Wednesday, 30 April 2008

On Borrowed Time

David Lindenmayer has written a book called On Borrowed Time: Australia's environmental crisis and what we must do about it. It was the subject at our Eco Book Group discussion this week.

Our discussion was lively, wide-ranging, thought-provoking and informative - just like all good book group discussions. On the whole we agreed with Lindenmayer's passionate arguments and agreed that he has presented them in a very 'easy-to-read' format. Australia's environment is unique. We do have huge environmental problems. We are at crisis point.

According to Lindenmayer these are the 10 key environmental problems:
1. The serious financial and logistical underinvestment in Australia's environment
2. The unsustainability of almost all of Australia's natural resource-based industries
3. The ecological over-commitment of Australia's landscapes and seascapes, including our precious water resources
4. The lack of credible yardsticks to measure environmental progress and management effectiveness
5. The need for institutional reform
6. The strong likelihood of repeating past environmental mistakes
7. The limited understanding or appreciation of our environmental problems and the need to focus on key issues
8. The lack of planning for our human population size and level of resource consumption
9. The need to develop new economic models that take into account the effects of population growth and resource consumption on the environment
10. The lack of forward planning to deal with climate change

The sticking point was - what are we as individuals going to do about it? It seemed to us that a lot of the effective decision-making has to be done at Government level. We suggested that every politician and councillor read David Lindenmayer's book.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

An anniversary

It's a year since I started this blog. I thought it would be an occasional blog, maybe putting up a post every couple of weeks, but there are so many interesting things in the natural world to photograph and write about. Judging by comments received and number of visits there seem to be a few interested readers and that encourages me to keep on blogging. And I enjoy reading other nature blogs as well - especially those few that are written by Australians. I'd love to see a few more Aussies joining in.

One of the few plants flowering in the Brisbane Ranges last week was the Mitchell's Wattle Acacia mitchellii. It's a small shrub of the sandy heaths, mainly in the west of Victoria. I was surprised to see it flowering because it usually flowers July to January. The beautiful little globules are very pale - most wattle flowers are a brighter yellow. Once again I think I've managed to inadvertently photograph a creature lurking in the depths of a flower (front right). It blends in very well. Really I should take more time and really investigate the whole plant before rushing on.

Mitchell's Wattle

Friday, 25 April 2008

A sticky tale

Black Wattle

When I was young, and roaming free over the countryside with my friends, one of our favourite activities was climbing Black Wattles Acacia mearnsii. The one above, flowering last November, is relatively young. As they get older the branches bend and reach the ground and are big enough for a child to climb along.

There was a purpose to our clambering. We were after the wattle gum, the sap that oozes out of this particular species of wattle. When it's fresh the texture is like honey and it's taste not as sweet. If a little older the gum is still edible but gets stuck in your teeth. If it's very old leave it there because it's horrible. I've tasted it as an adult and can't see what the attraction was because it has no flavour at all. But we had a lot of fun.

The old stable

Does luck run out when the horseshoe is used as a staple?

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Head for the beach

Torquay is a beautiful spot, especially on a beautifully calm autumn day. So where was I? Inside all day for a weed information session. I managed to get down to Torquay a little early so that I could have a look at the ocean. This is Front Beach, a long east-facing beach that is very popular with families. The wind surfers and kiters like the northern section of this beach.

But just around the corner are the south-facing beaches. Here the low tide exposes a rocky coastline that just begs to be explored. About twenty ships have been wrecked offshore in the last 150 years. This part of the coast is treacherous.

And around the next point is the world-famous (if you're a surfer) Bells Beach. The clifftop vegetation in this area was suffering badly because spectators and surfers were allowed to stand,walk and climb anywhere. Then a group of surfers got together, called themselves SANE (Surfers Appreciating Natural Environment), and have done a power of work revegetating the clifftops with the species local to the area. School kids and community groups have helped. The soil here is very shallow, over marine sediments up to 23 million years old. The plants have to survive in a hostile environment so they get their roots down into cracks in the rocks and hang on. The SANE group has learned a lot about what works and what doesn't. They throw pruned branches down first to provide protection for the seedlings.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Where there's smoke there's fire

Apropos of the smoke haze blog several days ago. They're burning the grassland in the suburbs as well.

A notice in the paper warned that they were going to burn Seaview Park when conditions were right so I wasn't surprised when I drove past this morning and noticed the blackened escarpment. A click on the label 'Seaview Park' below will take you to earlier blogs about this wonderful little patch of natural grassland in the suburb of Belmont in Geelong. All of our grasslands need a regular burn so this one should be very beneficial. Here are the before and after photos - the first one was taken in August 2007. I'm already looking forward to next spring to see what comes up.

Monday, 21 April 2008

A 'rose' by any other name

About 15 years ago I planted a correa in my garden. The label said it was Correa reflexa var. nummulariifolia originating from a coastal area in western Victoria. It has grown into a low shrub about a metre high and flowers almost continuously. I never have to prune it or water water it, and it fills its designated space very nicely as a foliage plant because the flowers are not very impressive. Unlike the big and colourful flowers on this lovely correa.

Correa reflexa

The Correa reflexa Common Correa group of plants are impressive on the whole and there are a wide variety of colours and shapes sought after by collectors. They are found all over Victoria. The main identifying feature are the two bracts clasping the flower, shown in the photo above. But look at the photo (below) of the correa growing in my garden. No bracts. I went searching in my reference books, and found that my correa was moved into the Correa backhouseana group years ago. In 1973 in fact. Well before I bought my plant as a seedling.

Correa backhouseana


In autumn we don't call it 'smog', or 'pollution'. We call it smoke haze. And this week the smoke haze is particularly bad because farmers are burning the stubble, and DSE is burning the bush so that we aren't so threatened by bush fires next summer and Aussie bush and grassland needs a regular burn anyway. We're not getting any rain or wind, so conditions are perfect for a burn. But no wind also means that the smokes hangs around.

Yesterday I went to the Western Treatment Plant at Werribee to do a bit of birdwatching. Sounds a bit ordinary when I write it like that, but all birdwatchers will immediately know that I've had a fantastic day. It's one of the best experiences, and even better because of the calm weather. Our telescopes weren't waving about in the wind! And my hat stayed on my head. Best birds were White-winged Black Terns in full breeding plumage flying over Little River, a group of Glossy Ibis shining in the sunlight, several Black-tailed Godwits in breeding plumage, a male Flame Robin on a fence post, etc etc. Werribee sewerage treatment ponds are indeed the 'Kakadu of the south'.

From the bird hide at the coast you can normally look out into Port Phillip Bay. But not yesterday. Because of the smoke haze there was no horizon so the birds in the water appeared to be floating in the sky. It was truly beautiful, and I was wishing I owned an SLR to take full advantage for the 'perfect' shot. But, in lieu of that, this is one I took on my little Sony.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Scaling the heights

Two years ago much of the Brisbane Ranges was burnt, so the aim of the Field Nats Club excursion yesterday was to see how vegetation was recovering. Most of the eucalypts in the area that copped the 'hot and fierce' part of the fire have epicormic regrowth, whereas those in the 'cooler' fire areas were relatively undamaged. The insects are having a great time - there is hardly a leaf in the whole park that hasn't been nibbled. (Maybe I'm exaggerating, because we only visited a tiny section.)

ants and scale

The meat ants were climbing into the regrowth to get to the substance exuded by the scale insects.

A confusing variety

Kathie Strickland, in her book Foothills to Foreshore, states that the Cranberry Heath Astroloma humifusum is very variable. And I agree. This one we found today in the Brisbane Ranges was shrubby, upright, blue-green. Its flowers were on the outside of the foliage. So different to the ones I'm used to seeing in our bush at Homerton. There the Cranberry Heath hugs the ground, and is green rather then blue-green. The edges of the leaves aren't as hairy. I have to push the foliage aside to find the flowers.

Astroloma means 'star with a fringe' and refers to the tufts of hair inside the corolla tube.

When we were children we used to lift the leaves off the ground to hunt for the tiny green fruits underneath and eat them. The name Cranberry Heath seems appropriate.

Cranberry Heath

A stinker

Isn't coincidence a marvellous thing?

Today I had a wonderful day in the Brisbane Ranges with the Field Nats Club - of which more later - and one of the photos I took was of an insect almost identical to that in the photo I posted yesterday of an unknown beetle on grass. This time I looked for some references to give me a name, and came up with Shield-bug (or Stinkbug) Poecilometis armatus. If attacked it can use a foul smell as protection. Luckily it didn't think my camera was a threat.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

It's a dangerous world (for a pelican)

Who needs missiles? Just send up a flock of pelicans. One Australian Pelican did an awful lot of damage to an F111 today. The news bulletin didn't mention the fate of the pelican.

