Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Budderoo plateau bushwalk today

I led a bush walk for the National Parks Association (Southern Highlands branch) today. It was out on the Budderoo Plateau, which is close to (and similar to) the Barren Grounds. For more details follow this link. I suggest reading the sections on "Landscape" (bottom of P. 7 onwards) and then, "Biological values" on pages 8 and 9.

We stopped firstly at a very nice patch of heathland, which Jim and I had found last week, when doing a reconnaissance visit. We found many plants flowering which were members of the "heath" family (Epacris plants and their relatives). There were many species of the Proteaceae group (Persoonia sps, Banksia sps, Petrophile and Isopogon), as well as some specimens of Symphionema paludosa, which is such a small plant it it seldom seen. In addition, there were many tiny "Sundew" plants (Drocera sp.) one of which we spent some time examining in close detail, with the use of 10x hand lenses. There were tiny insects caught on their leaves - gnats or midges, I would imagine.We also found some tiny lichens which were carrying their little red capped fruiting bodies. Most people in the group had never ever seen these tiny lichens with such "fruiting bodies" before. I love these tiny little lichens - barely 3 cm high, with little scaly stalks, each topped with one of these little red "boxing glove" type structures which is the "fruiting body" for the lichen.

We then adjourned to Wallaya, a property owned by Penny and Larry, where, after a brief refreshment break, we walked down a long grassed slope to a patch of tall wet Eucalypt forest. The forest edge is only about 100 metres deep on the northern side of the block - at which point it opens out to reveal a sandstone cliffline, with dramatic views of the Gerringong Creek valley below. Last week, there was a smal (un-named) waterfall flowing off the far side of the valley. It was barely flowing today (as the country had dried out considerably over the last week).
One of the many plants which favour this sandstone cliffline is this species of Phebalium. The flowers are pale cream, and the leaves are very narrow (and pungent). It is likely to be a form of the highly variable plant Phebalium squamulosum.
There were other "rock-loving plants" there, including Epacris calvertiana var versicolor and many wonderful specimens of Dracophyllum secundum (a large-leafed member of the Epacris group) which has distinctive leaves, almost resembling tiny pineapple leaves, in their early stages of development. Then the stems lengthen out, producing flower sprays, with typical pale pink tubular flowers. This plants roots often are found growing great distances in moss on wet faces of rocks. Dockrillia striolata (Streaked Rock Orchid) were found in abundance, growing in crevices in rock faces. Where the plants were growing in more exposed places, their leaves were distinctively reddish-bronze, otherwise they were green. These plants have an almost succulent-like appearance, having a thick outer coating on their narrow leaves which are almost triangular in cross-section. Last week, I also found a patch of the tiny Rock Orchid Bulbophyllum exiguum, but I did not find them today. I was probably looking on the wrong rock - they are highly particular in their choice of habitat.

It always fascinates me that a rocky clifftop, such as this can have such a totally different plant habitat and species list from that of the forest a mere 20 metres away. And even the forest is graduated, with tall Banksia serrata plants as the first line of tall trees, then they give way to Turpentine trees (Syncarpia) , then to a mixed wet-sclerophyll forest of tall Eucalypts, with patches of rainforest plants growing as understory shrubs. All this variety within a mere one hundred metres distance from the cliff edge.

I really enjoyed being with this group of people who appeared to have appreciated the very varied range of plants and habitats, with nice views - and good company thrown in.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Full Moon and Lunar Eclipse 28/8/07

Clear skies across nearly all of Australia tonight will, no doubt, ensure that tomorrow's paper and tonight's Blogs are full of the Lunar Eclipse.

