Two years on…

I recently camped for a few days on a block that was totally burnt out in those unstoppable bushfires two years ago. This property lost everything, including the house; in fact six homes were lost along this road in that inferno.

The two years since, including the last extremely wet season, has seen much green growth (including weeds).

And while the eucalypts now have plenty of leaves, like fingerless gloves they cannot disguise the dead black claws that remain unclad.

The far ridgetops remain a thin filigree of the worst burnt. On the slopes at times the lines of dead smaller trees appear like wraiths of grey smoke.

Close by the claws are ghostly grey, not black, and they now define the silhouette of the forest, rather than the old mopheaded gum treeline. 

The variety of greens in these vigorously regrowing eucalypts once again gives the lie to the ‘boring bush’ idea put about by the early colonists.  Yes, some are greyish-green…

Others are vividly bright green…

Others are almost purple-green…

And many have no green at all.

I admit to my eyes being taken with these new tree lines… and to my heart being saddened by the pleading of those bony scarecrow fingers…

Artful Nature

Through burnt country, the water runs constantly, cool and clear in these mountain streams. Splashing over dark tessellated rock shelves, landing hard to fizz and spray sparkling drops into the shallow pool below. Such energy and action!

Yet higher up at Brushy Mountain camp that stream is small and steadily busy as it winds through ferns and lomandra, the pink of the new ferny foliage counterpointing the green.

There was pink in the new gum leaves too, but these clumps of pink trigger plants (Stylidium) won the day for me, as I had never seen them. Each flower has a column or trigger that releases when an insect lands, ensuring it will do the work of cross pollination. There was another variety nearby, of paler pink.

More monochrome than colour, the trunks of the Coachwood trees sang with pattern and subtlety.

One seemed to be adding ink drawing to its pastel range…

I was on the lookout for fungi, but saw very little on the ground, except for this small isolated clump, nestling shyly yellow like fleshy buttercups amongst the damp leaf litter.

It is always heartening to see how Nature makes use of even burnt logs. A veritable colony of tiny coffee and cream fungi had claimed this tree.

As we walked back to camp, a Goodenia guard of honour flanked the path with brightness and colour. A surprise, like so much in Werrikimbe.

I’ll be back…

The greens of Werrikimbe

Werrikimbe National Park is high country, a World Heritage Wilderness oasis of cool temperate rain forest where tall Antarctic Beech trees and tree ferns dominate above ground.

Green is overwhelmingly its colour, but it was the mosses and ferns that held it most.

Amongst the areas that had been burnt out in the unstoppable fires two years ago, the ferns held such bright greens that they seemed lit from within.

Fallen logs grew green velvet.

Entire rock faces grew clumps and lumps of green softness to cascade down its slopes like a waterfall. 

Yet just above, the ridgetop forest had burnt… and not recovered.

The green decoratively draped itself over the large fungi on this Beech, not quite succeeding as camouflage.

In the drier, more open burnt sections, the blackened tree fern trunks valiantly flaunted their green parasols above the ferns.

Lower down the mountain, stepped above a rushing creek, impressively tall buttressed Carrabeen trees bore the green softness in all their folds as if integral to the trees.

Sometimes the mosses left the bright limes behind and seemed almost blue.

And as if to show that moss rules here, this tiny starter had taken over a conveniently horizontal surface. Go mossling!

Tea time

Many coastal dwellers or visitors will be familiar with brown tea-coloured creeks and lakes.

The paperbark swamp I walk past is overflowing now, the ‘tea’ spreading across the dirt road.

These Melaleucas or Paperbarks are often called tea trees because early settlers steeped the leaves in boiling water to make tea.

Their papery soft layers of bark have long been used by Aboriginal people: from carrying and warming, cooking, receiving and wrapping babies, to cups and domestic uses, to art and spiritual practices… paperbark is versatile. We are less imaginative, mainly using it as lining for plant baskets.

Many species are happy with wet feet. There are plenty of paperbark swamps in this mid coast area, but I have often seen them dry,

Tea-filled, the reflections of the trees add to the delights.

I was hoping to get past the reflections and find, on closer inspection, some sort of water-loving life, like the frogs I could hear. But the trees’ reflections won out, and by then I was sent hurrying home by the fine drizzle that has been our frequent companion here in between real showers.

Sea shapings

Boxed rocks with green velvet and creamy fillings, tightwaisted sand escapees… nature’s gallery of shapes so varied I never tire of looking.

Reminding us that shells are not fixed decorations, but meandering muscles with sun protection homes on their backs, these whelks and limpets have created their own patterns as they wait for the rising tide to refresh and cool them.

More ephemeral, sun and water make their own rippling rings of light.

The tide that went out has left endless versions of sand art, etched in line drawings and moulded into soft sculptures.

Some form escarpments and runnelled foothills, carve and capture pools and lakes.

Others twist into fancifully embossed tails of Art Nouveau.

Elaborate minarets from Arabia? Or a curving creature with snub nose and dragon spine?

Each tide will leave a different set of artworks, shaped from all different directions by the sea.

Cause for wonder, cause for gratitude…

Bridal whites

These gorgeous bouquets of fragrant white flowers, with their four seductively waving stamens, belong to a small isolated sample of the native tree called Hairy lollybush or Clerodendrum tomentosum. The developing fruit you can see here is green now but will become strikingly bright with a black-dark blue centre surrounded by red calyxes… hence the lolly looks?

This particular tree had a most unusual trunk, like a periscope, with viewing holes. How did it come by them? It is in a public park, so perhaps man-made…

Not at all isolated, this smallish tree, Blueberry Ash or Eleocarpus reticulatus is evidently common here, as its dainty flowers are so eyecatchingly abundant.

A rainforest tree, it is also commonly called Fairy Petticoats or Prima Donna, referring to the pretty fringed bell skirts of flowers. These scented flowers do indeed develop blue berries, much loved by birds.

(As these two local trees were unfamiliar to me, I thank local Robyn for her identification help.)

And not at all white, but eyecatching for me, was this bark slope of flowering moss (?), like a miniature forest in perfect profile.

I love equally the minutiae and the grandeur of Nature… all on free show for us to marvel at.

Tree hugs?

Strangler figs are extraordinary plants, but this large one seemed to be a cannibal as well. It was likely newer aerial roots embracing the original fig… and who knows what sort of tree it had strangled.

The labyrinthine inner root system sat within the older one’s arms. No wonder fairy stories anthropomorphise trees…

At other times the figs cuddle up to a different species, embracing it so closely it merges. These two seem on equal terms as yet, but I know which will win in the end. Treehugging gone too far?

As always I am fascinated by the apparently wilful choices made by trees, like this small one on a heathland. Having decided ‘up there’ was too windy and exposed, it headed back down, curving in on itself in an almost embrace.

Curves are favoured by others, like these wattle seed pods. After popping open to release the seeds, they curl up into spirals as fascinating as the flowers were.

Isn’t Nature amazing?

Seashore spot colours

At last I managed to be at this rock platform at low enough tide to see its treasures. It’s Wash House Beach near Camden Head.

Beaches are cream and brown; rock platforms are that too, but with extra arrays of greens and pinks… and some surprising spots of vivid colour, like these shy red starfish.

One very bright red slash caught my eye; it moved… a bird. Then it doubled.

Two Sooty Oystercatchers, glossy black, unmistakable with those red eyes, legs and bill, poking their way like automatons across the cunjevoi-covered rocks.

Amongst the pretty underwater garden plants a single orange ‘finger’ was waving; attached, was it a slug or… ?

Bigger and brighter orange splashes showed in the lichen on rocky crevices nearer the sea. This one was home to the only sea urchin I saw.

Blue was also present. Below the galeolaria sea worm casings these clusters of pale blue were attached. They reminded me of shellback ticks…I touched one with the back of a fingernail and it felt soft… not hard like a barnacle.

And blue there certainly was in this sole bluebottle jellyfish, stranded by the tide, looking more like a plastic bath toy than the giver of very painful stings I recall from childhood. Occasionally there would be mass beachings of them, and their long stinging tentacles were not always visible to us kids hopping amongst them.  We learnt!

Pelican display

Common around these waterways, our Australian Pelicans are always amazing birds to watch. I never tire of watching them take off, or land on their watery runways, wings out as brakes.

On a breezy day, most of this flock were curled in on themselves, hunkered down and looking backwards with their large eyes, in the disconcerting way they do.

 But then I saw the large area of pink on one; what was it doing? Was it airing the inside of its bill? Was it yawning?!

Then it seemed to lay the soft lower bill pouch, inside out, flat across its chest. None of its fellows looked surprised, so it must happen often enough.

This display happened very quickly before it returned its head and bill to a more usual position.

Snapping away almost blindly, it was only when I looked at the photos at home that I saw that one of its erstwhile dozing mates had woken up.

Then it did  this … but what am I looking at? What is it doing?!

Our Pelicans have the largest bill of any living bird. I accept that they are extraordinary birds; after all I saw…and loved  and wept at… the film Storm Boy, decades ago.

But the mystery remains of what else it does with its bill other than use it as a mating display, a scratcher, a trawling net, or to catch and temporarily hold prey.  Why does it turn it inside out?

No information site yielded an answer, so I will be greatly pleased if somebody can tell me!

Coast walk surprises

The Coast Walk from North Haven near Laurieton to Grants Head near Bonny Hills can be done in sections, quite varied, and not always well signposted.

It was only because we got a bit lost that we found this wonderful avenue of flannel flowers through low banksia forest. It was an unmarked sandy sideways trail that did reconnect with the Coast Walk and its much taller forest.

There were few other plants in bloom at this late stage of Spring, so those that were, like this melaleuca(?) or callistemon (?) were even more appreciated.

The track leads one to the beach before Grants Head, where this seemingly man-made rock mirrored its slope in reverse.

To avoid retracing our beach steps — plus the tide was coming in — we walked up through a low heath.

Here candles of creamy blossoms were out in profusion amongst windswept low banksias.

My new plant guru Robyn tells me this bountiful and hardy plant is Hakea teretifolia.

The walk winds back down to take you back past peaceful paperbark swamps, now mostly dry but with healthy reed carpets.

This coastal area is a paperbark paradise… !

Pattern master

This large Goanna, or Lace Monitor, scoots past my yard most days.  That netting fence means nothing to it and the set route goes right through it. Usually I only catch a glimpse, so fast and determinedly does it move.

But this day I wanted to see it over the fence and moved higher and closer. The click of the camera caused it to stop and look at me… or the source of the noise.

I am always amazed at massivity of these creatures: look at those legs! Common in eastern Australia, it is one of our largest lizards; some of the males can exceed 2m in length. 

Carnivores, they are quite partial to carrion.

I have seen them foraging around campsites… and enjoying a meat pie.

This one decided it was safer off the ground;  one of their common names is Tree Goanna. Those claws give good grip, holding it here for me to admire the extraordinary patterning of stripes and spots… an Aboriginal art template.

They are actually shy, and while they have been known to run up a human, it is not from aggression, but because they have mistaken the vertical ‘thing’ for a safe tree.

One aspect of their lives that was new to me was how they breed: the female digs a hole in a termite mound and lays her 6-12 eggs there. The termites rebuild over the hole and keep the eggs steadily warm (30ºC). Then 8-9 months later, she returns to dig out the hatchlings. How clever is that at delegating?!

Warm colour curiosities

This is a totally unfamiliar plant, with its stem-hugging clusters of fleshy orange ‘flowers’ … or are they fruit? ‘Mistletoe’ crossed my mind but there are no accompanying copycat leaves. What is this?

Orange is common enough in the fungi world, here forming bright stepping platters up this stump.

Often it will be seen glowing brightly as new leaves amongst the green, as so prettily done by this vine.

Many of the pea flowering shrubs sport orange in their yellow hearts, as in what I assume is a Dillwynia, noted as very plentiful at Kattang. Any such flowers we used to call ‘Bacon and eggs.’

Others have no orange in their yellow pea centres. I have now bought some secondhand wildflower books but none are arranged so that I can look up, say, ‘all yellow flowers’.

So I am even more confused. Is this a Pultenaea?

And then I see a single tall leggy shrub with clusters of golden flowers and long thin leaves… nothing like the dense low ones.  Help! I need a friendly local botanist…

One familiar sunny face was the Twining Guinea Flower (Hibbertia scandens) that I first met at my Mountain.

Leaving the sunny colours, but staying on the warm side of the spectrum, I am relieved to see a plant I do know: the purple Hardenbergia, one of my favourite native climbers, also with pea-shaped blooms. No idea what the white flowering shrub is that it is threading its way through, but a pretty sight altogether!

And flowering fairy-like amongst the grasses were lots of these Blue Flax Lilies (Dianella revoluta). Tiny but stunning, dangling purple stars with golden centres. A fittingly royal purple end to this wildflower walk…