Sunday, 30 January 2011

Some images from Tanzania

In 2001 I was offered and accepted a contract with Statistics Sweden to work for 2 years in Tanzania.  It was, to say the least, an interesting experience both professionally and personally.


We have been going through old photographs recently and Frances found a couple of unlabelled CDs.  On loading them up one turned out to be the images we took - with a film camera - on our Northern loop safari (NB in Kiswahili that just means journey)  to (inter alia) Lake Manyara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.  Some of the shots were quite interesting so here they are for your enjoyment.

None of these photographs were taken from a Torquay Hotel.
On this trip we drove off road through the wildebeeste migration (at that time near the Grumeti River on the western side of Serengeti) for about 2 hours.  This lot are just bathing in a small lake.

I will stick with animals for a while.  These two were typically energetic on a kopje beside the main road ....
... while these were just about as active under an acaica tree.
Doubtless if the former had introduced themselves into the latter image we would have got some action.  The only time we saw a lion charge it was after wart hogs, but it had to cover 50m of open ground so had no chance.

These Little Mongooses were a little more active in the boulders outside our dining room .
Sometimes one was lucky enough to get mammals and birds in one image.  Here is a snap from a Lake in the Crater featuring Crowned Cranes and Zebra (with a few Lesser Flamingo visible through the haze in the background).
Then we have a Spotted Hyena and a Marabou Stork discussing menu options.
I think "wildebeeste au dechets du lion" was a popular selection!  The role of waiter (Manuel?) was taken by a vulture.  Note the zebras grazing contentedly in the background.

The next image contains an Egyptian Goose.
Moving into the pure bird photos we have a close up of some Lesser Flamingos.  These were in the Crater: at Lake Manyara the entire circumference of the Lake (about 100kms according to a quick measurement on Google Earth) may be ringed with these birds.
Staying with bigger birds the Kori Bustard is quite common in the grassy plains.
The next two images are of the Superb Starling (often reduced to "Superstar" for well merited reasons) and the Red and Yellow Barbet.
I will finish this blast down memory Lane with a scenery shot.  This is looking down into Olduvai Gorge, one of the most important sites in primate archaeology.
It was VERY hot even though we were about 1500m AMSL.  I have just checked that height on Google Earth and this image was on the screen.  I think it is rather marvellous.  By coincidence my photograph was taken in late July 2003 and the Google Earth image is dated November 2003.
The white line running diagonally across the image is the white dirt road linking Arusha, the Crater, Serengeti and Mwanza.  Unfortunately the economic development lobby wish to upgrade this to bitumen so the buses and trucks can go flat out rather than being controlled (by the rough road) to merely dangerous speeds.  Many people feel this will totally impede the migration: goodbye wildebeeste, goodbye ecological system of this area and - if only the development lobby would realise it - goodbye tourism in Northern Tanzania.  Unfortunately "environmentally aware economic development" is a strong contender for Oxymoron of this Century (as it was for the last two).

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Willow chair and a test sit

In late October last year I posted about creating a living chair in our garden.  (Alert viewers will note that as usual I was in the role of assistant rather than creative spark.)  I have been remiss in not recording its progress since that time.

The willow has delighted in the deluge: indeed there was a period in December when its habitat was no different to a creek!  As things have now dried out a tad it was necessary to apply some discipline to its growth patter,  Here is the result.
It would be premature for us to try sitting on it, and i don't think the small dog would enjoy the position, so we delegated test sitting to a well know character.
It was given a clear bleat of approval.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A cross-eyed frog

I found the this little charmer sitting on our deck early in the morning.
From the swollen toe pads it is a tree frog.  The cross-shaped iris makes it a Peron's Tree Frog.  This species is best known for its maniacal-laugh call during the breeding season..

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Stubble quail and other denizens of grassland

Yesterday morning (24 January) I decided to take myself for a bike ride down Woolcara Lane to see how Yanununbeyan SCA etc had stood up to the December and January deluges.  The short answer to that question is reasonably well but that is not the focus of this post.

About 6km from home, going along Captains Flat Rd as it passed the Carwoola (note this is an anagram of Woolcara) a pair of quail flushed from the side of the road, heading for the shelter of the tall grass in the paddocks.  As I wondered which species of quail (Brown or Stubble) they were, I became aware  of Stubble Quail calls coming from the paddock.  These calls became constant - at least one calling bird every 200m throughout the next 16km or thereabouts, until I entered the SCA. Being a medium sized bird they didn't stick out of the grassland.

