Monthly Archives: July 2015

Currawongs…..The boys are back in town….

The boys are back in town with smart black suits and beaks to match….

I love this first line of a poem called, Currawong, written by Bill Chestnut and displayed in his Tasmanian garden.

Canberra is full of birdlife, and as our garden is close to Mt Taylor, we have our share and more. Most of the birds are welcome, interesting to watch, and some, like the magpies, are part of our every day life in the garden.

However, the currawongs….. regular visitors from Mt Taylor, are the least likeable of all the birds. They fly into the gum trees in our street like jet pilots, aerodynamically perfect, and with a confidence to match.

This grey currawong, photographed and found in Western Australia, is not native to our area, However, I could not resist using this shot as the photographer has captured that menacing look …….

 

Grey Currawong (C) William Betts 2015 www.birdlife.org.au

Grey Currawong (c) William Betts 2015 www.birdlife.org.au

 

Here is the Pied Currawong, the type found in our region, more frequently than we would ever want..(despite their beautiful song)

Pied-Currawong-C-Harry-Charalambous-2014-www.birdlife.org_.au_.jpg

Pied-Currawong-C-Harry-Charalambous-2014-www.birdlife.org_.au_.jpg

When the Currawongs arrive ..all the other birds in the garden disappear; no more wattle birds, parrots and honey-eaters taking turns at the birdbaths, no more parrots softly chattering in the trees as they feed.

Needless to say, the Currawongs are not welcome in our garden, and when Mr Greenspaces (Gardener No 1) is around, they fly off pretty quickly. I am known by birdlife and animals in general to be a bit of a pushover.

macD

In the interests of this blog, I have tried, many times to get a photo of a currawong…with no luck.

I had given up on the currawong, but the lovely Eastern Spinebill spent most of the autumn feeding in our Peppermint Sage plant, right near the kitchen window. I had the camera ready for this beautiful little bird, and then I noticed the Currawong land on the railing of the deck, not very far from the Peppermint Sage. A very bold move on the part of the Currawong because the deck is definitely out of bounds for them, and they know it.

Eastern-Spinebill-C-Ian-Wilson-2015-www.birdlife.org_.au_.jpg

Eastern-Spinebill-C-Ian-Wilson-2015-www.birdlife.org_.au_.jpg

A photo of the elusive Currawong was tempting.  I fiddled with the camera, hardly noticing the Currawong  getting closer and closer to the Peppermint Sage. There was a flurry and the Currawong flew away…..the Peppermint Sage leaves waved and the Eastern Spinebill was nowhere to be seen.

I had a moment of paralysing Irish guilt…had the Currawong left with our Eastern Spinebill in its beak?

Fortunately for me, not long afterwards, I heard the reassuring shrill call of the Eastern-Spinebill..it had survived to continue feeding for another day.

Here are is my photo of the Currawong on the deck…certainly not good enough to risk an Eastern-Spinebill. Next time I’ll be paying attention…..when the boys are back in town……

 

currandeast

 

 

 

 

A cottage garden in the inner city

gardenpathEighty bags of manure a year, plenty of mulching, slow release fertilizer, a couple of water tanks, an artistic sister, a sense of humour, and a whole lot of love for gardening….that is all you need to have a garden like Christine Fernon’s.

 

In February this year I visited this wonderful cottage garden in the inner city of Canberra. Christine bought the property ten years ago, and although it is hard to believe now, the garden was completely overrun, and she began from scratch to re-build it. Now the garden is crammed full of plants, flowers and vegetables. In a space smaller than many Canberra gardens, she has four vegetable beds, and another area where she grows rhubarb, strawberries and chives.

peasachance

There is espaliered fruit along the driveway with almond, feijoa, crab apples and quince trees.

The rest of the garden is packed full of colourful flowers and shrubs. Her sister has taught her ceramics and the garden is dotted with ceramic figures, pots and whimsical garden labels.

giraffegarden

She  has three slimline water tanks, two aerobin compost bins, plus a worm farm. The water tanks are mainly for the veggies and potted plants, and no pesticides are used in the garden.

 

But I’m sure the key to this lush and healthy looking garden is the end of winter ”energy drink” of cow manure/mushroom compost/blood and bone, and slow release seaweed solution and mulching during summer. …….very hard to sustain that kind of dedication!

