Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Saturday, December 30, 2006

SCA's "tissue of lies"

Despite the news that Saddam Hussein has been executed today, water is still the main issue in Robertson, today. I have reported on this grim news of Saddam's execution on another blog site, which I invite you to visit.

The SCA has lodged a submission to the Federal Department of Environment and Heritage, as required under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). Put simply, the submission is a white wash (I am tempted to call it a "tissue of lies").

They basically say that they are not going to harm the environment of the Kangaloon Aquifer - trust them - they know what they are doing.

This site was used for pumping in January 2006. It is called a "rehabilitation area", but is still largely bare dirt, 12 months later. The sign (above) is visible on the right of the photo. Behind it is Bore 2C - the most productive bore on the entire bore field.

That bore site 2C is less than 100 metres from Butler's Swamp (left) - on Tourist Road. It is an "Endangered Ecological Community", listed under the EPBC Act.

It remains to be seen if this Act can be by-passed by the SCA's reassurances, or whether the Federal Department will take seriously its task as an environment protector.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Mallee Gum found along the Nepean River

I am not sure what species of Eucalypt this is, but I do know one thing, it was not listed by the Environmental Consultants who are purported to have "surveyed" the Kangaloon Borefield.

As will be seen from the thin branched structure of this plant, in the other photos, this is clearly a "Mallee" type of Eucalypt, growing happily along side the Nepean River, in Kangaloon.

The most likely species are: Eucalyptus gregsoniana and E. moorei. Neither is recorded (in the general texts) as being found in the Upper Nepean catchment area. They are reported from the Upper Blue Mountains, and, in the case of E. gregsoniana, in the Budawang Ranges.

"The Budawangs" are a small group of rugged hills on the far southern boundary of the Shoalhaven Valley, south east from Sassafras - which puts them between Jervis Bay and Braidwood - but on top of the range. So, they are roughly 50 Kms due south of Robertson, at the opposite end of the Shoalhaven Valley.

The fact that this plant is growing here, unreported, is just another example of how poorly this area has been researched.

I am not a specialist on Eucalypts, but there are people around who are. I hope to get a specimen for these people to examine, in the near future. But meanwhile, here are some photos of the flower, the whole plant, and some shots of it's habitat.

The thin branches leading up to dense clumps of foliage are distinctive of this plant.

It is yet another example of how inadequate has been the scientific studies on which the SCA's proposal to pump the Kangaloon Aquifer is based. I shall provide more information on this species' identity as it comes to hand.

And here is where it was growing - over the Nepean River. The stems of one of these plants are clearly visible in the top left of the screen, hanging out over the river bed.

Snow and the "Firies" - A land of contrasts.

A photo is worth a thousand words.
The Age has this wonderful photo, by Keren Freeman, of CFA Captain from Mt Buller, Carly Reudavey (centre) and Andrew Kelly (left) and Luke Corbett (with Santa hat).
The words scratched in the snow on the windscreen say it all.

Carly is quoted as saying that the volunteers had not had a day off in 25 days - until yesterday.
According to The Age, CFA state duty officer John Athorn warned that the fires would not be extinguished by the rain (or even the snow), and that fires could flare up again quickly if conditions worsened.

"The immediate fire threat will ease with the rain, and it will dampen down the fine fuel, such as the grasses and leaves, but the larger fuel will continue to smoulder and with a couple of days of hot, dry weather and some wind, it could start up again," Mr Athorn said.


For more on the cold snap, and the records which it set, and on its wider impact on the fires, read this report in The Age.


And for an interpretation of the inpact of climate change on the fires, read this informative article. Is it Global Warming? Regardless of the "political caveats" which the BOM people are obliged to throw into their reports, the facts remain that the last fire to be dampened in the East Gippsland mountains, in Victoria, was at Harrietville - which gets a special mention in this report, as having been particularly dry this last winter.

A 10 year drought, followed by a particularly dry year, with little snow this last winter, and an early thaw - it all adds up to telling us something, doesn't it? No wonder the country has been burning. Lets hope there is a real break in the seasonal trend, or we will see more, and worse to come, before this summer is over.

Monday, December 25, 2006

A cool, damp (but happy) Christmas.

I am back in Robertson, in time for Christmas. And the place has had heaps of rain. Apparently there were 3 days straight of rain about 10 days ago, while I was in dry old Canberra. When I came back, on Saturday evening, it was raining, once again, and there were intermittent downpours yesterday morning.

More importantly, for the fire fighters of Victoria and Tasmania, the cool moist air has dampened the fires there. Not entirely "OUT", but, at least the "Firies" get to spend Christmas Day with their families.

In the Victorian Alps, the high tops have received about 25 mm of rain (an "inch" of rain, in the old money). Not all of the fire ground has had as much as that, but still it is some relief.

In Tassie, there is a snow dusting on Mt. Wellington, overlooking Hobart. So, at the very least they have had cooler weather across the State.

The photo above is courtesy of Manda, a fellow blogger, who took this in June 2005, while visiting Hobart. Nice photo, Manda!


And for a Christmas Message, with Aussie Spirit, I shall leave that to Father Bob Macguire, from Sts Peter and Paul, South Melbourne.

Fellow JJJ Broadcaster with John Saffran, Father Bob is a crusty old Catholic Priest, but he has been doing a lot of good social work, in the name of Christ, for a long time. He is the Founder of "Open Family Australia".



Monday, December 18, 2006

Everybody is stealing water, it seems.

Jonathan Bell sent me a story from Farm Weekly (WA):
"Perth city residents to steal rural water".
<<"After months of debate about environmental and social impacts and strong opposition from South-West residents, the EPA has recommended that Environment Minister Mark McGowan allow 45 gigalitres to be drawn from the aquifer annually for Perth residents' consumption.WAFarmers water spokesman, Steve Dilley, says rural people are becoming more convinced that "what Perth wants, it gets" — regardless of the ramifications to rural and regional areas.">>

Well, you can see how that story is heading. Game, Set and Match to Perth residents.

Sure enough, the story ends up:
<<"The final decision will be made by the Environment Minister after consultation with other decision-making authorities such as the Water Department.">>

We shall see if the environmental caveats recommended by the local EPA on draining that Aquifer have any effect, once the Perth's Water Department has its say.
As I commented to Jonathan, it is a very similar situation in the Latrobe Valley, in Victoria, where Melbourne is taking pristine water from the Thomson Dam (the subject of Bushfire threats in the last week) to supply suburbia, while Melbourne is now pumping treated effluent (recycled water) to the Latrobe Valley, for use as a coolant in the enormous coal processing and electricity generating industries there.
And in Queensland, Peter Beattie is talking about damming the Mary River, (above Maryborough) in order to provide water to Brisbane (well to the south).
As I said, everybody is stealing everybody else's water. Few are doing it as much as Sydney, though, with the huge "water transfers" from the Tallowa Dam, on the Shoalhaven River. It is a disaster for the River, and a severe limitiation upon Nowra's economic development. It is the exact opposite of decentralisation.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

John Howard's "weasel words" on bushfires

John Howard has used "Weasel Words" (see below) to suggest that Climate Change is not responsible for this year's unseasonally early and severe bushfires.
"Mr Howard said there was not enough evidence to suggest climate change had caused extra bushfires in Australia. "I don't think anyone could ever prove that either way," he said.
The Age 16 December 2006
This is a man who cannot admit that he was ever wrong (and still is) about anything - even the simple observation that Climate Change is real.
Wake Up, John Howard. Sniff the air - it is full of smoke. At least, it is, everywhere except in Kirrabilli. Climate Change is burning this country, right now.
As a matter of interest - this is what Victoria Emergency Services Commissioner thinks:
CLIMATE change is causing longer, more aggressive bushfire seasons and must be factored into the state's firefighting plans, Victoria's Emergency Services Commissioner said yesterday.
"We are seeing unprecedented fire behaviour," Commissioner Bruce Esplin said. (The Age 18/12/06)

I know you went and visited some fire fighters in the north-east of Victoria this week, but that actually doesn't achieve anything - except a photo opportunity for yourself.
Visiting the firefighters in Whitfield, John Howard said:
"Going there today shows directly to the people that their fellow Australians are thinking of them, they feel for them, they worry that these fires are starting so early and in such a large number of areas," he said.
"It's going to be a long, hot summer, to use that old cliche. These fires have started very early."
The Age 13 December 2006.
Wake Up, John Howard. Sniff the air - it is full of smoke. At least, it is, everywhere except in Kirrabilli.
Climate Change is burning this country, right now.
Wikipedia provides a useful reference to Weasel Words, by the way, with a lovely derivation of the meaning.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language says that the term actually comes from the weasel's ability to suck the contents out of an egg without breaking the shell; thus, weasel words suck the meaning out of a statement while seeming to keep the idea intact.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A personal update

I have been in Canberra for another round of treatment for Lymphoma.

I am now half way through a course of radiation treatment. So far, so good.

The Doctor who is responsible for treating me changed the strategy somewhat. I was told they would angle the beams in from either side (supposeldy to avoid shooting the Kidneys and the Spine). However, when it came to Day 1, they lined me up and shot vertically through my belly and up from my back - all this without telling me (the patient) about the change in plan.

Reassurances afterwards are not as good a medical policy as consultation with the patient (at least not as far as the patient is concerned).

Anyway, having insisted on taking time from the Doctor's busy schedule to express my surprise and concern, I am still stuck with being told that they have done the maths, and worked out that it is safe.

Time will tell in that regard.

But will the treatment (now at a lower dose than previously intended) do the job of knocking off the tumours?

Radiation Treatment is one thing, but I could have done without the "Mushroom Treatment" as well.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

More on the Bushfires

More on the bushfires - in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.

Dargo Firefighter Kelvin White is nearly engulfed in flames. Photo: Eddie Jim. See story: The Age.

News Limited (not a source I usually recommend) has a nifty little interactive map, with dots for particular fires, which are clickable, which open up with the latest text report on the particular fire you are looking at. Try it.

If that does not work, go to their website, and click on "Interactive Map" under the bushfire stories.

