Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Last phase of the moon, plus 2 planets

I admit I am out of my depth here, as a non-skywatcher. But I could not resist attempting to capture this image, just after sunset, tonight. (Click to enlarge)
I heard Fred Watson, from the Anglo-Australian Observatory (at Sidings Springs, NSW) on the radio a few days ago commenting that there would be two planets near the moon, over the next few days. Normally I ignore Fred's interesting predictions, simply because of my local sky's predilection for fogginess. Sidings Springs is well located in a dry climatic zone, where clear skies are the norm. Robertson is not like that.

However, tonight I got lucky (in an astronomical sense).

I have checked with the Fred's personal home page, and found a link to a table which tells me that it was very likely Venus and Jupiter which were visible above the Moon. My shots were taken at 8:53pm AEST. Mercury and Mars had already set at this stage - besides, neither was the "red planet".

The Moon seems to be in its last phase, and probably there will be new moon (invisible) either tomorrow or the next day. So I was lucky that the sky was clear tonight, so I could see this pretty sky.

Apologies for the "graininess" of the image. The image was hand held (on the railing of the back deck), with an extreme ISO setting, to allow in as much light as possible, on an F 5.6 aperture, and a time of 1/13th of a second - as slow as I dared go, hand held.

My friend, and local Robertson Sky Watcher, Chris has sent me this information and links. DJW

Space Weather News for Monday, Dec. 1, 2008

When the sun goes down tonight, step outside and look south. Beaming through the twilight is one of the prettiest things you'll ever see--a tight three-way conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and the crescent Moon. The event is visible from all parts of the world, even from light-polluted cities. People in New York and Hong Kong will see it just as clearly as astronomers watching from remote mountaintops.

The great conjunction offers something extra to Europeans. For more than an hour on Monday evening, the crescent Moon will actually eclipse Venus. Astronomers call such an event a "lunar occultation." Venus emerging from the dark edge of the Moon is a remarkably beautiful sight. Sky watchers across Europe will be able to see this happen.

Visit for photos, webcasts and more information.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Baby Magpie making progress

The baby Magpie is starting to assert itself.
I have taken to allowing it to perch on a long cut branch, which I rest across the corner of my deck railing. This gives the bird the chance to watch other Magpies outside. Also I am a believer in the benefits of sunshine and fresh air. It also keeps the bird up and out of the way from Lena (the Schnauzer), who still thinks this is a new toy I have got for her to play with (or at least look at).

I figure that putting the baby Magpie outside, for a few hours at a time might give it a chance to hear other Magpies calling. The local Maggies have seen this little guy, but have not come in close to have a look. Incidentally, I sometimes play Magpie calls for it to "learn". Two recordings are available - that I know of. One is on the ABC Website. The Magpie call is filed under the letter "M". You need to have Real Player installed for the call to be played. An easier file to play is the MP3 file on the Birds in Backyards site from the Australian Museum in Sydney. Once you have downloaded these files, it is possible to play them on "continuous" mode - until I get sick of it!About every two hours, the chick decides it needs a good feed. It has taken to squawking at me, when it is in this mood. Indeed it is now doing a classic begging act - wings half-spread, and quivering (too fast for the low-light settings on the camera). That was deliberate on my part, to portray the sense of movement. The beak is open, making the begging noise we all are familiar with.Whenever the chick is inside, it now sits on a branch over a box (all the better to catch its droppings which no longer have their mucous sac).

When the bird is sleeping solidly, it tucks its head around, and over its "shoulder". The head appears to disappear. In fact it is hidden under the soft feathers on its scapular.
Here it is with the head out, but otherwise unmoved from the image above.
Incidentally, after some time of just calling it "Maggie", I have decided to christen it "Nathan", after the new Premier of NSW, Nathan Rees, who seems to see everything in black and white, and is just testing his wings, but has not yet learned to fly! Besides, my Nathan is leaving quite a lot of mess behind, which I have to clean up.
The name seems appropriate.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wild Carrot - Daucus carota - another Umbel study

This is a post about the true "Wild Carrot" (Daucus carota). It is a weed in Australia, because of its propensity to bear vast numbers of seeds, with high fertility. It tends to grow along roadsides in Australia.

I must stress that I have corrected the references in my previous posting on the plant known (in Australia) as Queen Anne's Lace (Ammi majus). The leaves of the two plants are very different (as I now know), and the flowers of this plant are pinkish in bud stage (greenish white in the Ammi majus). The flowers and stems of this plant are smaller and finer in size and narrowness of the stems, from the Ammi majus. This plant grows to about 1 metre tall.

Here is a link to an American horticultural site which confirms this identification as valid.

Firstly, the full head of mature flowers. Once again this plant has an inflorescence structure known as a "compound umbel" (an umbel structure, with smaller umbellules within it).
Here you can see the full umbel, from the side and below. The narrow bracts underneath the flowers are very similar to those of Ammi majus. The bracts beneath the full umbel are very different from the first Umbel studied in this series - the Coriander - which has no bracts at that point. You can clearly see the pedicels (flower stems) radiating out to support the secondary umbels ("umbellules").
If you click to enlarge the photo (above), you will see the distinctive hairs on hte stem which are absent in Ammi majus. These hairs are quite bristly, and are noticeable to the touch.

This next image is of a young flower head, which is pinkish. This feature is often commented upon in botanical texts.This is an image of a single secondary umbel (or umbellule). The structure is subtended by narrow bracts very similar to the major bracts underneath the full umbel. Each pedicel supports a single flower in the overall "head" of flowers.Here is a single leaf of Daucus carota. Note how soft and downy it is, and also note the reddish tinges on the leaf edges. This image of the leaf reveals the link to the domesticated carrot (which is derived from this original wild plant). Here is the leaf closer-up. The hairyness of the leaf is visible, especially at all nodes on the leaf, and at the junction with the main stem. (Click to enlarge to see these details).Even near the tips of the leaf, the hairs are visible on the leaf-stems. The best description of the texture of these leaf segments is "downy". Contrast this with the close-up of the leaf of Ammi majus.This is the base of the main stem, just above ground level. It is distinctly hairy, and quite strongly ribbed. The photos which I have now published of the stem of Ammi majus, clearly show it as not hairy - indeed it is very smooth - in contrast to this plant.The root of the Wild Carrot shows its shape, as passed on to the derived "domesticated" forms of the carrot (Daucus carota subsp. sativus). This root of the wild plant is white. Carrots were introduced from Afghanistan, apparently for their aromatic leaves and seeds (just as we still use their modern relatives, Parsley, and Fennel and Cumin). The coloured forms of the carrot root with which we are familiar today were selected over centuries of cultivation, (as early as the 1st century AD). Red and yellow carrots were reported in the 8th century, and the modern orange carrot is first recorded in the Netherlands in the 17th century.Modern carrots have been developed in a range of colours, from white, orange, red, maroon and black. The colour variation is a factor of the concentration of the chemical "carotene", which is a source of Vitamin A (once digested).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My Blogging 3rd Birthday.

Today is the 3rd birthday of my blogging life.
Perhaps it is not such a great achievement - there have been bloggers out there far longer than that - some were true poineers, whereas I was joining an established "bandwagon". However, I feel it has been a significant learning experience - at least for me. I hope some of you have enjoyed the ride too.

I have posted 807 posts over those 3 years. I set myself the goal of making daily updates, but clearly there are times when that is not possible. Still, I am batting at 73%, (three days out of four) which is not too bad (in light of my original objective).

As far as my readership is concerned, there have been 39, 793 visitors (excluding my own visits to the site). I hope you have enjoyed your visits, from time to time.

Although the site was entitled the Nature of Robertson - a deliberately ambiguous title - it has evolved, more and more into a "Nature Blog". It was always intended to be in part, a social record of the goings on in Robertson. And this is still in evidence. I maintain that policy on the basis that the "goings on" of the local people are part of the "Nature of Robertson" in a wide interpretation of the title.

But it has also developed as a Photo Blog, and in that regard, I will celebrate with several of my favourite photos.

