The love birds

We’ve had a flock of 35 yellow-tailed black cockatoos around for a week or so. They feed on pine cone seeds and the like, and they are big birds.

They have a loud, distinctive call, ascending and descending, which could be heard as a cry of delight. Hear it on the Birds in Backyards website here.

For some reason, a few decided to alight on the statue of Aphrodite/Venus in the front yard. Hence the title of the post (geddit?).

Sorry that the images are a bit fuzzy but I had to take them through a flyscreen. Plus they move fast!

Yellow-tailed black cockatoos_1 Yellow-tailed black cockatoos_2 Yellow-tailed black cockatoos_3 Yellow-tailed black cockatoos_4 Yellow-tailed black cockatoos_5

 

So much for those small parrots in pet shops laughingly called ‘lovebirds’ – I’d rather have these!

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A pot of gold in the front yard?

It’s not often you see a rainbow in your own front yard. We were sitting on the front porch appreciating a thunderstorm the other day, and noticed this one as the sun started to break through.

The rainbow connection

Red-necked pademelons live in the forest and come out to feed just there – maybe they are really leprechauns in disguise, guarding their pot of gold.

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Miscellaneous moths and mushrooms

Wandering and/or bashing along bush tracks, we often saw life forms of various persuasions.

Moths, for example …

Granny Moth (or Old Lady Moth) Dasypodia selenophora, Arthur River, Tasmania

Granny moth (or old lady moth) Dasypodia selenophora, Arthur River, Tasmania

 

Moth_Arthur River

Unidentified moth, Arthur River

… and mushrooms. I took most of the following photos in the Tarkine, a cool temperate rainforest. The others were in the heathland near the coast. Both environments were very dry – Tasmania has had record low rainfall lately. A dry rainforest is a sad sight indeed. I won’t attempt to identify them as it’s hard from a photo unless you already know your mushrooms; sometimes you need a microscope to differentiate the spores.

Tarkine fungus_2

An agaric fungus

Tarkine fungus_1

A polypore (left)

Arthur River fungus_4

 

 

Arthur River fungus_1

 

Arthur River fungus_2

Arthur River fungus_3

A bolete fungus (no gills but tubes that open at pores on the underside of the cap)

 

 

Puffball

Not wombat poo (which is cubic)

 

Arthur river fungus_6

Arthur river fungus_7 Arthur river fungus_8

I can see why people are fascinated by the different forms and colours.

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Tasmanian devil trip – some things I missed out on …

… because I was in a different group when they happened, but Betty and Di kindly shared their photos with me. Thanks, you two!

I went with a group spotlighting and petroglyphing with Sebastien, but chose to go looking for fossils and seeing the damage done by the January/February fires instead of my scheduled morning with him. I’d twisted my ankle the previous day and knew that I would not be up to walking much and that a morning in the bus would rest it a bit.

Seb’s group found some little buddies.

Seb with juvenile devil

Seb with a devil – does it look like Taz? (photo by Betty Jacobs)

Note the ticks on the ears, ever-present on devils …

Juvenile Tasmanian devil; photo Di Bennett

Juvenile Tasmanian devil; photo Di Bennett

The next generation … more young are born than can cling to the four teats …

Baby devils in the pouch - one for each of four teets; phot by Di Bennett

Tiny baby devils in the pouch – one for each of four teats; photo by Di Bennett

 

Outa there … note the pink, hairless ears.

Running back into what some of the the early settlers thought of as hell

Running back into what some of the early settlers no doubt thought of as hell; photo by Di Bennett

They also caught a southern brown bandicoot; it was the only one for the trip.

Southern brown bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus)

Southern brown bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus); photo by Betty Jacobs

And some spotted-tailed quolls … I was surprised at how big they are, like large cats.

Spotted-tail quoll

Adult spotted-tail quoll; photo by Betty Jacobs

 

 

 

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Poetry corner

High country weather

Alone we are born
And die alone
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
over snow-mountain shine.

Upon the upland road
Ride easy, stranger
Surrender to the sky
Your heart of anger.

Arthur River sunset

Arthur River; photo by Betty Jacobs

(James Baxter, NZ poet)

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Alarums and excursions

The mornings were dedicated to ‘processing’ animals and collecting data, and the afternoons often to ‘sightseeing’ around Arthur River. Betty and I helped with data entry on a couple of afternoons when we were too bushed to go out again; a quiet afternoon quaffing coffee and working on spreadsheets was just the ticket then.

Betty hard at data entry

Betty hard at data entry

The dashing devil alarum

Spotlighting was done after dinner most nights. Darkness comes relatively late in Tassie at this time of year, before daylight saving ends.

So it was that Seb took a 4WD-full (including me) to see what we could see. He drove slowly while one person on each side of the 4WD shone a powerful spotlight to the side of the road and into the trees beyond, and a third person entered on a data sheet the numbers of whichever critter was spotted. We saw several wombats and many Bennett’s wallabies, and one group a ring-tailed possum up a tree (eyeshine is the thing to notice in trees; then you stop the car and have a closer look). But, possibly because of local farmers on a wallaby- and rabbit-shooting expedition (hence increasing the population of the pest, European wasps), we saw very little on our walk along a track with forest on either side. The sound of guns would have scared anything off. The spookiest thing was the eyeshine of a large group of curious black cattle in a nearby paddock.

The road to and from Arthur River has a stretch with a ‘virtual fence’. It is something like 12 km of poles on both sides of the road. Each one has affixed a sensor which detects car headlights and gives off an alarm and blue flashing lights in front of and as a car shoots past. This system has proven effective with deer in some parts of North America and apparently the number of roadkills has dropped on the approach to Arthur River because of this system. You can see a video of the alarms here.

'Virtual fence' pole

‘Virtual fence’ poles emit sound and light at night in response to car headlights

Those of you who live in the countryside have probably had the night-time experience of something small and furry and very fast dashing from concealment past the front of your car. It’s a heart-stopping moment. So far (touch wood), I’ve not hit anyone.

So it was a very near thing – and our reaction times are just not fast enough when an animal decides to make a run for it – when a devil ran out in front of our ute on the way back to Arthur River! It was not in the ‘virtual fence’ zone. Seb slammed on the brakes and missed it. Oh the irony if he had hit it! Well done, Seb, for missing.

The inchman alarum

After checking traps one morning, Gini, Betty, David and I were about to get into the ute to go to another site when Gini got a call on her mobile that the team doing habitat surveys further along our track couldn’t find the remote camera. She and David went off to walk the 4 km round trip to help them find it. Betty and I stayed back; Betty pottered around looking for interesting orchids and I had a short nap in the ute. After I woke up, I got out and sat on a large log, and Betty chose one close to it. But shortly she was leaping to her feet, being bitten by the fierce native Tasmanian inchman ant. She had inadvertently sat on their nest hole, and they were not happy!

Inchman

Inchman

 

 

She was being bitten inside her trousers as well as on the neck and she had about 10 on the back of her shirt, so I tried to pull one off. OUCH! They are more painful than jumping-ant bites and last longer. So I yelled, ‘Take your clothes off, take your clothes off!’ and grabbed a fallen tree branch, with which I proceeded to hit the ants on her shed clothes. They wouldn’t come off any other way.

Now this would have been hilarious seen by anyone else, Betty dancing around half-clothed and me whacking away furiously, but luckily we were not visible from the road. I myself have been embarrassed shedding clothes after jumping ants climbed up me near the road on my property the moment a neighbour drove past. We saw the funny side afterwards, but the bites caused Betty a lot of irritation over the next few days.

Inchman model in Launceston museum

Inchman model in Launceston museum

Tassie 2016_Betty 16Tassie 2016_Betty 17

Inchman nest model

Inchman nest model

On the plus side, I now know what the top of an ant nest in a fallen log looks like.

Top of inchman nest in decaying log

Do not sit on one of these – top of inchman nest in decaying log; the ants have burrowed in and scooped out the wood, which piles on top.

 

The Edge of the World excursion

I did not take a photo of the plaque at Gardiner Point, aka The Edge of the World (there are plenty on the interwebs), but it certainly is a wild and woolly place. Winds scream in from Antarctica and Argentina and the surf crashes and smashes. In a winter storm it would be extraordinary.

Surf_2Surf_1

Dead trees from previous floods have washed down the Arthur River to the ocean

Dead trees from floods have washed down the Arthur River to the ocean.

A woman was swimming in the cold water, albeit wearing a wetsuit. Other occupiers of the beach were detected by their signs: a Tasmanian devil and a Bennett’s wallaby. The devil has a peculiar lope on the balls of its feet, as evidenced by the three footprints together and lack of heel print. The larger pair is from the Bennett’s wallaby. Wombats also cruise the beaches for plant snacks.

Tassie devil (left) and wallaby (right) footprints on the beach

Tassie devil (left) and wallaby (right) footprints on the beach

 

 

Wombat burrow

Wombat burrow

The beaches were exceptionally clean, with the odd bit of kelp and old shell.

The riverboat excursion

I like me a nice boat trip (especially one where I can’t get seasick) and the one down the Arthur River on the MV George Robinson was relaxing and informative.

MV George Robinson

MV George Robinson; note the backburn and original vegetation in the background

According to the captain, Greg, the Arthur River is the only completely wild Tasmanian river. It has never been logged or dammed. There hasn’t been a hot fire through this part of the Tarkine Wilderness for almost 650 years, so the river remains much as it has been for thousands of years.

Greg and Lesley know their river and the Tarkine wilderness so we got a lot of information. A pair of sea eagles knew they would get a feed, so were readily attracted for a photo.

Sea eagle on Arthur River; photo bt Dianne Bennett

Sea eagle on Arthur River; photo by Dianne Bennett

Their huge nest, used for generations, was lodged in a giant tree fork.

Sea eagle nest

Sea eagle nest

The boys compare their (very expensive) toys; Lesley takes coffee orders; David immerses himself in the Disc World

The boys compare their (very expensive) toys while Lesley takes coffee orders and David immerses himself in the Disc World.

Tarkine_1We got off at a landing and walked along a track into the cool temperate forest (the greatest of cool temperate rainforest in Australia and the second largest expanse of cool temperate rainforest in the world) and Greg continued his interesting botanical information. Manferns (Dicksonia antarctica) were all over the place.

Tarkine_6  Tarkine_2 Tarkine_3 Tarkine_4 Tarkine_5

It was a very worthwhile five hours.

The petroglyph excursion

Seb kindly offered to take a 4WD-full of volunteers to Sunset Point to see the petroglyphs.

Afternoon excursion time

Afternoon excursion time

As usual with petroglyphs, no one really knows how old these are. The local indigenous people are happy for tourists to see them, but there are others along the coast in more secret locations that no one is allowed to see (not even them). And fair enough, too.

Sunset point petroglyph_1 Sunset Point petroglyph_2 Sunset Point petroglyph_3

 

There are many middens and signs of old habitation along the beaches and in the hinterland. These sites are protected by law, but that doesn’t stop wilful destruction by certain members of the beach-driving community, unfortunately.

We also saw ancient stone tools, but respectfully left them there (it is illegal to take them).

Stone tools

The Preminghana excursion

We had the privilege of spending an afternoon at the Preminghana Indigenous Protected Area. Our task for the afternoon was helping get rid of the infesting weed, gorse.

Clearing gorse

Betty shows great glee ripping out that horrible gorse.

In return, Jarrod and Vic guided us up the mountain to spectacular views. I’m not allowed to publish those, but let me tell you it was worth the twisted ankle I gained on the way down. Absolutely spectacular!

We were the first white people up there for 15 years. ‘I don’t know how I feel about that,’ said Jarrod. We were welcomed to country and smoked, which I found very moving. These men have such a positive vision for their country and long may they prosper.

The fossil excursion

Greg Jordan and Mike McPhail, the palaeobotanists, were after fossils. They knew of a road cutting on the Corinna Road, but weren’t sure where it was exactly, as there was no GPS last time fossils had been found there. So the hunt was on, travelling through the burnt lands.

Fossil Fossil_2

These were not great as fossils go – the soil around them was very crumbly and yet they were estimated to be 33 million years old (!) – and the palaeobotanists were actually after microscopic spores and seeds. So they took a few samples to be analysed in the lab later.

The devils’ dinner excursion

We were hoping to see Tasmanian devils feeding in the wild. This had happened in the past courtesy of Geoff King, a farmer and environmental advocate who regularly arranged a devilish feast on his property. But with Geoff’s death in 2013, another venue was needed.

Our fearless leaders had negotiated with another local farmer who was willing to give it a go. He’d staked out roadkill in a particular spot on his property over each of a few days prior, and it had disappeared by morning so we were optimistic about our chances. But, of course, there are no guarantees with wild animals.

Seb doing his Van Helsing imoression, staking out roadkill wallabies

Seb doing his Van Helsing impression, staking out roadkilled wallabies

So we waited, very very quietly, in the wind and dark for the devils to show up. I have to say it was very pleasant just standing silently, listening to the rain and wind and night noises in the Tasmanian bush. It’s amazing how quiet 15 people can be when they want to. Two hours later Menna called it a night. Ah well. Maybe next year.

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The burnt lands

I can hardly bring myself to write this post. Contemplating all those lives – plants, animals and others – perishing in the intense fires is painful. But Nature did this and Nature will float, crawl, bounce and grow back in some form over time, even if the present ecosystem (especially that of pencil pines in the Central Plateau) does not come back.

Past the Balfour turnoff on the way to Corinna

Past the Balfour turnoff on the way to Corinna

Tasmania had an exceptionally dry and warm few months over spring and summer 2015/2016. Dry lightning strikes (where there is little accompanying rain) ignited more than 70 fires in the World Heritage Area and other wilderness areas.

We were privileged to be allowed into the ‘no go zone’, the road to Corinna, by prior arrangement via our palaeobotanists, Associate Professor Greg Jordan and Associate Professor Mike Macphail (who was a colleague of mine at the South Australian Museum).

On the Corinna road

Greg (left) and Mike (right) hasn't seen the burn at close range before. The road provided a fire break in this area.

Greg (left) and Mike (right) hadn’t seen the burn at close range before. The road provided a fire break in this area, preventing it from catching on the right.

 

Greg tells us a bit about how plants respond to fire

Greg tells us a bit about how plants respond to fire.

Some grass species, whose growing points were below ground level and so survived the fire, were regrowing after the recent rains.

Grass regrowth

The metal edge markers along this section had all melted.

Melted edge markers

Even worse further along, in the very intense fire …

Melted metal

 

Burn_1

The haze is smoke from the peat still burning. It’s not expected to go out until winter.

Burn_7

Ferns start to regrow quickly as their growing points lie below ground level and tend to survive fire.

Burn_6

Greg talks about adaptations of trees to fire.

Greg talks about adaptations of trees to fire.

Greg explained that trees respond to fires in several ways (knowledgeable botanists, please correct me if I’ve misunderstood him):

  • they survive; or
  • roasted (in very hot fires), they die, dropping their seeds, which germinate with exposure to smoke; or
  • toasted (in cooler fires), they survive and re-shoot from the growing points under the surface of their trunks. These trees tend to have deep roots, too.

Interestingly, “fire surviving” trees tend to have “fire promoting” characteristics.

The level of ground (really ash) in the forest had dropped a metre or more. Greg said this was because the intensity of the fire had destroyed all the organic matter in the soil down to a certain level, and subsequent rain had caused the ash to compress and the “ground” level to drop.

Burn_2

Burn_5The slime mould pictured below is doing well. It may be Fuligo septica, which I just have to mention because I love its common names; according to Sarah Lloyd’s Where the Slime Mould Creeps, they are dog’s vomit slime mould, kwei hi (Chinese, “demon droppings”) and caca de luna (Mexican, “moon shit”).

Slime mould (yellow, centre)

Slime mould (yellow, centre)

Burn on Corinna road_2

On the Corinna road

Burnt heath near Sundown Point, south of Arthur River

Burnt heath near Sundown Point, south of Arthur River

 

Burnt coastal forest near Sunset Point

Burnt coastal forest on sand dunes near Sunset Point

Even more endangeredFire breakThere was no loss of human life, and I suppose that’s something positive. Scientists and interested others will be watching faunal and floral developments in these areas with great attention.

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