Tag Archives: nature

Nature in the raw #photo

Note the fighting on the table

Note the fighting on the table

There’s nothing quite like watching wild animals doing what they do. I’m privileged to live in a bird rich neighbourhood. If you come here often you’ll know about my local rainbow lorikeets. They come to the pool fence not far from the kitchen window to partake of apple juice, and sometimes fruit like apples and pears. Yes, they’re cute and colourful, but they’re also aggressive little buggers, so there’s always a lot of pushing and shoving and beaks and claws.

But then, even when there’s no food available, the birds feel comfortable to do what they do. They almost always arrive in pairs and though males and females look alike, you can pick the males from their behaviour. The males quite often put on dominance displays. They fluff themselves up, arch their necks and strut. More often than not, they’re doing that to impress their lady friend because they’re feeling amorous.

Like this.

How about it, sweetheart?

How about it, sweetheart?

You can see she’s receptive. She has her legs spread wide, ready to carry his weight. So he hops on and has his way, using his wings for balance. Most birds don’t have penises, so really, they’re just rubbing their bits together. It  doesn’t last for long, though it may happen several times. Eventually, she’ll get fed up with his advances and snap at him to tell him she has a headache. Or a backache.

Amorous lorikeets

Making whoopee

 

 

 

Wanna make something of it?

Wanna make something of it?

 

 

 

 

 

The other place you get the aggressive eye contact and arched back is when the boys have a standoff. Here’s one. You can tell it’s all different.

But whatever they do, they are endlessly entertaining. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to have them share their lives with me.

Qucik! Everybody scarper!

Quick! Everybody scarper!

Recurring patterns

Picture of the earth's tectonic platesWhen I was at primary school I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who noticed the way some of the continents kind of fitted together, like a (rather ratty) jigsaw puzzle. Some scientists did, too. As early as 1912,  Alfred Wegener proposed all the continents were once joined together. (Although I’ll bet he wasn’t the first to notice the patterns) But he couldn’t explain how they could have drifted apart. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that scientists mapped the sea floor, found spreading, and were able to explain how the continental drift worked. These days, it’s known as plate tectonics and it’s accepted fact.

So what do you think of these?

picture of a whirlpool, a cyclone, Jupiter's red spot, a galaxy

From left to right, a whirlpool in a pond, a cyclone, Jupiter’s great red spot, and a galaxy. In particular, the similarity between the cyclone and the galaxy is compelling.

Picture of a galaxy in Pavo

Galaxy

picture of a cyclone

Cyclone

And now you see why I think some day down the track, scientists will prove that the Universe is fractal. Nature is frugal. She re-uses patterns that work. I talked about this in my earlier post about dark matter, dark energy and fractals.

And now I’ll get back to writing the next Morgan’s Misfits adventure. Thank you for your time.

Dark energy, dark matter and fractals – Cosmology according to Greta

butterfly

This guy could be causing snow in Scotland

I’m not a scientist, folks. This is mainly because I suck at maths. I’m good at logic, though. You have to be if you want to be a half reasonable computer programmer. And along with that, I’m curious. As a kid I looked at the stars and wondered, I looked at animals and plants and wondered, I looked at history and wondered… So I read books and magazines and found out about the night sky, constellations, the moon and planets. Ultimately, I started reading about Cosmology. Where did the universe come from and all that stuff. Those subjects are not easy, either from a science/maths point of view, or from a philosophical, get-your-head-around-it point of view. Take the Big Bang theory. We have to ‘believe’ that 13.5 billion years ago, everything was nothing, until it exploded, and there’s plenty of measurable evidence to support that contention. Rather than mess my head with numbers, I particularly enjoyed reading Isaac Asimov’s many articles which explained complex science to intelligent lay people like me, without peppering us with too many mathematical formulae.

That’s why I’m delighted with the Science of Discworld books; real science iced with a bit of Discworld. I’ve just finished The Science of Discworld 4: Judgement Day, by Terry Pratchett and Doctors Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, which delves into Cosmology and Divinity. I’m not going to discuss God. I don’t care what others choose to believe, but I don’t. End of argument. What I’m very happy to discuss, though, is dark matter, dark energy and fractals.

One thing I’d noticed when reading New Scientist and the like, was the introduction of this stuff called ‘dark matter’ and a force called ‘dark energy’. It seems there wasn’t enough matter in the universe, and that certain interactions didn’t work as they should. With these two ‘dark horses’ introduced, the calculations worked as expected. I thought at the time that scientists seemed to be making up stuff so their equations would work. And in SoDW4, Cohen and Stewart said just that! They also mentioned the search for the elusive Higgs boson, and what scientists have – and have not – discovered from inferring the existence of something based on its destruction.

To me, Nature works by the KISS principle. It all looks very complex, but break things down far enough and it isn’t. One of the best examples I’ve ever seen of this is fractals, those beautiful, enigmatic patterns which go on forever, never quite repeating. We see them at work in coastlines, leaves, snowflakes, weather and the storms on Jupiter. You’ve probably heard of the famous Chaos weather butterfly (top left) which can cause storms on the other side of the world.  This video plunges into the most famous fractal of all, the Mandelbrot set. This BBC documentary explains the whole idea.

Cohen and Stewart included a chapter in their book, discussing whether the Big Bang theory had had its day. The need for additional constants to make the calculations work was one of the reasons given. Dark energy, dark matter and the Higgs boson are just three examples. I can’t help thinking that it’s not going to be so complicated. Nature isn’t like that.

One solution that makes lots of sense to a lay person like me, is that the Universe itself is fractal. I’d seen a tiny article in New Scientist to that effect, some several years ago. And now I’ve just found this slideshow. To me, it’s simple, and elegant. Circles and spirals, repeating patterns. Will it need dark matter and dark energy? I don’t know – but it sure does explain why the universe is lumpy.

 

 

Ord River buzz

A lake ArgyleThe highlight of our visit to Kununurra was a trip on the Ord River. After all, without the Ord River, Kununurra wouldn’t exist. The town was created in the sixties, when one of the visionary Duracks, who originally opened up the area, persuaded the Government to dam the river. If you’ve been following my journey, you’d know that year-round water is a huge problem up here. There’s the Wet and the Dry, and the Wet is very, very wet and the Dry is very, very dry. In between there’s fire, which clears the land ready for the next wet. But traditional crops like wheat, cotton and sugar cane don’t grow like that. So a dam was built and Lake Argyle was created. You can read all about it here.

It’s hard to give an idea of size when talking about lakes and things. I’ve often heard descriptions involving Olympic sized swimming pools and football fields. But sometimes even they become insignificant. In Australia we have our own term of measurement – Sydney Harbours. Sydney Harbour holds a big lot of Olympic swimming pools (don’t ask me how many) so we have an idea that’s an enormous amount of water. Lake Argyle holds about 15 Sydney Harbours in normal times. At the height of the 2011 floods it held 44 Sydney Harbours and the flow over the diversion dam that feeds the irrigation area is also measured in Sydney Harbours.

Yes, there’s irrigation, but the other use for all that water is hydro electricity, which requires steady water flow over the turbines. So the line of isolated waterholes that used to mark the course of the Ord River in the Dry is now a fast flowing, all year river.

That’s it for context, folks. Let the journey begin. We caught a bus up to the main dam, stopping for a scenic glimpse of the lake. From there, we piled onto a jet boat – very fast, with very shallow draft to get over the shallow, rocky bits, but able to drift very comfortably in the deep bits. And off we went. The very knowledgeable driver stopped often to let us take pictures of wildlife and reflections.

A rock wallaby3

A rock wallaby watches us from high on a vertical rock wall. They are very agile little critters.

A reflections6

Red rock, blue sky, water. Gorgeous.

A reflections5

We stopped for afternoon tea. This was taken from the river bank in late afternoon light.

A reflections1

Paperbarks line the bank.

A pelicans

A pair of pelicans enjoy the sunlight

A croc

A Johnson river crocodile basks on a reed bed

Guys, this was the bestest trip. Loved the boat, loved the river, loved the red rock almost glowing in the sunlight, loved the reflections, the bird life, the crocs, the botany lessons. If you get a chance, go do it. And at the end, back at Kununurra, we watched the sunset from the boat.

A sunset1

An ancient land

rampart

Nature doesn’t do straight lines

It’s one of those truisms that nature doesn’t operate in straight lines but if you think about it, that’s not necessarily true. Rocks, in particular, often follow straight lines through stress and fractures. By their nature they form blocks which man then uses to build structures. Take the Great Wall of China, which is built of local stone and marches for miles across and around the hills in China. Today, that mighty structure – where it has not been rebuilt – is a jumble of rocks.

Now look at the picture above.

It’s so easy to imagine a ruined wall. But it’s an eroded hill, exposing the hardest rocks as the worn down material slides down to create the slope.

Or this one. Ruined castle, anyone?rocks

When you look at pictures like this you begin to understand the essence of the Australian landscape. It’s old. It was old before the dinosaurs – before anything, really. Those rocks in the Nitmiluk gorge don’t contain fossils and I’ll bet these don’t either. These rocks are like the last remains of a long-dead beast, dessicated bones poking up through the ground. The soil here (if such a word is appropriate) is poor, lacking in nutrients. The vegetation is tough and resilient, able to cope with flood, drought and fire. In fact, though the aboriginal people never farmed and were nomadic, they certainly managed the land. They would set fires not long after the wet to burn the dried grasses at a time when the flames would not cause huge conflagrations. That happened in nature, too, fires lit by lightning. The dead vegetation was cleaned away and new growth rose in the ashes, food for kangaroos and other prey animals. And, of course, if you knew where to look, water was available, collected in pools in the great rivers, even if the water only flowed in the wet.

At Nimitluk, our guide told us how the people found crocodile eggs. Fresh water crocs lay eggs on sandy banks, burying them like turtles do, then just leave the eggs until they’re ready to hatch. The youngsters make a noise the females recognise and they come back to help the new crocs out of their eggs. Until then, though, the eggs can be harvested. The time for that is when the yellow flowers appear on the kapok bushes. The aboriginal tribes knew this place, the cycles of life, what they could eat and what they couldn’t. And they never destroyed. They never took all the croc eggs, they never killed all the kangaroos.bag

I want to finish this with a piece of work created by local aboriginal women. We call them ‘primitive’. But they can make something like this out of grass, and they can survive in this fundamentally hostile land. Their traditional lifestyle is totally different from ours but slowly slowly, we’re beginning to understand, just a little.

The mystery of the nest box

Loss of old trees has meant a loss of nesting hollows for many Australian animals. My husband and I have tried to do our bit by putting up nest boxes in a few places. We’re still waiting for the microbats to find their little house, high up in the eaves. The other boxes were built for medium sized birds, like lorikeets and rosellas. One nest box with a larger opening has been occupied by the local possum, but we have two up-market apartments still vacant. One is next to where the possum lives, so I expect that’s ruined the neighbourhood. But the one on the other side of the pool, attached to a palm tree, is a mystery.

A pair of rosellas showed some interest, then the box was ignored. Until recently. One day, I thought something had moved in, but I checked with binoculars and it was just the light striking the inside of the box. But wait a minute – the entrance hole had been chewed. It wasn’t flaking paint and if you looked closely, you could almost see claw marks.picture of nest box

What was it?

Not parrots or day birds. They went up there, for sure, because the palm was in flower, and everyone loves palm nectar. The birds would sit on top of the box, but I never saw anything going in, or coming out, and there was no wear on the perch. Sure, the possum went up there to feed at night, but she wouldn’t fit in that hole. Besides, there was no sign of hair on the wood.

An owl? Microbats? I’ve looked for droppings, but there’s nothing. Besides, the box doesn’t bother the birds at all. They’ll sit on top to take nectar from the palm flowers.

picture of 2 parrots looking at nest boxThis morning, a pair of lorikeets showed some interest. Here they are, inspecting the premises. One bird spent a lot of time actually putting his head in there. One picture seems to show he was unimpressed and maybe a bit fearful – but he put his head in, again.

picture of Lorikeets inspecting nest boxpicture of bird reacting to next boxpicture of bird with head in nest boxIt’s absolutely intriguing. Sure, we could get a ladder and look in through the top, but that’s not very neighbourly, is it? And who knows? Maybe we’ll get to hear the clitter-clatter of tiny claws some time. Wouldn’t that be nice?

By the way, any suggestions regarding the tenants would be welcome.