Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Thirlmere Lakes - slight signs of recovery

Lest anyone tries to tell you (or me) that Thirlmere Lakes are "recovering" let us put this in context.
The lakes have been very high in the past, and today, the water is approximately 60 metres distant (horizontally) from the original formed edges of the two main public access areas of the Thirlmere Lakes, and that means that the levels are approximately 3 metres below maximum. What water is present is a mere "drop in the bucket" compared to what was once there.

However, there has definitely been a rise in water levels in Thirlmere Lakes in recent months.

The cynic in me immediately assumes this is because of the attention which has been paid recently to the "drying up" of Thirlmere Lakes. I actually hope that is the case, because that could only mean one thing - namely that variations in the water levels are related to human activity, because there has not been any significant increase in rainfall in the region in recent months (since I last posted about Thirlmere Lakes). It is acknowledged by the SCA that the "drought" in the Catchment ended several years ago.

My question would simply be has there been any variation of water pumped from Tahmoor Colliery in recent months?

Sand and some water in Lake Werri-Berri
at Thirlmere Lakes 27 July 2012
Check out this previous posting for comparable photographs.

Sand and some water in Lake Werri-Berri
at Thirlmere Lakes 27 July 2012

At waters edge. Lake Couridjah, Thirlmere Lakes
27 July 2012

Marker visible on far side of Lake Couridjah

Zoomed view from waters edge to the formed bank of the Lake Couridjah
Footings of the old pier are still exposed

Wider view from waters edge to the formed bank of the Lake Couridjah
Picnic shelter in car park visible in distance.
Lake Nerrigorang, the last lake in the chain of Thirlmere Lakes

An old foot path leading out into Lake Nerrigorang,
the last lake in the chain of Thirlmere Lakes

A water level marker has been encroached up on
by the rising waters in Lake Nerrigorang.

Close-up of marker in Lake Nerrigorang

I am touching the marker at waters edge
Lake Nerrigorang, Thirlmere Lakes 27 July 2012

Water seeping through the peat in Lake Nerrigorang
near a survey peg 27 July 2012

The survey peg on 27 July 2012

Marked peg Lake Nerrigorang 27 July 2012

No doubt we will hear more about this issue in the future.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Lena's final resting place.

I spoke with Zoe several days ago and said I needed to bury Lena (which I was not looking forward to). She straight away suggested I select a spot where Lena liked to "hang out".

Good Idea.
That was pretty easy.
Lena's final resting place catches the morning sun
and is cool and shady in summer

Just out the front of my house, and to the side, there is a mixed planting of Camellias, Azaleas and a Japanese Maple. Underneath the Maple is a little open patch, where Lena used lie in summer, in the afternoon shade, or to catch the morning sun, in winter.

small statue
marking Lena's final resting place

I buried Lena there, and then added a small statue of a kneeling figure, which Zoe had given me several years ago.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sad news re Lena

Sad news

I have just returned from the vet, with Lena's body.
She has been unwell for a little while (she didn't get out of the car much on Saturday.)
This morning I let her out for a wee, and she didn't come back.
She was totally deaf and unresponsive to my calls, and I could not find her.

I mentioned her absence to a neighbour, and he heard her whimpering, down in the bottom paddock. She had got snagged on some bushes. Probably blackberries snagged on her soft woolly hair. Anyway, she was distressed and wet and cold.

I took her over to a friend, Helen, who loves Lena and who has other schnauzers, but she was so unwell that I left her in the car. Helen came out to look at her, and Lena did not respond to her touch or voice. 
No excitement, little recognition.

I took Lena to the vet, and he said she had a temperature, but her blood tests were not bad (kidney, liver, etc not bad).

But she was "guarding" her tummy (muscles tight), and tail held tightly "closed". Her mouth was bad - I knew that, from her fishy breath.

Anyway, without any specific diagnosis, but with various expensive optional treatments, and frankly little prospect of a happy life ahead of her, we decided to opt for a quick and painless end. There was no question that Lena had had a long and happy and "loyal" life. She was a Good Dog.

I held her while the vet administered the "green dream" and she was pronounced dead within 20 seconds.

I have brought her back and will bury her tomorrow morning, proudly wearing her "Lena" beaded collar made especially for her by Michelle Stephenson.

Gotta go and cry.

Lena in the Snow - about 2004, not sure exactly.
Lena with Tas, dressed up with ribbons for the Pet Show
at the Robbo Show,
She never won any awards, of course, but she didn't know that!

Lena looking pensive

Lena in the leather bed which Rebecca, made for her

Lena up at Cloud Farm, on their brick pavers.

A rare shot of Lena playing with a tennis ball.

Lena at her best.

A freshly shaved Lena enjoying the summer sun

Lena with Zoe at the CTC
after I had been away in Canberra for Chemo treatment.
Lucy in the background

Same night as above.
Lena has just given me a great big
"Welcome Back" kiss.

Neat and tidy, with her bell around her collar.

Vale my dear and lovely friend and companion.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Accelerating Universe - a talk by Professor Brian Schmidt

Well, I wasn't going to post this, but how often does one get the chance to sit and listen to a Nobel Prizewinner in Physics? He managed to explain stuff which I know very little about (that's not the hard part). And more importantly, I came out thinking that it makes sense.

This guy really is a genius, or a magician, or both. He is a wine-maker, so perhaps both, eh?

It was a very interesting lecture, and you can even ask me why the Universe is flat, not curved, or "closed" (as in a globe). Right now I could possibly give you a few sentences which might make sense.

 That's why I have to write this Blog post now, because in the morning, it will all be a distant glow of light, as from a galaxy far, far away. 

The Royal Society of New South Wales

Southern Highlands Branch 19th July 2012 Lecture

Professor Brian Schmidt

Topic: The Accelerating Universe.

In 1998 two teams, one led by Saul Perlmutter from the Supernova Cosmology Project and the High-z supernova Search Team led by Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess traced back the expansion of the universe over billions of years and discovered that it was accelerating. It was (is) a startling discovery that suggests that more than 70% of the cosmos is contained in a previously unknown form of matter, called Dark Energy.

Professor Brian Schmidt described this discovery and explained how astronomers have used observations to trace our universe’s history back more than 13 billion years, leading them to ponder the ultimate fate of the cosmos.

"The team's observations were contrary to the current theory that the expansion of the Universe should be slowing down; on the contrary, by monitoring the brightness and measuring the redshift of the supernovae, they discovered that these billion-year old exploding stars and their galaxies were accelerating away from our reference frame. This result was also found nearly simultaneously by the Supernova Cosmology Project, led by Saul Perlmutter. The corroborating evidence between the two competing studies led to the acceptance of the accelerating universe theory and initiated new research to understand the nature of the universe, such as the existence of dark energy."
Source: Wikipedia

Having listened to Brian Schmidt for about an hour and a half, with my friend Angela, she then sent me a link to a videoed lecture on a related topic by Laurence Krauss, a particle physicist, with an interest in Cosmology.

There is an introduction by Richard Dawkins. The first 4 minutes refer to the atheist debate (although this youtube talk is given in America, Angela heard Krauss speak at the recent Global Atheist Conference 2012, in Melbourne. Krauss is a particle physicist, so he has a  different emphasis from that of Schmidt.

My own starting point on Cosmology was what little I learnt from the writings of the American Jesuit theologian, Frederick Copleston, especially in his "History of Philosophy". Being an American theologian, from the 1950s and 60s, he was deeply conservative, and of course, his basis of approach was looking back to Aristotle and Aquinas, not upwards and outwards, as happens now.

I was very pleased to hear Brian Schmidt refer to himself as an "observer". Lawrence Krauss uses the same terminology. As an observer of Nature myself (even on a small scale), I feel comfortable with that approach.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Geocaching in Belanglo, with James.

Firstly, let me state that my friend James asked me to accompany him on this particular Geocaching excursion, partly because he does not have a 4WD vehicle (and certainly the roads did warrant the extra traction). But frankly, I think we both felt better about doing this trip "in company".

Having got that out of the way, let me explain a little about what Geocaching is. It involves using GPS coordinates to find objects located in interesting locations. One then records one's achievement with an entry in a Log Book, (inside the "cache" - usually inside a waterproof container - such as a small Lunch Box, or similar). Subsequently, one can also report the successful discovery of the cache on the Website.

You may read more about the origins and history of Geocaching from Wikipedia,  or visit the International home page, or the Australian home page.

So where were we going?
Welcome sign at Belanglo State Forest

The sign says it all.
This State Forest is  associated with
notorious series of Backpacker Murders.
Memorial plaque at Belanglo State Forest.

A private memorial for Simone Schmidl

James told me that this is a fairly typical bush cache site.
The box is located inside a tree stump.
There were some logs placed over the hollow, partly to protect the "cache" and partly to disguise it, to make it a little harder to find.
James opened the cache, signed the "log", replaced all the little trinkets and "souvenirs" left there by previous Geocachers. We then left the Belanglo State Forest.
This cache was located at a discreet distance
from the memorial.

But James had another challenge up his sleeve.
He had heard about a yacht in the nearby Penrose State Forest.
Yes, that's right. A large steel yacht in the middle of a Pine Forest.

James approaching the Yacht.
A clearer photo of the Yacht.
A slightly closer view of the Yacht.
From below, you can see the keel
and get a better idea of the size of this yacht.
This low end of the yacht was much higher than my head.
The keel is fully exposed.
The propeller and rudder have been removed.
 But finding the yacht was only part of James's mission. He had to locate the "cache".
He knew that it was hidden inside the yacht, so, there was nothing for it for him to climb inside the yacht and search for the small box containing the log.

James holds the cache up in triumph.
James triumphant - cropped image
There always has to be an "exit strategy"
I decided to do a search for any "background" on this yacht, but could only find reports from Trail-bikers, and car rally enthusiasts, and a few photos, but no explanation of why the yacht is there. Someone did suggest that a child's toy had been lost, and it grew as the forest around it grew. Cute, but not really what I was after.
Here is a link to a photo of the Yacht taken in February 2007.

Interestingly, the yacht clearly has been moved along the track several hundred metres in recent times. Quite how this has been achieved or indeed why, remains a mystery to me. It is a full-sized steel hulled yacht and must be enormously heavy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Weeping Flowering Apricot - Prunus mume

My friends Pip and Dave have this lovely Weeping Flowering Apricot (Prunus mume) growing out the front of their house. As far as I am concerned, it makes their house a real treasure. (Pip and Dave and their kids are pretty special too).

Weeping Prunus mume
As you can see this "weeping form" has branches which tend to grow out then hang down, under their own weight.

This is a recognised form of the plant, from Japan, and is of course, always grown as a grafted specimen, growing on an upright stem (known as a "standard").

Wikipedia has a nice photo of such a plant of this species, from Yumeji Art Museum, in Japan.

I knew such a plant in a garden I used look after in Canberra. There is another at the end of the Kingston Railway Station, on Wentworth Avenue, Kingston, ACT. I  would always visit that plant every year, as it was always the first of the "Spring Blossoms" to flower. In the depths of a Canberra winter, I always longed to see this plant blooming, so I could believe that Spring was coming. The thing is that the coldest days of the year are usually still ahead of us. But the plants are reacting to the length of day light, not the overnight temperature.

As with my favourite trees in Canberra, I love to "visit" this plant every mid-winter and watch it "wake up" and start to bloom. The first buds were just showing on the Winter Solstice. Now about three weeks into the returning Sun (lengthening days are the clue which plants pick up on), this plant is now fully in flower.  
Blossoms starting to cover the pendant branches
of this Weeping Flowering Apricot
(Prunus mume)

Numerous semi-double flowers crowd the branches
of this Weeping Flowering Apricot

A single (individual) flower of this lovely plant
Prunus mume

Many weeping tree forms occur naturally, and appeal to our aesthetic senses.
As a result, many forms of many different species of weeping trees have been brought into cultivation. Inevitably, this requires the particular "form" of plant to be cloned by nurserymen, and weeping plants are then usually grafted onto an upright stem. 

Sometimes these "naturally occurring weeping forms" (such as with many Australian Wattles) occur as prostrate forms (in the bush). In the absence of a suitable "standard", such plants can be planted to grow on the tops of stone walls and the stems cascade down the rock wall.
The theory of weeping trees is that the branches are unable to carry their own weight.
Prunus mume.
I like this image a lot.
(click on image to enlarge it)
It shows how the branches curve down.
The sky contrast is a bit overdone, but who cares?
It looks pretty on the screen.

