Thursday, November 26, 2015

Tasmania's Blue Fairy Wren

More Correctly - Superb Fairy Wren Malurus Cynaneus - photo with kind permission from Graeme Chapman
Passionate ornithologist, Graeme Chapman, formerly of the CSIRO's Division of Wildlife, has kindly allowed me to reproduce one of his photos here, since I had such difficulty getting a photo of these cheeky little birds  while at Narawntapu. They have a very interesting life story too, one I wasn't aware of until I read about it on Graeme's website. Nor was I aware that there were so many varieties.

See Graeme's main website www.graemechapman.com.au for exceptional  photos and a wealth of information on Australia's amazing birds.You can even hear the birdcalls they make.

In 2004, Graeme was awarded the John Hobbs medal for his work with amateur ornithologists, especially Birds Australia which has now become www.birdlife.org.au/

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Up at the Mayfair and all that Jazz

Not New Orleans, but sounds like it


 It isn’t often that we have free entertainment in the street/ courtyard. Today it was the Hobart Jazz Club, playing up the hill at the Mayfair. Great fun – cheap wine, cheap food and good  company, all within walking - even crawling distance of home.
Is that a bit of product placement I detect in the corner? Never mind they gave out prizes too, so I'll forgive them. Nothing like a couple of glasses of wine on a sunny afternoon to make one feel forgiving.


The Jazz Executives belt out a tune

This is the other group,   whose name I didn't catch. Excellent voice on the lead singer. At least two of the ladies from my dance class were there and when they played some of those Broadway numbers, we were up and dancing.  We had fun even though I have as yet, very little idea of the steps. Hey! They were playing our songs. Nor were we the only ones happily making fools of ourselves.


This next picture isn't at all relevant to this story and I would never get away with it in a paper, but I am going to put it in anyway because there were such superb clouds overhead while the band played

 
The Sky - it was windy up there
Don't expect too much sense out me this p.m.

Some Updates and how you can help our scientists


Not the Sea Urchin I saw at the Seaside Festival but one of the same Longspine type (Centrostephanus Rodgersii) kindly sent to me by Jemina Stuart -Smith at Redmap*

Update "Hunting the Wild Waterfalls- Adamson's Falls"  posted 19/11/2015

Talking to a member of Birdlife Australia at the Taroona Seaside Festival yesterday, I was able to confirm that the bird  I saw was a lyrebird  and yes, they do nest in trees at night! Birdlife Australia works for bird conservation and also runs a variety of volunteer programs. I'm looking forward to learning more about our feathered friends, maybe even getting some decent pictures, and am really pleased to have found people who are able to answer my many questions and identify some of the plants and animals I have encountered on my travels. 

Update " Narawntapu Day 2 - posted 2/11/2015

Re: The high intertidal range in the North of Tasmania (Baker's Beach) and in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Also at the Seaside Festival in Taroona, I had the opportunity to talk to Geoff, a marine scientist who added that the depth of the water also plays a role, thus here in the south where the ocean is deep, you do not get such a big tidal range. Geoff also showed me the biggest sea urchin - live, that I have ever seen dead or alive. It was almost the size of a basketball if you include its nasty spines and was a deep burgundy colour. Wish I had taken a picture, but was too astounded to think of it. Yes, I know that's rare - a bit like a member of this family being speechless. Don't handle them (sea urchins) yourself if you find a live one. The spines are smooth one way and have a serrated edge the other way that prevents them being pulled out.

Another of Jemina's Photos -this beautiful specimen is a Heliocidaris Erythrogramma


Jemima Stuart -Smith at Redmap * has also identified  some of my earlier finds at Roches Beach. If you should find anything unusual at the beach, take a photo and report it to www.redmap.org.au  or get the Redmap App.

Yes. A shark egg
The test of a heart urchin
If you would like to see what a live one looks like  click here

This is most likely a Cunjevoi or Sea Squirt

*What is Redmap?

"Redmap stands for Range Extension Database and Mapping project. This project invites Australians to share sightings of marine species that are ‘uncommon’ to their local seas. Over time, Redmap will use this ‘citizen science’ data to map which Australian marine species may be extending their distribution range – a.k.a moving house - in response to changes in the marine environment, such as ocean warming.
Redmap members use their knowledge of the seas to help monitor Australia’s vast coastline. The citizen science data also highlights regions and species that may be experiencing more  distribution changes,  so that research can be focused into these areas." 
Apparently our waters are warming at twice the global average and this is having a big impact on some marine species. I love how the website says.  "A temperature rise of a few degrees doesn't sound like a lot; it actually sounds quite nice, especially if you have ever been swimming down south, " ... but even one degree causes coral bleaching and two degrees permanently kills it. I haven't checked recently but some  marine  species are now moving further south -also hitherto unknown predators and diseases, and putting Antarctic species at risk.

