Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Brumby tries to blame the weather for Power Outages

Well, if you have seen yesterday's post then this is more of the same. Except for this report from the Sydney Morning Herald.

John Brumby is claiming this is beyond control, because of the weather. Wrong, Mr Brumby.
Sure it is hot - we acknowledge that.
People do not blame the Government for that.

But the planning laws allow sub-divisions to squeeze the maximum possible number of large houses on small blocks. That means NO trees for shade, Mr Brumby. No builder would dream of building a veranda around a new house, because that would be too "costly". So they plan for air conditioners in all new homes.

Mr Brumby and his Government know these simple facts. But they ignore it, and blame the weather.

My eldest brother was born in a Melbourne heat wave. (2 March 1940, I believe, if anyone wishes to check the weather records.) Babies in the maternity ward were draped in moist towels, to prevent them dehydrating. None of this in new, Mr Brumby.

What is new is the way Governments have allowed Business to build buildings (large and small) which regard the climate as the Enemy, to be fought against. Instead of something to be worked within. I wrote earlier this evening, of ancient Roman buildings, with shaded colonnades surrounding a central atrium, with a small fountain in the middle. Buildings like that work in our Climate, but nobody builds them. Even old country farm houses, with their shade verandas work much better than McMansions, with a double garage fronting the street, blocking out light and air.

If one chooses to fight nature, as the Government and business have done, then, there is a cost - and in this case it is air conditioning. Modern houses are build on the assumption that air conditioning will be installed. And air conditioning requires lots of energy.

Electricity supply systems are meant to be built to peak load standards. Clearly they are failing, in Victoria. The system did not fail because there was an explosion in a power line. That is facile rubbish, Mr Brumby.

The system failed because it was overloaded, and it was overloaded because it was inadequate in its design parameters, Mr Brumby. It was inadequate for the task - as you appear to be, Mr Brumby.And yet, in view of this chaos, you still want to build a Desalination Plant in Wonthaggi, Mr Brumby?

This Desal Plant will be the largest single consumer of electricity in Victoria to be built since Rupert Hamer did a dirty deal to allow Alcoa to build the Aluminium Smelter in Portland - and Hamer arranged for the SEC to run electricity supplies all the length of Victoria to power - just to suit his brother, who was on the Board of Alcoa. Ah, those were the good old days!

Back to the present. How are you going to power this proposed Desal Plant, Mr Brumby? How will you run that and keep the lights on in the rest of Victoria, Mr Brumby?
As I said yesterday, it is simply not necessary anyway. Check out the Watershed Victoria website, to see why.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Blackouts show why Desal Plant is unsupportable

"Massive power blackout hits Victoria"

(click on that heading / link above to read the full report in The Age by Mex Cooper January 30, 2009 - 8:45PM)

"A massive power blackout has hit Victoria with nearly 350,000 residents and businesses without power".

So begins yet another story about Blackouts in Victoria, in The Age.

For yesterday's major report, click here.

I simply ask: how on earth can Victoria justify building a huge, energy intensive Desalination Plant?

How will it be powered?

Will Victorians agree to regular Blackouts, just so Mr Brumby can have his Desal Plant?

It simply is not necessary (in the first place).

Recycle your water; use your storm water; install Water Tanks; and use less water generally.

It is simply bad planning to commit to such a huge and inefficient piece of infrastructure, when Victoria can barely plan for one more domestic Air Conditioner. Indeed it cannot run all those which are there already.

Check out the Watershed Victoria website - for much more information on why the Desalination proposal is both wrong environmentally, and uneconomic. It should not be developed, and the Victorian Government has precious little time to stop itself from getting locked into a disastrous Three Billion Dollar contract with French Multinational companies - either Suez, or Veolia-Vivendi.

Stop the madness now, Mr Brumby, before it is too late.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

With my head in the flowers (and the clouds)

This afternoon, I left sunny Robertson (yes, it has been consistently sunny here, for two days, but not too hot fortunately) and I drove the 8 Kms to Knights Hill to visit the "Illawarra Fly" treetop walk. I was anticipating lovely clear views out over the Illawarra coast and Wollongong.

