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
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.
About three years ago, I bought this small plant about eight inches tall from an eighty year old man in Moggill markets, Queensland. This market has now moved away from the vicinity of Bellowrie to a nearby suburb.
This plant did not have any flowers, but the old man told me, it will have these bell-looking flowers that the birds love. He called it a bush. My cousin Marina, a horticulturist, gave me a yellow species of the same plant. She told me the plant would be huge and I need a large space at least three cubic metres for it. When I showed her the old man’s plant, she said the two were exactly the same, the yellow-flowered one she gave me and this orange one. The orange one took almost a year to grow up to a metre or so and flowered.
My yellow plant is still about a metre tall and because I placed in a spacious spot, it has not grown into other plants. This orange bush is now branching into the chook coop and the passion a pepper tree, because I planted it before I got the horticulturist’s advice.
The orange plant needs pruning several times a year, and the plant, which I can never remember the name, (I’m sorry) provides an abundance of bird food. Daily, many little birds come to enjoy its petals, and I’m grateful to the old gardener who sold me the plant. I also love its colours.
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.
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.
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.
Birds Talking – Poem JK.Leahy©
Silent words, only seen
Scratching, screeching and bursting to surface
Extending wings, feathers, beaks and necks
Swooping, flying, walking and talking
Birth by imagination
Birds taking forms
Living on paper
While described as one of the most dangerous birds in the world, cassowaries are beautiful large flightless birds. I have posted a story about threats to cassowaries in Northern Queensland due to their habitat destruction. Read Here. I had mentioned the value of cassowaries in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in that post and I wanted to show what this bird means to our people. This legend comes from Garaina, in Morobe Province. I also come from Morobe. The legend was contributed to a national high school collection of legends told Stephen Suij.
How the Cassowary became a Flightless Bird – A Legend from the Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea.
Long ago, the cassowary was a big bird with a long neck, large legs and big wings which enabled it to fly like all other birds of the forest.
At that time, the cassowary and the hornbill were best friends, and spent most of their time flying around together, feeding on the delicious fruits at the top of the trees.
They were very close friends, but as time passed, the hornbill became increasingly jealous of the cassowary, who with his long neck could stretch and reach the best of the fruit pickings. The poor hornbill had to be content with leftovers.
While the hornbill hid his jealousy, he began to plan a trick to punish the cassowary.
One day the hornbill broke two dried sticks off a tree branch, placed them beneath each wing, under its feathers, and then flew off meet the cassowary.
“I have an idea”, the hornbill said to the cassowary.
“After we have fed on the fruit and are fully satisfied, let us do some stylish tricks in the air to see who is more brave and skilled.”
“Sure”, the cassowary said – liking the idea.
“But”, added the hornbill, “each of us must break his wings to see how far he can fly with broken wings.”
The cassowary had no objection to this ‘idea’, so when they had eaten enough fruit, they were ready for the game. The hornbill volunteered to go first.
Pretending to break his two wings, he snapped the two dry sticks beneath his wings and then flew away. He performed some stylish tricks in the air and then flew to a nearby tree to perch. The hornbill then called the cassowary to try to outwit his tricks.
The cassowary, ignoring the pain he had to suffer, broke his wings, one by one. Then he stretched the wings to fly away but he only crashed to the ground. He could not lift his weight with broken wings.
The hornbill broke into laughter at the top of his voice he said, “you have always had the most and the best of the fruit, but now you can stay on the ground and feed on my waste while I enjoy the best of the forest.”
From that day until today, the cassowary has been a bird of the ground, with wings that could not fly.
Flightless Feathered Family
The cassowaries are ratites, very large flightless birds in the genus Casuarius native to the tropical forests of Papua New Guinea, nearby islands and northeastern Australia. There are three extant species recognized today.
The most common of these, the Southern Cassowary, is the third tallest and second heaviest living bird, smaller only than the ostrich and emu.
Cassowaries (from the Malay name kesuari) are part of the ratite group, which also includes the Emu, rheas, ostriches, and kiwis, and the extinct moas and elephant birds. The other two species are the Northern Cassowary, Casuarius unappendiculatus and Dwarf Cassowary, Casuarius bennetti. They are also found in Papua New Guinea.
Cassowaries are very important to the native people of New Guinea both economically and ritually. Cassowaries have been traded for pigs and even as bride price for a wife and compensation payment especially in the highlands provinces .
Some tribes hunt them for their meat which is considered a delicacy. They use the feathers to decorate headdresses, and the feather quills for earrings. The sharp claws are often placed at the tips of arrows, while the strong leg bones are used as daggers.
For many native people, cassowaries are full of legends and mystical powers. Some tribes believe that cassowaries are reincarnations of female ancestors, while others believe that the cassowary is the primal mother. These tribes do not hunt or deal in trade with cassowaries.
A HD Movie on Cassowaries narrated by David Attenborough on Natural World BBC.