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.

The Blob

On my way out the other day I noticed  a bright yellow blob on the bark of a fallen tree by the gate. Must get a photo of that, I thought — but I forgot for few days.

When I returned with the camera, the bright yellow had turned orange, with older purple edges and only small oozings, awfully like custard — or worse — showed yellow.

Now I had not seen this before, but from previous investigations into another of the family, I knew it must be a slime mould, Myxomycota. They’re not fungi but tend to be lumped with them.

I had been fascinated that they move about like amoebae, reproducing into perhaps thousands of ‘daughter cells’; then, at some sort of chemical signal, they all get together and make a larger organism.

Some species make such large organisms that a horror movie, The Blob, was inspired by them. 

This is one of the most common, worldwide, I had read. It’s in my fungi book as Fuligo septica, with the common name of ‘Flowers of Tan’, but the much less poetic and more apt names I found to be most common elsewhere were ‘Dog vomit mould’ or ‘Scrambled egg mould’!

Fruit firsts

I don’t understand what’s going on in my orchard — or not going on, actually. The bower birds and the king parrots have arrived, as usual, to eat the fruit on the trees that I haven’t got around to netting, which is all of them this year.

I knew the mulberries were coming ripe in stages and have been going over to stand and eat my breakfast’s first course on the hoof, so to speak.  This year I don’t have time to pick them in bulk and turn them into jam or pies —  I need a tribe of children to come and eat them.

But I don’t get why the birds haven’t eaten them yet; the ripe ones are as sweet as they come and all the rain has made them full and juicy.

Assuming the birds will take them all soon, I thought I’d photograph the bounty just to show it can happen.

That’s when I spotted the cherries. In 16 years I have never seen the fruit on my two cherry trees get past a few faint blushes of pink before they disappear. I may have eaten one — once. But the trees are tall and skinny — and laden; far too high to reach easily, but I am thinking of lopping them just to get those gorgeous globes.

Any bird would be mad to pass these up; what is going on?

Leafy visitor

I’d just cut back the woody stems of the verandah vines — the ornamental grape and the wisteria. A scattering of brown tendrils and dry curling leaves had landed on the verandah and I began to sweep them off.

Only, one decided it didn’t want to be swept and began lurching away.

It was so delicate I’d have broken it with one unwitting blow, had I not seen it for what it was — a small leaf insect, one of the Phasmid family, like the stick insects.

I do have the CSIRO field guide to these extraordinary insects, but I can’t find this one.

Flared and flattened, curled and bent, blotched and pitted — what amazing camouflage! Not much use on this drawer I was airing, so I carefully let it cling to a stick and transferred it to the brown stems and remnant leaves from whence I expect it had come. The delicacy of its feet, especially the questing front ones! 

Nature truly is awesome.

Special effects

Living on a mountain, my eyes are directed as often to the skies as they are to ground level.

Clouds fascinate me — and I’m not alone — as the wonderful Cloud Appreciation Society website shows.

I especially love it when massive cloud banks like this one, snagged on the mountain range, are lit by a sunset still existing somewhere over the horizon, but gone from here.

My place is almost dark, yet up there in the skyworld the clouds see further, chase the glow and capture it as a very special solar lighting effect.

Yet I have to keep my eyes on the ground as well. The constant surpises in nature here range from the sublime to the minute.

This almost translucent little beauty emerged to stand, solitary, simple and fragile, in the midst of the whole ‘lawn’ beside the house.

Two days later it is still there and still solo. To me it seems brave and hopeful, but then I’m a romantic.

Arty nature

The significance of ultra-abstract art often eludes me; I might appreciate it as design and colour, but it doesn’t speak to me. I don’t warm to it, relate to it, as I can to the merely abstracted, stylised, simplified, where the origin is vaguely discernible. In the latter the artist’s treatment of it stimulates my imagination more than straight realism would.

As pure visual beauty, for shape and colour and flow, I’d hang this one on my wall any day — if I had any space left around the bookshelves and existing paintings and photographs. The uncluttered look is not for me; I want everything I love where I can see it.
The cabin might be full, but I live in the midst of a forest that can dazzle me with temporary exhibitions of works of art like this one. The paint was fresh and bright after a spell of rain; a week later the colours will dull and fade, or flake off.

The artists are always ‘Anon’ but they belong to a most innovative and talented group called ‘Nature’.

Free diamonds

After showers, if the air is still enough, for a very brief period before the sun soaks up the raindrops — I am given diamonds.

Every tiny leaf holds a trembling drop of water that catches the sunlight to sparkle and shimmer. The magic only works while the light is at a certain angle, so I always know to cherish the moment and run for the camera!
Even my hodge-podge of a vegetable garden fence is transformed; for a few minutes its strips of netting new and old, large and small, cobbled together as a snake barrier, become a thing of beauty.

Crescent cloud

crescent-1Clouds never cease to surprise me with their inventiveness, their capacity to confuse the senses and scramble their connections to the mind.

In one almost cloudless sunset sky recently, at a time when I thought I knew the moon was half-full, I briefly also thought I saw a huge crescent moon. 

Pink and perfect, it made me look twice and it made me rapidly sift through my frequently addled brain to check what sort of moon I had seen last night — if I had seen one.

A matter of seconds, but how refreshing to be challenged yet again by nature and its unpredictability.

High-stepping visitor

A streak of white down on the little dam alerted me to something different happening there. It was some sort of bird.

I crept closer, staying below the fenceline, as the bird had frozen, clearly on the alert, its round eye bright with tension.

A solitary waterbird, with the typical long legs and neck and pointed beak, its pose held and twinned in the reflections below.
heron-1But what was it? More important than identifying it now however, was to get a photograph, in case it flew off before I could see more details.

I edged away and back up to the house for the camera. As I returned towards the fence, the bird did take off but only across the dam, where it stood, totally uncamouflaged, amongst the tussocks for a while.

Meanwhile I took up a post at the gate and froze like a statue myself, to reassure it.
heron-2My bird book tells me it was a White-necked Heron.

I wanted to ask it so much: where had it flown from? Was it on a Grand Tour, and where would it meet up with other such herons? Did it always fly solo? Why did its neck look like a twisted white rope? And did it realise how beautiful were the subtle mauves and tealy hues on its ‘grey’ feathers?

It wasn’t a long visit, and I may never see a White-necked Heron here again, but how special it was that it came — and that I saw.