Bright new day

Cabinbound for a week, the day the rain stopped I went for a walk. After so much greyness, the bush seemed overly bright, the colours heightened like pebbles under water.

Everything was still very wet, but there was nothing drab under this fresh new light. Even the soggy leaf litter was bright red, not brown, as were the trunks of saplings and the splits in fire-blackened bark.

big fungus

In one small area of tussock grass and bracken, bright orange fungi had sprung up. Thick and bold, they ranged in size from a fifty cent coin to over a foot long – that’s my gumbooted foot next to it.

saffron milk cap

Searching my new fungi book (thanks Fred!) and a few fungi web sites, it sounds like I have to go back and cut one to be sure. But they could be Saffron Milk Caps — if they ooze milk.

I’m getting as fascinated by fungi as I am by clouds.

I discovered Gaye, a real fungi-lover, coincidentally in the Hunter, at her great blog.

Rosey harvest

rosellas on lawn
It’s easy to see when the predominant native grass in my `lawn’ is seeding, because the yard is taken over by a purposeful band of crimson rosellas.

They proceed en masse up the slope, through thin grass as tall as themselves.

Standing on one leg, each daintily grasps a seedhead stem with the claw of the other, bends it towards their beak and neatly strips it, rather as we’d munch sideways along a cob of corn.

The harvest appears organised and amicable: no crossing of territory, no debate about personal patches, not one squawk of protest.

It is a silent harvest, though highly visible, as the richness of their red and blue plumage turns my plain yard into a moving tapestry.
rosellas closeup

Bathful of tadpoles

The only bathtub around here is outdoors, cold water only — the toothpaste green bathtub that serves as the horse trough. One day in late summer, after rain had caused it to overflow, I noticed it was full of tiny brown tadpoles.

The water level is usually well below the rim, but some misguided frog must have taken it for a pond in its brief overabundance, and made a deposit for the future.

I don’t know what these little fellows were eating but the layer of poo in the bottom grew larger and so did the tadpoles. I couldn’t empty it out to clean as I normally would because that would have been frogicide.

tadpoles in bath

One day I tore a piece of mountain flat bread (lavash bread) into scraps, and let them flutter down into the tub like a discarded love letter.

At first they didn’t approach these strange pale papery objects that floated above them. Perhaps when these soften and disintegrate, I thought, they’ll get the idea that this is food, even if unlike anything ever seen in their tubby universe.

Then one of the smallest nosed up to a scrap and began nibbling. Just like with humans, it’s the kids who are game to try new things, who work out how to deal with new technology.

tadpoles eating

By the time I got back with my camera, the bigger ones had caught on and in twos and threes were swimming about pushing a piece of flat bread in front of them. Some were underneath, wearing the scrap like a hat, while smarter ones wedged it against the tub side to attack it.

But some still weren’t convinced. Luddites, I figured.

The art of camouflage

We’ve learnt all we know about camouflage from Nature. It would be impossible to beat the intricate deceptive details that have been
incorporated into the design of this large stick insect.

It was easy to spot on the back of the truck where for some reason it had landed. Not good camouflage for metal and grease. Once carefully relocated with a real stick to a young birch tree, silhouetted, it was easy to miss.

stick insect 1

Closer inspection showed tiny bumps, as if a twig had snapped off there, and shades and patterns of bark-like colour.

It used to be lumped in with grasshoppers and crickets and cockroaches, but now has its own order, Phasmida.

Apparently these ‘Walking Sticks’ are now popular pets: interesting, quiet, vegetarians – but awfully fragile.

I could see its folded wings, but I’ve never seen one fly. Has anyone out there?

stick insect 2

Snoopy skink

snoopy skink
This very sleek and speedy lizard is a frequent visitor to my verandah. At about 180mm (7 inches) long, much bigger than the most common garden variety, he’s probably a Southern Water Skink, but could be an Eastern one. Regardless of his exact title, I know he’s an inquisitive skink.

Often when I’m at the computer I catch sight of him snooping round the corner of the open door, then scurrying in and off across the timber floor, usually disappearing behind my wood ‘box’(actually the liner of an old copper) near the fuel stove.

Occasionally I worry about him being trapped inside when I close the door at night, but I suspect he’s also a clever skink and knows when to make his exit. I just don’t see it.

Marsupial resort

lone kangarooApart from the many Eastern red-necked wallabies, I share my place with small groups of other hoppy marsupials.

Only a few wallaroos come by, usually a small family trio, but this male has been hanging about the little dam on his own lately.

I wonder if he’s grown up and been asked to move out? As you can see, he doesn’t seem at all bothered by me and in fact lay down and went to sleep while I was there.

So I think he must have been raised around here to be so used to me and my behaviour.

Unmistakable with his long shaggy fur and broader features, he is not as dark all over as the males usually are, while the females are pale grey. It will be interesting to see if he changes.
kangaroos sunning
Later, after the sun had come out, I spotted a family of kangaroos sunbathing and snoozing at the same spot on the grassy bank.

Clearly a popular resort: for the food and drink, the water views and the entertainment of watching me go about my strange business in the house yard just up the hill.

Tree homes

elkhorn farAs you might expect, given that I live in forest country, I love trees.
elkhorn closeup

On my place I keep planting more where they haven’t managed to regenerate by themselves after the clearing and burning and grazing of years ago.

Mostly I look at the forest as a wall, I suppose—and thus miss the individuality of the trees.

I ought to look up into my treetops more often, for koalas, not seen here since the 2002 fires.

I keep hoping, as I think I heard one a few months ago.

No koalas yet, but other things live in trees, like this beautifully healthy and quite old elkhorn high up in a casuarina.

When they get this big they can be too heavy for the tree or branch, and hence vulnerable to snapping off in a storm.

broken treeEven when a tree is totally destroyed, its trunk broken off and laid low, taken from skydweller to ground hugger, it takes on new life as host. Like this mighty ancient, which blocked the track for some time until a big enough chainsaw came along.

Where possums and birds may have lived in it before, now termites and beetles and fungi are residents.

fungoid colony
This fungus colony has taken shelter in the horizontal overhang created by what was once vertical.

Nothing is wasted in nature.

Just another animal

houdini ponyWhen I feed the horses I have to tie them up so the greedy ones don’t annoy the others.

The worst is the little one, Shari, who’ll pick up the rim of the rubber bucket with her teeth and drag it away from a bigger horse, or just muscle in with her shaggy head.

I tie her up outside my house fence, just above the small dam.

There are often animals drinking there or feeding around the bank, like this family of Eastern Grey kangaroos.

Even if I’m going crook on Shari — a common occurrence — or calling the other horses to come, they remain undisturbed at the noise.

I warrant a brief interruption, a look — but oh, it’s only her — and they resume grazing. Human or horse: it’s just another animal.

By the way, anyone fancy a small fat pony, cute but cunning, and with Houdini abilities?

The Goulburn goanna


lacemonitor2On a recent Goulburn River camping trip, one visitor to the campsite was familiar: a large, long goanna, or Lace Monitor.

He checked out the cold campfire and the garbage bag, but was disappointed in our vegetarian scraps.

Fruit peelings and limp lettuce leaves just can’t compete with chop bones or pie crusts.

Spotting us, he headed up the nearest tree and splayed himself like a brooch across its broad trunk. He is so long it is hard to fit him in the camera lens: the bone-pale tip of his tail is cut off.

He doesn’t like my close clicking and moves higher up the tree.

He must greet the holiday season with very mixed reactions: possibilities of interesting tucker, but what nuisances people are, never minding their own business, always staring, pointing, exclaiming, clicking, forcing him up trees when he has work to do!

Lily pad life





water insects

dragonfliesOn my small dam the waterlilies are blooming, their large circular leaves so abundant that they are overlapping, curling up at their edges.

There are two green floating islands of them, one bearing pale pink lotus-like cups, the other such a pale lemon as to seem white.

Since these aquatic plants had all but disappeared in the drought, I went down to have a closer look at their new burst of life.

Life indeed, for the waterlily rafts are hosting a multitude of fauna.

Two tiny tortoises slipped back into the water as I approached.

The dozens of tadpoles apparently hanging from the water surface soon proved to be hundreds, of several types, and all fat and healthy.

Some of the smaller ones already had legs sprouting from their translucent brown sides.

In the middle of the lily pads I spotted a tiny jewel of a green frog.

‘Water boatmen’ rowed their skinny insect selves across the surface.

Delicate blue and red jointed sticks with gauze wings perched rigidly solo, or curved in what I presumed to be copulating pairs, on lily leaves and reed stems — mayflies, dragonflies?

Beetles and other strange insects busied themselves on the pads.

I came home to refer to my old pond life book, to be able to tell you with authority what these dam inhabitants are, but like so many other books — I must have lent it out long ago and forgotten to whom.

So nameless but beautiful they remain.

Goanna brunch

goanna one

goanna two

goanna threeI haven’t seen goannas on my mountain, but they are quite common in many places. This one, the Lace Monitor, is the only type I’ve ever seen, mostly in sandy areas.

It’s one of Australia’s largest lizards, with the males sometimes exceeding 2 metres in length. Having always been told that goannas will run up the nearest vertical object, be it tree or person, when disturbed, I watched this Hunter resident from a safe distance, grateful for the zoom on my camera.

I was very wary of those sharp claws and powerful legs. Admiring the pixellated pattern of stripes and spots on its loose skin, I could see why ‘lace’. It also recalled certain indigenous art styles.

They are carnivorous, eating any carrion. And many a farmer has cursed the egg thief in their hen house. Tossed an egg, this goanna caught and swallowed it effortlessly.

No more eggs forthcoming, it turned and lumbered away, swishing its long tail, which ended in a brown needle-point, in poised arcs. In the shade of a nearby ironbark, it sprawled its back legs flat and settled down to contemplative digestion of that egg, which had so mysteriously arrived in time for brunch.

Lyrebird lads


lyrebird 2

lyrebird 3

lyrebird4.jpgFriends of mine live in a dry sandy valley nestled up against curving sandstone ridges. There is plenty of cover for birds in the thick understorey of flowering native shrubs, and beneath them is mainly sticks and bark and rocks and sand, with little grass.

Water is precious here, so they have made a small rectangular pond (2.4m x 1.5m x 600m deep in the middle) close to their house, for the animals and birds who live here too.

On my last visit I saw a young Superb Lyrebird take a bath there.

The male Superb Lyrebird, named for his elegant tail, shaped like the lyre instrument when raised in display, has one of the most complicated songs of all the birds in the world. He not only mimics sounds he fancies in his environment, whether made by birds or man, but interprets and assimilates the sounds into his own song.

As in many birds, the female has no need of superb tail or song, for she is the one to be courted. I thought this visitor was a female at first, but the tail feathers of young males can resemble those of the female or a mixture of mail and female. They do not breed until they have the full fantastic set, to properly court a female.

This one had the broad central feathers of a female but the developing marked side feathers of a male, which will one day form the lyre shape. And since it was fanning that tail a little, a young male it was.

In subdued grey and brown, he walked daintily around the entire perimeter of the pond first, dipping a toe in the water every now and then, as if to test the temperature. He bent over as he did so, perhaps admiring his reflection in the pool.

Finally he ventured in, widely-splayed feet immersed first, then up to the knees. He wriggled and splashed, dipping and ducking under, fluffing up his body and head feathers until he looked like a punk version of himself.

Hopping out, he didn’t shake dry, but hightailed it up the hill. I could see another one, perhaps another of the teenage males, waiting under cover of the shrubs. Waiting to become as superb as their dads.