Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bushwalking again

I hope you might understand how much this means to us: for the first time since very early 2011, Ms T attempted a bushwalk.

For the first time in nearly two years, I had the delight of holding her hand over steps and rocks, talking about the flowers and birds we saw, and stopping to admire yabbies in the creek. The kind of stuff that makes bushwalking worthwhile.

Until she fell ill, we were pretty keen bushwalkers. Not “extreme sports” types – we’re too old. She’d come to bushwalking in her early 40s (one of the reasons we love and now operate Bunjaree Cottages is its proximity to bushwalks), and because it made her feel good, we continued. We’re not campers, we’re wimpy day-walkers who used to pick out walks in the 15-20 km range as our favourites.

She could be pigheaded. Once, on the Southern Highlands, she rolled her ankle on a tree-root, came down on both knees, and left pretty deep cuts. We treated them with antiseptic and gauze, and revised down to a 5km walk.

The GP later noted, “if you’d gone to hospital, this wouldn’t have scarred.”

Ms T: “Who wants to sit around in a hospital waiting room instead of walking?”

For me, it was a revelation; for our marriage, a delight. Our sons loved it as well, which (since they were 7 and 9 when we started) was a bonus. There’s nothing like bushwalking for a host of things, including getting a couple of too-loud boys somewhere where their voices no longer upset you!

And they loved it – in one case, so much that he’s made nature his study at university.

And there were benefits for a total sook like me. Since Ms T never – even if we walked 24 km in a day – developed “powerful” ankles or a good sense of balance, steps, rocks, or unstable inclines meant I got to hand-hold her through it. I loved that aspect of bushwalks.

Ms T: "I didn't actually need help on that bit."

Me: "I know. I just like to touch you when we walk."

And then she fell ill, and everything changed. The immune system, for those that might doubt it, really can kill people. Ms T’s normal weight – about 55 kg – has dipped as low as 31 kg. Apart from four months in hospital in two years, there have been three months in a wheelchair, and a lot more of the time when her health was, at best, feeble.

So, no bushwalking.

Yesterday, we made our first small attempt to walk together again. We were very, very conservative: we chose the Darwin Nature Walk at Wentworth Falls, going in the reverse direction (starting at the end of the walk, near the falls) to keep us near the park and let her decide “that’s far enough”.

We covered about 4 km out-and-back, which stunned us both – and we learned that even a gentle-ish 50-meter climb with steps is hard on her surgical scar. We were so slow on the inclines that we attracted a bit of comment from more agile walkers (mostly cheerful and solicitous, so that’s okay).

And here’s just a couple of photos – excuse the camera-phone quality.

This is a grevillea servicea, otherwise known as the pink spider-flower. They were in profusion on the Darwin walk.

And this boring patch of land is actually very important. For much of the Darwin walk, there is hanging bog to the west of the boardwalk, just like this:

That’s what feeds the creek and keeps it flowing year-round. Without this “useless” land (as a developer would see it), creeks only flow after rain. The bog absorbs water, filters it, and releases it steadily into the creek. That creek eventually ends up in the Warragamba catchment – as do many other creeks and rivers, fed from bogs like this one.

Cartoonist versus climate science - the book promotion

It’s that time of year where copy-stretched editors get lax with their briefs, so it’s probably no surprise that The Age would let one of its cartoonists, John Spooner, loose on the climate science debate, here:

The article is a book promotion – but that little detail is held until the end of the article. I’ll start at the start, in which Mr Spooner outrageously equates climate science to the Mayan apocalypse:

“WELL, so much for the 2012 apocalypse. If the ancient Mayans ever knew anything about the future, they made a serious miscalculation. The same fate has befallen the international climate change emergency brigade.”

See how clever that was? How funny? Climate science – which is based on measurement and observation – is the same as the faked-up media “Mayan apocalypse” scare story? We’re still here, so both the Mayans and the scientists are wrong.

In Mr Spooner’s logic, the science was proved wrong not by scientists, but by the failure of a political process. In other words, politics determines the validity of science.

He then indulges in a bit of name-calling (which is OK if you’re calling climate scientists names; anyone calling a climate sceptic names is indulging in group-think), before moving on to this:

“Anyone familiar with the judicial process knows the gravest issues of liberty and fortune are often determined by a jury selected from the public. Expert witnesses can give evidence in support of either side at a trial. The judge must rule on questions of admissibility, but in the end it is the jury that decides which scientific evidence is to be believed.”

In other words, because courts accept the decisions of the inexpert, the whole world is bound to accept inexpert opinion on science.

Then there’s this:

“In the climate debate, the only "judge" is the scientific method - a testable hypothesis followed by factual or experimental challenge.”

Wrong, Mr Spooner. You don’t understand the scientific method.

Science doesn’t start with a hypothesis – that’s a misapprehension pushed by journalists who don’t understand science. It starts with an observation. For example, quantum physics came to us, courtesy of Max Planck, because of the observations of energy radiating from black bodies. Hypothesis follows observation (as it indeed does in climate science). A hypothesis can be considered sound if it can be used to predict the behavior of a system.

“For example, everybody agrees that the warming trend paused 16 years ago, despite a corresponding 10 per cent increase in atmospheric CO2.”

No, everybody does not agree this. There is noise in atmospheric observations, but most of the extra heat is taken up by the ocean; there is no “pause” in global warming. Here’s a decent debunk, over at Discovery.

“The reason why scientific consensus emerged in this debate is because political activists want to get things moving”, Spooner writes.

In other words, the entire IPCC process – including the review and editing of IPCC reports – is captive to activists. This is pure conspiracy theory.

The whole thing boils down to a book promo:

“I still feel that the voices of highly qualified sceptics are not heard enough. In an effort to redress this imbalance, an unusual book on the sceptics' view will be published in 2013.”

Enough said.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Seeking comment: is a “birds up close” experience a good idea?

This is on the personal blog rather than the Bunjaree Website, because I’m merely testing an idea.

I have tested this with my brother-in-law, a birder and bird photographer of 40 years’ experience, and I’d like feedback on it before I try it in earnest.

The idea is a birding weekend at Bunjaree Cottages – not for experienced birders, but for those that would like to see some of the most difficult-to-spot birds of the Australian bush close-up.

The weekend would be led by Dr Graham Cam, who has an intimate knowledge of Australia’s bird species and their ecology, and is also a noted bird photographer.

The activities would take place on the grounds of Bunjaree Cottages, and in other nearby Blue Mountains locations. We’re still working out some of the details, so feedback would be welcome.

1.     Netting

“Mist nets”, which catch birds harmlessly, have to be laid before the birds are active. Getting up before sunrise to help set the nets is optional, but certainly part of the experience!

2.     Checking the nets

This is where the fun and education happens. The party will tour the nets, getting close-ups of bird species that don't often sit still - and are murder to photograph. The birds then get sexed and banded – and if any of them have been previously banded, their bands will be recorded to be reported to the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme overseen by the Department of the Environment.

Graham will be on hand to talk about all the birds found in the nets. It will be, as far as possible (remembering that the birds’ well-being is paramount), a real “bird in the hand” experience.

3.     Breakfast

You’ll be getting hungry by now, so it’s back to your cottage for breakfast.

So far, so good. The next question is this: after breakfast, which is better:

A.   Organised bird-spotting / photography
B.    Leave guests to themselves for the rest of the day

Under option A, we would select a destination that doesn’t need a 4x4 to reach, arrange a meet-up time, and spend a few hours on a photography / bird-spotting bushwalk. Under option B, guests spend the rest of their Saturday taking in the other delights of the Blue Mountains.
Anyone interested in an idea like this – let me know your thoughts in the comments!