Wary Wongas

One of my favourite native pigeons is the Wonga Pigeon, but it so shy … ‘exceptionally alert’, my bird book says… that it is rarely still long enough to take a photo of it. I do hear its repetitive soft ’coo-coo’, and there is plenty of tree and shrub cover here for this rainforest bird, so its frequent presence is not surprising.

Its beautiful markings are mainly on its front, and as I usually see it on the ground here, I only get the grey back and the white part of its head, with just glimpses of the striping.  They never seem to turn to face me, so seeing this one up higher was a treat. Look at those pink legs and feet, often hidden in the grass when they are on the ground!

I have mostly seen two foraging on the ground here, moving their plump bodies swiftly across the patch, bobbing heads back and forth like chooks. However, I read they are solitary except in breeding season.

Last week I briefly saw three, so I am wondering if they have a young one, but they moved too fast for me to tell if one was more brownish than grey, as the immature are.

A few months ago one sat in the sunny grass for ages; I had wondered if she was silly enough to lay eggs there, as it gets mown, but perhaps she was just sunbathing.

Whatever a wary Wonga gets up to, I am a very happy observer.

Tree visitors

My back deck is high amongst the paperbarks, and close to them.  I had not expected to come so close to a tree climbing goanna, but for once it was not waddling across the grass below, where I see one almost daily.

So close, I could admire not only the intricacy of its patterns and colours, with that surprising blue tinge, but its face, its ear and eye. Even its claws had camouflage dots!

When I first spotted this one it seemed to be lolling on a branch, not gripping or climbing, but that soon changed.

It turned around rather awkwardly and began climbing down one branch…

… to head up another. Sometimes it went to the perilously thin ends of branches before turning. Searching for birds’ nests and eggs?

The birds were certainly alarmed, chattering and flying about.

As they were a little further away, in a tall eucalypt…

But that odd thick shape I could see there turned out to no threat. To my great delight it was one of my favourite birds, a Tawny Frogmouth.

And from the lingering fluffy feathers I think it may be still young… unless they are just my camera’s blur from using the zoom.

I am heartened to think there may be a family of them about and will keep an ear out for that distinctive repeated ‘oom’.

I didn’t hear those ‘ooms’, but later that very afternoon, nearing dusk, I saw that the ‘lump’ up there on that branch was bigger.

I could not get a very clear view but it was definitely an adult and two young Tawny Frogmouths. The young look much fluffier than my earlier sole bird, so was that the father, the apparent fluff just my camera, or the wind?

The father often cares for the fledglings, so perhaps my visitor was a father sussing out where to bring his young to rest, or just taking a break from childcare before the kids caught up with him.

All three were gone next day, but what a treat, however fleeting! My first Frogmouths in this new place… 

When I moved into my last place (that was flooded), within weeks a Frogmouth had two chicks hatch in a nest in a she-oak in my yard and I could watch them growing and being raised. Such a privilege!

Pattern master

This large Goanna, or Lace Monitor, scoots past my yard most days.  That netting fence means nothing to it and the set route goes right through it. Usually I only catch a glimpse, so fast and determinedly does it move.

But this day I wanted to see it over the fence and moved higher and closer. The click of the camera caused it to stop and look at me… or the source of the noise.

I am always amazed at massivity of these creatures: look at those legs! Common in eastern Australia, it is one of our largest lizards; some of the males can exceed 2m in length. 

Carnivores, they are quite partial to carrion.

I have seen them foraging around campsites… and enjoying a meat pie.

This one decided it was safer off the ground;  one of their common names is Tree Goanna. Those claws give good grip, holding it here for me to admire the extraordinary patterning of stripes and spots… an Aboriginal art template.

They are actually shy, and while they have been known to run up a human, it is not from aggression, but because they have mistaken the vertical ‘thing’ for a safe tree.

One aspect of their lives that was new to me was how they breed: the female digs a hole in a termite mound and lays her 6-12 eggs there. The termites rebuild over the hole and keep the eggs steadily warm (30ºC). Then 8-9 months later, she returns to dig out the hatchlings. How clever is that at delegating?!

Kid stop?

Hearing a lot of chattering outside my window, I saw two green parrots on a far branch opposite. Lorikeets, I assumed as there had been a lot of those about in weeks gone by. But these were too big, surely?

Leaning past my desk to look down, I could see the bird water dish along the fence. It had only before attracted a sole Peewee, or that I had noticed.

Now there was a mighty flurry and fluttering of seven of these same green parrots, jockeying for turns at sipping the water, swapping places on the fence, teetering and balancing on the wire.

There were nine of them all up. But what were they?

Then my memory of my Mountain Kingies started to rev up. These looked like female King Parrots, which are mostly green except for the red lower breast and belly… were they young ones, who have similar colours to the females? The young have brown irises instead of grey, but I was too far away to see such detail.

There I was used to having plenty of the more colourful males about, with much more red on head and front…and an occasional female.

Never had I seen a whole gang like this.

One of them might have been developing the male colours, as it had a paler green strip along its wing.

They took off very quickly. Had it been a brief pit stop for the whingeing kids? ‘Mum, I’m thirsty!’

Mental note: keep that bird water dish full! Who knows what else it may attract?

Not sacred nor scarce

In these seemingly permanent wet times, the grounds here are either soggy or full-on watery. The most frequent bird visitor is thus a wader, the Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca). Those long curved beaks are perfect for these shallow waterlogged areas.

Usually I see them only on the ground, while the kookaburras and lorikeets own the trees.

But the other day this one flew up to perch outside my windows and peep in.

Then, to its apparent surprise, it was joined by another one. Not for long; I was glad it took off again, as it seemed to have only one leg, not great for balancing.

They are sometimes called the Sacred Ibis — or were. Until the droughts of the late 1970s drove them eastwards they were rarely seen in our cities. They bred in the Macquarie Marshes, where now they are rare.

These days they are so common and in such numbers that they have become a pest, to the point of needing to be culled in some areas like Sydney’s Centennial Park. Tourists complained of their smell!

They are now more commonly called ‘Tip Turkey’ or ‘Bin Chicken’ as they have adapted to scavenging in rubbish bins… or swiping a sandwich from an unwary picnicker.

Because of that dining practice, their pure white is often tinged a rather grubby brown.

So not sacred and certainly not scarce!

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.