Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Saturday, February 27, 2010

More birds of Robertson

Some of the birds of Robertson have the habit of flying into windows, particularly in the early morning when the sun is low and reflections make windows look like open space. It is a shame, but there appears to be little one can do about it. This is what happened ot this little bird, a young and inexperienced bird. It flew into a window of a friend's house. She saved the specimen by wrapping it in soft paper, and putting it in a box in the freezer, till I could collect it. The bird was still soft and warm when she found it, so she knew it was totally fresh.

Birds, having given their lives in such manner, the least I can do is record some of the less obvious details of such birds (as with the Frogmouth, in the previous post), and show the world what these birds look like, up close. Its all justified in the cause of scientific knowledge. It is always worth examining a fresh bird, carefully and in detail. You can learn an awful lot about birds from the beak shape, their claws, and their wings.

Today we start with a juvenile Eastern Spinebill. It has a uniformly fawn chest and throat, whereas the adults have a white throat and a "V" marking on the chest. This bird also has a slight pinkish yellow base of the bill, typical of young birds of many species.

The long bill is used to feed on tubular flowers which produce nectar.
In this regard, ti is very similar to a Hummingbird (North American and Central American birds - geographically speaking) . But that is a case of "parallel evolution", where unrelated creatures have evolved to utilise a particular feed source - tubular flowers. Our Spinebills love Grevilleas, Waratahs, etc, but they have adapted to feeding on Salvias and Fuchsias, both of which are the natural food of Hummingbirds, (in their own countries of origin). As such Spinebills love old-fashioned cottage gardens and regularly come into gardens in search of a variety of native and exotic food sources.

Another similarity is that Spinebills can hover in front of tubular flowers and use their long beak to probe a flower and sip the nectar inside it.
This shows the underneath side.
Note the coloured throat, and the four white-edged feathers in the tail.
(Two feathers on each side of the tail are white towards the end)
Those white feathers are really obvious as Spinebills flit past you.
The "primary" wing feathers ("flight feathers") of the Spinebill are really stiff, and this gives the bird a distinctive sound as it flies past.
You really can hear them go "flit, flit" as they flap their wings. For such a small bird, it always seems strange to me, that you can hear them fly. One tends to expect it from Magpies and Ravens, but the Spinebill is relatively noisy in flight, too. It is a diagnostic sound - one can identify a Spinebill by hearing it fly past, without even seeing the bird.

Their ability to hover in front of a flower (which not many Australian birds tend to do) may be attributed to their stiff wing "primaries" - the feathers which are exposed in this "open wing" shot.
Here are the delicate feet.
Strong claws, with needle-like claws, enable this bird to perch
on the tiniest branches or flowers, in search of nectar.
This female Satin Bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) is getting more accustomed to human presence on the back deck, as my brother and I have been working steadily out there.

This one was clearly looking for food - in the form of a pear,
which I put out on those little spikes I use to fix the food on the bird table.
Note the stunning violet-purple eye colour of the Bowerbird.
(Click image to enlarge it).
This Lewin's Honeyeater (Meliphaga lewinii) had more luck than the Bowerbird.
Each pear lasts about 4 hours, on average, but up to 4 Bowerbirds at a time can knock a pear over pretty fast. Bowerbirds tend to take up to 6 pecks at the fruit before flying off with a very full beak, to digest the food. The Lewin's Honeyeater is more gentle, with its finer beak. It tends to take about 4 big pecks, then flies off.
Down below the deck, in the grass, there were three
Grey Shrike-thrushes (Colluricincla harmonica) looking for insects.
This one is a juvenile, with the rusty marks on its eyebrow and wings.
This juvenile Grey Fantail Rhipidura albiscapa came through in a mixed feeding flock, and posed for a moment for a shot.
That bird is marked with fawn and brown, which is typical of juvenile birds in this family (the Corvidae - which includes, locally, Magpies, Butcherbirds, as well as Whipbirds, Shrike-thrushes, Whistlers and Fantails).

