Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Water arrives in Lake Eyre - check your Pelicans.

Have you missed your local Pelicans yet? You may recall that I predicted two weeks ago that the Pelicans would arrive in Lake Eyre, with the flood-waters coming down from Queensland. I suggested that people, especially our Gippsland colleagues, ought observe their Pelicans, to see if they start to disappear. Well, today's press tells me that the waters have now arrived there - and so have the Pelicans.

(Photo: Weekend Australian 28.2.09)

Today, I was looking for Orchids on the side of Macquarie Pass, when I lay down to take a close-up shot of a little Ground Orchid. As I did so, I happened to glance skyward. From a gap between the branches of towering Eucalypts in a patch of wet schlerophyll forest, and rainforest understory, I briefly glimpsed a group of Pelicans flying overhead. A very unexpected sight, as I am sure you will understand - Pelicans flying over a rainforest.

These Pelicans were heading westwards. Now the most obvious explanation was that they were simply circling to gain height to cross over the towering sandstone cliffs of the Illawarra escarpment, in order to cross then glide down to the nearby Wingecarribee Reservoir. However, it is entirely possible that they were following an instinct which we know about, but barely begin to comprehend - to fly a vast distance to Lake Eyre, to breed while the famous dry salt Lake Eyre is in flood.How do the Pelicans of the east coast know when to fly west to Lake Eyre? Perhaps they had read the front page of the Weekend Australian today. "Waters give lift to nature's Eyre force" (pathetic pun, by the way, dearest Sub-Editor of the Australian).
  • "Most of the water that began coursing into Lake Eyre this week is from the Georgina River, which rises near Mount Isa in north Queensland and is in fierce flood. The Diamantina, further to the east, is not flowing as heavily; a third river draining to the lake, the Cooper, has not run into it since 1990."
  • "The birds are already in a feeding frenzy. Australian pelicans, silver gulls and gull-billed terns have flocked from up to 2000km away to dip into the teeming waters." (Source: "The Australian"28 February 2009 - story by Jamie Walker)
I don't know if Pelicans have a barometric sensor system, which tells them there has been a massive depression (Low Pressure System) in northern Queensland. Whatever it is, Pelicans are undoubtedly moving (from somewhere) to Lake Eyre, to feast on the burst of life which follows a flood there.

They feed, then they breed, as quickly as possible. They have to race against time, as the slow ones end up losing their chicks to starvation, if they are not fully fledged by the time the waters of Lake Eyre dry up again. It is a risky strategy, but then again, this is part of Australia's natural "boom and bust" or "flood and drought" cycle. It is all totally natural, and has been played out for millions of years.

Please let me know if you are suddenly not seeing Pelicans, where you would expect to see them.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Another Moth - Proteuxoa sanguinipuncta

This charming Moth was hanging around my front porch two nights ago. I had not seen it before.

It looked a little like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I thought, or else a very overweight Rugby Prop Forward (scaled down, and then dressed in a winter overcoat). It might even be thought to resemble a member of the Russian Mafia, with that rich fur stole around its shoulders.
According to Donald Hobern's very useful FlickR Gallery of Australian Moths, it is Proteuxoa sanguinipuncta. It certainly has blood red spots (as per the second name).

According to Don Herbison-Evan's site, its caterpillars feed primarily on grass.
The lower sections of the fore-wings (the only ones visible, when it is at rest, like this) are richly spotted with red, and dusted with gold and brass-coloured flecks.

It is not a showy moth, but by far one of the prettiest I have seen in a while - and it appears to be a native.
The Ermine Moth is prettier (but it is introduced). So tonight's Moth is OK, by me.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rare Greenhoods, and unusual Wasp Orchids.

The famous Illawarra Greenhood is in flower again, in the Southern Highlands.

This Orchid has a very restricted distribution (according to the listed references), however, some of these plants are growing out of the normally reported habitat. Obviously, for reasons of protecting this species from being wiped out by illegal collection by Orchid "enthusiasts", I will not reveal their locations.

But I can show you some of these lovely plants in flower.Beautifully formed "points". Often these points get bound by spider webs, and fail to stand up correctly, but this one is perfectly formed.
The "Labellum" is notched, and quite red.
Here it is in profile. A lovely plant, as I am sure you will agree.

