Winter birds

A yellow Robin has appeared, flicking itself from one bush or tree or tree guard to another, more like a wind-blown leaf than a bird in flight.

It stays still in any one place for such a short time that it’s hard to get a photo of it. When it lands on the ground you only see its grey back. Usually I see one on its own but I have now spotted two at the same time, although you wouldn’t say they were together.

It appears not to have the grey throat of the illustration in my book, so although on its past seasonal visits I’ve called it a Southern Yellow Robin, now I’m not sure. Could it be a Pale Yellow Robin?

Then one time I heard it make a sound it sat on a small bare tree and went ’ ding, ding, ding, ding,ding, ding…’, non-stop, unvarying, sounding like my Thai temple bell in a stiff breeze.


The magpies and the kookaburras are still about in abundance, although, like this kooka, they get in a huff at all the windy weather we’ve been having. I love the way to kookas go all punk and fluffily fat to keep warm.


Of course the most envied critters here on cold wintry days are the pouched babies…

Winter appetites

As the grass grows more slowly, the wallabies and roos are being driven to eat plants they don’t regularly fancy. 

This wallaby was being very intense about one of the rosemary bushes, which are all grotesquely pruned each winter to leggy topknots.


Several branches were held firmly together in his paws while he stripped them. Still holding these, he then stretched up to seize yet another with his mouth. ‘Greedy beast!’ I muttered through the window.


Hearing me, he dropped the branches and turned around with an expression of great innocence.

H-mm. I wonder if rosemary-fed wallaby would be a gourmet dish like rosemary-fed lamb?

Just kidding.

July icing

On the first day of July I woke to our coldest morning yet this year — 4ºC — and light patches of frost.

Frost always surprises me as to where it is found and where not, but its decorative and novelty values are always appreciated here.

My favourite rock with its gloriously complex lichen adornments seemed more in place with the fine whiteness on the grass. In fact, the lichens seem brighter with the chill.


Certain substances attract frost more than others; I know compost and mulch does, and here the fallen leaves blown into a drain are limned distinctly and individually white.


Most of my yard doesn’t get frost but lichens appear in odd places all over it. This rock in the midst of the grass up the hill always catches my eye because of its spectacled pair.

Winter warmth

These last few winter weeks have been my ideal weather: warm, still days and cold nights, no bushfire or snake worries. Getting cosy at night with my wood fires, by day enjoying a sun that doesn’t try to fry my skin in an unguarded instant.

My wallaby mates love it, and the in-pouch joeys of all ages have the best situations, snug against the faint chilly edges, sunsoaking with Mum.


I feel as rich as I ever wish to be when my solar batteries are on float and I have a full woodpile for the nights.


All I need now is some free time to take my Gypsy camper away on a proper holiday – one not dictated by book talks. She’s waiting more patiently than I am. In fact, she’s been sitting there so long she’s growing a green tinge on her southern side.

Winter Mountain

After a few weeks away, I was keen for the rainy days to end so I could walk about and see what had changed since Autumn had become Winter. And at 8ºC on the verandah, Winter it sure was.

A sunny day, the wallabies busily stripping my shrubs as usual, revealed that some of my introduced trees were fully bare, but the best loved, the Liquid Amber, stood grandly glowing still.


My verandah view was now all twining arms and pendant seed pods, soon to be collected before I prune the vines.


Walking through the bush, I spotted a rogue vine, a garden escapee: this banana passionfruit twining up a tree in the rainforest gully. I’d reluctantly removed the vine years ago as the birds were taking the fruit and spreading the seed. I’ll have to pull this out, despite its pretty flowers and healthy growth.


I’d hoped for lots of fungi, but I only saw these tiny ones (left) on the splitting bark at the base of a large Blue Gum. I saw several such trees, all with fabulous colour combinations and shapes. Weird and wonderful!

Wallaby wipe-out

We all know how mothers have to be on the ball to keep an eye on the young. This was borne home to me afresh by my wallaby mates lately.

After days of dreary chilly rain, the sun came out.

The only wallabies that seemed even half-awake were the mums with toddlers.

This one had a very young joey, still mostly pink and hairless. I have since seen it hop out of the pouch for brief second or two; it’s all legs!


But as for the rest of the gang? Lolling, lazing, drying out, cleaning up — or just snoozing. En masse, apart from the mums needing to have their eyes open, they were wiped out by the morning sun, laying out the tails and warming those pale tummies.

They are very good at doing a total flop in a sitting position. I wish I could!

Winter warmth

Much of this winter has been spent at the computer, writing more book talks. It’s cosy inside my cabin, with the slow combustion wood heater going all the time but fully banked down, as once the mud brick walls have heated up, they hold the warmth. No heat transfer at all.

But I am also out and about giving those talks, and was lucky to see this fabulously fiery grand scale sunset as I headed up through the Hunter the other week.

At home, in between deluges and dreary dampness, the Liquid Amber tree continues to hold all the colours of a sunset in its leaves. It glows even on the greyest of days.

I’ve enjoyed seeing that the roo family has been hanging about a lot lately. I took the photo on the right the other day, thinking how pretty the carpet of fallen leaves was.

But on the other side of the tree, in that same carpet, I spotted the red-bellied black snake whom I’d been blithely assuming was safely asleep. It was moving quite briskly too. Not fair! Winter is supposed to be my time of ease of mind when walking about in the bush, let alone the yard.

A  visitor to this site had said they can wake up if it gets warm, interrupt their hibernation.

So I want this slight winter warmth to go away, back to really cold for at least another month. And the snake to go back to bed.

Frosty treats

At my altitude frosts are so rare that I note them on my rain chart. They do little damage and give me new visual pleasures from their special effects.

As always in nature, closer observations repays with small and extraordinary details — like this crystallised wallaby dropping!

‘Green’ is often overrated, and the new white overall coating throws existing objects into new relief. My favourite lichen-splattered rock, as round as a bowling ball, and fancifully considered by me to be a mini-meteorite, now fits right into its surroundings.

Morning wallabies

Early mornings are a good time for wallaby viewing as they move into the yard to catch the sun and start their day. Warming up and washing are essential first steps.

This mother and joey are combining the two as the sun rises above my eastern treeline. They looked like they were hugging but as it went on I realised it was mutual fur-cleaning — and maybe mutual affection too. Cute, eh?

But breakfast is also on the list of morning tasks, and in winter the wallabies go harder on all the plants in the yard as the grass growth slows down.

This young male decided to go for the jasmine vine, but all the lower section was stripped, so a standing breakfast it had to be.

After a while even that wasn’t enough, so he stretched up as far as possible and began pulling breakfast down to him.

Tree shapes

I have finally gotten around to cutting back the verandah’s vines of wisteria and ornamental grape. They have twisted around themselves and each other to form very strong and sculptural outstretching limbs.

This year I am experimenting with leaving more of their extremities, their claws, poised to shoot green fingers further than before perhaps.

Beyond them, against the always leafy eucalypt forest backdrop, the never-pruned birches form fine traceries that catch and hold the light.

As the cold windy weather kept me indoors more, and with an unresolved writing project requiring distraction from mounting anxiety about it, I dug out the craft paints bought long ago — for a rainy day project. They’d been on a sale table somewhere; some were metallic, and colours were limited.

My pantry doors are visible from the front door; they were blank, bland, boring plain. Now they bear a stylised tree with a gold vine twining up its improbable fruiting branches.

As always, I now wish could fix the mistakes evident from a distance but lost to me when it was under my nose, and I wish I’d made it more conical —  but I think I like my new winter tree, a compromise between bare shape and summer bearing.
And I can always paint over it if I decide I don’t.

Winter browns

Brown is not a favourite colour for me; I never wear it. I don’t even particularly like chocolate.

My dad — and many others — was fond of a paint called Mission Brown. He also grew beans for market, of a variety called Brown Beauty, which I was allowed to help plant when I was little, and felt obliged to help pick when I was older.

Lately I have seen some fungi that could come under the category of brown beauties.

These little helmets shot up in the leaf litter of a non-indigenous tree by the Goulburn River. Two days later I went back to see how they had opened but  they had disappeared, eaten I assume. Cappuccino brown, with an overly-eager barista shaking the chocolate over the centre, leaving the frothy edge untouched?

As for their name, I can’t say, given they didn’t open — but at a guess, Macrolepiota clelandii??

Back home, with 295mm in the rain gauge, I’d say it’s been pretty wet. The perfect time for this solitary little Earth Star fungus, Geastrum triplex, to appear.

They depend on raindrops for spore dispersal, the downwards sloped rays of the star increasing the chances of the central ball getting wet. Not that with 295mm it had much chance of being missed!

 A Field Guide to the Fungi of Australia by A M Young describes an event I’d love to see:

‘Large, mature colonies of this species can be spectacular in light showers of rain; the falling raindrops produce an obvious cloud of ejected spores floating in the air several centimetres above the colony.’

Birds of a different feather

A chilly early morning at Goulburn River Stone Cottages, the moon still high in the sky and the three peacocks still perched in their night-time tree.

They are ridiculous birds for flying or perching, one would think, with their disproportionately long tails and heavy bodies.  There are three show-off males here, two ‘peacock blue’ and one white, and a silent white female, with a shorter tail. She roosts down lower to the ground by herself.

These ridiculously gorgeous birds hide their brown and white wings under the iridescent finery. The back and tail feathers are amazing, bronze in some lights, green in others, and their shimmering chest plumage must have been the inspiration for velvet, shot silk and shantung fabrics.

They wander about, cocking their coronets, dragging those painted eye tails in the dirt, and flashing their pale pantaloons.  The blue ones were spending part of the day sitting on the sunwarmed roof of my blue ute parked in the open shed — until I realised they were covering it with large droppings. The ute is now parked out in the open; I hope they drop me a few tail feathers as compensation.

They get some of the chooks’ breakfast and afternoon tea feeds, sharing it with the blow-ins — the currawongs, choughs, wood ducks and plovers. The chooks here are of many different colours and patterns, but the roosters are — of course — the most spectacular.

The white male likes to promenade up and down the sunny brick verandah of the house, looking in the large glazed doors.  I assume it’s his own reflection he fancies. I have to remind myself it’s not a female, so like a bedraggled and rather hung-over bride does he look!  A tiara never looks right for day wear — but then all these peacock males live in evening wear.

Like kids playing dress-up in Mum’s old satins and furs — in the sandpit.