A number of local residents had commented on the higher than usual number of Stubble Quail in the area.  Comments have also been made on the COG chatline.

Two bird species which did stick out of the grass, but only because they flew over it, were Red-rumped Parrots (not common in this area for some reason) and Southern Whiteface.  The latter birds were surprising as they were flitting around about 10m above the ground in a large dead tree,  I usually see them feeding on the ground or lurking in dense shrubs (hawthorns being a favourite haunt).

The other animals which poked out of the grass were some black cattle.   Once past Woolcara Homestead the track isn't fenced so in places the cattle were poking out of the road, where I wished to ride.  I thought briefly of a Roger Miller song; visually checked the masculinity of the beasts (negative, at least for all the big ones) and pedalled on through.  Having had some experience of cattle sinking the boot in to my body when they get a surprise, I was careful not to startle any of them. 

Of course 40 minutes later when I returned, I got the pleasure of doing it again.  Equally predictably, the second weave-through was slower because the wind had got up and was blowing straight in my face.  At least that meant the blowflies couldn't keep up with me.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Sculpture Garden moves ahead

My first post for the year included some stuff about, you should excuse the pretension, a small "sculpture lawn" we are creating.  Having been looking at the initial efforts we have moved on.

A major part of this has been mowing the area and picking up all the loose rocks.  (The latter will be helpful in maintaining the road where the Creek floods.)  We have now added a few more works to the collection.  The first thing a sculptor needs is an assistant for the heavy work.
Note both the nifty titfer and the red rammer.  We have previously borrowed a dropper rammer from friends but it was getting obvious we needed one of our own  Since this was a really nice red colour, only cost $40 and I am sure will get lots of use this was a Good Idea.

The helper also wired the things together. 
The artist then got busy with the touch up paint to cover the bits that got interfered with in the previous two steps.
Some more images of the trees:

This one we call The Wave.
It is true art trouvee as the metal was found at the Captains Flat tip 3 years ago and the rock was found when we mowed the area!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

The tale of a twitch

To many people outside the birding community all birders are referred to as "twitchers".  The mass media often take this to refer to people spasming with excitement at the thought of seeing a new bird.  As usual with the mass media this is wrong.  Mark Cocker explains the truth in his book "Birders: Tales of a tribe".  The term developed as the original twitchers used to travel around England in foul weather on a motorbike and would be shivering from cold when they got off.

To some extent the term can be used perjoratively since the twitcher is seen as someone who just keeps score and doesn't 'enjoy' the inner essence of the bird (IEOTB).  Or some such postmodern bushwa.  There are also tales - fostered by the mass media, who would find a negative story in the end of world hunger - that twitchers are not responsible but trash the countryside. 

Within the Canberra birding community a small number of us have formed what we refer to as a twitching group. One outcome of this is that we keep a score of the number of species seen in the ACT.  However one of the reasons for the formation of the group was to establish a "rapid response team" so that there were multiple observations of unusual species, thus making the sighting easier to confirm. At times members of the group are time-limited so the observation may just be enough to confirm identity: at other times folk are able to hang around and IEOTB is given a severe workout. The group's sightings are passed on to the birding community at large as soon as the ID is confirmed so many people can see the bird and poke and prod its IEOTB as they wish. 

That introduction got a bit longer than I intended.  On to a recent event.

On 21 January a COG member (and top photographer, but not a twitcher) posted a message on our chatline about identifying a Channel-billed Cuckoo at Campbell Park.  This generated some responses (available in the linked location), commenting on various aspects of the sighting, but it was thought likely the bird had moved on (and there was no doubt about the ID) so twitch generally didn't mobilise.  One member did follow up, in the afternoon and found the bird being mobbed by Noisy Miners and Noisy Friarbirds.  An all-points SMS to the twitchlist was sent.

As I have had never seen one of these birds in the ACT I decided to try to get to see this one.  On arrival in the area I met another member of the group who had taken time out from preparing to move house.  We wandered about' scanning treetops and listening for the sounds of mobbing.  A third member of twitch turned up - wearing business attire, including a tie !!! - as he had just got off a plane at the nearby airport when he received the SMS: he was heading home to grab food en route to a banding weekend about 300k away.  All was quiet so after about 20 minutes the other two headed off on their other activities and I prowled around the area on my own for perhaps another15 minutes.

