After last week’s post about a newcomer bird in the garden, it occured to me it might be nice to show you some of my regulars. So here they are, in no particular order.
Gee, and that’s just a handful. I’ll show you some more another time.
After last week’s post about a newcomer bird in the garden, it occured to me it might be nice to show you some of my regulars. So here they are, in no particular order.
Gee, and that’s just a handful. I’ll show you some more another time.
We the Australian consumers are being shafted again. I have to admit we should be used to it. We pay soooo much more for just aboout everything, really, than people in the USA or UK. Cars, ride-on mowers, computers, TVs, books, DVDs. This is not just the exchange rate. Major items like cars and mowers cost TWICE as much as what they do in the US, even allowing for exchange rate, and shipping. Books have always been much more expensive here than overseas etc etc. Even Netflix costs. Oh yeah, Netflix. Higher costs and crappy choices, not a patch on what’s out there in the USA.
This particular rant is the result of Amazon’s (understandable) decision to not collect GST for the Federal Government. Here’s a quote from The Australian newspaper.
“Earlier today Amazon announced that it would block Australian consumers from having access to hundreds of millions of items and forcing them to choose from a slimmed down offer on the Australian Amazon site.
Australian shoppers will be locked out from buying their favourite goods on Amazon’s US and UK platforms — which offer hundreds of millions of items for sale — after changes to the GST on online purchases forced the online retailer to partly quarantine Australia from its international network.”
“Slimmed down” is damn right. Amazon’s new Australian store is a joke. We buy online for a lot of things, both for price and availability, but Amazon (AU) doesn’t have the range we need. Living in a small town is nice, but the downside is choice of retailers. For example, apart from the limited offerings in Big W and Target, there is one bookstore in the Bay. One. Guess how much shelf space is allocatd to SFF? I buy my ebooks from Amazon Australia because I have no choice (that is, I can’t buy from any other Amazon store). The exchange rate plus the GST means I pay much more for books than I would through Amazon US. Yes, we can buy through other vendors. But (you’ll love this – we did) we cannot buy ebooks from B&N because we live in Australia! Can I have another ! please? I mean, really, WTF? It’s an ebook, delivered through the ether. Kobo, at least, has grabbed a brain and will take our money AND deliver a book, and Smashwords never embarked on such silliness.
GST is a good idea. It places the tax burden on everyone on a pay-as-you-spend basis. BUT… if you’re going to ask a multi-national to collect tax for you, then the option to withdraw service is there. It would cost Amazon a fortune to collect tax for the Australian Government. I’m not suggesting the company shouldn’t pay tax. But I think it’s important to remember that Amazon doesn’t actually manufacture anything. It’s just a shop front. People who actually make the stuff (like me when I write a book) already pay tax if we make a sale. Amazon’s profits come from providing that shop front. If all the highly-paid accountants and financial advisers got together I’m sure they could come up with an equitable solution, like asking Amazon to pay corporate tax as (say) a percentage of revenue made through the Australian online store. Or something. That way, the long-suffering Australian consumer wouldn’t have to be shoved into the backwoods yet again.
Back to local news.
I had a new visitor to the Magic Pool Fence the other day, a bird I’d never seen before. Having taken pictures, I went through the bird book and discovered it was a spangled drongo (true). This one seemed pretty happy around the humans and was pleased to pick up a piece of the meat I threw out for the butcher birds. A very handsome creature, mainly black with iridescent blue-green tail, and the same colour ‘spangles’.
I’m not sure why they called it a drongo, though. Seemed quite bright to me.
We’ve also had a solitary kookaburra hanging around for most of the day. That’s unusual. They’re gregarious birds that notmally hang out in families. I suppose he wanted to chill by himself for a while. He certainly wasn’t injured or ill – happy to eat morsels thrown out for him and could fly well enough. He disappeared at night fall but returned mid-morning. That has happened for several days.
And let’s end with the ever-present rainbow lorikeets.
The Big Event of the week was, of course, the Super Blue Blood Eclipse moon. Forgive my jaundiced lack of excitement. The so-called super moon is just a shade closer to the Earth than a common-or-garden-every-28-days full moon. Nobody makes a song and dance when the Moon is at apogee (furthest away from Earth), but that happens regularly, too. The blue moon is so named because it’s the second full moon in a calendar month. A month is something we humans dreamed up to divide the year (the time it takes for the Earth to travel around the Sun) into more manageable pieces. It has no further meaning. And the blood moon (the reddish hue) is because of the eclipse. Up there’s one I took earlier (2014, actually).
Yes, I looked at the gallery of wonderful blood moon photos online. I had to wonder about some of them, but anyway, here’s mine.
Eclipses do have an effect on wildlife, though. Even lunar eclipses. Maybe it’s some sort of mystical crow thing, but the local crows must have been planning their corroboree for weeks. They started group singing at around 1am (just about the time the lunar eclipse finished) and kept it (and me) up for hours. Some of the buggers still hadn’t gone to bed at 6am. I hope they had the mother of all hangovers.
For some time now I haven’t talked much on my own blog about what I do to entertain myself and maybe earn enough for the occasional bottle of wine, since I retired. Oh, didn’t I tell you? I write books. Sometimes people buy them, but the numbers have dropped off over time. Too much competition, not enough marketing. But I digress. I also take photos. Sometimes (but not often) people buy them, too.
In my writing world two things have happened.
The first is that after a hiatus of quite a few months, I’ve plunged into a new book. I’d had the beginnings of this story sitting in my work-in-progress file for several years. I stopped because I didn’t know where it was headed, thought about re-purposing it for another story line, then decided it was fine where it was. I explained it all in greater depth here. I’m ploughing along with it. As usual, writing isn’t easy. But challenges are great, aren’t they? Keep the little grey cells active and they’ll ward off Alzheimers.
The second thing that happened was that one of my books from last year WON AN AWARD!!!! Read all about it here. The SFR Galaxy Awards aren’t the same as the Booker, or the Nebula Award. I don’t expect to be the next great best-seller. It’s an award in a niche sub-genre (Science Fiction Romance). Books are not nominated, and it’s not a popularity contest. The judges are readers/reviewers in the genre and they give an award to whichever books they want to, based on their own criteria. For the Greater Good won an award for the most coveted cat. Whatever. That particular judge decided to showcase my book, and I’m surprised and humbled – and yes, pleased as punch. It has reinvigorated my enthusiasm for writing, which can be a rather thankless business. For more information about the book, including where you can buy it, go here.
All this boost to creativity is a great thing. I realised the reason I hadn’t finished that next book in this series was because my original concept for moving from the finished book (Kuralon Rescue) to the next book was flawed. The character dynamic didn’t work. Once I’d sorted that out, the cover I’d had done for Kuralon Rescue didn’t quite work anymore – although the story was fine. I decided to redo the cover myself. That had the additional benefit of allowing me to hone my Photoshop skills. The result is at left and I’m very happy with it.
I’ll be doing the cover for the new book myself, too.
Also after a considerable hiatus, I’ve taken out the camera again. The lorikeets appear to have had a Summer break from the pool fence, but they’re back. We’ve made friends with the local magpies and it’s quite funny to see one running over to say hello when we go outside. The youngster is quite happy to take a morsel of bacon rind from our hands, but the parents are a trifle more wary. We also have the usual crowd of butcher birds, noisy miners, blue-faced honey eaters, and the rarer pale-headed rosellas, as well as an occasional kookaburra, crested pigeons, pee wees and so on. I’m glad to say the koels and the channel-billed cuckoos have buggered off back to PNG (they’re migratory).
But we can’t get rid of the bloody crows.
So… here’s a few photos.
After all the travel dramas, life has fizzled out to its pretty boring routine. Except for the rain. 2017 will go down as a ‘feast or famine’ result in the rain gauge. Was it only this year that we bolted back home from Northern Queensland with tropical cyclone Debbie on our tail? After receiving only 26mm in January and February, which are supposed to be our wetter months, Debbie dumped 390mm in March. But after she’d emptied herself, the skies dried up. Winter is always the ‘dry’ here in Hervey Bay, but this was a drought. The grass (I couldn’t possibly call it a lawn) went brown, and even my large rosemary bush turned up its toes.
