Revisit?

Coming home after what had clearly been a wet week here, I was pleased to see my wildlife mates, including the plentiful kookaburras.

This one on the deck railing looked around at my intrusion as if he’d become used to having it to himself.

But what was he so keenly watching down below in the yard?

A turtle! I tiptoed down to see. It appeared to be scrabbling in a circle on the slight slope; was it injured?

Up closer, I decided it had use of all four legs. Noting the dried green weed on its shell, I wondered if it was the same Eastern Long-necked Turtle that had visited me very early on in my residency here. This turtle (Chelodina longicollis) is one of the snake-necked types, for obvious reasons, and a species of side-necked turtle, as it bends its head sideways into its shell rather than pulling it directly back.

However, from the look it gave me, this one was not about to say ‘Hello, nice to see you again’ or any such. Bearing in mind that their other common name is ‘Stinker’, from the offensive-smelling fluid it emits from its musk glands if it feels threatened, I backed off.

I stayed well away, watching from a distance, with my camera zoom at the ready.

When the turtle deemed I had been gone long enough and it was safe to move, it did, unerringly turning downhill towards the wetlands’ swamps and ponds.

At a fair pace it skirted the old timber fence. There being plenty of broken bits, I knew it would find a way out. After all, it must have come in from the wetlands.

But why?

And was it revisiting? I hoped so, since an annual turtle treat would be most welcome!

Puddles/ponds/pools

My adjoining wetland has had no wet flowing into it for ages, and the larger pool was pinkish and abandoned by the ducks because it was too dry. Rubbish was the main occupant of the various dips where swamps or pools used to be.

Then last night we had a little rain — and a rainbow!

Naturally, next day I went down to see if the birds had gone back yet. No, but they had found a smaller pool — or a bigger puddle — and were happily ensconced there.

The two beautiful Black Ducks above were there.

One stayed on the muddy edge — on guard? — while the other splashed and dabbled and ‘upped tail’, fully immersing to be the cleanest duck around — if such muddy water could do it. The sexes look the same, so I had no idea who was guarding whom.

When the swimming duck came ashore, it set about busily cleaning under its wings, showing the striking flash of colour of its operculum. My book says it’s ‘glossy green’; I had described it as turquoise and emerald but I can see here it also has a lilac edge.

What a stunning surprise in such a tailored brown bird — like flashing exotic undies…!

But the Ducks weren’t the only waterbirds to be using the newly added water.

A White-necked Heron was patrolling the far edges of the adjoining puddle. More wary of me than the Ducks, it several times flew across to the other side… not wanting to get its feet muddy?

I no longer have a rain gauge as I did in the country, so I will have to go by the wildlife’s use of the puddles/ponds/pools as to whether we have had enough rain for their lives on the big pool to resume.

Not yet.

Native exotica

I was sitting on my deck in the winter sun, having morning tea with my son-in-law Joe, when a flash of colour moved in the corner of my vision.

I turned my head to see my first Rainbow Lorikeet in this place, right there on my railing. Stunningly exotic, as if escaped from a South American rainforest. But it is ours, a fairly common nectar-feeding arboreal native parrot. I have never had them where I’ve lived.

I haven’t complained, as they are really noisy and screech most unmusically, especially in flocks, as they usually are.

There are lots of lorikeets but Rainbow Lorikeets are easy to identify as they are the only lorikeet with a blue head.

I was wary of scaring this one as I edged away to get the camera … but no need. It was as ‘cocky’ as a parrot can be!

In fact, having strolled along most of the length of the railing, it hopped onto the table and I fear would have eaten the morning tea bickies had I not deterred it.

Was it tame, an escapee?

When another joined it, I began to worry rather than rejoice. I don’t think regular doses of their flamboyance is worth the noise if a flock adds my place to their route…

But since then, no more sightings.

(My photos were all inadvertently deleted, so thanks to Joe for these quick-thinking shots taken on his phone.)

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.