Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Saturday, April 30, 2011

"Light studies" - a "Photo Essay"

This is not about Belief.
This is about the things 
which make the Earth live.
 By that I mean truly alive.
Light, Water, Earth, Air 
and the frogs, fish and birds and plants.

Here are some "light study" images 
from the trip to Bermagui, last weekend.

At the coast, there is water.
Water changes the light, 
and light changes the way we see water.

Without wishing to start a fight with any of my Darwinian colleagues, I wish to quote several lines from Genesis Chapter 1 (King James Version, of course). The reason is simple - this is part of my culture - these lines are part of my terms of reference - when thinking about light, and water, and the origins of life. I cannot help that - however unfashionable it might seem.It was my starting point. So lets see where this little meditation leads us.

1: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2: And the earth was without form, and void; 
and darkness was upon the face of the deep. 
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3: And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Harsh light - staring into the sun reflected over the Ocean.
4: And God saw the light, that it was good: 
and God divided the light from the darkness.
Looking out to see, with the sun-light to my left. Morning light at its best
9: And God said, 
Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, 
and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
10: And God called the dry land Earth; 
and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas:
and God saw that it was good.

  This Pelican and I agree - 
Natural light, tweaked a little in processing the contrasts.
Whether it was done the way Genesis says ???
Well, that is not my view.
Lets move on. 
This is already a long-enough "Photo Essay" anyway.

Near the coast, beyond the dunes and the tea-trees, are hills which trap the rain. That produces features like the Mumbulla Falls, and the stream below the falls.
The sign explaining the significance of the "Sacred Waterhole" has been vandalised (stabbed through with a heavy duty hunting knife, in fact) but fortunately someone photographed it before it was damaged. You can read the sign here.
I recommend reading the full story, for it has echoes of the very things I am discussing here, in my Blog essay. 

Mumbulla Falls - seen from the viewing platform above.
Click to enlarge the image to see the details.
Mumbulla Falls (pink granite rock) and the "Sacred Waterhole"
Immediately beneath these falls was a fast running stream, 
In the same pool was an Eel
very hard to see because of the distortion of light and water. 
But alive it most certainly was -
swimming left and right
in this fast running water.

Light and water create everything we see.

Further down the stream there was a quiet pool 
where I was able to take this "reflection shot".
The  people were standing across the pool from me, and higher up
on the next rock ledge.
The image has been inverted, otherwise it would not make sense
at the casual glance.
Reflections in a quiet pool at Mumbulla Falls
This Striped Marsh Frog 
was nearly a victim of its love of water.
 This little frog was unable to escape 
from the steep-sided Dog Bowl.
But David liberated it.
I could not resist the image, though.
Light and dark, water and light together.
(Click to enlarge image)

Further back from the coast,
one finds dark rainforest patches, in deep gullies.

Such sites are perfect for the Coachwood Tree
For reasons I do not understand the Coachwood always has patches 
of soft grey-green colour, 
(which I always enjoy looking at), 
which seems to come from a microscopic lichen.

My eye was taken by the colour contrast 
offered by the single bright red berry of the Morinda vine 
against the grey green lichenised bark, 
and the moss growing on the Coachwood.
Click to enlarge the image.

Back into the light and water.
Here is a young male Fur Seal seen at Wagonga Inlet, Narooma.
The seals normally reside at Montague Island, 
but some have taken to life in the Wagonga Inlet, 
where they hang around the boat ramps 
and fish cleaning tables, waiting to be fed.
With the size of these animals, 
and the numbers of little children who like to watch
the seals and rays feeding
there is a potential accident waiting to happen at Narooma.

There need to be warning signs erected, 
and common-sense behaviour guidelines observed.
Make no mistake - 
this doe-eyed seal is a powerful wild animal.

