Worth three in the bush

Do you know the proverb?

‘A bird in the hand is worth three in the bush’. In this case, I’m changing it to ‘A bird on the nest gains three in the bush’. Yes, you read that right. Mr and Mrs W. Wagtail joyfully announce the arrival of three little Wagtails, Li’l Willie, Wally and Willow. I have no way of knowing if I have chosen appropriate names, because at the moment, they’re just three tiny gaping beaks appearing over the edge of the nest when Mrs Wagtail takes a break to go hunting or find a drink. Mr Wagtail is kept incredibly busy decimating the local insect population.

If you look carefully at the photo, you’ll see a tiny black point appearing from Mrs Wagtail’s silhouette, just below her head. That’s a baby wagtail beak. She’s very, very protective, and I haven’t yet been able to get close enough to take a photo of them alone, without her. Soon enough, they’ll grow larger and will be much more visible.

I think the Husband will have to put off mowing around that particular tree, or he’ll disturb them badly. The branches are low, and he is tall, so it’ll just have to wait.

I’m sure he’ll be devastated about that…

Shake your tail feathers*

I have been doing a spot of quiet, unobtrusive bird-watching.

Mr and Mrs Willie Wagtail have set up house in my front yard.

Can you see her?

Mr Willie Wagtail is very active just now, hunting insects busily to keep Mrs Wilhelmina Wagtail fed as she sits on the teeny little nest they’ve built low down in the young frangipani tree in the front yard. It’s 5 ft from the road, 5 ft off the ground and right next to our driveway, so I’m not exaggerating when I say they’re incredibly tame. If you’re Australian, you’ve certainly seen these busy little creatures hopping and wagging, hopping and wagging as they search for insects on the ground. In the air, it’s another story. They become incredible aerialists, swooping and diving, feathering back to dead stops and cutting a swathe through the insect population.

They have a pretty melodious song, often sung at night in the breeding season, making it easy to identify in the general silence. And I’m willing to bet that tiny little nest (about 2½ inches across) is lined with silky black hair from a certain Mouse of my acquaintance. Mrs Wagtail is riding steadily as the branches wave in the slight hot breeze (it’s currently 32°C/90°F). I reckon she’s already laid her three eggs and is sitting on them till they hatch.

Maybe we’ll have some feathered babies for Christmas, too…

*One of my favourite Blues Brothers songs

Fake it till you make it

In the pink.

It’s one of those phrases people use without really knowing how it originated. Currently it means to be at a peak of condition, or in the best of health. That’s not a state I’m enjoying right now, so I thought I’d seek out some pink to see if I could turn the tide into a more positive frame of mind. So I went to look for pink.

I reckon I found some good examples. You have to smile: it’s spring in Queensland! I made this collage using the Adobe Spark free software for collages.

Also in the pink was lunch yesterday. So delicious, freshly caught prawns, salad, avocado and sun dried capsicums with a caesar dressing.

And finally, the latest Floribunda block, in progress. This is #5.

In case you’re wondering, that surface it’s lying on is a thick felted batting square which is one of literally hundreds supplied to the Husband as part of a spill kit for his job. I have appropriated a dozen or so for bag-making, padding and yes, block layouts so they can be easily transported from one surface to another. The pad is 16 inches square and roughly ¼ inch thick, a really useful weight and size.

Well, the pink has done its job. I no longer feel quite so green….

An Easter bouquet

The florists are all closed, so I’ve improvised.

There are no Easter Sunday flowers on my table, but the garden has provided. From top left to bottom right: Golden croton, scarlet hibiscus, pink cattleya orchid, frangipani.

The shops have been stripped of all but the most lavish and expensive Easter eggs. I managed to score a couple of fairly plain and simple ones last week, and I’ll make some boiled eggs and bacon pancakes for tomorrow morning’s breakfast, but the Husband is working tomorrow, as he has this whole Easter weekend, so I’m not going crazy with the food or decorations. We can’t get together with family for dinner anyway, so I’m thinking a nice dinner for two next week at home will be enough of a celebration.

Have a very happy Easter, everyone.

Oh no! We have a parasite!

Not personally, you’ll be relieved to hear…

Although if I had one, I’d probably be less free with the information… No, the parasite is in the garden. A while ago, I was puzzled to notice some odd-looking leaves on a branch of my Bankok Rose (Mussaenda philippica ‘Calcutta Sunset’). They were linear and thin instead of lanceolate. But it wasn’t of such interest that I had to do something about it.

Today, however, I was pulling weeds in the front flower bed, as I usually do when I go and check the mailbox. This time, the puzzle had reached much greater, and more interesting, proportions. Well, see for yourself. Above is the Bankok Rose. Dangling down there with its leaves and flowers all completely wrong, is a parasite. An interloper. To be exact, a hemiparasite:

Hemiparasite – a plant parasitic under natural conditions, but photosynthetic to some degree. Hemiparasites may obtain only water and mineral nutrients from the host plant; many obtain at least part of their organic nutrients from the host as well. (Wikipedia)

It’s the Australian native Orange Mistletoe, Dendrophthoe glabrescens, making itself very much at home on a branch of the Mussaenda. It’s not going to kill the Bankok Rose, or I’d be whipping it off there quick smart, but it is getting a free meal ticket and a place in the sun. Speaking of which, it’s supposed to flower October to January, but because of the dry weather we had at the end of last year and over Christmas, it has been retarded and is only now bursting into quite lovely and spectacular flowers. It usually prefers a bottlebrush (Callistemon spp.), I believe, but failing that has found itself a suitable alternative.

