Thursday, 15 October 2009

Blog Action Day 2009 - Climate Change

Have you ever stood on a mountain top at dawn?

As I gazed in silence across the valleys and peaks, I was stunned by the wondrous scene that stretched before me.

Below me lay a blanket of cloud covering untold forest secrets. Turbulent streams of white mist raced through narrow jagged gorges, swirling over and around obstructions, just like boulders interrupting the flow of raging rivers.

Streams of fog reached the escarpment and cascaded silently over the edge, rolling until the momentum was curbed and they no longer held any shape. Tree-clad peaks pierced the clouds forming islands in the sky - an archipelago in a sea of tumbling white.

A mysterious golden glow radiated from somewhere beneath this bubbling carpet of cloud, creating shadows and subtle pink and orange hues. And suddenly, chunks of cloud broke away and drifted off like wispy campfire smoke, disintegrating, revealing hidden slopes and valleys. The remaining translucent fog simply dissolved. Sunshine warmed the air and earth, and the day awakened with birdsong and breeze.

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To the casual observer who arrived at the lookout to view the sunrise, the fog might be nothing more than an untimely nuisance, but to the person who truly interprets nature for the remarkable life-giving force it is, the cloudy morning is a beautiful gift to the senses, to be treasured.

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The disastrous effects of Climate Change are fast approaching, if not already upon us. Skepticism and nonchalance is rife. I have something to say about this ignorance and apathy, whether it be in the form of lack of interest or concern, total disregard for the consequences “because it won’t affect me”, or a genuine disbelief in scientific data/predictions. I challenge these people to honestly experience nature in it’s raw and unsullied form; get out there and get to know what humans are risking by not taking responsible care of the Earth. Only when you have felt the energy of the Earth, looked Nature in the eye and allowed its spirit to touch and nourish your soul, can you stand up and announce with conviction that you want to protect Planet Earth.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” Martin Luther King Jr.

How can the human race turn the tide of destruction and exploitation it has ravaged on the planet unless people are encouraged to seek a basic understanding of, and genuine interest in nature? A forest is not merely a bland canvas of green and brown, but a living breathing ecosystem comprised of earth, plants, rocks, animals, fungi, invertebrates, micro-organisms, water and air. Every component of that ecosystem is interconnected in the complex web of life. Humans are not superior or separate to nature - they are part of the web of life.

A race of greedy humans is stripping the Earth bare, degrading and polluting. What will be left for our grand-children’s children? What plants and animals will go extinct due to our actions or inaction? What will it mean to us and our planet when countless threads of the web are irreversibly broken? What will life be like when the last corner of the globe is trashed?

“By over-exploiting the Earth’s resources we are undermining the very basis of our own life.” 14th Dalai Lama.

Climate Change and environmental sustainability are not simple subjects, but we are living in an age of unprecedented environmental awareness. Information is freely available. Attitudes must change. Awareness and education is critical in promoting and adopting environmentally sustainable lifestyle practices, both individual and corporate.

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Although time is of the essence, I firmly believe mass recognition and change could be a reality by beginning at the beginning - Nature. Can a person reel from the profound loss of a forest or desert or ocean before he/she truly experiences the grandness and wonder of the life within and surrounding these ecosystems? I ask you to sit in silent solitude amongst the trees and feel the essence of the forest; or hold the hand of a lover, friend, child or stranger in the desert night and recognise the significance of the land and sky; or let the clean, cold water of a pristine mountain stream wash over you and feel renewal within; become connected to nature, and you will know that you must take responsible care of our planet home. Encourage others; create a snowball effect, and with the spreading appreciation of nature, knowledge of, and concern for the environment will be enhanced. Passion is infectious and inspiring. Positive action will ensue.

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”
Albert Einstein.

We are the intelligent species. Taking responsible care of the Earth that sustains our every need is simply common sense.

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As the polar ice shelves recede due to Climate Change, will our only Polar Bears be those confined in zoos? For those who don't accept scientific data and predictions relating to human-induced Climate Change as fact, take a good look at life in your backyard and beyond, and ask yourself "can I afford not to live more responsibly, just in case they are right? Can I die peacefully when my time is up, knowing I have selfishly lived beyond my means at the expense of Earth's creatures and my great-grandchildren's basic survival requirements?"

I ask you to read this post out loud, slowly, and hear your own voice voice my views. Read this to your child. See if you can gather the inspiration to inspire others, and together as individuals we can collectively make a positive difference by simply making responsible everyday choices.

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My previous Blog Action Day posts

2008 Poverty

Saturday, 24 January 2009

#59 A change in direction

My nature blog is two years old. I have learned a lot in this time, and I also feel I have made a worthwhile contribution to raising the vital subject of environmental awareness within our society.

I am at a stage in my life when I am ready for change. I wish to become actively involved in the community by way of volunteer work helping elderly people, and helping to preserve or restore native habitat. In order to undertake these projects, I will have to make changes to my life. These changes will involve my time, and physical and emotional energy. Therefore, some of my leisure activities will have to be curtailed - my Hunter Valley Backyard Nature Blog will be one.

As nature is a vital part of my everyday life, I will continue to post up my nature observations, interactions and experiences, in my journal blog Snippets and Sentiments. I hope to update my journal blog a few times every week, and I would find encouragement and inspiration if regular readers of my nature blog were inclined to visit my journal blog.

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One local observation that I made recently, which I am pleased to be able to share, is that of the Christmas Orchid (Calanthe triplicata) .

Unlike many of our terrestrial orchids, Calanthe triplicata is an evergreen, which forms bushy clumps. It has large, pleated, thin-textured, dark green leaves, to 90cm x 18cm. It has sturdy scapes (flower stems), to 1.5 metres tall, which carry up to 40 white flowers, to 3cm across, crowded near the top.

The flowers have widely spreading segments, a lip which is deeply divided into four lobes, and also a long basal spur. Flowering occurs between October and February in moist to wet shady sites in rainforest and other moist to wet forests in NSW and Queensland.

I found these plants in the rainforest of Barrington Tops National Park. It was the first time I have found them flowering, and they were spectacular.

Calanthe triplicata - Christmas Orchid

Rainforest habitat of Calanthe triplicata

Perhaps I will get back to continue this blog, but in the meantime, readers will find my nature observations and photographs at Snippets and Sentiments.

Sincere thanks to all those other nature bloggers, and readers who contributed via comments and emails, who have taken an interest and encouraged me. Thank you especially, to those who have offered corrections and asked questions.


Sunday, 21 December 2008

#58 Christmas beetles get busy

Christmas Beetles are busy passing on their genes at this time of the year, and I am particularly pleased with the series of images I captured of one species in action.

Over two days in mid December, I found Black Nail Beetles (Repsimus manicatus) in numbers on a couple of my Callistemon shrubs. With a ladder, and a good dose of patience and a healthy sense of discovery and humour, I searched for mating pairs, and was rewarded with good views of the entire act.

Black Nail Beetles (Repsimus manicatus) are so called
because the elytra (wing covers) resemble long black
polished fingernails

Adult beetles emerge during the early to mid summer period from the soil, hence the common name of "Christmas Beetles". From Family Scarabaeidae, there are approximately 34 species of Christmas Beetles distributed throughout Australia, most commonly in the high-rainfall coastal areas of eastern states.

Life Cycle of the Christmas Beetle

The life cycle extends over one or two years, depending on species. Eggs are laid into soil or compost in the spring and early summer. Females are capable of laying between 20 and 40 eggs each. Newly hatched larvae feed on organic matter in the soil, and older larvae feed on organic matter and/or roots. Ref: Dept Primary Industries, Queensland.

The larvae have a distinctive 'C' shape and are often called curl grubs. In late winter/early spring fully-grown larvae move close to the surface and hollow out a chamber in which they pupate. Pupation lasts several weeks.

After pupation the new adults must wait in the soil for suitable conditions, usually when the soil is softened by rain, allowing them to dig their way to the surface. In very dry conditions the beetles cannot burrow to the surface, and die in the soil. In flooded conditions they will drown. Ref: Dept Primary Industries, Qld.

The underside of a Black Nail Christmas Beetle as it eats

After emerging, beetles fly a short distance to food plants to feed and mate. The females then return to the soil and lay eggs, although some lay eggs before feeding. Feeding and egg-laying may continue for several days. Adults may live for some weeks. Ref: Dept Primary Industries, Qld.

Adults are voracious feeders and large swarms can rapidly defoliate trees. Although the damage to my Bottlebrush shrubs is evident, it is not extreme, and a light prune will be all that is needed to tidy them up.

Black Nail Beetles ( Repsimus manicatus) copulating.
- notice the distinctive difference in size and
shape of the hind legs of male and female.

The Black Nail Beetle has immensely developed hind legs, with the male having thicker legs than the female. When I disturbed the beetles, they raised back legs in a horizontal posture, presumably to assume a more threatening size as a defense strategy.

It was interesting to note that the Black Nail Christmas Beetles were not attracted to the porch light of a night.

The large hooked back claws are not used in mating,
but for moving about the foliage

This image shows a thick white fluid oozing from
the female's reproductive canal

. . . . . and this image illustrates the shape of the male's
reproductive organ just withdrawn from the female

It might sound like a rather odd pastime, spying on the mating practices of beetles, but what fascinating up-close observations! And all in my garden! This is the first time I have noticed this species of beetle in my yard, so it was a beaut find.

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Christmas is different things to different people. I hope everyone stays safe over the festive season, and has reason to smile. I'd like to send a special "cheerio" to those who might be lonely, alone, unwell, low in spirit, or down on luck.

Seasons greetings from Gaye from the Hunter

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

#57 A Bird-dropping spider breeds and dies

Spiders appear in numbers overnight, almost magically, as summer approaches. I am always keen to discover new spiders in my backyard, and to further observe habits of the regulars.

The Bird Dropping Spider is not exactly a regular in my garden; I have only seen two specimens. Last summer I was lucky enough to be able to keep tabs on a mature breeding female.

A Bird Dropping Spider in my garden

I believe the species of Bird Dropping Spider I have found in my Hunter Valley rural garden is probably Calaenia excavata (formerly C. kinbergi) from family Araneidae.

It is no puzzle as to how this odd little spider got its common name; it is a master of camouflage as it rests with legs folded against its body throughout daylight hours looking remarkably like a blob of bird excrement, therefore escaping the attention of predators like wasps and birds.

"The Bird-dropping Spider also uses mimicry of a quite different sort to capture its prey, which consist almost exclusively of male moths. At night the Bird-dropping Spider hangs from the edge of a leaf or twig on a short silk thread, its forelegs outstretched. While doing this it releases a chemical scent (pheromone) that mimics the airborne sex pheromone released by female moths to attract their mates. The unfortunate male moths that are attracted by the spider's deceiving pheromone eventually flutter close enough to the spider to be grabbed by its strong front legs." Ref: Australian Museum Online.

White and brown colouring mimics a bird's dropping

Underside of Calaenia excavata (Bird Dropping Spider)

The female Calaenia excavata's body grows up to 12mm, while the tiny male is only 3mm. Unfortunately, I did not find the male (it is possible he became a meal after mating), but of course it could be easily overlooked.

Egg sacs that I observed were from 8 to 10mm, spherical in shape, brown with black markings, and paper-like in texture. Six egg sacs were constructed over a period of about 4 weeks, and were suspended in a Leptospermum shrub, loosely connected by silk. The female remained with her unhatched egg sacs until she died.

I did not take the effort to observe the nocturnal hunting techniques of this clever spider, so the only time I saw her outstretched legs was when she was at the end of her life. Shortly after I took the following image, the spider dropped from her position to the ground, and was lifeless.

Female Bird Dropping Spider close to the end of her life

Despite checking the egg sacs most days, I did not see the spiderlings emerge and disperse. I did, however, break open an empty egg sac to inspect the interior. A tiny escape hole was evident.

Bird Dropping Spider Calaenia excavata empty egg sacs

These odd, yet remarkable little spiders are not considered dangerous. I look forward to finding more living and breeding in my garden. They are apparently commonly found in citrus orchards, so if you have a couple of citrus trees in your backyard, you have more chance of finding the Bird Dropping Spider than I have.

Esperance Blog has an excellent entry on the Bird Dropping Spider, Calaenia excavata, over the other side of the country.

Spider identification links

Thursday, 4 December 2008

#56 Backyard predators

When we refer to predators in Australia, creatures like raptors, dingoes, foxes and feral cats are first to come to mind, but we will all have predators of a less conspicuous nature in our immediate outdoor living space - birds, lizards, snakes, frogs, spiders and other invertebrates.

Magpies are amongst the most endearing predators to regularly visit my backyard. The Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) has several races. It is my understanding, (I am happy to be corrected here), that there are 8 variable races in Australia in two major groups (black-backed and white-backed), with wide hybrid zones between them.

As far as I am aware, the only Magpie in the Hunter Valley is the black-backed G tibicen (race terraereginae). With its delightful chortle and playful nature, the magpie is a very welcome visitor to my yard. Not only are they entertaining, but they also play an important role in keeping the invertebrate population under control. With keen hearing, they are excellent predators.

Our backyard Magpie collects grubs
and Wolf Spider for its young in the nest

Other common feathered predators to visit my backyard are Masked Lapwings, Willie Wagtails, Silver-eyes.

During the warmer weather, my backyard is home to many species of spiders. Most are web-builders who wait for their meals to come to them, but there are some predators amongst my local spiders. Most obvious is the Garden Wolf Spider (Lycosa godeffroyi).

Up close, Wolfies can be a scary sight, but they are relatively harmless unless provoked. At night, and on grey days, these fearless hunters can be spotted moving about their environment looking for a meal. I have seen them catch spiders, beetles, and various unidentified invertebrates. They are an awesome predator!

A Garden Wolf Spider tackles a large beetle

I have had the opportunity to watch a few species of lizard hunt in my backyard. Having an Eastern Water Dragon (Physignathus lesueurii) choose to live in my garden for nearly two years, I was privileged to observe his life in detail.

Bearded Dragons (Pogona barbata) and Southern Rainbow Skinks (Carlia tetradactyla) have also spent time living in my backyard. All three lizard species have different hunting techniques.

A Water Dragon catches more than he can handle.
The lizard was not able to dismember the frog,
and can not eat it whole.

Although I have photographed and identified nine species of frogs in my backyard, I have unfortunately not seen a frog actually in the act of catching its prey.

Wasps are efficient predators. Mud Dauber Wasps (Sceliphron laetum) and Potter Wasps (Eumenes latreilli) breed in my backyard most summers. Although they feed on nectar, they prey on spiders and caterpillars to stock their breeding chambers for their developing young.

A Potter Wasp stuffs a caterpillar into a breeding cell

Some ants prey on living creatures. I have observed Green-head Ants (Rhytidoponera metallica) preying on living caterpillars in my garden, but the following picture of one of the "Inch Ants" carting off a live bee was taken in coastal sandy heath in the lower Hunter Valley.

An ant carts off a live, pollen-laden bee

Although I have not observed snakes hunting in my immediate vicinity, I was very fortunate to witness the following scene where a Stephen's Banded Snake (Hoplocephalus stephensii) had just killed a large Peron's Tree Frog (Litoria peronii) in the rainforest of Barrington Tops National Park in the east of the Hunter Valley.

Snake catches frog

So, lurking in your backyard, there could be a variety of predators acting out spectacular hunting and killing scenes. Predators will even prey on predators. The secret lives of our backyard native creatures are fascinating.