Tuesday, 31 May 2011

A (May) Day in the life

This is a rather disparate post, simply recording a couple of moments in our life that I thought were worthwhile expending a few electrons on. 

At least twice a week we take a tour around the perimeter of the property (on the other days we go for a run along the roads).  Our progress has been impeded recently by a fallen dead Acacia dealbata.  So, on the afternoon of the 30th of May I decided to remove it. On the way up I noticed that some of our olive trees were laden with fruit (the type of fruit is a drupe).  So after 4 years here is our first olive harvest.
We shall re-find the recipe for processing them!  In the meantime we will continue to purchase olives-for-eating and olive oil from established retail locations!

In the evening (about 8:30) we were watching TV when we became aware of large moths (possibly Oxycanus dirempta) fluttering at the window.

In the shot from indoors (showing the underside of the moth) I find the headlight effect of the flash reflected in the eyes quite impressive.  This was the second irruption of this species we have had in the last few weeks.

Shortly thereafter there was a louder rap on the window and Frances looked round to see the south end of a Tawny Frogmouth heading back North.  We noticed it harvesting moths a further 5 times before we retired: on a couple of occasions it didn't physically touch the window but just picked off a moth and departed,  When I took the small dog out for her final ablution stop the frogmouth (I think the female) was perched on a Yellow Box branch about 5m from th window.
If the moth has a headlight, the frogmouth has a searchlight!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Digging the block

About a year ago I heard a talk about the importance of mammals in digging over the topsoil of woodland habitat in the Southern Tablelands.  This was in the context of an experiment in which (wingless) predators have been excluded from most of the Mulligan's Flat element of Canberra Nature Park.  There is also interest in this process in Tasmania.

The most widespread digging on our block in Carwoola is by rabbits - which is likely to be greatly reduced in the near future!  While going out to check some of the feeding stations from the rabbit business I noted some fresh evidence of a somewhat larger digger.
This is far from uncommon in the area.  However looking a little to the side I discovered further evidence.
This presented a small problemo as the site is only about 40m from our house and we do not need a wombat tunnelling under the building.  If dunnarts and antechinuses are ecosystem engineers wombats are the equivalent of a longwall mining company (and thus bad).  My first thought was to put some water down the hole to make it less desirable as a residence.  On poking a hose in I found that the shaft ended after a small distance.
I am intrigued by the orange element in the soil profile: presumably some form of iron deposit.    However the shortness of the hole seemed to suggest that the excavation was just a matter of creating somewhere for a nap while exploring.  So I thought I might make a suggestion to go elsewhere!
Of course if this really is a des-res for a wombat the only effect on my efforts will have been a relatively gentle upper-body workout for me.  Such trivial stonework will soon be dislodged.  Updates may be in the offing.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

ANPS goes to Scabbing Flat

It being a Wednesday, and not the third Wednesday of the month, we took ourselves to Scabbing Flat, which is part of Cuumbeun Nature Reserve on the top of the Queanbeyan escarpment.  Just to do a small bit of foreshadowing, the definition of escarpment mentions the 's-word' - steep!

As the day was characterised by a fairly stiff Southerly wind it was not that warm when in the wind.  However it was quite sunny and overall a very pleasant day.  The interesting plants started as soon as we got through the fence, with this bunch of epicormic growth on a fallen Yellow Box looking most weird.
There were quite a few flowers out, despite the recent frosty weather.  Here are some that were quite common.  In sequence: Brachyscome rigidula, Chrysocephalum apiculatum, and Xerochrysum viscosum.

The first flowering wattles were also seen.  While this species Acacia genistifolia is the first it does give a little hope that the massive flowerings of Spring are not too faraway.
Of course the other iconic family is the Myrtaceae.  Here is a group of trunks shining in the sun (I think Eucalyptus mannifera).
One specimen of this species had been attacked by insects and looked most weird with cavities (rather like huge versions of the openings in Banksia cones when the seed has been ejected).  For some reason I didn't photograph this.  I did photograph the weird collection of insect egg cases (I think that is what they are) on a few eucalypt leaves down close to the ground.  They are stuck out from both surfaces of the leaf rather than - as first appeared - going through the leaf.  Any suggestions as to what they are would be welcome.

