Mighty mangroves

The tidal rivers and creeks here, close to their ocean destination, are edged with mangroves and mud. Despite growing up near mangrove-fringed Erina Creek on the Central Coast, I had never thought them attractive, never stopped to look more closely. I knew almost nothing about mangroves.

Now they are my neighbours, I need to learn.

Until I came here I hadn’t thought of mangroves as actual trees; the only sort I knew grew low and dense like big shrubs. These clearly are trees, stretching and arching out for long distances.

In fact, mangroves come in trees and shrubs.

We have at least five species in NSW; here they are the taller Grey Mangroves, and perhaps the fringing shorter River Mangroves.

I used to wonder about all those short spiky things that you saw when the tide was out. ‘Ouch’ was my first thought! Shoots, I imagined. But they are ’peg roots’, the air-breathing roots of these plants, so cleverly adapted to tidal inundation and salt.

You can see the mangrove fruits fallen amongst the peg roots, as well as the resulting young seedlings.

These residents of the zone between land and sea are essential: as buffers protecting coastal land, as filters and carbon sinks, as habitat and food, as breeding grounds for many species of, for example, fish or prawns and crabs. 

They and their accompanying salt marshes are too often considered ’wastelands’ and cleared and filled for development.

While we have ‘lost’ about 17% of our mangroves since white settlement, the salt marshes have fared worse, with around 30% gone… and now listed as ‘vulnerable’.

Next to this salt marsh is an isolated mature mangrove, surrounded by its roots and its seedlings: I now see it as a mother tree.

Not pretty… pretty scary, actually! Bare feet not advised.

I haven’t seen the little crabs that must live in these mangrove mudflats but their patterns are as artistic as their beach counterparts, if a little murkier.

I promise to pay more attention to my front yard, come high or low tide!

Tuckeroo stone garden

I am slowly exploring this Camden Haven area of the NSW mid north coast, taking any turn-offs that catch my fancy. ‘Tuckeroo car park’ in Kattang Nature Reserve was one such. The word intrigued first, then the tree itself that invited me to the green tunnel ahead.

A large specimen with wrinkly elephantine bark, it was loaded with bunches of creamy-lemon blossoms, buzzing with bees.

It is properly called Cupaniopsis anacardioides, and also commonly known as Beach Tamarind, or Carrotwood. Birds love it too, because those flowers are followed by orange-red fleshy berries containing showy orange seeds.

The surprising reward at the end of the short walk was a rocky headland, the northern end of the long unbroken Dunbogan Beach.

I gravitate to small coves and clumps of rocks like this, but what was surprising here were the forms the rocks had taken…

Iron-rimmed geometric shapes, infilled with millions of pebbles…  what gardener had been at work here?

Some still held seawater; at a certain point of tide change the higher rocky rims would be stepped moats.

Other rocks ran in parallel like railroad tracks, or formed crosses in this pebble-crater’s garden.

Others formed backbones for arching ribs…

Or enclosed miniature sea lettuce pools and waterfalls, with small oyster-like shellfish…

Brooding over the stone garden was this ancient wrinkled giant lizard, its smooth head lifted, on alert for any misdemeanours — or for dinner?

Banksias and bijous

On such an exposed part of the Connors Track, the banksias grew low, their golden candles safe from being extinguished by the wind.

On the walk up to that headland other banksia species grew tall and woody, covered in an enormous number of dark seed cones like hairy hand grenades.

Other banksias in that coastal woodland were sized in between, sporting slim pale new candle flowers, older lemon and amber and woody ones all at once.

It is truly a banksia garden, all growing virtually on sand.

Around the Hungry Gate campground, hoary old paperbarks and strangely grown figs dominated, all reaching great heights just in sand.

On the walk, many tiny dainties graced the sandy banks, often making just one appearance. I had to be sharp to spot them; I am sure I missed many such jewels, as I only saw some on the way back.

On some it was the seed pods that caught my eye more than the flowers.

Others, like this vine, literally stepped in front of me, flaunting its curlicues and brilliant colours.

These Isopogons, also called Coneflowers or Drumsticks, are relatives of the banksia and also have woody seed heads.

This solitary large sample turned out to be a fungus, not a flower at all.

And these three were the only sundews I saw, boldly flashing their sticky red rosettes to lure insects.

The trackside bank held many surprises, from the tiniest mosses and flowers to virtual hedges of lilli-pilli.

But the whole walk was full of surprises. Next time I’ll go the whole way and be prepared for more…

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!