Thursday, 25 December 2014

Local insects and animals - Garden orb spider

While tidying up a fallen branch recently, my daughter came across a pretty little spider. We had no idea what kind of spider she was (or if she was male or female, I'm just opting for female) so we did a quick search for a name. After a few hours of searching through sites and being gob smacked by the huge variety of spiders I decided to send the picture to an expert.

The lovely man from emailed me back within the hour with an identification. This lovely girl is a kind of garden orb spider. Apparently there are lots (100+) of species in this family of spiders (Araneidae) and her particular species wasn't known to him.

Orb weavers are spiders which build the traditional orb shaped web, they are non-venomous and generally beneficial to have around. The females lay their eggs in late autumn then die, leaving the next generation to fend for themselves through the long winter.

I am so glad I got the chance to meet this pretty spider and hope to see more of them in the future.
What spiders are common at your place?

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Happy Litha to everyone.

 It's Litha...summer solstice, time for solar symbols, fire and water. We honour Apollo; one of the sun gods, he is at his height at this time of year, as is the sun itself. At this time of year the grass seems greener and the flowers more vivid, sounds carry further and everything is so alive it vibrates.This point marks the middle of summer for us as the sun reaches it's southern-most position in the sky and begins the journey back to the north.

It also brings with it the usual pressure to conform to the Christmas madness.

I don't do Christmas now my children are adults; when they were young we bought them presents and dragged them around to see relatives only glimpsed at this time of year, but now my partner and I are happy to sit back and relax a bit. I am the sort of person who likes to understand the symbolism of rituals and Christmas always confused the Hel out of me.

On one hand we are told that the date marks the birth of the SON (you know, the messiah, saviour of the universe) and asked to be kind to our fellow human in his name (and make your way to church too). On the other hand we spend our hard won cash on plastic presents for people we only see once a year (if at all) and hang bright bits of plastic on a tree (also plastic) in preparation for the arrival of an inappropriately dressed fat man. The symbolism escaped me as a kid and for many years of my adulthood, until I attended my first Yule celebration (in August). Here were all the traditional symbols; decorated tree (real), solar symbols (shiny golden balls and candles), presents, spiced mead, stories, feasts of heavy foods and a shaman dressed in red and white, in a setting I could understand; winter solstice. The meaning of the symbols were explained to us as we decorated the tree and held the ritual, it all made sense to me. So I choose to celebrate the height of the sun's strength and it's inevitable wan at this time of year rather than the birth of the sun and it's inevitable waxing (as does the Christmas crowd).

On my Litha altar I have oak leaves, candles and solar symbols, to me they represent the height and strength of the sun and the recognition that the sun's strength will begin to wan from this point onwards (until Yule). This year we were to meet up with friends for a Litha picnic, but an inconveniently falling branch kept us home to clean up. We held a small family ritual instead.

Inconveniently fallen branch

Our downsized Litha altar

What do the symbols of Christmas mean to you?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Living without the car addiction

I don't own a car, not having a licence it makes perfect sense. My partner has a car for work and he occasionally gives me a lift somewhere, but mostly I take the school bus or arrange a lift with friends. Over the years this has led to many comments;
"I thought you were an independent woman"
"But you don't have any freedom"
"How do you get anywhere, it must cost you a fortune"
"What will you do if something happens and you need a car?"

In answer to these comments I usually answer that I am independent and free as I go where I want or need to and don't require a car to do it. It costs me very little to take a bus and if I catch a lift I try to offer some fuel money (and a hearty thanks). I don't have the added cost of keeping another car for the odd times it might be handy, not that we could afford to have a second car anyway. If an emergency arises, I call someone for help, but if there were no other choice I would drive any nearby car to get help (don't drive doesn't mean can't drive).

My reasons for not driving are many, but the main one is that I am not a good driver, in fact I am a dangerous driver, In the past I have tried to learn to drive; my first experience involved a tractor, my father and an inconveniently placed building, after the convergence of these three things (and myself as driver) it was unilaterally agreed that I probably should stick to horse riding. As an adult I have driven into gate posts, scraped the side on trees and fallen over the edge of the road (which was a spectacular achievement as I was travelling at about 50 km per hour). I lack spatial awareness (dyspraxia); the sense of knowing where your body is and what it is doing at any given time. I don't have severe dyspraxia; just a mild case of clumsy, but this lack of awareness makes it hard for me to walk through doorways or beside people let alone drive a car. I am also easily distracted and likely to forget who is in charge of the car and become fascinated with things on the road side or the conversation going on in the car (although this does tend to cease as the car veers towards oncoming traffic). These things have led me to decide that the death toll on our local roads will be lower if I take the bus.

