The carnivorous Red Ink Sundew (Drosera erythrorhiza) grows on the poor soils of Western Australia’s south west. It is a tuberous species that survives underground during summer, and emerges in abundance after the first rains in autumn and winter. It supplements its limited nutrient uptake by trapping anthropods with its glandular tentacles, with the glistening drops of mucilage resembling fresh morning dew.
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.
Each time I go out for a bush walk this time of the year I wonder which treasures nature keeps in store for us to discover. Because of the warm spring weather many plants and animals undergo a transformation; the flowering of the Moodjar or Christmas Tree indicates that hot weather is already underway, but before the season of Birak brings the wildflower season to an end the incredibly beautiful Myrtle flowers show off their purple splendour. And although both the Graceful and Rough Honeymyrtle (Melaleuca radula and Melaleuca parviceps) are most common it is the ostentatious Pink Flowered Myrtle or Kudjid (Hypocalymma angustifolium) that steals the show.
The Granite Petrophile (Petrophile biloba) is endemic to the south-west of Western Australia and mainly grows on the granite overlaying soils of the Darling Scarp. It is generally unremarkable, but when this shrub starts flowering in spring it displays pink, grey, white and yellow flowers arranged in a seemingly chaotic order only seen in works of Jackson Pollock – a cacophony of colours, shapes and textures that draws you in when engaging with it long enough.
Summer has really started with temperatures soaring to a record high of 44.4°C a few days ago. The bad news about those extreme conditions is that bush fires are an almost common feature this time of the year – and we already had some eerily close. Apart from their beneficial effect on the germination of native plants, uncontrolled fires can be devastating for men, property and wildlife. While taking some pictures of blooming Christmas Trees a few weeks ago I noticed a raptor cruising the high skies while using the early afternoon thermal currents. Excited as a young kid I started to look for its perch, and to my big surprise I managed to locate the nest about 300 metres from where I first noticed the bird! According to the distinctive high-pitched call there was no doubt I had found the hide-out of a family of Whistling Kites (Haliastur sphenurus), a medium-sized raptor found throughout Australia and New Guinea. Mum and dad perched on the high branches of a tall Marri tree, but my discovery held …
We have a family of King Skinks (Egernia kingii) living under the laterite blocks just in front of our tree hut. With the weather warming up significantly the entire family can be seen basking in the sun almost every day now. It is easy to observe them as long as you don’t make sudden movements or cast your shadow over them – those lizards are extremely shy and the slightest movement will make them hide in their burrow. Despite their skittish nature they’ll quickly take a peek to see if the danger has gone after being disturbed, and once your spotted they closely keep an eye on you. Smart thing to do when you’re considered a tiger snake’s favourite prey… Who’s watching? Tell me who’s watching. Who’s watching me? Rockwell – Somebody’s Watching Me
Sometimes we travel long distances in the hope of finding our favourite animals. The idea is to cover as much ground as possible to increase chances of crossing paths somewhere along the track. However, some of our most memorable wildlife encounters were right at the doorsteps from more or less permanent residences; rest camps, look-outs, campgrounds or, more recently, our own house aka Tree hut. Yes, staying put and quietly observing your immediate surroundings is often the best way to enjoy wildlife in a much more relaxed and natural way – at least in my humble opinion. Yesterday we experienced another highlight so incredibly nearby. Just when I wanted to go for a late afternoon run a rustling noise in the bush drew the attention of my wife. Careful analysing the sound we came to the conclusion it couldn’t be one of the Western Grey Kangaroos living in the reserve. Quickly grabbing the camera and climbing over the fence of the garden we tried to discover the tiniest movement in the scrubby undergrowth of the …
Common Donkey Orchids (Diuris corymbosa) are some of the easiest recognisable Australian orchids due to their large ‘Donkey ear-like’ petals. These orchids flower between August and October, and with the first specimens blooming on the sandy soils of the Darling scarp the first signs of spring have finally arrived. According to the Nyungar calendar this time of the year is called Djilba – the growing season during which a massive explosion of wild flowers in Australia’s South West is happening. In anticipation of this botanic spectacle it would be an understatement to say we are getting a little excited!
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 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 …
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.