Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Storm which hit Sydney started at Macquarie Pass.

I watched an amazing storm developing this afternoon. I drove out to the edge of Robertson, overlooking Macquarie Pass, to get a good look at it, before it really burst. Here is a link to the views from this same position, early in the evening, and at dawn. The views are amazingly different from tonight's storm.

Mt Macquarie, overlooking the Macquarie Pass, looks very imposing with a tiny patch of sunlight showing up the forest just underneath the cliff face. The white cloud was being whipped up and over the escarpment face. There were strong lightning bursts, every 3 or 4 minutes.
On the way back into Robbo, I listened to reports of water over the Princes Highway at Albion Park, then heavy downpours at Bellambi (northern Wollongong), and then it moved north, towards Sydney, 100 kilometres away. It took a little over an hour to get there.

This image shows a wall of water being dumped out of this thunderhead, over Albion Park and Dapto, just south of Wollongong. This was the peak intensity of the storm, from what I could see.
According to the Weather Bureau's website, tonight, Huntley Colliery (the other side of that bluff, at Mt Macquarie) reported 35 mm tonight, and Bellambi scored 46 mm of rain. Both from this single storm. Tonight the news reports are carrying stories of 100 Km per hour winds at Holdsworthy (southern edge of Sydney) and then it went to Blacktown, where people are still waiting to have their roofs repaired after the last big storm, in early December.

This is a panoramic image. Click to enlarge it, to see the "full picture" of this storm - it spans from Albion Park (under the clouds, far right) back to Mt Murray at the very far left of the picture. Wollongong is under the storm, in the middle of this image.
And this is what the local birds thought of it all. Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus funereus) flew up out of the forests below the escarpment, heading north and west, away from the storm. Like the "Harpies" from a Greek tragedy, these birds were giving their full, drawn-out wailing cry. Very atmospheric.No sooner has these 3 birds flown past than a full flock (of 27 birds) flew up out from the valley below, also putting a lot of distance between themselves and the storm.

If you have ever seen these birds, you can possibly image how loud and ominous their combined 27 calls were. You can listen to the call by clicking here! Thanks to the "Birds in Backyards" website - from the Australian Museum (Sydney). The main site to the BiBY Bird Finder is permanently linked from the side bar of my blog.A very impressive ending to a very impressive storm.

POST-SCRIPT: The Illawarra Mercury has reported that the storm which I have witnessed here was caused by 3 separate storm cells merging.
  • A merger of three storm cells south-west of Wollongong led to the extreme weather conditions across the Illawarra on Thursday afternoon.
  • Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Chris Webb said that at 3pm on Thursday separate storm cells were recorded north of Nowra, south-west of Robertson and over Kiama.
  • About 4pm the three cells came together around the Dapto area, resulting in strong winds, heavy rain and hail as the storm made its way north.
So there it is. You now know why this particular storm was so powerful. You can read the full report here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hairy "Tiger Moths"

Have you ever grabbed a Moth, to throw it outside, at night, to stop it crashing into the TV, or your head when you are in bed, just underneath a low reading lamp? If so, then, like me, you will know that most Moths are hairy creatures. You will have ended up with a pile of dust on your hand - fine dust. In fact these are scales which brush off onto your hand, or the window, if a moths has been endlessly bashing the window, trying to escape.

There is a theory that Moths and Butterflies (both in the order Lepidoptera - which means scaly wings) evolved their scales as a defence mechanism against spider webs, as it apparently allows them to slip away from the web (well - sometimes, anyway.)Anyway, Wikipedia tells me that moths are much hairier than Butterflies, probably as an insulation device, because they are active at night (when it is colder than in the day). Indeed Butterflies generally have finer scales on their wings, and smoother bodies. Contrast that concept with this little Crimson Tiger Moth (Spilosoma curvata). It is wearing a very fashionable fur collar - (see also the Ermine Moth further down the page). In this photo (here below), you can see its "collar" is covered in long hairs. But the bright red part of its abdomen (visible in the top photo) is also extremely hairy (but with shorter hairs).
In case you did not notice this little Moth had died - long ago - and was dessicated, lying in the bottom of the window (which it why it was so co-operative in posing on its back). Here is the same species of moth, outside my front door, on 4 October last year. So, it is a springtime Moth (the peak season for moths in Robbo is autumn).This next little Moth is another type of "Tiger Moth" - a "Lichen Tiger Moth" (partly named from the colours, obviously). But it is in a specialist group of moths, the caterpillars of which are said to feed only on Lichen (hence the first part of the name). They are described as pupating in a thin cocoon, formed of felted hairs, which is stuck onto a tree trunk or a wall. In this case, an adult is sitting beside a cocoon, of another individual, which I find puzzling. Why would it do that? Is it waiting for a potential mate to hatch out? The cocoon was on a star picket fence post. It is Asura cervicalis. This moth is active in summer. This photo was taken last week.
This particular group of moths gets a special mention as being mimics, in a system known as Mullerian Mimicry. The idea is that these moths are unpalatable, or possibly even poisonous. But they share their colouration with other insects (wasps and bees) which are similarly unpleasant to eat. According to this theory, it benefits both groups of insects if birds and other predators learn (quickly) not to interfere with creatures which look like this.

