12 February 2023

96: Destroying the Sunnies

I planted 100 sunflower seeds from the middle of October to mid-November last year. 

Not tending, weeding, or watering the garden for the 5 weeks before Christmas set the sunnies back a bit. I spent ages in the hospital having major surgery, with an achingly slow recovery learning to walk again.

Despite the neglect, some giants grew and flourished. 

After strong winds in a summer storm, my first 2 sunnies fell over. 

The 1.5-metre stalks crashed down, but the first flower was still out and proud on Christmas Day.

The first of many sunflowers. 

Not only was there that piece of gold but a new pet.

A fearsome-looking native Bearded Dragon. Another Christmas present in the shade beneath the first flower. Spiky, pensive, still, and quiet, it was sunbaking on the boulders that make up one side of the rock garden wall.

Until mid-January, I had at least one new sunny flower every day.

Some seeds made bushes with up to 28 sunflowers branching off a single stalk. 

But I adored the enormous single sunflowers the best. 

Especially as the sun set, lighting up long strips of yellow petals.

I looked out at the enormous sunflowers swaying, took some photos, and felt good.

Watering the garden in the late afternoon, when the heat had gone out of the day, the sun made each sunny bloom shine and glow. 

The sunflowers looked glorious for 5 weeks. 

The bearded dragon grew from the width of a side plate to a dinner plate, right along with the sunflowers. Now, it's longer than a ruler. Plus, I've seen tiny bearded dragons nearby.

When I watered, it had a quick shower at the edge of the hose spray. One late January day, when the temperature reached 37 degrees C, it had a genuine bath. Something I'd never seen before. This gorgeous mini-dragon drank, then lay in a small pool. The bearded one slowly closed both eyes, completely relaxing in a state of bliss as if to say:'This is the life!' 

Then...well, a flock of cockies arrived. 

It was 6 am on the 1st of February. 

How do I know? They woke me of course. 

Surely nobody could sleep through the arrival of 50 Sulphur-crested Cockatoos.

My husband told me to leave this sunflower head on once it had died because it would be ages before the oil-rich seeds developed. He had to eat his words. The flock of cockatoos couldn't wait. The garden went from a show of golden flowers...

To half-eaten dead-heads. 

These yellow-crested crazies ate every part of the plant - including thick woody stems.

One day the sunflowers were blooming, the next even the leaves had gone. These large white parrots screeched and squawked and fought over who would be on top, and only the angriest of  angry birds maintained the top spots for long.

In the first 10 days of February, my garden was destroyed by beak and claw. I couldn't have imagined that one sunflower stalk would support six huge cockatoos, but I saw it. And the noise? Just incredible, though they were all eating at the time. No manners!

Along with a shower-loving lizard and assorted seed-eating birds including the sulfur-crested cockatoos, there were many insects. I saw flies, spiders, ladybugs, butterflies, ants, beetles and bees. Particularly buzzy bees.

I was buzzed while taking photos. My husband also saw mice scuttling about to hide whenever he drove past in the buggy. I'm glad I didn't see them. Once the cockies left after their morning splurge, my peacock also moved in, gently nibbling sunflower seeds one by one in neat rows; a far more dignified method of eating.

It seems sunflowers in the garden meant a small microcosm of flora and fauna had gathered. I had insects, reptiles, mammals, flowers, shrubs, and soil: a mix for everything to thrive, but the cockies were overwhelming.

Not just cocky, these parrots were ruthless. 

After a rain storm, there wasn't much left but shortened woody stalks and husks.

While one cocky played 'King of the Castle', another would climb the stalk. 

Besides abusing each other's ears screeching, they used their beaks to threaten and maim.

It was like watching on fencing tournament. Feathers were pulled in competitive eating comps.

Knocking another cockatoo off a sunflower stalk was the ultimate challenge. 

Once the Everest of stalks was gained, the winner was the cockiest bird you've ever seen.

Until the next beak fencing match challenger, at least. 

Meanwhile, 'lesser' cockies on the ground or rocks squabbled over dropped seeds.

I thought it was a disaster, especially when other garden plants had been nipped as well. Then I remembered high school art class, studying Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers'. The half-dead specimens, the fallen petals were still beautiful. Then I saw his famous pictures in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam as a 22-year-old, crying at the sight of his art and overwhelmed by reading his melancholic letters. 

The screeching, fighting, early wake-ups, and biting, were a part of something pretty incredible. I had fed a flock of birds, albeit briefly. It's the reason I planted sunflowers in the first place. And the cockatoos? They were just being themselves, doing what came naturally to a mob out for whatever they could get. 

It took days to get a photo. As soon as I slid open windows 20 metres away, they flew off in a sea of white feathers. I set up the camera remotely on the lawn and every bird hid below the rocks. Too clever for me.

Usually friendly, I was told that throughout the town of Quirindi, gardeners had been cursing and shooing the cockies away from their own sunflowers for weeks. Also cranky that the blighters had chopped off their flower heads. These birds were pros!

They were cautious and suspicious, knowing quite well how naughty they were to destroy each sunflower. Not to mention screeching at sunrise. Really though, the cockatoos were an awesome sight not many get to witness. Such raucous, wild, loud, mad, and untamed birds.

My garden will come back. Of course, I'll plant sunflowers again next year. I can't wait to do it all again. You just have to admire birds that take such a bite out of life: the overconfident sulphur-crested cockatoos.

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