Thursday, March 28, 2013

Happy Easter/Springtime (for all you Northern Hemisphere-ers)

I'm pretty much the most excited person in the world right now. I leave for New Zealand in under twelve hours and I just found out what I'll be doing for the four days I volunteer with the Maungatautari Ecological Sanctuary. Because my first day is on Easter Sunday, the logistics are all over the place, so instead of getting an introduction to conservation, I get a free day-long rafting trip on the Wairoa River, which is only open for rafting twenty-six days out of the year because it is controlled by a hydro dam. So, I get to go white-water rafting for a day, learn about the Maori culture first-hand, pot some native New Zealand flora, play with baby kiwis (okay, maybe not play, but I get to go see some in a kiwi encounter tour), and learn about biodiversity and ecological restoration in some of the coolest parts of New Zealand. How excited am I?

I'll catch you all latuh cuz I'm goin' to New Zealand, baby!



Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ready to be jealous?

Guess what I'm doing for my Spring Break? Okay, so it's not really Spring Break (it's not even spring here) but it's my week off for "studying" (they call it Study Week) so naturally I'm taking a trip somewhere. I'll give you three clues:

#1: I will not be staying in Australia for my break

#2: "Kiwi" could mean a person, a fruit, or a bird

#3: I get to visit Hobbiton


By now, I expect you to have guessed where I'll be going. That's right... New Zealand! I'm taking a ten-day trip to visit the kiwis, Auckland, Rotorua (famous for its geothermal activity), Taupo (adrenaline sports center), Waitomo (home of the Glowworm caves), National Park (...that's actually the name of the town), and Auckland again. As part of my trip, I'm volunteering for four days doing kiwi (bird) habitat restoration. Kiwis are flightless birds and actually have marrow in their bone (birds typically have hollow bones to be as weightless as possible). More unbird-like, they actually have nostrils at the end of their beak, the only bird with this feature. Aren't they just adorable? So while you all back home are enjoying your Spring Break right now, just think what you could be doing in ten days instead. =P


Saturday, March 16, 2013

This is what happens when you stop and smell the roses :)

Hello there!

I have officially ended my fourth week of school here at SCU. To mark this auspicious milestone, my body has decided to yield to the cold virus... again. But, I do not let such things get me down! At least, not for long. Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day and I intend to enjoy it and the barbecue put on by my college (college is used in place of "dorm" here. Don't ask, I'm not sure either) to the fullest.

This week, I thought I'd share some information about the local bats. My college sits right above a forested park that is home to the grey-headed flying fox population. What I did not realize before I arrived in Australia is that flying foxes are bats (I thought they were some sort of flying rodent, like a flying squirrel or something). These bats are over a foot long in length and probably have about a two-to-three-foot wingspan. They're so cute!
As I was saying, hundreds if not thousands of these bats reside in Rotary Park right below my college. At twilight every night they have a mass exodus and the sky is filled with hundreds of these beauties. Unfortunately, this is really difficult to see from where I'm at but downtown Lismore is the perfect viewing spot. It is a truly incredible site.

Though I can't always view the evening show, walking down the hill past the park in which they reside is a lot of fun. If you look carefully, you'll see them:

They are all over the place! I love watching them twitch around and listening to their chirruping. I think these guys in the video (see my Facebook page) are actually fanning themselves. These bats are the largest bat species in Australia and do not echolocate. They rely on sight to locate food (pollen, nectar, and fruits) which is why their eyes are so big. They are hugely important to distributing seeds in rainforests throughout Australia and with a face like that, what's not to love? :)

So... remember last time when I said that I would need to take a closer look at that tallowwood tree next time I passed by it? Guess what I saw Monday morning while walking to class:
 There, my friends, is a mama and baby koala. Like I've said, these guys usually sleep hours on end every day, but these two were up and moving around in this morning. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

In which I finally mention trees...

I finally, finally started learning some trees yesterday! I am in the Plant Identification and Conservation class here but so far the practical (lab) portion of the class has been learning about flower structure and how to "key out" plants based on different morphological characteristics. Unlike in North America, the large majority of trees here are flowering trees (as opposed to conifers like pines, spruces, and firs, which are evolutionarily... less advanced? Or less complex in terms of their reproduction. Anyway, they don't produce true flowers, just cones). And since eucalypts and acacias, both flowering trees, make up at least 50% of the trees here, and there are more than 800 species of eucalypts and 950 species of acacias in Australia, knowing a bit about flower part identification, flower buds, and fruits is critical to figuring out the species. So, unlike in Arizona where you can learn about the bark type, needles (or leaves), shape of cone (or flowers/fruits), and habitat, in Australia you can't just look at a tree and say "Oh, why that's a white gum!" (it may be a white gum, but so may twenty other species). So, before I actually got to really learn any trees, I had to sit in a lab looking at all the intimate flower, fruit, and bud parts, analyzing valves and discs and calyptras and hypangia. Not that any of you need to worry about these things. Point is, I finally got to walkaround and learn a few trees in my Plant ID class yesterday!

Here are a couple of eucalypts I learned yesterday to share with y'all.

Eucalyptus grandis aka flooded gum:
Looking at how the bark is from bottom to top also plays a factor in identification but, alas, is not fullproof when dealing with 800+ species whose flowers all look the same.

E. microcorys aka tallowwood:

This tree is exciting because it is a major food tree for koalas! I pass this tree every time I walk to campus and there are little koala terds under it so I'm going to have to keep an eye out. The bark is a beautiful reddish brown the comes off in fibrous chunks.

E. tereticornis aka forest red gum:
This is also an important koala food tree and one that I pass by occassionally. It grows all over campus but I'd never know if I was actually looking at this species until I analyze the fruits and buds since so many other eucalypts look so similar.
Lastly for today, E. pilularis aka blackbutt:

I would love to say I know these trees front and back and up and down, but... I only know that the individual ones I visited are what they are. For the rest, they may be what I learned, but they may also be one of a dozen other species. Whether it's a Eucalyptus microcorys or Pinus ponderosa, I do enjoy looking at and learning about trees :)

Here's another fun fact: Australia has native conifers mostly from the Cuppressaceae (cypress) and Araucariaceae (Jurassic and Cretaceous-era conifer family with only three funky-looking genera in Australia) families. There are NO native trees in Australia from the Pinaceae family (pine trees are actually kinda weedy here...hehe :) ) . HOWEVER, all the conifers that I have learned have the suffix "pine" attached to them, even the native cypresses! So instead of saying "cypress" or "hoop araucaria" or whatever, the trees are called "cypress pine" and "hoop pine" and "plum pine". Here's something else to add to the confusion: plum pine (Podocarpus spp.) is a conifer! Guess what I thought what I was looking at when I saw these leaves/needle things? It sure wasn't a conifer!:
Anyways, Australian conifers and I are gonna have to get to know each other a little better here soon. At least these other funky Jurassic trees look like conifers from a distance:
Hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii)

Bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii)

Wollemi pine (Araucaria nobilis)

Interestingly, the wollemi pine was thought to be extinct until 1994 when a small grove was discovered 200km west of Sydney. There are only about 100 trees growing in the wild, and for a small price, you too can have your own little wollemi pine! (This organization sells them to raise money for wollemi conservation but they also have a lot of interesting information about the tree).

Well, I hope I haven't bored you all to tears about trees. As some of you know, I get ridiculously excited when talking about trees. Ironically, just hours after I learned these eucalypts, I got to talk a bit about backburning in my EcoCultural Studies class, which is more about analyzing the relationship between humans and nature/anthropocentrism and the environment. But, as the resident forestry "expert" (ha!), my opinion was called upon in the example of backburning. Who knew I'd geek out about forestry in a social sciences class??

Until next time! Surfing was a blast and when I get the pictures back, I will update you all on how I rocked at it!