Update  "Still on the Road to Narawntapu " posted 1/11/2015

Still on the B. Road to Narawntapu and yes, I do finally get there

- See more at: http://www.veronikawild.com/search?updated-max=2015-11-02T01:08:00%2B11:00&max-results=7&start=4&by-date=false#sthash.SFZkWT7D.dpuf

Still on the B. Road to Narawntapu and yes, I do finally get there

- See more at: http://www.veronikawild.com/search?updated-max=2015-11-02T01:08:00%2B11:00&max-results=7&start=4&by-date=false#sthash.SFZkWT7D.dpuf

Still on the B. Road to Narawntapu and yes, I do finally get there

- See more at: http://www.veronikawild.com/search?updated-max=2015-11-02T01:08:00%2B11:00&max-results=7&start=4&by-date=false#sthash.SFZkWT7D.dpuf

Still on the B. Road to Narawntapu and yes, I do finally get there

- See more at: http://www.veronikawild.com/search?updated-max=2015-11-02T01:08:00%2B11:00&max-results=7&start=4&by-date=false#sthash.SFZkWT7D.dpuf
21/11/2015
Sad to say the pretty white shrub below which I thought was a cottonwood has the unfortunate name of Stinkwood (Zieria arborescens) according to Bob and Joy Coghlan at the Society for Growing Australian Plants.

The tall yellow one behind it is apparently a smooth parrot pea (Dillwynia glaberrima)

The daisy bush is most likely  Olearia stellulata

They have also recommended a good guide book:

  "A Guide to Flowers and Plants of Tasmania" by the Launceston Field Naturalists Club, available direct from them if you can't find it in a bookstore. There is a comprehensive list of guidebooks at http://www.apstas.org.au/publications.html."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hunting the Wild Waterfalls 3 - Billy Brown's Falls



This is an awesome waterfall

Billy Brown's Waterfall proved to be somewhat elusive. There were supposed to be hand written signs somewhere, but I didn’t see those and drove clear through Judbury and Lonnavale before coming upon someone who knew where it was. Not that the trip up the valley alongside the Huon River was wasted - the grass was high and green, hay making was in progress complete with the luscious the smell of of freshly mown grass. There were sleek horses in paddocks along with alpacas with that enigmatic smile they have when they are just about to bite someone. Baby goats (kids) leapt into the air with all four hooves as only young goats can to express the sheer joy of life.

This is a magnificent waterfall, but now I know why I have never seen it on any tourist map. It is not for the faint - hearted. This road, when I finally found it, was even worse than the one I was on yesterday, the more so because it was longer,  steeper, and  rockier.  And yes, there are even bigger potholes around than those I saw at Narawntapu. Here I had to stop every now and then to dip them in case they were too deep for my car. I also moved some of the pointier rocks which lay loose on the road. There wasn't much I could do about the tree branches. If ever there is a next time, I will bring an axe. Please don’t try this in a normal car.  I went very, very,  slowly.  At regular intervals, especially at the river crossing, I  felt very tempted to do the Mongolian thing where the drivers walk around a stone cairn three times to offer a prayer to the Gods before launching themselves over particularly hair-raising passes.


Shame it's such a hard road to get there*
 Around 10 Km and ten years later, I arrived at the nicely painted sign for the falls. "1.5  hrs.return." That didn’t sound too bad. It didn’t say it was going to be 700m straight uphill, followed by the same distance clambering down the other side, slipping and sliding, dodging fallen trees, rockfalls and swamps.It comes into the category of  a challenge. i.e. not something I would willingly do again. I was glad my friend had gone home. She would not have survived the first ascent. I barely did. The only thing that kept me going was knowing that this surely had to end at some point. There is some natural law about this. Something to the effect that the further you go and the more you have invested in something, the surer you are that you must be near the conclusion.
I have also added a new bit of equipment to my kit. It's low tech. It’s the traditional forky stick that bushmen have always used in case they encounter snakes. I didn’t fortunately, but it was handy to stop me sliding down the muddy bits, or for hauling myself over steep ones. Has anyone tried a taser on snakes or pepper spray/ bear spray/ or a hopper stopper? Not that I want to hurt them, but I wouldn’t mind being able to keep them away or stopping them from biting.

When you see tree ferns, expect it to be wet underfoot
There is some pretty rainforest along the way and the photos do not in anyway do justice to these falls which tumble from a cleft in the rock far, far above and then drop in several cascades into a pool below. Definitely a sleeper, if only access was easier.

The downhill (Eastern) side has some lovely rainforest
*It is possible that there is another way to these falls. While researching I read of someone driving from Plenty, near New Norfolk without a 4x4 and finding it quite reasonable, and a smooth - looking dirt road does come in just before the falls track. If so, then access is via a gated road, further along the Lonnavale Road, but which is closed when logging is in progress. I didn't try it on the way back as similar spur roads enter the track at several intervals and could lead anywhere. Waiting to hear from a member of the 4x4 Club on that. Meanwhile, it's so long Billy Brown. Lovely to have met you, but I'm going home to tend my wounds and rest my weary bones.
Too bad about Adamson's. I suppose as Meatloaf says, "Two out of Three Ain't Bad."

Hunting the Wild Waterfalls- Day 2 - Arve Falls



The first Waratahs


The Hartz Mountains look superb from a distance. They have a sharp chiselled outline rather like two pyramids, but the first thing everyone tells wannabe bushwalkers, particularly in this area, is the Tragic Tale of Osborne Geeves, after whose family Geeveston is named. 

View across the Valleys
An expert bushman, Osborne was on prospecting trip in the Hartz Mountains with his three sons and a nephew on a fine day on the 27th.  of November in 1877, when they were unexpectedly overtaken by a blizzard. His son Arthur died in his arms and the nephew, Robert, died of exposure after being dragged into one of the huts. That kind of thing has always given this area a bit a sinister reputation and one approaches the  Hartz Mountains (all mountains in Tas. really) with a certain amount of respect. We turn left at the Arve Picnic shelter instead of heading up to the Tahune Airwalk. This road though unsealed is wide and not too bad.

Waratah Lookout - There is a hidden waterfall here and if you double click you may be able to see a tiny red spot which is the season's first waratah, well the first I've seen anyway
We call in at the Look -in Lookout - useful for identifying some of the rainforest trees and understanding a bit of the local logging history, then do the obligatory stop at Waratah Lookout with its sweeping views across the surrounding valleys and mountains. It is also my first glimpse of the striking red waratah this season. A creek gurgles alongside and a tiny waterfall can be heard tinkling a long, long way down into the gorge. 
It gets better  when we do the short walk to Arve Falls. The track is easy – 20 minutes and well formed. The whole bush seems to be getting ready for Christmas.  Many more waratahs are already in bloom here interspersed with white bauera, red mountain berries and young shoots of myrtle which vary from copper to bright green and dark. The falls are not huge but pretty, falling over several levels and into a deep gorge. In terms of return for effort, only Russell Falls at Mt. Field  and the Nelson Falls on the way to the West Coast would rival it.


Alpine Moorlands get ready for their brief moment of summer glory
Elsewhere the bush seems to be getting into the Christmas Spirit
Upper level Arve Falls


Lower level Arve Falls
Looking down the other side

 There are several other interesting walks in this area -e.g.  Lake Osborne 40 mins, and longer ones,  e.g. 4 hours to Hartz Peak, but my friend has had enough.
We stop for apples in Huonville and then part company. She heads home and I search for the other waterfall. The promised deluge has not materialised and the weather actually clears. Look out Billy Brown, here I come!

By the way, is it a spoiler to show you pictures of these places? Since most of you live overseas, the chances of seeing them personally are probably fairly slim. If it whets your appetite to come on over, that's a good thing. Even if you go to exactly the same places the season will be different, the weather, the plants. There is always something new. Each person's experience will be different. I just want  all yours (and mine) to be pleasant ones.

Hunting the Wild Waterfalls - Day 1. - Adamson's Falls, almost



Spring growth in the rainforest

This is a cautionary tale.  Not every bushwalking trip is an outstanding success. I am telling you about some of my ‘fails’ because it will give you some idea about what to expect once you go off the main road, 'behind the scenery' as it were, and some of the things you should and shouldn’t do.

The day started out well enough. I’d come across an excellent website detailing some of the lesser known  waterfalls and, with the promise of good weather for the next few days, I headed South, my original plan being to take it easy on the first day and do one of the longer walks on the second day. 
By the time I arrived in Geeveston however, jumping off point for the Hartz National Park, the weather forecast had changed. Now a thunderstorm was predicted for the following day which meant I should probably do the longer walk today while the weather was good.  I also heard from a friend who’d never done any bushwalking before that she would like to join me in the morning, another reason to save the short walks until then.

Lesson 1. Things change  - Watch the weather
It was past three thirty by the time I reached Hastings Caves, 44 km further down the road. Speaking to the Park Rangers there I found out that the road leading to Adamson's Falls  mentioned in my guide book  (NB there is no publication date on this book, though it was only bought last year) was in very poor condition and no longer suitable for two wheel drive vehicles. Although there was another way into this, time now being  of the essence, she thought that with the van's higher wheel base, I might just make it. I also have extra tough tyres. I thought I would just drive a little way and see how bad it was, but you know how it is - once on the road, there was no turning around or back. Parks also close the gate to the Caves at 4 so I wouldn’t have been able to get out. Be aware too that you need a parks pass to get in here.

Mosses, ferns and fairy gardens

Lesson 2. Things change - Get local knowledge
Boggy, deeply rutted , with the sides falling away in some places, there was nowhere to go but onward and upward until at last I made it to the T-junction described on their map and continued on to the start of the track.  The guide book said this was a two hour walk, though the ranger, to her credit, warned me that it now takes longer because of fallen trees, washouts  and general deterioration of the track. The last signal I got on my phone was 3.46, so technically I should be able to make it there and back. 

Nature lays out the green carpet - where it isn't boggy or full of cutty rushes
Lesson 3 Be prepared to change plans - there is no shame in abandoning a mission

I got as far as being able to hear the falls before the birds began their evensong - always a signal that there'd only be an hour or so before dusk. It was so - o -o tempting to continue but darkness comes early in the rainforest and there were some difficult and slippery patches like the bit where you have to claw your way up a creek that I had no wish to tackle in the dark, not even with my super excellent head lamp. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valour. She who walks and runs away, lives to walk another day. 

Not that the walk was without  its rewards. It was lovely to be in the rainforest. Nature had laid out her green carpet, where it wasn’t boggy or covered in cutty rushes . No snakes. Not even a leech, usually a regular companion of rainforest walks, and I saw and heard what were probably Lyrebirds – they looked like half -sized black turkeys in the trees, though I thought they were only supposed to be ground dwellers.  The sound was like those New Year whistles -  definitely one of the strangest  sounds I have ever heard in the bush, though lyrebirds are excellent mimics. I came out covered in mud with cutty rush cuts on my arms. They are like nasty little paper cuts and sting dreadfully. It's another reason to wear a long sleeved shirt, even when it's hot. 

Fine examples of  cutty rushes. They grow six to eight feet high here and like to trip you up

Then I'm back in the van, winding my way down through the mysterious maze of forestry roads, very few of which were on the map from Parks. Some were signed if you stopped and looked behind the bushes and  I avoided those which indicated that there might be a gate somewhere.  I am sure that several  of these would offer an easier route to this walk, but it would be best to consult Forestry about them first, because I doubt they are on many maps. 
 
Travelling slowly to avoid potholes and fearful of hitting log trucks in full tilt or wildlife, since it was now on dusk, I watched my  fuel gauge drop alarmingly from three quarters to a quarter. This would not be a good place to run out.  I still had no signal and could already see myself starving to death on some lonely road waiting for the RACT to find me. I was glad that I had the EPIRB though sincerely hoped I would not need  it.  Eventually I made it to the Main Road and  was very pleased to see the lights of Dover.  It was such a relief to be driving on a smooth road again without everything falling out of the cupboards. I didn't stop till I was safely back in Geeveston where I was to meet my friend in the morning.

Lesson 4. Drive to the conditions
There is something weird about the roads down here. The speed limit says 100 and there are ice and snow warnings, but with all the twists and turns, I’m lucky to be clocking 60. It must be aspirational. I doubt that even locals who know the road would be doing much better. There is lots of roadkill, though I'm sure that when you can take your eyes off the road for a moment, it is a very picturesque drive in daylight  - all boats and bays, old orchards, little apple stands, cottages and farm buildings. I  look forward to doing it again soon when I have another bite at Adamson's Falls.

Lesson 5. Don't rely on technology
Finally there is a signal at  Geeveston, but my phone battery is now dead flat. I plug it into the computer to charge it, but the computer won't even turn on. I hope all that shaking, rattling and rolling hasn't caused any permanent damage. I consequently miss the message from my friend saying she would meet me at Arve Falls, not at the bakery in Geeveston, which means a long delay in the morning until we find each other again.

Update 21/11/2015
Talking to a member of Birdlife Australia at the Taroona Seaside Festival today, I was able to confirm that the bird above was a lyrebird  and yes, they do nest in trees at night!