Technically, this next bird came from Bankstown, in Sydney, but the species does exist in Robertson, but thankfully not at my house. It is a mummified skeleton of a nestling Common Myna. which died when it fell down inside the wall cavity of my house. That event may have occurred ten or twenty or more years ago. I cannot tell. I know it was long before my house was moved to Robertson. The skeleton was perfectly preserved, but with little or no flesh or feathers present any longer. Presumably the flies and ants of Sydney had done their work in removing all edible material. This young bird presumably clambered out of the nest, and fell down inside the wall cavity. It was unable to climb back out, and has simply died of starvation just below its nest (in the rafters). As my roof has been totally rebuilt after the relocation of the house, I am confident that no birds can get inside my new roof. In fact, I have done absolutley everything I can do to prevent that happening. It is also one reason why I do not feed seed and other mixed food to the native birds, as the last thing I wish to attract is the Common Myna. They are noisy, aggressive and dirty birds.

As Ned Kelly was given to say, on such occasions, "Such is life".

I have recorded the skull and beak shape of the Myna, once again out of scientific interest. This linked image of a live Myna shows the same beak shape (it is quite deep and strong). The only other birds likely to nest in suburban Sydney roof spaces are Sparrows (which have a seed-eater's beak - deep and short) and the Starling, which, although related to the Myna, has a much shallower beak shape - more an insectivore's beak. The Myna's beak shape is strong, but versatile, allowing them to eat just about anything from fruit, berries, insects or flesh (such as dog food). They are natural scavengers around human habitation. A good reason for not leaving dog and cat food out in the open around a house.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Big mouth - Frogmouth

I am in the process of re-building the back of the house. This is a huge task, and I will not bore you with the details. My brother is doing most of the work, but it serves to explain why I have been off the air for a few days.

However, Brendan arrived on Monday with a fresh road-killed Frogmouth which he picked up south from Nowra. He knew I would be interested. Personally, I think he has a magnetic attraction for Frogmouths, for I have previously shown photos of his neighbour's Frogmouth - a lost "fledgling".
The Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) (the NSW and Victorian forms at least) tend to be silvery grey, with prominent spots on the wings and finely marked plumage on the body, which aids its main defence, which is camouflage (pretending to be part of a tree).

The wings are long, relative to the length of the bird,
which indicates it is a strong, efficient flier, 
even if it spends a large proportion of its time sitting in a tree (by day), 
or on a fence post (by night) 
listening for insects crawling around in the leaf litter.
The feathers are very soft, which aids in silent flight.

Here is is as seen from above, rear.

Now you can see how the Frogmouth earns its living, and its name.
This very wide beak, which for some reason has a pale yellow gape
allows the Frogmouth to capture small prey, mostly insects 
and occasionally small  rodents.
The beak is very wide, but quite powerful.
Good for crunching its prey.

I used assume that because the beak is so wide, that it caught insects on the wing (as does a Swallow or a Swift, or even a Grey Fantail)
but apparently they actually perch on low vantage points and pounce on their prey.

From the side view, one can see also, the fine feathers
which help to camouflage the lines of the head.

The Frogmouth's feet are relatively weak.
This birds toes serve to allow it to perch on a branch - not much more than that.
By contrast, Owls have formidable talons for gripping live prey.
Compare this image below, with these Powerful Owl claws.
Those are the most formidable talons I have ever seen.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Leech attacks Lena, the Mini Schnauzer

At lunchtime today I went to the local cafe and got out the dog chain to attach Lena to a handy "tie point", while I was going to have lunch.
Unbeknowns to me, "lunch" had started many hours before.

A very large Leech was attached to Lena's neck, just near where her "choker chain" fits.
Clearly the Leech had been attached for many hours, and I suspect Lena had picked it up overnight, at Bowral (for I had stayed at Bernie and Dorothy's place, and Lena had been with me). It has been raining a lot in Bowral, recently, too.

