Tuesday, 20 January 2015

slippers and ferals

Dad was here last week. He was lecturing at the Albany Summer School on Australian mammals. This time Mum stayed in Perth with my sister and cooled off in the pool to escape Perth's summer heat. Down here the weather was lovely, no pool necessary.

My sister sent us an image of Mum in her new floral pinky red bathers and big floppy hat. Dad said wow! are you available? Mum said no I am spoken for. They have been married for fifty eight years this month.

This season the slipper orchids are flowering magnificently, so I took Dad to see and photograph a bunch of them that were easily accessed. I have found them on the lee side of a ridge within sight of the sea (after a steep and sandy climb) and at the base of a swale two dunes inland from the sea (after a long walk down a boggy track) as well as close to the inlet. The first flowers opened in December, they are still flowering with many more buds still to open.

Slipper orchids (Cryptostylis ovata) are pollinated by the male Ichneumon wasp Lissopimpla semipunctata who mistakes the flower for a female wasp and  transfers the pollen on trying to mate  sequentially with a number of flowers. 

This orchid is the only native terrestrial orchid in Western Australia to have a green leaf all year. For all the other species of terrestrial orchids, the leaf is present for only part of the year. Here is a small colony of leaves with a flower spike just beginning in November.

While Dad was here I did a bit of research on feral mammals for his last lecture. I was amazed at the sheer numbers of ferals estimated to be munching and scrunching and slurping through the Australian landscape. 

Here are a few of the figures; goats 2.6 million, dromedaries over 1 million, donkeys 5 million, horses 400,000, water buffalo 150,000, cats 15-20 million, pigs 23 million, fox 7 million, rabbit 200 million.

These figures are all estimates, and the numbers fluctuate with droughts and good seasons, control programs and live harvesting, and disease cycles. 

Camels photographed at Mary Mia station by Mark.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

But what about the Orchids?

Out at Tenterden there were swathes of them. It was quite an Unexpected Delight. In planning to go out there I hadn't really thought about anything more than Water in the Wetlands and going back to the Scar Tree.

Scar Tree

Walking through clumps of white spider orchids and spying the rich  pink and purple hues of enamel orchids reminded me of my childhood. We used to go out orchid hunting in the bush, particularly me and my youngest brother Shane. We were infatuated with native orchids for some years. (I still grow orchids, mainly eastern state hybrid epiphytes. This year's flowering has been brilliant).

White Spider orchids

 I remember squealing with excitement when I first found a Queen of Sheba Orchid in Kalamunda.  This uncommon orchid has rich flowers of orange and pink with purple spots, and it has a remarkable cork screw spiral leaf. That orchid was probably the beginning of my fascination with orchids. Sadly, the area in which it grew is now covered in housing.

Purple Enamel Orchid

Our favourite orchid spot had a huge number of species growing there, even the unusual flying duck and hammer orchids. This patch of bush was in a winter wet drainage line behind the high school in Mount Helena. It was magic.

Cowslip Orchid

We'd ride our bikes from Parkerville up there in the orchid season, spend hours hunting for flowers or tell tale leaves and only leave when pangs of hunger sent us treadling home. Luckily the home run was slight down hill, it could be quite warm in the middle of the day in October. To our great dismay, our orchid patch was soon to be used as a dumping site. Great holes were scraped through the ground and rubbish dumped on top of our beautiful orchids. They were destroyed. Those were the days when damp patches of ground were seen as useless and to be filled in. We were too young to know how to protest.

Purple Pansy Orchid

Common Dragon Orchid

Common Dragon Orchid

Bee Orchid

Bee Orchid
There are many species and sub-species of white spider orchids. I hardly dare to put a name to these ones. The top one with the labellum dipped in magenta could well be a hybrid, as I couldn't find it in my orchid book. Most of these orchids were found growing in the swales between the lakes. The Dragon Orchids were growing on higher and dryer lateritic ground. 

Spider Orchid

Common Spider orchid - Caladenia varians ssp

That is a mosquito on the orchid below, and yes, they were very intent on attacking me. That was the small price I paid for these photographs.

White Spider Orchid - Caladenia longicaudata ssp
It was a real buzz to see these orchids thriving here on this farm. All thanks to Alan and his family for a combination of historically low impact farming and concerted efforts more recently to save this part of the landscape. 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Balijup in Spring

I returned to Balijup last week. Having only seen the landscape under the summer heat and walked over dry lakes I was keen to see the changes after some rain. I had window of opportunity and I took it. This is what I found.

Water in all of the lakes. Even a few ducks and herons around.

 On the back lake there were even some swans but I didn't get out there. I only had a day. As it was I managed to get to six of the lakes and swamps on the property. There are a lot of wetlands there. I still find it amazing.

Beautiful golden button flowers carpet the ground on even the badly salt/alkaline affected lakes. 

The reflections were to be savoured.

As were the spring flowers.

And lichens.

Golden sticky modified leaves of a carnivorous Drosera.

Continuing the golden theme - a canola paddock. Last year this was a hay crop. 

A scarlet robin entertained me while I ate my lunch. Flying down to catch insects then up into the tree to look out for his next victim. The female was much more circumspect.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Martup Pool - a tale of deception

I don't know how many times we've driven past the sign Martup Pool on the trip to and from Perth, and we've never had the inkling to stop. Despite the word pool in the name. There couldn't possibly be a real pool there amongst the straggly grey trees - could there?? Surrounded by paddocks, sprouting crops and lambing ewes. In the middle of this country known for dryness??  

The farm dams are rarely full. The worn out creeks are usually dry with an occasional excuse for a pool glimpsed amid the saltbush and unhappy trees. Shallow and brown and generally unappealing, a far cry from how the country once must have looked.  I usually play a game of trying to glimpse any water at all, while whizzing past.

However on this latest trip to Perth I succumbed to curiosity and had lunch there. What a surprise. There creek was a winter creek babbling and winding between the greeny-grey sheoaks. Grass grew like bright green blankets tossed over the ground. This was pretty enough for a lunch spot and I would have been happy just with that.

But the track left the parking area and disappeared to the north between the trees. So I followed it with curiosity, through an enormous pool puddle over the road. Fun splashing through that! I caught glimpses of a real pool through the trees.

Eventually the track stopped at another parking area beside what could only be described as a billabong. Paperbark lined, wide and deep, and beautiful. According to the signage there it is permanent water and certainly looks to be still fresh. A.m.a.z.i.n.g. That is a ten year deception. It just goes to show that we sometimes have to let go of our Australian perceptions of what a pool is (usually pretty empty of water) and allow the dictionary meaning in ( a small and rather deep body of usually fresh water). Although this pool was BIG - hundreds of metres long.

 Now I realize there are a few other spots along this road that may hold similar surprises in store. I will be checking them out. I have been, and will be into the foreseeable future, making regular trips to Perth to help Dad with his writing. That is a project in itself - I'm just taking care of the technological side of things. So I will have plenty of opportunities to investigate ...

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Pet weather alert!

 The evening light as the sun went down - a long winter solstice night. 
(Strictly speaking I think tonight is 'the longest winter night' for us.)

I was down by the inlet at the other end of the night. 

Dawn light at the beginning of our shortest daylight.

There was no pretty sky to be seen this evening - the clear skies of this morning gave way to thick cloud, heavy rain and strong winds by midday. 
This morning's weather forecast warned to keep your pets inside.
We are more accustomed to sheep weather alerts, not pet weather alerts!
Miske thinks there should be a pet weather alert every day.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Three and one third by five

Or seeing the tiny up close. These are all plant parts, collected inland and pressed between glass in slide transparencies. The 'frame' is approximately 3 1/3 cm by 5 cm. 


From the top:
Pimelea flowers from the Hills
Red Velvet calyx near Sandstone
Ephemeral dancers near Paynes Find
Everlasting bracts near The Granites
Hair leaf in cross section near Paynes Find
Ptilotus flowers and granite sand near The Granites
Spinifex and dune sand near Virgin Springs
Lichen and everlasting bracts near Wiluna

Below are images of the type of country in which the above plants were collected.