Reacquainting

While I’ve been away, there has been a great deal of rain, and the swamp that this dirt road aims to bisect is reasserting itself.

Of course the swollen swamp needs to flow across the road, and has succeeded in closing that road while the water follows its natural course.

The road leads to the beach, so my feet are wet before I get there, but what a lovely set of early morning reflections!

The sun is already up when I reach the sandhills… and a 4WD has already despoiled the night’s tide marks on the sand.

This beach rarely has shells washed up, and it is only in a small stretch that today I see them scattered like tiny treasures for me to find.

Walking home, wading through the reasserted swamp, I see two trees are newly flowering since I was away. This small wattle (Acacia suaveolens) has blossoms of a pretty creamy white, not the yellow we are used to. It is one of the earliest flowering wattles.

Equally sparkling white are the flowers of this Broad-leaved Paperbark tree, Melaleuca quinquinervia, common on this stretch. Being a swamp dweller, it does not mind wet feet.

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.

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!

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.

Coast walk surprises

The Coast Walk from North Haven near Laurieton to Grants Head near Bonny Hills can be done in sections, quite varied, and not always well signposted.

It was only because we got a bit lost that we found this wonderful avenue of flannel flowers through low banksia forest. It was an unmarked sandy sideways trail that did reconnect with the Coast Walk and its much taller forest.

There were few other plants in bloom at this late stage of Spring, so those that were, like this melaleuca(?) or callistemon (?) were even more appreciated.

The track leads one to the beach before Grants Head, where this seemingly man-made rock mirrored its slope in reverse.

To avoid retracing our beach steps — plus the tide was coming in — we walked up through a low heath.

Here candles of creamy blossoms were out in profusion amongst windswept low banksias.

My new plant guru Robyn tells me this bountiful and hardy plant is Hakea teretifolia.

The walk winds back down to take you back past peaceful paperbark swamps, now mostly dry but with healthy reed carpets.

This coastal area is a paperbark paradise… !

Warm colour curiosities

This is a totally unfamiliar plant, with its stem-hugging clusters of fleshy orange ‘flowers’ … or are they fruit? ‘Mistletoe’ crossed my mind but there are no accompanying copycat leaves. What is this?

Orange is common enough in the fungi world, here forming bright stepping platters up this stump.

Often it will be seen glowing brightly as new leaves amongst the green, as so prettily done by this vine.

Many of the pea flowering shrubs sport orange in their yellow hearts, as in what I assume is a Dillwynia, noted as very plentiful at Kattang. Any such flowers we used to call ‘Bacon and eggs.’

Others have no orange in their yellow pea centres. I have now bought some secondhand wildflower books but none are arranged so that I can look up, say, ‘all yellow flowers’.

So I am even more confused. Is this a Pultenaea?

And then I see a single tall leggy shrub with clusters of golden flowers and long thin leaves… nothing like the dense low ones.  Help! I need a friendly local botanist…

One familiar sunny face was the Twining Guinea Flower (Hibbertia scandens) that I first met at my Mountain.

Leaving the sunny colours, but staying on the warm side of the spectrum, I am relieved to see a plant I do know: the purple Hardenbergia, one of my favourite native climbers, also with pea-shaped blooms. No idea what the white flowering shrub is that it is threading its way through, but a pretty sight altogether!

And flowering fairy-like amongst the grasses were lots of these Blue Flax Lilies (Dianella revoluta). Tiny but stunning, dangling purple stars with golden centres. A fittingly royal purple end to this wildflower walk… 

The weird and the white

I am hoping somebody can tell me what these strange extra-terrestrial looking clumps are, congregating under the graceful weeping branches of the Horsetail She-oak, Casuarina equisetifolia.

With that grey-green colour, from afar I thought they may have been immature Flannel Flower (Actinotus helianthi) plants, not yet leggy and stretching skyward.  But hardly likely…

Yet a few weeks later, those weird clumps on the stony headland, where little else grew, had bloomed… indisputably with Flannel Flowers, though small and still unlike the usual ones, now also in bloom in sandier soil.

These open foliaged, taller Flannel Flowers are the norm… 

There’s a lot of white flowers now, although much of the Spring show has finished.

And is this an Isopogon???

But the most mysterious of all to me was this shrub or small tree that a few weeks ago was to be seen in profuse white blossom in much of the Reserve. So widespread and numerous was it that I expected it to be touted, like the Flannel Flowers, as one of the sights to be seen here.

Any clues?

Pretty and profuse, and equally unidentified.

As for weird, the nubbly bark of this Banksia tree takes the cake!

Known bush blooms

There are few wildflowers I can identify in Kattang Nature Reserve. It is coastal bush, and I have not lived with that before.

I do recognise this Boronia, which is not the highly scented Brown Boronia.

My wildflower books were amongst those ruined in the flood; I had bought them over 45 years ago…

This lavishly blooming Pandorea pandorana, or Wonga Wonga vine, here spilling over a stump, had no need to climb.

For scent it is hard to go past this familiar Sweet Pittosporum, Pittosporum undulatum. It was native to my Mountain too.

It made me recall that on a riverside walk nearby I had seen, but not then recognised, the Yellow Pittosporum, Pittosporum revolutum.

The dainty Caladenia pink ground orchids were a welcome Spring sight. Their white or blue cousins are often seen too.

 This one I did not know, but I have asked Dr Google and it is a Native Iris or Flag, a Patersonia species.

I do miss my wildflower reference books; will seek to replace them when bookshop visits are permissible again…

Banksias and bijous

On such an exposed part of the Connors Track, the banksias grew low, their golden candles safe from being extinguished by the wind.

On the walk up to that headland other banksia species grew tall and woody, covered in an enormous number of dark seed cones like hairy hand grenades.

Other banksias in that coastal woodland were sized in between, sporting slim pale new candle flowers, older lemon and amber and woody ones all at once.

It is truly a banksia garden, all growing virtually on sand.

Around the Hungry Gate campground, hoary old paperbarks and strangely grown figs dominated, all reaching great heights just in sand.

On the walk, many tiny dainties graced the sandy banks, often making just one appearance. I had to be sharp to spot them; I am sure I missed many such jewels, as I only saw some on the way back.

On some it was the seed pods that caught my eye more than the flowers.

Others, like this vine, literally stepped in front of me, flaunting its curlicues and brilliant colours.

These Isopogons, also called Coneflowers or Drumsticks, are relatives of the banksia and also have woody seed heads.

This solitary large sample turned out to be a fungus, not a flower at all.

And these three were the only sundews I saw, boldly flashing their sticky red rosettes to lure insects.

The trackside bank held many surprises, from the tiniest mosses and flowers to virtual hedges of lilli-pilli.

But the whole walk was full of surprises. Next time I’ll go the whole way and be prepared for more…

Cold coastal wonders

Having moved to the coast, I expected warmer climes, tempered by the nearness to the sea…

But in this recent cold snap, apparently experienced in many places unused to such low temperatures, I find myself needing to rug up at night and early mornings as much I ever did at the Mountain. 

In 2007 I did this illustration for The Woman on the Mountain (the publishers didn’t use illustrations in the end) and apart from the ‘primitive’ desktop Mac instead of my present Mac laptop, I am wearing much the same now! 

But I am near the coast so I took my new/old/2006 VW 4motion camper to Hat Head National Park recently to briefly test it out. I learnt it needs a lot of work to make it suitable for my off-grid type of camping…

While there we did part of the Connors Walking Track, along a stunning coastline where kangaroo-mown lawns slope down to dark craggy cliffs and an endlessly rippling sea.

It is always hard for me to lift my gaze from the ground, especially on an exposed headland like this, where treasures will be small and shy

Also, as I do not cope well with heights, I stay well back from cliff edges and admire the views from afar.

Up close, I could see hundreds of native yellow paper daisies, snuggled amongst the cropped grass and growing low to avoid the wind.

There were few rocks to afford extra shelter, but plants took advantage of those, with bright pigface and greener grass savouring the lesser evaporation.

Making it as far as Third Beach, I focused on the rocks there, black and round boulders, lichen-painted and dotted, multi-formed and -coloured as they were.

Yet again I wished I knew more of geology to understand how so many disparate shapes and patterns came to be together.

The tide had receded, leaving lines of tiny earth offerings… including hundreds of tiny bits of plastic, most too small for my camera to pick up. Plastic bottle tops were many and obvious, but it was these small bits that appalled me.

So it was a relief to see bird tracks large and small… although would their crops be full of such tiny plastic particles?

As we left the beach, I spotted an isolated clump of Pandanus/Breadfruit trees, propped on their sticklike legs amongst the rocks edging the sand. I am always amazed at the way small pockets of different ecosystems find their perfect niches.

And after the flood and the move, I found I’d needed that brief break as a reminder of the whole natural world of wonders out there awaiting me…

Bells of hope

One year since the total burning of the Crowdy Head National Park in last summer’s bushfires, I drove – inched?–over potholes and washouts and corrugations and roadside drain overflows. The coast here has had a month of daily rain.

I was worried my old AWD Subaru was not adequate, as I met bigger, higher, real 4WDS. You can never tell how deep a hole is until you are in it…

The taller forests were blackened trunks, many with new shoots, but not all. As you can see on the higher land, where the trees are still a fringe of skeletons. Too depressing for a photo…

So hope for 2021 only came to me on the heathland, where colour other than green was bravely proclaiming summer.

Christmas Bells!

Uplifts

I have never been able to choose between the ‘real’ dramatic sunsets of a western sky and its reflected eastern sky glories, less often seen.

This golden cumulus cluster just on dark was a rare treat, just when I needed something to lift my spirits as the Trump rampage through what was once a great democracy continued on its mad way… and our heads-in-the-sand government goes for gas instead of the zero emissions way forward we need…

After untamed Nature, my garden has always been my next source of solace, where living things sometimes thrive under my care. This Crepuscule rose seemed to hold and reflect that fabulous sunset, further cheering me.

And then came the news of Jacinda Ardern’s re-election, a beacon of sanity and compassion, giving me heart and hope in an increasingly dark world. 

If only…

Her victory did lift my spirits, and they were further buoyed as my Lamarque rose seemed to suddenly burst into the most profuse flowering of its short life. Not golden, but purest white.

Maybe in honour of the integrity and genuine empathy that we can only envy from across the ditch: Yay for Jacinda!