Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Views from the other side of the world

My friend Leo, a fellow Peony enthusiast, lives in Nova Scotia, Canada. While we are in full-flight into Spring here in Oz, Leo is drifting into Winter. Canadians do winter pretty seriously, although the rest of Canada regards Nova Scotia (a peninsula hanging off the far eastern tip of Canada) as "temperate", because of the influence of the Gulf Stream, keeping the real effects of a serious winter moderated. That's their view of it, anyway.

The trees in Nova Scotia are colouring up, and Leo's Peonies will be shutting down, with the Peony leaves dying off, and the tubers going into dormancy. Soon they will be covered by their first fall of snow, and then they will have a near-permanent cover of snow (for a few months at least). So, the world in which Leo and his plants live is a world of extremes.

But seasonal changes bring about such wonderful colours. This was obviously a late afternoon shot (as Leo was returning home, after a long bike ride). You can see the oncoming car has its headlights on. I have warned Leo that the cars there drive on the wrong side of the road!!!
Leo told me that in this photo (below) of trees, with a field in the foreground, the field had been ploughed recently. The field was full of birds, ranging from crows to finches. When he pulled his bike back onto the road, he "flushed a couple of irate pheasants from the roughage beside the road". Its nice to learn that the birds are doing well in Nova Scotia. There is some hope for the world, if the birds are healthy.
Leo described the various trees as follows: "Unfortunately a rain storm on Saturday came with a lot of wind as well, which stripped most of the area's red maples of their leaves. Other maples still had theirs, but moose maple is yellow and sugar maple is orange to yellow (and the orange comes a bit later). Poplars and birch, yellow. Sky, blue. (Thanks Leo, we can work that one out!) Conifers green (larch [locally known as hackmatack, also as tamarac] will go yellow in a while, but not yet)"
DJW states: Australian readers may find the names of some North American trees unfamiliar. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary gives the etymology of "hackmatack" as:
earlier hakmantak, probably from Western Abenaki (Algonquian language of New Hampshire and Vermont). Date: 1792

This is a field of wild Blueberries (Vaccinium sp). According to Leo, the field gets mowed (slashed), but the plants themselves are wild, it seems. One assumes the locals harvest the delicious berries to turn into vitamin-rich drinks, or (my favourite) eaten with double cream. It seems Blueberries are very much a Nova Scotian specialty product. Judging by the tilt on several of the trees on the horizon, it might be a windy area, so I am sure it is not always as idyllic as it seems in this autumn photo.Leo followed up his autumn-colour photos with some morning light photos, taken several days later. Here is an early morning shot, taken at 7:33am. (Leo was rung by a fellow cycling enthusiast to get him up and on the road, for a long bike ride - he would have been barely awake, otherwise, I am sure).The second photo is taken about 2 minutes later.
And then the third photo is taken at 7:37am. Already the "first light" effect is passing, and it is starting to pass into a soft morning light. There is now enough light for you to see that the two chairs are very romantically sited, in Leo's front yard, amongst the deciduous trees - hence the carpet of leaves.

It looks lovely Leo.
Please send me the same scene, after the first fall of snow - in a few weeks.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Lyrebird killed on Belmore Falls Road

Editors note: I generally do not photograph road kills - this is only the second case I can recall. But it is justified by the unusual features of this bird, which one seldom can see up close. So, it is recorded here, out of scientific interest. DJW

Can you believe it? A Lyrebird was killed by a vehicle on Belmore Falls Road today. This is a low-traffic, slow-speed (or ought to be) dirt road. And yet, somehow a male Lyrebird managed to be killed down there today. I have often seen Lyrebirds beside the road on the Macquarie Pass, but those birds seem to have remarkable road sense. They seem to feed right beside the road, being driven past by huge trucks, and cars and noisy motorbikes. But, the Belmore Falls road is far quieter. It is well known that Lyrebirds live down in the bush near Belmore Falls, (you hear them calling down in the valleys below), and there is always a lot of scratching marks near Hindmarsh Lookout, close to the edge of the cliff. But, strangely, this bird was found close to the farming country, in the drier Eucalypt scrub, well away from the wet forest country.

When I noticed the corpse lying beside the road, it had been stripped of its tail feathers, and one wing. A very strange souvenir, the wing, don't you think?

This bird was obviously a mature male, in full breeding plumage, with its bright russet throat. That explains why the tail feathers were absent when I found the corpse. You can see a photo of another male Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) here - on the COG website.This close-up shot shows the details of the leg and foot of the Lyrebird. It has a huge foot (for a bird). A Lyrebird is quite capable of picking up a rock roughly the size of a cricket ball, and removing it, in its search for worms and insects while seeking food on the forest floor. The foot is considerably larger and stronger than a chook's foot, but the bird is far lighter in weight than a chook.
You can read more about the Lyrebird at the Australian Museum's "Birds in Backyards" site, and even listen to its call, here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I love Dr Karl (and he loves me).

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki is standing as a member of the Climate Change Coalition, for the Senate in NSW, in the forthcoming election (on November 24). I was invited to go to Sydney today to help brief Karl on issues to do with coal mining under the Sydney Water Catchment area, thanks to Kim Martin having met with Karl during the week.
I jumped at the chance, naturally.
Caroline Graham, from Rivers SOS, who has been campaigning against the coal mining under the rivers of the Illawarra Plateau (for many years) was involved as well, which was great. Caroline knows these issues really well, as she has been campaigning against it for so long.
I showed Karl some of the images of Longwall Mining machinery, and how the longwall mining technique removes entire "panels", where all the coal in a layer is removed, and then the rock above the former coal layer is allowed to collapse down.
This causes subsidence (of course). This subsidence is what causes cracking of rivers in areas where the coal mining has occurred.
This is one of the maps which Caroline Graham has prepared to show where the longwall mining is occurring, in relation to the dams and rivers on the Illawarra (Woronora) Plateau. Karl was amazed that this is being allowed. What can we say? The information is out there on the public record, but few media people have ever taken any notice. Hopefully Dr Karl can help focus some public attention on this crazy situation.
Anyway, I am afraid that I acted like a "58 year old Groupie", and asked Dr Karl to sign my Climate Change Coalition T-Shirt, which he was happy to do.
As I said to Karl, I went with Zoe to see Dr Karl at an ABC's JJJ "Outside Broadcast" at the Australian Institute of Sport, in Canberra, a number of years ago, as we were both fans of his - from way back.
I also commented that his ads on "micro-sleeps" on the Television are a seriously good public information campaign - as I was "that guy" who was prone to falling asleep for moments, while driving. In my case, it is caused by sleep apnoea. Hopefully I have the issue more-or-less under control these days, but one needs always to be aware of the need to "Stop, Revive, Survive", when on the road.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cicada singing makes the Orchids flower.

Today I went out in the bush with Len and Jan, looking for Orchids of interest. And we found some. This was great, as one particular Orchid is new for me - one which I have never seen before.This is the Purple Donkey Orchid (Diuris punctata var punctata). It is a truly lovely flower, and although it is not regarded as rare, it does seem to be quite restricted in its distribution. Certainly I have never been fortunate enough to see it before. When we found them, we found several hundred of them, but in a restricted area. I was photographing the much more commonly found yellow Donkey Orchids in the photograph published last Sunday.

