Monday, January 31, 2011

Australia's Deadly Jack Jumper Ants

I was sitting on a trail in a very thick wild area north of Sydney last week when I noticed large, kind of iridescent, blue-green ants around me. A closer look revealed some impressive yellow mandibles (jaws, or pincers):

Here's a short video of one washing its pincers:

Friday, January 28, 2011

My First Aussie Fish Catch

I went fishing last night, at dusk, and then into the dark, in a light rain. You just don't know how good it is to stand in the surf up to your ankles or nipples for a few hours, especially while doing something like fishing, which has its own kinds of goodness.

Anyway, I caught my first fish. Even in the dark I could tell it was a flathead, which is supposedly a great eating fish. Mine was unfortunately a small one, about 8 inches (they need to be 26 centimeters, which is like 8 feet I think). Unfortunately again the combination of it being dark and the fact that the little bugger nearly swallowed the hook made it impossible to get the hook free without messing the fish up pretty bad. I was trying and trying and the spines on the fish's gills kept stabbing me in the hands and I'm cussing up a storm in the rain trying to get the goddamn hook out. Blech. Made me feel like shit. I finally got it and put the guy back in the ocean. He swam off.

I hope the little fella lived and grows to a really good size and gets caught on my hook one day so I can eat him.

How to Preserve Snowflakes

I may as well rip off my own old blog for whatever good bits it has. This is definitely one.

Ever wanted to catch a snowflake and keep it forever? You can. This is a photograph of a snowflake that fell in January 1979, but it isn’t a 27-year-old photo. It is a recent shot of a snowflake that’s been sitting in chemist Tryggvi Emilsson’s desk for 27 years, locked in a drop of that miracle of modern chemistry we call superglue.

The photo:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cockatoos at the Beach

Foggy morning on the beach, cockatooos seemed to want a rest:

And again:

Australia Day, and Kangaroo Snags

January 26, Australia Day, marks that glorious day in 1788 when the glorious "First Fleet" sailed into glorious Sydney Cove with a glorious load of stinky, wretched, and terrified prisoners. So Australia was born.

There will be festivities. There will be barbecues. There will be champagne. There will fireworks. There will be thong-throwing contests. (Not at all what it sounds like.)

I started off the festivities myself last night, with a couple kanga bangas (click on pic to enlarge):

They're sausages (snags) made with kangaroo meat. Australia: the only country where they eat their national symbol.

Happy Australia Day everybody!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I've been getting a bunch of mechanical royalty payments from Rhapsody lately. The latest: $0.00168121. Look out whale-penis-leather seats!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Surf Fishing and Cunjavoi

Christine and I went to Fishermans Beach two evenings ago. The tide was very low, and a huge, flat section of what is usually sea-floor was exposed. Christine noticed gaping, purplish mouth-like things attached to rocks here and there.

They look like shells, but are actually a bit flexible, and very soft and smooth inside:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I've Got a 12-foot Fishing Rod

And I'm not afraid to use it:

I'm going beach fishing, which entails standing on the beach and throwing a weight and bait into the surf. There's an art to it, of course, and you have to learn to look for gutters:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Little Pied Cormorant, Cat's Eye Sea Shell

We went walking around the tide pools the other day. Saw a Little Pied Cormorant:

The Little Pied Cormorant is entirely black above and white below. The face is dusky and, in adult birds, the white of the underside extends to above the eye. Immature birds resemble the adults except there is no white above the eye.

You can tell them from the Pied cormorant

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tip For Americans: The Corniolis Effect

Americans coming to Australia have to give their bodies time to adjust not just to the significant time difference, but to the new way that their bodies are processing food. You see, in Australia, and in the Southern Hemisphere in general, food travels through the esophagus and intestines in a counter-clockwise motion—the opposite of how food travels in the Northern Hemisphere. It also exits your body in this manner, which is actually helpful, giving the whole "toilets flush the other way" business.

This is due to something called the Corniolis Effect, named for something I won't go into here, but let's just say it has to do with the manner in which corn digests (or doesn't), which aided in the Effect's discovery.

The best way to deal with this new manner of digestion is to drink lots of beer—that's why the Aussies do it.

This has been another "Tips For Americans," from Little Australia. You're welcome.

Sea Hare

The tide pools at Collaroy are really something. Christine made a remarkable find yesterday (more later, on the Cat's Eye), and not long ago we got photos and video of strange snaillike creature:

I think it might be a sea hare, a type of sea slug:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Fossil, A Fish, and a Sign

Christine and I were strolling around the rock pools at Collaroy yesterday, beside stunning, water- and wind-carved cliffs:

Christine walked straight up to a tiny fossil:

Night Lake

This photo makes me want to play with flashes and water. This is a nighttime image of Narrabeen Lake (Northern Beaches, Sydeny), and that is very clear water. With the flash it appears to be dirty and milky.

