25 November 2009

More colour

Little Tosh is getting more colourful by the day. He's now about five and a half weeks old, weighs 83 grams and he's got a few green feathers coming out. You can't quite see it in this picture, but he's now got a little green tail as well.

The other baby Lorikeet that I wrote about in my last post now has company. A day or two after we got him we got two more about the same age. All three came into care because the trees they were nesting in were cut down.

We're lucky with those three as they're all self feeding already. All we have to do is put their food in a bowl in the cage and they'll feed themselves, unlike Tosh who has to be fed about six times a day from a pipette.

The little fellar above is another Tawny frogmouth I picked up from the vet on Friday. We suspect he's had some kind of head injury, going by those eyes. He's slightly cross-eyed and a lot more snappy than most Tawnies that age.

18 November 2009

Here's one I prepared earlier

In this afternoon's blog entry I mentioned that we'd got Tweedledee and Tweedledum when they were older than Tosh.

Well not long after that I got a call from Redlands Wildlife asking if we could take another young lorikeet. I sent Donna a text message and she picked the little dude up from our local vet on her way home from work. We usually have a rescue basket ready in the car.

This is what Tosh will look like in a few weeks.

I think Tweedledee and Tweedledum were a little bit older than this one, but not by much. Incidentally, this is a very healthy, very well fed little bird. Mum and Dad had obviously been doing a really good job, before their tree got cut down.

Apparently the tree lopper that found the little guy was devastated.

A month old

Our little Rainbow Lorikeet is now just over a month old and is really growing. We don't know whether it's a male or female, and probably never will as the only really reliable ways to tell are by DNA analysis, or by autopsy. So we came up with a name that can be either male or female. If you're a long time viewer of The Bill, you'll remember a male character called Tosh Lines and if you're a viewer of Torchwood you'll know of a female character also called Tosh (can't remember her surname off the top of my head, but it's something Japanese).

Having said that, if you notice me refering to Tosh as he, or him, it's just because it's easier than saying him/her, he/she, or it.

As you can see from the pictures, he's getting a lot more colour now that his feathers are growing. He'll eventually be blue on top of the head and below the chest, red and orange on the chest and green and some yellow elsewhere. That beak will eventually turn yellow as well.

Tosh isn't the first lorikeet we've hand raised, we had another couple that came early in the season that we named Tweedledee and Tweedledum. They weren't as young as Tosh though, they'd lost most of the grey downy feathers by the time we got them. They got to know us pretty well though and, now that they've been released, they come and visit us every day. In fact, we can't go and sit out on the back verandah with a cuppa in the afternoon unless we first put some food out for them. It's very awkward trying to drink your tea with a bird sitting on your hand trying to drink it with you.

It will be interesting to see what Tosh grows up like, since he only knows us as his parents. Once he gets old enough he'll go into the aviary with the older birds, but if he doesn't fit in then he may end up staying with us.

In future with lorikeets we'll try to use some kind of puppet that resembles an older lorikeet when we feed them. That way we may be able to avoid them imprinting on us. We do have the advantage that the main birds Tosh hears are lorikeets, that's when Bruce the cockateil isn't singing to him.

Edit; 17:51. Did I say his beak would turn yellow? I meant to say orange.

04 November 2009

Used to live in shoebox

I promised you an update on the little rainbow lorikeet.

Well, he's not living in shoebox in't middle't livingroom anymore. He's grown and is now in a basket. He's about two weeks old in these photos and if you look closely on the second one, you can just make out the red feathers starting to grow. He's gone from about 1 or 2 mls of Wombaroo per feed, to about 6 or 8 mls. That's about 5 or 6 feeds a day.

Of course he's not the only baby bird we're looking after. At the moment we have 9 baby Tawny frogmouths, 6 of which are in the big aviary outside. One or two of them are getting to the stage now where they're self feeding, meaning they'll fly down to where there's food and eat it, rather than us having to hand feed them.

It's not hard to see why people mistake them for owls when they see those big eyes. They're actually related to nightjars and are distant relatives of kookaburras.

I can't help thinking this last picture looks like a school photo, with the teacher on the right. That bigger bird on the right is actually the mother of one of the little ones. She's been released back where she was found, but the baby's still with us until it's ready.

20 October 2009

A new addition

I thought of posting this on our carers blog, since that's what it's about, but I get more visitors here so I thought I'd share it with more people.

Yesterday I got a phone call from another carer in our area asking if we could take another baby lorikeet. There aren't many people in our area that do lorikeets so we tend to get a lot of calls about them from vets, wildlife organisations and other carers. This particular carer told me she was picking it up from a vet, but they weren't absolutely sure it was a lorikeet. They just said it had grey downy feathers, which meant it could be pretty much anything.

Well this is what arrived a half hour later.

You can see why the vet wasn't completely certain of the species, in fact I'm not even sure yet whether it's a Rainbow lorikeet or a Scaley-breasted lorikeet. For those that are interested in such things, the little tyke weighed in at around 31g. That little hole behind the eye is one of its ears. How often do you get to see a birds ears?

This is a photo taken today just after a feed. That bulge in the chest is the crop, full of Wombaroo honeyeater mix, a special formulation we feed a lot of our birds. The crop literally swells up like a balloon when they're fed, then deflates as they digest their meal. Then it's ready to fill it up again in a couple of hours.

As you can see, the eyes are starting to open now. He (or she) can't really stand up properly on those legs, but it won't be long.

I'll keep you posted on the progress.

30 July 2009

Shooting star

I saw a shooting star this morning.

Now this is amazing for two reasons; one, I'm not usually up at 4:45 in the morning, and two, I'd literally only just looked up at the sky when it went overhead, so the chances of my seeing it were pretty slim. I was just leaving for work at the time, so you can imagine what my wish was.

Tonight's lotto has jackpotted to $80 million, so you never know.

14 July 2009


We've been delivering junk mail for a few months now and we've seen a huge variety in letterboxes, some are great, some are really original, and some are absolutely useless for anything bigger than a postcard. I've even had a few that have fallen over or broken as soon as I touched them, must be a hard life being a letterbox.

There's a question I've been mulling over since we started doing the deliveries and I still haven't come up with an answer.

Why do letterbox manufacturers find it necessary to put the word 'letters' or 'mail' on the front of their product?

It's not like the postie is going to get confused and not know where to put the mail. Quite often the word is so big there's nowhere to put the house number, or a 'No Junk Mail' sticker. I'll admit I have seen a couple of letterboxes that could have done with a label on them, one was a metal pedal bin. I don't think I ever put anything in that one. If it had the number on it I might have, but then so does the wheelie bin.

13 July 2009

Time to move

They've found me again.

I got a letter today from the Reader's Digest Sweepstakes people to say I've got a good chance to win $500,000. I thought I'd got them off my scent years ago, I guess not.

If I ever go missing, don't call the cops, just call Reader's Digest. They'll find anyone eventually. I bet they know where Lord Lucan is.

02 July 2009

A stranger in these parts

Regular readers may remember an old post of mine about a strange visitor we had about 18 months ago. If not, you can click here to read about the red-fronted parakeet.

Well we had another visitor today that doesn't look like it's from these parts.

As you know, Donna and I look after native wildlife. We have several Rainbow Lorikeets at the moment, including one I'm hand feeding because it's so young, and we get a lot of them visiting our backyard as well. The visitors were making a bit of noise this morning and when I looked outside I saw the bird in the above picture sitting on our verandah.

If you look at it quickly it looks very much like a Rainbow Lorikeet, just with less colour and more size. The lorikeets were chasing it away from the feeder hanging in our tree, but it was determined to hang around and have a feed, so I had heaps of time to take photos of it.

We have several bird books, so I got them all out and tried to indentify it. The only bird I could find that resembles this one is the Superb Parrot. The thing is though, they have a very restricted range in New South Wales and aren't found anywhere else.

If it is a Superb Parrot, then it's a pretty sure bet that it's an escaped pet, which wouldn't surprise me. We got a call to pick up a couple of birds from a local vet about two months ago. One was a lorikeet and the other a cockatiel. When I opened the cage to get the cockatiel out, he ran up my arm and sat on my shoulder. Apparently, he was delivered to the vet that way after being found in someone's backyard.

We generally don't like the idea of birds being kept in cages as pets, but this little guy is too tame to be released, so he's now got a permanent home with us and he's been named Bruce.

25 June 2009


We've got an Australian Wood Duck into care recently. A friend of ours dropped him off, she said he'd got a problem with one of his legs. We have a local vet that is really good with wildlife, and birds in particular.

So I gave them a call.

"Hello, this is Steve, I've got a woodie..."


OK, I approached that the wrong way, I'll try again.

"Hello, this is Steve again. D'you wanna duck..."


I was going to try again, but five minutes later there was a knock at the door.

"Don't Taze me Bro!"

The boys in blue were really apologetic when I explained everything to them. They said something about the orange sauce really bringing out the flavours. Personally, I think duck is too boney to compete with chicken or turkey and the idea of blowing up a ducks bum to make Peking duck doesn't really appeal.


But seriously though, we did get a duck this evening and he's going to the vet tomorrow to have his leg looked at. Most of my writing lately has been academic stuff, so I thought I'd get bit creative. After all, I'm not being marked on my blog entries.

09 June 2009

A few days in the life of a student, day 4

For those of you eagerly waiting to hear about the final day of my stay at Mt Hyland, sorry about the delay. I've had a couple of big uni assignments to finish and they got priority, as did work and the animals. Now lets see if I can remember what happened on the last day.

As I was eager to head home as early as possible when we finished, I starting packing my gear into the car as soon as I got up, something those in tents should have done. We didn't actually know what time we would finish, but if it was early I could probably be home before it got dark. If we finished late I'd be looking for somewhere to stay in Dorrigo or Grafton, or even back in Armidale, and driving home the next day.

After breakfast we went down to collect the nests that we'd put out on day one and, surprise surprise, the one I'd put out had a mark on the egg where something had tried to eat it.

Back up to the main buildings and we all sat around examining our nests and working out what nests had been attacked and by what. The one in the picture above had most likely been predated by some kind of mammal like a mouse, some of our other nests had been predated by birds.

We then gathered in the dining room where a spokesperson from each group got up and told us all what they'd found when searching for their endangered species. It was unanimous, no group found what they were looking for. Just goes to prove how endangered they are doesn't it.

While we were still in the dining room, the data gathered from the nest predation experiment was collated as we'd be using it for an assignment, one of those I've just recently finished. We were given a bit of an idea how the final exam would be structured, that's normal for the end of a residential school. This one will be sent to us and we'll have two weeks to complete it and send it back in.

Once all that was done we had morning tea before being turned loose to pack up before lunch. This was around 11am and I was already packed, so a cup of tea and a bit of cake and I was ready to go. I said my goodbyes to a few friends and if it hadn't been for the fact that the heavens opened as I was eating my cake, you wouldn't have seen me for dust. Actually, rain had been forecast for the whole time we were there, so we were very lucky it came when it did. I'm just glad I wasn't one of those people that hadn't packed their tent yet.

I was home by five, just as Donna was finishing feeding all the animals. There was a huge rain shower when I was about two minutes from home too, I wonder if someone was trying to tell me something. It was sad to be leaving Mt Hyland, because everyone had such a great time, but it was still good to be home.

18 May 2009

A few days in the life of a student, day 3

A spoiler alert before I go any further.

If you're studying EM353, conservation biology after 2009 and you've come across this blog while googling Mt Hyland to see what the place is like, well done on your research. However, some of the stuff that we did on day three was something of a surprise and I'm sure Karl and Caroline would prefer to keep it that way. So don't tell anyone what you read here, you'll spoil it for everyone.

Now, on with the story.

We'd expected a bit of rain on day three, actually we'd been expecting it for the whole field trip and had hardly seen any. This is the weather we awoke to. It was so nice that one of my room-mate and I grabbed our cameras and went for a wander.

If it had rained we wouldn't have worried, as our group was staying at camp all day while the others were off with the daisies. We were learning how to use the VORTEX program.

The previous night, our lecturers had been writing people's names on envelopes and occassionally chuckling to themselves as they did so. This morning before we started on VORTEX we found out why. Certain members of the class had been picked to be international delegates for a debate on fishing in the Galapagos Islands. Each of the delegates had to pick a couple of other people to be delegates with them. We were given an information sheet on our country, a more general sheet on the political agendas of all the countries, but most importantly a hidden agenda that we were not to show to any other country.

I was asked by the Bolivian delegate to join her and our agenda was basically that we would listen to whatever the other countries had to say and vote accordingly that night. We were expecting to be lobbied a lot during the day.

Back the the VORTEX activity, each group was given a stack of research papers about the Norther Bettong. A lot of the papers were actually written by our lecturer, Karl. If you click on that link you'll see why we were doing the Northern Bettong, that's what Karl did his PhD on. We had to find answers to several questions, like population density, age of sexual maturity, reproduction rates, etc.

While we were being briefed on all this in the dining room someone at my table noticed that the Australian delegate had left her hidden agenda lying around. Did we do the honourable thing and ignore it? Hell no, I opened it and had a look inside, then put it back down with a chuckle. It was all about the fact that this was the first time they'd been invited to one of these affairs and they just wanted to make friends and get taken out to dinner. After the briefing we sat outside in the sun and went through the research papers.

Once we'd got our Bettong answers we went back inside to the dining room where a projector was connected to a laptop running the VORTEX software. All the data were entered and when the analysis was run it told us how long a population would survive according to what factors were involved. For example, if there were a high number of foxes in the area, the population would become locally extinct within about 20 years due to predation.

On the same theme, we played a game afer lunch. Five groups were formed, each containing five people. These were rock wallaby populations. Each member of each group tossed a coin to find if they were male or female, which turned out to be a problem when one group al ended up the same sex. The rest of us were the unborn, waiting to join a group.

Coins were tossed again to see if the females had joeys or the males dispersed to other populations, or worse they died and joined the unborn group. Within about three generations nearly all the populations had become extinct and I hadn't even had a chance to be born. It was a great example of how small scattered populations have an uphill battle to survive and why conservation is so important.

A lot of the rest of the day was spent lobbying or being lobbied, we were offered massages and furniture by the Swedish delegation to vote their way. Aid was offered by the Americans and the Brits. The North Korean delegate offered us satellites and prostitutes. All in all it was a lot of fun trying to figure out what the hidden agendas were. Australia's agenda had already been found lying around again at least twice. In fact someone actually brought it over to us and read it out aloud.

Before dinner the main delegate from each country had to get up and make a quick speech putting their point of view across. A lot of people got right into this, using some pretty bad foreign accents. The Mexican delegation even wore face masks. Not surprisingly, the Australian's speech sounded remarkably like their hidden agenda, which by now most of us knew.

More lobbying went on before the votes were cast, but by this time it was dark outside, a fire had been lit outside, alcohol had been provided and most of us just stood around in groups having little party atmosphere type chats that had nothing to do with fishing in the Galapagos.

Then the voting started, but one of our hosts was missing. Conderiza Lice, played by Caroline one of our lecturers was nowhere to be found. I'd been standing by the door to start with, but one of the technicians had suggested I find somewhere to sit, as something was going to happen where I was standing. I had my suspicions that that something involved our missing lecturer.

The aforementioned tech was dispatched to find Caroline, but was back in the room within ten seconds saying there'd been a security breach. Then in marched Caroline, dressed as an Ecuadorian woman in a big floppy hat, shawl and blacked out front teeth. We thought that was funny, but when she threw open her shawl to reveal a bandoleer full of babies and started accusing Karl of being the father of one of them, the laughter just kept getting louder.

And that was pretty much it for the university education side of things for that night. I learnt a few things during a long chat with the ladies in my room after dinner, but you don't want to hear about that.

In my next post we all go home, but not before another couple of lessons.

14 May 2009

A few days in the life of a student, day 2

Those that didn't have to go looking for Wompoo Pigeons early on the second day got to sleep in a little. Of course, if you wanted to beat the queue for a shower you had to get up early, but that would also mean the shower would be a cold one. I opted for a hot cup of tea and some Cornflakes instead. Actually, I don't usually eat breakfast when I'm at home, but I'm often tempted when I'm away.

During breakfast the topic of farting in the night came up and my passenger from the day before assured me it hadn't been her. So that narrowed it down to one person. Don't worry, you secret is safe with me... and the other people in the room... and their loved ones at home if they chose to talk about it.

We had two activities in the morning. Groups one to five were learning about a program called Vortex. Basically what Vortex does is try to predict how long a particular population will survive, given certain events such as a fire in their habitat, or an increase in the number of foxes. The rest of us jumped in the minibuses and headed out of camp to count Dorrigo Daisies along the side of the road.

There are only around 2000 living Dorrigo Daisy plants in existence and they only live in about three populations in a certain area. Ironically, one of the reasons for their survival is logging. The Dorrigo Daisy is what's called a pioneer species, it grows in areas of disturbance. The logging roads near Mt Hyland are regularly graded by the forestry department and it's this grading that provides the conditions they need to grow.

We were dropped of at the side of the road and, with one person keeping a tally, the rest of us looked for daisies.

You may wonder why most people are on one side of the road and only a few on the other. Well the daisies had never been found on the left side of the road before, but on this day we found some. The vast majority however, were found on the other side of the road. In fact we found so many plants that someone jokingly asked if it could be delisted. On more than one occassion I had to point out to people that they were about to stand on one of the plants.

Because the other group would be counting daisies the next day, we stopped when we got to a certain point. A couple of volunteers carried on up the road to get the buses to come back for us, then after a near miss with an unladen logging truck we headed back to camp.

The idea of us surveying the daisies what not just to see how many there were, but to start off a translocation project. The other group would be collecting seeds the next day and hopefully new seedlings would be planted in a years time by future students doing the same subject. Before lunch we sat on the lawn discussing in our groups what would have to be done as far as seed collection, planting, etc.

Lunch, if memory serves me correctly was a sausage sizzle, with homemade sausages. Afterwards, we stuffed our bags with warm clothes, raingear and torches as we were heading off in the buses again and wouldn't be back until after dark.

First stop was at the top of Jordan's trail, where we walked about half an hour down to the escarpment. The trouble with downhill walks is that the walk back is always uphill.

Once at the escarpment we split into our groups again, ten metres apart along the cliff edge and started collecting data on Beadle's Grevillea. This is an ongoing project and, again, future students will do the same thing to see how the plants are recovering from fires back in 2003.

While some members of our group counted bushes and the flowers thereon, the rest of us got stuck into the other reason we were there, to count poo, specifically the poo of the rock wallaby. We started at the edge of the escarpment and then every ten metres in we would count in a square two metres by two metres. It was soon obvious that the rock wallaby prefers to be on the rocks rather than in the long grass nearby.

I know how it looks, but the guy sitting down with a stick in his hand wasn't there to make sure the others worked hard. That was his poo counting stick.

I'm sure the walk back up to the bus was quicker than the one down, drops of rain are a good motivator.

From Jordan's Trail we headed off to Liberation trail, via a toilet stop. Liberation trail was the site of logging protests many years ago. It brought about changes to the laws in New South Wales that meant logging companies had to do propper environmental impact studies before they started cutting down trees. Those changes eventually became the threatened species act.

We didn't actually get onto the trail, as by then it was dark. Instead, we formed into three groups, each with a spotlight and headed off up the road looking for beasties in the night. I'm not sure what the other groups saw, but ours saw five Greater Gliders and a Tawny Frogmouth. They're both animals I was glad to see. In the case of the glider, I've never seen one before other than in pictures. In the case of the Tawny, I've seen heaps of them, but most have been in captivity. To see on in the wild in the middle of a forest, not just my backyard, was great. I'd been talking about Tawnies the day before and managed to educate a few people on the fact that they aren't owls.

Curry was on the menu for dinner that night and there was plenty of variety, hot or mild, lamb, beef or beans. I think the beans were mainly meant for the vegetarians, but they were popular with everyone, especially in our room. Of the seven people in our room, only one didn't have beans as she didn't like them. When it was brought to her attention that she was the only one not having beens, it was said more as a warning. As it turned out she didn't need to worry, the only farting came from the other side of the room as usual.

In my next post we work out how to make the Northern Bettong extinct, then we become international delegates for a day. Oh, and if you're reading this because you're doing the same subject the following year, no telling.

12 May 2009

A few days in the life of a student, day 1

Often when I get back from a res school I get asked how my exams went. I then have to explain what a res school is. Actually, they call it intensive school now, which is probably a better description.

So, for your entertainment (and education), here's my little essay on "what I did at school camp".

As you'll recall from the last post, I ended up sharing a room with one guy and five girls. The kind of thing I would have dreamed off a few years ago when I was younger and single. Once we'd dumped our gear in the room, made sure our lecturer checked our name off the list as being their, and found out where the toilets were, we all assembled outside the classroom area. This was actually the closest we ever got to using that classroom.

We were put into ten groups with about six or seven in each. These would be the groups for the rest of our time there. My group was group seven and included a couple of my room mates.

The first activity for the day was to set up a nest predation experiment. The idea behind it was to test the edge effect theory. What that means is, a bird's nest is more likely to be raided by predators if it's on the edge of a forest than inside the forest. To test the theory, each group had ten artificial nests made from tennis ball halves with two plasticine eggs inside. Five of the nests were attached to trees on the edge of the forest, about 5 metres apart and the other five were attached to trees 50 metres inside the forest. We'd already been warned about leeches, so there was a lot of nervous checking of ankles, etc when we came back out of the forest.

Our afternoon activity was about endangered species in the area. Each group was given one or more species to look for and told the best way to find them and where to look. My group got the koala. We thought that was great, how hard could it be to find koalas in Australia. Just find the right kind of tree and look up. I have enough trouble finding koalas when there's a sign at the bottom saying, "koala in tree".

We wandered off into the forest looking for suitable trees. We'd been given a description of Tallowood trees, the koala's favourite, but because we hadn't actually been shown one we weren't really sure if we were looking up the right ones. We were quite possibly barking up the wrong tree, so to speak. After a fruitless search, where we didn't even find any koala poo or scratches on the bark we headed back to camp.

A few of us decided to keep looking, so we got some advice from a ranger that was visiting. He told us to head about 500 metres down a different track and we'd find a Tallowood tree with an orange ribbon around it that he'd put there earlier. On the ribbon was written, "Tallowood". All we needed to do was start looking there.

Well, this search was much like the previous one, still no koalas but at least we thought we had a better chance of finding them. We did however get to see and hear a few birds that I hadn't seen or heard before, such as Bell Miners.

Back up to camp and we got talking to people from other groups. They'd had as much success as we had. I'd did say they were threatened species in the area didn't I. One of my room mates mentioned she'd found a tick on her jeans and a leach on her jumper earlier. This time she pulled up the leg of her jeans and there was the tell-tale blood stain where a leech had fed on her ankle. The leech paranoia went up another notch.

Dinner that night was a lovely beef stew and then most of us had an early night. Another of my room mates had left home just after midnight that morning and had driven eleven hours to Mt Hyland. She as already in bed when I went back to the room around seven thirty. My passenger from that morning had to get up at five thirty the next day to go searching for Wompoo Pigeons and I was tired from all that driving and walking.

I wasn't so tired that I went straight off to sleep though. I lay awake for a while trying to figure out who it was that kept farting loudly in her sleep.

In my next post I'll tell you about counting wallaby poo, curried beans and more farting in the night.

07 May 2009

Mt Hyland Field Trip

I told you in my last post about my upcoming trip the Mt Hyland. Well it's no longer upcoming as I got back yesterday.

I should mention from the start that a couple of the pics in the last entry were in fact not on the way to the wilderness retreat. I put a little too much faith in the GPS, more about that later.

The idea for the first day of the trip was for most people to meet at the uni. Some were going to Mt Hyland in minibuses and the rest, like me, were taking our own vehicles. I got talking to a few people from the class before we left, including one that I knew from a previous res school last year.

When it came time to get on the buses, I asked my classmate from last year if she'd prefer a lift in the Subaru. Was it my dashing good looks, my wit, my charm, the chance to spend the next hour and a half alone with Mr Wonderful that encouraged her to accept my kind offer. No it was the thought of travelling in comfort with someone she knew, rather than in the minibus in discomfort, with a bunch of strangers. I think the only thing stopping her beating me to the car was that she didn't know which one was mine. Besides, she knew I was married and wasn't going to hit on her.

We left just before the buses and my passenger asked if we could stop at a service station on the way, to see if she could find a cheap plastic poncho. She'd forgotten to pack a raincoat. Once on the highway, still without a poncho, we got chatting about various things and at one stage I commented on the white Subaru in front of us, it was a later version of the one we were in.

All this time we were following the directions of the GPS, even though I've driven that road several times and knew the way fairly well. When it got to a point where it told us to turn left, I obeyed, even though I knew it wasn't the way I'd gone previously. I had it set to shortest route, rather than quickest and I'd approached Mt Hyland from a different direction before, so I assumed this way would work as well.

If you've got a GPS of your own, you'll know that when you stop following its directions it tries to recalculate your course for you. Well mine was starting to do this every couple of minutes and we were now on dirt roads.

I eventually realised we were heading south instead of north and that was why the GPS kept recalculating, must have missed a turn. When we did get back onto the, supposedly, right track it just seemed to get more confused, telling us to turn when there was no road to turn on. The right town names were showing up, but it certainly didn't seem like we were going to get where we wanted anytime soon.

Eventually I decided to backtrack to the main road and the route I'd taken previously. My passenger was now busting, so the the first priority was to find a service station, public loo, or suitable clump of bushes. When we found somewhere she could go I got out my mobile to call our lecturer just so he'd know we were running late, but there was no service where we were. And no, it wasn't a clump of bushes but they didn't sell ponchoes there either.

You can imagine how this was starting to look. I'm a happily married man with a, not unattractive, woman in the car with me. It should have taken us about an hour and a half to get to our destination, or to put it another way, we should have been there an hour ago. What were people going to think when we turned up late together?

Well we got onto the correct road, following my menory of the directions on the website more than the GPS. We drove up a narrow dirt road, surrounded by dense forest, and all of a sudden there was a clearing in front of us containg a a few buildings and two University of New England minibuses.

When we finally joined the group, no-one made a comment about us being late, although someone did say I'd changed my shirt (I hadn't, I'd just removed my jumper).

Below are some piccies of Mt Hyland Wilderness Retreat. The four days we spent there will be my next blog entry.

My accommodation. My room was the one with the french doors, shared with one other guy and five women, including my passenger. We guys were the only married people in the room and were on our best behaviour.

The building on the left is the main house. This is part of what we saw when we arrived, except that blue Subaru wasn't there because we were in it. There's another Subaru to the left of where I took the photo. It was the one we'd been following earlier. I bet you were wondering why I mentioned the white one earlier.

Olearia flocktoniae, the Dorrigo Daisy. There are only about 2000 of these in existence in only three locations, this was one of the reasons we were there.

Grevillea beadleana, Beadle's Grevillea, another endangered species.

The view from the escarpment, somewhere in Guy Fawkes River National Park. This is where we counted Beadle's Grevillea and wallaby poo, more about that later.

24 April 2009

Another trip away

I just got back yesterday from another trip to Armidale.

I was away for ten days this time for two res schools at the uni, animal behaviour and intro to geographical information systems, both very interesting subjects.

Next Saturday I have to head down there again for another res school, this one is conservation biology andd is being held about 130 kilometres from Armidale at Mt Hyland Wilderness Retreat. I'll be spending one night in Armidale, then driving to Mt Hyland the next day.

As I had a day off between subjects last Saturday, I thought I'd drive out and have a look at the route to Mt Hyland. Someone in my class had asked about the drive there and wondered if it would be okay to take her little Hyundai. Our lecturer recommended she go on the minibus instead and I can now see why.

Our Subaru Forester will do it okay, but I don't think I would have taken our old Subaru Impreza. I'm not even sure I'd take my brother's Honda CRV.

Here's a few piccies I took on the day.

The first water crossing, more of a ford than a creek.

I'd just got back in the car after taking the previous pic and saw these guys waddling toward me.

I can't help thinking this would be a bit slippery in the wet.

The second water crossing. This one came up over the door sills. I'd be taking the minibus if I had a smaller car.

10 April 2009

It's pick on Richard Wilson day

If you've ever watched the old series, "One foot in the grave", you're familiar with the catchphrase, "Oh I don't believe it!"

Poor old Richard Wilson has had to put up with strangers coming up to him and reciting that line ever since Victor Meldrew was killed off in the series.

Anyway, I was watching Father Ted tonight. At the beginning of the episode Father Dougal had been watching One Foot in the Grave and kept reciting the line, "I don't believe it", much to the hilarity of both him and Ted. They were visiting the mainland and were planning to visit some caves while they were there.

Well while they were there they noticed that one of the other tourists was none other than Richard Wilson. Much was made in the episode of Mr Wilson being totally pissed off with people thinking "I don't believe it" was funny when they saw him, to the point he got quite violent toward Father Ted. Here's a link to part of the episode featuring Richard Wilson himself.

Well I watched No Heroics after that, then there was a short link into the next show provided by Ardman's "Creature Comforts" The animals on the show were all talking about impersonations. It finished off with three crows trying to do a Frank Spencer impersonation. From that they went into a Victor Meldrew impersonation.

I just about wet myself.

I hope Richard Wilson isn't in the country at the moment.

Incidently, if you have a Tom tom satnav, you can get a Victor Meldrew voice for it. I want one, except we have a Garmin.

02 April 2009

Being eco-friendly

... or at least trying to.

A couple of years ago, Donna and I bought a 2600 litre rainwater tank to use for irrigating the garden. Literally within half an hour of us getting it all hooked up it bucketed down rain. It was a quarter full by the end of the storm.

Last year, the state government announced that they were going to bulk buy a thousand 1kW solar systems and asked for expressions of interest for those householders that wanted them. Because it was a bulk buy and because of the federal government rebate for solar energy, they reckoned it would end up costing us about $1500 for the complete, installed system.

That was an opportunity to good to pass up, especially since the system feeds back into the grid. This means that any excess energy we generate, we get paid for by the energy company.

Well I sent in our expression of interest as soon as I heard about the deal, so did about 5000 other people. They stopped asking for applications after only two days. Because there were only 1000 systems available they had to have a ballot to see who would get them and we were lucky enough to be one of them. In fact, we turned out to be even luckier when they finalised the price. All we had to pay for the complete system was... wait for it...

$185. That's right, one hundred and eighty five dollars.

Well they completed the installation the other day and guess what. It's bucketing down rain at the moment and has been since about midnight. It's so gloomy at the moment I've had to turn on the living room light so I can see to study. We're under that blue bit on the weather radar picture, about a third of the way between the centre of the pic and Cape Moreton.

I guess we won't be generating any excess energy today.

At least we aren't out delivering junk mail in it, although the next lot will be dropped off soon and I'll have to go out and bring it upstairs.

06 March 2009


In my last blog entry, Dave asked what part of delivering junk mail I liked the most. I can honestly say it's the exercise, it's certainly not the money.

I quite enjoy exercising, or more to the point the continual improvement you see when you exercise. Many years ago a colleague called Tony and I started working out in a gym provided by our employer at the time. It wasn't a huge gym, not very flash, definitely not the type of gym you'd pay a fortune to use. It was however quite well equipped and had a good atmosphere, partly because of the other people that regularly used it.

Three times a week Tony and I would grab our gear at lunch time, walk the five minutes to the building that housed the gym and we'd work out for about forty minutes, then walk back up the hill to work. It became routine, which helped to keep up the motivation. I'm a real creature of habit, so routine like that helps me to stick to it.

For someone that's always been skinny, it was great to see the improvement I was making. I never got to the point where I was starting to look like a body-builder, but I was training with that sort of intensity. I eventually got to the point where I could bench press more than my own body weight.

Unfortunately, while bench pressing one day I strained my rotator cuff, the group of muscles in your shoulder that help stabilise the joint. I couldn't train for three months and when I did get back into the gym it was never with the same intensity as I had before. The routine had been broken and I ended up giving up on it.

Muscle doesn't just disappear when you stop working out and it's a myth that it turns to fat, but you do lose the tone and the strength, and I've now got a pot belly that I didn't have back then.

Now that we're delivering junk mail I've got that routine again. Twice a week we're out there walking for two hours, up and down hills. Already I'm seeing an improvement, the legs aren't hurting the next day and the hills get just that little bit easier.

We're always saying we should go for walks, or pump the tyres up on the bikes and go for a ride. Now we've got a good excuse and it's not just a leisurely stroll either.

25 February 2009

Chasing each other round the dining table

No, it's not what you think. We spent a couple of hours last night folding the junk mail ready for today's delivery. Instead of sitting on the floor surrounded by different piles of catalogues, we put them on the dining table, stood either side and worked our way round them. Of course, every now and then one of us would catch up to the other, this encouraged us to work faster so we didn't get in each others way.

I timed myself in the afternoon, when it was just me folding and it took me thirty minutes to fill a bag. With two of us at it, it took ten minutes a bag, just because we were encouraging each other to go faster.

When we did the weekend delivery we had seven items in each bundle, today we had eleven. You might think it wouldn't make much difference, but because each bundle was so much thicker and heavier, we could only get thirty in our bags instead of the fifty we were carrying on the weekend. That meant we had to keep doubling back to the car to fill up again. It actually took us three hours today, instead of the two on Sunday.

To be honest, I thought the amount we delivered was ridiculous. The bundles were so thick, we had trouble getting them into some of the smaller letterboxes. We must have really pissed off the postie.

I weighed one of the bags last night and thirty bundles weighs ten kilograms. It reminded me of my younger days when I stupidly joined the army reserve. We spent one weekend up at Tin Can Bay lugging ten kilo backpacks and five kilo SLRs. Yes I know, the British soldiers carried something like fifty kilos on their backs in the Falklands war and they did it for days on end. Back in my army reserve days, fifty kilos was about what I weighed.

Needless to say, after and hour or so of tramping through the bush and getting completely knackered, I was told to sit down and wait for a medic. I ended up spending the rest of the weekend on sentry duty in the middle of nowhere, being woken up every hour for a radio check. Actually, the mosquitos and sandflies did a pretty good job of keeping me awake anyway. I was itchy for days after that.

Back to today's delivery though, I didn't struggle anywhere near as much as I did back then. Maybe all those years in the gym in my early thirties paid off, even if I'm not in shape now. I must admit, my legs are a bit sore and stiff now, but that's something I'll get used to.

I'll soon be ready for that seven hour walk in thirty-eight degree heat with Dogbait.

22 February 2009

Getting paid to exercise

I don't know how much it costs to join a gym these days. It's been about ten years since I last worked out in one, and back then you pretty much had to sign up for a year to get the best value and that cost me about $600.

To get a bit of extra money, Donna and I have started doing letterbox drops. To put it another way, we're delivering junk mail. We did our first delivery this morning and it was easier than I expected.

The area we're working in has the word 'Hills' in its name, and for good reason. It's also the middle of summer, so the temp was around 28 degrees Celsius. It's definitely not as bad as Victoria was a couple of weeks ago, so I can't really say I can relate to what it was like for Dogbait, but we were glad of the water and Gatorade we had with us.

One thing that occurred to me while we were out was that I'd hate to be delivering mail on a motorbike. Some people either don't realise how hard it is to access their letterbox, or they just don't care. A perfect example of this is the house I came across with a beautiful, metre high conifer growing right slap bang in front of the letterbox. There is no way the postie would be able to reach that while sitting on his bike.

After the first couple of cobwebs I also learned not to walk between overgrown trees and bushes.

Some people must be very pessimistic about the amount of mail they get, going by the size of their letterboxes. You'd be flat out fitting a postcard into some of them.

Despite the heat, the hills and the drizzling rain though, I think I'd rather being delivering junk mail here in Australia than in the UK. I've delivered newspapers in Hertfordshire before and part of our round had blocks of flats, meaning lots of stairs. Add to that the fact that the letterboxes are in the front door, not at the front of the property, it means a lot more walking.

On the very last street of our round today I was powering (yes even after two hours) up a hill to where Donna had parked the car and passed a couple of girls in their exercise gear coming the other way. I thought to myself, I'm getting paid to do what you're doing. Okay, it's not a lot of money, but it beats paying for the gym.

14 February 2009

What's in a name

We've been watching reruns of Hamish Macbeth on ABC2 recently.

The series finished last week, but I've been looking for the books the series was based on. Reading in Wikepedia about the author M. C. Beaton, I was surprised to learn that she's actually a woman. M. C. stands for Marion Chesney, her real name and the one she's used for the Agatha Raisin series of mystery novels.

This got me to thinking about other female novelists that have created popular male characters and I noticed a pattern emerging. J. K. Rowling created Harry Potter. Agatha Christie created Hercule Poirot.

Okay, maybe I'm reading more into this than there really is, but if I ever write a series of crime novels, they're going to have a female main character and her name will start with an H. How can I lose.

Can anyone else think of more examples? Come to think of it, have you ever been surprised to find a popular writer you admired turned out to be the opposite sex to what you'd assumed?

31 January 2009

Special forces possum

We like to give the animals in our care a good chance of survival when they're released. This means giving them the opportunity too practise the skills they'll need in the wild.

This it trooper Terry during his covert ops training, abseiling down the front of his cage.

We also teach them hand to hand combat and assassination techniques.

Seriously though, we recently moved Terry into a bigger cage and he's gradually getting the hang of climbing on branches and stuff. It's a lot less stressful than having him climb on us, and a lot less painful than us as well.

15 January 2009

Time to go

Donna was manning the BARN rescue phone on the weekend when she got a call from someone in our suburb. The caller had found a baby bird of unknown species sitting in the drive-thru of our local Red Rooster. She'd done the right thing and left it there for a while to see if it flew away or the parents came to feed it, but no such luck. So Donna asked if she could bring it round to us.

It turned out to be a Black Faced Cuckoo Shrike, a species we hadn't had in care before but had recently transported one for another carer. They're insectivores, but they'll also eat fruit which makes them pretty easy to look after as far as feeding is concerned.

This poor little fellar seemed to be pretty exhausted though, and with birds in that condition it's not a good idea to just feed them as normal. Your body has to use energy to break down food, so if you give a starving animal something that isn't easily digestible you may kill them. Fortunately, we have a product called First Aid which is made especially for this situation. I was able to get the bird to take some of it by putting some in a teaspoon and dragging its beak through it from side to side.

The next morning it was crying out for food and we discovered it was able to fly quite well, a fact it demonstrated by flying around our garage when we opened the basket it was in.

As I said, they're quite easy to look after, we got it to take a mix of pet mince (no, it's not minced up pets) and Wombaroo Insectivore, the same thing we feed to the tawnies, magpies, butcher birds and peewees. For the last few days all I've heard is the little bird calling out for food.

Our intention was to get it paired up with another cuckoo shrike of the same age that another carer had, the one we'd delivered a week earlier, but luckily we didn't get around to it. With all the calling it'd been doing it attracted the attention of an adult cuckoo shrike.

We usually put our birds outside during the day as they need the sunlight, even the nocturnal birds.

Yesterday the cuckoo shrike spent all day hanging from our clothes line and calling. We're lucky to have understanding neighbours, because it was a little annoying. Then later in the afternoon while we were busy feeding all the animals we noticed the adult was not only visiting, but it was visiting with food.

Eventually it landed on the cage and tried to feed the baby through the bars of the cage. This was the moment we'd been waiting for, as it meant the baby was either being adopted or the adult was actually one of its parents. As it was only found about five hundred metres from our house it's quite possible that it was a parent.

So I opened the cage, let the little guy perch on my finger and lifted it up onto the clothes line. From there it flew into one of our trees where it was met by one of the adults. It was a very rewarding sight to see the adult fly away, then come back with some food for the littlun. They then flew away in the direction of Red Rooster.

Hopefully we'll see them again, but not in care next time.

14 January 2009

New computer

It's been nearly a month since my last post. You'll remember that back then I'd just destroyed my laptop. Well now I've got another one and I won't be destroying this one, it's too cute.

What I bought is an Asus EeePC 901. It's more of a kneetop than a laptop really, it weighs half what my old Acer weighed and is a lot smaller. The keyboard takes a bit of getting used to because of its size, but I'm still touch typing with it so it's not too bad.

As I said in my last post, I don't want another windows computer. This one is running a version of Linux called Xandros. When I originally decided on the EeePC my intention was to try it with Xandros, then install Ubuntu. I'd already played with Ubuntu a bit on our desktop computer and quite liked it.

Getting Ubuntu onto the EeePC, or more specifically a version of it called Ubuntu Eee (now Easy Peasy) that's just for the EeePC, isn't as easy as you might think. That's a bit ironic when you consider that the E in the name stands for easy. The reason it's not straight forward is the EeePC doesn't have a CD drive, so you need to make a USB thumbdrive bootable and somehow get the operating system onto it, then install from there.

It involved a lot of mucking around, but as always Google was my friend and I managed to find out how to do it and eventually turned the little EeePC into a dual boot system running both Xandros and Ubuntu. Then the frustration started.

No matter what I did I couldn't get Ubuntu to make a wireless connection. In fact I couldn't even get it to connect to the internet by plugging into the router. Luckily the frustration was tempered by the fact I could still connect by rebooting into Xandros. Then I discovered a few other things that didn't work in Ubuntu as they should and, believe it or not, there was no e-mail program installed. Not that that was much of a problem if I couldn't connect to the internet.

After a few days of mucking around with Ubuntu I noticed that Xandros wasn't working as well as it should, to the point it was becoming almost unuseable. When I tried running restore it wouldn't work at all, so I decided to reformat the whole thing and just have Ubuntu on the computer, thinking maybe I could get the wireless problem sorted. No such luck.

Now here's where I love the little EeePC, where it stands out from a lot of other computers. A lot of manufacturers these days don't supply disks with their products, it saves them a few cents on each machine and that all adds up. What they do is put the operating system in a partition on your hard drive and you restore from there. Of course it's absolutely useless if your hard drive gets corrupted like on my old Acer.

Asus supply you with not one, but two disks. One has the operating system on it and the other has some useful utilities, including one that allows you to make your little USB thumdrive bootable.

So now I have a nice clean installation of Xandros on the computer and it's running as it should. I must admit though, I was having a fiddle the other day and ended up breaking something. It's so nice to be able to get the whole thing back up and running again in under ten minutes.

Because the EeePC only has a 20GB hard drive you have to rely more on external storage, a good thing as far as I'm concerned. In fact Asus give you free online storage for your files if you have an EeePC. I also use Firefox Foxmarks to keep my bookmarks synchronised. If I have to reinstall Xandros again all I have to do is download all my bookmarks from the server. That's something I'm really glad I had on the old laptop.

So if you're in the market for a new laptop, consider the little EeePC. It's not for everyone and if you're not computer literate don't go for the Linux version as it's not as straight forward as windows when you want to install new programs. It comes with most of the things you might need, including Open Office, Firefox for web browsing, Thunderbird for e-mail and even a few half decent games. If you're looking for something small, light and cheap it's great. Ideal for a student.