Mrs Sunbird sits tight

There’s a little curved beak poking out of the door of Casa Sunbird.

Mrs Sunbird is sitting on her nest. If she’s finished laying, there will be two little greyish eggs in there, kept snug against her yellow tummy. It takes about 2 weeks from when she starts to sit till they hatch, but typically, not every egg laid hatches, so we shall wait and see.

mrs-sunbird-at-workAs you can see if you click and zoom on the image, the nest is right next to the door, and she’s not tame enough to sit whilst people go in and out, so we and our visitors are using the back door or going in through the garage.

One day soon, there’ll be a couple of gaping beaks in there, and the noise quotient will escalate noticeably!

Hanging out stockings for Santa

…Or maybe not!

sunbird-nestDespite its vague resemblance to a rather weary old stocking, this is no sock. It’s the nest of the Olive Backed Sunbird, a.k.a. the Yellow Bellied or Yellow Breasted Sunbird, a little beauty which perches or hovers to drink nectar from the wide range of flowers which are in bloom at this time of year.

The bird is very small, perhaps only 10cm (4 inches) from the tip of the curved bill to the tip of the tail, and this nest is a good 40cm (16 inches) long. It has appeared over the course of three days, so the Mrs, who is the builder of the family, has been a busy girl. The opening is that dark patch at the top, and the interior of the nest is lined with feathers and fluff. It’s actually quite an airy, open structure, which she weaves together on the foundation of a couple of long strands of grass hung from the suspension point. In this case, it’s dangling from a string of fairy lights just 15cm (6 inches) from the screen door onto my side porch, which means that I’m trying to deflect visitors round to the back of the house instead.

They have cleverly built their home directly opposite a convenient Sunbird snack-bar in the form of my double yellow Hibiscus bush, round the corner there are a couple of Murrayas in bloom, the Flame Tree is showing off its red Christmas bells not far away, and of course the Poinciana is in riotous colour. Their normal habit is to build the nest, go off on honeymoon for a few days, and then come back and lay the eggs. Currently, they’re honeymooning somewhere, but I expect them back any day now, the squeaky little darlings. They sound a little like twittering canaries, a nice change from the other, noisier bird visitors to this back yard.

Let’s hope Santa doesn’t try to stuff anything in this stocking in two days’ time!

The Gardens of Chiconia 46: time for a little passion…

… fruit!

first-passionfruitThe Panama Black passionfruit vine I planted a year and a half ago has come up trumps – finally! These fruit are the size of huge tomatoes, a gorgeous glossy purplish brown. The first year, I watered and fed the vine carefully, trimmed and trained it. Nothing. It gave me lots of shiny green leaves. This year, I decided tough love was in order. It got watered some-times, mulched occasionally, and I allowed it to ramp through the adjacent shrubs. Mostly, I ignored it.

While I wasn’t looking, the sneaky thing has flowered, fruited, flowered some more, and there are at least 20 green fruit dangling there, being totally ignored by the grasshoppers (touch wood), with more flowers open and budding. I get the feeling passionfruit perform much better if you ignore and perhaps even stress them a little.

I don’t really expect much from the other fruit trees. Perhaps a mango or two, by the time the grasshoppers and rosellas have passed that way. Another basket of mandarins to juice and freeze (too many pips to make them fun to eat). The little custard apple tree is flowering, but I don’t believe I have any neighbouring trees to allow it to be pollinated, so I don’t think I’ll have any fruit there either. The avocado made a mighty effort with the flowering, and at one point I thought I’d get a solitary fruit. Nuh uh. Grasshoppers again. And the birds got all the mulberries.  One of these fine days, I’ll feel up to digging a hole big enough to plant the Ducasse banana tree I’ve grown on from a sucker off my original one. And then I’ll stand well back and watch it head skywards! Meanwhile, it’s looking happy and healthy in its tub, so all is well for now.

I must head outside to extend my irrigation system to take in the new water feature and surrounding plants. Being away over a week with the temperatures rising and not that much rain forecast will leave it dry and tragic unless I act.

Hmmm. Now, what shall I do with those passionfruit?

The Gardens of Chiconia 45: taking the plunge

It has been nearly half a year since I was able to do any ‘proper’ gardening. Spinal surgery, all that stuff.

The result is horrible weedy junglyness, huge amounts of overgrowth, plants dying back and a general lack of order and soothing beauty for my eye to enjoy. Frogtopia has become so lush as to be almost impenetrable, and its pond became so choked with roots, dead leaves and other detritus that I’ve had to remove the pump. It was completely blocked and I didn’t want the motor to burn out. Since the water’s no longer circulating, it had become a dengue-fever hazard, so I emptied it out. The frogs have slowly moved out and into other accommodation, although not far: there is still a wonderful chorus every night.


From the back: frangipani, murraya, ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia), ginger lily, dieffenbachia, edible ginger, custard apple seedlings, white and purple phalaenopsis orchids


Frog refuge, half full of water and stones

I have missed the sound of trickling water. Yesterday, I decide to get on and do something about it. Frogtopia will remain a jungle of huge leaves and ferns, but the water element has to move, or the same thing will happen again and again. So I went out and bought a large round black plastic builder’s tub, about 80cm across and 40cm deep (30 x 15 inches). I plunged into the Frogtopia jungle and reclaimed all the rocks from the dry water feature. Some of them were quite large and really a bit too heavy still, but I was on a roll.

By the end of the morning’s work, I had taken the pump apart, cleaned and put it together again, the rocks were all hosed off and free of soil and vegetable matter, and the tub, pump and rocks had become a free-standing water feature some distance from any source of falling leaves and close enough to the house that I can hear the trickle of water.

Today, I moved a bunch of plants and things in tubs to stand around it. It’s not a vision of beauty yet. There are plants which have clearly suffered from a lack of sun and not-so-benign neglect, plants which will enjoy the slight spray from the water feature, and enjoy the humid micro-climate. One plant had to be uprooted from its previous home; it had sent a large taproot out of the bottom of the pot and into a crack between the paving stones on the patio. I’m waiting to see if it will survive this rather brutal treatment, it’s looking a bit dejected… I have also given the water feature a frog/toad refuge, an old ceramic pot on its side in the water, with stones in it for them to sit on in the cool.

Yes, OK, my back is making a bit of a fuss about all this hauling rocks and tubs of plants around. But my mind and my eyes are delighted by a little bit of something pretty in all the mess. I’m giving my back the day off tomorrow, and then I shall start getting stuck into more mess, working out from the haven of trickling water and greenery.

Now I know my back is up to the treatment, I’ll be out there at work to get things shipshape before it gets too hot in a couple of months.

The Gardens of Chiconia 43: volunteers

I haven’t been doing any work in the back yard this winter.

The reason isn’t difficult to guess; you can’t garden well (or at all) if your back won’t bend and you’re in constant pain. Since surgery, I’ve gradually improved enough to look at the chaos out there and wish I could do something about it, but had say “no, not quite strong enough for that yet…”. Today, however, was different.

To make things easier, Mr & Mrs Bush Stone-Curlew have moved up the back yard and over into the neighbour’s with Junior. We can still catch sight of them through the wire fence, but it’s given us carte blanche to get the mower out at last (some of the grass was knee high!). I ventured out too, picked up a rake and pair of secateurs and got cracking, while the Husband tootled up and down on his ride-on mower. We have a ‘hedge’ of golden cane palms (Dypsis lutescens), very thick and well established. In normal times, it’s possible to walk under their canopy. Since I’ve been out of action, they’ve taken all kinds of liberties, and were sprouting densely from the base. Hack! Slash!

Perennial capsicumsUnder heaps of this riotous vegetation, I discovered that my Perennial Capsicum (Capsicum annuum) has blithely continue to grow and flourish, despite outrageous neglect. It was covered in brilliantly red little capsicums. I picked the best, and left the rest to do their thing. I have no doubt I’ll be seeing not only heaps more fruit from this bush, but some new bushes, if the amount of fallen fruit around it is anything to go by!

I’ve also taken the seed heads off my 2.5 metre (8ft) lemongrass so it doesn’t seed any more of its giant self. I did give the heads a small shake over an empty garden bed, just in case it felt like volunteering, but the rest have gone on the ‘rotting down’ mulch bed surrounding the palms in the centre of the back lawn. If they choose to seed themselves there, that’ll be fine. I can’t stop the original plant growing in girth, but I can at least keep its spread to sites of my choosing.

The two mature mango trees are covered in blossom. The mandarins are in flower, as are my lime tree and the dwarf avocado. The lychee, which looked as if it was on its last legs three weeks ago, is back in full leaf. The banana tree I’ve grown from a sucker taken from the old Gardens of Chiconia is now over a metre (40 inches) high, with a thick truck and large leaves. It’ll need planting soon :-).

Looks like Nature can get along just fine without my help…

More noisy neighbours

I thought the masked plovers were noisy and inconvenient.

I had no idea. They were mild and quiet by comparison with our new bird neighbours. We have had Mr and Mrs Bush Stone-Curlew move in and set up housekeeping 5 metres (5½ yards) from our back door. To start with, they’re weird, staring, neurotic-looking birds, quite large (50-60cm/20-24 inches tall), with huge glassy eyes and tremendously long legs. But the biggest disadvantage is the sheer racket they make in the middle of the night. The video link doesn’t begin to communicate just how loud it is, or the fact that it’s mostly at night…

Mrs Stone Curlew

They’re here for a while, since a nest has been established and there are already two eggs in it. Our couple has at least made a bit more of an effort with their nest than the one in the video.

Curlew nest

The Husband of Chiconia is not delighted about it, since he can’t mow near there, and I’m not delighted either, since they are 2 metres away from my washing line and I can’t hang out laundry without disturbing them. It’s nice having natural processes taking place in our obviously desirable bit of avian-friendly real estate, but I wish we attracted the quieter and frankly less creepy looking birds!

The Husband of Chiconia tells me I should be grateful it’s not emus…