The Peewees own the Jacaranda out the front of my place; it gives them the best vantage point to make forays onto my verandah, foul the white railing and attack my windows. They have a go at the windows of any parked car too.

So a huge fuss from them made me look up.

Guess who?

My absent Father Frogmouth and one of the teenage offspring, I assume.

The Peewees aren’t using their clay nest any more as their young are flying, following them and loudly whinging for food. Nevertheless, they did not welcome these squatters.

My bird book calls them Australian Magpie-larks, but however one names them we agree that Peewees are notoriously ‘bravely combative and noisy in defence of their territory’.

The Frogmouths are well camouflaged amongst the tessellated bark of the convoluted Jacaranda branches. Try as I might, I could not get a clear shot of the hunched up young one, but the aristocratic Dad wasn’t shy.

So good to see them!

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Wildlife seems to find me. This impressive stick-insect right beside my front door was spotted by my son-in-law when he arrived.

I think this is a female Titan Stick-insect, Acrophylla titan.

She was easily 300mm long, compared here with her discoverer’s hand.

I was afraid to harm those fragile limbs in trying to dislodge her, but she was not interested in walking on to a twig either.

This stick-insect is from the Phasmatidae family. Six-legged vegetarians, they are often confused with the carnivorous Mantids — as in the Praying Mantis.

As you can see, she’d have superb camouflage on bark or branches, so why she chose to walk away from any trees or shrubs, across a wide timber verandah, and climb up a grey painted weatherboard wall I cannot imagine. She can’t fly — unless ‘she’ is a ‘he’, as the males can, but they are smaller.

Next morning she was gone, nowhere in sight. A mysterious visit by an example of amazing Nature!

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This is an extract from Chapter 16, ‘Let the sun shine’ in The Woman on the Mountain. It was also included as a stand-alone piece in an anthology by Catchfire Press called Stories for a Long Summer (2006).

Summer once meant glorious, golden sunshine, for outdoor playing and swimming, from sunup to sundown if we could wangle it. Painful sunburn and peeling skin was inevitable, every year, for everyone except those with foreign, that is, not English, Irish or Scottish, skin. We soothed the burns by dabbing with vinegar or cut tomatoes, picked at the dry skin as it peeled, and drew satisfaction from extra long strips removed. Noses and shoulders were always the worst and most frequently burnt. As new freckles appeared we joked about ‘sunkisses’. I could count mine then.

By my fifteenth year it was all about sunbaking in bikinis, a race to ‘get a tan’ quickest, grilling our bodies like skinny sausages, assisted by a coconut oil baste. This ritual was interrupted only by an occasional stroll to the water, mainly to see and be seen by the unattainable golden boys with their goods on show in Speedos. As our costumes shrank to four brief triangles, soft and virginal bands of flesh burnt so badly the pink turned livid, yellowish, and school uniforms and seats could hardly be borne on Mondays. But we persevered, for white skin had the connotation of slugs, not porcelain. Not that I’d ever have the choice again, having by now acquired a permanent shawl of sunkisses.

Fifteen years later, summer meant the annual angst in front of unfriendly mirrors and lying saleswomen over whether we could still get away with wearing a two-piece costume. It was spent supervising sandcastles and shell collections, soggy towels and gritty kids, with hardly a minute to ourselves for sunbaking. As we still did, with suntan lotion overall, zinc cream or sunscreen only applied to acknowledged vulnerable bits. We did wear hats.

These days summer brings danger. Sunbaking, suntanning, sunkisses – such antiquated words, such tragic innocence. Forget sunscreen; with the hole we’ve made in the ozone layer, we need sunblock. Slip, slop, slap. Kids are growing up with sunblock as their second skin, they swim in neck-to-knee lycra and aren’t allowed to play outside at school without a hat. They are taught to be as afraid of our once-beneficent sun as of strangers. It’s like science fiction come horribly true. I dread the announcement that constant exposure to sunscreen has been found to be carcinogenic, but I won’t be surprised.

My swimsuit mostly functions as a relic of my past, to be found scrunched in the back of a drawer along with lace handkerchiefs, suspender belts, French knickers and tired G-strings. Summer glare and heat are too savage for me to want to be outdoors at all. Instead of exposing winter flesh, I cover up more, never leaving my verandah without throwing on my sunfaded Akubra hat and the longsleeved cotton shirt, usually a man’s work shirt, second-hand, that will be hanging there.

Too many threatening spots and lumps have already been removed, after hiding amongst the thousands of freckles of my inappropriate Celtic skin. I go to my skin cancer clinic every six months for a checkup. The doctor, genetically brown-skinned and unfreckle-able, shakes his head at the mottled map of my youth each time I take off my shirt.

I have copies of The Woman on the Mountain which you can buy at a special price here.

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No partridges or pear trees for me this Christmas, but Rainbow Lorikeets in a Jacaranda.

Gorgeously coloured, brighter than Christmas decorations, yet unseen by me until I heard the unmistakable, unstopping whinging of baby birds…

Far up in the Jacaranda where I’d not have been looking, they were just a darker blob from the ground.

But the constant carry-on gave them away. I assume parents and two young, but they all looked the same from way down here.

Not nesting, just resting … and gone next day.

I had one more Christmas visit: an afternoon sojourn in a shady tree by my Tawny Frogmouth Dad and one young, surely a teenager by now. The latter appeared asleep, nestled up against Dad on a very hot Christmas Eve.

So good to see at least half the family and know all was still well.

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Somewhat disgusting? Totally amazing!

The first slime mould sighting in my new place.

Filaments and networks forming a weird yellowish mass on the woodchip pile.

The colour caught my eye, but only after I’d been stopped by another more familiar slime mould nearby.

I think this is what is often called the Dog’s Vomit slime mould.

Slime Moulds are an extraordinary group of organisms called Myxomycetes — neither plant nor animal nor fungi. There are more than 1000 species of these ‘intelligent slime’ identified.

Apparently they suddenly get together in a mass of protoplasm and ooze along very, very, very slowly, feeding until ready to start producing spore.

The species are all different, but all equally incredible. Nature at its most strange.

If you’ve never come across these ephemeral ‘creatures’, take a look here and here at my Mountain posts when I first met them, where there is more information and links.

And then I spotted these.

Tiny orange fungi, sticks like popsicles with chocolate coated tops, albeit slimy ones.
Around them were dried-up versions of the same, so it seems they do not transform or open out.

I’ve been so focused on what’s in the trees here that I’d forgotten the secret surprises that can arise from the soil.

The day after my solar panels went on, I checked the Frogmouth tree first thing in the morning as usual and was shocked to find it empty, on nest and branches.

It was too early, the babies were too young, the book said 25 days… yet flown they were.

I was sad, bereft, felt unfairly abandoned. Hadn’t I been a good host?

I did look in the nearby trees but saw no sign of them.

Then the next day, I heard the hum and followed it to the camphor laurel just beyond my side fence, closer to my verandah than the nest had been.

Yep, there they were!

The father and the two babies, one of which was already practising the broken-off dead branch pose. The other was waddling along a nearby lower branch a little, to and fro, rather like a parrot.

And then the waddling one actually flew, not far, just to the branch where its father sat. I had realised they must have flown from the nest tree, but somehow didn’t believe it until I saw it.

It did look rather smug after the feat.

The baby waddled along the branch until it was next to Dad. It looked me in the eye as I zoomed in for a better photo.

And then it leant in and nestled up to Dad, like any baby does, for comfort.

I couldn’t help uttering a soppy ‘Ah-h-h’.

How cute was that?

I had hoped they’d use that tree as they grew, but they were only there for one day. A week has passed without a sighting.

I have spotted two in a tree once, but the young are so big now that it’s getting hard to tell young from old. I worry, why only two?

I am grateful for this reserve where there are enough safe trees en masse for them to choose from and fly between.

I am grateful I was privileged to see as much as I did of their youth.

When planning to move to the bush back in the late 1970s, the main company I knew where one could get items essential for the alternative life, like a manual stone mill for grinding flour, was Self-Sufficiency Supplies, then in Newcastle. It was run by Brian England.

