A hot day in Brisbane can be uncomfortable and irritating, but for me, it was an opportunity to see who was visiting the blue waterhole at Bellbowrie. When I got closer, two days ago, I hit a bird jackpot. Ten-twelve birds of four species had come to drink. Photos are ordinary because I had a short lens and had to go behind the tree. And when the birds had drunk and started to fly away, my feathered son caught me behind the tree so he lingered on to say hello.
Jenny Campbell my poet friend recently visited me and took pictures of the birds that live on our property. These were the birds present. We have others including Kookaburra, Pheasant Coucal, crows, wild ducks, pigeons, butcher birds, and other parrots. Jenny referred to the birds as “Joyce’s birds”, so I’m agreeing with her and calling them mine.
Some of you know Kaz the lorikeet who is pictured here with his partner and Zack the magpie who grew up with us is also in the photos. Amongst the birds are two silky roosters (black one pictured above and the white below) and our beloved hen “Meri Buka”, who has survived many challenges, and is still well and healthy and laying daily.
Blue Well – Poem JK.Leahy©
Before their song-burst
beyond trees and hurst,
they bare their souls,
and quench their thirst
A Son’s Call – a dedication to Kaz
My feathered son’s call
Above them all
Each day, and all day
Reminding me he’ll stay
And no matter what brings
My heart is joyed when he sings
There was a commotion outside my house in Bellbowrie, Queensland a few days ago. All the windows and curtains were shut. I dreaded that the neighbour’s dogs were back following a recent attack. The had come over a month ago and attacked our chickens, almost killing the rooster. The rooster survived the attack, but lost the use of its feet and started to develop ulcers. We had him put down two weeks after the attack.
Since then, the other three chickens’ were very nervous. They were frightened by the distant dog barks, people laughing, cars passing by, the crows that live in the back yard, and even the plane flying overhead. I was annoyed by the chickens constant panic cries and all the false alarms by now. But, I keep getting reminded by one of my favourite stories as a child, the Aesop Fable, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. I would have this nagging thought, full of guilt, “what if..?” (That is what if the neighbours dogs were back?)
I sprung out of bed and quickly opened the curtain. The chickens were still moving around nervously in the backyard, but nothing was on them or at them from the ground. They were staring into the trees. Something was moving in the pepper tree. The pepper tree was completely covered with my passion fruit vine and full of the season’s fruits, many were ready to pick. I could not see the moving thing; I knew it couldn’t be the possums, because with daylight, they were asleep in the roof. I had another thought, a large snake.
I moved to another room and opened the window to take a better look. Sure enough, there it was – a little white clump of feather moving in the thick greenery. The window opening distracted the sulphur-crested cockatoo and it sat up from the bushy tree and looked straight at me. In its claw was the half-eaten juicy passion fruit.
“The thief is back,” I told myself. The same cockatoo and company also stole the macadamia on my two trees and most times, they removed the nuts while still green, and dropped them to the ground.
Sulphur-crested cockatoos can be kept as pets and they are beautiful birds to look at. They are also quite majestic when they fly and their wings are fully stretched. But these birds travel in pairs or colonies and are often quite destructive. They had come every season for the macadamia, and sometimes I chased them away because they were so noisy.
Today, the cockatoo just sat there, devouring the fruit and then took another ripe one. I did keep them away from the passionfruit bush previous seasons by wrapping all the fruits in bags. I forgot to do that this season. The bird picked every fruit and dropped the un-ripe ones to the ground. I took a few pictures, but when the bird threw the unripe fruits to the ground, I chased it off.
The next day, even before dawn, I heard noises outside my window. The chickens were still asleep. I looked at the pepper tree. It was weighed over towards my room. The pepper tree was completely covered with a gang of cockatoos, clawing their way over the passion fruit bushes and branches and eating very quietly. They worked like the fruit pickers across Queensland who rise at dawn and work their way through the orchards.
I was amazed at how quiet and sneaky they were, a complete opposite to their usual loud antiques. I was too tired to chase them off, but by the time I was ready to wake up, they left me two ripe, one wrinkled and two green passion fruits from the entire season’s harvest. In spite, I pulled the remaining five down, but I decided not to chop the vine. I must remember to save the fruit before the cockatoos return the next season. They have tasted the sweetness of the fruit of passion.
The Natives of Numinbah Valley
This delightful pair was the star guests at a small bush cafe in Numinbah Valley, Queensland. Not often do you meet ‘wild’ natives that are so friendly and ready for a photo. We would have never met these natives if we did not have a stopover. The stopover at the cafe happened after a mystery visit to one of Australia’s world heritage sites last weekend. (We were suppose to go to another site, but we could not swim there). It was a wonderful surprise and I will write a separate story on that site.
This whole trip was part of a retreat for Solid Screen Sisters – a gathering for indigenous women storytellers and film-makers. (More on this blog about Solid later)
I often get king parrots such as these on the trees in Bellbowrie, but they never come up this close. In the picture below, a Rosella (blue and red feathers) tries to land in front of the king parrot.
The green and red Australian King Parrot prefers to fly and live lower in the trees. Only the male Australian breed has a completely red-head. The birds live in pairs.
When the Trees Sing a Beautiful Song
It was totally silent. Then, one by one the trees began singing. The birds were up there amongst the pale gum leaves. To me, it sounded like they all sang together, both birds and trees. Up there, where they live, it takes a while to pick out the rainbow and scale-breasted lorikeets. Each of them have a song and while it was too foggy to see them, I could hear them.
Below where the singing came from, the fog laid low and close on the gum branches, trunks and where their roots met land. The fog was like a cool cotton blanket holding warmth around the house surroundings, and yet, sunrise threatened to steal the fog away. It was Thursday morning last week, and just after 6:00am. I had started cooking porridge, the first two cups for the year and from the kitchen window, the two leafless frangipani trees looked like someone had sketched their trunks with a white chalk on the fog. Everything else looked less striking. I already put Boz our scale-breasted pet lorikeet outside to play. He was on top of his cage and singing too.
I stirred the silver pot and waited, enjoying the aroma and warmth escaping in pale dancing lines that matched the fog outside. I enjoyed porridge, its wholesomeness and how it maintained my energy all day. Boz’s happy song echoed across the veranda and into the house. His tunes met with the outside gum tree songs. Boz was only three metres away; I watched him from the kitchen stove, through a fly wire window. Admiring his developed tail and wing feathers I noticed how they had grown longer and stronger since he came to live with us on January 26 this year.
The bird was almost ready to leave home. Lately, he has been flying away from his cage to the ground obviously showing great confidence when landing eight metres away. Sometimes I take him out to the trees where the big birds are so he could get used to it.
I whistled and talked to him while I cooked. The bird’s happy mood made the early rise worthwhile. And a chilly foggy day, especially called for porridge, I thought as I anticipated my work day ahead. I was also curious to see how Boz would like porridge. The bird had already eaten most food; fruit, nuts and vegetables the family enjoyed. He was very happy, sitting on his cage and singing. Then he walked back and forth over the sticks and bells I built – to come closer to the kitchen window and call to me.
I added honey and a little yogurt to the porridge, wishing I had some nuts to add. I scooped a table-spoon into Boz’s plate – a recycled lid from the organic honey bottle. Boz took to the porridge and honey like he had always had it and cheerfully chirped between beak-full. Sun rays stabbed at the veranda where we were; throwing rays against the glass door with blaring reflections. I held the food in my hand as I explained to Boz I had to be away for the day – at work. Boz had a lot to say, but I was not sure if he was complaining about my imminent departure and absence, or just that he enjoyed the porridge and didn’t want me to stop feeding him. I waited till he had eaten enough. I left the remainder in the cage and left the cage door opened because my son Nathan was awake and he would play with Boz. My younger son had left for work at 6am and my mother was asleep. We try to keep a close watch so Boz is guarded at all times against wild attacks. He slept inside the lounge at night. Outside, large birds teased him and while we had not seen a snake in a while, it was important to be cautious about where he played.
After I collected my things, I tickled Boz and gave him his usual head and belly scratches and he wanted to play more, so he pretended to bite me gently again, and again and I tried to leave for work. I put some warm water for his bath and drink. He would have between ten and twelve baths; he just loved playing in the water. Unlike other birds we raised that only bathed once a day, Boz used water bowls as a play pen. He could have easily been a duckling.
Boz’ general manners and personality were very unusual for a bird; cuddly, playful, very happy at all times, sings a song before breakfast and a few before bed and if he hears a family argument in the lounge where he sleeps, he calls out a warning to stop the argument. Kaz our last pet bird and he was moody and often would bite during play. Boz pooped in one place, as if he had made that place his permanent toilet. Kaz tended to poop where he played, which was everywhere. Boz was involved in all family activities; sometimes ate dinner with us and pretended to drink coffee out of my cup if I let him. As I walked out the door, he called out a few times and I laughed as I said goodbye.
At 4:30pm, I finished my office work and caught the bus home – arriving just after 5:45pm. It was very quiet and dark outside and our house, and the porch light was off. I could not see the inside light through the windows. I opened the front door and the kitchen light was on and both my mother and son Nathan were staring at me. No words were spoken.
Afraid, I asked: “What happened?”
“Where were you?”, Nathan asked.
“At work,” I said.
“Why didn’t you answer your phone?”, he said.
“I’m sorry son, I was busy at work and the phone died, I could not find a power point at my new desk, so I didn’t bother to re-charge.”
“Sit down,” my mother said.
“Did something bad happen? Is it at home (in PNG)?”, I said.
“No” my mother said, “but something happened.”
I walked to the dining room chair, keeping my eyes on my son and mother who were both still standing in the kitchen. My younger son was not home.
“We needed the snake catcher’s number,” my son said in a strained voice.
“Oh sorry son, here, I will charge my phone,” I said, and walked to the power point and plugged in my phone.
“Is the snake gone… now?”, I asked slowly.
“No, it’s up there”, my mother said pointing to the ceiling on the veranda, and above where I usually have breakfast with Boz.
I walked forward and pushed the glass door opened.
“Keep the door shut,” my mother commanded. I was surprised by her tone. My mother was always terrified of snakes.
I looked at the snake’s head and neck that protruded from a gap in the ceiling where the fibro joints had come apart. The snake was in a fixed position. My movement did not disturb it in any way. Its eyes were on the architect I built for Boz to play. The pair of white Christmas bells suddenly looked so little and vulnerable under the snake’s fixed gaze. Boz loved to hang upside down and bash the bells with his claws and screech in delight. A new and golden bell I added to Boz’s bell collection was there too. Everything looked the same, but there was an eeriness about it. Boz’s cage was empty so I felt a slight relief that my son had moved the bird to safety.
Taking my eyes away from the cage and the snake’s head, I asked my son: “Where did you put Boz?”
“We can’t find him,” Nathan said after he hesitated. Suddenly, I needed to find the bird.
“Give me the torch, I will go outside, he will be hiding,” I said firmly and quickly started looking for the torch.
Both my son and my mother spoke at the same time. I couldn’t really hear them, but they were saying something to the effect that the snake had been there since this morning and Boz was missing after Nathan returned from town, about 11am or so.
Outside the house, I flashed the torch and called Boz for two hours, walking around all his favourite playing spots. He was always quick to respond, but I only heard silence. My thoughts were mixed up and other wild animal noises from the trees and the surroundings sounded like Boz, so I kept calling. Through a crack in the old timber floor, light caught a bundle of fresh green round shapes amongst the palm seedling under the house. I stuck both hands into the darkness to grab the bundle, but they were no feathers – only a wet cluster of clovers.
I felt sure, Boz was there… somewhere. I could smell him and hear his little whimpering sounds he did each night before bed. I knew he would be cold. I couldn’t hear my mother nor my son anymore as I walked aimlessly in the dark.
After a while, I came back into the house, and my son had called a snake catcher. He told me the catcher would be arriving soon. Mark our usual snake catcher was not available. I took another look at the snake and convinced myself that its head was too small to do any damage. I told myself Boz’ body, as large as two adult human fingers stuck together, could NOT fit this snake’s jaws. I told my mother between tears, the snake was not fully grown yet. My mother said she wanted to open the snake to check and my son said “no”.
