Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Sunday, October 31, 2010

ANOS day out in the Southern Highlands

A great day was had by those who came along on the Australasian Native Orchid Society (Illawarra Branch) Field Trip to the Southern Highlands of NSW.
We started out from the Pie Shop in Robertson (a convenient meeting place) before heading to Penrose Flora Reserve to see the Diuris punctata there. We then went to the local cemetery (at Penrose) where we were pleasantly rewarded with masses of flowering Sun Orchids and some Bearded Orchids.
Not as many forms as last year, but a good display, none-the-less.
The list included a nice pink form of Thelymitra ixioides
Down the road to the Tallong Cemetery to see more of the purple Diuris.
Then back in the car to Bungonia State Conservation Area to get the endemic "rufa" Greenhood (a "Rustyhood"). Oligochaetochilus calceolus

On the way back Graeme showed us another spot beside the road where a different "rufa" was located. Oligochaetochilus aciculiformis Two new species for me, in a single day, is always fun.
Back in the car to head for Butler's Swamp, in Kangaloon, where we had SCA permission to enter the swamp to look for the endemic (and now formally listed as an "Endangered Species" on the Federal EPBC Act) Kangaloon Sun Orchid (Thelymitra kangaloonica).

As we left, we found several green forms of Prasophyllum brevilabre. These were growing in a wet area, and are flowering much later than the other members of this species which grow in dry land, further along Tourist Road. We thought at first that it might be a different species, but the "points" were fused, not divergent as in the other species. So alas, we had to settle for it being "likely to be" the green form of the regular "Praso. brevilabre".
The experts line up to take photos of the unusual Leek Orchid.
Walking back to the car, we found several small specimens of a Beard Orchid Calochilus campestris. I have seen this plant previously, in the Royal National Park, but I have now seen several specimens of it here, and in Kangaroo Valley, in the last few days. But today was the frst time I have seen it in Kangaloon.
Hanging out for a coffee, at 5:30 on Sunday afternoon in Robbo we discovered that Chats" cafe closes early on Sundays, so we ended up getting nice Pizzas at "Pizzas in the Mist" (on Sundays, it is take away only, so we ate them on the outside chairs). No coffee, but the pizzas were great, as usual, and very welcome after a huge day out.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Noisy Pitta found near Berrima

Several days ago a Noisy Pitta (Pitta versicolor) was found near Berrima, in the Southern Highlands of NSW. This is a long way outside its normal range, and in a very unusual habitat for this species, which is a classical "rainforest bird".

Berrima is approximately 40 Kms west from Robertson (which itself is just above the Illawarra Escarpment, the closest true rainforest habitat to Berrima). The bird was presented by a "soft mouthed" Golden Retriever, to the dog's owner. Fortunately, the dog was very gentle, as befits a properly bred "retriever".

Unfortunately, the story does not have a happy ending, for although the bird was carefully handled (minimal handling), and was kept covered, and fed and watered appropriately, it was handed over to WIRES, but it died before it had fully recovered from its ordeal. Whether it was unwell to start with, is not known. After all, it was outside its normal range, and well away from its normal habitat, being a tropical rainforest bird.

Noisy Pittas normally live in dense tropical and sub-tropical rainforest. Their range is normally only as far south as the "Barrington Tops" (Hunter Valley Region). There are apparently some reports from the Mt Keira area, on the Illawarra Escarpment. (*** - see note below) The open farmland setting where the bird was found, is way outside its normal range and habitat preference.





Kindly check back onto my blog again tomorrow.


I have formally registered the "sighting"
(as such records are known).
There is no doubt as to the validity of the sighting
(photographic evidence).
The query was asked if this bird might have been
a caged bird "escapee"?
That seems unlikely, as few people would have the facilities
to keep a bird such as this in a private aviary.
They are certainly not "normal" caged birds.
Only the Taronga Park Zoo (Sydney) is likely to have a Noisy Pitta.

So there is no reason
to doubt the authenticity of the record as being
entirely a natural occurrence.

Location: The bird was found between Berrima and Moss Vale,
Southern Highlands, NSW.
Habitat: open pasture land, with residual mature Eucalypts
Date of finding: 26 October 2010


Birdline NSW

Cumberland Bird Observers Club
Birding NSW

Report Receipt

Thank you for your report which has been recorded as follows:

Species: Noisy Pitta
Date: 28 Oct 2010
Site: Berrima, NSW
Notes: Bird retrieved by dog. Not obviously damaged by dog, however, it died, subsequent to it being handed over to local WIRES people. Bird was located in open farm land in Southern Highlands, between Berrima and Moss Vale. Cleared pasture, with large remnant Eucalypt trees. Nearest rainforest (Illawarra escarpment) is 55 Kms away, at Macquarie Pass. Mt Keira (apparently this species has been reported from there) is approx 90 Km away. Photo of bird taken after it died.
Observer: Denis Wilson

And here are the images:

Note the brilliant electric blue flashes on the wings and rump.
This colouring would really show up in low light conditions
when the bird is on the forest floor.
The back and wings are a brilliant emerald green,
The head is a rich brown.
The bird has large feet and strong legs
as befits its ground dwelling nature.
The beak is very powerful suiting its preference
for snails and ground dwelling arthropods (insect relatives)
This awkward looking image is shown to reveal
the brilliant patch of red feathers
in the ventral area and the under-tail coverts.
The dark patch on the belly is diagnostic of this species.
The throat is very dark, so it is almost invisible in this image.
This image shows the rich brown head
and the patches of white on the wing
(fully visible only when wings are fully extended)
Pittas have extremely short tail feathers.
The tail does not extend beyond the wings (or the legs).
Here you can get an idea of the white wing patches.
"Rigor Mortis" had set in by the time I collected the bird,
two hours after it had died.
So I was unable to open the wings properly,
for risk of damaging the specimen. I did not want that.

The rump is electric blue,
the tail feathers are black, but with emerald green tips.
The wings have traces of brown on the tips of the flight feathers.
The dominant colour is
bright emerald green on the back and wings.

The bird is stored safely (wrapped and frozen) and its body will be passed on to the CSIRO in Canberra, shortly, for inclusion in the Australian National Wildlife Collection.

I wish to express my appreciation to the lady who found the bird in the first place, and who looked after it appropriately. She tried to get it cared for by WIRES. Also, my friend Kim, who suggested that I be contacted to see if I could help.

Unfortunately, even with my local contacts, we were still not able to prevent the bird dying. However, at least the bird will not have died in vain, as it will go into the peak scientific collection of bird skins.

*** Postscript: I received the following comments from
Alan Morris, Moderator Birdline NSW.
Alan said that:
  • "Noisy Pittas are on the move south. There are three separate places on the Central Coast where you can hear them call (but not all the time) at the moment!
  • "While the southern normal breeding limit is the Barrington Tops/Gloucester area (not Coffs Harbour), they are being seen more regularly further south.
  • "There are regular reports for the Illawarra Region too although mostly in winter, but birds are now being reported all year round near Mt Keira I think!"
My response:
  • Thanks to Alan for the update on changing distribution of Noisy Pittas. With global warming seemingly occurring, that changed pattern makes sense. Many birds are extending their range from what we humans have regarded as "normal" (i.e., the distribution recorded since European settlement). Another which is recognised as moving "further south" is the Channel-billed Cuckoo.
  • I still regard this bird turning up near Berrima, in farmland, as an unusual record. The climate and altitude are the most significant differences from the areas on the Illawarra Coast mentioned by Alan.
  • Berrima district is approx 670 metres above sea level, and being away from the coast, is subject to much colder temperatures and is much drier, than even the highest places on the Illawarra escarpment which were mentioned by Alan as places where Noisy Pittas have been reported previously.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hailing White Stones out of a Black Sky

This afternoon, a sudden weather change brought a wall of cloud up out of Kangaroo Valley. That grey cloud wall met another black cloud just above Robertson, and bang, it was on for young and old.

My brother Brendan and I shut the windows and doors, and dragged under cover on the front verandah any tools and some picture rails which I had just painted. Just in time too.

Suddenly, the sound of hammering started.
Large hails stones were not just falling
they were lashing the garden and the house roof.

The front yard turned white in moments.

I rushed out to Brendan's car, to retrieve my camera, and I suddenly realised how dangerous it is to try to run across hail stones, for once they pack down, it is like a bed of pure white ball bearings. I managed to walk back down the gentle slope in front of the house without slipping and falling over, but only by hanging on to a branch from a small tree in front of the house. That little sapling in the centre of the image
saved me from falling.

Here are some photos of the hail on the back deck.
And a zoomed image of the hail against the little step on the deck.
You can see the particle size, average 8mm in diameter,
but some as large as 12 mm.
Not huge, but a great hail storm, none the less..
And this is the Weather Bureau Radar Map
from Terry Hills (north Sydney)
The regular 128 Km Sydney Radar - from Appin
was not functioning.

You can judge the intensity of the storm.So much excitement from a 15 minute storm.

To celebrate the painting of the corridor
and the reproduction of dark green picture rails
(for which I did all the mitre cuts on the drop-saw)
I decided to celebrate with a glass of Absinthe.

I commented to Brendan that I didn't have any ice in the freezer,
and he laughed and said there heaps of it on the back deck.
And of course he was right.

So several moments later,
I was out scooping up the fresh "heavenly ice"

and adding the Absinthe
to create the perfect "Green Fairy".
A cocktail - served courtesy of the Great Bartender in the Sky!

How Cool is that?
Chilling out - now off to bed.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Another Tree Peony - "Good Lady"

This is a hybrid Tree Peony, "Good Lady" bred by Dr Bernard Chow in Melbourne. It is doing very well for me this season.I had some trouble with the strong winds last week, and I tied the shrub together, as when the flowers are developing the plant is subject to great risk of branches snapping off (if it is windy). The plant survived OK.
Buds developing on Good Lady.
Today picked 4 flowers, and gave them to a friend of mine, the artist Judy Benjamin.
A vase of "Good Lady" flowers in front of
one of Judy's own paintings.
Judy arranged my flowers, and
placed them in front of one of her painting.
Together we created a symphony in mauve pinks and blue.
I know she likes Peonies, and this one is special. I explained to Judy that it suits me to cut the flowers, as they last better when cut, and also, it helps the plant to focus its growth energy for next year.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Orchids from the Shoalhaven wet gullies

By contrast with the Orchids from yesterday which grow on dry Sandstone ridge country (well, not really dry, because of the relatively high rainfall, but well drained at least), today I will show a few Orchids from a mere 10 Km away, but in a totally different environment.

Budgong Creek can be accessed via the Budgong Fire Trail (off the Tallowa Dam Road in Kangaroo Valley). Yesterday it was pretty rough, I must admit. There is a better road up and over the ridge of Mt Scanzi - which road leads off the Tallowa Dam Road closer to Kangaroo Valley; or if one is coming from Nowra, turn off the Highway at the Shoalhaven River, and follow Illaroo Road.

Anyway, in the deep gully there, the forest is a combination of Eucalypts, Coachwood and some Grey Myrtle (Backhousia myrtifolia). The rocks in the edges of the gullies there are coated in moss and lichen and various native creepers, including a very small native Peperomia. Probably Peperomia tetraphylla, but I have not checked it out for sure.

The other plant of note on the rocks was a Plectranthus - a blue flowered relative of the Salvia tribe. Probably Plectranthus parviflorus.
When I talk about rocks, I am talking about rocks as large as houses, which have either been eroded or degraded, or maybe some have tumbled down the hills from higher above.

One has to be very careful when scrambling around in this country, for the dead branches lying around are half rotten, usually, and there is deep leaf litter everywhere, so crevices between rocks can be covered over, and look solid, but are traps for the unwary. I am not a happy rock climber at the best of times. When tired, and it is getting cold and dark, that is not a good situation. I worked my way down into the creek bed, very carefully and was quite relieved to be safely back in the car, and heading for home. At least I did not encounter any Leeches yesterday.

On very protected faces of mossy rocks
there were carpets of this Orchid.
That makes it a "lithophyte"
growing ON rocks (amongst mosses),
but not parasitic in any sense.
It used by known as Bulbophyllum shepherdii.
These days it is called Oxysepala shepherdii
This plant grows just as happily on dead trees.
So, it is both an "epiphyte" and a "lithophyte".
At first I thought that I had missed seeing the flowers
(too late again?).

From about an arms length away,
there seemed to be tiny dried shells of old flowers.
Then I realised that I could see little orange "labellums".
These plants were rampantly in flower!

A word about these plants is appropriate.
There is another species of "Bulbophyllum" in the district. Its leaves are far smaller. The leaves of this species are about 2.5 cm long and have a deep groove in the upper surface.
They are succulent leaves, not dissimilar in feel to "Pigface".
In the first photograph (above) you can see many of the "pseudobulbs" which form along the stems of these plants.

Here is a close-up of a single flower.
I have pasted a re-size image onto the cropped image,
to give a true idea of scale (when blown up to full size).
Click to enlarge.
This tiny single flower is gripped between
my thumb and forefinger.

You can see from the way these flowers hang down in nature,
they do not mind which way they hold their flowers.
So I could not decide which way to show the flower,
but David Jones's illustration shows the plant side on
with the labellum in the lower section of the flower.
PlantNET shows the flower the wrong way round.

It looks right, that way, but it is botanically incorrect.
The other epiphytic (or lithophytic) Orchid
which was in flower there yesterday

is the lovely Sarcochilus olivaceus.
David Jones refers to this one as
Sarcochilus parviflorus

but that
name is not even mentioned in PlantNET.
Here is the flower at its natural pendant angle.
The flower opening is facing downwards.
Here is the flower held up, so one can see "into" the flower.
The column is very prominent above the flower (in this view).
Remember it normally is held "face down".
The deeply cupped labellum has very prominent "lateral lobes"
which you can see clearly if you click to enlarge the image.
These lateral lobes seem to reach around, to almost touch eachother.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Orchids of Tallowa Dam road, Kangaroo Valley

Today I was invited by Beth Boughton to go down to the Three Lookouts Fire Trail, along the Tallowa Dam Road (south from Kangaroo Valley). It is on the Shoalhaven River, at the junction with the Kangaroo River.
We went out along the Fire Trail to the Tallowa Dam Lookout.
The wildflowers along this track were beautiful to see.

Of course I took some photos of many different flowers, but I lack the necessary reference books to identify them all properly, so I might leave that to another day.

I can identify the Orchids, however.

The first we found (in the car park area) were Tiger Orchids (Diuris sulphurea) which I have photographed previously - so I did not bother today.

Then we came to a patch of Spotted Sun Orchids (Thelymitra ixioides). These were the first I have seen open in the Southern Highlands (this year).
To follow up from previous postings about Beard Orchids, here is the "Red Beard Orchid" - Calochilus paludosus. A lovely specimen with the flower fully open, and the dorsal sepal held upright (not bent over as in C. robertsonii - published previously).
The most unusual Orchid (uncommon, locally) we saw was this one - The Tall Leek Orchid, Prasophyllum elatum. I have a note in one of my plant books that I "may" have seen this plant 7 years ago. But in those days I did not have a camera, and so I have no definite records of the sighting. This is the first time I have photographed this species.
This second plant was growing out from under a shrub, and it has straightened up. You can see the green leaf and the very dark stem on which the flower buds are very tightly held closely against the stem (ovaries "adpressed").
Here is the flower stem closer up.
And one flower image "cropped".

The flowers of Leek Orchids are upside-down compared to most Ground Orchids. If you go back to the Beard Orchid for a moment
you can see what I mean.
The red bearded "labellum" is underneath that flower whereas in this flower it is the dorsal sepal (normally the"hood") which is underneath the flower. The two "lateral sepals" are fused together over the flower. They act to protect the Labellum, which is the white bit surrounding the column (yellow bit).
After we found that one, we walked a bit further and found
yet another Leek Orchid species.

This one was just finishing, whereas the other was just starting.
This is the Yellow Leek Orchid, Prasophyllum flavum. The stem and the leaf of the plant were all yellowish green. Contrast that with the dark stem of the previous species.

Just about everything about these flowers is old and damaged.
But you can discern the distinctive
crimped and wrinkled edge of the labellum.
That is the white part above the centre of the flower.This Orchid is not common in the Southern Highlands or the Shoalhaven district. I photographed one last year, in Penrose, in mid November. So, this plant might be a bit early.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Red Charm - Herbaceous Peony

This spectacular flower opened yesterday.
It is the Herbaceous Peony "Red Charm" (one of the many showy "hybrid herbaceous Peonies").

I had watched the bud starting to open - over the previous week.
I love it when Red Charm starts to "show colour". I love the contrast between the red and the green.

This was on 14 OctoberOn 18 October it had opened more than half.
Here it is at 8:21 am
Still showing some dew drops on the brilliant scarlet red petals.
Half an hour later, it was a little more open.
At 9:22 am it was fully open and in full glorious colour.
The carpels are just visible in the centre of the flower
amongst all the short "staminodes" (modified stamens)
Late in the day it was starting to close over
It does that to protect the sensitive inner part of the flower.
Late in the afternoon, at 5:05 pm, it had just about "closed up shop."
Early in the morning, on day 2, it was back in business.
Here you see it fully opened again.
What a stunning flower.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Japanese Tree Peonies

A couple of very different Japanese Tree Peonies (different from eachother, I mean).

One is a fully double pink Tree Peony. Unlike my previous posting on a Japanese Tree Peony which I now realise was wrongly named, this one ought to be the true "Echigo-jishi"

The second one has not flowered for me in several years, so I really welcome this flower. I believe it is Kinkaden a stunning dark red flower - which is a very unusual colour in pure Japanese Tree Peonies. Some of the later Hybrid Tree Peonies (which brought in dark colours from a small species Tree Peony now known as Paeonia delavayi) have achieved similar dark colours. But those plants have very different leaves and tend to flower as much as a month later than this plant.

Do I have to say anything more?

Here are the flowers:
Echigo-jishi (in situ)
I like to cut these flowers once they open properly,
to enjoy the flowers, and to protect them from strong wind.
Here is is on a kitchen window-sill.
This shot was taken with a flash, in the late afternoon.
The flower is so large (23 cm across)
I had to put it on the floor to photograph it with my favourite Micro Lens
And here is Tree Peony "Kinkaden"
A stunning dark red flower.
This flower has a mass of ripe pollen.
Late in the afternoon, I took these two Peony flowers to my friend George
who has a love of all things Oriental, including Tree Peonies.
He has used the flowers to decorate his house,
carefully placed beside a Japanese figurine,
and an ornamental vase with Tree Peony flowers on it.
He published this image on Facebook.
Very tasteful, George.
Glad you liked my flowers.