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“. . . and remember, the next scream you hear may be your own!” The Birds. (1963)

Well, it’s definitely Spring—the girls and I have just been ‘swooped’ by our first cranky magpie . . .

For the average Australian that statement needs no further explanation.  Australia—Land of deadly snakes, humungous spiders, man-eating sharks . . . and homicidal magpies.  September and October is swooping season for the native magpie. This black-and-white bird with the spooky red eyes can become highly aggressive during the nesting season, attacking anything it feels poses a threat to its chicks. The fact that anything that isn’t another magpie is usually blissfully unaware there are even any chicks in the area is obviously totally irrelevant to the average man-of-the-house -magpie . . .  

Signs are already appearing around the place warning people of aggressive birds and I daresay it won’t be long before we also start to see people parading about wearing ice cream containers on their heads, bike helmets with long wavy plastic antennae sticking out of them, or hats with eyes drawn on the back . . .  (Spoiler alert . . . )

Magpies belong to the family Corvidae, which also includes ravens, crows, jackdaws, and jays. They display a range of intelligent behaviors that not only surpass that of other birds, but most mammals as well.  They mate for life, can live up to 20 years in the wild (which I guess is why the ‘teenagers’ stay goofy for so long), form close knit communities and they have the ability to solve complex problems (like how to still get at you in spite of the fact you are wearing a silly hat, a mask, or are hiding under an umbrella!)

Magpies and I have always had a bit of a love-hate relationship.  I love them because they are inquisitive and hilarious (especially when still babies), they sound fabulous when they come and sing to you, and they are wicked smart.  And magpies remember.  That much is clear.  They remember people who have been nice to themand they also remember those who haven’t . . .

You may recall I wrote once about my little magpie family who regularly came tap-tap-tapping at my office door to get their daily treat.  Occasionally, if I saw them before they saw me, I could go outside and call them and Mum and Dad would immediately come gliding gracefully down and the two babies would waddle on their fat little legs towards me, squarking and gurgling with their mouths agape.  They would all four sit happily at my feet as I fed them their treats. Those babies have already moved on but I fully expect Mum and Dad to be back at my office door when their next batch of babies arrives.  (Sally = Food)

But then there was that other incident which happened, not at the office, but in my front garden—the attempted murder of Little Bird.  There is no doubt in my mind that those two magpie youngsters would have killed that little injured bird without a moment’s thought if I had not got in their way.  They were mean and vicious and it took all my courage (and one of my shoes) to face them down and send them screeching on their way.  I can still remember the look one of them gave me as I made off with his prize. That ‘I’m-gonna-get-you-for-this . . . ‘ kind of look.  (Sally = Food-thief and shoe-wielding lunatic . . . )

Remembering that look got me thinking—perhaps the magpie that attacked us today was that same youngster I chased so unceremoniously from my garden and he is now all grown up and bent on revenge! Perhaps he has never met his magpie relatives who live near my office and so they haven’t had the chance to tell him that I really am quite a nice person (‘No—you must be wrong.  Sally’s lovely—and she feeds us.  You must have just caught her on a bad day . . . ‘ ) 

Worse still, perhaps he will never meet them and so never change his mind about me and continue to see me only as a dangerous shoe-tossing mad woman for the next twenty years!!

Gulp.  Suddenly some of those silly head-gear options aren’t looking quite so ridiculous . . .

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Sometimes the best hiding place is the one that’s in plain sight.’ Stephanie Meyer.

Stories from my Sketchbook  . . .

Out on an early morning walk through the park last weekend I stopped for a moment to take in the quiet and stillness.  The girls were puddling about happily in the undergrowth (school holidays, although over now, had brought lots of new visitors and their dogs to the area so there were still plenty of new smells to investigate), the river was ambling silently by and the sun was just coming up.  We were the only ones out and about.  Or so I thought . . .

Calling the girls to me so we could begin to wend our way home I had to do a quick sidestep to avoid tripping over Maudie who, as usual, had tried to charge ahead of me.  In doing so I pirouetted (gracefully, as you might imagine) and found myself looking directly at a low slung tree branch.  What I did not expect was to find was that low slung tree branch had bright orange eyes—and was looking directly back at me!

Once I got over the initial ‘ . . . what the . . . ?’  I realised I was looking into the eyes of a large Tawny Frogmouth.

What a treat!  The Tawny Frogmouth is  a fabulous bird but although they are quite common around here and I hear them a lot (they make a deep ‘oom-oom-oom-oom-oom’ sound) I hardly ever get to see one close up—not only because they are nocturnal, but also because they are so damn good at camouflage.  After their nightly hunts, when they are ready to settle in for the day, they like to roost on low bare branches (as in this encounter), tree stumps, and even shady patches of ground.  I must have come across this fellow just as he was bedding down and probably surprised him as much as he surprised me.

