Natural pinks

The glory of a very pink sunset and its reflections in the Camden Haven River were a treat. The deep blue additions seemed like punctuation marks.

Although some of that blue cohort seemed more like questing creatures, hurrying forward against that stunning still backdrop bank of pink.

As the colour faded, their southern rush was echoed by a higher golden compatriot, aiming to leap over the blue bars.

Fanciful?  Yes, but such an ephemeral show invited fancies.  Better than facts at present…

At home the cascades of several varieties of Schlumbergera cacti were showing a fine range of pinks in their abundant flowers, from pearly pales to cyclamen deeps.

I would usually say I don’t actually like pink much, but I applaud these.

Urban nature

In the busy commercial and tourist heart of Port Macquarie, the town park holds a secret behind its manicured lawns and gardens and picnic tables: the Kooloonbung Creek Nature Reserve.

As we followed a boardwalk through mangrove forests and paperbark swamps, the swarms of mosquitoes made it hard to focus on anything else, and in the heat of the day, little else moved. A young Water Dragon was a notable exception, quick to dash away.

This vine root had got itself so tangled and knotted that no dashing was being considered.

But high in the trees, the Reserve’s Flying Foxes were busy flapping their wings to stay cool.

On the industrial edge of Port Macquarie, the Googik Track offers walkers and bike riders an amazing escape into Nature. For the first part of it, the nearby traffic noise was loud and steady, an incongruous juxtaposition to what I was seeing, like these large robust and spreading  gum trees, Eucalyptus signata, Snappy Gums or Scribbly Gums.

And much scribbled-upon they were…

More of the vegetation was swampland, with paperbarks and reeds and palms large and small.

In one part, pretty lilac native flowers grew beside the track, Burmannia disticha, new to me; also found in China, India and other parts of Asia.

One plant I am now familiar with was Xanthorrhoea resinosa, the Grasstree with the underground stem, and there were thousands of them here, all past flowering, some growing really tall.

My favourite sighting was of the dainty spider web cups suspended in the reeds and still glistening with dewdrops.

I didn’t walk the whole track; I will when it’s not so hot, and perhaps not at such a busy get-to-work time of day, for the traffic.

Not sure how to reduce the number of bike riders coming up fast behind me, none dinging their bells. Isn’t that the custom when passing a pedestrian on a shared path? Especially one who might stumble a bit as she goggled at spider webs…

Local gems

Walking in a reserve near me on the mid north coast, I spied these two little eyes peeping up at me.  The only ones I saw, prettily and symmetrically positioned beside the path, they turned out to be shorter-than-usual Fringed Lilies, Thysanotus tuberosus.

On the same walk there are many Ribbonwood (Euroschinus falcatus) trees, but I had never seen them so abundantly fruiting before. There were masses of bunches of purple/black berries. No wonder there are so many birds here.

I had seen their small flowers, some of which were still in evidence. Apparently these trees are having a bumper season for berries everywhere. Go birds!

As always, the twists and turns of vines fascinate me. Why and how?

While most trees do not twist as vines — or Angophoras — do, they can still surprise, as with this puckered trunk, radiating a pattern as it closes over a wound.

No matter how many times I walk this track, there is always something new to me. So I always carry my camera, and try not to trip up as I peer about. Such a treat, to live amongst so much natural wonderment.

Lichen Land

‘Halt! Who goes there?’

I am sure that was the message from this guardian of the green world I was about to enter in New England National Park.

For ‘green’ is the theme in this high rainfall area, and the mosses, lichens and ferns were carrying it in abundance, in every shade and shape.

Some took turns in flaunting the riches — a jewelled collar, a draping lacy veil.

On the Tea Tree Falls Walk, the small creek was edged with mosses so thick as to resemble swales.

And this is the Tea Tree itself, a Leptospermum sp.in glorious bloom, its tiny flowers in such profusion that the bushes or small trees looked dusted with snow.

I loved the many ways the moss distributed itself, in knobs, bands or splodges, sharing with other small plants like orchids, as decorative as necklaces.

When the lichen hung in such lengths that it was blowing in the wind like green-gold tresses, I knew I was in another world and different creatures were the dominant inhabitants.

Post-fire beauty

Walking along a fire trail in Crowdy Bay National Park, I was stunned by the beauty of these Hakea bushes.

Gracefully arching, daintily flowering, they are Hakea teretifolia, also unhappily called Needlebush. The leaves are very spiky, but still…

In the long flat stretch of what seems like heath, the Hakeas stand out, etched in pastel strokes. This whole area was severely burnt out several years ago, so such a resurgence is a delight to see.

I had been directed to come here because of the abundance of these Bottlebrush Grass Trees, Xanthorrhoea macronema. The trunk of this variety is underground, and I’d thought it amazing when I saw a single specimen last year, as it was new to me.

