Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Late afternoon at the dam (and on the deck)

As regular readers of this blog will have noticed it has been rather dry recently.  Our top dam - spring fed - is showing a large rim of mud.  The nearest dam is as low as I have ever seen it.
This sword - which we found in our garage when we moved in 7 years ago today - was completely under water when the dam was full.  I positioned it as a depth gauge and a Camelot joke.
I spent about 30 minutes (at 36oC) sitting by the dam to see what could be seen.  A dragonfly was very cooperative in posing for photos.

This grasshopper seemed to caught by the wind and landed in a rather damper place than intended.
While not exactly a Waterhopper if did seem to be doing a pretty good job of propelling itself towards the bank.  I lost sight of it so don't know if it:
  • made the crossing;
  • sank; or
  • was gobbled by a tortoise which I have seen in the dam.
Ants seemed able to scoot across the meniscus and climb up twigs.
It was interesting that when this one was in situ the dragonfly wouldn't land.   If the ant had dropped down the twig the dragonfly would land but take off again when the ant came back up.

On returning to the house Frances pointed out an insect on the glass door.
Now that is what I call a long ovipositor (so it is a female).    From the length of the reproductive appendage, the overall colour scheme and the pattern and structure of the antennae I conclude that this is Gotra sp, a moth-parasitising Icheumenon wasp.  Here is a rotated image with an arty reflection to make things confusing!

Monday, 27 January 2014

Up the Mighty Naas on a push bike

I had recently proposed a trip up the Naas Valley Fire Trail as a possbility for the ANPS Wednesday Walkers.  I did so with trepidation, not having explored the area in the recent past.  The proposal was not taken up at the time for very good reasons.  As I did find a window in my busy schedule today for an explore of the route you get to read about the voyage.

But first a little personal history.  I have done the 27km length of this trail from Mount Clear to Caloola Farm in the distant past.  I did that as a car shuffle with 2 friends.  We dropped one car at Caloola and loaded all our bikes onto my car. We then drove about 25km down Boboyan Rd noticing a good fall of snow on the side of the road (that was mid-Winter).
  • About 300m after the start we crossed the Naas River for the first time: it was about 20cm deep so rideable. 
  • After about 10km one of my friends chain broke.  He decided that the best solution was to run pushing the bike on the uphills and coast on the downhills.  As he was fit and the uphills steep he was able to keep up.
  • As we got close to the end we were about over the water crossings: they were not clear on a 1:50k scale map but my memory of them was that there totalled to about 25 of them, getting progressively deeper and colder (remember that snow - it had all melted by the time we drove back) each crossing.
  • The final crossing was groin deep for me and close to waist deep for my shorter friend.  Also full of football sized rocks.
I suspected the water would be less of an issue this time (and with a forecast maximum of 31C a bit of cooling off wouldn't matter).

So here is the route, courtesy of Google Earth (the light blue line to the East is the ACT border).
The track was on average flat (remember the average of boiling and frozen water is nicely warm) and comprised two stretches of about 2.5km each.  The first was through the grazing of the Caloola Farm and would be of no interest to ANPS.  It began by crossing the mighty Naas River.
 All it needs is a few camels and it could be the Todd River in Alice Springs.  Water depth wasn't an issue.

The start of the second stretch was at a gate into the Park with various platitudes available.
I had been told that another member of ANPS had been into the area and rated it a "bit weedy".  
For the first 2 kms that comment was right on the money as shown above.  There was very little understorey and most of the grass had been grazed to bedrock by various marsupials (in terms of what I saw Red-necked Wallabies were commoner than Eastern Grey Kangaroos).  This left a lot of room for the Verbascum and other weeds to sneak in.

I had allowed myself a 45 minute ride in and at about 40 minutes faced this drop into the river bed with a significant slope on the far side.
Rather than flog myself up the hill and then turn and ride back down I decided to have a look round this area.  The weeds seemed less, but still little understory here.
The river bed was well supplied with nicely formed rock  and still held some water, albeit not flowing.
The vegetation around the river seemed potentially QI (quite interesting).
The bird life was also QI including at least two Brown Treecreepers which are becoming a rather unusual species around the ACT.

So the time moved on and I rode back.   The first photo I took was of this tree across the road: there was a footpad going around it which was OK for my bike (and could probably be forced by a fire truck in a hurry, but I did report it to the VC when I got back there).
I also decided to photograph the final crossing in the park, described in the historical note above.  As dry as a very dry thing and all the large rocks have been removed.
My overall view is that the area I covered would make a very poor ANPS outing.  However if the Parks people could be persuaded to let us through the gate and we drove - full size 4x4s only - to the point where I stopped it could be quite good.  (There is a very large condition in that statement.)

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Ascending Mt Taylor

In the Southern parts of Canberra Mt Taylor dominates the scenery,
more or less forming the boundary between the townships of Woden and Tuggernong.  I have run around the fire trail at the base of the mountain many times but have never visited the summit.  So having a few hours  to spare while the Jetta was serviced in Woden gave an opportunity to remedy the omission.

The initial path was between two sets of houses following a shady reserve under some power lines.
Getting close to the start of the Mount Taylor Reserve I came across this sign honouring Ben Chifley, a Prime Minister after whom the suburb was named.

A Grey Butcherbird posed nicely.  This species has become relatively common in the urban area after the 2003 bushfires obliterated their former breeding habitat in the Ranges.
Then we got to the business of ascending the Summit Fire Trail.  It was rather steep, but had been bitumenised, presumably to make it easier for servicing the communication facilities on the summit.  The red arrow indicates a runner (on her way down).  There were a lot of people, many with dogs, gong up and down the mountain.
Other denizens of the mountain seemed more relaxed.  The observatory on Mt Stromlo has been rebuilt after the fires and is visible on the skyline.
On the higher slopes a good number of Casuarinas were growing.  Very few had nuts but it does seem to offer a prospect of good food for Glossy Black-Cockatoos in the future.
 Yer summit trig station.  The arrows show two other runners.
The view to the North with Black Mountain dominating the plain.
 To the West, with Tidbinbilla Peak crowned with cloud.
 A couple of fancy signs have been placed to show folk what they are looking at.  A good idea, but one wonders how much they cost. Perhaps it is an indicator of a sign-writing led economic recovery for Canberra?
 The view South with Lake Tuggeranong and the bogan infested Hyperdome.
The track down.  Given its steepness and roughness I was astonished at the number of folk coming up it.  It must be sponsored by by the local physio practice.
Finally, I dug this image out of my archive.  I got it third hand and was told it shows Mt Taylor in the evening of January 18 2003.
The lights are not houses but burning gum trees, with the main fire front on the summit.  The area has recovered well since then.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Raining in my heart

For those that cannot remember 1959, and wonder about the title here is a link to an elucidatory article on Wikipedia.

A common feature of a heart is that it gets broken (and then retires to run a pub).  So it has been with rain recently: forecasts of showers or rain periods 6 days out turn to dust with two days to go.  Our top dam is as low as we have seen it.
Following the old English proverb of "Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning." the day of the 24th looked quite promising.
The single image on the radar in the earlyish morning (0930) looked quite promising
but checking the loop function showed it to be moving SE so likely to miss us.  So it did.  I went into Canberra a little later and there were occasional sprinkles.  In the afternoon these continued, and spread to Carwoola so that we were up to 2.4mm by 1530.   At this point the radar looked good.
I couldn't see how we could miss with that.  We didn't - getting 6.8mm, putting the month to date up to 7.6mm.  Unfortunately, according to The Weather Channel that is the lot for a while, as from 27th we are looking at a week of maxima above 30C and no rain.

Apart from cooling things down and providing a few puddles for the roos to drink from these showers gave us a chance to test the camper and start 'curing' the canvas.
All seems to have passed the test satisfactorily.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

ANPS does plants on Settlers Track

It being half-way through January, and reasonably cool, the first ANPS Wednesday Walk for the year went to the far, far Southern end of Namadgi National Park.  Just how far South is illustrated in this Google Earth snip, with the faint blue line being the Territory border.The tasteful green blobs are approximately the official walk, with the Hut (Westerman's) being visited at the end.
 Another Hut (Brayshaw's) was very close to the start.
We have walked here before seeing a rather different range of plants.  The initial thrust of this blog is members of the family Asteraceae, named after the pommie garden species 'Aster'.  For some reason there is a vernacular trend to call them Daisies: this is obviously an error as if they were really "Daisies" the family name would be Daisiaceae so some further pedantry is in order.  A first specimen was Helichrysum rutidolepis.
The only Olearia I recorded today was this O. phlogopappa, which must win some sort of award for humourous sounding name recalling an excellent song.
 A very typical aster:  Brachyscome gramineum growing in the swampy area near the lunch spot.
 This is Calotis scabiosifolia var. integrifolia.
 A giant among daisies asters: Podolepis hieracioides: this specimen was close to 1m high.
 An old favourite (possibly a perennial favourite) Microseris lanceolata the Yam daisy.
 Between Westerman's hut and the creek were many Rhodanthe anthemoides.
 If clicked on to get a bigger image this may show the carpet of Rhodanthe and some more Podolepis.
Groundsels are also asters!  This is the seed head of Senecio sp.  which even look attractive after the pappi have blown away.
Now, not all asters look like Bellis perennis.  Cassinia longifolia is also a member of Asteraceae.  This close up shows that the species was still in bud.
 They were not rare in the area, although this is a very flamboyant specimen.
I have read that a distinguishing feature of the Asteraceae  is the inflorescence of many small flowers.  However it isn't definitive since many other families show an "inflorescence of many small flowers".  Here are some samples beginning with Hakea microcarpa (a member of Protaceae).  In flower ....
.. and fruit (I really like the little curly stigma residues).
 Another inflorescence, of Trachymene humilis, a member of family Apiaceae - if the insect had been a bee, family Apidae,  a neat analogy could have been made.  However Roger has pointed out it is a bee-fly family Bombylidae, and I still reckon it a bonus, even if the Latin doesn't work so well.
 Another inflorescence, this time of Lomatia myricoides (Protaceae).
 I'm not sure if this cluster of flowers and capsules of Eucalyptus pauciflora is an inflorescence or not.  Certainly the little white curly bits are just stamens.
 Gums and tea trees are all members of Myrtaceae.  Here is some Baeckea utilis
 .. and some Leptospermum myrtifolium.
 many Wahlenbergia were seen - this one appears to have been spreading its pollen around.
 Now we move on to Fabaceae.  With regard to my 2013 campaign (see reference to pedantry above) to have them referred to as 'beans' (Latin = Faba) rather than 'peas' I have decided to borrow a tune from the Dubya playbook and declare "Mission accomplished".

Those more experienced than myself were surprised that Bossiaea foliosa was flowering this late in the season.  It was in a very sheltered position behind a moderate sized rock.
 In a nearby area, close to the Creek marker in the mudmap, there were many flowering Lotus australis.

 Getting to that spot we found some Swainsona behrii. ...
.... and Cullen microcephalum.
 Moving back into general images we have Oreomyrrhis eriopoda, the native Carraway (possibly this should have been included in the other inflorescence section).
 Fruit and seeds of Exocarpos strictus which look even less like cherries than the fruit of E. cupressiformis.
Some Bulbine glauca.  These popped up throughout the walk but all were getting close to their use-by date.
The fierce burrs of Acaena novae-zelandiae.
Finally a grass: subject to whatever mysteries the taxonomists have been doing while the rest of us were focusing on Christmas pudding, I am advised this is Dichelacne sp.
The other (mainly natural) stuff from the walk is in a second post.  This one is already large enough.