I thought I would start with the Full Moon, newly risen. It is seen here, through power lines, behind the Old Cheese Factory in Robertson, just after it had risen above the horizon.
Having taken the first photo, I continued out to "Ocean View", and just managed to catch enough light in the sky to show the Ocean, and Lake Illawarra, some lights down on the coast, and the newly risen moon.
Here you can see light reflected from the ocean's surface from the bright moon. There is a wisp of cloud underneath the Moon. Several street lights are visible, down on the coast edge, and then the moonlight is visible, reflected from the ocean's surface.And now we can concentrate on the Full Moon itself. Photo taken at about 6:30 pm.
After 7:30pm, the Moon started to move into the earth's shadow, blacking out the Full Moon's face, from the bottom-left side first. Partial eclipse - approx 60% of the development of the full eclipse.
This is the last glancing light on the top edge of the moon's surface. The colour effects on the face of the Moon are becoming visible, as there is no longer the harsh contrast of the fully bright sunlit Moon surface, to cause our pupils to retract (because of the brightness of the strip of lit up surface of the Moon).
Here is the fully eclipsed Moon. It was reddish, but not the blood red which some commentators had predicted.
David Young suggested that I try opening my lens right back, and going for a really long exposure, to see if I could get some stars behind the moon. This was taken on 15 seconds exposure (thanks to the loan of David's spare tripod).There was another shot, with 30 second exposure, but unfortunately, with such a long exposure, you get movement of the stars, blurring the image. But it did show many more stars than are visible in this image.
After 9:30 pm, the moon eventually started to move back out of the shadow of the Earth. Here you can just see the lower right hand edge of the moon being illuminated by the sun. (Sorry it is so blurry, but working in the dark I found it very difficult to get the adjustments of aperture and exposure time right.Towards the end of the eclipse, the moon is about 75% fully lit by the Sun's rays again. My lack of astronomical knowledge annoys me, for I cannot explain why the Moon's eclipse travels across the face, from bottom left, and the light returns from bottom right. In other words, the shadow does not appear to move directly over the face of the Moon. It is this conundrum which makes me publish these two photos of very poor quality, just to demonstrate the way the light returns to the face of the moon - from bottom right first.
Finally, the moon is restored to its full brilliance, high in the crystal clear sky. This last shot was taken on smallest aperture, and the fastest setting available to me on my camera.
We certainly had a pleasant gathering in Hampden Park, with about 20 people gathered in the dark to observe the lunar eclipse through Chris's Newtonian Telescope which gave me a view of the Moon which I have never seen before - as big as a dinner plate, it seemed to be. This large telescope sits on a "Dobsonian mount" which is remarkable for its stability and easy of adjustment.

Apparently we need to wait until 2011 before there will be another Lunar Eclipse, and, that one will not occur until the early hours of the morning, so tonight's eclipse was special, as it was so generally accessible to kids, in view of its early evening timing. See you all again, in 4 years time!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Clover Hill Falls track - under Macquarie Pass.

Here are some photos I took on the weekend, along the track known as Clover Hill Falls track. This is half way down Macquarie Pass. See the link at the bottom of this post, for David Young's blog on these Falls.

Here is the old farm house - which looks very romantic, except that the house has been abandoned, so clearly there is a lost dream here.

This is the view which the old farmer would once have enjoyed. The early settlers cleared the forest trees, but left the Cabbage Tree Palms. The ocean is just visible in the far distance, which would be near Shellharbour (south from Wollongong).
I took too long looking at Greenhood Orchids along the way, to go right up to the Falls. At this stage I have not yet identified this particular species - it is a tall Greenhood, with a very narrow front (not a wide sinus like Pterostylis hildae or P. curta).
Here is a lovely Tree Fern Glen, where large tree ferns overhang the track, on the way down to the Falls.
I got to within hearing distance of the Falls, but I did not allow enough time to scramble up there, and the track was blocked by fallen trees. In other circumstances I would have persevered, but the leeches were driving me back with their persistent exploratory endeavours. Only one of them got past my defences, leaving me with an itchy left foot (it went down into my shoe, where I could not see it, while walking).
Here is a nice shot of a very wet gully, near the falls, with Birds Nest Ferns growing in tall Coachwood Trees (with distinctive spotty bark).
This is the cliffline along the side of the escarpment, near Knight's Hill. Robertson is just 5 Kilometres from the top of these cliffs, but it is on a series of basalt caps above this cliffline (which is sandstone). The amount of water running off these cliffs is quite heavy, with decent flows in all the small creeks. From memory I crossed 6 creeks on the track in. Only two of these creeks have "named falls" that I know of.
Here is a link to David Young's recent post about a picnic at Clover Hill Falls. He has some lovely photos of the Falls and the creek.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dumped Cars - following up on Mike's hints.

Regular readers will have seen Mike's "comments" on the "Rubbishing the Country" posting a few days ago. Mike was asking about this car, dumped half-way down Macquarie Pass.

It looks like a "stock car" - one of those things which are modified for bashing into each other, when going around on race tracks. The welded "Bumper Bar" on the front is the main clue - it is designed for pushing other cars off the road - not a "defensive" accessory as the standard shock-absorbing "bumper bars" on road vehicles.
Mike referred to it as being similar to a "Mad Max" vehicle. Pretty close, really. I have no idea what the large pipe is doing sticking up through the back seat area (there is no roof). All I know about this car is that it was (well, still is ... just) a Ford Falcon sedan.Somebody has clearly "dumped" this car here, and it has been partially stripped.
Given its condition, it is hard to imagine it having been driven to this point, half-way up the steep hill of Macquarie Pass. What possesses people to bring such a vehicle all this way, and then dump it, for someone else to remove?

While on the subject of dumped cars, this next one (below) apparently is about 100 metres off Tourist Road, along a fire trail, just immediately east of Butler's Swamp. Reportedly this burnt out car is opposite the SCA's Bore 2L, and is on the SCA's land, but they have just ignored it, and not bothered to have it removed.

This car was clearly burnt out, after it was "dumped" - a common occurrence, apparently. It is just as well that it did not cause a large area of bushland to burn out. This is a little delivery van, based upon a small sedan car base. The sort of thing much in vogue with small-scale delivery companies, such as florist shops and other small goods deliveries. They were known at one stage as "bongo vans".

I would have thought that the SCA would exhibit a greater sense of responsibility, given their claim to be "responsible environmental managers" of their lands.

Friday, August 24, 2007

CTC Photo Competition - "The Spirit of Spring"



"The Spirit of Spring"








"The Spirit of Spring"

with your camera

in your garden, in the bush,

or in a child's eye.


Ricoh Caplio R5

Digital Camera

Valued at $599

Harvey Norman, Moss Vale is the

exclusive sponsor for the CTC's 2007 photo competition.


Ricoh Digital Camera R5

7 x digital zoom

Valued at $599


$100 Gift Voucher

Harvey Norman, Moss Vale


$50 Gift Voucher

Harvey Norman, Moss Vale




Either mail your entry to CTC@Robertson: PO Box 69, Robertson NSW 2577
Drop your entry into the CTC
58-60 Hoddle St, Robertson (opposite Murray Tractor Importers).
Office hours: Wednesday to Saturday 10:00am to 4:00pm.
Inquiries - CTC Ph 4885 2665, (CTC Office Hours)
Denis Wilson, Photo Competition Co-ordinator: 4885 2725, Mob: 0413 056 431

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Rubbishing the Country

What is it with some people in the Southern Highlands? They live surrounded by beautiful scenery, creeks, clifflines, and waterfalls - places which we are so lucky to live near to. The first shot is of the wild coastal escarpment as viewed from the Powerlines at Mount Murray, overlooking Macquarie Pass - a mere 5 Kilometres from Robertson. Wild and wonderful country.

A few metres away, underneath the Powerline stanchion - this is the situation. Some people choose to use these natural features as rubbish dumps.
Do you recognise any of the furniture in this pile? (click on the image to enlarge it).
Two red chairs, a white chair, a blue sofa, a floral divan bed, and a wooden framed bed and mattress, two loud speaker boxes, a box of assorted cutlery, piles of clothes and then bottles and general rubbish as well.

Someone must know who went out of their way to dump this material in this remote spot, over a very rough bush track, rather than take it to the Council's waste management facility. People who treat the bush like this do not deserve to live in such beautiful surroundings.

Wake up, Australia. This is a disgrace.

It will take a mind-shift before our fellow Australians learn to do better than this. Clean Up Australia is on the right track, but when you see evidence like this, you realise just how far we still have to go.

The above story was published today in the Southern Highland News. I received a call this morning, from the Wingecarribee Shire Council's clean-up officer*** Vince Emmerick. He had read the story and gone out to the site to inspect it. He started by checking through the dumped furniture and goods looking for any identifying details. Presumably his next task will be to arrange to get the rubbish cleared away. Let's hope so - though with the access being as difficult as it is, at that spot, he will have a big job.

Anyway, it is good to know that Vince is on the case.

*** Regional Illegal Dumping Squad - though I am not sure that Vince has many members in his "squad".

Illegal dumping of rubbish can be reported to the Council on 4868 0504

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What I was looking at (while bending over).

Enough of that "posture" thing, Denis. Get on with the real story - Orchids.

These Maroonhoods (Pterostylis pedunculata) are in the "Greenhood" group of Orchids, based upon the colour of their close relatives, which are nearly all green. Some were found on "The Gib", (See yesterday's story, if you missed it, for an explanation of the "posture" reference.) Some of these Orchids were found in Kangaloon, along Tourist Road - both groups on the same day. The Tourist Road group are more advanced, which fits with The Gib being higher, and colder, and hence the flowers slightly later to develop.

The Sydney Catchment Authority proposes to dig up along this part of Tourist Road for a pipeline for the "Shoalhaven Transfers" (water pumped from the Shoalhaven River to Sydney). If that does not disturb these plants, nothing will! Don't you just love blind bureaucracy?

This is my favourite photo (for now)
Not great clarity, just nice grouping
A pair of baby Orchids budding together.

Note how dark the flowers (above) are - even at this very early stage of their development. The long points swivel back as the "ears", once the flowers open. The green and white striped parts of the flower are just emerging from the surrounding bracts. As the flowers develop, the stem continues to grow higher. The "ovary" rises clear above the bract, which, in the next photo is seen to be positioned relatively lower on the flower. This is because the flower is growing up, past it. Contrast this with the paired flowers, two photos down.

A bud of Pt. pedunculata (with cobweb)
A full frontal view - note the wide set "points" (or "ears")

A fine pair of Pt. pedunculata orchids

On the right hand flower here, you can see the bract (a leaf-like sheath on the stem) now considerably lower than the ovary (the striped part of the stem, just below the flower - which will become the "seed pod" if these flowers are successfully pollinated).
This shows how far the flower has grown up, from the bud stage, as in photos 1 and 2 above.

A cluster of flying "Maroonhoods"
Pt. pedunculata
on Tourist Road 20 August 2007

Monday, August 20, 2007

He stoops only for Orchids!

Dear fellow innocent Orchid enthusiasts - your natural enthusiasms for small Orchids growing on the ground might well be mis-understood.

Your humble correspondent, being from Robertson, had no idea that "The Gib", a mountain between Bowral and Mittagong, where many Ground Orchids grow, is also a hunting place for Homo eroticus var holden-uticus. In other words, it is a Gay "Beat".***

The predatory creature, sits in his "Ute", waiting for unsuspecting (or hopefully very compliant) fellows to drive up the road to the lookout places on "The Gib". There ensues a very strange mating ritual of doing "circuits" of the road, at 5km per hour, "checking out" the orchid enthusiast who is walking even more slowly along through the grass, and occasionally kneeling down on the grass, or even lying down.

I hasten to explain that this is in no way an erotic display. It is simply an Orchid enthusiast adopting the necessary postures to be able to take photographs of tiny Greenhood Orchids, which only grow about 100 mm (4 inches) high.

Chiloglottis seminuda - a tiny "Wasp Orchid"
You can see how I have to bend, knee or lie down to photograph these tiny flowers.

Who would have suspected that cold, windswept Mount Gibraltar was a "Gay Beat"? I certainly would not have done so, but it has been confirmed to me by people who know "The Gib" very well.

A word of advice to gay men, cruising "The Gib" in cars - I am sure you value your anonymity. To cruise past slowly, once, is possibly acceptable: how else do you discover if the man in the Blue Hat is "interested"? But I warn you, do not "cruise" very slowly past the man in the blue tennis hat twice, or three times, or even more, because he is certainly aware of your interest, and if he did not respond the first time, (as he never will), then just leave him alone.

You ought realise that for he is almost certainly carrying a camera, and your number plate might well end up being recorded, and published - and you do not want that, I am sure. For the record, no photographs of cars were taken last Sunday, but the same cannot be guaranteed in future.

Back off, Boys. The man in the "Blue Hat" is not interested in you - and never will be.

He stoops only for Orchids !!!

It has been pointed out to me that the term "Gay Beat" is not necessarily accurate, as many men who use such "facilities" do not identify as "Gay". I do know that to be the case. Arguably a homosexual sexual act is just that - a homosexual act. But these people argue that they are straight men, just having "opportunistic sex" (with men).
Personally I do not think that argument stands up to scrutiny, but apparently the "perception" of not being Gay is important - to these men.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Still more about local Greenhoods.

Today I went back to Macquarie Pass, with Alan Stephenson from the Illawarra branch of the Australasian Native Orchid Society (ANOS). Although this is classic rainforest country, we did find clearings where Greenhoods were happily growing.

Alan getting "up close and personal" with a group of Greenhoods.
I'm glad it is not just me that does this kind of thing.
We found many more Greenhoods, in the same general area where I had found the earlier this week. It seems strange, but I think we found one species today which I did not photograph last week, and one which I did photograph last week, I don't think we found today. It is very annoying, but not totally surprising, as these things are far from obvious.

The plant on the right is a classic example of Pterostylis hildae - with a broad nose to the hood. But the other plant is much narrower, and more pointed. It is likely to be Pt. acuminata.
We found a number of these specimens today. They have short points (or "ears"). The only question in my mind is that they do not appear to be "open" in the front. Does that mean they are not yet fully developed flowers?
This one has a very long "nose", and the two lateral sepals, in front, which form the "sinus" and the "points" are starting to separate away from the body of the flower - so it is clearly a fully mature flower, now.
By way of contrast, here is a fat Greenhood, with a very distinctive twisted tongue ("Labellum"). This is Pt. curta. I kid you not, the twisted tongue is its most diagnostic feature - and it is usually quite noticeable - as long as you are prepared to get down on your hands and knees.From the side or the rear, it Pt. curta is very obviously deeper green than Pt. hildae, and with a wide base to the flower (emphasised by the white markings).
We did find another type of Orchid today, which might be a Chiloglottis, or maybe its "cousin" a Myrmechila species. More about that in a few days, when I check some more references.

Friday, August 17, 2007

More on local Greenhoods

Further to my recent posting about Greenhoods of the Macquarie Pass area, here are some more photos of the most interesting species which I found. By "most interesting" I mean, least typical of the "Greenhood Alliance" - simply because it is so dark - beyond chocolate brown, approaching black (on the front part of the flower).

Pterostylis pedunculata (Maroonhood)
Note the tiny "Labellum" (tongue) just barely visible
in the centre of the flower's V-shaped opening (called a "sinus")

This photo was extremely dark, so I have lightened it
which has washed out the flower's true colours somewhat (unfortunately)
The shape of the flower, and the angle of the "galea"
(the top front area of the hood) are diagnostic - it is pointing down and forward.
This is a truer colour picture of Pt. pedunculata ("Maroonhood").
Taken from the rear, it shows the white striped back of the flower, the contrasting green side and the dark front section of the hood.
Here is another photo of this interesting Greenhood.
And, for good measure, here are the leaves - in a rosette on the ground. Note the slightly "crimped" appearance around the edges of the leaves, (see the dots of reflected light from the wet leaves) and their oval shape. Some Greenhoods have crinkled leaves, some are longer in shape, others rounded. Some have no basal rosette leaves at all, when they are flowering. Others have leaves up along the stems. Leaves are always worth noting, to help identify your plant.
Here is a photo of Pt. pedunculata, growing with another species of Greenhood, Pt. hildae. By comparison, Pt. pedunculata looks very small, and very dark.
You've got to love these cute, but very odd, little flowers. They appear - to my anthropocentric brain - as cute and weird, but then again, from their point of view - so am I.
But they do trigger my "Sense of Wonder" at the marvels of the Nature of Robertson.
Long may they live free.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Boobooks calling through the mist.