Amazingly, that company is still going, based in Kempsey, and with Brian still at the helm. The world has at last caught up with Brian’s vision, and his company is renowned, as their signs say, as ‘Solar Experts’.

I’d written several Owner Builder Magazine stories where Self-Sufficiency Supplies had installed the solar electricity systems and heard nothing but praise for Brian and team. He is also the winner of the 2015 National Solar Installation Award and was inducted into the Solar Hall of Fame in 2016.

So naturally it was Brian I called for my first step in making my new home as self-sufficient as possible.

My north-facing roof could fit 16 panels, a 4KW system, grid-connected for the time being.

Once a safe path was devised across and along my unsupported bullnose verandah roof, team members Jamie Metcalf and Sean Paterson erected the support frames.

It was afternoon and the day had well and truly heated up by the time Sean installed the first panel. He’d already spent far too much time inside my overly hot roof space helping run the cables, but seemed to always wear a smile regardless.

It was late in the day as he carried the last panels up to Jamie.

For the whole day electrician Dave Aulsebrook had been working below on what looked like complicated wiring.

Brian England was there to supervise and be consulted on any curly issues; he says that each team member is pretty much a ‘jack of all trades’.

Finally my neat control board on the verandah was complete, ready to be programmed and set to work, converting sunlight into power.

Those of you who have read The Woman on the Mountain know I was on stand alone solar for 20 years, so it has felt weird and wasteful not to be doing that.

Whilst I am still grid-connected, using it as backup, my electricity supplier, Powershop, will give me about 12.8 c per KW I feed in. Check Powershop out if you haven’t already, top marks for flexibiilty in buying and pricing and communication as well as green credentials… and mention my name please if you switch! (Enova are good but had said they couldn’t supply here.)

After a long and hot day, my smiling Solar Experts had set my system up, checked it out and explained the manuals. They packed their gear, ready to drive back the several hours to Kempsey.

The Frogmouth babies are now sitting independently – and out from under the patient parent. I have since learnt that this is mainly the male, as he does the long nest/egg sitting and minds the babies, in daytimes at least.

A house husband, in fact, as Tawny Frogmouths mate for life.

I see little activity but they do stretch their wings a bit when they go through self-cleaning lessons.

I hear the adult hum-hum-hum at times but no learner efforts at this, or indeed any whinging for food as I hear with most baby birds.

At times I can only see one baby and worry one has been taken or fallen, but a different vantage point has always revealed the other close by.

I hope enough nocturnal insects fly into the family’s mouths or the parents catch enough moths on the wing at night.

I read that the chicks will be ready to leave in about 25 days after hatching.

I will be fascinated to watch their progress towards being fully fledged.

I guess the lack of activity is part of their training, to be still, as still as a stick or branch stump, perfectly camouflaged against the bark.

Frogmouth family

November 20, 2017
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From my deck the familiar Frogmouth lump in the tree seemed to have doubled. She-oak bark camouflaged as this bird is, my eyes always need to peer hard to work out this lump’s doings. But there were two of them, one on the nest and one on an adjacent branch. Great; a pair! And then […]

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Passion in the Pilliga

November 13, 2017
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Last weekend about 300 people gathered from farflung parts of the east coast to show that they cared — about the unique Pilliga Forest and its flora and fauna, about the Great Artesian Basin, about the farmers of the North West — and about the Santos CSG Narrabri Project that threatens them all. Most camped […]

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Reclusive visitor

November 6, 2017
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We’ve had rain, and the rocks in my back yard path are a bit slippery. But not slimy with weed, so this rock caught my eye. And then I saw that it had back legs. A tortoise; but was it digging in or out? Right next to a cement slab didn’t seem a smart choice […]

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Familiar faces

October 25, 2017

As at my last two homes, I see a lot of wildlife just from my decks and verandahs, perhaps because I choose homes that are part eyrie. Not having heard kookaburras here yet, I was delighted to see this one last evening, just metres away from my side verandah. Such a handsome fellow! Next day, […]

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