Sunday, 25 January 2015

Vote Compass: Yep, that's more or less right

During a break in shovelling sand in hot and humid conditions, I decided to undertake the ABC's Vote Compass for next week's Queensland election. I didn't expect to be surprised, and expected be somewhere between Labor and the Greens. Et voila:

I'm a little surprised that the Katter Australia Party is closer to me than the Palmer United Party. I thought the KAP would be further toward the social conservative end of the chart.

Here in the electorate of Barron River we have candidates from the Greens, ALP, PUP and LNP. I'll be voting in that order knowing that it's highly improbable that the Greens will win the seat. My vote will end up with the Labor Party, but the financial reward for first preference ($2.90) will go to the Greens.

Remember: To deny a major party $2.90 in funding, vote for a minor party that doesn't have a chance of winning.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

What fungus is that?

An unidentified and rather eye-catching fungus
I have a rather extensive book collection to help me identify insects and arachnids, even a book dedicated to cockroaches. As yet I don't have one for fungi. I suspect that the diversity in our forests is rather huge, and a guide to their identification may be a rather sizeable tome.

On the Musgravea Trail

Walking trail leading up to Licuala
Next weekend will mark the fourth anniversary of Cyclone Yasi's crossing of the coast in the Mission Beach to Cardwell region, an area with a special place in my heart since my holiday up here in 1999, and where I almost decided to live on moving.

A few weeks after Yasi struck I went down to the area to see what damage had been done, and was shocked by the effects on the forest of the area - it was as if a giant with a whipper-snipper had gone through. I remember finding the scene very depressing.

I haven't been down to Mission Beach since March last year, so today I slipped down for the afternoon to have a look. The forest has thickened up at lower levels quite well, but the canopy is still a long way from returning. The El Arish to Mission Beach road, once like a tunnel in the forest, is still bathed in light. I don't think any branches make it out over the road at all.

I went down to Licuala, on the Tully to Mission Beach road, and wandered along the Musgravea Track that links Licuala to Lacey's Creek. The low level forest, helped along by increased light levels, is very thick - perhaps thicker than it was previously. Some trees are starting to reach up to what once was the canopy, but they're rather sparse.

Although it was a pleasant stroll, I think I've previously been over-optimistic as to how long it would take for Mission Beach's forests to return to their pre-Yasi splendour. It may be another five to ten years or more. Let's hope for some more wet but cyclone-free seasons for the area.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Cairns Post Letters from the Wingnuts #28: NASA temperature probabilities get wingnuts in stereo

After a change in employer I don't get to see the Cairns Post's Letters to the Editor page very often, but I had a quick glance today. A pair of brief rants caught my eye, in part because they essentially repeated the one point. I'll give one a glance, and decline to give any oxygen to the other on this day.
Re: Hottest year ever. Wayne Brandon fails to mention that the "new record" was less than 0.02C (well within the margin of error) and that within hours of the statement being released, one of NASA's chief scientists admitted there was only a 38 per cent chance it was the hottest year, geez! How's that peer review working out?
Andy, Gordonvale
It's true that it's hard to say if 2014 was definitely hotter than 2010. There is no single thermometer that we can check - the temperature is estimated using many different measurements, and the results have some degree of error.

Imagine a game in which I drew a coloured ball out of a hat, There are 100 balls and 5 colours, and in order to win the game you just need to guess the colour. If I have an equal number of each colour, it's a toss up as to which colour you should choose - 20 of the balls are each colour.

But imagine if you knew that the balls weren't 20 of each colour. Imagine that you knew that 38 of the balls are red, 23 are blue, 18 are yellow, 17 are green, and 4 are black. What colour would you choose? I think anyone with half a brain would go for red.

Place your bets...
This is what NASA were describing. The probability that 2014 is the hottest year is indeed 38% (the red balls). The probability that 2010 was the hottest year is 23% (blue).  The 17 green balls represent the probability that 2005 is the hottest year. The 5 black balls represent the climate change denier's favourite year, 1998. The 18 yellow balls represent the probability that any of the many other years was the hottest.

2014 is thus more than 8 times more likely to be the hottest year than 1998. the year that deniers like to claim marked the end of warming.

Our two wingnuts are apparently betting on black.