Apart from being quite pretty, it’s also an important food plant for the larvae of at least 10 species of Queensland butterflies, including the marvellously-named Golden, Black and Scarlet Jezebels and the Amethyst and Silky Jewels.

So I’ll be leaving it well alone, then.

Sweeeeeet!

Another gardening first for me.

We’ve harvested our first pineapple. It’s not very big, but then it has been the beneficiary of total neglect, scant water, altogether too much sunshine, a fair bit of humidity, and the gentle attentions of the dog: booping it with his nose (big mistake, ouch, prickly!), brushing past it rudely and coming perilously close to actually peeing on it.

It smells divine. The sort of fresh, tangy, sweet, intoxicating smell you will never, ever get from a shop-bought fruit that has been harvested at a time not necessarily its peak, travelled, been stored in a cold room and then lain around in the shop for a week or two.

So, well, it’s at the peak of ripe perfection right now, and needs eating right now. I’m thinking with Greek yoghurt on muesli. The Husband is in favour of grilled, on a ham steak, with perhaps a fried egg on the side. Well, he’s a bloke, what do you expect?

Either way, I shall be keeping the top and sticking it first in a pot and then in the ground to root and start its own pineapple plant. Remember the tiny baby pineapple flower I showed you months ago? This is the final fruit.

Baby pineapple

From 3cm across in the photo on the left to the full sized ripe fruit above. The old plant has fruited and will eventually die back, never to fruit again. The leafy top is the way to get it all going again.

More delicious tangy sweetness, one day.

Drop down, ye heavens*

Someone up there was listening.

For the first time in months and months, we have rain. RAIN!! Accompanied by some quite emphatic thunder and lightning. Poor Mouse is hiding his head under the bedclothes; he hates thunder. He’s showing the whites of his eyes, and will not be pacified or placated with treats and cuddles; instead he stands and trembles and pants, or paces the house looking for somewhere the nasty bangs and crashes don’t penetrate. Poor boy…

I won’t have to water the yard at 6.30am. I won’t have to worry about Mouse’s zoomies wearing bare patches in the brown crispy grass, or losing some of the mature shrubs which are looking very stressed.

Our huge downpipes are gurgling with deep organ tones. They’re 20cm (8 inches) in diameter, built to handle monsoon-style rain, and tonight, they’re doing a great job. The wind is howling a fair bit, and the neighbour’s wind chime is clashing and clanking rather than chiming sweetly. What is sweet, though, is the smell of wet earth and leaves, wafting through the screen door onto the porch. It’s a classic ‘storm from the west’, bringing the thunder and lightning you don’t get with storms coming down from the wet tropics in the north.

It probably won’t last long enough to fill any dams or reservoirs, but it’ll replenish a good few water tanks and save the farmers having to irrigate for a few days and pay the electricity bill for pumping water they can ill afford. (The worst of irrigation is they have to take the water when it’s available, which means they’re pumping water over the crops at a time of day when it’ll evaporate and burn the leaves.)

As I write, the banging and crashing is receding into the distance, heading away to the northwest and out to sea. We’re lucky the cell was strong enough to maintain itself till it reached us; often, the westerlies beat themselves to death against the top of the range and the coastal strip doesn’t get anything.

We won’t have to get on the roof to wash the dust off the solar panels. We won’t have to wash the car or mop the deck. What we will have to do, sadly, is mow the grass, and probably very soon…

Still, it’s a good problem to have!

*Isaiah 45:8

The quick and the dead

Images from this morning’s walk with Mouse.

The quick is the mangoes; a lavish crop of ‘commons’ in all the local trees, making a bid for immortality by fruiting well in harsh conditions. Also quick are the very early blossoms on the poincianas (aka Flamboyant Tree or Delonix regis), which normally flower for Christmas. All around the area, the trees are wearing enormous pompoms of brilliant scarlet flowers, almost as if they were waiting for an international convention of cheerleaders.

The dead is mostly everything else. Even the indestructible bougainvilleas have lost their green leaves, and the hot pink, purple and orange flowers are bursting forth on bare stems. Blossoms are falling everywhere, and any grass that isn’t irrigated is either brown and crispy, or already history.

On the upside, a little rain is forecast for the weekend. A couple of hours, not enough to restore the land, but it’ll make the fire danger just a little less. And a little more rain next week.

It had better be quick or there’ll be more dead.

Short stuff

We’ll start with the good stuff.

The bananas are ready!

These little babies are Ducasse or sugar bananas. You cut the stem before they’re fully ripe, or you’ll lose the lot to the possums, birds and fruit bats.  You then hang the stem in a warm, airy place (in this case, our garage), and cut the hands off as they ripen. It’s going to take a while to get through this lot, they’ll ripen fast and we’ll need some help, so I’ve already given some away. Neighbours and family will all be eating bananas for a while.

Now for the not so good.

My 97 year old father is in hospital with a broken femur. They found him quickly after he fell, and surgery was the same day. If all goes well, he’ll be up and walking in the next day or so. We’ll see how that goes, but he’s 18,000kms away and there’s a 10 hour time difference… It’s  hard to just wait for information.

And my eye infection is back, with a vengeance, and now it’s in both eyes. I have stronger antibiotics. If that doesn’t do the trick, the next stage is a bit alarming: CT scan, hospital, intravenous antibiotics. So I’m strongly favouring the antibiotics doing exactly what they’re supposed to do. It’s been 12 days since this nonsense started, and instead of just one site of infection I now have three. I feel like I’ve been punched in the eyes, and it’s not nice.

I’m not having a good time right now. These things are sent to try us…