Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Friday, October 30, 2009

Blogging Milestone, or Millstone?

Today I publish my 1000th blog posting.

My favourite photo
Lena had just given me a "welcome back" lick on my nose,
after my extended absence in Canberra, for Chemotherapy treatment.
This image is on my "desktop" on my 'puter.
So, is the one thousandth Blog a milestone, or is Blogging a millstone around my neck? Sometimes I resent the burden of "having to blog" every day, or nearly every day.

But in truth, I find the discipline extraordinarily useful and I am in a sense writing the natural history of the Southern Highlands, day by day, picture by picture. It might never be published as a book, but that probably does not matter, as it is already published (admittedly without the helpful hand of a skillful editor to tell me what to cut out as "rubbish"). But I am confident that there is a lot of information in these 1000 web pages. Hopefully people will find some of it to be useful, informative and even, occasionally, entertaining.

Blogging is also very satisfying, and for me, it is much better than a personal "diary", because I am basically a communicator. Hopefully I fulfill a role, also, as an educator, and a part-time entertainer.

I know that a lot of people read my writings or have looked at some of the 3750 photos I have published since I started out on this little adventure.

Site Summary



Average Per Day148

Average Visit Length1:23

Last Hour6


This Week1,035

I started on 26 November 2005, approaching 4 years ago.
That is 1435 days, so I am averaging a post on just a fraction under 70% of days - better than 2 days out of 3.

This image shows Zoe standing in the yard below my house,
on 17 May 2004, the day when we planted
all those Wattle Trees as a wind break.
My how things have changed since then.
I must say a word of thanks to Anni, without whose encouragement and assistance I would never have started blogging. She hosts my "Peony Diary", in fact she started it for me, in my absence in hospital, so I could see what was happening with my Peonies, while I was away from Robertson. How generous was that?My first post, and a very experimental one it was, was entitled "Odd little things which grow around Robertson", and it was about an Orchid - the Flying Duck Orchid, in fact.

My first "lucky shot"
This was the first image I took in which I realised
after I had developed it on the computer,
that I had captured something unexpected.
In this case, a flower spider inside her web, inside a Flying Duck Orchid.
She is waiting to catch an insect attracted to the Orchid.My second Post was entitled: "And what's this about Peonies?"
I note that from the statistics on the "labels" (prior to tonight) I have referred to Robertson 323 times; Kangaloon 167 times (that would be about friends of mine who live there, or the Waratahs and other interesting native shrubs which grow there, or about Orchids, for which the area is justifiably famous); Ground Orchids 117 times, birds 97 times; the SCA 92 times (of which 91 would have been somewhat critical, or negative, but I do remember saying something nice about them once!); I have mentioned the Sandstone cliffs and the underlying sandstone soil structure of the area 58 times; I have written about the Community Technology Centre at Robertson (the CTC) 47 times; I have written about Fungi 35 times; moths 26 times; fog (in Robertson) 22 times; and I have referred to my nemesis in the bush, the Leech, 7 times.

I have frequently written about the social and environmental events which occur in Robertson. In this case, the naming of the Laurence Langley Memorial Redwood Grove (in Robertson). A team of volunteers (as usual) from REPS, helped cut back a lot of privet bushes and also erected the memorial sign.
Another feature of the social life of Robertson is the Robbo Show,
and so also is the irrepressible Taz, with Lena.
Lena is wearing a Show Ribbon which she did nor really earn.
But that's all part of fun of the "Kids and Pets Parade" at the Robbo Show.
When out in the bush I occasionally find an interesting insect,
and if I have been lucky enough to get a good photo I will publish it.
My personal nemesis - in the bush - a Leech.
I love fungi, and this image, and logo, is as close as I go to declaring a position on "creationism". I am NOT a creationist, but I do have a great sense of Wonder, triggered by what I cannot help as see as fantastic impulse within Nature to solve problems by means of wonderfully elegant design solutions - such as this gorgeous little Fungus (the size of my little fingernail).
The Blind Watchmaker theory does not satisfy my need to understand Nature.
I do not believe in the great Bearded Designer in the Sky either.

Instead I look at Nature with a sense of Awe. It makes me wonder why is Nature so beautiful? Does that make me a "Pantheist"? I truly do not know, but I do tend to see God in Nature, and Nature is all around me.

