Domestic Ups & Downs

Being confined to home doesn’t mean life is less interesting. You just have to look more.

Remember to go outside before dinner to see is there’s a sunset; autumn is a great time for sky spectacles!

And in the mornings, check out what the spiders have been up to overnight. This major engineering feat on my deck looked even more impressive when only half-lit; how was it hanging there?!

And look down.

Amongst the dull leaf litter this vibrant little Stinkhorn fungus ventures up to see what the weather is doing.  It’s one of the stinkhorn family and apparently smells like rotting meat or sewage.

Often found as a solitary specimen, it is Phallus rubicundus. Can’t imagine why…

And while looking down, I was surprised to see this decorative pair remaining in place like statues, sunning themselves together even as I walked past several times, quite close. 

Eastern Water Skinks, they are cherished residents here in town. Burnished bronze and gold and chocolate, with such delicate fingers and toes I fear for them — I’d like to think they know they are safe here. No need to bolt for cover when I appear…

Hopovers

I know nothing about grasshoppers or locusts and really had only seen the small green ones on vegetables sometimes. But at present I have several sorts inhabiting my larger plants.

These gorgeous green ones do not have wings, so they must be at nymph stage, and they have eaten large holes in plants like arrowroot.

This one on a small citrus tree has the beginnings of wings. It appears to be resting there rather than eating the leaves.

But this small yellow and brown hopper has clearly been busy munching up strength for whatever comes next.

And then I notice more in a casuarina tree, whose needle leaves do not seem like a good food source, nor even camouflage for this bright lime green hopper.

As my eyes adjust, I see several very different and much larger members  of the hopper family in the casuarina. Much better camouflage, even for such bold patterning as this fellow has.

I will need to be on guard for what this group of hopovers turn into next. I wish I knew more or had time to make more sense of this family’s lives.

So far I can afford the bits they take from my plants. I cannot yet say I have a biblical plague of locusts.

Covid-19 is quite enough.

The beautiful and the bold

I planted this lilac Buddleia (aka Butterfly Bush) for obvious reasons – its flowers are beautiful and butterflies love them.

 It is attracting at least four varieties that I have seen, the most stunning being the Blue Triangle (Graphium sarpedon choredon).

One of the Swallowtail family (Papilionidae), it keeps its wings up and continually vibrates them when feeding on the flowers. This habit, plus the fact that it also flits fast and frequently from one branch of blossoms to another branch, makes it very hard to capture by photograph.

Like the White-headed Pigeons, these butterflies have adapted to favour the introduced and extremely rampant Camphor Laurel trees.

The butterflies visit singly but the fungi have not got the social distancing message yet. Dozens of tiny brown ones have boldly squeezed up in clusters this morning. I know they will turn black and ‘dissolve’ by tomorrow. 

I can relate to that: pop up, take a look at the crazy world we are in, and say ‘No thanks!’

And speaking of bold overcrowding and defiance of restrictions for their own good, those small cinnamon-dusted drumsticks of last week are now full-blown.

As they fight for space, they push into and on top of each other, breaking bits off and distorting their smooth umbrella tops.

When they too disappear, what new surprises will await me on my morning garden forays?

Rain lovers

Apart from a rare slime mould visit, other denizens of my yard are taking full advantage of the almost daily shower and the warm days.

The feral Cadaghi tree (Corymbia torreliana), an escapee from Queensland’s Atherton Tableland, has shed thousands of small seed pods. On my deck they act like lethal ball bearings underfoot.

Each contains hundreds of minute seeds, smaller than grains of sand. These blow through my fly screens and onto my desk, where they are mere nuisance and a threat to my keyboard.

But outside, on the ground, with the constant moisture, they germinate. En masse.

These join the silky oak seedlings on my list of perpetual pull-outs. I can imagine the speed at which the yard would become a forest of these two trees were I not here.

It was a very large and inappropriately self-sown silky oak that loomed over my deck and had to be cut off to a stump when I first came. 

Now its large feet/roots are home to several varieties of bright fungi.

The vegie garden and the grass are hosting less flamboyant members of the always fascinating fungi family. Every day I walk around to see what new wonders have popped up.

Slime visitors

After the long drought, we have taken on tropical storms, with rain most days. Plant growth is rampant, and the lawn mower has come out of its summer/autumn/winter retirement.

But amongst all the green I spot a flash of colour in the grass. Yellow. 

Close up, it resembles several blobs of crumbed, artificially yellow battered takeaway food! But the strands of slime give it away: the first slime mould of 2020 in my yard.

This one looks like the ’Dog’s Vomit’ slime mould. 

If you haven’t struck such an oddity before, this is one of a very strange and long misunderstood group of organisms (Fuligo). While no longer classed with fungi, they are included in my Fungi field guide (by A.M.Young).

It tells me they can produce cells that can ‘move about actively and ingest food rather like an amoeba. This cell feeds and reproduces by simple fission until there are perhaps thousands of daughter cells. A chemical signal then causes these cells to combine and form the fruiting structure…’.

I always find them slightly creepy.

My book says this one’s common name is Flowers of Tan, but Dog’s Vomit is much more apt.

Several days later the yellow has become a greyish mauve; now more likely to be mistaken for dried dog’s turds…

But it is not the only slimy visitor after the rain. In a much-horse-manured garden bed, crisp white snow crystals cluster and clump over a stem of my grapevine, again the slimy threads giving it away.

Others transform horse poo into snowballs. Or I could go with the food analogy and say powdered sugar…

An older one is already less snowy and within days they are all a less notable brown. Toasted desiccated coconut? 

No wonder I continue to be astonished at the intricacies and varieties that Nature holds, and sometimes shows, especially the ephemeral ones. I need another lifetime to discover more of them…

Site work

As Australia burns, I’m staying clear of sunsets and sunrises and anything red, and choosing a cool water photo for this post, although it has nothing to do with what I have to say.


This website has been going since 2007 and is, like me, getting on. Worse than me, it is starting to malfunction. It needs to be totally renewed, so in the interim there will be interruptions and the end result will look different. A clever and very kind friend, Al, is doing this work for me.


Not that I’ve had time to write any posts here since Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal notified they were making the last moves needed to progress their Galilee Coal mine over my friend Paola Cassoni’s Bimblebox Nature Refuge.


This is my current full time unpaid job — to save Bimblebox — and even though the EDO will represent us in the Land Court, there is much work to be done for them and to raise funds for the battle ahead. If you can help in any way, we’d be grateful…

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?

Dainty drop-in

Although there is no standing water in my yard, the wetlands lagoon nearby attracts waterbirds who occasionally drop in to my garden to see what my vegetation might hold.

This elegant creature is a White-faced Heron, apparently common enough all over Australia, but not seen by me anywhere else I have lived.

It flew in for a brief visit, had a good look about and seemed to decide against what was on offer. The long brownish feathers on the chest and those sweeping grey ones on its back are called ‘nuptial plumes’.

Its legs look too spindly to support it, and as it high-stepped around, it undulated its very long neck in ripples back and forwards, as if swallowing something.

Its very perfunctory check of my back yard was clearly a negative result, except for the pleasure it brought me to see it!

Water wanderers

After my last odd waterbird visitor, the Royal Spoonbill, I thought I had spotted another strange long-legged, long-beaked bird down there in the wetlands.

But when it settled its ruffled feathers and assumed a more familiar stance, it revealed itself to be not really odd at all.

Perhaps oddly out of place, as there are no cattle here, and I think it is the quite common Cattle Egret.

I have usually seen it in groups around cows in paddocks, some often perched on the backs of cows.

Native to Africa and Asia, they were introduced to Australia in 1948 – as was I! – and have spread successfully into new territories, including America.

Equally common, and perhaps equally out of place, was this Long-necked Tortoise, seen wandering in my dry back yard, heading uphill from the wetlands.

As it still had damp mossy patches on its back, it can’t have been lost or misguided for long.

I stood very still as It looked about carefully, fixing my feet at least with those gimlet eyes.

Then it turned itself about and, very purposefully and surprisingly swiftly, headed downhill towards the water. 

There is a low old paling fence to be negotiated but, as I later saw, it found the worn parts and dug away until it was on the watery side where it belonged.

But why had it left and what led it to think there’d be water up here?

These wetlands are a boon in attracting wild creatures; after all, water is life.

Solo Spooner

A glimpse of white down there in the wetlands, seen from my deck as I was hanging out washing; triple blink. What on earth could that be? Camera grab, race down to the yard, tiptoe to my fence.

The strange creature’s spoon-shaped bill said ’Spoonbill’ of course, although I have never had one visit me, here or elsewhere.

But it seemed to have a neck that could swivel 360 degrees. Cleaning its feathered back? Or scratching?

Apart from acrobatic ablutions, that long beak is used for sweeping shallow waters for food.

The black bill and legs and the red eyes tell me it is a Royal Spoonbill, confirmed by the impressive crest of head plumes I glimpsed earlier.

With the crest lowered, it looks more like a bearded elder, with hair hanging over its collar. And did it just yawn?

The weird and wonderful denizens of and visitors to even my little patch keep me in touch enough with the wild to survive in a town. Almost…

Communal fungi

Near my backyard tap lives a community of fungi who burst forth en masse after rain, which we have finally had.

One day they are not there, the next they are, honey brown for the moment, opening their little umbrellas.

Pushing up through soil and leaves, they surrounded and smothered the hose loops that were in the way.

Try as I might, I have not been able to identify these fungi communities which appear so briefly, always just in this spot. 

Birders often use the term ‘LBB’, ‘Little Brown Bird’ when they can’t identify one of the many such. Maybe this will remain an ‘LBF’?

The next day they are always black and collapsing. Ephemeral LBFs indeed.

Parrot parties

Now that my bottlebrush tree is flaunting hundreds of bright red brush-like blossoms, the Rainbow Lorikeets are holding parrot parties. Like all lorikeets, they have a specialised ‘brush-like’ tongue to be able to feed on nectar, but these are the only lorikeets to have a blue head.

Their brilliant colours warrant their name. They are not, however, blessed with a sweet song, and as they feed in flocks, the combined shrill screeching makes me greatly miss the musical calls of my Mountain’s Crimson Rosellas.

My other visiting parrots have been the Galahs; rarely seen here on the coast, they are very common, often in huge flocks, in open country.

Only two came to see what my yard had to offer in the way of food. I assume they didn’t find much to their taste, as they were only here for a day.  Surprising, given their wide range of feeding habits: seeds, grain, fruit, blossom, shoots, as well as insects and their larvae.

I am always grateful not to be a haven for Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, given their raucous screeching, but Galahs are not much better, their calls described by my bird book as ‘loud whistles, strident shrieks and screams’!

But two temporary Galahs can be appreciated.