The Tumut fire which was burning in the Bondo Pine Plantation has now spread to the bush (Eucalypt forest) north east of Tumut. Canberra residents are very nervous about this fire, which is still a long way from Canberra, because this is in the same direction as the horrendous fires of January 2003 which burnt right into Canberra, in a single afternoon, in a wind-assisted fireball. What no-one is saying to the Canberra residents is that there is relatively little fuel left, west of Canberra because there has been very little regrowth since those fires, because of the drought.

The Canberra fires were powered by a huge amount of dry forest, 40+ degree temperatures, 4% humidity, and wind estimated at 120 plus Km/h. That is equivalent of standing in front of a huge hair drier, with a lighted newspaper in your hands. Of course everything will burn.

Our weather has been mercifully kind to us this week, even in Victoria and Tasmania. It is only a matter of time till those kinds of weather conditions return.

Thomson Dam in smoke
Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones

As a cruel irony, Victorian authorities are worried that the fires from Mt terrible will burn right into the main catchment of the Thomson Dam. That would cause them to close the dam to water supply use, for up to 3 months, owing to soot and ash contamination. This at a time of unprecedented drought.

Only serious rain, spread across the entire south-east of the continent can put these fires out. Start praying, as no rain of any significance is forecast.

Here is a link to the updated south-east Australia fire map from

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Labor Candidate says "Don't take the water"

The Labor Candidate for Goulburn, Mr Robert Parker has apparently come out against pumping of water from the Kangaloon Aquifer.

Goulburn is one of the most water-conscious areas in NSW - and if you look at Pejar Dam (left) you will know why. It is officially empty.

OK, he has suggested a caveat, but it is one which I can endorse, namely:
"Not one drop of water should leave that aquifer until all residents of Sydney, the Southern Highlands and Goulburn are on the same water restrictions."
Well done, Mr Parker.

This story is reported in the Southern Highlands News of 13 December 2006.

If Sydney were on the same restrictions as Goulburn, they would not need to pump water from the Aquifer.

"Narellan Pools" ad.

The truth is water is still being wasted in Sydney, with impunity. The environment of the Southern Highlands ought not suffer for the sake of indulgent use of water by Sydneysiders.


Fires burn more than previously thought.

Fires have burnt more than we were told, previously.
(photo: Miriam O'Brien - on ABC bushfire photo gallery)

I am not really surprised, as the estimates have been quite consistent so far - in other words, just educated guesswork. Now the Victorian Government has done an aerial infra-red survey, and the area burnt out is far larger than previously thought. 408,000 hectares, not the 250,000 hectares we were told previously.

Fires at night - Eddie Jim (The Age)
Go to "The Age" for the full story. This quote is taken from the end of the story, on page 2 of the website story.

"DSE spokesman Kevin Monk said infrared images taken from aircraft showed the fires, sparked by lightning 11 days ago, had so far ripped through 408,000 hectares."
That is a huge increase over the area I talked about yesterday, namely the Wingecarribee Shire's area. It would be equivalent to adding the entire Woronora Plateau (Robertson, to Wollongong, and down to Appin and across to Bargo) to the area I talked about yesterday.

Eric Abetz, a Senator for Tasmania, one of those 12 Senators for the pocket-handkerchief State, who gets into Parliament on a handful of votes, has added his twopence worth.

"Federal Forestry Minister Eric Abetz says a build up of fuel in wilderness areas where logging or grazing is banned is contributing to the severity of bushfires."

Good one Eric.

I hope you feel good about making that comment. Did the PR manager of Gunns write that for you, or was it all your own work?


Greens leader Bob Brown has rejected the Minister's argument.
He says in Tasmania some of the most destructive fires have been sparked by logging regeneration burns.
"The Minister's quite wrong in attributing the fires to conservation," he said.
"One thing I think Senator Abetz needs to be very careful about is trying to make a political gain out of the enormous misfortune people have when bushfires get away."

Well said, Bob Brown.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Iemma has lost sight of the "WATER" issue

The NSW Premier Morris Iemma appears to have lost sight of the issue of WATER.

In today's media, he is reported as announcing that the Botany Bay Aquifer will be used as a major source of water for industrial users in the general Botany area. Good (although weren't they supposedly already doing that?).

But the announcement is couched entirely in base political point-scoring language.

Not one word of how this was going to help Sydney out of its water crisis (and trust me, folks, it has one).

Not one word of the environment.

Nope, the only thing Iemma can see is that he is (supposedly) one jump ahead of Malcolm Turnbull, the Federal Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Water.

What a strange way to run a State!

Bushfires in Victoria and Tasmania

More on the Bushfires of Victoria, and Tasmania.
Photo: Chris Hocking
That link will take you to the most recent report in "The Age". It reports on fires in the Mt Beauty area, one of the ski fields in the Victorian Alps, and also about fire having apparently destroyed "Cresta Lodge", one of several lodges in the Mt Buffalo National Park.

But the report also talks about a 40 Km fire control line, in the vicinity of Erica.
Erica is in the northern section of Gippsland. It is rainforest country, on rich red volcanic soil, just like Robertson. I know because a fellow Peony enthusiast moved there about the same time as I moved to Robertson. He has had two fires threaten his place since he moved there. The difference is that the Victorian high country is dominated by tall Eucalypt forest, and we all know how that can burn ferociously, in a bad year. This is a bad year!