Here is another moth which is closely related to the Crimson Tiger Moth (above). I have found these moths to be quite "tame" and allow themselves to be encouraged to sit on one's fingers. This is in the same genus as that moth. This one is Spilosoma canescens. Its common name is "Light Ermine Moth" which at least fits with its "fur coat" which it appears to be wearing. I love the colouring of these Moths, with the wonderfully bright upper side of the abdomen, and the front legs. The black dots along the side are a nice piece of design too. A really pretty creature.

The specific name "canescens" comes from the Latin word "cana", which apparently means grey, and also hairy. I had wondered why it looked like it was referring to dogs - maybe that is why, if the early dogs were wolf-like, they would have met both meanings. But this Moth is named for the original meanings of "cana", not for any resemblance to dogs, as such - it is just a coincidence.You can see from this photo that this Moth is quite similar, in the distinctive hairiness, to the "Crimson Tiger Moth" above. This is another springtime Moth - the photo was taken in October last year.

It is unclear if these Spilosoma species are "introduced" or "universal" - but I have found references to this one (above) in Norway and Japan. The known plant foods (listed on the Australian Moths web pages of both species above), are all introduced plants. So, I conclude that at least this one, and possibly both, are introduced moths. But neither is listed as a known "pest species" on the "Pests and Diseases Image Library" website, an Australian Government initiative.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Nepean River is in trouble

This is a report on a major threat to the Nepean River. May I remind readers that the Nepean River starts on the very edge of Robertson. It then flows under Tourist Road at East Kangaloon.

Nepean River, at Tourist Road Bridge, Kangaloon
In every sense, it is our local river, and we ought care if it is being ruined, just halfway to Sydney, at Douglas Park.

Caroline Graham of the Rivers SOS group has sent out photos which she took two days ago, of methane gas bubbling out of the Nepean River. This is occurring just near the "Twin Bridges" on the way to Sydney. The gas is coming from the coal seams hundreds of metres underneath the sandstone rock layers.

The gas is naturally occurring (released by the coal seams, but it normally stays trapped by hundreds of metres of sandstone rock), but:

Methane Gas bubbling out of the Nepean River 27.1.2008
Illawarra Coal (a BHP Billiton subsidiary) has cracked the bedrock, by subsidence spreading out from their Longwall Mine (Appin West, Area 7) close by.
  • BHP Billiton, in a press release of 18.1.08, have admitted that the first of their four underground longwall coal mines at this site has caused “minor releases of gas at the surface of the Nepean River”.
  • Methane gas vents on this scale show that the river bed has been extensively cracked and fractured as a result of the current mining operation carried out by BHP Billiton, which is extracting coal here at an offset distance of a mere 180m from the river.
  • BHP Billiton indicated in their Environmental Impact Statement that, in their opinion, an offset distance of 500m would be safe for the Nepean, but that this was “not economically feasible.” (This from a company that made $14 billion in profits last financial year).
Methane Gas bubbling out of the Nepean River 27.1.2008

So, in effect, BHP has decided that the River can be cracked, and poisoned, because making profits from coal is more important than the health of the Nepean River. It is as simple as that.

The Iemma Government is complicit in this, as it approves the Mine Subsidence Plans which BHP submits in advance of any mining. And, let us not forget that "fees" the companies pay via the Part 3A process under the Environment Planning and Assessment (EP&A) Act 1979, and the "royalties" the Government receives.
Methane Gas bubbling out of the Nepean River 27.1.2008
What is to be done?
Tell everybody you can who cares about this iconic river. After all the Hawkesbury/Nepean basin defines the Sydney Basin (region), and it is the fresh food "basket" for Sydney, and these rivers supply all the water for the entire population of Sydney and Wollongong.

