Wednesday, 30 May 2012

ANPS goes to Mundoonen NR

After a rather misty drive from Carwoola we all met at Murrumbateman and then headed off towards the metropolis of Yass.  Turning off the highway and successfully negotiating the poorly signposted roundabout we got back to the Hume Highway as intended.  Unfortunately the poor signposting continued when we got to the required turnoff which pointed to Sheldrick's Lane, rather than the old highway alignment.  (From various Googlings, Sheldrick's Lane appears to be a small road that runs North off the old Hume Highway - in the image following it is visible in the top RH corner.) So despite my trying to dredge up old rally navigation skills I missed the call, and we visited a nice rest area a few km down the track before doing a (legal) U turn.

The track up Mount Mundoonen was investigated and the cliff-like nature of the surroundings noted.  All four in Ros's car voted with the Nays so back to the bottom of the hill.  We then went a few 100m down the old road alignment to the tunnel under the new alignment and stopped for mornos.   This image from Google earth shows a few of the features.
 I had thought to walk the big scar marked as 'Fire Break', but that is on private property so we returned to traditional values and walked through the tunnel to the dam.  From here we progressed - not quite in a straight line - to Margules Trig.

As soon as we got into the Reserve I saw a flock of about 8 Brown-headed Honeyeaters  and shortly thereafter 2 Spotted Quail-thrush so the birds were looking up.  Unfortunately that was the high point for them.

After several more minutes I took this image of a Goodenia flower.  By that stage I had passed several of them and it appeared it might be the only flower we saw all day
 I then came across this nice little flower.  Was it Hakea or Grevillea?
 Question answered by a nut.  Hakea decurrens.
Of course, once this pathetic specimen had been found the group located several others, with far lusher flowers.
 We then tracked down Rhytidosporum procumbensThere were at least three of these minute flowers available!
After a lunch break, halfway up to Margules Trig, many of the group put in the effort to summit this peak.  En route we passed a couple of excellent clumps of grass trees (Xanthorrhoea glauca ssp. angustifolia).
I shall return to the summit shortly but will conclude this section with the last floral image of the day: Daviesia leptophylla.  The quality of this image is entirely due to a twig which Graeme positioned to hold it still (and which was still doing its job 2 hours later). 
 This Eucalyptus rossii had the densest collection of scribbles I have seen.
 Arthropods were not that evident, although Jo reported some scorpion spiders in the grass trees.  I noticed this large ant-mound (about 1.5m high) which caused me to recall orienteering in this general area where such works of engineering were used as control sites.
At the peak of the hill the trig was still locatable, but I doubt if it was fulfilling its purpose of being visible from other points in the area!   Such is the passage of time: GPS technology replaces history!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

A visit to parts of Jerrabomberra Wetlands

Being in Canberra this morning with a couple of hours between dropping Frances off and having to meet up with her I decided to propel my treadlie in the direction of Jerrabomberra Wetlands.

The quick way of doing this trip on a bike is to pass by Norgrove Park in Kingston.  This was at one stage the premier crake/rail spotting site in Canberra.  Then the developers got active and basically turned most of the area into playground for big Tonka Toys and the place looked completely buggered.  That had depressed me so I haven't been there for a while.  The boyz-with-toyz have moved away a little bit so the place looks as though it might have a chance of recovering.  Very few birds around as I passed through.

Getting into the Jerrabomberra area I first stopped at the Westernmost Hide (labelled Tadorna).  The level of water in the Creek was still very low and the only birds visible were 4 Black swans and 1 feral Muscovy Duck.  Even less birds were visible at Fulica Hide, possibly because work is being done to plant 'stuff' presumably to replace the massacred willows.  (The planters, resplendent in Hi-Vis jackets,  all seemed to be exercising the working man's right of having a brew up over by the bridge.)

I stopped at Ardea Hide on Kelly's Swamp and found a few more birds but all the very common species (Swamp Hen, Moorhen, Coot, Black Duck).   It did seem that the typha was benefiting greatly from the high water level: between that and the rampant grass growth hardly any open water was visible.  Bittern Hide was by-passed as the vegetation was all that would be visible.  I did note the numerous large heaps of eucalypt mulch around the plantings so the place is going to be made pretty in the nearish future.

