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Showing posts from September, 2009

When good birds go bad.

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September in Melbourne brings many things, but the two most noticeable are the AFL finals and Australian Magpie attacks. The AFL finals involve an oval shaped playing surface, a pointy ball and large numbers of people apparently running in all directions. The magpie attacks involve any shaped playing surface that takes their fancy, a pointy beak and large numbers of people apparently running in all directions. I kid you not – it’s a season of disappointment for many football fans and a season of fear for those who have badly behaved magpies at the bottom of the garden, or any number of other locations where magpies lie in ambush. The Australian Magpie is not actually a magpie at all in the sense of European or American Magpies. The European Magpie (Pica pica) is a black and white crow, a corvid. While the Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) is generally “crow like” in appearance, it is in fact in separate family, the Artamidae. This family contains woodswallows and

Here be Dragons

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On the edges of old maps – especially those used in works of fiction – can be found the phrase “here be dragons”. While this could be taken to mean that there are real dragons to the east, west or whatever, the real meaning is “beyond here is mystery”. If you sail into the realm of dragons you really are in uncharted waters. Dragonflies represent uncharted territory for me, swimming in uncharted waters as it were. Yet this week I have been surrounded by them, flying up from sunny patches on the lawn, perching on warm rocks and hunting the edges of the bushes. Even as a kid I watched them, often whilst fishing, catching insects in their basketed legs. Sometimes I caught them is large fishing nets, but only sometimes, for they could normally out fly the waving of a clumsy landing net. I don’t suppose you survive as an aerial predator for millions of years if you can’t fly a bit. Any move to a new country requires some adjustment, and Dragonflies in Australia are a far more daunting p

Opportunity (and partly for Chris)

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The flowers of spring are about survival – survival of the individual, survival of the genes or if you are very old fashioned survival of the group. But the long and the short of it is that they are about survival, and for flowers that means seeds. While many plants, including some that produce flowers, have other ways of surviving, it is flowers that are most conspicuous. I can’t remember the last time I heard anybody becoming excited about the runners of spring, or wandering lonely as a cloud and spying a host of golden rhizomes! Seeds are a survival package primed to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself. Time and distance is often no barrier to the tiny packages of dormant life that are flung far and wide in the hope of opportunity. Some fall by the wayside, some find an opportunity and are then engulfed by those around them. And some fall on either metaphorical or actual stony ground. Man made gardens often abound with stony ground, the concrete drive ways, the f

Spring and Abundance.

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A week or so ago I was asked “how spring was going in Victoria” and I declared that I did not think that is had really sprung yet. I have taken to calling this time of year “sprinter” – neither spring nor winter, and generally short lived. As last Saturday was the hottest September day on record for Melbourne (Global Warming anybody?) I think it’s now time to call it - spring has arrived. According to popular myth the minds of young men are supposed to linger on one subject only when spring is in the air – and it’s an unavoidable observation that reproduction is now abounding. While Australian woodlands do not have the dramatic vernal flush of flowers – the hosts of daffodils only occur in manicured gardens and the memory of migrants – the signs of spring are there to be found. In the last few days butterflies have started to appear with regularity – Cabbage White and Yellow Admiral – and dragonflies are hawking over the flower beds. Dragonflies always cause me to wonder if the insec

Orchids in the suburbs - Part 2

It's not often that I dont like being correct about something - but in this case I wish I had been wrong. Less than 48 hours after finding the orchids they are gone. Mow down in the cause of neatness and order. The stalks are still there, but they are cut and scattered, the flowers slowly wilting. Just about the only natural thing on the nature strips has been cut down. I don't understand how it can be better to have strip of sterile mown grass outside your house rather than a slightly shaggy looking patch that contains orchids. How can we be so locked into order, that wild flowers need to be removed? Having said that, is it actually any different from pulling "weeds" in my own garden? Aren't they just a patch of wild disorder in a planned garden?

Orchids in the Suburbs.

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It really does pay to keep your eyes open. Many streets in Melbourne and other parts of the world presumably, have apparently sterile strips of grass down each side. In Melbourne these are called Nature Strips – I take this be some mark of national optimism as they rarely hold more than daisies, dandelions and dog poo. The first two are normally over- looked, and the last is only of real interest to over inquisitive toddlers. You can see a typical streetscape in the first picture. I was walking along this part of the street when something caught my eye - a patch, no more the 1/2 a metre square of stems sticking up from the grass. Each stem was capped with a complex green hood. This is not normally what I would expect to see. If you could look a little closer, just in front of the tree, you would see a patch of Greenhood Orchids, for that is what the stems were – the exact species eludes me as the taxonomy of this group is, to say the least, complex. There are 100 species of Greenhood

Here we go!

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In Gilbert White's "The Natural History of Selborne " he writes of hope that the book will cause people to pay ready attention to the "wonders of creation". While I may not agree with his use of the word creation - I would replace it with Evolution - the basic idea remains the same. We need to look more closely, we need to pay more attention and we need to value the things we find. There is wonder to be found in the plants and animals living in your own back yard - you do not need to visit the far flung and remote places of the world to see the drama that evolution has produced. Of course, if somebody offers me the change to go to the "far flung" places I am not going to say no! I suppose that Australia counts as far flung for many people - have have parrots in my garden trees and marsupials eating my plants . It's all a matter of degree. Where possible I am going to illustrate this blog with my own pictures - so wish me luck as I d