Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Monday, March 31, 2008

The bridges of Wollondilly Shire are closing down.

There is a small bridge just off Douglas Park Road, on Morton Park Road, which has been closed. I drove over this bridge several times in February, and was concerned with its condition then. It was a dodgy-looking bridge then. Now it is closed.

OK - Good thing to close an unsafe bridge, you might say.

The interesting thing is that this local road, in the Douglas Park area, is in a direct line with the seriously compromised Twin Bridges, on the F5 Freeway (Hume Highway). I say "seriously compromised" but the RTA officials would dispute that. They are entitled to their point of view. I should just settle for saying these Bridges have been "seriously reinforced - at the expense of BHP Billiton".So why did BHP Billiton pay for that bridge repair? Because clearly the RTA was concerned to protect the Twin Bridges from possible damage, because of subsidence, caused by coal mining by BHP Billiton just to the north of the Twin Bridges.
And that takes us back to the Morton Park Drive bridge. It is just north of the Twin Bridges - in a direct line. The Wollondilly Council has closed the bridge on Morton Park Road, because it says it cannot afford to pay to repair it. Why does it not send the bill to BHP Billiton, as the RTA has done?

And this is not the only case of a bridge in that area which has been closed. There is an historic bridge, called the Maldon Suspension Bridge, which is now closed. It is partially dismantled. The official story of this bridge is as follows:"Spanning the picturesque Nepean Gorge, the Maldon Suspension Bridge is one of only a few true suspension bridges in New South Wales. It was built in 1903 to replace Harvey’s Crossing, a stone causeway situated a couple of hundred metres upstream.
The Maldon bridge differs from the normal suspension bridge in that the main cables leading from the towers are carried upwards to an anchorage in the sandstone cliffs above the bridge instead of downwards to ground level. It also has unique curved timber approaches. A bushfire in January 1939 severely damaged the bridge and the original timber towers were replaced with identical steel ones. Maldon Suspension Bridge was closed to vehicle traffic with the opening of the F5 Freeway and the new Picton Road from Wilton in 1980." Macarthur Tourism website.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tree Frog and Orb-weaver Spiders today.

Today I went to a site in Yallah, north from Albion Park, on the flat land below the Illawarra Escarpment, to assist the Illawarra Branch of the Australasian Native Orchid Society (ANOS) in doing some weeding in a site where apparently there are some very rare Greenhood Orchids.

The site is getting overgrown by Lantana plants, and some Pittosporums. Although the Pittosporums are local native plants, in this area, they are behaving like weeds, and so it has been decided to thin-out some of their seedlings, along with removing the Lantana bushes. All this is in order to give the Orchids some chance to survive. They are sufficiently restricted in their habitat and distribution to make this effort worthwhile.

While we were weeding there, today, the Orchids (if they are there) are dormant. We did not see any, apart from a few leaves of an Acianthus species.

However, we did see a lovely grey Tree Frog. It is probably a Peron's Tree Frog, (Litoria peroni) but we did not wish to disturb this little guy and so, it was not quite possible to see some of the distinctive markings which we might have seen if it had moved. It was not calling. Frog calls are usually the best way to distinguish different species of frogs, which might look similar. Other grey or brown tree frog candidates include the Jervis Bay Tree Frog, (but it doesn't look right, but photos of a single frog can be misleading); or Verreaux's Tree Frog , which looks a little closer to my little Frog. It has a very distinctive call (but as I said, this little frog was not calling today). On balance I would say it is most likely to be Peron's Tree Frog. The marking inside the leg, look correct for that species, in as much as one can see from this angle, looking at the frog's tightly closed leg.
It did not wish to move, and we decided not to disturb it any more that we already had, by removing a neighbouring Lantana bush. It was a perfect example of good camouflage. I thought it looked very cute hiding in its grey-stemmed roost of a small Melaleuca shrub.

The other thing we saw, in great numbers were Orb Weaver Spiders. Here is a particularly fine specimen of a female Golden Orb-weaver Spider (Nephila plumipes). In fact there is a small male just above the abdomen of the female.I took this close-up of the web to try to show its golden colour. This colour of the web is only visible in bright sunlight, and when viewed on a certain acute angle, from close to the web. So, this shot is taken looking across the length of the web (parallel to the web).There was also another spider, high up in a corner of the same web. According to one of the people in the group, it is not unusual to find different species of spiders (small ones) sharing the same web, and feeding off the scraps left over by the large Golden Orb-weaver. This one looks like the Silver Orb-weaver Spider or the more descriptive name: "Silver Camel Spider" (so named because of its high back, it seems) (Leucage dromedaria). One could not possibly make an absolute naming from this single photo, but it looks about right.
So, no Orchids today, but an investment in their future, hopefully. And some nice photos of interesting creatures. none-the-less.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Swamp Wallaby in Robertson Nature Reserve

