Beach bounty

Not being a fan of bright summer sunlight and blue skies, I go early to the beach near me. My mate Fred shares The Cloud Appreciation Society newsletter with me each month and I have to agree with them that clouds are far more interesting than cloudless skies!

If I am lucky the clouds part just enough for those angels up there to take a peek, shining a spotlight on the restless sea below.

At other times the clouds part in a less focused way, to light up a patch of sea and reflect in the wet sand. Light is always more interesting when paired with darkness or dullness.

But looking down and up close is just as interesting.

If I’m sitting long enough, the sand itself can reveal fascinating sights. Like this portrait of a hairy big-eyed creature… made by busy crabs…and birds?

The tiny crabs move fast when they detect any motion nearby, to disappear down their burrows. I wonder how they keep the sand out of those eyes on stalks?

Wary Wongas

One of my favourite native pigeons is the Wonga Pigeon, but it so shy … ‘exceptionally alert’, my bird book says… that it is rarely still long enough to take a photo of it. I do hear its repetitive soft ’coo-coo’, and there is plenty of tree and shrub cover here for this rainforest bird, so its frequent presence is not surprising.

Its beautiful markings are mainly on its front, and as I usually see it on the ground here, I only get the grey back and the white part of its head, with just glimpses of the striping.  They never seem to turn to face me, so seeing this one up higher was a treat. Look at those pink legs and feet, often hidden in the grass when they are on the ground!

I have mostly seen two foraging on the ground here, moving their plump bodies swiftly across the patch, bobbing heads back and forth like chooks. However, I read they are solitary except in breeding season.

Last week I briefly saw three, so I am wondering if they have a young one, but they moved too fast for me to tell if one was more brownish than grey, as the immature are.

A few months ago one sat in the sunny grass for ages; I had wondered if she was silly enough to lay eggs there, as it gets mown, but perhaps she was just sunbathing.

Whatever a wary Wonga gets up to, I am a very happy observer.

Water ways

A creek with a waterfall rushing over rocks is a visual gift, where the ever-energetic and powerful yet lightly lacy water is combined with the stern dark hardness of rocks, facetted and shining or slimed with green slipperiness.

Once it’s calmed down after that splashing descent, the creek flows more  gently, gradually finding small pathways and side bays on its way downstream, rounding its regular rocks.

As its way flattens, the water pours rather than rushes, with only small runs and cascades, stranding dampened leaves like platters of colour.

Fallen logs form more gentle and even hurdles to make new liquid shapes.

I admit to preferring the ease of the creek’s waterways to the rush of the waterfalls, and I am charmed by the Water Gums (Tristaniopsis laurina) that fringe its banks.

Its flowers are pretty but it is the quirks of its limbs and bark that appeal to me most.

Water washed and smooth, its roots intertwine. Strength in numbers against flood force?

 It seems given to angled bends, to inexplicable elbows.

Some of these bear hollows where small plants like this fern have found a home.

But this is a vibrant creekside community, recovering after fierce floods laid many a tree low. 

Even the dead trees have a role, as with this tiny hole like a wise eye, sheltering baby Water Gums.

Tree visitors

My back deck is high amongst the paperbarks, and close to them.  I had not expected to come so close to a tree climbing goanna, but for once it was not waddling across the grass below, where I see one almost daily.

So close, I could admire not only the intricacy of its patterns and colours, with that surprising blue tinge, but its face, its ear and eye. Even its claws had camouflage dots!

When I first spotted this one it seemed to be lolling on a branch, not gripping or climbing, but that soon changed.

It turned around rather awkwardly and began climbing down one branch…

… to head up another. Sometimes it went to the perilously thin ends of branches before turning. Searching for birds’ nests and eggs?

The birds were certainly alarmed, chattering and flying about.

As they were a little further away, in a tall eucalypt…

But that odd thick shape I could see there turned out to no threat. To my great delight it was one of my favourite birds, a Tawny Frogmouth.

And from the lingering fluffy feathers I think it may be still young… unless they are just my camera’s blur from using the zoom.

I am heartened to think there may be a family of them about and will keep an ear out for that distinctive repeated ‘oom’.

I didn’t hear those ‘ooms’, but later that very afternoon, nearing dusk, I saw that the ‘lump’ up there on that branch was bigger.

