Woody Head is undoubtedly one of my favourite camping spots in Northern New South Wales.
I can launch my kayak from here. Pristine beaches opt for pure serenity.
And the wildlife is friendly and plentiful.
It comes to no surprise, that many other like-minded people return to this idyllic bay over and over again. This creates a certain busyness, which I try to avoid.
Walking along the backtracks around Woody Head is a tranquil change to the ongoings around the camping area.
I often noticed kangaroos appearing from the western woodlands, Woody Head’s scrubburbia.
But this time, a mammal of a different kind made an appearance.
This spiky ball was moving ever so slowly, it could have been mistaken for a scrub in the wind.
It was a delightful surprise to see this charming echidna. They are in a league, almost on their own.
Their cousin, the platypus, is just a notch more unique. These are the only two mammals, that lay eggs.
Both are winter specialists. As with 33 degrees Celsius body heat, the echidna is the second coolest mammal on our planet. Behind the platypus.
Due to their slow metabolism, both species can live up to 50 years of age.
The word ‘echidna’ derives from Greek mythology. She was half human and half spiky monster, a bit like ‘Medusa’.
Echidnas live in Australia and Papua New Guinea only, what do the Greeks know?
And the all-important questions, how do echidna reproduce?
I haven’t seen an echidna in the natural world for years. I can’t even remember where and when that was. Echidna’s are observed more often during the daytime in the winter months. On chilly nights, it is more favourable to be rolled up and warm.
It was a cold night last night. Foraging for nutrition is rearranged to daylight hours. And this one was hungry.
Inch by inch, he scanned a grassy patch on the forest’s edge.
His sensitive snout is perfectly adapted to scour for small prey within the grassroots.
This elongated snout is perfectly designed to ‘sticky-beak’. It functions as mouth and nose at the same time.
On top of all that, the snout is equipped with electro-sensors. Just like the platypus.
The echidna’s foraging efforts makes them the gardeners of the Underwood. Who wood know?
A long, sticky and rough tongue collect insects easily. Echidnas don’t have teeth and grind their food.
Their powerful claws are built to dig.
Their hind claws are curved and elongated to aid digging.
Surprisingly is the fact, how well the spikes camouflage the echidna’s body.
These sharp daggers defend perfectly from being eaten alive by larger carnivores.
But they don’t help being attacked by smaller suckers. A parasite had a full belly already.
This tick clung on within this spiky thicket, which controversially, was the safest position to be in.
This echidna stumbled across an ants nest, a delicacy on their menu. Ants have a potent sting and won’t tolerate unwanted visitors. Defence and attack in numbers, no matter what size the intruder is.
At some stage, I thought that this echidna was blind in one eye.
Thankfully, the eyelids were closed and ‘only’ inflamed. This didn’t seem to bother him too much as he continued his quest to fill his belly. The echidna wasn’t the only hungry animal.
An unlikely ally joined the search for insects. Birds often rely on other animals to scare their food off.
As did Willy and his waggy tail.
Any insects fleeing from the echidna were picked up in the aerial display.
It’s all about positioning. And timing.
Willy wagtails are aerial specialists, which can turn direction effortlessly in mid-flight. All thanks to a wagging tail.
And a spiky companion. Bless.
Once Echidna and Willy disappeared, another hungry participant emerged out of the lumber.
I don’t know who was more surprised to see the other.
White-faced egrets prefer to rummage in shallow waters like this stagnant pool.
Dark, oily waters reflected the surrounding greens so well, that it was hard to differ.
But no one else noticed.