Tag Archives: Nature

Bird Friends in the Garden

My poor little blog has been somewhat neglected of late.  Sorry about that.   My body and mind have been exhausted by Master J developing into a spirited and energetic toddler.  Nature’s plan for female humans to begin reproducing in their teens is  completely logical in hindsight.  I certainly could use some of my teenage (or even twentage) energy and physical condition in keeping pace with my one-year-old.  And four-year-old for that matter.  But then I suppose at thirty-something I have gained extra wisdom to help me get by.  Maybe.  I sure could do with more strength and vitality though.  Anyway.

Much of my time and creative thoughts have been taken up by a challenging bathroom renovation that is happening at my old abode.  More on that later I hope.  (Sooner rather than later would be good.)  But it’s actually this recent project that has led me to the topic of this post.

I’ve been spending many weekends at our semi-rural bushland property due to the reno (if you read about my blog you’ll see we’ve been separated for a short while…soon to be permamently reunited though…yay)!  We’ve been blessed with some charming weather.  And invariably along with that descends the feathered friends brigade!

These shots were all taken last Sunday on my iPhone.  First I was greeted, upon opening the blinds at 7.30am, by a gang of six sulphur-crested cockies and corellas.  I’m not sure why they had come together.  But there they were having an early morning party in our back garden.

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Later and throughout the day we were entertained with the antics and laughter of our resident kookaburras.  At one time there were five sitting around the front garden.  This youngster was courageous enough to venture so close that I could almost touch him.  In Australia we often take these iconic birds for granted.  But when given the chance to observe them close-up I get tingles down my spine.  Have you ever noticed how they can sit perfectly still watching from a vantage point and then in a flash retrieve a wriggling earthworm from the soil?  Or heard them chatter to one another quietly and quite different to the typical laughter that they are reknowned for?  Ever looked a kooka in the eye, front-on?  What an adorable sight.

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And finally our other special visitors.  The butcherbirds.  One of my favourite bird species. Not so much because of appearances, although I do think they’re beautiful to look at.  Not for their dining habits, although they are very clever in that regard.  But if you ever hear a butcherbird sing you cannot help but be entranced.  The sound is clear, melodious and could easily have floated out of a human-made instrument.  It gets me every time.  Last weekend it was seeing them so close that gave me a thrill.  Several of them appeared on the verandah while we were eating lunch.  And yes, they were being hopeful.

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We also had visits from the wood ducks, red-rumped parrots and noisy miners.  But we have many more bird species utilising our property, which we were once planning to name ‘Bimbadeen’ – an aboriginal word for ‘place of many birds’.  Until we realised it’s not a particularly unique property name.  (Google it and see for yourself.)

Here are some older pics of bird visitors at our place.

A pair of eastern rosellas on the fence.

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A young grey butcherbird.  So sweet.

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Sacred kingfisher couple.

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My pleasure in having wild bird company is enthusiastically shared by my kids.  Whenever he spots any variety of feathered friend, Master J is quick to produce his generic bird call imitation, together with a repeating sign-language gesture (tapping pointer finger on thumb to resemble a moving bird beak).  The infamous Indian Myna isn’t even spared such excitement.  And Miss L at four can already identify and name many more birds than the average Australian.  As well as being able to use her ears to determine what birds are about.

Pondering all this reminded me where my love of birds and the ability to identify them originated.  I spent many a camping trip or bushwalk as a youngster, creeping about the bush with my mum, oldest brother and sister, binoculars at the ready and bird book on hand.  The treasured binoculars, which I still own (despite the existence now of far superior models) were one of my earliest birthday gifts (I think I was six or seven) and they were proper adult ones.  Not a toy version like the pair Miss L has.  I was pretty thrilled to be trusted with using and maintaining such a special piece of equipment.  (And of course the binoculars were not only used for spotting birds.)

I realise that bird-watching is not a hobby that’s enjoyed by the masses.  You discover that fact quickly when you are frequently the only person around who doesn’t call every black and white bird a magpie or when others are surprised by your ability to make a distinction between a cockatoo and a corella.  Bird-watching is  perceived by some to be a pretty nerdy past-time too.  But Bill Oddie is an avid bird-watcher!  So it has got to be one of the coolest activities around.  Right?  He was always the hip one after all.

The whole process of seeking and identifying wild birds is just the perfect activity for kids.  For a start it gets kids outdoors.  It invites adventure but also teaches patience and listening.  It helps kids learn to appreciate fine details and subtleties of an image, to differentiate colours and patterns, and distinguish shapes.  Since bird-watching also incorporates bird sounds, it develops the sense of listening very well.  There might be three or four different bird calls going on at once, but a bird-watcher learns to discern that one call and put a name and face to it.  It’s a calming, quiet-time activity.  We need lots of those up our sleeve as parents.  And it involves challenge and achievement so it’s fantastic for kids’ self esteem.

If you’ve never done any bird watching before go on.  Try it. With your kids.  No matter how young they are.  Grab a bird book.  It doesn’t have to be the latest flash one…bird names haven’t changed that much over the years.  I bought mine from the local charity store as you might have guessed.  Get yourself a pair of binoculars if you’re keen.  Though to start with, especially with young children, you don’t need them.  Go outside!  Even the most urban areas in Australia have birdlife so it’s not a prerequisite to be in the bush.  But if you are that’s wonderful.

For some fabulous advice on bird watching as well as some excellent resources, check out the Birds in Backyards website.  (Note: this is an Australian website, so it mostly relates to Australian birds but it does have general bird-watching advice too.)  My best tips?

– Practise being still and quiet.  Not only so you don’t frighten the little birdies but also to help you hear their calls and movements.  Challenging for kids at first but you’d be amazed how easily this can be achieved once they realise the reward.  Whispering and using hand signals to communicate when you’re on the bird hunt also adds to the fun.

– Observe a bird for as long as you can so you get to appreciate its size, shape, beak appearance, colours, patterns, calls and behaviour.

– Familiarise yourself with groups of birds and their features (eg, parrots, owls, wrens, kingfishers, honeyeaters).  This will help when it comes to searching through pages for that one feathered friend amongst hundreds.

–  Get to know your bird book.  Most are divided into sections, with the first part usually providing very useful general information about bird identification and also a key to the different bird families.

– Take note of your location and utilise the distribution maps in the bird book.  If you see a kookaburra in southern Australia it’s not going to be a blue-winged kookaburra unless it’s in an aviary.

– Keep a record book of birds you’ve identified.  Kids will love this part.  Keeping tabs on things is a favourite past-time of most kids.  Younger kids can include drawings or photos.

The Birds in Backyards website keeps tabs too…on what birds are hanging around urban Australia.  By becoming a member (no fee required) you can participate in some important surveys.  Trust me it’s easy.  And very rewarding.

Finally, here is a bird who you won’t need a book to identify: our non-native neighbourhood peacock (Mr Peacock to friends) who makes periodic appearances in our garden and never fails to put on a show.  What a stunner.  If anyone can inspire you to take up bird-watching with your kids, Mr Peacock can.  Surely.

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Home for the Holidays

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I couldn’t resist including a little typewriter love in this post – a packing list for last week’s holiday.  To my old house.  Sounds exciting doesn’t it!?

An odd list of holiday necessities it would seem.  Secateurs?  Boxes of cushions? Actually it wasn’t exactly a holiday.   The purpose of our trip was to make preparations for our eventual return to our property and for the arrival of a special house sitter.  There was lots of work to do.

But there were lots of sweet surprises to be had too.  Like the abundance of flowers in my garden despite the fact that it’s winter.   My resourceful preschooler set about collecting them (edible ones only) to make various exotic teas.  (Nasturtium or calendula tea, anyone?) I showed her the delightful red pineapple sage flowers and hinted about their sweet nectar contents.  Needless to say Miss L kept herself occupied with those for a long while.

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Our old vintage rocking horse became a surrogate pet for the week.  ‘She’ was lavished with various garden treats including nasturtium leaves and flowers, of which we have an abundance.  Thanks to my nasturium planting method of throwing handfuls of seeds onto the general designated area and hoping they will eventually germinate.  And of course now they self-seed quite happily.  This could be a problem. But I’ve noticed that as the seeds are too large to be dispersed by wind (they’re about pea size) they tend to fall close to the parent plant rather than spreading all over the garden.  Which is very good of the nasturtium.  (In contrast to the lemon balm which I mistakingly planted in a front garden bed and now discover popping up anywhere there’s a bit of soil.)

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While Miss L was busy with plants and animals I found myself taking pseudo-holiday snaps in between wiping out the kitchen cupboards, unpacking boxes and blindly assembling the timber bunks which I bought second-hand on ebay.  ‘Blindly’ refers to the fact that the bunks came minus instructions…so it was a joyful exercise.  As you can imagine.  (And thank you, Mum, for your amazing dedication, perseverance, and skill.)

The sunny calendulas below were shot in a hurry – those little feet were  getting into a suitable position for flower-picking.  I had to be quick!

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This bright but delicate fungus was growing on a timber log that informally edges the front garden.  It was quite tiny.  But look at that colour!  Nature is incredible, isn’t it?

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And this beauty was  in a pot amongst the other orchids that were given to me by my mother-in-law a few years ago.  Living in absolute neglect.  What a perfect welcoming gift from my home itself.

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Getting Kids’ Hands Dirty…In the Garden

I’m not sure what incited my passion for gardening.  Perhaps it was the special times spent in my great grandmother’s sprawling garden with its tasty fruit and vegies, and delightful flowers at every turn.   Or the array of potted succulents and flowering perennials at Grandma’s back door that cheerfully greeted me on arrival. Or joining my dad in his vegie plot when I was just a wee one.  Maybe it was the little vegie and flower garden that my first-grade classmates and I created in primary school.   Probably ‘all of the above’ is how I came to be a green thumb.  Growing plants (especially edible ones) has excited me for as long as I can remember and I have many fond memories of being amongst them.

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I totally agree with Australian gardening legend Peter Cundall, that gardening is super beneficial to our health – not only from a physical aspect, but also for the mind.  And there’s the bonus of nourishing your body with a bounty of fresh fruit and vegies from the edible garden.   Whether you’re four-years-old or eighty-four, the merits of gardening hold true.    Encouraging kids when they’re small will help to start them on this wonderful journey.

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Here are some ideas on how to pass on the gardening bug to kids:

– Garden with your kids from their very beginning.  My daughter joined me in the garden as a newborn –  carried in a sling, resting in the pram or on a blanket.

– Provide child-sized tools and gloves.  Miss L has shown a heightened interest in gardening since receiving some lovely gardening tools for Christmas last year!

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– Give your child her own garden area, whether it’s a small pot or an entire raised vegie bed.  Making a sign for this, eg, ‘Sophie’s Patch’ can also be a fun activity to do together.  With some gentle guidance and depending on her age, allow her to choose what is planted and to do the planting herself (again with some help if needed).  Try to avoid the urge to take over.  For younger kids you might let them pick from a selection of seeds that you’ve chosen based on season and ease of growing, show them how to sow the seeds and help them to do it.  Older kids could be given the task of choosing suitable seeds and then planting these themselves.

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– Try to keep gardening sessions short.  Take your child’s cue – if he tells you he’s had enough then it’s time to stop.

– Develop their sense of wonder for the natural world.  Whenever you or your child sees something noteworthy in nature, even if you’re just walking along a suburban footpath, take the time to stop, examine closely and show interest and amazement: ’Wow!  Look at that caterpillar!  I wonder why it’s covered in all those hairs?’…’Can you see that bird over there?  The one with the white cheek and red face.  What other colours can you see on its body?’…’Oh fabulous!  Look at all these worms I’ve uncovered!  They are doing such a wonderful job keeping the soil healthy for our plants to grow!’…’Come and see!  Our beans have sprouted!’   You might feel that you’re sounding a bit like the late Steve Irwin, but your kids will pick up on your enthusiasm.  (I’ve no doubt Steve converted thousands of viewers into serious nature-lovers with his contagious passion)!  This helps kids learn to appreciate and even love, the many critters they might come across whilst gardening, that might otherwise incite fear or disgust and also keeps them interested in the biology of what is happening in the garden.

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– Avoid pressuring your child to garden…if they don’t want to garden at a particular time, that’s fine.  And try not to worry (at least pretend you’re not concerned) when the seeds aren’t in perfect little rows and neatly spaced, or they are planted a little too deep, or your child pulls out a young vegie seedling thinking it’s a weed!

– Do some gardening-based craft.  Decorate old containers (tin cans, canisters, cups) to be used as pots.  Make a scarecrow.  Paint rocks for signs and decoration. Create garden sculptures.

– Read about gardening…together…no matter how young (or old) your kids are.  We especially like The Australian Women’s Weekly Kids in the Garden, by Mary Moody and The Little Gardeners Guide, by Niki Horin.  But even your regular gardening books, magazines and catalogues can capture children’s attention as they are filled with lovely, colourful and often fascinating pictures.

– Harvest and eat your produce together.  Allow kids to help with the preparation, even if it’s just washing the carrots or lettuce.  Little hands are also ideal for fiddly jobs like shelling peas!

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I’m pretty sure my daughter, at four years of age, has caught the gardening craze.  Miss L chose The Little Gardeners Guide for us to read this morning.  On our walk she noted our neighbour’s lawn still hadn’t grown properly over a little defect that they’d filled with soil recently.  When we returned home Miss L insisted she go outside and water the plants, even though the soil was still wet from this morning’s downpour.  Then Miss L asked if she could plant some seeds.  Which she did.  Not before gathering her entire gardening tool collection and donning gardening gloves and hat…and treating the soil to lashings of home-made compost.  I’m pretty stoked that my daughter loves gardening.  But what made me smile tonight was that Miss L not only devoured all of her vegies at dinner, but she also ate the little mound of mint leaves on the side.  And declared them to be ‘delicious’.  I shouldn’t be surprised.  She  grew them herself!

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