Thursday, 28 February 2013

A weather event unfolds?

When chatting on Wednesday with a friend about arrangements for a run on Friday he commented that the weather looked OK then but it was going to be a bit ordinary on Thursday.  Later on the Wednesday the TV weather showed a very nifty band of cloud heading right across Australia

from Cyclone Rusty
On Thursday morning I looked at the BoM forecast for this area on Thursday.
Yep 50 - 100mm of rain is very ordinary!  The radar image ...
... suggests that 50mm is certainly possible, especially as the blue band wasn't moving quickly.

We had finished our dog walk by 8am and picked the ripe tomatoes by 8:30 when the sprinkles started.  By 11:15 I had recorded 9mm of rain.  The radar image at that time suggested the Weather Gods had winged us ...
.. but Robertson was going to get a top up!  I heard from Denis a little later in the day saying that it is Robbo Show this weekend and as might be expected it is pissing down!

By 1630 the front appears to have passed us by ...
... having dropped a rather welcome 15mm.  I am always impressed with weather patterns that provide such linear images.

So we dodged a bullet!

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A Phirst, Phutile, Fasmid Phollow-up

As the pin was pulled on the normal ANPS WW (given the naff weather we have been having so far this year, pin-pulling is becoming the knew knormal) today a suggestion was made that members may wish to try a stick-insect (family Phasmida) search instead.

This follows from the news that the stick insect photographed by Roger on our walk in Stoney Creek Nature Reserve a couple of weeks back was thought to be an undescribed species.  I was up for advancing science but unfortunately the weather forecast didn't improve so no-one else was game to come.  As I was going in to Queanbeyan (and thus passing the site) anyway I went ahead.

In the event the number of mm of rain that fell on me exactly matched the number of stick insects I found.  A big, fat round number: 0, zero, nada, zilch.  However there were a few interesting things around.

I didn't take any photographs of flowers (feeling lazy) but there were quite a lot of Brachyscomes, several Glycine and one thoroughly confused Bossiaea buuxifolia in flower.  That should keep the plant people happy!

Here are some invertebrates.

First up, two views of a Hoverfly(?)

 This is definitely a caterpillar!
This should be bog easy as it looks so strange.  However I have been totally unable to come up with a match.  The best I could do, from the shape of the head, is a lace-wing (but the wings do look right for that! Roger Farrow has identified this as Poremus strigatus, Osmylidae: Porisminae (endemic monospecific sub-family) - and it is a lacewing!!

Spiders were everywhere.  Unfortunately the wind was blowing them around so photography  was not easy.
At one point I heard a weird bird call, similar to 5 Dollarbirds having a stoush.  On climbing a bank to look across the road I found:
.. wandering around a paddock.  Just what we need: another feral species!

Spinelessness in Carwoola

No, not about the NSW Premier, but some tales and pictures about invertebrates seen in the past few days.

The first tale arose when the small dog became very interested in a small ephemeral watercourse beside our drive.  It trickles over rocks and is full of rank grass and is prime legless-reptile country.  On peering closely, no reptiles were visible but a fairly recently deceased yabbie was found.  As I didn't have my camera with me an image will have to wait (assuming a nocturnal scavenger has not munched it in the meantime). Here we go:
Although it is looking a little 'used' this is due to ants doing what ants do well, rather than, as I expected, Kookaburras, Ravens, foxes and other vertebrate carnivores/omnivores givng their digestions some work.

The most interesting aspect of this is that the site of finding is about:
  • 100m horizontally and 5m vertically from the Creek; and
  • 200m in a straight line (at least 300m as water flows) horizontally from our dam.
So the little beastie was quite determined to go house hunting.

The next yarn focuses on ouBuddleja (possibly B. davidii - named after Pere David of the eponymous deer fame).  
This has taken its time to come into flower this year but has finally done so and, living up to its vernacular name of Butterfly Bush, had a good collection of lepidopterids on this afternoon.  I use the order name since some of them were not the subdivision of moths called butterflies but day flying Noctuids, possibly Phalaenioides sp.  In the second image the proboscis is visible going down the tube.
The next image earns a place because it shows some proboscis - my default quality standard!

The other species present in good numbers were butterflies: Common Browns (Heteronympha merope).

