Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Sparrow fell, today, in Robertson

"Two sparrows are sold for a penny, aren't they? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's permission. International Standard Version (©2008) 
(DJW Note: the last word "permission" is variously omitted, or substituted with other more clumsy phrases). But the biblical reference still stands as worthy of quoting.
Matthew Ch 10, V 29.

My point is simple: I found a freshly killed Sparrow in the middle of the Illawarra Highway, in Robertson, today. It cried out to be examined and photographed, for several reasons.

Firstly, Sparrows are a subject of reference in the Bible, and in later literature:
"Jesus's use of "sparrows" as an example of divine providence in the Gospel of Matthew also inspired later references, such as that in Shakespeare's Hamlet and the Gospel hymn His Eye Is on the Sparrow."

So, the figure of God the Father (or the "Creator") ought be pleased that at least this little Sparrow's life has not been shed completely in vain. I can at least use it for education purposes.

Secondly, under the Linnaean "binomial" system of taxonomic classification, the humble Sparrow (Passer domesticus) became, because of its familiarity to European scientists of the day, the "benchmark" for small perching birds (or "songbirds") - known today as Passerines (literally Sparrow-like birds). 

The Sparrow was one of the first birds to be named by Linnaeus, in 1758, and almost certainly, one of the first to have its name changed by virtue of a taxonomic revision (something familiar to Australian Orchid enthusiasts).
  • "The House Sparrow was among the first animals to be given a scientific name in the modern system of biological classification, since it was described by Carl Linnaeus, in the 1758 10th edition of Systema Naturae. It was described from a type specimen collected in Sweden, with the name Fringilla domestica. Later the genus name Fringilla came to be used only for the Chaffinch and its relatives, and the House Sparrow has usually been placed in the genus Passer created by French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760."
In my opinion, the Sparrow would never have assumed the position it has in taxonomy, if the taxonomists had been starting with Australian birds, which are primarily nectar-eaters or insectivorous. We have many "finches" in Australia, but they are not in any sense, "typical" of other birds (in Australia). But I guess that just proves my point about "taxonomists" - that their vision is limited by what they grew up studying, and their knowledge base has expanded from that base (or not). Linnaeus was  a creature of his time, and so is the Passer domesticus, and hence, the huge class of birds known as passerines.

Head of House Sparrow
massive wedge-shaped beak shows it is a seed eater.
Compare beak shape with the insectivorous Rufous Songlark below.

Feet structure of Sparrow.
three toes forward, and one large toe facing to the rear.
This structure if described as "Anisodactyly"

Plain patterns on wing of the female Sparrow
A successful camouflage colouring,.

Small "Brood patch" on this female Sparrow
Its presence indicates she has had a brood of chicks this year.
However, the fact that the brood patch is so small,
indicates she is not still sitting on eggs of young chicks.

Hopefully her young are able to survive with help of the father.

Head of Rufous Songlark -
clearly an insectivorous species.
Note the sharp pointed beak,
Suitable for probing for insects.
It is not a seed-cracking beak.
(ignore the shadow, if you can)

Searching for missing Leek Orchids

Alan Stephenson and I went to Major's Creek cemetery to search for a mysterious Leek Orchid which was once reported from that site. We were joined in the search by Martin and Frances Butterfield. We couldn't find this missing species, this year. Perhaps next year.

We did find a few other things, however.
I am endebted to Alan for having provided all the photographs in this blog. I am having trouble with my flash unit of my Camera, so Alan agreed to provide me copies of his images.

The Majors Creek Cemetery is looking very good, with the grasses and various other Orchids, and native plants in flower. Everything was looking great, I must say.

Diuris punctata - the Purple Donkey Orchid
These plants at Major's Creek had lovely long lateral sepals
protruding far below the labellum.
(Unfortunately this shot is over-exposed
That is one of the problems of
photographing plants in the rain.)

Diuris pardina
These plants were very strongly marked
and quite noticeably reddish.
The "ears" (petals) are held high.
Diuris pardina
The lateral sepals are curved around,
underneath the labellum,
in this species.
Note the dark brown marks on the
back of the petals.
This is a very localised form of the Grevillea juniperina. It is reported from Braidwood to Nerriga - exactly where I found it growing, beside the road in to Stewart's Crossing (of the Upper Shoalhaven River). It was completely prostrate. Less than 6 inches high, but spreading to several metres wide. Rich bronze-yellow flowers. 
Grevillea juniperina subsp. amphitricha


Grevillea juniperina subsp. amphitricha
Stewart's Crossing, Upper Shoalhaven River.
A lovely looking place, but presumably abused in summer.
The sand bed has been chewed up by cars, unfortunately.
But I am pleased to say that there is a good protective barrier to stop
damage to the riverbanks which are well grassed.

Microtis parviflora
This was found on day 2 of our trip - south from Ulladulla.
It was a new species for me - Sarcochilus australis . It is also known as Gunn's Orchid, revealing that it is found in Tasmania as well as Victoria and southern NSW (hence the name "australis" meaning "southern").

Sarcochilus australis

Unfortunately these lovely flowers were hard to photograph
and are somewhat over-exposed.
Sarcochilus australis

Beside where the Sarcochilus were growing
I found this nest of a Yellow Robin.

This plant is the reason for our visit to an area south from Termeil, in a patch of State Forest.
This is a very rare spring-flowering species of Midge Orchid, Corunastylis vernalis.
This species is listed as "Vulnerable" under the Federal EPBC Act, and has the same status on the NSW Threatened Species Act.
Corunastylis vernalis

Whole plant of
Corunastylis vernalis
As you can see there is not much of it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Denis the Dinosaur?

Am I meant to be "Denis the Dinosaur" - from the Robertson Nature Reserve?
I can take that.

Here is the image (which I really like, by the way) courtesy of the Illawarra Mercury staff photographer,

Photo by Greg Totman
Illawarra Mercury supplement
17 November 2012
For the record, I did not grow up amongst "open sub-tropical forests" as is suggested. I had tried to compare the Robertson Rainforest with the "open forests" I had grown up with in Canberra. I had also tried to distinguish our "cool temperate rainforests" from the "sub-tropical rainforests" of the Illawarra region (where the paper is published). Somehow the wires got a little crossed.

Apart from that, I am happy with the article by Michelle Tydd.She did ring me to clear the text, over the phone, but I missed the subtlety of that description of the forest type.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A place called Robertson - Tony and Anna's Documentary

The documentary "A place called Robertson" which Tony Williams and Anna Hewgill have been making for several years is now being previewed via a "trailer".

Tony and Anna filming at the Robbo Show
March 2011
The full video is not yet available, it seems, but it is intended to be screened early next year, apparently.
But there is a very nice introduction available on their Website.
Scroll down to the second image and click on the white arrow.
You need sound "on" to appreciate it.

I am really looking forward to it, even though my own brief interview made its way to the "cutting room floor". As Tony would say "Bugger".

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New images of Black Mountain Orchids

These images were taken on Black Mountain last weekend. I am grateful to Martin Butterfield and Tony Wood for arranging to meet me at Black Mountain, (ACT) and to show me where these particular plants are found. These are all plants I have not photographed properly before (I have seen the Little Duck Orchid in pouring rain at Lithgow, but the photos were barely recognisable.) The Black Tongued Stegostyla and the Large Bird Orchid are totally new species for me.
Little Duck Orchid
Paracaleana minor
You might like to compare this species with the closely related Flying Duck Orchid, Caleana major.

Little Duck Orchid
Paracaleana minor
Front view of the Orchid and column and pollinia.
leaf of Little Duck Orchid
Paracaleana minor

Oligochaetochilus rufus
Rustyhood Orchid - front view
This species of the "rufa group" (or Rustyhoods) (originally in the Pterostylis group) is flowering considerably later than other "Rustyhoods".

