Web of light

I am taking part in :

The Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge – TRANSIENT

While on a late autumn bushwalk I photographed this tangled web. It seemed  designed to capture the scarce morning rays that penetrated the rainforest canopy. The light captured by the silk was transient and had already faded by the time we passed. Spiders themselves have a transient existence most do not survive the winter months perhaps this was a beautiful testament to the last exertion of a spider’s life.

 

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Soft focus in nature

 

I am taking part in :

The Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge – FOCUS

Some of us would prefer a soft focus lens when our portrait is taken – fuzzy is flattering. When nature is feeling demure and mystical she has her own set of soft focus lenses.

The blur of mist and snow

The soft light of evenings and grey days

 

Through water – spray and sea

 

 

Natural resources at my desk

My love for the nature is enhanced by constant education. These are some of the resources that help me classify and learn about the flora and fauna in my photos. I apologise to my overseas visitors these resources mainly relate to Australian wildlife.

Online:

https://australianmuseum.net.au/animals The Australian Museum site is an important source of accurate information on classification. Can be contacted by email with photo attachment if you are really stuck. I queried them a few times and they have given good succinct answers.

http://www.ozanimals.com/index.html It is not clear who runs this site but they certainly have a wide array of photos of all animal types with classification. Click on the small index photos to see larger and often a variety of photos. Good to browse through if unsure where to start.

https://fungimap.org.au/ this is a not-for-profit organisation that asks for your sightings of fungus. They have pdf forms to fill in if you want to submit a sighting or have a fungus identified. Identification will take a while as they are inundated with requests and fungi can be tricky shape/colour shifters which are hard to classify. Try some of the resources listed before you submit an identification request.

Instagram I have only recently joined Instagram and WOW! there is every # you could ever imagine. So if you suspect you have a particular fungus, bird, insect search on the hashtag and pictures will come up. I have put in some pretty obscure genus and species names and have never had zero hits yet. From these hashtag searches (and those who like your posts) you can find nature photographers that are also interested in classifying flora and fauna. Use specific hashtags so you attract like-minded naturalists.

http://hunter.lls.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/516807/guide-to-common-fungi-hcr.pdf This is a guide to local fungi in the Hunter and Central Rivers Region of NSW. Not my region, but of course, a lot of fungi are widespread. Good descriptions and photos.

http://hvbackyard.blogspot.com.au/ This blog appears to be inactive (sadly) for a while. But has a good list of fungi pictures which have been carefully classified.

https://wildlifespotter.net.au/ This is a bit different. Not a site to investigate my photos but a fun site to help with fauna research. Sign up and classify animals taken by automatic cameras set up for various projects throughout Australia. I have spotted quolls, dingoes, white-tailed rats, bandicoots, bettongs, mulgara (small marsupial carnivores) and, I know you won’t believe me – I think a Tasmanian tiger.

Bird apps Books are still the best tools for bird identification but it can be useful to have a bird app with calls. I purchased the Morcombe and Stewart Guide a few years ago. However this is quite expensive ($30) and really the most useful feature is the audio. I notice there are now free apps for apple and android devices that offer bird sounds.

There are of course many other websites and blogs – some of them specialising in particular types of animals. Image searches are your friend and enemy. I’ve been down a lot of rabbit holes that lead to sites that have no classifications or wrong classification. When doing a search remember to always put the location (at least country) to narrow down. Also remember that juvenile and adult, male and female can look quite different. Observations of behaviour and habitat are also often invaluable in classification.

Books:

IMG_9043 (2)I have many books on my shelves relating to marine life (from my scuba diving days) birds, mammals, reptiles, plants, and backyard wildlife. Some of these are quite old and there may be better or later editions published. But the following three books I have carefully chosen in the last 6 months and I can vouch for their usefulness in classification (as well as sheer beauty). Books are an important resource and far less likely to mislead you than the internet. They are often my first stop before I check online for more images and details.

IMG_9048 (3)The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight, 2012

I have old editions of Cayley’s and Simpson and Day  on my shelves but I was recently gifted this book for Mothers Day and it is my most treasured reference. Each page has only a few closely related species depicted (maximum four) with beautiful clear drawings often showing juvenile, male and female forms as well as variants. Every household should have a bird book and this one I would highly recommend.IMG_9050 (2)

 

 

 

IMG_9052 (2)The Butterflies of Australia, Albert Orr and Roger Kitching, 2011

Also a mother’s day present. Filled with wonderful pictures of, not only the butterflies, but also eggs, caterpillars, pupae and host plants. This is large book (28cm long) and beautiful enough to grace a coffee tableIMG_9055 (2)

 

 

 

IMG_9076 (2)A field guide to Australian Fungi, Bruce Fuhrer, revised 2016

This is a book with over 500 fungi described and beautifully photographed in their natural environment. It is widely acknowledged to be the most comprehensive guide to Australian fungi. Despite this, fungi identification is incredibly difficult for a beginner like me. Even using this book and internet searches I have five or six fungi photos that have me stumped. There is variation within species of colour and size and many features (sometimes IMG_9078 (2)microscopic) that have to be either recorded or photographed. Even in this book there are many fungi that are listed in a general group and described as unidentified species.

 

Our native forest fruits 2

nature shorts colourThe other rainforest fruit in our garden is the dear little tree that keeps on giving – no thorns here. To go with its sweet nature it has a sweet name – lilly pilly. Ours is a  Syzygium australe. The commercial name was Brush Cherry but these names can vary.

Lilly pilly’s  have a wide natural range from the rainforests of far North Queensland to the temperate rainforests of the Southern state. Our lilly pilly occupies a shaded spot in the garden where nothing else we’ve planted over the years has survived.

It was  planted as small sapling only a year ago and has grown,

Lilly Pilly saplingIMG_8358

From this …..                                      to this.

It’s gifts are many and varied from leaves – glossy with red-tinged new growth,

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the light green buds,

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delicate white flowers,

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And of course the edible fruit which change from delicate pink to dark crimson.

Young lilly pilly fruitCrimson lilly pilly fruit

I have eaten the fruit at both stages, the darker fruit has a sweeter flavour. Other sites describe the fruit as a cranberry-like, but to me, they are much more like a tart light-textured (imagine lighter than a nashi pear) apple with a hint of rose flavour. I pick and wash them and eat them as is. Samantha Martin, known as the Bush Tukka Woman, says: ‘Lilly pilly berries are a perfect addition to any smoothie or fruit salad. They are also fantastic in jams, chutneys, ice-creams, savoury and sweet sauces, and can be baked into muffins for a sweet, healthy treat.” http://www.onyamagazine.com/lifestyle/food-drink/foodstuffs/move-aside-acai-berries/

http://www.booktopia.com.au/bush-tukka-guide-samantha-martin/prod9781741174038.html

Some of the lilly pilly fruits have largish seeds but others have a seed no bigger than a grape seed (which I just swallow)

IMG_8562 (2)lillypilly seed

Here in the Illawarra our lilly pilly starting fruiting in March and is still bearing edible fruit in late May.

Lilly Pillys picked in late May

Berries I picked yesterday

This can’t be the perfect tree? There must be a catch. Well there is. Many lilly pilly varieties are affected by psyllids (Trioza eugenia). These are tiny cicada-like creatures that lay their eggs on the leaves. The nymphs embed themselves in the leaf making a pit which shows as a lump or pimple on top of the leaf.

psyllid bumpspsyllid pits

My lilly pilly is psyllid-affected, but not badly. The nursery recommended removing affected leaves and keeping the plant healthy. We have subsequently installed a watering system and fed with Seasol.  Some sites recommend the pesticide Confidor – but I would definitely steer clear. The neonicotinoid chemicals within  Confidor have been implicated in decimating bee populations. http://www.see-change.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/PROTECTING-BEES-flyer.pdf

Besides, I prefer to keep a thriving ecosystem in my plants. This is just a few creatures I found on the lilly pilly  in the space of half-an-hour – potentially some of them feed on the psyllids.

 

small praying mantisBronze jumping spider?

A mantis and a small spider  (bronze jumping spider – Helpis minitabunda??)

 

green planthopper and nymphIMG_8799 (2)

A green planthopper (a sap-sucking insect) with nymph (I didn’t even notice the yellow-striped nymph when I took photo). Black beetle – I’m hoping these eat the psyllids

You can purchase lilly pilly varieties that are resistant to psyllids including Acmena smithii and Syzgium luehmannii.

I am not the only one who loves their lilly pilly. It is a favourite in Australian gardens for hedges, topiary and feature trees. But maybe it should be appreciated a little more for its bush food bounty.

The bored-doodle certainly does. She became goat-like when the lilly pilly came into fruit.

 

Our native forest fruits 1

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It was bad mowing weather in March

nature shorts colourOn a damp, March day after a weeks of torrential rain I ventured into the wilds (of my backyard) to seek the fruits of the exotic finger lime. I waded through long grass in mortal fear of stepping on an undiscovered dog poo.

I manoeuvred carefully between the webs of the St Andrew’s Cross spider and the leaf-curling spider – steadfast guardians of the prized fruit.

Ouch ! those spines are painful.

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Back through the long grass to get my gloves.

Finally with webs in my hair and puncture wounds in my hands. I plucked the long glossy fruits and took my spoils to the kitchen.

~~~~

Finger limes  (Microcitrus australasica) are native fruits of  south-eastern Queensland and northern NSW but ours grows well in a sheltered spot in our Illawarra  (southern coastal NSW) backyard.

The best way to extract the flesh from the finger lime is to cut off one of the ends and just squeeze with your fingers.  It is amazing how much comes out of such a skinny fruit. Using this method you avoid scrapping any of the bitter pith.

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Don’t cut like this. Cut at thin end and squeeze flesh out

The little balls of citrus ‘caviar’ make a pleasant sour explosion in your mouth. This year the taste was really good – light and clean – probably due to the high rainfall. I’m not certain of the variety of my tree, but from googling it looks like a, Jali Red.

I use the  finger limes to add zing to water and drinks for the table but have also used them on fish (often mixed with soy sauce). There are more suggestions here if you are interested : http://boutiquecitrus.com.au/finger-lime-recipes-and-ideas/

Our finger lime is a ‘rescue tree’ (alright, alright I’m compensating for not getting a rescue dog). It was given to me as a sapling, by a friend who said her husband refused to have ‘that bloody spiky thing’ in their garden. Overall it gets very little love or light as it is overshadowed by a grevillea and lemonade tree in a south-east corner of the garden.

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As long as you don’t put it in a thoroughfare (ouch) and water regularly (it is a rainforest plant) the finger lime tree is low maintenance and an interesting plant to cultivate. I found the fruiting season runs from late December to March in the Illawarra. The fruits don’t hold on very tightly and generally fall off in your hand when they’re ready to pick. This can be a disadvantage –  make sure you pick them regularly before they drop to the ground and rot.

 

 

 

Footnote: When I began to write this blog post I fell into writing it like the well-known picture book ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ ie

We’re going on a lime hunt.

We’re going to pick a big one. etc etc

Back through the spider webs Sticky icky..

Back through the long grass swishy swooshy

It was then I realised 12 X 12 – a year-long picture book challenge was getting to me (more about that later) I also realised that the average age of my reader is probably not 4.  So, I hope you like my grown-up version better.

 

The pleasure of peewees

nature shorts colour

I’m an average nature photographer. I don’t use manual mode and have just started to using aperture priority/f-stops (AV mode) to control depth-of-field. 70% of the time I still use Auto or P (ISO only control) settings on my Canon 100d.

I don’t own amazing equipment. I don’t have a dedicated macro lens, but with my Canon 18-55mm lens I can take decent close-ups. I don’t have a serious bird photography lens but if I’m close enough and the lighting good I can take a reasonable shot with my Sigma 18-250mm.

I don’t travel a lot (maybe one day) – many of my photos are taken in my local area and in most cases very local (my backyard).

In other words, I won’t win any photography competitions. There will always be those with better equipment, greater expertise and more exciting subjects.

But that’s fine because that is not why I take photos. I take photos to

Practice patience

To be observant

To learn about the natural world.

It once took me twenty shots and half an hour to get two decent shots of yellow robins as a family of these tiny birds flitted amongst the sheoaks (Warning! Nature photographers can be very boring company on outings). During this time of intense observation I was totally lost in the robin’s world. It was pure escapism. Environments, even familiar ones, take on a much more complex and exotic nature when I think like a nature photographer. Appreciation and quiet joy go hand in hand with close observation.

The fun part doesn’t end with taking the photo – at the end of the day I go to my computer and books. I identify and learn about the flora and fauna captured on my sd card.

I didn’t expect to learn anything about the pee wees I snapped in the backyard. After all peewees – also called magpie-larks or mudlarks (Grallina cyanoleuca) are one of Australia’s most common and unassuming birds. My bird book shows that they have an impressive range over the whole of Australia excepting an area of Western Australian desert. My only real thoughts on peewees were that they have a perchance for pecking at their reflection in shiny surfaces. That night my research revealed I had snapped a male and female pair. It turns out that male and female pee-wees have different plumage patterns. All my life I’d been looking at pee-wees and hadn’t realised this. The pleasure of finding facts like this, that will stay with me forever, is the reason I take nature photos.

Females : Females have a white throat and white face (around beak). From side view you can see they have an unbroken strip of white extending from chest up the neck to head.

Males: Black throat and black face with white ‘eyebrow’. *

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Female Peewee

 

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Male Peewee

  • I think of an old man with whitish eyebrows – such as an Albert Einstein – like figure or one of the grumpy old men on the muppets to help me remember this feature belongs to the male.

 

Playing catch-up in shorts

I’ve been slack, very slack with this blog of late. Because like a true Geminii I get bored easily and am tempted by the next glittering thing. The next glittering writing project/genre/challenge and the next platform on social media. But here I am back with a renewed fondness for my blog because, let’s face it, I’m verbose. Restraining my word count is not my strong point. So really Twitter, Facebook and recently Instagram just don’t fill my rambling need.

And I admit I lost faith in my blog for a time I’ve been reading other excellent writing blogs and did a course on social media for writers and realised I’m doing it all wrong.

I should have a brand, a focus for my blog. I should target my potential fiction readers.  But like my restless Geminii personality my blog is a hotch-potch of nature photography and taxonomy, book reviews, writing (in all genres and ages) travel and general musings.

Who is going to follow that? Who has my eclectic blend of interests?

Probably nobody.

But that’s who I am. And even if I write to nobody but myself at least I’ll be writing a variety of things that’ll keep me interested. If one week somebody visits my blog who is interested in the Asian House Gecko and the next week another person reads my poetry challenge efforts and the next week a dystopian enthusiast reads my book review on, Wool then, to me, that’s thrilling. Not practical. Not good marketing. Just fun.

So what to do now? How do I play catch-up?

Well I’m writing a series of shorts. Not so succinct they are Twitter or Instagram size, but short enough to summarise my endeavours and observations over the last 8 months. Including:

 Reading shorts – Mini-reviews of the books I have read recently with a focus on my, Use for Writers (as there are plenty of reviews out there which have good synopses and inciteful opinions) – on my Book Reviews blog.

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Creativity/Musing shorts – What I’ve learnt, where I’m heading on my writing journey and how I stepped outside my comfort zone in the last 8 months – on my Literaleigh blog

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Nature shorts – this is the one I am looking forward to most. I’ve taken many photos and want to share some observations – on Nature Lovers Log.

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