Wikipedia's article on Pantheism concludes with these comments:
"some pantheists hold that the pantheist viewpoint is the most ethical viewpoint; Neo-Pantheistic ethics are based on the belief that any action initiated resonates throughout all of existence. What is good and evil is not mandated from something outside of us, but is a result of our interconnectedness. Instead of consideration based upon fear of divine punishment or hope of divine reward, the better Pantheistic ethical decision comes from an awareness of mutual interrelation."

Certainly, when I look at what I believe to be going wrong with the World (I mean - politically) I can ascribe that to a breakdown of "awareness of mutual interrelation". In my mind, that applies as much to day-to-day politics as to the Natural Order of things.

But I can console myself, when nobody listens to me, that, at least there are orchids to admire!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Surprises at Tarlo, north of Goulburn.

Today I went with Alan Stephenson to hear a lecture by Mark Clements, a CSIRO expert Orchid researcher from the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research. It was an interesting talk, about the challenges ahead in managing the CSIRO/ANBG Orchid Collection. One of the issues he raised was the possibility of having a self-sustaining commercial operation where they might grow and sell Orchids. That will scare the conservative management of the Dept of Environment which is the ultimate manager of the Botanic Gardens (ANBG). He also spoke about the work he has been doing for years, reclassifying Orchids (what is seen as simply re-naming Orchids), but it is obviously much more than that. There were several people in the audience who spoke critically of the "new names".

After the lunchtime lecture, Alan and I headed back up the Highway, to Goulburn and then on the Taralga Road to a district named Tarlo. We had been invited there by Lynette, a local property holder who had found some unusual Greenhood Orchids at her place.

From a photo which she had sent us, it was clearly one of the "rufa group" of Greenhoods, or "Rustyhoods" as they are known.
Indeed they are in the "rufa" group.

A quick look at the labellum revealed this.
The shape of the labellum and the lateral sepals
indicates it is Oligochaetochilus squamatus
This plant was previously known as Pterostylis squamata
Click to enlarge the photo and see the diagnostic bristles on the labellum.
Here is a flower with the labellum "triggered"
From directly in from, this is what the flower looks like
(with the labellum snapped closed - up inside the flower).
This is what the plants look like, in situ.
This plant was about 8 inches tall (approx 200 mm).
Here are two plants growing close together (amongst grass)
Here is the leaf rosette.
the leaves are dying off,
which Alan explained is normal once these plants start to flower.
This was very satisfying as it was a new species for all of us.
Lynette (who had found the plants, but didn't have a name for it)
and myself and Alan and also it was new for
Mark Selmes, from Mt Rae, had joined us to inspect these plants..
So it was a genuine thrill for all concerned.

For the record, these plants are 15 kms north-east of Goulburn, growing on sandstone and shale hillside, in dry stony conditions. This is well outside the previous recorded range for this species.


After studying these flowers, we went off to see a "dead bird" which Lynette had also found.
This was the thing which had interested Mark Selmes most of all.
All she knew was that it was a large grey and silver bird.
It had been suggested it might have been a Tawny Frogmouth.
A quick glance showed it was a very large Owl
Almost certainly a Powerful Owl.
The talons are immensely powerful.
I am convinced it is a Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua)
The bird had been dead for a long time, and was quite dried and "leathery".
I estimate it might have been dead for several months,
and had seemingly died in natural circumstances.
The body was more or less intact.

As it is an Endangered Species, Mark is very keen to get the remains positively identified and the record formally reported.

Too much excitement for one day!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yet another Donkey Orchid

At the risk of boring everyone silly, here is a new Donkey Orchid, which I found for the first time, yesterday. It was on the road from Mittagong (Welby, actually) to Wombeyan Caves.

The particular locality was very sandy soil, with poor, low "Sandstone Heath" shrubbery around. There were lots of the lovely Purple Native Iris, (Patersonia) there.

Anyway, this Orchid looked at first glance, like Diuris pardina, which I saw at Goulburn in September. But these are flowering five weeks later.

I took a bunch of photos, to "compare and contrast", later. Sure enough this one is a different species.

