Crimson rosellas, peppermint sage, and a guilty magpie

In our Canberra garden this beautiful Crimson Rosella is feeding on the nectar of the pretty Salvia elegans, or Pineapple Sage….the flower and the parrot are almost matching in colour.

The sweet pineapple-smelling leaves and bright red tubular flowers of this plant can be used for cooking and medicinal purposes. However, for us, the joy of having this plant in our garden is to see the birds feeding on it in autumn.

A few years ago I planted a little stick of Peppermint sage near the kitchen window, to protect it from severe frosts. I was surprised to see it survive the winter, and then to see it flowering so beautifully in late summer and all through the autumn.

This dainty honey eater is called an Eastern Spinebill, and with its long curved beak it feeds on tubular flowers such as correas and grevilleas as well as the peppermint sage.I wish we could measure the energy this little bird uses as it eats and keeps its wings in motion at the same time…no wonder it is often mistaken for a hummingbird.

(If you look carefully at the new five dollar note, you can see the head and beak of the Eastern Spinebill featured)

I have read that Pineapple Sage is irresistible to nectar feeding birds and butterflies including hummingbirds in New Mexico where this plant naturally occurs.

Sometimes the Crimson Rosella shares feeding time with the Eastern Spinebill,  and they both tolerate this pesky photographer hanging around but,…. if looks could kill…….

This is the Red Wattle bird, has arrived to share in the Peppermint Sage bounty…

The Fuchsia is also flowering long after its usual time….and the Red Wattle is stocking up on nectar all round..

This shy looking young King Parrot is not a regular visitor to the garden, and probably hasn’t got the memo yet that this Almond tree is primarily a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo restaurant.

 

The colourful Eastern Rosellas are very cautious, the closest I have ever seen one in the garden is on our Japanese Maple, about half way down the garden path..

…the birdbath by the back fence is another safe spot.

and here is the Magpie who potters around in my neighbour’s garden most days……

Today he has ventured into our front garden and is about to start digging around in our small bit of lawn for grubs….

…. well may he hang down his head..

”Oh no! I’ve been sprung!….and she’s got that camera again!”

I love the way young Magpies put their wings out and run away from trouble, why not fly??

Quick!…. back home to my garden…

I just have a feeling there are things going on in this garden that I don’t know about,,,

On this glorious autumn day there are still some almonds to eat…so all is well in this garden….

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

Canberra’s autumn leaf collector ..do we all need one?

This is Tom Maloney, and his faithful horse Dobbin, whose job it was to collect leaves around the streets of Canberra. He and another man called ”Old Sox” worked for the Department of Interior on parks and gardens, also using a horse and dray. Maloney did this job until the early 1970s!

Younger members of the family remember that Tom even made time after work to take the local kids at Marymead School in O’Connor for a ride on the horse and cart.

How slow and innocent the times were…

American Elm trees in the inner city of Canberra

…can’t you just imagine old Tom and Dobbin clip clopping up this street?  It must have taken a long time to clear the leaves in one street.

When Old Parliament House was built, it was surrounded by dusty paddocks, used for grazing sheep…

Opening of Parliament House in 1927 : photo: library act.gov.au

Politicians of the day, were not happy about moving from the developed city of Melbourne to the windy plains of Canberra. However, in time, trees and shrubs were planted to build gardens around Old Parliament House and surrounding buildings.

Canberra now has a mixture of mature native and deciduous trees, and it gives the city a real sense of space and parkland.

Old Parliament House, now the Museum of Australian Democracy

On this lovely autumn Sunday we are taking a walk from Old Parliament House to the lake, to look at the autumn colour before it disappears.

Old Tom Maloney would have needed more than one horse and cart to gather leaves these days…

The Sulphur Crested Cockatoos love the oak trees, and spend the autumn days dedicated to eating….

…a very sensible idea with the coming cold Canberra winter..

The male and female Red-rumped parrots are blending into the grass and leaves, while a Galah is feeding around them. Galahs are one of Canberra’s most familiar cockatoos.

These young Australian King Parrots are well camouflaged in the grass, but once they reach adulthood they will be bright orange and green.

Down at the lake’s edge, autumn is the perfect time for a fishing competition….on this slow warm Sunday.

Lake Burley Griffin, the Carillon in the distance, and a Darter drying his wings

 

Lake Burley Griffin, Telstra Tower in the distance, and the Manchurian Pear trees along the lake

We finish our walk with a cup of coffee looking out on these beautiful Manchurian Pear trees along the edge of the lake…..I think they are my favourites…for today anyway.

Do you have a favourite tree in your garden, town or city?

Does your heart sink when you see those autumn leaves falling…do you need a leaf blower, or even Old Tom and a horse called Dobbin?

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Snowy Mountains, Pygmy Possums and Bogong moths.

Canberra is not far away from the Snowy Mountains, and autumn is the perfect time to enjoy the mountain air, and do some walking.

Even the kangaroos have a slow start on these crisp mornings, and here are a few enjoying the morning sunshine on the Lake Crackenback golf course.

as we drive away a young kangaroo keeps an eye on us, as her joey is nearby..

In the morning we noticed a deer grazing nearby….this can only mean trouble….

We drove to Thredbo and took the chairlift up to the Kosciuszko walk, on a beautiful clear sunny morning.

Everywhere you look there are scattered rocks and sharp crags shaped by water and ice..

The lichen encrusted boulders give shelter to small mammals like the endangered Pygmy-possum.

This fascinating mouse-sized marsupial is capable of surviving for almost two weeks by  bringing their bodies down to low temperatures during times of extreme cold or heat.

Haley Bates has written an interesting article in The Conversation called:

Australian endangered species: Mountain Pygmy Possum

Conversation: Australian Endangered Species: Mountain Pygmy-possum by Hayley Bates

Bogong moths are also well known in this part of the world. During summer they fly from the heat of NSW and Queensland, to the cool mountain crevices.

photo from buzzle.com

Aboriginal people explored these mountains, and interpreted the landscape, and many of their beliefs and ceremonies were forged in these areas.

Many of the paths forged by Aboriginal people were in turn used by early European explorers such as the Polish explorer Paul Strzelecki who climbed the highest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko, and named it  after a Polish  patriot.

Over time the mountains and surrounds have become accessible to all, and explorers, graziers, scientists, surveyors, writers, and artists have all been captivated by the ”high country” as it is known.

I must admit, after many years of coming here with our family, the landscape of the high country draws me in too.

…but the path back to hot coffee is always welcome…

…and to think we packed our own lunch!

When we returned to Lake Crackenback we stumbled on a few wombat holes, unfortunately, not a wombat in sight…usually only seen at night…

but I have included a photo of a wombat in the snow….something I look forward to seeing one day…

NSW National Parks

I hope you are enjoying your place in the world, as much as I am enjoying mine!

Copyright: Geraldine Mackey All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn garlic planting at the Almond café…

Autumn has arrived in Australia, and here in Canberra we’ve had some lovely soaking rain and then crisp sunny days…

 

….the perfect combination to bring the cockatoos to our almond tree for the falling almonds, the kernels now soften by the rain.

The cockatoos are early risers, and so it is party time on our carport roof, where many of the almonds fall…

They pace about, checking on almonds, letting the rejects drop to the ground with a soft thud (just in case we are not up yet)

…..while they’re eating the almonds there is a lot of socialising, and sometimes even sharing…

Meanwhile Paul has added compost to one of our vegetable beds, ready to plant our garlic for the year.

We’ve always tried to avoid using garlic with pesticides, much of which is imported. Garlic is quite expensive to buy, and easy to grow, so we plant the garlic in early autumn …..at a time when we can leave it in the ground for 7-8 months.

Garlic likes good drainage, and some water and fertilizer occasionally, and it is the perfect low maintenance crop to have during winter and spring.

…this is our garlic harvested and drying in November last year. It is our best crop yet, and should be enough garlic to last us until the end of this year.

We have been growing garlic for three years, and every year we try out some new, organic garlic from local farmers. Last year we had a some cloves from Windellama Organics which we bought at the Farmer’s Markets in Canberra.

 

This year we are adding some garlic we bought from a farm near Lake Crackenback called Paddock Perfect

…we stopped off to buy some eggs on our way home from a weekend in the Snowy mountains..

This cute little stall was by the side of the highway…..you can pick your own herbs, or buy jam, eggs and garlic….

The sign says ”Please leave your payment in the honesty box provided below”

…and we did.

In a paddock nearby we could see the happy chooks.

They’ve got everything they need; shade, water, food and most importantly, space to move about. Needless to say, the eggs were delicious!

In the background there are some goats, perhaps used for goats milk or cheese.

Here is a flashback to our summer vegetable garden….this  young Crimson Rosella (changing colour from green to crimson) is caught red-handed sampling our tomatoes!

And all this time we thought a passing possum was the culprit!

By late summer…these lovely Crimson Rosellas have grown into their brilliant red and blue feathers….

…and I hope you have noticed that I’m doing my best to give equal opportunity to all local birds on this blog…

Autumn is a lovely season in Canberra, and I hope you are enjoying your season, wherever you may be in the world.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gang-gang cockatoos: the faunal emblem for Canberra (ACT)

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos are not the only birds in Canberra, but you could be forgiven for thinking so if you are a regular reader of my blog.

Autumn is such a busy time for all birds in Canberra, so there are many photo opportunities, but the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo some how always manages to fly into scenes and photos..

Much ado about nothing..

So to educate myself about other birds, last spring I joined a group of people surveying the Gang-Gang Cockatoo, here in the National Botanical Gardens.

My first glimpse of a young Gang-Gang Cockatoo (male) at the National Botanical Gardens.

In Canberra we are lucky enough to have seven varieties of Cockatoos (who knew?) and this cute pair are the male and female Gang-Gang Cockatoo.

Photo by Julian Robinson Canberra Ornithologists Group

The adult male has a distinctive scarlet red head and crest, and the female has a dark grey head and chest..

The description of the Gang-Gang is that they are ”gregarious, but relatively quiet cockatoos” ..probably because they can’t get a word in edgeways, if the white Cockatoo is around!

Photo by Julian Robinson Canberra Ornithologists Group

They live in monogamous pairs and family groups can be seen together in summer. In some cases the young Gang-Gangs roost together in the same tree while the parents are foraging for food.

I had difficulty finding Gang-gang Cockatoos in the Botanical Gardens, but was told to listen for a sound like a squeaking door, and sure enough, when I listen for that sound, I looked up and saw, through flakes of bark drifting down on me, the red tuft of the male cockatoo……

A young male Gang-Gang cockatoo …

The Gang-Gang Cockatoo is the faunal emblem of the ACT and it is part of the logo of the Canberra Ornithologists Group and ACT Parks, Conservation and Lands department.

Perhaps as a result of the quiet nature of the Gang-Gang Cockatoo, I got very few photos that day,….so my thanks goes to Julian Robinson for his two lovely photos of the Gang-Gang male and female together….looking very endearing.

I’ll end with photo and text taken and written by Geoffrey Dabb, which featured in the Canberra Times some years ago…I hope you can read it.

Text and photo Geoffrey Dabb.

 

Did you hear who she’s been seeing lately?

 

Thanks to the Canberra Ornithologists Group for their interesting and informative website www.canberrabirds.org.au/.

 

Copyright: Geraldine Mackey All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sydney’s Hyde Park…shade, rest and music!

Can a city ever have too much greenery?

We recently spent time in Sydney with my Scottish cousins….

It was nice to take the time and see the city centre through tourists’ eyes

Captain Cook, born in Yorkshire, landed in Australia in 1770…..what a contrast to the city we see today..

We walked through Hyde Park every day, and we were grateful to have these enormous trees giving us so much shade in Sydney’s hot summer.

Jane Jose in her book Places Women Make says… liveability means being able to walk to a park, near where you live, have shady trees and seating and ”accidental connectedness” to your neighbourhood or city…. 

an early morning yoga class..

This part of Hyde Park is very familiar to me as I came here every day when I first arrived in Sydney, from Africa, aged 19. I sat in the park and waited for my brother to finish work. (my two brothers were the only people I knew in Australia at that time.)

The park gave me a connection with people,  and I began to feel part of the city.

The Domain is near Hyde Park, and has some great playing fields for groups to use at lunch time in the city…

I love this sign, ”A place for people” …what a great reminder for all big cities!!

The flowers boxes in the city this summer are wonderful, and I have never seen parsley used so well in a flower bed…

Most of all I love buskers and music in the city….I always give some money to someone who is providing music….it is the food of life!

I’ll end with another beautiful, but exhausting city, Rome…we were there in May last year.

 

Even a glorious city like Rome can become too much, and one day we found this wonderful park. We sat in the shade of some big trees and listened to a busker playing the trumpet

soft melodious jazz never sounded so good …I can hear that music as I write…

Do you have a favourite park in your part of the world?

 

”I love a sunburnt country” ….

This was going to be a post about sculptures at the National Arboretum in Canberra ….but I digress…..

As you drive up to the Arboretum there is a most imposing sculpture along the ridge of the hill.

The metal words in cursive, say..

wide brown land….

These three scripted words were taken from the diary of an Australian poet, Dorothea McKellar. Her poem is called My Country .

I didn’t know until  recently that Dorothea was only 22 years old when she wrote that poem. She was living in England and missing her home country.

I was 19 years old when I came to Australia (from Africa)

…and I was 22 when I came back from a holiday in England and realised that Australia was my home, a place I love.

Perhaps we need to leave to learn how we feel about our place in the world.

I have always loved Dorothea McKellar’s poem, and here are the words of one of the verses that lend themselves to some photos I have taken over the last few years……

My country

I love a sunburnt country

A Land of sweeping plains,

..of ragged mountain ranges

Of droughts…and flooding rains…

I love her far horizons..

I love her jewel sea

Her beauty and her terror..

The wide brown land for me..

I feel very lucky to have a place in the world….what is your favourite place?

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer’s end in Canberra

Canberra’s summer has been hot and dry, and as a consolation, the sunsets have been stunning..

Hot Lips Salvias and Persian Ironwood Tree near the birdbath

A recent survey of birds in suburbia recorded that nearly 50% of households in the Canberra region provide water for birds in summer..

Birds in our garden have a choice of bird baths, and a sprinkler system occasionally which they can fly in and out of…(a five star bird friendly garden)

…..this provides us with daily amusement and joy.

Hot Lips Salvias (left) and Lavandula pedunculata hybrid (right)

Last week this tiny kookaburra appeared on the back wires…(a good place to check out the water situation in safety) I have never seen one so young in our area…..his Mum was not far behind..

Juvenile Kookaburra

All babies are beguiling, but this little kookaburra is at the top of my list for cuties…he hasn’t even got the Kookaburra crew cut hairdo yet!

Juvenile Kookaburra

In the nearby Eucalyptus tree is a juvenile Cockatoo….just waking up….look out…

When we came to Canberra, the house we bought  faced due west, which meant we got the punishing summer sun on all the living room windows. It was like living in an oven!

At that time we had a one year old daughter and another baby on the way! Fortunately we were young and just pleased to have our own home!

In those days no thought was given by planners or developers to siting houses to take account of the climate.

Over time we extended the house, and put insulation in the roof, and the walls. Eventually, we bought solar panels for the roof, and best of all, double glazing for all the windows.

What a difference all of that made!

In the meanwhile we built up shrubs and trees, especially in the front garden to give us shade and protection. We bought two water tanks for the garden, which helps, but is not enough during dry months.

We planted agapanthus because they are tough and drought resistant. I was once told they are the ”bully boys” of the garden, and when you look at their roots, this is certainly true. But they earned their stripes by surviving a drought and a nearby fire some years ago.

In the past couple of years we have had good spring rain, and this has set them up to flower very well this summer.

The garden is now shady and green, and the house is cool and quiet.

Having a simple, well functioning home give me a sense of wellbeing…it is a port in a storm.

I have mentioned the Chinese Tallow tree in previous posts, and this is our Chinese Tallow tree during summer, full of tassel like flowers which attract bees and butterflies by the millions (it seems)

I have read, in New South Wales, these trees are considered weeds because they sprout and grow prolifically. However, the up side is the bees are prolific here in summer. (we will get rid of new young trees appearing …one is plenty)

 

IN February we had about three days of extreme heat (41 degrees). At times like this the birds stay hidden in our thick bushes and trees, and come down to the bird baths in the late afternoon.

Now that we get more bees and insects in the garden, I noticed many of them coming for water too. In fact, after rescuing a bee swimming desperately in this small blue bird bath, I have put some small stones in the bird bath and reduced the level of water to give them solid places to land on when they need a drink.

The rest of the garden is now quite well established, and has held up well in the days of extreme heat.

Under the Chinese Tallow tree, daisies, a Grevillia ”Bonnie Prince Charlie” a blue Salvia (taking over the garden) and hidden behind the daisy is a Correa Bauerlenii

One advantage of heat is, the fruit is nice and soft to eat…

On Valentine’s day I heard these two galahs chatting away in the Eucalyptus tree. They are very sociable birds, and it looks like love is in the air on this summer’s evening…

I have so many photos of our lovely sunsets, so here is one more…..

May you enjoy your change of season, as we will be soon…autumn is my favourite season in Canberra and I look forward to hearing what yours is…

 

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Rose gardens at Old Parliament House

If you love sunshine and roses….then a visit to the Old Parliament House Rose gardens in spring time is a must.

These photos were taken in November, during a gloriously wet spring.

In 1927 Canberra became the new capital of Australia.

The bush capital…. so beautiful today, was, in those days, a cluster of buildings on windswept limestone plains….

Empire Parliamentary Association tree planting ceremony in front of Parliament House 1926 (Mildenhall’s Canberra National Archives)

Just look at this old photo of a group of people trying to do some tree planting as they huddle together out in that windswept limestone plain ….

 

 

 

 

 

 

The newly formed capital of Australia was a compromise….neither of the two large cities in Australia, Sydney and Melbourne, wished the other to be the capital.

Old Parliament House, now the Museum of Australian Democracy

Therefore Canberra, geographically between the two cities, was chosen as the site to be a new capital.

It became the responsibility of parliamentary officer Robert Broinowski to build some gardens around the Old Parliament House and bring some relief to the new buildings.

The gardens included tennis courts, and a bowling green… much needed in those days when homes and families were so far away, and travel was long and hard.

I’m sure those early politicians  could not imagine how lovely the grounds of Old Parliament House look today.

The gardens, on either side of the Old Parliament House, consist of four rose gardens. Each garden was originally designed and laid out in a simple quadrant design, with roses in two quadrants.

This photo was taken in early summer, when the beautiful lilac and white wisteria on the white pillars had turned to green..

In this post I am writing about the House of Representative Gardens, which has two gardens.

