Our house roof broke under heavy rain and the wild Queensland storms sometime last year. Separating the entrance hall with front door, the storm created an unexpected alfresco space. I rejoiced in the fact that, the roof was now broken, so it removed the fear and threat of when it would actually fall. It happened when my sons were away. I heard a crack and ran out and held up the beam as long as I could, and finally, when it settled, I inserted two timber pieces to keep the roof steady until my sons returned from their holidays. It took three men to bring it down and let it break apart.
We cleared the entrance, and waited to repair. And, before we started repairing the broken roof, some furry squatters moved in. They used the leaning trees against the house to make their entry. It was quite a natural invasion of these parts of Queensland. One small possum settled into the car port ceiling; separated now by the broken roof. Another took the main house.
Above the kitchen, noises started. Sometimes light bulbs would flicker and weaken from bright to pale orange – just like a ghost movie, bringing family dinner to a pause – perhaps someone from outer space or inner ceiling is speaking to us, we joke.
In the evening, long hours into the night, our family would hear knocking, walking and thundering repetitive noises in the ceiling. My guess initially was, the possums were cracking the macadamia nuts they picked from our tree. With my Callaway Steelhead Systems III driver I had not used on a golf fairway in a long while, I would thump the ceiling in response to the settlers’ sounds. The sounds would immediately pause or move, given it is a large house with an extensive ‘living area’ for the possums. Sometimes there would be fights, a lot of screeching and grunting. It often reminded me of the fights in the streets of Port Moresby or neighbours in a drunk brawl. If the furry fighters didn’t listen and stop to the golf club’s thudding, I cursed them and told them they were staying rent-free, with free meals and should keep the noise down. And if they did not appreciate their high-class living, I would need to call the possum remover to evict them.
One day, about three weeks ago, a squatter settler came out of one of the broken part of the roof. It was in the middle of the day and the animal urinated and excreted above the back door entrance, sending a collection of light brown pellets sprinkling down the door frame. It was the first time we saw her with a baby in her pouch. It was not the time to wander about or visit. Possums only came out in the dark. She was fed some carrots and green apples. Obviously, she did not have too many ‘hospital visits’ or someone to care for her and bring her macadamia nuts while she was caring for her baby.
The possum could not care less what time of the day, nor where she left her waste. She was starving.
It has been a few weeks of spring and summer will make the roof too hot to live under. Iron roof bakes like an oven when you are one foot under it. It would be a good time to close the hole, repair the house, evacuate the squatter settlers and get rid of the noises. (I am hoping…)
It rained yesterday. It has been six weeks since we started caring for the ten wild Pacific Black ducklings. Read previous post when the ducklings had their first swim. All ten have survived and thrived. It is also close to that time when they return to the wild. Although they were not ready to fly, I was itching to let them out to eat greens and socialise with their mother, the other ducks and animals. My sons and I discussed letting the ducks out. I thought we had all agreed.
Nathan left for University lectures and my younger son Chris opened the cage. The first brave six stood by the fence line, for ten to 15 minutes, unsure of their next move. Chris and I stayed in the house and watched them. Over the six weeks, we had cared and fed the ducks, but made sure we did not touch them or get close to them during feeding and play time.
Then, all six left the cage entrance and headed for the gardens. Their four siblings remained in the cage. The six explored all areas surrounding our house. They seemed very inquisitive and excited.
About 20 minutes later, the six returned to have some food. The mother was away somewhere in the bushes. The four still stayed inside, out of sight. As the six adventurous ducklings started eating, their mother arrived and shared their lunch.
After lunch the mother headed for the water. The six followed. And, the fun began for all of us – ducks and humans. I suddenly realised they were moving away from the house and they may not return to the cage or safety for the night. It was hard to know what could happen, but they looked so happy, I went along with it.
I kept watch as they walked towards the pool and without any hesitation, they jumped into the water and started playing. It was wonderful to watch.
After at least an hour, I went to the pan and took out the four ducklings and move them to join their mother and siblings. They needed a little confidence to cross the backyard to the water.
