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.

Brush creatures

This is one of the larger inhabitants of Wingham Brush, a wonderful rainforest pocket reserve right near the town and the river. The Brush was rescued from being smothered by weeds and vines and now attracts many visitors to wander along its winding walkway and share its cool green world.

But ‘inhabitant?’

Well, I know it’s actually a Strangler Fig tree (Ficus obliqua), but my senses — intuition, imagination — say it could be a mighty sleeping creature whose sinuous limbs lie half buried in the leaf litter, reaching for what — or whom?

Or awaiting what or whom to cause it to awake…? And is that a pregnant one? Do Triffids breed?

These trees are a feature of the Brush, and some can be seen still in the process of strangling the host tree, its roots reaching for the ground to begin those amazing snaking buttresses. They grow on average 15-20 metres high and spread 10-15 metres and more when they are as venerable as some here, where signage says they are hundreds of years old.

One giant has fallen, another is dead, crumbling at the base. There is a nobility in its decay, and fungi find a home as it breaks down.

Giant Stinging Trees also live here, but the thousands of Grey-headed Flying-foxes who literally hang out here in the daytime do not seem to mind or be stung. These amazing creatures chatter and climb and flap their caped wings or drape them around themselves, suspended like strange fruit high above the walkway.

They make a lot of noise, they smell strongly, love the small orange fruits of the Figs, and occasionally drop rather messy gifts — wearing a washable hat is advisable!

If you look down instead of up, the Brush Turkeys (Alectura lathami) are the obvious kings — their queens are more elusive.

They form enormous mounds to incubate their partner’s eggs, scraping up dirt and leaves and sticks. I have watched them moving material for quite long distances to get enough to make these mounds, which average 4 metres in diameter and 1.5 metres high. As you can see, the sticks are substantial, all pushed backwards by the bird’s strong feet.

This mound seemed recently opened, so I assumed those chicks had hatched.There were some smaller birds poking about on the ground, but moving too fast for my camera; teenagers?

The birds are not very colourful, except for their bare red heads and necks, but the breeding males sport bright yellow wattles like ruffled cravats. No song either, although I am told they grunt.

An unexpected colour amongst the brown tones of the leaf litter were these small plants, which don’t look like Native Violets to me. Should they be there? Are they native?

This Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) is certainly native, and would love the brackish lagoon that edges the Brush.

What a treat for me to have this oasis within walking distance!

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!

Home is where…

The day after my solar panels went on, I checked the Frogmouth tree first thing in the morning as usual and was shocked to find it empty, on nest and branches.

It was too early, the babies were too young, the book said 25 days… yet flown they were.

I was sad, bereft, felt unfairly abandoned. Hadn’t I been a good host?

I did look in the nearby trees but saw no sign of them.

Then the next day, I heard the hum and followed it to the camphor laurel just beyond my side fence, closer to my verandah than the nest had been.

Yep, there they were!

The father and the two babies, one of which was already practising the broken-off dead branch pose. The other was waddling along a nearby lower branch a little, to and fro, rather like a parrot.

And then the waddling one actually flew, not far, just to the branch where its father sat. I had realised they must have flown from the nest tree, but somehow didn’t believe it until I saw it.

It did look rather smug after the feat.

The baby waddled along the branch until it was next to Dad. It looked me in the eye as I zoomed in for a better photo.

And then it leant in and nestled up to Dad, like any baby does, for comfort.

I couldn’t help uttering a soppy ‘Ah-h-h’.

How cute was that?

I had hoped they’d use that tree as they grew, but they were only there for one day. A week has passed without a sighting.

I have spotted two in a tree once, but the young are so big now that it’s getting hard to tell young from old. I worry, why only two?

I am grateful for this reserve where there are enough safe trees en masse for them to choose from and fly between.

I am grateful I was privileged to see as much as I did of their youth.

Fledging forward

The Frogmouth babies are now sitting independently – and out from under the patient parent. I have since learnt that this is mainly the male, as he does the long nest/egg sitting and minds the babies, in daytimes at least.

A house husband, in fact, as Tawny Frogmouths mate for life.

I see little activity but they do stretch their wings a bit when they go through self-cleaning lessons.

I hear the adult hum-hum-hum at times but no learner efforts at this, or indeed any whinging for food as I hear with most baby birds.

At times I can only see one baby and worry one has been taken or fallen, but a different vantage point has always revealed the other close by.

I hope enough nocturnal insects fly into the family’s mouths or the parents catch enough moths on the wing at night.

I read that the chicks will be ready to leave in about 25 days after hatching.

I will be fascinated to watch their progress towards being fully fledged.

I guess the lack of activity is part of their training, to be still, as still as a stick or branch stump, perfectly camouflaged against the bark.

Frogmouth family

From my deck the familiar Frogmouth lump in the tree seemed to have doubled. She-oak bark camouflaged as this bird is, my eyes always need to peer hard to work out this lump’s doings.

But there were two of them, one on the nest and one on an adjacent branch. Great; a pair!