The rain was waiting for us when we got home from Europe. In the space of 3 weeks in October we had 561mm, and in November we had another 235mm. That’s about 32 inches in the old measure – Perth doesn’t get much more than that in a year. La Nina has arrived and we’re looking ahead at a long wet season. We’re not really complaining – that’s life in the sub-tropics. But I’ll have a little complain. The weeds, of course, burst out of dormancy long before the grass, and mowing was out of the question – the ride-on would have sunk down to its axles in the mud in a few minutes. As soon as the ground had dried a little the mower decided it was time for a refit. New blades and new bearings were (eventually) obtained. This is Queensland, after all. And the jungle was kind of tamed.
That long drought meant we had a large contingent of birds arriving at the pool fence for evening apple juice and a turn in the bird bath, and the predator birds were grateful for some uncooked bacon rind. When the rains came, everybody dispersed to their natural food sources, although we’d always get a few locals popping in. It’s been a while since we’ve had a four o’clock line-up, though.
Not long after we came home we noticed a commotion from the local birds, who don’t like seeing the possum during the day. There he was, peering out of his house while all the birds screeched at him. He lives in a large hollow log which Pete had fitted with a roof and a base, and then tied to a palm tree. I suspect he was trying to tell us something, because that was when we noticed the base of the house lying under the tree. So that had to be fixed so he could move back in.
We have a pair of pee wees (magpie larks) in our yard. They decided that the TV aerial on top of the house would be a great place to build their beautiful mud nest. (See top picture) While they’re great builders, they’re sloppy and the roof under the construction site was a mess of twigs and mud. It’s also a lousy place to build a nest – no protection from sun and rain, and the eggs would be easy pickings for a crow or kookaburra. Pete hosed the nest down several times, but the birds persevered. So he rigged up fishing line to deter them. It worked – for two days, by which time they moved the construction up the aerial. But Pete is persistent, too. The aerial is now devoid of nest and festooned with fishing line, which appears to have had the added advantage of deterring the crows.
I’m glad to say after the health dramas plaguing us in Europe we’re all better. I’m thinking about starting a new book, but we’ll see. In the meantime I’ve been amusing myself playing Solitaire, and messing about with Photoshop. I’ll leave you with my latest creation. See you next week.
They start to gather a couple of hours before sunset, when the shadows start to lengthen and the light takes on that late afternoon glow. Sometimes there’s a line-up on the pool fence, sometimes it’s a couple of stalwarts clicking their claws at the feeding table. When I appear the tension ratchets up. As I pour the juice into the two bowls a couple of the bolder ones will sidle up, one red eye fixed on me, to steal a sip before the crowd arrives. But they’re already gathering, landing just outside my field of vision in a flurry of sound. I step back and there’s a rush, everyone trying to get their beaks into the juice. They drop down from the fox tail palm above the table, or the trees on either side where they’ve been waiting patiently. Bossy boots and his missus try to claim both bowls as their own, but while it works for small groups, the pair is overwhelmed by sheer numbers.
The din is incredible, a cacophony of screeching that reverberates in my head. There’s more than thirty birds trying to reach two bowls of juice. They argue, push, shove, take off for a break or try to fit in, a sea of heaving green backs and golden wings. The light from the lowering sun is at just the right angle to make their wings shine golden, like bad impressions of angels. Drops of apple juice sparkle in the air. I swear half of it isn’t drunk at all. There are too many birds, too close together, so we toss out other enticements – apples cut in half, or a slice of multi-grain bread. That gives them something else to fight over, and lessens the crush at the table.
Sometimes one smarty-pants sends up an alarm signal and they take off in force, only to return in minutes as they realise it’s a false alarm.
It’s over in ten or fifteen minutes. The juice is gone. Some hopeful souls bend over to look under the table to see if more is forthcoming. Others repair to the bird bath for a drink of water or a splashing soaking. Yet others return to the trees for a preen, with each couple doing that hard part at the back of their partner’s neck.
As the warmth of the day fades they’ll leave in groups of six, or four, or two, heading North to the trees along the foreshore or the major road, where they’ll roost for the night. There are a few more raucous fly-bys with their mates, a bit more pushing and shoving for the best roosting spots. Then after the last light has drained from the sky, the noise ceases for another night.
It’s time for the bats to venture out.
It was a long, hot, dry summer in Hervey Bay this year. In some respects the arrival of Cyclone Debbie was a blessing. Don’t misunderstand, I have the deepest sympathy for all those people who endured the lady’s fury. But Hervey Bay is too far south to feel the full fury of a tropical cyclone, and when Debbie became a deep low, bringing high winds and flooding rains to the Sunshine and Gold Coasts and into NSW, we were protected by Fraser Island. We didn’t mind the rain, though. We had just had the driest summer since we’ve lived here, and summer is supposed to be our wet season.
Be that as it may, the weather has cleared, all the plants heaved a huge sigh of relief, and the birds abandoned us. If you’re one of those people who think feeding birds is a bad thing, rest assured they still prefer their natural food. The callistemons are in bloom, and we hear the birds; we just don’t see them. When the flowers die off they’ll come back for a spot of apple juice, or a nibble at an apple, or some multi-grain bread.
One thing about an absence of lorikeets is that we can be visited by some of the shyer species. We have nesting boxes in our trees, and although one is a long-time abode of a possum, one is empty. A pair of pale-headed rosellas have been eyeing it off. She goes for a look, while he waits below, giving advice.
There has been a pair of rosellas around as long as we’ve lived here, and every few years they’ll be looking for a nest. The first year we lived here was interesting. The house had one of those pot-bellied space heaters, with a round metal chimney up through the roof, fitted with a raised cap like a Chinaman’s hat. That sort of arrangement was perfect for birds who nest in hollowed-out branches in trees. The female bird slipped under the gap between the raised ‘hat’ and into what she would have thought was a log – and slid right down to the bottom. We couldn’t reach her in the stove – she was above a flue. What to do? Pete got up on the roof and took off the cap, but the bird had nothing to climb up, and of course couldn’t fly. So we lowered down a thick rope with a knot on the end, hoping she would cling to it and we could draw her up. The male bird was watching all this from a nearby vantage point, no doubt worried out of his little bird brain.
It took a couple of goes. She caught on quite quickly, and Pete drew her up almost to the top. But she let go too soon. The next attempt was a success. As soon as she could spread her wings she and the hubby were off.
We always thought the heater was a waste of space. I think we lit it twice in all the years before we got rid of it when we replaced the roof. The nesting boxes are much safer, of course, designed specially for birds of that size. Lorikeets have used this one in the past. I’d love it if the rosellas took up the tenancy – but lorikeets are aggressive little shits, so I doubt if it will work out.
In other news I had a brush with melanoma. Like most Australians my age who grew up in the surf and the sand, spraying our bodies with coconut oil to work up a lovely golden tan, I’ve got plenty of age spots and moles. One large spot on the side of my jaw appeared to be falling apart, so I went to see the doctor. He said it was a squamous something-or-other and not to worry. But since I was there, he checked the collection on my back. Nothing nasty. Then (as a bit of a joke) I pointed at a tiny spot on my left arm just above my wrist. It was circular, not lumpy or misshapen, about the size of a pin head, but it was black – therefore unlike any of the other blemishes on my skin. The doc’s body language changed remarkably. “I think we should take that out,” he said. Who was I to argue? So we made a time and he punched this thing out, so small it didn’t need stitches, and sent it off for pathology.
You know it’s not a good result when the surgery rings you to make an appointment. I was told that tiny spot would have become a melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. He thought he’d got the lot, but he suggested he remove a bit more skin to be certain. There would be a scar. So now I have a scar above my left wrist. But I don’t have a melanoma. Fair trade if you ask me.
And I wrote a review of the latest Star Wars novel, Thrawn. It’s over on my other blog if you’re interested. Here’s the link.
One of the fun things to do in Cairns is to take a ride up into the tablelands on a cable car, and come back down again on a vintage train after you’ve pottered around at the quaint little town of Kuranda. (or vice versa – here’s all the info) Kuranda is one of those very touristy places, with cafes and restaurants, and markets filled with didgeridoos, T shirts, postcards, artwork, tea towels, stuffed kangaroos… you get the picture. But it also has some other attractions, such as a bird sanctuary, a butterfly house, and a wildlife exhibition where you can get your picture taken holding a koala (for a price, of course). Here’s the Kuranda website.
Tropical Cyclone Debbie wasn’t even a twinkle in a meteorologist’s eye at this stage – but there’s a reason they call it rain forest. There’s always a risk of a shower. So far so good, though. We caught the cable car up to Kuranda, gliding up the mountain over the rain forest, admiring the view over Cairns to the Coral Sea. Helicopters were used to put all the pylons that support the cables into place, causing minimum disruption to the landscape.
We hopped off the cable car at Red Peak, the journey’s highest point, and took a walk along a board walk through the top of the rain forest. Tour guides take groups along and explain the ecology, and you can admire the view for as long as you like before you jump back into a car to continue the journey to the viewing platform for Barron Falls. I was really, really looking forward to that. I’d seen some pictures online from just a few weeks before, showing the falls thundering down into its gorge.
So yeah, I was very, very, very disappointed. Oh well. Ma Nature runs according to her own rhythms. And the dam at the top of the falls did the rest. On to Kuranda.
After we’d pottered around the markets for a while, we headed for the bird sanctuary, a large, free-fly aviary with an assortment of native and exotic birds, many of them very friendly, especially if you brought in food (sold by the sanctuary). We were warned before we went in that the birds would be attracted to jewellery, buttons on caps and the like. It’s true… it’s true. One parrot immediately landed on Col’s baseball cap and pulled off the button at the top. One bird landed on Pete’s shoulder, and several other people had birds sitting on their arms or shoulders.
At one stage as we walked around most of the birds suddenly stared upwards. Sure enough, a wedge-tailed eagle soared high above the sanctuary. They were safe, of course, but old habits remain.
Here’s a selection of pictures.
I expect somebody is going to ask to see the picture of me holding a koala. There isn’t one. Few places today allow tourists to handle koalas since it’s believed it stresses the animal. Think about it. You’re a sedentary, mainly solitary creature. You spend between 18 and 22 hours per day sleeping, and quite a lot of the rest eating. You’re carried out by someone you know, and you’re handed over to a complete stranger who probably has no idea what to do with you and maybe giggles excitedly while somebody else pokes a camera at you. Phew. That’s over. You seek refuge with your usual handler. And then a new stranger comes along and you have to do it all over again. So no. Not me.
Mind you, there are a number of koalas at the few places that allow strangers to handle the animals. I expect there’s a rotation so one koala only features in a few shots at a time, and they would be carefully supervised by handlers. I also appreciate that offering the opportunity might make money to help with conservation, but I can’t help but feel it’s a bit like sacrificing some koalas for the many. Koalas are now endangered because humans have encroached on their habitat. We need to give them room to live safely away from dogs and cars. Here’s a bit of info about koalas.
We had lunch with rain squall accompaniment (we were inside, watching from a veranda), and after we’d bought a few T shirts, we caught the train back down to the valley. It’s an old train with antique carriages where the air conditioning is you opening the windows. It was like being in a sauna as the train crept down the steep gradients. We stopped for ten minutes at Barron Falls, which was just as disappointing from this side as it had been from the other. All the way, we learned about how this railway line had been built in the 1880’s, opening in 1891. Here’s a little of the history. OH&S hadn’t been invented then. All the tunnels (there are fifteen) were dug by hand after initial blasting, and the workers were expected to bring their own tools. Same with bridges and track. There are spectacular views across Cairns of course, and the train stopped for a few moments so we could take photos of Stoney Creek Falls – which almost made up for Barron Falls. (Did I mention how disappointed I was?)
The sun was setting when we got back to Palm Cove. It had been a Big Day Out.
It’s pretty well known I’m keen on birds. We don’t have any domestic pets, so our yard is a safe haven for many bird species. They’re part of daily life, adding colour and movement to the environment. But sometimes accidents happen, and sometimes very special things happen. This week was packed full of unusual events.
One of the blue faced honey eaters decided to fly into the garage through the people door, and found itself stuck, with nowhere to go. So it flew toward the garden. But there’s a window in the way. It panicked, fluttering around on the glass. Fortunately, I noticed. The bird wasn’t interested in being shooed toward the door (which it couldn’t see), so I caught it in my hands. It squawked a bit, but latched onto my finger as it would a perch and sat quite calmly as I carried it out to the garden. It didn’t say thank you or anything, but it was quite remarkable that the bird allowed me to catch it. I felt privileged.
A day or two later, on my evening prowl around the yard, I noticed commotion from the rather decrepit shade house. The shade cloth has split at the top, so birds can get in. They can also get out, of course, but accidents happen. The culprit turned out to be a junior magpie. Once again, the bird thought it should be able to get out at the end of the shade house. The shade cloth is only thirty percent, so while not transparent, you can see through it. I went into the shade house, leaving the door open. But the magpie was in no mood to be rescued. I tried to coax it – the birds are territorial, so junior knew me – but I had to settle for herding it until it could see the open door at the other end of the shade house. It was off, and outta there. Job done. Yay me.
And then a day or two later I was standing outside the back door watching the lorikeets flutter around the bird table. They’re used to me being there with the camera against my face. It’s a great place to try and catch a good photo of them in flight. (Thank goodness for digital cameras – if we were still using film I would have given up. I might get a two percent return rate. If I’m lucky.) Anyway, here I am with the 70-300mm zoom lens pointed at the birds. Fully zoomed, it’s quite long. A bird flew towards me. I expected it to disappear and fly up to the roof. To my amazement. the lorikeet landed ON the lens, and just sat, looking at me. A moment later its mate joined it. I was gobsmacked. On reflection, I think they were just curious. Twice a lorikeet has come inside when the back door was open. It landed on the back of a chair, had a look around, then flew out again.
I love my avian mates. Except the crows. I would probably like them, too, if they didn’t make such a row at the crack of dawn.
Today is election day here in Australia. I’m not sure I’m thrilled about the two major parties, but with our preferential voting system, voting for a minor party often means you end up voting for a major, anyway. Really, I think our Western society model is breaking down and needs to be replaced. We seem to have a choice between supporting business, or letting the trade unions rule the roost. Anyway, I’ve done my hard-won democratic duty. We’ll see tomorrow.
About THE most useful thing any backyard can offer the local birds is a place to bathe. This bird bath is in a protected location, with a tree nearby for grooming and drying. It’s also well off the ground, so local cats won’t be an issue. I keep the water clean by emptying the bath and giving it a light scrub before re-filling to get rid of algae. That’s done pretty much daily. You’d be surprised at how much dirt and loose feathers a bunch of birds will leave behind.
And because I do that, I get to enjoy this.
I posted an old picture in Facebook today – a sequence of shots of a hunting osprey. People asked how I did it, so here it is. I haven’t used the hunting osprey – it’s not one of my best efforts. So we’ll deconstruct this one of a pelican landing on a beach.
The camera was in sports mode so it took a series of photos in quick succession. Bear in mind this is a time sequence. Some of those actions actually took place physically much closer together.
All the layers were originally rectangles. After I’d placed them, in some cases I had to remove some of the beach to reveal parts of the bird in the layer underneath. After that I used the merge and repair tools to disguise the edges of the layers. That’s why the picture in layer one has such jagged edges. Layer one is covering the bird in the background, which is why I had so much beach in it.
So there you go. I have fun doing these.