Too many trees, not enough birds
By Barry Tucker
The turnoff to Eurobodalla National Park is only 6.5 kilometres north up the Princes Highway from my home in Narooma. Ideal for a quick get-away for a couple of days. You follow the sign that points to the rubbish dump and recycling centre, but you turn past that and head down a twisty, corrugated, single lane, gravel road. Turn off to the left before you get to Broue Beach. You are in your bush camp in no time.
You are also surrounded by trees. Too many Spotted Gums, among other varieties, and not enough birds. The trees grow tall, due to competition for sunlight, and suck the moisture out of the ground. The camp site is dry and dusty, covered with leaf litter and very little green grass. Burrawangs proliferate – more about them later.
I prefer to camp on open ground, with the trees a little further off. Camping under trees can be dangerous due to falling limbs. The River Red Gum is notorious for dropping heavy branches on unsuspecting and uninformed campers. If I have to camp under trees I check carefully for signs of lost limbs. If I see that branches have fallen in the past, I move on – definitely not worth the risk.
At first I thought there was a surprisingly small number of bird species. The only bird I heard at sunrise was a raven. Once I got out of the van I spotted Magpies, Currawongs, Kookaburras, a pair of parrots with yellow wings, several Fairy Wrens, a yellow breasted wren and something that looked and behaved very much like a female Satin Bower Bird, but with some pale grey colouring. One interesting character, as small as a Fairy Wren but with a shorter tail, would fly around the Spotted Gums, hovering while pecking at insects on the trunk or pulling off bits of bark in the hunt for breakfast. I may not have seen all the birds in the area, but I felt I should be seeing more types and more of them. Parts of the lake are a protected habitat for several water birds.
This was a short camping trip, so gear was kept to the minimum. The blue basin is for washing dishes and doubles as a fire-side table. The white one at the back of the van is for washing me. I have learnt to get by on very little water; 20 litres will last me a week easily, providing enough water for everything but washing clothes. I go for a swim or take a soapy sponge bath. Stripping off for a sponge bath by a decent camp fire is a rare delight, which is another reason why I prefer to camp alone, in isolated places.
The long stick leaning against the back of the van is my fighting stick. When I am alone in the bush I practice martial arts with the fighting stick. It’s a good way to hone concentration and co-ordination – get it wrong and you get a nasty whack somewhere. Get it right and the speed, thrill and satisfaction increases. Practising is also a form of meditation. I fell asleep in the van while imagining a new series of co-ordinated and flowing movements for the fighting stick. I also came up with some classy thoughts about night obscuring detail, illuminated by the light of stars, which remain obscure. When I woke up I couldn’t recall the phrase, which was much better than it sounds there. A poet I am not; a poor memory I am.
I have been to the Broue Lake camping ground three times now and on each occasion I have found an Aboriginal artefact, or what I think is an artefact. This one is an example of weaving a frond from the Burrawang tree. The lowest leaf is bent over parallel to the spine, and woven under and over the leaves above it. The pattern is repeated with each leaf. I found this specimen near the fireplace. Also nearby, the spine of a frond with all its leaves neatly cut off. This could be part of the makings of a basket or food carrying utensil. Fibres run up the spine, but I could only extract short pieces; this might work better with a fresh, green frond. A lot of National Parks are located in areas that were visited by native Australians for hundreds even thousands of years. Some, because of their resources, were training grounds to teach the skills necessary to make use of the surrounding resources, which includes seasonal foods and which change from one location to another. Aboriginal people still visit these areas, although I have never met them there. One reason for declaring such areas National Parks is to protect sacred sites and historical artefacts.
It’s interesting that the Aborigines should make use of the Burrawang frond. Another story I have heard is that the Burrawang is a favourite haunt of the bush tick. For this reason, a Rural Fire Service colleague told me, the Aborigines hate walking through an area containing Burrawangs. They would rather set fire to the area and walk through the following day, when the ground had cooled, picking up any edible birds or mammals that had been caught in the blaze. When Burrawangs are sufficiently heated by a bushfire they go off like Roman candles.
Broue Lake was formed by the sand barrier on the right of the picture. The murky horizon is due to fire hazard reduction burns inland. There were smoke hazard warning signs on the highway. The second lump on the horizon to the left of the centre of the picture is the Norfolk Pines along the beachfront picnic area at Tuross Head. It is now possible to walk from Narooma, along the boardwalk on the northern side of Wagonga Inlet, along the shared pedestrian/cycle path built by volunteers from the boardwalk to Kianga and Dalmeny, along the northern beach at Dalmeny, along the sand dune in the picture and further on to Potato Point and the camping ground at Blackfellows Point. After photographing the cute wallabies, grey kangaroos and Emu at Blackfellows Point you can keep walking north along the beach until you can almost reach out and touch Tuross Head.
Standing on the sand bar, looking south to Dalmeny, out on the point.
Broue Lake revisited
I made another overnight visit on April 28 and while I saw even fewer birds than previously, I had more luck with the furry critters. There appears to be two and maybe three species of Wallaby here, including the dark Swamp Wallaby and the one in the photograph, which I haven’t identified yet.
This was taken about 20 minutes after sunset. I’d rather not use the flash, but without it I would have got nothing. I’m not even sure this is a Wallaby. The black paws and muzzle are positive identifiers. The long jaw makes me think it may be a Kangaroo. Wallabies tend to have shorter jaws and a more triangular facial appearance.
A few minutes after sunset I glanced upwards (I don’t know why) and noticed two very small bats flying around in the space between the tree tops. Then there were six, then a dozen, then 20 or so. And after a few minutes they were gone. They made soft cheeping sounds every few seconds — their location sonar used to detect insects in flight. Their furiously fluttering wings made no sound.
Another night-time visitor was a large ‘possum. I heard it scrambling down the old gum tree behind me, then it appeared, walking by the camp fire. For the next three hours it walked back and forth from the tree to the bush. It might have been feeding young.
The thrill of the evening was a visit by a Potoroo. It passed by the edge of the fire light earlier, before the ‘possum appeared. Much later, either it or another one appeared from the same direction, checked the woodpile and the fireplace and then casually walked over and examined the x-trainer on my left foot. It then passed under my chair and wandered off. That was the second time I’ve been examined close up by a Potoroo when I didn’t have my camera nearby. They are curious creatures and will walk right up to you if you keep still; any sudden movement and they take off. Notice the long middle toe on the back foot. This is very distinctive and makes them easy to identify and track over sandy or dusty terrain. This Potoroo picture is from flicker.com.
This character visited next morning. Same black paws and on top of the muzzle. This looks more like a kangaroo than a wallaby. It’s about 2 metres from where I was sitting under the awning. If you are quiet and sit still in a camp site, many critters, birds and goannas will visit and wander through the place, checking everything out. I have seen where goannas have dragged their tails in and around the camp site, but I haven’t seen one in this location yet. There are more than 20 species of goanna (or Monitor Lizard) in Australia.
Well, waddyaknow! It’s almost in focus! This unknown species landed in a nearby tree, flew down and examined the woodpile, then made its way towards the awning. I remained standing and motionless to see how close the bird would come. When it seemed to be confident of its safety, I reached for the camera. It takes patience to get good wildlife shots, and probably better equipment than I have.
I had another overnight stay here on January 23, 2014, and, at last, saw goannas — two fairly big ones.
The goanna above is easily 2 metres long. Note the forked tongue.
I continue to see more birds during my visits to this camping ground, like the Yellow-tailed Black Parrot below.
There are other varieties of this parrot in Australia, including the Red-tailed and White-tailed. The wing and tail markings make a spectacular display when the bird is in flight or landing. Their call is not parrot-like, but reminiscent of an Eagle’s cry.
I spend a lot of time wandering around camp sites, picking up other people’s rubbish and burning it or taking it out with me. Hundreds of cigarette butts. Cigarettes are not good for you and tobacco, paper and filters are not good for wildlife. Discarded cigarette butts also look out of place and disgusting.
The most common litter items are bottle tops and the square plastic tags from bread wrappers. I’d hate to think what would happen to a bird or animal that swallowed one of those things. Any piece of plastic is a threat to wildlife, especially anything circular or a loop, such as discarded cable ties. Fishing line, short pieces of rope, string or nylon can entangle, injure or completely disable wildlife. Broken glass, discarded camping and sporting equipment, lolly wrappers, small pieces of broken plastic, plastic forks, paper plates, fast food containers, tin cans — anything you would find in a suburban rubbish dump can be found in an Aussie bush or beach camp site.
Spoiled, excess or half-eaten food should not be thrown into the bush. It’s not the stuff that wild creatures normally eat, is probably full of sugar, salt and chemicals they are not used to and it may do them more harm than good. My van always has a plastic shopping bag full of plastic shopping bags. I use them for my rubbish and any rubbish that I collect. It’s not hard to take this rubbish out and dump it in the nearest bin.
The bush is a great place to visit and escape the madness of city life. But it’s not your home — it’s the home of our wildlife and natural plants. Please treat it with respect and take your rubbish home with you or put it in the bin, if one’s provided.
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