The second group of Orchids I wish to show you belong to the Wasp Orchids (Chiloglottis). These are tiny flowers, less than 2 inches (50mm) high (flower and stem). This is Chiloglottis sylvestris, which is on the southern-most extension of its range, here at Robertson.
Chiloglottis sylvestris - standard (red) form.
Here is one in bud stage, just about to break open. You can see on the left hand side the spotted section of the base of the column, which is clearly visible in the image above. The central section of the "wall " of this bud is one of the two petals, which fold down beside the stem of the flower, when the flower is open. The Lateral Sepals (on the right, in front of the flower) are just separating out, and when the flower opens, they hang down as the two thin "clubs"below the Labellum. The pointed top of this bud, is of course, the top of the Dorsal Sepal, which sits prominently above and behind the Column, when the flower is opened out.

And here is an even rarer Green form of this same species. Effectively these are "albino" plants, lacking the red pigment of the standard form. These green-flowered plants were growing in a patch, all together, but there was one red-flowered plant amongst them.

The glands on the Labellum have a distinctive shape, with the head of the "pseudo-insect" being quite long and narrow, not heart-shaped as the other more common local species of Chiloglottis. (Click to enlarge image.)

There is an "Observation Test" in this image.
See answer 2 images below.
Here is another view.
This next image is the answer to the "Observation Test".
It is a tiny, tiny Mite. There were several of them wandering around the flower.
As often happens, I did not see this Mite in the field,
but only found them when I developed the images.

If you go back to the image 2 above, and click on it, you will see tiny webs strung between the "clubs" (the parts of the flower hanging below the Labellum). Those webs would be used by the Mite for travelling around the flower. They do not use their webs to trap prey, as their relatives (Spiders) do.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dollarbirds become obvious in late summer

There have been a few Dollarbirds (Eurystomus orientalis) around the Southern Highlands over the last week.
They are not common in the region, as a summer (breeding) migrant. They nest in large hollows, typically in old Eucalypt trees. I have never seen them in Robertson. I photographed this bird near the Bong Bong Racecourse, east of Bowral.

Its population status is described in the COG "Annotated Checklist of the Birds of the ACT" as "Widespread in suitable country in small numbers. An uncommon breeding migrant." That must be right - it was based upon research done by my father, Steve Wilson!

From discussions about these birds on the Canberra Ornithologists Group on-line forum in the last few days, it seems that they become highly visible at this time of year (after breeding) - sitting on power lines, while waiting to spot a flying insect, which they fly after, and catch on the wing.

As with most aerial hunters, these birds are very alert, even when sitting still - moving their heads around, forever on the lookout for a passing insect. I made a similar comment about a Grey Goshawk last week, which did not move for more than 16 minutes, but never stopped "hunting" - looking for potential prey. Back to this Dollarbird, you will notice it has a very large eye, necessary for such challenging hunting as catching flying insects. It also has a very sharply hooked beak on the tip - "The better to eat you with, my dear" as the Wolf in the "Little Red Ridinghood" Nursery Rhyme might have said - if he had been a Dollarbird. Click to see the details of the head.Geoffrey Dabb, (who spoke at REPS two weeks ago) has just written (on the COG forum): "Yes, this is the time of year they move around. .... The distinctive shape on a powerline is very evident. In 2003 this (normal) seasonal movement gave rise to a widespread misapprehension that those numbers were caused by the fires."

This bird was once known as the "Broad-billed Roller", but these days, that name is used exclusively for a related African species. You can see how the genus got that name - from this image. The beak is very broad at the base.
The species was named by Linnaeus in 1766 - obviously from Asian specimens, as that pre-dates European settlement of Australia. The generic name means wide-mouthed, which is of course, an advantage for birds which catch insects "on the wing".
- Gk, eurus, broad; stomus, mouth, thus wide-mouthed" (Source: Birdpedia)

"Roller" is the internationally preferred name for this family of birds, which occurs in what is described as the "Old World"- Africa, Europe, and Asia. They get that name from their aerial acrobatics, as they fly up in the air, snatch a passing insect, and fly back to their perch. They have very long wings, and are powerful fliers, and are extremely agile in flight.
This species gets its "common name" (Dollarbird) from a prominent light blue patch in the wing, said to resemble the (former) "American Silver Dollar" (it looks white when the bird is in flight). A slight patch of light blue colour on the wing is just visible in this image (just lower than the powerline). As the bird flies, the patch in its wing becomes highly visible. (Click to enlarge the image.) This species is found in east Asia, Japan and northern Australia, although the birds found in Asia are regarded as different sub-species. Our Australian-breeding Dollarbirds breed in the north and east of Australia. They are apparently "common" in northern Australia. It is regarded as a "straggler" to South Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand and Lord Howe Island. Our Australian-breeding birds winter to the north of Australia in the Moluccas, Celebes, New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago. ("Straggler" is a term used of migratory species, which cover vast distances, and on occasions stray out of their normal range.)

As I mentioned this bird is an extremely powerful flier, and it is a full migrant in this region, meaning that it disappears from our area entirely in the non-breeding season.

Friday, February 20, 2009

King Parrot - R.I.P.

I generally do not photograph "road kills" - as some people might be offended by the images. If you feel that way, kindly go no further. Please come back tomorrow.


In my defence, photographing "road kills" is a great opportunity to show details of birds or animals which one normally does not see, or can only glimpse briefly, at high speed.

This is an Australian King-Parrot (Alisterus scapularis) which had been hit by a vehicle as the bird was flying to or from a wild apple tree, growing beside the Illawarra Highway. The tree was heavily in fruit, and was attracting all sorts of birds, including Rosellas, King Parrots and several Ravens. No doubt the little birds will follow, once the large birds have opened the fruit up to the air, and yeast spores, allowing the fruit to ferment, naturally.

The bird was very freshly killed, and had presumably been hit a glancing blow, because, to put it crudely, it was in very good condition - apart from being dead! (That comment is for Tyto Tony's benefit, as I suspect he is probably a fan of The Goon Show.) After examining it, and checking its freshness, I decided to take some photos to record some details of the bird's plumage.

Here it the top view, showing head, wings, rump and tail. The green head means it is not a mature male. It could be either female or juvenile. Both have green heads.
Here it is seen from underneath. You will notice the brilliant scarlet coloured abdomen. Males have that colour on their chest and head. For a full set of images of all stages of development of Australian King-Parrots, have a look at this site, developed by Alan, of Waratah Software. Here is a close-up of the head. Wonderful glossy green feathers, especially around the eye. The beak is orange-red, but not quite the fully coloured beak of a mature female. Juvenile birds have black beaks. So, I conclude that this bird was probably a female, nearing maturity.
The beak of Parrots is uniquely structured, because the upper mandible is hinged (at the top of the beak) allowing them great flexibility of the beak configuration, giving them remarkable beak agility and control when eating small seeds. Although the tip of the upper mandible (when at rest) protrudes far beyond the shorter, blunt lower beak, because of the hinge in the upper mandible, its angle can be changed, relative to the lower mandible. This allows seed eating parrots to finely crack open even a very small seed between the cutting tip of the lower mandible, and the upper mandible.
To clumsy humans, who can only wiggle our lower jaws around, that flexibility of both beaks seems quite remarkable.

This image shows the rich blue colour on the rump. This is a feature not often observed in the wild. The bird has lost some feathers.The structure of the Tail Feathers.

Here is a rich green tail. The tail is very long - considerably longer and straighter than that of the Crimson Rosella. Now I would like you to study the tail structure in some detail. Tails are very important for birds for control in flight. Expressed very simply, birds use their tails for "steering" and for "braking" (slowing down when landing). Click on the image (above) to enlarge it. There are three feathers clearly visible, with the shining dark central stems (the "shaft" or "rachis") clearly visible. I would like you to examine those three feathers.
  • The central tail feather is very well balanced, (left and right) either side of the central shaft.
  • The lowest feather, (left hand side of the tail structure) if you look closely, has shorter strands ("barbs") on the outside edge (left) of the shaft, with longer barbs on the inside edge of the tail. That is very evident close to the tip of the feathers.
  • By contrast, on the high side of the tail (in this image) - (the right hand side of the tail structure), you can see the reverse of this balancing feature. Here, the shorter "barbs" are on the right of the rachis - which is of course, on the outer edge of the tail. The longer barbs are on the inside edge of the tail. This is the opposite arrangement to the individual feather example discussed above.
  • We are looking at a balanced central feather in the tail structure, and two opposite-shaped feathers on the either sides of the tail - which balance each-other out - left and right.
It is all about symmetry (not of the individual feathers, but of the matched sets of feathers) which is essential to the bird's balance, in flight. This is an integral feature of the balance of the bird, in flight - part of the bird's overall streamlining and aerodynamic balance.

