Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Buckley Falls

One of my friends goes birdwatching every morning. He has a routine, a particular patch that he checks out each day, and he records what he sees each day. And because he's been doing it for a number of years now the data that he has accumulated is invaluable. Part of his patch is Buckley Falls on the Barwon River on the western outskirts of Geelong.

The rest of us make spasmodic visits because it's a beautiful area and occasionally we see some really nice (by which I mean special) birds, but my friend knows where the birds nest, the size of their territories, when the migrants arrive and leave, changes to the environment. He enjoys the common birds, loves the challenge of finding the nests (although he got very frustrated last year because the nests of Crested Shrike-tits are very difficult to find). The Buckly Falls area is a very reliable spot to find Nankeen Night-herons sitting on the rocks in the daytime, and in winter the Pink Robins and Rose Robins passing through.

The falls are named after William Buckley, the escaped convict who lived with aborigines in this area for three decades before the settlers from Tasmania arrived. They've been modified by a low wall across the river, another weir upstream and a viaduct on the north side built to supply water to a paper mill in the 1800s but are still delightful. There is a Friends group doing fantastic work with planting and weeding. Picnic spots, lookouts and walking tracks have been established on both sides of the river. Suburbia is approaching from the south but a buffer zone has been negotiated.

It's easy to forget that the falls are there because they are not visible from any main roads, but they are well worth a visit.

Buckley Falls

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Planting for the future

This morning I joined a group of locals in celebrating National Tree Day by planting some trees (and shrubs and grasses). The spot selected for us was on the south bank of the Barwon River, by a road that I use frequently. It will be very rewarding to watch the growth in the future. Recently a community group had a planting day in a recreation reserve near my house, and I think they've done a great job. But some of the people in the houses on the opposite side of the street are objecting because when the trees grow they will block out the view they currently have. The same thing happened to us. The trees planted in a reserve near us are now obstructing our view ... but we actually helped plant them so we can't complain.

My photographic contribution to National Tree Day is of a tree in my own garden, a Bell-fruited Mallee Eucalyptus preissiana. I mentioned it several months ago but at the moment it is in full flower in my north-facing front garden, and looks spectacular from the street. It only grows to a height of several metres, and is round in shape, so the flowers are shown to their best advantage.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

All is well in the world

I'd been home for a full day before I remembered that the magpies were building a nest in my tree when I left for Queensland. This morning I went out to check (carefully keeping my eyes away from the oxalis that has enveloped my garden in my absence). I was delighted to see a big beak over the edge of the nest, so obviously a parent bird is sitting on the eggs.


Before checking in to our accommodation at Charters Towers we drove to the highest spot in town so that we could see the sunset properly. I'd anticipated a good one because the clouds were spectacular. And we weren't disappointed.

The next day we drove north to Undara and I could hardly see the landscape for the show that was developing in the huge sky for all of the six hours we travelled. I'm lost for words to describe how beautiful the clouds were. [Where was Duncan when I needed him?]

Monday, 21 July 2008

Living wild in Queensland

Our last day in Queensland, where it's 25 degrees. Tomorrow we fly back to Geelong where it's 12 degrees. I'll have to remember to dig my jumper out from the bottom of my case and put it in my hand luggage.

This post is about some more of the fauna we've seen on our holiday. The Australian Bustard beside the road near Undara was very stately. It was lovely to see one again after a break of many years.

The Wonga Vine, one of the few plants flowering at Undara, attracted butterflies and moths.

This tiny caterpillar dropped on to the newspaper from overhead foliage as we were having a cuppa - a remarkable creature. And the Lace Monitor Varanus varius is resident in the picnic area at Finch Hatton Gorge. I googled him and he's mentioned in lots of blogs.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Fungi on Kingfisher Walk

Kingfisher Walk is a great name, and it's actually a great little walk in Conway forest near Airlie Beach. But, the kingfisher referred to is the Buff-breasted Paradise-kingfisher, a spectacular bird that only appears in this area in summer. Darn it. There were other interesting things to see on the walk, including fungi even though it's not really very wet at the moment.

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Happy residents of Airlie

About ten years ago I was a member of a team competing in a Challenge Bird Count. Our area was the Bellarine Peninsula near Geelong and our task was to find as many species of birds as we could in one day. Every year we went to the site of the old Mannerim School because 'once upon a time' it was the last reliable spot to find Bush Stone-curlews, but we never saw any. Except once. As we wandered into the schoolground a shout went up as two of the birds flew away from us and landed in a nearby paddock. We searched for them, without success of course because they are masters of camouflage. But we counted them in our total. And they haven't been seen on the peninsula since.
Well, tonight we went into the village of Airlie Beach in Queensland for dinner, and my daughter and her husband declared that could easily find me a Stone-curlew. And they did. We walked towards the yacht club and there they were on the lawn, two Bush Stone-curlews almost mingling with the people walking in the balmy night air.
I want to know why the birds in Airlie are so happy to live in an urban environment and those in Victoria took fright and disappeared.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Broken River

Eungella National Park in the Clarke Range north of Mackay in Queensland is well known in Australian birding circles because of a honeyeater. In 1983 Longmore and Boles published a description of a bird they named the Eungella Honeyeater. It's the last indigenous bird species found in Australia. (Although the page keeps getting changed. The Painted Snipe is a case in point - apparently our Painted Snipe is unique so it's now Australian Painted Snipe or something similar.)

Yesterday we went to Eungella but I didn't look for the honeyeater (I'd need a guide I reckon, although a friend of mine followed instructions that went something like "Look in the puddle at such and such GPS location" and found the bird immediately.) Instead, we went to Broken River to look for Platypus. And found one near the information centre. The pool in the river was big, and deep, and in shadow, but we waited patiently and eventually were able to watch the Platypus diving and coming to the surface regularly. The photos below aren't mine. My son-in-law Adam has a better zoom on his camera. If you look carefully at the first photo you can see the Platypus in the middle - that's what you have to look for.

We also saw several tortoises (species unknown) on a log and in the water. It's a beautiful place.

And as a bonus, on the way to Eungella I followed location details on the birding-aus mailing list to find the Cotton Pygmy-Goose on Deadmans Lagoon near Proserpine. A new species for me.

Tropical delights

We've walked on a lot of walks in the rain forests of north Queensland in the last couple of weeks. The forests are extremely beautiful and lush ... but dark. And most of the good stuff happens way up in the canopy, and at night. But these are a few of the things I noticed and was able to photograph.

I was totally fascinated by this tree. The flowers grow straight out of the trunk, even at ground level. It's called Bumpy Satinash Syzygium cormiflorum and is common in the rain forests of north Queensland. Apparently the fruit bats and possums find them a very attractive food source too.

And in this one too, the buds were growing from the lower trunk of a very tall tree.

These are the buttresses of the Red Tulip Oak.

And Tully claims to be the wettest town in Australia, hence the gum boot. It was so wet when we were there I took this photo from inside the car.

Friday, 18 July 2008

On show

In the early morning light the sundews near the 100 Mile Swamp at Undara Lava Tubes were spectacular. I wish now that I'd stayed a little longer to study the insects caught in the sticky globules. I didn't think of it at the time, but they show up as blurred images in some of my photos.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

An almanac of essays

I'm missing my library of reference books, but have decided that names are an artificial adjunct of progress anyway, and that I can just enjoy the environment. A friend gave me Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac to read and I brought it away with me. The essays on conservation were written half a century ago but they are now a classic and I'm enjoying them immensely. Every second paragraph seems to have a 'quotable quote' and one or two might find their way into this blog. If you haven't read it try and get a copy from your library asap.

Working together

When I lived at Galiwin'ku on Elcho Island in the Northern Territory I was quickly introduced to Green Ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) - they bite, they're everywhere and (this is the bit that got me) the local yolgnu (aboriginals) used them for bush tucker - they ate the green abdomens because apparently they have a citrus flavour. Apparently, I say, because I could never bring myself to taste it.

Green Ants are also everywhere here in Queensland and they are remarkable for another reason. They work co-operatively to pull leaves together to to make nests, and hold and manipulate their larvae in such a way that causes them to excrete a type of silk to bind the leaves together.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Friday, 4 July 2008

A bottler of a tree

This tree is only found within 40 km of Airlie beach. It's a Bracychiton compactus and the locals have called it the Whitsunday Bottle Tree. It's currently listed as 'rare' under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act (1994).

The local council decided last year to survey the distribution of this tree, to determine whether it is under threat from urban development. Of course it is, but luckily it is growing in several reserves and is easy to propagate. One tree we found is on a new subdivision, sprouting pink tape and barrier cloth. Will it survive? We saw another at Shute Harbour in a reserve, and another, pictured below, beside a car pull-over.

The remarkable thing about brachychitons is that they store water in their bottle-shaped stems. Some of the bottle trees in northern Australia are remarkable shapes and we (and tourists) love them. The Whitsunday Bottle Tree isn't as big or as spectacular but still it should be protected. If I owned the block of land below I'd be making a highlight of the tree in my garden. I hope the new owners do as well.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Views from a boardwalk

We've escaped from the cold, wet and windy weather in Geelong. Here in Airlie Beach it's sunny and over 20 degrees. This morning we walked the 5 km boardwalk along the beautiful foreshore, had an icecream (selecting from the 40 varieties available and choosing not to have a Freddo Frog or Smarties or snakes mashed into it), and caught the bus home because we were exhausted from having a good time.

This is a beautiful area, and the developers are having a field day. The mangroves are getting a hammering but I think most of what is left will survive because of the boardwalk. But then we get blokes like this, pictured below, who thinks it's OK to clear an area to pull the boat up into.

Right near the centre of town, between the man-made swimming lagoon and the man-made marina there is a stretch of mangroves and it is there that we saw an Australian Brush-turkey playing with a coconut, and a male Great Bowerbird tending to his bower in amongst the mangrove stems a metre from the path. All of his decorations were green.

And suspended from a branch of a eucalypt was this metre-long construction that I thought was a wasp nest but I'm out of my comfort zone here. I've really got no idea! Any suggestions?

The Captain saw glasshouses

Drive north from Brisbane and you can't avoid seeing the spectacular Glasshouse Mountains - with equally spectacular aboriginal names like Mt Tunbubudla and Mt Tibberoowuccum.

We have seen them from a distance several times, and have yet to get up close and personal. Captain Cook didn't get close either. He saw them as he sailed up the east coast in 1770 and named them - apparently he thought they resembled glasshouses.

They 13 mountains are actually the remnants of volcanoes about 25 million years old, the plugs of molten rock have been exposed as the surrounds eroded away. The first photo was taken from the airstrip at Caboolture (where we went to see the one and only Beaufort Torpedo Bomber left from WW2, currently being restored by volunteers) and the second photo was taken from a lookout on the Mt Mee road.