Category Archives: rural / bush living

It’s Raining Again…

…well, not actually at the moment, but we are enjoying a rainy start to the new year, which is just fine by me.

Rushing waters of our creek below the dam overflow

Water rushing down our creek below the main dam

 

Right at the moment our tanks are full, the dams are overflowing, the creek is running (rushing might be a better word), and the garden is green.

 

As I write, the sun is shining brightly outside and I even have washing on the line, but there is a cooling breeze and clouds dotted about the horizon, and, every day this last week or so, we’ve had rain blow in about mid-afternoon. Except for the last two days, which have been solid rain, all day!

 

 

Whilst others might lament a rainy summer break (Will certainly is – at least the bit with the afternoon thunder storms where we unplug the computers and TV/DVD player), I’m just loving it. I do admit to being one of those strange people who love the rain, generally, what with going for walks, the sound on the tin roof, curling up with a good book, etc., etc., but I also find it a lot less stressful than long, hot days watching the sky for smoke.  Just me.

Rain across the valley

Rains sweeps in across the valley during one of my walks – beautiful!

 

ripples

Ripples on the Frog Pond in the rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Downsides? I suppose getting the clothes dry, the track slowly disintegrating as it gets washed down the hill, visiting ‘roos drenched through, Will telling me how bored he is the second he’s unplugged…

track

Some damage to the track after a heavy downpour.

 

sheltering from the rain

One of this year’s joeys takes shelter under our eaves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sitting inside during the thundery downpours definitely has its good points, though. Apart from rediscovering the joys of games like Scrabble and Uno with Will and Matt, I’ve devoured four novels, three gardening books, and uncountable articles on writing, blogging and setting goals.

Hmm. That last point, there, brings me to the months that have gone by in silence since I last posted anything, back in July (very embarrassing when WordPress emailed my 2014 round-up!).

I’ve been feeling bad about that.

So, one of my goals for this year (still to be finalised, thanks to being overwhelmed inspired by so many great ideas, see above) is to make sure I have a blogging schedule. I’m going to be realistic and not promise anything weekly, but will be working on at least once a fortnight, looking at projects around the property, our visiting wildlife, the sheer beauty and serenity of living at Seventy Seven Acres, the occasional recipe or two, and random thoughts and ideas that pop up.

See you down the track in 2015!

Oh, and Happy New Year – a bit late perhaps, but let’s hope we all have a good one.

water

Watched by a Wombat

Mostly, all we ever see of him is a handful of cube shaped calling cards that he leaves heaped on a rock or a fallen log nearby.  For ages, we didn’t even see that, but, bit by bit, he has been venturing closer and closer, and, for a while now, we have found his scats quite closely arranged in an ever decreasing circuit around the perimeter of our garden.  There was even evidence of a brief foray into the garden, once, to investigate his old hole.

I feel as though we are being watched.

We’ve been at Seventy Seven Acres for three years now, and, right from the start, the Eastern Greys just sort of took us for granted. To them, we’re family.  There is a Swamp Wallaby that considers us his catering crew, and a family of Brush Tailed Possums with a similar view, not to mention the myriad of birds that watch me through the window every morning, waiting to see if there is anything for breakfast.

The Echidna occasionally turns up at my study window searching for insects caught in the cobwebs (I’d rather have the spiders than the poison and am too lazy to go around with a brush too often), and we have seen turtles at the dam and blue tongue lizards and water dragons on the track.

Wombat remains (mostly) invisible.

Wombat on track... facing off with our car before dashing into the bush...

Wombat on track… facing off with our car before dashing into the bush…

We know he is there.  As I said, he leaves his scats prominently displayed, and I did stop the car in great excitement once to take his photo as he charged across the track.  The previous owners also had photos of him pottering around the garden in a slide show they had cannily left playing on their giant TV screen (it was pictures of the snow on the same screen that caused me to say, “Snow?  that’s it!” and caused the Real Estate Agent a moment of, “Oh, it’s not every year… maybe once every three years… and not very much…”, not realising that it was a selling point for me, not a turn off, and, little did she know, we were already sold by then).

