m and I counted 500 people in the queue.  My guess would be another 150 inside the building.  This queue goes to the door of the Natioal Portrail Gallery.  At times it has stretched across the road to Old Parliament House (580m, proportionately 1300 people) and down the road to Questacon (600m, possibly 1400 punters).

I don't know where the queue ended up on 30 March, but the car parking looked to be chaotic when we briefly visited the Gallery (see below) at 12:15.  A friend commented that it was about 2 hrs 30 mins to get in, and people stayed in the queue even when the rain poured down (20mm in 30 minutes)!  Astonishing - especially when realising that this was a Tuesday afternoon NOT in school holidays!

Doggone Art
Clearly this is not Dog-on-Art: more like Dog under Art.  I happened to be at the Gallery on 30 March with the small dog and decided to see how she felt about sculpture.  I suspect she can take it or leave it.  As shown in the following she was pretty blase about:

Fiona Hall's tree ferns (which I reckon are rather fantastic);

Bert Flugelman's cones (also very good, and I especially like them after hearing Bert speak about them a few weeks back): and

Something expensive and heavy by Henry Moore.  Unlike a couple of generations of Australian kids the small dog didn't climb on this work.

The seasons get confused

This is supposed to be the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, known as Autumn in the UK and Australia or Fall in North America.  Continuing the educational (or obscurantist) thrust of this blog I have discovered that the terms are actually derived from French and German respectively.

We are certainly getting plenty of fruit and vegetables still.  There are a heap of grapes, the pears are coming good, and the apples are about to enter plague proportions.  In the vegetable department we are still getting enough tomatoes, zucchini, trombacini, cucumbers, capsicum and chillis.  The pumpkins are just waiting for a frost to firm them off.

The natural world is totally confused however.  Yellow-faced Honeyeaters have started to migrate (right on average time) and the first Golden Whistler - a beautiful male - turned up yesterday (again on time).  The plants however seem to think it is Spring.

This Daviesia ericoides should flower in September rather than March!

So should this Urn Heath Melichrus urceolatus.  The buds certainly form at this time of year but they should stay closed until Spring

I guess spiders can turn up any season.  However I am rather pleased with this image, taken by flash at 10pm  so have included it here!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Persons at work (reprise)!

The first wordof the title of this post was chosen to reflect the fact that cleaning up our stable this morning was facilitated by Frances getting to stage 3 (with a gold star) lumberjacking.  (The last word reflects the fact that I have already done a post with that title.)  She has already shown great aptitude in hanging on to a rope to stop me dropping a tree on (a) my head or (b) something valuable, such as our house.  Today she was engaged to hang on to bits of the yellow box which have sat in our stable for close to three years after falling into our vegie garden while I wielded my chainsaw to get it into a stove ready size  My goodness her work made made life easy for me.

A while back I wrote this post about the difficulty of getting people to pull their finger out and do some work.  There have been a few developments since then.

The Camion Real ( a play on a 4x4 being a truck - 'camion' en Francais -  and the Simon and Grafukunkel song 'El Camino Real - the Royal Road) has got its roobar and spotlights.  I ended up being very pleased with the attitude and ethic of Subaxtreme and feel much happier driving around Carwoola after dark.

Ovr the 3 years that we have been here our TV reception has been variable from very good to awful.  Of course, it was worst on ABC, which is the channel we watch the most.  The final straw was the Government rabbitting on about the wondrous new channels which were coming on HD digital: I could see that getting a barrage of ads about this when we could only get low resolution (which is in fact pretty good when the picture doesn't break up) or analogue (to be turned off in 2 years or so) would drive me nuts.  So we got Palmers TV to come out and do a survey to find out what the problem is.

Basically the initial problem was crappy connections everywhere, which they fixed.  They also sold us  - after I asked about it - a HD set-top box.  YOWZA: what an improvement.  It is a tad tricky to operate since we now have two ways of getting signal into the TV: directly through the set-top box and through the DVD recorder.  It seems that for ABC, receiving through the DVD recorder is still subject to break up (to the extent that we go back to the ghosted analogue).  I didn't realise what was going on for a while and was about to deliver a large roost: fortunately before launching I checked where we were watching through, and signal coming on HD is brilliant.

We have made verbal contact with a guy to come and fix our gas heater.  However he hasn't yet appeared so is going to get a large serve early next week.

A carpenter has appeared and assessed our 'step situation' on the deck.  He measured a lot of things and went away to come up with a quote, saying it would be a few days before he got back to us: that runs out about Tuesday next week when he'll get a reminder.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Yet more Fungi!

Today (24 March 2010) the Australian native Plants Society (Canberra Branch) perpetrated a walk to the Smokers Flat area of Namadgi National Park.  There were quite a lot of interesting flowering plants and birds (plus not a small number of reptiles) along the way.  However I am finding that this season is delivering a particularly good array of fungi.

The first two images are of, I believe, Anthurus archeri - the Seastar Stinkhorn, a Fungimap target species.  This was seen at 35:32: 08S 148:54:13E (about 1340m AMSL) in grasses under eucalpyts, close to a highland swamp.
On looking at Fungi Down Under I was impressed to see that they only had 37 reports of the species so this is quite a find.

 The third image is of a fungus passed by many members but very close to the Square Rock trail car park at 35:31:12S 148:54:35E (1238m AMSL - no wonder the last couple of kms seemed easy walking).  I think this is Omphalina sp: in this case the target species is O. chromacea but the specimen seen was about 3x the size quoted in Fungi Down Under for that species.  Interestingly, on scouring my old emails I find that we had found O. chromacea on our property in August 2008: recalling that specimen emphasised the size differential!  And wait, there's more: I found another sample of O. chromacea at Tinker's Creek TSR (about 20km NW of Canberra) on 26 March!

The fungus was identified by a Fungimap volunteer (many thanks Graham) as Austropaxillus infundibuliformis.  He also commented "Omphalina chromacea is actually a lichenised fungus and is always found in combination with a green alga. As in your photos, you can usually see a smear of the alga around the base of the fruit body."
At an earler stage in the process we had found two large (10cm diameter) boletes.  It isn't the Fungimap target species (Boletellus obscurecoccineus) as the red is in the pores rather than the cap.  On googling 'bolete' I got to a family level key for these but as I didn't have a spore print or a magnifying glass couldn't fully explore it (and it appears to refer mainly to specimens found in North America so is as much use as a 3-speed walking stick).  Anyhow, here is a picture of the underside of one of the specimens
 The final image from Smokers Trail is of an agaric (less brave statement there) taken about mid-way between the other two.  My interpretation of the "crinkly edges" of the gills is that this is another species of  Macrolepiota. 
There is of course more to report.  On 29 March while taking the small dog for a walk at home I noticed a very large fungus growing halfway up the block.  On inspecting it more closely it was yet another bolete: I had never noticed this type of fungus before this year and now they are turning up everywhere!   I have a suspicion that it is Phelopus marginatus - described as 'probably Australia's largest terrestrial fungu'.
This one has yellow pores and a light brownish top.  Its most noticeable feature was its size: 30cm across the cap and the stem (which sounded hollow)  was 10cm across.  The stem also seemed to be covered with small spore-like stuff.  These two stem features seemed to be a major distinguishing feature for the N. Am.  genera.  The underside shot includes a little  Melachrys which gives (for those familiar with that shrub some idea of the scale of this thing.
The last image of this species is a close up of the stem and the edge of the cap.
I am going to include any more fungi - and they still seem to be springing up (perhaps Autumning up, or even better, Falling up) all over the place.  However this one is I think a polypore.  It seems to have a concentric arrangement on the top of the cap; the cap was hard and leathery rather than spongey as with the boletes, and there weren't the obvious "sections" as with the boletes.  It was growing on (or at least extremely close to) a Yellow Box Eucalyptus meliodora.  Note the reflected image in a mirror positioned below the fungus.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The birds of East South(ish) Canberra

To begin with, let me explain the title of this post.  South Canberra is an official designation of the area of the urban part of the ACT to the South of Lake Burley Griffin and bounded by a range of low hills, separating this township - not at all like the SOuth WEst TOwnships of Johannesburg - from those of Weston Creek and Woden.    The study is largely concerned with the Eastern component of South Canberra, but also strays across the Molonglo into North Canberra: hence the (ish).

I have recently been looking at the implications of the grid of latitudes and longitudes used by the Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG) to summarise observations made by members.  One of the technical issues raised in considering the usefulness of such grids is the extent to which an observation from a site within a grid cell can be considered representative of the cell as a whole.

Obviously this depends on the homogeneity of the habitats across the cell.  In some cases the cell will contain a single type of habitat (at least at a broad level): by way of example our block is within cell Q16 which is reasonably consistent as a rural residential area, with some variation in density of the remnant tree cover.  In other cases however the habitats within the grids are remarkably heterogeneous.  Cell L14 is a good example of the latter situation, containing some suburbs (about 75% of the area of the cell) and an area of water features and pastures around the Molonglo River (the remaining 25%).  [There is also some variability in the types of suburbs including some of the most up-market suburbs in Canberra; some lower-rent residential areas; and business oriented areas around the Parliamentary area.  However at this stage I am not going to obsess about the latter.]

The other attribute of Grid L14 is that it is usually one of the areas with the greatest number of data reports.  It is probable that this reflects the relatively high diversity of the bird life in the area which in turn could be attributable to the mixture of habitats. 

The catalyst for undertaking this report was noting that for 2009 all the reports of General Observations for cell L14 came from the damp 25% of the cell.  Put simply, the data for the cell are unlikely to be (I am tempted to say 'not' ) representative of the cell as a whole.   This becomes important when the data is being analysed by policy makers: by way of example issues recently arose about management of the Urban Forest (the street and garden trees of the suburbs) within the area covered by the cell.  Without a great deal of care the data for cell L14 could be highly misleading if used in that context.  So I decided to investigate what birds could be found in the more typical suburban element of L14 and the investigation I commenced is the main thrust of this post.

Before getting to that exercise I will note that COG also undertakes a Garden Bird Survey (GBS) of which the author is the Coordinator.  The GBS has been running for 28 years and over that time 11 sites have operated in cell L14 for one or more years.  The location of these sites is shown as a white star in the attached graphic: those in the Parkes/Barton area are mainly sites people operated from their workplaces. (The yellow pin marked 'Kelly's shows the focus of the wetlands.)

Over the period of the GBS these sites have reported 116 species at least once. This ranks it 17th of the 41 cells with at least one GBS report (the highest diversity is cell J14 with 162 species reflecting a wide range of habitats and expert observers.).  So in terms of a list of possible species observed in the area, not all is lost.  However the GBS methodology is not easy to link with the general observations.

The enquiry which I am mainly writing about here consisted of choosing 6 points across the suburban component of grid L14 and undertaking a 20 minute survey of the birds in 2 hectare sites based on those points.  The selection of the sites was purposive in that I wanted to cover:
  • the entire suburban part of the cell (thus a site in Duntroon as well as the 5 to the South of the river);
  • well to do areas and less economically well off;
  • office dominated areas as well as residential areas; and
  • a number of different suburbs.

However I did want to find some birds so  introduced a bias by looking for areas which included open space rather than absolutely built-over areas.  I also avoided a few areas (eg the Russell Offices, home to Australia's intelligence community, where someone with binoculars and a camera - even wearing an Akubra rather than a keffiyeh - may be looked upon with suspicion).

This image shows the location of the 6 sites selected marked with a red numbered 'teardrop'.

I undertook the field work for the exercise on 22 March 2010 starting (for reasons of logistical convenience) at site 3 at 9:35am.  The weather was fine and mild: little wind or cloud and the temperature about 20 - 24 C.  Including travelling time the process took 2 hours 40 from start to finish (quite good efficiency with 6x20 minutes  = 2 hours or 60% of the time actually looking for birds). 

Over the whole period I observed (including a few 'heard-only' records) 24 species.  Twelve species were only recorded at 1 site while three species (Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Australian Magpie and Pied Currawong) were found at all 6 sites.  Some general notes about my expectations and analysis follow the comments in the next section about the various sites.

Site 1: Rose Gardens, Old Parliament House, Parkes.  This site was intended to represent an open area as well as this 'suburb'.  8 species were observed, of which Gang-gang Cockatoo and White-winged Chough were not seen anywhere else.  Although it was hoped that the presence of flowers would attract species feeding on nectar and insects this did not happen.
Site 2 Blackall St, Barton: Representative of the office-building environment which occupies a significant proportion of the area of the cell.  8 species with Superb Fairy-wren and Willie Wagtail (surprisingly) only reported at this site.While the office and car parks areas were almost completely devoid of bird-life the gardens along the Northern side of Blackall Street were relatively bird rich, probably reflecting the density of the vegetation.
Site 3: General Bridges grave, Duntroon:  This is a low peak in bushland above the Royal Military College.  It is intended to both get a site on the Northside and to represent the remnants of bushland throughout the cell.  It was the first site surveyed as it was easiest to get to at 9:30.  6 species were observed.  This was the lowest number for any of the 6 sites and possibly reflects the rather degraded state of the under-storey which appeared to have been burnt in the recent past.  The two species unique to the site were Laughing Kookaburra and Rufous Whistler.
Site 4: Bass Gardens, Griffith:  This is an older developed area of Canberra and includes a large park with many conifers and some large eucalypts.  9 species were recorded here with several (notably 9 Crested Pigeons and at least 12 Pied Currawongs) in relatively large numbers.  Much excitement - to the observer as well as the avifauna - was generated by a Brown Goshawk launching an attack from a concealed perch in a spruce on a group of Crested Pigeons feeding on the ground.   The call of a Satin Bowerbird was heard but the bird could not be located.
Site 5: Lefroy St Griffiths.  Another older area with large trees and wide nature strips.  It was adjacent to St Edmunds College.  12 species were recorded   Uniques were Australian King-parrot (heard only, probably feednig on the acorns common in the area); Spotted Pardalote; and Australian Raven (6 feeding on some garbage adjacent to the school grounds).
Site 6: Nimbin St, Narrabundah.  A loop street with a grassy area on the NE and NW outside of the houses.  The houses were relatively small and most trees were exotic species.  Again 12 species were recorded.  Uniques were Eastern Rosellas  feeding in a grassy area behind the houses A pleasant sight here was a Pied Currawong attempting to fly off carrying a medium-sized rat which it had found (and, from the appearance of the rodent's carcase, killed recently).

"Missing in action"
I was somewhat surprised that I did not record a single House Sparrow at any site.  It was also surprising, but in a pleasant way, that Common Myna were only at 2 sites.

Very few small passerines were seen at any site.  I expect this reflects the paucity of food resources available for them.  The only site at which a significant amount of plants were in flower was the rose garden and I suspect that insects are not encouraged there thus deterring pure insectivores (wagtails and flycatchers for example) and omnivores (honeyeaters).

This was one survey, undertaken by an observer unfamiliar with the area.  It is thus quite likely that some species were missed.  Also, in many parts of the sites much of the area was behind opaque fences and thus all that could be seen were the birds in the front yards and on powerlines etc.

As noted above there was very little blossom evident in the gardens and most of the street trees were exotic.

It might also be expected that a number of migrant species that are observed in the area - Cuckoos and flycatchers being notable examples - have already moved out.

Given the caveats above it is dangerous to make a great deal of this initial data set.

It is however clear that the range of bird species seen were very different from those that could be expected in the wetlands around the Molonglo.  It is thus concluded that this exercise has proven the a priori expectation that the "normal" run of COG General Records do a poor job of representing the birdlife of this area.

It is also noted that the species observed differed significantly between sites.  It is possible that additional observations would reduce this variability and that use of the relevant GBS data may go some way towards explaining it. 

A key point which does emerge is that 5 of the species observed were hollow-nesting parrots and thus these data might have made some (very) small contribution to Urban Forest issues which the Wetlands focussed data could not.

A final comment is that even this work omitted some suburbs from the sample.  Nothing was done for Kingston, Red Hill, Fyshwick, Campbell or Russell all of which were, in part at least, in the cell.  Possibly the sites included  could represent them  -for example site 3 could represent Russell as well as Duntroon and site 4 could represent Red Hill - but this cannot be explored withe data as it exists.

To the future
A key attribute of the 2Ha, 20 minute survey approach is that the surveys should be able to be replicated such that a time series is built up.  It would be surprising, to say the least if a repeat of this exercise in  September or October did not produce a different, and much longer, species list.

It is also evident from the GBS list that a number of species (particularly waterbirds and raptors) will be observed through a principle of serendipity.  Indeed, sighting the Brown Goshawk in site 4 could be seen as an example of this.  Again further observations will add to the list.  Thus I intend to repeat these surveys on at least a bi-annual basis.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Perons Tree Frog

Frances came running into the house this requesting a speedy camera. She had found a big frog on a red pot.  Of course by the time we got there it had moved, but was then kind enough to pose on a white plastic shopping bag.

The big toe-pads say "tree frog"  and the cross shaped pupil says "Perons" (Litoria peroni).  Here are the pix.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Some thoughts about Citizen Science

There has recently been an upsurge in interest in "Citizen Science" which I take to mean using 'ordinary people' to record scientific observations rather than science professionals. 

From a (slightly cynical) view of the scientific community (and a realistic view of public administration in the post-Reagan era) this is a pretty good deal since instead of:
  • paying researchers and field assistants you get members of the public to perform similar functions at no cost; and
  • having expensive laboratories etc the work is done largely from people's homes.
It is also a good deal for the citizens since it allows them to contribute to informed decision making and provides a record of their activities for posterity.  Both important 'feel-good' factors.

Since I am involved in the process in various ways I thought I would set down a few thoughts about the philosophy involved and the (surprisingly large number of ) examples of citizen science with which I am either aware or involved.

Some Definitions
Often a member of the public who may not have any scientific training whatsoever.  Or they may be the former head of a science organisation mainting an interest in their field of work once they have retired.  Or an active scientist whose work is also their hobby.  Most likely any Citizen Science group will have a mixture of all of the above.

They will generally have some interest in the topic being studied, acquired through social links or the media but possibly not the obsession with detail required for professional science.

Almost by definition they will be operating as unpaid volunteers, although in some cases the coordinating body may provide facilities and materials for the projects being undertaken.

