Wagtail babies

As expected, when I returned from a few days away, the Willy Wagtails’ chicks were hatched and hungry. Silent though, unlike the demanding magpie baby in the tree near my bedroom.

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It was soon clear there were three little mouths to be stuffed, and given that they were constantly opening and shutting, I was amazed that the parents managed to get any food down those throats.

Both mother and father were finding food at frantic pace; sometimes the offerings seemed inappropriate, like a whole moth that the parent kept trying to fit in one after another of the tiny beaks. It failed, and flew off, I assume to eat the moth itself.

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The feeding worked rapidly, the babies fattened and fluffed and soon were jampacked in that tiny nest.

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A few days later, it was clear that one baby was top bird; there is always one. This one began stretching wings, standing on top of the others, almost falling out.

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Then came the morning when he stretched them so far that he did, landing on the timber and wondering where he was — and how far down he might fall.
At some stage he discovered he needn’t fall, as he could fly — and did.

It was a worrying time for the parents, trying to protect both the nest babies and the newly departed one. They were chattering warnings at me incessantly. And they were still feeding the whole three.

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Next morning I spotted him in a ti-tree at the other side of the house, looking cold — and probably wondering why he’d left that warm nest. He went back to visit the neighbourhood but didn’t fly up to the nest. I was impressed that he’d found his way.

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Then one more of his siblings made the break.

Mother tried to encourage the last one out of the nest, but no. So now the parents had three separate nursery sites.

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So at last the littlest of the litter had the nest to itself.

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As night fell, I saw that the two braver ones had returned briefly to be near their sibling, to encourage, embolden? 

‘Come on, you can do it; you just flap your wings and it works; you can’t stay there by yourself forever…’

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They were discovered next morning huddled together back on the same ti-tree branch. The night had been cool.

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As the day warmed them all up, the last baby decided to join them. Given they were not vocalising much I am surprised that it found them. The parents were still keeping watch, and still feeding.

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By mid-day the two bolder babies were flying and moving between ti-trees, especially as two honeyeaters were giving strong messages that this was their tree, causing much panicked chattering and swooping from the parents. 

But the last baby clung to that branch despite all, looking frail and frightened.

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Incoming birds

It being Spring, the Willy Wagtail mum has been busily readying last year’s nest for the 2016 brood.
The nest had looked perfectly serviceable, as it was as neat and symmetrical as she had originally made it.

However she seemed driven to add another layer, which brings it alarmingly close to the verandah roof.
While this is insulated, I fear for the babies if we get more summer-like early heat. 

Mum is now on the nest more than off, so I assume she has laid eggs. Dad spends his time dive-bombing magpies to keep them away.

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The other new regular visitor is a King Parrot, solo and talkative.

He has been sitting on my vegie garden’s bamboo posts and — I swear — chattering to me.

I have taken to standing at my back door and chattering back.

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He does not fly off when I go to fetch the camera.

Next time I will dare to step closer than the verandah and get a sharper shot.

Kookaburra pair

I have a lot of Kookaburras here — often called more fully Laughing Kookaburras, rarely called by their scientific name, Dacelo gigas.

As they do live in family groups, comprising several generations, that’s not surprising.

There are enough big trees left along the creek sides that they must have found enough nesting hollows to keep the family safe.

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My bird book notes that they ‘spend much time on conspicuous perches scanning ground for prey’. 

They are part of the Kingfisher family, but my sort ‘fish’ mainly for worms or whatever else meaty that dares to pop its head up in the short grass. Snakes, lizards, rodents insects — even small birds; that massive beak is very effective.

Here they have favourite perches — the shed roof, star posts, corner posts, several useful horizontal tree branches, but they are usually solo on these perches.

However, lately I’ve been seeing a pair, sitting as close as they can, swapping views from front to back, sharing the scanning?

Are they brothers, sisters, parent and grown child? The latter do stay around to help defend territory, feed new broods and care for fledglings. 

Kookaburras live for about 20 years and hang about in the same area; they also mate for life.

I can’t tell male from female but my book says the males often have a blue patch on the rump. As if I’m likely to get a glimpse of that…

Birds and beasts

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.

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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.

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Pepper is not sure he wants them at his feet — I mean hooves — at all.

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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.

The size of the beak…

My friend Christa lives by a river and keeps her camera handy for whatever wildlife may visit.

Her rotary clothesline gets used as a perch by various odd birds. Sometimes she spots and snaps them and shares them with me.

This little sequence is so good that with Christa’s permission I am sharing her photos with you.

She was alerted to this event because a Sacred Kingfisher flew smack into her large picture window facing the river.

Rather dazed, it flew to the higher position of her clothesline.

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This must have been considered trespassing on their safe territory, threatening their young, as three Willy Wagtails soon arrived. Only one stayed to warn off the trespasser, who perhaps looked less scary in its dazed state. Not that Willy Wagtails ever seem to be scared of any bird, no matter how big.

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If you’ve ever heard a Wagtail carrying on in this mode, its incessant chittering would wake up anyone from a daze!

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And it did.

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‘How dare you threaten ME! I’m a Sacred Kingfisher. I am sacred, I am beautiful, and I have a very BIG beak!’

Screen creature

This striking silhouette met me the other morning. ‘Let me in!’ or ‘How the hell do I get down?’

The screen door wire is a bit floppy and it can’t have felt comfortable or secure for this creature.

I worried that its ultra-long and delicate toes would be stuck in the mesh…

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Gently sliding the door open, I looked him in the eye. I know you, I thought.

It’s a Jacky Lizard, my favourite of old, too seldom seen here.

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An extraordinary creature, a miniature marvel, with its stony camouflage, needlepoint tail and fine digits, although the camouflage was not so great for screenwire…

I don’t know what he was seeking or where he was headed but you’ll be pleased to know he retreated with fingers and toes intact, and I have since seen him on the deck. Or at least a quicksilver glimpse before he flipped off the edge and out of sight.

Taking it easy

I do miss my plentiful Crimson Rosellas, but today I saw my first King Parrot visitor for the summer fruit season here.

Always stunningly attired, this was one was also most relaxed, with no cats or dogs about.

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So much so, that for the first time I think I saw a parrot yawn…!

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But the mammals are getting pretty cruisey here too; the male wallaby who delighted my Air BnB guests this morning returned this evening to loll about near the house and clean his tail and ears.

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They are just starting to behave like my mates back up the Mountain.

I am so pleased. 

Critter bank

As my house is on a cut-and-fill into the hillside, there is steep bank behind it, the view from my kitchen window.

I am gradually clearing it of weeds and making small terraces, pockets of soil for hardy vegetables like pumpkins to spread over its clay sides.

I am mulching it as I go. It is an inhospitable slope, habitat only for ants and spiders so far as I have seen.

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Last week I was distracted from the washing-up by a dark motionless shape there. What was it and was it alive or dead?

Sneaking out, camera in hand, I was delighted to see it was an Eastern Water Dragon (Physignathus lesueurii).

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An extraordinary creature up close, fiercesome of eye and fabulous of pattern, spiked and ridged and scale-armoured like a mini-dinosaur.

On my old mountain, his little cousin the Jacky Lizard was my favourite reptile.

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On top of the bank is grassed, mown by me and the wallabies.

It backs up to the weedy wilderness beyond the fenceline, which includes Lantana, a favourite habitat for the Water Dragons, I read.

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I am still charmed by these wallabies, and heartened to see them visiting me daily now and being far less wary. If they move off, it is only a little way.

Having been through this courtship process at my old property, I know we will eventually be happily cohabiting.

Avian adolescence

The three baby Willy Wagtails grew so very fast that in less than a week they were treading on top of each other in their tiny nest, and taking turns to flap their wings.

Hearing a prolonged — well, perpetual — chattering from the verandah, I went out to see both parents in a right tizz, and not wanting me there at all.

The reason was a young one, wedged in under a roof batten, a few metres from the nest.

I went inside to ease the panic and hope for the best. It seemed far too soon for a baby to be out.

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Ten minutes later the chattering was coming from two directions.  The baby had flown out to the vegie garden edging, so one parent had to keep watch out there, which it did from the top of the water tank.

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The airspace out here was being guarded even more vehemently, with a baby on the ground.

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But two more remained in the nest, so the parents had to patrol two nurseries.

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Not for long. Next day the nest was empty and the whole Wagtail family was doing aero wheelies out the back and taking their ease in the ti-trees.

Less than a week from eggy nestlings to daredevil teens!

Building for babies

This Spring the Welcome Swallows and the Willy Wagtails have both chosen to raise their families on my verandah.

The Willy Wagtails built a tidy and solid new nest, a smooth cylinder of cobwebs and grass and bodily fluids.

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The slack Swallows just re-used the old one; didn’t even shore up the crumbling structure, just did an interior makeover with more feathers.

But at least two of the Swallow babies survived and flew and still kept returning to the nest area as home base.

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When the Willy Wagtail decided hers was good enough, she sat. And sat. A rare occasion for the hyperactive Wagtail to be still long enough for me to get a photo.

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When she sat less often, I waited for the first peeps, but heard none. Compared to Swallow babies, these are quiet — just bundles of fluff and beak, huddled together in a tiny nest.

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There look to be four of them, as yet far less handsome than their dapper parents. They are all keen to be ready for a feed when a parent appears.

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The parents are kept frantically busy, catching food and returning to feed one chick at a time, putting their own beak right down the chick’s throat.

At this rate they’ll outgrow that nest very soon…

River love

Young mum Nicky Coombes is passionate about her beautiful Bundook area, her Gloucester River, and her family’s right to clean air and water.

As AGL’s coal seam gas project at Gloucester threatens all of these, she instigated a Gasfield-free Community survey in her Bundook locality. The first in the Gloucester region, the results showed that the great majority of residents do NOT want to live in a gasfield.

Nicky has come a long way from the first tentative public talks that I heard her give, and I think she has become a most eloquent spokesperson on the issue.

When I heard her speak recently, I complimented her:  ‘It was very poetic’.

‘Well, I have actually written a poem about it’, Nicky replied.

And she read it to me.

So now I share Nicky’s river poem and her beautiful river photos with you.

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Ode to the River

If you sit quietly & listen
You can hear her call your name
She wants to know your whereabouts
Your part in the game

We all claim common ownership
Her responsibility is ours
She wants to remind you
It’s your land that she empowers

It’s with your silence that she suffers
The cause of so much angst and pain
She questions your priorities
As without her you’d complain

Within you is the courage
And the strength to be brave
She’s asking you to speak up
Without you she can’t be saved

When we all speak together
Like her waters we can roar
She needs us to be united
A voice that cannot be ignored 

If you sit quietly and listen
You can hear her call your name
Please take responsibility 
For your part in the game

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Here’s Nicky at the recent Gloucester town walk. AGL better believe that she means what her sign says; the reverse message is ‘We will prevail’!

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Photo of Nicky and me by Linda Gill, who also made the steering wheel cover sunflower for The Ground Beneath Our Hearts event in Gloucester.

Gypsy farewell

Last week I loaded my much-loved Gypsy camper on to my ute for the last time. 

I have had to sell her due to financial problems.

The first to see bought her, and I had several callers wanting me to gazump them and buy her sight unseen.

I delivered her to her new home base near Inverell, where she is going to be used on a tray back ute and have major additions done to take advantage of the extra external side spaces.

I am now looking for a small 4WD campervan instead.

Here’s a few reflective pics of our time together.

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When she first arrived at my old Mountain home in 2012, she was immediately utilised by the locals for shade. I slept in her for the first night, just to celebrate what seemed my unbelievable good fortune in owning her.

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She was usually parked at the side of the cabin, very soon under a special sail for weather protection.

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Even while stationary there she had quite a few adventures with the local wildlife.

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I used to joke that I should rename her an ‘Activist Camper’, rather than an Active Camper, as she accompanied me to several protectors’ camps. At the original Leard Forest camp, a local frog immediately took up residence.

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We had only one actual ‘holiday’ — for two days — but she was wonderful for getting around to distant book talks, as in Victoria.

We did make it to a few national parks in between commitments in a given area — like Mount Kaputar when I was in the Pilliga, or the amazing Bunya Mountains here, from Toowoomba.

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Towing the final trailer load, she came with me as I passed through my gate for the very last time at the Mountain… a tough day.

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We made it here to our new home on 14th September, almost a year ago.

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Once here, at the Gloucester Protectors’ camp she was a frequent visitor, making the early morning action starts very easy for me.

She also coped with what seemed to be the frequent wild weather we copped there.

I felt guilty as tents ballooned and blew apart.

So my Gypsy has earned her new life and transformation. 

I loved having her, although I always felt she was too good to be true…