He was a rescue wombat, and I don’t know the full story but I’m pretty sure it involved a car.  Wombats and cars are not a good mix.  Since moving here I have seen too many of them upside down by the side of the road.  Not much seems to scavenge on them (I gather from the story Wombat Stew by Marcia K Vaughan that they are very tough eating) so they tend to be lying there for some time, a sad reminder of the toll on wildlife brought about by our fast paced age.  Wombats are not too good for cars either.  I’ve seen the resulting damage to a visitor’s car after an altercation along the valley.  Best to try and miss them if you can.  Although, that can be difficult, as they are very quick little creatures.  Well, quite big creatures, actually.

Anyway, my understanding is that he was brought up from a joey elsewhere, and released here as a young adult.  There is a wombat hole in the garden, and there was a pile of sand for his digging pleasure, and there are definitely other wombats around, so he is not alone.

The ex-owners told us tales reminiscent of Diary of a Wombat (the lovely picture book by Jackie French) but did warn us that he had become less people oriented as he became older — which was, indeed, the aim of the game.  We, clearly, are not the right people at all, and, quite rightly, he maintains his distance.

Although that distance is getting smaller… and we are being watched.

Some Wombat Facts

Wombats, one of Australia’s famous marsupials, are squat and sturdy in build, with a large head and small eyes and ears.  They have short, muscular legs, which, teamed up with their sharp claws, make them amazing diggers, and the females have a backwards facing pouch so that joeys don’t get showered in dirt as Mum digs.  Wombats can dig burrows that are up to 30 metres long and a couple of metres deep, and they generally stay inside during the day, where they can keep cool in summer and warm in winter, often sharing with other wombats.

Don’t be fooled though, those short legs can carry them at fairly high speeds.  I have memories of reading about one that was clocked at 40 kilometres an hour, and I’ve seen them hike across a road at an alarming speed.  I suspect this is why they get hit so often – people just don’t realise how quickly a frightened animal can turn and run across the road in front of them.

Wombats are generally grazing animals, mostly eating native grasses, but I’m given to understand that they are also partial to carrots and parsnips, and even the occasional bowl of oats!  They are very territorial about their feeding grounds, however, and will chase off challengers with lots of noisy grunts and snorts.

Mating in spring, between September and December, Wombats produce one offspring, which crawls its way to the pouch and usually stays there for about seven to twelve months.  They are tiny when they are born, weighing about one ounce, but they grow quickly in the protection of the pouch.  Wombats reach maturity and are able to have young of their own at about two years of age.

In New South Wales, wombats are protected but continue to face threats from cars and wild dogs, as well as suffering from competition for feeding from domestic animals.  The Common Wombat (like our friend) is not considered threatened, but the Northern and Southern Hairy Nosed Wombats are on the endangered list.

Information from http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/animals/Wombats.htm (and care of Jackie French’s wonderful book Diary of a Wombat )

 

 

…One White Cockatoo

The poem, White Cockatoo, by Banjo Paterson starts

Now the autumn maize is growing,
Now the corn-cob fills,
Where the Little River flowing
Winds among the hills.
Over mountain peaks outlying
Clear against the blue
Comes a scout in silence flying,
One white cockatoo…

Of course, one white cockatoo is joined by clouds of cockatoos, descending like snow upon the ripening corn-cobs, and I guess that’s it for the crop…

Common across all of eastern Australia, these noisy birds can form huge flocks, resting in regular roosts close to water during the heat of the day and generally heading out to open country to feed either earlier in the morning or later on, when it is a little cooler.

Luckily, the pair of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos that stopped by my garden recently didn’t presage the arrival of a huge flock, but they did provide a few moments of pleasing entertainment.

ImageContrary to the way it may seem, I have a bit of a soft spot for these raucous natives.  They are the clever clowns of the garden and are not immune from playing practical jokes.  We had a large old pine tree in the garden of our house in suburbia where a small family of cockatoos used to congregate to break open the pine cones and eat the nuts.

