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!

Northern Nature

On the far North Queensland coast, evidence of Cyclone Yasi damage abounds, seven years later. On Dunk Island, the once-famous resort is still closed, unrepaired.

But even here natural survivors struggle on, like this coconut palm.

Years ago I had read Banfield’s Confessions of a Beachcomber about his time there. But Dunk Island is not the romantic and untouched place he described, full of wildlife.

I struggled to see any, and I’m afraid that the one frog briefly spotted on the climb to the top of the mountain may well be a cane toad. It was extremely well camouflaged and doesn’t fit any in my frog book.

There was no flora or fauna information on the Island, even though much of it still a national park, and walking tracks were vague.

The rocks are spectacularly jagged and slanted, thrusting up in sharp slabs from beneath the gritty sand of finely crushed coral. Shellfish cluster round their high tide bases.

Even well above any tide line, wasps find shelter in their hollows…

… and tiny tree seedlings root in any crevices where soil or rotting vegetation have lodged.

Beautiful as it is, I found Dunk to be a sad place, damaged by more than Yasi.

The coast is close here, a quick water taxi ride away.

It’s famous for its Cassowaries and crocodiles, but I saw neither. My most interesting northern sighting was of an Orange-footed Scrubfowl.

Not exclusive to the north, but not often seen by me, was what I think was a Spangled Drongo.

Inland, the mountains back the sugarcane coastal plains, trapping clouds and dropping rain, so that towns like Tully and Babinda vie for the title of the wettest town. (Babinda’s main street happens to be Munro Street!)

The edging range creates plentiful waterfalls and powerful rushing creeks, as at Babinda Rocks.

Wild, lushly grand country.

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!

Kooka colony

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.

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!

Squatters

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 who?

My absent Father Frogmouth and one of the teenage offspring, I assume.

The Peewees aren’t using their clay nest any more as their young are flying, following them and loudly whinging for food. Nevertheless, they did not welcome these squatters.

My bird book calls them Australian Magpie-larks, but however one names them we agree that Peewees are notoriously ‘bravely combative and noisy in defence of their territory’.

The Frogmouths are well camouflaged amongst the tessellated bark of the convoluted Jacaranda branches. Try as I might, I could not get a clear shot of the hunched up young one, but the aristocratic Dad wasn’t shy.

So good to see them!

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.

Winter warmth

I am sorry to see the last of the Glory Vine’s red leaves preparing to drop and join the colourful drifts along the verandah edges.

But the little maple trees are taking up the Autumn baton from them.

At my last home, the Liquid Ambers were the light sources of dull winter days, but here does not seem cold enough for them to really glow.

Instead the Maples, not even as tall as me yet, are showing off vivid vermillion stems flushing into their buttery leaves.

And most welcome of all in winter are my citrus fruit trees, especially the perfect miniature, ornamentally shaped and coloured and deliciously sweet (skin) and tart (flesh) all at once, my Nagami cumquat.

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.



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