On the creek flat paddock both birds and beasts feed together amicably. Clancy the horse is the boss and keeps the two dairy steers, Salt and Pepper, in line. As usual there is a pecking order, so the smaller steer, Pepper, comes last.
Why do Cattle Egrets prefer cattle to horses? Clancy does often have a Willy Wagtail riding on his back, but no Egrets at his feet… or hooves.
Pepper is not sure he wants them at his feet — I mean hooves — at all.
From the higher vantage points on the house hill, the Magpies and Butcher Birds keep an eye on the goings-on below. Just in case their intervention is needed… or something tasty is turned up.
As I’ve never been one for expensive jewellery, the ephemeral gems that nature offers now and then are quite enough to send me into raptures. They are only visible when the night dew has been caught by them, the sun’s light catches them in turn, and I awake in time to catch the sight of the fleeting treat of strings of tiny diamonds.
They are especially welcome because they appear to decorate the wintry bare of twigs and vines, to interlink the sticks about to be pruned and set wheels of wonder amongst them. This triple display demonstrates that they’re available in a range of sizes.
Set amongst the lichened arms, while the sun is behind them, the intricacy of the night’s work in these webs is clear for the moment. Stunning engineering and art.
And then there’s the slings, the hammocks of gossamer, stronger, more layers, to catch…?
But if I miss the diamonds, as the sun’s heat intensifies I am given the spectacle of the ground steaming as if I have hot springs just over my garden edge.
Never a dull moment when you live with nature on even a small scale — so long as you take the time to notice it.
Visiting the Brisbane Water National Park on the NSW Central Coast, I was struck by the determination of trees to survive.
The acrobatic and colourful trunks of Angophora Costata (Sydney Blue Gum) caught my eye most, forcing their way out between slabs of sandstone and twisting their way upwards as needed — or fancied.
I was surprised to see some wildflowers out, but they couldn’t compete with the spectacular Banksias, glowing amber in their rugged trees like lit lanterns, fringed with shining burgundy.
Nearer the ground the dainty bells of Correa and the pale sunlit puffs of Wattle caught my eye. Both had spiky hard leaves, as befits the tough rocky environment in which they grew.
At the base of the gully a creek had sculpted the sandstone over eons, the damp shade fostering a whole other world of plants.
Whether ghostly green with moss, sheltering ti-tree liquid gold, or striking white with lichen, lapping at the edges, the rocks were wonderful.
Wet or dry, it was the details that drew me: the bright leaves trapped against the rock like flies in amber, or the bush-fire limned bark flakes of an old tree up the slope, badges of survival.
April ended in soft showers and wild storms, sunshowers and sunny patches, gentle grey drizzle and roof-rattling torrents.
We needed the actual water to fill the tanks and keep the creek flowing happily — and to fill my new pond.
But we also received bonuses with this mix of elements. The most striking were the rainbows.
This one had an echo, a fainter twin following it across the greyness of the watery sky, seemingly separated by a band of darker sky. Or is that an illusion?
The other bounty is what I have been waiting for all Autumn — the arrival of fungi. Only one so far — and a spectacularly beautiful fungus.
It’s large (that’s my gumboot next to it) a lacy ladies’ parasol, frilled and flocked, white with cream and caramel appliqués on top. I have seen this one before, although not here: Macrolepiota dolichaula.
Now the rain has passed on and the sun is out, I expect more varieties to pop up. I have my eyes on fungi alert from now on…
I had treated myself to a plain terracotta bird bath for my 2015 birthday; then I was given a green glazed one for this year’s birthday.
I couldn’t resist adding some bling with these iridescent stick-on glass beads. They didn’t all stick but nevertheless look pretty.
Not sure yet whether the birds like their bathing Bollywood-style…
The bird baths are for little birds, and lots of those come to drink and splash. But I want to attract waterbirds nearer to the house than the creek.
So a few ponds joined by a moat have been dug. We pumped from the creek to fill them at first, to see if they hold water.
Sadly, as you can see by the dropping water level, they don’t. I’ll need to add Bentonite and see if that helps the obvious clay particles to merge and seal.
Then I’ll add rocks to the edges and plant or stand pots on the ledges that ought to be under water.
This will give some cover for shy ducks and water hens.
I’m sure frogs and water bugs will find it very quickly.
I can’t wait — I’m already imagining a solar fountain, a waterfall…
I am used to seeing splashes and dashes of black and white at a distance, in the tall trees along the creek, for the White-headed Pigeons feed there often.
Near the house I am used to the Magpies and Butcherbirds strutting about in their dapper black and white outfits and singing their own praises.
I am not used to seeing a flock of large unknown black and white birds feeding on the creek flat. I counted 22! From the house they looked as big as pelicans, but clearly weren’t.
They were keeping their heads down, their beaks poked well into the grass, which was also long enough to hide their legs, so I was at a loss to work out what they might be.
The camera zoom finally found me a couple who had ventured into shorter grass. Long beak, long legs.
Ibis of a sort, but which?
They had to be Straw-necked Ibis, the most common in Australia. I could see the greenish sheen on their backs, and even if I couldn’t really see straw-coloured tufts on their chests, there were tufts.
Being vagrants, they were gone by evening.
But I am always grateful for even fleeting visits from wild creatures.
Firstly, I’d like to apologise for the dearth of blog posts lately. The website has been in process of transferring servers and this has been more of a prolonged nightmare than imagined, with many unexpected side effects and hiccups.
Hopefully we can now get back into a routine of weekly posts, where I snap and rabbit on about my wildlife and webmaster Fred turns them into web language.
On a bushwalk I noticed this odd swathing at the base of a tree.
A bug-savvy friend tells me this is probably the home of one of the ‘bag moth caterpillars’ — family Ochrogaster, also called procession caterpillars. Apparently they feed at night on the tree and ‘hide’ in their web during daylight.
Then I found a smaller swathing. Having harvested the Kangaroo Apple bushes which were about at the end of their season, I’d put the oldest fruit in a dish, prior to planting them.
I’d left it overnight on a table on the verandah.
In the morning, I found they were neatly and thoroughly enmeshed by the web of a tiny, hard-working spider.
What amazed me was how it had formed anchor points on the smooth sides of the stainless steel dish. Some superglue!
I have always envied people who have butcher-bIrds in their environs. I never have, despite them being distributed over most of Australia.
My magpies are handsome and dapper enough to cover the visual advantages of black and white birds, and I do love their songs…
But they cannot compete with the songs of butcher-birds.
And this week I saw one here, just in front of the desk window. Or I thought I did. It took off so fast I fancied I may have been mistaken; just wishful thinking.
Like when I’d fancied I heard a butcher-bird call here a few times; not being so familiar with them I wasn’t sure.
My bird book describes its song as ‘Beautiful flute-like calls, one of the most common recalling Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony’.
But then I spotted it over on the little shed roof, a tiny spot of black and white. The camera zoom confirmed it was a Pied Butcher-bird.
If you’re wondering why they are called that, my book says it’s because they wedge their prey in a suitable branch fork to make feeding easier.
And if you’re also wondering why my back yard looks like a quarry, I am aiming to turn my boggy flat into a pond. Now I wait for rain to see if it holds water.
Maybe then I’ll have water birds visit…