22 January 2023

Cherries and Kings



My husband made a beautiful orchard. We couldn't have it near the house, where the Red-necked Wallabies and Wallaroos come to graze at dusk each day. The giant vegetable garden with loads of grapevines, berries, and fruit trees is a block with high fences half a kilometre down the mountain.















14 January 2023

93: Babes in the Jacaranda


One of two fledgling Willy Wagtails that left the nest around Christmas Day. Two babes jumped along the branches of my favorite tree, a massive Jacaranda next to the house.

















The 20-year-old tree is high and wide and shady. Whenever I feel sad I look up through the lacy leaves or stomp all over the carpet of purple tubes decorating the grass. 



 














Two vigilant Willie Wagtail parents chose a tree protected by a hundred branches. A network of delicate green leaves and flower tubes shaded the nest so the eggs didn't cook in a harsh Australian summer. The filtered light meant eagles and raptors couldn't spot it from above. Eggs are a monitor's favorite food; they climb trees as easily as we walk. With 2-metre-long adult lizards, a 12 cm bird or 5cm long chick doesn't stand a chance.

These fantails have done a super job of bringing 2 nestlings to the fledging stage. You can never underestimate the awesome strength of a mated pair. They would pretend to be hurt to drag my eyes away or fly over my head so close I could hear their wings, attacking like a squadron of fighter jets.

Wagtails go to supreme lengths to protect their young. This included dive-bombing every other bird within a 10-metre radius. Even if the bird is a resident peacock 200 times its size, or a human, like me.


Three months ago, I cleaned my hairbrush outside and saw a Wagtail picking up the strands, carrying them off to a nest. 


Two weeks later I woke in the night to the haunting sound of a Wagtail lullaby. A male parent sings to his eggs so they know the distinctive voice of their daddy after hatching. Then they will either come to him or freeze in place in response to his scritching, tch-tch-tch warnings.

I couldn't tell where the nest was until mid-December. Dragging the hose past the jacaranda on a watering jag, I stopped to look at the sunlight through the canopy. I was divebombed, looked up, and spotted a tiny bowl, neat and lopsided, made with my hair.


The little ones squawked for food for the next fortnight, while the parents worked in tandem to sit or bring them insects constantly. It was a while before I saw feathers above the rim. 


The Jacaranda was looking glorious after a year after almost a metre of rainfall, complete with intermittent floods in 2022. I liked to sit underneath in its shade, but it was too stressful on the helicopter parent Wagtails.


Eventually, there was a smudge of grey down above the lip of the nest. The babes were bigger.



And, of course, there was always the angry bird patrolling or jumping on the twins whenever I peeked beneath the Jac tree.


Mum and Dad WW created a no-go zone near the tree. Once, when I went out with the camera one wagtail flew in my face.


Parent Wagtails were kept busy from 5 am to 8 pm.



The food needs of the little ones was never-ending, but they grew.


And grew.


Until both could barely fit into the nest.



Despite all the stress, they thrived. Though, as with most birds, one got the lion's share of the food and was twice as big as the sibling and sat on top.

It was Christmas Eve when I ventured one last look underneath the Jacaranda to see how the chicks were doing. They were out of the nest, sitting high and pretty along the branches. They were frozen, probably petrified. The wind was blowing hard and I couldn't risk another photo. It might make the fledglings fall to their deaths. 

But, I have seen them a lot in the new year. At the birdbath, or scaring up insects. The parents still admonish me when I'm watering. Both chicks have lost their down and now have shiny black feather coats with snow-white underbellies. Oh, and small, white eyebrows that are already well-practiced at scowling. 

I'm privileged to have had this special nature gift at Christmas.

12 January 2023

92: Eating the Christmas Tree




I'm about to take the decorations off our 2022 Christmas tree. 


My husband cuts down a pine every year. 

The tree gets close to the high ceiling.



Last birthday, my son gave me a baby blue budgie.


He imitates the whistles of 12 different birds.

He says hello constantly. 

He chatters away when the covers are off.












I thought he might like to be in a real tree for a change. 

I popped him up into the decorations. 

The first time, he was fine.


He didn't want to get off my shoulder at first; then liked it. 













I took some photos and left him alone.

But, the second time all chirping stopped. 

That was unusual. 













When I saw him again, his beak was green. 

He'd been eating the Christmas Tree. 

He looked sick.



It was some strange compulsion, he couldn't stop. 



He refused to hop on my finger, or get out of the tree. 



Climbing higher into the center.


He went out of my range.









He wasn't being an Angel.













A bit of a devil bird really.











I wasn't getting on a ladder.

Or falling off one.

I've just had major knee surgery.

It got later. And darker. 

I urged the little blighter to come back with food offerings.



Nah, he looked sicker. 

I stood beneath the tree for 30 minutes while he munched.

It was mindless, like me with chocolates over Christmas.










I was wondering if pine resin was toxic.

He still hadn't chirped.

Given his name, of course, he tried to get up high. 

Angels always belong at the top of the Christmas Tree.














Angel almost choked-one pine needle too many. 

He let out a weak noise. 

A bird version of 'ick'.

I wasn't sure if he'd live through 2023.



But, he's back chirping continually like a mad, manic bird.

Saying hello, 15 times every 15 minutes.

Imbibing that tree didn't have any long-term consequences.





I'm glad. 

Happy New Year from me.

Plus, a big hello from Angel. 

The only pet ever who tried to eat a Christmas Tree. 

And, my prettiest decoration.

15 February 2022

91: Sunny Yellow Robins

I switched off the news, sick of statistics from a world grappling with Covid-19 for the third year. An Eastern Yellow Robin sat on the fence outside. It wanted to watch me as much as I wanted to watch it.


These birds are usually in pairs of family groups. This one is scanning the ground for a juicy insect.



It hasn't quite come into all it's glorious yellow breast plumage yet.  




Yellow Robin chicks hatch brown and streaky white. Golden feathers are too obvious to predators. 



A beautiful adult, checking me out from the Cypress Pine forest on my property.



The chicks start plain and take a while to grow into their glorious golden feathers.








The birds are such darlings, sleek and pretty.




They glide in to landing.





















Sitting on a post, they come closer if you make squeaky sounds.




Two young Yellow Robins busy bathing in the heat of an Australian summer.



Robins are always searching for the next snack on the ground.


Nestmates stick together and are as cute as yellow buttons with their own individual shape.





Sometimes I can catch the robins flicking their wings in excitement. 



Sometimes, I hear their clear piping whistle in the pines or scrubland past the garden, and rush outside. 




But, every time I catch sight of them, Eastern Yellow Robins add a little sunshine to my day.