Every bit of the garden is inspiring and needless to say the bees and birds abound. Christine has 6 birdbaths in all; one show-off magpie was taking his daily constitutional despite all the Open Garden busy-bodies in his garden.

bathtime

Christine has included a birdbath on the nature strip in the front of her property and it is used in summer for the kangaroos who stop off at night-time for a drink….so very close to the Parliamentary Triangle.

frontbird

Australian National Botanical Gardens…one story at a time…

WaterCanberraBotG
Writing this blog is all about stories, and the Australian National Botanical Gardens is exploding with plants, wildlife and stories…

The gardens are tucked away in the lower slopes of Black Mountain, and it is hard to believe that this lush green space was once, in the 1950s, a cleared dairy farm.

IMG_0645

Now the gardens are home 70 000 plants, representing over 5 000 species from all over the country. These gardens were one of the first botanical gardens in the world to adopt the study and display of indigenous species, and many plants grown here have never been cultivated before.

blktowercanb

The active volunteer ANBG community provide guided tours every day…and I was lucky enough to have a guide all to myself on a cool but clear day in June. We walked, and talked, through paths that led us on a journey of plant life from all over Australia. If you want to see diverse Australian flora and fauna without travelling around Australia, you can do it in day at the Australian National Botanical gardens.

The first story of the day…

The Ghosts of Burke and Wills

In the rock gardens, we found some tiny plants growing beside the rocks…the leaf looked just like a four-leafed clover. I recognized these in our own garden, growing near our crop of garlic….an annoying weed for us, springing up all over the place.

IMG_2255

 

My guide, Harley Dadswell, commented that this tiny plant called Nardoo played quite a part in Australian history, in the story of the explorers, Burke and Wills.

Burke and Wills had run out of rations due to the deaths of their camels. The Cooper Creek Aborigines, the Yandruwandha people helped them by giving them fish, beans called padlu, and a kind of dough made from the ground nodules of the Nardoo plant. Once the Yandruwandha people had moved on, Burke and Wills, it seems, tried to prepare the dough themselves, but didn’t wash/soak the seeds prior to grinding in order to remove the enzyme thiaminase, which depletes the body of vitamin B.

As a result it is likely that the deaths of Burke and Wills, was in part due to the vitamin deficiency disease called Beriberi.

Wills’ last journal entry included the following..

 

…….starvation on nardoo is by no means very unpleasant, but for the weakness one feels, and the utter inability to move oneself, for as far as appetite is concerned, it gives me the greatest satisfaction. Certainly, fat and sugar would be more to one’s taste, in fact, those seem to me to be the great stand by for one in this extraordinary continent; not that I mean to depreciate the farinacious food, but the want of sugar and fat in all substances obtainable here is so great that they become almost valueless to us as articles of food, without the addition of anything else.”

I will look on that weed in our garden with new eyes from now on…

 

 

The Bogong Moths bring down the lights at Parliament House

IMG_0238

Last year I joined a tour of the courtyard gardens of Parliament house. The gardens themselves, with careful planning and natural protection from frost and wind are absolutely stunning in spring. (More on these gardens in spring)

While we walked around I couldn’t help noticing just how many currawongs and magpies were flying around the gardens.

australian parliament house for the federal government in canberra

Australian Parliament House for the Federal Government in Canberra

To add to the mix, there were also Bogong moths who have long been attracted to the lights of Canberra. Their natural lifecycle is to breed in the plains of Southern Queensland, western NSW and Victoria, and in spring, they migrate south to cooler alpine areas…

…….but along the way they are drawn to Canberra, and…. what could be a greater magnet for a moth than the flagpole of  Parliament House, and the surrounding light?

In 2013 we had warmer spring weather and strong winds, and these conditions brought the moths to Canberra unseasonably early and in greater numbers.

The moths, can cause havoc in and out of Parliament House…….they regularly set off fire alarms, block air-conditioning units, get entangled in people’s hair, clothing, rubbish bins, even landing in lunches and cups of tea and coffee.

A sign on one of the office doors within Parliament House is an example of frustrated (yet tolerant). public servants….

If you can read this sign, you are not a moth and you are welcome to come in. Well-mannered moth eating birds are also welcome.

The rich pickings in the lush courtyard gardens and the large juicy moths must be sheer heaven for currawongs and magpies. I was told that a currawong, in an attempt to catch it’s prey, flew into the building after a moth, gobbled it down and then flew off down the corridors towards the Senate chamber.

There is  something endearingly Australian  about a currawong flying down the corridor to the Senate chamber.

I don’t know if the Currawong made it to the Senate, but with all this wildlife in and around Parliament House I believe the moths had one positive influence…the flag pole light has been replaced with led lights…..less moths, and a wonderful energy saver for us all!