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.

Backing kids on climate action

Taree is not a big town, nor particularly environmentally alert. At the last school strike for climate day there I think there’d have been less than a dozen kids, and mostly from elsewhere, like Gloucester; more adults without kids.

But on Friday 20th September the impact of the rising tides (pun intended) were clear.

Hundreds flocked to the riverside park to hear impassioned speeches, show support and share concerns — parents with babies, very small children and primary schoolchildren, secondary students on their own or in groups, adults on their own.

Many groups like 350.org and Nature Conservation Council have been urging people to attend one, but locally I think the growing Midcoast Extinction Rebellion (XR) group has been highly influential. 

One of the most impressive young speakers, 11-year-old Evie Wood McGuire from Cundletown Primary, was inspired after an XR family day at Nabiac. She then started her own blog to encourage specific personal action — in an innovative way!

All the kids who spoke were articulate, strongly behind Greta Thunberg, and clear on what they wanted: ‘Climate Action NOW.’

I gathered, from speaking to a large group from St Clare’s, that such protest seems to have become the ‘in’ thing, which is just what needs to happen!

Some went really public and stood up on the roadside with their signs, attracting many supportive honks from passing cars.

While I have never understood why Taree’s war memorial is guarded by two child-size soldier statues (did they run out of money, choose two minis for the price of one full size?).

 I know that the real soldiers would be horrified to think that the land and clean water and air they fought for are no longer our governments’ priorities.

And that the right to protest, such as this, was what they fought to keep for Australians.

While NO new coal is critical, as evidenced by the many Stop Adani signs, I was especially taken with the variety of very positive pro-active approaches, such as looking after bees, and trees, regenerative farming and local produce, as in the Young Farmers Connect group.

One of the Young Farmers’ children carried this very pointed sign. What are you doing?

Prioritising the future of all children was the primary message from the older generation. I bridled a bit when one young speaker said, ‘We’ll stick it to the Boomers’, given I am one; the grey-haired lady next to me had the same reaction and said, ’So should I leave now?’

Others pointed out the truth; some acknowledged that we oldies aren’t all bad…

And of course the Knitting Nannas were there to support ‘the kiddies’, for whose future they work, as always.

But it is the politicians we need to impress; if our Taree turnup wasn’t enough to convert our state Nationals from climate denial, how about the 10,000 people in Newcastle or the 50,000 in Sydney? Or, Trumpian sidekick Morrison, how about the 300,000 nationwide??!!  A few votes there…

More than rocks

At one end of a beach at Bermagui, south coast NSW, an ancient creature lies half buried in the sand. Its long snout sucks up water at high tide, its dark eyes watch for whales… and inquisitive dogs. 

For this is a dog-friendly beach, allowing romping dogs with their walking and stick-throwing owners.

These caves are mostly small hollows, some forming see-through tunnels in the strangely muscular rocks.

But above the sand and creature level, the rocks are no longer sea-moulded smooth, but striated and layered with other ancient deposits, interspersed with soft and powdery decomposing stone…waiting to be washed to join the sands below.

In other places they are carved and etched, leaving odd sculptured shapes, intriguing furrows and horizontally scratched hieroglyphics in vertical messages.

Some seem to have been shaded into relief by an artist’s pen. I am again ignorant as to how these varied effects have been created… perhaps by the ancient sand mammoth before it became immobilised?

Now very little lives on the rocks – a determined spider, the odd desperate plant.

I wish they could talk to explain the mysteries of their so-diverse rocky habitat. Yet it is almost enough just to be in awe at this show of Nature’s art – again!

Gulaga Mountain

An extinct volcano near the Tilba region of NSW, Gulaga Mountain holds great spiritualsignificance for the local Yuin people. You can imagine why, as the rocks near its top are no ordinary rocks. In 2006 Gulaga, previously called Mount Dromedary, was returned to its traditional owners.

At about 800 metres above sea level, the walk up the dirt track is long, fairly relentlessly steep but not arduous; the walk down is, with slipping over at least once a certainty! 

It is worth it to meet these extraordinary and evocative tors, either soaring solitary between the trees or balanced in almost incredible giant-flung piles.

The smoothed shapes vary; all defy my geology-deprived understanding, and all demand awe.

Gulaga’s rocks leave memorable impressions. Victoria’s Hanging Rock is not unique in harbouring strange emanations, which touch even the clumsy and ignorant like me.

The walking track through the Gulaga National Park to the saddle is actually a road. It passes by masses of tree ferns, tall ones that nestle up to mossy and lichened rocks, and shorter hairy ones that give shelter to tiny ferns.

Few plants are flowering, so this Correa (?) catches my eye.

Grandeur … and tiny details. All free food for the soul from Nature.

Early black beauties

Alerted to look up from my desk by whirling aerial activity outside, I saw about six Welcome Swallows flying round and round the back yard airspace.  It looked as frenetic as when the young first fly, but I haven’t noticed any nests on my verandahs or eaves.

There seemed to be other birds in the mix.

When some peeled off to perch, I spotted a Willy Wagtail, who typically did not stop still long enough to be more than a blur.

Then I gasped at this unmistakable fishtail shape.

A Spangled Drongo!

I know; in Australia it sounds like a joke…

I have only seen this bird twice before. It is the only Australian species of drongo, and it is most handsome, with its iridescent feathers, blueish spangle, and bright red eyes.

Today there were two, so I hope they will nest nearby.

Like swallows, they can catch insects on the wing.

However, my bird book says they are migratory, ‘arriving in October and leaving in March’.  We are still in August. Like the fire season, is August the new October?

One of the other dapper black-feathered birds in the yard at the same time was an Australian Magpie-Lark, female I think.

I have usually called them Pee-Wees (after their call) and berated them for attacking my windows, but now I have hung feathers in corks outside, they do not bother with those reflected birds.

As they mostly catch their insects on the ground, they were not competing with the flying food frenzy above. So they are back ready to nest too; theirs is of mud, and has been in the Jacaranda tree in the past. Hmm; but will they find some mud in this drought?

I will keep an eye out for all nesting activity.

Winter or?

I was waiting for the last Autumn leaves to fall from my ornamental grapevine before pruning it, as I have always done.

But this crazily warm Winter weather has confused the vine into sending forth new Spring growth shoots of leaves and flowers.

All along its length the bright green new leaves have lost patience with the old brown clingers, saying  ‘Don’t you know it’s Spring?’

Only it’s not.

I check in the yard: the Mulberry tree, properly wintry bare two days ago, has lost the plot too. Good luck, I think.

The small Native Finger Lime tree is covered in tiny buds and blossoms, but this is the right time for it.

Will there be ‘right times’ ahead for deciduous plants to awake?

How would they know to stay asleep until after the last frosts of winter?

When people in T-shirts at mid-day in mid-winter’s July say ‘What a lovely day!’, I can’t agree.

‘Actually, no, I find it scary that’s it’s so warm.’

Because this is wrong, out-of-kilter; I’m a human who can put clothes on or off, buy food out of season.

Plants and insects and birds and animals are inter-dependent; species are being thrown into not just confusion, but extinction.

Now, on 1st August, I read that:

‘Tinder-dry conditions in NSW have forced the Rural Fire Service to bring forward its bushfire danger period for parts of the state’s east coast and Northern Tablelands.
Twelve areas — Armidale, Bega Valley, Eurobodalla, Glen Innes Severn, Inverell, Kempsey, Mid Coast, Nambucca, Port Macquarie Hastings, Tenterfield, Uralla and Walcha — will all start their bushfire danger period from August 1, the RFS announced on Thursday.’

Traditionally, the official start to the danger period is October 1.’

Mid Coast: that’s me. Yep, scary.

Bright spots

Rainbows always make me smile; no corporation has found a way to despoil them yet, or to capture and sell them.

In less-than-bright times, with less-than-visionary (!) leaders, I need all the bright spots Nature can offer to keep my spirits up.

And then I realised the rainbow had a second fainter image, a pale double of itself. I choose to to take that as an arc of hope: next time Australia will vote for action on climate change, and not be fooled by the spin.

It is winter at last and still very dry here but a few plants like that, and are giving me great pleasure from their abundant blooms. This beauty has been moving with me though various homes and stages of my life for over 50 years!

These orchids came from one large overgrown clump, a gift from my cousin Kerrie, who has many varieties, about five years ago,. They made six pots, and right when I most need colour and beauty in life, their graceful arching stems are offering both.

And while not at all colourful, as so perfectly camouflaged in their casuarina tree, these two Tawny Frogmouths make me smile every time I see them. Not every day, not always in the same fork, and not always as a pair, although lately they have been. I think they are beautiful.

But a bright spot in my day — and my life — whenever they choose to inhabit my place.

Prodigal Frogmouth?

From my kitchen window, I spotted an unusual blob in one of the casuarinas in the yard.  We’d had a windy night, so it could be a broken-off branch.

In fact it was both. The Tawny Frogmouth had wedged itself behind a broken limb, and was there for two days.

Then it appeared in the slimmer neighbouring tree, actually the tree where the ‘nest’ had been in 2017, from which two babies had hatched, to my great delight. The prodigal returns?

Next morning it had moved to a fork in the same tree, but seemed much fatter. Fluffed up to keep warm?

From the front, I was not sure if it was one or two birds. It looked very broad; was it pregnant, returning home to lay those eggs? But if so, where was the nest or stick platform? Inadequate as that had seemed, it had served its purpose, but had long since broken up.

As the sun warmed the yard,  it moved from the fork and perched on a broken branch. Definitely one bird. And definitely fat.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on any stick activity in that home tree.