In January 2016 we spent a long weekend in a former campground adjacent to Basket Swamp, near Tenterfield in NSW.
Laura had been casting around to find somewhere for us to camp while Pete was away on a rock-climbing trip and Joe found this spot in a blog on the internet. We were a bit disillusioned with camping during long weekends, due to past unpleasant experiences with overcrowded sites and noisy campers. At least this site was not close to any capital cities and looked as if it would be quiet.
But it was not shown on any of the maps that we looked at, and on driving along the road to Basket Swamp Falls it began to look as if there wasn't going to be anywhere to stay, when we came across a sign that said "Camping 50 metres". That proved to be somewhat optimistic. Fifty metres came and went. A hundred metres passed and there was no sign of a campground. We eventually found it just off the road on the right hand side a kilometre or so further on.
And it was quiet. There was one other person, and a dog, already camping there in a campervan, and so it remained until the third night when another camper arrived, also accompanied by a dog. But the dogs were quiet too, and this was immediately adjacent to, but not actually in the Basket Swamp National Park.
Text continues below the photos.
Common eastern froglet.jpgThis tiny frog, which I think was a common eastern froglet (Crinia signifera), was only a couple of centimetres long. It was found hopping over the ground just after dark.
This species seems to be very variable in appearance but I found a photo of one that looked very similar to this on the internet. The undersurface of the frog, shown in the next photo, supports the identification.
Striped marsh frog.jpgThis was a very large striped marsh frog (Limnodynastes peronii), five centimetres or more long. It was just stationary on the ground when I found it, and stayed like that throughout the "photoshoot" until we picked it up to see its ventral surface. Then it "played dead" on Laura's hand until it was placed back down on the ground, and hopped away.
Striped marsh frog.jpgUndersurface of the frog in the previous photo. Note that the frog is pretending that it is dead. It didn't resist having its limbs posed for the photo. We put it back down on the ground and it hopped away.
Red-backed toadlet.jpgWe could hear frogs calling from the ground beneath our feet. We found this one by gently removing the leaf litter that was obscuring its short burrow. This species is the red-backed toadlet (Pseudophryne coriacea). Its eggs are laid in burrows like this and they hatch after rain when the burrows are flooded. This specimen will be a male, calling to attract a female frog to its burrow.
Red-backed toadlet.jpgThe frog from the burrow in the previous photo. This was a very active frog that didn't want to stay still for photos. After a quick "photoshoot" we returned it to the comfort of its burrow.
Red-backed toadlet.jpgRed-backed toadlet, undersurface. This colourful little frog didn't want to be turned upside down, but the ventral surface of frogs can be important in their identification.
Red triangle slug.jpgThis giant slug, called the red-triangle slug (Triboniophorus graeffei), was find on the bark of a tree, near the bottom.
A tabanid fly.jpgThis very large biting fly was photographed trying to bore a hole through the leather of Joe's boot.
Damselfly.jpgThis damselfly, photographed in the swampy area adjacent to the campsite, has captured a fly and is consuming it showing that flies don't always win!
Eastern yellow robin.jpgThis is a young yellow robin that hasn't completely shed its juvenile clothing - note the speckled colouring on the top of its head.
Male variegated fairy wren.jpgThe fairy wrens didn't hang around the campsite, as they have in other places, perhaps because the site is less frequented - fewer crumbs. But we did catch glimpses of variegated and superb (blue) wrens every now and then - just not very close up.
Male superb blue-wren.jpgThe wrens at Basket Swamp were not "campsite trained" and it wasn't easy to approach them.
Superb fairy wrens.jpgThese are females or juveniles and lack the spectacular blue and black colouring of the adult male.
A young male golden whistler.jpgThis young male golden whistler is just starting to acquire his yellow breast and black head colouring. At this time of year, in late January, the area around the camp-site was awash with young birds.
White-throated tree-creeper.jpgTree-creepers are normally difficult to take photos of because they have a more or less inflexible behaviour pattern of flying to near the base of a tree and then moving up the trunk, looking for insects under the bark. They rarely turn to face the camera. But this one was more obliging and the red spots on the side of its head show that it is a female.
Yellow-faced honeyeater.jpgYellow-faced honeyeater with an insect in its mouth. These birds were busy feeding their fledged young.
Eastern spine-bill.jpgI only had very brief glimpses of the spinebill, when it flew into the flowering eucalypt, and this was the closest that I came to getting a photo of it.
Sacred kingfisher.jpgI had expected that there would be a kingfisher at the swamp somewhere, since there was open running water with trees nearby and sure enough this sacred kingfisher flew into a tree bordering the campsite, a hundred metres or so from the water.
Insects around a flowering tree.jpgThe swarms of insects in and around a flowering eucalypt near our tents were providing a feast for the young honeyeaters and flycatchers still being fed by their parents.
Olive-backed oriole.jpgI thought I had heard an oriole and then this one appeared in the same distant look-out tree as the dollarbird in the previous photo, shortly after it left.
Male southern emu wren.jpgThis was the first emu wren that I have ever seen, except perhaps in zoos, so even this blurry shot is much prized. These very secretive tiny birds live on the ground and in the undergrowth, and only occasionally fly up into shrubs to look out.
Ring-tailed possum.jpgWe spotted half a dozen or so ring-tails. We caught this one just as it was leaving its daytime resting place in a tree-hollow. A young one followed it out of the same hole.
Brush-tailed possum.jpgNote the bushy black tail hanging below the branch in this photo. We only saw one brush-tail while out spot-lighting on this trip.
Southern boobook owl.jpgLaura was thrilled because this was the first time that we had found an owl while out spot-lighting.
The campground may have been decommissioned, but was still being mown. The very primitive long-drop (pit) toilet was the worst that I have ever seen. The seat was crawling with flies, and when you wiped them away and sat down, those that were trapped below came and crawled all over your exposed rear end. We set up our camping toilet and used that for the duration of our stay.
We were very privileged on our first evening, since we hadn't arrived until after five, to find frogs. I think it was Joe who spotted a tiny Common eastern froglet (Crinia signifera) hopping over the moist ground just after dark, when we finished setting up camp. Then a minute or two later I found a striped marsh frog (Limnodynastes peronii) just sitting there on the ground a metre or two away. This frog specialized in "playing dead" and stayed still even when turned upside down to reveal its undersurface (which can be important in the identification of frogs).
Excited by finding two species of frogs so soon after arriving, we went looking for the third which was calling from the ground beneath our feet. In fact there were lots of them calling, dotted over the ground a couple of metres apart. Gently scraping away the leaf litter revealed a short burrow an inch or so across and a couple of inches deep, and there at the bottom was a tiny red-backed toadlet (Pseudophryne coriacea), the first that we had ever seen. This little toad didn't like being removed from its burrow and after a few quick photos we put it back and covered it up again.
On camping trips I am always the first up in the morning, usually long before it is bright enough to take photos of birds, and in the early light of our first morning at Basket Swamp it became clear that my principal source of company was to be a few very large tabanid flies of an unknown species. Fortunately this species seemed to focus on feet, unlike the more unpleasant ones that we get at home which will bite anywhere where they can find bare flesh, and since I was wearing gumboots they were not much of a threat. They would settle on my boots, maybe five at a time, extend their large probosces and try to bore down through the rubber making sounds like tiny electric drills.
One of the greatest joys for a wildlife photographer is to find a spot in the bush where there are so many birds to photograph that it is hard to choose which one to focus on, and it proved to be so at Basket Swamp. Most of the species were common ones that we have seen in many places before, including brown thornbills, grey fantails, yellow robins, red-browed firetails, kookaburras, currawongs, variegated and superb fairy wrens, grey shrike-thrushes, golden and rufous whistlers, white-throated tree-creepers, crimson rosellas, yellow-faced honeyeaters, and an eastern spinebill, a fan-tailed cuckoo and a sacred kingfisher.
But there were a few species that we don't see as often such as the leaden flycatchers that, along with the yellow-faced honeyeaters, were busy feeding their young on the bees that were hovering around the flowering eucalypt near our tents. Every now and then they would be joined by a New Holland honeyeater and a white-eared honeyeater. I also have distant photos of an oriole and a dollarbird that at different times used a tall dead tree as a lookout post.
And then there were the glossy black cockatoos that flew into the campsite in the evening but unfortunately managed to evade my camera. We could hear them feeding in casuarinas near the swamp during the day, but they remained hidden from view except when they were in flight and then they disappeared quickly into the distant bush.
We also saw scarlet robins completing the troika of red robins - rose, flame and scarlet - that we have seen on recent trips. I think the male scarlet robin is the most beautiful of them all with a soft red breast surrounded by white. It is not as glaringly showy as flame robin males.
Many of the birds were juveniles, either still being fed by their parents or were newly independent but still retaining traces of their juvenile plumage. In fact it proved to be a good opportunity to photograph juvenile birds, and might ennable me to write more blog posts on how to identify different birds within a species, and between closely related species.
Then right at the end of the trip, with Joe waiting for us in the truck, Laura and I took our cameras back down towards the creek to fill in a few gaps in Laura's landscape photography. There we saw again the family of superb blue wrens that we had photographed earlier and took advantage of the opportunity to snatch a few more photos of them. On looking at the photos at home, amongst the blue wrens was a different little bird with a brown chest and white throat, that proved to be an emu wren. These birds, which inhabit heathland, are normally very secretive and run along the ground, staying in the low undergrowth and only rarely flying up into the shrubs for a lookout. The bird was very distant and my photos are very poor, but at least it can be identified.
We walked along the road with our torches at night and found mostly ringtail possums, but also a brushtail possum, a couple of tawny frogmouths and a boobook owl.
With the addition of a friendly red-necked wallaby female with a joey in her pouch that hung around our tents, that about sums up the wildlife that we encountered during our stay at Basket Swamp.