I stood back a bit to get a good look at him.  He had already frozen in place and now closed his eyes and I swear if I didn’t already know he was there I would never have seen him.  How many of these incredible birds do I walk blindly past every morning I wonder?

I said hello to him, and told him he was a beautiful bird (one does these things when no-one else is watching) but he was having none of it.  He moved not a muscle.  Not even a peek under his eyelids to see what I was doing.  I watched him, fascinated, for a couple more minutes but, as he seemed determined to pretend he hadn’t seen me, I reluctantly decided I should leave him to his rest.

Looking around to see where the girls had got to (they had all gone suspiciously quiet) I found them all sitting at my feet, exchanging nervous glances and looking worriedly up at me.  I imagine it could be bit alarming for any child, even a four-legged one, to watch your mum engaging in what appears to be a one-sided conversation with a rotten old tree stump . . .

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘I have made many mistakes in my life. Rescuing an animal is not one of them.’ Anon.

I have been forced to enact a couple of ‘wildlife rescues’ this week, albeit very small ones . . .

On Tuesday, during my usual opening-up-the-office-routine (doing the important stuff like turning on the coffee machine and the air-conditioners) I saw, from the corner of my eye, something scuttle quickly across the carpet near my desk.  My first thought was (as always) ‘Spider!’—those suckers can really move—but, of course, by the time I looked again it had vanished.

sneakyspiderThe sight of a spider in the office (or, in this case the mere possibility of one) would normally induce me to ‘down tools’ immediately and find someone to remove it (usually the boss—she’s weird—she actually likes spiders) but as I was on my own I had no choice but to go and find it myself (and, let’s face it, here was no earthly way I was going to be sitting at that desk without making sure I knew exactly what was moving around underneath it!)

Well it wasn’t a spider, but a lizard (Phew!)  A little water-dragon like the one pictured below.

waterdragonI think he was only a baby, and very cute, but he still glared at me quite crossly when I attempted to ‘shoo’ him out the front door.  He was having none of it.  It took me a full twenty minutes of chasing him up and down hallways, crawling under desks (banging my head twice) and several fits of giggles (from me, not him) before I eventually managed to drop a plastic container over him and halt him in his tracks.  I released him in the park across the street with a stern warning to ‘stay out of my office’.  He turned to give me one final angry glare before vanishing into the undergrowth . . . .

And then there was the little bird.  Sigh.  Poor little bird. . .

catbirdAbout two weeks ago I noticed a little injured bird in my front garden.  He had a broken wing but I couldn’t get anywhere near him, so decided it was probably best to let nature take its course.  A couple of days later I realised he had taken up residence in the bushes near my letterbox.  In spite of his broken wing he seemed quite perky so I decided to leave him be.  I honestly thought he would probably die of natural causes, but I left him some seed and a little tub of water and hoped for the best. A week later he was still there but then, overnight, he vanished.  I thought he must finally have succumbed to his injuries . . . or been eaten by the neighbour’s cat . . .

angrywomanUntil yesterday.  Hearing a huge ruckus outside my living room window I went out to find three huge magpies attacking the same little bird.  Two little rosellas were also screaming at the top of their lungs and darting in and out in front of the magpies, seemingly trying to distract them, but to no avail.  I, of course, ran out like a madwoman, waving my arms about and shouting, also to no avail.  I had to actually take off my shoe and whack one of the magpies with it before the others retreated. The little bird then staggered over to me and hid behind my foot (who said they had no brains?) The magpies weren’t giving up their prize with out a fight though and returned with a vengeance every time my back was turned.  It took a lot more flailing about with my shoe—and Mabel, Maude and Molly all howling insults from behind the screen door—before I managed to get the little bird safely away.

Long story short (sorry about that)—’little bird’ is now in a cage (actually it’s a metal dog crate because that’s all I had) up high on a table on my back verandah (not only do I have to protect him from murderous magpies, but I noticed Mabel and Maude were showing a rather ‘unhealthy’ interest in him too . . . )  So, bless, he now not only has the broken wing but also several nasty puncture wounds to contend with.  In spite of this, he lived through the night, and shouted angrily at me this morning when I went to check on him (there’s gratitude for you) so perhaps he is still not ready to die just yet . . .  Today I am going to hand him over to someone who will know how to properly look after him.  Now that he is ‘safe’ I don’t want to, in my ignorance, do him any more damage . . .

And, speaking of ignorance, I am thinking I should probably also brush up on my ‘rescue’ skills, or at least do a bit of reading on the best way to handle such situations should they happen again.  I am sure there are less stressful (for the animals and for me) ways of going about these things.watching tv

But, until then, I might try and confine any wildlife rescues to something a wee bit less fraught . . .  like watching them on the telly . . .