This photograph of a White-breasted Sea Eagle was first published (in small format) in April 2006, after a visit to Narooma, on the far south coast of NSW. This is a larger file which should blow up to full screen size, if you click on the photo. The bird has blue eyes.Along with that, is my favourite Pelican image. This bird had literally tested the old adage:
"What a funny old bird is a Pelican? His beak can hold more than his belly can!" Quite literally, this bird had grabbed an off-cast poece of fish, left by a fisherman, who had simply chopped of the head of a large fish. The Pelican were squabbling over it and this fellow grabbed it, but was unable ot swallow it. Hence his manoeuvring of his beak and pouch, to try to line the fish head up, so that it could be swallowed. Eventually it gave up. But not before I managed to take this shot.The next photos are several interesting images of Ground Orchids.
The Small Tongue Orchid (Cryptostylis leptochila) has such a dramatic shape, it is always a favourite with photographers.Another favourite with photographers is the Flying Duck Orchid (Caleana major). Normally one takes their photo from the side, to show the classic shape with the "head" of the flying duck in profile. In this case, I realised there was a small "flower spider" inside the flower, and she had spun her web across the face of the flower, and was waiting inside the flower, looking out, waiting for an insect pollinator to come to the flower. Click to enlarge.Thanks to all my readers. And I should offer particular thanks to Anni, who first inspired me to commence blogging.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Queen Anne's Lace - another umbel study.

My friend Dorothy loves "Cottage Gardens" - you know - Roses intertwined with Clematis growing over an archway, Foxgloves, (she has a few Peonies, too) and lots of flowering annuals. One of the plants which she grows is the Queen Anne's Lace.

It makes a great cut flower, and is much loved by Floral Artists. It was another of my Mother's favourite plants. Photographers such as myself, find the architectural structure of these flowers fascinating too.

This report is the third in a series of flowers which have an "umbel" structure, which I have shown- Elderberry (not a true Umbel shape, but similar); and Coriander (which has a classic Compound Umbel). This plant is related to the Coriander, but there are many, many related plants. That is one of the reasons I have started this series - to help people distinguish between similar-looking plants (some of which are poisonous). The name "Apiaceae" means it is in the same family as Parsley (and numerous other herbs and vegetables). We have many Australian Native plants in this same grouping, but they are not used commercially for food or medicine.

DJW EDIT: 25 November 2008 8:00pm
The following information is close, but not properly accurate, it seems.
Believe it or not, Australia has a different use of the name "Queen Anne's Lace" from England and the USA, apparently. This makes sense to me, as I knew (but had not photographed until today) that the leaves of Dorothy's plant were tripartite, but flat, and broad, not "fern-like". So, it seems the plant we know here (and the photos below) are of Ammi majus, (known as Bishop's Weed or "Bullwort"). I have taken photos of both the flowers and leaves of the true Wild Carrot, and the leaves of Ammi majus (the plant known in Australia as "Queen Anne's Lace"). I will publish both together soon, to set the record right. The clue which was worrying me all day was that the reference texts refer to Wild Carrots as hairy, and the Queen Anne's Lace plant I photographed yesterday was not hairy. Also the Wild Carrot flowers are pink or reddish when immature. That also did not fit.
If you are in Australia, the photos are of the plant you will know as Queen Anne's Lace, but the botanical notes refer to Wild Carrot - a similar
, related plant, but it is a different species.
It just shows the need to persevere with one's research, I guess, and to trust one's eyes, not just what one reads. I apologise for the partially incorrect info.

Wikipedia has the following notes on this plant: "Wild carrot, bishop's lace, or Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota) is a flowering plant in the family Apiaceae, native to temperate regions of Europe, southwest Asia and northeast North America; domesticated carrots are cultivars of a subspecies, Daucus carota subsp. sativus.

"Daucus carota is a variable biennial plant, usually growing up to 1 m tall and flowering from June to August. The umbels are claret-coloured or pale pink before they open, then bright white and rounded when in full flower, measuring 3–7 cm wide with a festoon of bracts beneath; finally, as they turn to seed, they contract and become concave like a bird's nest. This has given the plant its British common or vernacular name, Bird's Nest.

"It is very similar in appearance to the deadly Water Hemlock, it is distinguished by a mix of bi-pinnate and tri-pinnate leaves, fine hairs on its stems and leaves, a root that smells like carrots, and occasionally a single dark red flower in its centre."

PlantNET - the Flora Online Website of Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, has this more technical description of this plant: "Erect biennial herb 30–150 cm high, hispid (roughly hairy) especially on the primary stems, stems striate.

"Leaves 2–3-pinnate, to 15 cm long; segments ovate to lanceolate or linear; petiole of basal leaves shorter than lamina and with a long striate sheathing base.

