Category Archives: Winter

The Dawn Chorus

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My morning visitors.

I heard something last week that was so addictive that I am happily waking up before dawn in anticipation of hearing this music again. You might be thinking, ‘Crazy lady’ and I couldn’t blame you but it is almost sufficient enticement to get me out of bed before dawn in winter and down to the nearby bushland to try recording it.

Are you a morning person? My early morning alarm is usually the cat leaping onto my bed, nudging me with his cold nose, and meowing in ever-increasing tones telling me that his food bowl is empty. I can ignore the yowls but not the nibbles on my toes.

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Mohair blankets are purrrfect!

Last week however, my furry intruder was early and the sun’s rays were just lighting up the hills across the valley, immersing my bedroom in that half-light before dawn. Opening my eyes, I could see a sliver of pale washed blue sky through the linen curtains that moved lightly in the morning breeze.

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Birdsong drifts across our valley.

It was a strange feeling, not knowing why all my senses were alert yet the cat was also sitting up, eyes wide, ears twitching quite obviously listening to something. It was as if the air around me was vibrating with song, and the room a tunnel with the notes bouncing off the walls. The dawn chorus was so clear and so beautiful it was like being submerged in bird song or in a painting filled with music and I lay there, trying to identify which bird produced which sound. It was early, well before the sun had risen so there was almost no traffic noise to compete with this chorus. It was also a very cool winter’s morning so this symphony dominated the airwaves.

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Tempting the Rosella

I had forgotten how truly magnificent is the dawn chorus in Australia. Gloriously melodic notes floated on the air, a soft warble, a chirrup, a twireep, a trill and more and more songs. All these sounds cascading together to form one of the most beautiful natural chorus anyone could wish to hear. I am no expert but I think I could make out at least some of the following bird songs from the magpies, the grey butcherbirds, the blue-faced honeyeater, the common myna, the black-faced cuckoo shrike, the willy wagtail and of course the kookaburra. There were probably others I didn’t identify.

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Shy Rosella feeding on sunflower seeds.

Listening to this music I tried to remember other dawn choruses and I think Australia does it better than anywhere else. They sure sound louder than other choruses I have heard. Perhaps this is because songbirds originated in Australia about 23 million years ago.

Although our dinosaur bones have survived, our very fragile bird skeletons tend not to, making it difficult to determine the migration of songbirds.  Now a team led by Dr Rob Moyle from the University of Kansas, USA is using DNA to study the migration of these songsters. They are thought to have occurred travelled across the chain of islands called Wallacea that lay between Australia and New Guinea and the Indonesian archipelago.

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Map of Wallace (Sunda & Sahul) Sourced: Wikipedia.

Australia has many eucalypts and paperbarks as well as grevilleas that bear nectar producing flowers which attract the honeyeaters and lorikeets. These birds which feed voraciously on the flowers and fight over their food patch, have become the primary pollinators of trees and shrubs.

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The wattle flowers are like star bursts of fireworks.

At the moment my local park and bushland has lots of  flowering wattles, eucalypts and grevilleas.

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Ducking and weaving amongst the flowers.

Each afternoon when I go for a walk and I see the myna birds feeding on the Grevilleas and there was even a very shy Rosella munching on the last of the sunflower seeds. Sometimes it feels as if the trees are starting to vibrate with the bees feeding on the flowers.

In the Northern Hemisphere it is small birds such as the hummingbirds that act as pollinators and most trees are pollinated by wind or insects.

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Bee raiding eucalypts flower.

On other mornings this week I have also heard the dawn chorus but it hasn’t been as loud or clear and I wondered why on that one morning it was like being in a tunnel of sound. Perhaps winter is the reason. I was intrigued to read a description using the same words in Nature’s Music: The Science of Birdsong by Peter R Marler and Hans Slabbekoorn. Apparently in winter you often get an ‘inversion’ layer of cold air sitting just above the ground and when the birds sing, their songs are reflected off the warm layer above them and beamed along the ‘tunnel of cold air’. Sound travels better in still cold air than warm air which may be why the bird song at dawn seems up to 20 times louder than in the middle of the day.

