Canberra’s spring: birds, plants and a BraveHeart..

Canberra in spring, sunshine and flowers…. it is enough to make your heart sing.

Every day during winter the beautiful little Eastern Spinebill came to feed from the remains of the Peppermint Sage in our garden.

The Eastern Spinebill is an important pollinator of many native and non-native plants.

The Eastern Spinebill is a Honeyeater, and its long curved beak can reach nectar from native and non-native flowers.  They are often mistaken for Hummingbirds, (including by me) as they can hover over a flower in the same way a hummingbird does, but generally they perch on branches like other Honeyeaters.

The Eastern Spinebill: Photo by Ian Wilson (c)

The moment spring arrived, so did the Red Wattlebird. This bird is amongst the largest of the Australian honeyeaters. Despite the Eastern Spinebill’s loud call, he didn’t stand a hope and soon disappeared, and the Wattlebird took possession of the flowering Grevilleas, Camellias, and indeed, the whole garden..

The Red Wattlebird is known to be very assertive, noisy, and tenacious. It is difficult to tell the male from female, but both are extremely territorial in spring.

This year’s Red Wattlebird chased the sweetly twittering Silver-Eyes out of the plum tree, and the Crimson Rosellas out of the apricot tree.

..and the Blackbird, minding his own business searching for worms by the veggie patch…

It’s not as if they are all searching for the same food. ..the Wattlebird mostly feeds on nectar, and occasionally eats insects, either in the foliage, or caught mid-air….but is not a dedicated worm eater like the Blackbird!

Our garden felt a bit like the Australian parliament last week, there was a sudden shift of power!

Yesterday, to Paul’s amazement,  he saw the Red Wattlebird chasing a young Currawong…. David verse Goliath!

Currawongs are highly intelligent birds, with a distinctive and melodious call. They eat fruits and berries as well as small vertebrates, and in spring they sometimes attack nests for bird’s eggs.

No wonder the Wattlebird has turned into BraveHeart!

Pied Currawong: Photo by Harry Charalambous (c)

This spring we are choosing native plants to go into our newly cleared garden beds. Canberra had half our annual rainfall this year, and surrounding areas have been declared drought affected, so we are looking for frost resistant, and drought tolerant plants.

We would also like the plants to be bird-attracting (we can enjoy the birds and they are such good pollinators.)

Here are some we could choose:

(I took all these photos at our Australian National Botanic Gardens here in Canberra, a wonderful place to visit in spring.)


Grevilleas have been very successful in our garden so far…


Correas, are very easy to grow, and the bell-shaped flowers attract nectar feeding birds throughout the year.

Bottlebrush bush

The Bottlebrush is a hardy rewarding shrub, we have some in the garden already, but they are so reliable, we’ll add more.

Wattles (Acacia)

We had a Cootamundra Wattle Tree, beautiful while it lasted, but fairly short lived. We will plant another one.

A New Holland honeyeater on a Banksia flower.

I have not succeeded in growing a Banksia in our garden despite their hardy ability to survive in drought, once established.

Sturt Desert Pea

Who would not wish this lovely and unique flower in the garden, but I have only seen them thriving in the Australian Botanic Gardens, rather than gardens around Canberra.  I’d love to know if anyone is growing them successfully in Canberra.

I hope you are enjoying your season, and your place in the world at this time of the year, and may the sun shine and the rain fall on all the drought affected areas, in Australia, and elsewhere.

Many thanks to the photographers at Birdlife Australia, who generously allowed me to use their photos for the Eastern Spinebill and the Pied Currawong. This is a great organisation to support.

Geraldine Mackey: Copyright, All Rights Reserved.










20 Replies to “Canberra’s spring: birds, plants and a BraveHeart..”

  1. It is always fascinating to read your posts and this one is no exception, good luck with your new planting, may all do well.

  2. Oh, spring! Such a beautiful time of year. Although it is funny to be reading about your spring when we are heading into fall. Very good decision to put drought resistant plants in your. Keep us posted. Also, so enjoyed seeing the birds.

    1. Yes, it always seems a bit strange that half the blogs I follow are going into autumn as we go into spring. Anyway, it keeps me cheerful through our winter! Glad you enjoyed the birds.

  3. The spine bill reminds me of the sunbirds we saw in Queensland. Same shape, different colourings. Drought tolerant plants sound like a sensible choice. I wondered how you were doing with rainfall. The drought in NSW and South Australia is frightening.

    1. I think we are a lot better prepared for drought, and dry summers than we were some years ago, and on a recent drive to Melbourne we were surprised at how green some areas still are.(thankful for that)

    1. Thanks Jason, and your query about whether the Eastern Spinebill was a Hummingbird made me go back it check, so thanks for that. The wattles and desert pea are gorgeous.

  4. Your native plants and your feathered friends are so different and beautiful from ours. I love hearing and seeing them. I think you have a good idea to go native and have have less need for water. I have been transitioning from perennials to a few more shrubs over the past year for maintenance issues. I only water container plantings – the shrubs and perennials are on their own once they are established.

  5. Not easy dealing with drought, or losing loved plants.

    But the new plants for the birds will become a delight.
    Your spinebill is the same shape as our sunbirds, but with very different colours.

  6. Your spring certainly has my heart singing! Oh….those honeyeaters, although the red wattle bird does sound feisty! Your birds are always a delight to see.Loving some of your plant choices, looking forward to hearing more. xxx

  7. I loved seeing the birds in this post and learning about their different behaviours. Some birds get so aggressive in spring!
    Best of luck with planting up your cleared border. We lost a few plants last March in the late ice and snow and then in the drought this summer we have lost a few more. I have been mulling over establishing a drought-tolerant gravel garden that shouldn’t need watering once the plants have established themselves.

    1. Thanks Clare, the Wattlebird is particularly bossy! Yes, a drought tolerant gravel garden seems a good idea, I do put small smooth stones around my succulents, with just a little space to water around the base of the plant.

  8. Hi Geraldine, Beautiful pictures as usual, and as usual I’m catching up! have a look at the Australian Native Plants Society’s book “Australian Plants for Canberra region gardens”, the 2015 edition. All the information in the book is based on people’s experience.
    Banksias can be tricky to establish, especially if your garden has a history of high-phosphorus fertiliser use. I’ve found that they tend to sit and do almost nothing for up to 4 years. Giving them a tiny tip-prune in mid-October can stimulate growth, and small doses of iron chelates also help.
    Regarding the Sturt’s Desert Pea, I saw them growing in the open in a garden in O’Connor many years ago. The owners had built a retaining wall on the edge of their property where there was a very steep drop. The resulting garden bed was filled with sand to about 2 metres deep and the Sturt’s Desert Pea thrived as long it was given plenty of water! Perhaps you could bury a 2 metres long plumber’s pipe (30-40cm diameter) in the ground to a depth of about 1 metre, fill it with sand and try them there. Some people will try anything!

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