"Umbels flat-topped or slightly convex in flower, 4–8 cm diam., with 30–60 rays; rays becoming rigid and incurved to form a concave infructescence; umbellules to 20-flowered, outer flowers white or pinkish, c. 2.5 mm diam., inner sterile; involucral bracts 7–13, pinnatifid, often shorter than rays; involucral bracteoles linear and entire or trifid."(Source PlantNET)

Full head (Compound Umbel) of flowers.

(In light of the edited notes above - I stress that these photos and my comments relate to the plant known as "Queen Anne's Lace" in Australia.

This plant is Ammi majus, not Daucus carota.)

Note the very large number of separate clusters of flowers (umbels) (40 or more).The same Umbel of Flowers, from below.

You can see the structure of ribs, or "rays" which hold the groups of flowers.

The Coriander flower had only 5 or 6 secondary umbels. This one has in excess of 40.

Here is a side-view of the Umbel, showing the prominent structure of bracts (modified leaves) below the flower head.
The Coriander flowerhead had no bracts at this junction point.
Here is an immature Umbel, just forming the flowers.
Note the bracts, looking almost spiky.
This is how they fulfill their true role of protecting the flowers during their formation.
This is a "secondary umbel" or "Umbellule" as PlantNET refers to it.
Unlike the Coriander plant, this plant has fully-shaped flowers (Coriander had asymmetrical flowers, on the outer edge of the secondary umbels).
It also has many more flowers per umbellule.
From underneath, you can see the large number of "rays".
These are pedicels supporting the numerous flowers.
There are flattened bracts which subtend the pedicels.
Finally, you can see that this secondary umbel (umbellule) also has numerous bracts.
Further to my editorial note above,
I can now publish a photograph of the mature leaf of Queen Anne's Lace (as it is known in Australia) (Ammi majus).
If only I had been able to do this before, I might have avoided the embarrassment of having to make this correction. By the way, the problem was that I took the photos of cut flowers (away from the plant), not of flowers on the plant, where I would, naturally, have photographed the leaves as well as the flowers.

This is the stem and a lower leaf of Ammi majus, the plant known in Australia as Queen Anne's Lace. Note the stem is smooth, and green. The leaf has a pale striped sheathing base to the leaf stem (petiole).
Here is the clinching piece of identification - the leaf tip showing the distinctive serrations ("toothed margjns")
If only I had taken this photograph first.

The RBG PlantNET describes the leaf of Ammi majus as follows:
"Basal leaves 3–15 cm long with segments elliptic or obovate, 1–6 cm long, 2–20 mm wide, obtuse; upper stem leaves with segments linear-lanceolate or linear, all except uppermost with toothed margins."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Spring Babies

I mentioned the other day that the Spring season has transitioned to a stage where birds are busy feeding their babies. Here is a family of Wood Ducks, with 6 ducklings going for a walk, a bit close to a main road, but the parents seem to know what they are doing.
I now know a bit more about the responsibilities of parenthood. I have adopted a baby Magpie.
I was aware of the nesting pair of Magpies at the back of the CTC building. Indeed I mentioned the presence of this Magpie's nest in the minutes of the CTC Management Committee, in case the parents got a bit "protective", and started swooping passers by. They didn't, as it turned out.

However, on Saturday, when we had huge winds here in Robertson, one of the chicks fell out of the nest. It was fully feathered, but not yet able to fly. Close, but not yet ready.

Anyway, I found this little chick on the ground, under the Pine Tree where the nest was located. The branch was a long, nearly horizontal branch, and the nest was flung around in the wind, and one of the chicks fell out. I found it, and tried to let the adult birds know the baby was "down". No success. I decided to throw it up and over a low flat branch of the Pine Tree - hoping the youngster could land on a platform of pine branches. That worked, eventually.

However, the next morning the chick was down on the ground again. As this area is popular with people walking their dogs, I figured the chick had no chance of survival, without intervention. So, I brought it home, and stuck it in foam box. As it is quite well feathered, it can self-regulate its temperature, and so has a pretty good chance of survival.

I have since added an old lamb's wool slipper, for it to sit on.
Feeding this bird has also been a learning experience for me. For some silly reason, I expected the bird to peck at the food in my hand. That's didn't work. Then I realised I needed to think like a Magpie chick. It is used to having food presented to it, from above. So I put some mince on my finger, and brought it down from above. Bingo! It opened its beak wide to receive the food. Not exactly a passive action, but it cannot "hunt" or even "peck" at food. But when food is presented from above (the position where Mum and Dad arrive and present it food) then it knows full well what to do.

So that's the arrangement we have at present. I provide food. It opens up, squawks a bit (which Lena the Schnauzer thinks is very interesting) and then it swallows the food.

In this next image, you can clearly see the tongue structure of a typical "perching bird", with the tongue being relatively hard (almost plastic-like), and triangular in shape, with two strong points pointing backwards. This helps the bird to swallow food. As much of the food which birds eat is "live", it helps ensure the prey does not escape. This linked article explains this, and mentions that some other birds have different specialised tongue shapes. I know that Cockatoos have a thick, rounded, blunt tongue, which allows them to position a seed against the tips of their bills, to "shell" the hard coatings.

It is worth watching a Cockatoo eating, if you get the chance. However, if you have a friend with a pet Corella, watch out. It will try to eat your fingers. My friend George has a Long-billed Corella, "Pierre", who is very keen on biting my fingers. But it means you can see his thick, blunt, grey tongue. It is very flexible. Quite unlike the Magpie's tongue.After every feeding session, the baby Magpie lifts its tail feathers, and delivers a "fecal sac". This is its "poo", but perching birds have evolved a system of packaging the excrement in a coating, which allows the parent birds to remove the sac without it fouling the nest. My baby Magpie is doing this for me, and it means there is less "mess", provided I get there quickly enough before the skin of the sac breaks down. If I am too slow, then I have to clean up the mess.
Interestingly, the Magpie also regurgitated a "pellet" which is made up of insect shells. I did not examined it in great detail, but I was surprised. It is well known that Currawongs and Owls both "throw up" indigestible material in this way. But I had not heard of Magpies doing this - but it makes sense. This is regurgitated through the mouth (beak), and is quite dry, and "clean".

I am not sure what thrills lie ahead for me with this baby Magpie. Can I teach it to fly? I hope I do not have to jump off the back deck to show it how to fly!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Coriander - Compound Umbel flower structure

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) has a flower head which is described by the botanists as a "Compound Umbel".

While this flower structure is superficially similar to the European Elderberry I showed last week, it has significant differences when one looks into the arrangement of stems and secondary stems supporting the actual flowers. That plant had an inflorescence structure known as "Cymose corymb".

This is a classic Compound Umbel form.

All the flower stems arise from a small (secondary) umbel, which themselves arise from a single point on the stem. This plant has no bracts at the junction point. This is an important point of distinction from some other related plants (many of which are weeds, and some of which are poisonous).
The Coriander is described as follows: an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. Coriander is native to southwestern Asia west to north Africa. It is a soft, hairless plant growing to 50 cm [20 in.] tall. The leaves are variable in shape, broadly lobed at the base of the plant, and slender and feathery higher on the flowering stems. The flowers are borne in small umbels, white or very pale pink, asymmetrical, with the petals pointing away from the centre of the umbel longer (5-6 mm) than those pointing to the middle of the umbel (only 1-3 mm long). The fruit is a globular dry schizocarp 3-5 mm diameter.
Coriander flowers are asymmetrical
petals longer on the outside of umbel.
This image below shows the secondary umbel - with the flower supports (pedicels) all coming from a single point. There are a few (only) bracts subtending the joint structure. This is a point of difference from other related plants, many of which have prominent bracts at this junction point.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cymbidium suave near Carrington Falls

Deep in the moist Eucalypt forest along the top edge of the Upper Kangaroo Valley, south from Carrington Falls, I found a number of plants of Cymbidium suave in flower, today. This is the first time I have found them growing on the top of the local sandstone plateau. I have seen them growing at lower levels, within Kangaroo Valley itself, and on the Illawarra Escarpment.

This was hard country to walk in, because of the dense growth of Sword Grass (Gahnia sp.), and Pouched Coral Fern (Gleichenia dicarpa). None-the-less, the hard work was made worthwhile when we found several large clumps of Cymbidium suave in flower. The first two I saw were relatively high. Then I found two clumps growing at head height.Despite its name (meaning "sweet"), I confess that I could not detect the perfume, but one of the women members of the group, could detect the spicy fragrance for which this plant is named. I have been aware for many years that my nose is sensitive to certain types of perfumes, but not others. For example, I can seldom "get" the perfume of Violets, except when conditions are perfect. Today was very windy, and cold, so perhaps that influenced my inability to detect the perfume.

