A Windy January Day in the Garden

The last few days have seen the garden shrouded in frosty stillness. But today I awoke to blue skies and a wind so blustery it was more reminiscent of a November day. Not having been able to do much in the garden because of the cold, I decided to venture out and see what needed doing.

The end of January is a slightly frustrating time in the year. The tips of spring bulbs poke their heads tantalisingly through the soil, shrubs are showing signs of life with tiny buds appearing and the solitary song of the resilient little robin is starting to be joined by a few other garden birds, optimistic of the early spring around the corner. But there is still a sense that the garden is slow to wake. It is a time for tidying and preparation.

As I enter the garden I notice loose sprigs of ivy hanging from the apple tree. A few weeks ago I had pulled up the ivy from the base of the tree as it had started to take over some of the main branches. Leaving ivy on the top of the tree for a few days means that as it starts to die off, it loosens its hold slightly on the bark of the tree and so is a bit easier to pull off. Having removed the last of the ivy, a clematis which grows up through the tree in spring becomes more visible and it is apparent that it needs tying in to the main branch of the tree to protect it from the strong winds.

I next look to my shrub roses and make sure that I have pruned them enough to prevent wind rock, especially on this particularly blustery day. Once I am satisfied that my roses are alright, I take my secateurs to a couple of the larger shrubs in the garden. Now is a good time to prune shrubs in your garden, when they are dormant and you can clearly see the shape of the plant and how you want it to be when pruned.

The day’s trimming finished I turn my attention to my herbaceous borders. They look a bit sorry for themselves at the moment as I have cut down all the dead growth from last year and they are now all but bare. It’s a good time to give the plants an early feed. I like to use an organic blood, fish and bone mix or bone meal. Spread a thin layer over the ground so that you get a good covering. I then like to cover the beds with a thick mulch of well rotted manure or compost. This will protect the young shoots from any frosts to come and help the fertiliser soak well into the soil, providing a kick start to the plants in spring. A couple of garden planters I have positioned in the middle of one of my border with conical topiary box have fallen over in the wind and need righting.

Other things you need to look out for on a particularly windy day are making sure that any new tree samplings are well attached to their supports so that they don’t break off in the wind. Check that covers on garden furniture are secure. Remove less heaving garden ornaments such as lanterns and wind chimes so that they don’t blow over and break. Check any fencing to make sure it is still secure and hasn’t become detached.

My last job on this windy day is to check my vegetable patch. Most of the beds are dug over and bare now. But I do have a couple of beds where brassicas are keeping us in healthy greens over the winter months. I particularly like black kale which grows well all winter, especially if you pick it from the crown of the plant. I also have a new variety of sprout growing. Flowering sprouts have a look of broccoli or tiny cabbages but taste as good as brussels and perhaps even sweeter. Having picked some of these and the kale for dinner, I empty out the last of my parsnips, grown in large tubs. The last ones may be a little small, but they will be nice and sweet when roasted.

Only thing left to do now is to put all my tools safely away in the shed, take off my muddy boots and light the wood burner. Umm and in an hour or so the house will be filled with the smell of roasting beef!

Australian Wildlife Watch on the Sunshine Coast

So you have set the date and now you are ready to decide where to go for your holiday. How about a Sunshine Coast holiday in Queensland, Australia? If that’s where you’re heading, you are about to discover that the real beauty of this area is without doubt the rich and vibrant, not to mention unique, wildlife you will find there.

Firstly, this area is home to the Australia Zoo. Extremely popular with the holiday makers this zoo, which has become even more well-known thanks to wildlife personality Steve Irwin, contains certain species of Australian wildlife you are not likely to come across anywhere else in the world. Snakes, possums, parrots and kangaroos, along with numerous other varieties of animal and bird life as just a few examples of what you will find in this zoo on the Sunshine Coast. There is so much to see so make sure you allow yourself enough time to take in all the sights.

If it is marine wildlife you are interested in, you will be pleased to know that not far from the zoo you can enter Underwater World and Aussie World. As Queensland’s largest aquarium holding 25,000 different creatures of the sea it really should be high up on your places to see during your Sunshine Coast holiday.

As well as the zoo and aquarium, there are also many National Parks to see on your Sunshine Coast holiday and well worth a visit is the Noosa National Park with its koala population. The many parks house a variety of waterfalls and forests where you will see kangaroos and possums along with several other species of animals. Why not join in on a bushwalking tour which will take you up close to the solitary animals in the more remote areas of the parks?

