Snakes vs whining teenagers

 

Tiger snake curled face crop longThis is what people who hate camping think it’s all about, right?  I suspect spiders, high winds and rowdy neighbours also make that list.  Yep, a big tick next to them too – it’s all to play for when you camp in the summertime in Wollemi National Park.

But Ganguddy, or Dunn’s Swamp, to give its inaccurate and charmless non-indigenous name, was just as marvellous this January as it was when we first visited this time last year.

Sunrise corner sky

Ganguddy in early dawn light

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View from the pagoda lookout

Yes, there were more reptiles – lethal and benign – but to balance it out, there was also less torrential rain.  At no point this year did it seem likely that the full set of adult campers, each clinging to a leg of the kitchen-gazebo, would take off and fly over the pagoda rock formations like a quartet of grubby Mary Poppinses.  It rained, but not inside any of the tents.  And the whining teenagers weren’t my delightful children but the feathered offspring of the camp ground locals.

Noisy friarbird getting food crop

Juvenile noisy friarbird wants a snack

It seems a bit unfair for such giant children to be demanding food, although Gisela Kaplan in her fascinating book “Bird Minds” suggests some evolutionary advantages to having hungry teenagers hanging around.  Apparently adults noisy friarbirds only feed the young’uns for three weeks after fledging -hard to believe this galumphing one was so close to being a fluffster.

But you can see where all that food goes.  You reckon your adolescent’s feet are big?  What about junior purple swamphen‘s clodhoppers?

Unhygenic as it sounds, the drop dunny seemed to be a particularly popular spot for a snack.  The baby grey fantails spent a lot of time looking deliberately cute there in order to get a feed.  If you were still uncertain about the superiority of the earth toilet, this little guy is a clincher I reckon.

The white-browed scrubwren also enjoyed loitering out around the toilets.  I didn’t see any juveniles, but then this one looked so stern, perhaps they were there but just too nervous to beg for tucker.

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Grumpy looking white browed scrubwren

The suspiciously touselled looking eastern yellow robin – a juvenile perhaps – had worked out that the best place for tucker is definitely the barbecue.

I’m not sure if the adult reed warbler had gone into head down, bum up, to feed some chicks, or if it was just going to extreme lengths to avoid facing the long-lensed papperazzi.  I was rather pleased when after two years of trying I finally got a picture of one, without even having to visit the Rylstone Guns and Ammo for a flame thrower to thin out that pesky, snap obscuring habitat.

And, miracle of miracles, I found an azure kingfisher without ADD.  I reckon I can put away my paddle now – 18 months of kayaking have not been in vain.

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At last – a sluggish azure kingfisher

The invasive gambezi minnows that fill this reservoir – built in the 30s as a water supply for a concrete works – seem to be an optimal snack size for the kingfishers – I saw plenty of them, along with a randy musk duck, the ubiquitous Eurasian coots and a pair of Nankeen night herons that alighted, mockingly, in the trees opposite the campsite, just after it got a tiny bit too dark for a decent photograph.  But there was nothing larger – no whistling kites, for one.  Judging from the frustration level of the fisherman in our party and the track record of these mosquitofish of outcompeting native rivals, I suspect there weren’t many more substantial meals to be had (on the bright side, possibly thanks to the fish, there weren’t too many mosquitos making meals of us either).

With all these LBBs – and all the fast moving ones I didn’t get a decent shot of – busy flocks of brown thornbills high in the canopy, white-throated tree-creepers spiralling their way up the tea trees, the baffling grey strike-thrush, the white-eared honeyeaters darting around in the dew drenched dawn – I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the snake that sidled through the camp site or or the one slithered along the ironstone tops.  Let’s hope the top predators were more successful at catching the flighty little buggers* than I was.

Western country rocks

Rock formations near the dam

Sunrise over swallow rocks

Dawn over “Swallow rocks”

 

*Okay I know red-bellied blacks mostly eat frogs, which is why they were down by the reedbeds near the camp. But I bet they don’t object to the odd gormless yellow robin if it’s available.

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There’s more info about the history and geology of Ganguddy in my previous post from here: In other sandstone country

In other sandstone country

Wiradjuri country that is, or Dabee country to be precise: Ganguddy, on the Cudgegong River, that flows west off the Great Dividing Range, not into the Pacific but into the Murray-Darling.  Not far from Berowra as the Australian Raven flies – straight across the Wollemi National Park – but a fair trek in the excessively laden ancient vehicle.

Still sandstone though – the older, niftier sandstone of the Narrabeen Group, as it resurfaces at the very edge of the Sydney Basin, with the even older coal measures being mined perilously close byLayers of ironstone make for fabulous rock formations (if slightly less way out than the famous pagodas of the nearby Gardens of Stone National Park).  And of course exceedingly soggy tent groundsheets when big rain sluices off the rocks faster than even sandy soil can soak it up.

Same old sandstone geology, plenty of still water, just like the Hawkesbury estuary down our way, but the critters are different.  The feathered food thief at Ganguddy isn’t a brush turkey, it’s the purple swamp hen.

The “house bird” is a cheeky superb blue wren, not a wattlebird.  Rainbow lorikeets – not a one.  And none of those aggressive urban generalists, the noisy minors or the magpies, either.  Instead crimson rosellas – a rarity in the northern suburbs of Sydney – lurk in implausible locations like the queue for the drop dunny for instance, or the reeds by the river bank.

The ubiquitous but largely invisible bird here isn’t a koel or a channel billed cuckoo but the aptly named clamorous reed warbler.  I was at times tempted to nip to the Rylstone Guns and Ammo for a small flame thrower so I could finally get that photograph, but then I reflected that a perfectly focussed snap of a tiny blackened corpse clinging in its rictus to a reed probably wasn’t in the spirit of the thing.

A fabulous place.  It’s tempting, what with proximity to World Heritage listed Wollemi National Park and all, to think of it as a wilderness.  But no.  Its gorgeous waterways are the product of a 1920s dam built to to supply a cement works, its teeming fish the introduced gambusia affinis – the “plague minnow” – that outcompetes the locals, though it does seems to keep the mosquito population down.  As a camper it’s hard to argue with that, although we didn’t see a single bat, micro, macro or meso, during our five day stay.

There’s something to be said for human intervention, as Tim Low says.  In the absence of railway station eves or even a well put together shed, the welcome swallows in desperation had to resort to nesting on the natural stone outcrops.  But the local water dragons and turtles seemed to relish the fetid smelling pond downstream from the dam.

A tranquil place with a violent past.  A “natural” place shaped for a very long time by people in ways that you see and ways that you (or at least I) don’t know enough to notice.  A familiar story, on sandstone and otherwise.