As I decided to leave I encountered a 4th member of the group who had taken a few minutes off work.  We were standing at almost the place where I had waited earlier.  A 5th member of the group turned up, en route to collecting a child from some activity.   He said lets try playing a call and did so.  A monstrous grey shape launched itself from a tree about 15m from where we standing flew right over our heads and perched in full view for about 5 seconds before being attacked by a Noisy Friarbird and departing (without revealing a great deal of its IEOTB)!  TICK!

All three of us had other business so followed the bird's example.

Monday, 17 January 2011

How dogs hunt

I recently commented on the small dog grabbing a reptile which we had not spotted (and which we would rather she had not 'spotted' either).  A comment related events with a kelpie that stirred up all sorts of wildlife unseen by the kelpie's human companions, concluding to the effect that "Your dog spots snakes."

I suspect that the kelpie in question is an eye dog.  I am however not convinced that Tammy can be so described in all circumstances.  She is very good at spotting stuff where she has a good view, but she is so small that in the current season when off highly manicured areas she is basically wading through (what would be to us) a dense rainforest.  However her sense of smell is extremely acute.

By way of example, a couple of rabbits were amusing themselves on our lawn this evening so I went out with Tammy on the lead to see what we could do about this.  She and the rabbits spotted each other at the same time and the bunnies headed for the scrub.  I could see where they were going (through Joycea tussocks) but Tam wasn't looking: she was sniffing.  As soon as she hit the path the rabbits had taken she was straight on their track.

I tried to get her to cut corners to where I had seen the rabbits go but she was locked in to the scent and could not be efficiently redirected.  We gave up the chase, but hopefully had persuaded the vermin that there were better places to go.

Getting back to reptiles, I have read somewhere that snakes in particular leave a strong scent behind them.  I suspect that is what she often reacts to with them, rather than a sight or sound.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Beans means ....

Growing up in the UK one of the regular advertising slots on TV was "Beans means Heinz".  This post will ignore the Goodies adaptation of this but will return to advertising (possibly with a link to beans) later.

While looking round gardensin the UK Frances was impressed by the wigwams most people used as support for beans.  So when we returned 4 wigwams were built, based around some old willow branches.  I would have to say that I don't think any of them would provide great accommodation for a Native American (or indeed any sort of American) family.  However after a couple of false starts due to the high tides they are now up and going.
The latin associated with these beans is Phaseolus coccineus.  The way one of them is going I suspect it may be P. c triffidus.
Since there were two inundations a few slots at the base of the wigwams were not taken up in the first growth.  By the time we could replant the gastropods were active, but we didn't want to use snail bait since that is contraindicated for the small dog.  So we followed the example of friend in protecting her leeks.
Note that our rolls are basic not the flashy Quilton brand.  Still seems to work however.

We also have some scarlet runners growing up a fence.  They have pink flowers, in contrast to the white Strasbourg Giants.
I will also include here another foto of a pheral vegetable in the form of a Poti Marron pumpkin.
The examples of these we grew last year nearly covered our stable and produced a lot of fruit.  The fruit are an attractive orange colour and very easy to peel (unlike Queensland blues which need a cold chisel and a chainsaw).  So we have hopes that as it has now stopped raining and the weather has warmed we are also going to get a good serve of them.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

How do you know they are Lilies?

The answer to this question may be found in the work of Mr Anthony James Donegan.  In his seminal epic "My Old Man's a Dustman" the answer is "Lily's wearing 'em."  Well, no-one is wearing these, but they are definitely lilies.

This is our second cycle of lilies as the more polychromatic plants have died down.  What these lack in variety they make up for in size: each flower is close to 20cm across and the tallest plant (still in bud at the time of writing the initial part of this post) is close to 2m high!  See below for an update on this

Elsewhere in the garden we have dahlias of various varieties including a linear bed along the front of the house.

The most numerically common flower at the moment is a large white daisy.  This image shows 2 of approximately 6 clumps around the main lawn.

Continuing the educational thrust of this blog, and again referring to the tuneful ditty cited in the first paragraph, the chorus includes the insight
"... wears great big 'obnail boots.   'E 'as such a job to pull 'em up he calls 'em daisy roots."

