Makuru is blue, Makuru is wet. The rain keeps falling, and the forest is full with damp, musty smelling wood. Fungi start fruiting, rotting away trees and leaf litter, like this Beefsteak fungus (Fistulina spiculifera). Known as Numar by aborigines, it fruits on Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) trees, producing a slow decay in the wood called ‘pencilling’ or ‘black fleck’.
The Western, Gregorian or Christian calendar is the most used calendar in the world, with twelve months and four seasons dividing each year. This is no different in Australia, where it was introduced by European settlers. However, the Noongar of Australia’s South West use a six season calendar, based on the emergence of plants and animals rather than solar cycles or dates, and the seasons therefore can be longer or shorter. More importantly, the Noongar were guided by them, as they provided crucial clues and information for when to substainably hunt, gather and take care of country. Blue Leschenaultia (Leschenaultia biloba) Purple Flags (Patersonia occidentalis) When living in the forest we experienced the significance of the Noongar calendar, and realised how far city dwellers are removed from the natural world. Throughout the years I have mentioned and used the names of the Noongar seasons in several posts, but realised they were never explained within their context (courtesy South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council): Birak (Dec-Jan) – Dry and hot – Season of the Young Bunuru (Feb-Mar) …
Last October we were privy to see some fascinating Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) when sailing with the awesome crew of Monkey Mia’s Shotover. This seems a redundant comment to make when Shark Bay is renowned for it’s big population of those undiscerning predators, but whenever they got close to the boat shivers of excitement ran through the crowd. Imagine how the plethora of sharks feeding on the carcass of a humpback whale off Steep Point last Friday must have left the people on those two boats in awe! The shared footage is filmed with a drone by Eco Albrolhos – please watch the final part of the clip and be convinced that a GoPro is a handy tool in those situations.
Last Saturday we battened down the hatches when a severe cold front hit Perth like a freight train, carrying destructive winds and dumping copious amounts of rain. No chance to go out on the trails, but excitement of things to come instead. Those early winter rains are essential for all future life, as this time of the year is called Makuru or the season of fertility in the Noongar calendar. This is the time of the year for birds to pair for preparation of breeding, like the Black Swan or Mali, and also the time for the first wildflowers, as the Pinheath (Styphelia tenuiflora), to emerge.
The Australian Shelduck (Tadorna tadornoides) is a gorgeous water bird. Its black head is separated from its beautiful chestnut coloured breast by a white ring, making it one of the easiest recognisable duck species in our wetlands. Shelducks are true wanderers, travelling long distances between the coastal lakes and estuaries and the inland Wheatbelt, however, some stay to breed in the metropolitan area during the winter months, such as this couple at the banks of Lake Herdsman. They pair for life, and the white eye-ringed female is constantly guarded by a watchful male – true love.
The Swamp Paperbark (Melaleuca rhaphiophylla), also known as tea tree or Yowarl, is a common appearance near rivers, lakes and salt marshes in the south west of Western Australia. Its name refers to the paper-like bark, and the long flaky strips were used by aboriginal people as roofing for shelters, carrying of water, cooking, medicinal purposes and smoking ceremonies. Most paperbark trees grow in flooded areas, providing the perfect refuge for the many water birds that share its habitat.
One of the most unusual residents of the Swan Coastal Plain wetlands is the Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes). Instead of relying on eyesight when foraging for invertebrates in deep and muddy water, the spatula-shaped bill is equipped with papillae that detect vibrations of prey. It can often be seen walking slowly through the water, sweeping its beak from side to side in search for insects, crustaceans and fish, or just perching on a branch of a Swamp Paperbark tree (Melaleuca rhaphiophylla), such as this one on the banks of Herdsman Lake.
Perching on the branch of a dead Paperbark tree, this Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena) is waiting to swoop down on the clouds of mosquitos that appear around dusk near the banks of Lake Herdsman, one of the most important wetland areas on the Swan Coastal Plain. The Welcome Swallow is called Kannamit by the Noongar people, who believe this fast and acrobatic bird is a sign of imminent rain.
The Swan River Estuary is the centrepiece of Perth. It’s a place of great cultural importance for the Whadjuk people, who believe the Swan River (Derbal Yerrigan) and its tributary, the Canning River (Djalgarra), were made by the dreaming serpent Waugal, creator of rivers, lakes and other landforms on its journey to the Indian Ocean. The same rivers offer recreational activities such as sailing, kayaking or scuba-diving to most city dwellers, while for me the surrounding trails, magnificent views and prolific wildlife are the biggest drawcards. From Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus), Western Australian sea horse (Hippocampus angustus) colonies, marine and estuarine fish to a huge variety of waterbirds, the biodiversity of this unique ecosystem is astounding. Photo-opportunities galore, like this portrait of an Eastern Great Egret (Ardea modesta) waiting on the shores of the Canning River jabbing at fish and frogs with its dagger-shaped beak.
“…en oock geen sonderling gedierte of gevogelte daer ontwaert, als ten principale in die Swaene rivier een soort van swarte swaenen, daer aff er oock drie levendigh tot ons gebragt hebben en wij UEd. gaarne hadden toe gestuurt, maar sij sijn alle een voor een korts naer hun herwaerts comste gestorven” – Iets over de reis van den schipper-commandeur Willem de Vlamingh, naar Nieuw Holland, in 1696 The first black swans (Cygnus atratus) were observed in January 1697 by Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh when venturing on a just discovered river in Western Australia. The black swans were a novelty, as back in those days everyone thought swans were white. The spooked expedition returned to the coast after this unsettling encounter, and baptised the river Swarte Swaenen Rivier (Swan River). The three swans taken on board of the vessels died before the end of the journey, however, a century later French explorer Baudin was more successful, bringing back those beautiful black birds to adorn the imperial gardens of Chateau de Malmaison.
“Moreover the purchasers of plants will often be able, by a reference to this sketch, to ascertain, by the names under which Swan River plants are offered for sale, whether particular species are worth possession, either for the sake of their beauty or singularity” – John Lindley, A Sketch of the Vegetation of the Swan River Colony Even when the forest is eerily quiet, when not a single sound can be heard, in the Australian bush there’s always something new and interesting to discover, no matter how small. On a recent walk I found those beautifully red hairy jugflowers (Adenanthos barbiger), a species of the Proteaceae family endemic to south-west Western Australia. Apart from the esthetic aspects, I often find the botanical history of flowers and plants equally interesting, as it reflects the amazement of the early botanists and explorers when new species were discovered – species that now have become so common and sometimes even unremarkable to us. The hairy jugflower was first described by John Lindley in A Sketch of the Vegetation of the Swan Colony. …
We’re into May already and well into the season of Djeran, with cool nights, dewy mornings and pleasant daytime temperatures. The colours around us slowly start to shift from predominantly browns to greens, and that feel will remain until at least the end of September. These conditions make spending time in the bush rather pleasant, and therefore I have been out regularly in the last month. Last week’s highlight was this inquisitive and frantically foraging Bandicoot or Quenda. With its brownish color it was fairly neutral against the leaf litter, so I desaturated the picture to remove color and increased the blacks for a contrasting fur and snout.
The Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera) might be Australia’s most widespread native pigeon, it might also one be the country’s most beautiful. This stocky bird is rather cautious and seldom allows a close approach, but its deep and penetrating “oom-like” call always gives away its location – and with some tact and patience those birds guarantee excellent photos when the greens and browns beautifully blend with the shadows of dusk.