Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The first Tree Peonies of Spring

The first Tree Peonies have started.

As per usual, the very first to open was Destiny (a Paeonia rockii variant) - an old Australian variety seemingly brought to Australia by Chinese Gold-miners back in the mid 1800s.
The next day, the first of the Paeonia ostii flowers opened. Click to enlarge to see the details of the flower.
These things are so lovely I will not spoil their beauty with superfluous words. Click this image to enlarge, and see the glorious detail of the flower stamens, and the carpels in the "Eye of the Peony", and the dusting of pollen, which shows how fresh this flower is.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Cherry Blossom Time in Robertson

The Cherry Blossoms are starting in Robertson. I have had messages from Australians of Japanese origins in previous years asking about when the Cherry Blossoms are going to start. So, if you have friends from Japan, please let them know - the Cherry Blossoms in Robertson are starting.
We have a main street which is planted with double flowered pink Cherries. They are lovely when the bloom. Normally this coincides with the October Long Weekend, which is great, because it coincides with the start of the Springtime in Robertson Festival.After a warm patch of weather over the last few days, the first flowers opened up today.

For the people of Robertson, it is like welcoming back an old friend, to see these lovely flowers opening again.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Echidnas ought not cross the roads in Spring.

Graphic photo warning. This post shows images of a fresh road-killed Echidna.

These poor little guys cross roads in Spring, seeking a mate, and as they are terribly slow walkers, they are at serious risk of having this happen to them. Mind you, I get cross every time I see this kind of road kill, because it really is a comment on an unobservant or careless driver.

Technically, it is called the "Short-beaked Echidna" (Tachyglossus aculeatus). There is only a single species of Echidna in Australia, but apparently, three species of long-beaked Echidnas live in Papua New Guinea. They are classed within a different genus.

In general I do not photograph "road-kills". Some people find them "unseemly", and sometimes, they are not "nice" (up close and personal). Today I saw a dead Echidna on a road which I had driven down two hours before, and it was not there when I first went down the road. So I knew this Echidna was freshly killed. This is important, as dead Echidnas get very smelly, very quickly, if lying on a hot road. I speak from experience.

Anyway, my real reason for taking (and showing) these photos is for scientific interest value. I have previously posted photos of live Echidnas. But a dead specimen allows some shots which the live ones are not happy to pose for. So it is a rare opportunity to examine some aspects of the structure of an Echidna.

This particular Echidna has now been respectfully buried, and covered with a heavy metal cage, hopefully to prevent dogs or foxes from interfering with it.

Here is the dead Echidna, placed on its back. It has no evident pouch, so I assume this one is a male, but as they are "monotremes", they do not have the visible (external) apparatus which we tend to regard as normal. Female Echidnas do suckle their young, but apparently they have no "nipples" as such, but "milk patches" from which they young lap the extruded milk. I wondered about the two seemingly bald patches - on either side of the abdomen. However, females do have a form of pouch which they use while the young (called "Puggles") are sheltered for several months, while they are small, and before they become too spiky. As I say, there is no pouch structure evident on the abdomen of this Echidna.
Here is the left front foot (the upper side). These short legs and thick nails are very powerful, and they do the bulk of the digging work. The rear legs do the flicking out of the loosened soil - hence the long nails, acting like shovels.The rear legs do the flicking out of the loosened soil - so I figured that would explain the long nails, acting like long-handled shovels. However, the websites say that the very long nails are used for grooming between the long spines. What appears to be a "thumb" is clearly visible in this image. It is reduced to a stump.
Apparently, Echidnas do have a "heel spur", (as do Platypuses), but they are blunt and non-venomous. From this link to an excellent WIRES site, you can see that the spur on an Echidna is well back on the heel, and it does not develop to protrude. Allow the WIRES site time to download images, and you will see stunning pictures of Echidnas, including babies, rescued by WIRES (Platypuses also).

I have never before seen this - the tongue by which the Echidna collects termites, which are its favourite food. In the Southern Highlands, on often finds termite mounds broken into by Echidnas. This shows the underside of the snout. Echidnas have a toothless jaw, and a very small mouth. They rely on catching ants and termites with the sticky tongue, and drawing them back into the mouth. The camera lens cap is there for scale. It is 64 mm in diameter (2 1/2 inches) A photo of an Echidna skull is visible on the Museum of Victoria website. It looks strangely bird-like in its structure.

Here is the snout, as seen from above, with the tongue still protruding.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Local Portraits" Exhibition opening

Here I take a break from Waratahs and Orchids to write about another part of the Nature of Robertson - Art and Society.Andrew Ford (Composer, presenter of the ABC Radio National's "Music Show" and Robertson resident) and Jim Rolon (a professional photographer, and former Robertson resident) have collaborated to produce a most interesting artistic presentation - a fusion of photographic portraits, and interviews (conducted by Andy). The subjects of the photographs talk directly to us (for Andy's familiar voice is not ever heard). They talk about their own favourite piece of music. Then, the pieces are played, sometimes interspersed with additional comments by the subjects of the portraits. Anni Heino has done the sound recording and editing.
This innovative multi-media exhibition at the Casula Power Station Art Centre was opened by Kon Gouriotis OAM, Executive Director of the Centre.

The total effect of this exhibition is a delightful, if somewhat surprising revelation about why music is important to people, and indeed, what types of music they love. One person chose silence "The nicest music you can get is absolute quiet - the sort of quiet (where) you can actually hear your heart beat". The choices of music appear to me to challenge whatever sterotypes are conjured up by the appearance of the persons in the photographs.

Initially, some 35 persons were chosen in Robertson, for in 2002, both Andy and Jim were living here. Subsequently, with Jim having moved back to Sydney and the Casula Power House Art Centre having come on board as a sponsor of the proposed exhibition, an additional 35 persons from the Liverpool area (suburbs within the postcode 2168 to be precise) were selected for photographs and interviews. Naturally this doubled the scope of the project, and presumably it more than quadrupled the complexity of the project - for Andy and for Jim.

While Robertson does score a few "Slim Dusty" mentions, we also score several operatic arias, a bit of the stunningly "heavy" Shostakovich 11th Symphony and some Bob Dylan, Elvis and Roy Orbison. There is a smattering of religiously inspired music as well. Overall, a wide and eclectic selection of music, presented by people who know why they like certain choices of music.

The interviews and selections of the music have been edited together by Anni, to form a radio feature for ABC Radio National's Into the Music series. The program was broadcast this afternoon, but it will be repeated next Friday (4 October 2008, at 3pm). The full program will also be available on a special website as streaming audio for four weeks after broadcast, today.

On the same website, you'll find 20 portraits from the exhibition, complete with the interviews. Many of these are Robertson people, faces and voices you will know.

Bob was listening intently to the introductory speech.Shirley was in reflective mood as her "story" and music was played, today.Click on the link above to go straight to these faces and listen to their brief explanation of their favourite music - "what" and "why"). You'll need a Flash player in your computer to be able to see the photos properly, and obviously loudspeakers or headphones to hear the audio.

After the formal proceedings were over, Andy and Jim were able to relax a little, with one of the members of the audience. This gentleman may have been on of the subjects of "local portraits" - but I do not know for sure. Certainly Andy and Jim seemed to know him well.
Some of the audience members today found it sufficiently interesting to share the MP3 audio players provided by the Casula Power House Arts Centre. Neil and his son, Jon, were joined at the hip by Technology and Art, today.Anni and Andy might have been saying: "I suppose it was worth waiting seven years to bring this project to fruition".The busload of people from Robertson who went up to see the Local Portraits Exhibition to day really enjoyed themselves. Some of the "subjects" were presumably nervous beforehand. On the way back home, they were very happy and relaxed. As a group we were all excited and intrigued by what we had seen and heard and learnt about our fellows, today.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Waratahs - the true species and some Hybrids

In response to a comment yesterday from my fellow Aussie Nature Blogger "Mick" (from Sandy Straits and Beyond) I promised to show photos of more forms of Waratah. These are all either cultivars (selected varieties) of the true species - the NSW Waratah (Telopea speciossima) - or hybrids thereof. The hybrids are variously crossed with the Braidwood Waratah (Telopea mongaensis) or the Gippsland Waratah (Telopea oreades)

You can see some of the most readily available cultivars at the "Proteaflora" (commercial nursery) site. Click on the heading Telopea (Waratah) While not exactly recommending Proteaflora, they are certainly the largest grower of these plants (for plant sales), and have a huge distribution network through Nurseries and Garden Centres in the Eastern States. There are other growers, and some other hybrids and cultivars (selected natural varieties). In my opinion the most interesting cultivars are those selected by Paul Nixon, at Brimstone Waratahs.

Mick asked if Waratahs might grow on the coast in South-east Queensland. I cannot say, But I would always ask at a local nursery, or check whether you ever see any Waratahs growing in your local area. However, I might suggest as another possibility, the wonderful (related) plant, known as the Dorrigo Waratah (Alloxylon pinnatum). It is a true tropical (wet-temperate rainforest) plant. It normally grows at altitude, but if some shade and a moist gully type position could be provided, it might do well. They thrive out in the open in Robertson, but we are high and relatively cool here. This plant is part of the Proteaflora stock list, so any of the nurseries which carry their plants could order one for you. It is worth trying, as it has terrific bright green foliage, as well as bright red flowers. They are more open in flower form. It grows quite tall.

This is what I mean by praising the hybrid Waratahs for their prolific flowering. These plants are growing in "Pinkwood Park" in Robertson, cared for by volunteers on an occasional basis. The get an occasional feed, but they are not watered, or given any intensive care. Once the plants become established, they are pretty much on their own. I cannot say for sure, but judging by the age of these plants, they are probably "Shady Lady" which, historically, has been the most successful garden variety of hybrid Waratah. It has since been superseded by other similarly named varieties, SL Crimson, SL Red and SL White.

A word of warning re the white varieties of Waratah, the flowers are prone to burning in sunlight. Personally, I cannot see the point in white Waratahs, just as I cannot see the fascination in the search for a Blue Rose - but that's gardeners for you. Always in search of the new variety.
Here is an individual plant. I could not bother to try and count the number of flowers it is carrying. It is a truly spectacular plant.Here is the flower of this particular plant. Perfectly lovely in its own right. The hybrids tend to have smooth edges to their leaves, not serrated, as the NSW Waratah does. Also, the bracts tend to be smaller than the true species. But in terms of reliability and form, it is a great garden plant.Here is a photo of a new hybrid plant "Red Shady Lady", which has probably been "back-crossed" between the original "Shady Lady" and the true Telopea speciosisima. It is an improvement on the original "Shady Lady" hybrid which tended to be a bit pinkish in its flower colour. This hybrid has better colour, good bracts, and still maintains "hybrid vigour".This plant is growing in my garden, and is in its third year. It probably has 30 flowers on it. The photo was taken just as a rain storm arrived, one evening - hence the wet spots.
To show you the variations available in the modern Waratahs, here is an unknown hybrid growing in Pinkwood Park, which is a compact bush, and it has relatively small flowers. There are certain advantages in having a small plant, as, in places like Robertson (with both strong winds, and very friable soil), it means they are less susceptible to wind damage, such as "wind rock" - where the roots are disturbed by movement of the plant because of wind. Unfortunately I cannot tell you the name of this variety. I do know that it is a hybrid Waratah, however, from the smooth leaves.Finally, as an extreme example of the variation available in the NSW Waratah cultivars. I am not sure of the name of this plant, but looking at the huge bracts, and the pale colour of the florets in the centre, it might be "Brimstone Pink". This plant will open with huge flowers. I will keep an eye on this plant and photograph it as the flowers mature.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Waratahs and intense blue skies

Today was a day of intense blue skies, and high, swirling, light clouds in Robertson.The strikingly brilliant light made the Waratah flower growing at the Robertson CTC seem especially bright. This plant was one of a group planted as part of a "working bee" of young mothers and their kids at the CTC, held 3 years ago.
This was how some of the clouds looked, a few minutes after I took the Waratah photos.
Looking down into the flower, you see the central "florets" (which are technically individual flowers) protected within the surrounding brilliant red bracts.
This is the same flower which I photographed two weeks ago, as the bud was developing. As I had hoped, the flower which looked like it was in danger of burning, has in fact developed its true brilliant red colour. This is a seedling plant which I was given by Paul Nixon, arguably the greatest expert on the NSW Waratah. It is a true representative of the species - Telopea speciosissima.

I shall publish some photos of some of the more successful garden varieties of Waratahs, in a few days. They are more floriferous, but the individual flowers are not quite so spectacular. But as garden plants, there is no question which ones work better - in terms of overall display.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sydney Brown Trapdoor Spider (scary photo warning)

I trust that you have not opened this blog posting if you find close-up photos of spiders a bit scary.

This one is, by all accounts, not a dangerous spider. I hope so, as it was brought to me tonight by a neighbour, and after the "photo shoot" I released it outside my house.

The best identification I can come up with (and I am NOT a "spider" person) is the Sydney Brown Trapdoor Spider (Misgolas rapax). It was a soft bodied spider, and very placid in attitude.

It is NOT a male. Males of these Spiders have very large "palps" which look like "boxing gloves" being carried in front of the spider. I have seen such male Trapdoors before, but not recently. This one had large fangs, but not the prominent palps. If you count the "legs and feet" from the rear left side in to towards the mouth parts, you will find there appear to be 5 pairs of legs. Not correct, apparently. Spiders have 4 pairs of legs, plus the "palps" which are feeding structures - they apparently have one less joint than legs. In addition, the fangs are also just visible in the centre of the front of the Spider's mouth area.
Also, male Trapdoor Spiders have a distinctive spur on the inside of the front legs, but this one does not. So, she is a female.
Front-on view.
Side view of the Sydney Brown Trapdoor Spider.
You can see the hard "carapace" is shiny, compared to the soft abdomen.
A close-up view of the "cephalothorax" (or "carapace").
Note the four small eyes (on the front top of the "head")
and large vertically hinged fangs, ("Paraxial Fangs") which are black and hairy.
This is one of the "primitive spiders". These spiders are typical "lie in wait" Spiders, not the "see, run and catch" type hunting Spiders (such as the Wolf Spider), which have large eyes, very prominently positioned on the head.
Close-up of the fangs.
You can see that these fangs will strike in a vertical manner, as distinct from "modern" spiders, which have "diaxial fangs" which operate in a pincer movement. The eyes are also visible (above the top of the fangs).

The pale fleshy area above the fangs and below the eyes, is a "hinge" allowing the fangs to be moved. After all the "carapace or cephalothorax" (what we would loosely call the "head") has a hard shell, so joints are necessarily soft, to allow for movement.

Rear view of the soft abdomen, showing very small "spinnerets".

Magnolia liliflora flowers

Today I am going to cheat - and let the photo do the talking.
It is Magnolia liliflora nigra. A magnificently dark purple, flask-shaped flower, with a perfect bud form, emerging from the deliciously hairy protective covering (bract).

This is a plant which I salvaged from my Father's garden, in Canberra, as a sucker from the original plant which was growing in his garden. My own plant is now developing nicely, in its fourth year. It is over head height already, but it started out as a single stick about waist high (with a few roots attached when I lifted it, originally). I did not count the flowers today, but each of these shots is of a different flower, at a slightly later stage of development. So, it is flowering quite well for a relatively young plant.Click on the image to see the large-sized image, to enjoy these flowers.
  • Colour
  • texture
  • form.
  • No perfume, that's the only drawback.
This plant has medium sized flowers, in the range of the deciduous Magnolia flowers. It is not a huge flower, as some are. When the image is enlarged, the photo should be approximately the same size as the flower, in real life - about 5 inches high. Obviously this depends upon your monitor size.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mammy Johnson's Creek (Stroud NSW) under threat

On Saturday 20 September, Caroline Graham, of Rivers SOS, and I attended a meeting in Stroud, to hear about the threat to Mammy Johnson's Creek posed by coal mining.

Part of the crowd gathering together before the meeting got under way officially. A poster outside the School of Arts building in Stroud on Saturday.
The meeting was organised by the Johnson's Creek Conservation Committee and the Barrington, Gloucester, Stroud Preservation Alliance.
Mammy Johnson's Creek is just one of the many rivers which runs from the Barrington Tops area. This map shows the rivers and the mines which threaten them - just in the Gloucester-Stroud area.
Tony Tersteeg speaking at the Meeting. Tony has just been elected to the Gloucester Council. We wish him all the very best with his efforts on Council, for the community.
Amanda addressing the crowd. Amanda was the principal organiser of the meeting at Stroud."Bucket Man's" home-made poster And here is "Bucket Man" himself.
David reading from a difficult-to-read script, while Amanda helps with the microphone.Anti-Duralie Mine poster. You might quibble with the grammar, but the point is clear.A poster about Duralie Coal Mine, at Stroud, complete with a Press Release by Frank Sartor, former Minister for Planning, announcing the approval of Duralie Coal Mine, but under certain conditions. The company is now seeking to change those conditions. Caroline Graham, from the Cataract River at Douglas Park, with whom I attended the meeting, getting to know some of the Stroud and Gloucester people who are concerned about mining threatening to damage the local rivers.Dr Pauline Roberts from the Caroona Coal Action Group was one of the guest speakers. She outlined the activites of the Caroona and Liverpool Plains campaign against BHP's planned invasion of their area. There is currently a blockade taking place, preventing the mining company from getting on the properties where they wish to explore. Pauline is a very powerful speaker, and received great support from the crowd, while giving them great encouragement herself.
Car Window stickers - unambiguous in their messages.