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!

Brush creatures

This is one of the larger inhabitants of Wingham Brush, a wonderful rainforest pocket reserve right near the town and the river. The Brush was rescued from being smothered by weeds and vines and now attracts many visitors to wander along its winding walkway and share its cool green world.

But ‘inhabitant?’

Well, I know it’s actually a Strangler Fig tree (Ficus obliqua), but my senses — intuition, imagination — say it could be a mighty sleeping creature whose sinuous limbs lie half buried in the leaf litter, reaching for what — or whom?

Or awaiting what or whom to cause it to awake…? And is that a pregnant one? Do Triffids breed?

These trees are a feature of the Brush, and some can be seen still in the process of strangling the host tree, its roots reaching for the ground to begin those amazing snaking buttresses. They grow on average 15-20 metres high and spread 10-15 metres and more when they are as venerable as some here, where signage says they are hundreds of years old.

One giant has fallen, another is dead, crumbling at the base. There is a nobility in its decay, and fungi find a home as it breaks down.

Giant Stinging Trees also live here, but the thousands of Grey-headed Flying-foxes who literally hang out here in the daytime do not seem to mind or be stung. These amazing creatures chatter and climb and flap their caped wings or drape them around themselves, suspended like strange fruit high above the walkway.

They make a lot of noise, they smell strongly, love the small orange fruits of the Figs, and occasionally drop rather messy gifts — wearing a washable hat is advisable!

If you look down instead of up, the Brush Turkeys (Alectura lathami) are the obvious kings — their queens are more elusive.

They form enormous mounds to incubate their partner’s eggs, scraping up dirt and leaves and sticks. I have watched them moving material for quite long distances to get enough to make these mounds, which average 4 metres in diameter and 1.5 metres high. As you can see, the sticks are substantial, all pushed backwards by the bird’s strong feet.

This mound seemed recently opened, so I assumed those chicks had hatched.There were some smaller birds poking about on the ground, but moving too fast for my camera; teenagers?

The birds are not very colourful, except for their bare red heads and necks, but the breeding males sport bright yellow wattles like ruffled cravats. No song either, although I am told they grunt.

An unexpected colour amongst the brown tones of the leaf litter were these small plants, which don’t look like Native Violets to me. Should they be there? Are they native?

This Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) is certainly native, and would love the brackish lagoon that edges the Brush.

What a treat for me to have this oasis within walking distance!

Familiar faces

As at my last two homes, I see a lot of wildlife just from my decks and verandahs, perhaps because I choose homes that are part eyrie.

Not having heard kookaburras here yet, I was delighted to see this one last evening, just metres away from my side verandah. Such a handsome fellow!

Next day, I heard the unmistakable continual rusty sawing of a young Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo. Rushing out to that same verandah, I spotted him, large and loud, carrying on as only a baby magpie can beat.

This equally handsome fellow was in a Silky Oak, but where was the parent? Not in the same tree…

No, but near enough, busy in a Casuarina, ignoring the whining young. I am so happy that these familiar avian faces are appearing in my new place, making me feel more at home with each visit.

But this place is all about trees; even the clothesline is a pulley system off the high back deck, where I send my washing out into the air space between trees… past the reach of the yellow droppings of birds in the Silky Oak.

Treetop home

There have been no posts for a while as I’ve been immersed in the chaos of moving house again.

This time — the absolute last! — it was to a rural town, where I share my block with this Tawny Frogmouth, one of my favourite birds.

A quiet, retiring, serenely beautiful bird, with ‘eyelashes’ to envy. Their roosting habit is often described as ‘cryptic’, mimicking broken branches; this one is easier than usual to spot, being on its nest.

I am still waiting to hear its distinctive, if unmusical, call.

And with a few dozen Rainbow Lorikeets – not quiet. In fact they are known as ‘a noisy conspicuous bird’, whose ‘shrill screech and sharp chattering’ leave no doubt as to their presence

They are currently feeding on/decimating a big Queensland Silky Oak (Grevillea robusta) tree that is far too close to my house, so it will not be there for much longer.

(The Frogmouth’s She Oak is safe.)

Before that they were busy on a red bottlebrush tree out the front. They are the only Lorikeet with a blue head, striking against the red beak and above the orange, yellow and red bands and splashes on the predominantly green body.

One of the reasons why I will see lots of birds here is that my large block is edged on two sides by a forested wetlands reserve. I know I won’t see wallabies but have resigned myself to that wonderful Mountain stage of my life being past.

But here the rain still falls and works with the early morning sun to make diamonds to turn my mundane clothesline into regimented linear splendour. Despite the culture shock of road traffic on one side, I remain blessed.

Winter warmth

I am sorry to see the last of the Glory Vine’s red leaves preparing to drop and join the colourful drifts along the verandah edges.

But the little maple trees are taking up the Autumn baton from them.

At my last home, the Liquid Ambers were the light sources of dull winter days, but here does not seem cold enough for them to really glow.

Instead the Maples, not even as tall as me yet, are showing off vivid vermillion stems flushing into their buttery leaves.

And most welcome of all in winter are my citrus fruit trees, especially the perfect miniature, ornamentally shaped and coloured and deliciously sweet (skin) and tart (flesh) all at once, my Nagami cumquat.

Where green rules

When you move to a new area, life is busy setting up your own place and you only take time off for regional sightseeing when you have visitors.

Tapin Tops National Park near Wingham is one regional sight I’ve been meaning … and meaning…to see. Last week I did.

It’s high, with the access a well-maintained but steep and winding road up — and down — and up again.

As there are 20 dfferent forest types mapped for this Park, it’s a varied experience.

From the Dingo Tops Rest area there are several walks; the Red Cedar Walk was the standout for me.

It’s steep too, a plunge into a world of vibrant green and tall trees, soaring gums and rainforest trees festooned with ferns and orchids, moss and lichens.

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The spectacular patterns of really tall tree ferns rose above us, silhouetted against dense vine-clad slopes.

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You have to watch your step as it’s all steep, but stopping for the knees to take a break is also good to take in the closer views of the intense green life here, like this delicate ferny vine winding its way skywards.

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Or strange ferns that appeared to be growing from the bark of their host tree but turned out to be also vines.

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While the trees were stunning, the ground level life of the sinuous buttressed roots and their mossy decorations were my favourites.

This green intensity was even more evident on the creekside (and wet-feet-through-the-creek) walk from the Potoroo Picnic area. We didn’t make it to the actual Potoroo Falls as a tangle of fallen trees blocked the way.

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This was a walk for close contact and surprising details, like this huge fallen tree, totally covered in thick dew-beaded mosses.

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Or this vine, curving and curling above and around the path, with bright orange hopeful roots reaching for the ground.

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Little Run Creek itself is small and pretty and gurgly, inviting a prolonged sit and listen. While doing that I spotted this row of ball bearings, seemingly permanently fixed at the base of the rock; on closer inspection they turned into a chain of bubbles stuck in position for all the time I watched.

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I’d been hoping to see a lyrebird or hear a dingo while up there, but that lack was more than compensated for by meeting a koala ambling across the road on the way out.

Casuarina honey

For about a week I have had a constant hum in my ears. Given I was recently diagnosed with moderate hearing loss, nothing would surprise me.

But then a visitor heard it too, and sensibly wondered where the bees were. Not many plants are flowering right now, so I was at a loss.

Until I really listened to where the humming was coming from — the large Casuarina on the bank behind the house. Too high for me to see its flowers without the camera’s magnification; and they don’t look much like flowers anyway. The tree just looked a bit rusty from afar.

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But on going closer, this big She-oak is covered in golden flowers, its branches visibly vibrating with hundreds of busy bees. I would not have imagined these tiny flowers to be so bee-beloved.

I am always grateful that such a majestic tree survives within my watching area.

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Black Cockatoos love its nuts/seeds, all the bigger birds love to perch in its branches and sing, and now I know that bees love it too. Somewhere there is a hive full of Casuarina honey.

Sandstone surprises

Visiting the Brisbane Water National Park on the NSW Central Coast, I was struck by the determination of trees to survive.

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The acrobatic and colourful trunks of Angophora Costata (Sydney Blue Gum) caught my eye most, forcing their way out between slabs of sandstone and twisting their way upwards as needed — or fancied.

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I was surprised to see some wildflowers out, but they couldn’t compete with the spectacular Banksias, glowing amber in their rugged trees like lit lanterns, fringed with shining burgundy.

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Nearer the ground the dainty bells of Correa and the pale sunlit puffs of Wattle caught my eye. Both had spiky hard leaves, as befits the tough rocky environment in which they grew.

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At the base of the gully a creek had sculpted the sandstone over eons, the damp shade fostering a whole other world of plants.

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Whether ghostly green with moss, sheltering ti-tree liquid gold, or striking white with lichen, lapping at the edges, the rocks were wonderful.

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Wet or dry, it was the details that drew me: the bright leaves trapped against the rock like flies in amber, or the bush-fire limned bark flakes of an old tree up the slope, badges of survival.

Nature rewards

Last year the Nature Conservation Council awarded me their Dunphy Award (link to ‘Nature wins’). With it came a prize donated by Crystal Creek Meadows of a two-night stay in their beautiful Kangaroo Valley eco-resort. 

It has many laudable and genuine eco aspects and projects, and from the guest books, many appreciative and loyal fans. 

I am now another, and I thank them for their generous prize.

It’s a great base for appreciating nature.

Not far back up the steep and stunning road to Bowral is Fitzroy Falls.

You are lucky to see even one shot of them; I took it with a zoom, standing well back from the railing and the view, and involuntarily leaning back anyway. Yes, I can’t cope with heights, especially from cantilevered platforms…

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My friend Christa had no such concerns.

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Instead I preferred to focus on the bush on the side of the track away from the ’view’; like the trunks of the Scribbly Gum (Eucalyptus sclerophylla), inscribed by Scribbly Gum Moth caterpillars when safely under the old bark.

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Or these intrepid tiny orange fungi, somehow broaching the tough hide of this old tree, like explorers in a vast wasteland.

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Of course I also enjoyed the more manicured fields and gardens and the autumnal colours of Kangaroo Valley and the resort.

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And the comforts of our cute cottage, with cosy fire and a high-backed bath…

But the highlight was of wilder nature: hearing two virtuoso lyrebird mimic performances, one at Fitzroy Falls and one at Cambewarra Lookout. What good fortune! Twice!

We could see him through the dense bush at Cambewarra, displaying and shimmying that amazing tail as he offered his vocal repertoire, but we couldn’t get a photo.

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At the Bendeela picnic and camping area, alongside the reservoir that feeds the hydro power station, wombats were the gift of nature to us sightseers. It was actually Wombat City, from the number of burrow entrances evident. Although I’ve seen many wombats in the wild, Christa had not. This is her photo of one mother and child. 

 Pigeon profusion

At my old Mountain I was delighted as the White-headed Pigeon population that occasionally visited grew to eight. They would visit my ridge from the rainforest gullies that pleated my Mountain’s sides.

Here I am even more blessed. The remnant rainforest along the creek includes some large Camphor Laurels. No blessing, except that the White-headed Pigeons love these domineering pest trees.

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Large flocks of 30, 30, 50… wheel and bank overhead as they choose which tree to settle in. The flock splits in two.

They fly too fast for me to photograph them like this, and once they roost they are lost in the tree foliage.

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So, even in this light rain, I seized the chance of visibility when some alighted in a lichen-draped dead tree.