Friday, 16 January 2015


A message from Brian Dalton, the creator of Mr Deity, to Pope Francis:

I concur.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Bad pun resisted... Otters at Palm Cove

It had been a couple of years since I had been to the zoo at Palm Cove, and there a few notable changes. The red panda has apparently been sent off to breed, and a binturong now resides in that exhibit. A pair of small Komodo dragons are also on display - that's small by komodo dragon standards, they're still very large by monitor lizard standards.

The highlight for me was the Asian small-clawed otters. On first viewing the two otters were happily dozing in a log, though one did come out for a brief wander. Dropping by a little later we found one of them highly active and vocal, letting out a "meh!" sound that struck me as a contact call. My mother and I were able to mimic the call, and the otter definitely responded as it made regular laps of its pool before coming to the side of the enclosure, giving us a look over, and calling out to us.

Asian small-clawed otters (Aonyx cinerea) - cute to the eye but not the nose

I'm not sure how long the otters have been at the zoo. At the moment they're in a ground level display previously used for lizards and freshwater turtles. It would be nice if the zoo would create a better display for them, lifting them up a bit and also including underwater viewing.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

"What we can do is not give a fucking inch" - Salman Rushdie on Bill Maher

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack, Salman Rushdie appeared on Bill Maher's show. It's well worth 15 minutes of your time.

Lace monitor

Lace monitor (Varanus varius)
I'm not sure what it is about them, but lace monitors always strike me as rather serene, relaxed creatures. This individual at Cairns Tropical Zoo at Palm Cove was no exception.

Sunday, 4 January 2015


Black Mountain National Park, just south of Cooktown, is always a remarkable sight. The outcrops of lichen-covered granite boulders are unlike anything I've seen elsewhere. Photographs don't seem to do the scene justice, though I continue to try whenever I pass. These are yesterday's efforts.

The Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing explains the Mountain's appearance thusly:
Black Mountain's structure resulted from slow geological processes. Around 260 million years ago, a mass of molten rock (magma) slowly solidified deep below the earth's surface, forming a body of hard granite rock. As softer land surfaces above eroded away, the sparsely fractured top of this granite was gradually exposed. Weathering and chemical decomposition removed loose material along weak fractures extending downward through the rock. More resistant rock remained as large rectangular blocks, their corners becoming progressively rounded into boulders. The solid granite core of the mountain now lies beneath the jumbled cover of boulders.

The granite rock is actually a light grey colour and composed of mineral such as feldspar, mica and hornblende. Black Mountain's distinctive dark appearance is due to a film of microscopic blue-green algae growing on the exposed surfaces. Grey patches and boulder fractures indicate ongoing rock disintegration—a process accelerated dramatically when cold rain hits rock, sometimes with explosive results.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Another sprinkling of birds

It was a warm afternoon so I decided to splash some water onto the trees for the birds to bathe in. I had the usual figbirds and sunbirds, and a newcomer - a yellow honeyeater (Lichenostomus flavus) nervously joined in.

The sunbirds are usually the first to appear when I turn the hose on. Here's the male olive-backed sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis, also known as the yellow-bellied sunbird) photographed with a 1/320th of a second exposure time, still not fast enough to capture the wings:

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Cape Tribulation from Myall Beach

I wandered along a fairly quiet Myall Beach this afternoon, seeing perhaps ten other people. After finding no mobile coverage in Cape Tribulation's village, I was surprised to note that while I was sitting on the rocks at the base of the headland there was a decent signal. I sat, sipped an iced tea, and read a couple of internet sites before wandering back to the Dubuji Boardwalk carpark.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

A quick dip on a hot afternoon

Arriving home from shopping, I thought that it was rather warm and decided to splash some water on the garden to see what birds appeared for a bath and a drink. The fig-birds were the first to appear, with a small flock having a great time. A few minutes later a helmeted friarbird joined in, followed by a yellow-bellied sunbird. Then I noticed a species I hadn't seen in my garden before - a couple of double-eyed fig-parrots. They were a little shy, and disappeared up into the big eucalyptus a couple of times but soon returned.

Double-eyed fig-parrot (Cyclopsitta diophthalma)

Male fig-bird (Sphecotheres vieilloti)

Helmeted friarbird (Philemon buceroides)

Yellow-bellied sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis)