Pattern master

This large Goanna, or Lace Monitor, scoots past my yard most days.  That netting fence means nothing to it and the set route goes right through it. Usually I only catch a glimpse, so fast and determinedly does it move.

But this day I wanted to see it over the fence and moved higher and closer. The click of the camera caused it to stop and look at me… or the source of the noise.

I am always amazed at massivity of these creatures: look at those legs! Common in eastern Australia, it is one of our largest lizards; some of the males can exceed 2m in length. 

Carnivores, they are quite partial to carrion.

I have seen them foraging around campsites… and enjoying a meat pie.

This one decided it was safer off the ground;  one of their common names is Tree Goanna. Those claws give good grip, holding it here for me to admire the extraordinary patterning of stripes and spots… an Aboriginal art template.

They are actually shy, and while they have been known to run up a human, it is not from aggression, but because they have mistaken the vertical ‘thing’ for a safe tree.

One aspect of their lives that was new to me was how they breed: the female digs a hole in a termite mound and lays her 6-12 eggs there. The termites rebuild over the hole and keep the eggs steadily warm (30ºC). Then 8-9 months later, she returns to dig out the hatchlings. How clever is that at delegating?!

Beach or bush?

I do love my new area, but I have one gripe: too many of the councils allow 4WDS on their beaches.

My heart sinks when I walk out onto such an uninhabited beach as this early of a morning and find it unnaturally defaced, scored with tyre tracks running the length of it …just for fun, just because they can.

The footprints of people, dogs, birds and crabs do not distress me; they belong or have earned the right to be there by being amongst Nature to get there.

I face south and it is the same. Indeed, worse, as I can see vehicles parked there. But perhaps they are there to fish… does that make it OK?  No, past generations of fishermen would have walked, or known where the bush access tracks where to the best spots along that beach. 

I’d better look down, between the tyre tracks, at what the tide has left; I am somewhat heartened that there does not seem to be plastic pieces amongst the shell fragments. Or are they so tiny as to be invisible to the naked eye? Pessimism, or realism?

I think I’d better take to the beachside bush instead…

There are three access or picnic spot tracks to this long Dunbogan Beach, each named after a tree, although at these mainly unburnt spots those trees are not obvious to me nor marked: Blackbutt, Cheesetree and Geebung. The signs at these spots tell only of the battle against the invading Bitou Bush all along the coast.

The drive to Blackbutt does wind through what I think is a Blackbutt and Banksia forest.

I am told at the Diamond Head camp National Park office that there are no brochures or leaflets anymore, on flora or fauna. Budget? What about the purpose of national parks to educate?

I suspect I am more in tune with bush than beach, and marvel at the lichen patterns on this tree trunk.

Then I turn and see this fine goanna sunbaking in the open. It hears my camera click on, and turns its head. ‘Hello, you’, I say, as is my wont with all the wild creatures I meet.

Once again, the intricate patterns that Nature has invented make all our human design attempts pale in contrast…

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…!

Rare sighting

Strolling through Wingham Brush Reserve on the slightly elevated walkway, looking from side to side, I spotted a reptile in the leaf litter.

This was the first time I have ever seen a critter other than bats, brush turkeys and an occasional small bird there. It’s the massive strangler fig trees and the dim dry rainforest world around them that most attract me.

So was this a bluetongue lizard? There was something odd about the shape, the scales… and the head.

Moving to see the head more closely, I decided it wasn’t. But what was it? It was remaining absolutely still, despite our voices and footsteps… and a fly hanging around its face.

I was very excited to look it up and see it is a Land Mullet (Egernia major), one of our largest skinks, reaching up to 60cm. I had only ever seen one once before, at my Mountain.

It is called a Land Mullet because of its large shiny fish-like scales and because when it moves, it does look like a mullet swimming.

Preferring rainforest or nearby, it apparently often lives in burrows, so I was lucky to see it out sunning itself, unblinking, unswimming.

Pays to stay observant on a walk!