Another proboscis image.  The length of this organ is quite astonishing: a butterfly called Errol?
At the time of taking most of  these photos I was actually out looking for swifts (sometimes called Spine-tails) which had been reported by a friend who lives nearby.  As is frequently the case that was unsuccessful  but the event was also spinetailless!

On the next afternoon I was seeing if anything new was on the Buddlejah and was delighted to find this blue-banded Hymenopterid.  I initially thought it to be a Blue-banded Bee (although it didn't look hairy enough) but my friend Roger Farrow has advised "(It) is a WASP not a bee – although it could be called a hybrid as it is a sand wasp Bembix sp in the family Sphecidae which is part of the superfamily Apiodea (bees etc) rather than wasps (Vespoidea)."
 A proboscis shot!
 "Oh what big eyes you've got!"
The third element of the post relates to spiders.  I have got a rather powerful headlight which I often wear when out after dark.  Last night I was taking some prawn shells up to the dam and noticed a number of reflections - some ice-blue, others brilliant green - coming off the grass of our lawn.  As they were moving they were raindrops.  In each case it turned out to be a spider.  Some of them bolted down burrows (which I had not previously noticed) in the grass while others toughed it out on the surface.  Tonight I will take the camera out if the weather is appropriate.

In the meantime Frances drew my attention to flowering on a Eucalyptus macrorhyncha near the house.  She commented that there were many honeyeaters up there.  They were as faras I could see all Yellow-faced Honeyeaters.  However I found when looking through my binoculars that the flowers were well endowed with Plague Soldier Beetles which is how this event gets a mention in an invertebrate focused post.
The beetles become more visible if you click on the image to expand it (look for the red dots I have added).

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Some correspondence about hunting in National parks

Late Breaking news from the Sydney Morning Herald!  It is only temporary but does over-ride much of what follows!

This morning I read an early version of an article in the SMH about the proposal to allow friends of the Game Council to use silencers when blazing away in National Parks.  At that time the Premier hadn't ruled silencers out.  My initial reaction was to send an email to the journalist including (the rest was just my opinion on a few things) this:
I am also intrigued by the risk assessment that is being noised about.  I wonder what probability is attached to the death of an innocent person using the Parks for the purposes for which they were intended?  My expectation is that it is something like 'low' - which could be 0.1% or 1/1000 - or 'very low'  (say 1/100,000) or minuscule (say 1/1,000,000).  It would clarify what was on offer if the numbers were quoted rather than the camouflaged weasel words.
The relevant part of his response was:
The risk assessment doesn't offer hard numbers. It simply presents a risk rating of high, medium or low for the risk of park visitors being shot.
This latest draft says the risk is now "medium" because of the move to zoning.
Before receiving that reply I also sent an email to my local member of State Parliament John Barilaro:
Dear Mr Barilaro
Tomorrow I expect to go to Tallaganda National Park with a group of friends to study the plants growing there.  It is an interesting area from the view of natural diversity.  Unfortunately this may be the last visit we make to this area since the Government of which you are a member is allowing shooters into the area in the near future.  The risk to our lives will have to outweigh the value to knowledge of our endeavours.
I had hoped that your Premier would come to his senses and reject this proposal at some stage.  Unfortunately that seems not to be the case.  As the details of what is proposed become clear they seem to include:
  • allowing 12 year old children to be part of the activity;
  • use of otherwise illegal silencers;  and 
  • unaccompanied shooting in many areas.
The problems evident in each of these proposals could be spotted by Blind Freddy on a moonless night, but all seem to be outweighed by your need to  accept the desires of the Shooters Party. (Note added to blog entry: The silencer proposal has been ruled out as shown in the linked SMH article. Probably the Premier foresaw other uses for these tools - perhaps nearer to places he goes.)
I have read that there has been a risk assessment of this proposal.  Could you advise me what probability is attached to an innocent Park user being:
  • shot and killed; or
  • shot and wounded
by these shooters?  Please note that I am interested in a quantitative value such as 0.1% and not flexible words such as 'low' or even 'miniscule'.    When - and I deliberately do not say if - such an event occurs the responsibility for it will rest squarely on the shoulders of the members of the O'Farrell Government who have permitted the practise. 
Let me also illustrate a flow on effect of us giving up going to the area.  We pass through Captains Flat on our way home and most people in the group buy an ice cream or soft drink in the store.  While the resultant added sales by the store are not great, add in the value of purchases by other Tallaganda tourists and I would expect there to be a significant contribution to the viability of the store.  Take it away and the store closes, with a great decrease in the benefits of a local store to Captains Flat. 
Please ask the Premier to cancel the extremely unwise proposal to introduce shooting in National Parks.  

Mr Barilaro is normally quite prompt in replying to my musings.  In this case the following message in reply was sent within 5 hours of his Office opening.  Possibly this speed reflects a standard letter being sent as the reply.

Dear Martin, 
Thank you for your email and for bringing your concerns to my attention. Feral pests and animals do great harm to our National Parks by destroying habitats, flora and fauna. Feral animals also cause problems on agricultural land. The cost to agriculture across Australia has been estimated at over $600 million per year. 
The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) removed over 54,000 feral animals, including pigs, dogs, cats, foxes, deer and goats, through its existing pest management program from national parks and reserves in 2011–12. The NSW Government is now extending these efforts using restricted game licence holders in a Supplementary Pest Control program in 77 national parks and reserves. There are more than 860 parks and reserves in NSW, and under no circumstances will this program operate in any metropolitan area, wilderness or World Heritage area. 
The new arrangements will be subject to the development of appropriate management and access requirements, to be approved by the Government. A $19.1 million package of new funding has been allocated over 5 years to ensure the program is properly resourced. The package includes $11 million for the NPWS and $8.1 for the Game Council and NSW Police. 
This program is being carefully developed by a steering committee in consultation with safety specialists, job experts and union representatives. Other similar programs that are currently operating safely and effectively in NSW state forests and public lands in Victoria and South Australia are being reviewed. 
The program will commence only after the completion of a number of preliminary steps including a detailed risk assessment of each of the 77 parks. I will give at least 30 days’ notice before the commencement of the program, which will not be before 30 April 2013. 
Only those persons who hold a firearms licence, a restricted game licence, and written permission from NPWS will be able to be involved in the program, which will be limited to those areas where the safety of staff, visitors, other park users and neighbours can be assured. There will be no shooting at night, from vehicles, or across tracks and trails. Firearms will be required to remain unloaded at all times except when a safe and humane shot is ready to be taken at a positively identified pest species, and hunting dogs will not be permitted. 
No native animals can be killed in the program, with fines of up to $220,000 for harming a threatened species. 
Information about the program will continue to be available on the Office of Environment and Heritage website atwww.environment.nsw.gov.au. Signage will be in place in areas where the program will operate, and further information for each park will be available in the lead-up to the commencement of the program.
I will pass on your concerns to the Minister and push to ensure that they are addressed in the final framework for the program. 
If I can be of further assistance, on this or any other matter, please feel free to contact me at any stage. 
Yours sincerely,
 John BarilaroMP
Member for Monaro

My response to this pablum:

Dear Mr Barilaro
Thank you for your reply.  Unfortunately it does nothing to reduce my concerns due to incidents such as that reported in http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/game-boss-suspended-over-illegal-hunt-claim-20130122-2d5nn.html.  In effect you are saying 'Trust the Game Council."  Following from the linked article, and unlike British Paints, the response would have to be "Sure can't."
If the NPWS is doing such a good job in removing feral pests - with far more effective tools than amateur shooters - why do we need to establish a further, widely derided as ineffective, mechanism.  Save the $8.1m allocated to the Game Council and let the NPWS keep their funding to do a more wide-reaching job.  
I note that your answer does not say how many feral animals the Shooters expect to kill.  It also does not provide the quantitative assessment I requested of the probability that an innocent bystander will get killed or wounded.  Surely these would be absolutely basic building blocks of any coherent policy of this nature.
Noting that there is a "medium" - what ever that means it is certainly bigger than negligible, insignifiant or miniscule - risk of an innocent bystander getting shot I have to wonder how many clients the White lady will get before this Government realises just what sort of Pandora's Box they have opened.


Monday, 25 February 2013

The outside of wet trees

The rain event described by my friend Denis Wilson has not visited Carwoola in any force.  Over the past three days we have recorded  26.5mm - just enough to lay the dust and freshen things up.

I went out to photograph the rain on the vegetation last evening.  The catalyst for this was seeing a stream of bubbles running down the trunk of a Yellow Box (Eucalyptus meliodora) in the bed outside our sunroom.
 The bubbles don't quite get to the level of flow at Carrington Falls shown by Denis, but do pile up into foam at the base of the trunk.
A little further from the house there are attractive colours in the bark of Brittle Gums (E. mannifera).  In many cases the trees are putting on a growth spurt following earlier wet days and shedding their outer bark.