By not driving I am doing my part to reduce Australia's carbon footprint. In 2010 41.7 Mt of carbon were released in Australia due to road transport, mostly passenger cars; by not driving a car and minimising my travel I am helping to reduce the effects of climate change (in a very small way). It also frees up a lot of my 'brain space' for thinking about other things as I am not comparing my car to others, worrying about what that clunking noise is or searching for fuel money. I am happy to be car-less and fancy free. There will probably come a time when I need to have my own transport as the school bus doesn't run early enough for school teachers, when that time comes I will probably get a bike.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Local insects and animals - goanna

It's summer time again (almost Litha as a matter of fact) and we have hens hatching chickens here and there. This always seems to draw the goannas in. 
The goanna, or lace monitor, is a very large lizard which grows up to 2 metres long. They eat pretty much anything they can catch; baby birds, eggs, mice, rats, frogs, snakes and carrion. 
There are several species of goanna in Australia, but here in Northern NSW we tend to find the common Lace monitor (Varanus varius) and the Sand goanna (Veranus gouldii). It is the Lace monitor who comes to visit the humpy most often, due to their liking for young birds and eggs.

A well fed Lace monitor

Once our hens begin to hatch their eggs around Ostara (spring equinox) the goannas begin to visit; stalking up and down the fences looking for a way in to the newborn chicks. At times it seems that we are under attack from them as it isn't uncommon for two or three goannas to be trying to get in at the same time.
The lace monitor is territorial and the same three individuals come back to our yard year after year. There is the big male (goannas have an internal penis which extends out of their cloaca when they pee, which they do by lifting one leg slightly off the ground, like a dog. Which is how I know he is a male) he has a shortened tail due to some long ago accident. There is a big female (I think) who has smaller than usual pattern bands and a young female. We have not named any of them as names have not occurred to us yet.

Stag; the ram guarding a treed goanna.
When a goanna approaches the yard fence our galahs (two car accident victims who can't fly) give a screech or two, which starts the chooks off cackling, triggering our three dogs protective instincts and causing much barking. If the sheep are close to the house they join the chorus as well. As you can imagine, this din makes it impossible to continue studying, so I go out and release our goanna dog; Spot.
This is Spot; our goanna dog
Spot is 15 years old and since he was a puppy his job has been to escort goannas away from the chook pen. He does this by running towards them growling profanities until they turn tail and run for the nearest tree. He occasionally catches up to them before they get to the tree, but he doesn't bite them, he just bumps them with a closed mouth (to keep the panic level up), we didn't train him to do this, but we're glad he doesn't do any lasting damage. Once the goanna is climbing it's chosen tree, Spot sits at the base for an hour or so then comes back to the house for a pat, leaving a relieved goanna to cautiously climb down and sneak away. Stag, the ram will take over guarding a treed goanna for Spot as he prefers to be king of his paddock.
On the lookout for dogs and rams.

A lot of people kill goannas on the grounds that they eat the eggs and chickens if they can, to which I usually reply "So do we". We don't resent them, and I refuse to kill an animal simply for trying to survive. We lose most of our guinea fowl eggs and all the duck eggs to the goannas, even the occasional chick which strays through the fence, but that is the way of nature. I shed a tear for the mums who lose nests and babies and we move on.
How do you react to goannas?

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Local insects and animals - Joseph's coat moth

We had a visitor to the laundry this week; a beautiful Joseph's coat moth. The flash of fluttering colour caught my eye as I was getting ready to have a shower and I saw that it was a very pretty moth. After taking a few photos, I let her (or him) go outside. Apparently these pretty little moths only lay eggs on plants from the grape family, so I hope he or she finds some.
I love to see these colourful insects around the humpy, not only do they lend an air of festivity to the place, they also assure me that the ecosystem is still essentially healthy as biodiversity = stability.

Have you seen the Joseph's coat moth at your place?