Moving mountains

I would like to introduce everyone to my new home surroundings, and to my new mountain, which will be featured often in my blogs. It is Dooragan, or North Brother, near Laurieton. I am near both river and sea and two national parks, so I look forward to exploring and sharing sunrises, sunsets and clouds, and plants and creatures of sea, sand and rocks, mangroves, swamps and mountain forests.

Why am I here? Partly by force of nature.

It seems like an eternity, but is about six weeks since I woke up about 6.30 a.m., swung my feet over to stand on the carpet… and found that my bed was standing in water.

Floodwater.

Was I actually awake?! How could this be  real?

In water to my knees, I grabbed the torch I kept on my bedside table, and shone it about. The water certainly felt real; it looked real. 

Yet I was incredulous.

This was not supposed to happen; I had been unable to get flood insurance due to the zoning, but I had not worried as my neighbouring ‘constructed wetland’ forest had been a ’90s flood mitigation measure that had worked ever since.

Wading out into the hall, my torch showed two yellow discs bobbing about in. The halved skins of a passionfruit, they’d have been in my compost bin in the kitchen… I passed a large container of corn chips that would have been in a cupboard down there…

This was real all right.

Over the night of March 19 the flooded creek/river had silently far exceeded its expected reach, snuck up the hill on which my house sat, and into my house.

At 8.30 that night I’d checked and there was water only in the lowest bottom corner of my large yard, a not unusual occurrence.

I slept soundly. There was no sound, no SMS alert or warning, no knock on the door.

While up to mattress height in the bedroom part of my house, in the lower part (two steps down) it was up to kitchen bench height, and my fridge and furniture … and compost bin contents… were floating about.

My garage, further downhill, was flooded far higher; it was full of tools and camping gear, and most precious of all, the carefully stored boxes of my own books, taped with chalk inside to absorb any moisture, placed on pallets to avoid any dampness… !! They were now just a pile of mush. 

Irreplaceable. Heartbreaking.

As the SES boat took me and my few hastily grabbed possessions out, I only managed to take the above two photos.

My car in the carport even lower down was under many metres of water, and next day as the water receded, it was clear it would be a write-off… as it was.

When I was allowed back in, SES volunteers helped me take out heavy items like sodden mattresses. Once family could get through other flooded roads, days later, we frantically threw out ruined items large and small, and broke apart lower swollen cupboards and furniture to get the stinking clothes and books and albums out before worse mould set in. 

Fixed carpets were ripped up, large mats removed with hope they could be washed and salvaged. 

My grandkids dried and separated pages and peeled off photos in the oldest family albums… again, irreplaceable.

Several mountains of dumped belongings formed out the front, to be picked up by a Council excavator and loaded into trucks. Things like the fridge and washing machine looked OK, but were irretrievably ruined.

It took weeks to empty the place, but the cleaning began apace.  Friends and family were wonderful; some washed many loads of linen and clothes, others washed down walls with vinegar; others washed cupboard contents deemed OK to use again, like crockery and pans; I mopped the timber floors… five moppings so far!

Many of you know of this disaster that befell me because my friend David ran a fundraiser, and while I did not look at that until weeks later, a truly humbling number of people donated to help me out. I would not have managed without those funds and I am overwhelmed with gratitude to everyone, whether they gave $10 or much more. Knowing that such kindness and emotional support was out there helped me greatly.

I have since had to pay to have done, and do myself, certain flood-damage remedial work on the house, but being mostly built of timber and timber-lined, it has come up well. Only one added-on room was plasterboard… a costly mess. 

Once the underfloor foamboard insulation I’d installed was removed, the old floorboards slowly dried and uncupped. Amazing.

Chipboard does not cope with inundation well either… but the new vanity looks nice.

I’d been planning to sell and move to this smaller place on the coast. Folk had been booked to look at my lovely furnished and decorated house on the very Monday after the flood; in preparation I’d de-cluttered and put things in lower cupboards and moved much to the garage. A double punch to the guts for me; now what did I have to show or sell?

But a few weeks later, they still wanted to look at the empty and cleaned house, despite my being in process of touching up and fixing.

They made an offer; I accepted, and in a few weeks it will be theirs. Only one more trip for me back to finish painting… and say goodbye.

So now I live here. It’s small, but I write this first blog post here looking into the tops of a paperbark forest, I hear lorikeets in blossom-feeding frenzy, a goanna waddled through the carport the other day… and I have but to turn my head to see the river and that Mountain.

Silver linings indeed…

I am tired, exhausted really, but I can see they will be a comfort once I get past the shock, which has not quite hit as I have been so very busy. 

Again, thanks to everyone for your support and good wishes. 

Welcome resident reptile

I love my little skinks but I was delighted to realise that this very big and handsome skink, an Eastern Bluetongue (Tiliqua scincoides), has taken up residence in my yard.

Over several weeks I have seen it in three different places, but was still surprised to spot it by my back steps. These can grow up to 60cm long, but often only the head will be seen, protruding from a drainpipe or other shelter.

You would usually only see its blue tongue when it is in defensive mode, puffing up its body and holding its mouth open to scare the perceived intruder. This one seems used to me and does not scurry away as it did at first.

I am in awe of the intricate arrangement of its head scales… and a little in love with its cute little feet…!

All creatures great and small

Every morning I go out to check on my Frogmouth residents. They were not there the last two days and I fretted that they had left me. But no, they are back today, and not cuddled together as was usual. Is it warmer?

As I greeted them, one fixed me with its golden eye while its mate began assuming the broken branch pose. ‘I am not here’.

‘Don’t worry’, I assured them. ‘You are safe here, so please don’t go elsewhere for good!’

On my early mornings checks of the yard, I often see the intact wonders of overnight webweaving. I think this quite raggedy one on the Native Finger Lime may have its weaver at the centre? Better eyesight than mine must decide.

The maker of this more symmetrical circular web on the Acacia perangusta must be hiding amongst its leaves and blossoms.

Not having as much wildlife as I had at the Mountain, I treasure each and every creature… great and small.

Cool couple

It’s no secret that I love Tawny Frogmouths. Every day now I go out to look up into the bottlebrush tree and and see if my two new visitors are still there. They have been sitting well apart, and are mostly just visible as two blobs amongst the branches. Only one can really be seen in the dense foliage.

And he/she can see me, as this rather annoyed look shows. ‘So what you gawping at?!’

Or is it ‘Can’t a bird get some decent sleep around here?’

Most of the time they seem to take up the same separate positions on the branch each day, and sleep the warm days away.

I have seen them described as ‘grotesque’ but to me they are beautiful in a unique and characterful way.

Who could resist those softly patterned feathers, such clever camouflage that they can simply nap in view all day, unlike other night birds like owls?

Or that prominent tuft above the beak, which always impresses me as long eyelashes, although unromantically described as ‘bristles’ in my bird book

Then, after one especially cold night, early next morning when I went to check, I found them snuggled up together, feathers fatly fluffed. And so they stayed all day. My very cool couple, keeping warm.

Domestic Ups & Downs

Being confined to home doesn’t mean life is less interesting. You just have to look more.

Remember to go outside before dinner to see is there’s a sunset; autumn is a great time for sky spectacles!

And in the mornings, check out what the spiders have been up to overnight. This major engineering feat on my deck looked even more impressive when only half-lit; how was it hanging there?!

And look down.

Amongst the dull leaf litter this vibrant little Stinkhorn fungus ventures up to see what the weather is doing.  It’s one of the stinkhorn family and apparently smells like rotting meat or sewage.

Often found as a solitary specimen, it is Phallus rubicundus. Can’t imagine why…

And while looking down, I was surprised to see this decorative pair remaining in place like statues, sunning themselves together even as I walked past several times, quite close. 

Eastern Water Skinks, they are cherished residents here in town. Burnished bronze and gold and chocolate, with such delicate fingers and toes I fear for them — I’d like to think they know they are safe here. No need to bolt for cover when I appear…

Jack’s back

My favourite lizard at the Mountain was the cheeky Jacky (Amphibolurus muricatus). I missed him.

But after six months in my new home, I think one of his cousins has come to live here.

He was stretched out across my makeshift plastic-covered hothouse for carrots, catching the last of the afternoon sun.

I ran for the camera but he was quick to dash away. I laughed aloud with delight to see that familiar high-legged splayed gait, long needle tail held out stiff and straight behind — just like a mini-dinosaur.

It looked like a Jack was back in my life.

This one bore different colours from my Mountain mate, but they do vary a lot with gender and temperature. He ran under the house on to a pile of timber, where I couldn’t get a good photo. But enough to marvel anew at those delicate toes and the intricate studded patterns of his stripes. If he’s not a Jacky lizard, he’ll still be Jack to me… and very welcome too!

Old friend

I have always needed a writing work space with connection to the outdoors, and I have had that at my Mountain and my last place. Here I have had to create it by inserting two windows to give me the natural views I crave.

This means I can see a fair bit of the birdlife activity, even from my desk.

Which is how I spotted this White-headed Pigeon on my deck railing.

I vividly recall the gradual growth of visits – and visitors – from these handsome pigeons before; first one, then a few, then a flock would start to come around.

I welcome this reconnoitring advance male, and hope for him to return with friends.

As I have observed before, they have adapted to like feeding on the introduced camphor laurels, which no doubt helped save their declining numbers, but does spread the trees.

Unfortunately — apart from attracting the pigeons — I have some here.

Their call is somewhat mournful and not especially musical, with its repetitive ‘oom’.

Their dapper plumage is actually more colourful than at first glance, as there is a purplish-green sheen on the back and rump. The red details on beak, eye ring and legs and feet serve to complement the outfit nicely!

I’ve posted often about these pigeons — try here, here, here and here.

Christmas birds

No partridges or pear trees for me this Christmas, but Rainbow Lorikeets in a Jacaranda.

Gorgeously coloured, brighter than Christmas decorations, yet unseen by me until I heard the unmistakable, unstopping whinging of baby birds…

Far up in the Jacaranda where I’d not have been looking, they were just a darker blob from the ground.

But the constant carry-on gave them away. I assume parents and two young, but they all looked the same from way down here.

Not nesting, just resting … and gone next day.

I had one more Christmas visit: an afternoon sojourn in a shady tree by my Tawny Frogmouth Dad and one young, surely a teenager by now. The latter appeared asleep, nestled up against Dad on a very hot Christmas Eve.

So good to see at least half the family and know all was still well.

Home is where…

The day after my solar panels went on, I checked the Frogmouth tree first thing in the morning as usual and was shocked to find it empty, on nest and branches.

It was too early, the babies were too young, the book said 25 days… yet flown they were.

I was sad, bereft, felt unfairly abandoned. Hadn’t I been a good host?

I did look in the nearby trees but saw no sign of them.

Then the next day, I heard the hum and followed it to the camphor laurel just beyond my side fence, closer to my verandah than the nest had been.

Yep, there they were!

The father and the two babies, one of which was already practising the broken-off dead branch pose. The other was waddling along a nearby lower branch a little, to and fro, rather like a parrot.

And then the waddling one actually flew, not far, just to the branch where its father sat. I had realised they must have flown from the nest tree, but somehow didn’t believe it until I saw it.

It did look rather smug after the feat.

The baby waddled along the branch until it was next to Dad. It looked me in the eye as I zoomed in for a better photo.

And then it leant in and nestled up to Dad, like any baby does, for comfort.

I couldn’t help uttering a soppy ‘Ah-h-h’.

How cute was that?

I had hoped they’d use that tree as they grew, but they were only there for one day. A week has passed without a sighting.

I have spotted two in a tree once, but the young are so big now that it’s getting hard to tell young from old. I worry, why only two?

I am grateful for this reserve where there are enough safe trees en masse for them to choose from and fly between.

I am grateful I was privileged to see as much as I did of their youth.

Frogmouth family

From my deck the familiar Frogmouth lump in the tree seemed to have doubled. She-oak bark camouflaged as this bird is, my eyes always need to peer hard to work out this lump’s doings.

But there were two of them, one on the nest and one on an adjacent branch. Great; a pair!

And then I realised that the nest sitter was now sitting on more than sticks.

Two fluffy heads were somehow fitting beneath that mother, squashed into that always too-small nest in the crook of the She-Oak.

‘Welcome!!’ I called, delighted beyond measure that in my new home this gift had been delivered while I was at the Pilliga, trying to protect such natural wonders.

The Frogmouth chicks seemed to swell as I watched. I was full of questions.

However will they and the mother fit on that little nest for very long?

How long will the male stay around?

Had he only arrived for the hatching or had I just not seen him before?

Had they taken shifts to sit on the eggs?

Neither adult replied, but one chick opened a golden eye wider and gave me a most adult ‘look’. Yes, I know; I am ignorant.

But oh, so grateful!

Familiar faces

As at my last two homes, I see a lot of wildlife just from my decks and verandahs, perhaps because I choose homes that are part eyrie.

Not having heard kookaburras here yet, I was delighted to see this one last evening, just metres away from my side verandah. Such a handsome fellow!

Next day, I heard the unmistakable continual rusty sawing of a young Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo. Rushing out to that same verandah, I spotted him, large and loud, carrying on as only a baby magpie can beat.

This equally handsome fellow was in a Silky Oak, but where was the parent? Not in the same tree…

No, but near enough, busy in a Casuarina, ignoring the whining young. I am so happy that these familiar avian faces are appearing in my new place, making me feel more at home with each visit.

But this place is all about trees; even the clothesline is a pulley system off the high back deck, where I send my washing out into the air space between trees… past the reach of the yellow droppings of birds in the Silky Oak.

Vine Snake

My verandah is fringed with an ornamental grape vine, in full summer bright green leaf at present, its stems twining and curving and constantly reaching out to new holds.

Last week a familiar and faster twiner and curver was using it as camouflage.

I have seen this Green Tree Snake each summer here, but on those two past occasions it was extremely UNcamouflaged, on my tank and my ladder (see here and here). I could see the full length then of this slender snake, when it appeared about two metres long.

During this visit, it wound in and out of railings and vine stems so intricately that I could never see its whole body.

‘Green’ is a generalisation in its name as it has a range of colours, but I’d know that pretty head anywhere. Whether as Tank Snake or Ladder Snake or Vine Snake, I loved that it had returned.
 
And is it smiling ’hello’ back?