At least I have this beautiful sight every morning.

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Morning chorus

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I lost Autumn

Autumn has eluded me.  Occasionally when I wake, the western hills are cloaked in a thick, grey fog dampening the sounds of an awakening suburb. It fills the gullies and swirls around like a dancer clothed in a cape of moist air teasing me behind a mask of summery temperatures warm enough for a t-shirt when I work in the garden.Web_fog_9127
This morning, I heard, over the shrill squabbling of the lorikeets feasting on the bread, milk and honey mixture I put out for them, an unfamiliar chirruping outside my kitchen. Coffee in hand, I wandered into my front garden and squinted up into the early sunlight. Perched high in the spindly branches of the crepe myrtle, surprisingly well camouflaged despite its bright blue and yellow colours was a Rosella, visible only because the leaves have finally started to fall. This drought tolerant deciduous tree is a delight in summer with its bowl-shaped canopy of mauve crepe flowers attracting lots of bees and in winter its beautiful bark is a stand out feature. I think I lost autumn, I am not sure it occurred and now this elusive season has segued into winter.

Web-Lorikeets_9234-2We get excited about the leaves dropping in our cooler months. I get excited as they are a useful dry leaf matter addition to the compost bin, but my gardening assistant sees them as a chore to be swept up. I have uttered serious threats to this individual, because after sweeping up the Wisteria leaves, he tends to toss them into the rubbish bin rather than into the compost. As punishment, I have set him a task to install a light under the Frangipani to highlight its sculptural bare limbs in the evening. Now the Birch has started to drop leaves around the garden, the yellow colours mimicking the yellow paint on the house. Suddenly there are enough leaves to scrunch beneath my feet, a true sound of autumn and winter.Web-autumn-birchleaves9475

The shorter days are still perfect for long lunches on the deck although we have dusted off the gas heater so that as the sun disappears below the hills we can continue the conversation over another bottle of wine.

Soon it will be time to bring out my collection of old rugs under which guests can snuggle to ward off an evening’s cooler temperature. I have an assortment of old tartan rugs inherited from various members of the family plus those knitted or sewn by myself. None are so precious that I get upset if a glass or two of wine is spilt over them. They need an airing to rid them of the smell of lavender that I store with them to dissuade the clothes moths.Web_blankets_9481

Now that the cooler evenings have arrived, we have moved from eating outside with tea lights for romance to dining under soft candle light at the dinner table. Our barbecue is still frequently used, but now I am beginning to plan meals around warm soups and casseroles accompanied by winter salads incorporating the delicious flavours of vegetables such as cabbage, brussels sprouts and beetroot.

I am impatient for the colder nights to arrive so that we can light the first of only about 20 fires that we have each winter. Our winter evenings are not really cold enough to warrant a fire, but I have been known open all the doors and windows to let in as much cold air as possible. My idea of bliss is to sit having a drink after dinner, feet encased in uggies, books and knitting beside me, soaking up the warmth of the flames.  Web_pinecones_9470

If I am really lucky next morning there will be enough coals left, that with the addition of a few pine cones, the fire will reignite. This is definitely one of the pleasures of not having to rush off to work in the morning, because I will make a coffee and curl up under a rug eating breakfast in front of the flames.

This week in anticipation of a cooler night, I put a light winter blanket on the bed which was a total waste of time as it is still too hot to sleep under anything heavier than a summer blanket. This didn’t stop the cat who leapt onto me in the middle of the night pitter pattering with his claws, purring loudly and commandeering more than his fair third of the blanket. If I get tired of being squashed between the two males in my bed, and try to shift the hairy one, he digs his claws in and bites. Ouch!

I am however, the eternal optimist and have started on a list of tasks for the elusive autumn and winter:Web_kindling9472

  • Get the firewood and pine cones ready for the first fire. Set the fire in preparation. This can be a very competitive business in our household.
  • Buy more candles for the dinner table
  • Fill up the gas bottle for the heater on the deck
  • Wash the old rugs and give them an airing.
  • Start thinking about recipes for soups, winter salads and pies
  • Finish knitting the baby rug for number 11 grandchild before he goes to school!Web_meatpie_7205