Geocaching in sensitive conservation areas in Canberra

I posted the following note on my cache GC4JKG4 in Bottom Pinnacle just outside The Pinnacle Nature Reserve:

I will soon be archiving this listing and removing the cache now that I know how much disturbance is being caused by caching activities and the proximity of this cache to known habitat of the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard.

I will also be encouraging other owners of caches in The Pinnacle to review any caches hidden amongst rocks including GC5ECF6.

I still support geocaching in Canberra Nature Park and our local reserves but we do have to be sensitive to the conservation of native flora and fauna and I’ve seen how the search for some caches results in dozens and dozens of rocks being disturbed and left overturned which is not ideal.

I think geocaching is a fun recreational activity and encourages people to get out and explore the outdoors and visit areas of their surrounding bush they might not otherwise see. Like all recreational activities including walking, cycling and horse-riding there will be an impact on the environment (even when a Leave No Trace ethic is promoted) but we need to balance conservation values with social and recreational.

The ACT Parks and Conservation Service articulated the following vision for Canberra Nature Park in the Canberra Nature Park Management Plan 1999:

An integrated, connected system of diverse nature reserves throughout urban Canberra managed to conserve native flora, fauna and habitat, and to provide opportunities for appreciation, recreation, education and research consistent with protecting the natural and cultural heritage, and landscape values of the area.

The responsibilities of the PCS also included in the same document “support of nature-based tourism”.

If conservation were paramount then no recreational activities would be permitted in the Park, including geocaching, walking your dog or taking photos of orchids.

For several years the NSW Government outright banned geocaching in national parks, however they’ve since developed a policy and negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding between National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Office of Environment and Heritage (NSW) and Geocaching Association of NSW that permits the placement of some caches with consultation and approval.

Hopefully we can work together amongst ourselves to identify caches that are resulting in inordinate damage to the landscape and habitat (though negligible compared to making BMX tracks and jumps, littering or damage resulting from unsustainably large populations of kangaroos) so the sport here doesn’t end up requiring heavy regulation and government approval at a per-cache level.

The Geocacher’s Creed mentions:

When seeking a cache, practice “Lift, Look, Replace” – put all stones or logs back where you found them.

Now I am better informed I don’t think that the above advice is sufficient. No stones or logs should be regularly disturbed in the course of our sport of geocaching, especially in conservation areas including Canberra Nature Park. I don’t know how we can achieve that, but it’s something we should be thinking about and aim for to minimise environmental disturbance.

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Twin Peak, Tinderry Nature Reserve

I’d been postponing doing this hike for a few weeks, so even though the forecast was a bit miserable I headed out anyway, though with a few more precautions in case I ran into strife given my level of ability and fitness.

My trip was based on John Evans’ 2006 group walk to Twin Peak parking at the Mt Allen Fire Trail gate about 6km north of the Burra Road – Tinderry Road intersection outside Michelago.

The Mt Allen Fire Trail was rather arduous with sections of 30% grade. John’s group did the 3km leg in just 45 minutes. It took me a lot longer, nearly 2.5 hours.

I’ve made an interactive tour of my hike in Doarama beta. It’s a pretty cool web app where you can upload a GPX file from your GPS and create an interactive annotated view of your activity (the examples on their site include paragliding and skiing).

The Google Earth plot below shows the Mt Allen Fire Trail and West Tinderry Fire Trail in cyan, and the off-track section in red:

Tinderry walk on Google Earth

Close-up of the off-track section of the hike:

Tinderry walk on Google Earth

I failed to reach the peak as I had insufficient time and navigating the scrub was too difficult.

In addition to the drizzle that made all the logs and rocks slippery, and the zero degrees wind chill when the low cloud came in, there was also a lot of windfall. It had been a windy morning, but I think much this damage had been done a week or more earlier given the yellowing of the leaves:

Windfall

Looking down the valley towards Michelago … which obviously you can’t see through the low cloud:

Granite rocks

Granite rocks

Wind chill dropped to zero degrees on the exposed rocky slopes when the cloud dropped:

Clouded in

A bit of a peek of Twin Peak through the forest from below:

Tinderry Twin Peak

Was sad to see how much destruction was being done by wild pigs, and I even startled one about five metres from me – must’ve been napping under a bush and went squealing off into the forest.

Damn pigs

About 700 metres short of Tinderry Twin Peak I gave up trying to reach the summit; I just couldn’t navigate through this and ran out of time:

The way is shut

Got dark as I started heading back down the Mt Allen Fire Trail. It wasn’t much faster going down, thanks to the grade. Took just over one hour and I only nearly fell on my arse once.

Getting dark

Download KML of my hike up to Tinderry Twin Peak.

View Tinderry Nature Reserve on OpenStreetMap.

This dog followed me for much of the walk and wouldn’t be dissuaded by me telling it to bugger off home! Though eventually I think she gave up and left me:

Companion

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Alaska 2014, first photos

I gave up processing photos from our trip to Alaska last year because my computer was so slow that I could only have Photoshop or Canon DPP open at a time, and forget Photomatix Pro or Google Chrome. It was painful.

But now I have a new computer with lots of megacycles and rambytes or whatever and am now getting back into processing them.

The photos here are from ones I’ve processed several months ago; I was experimenting with an alternative to watermarking, but it’s quite a bit of effort and I’ve since abandoned it.

The bald eagles are really cool, and there were so many! Well, at least compared to how many raptors we see here in inland Australia.

This is a bald eagle near Valdez:

Bald eagle

Spectacular mountains near Columbia Glacier seen from the ferry as we headed out of Valdez:

Near Columbia Glacier

Icebergs out on the lake at the end of Valdez Glacier:

Ice cave

High above Ptarmigan Valley in pursuit of a geocache, which I couldn’t find:

Ptarmigan Creek valley

Inside an iceberg!

Ice cave

Sheep Mountain, opposite Matanuska Glacier:

Sheep Mountain

Thompson Pass, above Valdez:

Thompson Pass, Alaska

Matanuska Glacier:

Matanuska's snout

My next blog post of Alaska will feature more wildlife! Grizzly brown bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep and more.

View more photos on Flickr.

One more; crazy patterns in glacial silt below Matanuska Glacier:

Glacial mud, Matanuska Glacier

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Nursery Swamp, Namadgi National Park

On 15 February 2015 I did the walk to Nursery Swamp from the Nursery Swamp carpark on Orroral Road. It’s an easy 10km return walk with overall elevation gain of 400 metres.

Nursery Swamp track on Google Earth

I was expecting to see a snake or two given Nursery Swamp is a fen or peaty wetland, but I didn’t get too close to have a look.

While adding details to OpenStreetMap for the area yesterday it’s quite interesting to see how distinct the trails are left by kangaroos and other animals moving through the dense sedge vegetation of the fen as opposed to the surrounding grassland; makes it easy to define the outline of the swamp from satellite imagery:

Nursery Swamp © Microsoft Bing

I’m terrible with identifying all the little grey and brown birds, but Grey Fantails were numerous:

Grey Fantail

Being late summer there were also a lot of juveniles with their immature plumage which made ID even harder; thanks to the COG members who identified this immature Golden Whistler:

Golden Whistler, immature

These young Cunningham’s Skinks weren’t too wary and frequently popped out for some sunshine while mum hid deep within the fractured granite boulder:

Cunningham's Skink

The Dusky Woodswallows were interesting to watch and spent most of their time flying around hundreds of metres above me so I didn’t get any decent photos of them.

Also saw Spotted Pardalotes, Gang-gang Cockatoos, Silvereyes, Striated Thornbill, White-eared and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, immature Crimson Rosellas, Eastern Yellow Robins, Grey Shrike-thrush and White-throated Treecreepers.

Imm. Grey Shrike-thrush?

There was a picnic table about half-way along the track, a seat further along and another seat right at the end of the track overlooking the fen from the shade of a cluster of trees in the middle of a grassy expanse.

Nursery Swamp

Map of Nursery Swamp Track on OpenStreetMap.

See John Evan’s blog for information on climbing the nearby Nursery Hill and Aboriginal rock art.

There are two geocaches on the track and more nearby.

Silvereye

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Replacing the screen on my Garmin eTrex 30

I wish I hadn’t tried to fix my screen. I should have just left it with minor scratches from when someone dragged a big tub of herbicide over the top of it. The real damage was when I tried to buff the scratches out of the “glass” with a rotary tool and melted the screen. Whoops.

So I ordered a replacement screen on eBay from Russia:

Shockproof glass in package

Shockproof glass for Garmin eTrex 30

Contrary to the “easy installation” instructions you will have to disassemble the unit.

Remove the battery cover and batteries, and unscrew the six screws using a #6 Torx driver.

Torx T6

This is the back of the unit with the waterproof seal clinging to it:

Rear of eTrex with waterproof blue seal

I did initially try to remove the glass without removing the PCB and LCD display but I was heating the glass to around 75°C and it wasn’t coming away easily:

Prying glass off eTrex with knife

So I removed the PCB, which was held by two clips and a single #5 Torx screw. Push the case outwards to free the clips, but they are not attached to the board and may fall off so don’t lose them!

Internal clips on circuit board

Now with the circuitboard safely out of the way I could use the heat gun more aggressively and pry the screen off.

It didn’t come away cleanly …

Cracked screen

This is what it looked like when I got the screen off:

Foam adhesive

I tried using a knife and chisel to remove it but was causing too much damage to the plastic, so I switched to using the rotary tool with a variety of attachments including sander, but this plastic brush seemed to finish it off the best:

Rotary brush

Once you’ve done as best you can, make sure you clean the plastic thoroughly outside and inside to avoid debris being sealed inside the unit, preventing a clean seal or getting stuck to the screen protector at the end.

This is the screen before I removed the backing tape:

Screen with backing tape

Place the screen adhesive side down, push firmly but supported from the other side so you don’t break it.

Then remove the protective film on the front and apply the included screen protector.

Re-assemble, and this is what it looks like:

Re-assembled unit

Note the gouge and scrape marks on the plastic around the screen.

If I had to do this again I would just buy a whole new front unit with the screen already attached.

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Field Papers and Harcourt Traverse & Surveying

A quick look at two apps that I’ve discovered this week: Field Papers and Harcourt Traverse & Surveying.

With just a few days before we head off to Alaska I don’t really have time to be playing with JOSM but I’m waiting for a terabyte of data to backup while I update my OpenFiler NAS, so I was browsing the JOSM Plugins catalogue and came across FieldPapers.org.

What intrigued me is that the home page gives you very little clue as to what the service is and how you might use it, but this page on Learn OSM Surveying with Field Papers is very informative.

I’m sure there are other reasons you might want to download a PDF of A4-size tiled extracts of OSM mapping data, but it seems the main purpose is to help OSM contributors collect data in the field and then easily upload it.

FieldPapers.org allows you to scan in sketches, notes and points marked on printed maps and then georeferences them using a geocoded QR code and calibration marks on the edges of each printed map which you can then import into JOSM and use it as an underlay.

Pretty cool!

I tested it out on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska which is where we’ll be spending most of the next three weeks. You’re unlikely to be working at this scale so not as likely to come across this issue, but the UTM grid overlay is a bit dodgy:

UTM grid overlay on Field Papers printable map

The other app I discovered was Harcourt Traverse & Surveying after spending hours trying to find an easy way of calculating the coordinates of where two paths projected from polar coordinates bisect, so bearing 1 from coordinate 1 intersecting with bearing 2 from coordinate 2.

This is useful for triangulating landmarks and position fixing for navigation either without a GPS or for waypointing distant objects to then navigate to. It’s also of course useful in surveying, which is something I dabble with using my Brunton Transit compass and Nikon Forestry Pro laser rangefinder.

Surveying with a GPS is easier and can be quicker for small areas but does require you to physically move the GPS device around the perimeter of an area or hold it over waypoints.

A common example used in regards to triangulation is locating bushfires where two or more viewing watch towers of known coordinates will combine their bearing readings to triangulate the position of the fire.

Harcourt Traverse & Surveying allows you to enter the data points as zoneless UTM easting and northing or bearing and distance projections from existing points and then review the data in a map view.

This example shows survey data I collected at Millpost Hill in Womboin NSW and includes three GPS points plus several ranged and non-ranged (arbitrary distance) projected points which I’ll then consult when updating OpenStreetMap:

Harcourt Traverse & Surveying

It’s only been out a few months and needs some work on the usability of data entry but otherwise it’s really quite cool with lots of features that I’ll find useful in addition to intersect finding like point and line offsets, midpoint (two-point average) finding, KML import (though I’d really love KML output!), calculators and other translation tools.

The app developer has been very quick to respond to my feedback and is open to suggestions and ideas, so I expect this app will improve greatly over the next 6-12 months.

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Some pics of Norway

I can’t believe I haven’t put up a photo blog post of our honeymoon in Norway yet! I did write a blog post about topographical mapping in Norway but you probably want to see photos.

This is going to be a bit of a random collection, but should give you a nice cross-section of the Norway experience in September-October.

My wife is working on a far more comprehensive and chronological series of blog posts although at the time of publishing she’s only up to day 6 of our trip.

First up is Fv63 and the beautiful alpine tundra with moss you’ll sink up to your ankles in (yes, take waterproof boots at any time of year and lots of spare socks), little creeks and small shrubs and flowers surrounded by tall rocky mountains.

Route 63, Norway

The spectacular Sognefjord, the largest fjord in Norway and third longest in the world!

Sognefjord

We started driving up the Gamle Strynefjellsvegen (County Road 258) one afternoon but decided to stop when the temperature dropped below zero. This is what the road looked like the next morning:

Icy road in Norway

Rondane National Park was a little rushed as we had far to go and also wanted to see it all before the sun set, so we didn’t venture far from the campervan.

Rondane National Park

You have to get close to the ground to fully appreciate the beauty of the birch forests.

Birch forest groundcover

Another one taken along the Gamle Strynefjellsvegen Fv258:

Gamle Strynefjellsvegen

Ooh reindeer! And not too far from the highway:

Reindeer

It was sometimes impossible not to be squashing blueberries while walking, although we ate far more than we stepped on and they were delicious:

Sinking

A beautiful mountain, right on the coast:

Skjeggen

The magnificent Engabreen glacier:

Engabreen

A quaint little Norwegian community. Look how steep the valley walls are!

Norwegian valley

We got to play with Arctic foxes at the Polar Zoo; so cute!

Arctic fox

And yes we did see the aurora, although there was almost no geomagnetic activity the whole trip so it was very weak but showed up ok on the camera.

Northern Lights

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Topographic maps for Norway

In September this year I was married to my wonderful partner of five years, and for our honeymoon we went to Norway and drove a hire campervan 5,460km from Oslo through Sogndal up past Tromsø via Moskenes and back via Røros.

Unfortunately I thought it would be sufficient to load up my Garmin GPS with an OpenStreetMap gmapsupp.img of Norway. It looked good enough and even had contour vectors but alas it seemed to be missing a lot of data; mostly hiking trails.

This wasn’t too great an issue as we didn’t have any time to go hiking, but it would have come in handy for geocaching and the few short walks we did do.

I did have a few online rants about the lack of OSM mapping activity while over there. As it turned out, Norwegian OSM’ers are pretty active and I was basing my observations on an incomplete dataset. Apologies!

There are several online services you can use for viewing Norwegian topo data and aerial photography:

UT.no has both topo and satellite but the main nice feature is the summer and winter trails overlays. You’ll notice that many of the winter trails go over the top of frozen lakes.

To view cached Kartverket map tiles in JOSM and in Preferences under Imagery Providers (the WMS TMS icon) add a TMS entry with the following URL:

http://opencache.statkart.no/gatekeeper/gk/gk.open_gmaps?layers=toporaster2&zoom={zoom}&x={x}&y={y}

There are 16 other layers you can choose from, though a few are very similar and some of them will be of no use to you. You can view all the available layers and examples on the WMTS GetCapabilities page; you can also read more about their caching service and other protocols.

My current favourite Norwegian mapping service is beta.norgeskart.no which as you can guess from the URL is a beta version.

It has a selection of drawing and analysis tools including elevation profile (GPX upload, drawn on map and linestring coords) with a live-updating URL that includes map type, coordinates and zoom level plus search query if used.

Kartverket Norgeskart beta

Kartverket Norgeskart beta

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Off to Norway

We’re getting married and going on our honeymoon to Norway next week.

The plan is to travel from Oslo straight to Narvik and across to Abisko National Park just over the border in Sweden and camp there a few days hoping to catch the aurora.

We’ve allowed up to three days for that, so depending on how much time we have left we’ll decide the rest of the itinerary but at this stage the plan is then to head west across the Lofoten islands to the end and catch the ferry back to the mainland.

We’ll then head south back to Trondheim and follow the fjords as far south as Sogdnal then back inland and across into Oslo.

The holiday is about three-and-a-half weeks long including flights there and back, and the route in Norway is about 3,800 km including ferries.

Download the KMZ of the route which you can view in Google Earth (screenshot below)

This link to Google Maps should also work although it’ll take a little while to load as it recalculates the entire route every time.

Norway honeymoon route v2.2

Image Landsat; Image IBCAO; Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO.

I’ve also got about 1,200 geocaches loaded into my Garmin eTrex 30 although I’ll be happy if I’m allowed to find a dozen or so of them!

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Early morning in The Pinnacle Nature Reserve

I woke up around 5:30 AM and looked outside through the window. There was no cover of fog but the trees across the road had a light umbrella of fog which looked promising. Checked the humidity, dew point and temperature, all looked optimal, so I headed out and drove to our local nature reserve The Pinnacle that I also volunteer looking after with the ParkCare group FOTPIN.

When I arrived there was very little fog in the reserve but once I got a view of lower elevations down in central Canberra I could see a thick blanket of fog:

Low-lying fog over Canberra

As the sun came up the fog quickly rose up the slopes to me. This is a Scribbly Gum (Eucalyptus rossii):

Scribbly gum (Eucalyptus rossii)

It was nice to see some kangaroos around and that they didn’t go running scared after the recent roo cull that targeted 200 animals in this reserve alone:

Roos

My favourite pic of the photo excursion was this sunrise-backlit foggy shot of what I believe are some young Red Stringybark (E. macrorhyncha) trees:

The Pinnacle

I then headed into the Bottom Pinnacle, an unleased paddock south of The Pinnacle Nature Reserve that is currently under consideration for inclusion in The Pinnacle:

Bottom Pinnacle

Solitary

I spent some time with this Yellow Box (E. melliodora, height: 18 metres, girth: 3.7 metres) photographing the beautiful swirly patterns and texture:

Scraggly Yellow Box

Yellow box bark

This is a macro photo of a Scribbly Gum (E. rossii) that had been savaged by borer insects or perhaps sugar gliders. I also placed a cache here called “All Gummed Up” but unfortunately it’s about 10 metres too close to another cache so I have to go back and move it (and rename it):

Sap

Dew-laden cobweb:

Cobweb

I think this is a stand of young Blakely’s Red Gum (E. blakelyi) in the Bottom Pinnacle:

Bottom Pinnacle

Some nice moss on a rock-strewn slope leading down into a swampy gully, taken with a macro lens with the camera upside down on an inverted tripod:

Moss

Inverted tripod

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