Cranky Rocks

I have now driven almost 1500 km over three days, up to Bimblebox Nature Refuge near Alpha in Queensland. I stopped the first night near Warialda at a private property, which features an impressive jumble of volcanic rocks accessible from the Cranky Rocks camping area.

I set out to cross the suspension bridge and climb the easy path up to see them… and hopefully catch the sunrise. Too early, as you see.

The rocks were docile at this early hour, heaped large and small by the path.

Huge ones were balanced fantastically on smaller rocks. I hoped no crankiness would start them rocking as I passed.

From the lookout, it was clear how major had been the tossing upwards and landing all higgledy-piggledy of so many and varied granite boulders.

Far below, Reedy Creek lay still, in wait for the next falling rock pile to crash and splash.

The story is that the rocks get their name from a Chinaman who apparently got cranky and killed a local woman. He evaded capture by leaping to his death from the highest rocks.

Peewee power

Hearing a mighty fuss in the trees outside my study window, I checked. A very agitated Peewee was fluttering and noisily protesting all around a tall tree which a goanna was trying to climb.

Its antics were clearly bothering the goanna. I suppose the small Peewee felt safe, even at such close quarters, as the goanna had to keep its claws holding on to the bark rather than swiping at the annoying bird.

The Peewee won, with the goanna giving up the attempt to go further up that tree, and beginning the awkward about-turn.

Peewees are famous for their noisy and fearless defence of their territory, often against much bigger birds. Or reptiles!

You may have seen them attacking their own reflections in windows or car side-mirrors, thinking themselves to be enemies.

Goannas’ downward climbs don’t look very safe or easy, with those claws needing to defy gravity for the heavy body.

In fact, their manner of changing direction in tree branches looks quite precarious altogether.

Having made it, this one seemed to simply want to rest, supported by the branch, and right way up. 

As the Peewee warrior was nowhere in sight or earshot, that branch must not be deemed a threat.

The goanna was permitted to rest in peace.

Early rising

While I used to easily see dramatic sunrises on my Mountain, here I am more likely to catch the gentle pearly colours of early morning clouds, or the mist rising above the mangroves to blanket the mountain on its way to join those clouds.

Reflections in still water are an added bonus.  I spot a solitary pelican sedately cruising over the glassy surface.

And then maybe it sees me, because it takes off with long deep flaps of those massive wings. And, always amazingly to me, that heavy body becomes airborne.

I apologise to it for disturbing the peace, and for perhaps causing its early rising.

Rock-paper-scissors

I love trees and I love rocks. In the Wollemi National Park there is plenty of both, in as many shapes and sizes as an addict like me could dream of, from Scribbly Gum eucalypts to Pagoda rocks.

But if I can’t decide which I love best, it is clear which has right of way. Here the ‘rock-paper-scissors’ game came to mind. I take the tree as paper, although I have seen a tree grown in a crack eventually split a huge rock if in the right line.

The Scribbly Gums are shedding old bark and showing off their writing skills. The rocks remain unimpressed.

I am impressed by both here, and the trees seem to simply accommodate the rocks as need be, and change direction to grow around them.

I can’t read the scribbles but I admire the patterns and colours, so like the rocks.

Some of the gums have chosen to double their chances — rather boldly if seen upside-down — in their shiny new skins.

Others have had to heal around damage, pucker up and carry on.

Some have been too badly burnt out to manage the cosmetics, but have rallied to survive. Much of the Wollemi National Park was burnt in those awful fires two years ago, and I saw masses of young wattles taking up the challenge.

All the rocks here are stunning, but the Pagodas defy belief. Of course the Gardens of Stone near Lithgow are rightly famous, but just this small sampling fills me with wonder.

They have looked like this for about 45 million years! The process of their forming is fascinating but complicated, and you will no doubt Google it immediately…

Tree changes

Eucalypts like Ribbon Gums or Mountain Grey Gums scatter long vertical strips of bark and reveal their smooth secret skins, while others change their image in different ways.

These Spotted Gums are less obvious in changing image and keep both old and new to earn their name.

Stringybarks wear such distinctively rough coverings that it is hard to accept they are also eucalypts, related to its silky, strokable neighbours like this. I have never been tempted to stroke a stringybark …

But their very roughness provides the safe crevices for small creatures to use, like this spider and its web.

Even long fallen trees can make sculptures of the most intricate sort, home to moss and lichen, and no doubt hidden creatures.

Of course many trees, especially Angophoras, decide to be quirky sculptures while still growing, taking not only vertical paths, but doing U-turns after various indecisions…

Amongst the black of the wattle trunks, the everlasting daisies are at waist height after such good rain, forming golden guards of honour along the tracks and a surprisingly widespread sea of yellow. 

Even more surprising were these forests of tall leafy plants that looked out of place, like foreigners, if not aliens… Triffids?

I was assured they were native: Calomeria amaranthoides, or Incense Plant. It is a bi-ennial, growing up to 3 metres. Some people find the musky odour released when leaves and stems are brushed against to be unpleasant and, in fact, a skin irritant. I didn’t find that, but could not get over their strangeness. Again, the recent rains had facilitated more growth and more plants than had been seen here before.

A few of these overgrown plants were in flower and these panicles of pinkish flowers are why it is also called Plume Bush – they do resemble the Amaranthus often grown in gardens, for edible leaves and seed, or simply for decoration.

I was intrigued to meet them for the first time … a Triffid forest within a tree forest… and will certainly not forget them!

Coal creep

I love the country around Bylong and Rylstone, and briefly re-visited there recently, catching up with a few battlers in the coal-impacted communities.

Unfortunately I cannot get there without passing through some of the Hunter horror sights along the way to the Golden Highway. And I don’t only mean the roadkill…

I thought I was familiar with the coal mines’ huge holes and spoil mountains on both sides of the road, but this one near Warkworth (on the Bulga side) seemed new. It had been a couple of years since I’d come that way; this one seemed in process, as a bit of the Nature it was destroying was still visible.

The pollution in the skies as one approaches Singleton is as sickeningly brownish-grey as ever, masking the hills to invisibility in places.

As here, the Hunter scenery transformation is as busily under way as ever. Even more sickening.

I am no longer sure which of the mighty coal mines can claim credit for this landscaping, as there are so many around Singleton… and they have changed hands … nor which coal company owns what.

They can all claim the cumulative pollution.

Purple protector

This handsome, vividly coloured bird was very active and evident round my campsite at Ganguddy/Dunns Swamp in the Wollemi National Park.

I knew it was a Purple Swamphen, with that very distinctive red front shield and beak.

It kept strutting about on those extremely long feet and making short screeches. It seemed agitated.

At first I thought this log was the cause, looking so like a reptile, and then I spotted the real one.

And yet the goanna did seem to be on the run from the bird’s harrying screeches.

‘Safe to come out’, the purple protector must have signalled, as soon the rest of the family emerged.

Later I saw the mother and chicks down by the water and the reeds they must love. Dad was off ahead… checking for goannas, no doubt.

Dunns Swamp is actually a dammed river, and has vast stretches of reeds, where those Swamphens likely nest.

Walking by the water, I can see by the incredible number of picnic tables and fireplaces that this is a popular place. Kayaking tours were offered. It would be unbearable for me in holiday times, but campsites were tucked amongst trees and there were few campers in such damp weather.

I only managed brief walks between showers, so was delighted to see quite a few colonies of this mauve Fringed Lily (Thysanotus tuberosus) in the boggy riverside walk. I hate giving it the full Common name, as ‘Common’ implies less than the fragile beauty it is.

Beach bounty

Not being a fan of bright summer sunlight and blue skies, I go early to the beach near me. My mate Fred shares The Cloud Appreciation Society newsletter with me each month and I have to agree with them that clouds are far more interesting than cloudless skies!

If I am lucky the clouds part just enough for those angels up there to take a peek, shining a spotlight on the restless sea below.

At other times the clouds part in a less focused way, to light up a patch of sea and reflect in the wet sand. Light is always more interesting when paired with darkness or dullness.

But looking down and up close is just as interesting.

If I’m sitting long enough, the sand itself can reveal fascinating sights. Like this portrait of a hairy big-eyed creature… made by busy crabs…and birds?

The tiny crabs move fast when they detect any motion nearby, to disappear down their burrows. I wonder how they keep the sand out of those eyes on stalks?

Wary Wongas

One of my favourite native pigeons is the Wonga Pigeon, but it so shy … ‘exceptionally alert’, my bird book says… that it is rarely still long enough to take a photo of it. I do hear its repetitive soft ’coo-coo’, and there is plenty of tree and shrub cover here for this rainforest bird, so its frequent presence is not surprising.

Its beautiful markings are mainly on its front, and as I usually see it on the ground here, I only get the grey back and the white part of its head, with just glimpses of the striping.  They never seem to turn to face me, so seeing this one up higher was a treat. Look at those pink legs and feet, often hidden in the grass when they are on the ground!

I have mostly seen two foraging on the ground here, moving their plump bodies swiftly across the patch, bobbing heads back and forth like chooks. However, I read they are solitary except in breeding season.

Last week I briefly saw three, so I am wondering if they have a young one, but they moved too fast for me to tell if one was more brownish than grey, as the immature are.

A few months ago one sat in the sunny grass for ages; I had wondered if she was silly enough to lay eggs there, as it gets mown, but perhaps she was just sunbathing.

Whatever a wary Wonga gets up to, I am a very happy observer.

Water ways

A creek with a waterfall rushing over rocks is a visual gift, where the ever-energetic and powerful yet lightly lacy water is combined with the stern dark hardness of rocks, facetted and shining or slimed with green slipperiness.

Once it’s calmed down after that splashing descent, the creek flows more  gently, gradually finding small pathways and side bays on its way downstream, rounding its regular rocks.

As its way flattens, the water pours rather than rushes, with only small runs and cascades, stranding dampened leaves like platters of colour.

Fallen logs form more gentle and even hurdles to make new liquid shapes.

I admit to preferring the ease of the creek’s waterways to the rush of the waterfalls, and I am charmed by the Water Gums (Tristaniopsis laurina) that fringe its banks.

Its flowers are pretty but it is the quirks of its limbs and bark that appeal to me most.

Water washed and smooth, its roots intertwine. Strength in numbers against flood force?

 It seems given to angled bends, to inexplicable elbows.

Some of these bear hollows where small plants like this fern have found a home.

But this is a vibrant creekside community, recovering after fierce floods laid many a tree low. 

Even the dead trees have a role, as with this tiny hole like a wise eye, sheltering baby Water Gums.

Tree visitors

My back deck is high amongst the paperbarks, and close to them.  I had not expected to come so close to a tree climbing goanna, but for once it was not waddling across the grass below, where I see one almost daily.

So close, I could admire not only the intricacy of its patterns and colours, with that surprising blue tinge, but its face, its ear and eye. Even its claws had camouflage dots!

When I first spotted this one it seemed to be lolling on a branch, not gripping or climbing, but that soon changed.

It turned around rather awkwardly and began climbing down one branch…

… to head up another. Sometimes it went to the perilously thin ends of branches before turning. Searching for birds’ nests and eggs?

The birds were certainly alarmed, chattering and flying about.

As they were a little further away, in a tall eucalypt…

But that odd thick shape I could see there turned out to no threat. To my great delight it was one of my favourite birds, a Tawny Frogmouth.

And from the lingering fluffy feathers I think it may be still young… unless they are just my camera’s blur from using the zoom.

I am heartened to think there may be a family of them about and will keep an ear out for that distinctive repeated ‘oom’.

I didn’t hear those ‘ooms’, but later that very afternoon, nearing dusk, I saw that the ‘lump’ up there on that branch was bigger.

I could not get a very clear view but it was definitely an adult and two young Tawny Frogmouths. The young look much fluffier than my earlier sole bird, so was that the father, the apparent fluff just my camera, or the wind?

The father often cares for the fledglings, so perhaps my visitor was a father sussing out where to bring his young to rest, or just taking a break from childcare before the kids caught up with him.

All three were gone next day, but what a treat, however fleeting! My first Frogmouths in this new place… 

When I moved into my last place (that was flooded), within weeks a Frogmouth had two chicks hatch in a nest in a she-oak in my yard and I could watch them growing and being raised. Such a privilege!

Wildlife welcome

House-sitting for a week on a property that is designed to welcome wildlife, I was treated there to the songs of some of our most melodious birds, like this Pied Butcher Bird, whose young was heading to join it.

The other glorious songs came from possibly my favourite songster, the Grey Shrike-Thrush.

All day honeyeaters jostled and swung as they fed in the native small trees and shrubs planted to attract them.

To my great nostalgic delight, a family of Eastern Red-necked Wallabies grazed unconcernedly below.

On the young banksia tree one bloom stood out, demanding attention in its rich green amongst the creams and browns.

On the verandah a large skink sunned itself. I had thought it to be one I was used to, an Eastern Water Skink, but the colours were too dull. Perhaps at a different stage of its life? I’d appreciate any further clues…

So I had my wildlife  treats… as well as reminders of how very slow young kookaburras are to get their adult laugh right, and how very repetitive are their efforts!