Like the Hakea, another creamy white flowering native plant. There were only a few in bloom, but I could see hundreds of spent brown flower spikes across the reedy flat. These plants are stimulated by fire.

In the distance I spotted a few bright solo Christmas Bells.  Perhaps more will appear later in the season.

As the track reached forest and slight rises, the tall gums showed how they had survived the fire, with the many life-saving epicormic shoot clusters, now dead, no longer necessary, still evident.

And on my way back, a swift surprise flashed through the trees by the track; too swift for a good photo, but bird-lovers have identified it as a Brown Cuckoo Dove, Macropygia phasianella. I had thought it a dove by its head, but the long tail threw me. 

Such shared knowledge is much appreciated, and here I have learnt several new things on one walk.

Distance and details

Sometimes you fluke being present at an ephemeral moment in Nature. Like this sea mist hanging low over the horizon, allowing me to see the path of the sunlight on the ocean, but not the sun itself.

Or this cloud sheet, mirrored in the sea and dividing the view into grey and blue day.

 A few weeks ago I showed you the beautiful white flowers of Clerodendrum floribundum. Now those flowers are on their way to showing why this small tree is called Lolly Bush, with their calyxes turning themselves outwards, now pink, soon to be red. The green centres will be black.

Another tree where the striking flowers are turning into equally striking seeds is the Banksia. I had never struck those lippy Banksia Men before they turned dark brown and nostalgically scary.

But just look at the glowing orangey-red velvet of the seed pod protrusions now!

No wonder I am likely to trip and take a fall on my walks; I have to keep looking into the distance and to each side, as well as down at my feet.

Coastal offerings

Early mornings often catch the river near Dunbogan in its mirror-like state, with the seaside banks still dark but Dooragan lit up by the sun.

If it’s been a gently receding tide, the sandy shore shows how many residents have come up for air since.

At Kattang Nature Reserve, on the clifftops, the showy yet virginal flowers of this small Clerodendrum floribundum tree flaunt their long stamens like antennae. Such flowers ought to be enough, but the fruit that follows is also stunning: black with fleshy red open collars or calyxes. No wonder it is also called Lolly Bush.

The Tuckeroo  (Cupaniopsis anacardiodes) trees are fruiting now, although the ribbed balls are not yet the bright yellow they will become. Many birds like to eat the red seeds inside these.

Common to the point of being over-abundant there, what I assume is the Coastal Tea Tree (Leptospermum laevigatum?) is displaying beautiful arching branches of its simple white flowers.

And my final treat from that walk at Kattang is this twisted and lichened trunk, almost reptilian. I always want to ask such unusual trees for their history: how and why did you grow like this?

Grand Gorge country

The Oxley Wild Rivers National Park on our tablelands has spectacular gorges, and usually equally spectacular waterfalls, although the drought has rendered most of the latter mere long narrow threads of water, if even visible.

My first glimpse was from Long Point campground, a small and satisfyingly empty one at the end of a long dirt road.

The Cassinia Walk passed along the edge of the gorge, through a literal forest of these tall plants, which were mostly not flowering yet. I don’t know which Cassinia they are, as the ranger I asked said they were weeds…

The other thing I asked about was the name of these trees, with their dramatically mottled bark. I was told they were Spotted Blue Gum, which I can’t find, and, given the Cassinia mislead, I can’t trust. But it would seem that Spotted Gums themselves do sometimes have such large blotches.

My next camp was at Wollomombi Falls. Stranded pools could be seen way down below.

The ‘Falls’ were barely running enough to fall.

The creek that fed them was as weedy as watery.

A very beautiful wattle, indigenous to these gorges, was in bloom everywhere here: Gorge Wattle, (Acacia ingramii).

As always, I found the lichen bedecking dead shrubs to be as attractive as any flowers.

When lichen lies along a branch like a hoary basking lizard, I am entranced…

Amazing Bald Rock

Bald Rock National Park is near Tenterfield and this mightiest of the many mighty granite domes in our tablelands region is truly impressive. In fact, it is the largest granite dome in the southern hemisphere.

For once I was able to screw up my courage and brave the slanted walk across the top surfaces, leaning uphill and trying hard to ignore the downwards pull I always feel.  White dots tell you where is safe to walk, but they don’t know my imagination…

Yes, the view is 360 degrees, but for me more fascinating is that these huge boulders are ranged in a neat row on top — by whom and how?

Or that in sheltered cracks and dips, surprising plants manage to grow up here.

Like these aromatic shrubs of Prostanthera petraea, White-flowering Mint Bush, as delicate in appearance as any pampered garden plant; only found in such granite pockets in this region.

I admit I took the easier option of getting to the Rock, taking the Bungoona Walk which was gentle and extremely varied. While wallowing in the scent of masses of wattles, I loved the dominance of purple Hardenbergia, climbing shrubs and sticks or rambling over the ground.

Clumps of Flag, from pale lilac to deep purple, appeared now and then. Shouldn’t our national colours be purple and gold instead of green and gold?

Another special regional plant I spotted on the way was the perennial Coronidium boormanii.

Of course the track eventually had to encounter these Granite Titans, tossed like marbles to balance at the foot of Bald Rock itself.

I not only fear and avoid heights, but caves and looming overhead rocks, and yet the track leads you through many tight spaces like this.

I know they have poised like these for eons, but still I duck and scurry through, hoping they do not choose to move at last… not right now.

I found Bald Rock National Park one of the most interesting for me. The campground was good, apart from the sad sight of a very ill quoll, probably blind and perhaps dying, (once rescued, likely from a dog attack, and released here) who came nosing around.

Coastal cornucopia

This Camden Haven area keeps on surprising me with fresh natural  visual treats. Like this early morning view across the river as the sun began to streak light across Dooragan. The outgoing tide impacts on the riverside ‘beach’ drew me closer.

It was as perfectly rippled as a raked Japanese garden.

In Kattang Nature Reserve, these small trees were covered in starry blossoms.

It is Nematolepis squamea, I am told (ex-Phebalium). Such a dainty and graceful blossom to gather in clusters like this.

On a different, low and sandy coastal walk, there was an extraordinary variety of white-flowering shrubs.

Too many for me to identify, but the many flannel flowers were in bud, so those will clearly dominate when they bloom.

I am off camping for a few weeks, to colder, higher, rockier inland national parks, so the next posts will depict very different aspects of nature. There will likely be longer gaps between posts as reception will be rare.

Stay tuned!

Dooragan

Most people go up to the Lookout on North Brother Mountain, in Dooragan National Park, for the views. The wealth held in its short rainforest walk is often missed — like these pencil orchids. I saw some on rocks and high up on trees.

It has great rocks, mossed green and lichened white, caught in mid-tumble.

The lichens here could not decide to go with stripes or splotches,  so did both.

Long ago fires must have left this ancient tree with such a perilous hold on the slope… and on life, but alive it is.

Most of the lower greenery in this forest was provided by vines, but these stubby cycads also collected moss in their geometrically patterned trunks. I am told it is Lepidozamia peroffskyana.

Walking back to the actual lookout, I was assailed by a strong perfume. Looking around, I realised there were many Sweet Pittosporum (undulatum) trees full of the tiny blossoms that gave out so much scent.

And yes, the view is wonderful. So many waterways! I can see Camden Head, where I often walk in the fabulous Kattang Reserve, It is the northern end of the long Dunbogan Beach, where I also often walk — when I can bear the 4WD tracks.

From another lookout, I can see South Brother and Watson Taylor Lane and Crowdy Head. What an area to live in; it has it all…

On the steep winding road down, what I at first mistook for early flannel flowers prove to be masses of what I call Everlasting Daisies, identified for me as Cononidium elatum, thriving on the drier slopes.

Reassessing home

With distant snow-capped Alps in my mind’s memory, I have just revisited a few of my most often visited local nature spots.

I found no Alps, but mythical cloud mountains over a pewter sea. The ephemeral will have to do.

Sun-splashed, that sea butts as restlessly as ever against the rugged cliffs that guard the Camden Haven.

The bush above the cliffs is equally buffeted by the sea winds, so grow low, and bend to survive. It is nothing like the bright verdant forests of Northern Italy, but I have been thirsting for this greyish-brownish-green, quite ‘verde’ enough for me. After all, as Kermit almost said, ‘it’s not simple being green’.

I marvel anew at the uniquely grotesque beauty and bounty of the banksia trees.

Being almost Spring, there are many small patches of colour already amongst the greys of the fallen trees. Flowers like the pink Boronia, many yellows, whites like the perfumed Pittosporum, the bright lime winged seed cases of Dodonea, or the striking berries of the Blueberry Ash.

In one dry but sheltered swamp this big paperbark tree had a large section of bark hanging by a thread, spinning in the breeze like a top, or a banner saying, ‘Look at me’!

Of course there were wattles to greet me, as there were on my other favourite walk, to the beach near me, where two sorts thrive.

The beach itself was disappointingly but familiarly abused, scored by dozens of 4WD tyre tracks. I watched the air bubbles after each wave receded, and wondered what small creatures were taking refuge beneath the sand. No tiny ghost crab would be game to stick its head up here…

On the dry higher sand where grass is holding it all together, there were fewer tracks — although there should be none — and just an occasional spot of colour like this succulent, where another plant struggled to get going.

As I walked back, I felt truly home when this lone kangaroo stopped to watch me.