I could not get a very clear view but it was definitely an adult and two young Tawny Frogmouths. The young look much fluffier than my earlier sole bird, so was that the father, the apparent fluff just my camera, or the wind?

The father often cares for the fledglings, so perhaps my visitor was a father sussing out where to bring his young to rest, or just taking a break from childcare before the kids caught up with him.

All three were gone next day, but what a treat, however fleeting! My first Frogmouths in this new place… 

When I moved into my last place (that was flooded), within weeks a Frogmouth had two chicks hatch in a nest in a she-oak in my yard and I could watch them growing and being raised. Such a privilege!

Wildlife welcome

House-sitting for a week on a property that is designed to welcome wildlife, I was treated there to the songs of some of our most melodious birds, like this Pied Butcher Bird, whose young was heading to join it.

The other glorious songs came from possibly my favourite songster, the Grey Shrike-Thrush.

All day honeyeaters jostled and swung as they fed in the native small trees and shrubs planted to attract them.

To my great nostalgic delight, a family of Eastern Red-necked Wallabies grazed unconcernedly below.

On the young banksia tree one bloom stood out, demanding attention in its rich green amongst the creams and browns.

On the verandah a large skink sunned itself. I had thought it to be one I was used to, an Eastern Water Skink, but the colours were too dull. Perhaps at a different stage of its life? I’d appreciate any further clues…

So I had my wildlife  treats… as well as reminders of how very slow young kookaburras are to get their adult laugh right, and how very repetitive are their efforts!

Two years on…

I recently camped for a few days on a block that was totally burnt out in those unstoppable bushfires two years ago. This property lost everything, including the house; in fact six homes were lost along this road in that inferno.

The two years since, including the last extremely wet season, has seen much green growth (including weeds).

And while the eucalypts now have plenty of leaves, like fingerless gloves they cannot disguise the dead black claws that remain unclad.

The far ridgetops remain a thin filigree of the worst burnt. On the slopes at times the lines of dead smaller trees appear like wraiths of grey smoke.

Close by the claws are ghostly grey, not black, and they now define the silhouette of the forest, rather than the old mopheaded gum treeline. 

The variety of greens in these vigorously regrowing eucalypts once again gives the lie to the ‘boring bush’ idea put about by the early colonists.  Yes, some are greyish-green…

Others are vividly bright green…

Others are almost purple-green…

And many have no green at all.

I admit to my eyes being taken with these new tree lines… and to my heart being saddened by the pleading of those bony scarecrow fingers…

Artful Nature

Through burnt country, the water runs constantly, cool and clear in these mountain streams. Splashing over dark tessellated rock shelves, landing hard to fizz and spray sparkling drops into the shallow pool below. Such energy and action!

Yet higher up at Brushy Mountain camp that stream is small and steadily busy as it winds through ferns and lomandra, the pink of the new ferny foliage counterpointing the green.

There was pink in the new gum leaves too, but these clumps of pink trigger plants (Stylidium) won the day for me, as I had never seen them. Each flower has a column or trigger that releases when an insect lands, ensuring it will do the work of cross pollination. There was another variety nearby, of paler pink.

More monochrome than colour, the trunks of the Coachwood trees sang with pattern and subtlety.

One seemed to be adding ink drawing to its pastel range…

I was on the lookout for fungi, but saw very little on the ground, except for this small isolated clump, nestling shyly yellow like fleshy buttercups amongst the damp leaf litter.

It is always heartening to see how Nature makes use of even burnt logs. A veritable colony of tiny coffee and cream fungi had claimed this tree.

As we walked back to camp, a Goodenia guard of honour flanked the path with brightness and colour. A surprise, like so much in Werrikimbe.

I’ll be back…

The greens of Werrikimbe

Werrikimbe National Park is high country, a World Heritage Wilderness oasis of cool temperate rain forest where tall Antarctic Beech trees and tree ferns dominate above ground.

Green is overwhelmingly its colour, but it was the mosses and ferns that held it most.

Amongst the areas that had been burnt out in the unstoppable fires two years ago, the ferns held such bright greens that they seemed lit from within.

Fallen logs grew green velvet.

Entire rock faces grew clumps and lumps of green softness to cascade down its slopes like a waterfall. 

Yet just above, the ridgetop forest had burnt… and not recovered.

The green decoratively draped itself over the large fungi on this Beech, not quite succeeding as camouflage.

In the drier, more open burnt sections, the blackened tree fern trunks valiantly flaunted their green parasols above the ferns.

Lower down the mountain, stepped above a rushing creek, impressively tall buttressed Carrabeen trees bore the green softness in all their folds as if integral to the trees.

Sometimes the mosses left the bright limes behind and seemed almost blue.

And as if to show that moss rules here, this tiny starter had taken over a conveniently horizontal surface. Go mossling!

Tea time

Many coastal dwellers or visitors will be familiar with brown tea-coloured creeks and lakes.

The paperbark swamp I walk past is overflowing now, the ‘tea’ spreading across the dirt road.

These Melaleucas or Paperbarks are often called tea trees because early settlers steeped the leaves in boiling water to make tea.

Their papery soft layers of bark have long been used by Aboriginal people: from carrying and warming, cooking, receiving and wrapping babies, to cups and domestic uses, to art and spiritual practices… paperbark is versatile. We are less imaginative, mainly using it as lining for plant baskets.

Many species are happy with wet feet. There are plenty of paperbark swamps in this mid coast area, but I have often seen them dry,

Tea-filled, the reflections of the trees add to the delights.

I was hoping to get past the reflections and find, on closer inspection, some sort of water-loving life, like the frogs I could hear. But the trees’ reflections won out, and by then I was sent hurrying home by the fine drizzle that has been our frequent companion here in between real showers.

Sea shapings

Boxed rocks with green velvet and creamy fillings, tightwaisted sand escapees… nature’s gallery of shapes so varied I never tire of looking.

Reminding us that shells are not fixed decorations, but meandering muscles with sun protection homes on their backs, these whelks and limpets have created their own patterns as they wait for the rising tide to refresh and cool them.

More ephemeral, sun and water make their own rippling rings of light.

The tide that went out has left endless versions of sand art, etched in line drawings and moulded into soft sculptures.

Some form escarpments and runnelled foothills, carve and capture pools and lakes.

Others twist into fancifully embossed tails of Art Nouveau.

Elaborate minarets from Arabia? Or a curving creature with snub nose and dragon spine?

Each tide will leave a different set of artworks, shaped from all different directions by the sea.

Cause for wonder, cause for gratitude…

Bridal whites

These gorgeous bouquets of fragrant white flowers, with their four seductively waving stamens, belong to a small isolated sample of the native tree called Hairy lollybush or Clerodendrum tomentosum. The developing fruit you can see here is green now but will become strikingly bright with a black-dark blue centre surrounded by red calyxes… hence the lolly looks?

This particular tree had a most unusual trunk, like a periscope, with viewing holes. How did it come by them? It is in a public park, so perhaps man-made…

Not at all isolated, this smallish tree, Blueberry Ash or Eleocarpus reticulatus is evidently common here, as its dainty flowers are so eyecatchingly abundant.

A rainforest tree, it is also commonly called Fairy Petticoats or Prima Donna, referring to the pretty fringed bell skirts of flowers. These scented flowers do indeed develop blue berries, much loved by birds.

(As these two local trees were unfamiliar to me, I thank local Robyn for her identification help.)

And not at all white, but eyecatching for me, was this bark slope of flowering moss (?), like a miniature forest in perfect profile.

I love equally the minutiae and the grandeur of Nature… all on free show for us to marvel at.

Tree hugs?

Strangler figs are extraordinary plants, but this large one seemed to be a cannibal as well. It was likely newer aerial roots embracing the original fig… and who knows what sort of tree it had strangled.

The labyrinthine inner root system sat within the older one’s arms. No wonder fairy stories anthropomorphise trees…

At other times the figs cuddle up to a different species, embracing it so closely it merges. These two seem on equal terms as yet, but I know which will win in the end. Treehugging gone too far?

As always I am fascinated by the apparently wilful choices made by trees, like this small one on a heathland. Having decided ‘up there’ was too windy and exposed, it headed back down, curving in on itself in an almost embrace.

Curves are favoured by others, like these wattle seed pods. After popping open to release the seeds, they curl up into spirals as fascinating as the flowers were.

Isn’t Nature amazing?