Home birds

I have rarely seen a Sacred Kingfisher, but this gorgeously coloured bird was perched near the mangroves of the river where I live, just when I happened to walk down to see what the low tide was presenting.

From my window I often see its cousin, the Laughing Kookaburra, the largest kingfisher in the world. This morning there had been two to welcome me home.

There are almost always Pelicans to be seen here, perched on oyster racks or mud banks. The degree of flexibility of their long necks is as impressive as the accuracy with which they can use their bill tips for the cleaning going on here.

This White-faced Heron was a solitary wader through the mud and shallow water, and keen-eyed watcher.  I love that the longer feathers on its back and chest are called ’nuptial plumes!’

Long-necked and long-legged, it was most elegant in its wading, double-imaged in the almost still water.

So I am back home on the coast, where the birds are perhaps no less bizarre than in the Desert Uplands.

Bizarre birds

In Central Queensland, emus are not an uncommon sight. But no matter how many I see, or how often, they always strike me as most bizarre.

Stately, yes. Self-contained, yes. And bizarre.

I’d stopped as this one high-stepped it across the road, not looking at me or my large white van.

Then it turned and unhurriedly retraced its steps back across the road, tail feather bustle bouncing, chest feathers extension flopping like a sporran, head on that gawky long neck rigidly ignoring me.

Bizarre!

Back on the coast, amongst rainforest instead of Desert Uplands, the camp had no emus, but plenty of Brush Turkeys strutting about.

Yet this one kept lying on its side as if shot down, one wing up, breast feathers exposed. It did it in a few places, and after each would get up and wander off to repeat the performance. Playing dead? Asking to have its tummy rubbed? Or just letting the sun warm that chest?

In between those two places I passed this tree in a bare paddock, full of galahs decorating it like coconut ice queens.

Not bizarre, but very pretty.

Earthmovers

Most of us are familiar with the ramparts built by ants to protect their underground homes from inundation. As I am waiting for tracks to dry out after rain, so I can get out, I am hoping they don’t mean these ants are expecting more rain.

But these tiny (and very bitey) little insects are moving soft sandy soil.

Unlike their fellow earthmovers, the termites, who, despite being called white ants, are more closely related to cockroaches than to ants.

Termites create cities of hard-packed mounds, towers and pinnacles from their own bodies.

They excrete the wood that they eat and use it to make the ‘mud’ of their fantastic constructions. And it’s estimated that they’ve been doing it for 150 million years.

So hard-packed is the material that it has often been chosen to use for earth floors. It would seem a shame to destroy such an artistic creation as the multi-turreted one above.  But how do they decide the intention of shape and direction? Or is it random?

Do the workers ever rebel and follow their own design bent? Like this questing Leunig curl?

As the termite king and queen remain in their chambers, they never get to see the handiwork of their workers, so whims could be perhaps be indulged…

Beauties of Bimblebox

By moonlight or daylight or the in-between twilight, Bimblebox reveals a myriad of natural treasures.

Especially striking amongst the many varieties that form this woodland are
the Rusty Jackets (Corymbia leichhardtii).

But the actual Bimblebox (Eucalyptus populnea) trees are striking in a different way; not the bark, but the leaves, shimmering in the breezes like silver dollars. This baby Bimblebox shows off the distinctive
almost heart-shaped leaves.

They were the inspiration for the Bimblebox logo.

The properties over the boundary fence do have some trees… if you look hard and far enough…

Welcome to Bimblebox

I have been camped at Bimblebox Nature Refuge near Alpha in Queensland for the last two weeks, and likely the next 3-4, to help prepare for the site visit of the Queensland Land Court and associated legal and government teams.

The Bimblebox Alliance, of whose committee I am a member, is objecting to a coal mine project, which would include Bimblebox, as proposed by Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal.

As you can imagine, an 8000ha nature refuge in the Desert Uplands is hardly close to shops, so accommodation and catering for visitors is not easy, let alone for numbers.

Days are still hot here, and surprisingly humid. Nights are beautiful, stunningly starry, and cool enough to be a delight.