Some branches of science endeavour (quantum mechanics; DNA sequencing spring to mind) are not amenable to Citizen Science because of the facilities involved.  However I see the basic tenets of 'the scientific method' - adherence to facts and repeatability of procedures as being a crucial aim of Citizen Science.

In the scientifically ideal world observations are undertaken in a tightly controlled environment in which the only variable factors are those being investigated.  At the simplest this is test-tube science: the environment is within a small glass tube and the only variables are the chemicals added thereto.  Of course even this is subject to external variations:
  • adding chemicals in a different order may give different results; and/or
  • the temperature of the lab may affect the speed or strength of the reaction; and/or
  • the tube may be shaken, not stirred; and/or
  • the observer may perceive resuls differently.
However by comparison to an exercise such as recording "the number of birds seen in an area over a period of time" such varibility is trivial.  Just about every word in that phrase is open to debate:
  • The number - cardinal (1,2,3 ... etc) or binary (1 or 0 for presence/absence; are there rules for counting indidual birds - ie what is the minimum number seen? );
  • Birds (very few people want to include bats or reptiles ...; generally the birds will need to be classifed to species);
  • seen (include heard as well?);
  • in an area (this a real mess: what area; how big, include flying over or just those that land  - and several variations on this theme);
  • period of time (does this have to be a standard period? is it the period in the area or the period actually spent looking at birds?)
A scientific data collection will include definitions of all those items (and possibly more).  By way of contrast the lay 'citizen' might want to report something like "a list of species I see while walking the dog'.  In some cases analyst will assume that the rules are rigorouly followed while the observers tend to regard the rigid "rules" as more like plastic "guidelines".

To some extent this can be overcome by seeking metadata (ie information about the reported data) which will reveal the approach adopted by the observer.  Of course the problem becomes one of how much metadata is collected.  If there is to much people will not report the metadata or will abandon the project.  Also if there is too much data the analyst may havedifficulty in working out how to include it in their analysis (or the variable:observation/ratio may preclude some types of analysis - for example regression won't work if there are more variables than observations).

In practise I belive that one of the defining attributes of citizen science is that the data will include a lot more "noise" than a formal science project.  In some cases this can be overcome by the "law of large numbers" in which the extra obersations make it possible to come up with a believable measure of the average despite the vagaires of the individual observers.  For example, a formal study may find it possible to monitor the number of birds seen at 10 sites for 3 months while a citizen science project could have 100 observers active across a whole year.  However the likely presence of extra noise does mean that the role of the "coordinator" is crucial in such surveys.  They should be active in
  • deleting the most egregiousness departures from the rules (eg accumlating observations over a week rather than reporting for an 'instant'); and
  • advising analysts where the rules have been followed but unusual results obtained (eg a site includes a large pond or section of lake) thus atracting many waterbirds.
Examples of Citizen Science
I am not including in this a range of bird banding projects of which I am aware.  I regard them as formal science, even though the operators of the projects are not necessarily employed as professional scientists.

Canberra Bird Atlas: a good example of allowing a wide range of observations and collecting metadata.  I have some doubt about the extent to which metadata is reported (and the extent to which it is used) but the model is very sound.  Results are available for use by analysts and summarised in the Annual Bird Report.
Canberra Garden Bird Survey: This tends to be based on firm rules and requires a reasonably careful look at reports to ensure they are followed (for some species in general).  However the length of the time series (and the duration of some observers/sites  - 20+ years involvment) is a great source of strength.  Results are available for use by analysts and summarised in the Annual Bird Report.  They are also summarised in Birds of Canberra Gardens of which a second, hard-copy edition has been published in early 2010.
Australian Bird Atlas: Similar to Canberra Bird Atlas with added rigour for some observations where a standard 2Ha site is monitored over a long period. Results are available for use by analysts and summarised in the birdata pages on the internet.
Australian Native Plants Society (ANPS):  The ACT chapter undertakes a series of Wednesday Walks in which obeservers visit areas and record the plants growing there.  The metadata is not too well documented but the rigour of species identification is very strong (false negatives are far mor likely than false positives).  The results are published as plant lists for the areas. (Other elements of ANPS do other things including plant propogation.)
Fungimap: This is a project run through the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne through which obsevers around Australia report on the location of a range of Target Species of fungi.   The project has published a book "Fungi Down Under" and will also offer advice on the identification of fungi if a photograph is submitted (as evidenced by my earlier post). 
Frogwatch:  This project is run by a catchment management group based in Canberra.  They offer a report each year on the frogs identified (through recording calls during the breeding season).  They also provide a good array of kit (recordings of calls etc) to assist observers. 
Waterwatch:  This is run by another Catchment Group covering the Molonglo River.  They have paid employees and undertake a range of activities, including training for citizen observers in various useful pursuits (use of GPS; water quality monitoring etc).  They put out a number of reports on issues affecting the catchment of the Molonglo River.
Greening Australia:  The principal function of this group is getting vegetation back into the scenery (which for some reason doesn't fit my definition of scince).  However the ACT Chapter have undertake a project assessnig the use of revegetation projects by birds.  The results of this are published as a very useful book 'bringing birds back'.  The material on that link clearly shows the scientific thrust of the project.

There are also a range of natural history groups in the ACT area (Field Naturalists; Hepetological Society; Friends of Grassland, Orchid Society) which have laudable environmental protection aims and a broad membership.  However as far as I am aware - not being a member of any of these groups - they don't do organised data collection and thus I don't count them as Citizen Science.  That being said if someone wished to persuade to organise their data they'd be a very useful source of data about wildlife and its interactions.

Another point to consider is that there is considerable cross-membership between these groups with many people being members of two and several being involved in 3 or more groups.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

A Short Walk in the Top Paddock

While exercising the dog this morning (and capturing the monster mushroom shown in the previous post) we noticed some other fungi which had the white gills suggestive of Amanita.  Denis Wilson suggests in his comment that this is a Macrolepiota (and that we don't take a chance on eating it).  Happy to agree with both!

