Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Monday, June 30, 2008

Little Eagle circling on the breeze

In the mild south-westerlies of Sunday afternoon, a Little Eagle (Hieraaetus morphnoides) came up from the forests around Belmore Falls. This happens occasionally, and I am grateful to the ever vigilant Magpie population for letting me know that an Eagle is on the wing. Their calls take on a distinctive tone and urgency, even if they are not "ganging up" on the Eagle. Then the frequency of their calls gains greatly in intensity.

It is two years and two weeks since I wrote about such a visit - it hardly seems so long. That bird appears to be a lighter form ("light morph"). Both sets of photos were taken from my back deck - same place, two years apart, with the same weather conditions (mild south-westerly winds).

The ratio of wing length to tail length is distinctive of the Little Eagle. The tail is relatively short, compared to the Whistling Eagle, and much shorter than the Wedge-tailed Eagle. The Birds in Backyards page (linked above) states that Little Eagles turning in tight circles, on straight wings, is also distinctive behaviour. Both of my reports reveal just exactly that behaviour.

Yesterday's bird is somewhat different in markings (than the previous bird) - much more clearly marked, spotted. This bird is showing a shiny spot under the wing - this is a patch where there are very few feathers, so it is a patch of skin reflecting the sun. The wings are on full extension (for full lift) and the tail is slightly fanned, as the bird is circling.In this shot, which I have marked as "perfect wing form" the wing-tips are closed, as the bird is gathering speed, turning with the wind. Tail is still fanned, for stabilisation of position.In this photo, the bird is circling back into the wind, and is nearing a stall. Wing tips are just spread, and the tail is fully spread, for maximum lift and control.
This photo shows the clearest colour underneath, as the bird turns away from the sun. This bird is clearly a "dark morph", and from the heavy body, almost certainly a female. As ever, when watching these displays of flight control, I am always in awe of the way these birds can circle, gain height, turn and then reverse their "circling" direction, without flapping their wings even once.

This bird was flying high enough that the local Magpies did not feel it necessary to chase it off. So, it circled up and down the valley over a period of about 10 minutes, while I took these photos.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Working bee at the Big Potato revamp

Robertson Gold - a bag of freshly picked Robertson potatoes - on sale today as a fund-raiser for the Big Potato Revamp project. Thanks to Judy and Allan Hollis and all the volunteers who helped out today and yesterday, and who donated their services, and plants, and who donated funds towards this community effort.
Girl Guides from the Moss Vale troop (many are local Robertson girls), turned up to assist the other volunteers in completing the basic landscaping around the Big Potato in Robertson.
The weather was warm and sunny, which was fantastic. On other days, people might have been less keen to get out and about, shovelling road base material, or carting mulch around in buckets.
A path now encircles the Big Potato. This hard surface should make access to the Big Potato easier, especially in wet weather.
There is another path which leads around the back of the park, amongst the newly transplanted Japanese Maple Trees and tall Weeping Cherries.
It was a happy group of people, kids and adults.
Allan and Roden are planting Camellias on the eastern side of the park.
Roden relaxing with some of the other workers, after the main rush was over.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Robbo Spud - make-over starting in earnest.

Today Judy and Allan Hollis and friends turned up with trucks, trees, bobcats and other equipment to commence the landscaping around the "Big Potato".
The first thing I would address your attention to is the red soil - both on the exposed roots of the trees (still on the truck) and also where they trees are about to be planted. That's what real Robertson soil looks like, folks.
No wonder things grow well here!

