Australian bushfires..you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone…

The devastating bush fires burning across much of Australia has made this a long and sombre summer for most Australians.  The extent of the bush fires, and the ferocity of those fires is unprecedented.

Today’s  newspaper has a photo of an older man, former owner of a lovely home in a community he and his wife loved; he pointed to the charred rubble on the ground and said…

life was good, and then suddenly there was nothing.”

In December and January many holiday makers go to the pretty NSW South Coast of Australia, and this year we too, intended to meet up with our family there for Christmas.

We cancelled our holiday just before Christmas, and stayed at home. Luckily we did. We had a lovely time at home, and cleaning birdbaths and watering was a daily occurrence.

In early January the fires tore across the south coast, destroying homes, and communities, and with some loss of lives.

The Brindabella Mountains during a hot summer.

Canberra too, is in a fire prone area, and, in January, as the fires continued to burn in National Parks and along the coast, we had to prepare ourselves for the possibility of leaving our homes at short notice.

What do you take when you may be leaving your home for good?  

A suitcase of clothes, essential documents, water, a full tank of petrol in the car, photos, and sleeping bags (where did they go…given away years ago?) USBs, chargers, torches, batteries, candles, matches, the list goes on.

If there is no power, we are back to torches, matches and candles…. the real world!

We have lived in Canberra for over 30 years, and those of you who follow this blog know that one of the joys of living in Canberra is that almost every suburb is surrounded by bush, and the birds, the kangaroos, wallabies are part of every day living for us.

A young kangaroo watching us as we walk up Mount Taylor is spring. (before the drought)
A very important looking Cockatoo, on his/her way to Mount Taylor..

However, this comes at a price during droughts and bush fires season.

Two young Galahs who always stay in family groups, or in pairs.

Communications during bush fire threats are much better these days, it brings a chill to all Canberrans to remember how poor the communication was during the 2003 fires.

These days we have a helpful app called “Fires Near Me” which gives daily and hourly updates on fires in our region.

During the really hot days, everything is quiet,  and the smoke from the surrounding fires is thick in the air. A quality index reading above 200 is considered hazardous to health. On one particular day the reading in Canberra was 5,000, the highest level in the world for that day.

It is a great relief when a cool change comes,  the smoke haze improves (for a while), and the birds come back again.

As the weather clears, the cockatoos fill the skies with their screeching as they swing confidently into the garden to check the almond tree..(miraculously full of fruit).

This  gives us an endearing sense of normality.

Cockatoos feeding in a nearby garden.  Paul says the cockatoos have an App called “Food Near Me”

Needless to say, they and all animals and birds are welcome to any food we can give them.

We live near Mt Taylor, home to many kangaroos, wallabies, birds, butterflies, lizards, insects, indeed, a smorgasbord of animal and insect life. Now, in the early morning and the late evening some kangaroos, one with a joey, come down our street to drink from the birdbaths, and buckets of water we leave out for them.

A group of volunteers called Water our Wildlife put stations of water in the same place daily so that the animals know where to go for predictable water supplies.

 As I write there are no active fires in or very near Canberra, however, we have been in a state of alert since the beginning of  January.  So much has been written about the fires, and so much sadness,  that I decided to just show some photos of our two most loved holiday destinations, both of which are also on high alert..

Kosciusko National Park ..(some contained fires in the higher regions)

This is an area rich in flora and fauna……

A sign near this beautiful Snow Gum (Eucalyptus trees) says “these grandfather trees are two and three hundred years old. Aboriginal tradition says that the spirit of ancestral travellers live in these warraganj (old snow gums)

During all the fires, there is the devastating loss of wildlife, flora and fauna, and loss of habitat for those who survive.

However, this little Pygmy Possum (a mouse sized marsupial) is capable of surviving for almost two weeks by bringing its body down to the low temperatures during times of extreme cold or heat. The biggest threat to this little possum is clearance of the land…another story.

Our second frequent and much loved holiday destination is:

The NSW South Coast ..also on alert..