Throughout the day – the ducklings played, swam and practiced flying – by skidding across the water as they normally do. By 6pm, it got dark and they made no move to return to the pan. They huddled in the corner, in the water. Their mother stood outside, nearby. We tried to put them back into their nest from 6pm until 9:30pm. They split up and swam in away and re-grouped. It was hard and they were very quick.
It was time to think of another way to bring them back in the cage. My older, very-annoyed-with-me son, held the torch, while I made the duck-catcher. I also had to explained to the aspiring medical doctor how the basket would work and how and why it was the best thing and it would NOT hurt the ducklings. It was a simple fishing basket, but four times bigger. I had made these things all my childhood life to catch fish. We set the basket in the corner of the pool with ropes to jerk up quickly – like a snap-trap, and guided the ducklings with noises and calling. Innocently they swam to the basket. First, we caught four, then they worked it out so we changed positions and where we placed the basket, and caught four and then one.
“I was wishing we caught the last two together, because the one left would be the hardest, ” Chris said and I agreed. We all knew, the real work was yet to come, and it was already 10:30pm.
Half hour later, desperate, I found myself crawling through the bush on all fours on duck shit and sneaking up to catch the very quick and smart six-week-old duckling. It kept on sensing my presence and swam away. This was not the way I remember my child-hood, and the days in the wild, it was more fun and I was faster. By 11pm, my two sons, who by now blamed everything on me, decided to try their own way with a net we used for the chicken coop. After they set up the net, the duckling cleverly swam away from their net and towards the dark bushy corner where I hid on duck shit. It came right next to me and I tried to hold my breathing while I let the duckling relax for just two minutes or so. And then, I scooped it up with a milk carton and my hands. The duckling and my sons all got a shock.
“You look nice enough to eat,” I joked to the bewildered duckling. No-one in my family was impressed.
With dry towel and a cuddle, the duckling was quickly re-united with its siblings.
It was midnight when that last duckling was caught. My sons and I were too tired to speak to each other, nor argue.
However, an earlier lecture from my older son that evening, was that we will now wait for two to three more weeks for the ducks to fly before we can let them go. That would ensure that they are strong and fast enough to survive predators. Oh well, I thought, I have never been one to be a caged bird myself. There is too much sun and fun to be enjoyed outside, in the wild. I sure did re-live my childhood years once more and it was not too bad, despite family opinions.
Penelope got married. This was a news that is no longer news because I was reluctant to share it. Penelope the goddess (see other duck stories) married her stalker. The male duck (pictured with her) lurked around our backyard for weeks as she was growing up last year. He has a tall slim body and deep grey feathers. His head was the darkest amongst all the other ducks. I had not seen him before Penelope was born.
I think I kept chasing this male duck away because subconsciously, I believed he would take her away. None of my threatening moves scared the duck and I was surprised by its persistence to stick around.
Each time I yelled at it, I was scolded by my sons. They argued that the male duck could be Penelope’s father.
“Oh really, you’re serious?” I would say, knowing the duck wasn’t her father.
The dark headed stranger would wait in our yard, in nearby trees and bushes and watch her. I had a name for it, but this blog is G rated so I won’t say it. As she got older, Penelope became silly and stubborn. Her behaviour changed in the evenings, she wanted to stay up and outside the coop. This is the story of Penelope, the baby duckling we raised. I guess I could not say Penelope grew up, got married and lived happily ever after. Not yet, as her story has not ended. Pictured here the feathered couple sat away from the pack and watched the new ducklings swim.
“I am afraid they are getting new ideas”, I said to my own children.
“Mum, stop messing with duck-business”, my son Nathan said.
Standing under the hot Brisbane sun, I watched Penelope and thought of her when she was tiny and had a broken foot. She grew up too quickly and being able to fly in November last year, she left home and disappeared for a few days. Then she returned home with ‘him’. I was not impressed at first, but after a while, I watched the way they spent the day and it melted away my anger.
The male duck serves the goddess with his love and patience. Penelope is very demanding and seems to bark orders at him. He obliges and keeps calm. Most times, he just follows her. Yesterday, she took him to my second garden near the neighbour’s yard. None of the other ducks go there and I was surprised to see the pair. But, that was where she and I used to spent most times; me pulling out weeds and she eating them.
