Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Centenary of Wattle Day + more Orchids

Thanks to Kirsten's Facebook page, I now realise that tomorrow, the 1st of September, is National Wattle Day. It has not always been thus, (our Queensland cousins used celebrate it in August); but in 1992, the first day of September each year was declared 'National Wattle Day' throughout Australia. The first 'national' Wattle Day was celebrated in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide on the First of September 1910. You can read more about the history of Wattle Day on the Wattle Day Association site.

Here is a Wattle growing in my yard, which grows naturally in the Mittagong area. Close, but not "natural" in Robertson's red soil. But the plant does not mind. Anyway, it happens to be the only photo I have to hand of any flowering Wattle. I have other Wattles in flower, but I am slack, because it is dark outside now and I am not going to try to take any new images now.This is a very narrow-leaved Wattle, which has ball-shaped inflorescence (compound flower structure) not long "rods" as the other flower-structure of some Wattles is known.
More Orchids from Albion Park, on Sunday.
Hymenochilus bicolor.

This one was a complete surprise to me - I have never seen it, or even heard it talked about by the local ANOS enthusiasts. Kirsten showed it to me, but was quite matter-of-fact about it. She didn't expect me to get excited about it, but I did.

Clearly this is a close relative of yesterday's unpronounceable Orchid (lets just call it the "gibbosa". Some authorities put them both in the same group - Oligochaetochilus. More generally, yes, they are both Greenhoods (Pterostylis) in the old classification. This one is now known as Hymenochilus bicolor.
Click to enlarge to see the unusual "knob" on the labellum
and note that the labellum is otherwise thin and flat.
It has a distinctive black beak-shaped gland on the labellum, which distinguishes if from the closely related H. mutica.

What I think of as a "semi-side-on" photo.
It shows the labellum being free-standing from the cupped structure
below the flower, which are actually the lateral sepals.
Although they look to be cup-shaped, they are not.
They are partially fused, but technically they are two separate organs.

It differs from yesterday's Orchid in having small rounded lateral sepals, which are not recurved (sweeping backwards as in yesterday's plant). The top part of the flower (the galea) is very similar in both species. The Labellum is very different from yesterday's plant, being a shallow spade-shaped organ (not a thick protruding structure), with the black bump at the top (well base of the labellum, actually).

That latter clarification is necessary, because Orchid specialists describe the labellum (and other parts of the flower) as having the base as that part which is closest to the point of origin (where it starts to grow from). But of course, as we see the black bump, it is at the top of the labellum. But botanically, it is at the "base" of the Labellum. That's why the labellum illustration below (on the right) appears to be "upside down". Convention has it that you start where the labellum separates out from the rest of the flower, that's all.

Photographed in profile.
This angle accentuates the rounded cup-like structure
of the lateral sepals held below the flower,
and of course, enclosing the Labellum.
This image mimics the angle of the botanical drawing above (top left).

Unlike yesterday's plant, this one is not endangered, and is fairly widely distributed.

Monday, August 30, 2010

"Gibbosa Greenhoods" in flower.

An orchid with the "barely possible to pronounce" name of Oligochaetochilus gibbosus is just coming into flower down at Albion Park. It used be called Pterostylis gibbosa. You could try calling it the Illawarra Rustyhood, but it is not reddish brown as one might assume from that name. Its enough to make one want to give up (but see below, for a little glimmer of understanding, based upon a search for the etymology of the name).

That's why I have referred to it simply as the "Gibbosa Greenhood" in the title of this Blog posting.

Note the prominent brownish labellum, with several (only) stiff hairs.
Presumably these hairs act as a movement detector,
to help trigger the Labellum to snap closed, when an insect is present.
(Click to enlarge the image).
Here it is with the Labellum snapped closed.
That is a pollination technique,
designed to trap an insect inside the "hood"
which is where the pollen grains and the stigma (female organ) are located.
This is the botanical illustration for this species, from PlantNET.
By the way, my favourite on-line dictionary - the Dictionary of Botanical Epithets reveals that "gibbosa" means "humped". It is a very useful reference site, which can help one make sense of strange sounding names.

As far as I can work out the "impossible sounding name" Oligochaetochilus refers to having a few (oligo) long flowing hairs (chaeton) - Gk. khaite "long flowing hair". That actually makes some sense, now that I have tracked back its compounded etymology.

This Orchid is known to occur in very few locations, and several are in restricted (privately owned) sites, which is probably just as well. This plant is classed as an endangered species.

In truth, it is pretty hard to find, growing amongst long Poa grasses in a large reserve at Albion Park, just down Macquarie Pass from Robertson.

I had been invited down to see the "Gibbosas" by Kirsten, a colleague from the Illawarra Branch of the Australasian Native Orchid Society. So I had the benefit of an expert local guide. Thanks Kirsten.

Anyway, we drove right to the spot, and examined some of the first Gibbosas, then went for a walk around the Reserve, to look at other plants (and Kirsten's favourite young Red-bellied Black Snake).

The next Orchid we found was a total surprise to both of us, the "Blue Caladenia", or as it is now known, Cyanicula caerulea. Hardly "sky blue" (its original Latin derivation) to my eyes, but very blue, none-the-less. These days it can mean "dark blue, or even sea-green" There is no green in the pigment of this flower. Blues and purples, yes, but no green tones.I have seen illustrations of this plant in many books, but I have never seen it myself before, so this was a thrill indeed. A solitary flower, with the hairy leaf lying flat on the ground.
I have posted a few images from yesterday's tour on my Facebook site gallery.

Tomorrow I shall show some of the other plants we found.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Daffodils in flower - for Daffodil Day.

Yesterday I took a couple of shots of some charming miniature Daffodils in flower near my front verandah.

These are "Tete-a-tete"Two flowers on a single stem give them their name.
Charming little things.
Today my daughter Zoe reminded me that it is Daffodil Day.
I had completely forgotten.
Zoe brought with her a Cancer Council Teddy Bear which a good friend of ours, Sean Leane had given her - for Daffodil Day. Thanks Sean.

Furthermore, Zoe chastised me for not having broadcast to all my friends or even to her, apparently, that last week I was given a "clearance" by my Oncologist - he said that I do not need to see him for another 12 months.

After months and months when I had daily treatments, then monthly check- ups and then 3 monthly scans, and then 6 monthly scans, getting told to not bother for another 12 months is terrific news.

Zoe with Lena and the Daffodils

That translates, in Doctor-speak, to mean I am almost a "nuisance",
(they would never say that)
but it does mean I am taking up valuable space
in the Oncology waiting room.
That's good news for me.
That's why I am looking quite relaxed in this image.

Thanks Zoe, for reminding me to be grateful for good news.
Some good things,
such as being alive,
should never be taken for granted.

I tend not to focus on being a "survivor".
But today is a good day to think back over the past,
and be grateful for the wonderful medical and technical assistance
which allows me to be here today.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Currawong lines up a meal

These images were taken on 12 December 2009.

In December last year, there was a particularly wet day. An adult Pied Currawong was looking for food, as it had a hungry chick. Given the weather it probably needed something to cheer itself up, when not having to feed the chick. (They supposedly feed chicks high protein meals of insects and small birds and lizards).

This bird was on the lookout for some sweet food for itself. It spotted a pear which I had placed out on the bird feeder table.

What's this?
I'll check it out with my left eye, first.
Now from straight ahead.
I'll give it another look, with the right eye.

Having decided that it could not believe its luck, it moved in close.

If you are getting stared at like this, by a Currawong,
then there's only one thing going to happen.
You're on the menu.
Got it.
Needless to say, the Currawong flew off - barely able to believe its luck.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bunochilus tunstallii in Robertson

I can now confirm that I have seen Bunochilus tunstallii in Robertson. I have previously reported being shown this species of "Tall Greenhood" south-west from Nowra, by Alan Stephenson, the ANOS Illawarra Branch President, and the ANOS Australia Conservation Officer.

This week I went back to one of my favourite spots along the Belmore Falls Road, 5 Km south from Robertson. I was down in this patch of forest, to monitor an Orchid which I have known of for some 5 years, but which now has a very tall flower stem on it, for the first time. But it is still just in bud. In cool weather it can take weeks for an Orchid to open its flowers. I just need to keep checking it, now twice a week.

While I was there, it realised that there is a slight difference, in size and also in habitat preferences, between two groups of "Tall Greenhoods" (Bunochilus sp) growing in this 300 metre long Melaleuca thicket.

Down one end of the thicket, it is denser growth of these Melaleuca shrubs, and so the ground is more shaded (darker). It is also wetter, as the creek running through this thicket completely soaks the deep leaf litter on the ground, and after rain, it can remain permanently soggy for several weeks. That is the situation this August.

Up the top end of the thicket, the ground is drier, and there is more light. I would say it is still a densely shaded area - (compared to more typical Sandstone scrub).

In the top area, which I know quite well, there are many hundreds, if not thousands of the regular Tall Greenhood (the regular species of this area, I mean), Bunochilus longifolius.