Fur Seal, trying to "con" fishermen into feeding it with fish carcasses.
And my final piece in this 
photo essay about "light".
 Here is a near-perfect Spiderweb
(seen in the early-morning light, of course).
(Click to see the details in the web)
This spider is possibly the "Bush Orb Weaver"
and the fact that the Spider was quite small, 
and its web was very delicate. 
It was clearly was not one of the much larger Orb Weaver spiders
whose webs are very strong, 
(and often golden in colour - which this definitely was not).
Those webs can be quite scary when one walks through them
and then (shock horror) discovers that 
one is carrying the large spider on your chest.

This little spider was safely left undisturbed.
Possibly a Bush Orb Weaver (Araneus eburnus)
 Fortunately, I was able to avoid 
this gorgeous little Orb Weaver.
I left her in peace, delicately weaving her web
producing the silken web with her spinnerets 
and positioning it with her back legs.

Spider webs are 
some of the finest textures
we can see with our poor human eyes.

Insects and spiders, of course, would find that laughable.
But it comes back to my point about light.
 Walking towards the early-morning sun 
I could easily discern the spiders web
catching the light on the fine fibres.
But when returning to the car, 
(with my back to the sun)
I had to be very careful to remember where the web was located
or else I would have walked straight through it
without seeing a thing.

Spiders, Plants, Frogs, Seals, Birds 
all depend on 
Light and Water;
Air and Earth.
We need to treasure these elements
lest we lose everything.

This is our role in the universe
to be the custodians.
We risk being the destroyers instead.

Let us learn from observing
the importance of light and water.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Photos from Bermagui weekend

Here are just a few photos taken over the Easter Long Weekend which I spent at Bermagui, courtesy of David and Petra Young.

Firstly let us look at a Mosquito Orchid, Acianthus fornicatus.
A dense colony of these plants was found growing 
amongst coastal Banksia serrata trees,
and Tea Tree scrub, and Bangalay trees.
The Pacific Ocean was rolling in 
just 100 metres behind me as I took this photo.
The location was just south from Bermagui.
Acianthus fornicatus
Acianthus fornicatus- side view.
This next shot is taken through a fast-running stream,
immediately below Mumbulla Falls.
The water is dropping down a series of steep cascades (in the granite rock).
As the water falls down, it traps bubbles
which take some time to re-surface.
The mass of light colour low down in the image
is a mass of bubbles fighting to reach the surface.
This is an example of "fighting against the flow" of fast-moving water.

Bubbles temporarily buried under fast flowing water below Mumbulla Falls
This is a natural exudation from a sapling Wattle Tree.
It is probably caused by a "borer" 
(usually a large wood-boring Caterpillar of a Moth).
The Caterpillar enters the tree's bark and its chewing stimulates
the tree to produce these bubbles of sap.
It looks just like Styrofoam, but is completely natural.
The protruberance is quite small, a mere 40 mm long.
"Frozen Sap"
I believe this little cluster of young fungi are Gymnopilus junonius
They were growing in a tight group, coming from dead wood,
in a hollow Eucalypt trunk lying on the ground.
This is a small, hard Bracket Fungus
which was growing on a trunk of a medium-sized Casuarina tree.
It looks like the nose of a large dog, to me.
Does anyone else remember "Hooch" from "Turner and Hooch"?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ben Quilty "Toasted" in Robertson

Robertson artist Ben Quilty is no longer "just" a local celebrity, he is a national celebrity. He won the Moran Prize in 2009, and followed up by winning the Archibald Prize this year.

Jenny Kena, as Chair of the Robertson Community Technology Centre, hosted a community gathering to celebrate Ben's success in the Archibald Prize.

Jenny Kena welcomes the Robertson crowd to the Ben Quilty "toast".
Andrew Ford, another Robertson local, as well as being the host of the ABC Radio National's "The Music Show", was invited to put Ben through his paces in an "interview".
Andrew Ford "interviews" Ben Quilty.
Ben in pensive mood, as he frames his response to Andy's questions.

