December 16, 2010

Empty nest syndrome

I needn't have worried about our Bottle Tree. Even before Council's tree man turned up, I had noticed new leaf growth where there had been bare twig. The Queensland Bottle Tree is described as 'irregular deciduous', which I think means it loses its leaves when it feels like it. I have since noticed others in Waterline Crescent Park losing leaves and rapidly growing new ones, and a neighbour has confirmed that it is not unusual. In fact, Council's man didn't seem to know very much at all about Bottle Tree behaviour and suggested it might have dropped because it was still stressed from planting. I don't think so.

Very soon after my last Magpie post (18 November) the Newbie chicks left the nest; first one and then the other. There was a brief glimpse of one fledgling, en famille.

But then our Magpies disappeared. It was just as if they'd decided they needed a break on the Gold Coast: my friend thought they were attending a convention. I scanned the park from our bedroom window in vain. Two nests finished with; no Magpies.

On the 29th two females and a chick turned up in the park. I didn't recognise them: I was fairly sure they weren't 'our' Magpies: one was too fat, a completely different shape; another one had a distinctive brown mark on its back and may have been a juvenile. It appeared to be solely responsible for 'chick provisioning*', however, as the other adult ignored its companions and foraged for itself. The chick eventually sat on a low branch in the nearest Bottle Tree and awaited nourishment.

After a short while, the two older birds left. The chick sat in the tree almost motionless and silent, under the beady-eyed surveillance of a Noisy Friarbird, on her familiar perch, a similarly low-slung branch in the neighbouring tree. The bully Friarbird had previously tried to scupper incoming food supplies: now this face-off continued for hours before she swooped and scared the chick away. (The Friarbirds have made Waterline Crescent Park their exclusive patch in the absence of Magpies.)

On December 2nd, four Magpies were hanging in the park. Now, my Magpie-watching experience has been limited to a few months, and, of course, I wanted these four to be my original Magpie family. So, let's assume, for the sake of a happy conclusion to my Australian Magpie study, that they were. They provided an interesting finale, complete with the mobbing of a 'postie' on a scooter who'd obviously had enough of Magpie breeding season shenanigans and shouted obscenities at them (below, regrouping after the skirmish); and the OC (the original chick from batch 1) battling persistently with an unobliging locust snack (below but one).

The Magpie breeding season ended in November. Now we occasionally hear carolling, especially first thing in the morning, but glimpses of Magpie activity are few and far between. I miss the nest action that we watched at close hand for months. If two chicks from two broods totalling five fledglings did in fact survive, then Mrs Magpie did a good job this season. I will continue to look out for our family, and I would love to determine whether Waterline Crescent is their permanent territory or whether it merely provided a temporary breeding ground. We may be moving on ourselves, however, as our house overlooking the park is currently for sale.

During our first year in Brisbane, the Magpies undoubtedly have provided great entertainment, and their soaring song will remain one of our abiding memories of life in Australia.

* With thanks once again to my urban Magpie expert, Professor Darryl Jones of Griffith University

December 15, 2010

Christmas where the gum trees grow*

I haven't been a great fan of Christmas since I stopped drawing Santa's footprints in soot on the hearth beneath my children's stockings. But that doesn't mean I don't retain certain Christmas associations.

Christmas is...
fairy lights cheering up dismal wintry days
the start of longer days
taking leave from work when you wouldn't otherwise
traditional foods and strong opinions about them
real coniferous Christmas trees
roaring log fires and/or central heating on constant
brief forays outdoors to walk off overindulgence
woolly layers and fingerless gloves

Christmas is not...
searing heat and high humidity
cold food
barely visible little lights on blindingly sunny days
artificial trees/wreaths (so they'll survive presumably?)
lots of time outdoors
days at the beach
very few clothes and sunscreen

In my new subtropical surroundings, I am gradually getting used to life without light summer evenings and with prolonged, seriously heavy, horizontal rain (introducing the new weather phenomenon, the 'supercell' thunderstorm). And avoiding the sun, which was previously unheard of. I am slowly coming to terms with the winter solstice in the middle of June and school kids on endless summer holidays in December and January. But Christmas in hot climes? It just ain't right.

Back in 'winter', we stumbled across a 'Christmas in July' street party down the road. This may well have been just an excuse for a party. If it was an attempt to make Christmas slightly more Christmassy, then it didn't really work in Queensland: it was a clear, very pleasantly warm day and no one needed more than a T-shirt.

Many years ago I was in Sydney in December. There were Christmas trees everywhere and fake snow sprayed into shop-window corners. It had never occurred to me that the Australians would do cold-climate christmas paraphernalia. This afternoon I wandered around Bulimba looking for evidence of the rapidly approaching festivities. I was kind of relieved to find only this, and a couple of forlorn, non-real wreaths.

On the advice of expat friends, we're leaving Brisbane for our first Christmas a long way from home, and going to Melbourne. We'll spend Christmas day with my LBF (long-been friend) for the first time in about 15 years and then we'll mosey on down to see my son on the Great Ocean Road. It will be lovely and it will be Christmas, just not as we know it.

* Lyrics by Val Donlon and Lesley Sabogal

With thanks to Escober's Highland Farm, Portsmouth, Rhode Island, for the tree pic

December 14, 2010

Cloudscapes 2

'Clouds are so commonplace that their beauty is often overlooked. They are for dreamers and their contemplation benefits the soul.' The Cloud Appreciation Society

December 9, 2010


Carlo Sandblow, Rainbow Beach
North Stradbroke Island from Cleveland Point

Byron Bay (glass of Cloudy Bay anyone?)
Seary's Creek, Great Sandy National Park (coloured brown by tea tree)

Carlo Sandblow
Rainbow BeachByron BayInskip Point
Rainbow Beach



Carlo Point