Thursday, 31 May 2007

Look out

I live in a new suburb. There are lots of trees but none of them are over 15 years old. We have no trees old enough to have developed hollows, so a kookaburra couple or a pair of lorikeets or rosellas would have to look elsewhere for a suitable nesting site. It takes a very long time for a tree to reach the age where branches begin to drop off or insects chew away at the wood so that birds can nibble away at the resulting scars to create hollows. Even a possum looks for the safety of a sheltered hole.

Another disadvantage of youth is the fact that young trees rarely have bare branches. And if they do we suburbanites feel the need to tidy them up, get out there with the chain saw and cut off the offending branches. I have the opposite reaction. I want to keep every bare branch possible, because it's astonishing how many times I see a bird sitting on the branch surveying its domain, keeping a lookout, looking for possible food sources.

My neighbour has one tree with one branch devoid of leaves. It's the only one in my immediate vicinity. And lots of birds use it. It seems to me that a bird is much more in its natural element sitting in a tree rather than on a TV aerial (which serves the same purpose).

Wednesday, 30 May 2007


I belong to two book clubs.

One is a regular Council of Adult Education book club. Books are provided through a membership fee. We meet monthly to discuss the chosen book, and literature of all genres is covered. Many interesting and stimulating (noisy!) discussions are generated by the questions is the guide that is provided each month. It's a lot of fun.

The second book group I belong to is run under the umbrella of our Field Naturalists Club. It's called the Eco Book Group and we meet whenever there is a fifth Tuesday in the month, about four times a year. We have to buy or borrow our own copy of the chosen book. A local book shop gives us a 'book club discount'. This year we have discussed Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers, Stephen Pyne's The Still-burning Bush and Unbowed: My Autobiography by Wangari Maathai. We're trying to select books that have a strong environmental message, and, given the current interest in climate change, there are plenty to chose from.

Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work with the women of Kenya. She was concerned that after years of exploitation only 2 percent of indigenous forests remained in Kenya and set up a nursery herself, but later encouraged the rural women to plant and tend trees. This is now called the Green Belt Movement. They have planted millions of trees. Wangari had many disappointments, setbacks, political interference and challenges but continues to nurture the movement and the environment.

Her autobiography is written in a personal and straightforward way and our Eco Book Group enjoyed discussing various aspects of her work and her life. What an inspiration she is.

I'm looking forward to reading and discussing Fred Pearce's When the Rivers Run Dry at our next meeting.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

The perfect host?

Mistletoe is funny stuff. A patch of Wire-leaf Mistletoe Amyema preissii caught my eye. It's growing in a Cootamundra Wattle Acacia baileyana, and it set me to thinking as I drove to work. Why a Cootamundra?

My first introduction to this mistletoe was finding it growing on Black Wattle Acacia mearnsii by the side of a track. It was abundant. Almost as much mistletoe as wattle. My second sighting was a breath-taking moment when I was wandering through a bush block at Homerton. In the deep shade I came face-to-face with Wire-leaf Mistletoe growing on a Black Wattle. It was at eye level, and flowering. I was in awe of how beautiful it looked.

And today I looked at it growing on the Cootamundra and thought it looked 'wrong'. The Cootamundra is not indigenous to this area—in fact it's a weed in places—the leaf is totally different in shape to that of the Black Wattle and the colour is different as well. The Wire-leaf Mistletoe blends in on a Black Wattle but stands out on Cootamundra.

Does it grow on Cootamundra Wattle in Cootamundra? Paul Downey (Cunninghamia, Vol. 5(3): 1998) reported that specimens of this mistletoe in Australian herbariums were found on 73 host species, mostly wattles. When the Mistletoebird flies from one tree to another and deposits a sticky seed on a branch why does this particular mistletoe mainly germinate on wattles?

I haven't noticed it growing on the numerous other wattle species that grow in this district, but perhaps it does. I'll have to take particular notice. But I'm already a danger on the road because I'm looking at the birds! Walking is good exercise I'm told. Maybe I'll give that a go.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Ethical gardening

Yesterday I attended a workshop designed to gauge the community's response to setting up a team of volunteer weed spotters for the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) here in Victoria.
Participants came from a wide range of plant-associated clubs (Organic, Orchid, Field Naturalists, Landcare, Garden, Australian Plants) and the discussion was about 'new' weeds, the garden plants that might escape over the fence in the future.
The main point to come out of the discussion was that it's all very well to spot and map the weeds, but what will be the response from DPI, DSE and local councils. Spotters will lose enthusiasm for the task if nothing is done to control or eradicate the new weeds before they get out of control.
The question was asked, 'What plants do you already have growing in your garden that is a potential escapee?' I must admit to having a Hakea laurina in my garden and it is on the weed list for our area. But my neighbour is worse. He has lots of Agapanthus (that he doesn't deadhead) and Pittosporum undulatum, a plant that is native to this state but a weed in this district. But all of these are known weeds. I wonder what I have growing that is a potential weed.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Biting the hand that feeds you?

It got me! As I moved a pot plant I inadvertantly put my hand on a wasp and it bit me. It hurt, and now my hand is swollen and itchy. If I'd seen it first I could have photographed it, made sure it was covered again, but it wasn't to know that. And I'm annoyed that when it stung I flicked it off quickly and then couldn't find it again to identify it. I would like to know what species is calling my garden home.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Birds on the move

The Yellow Box Eucalyptus leucoxylon ssp. megalocarpa in my garden is covered in dusky pink blossoms, and will be flowering for a while yet as there are lots of buds. The branches touch the ground, and I think that the weight of gum nuts from previous years' flowering could cause branches to break but so far so good. It's very distracting because I can see it from my kitchen and it's outside my study window.
The tree is visited by birds all year round and Red Wattlebirds nest in it each year, but it is in autumn that it becomes a gourmet food palace. It's like a cocktail party or pub crawl-so noisy, as groups of lorikeets and honeyeaters arrive, shout loudly, hustle for position, flit from one tasty area to another, have short noisy conversations with this one or that and then fly off to another party.
Musk Lorikeets are much more numerous this year and are the dominant visitor to my tree. Red Wattlebirds and New Holland Honeyeaters are also prolific, as well as bees and insects. Small flocks arrive, announce their presence loudly, stay for a while, then they're gone.
Why do some birds move quickly from tree to tree and within a tree? It seems to be a wasteful use of energy. Why don't they stay in one tree or even in one clump of blossom until the food there is finished? But no, as I watch they fidget continually. Is it a survival technique? Is it instinctive or learned behaviour to prevent capture by a hawk or a sparrowhawk?