Andrew "proposes the Toast" to Ben Quilty
A light moment, afterwards. Ben and his daughter.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Helmet Orchids" - Corybas aconitiflorus

Corybas aconitiflorus "Spurred Helmet Orchid". 
These plants are just starting to flower here in the Southern Highlands.

I didn't find any of these plants in flower last year (even though I know of many localities where the plants grow), but I stumbled across these little guys more or less by accident several days ago, when going in search of the Hunchback Orchids at Manning Lookout.

These plants were growing right beside one of the tracks there which still leads to a now-closed-off "lookout" point. Its a bit like following a "Wombat Track" trying to push your way through the dense shrubbery. to get there, but stone steps cut into the rock, in some sections of the track clearly indicate the presence of an old track.

Corybas aconitiflorus - 5 cent coin for scale.
The 5 cent coin is the smallest coin in circulation, in Australia, these days. It is 19 mm in diameter, or 3/4 of an inch across. Clearly it is larger than the leaves of these plants.

There is some colour variation evident here, but I have seen these plants with dark red flowers. Today's colours are quite "normal" for this species, here in the Southern Highlands.
Corybas aconitiflorus
I like the look of this next particular flower. A bronzed look being a combination of the base colour green, and the red veining.

If you look underneath this flower, 
you will see the tiny "spurs" against the stem. 
Click to enlarge the image.
Corybas aconitiflorus
Corybas leaves are visible for much of the year (not permanently, however). They are notorious for being "shy to flower". In some circumstances one can find these leaves densely carpeting the ground, without finding a single flower. In that case, make a mental note of the place and the date, and come back next year. 

When they are starting to flower, they will show a minute bud from the short stem below the flat leaf, appearing to emerge from the "notch" in the heart-shaped (cordate) leaf. Although sometimes described as "rounded", these leaves are always eccentric, with the stem on one side of the leaf (not in the middle of the leaf).

The underneath of these leaves is normally a dull purplish colour. But they can be distinguished from the similar-looking leaves of Acianthus, by the fact that these plants have their leaves lying virtually flat on the ground. By contrast, Acianthus plants, which also have flat leaves, usually hold their leaves actually sitting above other small plants or grass leaves on a short stem, perhaps 2 cms tall. Normally one can easily slide one's finger below the Acianthus leaf, whereas to do that with Corybas leaf one has to "lift the leaf up".

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"Waterfall Greenhoods"

The name "Waterfall Greenhood" may seem easier than the normal scientific names, but it is perhaps misleading. For a "Greenhood", this is considerably reddish. But it is "beautiful" enough to warrant the specific name "pulchellum".

Here is a small colony of these plants growing in moist soil, close to a stream.
This is what they look like seen from above. One mature flower is open, and there is another (behind it) not yet open. (Click to enlarge the image).
Diplodium pulchellum - the Waterfall Greenhood

This plant has very particular habitat requirements and is therefore very restricted in its distribution. It is found near Robertson and elsewhere, along the Illawarra escarpment, but in just a few localities. Because of that fact, it is registered on the NSW Threatened Species list.

But what a stunning flower!
Diplodium pulchellum - the Waterfall Greenhood
This species normally flowers in February and early March in Robertson (just a few did flower in February). But we had a dry summer (relative to normal) but March was quite wet. So some of these plants have been spurred into action later than normal.

For me, it is worth the wait.

Note the red "labellum" poking out from the open front (sinus) of the flower. The labellum is actually "deeply notched" at the tip. You can just about make that out if you click on the image above, to enlarge it.

Or you can click this link to see a post of mine about this plant from 3 years ago. Typically, that plant was flowering in late February, 2008.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hunchback Orchids starting up in the Southern Highlands

I saw a budding Hunchback Orchid last week at Budderoo Plateau. But when I went back yesterday I could not find that plant. Perhaps a Wallaby or Wombat had eaten it as "lunch".

I did see several others (in flower) there, but they were not "out the open" (growing through shallow heath plants) so they were harder to photograph clearly.