I am okay with them spending time in my garden. She is happy and she is still here in Bellbowrie and that makes me happy.
I was laughing as I wrote this story, but I did get really annoyed in the beginning with Penelope and this male duck. If you think this post is ridiculous, say so, but I needed to get it off my chest.
Princess celebrated motherhood yesterday when her eight babies learnt to fly for the first time on our lawn in Bellbowrie, Queensland (Australia). She is a wild wood duck who grew up in our family home. I have written three stories about her on this blog, see the links below to bring you up to date with her life story.
You could say – after all she has been through, she deserved one happiness, and that she has. She literally grew up inside the house – in my son Nathan’s bedroom – she lived in a crate at night and during the day, we watched her wander around the yard, and making friends with other adult wild ducks and our laying chickens. She would always come back upstairs when it got dark.
I had rescued Princess in 2013 just after Christmas with five other ducklings in our back-yard. During the course of raising the ducklings my sons and I became parents as well as students, learning how we could help the ducklings grow and then release them back into the wild. Goodness knows what was going on in the communication from duck to human language, but soon, the ducklings fell into a pattern of eating, playing, swimming and just following each other and anyone of the three of us, in a line when we walked around the property. When we decided to name the ducklings, she stood out because she was the smallest and had a nervous twitch – everything had to be done for her. She would just wait to be served.
Princess’ four siblings died in the process of growing – the vet said, it could be anything – the stress, cold, fright, and drowning. There were two ducklings left. Princess and her sister. They continued to live with us inside the house in one of the spare bathrooms at night and much to the disgust of our visiting friends and family who sometimes accidentally stepped on duck poop. As they got older and stronger, we let the two sisters swim in a small water tank which was deeper than the bath. Later they took to our swimming pool and we could see them really enjoying themselves. When they became taller and their wings got bigger we knew they were ready to fly; my son trained them to fly off our balcony into the pool (15 metres away) and also fly onto the lawn from the two story house.
With her nervous twitch, we noticed, her big sister became protective of Princess any time she found things difficult. She would nuzzled Princess and peck her gently to settle her. I became very attached to the confident big sister. She was a very smart and a caring big sister, She always tried new things and places before involving Princess. The two ducks bonded closely and were almost ready to be trained back into the wild together. Early one evening while we were having dinner with the two ducks tucked into their large box on our verandah, a python came up, unexpectedly, slipped into the box and coiled around one duck – the confident sister.
From that day onwards, Princess remained in the house with us, less confident to fly and became very attached. A few weeks later she started to regain her confidence. Then she tried to fly so Nathan took her to the window and she flew into the pool – about 30 metres away. She was natural. Swimming, diving and fluttering her wings. She loved it and started there all day – we had to bring her food to her, like a true Princess. She also flew a complete circle around our neighbours yard and took a swim in their brand new swimming pool. I jokingly told Princess, it was okay as long as she did not poop in their pool or get caught.
Then, one day a bunch of young male ducks that were hanging around our pool flew off and we saw her go. We followed her through a few neighbour’s property and decided, she was ready to go.
She returned to our property regularly and pretended she did not know us when we called her name. Sometimes, her twitch would become obvious – perhaps from worrying, we were trying to get her back. Amongst other wild ducks, when her name was called, Princess would be the only duck turning to look at us. It was funny. She had many suitors who often fought over her in the front lawn and the pool.
It was only a short time before Princess established herself with a pack of wild ducks that frequented our yard. Then Princess fell in love. Earlier this year, I posted a story about Princess and her first ducklings.
On their first day, she brought her babies out for a walk and played in our yard and then a swim in the pool. Within a few days, she decided to leave our property and cross the main road into a vacant block which led into the wild, a creek and then Brisbane River. I followed them to the edge of the bush concerned she had made a grave decision. There was a big storm, the next day. The mother, partner and babies – did not show up for two days.
Seven weeks ago, my son Nathan was very excited about new ducklings in our yard. Ducks don’t always have babies in winter so we were surprised. We rushed out and counted eight baby ducks. Sure enough, someone had been busy, it was Princess and her partner with their ducklings. She had also lost the nervous twitch. The ducklings were not newborn. They were at least two-three weeks old. She had hid her babies until they grew up. It was clearly a clever plan by Princess. We could not work out where they were before they came home.