Combining the pinks and whites we have a Hebe bush. Although this has been here longer than we have, we think this is the first time it has flowered.  At that, it is doing better than our traditional purple Hebe veronica which has roots going down into the overflow from our catch tank.  That has obviously had too much water and is not looking happy.
We also have isolated outbreaks of Gladiolus.  Despite Barry Humphries' disdain for these flowers we rather like them.  Frances has plans to use them in a more structured fashion in future!

The monster lily started flowering on 18 January. The image shows the crown,  I have assessed ts height with Frances as an indicator of height: overall I rate it as 1.3 Franceses (whereas the Yellow Box nearby is 15.9F)
Tats one is growing in a pot and has been a few dayslater than those in the Garden which are now in full glory.
Approximately two weeks after the pink lilies came out they have been joined by some white ones.  I believe that is about the same interval as for Robertson, but about a week later in both cases.
To avoid confusion it might be noted that the leave behind the flower are those of a rampaging cucurbit planted as ground cover.   Although, come to think of it, they are not dissimilar to water lily leaves!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

My final post (this year) on Eastern Spinebills

Success at last.  After the trials of attempting to photograph spinebills from the kitchen window and the sunroom window Frances commented, after spending some time in the sunroom garden bed that I should just take my camera out there "and they will come".

Yowza.  Was she ever right: as they didn't stay still getting a count was hard but my guess is that there were at least 6 in an area about 20m square.
I am pretty happy with that shot.  There were still raindrops falling from the surrounding vegetation so the bird shook itself, causing all its feathers to fluff out.
There were also some juveniles present.  The first image shows two of them and other 2 images show the poses and plumages of this age cohort.


Vegetarians, or other sensitive persons, should not follow the next link!  So to misquote the phrase attributed - apparently apocryphally - to Hannah Glasser "First plant your red-hot pokers...".

The omnivorous Wombat

A few weeks back I posted about being attacked by a wombat.  Today, Frances found a photograph of the offending/offensive beast!  Since this was about 25 years ago this was a hard copy image which I have scanned.

A few plants loose in the top paddock

I have previously posted an image of a very large Blue Devil (Eryngium ovinum) in our top paddock.  As other 'Devil's' seem to be approaching full colour I went back on 11 January  to see how it was going.  Rather well, albeit a bit palely, is the answer!
This time I measured the clump and it was approximately (my feet are not yet on the metric system) 1.2m x 1.1m x 0.4m - the last value being the height.  In close up the flowers are quite interesting, although not as dark as some of the smaller specimens around the place.
This plant is growing close to our top dam.  Here is another Blue Devil, not far from the biggie,which appeared in the paddock to be a darker blue.
The difference is not fantastic on screen.  An impact of light and digital photography?


I noticed that for the first time in a couple of years there is a flower on the Swamp lily (Otellia ovalifolia).
The flies prove that this is the Australian bush!  It was interesting to read the comments about this species in Water Garden Plants & Animals: The Complete Guide for All Australia by Nick Romanovski.  It appears that the plant likes shallow water and warm temperatures.  Last year I suspect the dam- although still holding water was probably dry in the region where the lilies are found.  They also like warmth, readily available last year, but it only really got hot here for a few days in December (apparently when cool the flowers stay underwater and self-fertilise).

On my way back from the paddock I noticed (again that the Brittle Gums (Eucalyptus mannifera) are beginning to lose their bark as they get up to speed in the growth department.  As usual this makes some nice patterns and colours.


Monday, 10 January 2011

Retailers and online sales and bulldust

I was tempted to title this post with a more direct thought about the retailers, but a reference to pork pies might have got some attention from the forces of ultra-evil (ie lawyers).

Every reader in Australia will be aware of the bleats from various very rich retailers about how they are being beaten up by on-line sales and to quote from Afferbeck Lauder "Aorta do something about it."  The main problem according to the gooses of the retail industry is that on-line sales from overseas don't pay GST. 
It has been proven, by the resultant debate, that GST is not the issue for most people, it is the huge prices charged by retailers in Australian physical shops.

By chance I needed to buy a new running watch since the strap on my current one broke and is now held together by a cable tie (which while effective is not elegant).  What follows starts with that specific experience and then makes a couple of general points.

