Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Common Splendid Ghost Moth (male)

I have previously posted about the female of this species - the Common Splendid Ghost Moth - Aenetus ligniveren.  

She looked totally different from this fellow - so much so that when I found this one, I knew I ought to recognise it, but could not. 

I had only ever seen pictures of the male, not the real thing. The female was brown with green patches on her wings.
This fellow was a lovely apple green with silver stripes across its wings, a silvery head, really large brown eyes. He was intent on hanging from stems of grasses and Lomandra leaves. The wings were held closed against the body, almost as a Fruit Bat does. A very strange wing position for a Moth.

Strangely, both encounters with this species were around the same time, and both involved Kirsten. The last one we a somewhat more personal encounter with Kirsten, as the female moth laid a clutch of eggs in Kirsten's hands, in the previous encounter.

On Sunday, we went down to Kirkland Road, looking for Orchids (of course). But as with all true Naturalists, anything and almost everything unusual is of interest to us both. Kirsten is more keen on insignificant herbs than I am, and especially grasses - but that is an on-going debate.  

Anyway, I spotted this handsome Moth hanging from a stem of Lomandra, initially. 
I suspect it was just warming itself up, 
perhaps having only recently emerged from its pupa.

Aenetus ligniveren - Kirsten lining the moth up for a close-up.

Common Splendid Ghost Moth - Aenetus ligniveren
 From above, you can see the silvery white head
the huge brown eyes.
The wings are wrapped around below the body.
with the leg in front of the eye, you can how hairy the legs are.
(Click to enlarge image).
Aenetus ligniveren - head on view of male

Male Aenetus ligniveren hanging from grass stem by one leg.
 Note how the hairs on the body 
have been brushed onto the eyes and face
of the Moth.
It has relatively small antennae, which actually surprises me.
But it matches this CSIRO specimen.
head view of male Aenetus ligniveren

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hay Fever season is upon us.

Some of my friends in Robertson are suffering really bad "Hay Fever" at present.

As I understand this issue, it might be more of a reaction to an irritant perfume, than an actual (medical) allergic reaction which is an immune system reaction, or the milder inflammation of the eyes and nose, which is the true Hay Fever. It is nearly always an allergy to wind-borne pollens, which mostly come from grasses and some wind-pollinated plants (such as Pines and Willows). But Wikipedia states that: "An estimated 90% of hay fever sufferers are allergic to grass pollen."
 This is a common irritating grass.
Yorkshire Fog
The reason that insect pollinated plants are largely discounted as allergy-causative, is that the pollen grains of insect pollinated plants are relatively large and heavy, and so do not travel far. By contrast, the ultra-fine pollens of grass and Pines can travel around the world, on the wind.

Assorted weedy grasses beside the Railway Line in Robertson
I recommend that individuals try to work out if their "Hay Fever" is caused by true allergies to grass pollens and other wind-blown pollens which might possibly require medically supervised intervention. (Doctor's treatment).  If you feel you do need medical assistance, start by talking to your local chemist or if you feel it is more severe than I am describing, see your friendly local GP

On the other hand, if you are suffering an adverse reaction to a strong and moderately irritating plant perfume,  your problem is most likely to be caused by Privets and less likely, Honeysuckle. In that case, it probably does not require medically-supervised intervention. Your symptoms might respond to commercially available medications.

For irritations, rather than true allergic reactions, 
the prime suspect is the "Small-leaved Privet" (Ligustrum sinense)
Small-leaved Privet beside Railway line
  • "Some people have allergic reactions to Privet causing asthma or related breathing problems so be careful, you might make your neighbors, spouse or children sick. Also, many people consider Privet to be invasive because it produces a ton of little berries which carry seeds and will propagate very easy so don’t plant it too close to the neighbors yard or garden bed or it might take over."
Leaves of Small-leaved Privet have undulating margins.
 The scent of Privet is very prominent at present, 
and may carry hundreds of metres.
The scent is very "cloying"  
tending to cause disgust or aversion through excess
I cannot move around Robertson at present 
without being aware of the sickly sweet perfume of Privet.
The flowers of the Small-leaved Privet are pure white when fresh.
And then there is Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) 
which is a genuinely sweet perfume,
but very intense and potentially irritating. 
It also grows wild in Robertson along roadside verges, 
and notably along the Railway line 
which threads its way thought the middle of the Village.
The Japanese Honeysuckle is a large-growing climber

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A small forest of Potato Orchids.

This morning I showed my friend Kirsten a few plants of the Cinnamon Bells (Potato Orchid), Gastrodia sesamoides. These plants are regularly seen growing in the Robertson Nature Reserve, where they grow around the base of several huge old Pinus radiata trees. These particular plants are the only ground Orchids of which I know, growing in the Robertson Nature Reserve. (There are some epiphytic Orchids growing in there, but not very many).
I have written about these particular plants last year, with comments on how to tell this species from the other local species of Potato Orchid. The other species is known as the Tall Potato Orchid (Gastrodia procera).
I reported three weeks ago on finding them again this year.
This species is fairly consistent in flowering about 3 weeks later than the related species.

Cinnamon Bells, Gastrodia sesamoides
Gastrodia sesamoides growing in the Robertson Nature Reserve.
Gastrodia sesamoides - note how "chunky" the flower is.
note the plump bulb at "base" (top end) of Gastrodia sesamoides flower.
Anyway, I was keen to show these plants to Kirsten, as I had shown her the other species a few weeks ago. So much so that I even warned her of the risk of attack by Leeches, but "trust me, it will be worth it".

Several minutes later, Kirsten was not so sure.
The Leeches were coming out of the forest everywhere.
That is despite the fact that we had both sprayed 
our shoes, socks and ankles with Insect Repellant.
For the record, the Leeches were less than keen on the taste on our boots
and we both escaped without a "bite" - 
but only by repeatedly flicking them off our boots.

Note the orange stripe along the side of the Leech.
Two leeches on Kirsten's shoes at once.
As we left, Kirsten gave out one last squeak, 
as she found this Leech catching a lift on her Camera.
A pretty inventive way of getting to the target person.
It was only a small Leech, but a highly adventurous one.
Australian Land Leech - probably Gnatbobdellida libbata
Anyway, Kirsten and I left Robertson, to go down the hill to Kangaloon.
As I was driving along I got a call from Kirsten telling me to turn around.
She would not tell me what it was she wanted me to see.

She had found a veritable forest of Potato Orchids.
The "Mother Lode" of Potato Orchids which Kirsten found.
This colony of Potato Orchids was so large that 
Kirsten spotted them while driving along the road.
Normally they are hard to see.

Here is a second group in this colony.
They were growing amongst a stand of "Brown Barrell" Eucalypts.
There is deep leaf litter here, which is important to note
as Potato Orchids grow in relation with fungi living in decomposing organic matter.
Note how dense this colony of Potato Orchids is.
These potato Orchids were very large, and strong growing
Perhaps the three inches (75 mm of rain)
in the last week helped boost them.
Some as yet unopened buds of Gastrodia sesamoides.
A particularly strong specimen, growing by itself, 
close to the rest of the colony of Potato Orchids.
A strong specimen of Gastrodia sesamoides
This plant was photographed from about 10 metres away.
I cannot exactly count how many flowers there are
but it seems to be about 25 opened flowers
with a further 10 buds yet to open.
Pretty impressive. 

PlantNET says 
this species normally 2 to 20 flowers.
I have never seen anything like as many flowers on a single stem.
Magnificent head of Gastrodia sesamoides

Even more Potato Orchids, growing at the base of Brown Barrels.
This surely is 
the Mother Lode of Potato Orchids 
in East Kangaloon.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Brown Antechinus now on Matt's video

My neighbour Matt has kindly sent me a Utube video from the encounter with the Brown Antechinus about which I blogged last week.

It is apparent from this video that I ought have credited at least the photo of the side on view of the teeth to Matt's wife, Kat. Now edited that change into the original Post.

The droll commentary is mostly my own work (you can hear Matt and Kat's voices as well).
On occasions the comments were inspired by the biting by the Antechinus. It did not hurt, just surprised me by its speed and enthusiasm for chewing on my finger. As I said in the Blog originally, they "have attitude".

Warning: Mild coarse language on the Video.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Stingray Swamp - a vain search for the Giant Dragonfly

This is a report of our excursion to Stingray Swamp, near Penrose, on an educational excursion organised by Geoff O'Connor of the Moss Vale office of the HNCMA.
Despite the fat that we didn't find any Giant Dragonflies,
it was a very interesting and informative day..

 This is the Giant Dragonfly which we had hoped to find.
Petalura gigantea (The Giant Dragonfly) - Photo: HNCMA video
The Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Management Authority has produced a video on Hanging Swamps. Ian Baird was one of the specialist speakers who talked with us yesterday.

The Video seems to be a bit slow to download, but let it load for a little while before you try to play it right through, and its OK. I have shown a "still image" from their video to show the Giant Dragonfly (Petalura gigantea). It is about 6 to 9 inches both in length and wing-span. Seriously large.

The assumption is that Swamps are mucky, but the peat was not at all "smelly", and the water which ran out from the swamps was reddish from the Button Grass vegetation, but that's the same kind of peaty water which the Scots use to flavour their Whisky (and Irish use for their Whiskey).
A core sample (after the top left layer of vegetation was removed).

The samples are analysed in 25 mm depth parcels. Typically such samples are aged to 16000 years.

Some of our group. Eucalyptus aquatica in the background is an endangered species.
This shows the depth of the Button Grass.

 The bright "Yellow Eye" or "False Flag"
It looks in general form like an Iris
but it is in fact related to the grasses (Poaceae)
"Yellow Eye" - Xyris sp. (possibly X. operculata)
Click to enlarge image to see flower structure in detail.
The length and shape of the "style" of the flower is diagnostic.
Xyris flower detail. Most likely Xyris operculata
We left the first open area of swamp and drove to another arm of the swamp.
This are was close to a rocky outcrop, 
which showed us something of the complex geology of the area.

Rock ledge showing different geological formations
Closer view of the same complex geology,
with coarse aggregates and quartz pebbles.
The lower level rock is evidently different 
from the much finer sandstone layers above.
Aggregate found in the lower level rock formation (under Sandstone).
In the stream bed below the rock ledge (shown above)
there was a line of Leptospermum shrubs and "Coral Fern".
Below these was a soft bed of Sphagnum Moss.
You can see the bright green moss below Ian's feet.
With Ian's metal spike he could demonstrate that 
the soft bed of organic matter was at least 1500 mm deep
and he speculated that it might be far deeper than that.
Ian standing on Sphagnum Moss in creek bed

We left without having collected any Leeches (for which I was greatly relieved).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Jasper's solo musical debut

Tonight Jasper gave her first solo musical performance, singing and accompanying herself on Guitar and Ukulele.
The venue was the Three Creeks Cafe, here in Robertson.

I am biased, as I have known Jasper for nearly 10 years, and I think she is a lovely person, with a sweet voice. My readers will have to trust my judgement. In truth, if you were not there, you have to "make up your own mind". I thought the whole "event" was simply delightful. I am pleased to have witnessed her "musical debut".
Jasper - in soft focus

Jasper studying her song sheet
Jasper singing out confidently.

Jasper singing to the audience.
At the end of her "set" Penny (the owner of the Cafe)
congratulated Jasper on her performance,
Jasper is blushing - matching the Peonies.
and I gave her a small bouquet of freshly picked Peonies.
Jasper seemed quite taken with her bouquet of Peonies
The Peonies are called "Bowl of Beauty" and they have never looked better
than in Jasper's hands tonight,
as she was now fully relaxed after her performance.

Jasper playing absent-mindedly with some of my Peonies. Lovely.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Brown Antechinus (not a mouse, but in a house)

My neighbour heard scrabbling noises in his young son's wardrobe, and managed to capture the intruder. It was neither a Rat, nor a Mouse, but a Brown Antechinus.
Brown Antechinus - head on
We got it into a kitchen tidy with sides sufficiently high that it could not jump out, to allow some photographs to be taken.
From above it has a fine set of whiskers
a pointy nose, and prominent "bug eyes".
Brown Antechinus seen from above.

This small Marsupial is very agile.
One of the reasons is the fine toenails it is using here 
to try to climb the inside of a plastic Kitchen Tidy (bin).
Brown Antechinus has very fine toe-nails - perfect for climbing.

As I held the little Marsupial in my hand, it was very keen to use its needle-fine teeth to puncture my skin. I gave it a piece of ice-cream stick on which to bite, instead.
By nature, Antechinus are carnivores (as the teeth show), living mostly on small insects, and worms.

The eyes are closed as it is trying to chew hard 
on what was in its mouth. 
But this photo shows the full set 
of this marsupial's carnivorous teeth 
on the lower jaw. (click to enlarge image).
(DJW edit: Photo taken by Matt's wife, Kat.)
Double teeth at back of jaw, and fine "needles" at the front end.
As the little kid, in whose room the Antechinus was found, was not happy about an animal (of any kind) living in his cupboard, and appearing at night to wander around the child's bedroom, we safely relocated it to the my backyard (which is a cat-free zone). Incidentally, she was a non-lactating female, so that ought not be problematic. She is not leaving any youngsters behind. Besides, it is just up the road 100 metres. In fact, she is probably back where she came from as I write. (Lets hope not).

Australian Museum fact sheet on how to tell Antechinus apart from a Mouse notes:
  • "The faeces or 'scat' of small carnivorous marsupials such as the Brown Antechinus do look different to those of a House Mouse under magnification.
  • Visible on the surface of the Antechinus scat should be a variety of fragmented insect parts. 
  • The scat of rodents such as mice (which feed mainly on dry and fresh vegetable matter) is less defined and more uniform in colour"

You may read more about the lifestyle and habits of the Brown Antechinus here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mount Rae Flowers - Picasa Photo Album

You ought be able to click on the image below, and scroll through the Album.

Mount Rae Forest - Nov. 14, 2011
Mount Rae Forest - Nov. 14, 2011

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Christmas Bells arrive early at Barren Grounds

One of my Facebook friends, Caroline, asked me for some "Pretties" yesterday. So I promised to show her these wonderful Christmas Bells which I found at the Barren Grounds yesterday.
These Christmas Bells are the species Blandfordia nobilis.

I was pleased to be able to show these plants to my friend Pi-Wei, on a brief, late afternoon excursion. This gave her a chance to see some of the local plants in flower in nature, as distinct from in botanical artworks on her walls in the Gallery. There is a certain vibrancy in Nature which is impossible to capture in art (no matter how fine it may be), or photography - try as we might.
Christmas Bells Blandfordia nobilis

Close-up view of Blandfordia nobilis

Christmas Bells in situ - wet heath at the Barren Grounds
The habitat will also seem familiar habitat for Mick, as it is as close as we get to the "Wallum" habitat in her part of the world. Except that our wet heathland is on top of the Escarpment, at 600 metres. But it is a very high rainfall area, over a sandstone plateau. The Queensland "Wallum" country is, I believe, typically, coastal heathlands.
 This shot shows the range of micro-habitats here.
There is Epacris heaths in the foreground,
A large clump of Banksia ericifolia in mid-ground
then "Button Grass in the gully, then
as the soil rises in the distance, Eucalypts start, 
where the soil gets better drainage.
Habitat shot of wet heathland at Barren Grounds

Thelionema umbellatum - the Lemon Flax Lily

This is one of the prolific Boronias which flower at the Barren Grounds
and nearby Budderoo Plateau.
This one is a wet heath specialist.
Boronia thujona is found over shallow rock beds in the Barren Grounds.
It grows quite tall, (twice as tall as this plant)
and has pinnate leaves, 
which have a strong pungent odour when crushed.
Boronia barkeriana
  The lovely Round Leaf Tea Tree Leptospermum rotundifolium
This plant has large, soft pink flowers.
Very common on the sandstone heathlands and a prolific flowerer.
One of the loveliest plants on the heathlands.
Leptospermum rotundifolium
 This is the Pink Swamp Heath, Sprengelia incarnata
Sprengelia incarnata
And finally, to show one of my own favourite cultivated (garden) plants, the lovely "Duchesse de Nemours" herbaceous Peony. It is a Paeonia lactiflora variety. It has an exquisite scent.
White Peony - Duchesse de Nemours - a sweetly perfumed flower
I hope that there are enough "Pretties" for Caroline in this posting.