Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Monday, June 28, 2010

Big Frost last night

Robertson does not have an automatic weather recording station (official one, anyway). So the closest is Moss Vale.
I know I was trying to do some important writing last night, but I could not keep going, as I was so cold.
Anyway, this morning I checked the Moss Vale Weather site, and it said -5.8* Celsius. That is about 25 Km west,a nd admiotedly is more likely to be colder than Robbo. But because our climate is so moist, we get really dense white frosts, once the temperature drops low enough.
I have a sloping site, below a line of tall hedging trees, so, in winter it is in total shade all day.
Late in the afternoon (4:40PM) there was still an unmelted frost on a sand pile. There was still a "permafrost" (little crystals of ice underneath the soil, lifting up small pebbles and rocks).
I forgot to look at the Tree Dahlia, but I am sure it will have been knocked back to the ground (as it has been in previous years). I shall check tomorrow.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Fair Pricing for Australia's Resources

As our brand-new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard sat at her first Cabinet meeting today, she undertook to "review" the so-called "Resources Super Profits Tax" on mineral resources.

Well, clearly it was part of a deal to stop the Mineral Council's advertising against the "Resources Super Profits Tax". They have their own "Keep Mining Strong" website. Clearly all this advertising (and money) had the ALP back-room people "scared shitless" (Australian vernacular - check the "physiological reaction to stress" section of that link).

Well, the Miners may well be cheering Julia Gillard, but I am not.

I live in an area on the edge of the Illawarra Escarpment. This is Water Catchment Country, and I know that the Sydney Catchment Authority has warned the NSW Government that some 93% of the Southern Catchment will be undermined by coal industry interests in the next 30 years.

Today I heard (ABC Radio World Today) that the Department of Planning has approved undermining the Woronora Reservoir, despite the fact that cracking of the bed of the reservoir will occur. The media worry about cracking of the Dam wall. Neither the Dept of Planning or nor the Miners are so stupid as to contemplate risking that. But they do not mind draining the rivers and creeks which feed these dams.

It is a "moot point" which is worse: an empty dam or a broken one? Neither would achieve its stated objective to capture water to supply the city of Sydney.

SIMON SANTOW (Interviewer): So that's the argument, the argument from green groups is you ought not to allow it to possibly happen. There ought to be no risk.

DAVID KITTO (Dept of Planning): Well I guess um... if there was... I mean what we're saying now is that the risk if so low that it's acceptable.

The Bureaucrats really have no idea what is at risk here. The water supply for Sydney is at risk, from this project and the other longwall mining projects in the Southern Catchment.
Waratah Rivulet - cracked bed of river.
Previously with water in it - now dry
(Photo: Julie Sheppard)

The particular Mining company which has drained this Waratah Rivulet is Peabody (trading as Metropolitan Colliery). Peabody is a huge American coal mining company, made famous in a song "Paradise" (by John Prine) - in which the singer went back to visit his home town to be told:
  • Well I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in askin'
  • Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away
(Check the linked posting for the fully transcribed words of the song). I am sure you get the point.

So, I am coming at this argument from an environmental point of view - namely that the damage these companies are doing is never going to be repaired, and they are destroying priceless water resources, and the environment which no amount of "royalties" to the Government can ever hope to repay.
So why let them get away with it?

Then the Henry Review suggested the Resource Super Profits Tax. That's when the "shit hit the fan" (another vernacular phrase: A slang expression for a chaotic or otherwise unfavourable outcome. (SHTF)

All else is history. Our former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has evaporated. He has been replaced, and Julia Gillard looks like watering down the proposal. That is likely to be a back-down of monumental proportions. No wonder the Mining Companies are cheering her.

Do you really believe that these hugely profitable companies cannot afford to pay a fair price for the Mineral Resources they are taking? Their publicity refers to it as a "Super Mining Tax". It is not. It was designed to be a "Tax on Super Profits of mining". Profits firstly. Then a tax on the Super part of their Profits. Clearly it was not intended to just be a huge tax slug on mining, exploration, etc. Just once a project is really raking in the profits, then the Tax would kick in. Sounds fair enough to me.

My friend David Young has sent me a Link to a Facebook site which I support. It states:
  • "This community page is dedicated to raising awareness that we, in Australia, are giving away our resources for prices unfair to us.
    Foreign companies are raping the country and stealing our future economic stability.
    We have want it...we will sell it...for a FAIR PRICE."
If you agree with us, please sign up and send the link on to your friends. The full URL address is:!/pages/FAIR-PRICING-FOR-AUSTRALIAN-RESOURCES/128094130564911

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Eyes and Antennae of the Moth

These are not new photos. I took them in mid May, but since then I have posted about the birds of West Wyalong and other things, and I realised tonight that I had skipped over posting these images.
Silly Me!

Here is a Swift Moth (Oxycanus dirempta) which was quite passive, early one cool evening., last month. The eyes are reflecting the flash of my camera.
Here it is patiently sitting on my finger.
Note the hairy legs, and the huge compound eyes.
Interesting patches of mauve colour too.
(Click to enlarge the image.)
And now for the "Pièce de résistance".
The face of the Moth, with antennae fully extended.
(Click to view larger image)
Note especially the minute tips of the small branches on the antennae.
What looks like a "haze" around the antennae
is actually these tiny sense organs, virtually touching eachother.
This moth is almost certainly a male, with antennae set to track down a female. "In moths, males frequently have more feathery antennae than females, for detecting the female pheromones at a distance." (Source Wikipedia - lepidoptera - communication)

Not only are the antennae set with obvious, but tiny branches, ("plumose antennae" or "feathery antennae") but at the ends of each "branch" there are minute "feelers" which are virtually microscopic (sensilla)***. Their purpose is to detect the sex scent (pheromone) of the female. And they are extraordinarily good at it.
  • "Pheromones are odors that are used for communication. A female moth may release a pheromone that can entice a male moth that is several kilometers away."
It makes one realise that Moths ought be employed by French Parfumiers to design their next range of scents, for we humans are mere amateurs at this "scent" business.

*** Sensilla: "The number of multiporous hairs is usually large, since the greater the number, the greater the chance that molecules in low concentrations in the air or water will make contact with a sensillum. In insects the length or complexity of the antennae is a reflection of the numbers of multiporous sensilla. In insects requiring increased sensitivity, the antennae are branched, providing a larger surface area on which more sensilla can be accommodated" Encyclopaedia Britannica (web version).

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Moth and Me #12

I confess to having not even been aware of this particular Blogging Carnival "The Moth and Me", although I am aware of the fine work of some of the Nature Bloggers who are participating, especially Seabrooke Leckie who writes "The Marvelous in Nature".

Anyway, over at "The Skeptical Moth" Chris Grinter has just published "The Moth and Me #12".

I was totally taken by surprise when Chris asked me if he could include my "Moth Art" piece in this series.

It turns out Chris has a fascination for Hepalidae moths - what we generally call "Swift Moths" (for reasons which still elude me).

The particular moth from which I took the design for my "Moth Art"
is Oxycanus dirempta (thanks to Donald Hobern for the ID).
Here it is viewed more naturally,
hanging off the eaves of my deck awning.
I get many of these moths here, and so I regularly post about them, especially when they are beating their huge wings against my windows on cold, damp nights. The other reason they appear is because they are the main host species in the local rainforest to the truly bizarre Fungus Cordyceps gunni.

Friday, June 18, 2010

New Skink for my list.

Further to my recent post on cold-blooded creatures, here is another one - a new species for my list here.

It goes under the unfortunate name of "Weasel Skink" (Saproscincus mustelina).
Click to enlarge image, and to read notes.
I had guessed the identity (from internet sources), but I sought confirmation before going public with the ID on this one, because it was sufficiently unusual that I did not want to get it wrong. I had no idea what its distribution is. Apparently it is recorded from the Illawarra Region. The only photos I could find of it came from the Victorian Museum, and several overseas-based herpetologists. One, at least, had photos of this species from the Blue Mountains (New South Wales).
The helpful people at the "Search and Discover" service of the Australian Museum (Sydney) came through with this advice:

Dear Denis, Thank you for your enquiry. The lizard is a Weasel Skink (Saproscincus mustelina) - a crepuscular species (active dawn and dusk but not at night or during the middle of the day) which is relatively common, but not often seen due to the hours it keeps. More information about it and the answer provided by our Herpetologist - can be found on the following answer and weblink:- "It is a Weasel Skink (Saproscincus mustelina) - the white tear-drop marking behind the eye is a good diagnostic feature for this species from other small skinks within its range.- Ross Sadlier" Please let us know if we can be of any further assistance. Kind regards, Martyn Robinson Naturalist

Unfortunatley, I had taken only a few images, and the Skink was very nervous, so I did not handle it, for fear that it might drop its tail. So I could only get "top down" views, as it had been trapped in a clear plastic fruit container. Consequently I missed the most diagnostic feature, a tear-drop mark below its eye.
The thing I noticed was the relative length of the tail to main body.

Apparently it is a question of knowing what to look for, much as with the Peron's Tree Frog, where one needs to looks for the yellow skin on the inside of the back legs. One needs to know what features to look for, and they are not always obvious.
The scales on this lizard's head are very distinctive
and along the body the scales are very fine.
In these images they appear slightly oily, but in fact they were not.
If you have some photos of an unknown or unusual creature, and wish to consult the Australian Museum staff, you can do so by sending them an email at: or phone: (02) 9320 6202.

My first email was wiped of its email attachments, but the staff sent me an email address where I could send them some images. That worked fine, and I was able to get an answer within the week.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Bird Feeder

My brother Brendan is not a subtle person, and he had left me in no doubt that he disliked my amateurish design of the bird feeding tables I had built. I like him, none-the-less, despite his directness. Even he liked looking at the array of birds which came to my old bird feeder tables.

Well, this week he turned up with his trailer, topped with a 3 metre long branch of a tree, which he had meticulously planed down on the top and bottom sides. I was being given a new "Bird Feeder" (whether I wanted it or not).

Anyway, after a few days working up in the ceiling, in cramped conditions, reinforcing my old (very old and very damaged) "horse-hair plaster" (actually plaster sheeting with sisal mixed in), I decided Brendan ought be given some respite, so we set about installing his dream bird feeder (at my house).

Brendan had found a huge fallen tree at Bodalla, following a recent storm. It had been cut into sections by the people who had cleared the road. Brendan had grabbed one three and a half metre branch, and taken it home to trim it up and "thickness" it.
He was impressed by the size of this fallen "Spotted Gum"
Corymbia maculata
It was 900mm diameter at about 4 metres above ground level
(the point where it had been cut).
The "root ball" is over 4 metres tall and wide.
The tree had no tap root, and only shallow roots.
Today we installed this beam across two posts on my deck which I had originally left longer than the others, for the purpose of basing bird feeders on. Perfect.

Using two long coach bolts, and heavy drills, the new feeder is now fixed onto the posts of the deck and rail assembly. Glued and screwed off, for secure fixing, with a water-proofing membrane above the tops of the posts.

Next came the "branches" for the birds to land on. These have been fitted into holes drilled into the beam. I have added a further "approach perch", following a successful trial of one dead branch with quite small branches. The Bowerbirds like this, as do the local Lewin's Honeyeaters in particular. They are the smallest birds to use my feeder table, and seem to be relatively nervous, so appreciate some "protective branches" through which to approach the table.

While I was taking the photos of the first load of fruit on the new "feeder"
a Lewin's Honeyeater came in to test out the new feeder.
We kept with my original technique of up-turned screws on which to fix the fruit. In this case, we chopped the heads off "3 inch" screws, and drilled 3.5mm drill holes (the diameter of the shank of the screws), added a dob of "Liquid Nails" as both glue and water sealant, and tapped the screws in (upside down). This means that fruit can easily be fixed on the spikes by twisting it down on the screw thread.
Judging from recent weeks of observation with different fruits, even Currawongs cannot remove most fruit from such screws, at least until they have been pecked down considerably, especially if you remove the stalks of soft-fruited pears. Bananas are a bit too soft to remain there for long, however, as they are very popular with the Lewin's Honeyeaters, Bowerbirds and Currawongs. Watermelons are highly successful too, and with their firm rind, they last perfectly until all coloured flesh has been pecked away. At 99 cents per kilo, they are affordable bulk "bird food".

Lewin's Honeyeater with beak full of banana flesh.
The wind was very strong today, so the Bowerbirds did not come in for their late afternoon feeding frenzy today. So tomorrow morning we shall put out the remaining fruit again, and see how the Bowerbirds adapt to the new feeder.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cold-blooded creatures in the cold weather

A Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peroni) made an appearance in my trailer the other day when Peter was clearing some old sheets of plaster away.
Here it is sitting in some dirt and gravel on the end of the long-handled spade.
We were careful not to touch this little frog, as clearly it was very torpid in the cold weather. We released it straight away (after just three photos), back into the moist shade of some trees, from where it had been disturbed.

Just as well, it seems, as this report says such frogs are very sensitive to UV light, at low temperatures.

Interestingly, this is the second frog from my property to bear the name "peroni". The other is Peron's Tree Frog. Clearly they are both named after one of those remarkable early french Naturalists. Indeed he was just such a person. Peron sailed with Baudin upon "Le Naturaliste". Unfortunately the two men despised eachother. But Peron worked with a colleague, Lesueur, collecting and describing many thousands of specimens, especially marine creatures, but also many frogs - hence the names of both Peron and Lesueur appearing on local frogs.
  • "At the end of the expedition Peron and Lesueur had collected what is considered to be most complete and best documented collection of marine natural history. Over one hundred thousand species of animals had been collected and stored in thirty three large packing cases aboard Le Naturaliste.
  • In 1806 the Emperor Napoleon himself gave permission for Lesueur and Péron to publish their findings in a Journal to be called "Voyage de découvertes aux Terres Australes", written by Péron and illustrated with forty plates by Lesueur. They were issued a pension or salary to support them as they worked on it.
Strangely, the next cold-blooded critter to appear on this cold morning is an Eastern Water Skink, Eulamprus quoyii (image by Waratah Software - Natural Images of Australia).
Skink on Peter's arm.
It was more mobile than the Frog, but it did not scamper away, as Skinks normally do, but climbed slowly up the arm of Peter's jacket. It was crying out to be photographed.
Its warm copper-coloured back shows well here.The spots along the side are uniformly spaced.
I released it under the front deck of the house, where it would get some warming sunshine, but be quite well protected.

Here is another links to a web page about this Skink.

This pair of Lizard Lovers were close to water at Carrington Falls.
Poking their heads out together, just metres from the Falls.
They made a nice image,
but I was not close enough to get diagnostic details, but they may well be Eastern Water Skinks.
Quite what a "water skink" is doing at my place I cannot say, but I have often seen these little guys here. It is "wet' in Robertson much of the time, but we do not have running water around here, just moist tree covered soil.

But they are not my only Skink species. If my identification is not correct, please advise me via the comments page, or by email (see "My Profile" page).

For other cool climate skinks, see the Victorian-based page for Lizards and Skinks from Museum Victoria.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Moth Art

I have been fascinated with the natural beauty (subtle beauty) of the Swift Moths which have been coming to my lights this cool wet autumn and winter season.

This one in particular really struck me with its patterns, almost like Egyptian hieroglyphics to my eyes.I showed this Moth image to my friend Steve, who has been coaching me in the techniques of Photoshop recently, and he showed me how to try to create a "wallpaper design" from the Moth's wing pattern. That is what I have done here.
Having done that, Steve then showed me how to alter the colour balance and to experiment with different lighting effects.