We arrived at mid-morning, and already the Cicadas were singing. I found one on the ground, which appears to be called a "Yellow Monday". It was a lovely Orange cicada. It is not yellow, but then, as some Cicadas are green, or black, it is closer to yellow than those colours. I rescued it from underneath some twigs on the ground, where it had become stuck, and I placed it on a tree trunk nearby, at which point it started climbing upwards.
A head-on view of the Cicada's eyes, with those three amazing jewelled marks on its forehead. According to a Lander University (South Carolina, USA) website I found, via Wikipedia, these 3 organs appear to be part of the insect's visual system.
Here is an image for "Gaye from the Hunter" who recently posted a blog entry about a young Water Dragon which resides in her Hunter Valley Backyard. This fine fellow is very wary, being unaccustomed to close contact with people. It has a strong olive green colouring, and a very long tail, even longer than is first apparent from this photo. There is a fine tip of the tail protruding about 4 inches (100 mm) to the right beyond where the thick part of the tail appears to finish. I would estimate the total length to be approximately 900 mm long (just under a metre). I have seen heavier specimens, but this one is clearly in fine condition. This Water Dragon is in a dry clearing, but just beyond the clearing (where the shrubbery starts) is a classic sandstone-based creek, which has shallow running water, and deep pools. A perfect home for this Water Dragon.

This is another example of the Purplish Beard Orchid (Calochilus robertsonii). This is probably the clearest photo I have managed to get of the inner details of the flower, showing the column (the reproductive parts of the flower, the inverted triangle, covered with the little grey hood which covers the pollen grains until an insect touches that part of the flower). The hairs and the dark marks at the top of the "labellum" (lip) are all designed to produce and disseminate scent, to attract insects to the flower. What wonderful and complex flowers these things are. There was another photo of the same species of Beard Orchid published last Sunday.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Insects and flowers.

This is a tentative posting, at this stage, as I have just photographed my first ever image of a native bee on an Orchid, and I cannot wait to publish it. The Orchid is the Short-lipped Leek Orchid (Prasophyllum brevilabre). The bee appears to be one of the Stingless Native Bees.
Here is a regular "Honey Bee", coming in to one of my Tree Peonies. Note that these flowers are very great producers of pollen, so the bee is dusted with pollen. This Honey Bee is approaching a flower of a Crab Apple. This flower is in bud stage, so the bee will not be able to find the pollen yet. But, if you check the Bee's legs, it has successfully stored some pollen (from previous visits to other flowers) to take back to the hive.Here is either a wasp or a wild bee, visiting a white-flowered Cherokee Rose, (Rosa sinica alba)I am hoping to get assistance with identifying this insect (same species as the one above). If anyone has any idea of the identity of this insect, your assistance would be greatly appreciated. Kindly leave a comment below, or email me, via the "my complete profile" page.And now for something completely different. This is a Sundew. The leaves of Sundews are attractive to insects, in a deadly kind of way. They produce attractive beads of a sticky moisture. The insects come to the leaf, and they get caught, The leaves then close around the insect (eventually) and then the chemicals in the "glue" dissolve the insect, and so the plant digests the insect, gaining nutrition for itself.

In this particular case the plant has trapped 3 insects - a red-backed bug of some description, another black insect (possibly a small native bee), and a smaller insect on the lower left hand side of the leaf, which appears to be a Fungus Gnat. Apart from the fascinating, if gruesome nature of Sundews, I find them attractive, with their little rainbow-coloured dots of moisture on the tiny radiating "arms" of the leaf.

Here is a Flower Spider (OK, not an insect, technically). The flower is the same Leek Orchid plant as above, (with the native bee). These photos of the same plant were taken the day before. This is the full flower stem, just to show you what the plant looks like, as seen amongst the grass. The small Flower Spider is hiding amongst these flowers, so you can see how hard the spiders are to see. The photo above is cropped from this photo (below). Usually I notice the spiders' webs, and then look for the spider hiding away between the flowers. Often, I do not find the spider until I am processing the photo, back home on the computer.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Southern Highlands Photographic Society see Orchids

