Feeding my inner sci-fi fan

I was a big sci-fi fan at uni (guess it goes with the science curriculum), attending conventions and helping organise one or two, travelling interstate to visit other uni SF groups. I don’t read much fiction these days, although I do enjoy Terry Pratchett’s novels, “Doctor Who” and intelligent (in my own humble opinion) genre fiction (like, yes folks, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and anything Joss Whedon).

Last November we’d gone to the media convention “SupaNova” in Brisbane. We’d arrived early, got in the cash queue (much quicker than the credit card queue) and were just about third in the door. But going on Friday to avoid the weekend crowds meant we missed out on the cosplayers (people who enjoy dressing up as their favourite characters from the movies, graphic novels, animation and sci-fi/fantasy fiction).

This time the event was much closer, at the Gold Coast. The merchandise stalls were not open on Friday, so we opted for Saturday. We’d stopped at the Uki farmers’ market on the way, so arrived at the convention centre half an hour after the opening. The car queue for parking was immense, but kept moving. Then it took us 30 minutes to actually get in the doors. Luckily the organisers were very organised, as it seemed all 23,400 attendees from November’s event were there that morning, and there were plenty of staff to shepherd people in the right direction. The cash queue was long but still the fastest way to get in, as the credit card queue was hundreds of metres long.

A plus side of waiting in line was getting a good look at the many costumes as we shuffled along. Some people had made their own; others had bought them “off the rack”. I particularly enjoyed this pair – it’s not every day you meet the Warrior Princess away from Ancient Greece …

Xena and Gabrielle cosplayers

Xena and Gabrielle on the Gold Coast

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Insect days

The warm and sunny autumn days of the last couple of weeks (until yesterday) have brought out the insects. The birds were probably very pleased when the rain stopped and they could get a decent feed.

I found a stick insect of my very own. This one ([update] a spur-legged stick insectDidymuria violescens – thanks to Denis for the suggestion; see the comments below) was smaller than the last one – the length of the body about 90 mm, compared with 150 mm for the other one.

Stick insect

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Finally, a pheasant coucal

Pheasant coucals (Centropus phasianinus) are all around my place – you can hear their strange call in spring, see them fly reluctantly across a paddock and, driving into town, see them lurch across the road. They seem to sit in wait at roadsides, see your car coming, think about it, then try to make it across in front of you. If you step on the brakes and avoid hitting them, they give you a coy look and scram into the grass as fast as they can – which is not terribly fast. They have a hesitant demeanour, as if they are trying to work out the best of a hundred possibilities for what to do next. Still, it must work, as you seldom see one squashed on the road. They are darned hard to photograph, though, as by the time you get your camera out, they’re gone.

Yesterday I saw one sunning itself across from the house. Fearful of making it take flight, I just clicked a few shots (heck, about 40) from inside the house in the hope that at least one of them would be good enough. Here’s the result …

Pheasant coucal

Pheasant coucal sunning itself

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An adventure in time (part 7/7)

15 July 2008: Penzance

No pirates in evidence, but we were in Penzance and staying at the Hotel Penzance, an award-winning boutique hotel for several years running  – a lovely site on a hill overlooking the bay, excellent facilities, a fabulous restaurant, pool and super-duper bathrooms. I don’t usually go for high-end places and this was not exactly budget accommodation, but I’d recommend this place to anyone who wants a bit of luxury. Unless they are allergic to cats, in which case don’t go near the place. The hotel’s several very fluffy cats wander at random – they love to run into your room and lay on the bed as soon as you open the door.

The shot below shows the view from one of my windows – a yacht race in the bay at 10 p.m. (the days are long in mid-summer in England). St Michael’s Mount (visited the next day) is on the horizon to the left. The white bit further to the left is the village of Marazion.

View from the Hotel Penzance

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Likin’ lichen

Lichen looks like a plant but is not scientifically classified as one. It’s a combination of a fungus (which is not a plant) and an alga (also not a plant). The fungus supplies a place to live for the alga, which has chlorophyll and photosynthesises like a plant, so supplies both of them with sugars and other nutrients – win/win.

This lichen’s from Barker’s Vale, up the road from me …

Lichen 1

Lichen; photo by Brigitte Stievermann

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The Easter bilby

The bilby is a bandicoot-like creature that lives in the desert areas of Australia. It is listed as endangered for some of the usual reasons – feral cats and habitat loss.

Education bilby working for its keep; photo by Sherie Ford

A couple of chocolate companies in Australia make chocolate bilbies instead of chocolate bunnies for Easter, and part of the profits go to conservation campaigns. There’s a fair chance that bilbies will be saved, because at least public sympathy is with them – they have the “cute” factor. This is unfortunately not the case for less cute species.

So make sure that if you eat lots of chocolate this Easter, it’s in the shape of an Easter bilby!

Not kissing anybody under this lot

In Australia we have something like 90 species of mistletoe, unlike Europe which has only one (Viscum album), the one with white flower traditionally smooched under at Christmas. But in Australia we don’t have a tradition of kissing under mistletoe, as it’s regarded as a bit of a nuisance plant in some places, killing off garden trees if there are too many on one tree.

I first became aware that we had a local mistletoe when I saw a mistletoe bird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum) in a strange plant, with pretty red and orange flowers, hanging off a bottlebrush in the backyard.


Mistletoe bird; photo by Aviceda, Wikimedia Commons

The mistletoe bird eats, among other things, the berries of the mistletoe. The seeds are very sticky, and the bird has to wipe its beak or behind (if the seed has passed through the digestive tract) on a tree branch to get rid of it. Lorikeets and honeyeaters also spread the seeds.

The germinating mistletoe sends out a searching tip, then forms a ‘haustorium’, an attaching organ that taps the water and nutrients of the host plant. The mistletoe does its own photosynthesis, so is considered only semi-parasitic. It will nevertheless die if its host tree dies. There’s a theory that mistletoe attaches to already weakened trees –  seems silly if it’s intending to survive.

Some species of mistletoes are very specific about which host plants they choose; others not so much. Some even choose other mistletoes.

I didn’t get a shot of those pretty mistletoe flowers before the bottlebrush died, though. But local botanist Brigitte – she of the many serious botanical expeditions into the serious outback – has kindly given me permission to use some of her many botanical photos. I still don’t have a shot of my local mistletoe, although a neighbour who is a mistletoe enthusiast assures me he has seen more of them on my property.

This mistletoe lives near Southwood National Park in Queensland …

Ameyema preissii

Mistletoe flower, Ameyema preissii; photo by Brigitte Stievermann

The next one (Amyema maidenii) is from the Tanami Road, near the Yuendumu turnoff, Northern Territory – real desert country.

Amyema maidenii flower; photo by Brigite Stievermann

Here’s Dendrophthoe acacioides on its host, our native boab (Adansonia gregorii), near Wyndham Port, Western Australia …

Dendrophthoe acacioides on the native boab (Adansonia gregorii); photo by Brigitte Stievermann

Here’s the Dendrophthoe acacioides flower …

Dendrophthoe acacioides flower; photo by Brigitte Stievermann

and the fruit …

Dendrophthoe acacioides fruit; photo by Brigitte Stievermann

Here’s Lysania subfalcata, 103 km south of Burke, NSW …

Lysiana subfalcata, on the Mitchell Highway, NSW; photo by Brigitte Stiebermann

… and Lysania exocarpi, near Windorah, Queensland …

Lysiana exocarpi

Lysiana exocarpi, Qld; photo by Brigitte Stievermann

Neighbour Paul also kindly sent me some photos of mistletoe. Here’s a Viscum from family Viscaceae he found as a parasite on another mistletoe (Amyema miquelli) near Chinchilla, Queensland …

Viscum species parasitic on Amyema miquelli times 40 magnification; photo by Paul Brennan

Here’s the flower of the plant it was attached to …

Amyema miquelli, host of parasitic viscum; photo by Paul Brennan

Here’s a species of Dendrophthroe he found west of Tenterfield, NSW …

A species of Dendrophthroe, found west of Tenterfield; photo by Paul Brennan

So the sighting of one small bird opened up a whole world of plants I didn’t know much about.

Many thanks to Brigitte and Paul for the use of their photos.