Friday, 20 October 2017


Those of a moderate age will immediately have started thinking of Bobby Darin and indeed that covers the subject matter of this post pretty well.  Procreation.

The first element was Frances noticing some small birds flying into a densely vegetated bush carrying lengths of dry grass.  This bush was where I have seen Red-browed Finches nesting in past years (and had seen that species hopping around a couple of days ago).  I set up the scope'n'phone but no birds flew in.  A little later we could see movement but this is all I got as a snap.
As I wrote - densely vegetated!  The next day they were still gathering grass for the nest ...
.. but I still couldn't get an image of them carrying it back to the nest!

Shortly thereafter Frances saw a female Superb Fairywren flitting around with grass in her beak.  No snap available.

I then trained the 'scope on an Australian Magpie nest about 100m away.
The image isn't great, as the birds seem not to have given photography much weight in choosing their nest site.  I am reasonably sure that at one point I saw a young bird stand in the nest flapping its wings so matters are well advanced there.

On the 22nd there was great outburst of song in the Bald Hill paddock.  This turned out to be Rufous Whistlers appearing to be doing display.  The only problem is that all three birds I could see were colourful males: I guess they'd voted "YES"!

The final bit of breeding arose when Don, a neighbour visited, and said I should grab my camera to photograph some frolicking lizards.  By the time we got there only one Blotched Blue-tongued Lizard was visible.  It seemed a bit tired.
After Don and I had wandered about for a few minutes looking at some fencing (the catalyst for his visit) even this reptile had shot through.  However, I look forward to a population explosion in this part of the biota.

Moving a bit away from the indigenous biota, the farm stock are also well into such matters.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Dancing Kangaroos

When I used to go to circuses as a kid in the UK a common act was a boxing kangaroo.  These days I don't have to leave the house to see such acts.  Although they are usually a bit further away.
 Shall we dance?
 Does such violence corrupt the mind of innocent bystanders?

 Now this set make me wince.

 Oooohhhh!  That tingles
 The Vulcan Death grip rules.
Since there are no bloodstains or corpses on the lawn I assume I can conclude with "No kangaroos were injured in making this blogpost."  (If there were injuries, my response is the Kiswahili phrase "Pole sana" which means "I feel your pain but accept no responsibility for it.")

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

COG does the Pinnacle.

25 members gathered at the end of Dungowan St in Hawker for a visit to this element of Canberra Nature Park.  After parking satisfactorily we set off led by the local experts Barbara Allan and John Brannan, to whom much thanks is due.  (With their presence I didn't need to refer to a map of which an excellent version is on the website maintained by the Friends of the Pinnacle.)  Our route is the purple line.
We were soon into breeding events with Magpie Lark ON
... (looking closely there appears to be a Wood Duck feather poking out of the nest)  in the magnificent eucalypt beside the road to the homestead.  (Obfuscation added to impede face recognition!0
We set off down the Dowling track noting a number of species of parrots flying over (notably Rainbow Lorikeets) and hanging around in trees with "interesting" hollows (Eastern Rosellas, Red-rumped Parrots and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos).  Proceeding along some members of the party, but unfortunately not the one who is hoping to see the species, saw two Brown-headed Honeyeaters. 

Going up the Macrorhyncha track at least 2 Scarlet Robins were calling in an area close to where they have bred in the past (but no nest was found today).  A Speckled Warbler was seen as were at least a pair of Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes
and  numbers of White-throated Treecreepers (image by Matthew Larkin)
 As we moved further along the track calling Leaden Flycatchers were heard and eventually seen.  Breeding events in the stage include Australian Magpie (Nest with Young ..
 and separately Dependent Young) and Willie Wagtail On Nest.

We scaled the summit of the Pinnacle, noting White-winged Chough en route and On Nest.
On the way we noted a lot of tape on trees ..
indicating where the ACT Government are going to bulldoze a huge swathe of trees to put in a pipeline from the Mount Painter water tanks to the new suburb of Whitlam.  Here is a view of of that offence against decency from the summit of the Pinnacle.
My guess is that Gough would be spinning in his grave at his name being associated this atrocity.  Presumably the hoss paddox below the Pinnacle are more important than the regenerating woodland.  Think about that come the next ACT election (although presumably the Greens have signed off on the deal, and the Liberals would do the engineers bidding also, so I don't know what the alternative is).

There was also a nice view over Kama (not yet built over).
On the way back we diverted to check the Robin nest site  and scored Double-barred Finch as a bonus.  We also saw some attractive flowers (first image by Matthew)

... and an ascendant Bearded Dragon (image by Matthew).
As we descended the final hill back to the start a pair of Eastern Rosellas were eyeing off a nest box.
We totalled 40 species (2 more have been added by members not present at the call over) and 6 breeding species.  By the time we finished the day was quite warm and things had slowed down.

Today there is (nearly) a new Frogmouth

Over the 9 years I have been aware of the Tawny Frogmouths that nest in our big Yellow Box I have noticed that the male, who does the daytime brooding, gets very agitated when the chicks are hatching.  This view has been confirmed by an ANU researcher who is doing a long term study on the birds in areas of Canberra Nature Park.

Looking back at the 8 years for which I have more detailed records suggested that given the date on which he started brooding in 2017 today was the day on which hatching would be due.  This morning he was his usual somnolent self.  However in the afternoon he seemed a bit wriggly and at one point I thought I saw a white bobblehead.

That turned out to be a false alarm - watching through my binoculars revealed the white object was an entire egg - but it still indicated that there was some action in hand, so I set up the telescope with attached iPhone on camera function. At first he was quite still.
 Then the edginess returned.  (This is quite unusual for this bird - he usually just sits there zoned out all day.)

 He obliged with a nice spread of the wing, showing the pretty pattern of the primaries.
 Then BINGO!  there is the egg.
 At times it seemed he was very aware of our actions; peering directly at the house (about 30m from the nest).
He also seemed at one point to get very antsy with parts of the nest.  Whether this was just finding something to take his mind off a sharp little beak poking into his belly or something more rational I don't know.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Today there are reptiles!

I decided that the time had come to improve the Vinca major infesting the bed outside the sunroom.  In the case of this species "improving" is a term that varies according to perspective and from my perspective involves use of my brushcutter.  I'm trying to work out a way of using glyphosate that doesn't kill all the other plants.

I was going pretty well on this until I noticed a couple of lumps in the vegetation.
Shinglebacks: Trachydosaurus rugosus.

They were initially very close together and I suspect that a small population explosion can be expected quite soon.  By the time I got back they had separated.
It was a bit hard to work out which end of the second one was what, but close peering showed it had its head jammed under the rock!

Monday, 16 October 2017

Recent Natural(ish) history stuff

I will begin with some strange posturing by the male Tawny Frogmouth.  Yesterday it went into a very strange position:
 After a while it returned to normal.
A researcher who is studying the many pairs in the parks near central Canberra has advised that this is normal behaviour, letting the sunlight get into the feathers.  The next day 16 October it was doing some feather maintenance.  I think if you click on the image to expand it you can work out which bit of the bird is what.
 This pin oak was being very late in dropping its leaves and was looking at bonsai time (without the spiffy pot).
 Then Frances noticed the green shoots all over the upper parts.  I think we'll call it Quercus palustris lazarusii!
After than good news I went out to tidy up a log heap.  Apart from anything else it was in a sump where water runs (if we ever get any rain).  In doing this I was very aware of a comment that reptiles like to hide in wood heaps - especially reptiles that are low in leg count.

I spotted a few tiny, and fast moving, skinks but no other reptiles.  However there were quite a few small frogs lurking in the lower levels.  I think they were all the same species and will take a guess at Neobatrachus sudelli (Southern Burrowing Frog).
 The only insect of interest was a rapidly departing Cockroach.
 Here is the improved woodheap.  Possibly a month's worth of Winter warmth.
Later in the morning I was prowling in the garden looking for, but not finding, butterflies.  Then my attention was drawn to some bees visiting the Ajuga sp in the lawn.  I am pretty sure this is Amegilla cingulata the Blue-banded Bee.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Getting to Sydney from the west

While on our recent trip West I became interested in where the land started to rise from the Western Plains up to the Monaro Tablelands (or, more generically, the Southern Tablelands).  The answer turned out to be Gundagai.
I then started to think about where the road dropped down again as one heads along the Hume Highway to Sydney.   The answer to that seemed to be about Berrima.
Of course this is very much a simplification: I merely took distances and elevations for a few towns/villages along the way and there are some nasty ups and downs within the overall trends.  I have in mind (in particular) a drop down to the Nattai River (or one of its tributaries) out the back of Mittagong!

All of this doesn't matter too much rolling along a major highway in a fairly powerful modern car with cruise control.  However it did make me think a little about a friend who is participating in a charity bicycle ride from Perth to Sydney.  That stretch from Gundagai to Yass would be most unpleasant.  Although from Berrima onwards would be on average OK!

I am unsure of the exact route they are following.  There seem to be 3 options (subject to where bikes are allowed) ...
.. and the Hay stretch is the end of the middle, shortest, one.   I have since checked and the progress tracker shows they have chosen the Hay Plains route.

I did wonder if the Northern route via Broken Hill might be preferred.  So I compiled another profile for that option.  I was somewhat surprised at the drop from Broken Hill to Wilcannia (but then thought about the meaning of the words "Barrier Range").  Willcannia is on the Darling, whereas Hay is on the Murrumbidgee, but basically they are at the same altitude.  I have commented in the past about the flatness of the area around those towns!

I'm sorry I don't have a name for the high point, but it seemed to be somewhere un-named 19km east of Bathurst!
Again the stretch from that high point to Penrith is on average pretty good for cycling.

I wondered how the two routes would look if plotted together.  That turned out to be a bit tricky to work out because they were different distances.  However, extending the Hume Highway route back to Renmark got both to be about 1200km and by a bit of estimation I was able to work out (OK, guess)  the elevation at each 100km point.  Here is the result.
Clearly the Hume route is not as evil as the one through Broken Hill.  I did wonder if the stretch through the Mount Lofty Range to the Goyder Highway might be unpleasant but the highest point is only just over 200m so a good bit lower than Broken Hill.