On a visit to my friend Sharyn’s rural property, she showed me these cartoon fairytale fungi under the windbreak of introduced fir trees.

No fairies or elves were sitting on these ones, but perhaps they missed the boat when the species (Amanita muscaria) was introduced to the NSW Blue Mountains for its undeniable decorative qualities.

While vivid and pretty, as tempting as a toffee apple or strawberries and cream, this fungus is toxic.

Sometimes unromantically called Fly Agaric, it’s been used as a fly poison. It has now spread to all Eastern states and Tasmania, where problematically it seems to have adapted to the native beech trees (Nothofagus cunninghamii) and may replace the native fungi.

But here the brilliant domes and their expanding plates have also naturalised under the chestnut trees. Note the many fallen spiky, hairy chestnut pods.

My boot gives an idea of the large size as the fungi caps open, fade to brown, and split into fleshy ‘flowers’.

One other foreigner, also brought in for pine trees, lives here with Sharyn’s chestnut trees. Slippery Jack, as it’s known in England, or Suillus Luteus, is visibly slimy and not pretty, but actually is edible. Commonly eaten in Europe, where they peel off the glutinous skin before doing so.

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My favourite lizard at the Mountain was the cheeky Jacky (Amphibolurus muricatus). I missed him.

But after six months in my new home, I think one of his cousins has come to live here.

He was stretched out across my makeshift plastic-covered hothouse for carrots, catching the last of the afternoon sun.

I ran for the camera but he was quick to dash away. I laughed aloud with delight to see that familiar high-legged splayed gait, long needle tail held out stiff and straight behind — just like a mini-dinosaur.

It looked like a Jack was back in my life.

This one bore different colours from my Mountain mate, but they do vary a lot with gender and temperature. He ran under the house on to a pile of timber, where I couldn’t get a good photo. But enough to marvel anew at those delicate toes and the intricate studded patterns of his stripes. If he’s not a Jacky lizard, he’ll still be Jack to me… and very welcome too!

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I have always needed a writing work space with connection to the outdoors, and I have had that at my Mountain and my last place. Here I have had to create it by inserting two windows to give me the natural views I crave.

This means I can see a fair bit of the birdlife activity, even from my desk.

Which is how I spotted this White-headed Pigeon on my deck railing.

I vividly recall the gradual growth of visits – and visitors – from these handsome pigeons before; first one, then a few, then a flock would start to come around.

I welcome this reconnoitring advance male, and hope for him to return with friends.

As I have observed before, they have adapted to like feeding on the introduced camphor laurels, which no doubt helped save their declining numbers, but does spread the trees.

Unfortunately — apart from attracting the pigeons — I have some here.

Their call is somewhat mournful and not especially musical, with its repetitive ‘oom’.

Their dapper plumage is actually more colourful than at first glance, as there is a purplish-green sheen on the back and rump. The red details on beak, eye ring and legs and feet serve to complement the outfit nicely!

I’ve posted often about these pigeons — try here, here, here and here.

A Colorbond garage wall is not the most inviting surface for a climbing plant. I was sceptical when my nursery lady said she thought Virginia Creeper would be able to cling to it.

Never having grown one – but always wanting to – I gave it a go.

The plant had tendrils which it clearly would like to wind around something, so I began trying to attach wires for it, groaning at the effort this was going to be for such a high shed.

But lo, it didn’t need more wires, as, failing supports, it puts out little sticky feet to help it up the wall.

Another evidence of plant resilience was spotted on the stump of the Silky Oak I had to have removed.

It would seem that the adjoining rainforest is moving in, with what looks like a Sandpaper Fig artfully planted there by a passing bird.

And then, on my fence line, a tree just come into flower drew me closer. Not sure what it is, perhaps type of Pittosporum, not the Undulatum I am used to.

But it was the trunk that fascinated me, with tiny leaflets growing directly out of the highly decorative and lichen-festooned bark. It even has stitched up sections!

Normally I have a view of a swamp, algae covered except where ducks forge a path. It’s the most permanent of a deliberately created wetlands complex of often dry depressions, built for flood mitigation with metal traps to catch debris.

I don’t usually get to see white water or hear it rushing through the forest, yet after a few days of welcome heavy rain, my swamp is transformed as it does its job of moving water.

Weedy sinks are pools, low-lying parts of the forest are semi-submerged and a small creek has found a path through the bottom of my garden.

And I know you’ve probably seen enough of these fungi, but I love that they are so prolific, with new colonies appearing every few days in this wet weather.

Water is Life!

We’ve had lovely rain, which caused my garden plantings to literally lift up their heads in gratitude — and to visibly grow, instead of barely surviving.

In between actual wet days, we’ve had damply humid ones, where rain promises/threatens, but remains undelivered. The perfect warm moist weather for fungi.

I love these very visible clumps of fleshy ‘cappuccino’ fungi, so generously clumping through my backyard grass.

But I am delighted to also find this solitary umbrella, minute and almost translucent, nestled amongst some dry thyme stems.

The grass is long, but it’s been too wet to mow. My first fungi have disappeared, and the sun is out, so I mow. Next day I spot three of these caramel crusted drumsticks defiantly claiming pride of place in the shorter grass.

Far less showy are these shy little fungi, soft blobs of cream hiding in the leaf litter.

I welcome them all, these marvels of moisture that seem to come out of nowhere to surprise the observant eye.

It’s nature, it’s life!

Being bordered by a forest on two sides means I have great close-ish views of many birds.

I hear and see kookaburras quite often, usually in ones or sometimes twos.

This pair were on lookout duty in a large camphor laurel tree.( I have planted a small self-sown strangler fig at its base, hoping that one day native Nature will win.)

Then I noticed a third handsome kooka on a lopped arm of a different tree nearby. It seemed to have something in its beak, but which looked more plant than animal, a stem perhaps, mistaken from on high for a worm.

I don’t know if a trio constitutes a colony (I just like alliteration), but I’d say it’s at least a family.

I wrote about them in my first two books, and drew one, a fellow Mountain resident, in Mountain Tails.

Here’s an extract about kooka families from that chapter, ‘Kookaburra kingdom’

I’ve learnt that Laughing Kookaburras live for several decades and are stay-at-home family birds, partnering for life and keeping their offspring around them in large family groups, where all the older ones help their parents raise the nestlings.

Human families used to do that in the pre-Pill days when four kids was the norm; six and up if you were Catholic, obeyed the Pope and relied on the unreliable rhythm method; two was unusual, a bit sad, given that there must be a physical reason why you’d stopped there; and the rare only child and its parents were much pitied. Bogging in to help feed the littlies, wipe their noses, find the other sock, tie their shoelaces or keep them away from under Mum’s feet was the accepted cross of being older, just part of family life.

As kookaburras haven’t heard about the Pill, things haven’t changed for them. My head knows that those morning and evening kooka choruses that echo around the ridges here are to help the different family groups re-establish their territorial boundaries, like auditory suburban paling fences. Yet my heart says they also do it for sheer joy, since their performance is so wholehearted, beaks pointing skywards, throats vibrating, as they sing the daylight in and out.

I have copies of The Woman on the Mountain which you can buy at a special price here.

This is one of the larger inhabitants of Wingham Brush, a wonderful rainforest pocket reserve right near the town and the river. The Brush was rescued from being smothered by weeds and vines and now attracts many visitors to wander along its winding walkway and share its cool green world.

But ‘inhabitant?’

Well, I know it’s actually a Strangler Fig tree (Ficus obliqua), but my senses — intuition, imagination — say it could be a mighty sleeping creature whose sinuous limbs lie half buried in the leaf litter, reaching for what — or whom?

Or awaiting what or whom to cause it to awake…? And is that a pregnant one? Do Triffids breed?

These trees are a feature of the Brush, and some can be seen still in the process of strangling the host tree, its roots reaching for the ground to begin those amazing snaking buttresses. They grow on average 15-20 metres high and spread 10-15 metres and more when they are as venerable as some here, where signage says they are hundreds of years old.

One giant has fallen, another is dead, crumbling at the base. There is a nobility in its decay, and fungi find a home as it breaks down.

Giant Stinging Trees also live here, but the thousands of Grey-headed Flying-foxes who literally hang out here in the daytime do not seem to mind or be stung. These amazing creatures chatter and climb and flap their caped wings or drape them around themselves, suspended like strange fruit high above the walkway.

They make a lot of noise, they smell strongly, love the small orange fruits of the Figs, and occasionally drop rather messy gifts — wearing a washable hat is advisable!

If you look down instead of up, the Brush Turkeys (Alectura lathami) are the obvious kings — their queens are more elusive.

They form enormous mounds to incubate their partner’s eggs, scraping up dirt and leaves and sticks. I have watched them moving material for quite long distances to get enough to make these mounds, which average 4 metres in diameter and 1.5 metres high. As you can see, the sticks are substantial, all pushed backwards by the bird’s strong feet.

This mound seemed recently opened, so I assumed those chicks had hatched.There were some smaller birds poking about on the ground, but moving too fast for my camera; teenagers?

The birds are not very colourful, except for their bare red heads and necks, but the breeding males sport bright yellow wattles like ruffled cravats. No song either, although I am told they grunt.

An unexpected colour amongst the brown tones of the leaf litter were these small plants, which don’t look like Native Violets to me. Should they be there? Are they native?

This Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) is certainly native, and would love the brackish lagoon that edges the Brush.

What a treat for me to have this oasis within walking distance!

Snakes Alive…

February 3, 2018

This is an extract from The Woman on the Mountain, Chapter 18, ‘Snakes Alive and Dead’, . ‘Once, when I was about nine, Dad and I and the leech-burning neighbour were in the bean paddock when we noticed a really big black snake sunning itself on a log beside the track. The practice then was […]

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Squatters

January 18, 2018

The Peewees own the Jacaranda out the front of my place; it gives them the best vantage point to make forays onto my verandah, foul the white railing and attack my windows. They have a go at the windows of any parked car too. So a huge fuss from them made me look up. Guess […]

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Walking sticks

January 9, 2018

Wildlife seems to find me. This impressive stick-insect right beside my front door was spotted by my son-in-law when he arrived. I think this is a female Titan Stick-insect, Acrophylla titan. She was easily 300mm long, compared here with her discoverer’s hand. I was afraid to harm those fragile limbs in trying to dislodge her, […]

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Sunkisses

January 1, 2018
Thumbnail image for Sunkisses

This is an extract from Chapter 16, ‘Let the sun shine’ in The Woman on the Mountain. It was also included as a stand-alone piece in an anthology by Catchfire Press called Stories for a Long Summer (2006). Summer once meant glorious, golden sunshine, for outdoor playing and swimming, from sunup to sundown if we […]

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