Wednesday, 30 October 2013

ANPS NeverDies

Today we traveled in the general direction of Oallen Ford and then swung off to a private property a few klicks off the bitumen to a private property.  Many thanks Penny and Peter  for hosting us at your place.

The weather forecast for Windellama shown on MetEye looked pretty good, but I think it was in fact somewhat better being slightly warmer.

Once into the property we were on the sandy terrain familiar around this area.  This first image shows the general nature of the undergrowth  (and indeed overgrowth).
 Later in the day we got on to some dry granitic ridges with a somewhat sparser vegetation (but still with many goodies as will be revealed.  (At one point I looked across the Shoalhaven Valley and believe I could see a limestone cliff a la Bungonia so obviously a wealth of geology.)
When I say wealth I should mention the history of gold mining in the area.  This hand-dug shaft was at the extremity of our foray.
Getting to the important stuff first I some found some Diuris sulphurea.  The weathered areas on the 'ears' initially had me excited, but reality interceded.  There were many 'cleaner' samples seen later but I like the story.
 Moving along a track this beardie (Calochilis platychilus) was found and caused much excitement.
 After lunch Pete and i walked briskly to an area where other orchids had been seen.  Thanks to Pete's memory of landmarks we soon found a few more Beard orchids.
 As we staggered back to the track we found the horde had recognised the wisdom of our actions and followed us.  Amongst their finds was this beardie which I believe to be C. paludosus - comments welcome on this call.
 they also found a heap of Flying Diuck Orchids: Caleana major.
 Some of them were growing in the middle of the track!  Everyone had overlooked them!!
 I normally don't include "evidence" of orchids but this swollen ovary (ie a fertilised flower - thanks Denis) of a Thelymitra sp (Sun orchid) was close to a flower.  Somehow I overlooked taking a snap of an opening flower - shime, shime.
 It is a bit early in the year for Dipodium sp to be flowering but this one is well on the way!
 Ok folks lets do the dicts.  Quite a few Gompholobium minus were found.
 Also Leucopogon virgatus ..
 ... and a bit further out, L. attenuatus.
 This rather tatty Olearia viscidula was one of the few with flowers as most ...
 .. had already moved on to the seed head stage.
 There were many Wahlenbergia sp around, and I am not game to go beyond genus.
This is clearly a member of the Fabaceae (note avoidance of pea/bean controversy) but apparently there is debate about much more than that!  A suggestion exists of it being a strange form of Bossiaea riparia but further consultations are needed.  Nope it emerges that it is Acacia uncinata.
 Solanum sp.
 Mitrasacme polymorpha.
 The flower is Philotheca salsolifolia with bonus fly.
Going out on a limb I will rate this as a grasshopper.
There were a good number of birds around. I could hear a strange call but couldn't locate the bird inthe foliage.  As Peter pointed out, this was because it was a Jacky Winter sitting on a bare branch about 3m above the canopy.  Grrrrr.
I enjoy Kookaburras: unlike their close relative Sacred Kingfisher, which I  also heard today, they do hang around for a portrait
This is sort of "because I can" smartipants shot into the wing mirror of El Camion Real showing Frances returning a gate to the condition in which we found it..

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The value of old trees

As the reports of Superb Parrots had stepped up in Canberra on 28 October my friend Garry and I visited the site on the Hoskinstown Plain where they have been seen in the past to check on developments.  We didn't find any Superbs but were rewarded with a lot of other 'stuff'.  As my images from that trip were worse than usual I dropped back for a further foray on the 29th to redress the situation.  What follows is  composite of both visits.

The striking feature as we approached was heavy blossom on some Eucalypts.

Closer examination of the leaves showed these to be Eucalyptus pauciflora which in my circles is referred to as 'snow gum'.    In some references I have seen the vernacular name of this species given as White Sallee, and snow gum used for E. debeuzvillei and E. nitophilia.  That's why plant people end to stick to the Latin!
 The E. pauciflora were the first trees (other than plantings) encountered when moving up from the frost hollow grasslands. They were very gnarly trees, obviously of a venerable age.

 A little higher up the slope the blossom disappeared and I realised that we had moved into E. mannifera (Brittle Gum).
True to its vernacular name there were many snapped off branches leading to the formation of hollows of many shapes and sizes.
This large hollow was now a bee-hive, and the occupants were extremely busy downslope on the blossom.
The first birding excitement was a large nest.  We were trying to work out what it was when we suddenly realised it was occupied by two large chicks.
 This image makes it a bit easier to see one of the chicks!
Obviously the birds are on a high nitrogen diet.  As Erma Bombeck might say "The Grass is always Greener under the heron's nest."  Some of the whitewash is visible on the emerald green grass,
There were many other birds undertaking various steps in the procreative process.  Certain users of the hollows were Tree Martins and Common Starlings.  We suspected that both Crimson Rosellas and Eastern Rosellas ...
... were also nesting but didn't actually see them exit a hollow.    Dusky Woodswallows were perching on hollow stags, in which they construct their nest but again we didn't see them in flagrante.  This pair were defiintely making nice ...
.. but I left them with some privacy.

This Buff-rumped Thornbill was having some trouble getting to grips with a feather, but both eventually vanished presumably to decorate a nest in a tree hollow nearby.
That is not the type of location in which Diamond Firetails nest: they go for dense bushes such as hawthorns of which there were none in the immediate vicinity.  On the 29th we saw several of Firetails foraging on the ground but on the 30th I followed the 'peeet, peet' calls and found two of them appearing to graze up in one of the snow gums.  Some other calls more reminiscent of a begging chick were also evident but I didn't see anything I could recognise as a breeding display.
Other breeding activity seen, but not photographed on the 28th, included a male White-winged Triller nest building and display dances by both Rufous Whistlers and Red-browed Finches.

