Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Corybas (Corysanthes) Orchids at Thirlmere and Jervis Bay

I wish to show you some Orchids I photographed yesterday at Thirlmere Lakes National Park.

Before showing you the Orchids, though, I must show this photo. It is a composite of a snap I took yesterday, and one that a friend of mine, Angela, took of a family picnic at Thirlmere Lakes in early 1993 (dated by the age of the children).
You need to click on the image to enlarge it. The point of comparison is that what once was a stone wall at the lake edge, is now a wall some 75 metres distant from the Lake. There are Wattles and other shrubs, about 5 metres tall, growing in the dry sand where the lake has receded. Its level has dropped approximately 20 metres. This is a national disgrace.

However, the area is still providing good Orchid habitat. These are Corysanthes fimbriata (formerly Corybas). The Corybas group are known generally as "Helmet Orchids" for reasons which will become apparent as you read on.

Funny little things, they resemble grapes dropped on the forest floor. They are about that size too, 

These were in the wettest part of the Thirlmere Lakes NP, close to the Blue Gum Creek section (about as far as one can go, except on foot). Technically, at this point one is in the Nattai National Park, part of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. In reality, we are still within the Thirlmere area - but there is a definite habitat change in this "far end" of the park. These Orchids were growing in deep leaf litter, in a wet gully, under tall Eucalypts, with some rainforest trees around as well.
Corysanthes fimbriata - face on.
Corysanthes fimbriata -note speckled hood, and fringe visible
Corysanthes fimbriata - viewed just off to the side

Needless to say, everything about the Corybas tribe of orchids involves lying down on the forest floor, to get any decent sort of shots. Fortunately the forest was dry, and the Leeches were all asleep (as befits their Winter Solstice mode), I would hate to do this in summer.

For comparison, here are some related plants, seen at Jervis Bay the week before.

The two sites are similar in one respect. Both are within Sandstone habitats, with deep grey sandy soil. The Jervis Bay site (for the following flowers) is coastal, south from Nowra, the Thirlmere Lakes site is in the heart of the southern "Sydney Basin", close to the Warragamba catchment (see linked "Location" map at the very end of this post - in the red Blogger footnotes).

You can see the Corybas family resemblance. A rounded leaf, flat on the ground, with a funny little hooded flower on a very short stem. Unlike some Corybas species, the flowers of both today's species are open to the outside world, because they are angled back, leaving easy access for pollinators.

These plants are Corysanthes pruinosa
Corysanthes pruinosa - seen from the rear top view.
Note the silvery grey tops of the flowers. whereas the previous ones were dark red and spotty, and very dark inside the flower. Both are heavily fringed around the outside edge of the flower (lower lip).
Corysanthes pruinosa - my best front on view

Corysanthes pruinosa - looking like little spotted "Marbles" on the ground. 

The trick with these plants is to look for their leaves - on the ground. Find them, and then look closely for the flowers. See one, you might realise there are many around.

Unfortunately, my flash unit ran out of battery power at this point and it was way too far to walk back to the car to get spares. So this is the best I can offer.

You'll get the point, however.

I have called these the "Three Wise Monkey" Orchids.
Three Wise Monkey Orchids - Corybas pruinosa.
Perfect grouping.
Completely natural.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Further along the circuit of "The Shoalhaven"

This story continues the Shoalhaven "circuit" story I started yesterday.

Referring back to the map I posted yesterday, this at the point marked "E" on that map.
These shots show different aspects of the same road cutting - about 3oo metres long. It is in the Windellama area (south from there, actually - but that is the closest landmark). It is on the Oallen Ford Road.

The geology of this area, which is not far from the famed Bungonia State Conservation area, and the Bungonia Gorge. That area is famous for its limestone patches, and resultant gorges and even some caves. But this area is showing some remarkable geology itself. I am not a geologist, but I recognise odd formations when I come across them - in this case, thanks to the roadworks which have exposed them,

The hillside starts with yellowish rocks, probably with a trace of ochre. Then is goes to grey, then almost white, then back again (as you look the other direction), up the hill.
Windellama - Oallen Ford Road cutting looking down hill

Windellama - Oallen Ford Road cutting looking up hill
Here you can see this very fine and soft layered rock. It looks to me like a soft shale. My friend Celeste told me it could well be used for porcelain clay.
Fine shards of layered rock

The rock is so soft it breaks up in one's hand leaving a fine powder.
This small area is apparently an old creek bed, filled with coarse river gravel

You also find this fine shale - layered fragments - obviously sedimentary rocks
Again, referring back to the map from yesterday, this is the point marked "G" on that map - just east from Nerriga.

