Tag Archives: birds

Golden Wattle and Blue Skies

wattle in bloom

Wattle in bloom

The first sign of spring at SeventySevenAcres comes with the gentle buzz of bees, and blue, blue skies, as the wattle bursts into bloom, tree by tree.

There is something really special about stealing a couple of minutes in the middle of the afternoon to find a sheltered position in the sun on the lawn, to close your eyes and listen to the sound of the bees as they industriously buzz around the little pom pom flowers, and breathe in the heady, fresh-linen scent that fills the air from the glorious bright yellow blooms.

Don’t be fooled, though. Once the sun drops over the hills to the west, we know well and truly that it is still winter.

This winter has been particularly chilly, and we have burnt our way through all our reserves of firewood just to stay warm. This year saw several snowfalls at SeventySevenAcres, one deep enough to hang around for a couple of days (I know this is nothing in some parts of the world, but for us it was pretty exciting), but mostly we have had thick frosts and biting winds off the Australian Alps.

Many an afternoon has been spent wrapped up in front of the fireplace, with a good book and a warm cuppa, rather than braving the great outdoors.

Our veggie beds look like a mass of weeds, and will need quite some work before spring proper comes and we want to start planting out. I can see some very busy times ahead.

I’m also going to have to grow some resolve and get walking again. It has been too easy to decide it is too cold or too windy to go out regularly, so apart from some brief forays to collect kindling and admire how full the dam is at present, I haven’t really been out and about, and I can tell from how inflexible and unfit I feel!

Lyrebird by dam

a lyrebird beside the dam

A few good hikes up the mountain should fix that, but I’ve got to psyche myself into it first! And, of course, I’m so easily distracted by all the beautiful sights and sounds around the property. It doesn’t take much for me to stop and watch while some birds flit through the trees, or an echidna waddles by (like the one on the track this afternoon as I was driving home from work… sadly, by the time I had pulled my phone out to take a pic, he had waddled off into the bush and I didn’t feel inclined to chase him!)

Echidna

An echidna visiting our garden

Talking of our amazing wildlife, the wombat… sorry, The Wombat has taken up residence again in the wombat hole by the back gate. We are trying to give him lots of space at the moment so he doesn’t feel invaded, but have succumbed to leaving a few old carrots around near the entrance to let him know he is welcome. We will doubtless regret this later, but it is so exciting to feel that after, what, four years (!), he has finally decided we are acceptable-ish.

Of course, our girls (the ‘roo family) have been turning up regularly, but we are yet to see any sign of this year’s babies. That is always a moment of great delight, when we catch a glimpse of a tiny nose poking out of the pouch, or, amusingly, an awkwardly posed leg.

kangaroo and joey

One of our ‘girls’ last year with baby on board

The most common visitors at the moment, though, are the birds that regularly turn up for breakfast. Dusty, the Burrawang, will follow me from room to room, peering with curiosity through the windows, until I take out some left-overs from the night before’s dinner, and will rapidly be joined by an ever increasing array of feathered friends. The magpies are generally second in the queue, along with a family of crimson rosellas, and recently the kookaburra has been joining them on the grass, although the funniest thing I have seen of late was when he dived in and stole food right out of the beak of one of the magpies, without even pausing mid-flight!

We have had a little thrush (still to be properly identified) hopping around, too, along with the whole tribe of blue-wrens.

Later on the choughs and ravens arrive… quite a noisy bunch… and sometimes we’ll get a galah or two, or one of the big sulphur crested cockatoos.

I can never get enough of watching the antics through the kitchen window, and still wonder at our great fortune in being a part of this amazing place.

Don’t get me wrong, though, there are many things that interrupt this view of paradise… pumps that fail, our leaky house-water water tank that will need to be replaced soon, a driveway that is increasingly resembling a goat track, feral goats and pigs (and foxes), some expensive maintenance that is going to be quite tricky to get done… spiders, snakes and biting flies… and the ever present summer threat of bushfire.

All part of taking on a bush property.

But for now, I’ll take the promise of a pleasant afternoon scented with wattle, and the humming of the bees going about their business, with the sun on my face and a not-too-chilly breeze in my hair.

A beautiful moment in time.

wattle in flower

No quotes this time, but I did find a poem that included wattle… however, as it was about where a dying stockman wanted to be buried I decided against using it!

…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.

…away with the birds

Every day brings something new at Seventy Seven Acres.  This morning brought us some unexpected visitors to the garden.  Two.  Well three, really.  A pair of gang-gang cockatoos and a king-parrot.

... the gang-gangs, so close that I could have reached out and touched them

… the gang-gangs, so close that I could have reached out and touched them.