In the past when I have looked for watches of my preferred brand (Timex Ironman) the best I have been able to do in Australia was $A180.00.  However I was aware of a shop - Campmor - in the US which could supply one for about $US 40 plus $US10 postage.  I knew they only delivered to US or Canadian addresses so I made an arrangement with a kind friend in the US for her to ship it on to me (recognising this would add another $US10, but we're still well below $A180).  Progressing through the Campmor system it turned out one also had to have a US billing address for your credit card.  Expletives, many of them, deleted, as was my intended purchase.

Back to plan B, which is to check for online sellers in Australia.  To my surprise I find what I need through one of the consolidating sites: they list goods from a company called Redbird, based in Norwood.  (Possibly they should be Redlegs with an address like that?) They offered a flavour of the watch I wanted for $A65 plus $A3 postage.  Allowing for the arbitrage likely to be charged on a $US transaction by Westpac (not to mention the unpriced value of the effort by my friend in the US) this is clearly going to be no more expensive than the US order.

So I now have a new watch on the way (in fact I got an email from Redbird saying it had been shipped within an hour of placing the order).  The small parcel turned up on 13 January: well within the 6 day deadline!  The invoice from Redbird mentioned that the price included $6.18 GST, so that clearly disposes of the claims by the aforementioned gooses of the Retail industry.  For them to make such easily disproved claims makes one wonder what the selection criteria are for their positions. An ability to appear vacuous on TV seems to be the only visible thing they are good at!  Perhaps they have skills which they keep private (no examples offered: see previous reference to the forces of ultra-evil).

I would note that if I went to a retail shop and spent 30 minutes trying things out and getting advice from a salesperson I would feel obliged to buy from them - unless I clearly spelt out before I started that I was doing research and would need to compare prices before buying.  However, when all I would would do is point at the object and grunt "that one please", paying $A120 for the privilege is a bit tough.

Moving right along, to the general points, it has been suggested to me that in many parts of the retail sphere getting 30 minutes of advice and assistance is unheard of these days.  The assistants tend to be  like Ms Brahms (surely that is rhyming slang, but probably not for 'Brahms and Lizst' since I never saw her drinking) in "Are you being served".  Despite the reference to her biggest sale in the linked article, I cannot remember seeing her ever talk to a customer. 

It is also the case that the current trend to shopping malls, with no natural light and masses of identical stores, has made shopping an unpleasant experience.  It would be more unpleasant if the shops were crowded, but that isn't the case (hence the bleats).  The malls are particularly unpleasant when they contains a store where the attendants play the latest tuneless and talentless grunge (at least "When Weasels ripped my flesh" was done deliberately by very competent musicians as a tuneless melange) at about 400dB.  On thinking about it, all the enjoyable shopping experiences we have had recently have all been out of Malls: either local shopping centres or rural businesses.

One could add on the cost of parking, but in many cases round here that isn't an issue as (outside the City Centre) one can usually park at no cost for < 3 hours.  One could also add on the difficulty of physically traipsing around a set of shops to get comparative prices as opposed to sitting at home and in the space of 10 minutes getting several prices for exactly the same item.

So, in our book, the big Australian retailers have three major strikes against them:
  1. Their prices are ridiculously high;
  2. They do not provide value added services; and
  3. The environment they have created is foul.
In contrast to these, not paying GST on overseas purchases is trivial.  I suspect that the major retailers are too thick to actually realise that, as in my watch example, their on-line competition is actually local and does charge GST.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Berries (rather than Weasels) ripped my flesh

 Apologies to the late Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention but as I burrowed into the boysenberries and raspberries my mind flashed back to 1970!

The strawberries have calmed down quite a bit (probably a couple of handfuls a day rather than a couple of litres) but the diversity is very good:
An alert observer (probably implies one who hasn't listened to the video link under 'Mothers') will be able to spot strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and boysenberries in that image,  From a squizz near our top dam there are also a HEAP of blackberries coming down the 'pike.

Not exactly a berry but on occasion edible is the flower of the Globe artichoke.  We have attempted to eat one of these but it seemed to be one of the foods in which more energy is used to consume it than the food actually provides.  However they do look nice so Frances picked a few as indoor flowers.  To our great surprise the flower has developed a fair bit more.

The rest of this post is a bit of a grab bag of links to updates.

I will start with some photos of Eastern Spinebills taken on 8 January 2011.  They were taken looking out of the sunroom, and I also snapped an evening-light shot of the yellow tree.

A couple of extra insect-oriented images have also been added to a recent invertebrate-oriented post.

A further macropod enhanced image has been added to White Poles.