Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Greening

The maidenly blush of new blossom has almost gone, though a what miracle it was after that long winter. Now it is a new season which ought to have a special name and be celebrated in its own right. It is in Europe of course, where its equivalent falls in May. It’s that time in mid – spring when the trees hastily cover their naked branches in flamboyant green. The rich fat smell of hawthorn fills the air, the chestnut puts out its white candles and the bees are busy.  A lazy bird of prey rides on the

The chestnut
The oakleaves

At the Railway Roundabout

The elms

In the gardens

Though I love the steadfast evergreens and enduring eucalypts, the annual renewal of deciduous trees still fills me with delight. If autumn colour brings intimations of mortality and thinking of times past and loves lost, this flush of green is a kind of quickening that makes me yearn for new adventures and do new things before the harsher sun of summer turns all that green grass brown.

Fiddle heads getting ready to sproing. I always want to catch them at it but it never seems to work without time lapse

Old trees feel their sap rising
Young apprentices feel it....

.... and older folk are not immune, though they may of course be discussing their investment strategy

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Where Nature meets Culture 2 - A marriage of art and poetry

"As We Travel" - by Luke Wagner inspired by the poetry of  James McAuley

Not too far away at the Colville Gallery at the far end of Salamanca, Tasmanian artist Luke Wagner  has fulfilled a long held ambition to paint a series based on the poems of James McAuley (1917 -1976) a well-known Australian academic, poet, journalist and literary critic perhaps most famous for the “Ern Malley Hoax” in which he and a collaborator, despising modernist poetry, successfully submitted sixteen nonsense poems to a literary magazine.  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Where Nature meets Culture 1 - The Strange Trees Exhibition

It's easy to lose yourself in David Keeling's "regrowth" forest which is part of a larger work

You could say that this week I have been flat out like a lizard drinking, to use a typically Australian expression that means “I have been really busy,” not that I have ever seen a lizard drinking. No chance to get out into the bush, but I did manage to see a couple of exhibitions, both at least vaguely related to nature

The painting and the installation are meant to be viewed together 

Not so long ago few people had access to photography. Now that photography no longer requires hugely expensive equipment – especially if you have a smartphone, nor darkrooms, nor film purchases and development costs, let alone extensive knowledge of exposure time, film speed and shutter speeds, almost anyone can provide accurate representations of objects in nature or elsewhere which was once the preserve of the artist. This leaves the artist free to bring his or her imagination to the project as well as their feelings, hopes, dreams and memories.  You see this progression in the works displayed as part of the Strange Trees Exhibition which is on at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery until November 25.

Historic trees from Glover's sketchbook 1831 -32 (apologies for the white spots  from the overhead lights)

It begins with the delicately drawn naturalistic trees of John Glover (1830s)* mentioned previously, and meanders through a forest of imaginative interpretations from the vibrant series of fantasy trees by Milan Milojevic, to trees that are now lost to us – those drowned by the damming of rivers and photographs of historic trees which have since been cut down. There are wooden trees made from tree limbs with haunting ghost trees behind them and images of trees caught in glass or on wallpaper, on metal, canvas and linen. Though style, media and themes differ greatly, they all draw attention to the significance of trees in our culture and consciousness. For example, while Helen Wright’s “Wonderland” may reflect on the promise of life within a dead tree, Troy Ruffels’ ”The notes” hints at the downfall that the Tree of Knowledge wrought in the Garden of Eden. It is an eclectic assemblage, pleasantly arranged with interpretation from volunteer guides if you happen to be there at the right time, but I do have one complaint. Diverse as it is, it is nowhere near large enough. I can think of many Tasmanian artists whose work would fit right in, but do go and see it for yourself.

One frame from Milan Milojevic's  wall frieze which blooms like an exotic garden along one wall

My friends at the lichen and briophyte group would certainly appreciate this one - "World that I love - Autumn Camp Penstock Lagoon"by Richard Wastell

* By the way, while I was at the museum, I also had a chance to see the original of the Knocklofty work by Glover, so I have now put that into the post about Glover. Near it are at least five other works by him, but they are a little lost in the range of colonial works. I personally liked coming upon it unexpectedly while walking the hills.

Memories of a  forest - Tiny detail on David Keeling's tree skeletons
(The Museum is open Tuesday till Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Enquire at the desk about guided tours)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Don’t let our Frogs Croak

“Knick Knack Paddywhack, Give a Frog a Home….”
(Sung to the tune of “This Old Man Came Rolling Home.”)

While I was out orchid hunting I passed a hidden dam where Pobblebonks – a.k.a.   Eastern Banjo Frogs were happily singing and yesterday my son sent me a photo from Queensland of a tree frog he had found in the air conditioner. These two incidents got me thinking about the status of frogs, which have been in worldwide decline since they started being closely monitored in the 1980’s.  This matters because they are our canaries in the coal mine, telling us about the health of our environment and especially our water.

The frog that came in from the heat - Gordon's Air Con loving Tree Frog

 It wasn’t that long ago that standing waters of any kind– frog habitat, were anathema to councils being associated with waterborne diseases and thought to be breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other unpleasant things.  Swamps and wetlands were also regarded as waste ground which should be put to more profitable use.  They were filled in, drained, paved over with concrete and largely forgotten about. Then we discovered that wetlands played an important role in maintaining the water table, stopping too rapid run –off and thereby possibly preventing flooding, and that they also filter and trap pollutants before they reach our waterways.  And these are just their importance to humans. They also provide food and shelter for countless other species such as migratory birds, reptiles and insects and in a clean and balanced environment, far from enabling mosquitoes to breed, frogs and dragonflies eat mosquito larvae.

Our local frog pond is a sorry sight at present

Unfortunately frogs are also sensitive to all kinds of toxins which is why they are among the first species to disappear in the face of environmental degradation.  According to a  2017 report   worldwide we have lost around 168 amphibian species (this includes salamanders), almost one third out of a total of 7,000 are threatened and a further 42% are in decline. The Australian picture is not much more encouraging. Out of 214 known species four are extinct, 15 are endangered and 12 are vulnerable. Tasmania fares better on the whole. Of its eleven species of frogs only one – The Green and Gold Tree Frog, is listed as endangered. 

These are the frogs you would normally see here - see detail below, but today it seems dry and frogless

 The reasons for their decline are not clear, though several factors are being considered. While land clearing, habitat fragmentation and environmental degradation are likely suspects, frogs have also disappeared from almost pristine settings pointing to other possibilities including increased UV, radiation, changing climatic conditions, predation by feral animals or introduced species and the chytrid fungal disease. Most likely it is some combination of these such as weakened frogs being more likely to be infected or vice versa. While research continues and scientists are experimenting with vaccines against Chytrid Fungus, it is precisely because protecting habitat alone is not enough, that Tasmanians are being encouraged to include frog friendly features in their gardens. If you do, don't take your frogs, water or tadpoles from the wild, in case you introduce disease. It's much better to let them find their own way.

Here in Hobart, local schools have been working together with the City Council and private industry to develop frog ponds at Knocklofty. Initially seven to eight Tasmanian frogs were found there. Sadly, some succumbed to the Chytrid fungus and when I checked a few days ago, the frog ponds appeared to be dry, silent and frogless, despite all the rain we have had. I‘m hoping it is just too early in the season and we’ll soon hear that happy Pobblebonk again.

Here are some of the frogs you might see or hear here

By the way, if you want to ensure that you don’t spread the chytrid disease yourself, please read the Parks website. I do always wash my boots when I have been bush, so that I don’t spread that other disease which is affecting our native plants, but chytrid can also be spread by car tyres, camping equipment and other activities. If you notice any odd posture or behaviour among frogs report that to Parks and Wildlife too  (03) 6165 4305.

If you see or hear a frog -get your frog id here: This works for other states as well.
While I am waiting to hear if the Tasmanian Tree Frog Survey is still in progress, it wouldn't hurt to make a note if you hear or see one. Their call is on the website.

P.S. If you are reading this Carmelita and Chris, I hope your Motorbike Frogs are back. These are a genuine Western Australian species and they sound just like that!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Rainbows and Orchids

The Blessington Track -a Coastal Walk at South Arm

I had been a bit disappointed since going orchid hunting with Peter and friends last week. Each time I went out it started to rain and I hadn’t found a single orchid. Yesterday started much the same. As if on cue, it rained again as I was driving over the bridge, but I kept going anyway and continued on down the South Arm Highway. 

This is a high level walk with views of beaches and shore platforms

There was brilliant sunshine while I did the lovely coastal walk from South Arm to Blessington but there wasn’t an orchid to be seen. They don’t seem to be all that fond of the beach which is very unAustralian. I continued on to another coastal track at Opossum Bay where a lady I met had told me that she had seen a blue one, but the rain came back with a vengeance along with a biting wind  and I couldn’t get back to the van soon enough. If there had been a hundred orchids, I wouldn’t have seen them because my glasses were all splattered and blurred.  Note how quickly the weather changes!! 

Except for the Fort Beach section
Between showers, rainbows and sunshine, I did another couple of short walks - a bit of the Convict Trail; a look at the Cemetery – cemeteries are often surprising repositories of rare plants, but this one wasn’t, too well cared for obviously – all the grass mown and short, and then a couple of forays into the Coastal Conservation Area, all to no avail, though pleasant enough.

Beach below the Conservation Area

Still vaguely disappointed with my day and reluctant to go home, I drove some of the side roads and lo and behold, I hit the motherlode – masses of Tiger orchids and two kinds of orchids at another spot. It’s a pity I wasn’t very well prepared. Where’s a white umbrella when you need one? The wind simply didn’t stop blowing and most of my pictures are blurred, but I am happy to have seen them and hope you will be too.

Glossodia Major- the Waxlip Orchid, I think

There were masses of Tiger Orchids
Possibly Calandenia Carnea  or "Fairy Fingers"