We have spent many happy days with friends  walking along these pretty beaches solving world problems .

The bird life in this part of the world is amazing, and to see the birds fly between these beautiful spotted Eucalyptus trees, with jet pilot  precision,  is both stunning and a privilege.

The Rainbow Lorikeets are very noisy in spring when they feed off the flowers from the Spotted Eucalyptus  trees…and then reverse into the bird bath for drinks…ever cautious..

 

A walk through a wooded area near the sea..

I hope this young Swamp Wallaby, and others, have found safety..

Firefighters are often fighting for long days with extreme temperatures…no wonder they are sleeping on the ground.

Amongst all that is lost, and fear of what may be lost, is the absolute admiration and out pouring of gratitude for the fire-fighters.

They are the first port of call for wildlife too

this firefighter nearly missed the birth of his son.
The son of fallen volunteer fire-fighter Geoffrey Keaton receives a posthumous award on his behalf, from RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. Photo NSW RFS

Some firefighters have been killed, most with young families. These families have to grow up without a father, which is a life long sentence.

There is so much more to say about the generosity and kindness of ordinary Australians, the leadership and calmness of RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, and the heartfelt worldwide response, but I will leave that for another post.

Jessica, (blog:  Rusty Duck) will have seen that Kangaroo Island has suffered badly in every way from the fires, and has lost most of its Ligurian honey bees, believed to be the last remaining pure stock of bees found anywhere in the world.

Many thanks to all of you who have sent good wishes, it is lovely to have a blogging community across many worlds.

PS I will write about the gardens in New Zealand in February.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bermagui, birds, swamp wallabies, and deep sea fishing.

Bermagui Hotel photo: Sapphire Coast

Bermagui is a pretty town on the south coast of New South Wales.  It is not far from Canberra, and, needless to say, it is a holiday destination, and second home to many city dwellers.

We occasionally stay with friends in nearby Mystery Bay, and this often includes a visit to Bermagui. Along the way, we enjoy the magnificent scenery, a coastal bush walk, and, at end the day,  wonderful fresh fish to eat.

In 2012 Bermagui Dune Care began introducing native plants to Cuttagee Point. A year of so later, I took the above photo of early planting of the native plants. A sign nearby says,

Weed removal (such as Kikuyu and blackberries) and native re-generation and re-planting of addition local species is helping to restore the landscape and biodiversity value of the headland.”

The photo below was taken a few years later, just after much needed rain…ongoing planting but progress.

On our coastal walks we often see the hardy coastal Banksia.

Occasionally we see or hear a Kookaburra, also very  common in this area. Isn’t he perfectly camouflaged in his natural environment?  Along with the smaller bird, perhaps a Wattle bird.

If we are lucky we sometimes catch a glimpse of one of these little swamp wallabies…so very cute!

Prior to European settlement, this area was inhabited by the Yuin people, who lived, hunted and fished in the area.

The first Europeans to pass along  the coast were Captain Cook and his crew in 1770.

Camel Rock: Visit NSW

In 1798 the explorers George Bass and Matthew Flinders sailed down the coast and named this rocky piece of coastline, Camel Rock.

All along this coastline the sea is a turquoise colour, and thus the area is known as the Sapphire coast.

This coastline is the closest land in Australia to the Continental shelf. As a result, Bermagui has long been famous for deep sea and game fishing, including yellow fin tuna and marlin..

In 1937 the American western writer, Zane Grey was responsible for the town becoming more popular, when he wrote about his experience in a book called ”An American Angler in Australia.”

Zane Grey: Famous Biographies

Despite its occasional brush with fame, Bermagui remains a quiet pleasant town, with just enough music festivals, craft shops and eateries to make life interesting.

On this visit we stopped off at the fish shop for lunch, Paul and I had John Dory, and our friends had Blue Grenadier…I wonder if these fish are called different names in different countries?

We sat  in the shade of the enormous Norfolk Pine trees, looking up at the young cones above.