Attentive and followed by her partner and their babies, Princess headed for the chicken’s feed. Even the chickens let the ducks eat. We were all overjoyed.
I decided to buy some duck food from our local produce store. I did not post a story about the new arrivals earlier, just to let Princess have the quiet life she wanted and raise her eight daughters. Our family tried to keep our distance and no paparazzi were allowed. It has been almost five weeks since they arrived and adding the first few weeks in hiding, they have grown rapidly and are now ready to fly. Usually the babies grow their strong feathers by six weeks and fly at eight weeks.
The mother got them started in the pool – flapping wings and lifting off – then falling on the water. The training also takes place in the water and on our lawn – just as we tried to teach her. It is quite funny and heart-warming to watch. Ten days ago, wild foxes got into our chicken coop and took Lady Stella. (That’s another story). After the midnight drama and the shock of losing the toughest hen – we raced about our property trying to find Princess and her family. We discovered, after all this time, she had cleverly nested her family in the thick layers of my flowers just on the water’s edge in our fenced swimming pool where no large animal can get in. She family planned well in the sense that being winter, even the snakes would be hibernating. So…they are safe for now and it is only days before the new girls will fly. Then, they will all be in the wild together.
I feel that Princess has truly achieved motherhood and as her mother, I am very proud of her.
ABC News: A sanctuary for orphaned fruit bats on Sydney’s North Shore (Australia) has been expanded to house more pups and adult bats.
Every spring up to 100 fruit bat orphans are hand-reared by wildlife volunteers, then taken to the Kukundi shelter at Lane Cove National Park.
Their mothers can die from natural predators, flying accidents and entanglement in power lines.
“They will go to backyard fruit. And they will get tangled in backyard fruit netting. And this does terrible things to their wings so they can’t fly,” said Tierre Thorpe from wildlife carer organisation Sydney Wildlife.
“They often get caught on power lines so they get electrocuted,” she said.
The breeding season is in October when it is all hands on decks for volunteers.
The bats “go through a rehabilitation process in our volunteer’s homes and they come here to gain flight fitness,” she said.
“They learn to fly. They are dehumanised. And we have a hatch at the back which is opened at the time. And then we support feed them for a couple of weeks so they can come back to obtain food while they have their freedom.”
An expanded cage for orphans which was opened this week is expected to cater for 100 babies a year – alongside the 500 adults in a separate cage.
One of the blessings of our home is we live amongst the Queensland wildlife. Three months ago I counted three Squatter pigeons in the low branches of the Brazilian Cherry, a hardy evergreen fruit tree outside our house in Bellbowrie. We have several rows of the trees to give shade and provide privacy. The pigeons were a new addition to the varied birdlife on our property. Two of these birds were small parcels of light brown, white and grey feathers. The third bird had black, white and grey feathers. They had dainty little, pale, pink feet which seemed odd for their size. I thought these three may have been a family. I was not sure. The birds were extremely shy, and they took their walks in my garden when they thought no-one was home. I watched them from the large windows of our old semi-modern Queenslander. Most of their time was spent in the thick growth of the Brazilian Cherry trees, in the back part of our property. Occasionally, when returning home from work or the shop, the pigeons were at the front of the property. They would try to run as fast as their little feet carried them, across the driveway, before they lifted into the Wattle trees on the driveway. I preferred to stop metres away to let them cross the driveway gently on foot, but sometimes if I did not see them first, and disturbed them, they would run for a few metres and fly into the low branches. Their feet never seemed to be much use.
Three weeks ago, on a Tuesday evening about 6:45pm, I saw a blue station wagon stopped in the middle of the road with its high beam on. The car was on our street, near my gate, and a middle-aged caucasian woman waved at me. I thought she had car-trouble and I slowed. As I approached, I also noticed ‘him’ crossing the road casually. Using its beautifully patterned full body length in a sleepy manner, the young male python slowly took up a third of the width of the road as its slithering trunk headed towards the nearby catchment.
“Hi!” the woman in the blue car called out and waved.
“Hi”, I said.
“I am letting him pass; he is one of the good guys”, the woman said, smiling. I nodded.
I knew the snake was crossing into the catchment to get to the main river. This pocket of land was full of wild life and un-farmed land. We let a two-metre Eastern Brown off into these woods and it had disappeared in seconds. The place was part of the Brisbane City Council’s declared gateway for wildlife. Sometimes it felt like having a small wild-life sanctuary in our front yard.
The woman in the blue car and I both waited in our cars, engines running, while we let the snake cross. When the snake had passed, I drove to my night class, turning up 15 minutes late. I made a joke about stopping at the ‘Python Crossing”.
After my class, I returned home and warned my family, we had another specie addition to the wild life. I wanted everyone to be extra careful with our chickens. We all had been through and scarred from The Duck War. Every night since the python crossed, the chickens were counted and locked in their pen safely.
This morning I noticed, two chicken eggs had gone missing from the nest I discovered the last week. Click Here. The slithering one that crossed the road three weeks ago, became my Number One suspect. But I did not want to alarm anyone in my family. I made a mental note to do some investigative work later.
After my day in the office, five hours ago, I returned home and parked the car. I walked around my gardens as I usually do after work. Everything looked good. Rain from the storm that wrecked Brisbane City homes a few days ago, had put some life back into my dying garden beds. The flowers and vegetables thrived. The poinciana tree was majestic with her red crown of flowers. All my frangipani trees were blooming in various shades of colour and the lawn started to green again. I crossed our front yard into a small section of the property, under the Brazilian Cherry trees where the pigeons lived. I had a few orchids and ferns in the tree branches and I was slowly creating a sitting place inside the treed spot by planting. I watered the rock orchid. My eyes caught two small, short, beautiful, black and white feathers lying in awkward positions. The feathers stood out amongst the dead ground cover. I took the next step and stopped. More feathers. Alarmed, I looked down and checked every inch of leaves and dead branches around my feet. My eyes went back to the pile of feathers, all shapes and sizes, scattered, yet familiar. In seconds, I recognised them. My heart sank. Most of the delicate light grey down feathers were caught in the small tree branches where moss, and the pale green lichen called Usnea grew. Some grey feathers hung off my golden-yellow orchid stems at the low branches. I felt sick and very teary at the same time. The bird must have put up a good fight to throw its feathers this far.
Tomorrow I hope, I will see two pigeons. The young python won’t be crossing to the river tonight. It knows, there is more food.
Apparently, when these birds choose a mate, it is for life. Buff-banded Rails are beautiful looking birds. They are also very shy. Here is a story from our local wildlife story-teller Jim Butler about Rails that lived in a mutual friend’s place, less than ten minutes from my house.
For the last two years my friend had a pair of Buff-banded Rails living in her backyard where they raised their chicks. Her property in Kenmore Hills is opposite a park adjacent to Moggill Creek and the house next door is vacant with long grass, so the Rails had enough area to live comfortably. These Rails are very widespread and common in Brisbane near waterways and they feed on snails, insects and seeds at the water’s edge and on the banks and surrounds. They mostly forage out of sight under low dense vegetation; they run fast when frightened and usually fly only at night. However, when they feel safe they can become remarkably tame, which is what happened at my friend’s house where they often came out of the long grass onto the back lawn. They breed in Spring raising five to eight fluffy black chicks.
Recently, when a cat took one adult and a chick, both my friend and the neighbour who owned the cat became aware of the event. The neighbour decided to restrict the cat’s movement outside the house with a “cat yard” so that it could get enough exercise without being able to prey on the wildlife. The remaining Rail has now begun to re-appear in my friend’s yard and hopefully it will find another mate amongst the other Rails living along Moggill Creek where it can fly to at night.
Unrestrained cats are obvious predators of ground-birds like Rails. On average, a domestic cat kills 16 mammals, 8 birds and 8 reptiles a year according to an Australia-wide survey. And Dr Gillespie, NT Government Director of Terrestrial Ecosystems, says that ‘Across the continent it’s estimated that there are 15 million feral cats killing 75 million native animals every night’, a large number of which will be birds.