The Southern Highlands Photographic Society came along with me today to see some of the local Ground Orchids, in Kangaloon. (Photo Les Valentine)
We also saw many other interesting creatures, including a large number of Spiders (which love Orchids, as the Spiders know many insects come to the Orchid flowers). There also was a very fine (large) Weevil, hiding inside the old seed capsule of a Woody Pear. I picked up the Woody Pear, to show the group, and nearly died of fright, for I thought that I had picked up a very large Spider within the open seed capsule. Fortunately, before the panic set in completely, I realised that it was a harmless Weevil. These creatures are sap-suckers, which means that their mouth parts are reduced to a tube, which in this case is folded under the head of the Weevil. Another distinctive feature of these large weevils is their antennae, which (as in this image) are often bent, and they protrude from well out along the "proboscis" (nose) of the insect.
We started out with a fine display of Flying Duck Orchids (Caleana major). These plants were in great condition, which is pretty amazing given how dry their chosen habitat is - on a rock shelf with very shallow, poor sandy soil.
We also saw a number of Purplish Beard Orchids (Calochilus robertsonii). These flowers continue to bewilder me, with their intricate "beards" made up of scent glands on the "labellum" (lip) of the flowers.
Here is a shot of me photographing a nice group of "Donkey Orchids" (Duiris sulphurea). Les Valentine took this photo and the one above of some of the SHPS people getting into the action down on Tourist Road.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sublime to the extraordinary - in 200 metres

Most of the way down the road on which I live, there is a small Blackwood Wattle tree, which is covered in Rock Felt Ferns. Amongst the roots and leaves of this fern, there lives a single Orange Blossom Orchid. This lovely plant has been flowering valiantly for several weeks now - through good weather (like today) and bad (hot dry winds). This plant is relatively low, which gives me a chance to photograph it, unlike some, in the local rainforest, which are growing amongst the tree tops.
Seeing as I published a photo of Dockrillia linguiforme flowering on Sheoaks in Kangaroo Valley yesterday, it seems only fair that I should publish a photo of a local Epiphytic Orchid.
A little further along the road, at the Robertson Cemetery, the native Passionfruit, Passiflora herbertiana is in flower. This plant is not flowering well this year, and it is carrying some old fruit already, so it is a bit confused, I think. Perhaps it flowered a second time, late last season, and is now trying to flower again. Anyway, this bizarre flower is typical of this species.
It is very different from the introduced Banana Passionfruit, which is a weed in some places close to Robertson, such as along Jamberoo Road and Vandenberg Road. The fruit of this native Passionfruit are not palatable. Also, although I have tried to distribute a number of fruit around the cemetery, I have not seen any seedlings successfully established, as yet.

Back at my place, the latest Peony to start flowering is "Flame", an appropriately named brilliant red single Herbaceous Peony. Red Charm continues to work its magic, and Coral Charm is settling down and will produce some lovely blooms over the next week or two. Red Charm makes a spectacular cut flower, and Anni has a pair of them in a vase at her place, which look stunning. They were picked last Tuesday morning, and are holding well, as of Saturday afternoon. The flowers are huge.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Manning Lookout and Kangaroo Valley

I went with Jim to inspect some "steps" which a mutual friend, Wayne had told Jim about, out near Fitzroy Falls. It turns out these steps appear to be part of a pathway leading from Manning Lookout, overlooking the Upper Kangaroo Valley. What surprised me is that while "Manning Lookout" is maintained by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, they only maintain the area around one main lookout point. There has been a very old track, complete with fitted sandstone steps in difficult areas, where steps are appropriate. The amount of work which went into forming these steps is impressive.

The steps lead down to a grotto and creek, with an interesting patch of damp rainforest (Coachwoods, Callicoma and Eucryphia).Further out along the narrow track, there is a spectacular clifftop, still with a railed off lookout point, even though one suspects that this track is no longer being maintained by NPWS. (Confirmed by notes below, from NPWS).