Come into my parlour

A few strands of web just under the bark on a eucalypt. A small dot of red that moves surprisingly quickly, especially when you're trying to focus on it. A Red-n-Black Spider Ambricodamus sp. It's only about 13 mm long but quite noticeable against the brown bark, and apparently quite common, but not dangerous.

Red-n-Black Spider


This photo I'm posting just because I like it. I've got no idea what it is.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Along came a spider

It's amazing where you pick up trivia. I certainly wasn't expecting to find out who Miss Muffet was by reading a book about waterbugs!

The Waterbug Book, by Gooderham and Tsyrlin, was published several years ago but our Field Nats Club has just got around to buying it. And because I catalogue the club's books I get to have a browse as well. While browsing this one I found out that Thomas Moufet (Moffet), a Scottish doctor, wrote about the natural history of insects and in the process was one of the first to write about freshwater macroinvertebrates. The nursery rhyme features one of his specimens as well as his daughter.

Now, what's a tuffet? Where's my dictionary?

Monday, 14 April 2008

An explorer and a resident

I was in Melbourne city early this morning and filling in time because nothing was open as yet.

The Yarra River and the gardens beyond are within a pleasant walking distance so that's where I headed, and on the way passed the Matthew Flinders monument in front of St Pauls. Matthew Flinders in the Investigator circumnavigated Australia in 1801-1803. His name is very well known in Australia. But he had an excellent crew as well, including Robert Brown, naturalist and botanist (my hero), Ferdinand Bauer, natural history painter, William Westall, landscape painter and Peter Good, gardener. Google any of these names and you'll see a lot of respect out there.

Matthew Flinders

On my way down to the Yarra I stopped off at Federation Square ('Fed Square' to the locals) because I love the architecture and paving. And heard a sound I wasn't expecting, the call of a Little Wattlebird. It was in the low flowering gums, below. Now, in Geelong we never see a Little Wattlebird. We have to go down to the coast at Ocean Grove or Anglesea to see them, and even then it's not a given. So why are they happy to live in the centre of Melbourne?

Federation Square

Saturday, 12 April 2008

A tale of dead fish

Instead of travelling back to Geelong from Colac on the Princes Highway we went north to Cressy to see what state the lakes are in. And this is what we found.

Lake Colac is almost dry - just a bit of water at the south end near Colac. And along the northern shoreline at Ondit there are thousands of dead European Carp. Of course they are a huge pest in our waterways so I don't mind them dying but it makes you wonder what else has died. We only notice the carp because they are so big. The boat ramp won't be used for a while.

Lake Colac

Lake Colac

Lake Cundare was also dry and because it's a saltier lake it was glistening in the sun. The whole area is a wetland of international significance! That's Mount Warrion in the background, yet another volcano on the volcanic plain.

Lake Cundare

OK, I've talked a fair bit about how dry the volcanic plains are. Maybe I'll give the topic a rest.

A hole in the ground

Ondit quarry

Many of the lakes on the volcanic plains don't have water in them but this large quarry at Ondit near Red Rock does. The Chesnut Teal, Coots and Black Ducks seemed to be enjoying it.

I know bluestone is essential as a crushed rock for road making and as a concrete aggregate. I know they use it to build up railway lines. I know they use it as building blocks and paving. But it does leave a rather big hole in the ground. At least it's not on the side of a mountain like the scoria quarries.

A red rock

Today we went to a clearing sale at Colac, so I couldn't resist going to Red Rock again. It's called Red Rock because the rock (scoria) is ... red. A lot of the volcanoes on the volcanic plain have been mined for the scoria, and in some cases the quarries have disfigured the mountains. Thankfully attitudes have changed and that's not happening any more. These steps lead to a lookout above the carpark, and the 360 degree views are delightful. Be warned though, it's a very windy spot. Hang on to your hat.

Red Rock scoria

The Red Rock is actually a complex nest of maars, scoria cones and lava flows - forty in all - about 8000 years old they say. Normally the maars are lakes but not at the moment. (Maars occur when hot magma rises to the surface through rocks that contain a lot of ground water. The steam forces the magma into explosive clouds of small fragments that form an ash or tuff crater.)

Red Rock maars

Friday, 11 April 2008

The old and the new

In the 1850s Daniel Bunce, seen here in bollard form, was appointed curator of Geelong's Botanic Garden, and a lot of the design he put into place remains. There are a number of Heritage Trees that people get excited about, including a ginkgo tree, or maidenhair tree, planted in 1859.

But I get excited by the new garden at the entrance. Several years ago the new garden section was added to the Geelong Botanic Gardens, landscaped with the 21st century in mind, and called ... the 21st Century Garden. It's very impressive and well worth a visit if you're passing through. This is one small section of it, an area planted with plants from arid zones in the southern hemisphere, including many plants from the local area.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Hop Goodenia

Hop Goodenia

Hop Goodenia Goodenia ovata is widespread, meaning you can find it growing in a lot of places in Victoria, especially in moist areas. It got its specific name ovata because of the shape of its leaves

It has an untidy, straggly habit, grows up to two metres, flowers for a long time, is easy to grow in the garden or revegetation areas, will tolerate a wide variety of soils, and has a beautiful little yellow flower about 1-2 cm long. Yet, I'm not very fond of the Hop Goodenia - don't know why, because I like most of its smaller cousins.

This one was flowering yesterday at Jerringot Wetland in Belmont, suburban Geelong.

A scrubby sheoak

Scrub Sheoak_female

Re the previous post. As mentioned, the Scrub Sheoak Allocasuarina paludosa often comes in two varieties, male and female. This photo of the female shrub was taken last Spring.

Fooled again

It was marked on my map as Sheoak Hill, in Annya State Forest. I'd been through the area but couldn't recall seeing any sheoaks. The Drooping Sheoak is a tree that's hard to miss, its beautiful drooping branches and distinctive 'foliage' are easy to recognise. I thought that maybe the timber cutters had cleaned them all out, but they usually leave the sheoaks in favour of the eucalypts.

So I went to have a look...and found Scrub Sheoaks Allocasuarina paludosa. In amongst the Silver Banksias Banksia marginata and the Beaked Hakeas Hakea rostrata were little sheoak shrubs scarcely a metre high.

The species name paludosa means 'swamp growing', and I do find them growing in very damp sandy areas east of Heywood but in the Annya forest they grow in dampish sand. Mostly they are dioecious, the male and female plants separate. And the female plants are absolutely covered in cones. You need a good hand lens with you to identify the species sometimes, and the thing to look at is the leaf pattern - the tiny whorls of points at the intersections of the branches. In the second photo below you can see the leaves, in the blurry background. The name Allocasuarina is because the branchlets are supposed to resemble Cassowary feathers. OK. I've met a Cassowary but didn't study it's feathers too closely - I was more concerned that it didn't attack me with its feet.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

The aftermath of a storm

I absolutely detest cleaning windows and was quite pleased when our city council/water board declared several years ago that we weren't allowed to clean them because we don't have enough water.

But after last Wednesday's storm I'm going to have to break the rule (theirs and mine) and clean my north facing windows. The extreme wind created a dust storm and then we had a few drops of rain. Result? Big dusty patches on the glass. Five days later some people still haven't had their power restored, so I shouldn't complain about not being able to see out my windows, but this is too bad to ignore. I can't even say that I'll just wait for the next rain to do the job for me because that just isn't happening. So, I'll be out there with the bucket when I could be doing something much more interesting. Like reading other blogs, for instance.

Lake Corangamite

The largest lake on the Victorian Volcanic Plain is Lake Corangamite. It was formed when a river was blocked by a lava flow, like a lot of the lakes and swamps on the plain. But when is a lake a lake? Is a dry lake still a lake? Maybe here in Australia we need to invent a new word for a dry lake.

Lake Corangamite

Lake Corangamite used to be 100 km long and 40 km wide when it first formed, but is now 33 km long and 20 km wide. But, it's only 2 metres deep! And that's when we've had a few normal years of rainfall. At the moment it's almost empty. The water has always been very salty, three times saltier than the sea, but now it's even saltier. The photo above was taken last week from the north looking south to Red Rock, a volcano near Colac on the south bank.

Lake Corangamite

And the photo above was taken a year ago from Red Rock looking north.

Because of the receding water a strange thing has appeared in recent weeks – a salt-encrusted skeleton of a Wirraway trainer that's been there since 1950. The pilot escaped unharmed after he crashed during a training flight. The photo below has been published in The Weekly Times this week.


Thursday, 3 April 2008

Bugs on billy buttons

Billy Buttons, balls of flowers on long stalks, are in the daisy family, and obviously provide plenty of food for visiting insects so the pollen can be passed along.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008