Ring your local Member of Parliament, or ring Illawarra Coal directly.
  • Pru Goward MP, the Member for Goulburn in the NSW Parliament, is our local Member in the Southern Highlands. She should know about this already, as I have emailed her directly. Her electorate includes the Nepean Dam (the main reservoir on this river, although the damage is occurring just below that point, and therefore is just outside her electorate.
  • Phillip Costa MP is the Member for Wollondilly - and is the State local Member for the area where the damage is occurring.
If nothing occurs to stop this damage from getting worse, then the future of the Nepean River will look like this (an actual photo of the Georges River at Marhnyes Hole (pronounced "Marney's Hole" at Appin, in 2005.)

A dead river.
Iron Oxide staining, algae and bacterial mats
George's River, Marhnyes Hole. 2005
Do something today, before the Nepean River is killed, as the headwaters of the George's River have been killed.

Monday, January 28, 2008

What a difference a day makes!

Yesterday evening, at sunset, the sky was electrified. I had been out, with Bernie and Dorothy, for a pleasant afternoon early dinner of fish and chops in the Park at Lake Alexandra in Mittagong. I decided to take the scenic route home, along Range Road, and Tourist Road. As I did, I passed Lucy going back to her home. But I did not stop, as by then I realised there was a wonderful sunset developing. So I was rushing home to take some photos.
I took a series of photos, but this is the brightest, and most colourful. Lucy and I spoke on the phone this morning, and she now understands why I kept going in the opposite direction.....

What a difference a day makes!
This morning was foggy (unexpectedly). Then it cleared off, to a pleasant, mild, clear day. Then, equally unexpectedly, in the late afternoon, a fog developed out of Kangaroo Valley below my house. Often the summer fogs we get in Robertson roll in from the coast (moist air rising off the ocean and condensing into low cloud, actually). But this evening's fog was unusual.

Here it is.As Robertson fogs go, it was quite thin. So, the light was really unusual. The greens were very intense. I could just see the ridge across the local valley (as far as Pearson's Lane). So visibility would be estimated at 1 Kilometre.

As the song says: What a difference a day makes!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

More Orchids coming along

Firstly, let me say that Blogging has its rewards.
Today I was contacted by a lady in the Southern Highlands, with photos of an Orchid she had found at her place, and asking me to help identify it. Fortunately, I was able to help. Anyway, it is nice to know that people out there (who I do not even know) are checking my stuff on this blog, and that they feel as curious about the plants in their area (especially Orchids) as I do. I was pleased be able to assist this lady with identifying her plant.

As a matter of interest, her Orchid is a species which I have never seen - so I am jealous of her discovery!

****** ****** ****** ****** ******
In my own neck of the woods, I am monitoring a new Greenhood plant which is just about to open.I have some guesses as to what it might turn out to be, but I cannot be sure until the flower opens properly. Clearly it is a Diplodium, (from the tall stem, with "stem leaves"). Then there is the obvious brownish red colour already visible. And the long curved "hood". The two "points" are just starting to separate from the main part of the flower. they will probably end up standing high over the flower. To see what I mean, compare this photo with the last photo (at the end of this post). Trouble is, sometimes Orchids become food for a passing Swamp Wallaby, so I have taken a few photos at this stage, in case it gets eaten before it opens. It has happened to me, before! As you can see from the photo above, the front of the flower has a distinct bulge, and the front of the flower is still closed. Until that part of the flower (the "sinus") opens up, and the "labellum" is visible, I really do not have enough information on which to identify this plant for sure. Also, the angle at which the entire "hood" ends up sitting is important. These plants start out vertical - in bud stage - and as they mature, some bend forwards, others always stay more horizontal.

Also I am monitoring a small group of Wasp Orchids in the same area. All I know is that I found these plants last year, just after they had been pollinated - and the flowers had closed over (these Chiloglottis species flowers close as soon as they have been pollinated, to protect the sensitive parts of the flower. So it was impossible for me to positively identify the species by photographing it. And, at that stage I was not experienced in identifying these tiny flowers (not that I claim that, yet) - but I am better placed this year than last year. So, I am looking forward to checking out my "guess" at identifying these plants (last year).

