Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Hidden valley

It's actually quite difficult to get a view of Geelong's second river, the Moorabool.
This river has had a hard life – in the past it has been diverted because of the huge limestone quarry for the cement works at Fyansford (since closed but the council has just approved a big housing development on the site), dammed at Lal Lal for Ballarat's water supply, weed-infested and polluted with salt, agricultural sprays and fertilisers. Upstream a lot of restoration work is being done by landholders guided by Landcare and the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority, but very little water actually runs down the river at present because of the dam and the drought. The very wide and deep valley tells a story of past floods. Since European occupation there have been a number of devastating floods resulting in loss of property and stock.
Now there are major roadworks at Fyansford where the Moorabool meets the Barwon River. Geelong is finally getting a ring road – a bypass to take the beach-goers and transports around the city instead of through it. To build it the engineers have had to design bridges to cross the two rivers.
I set out to get a photo and found myself in courts, no-through roads and suburbia, finally finding a promising spot near Dunwinnie Crt in Hamlyn Heights and climbing though a fence to get to the edge of the road excavations. The photo below shows the start of the bridging of the Moorabool River.
Travellers in a year or so will get a completely different view of Geelong, or rather, the western edge of Geelong, and the bonus will be views of a previously hidden valley.

Geelong Bypass_Moorabool River

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Can't see for looking

Yesterday Duncan at posted a photo of a tiny snail on an orchid - he only spotted the snail when he looked at his photos on the computer monitor. And check out this one by Pamela on August 17 at There's a lovely photo of a yellow spider that you can only see because it is eating a fly.
I've done the same thing. Missed seeing what is perfectly obvious when I see the photo on screen. I wonder sometimes if I'm blind to detail or concentrating too much on the technicalities of focus, shutter speed or in too much of a hurry. It's a nice surprise when it happens though. And an even better surprise is when the insect is actually in focus, accidentally. Here are some of my camouflaged invertebrates.

Caterpillar on Gompholobium

Caterpillar on Gompholobium2

Insect on Puffball

Insect on flower

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Step over the cracks

I had to go back to the campus on a weekend. Even in a place of learning I would have felt very conspicuous on a week-day kneeling on a footpath to get a close-up photo of the moss Tortula muralis growing in the mortar between the bricks. The steps leading down to the computer lab are narrow and shaded and I would have been a major obstacle while I took photos of Bryum argentium that grows in the corner of each step. And Bryum torquescens grows really well on the brick wall outside the library. The normally quiet path around the lake had a visitor on Saturday, a student fishing, who must have wondered what I was doing - the tiny Grimmia pulvinata was spectacular in its sunny spot on the rock.

Bryum argentium

Tortula muralis

Grimmia pulvinata

Bryum torquescens

I'm used to seeing luxuriant moss in the forest but this is a different environment. Everywhere I look in the city I see moss. Some species of moss have adapted very well to city living. We've provided nooks and crannies, built our homes, pathways, headstones and factories out of granite, sandstone and limestone so the mosses feel quite at home. It amazes me to see moss growing on busy pathways, carparks, steps and walls, keeping its head down. So small that even when it sends up its sporophytes its barely noticeable. It amazes me that it can survive for long periods of heat and drought in such hostile environments and then flourish after the first rain.
I've read that moss it very susceptible to pollution so perhaps we should feel reassured as long as the moss is happy to be there – a bit like taking a canary down a mine to test the air. When I was a child we played the game of stepping over the cracks in a footpath because to step on one was bad luck. Bad luck for the moss maybe, but I never thought of that at the time.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

An isolated treasure

The owners are very proud of their one-hectare property not very far from Ocean Grove on the Bellarine Peninsula. Their road is quiet and tree-lined, and their home is new. They have planted mostly Australian plants on what was formerly a farm paddock, and most are growing well in spite of the drought. Lots of birds are visiting and we were shown quite a few nests tucked away in the foliage of shrubs and creepers. While we were having a cuppa a pair of Maned Goose landed in the swimming pool - a curious choice because there was a dam only 50 metres away.

Land for Wildlife sign

Alison and I were visiting the property as volunteer assessors for the Land for Wildlife (LfW) scheme run by the Government. The scheme encourages landholders to create or protect habitats for wildlife on their property and if they 'pass' the assessment they get a large metal sign to put on their front gate and regular newsletters.

We didn't give these owners a sign though. Why not? Because they had no understanding of the concept of planting local plant species to protect local wildlife, because they didn't know the names of any of the birds that visited the property while we were there, because they were planting species that have the potential to become weeds in the area, because they had an endangered species of tree on their property and didn't realise it. Our task with owners like this is to put them on the mailing list for LfW newsletters, provide them with advice, addresses of indigenous nurseries, pamphlets.

Eucalyptus leucoxylon subsp. bellarinensis

The endangered tree on the property is Eucalyptus leucoxylon subsp. bellarinensis, a local form of the Yellow Gum. It was first described in 1998 and the type specimen grows in the grounds of the Anglican Church, Ocean Grove. It appears to be confined to the Bellarine Peninsula but there aren't very many in the highly modified environment. It is listed as endangered in Victoria because the population is so low you can actually count each individual tree. A few isolated trees are on private property and roadsides, a few in reserves. They aren't regenerating very well naturally, so seed is collected and propagated in community and indigenous nurseries - the local Landcare group is doing a wonderful job persuading people to plant them. The tree on this property looks quite old but is still healthy. Alison and I were able to tell the owners that they were the protectors of something special.

Monday, 20 August 2007


Mt Duneed is a low hill to the south of Geelong – you can see it as you head to the beaches at Torquay. It has a nest of towers on top because it's the highest point in the vicinity. Such an innocuous-looking hill, but actually a volcano that had quite an impact on the countryside.
Once there was a large, shallow embayment on the coast to the east and south of Mt Duneed, and lava from the volcano flowed into and filled the bay. Thompsons Creek now flows along the southern edge of the basalt and out to sea at Breamlea, and the Barwon River and Lake Connewarre are to the north. Just to the north of Breamlea the basalt meets the sea, one of the few places in Victoria that that happens, at a place called, imaginatively, Black Rocks. Surfers like the waves nearby, off the sandy beaches at Bancoora and 13th Beach, and Hooded Plovers attempt to nest on the sand there every year with little success because of human and animal traffic, but at Black Rocks the waves crash in onto the basalt.

Black Rocks

On the exposed cliffs low vegetation battles against the tough conditions and thrives. When I was there yesterday the succulent called Karkalla Carpobrotus rossii was looking very healthy but its pink flowers won't appear until late spring, and the Bower Spinach Tetragonia implexicoma was flowering right on the edge of the cliff.


Tetragonia implexicoma

This area used to be a favourite with birdwatchers because albatross, jaeger and Giant-Petrel used to come in close to the shore when the Geelong sewage outlet ran straight into the sea there, but they've cleaned up their act and the birds are rarely seen there now.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Highrise living

Our son's unit is two stories high and the spouting was sprouting. Leaves and sticks had accumulated and because it hadn't been cleaned out for a while the debris had composted nicely. One short section can be accessed from the balcony so yesterday that was cleaned out and the garden will benefit from the extra mulch.
There was one surprise though. Amongst the rotting debris was a full-sized worm, an ordinary garden variety of worm. How did it get there? Worms don't climb brick walls do they? I'm thinking there are two possibilities. Maybe a worm egg was in dirt on the foot of a bird and dropped off when the bird perched on the spouting. Or maybe a bird had a worm in its beak and it, or a piece of it, dropped into the spout. [See my previous blog, July 1 2007, re worms]
Any comments?

Thursday, 16 August 2007

When the rivers run dry ...

When the rivers run dry

Our Eco Book Group met to discuss When the Rivers Run Dry: What happens when our water runs out? by Fred Pearce. And it certainly caused some lively discussion. We were all a bit depressed after reading his stories about the use and abuse of fresh water in the world. He paints a terrifying picture of the global water crisis, and he's such a good story-teller that complex situations are illuminated for us mere mortals.
Chapter headings are:
When the rivers run dry ... the crops fail
When the rivers run dry ... we mine our children's water
When the rivers run dry ... the wet places die
When the rivers run dry ... floods may not be far behind
When the rivers run dry ... engineers pour concrete
When the rivers run dry ... men go to war over water
When the rivers run dry ... civilisations fail
When the rivers run dry ... we go looking for new water
When the rivers run dry ... we try to catch the rain
When the rivers run dry ... we go with the flow
The final chapters are quite optimistic but book group members were quite pessimistic. Here in Geelong we're on Stage 4 water restrictions and the authorities are tapping into aquifers, talking about desalination plants. The Moorabool River, which flows into the Barwon at Geelong, is not getting any release of water from the reservoir upstream because Ballarat needs it. And they are planning a new subdivision to accommodate 50 000 people. Where are they going to get the water from?
In the meantime people are installing rainwater tanks. Our neighbour had his delivered this week and it's sitting on his nature strip because his house is on a steep slope and now he has to figure out how he's going to get it to the top of his block. I hope I'm home to watch it all happen. I bet there will be lots of arm waving and swearing.

Rainwater tank on nature strip

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Is this a good spot to park(2)?

