Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lees Road - above and below the escarpment

Lees Road runs along the area of grey soil covering the sandstone plateau (below the Robertson Basalt), and runs out to the edge of the coastal escarpment. It leads out towards Knights Hill, the southern end of the Illawarra Escarpment.

Sandstone escarpment, with Knights Hill rising in the background.
Note the small sandstone gully with a patch of Coachwoods (in flower).
The bright green line of rainforest vegetation is markedly different
from the greyer colour of the Eucalypt forest.
This week, the Coachwoods were in flower
making them far more obvious than normal.
From the Lees Road lookout one sees down over the lower levels of tall wet Eucalypt forest, below the escarpment. There is also a "Warm-temperate Rainforest Gully" there, populated with Sassafras, Blackwood Wattles, Coachwood Trees, and Cabbage Tree Palms. These rainforest trees are largely covered with huge vines, especially Wonga Vines and Anchor Vines, both of which easily grow to the tops of the large rainforest trees - indeed they virtually smother some fo them. That results in what is called a "closed forest".
Click to enlarge this next image.
You can see the tops of Cabbage Tree Palms.
There are also sheets of vines covering some trees.
The Coachwoods flower on fresh growth,
which helps them stand out over other levels of forest growth.

The forest along the top of the escarpment is known as "Gully Gum forest". It grows in a very narrow band along the very edge of the escarpment. Along Lees Road, the original forest which was growing on the next layer of soil - the richer (than sandstone) black soil (Wianamatta Shale soils) has largely been cleared for grazing.

So, you will see in these few photos that there is a great habitat differential between the forest immediately below the cliff line and the open land above the cliffline (but less than 500 metres away from the cliff line).

To demonstrate this, I am showing photos of two "dry country" birds - a Pipit (a Grassland bird) and a Dusky Woodswallow which I normally only ever seen in drier country than Robertson. Neither would be expected to be seen anywhere near warm-temperate Rainforest (dominated by Coachwoods).
A Dusky Woodswallow (Artamus cyanopterus)
sitting in an Acacia binervata
A dull photo, but it shows the diagnostic white bar along the edge of the wing. This bird is common around Canberra, but not Robertson, which is generally to wet for them.And here is an Australasian (Richard's) Pipit - a bird associated with open grasslands and farmland.The Robertson district is a land of contrasts. All this within 500 metres distance.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Keep your nerve, Mr Turnbull.

Edit - Tuesday 2 December 2009.

This afternoon I received the following email from Malcolm Turnbull, MP, Member for Wentworth.

Thanks Denis for your email and very much appreciate your feedback!

All the best


Given that Mr Turnbull was deposed as leader of the Liberal Party this morning, I was amazed, but gratified, to recveive his reply today.

He has a reputation for replying to his own emails (personally). But even if he hires someone to do it for him, clearly it is a personalised reply.

I wish him all the best.

***** ***** *****

This is a copy of a letter I emailed to Malcolm Turnbull late on Friday evening.

Dear Mr Turnbull

You are entirely right to stick to your guns and not cave in.
The Liberal Party needs to have a policy on Climate Change.
In all seriousness, how could it not?

As Chairman of the Save Water Alliance, in the Southern Highlands, I still recall with great respect your decision to declare the Upper Nepean (Kangaloon Aquifer) Borefield proposal by the Sydney Catchment Authority a "Controlled Action" under the EPBC Act.

Indeed it is that which has prompted me to write to you on this other matter, as many of the local "movers and shakers" (who personally lobbied you on our behalf re the Kangaloon Aquifer) speak very highly of you.
You did well then, and I am convinced you are on the right track now.
You supported us then, and for what it is worth, I am supporting you now.


After all, as "Crikey" pointed out today, the policy you are defending now is pretty much that which you took to the last election, and which was developed under the Howard Government.

So what really were your opponents thinking, several years ago, when that policy was developed?

I conclude that they were not prepared to oppose Mr Howard (on anything).
Therefore, it is clearly not a matter of principle with them at all - but political point scoring pure and simple.

The Liberal Party cannot surely face the people without a policy on Climate Change?

Yours sincerely

Denis Wilson
Robertson, NSW 2577

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

Misty Skies and sunsets

Tonight I am showing some of the atmospheric events of last week.

As you will know, Robertson is prone to rain, mists and cloudy skies. But the sun has to set every night, hail, rain of shine. This gives some interesting "light effects" in the afternoons of late Spring evenings.

Here is the first glow of pink in a misty sunset.
I love the way the hills are sequentially hidden by the mist,
revealing the distances involved.As the clouds grew heavier,
I had to adjust the camera to capture the image.
The green fields are positively glowing.

By way of some variety, here is an image of a lovely Common Fringe Lily (Thysanotus tuberosus) which I saw when out looking at the Greenhoods and Onion Orchids of Tourist Road, Kangaloon.
And now for a sunset coloured by low-level smoke in the distant Shoalhaven Valley, from a fire below Bundanoon. This occurred on Wednesday evening.

I was rushing for Choir practice, but when this sky coloured up, unexpectedly, I could not resist waiting to try to catch the light. Note that the upper level sky is clear. You can see several thin whispy white clouds.

Suddenly, the thickness of the clouds overpowered the sun, and the light just faded to greyness. I turned up 5 minutes late for Choir practice, by Cathie, our Choir leader had seen the sky herself on the way in, and she understood why I needed to get the image.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

4th blogging birthday, Greenhoods on Tourist Road

It is four years today since I made a very tentative start in the world of Blogging - with a single photo of a Flying Duck Orchid.

Oh well, much has happened since then, but I still post about that most bizarre of local Orchids.

Thanks to Anni who helped me get started. And thanks to my loyal readers, without whose readership (and especially their comments) I would not bother to put myself through these daily challenges.

Hello to Caroline, in the local Doctor's surgery - who told me today she reads my Blog! Its great to hear in person from readers.
She said she likes Peonies - she surely knows how to get my attention.

So this Peony is for Caroline.
This is one of the modern hybrid Peonies - "Flame".
Anyway, I haven't posted enough images of Peonies this season.

And now back to Orchids of the season.

Yesterday I went back to Tourist Road, Kangaloon, and took more photos of the Sickle Greenhood (Pterostylis falcata). Amongst conventional Greenhoods (the Pterostylis group), this is a quite spectacular species, with a large pointed "galea" (hood) and a very wide open sinus ("V" shaped front) and a long "labellum" (tongue) sticking out (when set).

I showed some photos of these plants last week, but I did not get one with the labellum "set" (poking out the front of the flower). That's why I went back yesterday.

These plants are growing in a small drainage line - a ditch - which periodically fills with water, but is dry at present. But quite lush, and I am always wary when in such fine potential snake habitat.

As soon as I found the open flower, I knew I was in luck.
You can see the protruding Labellum - at the front of the flower.
One has to be very careful though, not to accidentally kick a stick,
or a piece of grass which might be touching the plant,
as the labellum will pop back inside the flower.
The Labellum is movement sensitive.
Getting down into the ditch, I got this profile shot.
Closer yet.
What a striking Greenhood!
By the time I took this image, I had done some weeding
of extraneous grasses in the background
to clarify the image of the Labellum.
And here is the Labellum - set, ready to be triggered by any insect.
As I was leaving the site, I found these Microtis flowers. They are "Onion Orchids". The flower has a large swollen ovary behind (below) the tiny little "head" - which is the flower proper. These flowers are on a strong vertical stem about 30 cm high. But the flowers themselves are so small that the "ovary" is about the size of a match head.
I believe this to be Microtis parviflora but to be honest I have never been entirely sure about the species distinctions amongst the Microtis genus.
When the photo is fully enlarged (click on the photo) the image is approximately 20 times larger than life size.
Have a look at Colin's page for the two most common species in NSW - see why I cannot be absolutely sure?

From what I have since ascertained (from several different books), this plant is Microtis parviflora, as the labellum is "entire", not notched.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Frogmouths at Dalmeny (South Coast NSW)

My brother Brendan lives amongst the Spotted Gum and Stringybark Eucalypt trees at Dalmeny, near Narooma, on the far South Coast of NSW.

Recently he found a nest of the Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigioides).

These interesting birds are nocturnal, but they are not Owls. They are insectivorous, with very large wide beaks, suitable for catching insects on the wing. They have weak feet (unlike Owls which pounce on their prey with their large claws). They are famous for their camouflage technique of blending in with the look of a short branch, in Eucalypt trees.