I have concluded that this species is Diuris semilunulata.
I can even see a "half-moon" in the dorsal sepal of the flower (the large bit above the "labellum" and "column"). The flaps on either side of the labellum are technically, part of the labellum, and are referred to as the "side lobes" of the labellum. These are wide, and nicely coloured. The "mid lobe" of the labellum (the main part) is deeply folded, and is clearly "wedge-shaped".
One of the features of this flower is how the petals (the "Donkey ears") are reflexed back - to an almost horizontal position. The front face of the petal is golden yellow, but the reverse side of the petal is heavily spotted brownish red. It is less dark than D. pardina. All together it is a brighter red coloured flower than that plant (except for the bits which are yellow). From face on, the "lateral sepals" (the "double tails") are not visible at all - because they are so heavily reflexed back underneath the flower. They are there, as I will show you.
Here is an overhead view of the flower
It shows the "ears" and the "half moon-shaped" dorsal sepal
and Labellum.
The side lobes of the Labellum are clearly visible,
protruding either side of the mid lobe of the labellum,.
Here is a low angle view of the Flower.
You can now see the "lateral sepals" (the "double tails")
which were hidden from view before.
Contrast these with the long straight lateral sepals of the mauve Diuris
which I showed last week.
From one extreme to another.
Here is a labelled image,
to try and help with the terminology of these flowers.
This is a side-on view of this flower.
One of the petals is reflexed back so far it is horizontal.
The lateral sepals are so strongly recurved
that they actually swirl down and start to rise back up,
above the main stem (passing above the green ovary)
The petals and sepals of this flower are much more strongly reflexed
than the closely related D. pardina which I showed several weeks ago.
I would remind you that it is also much redder than that species.

Here is the full set of local Diuris species which I have seen (so far).
From the left, they are D. chryseopsis, D. aurea, D. suphurea, D. pardina,
D. punctata and today's D. semilunulata.
Click to enlarge image.
It is a larger file than normal.
To paraphrase the old political aphorism
the more they change, the more they stay the same.
Clearly quite different, but definitely all "Diuris".

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lyperanthus - both brown and yellow forms

Several days ago I received a phone call from a friend of mine, Jenny, from the Australian Plant Society - Southern Highlands Branch. She said she had seen an unusual Orchid near the Berrima Weir, and wanted to know if I was interested.
Was I?

Jenny sent me a photo taken by a friend of hers, and I was able to identify the plant as a yellow form of Lyperanthus suaveolens, known generally as "Brown Beaks". The yellow form is well documented, but it is apparently not common, except on the NSW North Coast.

We arranged to meet on Saturday afternoon, and Jenny took me along a track, to find the plants she had seen several days before.

Yellow form of Lyperanthus suaveolens
As she had seen them growing near some Diuris sulphurea, that helped us locate these yellow Lyperanthus, as the Donkey Orchids are really obvious.
Here is a cropped image of a single flower.
Well, not quite, but as the flowers grow closely together on a stem,
it is hard to separate them.
Click to enlarge the image.
The strongly pointed dorsal sepal
and the prominent downward curved labellum
are clearly visible when seen in profile.
***** ***** *****
Having found these yellow flowered forms of Lyperanthus, we decided to look around (it was a nice afternoon for a walk). I was actually hoping to find some "Caladenias" in flower, but there were none to be seen.

Anyway, we had only gone about another 200 metres when I spotted a bunch of the classic brown form of Lyperanthus suaveolens.

You can see the strong leaves of these two plants (growing side by side)
We were both tickled pink to have "completed the set".

This shot shows the front view and the more distinctive side-on view.
Front-on view of the brown form.
Here is a cropped image of the column and the warty-looking labellum.
The technical description is "labellum covered in small, sessile calli".
Here is the flower view in profile.
The dorsal sepal is narrowly hooded,
and distinctly upward sweeping.
Click to enlarge the image.
It seems this species is not "common" in the Southern Highlands. I have seen one, once before, several years after I moved to Robbo, but before I had a proper camera. Jenny had not seen this species for many years, and that was in the Heathcote area, apparently. Neither of us had seen the yellow form before.

All together a pleasant afternoon walk. It is always fun to find a new species, or at least an uncommon variant thereof.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beard Orchids - two species.

Today I am posting two Beard Orchids, members of the Calochilus genus.
As a group they are really well named. No explanation of the name is required, unless one finds an aberrant form, with a naked labellum - but I am advised such naked forms are very uncommon.

The first is the relatively common local Purplish Beard Orchid, Calochilus robertsonii. There is another species around the Southern Highlands (sandstone soil areas), but I have not yet seen it this year. Calochilus paludosus the "Red Beard Orchid". It is known to flower later, right over the height of summer.
My Blogging colleague JL has recently seen this same species in Great Western, near The Grampians, in Victoria (not Scotland!)

This is my favourite image of this species. It shows the long "nose" which is the extended tip of the "column" - the cover for the pollinia of the Orchid. This image is taken in natural light, not with flash support. The colours are very reliable, therefore.
Here it is cropped, so you can see the details of the "long nose", which to me looks like a character likely to have been developed by Jim Henson, the creator of "The Muppets".
Click to enlarge image to see the details of the flower.
Here is another specimen, seen from low down and behind the flower to show the characteristic hooded shape of the dorsal sepal, and the very stiff, "flat" (not curved down) labellum. David Jones says it is "flat". Contrast this image with the botanical illustration on PlantNET.
Note the slightly dusty grey "bloom" on the entire plant.
This is a cropped version of the same image.
Here is a front-on view of the flower.
You can see the protruding tip of the column,
but it is less obvious than in the top image,
which is taken slightly from the side, to profile the protrusion.
The "sham eyes" are just visible. (Contrast that with the next species).

The second species is a first (for me). It is Calochilus campestris, (26.10.09 edited - from previously wrong Genus name. Ooops - Sorry. DJW) the so-called "Copper Beard Orchid". I saw this in the Royal National Park a week ago. It was growing with a group of Diuris aurea. These plants were growing beside the road in a sandstone heath area, on a ridge, about 3Km past the NPWS Visitor Centre at Audley.

Here is the head of the stem, showing a number of flowers and buds.
The colour is true, and as such it calls into question the usefulness of the "common names" used, red, purple, purplish, copper etc for the various species.
One has to go on shape of the flower, the dorsal sepal angle
and the details of the labellum and column.
Here is a flower stem.
It is quite tall, with a large number of pollinated flowers
(some ten flowers with swollen ovaries are visible).
Here is the first cropped image of the flower, from the side,
showing the shape and colour of the beard.
The hooded dorsal sepal is also evident.
A more direct view.
It highlights the protruding tip of the column
(which I tend to think of as the "nose" - but of course that is not right).
Here is a flower fully open, with all the details visible.
It is interesting that the upper "calli" the "beard hairs"
are dark purplish, but the lower ones are yellowish-green.
Those calli appear to be covered with a powdery, mealy substance.
The labellum is much wider and shorter than the previous species.
Here is my favourite image (of this species).
I have nick-named this image:
"Echidna face"
Here is proof that despite their apparent weird design,
these flowers are fully functional.
This flower has two large dobs of the creamy white pollinia
(from another flower)
which have been deposited by an insect on the column of this flower.
That's how their pollination system is meant to work.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pink Sun Orchid - Thelymitra carnea

I have been promising to publish my Pink Sun Orchid (Thelymitra carnea) as my blogging colleagues in Victoria have been finding the related T. rubra. By all reports, their plants are taller, and probably darker - which is roughly the distinction between these two closely related species.

My plants are no more than 150mm tall (approx 6 inches). They are growing in shallow black soil, over a sandstone bedrock. It is in open grass beside a road verge, which is slashed routinely, as a fire break. They love this position and do not stray into the forested areas close by, it seems. This patch is the only place I know locally where these flowers are found.

These plants have either a single flower, or a flower and a spare bud. They are notoriously shy of flowering, so normally one sees closed buds.
The buds are recognisably those of this species, for they show the colour clearly enough.
Here is an open flower.
Another flower, cropped to see it close up.
That image, when cropped further gives this
charmingly detailed view of the
important reproductive parts of the flower.
Click to enlarge the image - if you dare!
Orchids are explicit flowers - they show you what they are about..
Now we need to look from the side, to see the column wing details
Unlike the blue Sun Orchids I have seen this year,
this plant has no "brushes" on the column arms,
Instead, there is simply an extension of the hard, yellow waxy top
of the column.
This plant has just a faint red mark behind the column top.
Contrast that with JL's image (linked).
From the other side, you can clearly see how the yellow column arms
protrude to protect the column itself.
These small Pink Sun Orchids are worth waiting for.
But you must go out on a hot day to see them open
from about 11 AM to 3 PM.

In case anyone is wondering what is behind the foregoing comment, this is the view from my back deck on Sunday afternoon. Robertson has remembered how to rain and to have fog in the middle of the afternoon. This weather is NOT SUITABLE for Sun Orchids to open. And that probably explains why so many of that genus are reported to be self-pollinating.