Welcome resident reptile

I love my little skinks but I was delighted to realise that this very big and handsome skink, an Eastern Bluetongue (Tiliqua scincoides), has taken up residence in my yard.

Over several weeks I have seen it in three different places, but was still surprised to spot it by my back steps. These can grow up to 60cm long, but often only the head will be seen, protruding from a drainpipe or other shelter.

You would usually only see its blue tongue when it is in defensive mode, puffing up its body and holding its mouth open to scare the perceived intruder. This one seems used to me and does not scurry away as it did at first.

I am in awe of the intricate arrangement of its head scales… and a little in love with its cute little feet…!

Stump host

This Silky Oak, long ago self-sown in the wrong place, had to be taken down. But its twintrunked stump is still giving life.

One rainforest tree seed has found its way in between those trunks and is somehow thriving.

But someone seems to have cleaned their paintbrush on its bark.  No, it’s my old friends, the slime moulds, this time a smoother variety of the family, one I had not yet met.

On the other side, a different slime mould resembles, not paint, but sawdust, scattered down the bark and coating the fungi which like this stump too.

I never cease to wonder at the many forms this can take. And to think I once did not know of the existence of slime moulds…

But have a look at this breathtaking video from Australian photographer Stephen Axford:

Lichen decor

On my morning walk, this unusual decorative wall drew me across the road for a closer look. It looked intentional, with the defined cut-off line at the top.

But in fact it was not made by man, but by Nature. It proved to a most painterly smattering of lichens, opportunistically taking over a stretch of black shadecloth.

Up close, the lichen was both pretty and delicately varied, the shadecloth host giving it the effect of paint on canvas.

Further along the road, different lichen had ‘painted’ just four of a whole fence of timber palings. What did they have that the others didn’t?

Of course we are most used to seeing lichen on trees, as here on the south side of a palm tree in that same street.

Lichen is not a parasite, so it does not harm the trees.

Lichens are formed from a symbiotic relationship between two organisms — fungus and algae. The fungus grows on the tree and can collect moisture, which the algae needs. The algae, in return, can create food from the energy of the sun, which feeds the fungus.

How clever is that?!

Deck extras

The late afternoon sun lit up these exquisite decorations on my deck railing wire.

The artist missed a few of the joining spots but otherwise turned my wire netting into a diamond-paned leadlight.

I am so admiring of the symmetry and discipline… and grateful for the beauty.

The actual deck railing supports my passionfruit vine but also proved useful as a brief vantage point for this solo King Parrot. 

It didn’t stay long, but flew to the aerial clotheslines you see here, gathered together the front two lines and perched on them both at once! 

Then it flew down to my vegie garden for the less wobbly perch of a tomato stake.

Such a beautiful and bright parrot. This rear view shows the deep blue feathers that are often unnoticed.

I am a big fan of multi-functioning, so I’m very glad to see my deck useful for the wildlife.

Smart spit?

Any odd spots of inappropriate colour on a plant always catch my eye.

These two white blobs on the old casuarina outside my gate drew my attention.

There were only the two, but I knew what these were because my sister had a larger version in one of her garden trees not long ago and we had both searched for the identity. (A Slime Mould had been my first guess.)

It has many names, including Snakespit, Frogspit and Cuckoospit. In fact, it’s not spit at all, but the secretions of the Spittlebug.

Spittlebugs are not actually bugs, but the nymphs of true bugs called froghoppers… because they hop.

They feed on the xylem of plants, the water-conducting tubes from roots to leaves. A spittlebug has to pump up a great deal of this fluid to survive… up to 300 times its weight in an hour!

The nymph is usually upside-down, and pumping so much fluid means it excretes a lot of waste from its anus. As it does, it also secretes a sticky substance from its abdominal glands, whips air into the mix and creates the froth. This covers the nymph, hiding it from predators. The froth also makes a nice humid ‘house’ and shields the bug from rain.

Clever, eh?

Colour fooling

Trees are green, right? At least our native non-deciduous ones are. Except when they’re pink.

These plentiful local paperbark trees right now are so totally decked in new leaves that from a distance the whole tree appears pink.

While the flora are playing tricks with colours, so are the fauna. 

Hearing a very noisy and unfamiliar bird outside, and another answering it, I of course went out to try to see what was making the racket. Usually I fail, but this time the caller broke tree cover and flew to the power lines on the street.

It was joined by another.

The two birds remained apart… and now silent. But what were they? Brown-headed birds are many, but that blue tinge on the breast feathers should be a clue…

Search my bird books as I might, thinking maybe some sort of Wood Swallow, I could not pin it down. I had to seek help from real birdwatchers.

When the answer came back, I realised I would never in a million years have got it.

A juvenile Dollar Bird (Eurystomus orientalis)!

Bird books, be they illustrated with photos or drawings, are no substitute for the variability of birds in real life, especially throughout their development into adults.

That apparently distinctive blue tinge does not show or get a mention on the juveniles in my books.

I had never seen a Dollar Bird, young or old.  The very colourful adults are migratory, so that is perhaps why.  I read that they 

‘indulge in spectacular swooping, diving and rolling in the air’. So I am sorry they did not stay to entertain me, but they certainly did intrigue me!

Rainy day life

In between showers and heavy downpours I nipped out to check the mail box and found this bright creature held fast to the front of it by a small spider web. After taking a photo, I freed its legs and sent it on its way.

Next step of course was to find out what it was.

Turns out it is quite historic, being the first insect to be described from Australia, after Cook’s first visit.

It is Chrysopolus spectabilis, or far less appropriately called Botany Bay Weevil.

‘Diamond’ and ‘sapphire’ feature in other less used names, but ‘weevil’ persists. For me that is unfortunate, as it  carries baggage of unpleasant connotations of bulk flour ruined by weevils. But they never looked like this!

In fact, this insect feeds on wattles, on acacias, and I have several varieties planted nearby.

My front verandah is partly protected from the rain by the Ornamental Grape vine. It seems it offers protection to certain wildlife as well, for the amount of dark pellets dotting the railing and decking has grown very large.

Naturally any creatures are sheltering on the undersides of the large leaves, so shaded and not great for photos.

The culprit is the Hungry Green Caterpillar, common enough, with ‘horns’ and a faint yellow stripe, and after wading through hundreds of Caterpillar I.D. shots, I am no longer sure just what sort of moth or butterfly it will be. Any suggestions?

The older ones have turned brown and seem stiffened and bent… perhaps no longer eating or depositing small balls!

Also sheltering from the weather was this charming Green Tree Frog. They are also a widespread and common type, but this one is the first I have seen here, and very welcome!

I see this one has chosen a spot with a view out from beneath the leaf roof! Handsome and clever…

Bells of hope

One year since the total burning of the Crowdy Head National Park in last summer’s bushfires, I drove – inched?–over potholes and washouts and corrugations and roadside drain overflows. The coast here has had a month of daily rain.

I was worried my old AWD Subaru was not adequate, as I met bigger, higher, real 4WDS. You can never tell how deep a hole is until you are in it…

The taller forests were blackened trunks, many with new shoots, but not all. As you can see on the higher land, where the trees are still a fringe of skeletons. Too depressing for a photo…

So hope for 2021 only came to me on the heathland, where colour other than green was bravely proclaiming summer.

Christmas Bells!

Xmas dressing

Not much is flowering in the garden. Nor is my Christmas Bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum), but it looks like it is, and these bracts that follow the small cream flowers are its main claim to fame. Mine aren’t as red as some, but people still stop and ask may they cut some for Christmas.

Its starry pinkness stands out against the darker trees around it, and does look a little festive.

But while that tree is dressing up, another in my yard is undressing for the summer season. The Queensland invader, the Cadaghi tree (Corymbia torelliana), is shedding its bark in showy patches to reveal its pale green skin.

Handsome, but dangerously successful as a feral plant, I find it hard to mind it as a tree, except when its millions of seed pods rain down like ball bearings on my deck.

Yet the shameless way it is stripping off its old bark right now is a visual treat. Wish I could do the same with my old bark…!

Rare sighting

Strolling through Wingham Brush Reserve on the slightly elevated walkway, looking from side to side, I spotted a reptile in the leaf litter.

This was the first time I have ever seen a critter other than bats, brush turkeys and an occasional small bird there. It’s the massive strangler fig trees and the dim dry rainforest world around them that most attract me.

So was this a bluetongue lizard? There was something odd about the shape, the scales… and the head.

Moving to see the head more closely, I decided it wasn’t. But what was it? It was remaining absolutely still, despite our voices and footsteps… and a fly hanging around its face.

I was very excited to look it up and see it is a Land Mullet (Egernia major), one of our largest skinks, reaching up to 60cm. I had only ever seen one once before, at my Mountain.

It is called a Land Mullet because of its large shiny fish-like scales and because when it moves, it does look like a mullet swimming.

Preferring rainforest or nearby, it apparently often lives in burrows, so I was lucky to see it out sunning itself, unblinking, unswimming.

Pays to stay observant on a walk!

Rain gifts

A few days of rain has the garden happy and vegetable plants tripling in size. All welcome results, but here I’m celebrating the more ephemeral gifts of rain.

Like the Casuarinas sparkling with diamonds in the early morning…

And the tiny crystal balls bedecking the Native Finger Lime…

Later that day another transient gift of the rain was this Long-necked Tortoise, apparently trying to dig itself backwards into the soft wet ground. I have had one visit a few times, as there are ponds nearby.

And then I saw that this time there were two visiting Tortoises, one slightly bigger than the other.

The one on the right disappeared within ten minutes — where to, I could not see — but the burrowing one remained just like that for over an hour. Did its mate — or was it its mother? — abandon it to scarper back to the ponds? Would it know the way on its own? Would it have the courage to try?

Next morning my yard was tortoise-less again, so hopefully all is well with both my wet weather visitors!

Uplifts

I have never been able to choose between the ‘real’ dramatic sunsets of a western sky and its reflected eastern sky glories, less often seen.

This golden cumulus cluster just on dark was a rare treat, just when I needed something to lift my spirits as the Trump rampage through what was once a great democracy continued on its mad way… and our heads-in-the-sand government goes for gas instead of the zero emissions way forward we need…

After untamed Nature, my garden has always been my next source of solace, where living things sometimes thrive under my care. This Crepuscule rose seemed to hold and reflect that fabulous sunset, further cheering me.

And then came the news of Jacinda Ardern’s re-election, a beacon of sanity and compassion, giving me heart and hope in an increasingly dark world. 

If only…

Her victory did lift my spirits, and they were further buoyed as my Lamarque rose seemed to suddenly burst into the most profuse flowering of its short life. Not golden, but purest white.

Maybe in honour of the integrity and genuine empathy that we can only envy from across the ditch: Yay for Jacinda!