I figure that Lena had picked up this Leech while she was out for a toilet stop, some time, probably before bedtime last night. Then it had found its way up to her neck and attached itself.

When I came home at 9:30AM this morning, Lena was a little sedate - a bit tired? So while I checked my emails, she went to her bed. I got up to leave for my regular volunteer shift at the CTC@Robertson, at 10:00 AM, and Lena did not stir. I thought that a little unusual, but I did not worry about her - I just left her at home.

I returned after 1:00 PM, and collected Lena, so I could go to lunch at Cafe Pirouette. I regularly go there, and if the weather is nice, I eat outside and Lena sits on the grass nearby. It is an innocent little ritual.

So, today I went to fit Lena's "Choker Chain" and discovered the swollen Leech. I felt something wet and sticky - instead of soft dry fur.
Close-up shot of Leech on Lena's neck
Yellow strip on lower sides.
Red stripe higher on sides.
The narrower "head end" is buried in Lena's fur.
I sprinkled salt on the Leech, and that made it retract its mouth parts.
I spoke with the local pharmacist, who said he thought that the salt trick is not good practice, as it can mean that the Leech can regurgitate its stomach contents, causing contamination of the wound. Against that, I find that trying to remove the Leech by physical methods (pulling or trying to brush them off), are either unsuccessful, or result in the wound bleeding freely, for several hours.

At least this technique avoids that result, for the Leech first attaches itself, it injects an anti-coagulant. If salt is applied, the Leech reacts badly and tries to leave. Before it does that, it seals the wound with a coagulant, as it does after having completed its complete feeding cycle. That's why if the Leech has completed its meal and drops off, one does not bleed freely. Similarly, if salt is applied.
Here is the wound left behind on Lena's neck.
Ignore the salt. That is not a problem.
And so it is with Lena. She has a mark on her neck, but just a few drops of blood oozing, Not a freely bleeding wound. She is sound asleep as I write this story. Lets hope she has no nasty after effects. Two people I know who have dogs which have been bitten by Leeches advise that in general it does not seem to cause the dogs much discomfort. I hope not, for by contrast, I know I am highly allergic to a Leech bite. I may itch for as much as a week.

For more photos of Leeches, follow this link to an earlier Blog Post, and for the "Life History" of Leeches click this link to the Australian Museum "Fact Sheet" on Leeches.

DJW Update: Two days out from this incident, there have been no apparent "side effects" of either the Leech bite, or the salting technique in removing the Leech from Lena's neck.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

More about the South Coast rains and damage

Mick from "Sandy Straits and Beyond" asked me today if the rains I had talked about was what had been now declared a Natural Disaster.
In short, yes.

I did make a somewhat flippant comment that the local Member is also the Minister for Emergency Services. In fact. the Minister, Steve Whan MLA, is the Member for Monaro, not the Member for Bega. His father Bob Whan,was the former Federal Member for Eden-Monaro. But Steve Whan is not responsible for this area. That should be clarified.

The Canberra Times had a story today on a road collapse at Tilba, just south from Narooma, caused by this storm event.
Floodwaters washed out the Tilba-Punkalla road yesterday

I acknowledge that this is a dramatic road collapse, and I recall a similar event near Gosford that resulted in the death of five members of a family caught up in floodwaters. In no way do I wish to minimise the risk of such an event, but the danger lies in the sudden and unpredictable event of the road collapse, not the magnitude of the storm event. See Footnote below.

The main point I was trying to make in the comments earlier was that the ABC radio today reported that the Minister's declaration was made on the basis that there was some $4 million worth of road and other infrastructure damage.

Do you realise how $4 million worth of road repairs would buy? It would barely amount to the rebuilding of a single road bridge. No doubt the true costs of this storm will far exceed the original estimates. But I keep repeating, this is a small flood event, relative to large floods.

