22 January 2023

94. 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.

When we first planted the cherry trees they were only as long as a ruler. Over a decade they've grown to 4.5 metres high. And as soon as the cherries arrive just before Christmas, so do the birds. The biggest gluttons of all are the King Parrots.

Worst of all, the Kings didn't even wait until the cherries were ripe to ruin them, staking out the trees from dawn.

The loss of two seasons worth of delicious cherries over two years was a bit annoying. Especially when the King Parrots had satiated their hunger and were just playing 'PECK'- a game where they like to stab beaks into every single one of thousands of cherries on two huge trees, or pluck them to fall on the ground and rot.

My daughter and my husband drove the big old scissor lift 3 km along the road, half a km up the mountain we live on, then halfway down the other side to the spot where the orchard is sheltered from fierce winds by a thick forest of Cypress Pine Trees. It is a precarious old machine to drive from 3 metres up on top at a snail's pace, but they got it done. Nobody could pay me enough money to climb the top to go up there, let alone drive that burnt orange beast.

Often, while my husband wrangled steel pipes off the platform and strung a bird net over the whole cherry tree, the King Parrots along with Cockatoos, Rosellas, Magpies and Bower Birds, whether fruit lovers or not, looked at us from the trees. We got the feeling that they were just waiting for us to leave.

The scissor lift, the bird netting, the bricks to secure the bird netting to stop birds creeping through from the ground, none of that was an elegant solution. But, it worked. We got to eat some of our cherries!

Before we had our own cherries, I had never seen a cherry tree fruiting. They are beautiful when in blossom, but decorated with those plump crimson beauties they are prettier than the best decorated Christmas tree you have ever seen. And the taste in comparison to the cherries you buy from a supermarket is like the difference between the cheapest nastiest compound junk, and the finest premium chocolates in the world.

Covering the ripening cherries wasn't easy or quick, but before that we had to rely on regular patrols and the dog.

This is our current working dog, Thor. He is petrified of thunder, so he doesn't live up to his name, but he does love cherries. Maybe he just adores going to the orchard and being told to scare the birds away from any of the fruit trees and then getting things to eat thrown his way. Thor is a Kelpie, a purebred Australian sheepdog that loves to herd and round up cattle, sheep, goats...and birds. Particularly the King Parrots trying to steal all the cherries. It is Thor's idea of fun to flush them from the trees as soon as he is in the gate. Long before I get a chance to snap their photos.

After being herded away, Thor is so pleased with himself that he positively struts. When they try and return, as the Kings do, he is just as pleased to do a repeat performance with much jumping, barking, and growling. Most of it is for show, but it earns Thor endless 'good dog' pats and all the half-pecked cherries he can eat.

It's a shame we have to net the enormous cherry trees. Two years ago in November, we had a bumper crop. The cherries were plump, juicy, big, and the deepest, darkest red. The tree was netted and secured from the birds, but a hailstorm struck in the middle of the night. The rain was like a waterfall, turning the lawn into an instant lake. Electrical storms can be localized, just hailing in a small area, while others nearby miss out. We weren't so lucky. Our crop of red beauties split open, the heavy rain made the fruit swell. Almost 98% of the cherries rotted on the tree. And that year the parrots had a feast fit for a king. A shame for us, but the birds benefitted. 

Of course, ever since that hailstorm, the Kings feel entitled to the cherries again. 

Some birds, especially Magpies, who are meat eaters, and Bower Birds manage to sneak under the net despite all the precautions we do to keep the fruit safe. 

Birds are pretty darn clever when it comes to finding food. Like everything else they want to survive and flourish. 

I can't blame the parrots; those cherries are good.

And, I love to see the Kings at the birdbath.

They are one of the birds that always impress when they fly past.

Breathtaking really: the males with their vibrant tomato-red feathers, or the green females, long and lean and always chirpy. 

They add their beauty to the yard, standing out against a dull background.

I love watching them gorge the pink bracts of the native hop trees every October.

Seeing King Parrots is one more thing to be grateful for.

Who wouldn't be impressed to see a bird with plumes so bright?
As long as they don't steal all our cherries. 

Because those fresh-off-the-tree fruits picked moments before, are one of the best things there is to experience at Christmas in Australia.

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