Friday, 28 August 2015

Yes Virginia, there is a Daffodil Day!

And it was on today, Friday 28 August.  The only reason I knew this was because I was reading about Wattle Day and came across this, including:
 Another welcome decision has come from the State and Territory cancer societies and councils to hold Daffodil Day on a Friday in late August, not on Wattle Day as previously.
I haven't seen any posters or media coverage this year,  However when doing a doorstep interview on SBS news on the night Bill Shorten and his team all had daffodil pins.  The Prime Minister -filmed at Bamaga didn't have one.

Here are some images from various parts of El Rancho Carwoola.

 And there are sill plenty to come!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Whose Australian Bird?

In my post of book reviews a couple of days ago I made an observation that Romance languages use the possessive element in bird names more than other languages.  That was followed by the suggestion that a research project was available.

The weather today was such that an indoor project was quite welcome so I got stuck into it.  (And a few other linguistic/historic byways.)

Before getting to the results a few words about methods are both important and interesting.


There are 2,368 species included in Whose Bird (Beolens and Watkins).  Looking all of them up would be a huge task, especially for something essentially trivial.  So I decided to restrict myself to the species including  a person's name in their vernacular name as listed as the official entry in Australian Bird Names (Fraser and Gray).  This was a much more manageable 43 species!

To get the names in other languages I referred to Avibase.  The species pages there include two lists of names as shown here:
I only referred to the left-hand list which are I presume the official names in those languages. I didn't consider the entries in Japanese or Chinese characters (but am able to deal with Russian sufficiently to work out if one of the words should be pronounced like the name in question).  There were usually 14 to 17 in-scope languages in the list.  (Newell's Sandpiper only had 10 entries, probably because the bird only breeds on Hawaii and/or is often regarded as a subspecies of Townsend's Shearwater).  The list shown is more or less the standard list of 15: a few (7) species did not include Portuguese thus dropping to 14.  Others (14) had Icelandic added (scoring 16 possibles) while a few (8) others also had Brazilian Portuguese - not always the same as the mother tongue - giving 17.

On the subject of Portuguese, I once mentioned to a work colleague from Mozambique that I had a few words of Spanish and he replied "That's nearly the same as Portuguese: they just pronounce it wrongly."

I also referred back to Whose Bird to collect the year in which the bird was first described and nationality of the honoree.  I wondered if there would be some correlation between these characteristics and the adoption of the name.


Getting back to the use of possessives in other languages, I rated Spanish, French, Italian and both forms of Portuguese as Romance languages.  In total they were listed 175 times for my set of name-birds. The name - or a word clearly a form of it - appeared 114 times (65%).  In the other languages 479 occurrences showed 101 names (21%).   This does at least support my gut feeling which began this investigation.

In terms of individual species the species with the greatest number of foreign usages was the Gouldian Finch, where 7 other languages used Mrs Gould's name.  In 3 cases (Leach's Storm-petrel, Major Mitchell Cockatoo and Latham's Snipe) no other languages had adopted the name: I'll come back to this in the analysis section below.

The characteristics of date of naming and nationality of honoree are summarised in this table-image.
I have included Reunion for the case of Armand Barau.  He was born there and lived there all his life.  The fact that certain people, who have the good fortune to live on the banks of the Seine, regard the place as part of France does not fuss me at all.  

It was a tad difficult in some cases to decide how to treat people who moved around a lot.  Of course, as these folk were often explorers, diplomats or soldiers that is often what they did.  Generally I followed the views of Beolens and Watkins: if they were ambivalent (or simply silent) on nationality I employed Uncle Google and came to my own conclusion - birthplace being a good guide.  From later research Layard is a good example of the problem: I concluded he was British!


Low uptake

I will start with the three cases where no other language uses the name.

Major Mitchell's Cockatoo: that is more commonly referred to as something involving the word for 'pink'.  Indeed the main name used in Avibase English is Pink Cockatoo.  These are cockatoos which looks pretty pink to me:
Nice try no cigar.  They are Galahs.  This is a Major Mitchell's Cockatoo - admittedly, also pink.
Interestingly in French and Italian the vernacular name refers to Leadbeater, who showed the type specimen - presumably in a non-motile condition - to Vigors, as does the binomial Cacatua leadbeateri.

Latham's Snipe: Just about every language other than English refers to Japanese somewhere in the vernacular name.  While this is fair enough as the bird is only found in Japan (in austral Winter) there ae at least 5 other snipe species found in the land of manga.

Leach's Storm-petrel:  I am fascinated as to why Mr Leach isn't more widely recognised.  Perhaps it is because he found the corpse in someone else's collection?  Perhaps because the bird is fairly widely distributed  ...
 .. (thanks for the map ebird) seafarers from other countries had already given it a name by the time Viellot described and named it?

High uptake

Gouldian Finch (11 languages): My suspicion is that this is such a widely used name because the finch is a very spiffy bird popularly kept as a cage-bird and when imported the vendors used the name favoured by Gould (who was, I understand, not totally averse to publicity).

Albert's Lyrebird (10 languages):  Definitely not a popular cage-bird.  Only found in dense forest in a small area in the ranges on the border of New South Wales and Cane-toad country (aka Queensland).
Perhaps the widespread acceptance of the name is due to the name being awarded by a Pom (Gould) but formally published by a Frenchman (Bonaparte)?  That entente cordiale might also explain why the Germans don't use it; they prefer Braunr├╝cken-Leierschwanz (= "brown moving lyretail": a fair description of the bird) despite Bertie's birth in Saxe-Coburg and Gotha!


A large number of British folk is not a surprise since most of the exploration etc was in the 19th Century.  I was surprised to find that 8 of the species were named after were Americans (although 2 folk (Horsfield and Wilson got two each).  


I didn't score which individual languages used the possessives in most cases.  Of the 10 species in which which only one other language used the possessive:
  • 5 were so-named in Swedish (must be something to do with teachings of Linnaeus), 
  • 2 Dutch 
  • 1 each for Czech, Danish and German,
Some more gut feelings: 
  • Neither Finnish nor the European-character Japanese used the possessive nouns for any species. 
  • There was a high use of possessives in the French species names. In several cases I noted that French was the only Romance language to use it.  
  • There were 7 cases in which no Romance languages used the possessives.

Future directions

I think I have taken the Australian examples about as far as they can go.  From the appearance of the weather forecast it looks as though there may be some more opportunities for indoor work so I will sample the listings in Whose Bird (I'm not sure how at this stage) and see what that turns up.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

A proportion of WWers summit Mount Majura!

OK the proportion was about 3 -4% represented by 1 member who could qualify for Acker Bilk's explanation of folk from Somerset:
Somerset born and Somerset bred,
Strong in the arm and weak in the head.
I don't actually come from Somerset and in my case I am not too sure about the "strong in the arm" bit at this stage.

Before I left home I saw an email mentioning a Grey Goshawk at Jerrabomberra Wetlands.  As this is one of my bogey birds I decided to invest a little time in looking for it.  On the way I  went past the Turf farm which was looking a bit soggy.
Here is a close up of the swans.
There were about 30 of the grazing across the farm, seeming totally at ease with the work going on (and the workers totally at ease with the swans).

I spent about an hour at the wetlands and found neither hide nor feather of the Grey Goshawk.  I did find the original observer who gave some clues as it where it might be but I could not relocate the bird.  Damn!  I recorded 22 species of birds in the area.

On to Mount Majura.  I wasn't quite sure where the WW had been intended to go so I went to the end of the houses in Hackett and walked from there.  I assumed the idea had been to go to the summit, which is sort of visible from the start.
There were some good views as I ascended.  Although a bit cloudy there was no rain and the wind was coming from the SE so I was sheltered from that also.
 Some views included Gungahlin and were therefore very below ordinary
My only bird photo on this outing was a rather shiny Eastern Rosella.
Lets get on to some flowers.  There weren't that many around - indeed a fair bit of the area seemed to have been grazed to bedrock.  The first flower is Stypandra glauca.
The most obvious flower was Hovea heterophylla.
I did see a couple of small clumps of Hardenbergia violacea, but kept waiting for a better photo opportunity: which didn't come and I couldn't relocate them on the way back.  As a general comment, it seems to me that Hardenbergia is generally scarcer this year.

I think this is a Dodonea.
Right back at the edge of the woodland I found Cryptandra sp. Floriferous,

 Near the top was a clearer area with quite a good crop of Acacia dealbata.
 The main reason for going was the word 'Casuarina'.  They might have Glossy Black-Cockatoos!  Here is a close-up male flower of Allocasuarina verticillata.
Looking across a valley the massed brown flowers stand out dramatically.
 Many of the cones from female trees have fallen, which I guess makes them ripe.

