Tamar Island Wetlands, Launceston

During a trip to Launceston, Tasmania, earlier this year, I ventured out to Tamar Island Wetlands Centre and Reserve. On a windy day in the middle of winter, it wasn’t perhaps the optimal time to have a look but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I trotted to the visitors’ centre and paused for a moment to watch black swans on the water. There is something mesmerising about watching them dip deeply into the water for food with their impossibly long necks. I had been spotting them around most bodies of water that I’d passed in northern Tasmania, but it was nice to be able to pause and really watch them for a while.

Tamar Island views

Tamar Island views from the boardwalk

A boardwalk travels across reed beds, winding its way over bodies of water. The boardwalk is well designed and wire ensures slippage is minimal. This matters, particularly as the walk is a long one and it was busy enough on the day I was wandering about. Along the long bridges across the waterways, there were inset areas for resting or watching, which came in handy.

Black Swan

A black swan landing in the estuary

Guides suggest an hour and a half to two hours for the walk out to Tamar Island and back, and with some dawdling it took me about the two-hour mark, although I was quite a bit quicker on the way back courtesy of a strong tailwind.

Tamar River

Tamar River views

But what of the birds? Apart from black swans, there were ducks, lots of fairy-wrens, strident purple swamphens, Tasmanian native hens and chestnut teals, amongst others.

Common starling

Common starling on Tamar Island

Tamar Island is about seven hectares, and there are signs of earlier use around the island. A number of exotic trees can be spotted, including cedar, elm and an English oak tree. The oak tree has an old plough embedded in it. There are some fruit trees and pathways which provide hints of the occupation of the island before usage of this Crown Land was returned to the government.

Swamp paperbark

Swamp paperbark

This was an enjoyable walk through estuarine wetlands with many highlights including the common reeds along the boardwalk, the swamp paperbark and, of course, the birds. The Tamar Island Walk is another of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks.

[Photo: black swan in flight above the Tamar River]

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Dove Lake Circuit, Cradle Mountain

One of the most exhilarating walks I’ve done this year was the Dove Lake Circuit at Cradle Mountain. It is one of several walks available in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park in northern Tasmania and is one of the more manageable walks for visitors with limited time in the area. The park is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and is regarded as a place of unique beauty with diverse vegetation in an alpine setting.

Mt Roland topped with clouds on road from Sheffield

Mt Roland topped with clouds on road from Sheffield

Getting to Cradle Mountain takes about two and a half hours from Launceston, about the same from Hobart and slightly less from Devonport. I travelled from Launceston via Sheffield, fortifying myself with a cup of excellent Tasmanian coffee in this tidy town of murals before continuing on. The road to the park spiralled about with many hairpin bends during the ascent. I had picked the day with the best weather outlook, but even so, there were light showers along the way and there were stretches when I was seemingly driving through rainbows. The vegetation changed from rich green fields with cows grazing on stubbled fields to low growing heath with the shift in altitude.

Snow capped peaks around the lake

Snow-capped peaks around the lake

Parking is available at the entrance of the camp, along with a cafe and tourist information centre. I bought a day-pass which included shuttle bus rides to various points of the park, and this took me to the edge of Dove Lake. It is recommended that all walkers register their departure and return at a cabin, so I did this before heading off in a clockwise direction around the lake after taking a moment to soak in the vista of snow-capped mountains.

Fungal growth on branches

Fungal growth on branches

The circuit is mainly crushed stone and gravel interspersed with wooden steps, requiring some tricky manoeuvres around errant tree roots and the like. There are some stretches of boardwalk but the main track is the gravel pathway.

Tea tree blossoms

Tea tree blossoms

There were quite a few people also walking the circuit, and polite greetings were exchanged as we moved past each other. Early on in the walk, I was impressed when a couple ran past me; this impressed me more the further I went on. There are some stretches of the circuit that are steep and stepped in parts, tricky enough to navigate at a measured pace.

Water and mountains

Clear lake water with mountains in the background

Clouds were apparently drawn to the top of the peaks, but it was still something out of this world to marvel at the mountains curved around the lake. As a contrast to the sheer magnitude of all that rock, I found delight in spotting different flora along the walk. There were pink mountain berries, tea trees, hakea shrubs and little bell flowers. The lichen also caught my eye – so many different colours, and there were parts of the walk where it was like walking through a bright green world. I was also fascinated by the warm tiger tones of one of the gums, luminous against the green. This walk would offer different delights in every season.

Tiger stripped trees along the boardwalk

Tiger stripped trees along the boardwalk

Along the way, there were some places to stop, rest and take in the surroundings. Some places were covered in snowy ice, but the sun kept peeping through the clouds to offer warmth between the cooler moments.

Trees with unusual shapes throughout the ballroom forest

Trees with unusual shapes throughout the Ballroom Forest

Towards the end of the circuit, there is the beautiful Ballroom Forest. It is a cool temperate rainforest with myrtle-beech trees in a moss-covered world, with wonderfully clear water crossing underneath the boardwalk in parts. The final stretch, reached after a steep climb, winds its way around the boathouse which was built in 1940 by the first ranger at Cradle Mountain. From there it was a short walk back to the carpark and a return to reality.

Boathouse on Dove Lake

Boathouse on Dove Lake

The circuit is about six kilometres and takes about two hours to walk, longer if you take your time to take in the beautiful surroundings. It was an amazing experience and is one of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks.

[Photo: cloud-topped view of Cradle Mountain from Dove Lake]

A Winter Bird Walk at Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens with Carol Probets

A visit to the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens is one of my favourite immersive experiences. I have been there several times over recent years and have enjoyed different aspects of the extensive gardens throughout the seasons. Sometimes I head over for a wander with a specific purpose in mind, such as looking at Australian flora or to enjoy the beautiful autumn colours. At other times I will just go and have a walk and see what I find.

Each season there is the opportunity to join in a bird walk with birding guide Carol Probets. The walk involves an early start (8 am at the garden gates) and provides a rare opportunity to explore parts of the gardens before the usual opening times (9 am on weekdays, 9.30 am on weekends). There are a wide variety of plants and paths throughout the garden to explore, and on a frosty winter morning, there was a lot of bird activity.

New Holland honeyeater

New Holland Honeyeater

Carol led the small group through the Proteaceae section, which was very popular with the honeyeaters. There were quite a few New Holland Honeyeaters flying about and perching atop tall, bare trees to survey the area. There were also quite a few Eastern Spinebills enjoying the nectar, as well as Little and Red Wattlebirds in the area.

Eastern spinebill

Eastern Spinebill

We headed through part of the rock garden and near the bog garden where there were some very busy White-browed Scrubwrens fossicking through the undergrowth. Several Crimson Rosellas were picking through the lawn throughout the Brunet Meadow, and a male and female Satin Bowerbird perched on a table and chair setting before joining the rosellas on the hunt for treats through the grass. A kookaburra looked on from a nearby branch before spotting something and flying off.

Eastern yellow robin

Eastern yellow robin

As we walked towards the conifer species section, we passed by the remnants of a bower with flashes of blue and yellow. The bower wasn’t being maintained as it was not breeding season, but it was protected by hedges. An eastern yellow robin appeared and seemed to pose on lower branches for a spell, then our attention was caught by a mixed flock of birds high up in some gum trees. Carol identified a Golden Whistler along with Lewin’s Honeyeater and a White-throated Treecreeper. There were also Brown and Striated Thornbills flitting about the branches.

White-browed scrubwren

White-browed scrubwren

We returned to the Visitors Centre for morning tea and a general discussion about birdwatching. This included the chance to review some of the bird and field guides along with a discussion of some of the apps that are available to help identify birds and enhance the experience. Guidance was provided on setting up binoculars along with tips on how to spot and identify birds in general. Carol spoke about bird behaviour along with the challenges of identifying birds as their feathers change throughout the year and can also vary in different geographical areas.

Kookaburra

Kookaburra

It was a perfect winter day for enjoying the gardens and the abundant birdlife in the area, and Carol is a generous and very knowledgeable guide. I am looking forward to my next visit to the gardens, and the next, and the next!

[Photo: red-browed finches spotted bouncing around the lawns]

Green

Green is my favourite colour. It is the colour of the leaves on the trees in my garden, the hue of the grass at different times of the year. It is the colour of new growth: fresh shoots signifying a change of season, the promise of the scents of spring.

It isn’t always new life. Sometimes it is the colour of fallen leaves, gum leaves with their seemingly infinite variety of shapes, some with bumps and modules along the veins of the leaves. They still carry their scent, a tang of evaporating bush oils.

Satin bowerbird

Satin bowerbird at Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens

There is the mottled green set in a pattern of scalloped feathers on the undercarriage of a satin bowerbird, either on females or the younger male birds up to the age of seven years, give or take, when their feathers take on the dark plume of blue-black satin.

Pine tree frond

Pine tree frond

Pine trees, tall and straight, are easily characterised by the green needles. Look closer on the trunk to see brown whorls and curling bark in contrast against the green foliage.

Old shop tile at Portland

Tile on old butcher shop at Portland

Polished green tiles in a country town reflect the passing cars and pedestrians. They have raised textures, a bulls head and a rams head. The building once housed a butcher shop, the tiles marked the trade.

Brush Farm at Eastwood, softened by greenery

Brush Farm at Eastwood, softened by greenery

Green is the ivy that curves with thickly cloying tendrils around the fenceposts before skirting along parts of the fence line. It sneaks into available space, softening the hard edges and drawing the eye. For that is what the colour green does.

What’s your favourite colour?

[Photo: green outlook at Lake Pillans, Lithgow]

A Good Day Out

There is something that truly delights me about seeing birds when I’m out and about. This is easier at times than others, but I seem to spend a bit of time looking at the canopies of trees, patiently waiting to spot birds which are flying about and twittering above. I have learned to stand very still and to watch for branches being pulled about by birds on the hunt for nectar or insects.

There is a special kind of delight that I feel when I spot a bird that I’m not familiar with. As I am still relatively new at this bird spotting game, this happens fairly often. It can be frustrating to hear but not see a bird (and my ear for bird calls is very much a work in progress), or to see one flit by but not know what kind of bird it is. When I can, I will take a photo but again this can be an exercise in frustration as there are many blurred shots of wings, beaks and bird bums which really don’t help in identifying the complete bird.

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Wattle blooms to brighten a winter day

But then there are days when it comes together. I took a drive down to the Evans Lookout recently at Blackheath. I have been here before on sunset, and it was such an amazing moment when the sheer scale of the Grose valley was revealed that it took my breath away. Although it was an overcast day, I thought I’d take a look in daylight and revisit the view.

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Grose Valley views from Evans Lookout at Blackheath

The view was spectacular, with the shifting clouds creating vistas speckled with light and dark shadows. Throughout the valley, I could hear the ting of bellbirds way down below. Back at the car park, I was getting ready to get in my car when a small bird caught my eye. It was bouncing about, moving across the dirt path and bitumen with agile bounds. I followed it a little way and managed a photo or two before a car came in and it seemed to vanish. I started to drive out and saw a clutch of three birds, so I pulled over and grabbed my camera.

These birds were a delight to watch, dancing about with jaunty flicks of their tails. The lookout is a popular spot and they were not at all phased by me or my car. It was a treat to watch them bounce around, searching for insects.

Rockwarbler

A rockwarbler in-between hops at Evans Lookout

The next part of the challenge is to then identify the bird. One of my most used reference books is Birds of the Blue Mountains, but I had to flick through a field guide to identify the little birds as rockwarblers. These sweet birds are the only bird endemic to New South Wales, and they are usually found in areas where there is sandstone.

Just around the bend, I had to pull over again as a bird was on the road. Another bird that I wasn’t familiar with. I walked back and spotted it in a tree and took the photo below. It was a grey shrike-thrush, known for its beautiful calls.

Grey shrike-thrush

A grey shrike-thrush spotted near Evans Lookout

Spotting and identifying these birds bring a joy and satisfaction that is hard to convey. And it definitely makes it a good day out!

[Photo: rockwarbler hunting through leaves at the lookout]

John Clarke on Nature and Walking

I think one of the useful things about an interest in nature and in walking and looking is a loss of the self. To completely lose yourself is a great pleasure especially if what you do for a living is put yourself up in some way which is psychically tiring. One of the principal joys of birdwatching is that you are being responsive to the world, you’re just another creature. You are the tool of the world. You are not mastering it, or moulding it to your image or any such piffle, you are reminded of what a pipsqueak you are.

John Clarke 1948-2017

There is a link here which shares some of John’s amazing photos. Also check out this link to his website.

When was the last time you lost yourself in the natural world?

[Photo: superb blue wren spotted in Canberra]

Three Moments

There are times when it is easy to get caught up in the challenges and dramas swirling around in our lives. During these periods, I feel like I spend a lot of time in my head, thinking through problems or planning ahead to avoid obstacles. This sometimes means I forget to pay attention to what is around me, until a moment of something ordinary yet beautiful shakes me back into the present.

Sanctuary

A small grove of trees

This is one of the sections of a walk I take occasionally in my village. It is located on a long road, and I tend to walk it of a weekend when there is time to dawdle about and really enjoy the sights and sounds. It might look like a grove of trees, but for me it is a reminder to enjoy moments of serenity and to take in what is around me.

Over the summer there have been flocks of Gang-gang cockatoos swooping through the upper Blue Mountains. A couple of years ago I wasn’t even aware of their existence, but then I saw a great photo at an exhibition at Everglades. The bird in the photo was a shade of lilac blue with a bright red head and it reminded me of a woman in a dressing gown somehow! It has been a delight to see these cockatoos in the area, and my first sighting of them was a flock in some tall gum trees. It took me a moment to work out what they were, and since then I have listened out for their cries and watched them move around the neighbourhood. I spotted these up the road whilst walking my dog (male on the left, female on the right). They weren’t bothered by the pesky human with a small camera finding delight in their everyday actions, and it made me smile for a long time.

Plant

Tea tree blossom after the rain

It is hard to resist a pretty bloom, regardless of how distracted you might be, but paying more attention contributes to my growing appreciation of the natural world. During a walk I spotted this tea-tree in flower, close to a banksia tree. It was just after a morning shower and the blooms were almost luminous.

Have you been surprised by small moments lately?

[Photo: tea tree blossom]

A Little Ray of Sunshine

Sunflowers make me happy. I don’t know why, they just do. I’d managed to forget this until I was momentarily stunned by a mass planting of sunflowers outside a block of units on a recent drive through Lithgow. They were so bright in the dull afternoon that I parked the car and trotted over for a look. I was close enough to take a photo when a man emerged from the depths of the flowers – he was the gardener.

I complimented him on the beautiful flowers and he said he was very pleased with them. We chatted for a while and he told me that it was the first time he’d planted sunflowers, and that he’d grown them from seed.

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Sunflowers both open and preparing to unfurl

The weather in Lithgow can vary from cold snaps to warm spells, or as the gardener said ‘take more turns than a week’ and that this created some anxious moments when shifts in the weather may have had an adverse impact on the plants. But on the day that I passed by they were looking spectacular, a mixture of fully bloomed sunflowers and others that were a little slower to reveal their splendour.

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One of the dwarf sunflowers poking through the skirts of the stalks of the sunflower garden

Neighbours had shown interest in the plants and there had been various requests for the seeds once the blooms were spent. As I left, the gardener was talking to another person drawn like a bee towards the bright flowers about how he was keeping an eye out for the white cockatoos who would no doubt be interested in the seeds as well.

When was the last time you were delighted by something unexpected?

[Photo: sunflowers in bloom]

Jottings on Jacarandas

Although the magnificent lilac-blue blooms are beginning to fade, I thought I’d take some time this week to celebrate the magnificent jacaranda trees that bring such delight each spring.

They thrive in the warmer climate of Sydney and surrounding areas, and I have noticed on recent train trips that they don’t appear much beyond Faulconbridge and Springwood. Perhaps that is why they seem to be more spectacular to me in recent years as they are not a constant backdrop in the upper mountains.

Avenue of jacarandas in Victoria Park, Dubbo

Avenue of jacarandas in Victoria Park, Dubbo

Many people admire their blooms, and it has been a newsworthy issue of late with tourists getting into a bit of bother by blocking streets or propping at odd angles in order to get the best selfie with jacaranda blossoms as a backdrop.

I heard a story which might be an urban myth about Sydney hospitals sending mothers and their new-born babes home with a jacaranda seedling, with the trees growing alongside the children. Whether it is true or not, it is sweet image and casts a different light on the lilac trees scattered throughout Sydney suburbs and further afield.

Little wattlebird in jacaranda tree at Kiama

Little wattlebird in jacaranda tree at Kiama

I came across a wonderful article by Helen Curran of Sydney Living Museums titled The Dream Tree: Jacaranda, Sydney Icon. It provides an overview of Sydney’s love affair with the jacaranda tree and its transformative effect upon the landscape from October to November. It is hard to imagine now, but as an imported tree from Brazil, initial plantings were limited mainly to botanical gardens. The rarity only enhanced its appeal with an assertion in the Sydney Morning Herald that it was ‘well worth a journey of 50 miles’ to see the tree in the Botanic Garden.

There were issues with propagation and it wasn’t until 1868 that this was overcome. The trees became more widespread and were a popular choice for public planting programs from the early to mid-twentieth century. One of the loveliest references in Curran’s article was a tree at Potts Point known by children as ‘the dream tree’, which seems to capture the magic of the jacaranda.

A lovely painting of jacaranda trees spotted at op shop recently

A lovely painting of jacaranda trees spotted at op shop recently

But it isn’t just Sydney, of course, that holds jacaranda trees in high esteem. Jacarandas can be found up and down the coast, and Grafton has so heartily embraced the jacaranda tree that there is an annual festival for all things purple, including a street parade and key locations which offer particularly photographic specimens. Listening to a podcast recently, I heard how the jacarandas in Queensland have deeper hues of lilac than those further along the eastern coastline, the colours shifting slightly as the trees blossom in succession through Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Curran provides a perfect summary of Sydney’s enchantment with jacarandas:

The jacaranda may not always have been Sydney’s, but for a few magical weeks it is a dream tree for the city – ardently, abundantly ours.

Do you have the delight of jacaranda trees in springtime?

[Photo: jacaranda and flame tree blossoms entwined – a popular pairing and visual treat]

Jacaranda, A Poem by Vivian Smith

The images that spring to mind are not

the images I need to catch the feeling:

soft-focus photograph or ballet girl in veils

or even sea light moving on the ceiling –

 

plangent, wispy, soft in the wrong way.

I need the point where strong and frail combine:

the drift and fall of mauve in powder blue,

the cool leaf’s fishbone shadow line.

 

Washed out, fastidious, the blue

jacaranda flowers in the street

with all the creative happiness of art,

showing age and lightness still meet.

 

It brings the same joy again this year.

When he was four my son running to greet

his mother called, “Hey look at the blue tree:

the jack on the veranda’s in the street.”

 

by Vivian Smith

[Photo: jacaranda blossoms]