Flora and Fauna
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Below article taken from http://www.tangleoflife.org/place/a-walk-through-south-ballina-wallum
A walk through South Ballina Wallum
Wallum is the name for this sweet country
Your short guide to the coastal heathland found at the Ballina Beach Village, South Ballina
(A word about the names of plants: common names often confusing because they mean different plants to different people. But just as you use dinosaur names — Stegosaurus and Pterodactyl — you can scientific names for plants. I present each plant with their genus name, then a local common name. The genus name is not as precise as knowing the full species name but it’s more useful than a common name.)
Take a few extra moments on the way to the beach and use the track through the wallum, the coastal native landscape. Start your walk through this magic area by the onsite water treatment facility. From the retreat centre, you’ll see it over to the right, by the green fence.
Wallum is the Bundjalung word for this coastal landscape, of which they are the traditional owners. Wallum is also the name for one of the characteristic trees here, with its big sweet flowers. The Bundjalung would soak the flowers in water and make a sweet drink. These trees are a species of Banksia. If you look one over in March/April, you’ll see the new yellow green “bottlebrush” blossoms, the full flower as well as the grey spent ones with ripening seed capsules.
Finding all these stages on each tree is pretty special. It tells of how the Banksia takes years to ripen its seeds. The seed cases are pretty tough. They can survive a fire.
Together with the Banksia you will see Xanthorrhoea (pronounced “zan tho ree a”). This comes from the Greek, xanthos for “yellow” and rheo for “to flow”. The name refers to the resin that comes from these plants. The resin is used to varnish paintings.
Xanthorrhoea is also called the grass tree. It has a striking flower stalk, that tall pole growing up from the centre of the plant. All along the track you can find Xanthorrhoea in every different size. This is a good sign for the integrity of this wallum. This native plant has different generations all growing here: as the older plants die the younger ones will continue.
As you start up the track, you will see a third distinctive tree on this part of the wallum. The Casaurina or she-oak has thin green needles which you might think are leaves. But they are actually branches. If you look at them very closely, you will see at each brown “join” are some very small pointy “teeth”. These are the true leaves.
Check the Casaurina for seed capsules. Only female trees have them. The male ones will bloom with pollen that blows on the wind over to the female flowers, which then become the seed cases. Look out — some species of Casaurina have male and female parts both on the one tree.
How do these three trees manage to live on dry sand near the sea? All of them have unique characteristics that help. They all have tough leaves, which conserve water. They don’t grow very tall but their roots go deep down. The roots of Casaurina grow special nodules where it feeds special bacteria which in turn make nitrogen for the tree. I would expect that the other two trees also have a special partnership with some sort of bacteria or even fungi to help them out. Many plants do.
As you walk along, you will see that there are many different plants growing in between the three main types of trees. If you stop to count, you will find more than a dozen different plant forms, all with different blossoms and varied types of leaves. The fact that there are all these types of plants here makes this area rate high in an index called “species richness”. This is plant biodiversity at its fullest.
Since you’ve stopped, wait a little longer. You probably heard all sorts of birds calling as you walked along: these include alarm calls that say “intruders!” But if you stand still and quiet, even for two or three minutes, the birds are more accepting of your presence. You may get good views of the different small wrens. Some, a type of fairy wren, have patches of shocking bright blue. The larger size birds are honey eaters, tree creepers and lorikeets, all which depend on the nectar from the Banksia and Xanthorrhoea blossoms.
The willie wagtails, perky small black and white birds, will fly around you, chasing after insects that you inadvertently stir up. I’ve heard that there may be grass owls in the wallum, but I haven’t seen them. They hunt mice. You might be lucky of an evening and spot one! (If you are also lucky enough to get a photograph, please send it to us.)
The track to the beach turns to the left. If instead, you go straight up a few paces to the large fallen log, you get a wide view over the wallum. You can see over to the skyline of Ballina, on the other side of the river. You’ll also see the trapeze set up at the Ballina Beach Village.
Looking behind you, you will see the path to the local sand quarry, from where about 30 truckloads are taken away each working day. The new requirement is that before the digging gets underway, the top layer of vegetation and sand is put aside for the final rehabilitation works. That layer, full of nutrients, fungi, bacteria and seeds, will one day be spread out and the wallum encouraged to grow again.
Going back and along the track to the beach, you can see for yourself into this top layer. In certain places, the sandy soil is cut away and the roots of the Banksia are exposed. A slow natural process is underway that adds nutrients to the sand. It is the work of these small green lichen. Each lichen is a partnership of fungi and algae. The fungi take up nutrients from any decaying materials and the algae use the sunshine to create sugar. Together they are one of the living soil processes here in the wallum.
At this point in time, the quarry site has Pinus or pine trees. Obviously, these are not trees typical of the wallum. They were planted by humans. After a major disturbance such as mining, new plants which may be introduced can take the advantage in the short term. If their seeds can become part of the sand and soil, they can continue for generations. The native vegetation doesn’t get a chance to re-establish.
You can see how this process works as you walk closer to the beach. In this lower part of the wallum landscape, you will see the native vegetation changes. Another type of wallum plant community becomes dominant.
Suddenly, walking just a little further, you will see all the wallum is taken over by this plant. This is Chrysanthemoides (pronounced “kriss -santh-ee-MOY-deez”) or bitou bush/boneseed, with its shrubby growth, thick shining green leaves and bright yellow flowers. This plant is an indicator of the past — the major sand mining that once happened on this beach. After the sand was removed, from 1940 to 1968, this South African plant was planted to rehabilitate the devastated parts on both the wallum and the coastal dunes.
Since then, Chrysanthemoides has taken a firm hold. The shrubs grow very thickly and leave absolutely no room for any other plant. It also fills the sand with its seeds, which means that the Chrysanthemoides will remain the dominant plant for generations. This is why Chrysanthemoides is now considered an invasive plant.
To its credit, Chrysanthemoides is helping cover damaged country, which is the only reason it was planted. But nowadays, we are more aware of the special qualities of the wallum and we want more from rehabilitation. Maybe, if different wallum plants and seeds could get into the wall of Chrysanthemoides, they could outgrow it and change the landscape. Those areas you pass which are marked “no access” are places where National Parks is trying ideas like this in their effort to restore the original wallum.
Some of the “no access” areas are also where foxes are being killed with 1080 poison baits, which can also kill dogs or people. The foxes were introduced to Australia. In this area, they are known predators of the chicks of shorebirds. You might see a pair or two of the very rare Pied Oystercatchers on the beach. Since 2009, thanks to this control effort, foxes have not worried their eggs and chicks.
Now, the shore birds biggest worries are dogs walking free in the dunes and vehicles on beaches. The scent of dogs distresses the birds, so do keep your dogs well away from the dunes and from any birds you see on the beach itself.
As for vehicles — the pied oystercatchers nests are only a few leaves on the sand. You can hardly see them until you are about to step on them, never mind when you are in a 4WD. That’s why you’ll see signs that direct vehicles to turn right onto the beach and go south, away from the areas known to be favourite places for the shore birds.
The long Spinifix runners grow between them, over and through the sand down to the beach. You might spot some of their seeds, carried about in small “tumbleweeds”. In their early summer season they fly across the shore.
There’s more to find in the wallum country and every walk you make through it will reward you with new discoveries. Here’s one idea. Next time you come out walking, can you spot the creature that made these tracks?
Our resident twitcher Ron Fox has compiled a list of birds’ sighted at the Ballina Beach Village. Please add to our list, or provide write ups or photos. You can use the form below to submit details to this page.
FAMILY PROCELLARIDAE – fulmers, petrels and allies
- Wedge tailed Shearwater
FAMILY PHALACROCORACIDAE – cormorants and shags
- Little Black Cormorant
- Little Pied Cormorant
- Pied Cormorant
FAMILY SULIDAE – gannets and boobies
- Australasian Gannet
FAMILY PELECANDIAE – pelicans
- Australian Pelican
FAMILY ARDEIDAE – herons and bittersn
- Cattle Egret
FAMILY CICONIIDAE – storks
- Black-necked Stork
FAMILY PLATALEIDAE – ibises and spoonbills
- Scared Ibis
- Yellow-billed Spoonbill
FAMILY ACCIPITRIDAE – kites, hawks and eagles
- Pacific Baza
- Brahminy Kite
- Whistling Kite
FAMILY MEGAPODIIDAE – mound-builders
- Australian Brush-turkey
FAMILY RALLIDAE – rails and allies
- Purple Swamphen
FAMILY HAEMATOPODIDAE – oystercatchers
- Pied Oystercatcher
- Sooty Oystercatcher
- Black winged Stilt
- Masked Lapwing
- Large Sand Plover
- Mongolian Plover
FAMILY SCOLOPACIDAE – sandpipers and allies
- Eastern Curlew
- Red-necked Stint
FAMILY LARIDAE – gulls, terns and skuas
- Caspian Tern
- Common Tern
- Crested Tern
FAMILY COLUMBIDAE – pigeons and doves
- Feral Pigeons
- White Headed Pigeon
- Common Bronzewing Dove
- Crested Pigeon
FAMILY PSITTACIDAE – parrots and cockatoos
- Red-tailed Black-cockatoo
- Rainbow Lorikeet
- Scaly-breasted Lorikeet
- Australian Kind Parrot
- White-Cheeked Rosellas
FAMILY CUCULIDAE – cuckoos, koels and coucals
- Pheasant Coucal
FAMILY STRIGIDAE – hawk and masked-owls
- Barn Owl
FAMILY PODARGIDAE – frogmouths
- Tawny Frogmouth
FAMILY AEGOTHELIDAE – owlet-nightjars
- Australian Owlet-nightjar
- White-throated Nightjar
FAMILY ALCEDINIDAE – kingfishers
- Laughing Kookaburra
FAMILY MEROPIDAE – bee-eaters
- Rainbow Bee-eater
FAMILY HIRUNDINIDAE – swallows and martins
- Welcome Swallow
FAMILY CAMPEPHAGIDAE – cuckoo-shrikes and minvets
- Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike
FAMILY PACHYCEPHALIDAE – Australian Robins, whistlers and flycatchers
- Grey Shrike-thrush
- Willie Wagtail
FAMILY ORTHONYCHIDAE – chowchillas, quail-thrushes and allies
- Easter Whipbird
FAMILY ACANTHIZIDAE – scrubwrens, thornbills and allies
- White-browed Scrubwren
FAMILY MELIPHAGIDAE – honeyeaters
- Brush Wattlebird
- Blue-faced Honeyeater
- Noisy Miner
- Lewin’s Honeyeater
- Yellow Faced Honeyeater
- Varied Honeyeater
- White-cheeked Honeyeater
- Scarlet Honeyeater
FAMILY PLOCIDAE – weavers and allies
- House Sparrows
- Red-browed finch
- Olive-backed Oriole
FAMILY DICRURIDAE – drongos
- Spangled Drongo
FAMILY PTILONORHYNCHIDAE – bowerbirds
- Regent Bowerbird
FAMILY CRACTICIDAE – butcherbirds and currawongs
- Grey Butcherbird
- Pied Butcherbird
- Australian magpie
- Pied Currawong
- Australian Raven
- Torresian Crow