Peewee power

Hearing a mighty fuss in the trees outside my study window, I checked. A very agitated Peewee was fluttering and noisily protesting all around a tall tree which a goanna was trying to climb.

Its antics were clearly bothering the goanna. I suppose the small Peewee felt safe, even at such close quarters, as the goanna had to keep its claws holding on to the bark rather than swiping at the annoying bird.

The Peewee won, with the goanna giving up the attempt to go further up that tree, and beginning the awkward about-turn.

Peewees are famous for their noisy and fearless defence of their territory, often against much bigger birds. Or reptiles!

You may have seen them attacking their own reflections in windows or car side-mirrors, thinking themselves to be enemies.

Goannas’ downward climbs don’t look very safe or easy, with those claws needing to defy gravity for the heavy body.

In fact, their manner of changing direction in tree branches looks quite precarious altogether.

Having made it, this one seemed to simply want to rest, supported by the branch, and right way up. 

As the Peewee warrior was nowhere in sight or earshot, that branch must not be deemed a threat.

The goanna was permitted to rest in peace.

Purple protector

This handsome, vividly coloured bird was very active and evident round my campsite at Ganguddy/Dunns Swamp in the Wollemi National Park.

I knew it was a Purple Swamphen, with that very distinctive red front shield and beak.

It kept strutting about on those extremely long feet and making short screeches. It seemed agitated.

At first I thought this log was the cause, looking so like a reptile, and then I spotted the real one.

And yet the goanna did seem to be on the run from the bird’s harrying screeches.

‘Safe to come out’, the purple protector must have signalled, as soon the rest of the family emerged.

Later I saw the mother and chicks down by the water and the reeds they must love. Dad was off ahead… checking for goannas, no doubt.

Dunns Swamp is actually a dammed river, and has vast stretches of reeds, where those Swamphens likely nest.

Walking by the water, I can see by the incredible number of picnic tables and fireplaces that this is a popular place. Kayaking tours were offered. It would be unbearable for me in holiday times, but campsites were tucked amongst trees and there were few campers in such damp weather.

I only managed brief walks between showers, so was delighted to see quite a few colonies of this mauve Fringed Lily (Thysanotus tuberosus) in the boggy riverside walk. I hate giving it the full Common name, as ‘Common’ implies less than the fragile beauty it is.

Tree visitors

My back deck is high amongst the paperbarks, and close to them.  I had not expected to come so close to a tree climbing goanna, but for once it was not waddling across the grass below, where I see one almost daily.

So close, I could admire not only the intricacy of its patterns and colours, with that surprising blue tinge, but its face, its ear and eye. Even its claws had camouflage dots!

When I first spotted this one it seemed to be lolling on a branch, not gripping or climbing, but that soon changed.

It turned around rather awkwardly and began climbing down one branch…

… to head up another. Sometimes it went to the perilously thin ends of branches before turning. Searching for birds’ nests and eggs?

The birds were certainly alarmed, chattering and flying about.

As they were a little further away, in a tall eucalypt…

But that odd thick shape I could see there turned out to no threat. To my great delight it was one of my favourite birds, a Tawny Frogmouth.

And from the lingering fluffy feathers I think it may be still young… unless they are just my camera’s blur from using the zoom.

I am heartened to think there may be a family of them about and will keep an ear out for that distinctive repeated ‘oom’.

I didn’t hear those ‘ooms’, but later that very afternoon, nearing dusk, I saw that the ‘lump’ up there on that branch was bigger.

I could not get a very clear view but it was definitely an adult and two young Tawny Frogmouths. The young look much fluffier than my earlier sole bird, so was that the father, the apparent fluff just my camera, or the wind?

The father often cares for the fledglings, so perhaps my visitor was a father sussing out where to bring his young to rest, or just taking a break from childcare before the kids caught up with him.

All three were gone next day, but what a treat, however fleeting! My first Frogmouths in this new place… 

When I moved into my last place (that was flooded), within weeks a Frogmouth had two chicks hatch in a nest in a she-oak in my yard and I could watch them growing and being raised. Such a privilege!

Wildlife welcome

House-sitting for a week on a property that is designed to welcome wildlife, I was treated there to the songs of some of our most melodious birds, like this Pied Butcher Bird, whose young was heading to join it.

The other glorious songs came from possibly my favourite songster, the Grey Shrike-Thrush.

All day honeyeaters jostled and swung as they fed in the native small trees and shrubs planted to attract them.

To my great nostalgic delight, a family of Eastern Red-necked Wallabies grazed unconcernedly below.

On the young banksia tree one bloom stood out, demanding attention in its rich green amongst the creams and browns.

On the verandah a large skink sunned itself. I had thought it to be one I was used to, an Eastern Water Skink, but the colours were too dull. Perhaps at a different stage of its life? I’d appreciate any further clues…

So I had my wildlife  treats… as well as reminders of how very slow young kookaburras are to get their adult laugh right, and how very repetitive are their efforts!

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!