As soon as I got to the Pie Shop Corner, at the head of the Jamberoo Mountain Road, I knew my luck was out. I could see there was a band of cloud forming around the escarpment peak, at Knights Hill. Oh well, previous experience told me that the views from the Illawarra Fly are always interesting, evening in cloud.

Here is the tower, looking a bit cool against the cloud. There was a group of young kids running around excitedly, way up there. As they climbed down, they counted the steps - out loud, so I didn't have to climb up there to find out there are 106 steps to the top. According to the website, the "Knights Tower" is 45 metres above the forest floor. Of course, the other photos are taken from the platform level, which averages 25 metres above the forest floor. So the tower is well above the canopy.

I love seeing the trees from within the canopy. It gives one a very different perspective - a true bird's eye view. One normally can barely see the flowers in these tall Eucalypts.

I was taken with the shedding bark on the top branches of these Gully Gums (Eucalyptus smithii) It seems this habit of shedding of the upper branches in long ribbons is diagnostic of the species. Click to enlarge this next image. I love the subtle creams and olive colours in the bark.
Here is a view out over Yellow Rock, and the ridge between Albion Park (on the left) and Jamberoo (out of sight to the right). As you can see we were in the clouds, but it was sunny out beyond.

A zoomed image of the rocky outcrop of the Illawarra Escarpment. This is taken from the end of the cantilevered section which protrudes out towards the escarpment edge, on the eastern end. It can be a bit exciting, if there is a wind blowing, or if you have a group of school kids bouncing
around on it. But the engineering specifications state that the cantilevered sections can hold
"a maximum weight of 28 tonne or 800 wombats!!" Their words, not mine. I love it when a sense of humour emerges through the boring stuff normally found on an official website! The young growth tips of the Gully Gums were glowing in the afternoon light.
Here is a Cabbage Tree Palm crown, at eye height. Lovely things these ancient Palms.
Here are some lovely Tree Ferns growing in a wet gully, as seen from above.

Every time I visit the Illawarra Fly, I find I have really enjoyed the experience. And speaking with the workers there, this afternoon, it seems they are a happy bunch of people, too. That's nice to know. I think that speaks well of Sean, the manager of the Illawarra Fly.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kim's White Lilium, Butterflies, Notes on La Perouse

Today I publish photos of one of a group of Liliums which my friend Kim gave m as bulbs, last winter. They are lovely flowers, which I believe are Oriental Liliums, but perhaps they are hybrids, with the Asiatic Liliums. I cannot be sure.
What I can be sure of is that they are lovely flowers, with a stunning perfume, and a pure white flower (slight green veining) and a fine set of red stamens. Here is a single petal, showing the purity of the colour, and also the little spurs, or nodes on the petals. Believing as I do that, in Nature, nothing happens by accident, I can only assume that these little spikes or nodes are there to provide perches for insects. Perhaps they are scent organs (certainly in Orchids such things would be regarded as scent glands). I cannot be sure, but I can at least observe that they are a feature of these flowers. Note that there is a bead of nectar rolling down the green-coloured rib in the petal on the far side of the flower. (Click to enlarge). That and the sweet perfume of the flower tells me that these plants are intended to be pollinated by insects.

Talking of which!!!

Here is a Macleays Swallowtail Butterfly (Graphium macleayanum) This is one of many such Butterflies which love my Buddleja (or Buddleia, if you prefer).
These plants are prone to self-seeding in Robertson's soil and rtainy conditions. However, I would not be without these wonderful plants, for the very reason that you see here - they are like magnets for Butterflies. The solution is simple - I cut the plants down to about knee height after they flower, and before they seed. They re-generate beautifully, with plenty of time to form new flower buds for next year.

Please do not blame me for the background colour in this next image. This male Common Brown Butterfly (Heteronympha merope) chose to sit on top of the lid of my yellow Wheelie Bin. It must have thought it was some huge Dandelion flower. This species apparently occurs only in South-east Australia, and it was described by Fabricius in 1775. Fabricius, Johann Christian (1745-1808). Fabricius was a Danish entomologist. I can only conclude that this species was collected by one of the scientists in Cook's Endeavour - perhaps Sir Joseph Banks, (or one of his offsiders?).