I have long been aware that there are Swamp Wallabies reported occasionally in the Robertson Nature Reserve. I have even had occasional nocturnal glimpses of them, myself, along the roads which run around the edge of the Nature Reserve. I have also heard the occasional "thump" of one crashing its way through the bush in there.Today, however, when the Sydney Fungal Studies Group came to visit the Nature Reserve, looking for fungi, here was this Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) sitting up "as bold as brass" in a patch of ferns, watching the members of the group. It sat there observing us for a minute or more, and allowed us plenty of time to change our camera settings from macro settings to long shots. Then it gently hopped away.Although I had a great time looking at the fungi in the Nature Reserve, this was the highlight for me. I shall process lots of fungi photos and try to get names for as many as possible, over the next few weeks. But tonight I shall settle for the Swamp Wallaby.With only a head view, I could not tell if it was a male or female. A charming Wallaby, none-the-less.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Crimson Rosella in a Robertson backyard

The Crimson Rosella, Platycercus elegans is a common bird in Robertson. No question about it, but they are seldom as "open" in their feeding as this bird. Not only is the bird colour co-ordinated, with the Pineapple Sage (Salvia rutilans), the photo shows the bird actually feeding in their favourite way, crunching on the nectar-filled base of this red tubular flower.

I planted this plant at the back of the local Community Technology Centre, four years ago, just before the CTC opened (scroll down the volunteers page to see me in action!). I selected this plant in order to attract the Spinebills, our most common small Honeyeater. So I was surprised to spot this Rosella sitting there, low down in this bush, having a sweet treat (it has the sweet base of the flower in its beak). This plant is not Australian, it probably comes from Mexico (many Salvias do). Mexico is famous for its Hummingbirds which have evolved their long beaks and their hovering ability, to feed on tubular flowers (their favourites are red ones). Australia has many red, tubular, nectar-rich flowers, and we have our own specialist nectar-feeding birds - the Honeyeaters. Long thin beaks which they insert in the flowers. In return they receive a dob of pollen on their foreheads, which they take to the next flower. Thus they complete the nectar feeding-pollination cycle for the plants.
Juvenile Eastern Spinebill - note the long beak.

But our Rosellas have developed the ability to by-pass that pollination cycle. With their heavy, crushing beaks, these parrots are essentially seed eaters. However, many have developed a "sweet tooth", and crunch the base of the nectar-rich flower, to access the source of the sweetness. Unfortunately, for the plants, this totally defeats the plant's pollination strategy. I have previously illustrated the destruction of Waratah flowers by Rosellas.

My favourite image of Rosella feeding is this "head shot". It is severely cropped from a shot of a Rosella feeding in a Tree Fern in the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra. In this case the bird is eating the fresh tips of the new growth on a Tree Fern.
I just love the colour balance in this photo. It is also a good shot of the detail of the strong, pearl-like beak and the coloured head. The blue cheek patch is distinctive of the Crimson Rosella, even in juvenile birds which are often green, or mostly green, causing confusion in inexperienced bird-watchers.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

More about Gang-gangs in Glenquarry

The Gang-gang Cockatoos of Glenquarry are still there. I stopped briefly late this afternoon, to take some more photos, for as I approached this area, a family of Gang-gang Cockatoos nearly flew into my little car. Seriously. I had to brake sharply, to avoid a Gang-gang flying into the front window of my car.

I still have not managed to get a really good photo of the males (I assume that this is because they are self-conscious, and know their red heads make them highly visible.)

However, a female and her two youngsters were more co-operative.
The female bent down from above, to feed the first of the youngsters. There is a strange "machine gun" sound as the female regurgitates the food to the juvenile. I am not sure which bird makes the noise. But the youngster holds out its wings, shaking them, as part of this begging/feeding process. Sorry about the poor image quality, but it is an event worth reporting.Regarding the SCA's Special Area restricted access policy, here is what the local Wombats think! This poo was carefully placed (by a Wombat) on the SCA gate across the former Diamond Fields Road, (from Tourist Road) Kangaloon, as seen today.As they say in the Theatre: "What a critic!"

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Orchids and a Green Frog in Kangaloon, today.

On an Orchid Ramble today, in Kangaloon, our best find was a frog! Strange as that may sound!

