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‘Emus live in pairs, or alone, or in groups. They mostly feed at night . . . or during the day.’ Russell Coight.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . .

I like emus.  I just thought I’d put that out there right up front.  Remember what I’ve said in the past about critters with attitude?  Well, cue the emu.  They are cool dudes.  And although I thought I knew quite a bit about them in general, while searching for a quote to go with my sketch this week (quotes about emus are extremely hard to come by I might add) I was surprised to learn a whole lot more about these wonderful quirky creatures . . .

Things I already knew:
Emus are big.  The emu is the second largest bird in the world (the largest being the ostrich).    Emus can stand from 150 to 190 cm (59 to 75 in) in height and weigh between 18-60 kgs (40-132 lbs).
Emus are flightless.  They have very small, almost useless wings.
Emus are fast.  They have very long, very strong legs.  When at a full run their stride can be almost 9 feet long and they can sprint up to around 48 km (30mph).
Emus are long-lived.  Emus can live 10-20 years in the wild and up to 35 years in captivity.
Emus are curious. Anyone who has ever been to a wildlife sanctuary will know they have a tendency to sneak up behind you and look over your shoulder to see what you are doing (and to see if you are eating something you might be encouraged to share . . . )
Emus make weird noises.  Emus have a pouch in their throat which, when inflated, allows them to make deep booming or drumming sounds which can be heard up to 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) away.  (Apparently they can also issue a rather blood-curdling hiss . . . )

Things I didn’t know:
Emus have 2 sets of eyelids—one set for blinking and the other to keep out dust.
Emus can jump.  Apparently their strong legs also allow the birds to jump up to 2.1 metres (7 feet) straight up.  (How freaky is that!)
They are good swimmers and like to play in water (and mud) (I have to say that until now it never occurred to me to even think of an emu having a fun day at the beach.)
Emus have no teeth so they swallow small stones and pebbles into the gizzard which help to grind up and digest their food.  (Tasty!)
Australia once declared war on emus.  (Say what?)

I’ll say that again.  Australia once went to war with the emus.  Seriously.  It became known as ‘The Great Emu War of 1932’  . . .

Stay with me.   At the end of the First World War returning Australian soldiers and a number of British veterans, were given land by the Australian government to take up farming in Western Australia.  With the onset of the great depression the government encouraged these farmers to increase their wheat crops, promising assistance in the form of subsidies.  However, wheat prices continued to fall, the government failed to deliver on the promised subsidies, and things became increasingly tense as the farmers prepared to harvest, while also threatening to refuse to deliver the wheat.

The farmers’ woes were exacerbated by the arrival of up to 20,000 emus who descended on the area as part of their breeding season and (yahoo!) found the abundance of food and water now available to them beyond their wildest dreams.  They proceeded to rampage enthusiastically around the district damaging crops and fences, eating everything they could get their birdy beaks around and causing general mayhem.

The besieged farmers relayed their concerns to the government (quite forcefully I imagine) and the government obligingly sent the army in to sort the problem out.  It was soon discovered that taking single pot shots at the offending emus was having little effect (apparently the emus realised quite early on that if they stayed just far enough away the guns weren’t accurate enough to hit them) and so, on further pressing, the Australian Minister of Defense then gave the soldiers access to . . .  wait for it . . . machine guns . . .  (I swear I am not making this up . . . )

Long story short—several military assaults were then launched upon the errant emus, with less than spectacular results.  The maurauding critters proved far trickier than anyone anticipated (seems they tend to scatter and flee in all directions when threatened, instead of patiently standing in a crowd waiting to be mown down) and after a very short space of time (and some seriously scathing reports in the media) the government decided it was all a bit too embarrassing and withdrew their troops.

So there you go.  The emus had won the war.  This might go a long way towards explaining why many of us today have never even heard about this bizarre little slice of Aussie history . . .  and why all emus still seem to possess that same smug mess-with-me-if-you-dare stare  . . .

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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‘If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.’ Douglas Adams.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . .

There is no earthly reason for this post this week other than a funny quote and an excuse for me to sketch a cute duckling.  Well, that and the fact that the last couple of weeks has finally brought us some long awaited and much needed rain.

That old expression ‘Fine weather for ducks!’ seems wholly appropriate . . .

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Hear the birds? Sometimes I like to pretend that I’m deaf and I try to imagine what it’s like not to be able to hear them. It’s not that bad.’ Larry David.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . . 

I’ve made a rod for my own back.  Sigh.  The word is out that I have been feeding my little magpie family every day outside my college window and now everyone wants in on the act . . . 

Last week, just after I had put the usual crumbs out for my magpie friends, a single lonely little noisy miner turned up and skittered about the edges, helping himself to a few tiny crumbs.  ‘That’s okay,’ I thought, ‘there’s plenty to go around.’  I was forgetting, of course, that noisy miners are not solitary creatures  . . . 

The next day he reappeared . . . accompanied by wifey and a couple of very vocal youngsters.  Now, I happen to be very fond of noisy miners.  There is a little family that lives in my front garden and I have spent many a happy time sitting watching them as they quarrel and bicker and bomb the water out of my bird bath—(plus they all seem to possess the same ‘grumpy bird’ expression which I find hilarious)—but OMG!! 

Within a couple of days they started arriving in flocks—aunties, uncles, third cousins twice removedall shouting and pushing and shoving and squabbling at the top of their tiny lungs.  The noise was deafening.  And right outside my office window!  (I guess they are not called ‘noisy’ miners for nothing.)  And worse—there was now no sign of my little magpie family (miners are incredibly territorial and will drive away any other birds—just by force of sheer numbers I imagine!)  What to do??

Well,  it seems I don’t have to do much at all.  Turns out that the new visitors aren’t quite as smart as my maggies just yet.  The magpies have obviously been watching the proceedings from a distance (so as not to cause further affray) and have come to realise that if they come tap-tap-tapping at my window as soon as I arrive in the morning they will be able to devour their little treats long before the hungry interlopers are even awake.  The strategy seems to be working.  The miners are still arriving periodically throughout the day, but with slimmer pickings their numbers are slowly reducing.

I wonder how long it will be before they catch on  . . .

More ink-blot art.
These birdies don’t look anything like noisy miners or magpies
but they do look like they might be on the hunt for a good feed!

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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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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