Noosa Park claims to have 626 vertebrate species of animals in residence. Most of these are birds or fish but there is also an unbelievable amount of flora and fauna here too making Noosa one of the most diverse National Parks right here on the sunshine coast. Rains fall and help to promote the wildlife in the river area of Noosa Park and with such an assorted terrain and climate there is little wonder this area is so exceptional when it comes to Australian wildlife.

Noosa is most well known for two of its features, these being the koalas and the birdlife. In fact, with over 300 species of birds the park has justifiably become a major interest to the bird watching population of the entire world and there have been illustrated books written about the birds found in this area. Rescue efforts to save the bird population are in practice to enable us to continue to see such beautiful creatures. It is important that you don’t try to feed the birds and whilst visiting the park.

So when you’re on your Sunshine Coast holiday, don’t forget to keep your eyes and ears open else you might miss all that extraordinary wildlife.

The Three Sopranos

The willow tree is full of leaves again and spring is fast turning into summer. This week, walking has been limited to before seven in the morning, as the heat of the day arrives soon after. Ocean and river swims are starting to beckon instead.

With the unfolding of the spring season comes new birth though. My favourite bird around here, as previously mentioned in the article Birds and Bulls on my blog, is a particular Willy-Wagtail. And while in Aboriginal folklore, the bird is considered a stealer of secrets, I trust this one and do enjoy our friendship immensely.

Her nest this season was built on a railing in the carport, with the van receiving a dollop of bird droppings daily for a short time. But patience was warranted and rewarded well when three little heads peered out over the top a couple of weeks ago.

Their growth from this moment was phenomenal. Two days after their heads reached the top of the nest, they were struggling to fit in there and were standing on each other. The following evening, when sunset is always enjoyed on the verandah, all three were on a railing near their nest, but no longer in it. It was too dark under there to take a photo. But I stood and marvelled at them in delight. It was their first outing from the nest and I was there to see it.

Grabbing a camera the following morning, I was surprised to not even have to go the carport. All three were on the fence in front of the cottage. Their first day of flying had happened and like a proud mother, I stood and watched them in joy.

Since them I have watched them in the trees down near the creek. But they also hang around the verandah a decent amount too. As their mother trusts me, they have learned to do the same.

Willy Wagtails have two sounds. One is like talking. It sort of sounds like ch-ch-ch. The other is singing. It uses the talking when threatening other birds. They are highly territorial and will harass birds much bigger than themselves, like kookaburras for example. But they also use it when talking to each other at times.

Then there is their song. Without drawing notation it sort of goes, one, two three-four, five, with the three and four like a half note. The notes ascend to three, and then descend. I was just sitting here whistling the sound in order to describe it. But one of them has come to the fence to help and is now singing it for me instead, much better. In fact, there are many more notes than five in the run. But that’s as many as I can explain in order to copy their song in a whistle.

For the first week and a half, the babes didn’t sing. They would fly along in front of me when I walked, but with no singing. Then a couple of days ago it happened. I heard them sing.

I was delighted to see that they enjoyed their vocal discovery as much as I did, so much that they couldn’t stop singing once they started. Hearing one of the babes start its singing at 3.30am the following morning, even beating the kookaburras who are always the earliest risers, only brought a smile to my face in the midst of sleep. Its solitary song of joy rang out through the night, accompanied only by frogs who were busy singing their own delightful songs by the creek.

This morning the whole family of Willy Wagtails came to visit. They blessed the cottage and its surrounds with an orchestra of perfect harmonies, as they sang and sang. It was joyous.

There are three new singers in the world now and that is definitely a joyous thing, three more songs to be heard, three more singers adding to the world’s existing chorus.

It’s like having my own version of The Three Tenors, though they’re definitely not tenors. I should call them The Three Sopranos. Yes, very fitting, The Three Sopranos and Their Fluffy Feathers.

Unless you are blessed with being able to live in nature almost completely, you may not even know that some of the birds you hear are singing for the very first time in their lives. But every bird has to have a first song.

So if it’s spring in your world, do consider you may be hearing an absolutely brand new tune. Or when spring comes around in your country, do keep it in mind. Many of the birds that look like all of the others of their breed, may in fact only be a few weeks old and are breaking into their very first song ever.

Whatever songs they’re singing to you though will be joyous.

So along with The Three Sopranos and Their Fluffy Feathers, I thank you for visiting today and wish you good luck with your Willy-Wagtail whistling.