Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Holiday Beer Review

As is often the case I took my credit card for a trip to Plonk on Christmas Eve.  They were doing a lot of business - as they should!  Here follow a few initial notes on the products acquired (there are a few more to be tried, so check back):
  • Shepherd Neame "Spook Ale" When I went to Uni in Wye, Kent one of the four pubs in the village (The New Flying Horse - aka the New Fly) sold Shepherd Neame products.  They were a local brew from Faversham and regarded as a rather strange beer (the other 3 pubs sold one or other of the big brewery products).  Then CAMRA started up and they became far more well known,  This was a very pleasant full bodied Ale and not too dangerous at 4.7%abv.
  • Fullers "1845".  That was the year they started brewing beside the Thames at Chiswick.  This is an amber Ale and, at 6.3%abv, to be approached with a modicum of caution.  Of course this site always promotes moderation drinking: despite the strength of some of the brews to come tending to argue that is obeyed more in the breach than fact.
There is a bit of background to the next 2 samples.  In 2004 I went to Moldova on a consultancy trip.  It was rather cool there - in fact it snowed heavily.
These ladies were at the airport when I left.
The economy wasn't doing too well and I think the lady on the right was the snowplough for the main runway.  (The one on the left was in her costume as an entrant for Ms Moldova 2005.)

However as a country did have excellent food, wine and beer (attributed to the very fertile soil on the floodplain of the Nistra).  One night I chose a restaurant offering Baltica beer, and the different brews were all described in Russian, but given different numbers.  I chose #6 and, on ordering a second bottle, joked to the waiter that I hoped this wasn't the alcohol content.  He assured me it wasn't.  Read on.
  • Interbrew "Baltica #6".  I rate this as more like a Brown Ale than a stout, although at 7%abv - as the waiter had told me - it had the authority of an Imperial Russian.  Very excellent.  It was as tasty as I remembered, and this time I didn't have to walk 1km through the snow to get to my bed.
  • Interbrew "Baltica #4".  A less stroppy item at (only) 5.6%abv.  Also very pleasant.  I hate the wine snob reference to other tastes such as "Berry fruits with a hint of cigar box and mild licorice".  (But when considering Watneys Keg Red Barrel could use a comparison with rodent urine.)  However with some malts there is, as in this case, a definite thought of chocolate - not a bad thing in and of itself.
Back to the UK for the next specimens - not wishing to imply they had already been drunk once!  For reasons that escape me, but probably related to them looking interesting and being on the same shelves, I acquired 2 brews each from the two breweries
  • Ridgeway IPA. At 5.5%abv it is definitely not a weak Pommy beer.  The notes on the label describe the processes used for the original ale sent to the lads in the subcontinent and say they followed those methods.  It certainly ends up with a very fresh and quite bitter product: I would conclude "Mission Accomplished" and well done those boys from Oxfordshire! 
  • Ridgeway obviously have a thing about brews related to colonialism, as they also provide an Imperial Russian Stout: originally provided to "our" boys in the Crimea.  If offered a choice between this or Ms Nightingale .... I'd go for the stout, at least until I became unconscious.  At 10%abv that might not take too long, but very smooth and complex in taste.  Brewed in 2012 it has had time to grow into itself.  One of the best beers I have ever tasted.
  • Marston's "Strong Pale Ale" from brewery central, Burton on Trent.  Yes, I rate 6.2% as strong, and it was a Pale Ale, so truth in advertising is evident.  I found the tastes rather more subtle than is often the case with IPAs which may reflect some reduction in the amount of hops used.  However I'd rate it as eminently drinkable.
  • Marston's Oyster Stout.  Quite palatable but for me a little featureless after the big beers which had gone before.  Relatively light at 4.5%abv, but relatively light in everything else as well!  
To quote Peter Cundall "Thats yer bloomin' lot!"

Hudwit visits the Flying Doctor?

When I was growing up in England one of the staples of the radio was a drama series about the Flying Doctor.  I can't remember a great deal about it (and Uncle Google is surprisingly deficient in this matter) but Bill Kerr played the pilot.  A frequent occurrence was him calling the airstrip they left from with the words "Flying Doctor calling Wollumboola Base ...".

Finally we get close to the main part of this post!  It is not about "Wollumboola Base" per se, but Wollumboola Lake.  The former is somewhere rather remote (I always think of it as being near Alice Springs) while the latter is on the coast East of Nowra and South of the Shoalhaven ....
.. and thus quite accessible to Canberra.

We visited this area in October this year (2015) and quite enjoyed it so when a Hudsonian Godwit turned up at the Lake (the first in NSW since about 1982) I thought it worthwhile investing a few litres of diesel in going to view it.  This is the third Godwit species possible in the area and the name is often shortened to Hudwit, while the other two species are referred to as the Barwit (Bar-tailed Godwit) or Blackwit (Black-tailed Godwit).