But down in the wet area, where I have not noticed many of these Tall Greenhoods previously, I found quite a number - which surprised me. They were growing in this very heavy shade, and growing out of permanently wet soil. Not just moist soil - actually wet soil. In some cases, the plants are growing out of pools of water, albeit it temporary pools.

To me they looked like Bunochilus tunstallii.
These plants were consistently smaller in height, had a more pointed tip of the galea (the hood), with a slightly pink "nose" of the galea (hood). Their labellums are brownish, but not as genuinely dark as specimens of this species I have seen near Nowra. Note that the labellum has far less of the "bristle hairs" than the B. longifolius.

Bunochilus tunstallii on the left, and B. longifolius on the right.
Click on the image, to enlarge it.
Left: Note the browner labellum, with fewer bristle hairs (B. tunstallii)
Right: note the light cream coloured labellum with a dark line down the middle and also the obvious bristle hairs on the plant on the right
(B longifolius).

Once I checked my photos, I was pretty confident of the ID, and I checked it with the records from the RBG PlantNet site. They report: "Distribution and occurrence: Grows in moist areas of sclerophyll forest in coastal and near-coastal districts; south from Robertson."

There we go again - Robertson on the edge of the distribution of yet another species of plant. This so often happens here - either we are on the southern end of the range of more tropical plants (e.g., Pterostylis hildae ) or on the northern end of the range of cooler climate plants (as in this case).

Alan Stephenson, knows Bunochilus tunstallii well. He has confirmed the ID which I had suspected. So now I am happy to "claim" this species for my local list of Orchids.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A friendly "Snout Moth"

Several days ago I had an unusual visitor in my kitchen.
It was a strange looking moth, with a large "snout", and densely hairy body, and a strongly "upright" stance.

Note the long legs and upright stance of this moth.
Its antenna is visible clearly, held close against the body.
I sought assistance from some "Moth-ers" on the "mothing-aus" Yahoo group.
Ian responded, suggesting that my moth was a "Snout Moth" - named for obvious reasons.

Photo of the "snout" from underneath.
One eye is hidden by dense hairs.
The Antennae are held low, close to the body.
The "palpi" are held parallel and together they form the "snout".

The family is known as the Lasiocampidae (in scientific parlance)
According to Wikipedia: "Their common name 'snout moths' comes from their unique protruding mouth parts of some species that resemble a large nose."

The moth was resting on the side of a cut-down plastic drink bottle.

I searched Donald Hobern's Flickr Album of Lepidoptera. Found the appropriate "set" the sub-family - the Lasiocampinae (Australian)
The closest match for my moth (almost a "dead ringer" I would suggest) is Pararguda nasuta.

It is interesting that this moth has ventured out in the famous "August Winds" (which in Robertson blow between June and September). They were blowing on the day I found this moth inside my house. and they are still blowing outside as I write this story.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Yet another shot of a Bowerbird.

This morning I realised I had run out of Apples to feed the Satin Bowerbirds and Pied Currawongs and the Lewin's Honeyeater.
Shock Horror!

I decided to try an Orange.
It was a nice big juicy Orange, but as I personally do not like Oranges (too acidic for my preference) I was sceptical about how the birds would react.

Silly Me.

The birds were all over the two half oranges in no time flat.
They pecked it, they drank the juice, and even had a bit of a peck at some of the skin.
Click to enlarge the image.

Anyway, I took another image of the male Bowerbird (through the Kitchen Window, yet again). But this shot is a bit better than the best one I showed you a few days ago. I adjusted the camera settings somewhat to compensate for the ultra dark plumage of the bird. Consequently he is showing more of the famous glossy plumage.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Seedlings - from bird droppings and pellets

The larger birds which come to the bird feeder drop various items which contain lots of plant seeds. One can see the larger seeds quite clearly in the items the birds leave behind.

Some of these are regurgitated items, known as "pellets". Others are, to put not too fine a point on it, bird droppings, or "Bird Poo".

I have been curious about these, to know what the birds eat, (firstly) and then, to see what I can raise.

Several months ago I collected a number of these pellets and the dried bird poo, and placed them in a cut-down plastic drink bottle, with some local soil.The first things which came up were very fast to germinate. Two weeks or just over. They had relatively large leaves, and from my experience with weeds around Robertson I knew straight away that they were "Ink Weed" seedlings.

Then the next lot to germinate (after about one month) were these Kangaroo Apple seedlings. They have hardly grown since coming through.

