Beach bounty

Not being a fan of bright summer sunlight and blue skies, I go early to the beach near me. My mate Fred shares The Cloud Appreciation Society newsletter with me each month and I have to agree with them that clouds are far more interesting than cloudless skies!

If I am lucky the clouds part just enough for those angels up there to take a peek, shining a spotlight on the restless sea below.

At other times the clouds part in a less focused way, to light up a patch of sea and reflect in the wet sand. Light is always more interesting when paired with darkness or dullness.

But looking down and up close is just as interesting.

If I’m sitting long enough, the sand itself can reveal fascinating sights. Like this portrait of a hairy big-eyed creature… made by busy crabs…and birds?

The tiny crabs move fast when they detect any motion nearby, to disappear down their burrows. I wonder how they keep the sand out of those eyes on stalks?

Water ways

A creek with a waterfall rushing over rocks is a visual gift, where the ever-energetic and powerful yet lightly lacy water is combined with the stern dark hardness of rocks, facetted and shining or slimed with green slipperiness.

Once it’s calmed down after that splashing descent, the creek flows more  gently, gradually finding small pathways and side bays on its way downstream, rounding its regular rocks.

As its way flattens, the water pours rather than rushes, with only small runs and cascades, stranding dampened leaves like platters of colour.

Fallen logs form more gentle and even hurdles to make new liquid shapes.

I admit to preferring the ease of the creek’s waterways to the rush of the waterfalls, and I am charmed by the Water Gums (Tristaniopsis laurina) that fringe its banks.

Its flowers are pretty but it is the quirks of its limbs and bark that appeal to me most.

Water washed and smooth, its roots intertwine. Strength in numbers against flood force?

 It seems given to angled bends, to inexplicable elbows.

Some of these bear hollows where small plants like this fern have found a home.

But this is a vibrant creekside community, recovering after fierce floods laid many a tree low. 

Even the dead trees have a role, as with this tiny hole like a wise eye, sheltering baby Water Gums.

Two years on…

I recently camped for a few days on a block that was totally burnt out in those unstoppable bushfires two years ago. This property lost everything, including the house; in fact six homes were lost along this road in that inferno.

The two years since, including the last extremely wet season, has seen much green growth (including weeds).

And while the eucalypts now have plenty of leaves, like fingerless gloves they cannot disguise the dead black claws that remain unclad.

The far ridgetops remain a thin filigree of the worst burnt. On the slopes at times the lines of dead smaller trees appear like wraiths of grey smoke.

Close by the claws are ghostly grey, not black, and they now define the silhouette of the forest, rather than the old mopheaded gum treeline. 

The variety of greens in these vigorously regrowing eucalypts once again gives the lie to the ‘boring bush’ idea put about by the early colonists.  Yes, some are greyish-green…

Others are vividly bright green…

Others are almost purple-green…

And many have no green at all.

I admit to my eyes being taken with these new tree lines… and to my heart being saddened by the pleading of those bony scarecrow fingers…

Artful Nature

Through burnt country, the water runs constantly, cool and clear in these mountain streams. Splashing over dark tessellated rock shelves, landing hard to fizz and spray sparkling drops into the shallow pool below. Such energy and action!

Yet higher up at Brushy Mountain camp that stream is small and steadily busy as it winds through ferns and lomandra, the pink of the new ferny foliage counterpointing the green.

There was pink in the new gum leaves too, but these clumps of pink trigger plants (Stylidium) won the day for me, as I had never seen them. Each flower has a column or trigger that releases when an insect lands, ensuring it will do the work of cross pollination. There was another variety nearby, of paler pink.

More monochrome than colour, the trunks of the Coachwood trees sang with pattern and subtlety.

One seemed to be adding ink drawing to its pastel range…

I was on the lookout for fungi, but saw very little on the ground, except for this small isolated clump, nestling shyly yellow like fleshy buttercups amongst the damp leaf litter.

It is always heartening to see how Nature makes use of even burnt logs. A veritable colony of tiny coffee and cream fungi had claimed this tree.

As we walked back to camp, a Goodenia guard of honour flanked the path with brightness and colour. A surprise, like so much in Werrikimbe.

I’ll be back…

The greens of Werrikimbe

Werrikimbe National Park is high country, a World Heritage Wilderness oasis of cool temperate rain forest where tall Antarctic Beech trees and tree ferns dominate above ground.

Green is overwhelmingly its colour, but it was the mosses and ferns that held it most.

Amongst the areas that had been burnt out in the unstoppable fires two years ago, the ferns held such bright greens that they seemed lit from within.

Fallen logs grew green velvet.

Entire rock faces grew clumps and lumps of green softness to cascade down its slopes like a waterfall. 

Yet just above, the ridgetop forest had burnt… and not recovered.

The green decoratively draped itself over the large fungi on this Beech, not quite succeeding as camouflage.

In the drier, more open burnt sections, the blackened tree fern trunks valiantly flaunted their green parasols above the ferns.

Lower down the mountain, stepped above a rushing creek, impressively tall buttressed Carrabeen trees bore the green softness in all their folds as if integral to the trees.

Sometimes the mosses left the bright limes behind and seemed almost blue.

And as if to show that moss rules here, this tiny starter had taken over a conveniently horizontal surface. Go mossling!

Tea time

Many coastal dwellers or visitors will be familiar with brown tea-coloured creeks and lakes.

The paperbark swamp I walk past is overflowing now, the ‘tea’ spreading across the dirt road.

These Melaleucas or Paperbarks are often called tea trees because early settlers steeped the leaves in boiling water to make tea.

Their papery soft layers of bark have long been used by Aboriginal people: from carrying and warming, cooking, receiving and wrapping babies, to cups and domestic uses, to art and spiritual practices… paperbark is versatile. We are less imaginative, mainly using it as lining for plant baskets.

Many species are happy with wet feet. There are plenty of paperbark swamps in this mid coast area, but I have often seen them dry,

Tea-filled, the reflections of the trees add to the delights.

I was hoping to get past the reflections and find, on closer inspection, some sort of water-loving life, like the frogs I could hear. But the trees’ reflections won out, and by then I was sent hurrying home by the fine drizzle that has been our frequent companion here in between real showers.

Sea shapings

Boxed rocks with green velvet and creamy fillings, tightwaisted sand escapees… nature’s gallery of shapes so varied I never tire of looking.

Reminding us that shells are not fixed decorations, but meandering muscles with sun protection homes on their backs, these whelks and limpets have created their own patterns as they wait for the rising tide to refresh and cool them.

More ephemeral, sun and water make their own rippling rings of light.

The tide that went out has left endless versions of sand art, etched in line drawings and moulded into soft sculptures.

Some form escarpments and runnelled foothills, carve and capture pools and lakes.

Others twist into fancifully embossed tails of Art Nouveau.

Elaborate minarets from Arabia? Or a curving creature with snub nose and dragon spine?

Each tide will leave a different set of artworks, shaped from all different directions by the sea.

Cause for wonder, cause for gratitude…

Seashore spot colours

At last I managed to be at this rock platform at low enough tide to see its treasures. It’s Wash House Beach near Camden Head.

Beaches are cream and brown; rock platforms are that too, but with extra arrays of greens and pinks… and some surprising spots of vivid colour, like these shy red starfish.

One very bright red slash caught my eye; it moved… a bird. Then it doubled.

Two Sooty Oystercatchers, glossy black, unmistakable with those red eyes, legs and bill, poking their way like automatons across the cunjevoi-covered rocks.

Amongst the pretty underwater garden plants a single orange ‘finger’ was waving; attached, was it a slug or… ?

Bigger and brighter orange splashes showed in the lichen on rocky crevices nearer the sea. This one was home to the only sea urchin I saw.

Blue was also present. Below the galeolaria sea worm casings these clusters of pale blue were attached. They reminded me of shellback ticks…I touched one with the back of a fingernail and it felt soft… not hard like a barnacle.

And blue there certainly was in this sole bluebottle jellyfish, stranded by the tide, looking more like a plastic bath toy than the giver of very painful stings I recall from childhood. Occasionally there would be mass beachings of them, and their long stinging tentacles were not always visible to us kids hopping amongst them.  We learnt!

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… !

Gilding the day

With the aim of getting to the beach before the sun rises, I have been late too many times. By the time the light wakes up my body clock, around 6.30 am, the sun is already gilding the paperbarks outside my window.

So I set the alarm for 5.30, dressed quickly, fast-walked along the dirt road to the beach…begging the sun to wait for me… and lo, I crested the small sandhill, to see this. 

Dawn, but no actual sun up!

Mere seconds after I got to this long empty beach, the event began.… and moving fast.

As I could see the sun more fully, I was treated to a double sunrise in the wet sand mirror.

And here it was. Yet again, to gild and kickstart my day, to colour my world.

The show under way, I turned to the land to see the effects: watery sand gleaming, shells catching the light on the still-dark damp sand.

Like a true landlubber, I am as fascinated by what the sea has done to the land than what it is doing in its own restless surges.

The receding tide has left in hesitant stages, depositing scalloped ripples of plants and runners ripped both from sea and sand dunes.

Up close, there are also tiny grey pebbles of lava… from New Zealand, I am told!

My next ambition is to be present at a sunrise when the sky hold clouds to also receive that gilding, an even more spectacular show. Looks like that alarm awakening will be regular, so I can check for clouds… and get up… or go back to sleep.

Tough and tricky

The cliffs here are rough and rugged; not sheer drops, but lurching staggers and slides.

One has a stern Old Man of the Sea orating to the endless waters.

As you walk along the clifftop paths, lined with Casuarinas and Banksias, their sharp drop-away edges are usually hidden, until suddenly a bare opening seduces you to edge closer, to slip down its loose gravelly slope.

We don’t, watching for whales from well back…

But is from here that we see across to the next cliff, and spy a large bird busily feeding on something; what, we can’t see, even with the help of my camera zoom. The bird is totally preoccupied, does not even look over to our voices.

I think it is an Osprey, that most specialised fisher raptor, so its dinner is likely a fish, caught in one its spectacular feet-first plunges into the sea. 

The water here is so clear that its hunting would be easy. Perhaps it has its large stick nest somewhere in that rugged cliff face. Binoculars needed, I remind myself.

It’s not only the rocks that act tough and take on strange shapes. Termites have given this dead Banksia a head to surpass any of May Gibbs’ Banksia Men.

A vine forms a perfect circle before beginning its climb to the light. Why?

I know Spotted Pythons exist; is this a Mottled Python, or more muscular vines tricking us with their beautiful intertwined shapes and lichen blotches?

Next post I must praise the many wildflowers out now in this Kattang Nature Reserve, but as you see, have had trouble getting past its more solid features.

I love them all.

Ain’t Nature grand?

Mighty mangroves

The tidal rivers and creeks here, close to their ocean destination, are edged with mangroves and mud. Despite growing up near mangrove-fringed Erina Creek on the Central Coast, I had never thought them attractive, never stopped to look more closely. I knew almost nothing about mangroves.

Now they are my neighbours, I need to learn.

Until I came here I hadn’t thought of mangroves as actual trees; the only sort I knew grew low and dense like big shrubs. These clearly are trees, stretching and arching out for long distances.

In fact, mangroves come in trees and shrubs.

We have at least five species in NSW; here they are the taller Grey Mangroves, and perhaps the fringing shorter River Mangroves.

I used to wonder about all those short spiky things that you saw when the tide was out. ‘Ouch’ was my first thought! Shoots, I imagined. But they are ’peg roots’, the air-breathing roots of these plants, so cleverly adapted to tidal inundation and salt.

You can see the mangrove fruits fallen amongst the peg roots, as well as the resulting young seedlings.

These residents of the zone between land and sea are essential: as buffers protecting coastal land, as filters and carbon sinks, as habitat and food, as breeding grounds for many species of, for example, fish or prawns and crabs. 

They and their accompanying salt marshes are too often considered ’wastelands’ and cleared and filled for development.

While we have ‘lost’ about 17% of our mangroves since white settlement, the salt marshes have fared worse, with around 30% gone… and now listed as ‘vulnerable’.

Next to this salt marsh is an isolated mature mangrove, surrounded by its roots and its seedlings: I now see it as a mother tree.

Not pretty… pretty scary, actually! Bare feet not advised.

I haven’t seen the little crabs that must live in these mangrove mudflats but their patterns are as artistic as their beach counterparts, if a little murkier.

I promise to pay more attention to my front yard, come high or low tide!