about this blog

I started this blog in 2008. It started mainly as a way of tracking the evolution of my dry garden, and that led to an interest in photography and in the creatures that live in the garden. It's still about the garden and wildlife, but now my passion is thinking about how we humans can learn to co-exist with wild animals and plants, especially in urban areas.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

confidence matters

When I started blogging - 9 years ago - I realized I needed to get into photography to produce nature images as well as nature words.  So I went back to school - online - to Digital Photography School (DPS).  I  learned technical things I didn't used to know - how to use manual mode, different lenses, focussing and other stuff. But I'm still rarely satisfied with the results. I still find it incredibly hard to replicate the images in my mind with the ones I end up capturing. I also know I don't practice enough.

I started thinking, maybe my problem isn't technical after all. Maybe it's about confidence, about accepting myself. I found a piece by Gina Malicia on the DPS website incredibly helpful. It's called Game Changers: How to take your photography to the next level.

The first point Gina makes is to take photos of subjects and experiences that you love. If you do this, she says, you will always be excited and inspired. I never tire of taking shots of the garden and the plants and wildlife visiting or living in it.  It's always changing, so there's always something new to wonder at. I also never tire of taking photos of children enjoying nature. If young people have positive experiences, I figure they will grow up as protectors, not exploiters, of the natural world.

Passion, not perfection is what it's all about. I do know this profound truth, but from time to time I forget and need to be reminded. I have found living is not so enjoyable when you're thinking you're not up to scratch, not good enough. Don't just focus on what something looks like, Gina says, focus on how it feels.

These two photos were taken at sunset through the window in a friend's suburban house. The scene was actually quite prosaic, but the fading light made it look moody, and the silhouettes made it look romantic and interesting.

It was reassuring to hear that many artists and photographers struggle with confidence. A lot of time I do accept myself and feel confident, and then life sings. But sometimes I forget, and listen to destructive self-talk. Then everything, including taking photos, becomes stressful and no longer pleasurable.

Thank you, Gina, for helping me to change my game.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

tracking the lives of microbats

Microbats are found all over Australia, and they are very important for the ecosystem because they eat loads of insects. They are amazing and wonderful animals. The only mammals who can fly, the females feed their young with milk. They vary in size, but can fit into the palm of one hand.  

Since 1994 a research program has been tracking the lives of these creatures in three locations in or near Melbourne. The people involved are enthusiastic citizen scientists, as well as academic researchers. They track the bats by monthly inspections of bat boxes. Bats are banded so they can be identified.

I went along to the project a few times recently. The first thing is to climb to the bat boxes using tall ladders and safety ropes. To do this people need to have completed an accredited training in climbing.

The rest of us wait on the ground.

Some boxes have lots of bats inside. Some have other occupants, like spiders or ants.

The bats are carefully removed and put into these white bags, that are labelled with the box number.

Then the bags are taken to a comfortable work space, where they are inspected and details such as where they were found, their weight and whether pregnant recorded. If they haven't been banded, they are banded. You can't handle the bats unless you've completed a course of rabies vaccinations, so the rest of us help by recording. 

Some bats carry the Lyssavirus, rabies-related virus. You want to make sure they don't bite you for two reasons. One, you don't want to risk getting rabies. If it did bit you, you would be protected by the vaccination, but the bat would be killed and dissected to determine whether it does carry the virus. 

Broadnosed Bat 
This male Broadnose is identified by the number 96518. He has been captured 9 times being banded in January 2015. 

When the recording has been done and it is dark the bats are taken back to where they came from, and released.

All microbats are vulnerable because without bat boxes they depend on tree hollows to shelter in during the day and to breed. Tree hollows have declined due to land clearing. Competition with aggressive birds like the introduced Indian Myna birds add to the problem.

This is just one of many, many opportunities for citizen scientists to help scientists track the effects of climate change on the environment. For more details of this project check out its website, Melbourne's Bat Monitoring Program.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

art and poetry that resonates

"It is at the edge of a petal that love waits." (William Carlos Williams).

Christopher Marley is an artist obsessed with insects... "We do not love nature because it is beautiful; we find beauty in nature because we are a part of it, and it is a part of us." 

Andersen, Hans Christian. Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen. Eleanor Vere Boyle, illustrator. 
London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1872.

The fairy stories of Hans Christian Andersen are simply told and spiritually profound...  "Just living is not enough ... one must have sunshine, freedom , and a little flower." 

Illustration by Maurice Sendak from Open House for Butterflies by Ruth Krauss

Spiders are solitary creatures. The females tend to be aggressive, killing the smaller, weaker males after sex. I'm strictly an amateur entomologist, but in my imagination this tiny unidentified spider is protectively, patiently, kindly, lovingly touching her egg sac with one of her 8 legs. Nature is not "red in tooth and claw" all the time.

Some things are better expressed in poetry and 
pictures than with everyday words.

Monday, 6 March 2017

sharing the garden - and house - with spiders

I love sharing the garden with spiders and would never dream of being inhospitable. But ...  I wish they wouldn't build their webs across paths. It creeps me out when I get web in my hair and on my face, and I imagine it's a worse shock for them.

A Garden Orb Weaving spider has woven its web across a path I manage to avoid. Every night I visit it and watch it repairing its web from the ravages of the day, and polishing off any tasty insects caught in its web.

Usually it's not around in the daytime but the other day it must have been hungry and I watched it devouring a tiny fly, not at all put off by the fact it was still wriggling.

Then there are shy spiders that good at hiding. The Leaf Curling Spider (genus Phonognatha) uses a dried leaf to hide in. It is also an orb weaver like the one above, so there a big web around it. This one is carefully spun across the path to the compost. So far I have managed to avoid damaging the web and getting webbing in my hair by going the long way round.

If anyone knows how to train spiders not to build their webs across paths, I would love to hear from them.

Another shy spider is this Black House Spider (Badumna insignis) that comes out at night to hunt. I have glimpsed it a couple of times, but it must feel the vibrations of my steps because whenever I get near it immediately dashes into its hole. Mostly all I see is one leg. This spider adorns cracks in external doors and windows with its silk. It doesn't build webs across paths - like some spiders I know.

Brown House Spider leg

Sunday, 19 February 2017

mathematics and patterns of nature

To appreciate maths you don't need to be a highly educated person, adept at manipulating abstract symbols and equations. Maths is all around us, embodied in nature. Sometimes nature has such complicated shapes that past scientists found it difficult to believe their eyes, let alone understand and work out the underlying formulae. Margaret Wertheim writes about mathematics as performance and as play. Nature just does it. It doesn't need to understand mathematical formulae. And neither do we.

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman was notable because he was such a well rounded person. He loved jazz and travelling to remote places as much as he loved science. Asked once whether his scientific knowledge and understanding spoiled his appreciation of nature, he said it enhanced it. 

I'm no mathematician but looking at these patterns it adds another dimension when you try to imagine how the waveforms of light, electrons and atoms managed to achieve such brilliant mathematical coding. It's not that they can think, or that they're intelligent. Not the way we traditionally understand intelligence anyway. They just do maths. And so can we.

Einstein reportedly said that imagination was more important than knowledge. I think that quote is probably a bit dangerous at this post-truth time, but maybe we could safely say that imagination is as important as knowledge?

In the Sub-Antarctic Plant House, Royal Tasmania Botanical Gardens, Hobart

Tree Fern Dicksonia fibrosa

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

summertime, and the living is easy

Who munched the leaves of some Derwentia perfoliata plants, leaving smooth semi-circular holes at the edge? It was a native bee, a friendly pollinator. Solitary female Leafcutter Bees remove these discs from the leaves so they can use them for building their nests. The leaves are shaped into plugs that are filled with pollen and nectar for their offspring, then closed with a lid consisting of a neat circular piece of leaf.

Leafcutter Bee Megachile sp.
Photographer Bruce Hulbert

Summer, a time for watching the garden. It's too hot to garden, and anyway ridiculously foolhardy to plant or transplant. The only activities are occasionally watering pots, and regularly changing the water in the bird baths.

So I look at the garden. I look at plants that love the heat, like Catmint. I look at plants that curl up to protect themselves but unfurl when the sun sets, like Lambs Ears. I look at plants that look uncomfortable but I know from years of experience won't be summer casualties, like orange Wallflowers. (The mauve ones are much more resilient for some reason).

And ... I look at, and for, insects, spiders and birds, and any signs of them.

The leaves of the Banksia Roses got infected with sooty mould. I didn't get round to removing the diseased leaves. Then I noticed some tiny black and yellow beetles on the leaves. Identified as Fungus-eating Ladybird beetles (Illeis galbula) - these cute critters eat fungus and mould! They are welcome. Leaving the sooty mould led to an increase in the biodiversity in the garden ecosystem.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

scats: a post about poo

You mightn't see an animal, but you know it's been there because it's left its droppings, or pellets, or scats, for you to identify.

I found this on a garden chair, dried out. It was made by  a possum, I think. I was hoping it was a possum and not a rat. I found a website explaining the difference between a few scats. Rats produce narrow cylindrical pellets with one or both ends pointed. I'm relieved to notice that the ends of this poo are definitely rounded, not pointed.

The poo is this picture is larger and fresher.  I think this was also made by a possum, probably ringtail, taking a drink from the bird bath. It's the same shape as the one above. Ringtails eat fruit, flowers and leaves. You can see the seeds it's been eating.

Ringtail possums eat their own faecal pellets. That way they digest their food twice and make sure they get all the nutrients.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

a few garden pics from autumn and spring

Earthstar fungi

Black House Spider with dead fly

Unidentified fungi

Yam Daisy

Cistus x skanbergii

Erigeron, Blue Fescue grass and self seeded Valerian

Purple wallflower with Dietes bicolor and Pittosporum in background

Orange wallflower with silver leaved Santolina and Euphorbia Silver Swan

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

this blog is sleeping

It's been a long time between posts, and I don't know when the next one will happen. Non virtual life is currently very busy.

The garden is still evolving, and this gardener is still evolving ... I miss sharing the garden and spiders and fungi and thoughts and learnings about all aspects of nature.

I pronounce this blog as dormant. It's not dead, just resting till I return. 

Best regards to all you cyberfriends out there,

PS The photos were taken during a recent visit to the Grange Heathland Reserve.

Lentinellus spp. with tiny unidentified red fungi
Cortinarius areolatoimbricatus
Chestnut Polypore - Laccocephalum hartmannii or maybe Phlebopus marginatus

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