Here are several plants I found at Manning Lookout (near Fitzroy Falls) today.

I really like the elegant lines of these flowers. 
The colour combination of deep red stripes 
over soft olive green base colour is very appealing.
The labellum is prominently creased
as well as being "reflexed" (bent upwards).
Mecopodum striatum - Eastern Hunchback Orchid
 The second flower in this pair has been disturbed somewhat, and the two pollen grains have been dislodged from their normal position. You can see on the left flower, the pollen grains are normally held under the column. Remember this Orchid, is now separated from the Leek Orchids (Prasophyllum) but is obviously closely related to them. Therefore, as with the Leek Orchids, its structure is "upside down" when compared to most Orchids. The dorsal sepal and column and hence the pollen grains are held low down in the flower. The labellum is the reflexed white organ which point up in the air.
Mecopodum striatum - Eastern Hunchback Orchid
Here is a single Speculantha I found there, too. A lovely specimen, but quite late flowering for this district. Alan still has Speculanthas in flower near Nowra, but the plants I know from Tourist Road have all finished flowering. I found other finished flowers today at the same location.
Speculantha sp aff parviflora - Sthn Highlands form.

This is a typical Southern Highlands form, albeit a very nicely coloured specimen. The "points" do not reach the top of the hood, much less exceed it. Click to enlarge the image, to discern what I am trying to describe. Look for the curving sepal held close beside the hood.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A School of Prawn Orchids

What better to term to describe what we found today on a rocky hillside near Sassafras, than a "School of Prawn Orchids"?

You can see the origins of the name here
Crangonorchis pedoglossa - The Prawn Orchid.
It is in fact this species is an extreme form
of Greenhood Orchid.
Formerly known as Pterostylis pedoglossa.
The dorsal sepal is extended as a "nose",
(technically called a "filiform point")
and the two tips of the lateral sepals 
are also filiform.
They are usually erect, but some are reflexed.

 Here is the botanical illustration from PlantNET,
which shows pretty clearly the structure of the flower, 
just as you see it in the photo.
By way of preamble to this story I should say that the "we" refers to myself, Alan Stephenson and, for the first time, my Blogging colleague Martin Butterfield and his wife Frances. And a very pleasant day was had by all. The visit came about because I wanted to go to Sassafras to see these Prawn Orchids, which I first saw this time two years ago. And as Sassafras is about equidistant from Robertson and Bungendore, I asked Martin if he wished to join us. EDIT: Martin's write up of the trip is here.

These tiny Greenhoods are actually hard to find (at first). They were growing on a steep hillside, on shallow soil, mostly growing between and under low-growing heath sub-shrubs, or jammed in beside rocks.
Habitat shots courtesy of Alan Stephenson
Fortunately, I am not in any compromising positions
in these images, for I had been 
"inching along" these ledges,
and lying semi-prone across the bare rock faces,
while photographing the tiny Orchids.
They live amongst the small shrubs, 
just above each ledge.
Each ledge is about waist height, 
But it is on far too steep an angle
for safe walking.
But the flat section below each ledge
(where one walks)
is covered with loose ironstone pebbles
and large chips of flaked rock.
There is very little stable foothold.
Habitat A - looking north
 Habitat B - looking south (from just below the same ledge)

Once you get to where the Orchids are likely to be growing, and once recognise what you are looking for, you will realise, suddenly, there are lots of them around and about.

Here are two Prawn Orchids 
seemingly bowing to eachother.
Is this some weird Prawn Dance?
Crangonorchis pedoglossa - The Prawn Orchid
Here is the best group we found today.
There are 10 mature flowers in this image, 
but there are some 30 rosettes in this colony.
 A "school of Prawn Orchids"?
This is a loose group, within a narrow alleyway
between small dense shrubs.
Click to enlarge.

Martin was teasing me about not having seen me "getting down and dirty" (as I often complain about - on this Blog - having to do to photograph inside Orchid flowers. I said that these were just too short, and with the shape of the "hood and nose", it was barely possible to see anything anyway. However, I did find a few plants growing on a rock ledge where I could lie down on the rocks and approach the flowers from below. Then I gently pushed one flower backwards to look inside.

Surprise, surprise.

Not only was there a Midge inside the flower, but after developing the image tonight, I realised that there was a minute "flower spider" inside the hood, which had trapped the midge in its web. "S*ex and Death" is a perennial theme in the relationship between Orchids and insects.

Click to enlarge this next image to see the details.
Midge and tiny "Flower Spider" inside the Orchid flower.
The Midge has been snared in the web, 
so it is not sitting "naturally".
The bright line coming forward 
(from the left of the flower)
is the pointed "nose" of the Orchid,
which is the tip of the dorsal sepal .
You can also see a line of spider web 
in front of the flower.
The books refer to "Gnats" 
pollinating these Orchids,
Looks about right to me.

These are very small plants. 
The leaf rosette is smaller than a 5 cent coin.

We found a few other species of Orchids today, most of which I have shown in some form or other over the laast few weeks. The most notable were the Pharochilum daintreanum, of which we found many, in several different locations. We also saw Eriochilus petricola (on the rock shelves), Eriochilus cucculatus (flowers mostly finished, but some quite large leaves, which grow once the flowers have finished). Alan and I saw lots of Speculantha ventricosa earlier on in the morning, and later on, I found one solitary Speculantha of indeterminate species, on a great rock shelf on Twelve Mile Road (northern section) in the beginnings of the Budawangs. Unfortunately, the road was closed, at about the 15 Km mark, so we could not go as far out into the Budawangs as we had hoped.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Two midget Midge Orchids

These Corunastylis are not as short as several others you have seen this summer have been, but their flowers are very small, none the less. Hence today's title. Plus, I love the "sound" of it. 

Both of these species were "new" for me, when Alan Stephenson showed them to me, last Friday. With the Pharochilum daintreanum, the  Speculantha ventricosa, and today's two new species (for me), it was a big day.

This is Corunastylis despectans, as found in Tomerong, NSW (south from Nowra). This plant has a very limited distribution and is classed as a threatened species (ROTAP category 2K )

This is how little one tends to see - at first, until one gets down and dirty, to examine it closely. 

One needs to do that, because even with a good macro lens, it is hard to distinguish these flowers. I shall try to describe the subtle differences between these plants.

Corunastylis despectans (in situ)
Corunastylis despectans (red form)
If you click to enlarge this image you can see
that the labellum of the flower in the centre of the image
and also the lowers flower
is clearly anarrow wedge-shaped labellum
(in contrast with the next species 2 images below).
Corunastylis despectans - same plant - a bit closer
This specimen of Corunastylis despectans 
is considerably lighter in colour than the previous one.
Corunastylis despectans (light coloured form).

Colin and Mischa Rowan have a full page of images of this species, taken on a recent visit to the Nowra district.


Here is Corunastylis laminata, 
another small-flowered Midge Orchid.
This is what one sees when bending down to peer at the plant.
Corunastylis laminata, another reddish Midge Orchid
I was having trouble getting proper focus,
so I have borrowed some photos from Alan Stephenson. 
Thanks Alan.

Here is one of Alan's images 
from the same place as my photo above.
(Falls Creek, south from Nowra, NSW)
If you click to enlarge, you can detect that
this species has a furry tip to the labellum.
Corunastylis laminata - Falls Crk, NSW (Photo: Alan Stephenson)
Here is a second plant from the same place
If you click to enlarge this shot 
you can see that the labellum 
(facing the camera on about the 3rd flower from top)
is noticeably broader than the
tiny wedge-shaped labellum of the first species 
(discussed above).
Corunastylis laminata - Falls Crk, NSW (Photo: Alan Stephenson)
This image was taken by Alan elsewhere, on another day.
It is the same species - (Corunastylis laminata).
Once again, one can see the broad upper side of the labellum
especially obvious on the lowest flower.
One can also just discern the small hairs
on the edge of the labellum.
Corunastylis laminata - Yarran Road NSW (Photo: Alan Stephenson)
My thanks once again to Alan Stephenson 
for the use of his 3 images tonight.

