Colouring the times

This an Illawarra Flame Tree, flowering in the reserve next to me. The densely forested reserve is the reason I bought this place; it is also what makes my place so vulnerable to ember attack.

My yard is constantly carpeted with dry leaves– perfect kindling.

So the Flame Tree is a good symbol of the situation in many places as our country explodes into flames.

I took the tree photos before the worst of our smokefilled days, like the one above.

The main colour now comes as the sun rises and sets red.

Under necessary water restrictions I am watching my garden die from thirst, and crisping as the day’s heat rises.

Many have had to watch their whole life’s work — garden, home, belongings, even animals — become burnt offerings to our climate crisis.

I need to find reasons not to despair… and rage with anger… at this time.

So I instead I will turn away, to celebrate the colour from the trees — Silky Oak and Flame Tree — that are native but not indigenous to here.

I hope they lift your spirits a little too.

Nature is beautiful, and bigger than us; we have not treated her well, and right now she is giving us a mighty wake-up message. Last chance?

Sleepy Brush morning

In the reclaimed Brush at Wingham, Brush Turkeys abound. In daytimes, they are usually seen scratching amongst the leaf litter.

Today I entered the Brush on the still-dark side. It was too early for their routine, and I caught them napping. This was the first time I had seen them roosting on branches.

Neither of these looked happy at being disturbed.

You can see from the overall shot how dark it was in their part of the Brush — and why the photos are not great! 

But a little further on the daylight had penetrated to the ground and other Turkey families were at it already.

Amongst the gloom I was struck by this Strangler Fig in a very real pose of strangling. Can I watch that with my Jacaranda?

As a farewell treat, the early sunlight perfectly highlighted this small spiderweb in my path.

Mist dwellers

Arranged like a tableau on stage, these fungi glowed at me from the gloom of the Rainforest Walk in the Australian Native Botanical Gardens in Canberra. Unsurprisingly, the climate of Canberra is not great for rainforest plants, so frequent misting is needed to keep plants happy.

Waiting until a break in misting episodes seemed sensible, pretty as it was.

I walked alongside the little stream, and was astonished by these giant strappy plants. A little further on, I found the name peg: their common name is Stream Lilies! Or more properly, the rather ugly Helmholtzia glaberimma.

Native to New South Wales and Queensland rainforests, they can apparently grow up to two metres high.

The misting left the spiderwebs as beautifully bejewelled as dew can. The ‘stump’ of a tree fern here provided the perfect framework for the diamond-hung strands.

Other less-ambitious spiders took advantage of even the low ground covers, with hundreds of ultra fine mini nets.

Older tree fern trunks, with their many broken-off leaf bases, were home to a stunning variety of life — unidentified, unimagined, but applauded.

And it seems fitting to end as I began, with fungi, always treasure to be sought on rainforest floors. This sole flower-like specimen of brassy gold was yet so well camouflaged I might have missed it. Again, I applaud.

Fig dilemma

I love the large Jacaranda tree outside my house, even if it is an introduced tree that self-seeds rather too readily.

But over the last year I have watched a Strangler Fig that some passing bird has seeded in the Jacaranda fork steadily grow larger.

But eventually it will ‘strangle’ the host, as I see so many enormous ones have done in the Wingham Brush. They would be food for the Greyheaded flying foxes and the Whiteheaded Pigeons I see here.

But the Jacaranda is deciduous and allows my solar panels winter sun; the fig will not.

But just look at the spiderwebs in that fork and the fig roots inching earthwards. This is a natural process; I don’t feel I have the right to intervene, like a gardener.

But perhaps I can prune the fig tree later, to keep it from shading my panels…

Evening exodus

Every evening, after sundown, before dark, in what I guess we can claim as twilight, a seemingly endless stream of bats fly over my place, heading out for the night’s feeding.

From my deck I watch the streams of flying dots, fascinated as the odd one turns back or the strands split up, until the sky is too dark to distinguish them.

They are clearly heading for different feeding places, but how do they decide who goes where, and why do some individuals get their signals mixed up? 

The ‘bats’ are actually Grey-headed Flying-foxes, and have about 20 different calls. They navigate by sight and find food by smell. So maybe the meandering individual’s senses are just a bit off that evening.

More numerous than my head can guess at, but in the thousands seems right. They come from their home in the regenerated Wingham Brush.

Thousands of Grey-headed Flying-foxes literally hang out there by day, small swinging parcels wrapped up in leather shawls.

Even if you don’t look up into the Giant Stinging Trees, the Strangler Figs and many other rainforest trees, you can’t remain unaware that this is their place — the smell, for a start, and then the chattering and squeaking, the restless movements above, even when they are supposed to be sleeping.

I find them fascinating, and delight in having such a thriving colony in my area. These ‘Flying Foxes’ — quaint name! — seem very social. Some hang by one hand and air their wings, others visit next door camps.

So each time I watch the flying dots pass over, I give thanks that at least one species still has enough habitat here. I hope enough destination feeding forests will remain too, of eucalypt blossoms and nectar, of native fruits like lilli-pillis.

If not, we force them into ‘our’ patches and complain.

Green magic

In Tapin Tops National Park, near Wingham NSW, you are rewarded for a shady one kilometre walk — and several rock-hopping crossings on Little Run Creek — by Potoroo Falls.

The Falls are narrow and stepped, and the pool at their base is deep and wide — and extremely cold! Or it was at Christmas.

But it is edged on the lower side with amber pebbly ‘beaches’, where gold dust looks possible and the water is warmer. 

Little Run Creek is a delight to walk beside, with multi-coloured leaves trapped in tea-coloured eddies between mini-cascades. 

Creeksides are dominated by green life, with roots and trunks and fallen logs covered in moss and lichen. This tree had what seemed to be a rock growing up with it.

This one was spectacularly clad — until it was pointed out that some self-promoting vandal had carved letters in that green raiment. Sometimes I despair of people…

This one looked like it might take revenge for such an act, should it awaken…

And while green ruled, I was surprised at so few fungi jewels…

…until this one tiny patch in the darker shade!

Dorrigo details

Rainforests are often majestic and always green worlds of their own. Dorrigo National Park has a two-hour walk that takes you through such a world.

While focal points like the Falls are spectacular, it’s the details along the way that fascinate me.

Conical hanging birds’ nests? Or accidentally arranged lichen?

Vines reach for the light way above, and lichen hitches a ride on most things, decorating bark to green furriness.

Different lichens decorate in different ways, here trailing like delicate green feather boas.

This walk is on a steep hillside, where the very large trees need all the earth hold they can get, so buttresses are common, but not often as narrow as these.

The bark of the tree varieties is interesting enough, but some bore strange markings like moon craters or excrescences like foetal creatures.

Fascinating details that I wanted a guide to quiz.

I saw many more varieties but could not photograph them as halfway round the walk I was caught in a thunderstorm, with heavy rain and stinging hail. I had to stow the camera in my bag and don the emergency plastic poncho. The camera survived the long wet trip back, my boots and trousers and the poncho didn’t.

Return of the Frogmouth kids?

Poking about under the small clump of trees on my block, I was pointing up into the skinniest Casuarina to show a visiting weed controller where the Frogmouth nest was.

‘Well, there’s two up there now’, he said.

At first all I could see were two odd shapes against the light.

When I moved around the tree to the better, non-backlit side, there they were– unmistakably two Frogmouths playing at dead branches.

Of course I went for the camera, as its zoom enables me to see so much better. Aren’t they beautiful close up?

Are these are the grown siblings come back to their birthplace, albeit in a different fork of that tree, or one of them and a parent, or the two original parents?

Whatever they are, I am thrilled to have them back!

Plant surprises

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!

Brush creatures

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!

Familiar faces

As at my last two homes, I see a lot of wildlife just from my decks and verandahs, perhaps because I choose homes that are part eyrie.

Not having heard kookaburras here yet, I was delighted to see this one last evening, just metres away from my side verandah. Such a handsome fellow!

Next day, I heard the unmistakable continual rusty sawing of a young Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo. Rushing out to that same verandah, I spotted him, large and loud, carrying on as only a baby magpie can beat.

This equally handsome fellow was in a Silky Oak, but where was the parent? Not in the same tree…

No, but near enough, busy in a Casuarina, ignoring the whining young. I am so happy that these familiar avian faces are appearing in my new place, making me feel more at home with each visit.

But this place is all about trees; even the clothesline is a pulley system off the high back deck, where I send my washing out into the air space between trees… past the reach of the yellow droppings of birds in the Silky Oak.

Treetop home

There have been no posts for a while as I’ve been immersed in the chaos of moving house again.

This time — the absolute last! — it was to a rural town, where I share my block with this Tawny Frogmouth, one of my favourite birds.

A quiet, retiring, serenely beautiful bird, with ‘eyelashes’ to envy. Their roosting habit is often described as ‘cryptic’, mimicking broken branches; this one is easier than usual to spot, being on its nest.

I am still waiting to hear its distinctive, if unmusical, call.

And with a few dozen Rainbow Lorikeets – not quiet. In fact they are known as ‘a noisy conspicuous bird’, whose ‘shrill screech and sharp chattering’ leave no doubt as to their presence

They are currently feeding on/decimating a big Queensland Silky Oak (Grevillea robusta) tree that is far too close to my house, so it will not be there for much longer.

(The Frogmouth’s She Oak is safe.)

Before that they were busy on a red bottlebrush tree out the front. They are the only Lorikeet with a blue head, striking against the red beak and above the orange, yellow and red bands and splashes on the predominantly green body.

One of the reasons why I will see lots of birds here is that my large block is edged on two sides by a forested wetlands reserve. I know I won’t see wallabies but have resigned myself to that wonderful Mountain stage of my life being past.

But here the rain still falls and works with the early morning sun to make diamonds to turn my mundane clothesline into regimented linear splendour. Despite the culture shock of road traffic on one side, I remain blessed.



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