We enjoyed the view while we sat eating our fish and chips, and chatting about local and world events. By the time we left, there were very few world problems left to solve.

I hope you are having some sunshine where ever you are in the world today, or at least, may the snow be melting!

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved

 

Mystery Bay, birds, beaches, a swamp wallaby and signs of spring!

There’s some foot tapping going on here…..

Crimson Rosella

The seed bowl is taking a while to arrive today..

We are back in one of our favourite places, Mystery Bay, visiting friends.

Canberrans are not very far from the pretty south coast of New South Wales, and it is a wonderful place to visit for short holidays and long weekends (and is usually warmer than Canberra in winter, and cooler in summer).

Mystery Bay beach

Regular readers of this blog may recognise the sharp-eyed Kookaburra and lovely Spotted Eucalyptus (Gum) trees from a previous visit to this garden…

Kookaburra in Mystery Bay

The King Parrot, always a gentle and welcome visitor to a garden, looks as if he has been colour co-ordinated to fit with this birdbath..

The King Parrot in Mystery Bay

On the first warm afternoon, we walked to Mystery Bay beach and watched the soft winter sky turn pink. On the way home we noticed Wattle shrubs beginning to blossom… a sure sign that spring is on the way.

Wattles are Australia’s National Flower, and, as I remember it,  Wattle day used to be the 1st August, but now is 1st September….

During the weekend, we went with our friends to a music concert in the neighbouring town of Narooma. On the way home we saw this lovely flower, but I have no idea what it is…I’m sure someone will be able to help me out here.

The weather was taking a turn for the worst, but we still ventured a walk through the forest, to look at the Burrawang Cycads growing amongst the ghostly looking Spotted Gum trees.

The forest is part of the National Park, and provides a home for many birds and also smaller Australian animals like swamp wallabies.

We picked a wild and windy last day to go for a walk along 1080 beach…

No matter how windy the weather, the beach is still a good place for solving world problems..

However, the icy wind that day drove us back to the car….whose idea was this anyway?

Just as we left the car park we spotted this Eastern Yellow Robin, and he seemed to come down to greet us…

As we were driving back through the bush, we spotted this Swamp Wallaby munching on some Eucalyptus leaves….

A Swamp Wallaby is a small macropod marsupial. It lives in forests, woodlands and swampy areas…

Luckily he wasn’t going anywhere until he had finished his lunch..

I wish I had been able to take a photo of his long tail…quite remarkable..

Sadly we had to leave all this wonderful wildlife, and the good company of our friends to return to Canberra…

As we drove over Brown Mountain, we noticed it had been snowing…not unusual in this part of the world, but a first for us.. (and I think this would be called a dusting of snow in the Northern Hemisphere!)

This is a picnic spot on the edge of a little town called Nimmitabel. it had been snowing since Saturday, and the children nearby were having fun with toboggans…

picnic and rest stop at Nimmitabel

We chose to have our coffee in the warm new coffee shop at Nimmitabel on this day…

When we arrived home in Canberra, our regular King Parrots ( a pair) were having a much needed drink from the birdbath….

and, spring must be on its way because they had brought a baby King Parrot along to feed on the Japanese Maple..(I think this is a female as the male has an orange head)

The baby seems to be saying…….it is very cold for a first outing…

Such a cute baby!   I felt very pleased that the King Parrots had trusted their youngster to our garden for her first glimpses of the world….

Thanks for visiting  Canberra’s Green Spaces, and I hope you are enjoying your place in the world, whatever season it may be..

For anyone who missed my first post on Mystery Bay, and is interested in the area, here is the link….

http://www.canberrasgreenspaces.com/category/new-south-wales-south-coast/

Copyright Geraldine Mackey :  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Bay, Spotted Eucalyptus, Kookaburras and an historic village

On any given morning Canberrans wake up to the sound of Magpies warbling…a lovely song.

If you drive over the mountains to Mystery Bay  on the south coast of New South Wales…

you can hear an entirely different song sheet… that of the Kookaburra.

This bird is the largest member of the Kingfisher family, and is known as the Laughing Kookaburra, because of its raucous dawn call…almost always done in chorus with the whole family.

The name, the Bushman’s Clock was given to the Kookaburra by early settlers because every morning at dawn and then again at sunset the Kookaburras call could be heard.

This is still true today. My parents lived in an area surrounded by Eucalyptus trees and when we visited them, the Kookaburras woke us up earlier than our children!

We are spending a weekend with good friends,  relaxing amongst these magnificent Spotted Eucalyptus trees…

This graceful tree is smooth and cream in colour with grey spots coloured from older bark. The light changes on the bark depending on the time of day..

Sometimes the trunk of the tree looks like grey green silk..

 

 

 

 

 

The Spotted Gums (as they are known) have clusters of fragrant white flowers from autumn to winter. These flowers attract the birds, (especially the Rainbow Lorikeets) and honey bees.

(I can’t imagine the honey bees getting a look-in today with all the Rainbow Lorikeets here)

While we were in Mystery Bay the Rainbow Lorikeets could be heard calling and feeding on the flowers…occasionally coming into the garden to bathe or drink in the birdbaths.

They are canny little birds and here they have reversed into the birdbath, for a quick get-away if needed.

Under the Spotted Gums the Satin Bower bird is looking almost iridescent in the sunshine..

Here is his nest and lots of blue objects to impress the female in his life..

….I hope she is impressed!

Nearby is a plant called Heliotrope, and it is known for its wonderful vanilla scent, almost as if a cake is baking nearby….. I was hoping we could grow this in Canberra, but it doesn’t tolerate frost very well.

Whenever we go to Mystery Bay we visit the markets in the nearby  picturesque historic town of Tilba Tilba.

Traditional owners of the land are the Yuin people and their dreamtime stories live on in the dramatic rocks and volcanic landscape. Gulaga mountain is the sacred mother mountain of the region.

Historic town of Tilba: Eurobodalla Tourism photo

European settlement began in the 1800s. The rich volcanic soil around the mountain was ideal for dairy farming.  Later gold was found in the surrounding mountains, and this brought prosperity and more settlement to this region.

The historic town of Tilba is now full of  galleries, traditional crafts, coffee shops and cafes, and markets on Saturday.

When we visit the markets I usually buy some jam and chutney, and warm knitted clothes. I bought a soft felt lined pure wool beanie (hat) for the winter and a knitted hat for my granddaughter.

The gold mining dwindled in the early 1900s..

but the diary industry continued and thrived, and Tilba became the home of some world famous cheeses.

ABC Cheese Factory: Photo from Eurobodalla Tourism

On the way home we passed a farm set at the foot of Gulaga Mountain.(Mt Dromedary)

This farm was used in the filming of the TV series, River Cottage Australia (taken from the British series of the same name)  The series was about sustainable farming, growing produce to sell locally, cooking and sharing food and farming skills. The local community were often part of the film crew.

Once the series had finished, the house and contents were sold, and, Paul West, the central character of the show, said all the animals found good homes!

On our travels around Tilba we also found (surprise surprise) the Tilba Nursery…full of interesting plants..

With our new garden border just waiting to be filled by new plants, we couldn’t resist these two plants. The nursery man assures me they are hardy and frost tolerant.

Eryngium planum “Silver Santino” and Cephalonia alpina

There is just time to get back to Mystery Bay for a walk along the beach, on a glorious autumn afternoon….

It is amazing just how many world problems you can solve while walking on a lovely beach with  old friends…

I hope you are enjoying your green spaces where ever you are in the world….

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

Spring time at the coast

December is such a hectic Christmas month, I’m taking a nostalgic look at our visit to the South Coast of New South Wales in spring

…a stroll along the beach early on a soft spring day

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plenty of time to take in the details……

patterns in the water…

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……..on the sand and the rocks

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and little worlds,  all going about their day

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Later, we had coffee looking out over the Narooma breakwater….

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then we walked along  the craggy path to the headlands… I wished I’d had this photo while I was still teaching..

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We watched seals sunbaking on the rocks at the headlands…..regardless of the waves crashing up against them…

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Turning back from the headlands, is Narooma with Gulaga (Mt Dromedary) in the background.

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I love the inlets around Narooma, so still and calm…I’d rather be a pelican than a seal any day!

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On the way home we passed a valley full of lilies…yet I have trouble growing one or two in Canberra..

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Here is a hedge surrounding the car park at the local supermarket, a master-stroke of design for a public place, hardy and useful for birds. Grevilleas are planted along the southern side.

 

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The wattle birds and parrots are feeding and chatting everywhere

 

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On the side of a busy road, this New Zealand Christmas bush was flowering in all its splendour

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We took a quiet back track through a small forest of spotted gum trees on our way home.

A curious Red-necked Pademelon, (related to a Wallaby) stood looking at us..It was so quiet he stayed for a while

….and made our day.

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When we arrived back at our friend’s house, (Gardener Extraordinaire), her neighbours had given her some kangaroo paws and bottlebrushes from the garden.

So much to see and do on a spring day at the coast!

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All photos copyright to Gerrie Mackey

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canberra’s south coast……birds, shrubs and drama at sea

Many people in Canberra consider the South Coast of New South Wales as a second home. It is a commutable distance from Canberra, the climate is more temperate and the sea….

 

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…..no wonder it is called the Sapphire coast!

A  good friend and gardener extraordinaire, invited us to stay for a few days.

Her garden is full of colour, from bird antics….

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this King Parrot is a regular in the garden, named Winston…….because he never gives up
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…and it always pays off!
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a visiting Kookaburra nesting in the nearby spotted gum trees..

 

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Rainbow Lorikeets…always up to something!

 

to diverse shrubs……

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Grevillea Sylvia

 

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Grevillea Superb

 

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Tree Fuchsia Arborescens..attract bees particularly the Blue-banded bee
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Blue mist plant, with the lovely trunk of the Spotted gum trees behind it…

Whenever we go down to the beach at this time of the year, we look out for a whale sighting

Each year, in late winter and spring this coastline is a route for migrating whales. They swim south from their northern breeding grounds to a summer of intense feeding in the Antarctic Ocean.

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This migration has been going on for millennia with coastal Aboriginal people witnessing their passing and occasionally feasting on a beached whale.

With colonisation came the whaling industry which almost brought the whale population to extinction. Now that whales are protected, almost worldwide, the populations of whales have made a slow but steady recovery.

Montague Island is nearby, and the area is well known for being rich in krill and close to the continental shelf, making it a popular feeding ground for whales, especially female whales and feeding calves.

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Unfortunately yesterday, a young Humpback whale (with its mother) had been spotted entangled in fishing tackle. As there were high winds, and its mother was naturally protective, it was impossible to attempt any rescue.

The Marine Parks Authority staff, the National Parks and Wildlife services and many volunteers became involved in the rescue attempt. They tied floatation Buoys to the fishing tackle around the calf to keep track of them and also to stop them from diving down.

 

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When we took this photo they were waiting in an inflatable rescue boat alongside the mother and calf for an opportunity to cut the calf free.

While we waited we walked along the coastline……IMG_5767 (1024x706) (979x634)

And had a look at all the marine life along the jetty at Narooma…

 

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IMG_5831 (1024x768)and a little Sooty Oyster Catcher, looking as if he was made of black and orange velvet.

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Just on dusk, we heard the team had managed to cut 150 metres of nylon fishing tackle from the young whale. They used hook-shaped knives on long poles, a dangerous operation.. as the NPWS operation coordinator said

while conditions were good, agitated whales always make for a dangerous operation. It was very satisfying to see the calf re-join its mother and the pair continued to head south in the evening.”‘

 

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I think a collective cheer must have rippled along the coast as people waited to hear the news…and what a brave rescue crew, facing an understandably agitated mother and calf whale.

A beautiful evening walk along the beach was made all the sweeter.