Under side of the tail:

This next image shows the highly complex structure of the tail as seen from underneath. You can see that there are matched pairs (left and right) of tail feathers which are not full length feathers. As the tail is closed, these feathers are "filed away" sequentially. They are positioned under eachother progressively, from the longest feathers to the shortest, as you look along the tail (upwards from the tip).

Remember that in this image, we are looking from the underside of the bird. The shortest feathers would be the outermost tail feathers (as the tail is spread, in flight). Then the slightly longer feathers are next. Right down to the nearly full length feathers. Finally, the central (longest) feathers maintain their position as the tail is spread.

So, the shorter feathers would be on the outer edges, and then the entire tail would taper towards those three long central feathers, which we examined from above - in the previous image. When the bird is at rest, the short feathers are neatly folded under the longer feathers, giving the impression of a long, narrow tail.

It is obvious, however, that as the bird needs to spread its tail, for dodging left or right, in flight, or "fanning out" during a landing manoeuvre, the tail could be spread quite widely, for precise control during flight. It is a very complex structure, which the bird can operate, with perfect control, at high speed - something which birds appear to do "automatically". Occasionally, mistakes do occur, as in this case.

But, next time you watch a group of parrots fly up into a tree, remember how much control they exercise to avoid bumping into branches, or to steer around objects. These birds can fly through the dense canopy of a rainforest tree, at full speed - up to 60 Kph. Much of that "steering and braking" control comes from adjustments made to the tail feathers.
The other feature which is evident in that image is the tapered set of red and green feathers, known as the "Under Tail Coverts". The dark spot in the centre, below the feet, is where the "vent" is located. Below that is where the under tail coverts start.

Now for the wing.

The wings are balanced, left wing and right wing, but the individual feathers are strongly asymmetrical. Considered overall, the two wings are balanced, with oppositely shaped feathers. Otherwise birds simply could not control their flight.

Wikipedia has an interesting article on flight feathers of birds here.

The longer feathers, "the Primaries", the main feathers used to gain thrust in flight, are especially asymmetrical. The tapered feathers allows for gaps at the wingtip; air is forced through these gaps, increasing the generation of lift (according to Wikipedia).

You can tell how the feathers sit when the wing is closed, by noting the fine green stripe of colour on the leading edges of these feathers. The green bit is the only part of these flight feathers which is visible when the wing is closed. So the amount of "overlap" when the wing is closed increases progressively as you look further out on the wing. Judging by the very fine green edge of colour, the very furthest out feather only just protrudes beyond its nearest neighbouring feather when the bird's wing is folded closed. But in flight, it can be spread wide, to maximise the thrust and lift achieved by the bird's wing strokes.

As you come back along the wing, (closer to the body) the "flight feathers" get progressively smaller - the "secondaries" and the 'tertiales". Above the flight feathers are layers of ever smaller feathers, which are referred to as the "upper wing coverts".
It is worth noting that there is a sexual dimorphic feature on the wings of male King Parrots. The males (only) have a light green stripe on the wing coverts. This feature is strongly visible in the ultra-violet spectrum, which parrots and some other birds can see.

The Birds on Backyards site says: "Although King-Parrots appear distinctly red and green to humans, when viewed under ultraviolet light, some feathers on the wings appear with a prominent yellow glow. Many birds have four types of cone in their retina, (compared to only three in humans) and see into the ultraviolet wavelengths." It is assumed that this highly visible patch of feathers gives the birds some competitive advantage when courting a potential partner.

This next image is simply the same wing image, cropped and reversed, to see the wing as one would see it looking outwards from the body of the bird. If you click to enlarge the image, you will see it at maximum pixellation. You can clearly see the tapered "barbs" on the individual feathers, and the increasing asymmetry of the flight feathers, and one looks further out to the leading edge of the wing. There is one feather (3rd down from the top, in this image) where the barbs, which are normally held together by a series of minute hooks between the individual barbs, have separated, breaking the smooth line of the feather. This shows how important those minute hooks are, in keeping the aerodynamic structure of the feather. Broken feathers or feathers with the barbs separated like that, would greatly reduce the efficiency of the wing strokes. That is why birds spend a lot of their time "preening" themselves, re-aligning the barbs on their feathers, and allowing the minute hooks to join back the barbs of the feathers. Damaged feathers are replaced by moulting, when old feathers drop out, and new ones grow to replace them.