Unfortunately they have not attracted any Glossies.  I didn't see a single chewed cone.

Very close to the summit was a good crop of Brachychiton populneus (aka Kurrajong) fruit cases.
I was most taken with the lichen on this large Kurrajong.
Here's proof that I got to the summit.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Some book reviews.

I'll begin with "A History of birdwatching in 100 Objects" by David Callahan.  It is really a very interesting book dealing with things ranging from
  • Arnhemland rock painting (~45,000 years ago); via 
  • a stuffed dodo (~320 years ago and a total fraud); to 
  • eBird (surprisingly 13 years ago).  
The overall layout of the book is a photograph of the object on the RH page and a page or a bit more of text on the left.  The text generally puts the object in historical context and then explains how it was important for the development of birdwatching.  I generally found the first half of the book more interesting that the second.  I think that is because the earlier endeavours were more about the development of concepts, while the latter stages were more about equipment.

In summary well worth a read.

My second book is "Whose bird?" by Bo Beolens and Michael Watkins.  This is devoted to people whose names are reflected in the common names of birds.

What I have just realised is that it is necessarily Anglocentric as the vernacular names differ from language to language.  By way of example:
  • Pallas' Fish-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus) is named after a German zoologist but the German name given in Avibase is Bindenseeadler (which translates as something like Banded Sea Eagle).  Of the 16 European character languages given in Avibase for this species only 6 include a reference to Pallas.
  • For Darwin's Nothura (Nothura darwinii -  a quail-like bird from the altiplano and steppes of South America) 13 languages refer to Darwin in one way or another!
  • Gilbert's Whistler Pachycephala inornata refers to the honoured gentleman in question in 4  languages.
Generally the romance languages (French, Italian etc) seem to include the possessive more than the Germanic and Slavic languages.  I'm not sure why: there looks to be a research topic here!  There are also many cases in which alternative English names do not include the honorific.

A very interesting book and reading through it develops an understanding of the history of birding from a different perspective.  

The 'c' word appears very frequently - I mean of course 'collector' but other 'c' words, which don't appear, might also be appropriate.  This is of course a euphemism for the 'k' word - killer - and there are a few examples where it seems the collected specimen was the last of its species.  This exemplified by Brace's Emerald, a hummingbird "... known only from a single specimen taken by Brace ...".  

That is of course merely reality: it is how birding used to be done under the ethos of "What's hit is History and what's missed is Mystery."  It was nice to read of Mr W Luder who "was a German naturalist who was collected in Cameroon n 1872."  The birds strike back?  I think it more likely the 'was' is redundant as he lived until 1873.  There were quite a few other typos through the book but they generally don't distract badly from the narrative.  Good both as a read, and as a reference work.

(Incidentally Bo Beolens is better known in birding on-line circles as the Fat Birder.)

Going backwards for a couple of sentences, one of the object in Book 1 was the "#88 Open Diary Blog" from 1994.  After describing the history of blogging they say "blogs "... routinely feature other quirky subjects from pies to indie music ..."  Thus it is conceptally OK for a mainly natural history blog to include a more literary book as #3.

This is "The Uncommon Reader" by Alan Bennett.  The basic plot is that the Queen of England (and, temporarily one hope's, Australia) becomes an avid reader which causes chaos in the country.  Herself is depicted very sympathetically in the book - causing some angst to the socialist reviewer from the Grauniad.  Most other characters, including politicians, administrative hangers-on and the literary elite get large serves from time to time.

Both Frances and myself laughed out loud quite frequently at the book.  Sample line (after the chauffeur is told to read while waiting for the Queen to emerge from the Northampton Town Hall)  
"I have to watch the motor ma'am. This is the Midlands.  Vandalism is universal."
Well worth finding and reading.  Although I suspect it is on the banned list at Country Life. On thinking about the tome afterwards - always a sign of a good read - there was a lesson about naming birds in it: never do anything to upset anyone (not that Bennett's Queen adheers to that in the end).

Friday, 21 August 2015

Sundry Seasonal Sightings: Sprinter 2015

The month of August is still officially Winter but things are definitely getting into Spring mode so I am declaring the second half thereof as Sprinter!

We have had at least one Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) around the property ever since we have been here.  At present we have at least three and one of those should, judging by the shape of its abdomen, be counted as at least one and a half!  I haven't been able to grab a snap of the distension but another one of the mob paused for a pose.
 I am mystified how the taxonomists can only count two colours in animals like that.  Perhaps their colour vision is on the fritz?  My Irfanview software counts 36709 unique colours in the image!

I went for a walk to my site for Cyanicula caerulens (Blue Finger orchids) but there was nothing happening there.  On the way up to the site I noticed several more occurrences of Acacia gunnii.
To my mind the leaves at the base of the pedicel look a bit soft and strange but the others appear more typical.

Nearby I spotted my first example of Hovea heterophylla for the year.
This caused me to think about the masses of Hardenbergia violacea which used to be found on the block.  So far this year I haven't come across a single flower, which is a tad puzzling since we have had good rains this Winter.

Here are the Tawny Frogmouths which, if I am correct, started building their nest last night.  This is right on time.
The warmer weather also suggests that insect time is coming.  In the evening of 21 August two largish insects appeared on the lounge window.  I think they were Icheumenon Wasps.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

A Superb Fairy-wren gets taken to the cleaners

Actually it took itself to the cleaner (aka birdbath) but I liked the ambiguity of my subject.  An interesting discussion of the phrase "taken to the cleaners" is here.

The birds' breeding season is really beginning to fire up in Carwoola and this is particularly evident with the male Superb Fairy-wrens getting the superb-ness at the maximum.  If nothing else this sequence of snaps from the kitchen window show a lovely little bird.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The sun shines on COG at Campbell Park

32 members and guests gathered at the appointed time and place and headed off for a loop including elements of both the Defence land and the Nature Park. Some birds from the adjoining rural property were also noted. The weather was brilliant, being mild and sunny.
 As we set off along the Eastern fence line our first Flame Robins (1 of each sex) were sighted. Before we got to their nesting area a Long-billed Corella was seen peering out of a hollow. It was agreed that this was an IH record, but since it was peering out of the hollowing it was agreed that this was Inspecting Humans rather than Inspecting Hollow. The image shows the red face and the red "cut-throat".  The long bill is less clear.
Other birds seen checking out hollows included Galah, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, ...
... Eastern Rosella and Australian Wood Duck.

A female Flame Robin was seen flying in to a nest site. A female Common Bronzewing (note grey on the forehead in second image) was sitting firmly on a nest with an intercepting leaf causing some perplexity ...
 ... until a better angle was achieved.
As we concluded the outing an Australian Magpie was seen building an nest near the car park. Recording 7 species in various stages of the breeding process was vey pleasing for this early in the season.

 Returning migrants were rather thinner on the ground. The only migrants definitely seen were Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike and Rufous Whistler. One distant bird might have been a Cuckoo and a possible cuckoo-call was heard, but in neither case was identification possible. We definitely did not see any Tree Martins although I maintain that when first seen the flock of Welcome Swallows all had their tails furles!

A pile of feathers ...
...  indicated that there had been one more Laughing Kookabura in the area than was currently the case. There was then some discussion as to the cause of death. This may have been resolved by the sighting of a Peregrine Falcon later in the outing.

 Other less common birds sighted included a Jacky Winter, Brown-headed Honeyeater (8) and Speckled Warbler (1). Weebills were everywhere in uncountable numbers and an estimate was made of 40 Buff-rumped thornbills.  While Scarlet Robins are expected in this habitat at this time of year the males in particular are always nice to see.
In total 47 species were recorded, including a Tawny Frogmouth seen by a member who had to return early.
 The amount of tawny colouration and slimmish shape suggest this is a female.  That being the case, at this time of year her partner is probably nearby brooding some eggs.

While birds were the main focus there were other things also nice to see in the bush.

Swamp Wallabies are always good to see, unless they are munching one's camellias).
I am not sure that spitfires are necessarily nice to see, but they are probably an indication that Spring is, if not here, at least visible on the horizon.
 Cryptandra is both nice to see and an omen of upcoming Spring.
I was happy that this beautiful Acacia was A dealbata but now wonder if it isn't A baileyana - but thought the Botany Police had exorcised all the latter from everywhere more than 200m from the main street of Cootamundra
 This is definitely A. genistifolia, showing the African non-Acacias that our Australian pllants can also do thorns.
I can only assume that this is some sort of training stuff from ADFA (or perhaps a rallying point for the Botany Police!