Borders open

Hearing a new bird call, I searched the trees in my back yard. The call was familiar, yet not one I’d heard for some time.

It was a monotonous repeated call, the sort that might drive you crazy.

I located its maker, a lone Koel, unmistakable visually even if I’d momentarily forgotten which bird makes that sound: ‘koo-eel, koo-eel’ ad nauseam.

Its blue-black plumage, long shapely tail and red eyes mark it as a male Koel. And its arrival means the borders are open, as this migratory bird comes south from New Guinea from September onwards. It likes our humid coastal areas and rainforest fringes.

Part of the Cuckoo family, it shares the typical ‘parasitic’ habit of getting other birds to raise their Koel young by placing their eggs in a host’s nest.

So the Koel need not build its own nest, and has time to perch in people’s yards and announce that Spring is here and the borders are open!

Sanctuary?

When I spotted an odd long-legged bird in the lower corner of my yard, of course I went for the camera. Then I noticed that this bird was not walking, but hopping.

As I got closer, it seemed to have been injured, perhaps attacked by a dog?

Why had it not flown off from the dog?  Perhaps its wing was also hurt.

But how had it got into my yard, and was it now stuck here?

That question was soon answered, as the wary bird flew up to perch on the fence.

Clutching with the claws of one foot, the other a mere balancing prop, I was surprised it could stay there.

As it took off, I hoped it would find somewhere safe to take refuge until its injuries mended.

I checked my book: I had been visited by a Sacred (White) Ibis. The adjoining wetland draws occasional surprises in waterbirds.

A few days later, it was back, still hopping. Had it but known I have no dog, it would have realised that here was a safe place, a sanctuary. But again its visit was brief.

Should I put up a sign? ‘Dog-free zone. All wildlife welcome.’

All creatures great and small

Every morning I go out to check on my Frogmouth residents. They were not there the last two days and I fretted that they had left me. But no, they are back today, and not cuddled together as was usual. Is it warmer?

As I greeted them, one fixed me with its golden eye while its mate began assuming the broken branch pose. ‘I am not here’.

‘Don’t worry’, I assured them. ‘You are safe here, so please don’t go elsewhere for good!’

On my early mornings checks of the yard, I often see the intact wonders of overnight webweaving. I think this quite raggedy one on the Native Finger Lime may have its weaver at the centre? Better eyesight than mine must decide.

The maker of this more symmetrical circular web on the Acacia perangusta must be hiding amongst its leaves and blossoms.

Not having as much wildlife as I had at the Mountain, I treasure each and every creature… great and small.

Autumn ‘B’ treats

As the days remain cool and the nights even more so, I am beginning to trust that Autumn is here to stay. No more bursts of  summer heat to wilt or scorch seedlings with unexpected ferocity.

It also means I can justify lighting my Thermalux wood heater/stove… and I can bake bread the way I used to at the Mountain. My loaves are heavy with oats and rye, maize and spelt flours, mixed and kneaded Tassajara-style, crunchy with millet, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds. They are satisfying on so many levels, including the visual, so Bread is my first Autumn photographic treat to share.

The next has to be Birds.

Apart from my Frogmouth couple, I have an indoor trio that give me pleasure every day, especially of an afternoon when they are sunlit. This is a particularly Autumn treat because only now is the sunshine welcome rather than to be shunned, curtained out.

The biggest is a perfectly balanced rocking bird from a woodworker’s gallery in Fish Creek, Victoria; its small adoring friend is a piece of driftwood I have had for decades, and the gay little lead light wren perched in an antique wick surround was made by my clever and creative sister Colleen.

Not that I have forgotten the outside Birds; I visit daily to see how they are, but as the nights have grown colder they huddle so closely and fluff up their feathers so fatly and fully that their heads are hidden. Their tree sways in these Autumn winds but they remain unmoved, asleep and snugly side-by-side.

The third B was a surprise. As the Buddleia and most of the salvias are finishing their flowering, I see less butterflies. But after visiting the Frogmouths I spotted this sole Butterfly on the Geisha Girl blossoms. It was fluttering and flitting too fast and frequently to photograph it, but then it flew onto the verandah and simply settled on the leaves. Unmoving. Resting?

