Return of the Frogmouth kids?

Poking about under the small clump of trees on my block, I was pointing up into the skinniest Casuarina to show a visiting weed controller where the Frogmouth nest was.

‘Well, there’s two up there now’, he said.

At first all I could see were two odd shapes against the light.

When I moved around the tree to the better, non-backlit side, there they were– unmistakably two Frogmouths playing at dead branches.

Of course I went for the camera, as its zoom enables me to see so much better. Aren’t they beautiful close up?

Are these are the grown siblings come back to their birthplace, albeit in a different fork of that tree, or one of them and a parent, or the two original parents?

Whatever they are, I am thrilled to have them back!

Turtle Doves

Ever since I moved here I have seen this pair of doves in my back yard, always together, never alone. Sometimes they are very close, as in sharing the top of a gate post.

They fly up and off quickly if they see me, so without the motivation of a photo, I hadn’t looked them up in bird books.

Finally I did get a few shots, from my back deck. Now I know they are Turtle Doves, of almost mythical pairdom and ‘lovey-dovey’ fame.

These are actually Spotted Turtle Doves (Streptopelia chinensis), introduced from India in the 1860s. They have spread pretty much all up the east coast now.

They coo gently, and the sexes look the same. Lovely soft-looking and soft-sounding birds, nice to have about, but apparently they are replacing native doves in some areas.

Then today I spotted a small group of four out the front, near a quite busy road.

I rushed to the back to see if ‘my’ Turtle Doves were there; no sign of them. So were they two of this four and were the others family members just visiting?? They all look the same!

Jack’s back

My favourite lizard at the Mountain was the cheeky Jacky (Amphibolurus muricatus). I missed him.

But after six months in my new home, I think one of his cousins has come to live here.

He was stretched out across my makeshift plastic-covered hothouse for carrots, catching the last of the afternoon sun.

I ran for the camera but he was quick to dash away. I laughed aloud with delight to see that familiar high-legged splayed gait, long needle tail held out stiff and straight behind — just like a mini-dinosaur.

It looked like a Jack was back in my life.

This one bore different colours from my Mountain mate, but they do vary a lot with gender and temperature. He ran under the house on to a pile of timber, where I couldn’t get a good photo. But enough to marvel anew at those delicate toes and the intricate studded patterns of his stripes. If he’s not a Jacky lizard, he’ll still be Jack to me… and very welcome too!

Old friend

I have always needed a writing work space with connection to the outdoors, and I have had that at my Mountain and my last place. Here I have had to create it by inserting two windows to give me the natural views I crave.

This means I can see a fair bit of the birdlife activity, even from my desk.

Which is how I spotted this White-headed Pigeon on my deck railing.

I vividly recall the gradual growth of visits – and visitors – from these handsome pigeons before; first one, then a few, then a flock would start to come around.

I welcome this reconnoitring advance male, and hope for him to return with friends.

As I have observed before, they have adapted to like feeding on the introduced camphor laurels, which no doubt helped save their declining numbers, but does spread the trees.

Unfortunately — apart from attracting the pigeons — I have some here.

Their call is somewhat mournful and not especially musical, with its repetitive ‘oom’.

Their dapper plumage is actually more colourful than at first glance, as there is a purplish-green sheen on the back and rump. The red details on beak, eye ring and legs and feet serve to complement the outfit nicely!

I’ve posted often about these pigeons — try here, here, here and here.

Kooka colony

Being bordered by a forest on two sides means I have great close-ish views of many birds.

I hear and see kookaburras quite often, usually in ones or sometimes twos.

This pair were on lookout duty in a large camphor laurel tree.( I have planted a small self-sown strangler fig at its base, hoping that one day native Nature will win.)

Then I noticed a third handsome kooka on a lopped arm of a different tree nearby. It seemed to have something in its beak, but which looked more plant than animal, a stem perhaps, mistaken from on high for a worm.

I don’t know if a trio constitutes a colony (I just like alliteration), but I’d say it’s at least a family.

I wrote about them in my first two books, and drew one, a fellow Mountain resident, in Mountain Tails.

Here’s an extract about kooka families from that chapter, ‘Kookaburra kingdom’

I’ve learnt that Laughing Kookaburras live for several decades and are stay-at-home family birds, partnering for life and keeping their offspring around them in large family groups, where all the older ones help their parents raise the nestlings.

Human families used to do that in the pre-Pill days when four kids was the norm; six and up if you were Catholic, obeyed the Pope and relied on the unreliable rhythm method; two was unusual, a bit sad, given that there must be a physical reason why you’d stopped there; and the rare only child and its parents were much pitied. Bogging in to help feed the littlies, wipe their noses, find the other sock, tie their shoelaces or keep them away from under Mum’s feet was the accepted cross of being older, just part of family life.

As kookaburras haven’t heard about the Pill, things haven’t changed for them. My head knows that those morning and evening kooka choruses that echo around the ridges here are to help the different family groups re-establish their territorial boundaries, like auditory suburban paling fences. Yet my heart says they also do it for sheer joy, since their performance is so wholehearted, beaks pointing skywards, throats vibrating, as they sing the daylight in and out.

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

Squatters

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!

Walking sticks

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!

Christmas birds

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.

Soil surprises

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.

Reclusive visitor

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 either way.

Of course I ran for the camera, hoping it would still be there. I tiptoed around the front of it and knelt down. The small head with that distinctive pointy nose turned slightly towards me and one bright beady eye summed me up.

‘Better retreat’ was the decision. Not wanting to disturb its plans, I left it alone, but it was nowhere to be seen later. From the weed on its shell I suspect it had walked up from the wetlands below the yard.

I hope it found a suitable spot in my yard… and felt safe. Maybe I need a sign ‘All wildlife welcome’?

The water word is out

After the White-faced Heron staking a claim on my pond, the word seems to have got out to other water birds that the pond is here and the surrounding lawn is soggy enough to easily poke a long waterbird beak into.

A small troupe of iridescent Straw-necked Ibis were here the other day, strutting and poking happily, until the Magpies sent all but one packing.

Then it too took off, recognising, as do most birds, that maggies rule.

I am keen to see what other waterbirds visit, now the word is out.

 Pond tenant

I have never had a waterbird on my shed roof, yet a few days ago this solitary White-faced Heron was using it as a lookout post.

A common enough heron apparently, but not here, not yet, to me.

The only water nearby is my rather pathetic pond-cum-drainage attempt. Could that be what had attracted him?

Yes. He floated down with those effortless large wings and began the inspection of possible premises.

As he strutted along the perimeter of the ‘moat’, I had the chance to see what my bird book calls ‘the long grey nuptial plumes’ on the back.

Then he hopped in and I could just see the head bobbing along, disappearing now and then as he poked that long beak into the shallow water. Scoffing tadpoles?

I was so pleased that a waterbird had found my pond, but assumed it was a fleeting visit.

Not so. Each day since, he has appeared somewhere in the yard, then perched on my verandah roof and sailed above my head down to the pond and its surrounds.