Man 0 – Nature 3

Remember last Tuesday, when we had that incredibly intense but short storm? And it blew over my chilli plant, and I spent hours cleaning up the mess and repotting the plant?

This morning I woke up, and the chilli had been blown over again by strong wind during the night, spraying the new soil all over balcony. I quickly collected as much as I could with a dustpan and broom, and returned it to the pot. The plant is now leaning over again, so I’ll have to re-insert the stake and tie it up to hold it vertical again. But I didn’t have time to do that in the morning, because I had to leave to go the school where I talk to the kids about science, and run the Science Club.

Today I had the older classes, from year 3 to year 6, and I did a general Q&A session with them. They had a lot of good questions today, on a variety of topics, covering astronomy, chemistry, biology, physics, and geology. I talked through most of the answers, but a couple I had to admit I didn’t know the answer to and suggested they look it up later. The session with the Year 6 class, one boy asked the very first question: “How big is Uranus?” – setting off a lot of giggling. I quickly said something factual about the planet and then moved on. Only afterwards did I realise I should have answered: “Not big enough to be sat-urn. Next question.”

After the group sessions (and the recess break) I had Science Club with my 13 students who I’ve been working with all year. As this was our final session, I didn’t have time to run another experiment, so we just sat and had a discussion about what we learnt this year, about science in general, about what sort of jobs you can get in science, and then I let them ask any questions they had, and tried to answer those. Here’s the whiteboard we were using, at the end of the session:

Science Club board

I cam home mid-afternoon. I went out on the balcony to assess the leftover mess from the chilli plant blowing over. And then, as I was standing out there, another gust of wind blew over the basil plant I’m growing for use in cooking! Soil went everywhere, and because the balcony door was open, including inside, on the carpet, and even on the dining table!

Today was really windy. I had a late lunch out, after finishing Science Club, sitting by the beach, and the wind was blowing wildly, making trees sway violently, generating huge whitecaps on the ocean. It was really awful conditions. Oh, and as I was driving to and from the school, I passed some of those areas where the power lines were still down today, 6 days after the storm last week. A friend of mine had no power from last Tuesday to Sunday night – 5 full days.

Anyway, with the wind still blowing strongly, I just quickly swept up the largest piles of soil, righted the basil, and placed the plants in sheltered positions against a wall, so hopefully they won’t blow over again.

I also decided not to take Scully out to the dog park where we meet other people and dogs, as it’s down by the water and it gets windy there even on calmer days, so today would be intolerable. Instead I took her downstairs, intending to cross the road to the nearby park which is a lot more sheltered, and let her just chase a ball for a while. As we were coming out of our property, Scully pulled up lame, favouring a rear leg. I thought she must have a burr or something stuck on her paw, as she was trying to get something off. I grabbed her leg and brushed the base of the paw, finding a sticky lump, which I pulled off…

It was a bee.

Next thing I knew, I had a shooting pain in my thumb. It stung me right on the pad of my thumb. I’ve never been stung by a bee before, so my lifetime record is now trashed. The bee fell to the ground, but the sting was stuck in my thumb. I scraped it out with a fingernail. It hurt a lot – but honestly nowhere near the pain I got from a jack jumper ant sting a couple of years ago. Given a choice, I’d take the bee sting any day. Anyway, I aborted the park trip and went back inside with Scully to wash the sting area and apply ice for a while.

Ten minutes later I was fine and resumed taking Scully out for exercise. (The jack jumper ant sting throbbed for months.) We played in the park a while. Then, just as we were turning to head home, a huge gust of wind blew into my face from the south, bringing a strong smell of smoke.

The bushfires around Sydney have been burning for a couple of weeks now, and every few days the winds bring the smoke into the city. Some days it’s been really terrible – horrible choking smoke everywhere. Today had been okay, up until that moment. As we walked home, I could see clouds of smoke, made orange by the late sun, wafting across the sky.

Here’s a photo someone posted to reddit as the smoke drifted in: [photo]

And another photo from nearby shortly afterwards: [photo]

In the endless struggle of Man versus Nature, today Nature won.

New content today:

Bird photo walk

This morning I took a drive to Sydney’s northern beach suburbs, specifically to Narrabeen, where there is a large lagoon. There is a walking track all the way around the lagoon, over 8 km long. I didn’t walk the whole thing, but rather only a small section on the southern shore, passing through some bushland. I took my camera and longest lens, prepared to photograph birds.

Near the car park were several ducks. These are Pacific black ducks hybridised with introduced mallards. Mallards are much more aggressive breeders and hybridise readily with the native ducks. This is a concern for local wildlife experts, because it’s diluting the pure Pacific duck genotype, and may lead to the elimination of the Pacific black duck as a species.

Pacific black duck x Mallard

On the water were some black swans. Fortunately these don’t hybridise with the introduced mute swans that can be found in some places.

Black swans

The next bird I spotted was one I haven’t photographed before, a sacred kingfisher. Unfortunately I only saw it in the distance through dense foliage, and my camera refused to focus on it, so I had to fiddle with manual focus. This was the only photo I managed to get. Still, that’s another one added to my list!

Sacred kingfisher

Next is an Australian king parrot, this one a male, distinguished by the red head. The females look similar, but have a green head. These are moderately large parrots – larger than most species apart from the cockatoos. They are usually found in mated pairs, so there was probably a female hanging around somewhere out of sight. They’re very conspicuous. There’s a mated pair living in the park across the street from my home.

Australian king parrot, male

This is an Eastern yellow robin. These are fairly common, but tricky to photograph as they flit about a lot, and don’t sit in one spot very long. I have a few photos of these guys, but this might be the best shot I’ve achieved.

Eastern yellow robin

And finally, back at the water, were some little pied cormorants. These are pretty common and easy to photograph. I often see some around the harbour shore close to my home.

Little pied cormorant

After completing my bird trek, I drove to Broomfields Pies, a place I’d found by searching for pie shops, seeking a new meat pie experience for lunch. The place had a high Google reviews rating, and the menu on the website looked very intriguing. I was hungry after my walk and looking forward to it, but when I got there I found the place was in the middle of an industrial park, and it was just a wholesale bakery without any retail shopfront. The front door was locked, despite it being the middle of the day, and nobody answered the door buzzer. It looks like I have a habit of driving to places in industrial parks that aren’t open.

So instead I hopped back in the car and drove a few suburbs over to another pie place that I’d been to just once before, and wanted to go back to. I had a satay chicken and a Mexican beef pie – they were good!

This afternoon I spent going through my bird photos, processing, uploading, and entering them into my bird photo database, punctuated by taking Scully to the dog park for some exercise.

New content today:

Taking the crown

First thing this morning I had a dentist appointment. I went a few weeks ago with a tooth that was causing a twinge of pain when I bit down on something. My dentist said it was a cracked molar. Normally he’d fit a crown, but he thought it might be fixable with just a bit of a filling, so that’s what he did. Unfortunately it didn’t work and the tooth was still painful, so I went in again today to have the crown preparation done. This involves having several moulds made of the teeth using a quick setting rubber material, then the offending tooth is drilled and ground down to allow the crown material to be installed on top. The new crown is fabricated offline from the moulds, and I have to go back in a week to have that fitted. In the meantime the dentist has installed a temporary plastic crown, which he told me not to floss or chew with, as it is fixed only weakly and could come off if I’m not careful.

So, yeah. The anaesthetic didn’t wear off until a late lunchtime. Having tried to eat with dental anaesthetic in effect before, I waited it out this time to make sure I didn’t chew up the inside of my cheeks. Anyway, all this ate up the morning and I felt a bit unenthusiastic about doing much for the rest of the day. What I did was wash the car, which was way overdue, looking very dusty thanks to the extended period without rain, followed by the couple of rainy days we had last week to move all the dirt around and make it more obvious.

Oh, and I found this photo that a Reddit user took yesterday of a diamond python at my local railway station, just a few hundred metres from my home. And here’s a video. Pretty cool!

New content today:

Cleaning and science

Saturday is housecleaning day, and I did more than normal today, with a thorough vacuuming and dusting, which ate up most of the morning. Then I wrote up the results of the pendulum/gravity experiment I did with my primary school Science Club class a couple of weeks ago, in preparation for my next visit on Monday. I made slides to show the kids, and I also wrote it up over on 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe.

In the afternoon, my wife and I took Scully out for some exercise. We found a new park to try out, about 10 minutes drive away. We like going to different places, so Scully can explore. She had a good time running around the grass, meeting another dog there, and chasing a brushturkey and some ducks – I think they were Australian wood ducks.

At the park we saw an amazing cubby house that someone had in their back yard for the kids. The yard backed directly onto the park, with no fence, so we had a good view of it.

Cubby house

New content today:

Magpie attack!

Monday! I spent much of today finishing off the build of the Lego Stranger Things set. It’s a big set and took several hours of building over the past couple of days to finish. I’ve only just finished it late this evening. I was planning to take a photo to show it off, but honestly I’m mentally exhausted and want to head to bed soon, so I’ll do it tomorrow.

I took a break at lunch time to walk up the street to get some fish & chips. I took them to my usual fish & chips eating spot, on a hill overlooking the harbour. It’s lovely eating outdoors with a view. But today a couple of magpies decided that they also liked the looks of my lunch, and came threateningly close – within striking distance to steal a chip or a chunk of fish if I wasn’t careful. At one point one tried to land right on my meal, and I barely managed to fend it off without letting it touch any of the food. And within a minute or so another two magpies arrived, looming ominously from the tree branches not far above me like something out of Hitchcock’s The Birds.

I didn’t fancy the sharp beaks on the birds and the fact that they looked keen to strike, so I packed up my lunch and walked to a different location to eat in peace. It’s a shame. I’ve had birds hover around me at that spot before, but never so aggressively or dangerously close. I fear that spot may be lost for good, because magpies are highly territorial and maintain their behaviour over several years.

New content today:

Unforeseen events

Today I planned to photograph a batch of new Irregular Webcomic! strips that I’ve written over the past few days. But first thing this morning I had to visit the dentist for a routine hygiene/clean thingy. Alas, it turned out that I had a cracked tooth, which needed filling…

I ended up spending over two hours there, and left with a numb face. Arriving home a lot later than I thought and not feeling the best, I decided to give the photography a miss and leave it until Thursday. Instead I did some more prep for Friday night’s D&D game, and a bit of coding on a secret new random text generator, which promises to be a lot of fun.

Oh, and on the way home from the dentist, I got swooped by a magpie! It’s still the middle of winter, but it’s so warm and spring-like already that the magpies are apparently nesting already. It hit me full in the back of the shoulder and head as it dive-bombed me. I was rather shocked as I haven’t really been attacked by a magpie for several years – I’m usually pretty cautious when I know they’re nesting, but it never would have occurred to me that they’d be laying eggs so early in the year.

It really has been an amazingly warm winter here. There are still trees with autumn and even pre-autumn green foliage that hasn’t dropped, while other trees are sprouting new spring foliage already. And the magnolias are in full bloom: