Red Wing

Wednesday 9th Dec.

This is Red Wing. He that rules the roost in the garden at the present time.

I wasn’t exactly sure that the Fairy-Wrens visiting the garden were Red-winged wrens, as Blue-breasted Fairy-Wrens are also found in the locality and the Red-wings are more commonly found in forested areas.

The weather today was overcast with light rain, but not enough to turn me away from the garden for the morning. So I was out in the elements and listening intently to the calls of the Fairy-Wrens to better determine which species we actually have in the garden. This is important because . . .

It’s our garden.

And to have such a beautiful little wren with a really rich song spending so much time in the garden is a thrill. From time to time I caught glimpses of the male and I’m pretty certain I’ve picked them as Red-winged Fairy-Wrens. The call has a few notes that trip at the beginning like they’re cranking up, before they break into their warble.

You can hear some of their calls from this Fairy Wren Project Link.

With the wrens spending so much time around here I am certain they are nesting somewhere close. It is after all the tail end of their nesting season.

Thursday 10th December

The wrens were about, but pretty shy and with cyclonic weather as a result of the weather situation in the north of the state, things were a bit gusty and overcast. After a brief spell in the garden myself I determined the day was better spent doing stuff inside.

Friday 11th December

A 4am wakeup call. For some reason our smoke alarm was sounding. It’s ok though, no fire. The batteries are new, but then also Grans medic alarm was doing weird stuff later also.

So I was awake early and as I lay in bed I could hear the wrens starting to call in the garden. They must be roosting close, like in the beast of an ivy bush that corners our block and the neighbours. They have spent a fair bit of time around that area and I’m thinking that if there was a nest, that would be a potential spot. After seeing the cuckoo hanging around there also, I am suspicious.

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A Place to Die

Today the Very Ugly Garden was a sanctuary for death.

As I began the foundations of the green house I listened and watched the birds. It was early morning. Quite early actually. There were New Holland Honeyeaters feeding on several different flowers. Hoya, Nasturtium, Tagasaste, Red Runner bean flowers.

The Red-winged Fairy Wrens were around with the very dapper male showing himself a bit more than usual. Most often they are seen and not heard.

Kookaburras could be heard up the slope, as could Red-tailed Black Cockatoos which also flew over during the morning. Silvereyes fed on grubs in the tomato bushes and Purple-crowned Lorikeets flew furtively, high, high up in the sky, seeking flowering gums.

A Bronzewing Pigeon landed in the garden and strolled around the grass for a moment. It was quite unusual for a Bronzewing to be so close, but it was early in the morning and it might have been a little confused.

As I worked I looked up occassionally to watch it. It didn’t look all that well and walked quite slow. I had the feeling it was injured or sick. It didn’t look injured and in fact it looked like quite a large, healthy bird otherwise. Perhaps it just needed to rest. I speculated that maybe it had chosen our garden because the presence of a human working in the garden might keep other predators at bay. It would be able to rest in safety.

A little later I went looking for the pigeon and found it resting on the sand in the half finished chicken yard. As I moved around the garden it certainly didn’t seem that fussed with my comings and goings. As the day grew warmer it had moved into the shade and at this point I approached it and it remained sitting on the sand. I went and fetched some water and when I returned I picked it up and placed it higher on some sand under the shade and with some water. It occurred to me that perhaps it had come here to die in peace. It sure looked healthy enough, just very slow moving and weak.

The Bronzewing sat in the shade, unperturbed. Before I went into the house to clean some parsnip I checked on it and talked to it. It kept its eyes closed and didn’t open them when I spoke softly to it. Very unusual. Like it was in a deep meditation.

A little while later when I returned it was not there. I slowly walked around the chicken coop in case it was on the ground again. Nowhere.

I retraced my footsteps. At the base of the piles of sand where I had placed the pigeon I found its body. It literally must have died and then toppled off the pile. I reverently picked it up and took it down to the house where I took some photos.

It was a very peaceful event in our garden and I was touched by the presence of a very beautiful creature coming to our garden in a time of need.

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The Very Ugly Garden

Over the last few years our garden has transitioned from a relatively newly cleared block (in preparation for the renovation) to a small salvage yard of various resources such as patio pavers, salvaged timber, corrugated sheeting, animal hutches, plastic pots and containers, pallets and piles of granite and coffee rock.

In some areas, stacks of timber have sat and become a breeding ground for King Skinks. Paving slabs laying for extended periods of time over grass have become home to the Common Dwarf Skink. Piles of coffee rock have sheltered the sand loving Lined Worm-Lizard as they become home also to its food source, ants.

It has quite honestly devolved into something of an ugly garden. If you can call it a garden. But in doing so it has become an absolute haven for wildlife which this summer has made its presence known.

We’ve seen unprecedented numbers of hoverflies and Diadegma wasps in our garden. I’ve added several new bird species to our Bird List this year. We’ve had the Spotted Pardalote, the Red-winged Fairy Wrens and Red-tailed Black Cockatoos on a more regular basis. Even a Black-shouldered Kite taking a dive for a mouse up the top of the block.

From the turmoil and chaos there is gradually something of order emerging but with naturalised areas. After all, it is designed from observation and what works – and nature is what is working well.

This afternoon I started in earnest on the foundations of the green house using coffee rock. Now starts the process of putting much of the chaos into a functional design.

As I worked I heard the Red-winged Fairy Wrens which I am beginning to think are nesting close by as I also saw the Horsfields Bronze Cuckoo in the garden today and it flew from one side of the garden to the other and perched in the Peppermint Tree which is where the wrens were. It preened itself for a while and I lost track of it. In the afternoon there was a Kookaburra perched on the gutter of the neighbour’s house overlooking our garden. Also a possible indication that the wrens activity has been noticed by predators and parasites!

Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, galahs, Red-capped Parrots and even corellas were flying over and around the house. The parrots zig-zagging around in the pre-dusk light.

I tidy things up to go inside for the evening. Content that something concrete has been started that will point the ugly garden into the new direction of becoming something of beauty.

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An Exciting New Discovery

This amazing little creature has eluded me for so long.

I knew it to be a Mole Cricket. Just one of those things that has stuck in my mind from looking through nature books as a child. I found this one recently as I was emptying out a container garden. I’ve come across Sandgropers before – and one recently actually – but this is different in the softness of its appearance in contrast to the more plated and narrow appearance of a sandgroper.

This mole cricket captivated me – more so than it did to the Little Fellas. I was intrigued by its plump abdomen and though it doesn’t quite show it in the photo, it had an almost silky or satin-like quality to it. Soft and plump. To be honest, if I was starving (not like Gran starving, but really starving) this little guy would be a goner. If I was ever going to eat another insect (yes, I’ve eaten insects before) – this would be high on the gustation list.

What a marvel to investigate into this and find that it seems to be a native species of Gryllotalpa pluvialis. There are of course various introduced species in Australia, but these so far seem to be localised to at least the Eastern coast and Perth.

I was delighted to discover also that this is the creature that makes some of the loudest calls in the garden, and which I had always thought was a frog. Not so. Listening to the call closely it does of course sound like a grasshopper or cricket – I just never expected such a sound to be coming from what appeared to be under the ground. I thought perhaps a kind of burrowing frog.

I found an incredible post from Brisbane Insects which goes into a lot of depth on how the males create the sound through rubbing their forewings together in a technique called stridulation. Even more impressive is they construct burrows where they can anchor themselves in and amplify the sound they make. Very impressive.

The WA Museum also has a page on Mole Crickets which has led me to believe that the one in our backyard is a native species of the Swan Coastal Plain and is likely to be an immature female given the shorter wings still to develop and more noticeably the smaller forearms. Males having larger forearms with which to create their impressive songs.

Not surprisingly, Mole Crickets are also related to another insect we sometimes see and hear in the garden which I also like the call of, the Katydid. A large grasshopper-like insect that also makes a loud call and creates a bit of atmosphere to the garden.

Further Information:

Australian Museum

Australian Geographic

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Into the promise of Summer

It has been just under three weeks since filling the bioreactor.

After about two weeks it had sunk down just over two feet. It smells like a damp forest floor and I’ve only removed the pipes in the last few days as I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have them in there. After taking them out it was easy to see that the contents have settled and firmed and the space left by the pipes will continue to allow air to circulate through the mass for some time I speculate.

I’ve also noticed that on removing the pipes there is mould forming between the various materials such as mulched twigs, leaves and grasses. On top of the pile I’ve watched fungi already forming and dying down.

Overall, the surface has remained quite damp. Despite this I have followed the instruction and continued to give it a water each day. At this point I am doing this by watering can or hose. It gives me a moment to actually observe what changes are occurring.

Since starting this bioreactor I’ve knocked together another. Not as high, but with a greater circumference. Again, using the resources I already had available. I filled it mostly with fresh cut green grass, fresh mulched acacia branches and soaked cardboard, dried grass and some more woody pieces of material raked up from an area of the garden. I remember now also adding some woody spinach plants that were bolting to seed and which I did not require. Most everything got mulched or chopped up into smaller lengths of not more than 5 cms or about 2 inches.

After seeing the results in the higher bioreactor after only a couple of weeks I am really keen to see how things progress and what the finished result is after several months. If, as they say, there is a huge build up of fungal hyphae in the material which can then be added to garden soil to inoculate the area, then I think it will be of interest to see what results I get in our sandy soil.

Particular species of fungi can form symbiotic relationships with plants and trees, benefiting both as the hyphae penetrate into the plants root tissue in response to the chemical exudates that are produced by both plant and fungus. Typically, the plant or tree roots offer the hyphae nutrients from its cells. In return, the fungus transfers minerals from the surrounding soil into the plant. I want to create this interchange to the maximum benefit in our sandy, coastal soil. Hence the excitement about the bioreactor and what it creates.

Some observations from the garden at this time. The dahlias opened their first flowers today. Others, planted just a few weeks ago are only just coming up. The early ones are those that have come up from bulbs left in the ground.

The Scarlet Runner beans are in full, splendid show. I’ve already harvested a few pods to eat at dinner. I do love getting produce from the garden, but there is also a quiet little rejoicing voice inside that says, “Yes, a healthy plant from which I can get some healthy, fresh seeds for next years crop.”

We’ve had several visits, usually several a day from Red-winged Fairy Wrens. They come early too which has me think they are actually nesting close by in backyard gardens somewhere, rather than moving down from the bushland at the top of the mount.

Not surprising then that I’ve also heard the call of a Horsefield’s Bronze Cuckoo in the neighbourhood over the past few weeks. These cuckoos are considered parasitic to other birds species – in particular Fairy Wrens.

An amazing feat by these turtles each year as suburbia encroaches upon their ancient nesting ritual.

I also took pause to look out the front window yesterday, not for any particular reason aside from just feeling that I should look. Though it was a sunny day, there was also patchy rain. No surprise then that I should see an Oblong Turtle making its way across the park into a class of school children. I dashed to get a photo whilst Mrs PP went to make the teachers aware of the turtle and its clear ambition to make it back to the pond safe and unhindered.

This is one of the best sources of information on Oblong Turtles that I’ve come across recently. A great read for locals should you happen to witness these amazing creatures in nature.

This is the first Oblong Turtle I have seen this nesting season, though Mrs PP tells me others have been sighted around the place over the last couple of weeks. Not quite the same as the 2018 season.

In general, anything I have managed to keep water up to in the garden at this time is flourishing and looking pretty good. The hoyas are looking at producing an abundance of flowers this year which are already garnering interest from the local New Holland Honeyeaters who visit the back deck for the hoya flowers numerous times a day. Cicadas are calling noticeably each day now.

I’ve also had a Willy Wagtail visiting the garden. I see them down at the park so I am led to believe that they are regulars in the area and seem to venture further afield at different times of the year. It may be that this is an adolescent from a spring brood which is making it’s way out into the world.

The Red Wattlebird is also making dozens of visits to the garden each day, in particular under the eaves and verandahs, gleaning from the windows, walls and eaves any spiders for insects it can get its beak onto. I mentioned in a previous post that I have seen them nesting still not far from our house. If it’s the same pair it is likely their second brood for the season.

So summer is really swinging in this part of the world and its early days yet. There are so many more observations that I’ve made, but this gives a general overview and I will post more on some specifics later.

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