What the Bureau of Meteorology was at pains to explain today was that the large rivers in the region (Deua River - at Merimbula, Tuross River - at Tuross Lake and Bega River - at Bega) have been "swollen", but not in full flood. So it is actually the little creeks and rivers which have risen and blocked roads and done some minor damage. I include the road washaway above in this category, even though it is potentially fatal for motorists. It is just a little stream, grown large, briefly.

This storm event needs to be put in context. In 1971 the Bega River (which has a large*** catchment) flooded, and it took out a relatively new bridge near the River mouth. It took about 2 years to replace. People at Tathra had to drive an extra 40 Kms around the river for about two years. Today there is a very large, high clearance bridge across the Bega River, just near the mouth - and the locals are very proud of it. For good reason.

This flooding event is nothing like that.

Tyto Tony at Ingham lived through worse than this three times a year ago.

"The highest flood on record occurred in February 1971. Up to 900 mm of rain fell in 15 days over the catchments of the Bega and Bemboka Rivers. ...
"An anecdotal record of flooding in the Bega Valley has been compiled by Smith (1978) who recorded a total of 39 floods in the valley during the period 1851 to 1978."
Source: Bega River Estuary - Data Review

*** The Bega Valley is a "large catchment" relative to most other NSW coastal catchments. Of course, the inland catchments are far, far greater in area. The coastal catchments however, trap large amounts of rain because of the presence of the Great Dividing Range, relatively close to the Pacific Ocean, especially when triggered by post-cyclonic storms, such as this one. That means they are prone to sudden and quite dramatic flood events. The Hunter River (at Maitland), the Clarence (at Grafton and below) and the Wilsons River (at Lismore) are probably the most flood prone of these coastal NSW rivers.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dalmeny under water

My brother, Brendan lives at Dalmeny, just north of Narooma. (see attached Map) Actually he lives in a little patch of Eucalypt forest immediately south of the coastal settlement of Dalmeny. He has supplied the information and photographs in this post.
The Footbridge over Mummaga Lake (creek) at Dalmeny
16 February 2010
Mummaga Lake opened to the sea overnight 15 February 2010
Seen here on 16/2/2010.
"They also serve who only stand and wait" (Milton)

Brendan has told me, over the last couple of days of the rain they have been having down there. Remarkably, Narooma topped the State in rainfall till 9:00am this morning (for rain which mostly fell yesterday). Not often Narooma does that. Robertson is more likely to have that distinction, or Dorrigo.

It seems they have had even more rain today in Narooma..

Earlier today he wrote:
  • We had 152 mm to 9:00 am.
  • It is currently pissing down and more heavily than over the last 24 hours. The radio reports today are that it is raining at about 25 mm per hour for up to 3 hours in a hit.
  • The highway is cut both sides of Bodalla.
  • All the lakes are cut (open) to the sea.
  • Tuross Lake opened last week and released the three dolphins that were captive there for about 18 months.
  • Yesterday Kianga Creek opened. It is seriously septic because of algal blooms - they had collapsed before Christmas and were sitting in an anaerobic state on the bottom of the lake. When the initial water escaped it smelled really bad. I am hoping that this second storm will scour out the crap from the bottom of the lake.
  • Dewsbury beach has an opening at each end (small creeks flowing to the sea).
  • Our own swamp was across the bottom of Eucalyptus Drive and is broken to the sea.
  • Mummaga Lake (Dalmeny) is almost up to the pedestrian bridge and raging to the sea. The sand bar broke open overnight.
  • How is your arid zone. You only had 42 mm yesterday. (Very Funny - DJW)
This evening he said:
  • South East NSW has been in drought for some years.
  • Last week we got about 170 mm across 4 days. Over 3 days till 9:00 am this morning we had 278 mm and we most likely had a further 200 mm today. Very soggy.
  • No problems with the house or garage, but there is some damage in the garden.
  • Attached are a couple of photos of the area.
  • This on the main drag into Dalmeny about 400 m before the shops (opposite the fire station and tennis courts).
Fortunately, on the scale of floods, this is relatively minor flooding.
But no doubt for the owners, it is a"big deal".
  • The rain seems to have eased off in the last couple of hours.
DJW Comments: It is really good that these various Lakes and streams have opened to the sea. Brendan mentioned that Dolphins had been trapped in Tuross Lake. They are now free. It will also allow fish stocks to be renewed, and the Prawns too.

