Friday, 31 December 2010

Annual Report to the Bored

I thought it would be good, albeit somewhat narcissistic, to summarise what has happened this year to our household. The household still comprises two large people and one small dog. All three of us are doing pretty well. We have acquired some snake repellers to assist the small dog to remain well, around the house at least.

There was not a great deal of travel in 2010. One visit to the UK and one to Adelaide to finalise matters there, were our only real trips away. A short duration trip to Melbourne in May (AFL oriented) was also very pleasant

WEATHER

After about 8 dry years (2007 wasn't too bad) the monsoon arrived this year. At El Rancho I have recorded 1005mm for the year: more than double last years total and a 63% increase on the three year average.  Nearly every month has been well over our previous experience for that period.
One of the negatives of this is that the Creek has been over the road 12 times this year, compared with the usual 2 – 3 times. I guess that is what happens when a 6sq km catchment tries to drain 20+mm of rain through a 1m diameter pipe!

JOBS

What is this concept? I have finally decided that I have had enough of trying to persuade people to do things the correct (ie my) way. So to save the world some money and my blood pressure a couple of digits I have quit the workforce (unless of course something really interesting comes along).

MATTERS ARTISTIC

Frances has continued to be a voluntary guide at the National Gallery of Australia. The highlight to this year was the opening of the new additions to the Gallery, which are truly spectacular. We also enjoyed the staff/guides opening event!

Art – broadly defined to include architecture – was a focus of our trip to the UK. The real artistic highlight of the year was our visit to Yorkshire Sculpture Park. This should be on anyone's agenda if visiting the UK!!

BIRDING

My list for the year is 271 species from 3 countries: Australia 165 (pathetic); UK 116, excellent including 13 lifers (and 44 additions to my UK list); and UAE (from the airport in Dubai) 2 - that I could identify through the jetlag and heat haze.

My life list is now at 1832 species. Where can I get another168 species?

PLANTS

We continue to be active members of the ANPS Wednesday Walkers and Martin has become particularly interested in orchids and (when they are flowering) native grasses. There are posts about these families (and others) scattered all through my home blog  and particularly in a second blog devoted to revegetation activities around our place .

I suspect it is against taxonomy (but it is always good to stick it to taxonomists) to include Fungi under the heading plants, but that is where I regard them as falling. It was a spectacular year for fungi, mainly due to the prevailing dampness.

Frances has more general interests in herbaceous matters and is becoming very keen on using a new camera as a learning guide. This is excellent for learning what we have around our place.

RUNNING and other Exercise

For the first 9 months of the year that was somewhat of a challenge due mainly to a BAD BACK. Sloth was a lesser, but probably still significant, factor. I sort of managed to fix the back, if not the sloth, well enough to waddle a Half Marathon in May but after returning from the UK in July managed to aggravate my back again and took until November for it to really come good. The really coming good was indicated by getting a second place in an ACT Veteran Athletics Monthly Handicap. Without any efforts at burglary or bushranging!

In total I have run 653km, cycled 712 (aerobically equivalent to 112km of running) and walked 1220km (equivalent to 407km running). This totals to 1172 running equivalent kms and shows a massive increase of 60km running km equivalents (5%!!!!!) compared to last year.

 

The overall report card on this topic is must do better in future.

INTERNET

I am spending a fair bit of time on the net! In part this is due to writing posts for blogs, which serves as a sort of diary and photo album.. My main blog is now up to 424 posts of which 214 have been added this year.

The image below is a sample from Google Analytics of page hits by country for a day (in this case 28/11/2010). It is pretty representative of the haul in recent times.

In terms of visits per day excluding my own editing etc, the site has been receiving an average of close to 15 for the last few months. This is a considerable increase from 'about 5' earlier in the year. The total got a pretty good boost from my posts about the flooding in Queanbeyan which seemed to bring in about 300 hits.

I have been tracking the countries from which hits are delivered both by Google Analytics and Sitemeter. It is interesting that they quite often differ: presumably this reflects the various ways in which the country of origin could be measured (eg actual physical location of sending computer vs location of the server on which the ISP is located). Applying a bit of judgment I find that my posts have been visited from 54 countries and I have received emails (not counting spam 'cos I filter, and don't read, that) from 34 countries. I also use Sitemeter to identify which States of the US I have received hits from: thus far I have been visited from 34 of the 50 (and some just appear as "United States".)

So, onwards to 2011. Hopefully upwards in every respect except for 'JOBS'!

Best wishes for the New Year to everyone.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Naturalish observations while exercising.

This morning I set off with Frances for her run along Whiskers Creek Road to the high point in Widgiewa Road.  My attention was suddenly caught by a flower of Kangaroo Grass (Themeda australis).  If something this colourful and intricate had a flashier name - "Red-hot bird of paradise grass" might do the trick - I am sure garden centres would sell the stuff for $5.00 a plant.
A little later in the day I had an hour or so to fill in while Pats Tyres and More did a few things to parts of my car.  So I went for a run from Queanbeyan East to Oaks Estate and back down the riverside bike path.

A first thing to catch my eye was where the Molonglo tide-mark was showing relative to the Oaks Estate Crossing.  Although the valley is much wider here here than at the Queanbeyan Cemetery the water must have been at least 4m deep during the flood.

As I got back to the Cemetery I found that it was being used as a tree cemetery as well as it's more traditional function.
Some headstones are just visible to the right of the log-grabber.  Obviously this is where the City is dumping all the driftwood they are removing from various spots around the place.  As I continued down the bike path it was evident they still have quite a bit more wood they could remove if they wished.  There is unlikely to be a wood-chip shortage in Queanbeyan for a while.
Now, paraphrasing Mick Dundee,  that is what I call a wood-chipper!

A week or so later while coming home I noticed that the guys from the City were clearing up in the park by the low level bridge.  Some were putting topsoil back where it had been scoured out and others cleaning up the bike path.

Apparently they are getting in a grabber and the monster chipper to clean out the river which looks as though it has played host to a beaver convention.  The guy I was speaking to commented that they cleaned out under the bridge with a grab operating 'blind': the driver poked the grab under the bridge and fished around until he got hold of something.  That would have been fun to watch!

The grabber was back in action as 2011 progressed,  picking driftwood out of the river.  On 4 February I snapped it action at the mouth (it is actually a pipe) of Marco Polo Creek.
Note the metal rail in the foreground.  That is the side of the bike path I had hoped to run along before the deluge of 3 February!  I'd suggest getting to the Black Wallaby track at Googong could be a bit difficult now!

Here is another shot of the guys at work.  It is really great being able to take such snaps with my phone which weighs about 1/10 of my camera.

Sir James Hacker on Ti-trees

Few people realise that in addition to a successful career as a parliamentarian Jim, as an amateur botanist, also made a close study of the Ti-trees of Australia.  His particular expertise was in distinguishing the various species covered by this appellation.

In the case in point, when we first visited Carwoola I thought a fair proportion of our block was covered with Leptospermum.  It was pointed out to us a little later that this was actually Kunzea ericoides, which is now recognised as belonging to a different genus.  This is the shrub Burgan that covers the countryside in white blossom at Christmas.(In NZ it is called Kanuka and can be much larger. I didn't believe that a shrub here could grow to 30m in NZ, but this has been confirmed by a NZ friend.)
There is however a small patch of Letospermum juniperinum on Widgiewa Road which was also flowering now.  Here follow images of the Leptospermum (first) and the Kunzea.

Clearly the flowers are 'broadly similar being quite small and white.  The red colouration inside the Kunzea may be a function of age, since I have noticed a few of the Leptospermum flowers showing this characteristic.  The stamens of the Burgan are also a bit longer (and in my view more inclined to be wavy).  The leaves are also somewhat different when looked at closely.

However the easiest difference is in the fruit.  The Leptospermum fruit are like small 'gumnuts' and remain on the bush for a long time.
This led to Hacker's great insight:
"When you 'get' the nuts, the flowers and leaves soon follow."
This remark led to the University of Wagga Wagga awarding Jim an honorary DSc. In his later, political, career he followed this maxim closely, simply replacing "flowers and leaves" by "hearts and minds".