We were all having a very interesting exploration, looking at Orchids, along the edge of Kirkland Road, in Kangaloon (not trespassing, folks) when a squeal of delight indicated that one of our little group had found something unusual. Indeed they had. Just one metre beside the road was a very fine specimen of the Small Tongue Orchid, and beside it was a tiny green frog.
Sorry about the quality of this second image, but it serves to show some diagnostic features. Close examination revealed it was a Tree Frog (pads on its toes). But it was such a little frog - barely more than an inch (25 mm in length). It had an eye stripe which was quite conspicuous, but a fine line, not a heavy one. From what I can work out, it is possibly a "Leaf Green Tree Frog" Litoria phyllochroa .

Evan, of "Liquid_Ghoul" Frog photos fame, advises me that it is likely to be Litoria nudidigita. These two frog species are apparently very similar (despite the dissimilar images on those hot-linked websites). His reason is that the second species has a more southerly distribution. Mind you, it seems these species have recently been "split". (That feels familiar, as an Orchid enthusiast!). If you look at Litoria phyllochroa on this other website, they show it as having a wide distribution. Maybe old records, prior to these species being re-classified? It is beyond my knowledge. The comforting thing is that both species are known by the same common name "Leaf Green Tree Frog".

Thanks again to Evan who responded very quickly to my plea for help. His full photo set is found here. Lots of interesting photos of very varied subjects. You can search his photos using the "tags", if you are looking for particular subjects.

After the exciting diversion of finding the little Frog, we got back to Orchid hunting. Once again another member of the group found these Tiny Greenhoods (which I had not seen in this locality previously). They are very tall and multi-flowered. (Editors note: DJW 28.3.08 - Remember I am talking about "Tiny Greenhoods" - so it is all relative. These plants were about 10 inches tall (lets guess about 25cm). Compare that with the little brown form of Tiny Greenhoods I have described previously, these plants (today) are twice their size (or more). Those plants average just 4 inches, or 10 cm.)
It is interesting to see the variation in colour which occurs on the same stem of one single plant.The flower on the left is the newest flower of the Tiny Greenhood (Speculantha parviflora). The centre flower is clearly a mature flower. On the right is an ageing flower (it was low down on the stem, and these plants open their flowers from the lowest flower, upwards, so lower flowers are older.) The flower at the top of the right-hand stem was the wide-open flower, which was clearly the newest flower in the group. It is the darkest of them all. (I had not positioned these flowers in "order of age, left to right originally. But I have fixed that now - DJW It was too late originally, I was tired and needed to go to bed.) So, the point is, the flowers start dark green, fade through light greenish yellow and then develop into a soft yellow-brown colour. All in the one plant colony, don't forget. Two plants gowing together, probably linked via underground stolons, and therefore almost certainly genetically identical. It is an ageing process, not genetic variation I am talking about.

And for some light relief, here is George's visiting Peacock, peering in through the windows in George's house. It strays down the road from the pretentiously named Fountaindale Grand Manor. It annoys George, but even he can acknowledge it is a beautiful thing. It is moulting at present, so I did not take a photo of its back, as it was not up to its normal gorgeousness. You can see that the crown feathers are just re-growing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Odds and Sods in Kangaloon

Today was full of surprises for me as I shuffled around the quiet bushland in Kangaloon. I firstly found a green form of Chiloglottis seminuda. This is now the second green form of Chiloglottis which I have seen. Not rare, just unusual. Interesting anyway.
When I blew the images up to their maximum I could see many Aphids, with quite long antennae on this flower. I am used to finding spiders on Ground Orchids, but never Aphids before.

Then I found a most unusual peach-coloured Moth with wings held straight out like a "glider" plane. Very unusual. I have not yet checked the wonderful Moth reference pages available on the web. When I do, I hope to be able to tell you the species and family. From the front it also looked unusual. I was expecting the normal hairy head and body common to many moths. But instead it looked quite sleek, and very angular in the legs which were not at all hairy. Altogether a most unusual moth.I subsequently found that a group of Corybas aconitiflorus (Helmet Orchids) which I have been monitoring for three years has come into flower, just in time for tomorrow's NPA "Orchid Ramble". These plants are particularly interesting, as they are very small in flower size. Specimens of this colony are safely stored in the National Herbarium, collected at the request of the now retired Mr David Jones.And the Sods? Well, no surprises there. The SCA. I was warned off this area today, by one of their officers, despite the fact that there are no signs indicating that this area that I have been studying plants in for four years is apparently SCA land. Believe me I have asked who owned this land, previously, and was told that it is Crown Land. And now they are barring my entry.

Without any signs declaring it to be Special Area land, and prohibiting entry I think they have got a nerve.

I have been requested to send an email to Mr George Dodds, of the SCA Head Office. I have done that, and I await his reply.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Echidna - live and digging, out in the bush.

About once every 6 months I see an Echidna. Usually they are walking along beside a road. Once I stopped to prevent one committing suicide by trying to walk down the main street of Robertson.

Anyway, this little Echidna (I would estimate it as 3/4 sized individual) I found in the bush along Meryla Pass Road. The soil was very loose, grey sandy soil, in heathland shrubbery, under Scribbly Gums, over a sandstone rock shelf. There were lots of nests of small ants, which probably explains why it was there.

Nose marks of Echidna, poking into ants nest.
I was very surprised to come around a patch of low heath-type shrubbery and suddenly find the back of the Echidna sticking out of the loose sandy soil. Clearly the animal had heard me coming, and burrowed its head into the soil. Naturally I gave it a little prod, which produced a response of it wriggling further into the soil.
Echidnas have very powerful legs, especially their front legs, with which they do most of their digging. This little guy clearly did not want me to disturb it, and I agreed. They have a very wide flat tail, and that is quite muscular as well, and the flap of its tail was tucked down very tight into the soil, to prevent me trying to do the bushman's favourite trick of lifting them up by the back legs. So, I left it in peace and kept on exploring for Orchids and other interesting things.

On my way back to the car, I found "another Echidna". A quick check of the original spot showed the marks where the Echidna had originally burrowed in - but it was no longer there.

Marks where the Echidna had first burrowed in.

Clearly I had found the same Echidna twice. It was doing exactly the same thing as before, but ina slightly different location.
Suddenly it lifted its head, to see if I was still there. I was! Thanks for the photo opportunity - about 3 seconds worth.

On a closer view, you can make out its long thin snout (where its long tongue is housed) with tiny nose holes on top. (Click on image, to see it more clearly).And the verdict? It still didn't want to know anything about me. Time for me to leave it alone.
You can clearly see where the tail is located, from the different shape and angle and colour of the spines at the rear. A set of long, white spines poke out in a radiating pattern from the rear of the animal. Those spines are protecting its flat tail.

There is an Echidna research project (Australia wide) being conducted by a researcher on Kangaroo Island, South Australia. According to the information there, Echidnas have been around for 110 million years. They apparently survived, when the dinosaurs died out. Not a bad effort!

You can even fill in an Echidna Watch Form. I have done so, and I will post the form off.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Gang-gang Cockatoos in Glenquarry

Male Gang-gang Cockatoo.
His brilliant red head is very distinctive.
Recently the SCA burnt off a large area of the bushland in the "catchment" area. This is the supposedly "protected area" (Special Area A) which is "supposedly" under their "protection". This area is known to include many Endangered and Threatened Species, including the Mittagong Geebung and the Gang-gang Cockatoo (Callocephalon fimbriatum), which is listed as "vulnerable" on the NSW Threatened Species listings. Plants such as the Mittagong Geebung are not able to fly away, in advance of a fire. Ninety percent of the known plants of that species in the area have been burnt. At least the Gang-gangs are better equipped to escape fire.

Since the burn-off, a large group of Gang-gang Cockatoos, about 25 in all, have started hanging out in a deep gully along Tourist Road, in Glenquarry. There are numerous large Brown Barrel Eucalypts (Eucalyptus fastigata) and also some huge "Manna Gums" (Eucalyptus viminalis) here.

Eucalyptus viminalis (Manna Gum)
A magnificent specimen, in Glenquarry.
There are also a number of large Hawthorn trees here, and they happen to have berries on them, as it is autumn. The Gang-gangs are mostly hanging out in the Eucalypts, but they also feed on the Hawthorns. It is very unusual to see as many as 7 mature male Gang-gang Cockatoos in a single flock. But this is the case at present, with these birds.A female Gang-gang peering at me, from the safety of a tall Brown Barrel Tree. Females have a rose-coloured wash on their chest and abdomen.
An immature male Gang-gang sitting in one of the Hawthorns. His crest is partly red, but he does not have the red cheeks which the mature males have. The males seem to know that their bright red heads make them more conspicuous, and so, tend to be more secretive, or wary of people. This youngster was not quite so shy. This young male is showing his cream scallop-shaped markings, on the chest and abdomen feathers. This post has been coming for a few days now. As Tourist Road is very narrow in Glenquarry, many people, such as James, saw me taking these photos. Other friends such as Lucy and Kim (for whom the Gang-gang is a very special bird) know that I was writing this blog post. And Joe in Florida likes reading about our Australian parrots.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Nowra orchids

Yesterday, in order to escape from the low, misty, wet fog of Robertson, I rang Alan Stephenson and proposed that we go out looking for Orchids down his way. I had already checked the Bureau of Meteorology's Radar images website to establish that it was not raining down the coast. Alan was thinking of going out anyway, it seems, so he kindly waited for me until I got there.