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.’ Robert Lynd.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . .

dangerzoneAt this time of the year one of the very first sounds I hear when I wake in the morning is the screech of a black cockatoo.  (There is no not-hearing it actually.  I have read that a cockatoo screech can reach up to 135 decibels.   Multiply that by a a flock of about 30-40 birds and that will give you some idea . . . )  

So used am I to hearing them now that, on a normal working day at least, the early morning cacophany barely registers.  I am hardly on my feet before my head takes over and immediately starts reeling off lists of chores and jobs that I need to get done that day.  A bunch of noisy birds don’t usually get much of a look in . . .

This morning the girls and I were out and about even before the birds were up.  We were walking along the sea wall just as it was starting to come light, and it was cool and calm and quiet.  Peaceful.  At least until the silence was pierced by one lone cockatoo announcing she was now awake, thank you very much, and everyone else should be too!

Within seconds there was a answering screech from a nearby tree, and then another and another until the air was filled with their raucous din.  I stood and watched as the whole flock slowly began to lift, one by one, from the trees and into the air, wheeling in lazy circles and stretching their wings (and their lungs) as they made their way across the river.

Pretty spectacular.  It’s not like I haven’t seen it before, I have.  But this morning I paid attention, really paid attention—to their colour, their sound, their joyful silliness . . .

I need to remember this morning. Next week, when I am back at work after my lovely holiday, before my head becomes full of things I have to do and places I have to be, I am going to remind myself to take a moment each morning to just think about how lucky I am to live in a place where I get to see (and yes, even hear) gorgeous black cockatoos every morning.

Surely my working day can wait just a couple more minutes for that . . .

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Posted by on January 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree . . . ‘ Marion Sinclair.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . . 

There is a bit fat beautiful kookaburra that comes to visit my house most days.

Rather than the gumtree, he prefers to sit on the birdbath just outside my living room window.  The window is a large one and on the inside there is a little sill where the dogs like to sit, leaning up against the warm glass, watching the world go by.  The bird bath is about 2 feet in front of that the window (as the kookaburra flies) and sits almost at eye-level with the girls.

He’s clever, this kooka.   He knows the dogs can see him  . . . and he also knows they can’t get at him.   He will descend gently onto the rim of the birdbath, fix them with his beady eye, and then, when he has their full attention, he will begin his ablutions, carefully primping and preening his feathers until he has them just rightand then, suddenly, he will bomb the birdbath, sending water splashing all over the window.  It sends the girls into a mad salivating frenzy every time.

And when he has them all wound up and running back and forth along the sill, barking frantically, he will become bored with their noise, slowly turn, give them one final look over his shoulder and with a throaty chuckle, he’s gone.

It then falls to me to spend the next 10 minutes trying to calm down three agitated, steamed up and completely over-excited little dogs.

Thanks for that mate . . .

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 Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Merry merry king of the bush is he.
Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra,
Gay your life must be!

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Eating all the gum drops he can see.
Stop Kookaburra, stop Kookaburra
Save some there for me!

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Counting all the monkeys he can see.
Stop Kookaburra, Kookaburra stop.
That’s not a monkey, that’s me!

Marion Sinclair’s Kookaburra Song won a competition run by the Girl Guides Association of Victoria and was first performed at the World Jamboree in Frankston, Victoria in 1934.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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‘It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds.’ Aesop.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . . 

birdsI have spoken before about the surfeit of birds in my garden.  On any normal day I see dozens of them—magpies, noisy miners, wrens, sparrows, and pigeons along with their more colourful brethren—rosellas, lorikeets, galahs, King parrots, and even the occasional cockatoo.  And those are just the ones that frequent my garden.  If you go down to the end of the street and on to the river, then you have all the water birds—the waterfowl, the pelicans and the gulls.  There is just no getting away from them.  (I wouldn’t recommend you settle here if you suffer from ornithophobia . . .)

So when I found out that my art homework this week was to do several studies of birds I thought ‘You beauty . . . ‘ as I knew there would at least be plenty of subjects to choose from.  I didn’t expect the actual assignment to be easy though.  I have never even attempted to draw birds from life before for the simple fact that they are so beautiful, and so complex, I was sure I would never be able to do them justice. (That and the fact that they move too fast, and, of course, if they know you are watching them they move around even faster, just for spite.)  But I was willing to give it a go, and went and filled up the bird-feeder as enticement and sat down to wait . . .  and wait . . .  and wait . . .

So much for expectations.  I should have known better.  The word had obviously gone out that Sally would be out and about, sketchpad in hand, and so the birds had all got together and decided it would be a bit of a hoot (no pun intended) to stay away in droves.  Sigh.  I spent most of the weekend hovering by the kitchen window, peering out at the birdfeeder, waiting in vain.

Late on Sunday afternoon, just as the light was fading, one of my little rosella friends finally showed some mercy and came and sat for me for a while.  He even had the grace to look a little apologetic . . .