Chiloglottis (Sp???) - leaves and bud developing
And, what do I think my Greenhood (above) might turn out to be?
Well, possibly it will be the same as this plant. Maybe.There are definite similarities in form, and leaf bracts on the stem. But until this new flower matures, I will not know for sure. You can now see why I was talking about the angle at which the hood ends up sitting. This one is clearly bent very strongly forward - especially if you realise that the photo was taken with the stem bent slightly back beyond the vertical, so I could see into the "sinus" of the flower, so one could see the "labellum" inside - a critical identifying feature of Greenhoods.

I checked where I found the plant (above) last year, and the plants are there, and growing, but as yet, there is no sign of flowering stems, or buds. So, why is this new plant, which is in a very dark, sheltered spot flowering ahead of those other plants? And there is the issue of a very different habitat from this species, and the new plants. Maybe they are not the same species after all. Time will tell - provided the Swamp Wallabies do not interfere.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Peacock's Eye

My friend George lives near Fountaindale Grand Manor (the pretentiously renamed former Ranelagh House). That guest house still has Peacocks roaming the grounds, and the neighbourhood.

George's photo of the Peacock on the bird feeder.

I wrote about the Peacock which visits George back in April last year. You need to understand that while Peacocks are very decorative, they are noisy birds (they were kept as security alarms in pre-electronic days, in the large British estates, and are both more decorative and safer to keep than a bunch of slavering attack dogs). However, they do not endear themselves to everybody in the district, when they crow (scream, almost) early in the morning. You can listen to a recording of a Peacock call (quietly) - here. In real life, the call is very penetrating, especially in the early morning. And did I mention that they defecate frequently, and voluminously?

My photo of the Peacock at George's place, last April.
Anyway, I like to see George's visiting Peacock (occasionally) - but while I like the Peacock for aesthetic reasons, I know he causes George and some of the other neighbours some grief.

Anyway, today the Peacock was visiting George (as I was too). I noticed when I arrived, that the Peacock was trailing one extremely long display feather. Unlike the native Lyrebird, these feathers actually grow on the back of the bird, not on its tail, but that is another story. This feather was hanging loosely behind the bird, but it refused to drop on the ground. However, after a bit of scouting around I found several discarded feathers - one in excellent condition. George gave me permission to keep these feathers. But before I left (with my treasures) George warned me that some people regard Peacock feathers as bad luck (inside the house). I had no idea.

Sure enough, when I checked the Internet I found no end of references to this superstition. In fact, apparently they are regarded as good luck - in Asia; but bad luck - in the Middle East and Europe. It seems this superstition is linked to the myth of Argus, and to the myth of the "Evil Eye". I shall not go into those vast subjects, (you can follow the links yourself). But I did learn that the Italians believe that phallic symbols, especially those little red horns that adorn millions of car windows in Italy, will ward off the effects of the "Evil Eye".

So that is one of my life-long puzzles solved. One down, 300 million still not explained!

Out of deference to George's sensibilities I have not brought the Peacock feathers into my house, lest something bad happen, and George might be forever able to say: "I told you so". That would be too hard for me to bear.
But I have ascertained (from George) that photographs are safe. I just love the magnificent sheen (caused by the way the feathers reflect light) on these display feathers, and the wonderful effectiveness of these iconic feathers as a display feature.

Whatever the human superstitions which have grown up around these feathers, clearly they serve their purpose for the Peacocks and their sombre Peahen partners.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Creatures which inhabit the Scribbly Gums.

I wrote a little while back about the Scribbly Gums of Tourist Road. A few days ago, I found a live adult Scribbly Gum Moth. This was the first time I have ever seen one of nature's graffiti artists. This is about 8mm long (only) - a tiny, tiny moth, in real life. Here is an annotated image. Here is the same creature, image blown up about 10 x magnification. Cute, but so hard to see. I like its "owl-like" eyes.
And yet its larvae are such a feature of the Australian bush.This is a soft bodied creature which appears to have many, many legs, so if not to be classed as an "insect". I am assuming it is a larval stage of something which will look quite different eventually. But I have not been able to find anything like it on the Internet, yet. This is a composite image, with the same creature, which as you can tell is quite active, it has changed position in each photo.
Here is the same creature, in situ, on the Scribbly Gum tree bark. It is about the size of a match-head, and really was quite hard to see, at first. Fortunately I had my macro lens with me at the time.If anyone has any ideas what type of creature this is, I would appreciate a hint. I don't know where to look for any information about such a creature. It seems to have 10 pairs of legs, or 9 pairs, plus mouth parts. An unusual number, anyway.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The tiny "Wasp Orchids" have started to flower.

Yesterday I found the first of the "Wasp Orchids" in flower. These were found growing in the tall Eucalypt forests on sandstone, in East Kangaloon. These are the first of the summer and autumn flowering species of a large group of tiny Ground Orchids. This one is apparently Chiloglottis reflexa the "Short-clubbed Wasp Orchid". Don't blame me for the awkward name. This is the first time I have been able to correctly identify this species, although I thought that I had found it last year. I had to correct that report, with the help of some other experts, including Gaye from the Hunter.

Last year, I found another species, (Chiloglottis seminuda) which carries the even more awkward name of Turtle Orchid, because of an apparent resemblance
of the glands to the shape of the "neck" of a tortoise. While on the subject of related plants, this link will take you to a post which shows two of the related Spring flowering species (now classified as being in the Myrmechila genus). Those plants are now called "Ant Orchids". They have slight differences in the way the lateral sepals are held flatter and wider spread, not curved down under the flower, as in these summer-flowering genus. There are slight differences in the calli (glands) as well - some have a double tip on the "head" (resembling "bug eyes" of an ant). I kid you not.
As you can see, these little Orchids have paired leaves (often slightly crinkled on the edges) which lie almost flat on the ground, in the natural leaf litter. The flowers are on a stem approximately 4 inches (approx. 1o cm) high. Their colours are reddish on a green background. Their camouflage against the red-brown leaves is nearly perfect. The leaves are easy enough to see, but often there will be a large colony of plants, growing together, but relatively few might actually bear flowers in any season. So, even when surrounded by lots of these little plants, you have to really look hard to find the flowers. When you do, the details of these tiny flowers makes the effort well worthwhile.
I find these tiny Orchids terribly hard to distinguish - one from the other. I appreciate the opportunity to consult with Alan Stephenson of the Australasian Native Orchid Society.

These Wasp Orchid flowers consist of a large almost flat tongue ("Labellum") which lies underneath the upright column, which is supported (or protected) by the "dorsal sepal". The large yellow blob (on the tip of the column) is where the pollen (pollinia) and the female organ are both located. In the photo above, note that the glands (or calli) extend down over nearly all of the labellum. That, and the overall shape of the labellum, and the length of the lateral sepals, distinguish this species from C. seminuda.

As indicated by their name (Wasp Orchids), these Orchids are pollinated by small male wasps (Thynnine Wasps)
of the Neozeleboria genus) in a process known as "pseudo-copulation". This term describes what happens when the male wasp is seduced by the odour emitted by the plant, and apparently believes the plant to be a female wasp, and it attempts to copulate with the flower (as if it were a real female wasp). (Photos are available on this linked site - scroll down till you come to photos of Chiloglottis trapeziformis - a closely related species to this one - being pollinated by male wasps).The mystery of this process is being worked on by advanced studies in molecular biology, isolating the chemicals the plants use to produce a scent resembling the pheromone produced by the female wasps. I have slightly "lightened" the background to this photo so (if you click on the image to enlarge it) you can make out the heart-shaped gland (callus) of the main scent organ on the labellum of this Orchid. These structures (in total) are referred to these days as a "pseudo-insect" - which is fair enough if you think about it.

What a complex and bizarre world we live in. And we humans delude ourselves that we are running the place. We have only just worked out what is going on here - but how far are we away from being able to make such wonderful "constructs" as false insects, which not only resemble, but smell like, female insects? But between themselves, plants and insects have collaborated to do just that (or is it a battle by the Orchids to outsmart the wasps?). Either way, how many millions of years might that have taken?

Monday, January 21, 2008

A summer morning (that's all we got)

Yesterday, summer came and went - it seems to be all over. Today was grey, windy, wet and cold (as the previous 3 weeks have been).

When the sun shone, and a warm southerly breeze blew (yes, warm and southerly - seems incredible) everything seemed to stir.