Cook visited Australia in 1770. The next British vessel to arrive was in the "First Fleet", in 1788. The French explorer La Perouse arrived in 1788 too, but he and his vessels were lost in the Solomon Islands after they left Australia - so the only "scientific" collectors to have visited eastern Australia prior to 1775 would appear to have been on Cook's Endeavour.

Footnote about La Perouse: Having grown up in Canberra, near Laperouse Street, Griffith, and near Astrolabe Street, Red Hill, I have always been fond of this fellow. It is well known that he turned up at Botany Bay and met several of the vessels of the First Fleet,
as they were leaving Botany Bay to move to Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour), on 26 January 1788. The Sydney suburb of La Perouse is named in his honour. But I have just read tonight what happened after his departure from Botany Bay.
  • French explorer La Pérouse was stranded on Vanikoro after both his vessels, La Boussole and the Astrolabe, struck the then unknown reefs of the island in 1788. It is reported that some of the men were killed by the local inhabitants, whilst the surviving sailors built a smaller vessel and left the island, but were never seen again. Those that remained on the island died before search parties arrived in 1826. Jules Verne dedicates a chapter of his novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea to this event.
  • Source: Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Small Birds in a "mixed feeding flock"

The phenomenon of a "mixed feeding flock" is interesting. Many species of bids - usually small birds, gathering together, in harmony, while all feeding. Its great when you find yourself amongst such a group of birds, for often they are happy to allow you to stand there, while they ignore you, whilst getting on with their tasks in hand.

Male Superb Fairy Wren (Blue Wren) preening,
while a Silvereye sits peacefully, just a few inches away., That amounts to perfect photographic conditions (hopefully the weather is OK). Today there was a bit of mist around, and so grey skies meant a washed out background, and low light conditions. But the birds were cooperative enough.

Silvereye ( Zosterops lateralis )
The reason for the name is obvious.
These birds are not related to Honeyeaters, but they often go to flowers, but more to find insects than nectar. They absolutely love berries, especially small ones, like Privets, and also are partial to ripe blackberries. They swarm in great numbers especially in autumn, when they migrate.
This guy was in for a bit of acrobatic work, while looking for aphids and other tiny insects.
Then it fluffed out its feathers, after a scratch and a shake. Finally, back to work, hunting for insects, at ground level, amongst some dandelions.
Meanwhile, a Grey Fantail was flitting from branch to branch.
These birds catch their insects on the wing, just as the Swifts do.
But their manner of doing it is entirely different.
To continue the aeronautical theme from the last few posts about the Swifts,
these birds are like Tiger Moth (aeroplanes), contrasted with the Swifts being like F 1-11s.
Their wings are rounded, their tail huge - all for gaining aerobatic control.
Its all about precision, low-speed flying, for these guys.
Incidentally, they have large eyes, and a broad beak, to increase their chances of catching tiny insects on the wing. They seldom fly straight. Usually they do loops in the air, grab an insect, and fly back to the perch. When they land they then jump left, right, around, always on the look out for the next insect meal. Although not shy, they do not wait around for the photographer to frame the shot, or anything like that. Shoot it, and hope is the rule for these fellows.A baby Eastern Spinebill turned up, checking out the backs of leaves, looking for tiny insects or spiders. These birds are primarily nectar feeders, but like most Honeyeaters, they are opportunists. This bird has a very pale base of the beak, and no "V-shaped football jumper" markings on its front. Follow the link under the name above, for COG Bird Photo Gallery shots of adults, to see what I mean about Football Jumper markings.

This bird rejoices in the scientific name: Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris. Those names mean, literally - thorn (or spine) nose, thin beak. Not a bad name for a "Spinebill".

Here are 3 members of a Wren family group. The other youngster would not get into the frame, for me.
Here the male and female Super Fairy Wren are sitting together - cropped image from above.Finally, a Lewin's Honeyeater (Meliphaga lewinii ) (fairly well camouflaged), which was also hunting insects. This is one Honeyeater which also likes to eat berries - as it is relatively large, and we have many native and weedy berries in Robertson. All these images were taken within a few minutes of eachother, in my front yard. Most were taken from one standing position -just looking to the left, then the right.

I did not get a shot of the Brown Thornbills or the Golden Whistler, which were also present, but which did not show themselves, unfortunately.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fork-tailed Swifts have "landed"

The images of the Fork-tailed Swifts which I published here last week have been accepted for permanent publication by the Canberra Ornithologists Group in their excellent bird Photo Gallery.

Hence my facetious comment on these Swifts having "landed" - as they are said to seldom land in Australia. Even though it seems improbably that they can fly for months on end, without landing, sightings of Swifts landing in trees or on rock ledges in Australia are extremely rare. They do breed on cliffs, in Asia.

I was particularly pleased that the COG webmaster has chosen this particularly elegant looking image as the "front page" view for the species. Incidentally, the Fork-tailed Swift is noted as being a "rare summer migrant to the ACT". Pretty rare in Robertson too, from my records.
I did not publish this nice clear image (above) the other day, for when I took this image, there was a spot on the camera sensor, and it made it look like the bird had a bent beak. It took me a while to realise what was wrong, and I was able to clean up the image (without altering the image of the bird itself). It is a nice image, as it shows the bird rolling over, at about 60 degrees from the vertical, and the tail fork is just visible, but the white rump and the neatly curved wings are shown very nicely indeed.
The curved wings typify the bird's wing adjustment for full speed.
This last image, which have not published before, shows the Swift as the ultimate speed machine, with wings fully swept back.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sticky nights bring out the moths.

Two evenings ago we had a large thunderstorm to the south of Robertson. This is a slow exposure shot, showing the effect of sheet lightning. The large power stanchion is clearly visible against the dark sky. That is visible in most daytime shots from my back deck.

All these images are easier to see in full detail, if you click on the images, to enlarge them.The storm seems to have been centred around the Budawangs, due south of Robertson, about 100 Kms away. I say that, because there has been a large fire there burning over the last 36 hours. The fire is north of the Kings Highway, which runs from Braidwood, over Clyde Mountain, to Batemans Bay. I have written about the Budawangs before, with some shots of the wonderful mountains there. It is very difficult and remote country for firefighting.Robertson has had hot days and very sticky nights. The storm brought out the moths, and one determined Huntsman Spider, which was sucking dry this medium-large moth. Eventually the spider dropped the dead moth, after the spider had feasted enough. At this stage the spider was gripping the moth's wings tightly to prevent it flapping too much. Now you know why Spiders have eight legs, to allow 3 legs to hold their victims, and 5 legs to hang onto a vertical wall, and not fall off. Not a bad effort, really, for this spider (which incidentally is back out there near my front porch light, as I write, two days later). Why not? Its a good hunting ground, obviously.

Here is another moth (a different species) which I have not yet had the chance to "look up".
DJW Update: My Blogging colleague, Duncan, has kindly told me that "The one with the eyes is Oenochroma quardrigramma" (in the Geometridae). It took me a few moments to realise he was referring to the "eye markings" on the wings of this moth, below. Thanks Duncan.

Here is the same moth viewed from the front and side.
It has a good chubby body, which, surprisingly does not seem to be very hairy.
The "head and shoulders" (forgive my poor moth anatomy - its too late) is very hairy.
The bronze coloured hairs are clearly visible in the image above, too.
This next moth (about 2.5 cms long) is a beautiful silvery creature, with a small yellow stripe on its head, and yellow marks on its front legs. Click on these images, to see them closely.
I have seen other silvery moths before, which were "Rice stem borers" (or similar) on rushes in a swamp, but there are no swamps close by my place.

DJW Edit: It seems this may be Eochrois callianassa, which is in a group of ""Concealer moths" - a name given because of the habit of the caterpillars to hide in either cases, or canopies of leaves sewn together with silk. Don Herbison-Evans has a photo on his site which looks similarly silvery to my moth. He notes that "The adult moth has white forewings shading to yellow at the edges". That matches my specimen. It feeds on members of the Proteaceae, of which there is only one species native to the Robertson Rainforest - a tall tree - Stenocarpus salignus. But of course, many members of this family are grown as garden plants.
Here is the same moth from the front.
You can see the long antennae and the upwardly curved palps.
What puzzles me his the apparent absence of eyes.
Presumably they are underneath the antennae, held low down.
And from the side it looks like this.
You can just make out the eyes in this shot -
tucked behind (and above) the base of the curved palps.
I do not know what the little dark spot is on the side of the head.
This is the same species of moth as the Huntsman Spider had caught.
A different individual, though.
Possibly Anthela acuta. See Duncan's gallery image.
Click to his two previous images as well - use the left arrows.
And here you can see its eyes (large ones) and its front legs.
The antennae are long, but held parallel to the front edge of the wings.

I doubt that these moths are rare, I simply have not had a chance to go searching through my Nature Blogger colleagues image galleries of moths to sort out what species these are.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fork-tailed Swifts appear over Robertson

These birds suddenly appeared over my house, two mornings ago. I knew straight away that they were Swifts, but I was not quite sure which Swift? The bird formerly called the "Spine-tailed Swift" (now officially the "White-throated Needletail") is the more usual species, south from Sydney. I have not seen many Swifts here, since moving to Robertson. I often look out for them before a summer thunderstorm, but have only seen them on a few occasions, over 6 years.

I should mention that all these images were taken from my back deck (so they qualify as birds from my backyard).

Click to enlarge the image. There are four swifts in the frame.
But, as I said, which Swift was I looking at?
The thing about Swifts is they fly so very, very fast (they get their name for a good reason). These birds were hawking at about twice the height of the local trees, and then circling higher, and swooping back down to just above the tree tops. Their speed and their circling was a real challenge, to try and track them. No autofocus job, this. I tried to monitor a bird as it flew away from me, then watched it come back, adjusting the focus , in an attempt to get a shot, as the bird raced back towards me.

Swift, at about 300 metres range.
(Shoalhaven Valley in distance)
The photographer's challenge is to focus on the distant bird,
then adjust focus as the bird comes zooming back
(they were circling constantly, for about 20 minutes).
Adjusting focus on a high speed bird is a great hit or miss experience.
My best shot.
For photographers, the speed settings was 1/1000th of a second.
Aperture F/5.6, with maximum zoom (300mm focal length).

This shows the elegant flight pattern of this species. Beautiful wings. The design is, of course, the sort of design aeronautical engineers can only dream about. The white rump is diagnostic (to distinguish it from the White-throated Needletail, which has a white throat and white undertail coverts, but the rump is brown).
I wish to acknowledge the assistance of Geoffrey Dabb (of COG) in confirming my ID of these birds as the Fork-tailed Swift (Apus pacificus) (a species I had not seen before).
I like this image - it shows the colour of the upper parts of the bird, and wings, plus the white rump. The wing shape, as it curves around, while diving, is very elegant.
A blurry image, but it does show the long tail, clearly forked.
High speed shot of a passing, zooming Fork-tailed Swift.This one is gliding away from me, at high speed.
This blurred image shows the Fork-tailed Swift with tail in full spread (a deep "V").
Almost certainly this bird is using its wings and tail for full control as it strikes at an insect.

A composite image (5 frames) of Fork-tailed Swifts,
showing the changes in wing shape and profile, as the birds tumble, zoom and soar.
Click to enlarge

Fork-tailed Swift with another species of bird. But which other bird?

This next image had me thinking Tree Martin,*** but on reflection, the bird in the image (relative to the Swift) is larger than a Tree Martin would be, and, as there was a hot north-westerly blowing, on which all these birds had travelled in, it is entirely possible that it is a White-breasted Woodwallow. Woodswallows are known to move about on favourable winds, following swarms of insects. Even the shape of the wings is "right" for a Woodswallow, (and wrong for aTree Martin), now that I think more about it. *** I have since decided that this is sufficiently unlikely to be a White-breasted Woodswallow, that I cannot "claim" that species. It is more likely to be a Tree Martin. The photo is not good enough for a positive ID, one way or the other.