We have seen a great range of bird life at Camawald some of which have stayed to thrive in the garden, others have appeared periodically and still others have been seen fleetingly only once or twice.
When we bought our property the only trees in existence were old red gums, Eucalyptus camaldulensis. Living in them were magpies, magpie larks, willie wag tails, thornbills, white plumed honeyeaters, pardalotes and noisy miners. Mountain ducks and black swans were common around the many swamps that formed in the paddocks each winter. The little red rumped parrots pottered in the grass eating seed. We would also see the occasional eagle and brown hawk hovering overhead. During our first year when we began fencing and planting trees the magpies swooped but since then we have never had any trouble with magpies although we would have dozens in the trees around the garden and farm.
When we first built our house I had to clean the windows nearly every day as the magpie larks used them as spring boards – we must have built in their flight path!. However, after about a year they’d all disappeared and I now only see them occasionally in the paddocks. Similarly, the very common noisy miners have left and I haven’t seen one in the area for years. Black swans no longer appear – there are no swamps for them to build nests in – and mountain ducks only arrive after a decent rain, which doesn’t always happen.
The first trees we planted were eucalypts and melaleucas as shelter belts and these attracted parrots, a mixed blessing. The eastern rosellas arrived first followed by the beautiful but very destructive crimson lorikeets. These birds play havoc with my roses and some of the exotic trees such as the Chinese elms whose seeds they love stripping from the trees along with small branchlets. We have to net every fruit tree or we would have no fruit. Red wattle birds came seasonally when the Euc. leucoxylons flowered and their harsh calling let us know when they were about. I haven’t seen these birds for a number of years but the Little wattle bird is now resident and a very common garden bird often seen swinging on grevilleas and salvias while extricating nectar from the flowers.
New holland honey eaters appeared in 1980 after we developed a garden around the house and these aggressive little birds chased out the white plumed honey eaters who I now only see in the periphery areas of the garden. The new Holland honey eaters live in large groups and I often hear noisy family arguments going on when twenty or more are all chattering at the tops of their voices. They make great use of the bird baths we have around the garden. They have also warned me on a few occasions of a snake in the vicinity with their vociferous chattering.
The grey shrike-thrush first appeared in 1981and their gentle appearance and beautiful song made them a great favourite. They nested in sheds and we enjoyed watching the parents taking turns with warming the eggs and later feeding the fledglings. However, in the early 90s blackbirds arrived which heralded the demise of the thrushes. We now only have a couple of pairs who still nest in our sheds each winter. Along with the blackbirds, sparrows took up residence when we began storing grain and they make huge untidy nests in the eaves of most of our sheds especially the woolshed. And swallows also began making use of the wood work in the sheds and gazebos attaching their mud nests wherever they could get a foothold.
Gold finches are a pretty little bird that visits the garden seasonally each winter and spring eating the seed from the weed heads. Another seasonal visitor that we hear before we see is the shrike tit that makes its presence known by the noisy way it tears the bark from the old red gums. Then there is the beautiful male rufous whistler who appears each winter serenading us with its distinctive whistle calling for its plain coloured mate. One year a pair nested in a maple near our back door and I took great delight in watching progress. The female sat quietly on the nest while the male searched for food, but when the tables were reversed the male sang to the world what a great fellow he was as a prospective parent while he was sitting. During some unseasonably hot weather when the chicks were very small the male sat over the nest with wings outstretched keeping the sun off his babies.
We had lived in our house for nearly ten years when blue wrens first appeared near our back door. They are now our most common little bird frequenting the whole garden and a delight to watch as they hop about on their spindly little legs searching out food. Along with them the scrub wrens also fossick about. These birds nest low down and I have to be careful when chopping back shrubbery or pulling up annuals such as forgetmenots that I don’t inadvertently destroy a nest. Red browed firetail finches arrived in the mid 90s and they are a welcome addition although their large messy nests, often in prickly rose bushes, suggest a much bigger bird. Grey fantails are a busy little bird, common in our garden since the mid 80s and a delight along with their relative, the willie wagtail and the restless fly catcher. I know when that bird is around by the scissor grinding sound it makes.
Other small birds that have appeared on occasion, sometimes only once or twice, include flame robins, red capped robins, scarlet robins – all of the robins have been seen on fences in the paddocks and not in the garden – brown headed honeyeaters, white naped honeyeaters, golden whistlers, eastern spinebills, white winged trillers, silver eyes, white fronted chat, white throated tree creeper and on two different occasions the vivid blue sacred kingfisher.
On occasion we see small flocks of the beautiful rainbow lorikeet usually when the silky oaks are flowering. And when the spotted gums are massed in flower larger flocks of purple crowned lorikeets feed voraciously. Galas, sulphur crested cockatoos and long billed corellas fill the skies and sound waves frequently. Small groups of the large, gracious yellow tailed black cockatoo wing their deliberate way over the trees, settling in the banksias and sheoaks to break open the seed with their powerful beaks. Bronzed winged pigeons used to frequent the garden and often gave me a fright when they’d suddenly take flight almost from beneath my feet. Their flimsy flat nest of twigs looked a very shaky home for quite a large bird. However, they are now seldom seen and instead its relative the top knot pigeon is a fairly common occurrence especially sitting on electricity wiring. Also often sitting on the wires during the winter months are cuckoos, distinctive by their mournful call – the pallid cuckoo and the bronze cuckoo. Kookaburras are often heard before they’re seen. A favourite spot for them is sitting on the poles surrounding the tennis court where they ignore the willie wag tails frantically trying to frighten them away. At night we sometimes hear the ‘mopoke’ of the boobook owl and occasionally notice them sitting motionless in a tree during the day. We also occasionally see a tawny frogmouth disguising itself on the branch of a tree. On one occasion John nearly ran over, with the tractor while he was mowing, a mother protecting her two chicks in long grass. He saw her just in time, stopped the tractor and ran home to get the camera and take a photo.
We built our lake to attract water birds, but it has largely been a disappointment as there is too much cover around it which we didn’t realise prevented many birds from being attracted to it. Black ducks do frequent it but they are very shy and fly off quickly if disturbed. The occasional native hen has been seen pottering around, but only rarely. Cormorants visit periodically to eat the gold fish and on one occasion we had a flock of six large black streamlined night herons who spent a week sitting on a flat topped yate gum next to the lake and eating every large fish available. They then moved on and we haven’t seen them since. Ibis also spend time in the paddocks eating grubs and occasionally move to the lake for a change in diet.
The sights and sounds experienced in a garden give much pleasure!