So I looked them up in Fungi Down Under and could decide what they were which required a repeat visit.  I still can't get them any closer than that family: the interesting attribute was that the cap felt very light and spongy.  Also one older form present had the little "bumps" (sorry about the technical term) turn black.  Here is an image.
After leaving the fungus and starting the walk home my attention was drawn skywards by the melodious (not) calls of a couple of flocks of about 30 Sulphur-crested Cockatoos.  They were quite pleasant to see flapping through a clear blue Autumn sky.  However what made the sky even better was a pair of immature Wedge-tailed Eagles soaring overhead.  This pair have been around the area for several days - hopefully dining on wabbits.  Here are a couple of images - not great quality but they do show the wedge tail and the clear blue sky!

It was interesting that the birds were silent - most times they come by recently they have been making a call similar to that of a Silver Gull.  Also neither the Cockies nor any of the local Magpies took a shot at them>

Call that a mushroom....

... now this is a mushroom.

The small dog weighs about 3.3kgs.  The mushroom weighs 0.8kgs.  As is often thecase with food, bigger isn't always better - it tasted a tad bitter so about half of it wasn't eaten.

It should be explained that the object the small dog is sitting on is a raffia mat made for us by the mother of a birding friend in Tanzania.  It includes the names of a number of interesting bird species woven into the fabric.  An astonishing piece of work.

Also the reference to 'Mrs Martin" reflects a small confusion about naming conventions: in TZ many people put the family name first so I was 'Mr Martin". Thus Frances was "Mrs Martin" (when not simply 'mama').

Thursday, 18 March 2010

(Un) Silent Night

One of the delights of living where we do is the quietness of night.  This contrats dramatically with our last abode in New York where not only does the city never sleep, but neither do the Emergency Services vehicles with their sirens.  That being said, it has been a tad noisier than usual out here recently.

....  and I am not making any references to Denis Wilson's recent comment on this blog or his posting on the Nature of Robertson.

Instead this is about the calls of nature - no, no, more amibiguity: I mean the calls of natural things - around the Carwoola area.

The first was a call of an Eastern Barn Owl which  I heard while taking the small dog for a call of nature about 10pm on 16 March.  That was the first I have heard out here, although our friend Julienne from Hoskinstown (about 10km away to the SE as Tyto alba flies) heard one in February.  A question was asked if I had ruled out Masked Owl which I had.  To my (tin) ear the call of the Masked Owl is rather weaker (this one is from Victoria I believe).

The bird I heard seemed to be hunting along Whiskers Creek so I went down there just after dark on 17 March for a bit of playback and spotlighting.  Unfortunately the only sound I heard - still a natural one - was the whine of the local mosquito population investigating a potential meal.

Secondly while outside (for the same canine purpose) later in the evening of the 17th I heard a Tawny Frogmouth calling .  This was the classic "oom ooom" call which according to volume 4 of HANZAB is associated with territorial delimitation and or courting (so perhaps Denis's post is relevant after all??).  Either way it is good to hear it since t seems to mean our local birds are getting their act back together.

A friend from Urila (about 20km W) had asked about a call which he had heard on returning home late one evening which sounded a bit like a dove.  Another friend suggested the frogmouth and that is what it turned out to be.   So perhaps the nice weather is stirring them up?

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Revisions to Fungi images

I sent a link to my images of Fungi ito the Fungimap project.  They were able to identify all the images to the genus or species levels and I have posted revisions on that page.

Many thanks to Dr Tom May and the Fungimap volunteers.


Monday, 15 March 2010

To heck with Moriarty

In Kelly's Heroes the character played by Donald Sutherland (a tank commander) constantly chided his 2ic with the phrase "enough with the negative vibrations Moriarty".

So to get back to the positives, here is a shot of a very relaxed and positive small dog!

An era passes

I don't normally do stuff about people dying.  However I feel that a brief public acknowledgemennt of the life and death of Milton Valentine is well merited.

I have known Milton (aka Floggo, or for the benefit of those who haven't done many Pipe Flat 20s, Mr Flog) since about 1984.  We did a heap of Pipe Flat runs together and also quite a few 60 odd km bike rides. He was a legend and an inspiration. 

The runs and rides were a hoot because Milton's sense of humour made these endurance (by my standards) events into a bunch of laughs.  The longest lasting joke (for me) was first made in the course of a bike ride where he said - just after the Queen Mother had cracked 100 years of age - that he and I together kicked her butt for longevity.  He can now discuss that with her up close and personal: good luck your Majesty.

For someone as active as Flog to end up dying, in great pain, of a real nasty cancer was a bugger.  I'm glad he won a Vets handicap last year (2009) and I'm sorry he won't be around to win any more.

As his rally team said after Possum Bourne's doctors turned off the life support:

"Peace Milton, peace'

Donations to Cancer Research woud be really good.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Some book reviews

As well as the usual escapist stuff, I have read (or re-read) some interesting books recently.  While my opinion and $5 will get you a poor cup of coffee this may be of amusement to some folks.

The first sample is "Born to Kvetch" by Michael Wex.   It is a fairly technical study of Yiddish as a langage and a culture but based aroud the use of complaints and curses as a backstay of the language and culture.  I found it very clever and entertaining and am using some of the kvetches in my posts (where some  schlemiel merits the bobkes).  A useful resource might also be the Wikipedia page showing how English (especially in New York) has acquired some of the words.

It is interesting that while both sources translate bobkes as meaning, literally, goat-turds the Wiki idiomatic meaning is 'nothing' while Mr Wex goes for the stronger 'SFA'.  Which leads to a funny story.  I looked up 'bobkes' on Google and found one of the references was a record from Ellis Island in which it was given as the family name of an arrival.  I wonder how it would sit with the Dept of Homeland Security (or their colleaguees in any country) if the answer to the question - or more likely snarling grunt - "What is your name?" was "SFA"?

Secondly is "How to amputate a leg" by Nathan Mullins.  In essence this is the story of his working life as a commando, police person and private security operative.  I found myself laughing quite a lot at this (as intended by Mullins) since he seems to have had the assetts to do quite a few things I would find great fun.  He doesn't amoputate a leg but the instructions are quoted!

Thirdly is "Australian Bats" by Sue Churchill.  Since it is in a second edition I presume the first edition got the recognition it desereved and sold like hot cakes!   An excellent guide to these mammals, which was acquired after I caught a bat in our bedroom.  As well as the species accounts a good lot of general information about them.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

I can see the light .. or ...

 ..beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

When we first looked around this place one of the comments of the (then) owners was "We're glad you can see the beauty of the place."  I'm not sure that "beauty" is quite the word I'd use but this evening we had dark clouds coming from the East and the sun still squeezing over the Taliesin hills to the West.  The result was very pleasing (and hopefully captured to some extent in the following).

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The Foggy Foggy Dew

To avoid confusion, for the readers with a folk music background I will point out to begin with that I have not been saving anyone from anything!

The morning of 10 March was very foggy as we went on out morning walk at about 8am.  This meant the overnight work of the local arachnids was very pleasing to the eye.  Also quite varied in style.
The dew also decorated the flowers of this Eriochilus cucullatus (Parson's bands or White Autumn Orchid).  By 10:30, when I returned to take some more photos the dew had gone but the result was a tad sharper.
However the moisture was still evident on this Hypoxis hygrometrica (Golden weathergrass), possibly because it was located under a tree which was still dripping onto it.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Fotos of Phungi

We have had another period of sogginess.  Over the period 5 - 8 March we scored 52mm of rain.  This has put us level with the amount we had received by August 30 last year!  Possibly as a result of the moisture we seem to have a good collection of fungi here and there around the property.

I have few resources (limited to Fungi Down Under; P and E Grey 2008, and the related website) to identify fungi so if anyone cares to suggest names (common or Latin) I'd welcome the suggestions. In fact the people who work on Fungimap have very kindly identified - through mycolocgist Dr Tom May - these samlpesand amendments have been made in red below.

The first to really attract our notice was this one growing under a eucalypt in the top paddock.  It is about 15cm across the top.  Phylloporus sp

The next were what I have been calling Death Caps, primarily from the very white gills.  However there is no green on the cap which suggests it is a Smooth White Parasol Leucoagaricus leucothites.  It was about 10cm across the cap.Even though probably not a Death Cap this species is not going to feature on our table!  Some other member of Amanita

These little brown job were growing in our lawn.  Each cap is about 3cm across. Marasmius oreades (a Fungimap target species)

Not all fungi seem to have enjoyed the rain.  This lot, possibly Gymnopilus junoniusBoletus sp were growing nicely under some pine trees by Whiskers Creek but had 'gone over' this morning.  Several clumps had disappeared completely.  (There had been some Gymnopilus in the area but they had comlpeely disappeared and were totally unrelated to this bunch.)

The following morning was very foggy and I found these beside the top creek  The larger specimen was about 5cm across the cap.  I have no idea what family it is, let alone species!  Parasola plicatilis

The following 2 images are of a clump of fungi- taking a punt, I will say an Agaric - growing on 12 March against the trunk of a Eucalyptus mannifera. The diameter of the trunk (and thus the clump of fungi was about 40cm)  These are in fact Gymnopilus junonius (another Fungimap target species)

The final two are of a polypore - another bold punt,Boletus sp  but look at the detailed image - growing near (possibly from a root of) a dead Eucalyptus meliodora in the upper paddock.  The cap is about 10cm diameter.

Clean up Palerang Day

Clean-up Australia Day was Sunday 7 March 2010.  I had decided that:
  1. I would do my usual clean-up along Captains Flat Road; but
  2. Not formally register with Clean-up Australia since in the past the amount of stuff (forms, boring newsletters etc) they sent me as a consequence of regstering was such that I felt I had an overall negative effect on the environment by so doing.
Subsequently I have discovered that I hadn't drilled deeply enough into the Clean Up Australia site.  Going down a level further (or indeed coming in by a different path) showed links to register as a volunteer for a site rather than to register a site per se, which I had mistakenly done in the past.  That would have overcome point 2! Oh well, bugger.  At least my patch got cleaned up.

In the event we didn't get back from Adelaide until reasonably late on 6 March and it was pouring rain on 7th and 8th.  Thus I didn't get to my task until 9th March.

The overall outcome was similar to usual, collecting 2.5 bags of recyclable stuff and 1.5 of non-recyclable.  In terms of the number of items it was the usual suspects: beer bottles, Coke cans and bottles and detritus from McDonalds.  I should stress that this really can't be blamed on the companies: their end users need to have a brain implant such that they don't chuck stuff out the window of their car.  If Frances and I can make a 14 hour car trip from Adelaide to Carwoola without throwing stuff all over the country why can't someone make it between Queanbeyan and Captains Flat or Forbes Creek without making a mess?

Last year a major offender was an energy drink called 'Mother'.  I think I picked up a dozen or more cans.  This year I didn't see one!  A growing item was P-plates: about 6 were discovered beside the road.  Interestingly they don't seemed to be marked as recyclable so they went into the crud bag.  Something that could be changed by the licensing authorities methinks.

For the previous 3 years the school bus shelter has been a pretty pristine area.  Not so this year, as it was a real mess. The worst offender was a breakfast drink- about 8 empty containers chucked on the ground.  Either:
  • some new kids have arrived and need to be told something, or
  • the parents who used to clean the place up have left.

Perhaps putting a Clean-up Australia poster in there might make the little blighters think?

The single worst area was in a ditch where some thoughtful soul had chucked a couple of sacks of household garbage,  What a pillock.  I have found my book of Yiddish curses so will start to give vent to my feelings in that expressive language by suggesting replacing 'pillock with 'kuperner shtern" or brass forehead which idiomatically translates as an impudent and shameless person.  Another possible substitute for pillock is 'dover akher' one of two ways of saying pig - but this one is always a swine, never a cute little Porky item!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

A pox upon vanishing firms ..

.. especially those who create hit counters!

One of the small joys of my blogging has been monitoring the hits on the site.  I used a free hit counter from http://www.simplehitcounter.com/index.asp.  After about 2 years it has suddenly vanished.  No warning, no apology just vanished.  Profanities upon them and their descendants unto the 5th generation. May their next career be  "Lign in dr'erd un bakn beygel" (a fine kvetch meaning "lying in the earth baking bagels" - see Born to Kvetch by Michael Wex for a discussion of the tasty implications of this curse!)

I have checked a blog by the person who referred me to this counter and their enumerations have also gone.

On looking at the other webcounters available they fell into various classes:
  • Ones that overtly required you to register (and on reading their terms of use permited them to delete your blog if you did something they didn't like.  This is obviousl;y a high risk if you don't know what they don't like - perhaps they are Liberal Party supporters who would, I hope, find quite a bit not to like on my site).
  • One that seemed very sensible and simple and offered a choice of starting numbers.  Unfortunately it seemed to start at a completely random number so I concluded that the people at the site (who from their name were offering web development services)  were either simply malicious or incompetent.  To them I say "Ale tseyn zoln dir oysfaln nor eynerzol dir blaybn af tsonveytik!" (May all your teeth fall out but you should keep one to get a toothache with.)  Wex again!
  • Others that didn't appear to fall into the first group but had some characteristics that suggested they would also do nasty things if they didn't like your blog, but were not ethical enough to mention it up front!
Fortunately another blogging friend has given me a reference to Sitemeter.  They look to fall in to the first group above, but if my friend has had no problems I doubt if I will.  Certainly by listing Wonkette as one of their featured sites they suggest a fairly relaxed definition of "unacceptable".  So we are back and running, at least on the main blog and "To the Mother Country".

It appears that they also mail me a report each week.  While I didn't actually need this I can see myself spending a fair bit of time looking things such as where people are coming from, how long they stayed on the site etc etc.  I just hope Sitemeter have a solid business plan so they stay around for a long while!

Cleaning up in Adelaide

I approached this with trepidation as it was the first time I had dragged a trailer 1250km in a day and the small dogs health was dubious .  Neither concern  turned out to be a problem.  The aim of the trip was to clean out the remaining stuff from Frances’ mum’s estate which we expected to be fairly trivial.

We got off at close to the time of planning (ie 6am).  This was the first chance to try my driving lights and they duly lit up a mob of roos hopping over the drive.  Getting to Captains Flat Road and there was a convoy happening!  It seemed from the type of truck involved that they were mainly brickies etc heading off to work.  This continued right in to Canberra.

Out the other side and it was still marvelous  how many people were coming from Yass into the ACT – presumably all wage slaves.  On the far side of Yass the RTA had commented about an accident involving a B-double and a right mess it was.  A non-mess was the Coolac By-pass which is now finished and cut about 10 minutes off the drive rather than during the build, adding 20 minutes on!

The RTA had also commented about road works going in to Wagga.  None evident!!  They were on the far side of that fair city but no biggie.

Heading further West Frances announced a competition of predicting where we would first see emus.  I said up to 100km West of Narranderah and Frances said between that point and Hay (70km further on).  In fact the first we saw were 99.8km west of Narranderah.  They were the last we saw for about 150km, leading to a view that the water lying all over the paddocks had scared the birds off.

The rest of the drive was uneventful.  Small dog was ensconced on a pile of bedding so could see out without further buggering her back and seemed to have a great trip.  The trailer behaved well and just added 1 litre per 100km to fuel use (say 12l = AUD16.)

There was one small point of interest towards the end of the drive.  After plugging through the Adelaide Hills just before Blackwood there is an evil uphill RH turn on to quite a busy road near a rail crossing.  When we got there someone was already at the turn and missed several chances to go.  The traffic coming from my right was heavy as was that from the left - they seemed to be taking turns to flow.  Que pasa?  Also a number of other folk, with right of way wanted to turn down the street we were in,. Having a trailer - even empty - doesn't make hill starts easier but eventually I got across and all was revealed: the rail crossing lights were out and traffic was being controlled by a couple of lollypop men (ie school crossing monitors)!

After an average nights sleep we started on the process of schlepping the (rather more than we expected) stuff around.  First step was getting the biggest (ie 9 cu metre) skip we could.   This came from OZminibins who were marvellous: price OK and did everything on time and as requested.  If you need to get rid of rubbish in Adelaide they are your folk!

I also started putting stuff out on the sidewalk for the vultures to have a go at.

 The first few items vanished in less than 90 minutes so I put out some water colours.  They went in less than 30 minutes!  The next lot of stuff – small garden items was not popular and didn’t shift all day (so into the skip).

I took 2 car loads of stuff to a Salvos (for non-Australians, that is the Salvation Army) op-shop.  This included a lot more ‘art’ and about 80 vinyl LPs.  They were pleased to take it but asked if I not return until Friday!  This was quite reasonable as they only had three staff on duty and I had just about filled up their delivery area! 

In the op shop car park I discovered why Tasmanians are allowed on the road: it is to make South Australian drivers look good.   She didn’t hit me, but it wasn’t for the lack of trying!

Back at the house I really got to work on the skip – I was feeding direct from the junk filled garage using a wheel barrow, and just about everything was going into the skip.  Frances was n the house, finding somewhat more op-shop potential stuff, so contributed less to the skip.

I quite enjoyed destroying some of the wardrobes in which tack had been stored.  I commented to Frances that I wish I had been in a really bad mood as a bit of catharsis could well have been expended on this task.  Clearly Hilda’s focus on buying stuff she didn’t need had been around for a while (as it hasn’t been possible to get into the garage for about 12 years).   To my surprise when I got to the bottom of the last one I found a family of possums nesting under it.  They all bolted off to another heap of crud in the darkest corner of the garage, so I guess I will be meeting them again on Friday, and they will be really pissed, as there will be nowhere  else to hide.

(Given that the little sods made a ruckus most of the Wednesday night I was not feeling too sympathetic towards them on the Thursday morning.  However I did take a couple more piccies before chasing them out of the garage.)

In the afternoon of Wednesday – yes the time line is all over the place:  tough -  we went to order our Gourmet snags (fancy sausages for the linguistically challenged) at Glenelg; get some nice metwurst form Harbourtown, and a very quick visit to Gaganis Bros to top up our spice collection.  The journey home was marked by me making more daft route choices (other than the very good one of avoiding South Road).  I dropped Frances off at the house and then went and made a very good decision to get a 6-pack of James Squire IPA.   Very tasty.