No worries there.

Not so sure about the pine cones they used to drop on unwary gardeners and small children.

No.  I’m not kidding.  They used to wait until someone was passing underneath and then, basically, throw a pine cone at them.  And laugh.  True.

Or they would fly a low pass overhead and screech at the top of their voices from just behind their chosen victim.  Believe me, they are loud.  Does wonders for getting the heart pumping.

Whilst I had no objection to them eating the pine nuts, I was a little less pleased when they got stuck into our almonds.  There was no keeping them out either.  They generally found a way into or under any netting we put over our young trees, and looked at us with scorn if we tried to chase them off.  They just laughed at the dog, who would stand at the base of the tree, barking, knowing full well that there was nothing that she could do!

Of all the birds, I think that the cockatoo has the most developed sense of humour.

When we moved up from Melbourne some years ago, our new neighbours had a pet cockatoo that lived on a perch on their front verandah.  Our cat was a keen birder, despite our best efforts, multiple bells and water spray therapy.  She took one look at Cocky and you could see her eyes light up.  Heaven.  On a stick.

I was chatting with our neighbour, Anne, at the time and spotted her (the cat, not the neighbour) stalking across the garden.  With huge apologies, I went to prevent what I thought would be a disastrous introduction only to be stopped in my tracks.

“No, watch this,” Anne said, grinning.

A little reluctantly, I watched.

My feline friend continued her soundless approach, while the ‘unsuspecting’ cockatoo completely failed to notice.  I nervously explained that our cat was a very efficient hunter.

“Trust me,” Anne countered.

Cocky was by now preening his feathers peacefully while the Great Hunter bunched up her muscles, poised for the pounce.

And pounce she did.

I swear she was already in flight when Cocky suddenly exploded in size, fluffing up his feathers, extending his wings and opening out his beautiful yellow crest, giving an ear piercing, blood-curdling screech.

The Great Hunter turned in mid-air (against all the laws of physics) and disappeared under our deck, from whence she refused to return until Cocky went to bed.

Cocky bounced up and down on his perch, while Anne explained that this was his normal way of greeting any visiting cats.

I would like to say that our cat was cured of her hunting tendencies as a result of that event, and, indeed, it did cramp her style for quite a while (nor did she ever approach Cocky again), but we still had to perform the occasional rescue over the last few years of her life.

Meanwhile, Cocky’s favourite idea of a joke was to call out to passer’s by, usually inviting them to go to the pub with him, in a voice so realistic that people unfamiliar with him would be looking around for their erstwhile new friend.

Cocky was one of many pet birds around Canberra that were released as the 2003 fires raged through the suburbs.  By then we lived elsewhere (and our Great Hunter had passed on to the Great Hunting Ground in the Sky), but I often fancied that Cocky came to visit us, nonetheless, perhaps throwing pine cones at us from the tree in our backyard.  Perhaps he was the ‘scout’ that led all the others in their mischief…Image

The visitors to our garden the other day were, by comparison, quite benign.  Although they did spend some time investigating our weather station.  And I’m not saying that they wouldn’t have attacked our fruit trees if the wallaby had left them anything to attack.

Still, I’m happy for them to be occasional guests, stopping by once in a while… just, please, not in clouds, descending like snow.

 

 

 

Post Script: Also, just in case you were wondering, here’s a settler’s recipe for cockatoo stew:

Take one cockatoo and pop it in a billy of boiling water with a rock and a handful of root vegetables.  Boil until rock is tender then throw away the cockatoo!

I gather they are a bit on the tough side.  Never felt the urge to find out, personally, but there you go.

Post Post Script: the collective noun for these comedic birds is recorded, variously, as a chattering, clattering, cluttering, crackle, or cacophony of cockatoos.  My vote is for the cacophony.

Post Post Post Script: if you are keen to encourage these delightful birds into your garden by feeding them, I’m given to understand that they are partial to all kinds of seeds, nuts and fruit.  They are also partial to eating any wood that your house or garden structures may be made from, bird netting or shade cloth, and the occasional TV aerial.