The university campus is huge – lots of open spaces, lakes, planted woodland – so why have the Masked Lapwings chosen to nest in a small green surrounded closely by buildings? They are sitting on four eggs, and someone has put a chair over the nest, presumably to protect it from mowers and people taking short-cuts.
This week I have been supervising exams in a room next to the nest, and several of the students have been traumatised by having to dodge the attacking, vociferous plovers. I've been amused at the sight of a big, bulky 20-year-old baulking at walking the only footpath access to the exam room for fear of attack.

Masked Lapwing nesting close to buildings

The campus is looking good. It's been spruced-up because Open Day is coming up. Lawns have been mowed, shrubs trimmed, mulch spread. I hope the prospective students and their parents look beyond the environment to the quality of the education on offer and ask themselves 'Is this a good spot to park?' I think it is.

Friday, 3 August 2007

In the poo

In a very sandy area of Mt Eccles National Park I have found all sorts of interesting things, and I have never yet met anyone else there so it's all 'mine'. When I first realised that the plant world was as interesting as the bird world it was in this spot that I identified and photographed many of the heath plants that grow in the area.
Everything changed about 18 months ago when a fire went through the bush. I have photos of the 'devastation' but what followed the fire was amazing. Magnificent displays of Drosera whittakeri and Pyrorchis nigricans, carpets of moss and fungi, new growth from the blackened skeletons of stick and twig, epicormic growth on the eucalypts and numerous seedlings of banksia and teatree. It's a work in progress and fascinating to study.
Who would have thought that amongst all of this splendour I would have got most excited about some dung. Specifically, what was on the dung. There was a lot of fungi in this spot last winter, and it was relatively easy to find because the background was black and the vegetation sparse, and the fungi came in all colours - bright orange, purple, yellow, brick red, cream. I had a great time and hit the reference books as well. I took gps readings and photographed several records to submit to FungiMap. The one fungi I was most pleased about was the Small Dung Button Poronia erica I found on some dung. This fungus only grows on herbivore dung (kangaroo or wallaby in my area, perhaps rabbit) and it is tiny - it only grows to about 10 mm across. It's surface is scattered with black dots called ostioles. I'd seen it illustrated in the books but thought I'd never have any hope of actually finding any myself.

Small Dung Button Poronia erici

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

The deadline was last Monday

The deadline was last Monday. I think that 'dead' in this sense means 'inactive, not effective any more, past' but not everyone thinks that. Some people, who shall remain nameless (they know who they are), think that 'dead' means 'playing dead, bluffing'.
Each month I edit and produce a 20-page newsletter for the Field Naturalists Club, and my life in the last week of each month pretty much revolves around that task. I volunteered to do it and I enjoy doing it, mostly. I use the Publisher software to help me with layout and feel that I've got a handle on how that all works now. I also like working with photographs, the editing process of receiving a mixed bag of photos each month and presenting them well. I enjoy persuading initially-reluctant people to contribute an article on a particular topic and seeing them produce wonderful articles. I anticipate with pleasure the contributions of the regular writers and enjoy the continuity of their work. I look forward to reading the excursion reports of the various sub-groups in the club.
Luckily the members of the group are very generous in the way they set aside time each month to write and article for the newsletter.
This is the process:
 As the month moves on the articles and photos start to appear on my email and in my letterbox and I save them to the current edition's folder to be looked at later.
 About ten days before publication date I copy across the master copy of the newsletter and change all the dates and volume numbers.
 About the same time I email or chat to individuals about specific articles I have initiated or know are in the pipeline – I have to set word limits, and find out whether there are photos or tables to be attached.
 I edit each article in Word. The newsletter has a standardised format for dates, titles, punctuation, spelling and so on. And I have to look for double-spaces where they shouldn't be, bullets and numbering discrepancies, check the spelling and accuracy of scientific names. All of the text has to be a standard font and font size.
 I then start to insert articles in the newsletter in Publisher, a balancing act between the space available with the length of the various articles.
 The photos have to be edited before they are added, and a title added to each. I have to choose a photo to put on the cover.
 About three days before publication I am happy with the end product and print out a hard copy for Deborah to check. She's a fantastic proof-reader who makes me look good.
 The day before publication I get the copy back from Deborah and make the various adjustments she has highlighted (I have never yet managed to produce a clean copy first up!!) and that evening I convert the file to PDF format and email it to the printer.
 A day later I pick up my copy of the completed newsletter at the meeting.

My study when I'm under pressure

This is what my desk looks like when I am in the middle of it all (I promise it doesn't always look this messy). Note the coffee cup - it's one of the most important parts of the process. The whole job is rewarding, and because of the great people in the group I rarely have to panic about large spaces glaring at me on the computer screen as I wonder what to fill them with. But I do wish the tardy would comply with the deadline!