Third-Saturday Guided Walk, 18 Sep 2010
A bland title for a very enjoyable walk shared by six of us, which brought together knowledge, curiosity, observations and gratitude for the beginnings of spring in a local 'park'.
I started to write an account of the walk straight afterwards but it didn't 'gel'. On Sunday I returned to the spot where we found a mystery blue 'pea-flower' and took what I hope are better photographs [see footnote1]. As I climbed through the fence afterwards I came across a couple walking along the track after being in the reserve. I asked them if they'd seen any orchids. They were a bit nonplussed so I offered to show them those we'd seen. Back through the fence, a wander around and they were impressed by our 'rocky garden'.
I then went on to Floriade duty. What a contrast! Even though the masses were also outdoors and enjoying flowers were they really seeing anything as beautiful as the natural spring flowers of the bush capital? Supposing some of us offered short insights into the nature reserves-in-flower to Floriade visitors?
What would they make of the glorious purple-pink of the Indigofera australis (Australian Indigo) about to burst into full flower? Indigofera adesmiifolia (Tick indigo), finer-leaved and really pink will bloom through the forest a bit later again. Many who came to the Weeds Display Garden at Floriade are familiar with False Sarsparilla (Hardenbergia violaceae) and with seeing their intense purple highlighted by the sun at the most harsh sites. The key to their tenacity and success seems to be good drainage. We take the term 'pea-flowers' for granted but have they ever grown or smelled Sweet peas? Have they grown peas or beans or had pea plants flowering from their pea-straw mulch?
If those on our walk are able to return to that general area of forest for a wander you'll find the Cryptandra in flower. The tiny white heather-like bells are on knee-high shrubby bushes. (There's a visible area of them on Black Mountain near where Belconnen Way becomes Barry Drive but they're probably only visible from a bus!) We did come across Urn heath (Melichrus ursinus) still with their pale yellow blooms after flowering all winter.
We had to be careful not to tread on the ground orchids. I heard Aranda Bushland is even more orchid-ful just now especially in those areas that have been control-burned in recent years. They were once a Caladenia species but now, I think, Petalochilus fuscatus after several name changes amongst the species we thought we knew. Perhaps if we'd looked more diligently and knew their likely habitats we'd find more specialised orchid-shapes in The Pinnacle's forest.
I wondered if the adventurous couple thought the purple and white Early Nancy (Wurmbea dioica) flowers were orchids. Members of the lily family, these were novel, numerous, small and pretty amongst the grasses. We were able to find examples of separate plants with their male or female flowers. Coming from notions of other continents' large, almost brazen flowers, such delicate blooms do look as special as orchids. How can we bridge that gap, as interpreters, between what's familiar and so visible and the delicate intricacy of Australian flowers?
I think David Attenborough's series is on the right track. His Life on Sunday 19th September, showed a 'daisy'. He explained the advertising role of the outer 'petals' of florets as they guide pollinators into the complex flower-heads. Perhaps we could make more of the dandelion's potential by showing the structure of each floret by tearing the flower-head apart. Blowing the ripe seeds away is a good introduction to seed dispersal but no help to those who want grassy-monocultures…lawns! Another Asteraceous weed makes excellent daisy-chains. Watch out for the honey-bees on Capeweed (Arctotheca calendula), however. Last year I noticed swathes of Capeweed being visited by hundreds of individual native bees.
The novelty of maximum moisture is great for the Rock fern (Cheilanthes austrotenuifolia). We saw many with new fronds about to unfurl. Even more special were the Sundews with 'dewdrops' of sticky, attractive fluid waiting to entice insects which, in death, will provide the plant with nutrients for several days. Insectivorous plants also featured in Attenborough's "Life" program last Sunday, their movements and behaviour explained by using time-lapse photography.
Near where I hoped to first find ground orchids we found, instead, Austral bugle (Ajuga australis). There were several patches of this purple flowering plant which might look a bit like a young Patersons Curse plant except that it inhabits the forest. Once or twice we found a hand lens useful for close-ups of flowers. They'd be a neat and not-too-expensive gift for the budding botanist if people seek ideas or need to explore the details of intricate flowers!
John Brannan's regular forays in search of and to study The Pinnacle's birds lead us to several nests. Willie wagtails are nesting near where we parked. They seemed too large for their cup-shaped nest made of dried grasses woven together with spiders' webbing. (Later they almost alighted on Magpies' backs in frenzied defence of their territory. The magpies were focusing on my eating a sandwich and hoping for crumbs. Obviously they have trained Dungowan Street residents).
Another cup-shaped nest is in the Dungowan Red Gum and is visible on a horizontal branch once through the cavaletti. The 'bowl of mud' is held together with dry grasses and lined with more grasses and feathers. There's no shortage of mud for the Magpie Larks this year.
We knew of a nest in a Cootamundra wattle amongst the abundant blossom. As John approached it a bird exited at speed. The nest seems enormous for the Yellow-rumped Thornbill's size. If length were measurable, this one is almost a 'foot' long. It has a false nest on top and the real entrance is concealed by a hood. Grass, bark and other dry vegetation are bound together with spiders' webbing. Contemplate the evolutionary processes that have lead to the success of such complicated nests which may be used several times each season and from year to year.
A fourth nesting method was illustrated by Spotted Pardalotes. They have a nesting tunnel in the bank that edges the southern track. They weren't prepared to enter the tunnel whilst we waited, to watch at a distance. Throughout the walk both Pardalote species' calls could be heard: "Witta –witta" or "Paul Keating" . They're far-carrying calls from small jeweled birds.
A White throated Treecreeper caught our attention, introducing us to a mixed-feeding-flock. One of the small birds in the flock was a Diamond Firetail. Now listed as vulnerable in the ACT it was a treat to have a brief glimpse of another avian jewel.
Choughs are also mud-nest builders, refurbishing their large nests each breeding season. Although the nest was clearly visible we only saw a glimpse of their complex breeding habits and communal behaviour. There are several family groups of Choughs in the reserve. They perform a vital function of turning-over leaf-litter and aerating soils as they forage in the forest.
As we walked towards a Frogmouth's nest John said he'd not yet found the female's daytime roost spot nearby. Whilst checking the nest through binoculars Wendy scanned the tree's branches and found the female. As the male was sitting quite high on the nest John suspects there are chicks in the nest rather than eggs. In a tree close by there was a Magpie's nest. Our eyes followed a returning parent and had good views of the clamouring young stretching their necks to reach the adult's beak-ful. Earlier a commotion over the Kama property alerted us to a raptor's presence … John identified a Goshawk for us. It's one of the 10-12 raptor species that contribute to another aspect of Canberra's uniqueness…all these birds of prey visible within a few kilometres of the city's CBD if conditions are right and we know where and when to look.
- With the help of Ros from the ANPS Wednesday Walkers it seems as though the mystery and solitary 'pea-flower' plant might be Hovea heterophylla (Common hovea). Ros pointed out that heterophylla means variable leaf and the leaf shapes on 'our' specimen don't look at all like the leaves of Creeping Hovea (Hovea linearis) … but one photo, online, does look to be a matching leaf-shape.
- Thank you Nola, Rita and Sybil for joining our explorations and our habit of generating more questions than answers when outside in the natural world!