Where the bark hasn't been shed a pleasant red colour is shown.
The original title of this was was to be "Raindrops keep falling on my leaves" but unfortunately all the images I got on the Sunday evening looked rather like Monet under the influence of Timothy Leary.  However things went a good deal better on Monday morning.

The first two are of a small maple tree beside our drive: leaves and stem.

The next is a weeping Melaleuca (sorry, don't know the species - it is a planted garden tree not a bush specimen).  Click to enlarge the image and look at the refracted images in the drops!
 Two flavours of Acacia follow.  First is A. dealbata (Silver Wattle - a bush tree very common in the area)  ...
 .. and then A pravissima (Ovens Wattle, planted beside the drive and a delight to the local Bronzewings when seeds fall..
 Even the Pinus radiata look pretty at times!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Small dog meets her neice

So Arabella was loaded into the parent-mobile and bought out for a trip in the country.  The small dog was very surprised to find a different person being carried around.
Perhaps Tammie was intrigued by the new person still weighing a bit less than her.  (Arabella is doing her best to catch up, but the small dog is doing well on the tooth these days and is around 3.5kgs.)

It is a pity we didn't do video of this.  We could have called it "Worst example of wriggling by a dog"!  I was delegated to manage the situation and by employing her blanket as a form of straitjacket this was achieved.
Memo to self: the beard does need a trim.
Here follow a couple of more traditional gooey pictures of a grandchild.  I think it is merely coincidence that she seems to be looking intently in the direction of the dog and scratching her head in puzzlement.
With the next one, I am not sure what the clenched fist salute means.  She differs from John Carlos in a couple of major ways (and I make no comments about her style in the 400m).   Perhaps she is channelling Supergirl?

Friday, 22 February 2013

Back to the National Arboretum

Following our very enjoyable visit last Sunday we were offered a personal tour by our friend Rob.  It was really great and I would really encourage any visitor to take one of the tours on offer!

After the heat of Sunday it was pleasant to find the day was cool.  Also cloudy, but as Rob said "There's no rain on the radar!"
 We took off to look at a few interesting areas that are not normally visited.  the first plants we really looked at was the Silk Floss Tree (Celba speciosa).  When these prickly jobs - from Argentina, Paraguay etc - get up to speed the will be 25m high  x  15m wide!
 Between the trees the main ground cover is lucerne.  This was planeted to make up for the 2001 bush fires removing the ground cover and a fair bit of the top soil. Lucerne stabilises the soil and adds nutrients.
 These trees are the Weeping Snow Gum (Eucalyptus lacrimans) from the Adaminaby area.
They - or at least one specimen - were flowering.
 Did I mention that the radar was not too close to the mark?  At least the drizzle gave me this interesting image of raindrops on a leaf!
  Metasequoia are an interesting tree in that they are a deciduous gymnosperm like Larches.   Discovered in China their identity was confirmed by fossil records from the USA!
They are growing well, but it will still be a few years before they start hitting full height.   My estimate is that their branches will mesh across to give a near complete canopy cover when fully grown.

Getting back to the basic Sequoia, Rob commenetd that it isn't often you can look down of a sequoia cone, still attached to its tree.
Round about this point we wandered through a Silver Birch forest.  These trees are not endangered or such like but had the great advantage of growing quickly so:
  1. presented the folk of Canberra with visual evidence that trees were in fact growing in the Arboretum (good for politics);
  2. and formed a protective zone around Spanish Birch trees which are endangered (good for biodiversity).
Nearby we have Wollemi Pines.  This tree is showing both male and female cones.
Work still continues.  We thought the driver of this backhoe was pushing his luck a bit with the slope he was working off.
 This shot of the internal structure of the Visitors centre reminded me a lot of the shelters in the campground at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania.  I must pay some close attention to their displays next time we go back.  Also the Bonsai/Penjing collection in an adjacent building (Frances checked this out while Rob and I went for a run.)
I shall also go back to check out the "important people's trees" planted in the Central Valley.  We noticed ones labelled for Ms Julia Gillard and Mr Jimmy Barnes (aka Barnesie).

By 12 non the car park had filled up quite well.  This was rather astonishing for a Friday outside holiday season.