about this blog

This blog tracks the ongoing changes of my garden, and the wildlife I try to attract to it. It's a nature blog. It contains my thoughts and musings about anything and everything to do with nature - gardening, book reviews, philosophy, travel, science, history, art, design, politics.
Catmint is my signature plant because it has all the qualities I value in a plant: resilience, beauty and the capacity to spread prolifically . Unfortunately it's not indigenous. If I was starting again I'd probably choose an indigenous plant.

Monday, 13 April 2015

backyard birds - the good, the bad and the ugly

Part of the point of planting indigenous plants in the garden is to attract native birds. I used to think it was good to attract as many different species of birds as possible. Over the years I have observed quite a variety of birds: insect eaters such as Thornbills, nectar eaters such as Wattlebirds and seed eaters such as Doves.

Brown Thornbill - Acanthiza pusilla - from Birdlife Australia

Some birds are carnivorous - Ravens, Kookaburras, Magpies, Tawny Frogmouths, Pied Currawongs and Butcherbirds. They'll eat mice and lizards and part of their diet includes young and small birds. That's why the butcherbird got its name!

Grey Butcherbird - Cracticus torquatus

Sometimes the mix of birds you get isn't so great. I hate it when the garden becomes a war zone. With loud shrieks, the bully birds chase away the less aggressive birds. The tiny bush birds stay right away.

Brian Bainbridge, president of Indigenous Flora and Fauna Association, suggests you grow nectar plants like Correas in one corner of the garden, so the bullying wattlebirds won't scare away the small insect eaters.

Red Wattlebird - Anthochaera carunculata - from Birdlife Australia

A good reason to try to discourage bully birds such as Wattlebirds is that these large birds have adapted successfully to the urban environment, whereas numbers of smaller birds like the Spotted Pardalote are declining.

Birdlife Australia suggests you don't feed wild birds in your garden. Too much artificial food can lead to poor health and disease. And if you do feed them, you'll just end up attracting the large aggressive ones. But people just love to feed birds and will feed them anyway. Ecologist Darryl Jones recently said we might as well accept it,  and just encourage people to keep bird tables clean, and avoid feeding them bread or processed meat.

Tawny Frogmouth - Podargus strigoides - from Birdlife Australia

I've taken the advice of Birdlife Australia and don't feed the birds in my garden. I just provide them with clean water.

We can't control nature, but we are trying to influence it to change in ways we think are beneficial. Magpies aren't as aggressive as other meat eaters. But even if they were, I'm so hooked on their lovely complex warbling, I'd do what I could to attract them and keep them around.

Australian Magpie - Cracticus tibicen - from Birdlife Australia
Australian Magpie in my garden - Cracticus tibicen tyrannica

These Magpies have different markings, so they could be different subspecies. According to Wikipedia, there are currently thought to be nine subspecies of Australian Magpies. Or, more likely, the different patterns signify the sex of the birds. Female Magpies typically have a mottled grey back (top) whereas the males have greater colour contrast (above).

Recently scientists discovered  Rainbow Lorikeets eating meat at a feeder north of Brisbane. Up till now these birds have just eaten pollen and seeds. Now they've developed a taste for meat, and are chasing kookaburras and magpies away.

Rainbow Lorikeet - Trichoglossus haematodus - from Birdlife Australia

Apparently scientists found this discovery surprising and challenging, because it contradicted their previous observations. But the natural world doesn't always fit into neat categories. The only thing we can sure of is that things don't stay the same. The fact is these birds have opportunistically taken up meat eating.

In his 1963 horror film, The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock imagined a scenario about what happens when many species of birds develop a taste for meat. Sca-a-a-ry!

Theatrical Release Poster - from Wikipedia

The photos are of all birds that I have seen in my garden. Thanks to Birdlife Australia for giving permission to use photos from their website.

Spotted Dove - Streptopelia chensis - from Birdlife Australia
Common Blackbird (female) - Turdus merula - from Birdlife Australia

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

indigenous plants

Indigenous plants in Australia have a very precise definition. They are plants that grew in a locality before European settlement, about 200 years ago. Most of these plants have disappeared. And many of the fauna that depend on these ecosystems are extinct or struggling to survive.

Lomandra spp.
But still, in many places in Melbourne there are remnant stands of indigenous plantings. Seeds can be collected from these plants, and used to propagate new plants that can be grown in public and private spaces.

The argument is that the fauna evolved alongside these plants, so these plants will best attract and support indigenous wildlife - birds, butterflies, insects, spiders, frogs, mammals and reptiles.

Clerid beetle (Eleale lepida)

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

extraordinary must-read picture book

The Duck and the Darklings is an extraordinary, unusual and special picture book, highly recommended for all ages. It's simply the best picture book I have ever seen. It takes place in a post-Apocalyptic, ruined world where people live underground and children go to the surface searching for things that may be of use. 

Grandpapa's eyes shine when he remembers the beauty of the world, and Peterboy wants to find something wonderful to light up Grandpapa's eyes and keep the light there. He finds a duck, Idaduck, broken and wounded, and Grandpapa mends her from top to tail.

This sounds grim and depressing, and it's true that the story is tinged with sadness and loss. But it is also a story of hope, love and family.  And it has a happy ending. Over time the world heals itself, and the beauty of flowers and forests return.

The illustrations are perfect, but I especially love reading and re-reading this book because of the language. Poetic, gentle, evocative words...

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

a long tortuous garden journey

I've been making the garden for thirty-five years. Actually that's not quite true. I've been making and remaking the garden for thirty-five years.

The garden evolved and it's still evolving. I used to be proud that the garden evolved. Other people might pay garden designers to plan and implement a design. Not me. I did it all from scratch myself, moving from total to partial ignorance, learning as I went.

Nesting box for microbats
Having to work out what goes where is tiring, even exhausting at times. Without an integrated plan for the whole garden, I continually need to be working out how to fit pieces of the puzzle together. It is a real challenge to create a picture that is harmonious and natural looking.

Friday, 27 February 2015

an acacia story and a spider story

The leaves on Acacias are not really leaves at all. They're called phyllodes, and they're actually flattened leaf stalks that function like leaves. At the base of the phyllode is a gland, a raised bump that is a source of nectar all the year round. For this reason Acacias are superb habitat plants for the garden. I often see ants and flies moving around on the trees.

Indigenous Acacias that I recently planted are A. implexa, or Lightwood. The immature specimens have indented fern-like leaves. As the plant matures the divisions close up and become single long, curved phyllodes.

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