 

 

…we all know frogs go…

I’m constantly amazed and delighted by the variety of wildlife with which we share our home.  If I tried to name all the types of birds, for instance, that come by our garden (let alone the rest of the property), I’m sure that I could fill a page easily and still miss some out.

I love listening to the bird calls, starting with the kookaburras in the early morning, right through to our boobook owls well into the night – although I was a little less enamoured of a male common koel that spent last spring singing most of his way through a full octave then stopping, leaving me waiting for the last note, before repeating his call incessantly – all night!  It took a couple of sleepless nights before I got used to that call and slept through his noisy courting.

On the other hand, I never tire of the song of our magpies, nor the cheeky chirping of the blue wrens or silvereyes.

Another sound I love is the chorus of frog calls that serenade us through the evenings during spring and summer.  One of my favourite memories of our first year here at Seventy Seven Acres was the night we decided to go up to the little dam (probably better called the reed pond) by torchlight to see what we could find.  All through the reeds were little clumps of frog spawn, while adult frogs clambered up the thin stalks or nuzzled into the soft dirt beside the water.  Wherever we walked, silence would fall, but the calls from all around the rest of the dam echoed back and forth, a bit like a tennis match.  I was particularly struck by the sound the pobblebonk frogs made – it really does sound like “pobble-bonk”!

Just recently we’ve had a few frogs come visiting us, like a little brown tree frog that moved into the breezeway where we had just installed a couple of Dicksonia Antarctica plants and were watering them every evening with a fine haze of dam water for a couple of hours to help them settle in.

Little brown tree frog... enjoying the mister during a recent hot spell

The little brown tree frog… enjoying the mister during a recent hot spell.  The actual frog was only about the size of a twenty cent coin.

An even smaller tree frog came a-hunting on our bathroom window a couple of nights ago, too.  It was fascinating to see him from underneath, as he reached up onto the glass, chasing minute insects.  Alas, he was gone before I could fetch a camera, but he provided a few moments of enthralling entertainment before he slunk off into the darkness.

I suspect we won’t be seeing – or hearing –  too many more this season, as our evenings are starting to cool down, and our mornings are definitely feeling a little chilly.  I don’t know a lot about frogs – despite a childhood obsession with tadpoling – but I think they sleep the winter away, tucked up cosy somewhere until the growing warmth of spring wakes them up and gets them on the move.

Hmm.  Something else I’ll have to learn about.  I wonder if there is a handy, pocket sized field guide for the frogs of our region…

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.

…when the bough breaks

There is always something that needs doing around the property.

The remains of the pump house down by the main dam!

The remains of the pump house down by the main dam!

This little project has been waiting for a while, but really needs to be sorted out, sooner rather than later, to protect the pump that makes sure the garden water tank is always full.

In the background is the large tree that fell on it, another ‘little project’ that we are still working on clearing up.

There is some nice wood in the old tree, so we aren’t too keen on relegating it directly to firewood.  Matt thinks he can do some rough planks to make a bench and possible picnic table if we can be patient enough to let it dry out properly.

In the meantime, the tarpaulin that we threw over the top of the old pump house to keep the weather out keeps getting blown off, and when I went out to measure the concrete pad it sits on this morning, I really couldn’t be sure what might be lurking amongst the alluring blue folds.

I maintain a healthy respect for some of the more slithery brands of wildlife that we share our home with.  The tarpaulin has to go.

We haven’t been able to source a replacement shed of the same size at a reasonable price, but Matt found some fairly cheap prefab sheds at the local hardware store.  The one he snapped up looks like it might be too small to fit the pump and all its bits and pieces inside, as well the power point, but, it’s okay, he already has alternative plans for that shed and has his eye on another ‘bargain’ in a slightly larger size.

While the original pump house was just tall enough to fit the pump, the new shed will be able to house some tools as well so that we can leave a few things down near the dam.  We have plans to build a garden on the north facing slope that runs down to the water – maybe a small orchard or some grape vines , or possibly even an extended veggie patch.

Whatever we decide on, the first job will be to erect some kind of enclosure to keep ‘the wallaby’ out.  He doesn’t just eat the fruit, he eats the entire plant, as we have found to our detriment with a cherry tree, an apple, a green gage, and our pear tree (which was doing so well) in our back garden.  I chased him off the peach tree the other day, but some of the lower branches are looking a bit sad.

The impromptu chicken wire fences around the existing garden beds have done their job at keeping young Wally, the possum(s), and the goats at bay, but, sadly, were unable to repel the late frosts that killed off our tomato plants and seriously stunted everything else, or the hot, dry days over summer that took their toll on our veggies.

I’d like to spend more time in the garden, bringing on more edibles by preference, but when school is in, time is regrettably short, so the garden just isn’t looking all that bright at the moment

If nothing else, there’s a lot of weeding to get done.  Not Matt’s favourite job, so it generally comes down to me.  That, and putting up scrappy looking chicken wire fences (that sag, so the possums don’t feel confident climbing over them).  Still, the roses are starting to recover inside their wire-y prison, so I can’t complain too much.

a couple of brave roses putting on a show...

a couple of brave roses putting on a show…

I’ll let you know how the shed project goes.

…this still early day

Early mornings always call to me…

Image

The soft light of the morning sun through the branches of an old tree beside the track.

… and this morning was no exception.

Up with the birds, I pottered around the house, checked my emails, found my camera, and waited for the subtle light of dawn to become strong enough to light my way for a morning stroll.  I was eager to be out and about.

It has been hot of late.  I mean hot.  Too hot to do much outside.  We had a week with temperatures soaring over 40 degrees Celsius, with the sun too brilliant in a stark blue sky, and gusty, drying winds.  Every morning we closed up the house, drawing blinds and shutting windows to keep the heat out, and spent our days in quiet reading and long cool drinks.

Saturday saw us loading the water tank onto the back of the Land Rover and checking the pumps as the sky thickened with smoke blowing up from fires down the coast and to the south of us.  Keeping track of updates on the NSW RFS feed, we were very aware of five fires within 20 to 30 kilometres of Seventy Seven Acres.  Will and I were just back from a brief sojourn down at the beach, arriving home to find Matt busily preparing hoses and pumps, not sure, at that stage, how far away the fires were.

Having driven back through the smoke, and seen the way it was blowing inland as we got closer to home, I was pretty sure we were safe, but we were both keen to be certain.  At Matt’s suggestion, I turned the car around and did a bit of a trek down the Valley to check for any as yet unreported columns of smoke closer to home.  Matt was wondering whether there might be something in the forest reserve on our southern boundary which could have explained why the smoke was so heavy out our way.  All, however, was apparently clear  –  but the smoke was still getting thicker, and the wind was picking up.

I hadn’t unpacked the car from our overnighter at the beach, and decided that it could wait.  Just in case.

Then came the rain.

Not much, or for long, but enough to clear the air and damp down the parched grass.  It rode in on a southerly change which brought cooler air.  We all breathed again, and stood around in the rain, glad of the respite from the heat (and smoke).

Image

Trees reflecting in the still water of the bottom dam…

So, this morning I was determined to get out for a walk and take advantage of the milder weather.

I enjoyed my ramble around the bush, heading up the track and across to the top of the block before taking a diagonal path down towards the second creek and back to the rough track past the bottom dam and on below the house.  I then took a brief detour down the towards the road, then back up beyond the main dam, before cutting back to the house, taking some quick photos on the way.  Both dams are looking low after the hot, dry spell, but nothing to panic about, yet.

Image

You can see how the main dam is sitting a good 30cm lower than capacity.

All the tanks are close to full, and we have a bit more rain forecast for the coming week.  The sky is heavy with cloud at the moment, and I’m watching it carefully, but I don’t think it will rain before tonight.

I’m hoping that we’ll get enough rain to top up the dams and maybe green the place up a bit more, but even a small amount will be welcome…

… and if I’m lucky, I might even get to go for a walk in the rain tomorrow morning.