Creekside birds

At the Melaleuca Campground in Limeburners Creek NP, the creek is off limits for all but viewing. It runs gently past, channelling a cool breeze from the sea, offering a range of waterbirds and attracting many fisher birds.

These stately black swans were in graceful and constant procession, only occasionally taking flight to display their white wing edges, like glimpses of a lady’s petticoat. They were more brownish-greyish than black, I thought. Their bright red bills banded with white were frequently dipped into the stream to feed, those elegant long necks bending with ease to search the deeper channels.

Often closer to the bank, in the shallower and weedy edges, Dusky Moorhens dabbled, or foraged in the grass, but they were flighty and bustled away if I came too close.

The air was full of melodious calls, I assume from several Pied Butcherbirds. This parent and child carried on a debate for some time on a nearby branch. The young one had yet to develop the crisp black and white colouring of the adult.

The adult later returned alone and sang beautifully, as well as muttering and chuckling; mimicry? I was surprised that its beak did not appear to be moving. Then it appeared close to my table, seeming to expect food as payment for its song. ‘Vegetarian, mate,’ I apologised. ‘No meat scraps here for you’.

The distinctive silhouette of a kingfisher caught my eye before it dived to catch whatever it was watching in the water. I could not see its colour well, but I think it was an Azure  Kingfisher.

And then, when I got home the day after, the same species of bird, rarely seen by me, had stunned itself in my back yard. It could hop, but was not flying, and disappeared into my laundry to hide out. Definitely an Azure Kingfisher. 

I let it be, and when I came down to check a few hours later, it had made its way towards the adjoining forest. Still hopping. I hoped no goanna would find it before it recovered fully. Such a coincidence: two sightings in two days.

Desk life

It’s difficult not to be distracted by the wildlife here, even if I don’t leave my desk. At this second floor height what’s going on amongst the trees is ‘in your face’, so to speak.

Like this goanna, who decided to climb up and laze on this branch for about a half hour; not after any nest of baby peewees, just hanging there. When done, it turned around – always a heart-stopping manouevre to watch — and slowly gripped its way down, its tail almost overtaking it.

Odd noises often alert me to activity closer to the ground, as in the various birdbaths. This time it was a repetitive soft bird call, and when I checked, there were two birds I had not seen here.  Eastern Whipbirds, I learn, and I had certainly heard the males’ whip crack before.

The female’s call is described as ‘choo-choo’, with which I probably wouldn’t agree, but if they visit again I will listen more closely and come up with a more fitting one. Another book says ‘chuckles and whistles’ — quite an art, summing up bird talk…

A louder racket made me stand and look down into my small back yard where an Eastern Grey Kangaroo had pushed its way in beside the pigwire fence and was trying to return — but clearly couldn’t find or use the same route.

I was worried about him panicking as he pushed fruitlessly at the fence, but he was no fool. Having realised that no part of his body beyond his head would go through the wire squares, he quickly checked out the rest of the yard, then took a running jump and went over the fence.

Life is never dull here, even through my windows.

Burrawan

Although I have lived in the area for several years now, I had never seen Lake Innes, never knew its story… or its real name, which is Burrawan.

There is one public driving track in to the Lake Innes Nature from the Lake Cathie/Port Macquarie side, to Perch Hole Picnic area. And this beautiful serenity is what lies at the end of that track through a paperbark swamp.

Whether you look south or north, this large lake is impressive… and empty today save for one lone kayaker.

I was driven to go and see it for myself after being on the other side of Burrawan for the launch of a book about this lake.

In it, John Heath and Ashley Barnwell have compiled inforrnation and records about the story of this lake, offering both Birrpai and colonial ideas and histories.

In front of the ruins of Major Innes’ brick home complex, once almost a small village, overlooking a grass sward that runs down to the lake, we were given some extraordinary insights.

The tall blue gums that would have totally blocked the view were long gone, and the lake was still visible behind John and Ashley as they listened to the speeches. 

Major Innes had the trees cleared for his farming establishment, while his wife kindly introduced lovely garden plants, like lantana!

We were treated to a smoking ceremony and dances, mainly by John’s charming young relatives. The Birrpai were revered and applauded here today, but as the book shows, were not considered in Major Innes’s time.

But the shocker was that this lake was then freshwater, and is now salt… and all the plant and animal life that thrived on it had died.

Despite warnings, and never-realised intentions to build floodgates to stop the saltwater flowing back, a channel was dug by hand from Lake Cathie to Burrawan in the 1930s. The idea was to drain the lake and thus create 12,000 acres for farmland! 

So, as the book summarises, the lake and all its wildlife and biodiversity was seen as merely submerged potential farmland.

Records from Albert Dick’s diary chart the demise of the rich life of the lake as the salinity increased, and they are truly shocking.  I thank John and Ashley for this work, shocks and regrets notwithstanding; like massacres, we need to know the damage done by blind colonisation.

But you need to read the book! The Port Macquarie Historical Society has published this valuable resource and record and you can buy it from them or from John Heath.

Revive Lake Cathie is a group working hard to return Burrawan to fresh water — visit them here to find out more.

Celebration sunrise

Hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds, colours and creeds gathered at Oxley Beach to watch the miracle of the sunrise on 26th January.  It was a silent solidarity, especially moving on this first post-referendum Invasion Day/Australia Day.

The Aboriginal flag hung limply as the rising sun mirrored the emblem on the flag. A very few quiet speeches from local Indigenous people had preceded the sun. Mention of the massacre of over 300 Birrpai people at local Blackman’s Point set a sombre tone for the reality of why we were here.

But mostly silence reigned, quite a feat given the crowd on the hill above included many children. The grass was wet, the wise had brought towels or rugs to sit on, the elderly had trouble getting down… and would surely do so getting up …but nobody was complaining or fidgeting. 

Sadness, yes, but communion with each other and Nature made it feel like peace and calm 

At the end, everyone was invited to walk to the sea edge, and I found that most moving of all, as it felt like a healing of the division that seemed all around us after October.

When the risen sun began to be covered by cloud, my fanciful mind saw it as an allegory for the hopes that had been extinguished by that result.  An opportunity lost.

But knowing the cloud would lift and the sun would shine out fully led to new hopes that our future and our past can be truthfully aligned and our First People come into their rightful place.

I contrast the rah-rah and ‘patriotic’ flag waving and noisy celebrations that will characterise this day for many Australians with how the same day, that of the invasion, was mourned this morning. 

Surely we can be mature enough to allow both their appropriate days. Who would hold a party in a cemetery?

Urban nature

In the busy commercial and tourist heart of Port Macquarie, the town park holds a secret behind its manicured lawns and gardens and picnic tables: the Kooloonbung Creek Nature Reserve.

As we followed a boardwalk through mangrove forests and paperbark swamps, the swarms of mosquitoes made it hard to focus on anything else, and in the heat of the day, little else moved. A young Water Dragon was a notable exception, quick to dash away.

This vine root had got itself so tangled and knotted that no dashing was being considered.

But high in the trees, the Reserve’s Flying Foxes were busy flapping their wings to stay cool.

On the industrial edge of Port Macquarie, the Googik Track offers walkers and bike riders an amazing escape into Nature. For the first part of it, the nearby traffic noise was loud and steady, an incongruous juxtaposition to what I was seeing, like these large robust and spreading  gum trees, Eucalyptus signata, Snappy Gums or Scribbly Gums.

And much scribbled-upon they were…

More of the vegetation was swampland, with paperbarks and reeds and palms large and small.

In one part, pretty lilac native flowers grew beside the track, Burmannia disticha, new to me; also found in China, India and other parts of Asia.

One plant I am now familiar with was Xanthorrhoea resinosa, the Grasstree with the underground stem, and there were thousands of them here, all past flowering, some growing really tall.

My favourite sighting was of the dainty spider web cups suspended in the reeds and still glistening with dewdrops.

I didn’t walk the whole track; I will when it’s not so hot, and perhaps not at such a busy get-to-work time of day, for the traffic.

Not sure how to reduce the number of bike riders coming up fast behind me, none dinging their bells. Isn’t that the custom when passing a pedestrian on a shared path? Especially one who might stumble a bit as she goggled at spider webs…

Early beach morning

At my favourite local beach, early mornings are best, especially in holiday times, before the hordes awake, feed the kids and bring the sun shades and brollies down to claim their sand spaces between the casuarinas and the gentle sea.

A cloudy start to the day will delay them even longer.

It is so gentle because it is protected by two rock breakwalls that separate it from the river mouth on one side and the surf beach on the other.

Beyond the breakwalls it is not gentle, and the whitecaps and breaking waves splash high and surge mightily.

The tide is receding, leaving some sand sculptures intact from the day  before. This one is unique in my experience, never having seen tools as sculpture subjects before: a hatchet, an electric drill and a mallet!

Another is more traditional, although not of the moulded sand castles I am used to. This one has a moated settlement of flat-topped roofs… adobe?

A small group of Crested Pigeons bustle down from the trees and grass edge to check out what’s left on the tideline. They are shy of any movement of mine, quickly wheeling and turning away.

This flock of resting seagulls is the opposite, completely ignoring me. They have chosen the ‘banks’ of a long channel no doubt made by kids, right where the tide has reached and stopped.

Some sleep, but most are busy preening and cleaning.

I am fascinated by the balancing acts: here three of the four gulls stand on one leg only. Why?

One leg must give enough stability, as it does not seem to restrict the movements required to perform the morning’s grooming.

Some of the contortions, while seemingly effortless, are amazing to one whose neck could never do this.

To remain so dapper must take a lot of such time. These gulls know early morning is best here too: no people, no dogs, no disturbance.

Local gems

Walking in a reserve near me on the mid north coast, I spied these two little eyes peeping up at me.  The only ones I saw, prettily and symmetrically positioned beside the path, they turned out to be shorter-than-usual Fringed Lilies, Thysanotus tuberosus.

On the same walk there are many Ribbonwood (Euroschinus falcatus) trees, but I had never seen them so abundantly fruiting before. There were masses of bunches of purple/black berries. No wonder there are so many birds here.

I had seen their small flowers, some of which were still in evidence. Apparently these trees are having a bumper season for berries everywhere. Go birds!

As always, the twists and turns of vines fascinate me. Why and how?

While most trees do not twist as vines — or Angophoras — do, they can still surprise, as with this puckered trunk, radiating a pattern as it closes over a wound.

No matter how many times I walk this track, there is always something new to me. So I always carry my camera, and try not to trip up as I peer about. Such a treat, to live amongst so much natural wonderment.

Far and near

The views from Point Lookout in the New England National Park are vast in several directions, and show how much rugged, forested wilderness we still have, in the country where the Macleay and Bellinger rivers arise.

The first day I drove to Point Lookout, there was only whiteness instead of view; the next time there were glimpses, as patches of cloud lifted. It was on my third attempt that I saw the uninterrupted views, as in the first photo, that are justly famous. But I realised I preferred the glimpses…

At the very different Wrights Lookout, from its harsh rocky world I could look back to the green forest at Point Lookout. Here trees were small wind-bent shrubs and every crevice was needed to nurture a plant.

Other walks took me to the in-between worlds, where lichen could be a restrained rosette, a single grey-green splodge on a tree trunk.

Or in the same colours, frilled fringes like oak leaves might decorate a tree.

Or small tufts and bunches of strawberry blonde might have made a home on a fallen tree.

Or a ruffle like fine lace or coral beside its mossy mates.

An endless variety!

But of course I am not abandoning my love of mosses. I close these glimpses of the treasures in this Park with a tree trunk gloriously bedecked with lumps and bumps of thick green softness.

What’s not to love?

Details to delight

Of course the New England National Park holds more natural treasures than green moss and bearding lichen, entrancing as they are.

Like the wonderfully pleasing design made by the coiled new shoots of the many tree ferns, ready to unwind and reach skywards.

Or the dense and tall banks of delicate Coral Fern, Gleichenia dicarpa.

While looking up into the Antarctic Beech forests was impressive, listening in there was too. Almost mid-day, and yet so many birdsongs…

Peering into the trees, I saw the singer: one lyrebird, loudly and constantly being all birds. I had a brief chance to take this shot before he flew down to the forest floor.

There he seemed to be digging, but it was hard to  see at what, and hard to see him! On several other walks, I heard a lyrebird, and sat  listening for 20 minutes at one spot, but failed to see the singer.

The only time I have ever seen a lyrebird display was in another part of this Park, decades ago.

And while looking down, I was treated to a closer view of an Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus moorei), as the pinkish/coppery colour of the new leaves of this young one caught my eye. It was the only one I saw.

The foot of this very old Beech was mossed and crinkled and caverned, looking every bit as ancient as it must be.

Yet within those gnarly buttresses were mysterious details, like this fungi-roofed cave, home to who knows what creature…

Lichen Land

‘Halt! Who goes there?’

I am sure that was the message from this guardian of the green world I was about to enter in New England National Park.

For ‘green’ is the theme in this high rainfall area, and the mosses, lichens and ferns were carrying it in abundance, in every shade and shape.

Some took turns in flaunting the riches — a jewelled collar, a draping lacy veil.

On the Tea Tree Falls Walk, the small creek was edged with mosses so thick as to resemble swales.

And this is the Tea Tree itself, a Leptospermum sp.in glorious bloom, its tiny flowers in such profusion that the bushes or small trees looked dusted with snow.

I loved the many ways the moss distributed itself, in knobs, bands or splodges, sharing with other small plants like orchids, as decorative as necklaces.

When the lichen hung in such lengths that it was blowing in the wind like green-gold tresses, I knew I was in another world and different creatures were the dominant inhabitants.

Low tide treasures

On a marine rock platform, at the lowest of tides a whole other landscape is revealed, a rich and colourful world teeming with life.

While we usually only see the top sunbaked surface of rocks, here the next layer down is on show – the dense cities of Galeolaria, tube-building worms needing seawater, but safe enough within their hard walls to withstand some exposure.

The bright green forests of Cunjevoi prefer to be underwater, and sometimes you see them ejecting jets of water upwards in the changing tide. Their common name is Sea Squirts; their soft insides  were food for Indigenous folk, and then often used as bait by fishermen, but are now mostly protected.

Some of the sea gardens are tiny, packed into water-holding hollows in a rock, but so full of plants; here I can see ones that we used to call Sea Lettuce and Neptune’s necklace. A jewel box of life.

The plentiful small starfish here are mostly in shades of red and blue, but this particular aqua is not common.

Nor is this orange one that caught my eye; and here I can see at least four more starfish, but they are so well camouflaged or half-buried in sand that there may be more.

Across the shell-encrusted expanse of rock platform, I think I see a bird poking about. Is this my signature solitary bird for today?

Yes! Edging closer, I think it is a White-faced Heron, on its long elegant legs, looking for titbits in the temporarily exposed world as the sea washes in and out.

Much as I am, I guess, but visual, not edible.

Tawny twosome

I have often said that the Tawny Frogmouth is my favourite bird, and my recent post shared my delight that one had been visiting.

But only one.

Yet this week I have had close contact for a whole day with a pair, the aforesaid male, and his partner.

On my way downstairs, I did see the large liquid scat on the deck; noted it was in an unusual place, but didn’t think to look up.

Coming back upstairs, I got a shock to see them sitting on the while railing only half a metre from me… and hardly suitably camouflaged.

The male was his usual inscrutable self, watching me with a slit of an eye open. The males are 20-30% bigger than the female.

While he is dressed in tones of grey, his partner is wonderfully patterned in shades of brown, perfect for the paperbarks near here.

At first they were facing in opposite directions in their stiff ‘I am a broken branch’ angled poses.

At one point he opened his big golden eyes wide, as if to say, ‘Don’t think I’m not watching you!’

As the day wore on and I’d had to pass by them many times, the female turned to face the same way. I felt bad for disturbing them, while assuring them they were safe there.

They were both keeping a narrow eye on me; she moved much closer to him.

These birds mate for life, which can mean 15-20 years, and share all the domestic tasks: nest building, egg incubating, chick rearing etc.

They were gone next morning but since then I have several times seen the female occupying the spot between deck and roof where the male had often spent the day before. It was as if he’d brought her here to show her that good dry spot, and also that I was to be trusted.

I can only hope they make their nest somewhere in sight.