Tag Archives: drought

Snapshots of Australian Birds.

Perhaps, I should’ve tossed my research hat out the window, when we arrived in Byron Bay. That way, I could appreciate a pretty photo for what it is without having to research everything I see to the nth degree. Clearly, I ask too many questions and if I were a less complicated soul, I could’ve simply posted these bird photos without any explanation at all. Not even a name.

Consequently, what started out as brief snapshots of some of the birds we encountered around Byron Bay, has expanded into something much more complex and I must admit I’ve learned quite a lot myself along the way. After all, I take my role at Beyond the Flow as Australian tour guide seriously. I not only want you to see what I saw. I also wanted to share some local, lived insights which you won’t find in a more scientific account of my stunning feathered friends.   These photos were taken in my in-laws’ backyard and at the Macadamia Castle, which has a bird aviary. It’s not quite the same as seeing them in the wild, but it does make it easier to get a good photograph. Yet, as much as I love photography, I’d naturally prefer all birds to fly free.

So welcome to the cast:

Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo

Although this guy lives at the Macadamia Castle, sulfur-crested cockatoos are very common in the wild where we live on the NSW Central Coast and in Sydney. You can’t appreciate these crazy characters from a simple photograph. They’ll perch up in the trees or telegraph wires and swoop down kamikaze style across car windscreens and only narrowly escape being hit. They’re absolutely cheeky, and don’t let that gorgeous feathered-face deceive you. They’re very destructive and are renowned for chewing through wood-trim on your house, your balcony, and stripping fruit trees bare. Moreover, behind that beautiful smile, lies an ear-piercing screech. Yet, despite their shenanigans, they still want to be your best friend and crave attention. They seem to love posing for the camera with a huge cheeky grin and you might even get a “Hello”.

Jacko

Jacko with family cropped out.

When I was a young child about 8 years old, my Dad bought a baby sulfur-crested cockatoo, called Jacko. He initially lived in a cage in the laundry inside where he had the joy of listening to my father’s voice on an old tape recorder. Indeed, it was an old tape recorder then, although I think cassettes were somewhat new at the time. It was 1977. I still remember that old recording and will take it to my grave…”Hello Jacko! Hello Jacko!” Jacko made it outside into the aviary but didn’t stay with us for very long. We were moving house and there seemed to be some kind of “discussion” between my parents. Although we were moving onto five acres, it seems there was no room for Dad’s birds and Jacko went to live with friends. So, not unsurprisingly,  sulfur-crested cockatoos have a special place in my heart.

Rainbow Lorikeets

Rainbow Lorrikeet

Rainbow Lorikeets are the happiest little birds on earth and on sunset you can here them chirping away drunk on nectar in the trees if you’re lucky…or not depended on your perspective. My friend’s mum planted a red bottlebrush outside his bedroom window and he was woken up by a swarm of rainbow lorikeets at the crack of dawn whenever it was in flower. He was not amused.

Amelia Rainbow Lorrikeet

Our daughter feeding seed to the Rainbow Lorikeet  at the Macadamia Castle last week. 

The Rainbow Lorikeet isn’t as outgoing or interactive as the Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo and seem reasonably gentle. Back in the day when we mere mortals weren’t as educated about looking after wildlife, we’d coat a slice of bread in honey and soak it in water on a plate and put it out in the backyard. The Australian museum refers to such backyard feeding as “artificial feeding stations”, but the birds didn’t mind. That bread and honey was a sure-fire magnet. They loved it.

The Galah

Galahs

Galahs feeding in the backyard.

These galahs were photographed in my in-laws’ backyard, where they had quite a large flock of galahs. Apparently, numbers there have increased lately due to the drought and possibly also the fires. The in-laws have planted bird-attracting plants, but given the drought, have also been putting seed and water out for the birds. It’s been interesting watching the changing cast of characters out at the seed bowl. The galah’s are at the top of the pecking order, and shoo away the doves who sit perched up on the wire above waiting for the galahs to buzz off. There are also some pretty red-breasted finches who have their own seed bowl in the thicket.

Galahs were originally located in arid, inland Australia, and only expanded into their present, vast range in the early- to mid-20th century. The galah’s scientific name is Eolophus roseicapilla. Its holotype was collected in Australia in 1801 by biologists on the Expedition led by France’s Nicolas Baudin and is held in the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, in Paris.

The word galah comes from Yuwaalaraay and related Aboriginal languages of northern New South Wales. In early records it is variously spelt as galargillargulah, etc. The word is first recorded in the 1850s. The bird referred to is the grey-backed, pink-breasted cockatoo Eolophus roseicapillus, occurring in all parts of Australia except the extreme north-east and south-west. It is also known as the red-breasted cockatoo and rose-breasted cockatoo.

The term “galah” has also entered the Australian vernacular, and is a derogatory term meaning a “loud-mouthed idiot”, “fool”, “clown” and is also use to describe gaudy dress. It  has also inspired a number of colloquial idioms: To be “mad as a gumtree full of galahs is to be completely crazy. “To make a proper galah of yourself” is to make a complete fool of yourself. A “pack of galahs” is a group of contemptibly idiotic people. If you’re a fan of that great Aussie TV export Home and Away, you might’ve heard Alf Stewart complain: “Ya flamin’ galah”, which means you’re a complete idiots.

The Laughing Kookaburra

kookaburra2

Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree. They might look cute and sound hilarious but they have the last laugh once they’ve snatched the snags off your BBQ!

Of course, even these brief snapshots of Australian birds, wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the kookaburra, even though it didn’t feature central stage. Indeed, the photo I’ve included here was taken at Pearl Beach round the corner from home where they’re rather partial to stealing sausages (Or snags in the Aussie vernacular) straight off the BBQ without any concern about burning their beaks!! We spotted a few kookaburras while we were on holidays around Byron Bay, but what I remember most was hearing the kookaburras laugh while I was floating on my back at Brunswick Heads watching fluffy white clouds scud across the deep blue sky. There was absolutely no doubt I was in Australia. Indeed, over the years, the sound of kookaburras laughing has been used to create a sense of Australia in movies over the years.

Aunty Rose & Kookaburra

My Great Great Aunt Rose Bruhn with her pet kookaburra who appeared on Brisbane radio.

Australian King Parrot

Male King Parrot

Male Australian King Parrot

This parrot is living at the Macadamia Castle. Although I’ve occasionally seen them in the wild i.e. my backyard, they’re quite shy and not all that common. Indeed, it’s a real treat to spot one.

Male Australian King-Parrots are the only Australian parrots with a completely red head. Females are similar to males except that they have a completely green head and breast. Both sexes have a red belly and a green back, with green wings and a long green tail. King parrots are normally encountered in pairs or family groups.

The Emu

Emu

We also saw the emus at the Macadamia Castle. I had no idea how the emu originally got it’s name. However, it turns out that ’emu’ isn’t an Aboriginal word. Rather, it might have been derived from an Arabic word for large bird and later adopted by early Portuguese explorers and applied to cassowaries in eastern Indonesia. The term was then transferred to the Emu by early European explorers to Australia.

Emu2

Emus are a funny-looking flightless bird, which also makes quite a peculiar sound. Not that I’m being judgemental. I haven’t spent a lot of time with emus, although they used to have a few at the Australian Reptile Park up the road from home, and they were savage food thieves. In the wild, packs of emus have been known to decimate farms. I think my grandfather used emu oil to treat his arthritis.

Emu feet

Emu feet. 

My childhood memories of emus, include a show called: Marty and Emu. It took a bit of detective work to dig that one out of the memory bank. They appeared on a kids’ show called: The Super Flying Fun Show, which was hosted by “Miss Marilyn” Mayo. Of interest to Australians, Darryl Somers appeared later on in the history of the show, and you can see how Hey Hey It’s Saturday with Darryl and Ossie Ostrich evolved from there. It turns out that Rod Hull had appeared with emu on the show before my time  and a duplicate emu was made when Hull returned to the UK and continued his performances over there.

Marty & emu

Marty Morton & Emu (I was so excited to see them again!)

Of course, when we’re talking about cultural representations of the emu, you can’t go past John Williamson’s classic: Old Man Emu:

These are only some of the birds we saw on our travels. The ones we photographed or found most interesting. We also saw a large flock of black cockatoos on the drive North, which we had no chance of photographing, but they were good to see. There were also crows and magpies.
I’ll sign off with this photo of a duck in plastic kiddies wading pool at the Macadamia Castle. Usually, this pond is full. However, there’s been such low rainfall that the pond’s dried up for the first time in the 15 years we’ve been going there. These are clearly hard times for our wildlife (and domestic ducks).
duck
What is your favourite Australian bird? Please share in the comments below.
Best wishes,
Rowena

References

Happy New Year!

Wishing you a Happy New Year for 2020 from Sydney Australia. I’m still no closer to working out my resolutions for 2020 and my word for the last three or more years has been ACTION, which as usual often turned into PROCRASTINATION or its near relative DISTRACTION. However, to be fair to myself, I did manage to write 97,835 words here at Beyond the Flow so unless my main goal was becoming Susie Homemaker, I did alright. Now, I just need to glue those words together into something called a book. That’s my main goal for 2020 and having acquired perfect vision on the count of midnight, this has to be my year. Bring it on!

Meanwhile, I leave you with a link to the iconic Sydney fireworks, which we only watched today as we were at a party last night. Yippee! It’s the first time we’ve been out on NYE for years what with having young kids, being sick and having anxious dogs who fret and potentially escape due to the fireworks. We left them inside hoping that the younger pups might bolster lady who ends up a hyperventilating, dribbling mess on Geoff’s lap on previous years.

Before I heard off, there is one New Year’s wish, indeed a prayer, we’d appreciate over here in Australia. We’d really like a strong soaking rain to put out the bush fires and help the farmers out of the drought. The ongoing 2019–20 Australian bushfire season is already the most destructive bushfire season since the 2008–09 Australian bushfires[2] and the most widespread in history, having already burned over 5,900,000 hectares of land, destroyed over 2,500 buildings (including over 1300 homes) and killed at least 18 people. That’s a lot of heartbreak. 

Yet, at the same time, there is still joy or perhaps only a glimmer of sunlight even at the heart of tragedy. The are stories of the incredible fire fighters many who are volunteers and too many who have given their lives. Their are stories of loss, but also stories of being spared and despite the destruction and the choking smoke, fire has its beauty.

I’ve leave you with a few favourite photos from 2019…the year that was.

Love and best wishes,

Rowena

Making the Grass Greener.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

A few short weeks ago, we looked out over our backyard the same way Moses saw the Promised Land. However, all we saw was a dust bowl with three dogs standing somewhere in it and a few holes dug in for good measure. Indeed, if I hadn’t seen the three dogs, I might’ve wondered whether a wombat had taken up residence in our backyard. Some of these holes were huge.

Needless to say, the grass wasn’t happy.

“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.”

Walt Whitman

Moreover, just to add to it’s struggles, we’re in the throws of a serious drought and just because we’re not farming out on the land, doesn’t mean we haven’t been affected by the lack of rain. It might not be affecting our livelihood but our backyard was a dust bowl.

“The moment one gives close attention to anything,
even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome,
indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

–   Henry Miller

So we have digging dogs, dry drought and then there’s the sandy soil. We live metres away from the beach and while this very same sandy beach might be a thing of beauty, our sandy soil is largely infertile could go a few rounds of IVF. Indeed, even the weeds had given up trying to grow in our backyard. There was just bare sand.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t hold out much hope of ever seeing green grass out the back, let alone anything approaching a lawn. I’d more or less assumed that my husband had also given up. After all, it had been awhile and there wasn’t exactly a lot of activity out there.

However, I don’t know what happened, but my husband sent up the backyard sprinkler system again. That was step one. Then, he built a very clever lawn growing contraption of the likes I’ve never seen before. Just like Australia has the rabbit proof fence, my husband built the dog proof lawn protector by simply nailing four planks of wood together and covering it with chicken wire. Just like the Parable of the Sower, my husband sowed out the lawn seed, covered it with the protector and then it was on with the sprinklers every night.

Then, miracle of miracles, we now have lawn. Indeed, the dog proof lawn protector has been moved onto its second location and much of the grass in the first plot is still alive.

Sometimes, I think we can settle where we are believing that things can’t get any better. That this is as good as it gets and we can forget to prepare the soil, sow the seed and water our dreams or just even our basic needs. It’s too easy then to fall into an engulfing sense of despair where there is not point lifting a finger or even trying to get up off the ground and pick up our mats.

I also want to say that I’m proud of my husband for coming up with our dog proof lawn protector. He commutes to Sydney puts in a long day’s work and is my carer 24/7 as well as being a father to our kids and the three crazy mutts. In so many ways, that’s life. We’re all busy. We each have our lot. Our hardships and our blessings. Last weekend, he started a sailing course. So, now he’s not only enjoying some green grass, he’s also experiencing some smooth sailing. Well, perhaps in time.

Is there something that’s changed recently in your life that’s made a difference? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena