A castle or two

Castles are all different; like the old ad said,’Oils ain’t oils’.

This one, outside Parma, is the 15th century Torrechiara, and open for us to enter.

A steep cobbled ramp led up to the main entry, past where the portcullis would have been lowered against the enemy.

Of course it has sweeping views over the country that would have been under its protection.

This included the village within its hilltop realm, needed to house the workers and artisans to run this fort-cum-villa.

From the broad tiled loggia or verandah, I can look down on the roof below and admire the ancient lichened terracotta tiles.

It has the usual central courtyard and well, which all look quite simple, almost monastic. Inside is another matter.

Yep, frescoes galore for the family’s living and entertainment rooms, but they were very different to the religious ones with which I’d been swamped. So much skill and talent had been at the disposal of these wealthy families.

I loved that this one featured jugglers and acrobats.

And I especially loved the beautiful ceilings of these four connected rooms, depicting birds at different times of the day.

But the defensive purpose of this place was brought home by the incredibly heavy-looking armour and weaponry, The soldiers must have been short, judging by the breastplates, and I hoped the fellow on the left had a matching codpiece.

Safe within their fortress, protected by their short soldiers, I could imagine the pleasure of being surrounded by ceilings and walls painted with fascinating scenes.  For a time…

But I found myself yearning for at least one more restful and less demanding room, with plain white walls and just a few pictures.

The next castle, my favourite, was quite different, as you will see next post!

Farewell flashes

As I am about to head off for two months in Italy, I visited my nearest home nature spots to refresh my mind and memory.

First a walk to the long beach, often wild, today deceptively gentle and brilliantly blue. 

Only one other person is here, a mere speck a long way up the beach; fishing, I assume.

I doubt I will see such an empty beach in Italy.

Next, to the river, where a small group of pelicans have been checking out the low tide mudflats. Two take off, but the rest stay.

And what a treat to see my special solo seagull there as well; did he come to say ‘Arrivederci?’

He looks very small next to his big-beaked Big Bird mates. I missed him at the beach…

And at my actual home, my about-to-be-abandoned garden has exploded with prolific and beautiful farewell flowers on the various Schlumbergera truncata succulents. I had feared I’d miss them, and was about to ask my house minders to send me photos.

The next posts will be from Italy; I will be staying in the Emilia-Romagna region, although in the hills above the flood-ravaged area.

It does feel rather like going to visit the Northern Rivers after the Lismore etc. floods, but Nature’s payback has no concern for my travel timetable.

Birds of a feather

One windy autumn morning I was called to the river by an odd sight. But when I got to the ramp, this magnificent solo Pelican took all my attention.

I love Pelicans and I love reflections and this one was offering both.

We looked at each other for some time, me admiring, him noncommittal, before I realised he wasn’t gong anywhere, just standing in the shallows, rocking slightly in the wind.

I turned to look at the original attraction.

What from a distance had looked like a dragon boat being rowed by a black-clad crew was actually a flock of Cormorants on an oyster rack.

There were about a dozen of them, busily preening, or holding out wings to dry those feathers.

Some looked rather fluffy, as if they were still young, but it was quite a cool wind, so maybe that was simply a warming tactic.

At that distance I couldn’t tell if they were Little Black Cormorants, or the bigger Cormorants.

Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

But why had they chosen such an exposed ‘raft’ in the middle of the river?

Anyway, they had intrigued me enough to bring me (in my slippers) racing down to investigate before they took off.

But, like the Pelican, they clearly had no intention of doing that.

Brief wildlife

Now that I do not live in the bush, I celebrate what wildlife deigns to visit me.

Returning from a few weeks’ absence I found this spider’s intricate creation on the inside of my screened room.  Like a delicate webby waterfall, it had been spun to extend from the top of the netting to froth over my sill’s shell collection. I am unsure what insects it was meant to catch, given it is inside, but perhaps it was created also for fun, because the spider had free rein… ‘while the cat’s away…’

From my desk I see many birds in the trees opposite, but I have never seen this colourful bird there.

Silently and swiftly, a Sacred Kingfisher flashed into my view, stayed for only a few minutes… and left.

For a bird with such a widespread distribution, I am surprised how few times I have seen one.

Here, once before only, on a post by the river.

‘Thanks for coming by’, I think, grateful it stayed long enough for me to grab a photo, glad I keep the camera handy…

This being Easter, the Park is busily full of caravans and tents, people and vehicles, kids and dogs.

 It is more than enough to give a young wallaby, on emerging suddenly from the bushes, cause to stop and consider whether it is a good idea to continue.

This one propped, considered the unusual throng for only a few seconds, then turned and bolted back into the quiet safety of the bushland behind it.

I see very few wallabies here and have never yet seen a young one on its own, so I hope it found its mother waiting for it… and got the scolding it warranted.

River gold

As the sun sets here, I am more attracted to the patterns and colours it adds to the river and the edging mangrove mudflats than to the sky itself. I have noticed that my eye keeps being drawn more to earth than sky, be it sunrise or sunset, beach or bush.

As usual, I find there’s a solitary bird poking about, to add interest to my photo.

I wasn’t sure what this one was until it turned sideways and showed off its S-bend neck ability: a White-faced Heron.

Of course there is always a stately solo Pelican, here cruising the wind-ruffled water amongst the oyster beds.

Taking my eyes off the gilded river, in the shallows by the mangroves I spy what looks like an Egret, snow-white and solitary, as expected. The now nearby Heron keeps its distance.

But I admit I am as taken by the sunset’s transforming impact on birdless mudflats, with the black nursery spikes of the mangroves punctuating the dimpled grey mud and accentuating the gold wash beyond, where oyster bed posts give both horizontal and vertical definition.

I’ve seen far more spectacular sunsets here, but every change in the light offers new interest to me, always worth closer inspection.

Morning mates

As my readers know, I am a sucker for a solitary seagull. Now I am unsure if it is the same seagull who accompanies me on my morning seaside walks, but I like to think it is. This one certainly admires the sunrise as much as I do, basking in the wonders that a few clouds can create at this serendipitous moment.

The sight is stupendous, even sans seagull, changing every second. The constantly renewed ruff of foam edging the mirror of the wet sand is such a neat visual touch that it is hard to consider it ‘normal’. As the sun rises higher, side-on, up close, the foam bubbles sparkle with iridescence, but I can’t capture their tiny rainbows with my camera.

The clouds shift and suddenly a sky monster on the move glares at me from its baleful eyes.

Not solitary, these terns are watching the unfolding sunrise too, with the reflected craggy vertical face of the headland laid out flat, neatly ruled, in front of them.

As always, the fascinating details of how the tide has receded are written in the sand. These sturdily defined chevrons on the edge of the sand rise are new to me.

So are these scallops; not appearing as ripples, but a series of separate pulses of patterns.

Not keen on scalloped designs? How about herringbone?

Is there any pattern not originating in nature?

Well, yes. I rarely see anyone else down here at this early hour, but a solitary walker with a stick leaves a distinct trail as he passes me. It would have puzzled me had I not seen it being made, and would no doubt have inspired an unlikely flight of fancy…

Riverside life

At The Bluff campground in Mt. Boss State Forest the Wilson River audibly dominates, rushing over and around huge boulders.

There are very few places to walk except along the dirt road in, or risk twisting an ankle on the round riverside rocks.

But alongside that track I was delighted to see this Spangled Drongo darting about in the regrowth bush. 

I have always loved the name (!), and I am grateful for the distinctive mermaid tail that allows even me to identify it from a distance.

That track also offered several botanical treats, like these pink Stylidium, Trigger Plants, which snap to release pollen when an insect touches them.

One area was generously strewn with these Ground Lilies, Tripladenia cunninghamii, which I had only been shown recently, in Kattang Nature Reserve on the coast. These were perhaps a paler blue, but unmistakable.

And even more generously, this bank carried the daintily lacy Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum). always a sight that makes me smile. Why? Maybe because it is so gentle…

The Bluff itself runs steeply down into the river, with a spectacular wall of Xanthorrhoea on one face.

Nothing gentle about this, but certainly impressive.

Wet weather birds

Not all birds like this wet weather.

Noticing two fat birds hurrying across the sodden grass in a manner that struck me as different, I went outside to see where they went.  No luck, so I returned to my desk.