This is the southern end of the "Sydney Sandstone" formation which runs from the Blue Mountains, to Sydney itself, the Illawarra Plateau and down south and west from Nowra to this point. Technically there are different sandstone formations within that huge area, but in general terms its not far wrong. This photo is taken looking south-east, from a point east of Nerriga. The Endrick River is at the near base of these cliffs. You cross the river, then go up Bulee Gap. The RTA has some signs to commemorate this pass as having been used as the historic "Wool Road" to export wool from the Southen Tablelands, via Jervis Bay.

Beehive formations on Bulee Gap
In this case these "Beehive formations" are very similar to the "Pagoda formations" in the Garden of Stone, north from Lithgow. Both are on the western side of the Escarpment. The rocks are very ancient formations and very eroded. So they do not give the same clean cliff lines that one associated with the Katoomba area, or locally, at Fitzroy Falls, or Tianjara Falls (which are not far from these formations, the other side of the hill, below Sassafras).

Blogger's photo uploading facility is still playing up, so more in a few days time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A circuit of the inner Shoalhaven Valley

Regular readers will know that I live on the very northern limit of the Shoalhaven Valley. My septic tank drains into the deep basalt soil which helps feed Wallagunda Creek, which becomes Barrengarry Creek, which drops over Belmore Falls and runs into Kangaroo Valley, and hence to Tallowa Dam and the Shoalhaven River.
 View from my back deck on a crystal clear winter's day.
View of Kangaroo Valley and Shoalhaven Valley beyond.
 Ignore the Power Pole.
Mt Scanzi is the conical mountain, 
just to the left of the power pole.
The tower (tall column) visible on the plateau at right is the
"surge tank" in the pipeline between 
the Shoalhaven System (Bendeela pondage)
and Fitzroy Falls Reservoir.
Here is Mt Scanzi zoomed.
Mt Scanzi sits between Lower Kangaroo Valley and the Shoalhaven River.

You may recall my recent posting about the Purple Fly and the mysterious Grub, which turned out to be the most strangely matched couple it has ever been my pleasure to meet up with. Well, at the end of that discovery process I was asked if I could deliver some specimens to the worthy entomologist who had written about them, and who told me what they were.

As I had a forthcoming commitment to drive to Huskisson, for Alan Stephenson's book launch, it occurred to me I could combine a trip to meet up with Penny at her weekend retreat at Windellama, south from Marulan, and then go south to Nerriga and east to Jervis Bay, and circle back to Robertson via Kangaroo Valley. That would neatly give me a circuit of the inner edge of the Shoalhaven Valley, take in some "new country" at the same time, and minimise any "backtracking.

Here is my route.
Being a back-roads person I am pleased to say my entire round trip of 330 Km involved only 15 Kms of "highway" traffic (5 Km at Marulan and 10 Km at Nowra.). The rest was good quality back roads, mostly bitumen (except Nowra to Kangaroo Valley via Budgong and Mt Scanzi).

Blogger photo uploader seems to be broken. Damn.

I tried to post some photos I took along the way.
I'll post this quarter of the story now, anyway. Hopefully Blogger will be back on line tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

200,000 visitors and A Winter Solstice post

Some time in the last week, while I have been not looking, because I have been sick, we crossed the 200 000 threshold of visitors.

To my many patient friends, thank you so much.
To reward you, here is a little present. 


To refresh your memory, this is one of the strange bugs which Kirsten and I found at Meryla Pass. They were identified by some excellent sleuthing by Dave Rentz and then by his ANU associate. Dr Penny Gullan.

Female Callipappus insect - with abdomen fully extended (not yet mated, presumably).
This is a new image.
It shows the "marsupium" of the Callipappus insect, retracted.
To get the point, 
count the body segments visible on the top shot.
Then count back from the last legs.
Then count the body segments visible 
behind the last legs, on this image.
This is what the females look like when they retract the body to form the "marsupium"
As Penny wrote, "The female then pulls her abdomen into her thorax to make a chamber, or marsupium, into which she lays her eggs."

The white fluffy stuff reminds me of the material that "Mealybugs" use to protect themselves. The Mealybug seems to be related (distantly, as far as I can work out) to these Callipappus Insects, which Dave first told me were related to Scale insects (as hard as that was for me to grasp at the time). After looking closely at this image of the obviously pregnant female growing all that white fluffy stuff out of her "pouch", that at least makes a little more sense to me.

The Callipappus "discovery" (not new to science or anything like that), but such a strange creature (with an even stranger mate, if you recall) that it was all new to me, felt like a total revelation of Nature, to me.

Just when I felt I knew a thing or two about the Nature of Robertson, something like these creatures turns up to show how little one really does know.

And that just proves the point that one should always keep on looking, and asking questions about what is there - right in front of one's eyes.


Here is another image, of a lovely winter-flowering Orchid the "Hunchback Orchid" - a variant of a Leek Orchid. It is called Mecopodum striatum.

Click on the image to enlarge it.
It is worth studying, It  has a lovely shape and colour balance.
For a non-showy Orchid it is very, very nice.
Plus it flowers in the bleakest time of the year.
So that makes me like it more than I might otherwise do.

Happy Winter Solstice to all my patient readers.

I have hundreds of photos yet to publish.
But because I have been sick with severe sinusitis
but have still managed to go out on occasions on Orchid trips
I now have a huge backlog.
I have not had the energy to post the images, 
and tell the stories of these expeditions.

Coming back soon, to regular posting I hope.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Inquiry into Australia's biodiversity in a changing climate

This little piece of extraordinary news just came to me via my Birding colleagues in Canberra.

If it were not for the fact that I am an old Bureaucrat, I would say this sounds like good news. But in my opinion, it is never Good News when they propose a wide ranging Inquiry like this.

It smacks of Tony Burke being sick and tired of being nagged by "Hard Line Greenies" about him not complying with the EPBC Act, allowing the likes of the 40000 Coal Seam Gas wells in Queensland, and the prospect of the Pilliga Scrub going as well.

 What room is there for "biodiversity" here?
This is a real photo of gas wells near Tara, Queensland

The "economic and resource" Ministers in Cabinet are far more powerful than the likes of Tony Burke anyway.

Also, as the old adge was in Yes Minister: - "never waste a good crisis"
Apparently the quote owes more to Rahm Emanuel and the early days of the Obama Administration - but the point is the same:
While the Live Beef Export issue consumes the Media, Government strategists will think "lets sneak this one out there, while nobody's watching".

Stand by for a major shifting of the Goal Posts, folks.
The scope of the committee’s inquiry shall include some case studies of ‘nationally important ecosystems’

If I didn't know better I would say you can kiss the Murray Darling Basin goodbye.

The Great Barrier Reef is already transitioning to a major Coal Seam Gas and Coal export shipping lane.
Image courtesy of Gladstone Observer. Stephen Mills Photography
To understand this issue, you have to realise that the image above is not an image of a pristine Mangrove Habitat, full of endangered species, it is a coastal bog, in need of being "fixed".

See what Santos have in mind for Curtis Island at Gladstone.
and they are only one of the many "players".
QGC (a wholly-owned subidiary of British Gas)
John Holland (a subsidiary of Leightons Holdings)
Kellog Brown and Root (KBR) (they're available now to help us out, now that they've "delivered" in Iraq.

I could go on and on, but frankly looking at all these corporate statements makes me feel sick. 
In my opinion, this Government is hell bent on destroying what ecosystems we have left.

House Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts
Committee activities (inquiries and reports)

Inquiry into Australia's biodiversity in a changing climate

On Thursday, 2 June 2011 the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, the Hon Tony Burke MP and the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, the Hon Greg Combet AM MP, asked the Committee to inquire into and report on Australia's biodiversity in a changing climate. The Committee invites submissions addressing one or more of the points listed in the terms of reference. Please refer to our brochure called preparing a submission for more information.
In order to facilitate electronic publishing, submissions should be emailed to, by Friday 29 July 2011. For those who do not have access to email, submissions can be mailed to the Committee Secretariat.

Terms of reference
Public hearings
Media releases

Comments to: The Secretary of the Committee on PH: (02) 6277 4580 or FAX: (02) 6277 4424
or e-mail:
Last reviewed 6 June, 2011 by Committee Secretariat
© Commonwealth of Australia 

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Alan Stephenson's book "Orchid Species of the Shoalhaven"

Alan Stephenson's book "Orchid Species of the Shoalhaven" was launched at a World Environment Day event at a local Art Gallery in Huskisson on Saturday, 4 June.
The price is a mere $20.

There are notes and accompanying photos (one painted illustration) of all indigenous species of Orchids which are known to occur in the Shoalhaven region, plus two species which are believed to be extinct in the wild. The book has 54 pages, in A5 format, with an average of 3 or 4 species per page. In addition to specific information, there are also notes on unusual variant forms which Alan has photographed, plus notes on orchid structure, pollination, and habitat conservation - a subject dear to Alan's heart.

Each plant is listed by the current (recognised) name, as per the re-classification by the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research. However the older scientific names are also shown, plus "common names" where applicable. The index is searchable by any of these names.

This is not just a labour of love by Alan, (as we all know), but it is also a thoroughly well-researched reference book, which will be indispensable to all persons interested in the study of Orchids in the field.

Alan may be contacted directly via this email link.

Leo Cady is a legendary Orchadian. The species of Spider Orchid which Leo discovered, and which now bears his name, is illustrated in Alan's book, (from Leo's own watercolour painting). 
Alan explaining some detail of book publishing to Leo Cady and Mrs Cady

Unfortunately, the plant itself is believed to have gone extinct, owing to habitat disturbance, and a lack of appropriate conservation protection.

Friday, June 03, 2011

A fat grub, and a pretty, strange fly are partners

This is a long story, so I will try to keep it simple.

Kirsten and I were out at Meryla Pass road, just taking in the sights, out towards Bundanoon Creek. We stopped off at the first creek crossing there (a deep gully) which plunges even further down towards the Bundanoon Creek Reservoir.

This first creek crossing is a nice dry rocky outcrop, which is very good for Orchids in most seasons, except just now. We found lots of leaves and seed pods, though.

As we got back to the car, to go down to Griffins Fire Trail and to admire the views along that road, back towards Red Hills Ridge and Fitzroy Falls, we noticed some strange insects flying around, with prominent white tail tufts. Most unusual, and looking for all the world like the kind of "flies" that Fly Fishermen spend their lives "tying".
We went for a drive further out to Griffin's Fire Trail, which I thoroughly recommend, even if you do not run all the way down to the Shoalhaven River, which my friend Tegyn likes to regard as a "training run". I prefer to admire the view from the top.

Flying "bristle-tailed insect" as I dubbed it in my filing system.

 What a handsome Insect (even from the underneath side)
At least you get to see the tail bristles, and his "equipment".
Click to enlarge the image.
While I was chasing these shots,
my friend Kirsten had discovered some totally different strange grubs.
"Come and have a look at these weird things" was how I remember her call to me. 

Female of Bird of Paradise Fly (Calipappus sp)
They are not agile, but grip strongly on the bark of Scribbly Gums. 

 Here is a colony of them hiding under the loose bark of the Scribbly Gum.

Here is one photographed on my 62mm lens cap.
Partly for scale (size) reference, and frankly I wanted to check
if they could bite me, sting me or otherwise inflict injury to me.
Seemingly not.
The antennae. There is a tiny dot behind the base of the antennae
Apparently it is the eye.
 There is no mouth or chewing parts, or sucking probe.
How do they eat?
This one is demonstrating some flexibility, righting itself.
On a 62 mm lens cap, it is obviously approx 45 mm long. Quite large.
This last shot is a bit blurry, but it reveals the soft powdery coating that some of these insects had.
It also reveals that the insect is very front-end oriented. Behind the last pair of legs, it has no obvious vital organs. What's that about?

Anyway, having searched all the obvious insect reference sites looking for what I assumed were "ephemeral" insects, without any luck, I sought expert help from Dave Rentz of Bunyipco

What a guy!

He quickly responded with the advice that my insects were very interesting (very large specimens) and that they were a kind of bug, related to the "scale insects". (That's a puzzle for me, as they had no "sucking probe" as you can see in the underneath head shot).

More importantly, he told me that my "two insects" were male and female of the same species!!!
Final clue - the males are called "Bird of Paradise flies". What a wonderful poetic name, (except they aren't true flies).

Wow, that's some sexual dimorphism.

Finally, Dave sent my email on to Dr Penny Gullan, Emeritus Professor in the School of Biology at the ANU.

Her reply is as follows:
  • Well what an amazing coincidence!  I was looking at my microscope slide-mounts of these insects today as I am training a colleague in identification of scale insects (Hemiptera: Coccoidea). Denis' photos are of the adult male (winged "fly"), called a bird-of-paradise fly, and his adult female (the large larviform insect) of the genus Callipappus (family Callipappidae, previously in Margarodidae which has been split into more than 10 families). Callipappus nymphs feed underground on the roots of their host plant (we know very little about which plants they feed on) and emerge from the soil as adults to mate. The female then pulls her abdomen into her thorax to make a chamber, or marsupium, into which she lays her eggs. Probably the double orifice behind the legs is where the cuticle invaginates for attachments of muscles that help to pull the abdomen into the thorax. When the eggs hatch the little nymphs, called crawlers, head back down into the soil. Autumn is the only time of year when the adults are around.  
Penny sent me a pdf copy of an article she has written about them. Unfortunately, I seem to be unable to upload to from the borrowed computer I am using at present. The article is called "Giant females and "Bird of Paradise Flies".

Of course, as often happens with the Internet, once you know the name, you can find lots of images.
Sure enough the Chew Family website on Insects of Brisbane has a page on them, which shows males and females "together" as proof positive of their relationship.

Many thanks to Dave, and it is a tribute to the power of the Blogging network that I was able to seek help and get this one sorted. Much appreciated, Dave.

I am off to meet Penny tomorrow, to take a few live, hopefully fertilized specimens to her, so she can try to get some more life-cycle data from them and their "crawlers" if any hatch.

Finally, Penny answered my last question, this afternoon, about why they had no "sucking mouth parts", if they are "bugs"?

Simple, they feed underground (on roots) in the larval or nymph stage, and then these emerge as mature females, whose only function is to mate, and then tuck their long bellies back inside themselves, to form the "marsupium", and hold the eggs until the "crawlers" hatch out.
No feeding = no need for mouth parts.
Devoted mothers, they live only to breed, and die.

A few last questions remain unanswered, for me.
  • If the females are virtually sightless, why are the males so spectacularly showy?
  • What's the advantage of the long bristle-tail? That shuttlecock tail appendage surely slows them down when flying.
  • What's the point in being such an attractive violet colour?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Aquifers and Dentures - something to chew on

Cartoon by Matthew Martin in the Sydney Morning Herald

Miss Eagle back guest blogging behind Denis's back.  I spoke to him on the phone a few minutes ago and he told me that he and our friend Caroline Graham had made Page 3 in The Sydney Morning Herald to-day.  So if you are a German who lost your false teeth while on holidays in New South Wales, please get in touch.

FOOTNOTE (DJW 9 June 2011)
Thanks to Brigid for posting this, covering for me during in my "sick leave".

After fielding questions from afar, I finally was asked to send information to the German editor of Dental Tribune International. Of course. That makes sense.

This is what is meant by "going viral" on the Internet.
We cannot get any coverage of the World Heritage Lakes drying up, but persuade a journalist to write a story about a pair fo 30 year old False Teeth and the story goes around the world.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Denis : winter blues and flues : anger over pink poppies

Hi, Miss Eagle here.  I am guest posting at Denis's request.  He's laid up in bed - not good but well enough to be angry about a news item on to-night's ABC News. 

What has sparked the anger of our naturalist Denis is fields of pink poppy flowers in Afghanistan - Australian troops moving among the beautiful flowers which embody an ugly trade.  Why, Denis asks angrily, are Australian troops still there yet the opium trade still goes on, still supplying markets in the USA and Australia.  

I said to Denis that I had heard some defence in recent weeks where some quotes from "the powers that be" explained that, while there were activities directed at getting Afghanistan farmers to grow other crops, it was first things first. Defeat the insurgents and then agricultural transition could have a higher priority.  As well, the poppies were attracting very high prices and the poverty-stricken farmers could not be prevented from accessing markets to gain some income.

Now that is all very well but dealing with poppy cultivation as a high priority is not a recent issue.  That unique creature, the Lord Mayor of London Boris Johnson, blogged on this topic almost two years ago while British troops were fighting in Afghanistan.

The bare facts of the matter are:
  1. Poppy production appears to continue unabated.
  2. Proceeds from poppy production remain integral to the Afghanistan economy.
  3. Australian troops remain in Afghanistan without any firm commitment to a specific withdrawal date.
  4. Australian troops continue to die in Afghanistan for a country whose economy is strongly situated on a toxic base.
In short, Denis wonders what the hell Australia is still doing there and why the troops are not being brought home.  Denis also wants it to be known that when he is back on deck and expressing his anger personally on the computer, he will be dashing off letters on this topic to the Prime Minister of Australia and her Minister for Defence.