The combination of ample winter rain and plenty of sunshine gets the first wildflowers blooming. Not even two weeks ago there were only a few Hovea’s to be seen, now the bush is full with them; Prickly Hovea’s (Hovea chorizemifolia), Tree Hovea’s (Hovea elliptica) and Devil’s Pins (Hovea pungens) – a royal purple spectacle.
The annual migration of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) along the coast of Western Australia is a true spectacle. While breeding in the warm northern waters of the Kimberley and feeding in the food-rich waters of the Southern Ocean, humpbacks travel long distances close to shore. The sheltered bays of Point Ann (Fitzgerald National Park), King George Sound (Albany) and Flinders Bay (Augusta) have always been particularly good places for us to spot those graceful animals during the winter months. Despite the fact that the water was rather choppy this time we managed to get some decent sightings of playful females showing loads of fluke- and fin-slapping. No doubt we’ll be back later this year for the gigantic Blue whales. Can’t wait!
The splendid firewood Banksia (Banksia menziesii) is a rather gnarly tree of the Proteaceae family that grows on the sandy coastal plains of Western Australia’s mid and central west regions. It flowers in autumn and winter after a lengthy process in which the inflorescence changes from a bare brown cone to a spectacle of more than thousand brightly coloured flowers.
As a profuse producer of nectar the Parrot Bush (Banksia sessilis) attracts many birds as for example Honeyeaters, Black Cockatoos and Ringneck or Twenty Eight Parrots. If the latter would eat the nectar the local Nyungar people knew it was safe to use the wood for message sticks and its spiky leafs for trapping fish. Nowadays this tree is highly valued for the beekeeping industry.
The western grey kangaroo (Macropus filiginosus) is one of four large kangaroos and wallaroos that occur in Western Australia. They are recognisable by the white marks on the forehead as well as their finely haired muzzle. Western grey kangaroos are grazers that feed on grasses and herbs, and like ruminants have micro-organisms breaking down fibrous plant material by fermentation. Most animals move out into the open at dusk to feed from late afternoon till early morning. With plentiful succulent green grass available close encounters such as in Yanchep National Park are pretty easy. Note the little Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) hopping around the roo in order to catch any creatures disturbed by their grazing.
Unlike the South African bushveld the landscape in Australia grows more colourful in wintertime. After the first heavy rains of Makuru (the cold and wet season of the Nyungar calendar) many trees have started flowering, bringing a kind of new life to the otherwise dry bush. On one of our walks near Victoria Dam we stumbled upon this beautiful Silver Princess or Gungurru (Eucalyptus caesia), a rare Mallee of the Eucalyptus genus endemic to the central Wheatbelt region of Western Australia. It is named after the grey-white powder covering branches, leaves and flower buds. While most of its fruits where still closed this tree had just started to show some magnificent red flowers, inaugurating the first colours of winter.
The weather is changing. May is a beautiful time of the year with mild days and crisp nights. Autumn’s chill creeps in and the first rains have started to transform the landscape with grass growing, water flowing and the first trees flowering. As soon as the sun appears on these cool days reptiles can be found on granite outcrops, absorbing heat to regulate their body temperature. When I was looking for Ornate Dragons (Ctenophorus ornatus) hiding in the cracks and crevices of the granite boulders, I actually stumbled upon this Bobtail lizard (Tiliqua rugosa) at the side of the trail. Absolute motionless with only its eyes observing my movements, it offered the perfect opportunity for some close-up shots. They are slow, docile and easy to pick up, and therefore often traded as exotic pets for as much as $9,000 on the Asian black market. In order to curb this practice smugglers are sentenced heavily while trying to get those reptiles out of the country stuffed in handbags or teddy bears. Sad but true. Confiscated Bobtails are …
One of the most distinctive sounds in the Australian bush comes from a bird that has become a real national emblem. Laughing Kookaburras (Dacelo novaeguinae) are social animals that mark their territory by laughing out loud around dusk and dawn in particular. The chuckling and laughter between whole families of these giant kingfishers is a spectacle that keeps me entertained over and over. Luckily some individuals have chosen a branch of a nearby Marri tree as their favourite lookout. You’d like to laugh your head off with them? Just click on the links below! http://soundbible.com/grab.php?id=1786&type=mp3
The Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea preissii) is endemic to south-western Australia and can be found in almost any nature reserve. In Western Australia Grass Trees are commonly referred to as Blackboys, but are best known by its indigenous name, Balga. The plant has always been extremely important for aboriginals and early settlers. Its thin fronds provided thatching material for shelters, while the resin which oozes from the trunk was used both as a binding and tanning agent. Because the resin is also highly flammable aboriginals used it as a firelighter, but when settlers cut down great numbers for firewood it disappeared almost completely from certain areas. As Grass trees grow extremely slow (about one metre in 100 years) it will take them a long time to recover, however, through a resurgence of popularity in using native plants for landscaping it has started to make a comeback in urban areas.
For as long as I have been in Australia I have always wanted to see a Carpet Python. Most bush walks go through amazing country, the kind of place reminding you of the garden of Eden, unspoilt, serene and beautiful. I have a habit that at the start of almost any of these walks I see the image of a Carpet Python winding itself around the branch of a tree, just as in those biblical images. After many years of walking with this idea in the back of my mind I never really thought I would have the privilege of actually seeing one. Until yesterday when we walked part of the Bibbelmun track, a 1000 kilometre long route named after the early aboriginal inhabitants of South-West Australia, signposted by Waugal, the rainbow serpent from Nyungar dreamtime; a Carpet Python… I caught the first glimpse of this mythical animal when we reached a clearing in the Jarrah woodlands of Beelu National Park. On a stretch of bitumen leading to a deserted airstrip we found this nearly two …
By the sheer number of droppings on the stairs and the penetrating smell of urine underneath the deck of the verandah we should have known we were going to share our Tree Hut with a bunch of possums. Just because of their rather physical presence many people regard those tree-dwelling marsupials as a pest, but because they are protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act possums can’t be removed without permission of the State government. Regarding the abundance of wild fruit on our property and the numerous spaces to establish dens, any vacant possum-smelling space would attract new residents in no-time anyway. Apart from their nocturnal ramblings and territorial fights I guess we have started to love our closest neighbours who come out underneath their Jacaranda tree at twilight almost every day; a routine that makes close-up encounters good fun for kids and easy for photographers!
Hurray! After a few months of hard work we have finally settled in. Our new house is adjacent to Lesmurdie Falls National Park, completely surrounded by tall Marri (Corymbia calophylla) and Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) trees. As the deck in front of the house is equally high as the canopy we have baptised this wonderful place ‘The Tree Hut’. The surrounding forrest is home to native wildlife including flocks of noisy tail waggling Twenty-eights, a subspecies of the Australian Ringneck (Bernardius zonarius semitorquatis), clearly recognised by its red frontal band and its distinctive ‘Twenty-eight’ call. The Nyungar called this bird Darlmoorluk and regarded it as a guardian or protector of their camps, keeping evil spirits at bay. So hopefully our home is blessed with having those happy birds around, providing us with a place from which we can live our dreams.
We are moving back to Australia. So a question frequently asked is about our chances of survival in the presence of dangerous animals, venomous snakes in particular. During our first residence I have witnessed only one unfortunate individual – through my rear view mirror after I ran over it. It doesn’t mean those beautiful creatures are not around, in contrary, some illustrious specimens like Tiger snakes and Dugites show themselves even in the Perth Metropolitan area where they prey on rats and mice, but mostly head away from humans rather than attack. While my experience with snakes is minimal, my wife has definitely seen more. During her work at the Albert Schweizer hospital in Lambaréné, Gabon, there were regular sightings of Black Mamba’s that took shelter in the tall grass and trees on the hospitals grounds. Although this snake certainly makes its casualties among the rural population, the real killers still are malaria carrying mosquitos. Nevertheless, the Black Mamba definitely is high on my list of animals I’d love to see from a save distance …
The Kija people of the East Kimberly Region in Western Australia are the traditional owners of the mighty Purnululu or Bungle Bungle range. They are the testimony of human presence in this area for at least 20,000 years, following a strong tradition in which ancestral beings, ceremonies and rituals constitute Ngarrangkarni, a complex term popularly known as the Dreaming or Law. The same Ngarrangkarni explains the creation of Purnululu’s sandstone structures, gorges and waterfalls through narrative instead of definition, leaving to our imagination the formation of the landscape by creatures as the rainbow serpent, frogs, crocodiles and fish. According to our Western point of view the sandstone beehive towers of the Purnululu Range were created by twenty million years of weathering by wind, rain and flowing water instead of spiritual creatures. The dark bands that wind horizontally around these structures are formed by cyanobacteria, single-cell photosynthetic organisms that belong to the oldest life-forms on earth. As the dark bands contrast with the lighter sandstone, the myriad of dome-shaped towers form one of the most extraordinary and unique landscapes of this continent. The evocative power of the Australian wilderness is …