The 2.5hr drive down was uneventful, although my wrath was stirred by the inactivity of Palerang Shire in putting a 60kph limit on 5kms of the Oallen Ford Rd while they think about the possibility of considering the concept of fixing the road.  Once in the village of Culburra Beach, at 11am, the road signs got a tad prophetic:
There were a few other birders around ...
 ... and two of them explained that all the waders were on a sandbar out in the middle of the Lake.  They had been told that at 7:30 the Hudwit was feeding right on the shore.  It wasn't now, and neither were any other 'wits.  The water birds nearby were Great, Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants, Silver Gull, Chestnut Teal, Crested Tern and Fairy Terns (the two small jobbies with their heads turned away).
Here is a Fairy Tern coming in to land.
Eventually some of the smaller birds started coming over to feed near us.  They were very skittish.
The terns continued to provide interest.  This gives a nice contrast between a Caspian Tern and the Fairy and Little Terns
Red-capped Plovers were reasonably abundant (and, this one at least, very cooperative).
Red-necked stints were in profusion.
So were Sharp-tailed Sandpipers.
One observer took one for the team by wading out about 150m.  His ethics wouldn't let go and stir the massive flock on the sandbar - the flock is visible as a dirty line on the water - into flight.  He was out there when a White-bellied Sea-eagle appeared and spooked a few Godwits into coming nicely closer.
As they flew some observers reckon they saw a black underwing so we all rushed off to the closest point we could reach and spent the next hour peering into our various forms of optical gear.
One bird seemed very like the Hudwit and I followed it with my scope for about 20 minutes.  Then it raised its wings: as white as driven snow.  Far Canal!  Blackwit.  Every other one that raised its wings had speckled underwings - Barwit, as usually then confirmed by displaying a barred tail!

I refer readers to the first image above.

What we were after was a very dark underwing like this:
The image was snipped from the end of a video in this You-tube taken by my friend Alastair Smith

Monday, 28 December 2015

Cockington Green

This is a tourist attraction on what used to be the Northern side of Canberra, before the township (think Soweto without the good music and classy soccer team) of Gungahlin extended the urban concept over the good cow paddocks in that area.  I had never been there and it seemed like a place to try with Arabella while her olds went to view the latest Star Wars epic.

The basic plot (of Cockington Green, not Gungahlin) is a series of model houses and figures illustrating aspects of UK life in one area and international buildings in another.  Most of the images to follow are of the UK bit: some images from the international area will come from our next visit.

Here is a view of the starting point with the main building dominant.
 Arabella posed between the coat of arms.
 This is a distant view of the international area, taken from the playground
 Quite a few of the scenes had humour in them.  This display of a generalised soccer (I refuse to call it football - it's ridiculous for the least entertaining form of sports called that to usurp it totally) match.  They have about 1000 spectators in the stands).
 The humour is in the bottom centre.
 This is a depiction of the first ever streak in the UK - in 1979 -  where the perpetrator had his wobbly bits covered by a cop's helmet.  The card for the site comments that the helmet was auctioned for charity in 2000 raising $A6273!

I cant remember where this was based on but like the joke of having The Stig on the RHS!
 This is Duxford Mill.  The exhibit card admits they did the original model from a photo on a calendar and thus got a few things wrong!  This was fixed by a visit to the original and consequent rebuilding the model.
 Arabella thought the playground was very good and spent a lot of time in the playhouse.
 We also did a train ride ...
...  which gave a good view over the whole site.
In discussion as we drove home the main client opined that she liked the train ride best!

Saturday, 26 December 2015

It's a dogs Life

We were invited to spend Christmas evening with friends in Weston.  They have a dog, by the name of Boson, as Mr Higgs theory was proved just before he was acquired.

Before he was acquired, as a rescue dog, they were told was (mainly) whippet.  He has turned out a bit bigger than that and from DNA analysis appears to be a mixture of  Kelpie, Greyhound, Mastiff, Staffie, Boxer and about 25%??   He is about 22kgs which makes him loom a little over Tammy (who weighs in at about 3.5Kgs and thus outdoes the real Higgs boson which tips something or another at CERN at 2.22875E-25 Kgs).
They are both aware that cooking is being done in the kitchen and are ever hopeful.  Their hopes were rewarded eventually with some turkey skin which was very well, and speedily, dealt with.  Some sleeping was then in order.  Surprisingly in this snap they are both in the correct beds.
The normal situation is them on the other's bed.  Boson somehow manages to fold up on Tammy's much smaller cushion.  

The Editor of Country Life has commented that Jack Russells - which are very similar to Tammy - love big dogs, because they can be bossed around!  It is very funny to watch Boson pouncing at Tammy, trying to persuade her to chase him.  She rarely obliges but occasionally does a Dougal impression which sets him going.  (Tammy spins a lot quicker than Dougal, especially when excited.)

Friday, 25 December 2015

It was Christmas Eve in the Gardens ...

Well, we went for a visit to ANBG today (Dec 24) and this is a record of that visit so the title is not too misleading.

Of course, those of you who served in the World War armies may be led to think of a song, covered here (see song 12).  (The link only refers to WW1, but as we used to sing a version after Maldon Vikings Rugby matches in the 1960s, I'm sure those who served in WW2 also enjoyed the tasteful lyrics.)  Here are said lyrics, as sung by the Vikings and slightly adjusted to fit Acton 2015, rather than the saloon bar of the Queens Head pub in Maldon.:

It was Christmas day in the gardens, 
The rangers were standing around
Wielding their rakes and spades.
When Black Mountain gave a sound,
It was the voice of Santa
Which echoed through the plots
Asking “What do you want for Christmas. guys?”
And the rangers all answered - .... "Tidings of Comfort and Joy"

Which nicely conceals my inability to find an amusing rhyme for plots!  (While wandering through my memories I will note that the list of beers offered at the pub in the linked site  is much longer, and more appealing than those which used to be offered - and only drunk to keep faith with the landlord who provided our changing facilities at no cost.)

Anyhow, on reviewing my photographs from the Garden trip I found I had got quite a collection of interesting things, except surprisingly birds, which were few in number and mundane in diversity.

The first image is not a Callistemon but Xanthorrhoea macronema..
Continuing the theme of what things are not, this is not plastic, Blandfordia grandiflora.
There are many Kangaroo paws (Anigozanthus spp.) beside the path from the Visitors Centre to the Cafe (which was the least crowded I have ever seen it).  I couldn't find a label for this one - another 'not' in this case "not nusual" - but liked the contrast between the lurid stamens and relatively dull sepals.
This is not dull but bright!  Calothamnus quadrifidus.
Epacris longifolia.
Crinum angustifiolium
Up in the display glasshouse there were a few flowering orchids.  The most colourful was Dendrobium chrysotoxum.
I was hopeful of finding some interesting butterflies on the open flowers.  In fact there were few around, other than on and around some asters near the Visitors Centre.  Here we have the underside of an Australian Painted Lady ....
.. and a topside view.
I think this is a Stencilled Hairstreak. Thanks to a friend I now know it to be an Imperial Hairstreak (Jalmenas evagoras) - at least I got the genus right!
Other butterflies seen were Common Grass Blue; Orchard Butterfly; Meadow Argus and (of course) Cabbage White.

Why are these (Chaulognathus lugubris) called Plague Soldier Beetles?
The plague bit is easy when they form clumps like this.
 However I can't work out why they are called soldier beetles.  The species entry from the Australian Museum possibly gives a hint when they comment that  "...the beetles are too interested in mating to bother eating ..... ".

One of the regular items seen around the gardens is the Gippsland Water Dragons.  We found quite a few photogenic specimens ...
.. one of which was just finishing off a moult.
This was the most brightly coloured one I found - perhaps because it had been basking on a road, rather than skulking in shade - but as far as I can see it is only two non-drab colours.
Well that's my Christmas Eve!

Merry Christmas to All!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Seen in the garden

After a very hot period where there seemed to be little action in the garden (and I didn't spend much time out looking for action) it has been cool and things have been happening all over.

A key thing for birds in even the cooler weather is to keep hydrated and to keep the feathers lubricated.  So our bird bath has been a scene of much activity.

The first birds photographed were some Silvereyes.

 I think this is a Brown Thornbill, but it is always hard to tell them from Striated Thornbills when they are silent.
 These two have plain breasts and I rate them as Buff-rumped Thornbills.
Another Silvereye being watched by a couple of Grey Fantails.  The brownish tinges to areas which are more commonly white suggest they are this years young birds.
 In case you wondered why they are called fantails.
 A Superb Blue Wren - in case you wondered why they are called superb .....
 Both fanned tail and superb wren.
A Striated Thornbill - looking a tad damp after a bath.
 The thornbill was joined by a Red-browed Finch.
Then several Red-brows turned up: the maximum I saw was 5, but didn't have the camera at that point.

Our red-hot pokers are turning into a forest.  Hopefully some less common Honeyeaters will turn up.
In the vegetable garden we have some Globe Artichokes, which we initially grew as a possible foodstuff. However we don't like the amount of faffing around required to get a meal so they have just become ornamental.
They are very spiffy - and very attractive to honeybees.
Looking under a water barrel I found a colourful frog.  I think it is an Eastern Common Froglet (Crinia signifera).
 This one was hanging around outside our bedroom.  It is a Peron's Tree Frog (Litoria peroni)