Friday, 16 November 2012

Backyard cutie

After the rather creepy mole cricket a few days ago, we were excited to find a much cuter creature in our garden tonight, a Ring-tail Possum Pseudocheirus pereginus. We often see them around, along with the bigger Brushtails, they like to do a tight-rope act along the wires across the street.  With the flash of the camera it shows this one is a beautiful red colour, I had no idea they were so red - we only ever see them in the dark!  We have a tiny back garden (about 4x10 metres), half of which is Myrtle bush, so its fantastic the wildlife don't think its too small and appreciate our trees.

A couple of years ago we rescued a baby ring-tail, when it's mother had abandoned it and the Magpies were attacking it.  We wrapped it in a towel, cuddled it to keep it warm and took it to the local vet surgery.  We hope it survived ok.  Cats and dogs are a big threat to these cute little things, as are the usual cars and habitat clearance, particularly as ring-tail possums live exclusively in trees and haven't adapted themselves to live more closely with humans (i.e. invading roof spaces!) like the Brush-tail.

Me holding the baby ring-tail we rescued in Sydney, May 2010

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Backyard beastie

This morning I saw an incredible insect crawling across the patio as I was eating my breakfast.  I had never seen anything like it!  It was huge, around 5cm long with rather vicious looking barbs on its rear a bit like an earwig and huge forelegs.  If you click on the photos below they will enlarge (unfortunately my camera wouldn't focus well for a decent close-up, the batteries were low).

After searching through various websites including the CSIRO ANIC 'What Bug is That' we found what it is: A mole cricket Gryllotalpa spp. There is a lot of very interesting information about them on the Brisbane Insects website.  They burrow underground from where they can be heard making loud mating calls.  This solves a long standing mystery for me: ever since we moved to Australia, particularly after it rains, I have heard very loud insect noises coming from the grass or even from under the pavement, but there is never anything there.  I even thought it might be a frog in the drains.  In fact, it was one of these!  If you click the image below you can hear its call (recording downloaded from the Brisbane Insects website, where they have an interesting analysis of the sound waves and explain how the mole cricket makes this noise).  We are also wondering if these mole crickets have been giving us some large mystery bare patches in our lawn, as I have read that they eat turf!

A little more searching around the Internet on these interesting bugs and I also found out that in some countries they are eaten.  Yes, eaten!  They are called 'Kamaru', and this blog about Filipino food describes how they are a delicacy in the Philippines.  Apparently 'they go very well with a cold beer.  They are crispy on the outside, moist in the middle...' Our backyard beastie is quite safe though, as I am a vegetarian.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Jacaranda season

Brisbane is famous for it's beautiful Jacaranda trees, that come into bloom at this time of year.  The Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia) is actually a Brazilian tree, not native to Australia!  One of the best places to see some lovely trees is down by the riverside in West End, where I happened to be today for the Great Brisbane Duck race!

Not sure where my ducky family placed, but we didn't win.  Totally crazy, but its not every day you see several thousand rubber ducks going hell for leather down the Brisbane river.

The riverside entertainment was a bit 'quackers' too...

A few little ducks made a break for freedom after the race. Swim duckies, swim!!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Mystery Moth

I was inspired to try and identify a lovely Moth I found on our bedroom window back in July after I saw the lengths fellow blogger Denis Wilson went to in order to identify a pretty mystery moth of his own (Scoliacma bicolora)

Denis went straight to the top and asked some of my CSIRO colleagues in the Australian National Insect Collection for advice.  I took a look at the reference Denis gave to Australian Moths On-line, and the diversity of Australian Moths is bewildering!  So, it looks like I will need to find a friendly expert too - maybe there is one out there in blog-land?! 

Post update - see the comments below for an i.d. (Nyctemera secundiana) and some useful info, thanks to fellow bloggers Martin and Denis!  The genus is commonly referred to in Australasia as the 'Magpie moth'.  

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Go quackers on Sunday!

The Great Brisbane Duck Race will be held on the Brisbane river on Sunday at West End!  Looking forward to cheering on my little duck family... you can enter a duck or few too, just click on the website, its for a very worthy cause. 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

A tree frog in our garden!

Tonight we were enjoying the increasingly warm Queensland weather and ate our dinner outside (the novelty never wears off for us Brits!).  We heard a rustle and something landed on the ground under our Myrtle trees amongst the fallen leaves.  A closer look revealed a Green Tree Frog  Litoria caerulea.  We have a very small suburban back garden, so were very excited to find this new inhabitant here!

The picture below gives you an idea of how small he is... we hope he decides to stay in our trees and not venture through the fence to the driveway.  Tree frogs can grow quite a bit bigger than this, up to around 10 cm.  This one was probably about 5 cm.  One interesting fact about them I have just found is their use in medical research: Several peptides from the skin secretions of the Green Tree Frog were found to destroy HIV without harming healthy T-cells.  Amazing.  Yet, as a group, frogs are some of the planet's most endangered set of species with a complex, numerous and poorly understood range of causes of extinction.  Despite this, the seriousness of the widespread loss of amphibian species is much overlooked in comparison to endangered species of the more cute and cuddly variety.  Amphibian Ark and Save the Frogs are two organisations who are trying to raise awareness and stem the losses.  

I hadn't even realised tree frogs would be in Brisbane.  The last time we saw one was this much larger beauty pictured below, when we stayed  last New Year on a cane farm near Bundaberg, quite far north of here.  Of course, on that trip we saw plenty of cane toads too!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

A bush photography class

Last weekend I was a very keen participant in a photography workshop, held in my local bushland of Mount Gravatt as part of the Peaks to Points festival by the local environment group at Mount Gravatt, part of the Bulimba Creek Catchment.  It was a beautiful Queensland morning, so I set off on Juanita, my trusty bicycle, forgetting that there is a big hill up to Fox Gully where the workshop was held!  Arriving a little warm and dishevelled, I settled into a comfy chair in a tent under the shady trees to listen to the marvellous 'amateur photography expert' Alan Moore.

Alan imparted his great knowledge and experience of taking photographs of the bush in a highly enthusiastic and engaging rapid fire hour.  As a very keen amateur who has never had any instruction or been brave enough to move off the auto functions, this was something of a revelation!  A big thing for me was to learn more about depth of field, which I now know is tied to the camera's aperture. Manipulating the depth of field using the aperture can give some great effects and ultimately much better photos, such as that nice fuzzy background to portraits, so the eye is really drawn to the subject.  This works in combination with focal length and focus.  Equally, you can use the aperture settings to ensure you get as much as possible in focus, by using a large depth of field.  The confusing thing is that a large depth of field equates to a small aperture (e.g. f/22), and a small depth of field (more restricted focus) equates to a large aperture (e.g. f/4.5)!  Here are a couple of examples of photos I tool at the workshop with a small aperture, set at aperture value F8.0, which has meant that the picture has stayed focused on both the close up of the tree and the path disappearing into the distance.  I used 'Av' mode on my camera to set the aperture, so that the camera would automatically adjust the other settings like shutter speed.

In this photo of the Pied Butcherbird Cracticus nigrogularis I did the opposite, and increased the aperture to F5.7 (shallower depth of field) at a larger focal length (i.e. zoom).  I was brave and used the Manual settings! Although not perfect I'm pretty pleased with the result (a tripod would have helped with the slower shutter speed) .  I'm very excited to try out more of my new found knowledge and camera settings.

The Pied Butcherbird is probably the most beautiful singer of all the Australian birds, You can hear a beautiful example of the song below, as I often do when I wake up in the morning.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

A koala at the top of the mountain

Another beautiful Sunday evening, so it was hard to resist another stroll up Mount Gravatt.  So far we have only spotted Koalas in two areas of the mountain, in the area between Gertrude Petty place to just below Federation Lookout, both of which are near the base of the mountain.  We have not heard of Koalas appearing near the top and haven't seen any up there ourselves, despite always keeping our eyes peeled.  The top of the mountain has a car park, picnic sites, a restaurant and the lookout, so we assumed the Koalas preferred the more tranquil lower parts of the mountain.

We often mistake termite nests for koalas, or hanging branches in the tall trees, and its not until we zoom in with binoculars or my camera that we can tell for sure.  Initially, this seemed like such an occasion, when Edd my partner asked 'is that a Koala?' as we neared the very top of the mountain.  However, although what Edd had been looking at was a dead branch, if he hadn't said that then I wouldn't have looked and spotted this Koala sitting very high up in a gum tree!  As we stood watching, a lady walked past with a dog off it's lead.  When I mentioned to her that the rule on the mountain was to keep dogs on a lead, as dogs are one of  the biggest threats to the survival of the endangered Koala (like the one in the tree, right there!), her response was that it is a well behaved dog and she is a local.  Nothing like the locals setting an example though, is there?!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Our Mountain

A simple view of Mount Gravatt bushland at sunset, touched by the warm glow.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

A grand day out at the Ekka

The event of the year in Brisbane - the Ekka!  The Brisbane Royal Show, or as its better and more fondly known, the 'Ekka', is such a big event here that people are even granted a day off to attend - and its so big that the day of the week you get to take off depends on whereabouts you live in the region!  We went along on the holiday Wednesday 'Peoples Day', along with the majority of the city folks, but the crowds were far more exciting than annoying with a wonderful family vibe.  In total 400,000 people attended the week long event.  This lovely set of instagram photos 'Ekkagrams' taken at the Ekka 2012 give an impression of the colour and ambience of the place.  Here are also a few of the many photos I took on the day, I've made them into a slideshow as it was just too hard to pick out just a couple!  You might spot 'can-do Campbell' Newman, the Queensland Premier, singing the national anthem before the final of the Australian Tree Felling Championship!  Click the image below to start the show.

The Ekka is city meets country, fairground rides, sheepdog trials, horse parades, strawberry sundaes, dagwood dogs, showbags, exhibitions, farmers market, chariot races, wood chop and so much more... one day was really not enough to see it all and it was totally kitsch, charming and very Australian.  Loved it!  I hope it keeps its soul when it is 'revitalised' over the coming year.  The video below shows both how it is now, and how the developers envision it will become.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Places you love

An alliance of 30 conservation groups has started a campaign called 'places you love'.  As the federal government is considering revising environmental laws to facilitate resource exploitation, a major component is to devolve project approval powers to state governments.  We need to take action now to keep federal protection of the special places we love in Australia, as they are already vulnerable to development threats, such as from mining. As you can see on this blog there are many places in Australia I love and so of course I've already sent my message to try to keep them protected.  There are also some lovely photos on this site in the gallery (I am hoping my picture of koalas on Mt Gravatt might feature there too, I just uploaded it!). 
Crimson Rosellas in the ANBG: A place I love very much

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Peaks to Points

My local 'peak' Mount Gravatt

Some nice little wildlife events are coming up in Brisbane in early September I thought I would publicise. I will be sure to go to the photography workshop at my local reserve Mount Gravatt! This is part of the Peaks to Points Festival to be held at reserves across south Brisbane, with activities ranging from orienteering to the wonders of worm farming!  The website also contains some nice info on the nature of the Flinders Peak to Moreton Bay corridor and there are plenty of ongoing events advertised there, if you miss this festival.  Great that something like this is happening in the city!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Why didn't we go sooner?!

It is nearly a year since we moved to Brisbane, and with the beautiful days of endless sunshine we are having at the moment it seemed about time we visited Stradbroke Island, or 'Straddie' as its known here.  Our excuse for not visiting earlier was that we only just recently bought a car, now making the trip to the ferry much easier.  However, its surprising how it seems locals rarely, if ever, visit Straddie - my hairdresser confessed she has never been there, and she has lived in Brisbane for 30 years!

The early morning ferry ride across the calm bay from Cleveland was great, plenty of bird life around including of course some pelicans.

We hopped off the ferry and onto the local bus.  As soon as we were ready to go the driver asked 'so who would like to stop for a couple of minutes to see a koala?!' A resounding 'YES please'! The bus pulled up just down the road and we gathered round a tree to see this lovely little koala having a snooze.
At this time of year its perhaps a little cold to go in the water (unless you are from northern Europe like me, then I'd say its fine!), but the real attraction right now is the chance to see Humpback Whales migrating along the coast.  We headed for the cliffs at Point Lookout on the North-eastern tip of the island, where as soon as we stepped off the bus we caught sight of whales on the horizon.  After a leisurely coffee and whale watching for a while we headed off on the 'Gorge Walk' which took us to some absolutely spectacular viewpoints.  From here we could look down into the crystal clear waters of the coral sea, viewing not only whales but turtles, manta rays, eagles and an entire pod of dolphins.  To experience a coastline so alive was truly wonderful, and we felt very lucky to be there that day.  
Main beach - we can't wait to go camping here! 
Such clear water we could see this turtle swimming from the clifftop.   
My best shot of a whale!  Not spectacular... we only saw one breaching in the calm water and they were a long way off.  But it was great to see so many.  
 Showing again how clear the water is.  The dark shape just in the open water you might make out is a Manta Ray.
I'm seriously thinking of taking up canoeing after this - the whole dolphin pod surrounded the canoeist. 

After a wonderful day and a little lazy time on the beach we headed back to the ferry, with some lovely views back towards the island, yachts bobbing on the water and Pelicans swimming nearby.  Truly an idyllic place and so close to the city.  

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A kangaroo punch up!

Now here is something you don't see every day... 

Amazing to watch!  The kangaroo on the right won, I think it may have been that final kick.  Not long after that the one on the left literally bowed down, admitting defeat.  The other kangaroos just stood still like statues or kept their head down munching the grass!  Incidently, a great film about Kangaroo behaviour is Faces in the Mob, its quite a tear-jerker!  This was taken at a long range (they were probably about 100m away) so the quality isn't great, and I didn't think to take a video - that would have been good.  I took the pictures from the deck of Rose cottage at Wisteria cottages in lovely Stanthorpe (the coldest place in Queensland!) - we were very lucky and snapped up a last minute cancellation for the Queens' birthday weekend.  Cosy log fires, vineyards and crisp winter days, wonderful.  

But just to prove that the Kangaroos in the region can be cute and cuddly too...