And the winner is ... Wee Jasper Morning by Matt Tomkins. Photo: Matt Tomkins
This column has never been shy about flying the flag for our region's natural beauty. We live among varied landscape, from the rugged mountains that prop up our south-western horizon to the lush green forests of the Great Divide and then beyond to the spectacular spread of beaches we call the south coast.
So when this column was asked to form part of the crack judging panel for Geoscience Australia's annual photo competition, we jumped at the opportunity. Although a national snap-fest, the ACT received more than its fair share of entrants and, even more impressively, four of the 12 photos chosen for the organisation's prestigious 2014 calendar were taken in the local area, including the winning student entry.
The top gong in the student category went to Matt Tomkins of Aranda for Wee Jasper Morning, which the 17 year old calls one of his ''favourite landscape photos as not many people get to see it".
Precambrian stormtrooper ... Grant Butler took this photo on a visit to the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia.
Tomkins, who studies photography at Radford College, captured the photo on a camping trip to Burrinjuck Dam a few months ago. He reports that when he "woke up early, the water was very still and there was not a cloud in the sky". Not wanting to lose the moment, the quick-thinking amateur shutterbug immediately grabbed his tripod and took four photos by the edge of the lake, which he later Photoshopped into his prize-winning panorama.
Meanwhile, still in rolling green hills of Wee Jasper, this column can exclusively reveal that a team of world-renowned palaeobotanists those who study fossilised plants) has just returned from fossicking in a secret site high above Burrinjuck Dam, not far from where Tomkins snapped his winning vista.
The expedition, led by Dr Brigitte Meyer-Berthaud and Dr Anne-Laure Decombeix, of the French research institute Botanique et Bioinformatique de l'Architecture des Plantes, collected material which may help unlock the mystery of the world's first forests.
Tim the Yowie Man: Nature in the lens
Geoscience Australia's photo competition winner "Wee Jasper Morning". Photo: Matt Tomkins
During the field trip, inside chunks of 375-million-year-old mudstone, the duo discovered fossilised stems and branches likely to belong to one of the planet's earliest types of tree-like plants.
"This will be a new species and possibly a new genus of land plant," marvels Gavin Young of the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences, who invited the French pair after some of his own field work first uncovered the remarkable fossils.
"Several of the new high-tech information panels that line the walkway at the Canberra Arboretum summarise plant evolution. According to standard text books based on northern hemisphere science, meanwhile, spectacular Devonian plant localities in our own region have never been studied. That is why we got our French visitors out here," says Young.
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"This area was part of the ancient Gondwana supercontinent at the time these very plants were alive, forming the first complex land vegetation ever to evolve on the planet."
Our region's natural wonders never cease to amaze.
Best of the Rest
Discovered at Wee Jasper: fossil of one of earliest types of plants on the planet. Photo: Gavin Young
Of the three other local scenes which made the calendar, my pick is this Narrawallee Beach image, titled Moody Morning. Photographer Benjamin Meyer says he "got up early to capture a beautiful sunrise, but the weather took a nasty turn and instead I captured this".
The other two local winners are Bethany O'Mullane's Creek Melt, taken on a frosty morning in the Snowy Mountains, and Evgeniy Bastrakov's sunrise snap of sandstones at Red Point, Ben Boyd National Park, near Eden. Which one grabs you?
Visiting French palaeobotanists Dr Anne-Laure Decombeix, left, Dr Brigitte Meyer-Berthaud, right, excavating plant remains preserved in mudstones about 395 million years old at Wee Jasper. Photo: Gavin Young
The winning entries can be viewed on www.ga.gov.au, and all 350 Top GeoShot entries will be on display in Geoscience Australia's foyer (corner Hindmarsh Drive and Jerrabomberra Avenue, Symonston) for the next 12 months.
PLAN AHEAD FOR
Grab your binoculars and pull out your magnifying glass, CSIRO is on the hunt for people to help an enthusiastic bunch of scientists and naturalists to record a snapshot of Black Mountain's biodiversity as part of the ACT Centenary Bioblitz.
It all happens next weekend when experts will lead field trips onto and around as much of Black Mountain as possible to record everything from reptiles to rare plants to bats (if you dare). If there's anything alive on Black Mountain this Bioblitz is likely to record it (maybe even those feral deer recently reported by this column to be cavorting near the Botanic Gardens). There will even be a survey of waters around Black Mountain peninsula - fish and other aquatic organisms will be sampled by electrofishing, a novel technique which this column recently dabbled in (Shocking Currents, June 8).
The data collected from the Bioblitz will help assist the Atlas of Living Australia (a publicly searchable online database of all the known plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms in Australia) to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy and benefit from Black Mountain's remarkable biodiversity.
If you want to get involved, you will need to register (it's free) for one or more of the surveys - see www.csiro.au/bioblitz or phone 6246 4646.
The Bioblitz launches at 10am on Saturday, October 26, at the CSIRO Discovery Centre (Clunies Ross St, Acton) after a free breakfast. See you there. The Discovery Centre will also host nature talks and free activities for kids throughout the weekend. Fun for all the family.
Meanwhile, while walking his dog in Majura Pines last Sunday, Andrew Davis spotted what he believes to be an albino kangaroo. He took a photo but it was a bit too far away to be conclusive. Has anyone else spotted a colour-challenged skippy in our northern suburbs? Who knows, if it hops its way to Black Mountain over the next few days, it might end up counted in next weekend's Bioblitz.
Although there was no shortage of entries featuring unusually shaped rocks, I was unable to convince the other judges at Geoscience Australia's Top GeoShot photo competition to vote for a simulacrum photo as this year's winner. Nonetheless, this ''Precambrian stormtrooper'', photographed by Grant Butler on a visit to the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia, was a clear standout. Butler had to wait for the sun to be "at just the right angle" before snapping this "large boulder in ancient basalt flow near some of the Burrup Aboriginal artworks".
Email: email@example.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write to me c/o The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick. A selection of past columns is available at canberratimes.com.au/travel/blog/yowie-man.