Sunday, 31 January 2010

Flooding in Peru

Some of you will have read my blog of our trip to Peru.  As you will realise - unless living in a rather deep cave - there have been a lot of floods in the area recently.

Chris, the owner of the company which our leader (Ian Fraser) works for was leading a tour there at the time and managed to get his group on the last train out of Aguas Calientes to Cusco.  The following are some photos he took of the conditions there.  Apparently many people are living in tents (adobe houses do not last long when inundated by raging flood waters) and have lost all their crops.  


Thursday, 28 January 2010

Dated Beer Bottles

I spend a reasonable proportion of time looking for birds and plants in the Nature Reserves and Travelling Stock Reserves (TSRs)  in the Canberra Region. 

Knowing how thirsty I used to get working with livestock it is not surprising that from time to time I come across the occasional beer bottle in these places.  What is surprising is that many - possibly most - of them date back to the 1950 and 1960s, when the bottle manufacturers used to 'cast' the year of manufacture in the base of the bottle.  Note that I'm using the term 'beer bottle' to refer to an honest 26 fluid ounce container not a stubbie.

The question is why is there this strange distribution of ages?

My original suggestions were:
  • People stopped drinking in the 1970s
  • Drinkers stopped going to TSRs in the 1970s
On reflection I would add to that:
  • changes in farming practices such that  TSRs stopped being used by drovers in the 1970s.  (This is an important point because it might add fuel to the cause of the Government selling off the TSRs, which are often the only decent natural habitat in an area).
An early recipient of these thoughts also suggested (thank you Muriel):
  • the 1970s were the time drinkers switched from bottles to cans.
Any comments on these ideas or other thoughts would be welcome.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Le morte de ?

We inherited a large sword when we moved here.  I presume this is some sort of reference to the SCA.   However we lost it for a while.  When it reappeared Frances suggested lobbing it in the dam as a "Lady of the Lake" allusion.  Done.

Tonight I noticed that it made an image with the gibbous moon.   Here follows a couple of piccies: the first with flash and the second a Blair Witch hand-held effect.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Lenticular cloud

This takes you to a photograph of a cloud over the Tinderries on a birding walk.  It is the most spectacular example but they were everywhere that day.

Many thanks to Julian Robinson (aka aadvaark) for this great image.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Gippsland Water Dragon

When I took Tammy out for her last toilet break on the evening of 15 January we found an ex-rabbit on the lawn.  Once I stopped cheering and shifted Tammy away I got a shovel and took it to dead-things central: our dam, where the yabbies deal with such things.  Lying on a fallen tree going into the dam was this:

When I tried to get a different angle I kicked the end of the fallen tree and the dragon promptly dived off into the water!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Australian Work Ethic.

This is probably a side-bar to the brickbats and bouquets theme.  As usual there are very few bouquets around in this.

It seems that the major aspect of this is to follow Dave Allen's advice "stop it or you'll go blind." One would have thought that in these times of economic crisis any business you called to sell you stuff would lean over backwards (and forwards and possibly, if they are athletic enough, sideways) to get your cash. Not so.

It is well recognised that the professionals (doctors, lawyers etc) all shut up over Christmas but it no seems that other places do as well.

I wanted to get a roo-bar for our car, since the macropods are getting very numerous around the area.  The initial proposal was a 2 week delay as they were running low on stock.  It now seems to be at least a 4 week delay since they have run out of a key part and the foundry doesn't reopen until 17 January!  This gets worse - here is an email from the company (after a phone call talking about a problem getting the bar painted:

Hello Martin,

The powdercoaters have got their ovens working today but I'm afraid this is not the hold-up with your bar. We are still waiting on the cast aluminium ends from the foundry in Queensland. The foundry only returned to work this week so we are hoping to get the castings in the next few days. The workshop has told me it will then be two and a half weeks before your bar will be ready to fit. I'm really sorry this is taking so long. As you can see we are totally in the hands of the foundry. As soon as we receive the castings I will expedite your order as quickly as we can.

Kind regards


... and this is my response:

Dear xxx

Thank you very much for giving me this update. 

My crucial concern at the moment is that we are planning to drive to Adelaide leaving on the 22nd of February.  We'll be going across the Hay Plains close to dark and I really do want to have the bar fitted by then.  It is not clear to me whether you will be able to meet that deadline.-can you confirm that your company (I realise this is not down to you personally) will be able to meet that?  It means an installation date of 19 February - this is 4 full weeks away (5 weeks after the foundry decided to start work again and 8 weeks since my original enquiry on 25 December last year).

I really want to support local industry, but that only works if the local industry can put the hard word on suppliers (and I could run a seminar on what that involves) to deliver to meet demand.

From my research you have the best product but it is no use having great product if it can't be delivered.  Timeliness is a crucial aspect of "quality".  Note that your competitors are offering 10 working days from order to installation.


 I have received a call after that exchange: they can do the installation on 16 February!!  Well done!!!  Can even accommodate me not getting there until noon.  Excellent!!!

Then I wanted to get a termite check done on the house.  The first guy I spoke to - who advertised in the Bungendore services guide - said he doesn't come out this far any more.  Since this proves that he doesn't know anything about the Bungendore area (we are actually closer to Canberra CBD than is Bungendore) he could go back to doing what he does best (probably related to Dave Allen's advice).  The next guy was actually happy to come out here, but is so busy that he couldn't make it until 3 weeks time.  He did attribute this to taking a couple of weeks off, but at least knew where we were and wanted the business.

Shane turned up a few minutes early and did a thorough job of looking around the place.  
So,  Mann's Pest Control (62997980 get a wrap from me.

Next step was to get service on our (a) hydronic heating system  and (b) solar hot water service.  In both cases I stared off by contacting the manufacturers as revealed by Google to get details of their local service agents.

  • The hydronics people range back advising that I should talk to Fyshwick Home and Heating.  So I rang them and was answered by the receptionist who seemed surprised that anyone wanted a service.  Possibly this was because I used some long words in my questions and   the time between 10am and 3 pm is reserved for her toenail painting.  After going away and speaking to someone she gave me the name of a couple of guys who might be able to do it.  Since the only phone numbers were mobiles I guess they are sole traders.  First one I rang went through to voice mail.  Watch this space.
  • I never heard back from the first guy, but his name - Eddie Zammit - rang bells as one of the local prats who never return calls unless you are, like them, of Greek ancestry.   The second one at least spoke to me and reckons he can fit us in in a couple of weeks.  Keep watching.
  • So I rang Australian Hot Water Fyshwick to get a service on the Solar Hot water service.  After describing the problem the Pleasant Rascal Answering Telephone (best I could do to get that acronym) said they don't service systems that old but he could sell me a new one for $4950.  I said that it would need to save a lot of electricity to cover that cost.  Absolutely no interest in client service (which I have taken pleasure in pointing out to the head office bloke who recommended them.  At least in Tanzania they'd send round a fundi who would fix anything with a couple of banana leaves and some string!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Gridiron Tipping

Each year the New York Times runs a finals tipping competition for the NFL.

The first year they ran it I finished 22nd out of 'several thousand'.  The company which ran it for them wouldn't say how many punters took part.

The second year I can't remember how I went, but nowhere near as well.  I'd guess about 3,000 out of 8,000.

So for this year I am having another effort and will see how we go.

In the first week of the finals I got 3 teams correct (Jets, Cowboys and Ravens and 1 wrong (picked the Packers who lost 45 - 51 (!!!  should have been an interesting game).  So after week 1, I am 1401st out of 8643!

The mathematicians amongst you may wish to speculate why I got as high as 840th  at one point (after the results of the Packers - Cardinals game was known) and then dropped 600 places.  Of the four resulting games 95% of players picked the higher ranked team in three of the games.  The odd one is Cowboys against Vikings which the only 75% (including me) favour the Vikings.

In the second week of the finals things went to Hades and back.  This was primarily due to the AFC where I thought that:
  • the Colts would pay the price for mucking around to rest players (sort of payback for fixing something that wasn't broke); and
  • the Jets miracle run would end.
Both of these hypotheses were Rong!

While I got the NFC winners I was (deliberately) conservative in my margins so have plummeted to 4233rd position.  Again the first go at my position was weird with me dropping to about 5400th at one point.  I thought the timing was such that the only change was that the results of the Jets game became known.  Since I got that wrong I don't see how it could change anything.

Third week:  it was a tad hard to do much about the AFC as I had got both of those games wrong in the previous round.   However the Saints did the right thing so I have rocketed to 3852nd position overall.   Since only 32% of folk have picked them to win the Super Bowl if they do so I should advance quite nicely!

SUPERBOWL:   After a very slow start the Saints did indeed go marching in and as expected I moved up the ladder quite a bit.  I ended up in 965th spot - just outside the top 10% but not bad for a total Gumby.

A vertebrate joins in as does a small dog.

As well as the hordes of beetles we have had a bat flying around recently.  We often have them outside, flying around dining on insects but for several evenings recently have had one in the house.  This has happened on occasion in the past as pictured to the left.  That one was identified as a Gould's Long-eared bat, and this seemed identical.

This has been seen as a gross invasion by the small dog and has led to a very interrupted sleep while herself rushes up and down and round and about trying to catch it.  The bat has been sensible and stayed in the air.

We tried to trap it with a towel but that was totally ineffective, so I made myself a bat-net.  This consists of a scrap of bird netting hooked around some old fencing wire and lashed to a broom handle.  It looks completely naff but last night proved itself to be effective.

The bat flew around a few times with dog in pursuit and then perched on a rough brick wall.  A quick swipe and I had it netted and took it outside where it was welcome to go and do its batty thing.

As I haven't done anything about her for a while here are a couple of images of the small dog, showing off her nice new red collar.

The RH image shows her in her favourite hot weather survival posture: flat out on her green cushion.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Invertebrates go for broke

Frances has commented how different the bugs have been each year we have been here.

The catalyst for that comment was the presence of a squillion (give or take a zillion) small (about 1cm long) beetles flying around the outside lights last evening.  The image to the left shows the paths left as they zoom through the light while I tried photographing them without flash.  I don't know what species they are and a poor image is to the right for anyone that would care to have a go at IDing the little beasts..  They were so numerous last night that after they had stunned themselves flying into the light they almost carpeted the ground.

An entomologist friend has identified the beast.  His words "It is a small pasture chafer in the genus Phyllotoca.  The larva lives underground feeds on organic matter and roots like Christmas Beetles.  They pupate in mid-summer and  have a synchronised emergence at night over a few weeks and are attracted to light in their millions.  By day they are found on flowers feeding to nectar."

We are currently repainting our house which involves a lot of masking tape.  On taking one lot down I found it had been selected as des. res. of the week by a bunch of the chafers.  It also acted much like fly paper.
This also provided an oportunity to get a close up of a few of the chafers, as they weren't moving too quickly!

Christmas beetles have also been much more evident this year than in the recent past.  I use the word recent because there used to be hordes of them around when we first moved to Canberra (1983) but far fewer in recent years.

This morning I went to improve some Verbascum (Lambsfoot) in the front paddock and on the way back had a squizz at a small pool still evident frm the Christmas-New Year rain.  A recently deceased yabbie was lying on the bank , but I couldn't see any live ones.  However I will see how my grasp of traditional Australian skills (yabbie fishing, not drinking beer) holds up afterwe get a bit more rain.

The small dog went for a swim in the pool which cooled her down nicely and I was about to send her in again when I noticed a 10cm long leech swim across the pool.  The thought of trying to remove one of them from her was not pleasant (for either of us I suspect) so she didn't get her second paddle.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

3 Years of Birding in Carwoola

3 Years of Birding in the Carwoola area

This report is about birds so I will start with a couple of images of the birds of the area. Both are of large honeyeaters: a Red Wattlebird (a common resident) to the left and a Noisy Friarbird (a common breeding summer migrant)to the right.  Both are feeding on Callistemon sp.

This is an informal report on the birds I have recorded in the Stoney Creek Gazette (hereafter ‘the Gazette’) since moving to the area in late January 2007. Since (for reasons that are not clear to me) I omitted to issue records for April 2007 the report is based upon observations for 34 months, concluding in December 2009.  A version of this epic will hopefully be published in the Palerang Bulletin.

For most of 2007 the records are biased towards our home block. Since 2008 these records have been augmented by regular observations (over the whole area) from Julienne Kamprad of Quailrise in Hoskinstown. John Bisset of Widgiewa joined the systematic reporters in 2009 giving details from his property. In addition I have received, and included, observations of interesting species from several other readers of the Gazette.  Many thanks to all reporters and all reports are welcome, especially of breeding species.

Area of Study

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


In the 34 months of observations 145 species have been recorded. 20 species were added to the list in 2008 while 7 species on the list were not recorded this year. Using the grouping I have employed for the Gazette, the breakdown of species follows.

CategoryCount of Species all yearsCount of Species 2009
1 Waterbirds2422
2 Birds of Prey1110
3 Parrots and Relatives1211
4 Kingfishers and other non-songbirds2322
5 Honeyeaters1211
6 Flycatchers and similar species1515
7 Other, smaller birds4039
8 Other, larger birds88

A highlight was the first definite record of Superb Parrots (see image to the left) in this area.  They are birds whose range is normally to the NW of Canberra but have been spreading SE in recent years.



Frequency of observing species.

The next table shows the number of species by frequency of observation.
Frequency# Species
Every Month24
30-33 Months18
20-29 Months17
10-19 Months29
2-9 Months41
One month16

29% of the species have been recorded in 30 or more of the 34 months. and 24 species in every month (since 2008 Red Wattlebird and White-winged Chough were missed in one month). These 24 species observed in all months are shown in the following list. I have put an asterisk against those featuring in the 30 species most common in revegetation plots as listed by Greening Australia (GA) in their book “bringing birds back”. 14 species are common to both lists, with several of those in the GA list being migrants to the region and thus not likely to feature in an “all months” list.

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

Breeding Birds

Particular importance is attached to the birds which breed in an area, since if breeding habitat is depleted the species will not be sustained. The following list of 43 species observed as breeding in the area is based upon a broad definition of breeding, including activities from courtship display through nest-based activities to dependent young out of the nest.  An asterisk denotes the 32 species observed breeding in 2009 (note that this includes parts of the breeding seasons 2008-09 and 2009-2010).

Common Bronzewing*; Australasian Grebe*; Little Pied Cormorant*; Black-fronted Dotterel; Australian Wood Duck; Australian Shelduck; Pacific Black Duck*; Grey Teal*; Brown Goshawk*; Galah*; Eastern Rosella*; Tawny Frogmouth*; Dollarbird; Pallid Cuckoo; Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo; Welcome Swallow*; Tree Martin*; Fairy Martin*; Grey Fantail*; Willie Wagtail*; Leaden Flycatcher*; Rufous Whistler*; Grey Shrike-thrush* (see image of bird feeding a spider to the chick); Magpie-lark*; Striated Thornbill; Buff-rumped Thornbill; Yellow-rumped Thornbill*; Dusky Woodswallow*; Silvereye; Eastern Spinebill*; Yellow-faced Honeyeater*; Red Wattlebird*; Noisy Friarbird*; Diamond Firetail*; Red-browed Finch; Olive-backed Oriole; Satin Bowerbird*; Pied Currawong*; Grey Currawong*; Grey Butcherbird*; Australian Magpie*; Striated Pardalote*; Common Starling*.

I will end, as I began, with images. 
The Tawny Frogmouths (to the left) bred again in a large Yellow Box in our lawn, and the whole family of 4 is still travelling around together.  The Silvereyes (to the right ) turn up in most months: here the image shows two dining on the aphids infesting a honeysuckle.  I conclude with an image of a pair of Australasian Pipits - common birds of the grasslands of the Hoskinstown Plain.