Monday, 16 December 2013

A Blue Tiger and a Crow

It was a great day for butterflies!  Taking a walk on Mount Gravatt a month ago we saw plenty of lovely butterfiles, including these two: the first is known as a Blue TigeTirumala hamata and is really very attractive indeed.  Its not always a common sight in Brisbane according to local insect experts the Chew family, who run the nice local insect website linked above.  It is thought the Blue Tigers are visitors from North Queensland, they are known to have a propensity to migrate long distances - perhaps what gives them their other common name, Blue Wanderer.

The other butterfly I took a picture of is a Brisbane local, known as the Common Australian Crow - Euploea core. It is in the same family as the Blue Tiger, Nymphalidae.  Whilst the Blue Tiger feeds on vines, the Crow feeds on plants, such as Oleander, that are poisonous to birds and mammals as a form of self-defence!  
The local Mount Gravatt Environment Group has a campaign to promote pollinators in gardens via a 'Pollinator link', lots of info about how to attract butterfiles and other pollinators to your garden can be found on their website and in their information leaflet available for download.  Its a lovely idea - 'wildlife corridors for urban spaces', connecting habitat islands like Mount Gravatt with other nature reserves in the city and encouraging insect pollinators into people's gardens.  

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers

Australia's country towns are truly wonderful places, and I have a great affection for them.  I often feel a sense of not quite stepping back in time, but perhaps just finding that a good old fashioned way of life is still alive and kicking; the kind you imagine from children's books with endless summers and lashings and lashings of ginger beer. Such a delight we found in Toowoomba, QLD, earlier today at the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers.  Although delayed by the never-ending road works between Brisbane and Toowoomba (since the devastating floods in 2011), we arrived just before lunch to sample some gourmet delights at the food and wine part of the festival.  As Toowoomba is surrounded by rich agricultural lands on all sides and is not far from Queensland's only wine region of note (the Granite belt), we were not disappointed.
After eating some delicious salads from 'Claude's', washed down with some local craft beer by Ian Watson of The Spotted Cow, followed by probably the best doughnut in the world, a cinnamon sugar Byron Bay Organic Doughnut (we actually had to share it, it was that huge!), we were ready to burn off a few calories by looking at flowers.  

We started by looking at the flower arrangements: spectacular seven-foot high masterpieces and a room-size 'installation', truly works of art... 

Then it was time to explore the gardens, so we headed over to the Botanic garden where there was an astounding display of blooms planted specially for the Carnival.  We spent a while just marvelling and taking photos (pretty much what everyone was doing) - for us it equalled Canberra's Floriade, and I fell in love with the dancing Poppies.   

As if that wasn't enough, we then went to watch the main event of the day, the Grand Central Floral Parade through the city (though we actually just watched it at the end point - Godsall Street Oval).  It was nice to watch the floats arrive at the oval and we ducked under the barriers to take a closer look once the floats were parked up.  What a tremendous community spirit.  

The festival has only just begun and is on until the 29th September, although the Flower, Food and Wine arena and fairground is only there this weekend.  There are so many other things to see besides in several parks across the town, so I'm sure it will be more than worth it - visit Toowoomba!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

A lunchtime serenade from a Currawong

Last weekend we went to the Blue Mountains west of Sydney in NSW for a short break - one of our favourite places in Australia.  The spring weather was glorious, and the nights were still just cool enough to justify lighting the little wood burning stove in the cottage we stayed at near Blackheath and curling up with a glass of wine, bliss.

The spectacular 'world heritage' view at Govett's Leap (note Bridal Falls on the right), also my first attempt at a panoramic stitch with my camera!  Please click the picture and it will enlarge.

We decided to spend Saturday walking the trails around Govett's Leap, a spectacular look-out where we could see for miles across the Grose Valley wilderness and world heritage national park, with a 180 metre drop below us to the base of the sheer cliffs.  We did the cliff-top walk over to the Pulpit rock, which had the most wonderful views, as you can see above.  There was just the sound of the breeze in the trees and birdsong, and the occasional drips from the rare hanging swamps and waterfalls, with the wafts of perfume from the spring flowers filling up our senses!  We stopped for lunch, and a very friendly Pied Currawong Strepera graculina came and sat with us, first quietly watching then breaking into some beautiful calls - I captured the calls on video below, and the spectacular peaceful scene looking down the Grose Valley behind.

The friendly Currawong

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Mount Coot-tha

We have just passed our two year anniversary of living in Brisbane, my how time flies! Looking back over this blog I realised a couple of things: I've not posted for nearly six months (oops!) and that I've never posted about the wonderful Brisbane Botanic Garden at Mount Coot-tha, what an omission. Given that this blog started life as a blog about the Australian National Botanic Garden in Canberra, I really should have written about the Brisbane equivalent by now.

Strelitzia in the Mount Coot-tha botanic garden, also known as 'Bird of Paradise flower', a beautiful plant often seen in Gardens around Brisbane although it is actually native to South Africa.

One reason it has taken so long to write about the garden at Mount Coot-tha is because it took us a long time to go there again after moving here - on our first visit to Brisbane we had visited the garden and were very disappointed, but it turns out we didn't see hardly any of it as it extends so much further than we realised!  So if you go there and you think its just a small lake with a few flower beds around, you really haven't explored far enough.  For a start, there is also a wonderful Japanese Garden, pictured below, and a meandering rainforest river with plenty of water dragons.

If you are interested in Japanese culture, there is an event on tomorrow Sunday 18th August, in the Japanese Garden at Mount Coot-tha celebrating Japanese Cultural day!  This will include music, a tea ceremony and origami amongst other things, from 11am-3pm, and its free (as is entry to the garden).  

Just be sure to watch out for the many Golden Orb weaver Nephila plumipes spiders webs with huge female spiders as you walk around the gardens...  pictured below is an immature (top) and mature (below) female - the males are really tiny in comparison as this species has extreme sexual dimorphism; the female body length of these spiders is around 20mm, whereas the males are just 5mm.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Funky fungus!

I found an amazing looking bright red fungus growing outside my workplace this morning, its like nothing I've ever seen before.  I thought it was a curious plastic ball someone had left on the ground, that is how odd it looks.  It has an incredible lattice structure.  It didn't take me long to find a name for it as its so distinctive: Clathrus ruber, commonly known as the latticed stinkhorn, the basket stinkhorn, or the red cage fungus.  I didn't notice it smelling, but apparently it can have quite a pungent smell.  It is not native to Australia, but in fact quite widespread across the globe, remarkable.
Original photo taken on my phone in poor light when I first spotted the fungus - not a great shot, but you can see how much more upright and rounded the fungus was when it first appeared in the rain!

Saturday, 2 February 2013


Could this be one of Brisbane's best kept secrets?

Moreton bay is home to two very beautiful and famous islands: Stradbroke Island, which I blogged about last August, and Moreton Island, which I'm yet to visit.  Tourists flock to these islands by the boatload.   However, closer to the mainland are many little islands.  I first discovered these in a kayak with the UQ canoe club, where I spent a wonderful day paddling around the bay from Victoria Point to Karragarra Island, coming back though the Secret Garden (a forest of mangroves).  Our 20km route map is shown below.  I didn't take a camera on that trip as kayaking is a new hobby for me, so the likelihood of capsizing seemed quite high - particularly when a Dugong swam under my kayak; though I was simply thrilled to get so close to such a fantastic animal.

The peacefulness of being out on the bay in a sea kayak was bliss.  We spontaneously decided to get out there again late one balmy afternoon with some friends - this time taking the very short hop on the ferry across to Coochiemudlo Island, situated only about 1km from the mainland but a world away.  For $3.50 each way, we had a sunset walk on a  beach to ourselves, besides a couple of kids in a kayak and a family having a picnic.  We even had the novelty of watching the sunset reflected in the ocean, generally not seen from land on the east coast!

The modest little ferry from the mainland to 'Coochie', as the island is affectionately known.

The previous day's king tide had washed up some interesting creatures, like this starfish and jellyfish.  I tried to rescue the starfish, but I think it was too late.  I think this Jellyfish is just a 'blubber' or catostylus jellyfish, not particularly dangerous.

This amazing pattern of little balls we found on the sand is made by sand bubbler crabs, Scopimera inflata.  "These crabs live in burrows in the sand, where they remain during high tide. When the tide is out, they emerge on to the surface of the sand, and scour the sand for food, forming it into inflated pellets, which cover the sand. The crabs work radially from the entrance to their burrow, which they re-enter as the tide rises and destroys the pellets" (Wikipedia).  I came across this lovely YouTube film of the crabs doing just that, creating a work of art!

Monday, 28 January 2013

Storms and turtles

Its a holiday weekend in Brisbane, but we are marooned!  For two reasons - our garage roller-door broke and so I don't want to open it again in case it won't shut, but also because of the incessant wind and rain.  We moved to Brisbane post-2011, so didn't experience those terrible floods, but right now we are getting a taste of what that was like.  Combined with the recent King tides, the Queensland coast is taking a battering.

I was really sorry to hear on Saturday how hard the Tropical Cyclone Oswald had hit Bargara and Burnett Heads near Bundaberg: we spent last New Year at Burnett Heads and had an incredible experience watching turtles nesting at Mon Repos: the largest Loggerhead turtle rookery in the South Pacific.  Flatback and Green turtles also lay their eggs there. Mon Repos is situated between Burnett Heads and Bargara.  Thinking about those wonderful creatures struggling out to sea in such storms, I realised I never posted on this blog about that trip.  January is right in the middle of the turtle breeding season (Nov-March), where female sea turtles will be coming onto the beach to lay their eggs at Mon Repos and also baby turtles will be starting to hatch and make their perilous journey to the sea, certainly even more perilous in this weather.

Last year we were really lucky and saw several female Loggerhead turtles come up the beach that night to lay their eggs.  It was amazing to watch such an enormous creature so close, apparently oblivious to 30 people stood around in the darkness (torch use was restricted).  She dug a hole in the sand and then began to lay 120 eggs, one after the other.  After she had finished she buried the eggs then made her way back to the ocean.  Some interesting facts about the turtles at Mon Repos:
- The eggs laid on the mainland produce mainly females and those laid on islands produce males - to do with the warmer temperature of the sand on the mainland.
- Only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to maturity.
- It is 30 years before the turtles will return, to the same beach, and start to breed.  The longevity of the turtles is not yet known!
We were able to get very close but had to stay behind the turtle as she laid her eggs

After laying her eggs the turtle buries them (and almost herself!) in sand

Researchers take some measurements and mark the position of the eggs.

Sometimes, the turtles lay their eggs too low on the beach, so that they are in danger of being washed away by high tides.  To help conserve this endangered species, researchers and volunteers dig up the eggs after the turtle has gone back to the ocean and literally move them further up the beach.  Research has shown that if this is done within a short timeframe it doesn't affect the hatchling survival rate.  The turtle we were watching laid her eggs too low on the beach, and so we also helped with the egg relocation - I was thrilled to hold some turtle eggs as we all helped move the eggs as quickly and carefully as we could.  

Eggs after they are dug up and counted, ready to be buried again further up the beach
I hope the little turtles that I helped will be the 1 in 1000 that make it!

A sand sculpture Edd made at Mon Repos beach the next day, in memory of the beautiful turtles we saw.  Edd has also done a couple of very cute illustrations of some other wildlife blown about in the Australia Day storms on his blog.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Kangaroo Island: Fur-seals and Sea-lions

Looks like I have a bit of catching up to do.  The last couple of months I have been on my travels, first to South Australia and Kangaroo Island, then back to the UK (via Hong Kong) for a wonderful 'proper' cold, damp, traditional Christmas with the family.  Arriving back in Australia in the middle of a massive heatwave is taking some getting used to!

Although this blog is now named 'Brisbane Adventures', it is really simply about the wonderful experiences of nature I have living here in Australia.  For that reason I certainly couldn't visit Kangaroo Island in South Australia and not write about it - its a nature wonderland.  In fact, so much so I think a single post won't do it justice!

Cape du Couedic, Kangaroo Island

Many people visit Kangaroo Island to encounter the Fur-seals and Sea-lions that live on the South coast.  There are three species that have set up home here: Sea-lions, New Zealand Fur-seals and Australian Fur-seals.  Although the tourist guides don't warn you about the smell - the colony really stinks!  The easiest way to tell them apart is mainly by colour (information from a Flinders Chase National Park notice board at Admirals Arch at the Cape du Couedic, where my photos were taken):

  • Australian sea-lion females and juveniles are very pale, almost white.  The bulls are dark, with a contrasting cream mane.
  • New Zealand fur-seals range in colour from dark grey to brown.  They have a long narrow pointed face with an upturned nose.
  • Australian fur-seals range in colour from light sandy-brown to grey-brown.  Their head is broader and shorter than New Zealand fur-seals.  
I hope my IDs below are correct!

Australian sea-lion

Australian fur-seal
NZ (left) and Australian (right) fur-seals fighting for their spot on the rocks

New Zealand fur-seal

Seals and Sea-lions surf the enormous waves to crash-land on the rocks

Aww.. a cute little Australian fur-seal (a pup or maybe a female)

All three species were severely hunted to the verge of extinction in the past following European settlement - seal fur and blubber was Australia's first export industry - and so today they are a protected species.  In particular, the Australian sea-lion is classed as vulnerable and declining, with an estimated 14,000 individuals in the wild.  However, their conservation status on Kangaroo Island and the relative abundance of the fur-seals and sea-lions now poses a major threat to the lovable Fairy Penguins, who also inhabit the island.  We went on a Penguin Tour at Penneshaw during our stay, and saw around 12 penguins: parents returning from a day at sea to feed their young.  Not long ago, there were hundreds of penguins all around this little coastal town, found up to 2km inland.  Now, they are all but gone and our guide was absolutely ecstatic to see 12:  it was the most she had seen in one night in her year on the job!  Many tours don't see any - which is a severe disappointment and a serious conservation concern.