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

No comments:

Post a Comment