And we apparently have two small moons down here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bug [updated III]

Christine found a very cool bug on the veranda. Even cooler close up:

Closer upper:

Click to enlarge the photos and really see the amazing patterns, especially in the one exposed wing.

And a little video, to show the brilliant orange, if just for a second, under its wings:

Christine Says Hello, and Brushtail Possum

Christine with a short and sweet video:


Sackrilege: The violation and/or injurious treatment of a man's testicles.

(This, you may find it hard to believe, is part of a series. Hit "new words" in the tags below the post to see more. Original post, with rules, here.)

Monday, January 17, 2011


Priminal: Someone so unswervingly uptight they should be locked in a prison full of unkempt, naked yodelers.

More here.

Shark Egg

From my old collection here:

Took this photo at Hans and Kellie's house in Dee Why. It's a shark egg. They lay them near kelp beds and the eggs get lost and tangled up therein and so are protected from the eight gazillion things in the ocean that would love to eat them.

You can find the dried up and hard shells, if you're lucky, washed up on certain beaches. (Hans found it at a nearby beach.)

At the top you see the beginning of the long curly stringer that comes off the top of the egg - about seven inches long. It allows the egg to attach to the kelp. (Sorry or the lack of focus here.)

We didn't know what kind of shark it came from, but a little googling tells me it may be from a Crested Horn Shark. (Fact at bottom.) And this is cool.

Bonus: This one never hatched. You can feel the weight of the little shark embryo inside.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"And then five cannibals burst out of the bush..."

A liter, a story, a city.

(The Rocks, Sydney.)

Ralphabet soup

Ralphabet soup: The chunky stuff in the toilet after you puke.

Haate crime

The Washington Post had a word contest years ago in which they invited readers to take a word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition for the word. I've got a few hundred of them. (I was bored one week. Sue me.) I'll be posting them randomly here to fill in the time when I don't have anything beautiful to say or a great example of my photography to share.

Here's one now:

Haate crime: What Dutch Nazis get charged with.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Booze in Australia

The cheapest bottle of booze I can find in Sydney costs $28 for a fifth. That's for cheap scotch. (I'm no scotch expert, but I have had tasted some of the good stuff now and then, tasted it in my mouth, my eyeballs, and suddenly three feet over the top of my head—that's when I understood the scotch thing—and this is not the "good stuff.") There's a sign for "Two cases for $80!" for a fairly normal beer at the local liquor store, although I have found cases of good beer for $32. I'm sure (I hope) I'll find better deals by a bit down the road, but good god amighty, Australia. A cheap but passable bottle of bourbon in the States costs $9. A bottle of Knob Creek costs I think $25. And a case of decent cheap beer goes for $15. $32 will get you some very good beer.

I'm going to have to talk to somebody about this…

Al Grierson

I can't help but think about my old friend Al Grierson these days. Al dragged my protesting ass to the best folk festival in the country, the Kerrville Folk Festival, in 1995, and quite literally changed my life. I will always be very grateful for that. Al lost his life in a flash flood in Texas in 2000. He was a damn good person, and I miss him.

Here's to you, Al, and to the girls.

More here.

And here's a song Jack Hardy wrote to Al.

St. Andrew's Cross Spider

These are very common spiders around Sydney, and throughout eastern Australia. They're named for the pattern they weave into their webs:

St Andrew's Cross Spiders are named for their bright web decorations - zig-zag ribbons of bluish-white silk that form a full or partial cross through the centre of the orb web.

I don't know who gave it the name "St. Andrew's Cross"; although you can see why it got the name. As you can see in the photo, these spiders arrange their legs in pairs, so it almost looks like they have four, and they commonly position themselves in the center of their webs, holding their legs aligned with the white cross in their webs. Which is just cool.

As with most spider species, female St. Andrew's Cross spiders are larger and more colorful than the males. This one, which I came across in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, is the largest one I've seen. She seems to have been a bit lazy, as only one leg of the cross is present.

Scientific name: Argiope keyserlingi, in honor of German arachnologist Eugene von Keyserling.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gippsland Water Dragon

I maintained a blog for some years, off and on, called Boxing Kangaroos. It was inspired by a 2006 trip to Australia. I forgot how much cool stuff got posted there, like this:

Gippsland Water Dragon, Tidbinbilla Nature Preserve, east of Canberra, October, 2006. If you're in the area, go. Very much worth it. Saw a Red-Bellied Black Snake there. Venomous. Beautiful.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

On the roof of the building next door, from our veranda:

Opossums, Possums, and the Art of Photography

I saw my first possum since coming to Australia nearly a month ago. Finally.

Aussie possums are very different from American opossums. (We spell it both ways; Australians don't spell it with the "o.") American opossums come in just one variety, the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana). They are slow—I've heard a top speed of 1.8 mph; they are omnivorous, meaning they eat just about anything; they have hairless tails; and they have the ability to "play possum," meaning they have an involuntary defense mechanism that sees them going into a comalike state when in danger. Aussie possums, which are only very distantly related*, come in 27 different species; they're all quick and nimble; they're herbivores; almost all have fur-covered tails; and they don't have the playing possum defense mechanism. They are, in other words, very different creatures.

Australian possums are in fact only called "possums" because they were deemed to be similar to America opossums when first encountered by Europeans in the 1700s.

My possum came silently along the top of the fence between our building and the next. I rushed to get my camera, and, in my usual artistic style, I got a great shot of it:


I was however, able to identify the little bugger:

Like all ringtail possums, the common ringtail possum has a strongly prehensile tail which acts as a fifth limb, and which is carried tightly coiled when not being used. It can be distinguished from the brushtail by the light covering of fur on its tail, as well as the white tail tip.
The picture shows the white tail tip, which can be quite long.

* All marsupials on the planet are believed to have descended from a marsupial creature that first appeared some 100 million years ago (maybe many more) on land that later became North America. (It was still attached to Europe and Asia at the time.) The creature prospered and migrated to South America, which then migrated itself, south to the supercontinent Gondwana, of which Australia was still a part. Over the millennia the marsupials expanded into Australia, which later broke off and became its own continent. Over the eons they evolved to become the 220-odd different marsupials that populate the continent today, which means that all those Aussie possum species, and all its other marsupials, even the mighty kangaroo—and our Virginia opossum as well—evolved from that small, long ago North American marsupial. (And there are still 13 species of marsupial in South America.)

Now here's a bonus pic of the Christine looking very Parisian on our veranda:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"It's Blue Murder"

Riding off the blue bottle post from the other day, here's the front page of the ever-subtle Manly Daily today:

2,000 treated for stings. Now if only they had listened to Christine…

"...and it can kill ya"

Christine really wanted me to know that touching this fish was a bad idea:


Puffer fish are generally believed to be the second–most poisonous vertebrate in the world, after the Golden Poison Frog.

Along with all the blue bottles we saw Sunday, we saw at least ten of those puffers washed up dead on the beach. I didn't touch a single one. (And though we say so in the video, it is not a stone fish.)

Oh look, here's a story about an angry puffer fish that attacked a young man's testicles.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Signs You're in Australia [updated]

I mean that literally. (Click to enlarge signs and the lovely and vivacious Tin.)

The sign to the right says "Caution - Blue Bottles." That would be the blue bottle jellyfish:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Garden Orb Weaver

A quite large Australian spider I saw bushwalking with Hans in Kur-ring-gai Chase yesterday:

What you're seeing is the back of the upside-down spider's abdomen - with the white stripe - as it feeds on a cicada. A rather large cicada. The abdomen is not as big around as a golf ball, but it's not a whole lot smaller either. It's a garden orb weaver.

Boxing Kangaroos (Really)

I first visited Australia in 2006, and saw my very first wild kangaroos in Canberra. They gave me a show, and I really should share it here. It's too funny how this progresses. I see them in this school yard, very early in the morning. I shakily video them, they go behind a bush, I round the bush, and there they are - looking at me. They seem to go, "Sigh. Let's give the damn tourist the routine," then rear get into their toes and tails position, and...well you'll have to watch. It was too much. (When they were done they looked at me like, "Good enough?" and hoped off.)

That actually inspired a blog that I did very little with over the years - Boxing Kangaroos.

Friday, January 7, 2011

My Aussie Drivers License, and a Tip for Americans

I got my official New South Wales drivers license, and am also enrolled in the Australian national socialized communist Nazi healthcare system, Medicare.

I am now free to be bitten by some venomous creature.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I've Got Leeches on My Ankles

I went bushwalking in Garigal National Park yesterday. I was on a seldom used trail, clearly, going through some thick stuff. This photo, of a termite nest - the big openings indicating it's been used as a kookaburra nest - gives you an idea:

Here's a cicada butt. (Click to enlarge cicada butt):

Monday, January 3, 2011

Kur-ring-gai Chase

I spent several hours yesterday walking in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park just north of Sydney. (The name is actually redundant: a chase is "a tract of unenclosed land used as a game preserve." The founders of the chase didn't want to call it a park, as that, in their 1890s view of things, suggested a fenced in area.)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Random Photos

LT and Tin by the ute ("utility" truck) we rented on moving day:

Our street at night:

Happy New Year, and Prawns on the Barbie

Happy New Year, or New Year's Eve, depending on where and when you are, to everyone from Tin and I, and her friend Di from the Northern Territories, who has spent the New Years festivities with us. Cheers! We had a fantastic time walking he beach with a few thousand locals, having some discreet beverages and watching the fireworks show. All around mellow and wonderful.

Had a New Years swim - it's about 90° F - this morning, got some work done, right now listening to Penguins on a Rock (which I will be seeing shortly in Sydney), having a frosty beer, and life is good and better.

New Years beach:

And we got a barbie. And I learned that it's not "shrimp on the barbie," as Americans know it, but prawns on the barbie: