Deck extras

The late afternoon sun lit up these exquisite decorations on my deck railing wire.

The artist missed a few of the joining spots but otherwise turned my wire netting into a diamond-paned leadlight.

I am so admiring of the symmetry and discipline… and grateful for the beauty.

The actual deck railing supports my passionfruit vine but also proved useful as a brief vantage point for this solo King Parrot. 

It didn’t stay long, but flew to the aerial clotheslines you see here, gathered together the front two lines and perched on them both at once! 

Then it flew down to my vegie garden for the less wobbly perch of a tomato stake.

Such a beautiful and bright parrot. This rear view shows the deep blue feathers that are often unnoticed.

I am a big fan of multi-functioning, so I’m very glad to see my deck useful for the wildlife.

Rain gifts

A few days of rain has the garden happy and vegetable plants tripling in size. All welcome results, but here I’m celebrating the more ephemeral gifts of rain.

Like the Casuarinas sparkling with diamonds in the early morning…

And the tiny crystal balls bedecking the Native Finger Lime…

Later that day another transient gift of the rain was this Long-necked Tortoise, apparently trying to dig itself backwards into the soft wet ground. I have had one visit a few times, as there are ponds nearby.

And then I saw that this time there were two visiting Tortoises, one slightly bigger than the other.

The one on the right disappeared within ten minutes — where to, I could not see — but the burrowing one remained just like that for over an hour. Did its mate — or was it its mother? — abandon it to scarper back to the ponds? Would it know the way on its own? Would it have the courage to try?

Next morning my yard was tortoise-less again, so hopefully all is well with both my wet weather visitors!

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!

Mini jewel

Seizing a break in showers to finally get around to pruning my tangled standard Iceberg roses, I nearly clipped the perch from under this little gem.

Only about 4 cm long, I think it has to be an Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog (Litoria fallax). These tiny jewels are my favourite frog, and although small, they have a very loud voice: ‘wr-eek, wr-eek!’

I will be listening for them now.

It has more brown on its back than I have seen: a chocolate coated variety? If anyone can identify this small inhabitant of my rose bed more precisely, I’d be grateful.

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.’

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?

Hopovers

I know nothing about grasshoppers or locusts and really had only seen the small green ones on vegetables sometimes. But at present I have several sorts inhabiting my larger plants.

These gorgeous green ones do not have wings, so they must be at nymph stage, and they have eaten large holes in plants like arrowroot.

This one on a small citrus tree has the beginnings of wings. It appears to be resting there rather than eating the leaves.

But this small yellow and brown hopper has clearly been busy munching up strength for whatever comes next.

And then I notice more in a casuarina tree, whose needle leaves do not seem like a good food source, nor even camouflage for this bright lime green hopper.

As my eyes adjust, I see several very different and much larger members  of the hopper family in the casuarina. Much better camouflage, even for such bold patterning as this fellow has.

I will need to be on guard for what this group of hopovers turn into next. I wish I knew more or had time to make more sense of this family’s lives.

So far I can afford the bits they take from my plants. I cannot yet say I have a biblical plague of locusts.

Covid-19 is quite enough.

The beautiful and the bold

I planted this lilac Buddleia (aka Butterfly Bush) for obvious reasons – its flowers are beautiful and butterflies love them.

 It is attracting at least four varieties that I have seen, the most stunning being the Blue Triangle (Graphium sarpedon choredon).

One of the Swallowtail family (Papilionidae), it keeps its wings up and continually vibrates them when feeding on the flowers. This habit, plus the fact that it also flits fast and frequently from one branch of blossoms to another branch, makes it very hard to capture by photograph.

Like the White-headed Pigeons, these butterflies have adapted to favour the introduced and extremely rampant Camphor Laurel trees.

The butterflies visit singly but the fungi have not got the social distancing message yet. Dozens of tiny brown ones have boldly squeezed up in clusters this morning. I know they will turn black and ‘dissolve’ by tomorrow. 

I can relate to that: pop up, take a look at the crazy world we are in, and say ‘No thanks!’

And speaking of bold overcrowding and defiance of restrictions for their own good, those small cinnamon-dusted drumsticks of last week are now full-blown.

As they fight for space, they push into and on top of each other, breaking bits off and distorting their smooth umbrella tops.

When they too disappear, what new surprises will await me on my morning garden forays?

Slime visitors

After the long drought, we have taken on tropical storms, with rain most days. Plant growth is rampant, and the lawn mower has come out of its summer/autumn/winter retirement.

But amongst all the green I spot a flash of colour in the grass. Yellow. 

Close up, it resembles several blobs of crumbed, artificially yellow battered takeaway food! But the strands of slime give it away: the first slime mould of 2020 in my yard.

This one looks like the ’Dog’s Vomit’ slime mould. 

If you haven’t struck such an oddity before, this is one of a very strange and long misunderstood group of organisms (Fuligo). While no longer classed with fungi, they are included in my Fungi field guide (by A.M.Young).

It tells me they can produce cells that can ‘move about actively and ingest food rather like an amoeba. This cell feeds and reproduces by simple fission until there are perhaps thousands of daughter cells. A chemical signal then causes these cells to combine and form the fruiting structure…’.

I always find them slightly creepy.

My book says this one’s common name is Flowers of Tan, but Dog’s Vomit is much more apt.

Several days later the yellow has become a greyish mauve; now more likely to be mistaken for dried dog’s turds…

But it is not the only slimy visitor after the rain. In a much-horse-manured garden bed, crisp white snow crystals cluster and clump over a stem of my grapevine, again the slimy threads giving it away.

Others transform horse poo into snowballs. Or I could go with the food analogy and say powdered sugar…

An older one is already less snowy and within days they are all a less notable brown. Toasted desiccated coconut? 

No wonder I continue to be astonished at the intricacies and varieties that Nature holds, and sometimes shows, especially the ephemeral ones. I need another lifetime to discover more of them…

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…