Farewell to Wayfarer

At low tide, the rescued boat is unable to float, sitting askew on the mudflats.

It is early morning and the sky and its gentle colours and reflections take all the attention for the moment. But up close, this slanted and stranded boat offers its name as ‘Wayfarer’.  I wonder where it had journeyed as a wayfarer, and if it would again.

Its exposed underside tells me it had sat on the muddy bottom of the river for some time.

Its deck is as colourful as the sky, worthy of contributing to the reflections before the mudflats halt them.

Not that my solo heron minds the low tide; all the better for finding breakfast. 

I then learnt that Wayfarer is to be dragged ashore and broken up; she is not salvageable, having sat for about five years on the bottom. Her masts had already been taken down.

She will definitely no longer go a-wayfaring…

River residents

My recent walk to the river boat ramp offered the surprise of a new resident: a resurrected boat, muddied and somewhat askew, plainly pulled up from a watery depth greater than it was built to inhabit.

From the mangrove edges the more usual resident ducks were heading out through the reflections and ripples, and creating their own silver trails.

As they passed the salvaged boat I thought how much better adapted they were to this   river, to water. It was crippled, useless to do aught but stay afloat: they belonged.

There were actually four of these handsome ducks; I loved the way their reflections paddled with them, double hooked.

I had expected the other inhabitants here to be solo, as was usual. My pelican was indeed the only one on the oyster stacks, but I later realised it had a companion– a shag?

Not sure why I always see solo creatures so often — mirroring me? — but here was my solo seagull, and yes, standing on one leg…

The sole watchful heron picked its delicate way through the exposed mangrove flats as it sought its tucker. And while I have seen more than one seagull or pelican elsewhere, I have not seen multiple herons.

I have taken many photos of Dooragan reflected in the river at all times of day, but to see it reflected in watery mud was new.

As I am moving from here soon, I am relishing all glimpses of the many moods of the river and the mountain…

Creekside birds

At the Melaleuca Campground in Limeburners Creek NP, the creek is off limits for all but viewing. It runs gently past, channelling a cool breeze from the sea, offering a range of waterbirds and attracting many fisher birds.

These stately black swans were in graceful and constant procession, only occasionally taking flight to display their white wing edges, like glimpses of a lady’s petticoat. They were more brownish-greyish than black, I thought. Their bright red bills banded with white were frequently dipped into the stream to feed, those elegant long necks bending with ease to search the deeper channels.

Often closer to the bank, in the shallower and weedy edges, Dusky Moorhens dabbled, or foraged in the grass, but they were flighty and bustled away if I came too close.

The air was full of melodious calls, I assume from several Pied Butcherbirds. This parent and child carried on a debate for some time on a nearby branch. The young one had yet to develop the crisp black and white colouring of the adult.

The adult later returned alone and sang beautifully, as well as muttering and chuckling; mimicry? I was surprised that its beak did not appear to be moving. Then it appeared close to my table, seeming to expect food as payment for its song. ‘Vegetarian, mate,’ I apologised. ‘No meat scraps here for you’.

The distinctive silhouette of a kingfisher caught my eye before it dived to catch whatever it was watching in the water. I could not see its colour well, but I think it was an Azure  Kingfisher.

And then, when I got home the day after, the same species of bird, rarely seen by me, had stunned itself in my back yard. It could hop, but was not flying, and disappeared into my laundry to hide out. Definitely an Azure Kingfisher. 

I let it be, and when I came down to check a few hours later, it had made its way towards the adjoining forest. Still hopping. I hoped no goanna would find it before it recovered fully. Such a coincidence: two sightings in two days.

Desk life

It’s difficult not to be distracted by the wildlife here, even if I don’t leave my desk. At this second floor height what’s going on amongst the trees is ‘in your face’, so to speak.

Like this goanna, who decided to climb up and laze on this branch for about a half hour; not after any nest of baby peewees, just hanging there. When done, it turned around – always a heart-stopping manouevre to watch — and slowly gripped its way down, its tail almost overtaking it.

Odd noises often alert me to activity closer to the ground, as in the various birdbaths. This time it was a repetitive soft bird call, and when I checked, there were two birds I had not seen here.  Eastern Whipbirds, I learn, and I had certainly heard the males’ whip crack before.