The Bureau's weather records were "jammed" and presumably some person needed to approve the publication of an "anomaly" in their records. It was published at 11:00am this morning (16/2/2010):
Rainfall at Narooma - last two days:
Monday 15 February 2010 151.6mm
Tuesday 16 February 2010 161.8mm
That is a pretty amazing amount of rain to fall consistently over two days.

Other South Coast Bloggers:
My Blogging colleague David of "Focus on Nature" wrote last week of the storms they had at Bermagui. No doubt he has had even more since then, too.
James Woodford, who writes "Real Dirt" from somewhere south from Moruya, has also written about the Lakes opening, and fish being freed from stagnant lagoons and Eels on the move.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fungi love the rain (as we know)

My new Blogging friend, Peter Welt, a mycologist (Fungi expert) from Chemnitz, Germany said just a few days ago, "Fungi love rain". How true.

Today, Robertson once again had more rain - heavy rain. I had to drive down to Tourist Road to feed a cat for a friend. As I drove down Kirkland Road I noticed several large fungi. Some were really obvious large white lumps in the long grass. These are seen at the end of this posting.

A more unusual fungus was growing out of the hard ground, immediately beside the bitumen road, where the road goes through tall Eucalypt forest. The cap of the Fungus was brownish grey in colour. There is a hint of pink in this specimen, perhaps made more obvious as the fungus was very wet, which made it almost translucent.

I believe this specimen is Amanita eucalypti. It matches the illustrations of that species on that site, and also in Bougher and Syme: "Fungi of South Australia". I cannot find any distribution map of that species. I know it was described in West Australia and is found in South Australia.The gills were slightly pinkish. The stalk was unusual in that it was narrower at the top than at the base, where the remains of the "volva" were clearly evident. There were some traces of the "veil" on the top of the cap of the fungus.The whole fungus was slippery, (it was totally wet, of course).
And it was noticeably heavy.

The stem shows the annulus (ring) and the "volva"
(that is the egg-like pouch from which the fruiting body emerges).

This image shows the greatest similarity to the illustrations on the web.
Here is the annulus, or what is left of it.
The gills do not run right through to the stem.
There is a slight separation around the stem, before the gills start.
The whole of the underside of this fungus has a pinkish tone
but the colour is very faint - quite different from the "field mushroom".
The edges of the gills
After I brought this fungus home, to try to get a "Spore Print"
the stem had snapped off cleanly from the cap.
This is the broken section of the stem.
It was not fibrous, but quite brittle.
On the relevant page on his Amanita website Dr. Rodham E. Tulloss states: "The volval limb is extraordinarily thick for a species of section Phalloideae and very much suggests the sort of limb one sees in section Amidella. On the other hand, the accompanying photograph does not clearly show either the termination of the stem within the bulb or a continuation of the stem beyond the point of attachment of the volva. The absence of a definitive indication that the stem is totally elongating and inserted within a thick volval sac supports the interpretation of Miller that the species should be placed in the Phalloideae. However, comparison of the protolog with recent photographs (shown on this page) indicate that revision of this species may be necessary." R. E. Tulloss.

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

Back to the "large white lumps" I had also seen as I drove down the road.
I collected several specimens on the way home. These were much lighter in "density" than the previous specimen. I say that, even though the mature one was totally soaked and was falling apart under its own weight.

These latter fungi were easily enough identified (well, down to a certain point) as Amanita farinacea. Trouble is, the taxonomist have been changing their minds, and perhaps the true name ought be Amanita ananaeceps (or is that A.ananiceps? (see note in item 49).Either way, these two specimens were soft, downy, but soggy Fungi. One was open, and already showing signs of moisture stress (falling apart under its own weight). The other was fresh, just starting to open. It was very "mealy" - the source of one of those names means "floury" (as if getting your hands covered in cooking flour).
The gills run through to the base of the stem, but not quite joining it.
But there is no gap around the stem, as with the previous species.

This Fungus had no strong smell (to my nose), but as soon as I took it to show my friend Joan Freere, she started to complain about its unusual smell, and she started to cough. I quickly took it outside her house.

This fungus had a very long stem,. some 18.5 cm long.
The cap was 12.5 cm wide.
There was no sign of the "volva", as I pulled the stem from the wet soil.
It is possible that I lost the volva - as I pulled these specimens.
If you look back to the image 2 above, you will see
that the unopened specimen has a bit of a swelling at the base of the stem.
I see no mention of an odour in any discussions of these fungi, but one cannot ignore the possibility of an allergic reaction, especially with such strong "chemical factories" as the genus Amanita (famous for the "Death's Cap Fungus"). It is interesting to note how different people can be, regarding sensitivity to certain odours and even to chemicals. I know enough about Fungi to take no chances with them.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

What heavy rain looks like.

I know lots of people have had heavy rain recently (at least in NSW).
But I had to chuckle (just a bit) at the reports of apparent torrential rain in the northern and northern beach suburbs of Sydney last night. They got close to 100 mm, and in some cases, most of that fell within an hour. That can make for a messy situation, I do understand. But to listen to the ABC radio this morning, one would have thought it was the end of the earth.

Society needs to understand that we need to build to match the conditions. And with Climate Change, our weather "events" are become more and more extreme.

Roofs of nightclubs and supermarkets which collapse under such rain are simply not built adequately, or more likely, their drainage is not adequately maintained. But somehow, "God" is supposedly to blame. I disagree. Poor foresight by planners, and builder shortcuts and lousy or even corrupt Council admistration and the inspection and/or approvals process is where I would lay the blame.

I hope Tony Kelly MP, NSW Minister for Planning, and Frank Sartor MP, NSW Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, are reading.

Anyway, as the weather is against me, still, I thought I would publish two photos of what real Robertson rain looks like.
This is the normal view from the back deck. The Power Pylon, just visible in the distance (about 600 metres away) will be familiar to regular readers. Strangely, the rain was coming from a light coloured sky. It was definitely not a thunder storm - which is why it managed to keep going for so many hours on Thursday of last week. It was genuinely post-cyclonic rain, the remains of a cyclone washing down the Queensland and then the NSW coast. When these low pressure cells arrive over the Illawarra Escarpment, they seem to intensify again. The effect are accentuated, of course, by our proximity to the coast, and our altitude.
It is as if the hills of Robertson reach up their claws and tear the rain out of the clouds. That's what it feels like, to me, anyway.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Commercial killing of Kangaroos

Every now and then something comes across my desk which is so remarkable that I feel the desire to publicise it - with the approval of the original author. In this case, the document came from my friend Mark of Mt Rae, near Taralga, NSW (north-east of Goulburn).

PLEASE LOOK AT THE ATTACHED photos and then think of the commercial killing of millions of kangaroos this year across Australia.
Mum is shot, and hopefully dies quickly. The joey, which may be growing in her pouch and is attached to a teat (not visible in these photos) may be bashed to death or decapitated. (This is an act I have had to perform many times, when checking roadkill female macropod pouches and finding tiny, non viable joeys. Such an act is done as an act of kindness to end suffering, not as a brutal by-product of a commercial industry seeking mums skin for leather, her flesh for pet food, and apparently now as an environmentally friendly boutique food for people who would turn up their nose at the thought of eating wild rabbit).

But what of her 'young at foot' which is with mum in these photos?
DJW Edit: There was some confusion in my mind, as to whether these were
Grey Kangaroos or Wallaroos.
It has been confirmed now that they Are Grey Kangaroos, not Wallaroos.
But the same facts of biology apply to them as to the Grey Kangaroo.
Thankfully, both of these species are protected in the wildlife refuge
in the Mt Rae Forest.

The industry makes no mention of these. They are now too large for the pouch and no longer classified as joeys. Yet this little one still feeds from Mum?
I love the look of "resignation" on the face of Mum.
Unlike other mammals, Macropods do not just pass on essential antibodies in the first few feeds, but throughout the entire feeding and weaning process. A fully functioning immune system is essential to these highly strung animals, which can die easily of stress induced myopathy***. The young roo in this photo is bonded to his mum. He is dependent on her, not just for milk until weaned, but to lead him away from predators, teach him the 'wallaby trails' and introduce him to his environment.
I love the way Mum is resting on the Joey's back.
How many millions of these young at foot have died in the past decade we will never know. They are not large enough to be killed commercially (for skin or meat) and hop away into the night. Will they die quickly of stress myopathy***, or be killed by foxes or suffer a slow death by malnutrition?

The belief of shooters that these immature Kangaroos will survive
to be next years harvest are not based on fact.

Why is it that a value is only put on animal species when they are in danger of disappearing? Why does our appreciation rise, only as a species numbers disappear?

2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity.
Biodiversity means ALL living things.
We are human but certainly not humane. Otherwise we would use our science to find solutions that do not involve such barbaric practices. It would seem the only solutions we have where animals are concerned is the final solution. I suspect that we will not stop until all that is left to destroy is ourselves.


*** Myopathy - this condition causes the build up of lactic acids that can cause muscle degeneration, paralysis and death.

Red and grey kangaroos practice embryonic diapause and are known to stop reproduction during extended drought conditions.
It is also believed by some that they can determine the sex of the offspring.

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

(Victor Hugo)

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

Thursday, February 11, 2010

First of the new season Orchids

With Orchids, one cannot easily classify them into seasons - Winter/Spring/Summer and Autumn flowerers. Well, I use such a grouping for filing my photos, but it really does not "fit" with the reality of our seasons.

Tonight's plant is a good example of just such a problem. I think of this group of flowers, Corunastylis, as "autumn flowerers". They will be around until April, though mostly they are found in March. So I tend to file them as "autumn flowerers".

This year, we have had a burst of very heavy "late summer" rain - post cyclonic rain, in fact.

But with that rain has come a drop in temperature, the birds are behaving as if they are preparing to migrate north (those which move, anyway). And with this change in weather, up pop the first of the Corunastylis.

So, the real answer is that our Euro-centric phrases for our Australian Seasons simply do not match the reality of our seasons.

There is a similar "mis-match" towards the end of our winter. I have dubbed that time the "Season of Anticipation" when Wattles and Jonquils are in flower, and Peony buds burst through the soil. I have written about that problem before, but I have not noted the end of Summer - early Autumn seasonal mis-alignment previously. To be fairly clinical, I could simply call this season the "End of summer rainy period". It is not a romantic term, but it definitely fits Robertson, anyway. It would not fit Canberra, I know, and not Melbourne either.

However, to the point, here is the first of the new season Orchids - Corunastylis fimbriata. The "Fringed Midge Orchid". The PlantNET people still use the old name of Genoplesium fimbriatum. Have a look at Colin and Mischa's images of this species from NSW.
Note the very long "cilia" (hairs) on the tip of the Labellum
(botttom right of the image)
This "find" was a bit of a thrill for me, for while I have seen this plant once before, at Tallong, when looking for another rare species there, I had not managed any decent images of that plant.
This next image shows the other main diagnostic feature of this plant
which is the hairs lining the edge of the dorsal sepal.
You need to remember that these Orchids are "upside down"
to most Orchids, and the dorsal sepal is underneath the flower.
It is the pale green "boat-shaped" structure, with a few red lines on it.
The Dorsal Sepal is pointing downwards and backwards, at a sharp angle.
Compare this flower with the bare edges of the dorsal sepals of
Corunastylis sagittifera, which is otherwise very similar.
Click to enlarge this image.
These tiny Orchids are very hard to photograph successfully and I will try again, even on this one specimen. But the thing I did like to see (and one cannot capture it without close-up Video footage), is that when I found this plant the little hairy labellums (labella?) were flapping in the warm, gentle breeze. David Jones in his main text, is at pains to point out the flexible nature of the hinge of the labellum. And here they were flapping in the gentle breeze. I have seen many other Corunastylis species, but I have never seen the labellum move so easily.

Here is a shot of the top of the flower stem of this particular plant. There are several others nearby, but this was the first to open.
Click to enlarge the image.
These plants were growing in very poor sandy soil. This was close to, but definitely not in, Butler's Swamp - where the soil is peaty. Not so, for these Corunastylis - they were in pure sandy soil. I even found several plants budding up in a shallow depression in a large rock, where there appeared to be less than 2 cm of sand in the depression. The surrounding habitat was classic Southern Highlands "Sydney Sandstone" scrub, with Scribbly Gums, Stringybarks and Proteaceous shrubbery.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Weird and wonderful "Starfish Fungi"

My friends Toni and Les, from Moss Vale, sent me some photos several days ago of a "Starfish Fungus" (Aseroe rubra). Most of these images were taken by Toni. Some are mine. Each image is credited appropriately.
Toni photographing some of the Starfish Fungi "eggs".
DJW image (of course).
Group of Aseroe rubra - by Toni Valentine.
These collapsing fungi look like "calamari" -
If so, they would be "The ones John West rejected".
Image by Toni Valentine.
I was very keen to get some photos of my own (as I have only seen this fungus twice before). So I went over there yesterday, but the hot morning sunlight had taken its toll on these delicate structures.
Delicate, you ask?
Well, yes, in the sense that they do not last long, in their "prime".

Broken Starfish Fungus, plus "eggs"
One of the "Stomachs" is just starting to rupture.
DJW image.
Aseroe rubra, with 3 flies.
In fact this is the broken fungus turned over again.
It is still attractive to flies. DJW image.
Starfish Fungus, with fresh "goo***" and 4 flies.
Image by Toni Valentine.
In their "prime", as this one is,
it is busy secreting the sticky goo*** which it uses to attract flies.
Image by Toni Valentine.
They were drying out badly.
*** The "goo" is called "Gleba", but we might as well call it sticky goo.
The "goo" serves to spread the spores of the fungus. These Fungi fall within a large group which are all known as "Stinkhorns". Hence the attraction to the flies.
A mature Fungus, plus many "eggs" developing.
Image by Toni Valentine.
These remarkable fungi are in a group known as "Stomach Fungi" (Gasteromycetes) because "these fungi produce their spores inside the fruiting body that, at least initially, is enclosed within an outer skin".

Unlike many other types of fungi, this group, including Puff Balls, need to "rupture" in order to disperse their spores. The ANBG site is careful to point out that this description "does not signify close evolutionary relationships between all the members. The name is simply one of convenience - rather than being one of classificatory importance."
Close-up of the developing "eggs" of Aseroe rubra.
These are the "stomachs" which are gelatinous egg-like sacs.
You can see the "arms" just starting to poke through the sac.
Image by DJW.
The throat of the Aseroe rubra is seen in fascinating detail here.
Fly is standing to attention.
Image by DJW
Two images I took of two of the many flies which came to these fungi.
My Blogging colleague, Gaye from the Hunter has written about the Aseroe rubra fungus.