Sunday, 26 December 2010

A few notes concerning birds

After 4 years we have finally got a good array of flowers on our Red-hot pokers (Kniphofia uvaria).  They are proving very attractive to Noisy Friarbirds.
From consulting the Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds (HANZAB) it seems most likely that the birds are feeding on the nectar rather than insects that are lurking within the flower spike.

This afternoon I decided to try to get some snaps of Dusky Woodswallows.  They rarely visit our garden, but lurk along the ridge line of Whiskers Creek Road swooping off dead branches and powerlines to harvest insects.  Presumably the lower grass in the paddocks up there attracts more of the appropriate insects than our property.  I managed to get a couple of reasonable snaps.

On the way up to the photo site a Wedgetailed Eagle was soaring overhead and being uncooperative in two ways:
  1. It wasn't down on the ground improving the rabbit population; and
  2. Wasn't staying directly overhead so that a photo could be taken.
Initially it was quite low (perhaps 15m or thereabouts) but then hit an updraught and ascended rapidly to a few hundred metres up.  Throughout this soar it was accompanied by some Welcome Swallows who seemed to be suggesting it went somewhere else.  The eagle was occasionally uttering plaintive cries which could perhaps be translated as what humans say when bothered by mosquitos.

Walking back down after snapping there was a ruckus of Magpies happening in the SE corner of our land.  I wondered whether:
  • the eagle had decided to improve its performance under point 1 above (good); or 
  • our frogmouth family had roosted up in this area (also good).
The noise became louder and the birds seemed to be moving closer to the road.  Suddenly Brother Reynard popped out of the roadside vegetation with an ex-magpie in its mouth.  It spotted myself (and the small dog) and hopped smartly back into the vegetation.  Another miscreant who should be munching rabbits not native birds.

I think the small dog was focussed on reptile opportunities (which are NOT permitted)  and didn't see the fox.  However when we crossed the fox's path she went ballistic and it took some stern words to leave the vicinity.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

A Christmas eclection

This post will have a range of images and thoughts about Christmas in various places and times.  I will start off with a really beautiful image.
This is (obviously)   not Carwoola  but was the image on a beautiful card sent to us from Ingleby Manor where we stayed in June 2010.  These deer were photographed in January 2010 and the owner of the Manor has told that the snow is currently feet deep and that they haven't been able to go horse riding for about 6 weeks!  My idea of heaven!

We decided to have our family Christmas meal on Christmas Eve,  As a nod to the the English tradition of Christmas our daughter bought along a Christmas pud.  The idea was to flame it: I knew from experience that the secret to this was to make sure one used enough alcohol.  So I put on a finger of OP Don Lorenzo rum, noting that it was 151 proof. 

I believe NASA would describe this as ignition:
The New York City Fire Department would call this a 3 alarm blaze.
Surprisingly that didn't set off our smoke detectors.  Back to traditional values!
The pud ate extremely well.  I suspect that it had enough calories to power a Saturn launch (or feed an Indian village for a few weeks).

On Christmas morning we couldn't do deer and snow so made do with a 'roo and sunshine!

Having raised earlier the matter of traditional values,  I can report that, even in the absence of the occupants of the Embassy at Weston (in Hawaii), Frances and I pounded the pavement (OK bitumen) for a while this morning.

In the past our Christmases have tended to be family gatherings in Adelaide unless we were overseas when we do "something interesting'.  If we can include Tasmania as overseas examples that spring to mind include:
  • the caravan park at Boat Harbour in Tassie when Christmas dinner was sme cans of beans (we were surprised to find the posh restaurant in that village had shut down for the holiday;
  • Saadani National Park in Tanzania (both years we were there);
  • Opening our presents on a sand dune in Death Valley (on our way back from Ottawa in 1991;
  • Going to the Bronx zoo in 2006.