Tasmania, mainly on the north-east coast is suffering. Last night up to 18 houses near Scamander were destroyed, apparently. That link will take you to the ABC news website report.

It seems odd that after the lead up to these fires being so well publicised in Victoria, that more damage has occured in Tasmania. Was the Lennon Government asleep at the wheel? I wonder. In fairness to them, this report, from the Tasmanian Fire Service does mention 100Km per hour winds. That makes any fire, especially in heavily timbered country impossible to deal with.

One of the captions on the ABC Website, referrring to "Bushfire Summer" (apparently a forthcoming TV program) says:
"We have this incredible view of humans dominating Nature - and we ought to disabuse ourselves of that notion."
An Update:
This link to "The Age" updates you on the latest about the fires.
It also gives you a scary statistic of the area which fires have destroyed in Victoria, over the last 10 days.
250,000 hectares.
For those of you not good on imagining a large number of hectares, try:
2,500 Sq Kilometres, or 25 Km wide, by 100 Km long.
That is the distance from Robertson to Goulburn (one hour's drive on the freeway), and a width from the highway to the escarpment edge, near Bundanoon. It is an area larger than the Southern Highlands, by my reckoning. (Of course, it has not been a single burn, but patches of fire, but that's what it amounts to.)
This link confirms my estimate. The Wingecarribee Shire covers an area of 2,700 Sq Kms.
Imagine if the entire Wingecarribee Region were to have been burnt.
For the pre-metrics amongst you, try:
965 Sq Miles, which is 20 miles by 48 miles.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Victorian fires continue. CTC fundraiser successful.

Smoke above a property in Moyhu
Photo: Beatrice Anderson,
private contributer to
ABC News Website

The Victorian fires are continuing to rage. Fortunately, the communications have been good, so far. So no lives have been lost (as far as I know). There has been some property damage, but given the size of the fires, and their large number, it is remarkable that there have not been more homes lost (or entire villages).

The CTC@Robertson had a fundraiser last night. The CTC's manager, Rebecca (BJ) was the main co-ordinator of the event. While there were only 8 teams (6 or 8 per team), we did succeed in having a fun time, and we raised over $1000. Special thanks to Howard and Jodie, who acted as MC, host and and quiz master/scorers.

BJ kicked the evening off with a balloon bursting competition, for which the prize was #10, for the person to find the $10 which had been hidden inside one balloon. It is not as straight forward as one might think, as with balloons bursting around our heads, it was hard to make out the difference between bits of spare rubber from balloons and a crumpled up plastic note. This was a fun, noisy and chaotic start to the evening, which just got better and better.

Celebrity naturalist Dr Fritz Lymphenmeyer (from Austria) made a surprise visit to Robbo, for this Fundraiser. He was so awful that people immediately started offering money to get him off the stage!

Howard fined me (outrageously) for supposedly questioning his authority (Of course, I did - he was wrong!). At least he had the good grace to accept my "payment", tucked into the waist band his "undies", while BJ provided the appropriate sound effects, of "stripper music". (This was my insurance that Howard would not be so foolish as to fine me a second time!)

Emma bid top price for some Christmas Lilies which were so fresh they were just starting to open that evening. They have a delicious perfume.

Sarah bid strongly, and took home a magnificent branch of one of David Tranter's wonderful Dorrigo Waratahs, (Alloxylon pinnata) with about 20 flowers on the branch.

current bushfire map

Try clicking on this link, to see the latest 24 hour reported fires in the Victorian "High Country".

That map will show you the entire region from Melbourne in the south-west (lower left) of the picture, to the East Gippsland lakes, omn the right hand side of the image.

The red flame icons mark fires within the last 12 hours. Yellow flames icons mark fires within the last 24 hours.

You can use the slider bar to the left of the image, to zoom in or out.

Thanks to "anonymous" who sent me the link for this amazing website, put up by "Aus-emaps". This map is one of their thematic maps, part of their "Natural Hazards" series, on bushfire dangers in the last 24 hours.

That last page link contains a very interesting discussion of the facts which this blog has been reporting since October - the unseasonally early summer heat, and what this is likely mean in terms of bushfires this summer.

Do yourself a favour - read that page, to help understand what is happening around you.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Victoria readying itself for huge fires

Well, you cannot say they have not been letting people know. The Victorian Government, the CFA, the print media and the ABC have been doing a terrific job. But the reality is that the mountains are burning, in the north east of the State.

This stunning satellite image (from The Age) shows a "moustache" of smoke which curls up, divides and heads south to Tasmania, while on the other hand, much of it curls up and heads north, to the far east Gippsland coast, and into New South Wales.

Miss Eagle tells me: The smoke from the fires is closing in. It is thick outside. Not close in enough so that we feel we are breathing it in. But it is bad and the sky is thick and heavy with smoke and getting thicker.

And she is in Melbourne, a hundred and fifty Kilometres away from the main source of these fires.
Whether the fires do all link into a super fire, and then change direction with a forecast wind change, and burn through to the Gippsland coast - all that remains to be seen.

But at least people are being put on notice. Some are being advised to choose whether to leave now, or stay and see it out. "Tomorrow will be too late" is the ominously worded advice.

If you have any involvement with Victoria, then you ought read this link from The Age.

Or try this link, from the ABC's website:

Victorian fire threat grows into a conflagration.

Here is a link to an extraordinary Victorian Government video of the fire threat for Victoria over this coming weekend.

This is a satellite photo showing smoke from the Victorian Alps fires.

The smoke is coming from fires in the alpine spine of eastern Victoria, and the smoke is drifting south east, towards the Gippsland coast.

We are looking at hundreds of square miles of smouldering, burnt out forest. There are countries in Europe with less area than has been burnt in these fires.
This is a potential fire holocaust.

This map shows the same area, the central region of Gippsland (the eastern end of Victoria) in pale brown tones. This is the area which is already on fire, or might be, over the next four days.

There are some fifty separate fires, caused by lightning, but the risk is that they might merge into a single huge fire, as temperatures heat up, and north westerly winds increase over the next few days.
Global warming and climate change at work? Lets just say, these areas have been suubject to huge fires before, most recently in 2002 (in January), and in 1939, the most terrible fires since European settlement of Victoria in the mid 1800s. That fire burnt at the end of summer, on the original "Ash Wednesday" fires.

But these fires are burning in early December. Some started in November. It is too early. How will the forests be coping at the end of a long, hot summer?

It is time for the Federal Government to wake up, and realise that not only is this an emergency, it is part of a pattern which the Government has denied for years.

This is climate change bearing fruit - burnt fruit.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


The Victoran Alps could "burn for months" according to the Victorian Premier, Mr Steve Bracks. This is reported in "The Age", 4 December 2006.

This is a very early start to the bushfire season in Victoria. It matched what I have been saying for months about the unseasonal heat we have been having. I first commented on this on 12 October this year.

The Victorian Alps are notorious for their severe fires, as they are covered with dense Eucalypt forests, which frankly, can burn with a terrifying ferocity. Lets hope this prophecy is not lived out in reality. Here is a link to historical photographs of the infamous 1939 bushfires in the Victorian Alps.
Fortunately, the fires in the New South Wales Blue Mountains, which I mentioned last week, now appear to be under control. But that is not the same thing as saying they are out.

With that difficult terrain of deep gorges, which are utterly inaccessible by road, fires can burn uncontrolled for weeks on end down there.

But the weather has been mild for the last few days, thank goodness.


Go to "The Age" for another stunning photo of mountains slowly burning, out of control , in the Victoran Alps.

And now for some light relief.

I love the names that early explorers gave to place names. Usually it is Sailors names I notice, like Cape Tribulation, and other cheerful names. But this group of names, all reported in the one story today about bushfires in the Victorian Alps take on an especially bleak tone today:
Mt. Terrible, Black Range, Mt Despair and Mt Buggery.

But, if it were not for the fire story, you would have to have a chuckle, wouldn't you?

I also add in Mt Despair, which is mentioned in the linked photo gallery of someone's bushwalk to Mt Buggery.

Seriously, I am not kidding you - these are real place names.

Monday, December 04, 2006

CRG Report published - but buried !

You can trust consultants to do the job which their clients want.

In this case, Elton Consultants have compiled a report of some 106 pages entitled:

"Sydney Catchment Authority Groundwater Investigations
Community Consultation and Submissions Report"

Pages 76 to 88 of this 106 page .pdf file contain Appendix 2 which is the:

"Report to the Sydney Catchment Authority
on the Proposed Borefield at Kangaloon NSW"

That is, of course, the report of the:

"Upper Nepean Groundwater Community Reference Group"
September 2006

So, it is up on the web. But you need to be extra-ordinarily patient to download all 106 pages of the Consultants report.

Alternatively, you can look at it on this Blog site.
Sure, it is 7 or 8 pages of text, but it is easier than downloading 106 pages on a .pdf file.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Moths and Butterflies Man.

The Internet is a wonderful resource, and some of the best sites - for me, are those of the Moths and Butterflies Man, Don Herbison-Evans. In fact there is a group of related sites, to do with Moths, Butterflies and their larvae (Caterpillars). These sites are very comprehensive (sure, there are gaps, but many species have yet to be named, or studied in detail).

If you want to have a look, I suggest you start with Butterfly Larvae of Australia:

If you scroll to the bottom of any page, you will find links to "Caterpillars of Australian Moths" and to "Caterpillar FAQs".

It is a great resource - with a mountain of information. Most pages have photos of adults (Butterflies or Moths) and their immature stages - caterpillars.

Don's websites enabled me to hazard a guess that my caterpillars, from yesterday's story were of an introduced pest moth in the Helicoverpa genus. I wrote to Don Herbison-Evans yesterday, I said:

Dear Don,
I am enclosing some photographs of 2 caterpillars which I found inside a Mud Wasp nest, which my daughter asked me to remove, as they were on the glass on her window - and she judged the Wasps to pose a risk to her.

I would not normally break open a wasp nest, nor kill the larvae inside, but the location of the nest made this a question of safety, (in my daughter's opinion).

I am writing to ask if it is possible to identify the type of caterpillars in these Mud Wasp nests? I am guessing that they might be something like the Helicoverpa caterpillars, as per your illustrations on:

Tonight I got this reply back. (Thanks Don, for such a prompt reply.)

Hi Denis,
Very good: yes I think that your wasps are doing a good job keeping the pest Helicoverpa armigera under control, as your illustrated caterpillars appear to be this species. I doubt that the caterpillars are feeding on the Acacia or Doryphora, but are more likely on various herbaceous plants in the understory or open areas.
Your mud wasps are mainly from the family SPHECIDAE, and can deliver a painful sting if annoyed, but being solitary you only have to fend off one beastie. In this way they are less of a threat than the communal wasps (family VESPIDAE) where one needs to fend of dozens if they get annoyed.

Wow, two answers, not just one: The species of Moths (I guessed correctly, based on Don's wonderful website (that is a very satisfying thing).
Plus, I get the family of the Mud Wasps identified too - just from their nest, and their habits.

I want you all to go to one of those links above, and then "bookmark" it, or save it to "Favourites" - or whatever terminology your computer uses. From one site, you can always jump across to the others. These sites are a "Gold Mine" of photographs, and information. It is especially useful for residents of the Southern highlands, as we are blessed with an abundance of wonderful Moths, in particular. And they are so beautiful, and so intricate in design.

Love your local Moth, I say.
In fact, you do not have to love this particular Moth, as it is a pest species.

It is known variously as the Corn Ear Worm, Tomato Grub, Tobacco Budworm, Cotton Bollworm. It is in the family: HELIOTHINAE, of the Order: NOCTUIDAE

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Life and slow death on the front verandah

Today Zoe asked me to remove a new Mud Wasp nest on her window, out on the front verandah. As this is Zoe's favourite sitting area, I agreed to remove the nests, before the wasps got too fond of going back to that spot, time and time again.

The basic safety of humans does count, a bit, in this household.

Anyway, it turned out to be a bit more macabre than I had anticipated. The first thing was that one of the two nests was not completed, and I could see some spotted or bi-coloured creature moving around inside the nest.

I assumed that this was a spider, as I have previously seen wasps carrying or dragging spiders towards their nests.

Turns out both nests had caterpillars inside. Both were still alive, though slightly paralysed.

The Caterpillars were about 4 cm long, and each nest was about 2.5 cm in diameter. I am giving the dimensions, as this nest resembles a large Mexican clay stove. It was quite small (smaller than an Aussie 20 cent coin).

This is what the wasps do, to provide food for their larvae. They sting their prey and semi-paralyse their victims, then lay an egg inside the nest.

I actually thought they laid their egg inside the body of the prey, but evidence in one case clearly shows otherwise.

The last photo clearly shows the larva (or is it the developing egg) inside the remains of the nest, after I had broken it off the window.

From a nature lover's point of view, I can only claim one good aspect of my human intervention. That is, the two caterpillars, which were surely doomed to a terrible, slow death, were despatched under my boot, to a quick death.

I am sure that the wasp will be back making new nests somewhere around the house - but I hope it is not to be at head height on my front verandah.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Community Reference Group Report

Regular readers will know that the Kangaloon Aquifer borefield proposal has been assessed (and rejected as unsatisfactorily researched) by the Upper Nepean Groundwater Community Reference Group.

It's an awful mouthful for a dedicated group of local people who have done a terrific amount of work reviewing all the papers produced by the Sydney Catchment Authority in justification of their proposal to pump the Kangaloon Aquifer.

The CRG (or UNGCRG to be precise) came to the conclusion that there should be a five year moratorium on the development of the borefield.

That is in stark contrast to the fact that the SCA is going ahead with developing the borefield as fast as they can (see photo at left, from 14 October 2006)

Anyway, their report is an important document, and it deserves to be more widely available than it currently is. It has been in the public domain at least since 1 November 2006, but it was actually submitted to the SCA in September 2006.
Butler's Swamp.
A wetland of
National Significance.
A vital part of the
Kangaloon Aquifer system.
Clearly the SCA is embarrassed by the fact that their own hand-picked group of people rejected the SCA's Kangaloon Borefield proposal. So the SCA have so far declined to publish the report.
It deserves wider distribution, so it has now been published - on a dedicated site.
"Upper Nepean Groundwater CRG Report"

I am not a member of this Community Reference Group. I am merely serving to publicise their findings - in the public interest.

Late Breaking News.
I have just spoken with Donna Sowry, Community Relations Manager, Metropolitan Water Plan, for the S.C.A. She assures me that the Report of the Upper Nepean Groundwater CRG will be up on the web later this afternoon.

The Report is not there yet, but Donna assures me it will be.
DJW 5:00pm, 28 November 2006

Monday, November 27, 2006

Nepean River water must not be wasted

The Nepean River is a tranquil stream as it leaves the green hills of the Southern Highlands.

Little does it know the battle which is being fought on its behalf.

The SCA is about to waste the precious drinking water which is found in the Kangaloon Aquifer, a mere 10 metres directly underneath this peaceful spot, just beside Tourist Road, in East Kangaloon - just a few kilometers from Robertson.

This environmental vandalism has to be stopped.

As a resident of this area, I feel we are trapped by the web of the Sydney Catchment Authority, like this pretty Damselfly. ***

Above left, is the Spider whose web had trapped the Damselfly.

Like the Damselfly, every turn we make seems to trap us more.
(Click on images to enlarge them)

Rumour has it that the report of the Community Reference Group is about to be watered down by the Chairman of that group, under pressure from the SCA. If that is true, it is a disgrace. So much for a supposedly independent representative body.

It is a move straight from the pages of "Yes, Minister".

Let us hope that the members of the CRG do not have to undergo the indignity of publicly fighting the SCA (or worse the Chairman) in order to demonstrate their genuine independence.

Hopefully, like this wonderful little Damselfly, they can extract themselves out of the web of the SCA "spiders".

The members of the CRG deserve our support.

*** Damselflies are closely related to Dragonflies, but they are distinguished by their "bug eyed" appearance - with widely spaced, protruding eyes. They also (usually) hold their wings closely folded along their bodies when resting. In this case, the wings have been caught in the Spider's web, and might have been damaged.
"Latham's Snipe"
Photo: Harris. COG website.
While waiting for Bernard Eddy and Richard and Andrew Jones to finish filming a story about the Nepean River, I walked along the banks of the Nepean River and flushed a "Latham's Snipe" (Capella hardwickii) a summer migrant to Australia, which breeds in Japan and north Asia in the northern hemisphere summer (our winter).
Postscript: This bird is protected by a Treaty with Japan. As a result it is protected under the Federal environment legislation, the EPBC Act. DJW 5.11.07

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Flying Duck Orchids - and my Blogger Birthday

Thanks to the regular readers who have bothered to follow the path of my steps across the last year. Little did I know quite where the journey would take me, when I started out on 26 November 2005. I wrote three blogs on that first day - because I had not then understood how the system worked, and I was experimenting with it.

I am delighted to see that my very first blog entry was entitled "Odd little things which grow around Robertson"

What is exciting is to see that the very first blog contains a picture of the "Flying Duck Orchid", (Caleana major) - which is still right up there amongst my favourite flowers. It is less satisfying to realise that I did not post a single word of text to go with the photograph. Oh well, I soon sorted out how that worked!

This little Orchid is a sensitive plant, with the "duck head" part of the flower sitting on a flexible hinge. Insects are attracted to enter the centre of the flower, in search of the mysterious scent which it apparently emits.

When the flower senses the movement of the insect, the "duck head" closes over, trapping the insect inside. This is an example of a highly evolved system for achieving pollination.

There is a tiny escape hole (which can actually be seen in the top photo - it is visible on the unopened bud on the right of the open flower). To escape through that little hole, the insect has to pass the pollen sacs of the flower, and it will inevitably get a dob of sticky pollen glued onto its back, as it seeks to exit the flower. Larger insects are liberated after about half an hour, when the flower re-sets itself to the open position.

Click on the photo to enlarge the view.

Interestingly, the second photograph shows a wonderful association of plants and insects. Flower Spiders are often found associated with Orchid flowers. Obviously the spiders know that the Orchid will attract insects to the flower, either by scent, or nectar, or pollen. In this case, there is a tiny spider sitting in her web, which is strung across the front of the flower. The body of the spider is only about the size of a match head, with the legs clearly much larger. (Click on the image for a larger view.)

She is facing outwards, and hanging upside down in her web - waiting for an insect to arrive. Clearly she avoids triggering the movement-sensing device on the flower, by remaining suspended across the front of the flower, on her web.

Two stories from one flower. This plant has given me double value for my sense of "Wonder" at the intricate designs of Nature. Each story is more weird and wonderful story than anything to do with this flower's uncanny cartoon-like resemblance to the head of "Daffy Duck"?

As a matter of statistical record, since I linked the "Site Meter" statistical reporting system on my blog, there have been 4853 separate visits to this blog site, an average of 30 visitors per day. These statistics wildly exceeded any expectation I had at the beginning. And even better, these are not just accidental hits (which does happen on the internet), but there have been 11400 "page views", an average of 2.34 pages per visit, which means people have been actually looking through the blog entries.

Thanks to my loyal readers - you make it all worthwhile.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

"Perfect Day"

Last evening, Boney rang to invite Zoe and myself around for a glass of something. When I got there, I discovered that Zoe and Boney had hatched a plot.

Today is my birthday. Last night was the eve of my birthday, and I was not anticipating any celebration then, so I was taken by surprise.

We had a glass, and went on to record Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" - a song which I fell in love with when in Glasgow. I used sing its heavily ironic lyrics when walking about in Glasgow, often with a throbbing headache (the kind one ought really describe as a "hangover"), while getting "Scotch Mist" sprinkles upon my jacket.

"Scotch Mist" is such a fine fog that it can bead up on one's clothes, without one getting wet. Of course, Robertson can produce similar effects on one's clothes.

But in Robbo, the irony of "Perfect Day" is lost, as one really can say:

"Oh It's such a Perfect Day,
I'm glad I spent it with you".....

Zoe sang the main lyrics and we doubled up on the chorus. Bones was on keyboard, Deb on Bass, and BJ helping out on backing vocals. Thanks to Zoe for thinking up the plan, and for keeping me in time (when singing).

I am now the proud owner of a CD of us all playing and singing "Perfect Day".

A nice surprise. A nice idea, Zoe. Thanks. And thanks to Bone for the technical know-how, and the keyboard playing and the encouragement to sing my favourite song - over the years we have known eachother, at the CTC's Music Nights.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The country (out there) is burning

The bush is burning.

The Upper Blue Mountains has the worst fires.
See this ABC news report.

And this updated story.

Sitting on my green hillside, where all the local countryside is green as green can be, it is hard to realise how dry the bush is. But look at the sky folks.

That pall of smoke hanging over the Southern Highlands is coming from fires in the rough, inaccessible countryside, beyond Canyonleigh, a mere 50 Km from us.

This fire is down in the Wollondilly River which is wild and inaccessible, and very very dry.

After all, Goulburn, on the Mulwaree River is in the headwaters of the Wollondilly River catchment. Goulburn is famously in drought, and has been so for 5 years at least.

The Pejar Dam (above) was apparently officially declared empty on 21 April this year (according to Wikipedia).

So, it is with some bemusement that I heard this morning that the NSW Premier, Morris ("Nero") Iemma is going to Goulburn tomorrow for a drought forum as requested by the local Mayor, Mr Paul Stephenson. (see photo at left).

One would almost swear there was an election in the wind.

Oh no, that's smoke, folks, in the wind. Real smoke.

The country is burning, while "Nero" fiddles about with NSW State Politics. Goulburn has been in drought for five years.
And now Iemma deigns to visit them?


Would that have anything to do with the Mayor of Goulburn/Mulwaree standing as an independent candidate against the high profile Liberal Party Candidate for Goulburn Pru Goward?

I wonder.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Perth introduces Desalination

Perth has introduced a desalination plant to produce 17% of its drinking water. It is powering the desal plant by wind power.
And all of this without any great fuss at all.

If little Perth can do this, why cannot Australia's leading State Capital city, Sydney?

Leadership has to be the answer. Western Australia clearly has that, but NSW is lacking it. What about it Mr Iemma?

Decide that this needs to be done, announce it, and get on with it.

I heard today that: "The New South Wales Government is promising to spend hundreds of millions of dollars reducing traffic jams in Sydney and improving public transport. It is part of the plan to help Sydney cope with an expected population of 5 million by 2020."

OK, I think to myself. Its all very well for them to plan roads for 5 million people, but what are those 5 million people going to drink? Surely that is more important than where they are going to drive?

What plans does the SCA have for this population, for which the Roads and Transport authorities appear to be planning? Is this covered in the NSW State Plan "A new direction for NSW", launched this week by Mr Iemma. I cannot find this population figure there, but maybe it is buried inside.

I shall keep on digging.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Nature of Nature - at the microscopic level

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of watching 2 fully grown adults discover the beauty of the inner world of flowers.

My friends Jim and Songsri and I went into the Carrington Falls Nature Reserve, near the restored quarry (not close to the falls). This is an easy area to access, with a variety of habitats. You start near the road in open forest, with grass and herbs as undergrowth. Then you pass to an area of almost bare sandstone rock, with typical sandstone forest scrub, with dense undergrowth of Tea Trees (Leptospermum sp.) and the endemic Carrington Falls Grevillea, Grevillea rivularis. (Click to go to a good photo of the flower from Plantnet - the Royal Botanic Gardens plant identification website.)

This plant is one of Jim's favourites. It has long flowers, arranged in a "toothbrush" structure. The flowers are varied in colour, in part, white, then green, then purple (in parts). Also, the seed pods are fascinating. They are hairy, and when fresh, they are green with dark patches, almost resembling a caricature of an eye drawn on each side of the fruiting capsule.

Jim has bought himself a 10 power magnifying glass, and he was revelling in introducing Songsri to the inner world of flowers.

I was enjoying myself too, explaing the convoluted pollination system of the Grevilleas (and the related Waratah too). With the lens, one could see the pollen sacs inside the flower, and how the pollen is transferred onto the end of the "pollen presenter", which subsequently develops into its female stage. Some flowers had been successfully pollinated and we could see the ovary starting to swell. Other seed capsules were well developed - those hairy things described previously.

We also examined some Melaleuca squarrosa flowers, and noticed their sweet scent on the warm afternoon air.

The simplest structure of the flowers which we examined was the Leptospermum rotundifolium, which had large (3 cm wide) lilac flowers, with a very clear structure of a ring of 5 petals, an inner ring of stamens, around a prominent central disc with an obvious green colour. Have a look at the ANBG website photo on the preceding link, or this link for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, Plantnet site for this Tea Tree.

The best part for me was watching Jim explaining to his wife how to use the lens. Songsri clearly had not ever looked at a flower through a magnifying lens before. It was very satisfying listening to her squeals of delight, as she "got it right" with the lens.

And then she just fell in love with the inner delights of flowers. This is where a novice can develop her sense of wonder about Nature. All power to Jim, the educator.