Oligochaetochilus rufus
Rustyhood Orchid - side view
Simpliglottis valida
Large Bird Orchid
This is the first time I have seen this species of Large Bird Orchid (Simpliglottis valida). You can contrast this species with the local "Illawarra Bird Orchid" Simpliglottis chlorantha - which is primarily an all-green flower. Similar in structure, with subtle differences in the gland structure.

Simpliglottis valida
Large Bird Orchid
Note large "osmophores" glands.
(Click on image to enlarge)
This large pink "non-Caladenia" as Martin refers to them, is a striking plant. It was growing amongst tussocks of native grasses high on the eastern side of Black Mountain - overlooking Canberra's Civic Centre. I was anticipating it to be a small "Ladies Fingers Orchid", but the flowers were far larger and far taller than I was expecting.
Stegostyla congesta
Black-tongue Orchid
The labellum of this Orchid is very distinctive, with its "calli" (glands) packed densely all over the lebellum. The entire plant is covered with fine bristles.
Stegostyla congesta
Black-tongue Orchid

Monday, November 12, 2012

Black Mountain Orchids - Canberra visit.

My colleague Martin Butterfield has posted about our mutual exploration of the wonderful Orchid habitats on Black Mountain, in Canberra.

Thanks to Martin for organising the trip and especially to Canberran Tony Wood for showing us where to look. There are a lot of Brittle Gums and grassy tussocks to search under, if one does not know which ones to peer into and under.

I took some photos, but they are still on the Camera. Martin's photos are fine.


Friday, November 09, 2012

Good weather for Copperheads and Skinks

My friend and neighbour, Matt, rang me this morning to say he had a snake near his front steps, and would I like to come and check it out?
Silly question. (In fairness, it was a rhetorical question.)

Slaty-grey back of Highlands Copperhead Snake
(from a previous post of mine)

Here is another more authoritative link
Austrelaps ramsayi
After we had a cuppa on the back verandah,
the Snake had poked its head out
just enough for me to get this quick shot
of the neck and head.
Click on image to enlarge it and read the notes.
Neck shows strong copper colour
Head shows light coloured throat,
dark eye and flat, dull scales on top of head.

While we were discussing the gardening strategies Matt and Cat could undertake, to make their front steps less congenial to a Copperhead, I noticed this foolish Skink hiding beside the rear of the same Daisy bush as the Copperhead. The caption is "Skink living dangerously".
Skink seems not to be aware of the Snake
less than a metre away,
on the other side of the daisy bush.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Sutton Forest Blockade and news re Hume Coal

I am reliably informed that some people call Hume Coal, by nasty words.

Why? They turned up late in the afternoon and tried to enter the blockaded property.

What is it which is so hard to understand? The farmers of Sutton Forest have collectively "Locked the Gate" against Hume Coal and POSCO. They want to protect their land and water, and not see these assets destroyed for short-term profit, especially not for a foreign company.

Kim's father was a WW11 fighter pilot and no doubt she picked up a bit of the vernacular from him.
I know she inherited his fighting spirit.

So, when it eventually came to pass, Hume Coal, (the agents of the Korean invaders POSCO) tried to cross the blockade, fortunately Kim was there to Shoo them away.

Southern Highlands Coal Action Group
Shoo Cockatoo artwork, by Patrick Cook
Today's effort was the first such successful Shooing of the Cockatoo.

Southern Highlands Coal Action Group Blockade
Day 34 - 5 November 2012

Pat Jordan showing her angry look
at the idea of coal mining in the Southern Highlands
Pat Jordan (back left, with fingers in V for Victory sign)
Larry Whipper, Deputy Mayor,
Jan Hainke, and Virginia and Alain

Even the cripples have been raised,
to defend the Land and Water.
Defiant faces of the Sutton Forest Blockade
A full crowd of defiant blockaders.
No passing up this private road.

Local Radio presenter Graeme Day, (Radio 2ST)
with Peter Martin
The Hume Coal people turned up late in the afternoon and claimed to have authority to enter the property. But they had no paperwork to support that claim, so the road remained blocked by vehicles.
They left.
No doubt they will be back.

If you are on Facebook you can see these photos and a lot more on the SHCAG Facebook page Album.