Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Titan Arum

This is what my daughter and I did on our way to my brother's place for Christmas lunch.

We had to drive from Geelong to Ringwood so it was easy to leave a bit earlier and on the way visit the Tropical Glasshouse at the Melbourne Botanical Gardens. Why? To see the flowering Titan Arum Amorphophallus titanum.

Quote from an information board in the glasshouse: After seven years of careful nurturing by Royal Botanic Gardens' staff the stunning Titan Arum, also known as Corspe Flower, is expected to reach full bloom during the week of Christmas. This extraordinary plant has the world's largest unbranched inflorescence, featuring a cluster of small flowers inside the base. The exact day of the bloom is difficult to determine, however once flowering the inflorescence may only last two or three days before collapsing... the Titan Arum is currently growing at a rate of 10+ cm a day and is expected to reach a height of 2-3 metres in height.

My six-foot-tall daughter standing next to the inflorescence spike.
The flower has not yer opened. You can see that the inside of the frilled skirt that is yet to drop is deep purple and it doesn't have any odour as yet. Look carefully at the photo above. The tall green plant to the right of the picture is in fact another specimen of the Titan Arum but is at an earlier stage of development. That plant will die down and then the bulb will be dormant for possibly years before the flower spike emerges.

To keep tabs on the status of the flower the Botanic Gardens' Facebook page has the best information. And here's what it will look like when it opens in the next day or so.

Department of Botany, University of Wisconsin-Madison
It was a bit tricky getting good photos of the plant. Too many people, and the high humidity in the warm glasshouse kept fogging up the lens on my camera!

Update: Flowered Boxing Day, 26/12/2012

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Lake Victoria

Find Emily Street, Point Lonsdale on Victoria's southern coast. Go right to the end, where there is a small carpark, and walk through the gate. The walking track takes you right out between the shallow waters and roosting areas of Lake Victoria that wading birds love.

We were there yesterday because it is one of our stops on the annual Challenge Count. There were a lot of birds there--LBJs (little brown birds such as Curlew Sandpipers and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers), Banded Stilts, ducks (including a single Freckled Duck), swans, dots (Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterels), pelican and spoonbills. It's heaven for a birdwatcher.

Mystery objects, Lake Victoria ...

... and the more normal view of juvenile and adult  Banded Stilts.
PS Best bird, for me, on the Challenge Count was a small flock of delightful Horsfield's Bushlarks singing and occasionally flying in grassland at Connewarre. Thank goodness it wasn't up to me to identify them. I had no idea, but others in our group knew what they were.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Lookout for the Box-Ironbark

Box-Ironbark* woodland exists mainly in central Victoria. Draw a line around the extent of the Victorian goldfields and you're encompassing the the Box-Ironbark. And because of the gold-digging and mining the forest was damaged and fragmented. It's also a fantastic place to find orchids and birds if you're there at the right time.

We were there last weekend, about a month too late for orchids. And late in the afternoon, not the best time to see birds. But we could see what it might be like and it's excellent that the Heathcote - Graytown National Park exists to help preserve what little Box-Ironbark forest is left. This particular area is a stronghold for non-breeding Swift Parrots.

The view from Melvilles Lookout
We drove to Melvilles Lookout near Graytown through the healthy forest, past the very tall grasstrees, past the quarry at the base of Mt Black, up a rough and stony road through an understory of yellow everlastings and prolific Stypandra glauca Nodding Blue Lily that had just finished flowering. At the lookout we found several picnic tables, a view over the surrounding countryside and two butterflies. I don't mean two species, I mean two individuals! (We saw very few butterflies anywhere we went last weekend.)

These grasstrees were at least twice my height. They must be very very old.
Heath Ochre Trapezites phigalia
Australian Painted Lady Vanessa kershawi
We plan to go back another time but a little earlier in the spring to see the flora at its best.

*Box-Ironbark is a term that incorporates a number of eucalypts, mainly White Box and Red Box, Red Ironbark and Mugga Ironbark, Yellow Gum and Red Stringybark. The best book on the subject is Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country by Chris Tzaros.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

500 and counting

Sandy Straits and Beyond celebrated his 500th blog by writing a retrospective this week. Coincidentally this is also my 500th blog and I'm also looking backwards.

My first blog was in April 2007. It was an experiment with a medium I wasn't familiar with and I wasn't sure I'd find enough to write about! But here I still am over five years later, still writing about amazing and interesting things in nature. It's been fun, the whole process, from deciding what the topic will be, sorting photos, finding references and the actual writing. And, of course, exploring the Australian bush. And I love reading the other Australian nature blogs.

I also wrote travel blogs when we holidayed overseas, and I've recently started one to write about another hobby of mine, family history. People often say that I must spend a lot of time blogging but I really don't. Maybe it shows! Mine isn't the most popular blog on the planet but there are a few regular followers - friends, family and fellow bloggers - and I'm continually amazed how often my visitors arrive because they've done a google search or image search. And I'm amazed that so many of my visitors are from overseas given that it's a blog about Australian nature. I hope they enjoy their visits and learn something about our wonderful country as well.

Here are a few of my blog's stats. I know. There are stats, and then there are stats. But this is what Mr Google thinks.

Five most visited blogs?
                           Round the twist
                           A bearded orchid
                           See through to the sea
                           Feather-heads and pussy tails
                           Point Addis
Five top keyword searches?
                            emu bush
                            bush peas
Apart from Google and Blogger the top referring sites? Thank you guys.
Top five countries of origin?
                            United States of America
                            United Kingdom

I wonder if I'll make it to 1000?

Monday, 29 October 2012

Constructing a case

Today I revisited the bush that had the case moths in abundance and noticed that a lot of them were quite active. One in particular was manipulating a small stick that it had already cut. It seemed to be 'licking' the surface of the stick I thought perhaps it was laying down an adhesive coating prior to placing it on the case. This is a small video.


Thursday, 25 October 2012

Hovells Creek

Hovells Creek, west of the You Yangs
It was a regular outing for the birding group but this time we visited a special place. Hovells Creek meanders through private property west of the You Yangs and it's home to birds that we don't see very often in other areas around Geelong.

Despite the gale-force winds we saw a lot of birds - beautiful Rainbow Bee-eaters and Striated Pardalotes nesting in the holes in the sandy riverbanks of Hovells Creek, Jacky Winters, a pair of White-winged Trillers, Rufous Whistlers, a Black Falcon, White-browed Woodswallows, martins, Fan-tailed Cuckoos and Red-rumped Parrots and many others.

It's a pleasure to go birdwatching with such skilled people. They observe behaviour and jizz, listen to vocal fragments, catch a glimpse of colour and unerringly pinpoint the species. For them the joy of observing the birds never diminishes. I watch and learn.

Waiting for the Trillers to return to their tree.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Capturing Flora

The Art Gallery of Ballarat is a great place to visit any time but an extra-special exhibition is a real bonus. We went to see Capturing Flora: 300 years of Australian botanical art, an exhibition of drawings, paintings, etchings and prints of Australian flora.

Most of the art work is from the gallery's own collection - a pretty impressive effort. The Director of the gallery states (in his forward to the book of the same name that has been produced to complement the exhibition) that the impetus for the exhibition was Helen Hewson's book Australia: Three Hundred Years of Botanical Illustration published in 1999.

We saw works by Ferdinand Bauer, John Hunter, Sidney Parkinson, Celia Rosser, Henry Andrews, Walter Fitch, Rosa Fiveash, Louisa Ann Meredith, Margaret Flockton, Margaret Stones, Robyn Mayo and many others. We saw books opened to display etchings and wonderful hand-tinted illustrations. We heard heard Jean Dennis in person talking about her paintings of the Brachychiton genus. I was personally taken by Lauren Black's watercolours of Tasmanian mosses.

And we saw an illustration in a book of poisonous plants in Queensland, done by Margaret Anderson Hope who was a Tasmanian. I recognised the name and when home checked my family tree database and, yes, she's a distant relative. Here's a photo of Margaret holding a posy. The original is in the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts in Tasmania and they also hold an album of Margaret's paintings called 'Wildflowers of Tasmania'.

Monday, 22 October 2012

The curious case of the calytrix and the case moths

One shrub in my garden, only one of many, is covered in case moths. It's a Calytix tetragona that was covered in a mass of pink flowers several weeks ago. Now I'm wondering if the moths have been there a while or just arrived. And I'm wondering what it is about this particular plant species that they like.

Monday, 17 September 2012

The haves and the have nots

I've just been looking at my neighbourhood on Google Maps. Maybe it's jealousy but I think there are rather too many backyard tennis courts and swimming pools. I'd like to see a balance sheet: number of hours used against cost of installation.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

A cross orchid

Sometimes when you're bushwalking a sight just stops you in your tracks, takes your breath away. That was the feeling when I saw a colony of orchids near Inverleigh. They are tiny and blend in with the ground litter remarkably, even when growing en masse  as they do.  I wish I'd thought to video my fellow field nats tip-toeing around the bush trying to avoid stepping on them - you'd be about to put your foot down, spot the leaves and be forced to change direction whilst balancing on one foot.

We were looking at a natural hybrid called Chiloglottis X pescottiana (or Chilosimpliglottis X pescottiana) Bronze Bird-orchid. Apparently it's a cross between C. trapeziformis and C. valida. It was growing in grassy woodland. The callus gland is basal, large and stalked - Jones describes it as 'resembling an ant'.

Tiny and sweet

Today I joined the Field Nats on an excursion to Inverleigh Nature Conservation Reserve (known as the Common). It's a 1000ha grassy woodland with a Friends Group, some interesting plants (including a spider orchid that only grows there) and a very good bird list.

We saw quite a few orchids today, including the spider orchid in wire cages. The Friends locate as many as they can each year and cover each in a wire cage to protect it from marauding possums, choughs, kangaroos, wallabies and rabbits. They are very beautiful orchids but unfortunately none of my photos are good enough to upload.

There were other plants flowering and many others in bud. These are a few of the little plants that are easily overlooked. All are in the Asteraceae family.

Common Sunray Triptilodiscus pygmaeus (not quite open)

Moss Sunray Hyalosperma demissum

Soft Millotia Millotia tennifolia

Hoary Sunray Leucochrysum albicans var. tricolor (not fully open)

Thursday, 2 August 2012

A holiday

This blog will not be updated for the next six weeks because we're going to explore the natural wonders of western USA. We've never been before so it will all be new and exciting.

I've started a new travel blog, Boobook explores USA, and if you're interested you'll find the link in the sidebar. Two years ago I kept blogging while we explored Europe and found it was fun, not too time-consuming and allowed friends and family to follow our journey, so I'm hoping the same will apply this time.

And I'll find time to read all my favourite bloggers via the wonderful Google Reader on my Android.


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Toothed Jelly

After a week of heavy rain Valda and I headed down the coast to one of our favourite spots, Blanket Leaf Picnic Ground north of Lorne. Our goal? Fungi.

The Great Otway National Park and other reserves in the Otway Ranges protect an astonishing suite of fungi, ferns and flora but it can be hard to find them because of inaccessibility. Especially if you are 'of a certain age'. Blanket Leaf PG appeals because there is a path through a wet forest of treeferns, eucalypts (and Blanket Leaf Bedfordia arborescens) leading to Cora Lynn Cascades and beyond, and the forest floor is thick with lovely wet mulch, mosses and lichens, fallen timber and smaller ferns and plants.

We found lots of fungi and we're still trying to identify most of them. Fungi can be frustrating, but they are mighty interesting. I do enjoy the process but inevitably find that we've failed to take note of or photograph the crucial identifying feature!!

But this is one I can identify and it's a beauty. It's a Toothed Jelly Pseudohydnum gelatinosum. I'd never seen one before. Unfortunately I had to resort to using the flash because in the gloom I couldn't tweak the camera settings to get a decent depth of field or decent shutter speed so the colours here are a little blown out but you can see how beautiful it is. And also unfortunately, the entry in Fungi Down Under states that it 'is very jelly-like and shivers when touched' and I never touched it!

Now... on to the other 25 species. Where's my Fuhrer?

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Urban lakelands

The suburb Lara Lakes didn't exist a generation ago, and neither did Lara Lakelands but they now fill a natural valley and filter stormwater before it drains into Hovells Creek.

This morning the Mid-week Bird Group checked out the lakes that are surrounded by residential housing. A surprising number of birds find the shallow water, muddy edges, reed beds and open grasslands suit their needs. Today we found about fifty species including Cape Barren Geese, Buff-banded Rails, Black-fronted Dotterels, several hundred Galahs, Red-rumped Parrots and Spotted Pardalotes.

It's a hidden gem.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

You have mail

The wind has picked up quite a lot since this morning. Actually it's blowing a gale. And when I ventured outside to check for mail I found this moth clinging on to my letter box, waving about in the strong breeze.

I think it's an Oxycanus dirempta but am happy to be corrected.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Precious saltmarsh

As you drive to Geelong from Melbourne on the Princes Freeway you cross over Hovells Creek near Lara. Look to the east and you see a path that follows the creek to the estuary in Limeburners Bay, Corio.

Today we explored sections of the creek, including the boardwalk into the mangroves. We concentrated on the precious saltmarsh areas.

Saltmarsh at Limeburners Bay, Corio. You Yangs in the background.

Beaded Glasswort Sarcocornia quinqueflora

 Shrubby Glasswort Tecticornia arbuscula (Syn. Sclerostegia ) and a Garden Mantis

Nardoo Marsilea sp.

Rounded Noon-flower Disphyma crassifolium subsp. clavellatum

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Feeling low

We found a Spotted Pardalote sitting on our garden path, panting, eyes closed. Maybe he'd hit the window glass or been attacked by a bigger bird, or maybe he was ill. He didn't object to being picked up and placed in a more sheltered spot under a bush and hopefully will have recovered by morning.

At least it gave me a chance to see this beautiful bird up close - the rump and chest colours are stunning and the spots delightful.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Gondwanan wildlife

The reason we were on the Barham River Rd at Apollo Bay (see previous post) was that we went to the Wildlife of Gondwana exhibition. We'd left it until the last minute - it closed today - but I'm very glad we didn't miss it.

Dinosaurs have been blasted (yes, blasted!) from the rocks on the coast west of Cape Otway and some exciting discoveries made, so palaeontologists and Monash University set up this wonderful display of fossils and cast fossils from Gondwana. A group of locals is hoping that a permanent museum can be established in the future and I reckon it would be successful given the number of people who visit the Great Ocean Road each year.

Plants that dinosaurs ate - the vegetation in polar Victoria (in the Early Cretaceous period) was dominated by ferns, evergreens and gingkoes. (Boola Boola, Gippsland.) OK, I admit I'm not that knowledgeable - I'm quoting from the label!

Peter Trusler won the Eureka Prize (and achieved the front page of Time magazine) for this painting he did for Australia Post. They released it as a stamp series in 1993. It depicts Australian dinosaurs with intriguing names such as Muttaburrasaurus, Minmi and Timimus.

Where there's a will...

The river and its valley would have been beautiful once but at the moment it's showing the damage caused by human habitation over the last 150 years. But there are steps being made to remedy the situation.

The Barham River is a small waterway running out of the Otway range behind Apollo Bay on Victoria's Great Ocean Road and, although there are plants and animals of State and National significance in its catchment, the problems are immense: nutrient runoff, erosion, fish barriers, stock access, weeds (including willow, blackberry and ragwort), intense recreational use, timber plantations, increasing algae due to lack of shade, septic soakage, fire, artificial opening of the sand-blocked estuary, unprotected banks etc etc. But the authorities are aware of all of this and more, and so are individuals in the local community and things are starting to change.

Today we noticed in one section close to Apollo Bay the willows are being removed  (leaving roots in situ in order to reduce erosion) and fences to exclude stock are being erected. Hurrah!

Before: the willow-infested river (courtesy Google Maps)

After: The willows have been removed and stacked ready to burn.

Update: This announcement last week is good news for the Barham River (as well as the Moorabool and the Barwon).
Barwon Water will contribute more than $300,000 to local Landcare groups over the next three years.The corporation has already provided more than $1 million to Landcare over the past decade.In the latest move, partnerships have been renewed with the Southern Otway Landcare Network (Barham River catchment) and Upper Barwon Landcare Network (Upper Barwon River catchments) while the Moorabool Catchment Landcare Group (Moorabool River catchments) will be supported for the first time.
Each group will receive $35,000 a year for three years.Barwon Water Chairman Dr Michael King said the Landcare partnership program had been successful in helping protect and enhance the region’s quality water resources by protecting, stabilising and revegetating riparian areas.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Ferns 101

When I was growing up I only knew two ferns, the Maidenhair (Adiantum aethiopicum) and Bracken (Pteridium esculentum). Both grew in the sheltered bush on our property and bracken grew in the open paddocks as well. We kids headed for the bracken clumps because we knew that we would find rabbit warrens there and in the pre-mixamytosis days of the 1950s we made a bit of pocket money trapping and ferreting for rabbits.

But that's another story. This blog is about ferns. About my ignorance of same. Over the years I have managed to build up a bit of knowledge about flowering plants, insects and birds. But ferns? No. Nothing. I've been on excursions in the Otways with experts and on field trips with knowledgeable amateurs. I've checked my own references and the internet after taking photos of ferns, in an attempt to identify what I've seen, and failed. Is it really so hard?

I've had a few successes. I now think I recognise the Screw Fern, the Kangaroo Fern, Coral Fern, Mother Shield-Fern, Pacific Azolla, Sickle Fern and Nardoo. But then I lose confidence when I'm faced with a choice: Is it a Mother Shield-fern or a Bristly Shield-fern? Is this a Rough Tree-fern of a Soft Tree-fern?

My knowledge of ferns was put to the test yesterday when we explored some of the delightful tall trees and ferny understories of forested areas near Beech Forest in the Otway Ranges. You go into sensory overload in these forests with the smells, the sounds and beauty in abundance.

Kangaroo Fern Microsorum pustulatum

Turtons Track, Otway Ranges

Aire River