Mother’s day for Aussie wildlife..

It has been a busy month and I’ve missed writing a post for Mother’s Day.

Looking through my photos, I thought I’d highlight some of the many mothers and parents amongst the wildlife in our garden, and around Canberra.

Of course I have to start with the biggest personalities in Canberra, the Sulphur Crested Cockatoos.

Despite their screechy and bossy ways,  it was lovely to be able to capture this very patient mother having her yellow crested feathers examined by one of her youngsters….

One morning Paul and I wondered if a world war was breaking out in the garden, only to discover that the baby cockatoo (almost as big as its mother) was having a mighty tantrum about being fed..”I want it right now!”

Kookaburras are not very common in our garden, but Kooka parents will bring a baby to the birdbaths on hot days….while the parent/sibling waits patiently on the garden bench.

and here is an even younger Kookaburra in the photo below. It looks as if it is having a first flight from the nest  with the safety of wires to land on, and parent close by…

Even in winter, there are late babies, and the King Parrots like to fly into the garden for a drink….and then feed on the buds of the Japanese Maple…

As I took a photo of them, I noticed their baby waiting patiently in the tree…the first winter, wow it is cold out here!

The photo below shows a young Currawong in our garden…the first, and only time we have seen one so young. ..unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of the parent  who would undoubtedly be somewhere close by. Currawongs are the bain of our lives, as they chase small birds, and generally frighten everything out of the garden. However, this little guy with his crew cut, is cute!

This is a great photo of an adult pied Currawong, and thanks to Harry Charalambous  Birdlife Australia.

Pied Currawong c Harry Charalambous
Kangaroos at the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve Photo Geraldine Mackey All Rights Reserved

A kangaroo has an extra responsibility, she carries her Joey around in her pouch for some time..

She is putting her paws protectively over her Joey, perhaps to warn him that I am nearby with a camera, or that he is about to fall out of the pouch!

Here is a baby Koala, almost too big for a ride with Mum..

This adult Koala carried her baby for a while…

..and then it all got too much and she sat down……haven’t you felt just like that in a supermarket with a toddler?

It was lovely to share these, mostly accidentally photos, I have taken of motherhood and parenthood in full swing with birds and animals.

I was lucky enough to have a mother who believed that the small details of life were important, and that people, nature and animals should be central to a life well lived. She noticed the tiny details; the spider web in the morning light, the lizard in the sun, a new flower blossoming, a bird call…she got great joy from it all.

A toast to her, and to all mothers!


Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved






Spring flowers at the National Botanic Gardens

October is the perfect time to visit the Botanic gardens in Canberra…


Canberra has had very good winter rainfall, and now, at last, all the plants have sprung into life.


Recently we took a guided tour of the Gardens, called ”Breakfast with the birds”.

It was absolute magic to be able to stroll around the grounds of the Botanical Gardens in the warm early morning sunlight, before the gates were open to the public.

This was followed by a delicious breakfast in the café. A great way to start the day.

img_6337-956x1024Our guide said  Wattle Birds have to check each individual flower in the Grevilleas and usually only find some nectar in about one in ten flowers.



No wonder they are such busy birds. In spring they whiz about our gardens like streaks of light…my neighbour says it is like being in a Star Wars movie sometimes.



This Wattle Bird has a nest just above her head in the Banksia bush.


The ever alert Currawong is in the same bush…waiting..

(I’m pleased to say two Wattle Birds chased it away a few seconds later)


I love looking out for birds, but the colourful native plants were the scene stealers on this day..


The Proteas (Waratahs) look wonderful alongside the ghostly white eucalyptus tree.


And here are more Grevilleas and other spring flowers.




Isopogon formosus


Eastern Spinebill feeding on a Grevillea


Grevillea Flexuosa Zig-Zag Grevillea



I hope you are enjoying your plants, gardens and green spaces in whatever part of the world you call home…

I’d love to know if you have a favourite amongst your own plants.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey  All rights reserved


Canberra’s native gardens around Parliament House

Parliament House in Canberra covers an area of 33 hectares on Capital Hill. There are 10 hectares of turf (easy to see) and 13 hectares of garden beds. I have written a post on the courtyard gardens, but native gardens around the building actually make up about nine hectares of the gardens.

IMG_5637 (640x390)In 1988 the native gardens were originally planted as a dense understory beneath the canopy of trees.

