I know a man called Maurice. He is very French, even if you didn’t know, his thick accent is a giveaway. His speech is also rapid; he tells stories. You could learn more in his bike shop than watching the news for a whole week and it would be a lot more colourful. However, they are mostly bike related but I used to go to his shop because it was entertaining and he didn’t overcharge. Sadly, his shop is closed these days.
Today I was meeting another Maurice, this one with degrees. He’s a font of avian knowledge and softly spoken, almost the reverse of the other Maurice.
I was waiting for him between life and death. On one side was a sublime bush reserve with over 140 listed bird types, on the other Avondale cemetery, where a few elderly folk walk with flowers to mourn someone’s passing. Funny how it’s mostly women, you don’t often see men on their own in places like that. I find it sort of odd that the nature trail entrance carpark is also the cemetery carpark.
The weather was close to perfect, though a wind was in the offing; the first zephyrs pushing through the leaves foretelling of an afternoon sea breeze, though Cooranbong is hardly by the sea. The bush that surrounds Avondale College and the now-closed Sanitarium factory (where, as Maurice two says, “You just opened your door in the morning, took a deep breath and that was breakfast”). For those of you who don’t know, they make Australia’s most popular breakfast cereal, Weetbix, though the new factory is now about 40 kms away. No more free breakfasts.
We’re doing Boy’s Walk, one of three listed here, the other two are Girl’s (there’s a surprise) and Sandy. At some stage all three intersect out the back of the old factory though they’re all individual loop trails and they all have one of the tidal affected fingers of a Lake Macquarie delta running through them.
Maurice knows all the bird sounds, where they nest, where they were seven years ago, but haven’t been seen since, and all their odd habits. Did you know, for instance, that the familiar beep of the bellbird mynah becomes something completely different when they’re on the ground feeding?
It’s a mature forest with enough variation to be a botanist’s delight, part of the reason for the broad variety of wildlife. The waterway adds an allure with small schools of mullet rippling the surface, a sacred kingfisher keeping an eye out above and a pair of cormorants swimming by before they dive, never to be seen again, at least not by us in the next ten minutes…..perhaps they drowned or were eaten by a shark….perhaps not.
Maurice proceeds to tell me about a deceased blind snake he found. Put it in the fridge this morning (as you do); just the thing for the good woman to see when she opens the door to get some milk for her cuppa. I try to imagine the conversation when he gets home.
Apparently he also chills spiders in the fridge. Must be a bit of a nightmare when you open the cheese door and a colourful redback says hello. If you chill the spiders too much they die. There are a lot of people I know who might suggest this could be a good outcome.
I digress, Maurice spots a rufous fantail, a bird I’ve been trying (not very hard) to get a shot of for the past decade but to no avail. He proudly shows me his shot from a day or two ago. The sort that, once you’ve taken it you don’t have to worry about any more because you’ll never get a better one. I get three shots off, all complete rubbish, I’ll have to wait for another day.
Just up the trail there’s a serious photographer. $28,000 worth of gear and he’s camped there with his tripod waiting for one particular specie. We say hello, have a brief chat and move on. Maurice is keen to renew acquaintance with a regent bowerbird he’s recently seen and then, my only glory moment of the day, I actually spot the yellow flashes first and have to point it out to Maurice. Not only that, I got a shot as good as his. We meet another photographer, a few bikes go by, then, yet another photographer and some hikers.
Maurice points out a significant pine tree. It’s all alone and is the base for all measurements on the trail, as in, “Where did you see that alligator? About 200 metres before the pine tree”. It’s such an oddity on the riverbank you hope they never lose it.
There are bench seats for resting here and there and, on my knees’ advice, I utilize all of them. It’s not too hard to be seduced when you’re enjoying the Aussie bush. It’s been almost two hours and we’ve hardly gone anywhere but Maurice is under instruction to head home (obviously to get rid of the deceased snake) so we repair to our vehicles and look forward to another outing together but, he’s left me instructions as to how to get to the other trails, so I unload my bike, grab a pie from a nearby shop and head off to Girl’s Walk.
It’s easy riding the well-used trail and I find it odd that the only three people I see are, in fact, girls. For some reason I thought that the old days were behind us but, seemingly, the tradition continues.
The slight undulations of Boy’s Walk are gone, it’s dead flat and easy pedalling here and when I reach water again it’s swamp land overgrown with what looks like duckweed with a couple of dead trees arched over the surface. A kingfisher flashes by and I stop to shoot some dragonflies before heading to Sandy Walk.
It’s more of the same except the inlet is more pronounced here and tidal movement keeps it free of weeds, but not assorted deadwood. An eastern long necked turtle suddenly appears and I tell him to pull his head in, which he does, but later he comes out for a peek and I get the shot I’m after. A phone call indicates I’m required elsewhere so I pack up and head off. No time for the rufous whistler that I’m after, perhaps another day.