The first is the Macarthur Rose Garden which is filled with one hundred red ”Etoile de Hollande” and shot silk roses donated by the great grand daughter of John and Elizabeth Macarthur. This gift marked the major contribution by John and Elizabeth Macarthur, to the early settlement of Australia in the breeding of Merino sheep at Parramatta and Camden. Many large farms from settlement to today, have lovely gardens and include roses.

The decision was made to plant roses in all the gardens. They provided colour to the unrelenting browns and greys of the Australian landscape, they reminded politicians of homes in the Northern Hemisphere, and lastly and most importantly, they were cheap to grow and very hardy.

Fortunately Broinowski was a passionate gardener, and, even during the Depression he kept up  the project of designing and planting by searching for donations far and wide.

He asked the wives of politicians to support the second garden, known appropriately as the Ladies Rose garden, and started gathering donations of one shilling and four pence per rose.

This garden has Hybrid Tea and Floribunda roses which were very popular at the time, and are an absolute delight to look at on a spring day….here are just a few..

 

Just Joey

 

Playboy

 

 

 

Lavender Pinocchio

 

Perfume Perfection

 

 

 

 

Hot chocolate

Gold bunny

 

Madam President

 

Peace

Once you start looking at these lovely roses, you are hooked, and there is no known cure!

Charles Weston had originally designed and planted Eucalyptus trees around the grounds of Parliament House, and these, and dense hedges keep the roses safe from hot dry winds.

This would not be a post about Canberra if I didn’t include some of our resident Sulphur Crested Cockatoos…….a number of them spend time around Parliament House, no doubt using the Eucalyptus trees for nesting, and the acorn trees for food.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoos eating on the grass around Old Parliament House in autumn.

I haven’t check with the gardeners, but I suspect the Cockatoos have a penchant for loping the stems of tender colourful plants, like roses,  and  may be a mixed blessing here.

….. but there is something endearingly Australian about having recalcitrant Cockatoos in residence so close to the seat of government.

 

Friends of Old Parliament House Rose Gardens

www.fophrg.au

Copyright Geraldine Mackey All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Crackenback, kangaroos, canoes and cool air..

Canberra is just a short drive away from the Snowy Mountains… the highest alpine wilderness in Australia.

The Lake Crackenback Resort, near Australia’s highest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko, is the perfect cool summer place for us to celebrate our 39th wedding  anniversary….where did the time go?

On our early morning walk we saw this beguiling little kangaroo….she waited patiently while we took about five photos. Can you believe that pose?

Meanwhile we noticed her mother had taken the younger Joey and was waiting anxiously for the star to finish her photo shoot…parents the world over can recognise that anxious look (and blissfully unaware younger brother/sister)

Our young star seems to be saying…

”well, maybe  I will….. maybe I won’t”   (she must be a teenager!)

Phew, she’s hopped down to join her family.

Off to shoot the breeze on the golf course..

Australia is the driest continent on earth, and since the 19th century with expanding settlement and farming, there has been a critical need for irrigation, and a water supply to combat droughts.

The Snowy Mountains, with melting snow and flowing rivers, was ideal for hydro-electricity. Thus began, in 1949 one of the biggest post WW11 projects, the Snowy Mountains Scheme. This scheme changed the course of Australian history in many ways, and definitely deserves its own post, later this year.

In the meanwhile, I’m passing on the canoeing (easy for some)….. but we are ready to try out the excellent pizzas in the Alpine Larder.

Look at the wonderful soft grasses!

I was brought up in Africa, running through grasses trying not to attract snakes and bugs, so I’m a latecomer to how beautiful they look in a landscape like this.

There are fences and gates between the kangaroos and houses, but ….

I bet it is hard to keep all the animals and insects away from new plants..

I loved the use of stone and timber in the house below, for a split second I think how nice it would be to live here…

But…. we are happy just to be here.

So, a toast to our 39th Wedding anniversary, and to having the good fortune to be able to stay in the lovely Snowy Mountains.

…and looking out over this most precious and elusive resource in Australia…water.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey All Rights Reserved.