Once again, Colin and Mischa Rowan have excellent photos
of this species on their site.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A new Tiny Greenhood - Speculantha ventricosa

This is a bit exciting - for me. It is my opportunity to be the first to Blog about a recently described species of Tiny Greenhood. Last Friday Alan Stephenson and I explored for other Orchids after our visit to Granite Falls. This is one of the species we found.

This is Speculantha ventricosa, described by David Jones in the September 2008 edition of The Orchadian, Vol 16 #1. (Cover and contents page only shown). Photos of this species, under this name, have been published on the Internet previously, by Alan Stephenson. Also it is referred to in this article by Alan re the Heritage Estate, near Vincentia, NSW. He has also nominated it as a Critically Endangered Species under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act. Its Draft Listing is under the old (more widely accepted) name Pterostylis ventricosa.

This species has previously been identified by way of descriptive names, such as Colin and Mischa Rowan's use of the phrase: "Speculantha sp. aff. parviflora - A Red Form" (The "sp aff" is shorthand for "Species close to, but separate from" Speculantha parviflora). Colin and Mischa have some very nice photos of this species, taken in the same district as today's plants, from south of Nowra. I have no doubt that his images and mine today, are of the same species. The difference is that after discussions and close examination of our photos from last Friday, and his earlier images of the plants which David Jones originally described, Alan has now gone back to David Jones to obtain confirmation that it is appropriate to name these plants with the name Speculantha ventricosa.

Here is a copy of the "recognition notes" 
from David Jones's original text  naming this species.

Click to enlarge text.

David Jones has confirmed the identification of these plants 
in a personal email to Alan Stephenson.

These plants differ from the similar plants found in Kangaloon which do not have the "points" (or ears) protruding above the top of the "hood" (galea).
  1. My local tan coloured form has a shallow (non-protruding) sinus and "points" which do not rise above the "hood". The tip of the dorsal sepal is rounded, not pointed as in today's species, or the nominal species (linked below).
  2. Another local plant is the true "nominal" species, Speculantha parviflora. It has a very prominent sinus (bulging out in front) and ears which reach but do not protrude above the hood.
The plants in today's post were found along the lower end of Twelve Mile Road (when we were on the way back from Granite Falls).

Firstly let us note the colour variation. 
These flowers open from the low end of the stem (bottom first).
As they age, these flowers tend to show a lighter orange-red colouring.
Speculantha ventricosa (near Nowra NSW)
This image shows the "Points" (ears).
These are the tips of the "lateral Sepals"
Speculantha ventricosa (near Nowra NSW)
This stem of flowers is fresh, and dark.
They show more green than the previous examples.
But the points are very noticeable.
Speculantha ventricosa (near Nowra NSW)
 This stem has four open flowers, and several yet to come.
Speculantha ventricosa (near Nowra NSW) 
Single flower cropped image
Points of the Lateral Sepals are curved over the "hood" (galea)
Speculantha ventricosa (near Nowra NSW) - single flower cropped
 Note the tip of the labellum is visible in this image.
That is unusual to see in these Tiny Greenhoods.
The point of the dorsal sepal is separated from the petals.
Speculantha ventricosa (near Nowra NSW) - single flower cropped

Here is a labelled image.
Note the pointed tip of the dorsal sepal
(the tip of the "hood" is pointed)
contrasted with my tan form from Kangaloon.
In that (linked) case the plant has a very heavily snubbed "nose".

(Click on photo to enlarge)

How much fun can one have on one day?
And there are the Corunastylis images yet to come.