And they were right in front of my window’s view.

Books out; what were these very handsome birds?

Clearly they were not always so fluffy, but those distinctive collars decided me: Spotted Turtledoves.  Found in coastal and urban areas, they were introduced to Melbourne in the 1860s, but are natives of India and South-east Asia.

The business of cleaning and drying soon made them less easy to identify, and my brief sighting was a boon, as they flew off soon after.

Next day, waiting in an industrial area for my vehicle rego check, I was treated to the sight of a family of Maned Wood Ducks, parents and five chicks, who came waddling swiftly across the grass at a distance from me.

No camera, but I did have my phone. It does not render zoomed shots very well, unfortunately.

They disappeared into a hidden and rather dirty flooded creek nearby and I had trouble spotting them at first.

Wavering amongst the tree reflections, the family was safely swimming away, much happier with the wet weather and the abundance of water than my Turtledove visitors.

You never know where or when Nature will reward your observance, so keep your eyes open!

Surprise visits

I knew there were Tawny Frogmouths in the bush beside me, but hardly expected one to come calling on me.

Yet one night, as I descended the stairs and the sensor light in my carport came on, there it was. On my van’s awning canister.

My favourite bird then gave me the benefit of its profile of bristly ‘whiskers’.

The other visitors came on a wet day, levering themselves along, looking about but only between grazing. Not too wary.

I miss my macropods of the Mountain, so seeing these two Eastern Grey Kangaroos was a treat.

One came very close to my deck and as we locked eyes I thanked him for visiting my patch, reminding me of the real world where animals are represented by more than dogs!

Elegant native ducks

Lovely weather for ducks, as they say!  Enough to keep me indoors even if my radiation burnt face didn’t.

A Maned Wood Duck couple patrol the grounds here, but they are wary, hard to catch with my camera, even if I was to be quick enough to nip out in between cloudbursts. Sudden dumps of wind-driven rain interspersed with sparkling sunshine seem to be the current pattern.

The photo is of the female, but they are both handsome. The ducks reminded me of the piece about them in ‘Mountain Tails’, so here’s the sketch of the couple and a short extract:

‘…through the reeds I spotted a pair of Wood Ducks. I crept towards them, and got closer than usual, but they sensed me coming and waddled off into the mist. Keeping their heads averted as if I didn’t exist, they were muttering to each other at the disturbance. I’ve noticed that they rarely do look at me.

‘This shy and very elegant native duck is my most consistently resident waterbird.

‘The male has little patterning on his pearl-grey body, and a chestnut-brown head, with a black strip, a feathery mane, at the back of his head. His folded wings create bold dark stripes down his back. While he gets the smart tuxedo treatment, she has a more delicate feminine patterning. She’s a softly spotted greyish-brown, with white stripes across her brown head; since her mane is also brown, it’s only noticeable in profile, as an odd shape. Hence they are sometimes called Maned Wood Ducks. Until they are grown up, the young ones of both sexes look like their mum.

‘Occasionally the couple fly over to the small dam below my house yard, but they hardly get to land on the surface, trailing arrows of ripples behind them, before the bossy magpies hassle them to leave. After a lot of protesting squawks on their part and insistent cries from the maggies, the pair take wing, back over the treetops to where they belong. No outsiders allowed in the magpies’ local pool. They will allow the ducks to fossick amongst the tussocks around the dam wall for a time, but not to go in.’

A forest for birds

Before entering this forest of the Henry Kendall Reserve I am bemused by the sparkles of sunshine beside opposing calm, the mysteriously varying ways of water movements.

The forest itself is equally varied, with many large and imposing spreading trees.

Others rise tall and straight limbed.  By the busy chatter of birds, darting tantalisingly close and away, too swift to photograph, the forest is a rich residence for wildlife.

It’s the sort of forest walk where you more often than not find yourself craning upwards to see what’s going on up there. A lot, from the noise!

But lower and nearer details occasionally catch my eye, like this textured casuarina bark…

Or this mossy hidey-hole, a dark refuge into which I do not intrude. Thankfully, this whole forest has life of its own, from birds to whatever lives here!

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.