The recent lock downs for the COVID 19 outbreak had a very strange effect. Living in York we don’t visit the coast very often, but as soon as the Western Australian government said we could leave our region all I wanted to do was go to the coast. I suppose it’s a bit like being on a diet and then spending all day obsessing over food. Well with the lockdown over we put the dog in kennels and headed down to Mandurah for a couple of days to get an oceanic fix.
Now the plan was to spend three days visiting some reserves around, but as Robert Burns once said “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.”. The first spot we went out to was Lake McLarty, but there was no water in the lake and no birds to be seen. To cap it all the weather was grim – a storm front was closing in. So we decided to cut our losses and head in land to Pinjarra and walk along the Murray River and visit the Edenvale Heritage Tearoom. Well the tearooms were still shut because of COVID so we settled for a walk along the the river.
The next day the weather was grimmer than the previous day’s. We were wearing enough clothes to make Captain Scott of the Antarctic fame look severely underdressed. The morning’s activities were to be based at the Creery Wetlands Reserve which was only a short way from where we were staying. Although wet and bitterly cold we had more success than the previous day. It is amazing how much wildlife can be packed into a small area just minutes from a city centre. If you are in the area it is well worth visiting, don’t let the fact that the entrance makes it look like an off-shore detention camp put you off. As you cross the bridge you get the feeling a couple of Border Force goons could jump out of the bushes and indefinitely detain you. Once in side you can commune with nature to your hearts content.
OK that maybe a little bit melodramatic, but there was no doubt that getting out and about after a few weeks of lockdown was a bit of a rush! So where did I go? What did I do with this new found liberty? Well I went to Wongamine Reserve near Toodyay to look for two types of orchid and do the walk trail. Pretty sad eh?
The reserve isn’t really visited any more the gates are locked and many of the signs broken or over grown. In fact speaking of overgrown the walk trail is so overgrown in places that I suggest that if you do want to visit and walk there that you take a GPS and download the walk track from Trails WA and follow that.
Was there anything positive about the visit? Well yes there was actually. The woodland is home to quite a variety of bird life – I didn’t photograph any as I was not carrying a suitable lens as I had gone to photograph orchids. I would expect from walking through the bush that would be quite a display of wildflowers in spring which would make the journey well worth while. There were quite a few species of dragonflies as well which at the time surprised me for some reason.
Did I find the orchids? Well the Winter Spider Orchid is only 6cm tall with a 2cm flower and the Crinkle-leafed Bunny Orchid is 10cm tall with a 9mm flower and considering that the reserve is 330 ha of bushland I think I did well to find anything at all. I didn’t find any Winter Spider Orchids, I have photographed them before at Babakin, but I found lots of the Bunny Orchids. In fact I never seen so many Crinkle-leafed Bunny Orchids before. So all in all it was a great day out.
This could have been titled Hyden – the return. Hyden is a small town in the middle of the Wheatbelt in Western Australia some 292Km east of Perth. Regular readers will remember that we’ve been before and maybe somewhat perplexed as to why we’d bother to visit again. Well Hyden’s claim to fame is Wave Rock which is a large granite rock face that has been eroded in the shape of a perfect breaking wave. More than 100,000 tourists make their way there very year. Most just stay about an hour before zooming off to another destination to get the perfect instagram shot without taking any time to see what else is there. A great shame really as there is so much more to offer. When I wrote about our previous visit I concentrated more on other sites and the Aboriginal heritage of the area. This time I’ll look at what Hyden has to offer in terms of the natural world.
We decided to make a three day trip and on our way we’d stop off in Corrigin whose main claim to fame is the being the holder of the world record for the number of dogs in a ute and being the home to a dog cemetery. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Corrigin is a bit obsessed with dogs. Anyway it was a nice spot to break the journey, stretch the legs, make the bladder gladder etc. Corrigin does have a pretty impressive wildflower drive which begins just opposite the dog cemetery just on the outskirts of town. Most people just pull up in their car, jump out and walk a couple of metres. They then declare that there’s nothing to see and rush off in a cloud of red dust. Just take your time and have a poke about and you’d be amazed at what you can find. Here are a few examples.
When we got to Hyden we drove out to the Wave Rock Resort on the shore of Magic Lake which is where we were staying. The lake is quite startling. It’s not very big but is comprised of crystal clear salt water with a gypsum base. That pale coloured lake bed combined with the water makes a giant reflector that takes on the colours of the sky so as the day progresses the lake changes colour. To add to it’s other worldly qualities is that it lies in the middle of a salt plain which is fairly uniform in colour and is covered in mainly scrubby bush and a smattering of trees. It all made me want to get the tripod and graduated neutral density filters out.
The next day we decided to combine the Wave Rock Walk Circuit with the Hippo’s Yawn Loop and the Breakers Trail to create a loop that would take us from the resort up to the Hippo’s Yawn then along the bottom of the rock out to the Breakers picnic area and then back to our accommodation at the resort. The best part of it was that we could take the dog as it is all very pet friendly. Along the way we hoped to see more orchids and birds as we passed through the salt plain and into the bush at the base of the rock.
When we got to the base of the rock the vegetation changed from the scrub of the salt plain to thick bush fed by the water run off from the rock. We both enjoyed pocking around in the undergrowth looking for flowers, taking photos of each other and trying to dissuade Frida, our dog, from trying to climb up the rock face in search of interesting holes. It was amazing to see so many orchids – the blue beards were like a carpet in places. It was absolutely wonderful to see.
All in all we had a great time. There is so much to see and do that we’re already talking about going again. If you are planning a trip to Wave Rock there is a whole lot more to it than posing for a selfie for Facebook on the rock.
South of the Swan River is a string of lakes known as the Beeliar Wetlands which are a chain of twenty six lakes stretching from Manning Lake in Hamilton Hill to Madura Swamp near Mandurah Wetlands. Nineteen of those lakes and associated wetlands have been incorporated into the Beeliar Regional Park. This extensive belt of wetlands that has been widely acknowledged as a biodiversity hot-spot having a greater number of endemic species than most other regions in Australia. Within this the Nyoongar with their hunter-gatherer life-style managed the land with their fire-stick farming and survived by hunting and trapping a variety of game, including kangaroos, possums and wallabies; by fishing using spears and fish traps; as well as by gathering an extensive range of edible wild plants, including wattle seeds. Since colonisation three-quarters of these wetlands have been drained for urban development. What remains has suffered untold damage through the introduction of feral animals and plants. Thankfully Australia is a signatory of the Ramsar Convention and several key wetlands on the Swan Coastal Plain have been set aside for conservation. Bibra Lake is the fourth lake (heading southwards) in that chain of lakes that makes up Beeliar Regional Park. Whitefellas believe that they discovered the lake in 1842 and named it after the bloke who bought the land in 1843, one Benedict von Bibra. The Nyoongar say they have known about the lake since time began and to them it known as Walubup.
I first went to Bibra Lake about thirty years ago and thought it was a bit boring and hadn’t been back until the other week. I was called upon for driving duties for the Beloved Significant Other (BSO) and I was left with a morning to kill. So I looked in my copy of Birding Sites around Perth by Ron Van Delft (sadly out of print and unavailable now) and saw that Bibra Lakes was nearby and rated as a good location for birding. The down side to this was that we were experiencing the first major cold front of winter and that meant it was bucketing down and blowing a gale. So suitably swathed in Gore-Tex and equipped with a suitably weather resistant camera I headed off to walk around the lake not expecting to see much.
Initially I thought that with it raining I had more chance of photographing ducks as it was the perfect weather for them. There were quite a number of different species on the shore and the water. I was quite taken by the Shovelers and the Pink Eared Ducks. The Shovelers are quite a string looking duck with colouring and almost disproportionately large bills. They can often be seen foraging in shallow water where they filter water through their bills insects looking for insects, crustaceans and a variety of plants. Such a specialised mode of feeding means that they are limited to certain types of habitat such as freshwater swamps and lakes with large reed beds. Shovelers also tend to hang out with pink-eared ducks which are so called because of the patch of pink feathers on the sides of the drakes head. Like the Shovelers they too are filter feeders. As the walk moved through areas of paperbark and sheoak trees then smaller insect eating birds were seen such as Willie Wagtails, Grey Fantails, Silvereyes, and various types of wrens. Over all as I did the 8.5 Km walk I saw 18 different species of bird which I felt was a pretty good haul considering the weather conditions. So I’ve revised my opinion of Bibra Lakes and will not wait another 30 years before my next visit.
If you are interested in the birds that can be seen at Bibra Lakes, and indeed throughout the Beeliar Wetlands Birding WA has a useful webpage that gives info on the species that can be seen and where. Birdlife Australia put out a couple of useful brochures which can be got from regional visitors centres or downloaded as PDFs from their website. The brochures are:
Denmark the town in Western Australia not the country. There is a lot of opportunity for trail riding in the area with several long distance trails converging on the town. So after a few days of goofing around on some of them to get the lie of the land I then put together a loop ride that would make for an epic birthday bash.
As I have been tramping around the local woods this spring photographing orchids and birds I noticed something that I’d never seen before. That something was teddy bears tied to trees in odd remote locations. At first I thought it was strange game being played by the local kids, but after I saw my tenth one I decided to ask about and find out what was going on. It took ages to find someone who would answer my questions. Eventually an acquaintance told me to go and see Cliffy.
Cliffy wasn’t that easy to find. The directions up to his shack in the wandoo forest were very vague – turn off the Great Southern Highway onto Talbot Road, drive for 10 Km and then take the third track on the left. Turn right at the dead tree that looks like an “excited” Tony Abbot in Speedos and then right at the big rock. I found the shack. When I say shack that really sounds better than it is. A few sheets of corrugated tin and some bush poles was all it was. When I saw Cliffy it was plain to see that he’d had a hard life. He is a compact sinewy man with skin the colour of tanned leather and hair like iron filings. His hands were a testament to hard physical labour – even the callouses had callouses. As to his age, well if you told me he was 100 I’d believe it and if you said he was 50 it wouldn’t surprise me either. So after the usual “Howz yer doin’?” Followed by a quick discussion about rainfall and rain gauges* I asked him about the bears. Cliffy sucked his single tooth and rolled a couple of strands of tobacco in some paper that looked like it had been torn from a pocket Bible. Slowly and quietly he says in a voice that sounded like he’d been gargling on razor blades “They’re memorials to victims of Drop Bear attacks”. He lit up and took a long drag and then told me the strangest tale. I scurried home to do some research.
Most people throughout the world know about the Koala Bear or to give them their proper scientific name “Phascolarctos cinereus”. Well firstly they are not a bear but a tree-dwelling marsupial that feeds on eucalyptus leaves. Secondly they are relatively harmless because all they do is eat and sleep. Occasionally you come across a grumpy one but all you’ll suffer is a few scratches. Well apparently the koala has an evolutionary cousin, the Thylarctos plummetu. Mostanimals in Australia are known by their Aboriginal name, but this one hasn’t got one as the Aboriginal Peoples are so scared of it they refuse to talk about it. Colonial settlers came to refer to them as Drop Bears for reasons that will become apparent later. Few people have seen the animal, and of those that have only a couple have lived to tell the tale. I’ll quote the Australian Museum’s description:
“Around the size of a leopard or very large dog with coarse orange fur with some darker mottled patterning (as seen in most Koalas). It is a heavily built animal with powerful forearms for climbing and holding on to prey. It lacks canines, using broad powerful premolars as biting tools instead.”
“120kg, 130cm long, 90 cm at the shoulder.”
“Vegetation Habitat: closed forest, tall closed forest, tall open forest, tall open shrubland”
Feeding and Diet
“Examination of kill sites and scats suggest mainly medium to large species of mammal make a substantial proportion of the animal’s diet. Often, prey such as macropods are larger than the Drop Bear itself. Drop Bears hunt by ambushing ground dwelling animals from above, waiting up to as much as four hours to make a surprise kill. Once prey is within view, the Drop Bear will drop as much as eight metres to pounce on top of the unsuspecting victim. The initial impact often stuns the prey, allowing it to be bitten on the neck and quickly subdued. If the prey is small enough Drop Bears will haul it back up the tree to feed without harassment from other predators.”
The Australian Geographic magazine did an article in 2013 about a University of Tasmania (UTAS) research project looking at who were more susceptible to attacks. In 2012 there was a research project looking to track Drop Bears in bush and see how many there actually are. An excerpt from that paper can be read here. I even managed to find online an old public announcement film for new migrants dating from the 1950’s warning of the dangers posed by Drop Bears.
When Cliffy had finished his tale of horror I had to lift my jaw up from the floor. “But why oh way don’t the government send in the police or the army to do something about it?” I say incredulously. This sent the old man into a fit of hysterical laughter. After ten minutes he managed to regain his composure. “Yer dopey pommy bastard, don’t yer know nothin’? The last time the Australian Army was called in to deal with an animal problem was in 1932 when Emus invaded Western Australia and that was a complete fu*king fiasco and made them look like complete idiots. It would be too dangerous to let that mob loose in the bush. The bloody pollies are all too busy guzzling at the trough to care about a few bushies goin’ missing.”
So if you venture into the Australian bush and see teddy bears tied to the trees be aware that Drop Bear attacks have happened in the area and you’d be best advised to leave.
* All conversations in this part of the world follow this pattern. It’s considered very rude not to ask about someone’s rain gauge.
… with flowers. Definitely not Julie Andrews and the ghastly singing Von Trapps.
When people think about Australian biodiversity and nature hot spots they automatically think of the rainforests of North Queensland, Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory or Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park in Tasmania. If prodded a little bit Western Australians might mention the Stirling Ranges National Park. But what if I were to tell you that there is a very significant region of biodiversity, a landscape that is still in its pristine state (i.e. has never been cleared) that is less than two hours drive from Perth? That it contains more than 1400 species of flowering plant, 24 of which are unique and not found anywhere else, there are 78 different species of bird, and there are ancient Aboriginal artefacts. So where is this place? Wongan Hills.
The name Wongan Hills comes from the Nyoongar Wongan Katta which means talking or whispering hills. The range of hills, which are about 10 north-west of the townsite are the largest single area of natural vegetation remaining in the northern wheatbelt. It is spring when everything happens – there is a truly spectacular display of wildflowers. I focus on native orchids and it is absolutely gobsmacking the number of different species and the sheer quantity of them. In the space of a morning’s walk around we found ten different species and they were totally new to me. Below are the fruits of that trip.
Eighteen Kilometres off the Western Australian coast near Fremantle is an island. It’s name is Rottnest Island. In terms of size it’s not very significant – just 11 Km long and 4.5 Km wide. It has just one settlement and that has a permanent population of around 300 people. But for all its insignificance it receives about 500,000 visitors a year. On a busy day 15,000 can be on the island at one time. It’s most famous residents aren’t even people, they are Quokkas (Setonix brachyurus) a small marsupial animal in the same family as Kangaroos and Wallabies. They are so important to Western Australia that they are the face of the current tourism campaign in the media with the hope that possibility of taking a selfie with one of cute critters will bring legions of overseas tourists who will enrich the coffers of the state government now the mining boom is over. For young people finishing school Rottnest is a right of passage where the teenagers go for a booze fuelled week-long party to mark the transformation from school kid to adult. For other Perth residents a trip to the island is what summer is all about.
You get to the island via a ferry. Rottnest Express has ferry services leaving Barrack Street Jetty in Perth, the B-Shed Fremantle Harbour and Northport Rouse Head. As well as the ferry service they run a variety of package tours to the island and you can rent snorkeling equipment from them. Rottnest Fast Ferries sails out of Hillary’s Boat Harbour and they also run a variety of day tours and cruises.
The best thing about Rottnest is that there are no cars!!!! I’ll say that again. No cars!!!! Cycling is the main form of transport. Brilliant. You can either bring your own bike on the ferry at an extra charge or rent one from either Rottnest Express (if you travelled with them) or get one from Rottnest Island Bike Hire located behind the Hotel Rottnest on Bedford Avenue. The last time I visited the island I took my own bike and did an abbreviated circuit of the island.
Distances are not vast, but before you set off make sure you take plenty of food and water with you as there is none out- side Thomson Bay Settlement.
1. Starting at the Visitor Centre head south following the signs for Hotel Rottnest. After 200 metres take the left fork that runs along the beachfront in front of the hotel. Turn left into Forrest Avenue and this swings round into McCullum Avenue. At the end of McCullum turn left into Parker Point Road.
2. Follow the signs for Kingston Barracks and after 870 metres go past the turn off for Kingston Road and go over the railway crossing heading for Parker Point. After a little while you pass Henrietta Rocks where the wreck of the vessel Shark can be seen from the look out point. The wrecks of the Lady Elizabeth and the Raven also lie off this point. If you are lucky you may see a sea-lion or two.
3. After 4 Km you arrive at a junction, take the left turn and follow the Parker Point Loop. If you have brought a mask, snorkel and flippers with you a stop here is a must as there is a snorkel trail that takes you out on the coral. After 2 Km you are back at the junction, take the left turn and ride along the edge of Salmon Bay.
4. At the 9 Km point you reach the intersection of Parker Point Road and Digby Drive. If you have had enough turn right onto Digby Drive and follow it back to Thomson Bay Settlement, otherwise turn left and then 1 Km later take the right fork following the Geordie Bay sign.
5. Turn right into Bovell Way and follow the road back to the settlement on the northern side of the island. After 5 1⁄2 Km you reach Geordie Bay which is another good spot for swimming and snorkeling. Keep going along Bovell Way until it ends at the intersection with Geordie Bay Road where you turn right onto it and cycle along the edge of Herschell Lake. After 600 metres you reach a cross-road, turn right onto Digby Drive and cycle back through the settlement.
When you’ve returned to Thompson Bay you will in serious need of some refreshment. The Hotel Rottnest is in the old governor’s summer residence. The hotel used to be called the Quokka Arms and most of the locals still use that name. A great location for a quiet coldie on a hot summers day or for a gourmet meal. Another popular eatery is the Rottnest Bakery – a visit to the bakery is considered mandatory for every visitor to the island and it is famous for its fresh bread, pies, slices, and cakes. It is the perfect place to refuel after surfing, snorkeling, swimming or cycling. It is also the most likely place you will meet a quokka.
I had the chance to nip down to Margaret River for the day while my partner, Helen, was playing croquet in Bunbury. Most people when they think of Margaret River think about wine or surfing but there is more to the area than that. It is a beautiful part of the world with forests and beaches that are home to some very spectacular flora and fauna. I was looking for orchids, but as I had the dog with me I wanted to tire her out before so she would be more settled while I was on the hunt. I don’t know whether you, my dear readers are fans of so-called cosy crime TV such as Morse, Lewes, Midsummer Murder, or Endeavour, but when you watch those it is always the dog walker that finds the body. To be more precise it is the dog who finds the body. Well we were just walking along a track when Frida – the dog – took off like a rocket into the undergrowth and after much thrashing around emerged holding a large femur. As far as she was concerned she had found treasure and after a couple of minutes later thundered back into the bush and reappeared with another. At this stage I was wondering whether she had found a body and whether I should have a look, but I decided to have a look to see what sort of bones they were. Now whenever Frida gets a bone she becomes very possessive and develops a level of distrust befitting a paranoid schizophrenic. Fortunately she hands over the bone nicely as she obviously feels that she a great big pile of the things and again dives into the bush to return with the skull. Definitely not human, much to my relief, it was a western grey kangaroo which had obviously been hit by a car and managed to drag itself to these bushes to die. My overseas readers may not realise this but ‘roos are a bit like rabbits, if they get dazzled by car headlights they will just sit in the road rather than take off. Unlike rabbits they make more of a mess of your car.
Thankfully after all that excitement we managed to find what we were looking for which were leafless and hare orchids.