I think it is an Australian Gull (Cepra perimale scyllara) although I fail to see the gull likeness that may have caused it to be so named. Can you?

Cool couple

It’s no secret that I love Tawny Frogmouths. Every day now I go out to look up into the bottlebrush tree and and see if my two new visitors are still there. They have been sitting well apart, and are mostly just visible as two blobs amongst the branches. Only one can really be seen in the dense foliage.

And he/she can see me, as this rather annoyed look shows. ‘So what you gawping at?!’

Or is it ‘Can’t a bird get some decent sleep around here?’

Most of the time they seem to take up the same separate positions on the branch each day, and sleep the warm days away.

I have seen them described as ‘grotesque’ but to me they are beautiful in a unique and characterful way.

Who could resist those softly patterned feathers, such clever camouflage that they can simply nap in view all day, unlike other night birds like owls?

Or that prominent tuft above the beak, which always impresses me as long eyelashes, although unromantically described as ‘bristles’ in my bird book

Then, after one especially cold night, early next morning when I went to check, I found them snuggled up together, feathers fatly fluffed. And so they stayed all day. My very cool couple, keeping warm.

Corona purple

I have been consciously searching for my alternative Corona time colour, given we do not seem to be having Autumn. I have decided the colour will be purple, as more plants are flaunting that than any other colour. As ‘Corona’ means crown, it is quite fitting that the royal colour of purple be the symbolic colour of this time.

But purple is a borderline colour: when does it cross the line to blue, as many of my bee-buzzed Salvias do?

And how nuanced must the purple shade be, as in these beautiful Acacia baileyana purpurea trees, with each branch of sage green leaves ending in a pale purplish haze?

But while I was searching for my colour, I noticed two dark blobs high up in the densely leaved bottlebrush tree out front — nests?

To my great delight, the blobs are two Tawny Frogmouths! Almost impossible to get a clear photo as the leaves and branches criss-cross most successfully to hide them.

Not colourful, but the kind of unique beauty I can never have enough of.

I am seldom out in this part of the garden as it is next to the road, so were I not looking so hard for my Corona colour emblem, I may not have seen these hidden gems.

Dainty drop-in

Although there is no standing water in my yard, the wetlands lagoon nearby attracts waterbirds who occasionally drop in to my garden to see what my vegetation might hold.

This elegant creature is a White-faced Heron, apparently common enough all over Australia, but not seen by me anywhere else I have lived.

It flew in for a brief visit, had a good look about and seemed to decide against what was on offer. The long brownish feathers on the chest and those sweeping grey ones on its back are called ‘nuptial plumes’.

Its legs look too spindly to support it, and as it high-stepped around, it undulated its very long neck in ripples back and forwards, as if swallowing something.

Its very perfunctory check of my back yard was clearly a negative result, except for the pleasure it brought me to see it!

Water wanderers

After my last odd waterbird visitor, the Royal Spoonbill, I thought I had spotted another strange long-legged, long-beaked bird down there in the wetlands.

But when it settled its ruffled feathers and assumed a more familiar stance, it revealed itself to be not really odd at all.

Perhaps oddly out of place, as there are no cattle here, and I think it is the quite common Cattle Egret.

I have usually seen it in groups around cows in paddocks, some often perched on the backs of cows.

Native to Africa and Asia, they were introduced to Australia in 1948 – as was I! – and have spread successfully into new territories, including America.

Equally common, and perhaps equally out of place, was this Long-necked Tortoise, seen wandering in my dry back yard, heading uphill from the wetlands.

As it still had damp mossy patches on its back, it can’t have been lost or misguided for long.

I stood very still as It looked about carefully, fixing my feet at least with those gimlet eyes.

Then it turned itself about and, very purposefully and surprisingly swiftly, headed downhill towards the water. 

There is a low old paling fence to be negotiated but, as I later saw, it found the worn parts and dug away until it was on the watery side where it belonged.

But why had it left and what led it to think there’d be water up here?

These wetlands are a boon in attracting wild creatures; after all, water is life.

Solo Spooner

A glimpse of white down there in the wetlands, seen from my deck as I was hanging out washing; triple blink. What on earth could that be? Camera grab, race down to the yard, tiptoe to my fence.

The strange creature’s spoon-shaped bill said ’Spoonbill’ of course, although I have never had one visit me, here or elsewhere.

But it seemed to have a neck that could swivel 360 degrees. Cleaning its feathered back? Or scratching?

Apart from acrobatic ablutions, that long beak is used for sweeping shallow waters for food.

The black bill and legs and the red eyes tell me it is a Royal Spoonbill, confirmed by the impressive crest of head plumes I glimpsed earlier.

With the crest lowered, it looks more like a bearded elder, with hair hanging over its collar. And did it just yawn?

The weird and wonderful denizens of and visitors to even my little patch keep me in touch enough with the wild to survive in a town. Almost…

Parrot parties

Now that my bottlebrush tree is flaunting hundreds of bright red brush-like blossoms, the Rainbow Lorikeets are holding parrot parties. Like all lorikeets, they have a specialised ‘brush-like’ tongue to be able to feed on nectar, but these are the only lorikeets to have a blue head.

Their brilliant colours warrant their name. They are not, however, blessed with a sweet song, and as they feed in flocks, the combined shrill screeching makes me greatly miss the musical calls of my Mountain’s Crimson Rosellas.

My other visiting parrots have been the Galahs; rarely seen here on the coast, they are very common, often in huge flocks, in open country.

Only two came to see what my yard had to offer in the way of food. I assume they didn’t find much to their taste, as they were only here for a day.  Surprising, given their wide range of feeding habits: seeds, grain, fruit, blossom, shoots, as well as insects and their larvae.

I am always grateful not to be a haven for Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, given their raucous screeching, but Galahs are not much better, their calls described by my bird book as ‘loud whistles, strident shrieks and screams’!

But two temporary Galahs can be appreciated.

Early black beauties

Alerted to look up from my desk by whirling aerial activity outside, I saw about six Welcome Swallows flying round and round the back yard airspace.  It looked as frenetic as when the young first fly, but I haven’t noticed any nests on my verandahs or eaves.

There seemed to be other birds in the mix.

When some peeled off to perch, I spotted a Willy Wagtail, who typically did not stop still long enough to be more than a blur.

Then I gasped at this unmistakable fishtail shape.

A Spangled Drongo!

I know; in Australia it sounds like a joke…

I have only seen this bird twice before. It is the only Australian species of drongo, and it is most handsome, with its iridescent feathers, blueish spangle, and bright red eyes.

Today there were two, so I hope they will nest nearby.

Like swallows, they can catch insects on the wing.

However, my bird book says they are migratory, ‘arriving in October and leaving in March’.  We are still in August. Like the fire season, is August the new October?

One of the other dapper black-feathered birds in the yard at the same time was an Australian Magpie-Lark, female I think.

I have usually called them Pee-Wees (after their call) and berated them for attacking my windows, but now I have hung feathers in corks outside, they do not bother with those reflected birds.

As they mostly catch their insects on the ground, they were not competing with the flying food frenzy above. So they are back ready to nest too; theirs is of mud, and has been in the Jacaranda tree in the past. Hmm; but will they find some mud in this drought?

I will keep an eye out for all nesting activity.

Prodigal Frogmouth?

From my kitchen window, I spotted an unusual blob in one of the casuarinas in the yard.  We’d had a windy night, so it could be a broken-off branch.

In fact it was both. The Tawny Frogmouth had wedged itself behind a broken limb, and was there for two days.

Then it appeared in the slimmer neighbouring tree, actually the tree where the ‘nest’ had been in 2017, from which two babies had hatched, to my great delight. The prodigal returns?

Next morning it had moved to a fork in the same tree, but seemed much fatter. Fluffed up to keep warm?

From the front, I was not sure if it was one or two birds. It looked very broad; was it pregnant, returning home to lay those eggs? But if so, where was the nest or stick platform? Inadequate as that had seemed, it had served its purpose, but had long since broken up.

As the sun warmed the yard,  it moved from the fork and perched on a broken branch. Definitely one bird. And definitely fat.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on any stick activity in that home tree.