Canberra suffered a very long drought, starting in 2003 ….the native gardens were watered until 2006 when the whole region began severe water restrictions. To achieve a 45 per cent reduction in water use, the irrigation of the native gardens was stopped. As with many gardens in Canberra, some plants were lost,  others adapted well, and some were replaced by shrubs that could tolerate drier conditions.

Here are some of the native plants that have survived and thrived…..

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Hairpin banksias (Banksia spinulosa)
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An early flowering Bottle brush (Callistemons) in this part of the garden
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Grevillea ground cover
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Grevillea shrub
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Purple Mint Bush (Prostanthera ovalifolia)

The gardens fit into the landscape so well that it is surprising to find paths winding throughout the shrubs and trees, it is easy to forget we are walking between Parliament House and a busy road!

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Tennis courts, for use by all parliamentary staff, are almost hidden amongst the trees..

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and a Senate oval is used for volleyball, football and touch football. The hedge of Bottlebrushes are unfortunately not flowering yet, we’ll come back later for them.

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The plants at either side of the Senate oval steps are hairpin banksias and white Correas

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Natives grasses are used as boundaries between one garden and another….unfortunately the snowy river wattle (Acacia boormanii) has almost finished flowering (behind the native grasses)

I love the white barked gum trees which can look spectacular in the evening or early morning light.

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This is the perfect habitat for birds, but, today, we’ve only seen the larger birds around…. ravens, magpies, and of course…..a currawong being swooped by poor swallows as they try to defend their nest.

It must be spring!

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a Magpie studiously ignoring the frantic call of a Plover.
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a Currawong looking out for the swallow’s nest…

The Senate gardens are slightly different to the House of Representative gardens, so I’ll write about that in a new post.

Spring courtyard gardens at Parliament House

A magpie warbling is such a wonderful spring call, and I know the warble is supposed to be territorial, but I choose to believe this little magpie is warbling away out of the sheer joy of being alive….IMG_0233 (640x480)and because he had hit the jackpot in places to live…he has found the inner courtyard gardens of Parliament House in Canberra.

New Parliament House has 17 hidden courtyards, only open to the public during spring celebrations.

IMG_4740 (640x450)In 1988, Joan Child (the Speaker of the House) suggested some gardens be made in these courtyards, to create peaceful areas for Parliamentarians and staff to take time out and rest during busy sitting sessions of Parliament. Many of the courtyard gardens reflect Joan Child’s love of azaleas, rhododendrons, and camellias.

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The courtyards, in spring, are an explosion of colour against the white walls. Garden beds of azaleas and Canterbury bells, backed by rhododendrons, behind weeping cherry trees and silver birches.

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The dogwood blossoms are a stunning view from the corridors of Parliament House, and the Mt Fuji flowering cherry blossoms are a gift from Japan.


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Despite the severe frosts in Canberra, the courtyards provide a micro-climate enabling black birch trees, a golden rain tree, and Jacarandas to survive.

It would be a treat to see all the trees during the changing sessions.There are Coral Bark Japanese Maples, a scented Magnolia, two Linden trees, some Chinese Elms, a Honey Locust trees, some Red Maples from Canada…


Most of the gardens are designed for simplicity and functionality. For example, when the division bells rings, members can move through the courtyards quickly without having to go around too many garden beds.

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Japanese box hedge and sea scape grass

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gum trees on the outer edges of Parliament House, being trimmed.

Birds and moths love the abundance of food the courtyard gardens create. As I have mentioned in my post ”The Bogong moths bring down the lights at Parliament House” these moths arrive in huge groups in the spring time, and are very attractive food for the bete noir of all birds…the currawong!

A few years ago the gardeners planted Heuchera ”Chocolate Ruffles” as ground covers in various parts of the gardens. They are known to be low maintenance and suitable for Canberra’s harsh climate.

Unfortunately the Bogong moths love to settle in the plants and were soon spotted by the cunning and ever present currawongs. One currawong would fly down onto the Heuchera bushes, and the disturbed moths then fly up as a squadron of currawongs fly down to feast on the Bogong moths…..the plants in the process, are badly damaged.

This gives me a chance to end with my favourite photo, care of William Betts (c) 2015Birdlife Australia….. the boys are back in town…… and they are at Parliament House.

Grey Currawong (C) William Betts 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

Grey Currawong (c) William Betts 2015


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


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.


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.


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 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……







The Bogong Moths bring down the lights at Parliament House


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!