The first I knew of this was looking out my bathroom window in the morning, and seeing a female Grey Goshawk circling above the house. Of course, by the time I grabbed the camera, and rushed outside, she had gone. But I noticed the warm breeze (unfamiliar in cold old Robbo). I also noticed the Butterflies on the breeze. They were flitting everywhere. Then I looked towards a large Buddleja bush growing beside my driveway. There were butterflies galore, flitting from flower to flower. These plants lived up to their name of "Butterfly Bush".

The fat-bodied Macleay's Swallow-tailed Butterflies were all over this bush. This species of Butterfly seems to be hyperactive. They rest, just for a moment on a flower, and head off to the next one. Worse, while on the flower, they flutter their wings (while held high, and nearly closed). This makes them almost impossible to photograph (with autofocus engaged on your camera). Apologies for the relatively poor quality of these photos, but when will I get another Butterfly event like this - again? Certainly it did not happen today. So, it is a case of publish what I have - for educational purposes - and hope to improve on these photos later in the season. Maybe.The poor quality image below is shown just to demonstrate the upperwing wing patterns of the Macleay's Swallowtail (centre) (mostly white, with black marks concentrated towards the tip of the wings).
This photo also shows the intensity of Butterfly activity - for just this brief few moments of summer in Robertson. Three butterflies of two species on the one flower head.

This is the the Australian Admiral (or Yellow Admiral) (Vanessa itea) This image shows both the dull under-wing patterns (right) and on the left, the brighter upper wings (visible when the wings are open). That reverses the patterns if colouration visible on the Macleay's Swallowtail, which is brighter on its underside (visible when wings are closed - when held upright).
I am grateful to the work of Don Herbison-Evans and the Macleay Museum for their very authoritative website - on Australian Caterpillars - the larvae of both Moths and Butterflies.
The Butterflies and Moths of Sydney page from the Museum of Australia is also useful - but much less extensive.

This next Butterfly is the so called "Common Jezabel" (Delias negrina). There is a dark bee feeding on the same flowerhead of the Buddleja.This colourful butterfly is apparently linked to various Mistletoe plants for the food of its caterpillars. But obviously the adults are happy to stray to other plants for their sources of nectar. If you look back to the second photo in this post, you will see on the right, another member of this species, and you can see both the colourful lower (outer) wing side, and the nearly pure white upper wing (inside the wings when nearly closed).

And now for this poor specimen of a brown Butterfly.I can only hazard a guess that it might be a Meadow Argus (Nymph) Butterfly. But it might also be a "Common Brown Butterfly" - another of the Nymph group of Butterflies.

With such badly worn wings, it is presumably nearing the end of its short life. If so, it was at least enjoying this brief moment of summery warmth, feasting on the prolific nectar apparently produced by the Buddleja davidii. Go well, little friend.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The secret revenge of the Leech

Two days ago, I was out at Carrington Falls Reserve, taking photos of the red, brown and orange flowers and creatures, in the mist and rain. I also snapped this lovely fresh flower of the endangered Carrington Falls Grevillea (Grevillea rivularis) - which is endemic to this small Reserve. The fresh flowers start out purple (like this one) and fade slowly to pink and creamy tones, as the flowers mature. Unbeknown to me, a Leech managed to penetrate my sock (no insect repellent used). It was not visible to me while I was out in the bush, as it was inside my shoe. I now regret my lack of preparation for this bush stroll which I had undertaken, on an impulse.

I had seen that a gate, which is normally closed, had been opened, and left open. Odd, I thought.
Once inside the Reserve, I could hear machinery operating, and then found an NPWS truck. So I figured it was Sam and others doing work in the park. But as I am on the Committee of Management for the Reserve, I thought I would check out which of the various projects which need to be undertaken, was actually being worked on.

I walked along the trail, following the sounds of machinery operating, and chatted with Sam for a few moments. It turned out to be some unscheduled work, to clear several large trees, one of which ( a very large one) had fallen, and had brought down several smaller (but large) trees, across the main fire trail, totally blocking it. So the work was necessary. I wished Sam and his offsider well, and left. On the way back I took the various photos which I posted that other day.
When I got home and put my feet up, for a moment or two, a Leech emerged from my shoe. Damned thing. It was not very full, and I was not sure if it had attached itself (wishful thinking, on my part). I knew I was not bleeding from a wound, as can happen if the Leech has been accidentally knocked off. When they have completed feeding they inject a coagulant, to counteract the anticoagulant which they need to keep the blood flowing, while they feed. So, apparently I had been bitten, and then the bite "sealed off".