“It is only a young snake, but maybe he is curious, may be he is waiting, because Boz is hiding, and he has not caught Bos yet”, I said to my mother between tears. My mother looked out the kitchen window. My son went back to his room. I stayed at the dining table and watched the snake through the glass door. Then, I felt sick and walked slowly to my room.
Outside my window, it was the full moon. The garden started to form shape from the darkness. There was no bird cry nor songs. I heard a woman yell out about a snake and I came out of my room and called Nathan. The woman snake catcher came up to the veranda and looked at the snake. The reptile, a carpet snake was still frozen in the same position.
The woman approached the snake from the front, stepping onto the old wooden chair we used to sit Boz’s cage on in the evenings. She held a cloth and reached for the snake and it turned and curled back into the roof and then tried to get away. My mother told me to close the glass door. I was annoyed at the lack of skill this woman had and thought; why didn’t she use a snake catching stick (with the hook) and approach the snake from the back?
I closed the door and the snake catcher ripped the ceiling down, bringing rubbish and half an adult snake body to the floor. I went out again.
“You have termites,” the snake catcher announced in a not so confident voice, ignoring the fact she had just broken two ceiling fibros.
“Yes, the timber rafters, it has been treated – years ago,” I said, disinterested.
The woman began to chat away about what she did and what else she knew. She lectured on what to do and what not to do for wild birds. She held the snake by the tail as the snake tried to get away. Eventually, she pulled the snake down, bringing the second fibro down to the timber floor with the snake.
“That”, she said ignoring the damage she caused and pointing to the middle thickness of the snake, “is your bird.” She seemed impressed with her own efforts.
My son and I stared in horror at the snake’s middle. There was a small swelling, the size of a child’s fist sitting in the middle of the thick 1.5 metre-long adult python.
I swallowed and stepped back, hearing the woman saying as I turned my back to her, “don’t worry, the bird would have not felt anything. All up, it would have taken 15 seconds.”
I closed the door and let my son pay and finish the job with the snake catcher. I did not want to see her nor the snake again.
I sat at the dining table and closed my eyes. I thought about breakfast that morning and wondered if I could have avoided this. I wondered if the snake was already there, waiting in the veranda ceiling. I felt like screaming, but I could only cry.
The six months of happiness, songs, conversations, playtime and sheer delight of watching Boz has his ten or twelve baths each day – all vanished into that thick, intricate slithering body? I could not believe it.
Today as I sit and stare into the trees, I hear Boz singing in the gum trees. Sometimes, in the mornings, he is singing outside my bedroom like Kaz does. I think of how this tiny bird was a true bundle of joy and how he touched many people.
My son said; “Mum, Kaz was a bird. Boz was not a bird.” That makes sense to me. This little bird was more like a human trapped in feathers. Everyone in the family cannot help but think of Boz when we hear the birds sing in the trees. Sometimes, when I close my eyes and sit still, I can hear the gum trees sing his beautiful song.
Kaz the rainbow lorikeet checks the coastline before he breaks into the bird-cage to steal food and hang out.
Kaz plays a thief, checking all around him before he checks into the cage to eat Boz’s food. This pet lorikeet grew up in this cage and while our house is still his home, he lives in the palm trees in the wild. He knows he is welcome anytime at the Bellbowrie house. The rainbow lorikeet gets his own food, but he prefers to bully his younger rivalry Boz who is waiting to grow flying feathers while living in Kaz’s old cage. The funny thing is, Boz, the scale-breasted baby lorikeet is not afraid of Kaz at all. Sometimes, he would climb out and let’s Kaz play in the cage.
I went to watch my son play rugby with my mother this morning and this pair of young rainbow lorikeets got my attention. The game had not started yet, but I could hear them quietly chatting in the trees while honey-hunting. The pair was after the honey more than 20 feet high in the hollow of this large gum tree at University of Queensland rugby field, Brisbane.
Cast Iron Drinking Hole for Birds
Five years ago, when we moved to Bellbowrie, we found this cast iron pot on one of the kerbside collection. I guess you could call it someone’s castaway. (Brisbane City Council does the annual kerbside cleans and collects rubbish or throw aways from residents).
It was a good water container for chickens and ducks. One day, my ceramic bird bath fell off this stump and broke and I gave the birds the pot full of water. Its size and weight made it perfect for a bird bath. I only had to wait 30 minutes before the birds starting flying down to the cast pot to drink.
Everyday since putting up the pot in the tree (six months ago), birds and other animals stop by to have a drink and a bath. I get to watch them from my verandah. Sometimes there would be a small flock of nosey miners frolicking noisily just like the drinking hole had been there all along.
Kaz, our pet lorikeet is a father, and he has been for about a month. I only just found out a week ago. I guess I am a grandmother again, having already had several ducklings being born to ducks my sons and I have raised in Bellbowrie, Queensland.
Weeks before the baby was born, Kaz the lorikeet came for chats in the Umbrella tree (Schefflera actinophylla) while I was hanging the washing. He normally visited us on the verandah where he grew up, at the front of the house. I thought at the clothesline was an odd place for him to be. A three metre drop just under where he sat was a typical place for snakes, and even the snake catcher reminded me a few times. “Dry leaves under shady dry quiet place with both sunny and dark nooks – a snake haven” he said with a grin. I suppose one day, I would cut everything down, but I didn’t have the heart to damage the place. Both the pythons and brown snakes were removed by snake catchers from this spot and taken to the park. Currently, a baby green tree snake lives there – he is only 50cm long and suns itself on the back verandah often.
Near the umbrella tree where rainbow lorikeets gathered, Kaz would fly low onto the mango tree branches and tell me long-winded tales while I hung the washing or tended to my garden. I wished I understood him. The changes in the pitch and his excitement showed there was some important things happening in his life, but all I could do was respond in whistles, PNG pidgin and make my own sounds so he knew I was listening. He always responded cheerfully. Often he would hop onto the clothesline for a few minutes before he flew away.
One day, two weeks ago I heard a baby bird cry and a soothing motherly response just above the clothes line. I heard these cries start a month ago. It was louder and closer. It sounded like a baby parrot in the umbrella tree, but I could not see it. The giant leaves hid the birds. I also did not know what type of parrot it was, but I suspected a rainbow lorikeet because these birds loved the spiky flower of the umbrella tree which turns into fruit.
A week went by and I noticed my feathered son Kaz coming out of the same tree. He usually slept in the palm and the gum trees in front of the house. At the house, he came alone and stayed longer than five minutes which was his usual visiting time. He also chased baby parrot Boz out of its cage and ate the crumbs. Katz often stayed in the cage for a while longer. He was unaccompanied. His female partner was nowhere to be seen. Since he had left home, Kaz always flew with her. I wondered if she ditched him which wouldn’t have surprised me because Kaz could get rowdy and demanding at times. Last week, he flew down to me when I arrived home and flew straight back into the umbrella tree and made so much noise. He called loudly and whistled. I followed him and could hear the baby bird as well.
Under the clothesline I listened. I saw Kaz on the branch, his partner and a baby bird. I was so surprised, but my thoughts went back to how little he was and how he just fitted in my hand when he first came to us. Kaz could not stop talking and shouting. I stared at him realising I had become a grandmother. That was what all the clothesline storytelling was about a week ago. At that moment, my excitement and sense of pride felt like I could easily fly up to the umbrella tree. I could not tell anyone about Kaz’s news as I was alone. I felt strangely moved and wanted to hug Kaz and tell him I was proud. But he is the wild thing he is supposed to be, and I just hope he can see how happy I am for him.
Over the week, I watched Kaz’s family and how attentive the parents were; keeping their little one safely in the large leaves of the umbrella tree. They protected the baby from crows, kookaburra and other large birds. Kaz visited the house daily to bring ‘take-aways’ of honey, bread, fruit and seeds back to the nest.
Today, almost a month after I heard that baby bird, a rare moment presented itself when the whole family flew to another umbrella tree 20 metres away. It happened while I was walking in the back. I quickly ran back into the house to fetch my camera. The lighting was terrible and the shots were fleeting, but I am happy to share some rare images of my feathered family. Life can give you joy in the most interesting ways.