Thanks to Pip for allowing me to photograph this stunning tree.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wild Orchids dug up in the bush near Mittagong


I am so angry about this.

Last year I found a colony of very fine Bunochilus tunstallii near Mittagong (a bit out of their normal range).

I foolishly reported this event on THIS blog.

Several months later, I was back in the same area, and realised somebody had dug a hole where these plants had been (or so I believed). I could not be sure, at the time (when I first saw the hole), as these Orchids go dormant after flowering, so I could not be absolutely sure that the plants had been stolen - but in my heart of hearts I knew that was almost certainly the case.

So, this year,
I went back to look for the same Orchids,
in the same place.
Not a leaf, not a flower.
Bloody nothing!
Just dead leaves blown into the hole.
Hole marks where Orchids were stolen.
To prove that it was not my imagination, and that my timing was not wrong, I searched further around and found a few (just a few) Bunochilus tunstallii in flower. These were not the same plants as I found last year, as they were much more "overgrown" than last years plants (last year's plants were growing quite "out in the open").

Bunochilus tunstallii today,
at Mount Alexandra Reserve
But the point is, I now have evidence that someone has removed the main colony of Bunochilus tunstallii which flowered on Mount Alexandra, last year.

Photographic evidence clearly shows the excavation.
The top edge of the excavation has left a wall of soil approximately 100mm deep (about 4 inches).
The excavation is approximately 600 mm long (north to south), and 300 mm wide (east to west).

There is no doubt in my mind that this is the handiwork (spadework) of an Orchid "enthusiast" - someone who had marked out the location of these plants and has come back when the plants were dormant, to dig and remove the tubers. In fact he (or they) dug the entire colony of these plants and removed soil and all. 

What annoys me so much is that this is so obviously the work of a "collector". Only an Orchid specialist would even know there was something special about these plants.

So, while supposedly an "Orchid Lover", this person has put his lust to "possess" these plants over and above the well-being of the species. That is not the act of an orchid lover, but the act of a selfish individual - one who has lost perspective of what is important about these plants.

This species of Orchid is uncommon (it is very limited in its distribution). But it is not yet "listed" as a rare or threatened species, as the bureaucratic process involved in getting a plant "listed" is very slow, and hopelessly "behind" what ought be the real list of threatened species.

However, all Orchid enthusiasts know "All native plants including orchids are protected and it is illegal to remove them from the wild."

This statement (or a similar warning) appears on most ANOS websites
"All native orchids in Australia are protected in the wild;
- their collection is illegal."

This illegal action occurred within the Mt Alexandra Reserve.
I shall report this to the Wingecarribee Shire Council, which "administers" this area.
Bunochilus tunstallii
note the dark brown labellum

(click on the image to enlarge it to see the detail)
As Bunochilus tunstallii is not readily available for sale, if someone suddenly turns up to show this species on the Show Bench, I for one will be wanting to ask about the provenance of those plants. And I will do my best to spread the word amongst Orchid Societies in Australia. and overseas.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Mr Potato Head is back in Robbo

Last time this character (***) visited Robertson, it was a very short visit.
So when I heard this morning that he was back, I went straight away to record the happy event.
Mr Potato Head (AKA Spud Face) has returned to Robertson.

Mr Potato Head (AKA Spud Face) has returned to Robertson.

Mr Potato Head (AKA Spud Face) seen through the Archway at Robertson.

Mr Potato Head (AKA Spud Face) in his Spiritual Home in Robertson.
You may read about his original visit to his "Spiritual Home" of Robertson, and how brief that visit turned out to be.

*** For legal reasons I am obliged to stress that this is not and cannot be mistakenly thought to be the original Mr Potato Head, but rather is a set of disembodied eyes, nose and mouth which might or might not have been spawned by a visit of the original model to a Potato farm near Robertson. 

In our rich red basalt soil, he has grown magnificently to a super-sized model.

But for even more pressing legal reasons, I suggest that there is no inspiration from Ronald McDonald for that comment). There are no Golden Arches within 30 kilometres of Robertson, and long may it remain that way.