And then I realised that the nest sitter was now sitting on more than sticks.

Two fluffy heads were somehow fitting beneath that mother, squashed into that always too-small nest in the crook of the She-Oak.

‘Welcome!!’ I called, delighted beyond measure that in my new home this gift had been delivered while I was at the Pilliga, trying to protect such natural wonders.

The Frogmouth chicks seemed to swell as I watched. I was full of questions.

However will they and the mother fit on that little nest for very long?

How long will the male stay around?

Had he only arrived for the hatching or had I just not seen him before?

Had they taken shifts to sit on the eggs?

Neither adult replied, but one chick opened a golden eye wider and gave me a most adult ‘look’. Yes, I know; I am ignorant.

But oh, so grateful!

Reclusive visitor

We’ve had rain, and the rocks in my back yard path are a bit slippery. But not slimy with weed, so this rock caught my eye.

And then I saw that it had back legs. A tortoise; but was it digging in or out? Right next to a cement slab didn’t seem a smart choice either way.

Of course I ran for the camera, hoping it would still be there. I tiptoed around the front of it and knelt down. The small head with that distinctive pointy nose turned slightly towards me and one bright beady eye summed me up.

‘Better retreat’ was the decision. Not wanting to disturb its plans, I left it alone, but it was nowhere to be seen later. From the weed on its shell I suspect it had walked up from the wetlands below the yard.

I hope it found a suitable spot in my yard… and felt safe. Maybe I need a sign ‘All wildlife welcome’?

Woman on the move

As you know, I love sunrises. This clearly not at my place. Actually, I don’t have a ‘place’ right now. For the next month I am homeless! The Woman is on the move, national park hopping to re-connect with nature, before I have to live in a house… in a town (!) … but with no neighbours except a wooded wetlands reserve, so my treetops will house lots of birds to share with you.

This sunrise is at Crowdy Bay National Park. Wild winds and whipped seas accompanied my first morning but it was worth braving the 6am weather for this golden welcome back to nature.

By contrast, the tea-brown creek outlet on the walk back to camp was calm.

And at my camp, the much-missed wildlife awaited me, with an Eastern Grey Kangaroo grazing close by.

To top it off, next an Eastern Red-necked Wallaby with pouched joey levered her way across the soft grass.

The water word is out

After the White-faced Heron staking a claim on my pond, the word seems to have got out to other water birds that the pond is here and the surrounding lawn is soggy enough to easily poke a long waterbird beak into.

A small troupe of iridescent Straw-necked Ibis were here the other day, strutting and poking happily, until the Magpies sent all but one packing.

Then it too took off, recognising, as do most birds, that maggies rule.

I am keen to see what other waterbirds visit, now the word is out.

 Pond tenant

I have never had a waterbird on my shed roof, yet a few days ago this solitary White-faced Heron was using it as a lookout post.

A common enough heron apparently, but not here, not yet, to me.

The only water nearby is my rather pathetic pond-cum-drainage attempt. Could that be what had attracted him?

Yes. He floated down with those effortless large wings and began the inspection of possible premises.

As he strutted along the perimeter of the ‘moat’, I had the chance to see what my bird book calls ‘the long grey nuptial plumes’ on the back.

Then he hopped in and I could just see the head bobbing along, disappearing now and then as he poked that long beak into the shallow water. Scoffing tadpoles?

I was so pleased that a waterbird had found my pond, but assumed it was a fleeting visit.

Not so. Each day since, he has appeared somewhere in the yard, then perched on my verandah roof and sailed above my head down to the pond and its surrounds.

Bird beaks

There are lots of kookaburras around here, and lots of good vantage points for them. This one chose a particularly photogenic spot, bedecked as it is with lichen.

Quite high off the ground, yet the bird can see the slightest movement down there, punk head cocked, poised ready to swoop and put that ferociously strong beak to work.

Much less common here — a visitor, not a resident — is another basically brown and white bird, but oh, so different.  I spotted this this Straw-necked Ibis all by itself in the paddock; it was so big that at a distance I first thought it might be a wallaby.

That long rapier beak is perfect for poking about in marshes or shallow waters, so I was surprised to see it, alone and on my hillside, not down by the creek.

It clearly has two legs but seems to prefer standing on one. I admire the balance required to do this total twist for a thorough clean-up.

Welcome Greenie

This gorgeous Green Tree Frog is probably the best known frog in Australia, but no less special for that. He’s the source of the very deep and monotonous ‘wark-wark-wark’  that I hear at the bottom of a nearby downpipe, presumably when he reckons rain is coming.

This one was quiet, post-rain and dozing on a rhubarb leaf, for which he was really too heavy as he’d bent it almost to the ground. They can grow up to 15 cm long, so this one is a relative lightweight.

Such a baleful look he gave me as I went closer to take his photo. These plump green beauties are also known as White’s Tree Frogs. I was more familiar with the much smaller Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog, also a green gem of a creature. I welcome all frogs!