Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blue Moon for New Year's Eve 2009 (maybe)

This post should really be described as 3 views from my back deck.

For the first time in almost twenty years, there's going to be a Blue Moon on New Year's Eve. (DJW Edit: *** According to an interview I heard on ABC Radio this morning, with a spokesman for Brisbane Observatory, he said it depends on which latitude you live in. According to him, in Australia, or east coast Australia, the New Moon kicks in fully on the 1st of January. In that case, we will get a Blue Moon at the end of January, then no full moon in February at all (which is a bit unusual) then we get a second Blue Moon at the end of March. For most international readers of this post, the information stands correct as published.

Don't expect the Moon to actually turn blue, though. The phrase 'Blue Moon' has been mythologised by folklore. It is simply the second full Moon in a calendar month.
Reference: NASA

This was taken at 9:29 pm, 30 December 2009
looking north, from my back deck.
For those of you who appreciate my variable "skyline" images - ranging from foggy views of 50 metres or so, to full zoomed images of the distant Budawangs and Sassafras Mountain, some 70 Kms distant, this is how the evening sky looked, at twilight, at 8:55 PM. Looking due south from the back deck. The far southern rim of the Shoalhaven Valley is in the very far distance - approximately 60 Kms distant. The tall trees are on the next hill, at the Robertson Cemetery - 900 metres away. The High Tension Powerline pylon is about 500 metres away, in the next paddock.
And this next image is for those of you troubled by urban lighting problems - Neon Lights flashing across the street, or a really bright floodlit building next door.

These are the only two house lights I can see from my back deck. To the left one can see one farm-house approximately 5 Kms away (with a small second light in a shed or other "outbuilding").

This was taken at 9:33PM, looking due south from the back deck.
Click to enlarge the image.
To the right is a modern house approximately 5 Kms away, beyond Belmore Falls, with lights which are far too bright for sensible rural requirements.

This is typical of former city dwellers who have moved to the country - and have not adjusted their lighting requirements to sensible standards. These are lights designed as a "status symbol". You get a lot of that in the country, with the city folks who have not yet understood the true function of house lighting - which is to provide illumination for purposes of being able to see your way around your own house at night (not to impress passers-by). On the Belmore Falls Road there are few, if any "passers-by" at night. Who are they trying to impress?

Clearly they have not done an "energy audit" of their domestic lighting requirements.

Global warming? What's that?

Happy New Year to all my loyal readers.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Frogmouth - Rescue update, and an unusual Goanna report.

Tonight I received advice from my brother on the South Coast that there are plans for a family re-union of the rescued baby Tawny Frogmouth about which I reported just over a month ago.
The bird was handed over to WIRES, and the feeling was that it would be released after a few days. Apparently not. In fact they have held on to it until now, building up the bird's strength, to at least to give it some chance of looking after itself.

I got this update report from Brendan, this afternoon.
  • "(our Frogmouth neighbour) got a phone call from WIRES this afternoon to say that they intended to release our photographed Frogmouth back where they found it this evening, just after dark. The WIRES lady came out to have a look around; Pat told her that the three birds we had been watching had not been around for about a week but Mrs. WIRES looked up and found two birds - Pat thinks one parent and one young. Neither she nor I could find the third bird, but that means stuff all with Frogmouths of course.

    "The Neighbour tells me that she had assumed from a casual comment (that they only hold Frogmouths for a couple of days) that they had released the bird. Instead they have been feeding it young mice (pinkies) at great expense to WIRES.

    "By way of reminder I found two eggs and I was pretty positive that I saw two young birds in the nest. And of course while WIRES had one of the young birds the second young bird was in evidence here.

    "Hopefully tonight there will be a happy family reunion."

I am not sure how the bird will adjust from being fed baby mice to catching its own food, but I do know that the WIRES people are pretty resourceful and successful in planning rehabilitation of sick or injured animals. Hopefully the reunion is taking place as I write this report.


On a very different subject, my Orchid colleague Alan Stephenson came across a very unusual colour-form of a Goanna (Lace Monitor - Varanus varius) while out looking for Orchids in the Shoalhaven Valley. He wondered if I would like to publish the photo.

Alan wrote: "I had it identified by a chap who should know and he said it is Varanus varius. However, it is a specific colour morph referred to as the Bell's form. This form is most common in the Pilliga and he found one on the south-west slopes in 2001 but has never seen this form in the Shoalhaven, so according to him the record is an important "first" and he will make a note of this in his journal.
Lace Monitor - "Bells Form"
found in the Shoalhaven Valley of NSW.
It is normally only found in inland NSW and Queensland.
What a striking looking animal.
This is my own photo of a standard colour form of the Lace Monitor (Goanna). There is a yellow chin, but the rest of the body is uniformly speckled "salt and papper colours"
Here is a "head shot" of a standard colour form of Goanna.
I shall report the details of Alan's find to the National Parks and Wildlife Office in Fitzroy Falls, which is part of the group which manages the various National Parks in the Shoalhaven Valley.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Creatures which revel in the fog.

There are some creatures in Robertson which revel in the Fog.
It is their natural environment. These are secretive, skulking birds which avoid being seen. So when the fog is thickest, they come out to "Party".

I refer to the Whipbirds (Eastern Whipbirds - Psophodes olivaceus to be precise).

I have lived here for about 7 years, and have only ever taken photos of whipbirds once before, yet I "live with" these birds every day. I just do not see them.

When Whipbirds are around, they are nearly always on the other side of any bush --- hiding away from people. They lurk in the bushes, they scold you through the bushes, with their hoarse, scratchy, croaky voices.(Courtesy of Lamington National Park website - recorded by Dave Stewart).

And then suddenly the male starts his call - a long drawn-out pure whistle, followed by a "crack" sound - hence their name, from the sound of the Stockwhip being cracked. (Click here to listen to a recording - courtesy of Fred Van Gessel, from the "Birds in Backyards" website).

The female, if she is around, usually answers with two or three "Chew, Chew, Chew" calls - immediately after the male's "Crack" call. I say three, because in Robertson they girls do triple calls, but elsewhere, it is normal for them to give only two answering calls.

This morning, I heard very loud whip-cracking going on just outside my kitchen window. I looked through the balcony slats and saw this:
No other bird looks like this. The white cheek patches of the Whipbird are totally distinctive. Also the fact that the bird was mostly hidden also fitted with its secretive nature.

The surprise was that when I appeared on the deck, camera in hand,
the Whipbirds - for there was a pair - did not flee. The sky was still misty and that may have helped them feel at home.
I had to open the camera right up to get any images at all.
Apologies for the poor quality
but they are worth publishing - for the rareness.
They were playing around on a pile of cuttings from a tree
which had been felled in a recent storm.The male twists his tail sideways as he begins his extraordinary call.
You can see that is is wedge-shaped, and has a few white dots on the end of the tail.

After putting up with me trying to sneak some shots of this rare display, suddenly the Whipbirds decided that I had over-done it, and they departed suddenly.

This is a typical shot of a Whipbird - flying fast and low, with the long, wedge-shaped tail spread, as it disappears from view - heading for dense cover. But even at speed, the white cheek patches are distinctive.
Vale little birds - see you in another 3 or 4 years time.
I'll listen to you tomorrow morning, though!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Third day of fog and drizzle in Robbo.

I go stir crazy after three days of conditions like these.

The bush is dripping wet, the birds are nearly invisible, and I refuse to go looking in the wet leaf litter for Orchids.
I went and visited Andy and Anni this afternoon, which was lovely. Nice company, and the tail end of Christmas goodies, including Anni's own Dill-cured Salmon, and some of Andy's home-made Pate, served with a pickle, and Lingonberry sauce. That is a traditional Finnish touch, apparently. Very refreshing indeed.

