Camping and Cockatoos

My first encounter with the enigmatic Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo was early one morning when a small flock flew overhead and scattered amongst the trees at a camp site up on the edge of the Brindabellas.  I was there as a young teacher with a group of intrepid Year 5s, and a select group of us were collecting wood to make the fire to cook our breakfast.

It was cold and we were stamping about to keep warm, looking forward to Toad in the Hole (Aussie camping style)* and hot tea.  I guess we were a bit preoccupied, and the first thing we knew about the cockatoos was the sound of their eerie cries echoing through the forest.

At first I thought that perhaps seagulls had been blown inland, but the sound wasn’t quite right.  And there were too many answering calls for it to be eagles or hawks.

My confusion was quickly abated as the willowy, black shadows weaved their way through the trees and into sight.  It was breathtaking, and they have ever since remained a firm favourite for me amongst the cockatoo family.

We occasionally hear their haunting cries or catch a glimpse of them here at Seventy Seven Acres.  They are beautiful, elegant birds, and so solemn and graceful compared to their louder cousins: the familiar, white, Sulphur Crested Cockatoo.

Perhaps you can imagine my delight this morning, then, when a pair came to rest in one of our Brittle Gums by the back gate.  I slipped outside as quietly as I could, for these birds are shy creatures, and quickly took a photo before they went on their way.  They only hung around for a few moments, and one very purposefully hid behind a large branch, but the other remained calmly aloof with his back to me, long enough for me to snap my pic.

A beautiful Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo taking a moment to rest in our garden.

A beautiful Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo taking a moment to rest in our garden.

The Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo is reasonably common in South Eastern Australia, although I’m given to understand that numbers have declined as old growth forest has been logged.  Apparently they need large, old, hollow trees for nesting and breeding, so loss of these trees from their habitat has impacted on their ability to retain the larger flocks that were reported in earlier times.

These days they are more likely to be seen as pairs or in family groups of up to about 10 or 12 birds, although they may still form large flocks in winter.  They are semi-migratory, ranging to find food through the changing seasons.  Predominantly seed eaters, preferring casuarina, eucalypt, hakea, banksia and xanthorrhea, they will also search out and eat wood boring insects and bugs in a variety of trees.  As with most of the cockatoo family, they have taken a liking to the introduced pine species, and will happily pry the seeds out of the cones or rip the bark away to find bugs.

At about 60cms they are the one of the largest of the cockatoos, but with their streamlined shape and long wings, they look smaller than the Sulphur Crested White Cockatoo – and are certainly less raucous!

(Includes information from Michael Morcombe’s Field Guide to Australian Birds – a fabulous resource.)

Aussie Toad in the Hole (camping variety)

This is one of those amazing meals that just isn’t the same if you try it at home… I think you have to be cold, tired after a sleepless night in a tent, and truly hungry for it to work properly, and it is definitely best cooked over a smoky, wood fired barbecue.  Luckily it is also very simple and quick to make.  Warning: this bears only a minimal resemblance to the classic English recipe containing sausages and batter.

Ingredients:  Sliced bread, egg, butter, salt and pepper to taste (per serving).

Method:  First cut or tear a hole in your slice of bread (a circular cookie cutter works well if you have remembered to bring one) and melt a large dob* of butter on a the hot BBQ plate, using the tip of a knife to spread it around.  Drop your bread on top of the butter and immediately crack an egg into the hole.  Cook until the first side is done then flip over to cook other side (time varies depending on how well-done you like your egg – generally, it is not recommended to have your egg too runny unless you are happy to wear it on your clothes for the day).  Season with salt and pepper to taste and eat while piping hot. Totally delicious! ( a real shame that I can’t eat bread any more)

*dob – in this context, ‘dob’ is a technical term meaning an amount of butter large enough to grease the hot plate, but not so large that the food is swimming in it.