No reptiles were seen, but on the 29th I did find this shed snake-skin.  Comparing its length with my height I estimated it as about 1.45m.  We thought it was most likely a Brown Snake so left that area fairly briskly in case the owner was (a) still around and (b) not happy.
All in all a brilliant little patch of woodland.  If only the ACT Government would leave some old trees rather than allowing their anal-retentive lawyers to generate fear of a branch falling on someone.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Plenty of Blitzen' but no Donder

Also MIA were Dasher, Dancer, Comet, Cupid, Prancer and Vixen.

Those who know the rituals of COG will expect that the annual Blitz (apparently the German word may have a terminal 'en' in which case it is neuter - tough luck, reindeer - or not, in which case it is masculine) is undertaken in the last weekend of October.  (The linguisticc stuff there came from the internet.  More reliable information came from a German friend who advised that "blitz" is a noun for the lightning flash wile "blitzen" is a verb meaning to flash - like lightning not the trench-coat brigade.) Organising this is done by our friend Barbara Allen, and the success of the exercise is a tribute to her. The aims are to

  • cover as many of the 5' grid cells of the COG Area of Interest within the ACT as possible; and
  • focus on breeding activity.
For reasons that escape me now I have taken to reporting on the Kowen Forest area to the East of Queanbeyan (but still in the ACT.  This year I was aiming to do 6 sites, but ended up covering 7 as shown below.  The wobbly white line is the Kings Highway and yellow lines are the grid cell boundaries.

I left home just after 6 and was serenaded by the pings of the low-temperature warning as the temperature dropped to 2 degrees.  It did mean the mist was rising scenically when I got to the first site at Blue Tiles Picnic Area.
 The first bird I saw was Eopsaltria australis cauta (the Eastern Shy Yellow Robin - and if anyone wants to argue about the Latin I refer them to page 183 of the useful little book by Fraser and Gray!
Looking away from the Molonglo at this point and the habitat is a tad sparse - which is perhaps over-emphasised in this image.
 At the next site, quite close to Blue Tiles the main part of the site is a promontory poking across the cell boundary where the Molonglo does a sharp turn.  Close to the river the vegetation is quite dense combining Kunzea ericoides and Lomandra longifolia in the ground layer
 There were also some Stellaria pungens in the clearer areas ...
 .. and a little blossom on Eucalyptus meliodora. This didn't seem to have attracted many nectivorous birds.
The river had a good flow which was celebrated by some Maned Gooses (also known as Australian Wood Ducks) but not platypussies.
A Common Bronzewing decided to debate right of way with me, but in the end photosensitivty won over bolshiness and it flew off before I could get a good image.
At the third site, on a creek flowing into the Molonglo, a Pacific Black Duck was, on reflection, doing a shag imitation.
Leaving this part of the forest -and having no grief with the padlock codes for the first time in 4 visits - I rumbled down the Highway to Millpost road and headed across a paddock full of sheep.  Out of respect for the sheep I drove slowly and thus noticed the White-browed Woodswallows ...
 .. and Masked Woodswallows feeding on the ground.  This caused the rapid creation of a 7th site!
 Some (much more common) Dusky Woodswallows were sitting looking grumpy on a wore fence.
 As an added bonus a male Scarlet Robin and
 .. a somewhat more scarlet than usual female perched within photo range.
 Getting into site 4 a bonus Jacky Winter (another Australo-Papuan Robin) was seen hunting from some Acacias.
 2 Laughing Kookaburras peered down at me.
 Or possibly they were looking at the pretty Coronidium scorpiodes?
This is pretty much an overview of site 4,  The open area is a geophysics monitoring site into which I don't go, but walking round the outside gives a good idea of the birds in there.
 Back to the car and out to the Highway, having a further look at the Woodswallows on the way.  A short drive followed back to the parking area for the Sparrow Hill Mountain Bike area.
I have never fully followed the genesis of this area but somehow the Canberra Off-road cyclists club have struck a deal with the ACT Government to set up a network of tracks through the pine forest.  It is a brilliant idea, and very well executed.

When the new alignment of the Kings Highway was put in they managed to get a couple of underpasses put in and they now have nice little ramps etc so one doesn't need to get off the bike to go through.
I dread to think how much they cost if valued using the ACT Government pricing model!  I'm just glad I don't pay tax in the ACT!

A main reason for going here was to visit the 5th site.  This used to be a grassy glade in the pine forest which often had a few interesting species of birds.  No more: it has been completely cleared and ripped for replanting.  
However it is a great shame that it has been replanted with pines.  If I was running the defence establishment at the bottom of the hill I would be enquiring why some other, less combustible, species wasn't used.  Perhaps because soldier beetles use it human soldiers think its OK?
I then moved into site 6 which is a nice Travelling Stock Reserve (although following the realignment of the Highway it now has no link to the roads) of the Kowen Pound.  Here I scored the first reptile of the day: a Shingleback.
Bulbine lilies (Bulbine bulbosa) were in profusion which is much better that what is to come when the rampant St John's Wort struts its stuff a little later.
A dam on the edge of the TSR included an Australasian Grebe, which unlike mst other birds swam across to have its portrait taken,
Overall in the formal blitz I wrote down 43 species of birds which I rate as pretty reasonable given that much of the area is Pinus radiata forest.

On the way home I came across this Bearded Dragon (Pogona barbata) absorbing a few rays on Widgiewa Rd.
 Getting to Whiskers Creek Rd another dragon scampered up a tree.  The difference in colour between the two specimens ifs quite noticeable and is I am sure due to their ability to shuffle melanin around to provide camouflage.
A good day, which I hope will enhance the COG data set.