South Australia is having an election sometime soon – possibly the day we leave (Saturday 6 March - oops update, it is 20 March, by which time I predict every vertical surface except the walls of the Cathedral and Police stations will be covered with political posters) – and it has been instructive to look at the posters around the place.  The Liberal Party seem to have decorated about half the stobie poles  in the city with standard photographs of their minions.  This is far more than the Labour Party ALP – although that may be a function of the areas we have driven through.   The ALP did fight back by getting the Premier’s face and name on the wrapper of the local newspapers but I am worried that they are not organized well enough to win.  It is curious to see the number of odd-ball candidates:
* Family First – complete morons (SA’s answer to Sarah Palin) but likely to get a few folk elected in the Upper House;
* Save the RAH Party- I didn’t realize there was a threat to the Royal Adelaide Hospital;
* Some anti-abortion party who are so smart their website is abortSA.com.au – I’d have thought unabortSA would be better;
* Some dude running as an Independent Climate Sceptic who seems to have run his posters off on a John Bull printing kit.
This calls to mind a description of California being like granola – take the fruits and nuts out and you’re left with a bunch of cracked corn!

On the Thursday morning Francie’s sisters turned up to help with the cleaning out and to assist a nephew who had been living in the house to pack up his stuff and move out.  This was a large help except for the horny handed sons of toil with a removal truck playing the radio in the truck at a squillion decibels with an appalling station.  If I had been employing them they would have been told that they could listen to the radio or get paid.  I like to offer people choices.  As prophesied we re-encountered a possum at the bottom of the last area of dross removed.  It was not sure what the was going on

More stuff got left on the sidewalk.  A Weber barbecue lasted less than 10 minutes which I thought was pretty good but the TV and VCR didn’t actually make it to King George Avenue before a lady with a ute took them!  One clothes drying rack went very quickly, but a few other odds and sods seemed to be hanging around.   They did go by late afternoon.  Two very large and decrepid wardrobes were also put on the street but didn’t move.  As a neighbour was muttering in his usual demented manner about them visually polluting the street I aurally polluted the street for a few minutes with the assistance of my hammer, and the wardrobes, in many parts, entered Skip World.

For reasons that escape me I had a bad nights sleep on the Thursday.  Possible explanations were the impact of a couple of medicinal stubbies of IPA taken in the afternoon and a couple of glasses of rehydration water not taken in the afternoon.  It certainly was not helped by (now) homeless possums galloping up and down the roof, and a small dog galloping up and down the hall in response to the first clause of this sentence.

Whatever: it was really 9am before I was hot to trot.  So I loaded equivalent of 16 wine cartons of books into the car and waved goodbye to the skip.  Then off to Adelaide to go to the Market for cheese and nuts after dropping the books off at the OXFAM bookshop.   They were delighted to get the donation and we were pleased to see how the pace looked following renovations.  My guess would be that this was the 5th load of books (all of this size) that we have dropped off there over the last 2 years.

A few more books were dropped off at the Salvos opshop together some more routine crud.  It was nice to see that a firescreen we had donated on the Wednesday was positioned for sale at $40.  Fair enough, as it was at least 50 years old.

The penultimate step  was loading  the trailer with a bed base which Frances desperately wanted and a dining room table for Ingrid. As Murphy would be delighted to record the table was about 2 cm too wide to fit in the trailer so a far less fuel efficient option was employed.   However  it is all together. 

As with the trip over, the return leg was approached with trepidation since the weather was not looking good with rain forecast all over the place, the lights on the trailer not being exactly of the son et lumiere status;  and being uncertain what speed/fuel consumption would be possible.  We were both awake at 4am so got up, put the remaining few things in the car and pulled out of the drive for the very last time at 4:30.

As expected the considerable extra weight made the car a tad grumpy on the hilly bits of the road out of Adelaide.  However we madeit  along the twisty Upper Sturt Rd, with the extra weight on the back of the car – in combination with my new spotlights – ensuring that the koalas were woken up.  We then bowled along the Freeway to Murray Bridge – working on travelling at posted limits rather than adding a bit as usual - which we reached about 5:45 and headed off across the Mallee.  We found evidence of rain for about 100km, but nothing actually fell, and in the absence of any other traffic had no problems.

We stopped for our first refuel at Pinnaroo (about 260km from the start) and found it was returning about 10l/100km (28mpg) which was quite acceptable.  Onwards across NW Victoria and into NSW, noting that the salt pans along the way had water in them.  Second refuel at Balranald and out on to the Hay Plain.  We had set up the emu location game again, and as Frances was driving at the time she had first go, picking “within 50km from Balranald”.  There were large numbers of them in this stretch and over the whole of the plains.  I think we would have seen at least 50 birds in several flocks.  No babies however.

We also decided to monitor the proportion of people coming towards us who had their lights on.  A summary of this follows but does not include the person who came towards and after we had passed swung round and followed us.  The lights he had on were red and blue flashing ones on the roof of his car.  Nothing more than a RBT thing (although I did notice him take a squizz at rego labels and possibly the security of the trailer etc as he went about the business).    I think this is the second time I have provided a sample in this area.
The results were:
  Cars:      8 lights on, 24 lights off
 Trucks    2 lights on, 15 lights off
  Bus        0 lights on, 1 lights off
  Mcycles 2 lights on, 0 lights off
This also shows that in 130kms we crossed with 52 vehicles.  This seemed about normal density. 

A couple of brief stops were made to stop the tarp over the table flapping around but basically roll down the road to Wagga for the final fuel stop.  We took the rural cut (I can’t call it a short cut as it is about 5 km longer) from Murrumbateman to Bungendore as it would be a more pleasant drive, avoiding Canberra. 

We got home about 7pm local time making it about a 14 hour trip.  Given that at least half an hour was spent on extra stops for fuel; changing drivers ; and tarp fixing that meant dragging the extra load (and my decision to drive a few kph slower) cost us about 30 minutes over the trip.  Zip.  I haven’t calculated the fuel consumption precisely but think it was about 28 mpg throughout the trip back (as against the 31 mpg we usually achieve): in contrast to my fears that is rather good work by the car .  As far as I could determine the biggest source of variation between fill-ups was in the sensitivity of the cut-outs in the fuel nozzles at the various service stations we used.

As a final comment, we had fine weather all the way apart from damp bitumen in the early stages.  However on rechecking the RTA site there seems to be flooding on major roads just South of our route.