Welcome to the eighth edition of ‘Ochre Archives’, our farm newsletter.
Feedback on Ochre Archives No. 7
Elizabeth Flann advised that she is having some success in establishing False Sarsaparilla (hardenbergia violacea) as both climber and ground cover in her new indigenous garden at Chelsea (Vic.). Elizabeth has several dillwynia growing as they make a hardy and attractive feature in a small garden. A friend of Elizabeth’s has even used them successfully to create a Japanese style garden and they look very effective among the rocks and stone sculptures. We have also managed to successfully transplant a seedling from the Middle Hill Paddock to under the mailbox out the front of the farm.
Tein let us know that early settlers used Sweet Sarsaparilla (Smilax glyciphylla) rather than False Sarsaparilla for tea making as the former is truly sarsaparilla-flavoured (very sweet and strong when nibbled). False Sarsaparilla has similarly coloured and shaped leaves. Both are weak twiners and occur in the same ecosystem type, however, the difference is that the Sweet Sarsaparilla has three main veins.
Derek from Quirindi has found that what we thought were native bees are in fact a type of hoverfly. He made the identification discovery by chance after finding what he suspected were their larvae all through their barley crop feeding on aphids.
Findings from recent trips to the farm
Trees and Shrubs
Mikla Lewis tells us the mistletoe in this photo is the common Box Mistletoe (Amyema miquelii), probably so-called because it grows on Eucalypts and especially Black Box, according to Plants of WNSW. It's also called drooping or stalked mistletoe and has a lovely red flower. We have only found one Mistletoe plant on Ochre Arch to date, and have been told by an environmental scientist that large numbers in concentrated areas can signify that the ecosystem is out of balance.
Our attention was drawn to the fact that the Silky Oak (Grevillea Robusta) tree near the house was flowering by the distinctive call of a Blue-faced Honeyeater.
Silky Oak is a native of NSW and Queensland and is now grown as a popular ornamental tree all over the world. The tree requires full sun for maximum flower development and is the largest of the Grevilleas reaching 30m tall in native areas. The timber is strong and silken in texture and used in cabinet making and craftwork.
To date we’ve located over 20 Angular (AKA Propeller Bush) Hop-bush (Dodonaea truncatiales) plants, two of which are fully mature at around 3 metres in height. The commonly used name is derived from the shape of the flowers – similar to the four pronged wooden propellers as you may be able to see in the photograph.
Last week we found a Deane’s Wattle (Acacia deanei) tree not far from Ochre Arch. It’s the first wattle we’ve come across on the place.
Many of the native plant species are seeding presently, and the ants are very actively creating mini-storage dumps, like the one you can see in this photograph.
We’ve come across 3 new bird species on Ochre Arch since the last newsletter:
• Australian Hobby or Little Falcon (Falco longipennis). These are almost exclusive on-the-wing hunters and in the stoop, a Hobby may reach speeds of well over 100km/h. Large females have been recorded taking Galahs, though their main prey species are smaller than this. The Australian Hobby in the accompanying photo sat curiously watching us for well over half an hour as we were using the chainsaw to cut into sections a large tree that had fallen across a boundary fence.
• Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae). Our neighbours to our east re-introduced Emu to their property many years ago and over time the numbers have grown. It’s not unusual for us to come across an Emu on our place and we enjoy watching their antics. The Emu is the world's third largest bird, after the Ostrich and the Cassowary. The nest of an Emu can be up to 1.5 metres wide.
• Black Falcon (Falco subniger). These impressive avian predator birds are uncommon and their main stronghold and breeding region is thought to be SE Queensland and NW Victoria. After breeding the birds migrate and disperse across most of eastern Australia and north-west across the Northern Territory to the Kimberley WA.
Our bird species tally currently stands at 68.
The Crested Pigeons that nest in our shed have just produced more offspring. Mikla tells us “They nest anywhere and anytime and make good 'fodder' for raptors, which is just as well because they are one of the 'increaser' species.”
Grasses and Forbs
The rains through November, December and January, coupled with an absence of stock have resulted in Ochre Arch having a reasonable cover of vegetation. Here’s a photo taken in the Spring Paddock. The primary pasture species you can see is Hairy Panic (Panicum effusum).
The taller couple of plants visible in the foreground of the photo you can see are Redgrass (Bothriochloa macra)
There was a colourful cover of native Yellow Burr-daisy (Calotis lappulacea) during late spring across the southern end of the Forgotten Paddock. You can see one of the plants in flower in the accompanying photo.
Here’s a photo of a single Small Grass Burr (Tragus Australianus) taken near the front gate. The species colonizes on bare ground.
On a recent return to the farm we were confronted out at the verandah by what is arguably an Australian wildlife conservationists ‘enemy number one’. This natural killer was incredibly quiet, and we are not sure whether this was due to having been dumped or purely to temperament and lack of previous contact with humans.
The aspect of the rock formation in this photograph that captured our attention was not so much the shape but the realisation that with little more than a light shower of rain it creates a small but valuable temporary water point for fauna in its vicinity.
A friend of ours near Quirindi, John P., is studying geology so we emailed him a copy of the photo seeking comment. His much appreciated response reads: “The rock photo is indeed interesting, raising some questions that cannot be answered from the photograph 'per se'. The regular hexagonal / polygonal cross-section reminds of magma cooling joints (hot rock shrinks) that form normal to the gravitational flow. However, such are typical of low-viscosity flows (eg. mafic ('black') basalt) and not of highly viscous rhyolitic or crystalline felsic ('white') granitic material. And one would expect to see a whole lot of such surrounding the rock in the photograph. That is, one wouldn't get just one column (hence, "columnar jointing") by itself.
The rock in the photo may come from the cooling of expelled late / residual melt mush (eg. aplite; material high in volatiles and/or silicate incompatible elements), but again, one would expect such low viscosity expressions to result in many cooling joints. Late melt rocks are generally found at the top of the oblong / ellipsoid plutons. (Here I am still assuming that the rock is essentially granitic in composition
- this may not be so. A sample is needed).
Another unusual feature is the hole in the middle. If not made by aboriginals, it might evidence material / mineralogy vulnerable to weathering on the Earth's surface. Further, the rock might be one large feldspar crystal (unlikely).”
We’ve yet to send John a sample or search for similar formations in the surrounds. If the formation was made by Aborigines it would be neat to know what the purpose was.
Community Working Together
In late October a local bloke (ex-farmer) delivered some materials to us. Just before reaching Ochre Arch he’d noticed some smoke rising from a creek on a neighbours place, only a few hundred metres from our boundary. On investigation he and Phillip realised that no one else was aware of the fire so contact was made with the neighbours, including the local fire Captain. Within 10 minutes or so there were 20 local farmers on hand, all working on putting out the fire. We were all very fortunate in that the conditions were such that the total area burned was contained to only a couple of hectares. A few learnings included:
• Two of the golden rules in fire fighting are ‘Don’t panic’ and ‘Try to be useful’
• The Bureau of Meteorology tracks EVERY lightning strike in Australia. A lighting strike caused this local fire.
• The Membership Application process to be become a volunteer with the NSW Rural Fire Service is somewhat arduous, but we’ve come through OK.
Out of curiosity
We are thinking of scoping setting up a structure enabling others to take equity in the stock we manage on Ochre Arch, with the returns being a share of the profits. One of the motivations is enabling the creation of stronger linkages to the land for those who might not have such an opportunity. If this sounds like something that might be of interest to you please let us know.
Once again, feedback is most welcome, via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kind regards… Phillip & Jan Diprose
Link to Ochre Archives - Issue No. 7