I had already supplemented my favourite burrawangs’ breakfast with a handful of meat scraps from last night’s dinner, and was standing at the kitchen window watching them squabble with a magpie family over who got what.  This is a daily ritual with varying results.  Sometimes Dusty (one of the burrawangs –  a story all unto himself) outwits the magpies, and sometimes the magpies win.  Occasionally the choughs arrive, outnumbering the burrawangs and magpies alike with the sheer size of their large and noisy family.  And even more occasionally a large crow or two will shoulder in on the action.

Not today, though.

Dusty had tricked the magpies into thinking there was a tasty treat in the mulch pile (which there probably was – wood-roaches, caterpillars and centipedes abound) and was filling up with enough of our last night’s leftovers to take back to the nest.

I was watching, as I said, at the kitchen window, when a small grey shadow flew over garden and alighted in a large black wattle just by our back gate.  This small grey shadow was soon joined by another, this one with a brightly plumed red head.

The gang-gangs had arrived.

It didn’t take long to fetch my camera, and I was soon sneaking warily across the back garden hoping to get a good shot without frightening them away.  They were watching me as I focused the camera, zooming in a little, and I was watching them.  Which is why I nearly jumped out of my skin when something flashed right past me at head height, missing me by a hair’s breadth!  Not, as I first assumed, one of the magpies, upset by having breakfast disturbed, but by a cheeky king-parrot who settled on our pergola and blithely cleaned his beak at me as I hastily tried to get a picture of him.

Then I turned back to the project in hand, only to discover the gang-gangs had gone.

Darn.

Except… they were now in the tree right beside me, and I had to un-zoom (a highly technical photographic term) in order to take their picture.

Not to be outdone, the king-parrot turned up on an even closer branch, demanding attention.

I don’t know if they thought I was going to feed them or something, but the two sets of visitors seemed to be vying with each other. I snapped a few quick shots, wondering just how close they would actually get!

With the photo shoot over I slipped away guiltily, wondering what I had in my pantry that might provide a prize for their friendly behaviour.  I’m hoping that the slivers of over-ripe banana that I tossed out for them were what they had in mind.

…the male gang-gang, keeping an eye on what I’m doing

Both gang-gangs and king-parrots are usually seed eaters, and I’m pretty certain that this is what the gang-gangs had been doing in the wattle tree before I turned up on the scene with my camera.  They are gorgeous looking birds,  smaller than the familiar white cockatoo, but with a croaky call a bit like a rusty hinge which is much quieter than their well-know cousin!

Of course, the king parrot is somewhat showier, and quite large in comparison to the gang-gangs.  My field guide tells me that they are generally shy and easily put to flight.  I don’t think this one had read the book.

...the cheeky king-parrot.  I wasn't sure he wasn't actually going to land on me!

…the cheeky king-parrot. I wasn’t sure he wasn’t actually going to land on me!

 

King of the Bush is He…

A pair of kookaburras has recently taken to visiting our garden and the immediate surrounds.  While they are certainly not the only ones around – there are several ‘tribes’ that we hear calling regularly, from different parts of the property – this particular pair are definitely feeling quite at home in our presence.  The one in the photo is watching while Matt is clearing the slope down to the lower dam  (getting rid of the long poa grass and spiky acacia bushes) in preparation for summer, and is not at all worried by the noise of the brush-cutter or the mulcher.Image

Kookaburras are a kind of kingfisher and are quite large in size, up to about 40cms in length.  They are carnivorous birds, mostly living on insects, worms and small crustaceans.  They certainly like the yabbies in our dams.  We often find their leftovers – a bit of claw – here and there around the place. 

I’m told that kookaburras are also partial to frogs, small mammals and birds, and young snakes.  I found a small – somewhat dead –  brown snake, minus its head, outside our bedroom window one day last year, and can only surmise that one of the kookaburras dropped it while flying over!

I’m wondering if this one is on the lookout for a something to eat – he (or she – I’m not sure how to tell) may well be hoping to score a quick treat running (or slithering) away as Matt works his way down towards the water.  Or perhaps he is just curious.  Some of the things we people get up to must be quite incomprehensible to the wildlife we share our home with.

I’m guessing this must be a young pair, just setting up home.  They seem to be on their own, anyway, and not part of one of the other tribes. Apparently, kookaburras mate for life, and the young from previous years’ matings help with parenting duties until they make their own way out into the world, so perhaps these two are enjoying their first season together and will be building up a family over the next few years.

I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for them.

They are a beautiful (and cheerful) addition to the list of visitors whose company we enjoy.