Allan was here two weeks ago, rendering over the original doorways, if you recall. That work has now been completed, as you can see. Not quite a perfect colour match, but it is pretty good.
Dorothy Baker, President of the Robertson Chamber of Commerce, is saluting the first of the newly transplanted Maples.
Tomorrow (Sunday) we hope that a working bee will take place, with local Girl Guides and others, assisting in planting other shrubs, shovelling mulch and roadbase material for paths, etc.
Here is one of our "secret weapons" for what makes the soil so good - a Giant Earthworm - uncovered by the excavator when digging holes for the trees. This is very likely to be the "Giant Earthworm" first discovered by J.J. Fletcher at Burrawang in 1886 . If I am correct, then this would be Notoscolex grandis. Apologies for the poor quality image. I should have used a flash. Sorry. I forgot to check the image at the time, and I have needed to lighten it somewhat, in post-production. This worm was approx 30 cm (15 inches) long.
This worm is still alive, and in good condition I am pleased to say. I did not touch it, as they have a tendency to break in half- as a defence mechanism - if touched - a process referred to as "autolysis" by the specialist writer R.J. Blakemore, in "Eucryphia" (Vol 54 - July 2001). A quick search on the Internet revealed that word to generally mean "cell death as a result of self-digestion". It is a term much used in wine-making, it seems - with a much more general meaning than the way it is apparently used by earthworm biologists such as Mr Blakemore. Bob Blakemore has published some 90 papers or more on Earthworms, and may indeed be Australia's leading expert in the field, even though he now appears to be working in Japan. I am not about to dispute his use of the word "autolysis".

Regardless of the precise use of the word, the reality of worms splitting in two if handled is not disputed. "Fletcher said “It is somewhat difficult to extract these large worms from the ground without injury to them, hence some of my largest examples are in a fragmentary
condition.” (Fletcher 1886 - as quoted in Eucryphia above)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Appin and Douglas Park visit - birds and Orchids

Further to my post of yesterday, about the deplorable state of the Georges River, let me now give you the good news.

There were Honeyeaters galore in the trees in Caroline's backyard. Her house sits atop the cliffs of the Cataract River Gorge. There are many Gum Trees along this top edge of the gorge, and, many other native trees and plants down below, in the gorge itself, of course.

The first birds I noticed were the Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, and Little Wattlebirds, and a family of Superb Fairy Wrens ("Blue Wrens"). We sat on the back deck and had a coffee, and listened to the Striated Pardalotes in the trees (always hard to see, while feeding on Lerps on the Eucalypt leaves.) Eastern Spinebills flipped past us, their noisy wing-beats attracting our attention.

Caroline and I then drove past Appin, and went for a walk to the Georges River. We heard Whipbirds calling in the dense shrubbery, as we approached the river. Once we got there, I noticed some frogs calling (but not many). But it was the birds which I was most conscious of. The Yellow-faces were still around, but there were other Honeyeaters, including the wonderfully bright Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, and the ever-present New Holland Honeyeaters. Those birds love Banksias and Grevilleas, both of which were in flower. I saw a female Golden Whistler, and a Grey Shrike Thrush. Two Black Ducks were swimming fitfully on the river, near some reeds.

The highlight for me was hearing (could I believe my ears?) what I thought sounded like the call of the Peaceful Dove. I have not seen this species in more than 20 years. And when I did, it was in central NSW, near Forbes and Dubbo. Could they be here, on the edge of the Sydney Basin?
Sure enough, after a few minutes of walking along the banks of the Georges River, I saw first one Dove, and then, a pair of them, sitting on a dead shrub across the river.These are lovely birds, with a quiet, non-aggressive nature, and a quiet voice. So much "nicer' than the aggressive New Holland HoneyeatersThis photo is not great, but it is diagnostic. You can just make out the blue eye ring, and the fine markings on the back and neck. Definitely not the introduced Turtle Dove.

As we walked back up to the road, I noticed a grassy glade, which looked promising for Greenhoods. Sure enough, there were many large leaves of a Greenhood in this moist soil. After looking around I found two open flowers of the Blunt Greenhood (Pterostylis curta).

It has a lovely shape from side on. And from the front view you can clearly see the diagnostic twisted labellum (tongue).Back at Caroline's a beautifully marked Pied Butcherbird landed in the tree, while I was on the phone talking to Bernie. I whispered to Caroline that the Butcherbird was here, and straight away she went and got some pieces of bread and put them on the deck railing. Clearly the Butcherbird has got Caroline trained, and it rewarded her by zooming straight in and grabbing a morsel immediately.This snatch and grab movement was so fast I only had a moment to point and shoot. No chance to adjust shutter settings, before the bird was off. But you can see what good plumage it had. Clearly an adult male.