The female’s call is described as ‘choo-choo’, with which I probably wouldn’t agree, but if they visit again I will listen more closely and come up with a more fitting one. Another book says ‘chuckles and whistles’ — quite an art, summing up bird talk…

A louder racket made me stand and look down into my small back yard where an Eastern Grey Kangaroo had pushed its way in beside the pigwire fence and was trying to return — but clearly couldn’t find or use the same route.

I was worried about him panicking as he pushed fruitlessly at the fence, but he was no fool. Having realised that no part of his body beyond his head would go through the wire squares, he quickly checked out the rest of the yard, then took a running jump and went over the fence.

Life is never dull here, even through my windows.

Early beach morning

At my favourite local beach, early mornings are best, especially in holiday times, before the hordes awake, feed the kids and bring the sun shades and brollies down to claim their sand spaces between the casuarinas and the gentle sea.

A cloudy start to the day will delay them even longer.

It is so gentle because it is protected by two rock breakwalls that separate it from the river mouth on one side and the surf beach on the other.

Beyond the breakwalls it is not gentle, and the whitecaps and breaking waves splash high and surge mightily.

The tide is receding, leaving some sand sculptures intact from the day  before. This one is unique in my experience, never having seen tools as sculpture subjects before: a hatchet, an electric drill and a mallet!

Another is more traditional, although not of the moulded sand castles I am used to. This one has a moated settlement of flat-topped roofs… adobe?

A small group of Crested Pigeons bustle down from the trees and grass edge to check out what’s left on the tideline. They are shy of any movement of mine, quickly wheeling and turning away.

This flock of resting seagulls is the opposite, completely ignoring me. They have chosen the ‘banks’ of a long channel no doubt made by kids, right where the tide has reached and stopped.

Some sleep, but most are busy preening and cleaning.

I am fascinated by the balancing acts: here three of the four gulls stand on one leg only. Why?

One leg must give enough stability, as it does not seem to restrict the movements required to perform the morning’s grooming.

Some of the contortions, while seemingly effortless, are amazing to one whose neck could never do this.

To remain so dapper must take a lot of such time. These gulls know early morning is best here too: no people, no dogs, no disturbance.

Details to delight

Of course the New England National Park holds more natural treasures than green moss and bearding lichen, entrancing as they are.

Like the wonderfully pleasing design made by the coiled new shoots of the many tree ferns, ready to unwind and reach skywards.

Or the dense and tall banks of delicate Coral Fern, Gleichenia dicarpa.

While looking up into the Antarctic Beech forests was impressive, listening in there was too. Almost mid-day, and yet so many birdsongs…

Peering into the trees, I saw the singer: one lyrebird, loudly and constantly being all birds. I had a brief chance to take this shot before he flew down to the forest floor.

There he seemed to be digging, but it was hard to  see at what, and hard to see him! On several other walks, I heard a lyrebird, and sat  listening for 20 minutes at one spot, but failed to see the singer.

The only time I have ever seen a lyrebird display was in another part of this Park, decades ago.

And while looking down, I was treated to a closer view of an Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus moorei), as the pinkish/coppery colour of the new leaves of this young one caught my eye. It was the only one I saw.

The foot of this very old Beech was mossed and crinkled and caverned, looking every bit as ancient as it must be.

Yet within those gnarly buttresses were mysterious details, like this fungi-roofed cave, home to who knows what creature…

Low tide treasures

On a marine rock platform, at the lowest of tides a whole other landscape is revealed, a rich and colourful world teeming with life.

While we usually only see the top sunbaked surface of rocks, here the next layer down is on show – the dense cities of Galeolaria, tube-building worms needing seawater, but safe enough within their hard walls to withstand some exposure.

The bright green forests of Cunjevoi prefer to be underwater, and sometimes you see them ejecting jets of water upwards in the changing tide. Their common name is Sea Squirts; their soft insides  were food for Indigenous folk, and then often used as bait by fishermen, but are now mostly protected.

Some of the sea gardens are tiny, packed into water-holding hollows in a rock, but so full of plants; here I can see ones that we used to call Sea Lettuce and Neptune’s necklace. A jewel box of life.

The plentiful small starfish here are mostly in shades of red and blue, but this particular aqua is not common.

Nor is this orange one that caught my eye; and here I can see at least four more starfish, but they are so well camouflaged or half-buried in sand that there may be more.

Across the shell-encrusted expanse of rock platform, I think I see a bird poking about. Is this my signature solitary bird for today?

