Sunday, October 27, 2013

Frogs and Bats

The cry of the frogs was so loud. A lot of shrill ones a few some ‘creaky ones’ and one that croaked with a deep rat-a-tat-tat.

I had come along to a frog survey – part of the ACT’s bioblitz. The event hadn’t been widely advertised so I felt privileged to be amongst the 15 or so of us sat on the bank of the small pond (dam no.4) on Canberra’s Black Mountain.

Our guide had led us there from the car park and even though the rumble of lorries and cars going along Belconnen Way was still audible, we found ourselves sat in a little oasis of frogdom. I reckoned I counted three different croaks, others thought four. We sat for ten minutes or so and recorded the noise before walking round the pond to observe the little frogs who had been making such a noise. Some of them were tiny (barely bigger than a thumb nail) some more substantial, but none really much longer than a little finger.

Our guide talked us through the different sorts and we discussed their commonality, loss of habitat and whether we’d be able to get back to the car park without being attacked by drop bears!

Click here if you want to listen to the frogs!

Enthused by my encounter with frogs I took Eli (together with Amy's Dad, Ivor and brother, Ivor) along on Sunday evening to a bat census on the other side of black mountain. This time the animals would be flying and swooping rather than hopping.

I’d never really thought of Canberra as having bats – there’s a group of fruit bats who regularly nest in Commonwealth Park during summer (and whose arrival is met with a variety of joy or distaste depending on your point of view – they have bright green/yellow poo and cause damage to trees) but aside from that I don’t recall ever seeing any flitting around in the night sky. I was to learn though that there are something like 30 different species – mostly in the classification of ‘microbats’ who inhabit Canberra and its environs.

Our guide was a hugely knowledgeable guy called Michael Pennay who is the President of the Australasian Bat Society. Michael and his band of followers had set up five “harp traps” the previous evening and had caught around 30 different bats. They were now safely stored in small cotton bags.

One by one we got the bats out, Michael measured them, highlighted their differences to us and then re-bagged them. It was so interesting to see the small differences. Some with long ears, some with bigger mouths. Michael said a key identifier was often the bats’ penises which meant that often emailing bat experts created problems as spam filters often took over with the mention of the ‘p’ word!

After watching them for a while (Eli sat enthralled) we went to an area of open ground where we could release them. Many of us, including Eli, were armed with small sonar devices for tracking the call of bats (their sounds not audible to the human ear) and we released them into the darkening evening where many of them started instantly hunting the midges that flew around us. It was so interesting.

Afterwards we walked through the nearby woods trying to listen to other bats in the neighbourhood – everyone picked up lots of activity on their devices.

It was a fascinating evening. We walked back to our car around 8.30, reflecting on our evening spent with bats and Eli full of stories which he was keen to tell his big sister. Mine was only a brief encounter with bats and frogs, but so worthwhile and I hope I get more time to learn about them and see them again. Thanks ACT Government for making bio blitz possible!

Frogs in Dam 14
Michael Pennay allows us to come up close and personal with some microbats
with our sonar devices
Releasing the bats into the night (it was a lot darker than this picture looks!)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Jumping in puddles!

We’ve had a few torrential downpours over the last few days. Hopefully they’ll help extinguish the fires which continue to burn in NSW.

Beside that the beauty with lots of rain is that it creates lots of puddles.

I picked Eli up from pre-school yesterday and took his spider-wellies with me. He loved jumping in puddles all the way home.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Dragons Abreast Corporate Regatta

Amy's breast care nurse from the hospital worked incredibly hard to put together a team of us to take part in the Dragons Abreast Corporate Regatta.

It involved dragon boat racing on Lake Burley-Griffin. It was a big (and well hosted) affair with 32 (mostly corporate) teams taking part.

Our team was different to the rest in that it was a bit of a hotch-potch of people undergoing breast cancer treatment, their friends and spouses and a number of ladies who make up Dragons Abreast - a fundraising team who regularly organise and run dragon boat events - made up of cancer sufferers and their friends.

We were fortunate that we'd had a couple of evening's practice in the lead up to the event - so we weren't complete novices, but our practice had only been around technique and timing and nothing really prepared us for the thrill and drama of a 'live' race.

The day began early by the lake. Canberra is experiencing a fair bit of smoke in the air at the moment from bushfires in nearby NSW and the smoke hung over the mountains in the distance. The lake was still though and it was beautiful as the day warmed up.

Our moment came at 8.30am and we put in an admirable effort of finishing 5th in our race (ok 5th out of 6). The second race came hot on the first races heels and we were prepared the second time round, hurling ourselves down the long course.

I shouted myself horse during the race - it was so much fun. Again we finished 5th, but the second race was so close and we could easily have come 3rd. It was an admirable achievement considering we had thought we were going to be nothing more than also-rans. The score chart also (incorrectly) recorded us as 2nd in our first heat (a case of mistaken identity?) so we actually did pretty well in terms of ranking.

Still, putting my insatiable competitive spirit aside in reality the day was much more about the fact that we WERE there and we did HAVE a team. Many of the ladies in the boat had quite frankly been through shitty times with cancer and its treatment and the fact that they were able to sit in a boat and see the beautiful lake was a success in itself.

The day was wonderfully organised. Afterwards Amy took part in "flowers on the water" in memory of those lost to cancer. It left a huge lump in many throats including mine.

I hope we'll be there next year and most of all I hope that all those who took part are able to be there too.

Audrey by a tree

Lake Burley Griffin

Eli and Jack

Barb and Amy

Dragon Boats on the water

Pirate Audrey

Jack and Barb

Eli and his pirate chums

Amy getting on board


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Alessio comes to visit

It's great meeting up with old friends, especially when it seems like you only saw them yesterday and you can just pick up where you left off.

Our friend Alessio came to visit this weekend. We hadn't seen each other for five years or so, so it was wonderful catching up.

Al was on a whistle-stop tour of Australia and so we managed to cram the sights of Canberra in to one day! (including the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, New Parliament house, Manuka, Lyneham and the splendid new arboretum as well as a trip to Kingston model railway to see Thomas the Tank Engine!)

We stopped for a while to chat to a couple of guys at the tent embassy and Al was interested to discuss the differences in rights and prejudices between New Zealand Māoris and Australian Aboriginals and we both visited the National Parliament - a significant landmark on Canberra's skyline. There was obviously lots of places we didn't get to, but the main thing was seeing each other and catching up on news.

Audrey and Eli loved having Al visit as well. He provided them with constant amusement and bounced with them on our trampoline. I rather suspect they could have gone on a lot longer than he could! We were all sad to see him leave.

Alessio at Dairy Farmers Hill (National Arboretum)
At Kingston model railway museum

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

This Blog as a Wordle

I've been to a couple of presentations where people have pulled out a 'Wordle - 'word cloud' powerpoint slide and everyone has gasped in amazement.

Actually they're really easy to generate - a great website allows you to provide text and draws you a 'cloud' in a few seconds. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text.

I thought I'd put the text from this whole blog through it (excluding this post) and it came up with this one..

There are some interesting things;

1. Poor Eli doesn't get as much mention as the other three of us (although he obviously doesn't feature in the blog posts pre-2009).

2. Canberra, Warsaw, Poland and Australia get a mention - but I imagine some of the word usage has grown while others shrunk.

3.  Some nice words feature - friends, Christmas, children(!), enjoyed and loved.

4. I also really like the word 'really'!

Have a look and draw your own conclusions - perhaps some of them have more to do with my (rather limited) writing style!

[Update] I had a thought overnight that the count probably also included mentions of 'Trevor and Amy's blog' (which when you export all of the posts are attached to each post and therefore skews the result). So I've re-run it - excluding this and found myself significantly relegated. It now appears as if Audrey dominates and my name appears as a tiny font size on the right hand side! Still, it probably shows reality!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

More Camping Pics!

A couple of the other Dads on the camping trip took some more pictures which you can see by clicking here or here

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Here come the Bogongs! (Australian Wildlife Encounters No.9)

Around this time every year moths descend on Australia's capital as they migrate to the high planes.

They're called 'Bogongs' (apparently meaning 'Big Fella' after the mountains they head to). If you want to know more then the wikipedia link is here (which even mentions Canberra by name!).

They're not particularly sinister and (unlike a big majority of Australian wildlife) are harmless. Indeed indigenous Australians are known to have feasted on them as they have a high fat content, though I'm not sure I'd fancy a mothy meal.

They congregate around (well lit) public buildings. There were swarms of them when I went to the supermarket a couple of nights ago.

In the Parliamentary Triangle (where a lot of large public buildings are) apparently they get trapped as there are so many lit-up buildings at night they fly around in a daze.

We had one in our bedroom the other night (and Amy has been dive-bombed by them at work!). Friends have also reported finding masses of them in washing on the line. Apparently the swarms this year are earlier and bigger.  In case you're's what they look like...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Dads' Camping Trip to Wee Jasper

I was invited along to join a group of Dads on a long weekend camping trip to Wee Jasper. I didn't really know the other guys terribly well before we set off, but they were an easy going bunch and we soon built friendships.

Monday was a public holiday in Canberra it was pitched as a Dads and kids only trip to the country which afforded the Moms a bit of a breather and also bought us back some favours (we all discussed how far in 'debt' we were regardless of taking children away for the weekend!)

Wee Jasper is only a shortish drive away from Canberra. I'm amazed we've not been there before as it's quite possible to do as a day trip. The scenery around there is amazing - big plains and mountains and a really diverse geological landscape - with folded limestone hills and ranges of both volcanic and sedimentary rocks (that bit is just for you Graham).

The campsite was promoted as offering 'real bush camping' what that meant in reality was that there was no hot water or power to the site, but at $9 a night it was hard to complain.

We pitched our new tent (recently bought from an amazing store called BCF - "Boating, Camping, Fishing" - essentially blokes paradise) alongside the other Dads' equally new and shiny tents. I think we probably gave the game away that we were all amateurs!

The party was (I think) 6 Dads and probably 9-10 kids. It's hard to say exactly how many of us there were as it was all a bit 'fluid' with Dads coming and going, some staying 3 nights, others 2 and others just along for a single night (we stayed Saturday and Sunday nights).

Everyone got along fantastically well. The kids loved being in the wilds - there was a beautiful river which although too cold to swim in was great for perfecting stone skimming and the entire park was both picturesque and relaxed to be in.

We had a pleasant afternoon in Carey's Cave despite the rather strange guide who was more into terrifying the children rather than showing us around, perhaps that's what comes of being a tour guide in a cave for any length of time.

One of the Dads (Andrew) had some experience of caving and on our final day, Audrey Eli and I found ourselves deep underground with torches strapped to bike helmets on our heads. It was a real scramble/climb to get up and down but really good fun.

The days were long and sunny but at night the temperatures dropped down and we shivered a bit in our tents. Still the kids loved the camp fire, roasting marshmallows and the glow sticks which John brought along.

Here's some pics..

Our tent (and firewood) in the background

breakfast with Koby and Harry

by the (Goodradigbee) river with Sam and Harry

Carey's Cave

Maya and Audrey

Rainbow over the tent

Audrey (in the dark) with a glowstick

How it looks with the flash on

How it looks with the flash off!


John and Andrew

The cave we climbed down into

Heading home

Friday, October 4, 2013

Kangaroo Comedy

We're still a long way from this situation, but I was amused by the kangaroo cartoon in Private Eye magazine...

Thursday, October 3, 2013

River Healing Ceremony

Along the (beautiful) Urierra Road which winds out of Canberra, we went to an indigenous ceremony to 'Heal the River'.

The traditional owners of the land in and around Canberra are called the Ngunnawal (quite what 'ownership' entitles them to is not entirely clear - probably not much) and they met up with another couple of tribes from South Australia called the Ngambri, Ngarrindjeri and Ngarigo people.

The night promised a night of singing and dancing. Unfortunately (due to bedtime requirements!) we left before the ceremony really got going and I had to resort to reading about how it was the next day in the paper. Nevertheless, despite our early exit the kids still had loads of fun playing with boomerangs and face painting (with ocre and mud). I got swooped by an aggressive magpie. After the attack Eli turned to me and said "Daddy why are you lying on the ground?"

Events like this always attract a strange crowd - from aboriginal people through to bohemian city dwellers filming the event on their ipdads.It was a beautiful calm evening though and we played down by the river and listened to some soulful music.

Here's some pictures of the kids having a good time.

Eli, whose hair Amy and I had cut earlier that day with some clippers!
hotdogs on the sand
The Molonglo River