Late in the afternoon, the Noisy Miners had moved in and chased away the other Honeyeaters. But they did not disturb a pair of King Parrots feeding on the Wild Tobacco Plant (Solanum mauritianum).

As a late-afternoon bonus, a family of 8 Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos flew out of the Gorge, below us, and flew to a neighbouring Pine Tree. The younger members of the group then started their droning noises, while waiting for the adults to feed them. Who would be a parent?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Georges River at Appin

Today I made a visit with Caroline Graham to the George's River at Appin. Caroline is an active member of the RiversSOS group.

The first thing we noticed was the low level of water in the "river" - just a shallow trickle really.Next thing we noticed was the smell - a weak smell of Sulphur Dioxide ("Rotten Egg Gas"). (Editor's Note: My good friend Colin, of has reminded me that "rotten egg gas" is Hydrogen sulphide. Silly me! DJW)

This gas smell is a real worry, as it is obviously associated with the BHP Mining which has occurred very close to the George's River at this point. Caroline can tell you which of the Longwall Panels is closest to the river.

The next thing we noticed was the colour of the water - green - and the heavy concentration of algae floating down the river.The next thing we noticed was that the rocks which obviously had been covered by river water previously were now coated in a white dry powder. It looked like salt, but did not taste "salty". We both tasted it, but thought, afterwards, that we wondered quite what it was we were ingesting!

The next thing we noticed was that there were a few (only) frogs calling, and we saw two Black Ducks. Not surprising, really, as they manage to survive in very poor water conditions in places like Public Parks.

We walked along the river bank for a few hundred metres, and saw a number of BHP Billiton survey marker points. These had been installed by BHP Billiton workers on a previous visit we made to this location on 31 March 2008. We photographed the markers today. One was installed very close to the edge of the George's River - drilled and glued into the rock.Then we crossed the river and found a cracked rock half-way up the rock ridge across the river. Caroline's toes are marking the rock crack.It is not right that BHP Billiton (Illawarra Coal) can boast at its "Community Office" in Appin (which was closed today) that the company has produced a record productivity from its longwall mining. And yet, just two kilometres away, there is a poisoned river, a noticeable smell of gas, with excessive algae, white powdery residue, very low flow in the river, and cracked rocks just above the level of the river.

Why don't they talk about that?
You can make up your own mind.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Winter Wallflower: an ever-changing beauty.

Cheiranthus mutabilis, the Purple, winter-flowering Wallflower is a gorgeous plant. I love it.

I actually do not grow this plant in my own yard (for reasons which I cannot explain). I have planted it at the CTC@Robertson, and Dorothy and Bernie have it growing where they live, in Bowral. This is their plant.

The buds appear as a purple rosette. The colour comes from the colour of the bracts which cover the flowers before they open. Then as the first sign of the petals appear, they show as bright orange.

Purple and orange - what a combination? Interior designers would scream at the thought of matching those colours. But it works in nature.

As the petals first unfurl, the bright orange petal opens as a pale peachy yellow, and turns almost immediately to a buff-brown. The petals are suffused with pigments which darken as the flower ages. So yellow flowers change through a pinkish tone to purple. It is an extraordinary transformation.
Some modern forms of this plant are all purple, but, like many "improved varieties" of flowers, it is surely a retrograde step to remove its greatest charm - its changeability of colour - the "mutability" for which it is named. It is precisely this amazing colour variation which I love. How do the natural plant pigments achieve this colour change as the flowers mature? I wish I knew the chemistry involved.
This flower is very attractive to the Hover Fly, which itself is an adornment to any flower.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Robertson Nature Reserve - pine trees removed

At the entrance to the Robertson Nature Reserve there is a stand of about 10 huge old Pine Trees (Pinus radiata). They dominate the north side of the Reserve. As you can see, they tower over my little car, and the other native trees near the roadside edge of the Nature Reserve. One of these trees split and dropped a huge branch across South Street on 2 November 2007. I reported on this at the time.

Now the National Parks and Wildlife Service which manages the Nature Reserve has contracted for the removal of some of these trees, and the pruning of the limbs of some other trees which have been assessed as a safety risk. This work has commenced today, and is scheduled to last all week. Judging by the size of these trees, I am not surprised.

They are operating with an operator working from a "cherry picker", and with a 20 tonne crane, which is being used to lift and swing down to safety the large branches, as they are cut. This is a good process, which will minimise risk to workers, passers by and also to the rest of the vegetation in the Nature Reserve. Naturally the road (South Street) is subject to periodic closures, and "tidal flows" (Stop/Go signs controlled by workers) at times when half of the road (only) is open.
This work will result in some reduction in the Pine Cone feed supply for the resident Black Cockatoos, but as an environmentalist, i would have to declare that a good thing. We all know the Black Cockies love to chew the Pine cones, but in so doing they spread the seeds. Robertson does not need any more Pine Trees (25 metre high weeds) being spread about by the Black Cockies.

The NPWS Press Statement is as follows:

Robertson Nature Reserve Pine Trees
The National Parks and Wildlife Service has recently had a safety assessment done on the large introduced pine trees in Robertson Nature Reserve. A number of these pines were found to be in a state of significant decay and they may pose a safety risk for the public.

The Service also commissioned a heritage assessment of the introduced pines that included historical research and interviews with a number of Robertson residents with knowledge of the trees.

As a result of the recommendations of these assessments, the Service intends to remove some trees and prune the limbs of others that have been assessed as a safety risk.

A separate environmental assessment found that there would be no negative impacts on native species of flora or fauna in the Nature Reserve by removing the pine trees. There was some concern that the pines may have had a population of tree orchids growing on them, but it was found that these are actually a type of small fern that is common in the Nature Reserve. After the pines are removed, the site will be monitored for new weed growth due to increased light reaching the forest floor after the removal of the trees.

If possible, a disc of timber cut out of the trunk of one of the trees will be presented to the Robertson Museum.

The Reserve will be closed to visitors from Monday 23/06/08 to Friday 28/06/08.

If you require any further information please call the NPWS Highlands Area Office on 48878244.

End of NPWS Press Release.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Winter Solstice/ earliest sunset/longest night.

Well, technically I am a day late to post this, but I was out recording the happy event, not writing about it at the correct time.

I went up onto Mt Murray in the late afternoon (yesterday), to watch the sky change, and then observe the moon rise (below them) over the ocean. A line of clouds interfered with the plan, slightly.

My friends Steve and Celeste live on top of a hill, overlooking the Illawarra coastline. They do "big sky" better than most places. Here is the late afternoon light illuminating the coastal strip near Shell Harbour. The ocean is visible, but not very clear, as it appears to merge with the blue clouds above the horizon.
However, the afternoon light was terrific to watch. Knights Hill is marked by the TV towers, (one of which is flashing its strobe lights - 2 white dots visible). The cliffs above Macquarie Pass are (very briefly) highlighted by the late afternoon light. The ocean and clouds appear to merge - out to sea.As the afternoon sun dropped in the sky, it highlighted the white clouds, against the dark blue background. The colours of the clouds, and hillsides changed so fast, it was a joy to behold. The setting sun creates a pink wash over blue clouds, over the dark mass of Knights Hill.
A very interesting evening followed, and because we started at dark (on the shortest day), the evening drew to a close at a very early time, allowing us all to enjoy an optimal sleep. I woke this morning, refreshed and renewed.

My Peonies start to swell their buds from this week (I cannot sear it happens from this day onward, but certainly the experts swear it does), as they prepare to make their new season's growth. So the Winter Solstice is always a time of optimism for me - spring is coming.

I love the Spring. For me, the NEXT spring is always the best one - the one I am always looking forward to.

Friday, June 20, 2008

"Groundwater Borefields off the Agenda" - or are they?

Well, surprise, surprise, Matt Brown MP, Member for Kiama, wrote to me and other residents of Robertson and Kangaloon (the Southern Highlands parts of his Kiama electorate) today, with the headline: "Groundwater Borefields off the Agenda".
Matt's letter is more unequivocal than Nathan Rees' original statement. He says: ".... Nathan Rees has announced that water harvesting from aquifers in the Southern Highlands will not go ahead". That is ironic, given the apparent attitude of the SCA.

On the very same day as the Minister's statement was issued in Parliament, SCA officials were out and about hand delivering letters advising local residents in Kangaloon that the SCA are about to install a further set of "test bores", and one more monitoring bore. Some of these bores will be on private property.

Needless to say, we are looking into the fine details of the Minister's statement, and what action we can take to stop the SCA.

Is it a case of "weasel words" from the Minister, or a recalcitrant Government agency?

Regarding the letter hand delivered by the SCA on Wednesday (), re installation of further test bores, the SCA have responded to several questions from Save Water Alliance members, and other local residents today, by advising us that, as far as they are concerned, they have no reason to assume that they will not get approval by Frank Sartor to operate the Borefield.
It creates the impression that they are backing Sartor as a likely to carry the support of Cabinet, over Nathan Rees.

We are in for interesting times ahead.

You may read Matt Brown's letter in full below (click on the image of the letter to enlarge it, to make it easier to read).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Kangaloon Borefield to be "Shelved"

Well, it looks and sounds like Good News about the Kangaloon Aquifer, for a change. NSW Water Minister, Mr Nathan Rees announced on Wednesday 18 June that the Upper Nepean Borefield Proposal would be "put on the shelf". At least it is better than being told that the Borefield is to go ahead.

In Mr. Rees's Press Release, Mr. Matt Brown, the Member for Kiama acknowledged the strong community opposition to the project. Almost as an after-thought, Mr. Rees acknowledged that there was never much water to be gained from the project for Sydney, and that with the De-sal plant to come on line in 18 months, they simply do not need the Kangaloon Borefield.

Well, we should be gracious in welcoming the Minister's decision, but he does go to some pains to keep the door open for the project to be reactivated at some point in the future.

Over our dead bodies, Mr Rees!

The project is, was and always will be a total waste of taxpayers' money, and a dangerous experiment with one of the few "intact" parts of the Sydney Sandstone ecosystem. It is precious as an "environmental capsule", and must be maintained as such – not destroyed.

The Upper Nepean and Avon catchments should be immediately declared a National Park or Nature Reserve, and handed over to the National Parks and Wildlife Service for professional environmental management. Detailed plans were drawn up for exactly that to happen - a long time ago – by Helen Latham, on behalf of the NPA. The "Latham Report" is still available on the
NPA's website. If the NSW Government has forgotten that those plans ever existed I would be happy to provide them with fresh copies. They are more relevant today than ever.

Christmas Bells - at Butler's Swamp


On behalf of the Save Water Alliance and the other groups which have opposed this plan all along, may I thank first of all, the generous members of the local Southern Highlands community who have supported us by coming to public meetings in Robertson and Bowral. I wish to mention those who put bumper stickers on their cars, and the landholders of Kangaloon whose "no
borefield" signs were torn down prior to the NSW Election by partisan political activists. Those incidents of politically motivated vandalism inspired us to greater endeavours.

So, in retrospect, we should thank Mr. Brown's (alleged) campaign assistants for their assistance in our Anti-Borefield campaign. Their mistake was in not recognizing that our campaign was not partisan (it never was), but was factually based. Along the way, we have had support from candidates from Labor Party (except in the Kiama electorate), the Greens (at State and local
level), the Liberal Party and from the Climate Change Coalition, as well as numerous independent candidates in both the State and Federal election campaigns.

I wish to thank specifically the dairy farmers and potato growers of Kangaloon, Robertson and Burrawang who gave us enough funds to commission a report from professional hydrologist, Mr. Ray Evans. Ray's report provided the necessary facts and figures which we needed to convince the Federal Government that the SCA had its computer modelling wrong. From that point
onwards, we were on our way to convincing the former Environment Minister, Mr. Malcolm Turnbull to declare the Upper Nepean Borefield project a "Controlled Action" under the Federal environment legislation. Mr. Turnbull was persuaded, partly by our submissions, but also, no doubt by the numerous private messages he received from influential Southern Highlands residents.

Mr. Turnbull signed the all–important order on 13 July 2007. It means that the borefield proposal cannot (even now) go ahead without Federal Government approval. The NSW Government appears to have conveniently forgotten that legal hurdle. We have not!

Rare, golden form of Christmas Bells
growing at Butler's Swamp, Kangaloon

Next I wish to thank the various peak Environmental Lobby groups, such as the Nature Conservation Council, the Total Environment Centre, the Wilderness Society, the National Parks Association (NPA), Rivers SOS, and the Colong Foundation, which have all assisted the groups working against the Upper Nepean (Kangaloon) Borefield. Special mention should be made of the long-suffering members of the Upper Nepean Borefield Community Reference Group, and Leon Hall, President of the Robertson Environment Protection Society, and Mr. Jonathan Bell of the NSW Farmers Association.

Subsequently, when preparing the response to the Environment Assessment, we were supported by the "Friends of the NSW Farmers", in commissioning a further report from Mr. Ray Evans. We thank them for their financial support for Mr. Evans' second report.

Naturally, I wish to thank Ray for his excellent research and sound technical advice in support of our "cause" – the future well-being of the Kangaloon Aquifer. I also wish to thank Prof. Gavan McDonell for his wise counsel and guidance as we have stumbled along the steep path of this

The Member for Goulburn, Ms. Pru Goward has strongly supported the anti-borefield campaign, and we thank her for her support. We just need to convince the NSW Government to completely write off the borefield as a wasteful project and a dangerous environmental folly, not just play with words, like "putting it on the shelf". Abandon it now. Mr. Rees. Do not waste another cent on the Upper Nepean (Kangaloon) Borefield project.

I acknowledge Mr. Phil Herd, who initiated the Save Water Alliance. Without his energy and enthusiasm today's result might never have been achieved. I offer my thanks to Phil and the other members of our original Steering Committee, particularly Liz G, Liz H, Vicky, and Jonathan.

Finally, to the current members of our Committee, and our loyal volunteers, I wish to express my deepest gratitude for their on-going support, enthusiasm and efforts.

Denis Wilson


Save Water Alliance

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Fundraising Success for CTC

The "Mental Floss" Trivia Night fundraising event for the CTC went off very well.

Thanks to all concerned. Our President Jenny Kena sent out this message on the Sunday:

Hi everyone

Just letting you know that the trivia night raised just on $1200 clear for the CTC!

Thanks to everyone who helped, especially those who donated prizes, found sponsors, helped organise it and/or attended on the night.

This will be a great help with our insurance bill which has just arrived – not an exciting way to spend money but a necessity of life – so this is a great result, and a fun night too.




  • The following statement was issued later in the evening: "Speaking personally, I can say that our table "The Belindas" were "on fire" that evening, and gave some spectacularly good answers to questions, and were polite and co-operative with Management at all times. We did not swear or use abusive language, and my husband had not consumed any ----- "
  • Oh that's a different story. Sorry.

True and factual statement:

My table, "The Belindas" did in fact win first prize, and were deeply grateful to the numerous sponsors whose prizes we shared. Other good prizes were won over the course of the evening by many participants, and a good time was had by all. I shall publish some photos later on today.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Big Potato getting a make-over

Robertson's own - the "Big Potato"
Judy and Allan Hollis are working with the Robertson Chamber of Commerce, and Jim and Roden Mauger, the owners of the "Big Potato", and a number of other volunteers, to tidy up the Big Potato. The Girl Guides from Moss Vale will be involved and a group of local kids who attend the Moss Vale High School, as well.

It has already been "pressure cleaned" to freshen it up, and make it look brighter. That's a start.

Today Allan Hollis was working to close off the two alcoves, which once were doors into the "Big Potato".
Allan is using a "Flicker Box" to achieve the right finish to match the rest of the Big Potato's rendered surface.Closing off these doorways ought make Robertson's own "Big Thing" a safer public place. There will no longer be access to the interior of the structure.Judging by how it had apparently been used, one can only say that is a good thing. When explaining this to someone today, he said: "What, you mean as in.... George Michael? ....... "
In weeks to come, the land around the Big Potato will have paths laid out, and plants planted, to tidy up the whole scene, and make it all much more presentable. Hopefully a fitting attraction for Robertson to be truly proud of.
The daffodils which Jill Keft from the Robertson Village Nursery planted over the last two years are already showing signs of poking through the soil, so they will make a nice Spring display, as before.