Yes! Edging closer, I think it is a White-faced Heron, on its long elegant legs, looking for titbits in the temporarily exposed world as the sea washes in and out.

Much as I am, I guess, but visual, not edible.

Tawny twosome

I have often said that the Tawny Frogmouth is my favourite bird, and my recent post shared my delight that one had been visiting.

But only one.

Yet this week I have had close contact for a whole day with a pair, the aforesaid male, and his partner.

On my way downstairs, I did see the large liquid scat on the deck; noted it was in an unusual place, but didn’t think to look up.

Coming back upstairs, I got a shock to see them sitting on the while railing only half a metre from me… and hardly suitably camouflaged.

The male was his usual inscrutable self, watching me with a slit of an eye open. The males are 20-30% bigger than the female.

While he is dressed in tones of grey, his partner is wonderfully patterned in shades of brown, perfect for the paperbarks near here.

At first they were facing in opposite directions in their stiff ‘I am a broken branch’ angled poses.

At one point he opened his big golden eyes wide, as if to say, ‘Don’t think I’m not watching you!’

As the day wore on and I’d had to pass by them many times, the female turned to face the same way. I felt bad for disturbing them, while assuring them they were safe there.

They were both keeping a narrow eye on me; she moved much closer to him.

These birds mate for life, which can mean 15-20 years, and share all the domestic tasks: nest building, egg incubating, chick rearing etc.

They were gone next morning but since then I have several times seen the female occupying the spot between deck and roof where the male had often spent the day before. It was as if he’d brought her here to show her that good dry spot, and also that I was to be trusted.

I can only hope they make their nest somewhere in sight.

Secret show-off

Delighted by this glamorous display, I first thought it was a new bird. Then I recognised the face: it was the Buff Banded Rail  (Galliralus phillippenis) that I often see scurrying across the patch of grass below my window.

As it lowered its backlit wings a little, I could see I was right, but why was it holding those usually hidden wings out like that? I have since found it’s sunbathing, but at the time I wondered if it might fly.

I have never seen it do anything but scurry, flicking its tail up and down.

Apparently Rails can fly, if weakly.

When it turned sideways, I was dazzled by those strikingly patterned wings, now glimpsed from above. I thought of pheasants.

My bird books all comment on it as being secretive, sneaky, or skulking. I am now adding ‘secret show-off’ to those epithets. As it returned to its less dramatic daily dress and demeanour, this Rail certainly looked like it was checking that nobody saw its display; it could not know I was watching from on high…

Temporary Tawny

My favourite bird is the Tawny Frogmouth, that master of camouflage. But I don’t think  that the space between a roof and a deck is quite what his plumage was meant to blend into.

This one looked fat and healthy, smug even, as they can. It (he?) ignored me in the tradition of  ‘I’m just a bit of broken tree branch.’ 

I would say hello every day but never received an acknowledgement… let alone a reply.

I hadn’t heard one, but knew one was about, as every morning there were fresh droppings in my carport.

A year ago, I had surprised one there, sitting on the awning holder of my campervan, so I had been assuming it to be the cause of the droppings.

So I was delighted to see it take up visible residence for one week, and hoped that it was the same Tawny, grown bigger. And I was very sorry when it moved on.

Bamboozling bird behaviour

Given the chaotic state of the world, it should not have surprised me to hear and see this… but it did.

A weird and unchanging sort of scream made me look out to see a kookaburra holding down another kookaburra, seemingly with its beak. I couldn’t tell if there were two or three birds involved.

It was undoubtedly aggressive, I thought; but then I remembered that in a lot of animal mating behaviour looks more aggressive than loving.

This went on for about five minutes, but when the top bird released its grip, they both flew off, leaving me baffled.

Can anyone shed light on such an event?

I don’t know where these local Sacred Ibis nest, but this one seemed to be bearing a stick for the building of such a nest as it flew between the trees. It landed on one of the bird baths, which are all way too small for it. But how would it drink with a stick in its beak?

The bird seemed to consider this problem for a time, then it let the stick drop, bent its long neck and laid its too-long beak sideways in the water. Is that how it usually drank?!

 I felt guilty that I hadn’t provided a big enough bird bath…

The other puzzle has been this little brown bird that often scuttles across my ‘backyard’, hiding in lantana-bush nearby, then dashing across the grass.

I am told it is a Buff Banded Rail, and sometimes I see two of them.

I am delighted to know what my shy scurrier is at last.

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!