Lichen decor

On my morning walk, this unusual decorative wall drew me across the road for a closer look. It looked intentional, with the defined cut-off line at the top.

But in fact it was not made by man, but by Nature. It proved to a most painterly smattering of lichens, opportunistically taking over a stretch of black shadecloth.

Up close, the lichen was both pretty and delicately varied, the shadecloth host giving it the effect of paint on canvas.

Further along the road, different lichen had ‘painted’ just four of a whole fence of timber palings. What did they have that the others didn’t?

Of course we are most used to seeing lichen on trees, as here on the south side of a palm tree in that same street.

Lichen is not a parasite, so it does not harm the trees.

Lichens are formed from a symbiotic relationship between two organisms — fungus and algae. The fungus grows on the tree and can collect moisture, which the algae needs. The algae, in return, can create food from the energy of the sun, which feeds the fungus.

How clever is that?!

Colour fooling

Trees are green, right? At least our native non-deciduous ones are. Except when they’re pink.

These plentiful local paperbark trees right now are so totally decked in new leaves that from a distance the whole tree appears pink.

While the flora are playing tricks with colours, so are the fauna. 

Hearing a very noisy and unfamiliar bird outside, and another answering it, I of course went out to try to see what was making the racket. Usually I fail, but this time the caller broke tree cover and flew to the power lines on the street.

It was joined by another.

The two birds remained apart… and now silent. But what were they? Brown-headed birds are many, but that blue tinge on the breast feathers should be a clue…

Search my bird books as I might, thinking maybe some sort of Wood Swallow, I could not pin it down. I had to seek help from real birdwatchers.

When the answer came back, I realised I would never in a million years have got it.

A juvenile Dollar Bird (Eurystomus orientalis)!

Bird books, be they illustrated with photos or drawings, are no substitute for the variability of birds in real life, especially throughout their development into adults.

That apparently distinctive blue tinge does not show or get a mention on the juveniles in my books.

I had never seen a Dollar Bird, young or old.  The very colourful adults are migratory, so that is perhaps why.  I read that they 

‘indulge in spectacular swooping, diving and rolling in the air’. So I am sorry they did not stay to entertain me, but they certainly did intrigue me!

Xmas dressing

Not much is flowering in the garden. Nor is my Christmas Bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum), but it looks like it is, and these bracts that follow the small cream flowers are its main claim to fame. Mine aren’t as red as some, but people still stop and ask may they cut some for Christmas.

Its starry pinkness stands out against the darker trees around it, and does look a little festive.

But while that tree is dressing up, another in my yard is undressing for the summer season. The Queensland invader, the Cadaghi tree (Corymbia torelliana), is shedding its bark in showy patches to reveal its pale green skin.

Handsome, but dangerously successful as a feral plant, I find it hard to mind it as a tree, except when its millions of seed pods rain down like ball bearings on my deck.

Yet the shameless way it is stripping off its old bark right now is a visual treat. Wish I could do the same with my old bark…!

Colouring the times

This an Illawarra Flame Tree, flowering in the reserve next to me. The densely forested reserve is the reason I bought this place; it is also what makes my place so vulnerable to ember attack.

My yard is constantly carpeted with dry leaves– perfect kindling.

So the Flame Tree is a good symbol of the situation in many places as our country explodes into flames.

I took the tree photos before the worst of our smokefilled days, like the one above.

The main colour now comes as the sun rises and sets red.

Under necessary water restrictions I am watching my garden die from thirst, and crisping as the day’s heat rises.

Many have had to watch their whole life’s work — garden, home, belongings, even animals — become burnt offerings to our climate crisis.

I need to find reasons not to despair… and rage with anger… at this time.

So I instead I will turn away, to celebrate the colour from the trees — Silky Oak and Flame Tree — that are native but not indigenous to here.

I hope they lift your spirits a little too.

Nature is beautiful, and bigger than us; we have not treated her well, and right now she is giving us a mighty wake-up message. Last chance?

Sleepy Brush morning

In the reclaimed Brush at Wingham, Brush Turkeys abound. In daytimes, they are usually seen scratching amongst the leaf litter.

Today I entered the Brush on the still-dark side. It was too early for their routine, and I caught them napping. This was the first time I had seen them roosting on branches.

Neither of these looked happy at being disturbed.

You can see from the overall shot how dark it was in their part of the Brush — and why the photos are not great! 

But a little further on the daylight had penetrated to the ground and other Turkey families were at it already.

Amongst the gloom I was struck by this Strangler Fig in a very real pose of strangling. Can I watch that with my Jacaranda?

As a farewell treat, the early sunlight perfectly highlighted this small spiderweb in my path.

Mist dwellers

Arranged like a tableau on stage, these fungi glowed at me from the gloom of the Rainforest Walk in the Australian Native Botanical Gardens in Canberra. Unsurprisingly, the climate of Canberra is not great for rainforest plants, so frequent misting is needed to keep plants happy.

Waiting until a break in misting episodes seemed sensible, pretty as it was.

I walked alongside the little stream, and was astonished by these giant strappy plants. A little further on, I found the name peg: their common name is Stream Lilies! Or more properly, the rather ugly Helmholtzia glaberimma.

Native to New South Wales and Queensland rainforests, they can apparently grow up to two metres high.

The misting left the spiderwebs as beautifully bejewelled as dew can. The ‘stump’ of a tree fern here provided the perfect framework for the diamond-hung strands.

Other less-ambitious spiders took advantage of even the low ground covers, with hundreds of ultra fine mini nets.

Older tree fern trunks, with their many broken-off leaf bases, were home to a stunning variety of life — unidentified, unimagined, but applauded.

And it seems fitting to end as I began, with fungi, always treasure to be sought on rainforest floors. This sole flower-like specimen of brassy gold was yet so well camouflaged I might have missed it. Again, I applaud.

Fig dilemma

I love the large Jacaranda tree outside my house, even if it is an introduced tree that self-seeds rather too readily.

But over the last year I have watched a Strangler Fig that some passing bird has seeded in the Jacaranda fork steadily grow larger.

But eventually it will ‘strangle’ the host, as I see so many enormous ones have done in the Wingham Brush. They would be food for the Greyheaded flying foxes and the Whiteheaded Pigeons I see here.

But the Jacaranda is deciduous and allows my solar panels winter sun; the fig will not.

But just look at the spiderwebs in that fork and the fig roots inching earthwards. This is a natural process; I don’t feel I have the right to intervene, like a gardener.

But perhaps I can prune the fig tree later, to keep it from shading my panels…

Evening exodus

Every evening, after sundown, before dark, in what I guess we can claim as twilight, a seemingly endless stream of bats fly over my place, heading out for the night’s feeding.

From my deck I watch the streams of flying dots, fascinated as the odd one turns back or the strands split up, until the sky is too dark to distinguish them.

They are clearly heading for different feeding places, but how do they decide who goes where, and why do some individuals get their signals mixed up? 

The ‘bats’ are actually Grey-headed Flying-foxes, and have about 20 different calls. They navigate by sight and find food by smell. So maybe the meandering individual’s senses are just a bit off that evening.

More numerous than my head can guess at, but in the thousands seems right. They come from their home in the regenerated Wingham Brush.

Thousands of Grey-headed Flying-foxes literally hang out there by day, small swinging parcels wrapped up in leather shawls.

Even if you don’t look up into the Giant Stinging Trees, the Strangler Figs and many other rainforest trees, you can’t remain unaware that this is their place — the smell, for a start, and then the chattering and squeaking, the restless movements above, even when they are supposed to be sleeping.

I find them fascinating, and delight in having such a thriving colony in my area. These ‘Flying Foxes’ — quaint name! — seem very social. Some hang by one hand and air their wings, others visit next door camps.

So each time I watch the flying dots pass over, I give thanks that at least one species still has enough habitat here. I hope enough destination feeding forests will remain too, of eucalypt blossoms and nectar, of native fruits like lilli-pillis.

If not, we force them into ‘our’ patches and complain.

Green magic

In Tapin Tops National Park, near Wingham NSW, you are rewarded for a shady one kilometre walk — and several rock-hopping crossings on Little Run Creek — by Potoroo Falls.

The Falls are narrow and stepped, and the pool at their base is deep and wide — and extremely cold! Or it was at Christmas.

But it is edged on the lower side with amber pebbly ‘beaches’, where gold dust looks possible and the water is warmer. 

Little Run Creek is a delight to walk beside, with multi-coloured leaves trapped in tea-coloured eddies between mini-cascades. 

Creeksides are dominated by green life, with roots and trunks and fallen logs covered in moss and lichen. This tree had what seemed to be a rock growing up with it.

This one was spectacularly clad — until it was pointed out that some self-promoting vandal had carved letters in that green raiment. Sometimes I despair of people…

This one looked like it might take revenge for such an act, should it awaken…

And while green ruled, I was surprised at so few fungi jewels…

…until this one tiny patch in the darker shade!

Dorrigo details

Rainforests are often majestic and always green worlds of their own. Dorrigo National Park has a two-hour walk that takes you through such a world.

While focal points like the Falls are spectacular, it’s the details along the way that fascinate me.

Conical hanging birds’ nests? Or accidentally arranged lichen?

Vines reach for the light way above, and lichen hitches a ride on most things, decorating bark to green furriness.

Different lichens decorate in different ways, here trailing like delicate green feather boas.

This walk is on a steep hillside, where the very large trees need all the earth hold they can get, so buttresses are common, but not often as narrow as these.

The bark of the tree varieties is interesting enough, but some bore strange markings like moon craters or excrescences like foetal creatures.

Fascinating details that I wanted a guide to quiz.

I saw many more varieties but could not photograph them as halfway round the walk I was caught in a thunderstorm, with heavy rain and stinging hail. I had to stow the camera in my bag and don the emergency plastic poncho. The camera survived the long wet trip back, my boots and trousers and the poncho didn’t.

Return of the Frogmouth kids?

Poking about under the small clump of trees on my block, I was pointing up into the skinniest Casuarina to show a visiting weed controller where the Frogmouth nest was.

‘Well, there’s two up there now’, he said.

At first all I could see were two odd shapes against the light.

When I moved around the tree to the better, non-backlit side, there they were– unmistakably two Frogmouths playing at dead branches.

Of course I went for the camera, as its zoom enables me to see so much better. Aren’t they beautiful close up?

Are these are the grown siblings come back to their birthplace, albeit in a different fork of that tree, or one of them and a parent, or the two original parents?

Whatever they are, I am thrilled to have them back!

Plant surprises

A Colorbond garage wall is not the most inviting surface for a climbing plant. I was sceptical when my nursery lady said she thought Virginia Creeper would be able to cling to it.

Never having grown one – but always wanting to – I gave it a go.

The plant had tendrils which it clearly would like to wind around something, so I began trying to attach wires for it, groaning at the effort this was going to be for such a high shed.

But lo, it didn’t need more wires, as, failing supports, it puts out little sticky feet to help it up the wall.

Another evidence of plant resilience was spotted on the stump of the Silky Oak I had to have removed.

It would seem that the adjoining rainforest is moving in, with what looks like a Sandpaper Fig artfully planted there by a passing bird.

And then, on my fence line, a tree just come into flower drew me closer. Not sure what it is, perhaps type of Pittosporum, not the Undulatum I am used to.

But it was the trunk that fascinated me, with tiny leaflets growing directly out of the highly decorative and lichen-festooned bark. It even has stitched up sections!