We thought we would stay a little closer to home today and visit the Big Hole in Deua National Park.  We had been warned that we would have to wade the Shoalhaven River so were pleased it was a warm day.  Here is Frances being intrepid.
It was a reasonably scenic trek of 1.75km up (and no runner should be surprised to find the word 'up' following on the heels of the word 'scenic') to the Big Hole.  It was rather impressive.
I don't know quite how deep it is but the greenery at the bottom is 2m high tree ferns.  Suffice it to say, should one fall in, one would be rather ill by the time one was looking up at the tree ferns!  The hole was formed by water dissolving limestone underground to form a cavern which collapsed making all the Devonian sandstone descend rather rapidly.

Eucalypts were doggedly clinging to the rim ...
.. while a species of grass new to science Joycea autovulnera (the Suicidal Wallaby Grass) was adhering to the wall.
On the way down we got to enjoy the view ...
.. and the flowers (the first is Pattersonia, identification of the others a work in progress)....













After all this business it was, as another walker said 'refreshing' to get back across the Shoalhaven.
Apart from having a very enjoyable day ourselves, it was pleasing to see quite a few other folk out and about and having a walk on Christmas Day.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Darters on the Molonglo

Having some time to spare in Canberra this morning I went for a bike ride along the North Shore of the Molonglo and into Lake Burley Griffin.  This area has become a popular breeding territory for Darters (Anhinga melanogaster).  They didn't seem to be too evident in their old territory (opposite the canoe club) but were in good numbers about 500m further towards the Lake. 

Just before I started coming across the Darters my attention was drawn to the state of the bike path.
In effect the recent floods have caused the bank of the River to slip about 70cm downwards.  It is possible to get a bike through, but one either has to jump a 10cm mini-cliff or fitr though a level bit 25cm wide.   While it is a tad dodgy, there is no really obvious alternative way of getting by bike from the City to the airport (other than a 5km extra detour to the South Bank or riding on a major, bike-unfriendly highway).  I presume when some tourist high-sides themselves into the river the path will be closed.

Anyhow on to Darters. 

Thursday, 23 December 2010

A red grasshopper

While out picking berries this morning I was astonished (I astonish easily these days) to come across a red grasshopper. As it was around some raspberry canes I wondered if this was some form of adaptive colouration?
On googling 'red grasshopper Australia' I came up with a reference of sorts to the Common Macrotona but very few images thereof.  It appeared that the diagnostic aspect of the family to which it belongs is having a spur on the throat.  So I went and took a few more images (a couple of which show it hopping, and on grass).


At least they give some nice detail and in a couple of cases show the detail of the very long antennae.  However even in digital zoom mode I can't pick out anything I'd call a spur.  But this shot of the head and upper thorax is attractive.

Following on from Denis Wilson's comment I went to check the Chew family's page.  It is a brilliant effort and the juvenile Common Garden Katydid Caedicia simplex certainly looks very like the beast I saw.  The text also suggests that the colour of the animal reflect the colour of the plant they are living on (strawberries and raspberries in this case).

Apres le deluge, moi

It seemed about time for a classical allusion. As it hasn't rained for 2 days we have actually been able to get on with a few things around the place.  Needless to say a lot of these things have involved removing weeds and mowing grass.

I have previously referred to my ride-on mower needing a new tyre.  After one mow between floods the other rear tyre also collapsed.  I decided that this was largely due to the machine spending the last 3 months standing in mud or water so have constructed a small stage for it to live on.
As the vegetable garden is drying out a few things are growing again.  However the spuds are basically gone and few of the tomatoes look happy with their situation.  On the principle of 'plant on the shortest day, harvest on the longest' (and them heading for seed) Frances dug up the garlic yesterday.  It looks OK although I doubt if it will be a full year of supplies.
I spent some time working further up the block.  A major thrust for this was a need to cut a walking track through the seeding grass.  A little earlier in the year a visiting friend asked what kept the grass down, to which the answer was  "kangaroos".  That was then, this is now, which fairly tall grass everywhere.  It did have the side benefit of a lot of seed being mixed in the clippings so it should make a useful start on a reveg project.
 
As we had noticed a few briars growing I took my brush-cutter up to deal with them and found that the grass was also concealing a lot of bramble growth and some serrated tussock.   As the latter had gone to seed the approach had to be cutting off the seed heads and bagging it before spraying.  Hopefully I got it before the seed fell off.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Spinebills and rainfall make achievements.

