Early morning walk at Hidden Valley

I woke at 6.30 on the Sunday morning of our weekend at Hidden Valley and took my camera for a walk down to the river nearby (I would have taken people, too, but they were still asleep). It was barely light enough for photography so my first shots were a bit dark but the little river was so pretty I couldn’t resist.

River at Hidden Valley
Rushing down its rocky bed

My side of the river had been cleared some years ago so I was walking through long grass and scattered small trees, although trees on the other side were much denser and bigger. As I made my way upstream I came to a broad shallow pool:

Calm pool in the river
Still waters

Western rivers are famously transient and this one counts as a Western river since it runs down the Western slopes of the Great Dividing Range (its water must end up in the Burdekin). A few weeks ago it would have been carrying three or more times as much water, as fallen trees and scoured banks attest, but the pool was absolutely still when I saw it. I didn’t see a platypus but I can believe they live here.

Reeds in cloudy blue water
The water is faintly blue with fine silt

It was so early that many insects were still sleeping, some of them prettily dew-draped. Photos of sleeping bees, a mud dauber wasp, shield bugs (not asleep) and a nondescript small triangular moth are all on my Flickr photostream – just click the links to see them. The most beautiful of all was a dragonfly:

Dew-covered red dragonfly
I will wake up when it's warm enough.


Going solar: off the grid

We recently visited Hidden Valley Cabins, 25 km inland from Paluma, for a very enjoyable social occasion and I took time out to look at the resort’s solar power installation.

Hidden Valley is isolated enough that the resort was always off the grid, dependent on a diesel generator for all its power. About four years ago, with the help of funding from a programme designed to help isolated users make the change, they installed a custom built 12 kW system comprising ninety 130W panels feeding into an inverter and a roomful of batteries.

Solar panel array at Hidden Valley
The solar panel array at Hidden Valley Cabins

The panels are mounted on frames on concrete pads just up the hill behind the resort and produce 19,500 kWh per year. The resort only use two thirds of that amount but the extra system capacity ensures that the batteries are fully charged for cloudy periods. The old diesel generator is still in its shed nearby and hooked up to the system as a backup, but I got the impression that it is rarely called upon.

The owners are very happy with the system. They have set up the shed housing the batteries and inverter as an interpretive centre, and have various brochures about solar power for visitors who may want to follow their lead.

The batteries
The batteries

One of the advantages they appreciate most is one I hadn’t thought about: it is silent, and gets rid of the generator noise they had to put up with 24/7. But of course, the savings in diesel fuel are enormous (I did see a figure but don’t appear to have jotted it down – sorry) and they don’t have to worry that they will lose power for lack of fuel if the gravel road is washed out in the Wet … which reminds me to mention that the system has survived cyclone Yasi, much more intense where they are than it was in Townsville.

Problems? Battery maintenance was ‘a bit of a learning curve,’ but that is about all.

System schematic
System schematic (click to read!)

Visit the Hidden Valley Cabins site to read more about the resort and its solar power installation.

Eco-artistic Exhibitions and Events – Townsville

The Butterfly Man of Kuranda 

This stunning visual exhibition displays the wonderful array of Queensland’s beautiful butterflies, beetles and moths, collected by FP and AP Dodd around North Queensland from 1917 to the 1960s. Museum of Tropical Queensland, Feb 27 to April 29, 9.30am – 5pm http://www.mtq.qm.qld.gov.au

I have known about this for a few weeks but didn’t find time to visit it until Monday. It was well worth the (admittedly small) effort. FP Dodd was one of the first collectors in North Qld (Townsville to Cairns), collecting from about 1880 onwards. Around 1920 he put together a touring exhibition and that is what we see here – hundreds of moths, butterflies and beetles displayed in the style of the time. No-one today would spell out an inspirational verse in tiny moths as he did, but his moon moths are unusual and very beautiful and his Hercules moths, the world’s largest, are spectacular.

The Coral Triangle

An exhibition by Jürgen Freund who is a wildlife photojournalist based in Cairns and who works with his wife Stella. In May 2009, the duo set out on an 18-month photographic expedition for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) across the Coral Triangle, visiting bustling centres of marine product trade as well as some of the most remote and breathtaking habitats on earth. School of Creative Arts JCU (SoCA) e-Merge Media Space, April 10 to May 4, 8.30am – 4pm Mon – Fri http://www.jcu.edu.au/soca/JCUPRD_044204.html

I haven’t seen this yet, not being a highly accomplished time traveller, but have good intentions and will comment on it in due course.

Cairns 2012 Winter School – Nature Photography in the Tropics 

Experience the spectacular environment of tropical Queensland during this intensive masterclass run by James Cook University, Cairns. Led by award-winning nature photographer Jürgen Freund [see above], this is an opportunity for photographers to immerse themselves in the Atherton Tablelands, visiting majestic crater lakes and ancient rainforests during the field trip; to encounter the flora and fauna unique to the tropics: to expand their photography folios with dramatic images; to develop technical skills, learn about the legal, ethical and environmental issues associated with nature photography, and gain a certificate of credit which can be used towards a degree. Places are limited.
June 29 – July 6. Applications close May 4th.
For information: 4781 3166 mailto:creativearts@jcu.edu.au http://www.jcu.edu.au/soca

That’s their promotional text and it looks good, but when I asked for a cost they couldn’t give me one. More information to come, one would hope!

(Update, 1.4.12: A glossy pdf (huh?) arrived in my inbox and gave me that figure: over $3000 for the week. For that price I could immerse myself in the  exotic life of Thailand and Laos for a fortnight, inclusive of airfares … not much contest, is there, for someone who can drive up to Atherton any long weekend. I suspect most of the customers will be southerners.)

Eco Fiesta and Smart Lifestyle Expo 

June 2 & 3. For information: 1300 878 001 Townsville City Council

Eco Fiesta, a celebration of sustainability, was hippie-alternative in its first years but it has drifted slightly towards commercialisation even as the mainstream has begun to embrace the whole greenie thing, and the festival is now almost mainstream. Music and kids’ activities complement displays and trade stands for community environmental groups, natural therapies, solar power and more. A great family day – mark it on your calendar.

Growing old gracefully

Battered Cairns Birdwing butterfly
An elderly female Cairns Birdwing butterfly, Ornithoptera priamus euphorion, on hibiscus leaves

We usually think of butterflies as fresh, bright, beautiful and short-lived (which I guess is why they are never ‘old’ in our minds) but that is not entirely true. Most of them certainly live for more than a day or two and many of them live for months. Wikipedia tells us that some species live for nearly a year and migrate surprisingly long distances – up to 5000 km. It makes sense, then, that we can see signs of ageing in our lepidopterous visitors.

The lady in my photo above turned up in our garden last week and shows plentiful signs of small accidental collisions and injuries. The edges of her wings are tattered, and she has lost many of the coloured scales from her wings. She is still impressive, however, with her 150mm wingspan and strong flight.

Cairns Birdwings lay eggs in our garden and they hatch, grow into large caterpillars, pupate and (sometimes) emerge as fresh, bright and beautiful adults. But a lot of our adults arrive from points unknown in quite battered condition. Braby’s monumental Butterflies of Australia says that some Australian swallowtails are migratory but suggests that movements of many others are dictated by seasonal changes in food supplies and can’t tell us whether or not our Birdwings are migratory. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that they could be loosely following the monsoon from North to South and back again as our Wet season develops and retreats. If so, our old lady above may be a Cairns Birdwing by birth as well as by name.