Tag Archives: Canberra

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

”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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Season’s greetings and blogging in the Bush Capital

Season’s greeting from the bush capital of Australia.

I began blogging about 18 months ago, to write a low key kind of diary about our garden.

Before long I realised that the blog was really about my place in the world: Canberra, the bush capital of Australia.

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The National Arboretum in Canberra….. 100 trees in 100 forests

The word Canberra is often used to explain the workings of government….”Canberra raised taxes this year…”

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Parliament House Canberra

But of course, behind the workings of Parliament there is a city of people who call Canberra home.

Since I began blogging about green spaces in Canberra, I have met many gardeners, volunteers and ordinary Canberrans who are very knowledgeable and proud of their place in the world.

 

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Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. National Library Australia copyright

The gods were smiling on this lovely part of the world when Chicagoan Walter Burley Griffin won the competition to design Canberra, and his wife Marion Mahony created the beautiful drawings of his design.

He dreamed of a city in green spaces, and that is what we have today… a city in a big bush garden.

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Lake Burley Griffin and Parliament House

The land around the lake is reserved for all people to enjoy..

 

This kangaroo was photographed five minutes away from our house, on the edge of Mt Taylor. Not long after we moved to Canberra, 30 years ago, a kangaroo from Mt Taylor hopped down our suburban road. A great introduction to life in Canberra for our family!

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a young kangaroo on Mt Taylor

I’ve shared the blog with some big personalities

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A Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo

and some colourful ones ….

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King Parrots

 

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A Crimson Rosella

 

and some that are just plain cute.

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young Kookaburras

I’ve had the pleasure of following many blogs, in UK, US, Canada, Italy, France and of course, Australia and New Zealand. The Northern Hemisphere seasons, especially the autumn and spring are a delight to see. As an armchair traveller, I also enjoy the breath-taking snowy winter photos….happy in the knowledge that I won’t have to go and shovel snow at any time!

Thank you very much to the all the people who have visited and followed Canberra’s Green Spaces, over the past 18 months, I appreciate every visit, and every comment.

Geraldine Mackey: Copyright All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mount Taylor, a summer walk..

Summer is coming slowly to the Brindabella Mountains, a lovely blue and green tinge lingering from spring.

This is the view of the mountains from our street.

 

This region is Ngunnawal country, and it was an important meeting place and significant to many Aboriginal groups.

The mountains and hills were used as markers and were excellent vantage points for keeping an eye on enemy clans, and signalling friendly clans.

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This is a glimpse of Mt Taylor from our back garden….a backdrop behind our  almond and  plum trees.

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Mt Taylor is part of a green belt between the satellite cities of Woden and Tuggeranong. This was all part of Walter Burley Griffin’s plan for green spaces between town centres

Last month, the end of spring, we enjoyed an early morning walk, up Mt Taylor.

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It was still cool, and the kangaroos were waking up slowly…

Amongst the grasses there were some wild flowers.

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Golden Everlasting

 

 

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St John’s Wort

Today, we did this walk again…..the signs of summer are everywhere…

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The kangaroos are alert and looking for greener grasses..

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Some wild flowers are still blooming…the grasses are drying off..

The natural bush colours of summer; grey, yellow and brown are everywhere to be seen.

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This is a Noisy Friar bird. He looks a little pre-historic, but his beak is very useful for feeding off Eucalyptus trees and wild flowers

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What a joy to see these flowering Eucalyptus trees…the flowers and supple branches are often used in Christmas wreaths, and always remind me of summer holidays..

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Here are two Wattle birds…like many Australian wild birds…quite bossy!

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The magpie calls a friendly hello from his feeding spot in the grasses and wildflowers

This cockatoo has landed with a deafening screech on a tree near us, and climbed to the top spot…

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The Corellas (cousins of the Cockatoos) are all feeding on some wattle bushes near the road…

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I wonder if that magnificent yellow crest increases self esteem for Cockatoos?

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As we walk back home I can’t help taking photos of two lovely flowers, one growing almost wild in a corner of someone’s garden. I’m not sure of its name, but one of the Protea family I think.

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Protea: Rocket pincushion

and the other, a striking Bottle brush, flowering quietly in the shade along the back track. (officially known as the Fire trail)

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And back home to our garden. Paul has spent a few heavy lifting days putting mulch down all over the garden, to keep the plants cool for summer.

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Here in the front garden we are planting for birds and bees…salvias, daisies, Grevilleas, and the lovely Chinese Tallow tree.

May you enjoy your green spaces, where ever you are in the world, and if you are in the depth of a northern hemisphere winter, then I hope you are planning for your spring!

Copyright Geraldine Mackey All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring: wind, weeds and weary gardeners…

 

Canberra is having a very windy spring this year…

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Quite a few of us have had many bad hair days..

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The rain clouds rising from the Brindabella Mountains in spring

We have also had an incredible amount of rain this year. After ten years of drought, everyone is collectively holding our breath and hoping it will continue…

Canberra is cool Temperate and Alpine  Zone 8-9. In theory we have:

mild or warm summers (I would say, often very hot summers)

cold winters (heavy frosts)…Yes!

and spring is a pivotal event…Yes!

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Tim Entwisle, the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, has written a book about Australia’s changing seasons, called Sprinter and Sprummer.

He says we should adopt a five season approach, early spring should include August and be called Sprinter (August September)

And late spring should be called Sprummer (October, November)

He bases his seasonal categories on the timing of the plants, the activities of the animals, and the unsettled weather before we move into summer.

It is true that much of Australia has no real spring or a very short spring, and not many of the flowers and plants common to the European spring.

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However, in Canberra, as you can see, we do have a joyous spring, after a cold winter. (by Aussie standards, of course..)

Paul suggests that we have should have our own season called Sprindy because we do have a lot of  windy weather in spring.

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However, during our Canberra spring, we brave the windy, often cold weather , to plant and enjoy English cottage garden flowers like Jonquils, daffodils, aquilegia, tulips, Iris.

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Many flowers only come out in late spring, (November) and then we can smell summer in the air.

However, during the spring and summer the real stars of the garden are not the pretty spring bulbs and flowers, but the flowering long lasting, ”foot soldiers” of the garden. I’m coming to appreciate them more and more. For example..

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The Orange Sparaxis,  grows in poor soil and has survived through drought and wind and rain. They are striking  to look at, and these flowers, right by the walkway, are often admired by  passers-by.

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This is a Native Geranium  ground cover, which will flower and flourish in all conditions, and brings the bees. I have seen a photo of a Geranium just like this called Wild Geranium on Jason and his wife Judy’s  great blog called garden in a city  .

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The Lemon-scented Geranium is another plant that tolerates almost any conditions, and brings the bees and the butterflies too. Another foot solider.

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We have three Bottlebrush bushes in our garden, but this  one deserves a special mention, for hanging in there, behind the cabin for many years. The winter and spring rain have made it sit up and take notice and it is lovely to see its flaming red colour across the garden.

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And now for my spring change of heart……the Iris is lovely, but……. here today, and gone tomorrow. In autumn I spent ages re-planting the Iris into this part of the garden, and very soon the plants were leggy and falling over in the wind and rain. We were away for a week, and the flowers had died off, and the weeds had taken over.

Enough already! In autumn we will dig them up, and keep a select few and replace the rest with the hardy native plants.

Of course I’ll always grow some spring flowers, they are such a joy and sign of hope in a garden.

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As Peter Cundal, the previous presenter of Gardening Australia, said one day, as he bent over a some spring plants..

”when I see the first signs of a spring plant coming up, my heart gives a little leap!”

..and I feel exactly the same way.

This has been a big week for our family, as my older brother had a long and serious heart operation and is now successfully recovering. He is a dedicated reader of my blog, and is extremely knowledgeable about birds and plants. He lives in a beautiful part of the world (Port Macquarie) with no winter or sprinter, and I know he will be glad to be back there very soon, and I look forward to him being well and able to enjoy his own green spaces again.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey all rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canberra Nara Peace Park and the bird we share with Japan

This is the story of Canberra Nara Peace park, celebrating friendship, harmony and trade between Japan and Australia…….and a mighty little bird, the Latham Snipe, that flies between our two countries every year.

The park is set in the Lennox gardens on the edge of Lake Burley Griffin. Even at the end of winter there is a stark beauty to the gardens..

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Canberra Nara Peace Park opened in 1999, is a symbol of the friendship between the sister cities of Canberra, built as the National Capital of Australia in the 20th century, and Nara, the first capital city of Japan in the 8th century.

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This lovely little park is a joy to visit in any season, but especially in spring.

The dry stream bed is lit up once a year for the Nara Candle festival. We missed this wonderful festival this year, so I’ll keep that story for another spring.

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The young magpie in the photo is Canberra’s most well known bird. She is probably looking for insects, but magpies are also very curious birds,  so she could be just  ”having a stickybeak” as Australians would say…

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The park has a gazebo surrounded by Japanese maples and cherry trees.

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A relatively new addition to the park is a sculpture, Toku, commissioned to celebrate the1300th anniversary of Japan’s ancient city Nara.

The five storied pagoda form represents Canberra

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a floating stone represents Nara…

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and the lovely little sculptured bird represents a Latham’s Snipe.

This is a species of shorebird that migrates annually between Japan and Canberra.

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Latham Snipe arriving in Canberra for summer. Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Dabb

The Latham Snipe, weighing only 200 grams, spends half the year in Japan and then flies south to the warmth of Canberra and other parts of south-east Australia for the spring and summer.

Japan and Australia are working together to find out more about these mighty little birds.

On the foreshores of a wetland in Hokkaido in Japan, five birds were skilfully fitted with trackers, before they began their amazing voyage.

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Early data showed the birds travelling more than 5500 kilometres in six days of continuous flight from Hokkaido in Japan to Papua New Guinea at an average speed of 40 km/hr.

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The Latham Snipe. Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Dabb

The visiting birds are starting to arrive in the south east of Australia, to settle in for the spring and summer.

During the summer four more birds will be fitted with trackers to observe their movements here in Australia, and their long return flight.

I’ll never complain about the long flight back to Australia again!

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The Nara Peace park is full of colourful trees and blossoms in spring, and shady peaceful places to sit in the hot summer months.

If you are wandering around the park, or just sitting and contemplating the beauty of spring, give a respectful nod to the symbol of the tiny bird near the top of the sculpture, Toku.

…. and wish the Latham Snipe well for summer in Canberra.

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To follow the flight progress of these fearless little birds visit the Jerrabomberra Wetlands site and look for the Latham Snipe project.

I hope you are enjoying your season and birdlife where ever you are!

Copyright Geraldine Mackey  All Rights Reserved.