For several months now I have been patiently waiting to see what would happen to them but almost nothing. I need to prick them out and put them into a better drained soil mixture. You might notice, if you click on the image to enlarge it, that some of the stems of these seedlings are purplish, and noticeably hairy. In that regard, they resemble Tomato seedlings - to which they are related. They are both in the Solanaceae.

Resemblances like that are really quite eerie, as, in other respects, the plants do not look at all similar, apart from the shape of their flowers.

Anyway, in the last few days, several new seedlings have emerged. They have very large, rounded leaves. At this stage I have no idea what species of plants these seedlings might grow into.

I love a challenge, so I shall pot these on shortly, and see what develops.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Some Camellias coming into flower

These are just a few of my Camellias which are coming into flower about now. One in fact has been flowering for several weeks, but the weather has not been suitable for good flowers.

To clarify, I should mention that I have many of the autumn and winter-flowering "Sasanqua" or "Hiemalis" varieties of Camellias, but while I love them, i do not regard them with the same affection as the "Williamsii Hybrids" and other more classic large-flowered Camellias. One of the problems with names of Camellias is that they are super-fertile (in general) and so chance seedlings arise, and nobody can be totally sure of their parentage (and hence which "group" to place them in.

This is one of my all-time favourites - "Bryan"
It is a Camellia williamsii x reticulata hybrid.
I grew this plant or another very similar to it in Canberra.

The weather has not been kind to Camellias this year. Yesterday, I decided to take my chances, in case I should miss out completely on recording some of these plants in flower. That was because of the horrendous "August Winds" which blew on schedule this year (unlike previous years).

I believe this to be E.G. Waterhouse,
but I am not quite sure yet.
I want to see several flowers open fully before I am positive.
This is a lovely petite flower with a delicate "picotee" edge
Yet another Camellia with the distinctive "fuchsine" colour
which is typical of the "Williamsii Hybrids" group of Camellias.
This is a lovely delicate flower.
That flower (above) is quite small,
but not as tiny as many of the other "species" Camellias
such as those descended from C. rosaflora.

By contrast, this is a veritable "monster" of a flower.
The flowers are at least 6 inches across, some may be more.
It is my only true C. reticulata.
The leaves are nearly twice the size
of "normal Camellias" (the classic "Japonicas").
I bought it as a "seedling" of Dr Clifford Parks.
But the true Camellia "Dr Clifford Parks" is said to be a sterile plant
So who knows?
I am prepared to grow it to see how it survives the winds of Robertson.

Many are obviously heavily in bud, and will probably flower for several weeks, but others are less certain, especially those which I moved this year because of the house renovations work which is going on. Those plants were pruned heavily to help them survive the move, and in some cases I only left a few buds on, for them to just "prove" themselves.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Blue Bird (Male Satin Bowerbird)

The adult male Satin Bowerbird who visited me this morning is a wonderful creature. The more so when seen in full sun. The glossiness of his feathers is amazing. And so are his blue eyes!
Here he is staring straight at me,
while I am behind the Kitchen window looking at him.
These birds tend to be shy, and are wary of camera lenses.
(Click to enlarge image)
Having decided that I am no threat to him
he starts to peck at the half apple on the Bird Feeder.
(Click to enlarge image)
Note the eye colour. Also the ivory-coloured beak, which is one of the "changes" which one can use to detect younger males which have not quite matured into the "Blue Bird" phase. If you see a "green bird" with that colour beak, it is definitely a male, about to change to the fully mature plumage.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Brumby's "Weasel Words" apology for Black Saturday disaster

The Age has reported today: "Beginning his promised round of community talks on the commission's recommendations with a visit to the Whittlesea CFA station, Mr Brumby said he was sorry for the failings on Black Saturday.

''There were system failures on the day … and for that all of us who were involved from me and everybody, are obviously sorry that those systems failed,'' he said. ''I personally feel the weight of responsibility to get the arrangements and systems right in the future.''


Mr Brumby, what about apologising personally for the failure to declare a State of Emergency on the day?

The weather was fully anticipated to be the worst on record. High temperatures and strong winds were predicted by the Bureau of Meteorology. Read my "real time" report here. Note that at that time, reports of the numbers of people dead were as low as 9. Shows how difficult the conditions were for finding out the real situation, and the actual number of persons burnt to death. But I was following it, in NSW, via the computer.

It is strange to realise (now) that when I was writing that report, Christine Nixon was out to dinner, and the Fire Chief apparently was not being properly briefed by his operational staff. And what was the Victorian Premier doing?

Is it any wonder I am not impressed with the Premier's failure to apologise for his personal failures on the day. I do not care to hear him apologise for "system failures".

Premier Brumby, what about apologising for what you personally did not do?