How and when to visit Bellingen Island picture heading

The Island is right in the middle of town.  Bellingen is a very small town slightly inland from Coffs Harbour, about half way between Sydney and Brisbane, on the New South Wales coast of Australia.  To reach The Island cross the river by turning off the main road at the Bellingen Post Office then follow around to the first street on the left.  Turn into this street and almost immediately you will find the site of the old caravan park, which is now just a park.  It is a very short walk across the park to the pathway down onto The Island.  This path is a bit steep and slippery and there are awkward steps at the bottom.  The handrail helps, but this place is not wheelchair accessible.  At the bottom you cross the old riverbed.  This will be dry unless the river is in flood, in which case it is generally inadvisable to proceed.

stinger leaves

Leaves of stinger tree. On mature trees they are the size of your hand
but on young trees just coming up they are much bigger

The walk on the island is easy but it is better to wear shoes rather than sandals, and long trousers.  You need to keep an eye out for stinging nettles, leaves of stinger trees, leaches and ticks.  You’ll be fine if you keep to the path and remember your mozzie repellent.  You will be shaded most of the time by The Island’s remnant of lowland sub-tropical rainforest but you may like to wear a hat to protect you from possible flying fox droppings.  Early in the morning you are most likely to cop these because the animals still have food in their bellies from the night’s feeding.  (But the early morning is my favourite time.  The bird life is rich and sunlight is at a good low angle for watching flying foxes.)  It is unusual to be “bombed” later in the day when the animals are not disturbed.  And if you do cop a direct hit, remember that flying foxes are good healthy vegetarians, so it is not too bad.  There are no special disease risks in flying fox droppings, though of course any droppings are unwelcome!

Go quietly and avoid making sharp noises such as snapping twigs or slapping at mozzies.  This way the animals will stay put so you’ll be able to take a long look at them in comfort.  Keep in mind that you are the visitor in their bedroom and lounge room.

 

When to Visit Bellingen Island

birth

The flying foxes are interesting at all times of the year though the months from October to January have special charm because the mothers are nursing babies. In October and November you may see a birth, and in the next few months keep an eye out for the appearance of a diagonal line across an animal's chest: this is what you often see first when looking for babies. By December the babies will be climbing about, more obvious.

During these months look carefully at animals when they fly around. If there is a torpedo-like lump on one side of the body it is a baby clinging to its mother. In their first few weeks babies ride like this all the time, day and night, gripping a nipple with their teeth and belly fur with their feet.

March and April are the height of the mating season, when the camp is very noisy. In the midst of all the action some youngsters are still being suckled.

They are usually pushed aside by males wanting to mate with their mothers. Most of the racket you hear is made by the males, shouting seductively into a female's face.

Each day, early and late, flying foxes sleep deeply for an hour or so. At other times they catnap but are often busy doing things like staring at visitors. Towards evening males are often busily marking their territory in the branches, particularly at mating time.

For your own comfort days of blue skies are best - the sky glares less, so it is easier to stare back at the flying foxes. Dusk visits in late November, December and early January are good, if you have a torch. Watch what happens after the mothers go out to feed, when the babies are old enough to be left behind but too young to fly. The forest is filled with whizzing little propellers - the babies are having a good flap.

Peaceful mother & baby flying fox

Without going onto the island you may also watch the bats flying out at night, going off to feed. The bridge over the river is a good spot - arrive at sundown and watch the swallows coming home to sleep under the bridge, then a short while later the flying foxes pour out into the sky. Another good vantage point is the parking area on the northern side of the river, at the western end of the island. (The bats go in different directions, according to where the food is, but these spots offer the two best chances to see them.)

Male flying fox marking his territory

 

Flying Fox Face

All photographs and text are subject to copyright Vivien Jones ©2000

E-mail: viv@bellingen.com
Phone: 02 6655 2213

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