Finally, here is a view of the legs and feet. Parrots have two forward pointing toes (which are relatively long), and two thicker, stronger, backward pointing toes ("zygodactyly"). When the foot is closed, the forward pointing toes nestle in between the two rear toes. The claws on the rear toes are very powerful. These are the main toes used in perching. Normally parrots reach out with their beaks to chew plant seeds directly from the plant. However, the feet are also used sometimes by parrots and cockatoos, in gripping large items of food, to hold it up to the beak, when eating. Parrots are much better adapted to this method of feeding than just about any other group of birds. Owls have a similar (but not identical) toe structure, but they use their feet from grasping food, and for carrying it to a perch. But they do not hold their food up to the beak, as parrots do.As anyone has ever observed parrots feeding on the ground will be aware, they have very short but powerful legs. Here you can see one of the legs, the lower joint, at least. You can also see how strongly scaled the legs and toes are. These scales are much thicker than in Passerines (perching birds), which tend to have long flat scales sheathing the leg bone, more or less like a thin plastic coating.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fran Bodkin's talk - National Parks Association

Tonight, Frances Bodkin, a respected D’harawal Elder gave a talk on the Aboriginal perspective on Climate Change to the National Parks Association (Southern Highlands Branch) in Moss Vale.
Fran is the author of the book: "D’harawal Seasons and Climate Cycles"
  • Aboriginal science is one of the oldest sciences in the world. Especially in an ancient place like Australia, where western science and knowledge of the ecosystem cover only a blink in time, the knowledge preserved in Aboriginal stories is invaluable for our understanding of the environment.
  • Aboriginal people have observed the ebb and flow of nature’s cycles for thousands of years. The blossoming of a flower, the activity of an animal and sea levels, the so called cycle indicators, mark the change of seasons and the changes in nature that follow. The flowering of a tree may coincide with the arrival of migratory animals, heralding the beginning of a new cycle and predicting further changes in the natural environment. The succession of these events in nature form an Aboriginal calendar that does not use dates as non-aboriginal people know them, but is based on a deep understanding of the delicate balance of the ecosystem.
  • It appears that the phases of the Dreaming cycle are getting shorter and changing faster. The cycle indicators are out of sync with each other, and it is believed to be the result of pollution and climate change.
In person, Fran is a charming speaker, with a very relaxed manner, which no doubt suits her to the task of being an educator at the Mt Annan Botanic Gardens. She is also someone who has grown into her position as a "knowledge holder" for the D'harawal people, and a collector of the Aboriginal "stories" of the Sydney Region generally.

One of the things which Fran spoke about first was the "poster" for the book (which happens to be the folded as the dust jacket of the book). The illustrations were created by a close friend of hers, based upon stories that she told her friend.
Fran spoke of her childhood memories of her mother taking her to visit other families, where they would close the doors, and windows, and then everyone would speak in a "strange language" (which she was told was "Spanish"). This was a measure of secrecy necessary in those days, to prevent people being aware of their "Aboriginality", in the days of the "Stolen Generations". So, clearly, while she was growing up, she did not identify herself as Aboriginal. My how that has changed.

Once she realised what her heritage was, Fran set out to re-connect with her Mother's friends, and started to re-build the "stories". She is now a very proud Elder and Knowledge Keeper of the D'harawal people.

She and her husband Gavan then spoke at length about the preservation of traditional "knowledge" (which is much more than just "data" or "information" in the way most of us think about it). The point of dispersed "knowledge" is that, it is not just the memory of a single individual (for we are all mortal), but rather an exercise in collective sharing of knowledge.

While Gavan was talking, it occurred to me that there is a parallel between our own society's shift away from the emphasis on grand Libraries, and the development of the Internet. People criticise the Net for being "unreliable" (in some cases it is), but goodness knows, it had been an effective way of communicating and sharing knowledge. Indeed, supposedly the "Net" was developed for strategic reasons, because it would be so hard to knock out the entire system, precisely because it is so decentralised.

Anyway, back to Fran's talk. It was more about the Aboriginal way of operating, particularly the preservation of Knowledge, and traditions, than the details of particular knowledge and traditions themselves. Fair enough, too, if you think about that approach. There are obviously strong areas of sensitivity about particular knowledge and traditions.

However, she did illustrate her talk with frequent examples about plants and animals which the D'harawal people used as away of gauging and predicting changes in the seasonal cycles, and indicators of forthcoming weather changes, and fires. Some cases, such as a particularly heavy flowering of Acacia decurrens, are said to be an indication of a likely bad fire season, some 18 months later. She also spoke extensively about Ants, and their complex communal lifestyle, and their valuable role as a predictors of imminent rain. Much of this is discussed in her book: "D’harawal Seasons and Climate Cycles". I have a copy personally signed by Fran.
It was a very interesting talk. The NPA President Tony Hill was very pleased that her talk was so well attended.Well-known Environmental Journalist, and Author (and fellow Nature Blogger) James Woodford wrote a very interesting report on the launch of Fran's Book, on his blog "Real Dirt". He has also published an extensive report on the issue of fires by Greg Watts, a Ranger and Landcare officer, who himself credits Fran Bodkin for much information on traditional fire management.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

New Car anyone??

Unsold cars

These photographs are so compelling in their message, that I felt I ought publish them, to spread the word about the Global Financial Crisis and its impact on the consumer market, specifically in vehicle sales (or the lack of them - around the world).

These photographs are unable to be sourced (credited) as they were received anonymously, via email today. Normally I do not publish other people's photographs, but these are unsigned, and in the public area anyway. And I publish them to help you realise quite how bad the global economy is faring.

(Above) Nissan has announced plans to cut its Sunderland workforce by 1,200.
Thousands of unsold cars are stored around the factory's test track

(Above) Honda is halting production at its Swindon plant in April and May, extending the two-month
closure announced before Christmas to four months. Honda and Japanese rival Toyota are both cutting production in Japan and elsewhere. Pictured, Hondas await export at a pier in Tokyo.

(Above) Earlier this week, Jaguar Land Rover said 450 British jobs would go.

(Above) The open car storage areas in Corby , Northamptonshire, are reaching full capacity.

(Above) Imported cars stored at Sheerness open storage are awaiting delivery to dealers.

(Above) Imported cars fill the 150-acre site at the Toyota distribution centre in Long Beach, California.

(Above) The build-up of imported cars at the port of Newark, New Jersey.

(Above) Stocks of Ford trucks in Detroit, Michigan.

(Above) New cars jam the dockside at the port of Valencia in Spain.

(Above) Peugeot cars await shipment to Italian dealers at the port of Civitavecchia.

(Above) Unsold cars at Avonmouth Docks near Bristol.

(Above) With many manufacturers on extended Christmas shutdown, the number of cars rolling off
production lines in December fell 47.5% to just 53,823.

(Above) Thousands of new cars are stored on the runway at the disused
Upper Heyford airbase near Bicester, Oxfordshire
on December 18, 2008.

(Above) Sales of new cars in the UK have slumped to a 12-year-low and production of cars at Honda in Swindon has been halted for a unprecedented four-month period because of the collapse in global sales and represents the longest continuous halt in production at any UK car plant. The announcement comes on a day when the EU's Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen warned the outlook for the European car industry was 'brutal' and predicted not all European manufacturers would survive the crisis.
Have they been reading my blog?
Today this report has appeared in the Australian media:
"GM and Chrysler have said they need as much as $US21.6 billion ($34 billion) in new (US) federal aid, more than doubling what the company has already received from the US Government, and must get cash next month to survive.

"GM has also examined three bankruptcy scenarios, with price tags of as much as $US100 billion, and that all were less- favourable options than a rescue. GM said it plans to close an additional five US plants by 2012 and cut 47,000 jobs globally by the end of 2009.
"GM said it needs at least $US9.1 billion more in aid, or as much as $US16.6 billion should the economy worsen. The biggest US automaker has received $US13.4 billion since December.
"Chrysler, the third largest US automaker, said it needs an additional $US5 billion by March 31 after receiving an initial installment of $US4 billion. Chrysler also said it needs to eliminate an additional 3,000 jobs after shedding 32,000 through the end of last year."
Source: ABC News website 18.2.09

Monday, February 16, 2009

A new Moth for me - Epidesmia tricolor

Two weeks ago, while looking for Orchids in a wet patch of Melaleuca scrub, along a small creek line, I disturbed a moth which was very obvious when it flew. It had a yellow patch on its hind-wings. Unfortunately (for me) those yellow marks were not visible when it folded its wings down into this triangular position. Of course, if the marks were highly visible when settled, it would make the moth highly susceptible to predation. As it is, it still stands out prominently, despite its dark colours.

