21 June 2012

Let's Hear It for Birds.

Birds in the garden add to the overall enjoyment.  I love to lie in bed in the morning listening to the dawn chorus and thinking about getting up and starting the day.

Hah!  that's what I wish I did.  In reality I generally wake up long after they've welcomed the new day and have finished their breakfast and are thinking about morning tea.  But that doesn't mean I miss out on their song - no.  The little birds I enjoy most sing on and off all day.  At this time of year, early winter in the southern hemisphere, I have the visitors on holiday to the coast.  They fly in in search of a more reliable winter food source and I attempt to give them what they need in my garden.  That means I have plants which flower in winter.

For the honeyeaters I grow lots of different Salvias which reliably flower just for them.  Also the Kniphofia 'Winter Cheer' puts in an appearance.  I am happy to say that is is now self sowing in the garden.  I don't think it will turn weedy as the new plants appear very close to the old so it is not going walkabout in the bush.  But don't worry I'll keep an eye on that.  We don't want a repeat performance of the Agapanthus, Privet, Lantana and even Lilium candicum which are all major weeds on the Central Coast, do we?  It's sad to see what they are doing to the natural bush along the F3 freeway from Sydney to Home.

If you are wondering what to give someone who has  everything as a gift then I suggest a birdbath.  You will have to make sure it is positioned near a window where they can look out and enjoy the birds.  If they spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, as I do, then outside the window is ideal.  Here's mine.  I can see it easily which helps me to remember to keep the water clean and the bushes a bit away so they don't obscure my view.

This photo, as are all my photos of the birds at the birdbath, is taken through glass. You can see it is not particularly close, and that means I don't startle the little birds as they bathe.  Some of them are so paranoid they watch for a couple of minutes from inside the nearest bushes, zoom in for a bath, stay one microsecond in the water and flit back to the bushes to preen further.  The paranoid ones are the survivors.  Some little birds are very difficult to photograph because of this.  I have to be in position, leaning against the window frame, and snap away and the first sign of movement and hope I capture something in the frame.   I keep my Panasonic Lumix camera handy. 

So what have I spotted so far?

The cutest little Eastern Yellow Robin

The Superb Fairy Wren

A dear little Silver Eye.

A pair of Yellow Faced Honeyeaters.  I've seen up to four of these squabbling over the bath water.

A flock of Fire-browed Finches.

A Grey Fantail.  He visited every day for about a week and then was gone again.

A small flock of Yellow Thornbills.  These little birds stayed for a few weeks and had a regular bathing routine.  They would fly in, scout out the surroundings and take turns to bathe.  They always had a couple of lookouts strategically placed in the bushes, making sure all was well.

Watching, photographing and identifying all these little birds gives me a great deal of pleasure.  Perhaps you could try it too?

4 June 2012

Autumn leaves

It's time to tidy the garden to allow it to rest over winter.  Today I collected the autumn leaves from underneath two large old pear trees.  As we have had so much rain lately I've been unable to get out there and take care of the leaves and there was quite a thick layer.  If I just left them alone most of the grass underneath the trees would have died back.  Now that might have been great for the trees as grass is very competitive but not so good for the aesthetics of my garden.  So I compromise.  I allow the last couple of weeks of leaf fall to remain underneath the tree and I remove all the rest and place it on the garden,  Today it mostly went underneath my fruit trees where it will  be eaten by earthworms until it has all been transformed into healthy soil.  My patch of ground is clay based and indeed had only the tiniest layer of soil sitting atop the clay when I first began gardening here nearly 23 years ago.
Now I can dig a spade's depth in most places and in the vegetable garden much more. 

I've let the chooks into the garden too, to scratch around and add their manure to the process. These are new chickens, one bantam lavender leghorn hen and a trio of Japanese bantams which are so tiny they are almost bantam bantams.  I haven't yet seen them give a good scratch but my gosh they are pretty.

I really like Campines, an old breed of fowl which are hard to find these days.  I had a lovely trio for a few years but foxes managed to pick them off one by one.  I keep them safely penned at night but sometimes other people relax the shutting up at night rule and they disappear.  I'm determined to find some more and begin again. These are a 3/4 fowl, so not quite a bantam but not a big full size bird either.  They lay a very nice size white egg which tastes delicious.

Back to worms.  I lived in Toronto Canada for a couple of years and it always amazed me the amount of leaves that the deciduous trees produced.  After leaf fall the council would come along and collect the leaves and take them off somewhere.  To compost or not I never did try to find out.  I had a tiny little garden and I soon found that if you didn't remove the leaves they just accumulated and smothered the plants you wanted to grow.  There seemed to be no earthworm activity at all and no earthworms in the soil when I dug it over.  I was told earthworms were not native to the area and the forests and evolved to thrive with a deep layer of leaf litter.  I found this article today which explains what has happened in some of the forests where earthworms have found a way in.  Devastation is seems.  We humans keep being reminded that we can change many things for the better but also the reverse is true.

3 June 2012

Our dear the scammers and spammers have hijacked the Christmas Hills Garden Sculptures site.  It's been closed down until I can deal with whatever they have done.

2 June 2012

Autumn colours in Australia

Officially we are in winter, 1st June for us means winter chills, only this year its not really chilly - yet.  At least not here, north of Sydney, NSW.  For us it has been a very wet and mild start to the season.  I hosted an Autum Moon Party back at the start of May hoping for the garden to be all orange and yellow, but alas it was not to be.  Now three weeks later it is showing its true glory.

We are limited to what we can grow in this temperate climate that will reliably colour up; Chinese pistachios work well, Liquidambers also, Crepe Myrtles turn a lovely yellow, fruiting quinces too.  I have one beech which turns a gorgeous golden yellow and one Gingko which has been in the ground 23 years and isn't much higher than my knee.

Added to the yellow, orange and red is the purple of various tibouchinas,  purple and gold works well.

27 April 2012

Spotted Gum (Corymbia maculata)

I last wrote about Spotted Gums and the Rainbow Lorikeets back in 2008, and now four years later they are flowering again.  The Rainbow Lorikeets have descended on our little patch of bush and are making a big din, particularly first thing in the morning.  Here is the original post.Spotted Gum blog post

30 January 2012

Rain, and then some more.

Today is hot and humid.  It finally feels like summer might have arrived and the garden is growing madly and looking a little neglected as I have been spending most of my time sewing for my pregnant daughter. The clothes she could buy are made of synthetic fabrics - how uncomfortable - so she has cottons, silks and wool to wear now.  Lucky girl.

I mentioned in a previous post how exciting it was to discover new plants on our acreage and I have another two orchids to tell you about.  It is very satisfying to walk in our natural bush and discover more and more things are managing to spring back into life now that the hard hooved animals have been removed,  ie horses, goats and donkeys.  It was fun having horses in our lives for a  few years but that time has been and gone.  As our teenage girls have grown up and are producing offspring of their own it is feasible that the time may come again.  Never say never. 

The first of the orchids is Cryptostylis subulata, also called Large Tongue Orchid or Cow Orchid.  Large Tongue orchid I can appreciate but where did the name Cow Orchid come from?

The next photograph shows the Cows' Head.  See the long front face and the ears and horns?  Imaginative eh?

Plants are about 30 to 50cm high, these were closer to the 30cm mark.  They have long narrow leaves. Some bright green ones can be seen in the background of the above photo. Many flowers are stacked one above the other on a long stalk and open over a period of a few weeks - there can be up to 10 flowers per stem . Above you can see a finished flower to the left and buds above the open flower still to come.

 Some people can stick out their tongue and curl it up just like this - but not me.

Check out below how hard they are to spot in the bush.  Yep you could walk right past and not even see them.  Part of their charm once you know they are there I think.

Last look at Cryptostylis subulata

The other orchid was spotted on the same walk and is quite similar.  In fact it took me quite a few photographs before I realised there were two distinct types of orchid.  Hard to believe when you see them here that they could look alike in the bush but you will have to take my word for it.

Introducing Cryptostylis erecta.  Ta ta da dah.

Same many brown flowers on one stem, same height of plant, same 1 to 3 lanceolate leaves popping out of the ground, same location in the bush - open clearing.  The difference is the "Cow's tongue" is open this time.  The brown colouration seemed the same in the bush but looks quite different here in the photographs.

Can you appreciate the name erecta? The expanded part of the labellum, the stripey inflated bit above, forms a kind of erect hood or bonnet. In C. subulata there is a distinct downward droop, quite different to these guys.  I'm ashamed that I couldn't see straight away how different they were, although in my defence the two people I went walking with couldn't see it even when I pointed it out to them. 

Cute don't you think?  There are 20 species of Cryptostylis in the world with only 4 being endemic to Australia and I have now spotted two of them.  Yay me.  I'll be keeping a sharp eye out for the other one which is found here on the Central Coast. 

Our Australian species are even more special because they are fertilised by ichneumon wasps.  The plants rather cunningly send out pheronomes which attract the male wasps who think they are copulating with a female wasp, and thus spread pollen from one plant to the next.

Who would have believed that plants could be so sneaky?  It is also a reminder that everything is interconnected.  If we destroy the habitat of one part of the flora or fauna world we have no idea of the follow on consequences from our act.

12 January 2012

Red-browed Firetail finches

Twenty years ago my husband and I moved into an old house with bare paddocks surrounding it.  Since then we have gone to a great deal of effort to provide habitat for the little birds and have been rewarded with Blue Wrens and Red-browed Firetail finches living here all year round.  Shade trees shelter the house and lots of shrubberies and water sources have been provided for the birds. One small shallow bird bath sits outside my study window and gives me endless hours of entertainment. 

A tiny little bird has been coming for a bath every afternoon for a couple of weeks now and I have been attempting to photograph it so I can work out what it is.  It is so quick and shy that I haven’t managed to capture a decent photograph of it - yet.  Instead I took some photos of a family of Red-browed Firetails finches.  First Mum or Dad came down and scouted out the area.  He or she disappeared and the youngsters appeared one at a time.  This baby is looking to see if it is safe before it flies down for a drink. Very hard to spot isn't it?

Once safety was assured four little ones and their parents came down for a drink and then they disappeared almost as quickly as they had come.

Mum or Dad is keeping watch and four little youngsters all in a row are having a drink.  Notice the parent has a red bill and the babies have a black bill.  As they mature their bill changes to red and they develop the red brow like their parents.  Male and female adults are very similar.

Red-browed Firetails usually hang around together in small flocks.  We have seen well over 50 at certain times of the year, generally when the grasses in the "lawn" are seeding. They usually eat grass seeds whilst on the ground. .  It looks messy and untidy I suppose but I would rather see all the little birds than have a perfectly manicured area of grass.

Now with our plantings they remain most of the year. 

Very occasionally we put out seed for them which they seem to enjoy.

We notice they are often in company with Blue Wrens.  Perhaps the seed eaters stir up little insects which the wrens make short work of.  When disturbed the whole flock will fly up a short distance and then move somewhere else as a flock, generally not far away.

Red-browed Firetail finches build an untidy large domed nest with an entrance on the side, generally out of grass and small twigs 2 to 3 metres above the ground in dense scrub.  Both parents share nest building and care of the eggs and young.  They can have 2-3 sittings per year when times are good.  Youngsters are able to care for themselves about a month later.
We were delighted to see that the Fire Tails are breeding successfully in our garden.