To my delight there was a group of the Yellow Rock Orchid Cestichis reflexa (formerly Liparis reflexa) growing there, in a small rock hole, right below the very top of the cliff. Unusually for this species, which favours damp rock crevices close to water, this position was quite dry, but it was at least south-facing, overlooking Kangaroo Valley, with rainforest immediately below the cliff, so it was protected from full exposure to sun and drying winds. These plants have no eyes, but if they did, they could appreciate the fantastic views available form their rocky perch (about which I wrote previously).
In this zoomed photo, you can just make out old flower sprays, with seed capsules formed. So, this plant has successfully flowered and set seed this recent Spring season. While we were walking close to these cliffs we saw a number of plants of another Rock Orchid, Dockrillia striolata, a very small plant, with single flowers. (Dockrillia striolata "in situ" and close-up of flower). Photos taken at Knight's Hill, in similar clifftop situations to Manning's Lookout.)
Dockrillia striolata - flower
While we were exploring these cliff-top locations we were "buzzed" by a Female Peregrine Falcon, (Falco peregrinus) clearly demonstrating proprietorial rights - so presumably she is nesting somewhere along the clifflines in the area. She zoomed past us, at eye height (on the cliff top edge), and then circled back through the forest behind us, calling excitedly, several times. These birds are cliff dwellers, and are totally at home here, being such skillful and powerful fliers, and lovers of updrafts.

Along the road into Manning Lookout there is a species of Prostanthera growing which I have only seen here (not elsewhere). From what I can work out it is likely to be P. incana, which is generally regarded as a coastal species, according to PlantNET. It is growing in a damp area (surrounded by Sword Grass) on black sandy soil, over sandstone, right beside the road. It is not growing in the more typical sandstone scrub at Manning Lookout, 500 metres further on, where the habitat is very dry. So, it appears to prefer the heavier, moister soil close to a "soak" which leads to a creek.That plant has very hairy leaves, which are "heavily crimped", with heavy veining, deeply incised. The flower colour is accurately reproduced in this photo, and it is more blue than many of the mauve-purple Prostanthera species. The plant was about 1.2 metres high, but wider than high.

Jim wanted to go down to Kangaroo Valley, to check out a potential landing strip, so we went down the Barrengarry mountain, into Kangaroo Valley and then along the Upper Kangaroo Valley Road. Along the bottom of the valley, there are tall stands of River Sheoaks (Casuarina cunninghamiana) growing. These plants had many really prominent clumps of Epiphytic Orchids flowering along their stems, some as low as 3 metres off the ground, others higher in the trees. I was amazed to see these flowers dotted all over the branches of trees right along this section of the Kangaroo River. Presumably they are regarded as common, but I had not ever seen them before. From the thick, ribbed leaves, it is clearly Dockrillia linguiformis - known as the Tongue Orchid. Some people refer to this plant as Dendrobium linguiforme, but apparently that name is regarded as obsolete by most Orchid authorities.
The NPWS website includes the Plan of Management for Morton National Park (October 2001). In relation to Manning Lookout, this document states:

"Manning Lookout is a quiet area providing 3 lookouts into Kangaroo Valley and a long
walking track along the escarpment through attractive forest. The two northerly lookouts
and the associated walking track are not signposted and receive only low levels of use.

"The area is of historical interest as its use for recreation dates from the 19th century.
Old picnic facilities near the first lookout have been refurbished in recognition of their
cultural value. There are safety concerns with use of the area and investigation will be undertaken into the stability of the first lookout, and the feasibility of removing the two northern lookouts but retaining the track for experienced walkers. Upgrading is needed of the first lookout and track section." (My emphasis added.)


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

SCA does something nice

Lest people accuse me of never saying a nice word for the Sydney Catchment Authority, let me pass on a vote of thanks to Donna Sowry and the field staff of the SCA who found my Mobile Phone down along Tourist Road. I knew I had lost it, while photographing Orchids along the edge of Tourist Road, but I could not find it when I re-traced my steps. As Tourist Road is "out of range" of mobile phone reception, I could not arrange for someone else to ring the phone, every 5 minutes for me, until I might hear its plaintive ringing tone, and locate it.