I knew what this meant. I would start to itch the next day.
Sure enough, about midday the next day, the effect of the pain killer the Leech had injected had worn off. They inject this pain killer so that we do not feel them attaching themselves - so that we are unaware of their presence, and do not disturb them until they have drunk their fill. Clever plan!

Sure enough, my foot started to itch like crazy, and was red, around the area of the bite. I have been applying a cortisone cream, to try and reduce the inflammation, and taking an antihistamine, for the itchiness. Neither is really working - well, they are probably working, but the itch is still driving me nuts.

Oh, well, I figure this is a win for the Leeches, to balance their loss two weeks ago, when I managed to keep them from attaching themselves, and had to be content with wandering across the very finely woven cloth of my knees of my tracksuit trousers.Leeches 1: Denis 1

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A few local Spiders.

Here is a link to what is named as a "Crab Spider" (Diaea evanida). It is also described as a Flower Spider - a name I have been known to use, if somewhat imprecisely. As an observer of flowers, and therefore an occasional finder of spiders - in flowers - it is natural to refer to many different spiders as "Flower Spiders". This little spider found her way into a car, where she posed for this photo (before being lifted to safety). This little orange-red spider is known as a Triangular Spider (Arkys clavatus) Although in body shape it resembles a "jumping spider", it does not have the large forward facing eyes which those creatures need in order to pounce upon their prey. This spider apparently is a "wait and catch" strategist. Quite what it was doing walking around on John Ross's car, I do not know.
This spider not only has a triangular abdomen*** (in outline), its back is noticeably raised (in profile), as you can see by examining it closely. Click on the photo to enlarge it. The first (in this case, lowest) line of yellow dots is clearly higher in the middle section. That part of the abdomen is much higher than the "carapace" (shell on the back of the front section of spiders, which is known as the "cephalothorax" - which simple means head-chest).

*** In spiders, the word Abdomen refers to the second body section, not just the "tummy" as in mammals. It includes what we think of as the "back" of the spider, as well as its belly. Abdomen is the entire second section of the body - behind the "cephalothorax". Spiders, of course, are "invertebrates", so do not have a "back" (or spine).

This next spider is a classic "St Andrew's Cross" Spider (Argiope keyserlingi). These spiders are not angry spiders. They are named for the way they hold their legs held out in the 4-way diagonal paired arrangement, resembling the diagonal cross of St Andrew, patron saint of Scotland. I have just learnt that the "X" shaped cross (crux decussata) derives from the traditional story that St Andrew was martyred, but refused to allowed himself to be crucified in the same manner as Christ (on a vertical cross), so was strapped to a diagonal cross - which is the pattern in the flag of Scotland. Certainly, this spider is living up to her name, and holding her legs in pairs, in the 4-way diagonal cross, as in the illustration linked above, for St Andrew's crucifixion.
Interestingly, there is a large egg sac visible in the background (top right). It is in another web, adjacent to this main insect-catching web. But from photos, it is a classic example of the egg sac of the St Andrew's Cross Spider.

Notice the bold striped patterns of this spider. She is much brighter than one at Jim's place, which was, uncharacteristically, living in an aircraft hangar.

Notice also the zig-zag reinforcing patterns in the web. These are typical of this species of spider. They are called "stabilimentum". Usually these also are positioned in the 4-way diagonal lines in which the spider holds its legs. This spider has only created two such lines.
When in danger (or at least when being photographed), these spiders hold themselves back off the web, and can set up a vibration, pulsing back and forth. I am indebted to David for pointing out this behavioural characteristic.

This spider is a bit of a puzzle to me. From its web, and the central line of "debris" (dead insects) in the middle of its web, it ought be in the Cyclosa genus. However, the photos of that genus of spiders which I have been able to find all show the back of the "head" (cephalothorax) as smooth (as in this image), whereas my spider is distinctly hairy (click on the photo above to enlarge it). In that regard, this spider resembles this "Tent Spider" (Cyrtophora moluccensis) more closely, but its web is not the classical tent spider web. The mystery of its true identity is not yet resolved. As this spider was in the garden at the back of the CTC, I shall return when it stops raining, and try and get better photos of it.