Thursday, 29 May 2008

Food this way

This made me laugh - well, I was by myself so really it was just a smile.

A lot of trees in public parks have skirts of plastic. The hope is that possums won't be able to climb on the slippery surface - possums in numbers can do an awful lot of damage to a tree. But whoever dressed this tree missed a branch. (Or maybe I'll give them the benefit of doubt and say that a sheet of plastic has gone missing.) A possum would have no trouble climbing up the branch and jumping to the others.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Busy bee

A bee (species unknown) on an introduced shrub (species unknown) next to the Barwon River yesterday - both of its front legs were absolutely loaded with pollen.

Look at me


Lichen is fascinating stuff. I ignored it for years but now the complexity of it draws me in.

I know from my reading that it's actually a symbiotic relationship of fungi and algae rather than a single entity - but I'm not the person to ask how that happens. All I know is that the end result is beautiful. Yesterday I noticed that the older branches and twigs on the Bursaria growing near the river were completely covered by bright yellow lichens. Click on the photo to get a better look at the intricate shapes.

Lichens grow very slowly and can be damaged very easily. But humans have been using it for a very long time for medicines, insulation, stuffing mummies, producing litmus, alcohol production, hair products, dog food in the Arctic regions, floral decorations and of course, fabric dying. I wonder what colour my bright yellow lichen would produce. Yellow? has lots of information about lichens.

Monday, 26 May 2008

The junction

Exactly three years ago I took a photo of the junction of the Moorabool and Barwon rivers at Geelong. Today I took another photo from the same spot. The eucalypts have grown nicely and it's going to be a beautiful spot when they've matured. I wonder what will happen if or when we get another flood - at the moment neither river is running. In fact a friend is getting concerned about the proliferation of mangrove seedlings on the mud banks in the Barwon estuary and, in particular, at the feeding grounds of the endangered Orange-bellied Parrot where the Barwon runs out of Lake Connewarre - he says the river desperately needs a flood.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Ripping through The Rip

There's fantastic lookout at Point Lonsdale, just below the lighthouse. Stand there looking east and Bass Strait is on your right, Point Nepean straight ahead and Port Phillip Bay on your left. The water straight ahead is called The Rip - yes, capital letters because its an official name. I've spent a bit of time here over the years because it's a great spot to see albatross in the winter and thousands of shearwaters on their migration route.

The Rip is one of the most dangerous passageways in the world because this narrow stretch of water opens out into a wide and long bay and the tides and stormy weather create havoc. In the sailing days the entrance to The Rip was hard to find and navigate but it had to be done because Victoria's capital city, Melbourne, was a very important port and it was inside Port Phillip Bay. Numerous shipwrecks litter the south coast of Victoria.

At some stage a channel was blasted through the rocks in The Rip but it only allows ships with a draught of 11.6 m. Large container ships need 14 m to carry full loads to and from the port of Melbourne. So the controversial decision was made to deepen the channel at the heads and further into the bay and the Queen of The Netherlands arrived to do the job.

When we were at the Point Lonsdale lookout today the Queen was working in The Rip. She then moved into the bay a little to allow a container ship through. Apparently the cargo ships have to give 30 minutes notice so the dredge can get out of the way.

Most objectors argue that the turbid plume from the dredge will damage the environment in the bay, and that the dumping of the dredged material (much of which is toxic) in a particular spot in the bay is not secure enough even if it is to be topped with clean sand. The photo below (not mine - I nicked it from the ABC's webpage) shows the plume that follows the dredge.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Obsessive bird-watching

Most bird watchers I know keep lists.

Most keep life lists, a record of where and when they see new species of birds. Most keep country lists - my list is a country list because I'm recording all the bird species I see in Australia. Some keep State lists, or backyard lists, or year lists, or lists of birds they see on particular roads or patches of bush. There is a 700 Club in Australia - members have seen over 700 of the approximately 760 species in Australia. Without referring to their notes most bird watchers can tell you exactly where, and often when, they saw the birds. It's a fun thing to do actually and a challenge to add to the list(s).

But, some bird listers fall over into the obsessive category. They have almost dropped the fun bit, the enjoyment of seeing a new species in its natural environment, and get carried away by the pure number crunching. The book I have just read is an account of one such lister. In To See Every Bird on Earth Dan Keoppel has written about his father who has over 7000 birds on his list. That's an amazing number because they reckon there are only about 10 000 bird species in the whole world. To achieve that number Dan's father was obsessive to the detriment of job and family, has travelled all over the world at great expense. This book is a very well written account of landscape and relationships within the family. I was expecting a book about birds and birdwatching but I got much more. Simon Winchester, author of The Surgeon of Crawthorne and The Map that Changed the World, is quoted as saying

Marvelous. I loved just about everything about this book, from the wonderfully touching portrait of Dan Koeppel's father as a full-feathered uber-obsessive to the impeccably observed landscapes.

The little ankle-grabbers

One of the little annoyances when walking in the bush is the need to avoid Aceana species. The common name is Burr, and there are four species in Victoria - Hairy Sheep's Burr, Sheep's Burr, Bidgee-widgee and Australian Sheep's Burr.

The burrs belong to the Rosaceae family so are related to raspberries, brambles, roses but these little guys are sneaky. They only grow to ankle height - just the right height to grab on to socks, a very worthy substitute for mammal fur for transporting seeds. The burr plants are common along walking tracks so at the end of a walk some time has to be spent sitting down to pull the seeds and burrs out of socks and trousers.

But under a microscope or hand lens the barbs are beautiful, and each of the four species has a distinctive barb shape and pattern. Take the time to have a closer look next time.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Signs of stress

So many eucalypts around here are showing signs of stress because of the long years of lower-than-average rainfall. I see in suburban gardens and streets and on the university campus and initially thought that it may only be the introduced trees, eucalypts from other areas, that were suffering the most. But most local species are also effected - the wonderful Ironbarks in Ironbark Basin at Anglesea, the Yellow Gums at Bannockburn and Inverleigh, River Red Gums along the Barwon River.

What are the signs of stress? One of the first things I notice is that the normally open leaf canopy becomes even more open. The trees start to lose their leaves and do not grow new ones. The top branches start to die. The tree starts to produce leaves on the lower branches. New growth appears from ground level. I wonder what will happen in our local bush areas when the dry conditions continue, as many scientists predict, as a result of climate change.

Diana Snape wrote a great little article in last Saturday's The Age on this subject, called 'They will survive'. She was talking about several trees in her home garden that are shooting from the lignotuber. She writes:

The tree was obviously going into survival mode. (It must be easier to
raise water for photosynthesis just a metre or two rather than up to the
full height of the tree, which is close to six metres.)

Monday, 12 May 2008

A perfect nesting site

Our council and the catchment management authority have been getting rid of some of the non-indigenous vegetation along the Barwon River. And most of the local residents are happy for them to do so. But they've run into a snag (excuse the pun).

For reasons unknown a group of Darters has set up a nesting colony on the trees overhanging the Barwon right in the middle of the suburbs, in rubbish trees, non-Australian deciduous trees that have suckered along the bank. There are four nests there and it seems to be an almost non-stop process of nesting and rearing the young. They've persisted even when the water level rises occasionally and washes them out. Several local bird watchers are taking copious notes of nesting times and dates, behaviour and number of young raised successfully.

The trees are marked for removal but the plan is put on hold while it is decided what to do about the Darters. My guess is that the most attractive part of this spot (for Darters) is that the horizontal branches hang low over the water. Replicate that and we're in business. Now how long will that take?


One of the books on my shopping list is the guide to dragonflies of Australia that was published a year or so ago- there is a gap on my bookshelf and in my knowledge that needs to be filled. But then I'll need to find a way of making them sit still long enough to be identified!

My camera isn't anywhere near up to the task, but this fellow, a Bluehawk Dragonfly I think, sat in my garden long enough to be photographed. I'm struck anew by the complexities of an insect's wing. It's remarkable to think that the frame and the transparent membrane on the wing is so efficient. And the little drops of water are quite beautiful in close-up.

I wonder if I could sneak $50 out of 'housekeeping' to pay for that book this week.

Friday, 9 May 2008

The search for the Sydney

Everyone in Australia knows that they found the Sydney in April this year. HMAS Sydney and all her crew were lost in 1941 when she engaged with a German ship HSK Kormoran. And because it was not known exactly where she went down it has been the subject of conjecture since then. Last year we visited the beautiful memorial in Geraldton, Western Australia. It is full of symbolism and very moving. The Silver Gulls, one for each sailor lost, fly over the dome.

My friend Lois' father was one of the sailors listed on the memorial wall, and because she has never been able to visit the memorial herself I took a photo of the section of the wall with his name on it for her. I was pleased with the effect of the mirrored black marble reflecting the memorial behind the names.

This year Lois has been diagnosed with cancer and for five months has been undergoing the chemotherapy. She hasn't been able to fully celebrate and enjoy the finding of the Sydney as she would have if she was well, but it has certainly been an event that has brought some closure to the families of the sailors.

With all of this in mind I decided to make her a small quilt with a Sydney theme. I used one of my photos (above) as a pattern, and embroidered her father's name on the bottom.

Monday, 5 May 2008

A good spot to put down roots

After the fire the stony ground was bare, even twelve months later, on Buckshot Track in the Brisbane Ranges. There is almost no soil between the buckshot - small ironstone gravel - and after a long and hot summer it's very dry and exposed. But this little seedling has found a haven. It's growing in the shelter and small amount of humus in the burnt lepidosperma clump and looks like it may survive to grow into a tree. It's a Black Wattle Acacia mearnsii.

Wattle growing in lepidosperma

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Gall perhaps?

Something has been and gone. The 'chimneys' on the leaves of my Yellow Gum appear to be empty. They are very hard and firmly attached. Some sort of gall perhaps? I'd love to know. The leaf on the second photo has a scale as well but I'm guessing that it would be a different species to the creature that made the galls.