Double-ended drama

I have never been able to choose between sunsets and sunrises as regards beauty and spectacle; they are so different, and each one of them is different from another.

Autumn is a great season for sunsets, as this rather fierce example shows when I look to the south-west, where the sky seems to be on fire.

But face north and that same sunset takes on more delicate hues.

Face straight ahead to Dooragan and gold lights the sky.

And burnishes the gently rippling river.

But on the same day the sun had made its entrance with great promise, if less dramatically.

It soon painted the sky and the sand with a glowing peach gold, while the land was struggling to share some of that light.

Such beauty at both ends of one day!

A free show, if we only look.

Wild weather

With strong winds sending small branches raining down at home, I could hear the surf thundering in the distance and knew it would be a spectacle.

But I hadn’t expected the amount of sea foam that awaited me at the Tuckeroo end of Dunbogan Beach.

The creamy froth had coated the rocks and sand, transforming the usual colour and texture.

The beach itself had been transformed, the high seas cutting into the banks and forging a new rushing stream.

The stream rippled along with each wave, with the yellowish foam edging it like a fancy frill.

Flecks and lines of foam were stranded on the sand, some caught and banked by what the tide had left behind, some blown willy-nilly to roll and dance over the sand.

As soon as I entered the dense bush of Kattang to walk back to the Tuckeroo car park, the surf fell silent, and stillness replaced the wild winds.

But if the sea was all white and cream today, in this weather even the Camden Haven River sported whitecaps and waves.

Always worth venturing out in such weather to see what Nature is up to.

Wattles and wonders

I thought I was looking at gum tree leaves, but in fact it is a wattle — Acacia implexa.

No flowers or seed pods to give me a clue, but what’s in a name with such beautiful leaves?

This decorative and dangly foliage also belongs to a wattle — Acacia vestita.

The weird and wonderful triangular leaves on this wattle caught my eye: Acacia cultriformis. New to me.

Not a wattle, but a standout in its solitude as it erupted amongst crackly lichen, is this small shrub of Western Urn Heath, Melichinus erubescens.

On the ridge top, somehow growing tall and strong amongst rocks, this tree trunk, strikingly silver and grey, presented a single elephantine foot and proud wrinkles as it branched. I am told by my knowledgeable hosts that it is a Scribbly Gum, Eucalyptus rossi.

And if a tree does not choose to have a grey or brown trunk, it can opt for green, with a little help from friendly lichen.

For here the realm of green above all belongs to the mosses and lichens, especially after a good rainy period.

They make a fabulous contrast with the bones of this country — the rocks.

Big Hill sunrise

The short Big Hill walk is the only one here, so I head past the beach to climb that and hopefully see out to the sunrise, of which I can see delicate flushes already.

It is still half dark on the walk, and the trees arching over the track make it even dimmer. I had needed a torch when I set out.

The sea winds have shaped the cliffside forest into slanting sideways for  survival.

But then I emerge on to a side of the Hill where the sunrise can be seen through the dark trees.

There is low cloud limiting the sun’s visible rise, but it makes a beautiful bright contrasting glow with the grey sea and the dark cliff.

Before this loop walk leaves the sea to head down through the rainforest, I marvel at the rugged nature of the shore here. Steep and forbidding.

I come out the other end of the loop at the bottom of the Big Hill into brighter daylight, to find a lone Pandanus tree (Pandanus tectorius) propped on its stick legs, its unripe ‘breadfruit’ looking somehow inappropriately tropical.

Paperbarks and pandanus…

Swans and supper-singing birds…

Melaleuca moments

At Melaleuca Campground, apart from its waterbirds, Limeburners Creek itself holds beauty in its reflections and varying channels and flows.

Not surprisingly, the Melaleucas or paperbarks were the main trees, often being embraced by what I assume were a variety of Strangler Fig.  Embraced — or throttled?

Other trees were closely held by vines, some almost as thick as the tree itself.

One tree species profusely flowering at the time was Alphitonia excelsa, Red Ash or Soap Tree.

Near the base of one was this eye-catching brightly fruiting plant, which I am told is a native mistletoe, Amylotheca dictyophleba.

Not a plant, but of an unusual colour for me, was this large Lace Monitor.  I know their colours vary, but I have never seen such yellow bands before. There were many of the familiar black and cream and spotted goannas or monitors at the camp, often four at a time lazing or waddling along the creekside or over the grass. 

They didn’t bother me, although I kept the side door of the van shut when they were about, since they climb; a panicked goanna inside the van would be no joke…

They seemed to have set times to take their turn; they would all disappear and small birds would arrive, the dainty little wrens hopping about so swiftly they seemed like leaves being blown over the grass.

Never a time without some wildlife to watch or notice; what a treat!

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.

Burrawan

Although I have lived in the area for several years now, I had never seen Lake Innes, never knew its story… or its real name, which is Burrawan.

There is one public driving track in to the Lake Innes Nature from the Lake Cathie/Port Macquarie side, to Perch Hole Picnic area. And this beautiful serenity is what lies at the end of that track through a paperbark swamp.

Whether you look south or north, this large lake is impressive… and empty today save for one lone kayaker.

I was driven to go and see it for myself after being on the other side of Burrawan for the launch of a book about this lake.

In it, John Heath and Ashley Barnwell have compiled inforrnation and records about the story of this lake, offering both Birrpai and colonial ideas and histories.

In front of the ruins of Major Innes’ brick home complex, once almost a small village, overlooking a grass sward that runs down to the lake, we were given some extraordinary insights.

The tall blue gums that would have totally blocked the view were long gone, and the lake was still visible behind John and Ashley as they listened to the speeches. 

Major Innes had the trees cleared for his farming establishment, while his wife kindly introduced lovely garden plants, like lantana!

We were treated to a smoking ceremony and dances, mainly by John’s charming young relatives. The Birrpai were revered and applauded here today, but as the book shows, were not considered in Major Innes’s time.

But the shocker was that this lake was then freshwater, and is now salt… and all the plant and animal life that thrived on it had died.

Despite warnings, and never-realised intentions to build floodgates to stop the saltwater flowing back, a channel was dug by hand from Lake Cathie to Burrawan in the 1930s. The idea was to drain the lake and thus create 12,000 acres for farmland! 

So, as the book summarises, the lake and all its wildlife and biodiversity was seen as merely submerged potential farmland.

Records from Albert Dick’s diary chart the demise of the rich life of the lake as the salinity increased, and they are truly shocking.  I thank John and Ashley for this work, shocks and regrets notwithstanding; like massacres, we need to know the damage done by blind colonisation.

But you need to read the book! The Port Macquarie Historical Society has published this valuable resource and record and you can buy it from them or from John Heath.

Revive Lake Cathie is a group working hard to return Burrawan to fresh water — visit them here to find out more.

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…

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.

Far and near

The views from Point Lookout in the New England National Park are vast in several directions, and show how much rugged, forested wilderness we still have, in the country where the Macleay and Bellinger rivers arise.

The first day I drove to Point Lookout, there was only whiteness instead of view; the next time there were glimpses, as patches of cloud lifted. It was on my third attempt that I saw the uninterrupted views, as in the first photo, that are justly famous. But I realised I preferred the glimpses…

At the very different Wrights Lookout, from its harsh rocky world I could look back to the green forest at Point Lookout. Here trees were small wind-bent shrubs and every crevice was needed to nurture a plant.

Other walks took me to the in-between worlds, where lichen could be a restrained rosette, a single grey-green splodge on a tree trunk.

Or in the same colours, frilled fringes like oak leaves might decorate a tree.

Or small tufts and bunches of strawberry blonde might have made a home on a fallen tree.

Or a ruffle like fine lace or coral beside its mossy mates.

An endless variety!

But of course I am not abandoning my love of mosses. I close these glimpses of the treasures in this Park with a tree trunk gloriously bedecked with lumps and bumps of thick green softness.

What’s not to love?

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…

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.