I had started the day early, shortly after sunlight started to peer through the fog.
Fog and Mist 6:58 am (3rd day of Fog)
I decided to put out a Pear, for any "early birds". They were around, but I missed seeing them. Judging by how fast the first half of the pear disappeared, I assume the early visitors were Bowerbirds, or Currawongs.

Small and medium birds waiting their turn.
A Little Wattlebird (low down)
and a Lewin's Honeyeater (up high)
When next I checked, the fog had cleared somewhat - visibility rated at about 300 metres (maybe).
11:34 am - close to midday.A series of Little Wattlebirds (Anthochaera chrysoptera) came to peck surreptitiously at the fruit.

If you look closely, under the apple there is a pool of juice.
It took me a while to work out what this bird was doing.
But of course, it was lapping up the juice
with its specialised nectar-feeding tongue.
Then a female Satin Bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) came in to finish its share of the meal.
The fog had moved back in on us, later in the afternoon.
Fog and mist at 5:34 pm.
Visibilty reduced to 100 metres again.
And then a Lewin's Honeyeater (Meliphaga lewinii)
came back in for a last peck.
Summer? It hardly seems like it.

Unfortunately, the two rainfall reporting stations in Robertson are both "off-line" from the Bureau of Meteorology's rainfall reporting system. I will report this to them on Tuesday, the next scheduled working day. I know they are busty with flood warnings at present, elsewhere in the State.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A damp but pleasant Christmas

The clouds clung close to the hills of Robertson on Christmas Day and continued to do so today ("Boxing Day").
I have re-lit the heaters (yes, even the little gas heater, in the lounge room, as well as the electric oil-filled column heater in the bedroom). So much for Copenhagen. I mostly use the heaters to help keep the house dry, especially as Zoe is coming up tomorrow. Damp-induced mold is a perennial problem in houses in Robertson. So much for the Summer Solstice.

What has driven this weather is the tail end of Cyclone Laurence, which lashed the north-west coast of Australia - crossing the coastline in "The Kimberley". It has tracked across Western Australia, dumping great volumes of rain in the Pilbara, crossing into northern South Australia and the Northern Territory, and entering western NSW, where it has produced heavy, but very useful rain in the western zone, and the north-west districts, and even down as far as Mudgee, and Young.

This pattern of rain is not unusual, just uncommon.
In fact it is rain like this which is the lifeblood of the so-called Foodbowl of Australia (the Murray-Darling Basin), especially, in this case the Northern Basin of the Murray-Darling river system.
This one has started further south and west than many, and has continued to track somewhat further south than normal.Rain Depression which started as Cyclone Laurence.
It is the intense low south of Tasmania which has brought
the cold weather to Robertson.
The moist weather from the ex-cyclone Laurence
ended up just further west.Christmas Day, 5:00 am EDT
Dumping rain in central western NSW.
The remains of the "weather system" will track north from now on.

Lets hope we get a couple more of these cyclonic "washes" over this coming season. Another dump coming down from the Gulf of Carpentaria would match this rainfall nicely, to help central Queensland and the north-western tributaries of the Darling River, especially the Culgoa and Paroo Rivers.

Of course, we know that such cyclones are capable of causing immense damage and loss of life, but this cyclone, although rated at a Category 5 (as severe as Cyclone Tracy) managed to drift across largely unpopulated areas, and caused no loss of life.

By contrast, the most famous of Australia's cyclones, Cyclone Tracy "killed 71 people, caused $837 million in damage (1974 AUD) and destroyed more than 70 percent of Darwin's buildings, including 80 percent of houses. Tracy left homeless more than 20,000 out of the 49,000 inhabitants of the city prior to landfall and required the evacuation of over 30,000 people." Source: Wikipedia > Cyclone Tracy.

Nobody wants another one like that!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Summer solstice (delayed) and Lucy's cake

Good things happen at the height of summer (well at the Summer Solstice at least). In Robertson, it usually means we turn off our heaters (in my case, I did that last week).

That is good for Global Warming. In these Post-Copenhagen Days of Apocalypse, it means I was (until I turned the heater off last week) killing the Planet faster than it will otherwise die (of natural causes - by converting itself to a "Red Giant"). Don't fret, experts predict we have some 5 billion years (give or take a bit).

You can see that I am "Over" Copenhagen. As I am concerned, we have a hypocritical, or schizophrenic Government, but I'll leave you to make up your own mind about those options.


To get over this fit of despondency, I decided to go down to Kangaloon to check for summer-flowering Ground Orchids (the Solstice was yesterday, of course). It took me a while to find any, but once I did, of course, I started to see lots of them. That is the usual story with Orchids - "get your eye in". Once you do that - train your eye to look for what it is you are actually looking for. Do that, and then you see them almost everywhere.

The first species I went looking for is the Little Tongue Orchid (Cryptostylis leptochila). There were some which had finished already, which surprised me. But then I found lots just opening up.

One open flower, and many buds developing.
Side on view
Full view of the flower - low angle shot
Click to enlarge image, to appreciate the details of the flower.
The reverse of the leaf of Cryptostylis leptochila.
It is typical of this species in that it is a burgundy colour on the back
A few metres down the road I found my first Hyacinth Orchids (of the year) (Dipodium roseum). (DJW Edit - actually Dipodium punctatum) Oddly enough, the very first one I found had finished flowering (as with the Cryptostylis). Do these co-incidences mean that the early flowers had been dried up prematurely by a sudden burst of hot weather? Or else, had I just missed the true start of the season? (I had not "looked" for about 10 days.)
Anyway, here are some more of the Hyacinth Orchid flowers.

Click on the image to enlarge it to see the fine details of the labellum.
There is a rain drop on the labellum.
It has a hairy "brush" of pink fibres.
Four stems growing side by side.
Here is a cluster of Hyacinth Orchids growing right beside the road.
Having ascertained that the summer Orchids were starting to flower, I kept on driving down the road, to catch up with my friend Lucy. I had not seen her for several months, as she had been away from home at various times I had dropped by. Today she was at home.

I got there just as a huge thunderstorm broke out.
The power went down.

It did provide a brief photo opportunity. This stunning silvery-barked Scribbly Gum in her front yard was highlighted against the "lowering sky".We chatted and after a while the power came back on, and Lucy announced that she proposed to make a Tea Cake.
Goodness me, no wonder I like the lady!
Happy memories.
Tea Cakes take me back to my childhood.
Another friend of Lucy's turned up, with her baby, joining Lucy's 3 kids and another friend and me. We all sat down to enjoy the Tea Cake, which was still warm, and coated in fresh runny cream. Yum!

Needless to say, I managed to overlooked Lucy's small contribution to Global Warming, as I enjoyed my share of the warm Tea Cake.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Christmas Card to you all

This is my favourite photo of 2009. It is a Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans) emerging from her nest hollow in a Brittle Gum (Eucalyptus mannifera).

It was taken on Black Mountain, Canberra, one afternoon, when I was there for my father's funeral. So it was taken in late September.

Two Rosellas flew down the hill and one landed straight on the edge of the hollow. It looked at me, and decided (rightly) that I was no threat to it.

I did not know if she was feeding young, or going to lay an egg. I decided to wait, and sure enough, she came out after about 7 minutes. There was no noise, and given the early season, she was probably laying an egg.

She emerged, looked around and realised I was still there. That made her uneasy, and she flew away quickly.

Fortunately, I had plenty of time to focus the lens, and test the light settings, while she was inside the nest hollow.

What a lovely bird.

Please click on the image to enlarge it - to make the card easier to read.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Lilies

These particular Christmas Lilies (Lilium longiflorum) came into flower ten days ago.
I raffled these three stems, each with 3 open flowers and about 8 buds on each stem off for the Chamber of Commerce, as a partial fundraiser for the park furniture in the Big Potato park in the centre of Robertson. Tickets were a mere $1 each. Judy Fisk was the lucky winner. Judy is a great supporter of the Robertson Chamber of Commerce.
I was quite happy to give these flowers away, as I knew that I had a bunch of other bulbs yet to flower. Since then, a further bunch of stems have come into bloom for me, as I knew they would.
They have a delicious perfume and are strategically placed beside the front path to my house. These plants were some which I bought from Bryan H. Tonkin in the Dandenongs, a specialist Lilium grower. My father had some of these plants which he also bought from the same source (many years ago). He rated them very highly as they were the pure species, not a hybrid form. So I grow these plants in memory of my father. I am pleased to see that Bryan H. Tonkin's nursery is still in business - a true test of a reliable nursery.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A season of plenty - plenty of squarking

The recent evenings have been soft and gentle - almost how one imagines English summer evenings are.

Butterflies have been mobbing the Buddleja bush. This is what these bushes are famous for, hence the popular name "Butterfly Bush".
This butterfly is the "Yellow Admiral" - Vanessa itea
Quite literally is is common to see something approaching 50 Butterflies around one bush, at any one time. This is the "Australian Painted Lady" Butterfly (Vanessa kershawi)
Another plant which is in full flower is a cultivar of the Tea Tree (Leptospermum spectabile). This plant produces copious nectar from the floral disc. And its flowers attracts bees, beetles and hover flies.
Here you can see the green floral disc to which I have just referred. The petals are red, and the sepals creamy white. The stamens are very prominent, still holding their pollen (as yet unripe). The little brown "bags" on the ends of the stamens will open to release the pollen, once it is ripe (at "dehiscence" - the shedding of the pollen).
In my yard, King Parrots (Alisterus scapularis) are uncommon. They are around, but I seldom see them feeding in my place. The people of Robertson do spoil them, by offering "bird seed" (which I do not do). I feel it makes them too dependent on supplied food. I prefer to wait and on occasions, find a King Parrot doing some more natural feeding. This handsome male is in a planted Acacia decurrens (not a local plant, but a garden specimen). But the King Parrot has observed that the wattle has set seed, which is as close as can be to "natural" food for the Parrot.The Acacia seed pods are visible above the Parrot's head - as straight, slightly brown pods, with nodules (bumps) visible. Each bump represents a seed (as in a classic "Pea Pod" structure).

Having boasted about not providing "bird seed" for the King Parrots, I do give the birds an occasional piece of fruit. I was hoping to attract a Bower Bird (which I did), but the top of the line birds at this season are the Pied Currawongs (Strepera graculina). Within a few minutes of me leaving two small pears out on the feed table, the Currawongs were into them. The Bowerbird sat quietly by - an unusual occurrence.
I always "fix " the fruit onto a spike (a screw). The theory is that it prevents the fruit from rolling off the table, when the birds are pecking at it.
This bird outsmarted me. It grabbed the Pear by the stem, and lifed the fruit in a single attempt. It seemed surprised, for an instant, then it flew off into the bush carrying the Pear, closely followed by two nagging, squarking fledglings.
Notice the enormously powerful feet of the Currawong.
Next time I will cut the long stem off the Pear. I don't want to be outsmarted again. I did not see, but it is very likely the Bowerbird scooped up the remaining piece of the Pear. I hope so.

Here is one of the young Currawongs. Note the grey plumage and the yellow gape (the joint of the upper and lower mandibles of the beak). That is a residual feature of young "passerines" which grow a very wide gape when very young, to facilitate feeding by the parents when in the nest. Once they fledge, the soft tissue shrinks to normal hard beak tissue. This youngster's eyes are grey, not bright yellow.And just to set the scene of the "soft evening" there was a pastel sunset on the little pile of clouds out over Fitzroy Falls..On evenings like this I like to use the very droll Aussie expression:
"Ya wouldn't be dead for Quids".