Walking sticks

Wildlife seems to find me. This impressive stick-insect right beside my front door was spotted by my son-in-law when he arrived.

I think this is a female Titan Stick-insect, Acrophylla titan.

She was easily 300mm long, compared here with her discoverer’s hand.

I was afraid to harm those fragile limbs in trying to dislodge her, but she was not interested in walking on to a twig either.

This stick-insect is from the Phasmatidae family. Six-legged vegetarians, they are often confused with the carnivorous Mantids — as in the Praying Mantis.

As you can see, she’d have superb camouflage on bark or branches, so why she chose to walk away from any trees or shrubs, across a wide timber verandah, and climb up a grey painted weatherboard wall I cannot imagine. She can’t fly — unless ‘she’ is a ‘he’, as the males can, but they are smaller.

Next morning she was gone, nowhere in sight. A mysterious visit by an example of amazing Nature!

Electric raptors

Drivers along the Lakes Way just south of Forster have been doing doubletakes as they pass this aerial edifice.

After watching my Willy Wagtails’ teeny effort, this massive pile of branches seemed hardly birdlike.

I only had time to zoom in on the remaining parent. I’d been thinking a White-breasted (or White-bellied) Sea Eagle, but this has to be an Osprey. They are raptors like Eagles, Kites, Harriers and Goshawks, but are a class of their own.

No doubt the absent parent was off patrolling the nearby waterways. Ospreys are highly specialised fish hunters, having spines on the soles of their feet to help hold a slippery fish, as well as needle-sharp talons.

I haven’t seen it but they are also spectacular fishers, plunging into water feet first to seize a fish, sometimes going right under.

One of my bird books (‘Australia — Land of Birds’,Trounson) reckons their eggs are considered amongst the most beautiful of all — ‘cream, boldly blotched and dotted with rich brown and chocolate’ —  and much prized by collectors in the past.

So it is not surprising that Ospreys choose to build beyond collector or little boy climbing height — with the extra security of a high-voltage hit to the daring.

Queer creatures

When you step out of your ute in a Macdonalds carpark (yes, I confess: a rare last resort!) you don’t expect to be eye-to-eye with a prehistoric creature like this.

It was most uncomfortably perched on top of a harshly pruned hedge, as spiky as itself.

I think it’s a water dragon but there was none of that substance about. It, like the dragons, is usually found at ground level.

Maybe it was waiting to be fed leftovers from Maccas?

By the way, at least I learnt that Maccas still doesn’t cater for vegetarians.

Coffee with fries, please.


Meanwhile at home, I have two far more smooth and docile creatures in residence.

The Gramma couple are snuggling up in a corner while I consider how best to use these gifts from a neighbour. I’ve done the Gramma Pie they requested. Very nice too, but it was more an exercise in disguising the Gramma than making the most of its flavour (?).

Anything could have provided the bulk.

Anyway, I’m not sure I can bear to break up this loving pair. Well, he seems a bit uppity, but she clearly adores him.

Royal visitor

Down here in my skybowl I have had isolated visits from birds I don’t usually see – just dropping in for a peek at how we poor groundhuggers live.

But I have never had a Wedge-tailed Eagle come calling at the house.

Last week this one flew into my yard and landed in a very large and spreading stringybark tree, just up the hill. The photo was taken from my verandah steps.

It was only there for about five minutes. I don’t know why it came so low and why it landed; the magpies usually hunt them out of our air space quite promptly.

When it took off, I was in awe of its skill in managing those huge and deeply flapping wings between the branches before it could get up and away.

I count this as a royal visit because to me the Wedgies are the kings here, as I wrote in this chapter of Mountain Tails.

Sky lords

A pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles lord it over these mountains, often accompanied by a third, presumably their young one. They circle overhead on the air currents, barely moving a wing. At times so high as to be mere floating specks, at others low enough for me to see their pale hooked beaks and the colours on their plumage; at heights in between, dark silhouettes of the distinctive wedge-shaped tail and the up-curved swoop of wings.

They seem to be the natural kings of the upper sky, effortlessly surfing the invisible currents, crossing from ridge to ridge, watching the clearings in the valleys far below for a rabbit or other small mammal. Their main mode of flight is thus elegantly languid, appearing to be almost lazy, yet it is absolutely economical, perfectly poised, ready to bundle themselves into an aerodynamic lightning bolt to hurtle earthwards after the prey detected by their extraordinary eyesight.

That eyesight is equivalent to mine — if I was using binoculars with 20 times magnification power!

Elaborate aerobatics are also used as foreplay, to impress the female partner. She plays hard to get, feigns nonchalance, now and then surfing the air currents on her back to briefly hold ‘hands’, link claws, with her slightly smaller suitor. When she gives in, her mate helps repair whichever of their several nests they have decided to use that year. She often has two young hatch, but usually only one survives to adulthood — by killing its sibling. So we shouldn’t complain about pushy brothers or sisters; at least they didn’t push us right out of a (probably very high) nest.

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Wombats and Windgrove

On my brief 2010 foray into southern Tasmania I was looking for wild edges, and I found a place called Roaring Beach that tugged hard at my mountain heart.

It was much later that I discovered a wonderful website, perfectly named ‘Windgrove: Life on the Edge’ emanating from that same beautiful wild place — home of Peter Adams, sculptor, thinker, writer, nature lover — great photographer! All the photos in this post are by Peter.

I only did so via my webmaster/mates, Fred Baker and Allan Moult; Allan does Peter’s Windgrove site. There’s a permanent link to it on my ‘Supporters’ list.

Many of you have loved the photographs of the pouch-peeping wallaby and kangaroo joeys I’ve been lucky enough to get close to. 

As an introduction to the many delights you’ll find at Windgrove as Peter shares his sea-swept 100 acres, there can be little more special than this sighting of a wombat joey nestled in its mother’s pouch.

The pouch is cleverly backwards-opening so her joey isn’t half-smothered in dirt when she digs. Maybe that’s where Volvo got the idea for their baby seats?

I especially relate to Peter’s understanding of how to get to know a natural place and its treasures; I too have learnt to shut my mouth and open my eyes, be slow or still — and carry a camera.  There is so much to allow yourself to be shown.

As I said in the first chapter of my first book, The Woman on the Mountain, explaining why I live ‘way out there’:

‘My world is unfashionable, timeless and teeming and intensely fascinating. It commands my interest, my passion, and my pen.’

It seems that Peter’s art is similarly engaged with and inspired by his world. Similarly too, while he has planted thousands of trees on once-barren Windgrove, ‘in the process he, himself, has been transformed by the land.’

‘Still-a-life’ — Sculpture by Peter Adams

Willy Weavers

My friend Christa doesn’t live in the bush, but on her rural suburban riverside block she observes an astonishing amount of fascinating natural phenomena.

The key is that she is keen to watch — and to wonder. Plus she takes great photos.

As her wildlife is often quite different to mine, she sees things I am not likely to. This one is so special I’ve asked her permission to share it with you.

She was drawing ‘immense pleasure’ from watching a pair of Willie Wagtails building a nest under the verandah roof outside her bedroom.  In fact, they would wake her up with their chirping and flurrying.  

To her surprise, she realised that they were using cobwebs as the main building material.

‘They arrive with threads wrapped around their heads, then wipe the head on the nest, all the while wriggling inside, checking for the right fit.’

‘They also use bits of grass and seem to put them on the inside. I think the nest grows about 1cm per day. By the weekend, it might be ready for eggs.’

But after the weekend Christa emailed the sad news. The Willie Wagtails had abandoned the nest on Saturday, after all that complex weaving.  

‘During the day, once or twice, they still defended the yard against crows and magpies. There was also a curious thing happening with two Willies. A larger one came and bullied the nest builder out of the nest, then briefly hopped inside it and left. Perhaps that bully is the reason for the now deserted nest. It still is a beautiful construction and I’m happy I could watch the process.’

To me, it looks almost like felting. And it is a great pity the Wagtails broke up before they could occupy it and start a family — but I warn all owner builders that this is a possible outcome!

Sunset rainbow

Rainbows are always a wonder and sunsets often are.

I don’t think I have seen them give a simultaneous performance before.

This occurred out west, after a storm. If you look closely you can see the fainter ‘double’ rainbow.

The colours were striking, especially since inside the arc of the rainbow seemed more pink than outside it, where the last of the day’s blue still held sway.

Perhaps I have been unobservant in the past but this seemed unusual, as if the rainbow was a solid hemisphere rather than an arc. 

I never cease to marvel that nature is such a constant surprise and source of delight, free to those who think to look.

Futile Fantails

Re-visiting my friends with the peacocks, I struck these quite ridiculous birds at their show-off time, which is also when they make more noise — at times like a cat ‘caterwauling’, at others like a donkey. Never like the divas they dress up as.

The white peacock was the first to display for me —  for the aged white peahen actually, but she walked straight past and ignored him. How she could I don’t know, as he was spectacular in fine tulle and — well, feathers!

But I guess she’d seen it all before.

He turned towards her dismissive back, fanning his tail forwards right over his face as he did so. It was such a showgirl rear exposed, pleated silk and ermine trimmed knickers!

The next afternoon I found the blue peacock strutting his stuff before the chooks, who were slightly more interested than the peahen – but not much.

I was enthralled. Just look at the fine detailing along the bottom edge of the fan, like a row of ‘eye’ sequins!

He too tried to catch her attention by fanning far forward, then slowly rotated. It looked hard to keep his balance with so much out front.

I realised that the stiffer short fan of grey feathers act like a brace. And then he began to shimmy, to vibrate the whole shebang so the quills audibly rattled! The soft white and black fluffy rear layers shivered very sexily.

But the peahen hadn’t stayed for the show.

I felt so sorry for him; all this effort and nobody but me to applaud. Before he packed it away into a long trailing tail once more, I told him how incredibly beautiful he was.

Still ridiculous finery to be wandering about a chook yard in — but I am in awe of the exquisite design detail and colour! Who could have dreamt up such a creature?

Tree tortoise

Strong winds find weak branches on mountainside trees like mine, and I am always wary on wild days. This time I heard the crack from inside the cabin, and crossed my fingers it hadn’t landed on the track.

It had, but only the tops of the branches, so easily chainsaw-able.

Except, as they were springy and green, I stupidly got the blade stuck twice. My handsaw freed it.

I put the chainsaw down to move the sawn branches aside, and as I cleared a space, to my astonishment I uncovered a Long-necked Tortoise, just sitting on the track, peeping out of its shell and probably equally astonished at the leafy roof that had suddenly landed on it.

I went to fetch gloves — and the camera.  It had totally tucked itself inside the shell by the time I returned, and remained so as I picked it up and carried it down to the dam. I assumed that’s where it was from originally, but where it was heading I couldn’t guess. How strange for it be there just as the branch fell — and how lucky that the heavier part missed it; even a tortoise shell can be crushed.

Hoping it wasn’t hurt, I placed it partly in the water.  What if it was stunned, what if it drowned? But soon small bubbles began to rise.

After maybe five minutes, one leg extended into the water, and then the head emerged, showing the distinctive pointed nose and bright eyes that are all I usually see in the dam. It was fine!

Sandstone geometry

In my last week at Goulburn River Stone Cottages I was taken on a walk up the Gorge towards the famous Drip, approaching it this time from the opposite direction.

This took us past giant jumbles of rocks, some midstream like beached battleships, others landed on their sides not far from the cliffs that had let them go.

I was astonished at the amount of very straight lines, as in the edges of pools, or the mighty sharp-edged slab, a stone lamington with a nibbled-out underside. (Photo by Robert Bignell)

But there were equally amazing rounded shapes, curves in cut-outs, rolls, loops and overhangs, and extraordinary suspensions, created over eons. None are meant to cope with the shocks of underground mining.

China has impressive gorges too; as they don’t have the world’s best environmental record, I wonder if they plan to undermine close to them, as they do here at their Moolarben coal project, owned by Yanzhou.

In this spectacular overhang, being inspected by my friend Gail Bignell of The Old Brush there’s a Lyrebird’s nest (circled) tucked up on a shelf. (Photo by Robert Bignell)

But the large old Angophoras that fringe the gorge rival the rocks in curves and add the grace of their dangling branches and leaves. As we sat under this beauty for our picnic, lulled by the river burbling past below, the peace was broken by the cries a pair of Peregrine Falcons, who flew out from their nest in the cliff opposite to chase off a Wedge-tailed Eagle.

What a special, special place.

Fashion fungi

Under the big stringybark tree the leaf litter is deep. It is home to a whole world of bugs and grubs I am sure, but also an incubator for some astonishingly beautiful fungi. The winter colours in vogue this year are striking — and both are new to me.

This solitary smart purple number poked its head through the other day. It is quite small.  From my book I can only guess it might be a Cortinarius, but is it C. archeri or C.aff.violaceus, or another variety not in my book? Is the stem pale lilac really?

There’s only one so I’m not going to break it to check its gills or flesh to be able to get the name right!

Under the same spreading tree, about three metres away, I spotted several of these; elegantly coloured two-tone, olive-green above a subtle amber yellow. In the surrounding leaves, more are getting ready to make their debut.

Green is not a common colour in our fungi, so I hope I am right in guessing this is Dermocybe austrovenenta.

Miniature marvels

I am a sucker for miniatures, natural or man-made.  Having taken many photos of large and impressive webworks, presumably by large spiders, I was charmed to come across these creations by smaller artists.

Jewelled perfection slung between two twigs, yet smaller than my thumb. Awe-inspiring.

I walked about the garden seeking more treasures, and on a birch tree I found a tiny horizontal arrangement, a diamond net to catch a cloud-drop.

Such beauties are why I love living close to nature. They keep me sane, in a wider world that does not value these intricate riches as I do. After all, there is no export ‘demand’ for ephemeral diamonds.