On getting to Cygnus Hide I found that the predicted 'improvement' to the Hide was about complete.
While I still cannot understand why this was seen as necessary, since none of my birding colleagues - male or female - expressed any concern about entering the old hides, the re-design appears reasonable.  I would love to know how much it cost, but suspect several thousand dollars.

Entering the hide the first thing apparent was how much the typha (big reeds) is encroaching on the viewing area.  At the start of 2011 I suspect this image would have included no typha at all. 
There was an interesting bird present in the form of a very close Little Black Cormorant (LBC).
Given that this species is bog-common around Canberra watercourses it behooves me to justify the appellation 'interesting bird'.   There are two reasons for this:
  1. When looked at closely there is bronze iridescence in the primaries.  I have have never noticed that before for this species.
  2. The bird was very close to the Hide, perching on some some twigs that have recently been added to the foreshore. 
I suspect the added twigs were a response to a suggestion that some additional perching logs be added to the swamp for the benefit of larger waterbirds.  Here is a snap showing the nice reflections in the currently log free swamp.
In the recentish past there were several large logs - perhaps 5m long and 0.75m in diameter in the middle of the swamp.  They were popular haul-out spots for Pelicans, Herons and various other waterbirds.  They have vanished through processes unknown to me and it was hoped they could have been replaced.  This hasn't happened and the following image showing the LBC and the twigs indicates that they are not what is needed (imagine a dozen Pelicans trying to perch on these!).
I then crossed the road to the Sewage pits.  (As an aside, on exiting the Nature Reserve I noticed about 8 elderly folks bearing backpacks heading towards Ardea Hide: they didn't seem at all alarmed at entering such a dark place!).  The area of the sewage ponds seemed much tidier than in the past.  Whether this was due to some of the derelict wire fences being removed or the grass having been mown I don't know.  However the bird life was low both in numbers and diversity.  The most interesting birds seen were a horde (at least a dozen) Golden-headed Cisticolas in some deciduous shrubs in the North-eastern corner of the ponds.  As they are small and very active I couldn't get an image of the whole bunch but these 2 snaps give an idea of their appearance.

I did see two Black-fronted Dotterels in the 99% dry Pond 5.  Several Magpie-larks were also patrolling the mud looking for unfortunate arthropods!

As I left the area I noticed that, and this is the first time I have observed this, there were several cars parked in the old school grounds on Dairy Road.  Presumably this indicates that the Environment staff have actually moved out there.  However:
  • The place still looked like the field studies centre for the Australian Museum of Invasive Weeds (in our Shire anyone whose place looked like this would have a Weed Control Order served on them); and
  • There were a number of notices on fences saying to affect of "No entry: hazardous materials".  
    • So how come public servants are working in an area subject to such materials?  Where are the OHAS officers when needed?  
    • What about the teachers and kiddies who used to attend courses there?

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Bath time for birdies

About 18 months ago we installed a bird bath outside our kitchen window.  It seemed to take a fair while for the birds to start using it but it now gets a visit once or twice a week in the cooler months, and has featured in some earlier posts.  (I must start taking records to investigate an hypothesis that they come more often in the cooler periods.)  Today was certainly cooler, albeit not as "cooler" as yesterday, and a very entertaining flock of birds came through to bathe.

The first wave to come in were Superb Fairy-wrens.  This one is an adult female.
 From the bright blue tail this is a non-breeding male.  While we have had some brilliant breeding-plumaged males around in the recent past, none took the plunge today.

 When bathing the tail gets waggled back and forth such that my camera can't keep up.  However the general "ball of fluff" appearance makes it worth including this image.
 Then some Yellow-rumped Thornbills arrived.   At times there were 6 of them in the bath and another three of four hanging around in the nearby vegetation.  Since they just about define constant motion, getting a decent image proved a challenge.  This one shows the facial pattern quite well although the yellow rump (aka butter-bum) is not apparent.
 Here are the two species together.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Doin's in the garden

As we are just about recovered from the colds we acquired on holiday we have started doing a bit of stuff around the garden.  Much of this involved removal of tatty growth from plants around the place that have finished flowering or fruiting.  