Having got into insect stuff, here is a snap of a mantis insect case.  (I had never seen one of these before this year, and they now seem to be a dime -or possibly a nickel - a dozen!)
Finishing off with insects, I noted a few Common Brown butterflies and one Australian Painted Lady.  They were not polite enough to wait to be photographed.

The only fungus I photographed was a Cortinarius sp. (possibly C. erythraeus)
We did also find a (relatively) small Laetiporus portentosus (aka 'White punk') on the ground.  It appeared to have been munched somewhat!

There were VERY few birds around today.  I only noted 13 species (including a Scarlet Robin which was rude enough to wait to appear until I had left the lunch spot)!  Despite looking closely at every Exocarpus I found I not write Boobook down.

Why did I pay mention to "steep" in my preamble?  Because that is a good description of some parts of the Reserve is why!

The group as a whole found one reasonably steep bit while following a fire trail.  However I had to return to the parking area to meet Frances at lunchtime and did so in company of another member who was much younger and a rogainer.  While we did try to dodge the worst of the slopes we did go up and down quite a bit, and at a fair speed.

Getting back to rejoin the group with Frances we went a bit further to the heads of various evil gullies but still caused Frances to make reference to Mountain Goat!  I was quite pleased that we actually managed to re-find the rest of the group in a trackless area of the Reserve.  I was even more surprised that when leading the group back, going even further from the steep bits of the gullies and creeks, I took us through the area where we had partaken morning tea. 

All of this happened close to Queanbeyan. It is therefore traditional to include a photo of a burned out car.  In this case I am surprised they didn't remove the roll cage first.  Perhaps the incendiarists were not the owner of the vehicle?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Southside Schools Cross-Country Champs

Let me begin with an irrelevancy.  A "Country Club" tends to be where the rich and famous gather to cosset their bodies and schmooze each other while dressed elegantly.  A "Cross-country Club" is where a bunch of runners gather to hammer their bodies, wearing relatively little clothing of any degree of elegance, across yukky terrain.

Whatever, a friend's male child had been selected by his school (through winning the school's cross country championship for his age group) to run in the ACT Southern Zone Championship.  I rocked along to see him strut his stuff.

On arriving at the starting area I found a whole pile of young persons getting ready for their events. I assumed that my friends were out on the course ready to urge their offspring along,  So I wandered off to see what was left of the Bush Capital after the firies had visited.
There was still some un-burnt country visible but not in the direction the runners were coming from, so was being treated with appropriate derision.
Eventually the mob appeared.  The lad was travelling well in the lead pack and at a fair velocity so no image is available from this stage.  .By the second lap positioning had been sorted (in terms of visibility) and while the velocity was still making my legs/lungs/most every part of my body hurt from watching it I was able to get an image.
It wasn't clear to me where 'daylight' was at this stage.  Style was very evident:
As the squad reappeared after the third turn, it was clear that daylight was now running second ...
.. (click image for a bigger view) and style was being maintained.
Shortly thereafter daylight went for third as well as second.
Apparently the next student behind made a challenge on some downhill  but was well intimidated by a withering assault on the final uphill stretch.  Very well done BW!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

A less tacky post!

After yesterday's crappy effort today is rather cultured!

On about Friday I had thought we had nothing 'on' today but then Frances was offered a couple of tickets to a string quartet at the National Gallery.  We thought it might be nice to take in the Tobruk exhibition at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) en route.  So we did, and we'll start off there.

The catalyst for visiting was an ABC Radio program with Louise Maher about a map (see the linked page) showing an associated event.  It is a very. very good exhibition and anyone in Canberra is urged to see it!

Before getting down to comments about what is there, noting:
  • the current world order,
  • Tobruk's location in Libya , and 
  • the town's iconic status in Australian military history  
it is very surprising that no Australian media has focussed on the place recently (as usual, click on the image to enlarge it).
It is not a 'fun' exhibition.  It is a good one, nay, an excellent one, but it isn't fun.  With most museum exhibits about the history of indigenous Australia there is a warning that you may see depictions of people who have passed away.  In this one, most of the people shown in the photographs did not make it to the end of WW2.  They didn't all die at Tobruk, but add in El Alamein and PNG and not many survived.

A film is shown and I initially passed on it, until Frances said it was very good.  Indeed it was, although I didn't see it all the way through (I started towards the end and then saw the beginning: must go back to see the middle.  It was made by the British Army Film Unit.   Again there is very little material to link to this Unit!  The start - with a dark line mit swastikas jabbing away at Tobruk -reminded me of the intro to Dads Army.  By the decisive engagement, with images of guys carrying rifles walking off into the smoke of a battlefield, it had got to the harrowing conclusion of "Oh what a lovely war". 

As we left the AWM I snapped this image of the bridge of HMAS Brisbane, now part of the Memorial.

Most of the rest of the ship is a dive site, but a bit is also in the garden of a former captain of the ship, not far from our house!

String Quartet at NGA
The specific quartet were the Tinalley string quartet.  Cutting to the chase, they were extremely good as should be expected from their CVs! 

Frances commented, when we had the misfortune to watch a Toronto Maple Leafs game that you can tell if a team have basically got stuff or not.   This Quartet, unlike the Leafs of 1991, had got their stuff.  (As an aside, noting that the Leafs lost their last game in 2011 to the Habs 1-4, c'est la meme chose.)  For those who think that referring to Ice Hockey is not much of an advance on the roo -poo of the previous post- I hear your pain!

Of course any tradesman is only as good as the material they are provided.  This group offered 3 pieces:
  • Haydn: String Quartet Opus 20 no 3 in G minor.  Most melodic and enjoyable.  In a warm room, dressed for Winter, rather difficult to maintain concentration but very good.
  • Shostakovich: String Quartet no 12.  Given the reputation of the composer, and reference in the program notes to 'atonal twelve-tone techniques' I approached this with some loathing.  I recall ringing ABC radio in Adelaide, many years ago, at a time when some conductor had said the local Symphony couldn't play in tune, and suggesting that they should play Schoenberg, the king of 12-tone and no-one would know if they were in tune or not!  In fact this piece was excellent.  Frances drew parallels with a song from "Into the Woods" while I was reminded of my reaction to Jimi Hendrix Blues Album.  Specifically I was following the interesting patterns in the music and would suddenly think "How the heck did they get here from there?"
  • Debussy: String Quartet Opus 10 in G minor.  Pretty, but boring!  Comparing this with the preceding item reminded me of a season at NYC Opera where we had looked forward to "Carmen" expecting to tolerate "La Boheme" and found we loved the latter but walked home kvetching about the former!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Tau of Poo

Sensitive readers should note the missing 'h' from the final word.  This is not about a hunny muncher or Eastern Religions.  Indeed the replacement of 'o' by 'u' shifts into scientific endeavours denoted by Tau rather than the metaphysics of Tao.  It is helpful that one of the uses of Tau listed by Wikipedia is "The lifetime of a spontaneous emission process" and that is exactly what we're at!

I have put up a few posts on my reveg blog about a rabbit control program we are undertaking.  One of the key issues in this is working out where the bunnies are dining, and when something is dining on the bait is it wabbit or something else?  The poop left at the feeding station is a good indicator of that and one of those involved in the work was able to put up a useful guide for telling if one is dealing with hare or rabbit.

"Regarding the difference between rabbit and hare scats, good question! According to the web site, rabbit scats are 5mm to 11mm and hare 10mm to 17mm (I converted from imperial to metric), the ones I observed were about 4mm to 6mm diameter and looked a lot like the ones in the picture on that website. Sounds like hare is more the size of small wallaby scat."
To illustrate this point I decided to photograph the various form of faecal matter around our property.  I will begin with rabbit.  Some lumps of carrot and gum leaves give an idea of scale.
The next image are the traces of a large male Eastern Grey Kangaroo, collected on our lawn.  They are about 4 times the linear size of the rabbit turds and not so spherical.
Next up we have Wombat.  The samples photographed were a bit old - surprisingly I had trouble finding some specimens which are usually difficult to avoid ('Pon my sole' etc).  The first image gives an idea of the shape while the second indicates the usual positioning of the dump, as a territorial marker on something elevated such as this rock.

In the last couple of days wombat poop has returned to its usual spot of pre-eminence.   The next two miages are of samples deposited in our drive (rudely, in the middle of the day).  Possibly this reflects the rather damp weather leading the marsupial to contemplate the possible rise in Creek level.

The final image is of fox poop.  I didn't attempt to dissect it to find what the fox was eating.  I know part of the answer: not enough rabbits!
A concluding hint: whatever form of residue you find, do NOT let your dog roll in it.  This applies specially to fox crap!  Immediate bathing is essential, as is a subsequent shower for the bather!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Stable = Clay Lick?

A couple of years ago we were fortunate enough to take a trip to Peru under the guidance of Ian Fraser.  On a particularly memorable day we saw a bunch of the local parrots hacking in to a clay lick. 

This evening I took a picture some juvenile Crimson Rosellas imbibing from a water butt.
The posture of the one clinging to the stable wall reminded me instantly of the birds at the clay lick.  With this species I suspect that rather than remedying a dietary deficiency it was eyeing off the camellia as a potential target for boganism.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Cold runs and the philosophy of Frogmouth Roosts

It might be a bit of a stretch but I think I can link these topics (other than by time).  Note that I expect this post to be a lot shorter than the previous saga.

Before we came to live in Canberra I used to come over for work and would report to Frances how beautiful the place was on the frosty Winter mornings.  When we shifted over (1983) the first Winter was dreary: few frosts and lots of drizzle.  This Winter has had many hard frosts already (yesterday -6.8C, today -6.5C at the Airport: today felt colder at Carwoola) and the days are beautiful.

Despite the chill Frances and I and the small dog went for a run this morning.  The lead is present, but invisible in this image.
Early in the process these Sulphur-crested Cockatoos displayed their stuff.  Note the clarity and blueness of the sky!
As expected the Hoskinstown Plain was pretty foggy.
A spider had been kind enough to set up a framework for Jack Frost to do some artistry.
Let us now move to the philosophical question.  Over the three+ years for which I have been observing the pair of Tawny Frogmouths there have been a number of days when I have been unable to locate them.  This year I have found two additional roosts.  On both occasions after I have found these new roosts they have proven quite popular.  My question is how to determine whether one of these new spots is where the birds have been when not located in the past?   The alternative is that are yet further roosts.

Subsequently the birds vanished for a couple of days so that made it clear that there are further roosts. On 22 May I couldn't find them anywhere but as walking down the drive noticed a lump in the tree in the bed outside our sunroom.  Sure enough, there they were.  That is the third extra roost found this year, giving a total of 15 (there are plenty more trees available).
I have deliberately left this as a fairly 'wide' shot since that gives a better idea of how they merge into the background of white branches. It is also interesting that they are perched on a dead branch.  I shall have to give some attention to which of their roost perches are dead and which are alive.

A key issue may be that both new roosts are close to the extremities of my daily search area (although I would think that I have checked the sites, at least cursorily, in the past).

How to bring these together?  The answer lies - as with most things - in the work of Terry Pratchett: see the entry for 'Detritus'.  This does of course require that I have some physiological (at least) similarity to a troll!

In the afternoon I went for a run in Queanbeyan.  The most unusual sight I saw was a woman in white walking down the middle of the road holding up the traffic.  Then I realised the car behind her was a rather long station wagon and all the cars behind the wagon had their lights on.  Ooops: a funeral!  This raised questions of how far she was going to walk: the lawn cemetery is 4kms away and even the historical one is 2km!

The only other point of note was that while running along a dirt track beside the river I heard a loud crunching sound.  On looking round approximately 10 Gang-gang Cockatoos were busy dining in some Hawthorn bushes.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Life in Palerang

This weekend seems to be an interesting one in the Palerang area (which I am choosing to define as including both Urban Canberra and the City of Queanbeyan).

I'll cover a few of the major events under sub-headings below.  Before getting to that I was amused by a poster taped to a speed limit sign.  The poster read "Found Sheep.  Very Friendly pet." You don't often see that in the Big Smoke.  (I was tempted to say you won't see that in the city, but then I thought about some of the things I did see on a leash in New York and decided to withdraw that opinion.)

Council By-election
One of our councillors chose to resign thus getting us to a by-election.  This was faintly annoying as we had already had one by-election as an elected person had resigned on health grounds very soon after their election.  However, the Councillor in question this time hadn't attended a Council Meeting for some months and had generally lost interest.  That gets him a "character point" unlike another Councillor rumoured to be in a similar situation who is not resigning, since that might upset the power balance in Council.  (The latter  is a pro-development member so it is a double disappointment, but no surprise.)

We have two local newspapers in the area and they have covered the election a bit differently.
  • The Bungendore Mirror which didn't endorse a candidate but is generally against the pro-development mob.  The Mirror refused to accept a paid-for advertising supplement since the editor opposes spending a lot of money on advertising in local government election.  Well done that boy!  Presumably the candidate who spent the most is his least preferred (not a bad view)..
  • The District Bulletin not only took the large advert, but endorsed a candidate. The candidate they endorsed is a community interest candidate who is the Chair of the Wamboin Community Association (a locality to the North of Carwoola) who attends each Council Meeting to represent his community.    Very well done that girl (the editor of the Bulletin is a nice lady who publishes some birding notes by me each year)!
It was as cold as at the polling place and the candidates' helpers looked frozen.  The supervising officer must have been grumpy to keep them all out in the wind.  The Fire Service had all their kit out on display and were running a sausage sizzle to raise funds.  Let us see how the event turns out.

It looks as thought the correct candidate, Pete Harrison from Wamboin,  is going to get the nod after preferences.  Well done electors of Palerang, (apart from the 430 fruitcakes who voted for the "Australia First" candidate and especially the 219 who only voted for him!).

In fact Pete did get the nod, after distribution of preferences.  The pattern of distribution of primary votes  is given by the Electoral Commission.  Well done Pete.

Rabbit control
Rabbits have been an issue here which have been somewhat controlled by:
  • Baiting; 
  • a humane trap intended for cats and possums but effective on rabbits also (if well positioned);
  • A small dog; and
  • The presumed activities of Wedge-tailed Eagles, snakes and foxes.
However the Molonglo Catchment Group have got funding for a Rabbit Calicivirus Baiting program and were running a couple of workshops on this.  I was alerted to this by one neighbour and passed the word to several others.  As a result we have 7 properties in our road-group attending.  (It seems more popular than the Pindone Baiting courses, which attracted no participants, probably because calicivirus is safe for pets -except rabbits - and kids.)  The training was led by Phil from SELHPA, Braidwood who will also be delivering the goodies in a few weeks..

This first shot is as much to give overseas readers an idea of what a Rural Fire Service Shed looks like as anything else!
Here is the rabbit tucker!  Each property received 10 kgs (ie half a bag) which should be enough for a weeks worth of baiting.  After getting them used to dining on these excellent carrots we then give them some enhanced carrots and wait!
Some notes on the implementation of these processes commence in my revegetation blog.
When we lived in Bruce we were close (a 2km walk) to the home ground of the Brumbies, our Super Rugby team.  About half the Australian team played for the Brumbies and they won the Super competition a couple of times.  Then several of the good players quit (often to take up huge contracts with French or Japanese teams) and the spin doctors took over trying to boost a bunch of losers.  Combined with it now being a 90km round trip I hadn't been to a match since returning from New York.  However when a mate rang up to say he had some free tickets it was an offer I couldn't refuse.

So I put on my Arctic survival wear and headed off.  After picking Rob up we got to Bruce and parked at Calvary Hospital which saved both some cash and a lot of grief getting out after the game.  On arriving at the ground we found it to be sparsely populated.  Perhaps everyone was:
  • in the corporate suites having a warming libation?  
  • still in their lounge rooms watching the Raiders thump the Storm (in fairness, note that this broke an 8 game losing streak)?
  • more sensible than us?
Anyhow festivities duly started and it seemed that the Brumbies were going to do well.  They were quite smartly up 10-0.  To illustrate the next part of the game (ie the bit from about 15 minutes to the final hooter) be aware that this image is a metaphor and not the half time entertainment...
For those not familiar with the game Rugby Union involves scrums ...
.. and lineouts.
There are two points of interest in this image.  The first is the hairiness of the Lions #8: when I played the game most of that set of whiskers would have been removed in the first tackle!  The second is the distance out from the try line.   Summarising, the Brumbies spent far too long in this position ...
... and lost 29 - 20 to the worst club in Super Rugby.  Towards the end of the game the crowd was announced as 10,100 and change.  Knowing that the capacity is about 25,000 we judged this to be optimistic.  (In contrast, when I used to attend most matches in the late 1990s and early 2000s the usual crowd was 18,000 and for a big game would be well over 20,000, regardless of the temperature or quality of opposition.).  So we trekked back to the car and I drove home, where the external temperature was -1.

Rob reckoned (and I agree) it will be another 5 years before he attends another of these games.  The best comment was one overheard by the guys sitting behind us where the host explained that he only came because he'd won the tickets in a card game!

Gale Precinct
The final chapter in this epic comes from Sunday, when Frances and I went on a walk organised by Queanbeyan Landcare to the Gale Precinct.  This is a soil conservation area on the SE outskirts of Queanbeyan with a very varied history.  I was along as a bird expert but since we had Rainer from the Office af Environment and Heritage along I took:
  • a back seat; and 
  • notes from him!  
Between us we noted 23 species, which wasn't bad for a morning starting off at about -6C.

The most interesting part of this outing was the White Rocks area.  This is alleged to be the meaning of 'Queanbeyan' although Wikipedia says the meaning is 'clean water'.  It is also suggested that 'Cuumbeun' is simply a different transliteration of the same word used by a pre-literate people.  Whatever the meaning of the words, the rocks are a popular rock climbing site (and a couple wearing helmets were at the bottom the cliff while we were there).
It was also the site of an historic lime-kiln.  Obviously there are bogans in the area:  not just because they are wrecking the area with trail bikes but also because they have trashed the fence around the kiln (and obviously cut off the base of one of the fence supports). Here is the kiln:
The NSW Heritage agency, and the Queanbeyan Historical Society will be alerted to the fence trashing.

Osprey and falcon webcams

I have recently received links to two sites with links at Osprey nest sites.  The first of these is in Finland while the second is at Ulladulla, NSW.

The site in Finland has been going since 2006 and has a bird in it as I type.  This screendump is interesting as it was taken at 0:55 AM  and shows the first line of light on the horizon (as well as a dim view of an Osprey).
The site, at 65N, is just below the Arctic Circle.  This extract from Google earth gives the idea.

WRT the Australian site the local birding club has said "...the Ospreys nested at an inconvenient place in the tower in previous years, so council and NPWS constructed this basket and a "starter" nest - and installed a permanent camera... Hopefully the Ospreys will take to it and we would get some magnificent shots."  I am sure all readers echo those hopes.   According to the Handbook of Australian New Zealand and Antarctic Birds v2 egg laying could start in July.

I doubt if many people out of NSW know where the place is so here is another extract from Google Earth.
I also doubt if many people can pronounce "Ulladulla" but can offer no assistance there!

The falcon webcam is already given prominence on The Nature of Robertson but I thought I should include a link to that here as well.  It is in the Financial District of Manhattan (NY).  I'm sure most people know where that is in broad terms  so here is a closer shot from Google Earth: