Thursday, 17 June 2010

The small dog assumes the position

I don't think any further text is needed!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

White-winged Choughs get down and dirty!

Today (16 July) I went for the usual mid-week walk with COG.  This month our venue was O'Connor Ridge and very pleasant it was too.  Just after we started there was an enormous ruckus from a stand of pine trees, clearly recognisable as the squawking of White-winged Choughs (Corcorax melanorhamphos) - hereafter 'Choughs'.  According to HANZAB (vol 7A) this call being emitted is known as the Piping Whistle.

On getting closer it was evident that some form of disputation was taking place between about 16 birds.  The number suggests that this was two clans discussing a border arrangement.   About half the birds were perched in the pines calling vigorously while the other half were on the ground participating in what could only be called a good stoush.
 Again according to HANZAB, there are few reports of fights.  However this one appeared to match the description with two key players - possibly the dominant males of each clan  -"... tumble over and over, each trying to grasp foot of opponent."  This is happening in the middle of the riot depicted above.  More detail - albeit rather confused- is in the images below.


I walked slowly towards the fight and the fringe players gradually departed for the branches around (continuing to barrack for their participant).  The two main protagonists however stuck to business. I eventually was within 1m of the them and they clearly saw me but were not giving up their fight for a mere human. 

One other point of interest is the change in eye colour when the birds are aroused.  This is illustrated below with a docile eye first and then a 'war-ready' one (and at peak intensity the eye is even redder than depicted in the RH image as shown in this image by Julian Robinson).  The change of colour occurs very quickly - possibly something similar to the predatory drift which occurs in dogs is kicking in?

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Stick insect

A friend in Canberra has a stick insect in residence on his North facing exterior wall.  It is quite a weird beast - far more stick-like than I had imagined.  Its about 20cm from tip to tip.  I had also though that the final 8cm of the animal were a tail, but then we noticed:
  • we could only spot 4 legs rather the customary 6; but
  • the tail appears to split into 2 with minimal provocation; and thus concluded
  • that the "tail" is actually the last pair of legs
The previous paragraph  is a nice story, but unfortunately is totally wrong!  The third pair of legs are held forward and are what looks like antennae.  

A very reliable friend has contributed the following offline "... the stick insect you photographed is most likely Margined-winged Stick Insect Ctenomorpha marginipennis – appears to be the only beast of this size (20cm) in the area. The tail split indicates a female. However, I am no expert on these things so could be mistaken. There is a field guide to stick insects which I have, but they are difficult to identify without having the animal in front of you."

Here are a couple of images.  If anyone can quote Latin about the beast I would welcome a comment.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Birds: Various and many!

I don't generally publish lists of birds since it is both boring to readers and, in itself, not helpful to anything!  However I hope that by categorising the following couple of observations I may tweak a bit of interest and add a bit of value!

My GBS site has just (on 13 June 2010) hosted a large number of birds of reasonable diversity.  As they were not travelling around together, but in single species groups in various bits of the garden I am not claiming a mixed flock but between 13:45 and 14:15 I recorded:

25 Red-browed Finch;2 Striated pardalotes
12 Silvereye;1 Speckled Warbler
10 Yellow-rumped thornbill1 Scarlet Robin
6 Superb Fairy-wren1 White-eared Honeyeater
3 Magpies1Grey Shrike-thrush
2  Buff-rumped thornbill;1 Golden Whistler
2 White-browed Scrubwren1 White-throated treecreeper
 
On 14 June 2010 I went for a bike ride around the core of the Hoskinstown Plain to see what was around on a brilliantly sunny but quite cool day. 

The diversity was quite reasonable with 30 species recorded on a loop of Briars-Sharrow Rd, Plains Rd, Hoskinstown Rd and the rest of Briars Sharrow.  However, to me, the more impressive thing was the biomass:
  • 166 Australian Magpie in one paddock (they must like what thoroughbreds leave behind!) plus 30 elsewhere;
  • a minimum of 250 Galahs (counted in 10s, about 400m off the road)
  • 42 Little Ravens in a single flock (plus 44 elsewhere in smaller groups)
  • 15 Red-rumped parrots (this species is surprisingly infrequently recorded for such a grass-ridden area);
  • 25 Crested pigeons
  • 50 Sulphur-crested cockatoos
  • 89 Australian Wood Ducks in one flock (plus 42 elsewhere);
  • 300 (a guess - they in a number of flocklets and were very mobile) Common Starlings feeding amongst grazing cattle.
In terms of diversity, the more interesting sightings were:
  • 2 Wedge-tailed eagles
  • 2 Skylark
  • 3 Australian Pipits 
  • 15 Double-barred Finches (in a mixed flock with 4 Red-browed finches and approximately 12 Yellow-rumped Thornbills)

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Measuring the minimum temperature

Some years ago I attended a meeting of the American Statistical Association concerning environmental statistics (at that time a brave new world).  One presenter was expounding on the use of satellite sensing to measure temperature.  A comment from the floor was that "since there can be significant differences in performance of conventional thermometers when the batch of paint (from the same manufacturer) is changed how can you compare satellite and terrestrial observations?"

I think the presenter obfuscated, but the guy sitting next to me wrote quite a long note at this point.  As it was Senator (at that time) Al Gore I guess someone from NOAA got a few tough questions.

At a more earthly level it was rather chilly and foggy here last Friday.  I set off in our car to visit a property about 10km away (in a straight line).  The thermometer in the car gave the external temperature as -0.5C.  On getting to the property - clear of fog - I noticed the temperature had dropped to -3C where it stayed while I did my business.  Driving back home I entered fog again about halfway back.  As I approached the house the temperature  was back to 0C, which shows the insulating effect of moisture rather nicely.  (I have in the past compared the readings on the thermometer with official figures and found it to be quite accurate.)

What actually generated this post was getting up this morning to find the temperature (by a thermometer on the windowsill outside) was -0.5.  I turned up the fire to warm the house.  About 30 minutes later the thermometer read +1.7.  To assess whether this was due to the increasing warmth of the house or a real rise in temperature I moved the thermometer about 10cm out to the edge of the windowsill where it would be less influenced by the indoor temperature,  Within 30 minutes the temperature had reduced to +0.6 and a further 30 minutes later (by which time the sun had risen - although not directly on the windowsill in question) had got to -0.1.

So with thermometers, as with real estate, the key factor would seem to be location, location, location.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

What is wrong with Soccer

This is possibly my only post about this form of mass entertainment as we prepare to be submersed in the FIFA World Cup.

From my view there are two things wrong with soccer.
  1. People keep referring to it as 'football' when that term is actually a generic name for at least 7 sports (Rugby Union, Rugby League, Gaelic Football, Australian Rules, Gridiron; Canadian Football and Association football).  I can understand that many people have trouble with a long word such as "Association" which is probably why the shorter word 'soccer' was invented.  Any one who suggests that 'the beautiful game' is acceptable should check recent coverage of Mr Maradona: in response to his recent press statement Argentinian bookies were overwhelmed with bets (on Brazil to win).
  2. Boredom.  Check the scores in the first two matches. as shown in the image below Click on it to see the full horror.

Readers will  note that I don't include Germany beating Australia 4-0 as something wrong with soccer.  It is actually a good thing, for three reasons.
  1. It wasn't (apparently - I didn't get up at 4am to watch it) a boring match;
  2. It will put a significant damper on efforts to change this game to the dominant code in Australia! and
  3. I predicted the exact result!

    Thursday, 10 June 2010

    More on Fly Agarics

    In addition to the agarics I found close to home a friend mentioned that while on a run he had found huge numbers of them (and other fungi) in the Cork oak plantation in Canberra.  We arranged to meet near there for a follow up visit.  Let us start with an artistic shot.
    There were indeed very large numbers of the fungi around.  The following shots show a linear colony (if that is an acceptable term in mycology) and a cluster.  Note the ground being almost totally covered with fallen cork-oak leaves.
    As far as I could determine the disturbed ground around the lower cluster were due to the untidy table manners of White-winged Choughs that were browsing nearby.

    I included this image as the white spore print is clearly visible where spores from the tallest fungus have fallen on the one below.

    The next two images show the fungus and some of the leaves of oak regrowth.
    My friend challenged me to estimate the number of agarics present in the area.  Measuring the length and breadth of the plantation on Google Earth I came up with an area of just over 8 hectares.  In the field there appeared to be about 3m between rows of trees and I decided to do some transects counting the number of fruiting bodies in each avenue (and the number of steps taken for each transect).  I was able (from the breath of the plantation on Google Earth) to estimate the length of my double step as about 1.8m.  Doing 5 transects my study area amounted to 2700 sq m and I counted 318 fruiting bodies.  Simple arithmetic came up with the astounding number of 9,500 fruiting bodies.  The number of bodies per square metre varied considerably between transects but even dividing the number by two still gives close to 5,000!

    There were many many other fungi present.  I was hoping to see a Death Cap (which I have been told have been seen here in the past) but they did not appear.  This (which I cannot identify) was the commonest:

    There were a few Boletes:
    .....  and a few bracket fungi dealing with fallen cork oak branches.
    I did identify some Omphalima chromacea (a Fungimap Target Species, which I have included in other pages) and Stereum hirsutum (also a Target Species.

    Wednesday, 9 June 2010

    Memories are made of ..

    .. something a bit like this.

    When the small dog joined us she was accompanied in the beast box (the plastic kennel she flew in - and has hated ever since) by a green cushion.  This is one of her favourite things to sleep on, especially if it is in the sunshine.

    The green cushion has moved around a bit and Frances recently put it under my desk where the small dog gets the benefit of:
    • the sun streaming though a floor length window (when it isn't a bleak 5 degrees C  day like today); and
    • my 'umble self tapping away on my 'pooter.
    Frances commented on how the small dog has enjoyed this.  Perhaps because I am thinking of matters Pom, in view of our impending descent on that realm, I flashed back to about 1969 when I was contemplating jobs in agriculture in that country.  I visited the local office of Strutt and Parker (the biggest and best Estate Managers in the the UK) and was most impressed that the guy who spoke to me had a huge wooden desk, with a large - perhaps approaching huge - Golden Labrador sleeping there-under.

    It became a life ambition to have a job like that. Finally achieved it - see following image - although dog is neither huge nor Golden and has not been known ever to retrieve anything!

    Monday, 7 June 2010

    The dangers of Welsh bilingual signs

    Mis-translated bilingual road sign
    The English is clear enough to lorry drivers - but the Welsh reads "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated."
    This comes from a BBC website page.  If you should happen to visit that page I commend the entries under "see also"

    What is interesting to me is that all the bodies erecting these signs - presumably all good boyos from the land of 'Evans the milk' - need expert help in translating the signs into Welsh.  The obvious inferences are that;
    • no-one in the appropriate Concil Offices actually speaks Welsh; and
    • the language is actually not used at all apart from demagogues in Plaid Cymru or the crowd at Cardiff Arms Park (in the unlikely event that the Welsh Rugby Teal still plays there and is winning; but
    • there is a nice little industry making very large, and badly translated signs!
    An offline message has commented - very correctly - that any any office of bilingual affairs that doesn't have a bilingual 'out of office'  message is staffed by morons.  A reasonable summary of the situation.

      Sunday, 6 June 2010

      Red-hot pokers

      Amongst the many flowers we acquired with the house are a couple of beds of red-hot pokers (Kniphofia uvaria).  Not only are they giving us a good patch of colour, at a time of year when most other flowers are not blooming but they also indicate that we are having a very mild Winter thus far.

      Typically the flower heads will tolerate temperatures down to 0 degrees C but once lower than that they die.  I suspect we have had a few minor negative temperatures this Winter, but nothing too serious and it has not been at all cold since the flower heads emerged from the foliage.  Let us see what happens later this week when a number of days are forecast to be -1 or -2 in the city: we generally reckon to be a couple of degrees colder out in the sticks.

      Friday, 4 June 2010

      What trees are designed for.

      I have previously posted about some new furniture we have ordered.  Today the first tranch has been delivered.  It came after dark but these images give the idea of how good it looks.


      The table here was already ours but the two bits of Jarrah match extremely well!









      The full view of what will be Frances' desk until it becomes our dining table (if in the future we move somewhere  smaller).  The shiny metal  magnifying lamp is probably going to be moved.












      The dining set by night!

      More fungal excitement!

      After yesterday's (3 June) find of Fly Agarics we were being taken for a walk by the small dog this morning when Frances spotted a clump of Earthstars.  As I didn't have the camera with me I returned a tad later and got a few pix.

      On referring to a Field Guide to Australian Fungi by Bruce Fuhrer I have identified them as Geastrum Triplex. The total colony was an area 2m x 0.8m with 7 fruiting bodies in one clump and (on my count) 23 in the main portion.  If anyone else comes up with a different count for the main colony - image above - please let me know.
      This image shows a pair of fruiting bodies nestled together, clearly showing the pointed segments of the outer skin.
      To some extent this is a repeat of the previous image but the fruiting bodies are not so compressed.  My estimate is that they were about 70mms across the 'star'.

      Thursday, 3 June 2010

      Fairy toadstools

      I believe that in stories for English kids fairies were often drawn sitting on toadstools, typically a red capped form with white spots.  That fungus, Amanita muscaria (or fly agaric) has spread to Australia where is is commonly found under exotic trees such as pines.

      I had never seen these until, on Sunday, we found some growing in a street in Eltham.  However running along Widgiewa Rd this morning I spotted some more and have photographed them for your pleasure.  I was going to say 'delectation' but that sounds a too much as though tasting them is an option.  Like most Amanita they are poisonous - there is a reason that red is the colour for danger!

      The first image is of an exposed specimen which is pretty old, judging by the concave cap.





      This is the most 'dome-shaped one I found.  The white spots are remnants of the veil.



      The insect suggests why they are called 'Fly Agaric'







      Note the fallen pine needles.  This one was well underneath some vegetation and only scoring a little light from the setting sun.