After a couple of dry runs in areas where Alan had seen some Orchids last year, we returned to a favourite spot of his, and we found many Orchids in flower, and far more species just leafing up, preparing to flower later in the season, or in Spring.

Relevant to the recent discussion on the Tiny Greenhoods, is this picture. This is the very first flower to open in this little colony of these Tiny Greenhoods (Speculantha sp. nova affine parviflora). It is primarily a green flower, with brownish tips. Last year, late in May, I happened to photograph the very last flower in this same colony of Tiny Greenhoods. It was nearly totally red-brown. So this would appear to confirm that these flowers change colour as they age. Note that, as this flower is just developing, the "points" or "ears" are already quite long, but not opened out yet, but are curled around the top of the flower. The "ears" are there, and are relatively long - much longer than the similar plants at Kangaloon, but they are not yet free standing. I expect that to happen, as this flower matures (compare the red-brown flower of the same species, below).

I know that the related Tiny Greenhoods in Kangaloon open with dark brown tips and change to reddish brown tips. However, in the last flower from last year, virtually the whole flower was reddish-brown. I shall make the trip back to this location several more times over the season, to monitor any colour change in these plants. This is the Nowra form of the Tiny Greenhood. Same species, just at different stages of development.Another Greenhood in flower in the same area is Pterostylis hispidula. It is generally similar to the "Nodding Greenhood" (Pt. nutans) except that its flower is generally held more horizontally. Pt. nutans is often very short in the stem, with the flower virtually down amongst the leaf litter (sometimes taller, though), whereas this flower was at least 200mm off the ground.
You can see the labellum clearly pointing down, under the flower. It is noticeably hairy. The brownish point of Pt. hispidula is also distinctive.

Alan also found a single flower of Pterostylis acuminata the "Pointed Greenhood". This particular flower seemed very pale.
The sinus is very open (separated from the "galea") and the labellum protrudes prominently. It is a hard, waxy-looking organ, and clearly shows a brown strip along its length. On this specimen the "points" are nicely held, even though from the rear, they looked wavy. The tip of the galea, (the dorsal sepal) is very long (hence the plants name), but of course, in Greenhoods, there are many other plants with a far longer tip of the hood. The pale brownish tinge to the colour of the tip of the hood is also a valuable identifier.

Thanks to Alan for showing these plants to me.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tiny Greenhoods - better photos

Following up the posts of the last two day, I went back today and captured some better photos of these amazing miniature Greenhood Orchids - Speculantha parviflora. Here is a small group of these plants growing in grass and low shrubbery. They are growing under Eucalypt trees, in medium shade. The soil is sandstone, with some exposed rocks close by. The sandstone soil is greyish, with some organic material apparent. By contrast, about 100 metres away (uphill), the soil is yellowish and very fine sandy soil. There are some of the brown form of the Tiny Greenhoods growing in that more exposed site, and on the poorer soil. This is my best photo of the front of one typical flower.With the camera in just the right position one can see the tip of the labellum (just visible behind the notch in the front of the flower). At the back of the flower, you can see the pollinia, still in situ (inside the "column"). This flower is fresh, still awaiting the arrival of an insect to take the pollen away to another plant. You can also see the split in the "hood" (the "galea") formed by the two petals (one on either side) which are fused with the dorsal sepal (in the centre) to form the "hood".Here is a side-on view of two flowers. These flowers are shrouded in cobwebs, as often happens.Here is a nice stem with two fresh flowers, and two which have finished. The lowest flower looks like it is dying, but the second one appears to have been successfully pollinated, as the "ovary" (the solid organ underneath the flower) is starting to swell. It will form a seed capsule. Here are 3 photos of these plants fused together to give you the whole picture in a single image.And here is a new image of the comparison with the green plant (Speculantha parviflora) and the brown form of the Tiny Greenhood. As with yesterday's photo, you can clearly see the "platform" which is quite prominent at the front of the green species. And the "hood" ("galea") is so obviously pointed, whereas the brown plant has a flatter front and a blunt (rolled) tip on the hood.