Where these are woody stems that take a long while to break down (dahlias and asparagus have been the main contributors in this regard) they go into the great big compost heap.
This basically sits there for years, getting turned occasionally as it fills up.   I estimate that the volume of material decreases by about 75% as it composts.  When turning the good friable stuff can be removed and used on the garden. 

The softer material that can be composted - most weeds, kitchen refuse etc - goes into a multi-stage head system.  It is supplemented by horse poop to get the carbon:nitrogen balance closer to the ideal and turned about every 2 months.
 The area on the RHS is the first receptacle and when that is full it gets turned, with the more rotted material going into the LH 'picket bin'.   When that gets full (or we start to run low on compost for the garden) the completely rotted stuff gets transferred into the two covered bins to the right.

Some stuff is too nasty to compost.  This includes Periwinkle, Hypericum, Crocosmia and strawberry runners.  That is added to to the woody prunings on my bonfire pile and burned once or twice a year.   Of course the ash is used to
  • chuck over fruit trees to drive off cherry slugs and
  • top up the mineral content of the garden when planting things such as garlic.
Indeed garlic was planted, by Frances, yesterday.  While she was doing that I was busy removing the netting from some of our fruit trees.  This is a nasty job in some cases, where the tree has grown through the netting. 
 While we were thus engaged the boss was busy sussing out the situation under the stable.  (This is immediately to the left of the final compost bins.) 

 The reason for the chook wire and bricks is to stop her from disappearing under the shed to get at the rabbits (and possibly require me to dismantle the shed to get her out).  She is experimenting with chewing on the wire to get through it, and from time to time manages to excavate around a brick, so a degree of vigilance is needed.  The use of 'terrier' as a metaphor for determination is certainly justified.

The number of rabbits under the shed is reducing as they are occasionally unwise enough to emerge into my humane trap, from whence they are euthanased. 

Swift moths in Carwoola

As Denis has noted in his post the Swift Moths were out and about in Carwoola as well as Robertson.  In a straight line Google Earth reckons these metropoli are 145km apart (another comment about distances is at the end of this post).

We became aware of this phenomenon about 8:30 when the rustling of them crawling on the window and the tapping as they hit hard slightly disturbed our watching of a DVD movie.  The disturbance was brief as the movie (Collateral) was rather gripping at that point.  Once the film had finished I went out to take some photographs (efforts to take shots from inside failed miserably).

 The first two images show a mass of the moths on the decking at the base of the windows.  We have got a row of pelargoniums and a few other plants in pots there.

 This is not the greatest bit of photo-composition ever produced but does show the chestnut abdomen.
 A couple more close shots.

Since they all appeared reasonably consistent in wing pattern I conclude that these were Oxycanus australis, rather than the O. dirempta as Denis concluded for his specimens.

 As I had expected the pair of Tawny Frogmouths which reside in our garden were giving attention to this winged menu.  At various times one or both were perched about 5m horizontally from the deck.  Perhaps because we were watching the film we didn't notice them come to the window or possibly because of the plants they chose to dine a little more en plein air.  I haven't yet found any ghostly shapes on the windows!

My friend Kim  - photographer of the ghostly shapes, who lives about 7 km away - has commented "Yes, same here, it was Shock and Awe going out into the night. Every time I did go out there was the frogmouth sitting on its usual branch but it didn't hit our windows - perhaps transfixed by too much choice!"

On the following night - 25 May - not a moth was to be seen.  Possibly this reflected the 50kph wind that had been blowing all day.  The moths, like us, haddecided to hole up for the duration.

Total aside about distances.  As well as the straight line distances I decided to measure the road distance from Carwoola to Robertson.  The first effort by Google maps went along the western side of Lake George and amounted to 195km.   While this does use mainly 4 lane road, the local view would be to use the more rustic route though Tarago.  Forcing Google to go that way shows a saving of 10km down to 185km: given the speed limits on the Federal Highway, and the basically good condition of the alternate route, I suspect there is a saving of some 5 whole minutes and about $1 in petrol using the Eastern route!

I doubt that the moths commute between the two locations, but am quite confident that if they do they would go closer to a straight and not follow either road!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

ANPS eventually gets to a Uriarra Reserve

I shall return to the use of the word "eventually" at the conclusion of this post.  I have called the area we visited  'a Uriarra Reserve' since I don't know what it is actually called.  It is also known as "the area spared from motorbikes" since at one stage the motorcross fraternity wanted to use this nice area of woodland for their noisy exploitation.  This must have been before self-Government since the request was rejected.  However the area has not been made a formal Reserve (which doesn't really matter since Reserves can be unmade)!

The basic plan of this post is to start at the top of the taxonomic tree  and work down.

That being the case I will begin with a note about the birds.  I have no bird photos because they were few and far between and generally dodging around low in scrub keeping out of the wind.  16 species were definitely identified with the highlights all being on Uriarra Rd.  Double-barred finches were heard calling before we started and on return to the cars a Scarlet Robin and a Speckled Warbler were seen.

Moving on to the top bit of the other half of the taxonomic tree (OK, I know these days there are a squiliion Kingdoms but call me a traditionalist (or troglodyte) who only recognises 2 - Animals and Plants).)  And we will have a scrabble through some flowering plants.

The first is a close up of Cryptandra amara var. floribunda - the plant we were looking for today.
 There was a lot of it about, as shown in this shot of a carpet under a dead eucalypt.
 Quite a lot of the Dillwynia sericea was flowering also.
 Leucopogons are always a pleasure.  This is L. attenuatus.
 I had thought that this Solanum ericinum was an introduced species (aka weed), but I was corrected.
Staying at the bluish end of the spectrum I found a few Brachyscome rigidula.
 Switching back to the animal kingdom I found the specimens which follow by turning over rocks.  To my surprise I found no politicians (nor land developers) there but some interesting mini-beasts.  At the top of the tree was a striped skink Ctenotus robustus.
In Ross Bennett's book "Reptiles and Frogs of the ACT he comments "it  ... hibernates ... in a small chamber dug beneath rocks embedded in .. the substrate."  Spot on for this chap.


This first one is a head on close-up of a Huntsman. 
This second one is unknown to me, but was sharing a rock with the Huntsman.  It is quite a bit smaller and I think very attractively patterned..
 I found a couple of red-backs (Latrodectus hasseltii) under rocks.  I was very careful not to get a bite.
I was also careful to keep away from these two.

The ground beetles were possibly the most common animal I found under rocks.
Having got into insects I will conclude the animals with two images of a fly found on a fungus.  The first is a bit dodgy in the exposure department, but does give a nice idea of the complex structure of the creature and its colouration.

Here is the fungus: Gymnopilus junonius.
Having now passed by venomous things and got to something yellow with no neural matter it is but a short step to the ACT Government.  Our first encounter was a helpful bus driver taking up about 5 parking spaces.  Where is a parking inspector when you need one?
Having managed to avoid this conveyance we headed off on the 5km drive to the walk site.  After about 3 of those kilometres we ground to a halt and took at least 50 minutes to do the the next 2km.  The reason for this?  The ACT Government and its development partners have decided to put in two sets of temporary traffic lights on Uriarra road.  Even better with the second set, covering a 200m stretch of road, there is a 3 minute lag when no traffic is passing.  Put a schools event at Stromlo Forest Park and the results in pure chaos.  To make it worse there was no work going on: a few fat blokes were seen leaning on shovels/brooms/ ute bonnets, and four even fatter blokes with clipboards were waving their arms around at the end of the second set of lights.  Had I been on my own I would have had a conversation with them!

The biggest worry for the area we visited is that the ACT Government and its development partners will shortly start developing some slums in the land adjacent to the area.  This will probably mean clearing all vegetation for 100m inside the the Reserve as a fire protection issue.  That will effectively trash the entire area.  No-one in the Government will care about that.