Canberra gardening in Spring, Cockatoos ten/ Gardener one (won?)

During the dull and colourless days of winter, I always forget the sheer joy of walking into the garden in spring.

This year we planted new tulips and these pink ones were the best performers…

When they began to grow I told my neighbour they were orange, but in fact, the orange tinge is on the inside of the tulip, or perhaps the red tulips, (almost finished flowering) are reflecting some red onto them

….either way, they are a joy to walk past every morning.

A few years ago we bought a packet of mixed bulbs from Diggers and miniature surprise bulbs keep coming up in the garden,  like these tiny yellow daffodils.

 

 

 

 

Many gardens in Canberra have Alpine plants. I have grown to love them, especially in spring, when they display their tiny, but perfect flowers.

 

The almost magenta-coloured Salvia is a good backdrop for the lovely white Dutch Irises, multiplying all over the garden.

The Hot Lips Salvia (photo below) flowers for about nine months of the year in Canberra.

This year we planted some lavender along the path, and the bees absolutely love it.

New this year are some blue Dutch Iris, smaller than others we have in the garden.  We have planted them in three different parts  of the garden, with varying sunshine. They all flower at different times in spring and so there is always an extra touch of blue in the garden.

Speaking of sunshine, we have one part of the garden which has full sun most of the day.

At the nursery recently, I noticed this lovely plant called Gazania Variety. This is the description on the flower.

A small perennial plant, which is very hardy and versatile and produces masses of daisy flowers. They thrive in a range of soil types and positions, and are ideal for hot dry exposed sites.

Let me add, they are very resilient.

There were four flowers on the plant when I put it into this blue pot. Their colour is breath-taking on a sunny day, and can be seen from all over the garden. The flower below was my favourite.

I should add that this is a fly-over areas for Cockatoos who are visiting a neighbouring tree.

….as you can see from the photo below, my favourite flower has been lopped off at the stem, in the morning, and left to wilt and die.

Overseas readers might not know that Sulphur crested Cockatoos frequently take an exception to a flower, especially bright coloured ones, and they break the stem as they go past.

Not to eat, just because they can..

Crimson Rosellas are also known to do this, especially in spring, but my money is on the Cockatoos.

I tried small stakes near each stem…no luck, and then, in a hurry before dusk (early morning seems to be lopping time), I wrapped this gaudy, but strong twine around the plant.

The poor plant now looks mighty confused, and naturally is not flowering with the same gusto as before.

The flowers were lopped regardless of stakes or twine..

I found a hideaway place on the deck and pulled out all the twine and stakes. The poor plant looks as if it is on day release.

We went to visit our lovely granddaughter, and I left the long suffering, but recovering Gazania, in a very secluded spot on the deck. When we came back, there were no less than six flowers lying wilting on the deck.

So….?

In her blog  NewEnglandandGardenAndThread, Judy says we have to remind ourselves that our plants are not our children (and yes, who knew?)

However, just on principle I’m keeping the pot of Gazanias in the laundry at night, and on the front deck in the day time. (where I can keep an eye on them and flyover Cockatoos.)

okay, so where have you hidden them?

So far, the flowers are gradually recovering.

I think I might have won the battle…..

Butter would not melt in my mouth

but  perhaps not the war….

 

I’m not going to let this spoil spring for me, and I hope you are enjoying your green spaces and season, where ever you might be

 

Copyright: Geraldine Mackey  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retford Park, from homestead to country estate..

This grand house and parkland is tucked away on the outskirts of Bowral in the Southern Highlands, New South Wales.

The property dates back to 1821 when Governor Macquarie granted Edward Riley two parcels of land. It was originally called Bloomfield.

This Jane Austen-like driveway takes us back to the 1880s, when Samuel Hordern bought the property.

Fortunately for future generations, his son, Sir Samuel Hordern and his wife, Charlotte, were keen gardeners. They were responsible for the first of the large trees and camellias, and a park full of rare and unusual oaks.

Retford Park was bought by James Fairfax in 1964, and it was his country home until he died early in 2017.

James inherited his fortune from the Fairfax Publishing company founded by his forebears, and is a well known philanthropist and art patron.

When he died, he showed further generosity and foresight by gifting  Retford Park to the National Trust for all to enjoy.

The Southern Highlands has a temperate climate, and for new settlers arriving in Australia, it was a chance to grow colourful shrubs, like camellias, rhododendrons, and azaleas…the gardens were exploding with blossoms and colours..

When James Fairfax bought the property he turned it from an agricultural property to a country house for family and friends.

Under his care, landscape designers have blended old with the new. There has been extensive re-planting of the park, with various species, notably, chestnut, gingko, nyssa and many oaks…this is my favourite part of the property.

The Cypress Lawn, includes an older Redwood, and newly planted weeping Japanese maples, and a bamboo grove…

The Redwood tree has increased in height since a huge old Monterey Cypress was cut down after extensive damage by the cockatoos during the last drought….

The remnants of a Monterey Cypress, after being ringbarked by cockatoos during the last drought

as I have mentioned in many posts, cockatoos are great characters but tough to live with in the country and/or on a farm….(everywhere really)

A cockatoo busily stripping some bark from an apple tree nearby

The pool pavilion was designed in 1968 by the late architect, Guilford Bell. It provides panoramic views across the paddocks.

Not very far away from this slick and modern pool is part of the original garden, and here we can see the Rolls Royce of all chicken coups… electric fences to keep out the foxes..

It was customary for large estates to keep exotic birds and animals, and these days, all that remain are some emus. They  have an equally generous garden, also surrounded by electric fences…possibly to keep them in!

Emus, usually living in dry precarious bushland, probably think they have died and gone to heaven here!

Along the Emu walk are trees called Tilia cordifolia “Rubra”. Also known as Lime or Linden trees.

The older aviaries are being taken over by impressive vegetable gardens.

Near the garage was the Peony walk, unfortunately nearly the end of flowering time for these gorgeous flowers, but we managed to find a couple still blooming….Paul took an lovely shot of the pink one..

The Knot garden, closer to the house is planted with  English and Japanese box and Mop-top Robinias, designed by David Wilkinson, architect and landscape gardener.

The black and white tulips were very striking..

The Knot garden takes us full circle to the front of the grand house, and this is called the Grey Garden, and is planted with white agapanthus and clipped slivery grey shrubs.

Looking down through the Grey Garden you can see the lovely parkland beyond..

These ancient trees are drawing the visitor in…..what could be better on a warm spring day..

….than lunch under the blossoming trees near the coach house…. and cottages, in the original pastoral property

There is an overwhelming feeling of shade and peace at Retford Park, which only well cared parks and gardens can give…

 

 

Copyright: Geraldine Mackey All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parliament House Courtyard Gardens in spring…

Spring time is the perfect time in Canberra to visit gardens and a best kept secret is a tour of some of the 17 courtyard gardens within Parliament House..

The first courtyard, filled with spring bulbs, Azalea hedges and Silver Birches

It is hard to believe there could be so many gardens tucked away in Parliament House.

These courtyards are designed to provide natural light into office spaces and to give all the people who work here some fresh air and breathing spaces.

Oh that all office spaces were designed this way!

My absolute favourite …the Dogwood tree

The garden plants are selected to provide shade and screening, variety and colour throughout the year. The courtyard beds have both native and exotic flowering shrubs.

Deciduous trees are chosen to provide shade in summer and allow sunshine in winter.

We went on this tour in 2015, and the question always arises as to why we do not have more native plants in the gardens.

The answer is that until about 10/15 years ago, native plants were not considered for formal gardens (seems incredible today) but in recent times have been introduced into some of the courtyard gardens.

We did see a very interesting courtyard full of Australian natives, but it was one of the no-go areas for photos. 

 

Since our last tour I’ve noticed less Currawongs in the courtyards (the bully boys) and many of the smaller birds have returned and could be heard singing in the trees.

Magpies are still in evidence, and enjoying life alongside Parliamentarians at the House (as PH is affectionately known by locals)

When our tour group arrived in this courtyard, this resident Magpie gave up fossicking for worms, jumped onto the garden chair …moved in the centre, for the best effect, and warbled loudly until he drowned out the tour guide.

My neighbour suggested he was getting paid time and a half for a Sunday…

The warbling Magpie…how could such a small bird makes so much noise!

There are water features in 14 of the courtyards.

These provide cool places to sit in summer and also are deliberately there to dampen down private conversations from other courtyard users. They provide ”white noise”….. hard for people nearby to listen in…..

Perhaps restaurants should think of introducing water features..it would be great to dampen down the neighbouring table!

Four of the water features are supplied with recycled water from a cooling tower.

Parliament House is on permanent Stage 1 water restrictions.

A computer operated irrigation system checks rainfall, evaporation and soil moisture levels, and irrigation occurs based on daily evaporation rates

.The gardens have set a water saving target of 15%.

The original topsoil on Capital Hill was removed during the construction of Parliament House. and the decision was made to use sand based soil on the site.

Our guide told us that sand based soil is good for drainage, compaction resistance, especially for turfed surfaces.  It is used in landscapes built on the top of car parks, roofs and basement areas.

However, for plants in sand based soils, nutrients can easily leak through the soil, so the method is to use a controlled-release fertiliser and also to fertilise ”little and often”

The aim of the Parliamentary Gardens is to use less toxic pesticides and where possible use natural predators.

For example: parasitic wasps for scale, Lacewings for aphids, parasitic nematodes and soap sprays.

The horticulturalist spends time in the gardens, looking very much like David Attenborough  with a magnifying glass detecting predators amongst the leaves and then releasing bugs to combat the pests.

The courtyard below has beautiful Flowering Cherry trees (Mt Fuji), a gift from Japan

…we just missed a big photo-shoot in this courtyard last week when the blossoms were at their height.

Our guide, Trent said when he began at Parliament House some years ago, the gardeners, and young apprentices were allowed to choose an azalea each, for this courtyard…..no such lassez faire approach these days I’m sure.

The azaleas were still ablaze with colour and a credit to them.

In the courtyard below, the exotic and native plantings work well.

The rich red coloured Rhododendron hedges (just starting to bloom) blend in with the native grasses, which are much easier to maintain, and are irresistible to pass without waving your hands across them..

The tour ended with tea/coffee and scones in the Queen’s Terrace…a lovely end to an interesting morning.

This photo was taken in 2015, but shows the lovely light and colour in the courtyard as a TV crew get ready for an interview.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved

 

This week our thoughts go to all those fighting fires in California. We have shared the terrible destruction and devastation of fires, best wishes to everyone, but especially the fire fighters, and all those who fight natural disasters…… often unsung heroes of our world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parliament House in Canberra…..fences going up…

This is the entrance to Parliament House in Canberra, and it was designed by the New York based architectural company of Mitchell/Giurgola and Thorp.

The Italian architect Romaldo Giurgola said:

Parliament House should nest with the hill, symbolically rise out of the Australian landscape, as true democracy rises from the state of things.

The building lies low in the landscape and is designed for the Australian climate, the landscape, and the beautiful clear quality of light. .

Early morning light in late winter

This 196 square metre mosaic in the front of the building has the inscription….

this place where we  come and meet together…these drawings are part of the country we live in.

Mosaic designed by Aboriginal artist Michael Nelson Jagamara

Until recently it was the only Parliament in the world where you could walk over the Legislature.

Many tourists, and local Canberrans will remember walking to the top of the grassy slopes, to view the city, to watch fireworks at New Year.

However, times are changing, and there is soon to be fencing around Parliament House for extra security measures.

Recently, many people and their families met on the slopes of Parliament House to roll down the wonderfully grassy hills….in protest at the fences going up.

photo by Buzz Feed

(I immigrated to Australia as a young adult, and I think there is something endearingly Australian about such a protest!)

The end of an era, and, sadly, I imagine our grandchildren will be amazed to hear that such a thing was ever allowed…a time of innocence.

In late winter, when we arrived to take photos, the temporary fencing was being put in place.

Meanwhile life inside the building continues as before.

The entrance to Parliament House leads to the Marble Foyer. The 48 marble columns are in muted colours of pink and green….very much the colours of the Australian landscape.

The stairs are clad in green Cipollino marble from Italy and salmon pink marble from Portugal.

The walls feature twenty marquetry panels depicting Australian native flora.

Paul and I had come to look at the copy of the Magna Carta, on the first floor, unfortunately it has been removed for restoration.

……never mind, the best view on this clear winter morning is from the Queen’s Terrace Café ….

The front walls are clad with Paradise White Carrara marble from Italy, and the entrance is Red Christmas bush granite, quarried near Oberon in NSW

From here it is easy to see Walter Burley Griffin’s original design for Canberra.

 Parliament House is built into Capital Hill and from this viewpoint we can see Old Parliament House (now the Museum of Australian Democracy), the War Memorial and Mount Ainslie  

The white building is Old Parliament House, (now the Museum of Australian Democracy) behind it is the War Memorial and Mount Ainslie

You are never far away from bird life in Canberra, and this opportunistic Magpie has taken the chance to take my Blueberry Muffin, while we take photos on the Terrace.

We should know better!

Parliament House has lovely courtyard gardens, and is surrounded by flourishing Australian native plant gardens, and even resident bee hives……

Paul and I have booked a tour with one of the gardeners of Parliament House, so I hope you can join me for future spring posts at Parliament House.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canberra, the bush capital in spring…

The Australian poet CJ Dennis said… ” spring is near, then suddenly it seems, one golden morn..

View of the Brindabella Mountains from our garden at dawn

the bush awakes, a living thing

A Crimson Rosella looking over her nest in a Eucalyptus tree in the National Botanic Gardens in Canberra

Flowers bloom…

A female Australian King Parrot eating the flowers of our plum tree in the garden

birds sing..

A Magpie warbling in the gum tree at Lake Tuggeranong, near our home.

and the entire world puts on its brightest dress to greet the laughing spring”

Grevillea rosmarinifolia ”Rosy Posy” family Proteaceae

Canberra, unlike many parts of Australia, has four distinct seasons, and spring is welcomed here the way it would be in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Manchurian Pears in full blossom along Lake Burley Griffin (photo by Paul Mackey)

Canberrans hear many different bird calls in spring, but none so earth shattering at 5.30 in the morning as the Kookaburra’s cackle….

However, who can blame them for waking us up early? No one should miss a minute of a spring morning…

Every spring one or two young Kookaburras arrive in our garden.

I like to think they come because we have plenty of water, and they are relatively safe for flying lessons between the garden arches and the overhead electrical wires.

We call this young Kookaburra the Minister for Transport… he looks so important doesn’t he?

…..and he’s in the right city!

Meanwhile… the ”Town Crier”‘ is marching up to the top of the neighbour’s roof..

So………

Where is this Grandbaby anyway? …

….and does she know about me yet?

 

Our first grandchild has arrived safe and sound, and….. she is absolutely lovely in every way..

 

The very best description of being a grandparent is surely the words written by Australian writer, Thomas Keneally

‘Being a parent is like being a slightly bewildered NGO in the trenches, with fear of consequences all around..

…..to be a grandparent is a little like being a General back in the chateau, writing dispatches on the bravery of the troops, besotted with admiration for them, but with the warm knowledge there’ll be time for wine with dinner.”

 

 

I hope that you are enjoying your garden and green spaces, where ever you are in the world…

 

Copyright: Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

Cockatoos and Australian King Parrots….waiting for spring

So, what to do in winter if you are a cockatoo?

Sulphur Crested Cockatoos living in Canberra have an abundance of food, and very few enemies. So there is plenty of recreational time.

…During the dreary winter days why not practice undoing knots, and a tennis net is just the thing….

Parrot experts say that the parrot family are the smartest of all bird families, they continue to learn as they grow, rather than relying on instinct.

Luckily humans leave tempting problems like street lamps and tennis nets, and almonds wedged in the roof of carports..

A Sulphur Crested Cockatoo looking for almonds on the carport roof..

The Little Corella is a cousin of the cockatoo, and has become a frequent visitor to the Canberra region in recent years….judging by the amount of lamp post covers swinging in the wind.

Members of the Canberra Ornithologist Group have noticed Corellas teasing rows of Crested Pigeons perched on power lines by pushing them off balance..(obviously the Little Corella has no problem with balance)

Little Corella Judith Leitch www.birdlife.org.au

There is something very sweet about these Crested Pigeons, who manage to keep their fine hairdos in place regardless of the weather…(or teasing going on)

Crested pigeons

In June, the beginning of winter, we usually have cold crisp days, with blue skies…

Food is still in abundance…

The Crimson Rosella feasting amongst the grass seeds in our garden

Then comes the grey, cold July days, and life becomes a bit tougher..

The male Australian King Parrot with vivid orange and deep green colouring, and the female Australian King Parrot with a softer green and orange chest.

On cold winter mornings these King Parrots perch on the guttering of our cabin in the garden. There they drink the melted icy water after a frosty night.

We have a Japanese Maple growing between the cabin in the garden and our house. This year the King Parrots have come to feed on the dried seed pods…

.. giving us a perfect chance for photos as we sit in the sunroom having coffee..

The female Australian King Parrot

The male King Parrot

The male King Parrot spends a lot of time rearranging his tail so that he can eat in comfort.

The male King Parrot, finishing a good meal!

This magnificent Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo flew into my neighbour’s garden last winter, and used the Silver Birch tree as a viewing platform in the hunt for food..

(Despite their regal appearance,  I read recently that their cousins the Orange-tailed Black Cockatoo in Western Australia have suffered injuries from Raven attacks.)

A Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo

A Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo feeding from a Banksia bush..

And now, in mid-August, there is warmth in the air, and the skies are occasionally blue again.

We saw this Magpie on our walk this morning, and he began warbling…… a very familiar and much loved Australia Magpie call.

My Scottish father used to say the bagpipes brought ”a stirring” to his heart and I think a Magpie’s warbling brings a stirring to most Australian hearts.

and back home, here is another important member of our garden bird family ….one very noisy Cockatoo!

”I told you spring was coming…doesn’t anybody listen to me anymore?”

… it is true, spring is almost here!

Paul and I are also waiting for a very special event in our lives, my daughter and her husband are soon to have a baby, our first grandchild!

Lake Tuggeranong

With the early morning light increasing, I have been getting up early (hard to sleep in when waiting for baby) and reading and enjoying many blogs …a lovely distraction.

May you enjoy your season, and green spaces, where ever you live in the world…

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved

 

Zinnias evoke memories a long way from home…

I have a newspaper clipping from the Los Angeles Times 1999… And the title says  “Zinnias Evoke Memories of a first love” 

In my case, this article evoked memories from a long time ago, and a long way from home.

On a cool Californian day in 1999  we were visiting Universal Studios in Los Angeles. While we stopped off for coffee I noticed the Garden section of the LA Times … and Paul kindly suggested I sit down and read it while they tried another ride.   ( sounded like heaven to me).

Rebecca (Bec) and Jessica (Jess) with Apollo 13 astronauts …and Paul looking very cool in front of Tom Hanks

I wanted to read about Zinnias … yes in the middle of Universal Studios .. because they were one of my mother’s favourite flowers and she grew them in the front garden of our house in Zambia ( Central Africa) when I was growing up.

In truth I don’t know whether they were her favourites because she grew lots of flowers and always successfully.

Robert Smaus, the Times Garden Editor had written, “my first garden was full of zinnias in wild Crayola colours”

…and that is just how I remember them.

In our Zambian garden they provided a lot of colour in a climate that was hot and dry.

At the time of reading that article in Los Angeles my family had long since left Africa and had emigrated to Australia.

My parents  were living in the pretty coastal town of Port Macquarie.

 

I was transported from my coffee table in the winter sunshine at Universal Studios in LA across Australia and back to Africa…….How strong the memories of flowers and plants are!

My mother introduced me to many plants and flowers, and when my parents had a home and garden of their own in Port Macquarie I was constantly trying to transplant flowers and shrubs from Mum’s garden in (warm temperate) Port Macquarie  to ours in (cold temperate ) Canberra.

Almost all flowers turned up their toes when they got to Canberra’s freezing/hot dry climate.

I could almost hear them saying

”what have you done to me…why didn’t you leave me alone in lovely temperate Port Macquarie!”‘

Only a few survived, and they are such a welcome part of spring and summer in our garden.

Orange Sparaxis

After a full and eventful life, my mother died, not too long after our holiday to the US.

This lovely Dutch Iris (transported from Mum’s garden) was flowering the night she died..

 

The Dutch Irises have spread and flowered around our garden every November since then…..a warm reminder of our shared love of flowers and gardening.

Sweet peas were a big favourite for her and for me, (and they grew just as well for me as for her……Yes!) and the smell is another memory trigger……but who could not love a sweet pea?

 

Do you have a flower or shrub or a smell  that takes you back to a memory?

Copyright: Geraldine Mackey All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

Thala Beach…where the forest meets the sea..

I have a wonderful Australian’s children’s book called ”Where the Forest Meets the Sea” and while I was teaching I kept many a restless class captive with this book.

I wish I had all those students (and my daughters) here now to see the real thing….a lodge perched on a mountain, literally where the forest meets the sea.

We are in Far North Queensland, escaping the winter in Canberra, and we have stopped off for coffee at a wonderful place called Thala Beach Lodge.

A painting of White-bellied Sea Eagles

A sweeping staircase takes us up to the circular guest lounge perched high amongst the trees, with breathtaking views of the Coral Sea.

The whole lodge is made from local timbers, and it is just like walking into a grand tree house.

 

 

My apologies, I have taken a photo of the seating rather than the beautiful Coral Sea..

The building is designed to bring the breeze from the sea and the scent from the trees.

There is a  long cool veranda and thoughtful local flower arrangements and pieces of interest for even the casual visitor here at Thala..

Each year, between June and September Southern Humpback whales are seen passing by this part of the coast. They mate and give birth along the shores of Queensland, after migrating from their Antarctic feeding grounds.

carving by Brent Vincent

Adult males establish dominance by ”singing” their complex songs, which can travel more than 100 kilometres underwater and can last 20 mins without repetition.

cairnspost.com au Humpback whales frolic off the coast of Cairns in North Queensland

This photo, in the local newspaper, shows the whales along the coast near here.

How I envy locals being able to witness such a sight!

Near the lounge is an eye-catching painting, by the Australian artist Ray Crooke. He is best known for his Gauguin-inspired paintings of islander life in Fiji and the Torres strait.

Archibald prize winner, Ray Crooke lived nearby, in Palm Cove, until his death last year.

He was inspired by the people and history of Far North Queensland and the islands of Torres Strait and the Pacific.

This striking painting told an interesting slice of history of this area.

In 1876 gold was discovered inland from Kewarra Beach. The government paid for a track to be cut through the forest to reach the gold, and in 1877, some bushmen were sent out to cut the track.

One of the bushmen set up camp near the track, and awoke to find his horses had strayed in the night. While he was searching for them he shot at a large black snake, and to his surprise

”a naked greased white man with a red beard stood up and politely asked him not to shoot”

He and four other companions had lived in the area for 14 years with local Aboriginal families. The mystery of where they came from was never solved.

One clue to their identity was that they carried American made axes and there were the ruins of a ship wreck off White Cliffs,  where Thala beach sits today.

So much fascinating history is never told unless there is someone to record it…

The Lodge today is surrounded by natural stands of Eucalyptus forest/ dry woodland forest.

Tall canopies of trees protect an under-layer of ferns and vines…

Guests staying in the Lodge can swim in this peaceful pool, or go down to the beach below.

It is a credit to the owner Rob Prettejohn that he was inspired to build a place for people, yet treading lightly on the surrounding habitat, the forest and the beach front.

The Lodge specialises in bird watching, nature walks and star gazing.

Imagine lunch here, with kookaburras in the trees, and Rainbow Lorikeets flying (occasionally) through the dining room.

We are so tempted to stay here and have lunch looking out on that beautiful view…another day we will …and that is a promise..

Copyright: Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

This is a flashback photo of Paul, myself and my cousin Theresa during our recent holiday in nearby Palm Cove.

Theresa, has lived in Far North Queensland for many years, and like me, she is a teacher. We were both born in Africa and have shared many adventures in both Africa and Australia.

She has introduced us to many new places in Queensland  (like Thala Beach Lodge) and if she wasn’t a teacher, I would highly recommend her as a  wonderful tour guide….

 

 

 

 

 

Bird watching in Port Douglas: expect the unexpected….

We are on a bird watching tour near Port Douglas, in Far North Queensland….and this little family are called Wandering Whistling ducks 

They have loud whistling calls, and their wings also make a whistling sound as they fly..so roosting flocks have a continuous high-pitched whistling noise, interspersed with twittering calls. In other words, they are a noisy bunch!

We have exchanged the very cold Canberra winter for the warm Far North Queensland coast, and today we have driven from Palm Cove to Port Douglas, to meet our tour guide, Del.

I love the morning light wherever we are, and this is a fine start to the day…

It is a cold morning, by local standards, 7 degrees C… and the locals are in shock, because  it would usually be double that on a June morning.

…but this is very pleasant for Canberrans, living in the south of Australia, as our temperatures are often about 11/12 degrees maximum in winter.

We do a tour around some of the suburbs of Port Douglas, where tropical trees and shrubs and water are all part of the landscape, and bring bird life from far and wide.

Our local guide book says,

“‘Sacred Kingfishers are often seen sitting on lamp posts and goal posts around Port Douglas,

and, sure enough, Del, points out this little fellow on the goal post…looking a bit like a young kookaburra..

Sacred Kingfisher

…and nearby, equally slow to start on this cool morning is a Rainbow Bee Eater, almost luminous in the warm sunshine.

Rainbow Bee Eater

These little birds eat flying insects, but have a real taste for bees. They are immune to the sting of a bee, but  instinctively rub the bee’s stinger against their perch before eating the bee.

 

The trees and shrubs are full of berries, fruit and flowers, and in the early morning, it is like bird supermarket….so much choice.

Australasian Yellow Oriole

 

Tawny Frogmouth

Here are two Tawny Frogmouth, sleeping peacefully in a palm tree between holiday townhouses. With such great camouflage, tourists and locals are completely unaware of them.

This is a Freshwater Mangrove shrub, with a stunning flower…

Everything is enormous in Queensland, even the seed pods….

A family of Bush Stone Curlew have taken up residence under the trees near the supermarket.

….they spend most of the warm days settled under the trees with half shut eyes, and then have a high pitched wailing contact call to other curlews at night.

Bush Stone Curlew

That call could wake the dead!  However, I’m sure, for locals it is one of the familiar sounds of home.

(These birds reminded Paul and I of the Hadedas in Cape Town, and I’m sure they are a relative. While we were visiting we noticed Hadedas seem to spent a lot of time trampling around in gardens and messing in trees, but are affectionately tolerated in the city….and, as one gardener said, they aerate the lawn!)

The colours of the tropics are bedazzling when surrounded by water, and there are many small reserves and nature trails..

Monet in the tropics..

 

These Magpie Geese, tend to gather in aquatic vegetation, are very common in some parts of Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Magpie geese

They are considered pests by mango farmers as their crops are often damaged by these birds…

…. looking at their strong beaks, legs and feet, it is easy to see how they could damage crops.

This Comb-crested Jacana, and her young are  sometime called Lily trotters, as they live in floating vegetation of tropical wetlands..

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the Wandering Whistling ducks again, enjoying the sun…but what are they all collectively looking at?

are they alerted, but not alarmed in their lakeside resort…..

 Just then, Del points out, in that laid-back Far North Queensland way, that there is a crocodile in the water, not far from the birdlife..

…he tells us that he is pretty sure the (approx.) 12 foot croc is getting its food from fish coming down from the river, and so the croc hasn’t bothered the birds during the few weeks it has been in this area. However, Del says, in a matter of fact way,

”he can move like a flash when he wants to..”

We are standing on a slight mound of grass nearby, and Paul and I are silently measuring the distance between this croc, and us, not far really…..

We stroll back to the car, keeping a watchful eye on the croc, yet not wanting to look like wimps from the city. When we are safely back, I’m hoping one of us took a photo of the croc, not quite what we were expecting  on a bird-watching tour!

With hindsight, we were lucky to see a crocodile in a relatively undisturbed natural setting, and none of it was staged for tourists (something  that, unfortunately happens a great deal in Australia and Africa.)

However, having said that, I’m a bit of a peaceful Monet girl myself, so these scenes below are the ones I love best..

A typical winter’s day in Port Douglas, not far from the town centre.

Fish and chips and a glass of wine, while looking at the view, all in a day’s work of bird watching!

 

It is about two years since I started my  blog, Canberra’s Green Spaces….many thanks to all visitors, local and overseas who have visited, whether casually or regularly.

I appreciate all visits, and comments and, in turn, enjoy the many blogs I follow. Blogging has broadened my horizons immensely..

 

Copyright: Geraldine Mackey All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Far North Queensland, Melaleuca Trees in Palm Cove

On a cold June morning, we flew out of  Canberra, and four hours later we landed in a very different Australian city, Cairns, in Far North Queensland.

Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and the Daintree Forests, part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage area.

Despite its international airport and city status, Cairns has lost none of its original laid-back Queensland character.

view of the cane fields and the mountain range as we drive from Cairns airport to Palm Cove

Driving from the airport there are cane farms on either side of the road, and some original old Queensland houses dotted around the countryside.

We are heading just a short distance away to our favourite spot, Palm Cove…where the winter temperatures at this time of the year are around 14 degrees to 26 degrees.

…let’s just keep that a secret…

We have been visiting Palm Cove with our family for about twenty years.

When our children were young, you could take camel rides along the beach, and an old hippie had a little wooden stand where you could have a foot massage…..those were the days!

In  the colder southern states of Australia, the gardens and parks have died back for the winter, so it is almost like sensory overload seeing the glorious colourful flowers and shrubs that seem to grow anywhere and everywhere…

 

 

 

 

However, Palm Cove’s signature for me, are the most incredible Paperbark Melaleuca trees.

The trunk of the tree is layered with papery bark, which is in a continuous process of peeling and replacing. In a monsoonal tropical climate like Palm Cove, this discourages parasites from getting a hold on the tree.

(It is also very hard to pass a tree and resist peeling a fine layer of bark as you go.)

Tea tree oil is distilled from the fresh leaves and twigs of the Melaleuca, and come to think of it, this is probably what the hippie used, all those years ago, for his foot massages.

These distinctive Melaleucas were here when Captain James Cook sailed his ship, the Endeavour, within three leagues of the Palm Cove foreshore on 10 June 1770….some of the species are reported to be over 400 years old.

It is said that Captain Cook tried using the oil from the leaves to make tea, as a possible way of preventing scurvy.

The beauty of the Paperbark Melaleucas in Palm Cove is the seamless way the buildings, paths and people fit around the trees.

I have read that the local council regulated, many years ago, that buildings in Palm Cove could not be built higher than the Melaleucas…what a visionary decision!

Palm Cove will never be one of the many beaches lined by generic high rise buildings, all looking exactly the same.

Rainbow lorikeets, the busy noisy local parrots in this area, are regular visitors to the trees, as are honey eaters, sunbirds, fruit bats, native bees and many other species that feed on the Paperbark trees.

My apologies, I couldn’t find a Rainbow Lorikeet in Palm Cove the day of taking photos, so  I had to borrow a busy Lorikeet from a trip we did to Sydney’s Centennial Park. This Lorikeet is feeding on equally striking flowers from a tree called Cape Tulip Red, originally from Africa, but also very common in the warmer parts of Australia.

The camels and hippies have gone, but, thank goodness some things stay the same, Pete’s Place, with the best fish and chips in Palm Cove.

Barramundi is a locally caught fish here, and is absolutely out of this world….may it never change.  I haven’t got a photo of any of our fish and chip meals because they were eaten so fast!

….and, I need never feel too far away from home, because one of the noisiest cockatoos I’ve ever heard, is nesting just across the way from our balcony

…well, if you can’t find an almond tree in Canberra, then a Paperbark Melaleuca tree is a pretty good second…

Not even a cockatoo winging in like a Boeing 747 could ruin an evening walk on Palm Cove beach.

I hope you are enjoying your good fortune if it is summer in your part of the world, and if you are in the middle of winter, as Monty Don says, make it a restorative time.

In my next post Paul and I will go on a bird watching tour in Port Douglas…

 

Copyright:Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.