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Eastern Rosella

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Silence is golden. Unless you own a parrot. Then it is highly suspicious.’ Anon.

birdfeedI’ve started feeding the local birds again, now that the winter has properly kicked in.  I know I don’t really need to.  Even in the very depths of winter here on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, it could never be considered a harsh environment and there’s still plenty of greenery about and food aplenty for all the birds and little critters.  But my magnolia tree has dropped all its leaves now and the bird feeders I hung there last winter (and promptly forgot about all spring and summer when the leaves grew out around them) have miraculously reappeared, and it seems such a shame to waste them.  The ceramic feeders are shaped like big shiny apples (one red and one green) and I like the way they look (from a distance at least) like real fruit hanging from the bare skeleton of the tree.

easternrosellaSo I filled up the feeders for the first time last Saturday.  It took just about half an hour for a pair of brightly coloured little parrots to lay claim to their new-found treasure.  I could see them from my kitchen window—one sitting proudly atop one ‘apple’ looking for all the world like he was planting a flag on Everest, while his mate hung perilously upside down from an overhanging branch, peering in at all the delicious delicacies on display inside the other.  “How sweet”, I thought.

black cockatooWell it was not quite so sweet the next day.  Word had obviously got out that there was free food for the taking and by mid morning there was a flock—an honest-to-God flock—of about fifty rosellas, rainbow lorikeets, and a single black cockatoo all screaming furiously at each other as they jostled for position on the magnolia tree.  I admit, the cockatoo was a surprise.  I see groups of them over at the park regularly but I have never seen one in my garden before.  As gorgeous as he was, quite honestly I’d prefer him to stay in the park—his earsplitting screeches were enough to make your eyes water.  (And your ears bleed.  I read somewhere that a cockatoo screech can reach 135 decibels.  I believe it.)

And my poor pretty little pair of treasure-finders had really no chance of protecting their claim against the hordes of interloping cousinsbut, bless them, they were giving it a good go. The shrieking, screaming and frantic wing-flapping (not to mention lots of pushing and shoving) went on for hours—or perhaps it just seemed that way to me . . .

birds(I did discover, quite by accident and, unfortunately, very late in the day, that if I said “Hey Maudie, where is your ball?  Go fetch me your ball” she would rocket out into the garden in search of it, which would send the whole birdie flock soaring skyward (howling their displeasure as they went).  Within moments peaceful silence would prevail once more.  It didn’t last of course.  As soon as Maudie was back inside the birds would start to regroup and the squabbling would start all over again, but a brief respite was better than none.  I wonder if I could hire her out as some sort of doggie-scarecrow?  She has no interest in the birds, but as long as you’re willing to play ball . . )

Anyway, after what seemed like a very long day, things eventually started to quieten down of their own accord as the birds (presumably all now fat and fed) began to wander off home to their nests and hidey-holes to rest their lungs and have a bit of a lie down. Phew.  If they didn’t need a lie-down, I sure did.  dog earsMy head was splitting and my ears were ringing.  (I can only imagine how the dogs felt.  Perhaps this is why I kept finding my bed in such disarray when I came home from work early this week. I have visions of the girls all trying to burrow deeply down into my pillows in an effort to block out the din.)

parrot-and-catI wonder if pet parrots are as loud as their wild counterparts?   I have never owned a parrot (actually I have never owned a bird at all)  but if their antics are anything like the ones I have been watching from my kitchen window they would not only be hilariously entertaining (and, as the quote above seems to suggest, quite mischievous)—but also extremely loud.  I am not sure I could handle it. (Although, perhaps if your parrot don’t have parroty-friends around to egg him on he is happy to live a quieter life?  Or will he just find something else to scream at instead—like the cat?)  I am sure they make fabulous pets for some, but perhaps not for us.  The girls and I like our peace and quiet.

Working towards the restoration of our quiet lives, we now seem to have hit on a plan which seems (so far) to be working for everyone.  I now only fill up the birdfeeders just before I leave for work. That way the feeding frenzy happens when I (and hopefully my neighbours) are all away for the day and well out of earshot.  I have piled extra blankets and pillows on my bed for the girls to hide under (and hopefully act as insulation) should the noise become too much for them.  And my first two sweet little birdy friends, who were so unceremoniously thrust aside by their big bully cousins, have now started appearing, just the two of them, late in the afternoon after everyone else has gone home, to pick quietly at the days leftoversand the tasty little bit of something special that I now put out just for them.spotty dog running

So, it’s all good.  And, if something does go slightly awry and I do happen to be home during the next ‘feeding time’, I also now have a sure-fire, no-fail, back-up plan
“Hey Maudie, Maudie, Maudie.  Where is your ball?  Go fetch me your ball . . . . “

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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