I have just spoken with Alan Stephenson of ANOS, (by coincidence - he rang on another matter) and he commented: "What pollinator would want to be out and about on a day like this?" Good question, Alan. In other words, there is no advantage for the plant in producing its scent in cold, windy conditions. It may as well save its energy (scent) for when the conditions are favourable for releasing the scent.
I was intrigued to notice that this low-growing clump, in a dead tree trunk, had its roots growing right down through the rotten core of the tree (inside the hard outer-wood). But where the hard wood had broken away (rotted away) near ground level, you could clearly see the old roots of the Orchid, which had grown right down through the rotted core of the tree, about 4 feet (1.3 m) down from the leaves of the plant. This habit is recorded in the literature as normal, but it was interesting to see.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Spring season transition. Can we give it a name?

As my Peonies open their last few blooms, I feel a sadness, an ennui, which is not shared by the plants and birds around me. But there is a definite transition occurring in Nature.
We European settlers lack the words for the seasons which I am sure the Aboriginal people have. I need a word for this particular "Shoulder Season". (Pls see "Comments" - my comments ought have been restricted to "temperate" zones of Australia, not tropical Australia - DJW)

Birds have mostly finishing their courtship and breeding (except for the Grebes I showed yesterday).
Swamphen and half-grown chicks
Domestic Duck and fluffy yellow ducklings.
Young Black Cockatoos are croaking along behind their parents, making those dreadful noises which they make. Magpies are now feeding their young. Baby Rabbits ("kittens") are flip-flopping around wherever the lush grass offers them some cover. The last Wattle of spring is just finishing. My garden has transitioned from the spring seasonal flush into the early summer season of Roses. A season of abundance and lushness. Perfumes fill the air.
Old- fashioned Roses sprawling everywhere.
"Felicite et Perpetue" and "Fantin Latour"
Blackberries are rampaging through my "choice" garden plants. They are growing inches per week.

Grasses are in full flower. The dandelions in my yard are in full golden flower - and desperately need to be cut before they set seed. The Hay-fever sufferers are in full "wheeze" - or will be when the Privet opens fully next week.

Our weather is alternating between mild, and humid days, to cold, windy Tasmanian weather (as forecast to arrive tomorrow). Nothing is stable.

I think this season ought be known as "transition".
Any better suggestions for the name for this season would be welcomed.

My colleague "Miss Eagle" raised the need for a new name for the need for better names for our Australian Spring season(s). My own contributions to that debate - the need for a name for the late winter/very early spring season - are available here and here.

I have sensed a similar need for a name for this current "shoulder season". It is certainly not summer, but Spring is definitely "over the hill". If anyone can help me with the appropriate Aboriginal name(s) for this season, (or your own contribution) I would appreciate it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Water loving birds in Robertson

There is a small creek, Caalang Creek, which runs through the centre of the village of Robertson.
It is not very accessible, because the houses approach the creek, and one needs to find a laneway, or an undeveloped block of land, from which to approach the creek.

In one area, there is an old dam which was created by one of the old landholders, back in the day when potatoes were still being grown close to the village. The dam is now surrounded by houses, not potato farms. This is very good for the local birds, some of which have trained the local residents to give them the occasional feed. Other birds are just getting on with their natural lives in this reasonably natural environment.

I was sent an email a few days ago by Sandy, a friend who knows I am a keen birdwatcher, to report that she had seen a pair of Buff-banded Rails (Gallirallus philippensis), and some chicks, in the thick Lomandra vegetation beside the creek. Naturally I could not resist following up this lead.I did not see the chicks, but, as soon as I turned up, I saw a pair of rails chasing eachother around on the grassy edge of the reserve. Of course, they scarpered when they saw me coming, but eventually, after about half an hour, one of them came back out into the open (just). That at least allowed me to get one clearly identifiable shot.I returned the next day (today), and while I did not see the rails, I saw lots of other water birds. One which surprised me was a Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus). The surprise was not because I saw it, but because it was behaving like a conventional Kingfisher - hanging out near the dam - which they do not often do). A pair of Little (Australasian) Grebes (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) were very busy building their nest - a typical floating raft of reeds and other water plants.This shows a Grebe carrying some water weed with which to build the nest. Please forgive the low quality photo, but it was a distant shot, across the dam. But the activity is interesting to observe.And three Domestic Geese "sailed" across the pond when they saw me. Clearly they were coming across for their daily feed. I left without feeding them.