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!

Reclusive visitor

We’ve had rain, and the rocks in my back yard path are a bit slippery. But not slimy with weed, so this rock caught my eye.

And then I saw that it had back legs. A tortoise; but was it digging in or out? Right next to a cement slab didn’t seem a smart choice either way.

Of course I ran for the camera, hoping it would still be there. I tiptoed around the front of it and knelt down. The small head with that distinctive pointy nose turned slightly towards me and one bright beady eye summed me up.

‘Better retreat’ was the decision. Not wanting to disturb its plans, I left it alone, but it was nowhere to be seen later. From the weed on its shell I suspect it had walked up from the wetlands below the yard.

I hope it found a suitable spot in my yard… and felt safe. Maybe I need a sign ‘All wildlife welcome’?

Welcome Greenie

This gorgeous Green Tree Frog is probably the best known frog in Australia, but no less special for that. He’s the source of the very deep and monotonous ‘wark-wark-wark’  that I hear at the bottom of a nearby downpipe, presumably when he reckons rain is coming.

This one was quiet, post-rain and dozing on a rhubarb leaf, for which he was really too heavy as he’d bent it almost to the ground. They can grow up to 15 cm long, so this one is a relative lightweight.

Such a baleful look he gave me as I went closer to take his photo. These plump green beauties are also known as White’s Tree Frogs. I was more familiar with the much smaller Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog, also a green gem of a creature. I welcome all frogs!

Welcome wallies

I get so few visits from more than one wandering wallaby that I was delighted to see this little trio of game boys venture in right near the house one early evening after rain.

They are the same Eastern Red-necked Wallabies that I lived with — in such great numbers — at my old Mountain home. As I have now been here two years, I had hoped that the word would have got around that no dogs lived here any more.

This gang of young males were not afraid, didn’t mind me opening the verandah door to take these shots, but were wary, as is only right.

But I miss my old familiars, the mothers and joeys always hanging about the yard. Patiently, hopefully, I await their discovery of my sanctuary. There is a sign on the gate; maybe they are less educated over here?

Where green rules

When you move to a new area, life is busy setting up your own place and you only take time off for regional sightseeing when you have visitors.

Tapin Tops National Park near Wingham is one regional sight I’ve been meaning … and meaning…to see. Last week I did.

It’s high, with the access a well-maintained but steep and winding road up — and down — and up again.

As there are 20 dfferent forest types mapped for this Park, it’s a varied experience.

From the Dingo Tops Rest area there are several walks; the Red Cedar Walk was the standout for me.

It’s steep too, a plunge into a world of vibrant green and tall trees, soaring gums and rainforest trees festooned with ferns and orchids, moss and lichens.

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The spectacular patterns of really tall tree ferns rose above us, silhouetted against dense vine-clad slopes.

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You have to watch your step as it’s all steep, but stopping for the knees to take a break is also good to take in the closer views of the intense green life here, like this delicate ferny vine winding its way skywards.

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Or strange ferns that appeared to be growing from the bark of their host tree but turned out to be also vines.

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While the trees were stunning, the ground level life of the sinuous buttressed roots and their mossy decorations were my favourites.

This green intensity was even more evident on the creekside (and wet-feet-through-the-creek) walk from the Potoroo Picnic area. We didn’t make it to the actual Potoroo Falls as a tangle of fallen trees blocked the way.

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This was a walk for close contact and surprising details, like this huge fallen tree, totally covered in thick dew-beaded mosses.

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Or this vine, curving and curling above and around the path, with bright orange hopeful roots reaching for the ground.

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Little Run Creek itself is small and pretty and gurgly, inviting a prolonged sit and listen. While doing that I spotted this row of ball bearings, seemingly permanently fixed at the base of the rock; on closer inspection they turned into a chain of bubbles stuck in position for all the time I watched.

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I’d been hoping to see a lyrebird or hear a dingo while up there, but that lack was more than compensated for by meeting a koala ambling across the road on the way out.

Screen creature

This striking silhouette met me the other morning. ‘Let me in!’ or ‘How the hell do I get down?’

The screen door wire is a bit floppy and it can’t have felt comfortable or secure for this creature.

I worried that its ultra-long and delicate toes would be stuck in the mesh…

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Gently sliding the door open, I looked him in the eye. I know you, I thought.

It’s a Jacky Lizard, my favourite of old, too seldom seen here.

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An extraordinary creature, a miniature marvel, with its stony camouflage, needlepoint tail and fine digits, although the camouflage was not so great for screenwire…

I don’t know what he was seeking or where he was headed but you’ll be pleased to know he retreated with fingers and toes intact, and I have since seen him on the deck. Or at least a quicksilver glimpse before he flipped off the edge and out of sight.

Gypsy farewell

Last week I loaded my much-loved Gypsy camper on to my ute for the last time. 

I have had to sell her due to financial problems.

The first to see bought her, and I had several callers wanting me to gazump them and buy her sight unseen.

I delivered her to her new home base near Inverell, where she is going to be used on a tray back ute and have major additions done to take advantage of the extra external side spaces.

I am now looking for a small 4WD campervan instead.

Here’s a few reflective pics of our time together.

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When she first arrived at my old Mountain home in 2012, she was immediately utilised by the locals for shade. I slept in her for the first night, just to celebrate what seemed my unbelievable good fortune in owning her.

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She was usually parked at the side of the cabin, very soon under a special sail for weather protection.

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Even while stationary there she had quite a few adventures with the local wildlife.

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I used to joke that I should rename her an ‘Activist Camper’, rather than an Active Camper, as she accompanied me to several protectors’ camps. At the original Leard Forest camp, a local frog immediately took up residence.

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We had only one actual ‘holiday’ — for two days — but she was wonderful for getting around to distant book talks, as in Victoria.

We did make it to a few national parks in between commitments in a given area — like Mount Kaputar when I was in the Pilliga, or the amazing Bunya Mountains here, from Toowoomba.

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Towing the final trailer load, she came with me as I passed through my gate for the very last time at the Mountain… a tough day.

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We made it here to our new home on 14th September, almost a year ago.

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Once here, at the Gloucester Protectors’ camp she was a frequent visitor, making the early morning action starts very easy for me.

She also coped with what seemed to be the frequent wild weather we copped there.

I felt guilty as tents ballooned and blew apart.

So my Gypsy has earned her new life and transformation. 

I loved having her, although I always felt she was too good to be true…

Queer creatures

When you step out of your ute in a Macdonalds carpark (yes, I confess: a rare last resort!) you don’t expect to be eye-to-eye with a prehistoric creature like this.

It was most uncomfortably perched on top of a harshly pruned hedge, as spiky as itself.

I think it’s a water dragon but there was none of that substance about. It, like the dragons, is usually found at ground level.

Maybe it was waiting to be fed leftovers from Maccas?

By the way, at least I learnt that Maccas still doesn’t cater for vegetarians.

Coffee with fries, please.

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Meanwhile at home, I have two far more smooth and docile creatures in residence.

The Gramma couple are snuggling up in a corner while I consider how best to use these gifts from a neighbour. I’ve done the Gramma Pie they requested. Very nice too, but it was more an exercise in disguising the Gramma than making the most of its flavour (?).

Anything could have provided the bulk.

Anyway, I’m not sure I can bear to break up this loving pair. Well, he seems a bit uppity, but she clearly adores him.

Ladder snake

I have seen a tree snake trying to climb a water tank here. I suspect this is the same slender Green Tree Snake, made smarter by that experience.

Now it uses the ladder.

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My book says that this snake will inflate the fore part of its body when threatened; I’m not sure if it was me or the ladder that it considered threatening but it was clearly fatter at the front.

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Just look at the way it manages to hang on to the ladder while investigating the old guttering leaning against the wall beside it. As unwelcoming a climbing surface as the water tank was…

My book also said that this snake can be can be grey, green, blue, brown, black or yellow, so I’m only assuming I’ve identified this one correctly.

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The skin between the scales is apparently most revealed when the snake inflates – blue – but this one seems dotted with blue…?

Autumn mornings

It’s mid-Autumn; at last the nights and mornings have turned cold.

The slow combustion fire warms me at night; the sight of Autumn mists rising from the valley warms my spirit of a morning.

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The dew and the sunshine cause even the electric fence and the wretched Setaria grass to take on beauty.

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I am rarely quick enough to catch the occasional grazing wallaby who is still out in these misty mornings. The rabbits are even more occasional and usually even quicker to leap away, but I managed to snap this one, looking for all the world as if he’d hopped out of the pages of a Beatrix Potter story.

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I am very happy for this handsome fellow to eat the grass; so far I have only found evidence of unwanted nibbling on the lettuces, sorrel and parsley.

Beatrix observed that lettuces have a soporific effect on rabbits like the Flopsy Bunnies, but I am yet to find a snoozing rabbit in the garden.

Passersby?

Heading outside late at night, I heard a telltale heavy rustle amongst the leaves of the Crepuscule rose that clmibs up one end of the verandah.

A guilty Brushtail Possum scrambled up under the rafters, hoping I couldn’t see it. Which I couldn’t, until I looked around the post — and used a torch. Unfair advantage, I know.

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Many people consider these critters cute; I don’t. They eat roses. And citrus.

One seems to hang about for a while and them move elsewhere. A brief stopover.

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My Nashi trees are dropping their yellowing leaves, which turn dark brown to black on the ground — if the wallabies don’t get to them first.

So it wasn’t surprising that a large black leaf had blown a little off course – at first distant sight. Too big as I drew closer…

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It was another creature I rarely see out and about, when it should be in the little dam downhill. A longnecked tortoise.

I’d found one near my clothesline a few days before and had put it back in what is really a large waterlily pond, thinking of the long distance to my other dam.

Clearly this tortoise was determined to leave home. This time I respected its instincts and let it be. Just passing by.

I hope it found its destination safely.

Cleaning up

As the cloud lifted and daylight tried to become sunlight, the kookaburras watched for emerging worms and the wallabies were out drying off. 

These two mums were close to the cabin.

The nearest had an inquisitive joey, lightly furred over its pink skin. Head out, but wisely not interested in venturing from the warm pouch.

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Mum had work to do, cleaning up after the muddy days and dealing with the fleas and ticks. Her joey just had to duck the odd angles that put her in.

First the tail, laid out in front, thoroughly scratched and the fur sifted.

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Then between the toes, licked and nibbled. This sent the joey back inside for a moment.

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Then the ears, which doubled mum up even more.

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It was all so exhausting that Mum decided it was time for a nap. She flopped sideways and almost at soon as she hit the ground bub disappeared to sleep in the soft silky pink world of her pouch. What a life!

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