This is an example of the kind of tiny Orchids which I would have been photographing when I lost the phone. As you can see they are shorter than the small tufted grasses amongst which they grow, which requires the photographer to "get down" (literally, on my belly) to take the photograph. That's what I was doing when I lost the phone.
A cluster of individual plants of Glossodia minor,
a lovely mauve/purple flower, about 4 inches (100 mm) tall.
Anyway, after I had arranged to re-activate my account, with a replacement SIM card (courtesy of Vodafone) I discovered a message from Vodafone Customer Service telling me that Donna Sowry, who I know as the Community Liaison Officer with the SCA, had reported that my old phone had been located.
Prasophyllum brevilabre
The Short-lipped Leek Orchid
This species is not rare, but I only ever see one or two each season, in Kangaloon.
I duly rang Donna's office, and left a message, and today I received my old phone back. While I had arranged a replacement phone and card, the important thing for me was getting back the memory bank of phone numbers stored in the old phone and SIM card.

Here is the flower of Prasophyllum brevilabre in close-up.
These flowers are the "right way up". but opposite to most Orchids.
That is, the "labellum" (which is white, and bent backwards in this species)
is higher than the column.
In most Orchids, the Labellum
(such as the "slipper" in "Slipper Orchids")
is below the column.
I have rung Donna and thanked her. But since I have a reputation for bagging the SCA, on this blog, it is fair that I record my appreciation - in public.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

More Peonies open up in Robertson

Today was a nasty hot, windy day. Even by 7:30 a.m. it was hot and windy, and the Peonies were starting to pop open. I picked several of the herbaceous peonies, after taking a round of photos - to protect the flowers from being destroyed on their first day. My friend Lucy is looking after them for me.

I had to go to Liverpool Hospital this morning, for a P.E.T. scan. That meant asking David to drive me, as the instructions explicitly state that patients presenting for P.E.T. scans must be driven to the hospital by someone else, so that the patient is relaxed when they arrive. Apparently this is so that the muscles are relaxed, which otherwise masks the uptake of the glucose solution which they use as a "carrier" for the radioactive trace which is used for the test. Anyway, that was not much of an ordeal, but the drive back was very nasty, with strong winds buffetting all the traffic, including my little square, and "boxy" vehicle, which is susceptible to cross-winds. We made it back, all right, fortunately. But the weather was very unpleasant - hot as hell in Sydney - and this is just mid-October. Already there was a bushfire on the Illawarra escarpment today. Just as well it was on the east side of the catchment, for otherwise, the westerly winds today would have driven a fire right across the Catchment area, and nothing could have stopped it. Anyway, back to Peonies.
Here is the first flower of the famous Coral Charm. This flower is slightly imperfect in form, unfortunately. It might open more evenly. It is showing the lightness of colour, which becomes more and more evident as the flower ages (fades) to a delicious pale creamy pink.
Here is the first flower of Paula Fay - just about to open properly. Strangely this flower did not react to the hot weather as much as Coral Charm did - for when I left this morning CC was still a tight bud, but by the time I got back, it had opened up (as you can see above). Paula Fay has a distinct bluish tinge to the flower, in contrast to Coral Charm. The next flower is Coral Fay, which you first saw in Sunday's posting. It looks different today, because of the brilliant morning light, and two days of age on the flower. Compare the two photos, for interest sake. Look at the earlier photo again here.

Coral Fay (this plant) and Paula Fay (above) were both introduced by the same grower, (Orville Fay) in America, from seeds collected in a monastery garden, but the plants do not appear to be closely related. Both have Paeonia peregrina in their breeding, but the flower above shows more influence of P. lactiflora, whereas Coral Fay (below) shows strong evidence of its P. tenuifolia origins visible in both its bright red colour, and especially in the finely divided foliage.
And now for something completely different. This is the lovely "Good Lady" - a hybrid Tree Peony bred in Melbourne by Dr Bernard Chow, a famous Tree Peony breeder. This is the flower seen in the very early morning light, as soon as it had opened. After one day of exposure to light, the flower was already showing a considerable colour shift to a lovely soft lilac pink. It is always amazing the tone shifts which this flower achieves. And it will change more in the next few days, as you will see. It has another strong characteristic, and that is the plant is a good strong grower, with lovely healthy foliage. I love this plant. Not only is it "different", it is just a truly charming flower.