Boobook Owls are calling through the shallow mists of Robertson tonight.

The CTC@Robertson has its Music Night on Thursday nights, from about 6:30pm, till about 10:30pm. I went there to night, and Nick Rheinberger (of ABC Illawarra's Morning Show) came along with his charming and talented daughter, Eva, and her friend Rocky. They started off with the opening number from the Rocky Horror Show ("Damn it, Janet"), and within a few minutes, the tone had lowered to "Black Betty".

Wow - complete naiveté to depravity within about 5 minutes!

Nick Rheinberger, performing, some time ago, at the CTC@Robertson.After a break in proceedings, Nick played along in support to Aneik and Stu's son, doing an acoustic guitar version of Greg's (CTC Music Night) standard "Wild Thing", with his little sister Grace dancing up front, (under the encouragement of Monica), the CTC's manager. The whole show was a hoot!
Greg performing "Wild Thing", some time ago.

It was a very pleasant night for all concerned.

After I left, I came home through a shallow fog, and walked down my driveway, to the accompaniment of Boobook Owls calling loudly. It is, after all, breeding season for the larger raptors (including the nocturnal ones). Certainly they were keeping in touch with each other tonight, out there, on a mild winter/spring evening. No wind, fortunately. So their calls were echoing up the Belmore Falls Valley, where I live.

Mist is no impediment to avian romance, it seems. Nor should it be!
I was teasing Nick, as he left tonight, that I would tune early tomorrow morning, to see how bright an chirpy he would be tomorrow morning, on ABC Illawarra, at 8:30am. For I know Nick lives at Welby (near Mittagong) high on the highlands, and he has to drive along the "Picton Road" to Wollongong, to appear, "Bright eyed and Bushy-tailed" at 8:30 am, for the ABC 97.3 FM Morning Show.

It's easy for me - I can lie in bed, and listen to Nick, whereas, he has had to rise before 5:30am, to drive for 45 minutes to the ABC studio at Wollongong, to start his day, leaving time to have read the morning papers, and got his brief from his producers, and still manage to sound friendly and sensible, and interesting, on the radio.

The guy is something of a genius, for he is truly driven to perform, (as a "muso") hence his voluntary appearance at the Robertson CTC's Music Night. Nick is a born performer, musician and entertainer. We love him.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Greenhoods galore in Macquarie Pass rainforest.

Within the rainforest, just about 5 Km east of Robertson, in the Macquarie Pass area, there were many Greenhoods flowering today. Some were plants which I have not seen before. Obviously they are winter flowerers. Today they were flowering in the drizzle.

The first ones I found were a large group of Pterostylis hildae. They were growing in a sheet of a kind of moss (I think) which resembles a miniature conifer forest.

Here is a close-up of the front of Pt. hildae. Its tonue is clearly visible. The tip of the hood is pinkish-brown. The lateral sepals (which form the "sinus" in front of the flower) are widely spread. The tips of those sepals (the "ears") are wide spread, and not held high.
Here is Pt. hildae seen from the side.

In this photo below, you can see the rear of a flower of Pt. hildae, with another species of Greenhood, which is smaller, and much darker, with high-held "ears" or "points". Its hood is flattish on top, but quite pointed and fine. It is a very different plant from the other Greenhood.Here is a front-on view of the dark Greenhood. It has a small tongue (barely visible), a deeply notched "sinus" in the front of the flower, and widely spread "ears" or "points". At this stage, my identification of this flower is uncertain, but it might be Pt. pedunculata, which is known as the "Maroonhood".

I am seeking advice from an Illawarra orchid expert to seek to identify this plant positively, and another plant of which I have not yet published the photos. But I thought I would start with the Pt. hildae photos, which I was fairly confident of.

As with previous postings, I am always prepared to accept further advice, when it comes to identifying these plants.