As I have no time to wander about, each day I pay attention in case the termite mounds I pass have changed positions. I feel like classing them as wildlife, albeit paused temporarily.

There are millions here.

Up early and to bed early, I see the low sunrises and higher sunsets.

One evening unseasonal rain threatened… and fell.

But soon after it cleared and a pale desert rainbow appeared: my first.

May it augur well for this court case to save this gentle woodland and all that call it home…

Cranky Rocks

I have now driven almost 1500 km over three days, up to Bimblebox Nature Refuge near Alpha in Queensland. I stopped the first night near Warialda at a private property, which features an impressive jumble of volcanic rocks accessible from the Cranky Rocks camping area.

I set out to cross the suspension bridge and climb the easy path up to see them… and hopefully catch the sunrise. Too early, as you see.

The rocks were docile at this early hour, heaped large and small by the path.

Huge ones were balanced fantastically on smaller rocks. I hoped no crankiness would start them rocking as I passed.

From the lookout, it was clear how major had been the tossing upwards and landing all higgledy-piggledy of so many and varied granite boulders.

Far below, Reedy Creek lay still, in wait for the next falling rock pile to crash and splash.

The story is that the rocks get their name from a Chinaman who apparently got cranky and killed a local woman. He evaded capture by leaping to his death from the highest rocks.

Peewee power

Hearing a mighty fuss in the trees outside my study window, I checked. A very agitated Peewee was fluttering and noisily protesting all around a tall tree which a goanna was trying to climb.

Its antics were clearly bothering the goanna. I suppose the small Peewee felt safe, even at such close quarters, as the goanna had to keep its claws holding on to the bark rather than swiping at the annoying bird.

The Peewee won, with the goanna giving up the attempt to go further up that tree, and beginning the awkward about-turn.

Peewees are famous for their noisy and fearless defence of their territory, often against much bigger birds. Or reptiles!

You may have seen them attacking their own reflections in windows or car side-mirrors, thinking themselves to be enemies.

Goannas’ downward climbs don’t look very safe or easy, with those claws needing to defy gravity for the heavy body.

In fact, their manner of changing direction in tree branches looks quite precarious altogether.

Having made it, this one seemed to simply want to rest, supported by the branch, and right way up. 

As the Peewee warrior was nowhere in sight or earshot, that branch must not be deemed a threat.

The goanna was permitted to rest in peace.

Early rising

While I used to easily see dramatic sunrises on my Mountain, here I am more likely to catch the gentle pearly colours of early morning clouds, or the mist rising above the mangroves to blanket the mountain on its way to join those clouds.

Reflections in still water are an added bonus.  I spot a solitary pelican sedately cruising over the glassy surface.

And then maybe it sees me, because it takes off with long deep flaps of those massive wings. And, always amazingly to me, that heavy body becomes airborne.

I apologise to it for disturbing the peace, and for perhaps causing its early rising.

Rock-paper-scissors

I love trees and I love rocks. In the Wollemi National Park there is plenty of both, in as many shapes and sizes as an addict like me could dream of, from Scribbly Gum eucalypts to Pagoda rocks.

But if I can’t decide which I love best, it is clear which has right of way. Here the ‘rock-paper-scissors’ game came to mind. I take the tree as paper, although I have seen a tree grown in a crack eventually split a huge rock if in the right line.

The Scribbly Gums are shedding old bark and showing off their writing skills. The rocks remain unimpressed.

I am impressed by both here, and the trees seem to simply accommodate the rocks as need be, and change direction to grow around them.

I can’t read the scribbles but I admire the patterns and colours, so like the rocks.

Some of the gums have chosen to double their chances — rather boldly if seen upside-down — in their shiny new skins.

Others have had to heal around damage, pucker up and carry on.

Some have been too badly burnt out to manage the cosmetics, but have rallied to survive. Much of the Wollemi National Park was burnt in those awful fires two years ago, and I saw masses of young wattles taking up the challenge.

All the rocks here are stunning, but the Pagodas defy belief. Of course the Gardens of Stone near Lithgow are rightly famous, but just this small sampling fills me with wonder.

They have looked like this for about 45 million years! The process of their forming is fascinating but complicated, and you will no doubt Google it immediately…

Tree changes

Eucalypts like Ribbon Gums or Mountain Grey Gums scatter long vertical strips of bark and reveal their smooth secret skins, while others change their image in different ways.

These Spotted Gums are less obvious in changing image and keep both old and new to earn their name.

Stringybarks wear such distinctively rough coverings that it is hard to accept they are also eucalypts, related to its silky, strokable neighbours like this. I have never been tempted to stroke a stringybark …

But their very roughness provides the safe crevices for small creatures to use, like this spider and its web.

Even long fallen trees can make sculptures of the most intricate sort, home to moss and lichen, and no doubt hidden creatures.

Of course many trees, especially Angophoras, decide to be quirky sculptures while still growing, taking not only vertical paths, but doing U-turns after various indecisions…

Amongst the black of the wattle trunks, the everlasting daisies are at waist height after such good rain, forming golden guards of honour along the tracks and a surprisingly widespread sea of yellow. 

Even more surprising were these forests of tall leafy plants that looked out of place, like foreigners, if not aliens… Triffids?

I was assured they were native: Calomeria amaranthoides, or Incense Plant. It is a bi-ennial, growing up to 3 metres. Some people find the musky odour released when leaves and stems are brushed against to be unpleasant and, in fact, a skin irritant. I didn’t find that, but could not get over their strangeness. Again, the recent rains had facilitated more growth and more plants than had been seen here before.

A few of these overgrown plants were in flower and these panicles of pinkish flowers are why it is also called Plume Bush – they do resemble the Amaranthus often grown in gardens, for edible leaves and seed, or simply for decoration.

I was intrigued to meet them for the first time … a Triffid forest within a tree forest… and will certainly not forget them!

Coal creep

I love the country around Bylong and Rylstone, and briefly re-visited there recently, catching up with a few battlers in the coal-impacted communities.

Unfortunately I cannot get there without passing through some of the Hunter horror sights along the way to the Golden Highway. And I don’t only mean the roadkill…

I thought I was familiar with the coal mines’ huge holes and spoil mountains on both sides of the road, but this one near Warkworth (on the Bulga side) seemed new. It had been a couple of years since I’d come that way; this one seemed in process, as a bit of the Nature it was destroying was still visible.

The pollution in the skies as one approaches Singleton is as sickeningly brownish-grey as ever, masking the hills to invisibility in places.

As here, the Hunter scenery transformation is as busily under way as ever. Even more sickening.

I am no longer sure which of the mighty coal mines can claim credit for this landscaping, as there are so many around Singleton… and they have changed hands … nor which coal company owns what.

They can all claim the cumulative pollution.

Purple protector

This handsome, vividly coloured bird was very active and evident round my campsite at Ganguddy/Dunns Swamp in the Wollemi National Park.

I knew it was a Purple Swamphen, with that very distinctive red front shield and beak.

It kept strutting about on those extremely long feet and making short screeches. It seemed agitated.

At first I thought this log was the cause, looking so like a reptile, and then I spotted the real one.

And yet the goanna did seem to be on the run from the bird’s harrying screeches.

‘Safe to come out’, the purple protector must have signalled, as soon the rest of the family emerged.

Later I saw the mother and chicks down by the water and the reeds they must love. Dad was off ahead… checking for goannas, no doubt.

Dunns Swamp is actually a dammed river, and has vast stretches of reeds, where those Swamphens likely nest.

Walking by the water, I can see by the incredible number of picnic tables and fireplaces that this is a popular place. Kayaking tours were offered. It would be unbearable for me in holiday times, but campsites were tucked amongst trees and there were few campers in such damp weather.

I only managed brief walks between showers, so was delighted to see quite a few colonies of this mauve Fringed Lily (Thysanotus tuberosus) in the boggy riverside walk. I hate giving it the full Common name, as ‘Common’ implies less than the fragile beauty it is.