Late this afternoon I achieved breakthroughs with both spinebill photography and rainfall recording.  (A couple of later images are at the end of this post.)

I actually managed to get a half-reasonable shot of a spinebill.  Given that it was taken through a window and some 8m from the bird I reckon this is not too disgusting (others may disagree).
It was just about the 1:30 ratio of fair:garbage photos referred to by Denis Wilson when commenting on an earlier post accessible through this one.  I did aso manage to get the bill in focus in this "hover-shot".
That is quite enough about Eastern Spinebills.  At least for this year.  The flowers are penstemons and salvias.

The reference to rainfall in the title of this post is to flag that having recorded about 7mm so far today, we have gone over 1000mm this year.  I think that is the first time that has happened since we moved to this region in 1983 (although I didn't really start recording rain until about 2000 and haven't got my records prior to 2007). 

The following image shows our 2010 value attached to the Annual Totals for the Canberra Airport Comparison site from the Bureau of Meteorology.  While this is not a technically sound comparison, it does illustrate a broad - or perhaps deep - point. (Click image for more detail.)  I hope we don't break the record of 1062mm set in 1950, since that would need another 60mm in 11 days.

The next two photos come from 8 January 2011 but I decided to put them here s they were linked to a spinebill title!

Both of these images are of adult birds.  As daylight faded a juvenile (basically light brown all the way up the breast and throat) arrived but I couldn't get a decent shot of it.


A bunch of animals

This post has very little to do with events on Friday night.  There is an obscure link as will be revealed below (as it appears in this blog, possibly the word 'obscure' is redundant).

The first three topics are various attractive insects.  I am putting the images in ascending order of vitality rather than attempting anything taxonomic.

The first specimen was decidedly cooperative in staying still.  In fact it is unlikely to move of its own volition ever again.  It is (or rather was) a wasp that is noticed lying on a sheet of cardboard used to collect the guano from treecreepers that roost under our eaves. 

I found the pattern of veins very attractive as are the red bands on the abdomen.  When clicked to appear larger, the shaping of the claws and other leg parts is remarkably fine (in a threatening sort of way).

The next specimen was equally cooperative but still alive.  It is a moth - presumably a nocturnal species - that had decided to roost on one of our verandah purlings.
Not so flashy as the wasp, but quite pleasant in a pinstriped sort of way.

I have added this bit in later, so have to define "topic"  as being an Order rather than a species to get the two moths in the same 'topic' and thus keep the topic count to 3.  Equally I could define the topic as 'live but lethargic' and it still fits in this group.
This one was hanging out in our kitchen and when nudged descended to the kitchen bench.  Very sleepy.  I was quite impressed by the protrusions along its abdomen and the head/antenna are also attractive if the image is expanded.


The connection to the party can now be revealed.  While I was removing the remains of a balloon hung for the party from a tree I noticed a very spiffy beetle perched on a nearby stumpette.  In view of its red and black attire I shall call it a Bomber Beetle (but I am not encouraging you to buy the guernsey as illustrated).  It moved around very quickly (unlike most members of the Essendon AFC) but I was able to get a couple of pictures.

The final image is a sight that amused me.  It shows where a bunch of roos have jumped in a patch of mud and then - without wiping their feet (nor their tails) - have jumped across Whiskers Creek Rd.  I'm sure that if I dug up the road I could persuade someone that it is conceptual art (especially if it was signed Norm Layeel).
Around the house the 'roos are getting somewhat out of order.  A mob turned up on the lawn on Sunday night and I decided to persuade them to leave before their presence incited the small dog to riot.  So I lobbed my foam-finned footie towards them.  Did it scare them off?  It did not: in fact one hopped about 10m back towards the missile.  I though it was going to pick the projectile up and eat it! So I went for plan B and yelled at them.  Result: roos casually hopping off towards the bare hill and small dog mentally melting down indoors!

The final animal oriented bit of the day was that on a trip to the Bungendore tip (we don't get get Council garbage collection) I had an echidna walk across the road in front of me in two places.  One was very bold, strolling across Captains Flat Road and holding up the traffic.  I can't imagine that even a complete bogan would hit one of them.