Here it is on a Sword Grass (Gahnia) leaf.
When it settled, it did so in a familiar triangular shape. But it had prominent white marks across the fore-wings. When you look at the image closely, you can see it has "palps" which protrude noticeably, giving it the appearance of having a long nose. It doesn't really. I was previously advised by Alan from Tasmania, with regard to a similar moth: "What you are seeing as being the antennae are actually porrect labial palpi or in simpler terms, forward pointing sensory organs that are part of the mouth."

Here, the moth is settled on a leaf of Coral Fern (Gleichenia dicarpa).
This moth settled on Sword Grass firstly, and then on some Coral Fern. Both these groups of plants were flanking the dense Melaleuca thicket, surrounded by wet, tall Eucalypt forest.

Fortunately, the marking on this Moth are sufficiently distinctive that I have been able to track it down in the Web resources. Its name is Epidesmia tricolor, within the OENOCHROMINAE, which themselves are within the GEOMETRIDAE family. This moth is reported as being found in the wet sclerophyll forests from south Queensland to Victoria. That fits with my record, from near the Belmore Falls Road.

Click on this image to see the head of this moth in full detail.
Its worth it.

I mentioned that this moth was highly visible, with yellow spots on its wings when it flew. That was the clinching diagnostic point. Here is a link to a specimen which shows what I mean.

I had previously seen another similarly shaped moth, in the same genus. That makes three related species which I have now photographed, but the other two were much plainer in colour. But the palps and the triangular shape of all three moths are consistent.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Its Raining in Robertson

It is raining in Robertson. This is not very unusual, except for this season.

We have been stuck between the wet weather of points further north (in NSW), and of course, the far distant downpours of Ingham, etc - and the dry, dessicating and destructive weather of Victoria. Normally, Robertson has its highest rainfall of the year in February (with March a close second).
My Blogging colleague, David of "Focus on Nature" has written about just this problem, recently.

Until the last few days, there has been little but mist.
Now Robertson has remembered how to rain again. The locals are greatly relieved.

Rainfall last 7 days:
1.0mm; 4.0mm; 3.0mm; 10.0mm; 8.0mm; 2.0mm; 34.0mm
And since 9:00am today, 11:00mm

If anything, these figures are understated. I was told today by a local farmer that he had had "3 inches" in the last few days, and I know he keeps good records, for his wife records the rainfall for him!

Interestingly, there is a lot of rain over central-west Western Australia - coming from a tropical low just off the coast. If that rain washes across the mainland, that would be good news for South Australia. We shall see.

Normally this would not be anything to write about, except for the massive drying off which has occurred in the last 3 weeks. The locals were getting worried.

This map shows the cumulative total rainfall for February 2009.
Tyto Tony lives in the purple patch.But look at the white, brown and yellow coloured areas.That's where the rain is needed.

As a side-note, some (but relatively little) of the Queensland rains has fallen west of the Divide, but it was too far north to make any impact on the Murray-Darling System. But Longreach (on the Thomson River) and other points further west, have received some floodwaters from points further north. It is not a huge flood, I would point out. (Click on the map to make the labels legible).Apology. My label over-printed in red on the map is wrongly spelled - Thomson River (no P).

These waters flow into the Cooper Creek and Diamantina River systems, in far south-western Queensland. This means flooding in the iconic "Channel Country". It is expected to make its way down to Lake Eyre, (in South Australia) in about a month's time.
  • "The first floodwaters from western Queensland have arrived at Goyder's Lagoon, in the far north-east corner of South Australia, raising hopes the water will flow into Lake Eyre.
  • "Water from the Diamantina and Georgina systems is slowly making its way towards the lake, about 300 kilometres away, but it could be a month before it arrives."
  • Source: ABC News Website
I remember hearing, as a child that the Pelicans of Lakes Entrance, and other points in Gippsland, leave, in order to fly to Lake Eyre whenever a flood occurs in western Queensland. How they know to do that was always regarded as a great mystery. After all, they cannot dial up the ABC News on the Web.

I would like to put Duncan and Gouldiae on notice to tell us if their Pelicans start to disappear from down in the far south-east of the country. Clearly there were some there this weekend.