Some were positively weird, but strikingly reminiscent of Aboriginal Art designs and colours.

However, for tonight's posting I have selected two modest variations on the theme.

One reminds me of some pink and caramel lollies I used get as a child.
Ironically, when I went looking for an image of such a "Lolly" I came across yet another natural design in similar colours - a "Pink Panther Caramel Albino Viper". Too weird to be true? Nope. Have a look.

This image is adjusted to bring out the natural beauty of the grey tones in the pattern. Shades of a pale-coloured Tortoiseshell Cat, don't you think?
Nature continues to play with variations on a theme, and we are programmed to see beauty in her variations.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Two similar Greenhoods compared.

Consider that you have an essay to answer in Botany Class: "Compare and contrast Diplodium obtusum and D. alveatum". That might have been your nightmare task in Botany Class, but in all probability, very few botany classes get down to that level of reality.

I shall try to make it easy for everyone. And as a Bonus I will throw in one related species which looks completely different.

***** ***** *****
Last weekend, as you already know, the Illawarra Branch of the Australasian Native Orchid Society went on a trip into the bush near Jervis Bay. We saw many Orchids.

One of the small Greenhoods is a plant called Diplodium obtusum.
The name refers to the blunt tip of the labellum of the flower. Unfortunately the labellum is not visible in this specimen. The flower had probably been bumped by someone else taking a photo before me, and the labellum would then be "triggered" back into the closed position. David Jones says in his book that the labellum is green.

PlantNET says: "Labellum oblong, obtuse, 9–11 mm long, c. 3 mm wide green with a dark brown apex, the tip just protruding from the sinus in the set position."
Here is the Botanical illustration from PlantNET.

It is quite a small Greenhood, compared to many other members of this group of Greenhoods (Diplodium genus). Of course, there are other "Tiny Greenhoods", but they are in different genera ("Speculantha") these days.
One common feature these three plants (in today's post) all share is that they all have "stem leaves" (which are visible in two of the three images). That is part of their "Diplodium" characteristics.

Back in mid-April we (ANOS) went to Bungonia Gorge, near Marulan, NSW.
It is very different country (from Jervis Bay), with lots of slaty-shale and mixed areas of sandstone, and of course, it is close to the Bungonia caves and the South Marulan limestone quarry. So the area is renowned for its complex geology. It also has good Orchids (in season).
We saw many specimens of this other small, blunt Greenhood, which is known as Diplodium alveatum. Now I cannot say much other than this one has a labellum which is visible, and it is dark reddish brown. Apart from that, the profile of flowers of the two species is very similar.
PlantNET says: "Labellum oblong to oblong-elliptic, 7–10 mm long, 2–3 mm wide, red-brown towards the apex, the tip protruding above the sinus in the set position" You can see the Labellum here.
Here is the Botanical illustration for this species from PlantNET.
The contrasting species (of which we saw literally hundreds of flowers at Bungonia Gorge) is Diplodium laxum. Its main distinguishing feature is the "free points c. 35 mm long, filiform, usually recurved or lax." In other words, the long point which are often laid back, giving it the popular name of "Antelope Greenhood". Its labellum is reddish-grey, and protrudes by about one third of its length.
The tip of the galea is long and protruding. As the flowers age, the tip collapses over. This specimen is in very fine condition, so it has a veritable "ski-jump" angle to the point.
Here is the botanical illustration from PlantNET.
At least this one is easy to separate from the little ones with their protruding ridge or platform on the "sinus" (throat).

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Visualise the Oil Spill - over your part of the world.

Thanks to Lynds, from "World of Ecology" for sharing this site link.

This great site allows you to re-locate the BP oil spill in the Mexican Gulf to your own patch of the earth, to get the real sense of scale in an area you are familiar with.