Several days ago, this bird arrived beside his 80 year old neighbour's window.
A rescue plan was initiated, of course.
The youngster was moved into a tree fork.
Here is it, sitting there, but looking unimpressed.
This is a cracker of a shot.
Brendan told me, in a later email that he stuck the bird up a tree were it stayed for the day and apparently till between midnight and three a.m.. It was calling periodically, but there was no evidence that it was being fed.

The next morning his neighbour went out and turned on some sprinklers - and the bird fluttered out from some low shubs. It had been at ground level and was not being looked after.

It seems that there were originally two young. The one that was photographed appears to have been the runt of the litter. He guessed that the parents moved on with the other young one.

There were then a couple of phone calls to WIRES, into a cardboard box and in to the local vet. He is expecting to get a report back on the bird either late this afternoon or tomorrow morning.

So, let us hope that the WIRES people have some success with this youngster.

Monday, November 23, 2009

More odd little things which happen around Robertson

My very first post on this Blog involved the Flying Duck Orchid, (Caleana major). It was called "Odd little things which grow around Robertson".

Two weeks ago, at the end of the ANOS (Illawarra Branch) field trip, several of us found this little Orchid. If you look at the "head" of the flower, and see the "duck head" - then the mystery of the name will reveal itself.
Click on the image to enlarge it.
Not only was the Orchid in flower., but there was a Mosquito attempting to pollinate the flower - hence the slight variant in title from the original Blog Posting.

In fact the Mozzie was too small to trigger the labellum of the Orchid (in this case the "head of the duck") to snap closed. You can see the pollinia are still in place, at the very base of the flower. But clearly the Mozzie had the "right idea".
Click on the photo to see the Mosquito and the flower parts - in detail
For those of you not familiar with pollination in many of Australian Orchids, the plants have evolved a system of emitting highly specialised scents which mimic the pheromones produced by certain female insects. This drives male insects (of the right species) into a sexual frenzy, and the insects attempt to "mate" with the flower. This process is called "pseudo-copulation". It is well reported, in the world of Orchids and insects.

This link will take you to other photos of this species, one with a flower spider in a web spun across the open section of the flower - obviously waiting for an insect such as this one, to arrive.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Black Cocky - close enough to get a photo

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus funereus) are commonly seen around Robertson, but usually they are high in the tops of old Pine Trees (Pinus radiata) and are either in the heavy shade, or silhouetted against the sky. Either way, they are not worth trying to photograph.

Several days ago I heard a young bird making its incessant creaking and groaning sounds, from relatively low down in a Eucalypt tree.

I stopped to take a photo (from out the car window).

Once I had got my shot, three birds flew away. I had only seen the one on the open branch, but clearly the other two were in dense cover of a low-growing Blackwood Wattle.
Female Black Cocky has a white beak
and dark skin around the eye (not a red eye ring)
My bird is an adult female, and so I assume the others included at least one juvenile bird, for their noise is diagnostic.

Dear reader - Please do yourself a favour and read the Sequel to this post, on my Colleague "Mosura's" Blog - The Nature of Tasmania.

Frankly it is a hilarious "comedy of errors" - but Mosura recognises the folly of his impromptu response to grab a few photos - in retrospect.

It is nice that I inspired him to try to photograph some Black Cockies of his own. He ends up giving us some stunning Insect photos, though.

Hope the Ant Bite has stopped throbbing, Mosura!


Do you get Migratory Waders in your area?

I have received this notice from "Birdpedia".
Just as well somebody is watching what the DEWHA is up to.

A Latham's Snipe at Kangaloon

This "Policy Statement" review will impact upon most major wetland sites in Australia, but particularly Ramsar Sites, notably the Coorong, and Lower Lakes, other wetlands in the MDB, and the Victorian coastline, especially Gippsland, and the Great Sandy Straits area, within the Mary River estuary, south of Fraser Island.

Please feel free to send this on to other persons who might be interested to comment.

Dear Shorebirds 2020 volunteers & friends,

The Commonwealth Government has been developing an EPBC Act Policy Statement for Migratory Shorebirds, to provide guidance in relation to actions that may impact migratory shorebird populations in Australia. An important element of this policy statement is the adoption of criteria to identify nationally important sites for migratory shorebirds in addition to internationally important sites, to increase the amount of habitat protected for shorebirds nationally (see pages 9-10 of the draft policy statement).
I would encourage you to take a look and make comments if required.
See the following Birdpedia Notice for full details.



Jo Oldland & Rob Clemens.

DJW note:
I found the links suggested by Birdpedia (within their article) did not take me where I needed to go.
This one will:
I would point out that not all "Migratory Shorebirds" are restricted to Australia's ocean shores. This is acknowledged in regard to the Latham's Snipe (only) in the relevant papers.

Public comments are now being sought from interested parties on the draft policy statement, particularly in relation to its usability and suggestions for improvement. We would also be interested in any new research or information on these 36 migratory shorebird species to contribute to future policy revisions.

Comments will be accepted until COB Monday 14 December 2009.

At the end of this comment period the policy will be finalised, taking into consideration any comments received. The policy will be updated as substantial new information becomes available.

Comments should be sent to:


Mail: Species Information Section
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601

Fax: 02 6274 2875

This might be the required strategy for Snipe - FLEE!
Only sites where 18 Latham's Snipe of more gather regularly
are regarded as worthy of protection - under their proposed policy.

Denis Wilson

Friday, November 20, 2009

Two Greenhoods - a hybrid mystery solved

Two years ago, when the Illawarra Branch of the Australasian Native Orchid Society came up to Tourist Road, Graeme Bradburn spotted a Greenhood in a tiny drainage line. I was pleased and cranky at the same time - as I had regularly checked this drainage line looking for - you guessed it Greenhoods - and I had never found one!

Anyway, on the ANOS tour this year, Graeme struck again.
Pterostylis x ingens
Not only did he find the "supposed hybrid" Pterostylis x ingens, but there then followed some discussion about how this "hybrid" was here, when we had not seen either "supposed parents" (Pt. nutans and Pt. falcata) in the area.
Labellum of Pt. x ingens

***** ***** *****
Suddenly another member of the group called out: "Here is Falcata".
Indeed it was there - a mere 30 metres away from the hybrid plants.
I guess that solved part of the riddle.

The "Sickle Greenhood" Pterostylis falcata
(my first ever).
You can see the extremely long, pointed hood (galea).
The "hood" consists of 3 parts, the dorsal sepal and two petals.
The dorsal sepal far exceeds the petals
(which are bent down - on this specimen).
Here is the rear view of the plant.
One of the two plants in flower on that day
had a slightly damaged petal which was "drooping".
However, this image was taken to show the labellum.
It is nearly closed. Normally it should be protruding.
Here it is seen from very low down, to show the labellum.
By then, it was closed off (in the "triggered) position.
Note the very widely spaced dorsal sepals
and the deeply notched "sinus" (the "v" shaped part).
This is a "labelled" image,
as Greenhoods are very different from most other Orchids,
and the "experts" use specific words for the parts of the plant.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Yellow Leek Orchid at Penrose

Two weeks ago, a sharp-eyed member of the Australasian Native Orchid Society spotted several spikes of a yellow Orchid growing amongst some Stringybark Eucalypts opposite the Penrose cemetery.
I went back two weeks later to confirm what we thought they probably were - namely Prasophyllum flavum - the Yellow Leek Orchid.
One of the diagnostic features of this plant is
the crinkled edges to the labellum
(which in Leek Orchids is above the column)
Click to enlarge the image, to see what I am referring to.
The books refer to this plant having a preference for deep forest litter. That's exactly right for the habitat shown in this photo. The only slightly odd thing is that the region is dry sandstone soil. Alan Stephenson has shown me this plant growing in the Nowra region, in deep sandy soil, on sandstone. Colin Rowan reports that this plant grows in wet forests in the mountains of Victoria.
This plant is regarded as widespread but not common.

As a matter of interest, the Sun Orchids we had seen here two weeks before had finished flowering.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More West Wyalong photos

Several days ago I showed a few birds "up close and personal". They were photographed during a bird banding session near West Wyalong, with a senior, registered bander, Mark Clayton. The Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme is administered by the Federal Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. The scheme operates on a "trap, band and release" protocol.

Two Pacific Black Ducks (Anas superciliosa) were caught on the last morning, just before we packed up. They were swimming on the dam, and as we approached the net near the dam, the birds flew away from us and straight into the net. They were quickly removed from the net and banded. Such a perfect strategy - you would think we had planned it! Although Black Ducks are well known from this site, it turns out that these were the first of this species to be banded at this site, where banding has been conducted since 1986. Something of a thrill.
Mark about to release the two Pacific Black Ducks together.
The wing panel on the Pacific Black Duck has a panel of feathers
which produce what is known as a "structural colour".
The colour is caused by optical interference owing to
reflection of light between very fine barbules in the feathers.
The colour is not caused by pigment.
In this case, the colour appears to vary
between green, blue or purple, depending upon
the angle of the sunlight and the position of the viewer.
My Blogging colleague "Snail" has written about this before.

And in another link, my Blogging colleague David Young has just published some very nice images of a Goanna he found near Bermagui.

This Goanna - a "Lace Monitor" (Varanus varius) had climbed up a Mugga Ironbark Tree (Eucalypt). It was very close to a net, and we were keen not to allow it to find any birds in the net, nor to get caught itself. Fortunately it departed the scene peacefully.David's blog shows the powerful claws on his Goanna. Mine has its claws partially hidden in the deeply furrowed bark of the Ironbark Tree.
Note the large amount of "spare skin" on the neck of this animal. Does this mean it was desperately in need of a good feed? Quite possibly - the country was very dry. The most obvious food supply around for them was Meat Ants nests, many of which had been dug into - either by these guys or possibly Echidnas.

This next bird is an Inland Thornbill, (Acanthiza apicalis) which is a close cousin of the Brown Thornbill. It is a tiny bird. It has the dark red eye, typical of this group of Thornbills. It has fine scalloped markings on the forehead, and a strongly coloured brownish rump.
This is the well-named White-browed Babbler.
(Pomatostomus superciliosus)
Here it is as seen from the rear view.
Note the white tips to the tail.
Babblers are noisy birds, which tend to hang around in family groups, they build large domed nests of sticks reminiscent of the "drays" which the little Ring-tailed Possums build. But these are inland, dry country birds.

Here is the bird I most wanted to see, in the hand, last weekend.
It is a typical bird of the inland, dry country scrub,
especially where Callitris ("Cypress Pines") are growing.
It is a spectacular male Red-capped Robin - (Petroica goodenovii).
From the rear, you can see the distinctive wide band of white in the wing (adjacent to the body) as well as the white horizontal flash, typical of most of the Petroica group of Robins.
Here is the female Red-capped Robin.
She is much paler than her partner, but I guess that
makes her better camouflaged when on the nest.Normally the female Red-capped Robin has a tinge of red on the forehead, but this individual did not. She was very keen to take off, and so we let her go as soon as possible.

Another Thornbill - this time the
Yellow-rumped Thornbill (Acanthiza chrysorrhoa)
They are sometimes known (informally) as "Butter-bums"
as that is the colour you see as they fly away.
This bird shows the black forehead and white spots
which are typical of this species of Thornbill.

For a change of subject, I could not resist photographing this tiny caterpillar which was hanging from a tree above me, via a fine thread of silk. The caterpillar was swaying around my eyes, swinging back and forth on the breeze. It was quite small, about 2 cm long.
Here is a lovely small parrot, the Red-rumped Parrot,
(Psephotus haematonotus)
or "Grass Parrot" as I knew them when I was younger.

The image on the right shows the bird flying away,
which is when the red rump is seen best.
The green head and chest of the male bird
is a really bright emerald colour.
It has a bright lemon yellow belly.
Females are drab, and nearly invisible on the ground.
This is a bird of the treetops - sitting on its nest!
It is the Varied Sittella (Daphoenositta chrysoptera).
It is a lovely little bird which typically
works its way down tree branches - in opposite direction to
Tree Creepers, which go up trees.
Click to enlarge the image.
The nest is made of cobwebs and fine grey bark.
It is a beautifully constructed deep cup placed on a forked branch.
The bird has an orange eye ring which is visible in this image.
Its brown head is pointing away but the bird was looking back at me.
The heavy striations on the under-tail coverts are visible
poking over the right hand side of the nest.
When flying these birds have an orange stripe visible in the wing.