Monday, 24 August 2015

Birds in Winter

Birds in Winter

I’ve sometimes thought, when walking through the mists and trees of the Dandenong ranges, listening to bird songs that are so different from European songs, that this might have been what the world sounded like many eons ago, when pre-historic birds filled the skies.


When walking on a misty winter morning the Carrawong’s musical songs echo through across the valley. (The name they are given is after the sound of their song.) There must be something about that weather that increases the echo, and their harmonious calls resonant back and forth and let you know that there is an orchestra of them out there somewhere. They often come in a group to the garden and one is brave enough to squeeze through the gaps and onto my bird-feeding tray that is protected to keep larger birds like these away.

You know if there is a flock of White (sulfur crested) Cockatoos nearby by their screeching. This is the bird I do not want to come and eat from the bird tray, it is a pest and the local council tries to discourage folk feeding them. When they find you have sunflower seed or dried corn seeds they arrive and call all their friends to join them. And if they hang around they like to peck the woodwork, widow frames and balustrades. To discourage the larger birds I have surrounded the tray with wire netting. And should they arrive I rush out, wave and yell, and throw oranges at them! The other deterrent is to hang my shirt over the table sometimes with my hat on top.  This does not discourage the rosellas, but it seems to let the Cockatoos know that I’m around. Plus, I usually only use the seed for smaller birds its the parrot seed that attracts the Cockatoos.

 Rosellas crowd the seed table whenever I put out seed. I don’t keep the tray always full of seed as I think they need to do some of their own foraging, but I often feel sorry for them at this time of year . These birds I can watch from my kitchen window and I have noticed they have a serious hierarchy, with a dominant male who takes possession of the tray if he can. The male will then often encourage his partner to join him, but the kids and other families have to wait for their turn, lining up along the edge of the roof or pecking up the seed fallen on the ground.

A couple of King Parrots come to feed at the bird tray now and then. These are very friendly birds and once tapped on the window to let me know it was time to feed him. Or he has flown down onto the barbeque table to ask for food. Their colours are astounding, bright red and green. And though larger than the rosellas they are smaller than the cockatoos and can squeeze onto the bird table.

There are many Eastern Spinebills dipping through the garden. At the moment they are sipping the last fuchsia nectar in my garden and the honey from the early native flowers in the garden next-door. These are pretty little birds, and hard to photograph. One hit the window the other day and lay on the verandah for a while. I thought it was dead, but when I went out it shook itself and flew up onto the balustrade before taking off again.

There are many Brown Bush Wrens in the garden. I’m not sure which they are, probably fairy wrens. Like the spinebills they are hard to photograph, all you can catch sight of is a shadow, twittering as they dart past. You wonder if you’ve just seen a butterfly until you hear the twitter. But now and then a crowd of these small creatures come dashing through the barbeque area, hop about on the ground for a moment or two, before disappearing again.

Kookaburras are cuddly looking birds, though they do have a more somber reputation and are not past swallowing the young of other birds! They wake you early in the morning, beginning their distinctive laughing call as the sun rises. When I go for a walk I’ll see a Kookaburra swaying on the power lines overhead watching me, perhaps keeping his feet warm. They are territorial, and my neighbour is very familiar with those who visit her garden, she has names for them and even knows the various generations. I don’t know those that come to my garden as well but they know me. If I’m burning off they come flying up and sit on a nearby tree. And if anything unusual is going on, like digging over a patch, or spreading compost, you can be sure they are watching. I’ll occasionally throw out some left over raw scraps of meat and it soon disappears.


Under the bird table as soon as there is business above there will be some Bronze Wing Pigeons. They always amuse me. They can fly but are heavy and usually stay on the ground. They’ll come bouncing down the steps and waddle to eat the fallen seed. The other day, looking out of the kitchen window, I was giggling as a male bronze wing began chasing a female around and around the rim of the large bay tree flowerpot. They went around at least three times before giddily flying off. These birds have a strange booming call and a new neighbour wondered what power tool someone nearby was using, insisting was too regular to be a birdcall.

These are some of my common and local bird visitors, and I must add one more, the Black Bird. This bird is shy, and flighty. It comes to feed now and then but more often is shrieking warnings and flying off into the bushes. And I think that most of the nests that the grandchildren discover are blackbird nests. I remember from my own childhood that they do next in foolishly visible and lowdown places. And once I saw that wicked Kookaburra stealing the nestling from a nest in the garden.

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