I have centred it over Canberra (which many people might think deserves being smothered in sticky black oil anyway - but I try to avoid too much political comment on this blog.) Think of my comment as Irony.
What that positioning actually does is it gives me an area starting at Robertson (where the Highway 48 sign is, between Bowral and Shellharbour) on the north-eastern corner of the oil spill.

Ok, on the far end, it goes out beyond Wagga Wagga (Urana actually).
Click on the map to enlarge it, to see the full details.

Two weekends ago, I did a drive which was north from there (to West Wyalong). That drive took me nearly 5 hours. So for me to drive diagonally the length of this oil spill would probably take me 7 hours.

That to me is a scale I can understand.

That's one bloody big clean up job, Mr Hayward (CEO of BP)
Well might you say you "want your life back".
No wonder some in the American Media are calling him "the most hated - and most clueless - man in America". Big call, but understandable.

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

You can play with this map for your own education and personalised bewilderment by visiting

Send that link to your friends - copy your own personalised link from the website, once you have fitted the Oil Spill where you want it to be. Type in the location - City, State, Country, and then click "Move the Spill". Then click "link and more" to copy the url of your own personalised Oil Spill map.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

More Orchids from Jervis Bay region

Well, having shown you the "Pretty as a Picture" Orchids yesterday (Petalochilus pictus), today I will show you some odds and sods.

Interesting little Orchids, but some are so small and so hard to figure out what side is up, that you might well wonder about them (or me). I find these crazy little plants totally fascinating.
***** ***** *****

Lets start with a Green form (technically classed as an "Alba" form) of Acianthus fornicatus. "Pixie Caps". Basically it lack the red pigment, leaving the plants green tissues as the only colour.
These plants were thick on the ground, in the same area as the "Pictus". There are about 25 flower spikes in this 'frame".
Their "heart shaped" leaves nearly cover the sandy soil.
There is a small fern, a few tufts of grass, and lots of dead leaves on the ground. The rest are these green Orchids.

OK - so this is an normal form of the same species.
You can see that the flowers are nearly transparent,
so they are not strongly pigmented at the best of times.
Their flowers are highly reflective.
The rounded hooded flowers give it the provocative Latin name,
which apparently in botanical Latin means "arched or bent over".
Next we come to the Corybas group of Orchids.
Corybas aconitiflorus is even more "hooded over" than the previous plant.
This is a dark red coloured specimen.
It is known in English as the "Spurred Helmet Orchid".
That name makes more sense if you see the flower as botanical artists do,
on a table, in a laboratory.
(Source: RBG PlantNET)
In the bush you only see the top of the flower.

Here is a more normal coloured plant,
with a greyish purple hooded flower.
These plants are quite small, leaves less than the size of a 20 cent coin
and the flower is the less than half size of a regular snail shell.
Here you can see one flower against my fingernail.
That might help you get the scale.
Another Corybas, and a rare one at that.
Corybas undulatus.
It has lightly toothed edges of the labellum.
Click on the image to see the fine details of the flower.
This plant is on the southern most limit of its distribution,
where we saw it, near Jervis Bay.
Its hood (dorsal sepal) is held more open than the previous species.
Both Corybas species here are ground-hugging plants.
From above you can see that the side of the flower is flared out.

These plants were not numerous. There are just three visible here.
They were growing in a muddy drainage line in typical sandstone scrub.
Eucalypt upper storey and many Proteaceous shrubs.
And now to more familiar Orchids, Greenhoods.
If you are a traditionalist you may refer to all these as Pterostylis.
Pterostylis acuminata
Here she is poking her long tongue out.
The rosettes of these plants nearly covered the ground,
but just for about one metre.
There were only a few flowering plants.

The next species is now known as Taurantha concinna
To my mind, this plant has an attractive "bum"
when viewed from the rear.
It is at its most striking when viewed up close - from the front.
Click the image to enlarge it to full viewing size.
Only then will you see the forked labellum.
The pollinia are just visible
in the back of the throat of the flower (behind the labellum).
This specimen is showing quite a lot of red in the front of the flower.